Monthly Archives: November 2011

Shortbread Cookies

Today I will be doing ALL of my holiday shopping, so I’ll have to keep it short and sweet much like these cookies.
I will be sitting in the comfort of my own home office, sipping a gingerbread latte and eating these chocolate ganache topped shortbread cookies.  I love the internet; have I mentioned that?  I realized on Friday just how many people do that whole black Friday thing.  I feel so out of the loop!  Why would anyone do that? I honestly just don’t understand.  What could you possibly want so badly that it’s worth battling and potentially arguing with a bunch of crazy people super thrifty spenders ?  I asked Mike too and he had no idea either.

Of course, if I did do all of my shopping on Friday, then I would have more time to chat with you right now, but I can give you cookies and hope you forgive me.  That’s something.
I promise they’re delicious too.  I have the crumbs on my desk to prove it.

 

Shortbread Cookies
  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Beat butter with an electric mixer on high for one minute.   Add cream, vanilla and sugars and beat on medium low for one minute and gradually increase speed until butter and sugar are thoroughly creamed together.  Turn off mixer and sift in flour and salt.  Mix on medium low until all ingredients are fully mixed and you are able to form a ball of dough.

Form into disc, wrap in wax paper and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to three hundred fifty degrees fahrenheit and remove dough from refrigerator.  Lightly flour a work surface and roll out dough until half an inch thick.  Cut three inch in diameter rounds and place onto ungreased baking sheet.  Place baking sheet in preheated oven for 13 minutes or until edges of cookies begin to brown.

Remove and transfer to cooling rack while warm.  Place parchment paper under cooling rack and spoon ganache (recipe follows) onto shortbread and top with your favorite toppings.

Chocolate ganache frosting

  • 8 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Irish cream whiskey

Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl and cook in microwave on high power for 30 seconds.  Stir and repeat until thoroughly melted.  Add cream and whisk until thoroughly blended and creamy.  Whisk in Irish cream whiskey and bring to room temperature.

 

Note:  These are my most favorite holiday cookie.  They’re great for gifts and for personalizing to those you’re giving them to by simply adding different toppings.  There is always a batch of these ready to go in my freezer just in case I need an emergency gift.  You may freeze shortbread dough for at least 3 weeks wrapped in wax paper and sealed in an air tight container.  Remove from freezer and place in refrigerator overnight (or for at least 8 hours)  and they’ll be ready to roll out in the morning. Recipe Adapted from Ina Garten’s Shortbread

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Sweet Potato Wonton Soup

 

I was happily planning for the holidays, and was even ahead of schedule, which is quite the accomplishment for me, personally.   I had all of my projects planned for the next two months, I had the house unpacked and put away, the decorations were on their way up and lists were made for both Santa and groceries among other things.  Even my house was surprisingly tidy which in retrospect was a telling sign of the chaos soon to arrive, much like the calm before a storm.  Yes, my little ducks were all in a row; And then, quite frankly, it all fell to pieces.

Wonderful.

I suppose it is my fault for trying to avoid disaster.  Knowing that I am empirically prone to disaster, I should really just have tempted fate by procrastinating, avoiding deadlines and perhaps stuffing a turkey while balancing fine china on my head.  Now, that just might deserve catastrophe, at the very least.  Nobody would be surprised if catastrophe plagued someone who was asking for it.   I won’t go into all the details(especially about the cold, the flu, and the busted autofocus on my brand new-to-me / used canon slr camera.   I’m pretty sure I literally shook my fists, which is kind of ridiculously hilarious, but beside the point of interest of this post) .    

 

I will however, breathe and eat this delicious soup and remember that becoming hysterical in a moment of chaos often solves little.  Keeping a point and shoot in your back pocket at all times, however, occasionally serves a purpose.  Sure, it’s not as sharp of an image and it is in no way as perfect as I would have liked it to be.  But, it served its purpose and now I move on to fixing the bigger issues.  Staying calm is always better than escalating the pandemonium that often infests my day; a point that is easily lost  at times during the holiday season.  Note to self: remember to keep calm.  That pesky hysterical pandemonium must be vanquished, and this warm, comforting yet fairly light soup is the perfect way to re-center my internal auto focus and maybe not sweat the small stuff so much.  I have food, fun and family and for that I am eternally grateful.

