Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pumpkin Spice and Eggnog French Toast Casserole

One of my favorite brunch items is overnight french toast or a strata. They're so easy to prepare, can be made in advance, can be flavored a million ways, and serve a crowd.

The first french toast casserole I decided to make was Pumpkin Spice. I absolutely love pumpkin, so it was an easy decision. I decided to go food shopping and see what bread was fresh and looked good, and the baker told me the challah was fresh and delicious. It was exactly what I had hoped for! This french toast was fantastic, a little spicy, and creamy in the middle with some crunch on the outside.

Pumpkin Spice Challah French Toast Casserole

1-2 tbsp. softened butter
1 loaf of challah bread, sliced 1" thick
6 eggs
2 cups of 2% milk
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Butter the bottom and sides of a casserole dish.
Line the dish with bread, cut to fit nooks and try to make layers even, crossing bread in different directions (you can also cube the bread and scatter it).
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, brown sugar, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.
Pour evenly over bread, press bread down to saturate.
Cover with saran wrap or foil and refrigerate overnight, or at least 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Remove saran wrap or foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray, re-cover casserole.
Bake for 1 hour, uncover and bake for another 15-30 minutes (to determine how long it needs to bake, jiggle the dish, if the center isn't set, continue to bake. If there is no jiggle, remove and serve).
For the second French Toast Casserole, I decided to use eggnog. It seemed to be a natural choice since french toast is eggy. JJ said his family loves eggnog, so it was a great idea. This one seemed to be a bit more creamy and the favorite among the crowd.

Eggnog Challah French Toast Casserole

1-2 tbsp. butter, softened
1 loaf of challah bread, cut 1" thick
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups lowfat eggnog
1 cup 2% milk
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Butter the bottom and sides of a casserole dish.
Lay bread in the dish, crossing to create even layers.
Whisk together eggs, eggnog, milk, nutmeg and cinnamon.
Pour evenly over bread, press down to soak in as much as possible.
Cover with saran wrap or foil.
Refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Remove saran wrap, spray foil with nonstick spray, re-cover.
Bake for 1 hour, uncover and bake for 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve Brunch Menu

On Christmas Eve, JJ and I hosted a brunch for some of our family. I made a diversified menu since there were 11 people. Many of the dishes could be made ahead, or prepped heavily ahead of time. Since we ate at 10am, I didn't have to get up any earlier than normal to finish cooking.

Christmas Eve Brunch Menu:
(recipes will be up soon!)
-Eggnog French Toast Casserole
-Pumpkin Spice French Toast Casserole
-Spinach and Swiss Quiche Tart
-Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche Tart
-Blueberry Almond Muffins
-Cranberry Orange Muffins
-Maple Turkey Sausage (store bought)
-Winter Fruit Salad (pineapple, kiwi, canteloupe and strawberries)

-Mimosas (orange and pineapple juice)
-Coffee Service

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Housewarming Wrap-Up

I've been blogging recipes from the Housewarming Party for the past few weeks, so here are the rest of the things I made, click on the recipe name for the link. We had a fantastic time, the food was great, and we made out first fire! Charlotte and Belle are big fans of the fireplace.

I thought it would be fun to bring a bit of Cincinnati to the party in Jacksonville by making this dip. Skyline chili is available many places across the country in the freezer section or in cans. I prefer the frozen trays over the cans, but either works just fine!

Thanks to Pepperidge Farm's partnership with Foodbuzz, I was able to try this recipe out. I love brie en croute! I topped my brie with red currant jam, then wrapped it in puff pastry and baked it. I served it with pear and apple slices.

This is one of my favorite appetizers because I love meatballs! I make them extra flavorful by mixing sausage and ground beef to make the meatballs. Also, a little bit of mozzarella inside makes them pop!

