So Long…

Another Christmas season has come and gone (does anyone else feel like saying thank goodness and good riddance?) and so have two recipes of peanut brittle. If you didn’t get a goodie bag from me below is the recipe. Leave a comment before Tuesday evening about your favorite Christmas recipe and one lucky, random winner will get my last bag of peanut brittle hand delivered to their current place of residence (yes, Mom, Steph and Elisha that includes you! And I’m guessing, more than likely only you…)

Homemade (No Fail) Peanut Brittle

source: me and the world wide interwebs

  • 2 C white sugar
  • 1 C water
  • 1/2 C corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 to 3 C peanuts
  • Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a sauce pan with high sides, combine the sugar, water, corn syrup and salt. Gently stir it to combine all the ingredients but make sure not to splash up the sides of your pot.
  • Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat and cook until the sauce is deep golden. This could take up to 25 minutes. The NO FAIL part comes in if you have a candy thermometer: boil until the thermometer reads 300 degrees. Please watch closely. The sauce goes from just right to burnt in a few seconds! You don’t need to stir the sauce; if you do however, once again be sure not to splash up the sides of your pot. I say this from experience and quite a lot of scrubbing.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and baking soda. The sauce will foam and about double in volume. Once you have this under control quickly stir in the peanuts and continue to stir until the sauce is no longer bubbling, about a minute.
  • Quickly spread the sauce onto your parchment lined baking sheet. You can try and spread it out with a lightly greased spatula but you won’t have a lot of time. Let it cool until it’s firm and then break into pieces.
  • Apparently you can store this in an airtight container up to three weeks but mine always disappears long before that!

Notes:

  • It’s handy to have ALL your ingredients set out before hand because things come together really quickly at the end
  • Make sure you have oven mitts and long handled spoons & spatulas. The sauce gets really hot!
  • So long to this year…. and to me. But only for a short while; I’m taking a little vacation in the warm surf & sun… See you mid January…
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The Naughty… {& the nice}

For those of you owning up to being on Santa’s naughty list: kudos. You’re probably having much more fun than those “nice” people anyway. And just for you… here’s a recipe that will corroborate your status.

Revel in it. Enjoy it. Be sassy. Be mischievous. Let that twinkle in your eye shine.

Imbibe in a little to much Christmas cheer and let everyone think you slaved for hours (you didn’t) and made this treat only for them (you didn’t).

Chocolate & Pecan Buttercrunch Toffee

source: David Lebovitz

  • 2 C toasted pecans, almonds, or whatever nuts you like, chopped between fine and coarse, toasted if you have the time
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/2 C butter cut into pieces
  • a nice, generous pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1/4 C packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C dark chocolate chips
  • Lightly oil a large baking sheet
  • Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle on the baking sheet, staying away from the edges. When you get around to pouring over the toffee the nuts will spread out.
  • In a sauce pan with high sides, fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt and both sugars. Try not to stir the mixture. Heat over medium heat until your candy thermometer reaches 300 degrees F. NO MORE. It tends to go from just done to burnt in seconds. Trust me.
  • Once the temp reaches 300 degrees (once you’re over 300 the toffee will turn dark brown and smell burnt), remove from the heat immediately. Quickly stir in the vanilla and baking soda. The mixture will foam A LOT, hence the sauce pan with high sides. A really long handled spoon is also quite handy.
  • Quickly pour the toffee mixtures over the nuts on the baking sheet. QUICKLY. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. If you need to, you can try and spread it out with a spatula but you won’t have a lot of time before it starts setting.
  • Sprinkle over the chocolate chips and let them stand for about two minutes until you can spread them in an even layer over the toffee.
  • Sprinkle over the remaining nuts and gently press into the chocolate. If you want, sprinkle a little extra salt on top.
  • Cool completely then break into pieces.
  • Store it in an airtight container. Depending on how naughty you are it won’t need storing. You’ll eat it all and not share any of it. Shame, shame.

Notes:

  • Don’t let the use of a candy thermometer scare you off. You can get one at Canadian Tire for about $7. It pretty much guarantees you perfect results. This recipe is so easy you’ll find yourself making it again and again.

{the naughty} … & The Nice

Ok, time to fess up. On which of Santa’s lists do you belong? The naughty or the nice?

I’ll keep this short and sweet, because let’s be honest: we’re all busy and have “better” things to be doing this time of year than perusing the interwebs. After all, it is nearing the big day. The count down is on. Craziness is setting in (or just more apparent given the season of “joy”). Tempers are flaring and heaven forbid you wake up one morning to find your painstakingly decorated Christmas tree fell over in the night…..

