Sunday, October 30, 2011

Apple Pie Muffins

Living in Southern California makes it a bit challenging to discern any transition from one season to the next.  I did put on a sweater one day this week, but that was more to tolerate the frigid zone that is my office.  Plus it was overcast outside so I thought I could justify it.  But the temps were in the 60's, which was the coolest daytime temperature this week.  The temps have climbed up to the 70's and low 80's this weekend.  I shouldn't complain.  It's not snowing here like it is in the northeast part of the country.  Anyway, it really isn't the weather that defines the seasons here.  For me it is the food that tells me what season it is.  And over the last few weeks I've been cooking and baking with some of my favorite fall ingredients, like pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and apples.

These apple muffins caught my eye when I spotted them on My Baking Addiction and I knew I needed to make them.  They have large chunks of apple and crunchy crumb topping.  I'm always a sucker for a crumb topping.  I used gala apples, because that is what I had on hand and I found the muffins to be a bit too sweet.  I have a feeling if I had used the tart granny smith apple that the recipe calls for the sweetness would balance out.  If you use a sweet apple I recommend reducing the brown sugar in the muffin recipe by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.  Despite the extra sweetness, I really enjoyed these muffins.  They are definitely reminiscent of apple pie.

Do you ever freeze your muffins?  If you have more muffins than your household can eat within a couple of days, try freezing them.  Once the muffins are completely cool, individually wrap them tightly in plastic wrap.  Place the individually wrapped muffins in a freezer storage zip top bag and remove excess air.  When you want to eat a muffin (or 2), just take the wrapped muffin out of the freezer before you head to bed the night before and set it on the countertop.  It will be completely thawed and ready to eat in the morning.  It's a great way to prevent muffins from going to waste and to have a nice treat without having to bake again.


Apple Pie Muffins
from My Baking Addiction

Makes 12 muffins



2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or use cinnamon)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chopped granny smith apples, about 1/2 - 3/4 inch chunks


1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, melted


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line muffin tin with paper cupcake liners and set aside.  In a large bowl whisk 2 1/4 cups flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk, 1/2 cup melted butter, vanilla and 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and gently stir until just combined.  Gently fold in the apples.  Fill muffin liners nearly to the top.

Make the topping by combining 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup of flour, rolled oats and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Drizzle in 3 tablespoons melted butter and mix until combined.  Distribute all the top mixture evenly across the muffins.  Don't be shy!

Bake for 25 minutes or until tops spring back or a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean.  Cool in the muffin tin on a wire rack.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars

Secret Recipe Club time again!  Which means yet another month has flown by.  I am so not ready for the rapidly approaching holidays...

Wondering what Secret Recipe Club is?  It is a monthly online cooking and baking group where each participant is assigned another person's blog and the assignments are kept secret, much like a Secret Santa.  You browse the blog you were assigned, and choose a recipe to make and post about.  Everyone "reveal" their posts on the same day.  It's a great way to get know a blog you might not be familiar with and to try out a new recipe.

I was excited to see my assigned blog was Jamie's Cookin' with Moxie.  I know Jamie from two baking groups, Sweet Melissa Sundays and most recently, Club: Baked.  What I love about Jamie is her energy.  When I read her posts she makes me smile.  I imagine her to be bursting with energy and excitement with a big smile on her face.  And you can tell she channels that energy through food.  She's an Italian girl, originally from Long Island, NY and comes from a big family.  She loves to cook with her friends and family and says that "that cooking and baking creates the best memories!"  I couldn't agree more!  Be sure to check out Jamie's site...she moved to her own URL and has a whole new look and feel, along with a new blog name (her former blog was Random Acts of Food).

As always, I struggled to choose what recipe to make.  Too many tempting choices!  Again, I ended up going the sweet route this month because I wanted to make something to take to my family pumpkin carving gathering this weekend.  Her recipe for Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars sounded like a a good choice, knowing that my family loves a salty and sweet treat. 

I stayed pretty true to her recipe with a couple of minor modifications.  I omitted the chocolate sprinkles, and instead decided to up the chocolate factor and top these bars with chocolate ganache and a whole pretzel.  I had originally planned to top these bars with a milk chocolate ganache to bring a little extra sweetness to the salty pretzels.  But unfortunately I ruined some perfectly good milk chocolate and it seized up.  So I turned to my chocolate stash and the only chocolate I had enough of was a bittersweet dark chocolate. So I went with it.  I'm a big dark chocolate fan, but I was afraid it might be a little too dark for my nieces and nephew.  Luckily I made 2 desserts for pumpkin carving...the pretzel bars and pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting (post coming soon) so I'm hoping everyone will find something the like that will satisfy their sweet tooth. 

These bars are super easy to make and put a fun twist on a chocolate chip cookie with salty pretzel crunch.  My bars were done in 30 minutes, but I think they still may have been slightly over cooked.  Next time I would check at 25 minutes.  I am planning to try this recipe again using with the milk chocolate ganache.  I think that would bring just the right balance of salty and sweet!

Now let's see if we can take sweet our time before November Secret Recipe is here!

