Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas Cookie Madness

You can't even fathom the amount of cookies my mom and I baked yesterday. I was visiting my parents for the weekend, and mom enlisted my help in making cookies to give away as Christmas gifts. I think my mom just wanted to practice being an amazing cookie-baking grandma for my niece, Laura, who was born the morning after our baking fiesta. :)

Just how many cookies did we make? Well, mom has a double oven, which really increased our cookie-producing power. After about 7 hours and 15 sticks of butter (top that, Paula Deen!), we'd created eight different kinds of cookies.

For your Christmas cookie-making enjoyment, six of those recipes are included in this post:

    * Peanut Butter Blossoms
    * Cream Cheese Cookies
    * Chocolate Mint Cookies
    * Bethal Bars
    * Holiday Thumbprint Cookies
    * Caramel-Filled Chocolate Cookies

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chocolate Chip Stuffed French Toast

I had some leftover Italian bread and some leftover cream cheese (from making pumpkin whoopie pies last weekend), so my logical solution for using up these ingredients was making stuffed french toast. We are coming up on that time of year where we stuff things, after all. But we're usually stuffing birds, so I stuffed some bread this morning. And I stuffed it with a gooey, sweet cream cheese and chocolate filling. John liked the filling so much that he spread the extra on top of his toast (I prefer maple syrup on my french toast, but whatever). I had never made stuffed french toast before, but it was much easier than I thought and I will definitely be making it again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pumpkin Whoopee Pies

About a year ago, John and I took a little road trip to Lancaster County, PA (aka "Amish Country"). One of my fondest memories of the trip is the giant box of whoopee pies that we bought (the Amish people sure have a gift for making baked goods... how they do it without the Food Network or the interwebs is a mystery to me). We bought all different flavors... your classic chocolate, chocolate peanut butter (my personal favorite), red velvet, and pumpkin. Check out our whoopee pie bounty:

So when I came across this recipe on the Cooks Illustrated web site, I knew I had to try it. Since it's the time of year for all things pumpkin, I thought this would be an appropriate dessert. Plus, we were planning to take them over to Joe and Brooke's (John's brother and sister-in-law) for dinner, and Brooke is a pumpkin connoisseur (and she gave these two thumbs up!).

Although I might make a few changes next time, I thought these came out pretty well for my first whoopee pie attempt (you can pretty much bet on the second attempt being chocolate peanut butter). For starters, I'll make extra frosting next time... this recipe left me with a few cookies unfrosted (tragic, no?). I firmly believe that you can never have too much frosting. The recipe tells you to flatten each cookie (prior to baking) so that it's a half inch thick. I wasn't overly careful about doing that since I didn't anticipate how much the cookies would puff up when baked. I certainly wouldn't do anything to change the flavors, though.

Tomato Basil with Orzo Soup

I usually find a soup recipe that sounds good, I make it once, and don't like it enough to make it again. This tomato basil soup, however, is my one exception. I found this recipe a few years ago, and always find myself wanting to make it when the weather starts to get a little cooler. In fact, I made a big pot of it today just so I could have it for lunch all week long. It's a thick, hearty soup that's great for a meal on its own (but also makes a nice accompaniment to a grilled cheese). Even though there's a little bit of cream in it (which gives it a velvety texture), it's a pretty healthy soup since it's chock full of veggies.

The recipe came from the Wegmans web site (and you can actually just buy the soup already made in the store if you're lucky enough to live near a Wegmans). If I may go off on a small tangent: I love Wegmans. A lot. I didn't grow up near one, but my grandparents used to live in upstate New York (prime Wegmans territory). I have a lot of fond memories of my grandmother taking me there and letting me pick out a cookie or cupcake to eat while she shopped. So, when I moved to Princeton a few years ago and found out that there is a Wegmans here, it was a big nostalgic thrill for me. And if you're an eagle-eyed viewer of "The Office," you may have noticed some Wegmans brand products on the show (check out the cereals on top of the fridge or the soda cans).

See, Michael Scott likes Wegmans milk and cereal!  Anyways, back to the soup. If you do live near a Wegmans, check out the original recipe on their website, as it calls for some Wegmans-specific products. I've adapted the recipe so that you can make it with ingredients purchased just about anywhere. But seriously, get thee to a Wegmans if you've never been. Ok, ok, to the soup...

Vegetable Stromboli & Pizza Dough Recipe

So it's been a week since our last post, its not like we haven't been cooking, its just that we haven't had anything blog-worthy to post.  This week was a lot of quick meals thanks to Trader Joe's and their wonderful frozen foods selection.  We did make Sloppy Joe's this week that I enjoyed, but Bec wasn't wowed by them so alas they will not be appearing here.  Well yesterday morning after breakfast I felt like making some pizza dough. I wasn't sure what I was going to make, but the recipe I use makes enough for 4 pizza's or stromboli's, or whatever else I feel like covering with tomato sauce and cheese.  I knew we were going to be making some other things this weekend (blog posts to follow), so I thought an easy meal for Saturday night would be a pizza or stromboli.

We voted on a stromboli.  Now my mom used to make these all the time when we were kids, and her traditional way of making them was with pepperoni and mozzarella.  It is still my favorite version, but I also enjoy this version that we created several months ago for Bec's birthday party.  Since we have a lot of vegetarian friends, and I should probably eat more vegetables than pepperoni, we came up with this delicious recipe.

