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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Treats: Peppermint Bark and Candy Cane Stirring Sticks

One of my favorite parts about Christmas "food" is the excuse to eat candy canes. It's just not the same if you eat them in June. I have a ton of them sitting in my pantry right now and knew that I needed to somehow use them up or what ever mass amount I didn't eat would just sit there until next year.

I decided to follow along with my attempt to make all my gifts this year. I figured that I could make a couple tasty little treats, using candy canes, that I could put in people's packages with their gifts. So I made peppermint bark and candy cane stirring sticks.

The peppermint bark, which is an outrageous (albeit delicious) crave during the holiday season, amazed me how easy it is to make. I figured that it was tough to recreate with how nuts people go over it and how much company's charge for it. I've never tasted the Williams Sonoma peppermint bark but I have heard that it's the best out there. Well, no one's had mine yet.

I also have a ton of candy melts and candy "bark" leftover from making my cake balls so I just used that. I melted in a pot an unmeasured amount. I probably used, for the brown chocolate batch, about 3 of the bark (milk chocolate) bricks and half a cup of (dark chocolate) candy melts. Once it was liquid, I poured it onto some tinfoil that I'd laid out on a cookie sheet. Then I sprinkled this with crushed candy cane, some silver sprinkles and put it in the fridge overnight. I made another batch using vanilla almond bark and white chocolate candy melts (mixed). Both batches are amazing. It was seriously hard for me not to "misplace" it all in my mouth.

I also made what I'm calling Candy Cane Stirring Sticks. I LOVE peppermint hot chocolate. One of my favorite things to get during the holidays while we're out is the Starbucks Peppermint Mocha. Oh man. Every year. Love it. At home, during the holidays, I like to stir my hot chocolate with a candy cane. I decided to melt some of the dark chocolate candy melts, dip the end of the candy cane into it, put some silver sprinkles on it and call it a stirring stick. I tried it today for the first time and let me tell you. Something about how the dark chocolate mixes with the peppermint while it's melting really adds a delightful richness to the hot chocolate. I'm hooked. I will probably never drink hot chocolate any other way for the rest of my life (don't quote me on that though). This is another incredibly easy, yet enjoyable, treat to make and give to friends or family during the holidays. Put the candy cane in a cute bag with a packet of instant hot chocolate, tie it up with a pretty bow and tag and you've got yourself an easy gift to give to your co workers or maybe the mail lady or even the neighbor that isn't your favorite and you didn't feel like spending money on but still feel the need to be polite to. What? I didn't do that.

Easy and yummy is always a good combination when it comes to holiday snacks! Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cake Balls: Attempt #2

Ok, so I posted before about how I tried to make the coveted cake balls and that the consistency of the cake inside and that the candy coating just seemed to be off. The cake was too moist and mushy and quite frankly sickeningly sweet and that the coating texture was weird.

I gave the cake balls another shot and they turned out great. I made red velvet ones with a chocolate coating and a vanilla coating. The chocolate ones were better. This time, I used about 3/4 of the can of frosting. This made a HUGE difference in the taste and texture of the cake. I also changed the coating. Before, I used those candy melts that you can buy at the craft stores. This time, I used chocolate and vanilla almond bark that I bought at Walmart. I know the local grocery story sold barks as well though. I got the recipe from Bakerella.

I also made cheesecake balls. Incredibly easy. I got this recipe from Bakerella as well. She used a real cheese cake and honestly, I wish I had to, but I used a no bake cheese cake which seemed to work fine. I just think they would have tasted richer and more "cheesecakey" with a real cheese cake. On these, I used the same chocolate and vanilla coating but I added a twist. I used the leftover chocolate coating and added some raspberry extract to it and to the vanilla coating I added lemon extract. I then drizzled these on top of the cheese cake balls. I loved the added flavor. It also helped lighten up the heavy taste of the cheese cake and candy coating. They were delicious.




I got both recipes from Bakerella. Her creations are amazing and easy to follow.

Adventures in Canning

I've been dying to start canning stuff for months now. I just decided to do it and get it over with. See if I could really do it and if it was as easy as some people make it out to be. And after giving it a go myself, I learned that it's really not hard after all.
I canned Strawberry Jam, Raspberry/Blackberry Jam, Triple Berry Jam (strawberry, raspberry and blackberry), Bread and Butter Pickles, and Spicy Pickled Garlic.

