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Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010's Top 10

Happy New Year!  2010 was a pretty good year for me, although it sure went by quickly.  The year started and ended with lots of travelling, I think we went home to Iowa a half a dozen times this past year.  I also travelled to Texas a couple of times for my sister's wedding festivities, we went to St. Louis to celebrate our own 1st wedding anniversary, and spent a week at the beach in August with my college roommates.  We ended the year travelling for the holidays and a weekend in Chicago to celebrate my mom's birthday.  My husband started a new job this fall and I kept busy throughout the summer and fall with lots of baking jobs making hundreds of cupcakes and several birthday cakes.  

Of course the big news is that we found out we'll be having our first child in 2011, thank you all for sticking around even though it was tough to keep up with this blog when I could barely think about food for the few months.  These last few months have been busy with preparing the nursery, baby showers, and doctors appointments.  Now we're almost there and our daughter should be here mid-February! 

As we all recover from the sugar coma of the holidays, I'll be sharing some recipes from my baby shower, as well as some freezer meals as I try to stock up before the baby arrives.  For now though, I'll leave you with the most popular recipes from 2010.  Evidently the popularity of cupcakes isn't over yet!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spiced Brown Sugar Christmas Cookies

I had to make another batch of Christmas cookies, and since it was my 4th batch of sugar cookies in as many weeks, I decided to go for something a little different this time around.  For the dough, I made a spiced brown sugar cookie dough.  They turned out to be sort of a cross between a gingerbread cookie and a sugar cookie.   They are prepared the same way as traditional roll and cut cookies, making them convenient to do in parts.  You can (and should by at least an hour or two) make the dough ahead of time and refrigerate.  Then when you are ready to bake them, roll out the dough, cut and bake.  This dough is a little bit more particular than my normal sugar cookie dough.  I had to let it sit on the counter about ten minutes before I was able to roll it out.  But don't let it sit out too long, if it becomes too warm, the dough will be sticky. 

For icing, I used royal icing again, you can find the recipe here.  If you are going to color your royal icing, I recommend using gel food colorings.  I especially like the Americolor brand if you can find them; they come in convenient squeeze bottles which is more convenient than the Wilton jars.  Around here, I can find Wilton at several different places but can only get the Americolor at Hobby Lobby or online.  If you try to use the normal liquid food colorings, it will change the consistency of your icing or you wont be able to add enough to get saturated colors.  If you are having trouble finding meringue powder, check out a craft store like Michaels or Hobby Lobby - again, I can only find the Wilton brand.  You may also be able to find it at large grocery stores, sometimes in the baking aisle and sometimes it's in a craft section if you are at a store like Walmart or Meijer. 

This is my first attempt at marbling with royal icing so I'll tell you what I did and recommend that you google a tutorial -- Bridget from Bake at 350 has tips and so does Marian of Sweetopia.  To do the peppermint candies, I outlined and flooded my cookies like normal, doing about a dozen cookies at a time.  I then used the red outline consistency icing in a piping bag with a Wilton tip #3 to pipe a swirl onto the center of the candy.  I gently tapped the cookies to let the swirl settle into the flood icing.  Then used a toothpick to drag through the swirl to create the marble effect. 

Spiced Brown Sugar Cookies
Recipe slightly adapted from Bake at 350

3 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 1/2  tsp vanilla extract

Combine flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  In a mixing bowl, cream sugar, brown sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Add egg and vanilla and beat until well incorporated.  Slowly add flour mixture, mixing on low speed.  The dough will be very stiff.  Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and turn dough out on to plastic.  Form into a disk and wrap tightly.  Chill approximately one hour. 

Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand five to ten minutes at room temperature.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.  Generously flour work area and rolling pin.  Roll dough to about 1/4" thick and cut into desired shapes.  Transfer to prepared pans and bake about 9-12 minutes.  Cookies shouldn't really brown but will firm up.  Remove from the oven, let stand about one minute on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  When completely cool, frost as desired.

See other examples here:
Thanksgiving cookies
Christmas Cookies
Gingerbread Snowflakes 
More Christmas Cookies

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rasberry Pochettes

These are a simple little treat with an indulgent cream cheese crust filled with jam.  You can use whatever flavor you have on hand, I thought the raspberry would be pretty and it's one of my favorite flavors of jam.  That and my husband won't use it for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so we weren't out of it when I went to make these.  Use jelly or preserves for these, it doesn't matter.  I prefer preserves so that's what I used here.

I used a flower cookie cutter to cut these out because I liked the rounded edges and added decoration.  You can use any shape you like or a simple 3" round cookie cutter.  One thing to note, with the flower cookie cutter, you'll have more leakage because the edges won't line up quite as perfectly as a round cut-out would.  I recommend baking these on parchment paper so you don't end up with a sticky mess of burnt jelly to clean up when you are done. 

