Smoked Fish Spread

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For those of you who have visited the Upper Peninsula  of Michigan (the UP) you know that smoked fish is a “thing.”  As soon as you cross the Mackinac Bridge you start to see little shops with signs hocking smoked fish.  Smoked whitefish, Menominee, salmon, and my personal favorite, smoked trout.  You can buy a whole fish or a slab.  It’s great to eat just as is.  Your fingers get a little greasy and they smell a little fishy but we don’t care.    The fish also makes an excellent spread.  Easy to make.  And you won’t smell as fishy!  My Dad used to make us smoked fish from his fresh catches and I will always remember his as being the very best.  My very favorite.  But Dad is nearly 89 and isn’t fishing much anymore.  So when I visit the UP I frequently get fish for our family and for friends from one of the little shops.

Ingredients:

2 cups (approximately) of smoked fish flaked

4 oz cream cheese at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

3-4 green onions sliced thin

2 T capers

2 T lime juice

2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (1 tsp if you want more kick)

Cracked pepper

Salt to taste

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Use a hand mixer and beat the cream cheese and sour cream together until it is smooth.

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Add the capers, lime juice, black and cayenne pepper, and paprika to the cream cheese, sour cream mixture and stir well to combine.

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Slice the green onions and flake the fish.

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Add the fish and onion to the creamed mixture and blend well.

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Taste before you salt.  Some smoked fish is saltier than others.

This spread is excellent on crackers or served with raw vegetable like celery and carrots.  Great with bread and butter pickles.  You’ll also love it served on another UP tradition.  Finn Crisp.  Rye bread is the most traditional bread in Finland and in some areas of Finland it is baked only a few times a year, then dried and enjoyed year round.  It is baked with a hole in the center allowing the loaves to be hung on dowels to dry.  I’m sure that Finn Crisp is modeled  after those loaves.

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Enjoy  the smoked fish spread and enjoy the Finn Crisp if you can find it.

NOTE:  You could add some fresh dill to this recipe or substitute some minced dill pickles for the capers.

 

Tomato Bisque

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This is a rich, tomatoey soup that is a big hit with almost everyone I’ve served it to.  We all grew up eating Campbell’s tomato soup.  When I was a kid, long long ago, on Saturday nights we often had tomato soup with popcorn in it.  It’s actually a very good combo.  I saw a recipe a while back for tomato popcorn soup in an issue of  Food Network magazine.  Of course they used popcorn with truffle oil and grated truffle percorino cheese but even so,  they must have channeled my mother.  I think our family had this because it was a very inexpensive dinner that went a long way.  Truffle oil and truffle percorino would have defeated the purpose.  Plus the little general store in my hometown carried neither.  This soup recipe also uses a little Campbell’s but it’s the add-ins that make it so amazing.  The recipe originated from a bar-restaurant in Jackson Michigan.  I’ve modified it a bit by adding red or orange bell pepper, fresh garlic, and fresh basil.  I also use my home canned stewed tomatoes but good store bought stewed tomatoes work great.

Ingredients:

4 T butter

1 large sweet onion diced

1 red or orange bell pepper diced

4-5 garlic cloves sliced

3 pints stewed tomatoes

1 large family size can Campbell’s tomato soup

8 oz cream cheese

1 T dried basil

3 cups half-n-half

salt and pepper to taste

fresh basil and  Asiago cheese for garnish

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Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or heavy kettle over medium high heat and add the onions and peppers.  Cook until they are tender, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook an additional minute or two until the garlic is fragrant.

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Reduce the heat.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato soup.  Cube the cream cheese and add that to the tomatoes.

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Cook over low heat until heated through.  Stir in the dried basil and salt and pepper to taste.  Use an immersion blender and purée the soup.  If you don’t have an immersion blender you can add the soup, in batches, to your food processor or blender.  Stir in the half-n-half.  Continue to cook over low heat until the soup comes to a simmer.  Serve it up garnished with fresh chiffonaded basil, shredded cheese and croutons.  I used Asiago cheese and croutons made from swirl rye.  Enjoy!

