Archive | January, 2012

The rests

25 Jan

I made three desserts that didn’t fit in my cookie categories of the fudgesthe dropsroll outsthe bars and the minty Oreo balls, and I call these the “rests.” Simply the “rest” wouldn’t be good enough.

I mean, if I had to put these almond biscotti in a category, they would be “the shapes” or “the cuts,” or they could fall into my oops at least they still tasted good category.

My grandpa is a cookie lover. He loves all things sweet, especially if they involve pecans or almonds. I love that he is honest about the sweets I make though. He won’t eat it if it’s gross, which is rare for sugar-lovers. Because he’s such a cookie trooper, I make sure to shape some biscotti for him every year. This one was my last of the bunch. Recipe #18. I think I save it for last because I know I’ll make them for him even if I’m burnt out. I mix and matched some flavors, which orange zest and anise seed and it was a success. I’d only put it in my oops-cookies because I tend to under bake biscotti the first time around and so when I slice them to bake again, they get a little crumbly and end up in my mouth instead of back in the oven. Taste testing is important.

Next we have Almond Cranberry-Chocolate Bark. I got this one from a recipe card in a fitness magazine, and it called for dried cherries, not cranberries, but dried cherries are sparse and pricey and Craisins were already in my cabinet. The christmas red fruit still cheered up the recipe, which is basically melted chocolate poured over toasted almonds and the Craisins. Equally as delicious as it is easy. Quite possibly foolproof.

Finally, for my mom and her hope for a light dessert, Chocolate Chip Meringues. These are pretty fun to whip up (literally whip). They are pretty easy as long as you whip to the right peaks, but most recipes for meringues are clear as to when you need soft or hard peaks. Also, it’s fun to add in your favorite chunks – mini chocolate chips on these. Cute, different, yum.

I’m definitely on a sugar-rush right now as I spent the last three hours diving head first into the office candy collection, hence the run-on sentences. Well, hence more than usual.

That’s the end of my Christmas collection. Sad face. Guess that means I better get to work on Super Bowl sweets and Valentine’s Treats!

Roll Out

24 Jan

Desserts can be easy and desserts can be complicated. Christmas cookies, however, MUST have a balance of both. Would it really be Santa’s day without a stocking shaped sugar cookie on a plate waiting for him the night of the 24th? Nope. Impossible.

That’s why we have roll-outs. I can’t remember a December without sugar cookie cut-outs. In fact, this year I did them twice. Once in LA with Cynthia and Alex and once with my mom on what is always known as “Sugar Cookie Day.” See, she made these cookies for every birthday and holiday when we were little, so I know she can do them and I know she likes them enough for me to guilt her in to helping me.

Because, I love baking and decorating, but there’s something monumentally intimidating about over 100 cookies waiting to be shaped and drizzled. Enter: mom. Thanks.

We did sugar cookie day (and night) the week of Christmas and ended up with some really fun ones. I realized a few years ago that frosting the cookies and shaking colored sugars on top is both the prettiest and easiest way to go. Success once again.

I ventured into the land of roll-outs more than once this season. I also made Candy Cane Kiss Cookies, Cinnamon Bun Cookies and Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies. I’m not going to lie. They weren’t very successful, but I blame myself, not the cookies.

The Candy Cane Kisses idea was again from Recipe Girl, though I’ll be honest mine were too flat and not that delicious. I did like the pop of color they added to my display though. I’m pretty sure I messed them up some how. Maybe next year I’ll try a different kind of kiss cookie – since I love those kisses.

The Cinnamon Bun cookies (also RG) were on my list this year for my brother, Tommy. He loves cinnamon-y sugar sweets and I usually whip up some snickerdoodles to satisfy that craving. I decided to swap that out for these. I failed again. I’m guessing it was something to do with my temperature rolling or impatience baking that made these crunchy fails. The filling was really tasty, so it wasn’t a bad recipe by any means. It was just a crackly crust. I mean, when you try to make 18 cookies in a few days, there are bound to be some that end up at the bottom of the bin. I still served them though and they were good dunkers. Whoops. That’s why I stick to quicker things — i.e. fudge and chocolate chippers.

