Monthly Archives: December 2012

Sweet Puff Pastry Twists and the view out my kitchen window…

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Sweet Puff Pastry Twists

I love living in Southern Oregon but sometimes the weather can be cold and drab at times…  Rain, fog and snow are not uncommon during the cold winter months.  Many of the wild birds that chose to spend their winters here in the Rogue Valley rely on backyard bird feeders for their food sources.  That’s precisely why I always make sure that my bird feeders are stocked with thistle seed, suet and sunflower seeds and that my hummingbird feeder is filled with sweet nectar.

While preparing my Sweet Puff Pastry Twists this morning, I noticed a flurry of activity outside my kitchen window.  Several species of birds were visiting the feeders that I have placed out in our backyard.  The usual visitors that show up every winter are dark-eyed juncos, house finches, scrub jays, black capped chickadees, lesser goldfinches and spotted towhees.  Sometimes I am treated to less common birds to my feeder such as California quail, red breasted nuthatches, and evening grosbeaks.  Then there are birds that I would rather not have visit at all…  Sharp shinned hawks, great blue herons and great egrets.  Sharp shinned hawks hunt the little birds that frequent my feeders.  The herons and egrets try to make a fish dinner of my koi in my pond…  Don’t get me wrong, I think that they are all beautiful but I’d rather not observe their eating habits in my yard.

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A female dark eyed junco.  The males have darker heads and rusty backs.

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A female lesser goldfinch.  The males are bright yellow and have a black cap on the tops of their heads.

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A ruby crowned kinglet zipping through the air towards the suet feeder.  This bird constantly is moving back and forth so it was hard to snap a picture of him.  It seemed that every time I would focus, he would pop out of the frame. His face looks so intent as he bounced his way to the feeder.  I see this bird nearly every winter.  Whenever he would get excited, he would display a large red crown of feathers on his head.  What a cool little bird!

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A female house finch.  The males are brightly colored with a purplish red breast.  Do you see the sunflower seed in her bill?

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A sharp shinned hawk in the tree above my feeders.  When he is around, all the little birds quickly fly away and hide…  When there is no activity at my bird feeders, you can bet he is the reason why. This little hawk is lightning fast and even tries to take down birds his own size!  He is such a beautiful and skillful hunter.  I like him better when he stays away from my hawk bird feeders :).

Back to the cookies… My Sweet Puff Pastry Twists are reminiscent of a cookie that I used to purchase years ago at the old Harry and David country store here in Southern Oregon.  They called their cookies “Croustilles”.  Unfortunately, they don’t sell them anymore but I think my cookies are a pretty good “knock off”.  They’re easy to make, light and airy, crispy and delicious.  They taste wonderful with a hot cup of coffee or your favorite tea.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry (thawed)
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg (beaten)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees farenheit. Begin by rolling out the puff pastry into a 12″ square.  Combine both sugars in a small bowl.  Sprinkle half of the sugar on the puff pastry dough.  Be sure to cover it evenly with the sugar.  Take a rolling pin and lightly press the sugar into the dough.  Gently, flip the dough and repeat on the other side.  On one side of the dough, lightly brush with the egg.

Take a pizza cutter or knife and slice the puff pastry down the middle.  Do the same for the remaining two halves.  You should have four rectangles…  Each 12″ by 3″.

Now, slice each rectangle into 3″ by 3/4″ strips.  You should now have about 64 puff pastry strips.

On a silpat or silicone lined baking sheet place each strip about 1 1/4″ apart.  Twist each strip 360 degrees in the middle, making sure the egg brushed side is up.  They should all look like little bow ties.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until a golden brown.  Remove from oven and immediately place the twists on a wire rack to cool.  Makes about 5 dozen Sweet Puff Pastry Twists.

*** Note: This recipe is not rocket science.  Not all brands of puff pastry are the same size when you unroll it out of the package.  Some puff pastries are larger that what I described.  The key to this recipe is even coverage of sugar and uniformity in size and twists of the dough strips.  And of course, keeping an eye on the twists while baking is also important.  They do brown quickly!

New England Clam Chowder for a crowd

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New England Clam Chowder

Chances are that if you spent Christmas Eve at our home you’ve had a big bowl of my homemade New England Clam Chowder.  It’s been a family tradition of ours for nearly 20 years to serve piping hot New England Clam Chowder, fresh baked rolls, sourdough bread, pints of beer, flutes of prosecco and sparkling apple cider.  Whenever I prepare the chowder, I make a large vat of it…  When I say vat, I mean two and a half gallons or enough to serve well over a dozen people.  That’s a lot of chowder!

