Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cranberry Cheddar Cheeseball

Hello Fall!!! This is the time of year when everyone busts out the pumpkin recipes but my first choice for fall is always the cranberry. I made this up one day when I was making my standard cheeseball and wanted to add some color. Dried cranberries add a touch of sweet and tangy. This is perfect for snacking on during the football game. Dont let the colors fool you - it may look like a Redskin but we are all Eagles or Steelers in my house.

Cheddar Cranberry Cheeseball - fast and easy!

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese ( I like it sharp, but whatever blows your skirt up)
1 cup Hellman's Mayonnaise
1 small onion, shredded
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 - 1 cup finely chopped pecans, depending on how much you love pecans

Use a food processor to finely finely chop the cranberries, then shred the onion, then shred the cheese. Don't bother cleaning the prep bowl between ingredients - this is supposed to be FAST. Just dump them in a mixing bowl as you go.
Mix in the mayo. Mound it all on a pretty plate and coat with the chopped pecans. Chill for at least 3 hours. It will firm up. Serve with crackers.

- You can form the mixture into a ring and then put some cranberry chutney in the middle if you are feeling really fancy.

-If you have any left over, you can also put it in an oven safe dish and bake for about 20 minutes at 350. Serve with crackers of chunks of french bread. Amazing.


Classic Pineapple Upside Down Cake

I love Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It is comfort food. Buttery, moist and gooey with that little tang of citrus to keep it from being just too much. And it reminds me of being a kid. This was a potluck and barbecue staple in the 70's and just the sight of it brings me back to the first house I can remember and late summer evenings on the back porch.

I guess my husband must be the ultimate nostalgic because of all of the delicious and amazing cakes I have ever made for him, this is the one he requests every year for his birthday. And this is a huge generalization wrapped in an observation, but men in general love this cake. I once made it for a Silent Auction Fund-raiser at work for the Relay for Life and it raised $38. Thirty eight BUCKS for a nine inch cake? In 1991? The bidding was a war between four guys, all of whom wanted that cake BAD and NOW. The bidding only ended because the timer went off. If I had only known I would have made 3 more and charged them a flat rate for them.

I don't remember where I got the original recipe but I have had it for years. This cake is easy to throw together and bake in under an hour. Ideally you make it in a well seasoned iron frying pan, like I do. But if you don't have one, use a deep 9 inch cake pan. Even an 8 inch square cake pan will work. Fair warning - when you make the syrupy top, you will want to taste because it smells so buttery and toffee-like. And you burn the skin off of your tongue. But it will taste so good that when you pull the cake out of the oven and flip it onto the platter, you will scrape the pan to get every bit of it, and proceed to burn your tongue again.

I warned you.

Michele's Pineapple Upside Down Cake

350 degree oven

For Topping

1 can pineapple slices in their own juice, drained but reserve the juice for the batter

1 stick butter

1 cup brown sugar

Melt butter in a well-seasoned iron frying pan, add brown sugar and simmer for about a minute or two until it is bubbly and syrupy, stirring often. Taste. Burn tongue. If using a cake pan just cook the butter and brown sugar combination in a saucepan, then pour into the well greased cake pan.

Stick one slice of pineapple in the middle, and then circle it with the rest of the slices. Now you can add maraschino cherries if you like. I don't, so I added real cherries since they are in season and I had them. Set aside while you make batter.

For Batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

3/4 stick butter

1 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1 T. rum (optional)

1/2 cup reserved pineapple juice.

Mix four, baking powder and salt in small bowl on the side. Beat butter in mixer until smooth, add sugar and beat until fluffy - 2-3 minutes on high. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add vanilla and rum, mix to combine. Add half of the dry mixture, mix until just combined. Add pineapple juice and mix again until blended. Add remaining flour mixture and mix, again until just combined. Pour batter over pineapple mixture and spread lightly over pineapple.

Bake 45 minutes. Remove from over and run a knife around edge. Let sit for 10 minutes and then flip onto platter. Scrape delicioous carmel from pan and burn your tongue again.


Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

I happened to catch an interview with Olympic swimmer Micheal Phelp's mom a while back. She was describing what it felt like when she saw him for the first time after his very first gold medal win. She cried as she recalled him striding up to her, beaming, with his gold medal in one hand and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the other. It was a great story of Michael and his single mom and what an inspiration she was for him.

And then later all I could think about was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He won his first gold medal in Athens in 2004. Isn't PBJ a classically American thing? Do they even have peanut butter in Greece? Did he bring the peanut butter and jelly with him? Or is that part of the Olympic hospitality, making sure every country's home food is represented in the Olympic village? I could go on all night speculating on what I would want for my Olympic food, but instead I decided to whip up a batch of The Barefoot Contessa's Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars.

These are rich and delicious and they are everything you love about peanut butter and jelly, all grown up. I didn't have salted peanut's on hand so I did without but I know the salty crunch of the peanuts would have made a wonderful addition.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars, The Barefoot Contessa

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (18 ounces) creamy peanut butter (recommended: Skippy)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (18 ounces) raspberry jam or other jam
2/3 cups salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.

In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.

Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don't worry if all the jam isn't covered; it will spread in the oven. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and cut into squares.

Gorgeous Guacamole Salad

I can't take full credit. I found the recipe and collected some of the ingredients. But my husband ran with it and did all of the chopping. It was spicy and limey with the cold fresh crunch of summer vegetables and the creamy delicious avocado.

Guacamole Salad, Barefoot Contessa
I found the recipe here

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and 1/2-inch diced
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup small diced red onion
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno peppers, seeded (2 peppers)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 ripe Hass avocados, seeded, peeled, and 1/2-inch diced

Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeno peppers, and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, black pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables. Toss well.
Just before you're ready to serve the salad, fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature. (I am going to say this serves 6 as a side dish and four as an entree salad)

Don't skimp on the lime juice or the salt - together they really amp up the overall flavors. The black beans added just the right amount of protein to make this our entree, paired with crusty slices of Jim Leahy's No Knead Bread (

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Irish Soda Bread for Scone Lovers

My family has been making this version of Irish Soda Bread for as long as anyone can remember. My grandfather was born and raised in Charlestown, County Mayo, Ireland and I think this recipe came by way of one of his sisters. It wasn't until I went to Ireland (twice - whee!) that I found out that Irish Soda Bread is really more like a wheat bread and our family's version is what they consider more of a giant scone. But who doesn't like scones?

This recipe is fast and easy to make and it is perfect for breakfast or with coffee as a snack. I often make it to accompany a soup dinner in the winter or to take to a "Food Day" at work. The ingredients are pretty basic, so it is really easy to whip up when you have company coming and it makes the house smell heavenly.'

Quickie - My Dad worked for a company for 27 years and they decided to create an employee cookbook and asked everyone to submit recipes. My mother proudly wrote up the family recipe for Irish Soda bread and even included a comment about how it was "a treasured recipe" from her Irish ancestors. When the cookbook came out, my mother flipped through to find her recipe, and discovered that they had left out all of the wet ingredients, basically leaving flour, raisins and a few other dry ingredients to bake for an hour at 350. If the cookbook went into a second printing, I am sure her recipe would have been edited to say "A treasured recipe from my Irish ancestors, who were a wee bit fond of the whiskey".

Irish Soda Bread Our Way - Printable Recipe
1 Egg
1 pint sour cream
3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 t. cream of tartar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries, chopped apricots, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an iron frying pan. If you dont have one use an 8 inch cake plan or pie plate.

Beat egg in mixing bowl, add sour cream and mix well. To the wet mixture, add the dry ingredients and mix until slightly combined. Don't overmix, just until it starts to clump together. Then add a cup of raisins and mix in. Raisins are the traditional addition, but sometimes I use dried cranberries or dried cherries. I might even throw in a bit of almond extract (with the cherries) or a teaspoon of grated orange peel (with the cranberries) if I am feeling fruity. Whatever blows your skirt up, as they probably never say in Ireland. The dough will be sticky. Really sticky but not to worry since you just dump it in the pan. No need to knead.

Spread dough in lightly greased iron frying pan and bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes until golden brown. Enjoy!