Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter EggsEvery year when I was a kid, I could count on two things in my Easter basket – marshmallow eggs and maple cream eggs. Each served different purposes. The maple cream Easter eggs were my favorites and what I squealed over even more than finding plastic hidden eggs that held a dollar bill or a tiny toy. The marshmallow eggs were nothing I ever fancied and always found their way into the freezer for my parents to eat instead, transformed into cold little disks to snap between their teeth once I was out of sight. It was more a familial basket in that way.

Maple Cream Easter EggsBut maple cream Easter eggs aren’t always easy to find now, even at Easter. Russel Stover’s makes some yummy ones with a whipped center, but the ones of my childhood were filled with a dense maple filling that resembled a kind of almost nougat. Searches for recipes that might replicate these candies all included nuts in the filling, which sounds delicious, of course, but wasn’t what I was seeking. After getting some inspiration from recipes for what’s known as butter cream eggs and which are, apparently, a really big thing at Easter, I thought I’d try a modified maple variety – and they did not disappoint!

Maple Cream Easter EggsThese maple cream Easter eggs combine some of the very best things in life – sweetened condensed milk, butter, maple extract – along with confectioner’s sugar and a little bit of corn syrup to get a soft, pliable dough that can be easily shaped into eggs, balls, or rolled and cut out with a cookie cutter. I recommend going small on these. I made rather large eggs, I think, because I had Reese’s peanut butter eggs in mind and they’re about 2-3″. The filling in these is much sweeter, so when I make these again, I’ll probably halve the size of each egg because they can overwhelm you quickly. Keeping a small bowl or shaker of powdered sugar around as you handle the dough is essential to keep the dough from sticking to you and everything in its immediate vicinity.

Maple Cream Easter EggsWhen the eggs have had a chance to chill and firm up in the refrigerator, they get submerged in a bath of melted bittersweet chocolate and then garnished with whatever you can dream up. Bear and I decorated these together, which was a comedy of sorts because we’re both pretty messy cooks. We used toasted, chopped pecans, some tinted, unsweetened coconut, and a host of pastel sprinkles I had lying around from the Coconut Chocolate Peeps I made two years back. Needless to say that these toppings were all over the kitchen by the time we were done and I can’t begin to recount all of the weird places we found melted chocolate after. These maple cream Easter eggs came out pretty as a picture though and, more importantly, are a delicious Easter treat to share – or not!

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs
Yields approximately 24 2-inch eggs; modified slightly from here.

Ingredients
1-1/2 lbs of confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting your hands as you roll
1/4 lb of butter, melted
7 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (half a regular sized can)
2 tablespoons of corn syrup
2 tablespoons of maple extract
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, butter, or vegetable oil
Toppings of various kinds: sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, candies, etc.

Directions
In a mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for a half hour then remove from fridge, scoop, and shape into eggs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can decide how big you’d like the eggs to be. Mine are about 2 inches long here, but moving forward I’d make them about half the size because of how sweet they are. Be sure to dust your hands with confectioner’s sugar as you roll to prevent the eggs from melting into your hands. When your eggs are rolled into shape, chill for an hour. You can roll your eggs 3-4 days in advance if need be and then dip once you’re ready.

Fit a cooling rack inside of a baking sheet and lightly spritz the rack with cooking spray or grease it lightly with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel. When ready to coat your eggs, add 1 tablespoon of shortening, butter, or vegetable oil to the bottom of a small, microwave-safe mixing bowl and then add 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips, followed by the remaining tablespoon of fat. Microwave for 10 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Submerge each egg in the chocolate and then lift out gently with a fork. Tap the fork on the side of the bowl gently until excess chocolate drizzles off of your egg. Place egg on the greased cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with your desired topping. Repeat with remaining eggs.

Allow chocolate coating to cure for an hour or two or until the chocolate is no longer tacky. Store in an airtight container with layers of wax paper or parchment between layers of eggs and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Mushroom and Kale Egg Bake

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeAdulting is hard stuff. Sure, there are the big things like taking care of kids or parents, unexpected car and home repairs, dealing with awful work situations, but sometimes the littlest things feel the most difficult. These days, one of my biggest dilemmas is finding what to feed myself in the mornings that is convenient, nourishing, and so tasty I’ll be psyched to eat it a few days a week. This mushroom and kale egg bake hits all the marks!

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeI’ll be the first to say that when it comes to breakfast, I’m picky. It’s not that I don’t like all the very many breakfast options available to me, but on weekdays, I almost always want something fast and something that isn’t sweet. I’m up so early Monday through Friday that I can’t stomach much breakfast at all let alone something sugary or even fruity. This winds up eliminating a lot of standard, and quick go-to breakfast items, like smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt. These are all delicious things, but none that really fit what I’m looking for in breakfast these days.

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeA lot of strategizing has caused me to embrace the egg bake as the solution to my problems. Sure, I don’t want to eat eggs five days a week, but with this make ahead, it’s easy to grab it for a few days and pepper the rest of the week with other options. While you can customize an egg bake with anything you’re craving, this mushroom and kale combination is my new and current favorite.

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeWith only a handful of ingredients and a fairly quick preparation, this is the perfect thing to bake off on a Sunday and then feed yourself with it throughout the week, microwaving it for just a minute or so to warm it through when you want to enjoy it. I’ve frozen pieces I haven’t gotten to in a week and after a quick thaw, they’re good as new warmed up for next week or next month. I’m hooked!

