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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! Holiday Roundup (highs and lows)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a great holiday season and a happy and safe new year. 




I just want to thank everyone for making my blog a success (at least in my mind). I've had over 1000 hits since I began and its all because of you guys. I hope to continue posting new, fun, recipes for many years. As always, send me your ideas or questions... I love getting comments and suggestions.


As for my Christmas baking, I was a fairly unsuccessful this year. While my cookies and banana bread turned out great, I tried a few new things this year. Namely making eggnog and making eggnog creme brulee. While the eggnog turned out alright, I added to much rum and it was overwhelming. In hindsight, I shouldn't have added the  rum all at once, but glass by glass. It would have make it easier to control. Oh well.





Also, my eggnog creme brulee was disappointing. I found a recipe online that I thought looked good, but the spice blend was overpowering. I have a relatively low tolerance for nutmeg (it has a strange flavor to me) and this recipe had way too much for my taste. Also, my new creme brulee torch did not want to work, so after a few tense moments between myself, Chris, and the torch, we gave up and I broiled them instead. The sugar never really got the nice crispy top and it warmed the custard too much. Of course, I dumped the rest of the creme brulee and just for the hell of it I tried the torch again and it worked. Oh well. I'm going to try again with a simple vanilla creme brulee in the near future.


One thing that I made for Christmas that did work out was my Red Velvet Bread Pudding. I got the recipe from Paula Dean. I mean, anything with creme, butter, cream cheese, and cake must be good. Now, I'm attaching the original cake recipe from Paula Dean's/FoodNetwork's site, but I used a box cake. It had a great flavor and a nice rich color. Its a great time savor, especially because red velvet has a few odd ingredients (buttermilk, a ton of red food coloring).


Another thing I changed was instead of creaming the cream cheese with the sugar, I just mixed it into the sugar with a whisk. This left a few large chunks of cream cheese which was great to taste in the final product.



Red Velvet Bread Pudding

Ingredients

Red Velvet Cake:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 ounces red food coloring
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

Bread Pudding Mix:

  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Greased 9 by 13 by 2-inch sheet pan.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs 1 at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla.
In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely. When the cake is cooled, cut into 1-inch cubes.
Place cubes onto 11 by 17-inch cookie sheet. Place in oven for 10 minutes to toast (this keeps the cake from absorbing too much of the cream mixture).

Bread Pudding Mix:

Combine the half-and-half, eggs, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl. With an electric hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Mix in the half-and-half mixture.

Place the red velvet cubes in a large baking dish or 8 individual ramekins. Add the pudding mixture to the dish. Make sure the cake cubes are completely covered. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pudding is set. Serve warm with ice cream. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pecan Balls/Russian Teacakes/Mexican Wedding Cakes

I grew up calling these cookies pecan balls or Russian Teacakes. Sometimes we made them we pecans, other times we used walnuts. Whatever you call them or make them with, they're great!

Packaged, ready for shipping

These cookies are light, buttery (they should be with all the butter that's in them), and sweet. They are a great Christmas cookie because they're easy to make, look like little snowballs, and blend well with other foods. They're not over powering or too sweet. They're perfect in their simplicity.

The recipe I use is from my mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook. You can tell its a well loved recipe by the stains and spatters on the page. That's always a sign of a good recipe: a well worn page. When I moved out I scanned the page to have a copy on my computer so I can still see the stains, but I don't get to add any of my own.

Russian Teacakes:
1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour (can use whole wheat flour if you want to)
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c. finely chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are best)
Powered sugar for rolling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cream the softened butter, sugar, and vanilla together. Add flour, salt, and nuts until the dough holds together.

Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart (they don't spread much). Bake until they're set, but not brown, about 10-12 minutes.

1 minute after baking, carefully roll each cookie in the powered sugar (they're delicate), then cool completely. Roll in the powered sugar again. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

In my house, I make double or triple batches of these because I give them as gifts. They're a hit!

The month of December: brought to you by BUTTER.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vanilla Bean Biscotti

Last night I was trying to find a recipe for something that would be good to use the vanilla beans my future-sister-in-law sent me. There are plenty of recipes for vanilla bean pudding, cupcakes, and frosting out there, but I wanted something that would ship well, because I wanted to send some of the creation to said sister-in-law as a thank you and Christmas gift.


