Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year Nibbles - the Quick and Easy Kind

Happy 2012!

Looking for sooper easy menu ideas for your New Year's Eve party?

You can't beat Jack McDavid's Comfort Food Appetizers, which he created for a segment on Good Day Philadelphia.

His task was to come up with recipe ideas that could be rustled up in a five minute slot, which gives you an idea of just how straightforward and foolproof these are. 

Fancy trying some Firecracker ShrimpsChristmas mini-Pizzas anyone..? Or what about some Stuffed Mushrooms?

While the recipes sound easy, we can guarantee that they're delicious.

Firecracker Shrimp
1 tsp chopped jalapeno pepper
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 TBSP olive oil
1 dozen shrimp, cleaned and shelled

Mix all ingredients.  Wrap shrimp in foil and grill or bake (400), 5 mins per side, or saute in skillet til done, about 8  minutes total. 

Christmas Pizza

1 pkg crescent roll dough
1 cup mayonnaise
1 lb cream cheese
1 pkg powdered ranch dressing
finely chopped assorted raw vegetables:  broccoli, tomatoes,
cauliflower, red and green peppers. Parmesan cheese 

Roll crescent dough onto cookie sheet and bake according to package directions.  Set aside to cool.  Mix mayonnaise, cream cheese and dressing til blended.  Spread on crust.  Top with chopped vegetables and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.  Cut into bite sized pieces and serve cold or at room temp.


Stuffed Mushrooms
2 dozen crimini or white mushrooms
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 diced red pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 TBSP chopped basil

Remove stems from mushrooms, coat lightly with oil and bake, stem side up, on cookie sheet at 425 til mushrooms begin to sweat.  Meanwhile, blend remaining ingredients. Fill mushrooms with cheese mixture, and return to oven to just warm filling.  Serve warm or at room temp.
*** Have a fun filled 2012 ***

Monday, December 26, 2011

Creative Uses for all that Ham...

Would you..? Could you..?  Of course you can...

I've often pondered why we call a bad actor a "ham" who "hams up" his lines - that is, overacts so badly that she/he's unbelievable in the role they're playing. 

So I looked up the definition...

And it's nothing to do with the meat itself.  Instead it refers to the first syllable of "amateur" - what a let down.  And I've lost my sequitur :(

Back to the issue of ham leftovers.  In our family, only six people sat down to Christmas Dinner so we have plenty of ham left to play with.

We scouted around for family-friendly recipes which weren't just the same old stock of turkey leftover ideas only with ham substituted for turkey meat.

The best source of ideas we came across were on this Southern website and the ones we'll be trying this week are:
  •  ham and white bean soup - a marriage made in heaven and is sooo good that it doesn't even count as a leftover meal;
  • ham and scalloped potatoes - basically an excuse to slather the two primary ingredients with cream and garlic!
Or what about Keri's suggestion - this pea and ham soup?

Another recipe idea was provided by Stormy Lundy, the chef who runs the Reading Terminal Market's Catering Division.

Cookin' up a storm
When she bakes a ham she tends to lean on her mother's special "Hammy Hash" recipe...

This is a variation on a corned beef hash but switches out the corned beef for finely diced ham.

Forget the Green Eggs and Ham. 

Try this Hammy Hash instead.  It too is perfect with fried eggs sunny side up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cheers! Festive Beverages for the Holidays

In the spirit of the holiday season, now in full swing, we offer two spectacular new recipes for festive beverages. 

Lemon Fizz

For each serving:

1 scoop lemon sorbet
1 flute sparkling wine
splash of Grappa

Place all ingredients in a blender; mix til smooth.  Enjoy.

Low Octane Lemon Fizz:  for kids, designated drivers, or non drinkers of all types, substitute non-alcoholic sparkling cider for the sparkling wine and omit the Grappa.  Be sure to keep track of the different batches....We made these last Thanksgiving and my 6 year old nephew got hold of the wrong glass.  He guzzled it down, made a horrid face, acted rather silly for a bit, and fell asleep in his turkey dinner.