 

Sweet potato Wonton Soup

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • a few fresh sage leaves
  • a pinch of nutmeg and allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One package of wonton wrappers (48 wrappers)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Vegetable Soup Mix: chopped celery, carrot, onion, cabbage and mushroom (may vary to taste)
  • One cup of dry white wine
  • 4 quarts (one gallon) homemade or store bought vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cut the ends off of the potatoes, dividing 4 tablespoons of butter among them and wrap in aluminum foil.  Bake in preheated oven until they are tender and soft (1-2 hours depending on size of potatoes). Unwrap cooked potatoes and cut a slit lengthwise in the skin of each.  Pull the skin away from the potato and discard.  Push the potatoes through a potato ricer while they are hot and place in glass bowl.  Place 4 tablespoons of butter into skillet on medium heat and add sage leaves.  Simmer butter and sage until brown bits fall to bottom of mixture.  Remove sage leaves and fold into the riced potatoes.  Add nutmeg, allspice, salt pepper, chipotle adobo sauce and sour cream and fold in until evenly distributed.  Taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Wrap sweet potato filling once cooled in wonton wrappers and refrigerate wontons in a single layer on parchment-lined sheet pans until ready to use.

In a large pot over medium heat, add olive oil.  When oil ripples and barely starts to smoke, drop in the vegetable mix.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss the mix around on bottom of pot until gently browned on all sides (cooking time will vary depending on how many vegetables are added and what thickness they’re chopped).  Once browned and slightly sticking to bottom of pot, add wine.  Simmer and stir for a minute, pulling up any brown bits from bottom of pan.  Add in stock and bring to a boil until vegetables are tender.  Once soup is boiling and vegetables are tender, add in refrigerated wontons and boil for 2-3 minutes, until tender.  Serve.  Enjoy.

 

Dish inspired by and slightly adapted from Thomas Keller’s Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter and Prosciutto, from The French Laundry. Note: If you would like to use leftover roasted root vegetables or mashed sweet potatoes, that would also work well, so long as they are savory and not too sweet.

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Butterscotch Topped Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

  The aroma of cedar and pine fill the air as I open the formerly stored boxes of family Christmas decorations, today.  I unearth wrappings filled with ornaments, stockings, garland and lights inciting holiday excitement as each item flows out of the boxes and onto the shelves.  Soon, every corner, mantle and windowsill will be filled with festivity and the omnipresent anticipation of the holidays will start to near.  The warm scent of cinnamon and orange-clove linger on the trinkets from past holidays.

I unwrap a framed handmade wreath made of my children’s hand prints and place it carefully on the kitchen counter, directly in front of my cutting board where it belongs; it’s one of my favorites.  The tattered and worn decorations without sentiment land themselves new homes in the lesser seen areas of the house.   The classics  and the standards are cared for and lovingly unwrapped from their tissue paper and bubble wrap cocoons,  like the two nuzzling iron reindeer that we bought the first Christmas we were married, that Mike begrudgingly and lovingly hauls from storage every year.  They go in the center of the family room; another favorite of mine.  It’s still a bit early for ornaments, so they’ll have to sit on top of our closet shelf with my rarely used formal clutches for just a few more weeks until we have a tree.  We still need to get through Thanksgiving, now don’t we?

 

 

Today I am grateful for memories and family joy during the holidays and the roof over our heads and the loving people I’m surrounded by daily.  Yesterday I was thankful for washable crayons, but that’s an entirely different story I won’t get into at this moment.  The day before that I was thankful for this cheesecake recipe I had come across randomly one day while scouring the internet for holiday recipes.  It’s a true holiday show stopper with all the elements of autumnal holiday merriment.  The butterscotch topping is optional, of course since I added that into the recipe; I find it adds sweetness to balance out the gingersnap crust on the bottom, which I also added into the recipe.  The spiced crust adds some zip to the flawlessly smooth and luscious, creamy, pumpkin cheesecake filling and the toasted pecans on top of the butterscotch sauce are a nod to every family gathering I enjoyed as a child which were often studded with pecan, pumpkin and walnut pies.   This rich and decadent cake is definitely something to be thankful for.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Butterscotch Topped Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

CRUST:

  • 1 stick melted salted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups gingersnap crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE FILLING:

  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pureed pumpkin
  • 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
BUTTERSCOTCH TOPPING:
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Toasted pecans, for finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

CRUST: Melt butter in microwave-safe medium-sized bowl and then add the remaining crust ingredients and toss together with a spoon.   Press cookie crumb crust down flat into a 9-inch spring-form pan and set aside.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE FILLING: With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add pumpkin puree, eggs, egg yolk, sour cream, sugar and the spices.  Add flour and vanilla. Beat together until well combined, trying not to overbeat, which can cause excessive cracks upon baking.

Pour into crust. Spread out evenly and place in oven for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.

BUTTERSCOTCH: In a heavy bottomed stainless steel 2 quart saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before butter is melted, add brown sugar and stir until it looks like wet sand.

Stir infrequently until mixture goes from looking grainy to molten lava. Stir in the corners of the pot making sure not to miss any sugar and watch carefully as the mixture changes.  It will take about 3 to 5 minutes.

