Thursday, December 29, 2011

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail

If I had to pick one Food Network chef/cook to be my go to recipe source, it would hands down be Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I have all but one of Ina's cookbooks and have had overwhelmingly positive success with her recipes.  What I love about Ina is her recipes aren't overly complicated, yet they have a wow factor.  And most importantly, they are delicious. 

I have had my eye on Ina's Roasted Shrimp with Cocktail for a few years now.  This recipe comes from her book, Back to Basics--one of my favorites.  I was in search of a healthy appetizer for our recent dinner party and I remembered this recipe.  It did not disappoint and it's incredibly easy to make.  It's even easier if you buy shrimp that is already peeled and de-veined.  We almost always buy our shrimp, uncooked, peeled, de-veined and frozen from Costco and simply defrost. 

What I like about this recipe is it is a twist on the traditional shrimp cocktail.  The simple step of roasting the shrimp in olive oil, salt and pepper, makes all the difference in creating the wow factor for this appetizer.  The cocktail sauce is homemade and has a nice tang with a horseradish kick.

I wish I had more photos to the baking sheet with all the pretty pink roasted shrimp when they just came out of the oven.  Or the final plated dish with the shrimp circling the bowl of cocktail sauce, lemon wedges interspersed.  But lighting was not good and I might have been mildly stressed anxiously waiting for our dinner guests to arrive.  Luckily one lonely shrimp was left over and I took this photo the next morning. 

If you like shrimp cocktail and you are looking for an easy appetizer, this is a great choice.


Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
from Ina Garten's Back to Basics


2 pounds (12 to 15 count) shrimp (we used 21 to 25 count--meaning count of shrimp per pound)
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I used 1/4 teaspoon)

1/2 cup Heinz chili sauce
1/2 cup Heinz ketchup
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and de-vein the shrimp, leaving the tails on.  (Or use frozen, uncooked, peeled shrimp).  Place the shrimp on a baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over the shrimp and use your hands to toss and evenly coat the shrimp.  Place shrimp in a single layer on the pan and roast for 8 to 10 minutes, or just until the shrimp turns pink and feels firm and cooked through.  (My shrimp took exactly 8 minutes).  Set shrimp aside to cool.  (I recommend making the shrimp an hour or two before you plan to serve it)

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and stir until well combined.  The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to serve. 

Serve roasted shrimp with cocktail sauce and garnish with lemon wedges.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Beef Brisket with Pomegranate Sauce

I'm not a vegetarian.  Duh, there's a big hunk of meat pictured above.  But I don't cook meat all that often, especially large cuts.  I took a quick look at my blog stats and only 5% of my posts contain beef or pork and another 5% are devoted to chicken.  The stats are also pretty low for seafood.

I think a New Year's resolution is going to be devoting a little more time to protein based posts.  I normally don't buy into the whole New Year's resolution thing, but I really do have a lot things I want to accomplish in 2012 and maybe if I put some of these goals in black and white, I will be less prone to procrastination.  Okay, probably easier said than done.  Who are we kidding that I can change a lifetime of procrastination with the mere statement of a resolution.  But I can dream, right?

The weekend before Christmas Hubby and I had 2 couples over to enjoy a meal and help us decorate our Christmas tree.  We had a great time and ended up with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. 

But I have to be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with entertaining.  Which, in part, ties back to my procrastination tendencies.  I love having people over.  I love cooking and baking.  I love putting all the little touches on everything from the food to lighting strategically placed candles and tea lights and picking out place mats.  But I tend to completely stress myself out during the process.  Especially the closer the clock gets to my guests arrival time.  I try, try, try to plan ahead (as much as my procrastinating self will let me) and make lists and start preparing really early in the morning.  Inevitably I always feel rushed in the final hour, and have moments of panic when I think, it won't all get done.   No matter if I start at the crack of dawn, or give myself a few extra hours of sleep, I always end up in the same rushed state...every time.  And every time, some how, some way, it does all get done.

One would think this beef brisket cooked in a crock pot would be the perfect dish to ease my stress.  That might be the case if I started cooking it the day prior to the event.  Instead, I went shopping for a 5 pound slab of brisket the morning of.  Store number 1 had a  It was 13 pounds (and they would not sell it in smaller portions).  No good.  We called ahead to store number 2 (while standing in the aisle of store number 1) and were told, yes of course, we can order you a 5 pound brisket and it will be here by Tuesday!  Um, thanks, but no.  We just headed to store number 3 with a prayer and a list of other items we needed to pick up.  The entertaining God's were with us because Costco came through and sold brisket in 5 pound increments!  Score!

This recipe really is easy.  I would recommend an anti-procrastination approach and cooking it overnight the night before you want to serve it.  Then you can pull out the meat and refrigerate it.  What is so great about refrigerating it is you can slice the chilled meat into nice neat slices (instead of the brisket falling apart into shreds of beef), a tip I picked up from In Erika's Kitchen where I found this tasty recipe.  Then you can warm the meat up back in the crock pot a couple of hours before you serve your dinner. 

