Sunday, December 25, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 12 Merry Christmas!

Day 12 - Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a very special holiday. For my last Christmas confection I asked my mom for a very special family recipe. She began to tell me about my grandma Maxwell's Date Swirls. My mother said for as long as she can remember, my grandma Maxwell would prepare these treats on Christmas Eve. She would wait until everyone went to bed, then sequester herself in the kitchen, rolling the dough, making the sweet date filling, chilling these cookies overnight to be baked on Christmas day. The best thing about this recipe, is honestly the way my mother reminisced about these cookies, and my grandmother's somewhat mysterious ritual with them. The look in my mom's eyes had a glimmer of Christmas magic, while she sweetly smiled thinking of my grandmother. My mom told me that she never knew why my grandmother would make these all alone, in the wee hours of Christmas eve every year, but I'm guessing she probably loved the spirit of Christmas and it was her special way of savoring the holiday.

Date Swirls

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 egg
2 cups of flour, sifted before measuring
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream butter with the sugars. Beat until light and fluffy, add the egg, beat well. Sift flour with salt and baking soda, add to creamed mixture, beat until all ingredients are well incorporated. Toss on to a lightly floured board. Knead until smooth. Roll out until it is 1/4 inch thick. Spread with date filling and roll like a jelly roll. Wrap in waxed paper, chill overnight. Slice in to 1/4 inch slices. Bake on a well greased cookie sheet. Remove from pan to cake cooler immediately after baking. Makes about 3 dozen.

1/2 pound of pitted dates, finely chopped
1/3 cup of water
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup but meats, chopped

Cook dates, water and sugar together until thick. Stir constantly. Remove from heat, add the nuts. Cool before spreading on the dough.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 11 - A Plate for Santa

Merry Christmas Eve! I had a date early this morning to bake sugar cookies with Korbin, my adorable 3 year nephew. The plan: concocting an excellent plate for Santa. I have recently started asking people their personal traditions of Christmas Eve and what is left for Santa and I must say, it is fascinating.  It seems that there are countless renditions out there. In our family, we would leave some sort of treat from our Christmas Eve celebration and little glass brandy, that is what Santa likes to drink most, we were told. I love the idea that my tradition is definitely unique, but the more I ask around, the more I realize, there are some great twists on this time honored practice. Today with Korbin, we made Amish Sugar Cookies, recipe compliments of my mom. I love this recipe because the cookies are not too dry, sweet and have a strong vanilla flavor. We had quite a blast decorating them ever so carefully, for they are going to a very special jolly man! 

Not the best picture, but Korbin is just too cute! 

Amish Sugar Cookies

1 cup of sugar
1 cup powdered sugar 
1 cup of butter 
1 cup of oil 
2 eggs 
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar 
1/2 tsp. salt 
1 tsp. vanilla 
4 1/2 cups of flour 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine first five ingredients. Add the rest of the dry ingredients. Chill for at least 30 minutes. The original recipe is to roll into balls and dip them in granulated sugar, then flatten with the bottom of a glass. Korbin and I, rolled ours out and used cookie cutters in various Christmas shapes. Either way, bake on a cookie sheet for 12 minutes. 

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 10 - Mom's Fudge

Day 10 - Mom's Fudge 

This fudge is called Mom's fudge, but it is not referring to my mom but it is my mother's recipe from my grandmother Maxwell. This recipe has been used my entire life, lovingly made by my mother for Christmas parties, a tradition passed from generations. It has always been my favorite of the holiday treats that my mom makes year to year. I remember as the little chubby girl I was, sneaking off during holiday parties and taking a square of fudge here, and one there and another and another. Usually by the time all of the guests had departed, the candy dish was empty and 10 year old me was suffering from quite the tummy ache. This fudge is irresistible and due to it's extensive history with the Maxwell/Kelley family, I can not imagine Christmas with out it. 

Mom's Fudge
By grandma Maxwell and Mama Kelley 
3  6 ounce package of chocolate chips
1  8 ounce jar of marshmallow cream 
1/2  lb. of butter 
1/2  cup of sugar
1 large can of evaporate milk
2 cups of chopped nuts

Mix the chocolate chips, marshmallow cream, and butter in a large bowl. Mix sugar and milk in a large pan and bring to a boil. Stir constantly and never scrape the sides of the pan, as this will crystalize the sugar faster. Boil, while stirring for 10 minutes and not a minute a minute less. Pour milk mixture over chocolate chips and mix well, add 2 cups of nuts. Put on to wax paper lined pan or cookie sheet. Cool and slice into serving sized cubes. 

12 Days of Christmas Confections -Day 9 - Decadent Flourless Chocolate Cake with Espresso

Day 9 - Flourless Chocolate Cake with Espresso

This particular confection is one that I have made for years. It's my go to for any semi-snazzy and beyond event. Flourless Chocolate cake with espresso, this recipe is deceptively easy, with a gourmet like result. The sophistication of a flourless cake paired with rich espresso makes this cake the perfect ending to any night, paired with a nice scotch and you have got the treat of the year! The cake takes mere minutes to prepare and chills over night, making it a hostess' dream as the perfect make in advance recipe. A forkful of elegance, this decadence is a holiday cocktail party must.

