Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009

Every blog does it. And I like to follow the crowd (well, as long as the crowd isn't jumping off a bridge, anyways). But I digress.

Here is the obligatory year in review post: some of our favorite things from 2009. Some of these recipes we have still only had once despite their deliciousness, others have become favorites in our meal rotation. And I added some sweets in at the end, because I just can't ignore how much I am really liking to bake, and how big of a sweet tooth I have.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake (served with yogurt-fruit parfaits)

Chocolate Peppermint Meringue Kisses

Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt

I'm excited to keep this blog going in 2010. There are still a lot of recipes out there that I want to try, and Josh and I are getting a little more creative in the kitchen throwing things together ourselves. And I'm still working on my food photography... its bound to get better than last year! Thanks for reading along, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Baked Brie en Croute

Sounds fancy and delicious, doesn't it? More importantly, it tastes just as delicious as it looks. My sister-in-law made this for Christmas last year, and I fell in love. The warm brie with the fruit spread was just so yummy, I knew I wanted to make it for some guests I was having over. I used some spiced apricot preserves that a friend had given me this summer, but any fruit would do. Raspberry would be especially lovely, but be sure to use the seedless variety.

Baked Brie en Croute
adapted from the Pepperidge Farm website

1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed (1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package)
1/2 cup fruit preserves, seedless
1 (13- to 16-ounce) Brie cheese round
Water crackers or french bread for serving, if desired

Heat the oven to 400°F. Beat the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork.

Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 14-inch square. Spread the preserves on the pastry to within 2 inches of the edge. Place the cheese in the center of the pastry. Top brie round with a little more preserves, if desired. Fold the pastry up over the cheese to cover. Trim the excess pastry and press to seal. Brush the seam with the egg mixture. Place seam-side down onto a baking sheet (I recommend lining with foil). Decorate with the pastry scraps, if desired. Brush with the egg mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Let stand for 45 minutes. Serve with crackers or french bread, if desired.
Delicious! I didn't serve with anything, as I thought the puff pastry would be enough "bread." It worked out just fine. After having had this with apricot and raspberry, I prefer the berry version more, so I will use a berry spread next time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Real Hummus

I have been wanting to make a batch of hummus for a while now, as evidenced by the jar of tahini paste that has been in my pantry for a few weeks. I needed to put together some appetizers for a small party I was having, and I though this was a nice healthy option when served with bell pepper slices. I also served with some Wheat Thins crackers.

Real Hummus
from Katie at Good Things Catered

1 12-oz can chick peas
1-2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp+ tahini (sesame paste)
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp salt

Drain water from the can of chick peas into a small bowl and reserve.

In a food processor (or blender), mix together the chick peas with the remaining rest of the ingredients, being careful to add second half of lemon juice and tahini slowly, stopping to taste.

Slowly add some of the reserved liquid from beans and a bit of water for correct consistency,(about 1-2 tsp) until a smooth, slightly fluid paste is formed.

Refrigerate for at least 30 mins before serving. This changes the taste of the hummus by allowing the flavors to form. Note: to dress the hummus up for the table, the traditional way of serving is on a plate, with an extra drizzle of olive oil on top and a sprinkle of paprika and chopped parsley.
This was really good hummus, and I will make it again. My favorite is actually roasted red pepper hummus, so I might try to add some of that in next time.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cranberry-Orange Scones

We were having a breakfast potluck at work, and I originally planned to bring my mom's cheesy hash browns recipe. I went to sign up, only to find someone else was already bringing a hash brown casserole. Oh well, just another excuse to bake something new!
I have been on a HUGE cranberry-orange kick lately. The two flavors were made for each other. I decided to make some scones - something I have never made before. I settled on this recipe which I found on Smitten Kitchen, but substituted orange for the lemon the recipe called for, and added a glaze. I thought they turned out great, and they were a huge hit!

Cranberry-Orange Scones
adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Gourmet
yields 8-10 scones

For the scones:
1 1/2 tbsp. freshly grated orange zest (from about 1 large orange)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar, plus 3 tablespoons
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 1/4 c. fresh cranberries, chopped coarse
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 c. heavy cream

For the glaze:
1 c. confectioners sugar
dash nutmeg
2 Tbsp. orange juice (fresh from the orange you zested is best)

Preheat oven to 400°F. and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Zest the orange, reserving the fruit for another use (like the glaze!).

In a food processor pulse flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, butter and zest until mixture resembles coarse meal and transfer to a large bowl.

