Friday, December 31, 2010

Mini Chicken Meatball and Orzo Soup

I wanted to post about this soup I made last week because we're heading into January, and I think we could all use something light, yet satifsying, right about now. I feel so weighed down by decadence after all those Christmas treats I've been inhaling this December. Not that there is anything wrong with holiday decadence! But going into the long winter months ahead, I feel like you can never have too many new soup recipes under your belt.

I adapted this one from a Rachael Ray recipe for stoup. That is her silly, made-up word for a soup that is almost as thick as a stew. Since I do not believe in calling soups or stews stoups, I chose to rename my version based on the changes I made to the original. Instead of using a combination of Mini Meatballs and Gnocchi (thereby making Rachael's a double dumpling stoup), I chose to go with mini meatballs and orzo, a pasta I absolutely love in soups. For some reason, I am not a huge fan of rice in soup, but I love noodles in there, so I feel like the small, long-ish shape of orzo is a good compromise.

The mini meatballs are made of ground chicken, and they have just enough Italian seasoning and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to make them super flavorful and creamy. That creaminess permeates the broth of the soup, making it feel richer and luxurious without adding a ton of extra calories. It's delicious and healthy; a perfect winter meal!

Mini Chicken Meatball and Orzo Soup

adapted from Rachael Ray

makes 6-8 servings


1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

4 stalks celery, chopped

2 medium onions, chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 fresh bay leaf

Salt and pepper

6 cups chicken stock

1 pound ground chicken

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1 egg

1/2 cup Italian-style bread crumbs

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/4 lb. orzo

Crusty bread, for mopping


1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat; add olive oil. Once oil is warmed, add the celery, onions, carrots, and bay leaf; season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, until the veggies are soft. Add the chicken stock to the pot, cover, and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, place the ground chicken in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add garlic, nutmeg, egg, bread crumbs, and cheese. Combine the ingredients with your hands, then roll into walnut-sized meatballs (mine may have been a bit smaller than this) and add to the soup. Wash up, then add the orzo to the pot and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat once the pasta and meatballs have cooked through and allow to sit for 2 minutes more. Remove the bay leaf, and serve in bowls with crusty bread on the side.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black Forest Cookies

I made a lot of holiday cookies this year. I mean, a lot. I started baking the weekend right after Thanksgiving, and I baked like crazy just about every single day after that until I had reached my limit. I'm just a tad cookied out right now. Give me until about Valentine's Day to start thinking about baking more cookies!

Anyhow, the whole point of me telling you about my holiday bake-a-thon was to try to make you understand that these Black Forest Cookies are a big deal. These cookies were the hands-down most talked about, raved about, and requested recipe out of everything I prepared. I even got a phone call from my husband while he was at the office one day, because he had taken in a tray of cookies and everybody wanted to know what this cookie was!

These little beauties, like so many other things that pop up on this blog, were taken from one of the Baked cookbooks. In an attempt to redefine the traditional, but outdated, Black Forest Cake, the Baked boys created this complex cookie. It's dense and fudgy, like a brownie. It's sweet and tart, thanks to the two kinds of chocolate chips and the generous amount of dried fruit mixed in. The recipe calls for dried cherries only, but since I had a bag of dried mixed berries on hand, that is what I used. If you don't know the dried fruits are there, they're a nice, fun little surprise when you bite into a cookie. These were one of the newest additions to the cookie tray this year, and they will definitely be making another appearance next year. When the public opinion is this overwhelming, I have to listen!

Black Forest Cookies
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
makes about 4-5 dozen cookies

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
16 oz. dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 oz.) white chocolate chips
1 cup (6 oz.) dried cherries (or other fruit)

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a large nonreactive metal bowl, combine the dark chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugars on high speed until the mixture is pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and the vanilla and beat until just combined. Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 10 seconds.

3. Add the flour mixture and mix on low until just combined, about 10 seconds. Do not overmix. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and dried fruit. The dough will look very loose, but it will harden in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons on prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until the tops of the cookies are set and begin to show a few cracks. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before removing from the sheets onto a cooling rack.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Baked Sunday Mornings: Monkey Bubble Bread

So last week, when I made the Nutella Scones for the Baked Sunday Mornings group, I was really supposed to have made Monkey Bubble Bread. However, I knew that I had been wanting to make the Monkey Bread for Christmas morning, so I decided to make and post about it one week late. In this case, it's definitely better late than never. This recipe's a killer.

This is some of the most addictive, rich, gooey, coma-inducing stuff I've ever made, hands down. It is not for the faint of heart. That said, I had an absolute ball making it (no pun intended!). The yeast dough is very easy to work with; you divide it into 60 little balls, which you then dip into butter and dark brown sugar/cinnamon. You take all your balls and arrange them in a bundt pan as though you are building a brick wall. Once all the yumminess has baked, you wait 5 (agonizing) minutes before flipping the bundt pan over and releasing the bread out into the wild. Once the bundt pan has been removed, all the melted butter/brown sugar gooey-ness oozes down the sides and the middle and just soaks in and envelops everything in its decadence.