Once sugar is liquefied, add all the cream and whisk mixture together thoroughly. Lower heat a little and whisk more. When liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes.

After liquid has been boiling on the stove for its 10 minutes, turn heat off and let rest for about five minutes and then pour into center of chilled cheesecake, top with toasted pecans and refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

 

 

Source cake filling , butterscotch topping

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Spiced Pumpkin Seed Brittle

 

The second hand ticked, the whistling heater steamed, and I sat, waiting in the overly warm classroom.  I looked around at the other students; some apathetic and others relentlessly chatty for so early in the morning.   My unnecessary 4-inch heeled boots clicked on the classroom floor and I doodled in my notebook around my careful notes with my dark colored polish chipping off my fingernails, occasionally popping my winter-blast gum.  The professor was late. A student noted loudly, “Five more minutes and we can go, according to the syllabus”.  The apathetic started packing up their things in the back and headed toward the door to wait out the last few minutes. The chatty chatted more, as expected.

Thirty seconds to inevitable freedom, the professor ran in the door and hurried to hand out the quiz on the reading assignment.   I’ll sum it up in an overly brief three sentences for you:  We read about a man, a king, that is, who crafted a plan to cheat death and by doing so, he allowed human-kind to temporarily cheat death as well.    His punishment?   Pushing a rock up a hill in Hades only to watch it fall back down for the rest of eternity.   Now, personally, I would commend anyone for successfully cheating death.  I mean, shouldn’t Death be smart enough to not let that sort of thing happen?  I was under that impression, as per “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”.

Not to mention, I was also taking Buddhism across campus later that afternoon, and the whole concept of watching a rock fall back down a hill, was being taught as well…just how it is …so we should pretty much just get over ourselves for expecting anything we do or have to last forever (please forgive my extreme paraphrasing).  This line of thinking also competes with those diamond engagement ads that we’re inundated with around the holidays that quite frankly, I find slightly insulting to women’s intelligence, but that’s beside the point, I guess.

I snap out of my day dream.

Flash to ten years later and back to reality, the phone rings and I chat with Mike about work and lunch and what we’re doing that evening; typical couple-type stuff.  I turn around to see  my little mess-maker in action.  Max smiles and pulls yet another nicely folded towel off the bed and I give him a very serious look, then smile at his precious face and pack up the stroller.  I throw on my running shoes and we head out for a run on the lake, followed by some serious playground action.

The air was brisk, the surrounding colors were warm and we reveled in the moment.  I did the laundry that night, peacefully and without distraction, and as expected, Max carefully and with purpose, unfolded things the following morning.  He was “helping”.  This phase, like all things, won’t last forever.

 

This recipe is sweet and meant to be savored.  Spiced with pumpkin pie spice, the toasty pumpkin seeds shine in their glassy sugared coating.  Sugar, like life has phases; some are ugly, like crystallization, but necessary to get through in order to really hit the good stuff.  The end result, like life, is delicious, delicate, truly delectable, yet fleeting.

 Spiced Pumpkin Seed Brittle

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 cup raw green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (not toasted; 4 ounces)

 

  • Special equipment: parchment paper; a candy thermometer

Put a 24- by 12-inch sheet of parchment on a heat proof work surface and anchor the corners of the paper with pieces of tape.  In a 2-quart heavy non-stick saucepan over moderate heat, bring sugar, water, sea salt and pumpkin pie spice to a rapid boil stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.

Cook mixture, without stirring, washing down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water, until syrup registers 238°F (soft-ball stage) on thermometer, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in seeds with a wooden spoon, then continue stirring until syrup crystallizes – 3 to 4 minutes.

Return pan to moderate heat and cook, stirring constantly with wooden spoon.  The sugar will be clumpy, grainy and crystallized, the seeds will toast and then the sugar will finally start to melt after 4-5 minutes.  Once the sugar melts, continue to stir constantly and let it bubble until it turns a deep caramel color which takes about 4 or 5 minutes more.

Carefully pour hot caramel mixture onto parchment and carefully cover with another sheet.

Immediately roll out (between sheets of parchment) as thinly as possible with a rolling pin, pressing firmly. Remove top sheet of parchment and immediately cut brittle into pieces with a heavy knife or pizza wheel. Cool brittle completely, and then peel paper from bottom. (Alternately, break brittle into pieces once cool.)

Cooks’ note: Brittle can be made 2 weeks ahead and kept, layers separated by wax paper, in an airtight container.