However, if you claim to be featured in the Nice column this recipe is for you (and your tree has definitely not succumbed to gravity. Then you would be no where near the Nice list. At all). It’s easy-peasy, relatively healthy (you are “nice” afterall), uses ingredients stocked in your pantry, and will be your best friend if you’re house is overflowing with well, and sometimes not-so-well, intentioned relatives (the Naughty list people do not invite over relatives hence, have no need for an easy breakfast bread recipe).

Gingerbread Breakfast Loaf

source: me

  • 1 3/4 C all purpose flour
  • 3/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 heaping tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp (or a generous pinch) of cardamom, nutmeg and cloves
  • 1 C milk at room temperature
  • 1/2 C molasses
  • 1/4 C oil
  • 1/4 C applesauce
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 C Egg Beaters, beaten
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • optional: 1 tbsp. grated, fresh ginger
  • topping: chopped walnuts or candied ginger
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degree.
  • Sift together flour through cloves.
  • Whisk together milk through eggs. Stir in brown sugar. Fold together with flour mixture.
  • Do NOT over mix.
  • Bake in a 9″x5″, greased loaf pan for about 1 hour.

Notes:

  • Omit the cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg if you’re not a fan of those spices but who doesn’t love cardamom?
  • Omit the fresh ginger if you want a milder tasting bread.
  • If you cut the bread into 16 pieces, each piece has about 187 calories, 4 g fat, and  38 g carbs. Pretty nice, huh?
  • Naughty people… stay tuned. Your recipe is up next.

To Covet & Crave

I love chocolate.

It’s not the same love I have for a particular pair of Prada platform shoes or the way I covet and love the warmth of summer sun. Or sleep. Or even air.

Oh noooooo. It’s a guilty, sort of illicit kind of love. It’s tempting and at times all consuming, like when I know my favorite Triple Chocolate Cookies are waiting for me in an air tight container, in my chandeliered pantry, just out of eye sight. How I crave those wanton cookies.

I know I am not alone in this love affair. There are others of you out there. Some of you even help justify this love, like when my husband begs for me to bake Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake or Chocolate Chip Cookies with my “special” chocolate chips (stay tuned…). But you know what the real problem is? Chocolate calls my name… and implores me to not leave it lonesome in the pretty pantry, as evidenced by the enticing cookies below.

Chocolate reciprocates my love.

And I happily oblige.

Chocolate & Caramel Thumbprint Cookies

source: food.com

Cookies:

 

  • 1/2 C butter at room temperature (do not even try to use margerine)
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg, separated, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/3 C cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C finely chopped pecans

Filling:

  • 12-14 caramels
  • 2 Tbsp whipping cream

Drizzle:

  • 1/2 C dark chocolate chips
  • Cream the butter and sugar for three to four minutes until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk, milk and vanilla.
  • Whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt to get rid of any lumps. Add to the butter mixture and beat until combined.
  • Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about two hours, or until the dough is cold enough to work with. It’s really sticky at room temperature.
  • Once the dough is chilled beat the egg white in a small bowl.
  • Roll the cookie dough into about 20-24 balls. Dip each ball into the egg white then roll in the chopped nuts.
  • The cookies don’t spread a lot, so place them about 2″ apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  • Make an indentation in each cookie using a small thimble or end of a wooden spoon. Even your thumb will work.
  • Bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes. Do NOT overbake. You might have to punch down the indents if they have puffed up while baking.
  • Place on wire wracks to cool.
  • Meanwhile, in a heavy sauce pan, melt the caramels with the cream over low heat (don’t burn!). Stir until smooth.
  • Fill each indented cookie with caramel.
  • Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave. Drizzle over the cookies

Notes:

  • I tripled this recipe. I suggest you do too! If you don’t eat all the cookies yourself they make great gifts.
  • You might want to store the baked, uneaten cookies in the freezer. That way they can’t call you as loudly as from the pantry.
  • Just a side note: My relationship with my treadmill is directly proportionate to my relationship with chocolate (do not misread proportionate as passionate). The harder I love chocolate the louder the treadmill calls my name.
  • If you really want to know: each cookie has about 157 calories, 9 g fat, and 17 g carbs.

Eugenia Does Christmas

One can not think well,

love well, sleep well, if

one has not dined well.

Virginia Wolf

 

I find this time of year I do not think well. I do not sleep well. And I’m not sure if I love well. My good friend Eugenia likes to make her presence known and instead of reminding me of all the good surrounding my life Eugenia reminds me only of what I do not have nor have any future in having. Her presence is so large I often can not see anything else; she completely blocks my view of the sun sparkling on snowflakes. Of brightly lit Christmas trees. Of happy.

At times like this, I just want to stay at home and burrow under my softest blanket, turn on mindless tv, and indulge in a huge bowl of pasta and an even bigger plate of cookies. I want to forget the little, insensitive things said and done which have cut me to the bone. I want to forget crying in the baking isle of the grocery store (usually the lack of gourmet goods gives me a plausible excuse for a trip out to the big city ((read: hot yoga and Starbucks)) rendering a smile not tears). I want to forget this past year and I want to punch Eugenia in the gut.

