Dinner and Dessert

Strawberry Trifle

 My son, who is at a nearby university but does not get home much, texted me one word yesterday.
I texted back, mom-style, with many words.  "Do you mean strawberry trifle?  Will you come home if we make it?  I'll get your sister right on that."
 And then I started imagining a trifle.  It's possibly my two sons' favorite dessert.  And we all love opening the frig and seeing........this.  For me, the best thing to open the frig to is a fresh raspberry pie.  But this is right up there, and so much less work.
So just as I promised, I got his little sister right on it.  The recipe calls for one angel-food cake, and it's much better if you bake it yourself (from a mix).
Here it is, pretty fantastic even though the berries aren't in season.  
When they are, this dessert is hard to beat.
Bea's Strawberry Trifle
1 angel-food cake, preferably baked from a mix and cooled
1 box vanilla instant pudding mix
1 c. milk
1 c. sour cream
2-3 cups whipped cream (either a container of Cool Whip, or - much better - real whipped cream)
4-5 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
Slice the cake, and tear each slice into 1-inch pieces
Into a large bowl, pour the milk.  Sprinkle the pudding mix into the milk and whisk well until completely blended.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Fold in the whipped cream.
Layer trifle as follows:
1/2 of the cake pieces
1/2 of the whipped pudding mixture
1/2 of the berries
I top the trifle with extra berries, especially when they've been picked that day.
Cover and chill until ready to serve.  
(Thanks to my Aunt Bea Daggett for this recipe)
Similar trifle bowls can be purchased at target.com.

Sherry's Caramels
Here is my sister-in-law's famous caramel recipe.  I made five batches this year, mostly for teacher gifts.  

Makes 8x8 pan, or 2 1/2 lbs.
To prepare the pan: line with parchment paper, then butter the parchment lightly.

1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter over low heat.  Add brown sugar, corn syrup, and sweetened condensed milk.
Raise range heat to medium.  Stirring constantly, cook caramels for about 8-12 minutes.
Your range and the heat you use will determine cooking time.
As caramels cook, use a candy thermometer.
My best caramels are cooked to exactly 240 degrees.  
(The heat tends to fog the thermometer, so I finally marked the line with a Sharpie).

As soon as the caramels reach 240, turn off heat and stir in your sea salt.  I use freshly-ground salt.
Add vanilla, stir.

Place a large sieve into your pan, or ask someone to hold the sieve for you.  Pour caramels through the sieve, into prepared pan.  Cool completely.  I usually let them cool all day,
until my daughters have time to help me wrap them.

To wrap:  you'll need about 65 wrappers, depending on how big you cut your caramels.  
Wrappers are easy to cut out of wax paper, or you can buy them at a bakery supply store.
Invert the pan over a big cutting board.
Keep knife moving as you cut.  They are so buttery, the knife won't stick as long
as you keep moving it. I use a big chef's knife.
I like to cut them in rows about 1 1/2 inches wide, then cut each row into narrow pieces.  
(The width of the row becomes the length of the caramels).

Enjoy!  These are pretty amazing.  So why do we make them only at Christmas?

These aren't the most delicious cookies in the world.  But they are amazingly good, and they're a little different than the usual.  I also love how they look in a vintage canister.

1/2 cup butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs (room temp.)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup hazelnuts
2/3 cup white chocolate, either chips or a chopped up bar

First, prepare the hazelnuts.  This is putsy.  Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Check to see if skins will easily rub off.  If not, continue toasting until it seems like the skins will remove pretty well.  At this point the hazelnuts are toasted.
Remove them from oven (leave the oven on),  pour them onto a clean but not beloved dish towel, and roll them around in the towel to remove the skins.  I can never quite get all the skins off, but that's okay.

Place them on cutting board, and chop into pieces about the size of chocolate chips.

To make the cookie dough:
Beat together butter and sugar till light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Beat in eggs, one at a time.
Add vanilla.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to butter mixture.
Mix briefly.
Add hazelnuts and white chocolate pieces, mix well but do not over-mix.

Divide dough in half.
Form into two 12X2 inch loaves on parchment-paper lined baking sheet.
I like to make my loaves squared-off, sort of rectangular, but I've seen some pastry chefs who just mound the dough into a very rough loaf, and that seems to work just fine. It's easier to manage the dough if you flour your hands a few times during the process.

Bake the cookie loaves at 350 for about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes. 
Place on cutting board.

Slice diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices, and place slices onto baking sheets. (Now you will need two baking sheets.)  Bake about 8 minutes, and then, if you are feeling up to it, turn each cookie over for the remaining 4 or 5 minutes.  Remove from oven when cookies are lightly browned. 
Don't remove them too early, or they won't be crisp. 

Transfer to cooling rack.  When they are cool, store at room temperature or freeze. 
These cookies freeze very well. 

