Friday, April 24, 2015

Al Dente Popcorn (Crunchy Partially Popped Popcorn)

Popcorn from the same bag:
To the left, dry, popped in canola oil & a little butter;
to the right, soaked for two days and popped in canola oil & a little butter.

I'm not even sure what to call this popcorn--it's not exactly "half-popped" because the kernel has been turned completely inside out. It is much smaller and denser than regular popcorn, though, so maybe "al dente popcorn" would be a better name. At any rate, this isn't even exactly what I was going for, but it's fabulous nonetheless. It's super crunchy and flavorful--probably containing too much salt for me, but sometimes that happens when I experiment. I'll try not to overdo it. What I was really going for was more of a popcorn kernel that merely puffed out slightly, creating an almost styrofoam like texture--but in a good way. If you're not a maker of homemade popcorn, you may never have experienced the type of popcorn I'm talking about. And they seem to happen by accident. I get one every once in a while in a regular batch of popcorn. They almost look like "old maids," but they're just slighlty larger and definitely airier. My friend Karla (of Swedish Cream Cookie fame) introduced me to Crimson Jewell popcorn, and the first jar she bought me popped up almost all like that, I had these small, crunchy popcorn kernels. They were delightful. When I bought a container on my own, they popped up normal--light and fluffy, like all other popcorn. Still one of my favorite popcorns, just not as delightful as the first jar. When I wrote to the company to see if I could purchase more kernels that did not exactly pop, I got a very short reply of "We don't sell a product like that." Oh well.
So, I went looking online, googled "how to make partially popped popcorn" and I came upon a website by Chris Moyer that explained how to do something like I was looking for. Maybe I'll still get there. He says to soak the popcorn kernels in salt water for four days, and mine have only been soaking for two. I'll try to pop more tomorrow to see what happens. (Guess I should save some of what I popped today for comparison.) I read on another website to add vinegar to the water to soften the hull more, so I've done that too.
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about moisture content of popcorn and heat and steam...I'm just going to tell you that I think I'm addicted to this stuff. It's the perfect popcorn, in my opinion. Super crunchy--just the way I like it. If you're a fan of super crunchy popcorn, and you're willing to wait a few days for your popcorn to soak, give this a try. You'll love it. Seriously.

Al Dente Popcorn (Crunchy Partially Popped Popcorn)

Ingredients (amounts are approximate):

  • 2 cups popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 3-4 tablespoons salt
  • 3-4 cups water

  • canola oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • additional salt to taste

2-4 days out, place popcorn kernels, vinegar, salt, and water in a plastic bowl with an airtight lid. Cover and shake. Shake a couple of times a day to redistribute the salt.

When you're ready to pop, preheat a medium heavy-bottom pot (with a matching lid) over medium high heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove about 1/2 cup of the soaked kernels from the bowl. Drain on a clean kitchen towel or a few paper towels. Dab to dry most of the way. If some moisture remains, that will be okay. 

Add enough oil to the preheating pot to cover the bottom just barely. Add the mostly dried popcorn kernels to the oil in the pot and then add more oil to come up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the kernels. I suppose you could cover them completely with oil, but, well, you know that adds more fat, and now I'm going to tell you to add some butter to the pan. Add the half tablespoon butter, put the lid on the pot, and shake until you hear it sizzle and bubble. You can allow the popcorn to just start popping and only shake the pot occasionally. When popping as subsided to only one pop every 2 seconds or so, remove the lid and pour the partially popped popcorn into a serving bowl. Add more salt, if desired.

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of partially popped popcorn

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo is a staple condiment in the world of Mexican cuisine. It adds freshness and a little acid to whatever you serve it with, but usually it has no heat. For my first attempt ever making this (don't know what took me so long) I added just half of a de-veined and de-seeded serrano pepper--and I can't sense any heat in it at all. So if you want heat, add more pepper, or include some of the seeds.
I wish I had something exciting to say about this recipe, but I don't. It's a solid pico de gallo recipe that I'll be using again. Maybe I need to go eat some more with some chips... I had some with my White Chicken Chili tonight, but haven't really eaten it to just get the pico taste.
So there you go. Sorry. This is not an example of my best writing, but the recipe is good. Try it anyway.