And this toasty treat from Chef Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe is sure to warm  your hearts and parts...
Cajunista Hottie Toddy
Serves 2
2 cups apple cider
3 oz spiced rum
juice of 1/2 lemon
5 TBSP brown sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
1/4 tsp Becks Devil Dust
Heat all ingredients in a small saucepan.  When warm, pour into mugs and enjoy.  Cheers!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Baked Ham - Tips from the Reading Terminal Market

I couldn't face another roasted turkey so soon after Thanksgiving, so I talked the family into a baked ham for Christmas Day.

While we like turkey in most of its guises - minced in a chili, sliced, as meatballs, you name it -  a big ol' roast turkey seems like a lot of effort for a not particularly spectacular end result.  (And no one in my family will eat the dark meat...)

But ham is different.  Everyone loves it.  And no one grumbles about the leftovers!

Ham is so easy, especially if you source a good quality pre-baked ham from one of the butchers at Reading Terminal Market, who are always ready and willing to give you their advice...

The team at Giunta's offered these pearls of wisdom:
"Spiral cut hams are the best value for money and taste the best.  Because they are pre-sliced the additional water content is lower than in normal hams, so you're getting more for your money."

Try a Ham Steak from Giunta's Prime Meats
"We know there are people with smaller families or who may be on their own and they tend to be put off by the size of a baked ham, because it's too much meat for them.  Remember though that you can buy individual thick-cut slices which work just as well."

Key to the success of your table ready ham is the glaze.  Being a novice to this, we researched glazes online.  The results were overwhelming.  One website offered up 253 types of glaze.  My eyes glazed over.

We solicited recipes from our fellow FB phoodies and these were the two we liked best:
  • The first was from Marie Simon Gowan who said: "I love using peach, apricot or a combination of the two. This is great on pork, chicken and ham; I make it from my own homemade jams."
  • The next was from our friends at The Communal Pantry who suggested: "How about Pomegranate Molasses, brown sugar and orange juice...our current favourite glaze. For an added kick, you can also add chili flakes or mustard!" 
Both these suggestions sound like winners.  Hmmmm.  So what shall it be?  I did want to throw in some Bourbon, having found a recipe with cherries and orange juice...but then I also spotted some mango and guava jam. 

Perhaps some permutation of all three recipes? 

Howzabout pomegranate / port and cherries combo? 

Or whisky / orange juice / mango jam / kumquats.  

Both of them would surely benefit from a sprinkling of chili flakes..?

Or is that overkill? Photos to follow on FB closer to the big day...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cookie Swap? No Thanks!

Maximum variety of cookies, minimum effort.  No need to attend a cookie swap, where you could, heaven help us, return home with some slice and bake supermarket drek or an unfortunate combination like peppermint and white chocolate.  (I view white chocolate the same way I do rudeness, litterbugs, pleated pants and cigarettes:  it is something that should not exist.)  But, making a wide variety of cookies can be incredibly labor intensive.  That's why I've developed this clever way to maximize your offerings with a minimum of effort.

I referred to this strategy in a previous post .  The premise is to start with a basic dough recipe and the branch off in different directions with varying ingredients.  Some readers have asked for more detailed directions, and we aim to please, so here are the specifics...Personally, I like volume, so I generally put two bowls out, side by side,  make the basic dough in both simultaneously, then proceed with the variation in one of the bowls.   But you can also make one batch and divide it up, adding the different ingredients to each portion.  NB:  the recipes below reflect quantities for a complete batch, so if you divvy up a single batch, be sure to reduce the ingredient amounts.
Variations on a Butter Cookie

1 1/2 sticks butter
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for about 8-10 minutes.  The edges will just barely begin to brown when they are done.   OR Spray a sheet of waxed paper with Pam, dump dough onto waxed paper, roll into a log, and store in fridge til you need some cookies.  Slice and bake.  (the second way makes for flatter, more uniform cookies.) These are the quintessential butter cookie, plain and simple.  You can sprinkle with colored sugars or other decorations before baking if you wish, or pipe them with melted chocolate after they cool.
Lemon log, ready to slice and bake when you are!

