Bourbon Balls

Probably the best thing about Winter here is that as far South as we live, it doesn’t very often get just uncomfortably cold…it’s nice weather to be outside most of the time. The part I enjoy the least is that there aren’t very many festivals going on.

Every so often, I go through the different state tourism websites, and I keep a little calendar on my computer of things that sound like they’d be fun to go to. For instance, next month starts the ‘festival season’ around here. There’s the George Lindsey Film Festival at UNA, Spring Pilgrimage in Selma and Natchez and Vicksburg, the Outsider Do-Nanny in Pittsview, the Art Car Parade in Baton Rouge – and all kinds of other things I can’t wait to go to!

One thing that’s going on this week is the annual Literary and Cinema Celebration in Natchez, and this year it’s themed, “Biscuits, Gumbo, Sweet Tea, and Bourbon Balls.” I can’t be there, but it does sound like it would be interesting…they’re giving talks about the ‘Mississippi Hot Tamale Trail’, there’s a program with the ladies that wrote ‘Being Dead Is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral’ which I have and is wonderful and hilarious, they’re showing ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ and a documentary on barbecue, and watching a Tennessee Williams play. And a million other things. I think it sounds wonderful.

So, I got thinking about it the program in Natchez and what it’s called this year – and Av is accustomed to me making him biscuits, gumbo, and sweet tea, but I’ve never made bourbon balls for him – so that’s exactly what I made tonight for a little treat.

This recipe makes oh, probably thirty or forty bourbon balls, so they’re perfect for a party. With this particular recipe, they can be frozen for a while too, so you can make a batch and then a week or two later take them back out and enjoy them then.

The more traditional recipe for bourbon balls calls for vanilla wafers and cocoa, but this recipe is a little different, mostly because the wafers aren’t used, and the bourbon balls are actually dipped in chocolate. Av likes just about anything chocolate, so I figured this recipe would suit him best:

Bourbon Balls

2 cups powdered sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1-1/2 cup pecans, chopped as fine as you like
4 tbsp bourbon (I used Maker’s Mark for these)
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, thinned with a couple tbsp. butter and a splash of sweet milk (this is one of those things that you just have to play with the consistency, getting it not too thick and not too thin. Melt this chocolate/butter/milk mixture using the double boiler method – in a bowl over a simmering pot of water.)Directions:Cream together the softened butter and powdered sugar. Once the butter and sugar is mixed together well, add the chopped pecans. I like the pecans in these to be pretty fine, but it’s entirely up to your preference.

Add the bourbon, and mix again until the pecans and bourbon are entirely incorporated:

Bourbon Balls

Place the mixture into a bowl, and set this in the freezer for an hour or so:

Bourbon Balls

Even though the mixture will be cold, it will still be pliable enough to work into a round shape. I make these round and put them back in the freezer for a few minutes more (on parchment paper, on a baking sheet is easiest) just to make certain they hold their shape when they’re dipped in the chocolate:

Bourbon Balls

Next, I melt the chocolate mixture using the double boiler method. I use a toothpick and pick up the frozen rounds, dip them in the melted chocolate, and put them on a seperate baking sheet with parchment paper. Once these are all done, I pop them in the freezer until they’re all set up (just a few minutes) and they’re ready to enjoy.

Bourbon Balls


Peanut Brittle

Av *loves* peanut brittle (I like peanuts but not peanut brittle), so when I was flipping through the December issue of the Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine, I noticed they had what looked like a super-simple recipe for it.

I asked Av to stay out of the kitchen for thirty minutes so I could make him a little surprise – enough for him munch on and to share at the office (as it turns out, his dad likes it so he got half!).

Here’s the recipe for peanut brittle:

1-1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light Karo syrup
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 c. peanuts (or the recipe says you could use mixed nuts if you like)
splash of vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. baking soda

I took a sheet of parchment paper, put it on a baking sheet, then rubbed butter all over the parchment paper so that the peanut brittle would be sure not to stick. The recipe in the magazine says to use non-stick cooking spray on a plain baking sheet, but I think I like my method a little better (I don’t like those sprays).

In a bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, and Karo until it’s mixed really well, then microwave on high for four minutes. At that point, add in the butter and nuts and stir really well again – then microwave another 4-5 minutes (mine was perfect at 4-1/2 minutes) – it will look a little brown on the top, then as you stir the mixture it will turn a really pretty shade. Take it out of the microwave (carefully – it’s super-hot) and add the vanilla and baking soda, mixing really well. Pour it as soon as it’s all mixed together into your baking sheet. I didn’t need to use a spoon or spatula or anything to spread it out, it was so hot that it sort-of did that all on its own. The brittle takes about 20-30 minutes to harden, then it’s ready to be broken up into pieces and to be eaten. Av *loved* it!