The pomegranate sauce makes this brisket really special.  It is a rich, onion-y, slightly sweet sauce with a wonderful depth of flavor from the pomegranate juice and dried cranberries.  It's pretty darn delicious.  It looks like a thick brown gravy, but the cool part is it is not a traditional gravy requiring butter and flour to thicken it.  You simply puree the juice and cooked down onions and dried cranberries and reduce it in a saucepan to the desired flavor and thickness.

We served the beef brisket with roasted sweet potatoes with red onions and a wonderful salad our friend Sharon brought with granny smith apples, dried cranberries, green onions, sunflower seeds and feta cheese tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.   A recipe I've already tucked away for future use.

Beef brisket with pomegranate sauce would be great dish to make for the final night of Hanukkah.  Happy 8th night of Hanukkah!  It would also be nice for a New Year's Eve meal.  Or you could make this for New Year's Day football watching or Super Bowl and serve the meat shredded with the sauce on King's Hawaiian Rolls for a brisket slider.  


And here's to anti-procrastination in 2012!

Beef Brisket with Pomegranate Sauce
from In Erika's Kitchen

1 quart pure pomegranate juice
1 5 pound flat cut brisket, cut in half (to fit in crock pot)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 red onions chopped
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries

Bring pomegranate to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook until reduced by about 1/3.

Meanwhile, begin preparing brisket.  If you wish trim off some of the fat, now would be time.  Be sure to leave some of the fat on as this gives the brisket flavor and helps to keep it moist.  Sprinkle salt on both sides of brisket and brown in a hot skillet on both sides until seared.  Transfer the brisket to your slow cooker (fat side up).  Add oil and onions to the same skillet and cook about 5 minutes until the onions started to brown a bit, about 5 minutes.  Place onions in the slow cooker on top of the brisket.

Add the beef bouillon, tomato paste, cumin, brown sugar and cherries to the reduced pomegranate sauce and stir.  Pour sauce mixture over the onions and brisket.  Turn your slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours until brisket is tender. 

Remove meat and set aside on a plate or cutting board.  Transfer liquid and onions to medium sauce pan and puree using an immersion blender (or transfer to a standard blender) until smooth.  Cook until sauce reduces by about 1/4 to further intensify the flavors.  Check the season and add salt if needed. 

Slice or shred brisket and pour sauce over the top.  Note to get nice clean slices of brisket you can refrigerate the meat and then slice and reheat with sauce in the slow cooker.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Traditions New and Old

Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Happy 5th night of Hanukkah!

The holidays are one my favorite times of year.  Mostly because it's okay to make and eat ridiculous amounts of cookies, treats and favorite holiday foods.  Hubby and I aren't particularly religious, but we do enjoy some of the traditions of both Christmas and Hanukkah and we've made some of our own traditions.

Note I cheated in this photo placing all the candles in the Menorah even though it's only night 5

Every year on one of the eight nights of Hanukkah we celebrate the miracle of lights by eating an entire meal comprised of homemade potato latkes.  This year Hanukkah and Christmas overlap so we have to be strategic about when we will indulge in this delicious meal.  I think it will be on Monday, the 7th night of Hanukkah this year.  Here's a peek at our latke feast from last year.  The photos are not the greatest, but this recipe is amazingly delicious.  It has a squeeze of lemon juice in it (to prevent the potatoes from turning brown I believe), but the tang from the lemon is what makes these little fried bits of goodness so delicious!

Last year I also made some Hanukkah sweets....cake truffles to be exact.  They are by no means a traditional holiday treat, but they are decadent little goodies that are fun to make and decorate and definitely bring home the spirit of Hanukkah.  You can use any type of cake and coating that suit your taste.  If you have not made cake truffles (or cake pops) yet I highly recommend them!

Also last year, I made Christmas red velvet and devil's food cake truffles.  They were a big hit and made it into this year's baking rotation.  Given the reviews, I think these will now officially be a staple in my cookie gift boxes.  Though technically not a cookie!  Don't hold it against me.  I have to give the people what they want.

The majority of holiday time in the kitchen is spent baking oodles and oodles of cookies.  I love cookies for a few reasons.

A. Cookies are delicious.
B. Cookies are fun.
C. Cookies have endless varieties, shapes, sizes and flavors to experiment with.
D. Cookies are portable.
C. Everyone loves cookies! 

If you don't love cookies, you might be an alien from another planet.  You might want to get that checked out.

I thought I would share a roundup of this year's cookie palooza as well as share some old favorites. 
The most requested and commented on cookies are my two holiday staple cookies, Ginger Snaps and Raspberry and Lemon Linzers.  In fact I can't recall a year where I didn't make these two types of cookies.  I don't want a revolt on my hands. 

