Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chocolate Layer Cake

Chocolaty, creamy, smooth, and crunchy, all in one bite...in a Chocolate Layer Cake.

There are so many different ways one can put it together, but here is my version. We had it for dessert after our Christmas Day lunch...after all, who deserves a cake more than baby Jesus :)

Chocolate Layer Cake

It is simple to assemble. Make 9" rounds of any chocolate cake, and divide into three layers. I filled the bottom layer with thick chocolate pudding (use about 1/3 less milk than called for to get desired thickness). To make the filling for the top layer, I crushed 6 oreos, and mixed it into one cup of whipped topping. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours before serving. I made my cake the day before Christmas, so I didn't have to think about dessert! All that I had to do before serving, was to make the chocolate ganache glaze, and spoon it over the cake enough to let it drip off the sides. (The glaze recipe is simple - 1/4 cup of dark chocolate, 1 tbsp butter, and 2 tbsp milk, melted in the microwave for 1 minute at 15 second intervals, then whisked until smooth.) The cake is best served while the glaze is still warm, but you can eat it cold as well. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mocha Almond Fudge Biscotti

The best accompaniment my coffee has had all year.

As you have seen from my previous post, I have made a conscious effort to create somewhat unusual Christmas treats this year. Which is remarkable, for someone as unorganized as myself, because I didn't start all of this until five days before Christmas.

Several things formed the inspiration behind this Mocha Almond Fudge Biscotti. First, I have always had a fondness for the chocolate-almond combination (see my Rocky Road post from November). Another sentiment that contributed to this concoction is that my husband also likes some version of these flavors, most likely stemming from his favorite Baskin Robbins ice cream flavor, 'Jamocha Almond Fudge'! (We do like ice cream, don't we?)

This chocolaty biscotti is so easy to make, with store-bought fudge brownie mix, and one batch yields a LOT. They make nice Christmas-gifts, too, and are an unexpected step away from popular Christmas cookies! Simply wrap up a few of these with plastic wrap, tie with a festive ribbon and scoot over to your neighbor's with it. Extras will store in an airtight container on your kitchen counter for several weeks. Or, in the freezer for several months. Here is the recipe:

Mocha Almond Fudge Biscotti

You will need:
1 package fudge brownie mix
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
1 egg
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine brownie mix, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Separately, whisk egg, egg whites, and instant espresso powder. Add egg mixture to brownie mix, and stir until combined. Divide batter into four portions, on greased baking sheets, shape each portion into a rectangle (two fit nicely side by side on my 9x13 baking sheets). Bake in center oven rack at 350 for 22 to 24 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove to a cutting board, and cut diagonally with a serrated knife into 1/2 - 3/4 inch slices. Bake again, cut side down, on greased baking sheets for another 12 minutes. Cool completely, and store in airtight containers. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Playing With Pretzel Rods!

Classic procrastinator that I am, I spent some time this week making Christmas treats....four days away from Christmas. The good news, is that very little about these treats say "Christmas", so they can really be enjoyed any time of the year. So...this year, we have Pretzel Rods, Mocha Almond Biscotti, and Toffee Pecan Bites. Once all of these are done, I get to wrap them up to distribute!

I did the Pretzel Rods and Toffee Pecan Bites over the past couple of evenings. Two kinds of pretzel rods - and both are SO EASY to make, perfect to get kids to help with! The first is Kitchen Sink Pretzel Rods - you really could say that they have everything but the kitchen sink in them - and is my token "salt" element in this dessert. Those who know me well, know that my taste preference is salty over sweet ten times over, so pretzels work really well here :)
The second kind is Cranberry Pistachio Pretzel Rods - the red and green color are perfect for Christmas.

So here you go:
Kitchen Sink Pretzel Rods

You will need:
2 cups caramels
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup mini butterscotch chips
1 cup toffee bits
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
14 pretzel rods, cut in half with a very sharp knife

Mix the mini chocolate chips, toffee bits, and chopped walnuts in a large shallow dish and set aside. Melt caramels over very low heat. Dip the cut end of the pretzel rods into the caramel, and coat about two-thirds of the way down. Then, roll them in the nut mixture and set on baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Stick the baking sheet in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until set. Enjoy!

Cranberry Pistachio Pretzel Rods

You will need:
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pistachios
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
10 pretzel rods, cut in half with a very sharp knife

Mix the chopped pistachios and cranberries in a large shallow dish and set aside. Melt white chocolate chips over very low heat. Dip the cut end of the pretzel rods into the white chocolate, and coat about two-thirds of the way down. Then, roll them in the cranberry mixture and set on baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Stick the baking sheet in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until set. Enjoy!

