Wednesday, 26 December 2012

New Year's Day Buffet Croquettes

Almost every year, on New Year's Day we hold an open house for family and close friends. It is a chance for people to come and have a drink to toast the new year, share stories of the year past, and of course, enjoy wonderful snacks. I always have a variety of different styles of foods, but there are some things we could not do without, such as Indonesian chicken - usually wings for the buffet; my smoked salmon brie wedges, and traditional Dutch croquettes. There are always lots of raw veggies with dips, fruit platters, meat and cheese platters, crackers, and sweets. I usually have butter tarts, mince tarts, gingerbread cookies, candy cane cookies, and whipped shortbread. I have been know to include the 'hurry up cake' or brownies and blondies, as well as Naniamo bars in regular and mint (Domino bar) varieties. We also have a wide variety of  hot and cold beverages - both alcoholic and non - and chocolates and candy everywhere. When we lived in Mission, BC, the children went to a pre-school which had a pastry fundraiser every year. They sold mini quiches, and spanakopitas, which I would add to the buffet. I think you can buy those things at some big box stores -(Superstore or Costco). I have begun to make mini quiches, using frozen pastry shells, but I am not trying spanakopitas. At least, not yet.

I would like to share the recipe for Dutch bitterballen, or croquettes. They are almost the same thing, all that changes is the shape. They are basically a very pasty, thick gravy, with spices, herbs, and pieces of meat - well done is best. I know many of you who know me will say, "REALLY?!! Well done?!!" as I usually prefer beef to be rare, but there you are. The paste must be thick enough to shape. Then they are dipped into an egg mix, and rolled in breadcrumbs, then deep fried until crisp, golden and hot. Usually served with a mustard dip, they are wonderful! These are labour intensive, and take a long time, but I think they are worth the effort. There is an alternative - you can buy frozen croquettes at the Dutch cash and carry store in Calgary for $16 a dozen. I can make about a hundred for that price.

Please remember that I do not actually measure anything, so all measurements are approximate.
What you need for the filling: 300 gr of cooked beef ;1- 2 tbs onion powder or very finely minced onion; 1-2 tbs garlic powder, or a Tbs of minced garlic from a jar; 2 -3tbs dried parsley flakes; salt and pepper to taste; 2 cups of  unsalted or low sodium beef broth; 2 tbs butter or margarine; about 2 - 3 cups of flour.
What you need for the coating: 4 eggs and 1/2 cup water; 2 -3cups of breadcrumbs.

What you do:  Cut meat into 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch strips, then into 1/4 inch pieces. Heat butter or margarine in a large pot, and add several tb of flour to make a roux. Add the broth, spices, and all the flour and whisk to eliminate all lumps, and then bring to a boil, so all the flour cooks to make a very thick paste. Add the pieces of meat and stir well. Pour the mixture oout into a 8x8 or 9x13 pan. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours.  Remove the mixture from the fridge and cut into bars about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide. You can roll them between your palms to make log shapes. (To make bitterballen, roll mixture into 1 and 1/2 inch diametre balls.)
Break 2 eggs into a flat dish, and add 1/4 cup of water. Place 1 cup of the breadcrumbs into another plate or bowl. Dip each bar into the egg wash, then roll into the bread crumbs. Repeat twice. Add more eggs and water or breadcrumbs as needed. Place the croquettes onto a cookie sheet and place into the freezer. When frozen solid, place into a plastic bag or container to store. Can be stored for up to one year.

To serve: remove as many croquettes as needed. Heat the oil in the deep fryer to 375F. Cook croquettes for about 4 minutes, or until golden brown and heated through. Serve hot with mustard to dip.

