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Dec 19 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Holiday Cookies: Pfeffernusse

Baking cookies for the holiday season is always a milestone on the calendar. Many families have different traditions when it comes to cookies, and my only tradition is to bake up a few favorites and also try something new each year. The new cookie in the mix this year is pfeffernusse.

While the recipe is new to me, the pfeffernusse has a very long holiday tradition. I thought it was of German origin, but someone said it actually came from the Netherlands. Either way, it has a wonderful old-fashioned texture and taste!

 

 

Pfeffernusse
¾ cup molasses
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
2 eggs
4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper

Cook molasses and butter until butter melts in a large pot or Dutch oven over low heat, stirring constantly. When butter has melted, remove from heat and allow to cool.

Whisk or sift flour, sugar, baking soda, and spices together in a large mixing bowl.

When the molasses and butter have cooled to room temperature; stir mixture back together again if it separates. Add 2 beaten eggs; stir to combine. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix together to combine. Dough will be firm, so you’ll need to use some muscle.

Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Form chilled dough into balls and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Bake at 375º for 10-12 minutes. If you put two cookie sheets in the oven at one time, make sure to rotate them halfway through baking.

Allow cookies to cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet then remove cookies from cookie sheets with a spatula and place on wire cooling racks.

Once cookies are completely cool, roll them in powdered sugar. You can do this by placing about ½ cup powdered sugar into a gallon-size Ziplock bag with about six cookies at a time; gently toss them around until well-coated with powdered sugar.

Dec 5 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Bean & Ham Soup

We have entered “high soup season” here in the Midwest as the days become shorter and the temperatures colder. There are few things better than a big pot of soup simmering away on the stove, filling the kitchen with the hearty aromas created by long and slow cooking. The wonderful thing about soup making is that is starts with a blank canvas and there are countless directions you can go – I always decide based on what I have on-hand in my refrigerator, freezer or pantry.

About two months ago I had a gang of friends over and made a big ham dinner. After the dinner was over, I carved the remaining ham and used it for sandwiches, breakfast, etc. and purposely leaving a good amount of meat on the bone, I put the hambone in a freezer bag and transferred it to freezer. And as is often the case, I forgot about it!

While looking for a bag of peas I stumbled across the hambone, which I saved specifically for the purpose of making soup. I had a one pound bag of navy beans in the pantry, as well as an onion and some carrots. I have everything necessary for a pot of bean and ham soup! Once the soup was made, it fed us for three days! Our modest lunch was nothing more than a big bowl of this soup and some nice crusty bread, but it warmed the belly, heart and soul all at the same time!

 

 

Bean and Ham Soup

1 ham bone

1 large onion, diced

1 lb. dried navy beans

3-4 bay leaves

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 carrots, peeled and sliced

 

Put beans in a colander and sort to remove and discolored beans or small pebbles. Given beans a good rinse. Depending on the method you prefer and the amount of time you have,  you can either soak the beans (covered with two inches of water) overnight in a pot or use a quick soak method, which is what I used. Putting the rinsed beans in a large pot, add two cups of hot water, cover and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, remove pot from heat and let stand covered for an hour. Then empty beans into a colander and rinse well. Return beans to pot and add 2 quarts of water, diced onion, salt, pepper, bay leaves and ham bone. Cover and bring to a boil – then reduce heat and simmer for two hours.

After the soup has simmered for two hours, remove ham bone. Using a fork, remove any meat from around the bone and add pieces of ham back into the soup along with the sliced carrots and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves and soup is now ready to serve.

If you want to thicken up your soup a little, remove a couple a ladles of the beans, put them in a bowl and mash them with a fork or potato masher. Then stir the mashed beans into the soup.

Oct 28 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – A Classic Pumpkin Pie

We’ve been spending quite a bit of time with our favorite fall ingredient – pumpkin – in the past few weeks. For many people, nothing captures the goodness of this celebrated squash like a pumpkin pie. Many people think of apple as the quintessential American pie – and I don’t disagree – but I have to put pumpkin right up there, too.

For some of us, our love of pumpkin pie emerges from the memories of a Thanksgiving dinner, where a bountiful table overflowed with delicious offerings. And after everyone was good and stuffed but before anyone slipped into a food coma, out came the pumpkin pie! Thanksgiving is America’s holiday, and the crowing jewel on this wonderful celebration continues to be pumpkin pie.

Basically, this is a custard pie with pumpkin mixed in, but oh what a flavor it creates! Most people have their favorite pumpkin pie recipe – long cherished and passed down. This one is mine. This is the pie my mom made year after year and in multiples. As long as this pie is on my Thanksgiving table, my mom’s love and beautiful spirit will be right there with us.

