Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Cookies 3 & 4

One oldie (but goodie) and another new cookie for you.

I have made the first cookie several times, but this is actually the first time I have added them to the holiday rotation. These apricot-orange shortbread bars are the best. They are from Bon Appetit and I have made them several times; they always get compliments. I think they are so popular because the flavor is a bit more complex than the average cookie due to the combination of almond, orange, and apricot flavors. Swap out the apricot jam for raspberry for an awesome twist.

The second cookie is a brownie biscotti from the online Allrecipes-Starbucks Cookbook. This is my 2nd biscotti attempt and this batch turned out much better than my first try where I put way, way too many nuts into the batter! I tried to cut them (the original biscotti) and they broke apart everywhere. These were perfect - tasted just like brownies and a great match for coffee or cocoa. Biscotti also make great gifts because they store very well.


Gift Baskets - 2007 Edition

I wanted to post about the various things that I put in my holiday gift baskets this year - hopefully, if you were lucky enough to get one (ha!), you won't be reading this post because then you will realize just how easy the items are to make. I love making food and homey gifts for the holidays - it is so difficult to know what to get everyone and I like to give something that has just a little bit of thought put into it. I love giftcards as much as the next guy, but to me, the holidays are about making it a bit more special. Mind you, this is coming from someone who won a $15 giftcard to Target in our Christmas Eve White Elephant gift exhange and is totally pumped about it, but you get what I mean.

Here are some of things that my gift baskets included:

I did not take as many pictures as I would have liked of the finished baskets before I gave them away....but I used supplies that I have been collecting for awhile. I try to package my cookies in airtight jars, tins or these wax-lined kraft paper bags. Here are a few great websites for bottles, boxes and packaging (also check around at your local discounts stores for good deals throughout the year):

Holiday Cookies 2

I'm a little late getting the rest of my holiday posts up, but maybe, better late than never? Let's hope so. As I said in my last holiday cookie post, I wanted to try out a few new recipes this year for the holidays. I love old favorites as much as the next guy, but to me, its really fun to bring something fresh to the table.

These may look like a regular butter cookie, but these punitions or sable cookies, are simply wonderful. They are seemingly lighter than traditional shortbread and even when turning them into cookie sandwiches, you can definitely eat more than 1 or 2 at a time :) These cookies are also so versatile - perfect for any holiday or for a party, gift or just as dessert. The french name "punition" translates to punishment in English, but these cookies are far from it!

The recipe is from one of my favorite blogs - Smitten Kitchen. I filled my cookie sandwiches with both raspberry jam and Nutella (so delicious!) and I also made them similar to a Linzer cookie by cutting a "window" in some of the cookies. The window let the jam/Nutella show through and made for a very festive look on my cookie platter. You can find some more info on these cookies and the best place to get them in Paris here.

Overall, you just can't go wrong with these cookies - they are so easy to make, the dough is just gorgeous and silky (I made the dough a few days ahead and then baked them the day before Christmas Eve) and they taste great! Plus, you can change the flavor to suit a variety of tastes. I think these would be great filled with lemon or lime curd too.

Punitions (Smitten Kitchen via Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan [which I now own!])

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
Filling of your choice
Note: I doubled the recipe and it turned out great

1. Use a food processor to make the dough. Add butter to the processor fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. Add the sugar and process and scrape until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10-15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.

2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. If you have the time, chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours. I ended up leaving my dough in the refrigerator for a few days and the dough was still perfect.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and ¼ inch (4 and 7 mm) thick. Using a 1 ½-inch (4-cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between them. (You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)

5. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are set but pale. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature. Fill with your choice of jam/chocolate/nutella/curd/whatever if you choose. Store in airtight container.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Recipe Exchange...

Didn't turn out so well for me :) I should rephrase - the German Chocolate Pie that I made tasted really good (how could chocolate, coconut and pecans be bad!) but it just didn't look at good as I would have liked. Totally my fault, by the way - my pie plate was too deep and apparently, I burnt my crust; plus, the bottom crust was a bit soggy. Who knows, definitely not my day. I normally would have tried it again but with all the things lined up to make for Christmas, I just couldn't spare the ingredients. I ended up taking the pie to work for our holiday potluck - it got very good reviews so I would suggest trying the recipe if you like chocolate and pecans. Please let me know how it turns out!

