Get Ready for Chinese New Year!

Won't be too long before we need to be planning our Chinese New Year parties! We'll celebrate the Year of the Horse on January 31.  I was born during the Year of the Horse, so I'm hoping my kitchen remodel is all finished and everything is back in order so I can have a little gathering that night.  I'm waiting on the arrival of the countertops! 

I've posted one of my cooking columns from last year.  It originally appeared in the Murphysboro American Newspaper.  You might like the recipe for your next Asian themed dinner.  It's a crock pot meal ... so it will be an easy one!

Good Food: Local   
By:  Debbie Moore

Not every woman brags about her son-in-law, but I do!  I have a good one!  A couple years ago, he got up really early the day after Thanksgiving and went to one of those early bird shopping events and bought one of my Christmas presents.  I was stunned to learn that it had been his idea to give me a crock pot buffet server with three little pots in it, and he had to be an early shopper to get a red one!  We like to eat, and we like to entertain, and that gift has been used many times.

The history of the crock pot dates to 1971 when the Rival Company introduced the trademarked Crock-Pot name to home cooks.  As you know, the handy little countertop cookers come in a variety of brands, sizes and shapes and offer busy parents a perfect way of getting a meal on the table!  There are lots of other advantages of crock pot cooking, and probably the best example is the fact that slowly simmering a cheap cut of meat turns it into something wonderful.  However, the most significant disadvantage is that the same process can turn vegetables into morsels of mush that have few nutrients left in them.  But, they taste good, so we enjoy them anyway!

The history of crockery cooking dates to the earliest ancient days of food preparation and is still remains prevalent in virtually every culture.   The Chinese still cook in an unglazed clay pot that they first soak in water, so the steam escapes, enhancing the contents.   The German’s Römertopf, which actually means “Roman pot”, is another example of an unglazed clay roaster that you soak in water before roasting meats and vegetables.  One of my favorite methods of clay pot cooking, which is a column for another day, is using the Moroccan Tagine to turn simple chicken thighs into a delicious, melt in your mouth, Sunday dinner!

One of my favorite Southern Illinois grown vegetables to keep over the winter is butternut squash.    All you have to do is make sure you get squash that don’t have any blemishes, then keep them in a cool but dry place.  That doesn’t mean the refrigerator or crisper, but more like a closet shelf or a spot in your basement.  They will keep for about three months and sure do add great flavor to soups and vegetable medleys. 

However, if you’d like to freeze your butternut squash in the fall for wintertime use, there are a couple of easy ways to do that.  You can simply peel and remove the seeds and fibers from the squash.  Cut it into one-inch (or less) cubes and seal them in a plastic bag and freeze them.  That would be perfect to add to soups, risotto or simply roast.  Another easy way is to make puree and freeze it.  To do that, all you have to do is cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and fiber, and place it skin side up in a roasting pan with an inch of water in it.  Roast the squash at 375 degrees for 30 to 50 minutes, depending upon the size of the squash.   It is ready, when you can stick a fork through the skin.  Remove the squash from the water and let it cool.  You can scoop the squash from the peels, mash it a little and freeze it in a bag.  As always, when you use a bag as a freezer container, make sure you press all the excess air from the bag before you seal it.

Today, I’m sharing two recipes that have a splash of sunshine in them because I’ve used plenty of orange zest and orange juice;    Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange Ginger Beef.  In addition, I’ve included a simple salad dressing recipe that you’ll make with ingredients which are probably in your cupboard all the time.  Finally, I’ve included a recipe for banana bread turned cookie bar that is made even better with a browned butter frosting and a big drizzle of chocolate sauce at serving time!   Good cooks always remember that we eat with our eyes before we ever taste a thing, so that glistening sauce over the creamy buttery frosting looks delicious and makes your mouth water!

I hope you’ll try all these recipes, but especially the roasted squash.  It is so easy and is not only good, but local!


Orange Ginger Beef

1 pound of beef stew meat
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
1 teaspoon minced ginger
Zest of 2 oranges
2 cups orange juice
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on high for 3-4 hours until the meat is fork tender.  Serve over steamed white rice or your favorite noodles.

Roasted Butternut Squash

4 cups cubed raw butternut squash
2 Tablespoons orange infused canola oil
1 orange
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Place the squash on a heavy baking sheet.  Drizzle the oil over the squash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Slice the orange and lay it over the squash.  Roast at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until the squash is tender and slightly brown on the edges.  Remove from the oven immediately and serve warm or at room temperature.   Olive oil may be used instead of canola oil and if you don’t have orange infused oil, squeeze the juice and sprinkle the zest of an orange over the squash before roasting.

From the Cupboard Asian Dressing

½ cup rice wine or red wine vinegar
½ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar or equivalent sugar substitute

This recipe is simple enough!  Whisk all the ingredients together and serve with your favorite salad.  The salad I’ve chosen to accompany my Orange Ginger Beef is shredded salad greens topped with thinly sliced pears and finished with chopped scallions.  Easy and good!

Banana Bread Bars
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 stick butter, softened
2 eggs
4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 teaspoons almond extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped walnuts

Brown Butter Frosting

1 stick butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
3-4 Tablespoons milk

Whip together the butter, sour cream, eggs, sugar, bananas and extract until smooth.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and add it to the wet ingredients.  Continue to beat the ingredients until well blended.  Fold in the chopped walnuts.  Pour the batter into a 15x10 inch baking sheet, which has been buttered and floured.    Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes until the center springs back when you touch it.   Remove from the oven and let the bread bars begin to cool.   Prepare the frosting by melting the butter over medium heat.  Use a large heavy pan, so you can mix the icing right in the pan.  Constantly stir the butter as it heats to a boil and just as soon as it starts to brown, remove it from the heat and add the extract and powdered sugar.  Stir quickly and add the milk, a Tablespoon at a time until it reaches spreading consistency.  Frost the bread bars while they are still warm.  The frosting will be thick, so it helps to work with it while the sheet of bars is warm.     Top with another sprinkling of walnuts.   You can cut these into squares are rectangles, but I love to cut them with a big biscuit cutter and drizzle them with chocolate or caramel sauce.