It is truly one of those treats that I just could not fathom making on any other occasion than Christmas, that one day out of the year where I can justify myself eating something so evil (in a good way, of course!).

I'm glad I finally got to make Monkey Bread from scratch. I have made it several times before, but always the "cheat" way, with tubes of refrigerated biscuit dough. Let me just tell you, this way is so much better and so well worth the extra time and effort it takes to make. As my five year-old son told me on Christmas morning, "Mom, there is nothing in the world that tastes better than Monkey Bread!" So there you have it!

Since I'm about the last one to blog and post about this, make sure to check out the other posts on this scrumptious bread by clicking over to the Monkey Bread Leave Your Link, here. That is also where you'll find the full recipe. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, and a special Christmas morning. We were lucky enough to have a very white Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it is still all white and snowy outside now. The kids got to shovel with Daddy and play in the snow this morning; it was the whitest Christmas I've ever seen, and I'm so glad my boys got to enjoy it a bit.

I wanted to share with you one of our very favorite holiday desserts. This is the fourth year straight I have made these Cranberry Bliss Bars, and they continue to be that quintessential Christmas treat for us. Just the smell of these bars baking in the oven means Christmas for me, and I don't know if I could celebrate the holidays without them now. My husband and I used to work for Starbucks, and this is a dessert they sell in their stores around the holiday season. We became hooked on them years ago, and when we no longer worked there, we set out to learn how to make them at home.

I managed to find a copycat recipe from Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes. The bars, when made at home, trump the storebought version. At least, that is our humble opinion! They're buttery and dense, thanks to the blondie layer that contains generous chunks of white chocolate and dried cranberry. They're creamy and tart, thanks to the cream cheese frosting layer which contains real lemon juice. They're rich and decadent, in part because I like to drizzle some melted white chocolate across the top after sprinkling the surface with more dried cranberry. The recipe calls for a milk/shortening/powdered sugar drizzle on top, but sometimes I like to go for the more sinful white chocolate option, as I did this year. Whichever way you choose, these are sweet and complex and perfect for any holiday gathering. Happy Holidays!

Cranberry Bliss Bars
adapted from Top Secret Recipes
makes 16-30 bars (depending on how you cut them)

For the bars:
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries, diced
6 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped into chunks

For the frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or 1/4 tsp. vanilla and 1/4 tsp. orange extract)

For the topping:
1/4 cup dried cranberries, diced
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. vegetable shortening
1 Tbsp. milk


2 oz. white chocolate, melted and cooled

Make the base: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

2. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the vanilla, salt, and ginger. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix just until combined. With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dried cranberries and white chocolate. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking pan.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the sides are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool while you make the frosting.

Make the frosting: 1. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, mix in the lemon juice, vanilla extract, and orange extract (if using). Mix well.

Assemble the bars: 1. Once the base layer has cooled completely, spread the frosting evenly to cover the surface of the base. Sprinkle with dried cranberries.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining topping ingredients, or melt and slightly cool your white chocolate if you choose to use that instead. Using a small spoon or fork, drizzle the icing down over the top of the frosting layer, creating zigzags of white all across. Allow the layers to set in the refrigerator for several hours before cutting into pieces.

3. To slice into 16 triangles: Slice the cake lengthwise (the long way) through the middle. Slice the cake across the width 3 times, making a total of 8 rectangular slices. Slice each of those rectangles diagonally, creating 16 triangular slices. You can also cut small squares or rectangles; you can get a lot more than 16 pieces this way!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

CEIMB Rewind: Turkey Meatballs with Quick and Spicy Tomato Sauce

This week I decided to do a recipe rewind, and go back in time to late April, 2009, before I was a part of Craving Ellie in My Belly. This week's actual recipe pick was Ellie's Baked Beans with Ham, but I had to opt out this time. For one, I have been nursing a flu bug or something that has knocked me out a bit, so I haven't been cooking a whole lot these past few days. Even if I was feeling top notch, though, I'm not sure I would have made this. I've never been a fan of baked beans; maybe Ellie's version would have converted me though! If everybody's reviews of this are good, I may have to revisit it another week.

For now, however, I'm going to tell you about Ellie's Turkey Meatballs with Quick and Spicy Tomato Sauce, from her book The Food You Crave. I've actually made this meal twice now, but when I made it most recently I finally photographed it so I could blog about it.

