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Just finished News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her parents were killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of a old west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many.

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Chicken, easy, on June 6th, 2015.

chicken_in_milk_sweet_potatoes

Aren’t we all busy as can be sometimes and we need a quick dinner without a lot of prep? Here’s one.

Defrosting a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts was all I’d done in preparation for dinner. I glanced through my to-try file, and knowing that I had a sweet potato, cilantro, milk, ginger, garlic and Dijon . . . well, that constituted enough to try to make a riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe I had. Really, about all I used from his recipe is the technique, the milk, garlic and cinnamon. The rest I made up as I went along.

You do need to know that when you cook milk, it separates. It just does, and Jamie (and many other great cooks) have shared recipes for meat simmered in milk, so it’s not a new idea by any means. But something chemical in the milk doesn’t allow it to be simmered (boiled) without separating. (If you use heavy cream, it won’t separate even when you boil it, but milk, yes it will.) You could add flour to it to make a thin-type sauce, which would avoid the separating, but I was too lazy. I could have dipped the chicken in some seasoned flour and that would have provided some thickening to the sauce too, that might have kept it from separating. But again, I was lazy and didn’t. I wanted to try it as-is, Jamie’s way. It provides a kind of lumpy, thick-and-thin sauce that’s not exactly pretty. But it tastes good, and especially if you have some kind of carb to put it on.

I had some zucchini too, that needed fixing, so that went in another pan with a chopped up slice of bacon and cooked away slowly while I made the chicken. First you brown (light golden-brown) the chicken in a bit of butter in a big skillet (that has a lid). Once golden brown, you remove it and set it aside. Then you add a shallot, cook that a bit, then add some big chunks of sweet potato, uniformly sliced about 1/2” thick, though, so they cook evenly. Those got slightly browned, then I added in the milk. I also added a little jot of cream – hoping it might help the milk from separating (no, it didn’t). Then I added my seasonings: Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper, and the cinnamon. Jamie called for a stick of cinnamon – I didn’t feel like hunting for it, so I just used a pinch or two of ground cinnamon instead. Once simmering, I added the lid and let it cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes were just barely tender. You don’t want to overcook them. The chicken is added back in, simmered for 3-4 minutes is all – until it’s tender and juicy. Don’t overcook those either or it’ll be inedible. (I ordered a Cobb salad the other day, and the chicken meat served on it was so dry I almost choked on it – what a waste.) Just know that chicken breasts don’t need hardly any cooking – check it frequently to make sure you don’t overdo it.

In the cooking time, the sauce, as I mentioned, separates. It’s kind of like curds and whey. You can see some of the curds on the sweet potatoes in the photo. The milk becomes a kind of broth, almost, with the curds in it – my solution was to kind of mush-up the sweet potatoes a little bit, then eat a bit of that, with a bite of chicken and some of the milk sauce. All together. The flavors are subtle – even with the garlic – I expected the garlic to be pronounced, but it wasn’t. I made 2 servings and used 3 garlic cloves, mashed.

What’s GOOD: I loved the taste, that’s what’s important. The visual, well, not so good, and I’d probably not serve this to guests, just because people might be put-off by the separated milk/sauce. I was fine with it, especially since Jamie Oliver tells you right up front about what happens to the milk in his recipe. Milk is a lovely tenderizer of meat, even though the chicken didn’t spend that much time bathed in the milk. It was good. It was simple. All good reasons to make it again. Is it fabulous? Well, no, I wouldn’t put it in that category. It was quick, that’s what I was looking for.

What’s NOT: the only thing is the sauce – some may not like it. I can see children saying “ew, Mom, what’s that?” But if you mush up the potatoes (or serve rice on the side) and the sauce goes on the carb, they might not notice.

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Chicken in Milk with Sweet Potatoes

Recipe By: A major riff on a Jamie Oliver recipe.
Serving Size: 4

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 chicken breast halves without skin — drained, blotted dry
1 small shallot — minced
2 medium sweet potatoes — peeled, halved, 1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons grated ginger root
2 pinches ground cinnamon — (or use a whole stick)
3 cloves garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced (garnish), or parsley

NOTES: If you have chicken with skin, by all means use it. Even better, use bone-in chicken. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts was what I had on hand. And chicken breasts cook in a flash, so be careful not to overcook them. You’ll NOT be happy with the results.
1. In a large skillet (with a lid) melt butter. When it begins to sizzle, add the chicken breasts and brown gently on both sides until they show golden color, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Add shallot to the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes until it’s translucent. Add the sweet potatoes and allow them to brown on both sides, just a little bit, 3-4 minutes.
3. Pour in the milk and cream, then add Dijon, mustard, garlic and cinnamon. Mix well, blending in the mustard. Bring to a very low simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, until sweet potatoes are nearly done. Test them with a knife – you want them to stay together but be barely edible at this point.
4. Add the chicken pieces in the skillet, cover and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until they are cooked through. Do NOT overcook them or they’ll be dry.
5. The sauce will have separated – it’s not exactly a pretty picture – but it tastes great. If desired, slightly mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher, place chicken on top of the potatoes, then pour the lumpy sauce over both. Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve immediately.
6. You can also make the chicken without sweet potatoes, but prepare rice or mashed potatoes – and drizzle the separated sauce on top.
Per Serving: 353 Calories; 15g Fat (37.7% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 113mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Soups, on June 2nd, 2015.