First You Make A Roux

We had the most wonderful Chanukah / New Year Day party last night! We got and gave lots of great presents, supper was awesome, and we all laughed and giggled all night.

Everything we made last night turned out really great. We started with a chicken and beef sausage gumbo, then had lamb chops, collards, black-eyed peas, deviled eggs, and latkes, and for dessert I made cupcakes and Southern sufganiyot – beignets.

The best thing I made for supper was my chicken and beef sausage gumbo.

First, you start with a roux, and this gumbo needs a dark roux (the pic below is about 75% of the way there). The dark roux is 3/4 c. vegetable oil and 1 c. flour (I always use White Lily). Heat the oil until it’s very hot, then add the flour little by little until it’s all incorporated. Put the heat down to medium-high, and keep stirring – you have to stir the entire time, no stopping for anything. The roux starts out an ivory color, and several minutes later, when you’re sick of stirring, it will change to tan, light brown, brown, and when it starts to look like the shade of a Hershey bar, take it off the heat, stir for a while longer, and you’re done. The roux will be about 8 zillion degrees hot, though, so be super careful when you pour it into a bowl to use a bit later.
First, You Make A Roux...
Here are the ingredients for my chicken and beef sausage gumbo:

2 cans chicken stock (or if you have homemade, same amount, even better)
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
okra – as many or as few as you like, chopped
1 package beef polish sausage, chopped into small bite-size pieces
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into small bite-size pieces
the roux (above)
cayenne, black pepper, and salt to taste
rice (cook separately, for serving with the gumbo)

* Saute the chicken in a little oil, cook and set aside in bowl.
* Saute the beef sausage in a little oil, cook and set aside in bowl.
* Saute onion, bell pepper, okra, and celery until onion starts browning. Add chicken and sausage back to the pot.
* Pour chicken stock into pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer. Season well.
* Add the roux a bit at a time so it gets incorporated easily. Bring that to a boil, then simmer for about an hour so that the flavors get more concentrated. Stir several times over the course of the hour.
* Serve over rice.
Yum! This was a *huge* hit.

Av made the lamb chops with a rosemary/parsley/garlic rub, and it was great, as were the latkes he made. I made the black-eyed peas and the collard greens. The collards were sooooo good…that Av even liked him (I would have encouraged him to have them anyway, since traditionally you eat black-eyed peas on New Year Day for coins in the new year, and collard greens for cash)!

Here’s how I made the collard greens:
1 package beef bacon, chopped into good-size pieces
2 red onions, chopped into good-size pieces
1-2 cans chicken broth (homemade is even better)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 bunch collard greens (I just fold each leaf in half and tear them that way, by hand – the ribs are thrown out)
salt, pepper, brown sugar, cayenne to taste

In a big pot, add all the bacon, and cook until done but not yet crispy.
Add onions to pot and cook them through.
Add the broth, vinegar, and collards (I just tear the leaves right over the pot)
Season with the salt/pepper/brown sugar/cayenne once it’s cooked a while.
Put the pot down to simmer, and let them cook however long you like – some people like them more firm (30 minutes or so), but I cook them for two or three hours, because I like them really soft and delicate.

Everything was *so* great, and we had a nice time covering the living room in giftwrap taken off all the presents. I’ve still got four more loads of dishes to do, but after such a great time I sure don’t mind! BTW, I spent all day cooking to my new cd, the Our New Orleans 2005, A Benefit Album. It has Allen Toussaint singing ‘Yes We Can Can’ (I can listen to that ALL DAY LONG!), Preservation Hall Jazz Band (doing ‘Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans’), Davell Crawford, Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Irma Thomas, Wild Magnolias, Randy Newman – who we saw in concert a couple of months ago – doing ‘Louisiana’, and a bunch of others. It’s at Amazon here.

I hope everyone had a great New Year’s Day, and to all my friends and everyone that reads my blog, I hope that every single one of your wishes for 2006 come true.

The First Cocktail : Sazerac

Av and I made Sazeracs at home this week…and they were really nice! I got the recipe from our Arnaud’s cookbook, where it says that the Sazerac was the first cocktail, and that it was invented in New Orleans by Antoine Amedee Peychaud (who invented Peychaud’s Bitters).

The ingredients for one glass are:
2 oz. rye whiskey
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters (if you don’t have Peychaud’s, you can double the Angostura)
3 dashes Angostura bitters
splash of water
2 dashes of Herbsaint or Pernod liqueur
twist of lemon
1 tsp Simple Syrup

To make the simple syrup, just put into a small saucepan regular white granulated sugar and water – at a ratio of 2 portions sugar to every one portion of water. I went ahead and made a small batch (2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of water), because it will keep in the refrigerator for a while. Just cook the sugar-water mixture on the stove, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar completely dissolves – this just takes a few minutes on medium heat. Make sure it cools to room temperature before you use it in any cocktail recipe.
Simple Syrup

Here in the shaker is ice (fill the shaker about half-full), the whiskey, simple syrup, both bitters, and the water. Make sure it combines well.
Making Sazeracs 2

The next step is to take the Herbsaint, pour enough into the glass to coat the interior (just swirl it all around the glass), then pour out what’s left.
Making Sazeracs

Pour the strained drink mixture from the shaker to each glass (we made the recipe 2x for two servings), and pop in a lemon twist. Perfect!

