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Friday, December 30, 2011

Wrapping Up 2011 - Food & Favorites from the Year

Well.  Another year.  Flown by!  Isn't it funny how it can simultaneously seem like January was yesterday and forever ago?  I've never done a recap of a year at girlichef before, and I thought I'd like to start doing it this year.  I thought I'd start with the "most popular" posts as determined by statistics, and then move on to share some of my personal favorites from the year.  Really, it was so hard to pick.  I love almost everything in the moment.  But the ones I've picked to share today were definitely some that still linger in the food-bank of my memory today.

So, the top 9.  Oh yeah, I said 9.  I'm defying all reason and throwing 10 out the door.  Here goes.

Starting with the most-viewed...

Now I'll move on to my favorite salads and sandwiches from 2011...

I had a really hard time choosing just a few soups.  And as you  may know, the Tortilla Soup that I shared up in my "most popular posts" collage is my all-time favorite soup.  These however, came very close...

1. Tomato Garlic Soup w/ Cheese Tortellini (& the Garlic Broth that goes with it), 2. Smoky Yellow Eye Bean Soup, 3. Good Neighbor Tortilla Soup, 4. Sopa de Letra (Alphabet Soup)

I realize that I don't really don't post very many whole meals.  But these are four dishes that make very happy bellies when served as an Entree...

Mmmm...side dishes.  I've been known to eat side dishes as whole meals.  Each and every one of these is case-in-point.  However, a small side serving is just as pleasing.  Both the mac and cheese and the scalloped potatoes happen to be my very favorite versions of each... favorite meal of the day.  While I have a bit of a hard time choosing favorites, because really, breakfast really depends on my mood.  But I tried my hardest...

While I could compose an ode to the glory that is freshly baked bread (haiku's about croissants are also commonplace around here),  I'll share six irresistible versions with you right now.  Irresistible I say!

Whether it's happy hour or the bewitching hour, it's always the perfect time for any of these drinks!  If I had to choose one cocktail to drink for the rest of my life, it would be numero uno...

I'm a sucker for many, many sweet endings but here were a few of my favorite desserts from this year...

1. Fried Nutella Ravioli, 2. Apple Cider Pie, 3. Paletas de Chocolate (Mexican Chocolate Ice Pops), 4. Lemon Bars

And a few odds and ends that didn't really fit into any category, but still deserved a spot in my favorites from this year were...

To go along with these favorite food picks from 2011, I also want to mention a couple of projects that were near and dear to my heart...She Made, Ella Hace and The Homesick Texan Cookbook Spotlight & Cook-Off.
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Thanks so much for hanging out with me in 2011!

I'm really looking forward to 2012...more food...more fun...more projects.  You can look forward to another Cookbook Spotlight (Joy the Baker), more She Made, Ella Hace and this will also be the new home of BYOB- Bake Your Own Bread.  Oh yeah, I'll be hosting MLLA- My Legume Love Affair in March so I hope to see you for that, as well.  And I'll finish the second half of 50 Women Game-Changers in Food along with a lovely group of ladies.
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Be safe and have a blast on New Year's Eve everbody!
Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Finnish Mustard & Baked Ham w/ Brown Sugar Bread Crumb Crust

When I was little, I didn't like mayonnaise.  It was mustard all the way.  Everyday in my lunch I had a bologna and cheese sandwich with mustard and Doritos (for smooshing in the sandwich).  And yes, it was by choice.  I requested it.  Now, as I got older, I learned to like mayonnaise and for a few years, I even abandoned mustard for the most part.  I'm not sure what was happening with me then, but one day I must have decided it was time to get back to the good stuff...cuz it's mustard all the way for me again.  The great thing about mustard is that there are so many varieties.  And I can find an occasion for all of them.  When I went to Michigan State, we had this awesome bagel place called Bagel Fragel.  The days when I had class fairly close to Grand River, I'd run across the street between classes and get the same sandwich.  Every time.  Do you sense a trend...when I find something I like, I hold on to it tight.  Anyhoo... It was an everything bagel with smoked turkey and swiss.  They'd run it through the toasting oven and then slather on a healthy dose of Honeycup Mustard...which is sharp and hot and sweet underneath...and so flippin' good.  I haven't forgotten that sandwich and it's been at least 15 years since the last time I had one.