And each year I like to try a few new varieties.  When I was at my Grandma's house earlier this year I spent some time going through her recipe cards.  I found a few old recipes that I remember having as kid. 

One was a recipe my Mom would make called Jam Tarts.  They are tender crescents of cream cheese based dough filled with boysenberry jam and dusted in powdered sugar.  Recipe coming soon!

I also decided to try a new version of the tarts and filled some crescents with Nutella, coated with pearl sugar and drizzled with chocolate. 

The other family recipe I tried this year is called Mint Sticks, or Mint Brownie Bars.  This festive treat has a brownie based a layer topped with mint frosting and a drizzle of chocolate on top.  Recipe coming soon!

Chocolate Truffle Cookies (pictured below left) have become a new holiday favorite as of last year.  These really are like a truffle in cookie version.  A great choice for chocolate lovers. 

All the goodies get plated to go off to my Aunt's house to celebrate Christmas Eve.  Below is a peek of the cookie plates ready to go for tonight!  And another plate will be put together tomorrow for Christmas Day at my Dad's house.  One can never have too many cookies!

Hope you all have a fabulous holiday filled with good company, good food and tasty cookies of course!

Merry Christmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Kwanza!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Feliz Navidad Chocolate Cookies

Holiday baking (round 1) got into full swing 2 weekends ago at my house.  I make cookies like mad and Hubby is my kitchen elf/helper.  We put together cookie boxes for co-workers, friends and family.  It's become an annual tradition.  I have a couple of cookies that are a must make every year--Ginger Snaps and Raspberry and Lemon Linzers.   I have some cookies that rotate in and out each year, like Chocolate Chip Candy Cane, Chocolate Truffle Cookies, Cream Wafers and Cake Truffles.  I am always looking for new cookies to add to the rotating roster. 

When I was assigned Eliot's Eats for this month's Secret Recipe Club assignment I immediately went in search of cookies.  Luckily her site features several cookie recipes including an annual 12 days of Christmas.  When I spotted the Feliz Navidad Chocolate Cookies I thought they would be a fun twist on a standard chocolate cookie.  These cookies definitely have a little spicy punch with cinnamon, pepper and cayenne.  The cookies are soft and chewy with a chocolately bite.  I love the dusting of powdered sugar on top.  They made it into round 2 of the holiday cookie boxes. 

Secret Recipe Club is like Secret Santa for blogs.  Each month each participant is assigned another participant's blog....and it's a secret!  You browse the blog you are assigned and then choose something to make and blog it.   It's a great way to discover new blogs.  I enjoyed browsing Eliot's Eats.  It's a great blog focused on local eating, inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's journey with eating locally as documented in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a great book by the way).  I saw several recipes on Eliot's eats that will be checking back on, including several canning recipes when the spring and summer months are upon us.
But for now I just have to gear up for the third and final round of the cookie craziness next weekend.  And squeeze in some last minute shopping.

Are you all ready for the holidays?  

Feliz Navidad Chocolate Cookies
from Eliot's Eats originally adapted from Tim Love

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting (or more if needed)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and pepper and set aside.  In a stand mixer cream butter and shortening on medium speed.  Add in sugars and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.  Turn mixer to low and add in eggs one at a time and vanilla until fully combined.  Add in dry ingredients in batches until incorporated. 

Scoop out 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon size balls with a spoon or cookie scoop place cookies about 1 inch apart on the parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12 to 14 minutes (my were done at 12) until set.  Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet and transfer to a wire rack to finish cooking.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Apple Danish for Thanksgiving

This year we spent Thanksgiving with my Mom's family at my grandparents house in Palm Desert.  This year was extra special because Hubby and I and our newest cat, Oliver, made the hour and 45 minute drive Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving.  We went out early to help Grandma Jane cook and prep for the big day.

Yes, you read right, we took our cat.  I know, it's a little odd.  Oliver joined our family as a 4 month old kitten back in June.  He is a sweetheart, but he cannot be trusted to stay at home with the two big girl kitties.  He has an affinity for eating toilet paper, digging in trashcans and being a little too inquisitive.  Plus he has about 50 times the energy as the big girls and sadly they have zero interest in playing with the little guy.  This was actually Oliver's second trip to grandma's house (the first was in August--see photo below).  He doesn't love the car ride, usually spending the first half of the drive meowing his little head off, but once he's there he is a happy camper.  He purrs nonstop at grandma's and like everyone else, loves being there.