Raspberry Pochettes
Recipe adapted from Melissa D'Arabian via Food Network

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
Approximately 1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 egg white
Sanding sugar

Combine butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Slowly add the flour and salt, beating on low speed until just combined.  Lay out a large sheet of plastic wrap and turn the dough out onto the plastic.  Form into a disk, wrap tightly and refrigerate at least one hour. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Generously flour your work surface and a rolling pin.  Roll out the dough to about 1/8" thick.  Cut out rounds or shapes as desired.  Add about a half a teaspoon of jam to one side of each cookie.  Brush the edges lightly with water.  Fold the dough over and press to seal.  Crimp the edges with a fork.  Re-roll scraps and continue with remaining dough. 

Beat egg white with approximately one tablespoon of water, brush over cookies and sprinkle cookies with sanding sugar.  Bake until golden, about 18 - 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and serve. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge

If candy-making intimidates you, this is the perfect recipe for you to try.  You don't even need your stove, no thermometers are involved, you barely need a pan.  This fudge can be made completely in the microwave and only takes about five minutes.  It's a perfect recipe to round out your holiday baking when you are short on time. 

Peanut Butter Fudge
Recipe via Erin's Food Files from Alton Brown

1 cup of butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb powdered sugar

Prepare a pan by covering it in wax paper and spraying with nonstick cooking spray, leaving at least one inch overhang of wax paper around all edges.  You can use an 8x11" baking sheet with a one inch rim or an 8x8" square pan if you want thicker fudge. 

In a microwave safe bowl, combine butter and peanut butter.  Microwave on high two minutes, stir and microwave two additional minutes.  Stir in vanilla and powdered sugar.  Mix with a wooden spoon until well combined and smooth.  Pour into prepared pan, smooth, and cover with another sheet of wax paper pressed directly against the surface of the fudge.  Refrigerate at least two hours and cut into one inch squares.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rocky Road Fudge

Fudge is a classic Christmas dessert but not one I have a ton of experience with.  I've made a couple of different types in the past and found it to be much easier than I expected and this recipe ended up being very easy as well.  The most time consuming part is chopping up the chocolate.  

If you haven't finished your Christmas baking yet, here are some other candy recipes you may be interested in.

And check back tomorrow for Peanut Butter Fudge!

Rocky Road Fudge
Recipe slightly adapted from Dinner and Dessert

18 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
14 oz (1 can) sweetened, condensed milk
1 T vanilla extract
1 cup mini marshmallows
1 cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Line an 8x11 inch baking sheet with aluminum foil leaving at least 1" overlap on all sides.  You want to use a baking sheet that has at least a 1" high rim.  Spray foil with nonstick spray.

Set up a double boiler with a couple inches of water over medium heat.  In a heat proof boil or double boiler, toss chopped chocolate with baking soda and salt until well distributed.  Stir in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  Set bowl over simmering water, making sure that bowl doesnt touch the water.  Stir continuously with a rubber spatula until chocolate is almost fully melted.  It will likely take about 2-4 minutes to melt, remove bowl from heat when there are just a few remaining pieces and stir until smooth. 

Stir in marshmallows, peanuts, and chocolate chips.  Mixture will be quite thick.  Quickly transfer mixture to prepared pan and smooth into an even layer.  Refrigerate until set, at least two hours.  Use foil overhang to remove fudge from pan, peel off foil and chop into approximately 1" square pieces. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Butterscotch Pumpkin Blondies

Do you still have an extra can or two of pumpkin in your pantry from Thanksgiving?  Or maybe you're like me and you buy a dozen cans as soon as it hits the shelves so that you don't run out.  I'm down to three cans and thinking I should pick up a few more because I really don't accept that I can only use pumpkin in the fall.  Especially when I can make things like these blondies.  These are so rich and delicious and they are easy to make as well. 

The original recipe called for chocolate chips but I think the butterscotch is a better combination.  You could use white chocolate if you prefer as well. 

Butterscotch Pumpkin Blondies
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray with baking spray. 

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, soda, and salt and whisk together and set aside.  In a second mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Beat in egg, vanilla and pumpkin.  Mixture may appear slightly curdled at this point but its okay.  Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated.  Stir in butterscotch chips. 

Spread batter in prepared pan and smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.  Bake about 35-40 minutes until edges begin to pull away from side of pan and toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.  Cool completely in the pan.  Invert out of pan onto wire rack, peel off foil, cut into squares and transfer to a serving plate.

