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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract!

Homemade vanilla extract! Its easy! And fun! And you can make massive (Costco) amounts for much cheaper than buying the good stuff by the 4-ounce bottle. This is a project I've been working on for a while now- and I hate that it took me so long to share it- but I've been patiently waiting for my vodka to get fully infused by the vanilla beans.

The best part about this recipe: the vanilla NEVER goes bad. It has a shelf life that will outlive each and every one of us. Use a teaspoon of vanilla in your cookies... replace it with a teaspoon of vodka... and it just keeps on working. I chose to keep a few vanilla beans in the bottles that I gave away as gifts so that they can keep giving flavor (especially while they sit in a wrapped box for the next 10 days).

2 cups of good vodka
10-12 vanilla beans*
1 glass mason jar

Run the mason jar through a hot dishwasher, or submerge in boiling water. Once dry and cool, pour 2 cups of vodka into the mason jar. Take the vanilla beans and split them lengthwise on one side of the bean (don't cut them in half), so that some of the beans are exposed. Place them in the mason jar. Close the lid and give the jar a good shake. Keep in a cool, dark spot in your kitchen, shaking once every few days/once a week. Oh, and each time I shake the bottle, I make sure to open it and smell... drooooool. Your vanilla should be ready to use after 8 weeks.
*You can add more vanilla beans if you want... the more you add, the quicker the vanilla will be ready to use.

** P.S. Mom, if you happen upon this post before December 25th.... well, I'm sorry part of your present wasn't a surprise. Ooops.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark is one of my favorite winter treats. This "recipe" is so fast, easy, and affordable... only 4 ingredients! This will be a hit at any holiday party, a wonderful gift for a coworker or loved one, and is a perfect treat to make tons of and keep all for yourself.

*In order to have the white chocolate melt properly, make sure that you get real white chocolate chips, not "white morsels." If you're unsure if its real chocolate, check the ingredients: one of the first 2 ingredients in real white chocolate is cocoa butter.

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 ounces real white chocolate chips
1/2-1 teaspoon peppermint extract
6 candy canes, crushed

Take the semi-sweet chocolate chips and place them in a glass bowl. Microwave the chips for 15 second intervals, stirring with a spatula in between, just until melted- you do not want the chocolate to be hot. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate into an even layer, about 1/8-inch thick. Put in fridge for about 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate chips the same way as the semi-sweet chips. Once melted, add the peppermint extract, and stir together, tasting to make sure you've added enough. Once the semi-sweet layer has hardened, pour the white chocolate on top and spread evenly. Top with crushed candy canes. Refrigerate for another 20-30 minutes, or until very hard. Remove from fridge and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container/tin. These will stay good in the fridge for weeks, the freezer for months, or on your counter for a good 10-days. YUM.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

My thoughts on soup/any food: if it has bacon in it, I pretty much love it. Anything that is a vessel for bacon = perfection. And this roasted cauliflower soup is just that... and its phenomenal. I based the soup off of a Bon Appetit (Jan 2007) recipe, and messed around with my food processor to make the chive oil. Its gooooood.

6 cups cauliflower florets (from 1 large head of cauliflower)
3 slices uncooked bacon, plus more for crumbling
3/4 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons grated romano
1/4 cup cream/half-and-half
salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon juice
bunch of chives
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with lightly greased tin foil and throw the cauliflower florets, a drizzle of olive oil, a few shakes of garlic powder, and salt and pepper in the pan. Toss to coat and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10.

Meanwhile, cook 3 strips of bacon in a large soup pot on medium heat until lightly browned and some of the fat has rendered. Add the diced celery, onion, garlic and salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cover and let cook until veggies begin to soften, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding olive oil if they start to burn. Add the roasted cauliflower florets to the soup pot, along with the chicken broth, and the romano/good parmesan and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and cover and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes to let all the flavors marry.

In another pan, cook more bacon to your liking to crumble on top of the soup. Once finished cooking, let  cool on a paper towel and crumble for topping. Reserve for later.

Once the soup has simmered for a bit blend with an immersion blender (or put batches in the stand blender) and blend until smooth. Add more chicken broth if its too thick. Add the cream/half-and-half and stir to combine. Taste for salt and pepper.

To make the chive oil... In a food processor combine the olive oil, butter, chives and lemon juice and blend until incorporated and smooth... you may have to scrape down the sides a few times.

Ladle into soup bowl and drizzle the chive oil on top, followed by bacon crumbled. Mmm-mmm-mmm. And man is this soup filling!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

I love mac-n-cheese. Every kind. Even the yucky powder-cheese kind. One of the best mac-n-cheeses I've ever had was from Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, NC. Not only was it extra gooey, but had quite a spicy punch at the end. Unreal. I've wanted to recreate it ever since and have tried a few different times but wasn't quite pleased enough to post the recipe. I ended up giving this batch away to my friend who just had surgery, but not before stealing a few bites. I think I found a winner.

1 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup grated onion
1 4oz. can diced green chiles, drained
4 tablespoons butter, separated
1/4 cup flour
2-2 1/2 cups milk/cream
12 ounces Velveeta, cubed
12 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs

Boil the macaroni in salted water 2 minutes less than instructions on the box. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a very large bowl mix together the cayenne, salt, pepper, ground mustard, nutmeg, sour cream, grated onion and diced green chiles. Set aside.