This is a wonderful interpretation of spaghetti and meatballs. I mean, sometimes when you make a healthier version of an old classic, you find yourself wanting for more. But not with this recipe. The meatballs are incredibly moist, thanks in part to the grated carrot and chopped onion inside. The veggies create that needed moisture, since ground turkey can be sort of dry otherwise. The sauce is classic but has a great spicy twist, thanks to some chipotle peppers for that awesome heat. The whole-wheat spaghetti is a great pairing with the sauce and the meatballs; hearty, and stands up to the strong flavors.

The first time I made this dish, which was over a year ago, my husband took the leftovers into work the next day. One of his coworkers tried some and demanded the recipe. When Andy told me this, I realized that this particular coworker had asked for at least 3 or 4 of Ellie's recipes before this. So, we ended up buying him her first cookbook for his next birthday. I just thought all of you CEIMBers would appreciate hearing that I had converted yet another Ellie fan to our ranks!

I hope everybody enjoyed the Baked Beans with Ham this week, and thanks to Danica of Danica's Daily for hosting.

To see the full recipe for the Turkey Meatballs and Sauce, click here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gingerbread Popcorn

This post is going to be short, because I've been sick and I kinda wanna go lay back down. I started this post before the illness hit me, and then I realized in the midst of my misery that I had never finished it.

Despite my current state, a few days ago when I made this Gingerbread Popcorn, I was dancing around my house. There may have been some exclamations, too, such as "Yummy yummy" and "Oh my sweet Lord!" Because I had fallen in love, and there was no turning back.

Okay, imagine this if you will: you take a huge pile of popped popcorn, then pour a hot mixture of brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, cinnamon, and ginger over it and mix the whole thing together. As if this didn't already sound wonderful, then you take your smothered popcorn and bake it in a very low oven for an hour. This extra step creates the most delightful crusty outer shell on the popcorn, making for a sweet, crunchy treat that is irresistible.

We had so much fun making this. I tried my hand at air-popping my kernels in a large stockpot, which was a big hit with the kiddos. They may have sampled a lot of this popcorn before it was covered in the yumminess! The mixture was easy to make, too, because it did not require the use of a candy thermometer (for some reason, that trips me up a lot of the time). You just let everything come up to a boil, then cook it for another five minutes, then you're ready to remove it from the heat. So easy! Anyway, if you're looking to make a snack this holiday season that is a departure from the same old thing, I recommend making this stuff. But I dare you to keep your hands out of it until you're able to give it away!

Gingerbread Popcorn
from Culinary in the Desert
makes 15 cups of popcorn

15 cups popped popcorn
16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar (I used light brown)

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 Tbsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda


1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 large baking dishes (I used 2 baking sheets) with foil and coat with cooking spray. Fill each with 7 1/2 cups popcorn (I put all my popcorn in a very large bowl, then mixed it with the sugar concoction before dividing it all onto the 2 sheets).

2. Combine butter, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, ginger, cinnamon, and salt in a large, heavy bottom saucepan. Heat over medium heat until mixture boils. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Pour over popcorn; toss to coat.

3. Bake at 250 for one hour, carefully stirring the warm mixture every 15 minutes. Cool completely before enjoying.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Baked Sunday Mornings: Nutella Scones

This week's Baked Sunday Mornings selection is actually not Nutella Scones, as the title of this post would have you believe. These scones were the first treats baked as a group, but I didn't join the group until just after they made them. Well, I didn't want to be left out, so I decided to make up for it and bake them this Sunday! There was another reason for this, though, I have to admit: this week's real selection, the Monkey Bubble Bread, is something I was planning on baking for Christmas breakfast next weekend, so I'll have to wait a week to blog and post about that. I will, though, that is a promise!

Anyway, back to these Nutella Scones. I knew I wanted to make these as soon as I came across them in the cookbook (which, of course, is Baked Explorations, in stores now!). I mean, come on now. Chocolate for breakfast? With hazelnutty goodness? I hardly needed any further motivation. Plus, I do enjoy making scones as an occasional indulgence, so my mind was made up.

They're easy to assemble, provided you have all the necessary ingredients on hand. Among these ingredients: Nutella (duh!), good-quality cocoa powder, heavy cream, and hazelnuts. Oops. Turns out I did not have any whole or chopped hazelnuts, but I did happen to have some coarsely ground hazelnuts on hand, left over from a different recipe. I think it turned out just fine with the substitution; in fact, I liked how the finer nuts were so evenly dispersed throughout the dough.

As for the preparation, I have to admit that I was initially afraid that I had done something wrong when mixing the ingredients together. The recipe indicates to mix it all together gently, then switch to using your hands to knead the dough. Well, mine was still crumbly at this stage and did not want to come together. However, the directions warn against over-mixing, and I was scared to do that. So, I just went on to the next stage, which was spreading some Nutella across the surface of the dough. That didn't go too swimmingly, either. Because the dough was still crumbly, the spoon I was using to spread the Nutella started to pick up bits of dough instead of evenly placing the Nutella. Still, I soldiered on.

