What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? After the Holidays: Oregon Pear Dessert Tray! Nothing says a light dessert like fruit, cheese, and nuts. Think about it. When you eat this combination before the meal, chances are you may overdo it simply because it’s all about timing. You certainly don’t intend to gorge yourself, yet conversation flows leading to munching without hesitation. Besides, everyone is doing it. Now fast-forward to the end of the meal. Your appetite has been sated and a little something would make it even more perfect. Ripe fruit that is naturally sweet blends well with a savory cheese and salty crunch of roasted nuts. Who knows? You may even find a sip of sherry or dessert wine to be the crowning touch of a great meal.
OREGON PEAR DESSERT TRAY
1 Oregon pear, sliced with core removed
2-4 ounces Swiss cheese, cut into wedges
1/4 cup cherries, halved with pits removed
1/2 cup mixed nuts
5 ounces dessert wine, per serving
Wash pears; pat dry. Slice with skin on, removing stem and core. Transfer to dessert plate or tray. Arrange cherry halves. Add wedge of savory cheese. Finish with a side serving of mixed nuts. Serve with a glass of sherry or dessert wine.
Experience the Holidays: Mincemeat Cookies! When my friend, Ray, “gifted” me with a batch of his time-honored traditional homemade mincemeat, I felt as though I had received a portion of the Holy Grail. Could this secret from the past hold special powers? Would one bite provide happiness, eternal youth, and food in infinite abundance? You tell me. Ray carefully coached me on how to “season” the mixture by adding flavored brandy (I chose apricot) over a three-week period, stirring it occasionally in a covered clay crock. I was an awestruck student following his instructions to the letter. The results were phenomenal and elegant. Don’t let anyone tell you mincemeat is awful. When prepared correctly, some things are worth the wait.
Ingredients for Cookies:
2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup mincemeat*
2 cups flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
Pecan halves for garnish
Ingredients for Icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon apricot brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons warm milk, as needed
Preheat oven to 375°. Cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Add eggs and mincemeat. Gradually stir in the flour. Fold in chopped pecans. Drop by spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes until tops of cookies are dry and set. Bottoms will be slightly golden. Remove from oven. Transfer to a wired rack. Frost while slightly warm. Top each cookie with a pecan half before frosting sets.
Instructions for Icing:
In a medium bowl gently mix powdered sugar and butter until smooth. Add brandy and vanilla. Stir well. As needed, add warm milk to create a thick consistency. Place a dollop of icing on each cookie. Garnish with pecan half.
*The “Elegant Homemade Mincemeat” recipe can be found in the 1972 Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook, page 371.
Experience the Holidays! This year things will be a little different. Unsettling times of chaos and confusion can still accompany satisfying food. Some people will gather virtually, others behind plastic shields, window panes, and face masks. Christmas cards, letters, texts, and phone calls are especially important right now. It is critical to stay connected. Every family has its favorites from the past. Some indulge in time-worn traditions while others enjoy modern classics. As you embrace the holidays with limited companionship, sentimental yearnings, enjoyable food, or jubilant festivities, celebrate the spirit of the season. In the next few weeks, join me as I share festive foods as well as healthy options. Experience the holidays with gifts that never go out of style: Faith, Hope, Joy, and Love. These are the things worth sharing.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Splurge-Worthy Goodness: Mincemeat Quick Bread! Don’t look at me that way. I know what you’re thinking. “If this recipe has mincemeat in it, I’m not eating it.” But hold on a sec. There are plenty of foods with names that sound downright gross. Think about it: head cheese, tripe, mung beans, and blood sausage to name a few. I’m here to tell you mincemeat is a sweet and savory filling that basically contains dried fruits, citrus, spices, and brandy. Ahhh. Now I have your attention. This particular recipe has about 1/4 cup apricot brandy in it. Just know if you do choose to add brandy or rum to a jar of prepared mincemeat, be sure to allow it to marinate in the refrigerator at least 8 hours before using. Now you can understand why some people eat it straight out of the jar.
MINCEMEAT QUICK BREAD
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 cups prepared mincemeat pie filling (with 1/4 cup apricot brandy, optional)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9”x5” loaf pan. Set aside. Combine egg, vegetable oil, orange zest, orange juice, and mincemeat pie filling. Stir until well blended. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Gradually add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring just until combined. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Check loaf with a cake tester to make sure center is done. Remove from oven. Cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Table Food: Instant Dutch Baby! Be innovative. When my Hawaiian friend, Dillyn, sent me a care package of unique foods from the island, I knew I would make something special to show her. I began with the popular chocolate macadamia nut pancake mix, tweaked it a little, and transformed it into a festive weekend breakfast for two. Everything tastes better with chocolate, doesn’t it? With mini morsels in the batter as well as a sprinkling on top, the flavor was ribboned throughout making one forget about the need for extra syrup. A final dusting of powdered sugar provided a tempting image to share long distance. She approved with glee and open delight. Mahalo!
