Monday, December 19, 2011

Chocolate and Peppermint

I decided to go with a chocolate and peppermint theme for my homemade christmas gifts this year. That flavor combination always tastes best to me at Christmas time. In fact, the rest of the year, I think I forget about it. I used these little jars to put all my baked goods in, and made them look festive with some ribbons, red paper, and candy canes.
The bottom layer of the jar consists of balsamic fudge drop cookies (recipe found here). I used 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract in place of the vanilla, and I used crushed candy canes in place of the vanilla sugar. I love these cookies and have made them every Christmas, ever since I discovered the recipe a few years ago.
I made a double batch of these... TWICE. The picture below shows one batch of a double recipe. Got milk? (The almond variety, of course.)
The next layer consists of both peppermint fudge and coconut fudge (recipe found here). This recipe couldn't be any easier! It was by far the simplest thing I made- and just as delicious, chocolatey, and pepperminty, as everything else! (The coconut fudge is not pictured, because I decided to make it at the end of my baking marathon/photo shoot, since the peppermint one was so easy to make!)
The top layer in my gift jars is my absolute favorite- peppermint bark! I make this every year, but this year was different because I decided to make the white chocolate myself (recipe found here), so it would be dairy free! The hardest part of this was finding the ingredients. I had to go to several health food stores in order to find food grade cocoa butter and powdered soy milk. Actually making the white chocolate was the easy part, once I finally had all the ingredients. Note: you must QUADRUPLE this recipe for white chocolate, in order to have enough for the peppermint bark recipe below.
Once I made the white chocolate, I followed this recipe to make the peppermint bark (there is no need to harden the white chocolate in molds and then remelt it for the peppermint bark- just use the freshly made, warm/liquid white chocolate).

Peppermint Bark
(Print Recipe)

12 ounces chocolate chips
1 pound white chocolate (If you use store-bought, make sure it is the kind made with real cocoa butter- it makes such a difference!)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup candy canes (or more), crushed

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a 9x13 inch pan with foil, letting it hang over the sides. Spray foil with oil. Pour the chocolate chips in an even layer on the foil. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, smooth with spatula or knife. Place in refrigerator until cold and firm (about 20 minutes).

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler (or follow and quadruple the recipe above, to make your own white chocolate). Stir in the peppermint extract. Pour the melted white chocolate over the chilled chocolate layer and spread it quickly and evenly. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

Chill until both layers are firm. Lift foil out of pan and shake off excess candy. Trim edges. Cut into 2 inch wide strips. Peel bark from foil and cut each strip as desired. Chill in a covered container.
To my family who will be receiving these goodies in the mail: First of all, SURPRISE, this is your gift from me. Second of all, don't be too disappointed when they don't arrive in this pretty package- I don't think they'd make it through the mail that way- think more along the lines of tupperware, with all the same treats inside.
Happy baking!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes

Yesterday was a day of risks for me. Every recipe I made was a brand new recipe. Every. Single. One. I got most of my recipes from blogs that have been tried and true, so I knew they were reliable. However, there is always a certain risk you take, when making a recipe for the first time. Little kinks that may need to be worked out. When we sat down to eat, I loved every single thing! Enough to want to document it on here, not only to share with you, but for me to refer to next Thanksgiving (and maybe this Christmas, for a couple of the dishes). There were a few "hiccups" along the way, but nothing major... all easy fixes.

I'll start with breakfast. Pumpkin cinnamon rolls.
Need I say more? This might have been my favorite thing all day.

I made Lilly a mini one (with no frosting... and no cinnamon crumble in the middle... shhhh, don't tell her).
This Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll recipe can be found here. Thank you Peas and Thank you, for another amazing recipe! I made one minor adjustment. From the 1/4 cup of sugar, take out four teaspoons and add it to the warm milk (100 degrees to be exact, if you have a thermometer). This will help activate the yeast. My first try didn't activate, so I tried this and it worked much better.
Here is the process in a nutshell.
Make these for ANY occasion. You won't be disappointed!

I also made a delicious Rustic Herb and Veggie Stuffing! I didn't exactly follow a recipe for this, so I did my best to write down everything I did, so I can replicate it again. I loved all the veggies in this stuffing!
Rustic Herb and Veggie Stuffing
(Print Recipe)

1 medium sweet potato, cubed
1/2 medium butternut squash, cubed
8 cups bread, cubed and lightly toasted in a 350 degree oven (I used a round loaf of rosemary and olive oil bread, and some french bread)
10 ounces mushrooms, chopped
2 cups leeks, chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sage, plus more for roasting veggies
2 tablespoons rosemary, plus more for roasting veggies
2 tablespoons thyme, plus more for roasting veggies
2 cups vegetable broth
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350. Put the cubed butternut squash and sweet potato on a sheet pan, sprayed with oil. Spray the tops of the squash and sweet potato with a little oil. Sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the veggies. Spray a large skillet with oil. Add the mushrooms, leeks, celery, carrots, garlic, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Saute until all veggies are tender- about 6-8 minutes. If needed, add a few splashes or vegetable broth. Once the veggies are tender, add 2 cups of vegetable broth.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, roasted veggies, and sauteed veggies. Mix well. Transfer to an oiled baking dish, bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes, or until golden and heated through.
The perfect ratio of bread/veggies. Again, you won't be disappointed!