In a small bowl toss together fresh cranberries and 3 tablespoons sugar and stir into flour mixture.

In another small bowl lightly beat egg and yolk and stir in cream. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined.

On a well-floured surface with floured hands pat dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter) and with a 2-inch round cutter or rim of a glass dipped in flour cut out as many rounds as possible, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Try to avoid over-working the dough; handle it as little as possible so the scones don't become tough. Alternatively, you can pat into one large 7-8" round.

Arrange rounds about 1 inch apart on baking sheet and bake in middle of oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until pale golden. If making a large round, bake 20-25 minutes and slice into wedges when cool.

While the scones are baking, whisk together the powdered sugar, nutmeg and orange juice. Let the scones cool slightly, and drizzle with the glaze. Allow glaze to set before serving.

Note: These scones don't keep long, maybe a day or two in the fridge. If you won't be eating them immediately, you can freeze the dough! Work to the point where you have each biscuit cut out, and flash freeze the rounds by placing them spread out on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen. Then transfer to a Ziploc bag, and keep in the freezer up to 1 month. You can bake directly from the freezer, but you may need to add 3-5 minutes to the baking time (the best time is to watch them closely for browning).

The dough was very sticky for me, so I decided to just pat it into a large round and bake that way. I was a little worried because I didn't think the dough had turned out, but they tasted delicious! I didn't have any leftovers to bring home, which makes them a hit in my book!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

From my family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas!
My your day be filled with happiness and joy, your travels be safe,
and your tummies be full :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Day 12: Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti and Chocolate Mallow Cookie Sandwiches

*Tear* This will be the last 12 Days of Christmas Cookies post. Josh and I, along with all my co-workers, have really enjoyed the cookies along the way. :)

I actually have 2 recipes left, so I'm posting both of them today. Both of these recipes are from Betty Crocker, courtesy of a cookie party that I hosted. I invited some ladies over, and we transformed Betty Crocker Sugar Cookie mix into these treats. I'm not opposed to using box mixes every now and then. And with the recipes they provided - you would never guess these started from a mix. There are quite a few ingredients required, so don't be fooled - these treats are much more than what you would expect from a cookie mix.

Both of these turned out quite well. The mallow cookie pies were very yummy: cake-like cookies with a sweet fluffy filling in the middle. I had been wanting to make a biscotti recipe, and while there are a lot of other ones out there I still want to try, pistachio-cranberry sounded interesting to me. I really liked the flavor combination, and I didn't find the pistachio overwhelming (though the green color from the pudding mix was a tad odd to me).

Chocolate-Mallow Cookie Pies
from Betty Crocker
yield: 18 cookie pies

1 pouch Betty Crocker Cookie Mix
1/3 c. unsweetened baking cocoa
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sour cream
1/4 c. butter softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

2/3 c. marshmallow creme
1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 c. powdered sugar

Topping: (optional)
1 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1/8 tsp. unsweetened baking cocoa

Heat oven to 350 deg F. In a large bowl, stir together cookie mix, cocoa, and flour. Add sour cream, butter, 1 tsp. vanilla, and the egg; stir until stiff dough forms.

Shape dough into 36 1-inch balls. (The dough will be sticky!) On ungreased cookie sheets, place balls 2-inches apart. Press each ball to flatten slightly (use floured bottom of a drinking glass).

Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until set (do not overbake). Cool 2 minutes; move to cooling racks. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

In small bowl, beat filling ingredients with electric mixer until light and fluffy. For each cookie pie, spread about 2 teaspoons filling on bottom of 1 cooled cookie. Top with second cookie, bottom side down; gently press cookies together.

In small bowl, stir together topping ingredients; sprinkle over tops of cookie pies. Roll edges in colored sugar if desired. Store between sheets of wax paper in tightly sealed container.

Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti
from Betty Crocker
yield: ~40 cookies

1 pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
1 box (4 serving size) pistachio instant pudding mix
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 c. dry-roasted salted pistachio nuts, finely chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Mix together cookie mix, pudding mix and flour. Add melted butter and eggs; blend. Stir in pistachios and cranberries. Divide dough in half, shape each half of dough into 15x2-inch log. Place each log on ungreased cookie sheet.Bake at 375 deg F for 18 to 20 minutes. Cool on cookie sheets 20 minutes. Place logs on cutting board, cut crosswise into 3/4 inch slices. Place slices cut side down on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 250 deg F for 40 minutes, turning once. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks. Cool 10 minutes. Sprinkle powdered sugar over tops of cookie (optional).