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeThe inspiration for this combination comes from a delicious mushroom toast recipe that my mom and I have been making for years around the holidays and that I think of several times a month even when it’s not anywhere near Christmastime, that’s how good it is. Garlicky kale seemed like it would be a good partner in this egg bake marriage with the buttery mushroom mixture and, well, it’s truly kismet.

Mushroom and Kale Egg BakeLots of delicious, earthy flavors in this mushroom and kale egg bake, but truly, you can use the base of this recipe to make it your own. Use it to power you through your work week mornings or even as a light lunch. While I cut this into 4-6 wedges and take them  for breakfast, this also makes a great main dish at a brunch or as a contribution to a potluck – Easter brunch recipe, maybe? What will you put in your egg bake this week?

Mushroom and Kale Egg Bake
Yields approximately 6 servings

Ingredients
1 tablespoon of butter
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
1 shallot, minced
8oz of white button mushrooms, cleaned
1/2 teaspoon of herbs de provence or dried thyme
Salt & pepper
1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons of half & half or heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, divided
2 cups of kale, stemmed and cleaned
1 clove of garlic minced
6 eggs
1/4 cup of milk

Directions
In a large skillet, add one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter over medium heat. While it is melting, mince the shallot and add to pan sautéing and stirring occasionally. You’ll want to cook the shallots about 3 minutes. While the shallot is cooking, chop the mushrooms and then add to the skillet with some salt and pepper and the herbs de provence. You may need to add another teaspoon or two of olive oil to the mushrooms as they cook if they become dry. Cook mushrooms with shallots for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have browned nicely. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the lemon juice, cream, and half of the parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes until all of the ingredients are incorporated and then remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.

Cut your clean, stemmed kale into 1/2-inch ribbons and then mince the garlic clove. Wipe out the skillet you used to cook the mushrooms and add a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic clove and sauté for a minute or two until fragrant and slightly softened. Add the kale and toss in the oil and garlic with a little bit of salt and pepper for one minute or until wilted, but not completely soft. Remove from heat, add the mushroom mixture and combine thoroughly. Allow to cool while you prepare the eggs.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a medium-sized bowl combine the eggs, milk, remaining parmesan cheese, salt, and lots of fresh black pepper. Prepare a 9″ round baking dish (mine is 9″ across and 3″ deep) with cooking spray or some softened butter on the bottom and around the sides. Pour the egg mixture into the baking pan and then top with heaping spoonfuls of the mushroom mixture. Use a butter knife to gently swirl the mushroom filling into the eggs and then put in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the middle is just set and the slightly brown edges have pulled away from the sides of the baking vessel. Allow to cool slightly and then slice into wedges for serving. Can be eaten hot or at room temperature.

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Chocolate Stout Cannoli

Chocolate Stout CannoliIt’s that time of year again – Oscars season! Once again, I’m thrilled to join Haley and a host of other food bloggers in coordinating a round up of Oscars-inspired recipes for 2016. This year, I was paired with the book-turned-film and romantic period drama, Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson. Brooklyn tells the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis (Ronan), who immigrates to the United States in the early 1950s and falls in love with a charming, working-class Italian-American boy, Tony (Cohen). While a number of things punctuate their evolving relationship and cause Eilis to struggle with questions of “home” – where she ultimately wants to makes it and with whom – her’s and Tony’s love sustains. And that’s how we get here, to Chocolate Stout Cannoli – a recipe that merges Irish and Italian flavors that are bound to make you swoon!Chocolate Stout Cannoli
Chocolate Stout Cannoli
The trick to cannoli – and especially these, with the addition of a kind of stout caramel – is a little bit of planning and patience. They’re not complicated, but require you to put a little thought into them. If you don’t have the time to drain your ricotta cheese overnight or reduce your stout by two-thirds, maybe wait until you have a window to allow these things. While runny cannoli filling isn’t the worst problem in the world – it is, of course, always tasty – you won’t be able to pipe and fill the shells to match the image in your head. Take the time with these; your patience will be oh-so-rewarded!

Chocolate Stout CannoliSimilarly, the stout reduction takes time and some attention, but don’t let that dissuade you! Reducing the chocolate stout and then adding honey to sweeten it causes it to form a soft, rich syrup that gets folded into your thickened ricotta filling and that is then joined by mini chocolate chips. The syrup gives the cheese a smoother, velvety texture and imparts a slightly hoppy, never bitter, flavor that plays really, really well with the semi-sweet chocolate. Chocolate stout cannoli are tremendously delicious and, I think, pretty unique! Consider serving them at your Oscars party as a sweet addition to the buffet – I promise that they’ll be a hit!

Chocolate Stout CannoliOn that note, I hope you’ll check out what the rest of the Oscar Blog Party contributors have made for the 2016 Academy Awards. I can’t get enough of the creativity in this group of bloggers and I think you’ll find so much inspiration in what they’ve imagined. Check out our posts from last year here and our newest set for the 2016 Oscars below the recipe!

Chocolate Stout Cannoli
Makes 8 large cannoli

Ingredients
2 cups of whole milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight
1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar, plus some more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1-1/4 teaspoon of orange zest
3/4 cup of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 cup of chocolate stout
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions
Set up a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the ricotta cheese into the strainer. Set in the refrigerator overnight to drain.

On the day you want to serve the cannoli, add the chocolate stout to a small pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a low simmer and allow to cook until the stout reduces by two-thirds, stirring occasionally. When the stout as reduced, add the honey and stir until dissolved. Once again, bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow to cook for another 10 minutes or until the liquid is bubbling thickly – keep an eye on it during this process. When the syrup has formed, immediately remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, spoon in your drained ricotta and incorporate the half cup of confectioner’s sugar. Add the cinnamon and orange zest. While it is still warm, add two tablespoons of the stout syrup and stir. Taste and add more if you’d like the addition of more of the stout flavor. You can really adjust this to your liking. Last, stir in a half cup of mini chocolate chips and then place the ricotta mixture into the refrigerator to chill for an hour.