So.  Mustard.  I saw Sue make this last week.  And then I saw Kim post it the same day that I actually made it.  It's like a  trend...and a fabulous one...that I couldn't help but grabbing on to!  I tried figuring out what made it "Finnish", but to no avail, really.  Origins in Finland is my guess, but...?  I love the smooth, creaminess imparted from using heavy cream.  It's also slightly sweet against the hot twang of the mustard powder.  I imagine it would be just as delicious if you used a mild mustard powder.  I decided to double the batch so that I could make a ham with it and have extra left over for slathering on the ham when I stuck it in a sandwich, or for eating with salami or sausage, and probably most of all for using with my favorite late-night snack: pretzels dipped in mustard.  Oh yeah.  That's become a Wednesday night ritual for me.  Watching one of my newest guilty pleasures, Revenge whilst dipping crunchy pretzels into mustard.  Good stuff, baby.  Good stuff.
Finnish Mustard
yield: ~2-2½ c.

⅔ c. Hot Mustard Powder
1 c. Superfine Sugar
2 tsp. Sea Salt
2 c. Heavy Cream
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
¼ c. unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar
juice of a lemon

Whisk together the mustard powder, sugar, and salt in a small bowl to combine and get rid of any lumps.

Place in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan with remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow, steady simmer until the color has become darker and the liquid has thickened, stirring often.  This should take about 10-15 minutes.  

Let it cool a bit, stirring from time to time.  Pour into sterilized glass jars (shorter w/ a wider mouth makes it easier when it comes time to  use it).  Refrigerate.

Baked Ham with Mustard & Brown Sugar Bread Crumbs
serves: 8

6-7 lb. Smoked Ham, bone-in
½ c. Panko Bread crumbs
¼ c. brown sugar, firmly packed
~1⅓ c. Finnish Mustard
handful of whole cloves

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Place ham, "cut" side down in a roasting pan.  Slather the outside with the mustard.  Combine bread crumbs and brown sugar, smooshing it all together well.  Coat the ham with the brown sugar-bread crumb mixture, pushing with your hands to help the mustard hold it on.   Push as many cloves in as you would like, forming diamond-like patterns.

Slide into preheated oven and bake for about 1½ hours. 

Turn heat up to 400° F.  Bake for another 30-45 minutes, or until the outside looks golden and crusty.  Let cool before slicing.  Serve with more Finnish Mustard.  Awesome with some tangy sourdough bread, as well.

both recipes adapted from: Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Posole de Camarones {Shrimp and Hominy Stew}

Let me preface this by saying: I'm not complaining.  Just stating a truth.  Okay.  Here goes.  Christmas Eve dinner at my grandparents house is very, VERY white bread.  Unchanging...predictable.  Shrimp from the ring piled into a glass serving bowl with a smaller bowl of cocktail sauce alongside.  A never-ending platter of sliced ham for filling the split Hawaiian rolls in the basket that sits next to it.  Trays of our favorite Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts...all sugary-hot from the oven.  Green fluffy "salad" that I still won't touch.  Veggie tray with a ranchy and or dilly dip.  Chips and potato salad.  (Imitation) Crab dip and crackers.  Plus bowls set around with  mixed nuts and addictive-ranch shaken-n-coated oyster crackers.  And a counter filled with sweets- cookies, bars, candies, M&M's (!?), and various other sweets.  You can set your clock by it.  Sure, a few different items pop into the mix from year to year...depending on what I bring.  Or my mom brings.  Or even my brother (if he's currently living somewhere with a decent kitchen) brings.  My favorite addition is Warm Spinach-Artichoke Dip with tortilla chips for scooping or the cold-variety Spinach Dip in a hollowed-out round of bread with more bread cubes for dipping. know your choices.

So really, Christmas day brings an eclectic mix at our own house.  I can never decide what to in, there's no set routine.  I love Christmas brunch: cinnamon rolls, eggs (in some form), hunks of cheese, oranges or other fruit, leftover ham slices thrown on the comal and browned up.  And bottomless mimosas.  But I also love to have another meal later on in the day that can be picked on.  We rarely do formal on Christmas.  This year we had Carnitas con Mole with stacks of  steaming tortillas along with our Ponche Navideño.  And we had a big pot of Posole de Camarones...the color of which just begs to be made on Christmas.  It's beautifully green broth flecked with hints of red from the chiles de arbol that accent the tangy lime sea salt.  

