Treat yourself and kids with Custom Confections

Custom Confections
Custom Confections

Available September 1st from Capstone Young Readers, this book is perfect for budding young pastry chefs or families that just want to have some fun in the kitchen.

If you’re looking for some sweet treats to make up with your kids this holiday season and beyond, don’t miss Custom Confections, by Jen Besel.

While it’s targeted for readers ages 9-13, I’ve found more than a few of the techniques outlined in this book helpful and easily applicable to other recipes and projects for my adult sensibilities as well. In fact, many of the recipes call for playing and adapting and inspiring some delicious spin-offs. (Don’t miss the checkerboard cake and the marshmallow fondant recipes.)

Sugared flower cupcakes
Sugared flower cupcakes

So grab the kids, apron-up, and prepare for some sweet fun.

Weeknight Chicken and Cream Sauce

The August cover of any national food magazine will usually feature some sort grilled meat with a title about throwing the perfect summer party for a crowd.

That’s not exactly the way our editorial calendar works here in Tennessee.

In our neck of the woods, August is not the start of grilling season, it’s the start of school. We are winding down the summer parties and cookouts, and look—not without some sadness—to the end of vacation eating and the return of our school and work day routine and the meals that fit into it. A typical tuesday this month will not include me standing at a grill outside basting a brisket, but probably throwing something together in between practices and homework.

This simple recipe has been a long-time favorite in our family and is perfect for weeknight dinners but tastes good enough to grace a magazine cover any month of the year.

 

Weeknight Chicken in Cream Sauce

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or fillets, cut into 1” pieces
3-4 Tablespoons of flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
2-4 Tablespoons of butter

1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

*1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced, if desired
*1 jar of marinara or spaghetti sauce, if desired

*Only if you want to ingredient

1.) Dredge chicken pieces in flour seasoned with salt pepper—shake off excess.

2.) Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add chicken and lightly brown to a light crust about 6-8 minutes.

3.) Remove chicken from pan and deglaze with the white wine, scraping up any brown bits that have collected, about 1-2 minutes. Add heavy cream, stir, and bring to a soft boil.

4.) Add the mushrooms if desired and cook for a few minutes until soft and sauce begins to thicken.

5.) Add the chicken back to the pan. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook until chicken is cooked all the way through and no longer pink and cream sauce has thickened, about another 8-10 minutes.

Note: At this point, you can also choose to add a portion of the browned chicken back into the cream sauce and/or to a saucepan of heated marinara sauce if you have younger kids that might not like the white sauce.

Serve over cooked spaghetti with a crispy green salad and crusty bread.

(Serves 4 but you can easily adjust, just keep the wine/cream ration even and brown the chicken in batches.)

Easy enough for weeknights, sophisticated enough for weekends.
Easy enough for weeknights, sophisticated enough for weekends.

©2014 Tracey Henry

National Hot Dog Day

Celebrate this important and historic day.

Perfect meal (and excuse) for dinner on the couch in front of the tv.
Perfect meal (and excuse) for dinner on the couch in front of the tv.

Or the next time you want to watch a game on the couch.

Or don’t want to do dishes.

Pair a good hot dog with some Summer’s Not Over Baked Beans in mason jars and cold root beer in bottles and you’re good to go.

(It’s kind of all in the packaging.)

©2014 Tracey Henry

Patriotic Deviled Eggs

Patriotic Deviled Eggs
Patriotic Deviled Eggs

This is either a desperate cry for professional help or a fun way to celebrate Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day cookouts.

Take your favorite Deviled Egg recipe and throw in a little reverse Easter egg dying, and you’ve got the weirdest yet best addition to any potluck.

For my sized large platter, I boiled 18 eggs and then peeled them as they were warm so they came off easily. Cut them in half and reserve the yolk in a separate bowl for your filling.

Count out the number of red and blue halves you need, then prepare the dye according to the package directions of ordinary food coloring. I used a few drops of color, vinegar and boiling water in a cups and then let the colors cool slightly before coloring the whites.

Dying eggs from the inside out
Dying eggs from the inside out

Place the whites in the color for 3-5 minutes each for desired color. It is a much faster and brighter process than shelled eggs, so keep that in mind.

Drain on paper towels, hole-side down until ready to fill with your favorite deviled egg filling. I used my Deviled Eggs Benedict recipe.

Dyed cooked egg whites.
Dyed cooked egg whites.

Arrange on large rectangular platter in the shape of a flag, and start singing the anthem.

Feel free to bring them to therapy.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Stuffed Leg of Lamb wrapped in Pastry

I’ve never been a ham person. In fact, I really dislike it. The only time this is ever an issue is Easter Dinner because somehow, this has become the go-to protein for spring because sodium pairs so nicely with tulips. Or something.