To really dress this up, garnish with fresh raspberries.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Espresso 
Bon Appetit September 1995 by Marlin Kaplan

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
1 cup freshly brewed espresso or 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 cup water
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
8 large eggs, beaten to blend
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line bottom of 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides with parchment. Place all chocolate in large bowl. Bring butter, espresso and sugar to boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add to chocolate; whisk until smooth. Cool slightly. Whisk in eggs.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake until center of cake is set and tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 1 hour. Remove pan from water. Chill cake overnight.
Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Using oven mitts as aid, hold pan bottom over low heat for 15 seconds, warming slightly to release cake. Place platter over pan. Hold pan and platter together tightly and invert. Lift off cake pan; peel off parchment.

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 8 - Nancy's Magic Cookie Squares

Day 8 - Nancy's Magic Cookie Squares

Wow! This holiday season has sure got the best of me. I have been beyond busy (like us all at this time of year) and have sadly been unable to post. I worried about missing my days of Christmas confections so much, but it was literally, humanly impossible for me to find time to post. So, I decided, that this might be a good thing in disguise. I'm keeping it real, and in reality, the holidays are truly that jam packed for us all. So tonight, with the Christmas tree lit, and the three year old nephew sent home off to his bed, I have decided to have a serious date with my blog, and you; to catch up on some wonderful holiday sweets!
On to the important topic: Nancy's Magic Cookie Squares. This recipe was introduced to me during Christmas of 1995. That year, one of my sister's high school friends became inseparable with our family. I remember her watching me (a younin' grade schooler) while my family was out, spending dinners, nights and quality time with all of the Kelley's. A blessing for us all, Nancy, over time became a sister to me, and an everlasting addition to our family.  Now, 17 years later, we have not had a Christmas without Nancy's Magic Cookie Squares, but most importantly, without Nancy, an integral member of the Kelley clan. Nancy's grandmother made these Magic Cookie Squares every Christmas for as long as she can remember, I am lucky enough that it found its way to my family. These squares have a little hints of various flavors. Sweet, chocolaty, with butterscotch, a sprinkle of island flavor with coconut, chewy and some crunch from the graham cracker crust, these little cookie squares are definitely magic. Enjoy!

Nancy's Magic Cookie Squares
Recipe from Nancy Palo

1/4 cup of butter
Graham cracker pie crust
1/2 a bag of chocolate chips
1/4 of a bag of sweetened coconut
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 a bag of butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 9 x 13 inch pan, place butter in pan, heat on stovetop on medium heat until butter is melted. Take the graham cracker pie crust and crumble it, place on top of butter, making a crust in the pan. Layer chocolate chips, then coconut, then the sweetened condensed milk, then the butterscotch chips. Place in oven for 35 minutes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 7 Kelley Family Pumpkin Bread

Day 7 - Kelley Family Pumpkin Bread

First and foremost, I'd like to send my warmest wishes to all of my friends who are kicking off the first day of Hanukkah today! Wishing you a wonderful holiday!
Today has been a tremendously busy day, therefore, this post if going to be very short and sweet.  This pumpkin bread is a Kelley family staple. It makes an appearance every Thanksgiving and Christmas, always made by my mother. She usually makes it in a large bundt pan, sprinkling it with powdered sugar, making a beautiful addition to the perfect holiday spread. Every fall and winter, I make this bread any chance I can, and with out fail someone always asks for the recipe. It is full of the perfect blend of spices while not being overly sweet and always extremely moist.  Enjoy!

 Kelley Family Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 cups sugar
1 cup oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup of water
2 cups of pumpkin
1 cup chopped nuts

Combine everything, except for the nuts, mix for 3 minutes, add the nuts, pour into two prepared loaf pans or one tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Monday, December 19, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 6 Peppermint Meringues

Day 6 - Peppermint Meringues

One of many images that are synonymous with the holidays are the red and white stripes of a candy cane, that coupled with the mouth chilling flavor of peppermint and I'm yearning to make a snowman stat! Sadly, that's not a possibility here in Los Angeles, but a girl can always dream. I was initially drawn to these cookies because although not low in sugar, the meringue is at least low in fat, a wiser option during the bombardment of calories this time of year. These meringues make the choice of less fat, verses full fat, such as in eating fudge, a painless experience. These bad boys only contain 9, yes NINE calories! The burst of peppermint is quite a pleasant surprise, and very refreshing. It will make your guests feel like they have a little mint in between sips of cocktails, easily combating bad party breath, every guest’s worst nightmare. The refreshing mint pairs perfectly with the fluffy, light texture innate to a meringue. The striped appearance was very easy and fun to obtain, so much so that Todd ended up piping most of them out of pure entertainment of perfecting the swirl-like stripe. These are very easy, and extremely low in cost to make. My tips are to double the peppermint in the recipe and also keep in mind the cook time for the meringues. They prepare in a jiffy but take a good solid couple hours to cook and dry out.

