Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate Filled Italian Cookies




My Grandma has made these cookies every Christmas since I can remember.  I was never a big fan of them until I became an adult.  Her cookies were always a little drier than I liked, so I added some much needed cream cheese to the dough.  It makes them tender and really quite yummy.  They look so pretty on a tray too!




CHOCOLATE FUDGE FILLED ITALIAN COOKIES
recipe adapted from Jo Cali
 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. shortening or butter
  • 1/3 brick of cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 c. AP flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 c. milk

FILLING:

  • 12 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup nuts (pecans or walnuts) chopped

DIRECTIONS

Cream cream cheese, shortening and brown sugar.  Add vanilla and eggs and mix.  Whisk dry ingredients together and add to cream cheese mixture alternatively with milk until combined.  Turn out onto floured surface and divide into quarters.  Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for an hour.  Roll each out on floured surface into rectangle, about 7"x10" (roughly, can be bigger) until about 1/4" thick.

For filling, melt chocolate chips in microwave for 30 second increments, mixing in between each until melted.  Add sweetened condensed milk and mix well and microwave for another 30 seconds.  Add nuts if desired.  Spread 1/4 onto middle of prepared dough, going out to the edges in length.  Fold over and seal.  Carefully transfer to greased cookie sheets, seam side down an bake @ 350 for 15-20 min, until just set touch.  Over baking, or browning will make a drier cookie.

Let cool on cooling rack and wrap in foil.  Frost with cutout butter cream just before serving and slice.  These freeze very well.  Freeze and take out and frost before serving.

Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies




Another new cookie that I had never made before.  Not my favorite cookie to be sure.  But they were tasty and are very pretty on a plate.  They are very easy and for that reason, I will probably make them again.  I will try to tweak the recipe each time to make the cookie better.  Let you know if I get a better result!



CREAM CHEESE SPRITZ COOKIES
 INGREDIENTS:
  • 2-1/2 c. sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. softened butter
  • 1 3 oz package cream cheese
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, and beaten
  • 1 tsp. or vanilla or other liqueur or flavoring (I used 1 tsp coconut and 1/2 tsp almond)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Sift and combine flour, salt, and cinnamon. Beat butter and cream cheese together until well combined. Add sugar, while let a time, beating after each addition until well blended. Beat in 1 yolk and vanilla.
Sift and add dry ingredients to butter mixture and blend all together well. Packed dough into cookie press. Press onto cold cookie sheets. Top with sprinkles before baking.  Bake 10-15 minutes or until just set to touch.  Place on cooling rack.

Gingerbread Cookies

I love gingerbread cookies.  My mom didn't make them when I was growing up that I can recall.  She made about every other cookie known to man, but not gingerbread.  This was my new cookie of the year a few years ago and every year since, they are a must make.  I am a chewy cookie kinda girl so I cook them just until they are set and then decorate them with my cutout frosting.  Now, I love ginger.  Brad likes it in sweets, but not in regular food.  I love it in everything!  And these cookies have a wonderful ginger flavor balanced with the richness of the molasses!  I am in ginger heaven with them!  They have a wonderful color and are delicious!  And Annalise gobbles them up while snubbing every other ginger cookie out there.  YUM!

 

 

GINGERBREAD COOKIES

adapted recipe from food.com

Ingredients:

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus some for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)

Directions:

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves until well blended. In a large bowl (KitchenAid's great for this) beat butter, brown sugar, and egg on medium speed until well blended.  Add molasses, vanilla, and lemon zest and continue to mix until well blended.Gradually stir in dry ingredients until blended.  May still be a bit crumbly..  Divide dough in half and wrap each half in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours.  (Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days) Return to room temp for 10 min before using. Preheat oven to 375°.  Grease or line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Place 1 portion of the dough on a lightly floured surface.  Sprinkle flour over dough and rolling pin.  Roll dough to a scant 1/4-inch thick.  Use additional flour to avoid sticking.  Cut out cookies with desired cutter-- the ginger bread man is our favorite of course.  Space cookies 1 1/2-inches apart.  

