Walnut Brown Sugar Butter

Eating My Way Through the Holidays. Festive Food Gifts: Walnut Brown Sugar Butter! Ahh, sweet butter. I don’t know if it’s the winter weather or the upcoming holidays that get me in the mood for bakery ideas. Who doesn’t appreciate aromatic cinnamon, sweet nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice? The smell of bread baking in the oven triggers all kinds of emotions. It can lift our mood and impact our behavior. Honestly, it would have been pretty easy to feature today’s compound butter all by itself. But tell me, isn’t it better to imagine slathering it all over those freshly-baked cinnamon rolls?

WALNUT BROWN SUGAR BUTTER

Ingredients:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup walnuts, chopped

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, combine unsalted butter, brown sugar, and sea salt until smooth. Fold in chopped walnuts. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Spoon compound butter onto plastic wrap. Roll layer of plastic wrap over butter to form a log. Roll tight and place in refrigerator for one hour or until firm. Serve over toast, cinnamon rolls, pancakes, or muffins.

Traditional English Toffee

Eating My Way Through the Holidays. Festive Food Gifts: Traditional English Toffee! So often we have those cherished childhood memories of homemade candy and cookies that accompanied holiday celebrations. They stick with us for life. I can remember being in eighth grade and determined to replicate a batch of my mother’s English Toffee. I waited for her to go into town and then pulled out her secret recipe. You know, the ones scratched on a 3.5”x5” card. More often than not, they showed a list of ingredients with instructions that simply said, “Bake at 350° for 30 minutes”. Let’s face it, that’s pretty vague compared to what we explain nowadays. As you can imagine, I melted the butter along with the brown sugar and stirred. And stirred. And stirred. So how come it wasn’t turning into this crisp crunchy texture of rich golden butter that fueled my addiction? What could I possibly be doing wrong? There was nothing written on the card to correct this runny, gooey mess. Alas, I scraped it all into the trash, washed the pan, and plopped myself at the kitchen table with my Algebra book. She walked in, smiled, and never said a word.

TRADITIONAL ENGLISH TOFFEE

Ingredients:

1 cup pecans, chopped

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

Butter a baking sheet. Spread pecans in a single layer in the center. Heat butter and brown sugar to boiling in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Boil over Medium heat, stirring constantly, for 7 minutes. Immediately spread mixture over pecans on baking sheet. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot mixture. Place a cookie sheet over pan until chocolate chips are melted. Spread melted chocolate over candy. Refrigerate until firm. Break toffee into pieces.

Devils on Horseback

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Devils on Horseback! The name itself is a conversation starter. I know, right. The colors themselves resemble the “dark side” of our personalities. The small savory dish is made with pitted dates, smoked almonds, and crispy bacon or prosciutto. It’s pretty simple to prepare and is often served as an appetizer at social gatherings. Popular as a finger food, this hors d’oeuvre is perfect for small conversation at backyard parties. Watch yourself. Eating too many may find you a little mischievous.

DEVILS ON HORSEBACK

Ingredients:

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 cup brown sugar

24 pitted dates, whole

24 smoked almonds, whole

3-ounce package prosciutto, deli sliced and cut in half lengthwise or 12 slices thin bacon, cut in half width wise

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a baking dish with nonstick oil. Set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine soy sauce and ground ginger. Mix well. In a second dish, place brown sugar. Take a pitted date, open carefully, and stuff it with a smoked almond. Wrap the date with a half slice of prosciutto or half bacon slice. Dip it into the soy sauce mixture. Roll it in brown sugar and place seam side down into the prepared baking dish. Repeat until all dates are prepared. Bake in the preheated oven until the prosciutto or bacon is crisp, 15 to 25 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Impromptu Pretzel Crust Pecan Pie

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Impromptu Pretzel Crust Pecan Pie! Sometimes a crunchy pie crust satisfies primal needs. After all, it’s second nature to crave foods that sound good when you bite into them. Admit it, we like different tastes. The desire for crispy and crunchy foods never seems to grow old. Because we associate tastes and aromas with feelings, our brain is already satisfied before the first bite. Combine sweet and salty for the ultimate dessert experience. Crunch away.

IMPROMPTU PRETZEL CRUST PECAN PIE

Ingredients for Crust:

1 1/4 cups pretzel crumbs

2 tablespoons corn starch

3 tablespoons sugar

7 tablespoons butter, melted

Ingredients for Filling:

6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks

1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

1 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon sea salt

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups pecans, chopped

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine pretzel crumbs, corn starch, sugar, and melted butter in a medium bowl. Stir well. Press evenly into a 9” pie plate, making sure the sides and bottom are covered. Put pie plate on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes until crust is firm. To prepare filling, take a medium saucepan. Combine butter chunks, brown sugar, corn syrup, and sea salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool. Whisk in beaten eggs. Fold in chopped pecans. Pour mixture into pretzel crust. Bake 50 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Hot and Saucy Meatballs

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Color of Food: Hot and Saucy Meatballs! For an amazing appetizer or afternoon snack, simply throw everything together for quick work. Bake in the oven or simmer in the crockpot on a low setting. Obviously, if you prefer to make the meatballs from scratch, be my guest. I opted for a simpler method today. Either way, once the meatballs are cooking, you can get on to other things. Such as the latest episode of “The Voice” on DVR. Don’t judge me.

