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By Chef Todd

Chocolate Easter Eggs You Can Make Yourself

Chocolate Easter Eggs that you buy in the store have questionable chocolate quality. I'm a chocolate fiend, I could have Chocolate At Every Meal, and just as I always assure the source of ALL my food, the same is true for Easter chocolate. I don't want sweetened vegetable oil, I want good quality chocolate!

Let's be honest, after you dye two-dozen hard boiled eggs and stink up your kitchen with vinegar and egg perfume, what do you do with those eggs? Can you eat THAT much egg salad within two days? I'm not a fan of egg salad, but I DO love chocolate and chocolate eggs have a much longer shelf life. They are a lot more fun to make as well!

The reason many people avoid making their own chocolate Easter eggs may be because they've tried in the past and became frustrated at chocolate that would melt, but never return to a hard candy coating. That's because the key to making chocolate Easter eggs is not melting chocolate, but tempering chocolate.

Tempering is a process where you melt chocolate to a precise 100F, and then add room-temperature chocolate to it. This aligns the crystalline structure and allows it to return to a crunchy state. This is the same method I used when I showed you how to "Make Your Own Chocolates For Valentines Day."

After the chocolate is correctly tempered, then your creativity can take over and use any shape as a mold. To create chocolate Easter eggs, I use a plastic one and apply chocolate to the inside with a pastry brush. I've also used small tart pans, muffin cups, and paper muffin tin liners.

I can't decide whether to make a cream egg or a peanut butter and chocolate Easter egg, but I can make both. Peanut butter can be sweetened with powdered sugar to make a great filling. Or, powdered sugar, water, and vanilla will make my simple cream filling.

This is where the fun and the mess arrives, because filling the chocolate eggs must be done quickly. The more you handle the chocolate, the more quickly it will melt from the heat in your hands. Fill them quickly, apply more tempered chocolate to the edges as a "glue", and seal the egg with another molded half.

Making your own chocolate Easter eggs is fun but takes some kitchen technique to complete successfully. Chocolate is better than dyed eggs, and creating your own holiday treats gives you pride in your accomplishment.

Do you think this is too much work for the reward?
Please leave your comment below:

By Chef Todd

Make Coconut Rum Bananas Foster a New Holiday Tradition

New holiday traditions are being created in my house with Koloa Coconut Rum.

Bananas Foster is easy, fun, entertaining, and even tastier with coconut rum. This dish was created in New Orleans originally, but food is globally mobile. The history of food is filled with explorers, pirates, and adventurers. An ingredient was brought from one country to another, conquered islands saw new foods brought from their occupiers, and chefs today combine world flavors into "fusion" cuisine.

So, there's no reason I can't take this southern American dish and make it Hawaiian with the help of the Koloa Rum Company and their new Kauai Coconut Rum.

Bananas Foster uses a basic saute method, just as if the bananas were a chicken breast. The method is the same.

Ingredients:
1 banana
Brown Sugar
Butter
Koloa Coconut Rum
Shredded Coconut

You know I don't believe in recipes, so the amount of the above ingredients is entirely up to your tastes and desires.

1) PAN HOT FIRST - the biggest mistake home cooks make in saute is starting with a cold pan.
2) Melt Butter - The best thing for melting butter is.....melted butter! (You'll see why)
3) Add Brown sugar - make a sweet paste with the butter
4) Saute the banana - I like the banana split into two pieces, but you could certainly cut rounds or "coins" from the fruit instead
5) Deglaze - cover the bottom of the pan with Koloa Kauai Coconut Rum and let it reduce into a thickened sauce.
6) Garnish - shredded coconut

If you decide to ignite the rum, "flambe", PLEASE BE CAREFUL.

Never pour alcohol into a pan over an open flame. The flame can ignite the rum all the way into the bottle in your hands and explode! If you're using a gas stove, pour the rum into a small dish first, then into the pan. Or, remove the pan from the flame, add the rum, and return to flame.

Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope it's filled with food, friends and family!

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By Chef Todd

Try Hawaii Coconut Hot Chocolate and You'll Forget That Swiss Miss!

She's no good for you, that Swiss Miss. She may seem all sweet and warm, but she's a fake. She's had some work done, full of chemicals and preservatives. How could she do that to you?

With the cold of Winter upon us, I can think of no better way to warm up than hot chocolate. If you add the warmth of Hawaii, then you're really got something that will melt the snow in your head.

