December 31, 2011
Happy New Year everyone! It's kind of neat to think that while I was spending time in my kitchen cooking for my New Year's celebration later tonight, someone else- somewhere in the world was ringing in 2012. I watched the fireworks in New Zealand this morning while I was on the treadmill!
New Year's Eve is a laid-back holiday for my husband and I... no wild parties, (especially not now with a 3 month old), but we still have a great time... most of the time. Our first New Year's Eve together, we spent the night on the couch in our apartment, I worked a 12 hour day, got home at about 8pm, we toasted champagne- which we found out that night that Matt was allergic to... he popped a few Benedryl, and I think we were both sound asleep by 1030... We've gotten better since then. We've spent three of the past five years with friends of ours and their two kids, and we'll be bringing our son along this year. It's a low-key night of games, great food and drinks, and Dick Clark. Someday, I want to go to, or host a swanky cocktail party, but that can wait (high heels aren't that comfortable anyway).
Food-wise, there is no other time for hors d'oeuvres like New Year's Eve. I look forward to a night of snacking and sampling a variety of different things. I'm happy as long as there are mini-hotdogs. Yes, mini-hotdogs. Not gourmet, not complicated... simple, delicious, mini-hotdogs wrapped in refrigerated biscuits, baked until golden brown, and dipped in either barbecue sauce, or spicy mustard. For me, it just simply isn't New Year's without mini-hotdogs. That being said, I think I would get sick if that's all I ate all night, so there has to be other things. This year, my friend Shannon is in charge of chicken wings, mini-meatballs, and a veggie tray (I think- she's always full of delicious surprises!)... I was responsible for: the ever-important mini-hotdogs, pulled pork sliders, and tomato-avocado salsa and chips.
Apparently, at some point in the 4 years that I have been friends with Shannon, I made a tomato-avocado salsa, (guacamole, basically), and it was phenomenal. She has asked me to make it several times since then... the only problem is, I have no idea what recipe I followed, or made up, and have not been able to make it again since, so I always come up with something else to bring. She asked me to bring it for tonight's festivities, and this time I knew I needed to come up with something, so I created my own. ...I have no idea if its the same thing that I made before, but it's good!!
2 Haas Avocados, peeled and diced
3 tomatoes (small), diced
2 tbsp, chopped cilantro
4 tbsp, finely chopped red onion
1 1/2 tsp minced jalapeno pepper
1 1/2 limes, juiced
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
Halve avocados, slicing lengthwise. Holding the avocado in two hands, one on each side of the slice, twist to separate. Gently run knife along inside of avocado, slicing into small squares- scoop out into large bowl. Repeat process for both avocados. Keep pits in bowl with diced avocado- keeping the whole pits in with the salsa helps prevent the avocado from browning. Dice tomatoes, chop onion, cilantro, mince jalapeno- placing all ingredients into the bowl with the avocado. Juice lime into bowl, add salt and pepper. Stir. Serve with tortilla chips... a margarita would be good too!
I would share my recipe for the pulled pork, (something I usually make with chicken), but I have no idea where the recipe came from, and I don't want to get in trouble for stealing a recipe without giving credit where credit is due.
What kind of food traditions do you all have for New Year's? Anyone else love mini-hotdogs as much as I do?!?
I hope that everyone has a safe and happy New Year's!!
December 29, 2011
I am thrilled to announce that Christmas leftovers are gone!! Well, for the most part, at least... the remaining ham will be sliced and frozen for future quick meals. As far as blogging about it goes, I'm not quite done yet... I saved dessert for last.
This year I wanted to both try something new/different, and make something to tie in some of my family's traditions. So, I was very happy when I found a recipe for a Peppermint Ice Cream cake in an old Cooking Light magazine, and even happier when my aunt invited me over to make Chruscik with her before Christmas.
I'll start with the new... Peppermint Ice Cream Cake. First of all, I must say that I love ice cream. I really don't know anyone that doesn't- even my lactose-intolerant husband. I also don't know many people who don't love chocolate cake. A recipe that combines the two? Delicious. The fact that its a Cooking Light Recipe? Amazing.
Cooking Light: Serves 16
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup boiling water
6 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup egg substitute
1 1/2 cups all purpose flout
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups low-fat peppermint ice cream (such as Edy's/Dreyer's Slow-Churned Light), softened
3 cups frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed (I used Cool-Whip)
1/8 tsp peppermint extract (I did not use this)
8 peppermint candies, crushed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 2 (8in) round cake pans with cooking spray. Line bottom of each pan with wax paper.