 

 

Pumpkin Pie

Crust

1 cup flour

½ tsp. salt

2 tsp. sugar

1/3 cup cold shortening

5-8 TBSP ice water

Making a crust is optional. Some people don’t want to bother with this extra step, and truth-be-told even my mom got into using the pre-made roll-out crusts. She said they were as good as any crust she could make and a whole lot easier. But if I have the time, I still like to make my own crust and think it has a better texture than the pre-made.

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar. Add shortening (it is much better if shortening is cold, so I keep mine in the fridge). Using a pastry blender (or two knives if you don’t have one) cut shortening into flour mixture until pea-sized pieces are formed. Gradually add the ice water a tablespoon or two at a time and toss gently until dough begins to bind together and forms a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap or waxed paper and refrigerate for at least a half hour or more.

 

Pie Filling

2 eggs

1 can (15 oz) Pumpkin (use the pumpkin puree, NOT the pumpkin pie filling!)

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

When your pie dough is ready, roll it out and line a 9-inch deep dish pie pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat two eggs with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add entire 15 ounce can of pumpkin and mix with eggs until combined.

Add sugar, salt and spices. Mix well until combined.

Add entire 12 ounce can of evaporated milk and mix thoroughly. Pour pumpkin filling into prepared pie crust.

Carefully place pie on middle rack in preheated 425 degree oven. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 45-50 minutes. A knife inserted into the middle of the pie should come out clean.

Transfer pie to cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving. Serve with whipped cream or soft vanilla ice cream or just as-is!

Oct 17 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Pumpkin Bread

We are still having fun with pumpkin and celebrating the great season of autumn! Among the quick and easy pumpkin offerings is the always popular pumpkin bread. This is just another reason to keep cans of pumpkin puree on-hand!

This bread is delicious as-is, or you can add in things like chopped walnuts, raisins or mini chocolate chips. Serve pumpkin bread warm with butter, or a side of ice cream. This is also a great brunch item and nice to put out if you are having people over for early morning coffee or an evening get together during the holidays. This pumpkin bread also freezes very well!

 

 

Pumpkin Bread

1/3 cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup milk

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add eggs – one at a time – blending well after each addition. Add milk and pumpkin and combine well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and allspice. Gradually add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, being sure to scrape down bowl as you go. Mix until everything is combined. If you want, this is the point where you could fold in a cup of chopped walnuts, raisins or mini chocolate chips.

Grease a standard loaf pan with non-stick spray. Transfer batter to loaf pan and smooth out top. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.

Transfer to cooling rack and let bread cool in loaf pan for five minutes. Then remove bread from pan and allow to cool on rack before slicing or freezing. Enjoy!

Oct 9 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Pumpkin Pancakes

Now that autumn is officially here it only seems right that we celebrate the pumpkin and all the wonderful ways to incorporate this seasonal icon into our food. So we found ourselves doing a bit of a “Pumpkin-Palooza” on CoF, and will be posting a number of recipes that feature that wonderful orange squash.

Since we are incorporating pumpkin into recipes, why not start with breakfast? I’ll be the first to admit that pancakes are good any time of day, but most of us seem to butter down those sweet hotcakes sometime in the morning.

These pumpkin pancakes are a wonderful golden orange in color, and have a moist but light center. The first time I made these, I wasn’t sure if they were cooked through, but they were. The pumpkin provides a moist texture in the center of the pancake not unlike French toast.

To add to the fun, I made a cinnamon butter by taking 3 tablespoons of softened butter and mixing it with a teaspoon of butter and one of sugar. Drizzle on a little maple syrup and you’ve got a breakfast that will motivate you to get out to the cider mill or rake up all those fallen leaves!

 

 

Pumpkin Pancakes

1 ½ cup milk

1 cup pumpkin puree (I use canned)

1 egg

2 TBSP vegetable oil

2 TBSP white vinegar

2 cups flour

3 TBSP brown sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Heat an electric griddle, large skillet, or whatever you like to make pancakes on.

In a large bowl, combine milk, pumpkin, egg, oil and vinegar until well mixed. In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir pumpkin mixture into the dry ingredients.

Griddle should be hot. If you are using a non-stick griddle, no need to spray kind of vegetable oil spray. Otherwise, spray griddle with non-stick spray and ladle out pancake batter to size you prefer.

Keep an eye on them. Top of batter will bubble slightly, but check bottom of pancake and when just browned, flip pancake and cook the other side. Serve immediately or they can hold in a warm oven for a few minutes. Enjoy!

Aug 27 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Ham Timbales

At first glance, one might not associate “ham” and “timbales” as being related. Timbales are a type of percussion instrument that originated in Cuba and resemble small drums, and ham is, well, ham. But this is the name given to the recipe way back when (I’ve seen them date from the late 1940s and early 1950s). If I were asked to give them a name, I might choose “Heavenly Ham and Egg Fluffs of Deliciousness,” but we will just stick with “timbales” for now. I’m guessing the name came from the shape.

