Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Salad


The recipe is simply called "The Salad".  It needs no fancier name.  It's one of those foods that lingers in your mind long after the last bite has passed your lips.  And so, when I emailed my sister-in-law, Peggy for the salad recipe she brought to a family gathering, say five or so years ago, she immediately knew of which one I was referring.  My SIL, Peggy, got the recipe from her co-worker Cathy, who got the recipe from her friend, Patti, at which point it is untraceable to me.  In any case, add this to your New Year's buffet, and your friends will be emailing you for the recipe, too!

THE SALAD

Dressing

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
5 tablespoons grated red onion
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups canola oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Salad
Mix together:

3 bags lettuce
pomegranate seeds or 1/2 bag craisins
red onion rings
sugared almonds (make on stove - caramelize with butter and sugar and let them cool)
Feta Cheese

The dressing recipe makes more than enough.  Cut in half, if desired.  Mix together with dressing right before serving.  Do not over dress the salad.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake


Every year on Christmas Day, after the Christmas Dinner, after the reading of the Christmas Story, after the playing of the Christmas Carols, after the opening of the  Christmas Gifts, after the collapsing on the sofa and gazing cross-eyed at the piles of paper and boxes and toys, we gather one more time for a light meal and a special cake - a Birthday cake for Baby Jesus.  For this year's birthday cake, I couldn't wait to try this Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake recipe which I found in the December issue of Southern Living Magazine.  I don't know what lured me more - the multiple layers of chocolate, or the gorgeous white chocolate snowflake on top!

The recipe says it serves 10, but this is so rich in dense, it could easily serve 20 - 30.  The cake has a rich, not-too-sweet dark chocolate flavor and will appeal to a sophisticated palate.  For a sweeter chocolate, follow the recipe, but substitute some milk chocolate for the semi-sweet, or semi-sweet for the dark chocolate in the ganache.

The snowflake topper is made from melted white chocolate piped onto a piece of parchment which is placed over a snowflake stencil, similar to the Bug and Butterfly Cupcakes!  So easy, it's a piece of cake!
  


Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake
From Southern Living Magazine, December 2010

1 1/2 cups crushed dark chocolate-and almond shortbread cookies
2 Tbsp. melted butter
2 (4-oz) semisweet chocolate baking bars, chopped
1 cup whipping cream
4 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Ganache Topping

Garnish:  fresh raspberries or White Chocolate Snowflakes
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine crushed cookies and butter.  Press mixture on bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Microwave chocolate and cream at HIGH 1 1/2 minutes or until melted, stirring at 30-second intervals.  
  3. Beat cream cheese at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer 2 minutes or until smooth.  Ad sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, beating just until combined.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating at low speed just until blended after each addition.  Add chocolate mixture, beating just until blended.  Pour batter into prepared crust.
  4. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 5 minutes or just until center is set.  Turn oven off.  Let cheesecake stand in oven with door closed 30 minutes.  Remove cheesecake from oven; gently run a knife around outer edge of cheesecake to loosen from sides of pan.  Cool completely in pan on a wire rack (about 1 hour).  Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours.
  5. Remove sides of pan, and place cheesecake on a serving plate.  Slowly pour warm Ganache Topping over cheesecake, spreading to edges.  Chill 1 hour before serving.  Garnish if desired.
Ganache Topping

1 cup whipping cream
1 (4-oz.) semisweet chocolate baking bar
1 (4-oz.) dark chocolate baking bar
  1. Bring cream to a light boil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Process chocolate bars in a food processor until coarsely chopped.  With processor running, pour cream through food chute in a slow, steady stream, processing until smooth.  Let mixture cool until slightly warm (about 20 minutes).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Tradition



It's a family tradition that started long ago - our annual December trek downtown.  My grandparents used to take me and my cousin, Kristena, to the then Dayton's, now Macy's, 8th floor Christmas display.  It seemed like magic, crawling into the back seat of their blue Buick, driving toward the city of lights.  We gazed with delight as we crossed Nicollet Avenue - it's tree-lined branches perfectly frosted with strings of white.  As we entered downtown Dayton's, I knew it was no ordinary store.  It's art deco glamour spoke an elegance of days past - like an old movie that I could walk through and touch and feel and smell.  The eighth floor bustled with excitement. As we waited patiently in line, we knew a storybook land was just around the corner.  Once inside this land of enchantment, we savored every mechanical figurine and lingered on every posted word.  From Mary Poppins to Dr. Seuss, each year proved to be a new adventure.  As we strolled through the animated stories, the smell of gingerbread lured us to the end - a smell so sweet, yet always just a tad too spicy for my childhood taste - those gingery men with their white chocolate buttons and red hot eyes.

