31 December 2009

New Year, New Look!

 Last year, our New Year's Eve plans were ruined by a snowstorm, but we managed to have an amazing time with fantastic food.  If you're still deciding on tonight's menu, try our last minute New Year's feast that rang in 2009.

Planning to make resolutions?  I'm going to be trying monthly goals again - this is a great way to set achievable goals and actually see results.  By giving yourself just 30 days, you don't lose track of your resolutions and you won't make excuses to push them off.  More on my January goals after the new year!

In celebration of 2010, I've decided to switch up the layout of my blog a bit.  I've been wanting a new background and banner, and I thought that the new year was the perfect time to pick one.  Hope you like the changes!

Happy New Year!

30 December 2009

Christmas Cookies: Ginger Cookies

In an attempt to share with you all the Christmas treats I made, I present to you, my cookie plate!

Included on the plate are pizzelle, brown sugar "slice & bake" cookies, chocolate dipped Oreos, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, coconut macaroons (store bought by my mommy!), chocolate covered pretzel rods, homemade marshmallows, and ginger cookies.

I hesitate to call these gingersnaps, as the recipe does, because these cookies are not crispy.  They stay soft and chewy, and actually continue to soften with time.  After about a week, they started to head toward mushy.  Luckily, there were only four left (out of the 170+ that the recipe yields!) so I didn't feel too bad.

I know the holiday has passed, but these cookies are delicious and not particularly seasonal, so I thought I'd post the recipe with some photos so you can save this one in your files for anytime you need a non-chocolate cookie recipe (though of course, I'll show you how to make it chocolatey!).

Ginger Cookies
recipe courtesy of Grandma Haas

2 c. sugar
1-1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 c. molasses
4 c. AP flour
4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

Combine flour, soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt in a medium sized bowl, set aside.

Mix sugar and oil well.  I used my KitchenAid mixer, but you could also blend with a hand mixer if you prefer.  Add eggs one at a time, beat well to incorporate.  Stir in the molasses.

Add the dry ingredients in batches - I usually do 2-3 additions.  Mix well.  If you are using a KA mixer, you may want to take the bowl off the stand and mix by hand with a spoon - I found that the molasses settled to the bottom and didn't mix completely into the batter.

Shape dough into 3/4" balls, roll in sugar, and place balls at least 2" apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.  I have very dark baking sheets, so I baked at 325 for 8 minutes.  I would recommend doing a small trial run with the first batch to make sure your oven temp and timing are perfect. 

Yields 14-1/2 dozen cookies.

The ginger cookies are in the tall pile on the upper left:

If desired, melt dark chocolate candy melts or chocolate chips in the microwave - 60 seconds on defrost, stir, then 30 seconds on defrost.  Continue microwaving in 30 second increments on defrost, stirring in between, until chocolate is melted.  Dip half the cookie into the chocolate, then set on wax paper to cool.  The original recipe recommends using a mix of white chocolate and shortening, but because I have a major aversion to the latter, you'll never see me combining it with chocolate!

Here are the gift boxes and bags and trays I made for Christmas.  It was a TON of work, but I had a great time doing it!

25 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you are happy, healthy, and eating delicious food!  Happy Holidays!

23 December 2009

Restaurant Review: Grace

 Andrew and I went to Portland, Maine almost two months ago, and we stayed with our friends Greg and Emilia.  We had a great time hanging out with them, exploring the city, and of course, eating at some fantastic places.  The first night we were in town, I made Seafood Linguine for dinner.

On our second night, we ate dinner at one restaurant, then started to head home.  At the last minute, we decided to go to Grace for drinks and dessert.  We were all so happy that we went - Greg and Emilia had eaten dinner there before, and had raved about the atmosphere, so Andrew and I were looking forward to seeing it.  Previously the Chestnut Street Church, the building that houses Grace is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I loved all the little touches that tied in the building's history - the pulpit has been repurposed as the hostess station, an upstairs bar takes the place of the organ, and the altar has been removed to make way for an open-air kitchen.  This combination of church and state feels a little sacrilege, but in a most delicious way.