Chocolate Chip Pretzel Bars
from Cookin' with Moxie (originally from


2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of coarsely chopped pretzels
12 oz chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chocolate sprinkles (optional) - I omitted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 9 x 13 metal baking pan with parchment paper, allowing the paper to hang over the edges by 2 inches all around.  This will help you remove the bars from the pan once they are cooked.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt and whisk.  In a large bowl or your stand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars at medium speed until light, about 1 minutes.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla.  Turn the mixer to low slowly add the dry ingredients until just combined.  Stir in the pretzel bits and chocolate chips.

Spoon dough into your prepared baking dish and use a spatula to evenly spread the dough.  If you are using sprinkles you would add them on top now.  Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until golden and just set.  Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the pan and lift out the bar using the parchment paper as handles.  Cut into 24 squares and serve.

Chocolate ganache:
from Sweet Melissa Baking Book

6 ounces of good quality chocolate, coarsely chopped (I recommend milk chocolate for this recipe)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Place chocolate in a heat proof medium bowl.  Heat heavy cream in a small saucepan until it is scalding or bubbles form around the edges.  Pour heated cream over the chocolate.  Do not stir.  Let stand for 5 minutes.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Slowly stir the chocolate and cream together after 5 minutes until fully combined.  Stir in corn syrup.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes to thicken a bit. 

To assemble bars with chocolate ganache and whole pretzels:

Pour ganache over your cookie bar before removing it from the pan and cutting it.  Place 24
whole pretzels spread evenly in the pan, running 4 down the short side and 6 across the long side.  Place the pretzels in even rows for easy cutting.  Allow the ganache and pretzels to set for about 30 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Red Rice Salad and A Photography Workshop

I've missed you guys!  It's been a crazy, busy week. 

Remember the photography workshop I gushed about last month?  The one that I won a spot in?  It happened on October 15th and I've been dying to tell you about it all week.  Work and a mishap with deleting all my red rice photos from my memory chip before they made it onto my computer delayed this post a bit.  I finally have some quiet time to get it all down (and I squeezed some time in yesterday to re-shoot the red rice).  Right now I'm sitting in the quiet of my living room, with a cup of hot tea and the cats snoozing nearby while Hubs is still sleeping upstairs.  Ahhhh.

From Left to Right: Shawnda of Foodie Bride, Katie of Epicurean Mom, Nancy of A Communal Table (in the black), Lori of Lemons and Lavender and Diane of White on Rice Couple

A week ago today at this time I was driving to spend the day with the White on Rice Couple and several other talented bloggers for an all all day food photography and food styling workshop.  I have to say, I had a few butterflies in my stomach during the car ride there.  And the night before...I felt kind of like a kid, too excited and restless to sleep in anticipation of going to Disneyland the next day.  I was also a little nervous to meet everyone in person for some reason.  This was my first time meeting any other food blogger in the flesh.  Going from cyberspace to real life is kind of surreal.  But my butterflies disappeared seconds after I walked into Todd and Diane's beautiful studio and I was warmly greeted with a big hug from Diane, followed by a greeting from their sweet dog, Sierra. 

Though it was only 8 am, the studio was buzzing with energy.  Nancy from A Communal Table was serving her delicious egg bake with salsa and Alex from Dishin' it Out with Alex was plating her bounty of gluten free sweets, including cinnamon chocolate chip cookies, banana peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and mixed berry mini muffins.  Todd was setting up the audio/video.  And Diane was being the hostess with the mostess! 

The workshop participants trickled in and we all talked and got to know each other.  And we ate. There was A LOT of eating going on throughout the day!  Though many of us were from various reaching parts of Southern California from Santa Barbara to San Diego, we had a few from out of state as well, Brooklyn, Houston and Portland.  Everyone was there to learn, have fun and support a great cause. 

The workshop was a fund raiser for Jennifer Perillo of In Jennie's Kitchen who's husband, Mikey, passed away unexpectedly just over 2 months ago.  To learn more about Jennie's story click here.  Jennie attended the workshop with us and it was great getting to know her.  She is an amazingly strong and inspirational woman.  She is real and down to earth.  I encourage you to check out her blog. It's about food.  It's about life.  It's inspiring. 

Diane walking us through her styling process step by step

After the breakfast meet and greet, we got down to business and Todd and Diane began sharing their knowledge about photography, food styling and community.  They have an incredible passion for what they do and you can see that it is not a "job" for them.  It's an integral part of their life. 

We got the opportunity to do our own hands on photography and styling, with full access to their drool worthy "prop room".  I have to figure out how to get one of those....or maybe a prop closet to start?  

My first attempt at styling...was not much of success

Diane showing her approach to styling the lemons...she lost the bulk and broke it up with lemon slices.  See the difference?

Someone else set this up and I played around with the positioning and lighting

Another perspective on the same scene

Alex shooting her peanut butter banana chocolate chip cookies with Sierra standing guard

Diane putting her styling touches on Alex's cookies.

My attempt at shooting Alex's cookies.  Diane added the ribbon to break up the dark colors and add movement to the shot.

Playing around with pears and light and shadow
Aren't figs pretty?