Note: As per FTC requirements, the butter in this dish was provided by Real Butter, as part of a Tastemaker promotion sponsored by Real Butter for holiday baking.  I received a gift package of butter and holiday baking supplies.  However, the opinions above are strictly mine and are not affected by this promotion.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sugar Cookies for Christmas

Frosted sugar cookies are a staple on almost everyone's Christmas baking list.  I've made them lots of different ways over the years but my favorite recipe is this one.  These cookies bake up without changing shape so its easy to see the details from the cookie cutter.  They stay fresh for quite a while and don't turn rock hard as long as you keep them in an airtight container.  The almond and vanilla extracts give them great flavor without being too sweet. 

Royal icing is necessary if you want cookies that you can decorate in layers and it dries hard so you can stack the finished cookies without ruining them.  Royal icing requires a little practice but it's pretty quick and easy once you get the hang of it.  The recipe below will give you the right consistency to outline your cookies.  I generally use a piping bag and a Wilton tip #2 or #3 to outline my cookies.

Once you've outlined the cookies, thin the icing by adding a little bit of water (a teaspoon or less) at a time until it reaches the consistency of a thick syrup.  In my opinion, the easiest way to fill in the cookies is to fill a squeeze bottle with the thinned icing and flood the cookies, using a toothpick to pop any air bubbles and spread icing out to the outline.  You'll want to let the outlines dry for about an hour minimum before you fill them in.  Then let the thinned icing dry overnight before stacking the cookies and packaging.

Sugar Cookies
Recipe slightly adapted from Annie's Eats

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling out cookies

Cream butter in a large mixing bowl on medium high speed, about two minutes.  Add powdered sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add in egg, almond and vanilla extracts, and salt and mix until well incorporated.  Add in flour and beat on low speed just until mixed.  Transfer dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, form into a disc and wrap well.  Refrigerate dough for at least one hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpats.  Flour counter to roll out cookies.  Also flour rolling pin.  Roll to approximately 1/4" thick and cut with cookie cutters as desired. Transfer cookies to prepared pans and bake about 8 - 10 minutes.  Cookies should not brown.  Gather scraps and re-roll.  If dough becomes sticky, return to refrigerator briefly before rolling.  Recipe yields about 4 dozen cookies depending on size of cookie cutters. 

Royal Icing
Recipe from Bake at 350

4 T meringue powder
Scant 1/2 cup water
1 lb powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp corn syrup
1/4 tsp almond extract

Combine water and meringue powder in mixing bowl.  You can make royal icing without a stand mixer but its a lot easier with one, your arm will get tired with a hand mixer!  Beat until slightly foamy.  Add powdered sugar, corn syrup and extract, beat on low speed until combined.  Increase speed to medium high and beat about five minutes until stiff peaks form and icing is glossy.  Divide icing into small containers to color.  Add gel coloring as desired and press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the icing and cover with a lid. 

To do the shimmery snowflakes, I added sanding sugar over the thinned icing after letting the cookies stand about five minutes.  For the Christmas trees, I let the flood icing dry completely before piping on the swirl lines with the original outline icing.  If you leave the outline icing in the piping bag, make sure you cover it with a damp towel to keep it from drying out.

This recipe should be enough for the above cookie recipe unless you need to use lots of colors/layers of icing. 

See other examples here:
Thanksgiving cookies
Christmas Cookies
Gingerbread Snowflakes

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Classic Apple Pie

Apple pie intimidates a lot of people.  Despite looking relatively simple and ordinary, it can be tricky to get the filling to have the right consistency.  You want the filling to be thick but not dry, if its too liquidy the crust will be soggy.  You want to be able to see the apple slices; tender but not mushy.  You want the crust to be flaky and tender, not dense and dry.  I'm by no means an expert on apple pie, but here are a few tips that have worked for me. 

Apples: Get a mix of apples, that way you are likely to have some of the best characteristics of each variety.  I like granny smith, pink lady, and honeycrisp.  Try to cut them all into slices of uniform thickness so they cook at the same rate.  Sprinkle the lemon juice on the sliced apples right away, if its going to take you a while to slice them, sprinkle some on the cut slices as you go.

Thickening agent: I use cornstarch rather than flour, you can use either but I prefer cornstarch as I think it works better. 

Filling: Mix your filling together and let it sit for a bit while you prepare the crust.  The sugars will draw some of the juices out of the apples and allow the cornstarch to work it's magic.  It's going to look like you have too much filling but you really want to pile it up high because the apples are going to shrink when you bake your pie and you don't want to have a hollow crust.  I always like to use a deep dish pie plate for apple pie.  Also make sure you put a cookie sheet under your pie pan when you put it in the oven.  There will almost always be a spot where the filling leaks out and bubbles over, it's much easier to clean up a cookie sheet than a sugary burned apple syrup off the bottom of your oven.

Crust: Use cold butter, really, really cold butter.  You can freeze it and grate it with a cheese grater or your food processor.  If you don't want to do that, cut it into small pieces and then return it to the refrigerator/freezer.  You want the pieces of butter to remain when you roll out the dough, its those streaks of butter that lead to an extra flaky crust.