These are basically a very light egg custard, filled with diced ham, that are served with a sauce (optional, but highly recommended) over toast. They are an easy and elegant addition to breakfast or perfect for a brunch menu. Ham timbales serve as a fine stand-in for Eggs Benedict and can be varied endlessly (try them with sautéed mushrooms and onions, cheese, cooked sausage or bacon, veggies, etc.). They must be baked using a water bath, but this extra step will insure that they remain light, delicate and oh-so good.

 

 

Ham Timbales

1 – 1 ½ cups diced ham

4 eggs

1 ¼ cups milk

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. dehydrated onion flakes

¼ tsp. pepper

¼ tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Add milk and beat to combine. Add salt, onion powder and flakes, pepper and paprika. Beat again and stir in ham.

Butter the inside of six custard cups. Place cups in large baking dish (a 9×13 works fine) and fill each cup about 2/3 full with egg mixture. Add HOT WATER to the baking dish until it comes up about 1 inch from the bottom. Carefully transfer baking dish to oven and bake for about 30 minutes. A knife inserted into the center of each cup should come out clean.

While the timbales are baking, make the sauce.

2 TBSP butter

2 TBSP flour

1 cup of hot chicken stock/broth (can also use vegetable stock)

½ cup milk or cream

Fresh herbs (optional – chives, parsley, tarragon all can work well with the sauce)

In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir in with a whisk until the flour is completely absorbed into the butter and it takes on a light brown color. Add stock or broth and whisk continuously until mixture begins to thicken. When it starts to boil, remove from heat. Add milk or cream and fresh herbs or seasoning.

Keep sauce warm until timbales are ready to serve.

Toast up some bread, bagels or English muffins.

When timbales have baked, remove from oven and carefully remove custard cups from water bath and transfer to a dish towel. Be careful, everything will be very hot.

Using a small thin knife, gently go around the edge of the custard cups to release the timbales.  Invert the cups on top of the toast and remove. Top with sauce and garnish with fresh herbs. Serve immediately.

 

Aug 20 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – I know it’s only Mac & Cheese but I like it!

Here’s a dish that almost everyone loves to eat, and most people have some favorite version of that they tell stories about. Maybe a recipe that belongs to a mother, aunt or grandma, or a restaurant that serves up a unique rendition. There is no doubt that macaroni and cheese is a quintessential comfort food, and when I spot a creative take on this classic dish on a menu, I usually can’t help myself from putting in an order.

When it comes to making macaroni and cheese at home, many people reach for the familiar “blue box” and don’t venture much further. I don’t criticize what other people like to eat – to each his or her own. But for me, I don’t think it takes too much effort to make a really creamy, rich and flavorful macaroni and cheese from scratch.  You just need the right ingredients and a little extra time.

This is my “standard” recipe. From this recipe I vary it based on what I have on-hand and my mood. On this day, I wanted something a little spicy, so I added jalapeno peppers. Other times, I have added crumbled cooked bacon or diced ham, frozen peas or lima beans, crab or lobster meat, or just more cheeses.  That’s part of the adventure and fun of cooking!

 

 

 

Macaroni and Cheese

3 TBSP butter

3 TBSP flour

2 ½ cups milk

2-3 bay leaves

1 pound of pasta (use something with a ridge, curl or opening for the cheese sauce to cling to)

1 ½ – 2 cups grated cheddar cheese

½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ tsp. dry mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh bread crumbs (optional)

2-3 TBSP diced jalapeno peppers (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta as directed and drain.

Place milk and bay leaves in a medium sauce pan over low heat and gradually bring the milk up to “scalding” – this is when little bubbles will form around the edge of the pan and you will see steam come off the top of the milk. At this point take milk off heat.

In a large sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and then add the flour. Using a whisk, stir flour continuously until the mixture (called a “roux”) becomes brownish in color and will start to smell nutty. Gradually add the warm milk (removing the bay leaves) to the roux and continue to stir with whisk making sure that the mixture stays smooth.

After all the milk is added, continue to stir until the mixture shows signs of boiling – it should have thickened up at this point. Remove from heat. Add dry mustard, cheeses and jalapeno peppers and gently stir until all the cheeses are melted and well combined.

Place cooked pasta in a large bowl – or if you don’t have one, add the pasta to the large sauce pan containing the cheese sauce. Either way, put the pasta and the sauce together and gently mix (I use a rubber spatula) until all the pasta is coated. Place mixture into a 9×13 baking dish that has been coated with non-stick spray.

Top with bread crumbs (if using) and place in oven until the bread crumbs are nicely browned and mixture is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and give it a few minutes to cool down. Serve and enjoy!