Todd took the time to help me take the first baby step in using my camera on manual settings.  Not an easy thing! Though I have relied on the food setting on my camera for the past year and a half, I realized that my control is very limited.  It will take some time and a lot of practice, but I plan to ween myself off my beloved food setting.  This week I have been taking some pictures with food setting and an equal amount of photos the manual setting...I'm not quite ready to take the training wheels off, but I'm working on it! 

This is the second hands on styling session where I tried my hand at styling baked goods leftover from a cookbook shoot.

Shooting more cookies

We shared breakfast, lunch and dinner together on Saturday and the food was homemade, healthy and delicious.  At lunch we had tender pulled pork with crisp sesame rice crackers (asian nachos as Diane called them) and a trio of salads - kale salad with pine nuts, edamame salad and my personal favorite, red rice salad.  Don't get me wrong, they were all mouthwatering, but the red rice salad had me going back for seconds.  I knew I wanted to make it at home.

Lastly, I want to tell you about the culmination of our day with Todd and Diane.  Dinner was a family style Vietnamese feast of spring rolls where we got to cook own own shrimp, beef and veggies on tabletop grills.   The rolls are filled with your choice of ingredients...lettuce, fresh herbs, veggies, pineapple, beef and shrimp, dipped in a fish sauce or peanut sauce. 
Todd and Diane doing some pre-dinner prep

Jennie helping set the dinner table
It was fun, fresh and healthy.  And of course, like everything else we ate, it was delicious!  Another inspirational dish that I hope to make at home very soon.  Hubs and I might even venture to Little Saigon to try out some other Vietnamese cuisine.  

See all those fresh herbs and lettuce?  Marinated shrimp and beef and fresh veggies are under the plastic wrap.  The rice paper wrappers are on top of the plates.  You dip the wrapper in the red rimmed bowl filled with warm water to soften the wrappers.  All you have to do is cook your food, fill your wrapper and dip in one of the sauces.  Good stuff!

I want to extend my thanks to the White on Rice Couple and everyone who was at the workshop for a fabulous day!  I met some amazing people, learned a ton and walked away with my mind racing with thoughts about how to incorporate all that I learned into my blog and into my life. 

Check out these posts from fellow workshop participants recounting their experiences last Saturday.

Now, let's get into the nitty gritty details of this unique rice.

I love the exotic look of the red rice

I had never heard of red rice before last Saturday.  I took Diane's advice and went to a local asian market to find it at an affordable price. It's a slightly chewy grain of rice with a nutty flavor. The texture is similar to brown rice, but not quite as chewy. The rice is dressed in a magical caramelized shallot vinaigrette. Fresh parsley and mint give it a nice bright flavor and diced cucumbers provide a refreshing crunch. It makes a great side dish, or you could turn it into a main dish with some grilled shrimp on top.

The salad is easy to make. If you can figure out how to cook red rice. The package I bought from 99 Ranch Market had no cooking instructions. So I turned to the web for help. Apparently there are wildly different thoughts on how to cook this uncommon grain. One recipe recommended soaking the rice overnight, while another said to soak it for an hour and another said just rinse it to remove the excess starch. In Diane's recipe she mentions that red rice takes a bit more water than standard rice and recommends using a rice cooker for more even cooking. Basically I took an amalgamation of suggested techniques and just gave it a go. I rinsed the rice to remove excess starch and used a rice cooker. The first go round turned out very sticky. I think I had too much water. I tossed it in the garbage and started again. This time I used less water, added a spot of butter (to prevent sticking). After nearly 2 hours in the rice cooker, it turned out pretty darn good.

The shallot vinaigrette is fantastic. It would be great on any salad, from couscous to kale. I will be making it again to experiment with other uses for this tasty goodness.

The red rice salad kept well in the fridge and fed me for lunch for several days. This recipe is going into the keeper file. Now I have 3 1/2 pounds of red rice to use up and will be trying out some other recipes with this pretty little grain.

Red Rice Salad
from White on Rice Couple

Serves: 3-4 (yields 4 cups of cooked rice)


1 cup raw red rice, cooked according to the package instructions (I used a rice cooker used a ratio of 2:1, 2 parts water, 1 part rice)
1 cup diced cucumbers
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint

Shallot Vinaigrette:
3 large shallots, minced
3 medium cloves of garlic minced and crushed with side of a kitchen knife (use a sprinkle of salt to help crush the garlic)
4 tablespoons of olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Cook the rice and allow to cool.  In small non stick skillet add 2 tablespoons of oil and heat on low.  Add shallots and garlic and cook until the mixture is a light golden brown (about 15 minutes).  Remove from heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, the sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, vinegar, lemon juice and black pepper.  Stir until the ingredient are well incorporated and the sugar is dissolved.  Set the vinaigrette aside and chopped the cucumbers and herbs.

Once rice is completely cooled, stir in cucumbers, herbs and the shallot vinaigrette.  You can serve it room temperature or chill it in the refrigerator.

The dish can also be served warm.  Toss in cucumbers and herbs while rice is still warm and then serve.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Creme Brulee

When Hubs and I go out for dinner, I almost always order dessert.  Shocking, right?  But most of the time I can't get Hubby to help me eat it.'s creme brulee.  If creme brulee is on the table, you better get your spoon in there before it gets inhaled by he who shall not be named.  I think it's pretty safe to say it's Hubbies favorite dessert to order out.  Honestly, I think it's the only dessert he orders out.  So when I planned the menu for our Mystery Dinner this past weekend, I knew creme brulee would be our dessert. 

