Archive | December, 2011


25 Dec

Merry Christmas everybody!


Here’s hoping you and your family have a very happy and relaxing holiday….

…filled with lots of good friends and good food!

But remember, in the words of Miss Piggy,

“Never eat more than you can lift.”


Gingerbread house is my own creation, with a little help from my fine husband Matt

Day 9: Glazed Lemon Cookies

22 Dec

On the 9th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Glazed Lemon Cookies!  I think that’s how the song goes…

These cookies couldn’t be simpler – a basic shortbread type cookie topped with a very lemony glaze.  These have been a huge hit at my family Christmas parties, I think because they stand in such sharp contrast to other Christmas cookies (I have been known to make special batches for some special people such as my Grandma).   I think these cookies are so appealing around the holidays because are petite (and thus very poppable), not too sweet, and very refreshing with such a bright lemon flavor.

This recipe is a great make-ahead recipe because they keep very well at room temperature (they’re a dry shortbread already, plus have a protective layer of glaze, so they don’t really get stale), but you can also make the dough ahead and refrigerate or freeze it (see instructions below).  Also, you probably have most all of these ingredients on hand already – likely all you’ll need to buy is a few lemons!  Easy and cheap: love it.

Glazed Lemon Cookies (recipe from Real Simple Magazine, found online here)

Time: 20 min active, 1 hour 45 min total time, Yield: The original recipe says 48, but I got ~60 out of the recipe

  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (save the whites for another purpose, like a healthy omlette!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more if necessary – it has to be fresh, not the bottled kind!
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest – or just use the whole lemon like I did!

Cookies:  With an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt and beat to combine. Gradually add the flour, mixing until just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half and shape into 1 1/4-inch-diameter logs. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350° F. Slice the logs into 3/8-inch-thick pieces and space them 1.5″ apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake until lightly golden, 16 to 20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.

Glaze:  In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and zest until it forms a thick but pourable glaze (add more lemon juice if necessary).  Dip the top of each cookie into the glaze and let set, about 15 minutes.

To freeze: Instead of refrigerating the dough, freeze the logs for up to 2 months. To bake, follow the recipe instructions, cutting and baking the dough from frozen, and use the upper end of the time range.

This cookie can be adapted to any number of citrus varieties since the dough itself is a plain shortbread.  In the summer, I have made some lemon and some lime, for a more interesting selection.  Orange or grapefruit might also be fun!  All you need is the fresh juice and zest.

Day 8: Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

21 Dec

Let me start off by saying that I ate three of these cookies before they were even cooled and that resulted in a sugar coma shortly after.  That being said, it was totally worth it.  I first made these cookies a few years ago, after I found the original recipe here from searching FoodGawker.   My mom loves chocolate and cherries, especially together, so I made these for her, and let me tell you, this recipe does not disappoint.

These cookies are slightly more labor-intensive than my molasses cookie recipe, but in my opinion, they are worth it!  The cookie itself has a fudgy, brownie-like texture, topped with a half a maraschino cherry and a smooth, fudgy chocolate topping.  This cookie will definitely satisfy your inner chocoholic, plus they’re practically a health food since they have fruit ;-)

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies (originally from here)

Time: 30-45 min prep + 10 min baking, Yield: ~40 cookies, depending how many you eat straight out of the oven…

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Hershey’s dark cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon EACH baking soda, baking powder and salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla
  • ~20 marachino cherries (about one jar), cut in half, juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk (I used leftover from making my Peppermint Patties)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Chocolate topping:  Place chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a small saucepan and melt over low heat.  Stir in 4 teaspoons of reserved cherry juice.  If chocolate becomes too thick, add a little more cherry juice.

Cookies:  Mix the flour, cocoa, soda, powder and salt in a bowl.   In a separate large bowl, beat the butter with a mixer until soft.  Add the sugar and beat until fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla, then add the flour mixture gradually, and mix until well combined.  The dough will be very stiff.

Roll the dough into 1″ balls (I use this OXO Good Grips Small Cookie Scoop which makes the job very easy!) and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets, about 2″ apart (parchment paper makes clean up a breeze! And you can reuse it for several batches). 

Make an indentation in each cookie with your thumb, and place a half a cherry into each. 

Top with ~1 teaspoon chocolate mixture, covering each cherry completely. 

Bake for 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack.

*These cookies freeze well, so make them in advance!  Once cooled, transfer cookies to a Tupperware container lined with wax paper between each layer*

Day 7: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

20 Dec

Happy Day 7!  Today I am sharing a great recipe for Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins, which are perfect to bake ahead and keep on hand during the holidays.  These would be great for Christmas morning or whenever company stops over.  There’s nothing better than muffins fresh out of the oven, but I also don’t like how muffins stored in Tupperware containers tend to get soggy and lose their nice chewy tops.  My solution has been making large batches of muffins and storing them in the freezer.  Reheat for 20-30 seconds in the microwave and they taste as good as new! 

