Monthly Archives: December 2011

Cheesecake Ice Cream

Ten…nine..eight…

seven…six….

five…

That moment is almost here. The moment when we’re all in it together: We’ve arrived in sparkles, we’ve chatted, we’ve eaten, we’ve drank, we’ve laughed.  The ball drops, the champagne pops, the confetti flies, everyone’s hugging and kissing and celebrating.  We made it to 2012! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

<cue Old Lang Syne>

 

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Celebrate by serving up some cheesecake ice cream topped with strawberries and some sparkling wine or champagne, of course. I will be looking forward to many happy moments with you all next year.  Thanks so much for a wonderful 2011!  It wouldn’t have been as sweet without all of you.

 

Cheesecake Ice Cream

Makes about one quart of ice cream
Ingredients
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, preferably preservative-free, softened but still cool
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 cup cold sour cream
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • Pinch of coarse (kosher) salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Garnish: thawed frozen strawberries in syrup and pizzelle cookies cut/broken  into quarters

  1. Place medium mixing bowl and the beaters of an electric mixer into the freezer for about 40 minutes before beginning. Remove bowl and beaters from freezer.   Beat the cream cheese at medium speed until soft and smooth. Gradually add the sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and then the heavy cream. Add the salt, lemon juice, vanilla and beat the mixture just until thick and smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or until very cold. Wash and dry the mixer beaters and chill again.
  2. Using the chilled beaters and gradually increasing the mixer speed from low to medium, beat the cold ice cream mixture until loose and creamy, about 3 minutes. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately, or pack the ice cream into a covered container and freeze for up to 24 hours. Allow the ice cream to soften in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.
  3. Top with garnishes, serve with sparkling wine or champagne and enjoy!

Sources: Ice cream by Leslie Newman at Food and Wine and song:Old Lang Syne

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Cookies For Santa

Santa and I go way back to the days of rainbow bright, pillow people, popples, and cabbage patch dolls.   So when Trey asked me, “what kind of cookies are we going to leave for Santa on Christmas Eve?”, we both thought long and hard about what the perfect cookie would be.  We don’t want to do sugar cookies, because that’s what everyone does and Santa never eats those anyway.  He just kind of takes a bite to be polite and leaves the rest; we know what that means. 

 

Santa works very hard (on a holiday, mind you) to inspire children to be good all year long so that they can reel and revel in pure exhilarated joy on Christmas morning as they run through the house to announce to all,”It’s Christmas!  Santa was here!”.  They wake everyone; then run down to the tree to see all of their hard work and exhausting effort has paid off in the form of a beautifully wrapped gift box filled with possibility and wonder from that big bearded man from the north pole (which is not as weird as it sounds, surprisingly).  

It is for such treasures as these, we like to leave a little token of gratitude for all of Santa’s hard work and dedicated service by offering him and the reindeer some treats to nibble on for their all-nighter. Now, If I were pulling an all-nighter, I’d go espresso.  Straight up.  But, Santa is a different breed…you know, magic…  as I’m sure you know; which I’m pretty sure is fueled by butter, sugar and cocoa  (according to my elite and highly classified sources).      So, Trey has informed me that as an avid foodie, I need to do my job and help to keep his jolly belly full…of cookies.   Chocolate cookies, to be specific.    

 

These cookies are delicious.  They’re an adaptation of a chocolate chocolate chunk cookie recipe I found inside of a box of  baking chocolate.  I switched up the chocolate chunks for white chocolate and used eggnog instead of vanilla for a little extra Christmas flavor and then added a little powdered sugar on top to sweeten the deal.   I figure maybe it might be a gentle reminder to him about how much I like snow on Christmas morning.  I’m not sure he has anything to do with that, but, maybe he’ll be able to pull some strings.

 

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone. 

 

 

Cookies for Santa   ;-)

(Chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips and walnuts topped with powdered sugar)

 

  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  • 3/4  cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons eggnog
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 cups finely diced walnuts
  • 2 cups white chocolate chips

 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Bake: 14 minutes

Makes: 30 cookies

 

Preheat oven to 35o degrees Fahrenheit.  Roughly chop the semisweet chocolate and microwave in microwave-safe bowl on high power for two minutes.  Stir and set aside.

