Monday, December 27, 2010

Ahhhh, the holidays

I know for some Christmas isn't over.  For some it hasn't even begun.  But for us, it's finished.  All that's left is to bask in it's fading glow and take down the decorations, which we'll do this week.  We like starting the new year fresh.  Sometimes I even buy myself a bouquet of white flowers to put in the window in place of the tree.

So how was it all?  Wonderful.  From the start of Advent through to the end of Boxing day, we were surrounded by the warmth of the season.  We had a white Christmas, heard a lot of inspirational messages over Advent that we'll be pondering for a long time to come, enjoyed the company of wonderful people and ate great food.

 Ah, the food.  I know that Christmas is traditionally a time of overindulgence.  Of tables laden with copious feasts.  And indeed, we attended a party with such a bounty.  But it was a potluck, so that is to be expected.  Christmas Eve brought us to finger foods at my sister's house.  Local cheeses, wonderful smoked meats, vegetables, crunchy bits and sweets covered the table from one end to the other.  But with two Littles to occupy and help with gifts, overindulgence wasn't really an option.  LOL

Our own Christmas meal was far from meager, but it wasn't over the top with buttons straining against pant fabric and comatose stupor descending upon us soon after.  We had a lovely smoked ham.  It was huge, mind you.  Just a bit over 8.5lbs for the 4 of us, including the Littles.  We barely made a dent in it.  But to accompany it was a simple spread of potatoes, carrots and parsnips roasted in bacon fat.  And a refreshing homemade candy cane ice cream for dessert.  That was it.  It was simple, it was sufficient and none of us felt the worse for it afterward.

We still have New Year's Day to go, and we'll have turkey with the inlawas (have to have turkey some time - hope it's a big one with lots of leftovers).  Then I'm sure my thoughts will turn to temple food which I blogged about last year.  And we'll be into 2011...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cooking and baking and candy making

My kitchen has been buzzing this weekend.  We've got two potlucks this weekend, one of which is a brunch.  The other is a buffet and everyone is asked to bring a main and either a salad or dessert.  With dozens of families, it's quite a feast, that's for sure!  Plus I've been making candy to give as gifts instead of buying more stuff people don't actually need, just to say that we've gotten them a stocking stuffer. 

After a few false starts earlier in the week, mostly involving burning sugar, I finally got things sorted.  I had picked up some Meyer lemons, which are wonderfully aromatic and not as sour as conventional lemons.  And since I had a recipe for Turkish delights that called for oranges and lemons, I decided to substitute a couple of these beauties instead.  The result is small yellow squares of powdered sugar dusted wiggliness.  Meyer Lemon Turkish Delights (recipe here).

Then I moved on to a recipe I've been wanting to make for a while now.  If you follow me on Twitter, or are a friend on Facebook, you have been hearing about bacon caramel corn for a while now.  The success of the bacon fudge only fueled my desire to try this interesting confection.  So last night hubby and I worked together, cooking the bacon, popping the corn, making the caramel, stirring the combined ingredients every 15 minutes...  Not as labour intensive as it sounds, trust me.  The end result?  AMAZING!  The salty goodness of the bacon coupled with the caramel is wonderful.  The popcorn is merely a convenient delivery device.

1/2 pound bacon
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cut bacon into a fine dice and fry until crisp. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.

Heat the bacon fat in a large pot with a cover. Add 3 popcorn kernels and cover. Listen for all three kernels to pop, and add the rest of the popcorn kernels. Cover and shake until popping stops. Put popped corn in a non-stick roasting pan, making sure to remove the unpopped kernels.

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Heat butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan over medium heat until it reaches 300°F on your candy thermometer.

Remove from heat, stir in baking soda and bacon (the caramel will explode in volume at this point so make sure you use a large enough saucepan) and pour this caramel mixture over the popcorn (do this quickly so that the caramel doesn’t cool and stiffen).