I'm not sure of the source of this recipe for the filling, the crust is from Martha Stewart Baking.  If you don't have a food processor, you can mix the pie crust by hand or in a stand mixer as well, I just think the food processor is the easiest.  And if the crust intimidates you, pick up a package of the refrigerated pie dough, all you have to do is unroll it and it's pretty good.

Apple Pie

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold
4 T ice water plus more if needed
1 egg white

Approximately 3 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced into uniform thickness
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1-2 T cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 T unsalted butter

Grate or cut cold butter into small pieces and freeze for about 15 minutes.  In bowl of a food processor, combine flour and salt.  Pulse a couple of times to combine.  Add the butter pieces and pulse about 10-12 times until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs.  Sprinkle the ice water over the mixture and process about 20 seconds, the dough will clump up and begin to hold together.  If the dough appears too dry, add more water, one teaspoon at a time and pulse briefly until the dough sticks together when you pinch it between your fingers.  Lay out 2 large sheets of plastic wrap and dump 1/2 of dough out onto each sheet.  Press into a disk, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour.  (You can do this a day or two in advance if you prefer.)

To make the filling, toss sliced apples with lemon juice and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle about half of the cornstarch over apples.  Add spices and stir gently to combine.  After the mixture sits for a while, if it looks like there is too much liquid, add remaining cornstarch to thicken. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Generously flour rolling surface and rolling pin.  Roll pie crust to about 1/4" thick.  Remember that it needs to be about an inch wider than the diameter of your pie plate plus twice the depth.  Spray pie pan with baking spray.  Carefully move rolled out crust to pie plate.  Fill pie with prepared filling, mounding high above the pie plate.  Dot with remaining butter.  Carefully roll out top crust and center over top of filling.  Press and crimp edges to seal as desired.  Carefully slice 3-4 slits in the top of the pie to allow steam to escape.  Mix egg white with one tablespoon of water and brush pie crust.   

Bake pie for about 50-60 minutes until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.  If the edges begin to look too brown before the pie is ready, cover with foil and continue baking.  Let stand about two hours to set before serving.  Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream both make excellent toppings.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wild Rice and Butternut Squash Dressing

Wow... it has been a busy couple of weeks.  In the past 2 weeks we've travelled to my  parents for Thanksgiving weekend, had two baby showers, 2 prenatal classes, one of my college roommate's was in town to visit, a Christmas party, and our everyday jobs.  That didn't leave a lot of time for blogging.  So I have a stack of recipes to share with you and just need to find some time to post them.  Now if only I could find some time to get my holiday baking started and Christmas shopping done, I might actually catch up a little bit but the next couple of weeks are looking like they will be just as busy. 

Going back to my Thanksgiving recap, I want to share a recipe for wild rice dressing.  My mom isn't really a fan of bread so traditional stuffing recipes don't really appeal to her.  When I saw this recipe in Cooking Light for a wild rice dressing, I thought it would be a great addition to our normal Thanksgiving menu.  I made a few modifications for our own tastes to come up with the recipe below.  I think it turned out great and the leftovers were good as well.

Wild Rice and Butternut Squash Dressing
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, November 2010

1 cup uncooked wild rice
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 T olive oil
1 cup dried cranberries
5-6 green onions, chopped
2 T fresh sage, minced
2 T flat leaf parsley, minced
1 T fresh thyme, stripped from stems
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large saucepan, combine rice, stock, water and 1/4 tsp salt and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 40 minutes until rice is tender.  Transfer cooked rice to a 9x13 or similar baking dish coated with cooking spray, do not drain. 

While the rice is cooking, toss butternut squash with olive oil and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 tsp salt, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast for approximately 20-25 minutes until tender.  Add to rice in baking dish.

Add cranberries, onions, herbs, and spices to mixture, adding additional salt and pepper as desired.  Stir everything together, cover with foil and bake about 15 minutes until everything is heated through.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pumpkin Roll

While this is a classic recipe, it was one I've never made on my own before.  It's a really impressive dessert, especially when you serve it to people who aren't familiar with it because it looks much more difficult than it is.  I got lots of "oohs and aahs" when I sliced it at Thanksgiving.  This requires less than 20 minutes of baking time.  Everything else is just waiting on cooling and refrigeration.  Give yourself plenty of time to refrigerate though because this is best served cold.  If you want to make it in advance, you can also freeze it. 

The pumpkin part of the recipe is a very thin pumpkin cake -- you'll want to be careful not to overcook this and use the right size pan.  You want a moist cake that will easily roll up.  You need a thin cotton towel as well, preferably one without much texture like a flour sack dishtowel, otherwise your cake will end up with impressions from your towel and your towel may be more likely to leave little cotton fibers on the cake.  Be liberal with the powdered sugar when you sprinkle it on the towel, it's like flouring a counter to roll out pizza dough, you don't want it to stick.  The original recipe also calls for walnuts but I left those out and added a little ginger and nutmeg to the cake.

