Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Holiday Hot Cocoa Mix

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of hot cocoa mix. My experience is limited, so perhaps there is one commercial brand out there that is absolutely delicious and one I must try, but why bother when it is just so darned easy to make your own?  This recipe was inspired by Jamie Oliver from his new Christmas cookbook (A fantastic tome that you simply must own, and can do so by clicking here), but I think mine is better than Oliver's, and one heck of a lot easier because, instead of having you grate the chocolate (a messy job at best), I use dark chocolate chips that are pulverized in the food processor.

You can double or triple this recipe if you plan to give it this season as gifts (something I strongly encourage). It looks adorable when poured into a small milk bottle, or other spring-top jar or container. Include a tag with instructions, and consider tying a small bottle of liquor (such as Kahlúa, Crème de Menthe, or Cointreau) as a nice adult addition to this decadent treat.
Holiday Hot Cocoa Mix
Makes one big jar (24 servings)

7 ounces dark chocolate chips
10 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
5 tablespoons vanilla malt powder
5 tablespoons cornstarch
5 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon
espresso powder
A pinch of ground cinnamon

Measure out 7 ounces of dark chocolate chips. Put them into a food processor, and pulverize. This is going to take a little while, so be patient. You can pulse until the desired consistency is reached, or you can just turn it on and let it rattle like a bunch of pea gravel in a mixing bowl, until it's powdery. Put the rest of the ingredients into the food processor with the pulverized chocolate, and pulse until combined. Decant into jars or other festive containers. Attach a label with instructions:

Place two tablespoons of mixture into a cup of simmering whole milk. Pour into mug and enjoy.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Salted Whiskey Caramel Sauce


Making homemade caramel sauce can put you on a bit of a slippery slope. If you're making it from scratch using butter, sugar, and heavy cream, you may find, as I do, that there is a fine line between a nice, beautiful, amber caramel sauce, and a bitter mess. If you don't cook it long enough, it's not going to be caramel; if you cook it too long, it's going to taste bitter. That's why, particularly during the busy holiday season, when I find myself pressed for time, the best way that I know of to make caramel sauce is simply using one can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk.

Continuing my week of partnering with Eagle, today's recipe couldn't be simpler, and is going to yield a lot of rewards. It's a Salted Whiskey Caramel Sauce, and it cooks while you get on with your day. It makes an excellent ice cream topping to be sure, but it also adds a lot to plain pound cake, makes a wonderful drizzle atop chocolate brownies, and is an excellent gift for a friend or hostess. If you want to make anything more festive this holiday season, cover it in caramel!
Salted Whiskey Caramel Sauce

1 (14 ounce) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 tablespoons whiskey* (I used Jameson)
Pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 425° F. Poor sweetened condensed milk into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Cover tightly with foil. Please pie plate into a larger pan (I used a 10" x 10" square cake pan), and fill pan with a half an inch of water. Carefully place it into the oven, and bake for two hours. Remove from oven, carefully lift the foil-covered pie plate out of the pan, remove foil, and whisk in sea salt and whiskey, continuing to whisk until smooth and creamy. Allow to cool before serving. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.

*If you prefer a non-alcoholic version, you can use a teaspoon of whiskey liqueur essence.



Disclaimer: I received compensation from Eagle Brand Milk to create this post.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Excruciatingly Easy Peppermint Patties



Number one son came by today to help me with a few things, and he was immediately drawn to the cute container full of chocolate candies, and, let's face it, who wouldn't be? He popped one into his mouth and exclaimed that they were really good. I thanked him, and told him that I had made them. His eyes widened; he couldn't believe that I had made something that looked so professional, and was so delicious. Your friends and family are going to feel the same. Make these. And then give them away as quickly as you can before you eat them all yourself. Yep, they are that good.

This week I am partnering with Eagle, making great use of one of my favorite products, Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, wherein I hope to provide you, each day, with enough ideas to allow you to create a lavish and delicious dessert buffet for your holiday gathering, whatever that might be.

