Holiday Treats

Greetings lovely people!

Sugar Cut Outs with Buttercream Frosting

Vacation is finally here and I’m excited to catch you all up on what’s been happening in our kitchen these past few weeks. It has deliciously involved a lot of flour, sugar and butter — there are certain things that cannot be compromised in my mind — like frosted sugar cookies, right? These are one of the things that I LOVED when I was a kid and love to this day, except now I get to make them with my little gal.

I made (and continue to make) a lot of different things but here are a few highlights:

attachment_id=1835#main” rel=”attachment wp-att-1835″>Nancy's Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars Nancy’s Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars

Snowballs

Snowballs

Sugar Cut Outs with Buttercream Frosting

Sugar Cut Outs with Buttercream Frosting

We also made French Chocolate Bark, courtesy of Ina Garten which is incredibly easy and gluten-free. For those that particularly need heart healthy treats (like my grandfather) we made heart-healthy banana bread. We also made dark chocolate cranberry cookies and Martha Stewart’s gluten-free hazelnut shortbread.

I committed to sending holiday cookie packages to family members around the country and have been a baking fool. I haven’t done that before in such volume and learned a few things along the way, like if you ship cookies frozen you can get away with sending them on 3-day freight. I think a lot of people know to do this but it didn’t occur to me. At least I’ve made a new friend at the fed ex office.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday celebration and a safe and healthy new year. Sending you all virtual hugs. Recipes below!

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Sugar Cut Outs with Buttercream Frosting

(Cookie Dough)
5 C all-purpose flour
1 C butter (2 sticks)
2 C sugar
3 eggs
½ tsp cream of tartar
1 ½ tsp baking soda dissolved in tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thickness (or desired.) Bake 7-9 minutes and cool completely on a wire rack.

This recipe was given to me by my friend Cori Grimes — thanks Cori!

(Buttercream Frosting)
4 C confectioners sugar
½ C unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
¼ C cream or milk
optional: ¼ c cocoa powder for chocolate buttercream

Using an electric mixer (preferably stand mixer) cream the butter. Add vanilla, milk and sugar. Mix for about 5 minutes until frosting has lightened up and filled out a bit.
Separate into small bowls and color with food coloring. There are natural gel versions available at Sur la Table and Whole Foods.

Nancy’s Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Bars
(Shortbread Base)
½ C softened butter (1 stick)
¼ C granulated sugar
1 C all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar, stir in flour until combined. Press dough on the bottom of a 9X9 (square) baking dish for about 15-20 minutes, or until very pale brown.

(topping and filling)
1/c can sweetened condensed milk
½ c butter (1 stick)
½ C brown sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
4-6 oz semi sweet chocolate chips

Put all ingredients in a saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer for 4-5 minutes. Pour caramel over the baked shortbread base and allow to cool and set.

Put 4 oz of chocolate chips into a bowl. Put into the microwave for 30 seconds, remove and then stir. Repeat this until chocolate is smooth and melted. Pour over the caramel and allow to cool and set.
(This would also be good with dark chocolate and finished with sea salt!)

Thanks Nancy and Carrie!

Martha Stewart’s Snowballs
1 C Pecan Halves
1 C all-purpose flour
¼ C granulated sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
½ C (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 C confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a food processor, pulse pecans, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add butter and pulse just until dough forms. Shape dough into a disk and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Pinch tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Place on parchment lines baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheets for 5 minutes and then place them on a wire rack to completely.
Roll cookies in confectioners sugar, tapping off excess. Cookies can be stored in air tight containers up to 1 week.

Easy Pea Soup

It’s soup season in these parts. If I could eat soup every meal of every day I would. To me nothing is more comforting, and honestly last night’s election was a little close for comfort so reinforcements were necessary!

I grew up eating split pea soup but really prefer the taste when made with fresh peas. Not only does it taste better and more like peas but also cuts the cooking time in half. In half! Bryce is more tired at the end of the school day this year and when we get home we need to have dinner on the table quickly. I like to make big batches of soups or stews on the weekends for that very reason, but this will whip up in no time at all. Make-ahead not required.

Frozen peas are great for this. When peas are processed they’re picked and frozen at their peak. Because they’re delicate I opt for organic whenever possible.

Easy Pea Soup

1 bag frozen sweet peas
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1-2 C chicken stock (I use low sodium)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small handful of parmesan cheese
Pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a soup pan over med high heat. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the peas, parmesan cheese and pepper to taste. When the peas seem to have defrosted a bit add the chicken broth. You want to start with about 1 cup (this is a rough estimate.) I like my soup to have texture so I start conservatively with the broth. Cook for about 15 minutes.