I'm glad I did, because suddenly magic happened. The next step is folding over the dough into the shape of a log, and then standing the log on its end and pressing it down into a disk. I did so, and suddenly the dough was just right! Somehow, that extra step really helped to get everything incorporated properly, and I was left with dough that was easy to work with, and not crumbly anymore. After that, it was cake to slice the round into triangles and then separate those triangles for baking.

Finally, the Baked boys tell you to drizzle even more Nutella across the tops of the scones after they have baked and are still warm, but I did skip this step. I just figured, I'm already serving chocolate for breakfast. Do I really need to make it that much more decadent and sinful? In my humble opinion, they were just fine without that added yumminess (though I'm positive they were over the top delightful if you did add it!). These are rich, not too sweet, and flaky in all the right places. The hazelnuts were great in this; next time I'll have to make sure I have larger ones.

So, better late than never, and these scones were worth the wait. You can check out this post on the Baked Sunday Mornings blog site to see how the other bakers did with this, as well as to see the full recipe.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Maple Pecan Shortbread

It's rare that I bake something multiple times, if only because I'm always so excited to move on to the next big thing! So many of the things I've baked are worth revisiting, though, so I thought I would share with you a cookie recipe that I actually do revisit, every Christmas season. Much to my surprise, these Maple Pecan Shortbread Cookies are among my five year-old son's very favorites. He requests them every Christmas, and I even get a few gentle suggestions throughout the rest of the year that I make them again. I agree with him, course; these cookies are a fresh, original take on the same old shortbread.

The rich, buttery dough is embellished with chopped pecans, as well as a healthy dose of pure maple syrup and maple extract. After chilling the dough, you shape your cookies and then top with an egg wash, then a pecan half, and then some turbinado sugar (otherwise known as raw sugar). The egg wash/sugar combo really give the finished cookies a great shine, as well as lending a slight crunch that works so well texturally. The cookie itself is nice and crumbly and buttery, like any self-respecting shortbread cookie should be. That pecan on top is the perfect counterpoint to all the sweetness from the maple flavor. In short, these cookies are pretty genius; they just work on every level. Plus, they seem sophisticated, and I just love being able to tell people that my kindergartner has a sophisticated palate! He can definitely tell a good cookie from a leaden, storebought one, as well he should!

Maple Pecan Shortbread
from Martha Stewart's Cookies
makes 24 cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup pecan halves (about 2 1/4 oz.), finely chopped, plus 24 whole pecan halves, for decorating
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
1 large egg yolk
1/4 tsp. pure maple extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

1. Sift flours and salt into a bowl. Whisk in chopped pecans. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about 1 minute. Add maple syrup, egg yolk, and extract; beat on medium speed until well combined. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture, beating until just combined. Dough should be smooth and pliable. Flatten into a disk (I opt to roll the dough into a log, because I use a different method of portioning out my dough; see Step 2). Wrap in plastic; refrigerate until firm, 1 1/2 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds using a 2-inch cookie cutter; place 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet (At this point, I just sliced 24 rounds from my dough log, which I thought was so much easier than rolling it out!).

3. Brush tops of cookies with beaten egg; place a pecan half in the center of each cookie. Sprinkle the entire surface with turbinado sugar.

4. Bake cookies, rotating sheet halfway through, until golden around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 4 days.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

CEIMB: Turkey Taco Salad with Tomato Dressing

For this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe, Peggy from Pantry Revisited chose for us to make the Beef Taco Salad with Chunky Tomato Dressing, from Ellie's So Easy cookbook. As you can see from the title of this post, I revamped this recipe a bit! Okay, more than a bit. I took two of the main components of the salad, the beef and the chunky tomatoes, and omitted them completely. The results were mixed, but mostly very, very good!

Since I don't eat beef, it was a no-brainer that I would just use ground turkey instead, and of course it worked out just fine. For the dressing, however, I had to get a little more creative. I basically had to remove the main component from the dressing, which was of course the chopped tomato pieces, in order to satisfy my aversion to chunks of raw tomato in my salads. I recalled that I had made a dressing once before that was a maple and lime combination, and it was really tasty. Since there was lime juice in this one, I went with a sweet/tart theme. This time, I added a squeeze of honey, some tomato paste, and I eyeballed the olive oil. After a quick taste, I decided that the lime juice plus the tomato paste was making it taste way too acidic, so I added a bit of sugar. That really helped, but I don't necessarily think I'll go making this made-up salad dressing on a regular basis! Not my favorite. That's totally my fault, though, and not Ellie's.