I found the following recipe for biscotti on foodgawker from The Galley Gourmet (http://www.thegalleygourmet.net/2011/01/vanilla-bean-biscotti.html). This was my first attempt at making biscotti. I've only had biscotti a few times with mixed results, it either being too hard to bite or flavorless, but I thought I'd give it a try.

Wow. This stuff is good. Its light, crisp, rich with vanilla flavor, and melts beautifully in coffee or tea (I had a piece with my morning chai). I love it! 

I'm going to have to explore the biscotti world a little more!

Vanilla Bean Biscotti
makes about 30, depending on the thickness you cut them

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup white granulated sugar
6 tablespoons (3oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 long vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped using the back of a knife
1/4 cup Vanilla Sugar (sugar that has been stored with vanilla beans)

Preheat the oven to 325ยบ.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds until light in color and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg, beating well.  Add the second egg and beat again.  Scrape down the sides.  Mix in the dry ingredients.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 12-inch long, 1 1/2-inch wide log (the dough will be very sticky... just do your best).  Transfer the logs to the baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown (dough will spread a lot), about 35-40 minutes.  The dough will be slightly soft to the touch.  Allow the dough to cool on the baking sheets for 20 minutes.  Maintain the oven temperature.

Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board.  Using a sharp or serrated knife, cut a sliver off each end (those can be nibbled on).  Cut the logs into 3/4 -inch wide diagonal slices.  Place the biscotti cut side down on the baking sheets.  Sprinkle evenly with the vanilla sugar.  Return to the oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes.  Biscotti will still be barely soft in the center, but they will harden as they cool.  Cool on the baking sheets.  Store in an airtight container for up to a week.  Enjoy!




Sunday, December 11, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

These cookies are awesome. Who doesn't love peanut butter cups? Or peanut butter cookies?



I'll say it again: These cookies are awesome.

These are Chris' favorite cookies. But because they are his favorite and a family favorite, I always triple the recipe. While the dough is super easy to make, the cookies can take a long time to finish because you have to wait for the chocolate to cool and re-harden before removing them from the pan. If you plan to make double or triple batches, plan on borrowing a pan or two (they're made in mini-muffin tins). I have two pans of 24, but I had to go through these three times, with cooling times of about 20 minutes before removal. Just keep that in mind when you go to make these.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies:
1/2 c. butter, softened (my recipe, from my grandma calls for Oleo)
1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1 c. peanut butter, creamy
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
1-1 1/2 c. flour

Preheat to 375. Cream the butter and sugar together, then add the egg. Add the peanut butter. Mix the dry ingredients together and then add to the wet. Add the vanilla. Put ~1 cup of sugar in a small bowl (I use a cereal bowl). Use a small scoop to get even balls of dough, roll them in sugar, and put them dough into greased mini-muffin tins. Bake for 8-9 minutes. When done baking, push mini-peanut butter cups into each cookie. Cool in fridge or freezer until hard.


So many cookies!!! Triple recipe makes ~144 cookies


Friday, December 2, 2011

Cranberry Sauce - Now Can Free!

Growing up I was never a fan of cranberry sauce (or juice). But now, as an adult, I've developed a liking for it. This year, as part of my Thanksgiving meal, I decided I'd like to have some cranberry sauce. But me being me, I wanted to make it myself.

Turns out, making cranberry sauce is super easy.



Now I know that we are firmly past Thanksgiving, but thing recipe is a great addition to any holiday meal (Christmas or Easter). It is also a surprising ingredient in other dishes (more on that later).

Orange Cranberry Sauce:
1 12oz bag of whole cranberries (found in the produce section near the berries at my grocery store), washed and picked over
1 small orange or two tangerines
1 cup sugar
1 cup water



Directions: Combine water and sugar over high heat in a medium saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. When the liquid boils, add the cranberries and diced orange (add some rind if you want an extra orange kick), and return to a boil. Simmer for ~10 minutes. The cranberries will pop and break down as it cooks and thickens. Cool and serve, makes about 2 cups.