For the cream filling, it's essentially a thick cream cheese frosting.  I added some maple syrup and vanilla extract for flavoring to mine.  Don't go overboard with the filling.  It doesn't look like a lot when you make it but there will be plenty.  You want to spread it in a thin even layer over the cake.  Once you roll it up, the filling is so rich and creamy that you don't want it to overpower the cake. 

Pumpkin Roll
Adapted from Libby's

3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup pumpkin puree

8 oz cream cheese, softened
6 T unsalted butter, softened
2 T maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar (plus more for towel and dusting)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray a 10" x 15" jellyroll pan with baking spray and line with parchment paper, spray parchment paper as well.  (The parchment paper is just extra insurance that you cake will come out of the pan cleanly.)

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices in a large mixing bowl and whisk to fluff and incorporate.  Beat eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until thick and creamy.  Add pumpkin and beat well.  Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated.  Spread evenly into prepared pan.  Bake 11-15 minutes, rotating halfway through to insure your oven cooks evenly.  The cake should spring back when lightly touched. 

Prepare kitchen towel by sprinkling with about 1/4 cup powdered sugar in a thin layer.  Loosen cake from pan by running a knife around all edges.  Carefully flip cake onto towel and peel off parchment paper.  Gently roll cake and towel up together and transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Let cool completely before assembling.

For filling, beat together cream cheese and butter about 2-3 minutes until smooth.  Add syrup and vanilla and beat until combined.  Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, increase speed to medium high and whip until light and fluffy.  Set aside until cake is cooled.

To assemble, carefully unroll cake.  Quickly spread a thin layer of filling evenly over the cake and re-roll cake without the towel.  Wrap cake in a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate at least one hour.  Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cider-Brined Roast Turkey and Gravy

The star of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey.  There are many ways to make a turkey, you can bake it, fry it, grill it, smoke it, etc. but my favorite way to make it is to brine it overnight the night before you bake it.  Brining the turkey in a salty solution infuses the turkey with extra moisture, creating an extra juicy turkey.  While I don't take credit for the apple cider brine, I have no idea where the original recipe came from and its been adapted several times over the past few years to the current version. 

Even if you brine the turkey, the most important thing is not to overcook it.  If you overcook it, no matter what you did the turkey will be dry.  My advice - don't rely on that little pop-up button that comes in the turkey.  They are often wrong or just don't work at all.  Make sure you get a meat thermometer, you can find one at pretty much any store with a kitchen department.  While you can spend a lot of money, you definitely don't have to.  Personally, I prefer the kind that has a probe that you can leave in the turkey that connects to a display outside of your oven.  

The gravy recipe below is for "sweet gravy" a recipe that my grandma always made.  You can make the gravy without the sugar, but I really suggest trying it to see if you like it if you've never had sweet gravy before. 

Cider-brined Roast Turkey

1 quart apple cider
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 T allspice
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 T peppercorns
8 whole cloves
At least 3 quarts water

Heat the apple cider, brown sugar, salt, and allspice in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Stir frequently until boiling to dissolve sugar. Set aside to cool. Quarter onion and smash and peel garlic cloves. In a container large enough to submerge the turkey, add the cider mixture, apple cider vinegar, onion, and garlic along with bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves. Add two cups ice. Carefully add thawed turkey (make sure to remove the neck and giblets first if necessary). Pour in water until the turkey is submerged. Refrigerate turkey for approximately 12 hours.

1 14-18 pound turkey
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 T sage, chopped
2 T thyme, chopped
1 apple, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 onion, quartered
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken or turkey stock

When ready to cook the turkey, preheat oven to 375 degrees, rinse turkey and pat dry with paper towels.  Place turkey on a roasting rack in a heavy roasting pan.  Pour wine in a shallow bowl and soak a square of cheesecloth big enough to cover the turkey breast in wine.  Mix butter with herbs and rub liberally over turkey, including inside cavity and under skin of breast.  Sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper.  Lay cheesecloth over turkey breast.  Add apple, lemon and onion slices to the cavity of the turkey, put anything that doesn't fit in the bottom of the pan.  Pour any remaining wine over the turkey, add about 2 cups of stock to the bottom of the pan. 

Bake turkey at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking for about 15 minutes per pound.  Baste the turkey every 30 minutes.  Remove the cheesecloth for the last 45 minutes of baking time.  Cook turkey until the temperature in the breast reaches 160 degrees on both sides.  Remove turkey from the oven, transfer to a platter, tent with foil and let rest for about 30 minutes.  Save the turkey drippings in the pan for gravy.  Temperature should continue to rise until it hits 165 degrees.  Remove the aromatics from the turkey cavity and discard.  Carve turkey as desired.  If during the cooking process, the wing tips or legs start to get too dark, cover them loosely with foil and continue cooking.