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NOTE:  You can add some diced oven dried tomatoes, diced green onion, or another favorite cheese like sharp cheddar or smoked Gouda.  This soup can also double as an awesome sauce for vegetable crepes or pasta dishes.  This soup  freezes beautifully.

 

Blintzes with Cheese Filling

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About a month ago I brought my Dad home to Michigan’s Upper after he spent the Thanksgiving holiday with me.  A friend came along for the ride and she and I went to Marquette to check in at some of the local breweries and do a little shopping.  Marquette has some great little shops with locally made jewelry, pottery, wood crafts, art, and candy. We made lots of stops.  A candy store called Donkers that’s been in business since 1896.  A favorite restaurant that serves organic and locally sourced foods called Sweet Water Cafe.  A unique grocery called the Flying Moose that sells UP Sushi with venison.  I have never been a mall shopper so I really love the small, locally owned stores in Marquette’s downtown area.  I know this is a convoluted trip to my blintz recipe.  But while we were at a little shop called Touch of Finland I purchased a new sauna stove, a box of rocks, and a great iron crepe skillet.  The sauna stove replaced our old stove that died a few months previous.  The new stove was installed a few weeks ago and is working great!  I seasoned my new iron skillet yesterday morning and decided to make blintzes for brunch.  The skillet is working great!

Blintzes are my sister-in-laws go-to dish for Christmas brunches.  She buys them frozen and heats them up.  Don’t get me wrong, they are good.  But homemade from scratch is better.  Blini is the Russian name for crepes.  Blintzes are crepes that are filled with cheese or fruit and then sautéed or baked.  I’m filling mine with cheese filling and baking them.

Crepe Ingredients:

4 eggs

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup water

1 cup AP flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 T butter melted for brushing the skillet

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Filling Ingredients:

1 cup cottage cheese

6 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

4 T honey

1 egg yolk

1/2 lemon juiced

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Prepare the batter by first whisking the eggs.

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Add all the other ingredients to the eggs and whisk until the batter is smooth.

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Refrigerate the batter for 30-45 minutes.  Heat your skillet over medium heat.  Brush the skillet lightly with melted butter and put about 1/3 cup of batter on the skillet.  Swirl the skillet to distribute the batter evenly and cook for 30-60 seconds.  Flip.  Slide the crepe out of the skillet onto wax or parachment paper and start the process over again.  Repeat until all the batter has been used.  (Makes about 12 crepes.)

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Preheat the oven to 350.

Now it’s time to prepare the filling and assemble the blintzes.  Beat all of the filling ingredients together with a hand mixer.  Brush a casserole dish with butter.  Put a couple tablespoons of the cheese filling on one end of the crepe.  Fold once, then fold the sides in like an envelope and roll.  Place the blintzes in the casserole dish seam side down.

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Continue filling and rolling.  Brush the tops of the blintzes with a little butter.

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Bake for 45 minutes.  I served ours with homemade apple sauce.

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Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can make fruit blintzes with an apple or cherry filling similar to what you’d use in a pie.  You can top your cheese blintzes with fresh berries or sliced banana.  Dust them with powdered sugar.   If you want to make a double batch, crepes freeze well.  Separate the crepes with wax paper and store in a zip lock freezer bag for use later.

The new crepe pan I got is a de Buyer.  It’s iron so it’s an excellent heat conductor.  Best used over medium heat.  I love my new sauna stove and I love my new crepe pan.

Fruit Tarts aka Individual Fruit Pizzas

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I have made “fruit pizza” for  desserts for years.  It gives one the illusion or delusion of a “healthy” dessert, it looks pretty, and it’s easy to make.   And, for me, it brings back fond memories of a dear friend who made this dessert for us with white peaches and blueberries.  I decided this time around to make individual tarts rather than making the dessert in a pizza or jelly roll pan.  The dessert has a sugar cookie base.  You can make your own sugar cookie dough and cut out shapes or you can buy already prepared Pillsbury sugar cookie dough which is what I did.  I baked the cookies the night before and baked them a little longer than recommended to help crisp them up so they wouldn’t get soggy.  If you’re using a pizza or jelly roll pan, pat the dough (an 18 oz tube of sugar cookie dough) evenly into an ungreased pan and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.  Allow it to cool completely before moving on to the next step.