If the line was not too long, a visit to Santa was allowed.  The real finale, however, was a trip to Santa's Store.  Here we would enter through a miniature door and shop for a gift for our parents.  Five dollars could not buy much, even then, but it could buy pencils and coasters and the annual Old Spice!

Each year we would end our adventure with a trip to the Nankin Restaurant, a landmark that lived a lifetime on 7th Street in Minneapolis.  With it's tropical aquariums, soaring ceilings and spacious balconies, the Nankin was the perfect culmination to our fancy downtown evening.  Even as a child, I recognized the irony of my grandparents taking us to a Chinese restaurant.  A scandinavian couple who viewed spaghetti as ethnic food, and whose spice cupboard held little more than salt, sugar and cardamon, they would always split one order of plain chowmein - the cheapest thing on the menu.

It's been three years since my grandparents passed away, and many more since my cousin and I last drove downtown in their blue Buick.  In almost 40 years, however, I have barely missed a trip.  Now, even though Atlanta is where we call home, we still travel back each year in December.  Now I take my own children to Macy's 8th floor, with it's sights and smells of Christmas.  And even though the Nankin has since shut it's doors, we still find the magic in making our own memories.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cookie Cutouts


As part of my quest to bake through Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, I chose this festive-looking dessert to bring to a family Christmas gathering - Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cookie Cutouts.  I've never made gingerbread before and had two concerns about the recipe - 1.  The large amount of spices (2 Tablespoons of ginger!) and 2.  No sign of a leavening agent!  Despite my reservations, the cupcakes turned out moist and flavorful and were similar in density to a quick bread.


The instructions called for Martha's Fluffy Vanilla Frosting recipe and a topper of homemade cutout gingerbread men.  I substituted cream cheese frosting (because it's my favorite) and found these ready made, perfectly sized gingerbread men right at the grocery store!  Of course, homemade cookies would be adorable, but when perfection is staring you in the face, why look the other way?


These boys are ready to party!



Gingerbread Cupcakes With Cookie Cutouts
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

FOR CUPCAKES
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsulfured molasses
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  Sift together flour and spices.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add molasses and beat until combined.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated.  Beat in vanilla.  Gradually add flour and beat until incorporated.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a toothpick comes out clean, 20 - 25 minutes.

Top with frosting and gingerbread men.

FOR DECORATING
Archway Holiday Gingerbread Men

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
2 sticks butter
32 ounces powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch kosher salt

Cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla and salt.  Beat again.  Gradually add in powdered sugar, beating until fluffy again.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Hot Cocoa For Two


Looking for a last minute gift idea?  Just a few simple ingredients and you can create these super easy hot chocolate cones!


Make your own hot chocolate with powdered milk, cocoa and sugar, or save even more time and buy a high quality mix like the one above from Whole Foods.


Layering the cone-shaped bags is easy.  Put 1/4 cup cocoa mix on the bottom.  Place 2-3 tablespoons of  your "add-in" flavors in a pleated sandwich bag.  Seal with tape and snip off the top.  Be creative with your flavors.  I used white chocolate and dark chocolate, but crushed candy canes or toffee bits would also be delicious!   Place the bags, tape side down, on top of the cocoa mix.  Top with 1/4 - 1/2 cup of marshmallows (can you really have too many?) and close with a twist tie.  Make your own simple label (I used a 2" round punch for a perfect circle) and secure with a festive ribbon.



A sweet and simple gift!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fruitcakes With Meringue Mushrooms {MSC}



Whenever my kids are faced with a task that seems just too monumental to complete, I tell them to break it down into baby steps.  Taking my own advice, here are the baby steps I took to complete this month's Martha Stewart Cupcake Club Challenge - Fruitcakes with Meringue Mushrooms!

DAY 1 - The Fruitcake



OK, let's be honest.  I've never been a big fan of the fruitcake.  This fruitcake however, was filled with high quality, delicious ingredients like Medjool Dates, Turkish Apricots and Turkish Smyrna Figs.  Since I AM a big fan of the Fig Newton, I knew we were off to a good start!