Despite this culinary expectation, Easter Dinner has become one of my favorites to make and eat because of my main dish alternative to ham—a stuffed leg of lamb wrapped in pastry.

This recipe is original—it’s inspired by a recipe from a torn Xeroxed copy from an unknown cookbook that’s so old I just used the word Xeroxed. That page was lost decades ago, and the recipe below has morphed into the beautiful dish it is today. This will render the words, “But I don’t like lamb,” a bold-faced lie by anyone who has even spoken such nonsense.

Stuffed Leg of Lamb in Pastry

1 boneless leg of lamb, 5-6 pounds, butterflied (you can have your butcher remove the bone or cut it out yourself—it’s not particularly difficult.)

Salt, pepper and olive oil

Stuffing:

2 lbs ground sausage
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
2-3 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
1 egg, slightly beaten

Kitchen twine

2 packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 egg
Kosher salt

1.) Preheat oven to 450℉. Prepare lamb by opening up, trimming and pounding if necessary to make a somewhat flat, butterflied surface. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

2.) Make stuffing by browning the sausage in a skillet until no longer pink, about 7-10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before adding the next 5 ingredients, then mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Open the leg of lamb like a book. A delicious, mouth-watering book
Open the leg of lamb like a book. A delicious, mouth-watering book

3.) Place stuffing in an even layer across the entire surface of the butterflied lamb. Press firmly into the meat, but don’t worry if some spills out. Cut 4 large pieces of kitchen twine, and then get someone to help you tie—you’ll need a couple of hands for this step.

Proper stuffing placement: lots and everywhere.
Proper stuffing placement: lots and everywhere.

4.) Starting at the narrowest end, roll the lamb and stuffing up jelly-roll style. It doesn’t have to be too tightly rolled, and don’t worry about loose stuffing that falls out. Tie 3 pieces of string across the sides, and 1 lengthwise to hold the ends in place. Trim the excess pieces of string and discard.

5.) Smear a thin layer of olive oil on the tied lamb and place on a rack in the 450 degree oven for about 25 minutes to get a nice sear on the top. Remove from oven and let cool about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350℉.

tied leg of lamb

6.) Unwrap and slightly roll out the seams of the puff pastry sheets. Place the slightly cooled lamb on top of 1 to 1 1/2 sheets depending on the size. With remaining sheets, wrap top and sides, pressing seams together with your fingers until it looks like a wrapped present with all surfaces covered. Trim off any excess dough and reserve.

7.) You can make any fancy adornments with the extra dough like you would a pie—I make a long braid down the center—or just make a few air vents in the pastry with a small knife. Make a simple egg wash with a beaten egg and water and brush over the entire thing. Sprinkle generously with the kosher salt and put back on the rack of the roasting pan.

That gasp of goodness you just emitted is called silence before the lamb.
That gasp of goodness you just emitted is called silence before the lamb.

8.) Bake in the 350℉ oven for another hour and a half. Check the internal temperature of the lamb often with a meat thermometer a few different places until it reaches medium rare at about 140-145 degrees. Cooking time will depend largely on the size and amount of fat, so it really is important to check the temperature because nothing is tougher than overcooked lamb. This takes approximately 25 minutes per pound, but again, keep checking after 90 minutes. There will be some carry-over cook time when removed from the oven and rested.

9.) When desired internal temperature is reached, remove from oven and let stand 20-30 minutes before slicing.

Stuffed and wrapped lamb, deconstructed
Stuffed and wrapped lamb, deconstructed

10.) No mint jelly required. Happy Easter or whatever special occasion you are celebrating.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Jam Session

I have this self-imposed small window on my calendar when I make homemade strawberry jam.

It’s a brief period in late March/early April when Florida strawberries are at their absolute ripest, sweetest and on sale. I realize that they can be found at any point during the year and few more dollars more won’t break the bank, but this is when my mind (and stomach) says it must be done.

This is one recipe that I don’t deviate from. Since it has the potential to cause food-borne illness and kill people, I figure this isn’t the place to experiment. I follow the instructions and recipes to the letter from the people at Ball jars, Freshpreserving.com.

This year’s batch turned out particularly well. The strawberries were really ripe, and adding the pectin at the beginning of the recipe (not later) as the recipe called for, really helped put the jell in the jelly.

I won’t re-write what they have so helpfully provided, but from my own experience over the years, I’d like to add these tips:

1.) Start with a clean kitchen, clean jars, clean tools—clean everything. I take a couple extra steps to make sure there’s nothing to contaminate the jam. I run the clean jars through the sanitizer cycle of the dishwasher, along with all of the tools I’m going to use in addition to the boiling process that is detailed on the site.