Peppermint Meringues
Recipe by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez - Yes, another Bon Appetit, December 2011

3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract ( I used 1/4 teaspoon)
12 drops red food coloring

Preheat oven to 200°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute. With mixer running, gradually add sugar in 3 additions beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. Add powdered sugar and peppermint extract; beat to blend, about 1 minute.
Dot coloring over surface of meringue; do not stir (the coloring will form swirls when piped). Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tip. (See Prep School; alternatively, spoon into a plastic freezer bag, then cut 1/2" off 1 corner.) Twist top; pipe 1" rounds onto prepared sheet, spacing 1" apart.
Bake meringues until dry, about 2 1/2 hours. Let cool completely, about 1 hour (meringues will crisp as they cool).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 5 Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut Pretzel Caramel

Day 5 - Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut Pretzel Caramel

I saw this recipe in my December issue of Bon Appetit. I have always been intrigued by the concept of a blondie but to be honest I have never eaten one, let alone baked one. I also love butterscotch and caramel flavors and appreciate the salty sweet balance that often accompanies. I baked these for a dear friends fabulous holiday party Todd and I attended last night. It was nice to bring a treat that was a little different this time of year, I shockingly get sick of sugar cookies during the holidays every year. The blondie part of these bars are great.  They aren't too dry, have a wonderful flavor, are made from a browned butter which I could really taste in the recipe, and are also incredibly easy to make. The caramel part provided a bit of an annoyance. I accidentally put the wrong ratio of sugar and water initially in my saucepan and ended up with a solid in the end. On the second try, I was extremely cautious and successfully ended up with my  liquid amber but I do wish that I hadn't heated it so much. I waited for the deep amber as the recipe suggests and I wish that I had followed my gut and taken it off the heat sooner for a softer caramel. My other tip is when I added the candy topping to the blondies I covered it with saran wrap, then a thick kitchen towel to press the candy firmly into the pan. A spatula just wasn't cutting it in this case, your hands are usually your best kitchen tool. This recipe is something to be careful with, you will be working with extremely hot sugar for a while in which one should always use caution. Hot sugar is very dangerous for skin burns! In the end, Todd loved these little treats and I was absolutely pleased to bring something unique and aesthetically pleasing to my dear friends and their fantastic party.

Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut Pretzel Caramel
December 2011 Bon Appetit

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peanut-pretzel caramel:
4 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups 1 1/2"-wide thin twisted pretzels, coarsely crushed

For blondie:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 1" overhang on long sides of pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Stir butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until browned bits form at bottom of pan, 7–8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add brown sugar. Using an electric mixer, beat until well combined and mixture resembles wet sand, 2–3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat until fluffy and well combined, about 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients; beat until smooth (batter will be thick). Using an offset or regular spatula, evenly spread batter in prepared pan.
Bake blondie until golden brown, edges pull away from sides of pan, and a tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 20–25 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
For peanut-pretzel caramel:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread peanuts over sheet in an even layer. Bake, stirring frequently, until golden brown and fragrant, 5–7 minutes. Set aside.
Stir sugar and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush, until caramel is deep amber, 12–15 minutes. Add honey; return to a boil, stirring often, about 1 minute longer. Add butter; stir until blended. Add cream (mixture will bubble vigorously); whisk until smooth. Stir in peanuts and pretzels. Pour over cooled blondie. Chill until cool, about 30 minutes.
Run a knife around short sides of pan to release blondie. Using parchment-paper overhang, lift from pan. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 10 bars.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 4 Champagne Truffles

Day 4 - Champagne Truffles

Champagne has got to be one of my favorite things in life. It's the international celebratory beverage, but personally, it's always stirred a bit of magic in my heart. A beverage to drink when one is happy, needs some cheering up, when one is in love, celebrating or just wants a sip of luxury, champagne will always be a classic go to. As the erroneous myth tells, Dom Perignon yelled "come quick, I am drinking stars" when he discovered the bubbly beverage on accident, even though this is not true, I like to hold on to the story for it captures the essence of bubbly, drinking stars. To note, sparkling wine is believed to be invented by Christopher Merret, who was a scientist. Marlyn Monroe, another one of my favorites, had a very public love affair with pink champagne, another little tid bit that has always added so much more glamor to the beverage in my eyes. Drinking champagne aside, mixing it with dark chocolate is about the fastest way to add special sparkle to any tasting experience. I will be completely honest, in my early 20's I developed a secret, bad, very bad day cure. As embarrassing as this can be, I will share. On the absolute worst of worst days, which are far and few between, I use to go to Godiva, buy one of their fantastic champagne truffles, tuck it in to my purse and go to any high end store and try on the most boldly hued Herve Leger dress. My favorite thing would be to slowly savor every flavor of the champagne truffle while tucked away in the silence of the dressing room in the absolutely stupendous and luxurious dress. Yes, something about doing this would entertain me and tickle me to a degree that any woe would be far from my heart. I guess it was the perfect way to play grown up dress up and escape for a minute. Clearly, little champagne truffles have always been a very special treat for me, even better when paired with a glass of champagne.  A classy and elegant morsel for any event, these seem to sparkle brighter around the holidays when shared with loved ones.
This recipe is rich, easy to make and can be made ahead of time. I like to make a big pot of the ganache and store it in the refrigerator, for the month of December. They are perfect for any last minute gestures that may have slipped your mind around this time. Just roll several and you have a last minute holiday gift. They are also just about the most perfect treat for entertaining. Cin Cin!