taco_soup_trimmings

Is it past soup season? My apologies for forgetting this recipe when it was still cold, and you wanted warmth in your tummy. And perhaps I’m the very last person on the planet who hadn’t ever HAD this soup. Oh my goodness, is it ever tasty! And it’s unbelievably easy too. I didn’t put all the trimmings on the soup when I took the photo – there should be cilantro and Fritos all over the top too.

My best friend Cherrie and her husband go camping (really, it’s glamping) a lot. They have a huge (long) 5th wheel that attaches to Bud’s BIG truck and they go up the coast of California, down the coast and inland too (and to Arizona for baseball spring training). Everywhere. And truly, theirs is big enough to live in. Cherrie is an immaculate housekeeper and the 5th wheel is always decorated as cute as a bug. They have several sets of friends and some relatives that they meet in these various places. And THIS is one of the gargantuan meals Cherrie now fixes for the gang. They usually take turns preparing dinner for everyone. Cherrie raved about it, so of course (and gave me a sample), so then I had to try this myself. Cherrie got the recipe from one of the other glamping couples.

Did I tell you this recipe is EASY? Yes, I did, but it bears repeating. This is SUPER EASY! Get out your slow cooker, friends. Make a huge batch and if you can’t eat it all now, freeze it in family-sized portions. The only thing you’ll have to do later is prepare the garnishes (of which there are a few).

It’s like a chili – you could use ground turkey – but the ground beef one was awfully good. You brown up the beef and onions, then pour everything into the crockpot (beans, tomatoes, corn, olives, chiles, taco seasoning AND, the surprise ingredient: a package of dried ranch salad dressing mix) and let it slow-cook for about 6 hours. Done. Meanwhile, prepare the toppings: grated Cheddar, sour cream (or yogurt if you prefer), Fritos, cilantro and avocado. That’s it. Put out bowls and have at it. My mouth is watering just writing up this post, and it’s been several months ago that I made it (small batch, all gone, none in freezer).

What’s GOOD: if it wasn’t extraordinarily tasty I wouldn’t be going on and on about it. It’s delicious. Really delicious. Tummy warming. And, it’s EASY. You could make it without meat, too – I bet it would be fine. I absolutely guarantee you’re going to hear “mmmmm’s” from everyone. I’m just sorry I don’t have any in the freezer, although it’s getting to be warmer weather and this is probably best in colder seasons.

What’s NOT: there’s no down side to this recipe. Make it.

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Slow Cooker Taco Soup

Recipe By: This one’s all over the internet, but this is
my friend Cherrie’s version.

Serving Size: 10

2 pounds ground beef — or ground turkey
1 large yellow onion — diced
30 ounces canned pinto beans — drained and rinsed
30 ounces canned kidney beans — drained and rinsed
15 ounces canned corn — drained
15 ounces canned tomatoes with green chiles — (Rotel)
15 ounces canned tomatoes
9 ounces diced green chiles
1 1/4 ounces Taco seasoning mix
1 1/8 ounces ranch-style dressing mix
GARNISHES:
Fritos (the small ones)
4 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 cup light sour cream — or Greek yogurt
1 whole avocado — diced
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped

1. Brown the meat and onions in a large skillet. Drain excess fat and transfer to slow cooker. Add beans, corn, tomatoes, green chiles, taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix.
2. Cook in slow cooker for 6-8 hours.
3. Into each serving bowl place some of the Fritos, then scoop about 2 cups of the soup on top. Serve all the garnishes in bowls for guests to take as they’d like.
Per Serving: 720 Calories; 44g Fat (54.0% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 11g Dietary Fiber; 127mg Cholesterol; 1814mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, easy, on May 28th, 2015.

blooming_bread_pesto_mozzie

I thought I’d taken a photo of this when it was baked, but I guess I didn’t. This is one of those big monster loaves of bread, cut into little towers you pull off, with a mixture of pesto inside, then with oodles of mozzarella cheese all over it.

I was visiting with daughter Sara awhile back – I’d forgotten about posting this one – it was before I went on my April/May trip to Europe. Anyway, Sara invited all of her husband’s extended family over for a Sunday night dinner. I helped Sara some with preparations, and she handed me the ingredients for this, and said “go for it, Mom.”  I’d made one of these before, about 7-8 years ago, but it was a slightly different variation of the same – that older one with cream cheese and goat cheese, from an old friend, Karen. This one with mozzarella only. By far, this one was easier to make, but both were fabulous.