HOT AND SAUCY MEATBALLS

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown sugar

2/3 honey

1 cup ketchup

4 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds

26 ounces Italian meatballs, fully cooked

Fresh chives for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250°. In a medium bowl combine brown sugar, honey, ketchup, soy sauce, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Mix well. Add Italian meatballs. Coat evenly. Transfer to a covered casserole dish. Bake for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Garnish with roasted sesame seeds and fresh chives before serving.

Savory Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Chow Down: Savory Bourbon Barbecue Sauce! Take a deep breath and try not to drool as you look at this tender slab of pork ribs. Focus instead on the incredible homemade bourbon barbecue sauce. It is so good you may want to slurp it with a spoon. Go ahead, permission granted. Swirl the tangy goodness around in your mouth so you can appreciate the savory sweet thick sauce with a surprising kick of red pepper. Underlying all this magnificence are hints of oak, toffee, dark fruit, and anise from bourbon whiskey. Well done.

SAVORY BOURBON BARBECUE SAUCE

Ingredients:

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey*

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons dark molasses

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, combine ketchup, bourbon, brown sugar, dark molasses, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, liquid smoke, onion powder, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Stir until thoroughly blended. Transfer bourbon barbecue sauce to a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for two minutes. Reduce heat. Simmer until sauce is reduced to about half and thickened, approximately 10-15 minutes. Stir often. Do not scorch. Remove from heat. Carefully pour sauce into a jar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

*I receive no recompense from recommending Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Harvest Snap Beans

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Front-Runner Favs: Harvest Snap Beans! If you’ve ever planted a garden, you already know how easily and quickly green beans are to grow. They produce so well, even a novice takes pride in their bounty. When it’s time to harvest, choose smooth green (or yellow) pods. Lumps are a sign of an overripe bean, which means it could be dried out or damaged inside. Be particular. You can always tell how fresh it is by the “snap” sound it makes when broken. Perhaps that’s why my aunt on the farm used to call them “snap beans”. Taste is everything.

HARVEST SNAP BEANS

Ingredients:

1 pound frozen yellow wax and green beans, thawed

6 slices bacon; cooked and broken into chunks

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Arrange yellow wax beans and green beans in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle bacon pieces over beans. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, melted butter, soy sauce, garlic powder, and agave nectar. Mix well. Pour over green beans and bacon. Bake uncovered 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds before serving.

Picnic Pork and Beans

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Picnic Pork and Beans! Tradition speaks loud and clear at family gatherings and picnics, especially in the summer. No matter the cookout, barbecue, or pitch-in, certain foods are expected on the buffet table. One of them is the coveted baked beans. Usually the unmarried auntie or the matriarch is the keeper of the cherished recipes. The “grande dame” knows all the ingredients, especially the heavily-guarded secret ones. It might be a dab of this or a pinch of that. My advice? Time, patience, and integrity. After all, there’s a lot of responsibility in carrying on the Secret Family Recipes. In the end, it’s all worth it!

PICNIC PORK AND BEANS

Ingredients:

3 slices uncured bacon, thick

1/4 cup sweet onion, sliced

1 tablespoon bacon drippings

28-ounce can pork and beans

1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons pimento, diced

1/4 cup barbecue sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°. Fry bacon in a large skillet until partially cooked. Remove bacon from pan and dab on paper towels. Let cool and then break into pieces. Discard all but one tablespoon bacon drippings. Add sweet onion to pan; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Combine sweet onion, pork and beans, seasoned salt, red pepper flakes, diced pimento, barbecue sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Mix well. Transfer to an ovenproof dish. Top with bacon pieces. Bake uncovered for one hour, or until beans are bubbly and sauce is thick. Let stand 10 minutes for sauce to thicken slightly. Serve warm.

Pan-Seared Tilapia

What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Pan-Seared Tilapia! I don’t often “fry” foods, but once in awhile nothing else will do. The secret to pan-searing fish involves five key steps. First, make sure the skillet is nonstick or a trustworthy cast iron skillet. Secondly, choose a neutral-flavored oil which has a higher smoke point. You won’t need much, so it’s crucial to make sure the oil is not going to turn black from high heat. The third point, and this is just as important, make sure moisture is removed from the fish. If not, there is guaranteed to be steam-created soggy fish or dangerous grease splatters. Step Four: When the fish is placed in the pan, do not overcrowd it. The pieces should not touch each other at all. Finally, allow the fish to sear without moving it. This is how you get that beautiful crispy surface. Use a timer. Once the fillets are carefully flipped over, you’re almost done. By this time everyone in the house will be heading to the kitchen to discover what smells so incredibly good. Well Done, Grasshopper.

PAN-SEARED TILAPIA

Ingredients:

2 frozen tilapia fillets, thawed

1/2 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 lime, juice and zest

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 pat butter, divided

Fresh dill, for garnish

Instructions:

Defrost fish fillets overnight in the refrigerator. Remove from package, pat dry with paper towels. Set aside. In a shallow dish, combine brown sugar, chili powder, kosher salt, garlic powder, and lime zest. Mix well. Warm vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Rub both sides of each fillet with the spice mixture. Cook tilapia fillets for 4 minutes. Carefully flip them over. Squeeze lime juice over fish in pan. Divide a pat of butter over the top of each fillet. Cook 3 minutes longer, or until opaque and flaky. Transfer pan-seared tilapia fillets to a platter. Allow to rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh dill. Serve immediately.