Hubby and Oliver on his first trip to Grandma's house in Aug 2011
(we drove at night for this most recent trip so we didn't get any photos)

Grandma has been doing our families Thanksgiving for my entire life.  My mom and aunt and I joked that none of us knows how to cook a turkey because Grandma always does it.  She puts on quite a spread and thinks of all her guests favorite dishes (even Oliver got a turkey day treat--a small rawhide stick wrapped with dried chicken--which he absolutely loved).  The big meal contains many dishes that grace most Thanksgiving tables, like turkey and stuffing (with an extra crispy crust on top), mashed potatoes and gravy, ham, sweet potatoes with toasted marshmallows, corn, cranberry and dinner rolls.  She also includes some other special dishes that aren't as traditional, like 7 layer salad (my personal favorite), blueberry pecan salad (my mom's favorite), ambrosia (my cousins favorite) and sweet potato casserole with crusted pecan topping (almost every one's favorite).  It's a feast of major proportions and I always look forward to digging in.  Grandma serves Thanksgiving dinner around noon.  Originally she did it early to accommodate the families that had to go two Thanksgivings in one day.  But no one has to tackle two meals in one day anymore.  So we do two at Grandma's.  The big feast at noon and what I like to call second dinner around 6 pm. I look forward to second dinner just as much as the main event.

There is never a shortage of sweets at Grandma's.  Every year she makes 3 kinds of pies...pumpkin, pecan and apple.  This year she let me make the apple pie using a favorite family recipe from my Dad's family.  I had a blast spending the day with Grandma in the kitchen prepping and baking.  She even helped me crimp my pie crust edges, a skill I am still working to master! 

Grandma also helped me develop the recipe for this apple danish filling.  I brought the leftover dough from my recent danish pastry making adventure.  We whipped up an apple pie like filling to fill the danish on Thanksgiving morning.  Between the two of us, I think we came up with a pretty awesome filling that is most definitely going on the recipe keeper list. 

The filling is sweet and tart, using 2 types of apples.  You can change up the apple mix to suit your tastes.  The danish is sweet with the icing on top so if you prefer a more tart filling, you can use all granny smith's.  A little cornstarch helps the filling thicken.  I recommend making it a day or two before you plan to bake the danish (you can also make the pastry dough ahead).  It sets up even more after chilling in the fridge.  This filling could be used with other dessert options, like an apple turnover using store bought puff pastry, it could be used to fill a crepe, top a cheesecake, or fill a tart shell.  This sweet breakfast treat is best served warm from the oven.

The apple danish was a big hit with my family.  I kept hearing, "Wow, you made this?"  Which makes me blush a little.  I am happy to report there wasn't a speck left over. 
Hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving and are gearing up for the holiday fun in December!

For the danish pastry recipe, including some step by step photos, click here.

Apple Danish Filling

Yields about 2 cups

3 apples (I used 1 granny smith and 2 rome apples), peeled, cored and sliced in 1/2 inch wide by 1 inch tall chunks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), sliced in 1/2 pieces


In a small bowl combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg until thoroughly mixed.  Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat and add butter.  Once butter is melted add the apples and sugar mixture. Bring mixture to a simmer and stir occasionally and cook for about 15 minutes or until apples are just tender but not mushy and the sauce is slightly thickened.   Allow mixture to fully cool before filling the danish pastry.  The filling can be made up to three days ahead.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Danish Pastry Braid

I have never made pastry. When I was assigned Gitte's blog, My Danish Kitchen for this month's Secret Recipe Club I saw Danish pastry and there was no turning back.

Danish Pastry, also called Wienerbrød, is one of many Danish recipes on Gitte's blog. Gitte is from Denmark but has made a home in the United States with her husband and son. She writes that she experienced challenges cooking in a foreign country with unfamiliar ingredients over the years. She has tapped into her family back home to help her learn to cook. She has a lovely blog filled with an array of recipes both Danish and American inspired.  I'm totally intrigued by Danish treats and see some others on Gitte's site I need to make, like Danish Træstammer, like a marzipan covered cake truffle or Danish Hindbærsnitter, Danish cookies filled with raspberry preserves.  Yum!  Pop over to My Danish Kitchen and check out the great recipes. 

Making pastry takes planning and patience, two things I could be a lot better at. So I knew I wanted to give this a go.

The first order of business was to purchase cardamom. My local chain grocery store had it....for $11.79 for a 1.25 ounce bottle! I didn't really want to invest that much money for a spice I wasn't sure I would use again. So I went to a nearby Persian grocery store where I knew they would have an array of spices. I was able to get 0.75 ounce for $1.99.  Now that's what I'm talking about!  Cardamom has a spicy fragrence that reminds of spices similar to allspice and cloves.  I was worried it might be overpowering, but the cardamom flavor was extremely mild in the finished product. 

The dough needs resting time so plan  to make it the night before you want to have it for breakfast.  And then get up (really early) to roll and fold the dough (3 times), chill it again for 30 minutes and then roll it one last time, fill it, braid it, glaze and top it, bake it, ice it and finally cut and serve it.  Phew...I'm out of breath!  It's really not that bad.  Each step is pretty straightforward.  I would plan to allow at least 90 minutes of prep and cook time the morning you want to make this.  I didn't get up as early as I wanted to, but the Danish pastry was done technically done in the (late) morning hours.

