Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Christmas Re-Cap!

I can't believe Christmas is already over! We had a wonderful holiday. My husband and I spent Christmas Eve in Cincinnati with my parents, then went to Cleveland on Christmas day to be with my older sister at her home.
- Note Mom making the spatzle with the press. The photo is of my immediate family!
For dinner, my sister, mom and I made a traditional German dinner, including some of our favorite German recipes from Nanny Munchinger:
German Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese
Kartoffelklosse (Potato Dumplings)
and for dessert, Chocolate Cake.
We were blessed with many wonderful gifts under the tree, which fell over a few times, but Kris and Dan got it back up each time!

One of my favorite gifts was Middle Sister Wine from Kristine, as I am in the middle of 2 girls!

My other was the autographed copy of Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet by Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef!

Dad had a great time with his sons-in-law, recapping how we're all doing in the bowl pool (I'd like to add that Ashlee "Cupcake" Wetherington is pulling up the rear....oops)

And for Pumpkin, a little stuffed Penguin

As well as some leftover Sauerbraten from her Grandpa!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, no matter what you celebrate! A Year In the Kichen will be on vacation for the next week or so. I'll be spending time with family all over the place. If I can remember, I'll take some photos the wonderful food I'll be eating and helping to prepare, but sometimes I forget when I'm on vacation :)

Everyone stay safe, and have a RELAXING holiday :)
(That's one of our Christmas card photos!)

PS - If you ordered or received one of my Holiday Treats Packages, please feel free to leave a comment or testimonial. I'm always looking for things to add to my brochure, and appreciate and any all comments (good and bad - what did you like, what did you think was sub-par, what was packaged well and didn't break, what came in pieces? - I hope nothing!)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Artichoke and Goat Cheese Lasagna / Christmas Lasagna

For Christmas, I decided to make the ladies I work with in the Accounting Department each a lasagna. They are all so busy with kids and their activities, I felt like it would be super appreciated, and it was! I made them a basic lasagna with meat sauce and ricotta.

Since I was already making 4 lasagnas, I figured why not make 5 and make one for JJ and I for dinner. Since I knew we'd be out of town and would not be able to eat the whole thing, I invited over our friends Allison and Will. I love to add veggies to my lasagna, or different twists, so I made it with artichokes (Allison's favorite) and goat cheese mixed in with the ricotta. It was delicious!

So if you're giving a lasgana away, or seving a big group, plain ricotta might be the way to go, but if you're a little adventerous and want a new twist on lasagna, try out the artichoke lasagna!

Artichoke and Goat Cheese Lasagna

Meat Sauce, for 5 trays of lasagna, made in 2 pots:

2 lbs. ground beef

4 tbsp. EVOO

4 large onions, minced

10 cloves of garlic, minced

4 tbsp. Penzey's Italian herb seasoning

2 15. oz. cans Italian style tomato paste

4 15 oz. cans Tomato sauce

1 168 oz. cans crushed tomatoes from Sam's club (or sub 12 28 oz. cans)

Salt and pepper

1 tsp. crushed Red Pepper flake

1 tbsp. fennel seeds

Heat skillet to medium, add olive oil and beef (1 lb. in each pot). Brown and crumble. Drain if necessary. Add onions and garlic. Sautee for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add seasoning, salt and pepper, tomato paste, sauce and crushed tomatoes. Cover and simmer until ready to use.

Ricotta Mixture (Makes 4 lasagnas)

2 16. oz. tubs whole milk ricotta

2 16. oz. tubs part skim ricotta

2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese

2 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper

Whisk eggs, fold in all other ingredients. Set in the fridge until ready to use.

Goat Cheese and Artichoke Filling (For a single lasagna):

1 8 oz. tub part skim ricotta

1 6 oz. log herbed goat cheese

1 egg, beaten

salt and pepper

1 can quartered artichoke hearts, lightly chopped

Other Ingredients for 5 lasagnas:

8 c. shredded Mozzarella mixed with 1 c. shredded parmesan

5 boxes lasagna noodles (I used whole wheat)

Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil. Heavily salt and drizzle in 1/4 c. EVOO

Add lasagna noodles, cook for 8 minutes, until very al dente.