If you're like me and enjoy cranberry sauce, but not in huge amounts, make this party pleaser: Cocktail Meatballs

Make up your favorite meatball (or buy them, I won't judge), cook them up, and place the meatballs into a crock pot or saucepan (on low) with 1 cup of the cranberry sauce and 1 cup of bbq sauce. Heat through and serve.

Even cranberry haters will love this dish!

Other assorted Thanksgiving pictures: 
Our HUGE 19lb turkey

Our Thanksgiving Dinner: for 2

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Brutus Bites: Pumpkin Dog Cookies

Brutus, my beloved yorkie, is a fan of my baking.



We didn't discover this on purpose, as we try to not give Brutus food scraps, especially from the table. We discovered his love for snickerdoodles after he stole one right out of Chris' hand, and we discovered his love of cream-cheese frosting after he went nuts from the smell when I made the whoopie pies (he didn't get any whoopie pie, only the frosting).


As I said, we don't generally give Brutus any people-food, so I thought I'd let him in on some of the holiday baking action by making a special batch of cookies just for him.

I found this recipe online at http://www.all-natural-dog-treat.com/dogtreatrecipe.html. Its easy, only has three ingredients, and is very healthy.


Pumpkin Dog Cookies

Ingredients:


  • One 15 oz. can mashed pure pumpkin (NOT the spiced pie filling)


  • 3/4 cup cream of wheat (or rice cereal if wheat-sensitive) You can mix this dry--no need to cook it first


  • 1/2 cup dry powdered milk 


  • Directions: Preheat oven to 300 F. 
    Mix all ingredients together. Drop small spoonfuls (I use about a tablespoon) onto a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes. After I dropped them on the cookie sheet I flattened them with a damp finger. Monogram is optional.

    If you'd like to make bite sized cookies for small dogs, training rewards or just small treats, you can use a pastry bag and squeeze out rosettes about the size of a dime for tasty bite sized cookies!

    Keep in mind, these cookies are dense and don't spread, so how they look before they go in the oven is how they look when they're done.

    Depending on the size, this recipe will make around 20 treats. 

    Humans can eat these as well, but they don't have much flavor (I tried them).

    The long one is because I didn't want to use a third cookie sheet for only 1 or 2 cookies

    Brutus loves these cookies and thinks you should make them for your favorite puppy!

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Soy Sauce Brined Turkey


    Its time for Thanksgiving! Time for pigging out on tons of yummy, tradition-laden, foods.

    Funny thing is, until last year, I wasn't really a fan of the Thanksgiving turkey. For most people, the turkey is the highlight of the Thanksgiving meal. For me, well, give me a steak or ham any day. That's not to say that I grew up eating dry, bland, turkey. I didn't! Every year, my dad would pull out the old charcoal webber grill to grill/smoke the turkey. It would always turn out moist with great smokey-ness. While I liked the taste of it, after one or two bites, it was enough for me.

    When I had a chance to make a turkey for myself and Chris last year, knowing I didn't have a charcoal webber to use, I had to figure out how to make a turkey myself.

    Luckily, I happened to catch this on the food network:

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/altons-turkey-brining-secrets/866.html

    Ah yes. Alton Brown explaining the importance of brining a turkey. Always good eats, always good science. I was determined to use a brine on my turkey. But then I stumbled upon this:

     http://gastronomyblog.com/2010/11/16/soy-sauce-brined-turkey/

    I'm not even going try to pretend I came up with this recipe or pretend that I made enough alterations to allow me to post it myself. Just go to the Gastronomy Blog, follow the directions, and ta-daa! A perfect, juicy, flavorful turkey.

    I have used this recipe three times, about to use it again this year. I love it.

    I hope you do too!

    Let me know what you think!


    Thanksgiving for two! Yummm!

    Monday, November 14, 2011

    General Tso's Chicken

    I don't about you, but I love Chinese food. I could eat it every day. Unfortunately, take-out Chinese food isn't very healthy, especially my favorite dish, General Tso's Chicken.


    After much searching and tasting, I have found a great recipe for homemade General Tso. It doesn't require deep frying and you can adjust it to your tastes. We like this so much, and I made it all the time!