A little different recipe can be found at the Peychaud’s Bitters website here, and we’ll try it that method next time.

Salmon with Salsa Verde Mayonnaise from Donna Hay Magazine

My latest Donna Hay magazine is issue #23, Spring ( Spring is from September to November in Australia, where the magazine is published). One of the lighter dishes is for ‘salmon with salsa verde mayonnaise’, so I made that for supper tonight.

Here’s the recipe for the salsa verde:
1/2 c. dill leaves
1 c. flat-leaf parsley leaves (although I used curly)
1/2 c. mint leaves
2 tbsp. capers
4 anchovy fillets chopped, optional (I used the whole can of Roland anchovies, which I think had 8 inside)
1 garlic clove
black pepper
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c. olive oil

salmon with salsa verde mayonnaise

…then, just chop all the dry ingredients into small pieces, and add the olive oil and lemon juice. I really liked the way it tasted ‘bright’ and fresh.

I cooked two types of salmon for my and Av’s supper. We had two fillets of bourbon salmon (it’s just marinated in a little pineapple juice, soy sauce, and bourbon with some green onion tops) and one fillet of just regular salmon. I broil this on high about five minutes, then turn over and broil another three or four minutes. The worst thing you can do is overcook these, so watch them carefully to make sure they come out really nice and perhaps if anything, a little underdone.
salmon with salsa verde mayonnaise

Below is a pic of the cooked salmon going on the plate. I’ve put some of the salsa verde mayonnaise on my half of the regular cooked salmon filet. To make the salsa verde into a mayonnaise, just add a little regular mayonnaise (I like Duke’s) to the mixture – soooo easy. Very nice!
salmon with salsa verde mayonnaise

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Here’s the pie I made for Av’s family Thanksgiving – it’s a pecan pie with bourbon and chocolate. Here’s the recipe and pictures:

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. sugar
2 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled (so it’s not super-hot when you add it to the bowl)
1 c. corn syrup (Karo)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. bourbon – I used Maker’s Mark
semi-sweet chocolate chips (enough to cover the bottom of the pie crust)
pecans (enough to cover the bottom of the pie crust)
pie crust


Put chocolate chips in to cover the bottom of the pie crust (that’s a pre-made piecrust here — when I make so many at Thanksgiving, I go this route):
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

…then, cover that with pecans. This all floats to the top when the pie cooks, so don’t worry about adding the pecans to the liquid mixture:
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Stir together in a bowl the sugar, eggs, butter, corn syrup, vanilla, and bourbon:
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

…pour that into the pie crust (the pecan pieces float right up to the top):
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Bake at 375* for 40-60 minutes until it doesn’t jiggle in the middle (but be careful not to overcook). This one came out perfectly…can’t wait to have it for Thanksgiving supper!
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Thanksgiving Pies

Well, I *just* got done making all my pies for this Thanksgiving! Here’s my inventory that I started with:
Thanksgiving Pies 2005

…and ten hours later here are most of the pies (I always make 25+ pies for a church that serves lunch on T’giving for a big crowd of hungry people in their neighborhood, plus another couple for Av’s family’s Thanksgiving). Below are pumpkin, pecan, apple, hot fudge, and buttermilk coconut pies.
Thanksgiving Pies 2005
If you like coconut pies, here’s the recipe I use – it’s soooo simple, and the pie always turns out *wonderfully*:

Buttermilk Coconut Pie
1-1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 stick butter
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla
grated coconut – use as much or as little as you like – I use about 1/3 the bag per pie
pie crust

Preheat the oven to 350*. Meanwhile, mix everything together. Once the oven gets to 350*, pour the mixture into your pie crust, and bake for 45 -60 minutes. When the top gets golden and doesn’t jiggle in the middle, it’s done!

Tomato and Pesto Tart

I have really been cooking a lot the last two weeks – and much of it has been new recipes. I guess when Av and I are home for a while I get back into the homekeeping groove that I like so much…when I can just putter and craft and cook and read, etc. etc. etc. This recipe based on a ‘tomato and pesto tart’ from the August 2005 issue of BBC Olive Magazine.

The original recipe calls out for a sheet of puff pastry, but instead, I used a box of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry shells, which made individual servings (and worked out really well).