Meanwhile, lay out pans, coat bottom with a layer of sauce.

Using tongs, pull out noodles and place on a cookie sheet, drop in more noodles - Don't drain water!!!

Lay noodles in the pan. Use a cookie scoop and plop ricotta into noodles, sprinkle with cheese, top with sauce.

Repeat layers 3 more times.

When you're at the top layer, Top with just sauce and then cheese.

Bake at 350 for an hour covered with foil, or refrigerate or freeze.

- Your co-workers will LOVE you! -

*Note, you might want to have an extra bag/block of cheese, and some extra ricotta on hand in case you don't portion out the lasagnas well and you run out - I could have used a little more cheese for topping, oh well!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chunky Everything Blondies

When I saw these blondies in Baking, From My Home to Yours, I knew sooner or later I'd be making them. They are even better than I could have imagined. They're a tiny bit on the sweet side (shocker...) but they're so chewy, so moist, and the flavors are so complex and delicious!

Chunky Everything Blondies
by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or 1 cup store-bought chocolate chips
1 cup Heath Toffee Bits (these are AWESOME!!!)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I used almonds)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (I used unsweetened)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and put it on a baking sheet.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy.
Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated.
Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until they disappear into the batter.
Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chips, nuts and coconut.
Scrape the batter into the buttered pan and use the spatula to even the top as best you can.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the blondies comes out clean. The blondies should pull away from the sides of the pan a little and the top should be a nice honey brown.
Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes before turning the blondies out onto another rack.
Invert onto a rack and cool the blondies to room temperature right side up.
Cool for at least 4 hours to make sure chocolate is cooled and bars cut clean.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Stuffed Crescents

Last week crescent rolls were buy one get one free, and I needed a tube to make little pigs in a blanket... so I had an extra tube. We were having lasagna for dinner, so I decided to make the rolls to accompany it since we had company. I wanted to spice them up a little, somehow, so I decided to make them with roasted garlic and parmesan. They were so good... I just LOVE roasted garlic.

Roasted Garlic and Parmesan
Stuffed Crescents

1 tube of reduced fat crescent rolls
1 bulb of garlic, roasted
1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. penzeys pizza seasoning (salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, oregano, fennel seed, sugar)

Slice garlic bulb 2/3 from the top. Place on foil, drizzle with EVOO, Close up packet, roast at 375 for 1 hour. Remove and open, cool.
Open crescents, spread out on a cutting board.
In a small bowl, mix together garlic cloves, parmesan and seasoning. Make a paste.
Use a spatula to apply some to each roll. Roll up and place on a baking sheet.
Bake at 375 for 13 minutes.

Olive Bar Sub

When our Kroger finally finished it's renovation and expansion, they put in an amazing olive bar with many varities of olives, as well as fresh mozzarella, feta, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, marinated mushrooms, roasted peppers, hummus', pestos, and cold salads. I had a frozen loaf of bread, and JJ requested subs. I decided to basically just fill a container with the olive bar's contents and throw it all on the sub. I had him run to the deli counter and get some pancetta, and a big bag of spinach, and we were all set.
These subs are so full of veggies, and so delicious!

Olive Bar Subs

1 8” loaf of sub bread, baked, halved and hollowed out
¼ cup pesto or olive tapenade
1/2 c. marinated artichokes
1/4 c. marinated sun dried tomatoes
2 roasted red peppers
1/4 c. chopped assorted olives
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, wilted
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 c. bruschetta mixture (roma tomatoes, basil and red onion)
4 slices pancetta, pan fried to a crisp

Basil Pesto
2 cups basil leaves
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup parmesean cheese
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Add first 5 ingredients to a food processor or blender, pulse until chopped small, turn on and stream in olive oil until it reaches desired consistency. I like mine thicker and less oily, sometimes use half chicken stock, half EVOO.

Preheat broiler in oven.
Place bread on a sheet pan. Spread pesto evenly on top and bottom of bread.
Add a layer of spinach, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, olives, pancetta and cheese on one side, and red peppers and more cheese on the other.
Place sub under the broiler until cheese is melted and slightly golden, about 2 minutes.
Top with the bruschetta mixture and close sub.