As I said, these were both surprisingly tasty. It might be worth cruising around the BC website to find other ways to dress up these simple mixes. I found the mix really only substituted the flour, sugar, and baking soda/powder from standard recipes. It was cool to see how each recipe started with a sugar cookie mix but transformed to something totally different.

*Note: Betty Crocker did send 2 pouches of mix to use with these recipes. All opinions are my own.*

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Day 11: Chocolate Covered Popcorn

Here we are at Day 11 of the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies posts, and I have yet another non-traditional cookie treat to share with you. Its called chocolate covered popcorn, and it is addictive.
I learned how to make this at a baking supply store when I lived in Green Bay. But that is not the first time I had it. I dated a guy in high school whose mom made this - and I munched on bag after bag of it. I really like the sweet and salty combination, and this treat has both.

The trick to this recipe is to find methods that work for you, with what you have. I should have taken more pictures when I made this... but I didn't so I will do my best to explain. Any kind of popcorn will do - I recommend a lightly salted and buttered variety. You also need some means to thin the chocolate. I have used both paramount crystals (check a local baking supply store) and vegetable shortening with success. You will also need some big bowls, and a bunch of baking pans or wax paper.
Chocolate Covered Popcorn
popped popcorn - I used microwave this time
red chocolate wafers
green chocolate wafers
white chocolate wafers
paramount crystals, or vegetable shortening

Pop your popcorn. Sort through the popcorn and remove all unpopped kernels (they get coated in chocolate and stick to popped kernels and can be an unpleasant surprise when taking a bite).

Melt the first color of chocolate in the microwave, adding some paramount crystals or shortening along the way. I don't have any measurements here, but I would guess I add about 1 Tbsp. of shortening per cup of chocolate. You want to melt about 1/2 cup of chocolate per bag of popcorn. (For reference, I made three bags of popcorn in each color, and used a little more than 1/2 of a bag of the wafers that I bought from Jo-Anns.)

Working in small batches, add some popcorn to a LARGE bowl. Pour some chocolate over it, mixing to coat. Add more chocolate if needed. Here is what I do: I have 2 large plastic bowls that are the same size. I fill 1 up with popcorn, not quite all the way. I dump chocolate on top. Then I invert the second bowl over the first (the edges meet up exactly), and rotate the two bowls while I hold them together. (Its hard to explain, I wish I took a picture). Flip, rotate, flip rotate, swirl, maybe even a gentle fluff.

Once you have the popcorn covered in chocolate, spread it out on baking pans or wax paper for it to harden. After about 30 mins, you can carefully break it apart and move to a large bag.
Repeat with the other colors of chocolate and the rest of your popcorn. For all of my Christmas treats, I made 9 bags of popcorn, 3 bags of each color (and did each color in 2 batches). You can easily size this recipe up or down though!

Once all of your popcorn is cool, toss together to distribute the colors. Store in an airtight bag, or package in small bags to easily distribute.

This sounds so much harder than it is. Once you try it, you will find a way that works for you. The key really is to thin out the chocolate so that it coats the popcorn more easily. Once you make it, be sure to store it away. It is so hard to just eat a few pieces, this stuff is seriously addictive!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Day 10: Mocha Crackle Cookies

Day 10... only a few more cookie recipes to go! This is a pretty traditional cookie, but oh my, are they delicious! Don't skip the coffee in them - even if you aren't a coffee drinker, you will like these cake-like cookies. But you will need a napkin to clean up the powdered sugar moustache!

Mocha Crackle Cookies
from One Ginormous Adventure, originally from Taste of Home
yield: about 5 dozen

1/2 cup butter, cubed
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
4 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar

In a sauce pan (or in a microwave-safe bowl), heat the butter, chocolate and coffee until chocolate is melted; cool slightly. In a bowl, beat the eggs and salt; add sugar and brown sugar. Stir in chocolate mixture; mix well.

