Friday, February 21, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies.  I have tried many different recipes and I always come back to my tried and true Nestle Toll House Recipe.  Perhaps its just comfort, or maybe after baking so many cookies I know what my preference is, all I know is that I love these!  This recipe can be used with shortening which does yield a fluffier cookie, however, butter provides a richer flavor and a nice balance between a crisp edge with a soft center.

Chocolate Chip Cookies (Adapted from Nestle Toll House)
1 cup butter at room temperature
3/4 c white sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/2-3 cups flour (I always check after 2 1/2 cups to see how sticky the dough is)
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with a non stick baking sheet, my favorite brand is Silpat. Cream butter and both sugars together.  Add eggs one at a time, beating in between.  Add vanilla, salt, and baking soda.  Mix together.  Add flour one cup at a time mixing well until dough is not sticking to fingers.  With a spoon stir in chocolate chips.  Drop cookie dough by the spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Christmas Dinner

Our Christmas Dinner in Chicago this year was one of the best meals I've made-- yes, it was that good! Prime Rib, Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Cider-glazed bacon green beans, twice-baked potatoes, grandma's rolls and a berry punch.

Our Christmas spread, complete with baby H toes peeking from his bumbo seat :)

Prime Rib
Remove from refrigerator a few hours before serving, let warm to room temperature. Season with kosher salt and black pepper, and any other herbs you desire (I used a Santa Maria Blend). Brown in pan over the stove to seal in the flavor and brown the meat. Pre-heat oven to 375 and cook for approximately 30 minutes (for 2 lbs); checking on it frequently with a meat thermometer to desired temperature (Medium=120 degrees).

Roasted Pumpkin Soup 
1 large pie pumpkin, about 3 lb., peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes 
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 
2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. olive oil 
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 
2 Tbs. unsalted butter 
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced 
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
4 Tbs. chicken stock concentrate mixed with 6 cups water 
2 fresh thyme sprigs 
1 bay leaf 
1 cup heavy cream 
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

Preheat an oven to 450°F.
In a large bowl, stir together the pumpkin, carrots, the 2 Tbs. olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are browned and tender, about 45 minutes. Set aside. In the same pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and apple and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, thyme sprigs and bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Working in batches, puree the apple-stock mixture with the roasted vegetables in a blender until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls or cocottes. Garnish with the parsley

Cider-Glazed Bacon Green Beans 
Olive oil
8 ounces bacon or pancetta, finely diced
1 medium red onion, quartered and sliced thin
2 lbs Green Beans
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
¼ teaspoon Italian seasoning 
¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped 

Cider Glaze (recipe below) 
Blanch green beans. Place a medium-size non-stick skillet over medium-high heat; once hot, add in the diced bacon and allow it to crisp up until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes; using a slotted spoon, remove the crisped bacon from the pan and place onto a paper towel-lined bowl/plate to drain, and set aside; reserve about 2- 2 ½ tablespoons of the bacon drippings, and discard the rest; next, lightly clean out the pan you crisped the bacon in, and add back into it the reserved bacon drippings, and turn the heat on the medium-high; once hot, add in the sliced red onion, and allow it to caramelize until golden-brown for about 15-20 minutes; remove from pan and set aside. Next, toss the green beans with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the sea salt, cracked pepper and Italian seasoning in pan until warm. Toss in the bacon, onions and chopped toasted walnuts (if too hot, use a metal spoon to toss), and lightly drizzle the Cider Glaze over the Brussels sprouts, starting with about half of it, and using all, if desired.

Cider Glaze ingredients:
½ cup apple cider vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons, divided use
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Into a small, heavy-bottom sauce pan, add the ½ cup apple cider vinegar, the ½ cup sugar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar, and whisk together; place the sauce pan over medium heat, and once the mixture begins to simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the mixture to gently simmer for about 10 minutes, or until thicken up and syrupy; turn the heat off, and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar; allow to cool slightly and drizzle over the Brussels sprouts while still warm; or to make ahead, completely cool the glaze and keep it in a small dish covered with plastic wrap in the fridge until ready to use, at which point you can gently re-heat it stove top. 