Bake time for 5-8 minutes (the lower time will give you softer cookies-- very good! and will depend on how thick your cookies are).  
Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow the cookies to stand until the cookies are firm enough to move to a wire rack. After cookies are cool you may decorate them any way you like.  Can brush them with a powdered sugar glaze, but they look wonderful decorated with Royal icing.

Cut Outs/ Sugar Cookies





So every family has a cutout recipe they swear by, I am sure.  But I have tasted a lot of cutouts, and none compare with my mom's.  They are sooo good!  We use a butter cream icing.  These are not for the faint of heart.  There will be casualties while baking, and the sacrifice you must pay is eating those that have given themselves so freely for your consumption.  Now, just try them.  If you don't want to make them at Christmas, try them at least on another occasion.  Make some hearts for your sweetheart on Valentine's day, or some shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day.  But try them!  This recipe is doubled already so it will make a lot.  You can half it if you don't want as many.  Enjoy the best cut out sugar cookie there is!



CUTOUT COOKIES

INGREDIENTS:
  • 6 cups AP flour
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups softened butter (4 sticks)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla ext.
DIRECTIONS:
 Suagr
Sift dry ingredients (or mix in mixer) add butter mix until incorporated (or w/ fork).  Add eggs and vanilla.
Mix until incorporated well, but don't over mix.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Roll out to scant 1/4" thick. Cut out with favorite shapes and place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 7-10 minutes.  Do not over bake.  Bake until just set, not browned at all and remove to cooling rack immediately.  Will be very fragile but will firm up as they sit. 

CUT OUT FROSTING

1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
1/2c. milk
2 lbs. powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract


Mix butter and vegetable shortening until blended well.  Add extracts to milk.  Add sugar and mix on low, adding milk slowly.  Mix until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Frost and cover with sprinkles.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Florentines



One of my all time favorite indulgences are florentines!  I used to buy them from Trader Joes, but stopped because I would eat the entire container by myself!  So I decided to try my hand at them.  I was going to make rolled almond wafers, which is basically like this, but they are too finicky and thought this sounded like more fun and easier.  I decided to change it up and use cashews instead of traditional almonds and it did not disappoint!  May sound funny, but I could not find unsalted cashews, so I rinsed mine and dried them well on a paper towel and them used my chopper to chop them finely.  I also omitted the salt figuring there would be some salt left on them.  I made sandwiches with them and they are light, butter, crunchy and sooo good!

 


FLORENTINES 

adapted from Food Network Kitchens

 

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups unsalted cashews
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about a tablespoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla ext.

Chocolate Topping, optional:

  • 2 to 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or choc. chips

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Pulse the cashew (or almonds) in a food processor until finely chopped, but not pasty, or chop with hand chopper. Stir together the nuts, flour, zest and salt in a large bowl.
Put the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into almond mixture and stir just to combine. 
Scoop rounded teaspoons (for 3-inch cookies) or rounded tablespoons (for 6-inch cookies) of batter and roll into balls. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 3 to 4 inches between each cookie since they spread. (For small about 8 per cookie sheet)   Roll the rest while first batch is cooking as the batter will make it hard to roll as it sits.  (learned the hard way)
Bake until the cookies are thin and an even golden brown color throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 10 to 11 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve.

Optional chocolate topping:

Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with 1 inch of water to a very low simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth. (Alternatively, put the chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Melt in 30 second increments stirring each time.  Mix in tbsp crisco on second 30 second run.  Takes 2 min. or less total)
For sandwiches: Spread a teaspoon melted choc. onto on the flat side of half of the cookies and press together with remaining halves. Return to rack and let chocolate set.
For chocolate decor: Drizzle melted chocolate over florentines as desired. Set aside at room temperature until chocolate is set.

Store baked cookies carefully, separated by parchment or waxed paper, in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. Florentines are best stored separated from moist cookies and cakes.

Paradise Macaroons

So, these were my new cookie last year, and I must say, they are one of my absolute favorites now!  They are delicious right out the oven, "A bit of heaven" my husband said.  But I think they are best when complete.  This year, I doubled the recipe!  Last year I topped them with macadamia nuts, and this year with pistachios.  Either way they are positively delicious, and so easy!  