I didn't realize how easy creme brulee was to make. Though it's easy, you have to build in time for baking, cooling and chilling in the frigde.  I'm not always good at reading a recipe through and factoring all these little details in.  But thankfully, we started the creme brulee first and had enough time for our dessert to be ready by the time we finished eating dinner. 

So when Hubs and I got married 9 years ago, one of the fun kitchen gadgets we got for our wedding was a kitchen torch.  It's been sitting, unused, in it's original box for 9 years.  Pretty sad.  I think I was a little afraid of it.  Turns out torching stuff is fun.  Ok, torching sugar is fun.  I haven't torched anything else....yet.  If you don't have a kitchen torch, I hear you can caramelize the sugar under the broiler. Though I also hear it's more difficult to get the desired affect.

This recipe is another example of how a few simple ingredients can turn into a fabulous dish.  The best part is the spoon making that first crack through the browned glassy sugar surface.  Then you find the light, creamy vanilla custard lying beneath.  Delicious! 

Creme brulee has very impressive flavors especially since there are only 4 basic ingredients.  Sugar, egg yolks, vanilla and heavy cream.  The creme brulee starts on the stove top by heating the cream and sugar until scalding, but not not boiling.  You slowly stream in the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks to "temper" the eggs or bring them up to temperature so that the hot liquid doesn't scramble the eggs.  Stir in vanilla and pour the liquid through a mesh strainer to catch any bits that may have formed, ensuring you have a silky smooth mixture.  Pour the custard into ramekins and bake for 45 in a water bath.  Cool and then refrigerate to set.  The recipe recommends allowing at least 6 hours to make the creme brulee, but we only had about 3 1/2 and it was just fine.  I halved the recipe and ended up with six 4 oz portions.  I have noted the halved version of the recipe below.

Now, go buy yourself a kitchen torch!

Creme Brulee
adapted from Sarabeth's Bakery From My Hands to Yours

For the custard:
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 cup superfine sugar
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
1/8 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 cup superfine sugar

Allow at least 4 - 6 hours of prep and cook time before you want to serve your creme brulee.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.   Whisk egg yolks in a medium heat proof bowl and set aside near your stove.  Combine cream and sugar in a heavy bottomed small sauce pan.  Bring the cream to barely a simmer, without boiling.  Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup ladle the hot cream mixture and drizzle it slowly into the egg yolks.  Repeat 3 or 4 times and then combine remaining mixture and eggs together and whisk until fully incorporated.  Whisk in the vanilla.  Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large liquid measuring cup or a bowl with a pour spout.  Divide the mixture evenly amongst six 4 oz ramekins.  Skim off any bubbles from the surface with a small spoon. 

Place the ramekins in a 9x13 baking dish or shallow roasting pan.  Place the roasting pan in the oven and pull out the rack and pour hot tap into the pan so that the water comes up half way up the sides of the ramekins.  Do not get water in the custard.  (I like to add the water once the baking dish is in the oven because I don't want to balance a heavy dish filled with hot water as I move it from the counter to the stove).  Bake for about 45 minutes or until custards are set.  The custard will move as one solid unit with a small center section that may look uncooked.  Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath and place on a wire rack to cool.  Allow to cool about 45 minutes and cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to fully set.  Refrigerate for 4 hours or over night.

Make topping mixture by combining the brown and superfine sugars.  Press them through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.  Remove custards from the refrigerator and remove plastic wrap.  Sprinkle sugar on top of the custards between 1/16 and 1/8 inch thick.  Fire up your kitchen torch and slowly caramelize the sugar, holding the torch 3-4 inches from the custard's surface.  Torch until you reach the desired sugar caramelization.  Garnish with fresh berries and serve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Filet of Beef with Horseradish Sauce

Can you say ultimate leftovers?  This sandwich was made from left over filet of beef tenderloin with creamy horseradish sauce that Hubby and I made for our Mystery Dinner this past weekend.  Mystery Dinner is our fun new monthly activity that Hubs and I came up with as way to try new dishes at home and work together in the kitchen with a glass of wine in hand.  This month's dinner started with this 44-clove garlic soup and ended with creme brulee (to be posted on Friday).

And in between, our eyes rolled in the back our heads and closed, along with some grunting noises and murmurs like, "Mmmm", "Wow!", "Oh my God!," as we ate this filet of beef.  It was AMAZING.  It was melt in your mouth delicious. By far, the best beef we've ever made at home.  Tender, juicy, flavorful.   Heavenly, really.  I don't know if this was the wine talking, but I couldn't have been more happy with how this turned out.  And the horseradish sauce was a nice cool, creamy and spicy accompaniment.  Horseradish and beef are destined for each other. 

This was so easy to make and the ingredients couldn't be more simple.  Filet of beef, butter, salt and pepper.  That's it!  Seriously.  Goes to show you that delicious meals don't have to be complicated.