Twice Baked Potatoes 
Russett Potatoes 
1 tbs Butter per potato 
1/4 cup Sour Cream per potato 
1/8 cup Milk per potato 
3 green onions, chopped 
1/2 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese per potato 
Salt and Pepper to taste 

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes, poke holes with a fork in each one. Place in oven and bake for 1 hour. While potatoes are baking, shred cheese, chop green onions, prepare milk, sour cream and butter (I eyeball the amounts for each, and adjust to taste).  Check on potatoes, remove from oven when you can easily slip a fork through. Cut into each potato with a knife in an oval shape and hollow out the middle of the potato, placing the inner parts of the potato in a mixing bowl. Add butter, sour cream and milk, mix well. When consistency is how you want it, add cheese, chives, and any other mixing you desire. Salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon mixture into each potato, top with cheddar cheese and place back in oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. 

Berry Punch 
1 liter Sprite 
1 can Berry Blend Concentrate 
Mix together 

Grandma's Rolls (separate Recipe to be added) 


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Olive Oil and Sea Salt Popcorn

My most favorite snack was introduced to me by my neighbor, Miss Courtney. The flavors are simple and clean and I personally think it is far superior to anything store bought. All you need is an air popper, your favorite popcorn kernels (I prefer white popcorn kernels), olive oil, and some fine sea salt.

Popcorn Kernels
2-3 tablespoons Olive Oil (my favorite is Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil found at Trader Joes
Fine Sea Salt to taste

Air pop the kernels per the manufacturer instructions on the air popper. Once popped, drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil toss to coat and add sea salt to taste. I typically start by adding some salt into my hand, sprinkle some on, and add more if needed.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Coconut Cream Pie

Toasted-Coconut-Graham-CrackersCoconut Graham Crust
5 Tbsp sweetened shredded coconut, divided
9 rectangle graham crackers (or 18 squares) broken in rough pieces, one sleeve
2 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp melted butter

Coconut Pie Filling
2/3 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup cornstarchCoconut-Pastry-Cream
5 eggs yolks
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cold butter, cut in pieces
2 tsp vanilla

Coconut Whipped Cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp coconut extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place a medium bowl and the beaters in the fridge to chill.  Sprinkle 5 tablespoons of coconut in a small baking pan and toast in the oven on 325 degrees stir 2-3 times, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside 1 tablespoon.  Process the graham crackers, 4 tablespoons of toasted coconut and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor into fine crumbs. Using a fork or rubber spatula, stir in 5 tablespoons of melted butter.  Dump the graham cracker mixture into a 9-inch pie dish and press the crumbs evenly on the bottom and sides forming a crust. Bake at 325 for 10 minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for about 1 hour.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 1/3 cup sugar and the cornstarch, which will help reduce lumps. Add egg yolks and whisk until smooth.  Set aside.  Combine the coconut milk, whole milk, 1/2 cup shredded coconut, 1/3 cup sugar and salt in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, about 3-5 minutes. Take off the heat.  To temper the egg mixture, gradually whisk 3/4 cup of the hot coconut milk mixture into the egg mixture. Add the egg mixture to the sauce pan and bring mixture back to simmer whisking constantly until the surface just beings to bubble and thicken, about 60 seconds. Take off the heat.  Add the vanilla, 2 tablespoons butter and whisk until it melts. Pour into the cooled coconut graham crust and smooth until even. Cover with plastic wrap placed directly on the filling to prevent a skin forming and chill for 3 or more hours.  Just before serving, beat the cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar in the chilled bowl. Beat until soft peaks form and add the coconut extract. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  Spread or pipe the whipped cream over the pie and sprinkle the reserved 1 tablespoon of toasted coconut. To serve, cut in wedges and store leftovers in the fridge.