Emilia and I opted for drinks from the highly amusing bar menu.  I chose "Redemption" - a nutmeggy white sangria with seasonal fruits, and Emilia decided on the "Holier Than Thou", a champagne and orange juice concoction.  We convinced the guys to split desserts with us.  I chose the Brown Sugar Cake, which was served with poached pears, pear chutney, cardamom ice cream, and candied walnuts.  Emilia opted for the Peanut Butter Cup - a combination of chocolate mousse, chocolate macaroon, peanut brittle, and peanut ice cream.  Both were beautifully plated and tasted delicious, but everyone agreed that Emilia's choice beat mine!

The cocktails we had were superb, the service was friendly, and the desserts were divine.  The next time we're in Portland, Andrew and I would love to return to Grace to try more of their menu.

**The first image on this post is from Grace's Facebook site, the rest are personal photos.

18 December 2009

Christmas Cookies: Brown Sugar "Slice & Bake"

I adore the blog "The Way the Cookie Crumbles".  Bridget, the author, is a fantastic photographer, a wonderful baker, and I love her writing style.  I rarely make recipes from her blog, for two reasons:  first, she is a much more accomplished baker than I am, and a lot of her recipes are difficult.  Second, her dinner posts are often extremely similar to things I have made or am planning to make, so I don't copy her recipe.  However, I read her blog often, and when I see something I think I can handle, like these Slice & Bake Brown Sugar Cookies, I bookmark it right away!

I'm not going to repost the full recipe with all the steps here - Bridget has very clear instructions on her blog, so feel free to check it out.

As you can see, my striped cookies didn't come out as cute as hers, but I think my spirals are much prettier, so I guess it's a wash!  As far as all the steps go, I considered posting photos, but I followed Bridget to the letter, and everything I would have photographed looks exactly the same as it does on her site.  I will definitely be saving this recipe and making these cookies again and again!

Butternut Squash Risotto

I have been baking up a storm in the last week or so, and I'll be sharing more cookie posts with you very soon.  I wanted to start working through my huge backlog of dinners though, to show you some of the other things I've been doing in my kitchen.

While my mom and auntie were visiting in November, I made a delicious Butternut Squash Risotto for dinner one night.  Auntie Jody had never had risotto, and I hope I made her first experience with it a good one!  Risotto is such a comfort food for me - I love the creamy starchiness, the versatility, the richness.   I'll throw just about anything into risotto, and I'm always happy with the results.

I had never combined butternut squash and risotto, so I used an Ina Garten version of this recipe as a guide, but of course (per usual) made some changes that let the recipe work for me. 

Butternut Squash Risotto
adapted from Ina Garten's recipe

1 large butternut squash
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 c. chicken stock
6 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine
1 c. grated pecorino-romano cheese
1/4 c. fresh parsley

I've documented my risotto method before, and if you'd like step-by-step instructions with pictures, click here.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and cube the butternut squash.  I find this a little easier to do if I pierce it with a fork and microwave it for five to ten minutes first.  Toss the cubed squash with the olive oil, and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven 25-30 minutes or until softened.

Place the chicken stock in a smaller pot over medium heat.  Once the stock begins to simmer, drop the heat to low.

In the meantime, melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the onions, salt them, and saute until they are translucent, then add the garlic and saute another minute or two.  Add the arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter.  Allow the rice to toast for three minutes or so.

Add the white wine to the pot, stirring to allow the rice to soak it up.  Once the liquid is gone, ladle about a cup of the chicken stock into the pot.  Stir, and when liquid has evaporated, add more.  Continue this process until all the liquid is absorbed.  The rice should be creamy with an al dente center. 

Turn off the heat and add the squash, cheese, and fresh parsley.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

13 December 2009

Christmas Cookies: Pizelle

Last year, I made Christmas cookies as gifts, and this year I'm continuing the tradition.  Though I made eight different types of cookies last year, the only one I posted was Gingerbread.  This year, I'm repeating several of the same cookies I made last Christmas.  Some of these recipes are ones that my mom and I always made together, and living 600 miles apart, it's a nice way to feel close to my family during the holidays.

