Hye Thyme Cafe: December 2013

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chili's Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls

Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls


Another item requested to be added to our Christmas Eve menu for this year was Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls.  I don't recall now if it was me or my sister who first stumbled across this recipe a few years ago, but they're one of the few things that I actually get cravings for.

Because we liked them so much the way they were, I have never altered the recipe.  Click HERE for the copy-cat version we use.  What we didn't care for was the tortilla wrappers and the avocado-ranch dip.  Instead, we make them in wonton wrappers and use something else for dipping. I usually just stir a little Sriracha into sour cream.  That adds a touch of heat with the cool from the sour cream without introducing a whole new flavor profile like the ranch.

Because I was making these as an appetizer, I chose to cut down the wonton wrappers.  First cut one to determine the size you like, then you can stack a number of them, using the first as a template.  Don't waste those scraps!  Keep them in the freezer, and the next time you make Chinese food, or maybe an Asian-inspired salad, defrost and trim the scraps and give them a quick fry to use as a garnish or like chips and salsa with a little sweet and sour or duck sauce. 

Sorry I don't have a finished shot or a cross-section, but I blinked and they were gone!  If you haven't wrapped egg rolls before, see photos below.  Keep a little prep bowl of water handy so you can moisten the final corners to seal them shut.  Fry in small batches so you don't over-crowd your pot.

If you have leftovers, wrap and freeze, then you can just pop them in the oven to re-crisp the next time you want them.


Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls
Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls

Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls
Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls



Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls

Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls
Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls

Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls
Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls

Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls


Hye Thyme Cafe: Chili's Southwestern Egg Rolls





Saturday, December 28, 2013

Peanut Blossoms



Peanut Blossoms were one of the items requested for Christmas this year, so this is my version of that classic cookie.  I'll give you one word of advice.  If you want to use caramel Kisses on some of your cookies, make sure the cookies are practically at room temp before you place them!  My first batch completely melted, so when the next tray came out, I let the cookies cool for a few minutes first, and they still melted. It's really not a big deal if you like caramel - I went back and smooshed a second caramel kiss into the melted one.  But if you only have enough caramel kisses to use one, or just want that small taste of caramel - let them cool longer!  Now I know why people use Rolos for cookies and pretzels.  The chocolate in the kisses is thinner and the caramel softer.


INGREDIENTS :
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c light brown sugar
1/4 c butter
1/4 c Crisco shortening
3/4 c Jif Peanut Butter
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 T honey
1 egg
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 1/4 t baking soda
1 3/4 c flour
sugar for dusting
Hershey Kisses (unwrap +/- 48)

  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Cream together the sugars, butter, shortening, peanut butter, honey, and vanilla
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated
  • Whisk together the dry ingredients to distribute the bp, bs, and salt into the flour, then add to the peanut butter mixture in two or three additions until fully incorporated
  • Roll the dough into 1" balls, roll in sugar to coat, and place on parchment-lined trays
  • Bake 8-10" until golden and just starting to crackle
  • Top each cookie with a kiss, pressing down lightly to form an indent so they won't pop off once cooled









Friday, December 27, 2013

Meatballs (Sorry Mom, but I'll be making this recipe from now on)

Hye Thyme Cafe: Meatballs


I never really gave much thought to meatballs.  I enjoy them on occasion, but I'm more likely to make a meat sauce than a batch of meatballs, and if dining out and given the option, I'll usually take a hot Italian sausage over a meatball.  The way my Mom always made them was to combine ground beef with dry bread crumbs, milk, an egg, a bit of minced onion, roll it into balls and drop them directly into the sauce she was making.  I have probably baked a batch or two of meatballs over the years, but I had never pan-fried them until now.

One of the requests for Christmas Eve appetizers this year was "big meatballs with mini sub rolls, but they've gotta be really really cooked - extra browned."  OK, so having recently depleted my stash of sauce, I made a huge pot, portioned some out for Christmas Eve and froze the rest, then started contemplating the meatballs.  

