Cold Snaps and Warm Rewards

April 23, 2011 at 1:45 am Leave a comment

April 20, 2011

You’ve heard the expression “cold snap.” Well, in a classic Minnesota-style April weather pattern, we experience something more like a crackle – a long, succession of snaps. Picture an obsessive person in possession of a chunk of bubble wrap. 

So-o-o-o, we may cycle from a flash of T-shirt weather to 34° and snowy within just a few days. Then it’s a bump back up to 55° for a day, followed by warnings of another 2-3 inches of snow due to hit on the Wednesday before Easter. I’m sure you can sympathize with our feeling a bit disgruntled over the whole “Is it spring, or isn’t it?” game. 

But on that one glorious 70° day last week, as the little Moon Dog and I step outside into a swaddling of warm air and a shower of sunbeams, my giddiness drives me to Spoonerisms. “Ah, yes,” say I, my voice infused with delight. “The churds are burping and the shun is signing and my sood fairly moars.” 

I actually did utter that first part, surprised by my own spontaneous burst of playfulness. But that was last week. I am jerked back to the chilly present by the announcement that we have inched our way up (pun entirely intended) to number four on the list of snowiest winters on record. Forced into cranking the ol’ furnace back on, I seek out an escape to the fantasy land of pastel Easters Past via internet searches for holiday-themed recipes. 

Such ventures tend to distract for the moment. However, even color photo images of coconut-topped cakes, warm rhubarb compote, and tangerine semifreddo with salted almond brittle can’t erase the shudder-inducing image of that recently, if fleetingly, whitened front lawn that is my Midwestern reality. As all bumpy roads seem to lead to culinary resolutions, I abandon my cares to a good old-fashioned spell of kitchen therapy. There is Easter dinner to be planned and there are jelly bean-topped cupcakes to be baked; there are leftovers in the fridge that call out for some creative recycling. And how about a roasted pear take-off on a web-inspired dessert, and that marvelous pork chop marinade that I simply must pass along? 

To back up a bit, I couldn’t believe my good luck one lunchtime as I discovered that I had leftover rice, rotisserie chicken, chicken sausage, and frozen shrimp, all on-hand at the same time. Dismay soon displaced joy, though, as I scoured my resources for a basic recipe for gumbo. “Basic recipe for dietary disaster,” I was soon mumbling to myself. The approaches I came across called for up to ¾ of a cup of oil and 1-1/2 cups of flour. Yecch squared. My version is a simple soup, not an entire week’s worth of fat and white carbs in a single bowl, and it was mighty darned good, as I am prone to saying so myself. 

All-combined, I am duly motivated to share these happy discoveries, and now present you with a random selection of warm and rewarding gustatory gifts. The Leftover Queen’s Chicken, Sausage, and Shrimp Gumbo is, as implied, an original concoction; Marinated Pork Chops Extraordinaire is an adaptation of a formula found online at Planet Tess (; Roasted Pear Halves with Figs and Queso Fresco was inspired by a more sophisticated offering at; and the decidedly decadent Peanut Butter-Filled Fudge Cupcakes I dug up from my 31-year-old copy of Better Homes and Gardens All-Time Favorite Cake and Cookie Recipes. Sweet. (Pun virtually required.) 

For the gumbo, I had cooked rice in the freezer. If you are using raw rice, add 1 cup along with an additional one-and-one-half cups of water or chicken broth. Otherwise, assemble: 

1 C coarse-chopped red onion                           1 C coarse-chopped white onion

2 C coarse-chopped celery + leaves                2 garlic bouillon cubes*

1-14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes                      1 C thin-sliced smoked sausage**

1 C chicken – dark and/or white meat            2-14 oz cans chicken broth

2 tsp Cajun seasoning**                                        2 C cooked basmati rice

2 C halved shrimp, cooked or raw                    chopped scallion for garnish 

Coat the bottom of a heavy soup kettle with canola oil spray and add onions. Cook over medium-low heat for three-four minutes. Add celery and cook an additional two-three minutes. Add next seven ingredients, stir to combine, and simmer over medium-low heat for one hour. Add raw shrimp during the last ten minutes of simmer time or cooked shrimp just soon enough to heat through, and ladle up with a garnish of scallion, if desired. *Use one clove of minced garlic and ½ tsp salt as a substitute. **I used some really tasty chicken apple sausage I got at Sam’s Club. If using andouille-style sausage, use only 1 tsp of Cajun seasoning. 

I know I offer a lot of pork recipes here, which seems odd since I completely swore off pork for many years. But my table mates are basic poultry-beef-pork types, so I have to do that rotation pretty frequently. Anyway, this only slightly altered marinade recipe is a real keeper, and can be re-served as a succulent sauce for other things after the last pork chop – glistening and redolent with rich, gooey drippings – has been lifted off the platter. 