Stir the mixture with a couple wooden spoons and place in the oven for a total of an hour rearranging the popcorn to evenly distribute the caramel and bacon every 15 minutes. Add more salt (if necessary) during this process. Cool and break into bite-sized pieces.

Today I continued with my main dish for the potluck.  It's technically a salad, but it's so hearty that it is easily a buffet main.  I found it in a Taste of Home cookbook that I have.  Potatoes, bacon, kielbasa, and a creamy sauce made with potato soup, onions and sauerkraut.  It sounded wonderfully tangy and hearty.  And the best part?  It is cooked in the crockpot!  Perfect for a diner buffet.  I doubled the original recipe (which can be found in my last blog post here), but used fewer than 4lbs of potatoes, and only the original amount of sauerkraut.  It smells wonderful!

.I made a last minute change from the salad of winter greens in favour of inspiration from something that someone mentioned on a web forum the other day.  She mentioned a cold salad of green beans, dried cranberries, nuts and Feta.  I immediately pictured it sitting on the buffet table and knew that was the recipe I was going to run with. 

I made a simple dressing with Dijon, the juice and zest of a Meyer lemon, the juice of a clementine, a little shallot, grapeseed oil, salt and pepper.  It's a big on the tangy side.  Then I trimmed, halved and blanched a large bag of green beans.  I heated a small skillet and melted a couple teaspoons of white sugar and added a few handfuls of toasted pecan pieces.  I tossed them to lightly candy them and then spread them on a foil lined plate to cool and set.  I'll toss the beans with the dressing and a little Feta just before we leave.  Then I'll top it all with more Feta, the cranberries, nuts and some crispy bacon.  I'm really looking forward to this salad.  I think I'll make it again soon.

Tomorrow we have a brunch buffet at church.  Each of us has been asked to bring cut up fruit for the fruit salad, and a hot dish.  I'm going to put together these Brunch Enchiladas, substituting black beans for the ham, and adding some salsa for kick.  It sits overnight and gets baked in the morning before we leave.

I also had some potatoes leftover that didn't fit in the crockpot, so I roasted them in bacon fat and I'll reheat them for supper tomorrow with some pork tenderloin.

I still have more to make this week.  More bacon fudge, more Turkish Delight (perhaps with grapefruit), sponge toffee, and maybe more bacon caramel corn.  Plus Christmas dinner.   But for this weekend, that's quite enough.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

10 days to go

I find myself caught between wanting things to slow down a bit as we head towards Christmas and wanting the weekend to hurry up and get here already.  LOL  Maybe the weekend can get here and go by really slowly.  That would be great.

So the house is decorated.  We bought a tree.  We have a tree, mind you.  But it's really, really large.  It's quite big around and would never fit in the window of our living room.  Not without eating some furniture.  Since Little Mister's second Christmas we've been using a table top tree as our Christmas decoration focal point.  It was nice, but I missed having a floor model.  So this year we found a slim, 6 foot tree for very little money.  It fits quite nicely in here, and I was able to use ornaments that haven't seen a Christmas in some years, and also spread the others out more.  I'm quite happy.  And so are the kids.  They've never had a full size tree (save for Little Mister's first Christmas, but he was barely more than brand new at that point).

Cookies have been baked.  I made some yummy gingersnaps and some tasty but ugly shortbread rounds that were rolled in and sprinkled with crushed candy cane.  Honestly, it sounded prettier than the end result.  I've also made a batch of honeycomb candy/sponge toffee.  And I discovered that the distinct floral flavour of the local blueberry honey that I enjoy does not make a nice tasting candy.  So I will have to buy a container of more generic honey that has far less character, I guess.

I still have more candy to make.  Bacon caramel corn, beer caramel pretzels, more sponge toffee and possibly some jelly candies.  Many will be gifts.

