Christmas Cooking

First of all, I swear I started writing this post a week ago but I can’t find a draft. My mind must be playing tricks on me..

So Christmas cooking. Like I said in the last post, we had a really scaled down Christmas and Thanksgiving feast. The Husband didn’t want to make a lot of dishes (he does about 95% of the cooking in the household. I can see his point.) There are only three of us, including a picky eater. Food will often go bad before we can consume everything and we were really lacking in the holiday spirit. We had the usual dishes for Thanksgiving–turkey, cake, roasted Brussels sprouts, more vegetables, homemade cranberry sauce and  dressing–I’m from the South, it will always be dressing. Unfortunately, my dressing is not like my mom’s and I’m starting to dislike making it and eating it.

Overall, I feel like this was our most healthful holiday meal EVA! We mixed it up really good. We had our roasted Brussels sprouts and green beans but we had a lamb roast (so good!) and a blackberry/raspberry cobbler with a handmade crust using some berries in the freezer from one of the many u-pick farms in the area.

Quinoa:

Yummmmm, quinoa… (Pic from wiki commons)


I decide to nix my regular dressing in exchange for a recipe for Sage and Stuffing Dressing Seasoned Quinoa.

It turned out both great and okay. Here’s why I say that: I think the recipe was very good, but I shouldn’t have added the celery (I generally don’t like it). The celery tasted odd and unpleasant to me when I reheated it. Maybe I overcooked it originally and it didn’t hold up to a reheating? Also, I could have been more adventurous with the spices. I tend to add as I go along and this time I didn’t. I pretty much followed the recipe. By no means was it bland but I’m so used to adding as I go, I think I missed that about my own cooking.  Since The Boy won’t eat anything he isn’t familiar with and The Husband was feeling “meh” about it because it wasn’t dressing; I don’t know if I will cook it again for the holidays. I do love that it was a healthy alternative and I loves me some quinoa. Maybe I’ll add it into our regular rotation.

Buttermilk Biscuits:
Biscuits are an utter pain in the ass to make.  In order to make good ones, you need to sacrifice a least a month of your time kneading and pleading. In most recipes, there are so many steps, I refuse to make them on principle alone. Then I came across the game changer: Easy buttermilk biscuits made with whole wheat flour. The hell. You say.  It can’t be true. You guys, seriously. Seriously. You guys. It really worked. These were better than restaurant biscuits and I made them myself and my arms only hurt minimally. As usual, I did make some changes. The UGC used regular milk but I used buttermilk. I followed her advice about using half whole wheat and half all purpose flour. The Husband and I loved them! The Boy said he liked it, maybe. Which means not really. **Le sigh. I’ll keep trying.

Almost Vegan Almond Joys

Almond_Joy_Opened

It looked nothing like this. Mine were better and not gooey in the center.

Holiday work parties.  Make something that everyone will enjoy but ensure that nothing is left over. So much pressure! Hmmm, what to do?

I got invited to my old office’s holiday party. I was extremely flattered, especially since I don’t work there anymore. I miss those crazy cusses! I knew there was gonna be around fifty people so I wanted to make something that was a little different, something that didn’t need any refrigeration and could be transported easily to the site since I use mass transit. Then I got invited to my current office’s party. This one was for the whole building, four floors! I knew there was gonna be a TON of food, so I didn’t need to make a lot. Didn’t matter about refrigeration since I could store it as soon as I arrived but it had to be easily transported. Dilemma, people! What to make?

For the old office, I decided to make my Jolly Lollies. Instead of three pieces of Jolly Ranchers, I only used two. We also used a package of the tropical-flavored Jolly Ranchers. The Boy and I had a great time picking out colors/flavor combinations. We created some really cool modern-looking color blocking stripes. I got many compliments and only had about five left over.

For the new office, I remember reading about some vegan almond joys that made me drool at the sight of them. I signed up as bringing “Homemade Almond Joys (no pun intended-since that’s my name). After hunting down the recipe–I forgot to bookmark it, I found it at the Free People blog. I had all the ingredients but of course I changed a few things. I used sweetened coconut, so I couldn’t be sure the sweetening agent was vegan like the maple syrup and I used whatever chocolate I had around the house, which was a 1/2 of a bag  Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and another 1/2 bag of Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips.