PARADISE MACAROONS 

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paradise-macaroons-recipe/index.html  adapted from Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 15 oz packages sweetened shredded coconut
  • 3 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • pinch salt 
  • 1 tsp vanilla ext.
  • 4 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 ounce veg. shortening
  • 2 ounces finely chopped dry-roasted macadamia nuts or pistachios

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Combine the coconut with the sweetened condensed milk, salt and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to whip the whites until medium peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes.
Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Scoop tablespoon-sized mounds onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately transfer the parchment with the macaroons to a cooling rack. Cool completely before topping.
Fill a 4-quart pot with enough water to come 2 inches up the side, set over medium heat and bring to a simmer Combine the chocolate chips and shortening in a small metal or glass mixing bowl and set over the simmering pot. Stir occasionally until melted, then remove from the heat.  (can also heat in microwave in 30 sec. increments, stirring in between until melted.  Takes about 2 min this way)*
Dip the cooled cookies in the choc. mixture,  or spread on top with spoon (works just as well)  sprinkle with the chopped macadamia nuts or pistachios and place on parchment paper to set, about 30 minutes.

*I do my choc. in batches so I can top them as them come out and the choc. is fresh.  for the second batch.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

Ok, so I know Thanksgiving is over, but I can hardly be done with pumpkin.  I include one in my Christmas baking because they are so good.  This is a spiced cake-like cookie that is very soft and has a brown sugar icing.  They are a favorite around here and anywhere I have brought them, they are a hit.  They are very easy and cool in minutes so can be frosted right away which is wonderful for an impatient person like me!  This recipe came from my Aunt Laurie and we have all been making them since the first time we tasted them!

  Enjoy!

FROSTED PUMPKIN COOKIES
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 heaping tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 heaping tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 heaping tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 c. of oil (I substitute half of this with drained applesauce)
  • 2/3 c. raisins
  • 1/3 c. chopped nuts like pecans (opt.)
 FROSTING 
  • 3 TBSP softened butter
  • 4 tsp milk and some to thin
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 and spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray.  Mix wet ingredients and whisk together dry ingredients.  Stir together until no more flour can be seen.  Will be a sticky thick batter.  Use small cookie scoop to put on greased cookie sheets. Bake for 11-14 min, until just set and spring back to the touch.  Do not overcook! 

While baking mix frosting.  Mix together and thin with milk if needed, but only after all mixed.  Frosting will be thicker than a butter cream.

Remove from oven, let cool and frost when cool.

Kolacky

Another Christmas new recipe.  This was a tasty cookie, though I don't think it will earn a permanent spot on the line up.  It may show up a surprise every now and then though.  It was a tender cookie and the nutella filled was very good.  I made blackberry and raspberry filled as well. 


KOLACKY
adapted from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 c. confectioner's sugar
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup any flavor fruit jam or nutella
  • 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Directions

  1. Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add flour and sugar slowly until well blended. Shape into a ball and chill overnight or for several hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Roll dough out 1/8 inch thick on a floured pastry board. Cut into 2 1/2 inch squares and place 1/2 tsp (approx) of jam or preserves. Overlap opposite corners and pinch together. Place on ungreased cookie sheets.
  3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool. Sprinkle lightly with confectioner's sugar.

Meatloaf

Everyone has a family recipe for meatloaf.  So I though I would share mine.  This is my mom's and Aunt Mary's  recipe.  I use ground turkey, because I don't eat beef of pork because I find them icky.  This makes plenty for leftovers and sometimes I will use 3lbs of meat, bake it, then freeze half of it for a supper later in the month.  The cheese makes it unique and even more delicious!  I like to serve it with mashed potatoes and carrots, but you can make it with whatever you want.