2.) 5 cups of strawberries like the recipe calls for translates to just about 2 packages (2 lbs.) in the store.

Strawberries--pre-jam.
Strawberries–pre-jam.

3.) Don’t double the recipe. This makes 8 8 oz. jars. If you want to make more, make a second or third batch. For some reason, the math doesn’t work for doubling on this, and your jelly will be runny.

Cooking jam
Cooking jam

4.) There are a lot of canning tools they will try to sell you, but the 2 that I found worth the little money they cost are the jar-grabbers and the special funnel. I use a big stock pot to process my jars—it works just fine.

5.) Don’t let this process intimidate you. Do your research and follow the directions—it really is simple. If after everything and you still feel nervous, just store the jam in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a month. But it won’t last that long.

Strawberry jam, y'all.
Strawberry jam, y’all.

©2014 Tracey Henry

St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

One of the things I remember the most about my mother’s cooking was her corned beef dinner. She would make the corned beef, red-skinned potatoes and boiled cabbage. It was one of my favorite meals as a kid.

Except for the cabbage.

The cabbage smell would make me gag, but everything else was so good I tried not to notice. She claimed that you couldn’t make corned beef without the cabbage, and for years I took that as standard much like I believed Tiger Lilies were endangered. (She told me that so I wouldn’t pick them.) So over the years I’ve created my own version of the traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner sans boiled cabbage.

Some things don’t change, however. You need to get the gross looking package of corned beef that will be on sale this week, and boil the crap out of it. Use the spice pack that comes with it, and boil it for like 3 hours or whatever it says on the package. Just leave an extra 30 minutes or so to let it rest on the cutting board before you slice.

Next is the potatoes–again, just boil the red-skinned potatoes until tender and drain. I like to melt butter, parsley and a little garlic salt to serve along side.

Next comes the cabbage. I found this recipe from Bon Appetit a couple of years ago, and I absolutely love it. Yes, I love cabbage when it’s prepared with a warm pancetta-balsamic dressing. So good.

The Barefoot Contessa has a great Irish Soda bread recipe that I use as well. She uses dried currants rather than raisins, and I think it gives it a unique tartness that gives the bread a little bite and freshness with the orange zest.

This year I topped off the meal with a homemade Bailey’s gelato because I am into homemade gelatos at the moment. I’ve also made Bailey’s cheesecake in the past which is super yummy. I’ll be working on that gelato recipe before I post it, however, because it didn’t set up as firmly as I liked, and was quite boozy.

Weird that there's nothing green on the plate for St. Patrick's Day....
Weird that there’s nothing green on the plate for St. Patrick’s Day….

But then what would a good St. Patrick’s Day dinner be if not a little boozy?

But the best part of this meal? The Corned Beef Who Hash the next day…

Best breakfast on March 18.
Best breakfast on March 18.

Fat Tuesday

Since last week’s accidental trip through Mardi Gras, I have a new appreciation for Fat Tuesday.

I tried a few different recipes for Traditional King Cake–even fashioning one myself–but this one from Southern Living was the best. I liked that it wasn’t too sweet, and it made two loaves. Part of my Lenten journey this year is to improve my passive-aggressive relationship with yeast, so with this recipe, I can start a day early.

Traditional King Cake
Traditional King Cake

Pair this with a pot of Cafe au lait–brew a pot of coffee with chicory, 1 tablespoon per cup of water–and then bring a small saucepan of whole milk to almost a boil. Fill the cup half with hot coffee and half with hot milk and then sweeten as desired.

It’s a warm way to start the next forty days.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Mardi Gras Cake

This is my version of the popular Halloween Cake you’ve probably seen around before adapted for Fat Tuesday. It’s called, “Hey, Kids! Here’s all the sugar and processed food stuffs I’m denying you over the next 40 days all in one cake!”

Because cake should be a cake.
Because cake should be a cake.

Just follow the instructions listed here, and replace the orange food coloring with green and yellow.

©2014 Tracey Henry

Kitchen Love on Valentine’s Day

One of the best ways I know how to show love is with some extra effort in the kitchen. Whether it’s a batch of homemade cookies, cooking a favorite meal or even stopping by a restaurant to pickup a beloved dish, when Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, you have all weekend to spread the love.

Here’s some homemade “Pop-tarts” from a 2010 Bon Appetit issue that I’ve made a few times now. They are totally decadent and worth the effort and most certainly Valentine-worthy.

Seriously good homemade Pop-tarts.
Seriously good homemade Pop-tarts.