This dip is a well-loved classic, so I made a big tray. I like to use reduced-fat cream cheese though, rather than fat free because I think it tastes closest to regular, but still saves some calories and fat.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Surprise 25th Anniversary Dinner Party

Thank you so much to Foodbuzz for giving me the opportunity to blog this event as a December 24,24,24 submission! Be sure to go to to see all of the submissions!

My in-laws celebrated their 25th Anniversary on December 8, 2009. My husband and I thought it would be fun to throw a surprise party for them. Since we moved into our new home, I suggested we do a nice sit down dinner rather than spend 4-5 times the price going to a restaurant. He thought it was a great idea! We asked my brother-in-law what he thought and when he would be home from college, and we decided the 19th was the perfect date (though it was also his 22nd birthday, but he was willing to share).
For the menu, I decided to cook an Italian feast. I created three appetizers, a dinner with the choice of beef or chicken, and a 2 tier cake.

I decorated the house in all silver decor and had many personalized items as his parents didn't have a formal reception when they were married.
His parents were completely surprised! We had been planning this party for about 2 months, so we were so happy that no one slipped and mentioned the party. They had a fantastic time, and we are so glad we were able to celebrate their 25 years of marriage.

George & Jenny's 25th Anniversary Menu:

Caprese Spring Rolls with Pesto Dipping Sauce
Puff Pastry wrapped Blue Cheese stuffed Olives
Rosemary Tuscan Bean Dip with Flatbread Crackers
Caesar Salad with Sourdough Croutons and Homemade Dressing
Roasted Garlic and Parmesan Bread


Prosciutto and Asiago Stuffed Chicken with Mushroom Marsala Sauce
Salami and Provolne Rolled Beef with Sun-Dried Tomato, Lemon and Butter Sauce
Haricot Verts with Sauteed Shallots
Roasted Garlic Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes

Almond Sour Cream Pound Cake with Raspberry Jam
Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
Iced Sugar Cookie Favors

I placed a menu at each guest's seat so they would know what was going to be served. I had personalized napkins with Mom and Dad's wedding date.

The appetizers were set out so guests could start eating as soon as they arrived. We asked them to come at 6pm, and planned for JJ's parents to come around 6:30. We also served beer, wine and soda.

The first appetizer selection was Caprese Spring Rolls with Pesto Dipping Sauce. I created this recipe over the summer to win a chance to attend Foodbuzz's Blogger Festival, but I didn't win! I made the spring rolls for my cousin and her husband, and they requested that I make them again, soon! Luckily they lived up to Leah and Jay's hype, and everyone enjoyed them as well.
by Ashlee Wetherington (click link for recipe)

The second appetizer I chose is another crowd favorite, Puff Pastry wrapped Blue Cheese stuffed Olives. I came up with these after sampling a blue cheese stuffed olives. I thought it would be even better warm, wrapped like a cocktail hotdog. I first made these for a Tea Party my sisters and I hosted for my Mom. They were the first appetizer we ran out of! They're so simple to make, and they have great flavor.
by Ashlee Wetherington

The last appetizer I made was this Rosemary Tuscan Bean Dip. I have seen several bean dips lately, so I thought this would be something new to try. I tried to make this extra flavorful by simmering the beans in beef stock with a few fresh rosemary sprigs.
by Ashlee Wetherington

Since dinner was going to be fairly elaborate, I decided to make Caesar Salad. My sister's friend, Kelly, was nice enough to give me her secret Caesar salad dressing recipe. I think it tastes very similar to Carrabbas, which is my favorite Caesar Salad. I made fresh croutons to make the salad a little more special, as well.
Dressing by Doug via Kelly, Croutons by Me

Since most dinners are served with some kind of bread, I figured I would make garlic bread since it's Italian. I love when garlic bread is very garlicky, especially with slow roasted, large chunks of garlic. I roasted about 10 bulbs of garlic to use in all of the different recipes! To make this garlic bread, I simply mixed the cloves of 2 heads of roasted garlic, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 tbsp. dried Italian herbs, salt, pepper, and 1 stick of softened butter. I split 4 baguettes, spread the mixture on, and baked them at 400 for 10 minutes. These were also great for sopping up the extra sauces from dinner!

