December 18, 2010

.'tis the season.

I have a confession. I feel as though I should tell you all I have a little bit of a blog crush on the Pioneer Woman. My cousin Mandy introduced me to her website and I have been hooked ever since. She cooks. She bakes. She takes pictures of her children covered in manure. And so much more. I love it.

A short while ago she had a cookie week, in preparation for Christmas, no doubt. I bookmarked many of the recipes to try and this is the first one I got around to. I remember having something like this growing up but it wasn't one of the yearly traditional cookies that my grandmother made.

These cookies are off the chain. For real. They are light, airy, buttery and delicious. It's taking all of our self-control for me and the man to not go eat the rest of them right now. I halved the recipe and didn't add any of the lemon or orange zest, as I only had one stick of butter and no lemon or orange. I also used whole cherries for each cookie, rather than cutting them in half. The Pioneer Woman's recipe is here. And mine is below.

Christmas Cherries makes 13 cookies
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or the juice of one lemon)
1 cup flour, double sifted
Candied cherries (green or orange)

Cream the butter and sugar together until combined. Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Mix until combined. You may need to scrape the bowl periodically to get everything together. Add the flour, mix. Place dough in a ziplock bag, or cover the bowl with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. After the dough is cold enough take it out and roll it into small balls. I was able to get 13 out of a half batch. Press a candied cherry lightly into the dough. Bake for 20 minutes.


December 14, 2010

.the daring cooks challenge: december.

Jenn and Jill have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chose an Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan and Homemade Sun-Dried Tomato and Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie Num Num.

Eggs Benedict was the recipe I decided to try, mostly because it was the one I was most familiar with. I have never made it, nor have I ever poached an egg. I thought, hey how hard can it be?

Well, turns out it's freaking super hard. I decided to just attempt the poaching and not the Hollandaise sauce, and really the dish was fine without the sauce. The poached eggs, however, well.... they didn't really work out so great for me.

I attempted the first egg.

Hot mess.

I attempted the second egg.

Hotter mess.

I attempted the third, and final egg.

Hottest mess ever recorded.

So, I did manage to salvage the second egg, as seen above, then I just pan-fried 3 more. Yeah. Y'all should know by now that's how I was going to roll. So we wound up with an English muffin, topped with some sliced ham, and a fried egg. It was pretty dang good. Not Eggs Benedict good but poached eggs are not my forte. I highly doubt I will ever even try to make them again. It just isn't worth the stress of seeing that egg white break apart as soon as it hits the water.

Some people turn out awesome poached eggs though, so if you're one of those people, I am very impressed now.


December 13, 2010

.puffy pumpkin pillows of deliciousness.

I have really come to appreciate pumpkin this season. I have never really cooked with it much before, and really rarely even ate it unless it was a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie or possibly a pumpkin empanada. This fall though I have branched out and tried new things. When I saw a recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I pretty much knew I had to try them too.

So, while looking at the recipe I, of course, decided to change a few things. It called for 2 sticks of butter which is just way too much for me so I cut that down to 1 stick, and then upped the pumpkin from 1 cup to the whole can. I'm an all in sort of girl. Don't play poker with me. Even for matchsticks. Just ask my father-in-law.

Pumpkin Chocolate Cookies makes 50-60 cookies
1 stick of butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups chocolate chips, semi-sweet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter. Add both sugars and mix together. Since I omitted the second stick of butter this never really got to a creamed state but it was thoroughly combined. Add the eggs and beat. Add the vanilla extract and the pumpkin, beat until everything is combined.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to the wet mixture in thirds until everything is combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are browned.

One thing I thought was interesting about these cookies is that they don't really flatten at all in the oven. I used a handy dandy cookie scoop to put them on the baking sheets and they came out of the oven in pretty much the exact same shape. I did attempt to flatten one batch, as shown, before putting it in the oven by wetting my fingers and pressing the dough flat and that turned out fairly well but I decided I liked the puffy dome shaped cookies anyway.

They taste the same, and oh! That taste. This is definitely not Grandma's classic chocolate chip cookie. The pumpkin gives it an extra oomph. I highly recommend these cookies.


December 4, 2010

.this bread is bananas.


Yup, so apparently 'tis the week to be making banana bread. I have been seeing it everywhere! I attribute this to Thanksgiving. Mostly because that's the reason I made banana bread. You see, everyone bought bananas before Thanksgiving, but then got so caught up in cooking and eating Thanksgiving dinner and leftovers and the poor bananas got neglected, thus causing them to over-ripen, but making them perfect for some delicious homemade, freshly baked banana bread.