A few notes.  I accidentally omitted the sugar in the dough.  I didn't even notice until I was typing up Gitte's recipe.  Whoops.  It still turned out great despite this omission.  There is plenty of sweetness from the filling and icing to make up for it.  Speaking of filling I used ollalieberry preserves that I had on hand in place of raspberry preserves.  Use your favorite preserves.  I had a little trouble braiding the pastry.  First off, I rolled it out too long (about 18 inches instead of 12).  I had too many strips to braid so I ended up cutting about 6 of them off.  This error wasn't noticeable in the finished product either. My braid baked for 15 minutes exactly and could have used 2 more minutes in the oven. 

Check out the big pieces of butter in the dough...this was the first of three times rolling and folding the dough

This is after 3 times of rolling and folding the goes back into the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes

Ready for braiding

The braid gets glazed with egg wash and topped with pearl sugar and sliced almonds

Fresh out of the oven

The result? Despite things not coming together perfectly, it was still a delicious, flaky fruit filled pastry. This beautiful pastry would be great for a special breakfast or for brunch. The recipe makes two 12 inch braids. I made one and froze the dough for the second one. So another Danish pastry is in my future.  I'm already thinking about filling it with apple pie filling.  Mmmmm.


Danish Pastry Braid {Wiernerbrød)
from My Danish Kitchen

Makes two 12 inch pastry braids

Pastry Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cold unsalted butter
2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar

Seedless raspberry preserves

1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons water
Pearl sugar, for topping
Slice almonds, optional, for topping

1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 teaspoons warm milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract


Place flour in the bowl of (an 11 cup) food processor fitted with the steel blade. Cut butter into 1/4 slices and add to flour. Pulse until the butter is the size of kidney beans.

Dissolve yeast and warm water in a large blow. Let stand for 5 minutes and stir yeast until smooth. Add in cream, cardamom, salt, eggs and sugar and stir until combined. Turn the butter flour mixture into the liquid mixture and use a rubber spatula to carefully mix until the dry ingredients are moistened. Dough will have large pieces of butter and may look slightly crumbly. Cover dough and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight or up to 4 days.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and dust the dough and your rolling pin with flour. Roll out the dough to make a 16 to 20 inch rectangle. Fold the dough in thirds longwise, rotate dough 1/4 turn and fold into thirds again, make a small rectangle. Turn the dough over. Repeat the rolling and folding 2 more times (making it a total of rolling and folding 3 times). You will end with a small rectangle of dough. Wrap dough and chill for 30 minutes to overnight. (I chilled for an hour)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the chilled dough into two parts. Roll each half into a 6 x 12 inch rectangle. If you are not making both braids at the same time, wrap the second half of dough and place in the refrigerator until ready to roll. Dough can also be frozen and unthawed in the refrigerator overnight.

Spread the filling down the length of the center 1/3 of each rectangle. Cut slanting (45 degree angle) 3/4 inch strips along both sides such that there are equal number of strips on each side. Carefully transfer the braids to the baking sheets and let dough rise for 15-30 minutes until it appears slightly puffy (it not double in size). Lightly beat the egg and water for the glaze. Once the dough has risen, brush the pastry with the glaze and sprinkle with pearl sugar and/or sliced almonds.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Make icing by mixing powdered sugar, milk and almond extract until silky smooth. Drizzle icing on the top and let set. Cut crosswise into 2 inch slices.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sweet Pepper Soup and Herb Parmesan Crostini

I have not been a huge soup person in the past and have only made soup at home once in a while.  The weather has officially turned cool and I've been craving soup lately. I have made three soups in the last three weeks.  The first was a butternut squash soup from Cooking Light.  It was ok, but I didn't deem it blogworthy.  The second soup was chicken noodle from Cook's Illustrated.  A good solid soup, but I forgot to photograph it.  Guess that means I have to make it again.  And the third soup was this sweet pepper soup.  You will notice that I didn't reference a recipe source for this one, because it was really an amalgmation of a few recipes I came across and I'm going to deem this one my own since it was vastly different from any of the individual recipes.   

What I love about all this soup making is how easy it is.  Especially since I am not making my own stock and using store bought stock or chicken base and water.  I've been making the soup the night before we want to have it for dinner.  I have noticed this extra time allows the soup flavors to develop overnight making it even better the next day. 

I created this soup out of necessity of not wanting to waste 6 sweet bell peppers sitting in my fridge for over a week.  I was very happy with the result.  Hubby said this soup would be great with a grilled cheese sandwich and I have to agree.  We had the soup with herb parmesan crusted crostini which is great to dip in and soak up all the sweet pepper goodness.