I decided to make both a chicken dish and a beef dish so our guests would have a choice. Since JJ's mom isn't a fan of tomato based sauces, I had to think of some non-tomato based Italian sauces. I knew both his parents like marsala, so I chose that. Then I decided to make a lemon butter sauce with sun dried tomatoes, which his mom likes. In the end, everyone was pretty split on their favorite dish.

Mashed potatoes seemed to be a great choice with either chicken or beef. I think Yukon Golds make great mashed potatoes, especially with roasted garlic. The recipe I used is one I made up, but pretty standard for mashed potatoes. I used 10 lbs. of potatoes, and multiplied the recipe.
by Ashlee Wetherington
As the vegetable side, JJ and I both agreed that green beans seem to be a pretty safe vegetable. I originally thought about making asparagus, but some people don't like them. I was happy to see that everyone ate their haricot verts, and my brother in law even said they were his favorite, and he's not a vegetable eater!
To make these haricot verts: Melt 1 stick of butter over low heat. Add 4 cups of sliced shallots of sweet yellow onions. Season with salt and pepper. Stir every 10 minutes or so, cook for 2 hours, until caramelized. Set aside. Steam 5 lbs. of haricot verts, toss in caramelized shallots. Serve.

Besides Spaghetti and Meatballs, my favorite Italian dish is Chicken Marsala. I have worked for a long time to create the perfect marsala sauce, and recently got it just right for my tastes. Since I know JJ's parents love chicken marsala, I had to put it on the menu for the party.
by Ashlee Wetherington

One of my tried and true beef dishes is my mom's rouladen. I based this beef dish off her rouladen, but simplified it a bit. The lemon, butter and sun-dried tomato sauce I created was a hit, but it's definitely something you probably shouldn't eat often, as it has plenty of butter and cream!
by Ashlee Wetherington

For the cake, I decided to keep it simple. I made a two tier cake using this Paula Deen recipe. I filled it with Raspberry jam, and iced it in Almond Buttercream.

I also made these Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries to go with the cake. Thanks so much to Leah for piping them for me when I was running out of time! I baked off half a recipe of this cheesecake by Dorie Greenspan, stirred it up and get it smooth, and used a piping bag with a star tip.

The last thing I made were these Sugar Cookie Favors using my Famous Sugar Cookie recipe, which can be found here, here, here or here!

And of course, we had to have a birthday Cherry Pie for AJ!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Caesar Salad with Dougs One of a Kind Caesar & Sourdough Croutons

Want to know the details of this recipe? Check out this post!

Caesar Salad with Doug's One of a Kind Caesar
and Sourdough Croutons

2 tbsp. Anchovy Paste
1/2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
2 drops Worchestershire Sauce
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 drop hot sauce
1 egg
Fresh ground black pepper
Romaine hearts
Fresh grated parmesan

Boil egg for 1 minute to separate the white.
In a large bowl, add anchovy paste and mustard, whisk well.
Add Worchestershire, hot sauce, egg yolk and pepper. Mix well.
Add romaine and grated parmesan, toss well.
Top with Sourdough croutons, recipe follows.

Sourdough Croutons

1 loaf of sourdough bread, cubed in 1" pieces
4 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tbsp. EVOO
1 tbsp. dried Italian herb mix
Salt and pepper

In a measuring cup, whisk together butter, EVOO, herbs, salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment.
Add bread cubes, drizzle with butter mixture.
Toss to coat well.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden and slightly crunchy.
Keep in an airtight container and use within 2 days.

Rosemary Tuscan White Bean Dip

For a description of this receipe, check out this post!

Rosemary Tuscan White Bean Dip

1/2 lb. dried Cannelini or Great Northern Beans
8 cups water
4 cups beef stock (or chicken, vegetable)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup Olive Oil
Flatbread Crackers, for spreading

Add beans and water to a large bowl.
Let beans soak overnight, for at least 12 hours.