When ready to serve, remove the filling from the refrigerator and either spoon into a piping bag and fill with a flourish or load up the shells by hand with a long-handled spoon. You can dip the ends of your cannoli into the remaining mini chocolate chips should you wish. Serve immediately.

Oscar Blog Party 2016 Contributors

2016 Oscars Inspired Recipes

The Big Short: Jenga Veggie Towers with Creamy Cilantro Dip from Flour Arrangements

Bridge of Spies: Bitesize “TV Dinner” Meatloaf Appetizers from Pickles Travel

Mad Max: Fury Road: Ruby Red Grapefruitcello from Making It With Stephany

The Martian: Homemade Cheddar and Chive Tater Tots from The Honour System

The Revenant: Crock Pot Ribs from Dining With Alice

Room: Victoria Sandwich Cake from Savoury Table

Spotlight: Cheesy Boston Clam Dip from Cheap Recipe Blog

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DIY Kate Spade Glitter Earrings

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsThese DIY Kate Spade Glitter Earrings are a project I’ve wanted to undertake for two years now – two whole years! The backstory is that three years ago, my eyes landed on the originals around the holidays and I put them at the top of my Christmas list for all to see. Though I received some absolutely wonderful presents that yea, as I do every year (thanks, fam!), these multi-color glitter studs weren’t waiting for me under the tree. “Not to despair!” I told myself, “If not Christmas, then Valentine’s Day!” But many others shared my delight with them and they were sold out everywhere by the start of the new year. Insert: sad trombone.

I searched high and low for over a year with no promise of a return in sight, so I planned and I schemed on how I could recreate them – I just needed the perfect base earrings to build my shimmery beauties. You know how it goes though, life happened and other projects emerged and my idea for the recreation sat idling on the back burner. But finally, in December of this year, I took the bull by the horns and bought a pair of matte faux stone studs for $3.51 from Forever 21 and began auditioning my treasure trove of glitter nail polishes for a good combination.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsI wanted pink to be more present in my pair than in the originals. I mean, if I had creative control of this process, I thought that I might as well shoot for the moon! I settled on some complimentary glitter polishes that I already owned – namely, Sally Hansen’s Cheery On Top and China Glaze’s Shine-nanigans, which has a lot more depth and pinkness to it than the photo below would suggest. I also selected New York Color’s Wine Bar to up the magenta quotient by using it as a background color to the glitters; I applied it as a base coat since the earrings I upgraded were grayish white.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsThese DIY earrings require a little patience, as it pays to let the layers of color and glitter set up a bit before applying the next coat. I used a small stiff angled brush to more aggressively push the glitter around to the spots I wanted it and, at the end, I also used it alongside some cotton swabs and nail polish remover to clean up the areas where my handiwork got a little messy. I sealed the earrings not with clear top coat, as one might be tempted to do considering we’re working with a lot of nail polish here, but rather with this amazing glaze by Americana. It took about 24 hours to fully cure, but it gave the earrings a smooth, slightly domed finish just like the originals and also imparted some really great shine.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsFor those of you prepared to leave me a comment letting me know Kate Spade went and did a girl a solid and re-released these opulent little gems this past holiday season, I know! But I have to be honest: for less than a third of the original price (way less if you use nail polish you already own or repurpose an old pair of earrings), I think this DIY version is a pretty fantastic dupe! Within minutes of wearing them out into the world for the first time, I got three sets of compliments from three entirely different, unrelated people – that equals success in my book! My only regret is not buying more pairs of the Forever 21 studs so that I could recreate these for all of my earring-wearing, glitter-loving Galentines out there – lucky for all of us, they’re still online here. Small miracles, I say!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! XOXO

DIY Kate Spade Glitter Earrings
Materials
One pair of cushion-cut stud earrings; I used these from Forever 21
Your choice of glitter nail polishes (consider one with finer glitter and one with chunky, hexagonal pieces)
A nail polish, or acrylic craft paint, to use for your base color (optional)
Small, stiff angled brush
Cotton swabs
Nail polish remover
Americana Triple Thick Brilliant Brush-on Gloss Glaze
Foam or cardboard to poke the earrings into for ease of handling when painting and for elevated drying

Directions
Remove your earrings’ backs and poke the stems into a piece of sturdy foam or stiff cardboard so that there is at least half an inch between the back of the earring and the surface of the foam/cardboard. This will help keep the earrings elevated and make them easier to maneuver and see all sides as you paint them. If your earrings are a light color or a color you dislike, use a nail polish or acrylic craft paint of choice to apply a thin base coat to the earrings. If you want one color in the glitter polishes to really stand out, choose this as your base color. I chose a magenta polish on my pair as the base. When dry, apply your first coat of glitter polish. Err on the side of lighter coats, of which you’ll need to apply several, as opposed to heavy, gloppy coats. The latter, obviously, takes more time to dry, but I also felt like I had less control over the distribution of the glitter when the top of the earring was overwhelmed by polish. The more lightly you apply the glitter polish, the less chance you’ll have of errant glitter getting stuck to the side and back hardware of the earrings. Repeat your coats of glitter polish using the stiff angled brush to manipulate the glitter into the patterns and positions of how you’d like it to appear.