To make them lemon:  eliminate vanilla.  Add juice of 2 fresh lemons, grated rind of 1 lemon, and 2 TBSP Limoncello liquor.  Follow directions as above.

To make them chocolate:  Add 1 cup melted semi-sweet or dark chocolate.  Follow directions as above.

Espresso chip cookies, and chocolate chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms (guess which were requested by my son!)

Chocolate Chip Cookies, 4 ways

2 sticks softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Blend all ingredients.  Drop by teaspoons onto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 12 minutes.  NOTE:  you can use the waxed paper storage method as described above with this dough, too.

For Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies
To dough above, add 3/4 cup Nutella and, if desired, 2 TBSP Frangelico.

For Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

To dough above, add 3 TBSP instant espresso or coffee powder, 3 TBSP brewed coffee, and 2 TBSP Kahlua.

For Chocolate Chocolate Chips Cookies
To dough above, add 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 additional egg.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Claire's Chocolate Bark Debacle

Chocolate Bark.  Surely that's THE easiest home made gift for Xmas? 

I thought so and, as often is the case, decided to improv and concoct a recipe without consulting the cookery books.

Got my chocolate..check; macadamia nuts....check; chocolate dipped orange rind...check.

We're off to a promising start.

Only problem was the chocolate. 

I like Lindt chocolate but didn't read the small print.  It didn't look right when it started melting in the bain marie.  The texture was oddball. 

The melting chocolate seemed to drag on the bottom of the bowl and didn't have that glossy sexiness normally associated with molten chocolate.

Ok.  Got it.  I used the wrong chocolate.  Not enough cocoa solids.  (I always wondered why people insisted on 60-70% cocoa solids.) 

And now I know... 

Cheaper chocolate uses lots of milk solids as a filler which lowers the melting point of the chocolate.

Nevertheless, I continued to make a batch.

I used a meat mallet to bash the ingredients to smithereens.  I think I got carried away a bit...

Threw the ingredients into the melted chocolate and stirred...

Keri had tipped me off about the importance of using parchment paper to line the tray on which you are going to spread out the chocolate mixture.  So far so good.

I then left the tray in a cool spot to set.

Only it didn't.

Two days later I was still waiting so I resorted to the fridge, which worked. 

The downside of the fridge is that the difference in temperature caused the chocolate to develop a dusty white bloom.  Ok, I learned several good lessons from this experience, notably that cheaper chocolate has more milk solids and this is one of the things that separates when you refrigerate -- hence the ugly bloom. 

What a debacle (or should I say de-bark-le).

On to batch two of the bark.

Good quality dark chocolate....check; dried cranberries...check;  spiced pecans...check and macadamia nuts...check.

I bash the ingredients more carefully.  I know that I need to leave everything in larger chunks this time round. Stir into molten chocolate and pour onto tray.  This is looking better already.

Pop into fridge for 30 minutes and voila.  This is it.


I next assembled a pretty gift box, a bottle of champers and a mixer (in this instance Pomegranate juice to tie in with the cranberries in the bark)

One less 'to do' on my Xmas list...
To read Keri's more solid recipe and approach to making chocolate bark, read on....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade Gifts in a Jar

Homemade Holiday Gifts can come in all shapes, sizes, flavors and textures...

I am forever astounded by how delicious caramel sauce is.  Every time I make it, I taste a spoonful of this liquid gold and my knees nearly buckle.  Yes, it's that good.  Here's the method:

Caramel Sauce

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 TBSP butter

In medium-sized saucepan, pour sugar and water.  Do not stir.  Heat to medium, swirl pan to blend and boil for  8-10 minutes, or until mixture caramelizes into a golden brown color.  Watch it carefully, it goes from sugar water to golden lusciousness to tar in seconds flat.  Remove pan from heat and pour in cream.  It will bubble up and become a sticky goo.  Keep stirring, and place back on low heat if necessary to remelt the sugar.  When completely smooth and golden, add butter and salt.

When cooled slightly, pour into jar and adorn with festive ribbon.  Store in fridge up to 1 week.  (We bet it won't last that long.)  This is glorious served as a fondue with apples, pretzels, graham crackers, cashews, and cubes of pound or angel cake, or used to top vanilla ice cream.