Hope you enjoyed these two. You can look for the Mocha Almond Biscotti and Toffee Pecan Bites recipes later this week.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chicken Curry Soup

My friend Sarah recently told me about a treasured Christmas tradition in her family, her mother's delicious Chicken Curry Soup. My ears perked up at the mention of the word "curry", and my curiosity spiked because I know this family does not have any Indian heritage or eat much Indian food. I immediately knew I had to have the recipe. Her mom was kind enough to send me the recipe, and graciously granted me permission to share it. I tried it Tuesday night for dinner, only a few hours after receiving the recipe (I could not contain my excitement any longer!) and...it is one of the most delicious, and unusual things I have ever had! It is so easy to make, and the flavor combination is so unusual and good that I will definitely be making this again. It is NOT that spicy-hot, so those of you who are afraid of Indian food - no excuses with this one! Here it is:

Chicken Curry Soup

You will need:
1 diced onion
3 sliced carrots (cut like pennies)
2 apples diced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp curry powder
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 can diced tomatoes
shredded cooked chicken - as much as you want

Saute onions, carrots, and apples in the butter. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and curry powder and cook at least five minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, and shredded chicken. Simmer an hour. The longer it cooks, the thicker and more "stew" like it gets. It is fantastic the next day. Enjoy!

1) I didn't have chicken, so I used leftover thanksgiving turkey, and homemade turkey stock instead of chicken stock. It worked really well!
2) And I don't use curry powder, so I just made up a blend of chilli powder, pinch of turmeric, cumin powder, and coriander powder, and pinch of garam masala.
3) I also added just a little bit of garlic.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Alarm Clocks

Not long ago, a friend of mine blogged about how many phone numbers was too many. It inspired me to think about why we have three alarm clocks in the bedroom to wake us up every morning. Correction: why we NEED three alarm clocks to wake us up every morning. And, they are all set to go off within three minutes of each other, thereby minimizing the length of snooze-time. Here are the three:

1. A clock radio (the classic)
2. My cell phone (battery back-up, in case the electricity goes out...duh!) and
3. Ryan's cell phone (second battery back-up).

Let me confess that in this next paragraph I risk losing respect in the eyes of several of my country-music-loving friends. But I'll chance it.

The clock radio
The clock radio is my nine-year old one, and it's pretty basic. It is set to wake us up to a country music station. Those who know me well will understand why. For those who do not, let me elaborate...
I simply don't like it. I'm sure country music has many fine qualities (although, at this moment not one comes to mind). Songs written solely about the undesirable intricacies of family relationships, or the disappointment of unrequited love are neither motivating NOR energizing at any other time of day than 4:50 in the morning. Thanks but no thanks. BUT - at 4:50 in the morning - it meets the objective of getting me out of bed just so I can turn it off and not have to listen to it anymore.

My cell phone
Your pretty basic but annoyingly loud alarm jingle that not only gives me the strength to rise out of the warmth of my bed, but also makes me want to pick up that jingling cell phone and hurl it through the window, hoping it will land somewhere in the two feet of snow in the front yard and hope that it stays there forever.
Ryan's cell phone
When Ryan's cell phone goes off it's great. I get to kick him in the shin because the jingle that he sets it to induces just that kind of behavior in a person. And it is twice as loud as mine.
And there you have it, folks. The story of our three alarm clocks, for your amusement.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Macaroons have always held a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, every once in a while, I would get treated to scrumptious little white macaroons from the local grocery store. They were always the same, and always very good. And, like every person who grows used to something but eventually leaves home and then misses that very thing, I took those little macaroons for granted. Those tiny white pieces of heaven were the ultimate melt-in-your-mouth cookies, slightly larger in size than Hershey's Kisses, always with pistachios in them, and a distinct floral flavor - I can't quite put my finger on it - rose essence, perhaps? Anyway, they were delicious.

But until I can replicate what is in my head, exactly, the two recipes below have more than sufficiently appeased the craving from the memories that came flooding back. I hope you enjoy them. The first recipe is courtesy of my friend Ashley K, Snow Capped Coconut Macaroons (coconut almond macaroons with a chocolate glaze, essentially) and I came up with the second one, Chocolate Walnut Macaroons. I found them both to be entirely delicious. I made several batches of both last Saturday and served them to friends (with kids) and all were thoroughly pleased with them.

Just out of curiosity, do any of you have crazy macaroon memories like I do?