I like our yearly changes and unexpected menus.  I wonder if it's just because they foil "the expected" of the evening that proceeds it?  Perhaps.  Not that I want to change that tradition...I just like to shake-it-up.  Hope your holidays were...and still are...joyful!
Posole de Camarones
Shrimp and Hominy Stew
serves: 4-6

Herbed Salsa Verde:
1 c. baby spinach leaves (or arugula)
¼ bunch flat leaf parsley
leaves from 2 sprigs marjoram
zest of 1 orange
1 anchovy fillet
1 fat garlic clove, peeled
½ tsp. ground black pepper
big pinch sea salt
¼ c. extra virgin olive oil

Lime Sea Salt (yield ½ c.):
grated zest of 4 limes
8 chiles de arbol
2 Tbs. coarse sea salt
1 Tbs. ground roasted coriander seed

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided
1 c. chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 c. fish stock
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1 Tbs. finely grated lime zest
1½ lbs. uncooked shrimp, peeled & deveined
3 c. cooked hominy

additional garnish (along with lime sea salt):
cilantro, chopped
white onion, chopped
jalepeños, sliced thinly
dried Mexican oregano
Herbed Salsa Verde:
Place everything in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, with a few chunks remaining.  Set aside.

Lime Sea Salt:
Mash all of the ingredients together in a molcajete or pulse in a spice grinder until combined.  Set aside.

Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add onion and sauté until tender, ~5 minutes.  Add garlic and stir for another 30 seconds.  Stir in the reserved Herbed Salsa Verde, fish stock, sundried tomatoes, and lime zest.  Simmer for ~5 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

Heat a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high.  Add remaining oil and shrimp.  Cook until shrimp is lightly browned on both sides, ~3 minutes, turning once.  Add the reserved stock-salsa mixture and the hominy.  Simmer until seafood is just opaque in the center, another 3 minutes or so.  Season to taste with salt and pepper (remember that you'll be passing the lime sea salt as a garnish, so I'd err on the side of too little salt).

To serve:
Ladle into large, shallow bowls.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, onion, and sliced jalapeños.  Crumble some oregano over each bowl between your fingers.  Finish with a good sprinkling of the reserved Lime Sea Salt.  You could also add some thinly sliced radishes or some crispy tortilla strips.
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Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Connecticut ROUNDUP {food 'n flix} + hosting spots available for 2012!

I love stopping in the midst of all of the holiday madness to watch a movie.  Although it doesn't necessary have to be one that fits the season, often it is.  I decided that I would throw another holiday movie into the mix this I hadn't seen before- Christmas in Connecticut.  A fun, old-timey flick with foodie tendencies.

Although I only had two other people join me this month...I'm happy to bring you the Food 'n Flix: Christmas in Connecticut Roundup!
1. Deb from Kahakai Kitchen made a jazzed-up version of pancakes (she's a scooper, not a'll understand if you watch this flick) that I would love to wake up to any morning...Chocolate Chip Oat Pancakes w/ Raspberry Sauce. YUM!

2. Tina from Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor was inspired by the late night snack of chicken drumsticks and cold chablis.  One of my personal favorite food scenes in the film.

3. And I (Heather) from girlichef will round out this meal with a dessert that I thought fit right into the time-period (1940's) that this film was made.  I thought Elizabeth would love to pass this Double-Vanilla Walnut Meringue w/ Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries off as her own creation at the end of her Christmas meal.

This was a fun holiday flick which has earned a permanent place in my December's of years to come!  Thanks so much for joining me, ladies.
And now a little preview of the first few months of Food 'n Flix for 2012...

 Food 'n Flix will be kicking the year off with Eat Pray Love hosted by The Law Student's Cookbook.  In February, we'll be heading over to Kahakai Kitchen to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding and March is cooking up Last Holiday at La Cocina de Leslie.  Hosting spots are open for the remainder of if you have a movie that inspires you to get into the kitchen and want to host Food 'n Flix at your place sometime next year, leave me a comment or send me an email and we'll get it scheduled!


