Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shortbread Pecan Bars

This past Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law wanted to contribute something to the feast. He ended up making these pecan bars, even though he doesn't like pecans. At first I was a little worried about what he was going to create in the kitchen since I've never witnessed his baking skills before. I still wasn't too sure what the outcome would be while he was in the kitchen, but once these came out of the oven I couldn't wait for them to cool down. As he was cutting the bars and discarding the uneven edges, I was there as the trusty scavenger, ready to eat each rejected edge as it was cut off.

These bars were so good that everyone aside from the anti-pecan people (cough, Brian, cough) thought they were great. We had a few leftover the next 2 days and they were still great then. Do not attempt to heat these up, it'll just make the pecans melt apart. I tried to warm one up and realized that it just made a huge (but still delicious) mess. These bars make a great dessert to bring along to someone's house or party since they're pretty durable and won't fall apart/over in the car. If you love pecan pies, but want to try making them in a new way, this bar is the way to go.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Raspberry Vacherin

If you're looking for a stunning dessert to make for your next dinner party, this one is a winner. It's definitely the most impressive looking dessert that I have under my belt. I had some egg whites in the freezer, and my mom requested a chocolatey dessert, so I began searching for a recipe to combine the two. My mom has a great cookbook filled with all kinds of chocolate dessert recipes. I have read through the book on many occasions, but had never made any of the recipes until now. Although this dessert takes some precision and patience, it is definitely worth your time. I got more compliments on this dessert than any other I have made before. People couldn't believe it was homemade. They might need some convincing to cut into it since it looks so pretty, but once they try it, your guests will be hooked.

I didn't fully read through the recipe before I got to work on the meringues. The one suggestion I have is to bake the meringues in the evening and allow them to cool in your fridge overnight, or make them in the morning. The cooling process took longer than expected and I ended up hogging the oven when other things were in need of baking. Also, do not assemble this more than a couple hours before you serve it. If this desserts sits too long, it will get soggy. I put mine together just before the dinner guests arrived and it was still perfectly crispy when dessert was served. When I snacked on the tiny slice left over the next day, I found that the crunch was gone. This recipe is delicious the way it was written. I left the top of my dessert plain, but you could drizzle some melted chocolate on top if you want.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Mushroom Lasagna

If you want to indulge in a delicious, rich meal, make this lasagna. This is a meal I will only make on occasion since it's full of butter, something I try to use minimally or for baking. It's also a messy meal to make, using 5 big dishes/pots. But once you try your first bite of this, you'll realize it was worth the effort (and calories). This lasagna is the perfect comfort food to make on a cold evening. And trust me, although 3 pound of mushrooms sounds like a lot, you could use even more if you want. They lose lots of volume once you cook them.

When I first made this lasagna I tried to skip a step and use no-boil lasagna noodles. Turns out this was a bad idea. The no boil noodles require more liquid around them in the baking process to soften, which doesn't happen with the béchamel sauce. Put in the extra effort of boiling lasagna noodles and save yourself the let down of slightly crunchy noodles. This lasagna can be made ahead of time and can be frozen if you want. Leftovers on day 2 were just as good as day one.

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Chocolate Drops

When it comes to making holiday desserts, Christmas definitely has better options than Hanukkah. No way am I going to deep-fry jelly doughnuts. Just the thought of a pot of hot oil makes me cringe. Of course there are other cute desserts like sugar cookies in the shapes of dreidels or menoras, but I still think Christmas wins the award for the largest variety of holiday desserts. These cookies are pretty simple and easy, and look very festive with crushed peppermint candies. You can make them a day before you serve them as well, just keep them in an airtight container.

You can really make these cookies any time of the year. I love the festive color combination in this variation, but the options of how to tweak these are seemingly endless. I made these three ways- plain, with a chocolate ganache, and with crushed peppermints. Out of the variations I have tried so far, the peppermint topped chocolate drop is my favorite. If I had hard caramel candies around, I'm sure they would also go great on these. You can also press pecan or walnut halves into the cookies right as they come out of the oven. Click the Baker's Chocolate link below for even more ideas on how to top these cookies.