INSTANT DUTCH BABY
6 ounces chocolate macadamia nut pancake mix
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a one-quart ovenproof baking dish with nonstick oil. Set aside. Combine pancake mix, egg, and milk in a bowl. Using a wire whisk, mix until the large lumps are gone. Fold in 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips. Pour batter into the prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining mini chocolate chips on top. Bake 25 minutes until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes before dusting with powdered sugar. Serve warm.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Zippy Olive Pesto! Your last visit to the doctor may have been one where you received a good report, yet were advised to lean more toward a Mediterranean diet. What does that mean exactly, you wonder. In layman’s terms it simply suggests making a couple of substitutions in food choices to maintain a healthy weight, prevent heart disease, live longer, and travel often. “The healthy fats in olives are extracted to produce olive oil, one of the key components of the incredibly healthy Mediterranean diet”, according to Healthline, a provider of health information.* For many this may not be the advice you wish to hear, but for an olive-lover, like me, it is the Best.News.Ever.
ZIPPY OLIVE PESTO
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 bunch parsley, leaves only
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup organic green olives, chopped
3 tablespoons water (optional)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
In a skillet over medium-high heat, toast pine nuts turning occasionally until slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool. In a food processor, combine parsley leaves, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Pulse until almost smooth. Add toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Pulse slightly. With the machine running on low, drizzle in the olive oil until combined. Transfer pesto to a bowl. Fold in the chopped green olives. Add water, if needed. Season with kosher salt. Serve over toasted bread.
*I receive no recompense for mentioning this website.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Talking Points: Bored With Cheese? Anyone who has perused a deli market understands how confusing the cheese categories have become. The choices appear endless. Cheese can be aged for months, hand-rubbed with robust Italian spices, shelf-cured for optimal quality, or made with passion from a local dairy. Who knew? I recently picked up a “cheese flight” of three Wisconsin varieties. I loved the description detailing the best pairing options for fruits, nuts, and beverages. Not only is it a great way to try mild or robust cheeses, it turns a charcuterie board into a win, win for the night.
BORED WITH CHEESE?
3.5-ounce wedge Tuscan-rubbed fontina cheese
3-ounce wedge parmesan cheese
1.5-ounce edge bleu cheese
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced
1/2 cup walnut halves
Crackers and baguette slices
Arrange cheeses, apple slices, and walnut halves on a cutting board. Serve with crackers, sliced baguette, beer, and wine.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food for Sharing: Outrageous Oatmeal Fudgies! Who doesn’t love No-Bake cookies? Forget about spending hours in the kitchen. This kid-friendly favorite can be ready in a flash. The toughest part is deciding if you want to top them off with a piece of candy corn, a walnut half, a maraschino cherry, or leave them plain. Either way, they won’t hang around long because…..(repeat after me)…Everyone loves peanut butter and chocolate!
OUTRAGEOUS OATMEAL FUDGIES
1/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
Dash sea salt
1/2 cup natural peanut butter, crunchy
2 cups whole grain oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine butter, sugar, milk, cocoa powder, and dash of salt in a 4-quart pan. Bring to boil over medium-high temperature. Stirring occasionally, boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Quickly add crunchy peanut butter, whole grain oats, and vanilla. Mix well. Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Top with one piece of candy corn. Let stand until cool. Store in a covered container.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food for Sharing: Kulfi with Pistachios and Lavender Buds! Kulfi is a type of homemade ice cream popular in Southeast Asia and India. This “instant” version can be made in your very own kitchen without the cost or hassle of an ice cream maker. Flavored with pistachio nuts and a hint of lavender make it a delectable frozen dessert worth crowing about.
KULFI WITH PISTACHIOS AND LAVENDER BUDS
10 ounces evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons cardamom
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
1 teaspoon lavender buds, crushed
1 teaspoon lavender extract
Combine evaporated milk, heavy cream, and sweetened condensed milk. Blend until smooth. Add cardamom, pistachios, lavender buds, and lavender extract. Stir. Pour into bouchon molds, fluted pan, or popsicle molds. Freeze overnight. Before serving, dip the molds in warm water. Invert kulfi onto a dessert plate. Garnish with crushed pistachios.