To 2 heaping Tablespoons of good quality cocoa, I add 1 Tablespoon brown sugar and 1 ounce of my favorite Koloa Coconut Rum. This will make a cocoa paste that will dissolve more easily than adding hot milk to dry powder.

6 ounces of hot milk is then whisked into the paste and you're on your way to Kauai in your mind.
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By Chef Todd

A Chef’s Potluck Party Tips to Make Them Jealous.

A potluck party can be a food nightmare. As a professional Chef and caterer, few things offend my culinary senses more than the holiday potluck party. With hot items going cold, badly portioned and picked-through platters, nacho dip next to brownies, and unidentifiable entrees all sharing the same table, it’s no wonder that this random buffet will impugn all the work you’ve put into your dish.

To be a stand out in this noise of nourishment, this cafeteria of chaos, you need a plan. The best potluck party has home chefs that keep the following in mind:

1) Keep It Warm - If you’re donating a hot dish, you must find a way to keep it hot. Whether a chafing dish or crock pot, assure the safety and appeal of the food by keeping it warm. If you can’t assure that your hot dish will stay hot, prepare something that is appropriate either way.

2) Transportation – Don’t prepare anything with loose sauces or that is delicately assembled. During the ride to the potluck party, sauces will shift, garnishes will fall, fried items will get soggy. Prepare items that won’t degrade during transportation.

3) Disposables - You’re never going to see that serving bowl or tongs again, understand that. Why add the stress of stalking your bowl at the end of the party? Get attractive disposables at your local party store and you won’t have to call the next day to retrieve your items.

4) Signage - You can lead the expectations of your diners by telling them what they’re eating. Create small “tent” signage for your dish and people can avoid allergy issues, or gobble it up because they are attracted to your description.

5) Presentation, Presentation, Presentation - As I said, this random buffet will have cold salmon next to cookies, string beans next to cake, so how you present your potluck party dish can have great impact. A simple doily under your cake, or colorful napkin beneath the platter will present your dish in the best light.

6) Refresh, Replenish - Potluck buffets get picked-through very quickly, making your dish look unattractive. Be prepared to stir, re-portion, or replenish your item with fresh reserves. Rather than on large casserole, consider multiple smaller ones that you can replace.

7) Be Original - Yawn! Someone WILL bring a nacho dip. Someone WILL bring salsa and a string bean casserole. Someone WILL bring wings. Create something conversation worthy at your potluck dinner and you’re the star!

8) Don’t Over-Produce! - EVERYONE is going to bring an entire party’s amount of food. Everyone won’t eat an entire party’s amount of food. Your portions should be half of a traditional entrée portion because of the wide variety of food also on the buffet.

A holiday potluck party can be great fun. For me, it can be a culinary nightmare. Please help me awake from this bad dream by following some of the ideas above to keep your buffet contribution hot, attractive, identifiable, fresh, original, and in the appropriate quantity.

What’s your go-to meal for a potluck party? Leave me a comment below:

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By Chef Todd

These Uses for Leftover Turkey Will Un-Clog Your Refrigerator

Since thanksgiving cooking planning starts at your desk and not your stove, you may not have any food remaining after the meal. To reduce wasted time, money, and food, this is the best approach.

Do you start thinking about uses for leftover turkey as soon as the meal begins or does all that food just get loaded into your refrigerator?

However, if you’ve planned to create leftovers or it just worked out that way, there are many uses for leftover turkey that you can assemble immediately after the meal to avoid clogging your refrigerator with an assortment of unrelated cold food items.

You can assure the safety of your leftover turkey if you’ve adhered to the most important thanksgiving cooking tip of all and used a thermometer to cook to a precise internal temperature. Now, to keep the food safe, it must be refrigerated.

Rather than load multiple plastic bags, plastic containers or tin-foil sculptures into your refrigerator, go ahead and create the meals NOW, assuring the items will be used in the near future.

The first thing to do is clean the turkey carcass of any meat. You can try to wrap that disassembled bird or put a bag over it, but it’s going to dry out quickly. Removing the meat and using the carcass for turkey stock is the best way to retain the quality for use in leftovers.

With the carcass cleaned, you can start to create uses for leftover turkey that you might never have thought of. Turkey Tettrazzini is a simple dish of pasta, vegetables, turkey, and white sauce. If you use thin soup noodles or broken angel hair pasta, it doesn’t even need to be cooked ahead of time.

I’ve advised you to make roux, the turkey gravy thickener that Grandma ignored, in advance for just this occasion. You can thicken simmering milk with the pre-made roux and add the cheeses or seasonings you desire to bind the Turkey Tettrazzini.