Next, melt butter in microwave-safe bowl on high for 1 minutes stir and set aside.

Crack eggs into small bowl, lightly beat and set aside.

In medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder and set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for one minute.  Add melted chocolate and eggnog and beat on high speed for one minute more.  While mixing continuously with electric mixer on high speed, add the lightly beaten eggs in two additions.

Reduce speed to medium and slowly add in the whisked flour and baking powder.  Turn off mixer.

Add nuts and white chocolate chips to mix and fold until combined.

On parchment lined or ungreased baking sheets, drop rounded tablespoons of dough two inches apart.  Bake in preheated oven for 12-13 minutes, or until the cookies “look puffed and set to the touch”.  Cool for one minute on baking sheets and then move to wire rack to cool completely.

 

 

 

Recipe Adapted from: “Chocolate chocolate chunk cookies”.  Baker’s Semi-sweet Baking Chocolate Squares Box.

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Christmas Muffins

Shopping, cookies and salt dough ornaments are done! The Chateaubriand roasts were ordered last night and should arrive in a few days, which means Christmas dinner is well on its way to being almost completely stress free.  The Christmas cards have been sent, the tree is up and decorated, and I’ve finalized the side dishes.  Does this mean that it is now time to relax, get cozy and sip some eggnog by a warm fire?  That does sound good, but I still think I have a few more days before I’m quite at that point.  Besides, baking isn’t work; especially when it’s the only alternative to wrapping presents.  Stupid trapezoid shaped boxes are impossible to wrap and I haven’t picked up any gift bags yet anyway, so perhaps another day or two of procrastination is in order.

I call these Christmas muffins because they have all of the flavors of Christmas.

Eggnog, cinnamon, pear, orange, cranberry and white chocolate.  They’re basically yule-tide joy and Christmas cheer smashed into a very merry little muffin cup, which bakes into a surprisingly fluffy and moist Christmas muffin.  They’re sweet spiced eggnog muffins with pear, sweetened dried cranberries and white chocolate.

Yes, I do believe these muffins are the perfect thing to share as a little token of gratitude and appreciation.    Hope you enjoy them too!

 Christmas Muffins

Sweet spiced eggnog muffins with pear, sweetened dried cranberries and white chocolate.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup eggnog
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
  • 1 cup sweetened dried cranberries or cherries
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon clementine zest
  • 1 pear finely diced (about one cup)
  • 2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

 

Topping: white chocolate chips

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line 2 cookie sheets with 12 baking cups each or grease or spray a 24-cup muffin tin.   Pour milk and eggnog over melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the dried cranberries or cherries.  Whisk in beaten eggs and brown sugar and set aside.  In separate bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, clementine zest, baking powder and salt.  Add in diced pear and toss to coat the pear.   Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until combined.  Place about ¼ cup into each of the baking cups and top with white chocolate chips.  Bake until golden and the top of muffins are set and spring back when gently pushed (about 15 minutes).

 

Makes 24 standard sized muffins

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10 Tips for Perfectly Creamy and Fluffy Classic Mashed Potatoes

As a kid, I never really minded rustic mashed potatoes.  My family was a “more lumps the better” kind of family.  But, when I married Mike, I learned that not only did he not like gravy on his potatoes (WHAT?!?)  he also didn’t like any lumps or bumps in his potatoes.

“How can that be and what planet do you come from?”

So, for Christmas and the holidays, I decided to make it my mission to know how to make creamy, fluffy and perfect mashed potatoes from real potatoes every single time.  Might I add, however, that this process came with several mishaps and learning experiences.  I now feel it is my duty to pass my knowledge onto you so that all those potatoes didn’t go down the drain in vain. With these tips you can avoid gluey, runny, dry or just downright gross mashed potato experiences without a box of flakes.