The salad itself was incredibly delicious. I had this whole meal thrown together in record time, too, so that's always a big plus! Personally, I'm a huge fan of throwing crushed-up tortilla chips on salads and soups, so it was a pretty safe assumption that I would like this. The simple seasoning on the meat and beans was just enough, and I threw in some chopped carrot and scallion to brighten up the salad just a bit. Overall, this was a great salad and I would absolutely make it again. Thank you, Peggy! For the original recipe, click over here. And to check out the CEIMB blogroll, click here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stained Glass Cookies

These festive cookies are what I would classify as fun for the whole family. Not only are they cool and pretty to look at, but they make a great collaborative activity for you to do with kids. I found these Stained Glass Cookies in my handy dandy Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook and knew I wanted to challenge myself with them this holiday season. Normally, I consider rolling out sugar cookies to be a very painful experience, but I wanted to at least try my hand at this. If it worked out well, I knew it would be worth it.

It sounds so simple in the directions in the book. Simply mix together an easy sugar cookie recipe, then roll out the dough to cut shapes. Once you have transferred the shapes to a baking sheet, you can cut out small triangles, rectangles, whatever you want inside each shape. Once you have cutouts in each cookie, you fill it with finely chopped Jolly Rancher candies. You bake the cookies in the oven, and the candies in the centers get melted and fill out the entire cutout. Once the baking is complete, the cookies cool and the candies get hard again. But now, you have cool "windows" in your cookies, with pretty stained glass effects inside!

Maybe I was just fearing the worst, but I actually found that this dough was very manageable to work with! True, you need to do plenty of chilling of the dough in between steps to ensure that it doesn't get too soft, but as long as you follow the directions carefully it really isn't so bad. I enlisted the help of my five year-old son for these, and he loved making them. The faces on the cookies above are courtesty of him!

The funny part, though, is that he really didn't enjoy eating them. They look adorable, but they are a bit difficult to handle. The Jolly Rancher centers do eventually resume their sort of unwieldy texture within the cookies, so it's sort of like eating a cookie with a hard candy in the middle. Not the easiest thing to do. Still, I love the way these cookies look! They're going to look fantastic on cookie trays this year. And hey, the five year-old may not love them, but the two year-old does! I tell you, if it contains sugar, you really can't go wrong with making the little guy happy.

Stained Glass Cookies
makes about 2 dozen cookies

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
7 ounces (about 30) assorted colored hard candies, such as Jolly Rancher, colors separated, and finely chopped with a chef's knife

1. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl. Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg; mix until smooth, 1 minute. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture, and mix until combined. Stir in vanilla. Wrap dough in plastic, and refrigerate until cold, about 45 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Roll out chilled dough on a well-floured surface to a little more than 1/8 inch thick. Cut out shapes using an assortment of cookie cutters. Using a metal spatula, transfer shapes to baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a triangular shape (or any shape that you like) cutout in center of each cookie for candy filling. Reroll scraps, and cut.

3. Sprinkle candy in a single layer in hole of each cookie, avoiding edges of the cutout. Refrigerate until dough is firm, about 15 minutes.

4. Bake cookies until candy has melted and completely filled cutout and cookie edges are just starting to turn pale golden brown, 11 to 12 minutes. Do not let the cookies brown, or the candy centers may become bubbly. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Use a metal spatula to remove cookies from parchment. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Adobo Seasoned Chicken and Rice

A good friend of mine recently bought me a copy of Bobby Flay's wonderful new cookbook, Bobby Flay's Throwdown, and I could not wait to crack this puppy open and start cooking from it. If for some reason you're not familiar with Bobby Flay's Food Network show of the same name, here's a quick rundown. Iron Chef Bobby Flay travels all over the country, challenging unsuspecting cooks to make their signature dish while he cooks his own version of the same dish. Then, after both sides have prepared their dishes, the lucky crowd who has been watching it all take place get to sample all the delicious food. At the end of each episode, the dishes are judged and a winner of the throwdown is declared. It's all very entertaining, and almost every single time both dishes sound amazing. Honestly, I don't know how it's not a tie each time!

So, I started out by making Bobby's chicken wings, but they disappeared before I even had a chance to blog about them. They were pretty darn tasty, so I was eager to try something else. Next up was Bobby's Adobo Seasoned Chicken and Rice. This dish was up against a more traditional Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice) on the show, and even though Bobby's take on it did not win, we thought it was truly divine in its own right.

I think the secret to the whole thing is his adobo seasoning. A flavorful blend of spices is rubbed into the chicken before you brown all the pieces in a Dutch oven. You finish baking off the chicken in the oven, and then you start making the rice in the Dutch oven. The flavor left behind in the pot becomes part of the rice mixture, and just simmers away and gets all deeply ingrained in all the veggies and the rice. It's magical. Then you stir in some peas and allow the rice to finish cooking. Towards the end, you add in olives (Bobby threw in some fresh cilantro and parsley, too, but I didn't have any that day) and freshly squeezed lemon juice (Bobby had a lime; I did not!), and finally the chicken goes back in, now that it has fully cooked in the oven.