I don’t think I’ve ever made this recipe on a small scale before…  And this is the first time that I have written down the recipe.  Whenever I prepare the soup, it’s from memory and taste. Since the recipe makes about 10 quarts of chowder, be prepared to spend a couple of hours preparing the soup.  It’s just that large quantities of soups take longer to cook than recipes for 4 to 6 people.

My New England Clam Chowder is a wonderfully hearty and creamy soup with tender clams, diced potatoes, onion, celery and bits of bacon.  I then finish the soup with a bit of half and half to lend a bit more creaminess to the chowder and then garnish with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley for color.  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chopped clams
  • 1 – 51 ounce can of clam juice
  • 12 cups diced potatoes (russet)
  • 7 cups of water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • canola oil (as needed)
  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 2 tsp old bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup of half and half
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Place 12 cups of potatoes in a covered pan.  Add 7 cups of water and 1 tsp salt.  Cover and boil over medium heat until potatoes are tender (be sure not to over cook the potatoes).  Drain, cover and set aside.  Meanwhile, sauté the onions, celery, a big pinch of salt in 2 Tbs butter.  Cook until onions are translucent.  Remove from heat and place onions and celery aside for later.

In a large pot, cook the bacon.  Remove bacon from the pot and set aside.  Add 1 1/3 cup flour to the bacon grease.  Add canola oil to the mixture (if needed) in order to make a thick batter like consistency.  Cook on medium low heat, stirring constantly for about 3 to 4 minutes (light roux).  Slowly add the clam juice (not the clams!) and milk whisking constantly.  Cook until thickened or about 20 – 30 minutes.

Chop the bacon into small bits.  Add the bacon, Old Bay Seasoning, white pepper, potatoes, onion, and celery and continue to cook until hot and almost to a bubble.  Don’t let the soup boil or let it stick to the bottom of the pot.  When the soup is nearly done, add clams, parsley, half and half, salt and black pepper to taste.  Cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutess.  Taste the soup and correct your seasonings.  If there’s a floury taste to the soup, just cook it a bit longer.  If it’s too thick for your liking just add more milk or half and half.

Ladle hot soup into cups or bowls and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.  Serve with crusty sourdough bread or fresh baked rolls.  Makes about 10 quarts.

Broccoli Bisque

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I have not posted any recipes for the past couple of weeks… It’s not that I did not want to or that I was being lazy.  Most of my free time after work has been spent trying to figure out why my website was not cooperating with me.  Most of the time food blogging is an enjoyable and rewarding hobby but it can be extremely frustrating at times.  Maintaining a food/recipe website is a combination of being a food writer, photographer and webmaster.  I am comfortable with the first two items, but the web master part, I’m still learning (struggling). And, in my opinion, I have a long way to go…

My website problem was this…  Every time I tried to post my Broccoli Bisque recipe, the body of the post would not stay formatted properly. I tried everything. I uninstalled and re-installed different components on my website.  I tried even changing the look of my website.  My frustration level with my computer was at all time high.  I was seriously irritated and I was questioning why I even want to be a food blogger in the first place.  In other words, my website was seriously “jacked up”.

Then late last night it dawned on me…  I thought to myself that maybe I’m having software conflicts with web browsers.  I’ve seen that before with software applications at work.  I have certain applications that I work with that don’t run very well in Internet Explorer and perfectly in Firefox.  And vice versa.  Since I only have Firefox on my laptop, I thought I’d download a free copy of Google Chrome.  I installed it and then I tried working on my website while on Google Chrome.  Unbelievable!  Problem solved!  I learned something big.  Next time I am having problems with my website I’m going to check if it is an issue  with a web browser before spending the time dismantling my entire website.

Well, I’m back.  I look forward to being back on schedule and creating some dishes to share.  Meanwhile, be sure to try my easy vegan Broccoli Bisque.  It’s simple to make, good for you and most importantly, it tastes delicious!  Enjoy!  Tessa

 Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound broccoli florets
  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 1 cup onion (chopped)
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 cups russet potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • salt to taste.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, add broccoli, onions, canola oil and a big pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring constantly until broccoli is crisp tender or onions are translucent.  Add potatoes, vegetable stock, coriander, and white pepper.  Cook covered until potatoes and broccoli are tender.  Grab an immersion blender and blend until creamy.  Add more stock if necessary.  Taste and correct your seasonings.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley or chopped onion.  Serves 4.