Drain beans, place in a stockpot with beef stock, salt, pepper, shallot and rosemary.
Bring to a simmer, turn to low and simmer for 4 hours.
Add more beef stock if beans are too dry, stir every 20 minutes or so.
Just before serving, add beans to a food processor.
Pulse to puree beans, stream in olive oil.
Add enough olive oil to create a smooth dip.
Scoop into a bowl, serve warm with flatbread.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spinach, Pear and Walnut Pinwheels & Roasted Pepper, Hummus and Feta Pinwheels

The other cold appetizer selections for the housewarming party were these pinwheels. I have made the Spinach, Pear and Walnut variety many times because I love them. I wanted to make another type though, so I decided to pair together some of my favorite Mediterranean ingredients - roasted red peppers, hummus and feta cheese. I used Christmas colored wraps, but you can use any wrap you'd like. I forgot to get toothpicks, but these held together well without the toothpicks.

Pear, Spinach and Walnut Pinwheels (Makes 48)

1 package of 8 sun dried tomato tortillas
1 block reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 c. toasted walnuts, 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.

Roasted Red Pepper, Hummus and Feta Pinwheels

1 pack of 8 spinach tortillas
8 oz. hummus, homemade or store bought
3 roasted red peppers, sliced
1 cup crumbled feta

Smear tortillas with hummus, place red pepper strips on top, sprinkle with feta.
Roll tightly and place into a food storage container seam side down.
Chill for 4 hours or overnight.
Before serving, stick in toothpicks, slice off edges and cut each roll into 6 pieces.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chopped Greek Salad in Phyllo Cups

The first appetizer I'm posting from our Housewarming Party is one of my personal favorites, Chopped Greek Salad in Phyllo Cups. It's not a very innovative recipe, but they're really cute, have great stage presence, are easy to make tons of, and taste wonderful! The great thing about these are you can do any variation of ingredients or ethnicities, like a chopped asian salad, chopped cobb salad, indian salad with tahini dressing, tex mex with black beans, corn and avocado....the list is endless!

Making the cups was actually very easy, and took about an hour to make about 100 cups (which was way more than we needed, but I snacked on them the next few days). If you don't want to mess with the phyllo, you can also use wontons or even tortillas. I personally enjoy phyllo the most, probably because of the golden color and buttery crunch!

I made the phyllo cups the night before the party and loosely wrapped them in saran wrap. I chopped all the veggies and put them in tupperware, then tossed the salad in the dressing right before I spooned them into the cups.

Chopped Greek Salad in Phyllo Cups

1 package of phyllo, defrosted in the refrigerator
1 stick of butter, melted
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and minced
1 english cucumber, seeded and minced
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes, seeded and minced (or 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes)
1 cup green olives, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 tsp. minced fresh oregano
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup EVOO
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
(or 1/2 cup prepared greek dressing or a vinaigrette)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out phyllo on counter, cover with a damp towel.
Melt the butter in a small dish.
Place a piece of phyllo on a cutting board, brush with butter, repeat 4 times.
Using a pizza cutter, slice into 3" squares.
Press into a mini muffin tin.
Bake for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown.
Pop out, cool on a wire rack, keep in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.

Add all salad ingredients, toss.
Spoon into phyllo cups, garnish with extra herbs.

Yield: 100 cups and enough salad for about 50 cups

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cranberry Bliss Bars

One of my favorite memories of my time working at Starbucks was our annual Christmas party. We'd go to the training center and try all of the new beverages, pastries, and get our red aprons! I am not a huge Starbucks pastry fan (because I see the nutritional information on the boxes), but at Christmas, I find a way to look past that and let myself enjoy a piece of gingerbread loaf, a peppermint brownie, and of course, the cranberry bliss bar.

