Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Holiday Culinary Adventure

Two days, four meals and a GAZILLION calories! Ah Christmas!

As most of you can agree, my family uses holidays as an excuse to eat. We headed out on the 24th and the first thing my mother did when I
entered the door was to have me taste her chicken casserole. She then
led me to the dining room where the table was adorned with chocolate bars,
butterscotch bars, fudge, peanut butter pinwheels and her famous cheese ball.

For the evening's activities we headed to my Aunt & Uncles where we had
ham, turkey, homemade macaroni and cheese, baked beans, broccoli casserole
and a whole array of desserts including my sister-in-law's AMAZING pound cake,
coconut pie, chocolate pie and lemon chess bars.

Stuffed we headed home to my parents where I let my dad open his sausage grinder ( I am telling you, it is all about the food family wide). Here we are, can barely keep our eyes opened talking about all the yummy goodness he will create with his new toy. Instead of visions of sugar plums, I must say, I dreamed of chicken sausage and black beans!

At 5 a.m. my mother was up cooking a country styled breakfast that has long been a tradition in our home. I tossed and turned feeling part guilty that I was not helping and then that she was crazy... people were not coming til 9 a.m. Guilt gave in and I got up to enjoy a cup of java and help. On the menu: ham, homemade biscuits, eggs (two different ways) and gravy.

Our family is so big that there are three different shifts of breakfast. After all are fed, we move to the den where we open gifts the include cookbooks, cookie pans and panini grills (again, it's all about the food).

It should come as no surprise that after we open gifts my mother is filling the dining room with cookies, bars, cheese balls and my sister-in-law's new Coconut Cake. I had to snag a slice before we headed to Scott's Aunts

Aunt E has declared that this was her last holiday gathering. She must spend week's preparing her spread... casseroles, turkeys, hams, unique salads and DESSERTS. She is by far the best dessert maker I have ever met. She downsized the dessert menu this year to ONLY four cheesecakes, three pies and four cakes. My favorite was her Amaretto Cheesecake. I hope I am lucky enough to share the recipe with you soon. Another plate of food, one dessert, spiked hot cider and eggnog. . . it is 4 p.m. and we are on our way to Scott's Mom's house for DINNER.

Me and Scott at Scott's Family's--- Betty Allen made us
all wearantlers.
We had a no gift Christmas... it was nice!

Betty Allen (Scott's mother) is another great cook. Each Christmas it is something different; Prime Rib, Braised Ribs, Ham. This year we had Beef Tenderloin with a horseradish spread that was cooked to perfection on the outside grill. To accompany she had my favorite, Asparagus Casserole and also: Spinach Salad, Pinapple Cheese Bake, Brocolli Cornbread and an array of sweet treats. With several glasses of red wine and lots of food I am ready to hibrinate for the night.

The next day we were on the road again, in route to Radford, with a tummy full of my mom's Cherry Yum-Yum, a trunk full of leftovers and a weekend full of culinary memories that we all call tradition.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Two new cookies that I adore

One... have I told you lately how much I love to bake. Especially for
the holidays but I have to tell you that after a weekend of non-stop
gift making I have a bit of bakers burnout.

For our staff Cookie Exchange I tried two new cookie recipes from
my favorite cooking blog--- Smitten Kitchen (
and yet again I found two of the best tasting recipes. Please note that the
chocolate toffee cookie has 1 lb of chocolate.

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Adapted from Bon Appetit

(Makes almost 8 dozen small cookies)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath),

coarsely chopped*
1 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling (optional)
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir
chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water
until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.
Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5
minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla.
Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Roll into small logs. I got

four out of my batter. Chill batter until firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed
paper. Drop cut batter into ¼ inch slices, spacing two inches apart.
Sprinkle with a pinch of flaky sea salt, if you’re using it. Bake just
until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about
12 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store
airtight at room temperature.)

Chocolate Espresso Shortbread

Makes 32 cookies
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 3/4 cup store-bought
mini chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
1. Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water, and set aside to cool to
2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment,
or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and confectioners’
sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is
very smooth. Beat in the vanilla and espresso, then reduce the mixer speed
to low and add the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the dough.
Don’t work the dough much once the flour is incorporated. Fold in the
chopped chocolate with a sturdy rubber spatula.
3. Using the spatula, transfer the soft, sticky dough to a gallon-size
zipper-lock plastic bag. Put the bag on a flat surface, leaving the top
open, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that’s 1/4 inch
thick. As you roll, turn the bag occasionally and lift the plastic from
the dough so it doesn’t cause creases. When you get the right size and
thickness, seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, and
refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.
4. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven
to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
5. Put the plastic bag on a cutting board and slit it open. Turn the firm
dough out onto the board (discard the bag) and, using a ruler as a guide
and a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the
squares to the baking sheets and carefully prick each one twice with a
fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the
6. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and
front to back at the midway point. The shortbreads will be very pale–they
shouldn’t take on much color. Transfer the cookies to a rack.
7. If you’d like, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while they
are still hot. Cool the cookies to room temperature before serving.

Chocolate and Bourbon... yes, it is true!

My good friend John sent me this recipe that I have in turn gifted to 20 close friends and family.
All I can say is YUM!

Chocolate Bourbon Cake Recipe
adapted from New York Times
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting pan
5 ounces high quality, unsweetened dark chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso (can use instant coffee)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon whiskey (can use 1/2 cup), more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar), for sprinkling


1 . Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a large bundt pan (10 cup
capacity), or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans. Melt chocolate in a microwave
oven or in a double boiler over simmering water. Let cool.
2 Put instant espresso and cocoa powder in a 2-cup (or larger) glass
measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring
line. Mix until powders dissolve. Stir in whiskey and salt; let cool.
3 Beat softened butter until fluffy (2-3 minutes on high). Add sugar and
beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well
between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted
chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
4 With the mixer on low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey espresso
cocoa mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat
additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan
and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake
comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will
take less time, start checking them after 55 minutes).
5 Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake
with more whiskey. Let cool. Sprinkle powdered sugar through a mesh sieve
over the cake before serving.

Okay ladies... here are the appy recipes!

Thanks for co-hosting the Encore party, Jessica!

Cheese Baked Olives
Two shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
36 pimento-stuffed green olives

Mix Cheddar cheese and flour together in a bowl. Stir in butter, cover,
and refrigerate 1 hour, or more.
Heat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Form chilled dough into small balls, pressing a deep hole in the center
using your thumb. Stuff each ball with an olive, and seal completely.
Bake in the preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown, watching
carefully and turning as needed to prevent bottoms from burning.
Southern Sushi

Adapted from Food Network
1/4 cup gorgonzola cream sauce (cheese and cream mixture)
2 tablespoons crumbled gorgonzola
4 leftover stalks grilled asparagus, cut into thirds
6 ounces grilled flank steak, cut into 12 1/2-inch-wide slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Roll Steak with gorgonzola and asparagus. Serve with gorgonzola sauce.
Last night was the Encore Cookie Exchange and we tested out lots of new
recipes. My favorite was the breaded olive... cheesy and salty. YUM!
A special thanks to Jess and Linda for offering their "Christmas House".

Smoked Salmon Cheese Ball
8 oz Cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 c Grated havarti cheese
1/2 ts Horseradish
1 Quick shake worcestershire
1 t Lemon juice
6 1/2 oz smoked salmon ( I used filets)
1 teaspoon crushed peppercorn
1/2 c Ground pecans

Mix all ingredients together and roll into a ball.
Roll in either chopped nuts or chives.