I received many compliments on this one! I only had a few left but I ended up not taking a single one home and three people asked for the recipe and one asked if I could make them again for a special occasion. I asked, “Like when?” He said, “Oh, like it being a Wednesday.” Ha!

Below, is my version of the recipe and a link to the original. Enjoy (again, no pun intended)!

Almond Coconut Chocolate Bites from the Free People Blog(with my mods)
makes 12 treats (using tiny mini muffin liners, I made about 40)
Coconut Filling:
1 1/4 cups unsweetened coconut, finely shredded (I used about two cups of sweetened coconut)
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (or about a tablespoon if you’re using sweetened coconut)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dark or Milk Chocolate Coating*:
10 ounces of good semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
Plus: approximately 1/3 cup toasted almond slices (I used whole almonds)

Lightly grease a nonstick mini-muffin tin with a little coconut oil and set aside. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine all of the coconut filling ingredients and mix together until very well combined. Evenly divide up the filling between the 12 mini-muffin cups, pressing it in very tightly, making sure it is somewhat even.  (I used a 1/4 teaspoon to scoop out little portions that fit into my liners. I placed them on a pan and stuck almonds on top.) Don’t worry they won’t stick. Place the muffin pan in the freezer make sure it is sitting flat, and freeze until filling is solid, about 30-45 minutes. (I left it in overnight. I’m lazy)

Take the muffin tin with the frozen coconut mixture out of the freezer, carefully remove each coconut treat out of the pan, running a thin knife around the edge to loosen and pop them out. Place them on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet, if you want to place the pan back in the fridge to keep them cool while you melt the chocolate, you can do that.

Once you are ready to coat the treats with the chocolate you can carefully melt the chocolate using a double boiler setup on the stove top or you can carefully melt it in small increments in the microwave, stirring often. Turn off the heat on the stove and keep the bowl of chocolate over the pan, remove the coconut treats from the fridge. Place one coconut treat on a fork and slowly lower it into the chocolate, spoon additional chocolate over it to fully coat it. Lift the fork out and gently shake to release any of the excess chocolate.  Scrape the bottom of the fork along the side of the bowl and place on the lined baking sheet. Sprinkle a few toasted almond slices on top into the chocolate. Repeat until all of the treats are coated in chocolate and have almonds on top.  If the chocolate gets too thick, you just turn on the flame and heat slightly to melt it again. Put the tray back in the fridge and let them harden for about 45 minutes.

(I used mini muffin liners and drizzled a little chocolate in the bottom of liners. Then I placed coconut filling on top of chocolate and then drizzled chocolate on top of filling. They had a little chocolate sandwich look about them. I placed them back in the freezer overnight.)

After these set, store them in the freezer/fridge until you’re ready to serve. The chocolate will remain solid at room temperature but the coconut filling might not.

Whoopie Pies Everywhere!

Get in my belly!

My lovely husband recently celebrated another birthday. Beforehand, I asked him if he wanted me to bake something for his big day. I thought for sure he was gonna say a pie, like a berry pie, peach pie or a key lime pie. What can I say, the man likes his pie! He surprised me by requesting whoopie pies.  Now, a few years ago, I had no idea what a whoopie pie was.  It almost sounds kind of dirty (use your imagination). But apparently, like millions of other suckers on Apartment Therapy, I got sucked in on the trend.  Let me tell you, I’m glad I did. Whoopie pies are like soft chocolate dreams with a creamy delicious filling. I like that they are hand-sized, which makes for easy portion control. My recipe is below. I should have used a homemade chocolate cake recipe (and you can too if you like!) but it was too much of a pain in the ass to go out and buy all the ingredients that we didn’t have on hand.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • I used a Sharpie and a mug to draw circles on sheets of parchment paper so that I could keep the whoopie pie size consistent.  I have no idea how other people can get them so perfectly circular. If you know, please leave a comment. I flipped the paper over so that I wasn’t  putting cake batter on the direct sharpie ink.  I’m sure you won’t die if that happened but it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
  • Use room temperature butter! I totally spaced and forgot to leave the butter out to warm. I tried to warm the butter in the microwave. It melted a little too much. The taste was fine but the texture of the filling was a bit grainy. And I’m not a fan of marshmallows. If you would like that sort of filling, check Apartment Therapy for a recipe.
  • Eat and Enjoy!

Joy’s Whoopie Pies

Ingredients

  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package devil’s food cake mix, super moist
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of butter

For the filling:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted or about a cup of regular sugar, to taste.

Directions:

  • Preheat oven at 350 (or whatever the cake mix says).
  • To make the pies: Prepare mix as directed on package except use only ¾ of a cup of water and substitute the shortening with butter.
  • Drop batter onto greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper to line pan) in 2 1/2 to 3 inch circles (see note above). Your batter should make about 16 to 20 circles.
  • Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool. Note: If you use two cookie sheets, bake them one at a time. It allows the pies to bake evenly.
  • Transfer the filling to a clean pastry bag fitted with a round tip or a large freezer bag with the tip cut off (much easier to do with the freezer bag!).
  • Pair the pies up by shape and size and pipe the filling onto one half. Put other half on top.
  • Makes about 8-10 delicious whoopie pies.
  • To store, place in airtight container and refrigerate.

To make the cream cheese filling:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or using a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until well-combined and smooth.
  • Mix in the vanilla extract.
  • Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat again until smooth.  Note: Make sure you taste it as you add the sugar. Two and 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar is a lot! I ended up using about a cup of regular sugar. Your taste may vary.

No Knead Pizza Dough

Y’all, I really want to make my own bread. I have tried and failed more times than I care to admit. I can make a mean pizza dough but an actual loaf of bread? Not so much…

A few years ago, I came across the all new rage! No Knead Bread. Put the ingredients together and let it sit for umpty kabillion hours and it will knead itself! Just pop it in the oven and it will walk out, cut itself in slices and melt in your mouth! Okay, so I’m exaggerating a wee bit but not by much.

My first attempt at no knead bread looked like this:

It smelled incredible and look at the inside! So pretty!

It tasted like pure ass. Doughy and completely unflavorful. Taking a bite of it felt like eating pre-chewed food. I followed the directions to a ‘t’ and even let it overcook but was not successful.

The second time I tried a slightly different take on recipe. I used a dutch oven, followed the recipe and after baking, the loaf had a beautiful baked hue but it was stuck to the pot. it almost like a tasty blond charcoal briquette.  Delicious yet hard as rock. Great, another failure.

I had given up until a few weeks ago, I saw this recipe at Serious Eats. No knead pizza dough for some sort of vegetable-topped pizza? Don’t mind if I do!  Since the recipe was from Jim LaHey himself, the guru of the no knead bread revolution, I figured, okay, let’s try this failure again!

My No Knead Pizza Dough. Isn't it lovely?

Y’all, it totally worked. The dough was chewy but crisp and had an amazing char. I, again, followed the directions, which included letting the dough rise for 18 hours. I did not knead even once. I also used a piping hot pizza stone to get the char. I sliced up some asparagus as a topping and it was really, really good. The boy even liked it!

Not a great picture but you get the idea.

I think I might even be willing to try my hand at his bread recipe. Will it be three times a charm or three strikes you’re out? With my luck, let’s hope I don’t burn up the oven. LOL.

Jolly Lolly

Whoa, man! I saw this little DIY a couple of years back. You can take Jolly Ranchers, melt them in the oven and stick lollipop sticks in the them and voilà – homemade lollies! I finally remembered to make them a few weeks ago. I even pinned them on Pinterest to remember.

Off to the grocery store we went where I accidentally picked up the wrong kind of Jolly Ranchers. Looked all over the store for lollipop sticks, no dice. So today, a week later, I headed to Michael’s and picked up the candy sticks and another bag of the hard candies at Target. Can I bitch for a moment? Now, I understand candy making is popular. I get that but why are the lollipop molds at Michael’s so lame? They had a mustache mold, a hillbilly teeth mold and some other ugly thing that I’ve purposely forgotten. I just wanted something simple, not tasteless.