It also called for lots of hazelnuts and Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur.  And since I'm also a big fan of Nutella, I knew these ingredients would be a plus as well.  When all was assembled, the add-ins and the batter were of approximately equal proportion.


The recipe stated that this batter would make 12 cupcakes.  I ended up making 18.  (OK, so maybe I didn't fill them full enough!

DAY 2 - The Meringue


I used my mom's tried and true Seven-Minute Frosting Recipe for the mushrooms, which seemed to work out fine.  I mean, is there really such a thing as a perfect mushroom?  To make the tops, pipe a circle onto some parchment and press down the pointy tips with a wet finger.  To make the stems, pipe and pull up.  Don't worry.  They are suppose to look like that!  Bake in a 175 degree oven for about 45 minutes.


Due to time constraints, these cupcakes went to the church luncheon without mushroom toppers.
I thought they still looked pretty!

DAY 3 - The Mushrooms



The mushrooms were actually fun to make and looked real, despite my feeble efforts!
  • Step 1:  Melt dark chocolate and spread on the underside of the mushroom caps.
  • Step 2:  Spread melted white chocolate on top of that.
  • Step 3:  Use a toothpicks to create gills.  Use the same toothpick to make a hole in the center.
  • Step 4:  Using white chocolate as glue, insert the pointy side of the stem into the mushroom hole.


A dusting of cocoa powder and VOILA!  Cute little mushrooms!

These little cupcakes make a big statement and hold their own any against fruitcake naysayer.  While the kids would only pick off and eat the meringue mushrooms, I thought the cake itself was a delicious treat! (Which would explain why I secretly ate the cake they left behind!)  Thanks to Rebecca at Beurrista for today's selection and encouraging us to rise to the challenge!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

iheartfaces Photo Challenge - Pets


A Boy and His Dog



When Samuel was little, he asked us for a brother.  When he was three, his sister, Anna was born. Although happy for a sibling, he knew a sister just wouldn't be the same.  Again, he asked us for a brother. When he was 5, his sister Arielle was born.  Samuel never gave up.  When, at age seven, his sister Ella was born, he declared, "I should have just asked for a puppy!"

For more great pet photos, head over to iheartfaces!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Time for Giving


Around this time of year, I like to take my kids to our local charity center.  Not only does it provide a hands on lesson in giving, but it also serves as a reality check.  My kids need to know that they are blessed and that even though they may not have a cell phone or an itouch, they have it better than most of the people in this world!  It's been said that the antidote to materialism is giving.  It's amazing how this trip shortens the Christmas list!


When we think of what to give, I try to make it personal to the kids.  Once again this year, the kids pooled their Halloween candy together.  It weighed a whopping 13 pounds!  Is it just me, or are the candy piles getting bigger?


With all that candy they made over 100 goody bags that the charity will use as part of its Christmas program.  The addition of cheese crackers and a small toy rounded out the bag.


For Anna's Birthday this year, she collected items to make "birthday boxes".  Instead of gifts, her party guests brought cake mixes, frosting, birthday plates and napkins, sprinkles, plastic forks, balloons and small toys.  If a parent comes to the food center and their child is having a birthday, they will receive a complete "Birthday in a Box"!  Thanks to Publix grocery store for donating ten cake boxes in which we placed all the components!


What a great way to celebrate a birthday - by making someone else's birthday special, too!


This year the kids donated 100 goody bags and 10 birthday boxes.  
As you can see, the givers' smiles are as big as the receiver's!




Tuesday, December 7, 2010

S.O.S. Cupcakes


So what do S.O.S. cupcakes have to do with my long list of Christmas preparation items?
Absolutely nothing!

These cupcakes were part of fourth grade Volcano Day at school and were requested by a teacher who's motto is, "Science is Fun!"  When asked to bring cupcakes, my first thought was to send in something easy.  I found these cupcakes in one of my favorite cupcake cookbooks, Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.  They were featured on a page that also contained amazing sharks, floats and channel markers.  I decided to just go with the life preservers.  A doughnut on top of a cupcake.  How hard could it possibly be?



