Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Toffee Bars

Another no-fail dessert recipe rom the college days. We made these so much, I think the cookbook just naturally fell open to this page every time. Guaranteed to make any break-up or failed mid-term a thing of the past :)
(courtesy an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook)

Toffee Bars
1/2 C butter
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 C flour

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla

1 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 C sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the 1/2 C butter, granulated sugar, and salt with an electric mixer on medium to high speed till combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 15 minutes or till the edges are lightly browned.

2. Meanwhile, in a heavy medium saucepan heat the sweetened condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat till bubbly, stirring constantly. Cook and stir for 5 minutes more. (Mixture will thicken and become smooth.) Stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla. Spread over baked layer. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or till golden.

3. For fudge icing*, in a small saucepan melt chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and the 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in enough hot water (1 to 2 tablespoons) to make an icing that is easy to pour. Spread the icing evenly over the warm cookie. Immediately cut into bars. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 36 bars.
*Instead of topping these bars with fudge icing, you can sprinkle one 6-oz package (1 cup) semisweet chocolate pieces over the cookie immediately after removing it from the oven. Let pieces stand 2 to 3 minutes or till softened; spread evenly. Cool, then chill for 5 to 10 minutes or until the chocolate is set. Cut into bars.

Rustic Bean Stew with Bacon and Caramelized Onions

This is the first main dish recipe I tried from The Improvistional Cook book. I absolutely LOVED it. Served with crusty toasted french bread, a spinach salad and homemade canned peaches, our table was the picture of health and perfection! Definitely a new fave.

You can use canned beans for this, but I think making them from scratch adds a little something, i mean other than hours of cookin time :) If you're like me and never remember to soak them overnight before cooking, here's a cheat: rinse beans, cover with cool water in saucepan, bring to a boil and then lower heat, simmer for 10 minutes. Then turn off heat and cover, let soak for an hour. Rinse several times and cover with water again, simmer for 1 1/2 to 3 hours (add onion and bay leaf during this part).

4 oz. thick-sliced bacon
1 pound yellow onions, sliced or diced
4 cups cooked, drained darkish beans (such as red beans, Roman, black-eyed peas, etc.)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 c. low sodium cicken broth
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
freshly ground pepper

Cook bacon until crisp, remove bacon from pan, pour off all but about 1 tbs. fat.

Caramelize onions by cooking in bacon fat unil wilted and have released juices, about 5 minutes.
add about 1/2 tsp. salt and saute until onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes longer.

Add beans to pan along with crumbled bacon, bay leaves, broth, vinegar and sugar. Bring to a smmer, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has reduced considerably and it looks like a stew, about 20 mintes. Adjust seasonsing, pepper generously. I mashed up about half of the beans at the end to make it more like a stew.
Enjoy gourmet eating!


I don't really know when my love affair with the reuben andwich began. I think i've always enjoyed them, but after a mission to Russia (where i learned to make costco-sized portions of sauerkraut out of a big laundry lie) and a refining of my palette later in life, I'm really hooked. I've found some great recipes and decided to just post one here. There are lots of variations, so play with it depending on your tastes. (But don't leave out the sauerkraut!)

Reuben Sandwich (courtesy Simply Recipes)
2 Tbsp butter, softened
8 slices rye bread
8 slices Swiss cheese (or provolone, gruyere, etc)
3/4 lb corned beef brisket, thinly sliced (i've also used pastrami or other yummy deli meats)
1/2 lb sauerkraut
1/4 cup Russian Dressing

Russian Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp ketchup
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Butter one side of four slices of bread, and place the slices buttered-side down on a large piece of wax paper on a flat surface. Top each with a slice of Swiss cheese, and then divide half of the corned beef among them.
2 Using paper towels, squeeze out excess moisture from the sauerkraut. Divide the sauerkraut among the sandwiches, and top each with one tablespoon of Russian dressing. Add another layer of corned beef and a second slice of Swiss cheese to each sandwich. Top with the remaining bread slices; butter the side facing out.
3 Preheat a griddle or frying pan to medium heat. Cook the sandwiches on one side until the bread is golden brown. Use a spatula to carefully flip the sandwiches over and finish cooking on the second side. Cut the sandwiches in half before serving.

Dip in remaining Russian dressing!
Makes 4 sandwiches

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Once again...

Never renew your resolution to cook healthier for your family right before the holidays. I can't even count the number of times we had pizza in the last 6 weeks!
Now that life is back to normal, i got a chance to try yet another outstanding cookbook from Amazon. This one is not necessarily geared towards the healthy lifestyle but all of her recipes are so simple and create outstanding taste combinations that I had to ty them. Frankly, the more gourmet recipes I try, the more I realize that beginning a meal with whole foods is almost always better for you, even if it does include some heavy cream or other such indulgences! I've tried two of her recipes and am very impressed. She starts off each section with a simple recipe and then explains why it works and ncludes other spinoffs using the same idea. It has actually helped me understand how flavors work together so that I can be more of an imporvisational cook myself! Recipes forthcoming...