22 December 2008

Peanut butter cups

Not quite done with the holiday treats yet. These peanut butter cups were very easy to make and are way better than any you will find at the store. This is the kind of treat that requires minimal effort, but will impress the hell out of others. A batch of these peanut butter cups would make a great holiday gift.

Peanut butter cups

(adapted from marthastewart.com)

Makes 24

4 oz. chopped white chocolate
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I used all natural and it worked well)
12 oz. chopped semisweet chocolate
~1/2 cup roasted (unsalted) peanuts chopped (I pulsed the peanuts in the food processor a few times)

Line 2 12-cup mini muffin pans with paper liners. Combine the white chocolate and peanut butter and melt over a double boiler. Set aside. Melt semisweet chocolate over a double boiler. Use a spoon to layer semisweet chocolate and peanut butter mixture into liners, beginning and ending with chocolate, sprinkle top with peanuts (I lightly pushed them down into the chocolate to make sure they were set). Place muffin tins in the freezer until peanut butter cups are firm (~20 minutes). Store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

18 December 2008

More chocolate and mint

This one I love. My (now) sister-in-law brought some Peppermint bark to Christmas dinner a number of years ago and it was fantastic. And since I have no idea if she'll be bringing any this year, I made my own. It was super easy, and if you like Peppermint bark, I suggest making it yourself too.

chopped chocolate

This version has both white and dark chocolate (I honestly can't remember if the first batch of bark I had included dark chocolate). I like the contrasting flavors of the sweet white chocolate and the bitter dark chocolate. It goes very nicely with the minty candy canes on top. Yummy!

melting chocolate

This is easy to make - melt the dark chocolate, layer on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) and stick in the refrigerator to harden. Then melt the white chocolate and layer on top of the dark chocolate. Top with chopped candy canes (press down to get them to stick). Back in the refrigerator to harden, then break up the bark with your hands.

17 December 2008

Chocolate mint cookies

Christmas time means cookies, candies, and treats. Tasty, yes. But making all the cookies, candies, and treats can be a bitch. I'm looking forward to the 25th when it's cooking utensils down, and I can sit, eat and drink my favorite meal of the year. Can't wait!

In the meantime, I made these cookies to go along with the peanut butter blossoms. I really like the combination of chocolate and mint, so these cookies sounded appealing. They weren't bad, but they weren't the best either. The cookie was too sweet and didn't have enough chocolate taste. But the melted mint candy in the middle is a nice touch. Other people seemed to really like them, but I wasn't quite satisfied. I'll make them again - next time less sugar, more chocolate. A word of advice - don't be an idiot and store these cookies with the peanut butter blossoms (like me)... unless you like the combination of chocolate, mint, and peanut butter. I don't.

Chocolate mint cookies


3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 (4.5 ounce) packages chocolate covered thin mints (Andes mints)

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the sugar, butter and water, stirring occasionally until melted. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate chips until melted and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Pour the chocolate mixture into a large bowl, and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt, stir into the chocolate mixture. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets. Roll cookie dough into walnut sized balls and place 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. When cookies come out of the oven, press one mint wafer into the top of each cookie and let sit for 1 minute. When the mint is softened, swirl with the back of a spoon or toothpick to make a pattern with the green filling of the mint wafer.

15 December 2008

My favorite new toy & Coq au Vin

My bf gave gave a Le Creuset dutch oven for my birthday this year. Obviously, I love it. I've been using all the time, partly because it's awesome, and partly because it's too heavy to move away from the stove. Good thing it's my favorite shade of green and I like to look at it.

One of the first dishes I made with my favorite new toy was a version of the French classic, Coq au Vin. Chopped mushrooms, celery, carrots, shallots, garlic, and fresh herbs lend flavor to chicken pieces braised in red wine and chicken broth.

I served it over hot buttered noodles. Yummy!

08 December 2008

Tofu, mushroom and swiss chard over wild rice

Hmm..... random weekday night, I'm hungry, it's late - what should I eat? Wild rice? Okay, I'll cook that with some veggie broth for added flavor. Fry up tofu, set it aside. In the same pan, saute chopped onions and garlic. Add some shiitakes, cook 'em up. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add the tofu back to the pan. Add swiss chard, cook until just wilted. Season again. Throw the veggies over the rice. Want some more protein? Add some poached eggs. Tasty, easy, and (if you don't stop to take a bunch of pictures) pretty quick too.