I served an oriental vegetable stir-fry with a smattering of fennel root, and roasted, cubed sweet and white potatoes with my chops, but a side of mashed or riced spuds would provide an excellent receptacle for the leftover, thoroughly cooked sauce: 

¼ C soy sauce                                                            ¼ C Worcestershire

¼ C red wine or cranberry juice                       ½ C finely diced sweet onion

1-2 crushed garlic cloves                                      ¼ C honey balsamic vinegar

2 TB sweet brown mustard                                   1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil                                                         4 thick-cut pork chops 

Combine first nine ingredients in a deep-sided casserole dish and blend well. Add pork chops and marinate for 2-4 hours, turning several times. Bake at 350° for approximately one hour. Enjoy. 

For the simple roasted pear dessert

4 fresh, firm but ripe pears                                  2 tsp butter

¼ C brandy                                                                 1 TB maple syrup

¼ C Amaretto                                                            ¼ C apple juice or cider

16 dried figs                                                                 1 C crumbled queso fresco 

Preheat oven to 325°. Wash, halve, and core the pears. Put the butter, brandy, maple syrup, Amaretto, and juice or cider in a shallow rectangular baking dish and place it in the oven until the butter melts, then blend those ingredients well with a fork. Lay pears cut-side down in pan and roast for 30 minutes, then flip each pear half over, spoon sauce over the exposed surface, and roast and additional15 minutes. Add a bit more apple juice if the sauce cooks away too quickly. 

Next lay two figs in each pear hollow, baste again, and return to oven for 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven, spoon 2 tablespoons of queso over each pear half, and cover baking dish with aluminum foil until serving time. Carefully lift each serving out to an individual dessert plate, and serve to eight polite dinner guests or four strapping nephews. 

I topped these already, you’ll excuse the expression, nummy cupcakes with chocolate sour cream frosting – another oldie but goodie from that BH&G gem of a cookbook. But believe me, a lily never gilded quite so lusciously, so I highly recommend the combination. Might as well get all the week’s indulgences out of the way at once, I say. 

I did use semi-sweet chocolate in the cupcakes, as opposed to the unsweetened called for in the original recipe, white wheat flour vs. all-purpose, and evaporated skim milk. And of course the instructions are my own, as plagiarism is an intellectual property sin right up there with bootlegging DVDs, just so you know where I stand on that topic: 

2/3 C packed brown sugar                                                       1/3 C milk

2 oz.semi-sweet baking chocolate                    1-1/3 C flour

1 tsp baking soda                                                      ½ tsp salt

1/3 C softened butter                                              2/3 C additional brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla or almond extract                           2 eggs

½ C milk                                                                        3 oz softened cream cheese

1/3 C chunky peanut butter                                  1 TB honey

1 TB additional milk

Chop the chocolate into small pieces and combine it with 2/3 cup brown sugar and the 1/3 cup milk in a heavy saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring, until the chocolate melts, then cool to room temperature. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, and salt. In mixer bowl, beat the butter until creamy, then add the second 2/3 cup brown sugar (softened in the microwave for one minute, if it’s gotten lumpy), and vanilla, and beat until fluffy – or as fluffy as brown sugar and butter can get, anyway. 

Add the eggs (rinsed in hot water, for safety’s-sake and to take the chill off), one at a time, beating well after each addition – about one minute per egg. Add the whisked dry ingredients alternately with the ½ C milk until blended and then, on low, stir in the chocolate mixture. 

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, peanut butter, honey, and one tablespoon milk and beat to combine well. Fill greased muffin tins ¼ full with cake batter, top each with a generous teaspoon of peanut butter filling. Top with another generous tablespoon of batter to cover filling, and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks before frosting with: 

1 C semisweet chocolate chips                           ¼ C butter

1/2 C sour cream                                                     1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

¼ tsp salt                                                                    2-1/2 C powdered sugar 

In a small, microwavable bowl zap the chocolate chips (I used minis) and butter for about 1 minute on high, then stir until chocolate is fully melted. Let sit for ten minutes before proceeding. Stir in sour cream, extract of choice, and salt. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, by hand with a large mixing fork, until smooth and spreadable. (This is not too much sugar, although it may seem to be at first.) Pile frosting onto cupcakes in generous glops and serve with a scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream, if you dare. 

Now they are promising us a high of 60° for Easter Sunday, but even if it snows again instead, I am prepared with an arsenal of warm rewards for my dinner guests that day, with my own take on an Epicurious menu: Say, deviled eggs for starters, followed by a mango-glazed boneless ham with carrots, a three-pea montage with walnuts and dates, three-cheese potatoes au gratin for the sensible gourmet, country-style hot-cross raisin buns, and for desert, Epi’s own Grandma’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie in honor of our family’s own wunderkind of a German grandma, who who just celebrated the end of her 88th year on earth and is very fond of that tart-sweet combination. 

As I look out my window on this Good Friday afternoon, it seems as if that evanescent blanket of snow has left behind it a miracle of greening grass. Cool; very cool. 

And isn’t that a beautiful sort of cycle to be caught up in? Fortitude-requiring events followed by a glorious payoff – so utterly appropriate for a Good Friday posting. Easter blessings to all.

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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