Champagne Truffles
16 oz of high quality, dark chocolate - broken into pieces
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of champagne

Heat cream in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stir and be careful not to scorch the cream, bring to a boil. Place chocolate in a medium bowl and pour cream over chocolate, stir until smooth, add champagne, mix. Let chocolate firm several hours. Roll in to balls, coat with raw sugar. Enjoy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 3 Pistachio Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes

Day 3 - Pistachio Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes

The first batch of Mexican wedding cakes I made was at age 10,  they really weren't that tasty, they were far too dry, which is a common issue I find with these little snowball looking treats. At my young age, I thought the Mexican wedding cakes were so exotic and unique, all to grow up and see them as a quick, easy, very common holiday confection. After shunning these cookies for the dryness factor, I stumbled across a much more sophisticated version and thought it wouldn't hurt to give them another try. The revival of the Mexican wedding cake, with nutty flavors and the sweet chewy addition of dried cherry were moist and heavenly. I kept that recipe and it still remains one of my absolute favorites. Now, I must say, I never know what to call these cookies when people ask, I hear them called Russian Tea cakes, Mexican wedding cakes, snowballs and butterballs. Which one in correct? Russian Tea cakes obviously are from Russia and were used in the 1700's for tea ceremonies. By the 1900's the little cookies appeared in the United States as a holiday and wedding ceremony staple.  How in the world do I know these as Mexican wedding cakes then, if the history is Russian? Well that's not entirely so, they appear as Bizcochitos in Spanish, Mexican Wedding cakes in English, and were made over time by Spanish settlers in New Mexico. They now have the honor of being the official state cookie in New Mexico. The commonality in all of these cookies, what ever you know yours to be, is that they are made from butter, nuts, and powdered sugar. Variations include adding cinnamon and anise or in my case, pistachio and dried cherry. You will be very pleased with the moistness of this recipe, they are very delicate and by adding just the right ingredients to a simple, traditional recipe, it brings the flavors to quite a gourmet level.

Pistachio Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes
December 2006 Bon Appetit - Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar plus more for coating
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract (my addition, not part of the original recipe)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 ounces), chopped
1 cup dried tart cherries or dried cranberries
3 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 3 heavy large baking sheets. Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, almond extract and salt, then pistachios and cherries. Using spatula, stir in all flour (do not overmix dough).
Shape dough by generous tablespoonfuls into round balls. Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.
Pour generous amount of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper. Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again; cool completely.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 2 OUTRAGEOUS Brownies

Day 2 - Outrageous Brownies

I have spent a good portion of my years trying to find the perfect brownie recipe. I had given up several times over after making brownies that were too dry, too thin, bland, or any other given kitchen catastrophe one can imagine. I have seen it all with bad brownies, until the day a friend recommended Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownie recipe. I immediately tried the recipe, I had a good feeling when half way through the recipe I realized, these brownies are mostly melted chocolate, how could one go wrong? I also am aware of Ina Garten's special link to brownies. The story is that she met her husband while visiting her brother at Dartmouth when she was only 15 years old. They exchanged letters for a year while her husband was in college, then they started dating, she ended up attending Syracuse, more years of distance from her love. Mr. Barefoot Contessa has a special love for brownies, during these years Ina would fill up old shoe boxes full of her homemade brownies and send them to her future husband to be in the 1960's (I'll note, they are still married). I know that love inspires the best recipes, so I fully trust any brownie recipe from Ina Garten, but I will vouch, this one, is the best. Delight your holiday guests and feed them a love inspired rich, decadent, delight.

Outrageous Brownies - Ina Garten

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    Butter and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet.
    Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
    In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour into the baking sheet.
    Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    12 Days of Christmas Confections - Day 1

    Day 1 - Bourbon Balls

    Delicious bourbon balls. I heard an interview on NPR around the time of the Kentucky Derby this year, the interview was with the Cellar Door Chocolates company based out of Louisville about their bourbon balls. As I listened, about half way through the segment, I was laughing hysterically at the similarity it had to the classic Saturday Night Live Christmas piece, Schweddy Balls, one of my all time favorites. I could not forget the entertaining NPR segment all year long and (with a chuckle) stored the idea of trying out the bourbon ball recipe in the back of my mind. Well, the holidays are here and there is no better way to highlight, NPR and my all time favorite Christmas skit than to have the bourbon balls kick of the first day of the 12 Days of Christmas Confections, where I will post a sweet treat for the next twelve days. This bourbon ball recipe is one that you will want to keep in your arsenal of secret "go to" recipes, they are rich, creamy and chocolaty with the perfect balanced kick of bourbon. I rolled mine in chopped mixed nuts, which was fabulous but something to note is that before they are rolled in the nuts, the naked balls are also delicious dropped in to a cup of coffee, as NPR suggests. This recipe is simple and makes about forty pieces, depending on the size you prefer your balls. One other highlight of this recipe, is that the bourbon is added off of the heat so none of the alcohol is cooked out. These bourbon balls are a real crowd pleaser.
    Cellar Door Chocolates' Bourbon Truffles by Erika Chavez-Graziano
    1 pound dark chocolate (55-71%), chopped
    1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
    1/2 cup Evan Williams bourbon
    pinch of sea salt
    1 cup finely chopped pecans

    Bring heavy whipping cream to a boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; stir until smooth. Add bourbon; stir until well-incorporated. Add salt. Let the chocolate mixture (ganache) rest at room temperature until firm (about 4 hours).
    Using two spoons, portion out half ounce balls of ganache. Hand roll balls until smooth and then roll it in the pecans.