Pico de Gallo

  • 1/2 white or red onion, finely diced
  • 3 medium to large size Roma tomatoes, washed, dried, and diced
  • 1 small handfull cilantro leaves, washed, dried, and chopped
  • 1/2 serrano pepper, de-veined, de-seeded, and very finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all ingredients in a medium size bowl. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour before serving. 

Serve with White Chicken Chili, Tortilla Chips, Tacos, Taquitos & Flautas, Burritos, or any other Mexican food you think it would go with nicely.

Makes about  1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups 

White Chicken Chili with rice and Pico de Gallo

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Scoopable Baked Cheesecake

Scoopable Baked Cheesecake. One of my best brainstorms.

I think one of the origins of this brainstorm is actually the Cooking Channel's Unique Sweets show. They featured this place that served ice cream, I think, (maybe it was just frozen yogurt) but they also served home made Greek yogurt topped with various toppings. The one that I was thinking of around the time I thought of this recipe was a key lime yogurt: a scoop of Greek yogurt with a lime curd topping and graham cracker crumbs. So I guess that got me thinking about other things you could scoop and put toppings on that you normally don't think of. Then I thought about the four bars of cream cheese in my fridge, and I thought a cheesecake would be a good way to use a couple. THEN I thought about what a pain in the rear it is to work up a water bath for a cheesecake baked in a spring form pan, and then I thought of this: crustless cheesecake baked in a casserole dish that you refrigerate and scoop out with a cookie scoop into a lace cookie bowl or a dish with whatever bottoms and toppings you might like. So this is it. And it WORKS. Wonderfully. It's a fabuous, simple cheesecake filling that my guests and I got to customize with various bases and toppings: graham cracker lace cookie bowls (recipe below), graham cracker crumbs oven-toasted with a little butter (5 crumbled graham cracker sheets tossed in about 2 tablespoons of butter and toasted in a 375 degree oven for 5 minutes), homemade lime curd, chocolate ganache, fresh strawberries (my favorite), and a mixed berry compote (not sure if that's the right name, but you get the idea).

You can serve tiny portions or larger ones. If you turn it into a cheesecake sundae bar like I did, guests can make 2 or 3 little servings in order to try various combinations. I'm even thinking about serving it with chopped candy bars or crumbled chocolate chip cookies next time. Heck, I've even thought about making a cheesecake and cookie sandwich out if it.

Just so you know, scooping baked cheesecake is not quite as "clean" as scooping ice cream. I ended up with relatively large quantities stuck to the back side of the scoop, so after I was done scooping, I had to use my finger to scrape it off the back. Then of course, I had to clean my finger by licking the cheesecake off. Yeah. Pretty messy.

Scoopable Baked Cheesecake

Cheesecake Ingredients:
  •   2 8oz. cream cheeses @ room temperature
  •   2 eggs @ room temperature
  •   2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  •  ½ cup sugar
  •  ¼ cup heavy cream
  •  ¼ cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
Prepare a water bath in a roasting pan or other high-rimmed baking vessel that can hold your cheesecake dish and allow for at least 3 inches water all around. Place water bath pan into preheating oven and fill with hot water about halfway up. (You could fill it and then place it in the oven, but you have to be very, very careful when transferring it to the oven.)

Cream the cream cheese until smooth.  Add sugar and beat until smooth.  Beat in eggs, sour cream, and vanilla bean paste.  Stir in the heavy cream until incorporated. Pour into a medium sized baking/casserole dish, keeping in mind that the cheesecake will almost double in height as it bakes. Place cheesecake dish into the middle of the water bath in the preheated oven. Add more hot water until the water level is 1/2 to 2/3 up the side of the cheesecake dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the center is set. Carefully remove just the cheesecake dish first and set it on a cooling rack. The remove and dump the water from the water bath vessel. Allow cheesecake to cool to room temperature before transferring it to the refrigerator to cool at least overnight. For the first few hours of refrigeration, place a paper towel on top of the cheesecake dish, and then place a wooden spoon across the top to keep the paper towel in place. (Cooling with the paper towel prevents condensation as the cheesecake cools.) After cheesecake is chilled, you can cover tighly with plastic wrap until ready to serve.