I really like the idea of a non-fruit pie and the layer of chocolate on the bottom was genius. Thanks to Katie of Good Things Catered for hosting this fabulous and fun event, I can't wait to what recipes everyone else made!

German Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 stick chilled and cut into small pieces 1/4 cup ice water
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups (about 10 ounces) pecan halves, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened flake coconut
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 5 seconds. Drizzle in the ice water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap; flatten to form a disk. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch round; transfer to a pie pan. Cut the excess dough to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Using your fingers, roll the dough edge under and crimp. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork; refrigerate for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

3. Line the shell with foil and pie weights or dried beans; bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, reduce the heat to 375ยบ and bake for another 12 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk together the remaining 5 tablespoons butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt with the brown sugar and corn syrup over medium heat until melted and smooth. Whisk the sugar mixture into the beaten eggs. Stir in the nuts and coconut.

5. Spread the chocolate chips in the pie shell. Pour in the filling and bake until set, about 25 minutes. Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is it really the last minute?

Already? Nah, not in my book. Its only 12/21 - I still have at least 3 more days to get everything ready for the holidays - and 2 of those days are on the weekend baby!! Everyone keeps asking me - did you do this, did you go shopping, did you prepare your menu, what are you bringing. To be honest, I'm a little behind, but I have it all in my mind :) I have made a few things and I am planning on a few holiday posts (hopefully they will be of some help to all you last minute folks out there like me!), but here is my pseudo-to-do list for the next few days....
  • 5-6 types of cookies
  • Cheesecake (& maybe another cake for Christmas at my mom's)
  • A main dish/side dish for Christmas at my mom's
  • A bit more shopping & a whole lot of wrapping
  • Design, shop, and make a light cocktail menu for my Christmas Eve Open House
  • Finish gift baskets (more to come on that later)

I think thats it - totally doable, no?

Until I get all the pictures and posts that I have been collecting this week up here, I thought I would post a few websites that have great last minute recipes, gifts and other holiday ideas.

  • Great-looking (and easy) recipe from Smitten Kitchen (starred on my google reader this morning) for icebox cookies (with unlimited variations!)
  • I love these as ornaments or just as small vases hanging in a kitchen window - from CB2 [they have a store now in SoHo in NYC - I can't wait to check it out!]. The green hourglass photo above is from CB2 as well - they come in two sizes (either 15 minutes or 1 hour)
  • A really cute online cookbook (that you can print and give away with some cookies as a gift!) from Allrecipes
  • Last minute gifts from Red Envelope! Use the code: MCRUSH and your mastercard ($50 minimum required) and get free overnight shipping (offer deadline: 12/22 @ 2pm)
  • Some additional holiday baking ideas from Martha Stewart & Everyday Food
  • Tree looking a little bare? Need something to do with the kids on Christmas Eve? Check out this homemade ornament roundup by How about orange
  • Decor inspiration? Run over to Hostess with the Mostess and check out the many holiday decor themes like Peppermint Twist

Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow = Soup!

This was the view outside my kitchen window yesterday! We got our first snowstorm of the season, about 8-10 inches total. The roads were a mess and I was happy to stay home - wrapping gifts, cooking & baking, catching up on my Google reader.... The day was also perfect for a good, warm, comforting meal. For the past week, I've had my eye a recipe from the December issue of Everyday Food for a quick lentil soup. Yesterday turned out to be the perfect day to try it since I had a day of baking lined up in my kitchen (hoping to get to those recipes in the next few days!).

The recipe for this soup can be found here - I only made very minor changes to it since it is very simple to begin with - all my changes are in the ingredient list. The recipe itself is very forgiving - you can add whatever vegetables you like to it without a problem. I decided to add a few red potatoes (because my husband loves soups & stews with potatoes in them) but peas would also be a great addition.

