Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Israeli Couscous Salad

I have a 2 day per MONTH job. That definitely qualifies for "part-time"status! I test recipes for the Georgia Dept of Agriculture. The recipes are sent in by readers of the Farmer's and Consumer's Market Bulletin. After I test (or simply prepare) the recipes, I edit them and send them back to the Ag Dept for printing in the Market Bulletin. In some circles, it is quite "prestigous" to have your recipe printed in the MB!

Today, the recipes threw me a curve. It turned out to be a learning curve! One of the recipes called for Israeli couscous. I was quite familiar with African couscous - the tiny type found in boxes of couscous mixes in the grain aisle of the grocery store. But I had to dig some to learn about Israeli couscous. Here is what I found:
"Israeli Couscous is a small, round semolina pasta that should not be confused with the tiny, yellow North African couscous; it is a different animal altogether! Sometimes called pearl couscous or maftoul, it resembles barley, or very small, white peas.
After being shaped and rolled into small balls, these semolina pearls are toasted in an open-flame oven. This distinguishes the couscous from most pasta, which is dried but not toasted. Toasting lends the couscous a distinctive, nutty flavor and particularly satisfying mouth-feel, and it also seals in the starch and reinforces the exterior, allowing the pearls to absorb liquid without falling apart. This is why Israeli couscous is ideal for saucy preparations whatever the sauce or reduction, the couscous absorbs the flavor beautifully, and the sauce sticks well to every tiny pearl."

After learning what I was looking for, I set off to "town" in search of this new product. My first stop was Wal Mart where I found all the other ingredients for the 5 recipes I will test this month. Of course, there was no Israeli couscous there. But, wonder of all wonders, I stopped in at Ingles and found it! It was in the produce dept in a line of self serve dispensers along with nuts, grains, granola, etc. Eureka! Israeli couscous in Murphy, NC!!! I would have never bet on that!!

Here's the recipe I made tonite for dinner so my fellow taste tester/husband could pass judgement. The recipe was a BIG hit! You might want to try it yourself.

Israeli Couscous and Veggies
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup chopped red or yellow pepper
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley
Extra virgin olive oil, optional

Bring chicken broth to a boil. Add couscous. Cover tightly and remove from heat. Let stand for 20 to 25 minutes (while you chop veggies). Stir in veggies. Drizzle olive oil over before serving, if desired.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cranberry Bliss Bars

These are absolutley scrumptious! Similiar to Starbucks' bars. My dear cousin who gave me this recipe eats them for breakfast! They definitely NEED a good cup of coffee with them. Trust me on this one.. its a keeper, too.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cupsall-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped
4 ounces white chocolate (chips or bar, chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and brown sugar in large bowl of electric mixer. Add eggs, ginger, and vanilla, beating well. Gradually mix in flour and dry ingredients. Stir in cranberries and white chocolate. Spread in greased 9x13-inch pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely and frost.

4 ounces cream cheese, room temp.
3 cups powdered sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup dried cranberries, diced

Combine cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla in small bowl. Beat with electric mixer until smooth. Spread on cooled cookie layer. Sprinkle with diced cranberries.
Optional: Drizzle with melted white chocolate or combine 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon milk and 2 teaspoons shortening and drizzle over cookie layer.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Snickerdoodle Recipe

Snickerdoodles are buttery, cinnamon/sugar coated cookies that melt in your mouth! They are perfect with a cup of hot cider or tea, a cold glass of milk or hot cup of coffee. And they're a kid friendly recipe! Bake a batch today and make your house smell like heaven!

1 3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup butter flavor shortening
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter, shortening and eggs in large bowl of electric mixer. Combine dry ingredients, except for cinnamon, in a large bowl and sift or whisk together. Slowly add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, stirring until well blended. ( I use my electric mixer on the lowest speed.) Combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough into balls and roll balls in cinnamon/sugar mixture. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool on wire rack, then share with family and friends!

Helen's Notes: These cookies puff up then deflate.. don't worry, they're supposed to do that! While warm, they are chewy and buttery. When cool, they are crisp and crunchy. So, have a glass of milk standing by when they come out of the oven!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef

If your week is as busy as mine promises to be, you're looking for a few quick and easy meals OR something you can fix and forget. This slow cooker BBQ Beef will make life sooo much easier! Put it in the slow cooker in the am and dinner will be ready when you are!