To serve, use a spring-action cookie/ice cream scoop to scoop out portions of cheesecake. You can serve it as is, with toppings, with various crusts (graham cracker, Oreo, or other cookie bits). I served this batch first with graham cracker lace cookies and then with graham cracker crumbs oven-toasted with a little butter. The possibilities are endless.

Makes 16-24 servings, depending on serving size

Graham Cracker Lace Cookies (Note that this part of the recipe is NOT gluten free.)
     --adapted from
     --These are almost candy-like in their crunchiness. The cheesecake looks cute in them, but I did not enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the graham cracker crumbs oven-toasted with butter.

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Get a non-stick muffin pan out as well and set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugars, corn syrup and salt. Mix until smooth. Remove from heat and add graham cracker crumbs. Using a measuring teaspoon, scoop teaspoons of dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Only do about 6 cookies at a time because they spread so much. Bake cookies for about 6 minutes at 375 degrees. When cookies are slightly darker brown around the edges, remove pan from oven. 
Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack and carefully & quickly use a spatula to remove cookies. Gently push them into the cups of the non-stick muffin pan. If they cool off and solidify too quickly, place them back on the pan and into the oven briefly (30 seconds or so), until they are again pliable. This part is tricky and may take some practice. I've also heard of people turning the muffin pan upside down and placing lace cookies on top of the upside down cups, which will produce a wider-rimmed little cup, but it will work fine.

Makes about 20 cookie cups

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Meatballs for Days (Freezer Meatballs)

Meatballs in Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce
Cooked meatballs ready for the freezer

This recipe idea was inspired by The Pioneer Woman. I tried to locate the recipe I saw on her Food Network show, but it was going to take too long. Basically, I used the recipe I have for meatballs and multiplied it. Then I froze meal-sized bags of the cooked meatballs for later use, just like Ree did. I thought I could get five meals out of this, but after my husband tasted tonight's rendition, I'm going to say it's for four meals. 
Tonight I took about 14-15 of the cooked meatballs and simmered them in Robert's Reserve Roasted Pineapple & Habanero Sauce that I got from my dear friend Jen. I'm serving them with Home Made French Fries tonight, as my husband thought that would be a good pairing. Had I not asked him, I'd probably have made Rice Pilaf. Next time, I think I'll try them in BBQ sauce. And, of course, I'm sure some of them will make their way into spaghetti or a meatball sandwich.
These meatballs are very flavorful on their own and I think they'll go well with just about any sauce I choose to put them into. As I try different sauces, I will try to add pics and comments. 
That's all. I'm not feeling very chatty today. Enjoy.

Meatballs for Days (Freezer Meatballs)


  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten free breadcrumbs from gf French rolls)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 small onions, finely diced
  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup grated jack cheese
  • 5 pounds ground ground (90/10)

In a very large bowl, place the breadcrumbs and pour the milk over them. Allow to sit while you prepare the onions & garlic.
Heat the vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, stir, and cook one minute more. Remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
To the breadcrumbs and milk, add the eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and jack cheese. Stir to incorporate all ingredients. Mix in the onions and garlic a little at a time (so you don't cook the eggs). Add the ground beef. With your hands (I use plastic gloves for this), gently incorporate the beef into the other ingredients until the mixture is uniform. Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Using a medium size cookie scoop (approx 2 tablespoons), scoop mixture out and onto a wax paper lined sheet pan. After all meat has been scooped, roll each into a nice ball shape and place on a sheet pan that has been covered with foil and sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (I used 2 half sheet pans for this). 
Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes (the ones you see above are actually over baked).
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Move cooked meatballs to another baking sheet lined with wax paper. Place in the freezer until frozen solid, and then place meatballs in zip top freezer bags and store in freezer until ready to use.

Makes about 5 dozen meatballs

I scoop all of the meatballs and THEN I roll them into balls.
Ready for the oven
These cooked too long and look weird on the pan.
Once they're in a sauce, though, this look won't matter.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chocolate and Nuts

Sometimes chocolate covered almonds or chocolate covered macadamia nuts just sound good. But I don't want to go to the trouble of melting and tempering the chocolate, scooping out bite-size portions, waiting for them to set, and then washing the bowl and utensils. Too much trouble and I know I will eat too many.