Today I made pizzelle, a traditional Italian cookie that requires a special press.  This is the one I own, and I love it.  For about $40, you can make pizzelle for years to come.  Once you master the recipe and use of the machine, you can make cannoli shells, ice cream cones, waffle bowls, and more using the basic recipe.

Here's my pizzelle maker:

I use the "Classic Pizzelle" recipe that came with my Cuisinart Pizzelle Press and double it, which yields 60-70 cookies.

Classic Pizzelle
from Cuisinart

3-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
6 large eggs
1-1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp. vanilla extract

Sift flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, set aside.

Combine eggs and sugar (I use my KA mixer for this) for about one minute.  Slowly pour melted butter and vanilla into bowl of running mixer until combined.  Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. 

Follow the directions for preheating and baking using your pizzelle press.  Cool on a rack, dust with powdered sugar just before serving.  I like to add candies to the tray for color.

If you wish to shape your pizzelle, you need to do it as soon as they come off the press.  Once they start to cool, attempting to bend or shape them will only break the cookies.  These are an Italian favorite, and a staple of Christmas Eve in my family.  If you choose to purchase a pizzelle press, I know your family will be thrilled to make them a part of their holiday tradition too!

08 December 2009

Chicken with Lemony Egg Noodles and Peas

 I have become a fan of MSN's food website - it's called "Delish.com", and there are tons of recipes that are easy to search and easy to make.  Each recipe includes nutritional information, reviews, and when available, other versions of the dish.

The first recipe I made from Delish was this Chicken with Lemony Egg Noodles and Peas.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of lemon in savory dishes.  I tend to think it outshines chicken, and I love the flavor of seafood so much that I hate to mask it with lemon.  I definitely scaled back the lemon in this dish, but you could follow the original recipe if you are a fan of lemony flavors.

I needed to feed five people with this recipe, and it didn't indicate how many servings I'd get, so I doubled the original.  Below you'll see the recipe exactly as I made it.  For the record, I'd say my version could have fed 8 people, because I had TONS of leftovers.  Luckily, this creamy dish is delicious, so I was happy to eat it leftover!

Chicken with Lemony Egg Noodles and Peas
adapted from Delish.com

4 chicken legs
2 lemons
16 oz. extra-wide egg noodles
8 oz. sugar snap peas
2 c. shredded carrots
2 c. frozen peas
2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. skim milk
1 c. shredded cheese (I used 3/4 mozzarella and 1/4 parmesan)

The original recipe calls for a leftover rotisserie chicken, but I had chicken legs in the freezer, so I opted to use those instead.  I cooked them in the crockpot with a squeeze of lemon juice and the halves of the lemons.  When I put the pasta together, I skipped the zest that the original recipe calls for.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the slow cooker and allow to cool slightly.  Use two forks to shred the meat from the bone, set aside.

From here on out, this is pretty simple.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Salt the water, then add the egg noodles.  Cook as instructed on the package.  With one minute left to go, add the snap peas to the water.

Put the carrots and frozen peas in a colander.  Drain the noodles and snap peas over these vegetables.  The heat from the boiling water will heat the carrots and peas.

Return the noodle pot to the stove.

While the noodles and veggies drain, combine broth, milk, salt, and pepper in the pot over high heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.  Stir in cheese and cream until cheese is completely melted.

 Add shredded chicken, noodles, and vegetables to the pot.  Stir thoroughly to combine, serve while hot.

03 December 2009

White Wine Steamed Mussels

When Andrew and I go out to dinner, one of our favorite appetizers to order is mussels.  Typically, they've been steamed in white wine, then served in some variation of a scampi sauce - white wine, butter, and garlic.  I decided it would be fun, easy, and way less expensive to make this dish at home.  Having grown up in a family that adores all seafood, I've cooked many varieties in many different ways, so I don't have that fear that a lot of other home cooks seem to have regarding seafood.  If you are one of those people who is always nervous about cooking fish or shellfish, this is a great recipe for you.  It requires very little effort and it's tough to mess up!

