Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

I've always loved "Pecan Sandies" and other Pecan Shortbread Cookies, but this was my first attempt at making them at home. 

Oh, I've made Russian Tea Cookies and other pecan cookies before, but this time I wanted a true Pecan Sandie-type cookie. 

After a little experimenting, I think I've got it.

1 2/3 cups finely chopped pecans (6 ounces)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend together butter, sugars, vanilla, and salt in a bowl until combined well. Mix in flour and chopped pecans until a soft dough forms (dough will be slightly sticky).

Form 1-inch balls of dough and arrange 2 inches apart on two ungreased baking sheets. Flatten balls to 1/3 inch thick using the bottom of a glass (flour bottom).

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

Yield:  Approx. 3 dozen

Option - Keep 36 pecan halves aside and top each pressed cookies with one pecan half prior to baking.


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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Prime Rib of Beef Roast

We almost always have Prime Rib of Beef Roast during the holidays, typically for Christmas Eve dinner. When prepared and cooked properly almost nothing beats it. Traditionally served with Yorkshire Pudding and au jus or gravy, it's a family favorite. 

This year we were fortunate to be able to purchase our Prime Rib of Beef from West Ridge Farms- Premium Beef, so it is 100% grass fed beef.

Did you know?  Prime Rib or Standing Rib Roast is a cut of beef from the primal rib, one of the nine primal cuts of beef. While the entire rib section comprises ribs six through 12, a standing rib roast may contain anywhere from two to seven ribs.

It is most often roasted "standing" on the rib bones so that the meat does not touch the pan. An alternative cut removes the top end of the ribs for easier carving.

Most people think that the word "Prime" in Prime Rib means it is USDA Prime Grade. But unless the official USDA designation is attached to the rib roast, it is not USDA Prime certified. The word "Prime" by itself only describes the most desirable part of the "rib section" of the beef regardless of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) Grade.

The top grades of beef are USDA Prime, USDA Choice and USDA Select with Prime being the most superior. 

A Prime Rib Roast is also often referred to as "Standing Rib Roast." It is cut from the rib section which is one if the eight primal cuts of beef and is comprised of ribs 6 through 12 and a standing Prime Rib Roast can be 2 to 7 ribs. Once roasted to the desired temperature, it is sliced into portions which are called "Prime Rib."

It is interesting to note that a slice of uncooked prime rib roast is really a "rib steak" which includes the "rib eye" portion.

1 Prime Rib Roast (4 rib minimum recommended)
1 tbls. olive oil
1-2 tsp. minced garlic
2-3 fresh rosemary sprigs (optional)
Course-ground black pepper

Remove roast from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature about 1 hour prior to roasting.  Lightly oil the roast all over with olive oil.  Rub on minced garlic, sprinkle well with pepper and top roast with 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary.

Preheat oven to 450.  Place roast rib side down, fat side up, so roast is "standing up" in roasting pan. Sear roast for 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 325 for the remainder of the cooking time. Time will vary dependent on size of roast, however the roasting time is approximately 13-15 minutes per pound. Cook until an internal temperature of 120-135 (rare to medium rare) is reached. Remember the internal temperature will rise as the roast rests. When checking the temperature of your prime rib roast, insert meat thermometer so tip is in thickest part of beef, not resting in fat or touching bone.

Remove roast from oven, cover lightly with foil and let rest 15-20 minutes before carving. Longer if making Yorkshire Pudding.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bourbon Brown Sugar Mustard

I saw this recipe the other day over on my friend, The Duchess of Cansalot's page, and I knew I just had to try it.  I'd already made Spicy Brown Mustard and Oktoberfest Beer Mustard, so this was a "must make" to add to the collection.

Bourbon, brown sugar and mustard seeds all combine in this tangy, sweet, spicy, with a bite mustard.

Did you know?  Mustard is a condiment made from the seeds of a mustard plant (white or yellow mustard, Sinapis hirta; brown or Indian mustard, Brassica juncea; or black mustard, B. nigra). The whole, ground, cracked, or bruised mustard seeds are mixed with water, salt, lemon juice, or other liquids, and sometimes other flavorings and spices, to create a paste or sauce ranging in color from bright yellow to dark brown. The tastes range from sweet to spicy.

