Monthly Archives: December 2011

Slow Cooker Life Saver!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, hard to believe it is already over! It is hard to get motivation to slave in the kitchen during the holiday season so we decided to try out something new in the crock pot! We drove back from spending Christmas in Michigan early Tuesday morning and I was unable to make it to the grocery store Tuesday which resulted in dinner consisting of ramen noodles, boxed mac & cheese and caramel corn! By the time we got home, which was around 8:00 at night, we were in no mood to scour what was left in our fridge and find something to whip up…we saved that for Wednesday morning! We knew Wednesday was going to be another late night and didn’t want to have to come home and cook so we pulled out the remaining veggies we had leftover in the fridge and a pork loin out of the freezer and went with it! We cut up some onions, brussels sprouts, beets and apples and threw them in the bottom of the crock pot. We combined some Jamaican jerk seasoning we had in the fridge with chicken broth, cornstarch and some seasonings, poked some holes in the pork loin and threw everything on top of the veggies and let it cook all day Wednesday while we were at work. We cooked one of those Uncle Ben’s 90 second microwaveable rices and ate the pork and veggies over that. It turned out to be so good! The pork was super moist and shredded so nicely while the veggies were very tender (maybe a little too tender, the apples pretty mushy actually), but the flavor was amazing and the rice helped the texture so it didn’t matter too much! Lesson learned here: you can pretty much throw anything into a crock pot and it’ll be delicious and incredibly easy!

On another note, my Michigan Christmas was wonderful! Spent my first Christmas away from home which was pretty difficult but my my in-laws and new family made it so much easier! They made me feel right at home and I had such a good time. We went caroling, ate our faces off for days on end, laughed, played games (some possibly in a casino) and just had an all around great time! It is so nice to get to spend so much time with them, I feel that we do not get to nearly enough so every moment is precious! I am so lucky to have such amazing people to now call family!

I’ll post more in the next few days hopefully, and as promised I will still get the wine cookie recipe up here! Think we are going to make some for New Year’s!

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It’s Christmas Time!!

As do most people, my mom and I have an annual Christmas cookie baking tradition that we delved into yesterday! In a mere 6 hours, we managed to bake twelve batches of cookies! We have the few we make every year that we can’t live without, but then we try a few new ones too…some of these end up becoming regulars and some we never see again! I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of our favorites and possibly get a few of yours too! This list does not include the traditional Italian Christmas cookies that gram bakes every year…including the ever-so-secret wine cookie recipe that I may just share with you all next week after we bake them next week! But I will preface this recipe by stating how difficult it is right off the bat! You have to have severely decreased feeling in your hands to even attempt this one….almost equivalent to throwing your hands into a pot of boiling water! But we’ll get to that next week! For now, here are a few easier, less harmful ones!

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies:

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • Sugar to roll balls in
  • Kisses (we prefer the caramel ones, but any will do)!

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix wet ingredients together and sift dry ingredients together. Add dry to wet, mix well. Roll into balls, roll balls in sugar, bake balls about 8 minutes. While baking, unwrap kisses. Remove from oven, stick a kiss in each ball, place back in oven for 2-4 minutes.

Seven Layer Bars: (These are my absolute favorite)!!!

  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 bag of coconut
  • 1 bag of chocolate chips
  • 1 bag of butterscotch morsels
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I prefer pecans or almonds myself)!
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in oven in a 13X9″ pan. (Or melt in microwave or stove top and pour into 13X9 pan). Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over melted butter until absorbed (add more crumbs if necessary, you don’t want overly wet patches). Sprinkle chocolate chips and butterscotch morsels over top of graham cracker crumb layer. Next sprinkle coconut and nuts. Lastly, as evenly as possibly, pour sweetened condensed milk over top of everything. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is slightly golden.

Coconut Macaroons:

  • 1 bag coconut
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • pinch of salt

Mix all together and bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes.

Almond Biscotti:

  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2 Tablespoon water
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups almonds chopped course

Toast the almonds in the oven for 10 minutes on baking sheet.  Mix all together.  Shape into 4 logs and rub with egg yolk.  Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes. Slice while still warm.