The first thing I tried was the Pickled Garlic. I got the recipe online from a site called "Pinch My Salt". It was a really simple recipe. The only problem I ended up having was that my garlic turned blue. It freaked me out pretty bad. I actually threw out the first batch because scared me so much. It looked fine when I canned it but after about 20 minutes, the garlic started to change color. According to a site called Food Preservation (and EVERY other site I visited when inquiring about my blue garlic), garlic turns blue as a reaction to the pickling process and IS safe to eat. There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with it. It's just a little freaky if you're not aware that it can happen. The recipe I used called for a chili pepper but I threw in two tobasco peppers. I have honestly never tried pickled garlic. I just know that other family members of mine LOVE it. I'm still a little scared to try but I will say that the batch that I ended up throwing out made the trashcan (and the entire rest of the house) smell like garlicy goodness!

And after it "blued"...

Before the garlic "blued"...






The second thing I tried were the jams. These were crazy easy because my bread machine has a jam setting on it. The recipe called for two cups of chopped fruit, a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of fruit pectin. Throw it all in and turn it on. I made three different jams with it. So far, I've only tasted the strawberry jam and it was amazing.
Strawberry Jam

Blackberry/Raspberry Jam

   













The final canning project was Bread and Butter Pickles. I was so excited to try and make these since they're a delightful part of my childhood memories. They're also a delicious part of my dad's childhood memories. They were REALLY easy to make. And they're so good. They taste just like the ones my parents used to can when I was a kid. Seriously, eating them took me back to simpler times. I will always have a jar in my fridge from now on. The recipe I used was from Simply Canning.


 



I can not stress how simple it is to make these. I mean, I was able to do all this while taking care of a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 5 month old all by myself. No sweat. I highly recommend canning to any one that has the ability to do it. There's something satisfying about knowing that you've prepared your own foods and that you've been able to stock up on random things with out having to spend a ton of money. I got all my jars really cheap at Walmart. Many of the pickling salts and spices I found in the spice isle of Walmart too. If you're able to do it, it'll save money in the long run and you'll be amazed at what you're able to can.

I highly recommend you do your research before you begin canning though. I was surprised at what you CAN can but even more so at what you can't. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is an excellent website to browse through before you begin. It's a website approved of by the USDA and the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service System. It provides safety tips and resources. It's easy to can but it's also easy to mess it up if you're not careful.


Chicken and Spinach Penne

I can never think of what to call my dishes so they end up with lame names that don't do them justice like "Chicken and Spinach Penne". This dish was so stinkin delicious that it deserves a better name than that. I'm just not good at that kind of stuff.

Again, I can't stress how easy it is to overuse or waste food. I liked this dish because I only used half a breast of chicken in it and had more than enough for me and my two oldest children. We even have leftovers. The dish started out as just a plan to use the chicken and some spinach served on top of penne noodles but as I got cooking, I kept adding ingredients and I'm so glad I did. It was so amazing. My mouth is watering and my stomach is growling just thinking about it.

Ingredients:

half a breast of chicken
1 tablespoons of butter
3 slices of bacon
3 slices of sundried tomatoes, chopped
half a cup of tomato, chopped
one scallion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
4 large handfuls of uncooked spinach leaves (like my measuring tools?)
 salt and pepper to taste (although I didn't use any of either)
penne noodles

I just threw everything in the pan and sauteed it until all the meat was cooked and the flavors had some time to blend together. Between the butter, the juices from the chicken and bacon, the juices from the regular tomatoes as well as the oil from the sundried tomatoes, there was a delicious "sauce" that helped coat the noodles.

My son scarfed his down and my daughter picked out the sundried tomatoes and put them on her brother's plate. She ate the rest though. I had to fight myself to not get a second helping. It was delicious and wasn't a really heavy pasta dish (which they can many times become). Satisfying and delicious is all you can hope for in a meal and I hit it out of the park with this one. Really easy, little clean up and leftovers were added bonuses.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cake Balls Trial Run Gone Bad... I think...

I've been wanting to try to make those cake balls for like forever but never got around to it until today. I wanted to make some for my husband over the thanksgiving weekend but didn't want to serve him my first rounders. I want him to be impressed with my house wifey skills. Lets just say that its a darn good thing I did a trail run first.

Please Please Please comment if you have made these before and know what I did wrong. Because I don't have a clue.

I know my first mistake was having never eaten them before. I have nothing to compare them to.

My second mistake I think was using a recipe for something else. I used this recipe by Bakerella. I am not saying ANYTHING negative about this site or the recipe. I think her creations and her explanations and the site itself is completely fantastic. I'm just not good with desserts.

So I started by making the cake. I used a strawberry Pillsbury mix. My husband's favorite. Then when it was done and cooled, I crumbled it up and mixed it with a jar of cream cheese frosting. Then I formed the "dough" into balls and placed them in the freezer for an hour.

When they were chilled and what I considered frozen, I dipped them in the chocolate that I had melted. I used candy mold chocolates that I purchased from Joann's and I think this is another mistake I made. The chocolate was never liquid enough to really dip them into. Plus, the "dough" was really really moist. I'm not sure if this is how they're supposed to be or what but it just didn't seem right to me.

