Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Baking Favorites

This is the time of year when people tend to ask me:

What are your favorite Christmas treats?
What are those tried and true favorites that never disappoint?
In this busy season, we all look for recipes that are guaranteed to deliver in both taste and ease of execution. So here are a few picks that are especially appealing for the holiday season. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Bars
Peanut Butter Bars: two versions

Santa and Snowman Milkshakes
Santa and Snowman Milkshakes

Gingerbread Cookie Cups
Gingerbread Cookie Cups

Homemade Caramels (the recipe for these is included in this link: Caramel
Cake with Carmelized Butter Frosting and Spun Sugar)

Crunchie Bar
Homemade Sponge Toffee

White Chocolate Toasted Pistachio with Ground Cherries and Passion Fruit Pizza, Tart or Parfait
White Chocolate Cranberry Coconut Bark

To find more recipes, click "Photo Index" on the menu bar. Or, click "Christmas" to see all the recipes flagged for the holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cornfields and Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Running through cornfields
with my three beautiful daughters
who thought I was crazy
and unlawful to trespass
just to play tag!
But we have fun memories.
You can see the joy in Anna's face!
Got muddy.
And felt the joy of life.

I've had my second surgery to rid my body of thyroid cancer, and everything's going well. I have a well-earned scar on my neck that I wear with honor as a symbol of the tough stuff life throws at you to keep you brave. (I've banned the word strong from my vocabulary and can't wear my LiveStrong bracelet anymore!) You're not strong. You just have to go through the door put in front of you, whether you want to or not. And this year I've gone through enough doors. Separation in January. New job in March. Cancer and surgery in June. Second surgery in November.

I'm very lucky to work with wonderful people. One of them is Ted. He's like no other person I've ever met who always has a wild story and knows just what to say at the right time. He makes me laugh and enjoy life. {Sara, you're lucky to be married to such a wonderful guy.} Ted wrote this poem for me the day before my second surgery.

hospital poesy

there you
unmatched by fire
still shine

there you
who breathes by taste
and tongue

who small-to-big laugh
bites the world

bites this whole world
and holds fast
juices streaming
on your chin

do not waver

there you
not small but grand

there you
green gowned
still glow

strength is a story
we all tell each other
a whistle

in the dark
a feather clasped to breast

no cell, no knife
just you
just life

and onward, upward
past such strife

©Ted Rodney

I will be past such strife with friends like you.
Thanks, Ted. :)

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Comfort food. I crave comfort food now. And this is one of the first dishes I learned to make long ago. Everyone seemed to like it when I brought it to potlucks. And it comes from the Best of Bridge series of cookbooks, which are cookbooks filled with Campbell's soup-based type recipes! Since then, I've tweaked it and applied what I learned at Le Cordon Bleu to this simple recipe. And it still gets rave reviews.

What Le Cordon Bleu Basic Cuisine taught me: how to build flavor. At every step you can build flavor, starting with the chicken. Dry the chicken. Otherwise, it can't brown well. Salt and pepper it just before sautéing it. Heat the pan until hot and then add the oil. {I like peanut oil.} When all is good and hot, add the chicken, but only enough to cover one layer of the pan. Do not overcrowd. Make sure you get a good browning going. Don't turn the chicken over too soon. Let it do its thing, and get brown. {To avoid the smoke alarm from going off, clean the pan of dark bits in-between each batch of browning and turn your overhead fan on!} When all the chicken is cooked, deglaze with a bit of chicken stock (or even better, wine!) and get all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan off and pour them over the chicken.

Butter makes everything tastes better. Sauté the onions in butter until translucent (not brown!). Add the wine, deglaze and reduce until half. Then add the chicken stock. {Use the best chicken stock you can find or make your own!}

Make sure you season with salt. This is basically a mushroom soup with chicken and wild rice. You can't go wrong, unless you have friends like Ted who don't like mushrooms or other friends who are allergic to dairy! LOL

Recipe for Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole

adapted from Best of Bridge

Serves 8

3 cups diced chicken (cooked)
1 cup wild rice (cooked)
½ cup butter
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms (fresh is best!)
1 cup chicken stock
1½ cups light cream (I use whole milk sometimes)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
½ cup slivered almonds (I've used sliced almonds too)

Heat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2 quart casserole. Combine cooked chicken and wild rice.

For sauce, use a large pan. Cook onions and mushrooms in butter. Deglaze with wine until reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in flour. Add chicken stock and water to measure 1½ cups. Add chicken stock mixture to flour mix. Add cream, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until thick.

Note: You can prepare all of the above ahead of time.

To finish: combine chicken, wild rice, and sauce. Stir in parsley. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly.

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