Sweet Pepper Soup

Serves 4


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped into a medium dice
2 small carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
4 large garlic cloves, cut in quarters
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 sweet bell peppers, seeds and stems removed and chopped into 1 inch pieces
3 cups water
4 teaspoons chicken base (if you are using chicken broth instead, use 3 cups of low sodium broth)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 large basil leaves plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream and feta cheese to top soup

In a dutch oven or large pot, heat olive oil on medium high heat and saute the onion, carrots and garlic until the onions are cooked, about 8 minutes.  Add wine and cook on high until only about a tablespoon of wine remains.  Add peppers, water, chicken base, red pepper flakes, basil and tomato paste.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes until peppers are tender.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  Alternatively, use a blender or food processor to puree the soup in batches.  Strain soup into a large bowl using a fine mesh strainer.  Don't skip this step if you like a smooth soup to strain out the skin from the peppers.  Serve with a small dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of feta and freshly torn basil. 

Herb Parmesan Crostini


1 baguettte
1/2 cup coarsely grated or chopped parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoon fresh chives, minced (optional)
fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat  oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. 

Cut baguette on the diagonal crosswise into 1/4 thick slices.  Mix all ingredients together and lightly spread cheese mixture onto the slices and place face up on the baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Turn the oven to broil and bake for an additional 2-3 minutes until crostini is golden brown.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I totally cheated.  I not only made buckeyes back in September, I posted them.  I wasn't supposed to do that since Club: Baked was making them this week.  I know I'm bad.  But I'm going to pull the "Mom" card here.  I went in search of chocolate treats to make my Mom for her birthday and I choose two from Baked Explorations.  Marshmallow chocolate cups and buckeyes.  They made a great birthday gift and I couldn't resist posting them a little early.  Hopefully my fellow bakers will forgive me.

I really can't truly call my candies buckeyes since I didn't leave that classic exposed peanut butter eye on top.  To be honest I think that buckeyes look totally unappealing.  How do I say...they remind me of man parts...that I never imagined I would be mentioning on a food blog.  I'm totally uncomfortable that I just said that.  Maybe I'm a little prude, but I went with the fully covered up look, by dipping the entire candy in silky dark chocolate and drizzling a swirl of chocolate to pretty them up a bit. 

No matter what these candies look like, I can say they are delicious. They are like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but better.  The peanut butter filling has that sweet peanut butter flavor with a slightly gritty texture.  Gritty in a good way.  That texture comes from finely ground graham crackers which was something I didn't expect to find in this recipe.  Dip in your favorite chocolate and try to resist the urge to eat them 3 at a time. 

This recipe is most definitely a keeper and would make a great addition to your holiday goodie tray.  It's easy to make and even easier to eat. To see how what real buckeyes look like, head over to the Club: Baked site and check out posts from my fellow bakers.  To get the recipe head over to Karen's site, Cookies Cakes and More.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ooey Gooey Caramel Pumpkin Blondies

See that caramel peeking through the top?  That's ooey gooey goodness.  I was completely mesmerized by the words "ooey gooey" when I spotted this recipe on the Tasty Kitchen site about 2 weeks ago.  I bookmarked it and like many things, promptly forgot about it.  Sometimes I worry about my memory, or lack of.  Fast forward 2 weeks.  I picked up a large can of pumpkin puree at the store over the weekend, not sure what I would use it for.  But I figured a girl should have some pumpkin on hand in the month of November, you know, just in case.  Combing the depths of my memory did not send the light bulb off that I should make this recipe.  I was actually thinking a brownie might be nice on a cool Sunday afternoon.  I pulled up my brownies/blondies favorites folder online and that's when I saw the "ooey gooey" recipe.  The minute I spotted it, I knew these had to be made.  Especially since I had a hefty portion of caramel sauce left over from the previous week's caramel apple cupcakes.

I wouldn't necessarily describe this as a blondie.  It's more like a snack cake.  It's soft and cakey and has that ooey gooey caramel layer running through it.  The original recipe calls for chocolate chips and walnuts to mixed in with the ooey gooey layer, but I opted just for the chocolate chips.  I also added chocolate chips on top.  If you are a nut person, I think pecans would be great in this (I'm not really a walnut fan).  Though I generally avoid nuts in most desserts, I almost wished I had added pecans to at least half the pan.  These snack cakes are so soft and tender that a little crunch would bring a nice texture crunch. 

These keep well for about 5 days stored in an airtight container.  This served as my breakfast for at least 4 days this week.  Good stuff!


Ooey Gooey Caramel Pumpkin Blondies (with Chocolate and Walnuts)
from Lauren's Latest via Tasty Kitchen


For the blondies:
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 – 14 oz. package caramels, unwrapped
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease 9×13 pan with non stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda and salt together.  Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, vanilla and pumpkin and mix on low until combined. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the batter. Mix until just incorporated. Spread 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle nuts and chocolate chips on the batter.

Make the caramel filling by placing the unwrapped caramels and the cream into a medium heat proof bowl. Microwave on high in 20 second intervals until caramel is smooth and completely melted, stirring in between intervals.