Here’s my version of the recipe for tomato and pesto tart.  It’s not at all the original, but it’s really great.

1 box puff pastry shells (or you could use a sheet of puff pastry, either way)
1 roma tomato, sliced thinly

Preheat the oven to 400*, and bake puff pastry for about 15 minutes.  Just pop off the shell tops once they are finished baking:
Tomato and Pesto Tart

In the meantime, slice the roma tomato into thin slices, put pesto into the bottom of the shell (as much or as little as you like), dot the top with the mascarpone cheese, put a slice or two of roma on top, and it’s ready to bake again:
Tomato and Pesto Tart
Bake for 10 or so minutes, until the cheese is melted and the tomatoes are cooked well.

All done! They were really good, and one or two of them is a perfect size for lunch.

Supper : Another Arnaud’s Dish – Pompano en Papillote, Stuffed Bell Peppers

Tonight’s supper was really nice – I made three different recipes from three different sources, all for the first time.

The first recipe I started on was for the stuffed bell peppers. This recipe came from the magazine Olive, which is published by BBC in England and is available at the larger bookstores like Barnes & Noble. (The overseas magazines I get each month, like Olive and Good Food from England, and delicious and Donna Hay from Australia are actually less expensive buying them from the bookstore than by getting a subscription.)

My version of the recipe, from the August 2005 issue of Olive for ‘stuffed summer vegetables’ for two people is:

1/2 c. rice, cooked
2 anchovie fillets, chopped pretty finely
4 tbsp pesto
3/4 shallot, chopped
1 roma tomato, chopped
2 bell peppers, tops removed, seeds and ribs removed
olive oil
(the recipe also calls out to add parmesan cheese, sultanas, and to use round courgettes also, but I omitted those items)
Preheat the oven to 400*. Toss a little olive oil in each of the bell peppers and cook them for 10 minutes, then take them out of the oven.

In the meanwhile, mix the cooked rice, anchovies, pesto, shallots, tomato in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. When the bell peppers come out of the oven, fill them with the rice mixture. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes or so.

Pompano Meuniere Amandine

Tonight’s entree was the recipe for Pompano en Papillote from the Arnaud’s cookbook. I went to the Fish Market earlier today and had a whole pompano cut to make fillets. Here’s my version of the recipe to serve two portions:

1/4 stick of butter (softened, to rub on the parchment paper)
1/4 cup green part only of scallions (green onions)
1/4 stalk celery, cut into little matchstick shapes
4 tsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon (tarragon has a distinct licorice flavor)
2 fillets of pompano
salt and pepper
splash of dry white wine
squeeze of fresh lemon
also need: parchment paper, kitchen scissors

Preheat oven to 375*. Cut two pieces of parchment paper into heart shapes, and rub one side of each heart with the softened butter.

Put 1/4 the amount you have of the scallions, celery, dill, and tarragon on the left side of each heart. Put a fillet on top, then cover with the other 1/4 vegetables. Do the same with the other fillet. Splash the white wine and lemon atop the fish, then fold the right side of each heart over and fold to make an air-tight (as possible) seal.

Place each pouch on a baking sheet and bake for 12-16 minutes. The parchment will begin to turn brown, and that’s a sign that it’s cooked enough. Place one pouch onto each supper plate (when you sit down to eat, you’ll just open the pouch and voila! It smells terrific).

Making Pralines

Each year, Av’s parents host a sukkah party at their home. I bring the pralines!

1-1/2 c. white sugar
1-1/2 c. brown sugar
1 c. evaporated milk
1/3 c. butter
1-1/2 c. pecans (you can use more or less)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(also: use a bigger pot than you think you’ll need for this, use a candy thermometer, and have buttered parchment or wax paper ready to spoon the pralines on)


Step one: put both sugars and the evaporated milk in the pot, and heat until the candy thermometer registers 228*. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon during the cooking process. At 228*, add the butter.

The mixture will bubble and pop, so be careful.

Making Pralines
Step two: keep cooking until the mixture reaches 236* (236* is sufficient, but I always cook it to 238*. The thing is, the pralines won’t set unless you’re sure to reach this higher temperature – at least 236*. You don’t want it to go too far over, though, because then the candy will be brittle and grainy and not as good.) Once you reach the higher number, take the pot off the stove and add the pecans and vanilla. Beat the mixture with your wooden spoon until it just starts looking less shiny and more dull. This should take two or three minutes.

Step three: spoon the pralines onto your buttered parchment or wax paper. (Argh! You can see that I forgot I was out of parchment paper! Thankfully I had tin foil, so I just spooned the pralines onto that. It worked just fine.)

…and here they are all set (depending on the weather, they can set in anywhere from one or two hours to a few hours – I always make these the night before I need them so I don’t have to worry about how long they’re taking). Delicious!