My husband and I discovered a quite a few years ago that if you have a bag of almonds in the house AND a bag of chocolate chips, you can pour a little bowl of nuts and chocolate chips and enjoy what is really the equivalent of chocolate covered almonds. Two chocolate chips to one almond is the perfect ratio.

Fast forward to 2015 where I have become pickier about my chocolate and almost exclusively use Dove Chocolate in my baking. So, that's the chocolate I have around the house. Recently, when I had that chocolate covered almond craving, I used a Dove Dark Chocolate Promise. Perfectly satisfying. I also find that if I stick to two Promises that I don't overdo the mini dessert experience. Not that I'm all about controlling everything I eat and staying (or being at all) skinny, but I do make an effort to not outgrow the clothing I have in my closet. More of a financial thing than a vanity thing, I think, but I digress...

Suffice it to say, Dove Milk Chocolate Promises and lightly salted macadamia nuts are a fabulous combo as well--it brings me back to my childhood when my Grandpa Wong from Hawaii would visit us in California. He would always bring along Mauna Loa Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts and cans and cans of Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. Mmmm... I didn't fully appreciate all of that when I was younger, but its kind of nice to be able to reminisce about those times now from my current home which is so far from Hawaii and California.

So, what you see below is formatted as a recipe, but it's really just an idea of how to enjoy some chocolate and nuts. The pic above in the little plastic cup is what I sometimes take to work as my lunch dessert. It keeps me from going off the deep end with all of the treats that people will put in the teachers' lounge. Plus, it's a satisfying sweet treat when I really don't feel like baking and making a mess. That's all I've got on that. So now do it. Go. Really. You won't be disappointed.

Chocolate and Nuts for One


  • 2 Dove Chocolate Promises (milk or dark, depending on your preference)
  • 6 large roasted and lightly salted macadamia nuts OR 12 roasted almonds

Unwrap a Chocolate Promise and take a bite that is roughly 1/3 of the Promise. Pop one macadamia nut or two almonds into your mouth with the chocolate, and enjoy.
Repeat until chocolate and nuts are gone.

Makes 1 serving

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Croissant Caramel Sticky Buns

Croissant Caramel Sticky Bun with Pecans
Croissant Caramel Sticky Bun with Macadamia Nuts

I've made sooooo many cinnamon rolls in my five-year quest to win the Tone's Cinnamon Roll Competition at the Iowa State Fair, that I can pretty much say that I don't like to eat cinnamon rolls any more.  These, though, are an exception.  Made with croissant dough, they're super rich, flaky, and buttery; slightly crisp on the bottom and edges, and tender on the inside.  The caramel with its brown sugar and butter goodness and crunchy pecans, are the golden crown to these.  I CAN still eat these.  They probably won't win any awards, because, as I've mentioned in other posts, those judges are tough, and it's really a crap shoot as to whether your bun will get a judge whose tastes line up with your "product."  Those ladies can really be annoying.  I shouldn't complain because I've won in the non-traditional cinnamon roll class, but now that I think of it, that judge was not a regular; she was from the Tones company.  At any rate, these are FANtastic, if you've got the patience to make the croissant dough.
*I've updated this post and changed the dough laminating method that I've started using since the original posting of this recipe. I also tried macadamia nuts today, which I LOVE. The husband prefers the pecan version, but really, these taste great with any kind of nut--or no nuts at all. They're just caramely deliciousness.
These never did win the Tone's cinnamon roll competition, which has since been discontinued. Maybe someday I will like regular cinnamon rolls again.
Oh yeah, I'm reposting this with a new date because I have all new pics and because it deserves some attention. These sticky buns are amazing. You really should try them.