These muffins are very easy to make and feel special with the addition of fresh cranberries, which are deliciously tart.  I used fresh cranberries which had been frozen.  (I thawed them by placing them in a collander and running warm water over for just a few minutes.) 

I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light, by the addition of chocolate chips (I can’t make muffins without chocolate! It’s a problem!), almonds on top for a nice crunch, and swapping some white flour for whole wheat and butter for oil.  Maybe that makes up for adding chocolate??  I hope so because these are delicious and I can’t eat just one!

Fresh Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins (adapted from Cooking Light)

Time: 15 min prep + 18 min baking, Yield: 24 muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 + 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet)
  • 1 + 1/3 cup milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup oil (vegetable or canola)
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest (I only had clementines so I used them instead)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • Slivered almonds for the tops, if desired

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Stir in the chopped cranberries and chocolate chips.  Make a well in the center of the mixture. 

Combine the milk, butter, oil, zest, vanilla, and eggs in a small bowl.  Add wet ingredients to center well of the dry ingredients, and stir until just moistened.  This process is important in making tender and fluffy muffins – don’t over mix!

Spoon batter into greased muffin tins (I used a 1/3 cup measuring cup to spoon the dough).    Top with sliced/slivered almonds for a nice crunch, if desired.   

Bake for 18 minutes, remove from muffin tin and cool in a wire rack.


Day 6: Endive with Goat Cheese, Craisins and Spiced Walnuts

19 Dec

We’re half way through the 12 days of Christmas, can you believe it??  It honestly still doesn’t feel like Christmas is less than a week away when we haven’t had any snow yet!  Though I’m sure it will start to feel more “real” this week as I bake Christmas cookies like a mad woman and listen to All I Want for Christmas on repeat. 

Today’s recipe is another SUPER EASY appetizer idea, perfect for holiday entertaining.  Again, just like the Tomato and Mozzarella Skewers, I love this recipe because it looks very festive, involves no actual “cooking” and can be made in advance and left in the fridge.   Also, they are fresh and crunchy unlike a lot of other heavy, greasy appetizers.

This recipe uses Belgian endive, which is a crunchy, lettuce-like vegetable, which makes the perfect single-serve vehicle for an assortment of toppings.  This recipe kind of reminds me of a very sophisticated and grown up version of ants on a log (you know, the snack we ate as kids: celery with peanut butter and raisins).

I had both goat cheese and blue cheese on hand so I tried the recipe with both, and I have to say I much preferred the goat cheese ones – I thought they were much more mild and would probably be more of a crowd pleaser.  However, the blue cheese were also good (I would suggest using not too stinky of  a blue cheese, the milder the better) and the combination of blue cheese and craisins and nuts is pretty classic.

As with the mozzarella skewer “recipe”, this is more of a rough guideline, since the amount of toppings needed will depend on the amount of endive you have and the ratio of topping you like.  So use this as a starting point and run with it.

Endive with Goat Cheese, Craisins and Walnuts

Time: 15 minutes, Yields: ~20 pieces, depending on the size of your endive

  • 2 heads Belgian endive
  • 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, left to soften slightly at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese (plain, not flavored) – if you prefer blue cheese, I would recommend using much less, only a few tablespoons
  • 1/4 cup craisins, slightly chopped
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • cinnamon, salt
  • honey, for drizzling

Remove the root end of the endive, separate the leaves, wash and dry.  If your endive is feeling a little soft and not super crisp, cut off the root and let it sit in a bowl of water for a little bit (it will draw back up some of the water and get crisp again). 

Mix the cream cheese and goat cheese in a small bowl with a spoon or spatula until well combined.   Whether you use blue cheese or goat cheese, taste the mixture and adjust the amount depending on the strength of the cheese and tolerance of your crowd. 

Meanwhile, place the walnuts in a dry skillet over low heat on the stove top to toast (this develops the oils and brings out the flavor).  Give the walnuts a sprinkle of cinnamon and dash of salt once the oils begin to develop.  Toast until you can just begin to smell them – being careful not to burn!!  Pay close attention, they go fast.

To assemble, spread the bottom third or half the endive leaf with goat cheese mixture (about a tablespoon), sprinkle with spiced nuts and chopped craisins.   If storing in the fridge for a while before serving, store on paper towels to avoid any excess sogginess from developing. 

Just before serving, generously drizzle with honey – don’t skip this step – it makes a huge difference in flavor! 