Turkey drippings
1/3 cup water
2 T cornstarch
2-3 T sugar
Chicken or turkey stock if necessary

Carefully pour turkey drippings from roasting pan into a large measuring cup, mason jar, or gravy separator or similar container.  Put container in the refrigerator.  The fat from the drippings will rise to the top and then can be carefully spooned or poured off and discarded.  Meanwhile, mix together cornstarch and water to form a slurry in a separate cup.  Heat a large deep skillet over medium heat.  Add remaining drippings.  Whisking constantly, add cornstarch slurry to thicken.  Continue whisking until the mixture thickens to desired consistency.  If its too thick or you don't have enough gravy, you can add additional stock, if it's too thin, add more cornstarch slurry.  Do not add the cornstarch directly to the gravy or it will be difficult to get rid of lumps, mix it with water first.  When it's the right consistency, add 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, to taste.  Transfer to a gravy boat or serving bowl and serve hot.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 Menu

This year's Thanksgiving dinner was a great mix of old and new recipes.  Thanksgiving is one meal you don't want to experiment with too much.  People expect the classic holiday dishes, but that doesn't mean you have to make them the same way they were made twenty years ago either.  Putting a few new spins and ideas on the table can keep things from getting boring.

I'll be posting several of these recipes over the next couple weeks -- bookmark them for next year or keep them in mind for your Christmas dinner.  I'll also be posting some great recipes using some of the leftovers too.

Thanksgiving Menu

Cider-Brined Roast Turkey and Gravy
Apple Cranberry Stuffing
Wild Rice and Butternut Squash Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Cinnamon Streusel Sweet Potato Casserole
Roasted Vegetables
Spinach and Apple Salad with Cranberry Lime Vinaigrette
Macaroni and Cheese
Parker House Rolls

Deep Dish Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Roll
Caramelized Banana Pudding

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread

I've posted a monkey bread recipe before and its my favorite "special" day breakfast treat.  But when I saw this recipe on the blog What's Cooking Chicago, I knew I had to try it.  She adapted the recipe from Paula Deen's Gorilla Bread Recipe - which I've actually tried before but wasn't really impressed with.  The cubes of cream cheese in the middle of the rolls didn't really work for me.  But this version with the cinnamon apple mixture in the middle of the rolls sounded great.  It only takes a few extra minutes during the assembly process (which you can do the night before if you want) and adds an unexpected twist to the classic monkey bread recipe.

This would be great for a big breakfast while so many people have family over during the holidays.  Add an egg casserole or strata for something savory and some fresh fruit and hot coffee and you have a great, easy breakfast that you can do all the prep work the night before and just bake in the morning. 

Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread
Recipe adapted from Whats Cookin' Chicago, originally adapted from Paula Deen

1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
3 cans refrigerated biscuits (I use the Pillsbury Buttermilk biscuits that come in a 4 pack)
2 large apples, diced (I used Gala)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering pan

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heavily butter a bundt pan.  Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly around the bottom of the pan.

Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl and set aside.  Open biscuits and flatten each individual biscuit into discs about 1/4" thick.  Dredge both sides in cinnamon and sugar mixture.  Continue until all biscuits are coated.

Combine apples with remaining cinnamon and sugar mixture.  Spoon about one teaspoon of apple mixture into the center of each biscuit and fold up biscuit into a pouch and seal.  Drop stuffed biscuits into the pan, trying to keep the layers even all the way around.  Don't worry about packing them in too tightly, they'll fill in the gaps as it bakes.

In a small saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar over medium high heat.  Heat just until the edges of the sauce start to rapidly bubble and boil.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and pour mixture over the top of the rolls. 

Bake about 30-35 minutes until top is golden brown.  Cool about five minutes in the pan, cover with a large plate and invert.  Uncover and serve warm.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cinnamon Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Have you ever heard of cinnamon chips?  I had heard of them but had yet to ever see them in a grocery store until a few days ago.  My local Kroger had a big baking display for the holidays and they had all kinds of chips on sale, including cinnamon chips.  I wasn't sure what I was going to make with them but I figured I should pick up a bag and figure that out later.  By the time I got home, I had decided they would be perfect in oatmeal raisin cookies.  Evidently I wasn't the only one who thought it would be a good idea... Hershey's had a similar recipe on the back of the package.  I used my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe from Quaker and just adjusted a bit.

Unfortunately I also found out that my dog also enjoys these cookies.  We left the house on Sunday and I forgot that I had left the plate of cookies on the counter instead of putting them in a storage container and when we got home there were only a few cookies left on the plate.  Luckily she hadn't knocked the plate off the counter and broke it into a million pieces and at least she didn't get sick from all the cookies.  But I am going to have to make these again because we didn't get very many before the dog finished them off.  Make sure you store yours somewhere a little more secure.