This recipe comes from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook.  Her original recipe calls for a 4 to 5 pound tenderloin but since it was just the two of us, we purchased the smallest one behind the butcher's counter at 2 pounds.  We halved the rest of the ingredients and kept the cooking time and temperature the same.  From what I understand, tenderloins are typically the same width and a larger filet is just longer and not thicker, so I didn't adjust the time in the oven.  The tenderloin goes onto a baking sheet in a 500 degree oven for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium rare.  We went with 22 minutes and it was perfect!  I recommend using an oven thermometer to verify your oven is up to temperature. 

I will say that filet of beef is not something that we buy every day.  In fact we have never bought a whole tenderloin before.  I've always wanted to make a tenderloin though, and Mystery Dinner was the perfect opportunity.  We went to our favorite butcher where we know they have the freshest, highest quality products and we forked over the credit card.  It better be high quality at $27.99 a pound!  But the splurge was worth every penny.  So incredible!  Did I mention how amazing this was? 

This would make a great special occasion dinner, like New Years Eve, Valentines Day or why not Columbus Day?  Treat yourself!

I wish I had snapped a photo of this gorgeous tenderloin the night we made it, but I have decided that I really can't stop and do a mini photo shoot in the middle of our Myster Dinner preparation.  Plus the lighting is no good at night.  But trust me when I say it was beautiful!

We got 3 meals out of the filet of beef (1 dinner and 2 lunches) which makes the price a little easier to handle.  We used  homemade dinner rolls slathered with plenty of horseradish sauce and stacked with beef for these tasty little sandwiches.  If only all leftovers were this good. 

If you are beef lover and have never tried to make a filet of beef tenderloin at home, you have to try it.  It really couldn't be easier! 

Filet of Beef
adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Parties

Serves 4

1 whole filet of beef (tenderloin), about 2 pounds, fat trimmed away and tied (your butcher will do this for you at no charge if you ask)
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degree F.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Pat the filet dry with a paper towel.  Rub the beef with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper on all sides.  Bake for exactly 22 minutes for rare or 25 minutes for medium rare.  Remove from oven and transfer beef to a cutting board and cover tightly with foil.  Allow it to rest 15-20 minutes at room temperature.  Remove strings and slice in thick slices, 1/2 - 1 inch thick.  Serve with horseradish sauce (recipe below).

Horseradish Sauce
adapted from

1/2 cup sour cream
1/8 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more if you like it spicy)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until ready to use. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

44-Clove Garlic Soup

Hubby and I started a monthly tradition last month that we are calling "Mystery Dinner".  Around the first weekend of each month, one of us is responsible for choosing a menu.  That person is the "executive chef" and the other is "sous chef".  It's a way for us to explore new dishes we've never made while working together in the kitchen (something that doesn't happen very often). It's fun, it's relaxing and there's a payoff where we get to enjoy a delicious meal along with good company at the end of the evening. 

Mystery Dinner has a few rules.

1. The spouse choosing the menu has to get approval on all menu items from the other spouse before moving forward.
2. The meal must have at least 2 courses.
3. Each component should be something we've never made before or should have some level of complexity (i.e., no hamburger helper).
4. And most importantly, a bottle of wine must be consumed during the making and eating of the meal along with good music playing in the background.

Hubby hosted our September dinner.  He's so cute, he has this box of recipe cards that he acquired when he was just out of high school.  The kind where you subscribe and they send you cards in the mail once a month.  I think his aunt actually signed him up for the cards, but Hubs got into them. He started cooking for his dad and he's been toting the box around ever since.  His recipe box is one of the few items that survived the merging of our stuff when we moved in together back in the day.  So for Hubby's first Mystery Dinner, he broke out his trusty recipe box from the back of the cupboard and dusted it off (literally). 

He picked out a chicken dish with sauteed orange and yellow peppers and a delicious white wine sauce, cream cheese popovers and brownies for dessert.  Overall the meal was a success...but it was not without a few mishaps.  We had to make the popover batter twice because the first time it was separated and kind of gross looking.  And as our brownie batter was waiting to go in the oven I suddenly realized we never added any butter.  Whoops!  So I melted the butter and stirred it in.  The brownies fared pretty well despite the almost flub.  Actually, the flubs made it fun.  We got to have a few laughs, some wine and we were in no hurry, so we just meandered through making the meal until it was done. 

Here's a peek at our first Mystery Dinner.

This month was my turn to plan the menu and we made 44-clove garlic soup with Parmesan cheese, fillet of beef tenderloin with horseradish cream, homemade dinner rolls (that didn't get baked until the next day) and creme brulee for dessert.  With the exception of the dinner rolls, the  meal was a big hit! 

Let's talk soup.

No joke, this soup indeed has 44 cloves of garlic (which is about 3 heads of garlic).  Two-thirds of the garlic gets roasted until soft and sweet and the remaining garlic gets simmered in the soup.  Once it all comes together, it gets pureed into a smooth silky deliciousness.  We used an immersion blender to do the pureeing--a pretty cool kitchen tool, by the way. Even though this soup has an insane amount of garlic, it has a mild, almost sweet garlic flavor.  I absolutely loved it.  And so did Hubby.  The only thing I would add is a nice crisp Parmesan herb crusted crostada to float on top to slowly drink in all that amazing garlic heaven.   Good stuff!

