Friday, January 11, 2008

Apricot Purses and Gingerbread Men

Cook’s Corner
Betty Kaiser

In this first column of the New Year, I would like to thank those of you who have called, written or emailed to welcome me back to the pages of the Sentinel. Your words of encouragement have warmed my heart. It is good to be back sharing recipes, memories and lives with my neighbors here in the Grove and around the county.

Like most of you, I am not a dietician or fancy chef. I’m just a cook with some training and years of professional experience. So, if you’ve got a burning cooking question, send it in to me. I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

One reader recently emailed me a query about measuring pecans for my cream cheese sno-balls recipe. The ingredients called for one-cup finely chopped pecans.

The question was “Do you measure the pecans before or after chopping?”

Personally, I was taught to measure out a heaping cup (or whatever the amount called for) of dry ingredients and then chop. I then re-measure the ingredients and adjust the amount up or down as needed.

There can be confusion on this matter because of the way some recipes are worded. Technically speaking, if the recipe says,” ½ cup chopped nuts,” you would chop and then measure. If the recipe says, “½-cup nuts, chopped,” then you would measure and chop. I don’t think that you can go wrong with either method.

Most cooks love to share a good recipe (although we all have a few secrets that we keep). As readers share fresh recipes and cooking ideas, I will try to pass them on to you. The difficulties, of course, are space restrictions or if we’re getting too many of one kind. Today, I have a couple of recipes to share before they get lost in my post-holiday, decidedly unorganized kitchen. Both are cookie recipes.

My immediate neighborhood’s annual cookie party was a great success both in the variety of cookies and the variety of people who came. Although we did not have an official contest, I think we would all agree that Nadine Kelley’s “Apricot Purses” were the blue-ribbon winner in all categories — appealing appearance, original and tasty. These purses are absolutely delicious and you must try them.

Another neighbor, (a little farther down the road), sent in a cute picture of a gingerbread man cookie with its recipe. I haven’t made these yet but they are definitely on my list. I added a few decorating ideas to the recipe. Give them a try.

And finally, thanks to the sharp eyes of many readers, today’s Cook’s Corner contains the corrected version of “Quick Chunky Ham and Potato Soup.” From the positive feedback that I’ve gotten, the soup was a big hit. However, I did leave the milk out of the ingredients list. I’d like to say that I was just testing your cooking skills but ‘taint so! My fingers just forgot to type “3 cups of milk and 1 teaspoon dill.”

Phyllo and Apricot Purses
(Nadine Kelley)

1/2 cup ready to eat dried apricots
3 tablespoons Apricot compote or conserve
3 macaroons, crushed
3 phyllo pastry sheets
4 tsp butter melted plus extra for greasing
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Lightly grease baking sheet with butter.
Chop apricots fairly finely, put them in a bowl and stir in the apricot compote. Add the crushed macaroons and mix together well.

Cut phyllo pastry into 24 x 5" squares; pile the squares on top of each other and cover with a clean dishtowel to prevent drying.

Lay one pastry square on a flat surface and brush lightly with melted butter; lay another square on top. Brush the top square with butter.

Spoon a small amount of apricot mixture in the center of pastry; bring up the edges and pinch together in a moneybag shape. Repeat with remaining pastry squares.

Arrange on baking sheet and bake for 5—8 minutes until golden.
Transfer to wire rack and dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm.

Note: Nadine says that these usually make a dozen or more.

Gingerbread Men
(Susie Thompson)

½ cup brown sugar, packed
1-teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
¾ cup molasses
1 egg
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1-teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Chill dough and roll out to desired thickness. Cut out the cookies, using a gingerbread boy cutter. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a lightly greased baking sheet. Press raisins or chocolate chips into dough for eyes, nose and mouth. Candied cherries or even cinnamon candies may be used artistically as shirt buttons. Bake about 15 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from pan. When cool, decorate with icing for collar, cuffs, belt and shoes.

Quick Chunky Potato and Ham Soup
(Corrected version from 12/26/07)

4 red potatoes
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ cup margarine
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
1-cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3 ounces cream cheese
2 cups ham, diced
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

Put potatoes in pot and cover with boiling water. Cook until nearly tender. Drain, reserving some of the liquid if broth needs thinning. Peel the potatoes, (leaving some of the skin on for color) and dice.

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté chopped onion until tender. Add flour to mixture and stir until smooth. Cook until bubbly to remove starchy taste. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Add reserved broth if consistency is too thick.

Slowly stir in cream cheese, cheddar cheese and ham. Add salt, pepper and dill. Simmer the soup over very low heat, for about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with green onions.

Note: If you have a lot of leftover mashed potatoes, they can be substituted for the red ones.

Keep it simple and keep it seasonal!
Betty Kaiser’s Cook’s Corner is dedicated to sharing a variety of recipes 
that are delicious, family oriented and easy to prepare.

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