Turkey Chili or Turkey Sloppy Joes are another great use for leftover turkey. With a simple sauté of chopped onions or peppers, you can add shredded turkey, tomato paste, and beans if you’d like for a quick weekday dinner.

Even simpler is a Shepherd’s Pie. Just combine all your leftovers in a casserole or pie tin. First turkey, then vegetables, then gravy, and top with mashed potatoes to be baked later in the week.

With a background of basic cooking methods, you can create any use for leftover turkey that you desire. The key to saving your investment in food, reducing time in the kitchen, and eliminating waste is to create your turkey leftovers immediately and avoid clogging your refrigerator.

Please share your uses for leftover turkey ideas with a comment below:

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By Chef Todd

Apple Cranberry Sauce that Didn’t Slide From a Can

Apple Cranberry Sauce is something unique that you can add to your holiday table this year and avoid the gelatinous creature that slides from a can every holiday meal.

I’m not crazy about cranberry sauce in the first place. Cranberries are very tart and sour. That’s why they’re combined with sugars and corn syrups, binders, and preservatives before being molded into the shape of a can.

Rather than eating what the cranberry cannery is serving up, I choose to make my own cranberry sauce with ingredients that I like. Apples will add a natural sweetness to the tart cranberries while contributing a special flavor to the otherwise one-dimensional side dish.

After peeling 3 Granny Smith Apples and cutting them into cubes, I add a 6 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, and a ½ cup of dried cranberries to a stove-top sauce pan. Under direct heat, the cranberries and apples will release moisture, making a chunky fruit compote.

Perhaps you like your apple cranberry sauce very chunky. That’s fine, you can leave it as is. For me, I prefer a smoother side dish, so the heated fruit is added to my food processor. After a few pulses, I have the texture and consistency I’m looking for.

All I have to do now is adjust seasonings. Keeping with the holiday flavor profile, I like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in my new creation.

It’s just that simple to avoid canned cran this holiday season. If you can peel and cut an apple, open a bag of cranberries, and heat the items together until soft, you can create an apple cranberry sauce that will beat the carved turkey for the center of the table.

Apples aren’t the only thing you can add to sweeten cranberries. Leave a comment with your suggestion:

 

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By Chef Todd

Holiday Fun with Brown Sugar Ham Glaze and a Blowtorch

Making your own brown sugar ham glaze is so simple that you won’t need to buy a commercially prepared sweet-baked ham this year. You can save money by buying, baking, and glazing your own ham this holiday season.

Brining Turkey is Better Than Burning Down Your House was my advice for people to avoid the dangers of deep frying turkeys this year. It may seem a contradiction to now advise you to apply a blowtorch to ham, but the flame that caramelizes sugar is a much more targeted use of heat than dropping a whole carcass into boiling fat.

It’s a lot easier to slice ham than carve turkey anyway, so you may choose to create a brown sugar ham glaze instead of turkey this year. Even if you start with an inexpensive pre-cooked ham, you can still use this method to make a flavorful dinner that you’d expect to pay a lot for.

In a stove-top sauce pan, I combine 1 cup brown sugar, ½ cup orange marmalade, 1/3 cup bourbon, and ¼ cup whole grain mustard. You can use the ingredients you desire, perhaps substituting apple jam for the marmalade and apple juice for the bourbon. What ever ingredients you choose, they are heated until they form a thick syrup that can be brushed on the ham.

There are two steps to creating a sweet-topped ham. The first is to fully cook the ham to assure the safety of the food. However, we don’t want to dry it out. Actually, we want to initially ADD as much moisture to the ham as possible. This means we need a moist, convective cooking method.

The best way to retain moisture is to cook the ham in the oven, supported on a rack in a roasting pan. You can add a flavorful liquid like apple juice, pineapple juice, or vegetable stock and cover the pan with a lid or foil.

In this enclosed environment, the ham will steam in the flavorful liquid, giving greater moisture and flavor to the inexpensive ham you’ve purchased.

However, a crunchy brown sugar ham glaze is created by caramelizing sugars. Sugars turn brown and brittle at 320F (160C) in a dry environment. That’s why it’s now time to switch to a dry, conductive application of heat.

After brushing the first coat of the brown sugar ham glaze, the ham is returned to the oven. This time, it’s uncovered and any liquid is removed from the pan. Remember, we want direct dry heat. So, you should place the ham as close to the top of the oven as possible.