More of a savory sort?  Give a jar of pesto  or ginger miso dressing

And while technically it would be more likely to come in a bottle than a jar, we think chili vinegar is a good gift option as well.  

Either way, a homemade jar of something yummy is sure to please your loved ones.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jack McDavid's Holiday Nuts

Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner taught us how to make these little lovelies...

These nuts offer the perfect blend of crunchy spicy sweetness, and they make a splendid gift.  Chuck them in a cello bag and tie securely with colorful ribbon.  We emphasize that you tie them up securely so that you are not tempted to nibble them yourself.  You might want to consider a padlock.

Maple Glazed Pecans

1 lb pecans
3 TBSP melted butter
5 TBSP maple syrup
1 TBSP dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 tsp kosher salt

Heat oven to 375.  Toss pecans with butter, syrup, sugar, pepper and sage.  Spread on parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet and bake 12-14 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from oven and add salt.  Toss again.  Cool completely and enjoy as a decadent snack or use as garnish for salad or soup.

Thanks, Jack!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bet You'll Find a Great Gift at Reading Terminal Market

They did it their way. 

But do you know what came first?  Laverne & Shirley or Happy Days?

Both shows were set in Wisconsin..but one was a spin off from the other.  And get extra kudos if you can figure out what inspired Happy Days - and it wasn't another TV show... 

My husband lost a bet with a colleague while he was working in Wisconsin.  The wager was this very same question.  At stake was a basket of the finest cheeses from Wisconsin, versus a gift basket of fare from one of the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch vendors in Reading Terminal Market.

The husband backed the wrong horse; he claimed Happy Days came after Laverne & Shirley.  Wrong!

So with the help of Kauffmans at the Market we've assembled a gift basket to be shipped off FedEx this weekend.

If you're looking for gift baskets, there's a cornucopia of choices from the merchants at the Market.  Here's some we spotted this week...

Bee Natural's Honey infused gifts--perfect for your Honey!

Coffee collection from Old City Coffee

Pretty candy n cookies gift bags @ Termini's

If you'd prefer to customize your own gift basket, don't forget you can do this with a little help from the Pennsylvania General Store.  They have an extensive catalog of gift products, but are equally happy to help you put together a custom basket from merchants at the Market and will still ship them nationwide on your behalf.  Full details at

By the way...the answer is American Graffiti.   You're a popular culture buff if you got that one correct.

Want to be tormented some more...?

Who directed American Graffiti then?  We're not telling :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chocolate Beer Sauce

Somehow the beer just works with the chocolate and cream...
Pour this heavenly concoction into a jar, tie it with a bow, and prepare for raptures from the giftee.

I discovered this keeper of a recipe for chocolate sauce, when it was playing second fiddle to Jamie Oliver's chocolate bread pudding.  I've been slowly working my way through Jamie's latest cookbook: Easy Twists on Great American Classics

While the recipes and anecdotes are cool, the photos leave me cold; they are too dark and dingy -- too arthouse for my liking. 

When I rummage through a cookbook I want to see high gloss photos of happy looking food. 

So turn up the lights next time Jamie, please...

I made this chocolate bread pudding for Sunday family dinner and it was marvelous.  It puffed up souffle-like and earned plaudits around the dinner table. 

It looked like this BEFORE it went in the oven; Imagine a souffle like bottom layer topped with crispy top layer and chunks of chocolate sandwiched in between the bread slices.  Ummmmmm.
Chocolate Beer Sauce Recipe

1/2 cup brown ale
1/2 cup heavy cream
2x tablespoons of sugar
1x 4oz good quality bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
Sea salt

* Add beer, cream and sugar to pan, place pan on medium heat on the stove
* Stir continuously and once it starts to boil, remove pan from heat
* Break chocolate bar into pieces and add to the cream and beer mixture with a small pinch of salt.
* Stir mix until all the ingredients combine into a smooth shiny chocolate sauce.