(Note: adding some fresh basil to the pot with the peas is also delicious!)

When all is done I put the pea mixture in a blender, but a hand immersion blender or food processor also works well…just be careful while handling hot liquid!

If the soup is too thick then add more chicken broth until the desired consistency is reached.

Have a fantastic day!

Roasted Eggs and Autumn Squash

OK guys, ever stumped about what to do with those yellow, funny looking squash?

Yea, me too. I had these yellow squash that frankly I wasn’t sure how to cook but Bryce and I needed a project today after school. We picked them up at the pumpkin patch and intended to paint them along with some spooky gourds. Glad we didn’t! They were delicious roasted with eggs.

Roasted Eggs and Autumn Squash

1 autumn yellow squash
1 egg
1 tsp olive oil (or truffle oil)
1 tsp parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Fresh parsley torn or chopped

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the bottom of the squash off so that it can sit with stability. Once it is stable on the cutting board carve out the center of the squash, removing most of the seeds and some flesh. You want to create a cup for the eggs to rest and cook.

Coat the squash with olive oil, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Roast for about 12-14 minutes. Take the squash out of the oven. Crack an egg into the squash cup and top with more salt and pepper. Put back in the oven for about 10 minutes. If you want a more well done egg turn on the broiler to finish for a about 3 minutes.

Note: this dish was good but would have been better with a softer yolk. You have to keep a close eye on the eggs — and if you have a hot oven you may want to adjust the temp to 375.

Garnish with fresh parsley, herbs or salad greens and a drizzle of olive oil. This would also taste great with a bit of lemon and crusty bread (but what doesn’t really?)

Enjoy!

Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

Alright I know I’ve been a little quiet these past couple of weeks but I’ve been a traveling fool.
I wish I could profess that we mastered a grand plan in organization and a 25 hour day but ’twas not the case. We needed reinforcements and so we brought in the big guns — my mother in law, our beloved abuelita. She flew in as a surprise for Ben’s birthday and stayed a little more than a month to help us get through the last 4 or 5 weeks. It is because of her that we kept it together and that we still have our sanity. THANK YOU ABUELITA! We love you.

Just because the weather is getting cooler does not mean there are fewer requests for ice cream in our house. I got this frozen yogurt recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Alexandra’s Kitchen (see blogroll for link.) It only has 3 ingredients: frozen yogurt, sugar and vanilla. That’s it. All you need is an ice cream maker and you’re in business.

This tastes like what frozen yogurt should taste like…umm…frozen yogurt! Not the kind you get at TCBY or out of a soft-serve machine. This is the good stuff. After making this I think you’ll find it hard to go back.

Frozen Yogurt
Yield = 1 quart

3 cups plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (preferably organic)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

Mix together the yogurt, sugar and vanilla. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Enjoy!

Stuffed Zucchini

This weekend wrapped up the much-anticipated FEAST PORTLAND that was, quite actually more than what we hoped it to be. Not just great food, but great inspiration and a feeling of fantastic community. The production was flawless and even though there were an additional 10,000 people in town, there were zero lines and zero attitude. Can’t wait for next year!

Can you believe that we’re nearing the start of October? I’m practically beside myself. The time picks up speed right around July and in the blink of an eye we’re at the end of September. While it crept up quickly, this time of the year is when we’re the happiest. Our trips to the farmers markets and the promise of pumpkins get us all revved up for Halloween. The turning leaves remind me of upstate NY as we look forward to corn mazes and apple picking. By the way — there may be nothing on the culinary planet that I love more than a caramel apple. NOTHING. I’ll be, without question eating them every chance I get!

So you know that I’d never put something on this website that didn’t work with your crazy, demanding schedule — I’ve got your back! Last night involved this sweet little dish that was quick and easy. Bryce liked that they looked like boats which, as you know goes a long way in getting kids to try something new. Any whimsical angle is a plus.

Stuffed Zucchini

2 large-ish zucchini’s split down the middle, seeds carved out
3-4 mild italian chicken sausages, casing removed
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 med sized potato, diced
1 handful of parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 handful of shredded mozzarella (the fresh mozz has too much water, packaged better)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil (1 tbsp for the zucchini, 2 tbsp for the filling)
Dried oregano
Fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Hollow out the zucchini and season with salt, pepper and a little bit of olive oil.
In a saute pan on med high, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and add onions. Add a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium and add chicken sausage, potato, red pepper, tomato, oregano, salt, pepper and cook for another 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the parmesan cheese. Add bits of fresh mozzarella and torn basil leaves and turn off the heat.
Note: Finely chopped mushrooms would be great in this, or if you wanted to use brown rice instead of potato in the mixture it would work really well. You would just fully cook the rice before adding it to the pan. I’m going to try this next time!