Finally, let’s take a look back at those Red Velvet Cheesecake Cookies. They were fantastic. I make it a point every year to add something red velvet to the mix. First, my mom and a few of my cousins LOVE red velvet. And second, I know that cookies are bland looking sometimes, but you know what’s never bland? A red cookie. These were actually from a cake mix, strange for me, I know, but guess what? Super success. Although they look like drop cookies, they were rolled. I mixed, chilled and rolled the red dough, then I took balls of cheesy-cheesecake filling and mashed them together. Ok, I didn’t really mash. I rolled the red around the white and hoped for the best. Even though most of the cookies cracked, they looked pretty, and since  I nixed the glaze, because sometimes you run out of white chocolate, the pop of white in the middle was the perfect holiday decoration.

The bars

17 Jan

No, not those bars – these bars

Sure the holiday season is filled with places to see friends and family and have a martini and a glass of wine, but the most important bars of the season are filled with chunks and globbed with icing. Yum,

This season I made four different christmas bars. The first was way off my regular schedule – I actually made brownies from scratch. I’m a stickler for making cakes and cookies from scratch. I kind of actually hate when someone suggests a box mix. Ew. But, for brownies, they win me over. How couldn’t they? Two minutes until gooey blissful batter that always bakes perfectly. I have yet to find a substitution for my favorite red Betty Crocker box. But, these guys, took a really close second. I would probably say they were amazing brownies, because the taste was fantastic, but it was more of a cake. Still worth making over and over again though! These chunky path brownies are coming back next year. Or sooner.

On the flip aide I made a very different Cinnamon M&M Oatmeal Bar. You know, I have this thing about M&M’s. I love them. A lot. This christmas I saw something I’d never seen before – cinnamon M&M’s. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about them, but since I once had a love-affair with cinnamon chips, I thought it would go well. It did. I threw them into a recipe for oatmeal cookies and bar-red them. Cinnamon, oatmeal, chocolate – obvious success.

Next, for my peanut butter lovers – Peanut Butter Swag Bars. I don’t know who names these things, but I have to give credit to a recipe that everyone loved. Even though I don’t eat PB, so I didn’t love to eat them, I did love to make them. Think of a grown-up rice krispie treat, but much less cereal and much more density. Now add peanuts and peanut butter and you’ve got the swag.

Finally, best for last, intentionally. My holiday favorite, which has appeared at our dessert buffet since I discovered them a few years ago thanks to Lori the RecipeGirl, Cranberry Bliss Bars! I swear the first time I made these there was ginger in the recipe, because I don’t like ginger and negated it the second time. But the recipe I made this year was ginger-free and as delicious as ever. I always surprise myself with how much I love these each year. I am not a white chocolate person and I hate cream cheese, but I guess when they come together they form this amazing combination of white chocolate cream cheese that fulfills every dessert dream I’ve ever had. Make these. Tonight.

And send me some.

The Drops

12 Jan

A spread of cookies isn’t complete without the drops. Drop cookies are a dessert lovers equivalent to a hug. Yes, fudge, cutouts and bars are delicious and fun, but nothing says cookie like a buttery, sugary circle filled with your favorite chunks.

I’m salivating just thinking about my Christmas trio.

I made three drop cookies this holiday season. First, of course, a chocolate chip dream. Yes, I make chocolate chip cookies more than anything else, but I never make the same recipe. And unfortunately I have no idea what recipe I used, but I’m sure you can find one. My favorite thing to do for these chippers is to mix the flavors. Thanks to my mom’s amazing chocolate chip shopping skills this year I had plenty to choose from. I threw in equal parts milk, semi-sweet and dark chips and voila – sweet deliciousness ensued.

The second drop cookie was inspired by my mom and dad’s recent winter trip to Hawaii. They brought all of us back some amazing (and fresh!) macadamia nuts. Since I have a tendency to eat entire packages of things, I refrained from opening my can until it was cookie baking time and made some white chocolate macadamia oatmeal drop cookies. I’m not lying when I say these were one of the best things I’ve ever devoured. I used the entire can (well minus like 6 that I ate myself) of nuts, which led to a chunkier result that the original recipe, but it was the cookie that defied all laws of yummy.

And finally, no cookie smorgasbord of mine is ever complete without a little blue oatberry chilling out in the corner. These michelle originals were even more fun this time because I made them in mini’s. Bite size soft and chewy cookies, perfect for that last bite.

If only there were leftovers.