Mini Chocolate Desserts for Christmas!

I've been so busy ... working ... and I'm smack dab in the middle of a kitchen remodel, which will be a post for another day.  Thought I should post something because so many folks visit my blog!  This is one of my cooking  columns, which was originally published in the Southern Illinoisan Newspaper ... from 2012 ... featuring mini desserts that will be perfect for holiday entertaining.  Enjoy!

Made at Home – February 1, 2012

My favorite hobby is tablescaping and in order to enjoy that, I also enjoy collecting unique dinnerware patterns!  My collecting started with a stack of pink Depression Glass dessert plates given to me as a wedding present by one of my aunts.  I didn’t really like them, but a couple years later I used them to set a pretty springtime luncheon table.  My friends complimented the table and I fell in love with colored glass.  My quest began!  I promised my husband that I’d never collect anything that I wouldn’t use to set a table.  A few years later he reminded me of that promise and told me that he knew I could set a different table every day for the rest of my life!  That probably wasn’t true then, but it certainly is now.

Recently, my daughter and I were shopping in the antique stores in Murphysboro.  You should probably know that I had just purchased two sets of china from George’s Resale, but on that day it was a stack of chocolate brown and white plates in Sis’s Collectibles that caught my eye.  Actually, it was more than a stack of plates; it was almost twelve place settings of beautiful Franciscan china in the Tonquin pattern.   The set was missing a few cups and saucers.  Until recently,  when I’d find something that I was interested in purchasing, I’d come home and check my reference books and get online to be sure I could purchase replacement pieces.   Now, I just stand in the shop and get out my very intelligent cell phone and get online to find all the information I need.   My favorite online replacement store had the cups and saucers, so I came home with a couple boxes of china!
My friends are always asking me to include ideas about creating tablescapes, menus and dinner party themes in my columns!  

Here’s how it works.  Tonquin is a pattern that was produced by many china manufacturers in a common process, which is the transfer of a copper engraving onto a piece of white stoneware.  The engraving is usually a picture of a special place and gifting a piece of this china was similar to sending a post card from a far-away place, that most people would never be able to visit.   The place in the Tonquin pattern is a beautiful Asian plantation house sitting on the bank of a river.  On the river is a pair of swans.  Swans speak romance to me because they mate for life.  Romance equals Valentine’s Day and because the china is chocolate brown, we’re having a chocolate valentine party and setting the table with my new, old china!   That’s how a tablescaper thinks!

The chocolate dessert recipes that I’m sharing with you today are intended to be made in very small portions.  They are rich in calories and love, and moderation is the key to healthy eating!  So, get out your tiny cordial glasses, custard cups and sauce bowls to set up your servings.   Each of these recipes includes a helpful shortcut!  Let your guests choose the number of tiny portions they want and they’ll love every bite, because these will have been made at home!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Pudding

2 cups of ready-made chocolate pudding
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 Tablespoons soft butter
2 Tablespoons milk
8 tiny bananas
Whipped cream
Crumbled cookies

Layer this dessert in 8 small glasses. Slice half a tiny banana in the bottom of each glass.  Divide the chocolate pudding between the glasses.  To make the next layer, whip the peanut butter, butter and milk and place a little on top of the pudding.  Slice each of the remaining bananas lengthwise, and stick two slices in each of the glasses.  Garnish with whipped cream and crumbled cookies.

Mini Tiramisu with Coffee Meringues

1 packaged pound cake
½ cup strong coffee
2 Tablespoons coffee liqueur
6 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 pint whipping cream
Chocolate syrup
Mini meringues, maraschino cherries, sliced almonds for garnish

To make the mini meringues, whip 2 egg whites until they form soft peaks.  Whip in ½ cup of confectioner’s sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.    Form 12 mini meringues on a silicone baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 300 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Turn the oven off, but leave the meringues in the oven for another hour.

To prepare the dessert filling, whip the mascarpone cheese, confectioner’s sugar and almond extract until smooth.   Add the whipping cream and whip on high speed until the filling gets thick and fluffy.

To compose the desserts, put a teaspoonful of chocolate syrup in the bottom of each of 12 glasses.  Combine the coffee and liqueur and cut the pound cake into 1-inch cubes.  Dip each cube into the coffee mixture.  Place a few cubes in each glass.  Put some of the cheese filling over the pound cake and top with a meringue kiss, a cherry and a sprinkle of almonds.

Chocolate Brownie Bites with Lynn’s Orange Fluff

Prepare your favorite brownie box mix and cut the cooled brownies into small pieces.   Use a pastry bag to pipe fluffy orange icing on top of each brownie.  You can also use an ice cream scoop to place the icing on the brownie.  Lynn, my blogging friend from Philadelphia, recently shared this icing recipe.

Icing Ingredients:
1 3-ounce box of orange gelatin
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup boiling water

In a large mixing bowl, place the gelatin mix, sugar, egg white and vanilla.   Turn your mixer on high speed as you pour in the boiling water and continue beating until the icing forms stiff peaks.  This will take a few minutes.  This icing is similar to the old-fashioned 7-minute frosting, but much easier.  Any flavor of gelatin works, but it cannot be the sugar-free variety.    

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