Cinnamon Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Recipe adapted from Quaker Oats

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 T dark corn syrup
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup cinnamon chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Combine butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until creamy. Add in eggs, vanilla and corn syrup and beat well. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and mix until well incorporated. Add oats and mix in by hand until evenly mixed. Finally stir in raisins and cinnamon chips.  (A sturdy wooden spoon works well for this as the batter will be quite stiff.)

Use a cookie scoop or similar measure to drop onto prepared cookie sheets and bake for approximately 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown.  Cool on the pan about one minute and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Recipe yields about four dozen cookies, depending on size.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Here's another alternative to that traditional sweet potato pie I was talking about yesterday, but this recipe has a savory spin on it.  These are as simple as it gets, all you have to do is peel and chop the sweet potatoes.  Then it's as easy as tossing them on a baking sheet with a little olive oil and some spices.  Roasting them at a high temperature, results in a crispy outside and soft inside.  These would be great as a healthier alternative to fries as a side for burgers.  Make them as a side dish for Thanksgiving, they would be great with a spice-rubbed turkey like this turkey breast.  A turkey breast is a great idea for a smaller Thanksgiving meal. 

Spicy Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 T olive oil
1 tsp Ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Chop sweet potatoes into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.  Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil.  Combine spices in a small bowl and sprinkle liberally over potatoes.  Toss well and bake about 20-25 minutes.  Use a spatula to turn the potatoes about halfway through the cooking time.  The potatoes should be crispy on the outside and easily pierced with a fork.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sweet Potato Bake -- A Healthier Way

Maybe you are used to the marshmallow covered sweet potato "pie" served so often served at Thanksgiving, maybe you like your sweet potatoes baked and topped with sweet cinnamon butter.  These sweet potatoes are usually whipped with cream or butter and then topped with sugar or marshmallows and baked.  The result, a dish that could pass for dessert disguised as a side dish. 

This dish is still sweet, but due to the sweet potatoes natural sweetness and apple cider, rather than a lot of extra sugar.  I love them combined with apples and cranberries.  I also prefer them in chunks rather than whipped.  These are really easy and can be made for ten people just as easily as for one person.  You can bake up each person's serving in individual ramekins or bake it all in one big dish, whichever is easier.  The below recipe serves two.  I like to use an apple like Gala or Honeycrisp for this dish.

Come back tomorrow for a savory sweet potato dish!

Sweet Potato Bake

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cubed
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Chop sweet potatoes and apples into approximately 1/2" cubes.  Divide potatoes and apples evenly among to two ramekins, divide cranberries among baking dishes.  Add half of the cider to each ramekin.  Combine spices in a small dish and sprinkle over potato mixture.  Toss to combine. 

Bake approximately one hour, stirring every twenty minutes until cider has cooked down to a glaze and potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Classic Yellow Birthday Cake

I made some birthday cakes for a one year old's birthday a couple of weeks ago.   The birthday girl's dad has nicknamed her "bug" so they were going with a cute girly bug theme for the party.  Such a cute idea!  The plan was to do a half sheet cake and two smash cakes -- one for the party and one for pictures.

I topped one smash cake with a pink and black ladybug, the other smash cake was covered in whimsical polka dots in two shades of pink. 

For the sheet cake, I did a few more lady bugs across the bottom of the cake, a cute little bumblebee and some white chocolate butterflies, inspired by Hello Cupcake!

For the cake, I did classic yellow cakes with buttercream frosting - a simple crowd-pleaser that's also kid-friendly.  This is my favorite yellow cake recipe from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, it comes together so easily, bakes up really well and it is nice and moist.  I do think it works better for cakes than it does for cupcakes.  It doesn't require cake flour or separating egg whites and it's a really reliable recipe.  The cookbook calls for self-rising flour but I substitute all purpose flour with baking powder and salt.

One tip for you - make sure you use a good sturdy cake board for a large cake like a sheet cake.  I had one board under this one and it flexed a little in the middle, causing the buttercream to "crack" on the top of the cake.  Doubling up the cake boards, made it much sturdier, unfortunately the cake was already decorated and there was nothing I could do about it at that point.

Classic Yellow Birthday Cake
Recipe slightly adapted from Magnolia Bakery

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour three 9 inch round baking pans.  For extra insurance when baking layer cakes, I like to line each baking pan with parchment paper cut to size and butter and flour parchment paper.  (You can also use baking spray like Baker's Joy.)

Cream butter in mixing bowl on medium speed until smooth, gradually add sugar with mixer running, beating about three minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing for about one minute after each addition. 