44-Clove Garlic Soup with Parmesan Cheese
adapted from Bon Appetit via Smitten Kitchen

Serves 4

26 garlic cloves unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (1/4 stick)
2 1/4 cups sliced onions (about 1 large onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
18 garlic cloves peeled
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the 26 cloves of garlic in small baking dish.  Toss the garlic with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for about 45 or until garlic is soft and golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle the garlic.  Squeeze each garlic clove to release the garlic and place in a small bowl.

Heat a heavy bottom large saucepan over medium-high heat and melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Saute the onions and thyme and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the roasted garlic, 18 cloves of raw garlic and cook for an additional 3 minutes.  Add chicken stock and cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the garlic is tender.  Use an immersion blener to puree the soup until smooth or transfer in batches to a blender.  Return the soup to the saucepan and add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer.  Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Divide the grated Parmesan cheese equally into 4 bowls and ladle in soup.  Squeeze lemon juice into each bowl and serve.  Garnish with fresh thyme or chopped chives.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Online Bake Sale!

I recently met Gerry through participating in the Secret Recipe Club.  He has a great blog, Foodness Gracious that I enjoy following.  Gerry's daughter Miranda has Type 1 diabetes and he is hosting an online bake sale that begins today to raise money for Team Miranda and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).  His daughter was diagnosed with diabetes at age 3 and every year his family participates in a 5K walk to support JDRF. This cause is close to my heart because my beautiful niece was also diagnosed with Type 1 at age 3, nearly 10 years ago.  When I heard Gerry was holding an online bake sale I knew I wanted to help support this cause! 

Head over to Foodness Gracious to see all the delectable treats and baking accessories that are up for sale.  Bids begin at $10.  There are some tasty looking goodies...I have my eye on some awesome looking chocolate chip cookies... 

I know a lot of you that read this blog are fellow food bloggers. This bake sale is a great way to get someone else to bake for you for a change! So treat yourself to something yummy while supporting a great cause!

I am donating Honey Cream Caramels.  If you would like to bid stop by Foodness Gracious.  Go Team Miranda!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Candy

Whether my family likes it or not most gifts from me these days consist of homemade goodies.  I find as the years go on, it gets harder and harder to pick out gifts for adult family members.  My poor dad has gotten a book from me for every Christmas, birthday and Father's Day for the past several years.  This year I decided no more books.  Who needs to read when you can eat treats instead? 

My parents both have September birthdays and I made my Dad these Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies earlier in the month.  My Mom's birthday was a couple of weeks later and I decided to make homemade chocolate candies to satisfy her sweet tooth.

I saw two chocolate candy recipes in Baked Explorations that I knew would be right up my mom's alley.  Buckeyes (a.k.a Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls) and Marshmallow Chocolate Cups.   (If any of my fellow Club: Baked bakers are reading this, yes, I'm cheating and posting recipes before the group makes them.  Sorry! I will plan to post again when each of these recipes comes up on the baking schedule). 

I normally use chocolate such as Lindt or Ghiradelli when I want to use "good" chocolate for a recipe.  However there are even higher quality chocolates out there, such as Scharffen Berger, Guittard and Vahlrona.  These are usually a bit out of my price range for everyday baking but I wanted to use a high quality chocolate for these candies.  So I splurged on the good stuff!  (You're worth it Mom!)

Both candies tasted great and were fairly easy to make.  I had some execution issues with the Marshmallow Chocolate Cups and didn't quite get the chocolate to marshmallow ratio that I was looking for.  But now that I have a run under my belt, next time will be a piece of cake!  The airy homemade marshmallow was surrounded by a blend of dark and milk chocolate.  Yum.  And the chocolate peanut butter balls were amazing!  The peanut butter filling is very similar to the filling in a Reese's peanut butter cup.  (I think the secret is the graham cracker crumbs...never would have guessed that ingredient)  Except this is a peanut butter cup elevated with a coating silky decadent dark chocolate.  If the peanut butter ball went head to head in a taste off with the marshmallow cup, I would have to pick the peanut butter ball.  Love the salty and sweet! 

Happy birthday Mom!

Both recipes are going into my keeper file.  These chocolate candies would be great to share at a holiday party or would make a nice gift.  The authors recommend storing both candies in the refrigerator so be sure to take that into account if you plan to give them away. 

Speaking of the holidays, the talented Jamie of My Baking Addiction and Katie of GoodLife Eats have organized a Holiday Recipe Exchange which begins the week of 10/3/2011 and goes for 12 weeks.  Each week has a different theme hosted by a different sponsor.  You can check out all the holiday recipes and have a chance to win some great prizes.  Come join the fun at My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger.

Buckeyes (a.k.a Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls)
from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Yields: 36 to 42 candies


1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (I used Skippy)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 cups confectioners' sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
12 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped

Make the filling:
Beat cream cheese and peanut butter until well combined in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the graham cracker crumbs and beat on medium speed for 10 seconds.  Add the confectioners' sugar and melted butter and beat on low until combined and then gradually increase the speed to medium and beat until fully combined.  The mixture will feel a bit dry.  Set aside.

Melt the chocolate:
Fill a small pot with an inch of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set over the simmering water (be sure water does not touch the bottom of the bowl).  Stir regularly until chocolate is melted and smooth.  Pour the chocolate into a small, deep bowl and allow it to cool to tepid (about 100 degrees F).  I poured the chocolate into a 2 cup glass measuring cup.