Chocolate Tart

I can't remember where I found this recipe, but it's fantastic.  I found the original crust way too thick, so I split it between two tart pans.  Or half of the crust mixture can be refrigerated for several days until you're ready to make another tart.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Shortbread crust:
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold butter, cut into pieces
1/4 c. sugar
1 Tb. powdered sugar
2 c. flour
Cut the dry ingredients into the flour using a pastry blender, until the mixture is evenly crumbly and no large pieces of butter remain.
Divide the mixture between two tart pans, pressing lightly into place.  You don't need much of an edge to the crust.

Bake about 20-25 minutes.  The crust should be cooked but not browned.  While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. (This is for one tart.  For two, double the below recipe).
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. milk
Heat the cream and milk on medium-low heat until they simmer.
Using a whisk, stir in:
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Whisk until the chocolate is melted into the cream mixture.
Into a large bowl, beat:
2 large eggs
Pour chocolate mixture into eggs, stirring as you do so.  
When you take the baked crust out of the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degree.
Using a sieve, pour the filling into the tart shell.  This might require three hands (i.e., help).
Bake for about 20 minutes, until set and glossy.
Cool on wire rack.
To serve:
Pipe whipped cream around edge or wherever you like it.  I use a Ziploc baggie for this, it's much simpler than my hard-to-clean cake decorator.

            Here is the finished tart.  Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup

I found this recipe about a year ago and tweaked it, substituting little white garden onions for leeks. (Leeks might still be better, but I always have onions on the counter). The original creator was French and also garnished the soup with creme fraiche, which I never have on hand.  It's delicious with apples.
1 butternut squash                                                                     Optional garnish:
4-5 small white onions, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces                   1 apple, diced
3 cups whole milk                                                                       1 pear, diced
3 cups water                                                                               Toasted walnuts
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1. Peel the squash and cut it into 1-2 inch chunks
 (I cut the squash in half, then slice around the rim vertically to take off the rind).
Place the onions and squash into a large soup pot. Add milk and water and about 1 tsp. salt.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat to simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, till squash is very tender.
2. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is smooth.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  A regular blender or food processor will also work, but clean-up will be harder.
3. To serve: ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with diced apples, pears or walnuts, and dust with freshly-grated nutmeg. 
 Serves 6.  

Chocolate-Cranberry Shortbread Cookies

 A few years ago, I let my sister and her friends borrow our house for a party (my house was in the right location), and while they partied, my girls and I escaped to my friend Ruth's house.  She fed us these cookies and I could not stop eating them. My sister's friends are some of my favorite people in the world, and they thanked me handsomely.  But these cookies were a great reward.
Preheat oven to 325.
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Beat the above ingredients well, at least 3 or 4 minutes, scraping sides of mixing bowl as needed.
To that mixture, add:
1 cup almond meal
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup chopped Craisins, or dried cherries
1 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out cookies onto parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet.
Dip a glass in sugar, and press each cookie flat.
Bake for a LONG TIME, about 20 min.
If you like, drizzle with melted chocolate when cool.
Hide the cookies, or they will be gone in about 10 minutes.

Posole (Mexican Stew)

Posole (Mexican Stew)
This is one of my favorite recipes for fall. I got it from my friend Laurie, and I think she got it from 
Bon Appetit magazine. The stew is hot and spicy, and the toppings are cool and crunchy.   It's different from anything else I make.
1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. shoulder pork roast, or beef roast
2 c. chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c. water
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
14 oz. can stewed tomatoes, undrained
28 oz. broth
1 can chipotle chilis in adobo sauce  (Use as many as you like, but they are spicy for some people).
2 cans golden hominy, drained
Combine 1 tsp. salt, paprika, and pepper. Trim fat from meat.
Cut meat into 2 inch pieces, toss in paprika mixture to coat.
Heat 1 Tb. vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven on medium-high, 
add meat and cook, stirring, until brown. Remove meat
from pot. Add onion and garlic, saute 3 minutes. Stir in water and 
next 7 ingredients. Return meat to pot.
 Add in 1 chili, chopped, and 2 Tb. adobo sauce
Simmer 2-3 hours on low heat
At this point, if you have time, allow to cool and refrigerate until you can skim the fat off the top. 
 If I'm using beef I don't do this.  (I use grass-fed beef, and it can be tough.  I cooked it about 7 hours).
Bring stew to boil, add hominy
 Bring to simmer.
 To Serve
Ladle 1 cup stew into bowl.
Top with shredded lettuce, crushed tortilla chips,
cilantro, and grated radishes.
When I made this yesterday, I couldn't find radishes at either Trader Joe's or Costco.  
I used green and orange peppers, but radishes are better.
Such is life....we had way too many radishes in our garden this summer, and now when I need just a few, there is nary a radish to be found.