Pour melted caramel over the chocolate and nuts. Spread the caramel layer evenly with an offset spatula, butter knife or spoon.  Place dollops of remaining batter on top of the caramel layer. Gently spread the dollops out to try and get a smooth layer of batter. Don't worry if some of the caramel is showing though.

Bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden and toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
Cool completely before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

I didn't plan to post 3 apple recipes in a row.  It just sort of happened that way.  I'm going to roll with it and call this apple week. I have to say, I'm loving all things apple right now. I think the culmination will be my Grandma Edna's apple pie recipe around Thanksgiving.   It's one of those non recipe recipes.  You know, a little of this, a little of that?  But it is hands down my all time favorite apple pie. This apple butter is very reminiscent of those beloved apple pie flavors.

Hubby came home when the apple butter had been in the slow cooker for about 4 hours or so and the entire house smelled of apple goodness.  He wondered what I was butter I told him.  But when he saw the finished product, he said, "that doesn't look like butter".  I tried to explain to him it doesn't actually contain butter, but it takes on a thick spreadable butter like consistency.  He still couldn't seem to get beyond the name and told me I should stop calling it butter, since there is no butter! Oh, honey, you can call it whatever you want.  This non butter butter is like a thick applesauce with an intense apple pie flavor. 

Apple butter is great way to pizazz up your toast or English muffin.  You can put it on graham crackers drizzled with caramel sauce for a snack like I did (I had some left over from the caramel apple cupcakes from earlier in the week begging to be used up).  We also had apple butter for breakfast, stirred into homemade oatmeal.  I'm kind of embarrassed to admit, it was my first time making homemade oatmeal (instead of using one of those Quaker oats packets). Now that I know how easy it is, I will be making it again over the coming winter months.

Apple butter is easy to make.  You start with cut up apples and juice in a large pot and cook it down until the apples are tender.  Then you blend the cooked apples into applesauce.  You can use a blender or an immersion blender to puree your apples into sauce.  What is an immersion blender, you ask?  It's a handheld stick blender that you use right in the pot you are cooking in to puree your food.  This handheld device does all the work a blender would do but you don't have the headache of transferring hot food to a blender in batches.  It's fantastic for making soups, sauces and apple butter of course.  If you are considering new gadgets for your holiday wish list, I highly recommend it.  Ok, now that my PSA on immersion blenders is over...Your pureed applesauce goes into the slow cooker and you stir in sugar and spices and let the slow cooker do its thing for 8 to 10 hours.  Part of the cooking time in the crock pot should be uncovered to allow the excess juices to boil down.  I wasn't so patient and think mine could have used another hour or so uncovered.  You can store the apple butter tightly covered in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you can preserve it and give apple butter to your friends and family for the holidays.  The recipe yields 7-8 one half pints of apple butter. 


Slow Cooker Apple Butter

6 pounds of apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch pieces (I used honey crisp)
2/3 cup of apple cider or apple juice or water (I used apple juice)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine apples and cider (juice or water) in a large heavy bottomed pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to simmer and continue cooking for about 30 minutes or apples are tender.  Puree the apple mixture with an immersion blender (or if using a regular blender, remove the center piece of the lid to allow the heat to escape when blending).  At this stage you will have applesauce. 

Transfer the apple sauce to a crock pot and stir in the sugars and spices.  Turn the crock pot to low and cook for 8 - 10 hours, until the mixture thickens and can hold its shape.  You can test the apple butter by placing a dollop on a small plate and put the plate in the freezer for about 5 minutes, or until the plate no longer feels warm on the bottom.  If the apple butter slides down the plate, it's not ready.  Note: I had to cook the applesauce for 10 hours with the last 90 minutes removing the lid from the crock pot to allow the excess juice/liquid to cook off.  The recipe doesn't specify whether to put the lid on the crock pot or not, but it was my assumption that it should be cooked covered. 

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.  Or you can easily preserve your apple butter.  Click here for instructions on preserving.  The butter should be preserved while it's still hot and then processed in your pot or canner for 20 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

"It tastes like fall."

That is what my uber picky particular Hubby said when he tasted these cupcakes.  For those of you who don't know my Hubby or are new to the blog, that, my friends, is what I like to call a rave review!  Because tasting like fall is a good thing.  And he is absolutely right, these cupcakes do taste like fall.  The flavors have all the goodness of fall, with apples, cinnamon and other warm spices along with a delicious buttery caramel flavor pulling it all together. 

Caramel Apple Cake was Melissa from the Lulu the Baker's pick for this week's Club: Baked baking assignment.  And the timing couldn't be better coming right around Halloween.  Who doesn't love a caramel apple?  The recipe as written from Baked Explorations is a massive 3 layer cake that can be presented in a few impressive ways.  Below is a picture of how the cake appears in the book.

I also came across this amazing presentation from the Great Cake Company.   Jaime made the cake look like a giant caramel apple, stick included!  You have to pop over to her site to see her gorgeous cake.  It's really stunning.