Orange Pomegranate Salad

Orange Pomegranate Salad

The holidays are fast approaching and I am already planning our meal for Christmas Eve.  It’s a family tradition that every year on Christmas Eve I make a huge pot of New England Clam Chowder to share with my family and friends.  With the chowder, I serve up finger foods, fresh baked breads, salad and dessert.  Since the chowder is the only item on the menu that does not change from year to year, I try to think of different and fresh tasting dishes to serve with the soup.

While I am thinking about what I am going to serve with the chowder, our family is busy decorating our home for the holidays.  Bruce’s responsibility is to put up the lights out in the front of the home, and my job is to decorate the dining room and living room.  I love doing that.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.

This is what my dining room looked during the last Christmas season.  Last year, I focused on red and green colors.  This year my plan is to decorate with white and silver.  I want my dining room to have a shiny cold sparkle to it.  The table will be removed and 2 eight foot tables will take its place on Christmas Eve.  That’s what I do every time we have a large gathering in our home.  What I have in mind this year is crisp white table cloths, white candlesticks with snow covered greenery.  The three little trees that you see above are now covered with little white birds, silver ornaments and shimmery snowflakes.

One of my white birds.  I snagged about a dozen of these at a craft store last week for about a dollar each.  I would have bought more but I cleaned out the bin…

Silver pine cone ornament.  My Mom gave these pine cone ornaments to me earlier this year.  These pretty ornaments are on the same trees as the white birds.  Can you believe that this ornament is made of plastic?  Could have fooled me…  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not ashamed of decorating with plastic ornaments.  I like plastic ornaments because they are pet and child friendly, they don’t shatter and when they fall off the tree, all they do is bounce!  And what’s even better about plastic ornaments…  They’re inexpensive.

I just love the holidays!  In my opinion, it’s not about the gifts or the food.  It’s all about spending quality time with family and friends.  I want everyone who visits our home to have a wonderful time and have fond memories of our time together.

I have made the decision to serve my Orange Pomegranate Salad on Christmas Eve.  It’s light, plates beautifully and won’t leave my guests stuffed once I start ladling up steaming hot bowls of chowder.  My Orange Pomegranate Salad is made with fresh naval oranges, pomegranate seeds, watercress, radish shoots, crunchy pepitas and a tangy pomegranate vinaigrette.  It’s easy, bright and delicious! Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients:

  • 6 large naval oranges, peeled and sliced.
  • 3 cups water cress (use more if you like)
  • 3 cups radish shoots (use more if you like)
  • 6 Tbs toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 6 Tbs fresh pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/8 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/8 cup pomegranate vinegar
  • 1 Tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Begin by cutting off the peel from the oranges.  Slice each orange into 1/2 inch thick slices.  Arrange on six salad plates with water cress, radish shoots, pomegranate seeds, and pepitas.  Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the canola oil, rice vinegar, pomegranate vinegar, brown sugar, ginger and salt.  Drizzle the vinaigrette on the salads when ready to serve.  Serves 6.

Turkey Cranberry Sandwich

Turkey Cranberry Sandwich

Every year during the winter holidays we always seem to have leftover turkey.  The reason is because we always have at least a 20 pound bird for Thanksgiving and sometimes we may even cook another turkey for Christmas dinner.  So, in the grand scheme of things, that’s a lot of turkey!  That’s when I have to get creative with the leftovers.  I make soups, stews, enchiladas, and even turkey lasagna.

One of my favorite ways of preparing leftover turkey is a turkey sandwich.  I got my idea from a local deli in town that offers Turkey Cranberry Sandwiches on their menu.  Whenever I stop there for lunch, that’s the sandwich that I generally like to order.  The turkey cranberry sandwich is piled high with fresh sliced turkey, tangy cranberry relish, and melt in your mouth cream cheese.  My version of the Turkey Cranberry Sandwich is a bit different for I like to use blueberry bread instead of white bread.  If you can’t find blueberry bread just keep in mind that it also tastes great on raisin bread.  So, the next time you happen to have leftover turkey, make this sandwich.  You’ll be glad that you did!  Enjoy!  Tessa

Ingredients ***

  • 1/4 pound sliced turkey (no bones)
  • 2 Tbs cream cheese
  • 2 Tbs cranberry relish
  • 2 slices of bread (I used blueberry bread)

On one slice of bread, pile on your turkey. Add the cream cheese and then the cranberry relish.  Top with remaining bread, slice in half and serve.  Makes one delicious sandwich!

*** Note:  ingredient amounts are an approximation.