As always - enjoy!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Best Gingerbread Cookies Ever

We all are familiar with the gingerbread man story, and the various cookies which can be bought during the Christmas season at every store. I find most of those cookies tough and tasteless. Here is a recipe for a melt in your mouth cookie, which has lots of flavour. I have large (4") and small (2") men and women cutters, but I have also made hearts, circles, stars, etc. with this recipe. I like to make lots of these cookies to hang on the Christmas tree, and if  I know there are children who are going to visit, I make some special people ones with their names written on them. (I would sometimes make a set of these gingerbread people for kids to take to school and share with the class. In that case I would make an individual cookie for each child.) You can let your imagination go wild with the decorations. Icing is a must of course, with several colours, for spreading, drawing and writing. Different kinds of candies, also sprinkles, tiny stars, circles, silver dragee balls, red and green sugar sprinkles, non-pareil, anything you want to add.
**  do not use this recipe for making gingerbread houses, the dough is too soft and it is too rich, so the walls will crumble. I will post the house recipe later.

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled, just roll about a single batch at a time.
What you need (for the cookies): 1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened; 1/2 cup shortening; 1/2 cup white sugar; 1/2 cup brown sugar - dark or demarra is best; 1/4 cup molasses; 1 tsp rum extract; 1 egg - well beaten; 1/2 tsp salt; 2 cups flour; 1 tsp each of baking powder and soda; 1 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice; 2 tsp of ginger.

What you do: In a large bowl, cream the fats and sugars together, then beat in the egg, molasses and salt. In another bowl, mix all the remaining dry ingredients together. Add to the sugar mix in small batches to make a soft dough. Chill an hour in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 350 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out as many cookies as you can, and place on a cookie sheet. Use a straw to make holes for hanging if desired. Bake about 12 - 15 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Re-cut holes if needed while cookies are still hot. Let cool for a few minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely. After cooling completely, thread an 8" ribbon through the holes, and decorate.

Gather all the scraps of dough, knead lightly, then roll again and cut as many more as can fit.  Bake as above. Again gather the scraps and lightly knead, then roll out and use a knife to cut into wedges. Bake as above, but these are the 'reject' cookies that my family got to eat, as they would be a little tough.

What you need for the decorations: all the stuff listed above. If there are children in your home, this is the FUN part. Use various tips to decorate cookies with icing. You can place all the candies and sprinkles on the table for everyone to share. (Be prepared for a huge mess. That is always part of the experience). Decorate each cookie as you wish. We had some 'dressed' with icing skirts or pants, and shirts in a colour, while trims and frills were added in different colours. Some just had the traditional white trims like on "Shrek", with candies for buttons, and eyes. Candies such as shoestring licorice, gum drops, mint leaves, or fuzzy peaches can be cut into smaller pieces to make interesting faces. Finally, all the different types of sprinkles can be added for a unique look. If they are made for it, after all the icing has dried, hang the cookies on the tree.

As always, enjoy. Enjoy the time spent together with those you love. And then, enjoy eating the cookies.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Mint Marble - an original (Christmas) drink

I created this drink about 7 years ago, after my friend, Ed, gave me a shot of white chocolate cream liquor. It was AWESOME! but me, being me, had to add mint. Once again I am guessing at amounts, as I just pour the chocolate until the glass is nearly full, then add the mint. I use a glass from a set we bought that is made for serving Bailey's. Filled to the brim the glass holds 85 ml.

What you need: Creme de Menthe liqueur, and a white chocolate cream liquor such as Godiva.

In a small fancy liqueur glass pour 75 ml of the chocolate liquor.  Add <10 ml of Creme de Menthe slowly, allowing the two liquids to swirl and give the marbled effect. Tastes so good!

Best EVER Hot Cocoa.

I have to confess that this is not my original recipe, as my dad used to make this when we were children growing up in Nova Scotia. It really is the best hot cocoa you will ever taste - a thousand times better than store bought mixes. I am not really sure about the amounts, as I don't measure for this, I just add till it feels and smells right. Makes about 4 cups of cocoa.