Ms. Smart over at the Smart Kitchen pretty much has banana bread on lock down, and has some awesome banana bread recipes I would like to try (Dark chocolate! Nutella! Hello!) But, for this time I used my grandmother's recipe. Tried and true. This is the banana bread I grew up eating. Kind of.... ok... I actually did change two things. I cut back on the butter (a lot) and the sugar (a little). The resulting bread is still extremely delicious though so, I would say no harm, no foul.

Grandma's Walnut Banana Bread makes 1 loaf
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick of butter
2-3 ripe bananas
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend the butter and sugar until creamed. Add the banana, eggs and vanilla. You can mash these together before hand, or just throw them all in and let the hand mixer do the work. Next add the flour, baking soda and baking powder until combined. Gently fold in the walnuts.

Place in a greased and floured loaf pan. Cook in oven for 1 hour. You might want to check after about 45 minutes and make sure the top is not getting burned. If it is, just place a foil tent over the top for the remaining cooking time. Remove and let cool.

The banana bread will go from looking like this:

To this:

I know some people put things on their banana bread. Butter, peanut butter, etc. I find, however, that this banana bread is best eaten all by itself. The man agrees. And Wally probably would too.... if he would eat people food.


December 1, 2010

.tasty nuts.

Ohhh yeah. So I'm a big fan of Angela over at Oh She Glows. I'm also a big fan of mixed nuts. So when I saw her recipe for Twice Baked Bar Nuts that she made for her Canadian Thanksgiving I thought they would be great for an American Thanksgiving snack as well.

I only used walnuts and almonds but you can pretty much use any kind of nuts you want. I was also fortunate to have a fresh rosemary plant on my back deck, courtesy of my mother-in-law! That one is faring much better than the basil, haha. I also switched out Angela's cayenne pepper for chili powder because that's what I had.

This recipe is super, insanely easy and I recommend you give it a try. Perhaps for Christmas?

Twice Baked Bar Nuts serves many
3 cups of nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, any will do)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Pinch of chili powder
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place nuts on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in the heated oven. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes. While the nuts are cooling combine mix all of the ingredients, except for 1 tablespoon of the butter. Dump the nuts into a separate bowl and combine with the 1 tablespoon of butter. I did not have to melt the butter that I put on the nuts but I did melt the butter I combined with the other ingredients. After all of the nuts are coated with the butter, pour the other ingredients into the bowl and mix to combine. Pour the nuts back onto the baking sheet and toast for another 10-12 minutes. Serve warm.

These nuts were so freaking good. They had the sugar and the salt combination but the rosemary really took them over the edge. I can't wait to make them again, and I'm sure my family won't mind either.


November 19, 2010

.short ribs, tallllllll flavor.

Yeah. Went there.

So, the week before last when the man and I were out of town for business he had to work everyday, but I got to sit in the hotel room and watch the Food Network. This was a pretty nice vacay, seeing as how we don't have cable in our home. One of the shows that was on was Mrs. Giada showing us how to make Penne with Braised Short Ribs. I was hooked, I knew that was what I wanted to make for the man's birthday. Pasta, meat, red wine: I'm in! And I knew he would be too.

I followed Giada's recipe to the tee, except for cooking the ribs in the oven. Unfortunately the lid to my dutch oven broke a few days prior, but my super handy husband fixed it.

I didn't think, however, that a golf ball would be okay in the oven so I just cooked the ribs on the stove top and they came out just as incredible. By the time the ribs were done cooking the meat was literally falling off the bone. I found three bones that had completely separated from the meat, making my job that much easier. 

And the bones? A very lucky dog named Elwood got those. My husband's good friend, Joseph, was visiting and brought his dog with him. We think Elwood probably thought it was his birthday too!

After I shredded the beef, blended the rest of the mixture and cooked the penne, my husband opened himself a beer and tucked in to a super tasty birthday dinner.

I will say, as delicious as this was, I don't think I'll make short ribs again. I've made roasts that were just as good so in the future I will probably just cook a whole roast, in the same fashion.


November 18, 2010

.little bit of this, little bit of that.

So I was going to make some simple spaghetti for dinner tonight but as I looked through my fridge and cupboard I realized I had some things that really needed to be used up. One of the items I found in the cupboard was some no-boil lasagna noodles.

There was also cheese in the fridge.

And half of a butternut squash. And a few handfuls of spinach.

And some tomato paste. And half a pound of ground turkey.

BAM. Lasagna was born.

Ok, so there was a little more to it than that. But, not a whole lot.