Pear, Spinach and Pecan Rolls

Today we had a staff pot-luck lunch and white elephant gift exchange. I love making appetizers, and I wanted to make something healthy because that's what we try to do at the Y.
These rolls are a great go to meal, they can be made the night before and sliced right before the party. They're also JJ's favorite, so he eats the scraps and end pieces that aren't as pretty!

When I got home, I realized that I didn't have toothpicks. I ran over to hobby lobby to get a few gift boxes, and found these cupcake flags. Now on any other occasion, I'd order them from my friend Lauren, but it was last minute so I had to buy them from the store :( Sorry, Lauren! I swear, next time I make these you're getting my business!

These can be made less Christmas-y by using pesto or whole grain tortillas, but I loved the red and green colors.

Pear, Spinach and Pecan Rolls (Makes 48)

1 package of 8 sun dried tomato tortillas
1 block reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 c. toasted pecans, crumbled
1 tbsp. butter
1 bag baby spinach, shredded
2 pears, peeled, cored and diced small
Salt and Pepper

Set cream cheese on counter to soften.
Heat a large nonstick skillet to medium heat.
Melt butter and add pears, cook until pears are slightly softened, about 8 minutes.
In another non-stick skillet over high, lighty wilt spinach, then place in a colander over the sink.
Lay out tortillas and smear with cream cheese, sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with crushed walnuts, and some of the pears and spinach.
Roll up and put into a food storage container seam side down.
Finish all rolls and chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Before serving, stick in toothpicks, slice off edges of tortillas, then cut each roll into 6 pieces.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rolled Chocolate Snowflake Cookies

As much as I hate the snow and cold, I absolutely love snowflakes. I think they're so beautiful and when you decorate with snowflakes, you can leave them up until spring! Even my wedding was all decked out in snowflakes!
So when I decided to actually make some sugar cookies to decorate, I saw in williams sonoma they used flower shaped cookie cutters and piped a snowflake on them. I love the whimsical feel with the blue and silver dragees. I think these are my favorite christmas cookie of all the ones I made!

Rolled Chocolate Snowflake Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
7 teaspoons baking cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

additional powdered sugar, for rolling

White Royal Icing
Blue Flooded Royal Icing
Silver Dragees
White Crystal Sprinkles

Preheat oven to 375.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.
Cream butter with sugar on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes.
Add eggs and vanilla, beating well.
Gradually add flour mixture and blend well.
Gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic.
Refrigerate 2 hours, until firm.
Using half of dough at a time, roll out a 1/4 inch thick on sugar sprinkled counter.
Cut out cookies and then lift with spatula onto sheets, leaving about 1 1/2" between cookies.
Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until cookies are firm and edges are just starting to brown.
Remove to wire rack to cool.

Pipe outside border with white.
Flood center with blue icing (I like to use a candy melting squeeze bottle)
Let dry.
Pipe on snowflake, place dragee in middle, sprinkle with white crystal sprinkles.
Let dry for 4 hours before bagging.

Gingerbread Macadamia Biscotti

I think it's pretty obvious that I love all things ginger. I can't get enough of it! So I decided to put gingerbread-macadamia biscotti in my Christmas treat mailings. I love to get them at Starbucks with a gingerbread latte. They're the perfect afternoon snack.
I adapted a bit from a recipe for ginger-almond biscotti on all-recipes. The best part about the biscotti is they are a hard cookie, so they last a bit longer than other softer cookies.

Gingerbread Macadamia Biscotti

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup molasses
3 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 c. chopped macadamia nuts
8 oz. melted white chocolate chips

Cream sugar, molasses and butter. Add eggs, mix in one at a time.
Add in spices, baking powder and soda on low.
Add flour and mix until just combined. Add macadamia nuts.
Place parchment on a baking sheet. Spoon the dough out into 2 logs.
*Tip* Wet your hands a bit when shaping the logs and the dough won't stick to your hands*
Bake until golden brown and firm to the touch in the center, about 30 minutes.
Remove from oven, and let stand until cool enough to handle.
On cutting board, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.
Return pieces cut side down to baking sheet. Re-bake 15-18 minutes.
Cool on wire rack. Drizzle with melted chocolate, cool and store in an airtight container.