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Friday Libation - Mulled Wine

    One of the elements of the holidays I love most are traditions, creating and upholding them to be specific. My family has a bevvy of holiday traditions that we never seem to, nor ever will shake. One of those special traditions is turning Christmas tree decorating in to a full blown occasion, not just an obligation of the holidays. Growing up, we would always venture to pick out our Christmas tree together, wearing scarves (the only time I would ever wear a scarf all year, it is California), return home to a pot of smoking hot chili, Christmas music and a night of Christmas tree decorating. Along with that would always come the "baby's first Christmas" ornament argument in which my sister would always taunt my raw wound of having zero, yes ZERO, 1982 first Christmas ornaments compared to what seemed to me as hundreds of 1978 first Christmas ornaments. My sister is the oldest and the proud owner of many, many baby's first Christmas ornaments, I however, have none. Oh, and as you can tell, I'm completely over it... Now that I think of it, in adolescence, those fights were probably the most drama our happy little family ever saw, yes, we were and are very, very blessed. This year, I couldn't wait to impose some of my family's holiday Christmas tradition bug on to Todd. I started with of course my favorite, the day of the Christmas tree decorating. It started naturally with a tree, which was not as romantic as I conjured up in my head, nor as festive as my family's old tradition but lets be real, getting a Christmas tree in Los Angeles is nothing like the hunt for one in a rural area. We packed into his car and drove around the corner to a tiny lot in a grocery market, that would do just fine, though. We immediately spotted the perfect tree, in which we both agreed, stood in line behind some sketchy characters, loaded the tree in the car with some maneuvering and viola! Project Christmas tree tradition was underway. I had a big pot of turkey chili simmering, Christmas music to boot and also a secret tool in my Christmas cheer arsenal, mulled wine. I'll be honest, I did make the mulled wine hoping for it to become a new tradition to share but I was unsure how it would turn out, it was my first time making it for that matter. I doubled the recipe, because honestly, one can never have too much mulled wine on hand. I was so tickled by the aroma the mulled wine exuded and even more thrilled when I sipped it, "this stuff is fantastic" was my inner dialogue for a few minutes. I like to think of it as winter's version of sangria, it's warm and soothing, aromatic, spicy and flavorful. One tip, is to add some brandy to it, I kept the heat on really low hoping not to burn off the alcohol content but I believe that I did. The wine had an extremely tiring effect, hinting to a lower alcohol content in my book, probably from a 12% to 6ish% is what it felt like. The brandy will help that and keep you, your family or your guests from slipping into a deep coma. Though, if you are heavy handed with the brandy, you could end up with guests getting so wild they light their hair on fire, be mindful. Also, I bought my spices at an Ethnic market which proved to be a super bargain. We had left over wine, in which we stored in airtight mason jars and actually drank cold the next day with dinner, and it was still just as much a delight as the day before. So, in sharing this story and this outstanding recipe (thank you Ina Garten, I do love you!) I hope to one: bring a lovely adult beverage in to your home but two: most importantly inspire you to start a holiday tradition with a loved one, whatever that may be. It is the traditions that bring us together to create the memories that warm our hearts, it's what the holiday spirit is about.

    Mulled Wine - Ina Garten

    4 cups apple cider
    1 (750-ml) bottle red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
    1/4 cup honey
    2 cinnamon sticks
    1 orange, zested and juiced
    4 whole cloves
    3 star anise
    4 oranges, peeled, for garnish 

    Combine the cider, wine, honey, cinnamon sticks, zest, juice, cloves and star anise in a large saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Pour into mugs, add an orange peel to each and serve.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Carrot Soup for the Soul

    This soup is a delicious, healthy treat on cold nights or even served chilled in the spring and summer for simple elegance. It is rich and flavorful while still being vegan, prepares in a flash, is easy to multiply and makes quite a gorgeous statement on your table with its bright orange color. 

    Carrot and Sage Soup

    6 large carrots, chopped
    1 onion, chopped 
    1 tsp fresh ginger zest
    1 1/2 tsp curry powder
    1 3/4 cup vegetable broth
    1 14 ounce can coconut milk
    1/2 tablespoon of finely chopped sage

    Bring the vegetable broth to a simmer on medium heat. Add carrots, onions, ginger and curry powder, simmer until carrots are soft about 25 minutes. Remove broth and carrot mix from heat and allow it to cool a bit. When warm (verses piping hot) puree the carrot broth mix in a blender. When pureed, add contents of blender to a saucepan, heat and stir in coconut milk until incorporated. Remove from heat, sprinkle in sage and stir. Season with salt to taste and garnish with a sage leave. Enjoy! 