In a large soup pot melt half the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly for 3 minutes with a spatula. Slowly pour in the milk/cream, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the Velveeta and most of the pepper jack. Stir until everything is incorporated. Pour cheese sauce and pasta in the large bowl of seasoned sour cream. Stir to incorporate. Taste, moan, curse that it is supposed to bake before you can eat it, adjust for salt & pepper and other seasonings. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle remaining jack cheese on top.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and mix with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the mac-n-cheese and bake for about 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees, or until bubbly.

* Dry seasoning mixture adapted from Sunny Anderson's Spicy Mac&Cheese

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chewy Molasses Holiday Cookies

I've been testing out new recipes for my annual holiday cookie tin project that takes over my kitchen starting mid-December. In the past I've included treats like truffles, peppermint bark, and Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, which are my personal favorite holiday cookie. This year, I wanted to try something different and had never made molasses spice cookies before. I wanted a chewy thick cookie, rather than a rock-hard wafer thin guy, so I found this recipe from Cook's Illustrated and went for it. They were delicious! A very strong and rich molasses/brown sugar/spice flavor... they hit the spot. Consider these for your holiday treats!

Also, if you're like me and you love hosting parties and cooking for them, but you sometimes feel uninspired and were born without the decorating gene, check out my friend Alison's TwinStripe Magazine for great unique ideas for celebrating the holidays this year! 

And finally, thanks to Jason Volpe who has been offering me brief and very informal (usually over cocktails) photography lessons. Hoping to continue learning! 

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dipping cookies
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark molasses

Sift together the flour, baking soda, the spices, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and set aside. 

In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and 1/3 of dark brown sugar. Let beat for 2-3 minutes on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the molasses and beat until incorporated. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. 

Roll heaping tablespoons into balls and dip them in the extra 1/2 cup granulated sugar and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Let cool for 5 minutes, then do the other batch of cookies the same way- don't put two cookie sheets in the oven at the same time with this recipe. YUM.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Veal Parmesan

As you all may know, I used to be a "vegetarian" for about 4 months. There were many reasons why I chose to cut out meat for a while, but part of it was because I was just sick of chicken, which was mostly all the meat that I ate before that, with the rare (pun) steak once or twice a year. My "vegetarianism" ended when a friend of mine served me grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon and I've never looked back since. Since then I have fallen deeply and madly in love with veal. I made veal parmesan last week (the main course before the tiramisu) and it was absolutely delicious. It was very easy to make and was a crowd pleaser- everyone licked their plates clean.

1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 1/2 cups dried plain bread crumbs
1 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon water
2/3 cup flour
8 veal scallops (1/8 inch thick)
1/3 cup oil, for frying
2 cups tomato sauce
4-6 ounces grated mozzarella cheese

Pasta Ingredients
1/2 pound angel hair pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper

Mix together all the spices and add 1 tablespoon to the breadcrumbs in a pie dish along with 1/2 cup of parmesan. Set aside. Add the other tablespoon of spices to the flour in another pie dish or shallow bowl. Set aside. In another shallow bowl mix the eggs and water and beat with a fork until incorporated. Set aside. 

Pat each veal scallop dry and sprinkle with meat tenderizer (optional). Coat each side of the veal with flour, shake off excess, then dunk each side in egg mixture, and finally dunk in the bread crumbs. Place in a heated pan with oil and fry on medium about 1 1/2 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Pour a little bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 in baking dish and place each browned veal scallop in the dish on top of the sauce. Continue this same process with each piece of veal until all are done and in the baking dish. Cover with more tomato sauce, followed by the mozzarella cheese, and then 1/2 cup parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown on top. 

Meanwhile, boil water and add 1/2 pound of angel hair pasta, cooking according to directions on the box. Drain and return to pot along with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a few splashes of chicken broth, the rest of the parmesan (1/4 cup) and a generous amount of salt and lots of pepper. 

Serve veal on top of the pasta. YUM. Serves 4. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I really love cheese in desserts, like cheesecake, cannoli, and tiramisu. I had never made tiramisu before, but was making an Italian dinner for some of my friends the other night and decided to finish the evening with this delicious cheesey/boozey/espressoy/chocolatey dessert. It was a wonderful end to the meal.

It requires some ingredients that may not be at every grocery store in this fine nation, but one should be able to find mascarpone and lady fingers somewhere near where s/he lives. If you cannot find mascarpone, or you don't want to pay for it (its a bit pricey), you can substitute 8ounces of mascarpone with 8 ounces of cream cheese + 2 tbs. heavy cream + 3 tbs. sour cream. Recipe Adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

1 1/2 cups strong black coffee, room temperature
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
6 tablespoons dark rum
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 (scant) teaspoon salt
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (cold)
40-50 ladyfingers, depending on size
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate, grated

Brew the coffee and let sit until room temperature. Add the espresso powder and 3 tablespoons of rum and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

In an electric mixer beat the egg yolks until smooth. Add the sugar, and beat until pale yellow and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of rum and beat until incorporated. Add mascarpone and beat until no lumps remain, scraping down the sides once or twice. Pour mixture into a large bowl and set aside.

Pour the whipping cream in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Slowly and carefully fold whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture just until combined. Set aside.

One at a time, drop half of each lady finger into the coffee mixture, roll to dip the other side, remove and transfer into the bottom of an 8x8 glass baking dish. Do not submerge the lady fingers-- each cookie should be in the coffee mixture for 2 seconds or less. Arrange the soaked cookies in an even layer on the bottom of the dish. Layer with half of the mascarpone mixture. Top with half of the sifted cocoa, followed by another layer of the soaked lady fingers, the rest of the mascarpone, and the rest of the sifted cocoa.

Cover and refrigerate 8-24 hours. Before serving shave chocolate on top of the tiramisu. Cut and serve!