After you’ve applied your final coat of glitter – I used about 5 coats – allow it to dry and clean up any spots or splatter with some nail polish remover and either the stiff angled brush or a cotton swab. Next, apply the glaze. I was more heavy-handed with the glaze because I knew I’d only be applying one coat. Paint it on thickly and make sure the surface is smooth and completely covered. As the glaze cures it will, initially, turn opaque white and then, as it hardens, it will lighten until it eventually becomes a smooth, clear, shiny casing. It’s amazing how much this glaze took these from an obvious (but still pretty!) DIY to something that looks much more, well, polished!

 

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Tomato Pesto Gratin

Tomato Pesto GratinTomato Pesto Gratin may seem like a summer dish if ever there was one, but the beauty of it is that it brings the familiar flavors of your farmer’s market bounty into your kitchen in the dead of winter. Last weekend, I was toiling around the kitchen after a week-long bout of bronchitis, anxious to cook and eat all the vegetables I could find. Having just spent seven full days with a stuffed nose and congested chest, I wanted bold flavors I could actually taste and enjoy. Side note: I’ll never take my taste buds for granted again. Digging through the crisper, I thought I’d make some omelettes, maybe with some red peppers and spinach, but therein, I spied five plum tomatoes that I had managed to forget about during our brief plague.
Tomato Pesto GratinI know, I know, tomatoes don’t belong in the refrigerator, but when illness set in, there was no common sense exercised about what belonged where, for how long, or why. We’re lucky the cats were fed and, occasionally, the dishwasher ran. Quickly, the idea for bruschetta came to mind, but with temperatures dipping well into the negative numbers, a cold salad alongside some eggs and toast, wasn’t all that appealing. But baked tomatoes were my quick next thought, and a damn good one at that. We had them again this weekend and I’m taking the leftovers for work on Monday alongside a salad and a hunk of crusty sourdough that we got this weekend at a new bakery in our neighborhood. I’m already looking forward to it!
Tomato Pesto GratinBecause I wanted these to be sweet, tender, and concentrated in tomato flavor, I seeded the tomatoes and then roasted them for 10 minutes without any of the filling. A little known fact about me is that I actually really dislike the taste of raw tomatoes, unless they’re in something like bruschetta or salsa where they’re broken down a bit by some kind of acid – lemon or lime, vinegar – and then mixed up with a ton of flavors I love – onion, cilantro or basil, lots and lots of garlic…yum!


Tomato Pesto Gratin

Once the tomatoes are halfway to jammy (that’s a technical phrase), I took them out of the oven and filled them with a tablespoon of homemade pesto I had in my freezer from last summer and then topped each little mound with a small amount of shredded  mozzarella and panko bread crumbs. They cook for another 20 minutes or until the tops become brown and crisp and the cheese and oil from the pesto are both bubbling away.

Tomato Pesto GratinThese are beyond delicious and such an easy any meal, any day of the week, kind of recipe. We had them with eggs – and may or may not have dipped our sourdough toast in all of the oil and juice – but these would be good along side a steak, grilled chicken, fish, as much as they’re a meal all their own with a hearty salad. Tomato Pesto Gratin is my favorite side dish of the New Year so far and I fully expect to fall back on it time and time again between now and actual summer. Between now and July, I plan to eat my fill and then some!

Tomato Pesto Gratin
Yields 5 servings

Ingredients
5 plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder, divided
Salt & pepper
3/4 cup of pesto (mine was cold, so it made it easy to scoop rounded tablespoons into the tomato halves)
1/2 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup of panko bread crumbs

Directions
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Slice tomatoes in half and scoop out seeds and center flesh. You can toss this or use it in a soup, salsa, or as part of a light pasta sauce at another time. In a bowl, add the tomatoes and then douse with two tablespoons of olive oil. Toss to coat and then arrange in a baking dish that is about an inch taller than the height of the tomatoes. Sprinkle a teaspoon of the garlic powder over the tomatoes and add salt and pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the tomatoes from the oven and raise the temperature to 400°F. Fill each tomato half with a tablespoon of the pesto and top with approximately the same amount of shredded mozzarella cheese. Spoon 2 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs over each tomato half and top all of the pieces with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes or until the panko is lightly browned and crisp.

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5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving

5 Things You Can Do Now for ThanksgivingI’m a little bit giddy about Thanksgiving this year, but not for reasons you might think. Yes, I’ll get to spend it in the company of friends, of people I love, and yes, there will be delicious things to nibble and drink, games to play, and fun to be had with some of my favorite faces. But this year, Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving as it really is, is the first time in five years that I’m not responsible for the meal – and I’m pretty thrilled about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook for my friends, to feed them delicious treats, to decorate my home and make it super inviting, but it’s a lot of work that starts weeks in advance. This year, I only have to bring two vegetable side dishes, my best beau, some board games…and that’s it! That’s all that is required of me! I’m so excited to spend time enjoying my friends and being very present in the moment, as opposed to running back and forth to the kitchen like I normally do when hosting. I’ll be the girl on the couch with her feet up and a glass of rosé in her manicured hand – and I can’t wait!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
But all of my years of hosting in the past have taught me a lot about how to have a beautiful Thanksgiving and what you can do days, even weeks, ahead in order to make the day itself less busy and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the 5 things you can do now for Thanksgiving!

1. Prepare your Lists
I’m no one if not someone who loves a list. And while it can get borderline neurotic any other time, if you’re hosting any big event or holiday gathering, organization is key. So get yourself situated early on by preparing your four main lists: guest list, menu, shopping list, and your day-of agenda.