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Double-Vanilla Walnut Meringue w/ Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries {...inspired by Christmas in Connecticut}

Jeff is a man who dreams (literally) about food.  When stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean, deprived of food and water...he conjures up images of lavish spreads that he has seen in Smart Housekeeping magazine.  Those articles were written by food writer Elizabeth Lane.  Elizabeth ... the wife and mother who lives on a farm (complete with cow) in Connecticut and cooks mouthwatering meals while taking care of the homestead.  Or not.  This is what her readers and even her boss believe.  In reality,  she's a single, working girl who writes about meals made by her "uncle" Felix at the restaurant around the corner.  She'd rather wear an animal pelt than brush it.

So, you can imagine the crazy hijinks that ensue when Jeff is rescued from the raft and his nurse writes to the magazine with a special request for him to join in a traditional, family Christmas (and meal) with and cooked by Elizabeth Lane and her family.   From rocking chairs, to babies, to pancakes and chicken livers, to shot-gun weddings and falling in love...this film is full of crazy twists and turns.  Do you think Elizabeth can pull it off?
While I was thisclose to making pancakes ...and I even entertained the idea of chicken livers, goose, or a 5-course meal, I decided that I wanted to go with a dessert that I think Elizabeth would be proud to pass-off as her own.

It's actually something that "feels" like it would have been served in the 40's.  Whether or not it really would have, I can't be sure.  But the strangest thing happened to me when I took a bite.  My grandma's face popped into my head.  I don't know if it was the combination of walnuts, meringue, and whipped cream that reminded me of something she makes or has made at Christmases past (if so, I can't think of what it would be)...but something made me want to wrap up the plate and drive up to see my grandma and give her a slice.  I've actually decided that I'm going to make another one and bring it to our family get together on Christmas Eve...just so she and grandpa can try it.

It's a taste sensation, really.  Bits of strong, oily walnuts are folded inside of melt-in-your-mouth meringue and then topped with a drizzle of chocolate and a fat cloud of cool, whipped cream.  To top the whole thing off, tangy cranberries that are coated in a crust of sugar adding a tart compliment to each bite.  While it is fairly simple to make, the whole thing comes together with seeming decadence!
Double-Vanilla Walnut Meringue w/ Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries
from the kitchen of girlichef
yield: 8 servings 

Vanilla-Sugared Cranberries (yield: 2 c.):
2 c.  vanilla sugar 
2 c. water
2 c. fresh cranberries 
~1 c. vanilla superfine sugar

5 egg whites
3/4 c. vanilla superfine sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 c. finely chopped walnuts

To finish:
8 oz. milk chocolate
1 c. heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Cranberries (start night before):
Combine vanilla sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar just dissolves. 

Place cranberries in a medium bowl.  Pour simple syrup over cranberries and stir.  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or up to overnight.

Set a strainer over a bowl to catch the simple syrup (which you can reserve and use for sweetening holiday cocktails).  Drain cranberries.

Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish.  Add cranberries in batches and roll to coat.

Transfer cranberries to a sheet tray lined with parchment paper.  I use the tines of a fork to do this.  Let stand at room temperature until  completely dry, 1-2 hours. (Can be stored in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.)

Preheat oven to 250° F.  Cover the removable bottom of a 9½" springform pan with parchment, then clip it into place.  Grease sides of the pan.
Beat egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in the vanilla sugar, then add the vanilla extract and apple cider vinegar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  

Carefully fold in the walnuts.

Scoop into prepared pan and smooth out the surface.  Place in oven and bake for 1½ - 1¾ hours, or until the meringue is lightly golden and coming away from the sides of the pan.  Turn off the oven and prop the door open.  Allow the meringue to sit inside until it is completely cool.
To finish:
Open sides of springform pan and take meringue out.  Peel off parchment and transfer the meringue to a serving plate.

Place chocolate in the top of a double boiler and melt (or do this in the microwave).  Drizzle warm chocolate over the top of the meringue.  Let sit to cool and harden.

Whip the heavy cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form.  Scoop big clouds of the cream over the top of the meringue, leaving a slight edge so that the chocolate shows.

Scatter about half of the sugared cranberries over the whipped cream.  (Save the rest for snackin'.) Serve!

*The meringue portion of this recipe was adapted from the book Apples for Jam: A Colorful Cookbook by Tessa Kiros.
I am hosting Food 'n Flix: Christmas in Connecticut right here at girlichef this month.  You have until tomorrow (December 23rd) to send in your inspired posts.
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