The cranberry bliss bar has always been one of my favorites, sweet, tart, like a cross between a cookie and a cake, with delicious cream cheese frosting... what's not to love?
For my housewarming party, I decided to use my favorite Starbucks pastries as inspriation. I made gingerbread cookies (rather than a loaf cake), cheesecake swirl (were supposed to be peppermint) brownies, and then these cranberry bliss bars. They're very close to the original, and so cheap to make at home rather than buy a tray for $15 bucks at Starbucks!

I found this recipe on Recipezaar, but changed it a little bit. I thought the ginger seemed to be too high, as I don't taste much in the original at all. For the drizzle, I used white chocolate, which is closer to what Starbucks uses.

Cranberry Bliss Bars
recipe adapted from Recipezaar

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup diced dried cranberries
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into chunks

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 oz. white chocolate
1 tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add eggs, vanilla, ginger, and salt; beat well.
Gradually mix in flour until smooth.
Mix 3/4 cup diced dried cranberries and white chocolate into the batter by hand.
Pour batter into a well-greased 9x13-inch baking pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake is light brown on the edges.
Let cool.

Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.
When the cake has cooled, spread frosting over the top of cake.
Sprinkle cranberries over top.
Add white chocolate and cream to a small microwave safe bowl, heat on 10 second intervals until melted and smooth.
Drizzle over the top layer, chill for 4 hours.
Slice into triangles, makes 16-20 triangles.

Cheesecake Swirl Fudge Brownies

One of the desserts I made for our housewarming party were these Cheesecake Swirled Brownies. I had intended to make them peppermint cheesecake swirl brownies, but my peppermint extract vanished! Had I gone the peppermint route, I would have probably tinted the cheesecake swirl green or red, but I stuck with a vanilla and almond flavor and natural color.

To make these, I used my favorite brownie recipe, and then made up a simple cheesecake swirl. I made a 1/2 sheet cake pan of these brownies, which made close to 50.

Cheesecake Swirl Brownies
Brownies adapted from Triple Chocolate Brownies (from Gourmet Magazine)

Brownie Layer:
12 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 sticks unsalted butter (3/4 lb)
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
8 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Cheesecake Layer:
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350.
First, prepare brownie layer:
In a metal bowl, set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the bittersweet chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate with the butter, stirring until the mixture is smooth.
Remove the bowl from the heat, and let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm.
Stir in the sugar and the vanilla and add the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition.
Stir in the salt and the flour, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and stir in the chocolate chips.

Prepare the cheesecake layer:
In a large mixing bowl, mix cream cheese until smooth.
Add powdered sugar and mix until smooth.
Add eggs one at a time, until incorporated.
Add extracts and salt, mix until combined.

Line a 1/2 sheet cake pan with foil or parchment, grease liberally.
Pour brownie batter into the pan, spread evenly.
Drop tablespoons full of cheesecake batter on top.
Using a knife, make diagonal swipes and then cross the other way to create a swirl pattern.
Do not let the knife touch the bottom!
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Christmas Cookie Round Up

I didn't really remember to take nice shots of the Christmas Cookies I made this weekend because of my hectic schedule. In addition to baking all night Friday, I ran a 10k Saturday morning, then hosted my housewarming party Saturday afternoon/evening.
It was a marathon of baking, so I left the camera with JJ to take photos. He took a few nice shots, and a few, well, you can decide if you like them!

Variation of this Holiday Biscotti (I used almonds and added white chocolate chips in the batter)
Banana Spritz Cookies on Chocolate Disks (will type up the spritz recipe soon!) inspired by a Rachael Ray Everyday cookie recipe I saw

Classic Gingerbread Men with M&M Buttons

Pre-Baked Brown Sugar Slice and Bake Cookies

M&M Cookies (and JJ's shoe...)