Day 5: Homemade Sour Cream & Onion Dip

18 Dec

I’m here today with another easy but impressive appetizer idea for the holidays (Or any time of year! This would be perfect for a Superbowl party).  This chip dip recipe is from Everyday Food magazine, and it blows the store-bought kind out of the water.  So impress your party guests with this homemade version.

Homemade Sour Cream and Onion Chip Dip (recipe from Everyday Food)

Time: 20 min + 1 hour to chill, Yield: 2 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Vidalia or sweet onions (1 lb), finely diced (*see tutorial below to learn how to chop an onion like a chef)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup reduced fat sour cream (I only had regular on hand – oops! now it’s extra delicious)
  • 2 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature (makes it easier to mix)
  • 1.5 teaspoons white wine vinegar (I only had red wine and rice wine on hand so I used half of each)
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives (cut them with kitchen shears to make it super easy)
  • Potato chips (I like kettle chips or some other sturdy chip for this dip.  Colorful vegetable chips would be great too)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and golden brown (about 15 min).  Let cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, cream cheeses, vinegar, chives, a little more salt and pepper, and the onions.  Chill the dip about an hour before serving with potato chips.

The dip can keep in the refrigerator for 2 days – so make it ahead or keep it on hand during the holidays!

*How to chop an onion like a chef (also discussed in my post here)

1. Cut off the stem of the onion.  Leave the root end intact.  Cut in half and peel.

2.  Slice the onion into thin strips length-wise (while holding the  onion – I didn’t have enough hands to photograph too)3. Slice horizontally twice.  This step can come before or after the previous one (usually I do this first but it’s up to you)

4.  Chop the onion moving towards the root end – it will result in a nice, uniform dice every time. (Please excuse my weird looking hand and blurry picture).  If that was clear as mud, and you really want to learn, here’s a helpful video.

Day 4: Tomato Mozzarella Skewers

17 Dec

It’s Day 4 of my 12 Day of Christmas, and the next 3 days are going to be all about simple and easy appetizers for your holiday parties. 

First up, tomato mozzarella skewers.  This is so easy and adaptable that it’s not really even a “recipe”.   I love these little guys because 1) they taste fresh and delicious 2) they look impressive but are so easy and 3) they’re Christmas colors!

Tomato and Mozzarella Skewers

Time: 1020 minutes to assemble, Yield: as many as you want!

All you need is:

  • Small mozzarella balls (bocconcini) – buy them from the olive/cheese bar area of your grocery store.  Mine were already marinated which was a huge help!  If you can’t find them premarinated, toss them with some olive oil, red pepper flakes, and fresh or dried herbs (basil, parsley, oregano – whatever you have on hand)
  • Cherry/grape tomatoes
  • Fresh basil or oregano leaves – I would absolutely recommend basil, but for some reason my grocery store was out of it, so I used a little fresh oregano – use what you can find!

In the past I’ve just used tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, but since I had them on hand I also added some:

  • Mini pepperoni – I had these on hand from a different recipe and I thought they would make the perfect addition – right color and right size.  They are super cute if you can find them – I think they are Hormel brand? And they were with all the other pre-packaged pepperoni
  • Green olives  – again, I had these on hand, and they were the right color, so I threw a few on

Now here’s the fun part: assembling.  For the mozzarella and tomatoes I left some whole and cut some in half, just to add variation.  I cut the olives in half since they were the very large kind, but if you have smaller ones you probably don’t need to cut them.

Then I amused myself trying to make no two the same.  The simple things in life.

I recommend giving them a drizzle of olive oil before serving.  I added a little more olive oil back to the container the mozzarella was marinated in – which gave me a nice herbed oil to drizzle on top. 

So simple, so easy, and so beautiful! 

Matt couldn’t resist.

Day 3: Homemade Peppermint Patties

16 Dec

It’s Day 3 of the 12 Days of Christmas, and today I’ll share with you my adventures in making Homemade Peppermint Patties!  It had honestly never even crossed my mind that you could make homemade peppermint patties until I saw Giada make them on TV.   Of course she looked ever so graceful making them, without any mess left behind.  My kitchen and hands were covered in powdered sugar and chocolate after my adventures, but I think it was well worth it:

The recipe I used here is from Savory Sweet Life – which is a blog I LOVE, especially because her blog is where I found the idea for my wedding cake about 2 years ago! (Here’s the original link to her gorgeous fall leaf tutorial: Fall Leaf Cake).  I’m still in love.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the recipe.  The original recipe says “30 min” for total time – but that is in no way accurate.  This took me 2 hours total (which is what I expected).   And the yield says “32 pieces”.  I made the exact same recipe with the same size rounds (3/4″) and my recipe made 85!!! Glad I didn’t double it like I had originally planned!