Boy, did we love this dish! To me, it bore a strong resemblance to paella, which is a dish I have made several times. However, this one is a bit simpler, and packs a sneaky punch. It's got all these layers of flavor; the flavor of the chicken itself, the flavor the chicken imparts on the rice, the flavor of all the different veggies, and then that salty kick from the olives. Plus, it was so homey and comforting on a chilly evening. I don't know what the winning dish on this episode of Throwdown tasted like, but I can tell you that this one totally deserves the crown. Don't take my word for it, though. I think you should try it yourself!

Adobo Seasoned Chicken and Rice
adapted from the Food Network
makes about 8 servings

2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. granulated garlic
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. granulated onion
1 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
4 chicken thighs, with skin, cut in 1/2
4 chicken breasts, with skin, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
5 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, finely diced
1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
1 medium red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced (Bobby used a serrano)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted in warm water (Bobby used 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 cups long-grain rice (we used 1 cup)
4 3/4 cups chicken stock (we used 2 cups)
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives (Bobby used a combination of green olives and picholine olives, but I don't even know what a picholine olive is!)
Squeeze of lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix together the first 8 ingredients (salt through oregano) in a small bowl. Season both sides of the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then season with the mixture in the bowl.

2. Heat 3 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Saute the chicken pieces in batches, skin side down, until golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown. Remove the chicken to a baking sheet and put into the preheated oven for 12 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil back over the heat, turning down to medium-high. Saute the onion and peppers for about 3 minutes, until soft. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

4. Add the rice to the pot and cook for a minute, stirring to combine with the vegetables. Add the chicken stock, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir well, cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, add the peas to the pot, then replace the lid and cook for another 8 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked.

5. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes, covered. Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, and gently fold in the olives; squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Spoon the rice mixture into shallow bowls, then top with the cooked chicken pieces.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti

Okay, so I know I just posted about some yummy Gingerbread Biscotti not too long ago, but I've discovered another magnificent biscotti recipe that has excited me enough to share it with you here. It's Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti, and it's so rich, so delicious, so Christmas-y, I think I might be making it every December from now on.

I found a recipe on for a chocolate peppermint biscotti that had semisweet chocolate chips inside and milk chocolate on the outside. There was peppermint extract in the batter, as well as cocoa powder to make it even more chocolatey. After reading through that recipe, I got to work on my own, making a few changes to give it more oomph. I thought it needed more peppermint flavor, so I used a combination of chocolate chips and these awesome peppermint crunch baking chips that Andes makes in the batter. If you find those Andes chips in your grocery store, I highly recommend that you pick some up and try them in something because they are sooo good!

Anyway, back to the biscotti. I decided to dip the cooled biscotti in bittersweet chocolate in place of milk chocolate, just because I prefer darker chocolate to pair with peppermint. Finally, the finished cookie was sprinkled with crushed candy canes before the chocolate had a chance to dry. I let my five year-old son do the sprinkling, so some of them were really doused heavily with the candy canes! Fortunately for us, I love candy canes so this was hardly a problem.

I have to say, I think this one really is a winner. I love everything about these biscotti. The fabulous crunch, the deep, dark chocolate flavor, and the refreshing punch of peppermint. To me, it's a great foil to a nice cup of coffee and a perfect Christmas treat. Plus, despite the various steps, they were really simple to make. Too bad I don't really want to share these on the cookie trays this year!

Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti
adapted from
makes about 15-18 biscotti

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure peppermint extract
1 tsp. espresso powder
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups Andes peppermint crunch baking chips
4 oz. (or more) bittersweet chocolate, for dipping
1/2 cup crushed candy canes

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla, peppermint, and espresso powder, and beat well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

2. In a separate medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer speed on low, slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and the peppermint chips.

3. Turn the dough out onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Shape the dough into a 16-inch log, and flatten to about 2 inches thick. Bake the log for 25 minutes.

4. Remove the log from the oven, transfer the log on the parchment to a cooling rack, and cool for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

5. Transfer the log to a cutting board and, with a serrated knife, slice into 15-18 slices. Arrange the slices on the baking sheet, cut side up, and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes per side (10 min. for slightly softer biscotti, 15 for crunchier biscotti). Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

6. Once cool, melt the bittersweet chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl: in 30 second intervals, with 50% power, heat the chocolate in the microwave until smooth when stirred. Either dip one end of each biscotti in the chocolate, or do what I did and spread the chocolate with a spoon across the bottom of each biscotti. While the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Allow to dry completely before storing in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CEIMB: Pork Stroganoff with Green Beans and Grainy Mustard

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was chosen by my good blogging friend Liz of The Not So Skinny Kitchen. Liz and I, as she mentioned in her last post about my pick of Tortellini-Spinach Soup, have both been trying to overcome our fears/aversions to certain types of food. Often, we will compare notes about how we tried foods with ingredients we do not normally care for, usually to discover that we are pleasantly surprised with the results. She tried my soup pick last week, even though she probably never would have chosen to do so on her own, and she ended up really liking it.