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Ruby, Red Pomegranate Delight

    The beautiful pomegranate. The fruit of the gods, enjoyed since ancient times, this fruit has always been a gorgeous source of nourishment. Recently, growing massive popularity for its antioxidants, it is now seen as a key to youthfulness and health. I personally love the sheer beauty of the pomegranate and it has become one of my favorite fruits for the holidays. That being said, I must share this super healthy, quick and easy desert. I used my special farm delivered pomegranates to make it and it was very flavorful, refreshing and surprisingly rich. Enjoy!

    Pomegranate Compote - Adapted from Farm Fresh to You
    2 pomegranates
    1/2 tablespoon of ginger zest
    1 tablespoon of fresh orange juice
    1 tablespoon of orange zest
    1 tablespoon of honey
    1 tablespoon of chopped mint

    Gently mix all ingredients together, chill and serve.  

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Nickel Diner - Downtown Los Angeles

    Stuffed Artichoke

    Stuffed Artichoke

    Frim Fram Sauce with Ausen Fay and Sha Fa Fa


    Not the best picture, but this is the inside, to give you an idea.

    Turn up the Louis Armstrong and pour yourself a scotch on the rocks, its time to travel back to the 1940’s. Todd and I had quite the trip in to the past at the Nickel Diner in downtown Los Angeles. After I saw it featured on the Food Network’s, Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, I had to venture into the heart of downtown to try this place out. On a chilly November night, the cozy 1940’s themed, diner nouveau, was just what was in order. Now, I must warn that this place does come with a sprinkle of controversy. Located on skid row, we took normal safety precautions for our 10 minute journey, removing valuables from the car, making sure to lock the doors, etc. I read a Los Angeles Times article that shared a view about the insensitivity of the restaurant. The Nickel is not only just the name of the diner but also a nickname for the skid row area at 5th street in downtown  (the diner sits at Main and 5th). This, along with several drug references on the menu (thanks to my school girl naivety, they all went right over my head) were seen as flippant nuances towards the misfortunes that currently and have in the past,  plagued skid row.  Another interesting bit about the the location is that it was once in fact a diner in the exact location in the 1940's called the "Big Nickel." Ruffled feathers and geography aside, I will focus on the most important elements: the food and the experience. From chef Monica May, the food was nothing short of amazing, I literally have not stopped thinking about my phenomenal dinner. I ordered the  Frim Fram Sauce with Ausen Fay with Sha Fa Fa on the side, translation: classic chicken and dumplings in an amazing broth with lemon cream and fresh herbs on the side. This very dish warmed my soul. The chicken was moist, juicy and flavorful, the dumplings were like eating little delicious pillows of fluffy gooey goodness, the broth was savory and robust, made even better with the lemon zest infused cream, and the herbs? Fresh dill stirred in, what a delight. We were lucky enough to look so indecisive over the menu that one of the owners and head designer, Kristen Trattner kindly came over to offer suggestions. She told us the it is legend that Louis Armstrong was sitting in a diner listening to jazz eating a similar dish as I had ordered while he wrote one of his famous songs, which one, I'm not sure because Frim Fram Sauce was written by Redd Evans but did become famous through Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Nonetheless, it perfectly set the tone to lose ourselves in the environ and the food of the 40's. Todd ordered the Buttermilk Brind Pork Chop Served with My Neighbors Jam, another party of flavors in our mouths. The pork chop was juicy, the succotash in the jalapeno jam was phenomenal and the sweet potato tater tots were really something that had to be tried, delicious. As Kristen Trattner said while Todd was ordering, "other restaurants call them croquettes, here on Skid Row we call them tater tots," we did have chuckle at that one.The chop came with a side of this sweet and sour, apple and vinegary dipping sauce that really enhanced all the flavors wonderfully.  We shared the double stuffed artichoke which was heaven, an artichoke stuffed with mashed potatoes, herbs, capers and parmesan cheese in a delicious lemon sauce. We took desert to go, with pastry chef Koa Duncan, who took over in 2010 from predecessor Sharlena Fong (Bouchon) we couldn't pass up the opportunity to try the sweets. Nickel diner is famous for homemade bacon maple donuts, ding dongs and pop tarts. I neglectfully failed to note the names of our deserts but we had a secret cupcake, which all we were told was that it was inspired by Cher, we couldn't resist the curiosity of not knowing what we were getting only knowing whatever it was, was Cher inspired, pretty awesome. The cupcake was a perfect butter cream (not too buttery or creamy) dipped in dark chocolate sprinkled with pop rocks. The cake was a chocolate cake which I swear I tasted a hint of orange and peanut butter cake on the bottom. As fabulous as Cher, the most fun was eating desert while pop rocks explode in your mouth. Our other desert was a slice of cake, layers of chocolate cake, the same delicious butter cream and a filling of sweet peanut butter (think the inside of a Reese's cup) with get this: crumbled POTATO CHIPS. Salty sweet, peanut butter, chocolate and butter cream, the slice did not stand a chance of sitting around for long. Overall, both of your reviewers (Todd and I) seriously loved the Nickel diner. We cant wait to try their much touted about breakfast.
    Oh, and one last thing, if you go, make sure to look at the window display of mannequin heads with hair made of real, edible meringue.