It’s Christmas!  Everyone deserves these potatoes.  They’re rich and creamy yet fluffy. They’re buttery and sinfully savory with just a hint of peppery goodness.  They’re comfort on a fork, for goodness sakes! They’re so delicious that you don’t even need any gravy (this point is coming from a life-long gravy lover, might I add).

 

1. The Potatoes: Use Russet or Yukon gold potatoes.  They’re the best for mashed potatoes, in my opinion.

2.  Flavor and Texture: Drop the potatoes into cold, salted water and THEN bring to a boil. You may add a couple of whole garlic cloves to flavor the potatoes, just remember to remove them before mashing.  Don’t over-boil the potatoes.  If they break apart easily when you stick a fork in them, they’re definitely done (a minute before that they were done). You don’t want them over saturated with water and falling apart in the water.  That’s a bad thing.

3.  Mashing: A potato ricer is your friend for creamy potatoes.  An electric hand mixer will suffice, but the potatoes will be somewhat lumpy.  If you don’t mind lumps, then go for the mixer, or hand masher.  If you prefer perfectly creamy and fluffy potatoes, you must use the ricer.  Over processed and over mixed potatoes are not good.  Never ever use a food processor or a blender, as this will result in potato wall paper paste, not mashed potatoes… unless you’re some sort of expert, which I am definitely not.

4.  Keep Hot: Warm any additions before adding to the potatoes.  Cold milk or cream to hot potatoes means they won’t retain their heat for very long, and nobody likes cold mashed potatoes for a holiday dinner.

5.  Make It A Crowd Pleaser: Salt to taste and get a second opinion too.  Ten different people, most likely, will not all like the same amount of salt, so make sure the potatoes are not overly salty.  Don’t dump salt in and hope for the best.  Taste.  Then salt to taste.  Then have someone else taste too.  It’s a rough job, but somebody has to do it.    ;-)

6.  More Flavor: Add a little pepper too, please.  It’s good!  If you like herb mashed potatoes, I suggest adding the herbs to the butter and cream mixture when it warms, to bring out the flavor before adding.  For the holidays though, I like to just go straight with classic flavors. The potatoes are mostly just a vehicle for butter, salt and pepper, honestly.  Who can argue with that?

7.  Butter: Speaking of butter…Don’t skimp, please.   Nobody likes a butter miser, especially at Christmas.

8.  Other Additions: I like to add a little warmed cream cheese and/ or a tablespoon of sour cream at the end, just to bump up the creamy and tangy factor.  The cream cheese adds the creamy and the sour cream adds a bit of tang too (without over using salt) , which makes people say, “oh my goodness these are so good!”

9.  Serving: Know when not to serve mashed potatoes.  If you’re having a “drop in” and not a “sit down” dinner party, then go with a different dish.  Nobody can keep mashed potatoes perfect for more than 45 minutes.  I’m convinced that’s a fact.

10.  Last: Rice the potatoes into a warmed bowl over simmering water. This keeps them from cooling too quickly.  Mashed potatoes are very time sensitive.  It’s best just to accept that fact and work with it.

 Perfectly Creamy and Fluffy Classic Mashed Potatoes

  • 2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes
  • water for simmering
  • 1 tablespoon salt for water (plus more to taste)
  • 1 whole peeled garlic clove for water (optional)
  • 1/2 cup cream (you may use whole milk, if desired)
  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (more to taste if desired)
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • dash of nutmeg (optional)

Directions

  1. Peel and cut potatoes into evenly sized chunks or thick slices. Place the chopped potatoes into a medium saucepan and cover with cold water and add the salt.  Add garlic clove if desired.
  2. Bring to a simmer. Fill another saucepan with water; place over low heat. Keep potatoes at a low simmer until a fork slips in and out easily. Drain potatoes and (remove garlic cloves if you added them) set aside. Place cream, cream cheese and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat  until melted and warm.  Do not boil or overheat, just warm.
  3. Place a heat-proof bowl over the saucepan of simmering water. The bowl should not be touching the water, just hovering over it. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into bowl.
  4. Stir potatoes with a wooden spoon until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a whisk, drizzle in warm cream mixture, whisking continuously. Add pepper and sour cream and stir.  Add salt to taste and a dash of nutmeg if desired; whisk to combine. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

 

Note: You may peel and chop your potatoes ahead of time.  Just cover with water and refrigerate. Drain water when you’re ready to use the potatoes.

