Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Whether you celebrate it by going to church, eating Chinese food, going to the movies (my own family's tradition) or doing nothing at all, I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. My friend Jess and I made gingerbread houses again this year, so, and I thought this would be a good day to post them. We used the same recipes and schematics as last year. Have a happy holiday!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Cookies!

It seems I’m running out of time to post about the Christmas cookies I made this year. What, after all, is the point of posting Christmas cookies after Christmas? It’s not as if anyone makes New Years Cookies. So, without further delay, here are the Christmas cookies I made this year. For those who don’t know, I have a Christmas cookie party every year in early December. For us law students that is the time directly preceding finals, and so it’s known for being a bit stressful. Getting people together with their favorite cookies (everyone brings some), along with some milk, nog type drinks, or whatever else they can think of. This year I made two kinds of cookies, a family favorite peppermint cookie, and the better than brownie cookies from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures. Both kinds of cookies were good, but the brownie cookies were really big hits, and were all gone by the end of the evening (which could not be said for any other kind of cookie. If you’re looking for a cookie with just the flavor of pure chocolate, I strongly recommend these cookies. The peppermint guys are good too, but they tend to lose their crispness quickly (after a day or two). This can be rectified by re-crisping them for a few minutes in a warm oven.

Peppermint Cookies

Makes ~ 40

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 tsp peppermint extract
¾ tsp vanilla extract
2 ½ cups flour
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ cups ground peppermints

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and 1 cup of the sugar until fluffy.

2. Add eggs and extracts, mix until well combined. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter in three parts.

3. Combine the crushed peppermints with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar.

4. Form the dough into 1 inch balls and roll in the crushed peppermint. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes, or until golden and just firm.

5. Let cool on the baking sheet briefly, then remove to a cooling rack.

Better than Brownie Chocolate Cookies

Makes ~ 30 (Tracey says 24, I got more though)

2 2/3 cups (about 16 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth.

2. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugar. Set aside. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.

3. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine well. Slowly add the dry ingredients, folding them into the batter.

4. Once all of the flour is incorporated, fold in the chocolate chips. This dough will be more like a batter (it’s very runny), that’s how it is supposed to be,

5. Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough onto parchment lined baking sheets. Like I said, the dough will be a little runny. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the cookies are firm on the outside. Like brownies, do not overbake! Leave to cool completely on the baking sheets.

And, if anyone has ever wondered where my penchant of baking comes from, here is a picture of all of the Christmas cookies my mom made this year. I can count 8 different kinds in that photo, and I can testify that they are all delicious.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's French For Melted

That’s right, it’s Fondue. Everyone favorite melted dessert from Switzerland. With the weather turning cold it seemed like the right season to invite people over to eat some well heated foods. Rather than sticking to one kind, I went ahead and made the traditional cheese and chocolate fondues, and then as a third, made pumpkin pie fondue with white chocolate and bourbon. That’s right, three fondues (I don’t own three pots, two were borrowed). All three were excellent, and were eaten up by the end of the evening. The chocolate and cheese fondues were both as you’d expect, but I thought the pumpkin was great (maybe just because it was my own idea), it really tasted like warm pumpkin pie, with a good kick of bourbon in it. Perfect for winter. Also, as a side dish I made ground up pecan praline, so that you could roll something dipped in chocolate or pumpkin in praline. Anyway, I’ve provided all of the recipes here, as well as suggestions for things to dip. I recommend preparing all of these in pots, and then pouring the fondues into the serving pots, as you’ll have better control of the heat over an oven, than over a sterno or whatever you call the controller in electric pots.

Cheese Fondue (From Simplyrecipes)

½ lb gruyere cheese, shredded
½ lb Swiss cheese, such as Emmenthaler or Jarlsberg, shredded
2 T cornstarch
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved crosswise
1 cup dry white wine
1 T lemon juice
1 T kirsch (optional)
Pinch fresh nutmeg

1. Toss the cheese and cornstarch together in a freezer bag and set aside.

2. Rub the inside of the pot with the garlic and discard. Add the wine and lemon juice, bring to a simmer over medium heat.

3. Gradually add the cheese, stirring constantly in a zigzag motion (this helps to keep it from becoming stringy). Do not let it boil.

4. Stir in the kirsch and nutmeg, transfer to serving pot

Suggested dippers

  • French or Italian Bread
  • Cut and blanched vegetables (broccoli, carrots, asparagus)
  • Sausage, other cubed meats
  • Pretzels
  • Apples and Pairs

Chocolate Fondue (Also from Simplyrecipes)

12 oz dark chocolate, chopped
8 oz heavy cream
Frangelico or Amaretto (to taste)
Pinch of salt

1. Put the chocolate chopped in the fondue pot. Bring the cream to a simmer on the stove. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds (If this sounds surprisingly like making ganache, that’s because that’s basically what it is).

2. Stir in the frangelico and salt. Keep over very low heat

Suggested dippers

  • Fruits (apples, pears, bananas, pineapples)
  • Pound or Angle-food Cake
  • Graham crackers
  • Peanut butter cookies (indulgent but wonderful)

Pumpkin Pie Fondue

1 cup milk
1 cup pureed pumpkin
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
Pinch cloves
Pinch nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups white chocolate chips
1/3 cup bourbon
Splash bitters (optional)

1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, pumpkin and spices, bring to a light simmer. Remove from heat.

2. Stir in the white chocolate; continue stirring until it has melted. Add the bourbon and bitters, stir to combine. Transfer to fondue pot and keep over low heat.

Suggested dippers

  • Graham cracker
  • Gingersnaps
  • Pound or Angel-food cake

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Roasted Tomato Soup

Ok, I’m back, and this time with some really great soup. I got the recipe from here, and made only a few modifications. I added some roasted corn, from one cob. I also pureed everything using a stick blender directly in the pot, rather than transferring it all to a blender.

Roasted Tomato Soup

3 lbs Roma Tomatoes, halved
3 Cloves Garlic, whole
1 Yellow Onion, halved and quartered
5 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
2 - 3 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
1/2 of a Chipotle chili in Adobo Sauce, seeded
Kernels from one ear of corn, roasted
Sea Salt to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Finely chopped basil (fresh or dried)

1. Preheat oven to 400. Put tomatoes, onions, garlic and thyme in a roasting pan, toss with olive oil, and place in the oven. Roast for about 30-35 minutes. Remove the skin from the garlic and discard the thyme.

2. In a large pot combine the roasted veggies with the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Add the corn and chili. Puree with a stick blender.

3. Remove from heat and let cool to an edible temperature. Garnish with salt, pepper, and basil (some chopped bacon would be a good addition too).