So, when I realized that the following week was her pick, I was excited. I wanted to cook along with her, just as she cooked along with me. She chose to make the Beef Stroganoff and Green Beans with Grainy Mustard. Now, I don't eat beef; in fact, I don't think I've ever prepared it, either. But that wasn't about to stop me from cooking along! I simply pulled a pound of pork tenderloin out of my freezer (cuz lord knows I need to clean out my freezer, anyway!) and got on with it.

First of all, let me just say how delightful these green beans were. Who knew? All it took to make these was two ingredients, green beans and grainy mustard (four if you count the salt and pepper). Simply steam the fresh, trimmed green beans until crisp-tender, then toss with the mustard, and then add salt and pepper to taste. My husband tasted these and nearly fell off his chair. "Is this just green beans and mustard? That's it?" he exclaimed. I told him that it was and he couldn't stop gushing about how unbelievably good they were. "That's Ellie!" I replied smugly. She never ceases to amaze.

The stroganoff was probably the ultimate Andy food. This is exactly the kind of meal that he loves to come home to. It's hearty, it's comforting. It contains many of his favorite things (wine, mushrooms, and egg noodles, just to name a few), and it reallly satisfies. Like Liz did last week, I kinda did a double take when I saw her choice because, even though I know she's overcome her avoidance of mushrooms, I was still surprised that she chose such a mushroom-heavy dish. However, I really did enjoy the mushrooms in this. I guess I'm over my avoidance of mushrooms, too! In fact, I really couldn't imagine this dish without them; they're kinda essential.

There were two minor gripes I had with this meal, though. One, I feel like my sauce took a long time to thicken up. Did anybody else have this problem? I used lowfat sour cream in place of the Greek yogurt at the end, but I don't think that affected anything. Once I turned the heat off under my skillet, things did speed up. Like I said, a minor gripe. Also, I feel like it needed more flavor, or something. True, I used pork, which is not as flavorful as beef, and I had white wine on hand, so that went in rather than red wine. I'm sure if I had used the correct ingredients, that would have made a big difference. So I can't really fault the recipe for that. All in all, this dish really satisfied our appetites (and the five year-old really liked it!). I would totally make it again, with a few tweaks.

So, thank you, Liz! Once again, we've discovered what happens when we push outside of our little boxes; we find a great meal that we never would have tried otherwise. Please do stop by the CEIMB blogroll to see what the others thought. And check out the original recipe for the stroganoff, here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mixed Berry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Lately, I have been coming up with new and creative ways to use up some things that have been lurking in my freezer. I really need the freezer space right now; as I talked about in my last post, I am on a baking spree and I freeze whatever I make in anticipation of the holidays. However, I've been baking faster than I've been removing stuff to make from the freezer. It's not good! So over the weekend I pulled out a bag of mixed berries and set out to find a decent recipe to use them in.

I'm happy to tell you, this Mixed Berry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake is more than decent. It's pretty amazing, actually! I found a cream cheese coffee cake that solely used blueberries over on, but I knew I could most likely use my mixed berries instead and it would be fine. My husband had just mentioned last week or so that he tried a sample of cream cheese coffee cake at our local grocery store and fell in love. I wasn't really familiar with this concept, but I was totally on board!

This recipe is interesting because you actually make up the coffee cake batter, then fold in cubes of cream cheese along with the berries. I think it would work fine if you added the cream cheese, softened, to the rest of the wet ingredients when you're mixing them up. It would make the batter very creamy and luxurious, and I think it would be awesome. However, this time I tried it out the way it was written, just to see how it would work out.

The final verdict was divided at my house. One of my kids loved it, the other did not. My husband and I both loved the coffee cake, but I felt like the pockets of cream cheese inside were a bit distracting. He, on the other hand, really loved the cream cheese as a separate addition into the mix, and wouldn't have changed a thing. I provided my version of this recipe below, because I changed up a couple of the ingredients and rewrote the instructions to make them a little bit clearer. Just beware: one square of this cake is very filling, so it'll feed a crowd!

Mixed Berry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake
adapted from
serves 8-12

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup softened, unsalted butter, plus 2 Tbsp. cold, cubed butter, divided
2 eggs
1/2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
3/4 cup milk
2 cups assorted berries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen)
8 oz. cream cheese, cubed (I used Neufchatel)
2 tsp. fresh lemon zest, divided

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream together 1 1/4 cups of the sugar and 1/2 cup of the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix well after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat until combined.

2. In a separate, medium-sized bowl, whisk together 2 cups of the flour with the baking powder and the salt. Add the flour mixture in two additions to the butter mixture, alternating with one addition of the milk.

