Saturday, December 24, 2016

Bourbon Balls

After getting some snow this December, our Christmas Eve forecast is for rain, which is really depressing.   It is supposed to go into the 50s by the day after Christmas, which should make for lots of gray and mud.   Christmas sort of snuck up on me this year.   I haven't yet made any cookies, but I might try to get some made today.  I'm taking it easy; it seems Christmas never comes out exactly as I think it should be,   So why not just kick back and enjoy it for what it is?

I was inspired by my friend Paula who said she made some bourbon balls that didn't have ground up vanilla wafers in them.   I wondered if they were like ones I tasted a few years ago when I was in Elizabethtown, KY for work that had a more creamy texture at a cute little place called the Back Home Restaurant.    I vowed I'd try to duplicate them, along with their version of Kentucky cream pull candy.  A quick googling found a recipe on allrecipes by someone named "KY Piano Teacher" that looked like it might fit the bill, but when tried to follow the recipe, I found the instructions a little lacking so I modified it a bit.   It's essentially a no cook fondant center.   I was a little nervous because I thought it would melt when I dipped it but it did not.   I coated these with some fancy candy making chocolate that I have, but if you are lacking that, try some Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate bars that you can find in any grocery store.   Learn how to do it here.

Kentucky Bourbon Balls

1 c. chopped pecans, additional whole pecans for topping (optional)
5 T, bourbon (I used Maker's Mark, but a cheaper bourbon is really all that is required)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners sugar
18 ounces chocolate, for dipping

Put nuts in a canning jar with a lid, and add bourbon, shaking to coat.  Allow to steep overnight.  In a mixing bowl, add butter and sugar and mix on medium speed until crumbly.   Add nuts and bourbon.  Knead the fondant with your hands until a soft dough forms, slightly sticky  Add more powdered sugar if necessary until it can form a soft sticky ball.  Line a tray with parchment, and form fondant into 1 inch balls.    Refrigerate until very firm.  Dip balls in melted chocolate,   You can top with a whole pecan, if desired.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Care Package Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

Do you remember this old TV commercial?

I never understood why 1970s teen heart throb Robby Benson (I'm really wanting to watch the movie Ice Castles right now) was walking around eating peanut butter straight out of the jar when he runs into Donny Most (aka Ralph Malph from Happy Days) and they invented Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.   Whatever.   It's a great combination of flavors!

I was looking for a recipe for cookies to send to my son for a finals week care package.   I hit our monthly library used book sale and found a book I wanted to buy


I love the old Taste of Home magazine, before it started taking advertising in December, 2007.   This is an end of an era.   Some guy from Nebraska submitted a recipe for peanut butter cookies with peanut butter swirled chips.   I am not even  sure if those are made anymore, so I took some liberties and devised this adaption:

Bittersweet Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies 

1 c. butter
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 10 oz. package Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, cream the butter, peanut butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks. Yield: about 4 dozen.

My son ate every single one of these cookies.....not including the ones I sampled prior to sending.   These are really delicious.   Now I am off to find Ice Castles on Netflix....

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Advent Herbs: Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Sage

This advent season, I am trying to channel my inner Adelma Grenier Simmons.....

Adelma was one of the leading herbal figures in America in the 20th century. A legend for her knowledge of herbal lore and history, she was also a prolific author and sparked an interest in herb gardening across the country. Known as "The First Lady of Herbs," she owned and operated Caprilands Herb Farm in Coventry, Connecticut for over 55 years.  Back in the early 1990s, I was really into herbal wreath making.  I love reading Adelma's books, her writing style is such that I can envision her sitting at an antique desk in her drafty library at Caprilands writing out her drafts about herbs in longhand, sipping some chamomile tea she grew herself.   Then, she would haul out a typrewriter and type it up double spaced.  Perhaps she would have a lit candle nearby, and she would be looking out over the snow covered fields of her farm in the blue gray light of Advent.   I don't know if that's what she did as Caprilands is no longer as her 3rd husband seems to have run it into the ground after her death in the 90s,   I love the way she writes about celebrating nature by combining both Druid and Catholic festivals.   I wish I could have met her in person.

Adelma would most certainly be thinking about making an Advent wreath at this time, featuring the herbs of advent:
  • Juniper, cedar and pine protected the Holy Family on their flight from Egypt.
  • Ivy denotes the trinity.
  • Lavender represents purity and virtue, lavender is said to have received its lovely scent when it served as the drying rack for the Baby Jesus' swaddling clothes
  • Sage stands for immortality.
  • Horehound is a wish for good health.
  • Rue is a symbol or virtue and banishes evil.
  • Thyme another manger herb stands for bravery and strength of Christ.
  • Rosemary is for remembrance: its flowers changed from white to blue in Mary’s honor.
  • Bedstraw, is considered a manager herb.
  • Pennyroyal, is supposed to have bloomed at midnight on Christmas Eve in  Christ’s honor.
  • Costmary, also known as Bible leaf and used as a bookmark the fragrance chases insects, was used by Mary Magdalene to make an ointment for the baby Jesus.
  • Tansy is associated with immortality.

I ordered one of Adelma's books on Amazon.....

Until it arrives, I will have to do a little internet research.  I don't have a huge herb farm and I don't even know where I could buy most of this stuff.   Making herbal wreaths went out of style at the end of the 90s and I don't see anyone selling dried herbs like they used to do.   But I will look around and try to cook with some of these herbs.   So today, on the second Sunday of Advent, I will make a recipe that features sage.  I have a pork tenderloin from the hog we bought at the start of fall.    I hope I have enough room in the freezer for the beef quarter that is coming this week!   I found this recipe at Eating Well,,,,,I am modifying it a bit to serve my tastes.    It is suggested to serve with barley, roasted squash and a pinot noir....sounds excellent to me!    I'm going to have to go to the store for some fresh sage.   I didn't grow any in a container on my patio as I usually do.   I must have forgot.  I used to have a sage plant that lasted for years on my is winter hardy.    But it finally died and I haven't remembered to plant another.   I'll need to do it next spring for sure.    I've got some maple syrup that my friend Evelyn made last spring.  Sounds good for a gray day like today!  I am hopeful we are going to get the snow that is forecast for tomorrow.

Pork Tenderloin with Maple and Sage

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage

Preheat oven to 425°F. Combine 1 tablespoon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl; rub all over pork. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160°F.  Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

To make the pan sauce, place the skillet over medium-high heat (take care, the handle will still be hot), add vinegar, and boil, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon, about 30 seconds. Whisk in maple syrup and the remaining 2 tablespoons mustard; bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.

Slice the pork. Add any accumulated juices to the sauce along with sage. Serve the pork topped with the sauce.