 

Posted in All, Dinner, Entertaining, For Kids, Lunch, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Hot Baked Spinach and Artichoke Dip


What do you do for the holidays?  I used to rush around to about seven different holiday parties on Christmas, putting kids in and out of snowsuits and car seats in the snow.  I had enough of that after the first three years of having kids, so now I cook.  I cook a lot.  I follow the philosophy of, if you cook, they will come and if they don’t, well at least there’s great food to eat.  I learned this at a young age, thankfully.  You see, I have this problem with cooking for an army even when there’s only four people to cook for, so it suits me to entertain, especially for large parties.   I just love having everyone over for the holidays, honestly.  The fire roars, the Chateaubriand roasts, the gravy simmers, the vegetables steam, the family laughs, the kids scream in delight and run through the halls.  The wine pours and the lights twinkle as the Christmas music fills our home with holiday cheer. The cold and snowy wilderness outside makes it all seem so old-fashioned, which I love.  It’s pretty cozy up here in our nook of the woods, and those that are closer to the hustle and bustle of the city get to escape with us, away from the traffic and the stress without having to deal with airports and mass transit travel.  Just a simple one hour car ride from New York City and you can be at our cozy little house in the big woods.

And how do we start our festivities?  Well, usually with a huge antipasto and a few dips. This particular dip is my favorite.  My mom used to make a version of it all the time when I was little and I never tried it even though it smelled amazing.  I was a pretty stubborn little girl, especially when it came to mayonnaise..and wearing itchy sweaters and tights.   I still hate mayonnaise (don’t hate me, I’m sorry), and tights for that matter (leggings are so much more comfortable),  so now I have my own party where I can wear trouser jeans and bake my version of her artichoke dip without mayonnaise.  Apparently these small nuances don’t really matter to anyone in my family but me, so I figure I might as well make them the way I really want them, that way I can really stop and enjoy it.

I realize these are little successes in my life, but I’m pretty surprisingly proud of them.  I replaced the mayonnaise with sour cream, which I love.  I also added spinach to make it a pretty green color, which is always good for the holidays and I blended the “chunks” as I called them when I was little.  I don’t like chunks in my dip, but if you do, you can skip the blending and just go for a rough chop, instead.

I also serve it with this bread as well as crackers, some lightly toasted french bread and endive spears and celery. So, basically you can put it on anything (including a spoon) and it will be delicious. If you’re making this for a casual gathering, you can just go with tortilla chips and be done, but I like to fancy up each appetizer so it kind of expands the possibilities for personalization.

Let the holiday celebrating begin with this savory, deliciously creamy, cheesy, hot baked spinach and artichoke dip!  My personal favorite and apparently everyone else’s too, since there have never been any leftovers in the history of this dip which means, it must be good.

 

Hot Baked Spinach and Artichoke Dip

  • 1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 9-ounce package of frozen artichoke hearts
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese
  • 1/3 pound of Parmesan cheese, grated (reserving 1/2 cup for top)
  • 1/2 tsp. Garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (1/2 teaspoon for those who are sensitive to spicy foods)

Place oven rack in top 1/3 of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large microwave safe bowl, add frozen spinach and artichoke hearts.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and microwave on high for ten minutes, stirring half way through microwave time.  Remove plastic wrap to let steam escape.  Using an immersion blender, blend the artichokes and spinach, by gently pushing on three inch sections for a few seconds with the immersion blender. Stir and repeat the same blending technique once more.  The artichokes and spinach should be finely chopped and almost pureed at this point.