I remembered hearing several times over the years that Rocco Dispirito's mother makes awesome meatballs, so I decided to look them up to see what she does with them.  Yup, pan fried.  She uses a combination of beef, pork, and veal, but I stuck with ground beef.  She also uses chicken stock in her meatballs, which I'm very curious about - why not beef stock??  "Plain" bread crumbs are another ingredient, but what does that mean?  Are they plain as in fresh, not dried, or plain as in dried but not seasoned?  Hmmm?  What most interested me was that she purees the other ingredients before adding them to the meat mixture.

I have to admit that it freaked me out a bit when I made the puree - it looked like a green breakfast smoothie.  Then I figured since green and red (the beef) make brown, and we're talking meatballs here, that would be just fine!

I sort of combined our recipes and pan fried them, but not adhering to her instruction to flip once.  I wanted them browned all the way around. That was tough for me, seeing all the crud building up in the pan as I went along, but it was all worth it in the end, as evidenced by the fact that my brother in law started off with one meatball in a sub roll with a side of four meatballs, then went back for two more servings!  I swear, he ate no fewer than nine big meatballs!  That's a pretty good indication of how good they were considering all the other goodies on display at the time!

Let's see, what did we put out on Christmas Eve ...
  • Meatball mini subs
  • Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls
  • PF Chang's style Lettuce Wraps
  • Prosciutto-wrapped grilled asparagus
  • Buffalo Chicken Balls
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Long hots (sauteed peppers) on Italian bread
  • Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon/Sugar Tortilla Chips
  • Spinach-Artichoke Dip and chips
  • Tabouli (The red version, so really Eetch)
  • Sujouk, Basterma (the Armenian equivalent of beef jerky and pepperoni), Sliced Cheddar, and Cracker Bread 
That was just the appetizers.  Then were were all the cookies, etc.  It's no wonder I'm still full!



INGREDIENTS :
1 small onion
1/3 c fresh parsley
1/2 c milk
1 1/2 c fresh bread crumbs
1/3 c grated Parmesan
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 t salt
2 eggs
3 1/2 lb ground beef
1/4 c olive oil
Red sauce/gravy to simmer them in


  • In your food process or blender, process the onion, parsley, milk, and bread crumbs into a puree (Whether you trim the crusts from your kids' sandwiches, don't eat the end slices, have random bits of bread going stale, etc., toss them in the freezer so you can grind them when needed for meatballs, meatloaf, croquettes, etc.  Doesn't matter if it's a hot dog bun, pumpernickel, etc. - just add it to the stash.)
  • Dump the ground beef into a large bowl, then add the Parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt, and eggs
  • Pour the smoothie -- I mean puree -- over the top and mix until just combined
  • Roll into whatever size you like (remembering there will be some shrinkage)
  • If you will be adding your meatballs to a sauce, set that to simmer while frying your meatballs
  • Add the olive oil to a large pan and heat it over med-high
  • Fry the meatballs in batches, flipping them after 5" or so, then rolling as necessary to brown all the way around - you may need to adjust the heat while adding/removing meatballs from the pan
  • Use a slotted spoon to transfer the browned meatballs to the sauce to simmer
Sorry, but I was so busy on Christmas Eve that I neglected to take pictures of finished/plated food before it could be scarfed down.  You'll have to settle for the "in progress" shots.  :)


Puree onion, garlic, parsley, and milk.
Yikes! Looks like Kermit's breakfast :)
To ground beef, add grated Parmesan, red pepper flakes, salt, and 2 eggs.
Roll into desired size, allowing for shrinkage.
Mix everything until just combined.


Pan fry in olive oil over med-high.

Fry until well browned on all sides.
Rollin' rollin' rollin', keep those meatballs rollin', raw beef! 

Adjust temp as needed.
Good enough for he who requested extra crusty??  Yup.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer to simmering sauce.