If you consider making this, please don’t look at the calories or fat, okay? Just know it’s probably not good for us, but it’s a treat. There were 4 children at Sara’s that day (ages 11-17) and they gobbled this up in no time flat. Most of the adults got a taste or two. Where I was sitting at Sara’s kitchen counter, it was put right in front of me, so I did get to sample more than some people did. I could have made a meal of it – in fact, after a few pieces I was almost full.

Sara bought the loaf of bread at Costco – a big, round loaf. You must buy an unsliced round loaf, then you slice it both directions in about 3/4 inch slices, but not down through the bottom crust, so it stays in place. I cut the bread too deep – it should have stood up a little bit better than it did, but hey, it made no-never-mind to the taste. You slather ready made pesto (Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry it now), then sprinkle shredded mozzarella all over it. Into an oven it goes, and once the mozzarella is fully melted, pull it out. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving as you could easily burn your mouth if it’s too hot. You’ll hear raves, I promise.

What’s GOOD: well, the taste! It’s delicious. The better the cheese you buy (like whole milk mozzarella, and/or mix in some provolone) the better it will taste. If you make your own pesto it’s probably better than store bought. But make it easy – buy ready made pesto, but don’t, please, buy already shredded mozzarella. You know the cheese producers put something on that so the cheese doesn’t clump. Whatever it is, it dilutes flavor, or else they don’t use very good cheese to begin with. So make it with good cheese.

What’s NOT: the only thing I can say is that the slicing and slathering is a little bit fussy, but it doesn’t take all that much time. It’s fairly straight forward and you’ll have it ready in about 10-15 minutes max. You can probably do it ahead and refrigerate it (covered) for an hour or two. It might not even need refrigeration if you made it 2 hours ahead. Don’t quote me – don’t sue me! There’s no mayo in this, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Bloomin’ Pesto Mozzarella Bread

Recipe By: My daughter Sara’s recipe
Serving Size: 6-8

1 loaf white bread — round, unsliced
1 cup pesto sauce — fresh (jarred, or make your own)
12 ounces mozzarella cheese — shredded
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
2. Prepare the bread: Score the bread lengthwise as you would to slice the loaf into 1/2 to 3/4″ thick slices, but do not cut through the bottom. Turn the loaf a quarter turn, and slice the bread the other direction, but only slice it to about 1″ from the bottom. You’ll end up with a whole, round loaf of little towers or fingers of bread.
3. Use a spatula or butter knife to spread pesto in all the edges and crevices, down deep in the bread.
4. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella inside the all the nooks and crannies, pushing it in so that the cheese doesn’t melt off the edges/sides.
5. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet, and bake until the pesto is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted, 15 to 17 minutes. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 33g Fat (74.4% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, easy, on May 4th, 2015.

johnny_marzetti_casserole

If you’d told me a couple of weeks ago that a week or so after I returned from my trip, having had pasta about 10 times in as many days while in Italy part of the trip, I’d have thought you were crazy. In a general year, I don’t eat much pasta, as you may remember if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I love the stuff, but I just try to limit those kinds of carbs.

But then, since I don’t think I’ve talked about it, my friend Cherrie and I both returned home with food poisoning. She was ill on her return flight. I didn’t get sick until the moment I walked into my house, and then I was just about down flat for 4 days, and only slightly better after that. She and I have pinpointed the culprit as a savory flan we both ordered at our “farewell to France” dinner, our last night in Paris. It’s the only thing just she and I ate at the restaurant meal. It took a full 10 days for that illness to work its way through my system. And I didn’t know it was food poisoning until I went to a doctor. I ate so much oatmeal, rice, yogurt, applesauce, toast and bananas that I don’t know if I ever want any of those things again. Well, except yogurt. I haven’t lost my love of yogurt. Anyway, finally, the day I made this, my tummy began to feel better and I hadn’t had any of those stomach-wrenching pains I’d been having for 10 days, and food began to sound good again.

And I craved pasta, but not just any pasta – I had in mind this casserole I used to fix years and years ago (back in the 60s and 70s). Over the years I’ve adapted it here and there, and never put it on my blog (I guess) because it’s such a simple dish. For me, though, it represented comfort food. I didn’t want mac and cheese, but I wanted some ground beef and tomatoes and pasta. So, it took no time at all to throw this together and I now have 4 more ample single-serving casseroles of it in the freezer.

This is just a combo of ground beef, onions, garlic, seasonings, canned tomatoes, cheddar (or Velveeta in my case because I had some in the refrigerator – because I’d tried to eat a toasted cheese sandwich one of my days when I was really sick) and Mozzarella. I also added a little jot of Worcestershire sauce too, though that was never in my original recipe. If  you do a search for Johnny Marzetti, I expect you’ll get about 6 million results. It’s spelled all different ways (like Marzett, Mazetti, Mazetter), and who knows who Johnny was, way back when. But a dish is named after him.