Croissant Caramel Sticky Buns

  • 3 cups KAF unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling 
  • 1 T Fleishman’s Rapid Rise yeast 
  • ¼ cup sugar 
  • 1 ¼ tsp salt 
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk, cold 
  • 2 T unsalted butter, softened, but cool 
  • 2 ½ sticks butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, cold 
  • 2 T unbleached all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cups light brown sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1/8 tsp salt 
Caramel Topping
  • 2 sticks butter 
  • 1 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoon water 
  • 1 cup lightly roasted chopped pecans or macadamia nuts
The Dough
1.  Whisk 2¾ cups flour together with the yeast, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.  Place the milk in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the flour mixture and kneed at low speed until a ball of dough forms.  Cut the 2 T butter into small pieces and add to the dough.  Continue to knead until the butter becomes fully incorporated and the dough becomes smooth, begins to form a ball, and clears the sides of the bowl.  Add up to ¼ cup more flour, one tablespoon at a time if the dough is too sticky.  Place dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

2. When dough is ready, place the 2 1/2 sticks of butter pieces with the 2 tablespoons flour in the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until soft and relatively spreadable, but not melty (about 1-2 minutes). 

3. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface.  Roll dough into a large rectangle, about 14 x 18 inches or so (does not need to be exact). Spread the beaten butter onto the bottom 2/3 of the dough, being careful to not make holes in the dough. Fold the unbuttered third over like a letter onto 1/2 the buttered section. With a pastry brush, gently brush off excess flour, and then fold the bottom buttered section on top of that dough, so it's like you've folded a letter into thirds (You have 3 layers). Gently press the seams with the side of your hand. Turn the dough a half-turn and gently roll into a large rectangle again (if the butter seems too soft at this point, refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes before rolling). Fold into thirds again (Now you have 9 layers). Roll dough a little bit to make a long rectangle and fold into thirds, brushing away excess flour as you fold (Now you have 27 layers). Wrap dough loosely in plastic wrap, or in parchment paper. Place wrapped dough in a large (gallon size) zip top bag, but do not zip. Refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.

Filling and Topping
6. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt with a fork and set aside.

7.  Spray three 12 cup muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

8. Melt the sticks of butter for the topping in a medium saucepan.  Add brown sugar, water, and pecans.  Mix well and bring to a boil.   Boil for one minute only.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Forming  & Baking the Rolls                                                                                                  
9. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll into a rough 18” x 18” square about ¼”, or a little less, thick.  Evenly spread the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture over the surface of the rectangle.   Cut square in half, forming two equal rectangles.  Roll each rectangle into a long log.  Gently pinch the seams to seal. Gently squeeze and/or push ends of dough log in until each log is exactly 18 inches long.

10.  Place about 1 tablespoons of caramel mixture in the bottom of the cups of three 12-cup muffin tins that have been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.

11.  Measure and mark 1” segments of the log and then slice with a very sharp knife. Gently place rolls on top of caramel mixture in the muffin cups.  Cover pans loosely with plastic wrap and set to rise in a relatively cool place until puffy, about 1 hour.

12.  Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit.  Once oven is heated, place a large sheet of aluminum foil on the baking rack and then place 1 or 2 muffin pans on top of the foil (the foil should catch any caramel overflow).  Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until caramel is bubbling and buns are well browned.  If buns seem to be getting brown too fast, loosely cover with aluminum foil and bake until done.

13.  Remove pans from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Invert onto baking sheets and redistribute nuts and caramel if necessary.  Allow to cool at least 10-15 minutes before serving.

Makes 36 sticky buns.       

Hmmm...I'm realizing that I should have taken some

pics of the laminating process. Maybe next time.                         

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Coconutty Cookies with Toffee Bits

Coconutty Cookies with Toffee Bits

These cookies have a deceptively unassuming appearance. They aren't attractive, studded with chocolate chunks, glazed or sprinkled. They just kind of look like beige oatmeal cookies, but that's NOT what they are. There is no oatmeal in here. The bumpy texture comes from two cups of coconut and a total of 2 1/4 cups nuts. Their heavenly scent and flavor come from all of those things in addition to the 3/4 cup toffee bits. Mmmmm. They're chewy, buttery, nutty, sweet, and deeply satisfying. Trust me--if you like all of the previously mentioned ingredients, you will love these cookies. But if you are not a coconut fan, don't bother. These are not for you.
My coconut and toffee loving sister-in-law declared these "perfect." Try 'em.