We're going to start off with a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, peppermint patties. I first made peppermint patties years ago. It was a huge pain. I used a recipe from a high-end gourmet magazine, and it was one heck of a lot of work. It was frantic, trying to keep the filling from drying out, having to keep it covered with a damp cloth, spray it periodically with a mist of water, and knead it off and on. I vowed right then and there that I would never make them again. Thanks to the people at Borden, there is a much easier way to do it. Thanks to my adaptation of their recipe, it is child’s play!
Excruciatingly Easy Peppermint Patties
Adapted from a recipe on eaglebrand.com

1 (14-ounce) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
6 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus additional for kneading
Green or red food coloring, if desired
 1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon Crisco or coconut oil

In the work bowl of a stand mixer combine sweetened condensed milk, peppermint extract, and food coloring (if desired). Add 6 cups of confectioners' sugar, and beat on low speed until smooth and well blended. Turn mixture out onto a work surface dusted with powdered sugar.

Knead to lightly form a smooth ball. Roll out dough on a confectioners’ sugar-dusted work surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 1½-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can from the dough; discard scraps.

Allow medallions to dry for one and a half hours, turn over and let dry an additional hour.

In a double boiler over simmering water, melt together chocolate chips and Crisco or coconut oil, stirring until smooth. Dip each pattie into the chocolate mixture, turning to coat, and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to dry. At this point you can either sprinkle the tops with crushed peppermint candy, or allow them to dry to later be decorated with green or red candy melts as I have done here.

These taste like the real thing, everyone will love them. This recipe makes approximately 60.


 Disclaimer: I received compensation from Eagle Brand Milk to create this post.

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Cheesy Broccoli Bites


Every December, a group of neighborhood ladies gather for a Christmas lunch at a local restaurant, a cozy, family-owned Italian place. I love their Chicken Parmesan and that's what I ordered for lunch when we were there last Wednesday. It wasn’t until my food was delivered that I realized that, instead of ordering the sandwich, I ordered the dinner. So, not only did I get a big piece of Chicken Parmesan, but I also got a sizable salad, and an even more sizable side dish of broccoli. I ended up bringing half of the salad and all of the broccoli home with me. The salad I enjoyed the next day with a sandwich, the broccoli I turned into wonderful little cheesy broccoli bites that work equally well as an appetizer or vegetarian meal.

The idea struck me as I was paying my bill, looking at that big pile of broccoli that I was carefully dumping into one of those polystyrene containers. It just sounded so appealing to have broccoli, a couple of cheeses, hint of nutmeg, and some sort of filler, all rolled together and baked in the oven. As it turned out, I was right! These are delicious. They are also easy to make. I put everything together earlier in the day, and kept it in the fridge until I was ready to roll them into balls. I enjoyed them for dinner with a glass of wine. It probably wasn't the most balanced meal, but it sure was a tasty one.

If you have any difficulties at all getting members of your family to eat vegetables, this would be a very easy way to get them to do just that.
Cheesy Broccoli Bites
(A Doggy Bag Dinner Recipe)

1 cup (packed) cooked broccoli, rough chopped
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
½ cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 hefty tablespoon mayonnaise
Olive oil spray

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Blend all of the ingredients together (except olive oil spray) until well combined. Using a cookie scoop, scoop up quantities of the mixture and press them into tight balls. Place them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spray with the olive oil spray, and bake for 22-25 minutes. Serve warm with your favorite dipping sauce.
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Valerie Bertinelli's Home Cooking, Reviewed


She had me at Lobster BLT (Can you imagine?), and kept my rapt attention with Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeño Shrimp with Cherry Cola BBQ Sauce, Brown Sugar Sriracha Bacon Bites, Steamed Clams with Spicy Garlic Bread, and Slow-Cooker Pasta Bake. Clearly this is a book offering a wide variety of recipes to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. The book in question is Valerie Bertinelli's Home Cooking, More than 100 Delicious Recipes to Share with Friends and Family.
When I'm asked to review a celebrity cookbook, I often cringe. There are celebrity cookbooks, and there are celebrity cookbooks. Some of them have great value; others are merely marketing tools to promote the celebrity author. I wasn't sure what to expect with Valerie Bertinelli's Home Cooking, but was most pleasantly surprised.