Me putting more Double Chocolate M&M Cookies in the oven...I think it was close to midnight here
And because it seems like you all want to see more of the puppies (or maybe that's just in my head...), here's one of Belle just begging to get back in the kitchen. When I found her climbing into my bag of flour, she landed herself on the other side of the baby gate!
Unpictured are the Peanut Butter Blossoms, Coconut Macaroons, Sugar Cookies, and Shortbread. I also didn't make the Maamoul yet, but I have the ingredients, and hope to make them soon!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Cookie Baking Menu

If you're a long time AYITK reader, you probably are wondering if I'm making cookie packages this year. I'm sorry to say I'm not! There are a few reasons, the primary reason being I work much longer hours/commute than I used to, we're hosting quite a few parties in the next few weeks, and I'm still trying to get things situated around the new house.

I promise I'll reconsider next year, because I think I could have had another 50 orders already (here's last year's 50 orders, 1500 cookies in 2 days... talk about exhaustion!) However, I do still plan on having a marathon baking session this weekend so there are Christmas cookies at our housewarming party and for me to mail out to my family (so yes, family members, you'll still be getting yours this year).

This year, I'm not really doing many new things. I like to stick with what people like, and what is most traditional. I am adding a few new cookies this year that I'm excited about, though!

I'll soon be posting my Housewarming Party menu, which is all appetizers, some Christmas-y desserts, and a few fudges. Those might also end up in the cookie packs!

Are there any Christmas Cookies you LOVE that you think I should add to my list? Let me know! I love trying new things.

Hazelnut Black Bottom Chocolate Pie

For the final dessert on Thanksgiving, I knew I had to make something chocolate-y. Basically, whenever my sister Kristine is in attendance, chocolate is a requirement. I found this pie recipe while browsing the web, but decided to make it a little bit different. I'm not a big fan of rum with chocolate. I prefer rum in my fruity desserts. I decided to raid my mom's liquor cabinet for a substitute. I settled on Frangelico because it's a hazelnut liquor and I'm a big fan of chocolate hazelnut biscotti.
I'd say this dessert was ranked second for the night, just behind the cheesecake. It's funny how the more creative, less traditional desserts were actually favored. However, most people chose a small piece of a traditional pie and a small piece of the cheesecake or chocolate pie.

Hazelnut Black Bottom Chocolate Pie
slightly adapted from epicurious

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
2 cups low-fat milk
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons Frangelico
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Crumb Crust:
2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (I used TJ's chocolate cat cookies)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 tbsp. granulated sugar

Whipped Cream Topping:
1 cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tbsp. Frangelico
Chocolate curls

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Toss all ingredients in a bowl, press into a pie plate.
Use a glass or measuring cup to pack down.
Bake for 12 minutes.
Cool to room temperature.

For Filling:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in heavy medium saucepan to blend.
Whisk in egg yolks to form thick paste.
Gradually whisk in milk, then cream.
Whisk over medium-high heat until mixture thickens and boils 1 minute.
Remove from heat.
Add chocolate and whisk until smooth.
Whisk in frangelico and vanilla.
Cool 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.
Transfer filling to crust.
Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

For Topping:
Beat first 3 ingredients in large bowl until firm peaks form.
Spread over chocolate pie filling.
Garnish with chocolate curls.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cranberry Tart

This dessert was the only one on my list that I was a little weary of making. I've found that fresh ginger in a dish can turn people off, but since I knew I'd love this dessert, I figured I wouldn't mind eating it for dessert, breakfast the next morning, dessert the next day, and so on. Well, with the exception of 2 slices, I pretty much did! The recipe is written with a chocolate cookie crust, but I didn't have enough chocolate cookies left, so I used the ginger cat cookies that I used for the bourbon pumpkin cheesecake.

I loved the cranberry topping, and would definitely consider making a cranberry/lemon/ginger relish in the future! I don't know that this is a big crowd pleaser, but if the ginger was omitted and a little more zest (orange + lemon) was added, I think it would satisfy most. Also, don't cover it tightly with plastic wrap, you'll have a flat layer of cranberry... not so pretty!