There's 2 recipes here, one for the pizza dough, which I borrowed from this blogger, and one for the stromboli.  I found this pizza dough recipe earlier this year when I was trying to make a thin crust pizza that I could be proud of.  This is it what I was looking for and I love it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Cacciatore with Portobellos and Sage

John's parents came over for dinner this evening, so we wanted to cook up something nice (but not too difficult... it is the "day of rest" after all).We were mulling over menu ideas this morning, and chicken cacciatore randomly popped into my head, so John pulled this recipe off of the Cooks Illustrated web site. The chicken simmers in a rich red wine sauce along with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. We served this up with some egg noodles, a salad, and some crusty bread.  I'm not entirely sure how "authentic" this dish is (I really haven't had much chicken cacciatore in my life), but we all really enjoyed it. We had John's amazing apple pie for dessert, so I'd say this was a great Sunday meal all around.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mmmm...Apple Pie.

I had another day off work today, and what better way to spend a day off than to spend it making an apple pie?  I don't think I've ever made a pie from scratch, so knowing I had nothing else to do today, I took up the challenge.  It really wasn't that hard, but let me tell you that I officially hate to peel, core, and slice apples.  There must be some tool out there that makes this job a lot easier.  Oooh, another kitchen gadget to buy!  Anyway, lets get down to it.  For my first attempt at baking a traditional apple pie, I went to the bible of cooking, Cooks Illustrated's The New Best Recipe Book. This 1,000 page tome has recipes for pretty much everything, and they have tested and retested and updated these recipes dozens of times, so you know you're going to get something good.  There are illustrations and explanations of techniques of every kind, including making pie doughs.

So this morning after breakfast I made the dough.  It has to be shaped into discs and left in the refrigerator for a few hours before making the pie, so that left me some time to go get the apples.  They recommend a mixture of Granny Smith and McIntosh apples, but this time of year when different varieties are abundant, they recommend several others.  I went with 4 each of Macoun and Cortland.  The other varieties in lieu of the Granny Smith / McIntosh combo are, Royal Gala, Empire, Winesap, and Rhode Island Greening.

They say this pie is best eaten at room temperature or even the next day.  Currently it is sitting on the counter cooling as I drool on the keyboard typing this.  I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow to update on the taste and texture, and of course pictures!

Here's the recipe...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Best Quesadillas in Modern World History

I know that's a pretty bold claim, but I can back it up.  These are awesome. This was one of the first meals we cooked in our new apartment once we'd grown tired of eating pizza and pasta from the restaurant downstairs. It has since become one of our favorite dishes.

Not only are these quesadillas delicious, but they're very quick and easy to make.  We adapted this recipe from an America's Test Kitchen recipe (those people are geniuses, I swear). The original recipe called for steak, but we have always used chicken instead. Vegetarian friends, just leave out the chicken and throw in some extra veggies, caramelized onions would be tasty.You could make endless combinations of deliciousness in your quesadillas as long as you always include one secret, magical ingredient. What is this wondrous ingredient? It's something you never, ever would have thought to put in a quesadilla:

Creamy Penne with Walnuts

I was off from work today, because people really shouldn't have to work AND vote on the same day, and felt like cooking something new.  I had all day to think about it, but all I could come up with was the meatballs.  I asked Bec, and her only input was mac and cheese.  Yes, our mac and cheese recipe from Cooks Illustrated is amazing, but I wanted to experiment a little.  So I flipped through some cookbooks and stumbled upon this recipe from a Williams Sonoma Pasta cookbook, a gift from my sister in law and fellow food blogger, Brooke.  Hi Brooke!
I like this recipe because it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish, and the Gorgonzola Parmesan cheese sauce sounded really interesting.  Its not exactly fat free, but it is damn tasty.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Balls of Meat

About every couple weeks I get a craving for some delicious meatballs, and today was one of those days. Let me start by saying that my grandmother has made the best meatballs known to mankind, but it's been at least 10 years since they've made their way out of her oven. And my Mom makes damn good meatballs too, but I've tried her recipe and they never come out the way they do when she makes them. I think that's because she doesn't measure the ingredients, and just wings it from memory. That brings me to my brother, Joe. The guy can barely boil water, but somehow he has managed to almost replicate my grandmother's meatballs. And since he won't give me his recipe, although I know it pretty much only contains meatloaf mix and a block of Locatelli, I am left to search for my own.

I've tried lots of different recipes from various sources, and I just couldn't find one that knocks me out. Until recently. Now anyone who knows me will tell you that I kinda have a man-crush on Alton Brown, but I never thought that this crazy guy from Georgia could make a meatball. Well I was wrong. A few months ago I decided to give his recipe a whirl and was knocked out. Bec and I loved them. Granted they are not my grandmother's, but I was on to something here and hopefully with a little tweaking, I could have a recipe to call my own.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Apple Squares

I prefer low-maintenance baking. This could change one day when I get my dream appliance: A Kitchen Aid mixer.  But for now, I like things that require little more than mixing a few ingredients together, popping them in the oven, and then sitting back and enjoying the delicious smells coming from the kitchen. My mom's apple square recipe totally fit the bill on this cool fall afternoon. These are so simple to make, and use only one mixing bowl so clean-up is minimal.

So what exactly is an apple square, you ask? I guess it's kind of an apple cake... all you really need to know is that it's delicious. Mom's been making these as long as I can remember and they never lasted long. When I was a kid, I liked them without the nuts, but today I threw in some pecans since I had some in the pantry.Walnuts would work here too.

I usually eat these straight up, but I think they would be pretty amazing if you served them with some caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. And maybe some toasted pecans sprinkled on top.  Mmm.