Combine cocoa, water and butter, stirring with whisk until blended. Cool.
Combine sugars in a large bowl, stirring well until blended. Add egg substitute; beat 2 minutes or until light and creamy. Add cocoa mixture, and beat for 1 minute.
Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to bowl; beat for 1 minute or until blended. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 28 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans. Wrap in plastic wrap, and freeze for 2 hours or until slightly frozen.
Spread ice cream in an 8-inch round cake pan lined with plastic wrap. Cover and freeze 4 hours or until firm.
To assemble cake, place one cake layer, bottom side up, on a cake pedestal. Remove ice cream layer from freezer; remove plastic wrap. Place ice cream layer, bottom side up, on top of cake layer. Top with remaining cake layer.
Combine whipped topping and peppermint extract, and stir until blended. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with crushed peppermints. Freeze until ready to serve. Let cake stand at room temperature 10 minutes before slicing.
As mentioned above, I skipped the peppermint extract in the Cool-Whip "frosting". I think that the cake was wonderful without it... I would actually say that I think that the extract would have pushed it a little too far over the pepperminty edge. Overall, the cake was light and refreshing, an excellent end to a big meal! Now that I've conquered the ice cream cake idea, I think I will play with different ice creams and cakes to create my own combinations.
... And now, for the "old". A bit of my family's tradition. As I mentioned above, I made homemade chruscik with my aunt. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, and the resulting dessert was delicious. My grandfather was Polish, and growing up, my family always followed the Polish tradition for Christmas Eve dinner. We would have soup, fish, pierogi, vegetables, and more... for a total of 7 courses. Dessert sometimes included chruscik. For those of you who haven't tried chruscik before, I would say that its like a very light, almost cookie-like version of funnel cake. Its really yummy, worth the work, and you really can't have just one...
Recipe from: Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans
2 cups flour
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 jigger rum
Add salt to eggs and beat until thick and lemon-colored. Add sugar, butter and rum and continue to beat. Fold in flour and knead, (on a well floured board) until the dough blisters. Cut in halves, roll very thin and cut into strips about 4 inches long. Slit eat piece in center and pull one end through the slit. Fry in hot fat (or oil) until lightly browned. Drain on absorbent paper and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
I got away easy. I was in charge of frying... and of my son, who luckily for us, spent most of the afternoon napping. I did, however, pay attention during the mixing and rolling-out process. Biggest tip: don't be surprised if you use much more than 2 cups of flour. The dough is sticky during the rolling... add flour gradually until it stops sticking to everything. Also, "roll very thin" means, roll very thin. We could faintly see the wood grain of the table through the dough when they were rolled out perfectly. We used canola oil to fry in... I put them in, one by one, with a max. of 4 cookies in the pan at once. Allow them to lightly brown on one side, before turning them over to finish cooking... If you're making them a few days in advance, store in air-tight container, and you'll probably want to sprinkle them with powdered sugar again right before serving. Mine lasted 4 days in a tupperware, and were delicious on Christmas.
The only other dessert item I made this year were almond cookies, (my and my grandmother's favorite)... I used a recipe for Russian Tea Cakes and used almonds as my nut-of-choice. Perhaps I will share that recipe sometime in the future. I'm sure I'll have occasion to bake cookies again soon. Lucky for me, a couple of my guests brought sweets with them; my grandmother baked a tasty vanilla cake, and my cousin-in-law's girlfriend brought yummy and adorable rice-crispie treat wreaths. (Which I wish I had gotten a picture of before they were all eaten!)
Well, thats it for tonight... I hope that everyone is enjoying their leftovers, and can soon celebrate finishing them! Time for me to find and make new things to share...
You can find the Cooking Light recipe for the Peppermint Ice Cream Cake online here.
Chruscik Recipe from cookbook: Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans, Published by The Polanie Club, by the Polanie Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Originally published in 1948, reprinted many times- most recently in 2008. Known lovingly in my family as "the red book". You can purchase a copy of this cookbook on amazon.com
December 27, 2011
I hope that everyone is enjoying their holiday season! I love the holidays, and really look forward to this time of year. For four months, (October through January), there is so much to celebrate, so many family gatherings, traditions, and always lots of great food.
We seemed to eat our way through Christmas this year, starting on Christmas Eve, through dinner on the 26th! Every bite was delicious.