  • Several weeks in advance, you should have a firm sense of who is attending the fête and what they’re bringing. Lock in folks on one item or another based on their strengths. Once you know that one person is responsible for wine and another for their famous pumpkin cheesecake, you’re well on your way to organizing your menu and filling in the gaps.
  • Having a menu in place early on should give you a sense of calm as the day gets closer because you know what’s ahead of you. Building in old reliables that you’re comfortable with executing and the rare new recipe or technique allows you the ability to foresee how to structure your time before and the day itself. You’ll know where you need to build in extra time for your first-time making a meringue-topped dessert for instance versus the mashed potatoes you whip up once a month, that feel like old hat.
  • Planning your menu in advance also allows you to buy responsibly. Thanksgiving – and all holidays – can be expensive for the person hosting. If you take time ahead of time to plan a potluck or to designate specific items or dishes to others, it can alleviate some of the financial strain. If you’re going it alone and intend on not asking your guests to bring anything, planning your menu in advance also gives you time to take stock of what you have already. You’ll know if you’re down to half a bag of confectioner’s sugar or have four pounds stacked up in the back of the pantry.
  • A little planning prevents overbuying as much as it helps you to not miss any key ingredients as you head to the store. Organize your shopping list based on the layout of the spot where you plan to do your shopping. You’ll move through your list faster this way and will be less likely to forget something integral. I always make sure to mark on my shopping list what I have a coupon for or what the sale/deal is so that I’m also certain I’m buying the specific item (the 10oz box versus the 12oz box) that is actually on sale.
  • A day-of agenda for executing the meal itself is where many folks would draw the line with list-making, but I promise you that it’s worth doing – especially if you’re new to planning or cooking a big meal for a crowd. Doing so will allow you to have a schedule to keep yourself to – one that has already considered that the stuffing can go in the oven at the same temperature as the sweet potatoes, but 20 minutes after. A day-of agenda also comes in handy once you’re ready to put all the food out to confirm you haven’t forgotten to warm something or put out the dinner rolls. Consider it a little blueprint to get you through the day.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
2. Ready your serveware, your place settings, and your tools
A week or two before the event is the time to make sure you have everything you need in terms of your tools prior to the event. Take down your platters from the tops of your cupboards, pull out your box of extra wine glasses, dig through your utensil drawer and find the baster and meat thermometer, sharpen your knives. The worst thing is a stressful day before the holiday when you’re scrambling around trying to finish cooking and prepping and you still have to gather together all of the serving pieces you’re going to need the next day. Be good to yourself and take the time to plan so that on the night before, you can order a pizza, maybe trim some veggies, and take it easy. I like to gather all of my plates together, wash anything that got a little dusty during the year in the back of the closet, and then wrap everything in a clean, spare table cloth and keep them on an empty closet shelf.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
3. Wash and press your linens
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for cloth napkins. Do Bear and I use them every day? No, of course not. Laundry isn’t free, nor is it in our apartment, and we’re not jerks. That said, though, I love a cloth napkin when I’m entertaining people, so the week before, I figure out what my table is going to look like and what table cloth and napkins I’m going to use. You know what you don’t want to be doing the night before Thanksgiving? Laundry. Two hours of work weeks ahead of time will save you last-minute annoyance and anguish closer to the holiday. Of course, if you’re thinking of using paper napkins for your event, I say there’s no shame in that. Easy clean-up where you can get it is totally respectable in the face of cooking a huge meal. If linens aren’t where you think your precious time needs to be spent, I get it! No shame!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
4. Plan your table decoration and layout
A beautiful table doesn’t have to be difficult, elaborate, or expensive. A simple bouquet of flowers separated into smaller, shorter bouquets with a few small tea light candles won’t put you back much and will make you and your guests feel truly special. Pinterest, of course, is a great source of inspiration, so I recommend browsing around in your very early planning stages and getting some ideas. Two things I like to keep in mind as I plan what I’ll have on my table: 1) It’s important for your guests to be able to see each other, so I tend to put together items that aren’t very tall. For Thanksgiving, think pumpkins, gourds, candles shaped like maple leaves, pine cones, etc. An arrangement that includes lower-profile items will be beautiful and won’t risk interfering with conversation. 2) Remember that you’re going to have other things on your table aside from your centerpiece. Be sure you allow room for everyone’s place setting, rogue drinks that make it to the table, extra serving dishes of sides if you’re not buffeting your meal, and elbows! Don’t sacrifice you or your guests’ comfort and ability to stretch out a bit for a really elaborate table design. The whole point of getting together is to enjoy your time together and that’s not possible if you’re getting pushed out by too many wicker turkeys.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
5. Look to make-ahead dishes
After my first two years of cooking Thanksgiving, it took me about two to three days to fully recover from the amount of work and stress it was – and I was still in my 20s then! But all of that changed as I started to plan better and learned from experience that there were several key parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time to save me such valuable time. The first? The gravy! Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had includes this incredible gravy from the one and only Ina Garten. For me, there’s no turkey without this gravy. But you know what? Making gravy in the final moments before your meal goes to the table is hella stressful. It is the worst! So what do I do? I make my gravy two weeks ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. On the morning of Thanksgiving, I thaw it and warm it on the stove (or gasp! In the microwave!) right before we dig in. Sometimes it needs a little whisk or a quick buzz with the immersion blender to bring it fully together, but that’s nothing. Making the gravy in advance is such a time-saver and the result is piping hot, which is never the case when you’re whisking gravy together at the last minute. I make the gravy with drippings from a chicken I roast for dinner a few weeks prior and you’d never know that it didn’t start with a turkey. Take this tip and run with it, seriously!
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
I also make my cranberry and clementine conserve weeks ahead of time and freeze it as well. For Thanksgiving prep, these containers are your best friends, allowing you to make several different pieces of your meal in advance, and strong enough to withstand the chill of your freezer for a few weeks. Last year, I even made my mashed potatoes a day or two prior (don’t freeze these – the texture will never be the same), smoothed them into a 9×13 pan, covered it tightly with foil, and about 40 minutes out from the meal, I put them oven covered and let them get nice and hot. They fluffed up beautifully as I added them to the serving bowl and there was no last minute mashing and whipping of potatoes either. If you plan a menu in advance, with the possibility of doing some of it ahead of time, you can really take a lot off your plate for the day-of, allowing you to do what you’re meant to: enjoy your friends and family and reflect on how to improve, or contribute more to, our various communities.

Whether you’re hosting your first big meal, bringing a pie, or staying home with take-out and Netflix, I wish you a wonderful, stress-free day of entertainment and one hell of a big piece of pumpkin pie. Enjoy, everyone!

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Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieTo take one look at this blog, you’d think it was focused solely on desserts these days. Recent posts have included, cider donut shortcakes, cookie butter buckeyes, chocolate cake with burnt oranges – Mom, I promise we’re eating real food, too! Just last week we had escarole and white bean soup one night and Bear made chicken, sweet potato, and kale enchiladas the next. It’s fall, though, and with it comes the push for food that comforts and that wows a holiday crowd. Which is what we have here – a real showstopper of a dessert for either Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving if that’s more your speed, as it is mine) or the winter holidays: Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie!

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieWhaaaaaat? You didn’t know Trader Joe’s has updated its year-round classic cookie spread and infused it with the official flavor of Fall, pumpkin spice? Let me save you any question that this might not be the most perfect marriage – it is on par with love of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. If you’ve never had cookie butter – or speculoos spread, as it’s called in most of the world outside of the U.S. – it’s ground, spiced graham cookies that are crushed and blended to form a thick peanut-butter-like paste. My personal favorite part of speculoos spread, or cookie butter, are the little tiny crystals of undissolved cookie throughout – it takes any apple slice, waffle, or PB&J to another level.

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieWhen I saw this Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago, I figured we’d just eat it as is, spread on whatever vehicle selected to get it into our mouths fast enough. “Maybe,” I said to a skeptical-of-all-things-trendy Bear, “we can blend it into a smoothie with bananas!” But once home, I found myself thinking of something seasonal to do with it. It is pumpkin spice, after all, and we’re coming up on holidays where you might need to bring a dessert to a party. Sure, you could bring a traditional pumpkin pie – they’re delicious – but you could also bring a Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie that tastes like the old standard and gingerbread cheesecake had a baby. I vote for the latter!

While this certainly isn’t my prettiest pie crust (don’t be like me and forget to chill your pie dough before you bake it), it hardly even matters when you have a filling this good. Cream cheese adds a velvety-ness to the mix and a slight tang, while freshly blended and barely sweetened whipped cream lightens things up to a beautiful not-quite-airy, but mousse-like texture. If you’re looking for a little something different in a Fall dessert, try this pie – it’s creamy and dense, easy to make-ahead (pop it in the fridge or freezer), and a delectable new version of a Fall classic.

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie
Yields one 9-inch pie

Ingredients
1 fully-baked pie crust, cooled completely
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1-1/3 cup of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter
1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
1-1/2 cups of heavy cream
1/4 cup of granulated sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and the granulated sugar and whip until peaks form; the peaks should stand on their own when the beaters are removed. Refrigerate the whipped cream while you prepare the next step. In a larger bowl, use a hand-mixer to combine the cream cheese and the pumpkin spice cookie butter. Once combined, slowly add in the cup of confectioner’s sugar and blend completely.

Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and fold two-thirds of it into the cookie butter mixture. Be gentle so that some of the air of the whipped cream is left behind and aerates the pie filling. Once combined, pour the mixture into the pie crust and allow to set for at least 2 hours before serving. You can use the remaining whipped cream to top the pie or serve on the side. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

This pie can be made up to two days in advance if kept in the refrigerator and can also be frozen two weeks prior to when you might need it. To make 2 days ahead, fill the pie crust, but do not add the whipped cream. Wrap tightly with foil and keep cold in the back of your refrigerator. Prior to serving, make fresh whipped cream for top. If freezing, fill the pie crust and skip the whipped cream on top. Wrap the pie tightly in plastic wrap and then again in heavy-duty aluminum foil to keep out frost – the double layer of protection is a must. Defrost on the counter for an hour before serving and make fresh whipped cream to top.

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Cider Donut Shortcakes

Cider Donut ShortcakesBear is many things, but a baker is not one of them. Not because he can’t manage a hand-blender or feels it might threaten his masculinity (gasp!), but because it requires patience to measure, to sift, to leaven. I stray from baking for long periods of time myself because of this need to be so precise with it. Ultimately, though, I find my way back, take a few deep breaths, run off my Italian impulsivity, and get back to leveling, weighing, and timing rises and bakes down to the minute.
Cider Donut ShortcakesThree years ago, Bear was trying to come up with a birthday cake idea for me, but was overtaken with nerves that his lack of patience would win out and he’d wind up with a failed dessert. I was serious when I said he could just buy a box of donuts, but he was suspicious of being let off the hook that easily. Creativity was quick to strike, though, and on my 32nd birthday, the strawberry donut shortcake was born – a fluffy, glazed donut split in half and filled with wine-macerated berries and homemade whipped cream. Is that Bear a catch, or what? It’s such a special, over-the-top treat, that I’ve requested it for birthdays 33 and 34, as well.
Cider Donut ShortcakesBut once a year seems so long to wait for a donut-turned-layered-cake dessert, doesn’t it? Who wants to wait for a whole rotation around the sun to gently saw through a pillowy donut and stuff it with cream and fruit? What of the many seasonal varieties of treats that could be made in such a similar fashion?

Cider Donut ShortcakesThat’s how we got here, folks, to Cider Donut Shortcakes – your newest, easiest Fall dessert to have on hand for any day of the week from September through November. Do you know how people squee for these? The excitement of the donut itself – cakey in texture, but crisp with its cinnamon and sugar sprinkle – surrounding a giant ball of vanilla ice cream that’s slowly melting beneath a syrup of sauteed apples with cinnamon and cardamom? Your loved ones will lose their minds – and you won’t have to measure anything more than a little sugar and a little spice to pull your apples together! Try these soon before cider donut season wraps up and let me know what other varieties these shortcakes might inspire in you – I’m all ears!

Cider Donut Shortcakes
Yields two apple cider donut shortcakes

Ingredients
2 cider donuts
1 pint of vanilla ice cream
2 granny smith apples, skinned & cored, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of apple cider (apple juice or water would work fine too)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
Pinch of salt

Directions
Slice the donuts in half from side-to-side and set aside. In a sauce pan, melt butter on medium-low while slicing apples. Allow to brown gently and when bubbles cover the surface of the butter, add in the brown sugar, apples, salt, and spices. Raise the heat to medium and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add in the apple cider and stir to combine, then allow to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, stirring only occasionally. The apples should become fairly soft, but not mushy, and the liquid should thicken into a syrupy consistency. It will become more dense as it cools. Remove from heat as you scoop two, rounded mounds of ice cream and place on the bottom half of the donut. Flatten the top just enough for it to hold some apples as you spoon them onto the top of each ice cream ball. Be liberal with both the apples and the syrup. Place the other donut half on top and serve immediately.

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Cookie Butter Buckeyes

Cookie Butter BuckeyesFall has just begun here in Minneapolis and with it comes the updating of the pantry and the cupboard. In our house, that means bagging up the excess charcoal and stowing it in the basement storage unit, securing the melon baller in its spot in the back of the utensil drawer, and switching out the deviled egg plates for the muffin tins in the cabinet above the refrigerator. It’s fall, y’all, and we have this reorganization ritual of mine to thank for these cookie butter buckeyes.

Had I not been doing the delicate dance of rehoming the barbecue tongs at the tip-top of the pantry, to make room for the slow cooker on a lower, more accessible shelf, I wouldn’t have peered in the deep recesses of my pantry a half-full jar of Biscoff spread wedged in the corner by the Thanksgiving platter. What? You don’t have a Thanksgiving platter? That’s neither here nor there, I suppose, what you serve your turkey on is  your business. Let’s get back to the Biscoff, yes?

Cookie Butter BuckeyesUsing a remaining cup and a third of cookie butter is hardly a nightmare – heck, on a Monday I could eat that after dinner straight out of the jar. The stuff, generally, doesn’t stand a fighting chance here between me and our most darling fat cat who likes to delicately lick it off the top of my finger while gently steading the back of my hand with his mighty paw. Bear said I couldn’t feed it all to Ollie, though, so here I was with a jar of cookie butter and I couldn’t remember when I had bought it, how long we’d had it, and this lit a fire in me to figure out a way to use it right away.

I’ll admit, it didn’t take a lot of imagination to follow a trusted peanut butter buckeye recipe and substitute cookie butter. I added a little extra cinnamon in these just to get more of that spiced Biscoff flavor to come through against the sweetness of the semi-sweet chocolate, but otherwise these are your familiar, creamy, cozy buckeyes with some, appropriately, fall flavors. A perfect treat for a drive through the foliage, a picnic in the leaves, or alongside a mug of hot, steamy tea after a long day. Wipe off that Thanksgiving platter and lace up your boots – cookie butter buckeyes are your new fall BFF!

Cookie Butter Buckeyes
Yields approximately 30 1-1/2″ buckeyes

Ingredients
1-1/3 cups of cookie butter/speculoos spread/Biscoff
2 sticks of salted, softened butter
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
6 cups of confectioner’s sugar
4 cups of semi-sweet chocolate melted (use bars, not chips!)

Directions
Combine the cookie butter and softened butter in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and the ground cinnamon and mix to combine. Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar bit by bit with the mixer on low.

Once all of the confectioner’s sugar has been integrated, the mixture will resemble coarse crumbs, but will hold together when pressed together. Form 1-1/2″ balls with your hands and set on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking mat. Place the sheet tray into the refrigerator for a half hour to allow the balls to firm up.

In the meantime, slowly melt your chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, checking it every 10-15 seconds. Use bar chocolate here, as chocolate chips have stabilizers in them to keep their shape and they don’t melt as smoothly; in my experience, they seize and burn faster too. Once the chocolate has melted, remove it from the double boiler or microwave and take the buckeyes out of the refrigerator. Insert a skewer or toothpick into the top of the ball and gently dip it into the chocolate, swirling as you go. This will cause the chocolate to come up the sides of the ball, forming the buckeye’s distinct exposed cookie butter center and perfectly coated sides.