It is divided into six cleverly named sections: Rise and Shine, Getting Through the Day, Happy Hour, Around the Table, A Side Note, and Finishing Sweet. As much as I do love desserts (Don't we all?), Getting Through the Day was my most favorite. I find lunch the most difficult meal of the day and, like Bertinelli, would like to have the same type of lunch that I enjoyed while on vacation. If you feel the same, you will find just what you're looking for here. The Slow Cooker Beef Sandwiches with Giardiniera Aioli, was but one of my many favorites.
I’ve been a fan of Bertinelli for a long time. She may be in her 50s, but she is still as engaging today as she was back in the ‘70s when she played Barbara Cooper in the TV sitcom "One Day at a Time." But our girl is all grown up now, the mother of an adult son, and spending a lot of time doing what she loves to do most, whipping up recipes in her well-stocked kitchen. Here, she invites us in, to sit at the table and chat, and cook, enjoy a cup of tea, and slice of pie (Cherry Cheesecake Pizza Pie, perhaps).
This book is full of charm as well as recipes. There are more than a hundred of them, all easy to prepare, made with simple ingredients, and sure to please every member of your family. The instructions are simple and concise, and every taste is considered. Each recipe is preceded by a personal memory, along with tips, helpful advice, stunning photos; the pictures of her mother's old recipe cards will surely touch your heart as they did mine.
 One of the most beautiful, personal, and thoughtfully written cookbooks that you will find this year. For more information or to buy a copy for yourself or to give as a gift, click here.

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Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Potato Gratin with Gouda and Fennel


It was Ina Garten who first introduced me to the fennel/potato combination. It scared me at first because, well frankly, the thought of fennel with potatoes sounded ghastly. But, when it comes to taste, a fennel bulb is nothing at all like fennel seed. The bulb has a very mild flavor and, when included in any vegetable or potato combination, adds richness and a delicate sweetness that vastly enhances even the simplest of dishes.

This is a very simple potato gratin. You can make it the day ahead, and bake it before you are ready to dine. It's a great dish for a buffet because you can double (or even triple) the recipe, and, after removal from the oven, it improves if the dish sets out for 10 minutes before serving. The recipe below serves 4, or as I like to tell people it serves from 1 to 6, depending upon the zealousness of your potato eater. Me? I could eat the whole bowl, that's how good this is, but I restrain myself so other people can enjoy it as well.
Potato Gratin with Gouda and Fennel

1 extremely large russet potato (1 pound, 

sliced as thinly as you can manage it*)
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced

(I used Melissa’s)
  1 cup half-and-half
1 cup shredded Gouda cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Gouda cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil, sauté onion with fennel until tender. While the vegetables are sautéing, toss the sliced potatoes with the half-and-half, 1 cup of cheese, and salt-and-pepper, in a medium bowl. When vegetables are tender, remove from heat, add to the potato mixture, and toss to coat. Turn out into a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish. Press down on potato mixture to be certain they are covered with the cream. Drizzle the top with heavy cream, and the 1/4 cup Gouda. Bake for one hour, until potatoes are tender. If the top starts to brown excessively, cover with foil. When potatoes are done, remove from oven and allow them to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

 *Use a mandolin if you have one. If you don’t, you can get one here.


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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Aunt Nance's Jalapeño Corn Casserole

I tried a couple of new dishes at Thanksgiving this year, and was delighted with them both. Both of them came from Amy Nelson Hannon's wonderful book Love, Welcome, Serve. (You can read my review here, and find a recipe for her Gruyère Mashed Potatoes that I also served -- wonderful.)

Another recipe that I served on my Thanksgiving buffet, from that same book, and proved to be a big hit, was Aunt Nancy's Jalapeño Corn Casserole. I am a fan of corn, though not a particular fan of creamed corn, but it worked perfectly here. I was seriously lapping this stuff up. Keeping my crowd in mind, I did cut back on both jalapeño slices and jalapeño juice by half. I knew that I was going to be serving people who may not be able to take a lot of heat -- I happen to be one of them. To me it was spicy enough this way, but feel free to add as much as you like.