Commonly paired with meats, sushi, pizza, breads, potatoes, and cheeses, mustard is a popular addition to sandwiches, salads, steaks, tofu, yogurt, hamburgers, and hot dogs. It is also used as an ingredient in many dressings, glazes, sauces, soups, and marinades; as a cream or a seed, mustard is used as a condiment and in the cuisine of India and Bangladesh, the Mediterranean, northern and southeastern Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa, making it one of the most popular and widely used spices and condiments in the world.

The Romans were probably the first to experiment with the preparation of mustard as a condiment. They mixed unfermented grape juice, known as "must,"with ground mustard seeds (called sinapis) to make "burning must," mustum ardens — hence "must ard." A recipe for mustard appears in Apicius (also called De re coquinaria), the anonymously compiled Roman cookbook from the late 4th or early 5th century; the recipe calls for a mixture of ground mustard, pepper, caraway, lovage, grilled coriander seeds, dill, celery, thyme, oregano, onion, honey, vinegar, fish sauce, and oil, and was intended as a glaze for spit-roasted boar. (source: Wikipedia)

1 cup bourbon
½ cup water
1 cup brown mustard seeds
½ cup cider vinegar
6 Tbs. dry mustard powder
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup raw local honey

Heat bourbon, water and seeds until mixture just comes to a boil; remove from heat and steep for about 2 hours.

Transfer soaked seeds to the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth, or leave grainy. Add vinegar, mustard powder, brown sugar, and honey; process briefly to mix. Transfer to a medium saucepan.

Over medium heat, stirring constantly, bring mustard to a boil; continue to boil mustard until it reduces to your desired thickness, but remember it will thicken further upon cooling. Taste and adjust seasonings to your likening (add additional water if needed if the mustard is getting too thick).

Fill hot jars to a generous ¼-inch head-space, tamping down the mustard into the jar. Remove air bubbles by running a plastic knife around edges and middle of the jar. 

Wipe rims, top jars with lids and seals and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 minutes in the hot water prior to removing the jars to a clean towel on your kitchen counter-top. Let sit undisturbed 24 hours. Store in pantry.

Shelf life is one year.  Opened jars need to be refrigerated.

Note - As with all homemade mustard, the flavors develop and mellow over time, so it's best to let them sit for a few weeks, or even a month or more, before using. This is certainly personal preference and not something you have to do.

Yield:  3 - 8 oz. jelly jars


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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Stratford Hall Ginger Cookies

These cookies have been a family favorite for many, many years. They were always baked around the holidays, and I used to look forward to the smell of them baking ... nothing beats that delicious smell of molasses, ginger and cloves.

My mother originally began making these in the 1980's after she toured Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the home of four generations of the Lee family of Virginia, including two signers of the Declaration of Independence. It was also the birthplace of Robert Edward Lee (1807–70), who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War, and then became the president of Washington College, which later became Washington and Lee University.

1 1/2 cups butter, melted
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon clove
granulated sugar used to coat cookies

In a large mixing bowl, combine melted butter, molasses, sugar and eggs beating well.

Sift together flour, baking soda and spices.  Add this to the melted butter, molasses, sugar and egg mixture, beating well.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for several hours.

Take a small amount of dough and roll it into small balls, then roll balls in granulated sugar

Bake in 350 oven 8-10 minutes or until slightly firm and well browned.

Yield:  5 dozen cookies


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Monday, December 15, 2014

Bavarian Potato Salad

Oh I'd been searching and searching for a good Bavarian Potato Salad. One that would remind us of the years we were stationed in Germany, and enjoyed all kinds of German delicacies.

I finally found one we all really love and agree it's the most authentic we've been able to find. In fact, a very good friend of mine, Michele Wynn Gerhard, a renowned Chef who is unfortunately no longer with us, spoke lovingly about this recipe when I shared it with her. 