05 December 2008

An oldie but a goodie

Tasty business, plain and simple. Nothing more to say about peanut butter blossoms. You know 'em, you love 'em, and you look forward to 'em every holiday season. I certainly do.

I used this recipe. Foolproof and simple. Give it a try, you'll see.

04 December 2008

Hold the lettuce

This happens all the time. I run out of lettuce or other greens, but still have lots of fresh veggies to make salad. But I don't mind. Salad made out of just the extra bits is tasty business. This one includes red peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red onions, chopped avocado, fresh cilantro, and a sprinkling of creamy goat cheese. I finished it with some freshly ground black pepper, a splash of olive oil, and some quality balsamic vinegar. The perfect way to round out any meal.

all dressed up

03 December 2008

Sesame green beans

Quick, tasty meals are most convenient during the holiday season. In between working, holiday parties, baking treats, planning elaborate holiday meals and shopping for gifts, you need to eat dinner. This preparation of green beans is fast, easy, and packed with flavor. I eat these green beans often. They go great with simply grilled or broiled beef, chicken or fish. I served this batch with a fresh piece of tuna, lightly seared. Yum!

Sesame green beans
(Sorry, there are no exact measurements for this dish. I make the sauce to taste; it's better that way!)

~3-5 tablespoons soy sauce
~2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
~1 tablespoon sesame oil
~2 tablespoons honey
green beans (picked and rinsed - dry them as best you can)
sesame seeds (to taste)
olive oil

Whisk together the first 4 ingredients in a bowl; taste and adjust as necessary. Set bowl aside. Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the green beans, and cook for few minutes until the beans just start to cook and are bright green. Add a splash of water to the pan (not too much - a few tablespoons is enough) and cover to steam the beans for a few minutes. Don't overcook. When the green beans are almost done, remove the cover and cook off any remaining water. Add the sauce - cook down a bit. Sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds & serve immediately.

02 December 2008

Pumpkin overdose

It was bound to happen. I love Halloween too much and accumulated way too many pumpkins. How could I let those precious orange treats go to waste? I couldn't. I had to cook them. And after all that effort, I confirmed what I already knew: I don't like pumpkin. Yup, I said it. Fall is my favorite season, Halloween my favorite holiday, pumpkins are my favorite decoration, and (obviously) I love to cook. Still, I don't like to eat pumpkin. I don't like savory pumpkin dishes, I can't stand pumpkin pie and hate pumpkin butter. I'm going to stick with other types of squash for the rest of the winter. Now, if only I can save myself from making the same mistake next year...

Even though I don't love them, I still wanted to know more about them.

Pumpkin fun facts:
  • Pumpkins are 90% water
  • Pumpkins are fruit and are members of the vine crops family called cucurbits
  • Pumpkins are thought to have originated in Central America
  • The top pumpkin production states are Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California.
  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October
  • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake
  • Colonists sliced off pumpkin tops; removed seeds and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. This was baked in hot ashes and is the origin of pumpkin pie.
The dishes I made with all those pumpkins (I used "sugar" pumpkins):

Pumpkin soup with Parmesan & sage toasts
(adapted from The Silver Spoon)

Pumpkin with mushrooms over wild rice
(adapted from The Silver Spoon)

Roasted pumpkin seeds
(from Simply Recipes)

Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake
(from Gourmet Magazine, by way of Smitten Kitchen)

I also made some pumpkin brownies, but the pictures were lost when my hard drive crashed :(

01 December 2008

So much cooking, so little blogging

Holiday season is upon us which means lots of extra cooking and baking, as well as parties and visits and travel. I have tried a few new things that I will share with you over the next few weeks, and I am looking forward to trying even more new dishes and treats for Christmas. In the meantime, I've been trying to keep weeknight dinners easy, quick, and tasty (as usual).

For this meal, I marinated some beef then seared it in a frying pan. I served it with mashed potatoes and asparagus roasted with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

(adapted from Cooking Light's Marinated Beef Tenderloin with Caramelized Onion and Mushroom Ragout)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (2-pound) beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Note: The original recipe called for baking the steak - I cooked it on the stove top instead. I also omitted the onion and mushroom ragout for the sake of time. Instead, I boiled down the marinade to thicken it and spooned it over the steak.