Gingerbread Men!

What is christmas without these little guys, right? Making them may seem daunting, but it's actually pretty simple, it's all in how you decorate them. Personally, I think less is more. I like mine with the least amount of icing possible. I forgot to get little cinnamon candies, so my husband suggested I just use the M&M's I had for cookies. What a great idea that was!
This recipe is pretty much the best I've ever had, they kept their shape perfectly, they were spicy and sweet, but not too sweet. They were soft but crisp - I like my men a little fatter so they stay softer.

Gingerbread Men

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup dark molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Royal Icing
M&M's or other candies

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer cream the butter, add the sugar, and beat the mixture until fluffy.
Beat in the egg, the molasses, and the vinegar.
Into another bowl, sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt and stir the mixture into the butter mixture, a little at a time.
The dough will be soft.
Flatten the dough slightly and chill it for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Roll out the dough, 1 piece at a time, 1/4-inch thick on a floured/powdered sugar surface and cut out cookies with a 4-inch gingerbread man cutter.
Transfer the cookies with a spatula to buttered baking sheets, arranging them 2-inches apart, and bake them in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until no imprint remains when they are touched lightly with the fingertip.
Transfer the cookies with the spatula to racks and let them cool.
Let the cookies stand for 20 minutes, or until the icing is set.

Cranberry Champagne Punch with Raspberry Cubes

One great way to really stretch a buck and serve alcohol at a party is by making punch. I've had so many kinds, but this is by far my favorite. It's so simple, but the cubes really add something nice!

Cranberry Champagne Punch
with Raspberry Cubes

1 can of cranberry juice concentrate from freezer section
1 package frozen raspberries
1 liter of club soda (VERY cold)
1 2 liter of ginger ale (VERY cold)
2 bottles of cheap champagne (i'm taking the $5/bottle stuff) (VERY cold)

Make ice cubes at least 8 hours in advance.
Add juice concentrate to a small pitcher, add 1 can of water.
Drop raspberries into ice cube tray. Pour juice over top. Freeze.
When ready to serve - Add club soda, ginger ale, and champagne to a punch bowl.
Drop in ice cubs (I made 5 trays and added them a bit at a time thru the night)

Cherry Cheesecake Tartlettes

One great thing about having a cooking blog is you start to 'meet' other bloggers. One of my best blogger friends is Tricia! I've used a few of her recipes, and knew when she blogged this one that I'd be making it for sure. It takes all of the hassle and worry of making a whole cheesecake, and it's so cute!

Cherry Cheesecake Tarteletts

2 packages cream cheese at room temp.
3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Nilla wafer cookies
Cherry pie filling

1. Combine first 4 ingredients and beat well.
2. Line a cupcake tin with 12 cupcake wrappers (keep the white wrapper inside each foil wrapper).
3. Place 1 Nilla wafer in the center of each cupcake wrapper.
4. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, pour about 1/4 cup of the cheesecake batter into each cupcake wrapper, covering the Nilla wafer.
5. Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until set. (mine took exactly 18 minutes).
6. Let cool, then store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
7. Before serving, top with your choice of topping.

Yield: I got 22 tartlets by measuring about 1/4 cup into each cupcake wrapper

Mini Peppermint Cream Puffs

Last weekend when JJ and I went to Sam's club, they were giving out samples of frozen cream puffs for parties - and only having one left me wanting more. I've always loved creampuffs, especially from Schmidts Restaurant in Columbus, OH. I even named one of my bunnies - a white and brown lop - Creampuff. She was the sweetest bunny I ever had, fluffy and pretty, very fitting for her name :)
To make the creampuffs more festive, I made them peppermint flavored. I was going to cover them in a chocolate ganache, but totally forgot by the time I was putting out desserts.

I used my favorite shell recipe from Emeril, and then for the filling I used basic pastry cream folded with homemade peppermint whipped cream. I love a combination of the 2, it's still light, but rich and delicious!