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tuna Tartare with Avocado

I remember being grossed out by anything with the word "tartare" in it when I was younger. I refused believe that raw meat or fish could be good on its own. I loved sushi, but the rice and seaweed covered the raw fish, making it slightly less obvious, and for a long time I stuck to veggie rolls. When I was visiting my mom and dad quite a few years ago, my mom made this as a little happy hour snack and I ended up loving it. I remember not wanting any dinner afterwards since my snack turned into a meal.

I love the addition of avocado in this recipe. It not only adds flavor, but it seems to almost bind the flavors to the tuna. If you like tuna and can find fresh seafood, I definitely recommend this recipe. It's my favorite tuna tartare, even when I compare it to ones I have had at restaurants. Make sure you eat this all the day you make it since it will not stay fresh overnight. Also, serve this with any cracker you enjoy that isn't too flimsy.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Strawberry Bowle

Bowle is a sparkling wine drink that makes a beautiful beverage for any special occasion. It's sort of like a sparkling wine punch and is served out of a large punch bowl. My mom often makes bowle as a pre Thanksgiving dinner drink, which nobody is ever opposed to. Although it would be ideal to make this in the summer when strawberries are in season, it makes a great festive drink for the holidays or New Year's Eve. The wine I used in this bowle was a Chenin Blanc, but you could also use Riesling or something similar. The amount of sugar you add to the strawberries depends on your preference. If you want a sweet drink add a little more, especially since the strawberries available this time of the year are not very sweet on their own.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Raspberry Lemon Thumbprint Cookies

Thumbprint cookies are a cute, homemade looking cookie that most people love. I was looking at a few different recipe until I decided on this one. As alway, I loved the addition of lemon zest and juice in the dough and the recipe seemed pretty easy to make. The dough is delicious, but was a little sticky, so I added an extra step in the recipe to chill the dough, making it a lot easier to work with. I also tried to change the recipe by adding the jam after baking the cookies, but learned the hard way not to do that. The indent in each cookie rose and I had to re-press the cookies part way though baking, then hastily add jam to the cookies.

If you don't have raspberry jam, use whatever else you have at home that you would like paired with a lemony flavor. You could also decorate these a little more by drizzling a lemon and powder sugar glaze over the finished product. I also think (though have not yet tried this) that a lemon curd filling would be delicious in these cookies. Even if you just want to use this dough for a plain cookie, they will be great. These cookies stay fresh for about 3 days if you store them in an airtight container. This recipe made too many cookies for me, so I froze some of them and took them out of the freezer for the following 2 weeks whenever my sweet tooth kicked in. They're a great snack to have with a cup of tea, coffee, or hot chocolate.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tuscan Minestrone Soup

As much as I love creamy soups, they're not something I prepare at home often. If I'm going to have a pot of soup in my fridge for a few days, I'd rather have it be something healthier. This soup is filled with so many veggies that you never feel guilty about eating a second or third bowl in one evening. Yes, there is cheese on top, but what soup is complete without that? I love that this soup is vegetarian, yet leaves you feeling full and satisfied. I leave my soup thick and chunky, but you can add more broth or water to it if you prefer your soups runnier. Sometimes I puree half of the soup and mix it back into the pot to create a texture that is rich and smooth, but also hearty. Dunk in some sliced crusty French bread, and you have yourself a perfect winter meal.

This recipe does not have to be followed to a tee. The original recipe uses dried white beans, but to make things simpler, I just use the canned variety. The one thing that add lots of flavor is the fresh rosemary, so try to avoid dried rosemary if you can. After sautéing the vegetables, your kitchen will smell great from the onions and rosemary. This is when I start to get impatient since the second I smell good food I am instantly hungry. The longer you can keep your spoon out of the pot, the more flavor your soup will have. I cook the soup longer than the recipe asks for, but it only makes the final product even better.