Homemade Peppermint Patties  – from Savory Sweet Life

Yield: at least 75 pieces,  Time: at least 1.5 hours total

  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  • 5.5 cups powdered sugar (I ended up using about 6.5 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon peppermint extract
  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (I think I used closer to 4…)
  • 3 tablespoons shortening

Mix condensed milk, 2 cups of powdered sugar and peppermint extract in a large bowl on medium speed using the paddle attachment until all the ingredients are well incorporated.  Add more powdered sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is stiff but still pliable.  I ended up using about 6.5 cups sugar because the dough was too sticky after just 5.5.

Roll 3/4″ balls of dough between the palms of the hands.  Flatten into disks and place on a cutting board or plate with wax paper.  

 Alternatively, you can roll out the dough like cookie dough and cut into shapes with cookies cutters.  The only small cookie cutter I had was a mini gingerbread man one, which now I would not recommend because the limbs tended to fall off when coating in chocolate.   Small stars would be really nice, but I might actually be the biggest fan of the classic circles.

Transfer the dough to the freezer to firm up for about 30 minutes (original recipe says not to exceed this).

While the dough is chilling, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave (30 second bursts), stirring between each time until chocolate is smooth.  Stir in shortening to thin the chocolate.

Remove patties from the freezer.  Use two forks to dip patties into chocolate, covering completely, and shaking off the excess.  Set on wax paper to firm up (this can be expedited in the fridge, but mine were mostly solidified by the time I got to the last batch). 

Overall, this recipe was surprisingly simple (who knew you only needed 3 ingredients to form the peppermint “dough”?) – and it was fun to play with.  Oh, and they also are pretty darn delicious.  Like, definitely better than the store bought kind. 

The most time consuming and frustrating part of this was definitely coating them in chocolate.  My advice would be to make sure you’ve adequately thinned the chocolate (and keep it relatively warm so it doesn’t get stiff).  And, if they turn out sloppy, just cover them with sprinkles :) 

Call me crazy, but next year I kind of want to try cinnamon ones.. with cinnamon extract and red food coloring… anybody with me?

Day 2: Molasses Cookies

15 Dec

A few years ago, I set out to find a recipe to recreate the molasses cookies from Starbucks at home.  I’m not even sure if Starbucks still has these in stores, but they were huge, chewy, spicy and delicious.  I found this recipe online a few years ago (so it’s not my original!), but now I can’t seem to find the website I originally found it on.  I do think it’s very similar to a Cook’s Illustrated recipe though – so there’s my disclaimer!   Wherever it came from, this recipe is delicious, and molasses cookies are now one of the favorites in my family!

This year I made these cookies slightly smaller (to make them enormous like Starbucks, I used to use 1/4 cup dough for each cookie, and the recipe would make ~12 very large cookies) – this year I used closer to an 1/8 cup dough per cookie, so they are much more reasonably sized and better for holiday sharing. 

Molasses Cookies

Yield: ~30 cookies (1/8 cup dough per cookie), Time: 20 min + 12 min baking

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened (leave at room temperature or microwave very briefly – do not melt)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (I only had light brown on hand so I upped the molasses by a tablespoon or so)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup unsulfured molasses (spray your measuring cup with Pam beforehand so it won’t stick!)
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour (level flour in measuring cup with a knife to ensure accurate measuring)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • granulated sugar, for rolling 

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Cream the softened butter and brown sugar (I used a stand mixer with paddle attachment but you can do it by hand or with electric mixer). 

Add the egg and molasses, increasing to high speed for 1 min.

Mix in all the remaining dry ingredients on low until just combined.

Roll dough into balls (depending on the size of cookies you want, use between an 1/8 and 1/4 cup).  Roll dough balls in granulated sugar to coat, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets (this makes clean up a breeze). 

With your fingers, slightly flatten dough balls before placing in the oven for 12 minutes (adjust time if making larger cookies).  They will start to flatten and crackle when they are close to done. 

Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes.  Remove and transfer to cooling racks.

Give cookies to Santa and anyone else you love! 

12 Days of Christmas: Day 1

14 Dec

The next 12 days on The Kitchen is Calling will be the 12 Days of Christmas!  With lots of Christmas oriented posts and recipes – ranging from a quick-but-festive dinner to pull off during this busy season to many different Christmas cookies. 

 To start off the series, I will share with you the pictures I took all of my food ornaments.  It’s a tradition in my family each year to get new glass ornaments (many are the Old World Christmas brand).  And somehow in the past few years it’s been noticed that I’m obsessed with food ornaments and thus, this is what our tree looks like this year:

Mmmmerry Christmas!