Coconutty Cookies with Toffee Bits

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup Crisco
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour 
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup toffee bits (use Heath Toffee bits or recipe below)
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Cream butter, shortening and sugars.  Beat in baking soda and salt.  Beat in vanilla extract and eggs.  
3.  Mix in flour just until blended.  Then stir in coconut, nuts and toffee bits.
4.  Scoop by tablespoons onto parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving two inches between cookies.  (If you want a flatter cookie, like the one in the bottom pic, flatten the tops of the dough balls so you have a dough disk that's about a half-inch thick.)
5.  Bake at 350 for 8-9 minutes, or until cookies are puffed and start to brown around the edges.
6.  Allow to cool on pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: I like to keep my cookie dough in the fridge, or make and freeze dough balls.  If you do that with these, be sure to flatten slightly before baking.  When I just popped them in the oven after having been frozen, they didn't spread enough, and I was left with cookie balls, rather than regular cookies.  They tasted okay, but not as good as they did when they were flat.

Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch diameter cookies, I think.

Be sure to smoosh the top a bit before baking.

English Toffee Bits

  • 1/4 cup packed C & H Light Brown Sugar 
  • 1/2 cup C & H White Sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
1. Line a square Pyrex pan (8X8) with parchment paper or non-stick foil. 
2. In a heavy saucepan heat butter and sugar to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat until it reaches 300° on a candy thermometer. Pour into prepared pan and evenly spread with a silicone (not rubber) spatula. Allow to cool completely.
3. Break toffee up into big chunks with your hands and then on a clean cutting board, chop into smaller bits. Be sure to taste some to see if it's good.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of toffee bits. Use the extra to make some toffee chocolate chip cookies or use as an ice cream topping. They'll keep in a zip top bag for a few weeks as long as you keep them in a cool, dry place.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie

Here's a dish that I hadn't even heard of until I met my husband. We used to make it pretty frequently our first few years of marriage, but then we got away from it. It's never been one of my favorites. I think that may be because I used a canned cream of chicken soup shortcut for the gravy, though. Tonight when my husband suggested we have it for dinner, I went the extra two steps and made a gravy from scratch. That was a good move, and we all--even my picky eater--really enjoyed this shepherd's pie. So there. 
My other kid said, "It's kind of an olde tyme (time-ee) kind of meal." Hmmmm. An interesting observation. This meal is warm, comforting, salty, and hearty. It's not fancy, although you can make it fancier by piping the potatoes on top. It's just a good meat and potatoes meal that made my husband happy. Maybe this shepherd's pie can make you happy too.

Shepherd's Pie


  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef (90/10)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots (I used baby carrots)
  • 1 stalk celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour (I used Better Batter Gluten Free All Purpose Flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth (I used 1 1/2 cup warm water and 1 1/2 teaspoons beef base)
  • 1/4 cup half and half

  • 3 medium russet potatoes*, peeled
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground beef, making sure to leave some of it in larger bite-size chunks. When meat is basically cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove the meat to a plate or bowl. Set aside. Continue to cook drippings until it sizzles because there is more fat than water. Add the butter, onion, carrots, and celery. Turn heat to medium low and cook veggies to desired tenderness (I cooked mine until the carrots were al dente). Add the garlic, parsley, thyme, and pepper. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add the flour, stirring and cooking for about 1 more minute. Whisk in beef broth making sure to whisk away lumps. Bring gravy to a simmer, add half and half and return the ground beef to the pan with the gravy.  Turn heat off and set pan aside (or leave on the burner that's been turned off).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prepare mashed potatoes by cutting peeled potatoes into 1 1/2 to 2 inch chunks. Place in a large pot, cover potatoes with water, add salt, and cook on high for about 25 minutes, or until you can easily stick a fork in the potatoes with no resistance. Carefully drain off the water and return to the heat for about 1 minute to evaporate any remaining water. Heat the milk and butter in a microwave safe bowl or cup until hot. Beat potatoes with a mixer until potatoes are broken up. Add the hot milk & butter mixture and beat until smooth. Add sour cream and salt and pepper to taste, and beat to incorporate. If the potatoes seem too thick, add a little more milk and beat until smooth.
Place meat/gravy mixture in a medium baking dish. Top evenly with the mashed potatoes (I used a piping bag with a star tip just for the fun of it). 
Bake at 357 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until gravy bubbles at the edges and the top begins to brown. Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 6 servings

*You really want to end up with about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of mashed potatoes to put on top. The type of potato you use does not matter.

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