Adapted from Carol Field via Soup's On
Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 springs fresh rosemary
5 teaspoons tomato paste
1 small head of savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
small bunch of kale (about 10 ounces), thinly sliced
3 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
3 zucchini, thinly sliced
small handful of fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 cups chicken or vegetable broth
salt and pepper, to taste
2 cans white beans, drained and rinsed
Parmesan cheese, to sprinkle on soup

Heat the oil in a large, deep pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and rosemary. Sauté until the vegetables begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Pour the chicken (or vegetable) broth into the pot. Mix in the tomato paste, cabbage, kale, leeks, zucchini, basil, and parsley. Add some salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is too dense for your liking, add some hot water. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 60 minutes. Add the beans, cover, and continue to simmer another 30 minutes. Serve with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Pin It Now!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pumpkin Praline Trifle

As some of you know, I hate pumpkin desserts. This being the time of year for all things pumpkin, I thought I should add some sort of festive dessert. While talking to my sister today, she told me she made a pumpkin trifle and I asked her to send me some pictures so I could add it to my blog. My sister loves all pumpkin desserts and she is the one who makes sure there are pumpkin pies at our Thanksgiving dinner table. I know I can trust her opinion when it comes to food, so I was really excited to find out that I could steal her pictures and recipe for this posting.

As delicious as this trifle may be, I will probably never make, or even try it. I know, it goes against my food motto of trying everything once, but there's something about sweetened pumpkin that makes my stomach flip. My sister said she loves this recipe and has made it a few times. One of her good friends also  makes this recipe during this time of the year. She described it as tasting like a pumpkin mousse tiramisu. It's a beautiful dessert that would look impressive at any dessert table. I also love the autumn colors of this trifle. If you're a fan of pumpkin sweets, give this trifle a try. I wish I like these types of desserts since it looks amazing, so hopefully someone who appreciates pumpkin flavors more than me will be able to enjoy this.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cape Cod Chopped Salad

When it comes to salad, I amost always make the same dressing. Obviously I love it, which is why I have it all the time, but sometimes it's nice making something different.  While flipping through one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, I came across this salad recipe and thought it sounded delicious. It also looked like a great Thanksgiving salad with its use of toasted nuts and cranberries. The dressing is simple to make and can be prepared ahead of time, and the rest of the salad comes together really easily.

In the last week I've had this salad twice, so clearly I think it's great. As with most Ina recipes, I reduced the amount of dressing she uses. Trust me, there is no need for 2/3 cup of olive oil in this recipe. Also, I know some people don't like blue cheese, so you could add something like crumbled goat cheese instead since the cheese adds great flavor and texture to the salad. The original recipe calls for 8 ounces of bacon, but I omitted it and did not think that the salad was lacking anything. Serve this colorful salad at any occasion for a welcomed change to your average vinaigrette dressing.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Roasted Turkey Breast with Rosemary-Mustard Butter

Roasting a turkey breast is a great alternative to making an entire Thanksgiving turkey, especially if you are cooking for a smaller group. Not only does this bone-in turkey breast turn out juicy and tender, but you won't get stuck eating turkey for the week following Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about a Thanksgiving feast (minus the pumpkin pie), but when there is still leftover turkey in the fridge 2 nights after the holiday, I start to get bored. If you are having a small Thanksgiving this year, consider just making part of the bird. With the breast, you can still carve it up (or in my family's case, hack it up) and feel like you're having a special meal.

If I ever feel like having turkey any other time during the year, this is my go-to recipe. It's easy to make, has simple ingredients, and tastes great every time. The fresh rosemary add a subtle, but wonderful flavor to the turkey and the butter helps keep the meat moist. Serve this with your favorite side dishes and some gravy for a scaled down Thanksgiving dinner. I made this with roasted potatoes since I love dipping crunchy potatoes into gravy (I swear, it tastes good). The asparagus was added to this meal as a last minute addition from the farmer's market and was also just roasted with some salt, pepper, and olive oil.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spicy Coconut Shrimp with Mango Salsa and Rice

While at the grocery store this weekend, I saw some delicious looking tiger shrimp and decided I needed to make something with them. I came home and began looking at different shrimp recipes, knowing that I wanted to make a dish that wasn't too time consuming and didn't require frying in oil. I saw this recipe, which had great reviews, and decided to give it a try. The ingredients sounded great and, to me, the dish comes across as Thai inspired with the use of coconut milk, ginger, and basil. I love all sorts of Thai food, and this meal was no exception. I made this recipe for 3 people and we finished it all. Everyone gave it great reviews, even my toughest food critic: my dad.