Mini Peppermint Creampuffs

Creampuff Shells:
1 c. milk
1 stick butter
1 c. flour
½ tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
5 eggs

Bring butter and milk to a gentle boil in a saucepot, add flour, salt and baking powder and stir until it comes away from the sides of the pot. Pour into a mixer bowl with paddle attachment, beat in eggs one at a time. Spoon onto a baking sheet, about 1 tbsp. blobs.
Cook for 10 min. at 425, then another 15 at 375.

Pastry Cream:
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

Bring the milk to a rolling boil in a small saucepan.
In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.
Place 1 ladel full of the milk in the bowl while whisking to temper the eggs.
Continue to whisk the milk, and drizzle in the egg mixture. Whisk over medium-high for 2 minutes, or until thickened. Add in vanilla and butter, turn heat off and stir.
Place in a bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Peppermint Whipped Cream:
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1/4 c. confectioners sugar
2 tsp. peppermint extract

In a stand mixer, beat all ingredients together on high until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.
Leave in metal bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate.

When ready to assemble creampuffs:
Slice shells 2/3 of the way, leaving top and bottom attached.
Fold pastry cream into whipped cream mixture.
Place in a parge piping bag, pipe into the shells.
If desired, drizzle over a chocolate ganache and peppermint pieces.

Mini Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Two weeks ago, on our anniversary, we ate the top tier to our wedding cake, which was gingerbread cake with cream cheese frosting and filling. It was SO good, but a bit dry. It totally put me in the mood to make the cake and frosting again, so I decided it would be great for the dessert buffet at our party. Here's a link to the recipe.... as well as our wedding cake I made :)
ahhh, memories!
A few differences - I made the cake into mini cupcakes, so they took 16 minutes to bake at 350. Also, I made cream cheese frosting...
Cream together (at room temp):
1 stick of butter
12 oz. cream cheese
Add in 1 tsp. vanilla.
Turn to low, beat in 2 lbs. powdered sugar and a splash of milk until it reaches desired consistency.

Pumpkin Butter and Brie en Croute

So I dreamed these up one night because I love brie with jam or something on top, and I love brie en croute. I think the idea was good, but my execution wasn't as good. I should have sealed up the edges or used a fork to crimp the sides, because half the filling oozed out the sides of these. They were still good, don't get me wrong, but I imagined biting into a plump pocket of melted brie and pumpkin, and it was just lacking a bit. I'm going to try these again though!
I could just make the whole wheel encased in pastry, but I wanted something bite sized that you could grab, not have to cut into and dip.

Pumpkin Butter and Brie en Croute

2 batches Savory Pie Crust
1 wheel of brie, cubed
1/2 c. pumpkin butter
1 egg, beaten with a few tbsp. of water

Roll out dough, cut out shapes.
Top with a tsp. of pumpkin butter and a piece of brie.
Using a pastry brush, wipe the sides with the egg wash. Press another pastry round on top. Seal edges very well.
Place on a sheet pan and in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, or until browned.

Pesto Parmesan Mini Twice Baked Potatoes

I love mini twice baked potatoes. They are very versatile, and taste great even if they sit out for a little while on a buffet. To see a photo of them filled, go here (bottom right). I forgot to take a close up of them.
I love pesto, and i love how these have little green flecks in them, very festive!

Pesto Parmesan Mini Twice Baked Potatoes
Makes 36

18 small new potatoes, halved
2 russet potatoes, baked and peeled
1/2 c. milk (or more)
1/2 c. prepared pesto
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Place sliced potatoes cut side down on a steamer basket. Steam for 10 minutes, or until tender. Cool, then scoop out the insides with a mellon baller.
Place potatoes on a baking sheet.
Mash scooped potatoes with russet potatoes and milk. Fold in pesto and half the parmesan cheese. Taste for seasonings. Mix well.
Place in a piping bag and pipe into each shell. Top with remaining parmesan.
Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, or until crisp on top and heated through.

Raspberry Jam Thumbprints

I absolutely love thumbprint cookies. They're so versitaile, and they look really cute. I like to try different bases and different jams/butters. Since there were nuts in many of the other cookies I made, I decided to do a butter cooke thumbprint. I used this recipe from food network. They came out great!