Casseroles in general are meal stretchers – this one with pasta and tomatoes in it, it resembles spaghetti. Actually, when I made it I scooped some into a single-serving casserole dish, topped it with Mozzarella and didn’t even bake it – I stuck it under the broiler in my toaster oven until it turned golden brown. But baking for about 15 minutes will heat it full, all the way through. If you’re in a gigantic hurry, don’t bother with the baking – just stir in the cheese until it melts and scoop it onto plates.

What’s GOOD: This is a really easy and simple dish to throw together in about 30 minutes or so. While the pasta water is heating, make the sauce. Once the pasta is done, combine everything, add the cheese and you’re done. Or bake for a little bit. It’s a kid-pleaser and will feed a crowd for not a lot of $$.

What’s NOT: it isn’t a sophisticated dish in the least – just good old plain food – but tasty. No down side that I can think of.

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Johnny Marzetti

Recipe By: My own version of a very old recipe from a community cookbook, circa 1965.
Serving Size: 7 (or fewer if you have big appetites)

12 ounces pasta — your choice (penne, linguine, spaghetti, spirals)
1 pound ground beef
1 large yellow onion — diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
15 ounces diced tomatoes — including juice
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried oregano — crushed in your palms
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese — (I used Velvetta because I had it open)
12 ounces Mozzarella cheese — shredded

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and stir well. Add pasta and simmer it until it’s not quite done, but just about.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet brown the ground beef until no pink remains. Add onion and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until onion is fully translucent. Add tomatoes and juices.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
4. Add the garlic, seasonings, salt, pepper and Worcestershire.
5. Drain pasta well, then pour into the skillet with the meat mixture. Add the cheeses, saving some of the Mozzarella to sprinkle on top.
6. Pour into individual ramekins or into a 8×10 or other shaped baking dish. Top with cheese and bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted. If you like the cheese browned, turn on the broiler just until the cheese begins to get golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then serve. Serve with a green salad and an Italian vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 603 Calories; 34g Fat (50.7% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 110mg Cholesterol; 637mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Pork, on June 24th, 2014.

southern_fried_pork_chops

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know I don’t usually FRY things. Sauté yes, but really fry in oil, no. My bottle of canola oil gets used mostly for salad dressings. But I just decided to do something different. In the background on the plate above there are the dry-pan roasted green beans that I’ve made 10 times in the last 6 months they’re so good. And easy.

I searched around the ‘net for “pork chop recipes”, and southern fried pork chops were the top 8 or so. Really?  So I clicked over to several (one on epicurious, and two others from blogs, but were almost identical. I kind of made my own way once I got the gist of the main recipe. A flour-based breading mixture is made (flour, cornstarch, herbs, salt, pepper) and set aside. Another is made with an egg and some milk or buttermilk. The pork chops are dipped first into the flour, then egg, then back in the flour, and ever-so gently placed into the 1/4 inch of medium-hot oil.

One thing I learned (and don’t know if it’s true) is that when you fry foods like this, it’s best to raise the heat of the oil in a gentle manner – i.e., use low heat and then raise it over the course of 10 minutes or so. If you turn the flame up to high right from the get-go, you’ll end up with oil that’s too hot. Some of that makes sense, but some of it sounds crazy. Heated oil is heated oil. Isn’t it? Any of you chemistry types out there know?

Anyway, the pork chops were dutifully dipped in the proper pans and lowered into the oil, and they were done in no time flat. One of the bloggers mentioned using a heat test before you start cooking – dropping a pinch of the flour mixture into the oil – if it bubbles, then it’s hot enough. And during the cooking you do only want the oil to bubble around the meat and not burn the coating.

The cornstarch in the flour mixture gives the breading/coating a lighter texture. Not exactly like a tempura batter, but not far from it. It was nice. I liked it. I used seasonings in my flour mixture (other than the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika that was in most of these recipes). I reached for Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning and added a couple of teaspoons. I don’t really know that I could taste it once it was fried, however. So you could use whatever suits you – like an Italian blend perhaps – or don’t add any at all. In the South I think they’d go for the plain stuff (salt, pepper and garlic powder).

The pork chops bubble around the edges as they’re frying. Be sure the chops aren’t touching – I used a pan that probably could have held more – because several recipes stressed that the chops need lots of space around them. They browned in no time flat, so I turned the heat down just a little bit and turned them over and cooked the 1/2 inch thick chops about 4 minutes per side – my guess. I didn’t time it. It was all by color.

What’s GOOD: how easy it was – only time consuming thing was mixing up the coating mixture. I got everything else finished before I even started the pork chops so I wouldn’t be distracted. They were really good. Not in the “outstanding” category, but it was an easy, quick dinner that was satisfying.
What’s NOT: well, some folks don’t like frying – like deep frying – although these weren’t deep in oil – I used only about 1/4 inch (half way up the chops).