They were delicious and tender without either being gristly like some meatballs or spongy like others.  Hmm, I think I just answered the question of why I usually opt for sausages lol.

I was planning to bust out a pot of Nutella Melts at the end of the night - a drink I read about while reviewing Winter Cocktails, but everyone was too full!  It started all over again the next day with a family breakfast of Egg Muffin Cups, Choreg, and Apricot-Almond French Toast, then Christmas dinner was Chianti-braised Short Ribs over a scoop of mashed potatoes and a soop of mashed sweet potatoes, topped with baby carrots and French green beans with a Caprese salad and fresh pesto rolls.  We were all so full from that and the night before, I never even unearthed the Pumpkin Flan I made.  

Last night was movie night - went to see Saving Mr. Banks (very good). I think up until then, the most anyone had was coffee, and we got popcorn at the movie.  Maybe by tonight we'll be ready to eat again.  ;)

So, what did your family indulge (or over-indulge) in this holiday???








Monday, December 23, 2013

Almond Thins

Hye Thyme Cafe: Almond Thins


Making an Apricot-Almond Overnight French Toast left me with extra almond paste.  I was going to throw it in the freezer for another occasion, but since it's the holidays and baking is already in the works, I decided to use it up another way and came up with these cookies.

Although these are very tasty, should you decide to make a batch, I'm guessing that yours will turn out less "rustic" looking than mine.  I don't know about you, but I'm over all the $ I've spent on nuts lately - pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc... Rather than shelling out [not pun intended] for a bag of sliced almonds, I actually sliced some of the whole almonds I already had on hand.  That's all well and good, but it's still easier to cut through the thin slices, so yours won't be quite so chunky.


INGREDIENTS :
1/2 c butter, softened
1/4 c sugar
3/4 c light brown sugar
4 oz almond paste
2 eggs
1 t almond extract
1/2 t salt
2 c flour
1 1/2 c sliced almonds
Optional - chocolate, sprinkles, etc. for decorating

  • Cream together the butter, sugars, and almond paste
  • Add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated, and the almond extract
  • Whisk together the salt and flour and add to the butter mixture, a little at a time
  • Mix in the almonds until evenly distributed
  • Lightly oil (or spray with cooking spray) a sheet of plastic wrap (overhanging) and set inside a loaf pan
  • Press the dough into the lined loaf pan, fold in the overhang, and press the dough into the pan to compact
  • Pull up the plastic to make sure it didn't get pressed INTO the dough anywhere, then close lightly and freeze for at least an hour
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Unwrap dough and turn out onto work surface
  • Using a very sharp knife, cut into as thin slices as possible and transfer to parchment-lined trays
  • Bake until lightly browned and golden around the edges (10-12")
  • Once cooled, play around with dipping or drizzling with melted chocolate, sprinkles, additional chopped almonds, coconut, etc.  

Dang, why didn't I think to use coconut when I made these?!?!  Ooh, some candied orange peel would be nice too!



Press dough into loaf pan lined with lightly oiled plastic wrap
Fold in the overhanging plastic and press down to compress.

After freezing to firm the dough, slice as thin as possible.
Transfer to parchment-linked baking sheets.

Bake at 350 10-12" until golden and browned around the edges Bake at 350 10-12" until golden and browned around the edges
 
Play around with dipping/drizzling with chocolate, sprinkles, etc.
 




Sunday, December 22, 2013

Apricot-Almond Overnight French Toast

Hye Thyme Cafe: Apricot-Almond Overnight French Toast


I went to visit a friend last weekend, and we made a version of this, but we mucked it up a bit by using the 2% milk she had.  That turned out to be too watery, so the center didn't set right.  We did eat the edges, and it was really good, so I decided to give it another shot.  When we made it together, we used almond filling, but of course I couldn't find any at my local grocery stores, so I switched gears and used almond paste.  Truth be told, I like it both ways, but this one is a bit more involved since I added a little Karo and Amaretto.  Whatever works for you is fine - I'm sure you could do it with just the paste, but since the recipe I originally started making overnight french toast with called for 1/4 cup maple syrup, I figured a tablespoon of Karo instead would be fine.