3. Toss the mixed berries with 1/4 cup of the flour, then fold them into the batter. Gently mix in the cubed cream cheese and 1 tsp. of the lemon zest. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9x13 baking pan.

4. In a small bowl, combine the remainng 1/4 cup sugar, the 1/4 cup flour, and the 1 tsp. lemon zest. Cut in the 2 Tbsp. cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle mixture evenly over batter.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cut into squares and serve, preferably warm. The cake keeps in the fridge for about 3 or 4 days. Just reheat individual servings before enjoying!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chewy Chocolate GIngerbread Cookies

Just as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I start my holiday baking. It's a real project for me. I have it down to a science, though, I think. Each day, I'll make up one or two types of cookie dough, which I will then chill in my fridge. Then, each day I will bake off whatever dough I already have chilling in the fridge. It's a great system. Then, I haul out my Sam's Club industrial-size roll of saran wrap, and I wrap my cooled cookies, two or three at a time, and place them into large freezer bags. To date, I have yet to find a cookie that did not freeze well. So I stack my freezer bags as high as I can, filled with many different varieties of cookies. It's awesome, because I can bake them all way ahead of time. Then, when it comes time to dole them out, I can remove only what I need from the freezer, and the rest stay safely inside until it's their time to be eaten. Only problem I have now is that I'm running out of room! Something tells me Santa should be thinking about bringing me a second freezer!

But this post today is actually about these Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies, not my lack of storage space. I discovered these cookies last holiday season, although they were gobbled up so fast they never made it onto my cookie trays. They are the cover model on the Martha Stewart's Cookies book, and they're quite extraordinary.

At first, they seem like just an average gingersnap or molasses cookie. Then, you add in a sprinkle of cocoa powder, a healthy grating of fresh ginger in addition to ground ginger, and some chopped semisweet chocolate. Finally, you roll each ball of dough in sugar before baking. The result is a cross between a molasses cookie and a chocolate crinkle cookie, but really it tastes like something all its own.

I love the pairing of ginger and chocolate, although I guess I never realized it until I tried this cookie. There's just something about the sharp bite of ginger up against the smooth, darkly sweet chocolate that is just so indescribably delicious. If you want to get people talking about your cookies this holiday season, making them a batch of these is a great way to do so!

Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
from Martha Stewart's Cookies
makes 24-36 cookies

1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tbsp. freshly grated peeled ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. boiling water
7 oz. best-quality semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1/4 cup granulated sugar

1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cocoa. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and fresh ginger on medium speed until lightened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.

2. In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in boiling water. Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn onto plastic wrap. Pat out to a 1-inch thickness; seal with wrap. Refrigerate until firm, 2 hours or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll dough into 1 1/2-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Chill 20 minutes. Roll in granulated sugar. Bake until surfaces just begin to crack, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let cool 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Cookies are best the day they are made, but can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 5 days.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sweet and Salty Brownies: Baked Sunday Mornings First Post!

I am so excited right now! I'm about to present you with my very first post as....(drumroll, please!): an official member of the new blogging group, Baked Sunday Mornings!

Yep. If you happen to read my blog sorta often, chances are you've noticed a recipe (or six!) that I have baked from those wonderful Baked cookbooks. They're the ones written by the co-owners of the Brooklyn bakery of the same name, and they're always wonderful. The Baked guys love to think outside the box, and I'm always inspired by their ideas.

So imagine my utter delight when I happened to stumble across this new group of bloggers dedicated to baking from the newest Baked book, Baked Explorations. Their mission: to bake every recipe from this cookbook and post about them on Sunday mornings. The rules are not strict; we can participate when we want to. Plus, we only blog every other Sunday. It works out great; we don't have to worry about having a Baked treat lying around our house basically at all times, which is a relief to me and my waistline!

I was able to jump in and start baking along with the group just in time for these Sweet and Salty Brownies, which I had already made before joining. Fortunately, I had photographed them but never blogged about them. I was going to get around to it eventually, but now here was my chance! Anyway, on to the brownies!

These are some of the yummiest brownies I've ever eaten, hands down. They're a riff on the classic Baked brownie, with a surprising twist. You make a salted caramel, and spread some of it across the batter (you put down half the batter, then the caramel, then the remaining brownie batter). When you bake it, the caramel seamlessly melts into the brownie, so you don't end up with a discernible caramel layer. What you do end up with is a deeper flavor that winds its way through the whole thing and just elevates it. Once the brownies come out of the oven, you sprinkle them with some coarse sugar, and some fleur de sel (or in my case, coarse sea salt). Mmm. A wonderful first recipe with the new group!

We don't post the full recipes on our blogs in this group, but they will always be posted over at the main site for Baked Sunday Mornings. The Sweet and Salty Brownie is here. If you're looking for one wonderful brownie recipe that will wow everybody this holiday season, look no further. And do check out the blogroll for the group, here! I can't wait to bake more goodies with them!