    This recipe can be made with chicken breast, tenderloins, thighs, shrimp (very good), pork, or tofu (never tried pork or tofu, but I bet it would be good). Its good over rice or noodles. You can add as many veggies as you want, but I usually just stick with broccoli. I have made it with broccoli, carrots, cabbage, broccoli slaw, corn, onions, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, edamame, etc.


    General Tso's Chicken

    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
    • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    • 3 tablespoons ketchup
    • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 3-4 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    • 1 head steamed broccoli (or other veggies)
    • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
    • hot pepper flakes (optional)
    • sesame seeds (optional)
    • green onions, chopped, for garnish
    • hot rice, for serving
    Instructions
    • In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, ketchup, soy sauce and water (if you like it spicy, add red pepper flakes and/or siracha). Set aside.
    • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Dredge the chicken in the cornstarch and shake off any excess. Cook the chicken in the olive oil until browned. Remove the chicken from the skillet and cover with foil to keep warm.
    • Using a paper towel, wipe the skillet clean. Add the sesame oil and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Simmer mixture for 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens a bit. Add the chicken back into the skillet, toss to coat with sauce, and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through.
    • Serve garnished with green onions, hot pepper flakes (if desired) and sesame seeds (if desired).


    The chicken gets a nice crisp crust that mimic deep frying without all the fat

    Sauce, simmering

    Yummm!

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Saltwater Taffy

    I don't know why I was struck by the sudden urge to make taffy, but I was. And the feeling continued for several weeks.



    Taffy is funny stuff. I've never been a huge fan of taffy, but if its offered to me I'll always accept. I think I've bought it a few times, but its never a huge draw. I'm more of a chocolate girl.

    I think what made me want to make taffy is the process of pulling the taffy. Having to stretch and fold the taffy over and over was really appealing. Plus, I have enjoyed experimenting with various forms of sugar work (i.e. marshmallows, syrups, etc).

    To prep for this taffy-pulling-extravaganza, I found a friend crazy enough to possibly be burned my molten sugar. Ariel was the perfect candidate. Plus, she said we could make it in her kitchen (which is a plus because I've been known to make a mess or two). I also watched the Good Eats episode on taffy, you know, just in case.


    Disregard our haggard appearance. We had done hot yoga just hours beforehand.


    Saltwater Taffy
    yields roughly 1 1/2 pounds
    adapted from lorannoils.com
    2 cups sugar
    2 tablespoons cornstarch
    1 cup light corn syrup
    3/4 cup water
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    1 teaspoon salt

    Various extracts or flavoring oils (we used peppermint and cherry+lemon)
    food coloring, optional




    Prepare a shallow heat safe pan by lightly buttering it. If you plan on dividing the candy into multiple batches, prep 2-3 small pans. Have your flavorings and colorings nearby with buttered spatulas ready to stir.

    Sift together the cornstarch and sugar and add to a medium thick-bottomed sauce pan (if your pan doesn't have a thick bottom, place another pan underneath. The two layers will help diffuse the heat, making it more uniform. Also, if it overflows, it won't be onto your stove burners... always a plus). Stir in the corn syrup, salt, butter and water. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Once it comes to a boil, cover and cook for three minutes (turn down the temp a little so it doesn't overflow). Remove the lid and then clip on your candy thermometer and cook to 260°F.

    Once the syrup hits 260°F, remove from heat and add your flavors/colors and mix well (don't inhale if you're using extracts. Unless you have a cold and are working with peppermint extract... that shit will clean out your sinuses so fast!). Then pour into your prepared pan. If you're doing multiple batches, divide the syrup between the pans and add the flavorings (we used 1-2 Tbsp of extract in each pan, but use less if you are using flavoring oils as they're stronger) and colors and then mix well.

    After the flavors were mixed, cooling
    Allow the candy to cool until until solid enough to handle and then butter your hands lightly and begin pulling!

    You want to stretch out the taffy, bring the ends together to form a loop, stretch and repeat. Over and over. Do this for about 15-20 minutes until the taffy has a creamy, satiny appearance. All this work will incorporate air into the candy, making it soft and chewy. The more pulling the better it will be.