MEATLOAF 
  • 2 lbs. ground turkey (I use 85/15)or favorite ground meat
  • 1 roll crushed  ritz crackers
  • 1/2 c. fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 sm. onion diced 
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. catsup
  • 1 Tbsp basil
  • 1-2 tsp parsley
  • 1 c. cubed mozzarella cheese
SAUCE
  • 1stick melted butter
  • 1 c. catsup
  • 1 sm. can plain tomato sauce 
Mix all together except cheese.  (sometimes hands are better for mixing)
Then add cheese and stir in gently. Put in greased baking pan and pat down to about 3" thick.
Bake @ 350 for an hour to 1.5 hours covered.  Stir up sauce and pour over top and let cook additional 15-30 min, uncovered.


*Times vary because of ovens and this is such a forgiving dish.  As long as the meat is cooked, it would be hard to dry it out.


**If adding carrots as I did, best to steam them in the microwave for 7 min so they will be tender.  I added them  when adding the sauce.

Rugelach


Every Christmas, I have my must make cookies and then I like to try something new too.  I saw these in a cookie cook book and knew I had to make them, and I made the right decision!  They are really delicious and a nice change from most of the other kind of cookies I make.  I saw various recipes, and some had no sugar in the actual dough, I decided to put some in mine and used a recipe from Barefoot Contessa.  Her stuff is always so good!  I filled some with the traditional, called for filling and some with nutella and finely chopped pecans.  Oh my goodness, I had forgotten how much I love nutella!  They were so good!  And though my husband enjoyed the nutella, he liked the traditional better.  Either way, you can't go wrong.   These will be added to my annual must make list for sure!

RUGELACH 

 by: Ina Garten

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2-pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves, pureed in a food processor, or raspberry jam
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Directions

Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar, the brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the raisins, and walnuts.

On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons apricot preserves or raspberry jam and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12-16 equal wedges— (I liked cutting them smaller, found them easier to deal with) cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into thirds, etc. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

Italian Almond Paste Cookies


So begins the mass posting of Christmas cookies.  This is a wonderful Italian cookie.  It is light and gives a little crunch on the outside with a super soft sticky center.  I have made these with flour and the texture was never quite right.  The secret is the bread crumbs!  It makes the texture amazing and perfect.  It is the best almond paste cookie recipe I have found and came out fantastic!  It is also pretty easy and came together in a flash. Enjoy!



ITALIAN ALMOND PASTE COOKIES

  • 16 oz almond paste
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup 10x (powered) sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 c. fresh plain bread crumbs (can use 1 c. flour in a pinch)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c. sliced almonds


Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Grind almond paste in food processor. Then add sugars and grind until sandy like consistency.  In mixer, beat 4 egg whites until foamy and doubled in size.  Add almond paste mixture, vanilla and bread crumbs.  Mix until just combined.  Chill for 1/2 hour.  Use small cookie scoop and place 2" apart on parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place sliced almonds on tops of cookies.  Preheat oven to 350, and bake 12-15 minutes until edges just begin to brown.  Take out of oven and let sit 5-10 min on cookie sheet.  Carefully move to cooling rack.

Chicken Tortilla Soup



I love soup!  I could eat it all winter and not get tired of it.  Tortilla soup is one of my favorites too.  It really is very healthy by itself, but I add so much cheese, soup cream (light, of course) and tortilla chips, I think it negates any healthy properties, but man is it good!  This is my own recipe, adapted from a bunch of different online ones.  Enjoy!


CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP


cook time: 2 hours
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 1 lb.boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 med-lg onion chopped
  • 3 large carrots chopped
  • 2 stalks celery chopped
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 small cans tomato sauce or 1 15 oz can
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • 1-2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh cilantro chopped, plus some for garnish
  • fresh avocado
  • crushed tortilla chips
  • lime
  • sour cream




In a soup pot, drizzle olive oil  and over med- high, place chicken in pan.  Cook on one side for five min. then turn and throw in all veggies.  Cook for another 3-5 min and add broth.  Let simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 min.  Remove chicken breasts and let sit until cooled.  Meanwhile add can tomatoes, tomato sauce, green chilies and spices as well as good handful of chopped fresh cilantro.  Shred chicken with 2 forks and put in fridge.  Cover pot and let simmer for 1.5 hours.  About 5-10 min before serving, add chicken back to pot.   Squeeze juice of one lime into pot. Ladle in bowl and add crushed chips, some shredded cheddar or mont. jack cheese,  squeeze of lime, dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of fresh cilantro and avocado.  YUM!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pasta and Beans: Pasta e Fagioli