As for parties, we don't host any.  I'd love to, but space is sorely limited.  Once the family room is complete, we'll be able to have friends around to share fun and games with (I miss game nights).  But for now we go to parties.  And our most favourite is hosted every year by friends from church, who have a potluck and invite EVERYONE!  There can be 100 people (or more, apparently) in their home.  All ages (though for our sanity and Little Mister's health we leave the kids at home to enjoy pizza with their Aunt and cousin).  Did I mention it's a potluck?  Is there a more splendid compound word?  I think not.  Everyone is asked to bring a main and either a salad or a dessert.  I've brought chocolate mint truffle triangles, a winter salad of endive and pomegranate on a bed of watercress (here), various casseroles, and last year I believe I took a glazed peameal bacon roast.

And this year?  This year I'll take something like my winter salad.  It was a big hit and very pretty.  And I'm taking a recipe I found at Taste of Home that is technically a salad.  It's a German Potato Salad with Sausage for the crockpot (another wonderful compound word), but it looks hearty enough to be a main on a buffet.  I've never used sauerkraut before.  But the combination of it with the creamy soup, the sausage and bacon makes me think that this will be balanced and delicious.  Of course I'll double the recipe and use my large pot.  Lots of hungry mouths to feed!


    * 8 bacon strips, diced
    * 1 large onion, chopped
    * 1 pound smoked kielbasa or Polish sausage, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices
    * 2 pounds medium red potatoes, cut into chunks
    * 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of potato soup, undiluted
    * 1 cup sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained
    * 1/2 cup water
    * 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    * 1 tablespoon sugar
    * 1/2 teaspoon salt
    * 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper


    * In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon to drain. Saute onion in drippings for 1 minute. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned. Add potatoes; cook 2 minutes longer. Drain.

    * Transfer sausage mixture to a 3-qt. slow cooker. In a small bowl, combine the soup, sauerkraut, water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over sausage mixture. Sprinkle with bacon. Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until potatoes are tender. Yield: 8 servings.

If  you're in the mood for a more introspective look at Christmas through my eyes, you can go back to my post from last Christmas Eve ---

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I may be late to the party

but last night I joined the scores of foodies who jumped on the "everything's better with bacon" bandwagon.  To set the scene, we were invited to celebrate our friend's birthday.  Our friend, who is a HUGE fan of the movie, "A Christmas Story" ("You'll shoot your eye out!").  We were told that the party would have a "meatloaf and fudge" theme, and to bring either.  I originally thought about doing some kind of fudge-that-looks-like-meatloaf thing, but thought better of it after picturing lumps of it sitting on a plate.

So since I wasn't up to creating fudge that resembled meat, I opted for the next best thing.  Fudge WITH meat!  And really, what meat could you add to chocolate and still create something edible?  A proper nod goes here to Nigella Lawson for introducing me to the combination of chocolate and bacon.  And to bloggers before me, whose creations gave me the inspiration I needed to create my own version of this taste sensation.

14 oz sweetened condensed milk
12 oz semi-sweet chocolate
4 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
8 slices of good smoky bacon, cooked and cut into bits
Kosher or sea salt, to taste

Line an 8-inch square pan with foil.

In a non-stick saucepan, combine the condensed milk, chocolate and vanilla over medium low heat.  Stir until the chocolate is just melted.

Pour half of the chocolate into the pan and quickly sprinkle with the walnuts and most of the bacon.  Top with the remaining chocolate.  Sprinkle with the rest of the bacon and the salt.

Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until fudge is completely set.

With a sharp knife or a bench scraper, slice fudge into 1-inch squares. Store leftover fudge uncovered in the fridge (if you cover it the condensation can melt the salt crystals).

I'd consider adding a pinch of smoked paprika, or chipotle powder the next time, just to bump up the smokiness (and give it some kick).  But overall it's a really good confection.  Just make sure your bacon is crispy before you start.  Softly cooked bacon won't work as well.

And the verdict?  Well,  half the platter was devoured, and our hosts kept the rest.  Definitely a do again recipe.