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Dinner In a Flash

Pasta is one of my family's favorites.  This flavorful sauce is ready in a flash.  Perfect for a quick dinner, it also makes a great addition to a pasta-themed gift.

Easy Vodka Sauce
1 quart homemade or good-quality store-bought marinara sauce
1 cup vodka 
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 

Simmer the tomato sauce and vodka in a heavy large skillet over low heat until the mixture reduces by 1/4, stirring often, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir the cream into the tomato and vodka sauce. Simmer over low heat until the sauce is heated through.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted and well blended.

Serve over fresh pasta.  Add sautéd shrimp or chicken, if desired.

Pasta Gift Basket packaged in new red colanderDid You Know:  Vodka is the most popular spirit of Eastern Europe. It is produced by the distillation of fermented substances such as grain, potatoes, molasses, beets, and a variety of other plants.  Most of the best Russian Vodkas are made from wheat. In Poland they are mostly made from a rye mash. Swedish and Baltic distillers are partial to wheat mashes.  End Result? …a broad range of flavor and character.


Slow As Molasses

The idiom "slow as molasses in January" fits this viscous ingredient that requires great patience when pouring into a measuring cup--but it in no way reflects how quickly Grandma's Molasses Cookies disappear in our household.  They are gobbled up instantly!  Old fashioned flavor from an old fashioned recipe handed down from my Grandma Peyer:

Grandma's Molasses Cookies
3/4 cup shortening *
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup plain molasses
2 1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt 
Sugar for coating (preferably coarse sugar) 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Cream shortening and sugar until smooth and creamy.  Add egg and molasses and mix well.  In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt.  Gradually add dry ingredients to molasses mixture and mix until well-combined.  Form into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar.  Place on parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheets, spacing 3-inches apart.  Bake in preheated oven until edges are crisp, about 8 to 12 minutes depending on size.

Makes about 4 dozen.

* For most cookie recipes I use only butter, but this recipe works best with solid shortening (such as Crisco) or a mixture of shortening and butter.  

Roll 1-inch balls of dough in coarse sugar

Place sugar-coated dough balls on parchment-lined baking sheetsGrandma's dog-eared, stained handwritten recipe cardDid You Know:  The more you boil molasses, the less sweet it becomes until you get down to three or more boilings. By this time, you have blackstrap molasses, a product with almost no sweetness but the highest nutritious value.



Warm From the Inside Out

Every fall when it comes time to set the clocks back an hour for Daylight Saving Time, I begin craving soup.  Maybe it’s the bear in me anticipating hibernation or the reminder that colder temperatures are looming or that germs will soon be abounding in more threatening quantities.  Soup is a wonderful comfort food---warming you from the inside out.  This soup recipe offers a warm blend of Mexican spices and flavors.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
3 (12 oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 cans (14 oz. each) reduced sodium chicken broth
2 1/2 to 3 cups broken tortilla chips
2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided
1/2 cup good-quality salsa
1/2 cup sour cream, light or regular (optional)
Optional Garnish:  Sour cream (light or regular)
                            Tomato slices
                            Chopped fresh cilantro

Brush both sides of the chicken breasts with lime juice. Sprinkle evenly  with chili powder and cumin.  Let stand for 10 minutes. 

Preheat grill or broiler to medium high. Grill or broil chicken 5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Cool.  Cut or tear into 1/2-inch pieces.

Heat broth to a boil in large saucepan. Add tortilla chips; cover and let stand 10 minutes. Puree mixture in batches in food processor or blender; return to saucepan. Stir 1-1/2 cups cheese into broth mixture; cook over low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Stir in salsa and chicken; heat through. Ladle into bowls.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese and garish with sour cream, tomato slices and/or chopped cilantro, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Did You Know:  Daylight Saving Time (DST) has been used in the U.S. since World War I.  Through 2006, DST in the U.S. ended a few days before Halloween.  In 2007, a new law extended DST to the first Sunday in November, with the purpose of providing trick-or-treaters more light and therefore increased safety.  The time change impacts numerous businesses.  For example, when the clocks fall back one hour in October, all Amtrak trains in the U.S. that are running on time stop at 2:00 a.m. and wait one hour before resuming. Overnight passengers are often surprised to find their train at a dead stop and their travel time an hour longer than expected.  But to keep to their published schedules, trains cannot leave a station before the scheduled time.    


Notes from Chicago Gourmet 2011

Maple Leaf Farms...good duck!

Target Made a big play at Chicago Gourmet this year as a charter sponsor with a central tent.  They were working hard to hand out samples and coupons promoting their Archer Farms brand.


Stella Artois giving out all three of their beers with a free iconic chalice or respective glass.


Pork was big this year.  Stephanie Izzard (Girl and the Goat) and Jimmy Bannos Jr. (The Purple Pig) gave a demonstration on cooking with all parts of the pig.  Here Stephanie and her butcher are prepping to make pig face sausage.


The Peninsula Hotel Chicago was there with some of their famous treats.  These home made marshmallows were great with some unique, and subtle, fruit flavors as well as classics like cinamon.  By the way, for those taking notes, The Peninsula has, in my opinion, the best evening chocolate buffet ever with live jazz.  It's held most every Friday and Saturday night starting at 9pm in their iconic lobby.  Reservations are required more than 24 hours in advance, and it is not cheap, but great value.  (More info)


Green and Black had an interesting use of iPads.  They were mounted and loaded with a personality test to help advise you on which flavors you might enjoy most.


Pierre Ferrand, known for cognac, was also highlighting a sipping rum they have.  It was quite good and had simlilar notes to Bourbon.  Unusual to find a rum designed for sipping up or on the rocks.  I would recomend it for Bourbon lovers looking for something a little different.


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Guest writer and son, Eric Welander


Southern Pecans

Butter Pecan Crisps
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
1 cup good quality butterscotch chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray lightly with cooking spray.  Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl. cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and continue to beat until smooth.  Gradually add flour mixture until well combine.  Fold in chips and pecans.

Scoop spoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets.  Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 10 to 2 minutes, depending on size.  Cool for several minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to racks to cool completely.  

Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies.

Did You Know:  Pecans are the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America and their history dates back to the 16th century. The name "pecan" is a Native American word.  According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, pecans contain more antioxidants—compounds that sweep up tissue-damaging free radicals—than any other tree nut.  They also provide significant amounts of zinc.