We all have someone in our lives that loves to cook or bake, right? It might even be YOU! Whether you are looking for a gift for someone you love or treating yourself, here are a few of my favorite things. I’ve put together a baker’s dozen of course. I own everything on this list and use it regularly. Some of the items are newer versions of what I have, as most of my stuff has been in use for YEARS, which is why I chose these particular things. They have been used A LOT and stand up to the abuse they get from your truly.
This week, Betsy from Desserts Required is doing a guest post! I love Betsy and I know you will too! We’ve been friends for a few years now and I must tell you, when you are around her – a good time will be had, whether you like it or not! 🙂 She is a ball of energy, a ray of sunshine and has a serious sweet-tooth just like your truly. Betsy is a “girl’s girl”, a cheerleader & champion of her friends, the kind of friend everyone should have.
Hello Pook’s Pantry readers!
I am so excited to guest blog while Cheryl takes some much needed time to recover from her surgery. I met Cheryl at Food Wine Conference a couple of years ago and last year she was my roommate. To say that I love and adore her would be an understatement. I mean, seriously, you already know how fabulous her sense of humor is in addition to her talent in the kitchen but I got to see it firsthand. Cheryl was on team Betsy’s Balls in the Chopped competition and, holy moly, can that woman cook!
My blog is Desserts Required and I live by the mantra, “Without desserts, life would not be as sweet.” If there is a delicious dessert within reach, driving distance or flying distance, I am always up for giving it a try. That goes for candy, too.
Since Thanksgiving is two days away, I thought it would be best to offer a quick and delish option to make; Holiday Candy Bark. I love the idea of making something that is as easy to serve at home as it is to take to someone for a hostess gift.
The key is to use high quality chocolate. I love bittersweet chocolate but Holiday Candy Bark will work just as well with semisweet, milk or even white chocolate. When I was at Whole Foods buying dried cranberries and unsweetened shredded coconut, I had trouble locating dried apricots. I was directed to a bin of very dark, almost black, apricots. I thought something was wrong with them but learned that they were Turkish apricots and, as such, did not contain sulphur, which gives that very bright unnatural orange color. Although, initially, I wanted that bright orange color, I opted for the natural dried fruit. Feel free to use whichever dried apricot you prefer.
Assembly is a breeze. It’s just a matter of adding layers of dried fruit, coconut and toasted pecans over most of the melted chocolate and then drizzling more melted chocolate over the top to keep the goodies in place.
Best of all, Holiday Candy Bark is great throughout this holiday season. I’ve even heard a rumor that Santa loves a batch with his milk and cookies!
- 1 cup (141 grams) dried cranberries, chopped
- 1 cup (172 grams) dried apricots, chopped
- 1 cup (120 grams) pecan pieces, toasted
- ½ cup (40 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut
- 2 pounds (910 grams) bittersweet, semisweet, milk or white chocolate, melted
- Line a 9” x 13” baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Add 4/5 of the melted chocolate and use a small offset metal spatula to spread it evenly in the pan. Top with the cranberries, apricots and most of the pecans and coconut.
- Drizzle half of the remaining chocolate over the top. Sprinkle the remaining pecans and coconut over this. Lastly, drizzle the rest of the chocolate on top to ‘glue’ the pecans and coconut onto the bark.
- Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. If the block of chocolate is too hard to cut through, allow it to sit out on the counter until a knife cuts through the chocolate without breaking it into shards of chocolate. Cut in squares.
Picadillo is Spanish for “hash” (or “mince”). Essentially, this is a Cuban version of the good old American mélange, eaten on its own or used as a filling for empanadas. Spanish influences, specifically Andalusian, are obvious due to the addition of olives and raisins. Picadillo is often served topped with hard-cooked or fried eggs and is usually accompanied by fried plantains.
Where are my fellow chile heads?!
Although I love peppers, I’m not one of those crazy people that shoves whole habaneros in her mouth… funny story about that, actually.
The year was 1993 and I was living in Guadalajara, México. I was a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara and a group of us were out strolling the Mercado Libertad, which is a huge multi-level market. It houses everything from food to shoes to flowers. Here we are, a bunch of 20 year old kids walking around with eyes popping out of our heads. This was the first time most of us had been on our own in a foreign country. We happened upon this vendor of chiles. You know where this is going, don’t you?! A girl in our group stated that she could handle really spicy food and was going to buy a few peppers. We tried (in vain) to warn her that these were seriously hot and she shouldn’t pop the entire thing into her mouth. Let’s just that the afternoon took a turn… to the Emergency Room! I guess I shouldn’t have said a “funny” story, just “a story”.