This recipe keeps well in the fridge.  We actually doubled up all the ingredients and kept half the sauce for several days.  After warming the sauce, we used it as a topping for vanilla ice-cream.

Who could have guessed that beer, chocolate and cream ROCK together?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hints for Homemade Treats

My homemade gifts are always of the consumable variety. Doubtless there are people who make lovely ornaments, wreaths, or handpainted plates but glue guns, stencils and anything involving silk flowers or wired ribbon make me hyperventilate and break out in hives. I avoid craft stores like the plague. My creativity is culinary, and I love to spread it around during the holiday season. Food gifts work; they are economical (assuming you don't douse everything with shaved truffles, which I don't), personal, and best of all, not permanent--like the tiered cake plate adorned with your nephew's face or the purple and gold wreath that prevents your door from shutting properly.....
Here are two categories of food gifts that are always a hit, with some general tips on successful execution....


From Martha Stewart to the Cookie Monster, everyone loves cookies.  There are literally hundreds of recipes to choose from. Check out Philly Mag's collection of recipes by local chefs,, the back of the chocolate chip bag, or the top of the oatmeal canister for ideas. No matter the recipe, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Always use baking parchment. Cookies never stick to it and it eliminates scrubbing.
  • Always have waxed paper in the house. When you make a batch of dough, separate it into 8 inch long, 1-1/2 to 2 inch in diameter logs which you can wrap in waxed paper and store in the fridge (for a week) or the freezer (for a month or more). When you need some cookies, simply slice off the number required, bake them and voila--perfect, freshly-made treats. This is great for gift-giving, but also for general consumption--nothing's better than a right-out-of-the-oven cookie, but you may not want 4 dozen of them sitting on your counter. With the dough log approach, you have great quantity control.
  • Use cello bags tied with ribbon for economical, attractive presentation.
  • Choose a basic recipe that offers variety. Make a double or triple batch chocolate chip dough, but before adding the chips, separate the dough into a few different bowls. Add chocolate chips to one, white chips and macadamia nuts to another, dried cherries or raisins to another, 1/2 cup of strong coffee and a few tablespoons of Kalhua to another. This also works with oatmeal cookies--mix some dough with raisins, some with chocolate chips, some with chopped apricots, others with cashews. Also with basic butter cookies--make some vanilla, some lemon, some coconut, some chocolate. This way, you will only have made one type of dough, but a produced a significant variety of cookies.
More of a cook than a baker?  Deliver dinner...Just don't give the bacon infused clam chowder to your Kosher-keeping neighbor or beef chili to your vegan hairdresser.

Keep these tips in mind:
  • Always use disposable containers--unless the dish/pan is part of the gift. Aluminum baking dishes, disposableTupperwares, or even giant Ziploc bags work just fine. It sort of undermines the gesture if the grateful recipient has to deal with the hassle of returning your soup tureen long after enjoying your minestrone.
  • Choose something that has shelf-life. Your creation should be an item that can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, or is freezer-friendly. Avoid souffles and sushi.
  • Affix heating/serving instructions to the dish--better yet, write it in Sharpie marker directly on the foil or container.
Speaking of dinner, we can't help but chuckle at this one: Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents saying Grace at Robert DiNiro's dining room table.
Watch this space for more ideas, tips and recipes for homemade gifts in the run up to Christmas.

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    Sweet Treats in the Market

    Baking Season is upon us, and recipes are flying.  But some of us are just not bakers.  Never fear; deprivation need not be your destiny.  Reading Terminal Market is a mecca for treats the year round, but especially as the holidays approach.....

    Termini's Tiramisu Cake is a perpetual favorite.

    Flying Monkey's Pumpple Cake is justifiably world famous..
    Photograph by Albert Yee

    Pumpkin Pie from Market isn't just for Thanksgiving any more!

    Chocoholic?  Try Metropolitan Bakery's Chocolate Guinness Stout Cake.

    Bieler's Bakery has a staggering selection....

    Pennsylvania General Store stocks a wide variety of cookies, chocolates, and other treats.

    And for those of you who do bake, stay tuned.  We'll be featuring plenty of ideas for homemade treats in upcoming posts!