I really am not sure what they're supposed to look and taste like. Maybe I need to pay a visit to a bakery and do some first hand research :)

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." I will continue trying (hahaha, with in my budgeted means) to get this right. I am determined to have yummy, pretty little cake balls to serve my husband while he's home.







Stuffed Chicken with Polenta

I have to say that this was one of the best meals that I've eaten in a while. My mouth is going to water the whole time I write about it. Looking at the pictures is making me wish I had leftovers.

I made stuff chicken for dinner last night and served it with white polenta. Let me first say that I really should take some cooking lessons because every polenta I've ever had, if it wasn't in like a little wedge loaf form, it was nice and creamy. Mine was something in between. It still tasted good but I would never have served it to some one in the know because they'd probably have been grossed out.

I stuffed the chicken (one REALLY large breast that I cut in two) with 1 cup of spinach, 1 clove of garlic, 2 pieces of bacon (chopped) and Parmesan cheese. I cooked the bacon and spinach, minced the garlic and threw in Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. I mixed it all together and shoved it in the chicken. Then I backed it at 450 degrees until it was cooked. Oh yeah, I put sliced portobello mushrooms on top of mine when I threw it in the oven. The kids don't like mushrooms so I didn't feel like wasting any on them.

The polenta that I had was an instant kind, I guess. I don't know how its usually cooked so... I boiled 4 cups of water and added one cup of polenta. Then I stirred and stirred. I added Parmesan cheese and salt. It got thick really fast. I'm going to add a warning here too. Being really thick, when it bubbles, it spits big ole chunks of crazy hot polenta every where. Wear long sleeves! If you're as dumb as I am, you'll let a big glob land on you and not brush it off quick enough. Now I've got a lovely blister. No bueno.


It didn't look gorgeous but it was so delicious. This one is definitely being marked under "make it again real soon!"

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Thanksgiving Menu In The Works

Every year since I've been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family in my home, my menu gets bigger and bigger. I think the first year I cooked it myself, we ate turkey, corn, mashed potatoes, roles and beans. And maybe gravy but that was it. Through the years, I've added things like carrots, deviled eggs, canned cranberry sauce and side dishes from Boston Market (hey, I'm not even joking when I tell you that their creamy spinach is to die for).

This year though, I feel like I need to step it up a notch.

I'm making turkey. Duh.

My stuffing is going to be amazing. I'm adding bacon to it this year. I make it with french baguettes, buttermilk, onions, celery and a few spices. I think the bacon is going to make it even yummier though.

Mashed potatoes at the begging of the hubs. But this year, I'm making them roasted garlic ones.

I will be baking home made bread, haven't decided which kind yet, in addition to the crescent roles.

Deviled eggs.

Green bean casserole.

I'm going to attempt a home made raspberry-cranberry sauce. I'll probably be the only one that even attempts it but I'm kinda excited about it.

Hopefully, by this time, I'll have had a chance to can some bread and butter pickles and be serving those as well.

But then I'm stuck. No one but me would eat sweet potatoes. So goes the beets. I want to make some really delicious dishes but am totally lost as to what I should cook. I'd never be able to convince any one to eat anything involving squash or brussel sprouts. I'd love to make a mashed cauliflower but I'm afraid the hubby will accidentally mistake if for the potatoes and accuse me of trying to kill him once he realizes what they really are.

I'm excited about the dessert. I can't give it away though just in case my husband reads this. I'd really like to wow him with what I'm going to make.

If any one has any amazing dishes though that they're planning to make or eat that I haven't listed, PLEASE share with me. I really want to make an amazing, show stopping kinda dinner this year and would like to make something unique and special. I'm open to any ideas.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Home Made Soft Pretzels and Cinnamon Pretzel Bites

Holy Cow! I have been craving soft pretzels so bad lately that I just decided to make them myself. I'm so glad I did. TOTALLY satisfied my craving. And not as difficult as I expected them to be. I made a batch of large salted soft pretzels and then a small batch of cinnamon pretzel bites with a cream cheese sauce drizzled on top. Met my standards AND the kids'. Any day that I can make something I like that the kids will eat too is a good day. Today was fantastic!





Ingredients:

2 packs of 1.4 0z rapid active yeast
1/2 cup of brown sugar
2 cups warm water
4 1/2 cups of bread flour
2 cups of all purpose flour (I ran out of bread flour so you can just use 6 1/2 of that if you want)
1 tablespoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup of beer
8 cups of water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, beaten
sea salt to taste


 Instructions:

1) Combine yeast, warm water and brown sugar in a bowl. Mix together and let sit until mixture becomes foam like. Should take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.

2) In a bowl that you will use for a mixer that has a dough hook, mix together the flour and salt. Then add the butter in chunks and mix with your hands. Mix until it is grainy.