Here is the recipe list - my changes are in bold.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 handfuls baby carrots, cut into coins
3 baby red potatoes, cubed
1 bag (1 pound) brown lentils, picked over
Approximately 32 ounces vegetable broth
1 dried bay leaf
Italian bread, handful of torn pieces (toasted up with garlic powder and a bit of Parmesan cheese)

The soup was very good and satisfying - made for a perfect lunch, especially with the croutons on top!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Cookies 1

In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to do a whole series on holiday cookies. My mom and I have been baking up at least 5 types of cookies each year since I was small and our family (me included) definitely looks forward to it every year. We have about 6 or 7 types of cookies that we rotate between, and we try to test out new recipes and maybe add in a new type of cookie each year. This year, I'm hoping to bake up some old and new recipes to blog about and hopefully, some of you can use them for your holiday baking this year!

The first new cookie I tried is not all that "new". I saw these snickerdoodles on Bake or Break the other day and I loved the shape. Usually when I make snickerdoodles, they are pretty flat, but these (recipe originally from Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess) were like little balls! Plus, for my husband the chocoholic, there was an alternative recipe for a chocodoodle using the same batter. I definitely had to give them a try.

So, I tried them on Sunday. So easy to make. But, I think I would revise the name to be a type of spice cookie rather than a snickerdoodle. The snickerdoodles that I'm used to making are fairly sweet and have a cinnamon-sugary flavor. These cookies are definitely more on the nutmeg side and are not that sweet. On the first taste, I was surprised and not sure that I liked them, but several cookies later :), I realized that they were actually really good, just not the snickerdoodle that I was used to. The consistency is great, more cake-like than cookie-like. I would definitely give them a try and maybe adjust the seasonings to your liking after the first go-round. These will definitely be on my cookie platter this year.

You can find the recipe for both Snickerdoodles and Chocodoodles here.

Seasonal Views - Winter I

I love taking pictures during the winter/holiday season. The colors, foods, and weather really inspire me. I thought I would post a few of my favorite photographs from this season so far...Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's In My Fridge?

I find myself in this situation often: didn't make it to the grocery store, used up one of the ingredients that I planned to use for dinner, or somehow left myself with a bunch of random ingredients in the kitchen. On days like these, I have a new goal - takeout! Kidding...the plan is to challenge myself to make something delicious from what I have available - which serves a few purposes: (1) it allows me to be lazy and not go to the store on cold winter days, (2) I use up odds and ends of things in my kitchen, which makes me feel good :) and (3) produces great new recipes!

I had one of these days last week, or maybe two weeks ago. I had nothing in the refrigerator - mostly Thanksgiving leftovers. My mom's garlic smashed potatoes were staring at me - they are so good, but I was just sick of mashed potatoes after 3 full days of Thanksgiving food. I also had some leftover phyllo dough and to me, phyllo dough screams appetizer. So, from my kitchen that night, Garlic & Caramelized Onion Potato Parmesan Triangles were created! And no, I could not think of a shorter title.

The recipe will be a bit difficult to follow as I used my mom's garlic smashed potatoes, but this recipe is so forgiving, that you could really flavor your potatoes with anything (herbs, butter, chicken stock, garlic, etc.). Mashed sweet potatoes would be delicious as well. My husband and I ate these as an appetizer with our dinner and they were excellent! I will definitely be making these again, maybe for my holiday party this year.

Garlic & Caramelized Onion Potato Parmesan Triangles
Note: the amounts really do not matter, as it depends on how many you would like to make and what size you make them; this recipe is for approximately 12 medium-sized triangles

~ 2 cups prepared garlic smashed potatoes
1.5 - 2 cups sliced sweet onion
Fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 roll phyllo dough, thawed
Few tablespoons of melted butter (I used smart balance)
Olive oil
Cooking spray

1. Caramelize sliced onions in olive oil (about 1 tablespoon or one turn of the pan - your discretion based on how many onions you have) over low heat until they are soft and have a nice light brown color.