I’m not one to eat a whole habanero, but I do enjoy a little heat. The kind that makes your lips and tongue tingle, not the kind that feels like someone lit a match on them. I seem to have a higher tolerance for heat than some, which means that I may not be the best person to ask if something is spicy. We burn through jars and jars of chile paste like it’s going out of style (I assure you, it is NOT). Most of the spicy food we eat happens to be Asian. Bowls of noodles in fiery broth are my happy place. Food from Latin America is a close second and for good reason: I’m married to a Texan, I used to live in Mexico and we currently live in Florida. I chose this particular recipe to share because I love picadillo. I know, I’m totally selfish. I make big batches of this delicious filling to make empanadas. The saltiness of the olives with the sweetness of the raisins is really good.
My very favorite thing about this book is its inclusion of food from around the globe. I love exploring cultures through food and this book is a peek into how chile peppers really are a global ingredient. It’s fun to try new recipes and flavors, especially when the recipes are so varied and enticing!
Below is a short list of some of the 250 recipes you’ll find in this book. I have my eye on the Spinach and Tomato Dal next… What would be your first choice?
– Middle Eastern Walnut Dip (Middle East)
– Castilian Garlic Soup (Spain)
– Chinese Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup (China)
– Paella (Spain)- Tagine of Chicken with Apricots (N. Africa)
– Cuban style hash (Cuba)
– Original San Antonio Chili (US)
– Indonesian-Style Fried Rice (SE Asia)
– Cape Verde Sausage Stew (Africa)
– Spinach and Tomato Dal (Indian)
– Calabrese-Style Fried Potatoes with Peppers (Italian)
– Thai-Style Grilled Chile Salsa (Thai/SE Asia)
– Kimchi (Korea)
– Mexican-Style Tomato Juice – (Mexico)
– Chile-Spiked Chocolate Pots – (French)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 each - red and green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 habanero pepper, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1⁄4 lbs lean ground beef
- 1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
- 1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 piece (2 inches/5 cm long) cinnamon stick
- 1⁄4 cup dry sherry
- 1 can (28 oz/796 mL) tomatoes, with juice
- 1⁄2 cup dark raisins
- 12 large pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
- Finely chopped fresh parsley
- In skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, red and green bell peppers, habanero pepper and garlic and stir well. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until vegetables are very soft, about 10 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high. Add beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
- Add oregano, cumin and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add sherry and cook, stirring, until almost all of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and juice, and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in raisins, olives, and salt and black pepper to taste. Cook until olives are heated through, about 1 minute.
- Transfer to a large deep serving platter. Sprinkle chopped eggs over top. Garnish with parsley. Serve hot.
- Gluten-Free Friendly!
- You can substitute Cubanelle peppers for the red and green bell peppers if you like.
- I have used a habanero here because these peppers are common throughout the Caribbean, and I like the slightly fruity flavor they impart to this dish. However, it may be more common to find picadillo made with jalapeño peppers, even though purists suggest that jalapeños are not used in Cuban cooking. Both chiles do a fine job of bringing heat to this dish, so use whatever is easiest or suits your taste. If you’re using jalapeños, you’ll need 1 to 2.
- Instead of garnishing the entire dish with chopped eggs, transfer individual servings to warm soup plates or deep bowls and top each with a fried egg. Garnish liberally with parsley.
This recipe has been reprinted courtesy of The Chile Pepper Bible: From Sweet & Mild to Fiery & Everything in Between by Judith Finlayson © 2016 www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold. I received one copy compliments of the publisher. No other compensation was received. Links to the book are affiliate links.
If you’d like a chance to win a copy The Chile Pepper Bible of your own, make sure to enter the giveaway below! Thanks to the publishers Robert Rose for providing a copy for the giveaway. It is open to US and Canadian residents!
A little bit sweet, with garlic and ginger, and as spicy you’d like it, this fragrant, saucy chicken dish is made in a slow cooker. It’s super simple and requires very little hands-on time. Serve over rice with a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice.