Chocolate Turtle Cookies

December 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012

The time has come, the reveal of The Great Food Blogger Cookie Exchange! This is my first year participating and I am so in love with the idea, I hope to do this for years to come. The premise is simple: sign up to send 1 dozen cookies anonymously to 3 other food bloggers you are randomly assigned. Three other secret bakers have you. Ship the cookies out and then on the same day (today) everyone posts their cookie recipe! Very fun and very festive. I can’t tell you what a treat it is to come home to a surprise package that you know is full of sugary goodness.

Shipping Out

I chose to try a new endeavor  Chocolate Turtle Cookies. The idea of something that involved caramel overtook me and through the magic of Google and blogs, I came upon this post and I pretty much wanted to dive in the pictures. I knew I had to try it.

BITE

Ingredients from Pixelated Crumb (I doubled the recipe to ensure I had enough but this recipe should make about 30 cookies)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated, plus 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped fine
  • 14 soft caramel candies
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl.

Dry Mix

In a separate large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.

Dough

It should resemble… insert your own description here.

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites in bowl until frothy. Place pecans in another bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, dip in egg whites, then roll in pecans. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

This is best done with a stationed set up like so since it is a pretty messy process.

This is best done with a stationed set up like so since it is a pretty messy process.

Balls sans dent

Using 1/2-teaspoon measure, make indentation in center of each ball.

I kept thinking they resembled little birds' nests. I made an initial dent with the 1/2 tsp but wound up molding them with my fingers too.

I kept thinking they resembled little birds’ nests. I made an initial dent with the 1/2 tsp but wound up molding them with my fingers too.

Bake until set, about 15 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking. Meanwhile, microwave caramels and cream in bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.

Adding calcium to caramel

Once cookies are removed from oven, gently re-press existing indentations. Fill each with 1/2 teaspoon caramel mixture.

Lick any leftover caramel

Cool 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Then enjoy! Or if you’re participating in your own cookie exchange, pack ‘em up and ship ‘em out. These things are rich (this coming from someone who stuffed a good ole chocolate chip cookie with Nutella) so don’t over-do it kiddos. Have a happy if not healthy holiday season!

Cooling

Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Couscous

December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

I know what you’re thinking – lemony, garlic shrimp in December? Preposterous. But seeing as how the temps this week reached 70°, I thought what the hey. So I made it and it was delicious. Very basic flavors, very simple to do. Sometimes it’s nice not to over-think things.

Now because I was working with precooked and deveined shrimp, this was a super fast start-to-finish cook time. Step 1 was to get the couscous going. Someone in my home is a very big fan of Israeli or pearl couscous. I normally just buy the Near East boxed kind but thought I should know how to make my own by now. So I went for the tri-colored.

Couscous

Cook your couscous per instructions.  I added 1 cup couscous to 1 and 1/4 cup boiling water with 1/2 tsp salt and 1 tsp butter. Simmer for 10 minutes

shrimpMy shrimp still had some ice so I ran them under water for a few seconds. Then, toss them in a large skillet with 1 tbsp. heated olive oil. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic with 1 tbsp. lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Adding the lemon juice

After sauteeing for about 5 minutes, you should be good to go! Top off the couscous and shrimp with grated parmesan cheese and garnish with fresh lemon.

This whole thing took maybe 15 minutesThe perfect accompaniment is mixed greens with cherry tomatoes, walnuts and my new favorite dressing: Trader Joe’s Pear Champagne Vinaigrette. The sweetness of the pear balances the tangy, salty, lemony shrimp.

 

Butternut Squash and Hearty Grains Salad

December 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

Butternut squash oooh what I’d do with you. Soups, stews, risottos, salads, just plain roasted… talk about versatility. This time, I mixed it up with a blend of hearty grains from Trader Joe’s, some ricotta salata cheese and onions. I started out aiming for this recipe from Smitten Kitchen but wound up with some substitutes that undoubtedly changed the results. This salad tastes just like fall with the sweet, roasted squash, salty cheese and some sauteed onions.

Ingredients (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

  •  1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/4 cup grain of choice (Trader Joe’s blend includes Israeli couscous, baby garbanzo beans, red quinoa and orzo)
  • 3/4 cup ricotta salata crumbled or coarsely grated
  • 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped (original recipe calls for a red)

First step is roasting the squash. Preheat the oven to 375° and then get to peeling. Cut the squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Below are the tools you’ll need.

Peeled SquashThen cut the squash into about 1/2 inch pieces. Coat a baking sheet with 2 tbsp. olive oil,turn the squash to coat then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pop them in the oven for about 30-45 minutes turning occasionally. Once it’s done (soft to pierce) set aside to cool.

Roasted Butternut SquashWhen the squash is in the oven, it’s time to cook your grains. Mine only needed 10 minutes to cook but the farro in Smitten Kitchen needed a half an hour. Cook your grain according to the package instructions.

Cooked GrainsWhile the grain is going on the stove top, saute your onions and whisk together the red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, water, sugar and salt until the salt and sugar dissolve.

Translucent Onions

The original recipe uses a pickled red onion instead which I’m sure adds a really great bite. I can’t wait to try it that way.

When the onions are translucent, stir them into the vinaigrette.

SauceThen it’s time to put it all together. Pour the grains and the squash into a large bowl then add the cheese and the onion sauce to taste. Enjoy!

DinnerI had this as a side with some roasted pork loin and greens but I am very much looking forward to leftovers tomorrow for lunch! This is also great when entertaining since it doesn’t need to be served piping hot.

 

 

 

 

Brussels Sprouts Salad

November 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ever since this dinner, at Sunda in Chicago, my eyes have been opened to a world of raw brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts that are delicious without being roasted or smothered in sauce or topped with bacon. Of course all of those preparations are delicious but there is a sea of brussels sprouts salad recipes out there so I picked this one since it seemed simple and light enough plus the ingredients are things you’ll most likely have on hand.

Ingredients adapted from Shutterbean

  • about 14 oz Brussels sprouts, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts, in pieces
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cinder vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • salt & pepper

A heaping teaspoon of brown sugar and a 1/4 tbsp. butter doesn’t hurt when toasting up the walnuts. Medium heat for about 8 minutes

Set the nuts aside to cool and start prepping the brussels sprouts. After rinsing, cut off the hard ends and chop thinly. If you have a mandolin that gets the job done well.

Place the sprouts in a large mixing bowl. Add the walnuts and shaved cheese.

Whisk the olive oil, cider, mustard and salt and pepper together. Combine with the sprouts, walnuts and cheese mixture.

Mix it all up and serve!

Top Chef Seattle, Episode 3

November 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Omg, I was travelling last Wednesday and totally missed Top Chef! Not to worry, I TiVo’d it for you and am summing it up here.

If you’re pressed for time, Kuniko went home. If you have a little more, here’s how:

The guest judge for the Quickfire Challenge is Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine. The chefs are presented with a map and on it are 17 kinds of dumplings from all over the world. They sprint to the map to get their pick. Fortunately, Amazon has set them up with some handy-dandy Kindle Fires so they can research the dumpling they receive. There are three components to the dumpling–wrapper, stuffing and sauce–on which they’ll be judged. Oh and some authenticity as well.

Stefan picks Germany which is a big advantage since he grew up eating his dumpling. Josie seems to know what she’s doing as she rolls her wrapper out. There is somehow no flour of any type left in the Top Chef kitchen for Brooke to use for her dumplings. Then, when the buzzer goes, Kuniko has plated… NOTHING. She didn’t have time to get it on the plate so she is not eligible to be judged.

As Dana makes the rounds, she meets Sheldon for the first time face to face since he is one of Food & Wine Magazine’s People’s Best New Chefs. On the bottom were Brooke, Carla and Kuniko. On the top were Josie, Stefan and Micah with Josie winning the ultimate prize of immunity. Now it’s time for the Elimination Challenge.

It’s Thanksgiving Dinner and they’ll be cooking for the organization Fair Start. They will be divided into two teams and headed by some special leaders–Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse for a Top Chef first. Unsurprisingly, Tom and his team develop an Italian themed meal while Emeril and his group add a New Orleans creole twist. Josie declares it the “Civil War” of Thanksgiving. The teams prep and pack and there seems to be some all around good cheer in the kitchen as the Tom and Emeril show their stuff in the kitchen.

Once they get cooking the next day, things get a little messier of course. The kitchen is cramped with everyone in there and Stefan kicks some people out of his area. Then Stefan and Carla get in it for some reason or another. A word of advice to future Top Chef competitors: when the challenge is a team competition, make sure you completely finish your dish before you even begin thinking about helping out the rest of the team. Being the good Samaritan always seems to hurt your personal dish and put you in the bottom three.

The New Orleans team goes first and there are some pretty obvious issues with the meal–the turkey is under cooked, root vegetables are under-seasoned, the kale is too chewy, the gumbo utterly lacks all flavor except bitterness and the the potato pave is completely raw. The shining star is Brooke’s sweet potato biscuit.

Tom’s team comes out stronger. Apparently Tom’s family stuffing recipe includes fois gras, the carrot soup with turkey meatballs is creamy and beautiful, the greens are well dressed and the buttery mashed potatoes are a home run. Elizabeth’s mashed potatoes, CJ’s turkey and Carla’s soup are the top 3 with Carla being the ultimate winner.

Tyler, Kuniko, Josie and Sheldon are on the bottom. Sheldon’s kale was under cooked, Tyler’s gumbo had no flavor,  Josie’s turkey was raw (but she has immunity) and the judges decide that Kuniko’s raw and undercooked ptotato pave is the worst offender. It is sad to see her go since she is sweet and I think secretly, a creative genius chef with expert skill. But our emotion subsides when we’re faced with previews from next week and an entire cow carcass hanging in the kitchen. Holy. Cow.

Holiday Apple Pie

November 27, 2012 § 3 Comments

You may have noticed that this blog has been on a little hiatus lately. What with visitors, holidays, travels, etc. as I’m sure you’re all too aware, it’s very easy to let hobbies slip by the wayside. So I’m offering this, the quintessential Apple Pie recipe, as an apology and a promise that I will never abandon this little blog completely!

Using a mix of Granny Smith and Gala apples keeps the pie balanced with sweet and tart.

So back to the pie. I read Emily Schuman’s Cupcakes and Cashmere every week and when she posted this recipe claiming it tackled her biggest pie fears (namely being overly sweet and mushy), I knew I would be trying it this holiday season. So when we trekked out to Give Thanks last week, I couldn’t wait to have this in tow.

Another dough endeavor sans mixer sounded really intimidating. Fortunately, I learned this handy tip: freeze the butter and shortening, grate it into the flour and rub the flour-coated pieces in your hand. That’s right, what you see in the picture above is a giant mound of shaved butttaa.

Add in 6-8 tbsp. ice water until you get the consistency you want–when the dough sticks together

While your dough is chilling in the refrigerator, it’s time to peel and core and slice your apples. And this takes probably longer than you will take. The recipe calls for 4 lbs. of apples but I had at least 2 full apples left over so I think you can get away with 3 small apples of each kind (and this will help shave off a little time). Preheat the oven to 425 °.

I like super thin, probably less than 1/4 inch thick

Toss the sliced apples with 3/4 cup sugar and lemon juice and zest and allspice and cinnamon. I thought the lemon flavor was a little too strong so I would cut what the recipe calls for in half.

Roll out one of the pie shells until it is about 12 inches and place over a 9-inch Pyrex. There should be some extra hanging off the edge. Pile in the apples with the juices and form a mound in the center. Roll out the the dough ball and place on top.

Once the top is on brush with a little egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 425° when the crust is golden and then reduce heat to 375° and continue baking until juices bubble and the crust is a deep golden brown.

Let cool for four house and enjoy! Serve with vanilla ice cream (obvi).

Top Chef Seattle, Episode 2

November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

So last week on Top Chef, we saw 21 chefs compete in the judges’ kitchens whittled down to 15. They made it to Seattle and as they enter into Top Chef Kitchen, eye one another up.

Padma enters soon after with three former contestants from previous seasons by her side. These former Top Chef hopefuls will be the judges. Here comes the Quickfire.

For their first task, the chefs are asked to divide themselves into 5 groups of 3. Seeing as how they just met one another, these groups turned out by pure luck. Although John has a strategy– he sees Kuniko and thinks as a Japanese chef she may have some good knife skills. As he is leaning in to cnospire with her during the directions, Padma totally calls him out for speaking when she is. Next time, the principal’s office.

Their task is to highlight local shellfish. Apparently, the hot item here is geoduck (sounds like gooey-duck) which Kristen describes as looking like, “a really big penis.” Cheftestants are throwing their hands into some murky looking swamp water to retrieve these things that are going like hot cakes. It pops up in two dishes and the yellow team is SOL when all the geoduck is gone by the time they get there and they have to choose something else.

This turns out to perhaps be their downfall because with their dish now of razor clam soup with grilled corn and lime, the yellow team turns out to be on the bottom. The judges are a little too confident and persnickety in their tastings (they did lose after all). But despite the dish describing the dish as needing, “a hair more salt”, they declare…. the geoduck as the winner! Turns out John was smart sticking with Kuniko because he now has immunity. Oh and then BOOM the three former contestants will now be joining the competition. And the judges become the judged.

The elimination challenge takes place in the Seattle space needle. Staying in their teams of three, the chefs have 45 minutes to prepare a dish using regional ingredients. After shopping in the Top Chef Kitchen for items to use the next day, the judges pack up and head to their new digs at Olive 8.

The next day, the teams cook two at a time. The reigning team of Sheldon, Kuniko and John come up with a hot chili oil poached cod with dashi and vegetables. They face off with the red team, the only team of all women, and dominated by Carla, who is still subtitled despite the fact that she is speaking in English. The kitchen is loud and crazy when she is in there and most of the chefs look on in wonder as she runs around shouting obscenities preparing her dish.

Meanwhile the judges are enjoying a nice glass of wine and quite the view as they meet with famed Seattle chef and restaurateur, Tom Douglas. Gail mentions she wants to go fishing while they are here. Gee, I wonder if they’ll get the chance.

The other two sets of teams face off with more fish/ spot prawns and a lone quail dish. The judges seem all around pleased with what they’ve seen and are looking forward to the season.

The big winner is Kuniko for her ingenious hot chili oil poached cod which she admits was her first time trying. Alas, someone’s got to go though and Padma announces they’d like to see the grey team and-gasp!- the vets at the judges’ table. Season 5 contestant/ persnickety judge Stefan is charged with an overcooked quail but the offense is less than Jeffrey’s overdone fish. He holds his head high as he leaves and is so nice it’s definitely Sad to see him go.

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