 

Aug 1 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Blueberry Cornbread

A much-anticipated summer milestone in Michigan’s thumb is the start of the blueberry season, and I’m happy to report that it is currently in full-swing. We get a lot of our blueberries from a little berry farm in Croswell, Michigan. You can pick them yourself or buy them picked by the pound, depending on how much time and energy you have at the moment! Either way, they are sweet, easy to eat, and go well with many different quick breads like pancakes, muffins, waffles and cornbread.

Here, we decided to include some of the blueberries in cornbread. You may have a favorite cornbread recipe, but you can always include a couple of cups of fresh blueberries in the final mix before putting the batter in the pan. This is a standard cornbread recipe that I like, and the berries not only give it a beautiful look, but add a special dimension to the hearty cornbread.

 

 

Blueberry Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal (white or yellow)

1 cup flour

½ cup sugar

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 eggs

2/3 cup milk

½ cup vegetable oil

2 cups fresh blueberries (you could also use frozen, but I like the texture of the fresh)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together.

In another large bowl, beat eggs, milk and oil together until combined.

Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix together until just combined. Fold in blueberries and pour batter into a greased 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 baking dish.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until top is a deep golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool a little before cutting. Serve with lots of butter!

Jul 17 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food: Old-School Peanut Butter Cookies

Baking cookies is a fairly regular exercise in the CoF kitchens, and while it is always fun to experiment and try new recipes, most often I find myself preparing one from what I refer to as the  “trinity of cookies:”  chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal. This has a lot to do with the ingredients that I have on-hand when I get the urge to make cookies. It seems that I always have flour, butter, eggs, white and brown sugar, chocolate chips, peanut butter and rolled oats in the kitchen.

So, one morning I decided to make a batch of peanut butter cookies. These are the ones you imagine when you think of peanut butter cookies – round and sporting some crinkles around the edges, with the familiar criss-cross top made using the tines of a fork. These are the peanut butter cookies my mom and the mothers of my friends made growing up in our suburban Detroit neighborhood. They go great with a tall, cold glass of milk or with coffee or tea.

 

 

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup sugar

1 cup shortening (I use Crisco here, some use margarine instead but I’ve never tried that method)

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky – use regular PB, not the “natural” style where the oils separate)

2 eggs

3 cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugars, shortening and vanilla. Add peanut butter and eggs and combine, scraping down bowl as necessary.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture, scraping down bowl as necessary. Continue to mix until dry ingredients are totally combined. Dough will be thick.

Roll dough into balls (about the size of a ping-pong ball) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray. You should be able to get a dozen on a sheet. Using a dinner fork that is dipped in flour, gently press down on dough ball in one direction, lift fork, dip again in flour, and press down on dough in perpendicular direction. This will both flatten the dough ball and create a criss-cross pattern on top of the cookie.

Bake in oven 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Remove and transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Jul 2 / Kevin Piotrowski

Cavalcade of Food – Pasta Avocado

The avocado is one of those foods (it’s actually a fruit) that I’ve always associated with one thing: guacamole. I guess I’ve had sliced avocados in salads or on sandwiches, but beyond that I don’t give it much thought. But I’m finding out that this creamy, rich fruit is good in many different applications.

When an avocado ripens, the flesh becomes quite soft and easily mashed or spread. This makes it ideal for a kind of pasta sauce. For those who are bored with the same old tomato-based sauces, or don’t  have the time or ingredients on-hand to whip up some type of pesto, an avocado sauce is a great way to do something different.

This pasta avocado dish comes together quickly. It almost takes no more time to make the sauce than it does to boil the pasta. It is also vegetarian friendly and great served with a salad and some really good bread.

 

 

Pasta Avocado

2 ripe avocados

3 cloves garlic

Juice and zest of one medium lemon

3 TBSP olive oil

¾ – 1 cup fresh basil leaves

1 tsp salt

Fresh ground black pepper

I pound pasta (I like to use rigatoni or penne for this, but use your favorite or what you have on hand)

 

I start by putting a big pot of water on the stove for boiling the pasta. As the water heats up, I make the sauce.

Zest a medium lemon and set zest aside – this will be the garnish for the top of the pasta. Then juice the lemon and set juice aside.

In a food processor or strong blender, combine the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and blend until the garlic is finely chopped and everything is combined.

Cut avocado in half lengthwise and remove pit. Scoop out flesh with a spoon and add to garlic/oil/lemon mixture along with the basil leaves and salt. Combine until mixture is smooth and creamy (it will be on the thick side).

Cook pasta as directed. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add avocado sauce and toss to combine.  You will notice the sauce will thin out a little from the warm pasta as it coats all the noodles. Transfer pasta to large serving bowl or platter and garnish top with lemon zest and freshly ground black pepper (to taste).  Serve immediately along with grated Parmesan or asiago cheese on the side.