    Famous Deserts

    Amazing Cher Inspired Cupcake

    Donut Display Case

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    The Essence of Fall - Harvest Grains Full of Thanksgiving Flavor

    Early the other morning I awoke with a massive Thanksgiving craving. I am literally counting down the days until I get all the flavors of the day of giving thanks in my mouth.  That being said, it would be terribly irresponsible of me to spend my hours cooking up a Thanksgiving feast for two, two weeks early. Irresponsible is a gross understatement. I tried to sink back in to my slumber, only to be tortured by dreams of dancing turkeys, candied sweet potatoes, luscious cranberries and the such. Action had to be taken. In my half conscious state, I began obsessing over a healthy, smaller scale Thanksgiving dinner alternative. I was also lucky enough to have a big box of farm produce packed full of inspiration sitting in the kitchen. Below is the result, and it might just hold me over for the next 16 days. 

    Thanksgiving Dinner Adaptation

    8 oz of Trader Joe's Harvest Grain Blend
    ½ cup of wild rice
    3 cups of Turkey broth
    1 cup of white wine
    2 very small sweet potatoes, cubed
    ½ acorn squash
    1 tablespoon of brown sugar
    1 tablespoon of olive oil
    1 teaspoon of cinnamon
    6 oz of dried cranberries
    1 chopped brown onion
    6 oz of cooked, peeled chestnuts
    1 tablespoon of orange zest
    ½ tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
    1 bundle of kale – red spines removed and torn into large pieces

    Wash the grains and wild rice a sieve to clean. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a medium saucepan with 2 cups of turkey broth, heat on medium heat, add wild rice, bring to a simmer, lower heat and cover for 45 minutes. Cut acorn squash in half, clean out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil sprinkle with half of brown sugar and cinnamon. Cube the  sweet potatoes, lay in a foil lined baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with remaining brown sugar and cinnamon, add the acorn squash to the dish, place in the oven and roast until tender, about 25 minutes. In a large saucepan pour in remaining 1 cup of turkey broth, white wine and the harvest blend over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, cover, turn heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the cranberries and onion to the harvest blend, cover so the cranberries can plump and onion can cook, set aside. Remove potatoes and squash, set aside to cool then cut into chunks. Fill a large pot with water, heat on high until it boils, add the kale, cover and cook 3 minutes. Drain. Add the wild rice, squash, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, orange zest and rosemary to the harvest blend, stir gently to mix, heat to desired temperature, salt to taste. Serve on top of kale.

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Friday Libation - Classic Vodka Martini - Master Mixologist Todd Bjurstrom

    Straight vodka martinis mean quite a bit to me. They are what my mom and I drink together, my "go-to" drink of choice and it was what initiated conversation between Todd and I leading us to meet. I thought after this long week, tonight is a definite vodka martini night. Perfection is a difficult goal to accomplish thankfully for you, I will share Todd's recipe to help you achieve the goals of all goals: mastering the art of the vodka martini.

    Todd's Amazing Martini

    What you need:
    Martini Glass
    Pint Glass
    Premium Vodka

    Using a chilled glass, pour a small amount of dry vermouth into the glass, swirl it around lightly coating the glass. Fill a pint glass with ice and pour 2 1/2 ounces of vodka (or gin) over the ice. Cap with the cocktail shaker and shake it vigorously. Discard vermouth and place olives in the glass, strain vodka (or gin) over the olives. Enjoy. Sip and repeat as necessary.

    Todd's tips: "dry" means little or no vermouth, a "perfect" martini uses dry and sweet vermouth, "dirty" martini has olive juice. Try making a Gibson by following all the above instructions and substituting onions for the olives. Another great tip: store your olives in a mason jar full of vermouth and use those in your martinis.

    Great recipe, great tips! Thank you so much Todd. I will vouch that this is an absolutely fantastic martini recipe, trust me, I'm an expert.

    Native Foods

    Vegan, AMAZING Chili "Cheese" Fries

    Last night I had dinner at the casual Native Foods in Westwood. I eat there quite often due to the fact that it is very close to my office, let alone phenomenal. I always describe it to friends as vegan comfort food and I think that offers a pretty accurate description. For some reason, when I'm eating a burger or chili cheese fries that are vegan, I feel a million more times better about it, though well aware the vegan does not equal low calorie but healthier fats? I'll take that. Ethical eating? Ok, I don't feel bad at all about those chili cheese fries. Native Foods was founded by Chef Tanya Petrovna in 1994. Its all organic, all vegan menu is always a memorable experience for me. The chili cheese fries taste pretty darn close to the "real" deal, sans post-heartburn. The fries are the perfect crispness with delicious seasonings without being overly salty. The beans tasted like delicious hearty chili straight from the home front and the cheese topping, is a wonderful creaminess that has been boggling my mind all day long. The Ranch Run Burger was phenomenal. The buns were nice and grainy while not being dry. The "chicken" inside managed to be super crispy and moist in the center. Delicious!
    Chicken Run Ranch Burger

    A Serious Addiction of Mine, Lavender Lemonade

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Heaven in Your Mouth - Chef Sarah Britton's White Velvet Soup (Vegan and Healthy)

    I came across this recipe while reading the Stockholm based, family blog, Green Kitchen Stories. This particular post was a guest post from chef Sarah Britton of the Copenhagen based, My New Roots blog. Both blogs are fantastic especially for healthy, vegan and vegetarian recipes, they are literally a feast for the eyes.  This recipe enticed me from the second I saw it, not only for it's nutritional value but also because it looked like guilt free decadence. Boy, I have never been so right. This soup was fabulous. An absolute treat, it tastes like a cream based winter soup with amazing rich flavors, when in all reality, it is all vegetable based. No cream, no butter, no guilt, and extremely filling thanks to its high fiber content. The recipe is also super easy, quick and makes a very large quantity (although, it disappeared extremely fast, it is just that tasty). I'm even thinking of making another batch of this recipe over the weekend to have on hand for a healthy treat throughout the week. Next time, I think I will try it with saffron oil verses the paprika just because I have a love affair with saffron, other than that, I vow to never alter this recipe because it is that perfect and delicious just as is.