During an abnormally busy week, I had only slotted about one hour to decorate the cupcakes.  Unfortunately, after a quick trip to the store, I was only able to glean 5 plain mini doughnuts out of a variety pack.  I would have to make due.  After unpacking my grocery bag, I also noticed that I had accidentally purchased the whipped frosting, not the creamy frosting.  Now, how this happened, I have no idea.  The directions specifically state, DO NOT USE WHIPPED FROSTING!  To save you the trouble, I'll tell you why.  When you microwave the whipped frosting in which to dip the doughnuts, it separates into a disgusting mess.  I microwaved my second can for fewer seconds, but still had less than desirable results.  


Here is my plate of doughnuts that, much to my children's dismay, ended up in the garbage!


A second trip to a different store rendered plenty of plain doughnuts and the creamy variety of vanilla frosting.  After microwaving the frosting in the container for about 20 seconds, I dipped the doughnuts, first one half and then the other.  The directions said to spoon the frosting over the top.  This may have produced a better finish, but I was feeling pressured for time.


The red stripes were made from fruit roll-ups.  After rummaging through my pantry for the box of fruit roll-ups I was certain I had, I realized that it was a variety pack.  All that was left was purple and orange. A third trip to the store and I had fruit roll-ups which finished off the flotation devices.


I piped blue water onto the cupcakes with a large star tip, placed the flotation devices on top and voila!


Enough S.O.S. cupcakes to get the class off the volcanic erupting island!


The many volcanic structures in the class were quite impressive.  Here, you can catch a glimpse of our newly decorated lower school science room - another project I had fun working on!



The great thing about fourth graders?  
They don't care about perfect cupcakes!
If you give them a cupcake with a doughnut on top, they'll never complain!



    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    iheartfaces Photo Challenge - Self Portrait



    Here's me playing Santa's helper - a role I play well this time of year!  If you look closely, you can see my living room.  It contains dupioni silk drapes, a grand piano and a hockey table!  This room encompasses my life as I see it - a juxtaposition of a vision, a past, and a reality (i.e. a husband, four kids and a big dog!)  I wouldn't have it any other way.  I hope I'm also instilling in my family the true meaning of Christmas.  As often as not, however, they are the ones teaching me!

    Initially, I was going to skip this week's iheartfaces challenge - Self Portraits - because, if you've noticed, I don't even have my face anywhere on my blog!  My type A personality kicked in, however.  I just didn't want to miss a week!




    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Five Favorite Teacher Gifts!

    With Christmas soon upon us, I put on my thinking cap for that perfect teacher gift - something thoughtful, yet something that wouldn't break the bank!  I came up with these five favorites.  Some of them I have given in the past, and some they just might receive this year......




    • Clementines - ($4.99 - SuperTarget) Who wouldn't want a whole box of something called Cuties?  Tied with a red bow, this deliciously sweet, seedless citrus fruit is a healthy alternative to holiday sweets.  If nothing else, a bowl of them makes a great centerpiece!  My kids ate through this entire box in 2 days!



    • "Go Fish" Christmas CD - (gofishguys.com)  This fun acapella band from my home state of Minnesota made their mark with alternative Christian music for kids, but they definitely appeal to the adult crowd as well.  You can see their hit song, "Christmas With a Capital 'C'" on YouTube.  The first CD is $15 but all the rest are only $5!  (Plus FREE SHIPPING!) This is a great gift to buy in bulk.  Last year I gave it to over 20 teachers and staff!
    • Layered Mixes - (Make them for $1 - $5)   A one quart Mason Jar transforms into a beautiful and practical gift.  The beauty of it is, the receiver gets to bake the cookies when she wants them - and take all the credit!  There are many recipes on line, just google "Layered Mixes".  This an easy gift to make in bulk.  I'll post my favorite soon!
    • Soap! (6 for $20- Bath and Body Works)  I've always been a practical girl, but when practical and luxurious meet, it's a gift made in heaven.  Group two bottles of this delicious-smelling hand soap together in a cellophane bag for a festive presentation.  The best part?  Bath and Body works provides the wrapping!
    • Kitchen Candles - (Wait for the 2 for $20 sale at Bath and Body Works)  OK, maybe candles have gotten a bad rap when it comes to teacher gifts, but I burn my Kitchen candles from Bath and Body Works constantly!  They have some great seasonal scents. My personal favorites are Kitchen Spice and Cranberry Woods, but they have many more from which to choose!


      HAPPY GIVING!