2. Add onions to potatoes and combine. Add Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set aside. Note: I added approximately 1/2 cup, but tasted it as I went along, so use as much you like!

3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

4. Prepare phyllo dough - lay one sheet out and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and pepper. Lay 2nd sheet of dough on top of the first sheet and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with final sheet. Cut the dough into 3 or 4 strips (strips should be cut the short way, not the long way). The size of the strip will determine how many triangles you get per layered square of phyllo.

5. Add a small scoop of filling to one corner of each strip and fold each like a flag. You should end up with a small flap at the end that folds over. I usually put the end piece on the bottom of the baking tray so that the triangle stays closed. You can also brush it with butter or a bit of water to make it stay closed.

6. Place each triangle on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Lightly spray with cooking spray and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the top of each one. Bake until golden brown and a bit crispy.

Enjoy! They were so good, we ate all of ours in one night! Hey, at least we got rid of the leftovers....

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Eco-friendly holidays

Growing up we always had a fake tree for Christmas, but now that I'm married, my husband likes to get a real tree and I'm happy to go along with that tradition. We go and cut it down locally - its really fun and gets you in the holiday spirit. I'll be sure to post some pictures of our adventures this year.

I'm hoping to have a few posts on the topic of eco-friendly holiday ideas throughout the month, but I just wanted to quickly post an article this morning regarding the most "eco-friendly" type of Christmas tree - real or fake?

Check it out here! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 3, 2007

but...I don't like macaroni & cheese!

I swear I don't...or didn't until tonight. I have a few so-called "weird" food dislikes (and likes, for that matter :). I don't like most chocolate, I'm sure that my dislike for most condiments has also been mentioned before, but not until today have I mentioned that I really don't like melted cheese. I think its a consistency thing. Before you judge me, let me say also that I am also not a fan of coffee.

Had enough confessions for one day? I'll attempt to get on with it - the point of the story is that I was never one of those people who ran and went crazy over macaroni & cheese. I just thought of it as food from a box and I never understood what people loved about it (especially in college - people went crazy for the stuff!).

This leads us to a few weeks ago. Tim & I were having dinner at a local restaurant with our friends, one of whom suggested we try out a "fancy" macaroni & cheese on the menu. I figured that I would let them eat it, but for some reason, I gave it a quick try. This was no shells & cheese! Maybe I had to give real macaroni & cheese another chance? I mean, what could be so bad, right?

Tonight, I did. What.was.I.waiting.for.

I reviewed several different recipes to figure out the best cheeses to use and the correct proportion of milk to cheese. I ended up tweaking the ratios from a Rachael Ray recipe and using most of the ingredients from this recipe by Ina Garten.
If you want to give it a try, check out those two recipes and then, my notes on the changes that I made:

  • I used an 8x8 pan and used the milk/butter/flour measures provided in the RR recipe.
  • I used a combination of Gruyere (~2 cups), white cheddar (~2 cups) and Parmesan cheeses (handful). I have to say that while it was cheesy, it was not dripping in cheese, so if you prefer a super-cheesy mac & cheese, you might consider adding more.
  • We try to keep it on the lighter side in our house - since this recipe uses so much cheese, I did not use real butter but Smart Balance; (which worked out great); I also used skim milk instead of whole milk and we really did not miss it.
  • The tomatoes and topping in the Ina Garten recipe makes the whole dish - make sure to use real breadcrumbs!
  • I added chopped grilled chicken to the mixture before baking - it was perfect and made the dish even more satisfying.
It was the perfect meal for our first snowy day. Definitely psyched for leftovers (although usually I don't like those either....)

Apple Guide

I picked up this great pamphlet at my local farm market last week - it explains the best uses (cooking, baking, eating) for many apple varieties. I know that the time for picking has passed but we will be inundated with hoards of apples until that bright green grass starts to peek its way out of the ground next spring (or at least that is the case for this part of the country!).

I have embedded the guide into this post as a pdf, so hopefully you will be able to scroll & zoom to be able to see all of it. If you would like me to email you the guide, just drop me a line or leave a comment with your email address.