Slow Cooker BBQ Beef
1 (3 1/2 lb) eye-of-round roast, cut in half vertically
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10 oz) can condensed beef broth
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons steak sauce ( I use A-1 or Heinz 57)
1 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce

Sprinkle beef with 1 teaspoon salt.
Stir together remaining 1 teaspoon salt and remaining ingredients. Pour half of mixture in bottom of a 5 1/2 qt slow cooker. Place beef in cooker, and pour remaining mixture over beef.
Cover and cook on HIGH for 7 hours. Shred beef in slow cooker using 2 forks.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies Recipe

These cookies are almost my favorite of all chocolate cookies! They appeared in the Dec 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine; I tried them for the first time today. WOW! This one is a KEEPER! I'll give you the recipe as printed, then tell you my substitions. Ok, my cookbook editor background is killing me.. I will rewrite some of the directions for clarity!

Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies
2 packages (Ghiradelli) 60% cocoa bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (Ghiradelli) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon instant Expresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (16 round peppermint candies or leftover candy canes)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking pans with parchment paper.

Place 2 cups chocolate chips in medium size metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir until smooth and melted. Cool. Place 2/3 cup melted chocolate in a small bowl. Set aside to drizzle on top of baked and cooled cookies.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, instant expressso and salt in a large bowl; whisk to combine. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer, creaming until light and fluffy. Add extracts and beat until well combined. Add eggs; beat to blend. Stir in remaining melted chocolate. Add dry ingredients, mix until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips.

Measure 1 level tablespoon dough; roll into a ball. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until tops are cracked all over.

Remove from oven and cool on pan for 5 minutes. Place parchment paper and cookies on wire rack to cool completely.

Rewarm reserved 2/3 cup melted chocolate. Drizzle over cooled cookies using a fork. Immediately sprinkle with chopped peppermint. Chill just until chocolate sets, about 20 minutes. Yield: about 4 dozen.

Helen's Tips: I only had 1 bag of chocolate chips, so I measured out 1/2 cup to add to the batter at the end, melted what was left in the bag, and stirred it into the batter. When the cookies were cooled, I melted another 1/2 cup white chocolate chips and drizzled that over the cookies. They were still perfect!!

If you don't have instant expresso, leave it out! You could add 2 tablespoons STRONG brewed coffee in its place. Coffee intensifies the taste of this needs intensity!!

The better the cocoa, the better the cookies will be. I splurged for some REAL Dutch process cocoa from the Williams Sonoma Outlet. It was worth it! However, Ghiradelli will be almost as good. Same with the chocolate chips.. use the best you can get!

Shape these into small balls. Believe me, these are RICH cookies. And you'll make more servings.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Magic Reindeer Food

This recipe is for Grandma's and Mom's who have very special little ones... like my 4 grands and my friend, Reilly. I've made this for years now and it works EVERY time! I have even made it for children in the community. Since we are snowed in, I thought I might better post the recipe for all those little folks I can't get out to deliver to this year. Anyway, there are bound to be some folks who NEED this recipe anyway!!!

Mix this Magic Reindeer Food and sprinkle it on your lawn on Christmas Eve. Moon beams reflect off the sparkles in the food to guide Santa to your house and Santa's reindeer eat the oats. Of course, it only takes a little (about a tablespoonful) to make this happen!

Magic Reindeer Food
1 tablespoon oats
1/2 teaspoon glitter
Mix well and sprinkle on the lawn on Christmas Eve.

I package Magic Reindeer Food in small baggies with a label with this poem attached:
Sprinkle on the lawn at night,
The moon will make it sparkle bright.
When Santa's reindeer fly and roam,
This will guide them to your home.

I have the poem in a Word document complete with picture, and I will be happy to e-mail it to you for printing. Contact me at

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies Recipe

This is a great dough for making with children.. its almost indestructible! They can smash, squeeze, and roll to their heart's desire! Then shape with cookie cutters and bake.
If you're adding sprinkles, add them before baking. If you decorate with icing, do that when they are completely cool. The Decorator Icing with the Gingerbread Snowflake recipe is perfect to decorate these with. Now, get thee to the kitchen with the wee ones!!

Sugar Cookies
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter and sugar with electric mixer unti light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and almond extract. Combine dry ingredients and whisk lightly. Add to the butter mixture, beating until smooth. Form the dough into 2 patties. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough, one patty at a time, on a floured surface. If you want crisp cookies, roll to 1/8-in. If you like soft, thicker cookies, roll to 1/2-inch thick. Cut into shapes. Decorate with sprinkles, etc. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully so that the edges don't brown. Remove to wire rack to cool. Decorate with frosting, if desired. Makes about 3 doz. 2 1/2 -inch cookies. Keeps for 3 wks in airtight container.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs

These meatballs melt in your mouth! The sauce is similar to some we had in Italy, not overly spiced as we Americans tend to do. The meatballs cook in the sauce, so no frying! Try this combination - I think you'll fall in love with it, we did at our house!

The recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine and Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life.


2 (28-oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes in juice, drained, reserve juice and finely chop tomatoes
1 stick unsalted butter
2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half through root end
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (my addition, homage to my Southern roots!)

Combine tomatoes with juice, butter, onion,salt and sugar in a large wide pot. Bring to simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Using immersion blender, process sauce briefly to break up large pieces of tomatoes (texture should be even, but not completely smooth). Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Add a few flakes crushed red pepper, if you like it hot. Remove from heat and set aside.


1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup milk
8 ounces ground pork
8 ounces ground chuck or round
1 cup freshly ground (not grated) Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup Italian flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
2 eggs
2 large garlic cloves, pressed

Combine breadcrumbs and milk in small bowl; stir until breadcrumbs are evenly moistened. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place beef and port in a large bowl and break up into small chunks. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt,and pepper.

Whisk eggs to blend in a small bowl; stir in garlic. Add to meat mixture.

Using hands, squeeze milk from breadcrumbs, reserving milk. ( I had none!) Using hands, QUICKLY and GENTLY mix meat mixture just until all ingredients are evenly combined (do NOT over mix!!) Chill mixture at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Moisten hands with some of reserved milk from breadcrumbs (or cold water), then roll mixture between palms of hands into golf-ball size balls. Arrange meatballs in single layer in sauce. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until meatballs are cooked through, 15 or 20 minutes.

Cook 1 pound spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain.

Using slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to platter. Add pasta to sauce in pot and toss to coat. Divide pasta among 6 plates. Top each serving with meatballs. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Oven Beef Stew Recipe

Ohhhh the weather outside is frightful .... perfect time for warm "comfort food". Oven Beef Stew recipe..posted Jan 8, 2010.. fits the bill exactly! I made it this weekend for company.... along with Creme Brulee for dessert.. Viva la France!

Gingerbread Cookies Recipe

These are a tradition at our house. Kelley and I have made them every Christmas that I can remember her being old enough to stand at the kitchen counter with me. This year, instead of Gingerbread Men (and women and children) I decided to make snowflakes. I used the snowflake cookie cutter we gave as favors at Kelley and Zach's wedding 3 years ago this week. Use any cutter you like. This dough is VERY forgiving. You can roll it, re-roll and re-roll and its still wonderful!
Be sure to make the dough ahead and let it chill overnight. If you roll the dough thin (1/4-in.) the cookies will be crisp (good for dunking in hot tea or cider) and if you roll the dough thick (1/3-1/2-inch) the cookies will be soft. Its up to you!!

Gingerbread Men
1 cup shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup molasses (spray the measuring cup with Pam and it will come out easier)
1 egg
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons ground cloves (since cloves are strong, I used less when the kids were little)

Cream shortening and sugar in large mixer bowl. Add molasses and mix well. Beat in egg. Sift dry ingredients. Add to shortening mixture. Stir or mix slowly just until all ingredients are combined. Chill overnight (or minimum of 4 hrs). Roll out on a floured board. Cut into shapes and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool completely and decorate.

Note: I add raisin buttons before baking and sometimes "red hot" candy for heart or buttons. All of these need to be baked on. The rest of the decorating is done with Royal Icing when the cookies are completely cool. This is the FUN part!!

Royal Icing (or Decorator Frosting)
My Home Ec training tells me that I must warn you this icing is made with raw egg whites. If you are concerned about that, you can purchase meringue powder (powdered egg whites) at craft stores and some grocery stores. I've made this for 30 years and never gotten sick from it, however, I do NOT lick my fingers or eat it by the spoonful!! The cookies have a small amt on them.

3 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 pound powdered sugar, sifted ( 3 1/2 cups)
Combine egg whites and cream of tarter in large bowl of electric mixer. Beat at medium speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar; continue beating until stiff peaks form (5-7 minutes). Yield: 2 cups frosting.

Note: This icing can also be used as the "glue" for building and assembling gingerbread houses.
Keep a wet dish towel draped over the bowl while you're working with icing in a decorating bag. When it dries out, it is as hard as glass!!! If it starts getting dry on you, add water by the teaspoon until it is soft again.