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Southern Fried Pork Chops

Recipe By: Adapted from a website called Taste of Southern
Serving Size: 4

32 ounces pork chops — center cut, bone in (four 1/2 inch chops)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk — or buttermilk (or water)
1 tablespoon mixed herbs — I used Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Cooking oil for frying the chops (canola or vegetable)

1. BREADING: In a small mixing bowl, add the flour, cornstarch, herbs, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and paprika. Stir all ingredients well. Set aside.
2. EGG: Break one egg into a small low sided dish. Add milk and use a fork to mix it well. Mix well enough that there are no little globs of egg white.
3. MEAT: One at a time, dip a pork chop in the flour and coat both sides. Dip the chop into the egg mixture, coat both sides well. Lift and let any excess drip off. Place the chop back into the flour mixture and coat both sides and edges.
4. FRYING: Place about 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Test the oil by sprinkling in a little pinch of the bread mixture – if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Lower the chops into the hot cooking oil, one at a time. Do not crowd them (they don’t want to be touching). Cook for 4-6 minutes.
5. Watch the bottoms of the chop and when they start to brown, flip the pork chops over. Let the chops fry for about 4-6 minutes or until done but not over cooked. Test a chop by cutting into the center to make sure it’s not rare. A little bit of pink is fine. Remove the cooked chops from the skillet, place on a paper towel lined plate and let drain. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 507 Calories; 24g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 165mg Cholesterol; 378mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, easy, on May 10th, 2014.

tres_leches_cake_slice

If you’ve never had Tres Leches (in Spanish that means 3 milks) cake, you’re really missing something. And I’m just going to say that this one, made from a Nestle boxed mix, is just about as good as any homemade version I’ve ever had. And since it IS a boxed mix, that means it’s super easy. It also means I’m going to go get another box so I can have it on the shelf. (Although, you won’t want to keep sweetened condensed milk – which is in the box – on your pantry shelf for more than a few months as it thickens and darkens.)

My thought was that Tres Leches Cake was Mexican in origin, but when I searched on wikipedia, I found out that it actually may originate from Europe. However, it became popular in Central tres_leches_kitAmerica in the early 1900s (probably when canned milk and sweetened condensed milk proliferated and apparently Carnation and/or other brands included a recipe on the label and since it was distributed throughout Central and South America it became a national dessert in several countries). See the article if you’d like.

Essentially it’s a butter-rich cake (the mix is enough for a 9-inch round cake pan – and do NOT make it in an 8-inch pan – it will never fit) that’s baked, and once it’s cooled for a few minutes you poke jillions of holes all over the cake and pour over it a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and straight milk (some recipes call fortres_leches_cake_inpan heavy cream but the mix suggests whole milk which was plenty rich enough). The milk mixture is not thick, really, and it just fills in all the little holes throughout the cake. It does not sink to the bottom. There at right you can see the cake after it was baked and just after I poured the milk mixture all over it. It sat out on my counter for about 30 minutes while the cake cooled, then into the refrigerator it went. Within about an hour or so every bit of the milk had been absorbed in the cake. Ideally it’s refrigerated for about 4 hours. This is a cake you can NOT leave out on your kitchen counter overnight – all that milk would spoil.

In the photo above left you can see the mix – although the bag with the cake mix I’d already emptied into my mixing bowl. This one is made by Nestle and I found it at my regular supermarket. It contains the cake mix bag, the sweetened condensed milk can (on the left) and a can of evaporated milk (on the right). I also caution you to not use a 9-inch pan that’s shallow. It may fit in a standard 9-inch cake pan, but I happen to have a deeper 9-inch one that was perfect. The cake did shrink some once baked and all the milk mixture did fit in the pan.tres_leches_slice_close

What I want you to notice is that in the photo above, on the plate toward the back of the cake slice you can see just a little bit of the milk/cream. The entire cake is just saturated with the milk, but it doesn’t ooze all over. Just a tiny bit. We had whipped cream with it.

Some recipes you’ll find online have a frosting on top. For me that would be over the top – this cake is very rich and to put frosting on it (unless it was just a whipped cream mixture) would make it too sweet and heavy for me. If you don’t like cake mixes, just do a search for Tres Leches Cake and you’ll find dozens of them to make from scratch. I’ll definitely make this again. I think kids would love this cake.

What’s GOOD: I really, really liked this. Because it’s so moist. It’s also rich and sweet too. It was EASY, which I liked a lot too. Very suitable for guests. For me, the cake has sort-of the texture of bread pudding, but it’s not weight-heavy like bread pudding is. Fabulous.

What’s NOT: I don’t want to know how many calories each slice contains. Just don’t tell me, okay?

Posted in easy, Pork, on March 8th, 2014.

skillet_pork_chops_apples_onions

Did we have pork chops in the freezer? Check. Apples? Yes, one. Check. Onions? Yes, always one of those on hand. Check. Italian Parsley? Yup. Check. Lemon juice? Oh yes. Check.