You can use whatever fruits you choose.  I would recommend using fresh rather than previously frozen fruit.  I used blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, and mandarine oranges.  Or you can use white peaches and blueberries like my friend did.  I liked the combination to be colorful.

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Once the base has been baked and cooled prepare the next layer.

Ingredients:

8 oz package of cream cheese at room temperature

8 oz container of mascarpone cheese at room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

8 oz container of coolwhip

1 tsp vanilla extract

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Combine all of the ingredients, cream together, and spread a generous spoonful on each cookie or distribute over the cookie base.

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Next wash and pat your fruit dry.  My blackberries and grapes were rather large so I cut those in half.   Place the fruit on the cream filling.

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Lastly I add a fruit juice glaze.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

3 T cornstarch

1 cup orange juice (I used orange mango)

1/4 cup pineapple juice

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Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a small sauce pan.  Add the juices and cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken.  Remove the glaze from the heat and allow it to cool completely before brushing it on the fruit.  I use a little pastry brush.  There you have it.  A beautiful little sweet treat that you’d be proud to serve your guests.

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The individual fruit tarts were a first for me but I think I will continue to make them this way in the future.  While it’s a little fussier and more time consuming I think the presentation is best!

NOTE:  If you are starting with 24 cookies half the cream filling and glaze are sufficient.  You might just want to cut both recipes in half.

 

Rugelachs

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Every year, for nearly 30 years, my very good friend and I have a candy making, cookie baking marathon for the holidays. We used to do it over a three day weekend. Now that she recently joined the ranks of the retired we held our marathon over an entire week and we were able to go to lunch a couple times and even got a little shopping in.  The real significance of our candy making, cookie baking bonanza is not just that we make the most beautiful, awesome tasting, melt in your mouth sweet treats. It’s really about two good friends in sync with one another in the kitchen. Over the years we have fallen into a comfortable routine. I make most all of the cookie shapes (balls, sticks, knots, cookie press) and my friend does the messy stuff (dipping in chocolate, rolling in nuts, powdered sugaring). We both make dough. We both do cleanup. Not everyone can work well with another person in the kitchen. And our ability to do that makes our Christmas goodies just a little more special.

We have cookie recipes that we have made forever. And every so often we experiment with a new recipe. A few years ago we started making the Rugelach and it has become one of our favorites.

Ingredients:

Dough

1 cup butter at room temperature

1 8-oz package cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups of flour

1/2 tsp salt

Filling

1 cup sugar

2 T cinnamon

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

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(We make a double batch.  Actually we make two double batches.)

In a stand mixer cream butter and cream cheese together. Combine the flour and salt and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Divide dough into fourths and roll into balls.

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Wrap each ball in wax paper and refrigerate for one hour or more for easy handling.

Preheat oven to 350.

After dough has chilled roll out into approximately a 12 inch circle. Combine sugar and cinnamon. Brush each circle with the melted butter. Sprinkle with 3 T cinnamon sugar and then with 2 T chopped pecans.  Cut each circle into 12 wedges.

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(The dough circle pictured was small and was only cut into 8 wedges.)

Roll up wedges beginning with the wide end. Place pointed side down on ungreased baking sheet approximately 2 inches apart. Curve ends to form a crescent.

Bake for 24-26 minutes or until golden brown. Seems like a long time for cookies but they need to bake that long. Remove to wire racks to cool.

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One of the secrets to really good baked goods is really good ingredients. Always use real butter, fresh, quality spices and chocolates.

Maybe one day our beautiful and amazing daughters will take over for us and we can wait anxiously to receive our cookie trays.  That will be a happy day.

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