Raspberry Jam Thumbprints

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
In another bowl, whip the butter and the sugar with a hand-held mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until just combined. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing just until incorporated.
Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls with a cookie or ice cream scoop and roll in sugar. Place about 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball, about 1/2-inch deep.
Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes.
Fill with jam after baking. about 1/2 tsp. in each cookie.
Cool cookies on the baking sheets. Serve.
Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days.

Christmas Cookie Packages!

Over the weekend I did my largest mailing of Christmas Cookie packages! Thank you so much to everyone who ordered. I dropped off 50 of them at the post office this morning, let's just say I'm a pro at the automated postal machine!
I had such a fun time baking - but it was a LOT of work! I made 1500 cookies on Saturday alone! (See bottom photo)
Anyway, here are some photos of the different packages so you can see what you'll be receiving, or what you sent to someone.
As always, the recipes will be posted in a few days. Between the Christmas party and these cookies, I'll have TONS to blog!

Treat Sampler

Six Squares
And about 1,500 cookies, ready to be packaged! Let's just say I'm keeping Hobby Lobby in business! (That's where I got the boxes and bags)

Christmas Cocktail Party

Over the weekend JJ and I hosted a Christmas party with appetizers, dessert, and drinks. I'll be posting the recipes for the appetizers throughout the next few days, but here is the menu:

To Drink:
Cranberry Champagne Punch w/ Raspberry Cubes

Mini Meatball Subs
Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Sliced Baguette
Parmesan Pesto Mini Twice Baked Potatoes
Brie and Pumpkin Butter en Croute
Mini Chicken and Bacon Quesadillas with Pineapple Salsa
Mini Pigs in a Blanket
Mini Peppermint Cream Puffs
Mini Gingerbread Cupcakes with Creamcheese frosting
Mini Cherry Cheesecake Tarteletts

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gingerbread House!

I had to run to Michael's tonight to get a few treat bags for my cookie packages, and saw gingerbread house kits were half off. I intended to make one from scratch this season because the kits can be pricy, but since it was on super sale, I grabbed one. No sense in wasting my good, homemade gingerbread on a house that will harden and collect dust, right?
I did the front first, but the icing was a little wet and it drooped, so I made the back the new front, and used a new batch of icing that was stiffer. I'm happy with how it came out.... but JJ wants to know if he can eat it... weird, I know.
(Original droopy front)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Spinach and Ricotta Crepes

Whenever I think of crepes, I think of the bar scene in Talladega Nights.... and I can no longer look at them as delicate and fancy.... know what I mean? LOL
Anyway, I saw this recipe for crepes in my Italian cookbook, which confused me a bit. I made them a few months ago when I cooked French food...
As I read, I discovered that in Tuscany, crepes are often eaten rather than lasagna, and of course adding spinach makes something 'Florentine' in cooking terms. These had great flavor, they were very light but filling.

Spinach and Ricotta Crepes

1 1/4 c. milk
3/4 c. flour
1 egg
pinch of salt

In a blender, combine all of the ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Set aside while you prepare the filling and sauce.

1 c. ricotta
1 egg
1 c. chopped spinach, drained
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, set aside.

1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
1 c. milk
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese

Melt butter over low heat, add flour and whisk. Add milk and nutmeg. Bring to a gentle bubble. Add in grated cheese and stir until melted.
Pour 1/3 into the bottom of the baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 400.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add just enough crepe batter to coat the pan. Cook for 30 seconds on the first side, until sides pull away from the pan. Flip and cook for 10 seconds. Remove from the pan, spoon in ricotta mixture, roll and place in the baking dish.
Finish all crepes, then cover with the remaining sauce.
Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned.

Gnocci with Fake Sauce, Peas with Pancetta

I love gnocci, so I immediately knew I'd make this dish, even though it had 'fake sauce'. I read that people of Tuscany believe any sauce that isn't a Bolognese is a fake sauce. I think this sauce pairs very well with the gnocci. It's very light, and the tomato compliments the potato. The acidity brings the earthy potato to life, rather than covering it in a thick bechamel sauce as gnocci often is.

As I've said a million times, I love peas and pancetta, so any recipe combining the two, basic as it is, wins me over every time!
This meal was surprisingly light but filling! The gnocci are a bit of work, but very much so worth it.