The Fudges

8 Jan

If I could only make one dessert for Christmas — which my mom might be happy about, but will never happen — it would be our traditional fudge. I love experimenting with flavors and finding new recipes all over the internet and in cookbooks, but this fudge is not something you mess with or substitute. My mom made this every year for the holidays until I took over and put it at the top of the list. It’s super easy and even more super delicious. I’ve even won contests with it at a 4th of July fest, and made my first ever recipe video through the local newspaper when I was “Cook of the Week.”

Because I love it too much to keep to myself, I’ll give you the recipe:

  • 1 12 oz pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz pkg milk chocolate chips
  • 2 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 25 large marshmallows
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup nuts (optional)
  •  Mix sugar, milk, vanilla and butter in saucepan. Boil 2 minutes. Turn heat off, add marshmallows, stir. Add chocolate, stir. Add nuts.

See, it’s super simple too! Be aware, it makes a LOT of fudge. I mean I could probably eat half a pan by myself, but I’m a special case.

I’ve never changed the recipe, but I have added things to do – red, white & blue m&ms, crushed Oreos, pecans and caramel (the 4th of July winner), and my favorite, sea salt atop the finished fudge. Such a great add-on.

This Christmas, I felt like one fudge recipe just wouldn’t be enough. I wanted to have a fudge department of my cookie tablescape, so I went to one of my favorite recipe sites, RecipeGirl, and found two great fudges to try: Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge and Mint Truffle Fudge. Though the recipe writer, Lori, is pretty amazing with her choices, my desserts differed a bit. Technically with the PB ones, I screwed up the layering process, but with the Mint ones I used the Nestle bag of dark chocolate and mint chips as the fill in, so I probably used a different ratio.

I don’t eat peanut butter but I was told they were pretty delicious, despite the soft consistency – which was definitely due to my layering flub. The mint guys were a great flavor combo and served as an end of the night sweet – plus my niece enjoyed the simplicity of the recipe, it was easy to make with her!

Thanks to Lori for recipe inspiration, what are your favorite fudges? Or better yet, if you could only make or enjoy ONE holiday sweet, which would you pick?

1 of 18

2 Jan

As I mentioned here, my January blogs are probably going to be a mix of December stories and sweets that just didn’t make it in print yet.

Here we go with one (and the only video) of my Christmas desserts. I made 18 this year, I know I’m nuts. Especially since I did them all in 2.5 days. I enjoyed almost every minute though, which is great. That’s why I bake, right? Yes!

These Minty Oreo Balls were my spin on a well-known Oreo-Cream Cheese treat. I decided to flavor it up by adding chopped Andes Candies in the “batter” and dipping the chocolate covered balls in crushed holiday Pretzel Crisps. They were yum-tastic and added a great look to my Christmas table-scape.

Delicious Declarations

1 Jan

Thank you, Food Buzz, for helping me host an amazing New Year’s Eve brunch!

I am so excited to tell you all about my fun party. It all started at the beginning of December when I received an email from Food Buzz, with the prompt – How will you spend the last day of 2011? The prompt was for their monthly program, 24×24, which calls for submissions to answer the prompt. They then pick their favorite 24 proposals and grant them a stipend to hold their party, as long as it takes place on the designated day, therefore there are 24 meals around the country in 24 hours, hence the 24×24.

This was my proposal submission:

This will be a celebration and preparation for the new year. I will have each brunch attendee bring a dish that represents their new years resolution, whether that means get healthier, learn to make muffins, travel the world, get a new job, whatever it is the dish will represent it. Every one will share their story on my webcam so that I can turn it into a video that we can save for the next year to see if the resolutions came true. This is a positive experience, no negativity allowed. The location will be my parents house in Schaumburg and we will decorate with sparkly decos and other happy exciting elements. I will be inviting all of my close friends and family. We will, of course, have champagne and toast to the resolutions.

This is unique because the food is representing the future and the individual goal. It’s a new twist on an old standby. I’m picking brunch because it’s such a communal event, with a relaxed environment but also has a celebration flair. Plus, this will accommodate everyone who may have other plans for the evening. Even children can participate in the events. Like I mentioned above, each attendee will shoot a video of their dish and their resolution, I will then post those on my blog along with pictures and a summarization of the event – I can’t wait!

I was really excited then and I’m even more excited that it was a success. Everyone participated, celebrated and asked if this could become an annual tradition – absolutely! I hope you all had sweet celebrations and enjoy our resolutions!

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