Assemble the candies:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Form peanut butter mixture into just over a tablespoon sized ball.  I used a small scoop with a release mechanism.  Roll the dough in your hand to form a ball and set on the baking sheet.  Repeat until all the balls have been formed.

Coat each ball in the melted chocolate one at a time.  A traditional buckeye has a round spot on the top that is exposed peanut butter, however I dipped mine fully.  Use a fork to toss the ball in the chocolate on all sides and the remove the ball with the fork, allowing excess chocolate to fall through the tines of the fork.  Gently place on the parchment lined baking sheet.  Refrigerate the sheet pan to allow the candies to fully set up before serving. 

Store in the refrigerator.  Candies are best eaten within 3 days.

Chocolate Marshmallow Cups
from Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Yields 30 candies

60 miniature candy cup papers (about 1 inch in diameter)
16 ounces good quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
8 ounces good quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 envelope (about 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup cold water plus 1/4 cup of water separated
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

Prepare candy cups and chocolate:

Double the candy cup liners to create a more stable cup and help the candy hold its shape.  Arrange 30 double cups on a baking sheet.

Fill a small pot with an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Place all the chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set over the simmering water (be sure water does not touch the bottom of the bowl).  Stir regularly until chocolate is melted and smooth.   Remove the bowl from the heat and stir to release some of the heat.  Using a small spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a small round decorating tip (or a zip top bag with a small hole cut in the corner) fill each candy cup with just under 1/4 full.  Using a small pastry brush, brush the chocolate from the bottom of the cup up the sides.  (I recommend stopping at least 1/8 inch from the top of the cup making it easier to peel off the cups after the candy sets).  Make sure the sides of the cup are completely covered in chocolate.  Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator while you make the marshmallow filling and set the remaining melted chocolate aside.

Make the marshmallow filling:

Prepare a pastry bag with a small round decorating tip (or take a large zip top bag and snip off a small bit on the corner) and set aside.

In the bowl of stand mixer sprinkle the gelatin over 1/3 cup cold water.  Meanwhile, place a small saucepan over medium heat and stir together the sugar and 1/4 cup water until combined.  Stop stirring and place a candy thermometer in the saucepan.  Bring the sugar to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, still without stirring, until it reaches soft ball stage on the candy thermometer (235 degrees F).

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly stream it into the gelatin.  Whisk quickly for 30 seconds to release excess heat and then place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Mix on medium-high speed for 5 minutes.  Add in the vanilla and salt and continue to mix for about 2 additional minutes.  Do not mix until if forms soft peaks, you want it to be slightly looser than that. Pour the mixture into your pastry bag (or zip top bag) and set aside.

Assemble the marshmallow cups:
Remove candy cups from the refrigerator.  Pipe the marshmallow mixture into the candy cups filling about 3/4 full or about 1/8 below the top of the chocolate.  Using a small spoon, or your pastry bag, top marshmallow filling with reserved chocolate until just covered.  (I recommend not making this layer too thick so you can retain a nice chocolate to marshmallow ratio.)
Store candy in airtight container in the refrigerator.  Serve the cups directly from the refrigerator or take out a few minutes before serving.  If candy is left at room temperature it will being to melt or bloom. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Baked Eggplant Parmesan

I have made some feeble attempts to cook with eggplant in the past.  This is my very first post with eggplant in it, which means my first successful eggplant dish.  Those folks over at Cook's Illustrated really know what they are doing.  They spend hours testing recipes up one side and down the other, figuring out the best way to get the most desirable outcome.  What I was missing from my previous eggplant attempts was salting the cut eggplant and allowing it to sit to remove excess liquid (apparently a basic step in preparing eggplant that I was not aware of).  This recipe also has a wonderful method for getting a nice crisp bread eggplant round without frying.

This recipe is no 30 minute meal so allow plenty of time to prepare it.  I made it on a leisurely Sunday afternoon so I wouldn't feel rushed. 

The recipe starts by cutting the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and coating them generously with salt.  They go into a colander over a bowl and sit to allow liquid to drain.  This process takes up to 45 minutes.  I used this time to make the sauce (the recipe recommends making the sauce while the eggplant bakes).  Once the eggplant releases about 2 tablespoons of liquid they get transferred to a triple layer of paper towels to further remove excess liquid.  Then the eggplant gets dredged in flour, egg and a breadcrumb mixture.  Instead of frying the eggplant to get a nice crispy coating, they go onto a baking sheet preheated to 425 degrees and lightly coated with olive oil.  The rounds go into the oven and with a little rotating and flipping, come out beautifully browned and crisp. 

I did a little tweaking with the sauce...I followed the directions as noted below but found it to be a bit acidic.  I added a bit of sugar and a bit of heavy cream to reduce the acid.  I also found the red pepper flakes to be too much heat for my taste and would cut the amount in half next time.  Though the sauce was tasty, I will play around with it a little more next time I make this.

The last step is to layer the crispy eggplant rounds with sauce and mozzarella cheese in a baking dish and go back into the oven to melt the cheese. 