3) Add the yeast mixture to the flour and mix with your hands until all the liquid is absorbed.

4) With a dough hook attachment on your mixer, mix the dough until it is smooth and whole.













5) Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set in the fridge to cool for at least 2 hours.

6) After the two hours is up, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

7) In a large pot. combine 8 cups of water, beer, sugar and baking soda. Bring to a boil.

8) Taking the dough that's been chilling, roll it out and cut into strips about a foot long. Take those strips and continue to roll them out until they're about 16 inches long.

9) With the dough strip, shape them in a U, wrap the ends together and then pull them down into the U to make the pretzel shape. Place the pretzel onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

10) Take each individual pretzel and place it one at a time into the boiling pot. Pull it out once it starts to float. This should take about 20 to 30 seconds depending on the size of your pretzel.

11) Brush the pretzels with the beaten egg and then salt.

12) Bake your pretzels. Make sure not to have the rack too high as they will burn really quickly. They should bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.








For the Pretzel Bites, just take one of those 16 inch strips and cut it into 1 1/2 inch chunks. Go through the same "boiling" process and egg wash process. Instead of salting, I made a mix of cinnamon and sugar (1/2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tbs granulated sugar). Bake at the same temperature. These took much less time but I didn't pay attention to that part. Sorry. Just make sure that they don't over cook.

For the Cream Cheese Sauce for the Bites, I took 3 tablespoons of regular cream cheese, added 2 tablespoons of confectioner sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk and heated until the mixture was smooth and thin. I then put the sauce into a plastic sandwich bag, cut off the tip and drizzled on top of the Pretzel Bites. Simple as that.




I served the pretzels with a nacho cheese sauce and a spicy brown mustard. I preferred the mustard while the kids enjoyed the cheese sauce. The pretzels tasted just like the kind you can get at the mall or fair. They completely satisfied my jonesing. SO yummy and not hard at all.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eggplant Pasta

I don't have the slightest idea what to call this dish so I dubbed it "eggplant pasta".

My neighbor gave me a bag of some really beautiful veggies and in it were some cherry tomatoes and eggplant. I have never had eggplant before so I was a bit nervous about using it to cook with. I've heard of eggplant parm and eggplant lasagna but I didn't have all the ingredients for those dishes and really didn't feel like going out and buying it. So I concocted my own dish.

I melted about 3 tablespoons of butter in a pan.

While the butter was melting, I cut up two smaller eggplants, about a handful of tomatoes, 2 large cloves of garlic and two slices of sun dried tomatoes. I threw all of this into the pan and sauteed it.

While sauteing, I boiled water and cooked noodles.

Toward the end of the sauteing, I threw in about 10 leaves of basil that I tore apart by hand. I know I've said it before but I LOVE the smell of basil. I can't get enough of it. Oh, and the way it made my hands smell afterwards! SO good!

After all was said and done, I topped the pasta with the eggplant mix.


 

I thought it was delicious. The kids didn't like the egg plant but they liked the rest of it. I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on theirs but mine was great with out it. I served it with garlic bread. A good filling dinner.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's the simple things: Baked Granola Topping


Everything's more fun in a martini glass!

I've been trying to make healthier snacks for the kids and I so I thought that yogurt and granola would be a good idea.

I am not in any possition to attempt making my own yogurt but I figured I'd be safe with making my own granola topping.

I took 1 1/2 cups instant Quaker Oats rolled oats and mixed it with about 1/2 cup of crumbs from Special K cereal, 1 tablespoon of melted butter, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of sunflower seeds.

In an oven that had been preheated to 400 degrees, I baked (toasted was more like it) the mixture for about 2 or 3 minutes. It doesn't need to be in very long since it'll end up burning very quickly. Seriously, keep a close eye on it. You'll be able to tell by the color. After all was said and done, it all measured out to about 2 cups.

And that was it. I sprinkled some on top of our vanilla yogurt and we had a nice little after dinner snack. What we didn't use, I put into a jar to save for later.


Special K Crumbs





Another quick, easy, enjoyable little bite.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Egg Salad

I can always count on my kids eating eggs. I just have to be creative so we aren't eating the same thing all day every day.

For lunch today, I made egg salad sandwiches. There's a ton of ways to make egg salad but the kids and I like how I do it.

I had hard boiled 5 eggs the night before and let them chill over night. This morning, I peeled them and chopped them.

I then chopped up some of the chives from my window garden and threw them in.

I rarely measure anything out when I'm making things like this. I added about two medium sized spoonfuls of mayonnaise, celery salt, paprika, and fresh cracked pepper. Mix it all together and there you go.

I served it on whole wheat bread with a kosher dill pickle and some of my home made cran-chocolate chip cookies. Yum Yum Yum. Lunch was a hit!