Add sour cream, cream cheese and parmesan.  Stir. Add garlic powder, black pepper, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine.  Butter an 8×8 inch baking dish, pour dip into baking dish, top with an additional sprinkling of grated Parmesan and place in preheated oven to bake for 40-45 minutes, or until top is golden and bubbling.

Serve with any of the following: endive spears, crackers, flat bread, toasted french bread slices, celery spears, etc.

Note: If you do not have an immersion blender, you may use a regular blender or just chop the artichokes and spinach thoroughly once cool enough to handle.

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Frozen Hot Chocolate Pie

It’s that time of year.  You circle the parking lot for a half an hour and then battle through angry people and have to deal with long lines and checklists and all types of annoying things.  This pie makes that all better.  Well, ok, maybe not.  But, it makes life a little more enjoyable, that’s for sure.  It tastes like a pudding pop pie, if there is such a thing.  The pudding-based filling of this sensational pie is flavored with hot cocoa mix, which is surprisingly delicious in pudding (who knew?).

So after a long day at the mall today; after dropping off our lists for toys for tots and after possible car ride shenanigans and Max and Trey possibly crying and yes, even possible beard pulling (let’s hope not); Mike, myself and the boys will come home to this pie sitting pretty in the freezer waiting for us to devour its delicious rich and creamy frozen hot chocolatey goodness.  Why?  Because everyone likes hot chocolate and I’ve never met a person that hated frozen pudding pops, either, which makes it an instant hit.  Sometimes a little frozen hot chocolate pie can melt all the stresses away and highlight the good things about the holiday season.  Good things like teaching your children that it’s better to give than to receive and snuggling under a warm blanket next to a cozy fire watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and seeing the spark of excitement in your kids’ eyes as they see Santa for the first time – those types of good things.  This decadent and delicious frozen hot chocolate pie is one of many wonderful things about this “most wonderful time of year”.

 Frozen Hot Chocolate Pie

  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 packages (.73 ounces each) hot cocoa or hot chocolate mix .
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate
  • 1 prepared and defrosted pie crust (I used a store bought)
  • 1 stick of room temperature butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • confectioner’s sugar to taste (amount will vary depending on the type/brand of chocolate used)

 

First:

 

  1. In top of double boiler over medium-high heat pour sweetened condensed milk.  Heat until warm and then add hot cocoa packages and vanilla.
  2. Mix thoroughly with heat proof rubber spatula, scraping down the sides occasionally
  3. Meanwhile, Remove lurking lumps by pouring cream into cup or a small bowl then sifting cornstarch into cream through tea strainer or small sifter.  Whisk mixture briskly with a fork or whisk for thirty-ish seconds. Add whisked mixture to the top of double boiler, into the cocoa-condensed milk conoction, whisking constantly.  Note: I used a tea strainer and cup because it was such a small amount, but a bowl and normal sifter will work just as well.
  4. Add chocolate. Continue whisking while bringing to a light bubble.
  5. Once bubbling for 2 minutes, remove/turn off heat.
  6. Bring to room temperature and cover and refrigerate overnight (4+hrs).

 

Next:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place defrosted pie crust in 9-inch pie plate and push down corners and pinch edges.
  2. Place pie crust in preheated oven for five to eight minutes and then remove and bring to room temperature.
  3. While it’s cooling: In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter and egg yolk with an electric mixer on high for about 5 minutes (until light and fluffy).
  4. Add in the chocolate mixture (well chilled overnight) in two additions, beating thoroughly after each.
  5. Continue to beat with electric mixer on high for 5 -6 minutes.
  6. Turn off mixer and then gently fold in sour cream until combined.
  7. Taste and add confectioner’s sugar to taste, mixing after each addition.
  8. Pour into pie shell and bake in preheated oven for 13-15 minutes.

Last:

  1. Carefully remove from oven and place on cooling rack to bring to room temperature.  Note: the pie will still be very fluid and will jiggle as you move it, so be careful.
  2. Once at room temperature, place in freezer for at least 3-4 hours.  Serve with whipped cream top with optional chocolate shavings. Enjoy.

 

 

 

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