This recipe makes a good appetizer for 4-6 people, but Andrew and I ate it as our meal.  If you wanted, you could serve the mussels and the butter-wine sauce over linguine, and it would probably serve 4 people as well.  Andrew and I opted to eat the steamed mussels as our main course, accompanied by a sliced baguette and a green salad. 

White Wine Steamed Mussels
adapted from The Big Slice 

2 lb. fresh mussels, washed
2 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, sliced or chopped
1-1/2 c. white wine
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped (optional)

A tip on storing mussels:  when you buy them, the fishmonger may pack them in ice in a plastic bag for you.  If you purchase from a seafood market, they will most likely give you a bag with holes in it.  If you buy your mussels in the grocery store, they will probably put them in a regular plastic bag.  If they do this, take a pen or your car keys and poke holes in the top of the bag.  The best way to do this is to hold the bag in your left hand, and use your poking tool (I like to use an uncapped pen) to stab the loose area at the top of the plastic (where there are no mussels).  You want them to stay alive until you cook them; that is the point of packing them on ice, so don't suffocate them by skipping this step.  Put the mussels in a bowl in your fridge so the ice doesn't leak everywhere as it melts.

If you need advice on how to clean mussels (also known as "de-bearding" them), The Big Slice has a video for you.

Once they're clean, it's time to cook!  Make sure you have thrown away any mussels with open or broken shells.  Steam the mussels over 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of the white wine for ten minutes.  Discard any whose shells do not open. 

In the meantime, melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the onions and saute on medium high heat so they will carmelize.  (This is an alteration - when I made this, I followed TBS's recipe exactly, and I found the onions were too white and too crunchy for my taste.)  Add the garlic, sauteeing for another minute or two.  Once softened, add the remaining cup of wine and bring to a simmer.

Continue simmering until the wine has reduced by about half.  Add one cup of the mussel steaming liquid to the pan, stir to combine.

Serve the mussels in a large bowl - pour the sauce over them, top with fresh parsley.   Accompany with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.

This is a great introduction into cooking shellfish.  If you've never tried serving seafood at home, this recipe is a fun first step.  A small ingredient list and simple preparation allow the mussels to shine.  I know you'll be satisfied with the results if you try this one!

01 December 2009

Brownies + Chocolate Chip Cookies = Brookies!

If you read the title of my thread and didn't get excited, I may have to disown you.  How could you NOT be stoked about the combination of chocolate chip cookies and brownies?  Let me tell you, this is a synergistic partnership - cookies are great and brownies are yummy, but together...they are AMAZING!

I have seen this recipe all over the internet, but it seems most bloggers got it from Bakerella, who I believe got it from Betty Crocker herself.

I made these brookies for Ann's surprise birthday party.  Unfortunately, in all my excitement about these delicious treats and the party they were made for, I got just one final photo, and it's a bit blurry.  Click here to see Bakerella's finished product.  Mine looked exactly the same!

This is such a simple recipe - you need one bag of Betty Crocker's chocolate chip cookie mix, and one box of her brownie mix.

Make each one according to the package directions.

Pour the brownies into a 13x9 pan, then top with blobs of the cookie dough.

Looks good already, doesn't it?

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees and you get this:

So far, this looks delicious, right?  Well, here's where Bakerella kicks things up a notch.  She tops these bars with chocolate ganache.  Um, yes please!

Chocolate Ganache
from Bakerella  

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 c. heavy cream
6 tbsp. unsalted butter

Put the chocolate chips in a bowl.

Good job.  :)

Over medium-high heat, bring the butter and cream to just before boiling.  When bubbles are forming around the edges, turn off the heat. 

Perfect!  Pour the butter and cream mixture over the chocolate chips.

Stir until chocolate is melted and fully combined.

Top the brookies with the ganache, and step away from the pan.  You need to let the ganache set so it doesn't go all over everything.  I put the lid on this pan and stuck the whole thing out in the garage until it was time to cut and plate the bars.
There they are, in a place of honor on the table at the party!

I can tell you, these were a HUGE hit.  They are super rich, extremely chocolatey, and win big points from adults and kids alike.  Definitely make them for your next holiday party, office get-together, or random Tuesday at home.