Christmas Eve we went to my husband's Grandmother's house for baked ziti, sausage and meatballs, salad, and yummy Christmas cookies and cakes. His Grandmother gave me her recipe for her Boiled Raisin Cake, which I will have to make before winter is over. Filled with delicious, plump raisins and spices, it tastes like the holidays.
We spend Christmas morning with my in-laws. My mother-in-law made a delicious, and somewhat healthy, brunch. We had a refreshing fruit salad, Brie and Egg Strata, homemade cinnamon rolls, sparkling apple cider and hot tea. Everything was fabulous! The strata was wonderful; layers of fluffy eggs, tender veggies and potatoes, mixed with gooey brie cheese... yum! The cinnamon rolls were incredible! She made them the day before, then warmed them and made the icing on Christmas morning... the house smelled like cinnamon and dough, like a delicious bakery.
For the first time, my husband and I hosted Christmas Dinner. We had a total of 15 people from my family, and his. The menu included: baked ham, cranberry chutney, green bean casserole (my own recipe), oven-roasted brussels sprouts, mashed potato casserole, sweet potatoes, balsamic succotash, and potato-cheese pierogies in caramelized onions (part of my family's Christmas tradition). Desserts included a (Cooking Light) Peppermint Ice Cream Cake, almond cookies and homemade chruscik.
There was a ton of food! Luckily, we were able to use some of the dishes the next night, along with a perfectly roasted turkey and a spiral-cut ham, with my father-in-law's side of the family.
As you can imagine, there were many, many recipes from our holiday celebrations worth sharing. To prevent this post from being the post that never ends, I will only be sharing a few tonight... I'll save the sweet stuff for tomorrow...
This was only the second time ever that I have made a baked ham. So, I nervously scoured the internet for cranberry ham recipes, in hopes of: 1. being able to use the fresh cranberries that I bought at Thanksgiving, didn't get to use and tossed in the freezer, and 2. making a delicious ham. Finding no cranberry ham recipes that I liked, I decided that I would separate the two, and make a delicious ham, and cranberry chutney as an accompaniment. Matt's uncle makes homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving every year, so the pressure was on! I was thrilled when I heard him say that the chutney was "bangin'"!!
Everyday Food, November 2005
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced shallot
1 tbsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger*
1 (12oz) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper
In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-low. Add shallots and ginger; cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, about 5 minutes.
Add cranberries, sugar, vinegar and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, until most of the berries have burst and mixture has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Let cool completely. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
*I did not have fresh ginger, so I used about 1/2 tbsp. powdered ginger.
I made this chutney the day before, and chilled it in the refrigerator. About two hours or so before dinner, I removed it from the fridge and put it in dishes on the table so that it was room temperature by dinner time.
Growing up, every year we ate green bean casserole during Thanksgiving dinner. The version we ate was, I think, the original Campbell's soup recipe with full-fat Cream of Mushroom soup, cans of french-cut green beans and French's onions. While nostalgic and tasty, I wanted to see if I could make one of my favorite dishes a little healthier and perhaps a little more delicious. I think that I accomplished my goals! This recipe is a definite 'keeper'.
2 (12oz) pkgs frozen green beans, cooked per pkg directions*
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1/2 tbsp butter
1tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (10.75oz) can 98% fat-free Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup
1/4 cup reduced-fat milk
French's onions, for topping.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place olive oil and butter into a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute shallots and garlic until shallots are translucent. Add fresh thyme, pepper and soup. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly. Turn heat down to low, and allow soup mixture to come together. Cook green beans per package directions in microwave. Remove from microwave and place beans into large bowl. Pour soup over beans, tossing to mix completely, then pour mixture into an oven-safe 2qt. dish. Bake for 25 minutes. Stir, top with onions, and bake uncovered for 5 minutes, or until onions are browned. Serve warm.
*I used Bird's Eye Steamfresh green beans, and cooked them in the microwave for 4.5 minutes, each package.
I made a double batch of this casserole the day before and refrigerated overnight (divided into 2 separate oven-safe dishes). About half an hour before they needed to be baked, I took them out of the fridge to warm up a bit before putting them into the oven.
As I mentioned above, I had only made a baked ham once before Christmas dinner. I relied on a glaze recipe that I found online at About.com. The flavors were simple, familiar and delicious. I did not follow their baking directions. Instead, as per package directions, I baked mine in a 325 degree oven for 15 minutes per pound. Before putting the ham into the oven, I made sure there was about 1/2 inch of ginger ale in the bottom of my roasting pan, and covered the pan with foil. Every 30 minutes, I checked on the ham, basting the top of the ham with the ginger ale, always making sure that there was about 1/2 inch of liquid in the pan.