Another Peas and Thank You recipe- Roasted Garlic and Herbed Smashed Potatoes. The roasted garlic flavor adds a nice touch!
I made "The Best Vegan Green Bean Casserole" From FatFree Vegan. I have never had a vegan green bean casserole, so I don't know if it is the best- but it was pretty darn good! Very fresh and light tasting! I would make a minor adjustment next time though- mix some of the fried onions through out the dish, and put the bread mixture on top, BUT don't add the fried onion topping until near the end of the baking time. Some of the pieces came out too dark and crispy. It wasn't a big deal, I just picked them off, but for future reference.
Nate is not a Fan of fried onions- so I only put them on half of the casserole. This dish made his favorites list!
My next recipe came from Oh She Glows- "This Ain't Grandma's Sweet Potato Casserole". This casserole is a sweet dish, not savory. I really liked it, but it is very rich, so I could only eat a small amount of it. I'd definitely make it again though.
I left pecans off half of it.... because someone doesn't like pecans (I won't name any names... this time).
I however, love pecans.
Our meal also included the pear and pomegranate cranberry sauce that I blogged about recently.
Here it all is!
And, last, but not least, dessert. This dessert was super rich and creamy- Brownie Pumpkin Pie With Crunchy Pecan Topping.
YUM! This would be great at Christmas time too!
Needless to say, we didn't go hungry this Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful in November

a few things i'm thankful for, in november

crunchy leaves on a crisp fall day
a little dog walking near my feet
sugar cookie tea
cozy scarves
holding hands
skyping with my sisters (It's been too long)
napping while football is on
pumpkin spice candles
days off, with each other
picture taking
recipe making
trips to the mountains
happy hour with friends
family (who I don't get to see often enough)
calling mom, who has all the answers
the warmth from a fireplace (nothing beats it)
snuggling under the covers, with cold air coming through the open window
coffee... pumpkin spice and winter blend
good wine
cardinals at our bird feeder (adding color to gray november!)
walks at the lake
and much much more!

Cranberry Sauce with Pears & Pomegranates

This was my first attempt at making homemade cranberry sauce and I have to say it turned out well! I only tasted a few bites because I have to save it for tomorrow. I love how pretty the berries looked, covered in sugar!
My absolute favorite breakfast in the winter, is pomegranates and oranges! (Photo from my Iphone, on Instagram.)
This recipe combined both of these ingredients, along with the cranberries, so I couldn't pass it up!
The sweetness of the pears adds a nice aspect to the sauce too!

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Pomegranates
Adapted from Family Fresh Cooking

12 ounces fresh or frozen Cranberries
1 Pear-cleaned, cored & diced, skin left on
juice from 1 Orange (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon of ground Cinnamon
pinch of ground Ginger
Pinch of Nutmeg
3/4 cups sugar (more or less to taste)
2 ounces Pomegranate Seeds plus extra for garnish
Orange Zest


Rinse fresh cranberries. Place cranberries, orange juice, pear, water and spices in a medium saucepan. Heat on stove top over medium heat until boiling. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover with a lid and cook for about 10 minutes. The cranberries will burst and the sauce will thicken a bit. Add more water or orange juice if you want a thinner sauce. Stir occasionally so your sauce does not burn. Add sweetener to taste and adjust spices if needed.

Add pomegranate seeds at the end and gently stir them into the sauce. As this sauce cools it will continue to thicken a bit. Serve topped with fresh pomegranate seeds and grated orange zest.
I realize this recipe is a little late for Thanksgiving... but maybe keep it in mind for Christmas!