I’m sure you’re all just like I am – we eat different meats in rotation. Sort of. Chicken, chicken, fish, chicken, pork, chicken, fish, and way down the rotation list, lamb. This particular night I was in the mood for pork and sure enough, we still had two more pork chops from the Berkshire pig. I think this dinner will be the last, however. We have a Berkshire ham, which we’ll probably have for Easter, and I think I have one more pound of ground pork. When those are gone, I’ll be completely empty of Berkshire. Sadly.

Lucky is the word for me when it comes to pleasing my hubby – Dave never complains no matter what I serve him. Only when we’ve had the same leftovers 3 times does he grumble a little. I rarely do that – I try to insert something else in between, or I try to re-invent the dish somehow. But with some things that’s not possible. When I’ve defrosted meat to begin with, made something, I don’t like to re-freeze it. It’s already been frozen and I’ve read that meat just loses flavor when you do that. I’ve been known to do it with soup, when the protein comprises very little of the taste in the soup itself. Like tonight, for instance, as I’m typing this, I have meatballs in the refrigerator, chilling. From a couple of pounds of defrosted ground beef. (I’m making something close to Ikea’s Swedish Meatballs – if it’s good, I’ll post it in a few days.) I made a big batch – bigger than I should have I think – and my only hope is that we’ll have a guest over to help eat it up. Because I don’t want to freeze them.

Okay, back to pork chops. I’d saved this recipe in MasterCook – and so my notes say, I found it on Oprah’s website, although it’s a Mark Bittman recipe. Must have been awhile ago. But I searched for pork chop recipes within my to-try recipes and this one just seemed the best fit. And talk about easy!

The chops were seasoned with salt and pepper, browned in a skillet. Some vermouth was added to the pan along with a minced-up shallot. The chops are removed, and then you add the sliced apples and onion and cook that for awhile with some chicken stock, then the chops go back into the pan for a little while – maybe 10 minutes – while the sauce reduces down a bit. That’s it. Add a tidbit of butter (as a finish to the sauce) and garnish with Italian parsley. Done. I had a smidgen of rice left over from the chicken tikka masala I’d made the other night, so I added just enough to give the plate a rounding-out. It was enough for the sauce to soak into, which was delicious.

What’s GOOD: how quick and easy the dish was to make. My DH loved it – but then, he loves pork chops just about any way I’ll make them. Loved the interplay between the savory sauce and the sweet apple. Apple and pork really do go together well.

What’s NOT: nothing at all, really. Liked the dish a lot.

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Skillet Pork Chops with Apples

Recipe By: Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Basic (via Oprah’s website)
Serving Size: 4

2 pounds pork chops — preferably bone in (6 to 8 ounces each) 1″ thick [I used chops that were 1/2″ thick so cooked it for less time]
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine — or light-bodied beer [I used vermouth]
2 tablespoons chopped shallot — or red onion
3 medium apples — peeled, cored, halved, and sliced [I used less]
1 large onion — halved and sliced
1/2 cup chicken stock — or more as needed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons parsley — chopped fresh for garnish

1. Blot the chops dry with a paper towel. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the chops, turn the heat to high, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When they brown and release from the pan easily, turn the chops, season again, and cook this side the same way. The whole process should take about 2 minutes per side or 3 to 5 minutes total.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the wine—be careful here; the wine may splatter a bit when it hits the hot oil—and the shallot and cook, turning the chops once or twice, until the wine is almost evaporated, 1 or 2 minutes. Transfer the chops to a plate and return the pan to the heat.
3. Add the apples and onion to the hot pan and stir until they start to stick, 1 or 2 minutes. Add the stock, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chops to the pan, along with any juices accumulated on the plate. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat so it bubbles steadily, then cover.
4. Cook, stirring occasionally and turning the chops once or twice, until the chops are tender, 5 to 10 minutes; add another 1/2 cup stock or water if the apples start to stick. When the chops are done, they will be firm to the touch, their juices will run just slightly pink, and when you cut into them the color will be rosy at first glance but turn pale within seconds. By this time the apples and onions will also be soft. Stir in the lemon juice and butter and taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve the chops with the sauce on top, garnished with the parsley.
Per Serving: 535 Calories; 32g Fat (56.7% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 119mg Cholesterol; 390mg Sodium.

Posted in Chicken, easy, on March 6th, 2014.

easy_chicken_tikka_masala_leftover_chicken

Last week I was just craving Indian food. We have a couple of Indian restaurants in our vicinity, but since I was craving chicken tikka masala, I knew I’d prefer my own version rather than a less flavorful restaurant variety. However, I had left over chicken, not fresh, raw. What to do? Easy  solution – make my favorite recipe but adapt it using the already cooked chicken.