When we lived in Germany for three years, we traveled to Italy several times.  One of those visits was a girls trip with my mom, aunt, cousin and grandmother.  It was a total blast and was very adventurous.  One of the best parts of Italy is, of course, the food. I had made this dish before and ordered it a a restaurant there in Italy on that trip.  I made them all try it.  There was a different flavor in it that I not used to in the times I had had it in restaurants in the stateside and when I had made it myself, and I figured out it was rosemary.   It adds a layer of flavor and really makes the dish.  

This is one of my favorite dishes.  It has all the character of comfort food without the calories usually associated with it.  The flavors get better the longer it sits and are able to meld together.  It is both delicate and rich and will fill you.  I left out the pancetta because I don't like pork, and the greens in this one because my youngest ones don't like them yet, but normally I add it. Beet greens are the best!  This meal comes together in about a half hour, but let it rest for 10 minutes or so.  Trust me, it is worth the wait!  This is a fantastic and quick meal that you will make again and again. 

 

 

 Pasta and Beans: Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (2 turns around the pan) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 pound (about 3 slices) pancetta, chopped (optional)
  • 2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, left intact
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 4-6 large cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • fresh green like spinach or beet greens or escarole roughly chopped to bite size
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock (or veg stock)
  • 1 lb cooked ditalini
  • Grated Parmigiano or Romano, for the table
  • Crusty bread, for mopping

Directions

Heat a deep pot or large skillet over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits lightly, and add herb stems and chopped vegetables. Season vegetables with salt and pepper.  Let cook for 5-10 minutes until golden and fragrant.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add one can of beans with the juice and one that has been rinsed and drained, diced tomatoes and stock* to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a simmer and meanwhile cook pasta al dente.**  Rosemary leaves may separate from stems as soup cooks. Remove herb stems from soup, add pasta and greens and bring to simmer until greens wilt and then place pot on table on a trivet. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and top with lots of grated cheese and a drizzle of good olive oil. Pass crusty bread for bowl mopping.


*I don't add all of the stock in the pan.  Just enough to keep the veggies afloat (about 2 cups).  I add more to each individual bowl because this makes a ton and there are almost always leftovers.  If you add it all the pasta in the leftovers absorbs the liquid and gets mushy. 

** al dente is an Italian term which means "to the tooth" or "to the bite", referring to the need to chew the pasta due to its firmness.  It is to be cooked so as to be firm but not hard. "Al dente" also describes vegetables that are cooked to the "tender crisp" phase.

Rockin' Robin Pasta





Back to pasta!  This is a classic light pasta dish that is an old standby.  My older kids devoured it!  (I didn't have my younger two try it.  I served it over whole wheat fresh linguini (but you could use your favorite pasta) and drizzled it with a balsamic glaze and some fresh parm cheese.  It is a great change from the heavy winter food and very easy!   I usually make it about an hour or two before we are ready to eat so the cheese can absorb some of the vinegar and to let the flavors meld.  Recently, a friend asked me for the recipe so here it is!

Rockin' Robin Pasta

  • 2 to 3 cups diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped fine
  • 1 head roasted garlic (recipe to follow)**
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup good EVOO
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 TBSP Balsmic vinegar
  • 8oz cubed mozzarella cheese (I used fresh)

Mix all together and let sit at room temp for an hour or two before serving.  Put over cooked hot pasta.  The cheese will melt slightly.  Pour drizzle of balsamic glaze* over and some fresh parm cheese.

FOR ROASTED GARLIC:  preheat over to 375.  Cut top or whole bulb of garlic.  Put it on small piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Close up foil around the garlic and put in over for 45 min to an hour, until golden brown and very fragrant.