    White Velvet Soup,  Sarah Britton
    1 head cauliflower
    2 medium onions
    1 head garlic (about 6-8 cloves)
    3 cups cooked Lima beans (about 2 cans)
    2 cups water
    2 cups vegetable stock
    juice of 1 lemon
    sea salt to taste
    olive oil
    smoked paprika

    Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut up cauliflower into bite-sized chunks and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil or melted ghee. Sprinkle with sea salt. Peel onions and slice into chunks. Peel garlic cloves. Place onions and garlic baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Place all veggies in oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes until everything has golden edges and is nicely caramelized. Let veggies cool slightly and add to blender along with all other ingredients except olive oil and paprika (process in batches if you have a small blender). Blend on high until very smooth. If you have a Vita-Mix, I would highly recommend using it. If the soup is not hot enough after blending, transfer soup to a large pot and warm until steaming. If the soup is too thick, simply add water to thin to your desired consistency.
    Bonus: For each bowl of soup, combine 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil with 1/8 tsp. smoked paprika and drizzle as a garnish (this is optional).

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011

    100% Guilt Free Fettuccini with Basil Tomato Sauce and Mushrooms

    You wouldn’t know it from reading my blog thus far, but I do like to eat healthy. I shamefully admit, name a fad diet, I’ve done it. I’ve been vegetarian, low-carb, I’ve fasted, cleansed and actually had a wonderful six month fling with veganism. As I get older, I realize everything is about balance. I accept who I am, and want to be the healthiest me while still enjoying all life has to offer. So, I thought it’s about time to share my healthy side on my blog; I want all my readers to be healthy too! For today and tomorrow I have two great healthy recipes in mind. This one, for fettuccini is a great way to enjoy a comfort food that I often crave with zero guilt, it is also very filling. I see a lot of recipes that claim to be “guilt free” then after one look at the nutrition label you realize, it’s just a smidgen less guilty then the real thing. This recipe is pretty shocking, low calorie, lots of protein and fiber! The fat you do see in this recipe is from olive oil, which can be substituted for fat free spray but I prefer the health benefits of olive oil and the taste. The bulk of the carbs and sugar are natural from the tomatoes. I used Shirataki Tofu noodles which I have been eating for years, they can be found in the refrigerated health food or tofu aisle at your grocery store and definitely at any health food store. I warn, they are not the most fabulous consistency, they are chewy compared to an aldente noodle but the savings on the health front are well worth it. I always boil the noodles for 3 minutes to rid of the tofu flavor.

    *Low Calorie, Vegan, Gluten Free, Low Fat, High Fiber, High Protein* 

    Total Nutritional Info:                                                                Compared to:
    Calories: 115                                                                            Calories: 560
    Fat: 4 g                                                                                     Fat: 6 g
    Carbohydrates: 19 g                                                                 Carbohydrates: 111g
    Protein: 9 g                                                                               Protein: 19 g
    Fiber: 12.5 g                                                                           Fiber: 9 g
    Sugar: 15 g                                                                               Sugar: 20 g

    Noodles, per serving 4 oz ½ one bag:
    Calories: 20
    Fat: 0.5
    Carbohydrates: 3
    Protein: 1 g
    Fiber: 2 g
    Sugar: 0

    Recipe (two servings, I made double to keep for quick healthy lunches)
    1 bag of Shirataki Noodles (style of your preference)
    Olive Oil
    4 cloves of garlic
    4 ripe tomatoes of your preference, I used Roma
    4 sprigs of basil
    1 small can of Del Monte tomato paste

    Fill a large pot with water, put over heat to bring to a boil. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 1/2 Tbs of olive oil; add garlic and sauté until aromatic. Lightly salt the tomatoes, slice of the top, add to saucepan. Heat tomatoes for about two minutes to tenderize the tomatoes, add basil, when tomatoes are tender, smash the tomatoes. I’d love to tell you that I used a fancy gadget but I honestly used the bottom of a pint glass to break the tomatoes, it worked wonders, then I used a wooden spoon. Give to tomatoes a good smash. Add tomato paste, stir, season to taste and simmer on low for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Heat a modest drizzle of olive oil or water in a small saucepan, sauté mushrooms on low-medium heat until tender, sprinkle with salt to taste. Drain the Shirataki noodles from the bag and add them to the boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Drain noodles from pot. Serve on a plate, add sauce over noodles, spoon mushrooms over the top of the sauce, garnish with a basil leaf. Bon appétit!