I really did just kind of throw this together based on what I had, so I won't be giving any real measurements but I will tell you my steps to this delicious concoction.

First preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Then peel and cut the squash into small chunks. Place in a microwave safe bowl, throw in a splash of water, cover with a damp papertowel and microwave. I went in 5 minute intervals and it took roughly 16 minutes.

While the squash is in the microwave brown the turkey in a saute pan with a little bit of salt and pepper. After it's browned add the tomato paste. Then I also added a whole can of diced tomatoes. Simmer for a few more minutes.

While everything else is going get the cheese mixture together. I used roughly 1.5 cups of grated, Mexican blend cheese and about 3 heaping spoonfuls of cottage cheese. I have never used cottage cheese in lasagna before, always opting for the way fattier ricotta cheese but, wow. The cottage cheese was so good. It added a cheesy flavor to the lasagna, but not that super heavy feeling most lasagnas have. I am now a believer.

After the meat mixture is browned and the tomatoes have been heating together with it put it in a bowl. By now the squash should be done, mash it up with some chili powder, garlic powder, and cinnamon.

Arrange a little assembly line and put together the lasagna. Start with a thin layer of the sauce mixture, place lasagna noodles over this. Put a slightly thicker layer of sauce, a layer of spinach, a layer of butternut squash and a layer of cheese mixture. Repeat until all ingredients are used. I only got two layers, but that was more than enough.

Put foil over the dish and cook for 50-55 minutes. The top should be bubbly and slightly browned in areas.


November 14, 2010

.daring cooks challenge: november.

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose soufflés as our November Daring Cooks' challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordan Ramsay's recipe found at the BBC Good Food website. Being difficult, as I'm prone to do, however, I decided on a crab and cheese soufflé recipe I found here.

I was extremely glad I did. But I'm also now eager to try so many more flavor variations.

The rumor near and far is that soufflés are complicated. They are said to be the diva of the culinary world. I think the truth is as far from that as possible. Yes, making the soufflé was a little bit complicated, you have to do everything in the correct order. You have to make sure the roux thickens just so. The egg whites needs to be perfectly stiff. You have to fold everything ever so delicately. Really though, I didn't handle any of the ingredients with kid gloves. I just got in there and made it happen.

As a result, I got 4 beautiful and petite soufflés.

And then I had so much extra mixture I got this little fella out of it too! Bonus buy.

One issue the man and I found was that the first tiny soufflés didn't have much crab in them. My guess is that I just got a lot of the egg mixture in my scooper when I was doling those out. Then the larger soufflé had a ton of crab in it, which was quite tasty. Also, because of the different sizes, there were different cook times. I put everything in the oven together, on a baking sheet, then after 25 minutes took the smaller ramekins out of the oven and continued to cook the larger dish for another 15 minutes. This did the trick and everything came out delicious, done and didn't collapse! I was pretty thrilled with myself, truth be told.

The man gave me a fist bump and told me I done good.

Next up: a chocolate soufflé!


November 11, 2010

.i'm on the band wagon.

The pumpkin band wagon!

All 5 of you who read this here blog probably already know this but, two months ago I moved to Georgia from Anchorage, AK. It was a 13 day, 5,260 mile, country-crossin' adventure. When we got to Georgia the man asked me what I wanted to do.

I said what any sane person who had been living in Alaska for 3 years would say: "I want to go to the Olive Garden." They don't have it up there in the great white north, don'tcha know?

Oh yes. I have waited tables at this fine establishment, and although it caused a deep and bitter hatred for people who eat at restaurants, it caused an ever lasting love for all things OG.

So we went, ate our delicious meal and then the man splurged. He went for something I had never even heard of, but that he knew he would love. He got a big ol' slice of pumpkin cheesecake. Upon taking his first bite he proclaimed it to be the most delicious thing he had ever eaten.

Until tonight that is.

Because tonight is his birthday. I have Braised Short Ribs... um, braising... but this morning (at 6:00AM I might add, because I am that awesome of a wife) I made the piece de resistance. I made a pumpkin cheesecake. But not just a pumpkin cheesecake. I made the pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake.

Since the ribs will take another hour or so, and since he's the birthday boy, he decided he was going to eat dessert first, which in my opinion is always a wise decision. He took the first bite. I waited on bated breath....

His eyes opened, ever so slightly, he looked at me and said, "I think this is even better than the OG's." And then he scarfed the whole piece in about 2.1 seconds. And then I ate a piece and said, "Oh, you're not just being nice, that pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake is the most glorious dessert to ever enter this home." And then I scarfed my piece in 3.4 seconds... I have some self-control.