If you like spicy food, you will love the heat in this dish. It has that perfect amount of spicy where you feel the kick, but all the flavors of the dish come through. You can reduce the heat of this meal by removing the seeds from the jalapenos, and if you want, just use one. The coconut lime rice is delicious, but if you're in a rush, any rice would work with this recipe. If you make plain rice, you can always mix some lime zest into it right before serving. I doubled the sauce of the original recipe since I wished I had more to pour over my rice when I first had this. You can also easily add more shrimp to this recipe if you're serving hungry people. I used 1.3 pounds of shrimp, but even 1.5 to 2 pounds would work with the same amount of marinade.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Tuscan Lemon Muffins

Lemon cakes and muffins have been a longtime favorite in my family. When my sister and I were little, we used to bake my dad his favorite lemon cake whenever my mom would let us make a mess in the kitchen. One day I will post that recipe on here as well, but I keep forgetting to take pictures of it. When I came across this muffin recipe in Cooking Light's Best Baking Recipes I wanted to give it a try. I'd never baked with ricotta cheese before, nor had I tried any sweet baked goods that asked for olive oil.

As I was reading this recipe in the magazine, it explained that olive oil and lemon are typical flavors used in Tuscan baking. Once again, the Italians are on to something. These muffins turned out really moist and slightly more dense than your typical muffin (but not in a bad way). The tasted amazing 3 days after I had baked them, but we ate them all by then, so I'm not sure how much longer you could keep them. The lemons you use for the zest and juice will affect the flavor of you muffin. If you can get your hands on some home grown lemons, these muffins (like all other lemon flavored sweets) will taste even better.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Szechuan Noodles

In case you haven't noticed yet, I love Asian noodle dishes. When I asked for dinner suggestion last week, there was a request for noodles, which I then interpreted to mean Asian noodles. I realize a majority of people would probably be inspired to make an Italian dish, but my mind went straight to these Szechuan noodles that my mom had told me about a while back. I am almost always a fan of Ina Garten's recipes, and this one is no exception. Though there are lots of components in the sauce, they're all things I have lying around the fridge and pantry. And with some of the ingredients, I found that substitutions worked fairly well and noted what I used in the list of ingredients.

If you want to prepare this meal ahead of time, you can make the sauce up to a week before you need it. The rest is simple and takes less than 15 minutes to whip together. My one complain about this recipe is the amount of sauce it makes. As much as I love Ina Garten recipes, I find that she often makes much more sauce than necessary. I'm pretty confident you could get away with halving the sauce recipe and still have enough. I froze my leftover sauce since it will come in handy one day when I don't feel like cooking.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms are an appetizer I have been having for years. This is another one of those recipes I learned from my mom, but can't remember the first time I had these (I was little). They're so easy to make, and the ingredients are fairly simple. It's also an easy recipe to tweak, so feel free to do so. My mom sometimes includes crushed red pepper flakes in the filling for an added kick. Or if she's out of parsley, she will just omit it. Every time she has made them, I loved them, which is why I stole this recipe from her a few years ago.

These stuffed mushrooms make a great crowd-pleasing appetizer. Even during my childhood phase of hating mushrooms I loved this recipe. Not only are the mushrooms a hit, they're also pretty easy to make. It only takes about 25 minutes from start to finish. You could easily double this recipe without any problems if you're serving this to a larger crowd. These mushrooms taste best when they're baked right before you eat them. If you want to prepare part of the recipe ahead of time, make the filling, stuff the mushrooms, and leave them covered in the fridge until you are ready to bake.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

French Onion Soup

Mmmm, onion soup. I could eat bowl after bowl of this stuff. With the dropping temperatures, soup season has officially started and I thought the best way to kick it off was by making a big bowl of French onion soup. It's one of those classic soups that I never get sick of, which is probably party due to the fact that there is delicious melted cheese on top. When this soup was made, three of us managed to finish off the pot, and we could have probably all gone for more (yes, it was that good). This soup tastes like it is made at a fancy French restaurant, but in reality all it takes are some basic ingredients.

I have to confess that when I first put these soups under the broiler, they were in pretty hideous ramekins (see photo below) and I could not imagine that being the final picture of this soup. While in the process of transferring the soup into a mug, the bread sort of drowned and the cheese was hidden under onions. So don't worry, yours will probably look like a real French onion soup, unlike mine. Also, for recipes like this, I usually use up any bottle of red wine that I have lying around.

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