*you can buy balsamic glaze in many grocery stores now.  If you want to make it yourself I would recommend doing so outside on grill burner or with a good hood fan.  It is stinky.  Simply simmer about 2 cups of balsamic vinegar with a tbsp of sugar until syrupy.  (maybe 1/2 hour).  Store in fridge and it will last forever!


**  I have used fresh garlic and the store bought pre-diced.  The store bought is better then fresh because the fresh has a little too much bite.                                                 If you like that bite, used 2 crushed cloves, for store bought, use 2 tsp.

Sea Salt Caramel Brownies

I am a chocaholic. Self admitted, and in need of counseling I am sure. My favorite candy of all time is ghirardelli chocolate caramel squares. So give me a dessert that promises my two favortie things and I am all about it!

I saw this recipe while surfing the net and reading some blogs and I instantly knew I needed to make them. They were on doughmesstic.net blog and they looked so delicious mouth was watering and they were incredible!

I had heard caramel was tricky to make, but was fearless and thought, "Really how hard can it be?"  Truth be told, it is tricky! My first try I let it go too long and it turned dark brown and bitter. My instincts told me to take it off and I waited another minute or less and it was too late. So follow your instincts. Come to find out, I could have used the too dark caramel for a recipe in Baking with Dorie Greenspan which calls for the dark and bitter caramel, but I threw it out before I saw it.
Anyway, back on point, these brownies were so rich and gooey and were all I hoped they would be. Honestly, they are very rich and a tiny square satisfied me.  Of course, I ate several tiny squares through the course of the day though!  The pictures are of a center piece, but the on the outside pieces, the caramel gets chewy and almost crunchy in spots which was so good!  Can you tell I liked them?  I hope you try them!



Sea Salt Caramel Brownies

Sea Salt Caramel – adapted from Baked Cookbook
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
In a small saucepan, combine the cream and the salt.  Simmer over very low heat until the salt is dissolved. set aside.
In a medium saucepan combine the sugar and corn syrup carefully. They will not combine well until the sugar begins to melt. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes.  Without a thermometer, just pull the sugar off the heat when it is a medium goldish brown – it will continue to cook in the heat of the pan. Better to pull it too early than too late. Remove from the heat and let cool for one minute.
Add the cream mixture and the vanilla to the sugar mixture.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Let the caramel cool to room temp, then follow the brownie instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate any leftover caramel. it makes a great ice cream topping or tastes great straight out of the jar.
Brownies
Ingredients
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup Chocolate Syrup
  • half of the above caramel recipe
Preheat oven to 325F.
Melt Chocolate and butter in small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
In a bowl, mix together sugar, eggs, and vanilla, and mix until well combined
Add flour, salt, chocolate syrup and chocolate mixture and blend well.
In a greased 8×8 pan, pour a little over half of the brownie batter and bake for 18 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour in the caramel.  On top of the caramel, add the rest of your brownie batter. If it doesn’t pour smoothly, just plop it in a swirl it around a little bit.  Return to oven and bake for another 18-22 minutes.  Brownies will still appear a little shaky, due to the caramel, but they will firm up once cooled. Do not overbake.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oatmeal Raspberry Bars

I have been wanting to make these forever!  I love raspberry and oatmeal and the combination of the two is just too much to resist!   I used to make them all the time and have not made these years.  I really like the addition of the almond extract.  It gives it a grown up taste.  But if you would prefer, you could substitute vanilla. So, for a quick dessert tonight I whipped these together.  It was easy and really quite delicious!  So, take 10, and go make them!


OATMEAL RASPBERRY BARS
adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3/4 cup raspberry jam (orig. calls for seedless, but I like seeds!)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 8 inch square pan, and line with greased foil.
  2. Combine brown sugar, sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, and rolled oats. Rub in the butter and extract using your hands or a pastry blender to form a crumbly mixture. Press 2 cups of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the jam to within 1/4 inch of the edge. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top, and lightly press it into the jam.
  3. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes in preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool before cutting into bars. ENJOY!