Gnocci with Fake Sauce
& Peas with Pancetta
2 lbs. yukon gold potatoes
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
Fake Sauce:
2 tbsp. EVOO
1 onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 c. crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Steam potatoes over high heat for 30 minutes in their skins. Prepare sauce.
Peel and put through a potato ricer or mash very finely.
When still warm, add 1 c. flour, egg yolk, and salt. Mix and form into a dough ball. If still sticky, add more flour.
Roll into long logs. Cut into 1" pieces.
Bring water to a boil, salt. Drop gnocci in 20 at a time. Drain and immediately drop into sauce.
Serve immediately.

To make sauce: In a stock pot over medium heat, sautee garlic and onions in EVOO. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer over low while waiting for the gnocci.

Peas with Pancetta:
1 lb. spring peas
1 onion, sliced
1/4 lb. pancetta, minced
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. chicken stock

Sautee pancetta and onions until golden over medium-high heat. Drain. Add stock, sugar and peas, season with salt and pepper. Cook off stock, about 5 minutes.

Country Challenge: Tuscany

When I chose Italy for the country challenge last April, I found that the food was so completely different in all of the regions, I decided to break it up into a few weeks. I researched Northern Italy first. When I was at the library last weekend, I found a book called Tuscany: The Beautiful Cookbook. It was a large book, divided by courses, with beautiful photographs of the food and the people and land. I fell in love with the cookbook! As I was reading through the book, I found so many simple, but slowly cooked dishes. It is very evident that people of Tuscany value the integrity of the dishes, savor the ingredients, and invest their time in the dishes.

Tuscany's economy is supported by it's wines, cattle, and olive oil production. Tourism is also very popular in Tuscany, as the capital is Florence, and many artistic cities are in the region, including Lucca and Pisa.

This morning, while in a rush to get my books back to the library in time, I realized that I didn't type up the recipes I made. I'm going to look up a few of them, but since the recipes don't have many ingredients, they should all be correct as I have a pretty good memory of the dishes I make.

Mini Pumpkin and Apple Pies

For dessert with our Turkey dinner, I wanted to make a pie. At Thankgsiving, it was pretty evenly split between apple and pumpkin, so I was torn. I decided to make mini apple and pumpkin pies, so everyone could have both or just one or the other. They were a big hit!
I used my basic pie crust recipe - 2 batches, 1/3 my apple pie filling recipe, and half of my favorite pumpkin pie recipe. They baked up in about 2/3 the time of a regular pie, and I made them in jumbo muffin tins. I served them with whipped cream, of course!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Iced Sugar Cookies

I spent all day Saturday working on my Christmas Treat packages. This was the first batch of three. One of the items in the Holiday Sampler was Iced Sugar Cookies. I decided to use a softer, chewier cookie rather than my rolled sugar cookies. I used this recipe, from Land o Lakes. The recipe says it makes 48, but I barely got out 36, and they're pretty small cookies! I iced them in an almond buttercream and used sprinkles to help set the icing (rather than roll them in vanilla sugar). They're adorable, and will hold up well being mailed. The icing will keep them a bit more moist.

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies
(Land o Lakes)

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
2 vanilla beans
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 375°F.
Combine 1 cup sugar and 3/4 cup butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Split vanilla beans lengthwise with sharp knife. Scrape seeds from vanilla beans; add to butter mixture.
Add egg; continue beating until well mixed.
Reduce speed to low; add flour, baking powder and salt. Beat until well mixed.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls, press down with palm of hand.
Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 8 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Country Challenge: Myanmar (Burma)


Last week I decided to take a trip over to Southeast Asia, as I've been cooking mostly European lately. I found a cookbook in the library that was written by a man who grew up in Burma, now Myanmar. I scanned the recipes, and found a few that sounded great, so I went with it.

I do not know much about the history of the country, only that it was formerly Burma, now Myanmar. It is a poor country, where many of the people live off the land. A common dinner might be a fish curry from something caught in the stream, watercress and mango picked from the local rain forests, and rice, a staple. Burmese people, for the most part, are Buddhist.

Most of the influences on Burmese food come from Chinese, Indian, and Thai. Life is based around family, and meals are all eaten together. Many families do their shopping the markets daily. Hospitality and food are hand in hand in their culture. Rather than ask someone 'how are you,' they might ask 'have you eaten?'