1 fully cooked ham, about 6 to 8 pounds
whole cloves, optional (I did not use them)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cola (I used Cherry Coke)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Combine maple syrup, brown sugar, cola, mustard, ginger and cinnamon in saucepan; bring to a simmer and continue cooking over low heat for about 2 minutes. About 20 minutes before ham is done, spoon about half of the glaze over top of ham, then about 10 minutes before done, spread remaining glaze over ham.
My ham turned out to be very moist, and is making us some very good ham sandwiches... Any ideas for recipes that use leftover ham?!?
There is still so much to share!! I could keep going, but it's making me hungry, and I want to keep this a bit shorter than a cookbook... Tomorrow, I'll share the recipe I used for the Peppermint Ice Cream Cake (Cooking Light!!!) and the homemade Chruscik.
Recipes I mentioned tonight:
Brie and Egg Strata
Ham with Cola and Maple Glaze
December 17, 2011
I am the type of person who buys bananas with the secret hope that they will go uneaten so that I can make banana muffins out of them... I like bananas, but if reaching for a fruit to snack on, I prefer apples, grapes... many other fruits. But, make them into a baked good, and I just can't get enough!
Today, (caught up somewhere between cleaning, planning, and a crying, growth-spurt having baby), I was in desperate need of "baking therapy", and very lucky for me, I had a couple of very ripe bananas waiting for me to make them into something yummy. I have tried and created many different recipes (eg. my recipe for Banana-Walnut Oat Bran muffins from February), for banana bread and banana muffins, but today, I wanted to try something new. This time around, I tried to make them at least a little healthful, by using some whole wheat flour and egg substitute.
Makes 16 muffins
2 large, ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup reduced fat milk
3 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup egg substitute, (equivalent of 1 large egg)
Turbinado/Raw sugar for muffin tops, optional
Preheat oven to 375°, and place muffin liners into muffin pan. Combine flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Set aside. In bowl of mixer pour brown sugar, milk, oil, vanilla and egg substitute. Mix wet ingredients at medium speed until combined. Slowly add dry ingredients into wet, until well combined. In small bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Fold mashed bananas into muffin batter. Pour batter into muffin tins, filling each until about 2/3 full. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar on top of each muffin. Bake on middle rack for 18 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan. Set on wire rack to cool.
I really enjoyed this recipe. The whole wheat flour adds a warm nuttiness to the muffins, without having to splurge on walnuts (or worry about whether or not you have them on hand at the same time as your ripe bananas). The cinnamon and nutmeg add a subtle spice, which is great- especially during this time of year. The best part is, I made them out of ingredients that I had on hand at home... things that I always have in my kitchen. (With the exception of the egg substitute... but I always have either substitute or the real deal, and you could use either when baking.)
I hope that everyone is enjoying their holiday season! Christmas dinner will be at our house this year, which we are very excited about. There is a lot to be done, but I know that it will be a great time, and (of course) there will be a lot of good food to share... food that I plan on sharing here!!
December 08, 2011
|Clockwise: Peanut Butter Reindeer, Orange Marmalade Thumbprints, Oatmeal Cranberry, Orange Chocolate Chip, Italian Anisette, Chocolate Chunk, Chewy Chocolate-Cherry, Russian Tea Cookies|
My first year, I used a Cooking Light recipe for Chocolate-Hazelnut Thumbrints (made with Nutella!)... they were incredibly delicious and very labor intensive. I took home a prize! My second year, I chose an easier, (but equally as yummy) Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze. This year, my goal was to find and bake the easiest and best-tasting cookie I could find. I had no delusions of winning best-looking. Easy cookies, in my opinion, are drop cookies... and I don't know too many good-looking drop cookies. So, after much research, this year I chose to bake a Rachael Ray recipe for Kahlua Chocolate Chunk Cookies.
These cookies use chocolate chip cookie mix as a base... a good time saver and sanity saver, (especially when, in the middle of counting teaspoons of baking powder you could get called away by a crying baby)... I was a little skeptical at first, just because I've never used a cookie mix before and it almost felt like cheating. I got over my skepticism when I realized how easy it was to make double batches without getting worked up about losing track of my dry ingredients.
I needed a total of 10 dozen cookies for the exchange so I made two double-batches of cookies, which worked out very well... I made just enough to sample some right out of the oven, make sure my husband liked them, and ensure that my tasting and swapping dozens were as close to perfect as possible. (While keeping any that I deemed "imperfect" in our share... which ended up being a little larger than a dozen.).