Chicken Riggies

I was home this past weekend and my husband and I went to Delmonico's in Syracuse with my brothers and their wives.  It was fun to get out without the kids and spend some time with family at the same time.  We ordered some wonderful appetizers, to include Utica Greens (which I will make and post at some point) and Italian nachos, my husband ordered gorgonzola crusted salmon which was outstanding, and I ordered Chicken Riggies.  Chicken Riggies is a dish that originated in upstate New York and is made with rigatoni, tender chicken pieces, mushrooms, peppers, onions, hot cherry peppers and a creamy red sauce.  Is your mouth watering yet?  The hot cherry peppers and some heat and the mix of flavors is amazing.  Like I said before, I love pasta!  Delmonico's version was delicious, but very rich and a little too hot for me.  So, even though I just had this on Friday, I decided to do my take on a classic upstate NY dish.  I apologize for the pictures.  Our camera is in need of replacing.  I promise it tastes better than it looks!

It is a flexible dish and every about every upstate NY Italian restaurant has it on their menu and about every one makes it differently.  So, I figured, why not?  My kids chowed this down, and my husband and I loved it.  Eli had 3 helpings, and it showed all over his face and hands!  I hope you try it!

CHICKEN RIGGIES
  • 1 lb Rigitoni Pasta
  • 1 lb chicken boneless skinless breast
  • 1-2 TBSP E.V. Olive Oil
  • 4 cloves crushed fresh garlic
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 2-4 hot cherry peppers cut open or in half  (can use crushed red pepper flakes if can't find)
  • 6 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 jar roasted red peppers sliced or fresh sliced red peppers
  • 1/2 can black olives cut in half
SAUCE:
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup cream (I used fat free half and half with couple tbsp cream to cut the fat)
  • splash vodka
  • 1 TBSP butter (for finishing)
  • 1/2 c. parm cheese
FOR SAUCE: In saucepan, saute crushed garlic in a little EVOO until fragrant.  Add splash vodka and then crushed tomatoes and cream.  Let simmer gently while doing the rest.  Just before adding to pasta, add butter and parm cheese.

Cut chicken into bite size pieces.  Warm 2 tsp olive oil in nonstick skillet.  Season chicken with favorite seasonings (I used Bucks) and salt and pepper. Saute chicken browning on each side until done.  Deglaze pan with splash of white wine.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Put pasta on while doing the rest.

In another large skillet add some EVOO and a little butter.  Add onions, cherry peppers and peppers if using fresh.  Saute 3-5 min.  Add mushrooms and crushed garlic. Saute until mushrooms are tender deglazing with white wine when necessary.  Add olives and roasted red peppers if that is what you are using.  Let saute another 2-3 minutes.  Add pasta right in skillet and the sauce over that, tossing or stirring gently.  Let sit together for a few min. before serving to allow flavors to meld.    Top with fresh grated parm. cheese.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Cornflake Bars



There is something so comforting about some foods.  Something reminiscent of childhood, or maybe just a flavor that brings a comforting feeling.  Peanut butter is one of those foods for me.  Perhaps it is because when I was a child, I ate it by the spoonfuls, licking it as if it were lollipop.  And See's Candy once made a peanut butter lollipop that was my favorite. . .   how I miss those lollipops!

Rice Crispy Treats are the quintessential childhood treat.  Although I do enjoy a good thick rice crispy treat, give me something with that gooey goodness and peanut butter, and I am one happy camper!  These give me both!  I get a serious craving for these every now and then, and have to make them.  But I really do hate to make them because then I want to eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.  They have peanut butter and cereal, so they are healthy, right?  Oh well, I don't care because they are simple, sweet and yummy! Like rice crispy treats, they are best fresh and will harden with time.  So eat them up quickly, which shouldn't be a problem!  A great recipe to have the kids help!
Sorry my picture is sideways... still figuring this all out and could not get it to turn!




Peanut Butter Cornflake Bars

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups peanut butter (depends on how much PB flavor you like)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 cups cornflakes
Spray 7x11 baking dish with cooking spray. Bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil.  Add peanut butter and vanilla and remove from heat.  Mix until peanut butter is melted in and incorporated.  Pour over cornflakes and mix until all corn flakes are covered, working quickly.  Spread in pan and let sit until just cool and eat!