What you need: 1/4 cup pure cocoa powder; 1/4 cup sugar; 1/4 cup cold water; 4 cups of milk, (or 3 cups milk, and 1 cup of table cream); 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. As a decadent option, if you enjoy mint and chocolate together, you can use a tsp of peppermint extract in place of vanilla.

What you do: In the bottom of a heavy pot, mix the sugar with the cocoa powder. Add cold water and whisk well to a smooth paste. Add milk and heat gently over medium high, until hot. DO NOT BOIL! Add cream if using, and then stir in vanilla. For kids, you can add mini marshmallows, and a candy cane stir stick.  For adults, you can make the original version and add a shot of Creme de Menthe.  Such a wonderful apres ski drink!!!


Gingerbread Loaf

This is a memory in your mouth! I always find that a piece of warm gingerbread  with a cup of hot chocolate is very comforting in times of stress, or warming on a chilly winter day, or a wonderful snack for the kids after a "play in the snow" day.  . It makes a great gift, I gave one to a new  neighbour, and he told me he had not tasted gingerbread since moving from his mother's house, more that 20 years earlier.

Preheat oven to 350 F

What you need: 2 cups sifted cake flour, (all purpose will work too, but gives a slightly different texture); 2 tsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp baking soda; 2 tsp ground ginger; 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/3 cup shortening; 1/2 cup sugar; 1 egg, well beaten; 2/3 cup molasses; 3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk.

Grease a loaf pan with shortening, then add flour and shake to cover shortening well.

Sift flour once, then measure into a medium bowl. Add baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Sift together three times.
In a large bowl, cream shortening well, then add sugar, egg, and molasses in small amounts, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in small amounts, and alternating with milk as needed. Beat well after each addition to make a smooth batter.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Place in center of oven. Bake for about 75 minutes.

Serve warm with whipped cream. Also good cold with butter, or use as a change from  regular base for fruit shortcakes.

Candy Cane Cookies

A yearly Christmas tradition, I have been making these cookies for about 30 years. I first got the idea from a Canadian Living cookbook, but as usual, made several changes to make them my own. I usually make 3 batches at once, and combine them to make the cookies. It is a very rich recipe - they melt in your mouth. These cookies make a great impression on kids in the classroom, or are good to give as Christmas gifts.

Preheat oven to 350 F
What you need ( for 1 batch):
1/2 cup (a square) of softened margarine or butter; 1/2 cup shortening; 1 cup white sugar; 1 egg; 1/2 tsp salt; 1 tsp peppermint extract;1 tsp baking powder; 1 tsp baking soda; 2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra to add as needed for consistancy; red and green food colour.

What you do: beat together the margarine and the shortening. Beat in sugar.  Add the egg, salt, and mint extract. Stir well. In another bowl mix the 2 cups flour with baking powder and soda. Stir well. Add to sugar mixture in small amounts, stirring until just mixed. Turn out onto a floured board and knead a few times. Divide into 3 equal portions.  (If you make 3 batches, you can simplify this by making each batch a different colour).  Leave one portion white. Add food colour to one portion to make it red, and to another portion to make it green. Add extra flour if the dough gets too sticky. (It depends on the type of colour you use as to if you will need extra flour or not, I find the gel type of food colour, sold at craft or cake decorating stores works the best, and their red is a true red, not pinkish).
Cut each portion of dough into 36 - 48  pieces, depending how large you want the cookies to be. Roll each section of dough into a small snake - just like playdough - and then twist one piece of each colour together, and place on a cookie sheet in a cane shape. (This dough is very soft and easy to shape).  Place with lots of space in between, as they spread out a lot! I usually get 8 cookies on a regular cookie sheet.

Bake each cookie sheet about 10 - 12 minutes, or until the cookies begin to brown along the edges. Carefully remove to a rack to cool. (They break easily). Store in airtight tins or containers. (In my house they have to be hidden, or they don't last the afternoon. As soon as the kids would smell mint they would go hunting.)