    After pulling, roll the taffy into long ropes, and quickly snip with oiled scissors. Keep the pieces separate so they don't stick together. Roll them in squares of waxed paper to store.

    Here is the taffy, just before pulling

    In the beginning of the pulling process

    After pulling, rolled out to cut

    All cut up, really to wrap
    Ta-Daa! We ended up with "shirley temple" and peppermint flavored taffy

    In the end, this taffy tasted great and was pretty easy to make. We didn't pull it long enough, so its pretty hard, but its great for sucking on before it softens up.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

    This recipe is a family favorite. We always had it as a Thanksgiving treat, and just like the pumpkin pie, my dad was in charge of making it. 



    This pie is classic, sweet, and, oh yeah, chocolately.

    Yes. I said chocolately. Our family always takes these types of things to the next level. Its like blinging out a pie. With chocolate chips.

    Without further ado:

    Pecan Pie
    1 9in pie crust
    4 tbsp butter, softened
    3/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
    3 large eggs
    1 tbsp cornstarch
    1/8 tsp salt
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    3/4 cup dark cane or corn syrup
    1 cup broken pecan pieces
    1/2 cup chocolate chips


    Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and then blend them into the butter mixture. Sift the cornstarch and salt into the mixture, and then add the vanilla extract. Blend in the cane syrup, followed by the pecans (and 1/2 cup of chocolate chips). Stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour into the pie crust, and float a few whole pecan halves to make a pretty design. Bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees, then reduce temp to 300 degrees for another 30 minutes, or until center looks firm. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

    Ta-Daa!

    The recipe is good for impressing in-laws, guys, southern ladies (Paula Dean), and co-workers.

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    Happy Halloween! Glowing Frog Egg Drinks, Jack-O-Lantern Rice Crispy Treats, and Evil Bananas

    Happy Halloween everyone!

    I'm not a big Halloween person. I don't get dressed up. I don't decorate. I carved pumpkins two years ago and was all ready for trick-or-treaters, but no one came (I was very sad). But I do love Halloween foods and seeing little kids get all crazy for the holiday.

    I was babysitting this weekend and I thought, "what would be more fun but to have a mini Halloween party ourselves?"

    Spooky!

    Glowing Frog Egg Drinks:
    Clear (or nearly clear) drink (I used Diet Sprite - no sugar)
    Club Soda (with quinine)
    Bubbles/Tapioca pearls (see my post on bubble tea drinks)
    Big straw
    Black Light

    Put the bubbles on the bottom of the glass, fill most of the way with selected drink and add a good splash of club soda. Under a black light, club soda glows blue. Makes for a great party drink (can be made in an adult version). Plus, the bubbles freaked the kids out.

    Quote of the night, from a very honest 5 year old, "Amy, are you evil?"
    My reply, "little bit."

    After they enjoyed their drinks (half the kids braved the "frog eggs") we made rice crispy treat jack-o-lanterns. I meant to bring orange food coloring, but I forgot. Oh well. These were still cute!


    Rice Crispy Treats (adapted off the side of the box)
    1 bag of large marshmallows
    1 stick of butter
    1 box of rice crispies

    Melt to butter and marshmallows in a large bowl (Microwave, 2 minutes, stir half way). Add food coloring (optional). Carefully stir in cereal with a spatula or large spoon. Cool and make into pumpkins, either on wax paper or in hands. Use icing or sprinkles to make faces. Press the rest into a 9 x 9 pan to eat later.

    Happy Pumpkin!

     The story behind the bananas:
    I love this blogger called the Bloggess (bloggess.com). She tagged an idea that she wanted to do with her daughter that showed love notes sent to kids by writing on a banana. They're meant to be sweet and encouraging. Until the Bloggess discovered it. She wrote fun notes such as "act normal. you will be contacted with further instructions momentarily" on her husbands banana.

    All you do is take a toothpick and gently write into the skin of just under-ripe bananas. As the banana ripens, the message will darken, leaving fun messages to whomever gets the banana. Muahahaha!

    I find this incredibly hilarious.

    Happy Halloween!!!