Place the buckeye back onto the baking sheet and remove the skewer gently. Smooth over the remaining hole from the skewer over with the tip of a butter knife (optional) and continue. When all the buckeyes are coated in chocolate, return the buckeyes to the fridge to set. When the chocolate has hardened, store in an airtight container in the fridge up to two weeks.

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Broccoli and Potato Vegetable Medallions

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable Medallions
Hello, friends! How I’ve missed you and this space! While I won’t bore you with all the mundane details, a new job came my way in March shortly after our little getaway to Santa Fe and time has been a hard little beast to track down ever since. With my full-time job now and two classes to boot, it doesn’t seem as if I’ll get a full break any time soon, but the little “me time” I’m carving out, I’d like to put towards this cozy little spot where I make and bake with and for all of you. Send me your love notes of encouragement, yes? Come next semester things will, hopefully, be much less hectic and we’ll get back to much more regular schedule.

A few weeks ago, I skipped out of work a bit early to take a trip to IKEA for some office supplies. A workspace filled with beautiful, modern IKEA elements is a good-for-the-soul workplace, after all! While there, I couldn’t resist a stop for lunch which is where I first encountered their Grönsakskaka, or broccoli and potato vegetable medallions. Have you had these? They’re delicious croquettes made with mashed potatoes, broccoli, leeks and cheese that are then baked and served as a side dish. These are savory little cakes, homey in their density and richness; a perfect accompaniment to the warmer, heavier dishes coming our way as we mosey into fall and winter.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable MedallionsIntent upon recreating them at home, I stopped by the grocery store on my way home and picked up what I suspected might be in them figuring that if I was slightly off, close enough wasn’t ever going to be bad. When I got in, I did a little research online and found that I’d mostly hit the mark with the suspected ingredients and was only short a leek, which Bear lovingly acquired after I whined about having to go back out to the store – ah, love! Now, dear reader, if you’re a frequent guest of IKEA you may be asking yourself, “Couldn’t this woman have just bought the bag of frozen vegetable medallions IKEA sells in its food section right near the entrances and exits of all its stores?” And you’re right, I could have, but where’s the fun in that?! Us Virgos, we love ourselves a challenge.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable MedallionsSo here I offer you my version of Grönsakskaka, or IKEA’s vegetable medallions, which are unbelievably close to the original thing and can be available to you in less time than it takes to get to your closest IKEA, find a parking spot, beat the crowds, grab the bag, find a cashier, find your car, and get back to your house. You know, unless you live, like, right next door to an IKEA, in which case, do you eat their meatball dinner three times a week? Four? I’m asking for an (envious) friend.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable MedallionsThese are great next to a slice of meatloaf, along a roast chicken, or reimagined for breakfast or brunch with a poached egg, a slice or two of bacon, and a lightly dressed salad. Make a batch tonight and freeze what you don’t use for next week. They keep well in the freezer and only need a brief thaw before they can be baked off and ready for your next meal.

Broccoli and Potato Vegetable Medallions
Yields 12 2-1/2-inch medallions

Ingredients
6 medium russet potatoes
1 small head of broccoli – about 3 cups
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 leek
1-1/2 cup of a mild, white melting cheese, such as Monterey Jack or havarti
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of parmesan, divided
2 eggs, divided
3 teaspoons of half and half or cream, divided
salt, pepper

Directions
Peel the potatoes, cut them into quarters, and then add them to a large pot with 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover with cold water by about 3″ and bring to a boil. Allow the potatoes to boil for about 5-7. In the meantime, rinse and cut up the broccoli into medium-sized pieces. You can also chop up the stem to include, but you may need to remove its fibrous outer layer first. After the 5-7 minutes have elapsed, add the broccoli and cook an additional 5-7 minutes, or until the potatoes and broccoli are soft and mashable. Drain the vegetables in a colander and allow to cool for a bit.

Cut the root end off of the leek and the top half of the link where the white and green parts meet and the leek gets very tough; discard. With your remaining leek, slice it lengthwise and then into thin half moons. Add the leeks to a large bowl of water and swish them around, allowing any grit or sand to rinse off and fall into the bottom of the bowl. After you’ve done so, drain the leeks in a colander and give them a final rinse and set aside to dry off a bit. In a medium frying pan, add the butter and olive oil and turn the heat to medium-high. When the butter is melted, add the leeks and sauté for a few minutes until they start to just turn a bit golden brown at the edges. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a separate bowl, crack two eggs and whisk them together. Reserve 1-1/2 tablespoons of the eggs in another bowl for your egg wash. In the bowl where you initially cracked the two eggs, add two teaspoons of half and half or cream, black pepper, and a little salt. Return to your potato and broccoli mixture and in a large mixing bowl, mash the vegetables together. They shouldn’t be completely smooth, but not very chunky either. A few larger bits of potato or broccoli are fine, as they give texture, but they should be mashed enough where they’ll hold together with some binder.

Add the egg mixture, the 1-1/2 cups of Monterey Jack, and the 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese to the broccoli and potato mash. Stir to combine. The mixture may be a bit sticky, but it should hold together well when shaped. You can free-form the medallions by hand or pat the mixture out into a large rectangle and use a 2-1/2-inch biscuit cutter to form rounds. Once the medallions have been formed, allow to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes while your oven preheats to 375. When ready, arrange the medallions on a lined baking sheet and brush the tops and sides of each with an egg wash composed of the 1-1/2 tablespoons of egg you set aside along with the remaining 1 teaspoon of half and half or cream. Sprinkle the top of each medallion with parmesan cheese and bake for 25 minutes or until just starting to brown. Remove from the oven, allow to sit a minute or two, and serve.

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