The result?  Hubby and I both loved it.  It's warm.  It's hearty.  And most importantly, it's delicious!  Eggplant has a very mild flavor that pairs perfectly with marinara sauce and melted cheese.  If you have not tried eggplant, I urge you to give it shot.  It's good stuff!

Another approach would be to plate the crispy eggplant in individual servings, top with sauce and cheese and put it under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese turns golden brown. 

This will be repeat dish in our house. And now that I know Hubs likes eggplant, a whole new avenue of recipes has opened up!


Baked Eggplant Parmesan
from Cook's Illustrated from the New Best Recipe via Smells Like Home (via Ezra Pound Cake)


2 medium eggplant (about 2 pounds), cut into 1/4 thick rounds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cups breadcrumbs (I used 3 cups of panko crumbs and 1 cup of Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons vegetable oil

Tomato Sauce:
2 cans diced or pureed or crushed tomatoes (14 1/2 ounces each) - I used diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For baking:
8 ounces grated mozzarella (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
10 fresh basil leaves for garnish

Make the eggplant:
1.  Toss half of the cut eggplant rounds in a large bowl with 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.  Transfer the salt eggplant to a colander that is set over a a bowl.  Repeat with the remaining eggplant and salt.  Let the eggplant stand in the colander for 30 to 45 minutes or until the eggplant releases about 2 tablespoons of liquid.  Place the eggplant rounds on a triple layer of paper
towels.  Place another triple layer of paper towels over the eggplant and firmly press each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.  Wipe off excess salt.
2.  About 20 - 30 minutes into the eggplant draining adjust your oven racks placing one in the upper third and one in the lower third of the oven.  Place 1 large rimmed baking sheet on each rack and then heat oven to 425 degrees F.
3.  In pie plate or large shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Set aside a large baking sheet and place a wire rack over the top.  Combine the flour and 1 teaspoon black pepper in a large zip top bag and shake to combine.  In a second pie plate or large shallow dish, beat egg.  Place 8 to 10 eggplant rounds in the bag and and shake to coat.  Dredge each round in the eggs, evenly coating both sides.  Then coat the round in the breadcrumb mixture, evenly coating both sides.  Place each coated eggplant round on the wire rack and repeat with remaining rounds until they are all breaded.
5. Remove one of the preheated baking sheets from the oven and add three tablespoons of olive oil to the sheet, tilting to evenly coat the sheet with oil.  Place half of the breaded eggplant rounds onto the sheet in a single layer and set aside.  Repeat process with the second baking sheet and remaining eggplant rounds.  Return both sheets to the oven.  Bake until the eggplant is browned and crisp about 30 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets after 10 minutes and flipping the eggplant slices with a spatula after 20 minutes.  Do not turn oven off.

Make the sauce (I made my sauce while my eggplant was draining):
1. While the eggplant bakes, puree 2 cans of diced tomatoes in a food processor or blender until almost smooth.  If you are using pureed or crushed tomatoes, skip this step.
2.  Heat olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring periodically until garlic is lightly browned (about 3 minutes).  Stir in processed tomatoes and bring sauce to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced and slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

1. Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking dish.  Layer in half of the eggplant slices, overlapping to fit.  Spread 1 cup of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle half the mozzarella on top.  Layer the remaining eggplant and dot with 1 cup of sauce, leaving much of it exposed so it will remain crisp.  Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
2. Bake until bubbling and cheese is lightly browned, about 13 to 15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes and scatter basil leaves over the top. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Pumpkin Cheddar Muffins

This marks the 7th recipe for the Club: Baked online baking group.  We are making our way though Baked Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.  The group started on July 1st and we are baking twice a month, on the 1st and 15th.  Every 2 weeks or so one participant chooses a recipe for the entire group to make and post about.   It's a great way to learn new things and learn from each others experiences with a particular recipe.  This week, Billie of Chocolate and Chakra was our hostess and she selected pumpkin cheddar muffins.

Pumpkin and cheddar cheese in a muffin?  

I have to admit I was skeptical.

I love pumpkin and I love cheddar...but together?  What I have learned is I really shouldn't knock a recipe until I try it.  This recipe surprised me.  Though this muffin technically falls into the savory category, it still has a slightly sweet component.  Kind of like cornbread is savory and sweet.  The pumpkin and cheddar are both very mild and the muffin has just a hint of fall flavor.  It has a nice soft and moist interior with a slightly chewy texture on the outside with the crisp bits of cheese.  And it pairs nicely with soup.

I made half the recipe and ended up with 6 muffins which was perfect for Hubby and me.  The muffins are best served warm.  You can pop them into a 200 degree oven while you are getting the rest of your meal together. 

Hubby and I both enjoyed the muffins, but it wasn't love at first sight.  I probably won't be making them again anytime soon.  There are too many other recipes out in the world that I want to try.  But I'm glad I now know how pumpkin and cheddar work together.  It's not such a crazy idea afterall.  Thanks to Billie for hosting this week.  If pumpkin cheddar muffins sound intriguing you can head over to Billie's blog to get the recipe.

To join our baking adventure head over to the Club: Baked site and get in touch with Karen.  The next recipe up on the roster is Sawdust Pie on October 15th.