Really though, this cheesecake hits all the right notes. It smells of pumpkin pie, it tastes smooth and creamy on the tongue, and there is a beautiful chocolate undertone. So good. I used a mash-up of numerous recipes so I'll give you the one I created. My cooking time was a bit off though. I had to cook this bad boy for an extra 40 minutes... it would just not set! But it did, and it cracked, but you know what? My husband thinks his birthday pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake is better than the Olive Garden pumpkin cheesecake. And that's all that matters.

I won this throwdown, OG!

The round-up

I call this "Le crack de contrast"
Sara's "Better Than the OG" Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake serves 8-10
1.5 cups gingersnap cookies, finely ground
1/8 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted
4-6 ounces chocolate (any, I used about 1.5 oz dark and 3 mini Hershey milk chocolate bars from Halloween)
1 tablespoon butter
24 ounces cream cheese, softened (3 packages)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
15 ounces pureed pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Combine ground gingersnap cookies (I put mine in a ziplock bag and smashed the hell out of them with a rolling pin), 5 tablespoons melted butter and 1/8 cup sugar. Press this into an even layer in a 10-inch spring form pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, or your mixer bowl, combine cream cheese, remaining sugar and flour until creamed. Add in the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, pumpkin spice and pureed pumpkin. Beat on low until combined. Put chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave until melted (yeah, ghetto, whatever, it worked) add roughly 1 cup of the pumpkin cheesecake mixture to the chocolate. Mix thoroughly, then pour chocolate mixture over the crust. Put in the oven for 10 minutes. This will make the chocolate layer set slightly, so it doesn't go all over the place when you pour the plain pumpkin cheesecake mixture in. After 10 minutes take the pan out and carefully pour the remaining mixture over the chocolate layer.

The crust
Place back in the oven, on 500 degrees, for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 200 degrees and cook for 30 minutes. Now this is where it got tricky for me. I followed instructions telling me to put a foil tent over the cheesecake and bake it for another hour at 200 degrees. After said hour it was not set at all so I baked it for another 40 minutes without the foil tent, at 300 degrees, and it came out perfect. I can not attest that this would work but I would suggest, after the 10 minutes at 500 degrees, to bake it for a whole hour at about 225, without a tent. Check how set it is after that and if it's not then cook for an addition 30 minutes with a foil tent. Continue to cook at a low heat until it is set.

Turn the oven off and open the oven. Allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and let cool on the stove top or a wire rack. Then refrigerate for as many hours as possible. This can be made a few days ahead of time.

You can tell the cheesecake is set when you bump it and the middle slightly jiggles. It shouldn't slosh all over the place though.

Another tip, when you're baking the cheesecake put a casserole dish filled with water on the other oven rack. Supposedly this will help the cheesecake to not crack. As you can see, it didn't help mine, but I think the weird cooking times and the foil tent is what caused it to crack. And again, it still tastes just as good with a crack in it.
"Le crack de contrast rouge"

So, that's all there is to that. This was my first cheesecake and I'm pretty damn happy with how it turned out. I will be making this again for Thanksgiving (along with lots of other goodies!) so I'm glad I know how delicious it is. But now the house smells like braised short ribs so, I must attend to those, and I will tell you all about them soon.

P.S. Happy birthday to my incredible husband, Brian! I love you!


November 9, 2010

.these are good for your eyes.

Where the carrot fiends at? I know you're out there. The man and I love carrots, but there are rare occasions when I buy a bag of baby carrots and somehow they get lost in the fridge, never to see the light of day.... er, our mouths. When I find said bag I think "these poor neglected baby carrots, they need to be baked into something delicious, STAT!"

So, that's what I do.

Usually I'll make carrot cake, because that's an awesome cake. But the man and I are trying, feebly I might add, to cut down on our baked goods consumption. So, I turned to food network to find something slightly more healthy that I could make with these carrots. I found a recipe for carrot muffins here. In fact, they even named them "Healthy Carrot Muffins." Can't go wrong with that, right? Well... not quite, the recipe does call for 2/3 cup of brown sugar.... but, whatever.

I tweaked the recipe a bit for what I had, and what we wanted in it. I will make some changes next time though: More carrots, less brown sugar and possibly walnuts. Here's my version.

"Healthy" Carrot Muffins makes 12 muffins
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups of carrots, grated
1/3 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put 12 liners in a muffin pan.

Whisk the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl whisk eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a spatula. Stir in the carrots and raisins. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Eat!