Friday, December 28, 2012

Jalapeno Cheese Crackers

I contemplated writing a non food post. 

I'm kind of fooded out. 

Christmas was a whirlwind of baking, cooking, driving, ribbons, wrapping, eating, kids running around, unwrapping, laughing, a wee bit of sleeping, more baking, more cooking, more ribbons and wrapping, eating, more kids, more unwrapping, eating again, and maybe just a little more eating.   

I may have eaten more than my share of cookies.  I'm certain I've gained some holiday poundage.  I want to know.  Yet I don't.

The scale can wait a few days.

I'm sure it's no surprise I love baking.  December is by far my biggest baking month of the year.  This year was even a little bigger than usual.  It started with a baking frenzy for December Baking GALS.  The following weekend was dedicated to baking for friends and co-workers (pictures below).  And this past weekend was the final push to bake for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with family. 

Every year I pick several cookies to make.

Clockwise starting in the upper left: Ginger Snaps, Snowball cookies are buried in those bags of powdered sugar in the middle, Red Velvet Crinkles, Jalapeno Cheese Crackers, Linzers and Peppermint Brownies

I have a couple of regulars that make an appearance every year....

Ginger snaps...

And raspberry and lemon linzers... 

Then I try out some new recipes. 

This brownie recipe (double the recipe and bake in a sheet pan) received a holiday twist by spreading melted milk chocolate on top and finishing with crushed candy canes to make a peppermint brownie. 

I made traditional snowballs this year.  If you've ever had trouble getting powdered sugar to stay on these types of cookies, I have tip for you.  This tip comes from my Aunt who is a master cookie maker.  Store the cookies overnight in a bag full of powdered sugar.  The cookie soaks in the powdered sugar and you will not have the problem of disappearing powdered sugar ever again!  It's kind of genius.

Red velvet crinkles were a new addition as well.  They turned out nice and chewy and were easy to make as they started with a boxed cake mix.  I just love that dusting of powdered sugar on top with the deep red cookie peeking through.  But next time I want to take it up level and try Two Peas and Their Pod's red velvet cheesecake cookies.  Check them out.  They look seriously sinful.

And lastly, to mix things up, for the first time, I threw in a savory "cookie" of sorts.  Jalapeno cheese crackers.  These are easy to make slice and bake crackers.

Of the new additions to the holiday baking roster this year, the jalapeno crackers were pretty popular.  I received a few comments from girlfriends, saying their male counterparts really enjoyed them.  A salty spicy treat is a nice departure from the sea of sweetness that takes over the holidays.  Don't get me wrong, I love the sea of sweetness.  But these spiced crackers will be a very strong contender for next year's holiday round up. 

The recipe comes from Ina Garten's latest cookbook, Foolproof.  Or perhaps I should clarify that the base for this recipe comes from Ina's new book.  I adapted it a bit.  Initially I followed the recipe pretty darn closely.  The only change was using regular chili powder in place of chipotle chili powder.  The first go round I found the jalapeno and spice to be on the light side.  I made a couple more batches and tweaked it along the way.  The version I settled on has double the jalapeno, double the chili powder and the addition of cayenne for an extra kick.  Oh, and I decided a little extra cheese couldn't hurt either. 

These cheesy spicy crackers would make a perfect snack for your New Year's menu.  Any fun plans to ring in the new year?  Hubby and I will be enjoying a quiet New Year's Eve at home.  Mostly because Hubby is under the weather and on antibiotics so that means no drinking.  For him anyway! 

If we don't talk before the year closes, I hope you have a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!


Jalapeno Cheese Crackers
Adapted from Ina Garten's Foolproof Jalapeno Cheddar Crackers

I added additional cheese, jalapeno, chili powder and cayenne to Ina's original recipe.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 ounces extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
2 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
2 heaping tablespoons finely minced seeded jalapenos
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons ice water

For topping:
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk
Fleur de sel

In a food processor pulse flour, kosher salt and baking powder.  Add butter pieces and pulse again until the mixture is a coarse meal.  Add cheese, jalapeno, chili powder and cayenne and pulse again until just combined.  With food processor on, add ice water all at once and continue to process until the dough forms a ball. 

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Roll into a log about 14 inches long.  Wrap tightly in parchment or plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Slice the log into 1/4 to 3/8 inch discs and place on parchment leaving about 1/4 - 1/2 inch space between crackers.  Brush crackers with egg wash and sprinkle with fleur de sel to taste.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gingerbread White Chocolate Blondies and an Operation Baking GALS Christmas

The countdown is on!  Christmas is exactly one week away.  And I am definitely not ready.  I've done about 70% of my shopping and hoping to finish the rest up during the week nights...cause I have a feeling the malls and stores are going to be insane next weekend for that final Christmas push.