You can play around with different breads, too.  When we did it together, we used a big loaf of sweet bread.  This time, I used a loaf of Challah.  I used a baguette for my last French Toast and didn't have enough, so I even cubed a couple of club rolls I had on hand to fill in the gaps.  I would just recommend NOT using sandwich bread - you want something thicker and sturdier.


INGREDIENTS :
1 loaf Challa Bread
4 oz almond paste
1 T corn syrup
2 T Amaretto
3 oz cream cheese
3-4 T apricot preserves
3 eggs
4 T butter, melted then cooled
3 T sugar
1 1/2 c milk
Sliced almonds (optional)
Powdered sugar and/or Syrup of choice
Cooking spray or additional butter

  • Spray or butter a casserole dish
  • Thick slice the bread, lining the dish with one layer
  • In a small bowl, mash together the almond paste, corn syrup and Amaretto
  • Spread the paste over the bread, topping that with the preserves
  • Cover with a second layer of bread
  • Dot that layer all over with the cream cheese
  • Top with remaining bread
  • Beat together the eggs, butter, sugar, and milk, then pour over the top, pressing down to make sure the mixture soaks into all of the bread
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight
  • Remove from fridge and let warm up a bit while you pre-heat the oven to 375
  • Top with almonds if desired, then cover with foil and bake 20"
  • Remove foil and bake for another 40" or so until golden and set in the center
  • Serve dusted with powdered sugar and/or syrup


Mash together the almond paste, Karo, and Amaretto
Top bread with paste mixture, then preserves and another layer of bread


Dot all over with cream cheese
Top with remaining bread

Cover and refrigerate overnightBeat the eggs, milk, butter, and sugar and pour over the top, pressing down



Top with slivered almonds and bake at 375 20" covered, 40" uncovered


Dust with powdered sugar and/or a drizzle of syrup

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or a drizzle of syrup

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and/or a drizzle of syrup



Friday, December 13, 2013

Finish the Sentence Friday: My Favorite Christmas Tradition Is ...

Hye Thyme Cafe: Finish the Sentence Friday
1st X-Mass I have memories from - possibly also my first footie pajamas
J

This week's Finish the Sentence Friday prompt was a twofer:  

"This holiday season, I will ..."
OR
"My favorite Christmas tradition is ..."

One tradition in our family growing up was that our Mom would get us each one new Christmas ornament every year.  That way, once we were out on our own, we would already have a starter set, plus the memories that came with them.  My funniest was the year I opened a plastic gold bell.  I thought it was an odd (and kinda crappy/cheap) choice, but didn't want to be rude, so I said the appropriate Thank Yous and went to put it on the tree.  Mom started laughing and told me to open it.  Open?  It was a ring box!  Inside was a fabulous amethyst ring.  :)

I picked up the torch and started giving my nephews a new ornament each year.  Sometimes it's very easy to decide, but other times, not so much!  If, say, they took a trip, started a new hobby, passed a milestone, etc. during the year, I'll try to get something to reflect that.  Otherwise, I'll look for something that's either funny, or beautifully crafted.

Another tradition we had (no longer applies) came about as a result of my Mom's sister and her family moving from the Boston area to the New Orleans area when we were kids.  Knowing how crazy things could be on Christmas day, especially with six girls between the two families, we took to opening gifts from each other by phone on Christmas Eve so we could spend a little long-distance holiday time together.  Before they moved, we would spend Christmas Eve at their house and Christmas day at ours.  We would all gather around the piano(s) singing Christmas carols, etc.  I miss those days!  :(

This one isn't so much a tradition as a "catch them if you can..."  There is a sugar cookie recipe we have always made for Christmas.  It's one of those recipes where the dough is rolled into balls and rolled in sugar, then pressed into shape with a buttered/sugared glass/mug bottom and decorated with sprinkles, etc.  We try to do it when everyone will be around so we can all take part in the decorating.  We've had some pretty silly cookies as a result.