Since I haven't blogged in awhile, I thought I'd share a few pictures from the last month. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year! We took a day trip to the mountains (as we do every October) and I snapped a picture of my favorite tree in Blowing Rock!
And what would a trip to the mountains be, without a cute little dog tagging along?
Pretty Berries!
And another photo courtesy of my Iphone and Instagram (my newest obsession... my poor camera has been slightly neglected). This was taken on my way to work!
We went for a few walks at the lake near us.
Not too long ago, the woods behind our house looked like this.
Now, not so much.
That's the only bad thing about Fall... it never lasts long enough. I guess that's part of the novelty of it all!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Veggie Potpie Stew and Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits

Let me start off by saying that Isa Chandra Moskowitz (Author of several cookbooks, including Veganomicon and Appetite for Reduction) is a genius. Every recipe of hers I have tried, has been absolutely delicious. In Appetite for Reduction, she comes up with substitutions that work so well, you'd never guess it was a healthier version. If you don't have any of her cookbooks, I'd highly recommend them. This is her latest recipe I've tried.
This potpie stew is thickened with split peas and a water-based slurry (rather than an oil or margarine roux). The biscuits use mashed sweet potato, instead of shortening! How smart is that?! Not only does it add beautiful color to the biscuits, it also gives them and hint of sweet flavor- all with WAY less fat.

Veggie Potpie Stew
(Print Recipe)
From Appetite for Reduction (with a few slight changes)

1 teaspoon safflower oil
1 small onion, diced
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper
1/2 cup yellow split peas
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 heaping tablespoons thyme
1 cup water
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup frozen peas

Preheat a 4 quart pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions in the oil until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, garlic, sage, salt, and pepper. Saute for 3 more minutes, until the mushrooms have released their moisture.
Add the split peas and broth, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 5 minutes, then add the potatoes and carrots. Lower the heat and simmer 25-30 minutes, or until the split peas are tender and the potatoes and carrots are cooked. Stir occasionally.
In a measuring cup, mix the flour and water to dissolve into a slurry. Add the thyme, slurry, and frozen peas to the pan.
Cook uncovered for about 10 more minutes, stirring often. The stew should thicken. Taste for additional salt.
This is so thick and hearty- perfect for a chilly fall night! The sweet potato drop biscuits complete the meal!

Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits
(Print Recipe)
From Appetite for Reduction

1 cup mashed sweet potato
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix together the mashed sweet potato*, oil, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and nutmeg. Stir the flour mixture in with the sweet potato mixture. Mix until crumbly (do not over mix). Add 2 tablespoons of water and lightly kneed the dough 5 or 6 times until the dough holds together, adding the extra water if needed. Don't kneed too much or it will toughen the biscuits.
Drop the dough in golf ball-size pieces onto the prepared baking sheet (about 10 biscuits). Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and firm to the touch.

*I just wash and stab a few holes in a medium sized sweet potato, wrap it in waxed paper, and microwave until soft (7-8 minutes). Then slice it open, scoop out the flesh, and mash.
Perfect after a brisk walk on a chilly day!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Apple Season

Nate, Lilly, and I went apple picking yesterday and brought home 21 pounds of apples.
It was a gorgeous Fall day- Lilly was loving the crisp weather and cool breeze.
There is something about spending the day in the mountains that really gets me into fall mode!
Now I also am in apple cooking/baking mode! Today I started with apple doughnuts. They only used one apple :) BUT, they also used apple cider (which we also brought home yesterday) and apple sauce.
I used this recipe from Peas and Thank You- I added one apple to the recipe- peeled and diced into very small pieces. I just folded the apple pieces in at the very end.
I also plan on making apple sauce, apple pie (Nate's favorite), carrot apple ginger soup, and any other apple recipe I come across that looks good! If anyone has any suggestions, send them this way!

I'm also working on a blog post for our delicious and hearty "warm me up" type of dinner we had tonight, so stay tuned!

Happy apple season!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Veggie Chili

My friend Rebecca shared this recipe with me a few years ago. The first time I had it at her house, she sent me home with a big tupperware full of leftovers because it makes such a huge amount. Ever since, it has been in our meal rotation every fall and winter. I have kept the basic recipe the same, but bulked up the veggie portion even more (along with adding butternut squash).
I love garnishing this wish a few cubes of avocado and some freshly chopped cilantro- it adds some fresh and creamy flavors to the finished product.
Veggie Chili
(Print Recipe)

2 medium zucchini (or yellow squash), chopped
3-4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
3-4 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cans diced tomatoes (14 1/2 oz. each)
10 oz frozen corn
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can cannelloni beans drained and rinsed
1 jar salsa
salt and pepper
optional garnishes- black olives, hot sauce, diced avocado, fresh chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients (except garnishes) in a large slow cooker (stir well). Cover and cook on low heat setting for 8-10 hours or high for 5 hours. Garnish as desired.
I love the slow cooker because I can leave it and forget it. I also love setting it in the morning and coming home to the delicious smell of chili in our house... not to mention, the fact that dinner is done when I walk through the door! I am not a morning person, so I either chop everything up the night before... or put Nate in charge of it.
Such a hearty and delicious recipe!

Yesterday, I completed putting up all my Fall decorations. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy this time of year? I particularly love the orange lights along the top of our fireplace, brightening up the corner of our living room.
Chili and orange string lights... yes, it's the little things.