Rachael Ray: One batch: 34 cookies
1 (1lb 1.5oz) package dry chocolate chip cookie mix
7 tbsp. butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
4 tbsp. Kahlua, or other coffee liquor
3 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee crystals
1 tbsp. ground coffee beans
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks, (she recommends Ghiradelli)
4 oz. walnut pieces*
Preheat oven to 375.
Place racks in center of oven. In a mixing bowl, make a well in center of dry chocolate chip cookie mix. Ad softened butter, egg, Kahlua, instant coffee and ground coffee, chocolate chunks and walnuts. Mix well to combine all ingredients into cookie dough. Scoop with a small scoop** or by heaping tablespoons and drop cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased nonstick cookie sheet. Bake cookies in batches 9 to 11 minutes or until crisp and browned at edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve.
*I did not use the walnut pieces, and still very much enjoyed the cookies. When I make these cookies in a normal quantity (ie. one batch), I will include the walnuts.
**I love my cookie scoop (looks like a small, old-fashioned ice cream scoop). Cookies come out much more uniform and you actually get the expected number of cookies from a batch when using one. I highly recommend getting and using a cookie scoop whenever you bake! I also use mine when baking cupcakes.
As a coffee and chocolate chip cookie enthusiast, I must say: these cookies were awesome!! (One taster said that these cookies tasted just like a mocha frappuchino.) Although I did not get enough votes for best-tasting this year, I will be making these cookies again.
|Best Tasting: Chewy Chocolate-Cherry|
I really enjoy the cookie exchange tradition. Some of the best parts of the holidays are food and the family and friends we share it with. Cookie parties give us an opportunity to get-together, taste delicious treats and maybe even pick up a few new recipes- I am already looking forward to next year!
December 04, 2011
I love pasta. I am also trying to lose weight this winter, rather than gain my typical 5lbs of "insulation". So, I'm trying to eat a little lighter this winter: skipping some unnecessary carbs, and doing my best to eat more fruits and vegetables. I remember a couple of years ago, my mom told me that she had made spaghetti squash "pasta" as a stand in for one of my beloved starches. I tried it, liked it, made it once at home... but it didn't become part of my rotation of go-to meals. I decided last night, I would give it another shot.
The one time before that I made spaghetti squash, I steamed it in the microwave. It was quick and easy to do, but I needed to do better. The microwaved/steamed version that I had made before was watery, not very flavorful, and miles away from any pasta I'd ever had.
This time, I decided to try cooking the squash differently to see if I ended up with a more flavorful result. So, I "googled" how to cook spaghetti squash. It turns out that this squash, although perhaps more fun than the others, is just as easy to cook as its cousins the acorn and butternut. Simple oven roasting. I already had the oven on from baking my cookies for the cookie exchange tomorrow, (more on that next time), so I decided I would give it a try. Oven roasting vegetables highlights their natural flavors and adds such a comforting, hearty quality... I had to try it. The result: delicious, slightly sweet and a little nutty, I would have been more than happy to eat the whole squash all on its own, fresh out of the oven. I did, however, throw together a light, simple meat sauce to add some protein for a more complete meal.
Serves 4 (approximate)
1 medium spaghetti squash
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2 lg. garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 (14.5oz) cans diced tomatoes, and their juice
Preheat oven to 375. Slice squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds and pulp. Brush cut sides of squash with olive oil, coating completely. Season with salt and pepper. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Place squash, cut side down, in baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool in dish until cool enough to handle.
While squash is cooking, place a saucepan over medium heat. Add ground beef, and garlic. Cook until meat is browned, breaking up the beef into small pieces. Strain fat, (if there is any). Season with the salt, pepper, and other spices. Pour the tomatoes, with their juices, into the saucepan with the meat and simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes. (The sauce will become less runny, and the flavors will have a chance to develop.)
Once the squash is cool enough to handle, turn the squash halves over so they are facing cut side up. Run a fork through the squash, and it will easily separate into noodle-like strands. Scoop squash into bowl, top with meat sauce and serve.
Roasting the squash was definitely the way to go. I plan on trying roasted spaghetti squash as a side dish, and will be making roasted spaghetti squash "pasta" one of my go-to dinners. If you're craving heavy noodles, or are a die-hard pasta fan, this isn't the perfect replacement for real spaghetti... but its definitely something you should try anyway!