Combine flour and baking powder; gradually add to egg mixture to form a soft dough. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

Roll dough into 3/4-in. balls. Roll in confectioners' sugar; place 2 in. apart on greased (or parchment lined) baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks to cool.REVIEW:
These are so tasty, even if they are a tad messy to eat. I made the dough ahead, and after rolling into balls, I flash froze them and stored them in a Ziploc in the freezer for a week. The night before baking, I moved them to the fridge and baking was a breeze.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 9: Molasses Cookies

Welcome to Day 9 of my 12 Days of Christmas Cookies posts. Its about time we get traditional. I am a very adventurous baker, always trying new recipes year after year. But this recipe, well, I make it EVERY YEAR. Growing up, I can always remember molasses cookies. My mom (and my grandma) made them for Christmas every year. The truth is, I associate molasses cookies with Christmas, I can't imagine making them at any other time of year. My sister and I would help roll out the dough and roll it in sprinkles. And we would constantly get in trouble for eating it. I have so many fond memories of making these cookies for the holidays.

Molasses Cookies
yield: ~3 dozen cookies

3/4 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
2 c. flour
1/4 c. mild molasses

sugar or sprinkles for rolling

Melt shortening in sauce pan. Take off stove and let cool slightly, transfer to a mixing bowl. Add sugar and egg, beat well.

Sift together soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and flour.

Add flour mixture and molasses to sugar/egg/oil, mix to combine. Cover and chill 1/2 hour, or up to a few days.

Preheat oven to 375 deg F. Roll dough into 1.5" balls, and roll in sugar. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet, bake 8 to 10 minutes.REVIEW:
These cookies are quite yummy and have a bit of spice to them. I will warn you - they are sensitive to time and temperature while baking. My mom and I use the same recipe, and year after year, they don't turn out quite the same - so you may have to experiment a bit depending on your oven (don't over bake them!). Like the snickerdoodles I posted, these cookies have a little bite to them - but they are PERFECT for dunking in a tall glass of cold milk.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Day 8: Chocolate-Peppermint Meringue Kisses

Its Day 8 of my 12 Days of Christmas Cookies posts, and today is another non-traditional cookie day. Believe it or not, I have never made meringues before. I saw these in my reader, and knew instantly that I would be trying my hand at meringues this year.

These little bites look way more intimidating than they actually are, and you can simplify the recipe more if you want to. I really liked the red&white striped look, but you could make all red or all white. To get the stripe, paint 3 lines of food coloring (I used Wilton gel) up the sides of your pastry bag before filling it with the meringue. Piping each meringue out really doesn't take long at all (but I did have to run and buy a 1/2" star tip, as the one I had was too small). The time consuming part really was dipping each meringue in chocolate and peppermint candy. You could easily skip that part if you wanted to - the meringue bites are quite tasty without those additions!

The Beantown Baker has a lot more pictures in her post if you need more of a step-by-step tutorial. (I forgot to take any pics along the way, plus it was dark out and the lighting in my kitchen makes everything really yellow.)
Chocolate-Peppermint Meringue Kisses
from Beantown Baker, originally from Better Homes and Gardens
Yield: ~100 meringues

4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-1/3 cups sugar
1 cup milk chocolate pieces (I used Nestle chocolate chips)
1 teaspoon shortening
1-1/4 cups crushed striped round peppermint candies* (about 50 candies) - (I used 4 candy canes, and ran out - so you will need more than 4 candy canes worth)

Place egg whites in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or foil; set aside.

For meringue: Add salt, vinegar, and peppermint extract to egg whites. Beat with an electric mixer (I used the whisk attachment on my Kitchenaid) on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high speed until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight) and sugar is nearly dissolved. **Be sure to be patient and add the sugar slowly. If you are not patient enough, your meringue may have a grainy texture.

Transfer meringue to a decorating bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip. To achieve striped cookies, paint 3 stripes equally spaced up the sides of the empty bag with red gel coloring. Pipe 1-inch kisses 1 inch apart onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake all of the meringue kisses at the same time on separate oven racks for 7 minutes. Turn off oven; let meringues dry in oven with door closed for 1 hour. Lift meringues off paper or foil. Transfer to wire racks; cool completely.

In a small saucepan, combine chocolate pieces and shortening (I microwaved mine). Cook and stir over low heat just until melted. Remove from heat. Spread crushed candy in a shallow dish. Dip bottoms of meringues in chocolate, then dip in crushed candies. Place on waxed paper and let stand until chocolate is set.
These are definitely a hit. I love how the meringue melts in your mouth, and the chocolate peppermint bottom is a nice change in texture. I ate a bunch of these - the first few out of the bag were all white, plus it took me a few to get the hang of piping good looking kisses. They were good even without the chocolate and peppermint, so you could definitely simplify the recipe if you wanted to. I think I will make these next year again - in addition to being tasty, they look so interesting!