Thanksgiving Pies!

This year for Thanksgiving, my mom put me in charge of making the pies. We originally were going to have as many as 26 people, but ended up with half that... but I still wanted to make all of the pies! It's a good thing I did because we all ate pie for breakfast each morning.

I asked my mom to warm my 2 apple pies in the oven before dessert, but the oven was at 400 and they burned... so sad. But, the sugars really caramelized and were crispy and really good! I think they looked worse than they tasted!

I decided to keep them traditional, but add a few twists, so I made:
Double Crusted Apple Pie
Crumble Crusted Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Twofer Thanksgiving Pie
Coconut Creme Pie

My dad requested the coconut creme, which isn't exactly traditional, but turned out to be a hit! Everyone loved it. For the apple pies, I combined Fuji and Honeycrisp. The crumble pie went fast - adding the cranberries and pecans really made it unique and delicious.
I was a little disappointed by the Twofer, I was hoping it would be 2 distinct layers of pumpkin and pecan pie, but it was just pumpkin pie with pecans on top, really. I think if i baked off the pumpkin layer, then added the pecan layer I'd get the results I wanted... maybe next year!

Crumble Crusted Apple Pie

Crust (halved):
3 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks frozen butter, grated on a cheese grater
1/4 c. shortening
a little less than 2/3 c. ice water

10 apples, peeled and sliced
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. flour
1 c. dried cranberries

1 stick of butter, grated
1 c. quick cooking oats
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. crushed pecans

Roll our crust, place in pie plate. Fill with apple mixture, top with topping. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until golden on top.

Twofer Pie, from Dorie Greenspan

1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
3⁄4 tsp. salt
1 1⁄4 sticks (10 tbsp.) very cold (frozen is fine) unsalted butter, cut into tbsp.-size pieces
2 1⁄2 tbsp. very cold (frozen is even better) vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
1/4 c. ice water

Pumpkin filling:
1 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
⅔ cup heavy cream
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. dark rum
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. salt

Pecan filling:
½ cup light or dark corn syrup
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups pecan halves or pieces

1. For the crust: Put flour, sugar, and salt into a food processor; pulse to combine. Drop in butter and shortening; pulse to cut into flour. What you're aiming for is to have some pieces the size of fat green peas and others the size of barley. Pulsing, gradually add about 3 tbsp. ice water—add a little water and pulse once, add some more water, pulse again; keep going that way. Then use a few long pulses to get water into flour. If, after a dozen or so pulses, the dough doesn't look evenly moistened, pulse in up to 1 tbsp. more ice water, to get a dough that will stick together when pinched. Shape dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 1 hour.
2. For the pumpkin filling: Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor. Leave filling in bowl.
3. For the pecan filling: In a bowl, whisk together all ingredients except pecans until smooth.
4. Preheat oven to 450°. Roll dough out to a 12" circle on a floured counter, turning dough over frequently; keep counter floured. Slide dough into the fridge for about 20 minutes to rest and firm up. Fit dough into a buttered 9" pie plate; cut excess dough to a 1⁄4"–1⁄2" overhang. Fold dough under itself, so that it hangs over the edge just a tad, and flute or pinch the crust to make a decorative edge.
5. To assemble: Give the pumpkin filling one last quick pulse, then remove bowl, rap it on counter to debubble batter, and pour filling into crust. Top pumpkin filling evenly with pecans, then pour over pecan filling. Poke down any pecans that float to the top and aren't covered with filling. Bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300° and bake for another 35–40 minutes, or until it is evenly puffed and a slender knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer pie to a cooling rack and let it stand until it is just warm or until it reaches room temperature.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Happy 1st Anniversary to Us!

One year ago today I married JJ.... I can't believe how time has passed so quickly! It truly has been an amazing year... good times and bad, but mostly good :)

Do not fear though, A Year In the Kitchen will carry on! I started blogging in January, so it hasn't even been a year yet for the blog. And I will wrap up the year, then start on II.

Here' a little eye candy of our day... Tonight we'll be eating our top tier and drinking champagne at dinner :)