Snow Capped Coconut Macaroons
(recipe courtesy: Ashley K)

You will need:

For the Cookies:
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups sweetened shredded coconut

For the Glaze: (Use glaze only if you want to, these macaroons are entirely delicious plain too!)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Coarse sugar crystals, for decorating

Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly beat the egg whites in a medium bowl until frothy, then stir in the granulated sugar, almonds, vanilla and salt. Fold in the coconut. Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Dampen your hands and form into tall pointed mounds. Bake until the edges are golden brown and the macaroons look dry, 16 to 20 minute. Let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Make the glaze: Put the chocolate, corn syrup, butter and 3 tablespoons hot water in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth.
Dip the tip of each macaroon about halfway into the glaze, then place on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, then refrigerate until the glaze sets, about 1 hour. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Chocolate-Walnut Macaroons

You will need:
2 large egg whites, beaten until stiff peaks form
1 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tablespoons good cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Optional - Chocolate glaze, as outlined above (Use glaze only if you want to, these macaroons are entirely delicious plain too!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Beat egg whites, then fold in sugar, salt, cocoa powder and walnuts. Drop by spoonful one inch apart on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, or 25 minutes, until crisp. Let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving to rack to cool completely.  

If desired, spread a little bit of the chocolate glaze on each cookie and let set in the refrigerator for one hour. Store in airtight container for up to one week.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

Who doesn't love a good risotto in the winter? An exquisite, slow-cooked, creamy bowl of bliss. This Butternut Squash Risotto came together last night, when I discovered that I had half a butternut squash sitting in the refrigerator, leftover from the Butternut Squash Red Curry I made last week, and needed to be used up. Boy, we have eaten a lot of squash lately. Eating in-season, indeed!

This recipe is definitely a keeper. Deliciously flavored with sage, and onions. Slow-cooked to creamy submission in white wine, and broth. You can use chicken broth or vegetable broth...or turkey broth, which was what I did (I kept the turkey bones from Thanksgiving last week, and made my own low-sodium turkey stock out of it last Monday night - super-easy - email me if you want the recipe). And, since it paired very nicely with the Turkey Cakes we had last night, this was a happy coincidence. Here is the recipe -

Butternut Squash Risotto

You will need:
Half of a butternut squash, peeled and cut up into 1/4"-1/3" cubes
2 tsp dried sage, divided
salt and pepper
7 or 8 cups low-sodium stock (any kind!)
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbsp butter
2 cups Arborio rice, uncooked
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

This recipe makes approximately 6 servings.

Combine squash, half the sage, 1 cup of stock, and a sprinkling of salt in a skillet. Simmer covered until squash is tender but not mushy. This should take about 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the cubes.
Drain out the liquid and set squash aside.
Meanwhile, bring the rest of the stock to a boil in a another pot and leave it simmering.
Heat up the butter in a large skillet, and add sage. Cook about one minute over medium heat, then add the onion and cook until tender. Turn heat to 'low', then add rice, pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes stirring very well. Then turn heat up to 'medium', add white wine and cook until fully absorbed. Once this is done, add enough hot stock to fully cover the rice. Stir well and reduce heat back to low.
Simmer until stock is absorbed, stirring well throughout. Add another ladle full of stock (about 3/4 cup) and stir until absorbed. Keep repeating this process until all of the stock is absorbed and rice is fully cooked and tender. Time will vary depending on skillet size and heat - it could take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes - this took about 30 minutes for me. When rice is cooked, add the squash, and parmesan cheese. Cook 3 minutes or so, until cheese has melted. Check seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with parley if desired. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey Cakes!

Thanksgiving has, undoubtedly, become one of my most favorite times of the year. Why? One word: leftovers.

My short list of happy leftovers includes leftover Thanksgiving turkey. An ongoing personal challenge of mine in recent years has become inventing new and interesting recipes incorporating leftover Thanksgiving turkey (not that the turkey needs any help, it is just so good on its own...or maybe with just a dab of cranberry sauce...okay, stop me from getting off track, people!)

Anyway, these little Turkey Cakes are this year's winner in our house, for leftover Thanksgiving turkey recipe of the year. If you like crab cakes, you are sure to love these babies. Very easy to make, they are crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside (just like my husband when he gets upset), and packed with flavor. Is there a piece of turkey at your house that nobody wants to eat. e.g. wings? Put it in the Turkey Cakes! (They'll never know it's there.) Here is the simple recipe:

Turkey Cakes

You will need:
2 cups cooked turkey, well-shredded
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1 serrano pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
extra virgin olive oil for frying
1 lemon wedge
(This quantity of mixture makes about 8 cakes, depending on how big or small you make them.)

Combine all ingredients from turkey through black pepper together. Mix well. Shape into evenly sized patties and shallow-fry in a skillet in hot oil on medium heat, about 3 minutes on each side or until golden-brown. Serve warm. Drizzle with lemon juice just before serving. Enjoy!

If you need a meal-completer, these Turkey Cakes pair marvelously with Butternut Squash Risotto (simmered in turkey broth or chicken broth), but, I will only be blogging about that tomorrow as I am still full from this wonderful dinner and now need to go think about penance by way of my A.M. workout. Good night!