Anyway, the Boy and I decided which flavors we should use to make lollies. He called the flavors and I put them together. As they melted, we sat on the floor and watched them thru the oven door. He was so excited he kept squeezing my head with his arms and saying, “This is gonna be the best candy in the world! I can’t wait! I can’t wait!” I haven’t figured out how to store them and to keep them out of a certain little boy’s very eager hands because I didn’t buy (or see for that matter) any cellophane bags.

I think we ended up with about 18  and a 1/2 (one broke and we remelted it into two). My mods to the recipe below.

  • One bag of Jolly Ranchers
  • One bag of candy sticks
  • Parchment Paper
  • Aluminum Foil

Preheat oven to about 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. On top of foil, place parchment paper. Arrange Jolly Ranchers on parchment papers in batches of threes. You can do fours or fives but they are a bit too fragile. Our one bag of Jolly Ranchers made about 18 lollipops. We made some fours and fives.

Put candies in the oven for around 8 to 12 minutes.* The original recipe calls for five minutes but my oven hadn’t even melted the candies at the five minute mark. Make sure you watch them.

When they start to melt and flatten out, take them out of the oven and roll the candy sticks in the candy until the candy envelopes the sticks. Let cool for about thirty minutes to an hour, then enjoy!

Office Party Dip

My coworker had a birthday recently and it was decided that we should have a potluck. Being as I had completely forgotten about the damned thing, I had to quickly come up with something that used ingredients in the house and that didn’t involve going to the store over the weekend. (I told you I was lazy.)

I was gonna try a black bean dip but lo and behold-no black beans. How about white beans? I had saved a recipe from the New York Times a lonnnnnngggg time ago for a white bean dip that I had never tried. Had all the ingredients and I must say it turned out well. It’s almost like an easy, faux-hummus. If you’re interested in making it, I would suggest you don’t go overboard on the garlic like I did. The recipe called for a clove or two. I put in like five or six. Let’s just say the office was a bit fiery-breath but hey, they liked it!

My version of the recipe:

Two cans of cannelini beans, drained
One tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
One tablespoon of lemon juice (or to taste)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 to 3 cloves of garlic (don’t go crazy like I did)
Salt and pepper to taste
One tablespoon of grated parmesan (optional)

Dump beans, garlic, lemon juice and rosemary in blender. Add olive oil as you blend. Blend until smooth. Taste. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Put in bowl and stir in parmesan. Chill for a few hours. If you have it, throw a spring of rosemary on top for presentation Enjoy with crackers. Will last for 3 days in fridge.

Lasagna Cupcakes

Crappy photo but you get the idea, right?

I am a hardcore coffee drinker. I almost feel like I need an IV in my arm for my coffee fix. But here’s the weird thing: I only like to drink one (large) cup in the morning and I like my coffee with a lot of cream. Not so much that it’s milky, but I like a lot of cream. Because of that, we always keep a carton of half and half in the fridge. But how I ended up with three cartons in the fridge is kind of a mystery. I mean, we like cream but jeez Louise, not that much….Then it hit me, I could make some ricotta with the cream and do up some lasagna cupcakes! Hells yeah!

Ricotta is fairly easy to make. You need some cream, salt, vinegar (or lemon juice) and some cheesecloth to strain it. Here’s Ina Garten’s recipe.  I’ve made it before, (along with mascarpone cheese. Not making that cheese again). It turned out really really delicious. Especially mixed with a tiny bit of salt on a piece of hot toast.

With lasagna, I love lasagna but since we only have two adults and one picky five year old, it’s too much to make a full pan. It will usually go bad before we finish it. I ran across this recipe and it solved two problems in one go: We can control the portions and we didn’t have too many leftovers. Oh, and everyone gets a crusty edge!

I made the cupcakes a while ago and they were a success. I didn’t follow the recipe completely.  I used some lasagna noodles we had on hand and I used some pesto in the sauce but SUCCESS! I might add some spinach if we have some on hand. I’ll report back if it’s a success.

P.S. I have no idea what Ina means when she says use a good vinegar for the ricotta recipe. Is an $80 bottle of artisan vinegar good or is my Heinz 57 vinegar good? She likes to tell you to use a “good” something or other without clarifying what she means. If “good” means “expensive”, why doesn’t she just say it?