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Combine milk and vanilla in a large measuring cup.  Add 1/3 of the flour and mix on low speed until just incorporated, follow with 1/2 of the milk mixture and alternate, ending with flour, mixing each addition until just incorporated.  Scrape down sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and make sure all the flour is incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth out the tops.  Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and tops are light golden brown.  Cool about ten minutes in the pans and then turn out onto wire racks lined with parchment paper and cool completely.  Level each layer as necessary, fill with frosting or filling and frost as desired.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kahlua Fudge Brownies

These brownies are very rich and dense, definitely more fudge-like than cake-like.  The addition of a half cup of Kahlua makes them an adult treat but you can replace the Kahlua with coffee if you prefer a non-alcoholic version.  While the majority of the alcohol evaporates during baking, it's hard to determine exactly how much will be left when they are done.  So while these won't make you tipsy, I'm not sure it's a good idea to give them to your kids. 

Like most brownies, these can be mixed up in only a matter of minutes, bake them in a jellyroll pan with at least 1" high sides or another baking dish.  I went with a Bailey's Irish Cream icing because I think the Baileys and Kahlua go so well together, but you could use more Kahlua or just make a simple powdered sugar glaze.  Brownies will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Kahlua Fudge Brownies
Recipe adapted from RecipeGirl

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup Kahlua
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray pan with baking spray.

Set a heatproof bowl over a small pan of simmering water to form a double boiler, add chocolate and butter to bowl and heat, stirring frequently until melted and smooth.  Watch the chocolate carefully, you should remove from the heat just before all the chocolate is melted and continue stirring to melt the final chocolate pieces to avoid scorching the chocolate.  Set aside to cool five to ten minutes.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, eggs and Kahlua on medium speed until well combined.  Add chocolate mixture and beat until well mixed.  Add flour, baking powder and salt and mix until just incorporated.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 35-45 minutes until top cracks slightly and toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.  The baking time will depend on how thick your brownies are due to pan selection.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 T whipping cream
2 T Baileys Irish Cream

Whisk cream and Bailey's into powdered sugar until smooth.  If icing is too thick add a little more liquid, if mixture is too thin, add a little more sugar.  Smooth onto cooled brownies with a spatula and allow icing to set before cutting and serving.  You can chill the brownies in the refrigerator to speed up this process if desired. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chicken Enchilada Soup

It’s cold and gloomy here which is perfect soup weather. Especially when that soup has a little heat of its own from some spicy jalapeno peppers. I'm not really ready for winter weather yet -- I held out as long as I could before having to turn the heat on but with temperatures getting down in the 30s and 40s, this week was the end. The beautiful fall weather is over; it’s cold and dark before 6:00 at night, which means it’s almost winter. Have I mentioned that I really don't like winter? I look forward to the holidays, my birthday, etc but after that, I pretty much look forward to spring. I could do without the snow and gloomy dark days. But anyway, you're here for the soup recipe not to listen to me complain about the weather.

I'm calling this chicken enchilada soup because the flavors remind me of the enchilada soup at Chili's. This one has a few extras in it though with some corn and black beans. I used two kinds of cheese, a grated pepperjack cheese which adds some extra heat and melts beautifully and some crumbled cotija cheese which has a very mild flavor but adds a delicious creaminess to the soup. I poached the chicken in chicken stock with some spices and then shredded the chicken and returned it to the soup later in the cooking process. You can use boneless or bone-in chicken for this just remove the skin before cooking.

You could also make this soup in a crockpot, you'll just have to extend the cooking times - expect that it will take at least 3-4 hours on high and you'll probably want to use a 5 quart crockpot.  You can cook the chicken prior to adding to the crockpot or just put it all in together using chicken breasts cut into smaller chunks.  Add everything except the cheese and cilantro and cook.  Add the cheese and most of the cilantro just before serving to allow it time to melt, serve and top with cilantro.

Chicken Enchilada Soup

3 cups chicken stock
2 skinless, chicken breasts
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
4-6 jalapeno peppers, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup tomato paste
8 oz cotija cheese, crumbled
8 oz pepperjack cheese, divided
1 cup cilantro, chopped
Tortilla chips

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, add chicken stock and heat over medium heat. Add chicken breasts, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Simmer about 20-25 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and set aside. Add tomatoes, jalapenos, bell pepper, onion, and garlic to the pot. Simmer about 30 minutes, covered until tomatoes have begun to break down. Add black beans, corn, and tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Add cotija cheese and half of the pepperjack cheese and stir to melt. Return chicken to soup and cook about 20 more minutes until desired consistency.

If soup isn't as thick as desired, you can add strips of flour tortillas. They will dissolve into the soup to thicken the broth. Add cilantro, reserving some to top individual bowls if desired. Ladle into serving bowls and top with crushed tortilla chips, reserved pepperjack cheese and cilantro if desired.

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