Cranberry-Chocolate Tart


Cranberry Topping:
1/2 cup cranberry juice, divided
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 1/4 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (made from about 6 1/2 ounces cookies, finely ground in processor)
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Mascarpone Filling:
1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Thin strips of crystallized ginger (optional garnish)

For cranberry topping:
Pour 1/4 cup cranberry juice into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over.
Let stand until softened, 15 minutes.
Combine 1/4 cup cranberry juice, cranberries, and next 5 ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Reduce heat to medium; simmer until cranberries are tender but still plump, 5 minutes.
Strain into bowl; set cranberries aside.
Add gelatin mixture to hot juice in bowl; stir until gelatin dissolves.
Stir cranberries back into juice.
Chill until cranberry mixture is cold and slightly thickened, at least 8 hours or overnight.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.
Stir chopped crystallized ginger into cranberry mixture.

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.
Combine chocolate wafer cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt in medium bowl; add 5 tablespoons melted butter and stir until crumbs feel moist when pressed together with fingertips, adding remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter if mixture is dry.
Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.
Bake chocolate crust until beginning to set and slightly crisp, pressing with spoon if crust puffs during baking, about 14 minutes.
Transfer tart pan to rack and cool crust completely before filling.

For mascarpone filling:
Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients except ginger in medium bowl just until thick enough to spread (do not overbeat or mixture may curdle).
Spread filling in cooled crust.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.
Spoon cranberry mixture evenly over mascarpone filling.
Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.
Garnish with crystallized ginger strips, if desired.
Cut tart into wedges and serve cold.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apple Pie with Salted Pecan Crumble

The second dessert on the Thanksgiving menu is this Apple Pie with Salted Pecan Crumble. I knew I had to make a classic double-crusted apple pie, but I also wanted to make something fun and different. Salted anything seems to be all the rage these days (caramels, chocolate, etc.), so this seemed to be a more current adaptation of a classic recipe!

I made a few slight changes to the recipe. I used all whole wheat pastry flour in my crust because that's all my mom had at home. I was worried about using all whole wheat, but all of the crusts came out perfect and the whole wheat added a great different flavor!
I also subbed in 1/2 cup rolled oats for 1/3 cup flour as noted below.

This pie doesn't exactly cut perfectly, but the taste makes up for the less than perfect slices! Next time I make this, I'm planning to serve it warm with vanilla ice cream!
Also, big thanks to Popie for peeling all of the apples for my pies on Thanksgiving :)

Apple Pie with Salted Pecan Crumble
Adapted from

Pie Dough:
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
4 tablespoons ice water

Salted pecan crumble:
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoon (packed) light-brown sugar
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup pecan pieces
5 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Apple Filling:
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 pounds apples (I used Gala and Johnathan), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon

To make pie dough:
In a large food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt.
Add egg yolk and butter.
Pulse until butter is cut to the size of peas.
Add ice water and pulse until it forms into a ball.
Turn dough out onto a smooth surface and gather into a ball.
Wrap in plastic; flatten into a disk. Refrigerate 1 hour.
To make salted pecan crumble:
In a food processor, combine flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon, and 1/3 cup pecans; process until pecans are ground.
Add oats and butter and pulse until mixture is crumbly.
Transfer crumble to a medium bowl; add remaining 1/3 cup pecans and, using your hands, crumble and squeeze mixture to form larger clumps.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
On a lightly floured surface or between 2 sheets of waxed paper, roll out dough into an 1/8-inch-thick 12-inch round.
Fold in half and ease gently into a 9-inch pie pan. Unfold dough, letting pastry overhang edge.
Trim overhang to 1 inch. Fold under and flute or crimp edge. Refrigerate shell.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

To make apple filling:
In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch, and nutmeg until blended.
Add apples, juice and zest; toss until apples are evenly coated.
Remove pie shell from refrigerator and spoon apple filling into it, mounding filling in center of pie.
Sprinkle crumble evenly over top of pie, gently pressing into place; place pie on a baking sheet.
Bake 1 1/2 hours, or until filling is bubbly and topping is golden brown.
Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

For Thanksgiving I was put in charge of desserts, as I noted in my previous menu post. Well the day has passed, and the desserts are finished, but the memory of this cheesecake is everlasting. As I was bringing the desserts in and out of the kitchen, the family's reponse to this one was amazing. Not just because of the appearance, but you tell someone a cheesecake has pumpkin AND bourbon, and they're on board!