Spoon the filling into the zucchini boats and top with more parmesan cheese. Put into the oven for about 35-40 minutes. Serve with a green salad. Deelish.

Have a fantastic day!!

Flourless Chocolate Banana Pudding Cakes

We’re starting to get settled into Kindergarten. We love our teacher and Bryce looks forward to going to school every day. She’s in transition however between toddlerhood and the idea of being 5. She can’t quite decide which she’d like to be and so we spend a lot of time telling the story of when she was born and all the things she used to do when she was a baby. She asks me to give her warm milk in an old bottle and I have to gently say no. Her doll has a binky and when I told her that wasn’t for her she told me that she had been hiding it up in her room for the last 2 years. I had to laugh.

When she’s feeling like she wants to be a big girl she often will talk about what she wants to be when she grows up. She’d like to go to cooking school. She’s also told me several times…”Mom, I when I’m a grown up I want to be a scientist” and “Mom, when I grow up I want to make clothes.” All fine by me.

One thing that I can always count on is her love of dessert! We loved these flourless pudding cakes, gluten and dairy free. I got the recipe from my favorite new cookbook, The Sprouted Kitchen.

Flourless Chocolate Banana Pudding Cakes (Gluten + Dairy Free!)

Recipe:
3 oz. good quality dark chocolate, chopped
2.5 oz. good quality milk chocolate, chopped
2 very ripe bananas
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c natural cane sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 egg whites

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Butter (6) six-oz ramekins and set aside.

Combine both chocolates in a heat proof bowl and put in the microwave for 30 seconds. Take the chocolate out and stir, put back in the microwave for 30 seconds. Keep repeating this process until the chocolate is melted and creamy. Set it aside to cool slightly. This process will also temper the chocolate.

In a large mixing bowl, mash the bananas very well…the smoother the better! Add the egg, vanilla, cane sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Gently incorporate the melted chocolate until combined.

In another bowl, whip the egg whites with a hand-held mixer or in a stand mixer on high-speed until they form firm peaks. This will take a few minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in a few big sweeps to avoid deflating the egg whites. It’s okay if some streaks remain in the batter.

Divide the mixture among the ramekins and place in a 9×13 pan. Fill the pan with boiling water that reaches about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 20-22 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are set.

Top with vanilla ice cream and finish with a sprinkle of cinnamon if you have it…I did not! Use coconut milk ice-cream to be dairy free (and in this case, gluten-free as well!)

Have a fantastic day!

Simple Mushrooms, C’est si Bon

Comment ca va?

I’ve been inspired by my sister and her boyfriend who are currently in Paris en route to Amsterdam. They just sent me a photo of a classic steak frites that they’re enjoying at a sidewalk bistro. This is a place I’d like to be right now…sipping wine, voyeur-ing the people and the art, perhaps in a decadent frock. If only I could wiggle my nose and make it happen with a blink.

I love Europe for many reasons, but I so appreciate the simplicity in the way food is prepared. It’s as if each ingredient is but a celebration. In honor of my European roots I salut the tradition — and behold the mushroom. The star of a melt-in-your-mouth dish that was prepared in under 15 minutes.

There are no measurements really — this is as carefree as cooking gets. It’s best if you make these with a glass of wine and french background music. Give this a try:

Are you in the mood yet?

Simple Sautéed Mushrooms

1 pile of whole Cremini mushrooms, wiped with a tea towel
olive oil
pat of butter
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
white wine — one that you would also be drinking for dinner perhaps
Salt & pepper
Fresh Thyme (or any herb will do)

Heat a saute pan on med high heat. Add a couple of lugs of olive oil in a and a pat of (real) butter. Let it melt, add the garlic and let saute for about 30 seconds (you don’t want the garlic to burn or it gets bitter.) Add the mushrooms and saute with a pinch of salt and pepper. They will absorb all the liquid quickly, so you may need to add a bit more olive oil if they get dry. Add about ¼ to a ½ cup of wine and let this simmer for about 8 minutes or so, until the liquid cooks down. Finish with a bit more butter and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. Serve with greens and a baguette. C’est si bon (it’s so good!)

Have a Fantastic day, mes amis.