Once the glaze is dried and begins to caramelize, that’s when you can really make a hard candy shell by using a blowtorch, propane torch, or crème brulee’ torch to apply intense heat directly to the glaze.

The key to creating your own brown sugar ham glaze is to create a thick syrup using brown sugar, jam, liquid and a condiment. Then, your control of indirect moist heat, as well as direct dry heat will give you the most flavorful holiday ham that you created yourself.

What ingredients would you use in your ham glaze? Please leave your comment below:

Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

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Brown Sugar Ham Glaze is just one method when you learn to cook

By Chef Todd

Squash Gratin: A Delicious and Easy Recipe for Acorn Squash

Acorn Squash are plentiful this time of year, but without a recipe for acorn squash, most shoppers avoid this large, heavy, ugly, tough orb because it is intimidating. “Where would I begin to know how to cook that thing”? people ask themselves. Even if they’re brave enough to buy it, they now need to search for recipes. That takes time. That takes effort. It’s not fun.

Below is my simple "recipe" for Squash Gratin. Recipe is in quotes because as you follow this procedure, you are free to make changes and enhancements as you develop your own recipe. But don't worry - I'll give you enough tips to make it easy! Let's get started...

Acorn squash is a tough nut to crack, so some basic knife skills are in order to remove the waxy outer skin. With a serrated slicing knife, I first remove the top and bottom of the squash. Then, carving around the contour, I remove all the skin, revealing the bright yellow/orange color of the flesh. Cut it in half, remove the seeds, and cut it into cubes.

Next, we will be roasting (or baking) the squash, which is a basic cooking method that uses hot air to transfer heat to food. This is called a dry convective cooking process. The only problem with cooking with dry air is that it dries out the product your cooking. Moisture evaporates in a hot oven, giving you dry results.

We’ll add moisture to this dish by creating a simple white sauce. Having combined butter and flour to create roux, I added milk and goat cheese to create a creamy, cheesy, bright white sauce. Once we coat our cubed acorn squash in the white sauce, it will help retain moisture through the long, dry cooking process.

You don't need to make your own white sauce in creating this recipe for acorn squash. Condensed soups work very well in helping keep your foods from drying out in the oven. This is a quick and easy way to create a flavorful recipe for acorn squash without much cooking knowledge at all.

Chopped walnuts are a Fall flavor that would compliment this dish, so I’ve chosen to include them in my creation. Once spooned into a casserole dish and topped with bread crumbs or shredded cheese, we’ve created our own recipe for acorn squash – an Acorn Squash Gratin.

You can use this very same method to create any recipe you desire, using any products you desire. Don’t avoid the fresh ingredients of Fall because you’d have to search for written instructions. Once you think about HOW you’ll cook the item, you’ll be creating your own recipes for acorn squash using these suggestions.

What variations on my Acorn Squash Gratin might you suggest? Leave me a comment below with your improvements to my method.

If you like this recipe for acorn squash gratin, you can browse the rest of the cooking advice found on my blog.

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By Chef Todd

My #1 Favorite Holiday Sweet

Right out with it - it’s chocolate soufflé. My favorite holiday sweet is chocolate soufflé. Usually when people do these “countdown” type blogs, they really stretch it out. It’s not a holiday cake, it’s not cookies for Christmas, it’s chocolate soufflé, my favorite sweet Christmas dish.

Over the past few days, I’ve brought to mind many holiday treats, some traditional, some that might be new to you, but all distinctly holiday dessert ideas like croquembouche, bouche noel, spritz cookies, and linzer tart cookies.

So why is chocolate soufflé my favorite holiday sweet
when it’s not directly associated as a Christmas dessert? It’s the texture, plain and simple. On a cold winter’s night, this warm, airy, dessert feels like holiday cake meets chocolate pudding, a mini hearth in a ramekin cup.

The soft, warm texture of a soufflé is unique
because of the two-part mixing method that incorporates a tremendous amount of air. The soufflé has no yeast, it has no baking powder. It is leavened by the steam created in the oven. Like a velvet balloon, it rises under heat, and falls delicately back down in the absence of it. I create a momentary snow flurry with powdered sugar, and then burst it with one stroke of the spoon, continuing until I’m desperately scraping the browned-on chocolate from the side of the dish.

Chocolate soufflé is another sweet Christmas dish that is much easier to prepare than its French name would have you think, and worthy of your consideration as a holiday dessert. It’s my number one favorite holiday sweet, next to Heather.

 




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