Things have been a bit insane around here.  The last two weekends have been completely dedicated to non stop baking (more on the last weekend's baking extravaganza in a future post).  The baking marathon started on Friday, December 7th with dough preparation.  Followed by baking all day December 8th and half day December 9th.  On the 9th, fifteen family and friends came over to our house in the afternoon with their own baked goodies so we could pack up boxes for the two recipients I signed up to bake for for this month's Operation Baking GALS

If you haven't heard of the Baking GALS, it's a group of volunteer bakers who bake and ship goodies to military deployed overseas once a month.  I've been participating since May of this year and I absolutely love it.  I typically sign up to send to one recipient each month and usually send one large flat rate priority mail box from the post office... 

But since December is Christmastime I figured I would up my game and recruit my friends and family to help bake for the two troops I signed up for.  It must be especially hard to be away from home during the holidays so it was our goal to bring them some home baked goodness and holiday cheer. 

I have to say my friends and family rock!  They amazed me with everything they contributed.  I wasn't sure how many boxes we could fill, but I was hoping for 6 (3 for each recipient).  If you're wondering what one person would do with that many treats...don't worry, they don't have to eat them all by themselves.  Each recipient shares the goodies with all the troops in their units (our recipients have 50-100 people in each of their units). 

Apparently I completely under estimated my crew because we filled more than twice as many boxes as I hoped....we did a total of 14 boxes!  Wow!  It was beyond awesome!

Since I've never done this on a mass scale, I wasn't sure how it was all going to come together.  Especially since we have a fairly small home and not a lot of space.  There was a little chaos trying to get our assembly line organized, but we made it work and everything came together in just a couple of hours. 

Each person brought their goodies, already baked, along with some non baked items, like individual snack size bags of nuts to help fill spaces in the boxes.  The shipping is a flat rate, so we pack in as much as possible.

Here's a re-cap of the baked goodies everyone contributed:

Walnut Fudge
Peanut Butter Cookies (two kinds)
Raisin Walnut Spice Cookies
Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips
Peppermint Brownies
Molasses and Ginger Cookies (several types)
Nieman Marcus Cookies
Pumpkin Bread
Zucchini Bread
Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Cookie Dough Fudge
Oatmeal Cookies
Gingerbread White Chocolate Blondies 

People also donated plenty of non baked items to help fill the boxes....such as pistachios, beef jerky, mixed nuts, pretzels, coffee, cup of noodles, card games, magazines, See's peanut brittle and 150 See's candy suckers.  My mom, niece and nephew and a few others, tied red, white and blue curling ribbon on each and every sucker.  We used them to fill up nooks and crannies and it really brought a festive touch to the boxes.

Here are pictures from Operation Baking GALS Christmas.
Friends and family packing up cookies

Mom and my niece and nephew tying red, white and blue ribbons on 150 See's suckers
(notice the guys supervising while watching football)

The goodies are stacking up!

My Grandma!  She made these adorable (and delicious) little strawberry santas for us to snack on.
Check out the goodies!  We included some cards and notes for the troops.
All the boxes around the Christmas tree ready to be taped up!

See.  My friends and family rock!  I've already gotten a few requests to make this an annual tradition.  I'm totally in!

Thank you to everyone who helped with the
Operation Baking GALS Christmas edition. 

Oh, and I suppose I should tell you a little about the blondies. 

I've sent these to the troops in the past and they maintain freshness for the week plus traveling time it takes for a box to arrive overseas.  The molasses is what keeps them so moist.  They remind me of a chewy ginger snap dotted with sweet white chocolate.  They bake in large sheet pan.  I turned the giant blondie out on to the bottom of another sheet placed on top and then inverted and inverted again onto a large cutting board.  Once it's out I cut individual squares using a square cookie cutter.  I find that my knife skills trying to maintain even straight lines are pretty horrible.  Luckily the cookie cutter ensures a perfect size every time.

These are easy to make and have that spiced flavor I'm looking for around the holidays.  Definitely a keeper.


Gingerbread White Chocolate Blondies
from Martha Stewart Cookies

2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 3/4 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate (10 ounces) - I used 12 ounces white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a 12x17 rimmed baking sheet with non stick cooking spray.  Line bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment with non stick cooking spray (to make a sling for easy removal, allow parchment to hang over the ends of the pan). 

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together until evenly distributed. 

In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until creamy and pale (about 3 minutes).  Turn mixer to low and add eggs and yolk one at a time until fully combined, scraping down bowl as needed.  Add vanilla and molasses until combined.  With mixer on low add the flour mixture in 3 batches until combined.   Stir in white chocolate.

Pour batter into the baking sheet and spread evenly using an offset spatula.  Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown on the edges. Cool fully in the baking sheet. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti

The cranberry craze continues here.  First it was cranberry preserves, then salad with cranberry and other delicious ingredients, and now biscotti.

What are your thoughts on biscotti?  Love it?  Hate it?  Never thought much about it? 

Historically I've turned my nose up to biscotti.  I always viewed them as boring...and a little too crunchy for my taste.  I tried my first homemade biscotti a couple of years ago as part of the Sweet Melissa Baking group.  I was pleasantly surprised that I did in fact like these little cookies.  For the record, I prefer my biscotti to be a little on the soft side.  Meaning, not super crunchy/hard.  It's all about the second bake time.  I under bake mine a bit to avoid an uber hard biscotti. 