*Tempering – It’s the process of gradually adding a hot liquid into an egg mixture to slowly increase the temperature so that the eggs don’t scrabble.  
*Coconut milk comes in a can and is different than cream of coconut(used in drink mixes).
*For whole milk equivalent, place 2 tablespoons heavy cream in a liquid 1 cup measurer and fill with skim milk. I like to drink skim milk so having some heavy cream on hand allows me to convert skim into 1% or 2% (7 Tbsp skim milk and 1 T heavy cream), whole milk (6 Tbsp skim and 2 Tbsp heavy cream), or Half and Half (2/3 cup skim and 1/3 cup heavy cream). This way I only need skim milk and heavy cream in my fridge.
*While toasting the coconut for this pie, make a cup or two extra and store in an airtight container. Sprinkle on sundaes, coconut cupcakes or cake, layer in a parfait, add to a fruit salad or bake into cookies or quick breads. Or use it for your next Coconut Cream pie. You’ll get requests!

Sweet Potato Casserole - the best!

2 1/4 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup half and half
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1 t salt
2 t vanilla
2 large eggs
cooking spray


1 1/2 c miniature marshmallows
1/2 c flour
1/4 c packed brown sugar
1/4 t salt
2 T chilled butter cut into small pieces
1/2 c pecans chopped


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Boil potatoes until very tender, drain and cool slightly. place potatoes in large bowl. Add half and half, 3/4 c sugar, salt and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add eggs; beat well (mixture will be thin). Scrape mixture into a 9x13 baking dish coated with cooking spray. To prepare topping, sprinkle marshmallows over top of casserole. Combine flour, sugar and salt into bowl. cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in pecans and sprinkle over marshmallows. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Parmesan & Spinach Orzo

Our new go-to side dish. Ryan can eat the whole thing himself if I let him! :) 
Serves 4

2 and 1/2 cups whole wheat orzo
2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. flour
1 cup milk (I used skim!)
2/3 cups spinach, chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded, plus extra for garnish

Cook orzo according to package directions. Set aside.  Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, salt and pepper and saute for 1 minute or until onions are translucent. Add flour to form a roux and cook for an additional minute.  Add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the pot and whisk to work out any lumps from the roux. When lumps are worked out, add the remaining milk and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce has thickened, about 8 minutes.  Add chopped spinach to sauce and cook an additional 2 minutes or until spinach has cooked down. Remove sauce from heat.  Stir parmesan cheese into sauce. When cheese has melted, add cooked orzo to sauce and toss to coat. Garnish with extra parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Pork Chops with Cranberry-Maple Pan Sauce

Fresh cranberries color the sauce a vibrant red, and their tart edge is a perfect counterpoint to the sweet maple syrup
Serves 4

4 1-inch-thick bone-in pork chops (about 2-1/2 lb.) 

2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1-1/2 Tbs. olive oil 
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries 
1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth 
1/2 cup pure maple syrup 
2 tsp. cider vinegar 
2 tsp. Dijon mustard 

Pat the pork dry and season with 1 tsp. of the thyme, 1-1/4 tsp. salt, and 3/4 tsp. pepper.

Heat the oil in a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering hot. Add the pork chops and cook without moving until the pork is browned around the edges and easily releases when you lift a corner, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the pork chops and continue to cook until firm to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into a chop close to but not touching the bone registers 140°F, about 9 minutes.

Transfer the chops to a plate and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Add the cranberries, chicken broth, maple syrup, cider vinegar, mustard, and the remaining 1 tsp. thyme to the skillet and raise the heat to medium high. Cook, whisking to incorporate the mustard and any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the cranberries soften and the liquid has reduced to a saucy consistency, about 7 minutes.

Return the pork chops and any accumulated juice to the skillet, turning to coat both sides. Serve the pork chops with the sauce.