"THANK YOU, Mary! In my opinion, this is THE German potato salad recipe!!! Seriously! I can definitely picture my German mother-in-law in her kitchen. I can definitely smell the Kartoffelsalat from here, and I can almost taste it! The picture looks almost identical to hers. I'm talking MEGA drool here! If I'm ever able to get in the kitchen and cook again, this will be the first thing I make! KEY - the right potato (never Russet "baking" potatoes!), right balance of vinegar & oil, using a good MILD vinegar, and please, please, please don't omit the chicken (or beef) broth, even if it sounds weird to you. YES, pour the vinegar over the warm potatoes, and yes, to just a small amount of sugar. It enhances the flavor somehow, but doesn't make the salad taste sweet. And, as "Mutti" says, NEVER serve hot or cold, always warm, by which I mean room temperature.

In all these years, I've never seen a recipe that came so close to describing exactly what Mama Mizzi did 1,000's of times, at least. Her kids, grandchildren, and daughter-in-laws learned to make it by watching her. Ditto for all her best dishes. I've never seen her consult a recipe, not even when baking. Oh yeah, the fresh herbs are important, too. She always had a great garden and used whatever was available to her there - always parsley & chives, dill if she had it. Yes, freshly ground black pepper, and she was just as fussy about her vinegar as she was about the type of potato she used. Thanks again, dear Mary... this is a treasure, for sure!" Love, Michele

Adapted from A Feast for the Eyes

5 pounds Yukon Gold or Red potatoes (do not use Russet)
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ pound bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1 tbls. dill weed
¼ cup parsley leaves
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. course-ground black pepper
¾ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil

Cook bacon until crispy. Drain the bacon on a paper towel and save about 2 Tablespoons of the fat. Finely chop the cooked bacon and set aside. Next dice the onion.

Boil the potatoes, skin on, until fork tender (approx 20-30 minutes) in water. Drain and let sit in cold water to cool down enough to handle; gently rub off the peel.

Once all of the potatoes are peeled, cut each potato in half and then bite size pieces, or slices, however you prefer.

Pour the vinegar, salt and pepper on to the warm potatoes and wait for a few minutes, stirring once. Let the mixture absorb into the potatoes, which takes just a few minutes.

Add the bacon, onion, salt and pepper,the reserved bacon fat, and chicken stock.

Gently stir with a large wooden spoon being careful not to press the potatoes too much.

Add about 3/4 cups of the vegetable oil and combine (you may need more later).

Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, taste and adjust the salt, if necessary. Add a little more vinegar, if necessary so it has a mild tart taste.

The potato salad should have a nice shine to it, but not be too oily. Add a little oil at a time, until you see a very light sheen. Add the parsley last and stir to combine.

Serve at room temperature.


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Brandied Fruit Cake

I should start by saying I don't like fruit cake. At least I don't like the kind with the candied citron fruit in it. To me that stuff was always nasty, so therefore, I never ate fruit cake.

That is UNTIL the day my friend, Liz Krejci, (prounced CRAY CHEE) convinced me to try a piece of her fruit cake. She swore it didn't taste like traditional fruit cake, so I took the plunge.

Oh my goodness, this was the BEST fruit cake I'd ever had. Moist and delicious, made with real fruit "brandied" in a simple sugar syrup. It was so darn yummy.

Well that moment was many years ago, so I recently asked Liz if she remembered the fruit cake she made years ago, and she did ... but now she had to find the recipe, which I hoped she would, and she DID!  Then she sent it to me. Oh yes, I was in business now.

Our best guess is this recipe is circa the early 1970's and is also known as an Amish Friendship Cake, although most of those recipes use a box cake mix, and this recipe is baked from scratch.

For Cake
1 cup melted butter
2 eggs
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 cups flour
¼ tsp nutmeg
2 cups brandied fruit, DRAINED (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350. Beat melted butter and sugar together. Beat in eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture. Add brandied fruit & nuts (makes a very thick batter).