Spotting a nice little Kosher chicken at Trader Joe’s a week ago, I bought the 3.5 pound baby and we had a really lovely roast chicken dinner from my favorite-est recipe. It was loverly, as they say. The meat was so very moist and tender. When we finished, I still had half a chicken left over, so I picked all the meat off the bone and stuck it in a Zip-loc bag and put it in the refrigerator, having no idea what I’d do with it. So when the Indian food craving hit, I just decided I’d adapt my recipe I already have for chicken tikka masala, but here I’d use the already cooked chicken.

It wasn’t hard to do, and I put the dinner together in a jiffy. First I got out all the ingredients – I chopped up the chicken meat, got out all the spices, prepped the vegetables, opened the can of tomatoes, minced the garlic and ginger. Then I got out my Breville BRC600XL The Risotto Plus Sauteing Slow Rice Cooker and Steamer to make rice (it has a standard rice setting which made just perfect Basmati rice). Once that was going I started the sauce. I tossed the chicken pieces with the spices first, then I added in the  yogurt. That was set that aside while I fired up the pan on the range. It was quick work with the onion and garlic, added in some other spices, and the canned tomatoes including their juices.  When everything was ready I added in the chicken which had been “marinating” in the yogurt and garam masala and stirred it into the pan. This recipe does contain a little bit of cream – I used less than usual and I mixed it with some whole milk I had. I allowed it to come up to a very slow simmer – I didn’t allow it to actually simmer, though, as the dish was “done” at that point. If I’d allowed it to boil, even gently, it might have separated from using some milk in it. Maybe not, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

What I wanted was for the chicken to be done at the precise time the rice was done. The basmati rice prepared in the risotto cooker is perfection when the heat switches off, so I was all ready and scooped rice out on the plate, then added some of the chicken in masala sauce on top, sprinkled with cilantro and we were ready to eat.

What’s GOOD: I think this was every bit as good as the original recipe made with raw, bone-in chicken. Of course, the kosher chicken was ever-so moist anyway. This recipe was super-easy. And super good too. I’d definitely make this again when I have left over chicken.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Altogether good dish.

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Quick and Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

Recipe By: Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Serving Size: 3

CHICKEN:
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken — approximately, chopped
1/2 cup yogurt — whole-milk preferably
MASALA SAUCE:
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion — diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 medium garlic clove — minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger — grated
1/2 serrano pepper — ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (see note above), or one large jalapeno [optional]
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon garam masala
14 ounces canned tomatoes — use chopped or chop yourself
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup heavy cream — or whole milk
1/8 cup fresh cilantro leaves — chopped (or mint, if preferred) for garnish

1. FOR THE CHICKEN: Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne and garam masala in medium bowl. Add the cooked chicken pieces and stir until the chicken has picked up all the dry spices. Then add the yogurt and combine; set aside.
2. FOR THE SAUCE: Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm. If using milk instead of cream, don’t allow the mixture to boil or it will separate.
3. Add the chicken yogurt mixture to the pan. Allow the mixture to warm up gently and when it’s hot, taste for seasonings. Add chicken broth if needed if the sauce is too thick. Stir in cilantro or sprinkle it on top as a garnish and serve over hot basmati rice.
Per Serving: 345 Calories; 22g Fat (55.6% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 101mg Cholesterol; 477mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, easy, on February 28th, 2014.

crostini_grape_leaves_olives

Need an easy artichoke heart mixture to serve to guests that’s tasty and very quick to put together? And has no mayo or sour cream in it?

This recipe has been in my arsenal for years, from a decades-ago class I took from Joanne Weir. I’d forgotten all about it, but noticed that it didn’t have a photo attached to it (this in my MasterCook software program I use for all my recipes). That’s an automatic signal that I took the class long before I began taking a quick pix of the food when I attended the class. It also meant I’d not written it up here on my blog either! Since it’s an easy recipe to make, I chose to include it for a dinner party we were having recently.

Making it the day before is no problem – in fact it helped me to get at least one dish done ahead of time. This topping/dip keeps for about a week or so. In the class Joanne just chopped up the ingredients on a cutting board. It calls for canned or defrosted artichoke hearts, not marinated type, a few brined grape leaves, garlic, green olives –  Joanne called for picholine but I couldn’t find that type the day I went shopping so I used a plain green olive – some Parmigiano cheese, lemon juice and just a little bit of EVOO to smooth it out. That’s IT. Easy, huh? Changing the type of olive in this would likely change the flavor profile a little bit. Don’t use kalamata – they would overpower the mixture. Don’t use ripe olives, and don’t use the green stuffed olives either.

When I made this I used the food processor – I was into “easy” that day. If you’d prefer a bit more texture to the spread, then definitely do the mince and chop version. Do allow the mixture to refrigerate for a few hours – so the garlic isn’t so harsh and it has time to permeate it all.

What’s GOOD: how easy it is to make, plus it keeps for awhile. Make it 2 days ahead – that’s fine too. Very tasty – you definitely know it’s artichoke hearts but you can’t exactly pick out the grape leaves (it adds just a little bit of sharpness) along with the lemon juice. Very delish appetizer that I’ve made over and over.
What’s NOT: you might not have brined/jarred grape leaves on hand (I didn’t) but I found them easily enough at my local upscale market. And you might not have the right olives – but I substituted some other small green olives instead.

