Coconut Macaroons

One really good thing about attending a pot luck dinner once a week is that you have a reason to use up stuff from your pantry. Like the time you needed 1/2 cup of coconut but the smallest bag of coconut you could find was much bigger so you wind up with this rogue container of coconut. So I asked myself what I should do with this coconut and, of course, the first thing I thought of was those coconut squares my mom made with raspberry jam, but then I’d have to buy jam. Macaroons! Coconut macaroons. I found a recipe close to what I wanted then tweaked. You know I can’t leave a recipe alone.

When you’re beating egg whites, use a non plastic bowl. I use my stand up mixer, which has a stainless bowl, so that makes it easy and I rinse it out with a wee bit of vinegar before I start. Don’t wipe it, even if there are a few drops of vinegar in the bowl after you swish. The vinegar rids any traces of fat from the bowl and the acid helps add volume to your egg whites.

4 egg whites (I buy the carton of egg whites and always have it on hand-use half a cup)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp coconut extract (you could go without or use almond extract but I think the coconut extract makes it smell like a tropical vacation)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour (no whole wheat)
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups coconut (shredded fine or coarse or flaked, sweetened or unsweetened-whatever you have is fine, but if you’re going to the store for this recipe-unsweetened flakes)

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease and flour cookie sheet.

Beat egg whites, vanilla and coconut extract until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in sugar, and whip until stiff. Toss together flour, salt, and coconut in a separate bowl; fold into egg whites. Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until slightly golden. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for easy removal.

Try not to eat them all before the pot luck.

Fettucine Alfredo

This is not the healthiest dish in the world, but it’s a classic and it’s delicious.

1/4 cup of butter
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 pound fettuccine (fresh pasta is best for a dish like this, but dry will do)
2 egg yolks
1 cup Parmesan cheese (the closest you can get to freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese the better)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Cook cream and butter together in a medium saucepan until they are melted together, around 1 minute. Turn off heat. Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

Strain pasta and add the butter and cream mixture. Turn the heat on medium and add the egg yolks, cheese and black pepper.

Stir vigorously, mixing the egg yolks and cheese in and coating all of the pasta with the sauce.

Serve immediately, garnish with additional parmesan cheese on top.

Bean Stuff

Bean Stuff is a family tradition. I believe it’s the only recipe my brother ever asked my mom for. Well maybe the meatloaf. Oooh I should give you guys the meatloaf recipe… Anyhow-I have never made Bean Stuff before. For one thing it’s something my mom has been making for years and I have trouble leaving a recipe alone-there’s a real danger I’ll fancy it up too much. I also know from experience that there are many things I just can’t do as well as mom so it’s best to just let her have it. I don’t know why but I thought of making Bean Stuff for the neighbourhood Chili Night I attend almost-monthly. That’s why I made it tonight.

A word about beans before we begin. I have been trying to use fewer canned beans and more dried beans lately because the cans are lined with the kind of plastic you don’t want touching your food. (Read up on BPA’s.) So even though the original recipe calls for a few cans of different kinds of beans I used mostly navy beans because that’s what I had on hand.

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. molasses
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. yellow mustard
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
19 oz. can tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
1 can lima beans, drained
(I didn’t use either kidney nor lima beans-that’s where I used the navy beans. You could use 2 cans of what ever kind of beans you want)
14 oz. can pork & beans (I did use a can of pork n beans
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Fry bacon in a large dutch oven, add the beef, onion and green pepper and cook until the beef is brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer. If you have time, throw a lid on it and put it in the oven for 2 hours at 300F.

Cranberry Orange Muffins

I love cranberries and I love cheap so when I find a bag of fresh cranberries for 99 cents after Christmas I throw a bag or two in my shopping cart and toss them in the freezer. Then, when I want muffins in May…viola!

I found this recipe on the internet and cut the fat in half and replacing it with low fat plain yogurt.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
the zest of 2 oranges
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 bag frozen cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin or use muffin papers.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger.
Cut in butter and yogurt, Stir in juice, vanilla, eggs and cranberries.

Spoon into muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes or until golden.

A word about spices

One of the most common questions people ask me, when we get on to the subject of food and cooking has to do with the use of spices.