As you can imagine, setting up a Thanksgiving buffet is a bit frantic, so I didn't have time to take a good picture of the casserole. You'll just have to take my word for the fact that this is a very tasty and easy side dish. I assembled mine the day before, and baked it up on Thanksgiving Day. Undoubtedly you could do the same thing for Christmas. This one's a keeper, I loved it, and I know that you will too.
 
Aunt Nance's Jalapeño Corn Casserole
From Love, Welcome, Serve by Amy Nelson Hannon

4 tablespoons (one half stick) unsalted butter
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
8 ounces Velveeta, diced*
1 (15-ounce) can whole corn, drained
2 (14.5-ounce) cans cream-style corn

1 cup cooked white rice
10 to 12 jarred jalapeno slices, chopped, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons jalapeno juice
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the celery and onion, and sauté until tender. Add the diced Velveeta, stirring constantly until melted. Add all the corn, the cooked rice, jalapenos and juice, and sugar. Stir well. Pour the mixture into a 9" x 13" baking dish or oval casserole and bake for 30 minutes.

*I used 6 ounces because it was all I had, and it was just fine.



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Monday, December 4, 2017

Make Your Guests Welcome with Specialty Baskets

Holiday season is upon us, and that means having company both local and otherwise. If you expect to play host to out-of-town guests, you are going to want to have accommodations that will both comfort and delight them, and what better way to welcome your guests than with a charming gift basket?


As you know, I am an avid supporter of Melissa's Produce, their gift baskets among my most favorite things. They have a wide variety that you can check out here, or you can take my advice and try one of the offerings below.

I don't think I would feel any welcomer than if I walked into a guestroom in someone's home to be greeted with a wonderful basket.

Frequently there are time changes involved, hosts’ habits, different schedules, etc., and it can be tricky getting fed at the time that you may be accustomed to. If you have a nice wine and cheese basket, you can nibble when it suits you, and not bother your hosts.
This welcoming Le Cellier du Chateau includes an exquisite 750 ml. bottle of 2010 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, 4 lbs. of the season’s best tasting Butterscotch Pears, a bottle stopper, a cloth bag filled with a 10 oz. medley of nuts and nut cracker, and a box of crackers pairing perfectly with a wedge of Smoked Gouda Cheese. 
Invite your guests to relax with a Blissful Bubbles Basket featuring the delicate bubbles of 2013 Schramsberg Sparkling Wine, Blanc de Blanc (white from white), made from a light and delicious Chardonnay that is the counterpart to the Blanc de Noirs (white from black).
Is your guest a snacker? If so, he or she will love the Fresh & Dried Organics Basket. A delicious combination of fresh and dried Organic fruits is contained in this lovely hand-woven basket, carefully wrapped with cellophane and finished with a colorful ribbon. 
 If you like to be greeted with a citrus eye-opener in the morning, then you might consider this basket. Bursting with color, Melissa’s Citrus Crate is packed with the season's best-tasting citrus fruits. Each fruit has been hand selected to be included in this assortment. Subject to seasonal availability, the crate includes Blood Oranges, Pink Grapefruit, Meyer Lemons, Tangerines, Navel Oranges, Key Limes, and Kumquats. Ranging from tart to sweet, all varieties are full of wonderful tangy flavor that are characteristic of Melissa’s premium fresh citrus fruits. I so like the idea of having a basket of fresh fruit within reach of the bed that I may just consider getting one of these all for my very own.
Because travel can sometimes play havoc with the old digestive system, the Apple Lovers Hamper, full of fiber and antioxidants, will be a most welcome sight! Melissa’s Apple Lover’s Hamper is a beautiful gift of farm fresh, seasonal apples. In order to ensure optimum flavor, apples are picked at the peak of ripeness and carefully placed in an attractive, reusable hamper basket. All will appreciate these sweet, juicy, and fragrant apples.

Keep these in mind for the holiday season. Nothing will be more appreciated!