I can't recall who's idea our most recently adopted tradition was.  I'm thinking maybe my brother in law.  It doubtless came about as the result of a stomach ache!!  When it comes to food on the holidays in our family, it can get pretty crazy.  You were practically ready to explode just from the bazillion appetizers and the nibbles (peanuts, holiday candies, etc.).  Our new system kills two birds with one stone - now that the kids are older and alternate holidays with girlfriends' families, etc. sometimes we'll have them on Christmas Eve, other times Christmas day.  We started serving appetizers and desserts on Christmas Eve for whoever is there (maybe some neighbors/friends will join), then have our family dinner on Christmas day, and on Christmas night, pull out any remaining desserts (and maybe an extra or two).  We find that stretching it out this way works MUCH better.  You get get to enjoy all the goodies, and the company if not everyone can be with you on Christmas day, without feeling sick to your stomach or having to pass up on something because you're too full.

As for my FAVORITE, I guess that would have to be the Christmas ornaments, and I'm hoping the boys will pass that one down to their kids when they have them.  I can be kind of a holiday time capsule.  :)

What about your family, any traditions you'd like to share?  



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Feel free to share in the comments below, on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #FTSF, or if you're a blogger, link up with one of the host blogs:




Next week's prompt will be:  "This holiday season, I will ..."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pesto Chicken Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Hye Thyme Cafe: Pesto Chicken Baked Macaroni and Cheese


Ahhh, winter comfort food! I love Baked Macaroni and Cheese. I usually make it with jalapenos nowadays, but I was in a pesto mood and had a rotisserie chicken in the fridge, so I decided to try something different. I'm glad I did. It was great hot the first time around, and I was nibbling on it cold out of the fridge for the next few days before freezing the rest.


INGREDIENTS :
12 oz pkg small shell pasta
4 T butter
4 T flour
2 1/4 c milk
black pepper
8 oz muenster cheese, shredded or fine diced (see note*)
3 slices American cheese, cut or broken into pieces
3/4 c pesto
2 c torn or diced cooked chicken
2 T grated Parmesan
2 T seasoned dry bread crumbs
Butter

  • Cook the pasta to al dente in lightly salted water
  • While the pasta is cooking, whisk together the butter and flour over medium heat until it becomes foamy and thickens
  • Slowly whisk the milk into the butter/flour mixture and bring up to a simmer
  • Whisk the cheese into the milk mixture, a little at a time, until melted
  • Season with black pepper  
  • When your pasta is done, stir in the pesto to get it nicely coated, then add the chicken
  • Pour about half of the cheese mixture over the pasta, stirring well to make sure it has a chance to fill in the shells
  • Add as much of the remaining cheese mixture as you like - just so it's not floating over the top
  • Transfer the mixture to a lightly buttered or sprayed casserole dish
  • Mix together the Parmesan and bread crumbs and sprinkle over the top, then dot with butter
  • Bake at 325 for about an hour until the top is golden and the cheese is bubbly


* NOTE:  If you have some odds and ends bits of cheese in the fridge that need to be used up, go right ahead and throw them in.  If it's more than an ounce or two, you might also want to increase the milk to compensate.  If you have extra sauce once you've set up your casserole, doctor it up with some herbs or spices over the next few days and use it for a sauce over veggies.  Or freeze the rest for another occasion.

Whisk butter and flour into a blonde roux
Add milk and cheeses until melted, then season with black pepper

Add torn/diced chicken to pesto/shell mixture
Stir pesto into cooked shells



Bake at 325 for about an hour until golden and bubblyAfter adding the cheese, sprinkle Parm/bread crumbs over top and dot with butter

Hye Thyme Cafe: Pesto Chicken Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Hye Thyme Cafe: Pesto Chicken Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Hye Thyme Cafe: Pesto Chicken Baked Macaroni and Cheese



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