Italian Knot Cookies:

  • 6 cups flour
  • 6 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ lb of butter
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 fresh oranges, just the juice from them
  • Grate a little bit of the orange rind, about 1 tsp
  • Frosting:
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T milk
  • 16-oz powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, butter and sugar (with hands) until consistency like cornmeal. Beat eggs, vanilla, juice from oranges and zest with a fork. Add into flour mixture until it doesn’t stick…add in more flour if necessary.  If dough is soft add more flour. Shape dough into knots.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Let cool. Mix together ingredients for frosting.  Let sit a few minutes, frost cookies. The frosting can be dyed any color with food coloring.

Hershey Bar Cookies:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups sifted flour

Cream butter, add brown sugar, yolk, and flour.  Grease a cookie sheet and spread the dough to fill the bottom of the cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes. While cookies are baking, melt a hersey bar in double boiler, spread over hot crust and add chopped nuts on top if desired. Cut while warm.

So these are just a few of our favorite, must have every year, Christmas cookies! There are way too many to choose from, but this was a good start! Wine cookie recipe to follow sometime soon! I’d love to hear some of your favorite cookie recipes for the holidays…trying out new recipes never gets old! And my mom and I are always looking for new ideas!

More Beer Please!

As a non-beer drinker, I was surprised to fall in love with bakery product with the main ingredient of beer! I joined pinterest a few weeks ago and found a blog through a friend with some delicious and interesting looking recipes. The blog that inspired last night’s dinner menu is http://honestfare.com/. We were gone all weekend in Cleveland, OH for an outdoor hockey tournament in Progressive Field, where the Indians play. They set up an outdoor hockey rink, an ice skating track and a sledding luge…super fun and such a great idea! Anyways, being gone all weekend, eating every meal out with 21 high school boys consisted of pizza multiple times, buffalo wings, also multiple times, a few burgers and some mac & cheese…needless to say, I was craving something a little different and slightly more gourmet when we got back! Sunday night we settled on fresh ribeyes from the butcher with some pan-fried vegetables (my first vegetables in 3 days)! I knew we would be back late from work Monday night so I decided to make a soup to have on hand that would just need to be heated up when we got home. As usually happens, there was a slight hiccup in our plan. The condo we are renting was sold and the new owner wanted to meet with us so I had to take the train home early from work to get things looking presentable for his arrival! I have been wanting to bake a beer bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches with for a while now and figured this would help make this comfort food tradition become a little more elegant and sophisticated. I quickly whipped up a beer bread and cleaned while it was baking in the oven. I ended up caramelizing some onions in beef broth and Worcestershire sauce to go on the sandwiches as well. The final product was a fantastic twist to the traditional grilled cheese sandwich! Here’s how it all went down:

Creamy Chicken & Rice Soup:

  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, peeled, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 8-10 cups chicken broth
  • 2-3 Chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup rice, uncooked (I used black rice but wild rice would probably be the norm)!
  • 1 t basil
  • 1/2 t thyme
  • 1/2 t sage
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 T melted butter

I sautéed the onion, carrots and celery in a bit of olive oil until softened, then added in the garlic until fragrant. Then add the chicken broth, chicken, rice and seasonings. Bring to a boil and let boil for 5, then bring to a simmer and cover for 15 or so, until rice is softened. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, evaporated milk and melted butter. (This step can be completely avoided if you have heavy cream on hand, for the first time in my life, I did not)! Add milk mixture to soup once rice is cooked and bring to a boil and cook until thickened.

Beer Bread:

  • 3 cups flour, sifted
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 (12-oz) beer
  • 4 T melted butter

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in mixing bowl. Slowly add in beer, just until incorporated and all flour has been moistened. (Do not overmix this batter or you will end up with a super dense, gummy loaf! Also, it is important to sift the flour or to spoon it into the measuring cups (if you do not have a sifter) because compacting the flour too much will result in the same dense, gummy type of bread). Brush the melted butter over the top of the dough and bake for 45-50 minutes. The greatest part about this recipe is how versatile it is! You can add anything into the batter you want, including pepper, rosemary, Italian seasonings, cheeses, etc! I kept mine plain so I can toast pieces and spread them with peanut butter for breakfast! But I think adding in some black pepper, cheddar cheese and/or rosemary would be delicious for the grilled cheeses!