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Crostini with Artichokes, Grape Leaves and Olives

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Joanne Weir
Serving Size: 8

6 large artichoke hearts — frozen, defrosted (or canned, drained)
4 whole grape leaves — bottled, rinsed
1/3 cup green olives — Picholine, pitted, chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
8 shaves Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — crumbled
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
24 pieces French baguette sliced
lemon wedges for garnish

Notes: This can be made ahead, but don’t add garlic until just before serving. Use a country bread – coarse textured, about 2 inches in diameter. You can also grill the bread slices rather than bake them. I made this in a food processor until it was smooth, so I didn’t do quite so much mincing and chopping and let the processor do all the work.
1. Remove the stems from the grape leaves before mincing.
2. In a bowl combine the chopped artichoke hearts, grape leaves, olives, cheese, garlic and lemon zest. Pour mixture onto a cutting board and continue to chop together until coarsely chopped. Place mixture back in the bowl and add cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Use plenty of salt, as once you put it on bread, it dilutes the salt. Taste for additional lemon juice as well. If made ahead, allow mixture to sit out at room temp for at least 30 minutes.
3. Coat the thin bread slices with olive oil and a little salt, then bake in a 400° oven until just crisp. Do not overbake. Serve crostini with a thin slather of the artichoke mixture.
Per Serving: 292 Calories; 7g Fat (21.3% calories from fat); 11g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 4mg Cholesterol; 709mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, easy, on February 12th, 2014.

apricot_jam_pastry

Oh my goodness, is this ever fantastic. The problems with this are: (1) finding good, tender and rich brioche bread; and (2) keeping your fingers out of the finished pastry. They are just so delicious. The base is a thick slice of brioche bread (the one above is about 1/2 inch thick, maybe just slightly thicker), spread with a ground almond and butter mixture (an almond cream, it’s called), spread with a little bit of apricot jam, some almonds sprinkled on top and baked briefly, then generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

The other morning we were at one of my book group meetings, at our friend Peggy’s establishment, (Peggy & Gary own it along with their son) Mead’s Green Door Café in old-town Orange. Every other month we meet at their little café and enjoy a latte or cappucino and some lovely treat Peggy has baked while we discuss our current book selection. Peggy and her husband used to own a restaurant in Orange, but sold it a few years ago and bought a derelict building and spent over a year renovating it to the Café it is now. Cute as a bug, Old-world style, country-ish, eclectic, offbeat, catering a lot to the young Chapman University crowd nearby. They serve vegetarian and vegan food only, with usually at least one GF item too. They specialize in breakfast and lunch. Peggy does 90% of the baking. Peggy’s #1 seller (of her pastries) is her sweet potato scone, which is delish also, I can attest!

This little number, which blew me away, is so easy to make. Disclaimer here – I didn’t make the one you see above – Peggy did. But it’s so very easy, I was fairly certain you wouldn’t mind me showing you hers. If I made this now, I’d be gobbling it down. The recipe came from Sunset Magazine (earlier last year). First you must start with good brioche. Maybe one of our local bakeries (like Panera or Corner Bakery) will have it – I’ll have to look. You slice it thick (the recipe said 1-inch; I think Peggy sliced hers closer to 1/2 inch. Anyway, thick brioche. Then you spread the top with a little apricot jam, then a mixture of butter, granulated sugar, salt, egg, and half-and-half that’s been whizzed  up in the food processor. Then the top is sprinkled with almonds and sugar. Baked for 20 minutes or so, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Done. Very easy. Very special.

What’s GOOD: certainly the taste is first and foremost! These things are just delish. Worth making. You can make the almond cream ahead and it will keep for several days. The almond cream makes more than what you’ll use to make 8 – so perhaps cut down on the quantity first time.

What’s NOT: really nothing.

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Almond and Jam Pastries

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, March, 2013
Serving Size: 8

ALMOND CREAM: (you’ll have more than is needed)
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar — divided
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons half and half — or milk
TOASTS:
8 slices brioche — or challah bread, 1/2 in. thick or thicker
1/2 cup apricot jam — or other flavor
2 cups sliced almonds — about 2 T per toast
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Whirl 1 cup almonds with 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
2. Blend butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add salt, egg, and half-and-half and pulse just to blend. Add reserved ground almonds and blend until mixture is smooth.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread about 1 tbsp. jam, then 2 tbsp. almond cream, on each slice of bread (you’ll have almond cream left over). Sprinkle each with about 2 tbsp. sliced almonds.
4. Bake until almond cream is golden brown and almonds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
5. Make ahead: Chill extra almond cream airtight up to 2 weeks and use for making more pastries.
Per Serving (not accurate because you make more almond cream than you’ll use): 831 Calories; 55g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

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