**HINT**  As a variation you can mix a bag of chocolate or butterscotch chips in with the cornflakes or melt them and spread them up on top.  Also can use rice crispies or mix the two cereals!  Try it with crunchy peanut butter!

Rasta Pasta with Tortellini

I love pasta.  I could eat it about every night and not tire of it.  My mom is Italian which makes me half Italian, and I embrace this part of my heritage unabashedly.  I often make my own versions of pasta dishes from no recipe, but from my own instincts.  This usually doesn't fail me.  The only problem with this "fly by the seat of my pants" cooking method is I rarely can repeat a recipe that is a real winner.

This recipe is one of those inspiration dishes I made pretty early on in my marriage and it was so simple, it was easy to remember.  It was named by my husband and he asks for it regularly.  I love it because it is quick, very healthy and really delicious!  Seriously, it comes together in 30 minutes.   I often make it with regular pasta, and have grown to prefer it with that actually.  But this time I made it with tortellini.  I hope you try and like it!


RASTA PASTA


  • 1 lb cooked pasta
  •  1 TBSP olive oil plus some for finshing
  • 1/2 to 1 finely chopped red onion (your taste)
  • 1 large or 2 small unpeeled grated zucchini (cut out seeds if really large)
  • 2-3 large peeled grated carrots
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 can diced tomato or 3 fresh diced vine ripened tomatoes (I have even used grape tomatoes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • handful of  basil or parsley chopped

In a large skillet over med high heat place oil and red onion.  Cook until tender and beginning to brown 5-10 min.  Add minced garlic and cook another 30 sec to 1 min until fragrant.  Add zucchini and carrot and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes.  (I usually salt here).  Add tomatoes and cook another 5 min, letting flavors meld, just enough to warm tomatoes through and yield some of their juices to make it more saucy.  Add basil or parsley.

Toss the pasta with some olive oil and top with fresh veggie chunky sauce.  Top with a drizzle of olive oil if you wish and definitely some parmesan cheese.  Even my kids eat this and it is full of veggies.  YUM! 

*HINT* Make sure you add salt to your pasta water when cooking you pasta!  It brings so much more flavor to the pasta.  (1-2 tsp)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Apple Streusel Muffins


My first blog!  I have been wanting to do this for awhile now and time has been escaping me.  So here I am, blogging my cooking creations, the good, the bad and perhaps, even the inedible.  Although I don't have many of those, I actually had one last night.  I was broiling some garlic bread, which I have discovered, broils much faster under an electric broiler than a gas and the bread actually started on fire!  Probably doesn't instill much confidence in my cooking ability, huh?  Now I know why my mom always left the oven door open when broiling with her electric oven.  Because in 2 minutes, it is done and in five it is on fire!
I have been wanting to make these for several weeks now.  They are my go to pumpkin muffin, with the perfect mix of all things fall...  pumpkin, apple, warm cinnamon and sweet!  I added a cream cheese mix to the top of some, adding a bit of sugar and maybe 1/2 an egg white to the cream cheese to make it a little cheesecake like.  Did a dollop on top and put them in the oven.  My only problem with this was I wished I had put more cream cheese in them.  YUM!  You can also make them as loaves or my favorite, as jumbo muffins.  This is a great pumpkin recipe for warming you up on a crisp fall day.


PUMPKIN APPLE STREUSEL MUFFINS



Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil**
  • 2 cups peeled, cored and chopped apple
  • TOPPING
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease 18-22 muffin cups or use paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, pumpkin and oil. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture; stirring just to moisten. Fold in apples. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle topping evenly over muffin batter.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 23 to 28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.     Yields about 20 muffins. 
* can easily substitute half whole wheat flour

**I use half oil and half drained plain applesauce

FOR CREAM CHEESE FILLING:  Take about 3-4 oz. softened cream cheese.  Add about 1 TBSP sugar, and just a drizzle of an egg white and a dash of vanilla.  Mix well.  Make a little divot in the center of the muffins before streusel is on, add a dollop of cream cheese and then cover with streusel.