This recipe was recommended to me by Bridget, and she did not steer me wrong! I used her adaptation for the filling and my own creation for the crust.... which was not so much a creation as just a simple crumbly crust made from grahams and butter. I was planning to use a honey or cinnamon graham crackers, but when my mom found ginger cat cookies for people at TJ's, I told her they sounded perfect and to go ahead and buy them!
The cheesecake turned out great! It cracked slightly as it cooled because my swirl on top was pretty wet. The pumpkin puree my mom got for me (Libby's) seemed much wetter than what I've been using (whole foods organic pumpkin puree), so that could be part of the reason. Nonetheless, it was fantastic! I served it with a homemade cinnamon-vanilla whipped cream, which I'll post later on.

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
(filling adapted from Gourmet via by Bridget)

2 cups crushed ginger cat cookies or graham crackers
8 tbsp. (1 stick) melted butter
1 tbsp. granulated sugar

1½ cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch1
½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350F.
Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick cooking spray.
Transfer crumbs to medium bowl, drizzle melted butter over, and mix with rubber spatula until evenly moistened.
Turn crumbs into prepared springform pan and, using hand, spread crumbs into even layer. Using flat-bottomed ramekin or drinking glass, press crumbs evenly into pan bottom, then use a soup spoon to press and smooth crumbs into edges of pan. Bake until fragrant and browned about the edges, about 12 minutes.
Cool on wire rack while making filling.

2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth.
In a medium bowl, stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.
Add granulated sugar mixture to cream cheese and beat for another 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl (or the same one), whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) until combined.
Beat at medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes.

3. Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks).
*To make the swirl, I removed 1/2 c. batter before pouring it into the crust and mixed it with 1/4 c. pumpkin in a seperate bowl, then piped it and used a knife to make the swirl on just the very top of the cheesecake.
Bake until center is just set and measures 140 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 50 to 60 minutes.

4. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.
Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours.
Remove sides of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holiday Menu: Thanksgiving Desserts

I've decided to start posting some of my upcoming holiday menus to help others get ideas and plan some of their parties and holiday events.

For Thanksgiving, my mom put me in charge of desserts again this year. We are having 21 people (I think) at the dinner, so I've decided to go with 6 desserts so there's a nice variety and some leftovers for everyone to enjoy.

Thanksgiving Dessert Buffet Menu

Classic Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Apple Pie with Salted Pecan Crumble

Black Bottom Chocolate Pie

Cranberry Chocolate Tart

All American Apple Pie

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My China Hutch

I have had quite a few people (including very persistent family members) asking for some house photos. Tonight I finally finished part of the house - my china hutch! I absolutely love the hutch we (ok, I) picked out, but what's inside is even more special.
When I became engaged 3 1/2 years ago (crazy!!), my grandma gave me a set of silver flatware that is a family heirloom (which my wonderful mother polished for me and put in a gorgeous mahogany box). Then when JJ and I got married, his mom offered his grandmother's china to us. I've been waiting close to two years to actually get it though, because I told my mother in law I didn't want it until we moved into a house.Finally, when registering, I chose the Mikasa cheers glassware because it's cute but still formal.
Well, the day finally came and JJ's parents brought the china over tonight! As I was unpacking it, I found 8 regular cups and saucers, and then 8 tiny little cups and saucers! I suppose I could use them for shots of espresso... but then I'd need an espresso machine. The would also be perfect for a little girl tea party :)

This shot shows the tiny cup and saucer on top of 2 regular ones!