How do I know what spices to use? How did YOU know which spices to use for a certain dish?

The short answer is experience combined with personal preference.

When I was in cooking school a chef challenged us one day saying that we should know every spice and herb in the cupboard without labels.

Wait. What?
Yup. He said that if it was up to him he’d rip the labels off all the jars.

Really? Why? Because cooking is a sensual experience and it’s possible to identify spices by sight and smell. This doesn’t happen overnight but he challenged us. Every time you open the spice cupboard to follow a recipe, smell the contents and read the label.
I took that as a dare and started doing that. I still do that now. I do it as part of the pleasure of cooking, though and I just love the smell of spices. In fact, very few of my spice jars are labelled. I can tell by looking at it and to confirm I smell. That and I’m too lazy to label the containers.

Another trick is to notice when you’re making a new recipe, what the ethnicity is and what spices are called for. If you’re trying a Morrocan tagine, for example, I’ll bet there’s cinnamon and cumin. Read the menu when you go to that restaurant you love-or ask the server what spices are used. As you become more familiar with how different spices taste individually and with other spices you can use this knowledge when you cook.

While I encourage you to fall in love with cooking I understand that this is over-the-top behaviour for people who just want to get good food on the table. If you’re looking for a shortcut don’t be afraid to buy a collection of spice blends. There are a lot of good ones at your grocery store; Greek, Italian, Mexican, Barbeque. These all purpose spice blends can be used to flavour anything…everything! For your chicken breasts; smear the breast with oil, then sprinkle with the spice blend and bake. Or you could make a dip; equal parts mayo and sour cream plus your spice blend makes a great dip for chips or veggies. Use them when you scramble eggs or make soup. Toss diced potatoes in olive oil and a blend of spices then bake.

Finally, don’t be afraid.

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
Harriet Van Horne

Butter Turkey

Butter Turkey doesn’t sound right. It sounds like turkey and butter. Everyone knows the famous Indian dish; Butter Chicken and they know it’s not just butter and chicken, but…well. So I had a turkey breast and I wanted to try this recipe. Of course if you want to use chicken, go ahead.
This is delicious and will feed probably about 4 people.

(note; this is waaaaay better the next day)

2/3 c low fat or fat free plain yogurt
1/2 c. ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
3 bay leaves, crushed
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp garam masala
4 green cardamom pods
1 tsp fresh ginger pulp
2 cloves of garlic, minced
(please don’t think I actually measure the spices)
1 kg. boneless skinless turkey breast, cut in bite sized pieces

Stir all together in a glass bowl and let it hang out in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Add 2 cups canned tomatoes to the bowl of turkey and other stuff.

1 tsp butter
1 tsp canola oil
1 onion, diced

Saute the onion in the butter and oil until the onions are clear, then add the turkey mixture and let it simmer about 10 minutes or until the turkey is cooked.

Add 4 Tbsp half & half cream and a handful of chopped cilantro and give it a good stir.

Garnish with more chopped cilantro and over some basmati rice.

Crusty Dinner Rolls

I invited my friend over for soup and buns tonight. I don’t have much flour on hand so I was scouring the internet for a recipe for 1 dozen buns. The sheer weirdness of folding beaten egg whites into bread dough forced me to make this recipe. Of course I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter. Here’s what I did;

2 egg whites

1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp honey
1 package active dry yeast
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
4 to 4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and set aside.

In large mixing bowl (I used my standup mixer) place the warm water, honey, yeast butter, oil and salt. Add 1 cup of the flour and beat at low speed for a couple of minutes.
Fold in the egg whites by hand, then slowly add enough flour to a soft dough. Knead 8 to 10 minutes, adding a bit more flour if dough sticks.
Grease bowl then roll dough in it (to prevent dry top); cover and let rise in warm place until double in bulk.
Deflate dough then remove from bowl and cut in 12 pieces.
Roll each piece in a ball or pillow shape and place on greased cookie sheets about 2 1/2 inches apart.
Cover lightly and let rise in warm place until double in bulk.
Brush with water and bake in 400°F oven 15 minutes.
One dozen rolls.