Source

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Cranberry Walnut Bread and Cranberry Pomegranate Citrus Glaze

It was late in the evening, dusk fell to night and Halloween was only two days away. The surrounding woods were hastily becoming more dark and snowy by the minute.   Mike said to me, “I’m going to drive down and look for power”.  I nodded.  As he rushed off into the blizzard, the lights in the house flickered; a surge of power arrived, but only briefly and only once.  It was soon gone, and not even worth mentioning.   It gave me hope as I watched him drive off into the cold and dark night.  I held Max tightly and then bundled him in multiple layers of fleece and footed pajamas.  Trey had gone to the doctor earlier in the morning and was extremely ill and unaware of the dark details around him.  He slipped in and out of a deep slumber, only occasionally awakened by his own violent coughing.  My cell phone was tight in my hand and it rang frequently.

I lit candles and kept my babies warm while we waited in the drafty and dark night.   I continued to pack, hopeful we’d soon be able to find a solution when I saw headlights pull around the corner, fighting through ten inches of snow that now covered the ground.  I had never seen anything like this so early in the fall, the pumpkin colored leaves were being smothered by the heavy white freeze falling upon them.  Tree limbs cracked loudly and fell to the ground.

“Hi mom, so glad you made it!  I bet you weren’t counting on this, huh.  Not the greatest hospitality.  Sorry”.  Laughs and hugs and hellos soon followed.  One down. One to go.  Mike was still out on the road. An extra set of motherly hands never hurts in these situations, so I was at least grateful for that.  We were moving the next morning… or so we thought.

I got a call from Mike, he said, “We have the key and they have power.  Pack some bags, only what you need and we’ll go to the new house”.  The heat was on, it was already furnished, and it sounded almost too good to be true.  So, we rushed madly.  Medicine?  Check.  Toothbrushes and toiletries? Change of clothes for everyone?  Check times three.  Sippy cups, crackers, milk, cereal, water, cans of soup, jars of sauce, boxes of rice and pasta and granola bars….check.

My mom watched Max as he ran around the dark house, holding a flashlight.  He appeared to be having the time of his life as he kept trying to turn on all the lights by climbing on the packed boxes and flipping the switches.  Trey continued to drift in and out of consciousness, moaning and sniffling in his sleep.  We waited.  Mike arrived and he packed the car, quickly.  We grabbed the bundled kids and my mom and we snuggled tight with extra blankets, seat belts fastened and thankful for four-wheel drive.  There was zero visibility…all I could see was white flying at us.  I still have no idea how he drove around all the tree limbs down the mountain.

We got to the base and drove into town.  Off in the distance, nestled between the lighted snow-covered mountains, the tiny village we now call home rose up to greet us with its comforting gates and well lit walkways, we knew we’d be just fine if not even better.  The door opened and the children and my mom went to explore and get cozy.  The lights were working, as was the heat.  We walked in and were never more thankful.   No, really….I had never been more thankful for anything in my whole life.   It was gorgeous too.  Honestly, it was one of those story book happy endings that one never forgets.   I breathed deeply.  The fireplace, the heat, the coffee maker, the nicely made beds, the two bathrooms.

Fairy tale ending?  Check.

We woke up the next morning to peaceful, blue skies and it was then that I realized I had forgotten the camera.  I snapped a photo with my phone, since it was too pretty to pass up.

 

We went back a few days later just to grab the last of our things that had not yet been moved to storage and we said goodbye.  Goodbye to the shoveling and the broken refrigerator door and the tiny, lone bathroom and the terrible water pressure.  Goodbye to the bears that live in the backyard and goodbye to the mouse in the basement.  Goodbye old house.  Now we’re only ten minutes away from that house, but it feels like a world apart.

This is one of those recipes that I must make every single November.  My mother made it around Thanksgiving when I was little and it’s just not November without this recipe, honestly.  I added the cranberry pomegranate glaze to cut the tartness of the cranberries.  The citrus adds just a hint of sweet, a nod to the upcoming holidays.  Plus it plays well with the orange in the cranberry walnut bread.  It’s comforting, like a warm fire on a snowy night.

 Cranberry Walnut Bread

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped (plus more for top design)
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts (plus more for top design)

 

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease or spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, shortening and egg. Mix until well blended. Fold the cranberries and nuts into the batter. Spread batter evenly in loaf pan. Top with additional nuts and berries in desired design.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.

Note: Serve fresh warm, or toasted the following morning with warm cranberry pomegranate glaze (recipe below).  Keep in air tight container for up to three days to maintain freshness.

 

Cranberry Pomegranate Citrus Glaze

  • 1/4 cup fresh pomegranate juice (seeds removed)
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice (seeds and pulp removed)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole cranberries
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
Place medium saucepan over medium high heat and add pomegranate juice and orange juice.  Whisk in powdered sugar.  Add cranberries.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer.  Add lemon zest and let simmer on low for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off heat to cool to warm.  The glaze should appear thick and become more like syrup as it cools.   Note: the cranberries/skins may be strained after cooking without the glaze losing flavor.

 

Bread: Adapted from source

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