Now don't go comparing biscotti to a piece of cake or your favorite fudgy brownie.  To fully appreciate biscotti you have to put them in their own category.  It's a great snack or light breakfast.  What I like is that it's not overly sweet, but is still enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.  And no, you don't have to be a coffee drinker to like biscotti.  Though I will say it's really perfect with a hot cup of tea if you're into that.

I made this batch of biscotti to send off for November's Operation Baking GALS (where volunteer bakers send home baked goodies to military stationed overseas).  And I'm gearing up to make it again this weekend for December's OBG since it travels so well.  I'm pretty jazzed about this round of OBG because it's Christmas.  On Sunday a few friends and family are gathering at my house with their baked goods and we are going to pack up boxes to send two recipients stationed in Afghanistan.  I'm really excited to see how many boxes we can put together to bring a little Christmas cheer to the military personnel who sacrifice so much for us all.  I'll be posting more on our baking party next week. :)

In the meantime, if you haven't tried biscotti you might want to give them a shot.  And biscotti makes a nice homemade holiday gift if you're looking for ideas.  


Cranberry Orange Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Sweet Melissa Baking Book

1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
Zest of 2 oranges
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil.  In a small saucepan, heat the orange juice and cranberries and bring to a simmer.  Cover and remove heat, allowing the cranberries to reconstitute in the orange juice.

In a medium bowl whisk flour and baking powder and set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, zest, and salt until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing fully after each addition.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the vanilla, almond and orange extracts and mix until combined.

Add flour mixture to wet mixture in 3 additions, with the mixer on low speed.  Drain the cranberries and discard the juice.  Stir the cranberries and almonds into the dough.  Turn dough out onto plastic wrap and flatten.  Refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and divide in half.  Roll each half into a log, patting and shaping it until you reach 14 inches.  Place the logs on the prepared baking sheet, about 4 inches apart. 

Bake for 30 minutes, until lightly golden and slightly firm.  Remove from oven and place the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees.  Transfer the logs to cutting board and cut the logs into 3/4 inch sticks at 45 degree angle.  Transfer the cookies to a freshly lined cookie sheet, cut side up.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Turn cookies over, exposing the other cut side and return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  If you want a really crunchy cookie, bake for a total of 60 minutes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Apple, Cranberry, Feta Salad with Candied Pecans

We put up our Christmas tree this weekend.  It's a fake tree.  My first fake tree.  Turns out Hubby is allergic to real trees and was pretty much miserable last year.  I was kind of bummed that we had to go the artificial route.  I've had real trees my whole life.

But you know what? 

Our fake tree is AWESOME. 

It's easy to assemble.
It's pre-lit with 500 lights so no need for me to spend hours stringing lights.
It fits perfectly into the small space we have to put a tree. 
It doesn't make a mess leaving dead needles everywhere. 
It doesn't need to be watered.
The branches bend so you can arrange your ornaments to hang just how you like them.
And, it looks real!

Now all I have to do is get a Christmas tree scented candle and I'll have my tree smell too.  A small trade off.

Even though we already have our tree up, I'm a bit discombobulated with the timing of the holidays this year.  Thanksgiving felt like it came early which has subsequently thrown everything else off.  This is definitely the earliest we've had a tree up and running.  And I felt a totally panicked last week that we hadn't even thought about holiday shopping, even though it's completely normal for us to wait until early December to start.  But it's all good and I'm going with the flow and enjoying the season. 

In the spirit of the holidays, I've embraced an ingredient somewhat new to me this year.  The cranberry.  Cranberries have an extreme tartness that has turned me off in the past.  The turning point started with the Can It Up challenge for November--where I had the task to can something using cranberries.  It was my first time using fresh cranberries and I made these cranberry orange preserves.  It was a big success.  And it seems like it's been a flurry of cranberry ever since. 

Starting with this salad.  I'm loving this salad.  Normally when I make salad at home, 99% of the time it's the basic garden variety type--lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, peppers, maybe a mushroom or two.  But when I go to a restaurant, I always order the non garden variety type.   Like salad with fruit, nuts, beets, a little goat cheese or blue cheese.  I'm not really sure why I rarely make this type of salad at home.  No need to dwell in the past though.  I've made this salad no less than 3 times in a week.  Even Hubby is eating it (a modified version anyway).  It's sweet, it's tart, it's crunchy, it's salty.  It's yummy.  It's fall on a plate.

This salad would be a great side dish to a holiday meal, or to savor any day of the week as your lunch.  This is more of an ingredient list than a recipe.  Tweak it and make it your own. 

Happy holidays!


Apple, Cranberry, Feta Salad with Candied Pecans

Lettuce (such as spring mix, butter lettuce or romaine)
Apples, thinly sliced (I used honey crisp)
Dried cranberries
Feta cheese
Green onions, thinly sliced
Salted candied pecans
Your favorite vinaigrette (such as balsamic)

Put it all together and voila!