If you have a party to go to this fall, this cake would surely be a crowd pleaser.  It would also make a nice addition to a Thanksgiving dessert round up.

This monster cake was too big for just Hubby and me so I halved the recipe and ended up 12 standard size cupcakes and 12 mini cupcakes...still way more than enough for the 2 of us!  I ended up giving some to my neighbor who has 4 year old twin girls and a friend helped take a few more off our hands. For the twins I decorated the tops of the cupcakes with caramel circles and made them look like spider webs (much like the photo above from the book).  I placed a spider ring in the middle of each cupcake.  Now I'm regretting that I didn't take any photos...laziness does not pay off!  Anyway, when I brought the cupcakes over the girls were immediately excited about the spider rings and licked the frosting off and put the rings on.  I chatted for a bit with my neighbor and her girls.  I had a conversation with one of the twins that went something like this,

Where do you live?
I live 2 doors down.

What's your name?

Do you have any daughters?
No, sweetie, sorry I don't

Can you make some?
Um...I can make cupcakes 

Kids are hilarious. 

Now, on to the cupcakes.  Three components make up this tasty dessert.  Apple spice cake.  Caramel buttercream.  Caramel sauce.

The apple spice cake is soft, light and moist and really delicious.  It could stand all on it's own.  With a simple apple glaze or even a dusting of powdered sugar and this would be a great cake (you could do 1/3 of the recipe to get an 8 inch cake).  I do have one minor comment about the cake..the apple flavor seemed to fade a little bit the day after I baked it.  The apple flavor was very pronounced, no mistaking, this is apple cake on day one.  On day two, it was more like this is a really good spice there a hint of apple in there?  I used store bought apple sauce, instead of making my own.  I also substituted 1/2 cup (of the 2 cups) of the apple sauce, for homemade apple butter I had made the same day.  I wonder if the spices in the apple butter were too much?  I would have thought the apple butter would give it a more "apple-y" flavor.  Next time I might use the applesauce recipe posted on the Great Cake Company blog as she mentions the use of boiled cider in her applesauce and that it gives an intense fresh apple flavor.  There is also a recipe for homemade applesauce in Baked Explorations.

The caramel sauce was pretty dreamy.  I made the full recipe for this component figuring I might use the left overs to top ice cream. A few the other bakers in the group seemed to have issues with the sauce being a little on the thin side.  I found it to be somewhat thin, but after sitting on the counter for an hour or so it thickened slightly and was just right.  The only issue I had with the caramel sauce was one of my own doing.  I tend to read through recipes quickly and that's what I did here.  They recommend cooking the caramel until it is a rich amber color or you can wait until the mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer.  I just saw 300 degrees, so I took the sauce off the heat once it reached 300 and added the butter and cream.  Then I realized that my caramel was very pale in color.  I hadn't waited for it to take on the right color.  So I threw it back on the flame and cooked for another 5 minutes or so and it gained a small amount of color.  I didn't want to risk overcooking it, so I ended up with a pale caramel.  Though pale, it's still super yummy.  I think you could get away with reducing the butter by half in this recipe and still get a good result.  Note, I'm saying that without actually having tried it.  But I might try that next time.

Lastly, there was caramel buttercream....this was like no frosting recipe I've ever made.  It started with boiling a mixture of sugar, FLOUR, milk and cream until thickened.  I would never imagine flour to be in frosting, but that's what I love about Club: Baked...learning new things.  And this was a great thing to learn, because this frosting was awesome.  It was smooth and silky with just the right amount of sweetness.  I generally don't care for buttercreams because I find them to be overly sweet and buttery tasting.  I'm all about butter, but I don't want my frosting to taste like butter. 

The trick to this frosting is patience.  I had read in the P&Q that some bakers had trouble with the frosting and others suggested continuing to beat the frosting until it reached the desired consistency.  So I took that into account when I made it.  The boiled sugar, flour, milk cream mixture goes from the stove top to your stand mixer where you mix on high until the frosting cools.  This took maybe 8 minutes or so....I kept feeling the outside of the bottom of the mixing bowl and when there was no more warmth, I moved on to adding the butter and caramel sauce.  Then I let it beat for probably another 6-7 minutes.  At first it seemed thin but, slowly, it became more and more fluffy and eventually resembled frosting!  Really delicious frosting.

I'm not going to lie, this cake is not a let's throw this together in a hour kind of cake.  It's quite a bit of work and a lot dishes.  But the result was absolutely worth the effort.  You could make it a little more palatable by breaking up the work and making the caramel sauce the day before (as well as the applesauce, if you are doing homemade). This recipe is moving into the keeper file for certain. 

To get the recipe, head over to Lulu the Baker. Thanks for choosing such a fabulous recipe! To see how other Club: Baked bakers did with their cakes, click here.

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.