To assemble the grilled cheese sammies, I buttered two sides of the beer bread and spread Dijon mustard on the opposite sides. I then layered a slice of swiss cheese, Muenster cheese and sharp cheddar cheese, followed by the caramelized onions. We used our Panini maker but a fry pan would work just as well! We were very pleased with the result! Josh went without the caramelized onions for his second sandwich and said he liked it better because he was able to taste all of the different cheeses…personal preference I suppose!
And what else is new!? I am terrible with the whole picture taking thing…I would snap a pic of the beer bread when I get home tonight, but I am pretty sure there is only a slice or two left! I promise to work on this in the future and all of my future posts will have pics!

Apple-tastic!

Josh is quite picky when it comes to his apples and will only really eat the honeycrisp variety! I am sure you can imagine how annoying this is, not only because they are they most expensive apple on the market (averaging $2.99/lb) but also because they are seasonal and you can only find them during peak season in late September through early October! So on a recent trip back to Michigan, we stopped by Josh’s cousin’s apple orchard and stocked up…and I mean STOCKED up! We bought a bundle, which translates to two extra-large paper bags full of apples! Honeycrisp apples will keep for months though as long as they remain cold and do not freeze…so currently we have them chilling out on our patio, but this can only continue until the wintery weather of Chicago really kicks in (we’ve been pretty lucky so far)! So in an effort to use up as many apples as possible, I’ve turned to baking with them…something I usually do not do since I am not a fruity dessert person and much prefer the rich, decadence of chocolate! I have one recipe I’ve made a few times now that gets good reviews and one I just tried for the first time Tuesday night…the latter ended up being better than I thought it was going to be when taking it out of the oven. The first is an apple pie with homemade gingerbread crust and the second is an apple coffee cake.

Apple Pie with Gingerbread Crust:

    • Pie:
    • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2/3 cup sour cream
    • 1 beaten egg
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 5 cups sliced, peeled cooking apples, such as Rome or Jonathan (or in this case, Honeycrisp)!
    • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 3 tablespoons butter
    • Ground cinnamon (optional)
    • Gingerbread Crust:
    • 1 1/3 cups flour
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
    • 2 tablespoons milk

Gingerbread Pastry: In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 1/3 cup oil and 2 tablespoons milk all at once. Stir gently with a fork until mixture clings together. Shape into a ball. Roll dough between 2 pieces of waxed paper, to a circle 12 inches in diameter (press any cracks back together). Remove top piece of waxed paper, carefully invert pastry into a 9-inch pie plate without stretching it, remove waxed paper. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry; crimp edge as desired. Do not prick pastry. Set aside. If the dough is tough to work with and shape, refrigerate it for a half hour or longer. For the pie: in a medium bowl stir together granulated sugar, the 2 tablespoons flour, and the salt. Add sour cream, egg, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Place apples in pastry-lined pie plate. Pour filling over apples. In a medium bowl stir together 1/3 cup flour, the brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in walnuts if desired. Spoon evenly over filling. To prevent over-browning, cover edge of the pie with foil and bake on top of a baking sheet. Bake in a 375°F oven 30 minutes; remove foil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes more or until apples are tender. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store, covered, in refrigerator.

Apple Coffee Cake (adapted from Emeril Lagasse):

    • 1 stick butter
    • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1 t baking soda
    • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
    • 1/2 tn salt
    • 1 cup sour cream
    • 1 t vanilla
    • 2 cups apples, cored, peeled, chopped
    • Crumble Topping:
    • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 3/4 t cinnamon
    • 4 T butter, softened
    Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease a bundt or 9X9 pan. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add dry to wet ingredients and then fold in the apples. Pour into prepared pan.
    For the crumble topping, mix together the sugar, flour and cinnamon. With a pastry blender or fork, mix in butter until you get coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over top of batter and bake for 45 minutes.
    I originally baked the coffee cake in a 9X13 pan as Emeril suggested and I think it came out a little too flat for my liking which is why I recommended a bundt or 9X9 but it is up to you on the thickness you desire. If you like the traditional coffee cake style you see in grocery stores, a long thin rectangle, then definitely go with the 9X13 but decrease the cooking time to 35-40 minutes or so! The flavor was definitely there but it did come out to be a bit greasy for my taste too…I am not a fan of grease laden hands/fingers. I might experiment a bit with the butter-flour ratio next time if I make this again. I have an amazing coffee cake recipe already that I think I will just add apples to next time instead but you never know, I like a good challenge too!

    If anyone has any good apple recipes, send them my way…we still have plenty to use up!!