Grease and flour, or spray with baking spray, one Bundt Pan, Tube Pan or 5 mini-loaf pans. Bake large cake for 1 hour, or longer as needed until toothpick inserted comes out clean (mini loaves 40-45 minutes.) It will have a thick crust but will be nice & moist inside.

Yield:  1 large Bundt or Tube Pan or 5 mini-loaves

For Brandied Fruit Sauce
1 cup chunk pineapple, drained
1 cup maraschino cherries, drained
1 cup sliced peaches, drained
3 cups sugar
6 tbls. Brandy

1st week:
1 cup chunk pineapple, drained
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
Combine in a large glass container with a loose top. Stir occasionally.

3rd week:
1 cup maraschino cherries, drained
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
Stir occasionally

5th week:
1 cup sliced peaches, drained
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
Stir occasionally

Sauce is ready to use in 6 weeks time from 1st week.
To keep sauce growing, repeat above procedure no more than every 2 weeks. Canned apricots & Queen Ann cherries can also be used. Very good over ice cream & pound cake.

Alternatively, give a jar of your remaining "brandied fruit sauce liquid" to a friend to use as a starter for their fruit.


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Classic Sourdough Bread

I really love sourdough and have had my share of sourdough starters over the years. I like to watch the starter as it develops over the course of a few days; watching it get all bubbly, swell and expand as it "does its thing." 

One thing you have to have is TIME and PATIENCE. Sourdough takes awhile to make, but the results are so worth the time you invest.

There are many, many starter recipes out there, and for the most part they are all very similar. I chose one this time around that does use packaged yeast, which was simply a way to make it a bit easier.

It developed very quickly and the results were great. (starter recipe from

Sourdough Starter
Sourdough Starter 
1 package dry yeast
2 cups warm water
2 cups flour

Mix ingredients in a large non-metal bowl. Pour blended ingredients into a LARGE jar or bowl with a loose fitting lid and let stand at room temperature for 36 to 48 hours. The starter will swell and bubble as it "grows" so be sure to use a large enough container as it may double or triple in size as it "grows."  (I let mine stand for 48 hours)

Afterward, starter can be stored in refrigerator until needed.

When you need the starter, take it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before you use it. Stir starter before using it so that ingredients are blended together.

Every time you use some of the starter, you must replenish it. For example, if you use 2 cups starter, you must mix in 1 cup flour and 1 cup warm water. Then let it stand at room temperature for a few hours until it bubbles. It then can be stored in the refrigerator until it is needed again.
Sourdough Bread after 1st rise

A Few Hints about Sourdough Starter
If it separates with water forming on top and dough on bottom, stir well to make a smooth batter again.

Never use your entire starter. Leave 1 cup starter to make a new batch.

Cover sourdough container loosely, when out of refrigerator. Inside of refrigerator, you can add a lid because it is dormant in cold temperatures.

Sourdough can be kept in the refrigerator when not needed, but it takes at least a few hours at room temperature to start working again.

Sourdough reacts best at room temperature.

If your sourdough starter turns pink or red, shows signs of mold growth or smells putrid, throw it out and make a fresh batch of sourdough starter.

Make sure to share with friends so they can start their own sourdough baking.

Sourdough Bread after 2nd rise
Classic Sourdough Bread
1 cup ( 8 ounces) sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) lukewarm water
5 to 6 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
cornmeal to sprinkle on pans

Pour the cup of starter into a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water and about 3 cups of flour. Beat vigorously. Cover this sponge with plastic wrap and put it aside to work. This period can be very flexible, but allow at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours. A longer period (at a lower temperature) will result in a more sour favor.

Loaf shaped
After the dough has bubbled and expanded, remove the plastic wrap. Blend in the salt, sugar, and remaining 2 cups of flour. Mix until the dough comes together, then knead, using your hands, an electric mixer, or a bread machine set on the dough cycle, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add only enough extra flour to keep the dough from sticking. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into an oval loaf, and place on a lightly greased, cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet.
All baked

Cover, and let rise until doubled (this can take up to 2 hours). 

Remove the cover, slash the tops, and bake in a preheated 450°F oven for approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and cool on rack.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour


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