At the same time, I also crave something to look forward to. Something to plan. Something to inspire me.

Well maybe I can start with that huge bowl of pasta. Something comforting (and who am I kidding: healthy) and maybe a little spicy to ward off the winter cold. As Mrs. Wolf advised: maybe if I dine well on that large bowl of pasta the rest will follow and holiday cheer will ensue?

Spicy Thai Inspired Peanuty Noodles

Source: Me

Sauce:

  • 1/2 C low fat chicken broth
  • 1/4 C light peanut butter
  • 3 Tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 – 2 tsp sambal oelek (or crushed red chili peppers if you don’t have chili paste)
  • 8 oz. uncooked long pasta
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into thin strips (works best if partly frozen)
  • 1 red or yellow pepper cut into thin strips
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • lime wedges and fresh cilantro for garnish
  • Combine all the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and whirl until smooth. Set aside for later.
  • Cook the noodles as per package directions.
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook chicken over medium high heat until no longer pink. If using a non stick pan  try a scant teaspoon of sesame oil. Throw in the chopped veggies and cook a few more minutes until the veggies are tender-crisp. Add in the sauce you made earlier and heat until just bubbly and thickened (this will only take a minute or so).
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the noodles. Let sit a few minutes to absorb the sauce then serve with slices of fresh lime, fresh chopped cilantro, and more sambal oelek if desired.

Notes:

  • This recipe serves two to three very generous portions. Generously double it if your a group of people.
  • I often use Nature’s Pasta Coriander Vermicelli.
  • Grab your chopsticks, maybe a Singha beer, and cozy up under that blanket while you dine and watch Christmas reruns. Enjoy!

Sprint To The Holidays

It’s that time of year….

Where we run around at high speeds (in some instances we’re crazy enough to attempt it in high heels), masses of lists clutched with a death grip in our white knuckled fingers. Gifts to buy. Parties to attend. Food to prepare. Surviving the holidays with our sanity, our number one priority.

But isn’t a holiday, by definition, a leisurely time away from work devoted to rest or pleasure? What if we all make an effort this holiday season, to enjoy the things around us a little more? Take a few more deep breathes. Stop for a minute and admire the lovely Christmas decorations. Sing along with our favorite Christmas song. Smile at our loved ones.

If you, like me, need a little “reminder” of how to survive the next few weeks, without getting short of breath sprinting to the holiday finish line, here’s a little list to add to your pile. Keep it on top and read it often.

Those of you wanting the details on #4, read on…

Festive Cranberry Margarita

Source: me

  • 2 C Tequila of your choice
  • 1 1/3 C Cranberry juice
  • 1 C Cointreau
  • 2/3 C Fresh-squeezed lime juice.
  • Combine everything in a medium sized pitcher and stir to combine. Pour into glasses (rimmed in sugar if you please) and garnish with a few frozen cranberries. Now sit back, enjoy the company of your loved ones and move to the next item on the list (see #5 above).

My Personal Academy

I woke up this morning discontent. Before my eyes fluttered open or my feet hit the floor, my mind flooded with a disquietness and restlessness. Why am I HERE? Why do I have to live HERE?

Does that ever happen to you? When you want to be anywhere but where you are? Sometimes I get that feeling when I have a day filled with tasks I don’t want to complete. Sometimes I get that feeling when I wake up and that particular day won’t be any different than the one before (wake up, run, eat, repeat). Sometimes I get that feeling when it feels like everything & everyone around me is moving forward except for me.

Yet I am the President of my very own Personal Academy of Domestic Desire (and a few other desires as well). If I want something to change, I am the only one who can actually go about doing anything about it. I think Meghan Daum sums it up pretty good in her book Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House: Where should I live? Why can’t I afford to live where I want to lie? How come WHERE I want to live is so tied up in WHY I live? Maybe learning how to be in the big world isn’t the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very own existence, to own not only property but also your life.”

Hmmm….

My Personal Academy needs to teach a course on learning to just be….on how to master the impossible art of feeling at home. Not just in the physical sense of your where you live but also feeling at home with your life. However, since My Personal Academy seems to be on an early and extended Christmas break I will resort to baking cookies of which the aromas will waft through my home, remind me of my childhood home, and make me feel comfy and at home as I snuggle under a warm blanket with a glass of milk and said cookies (Oh who am I kidding. Don’t let the picture fool you, in reality it’s more like a glass of bourbon. Which, yes, goes surprisingly well with cookies.).

Smartie Monster Cookies

Source: family recipe

  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C butter at room temperature
  • 1 -1/2 C peanut butter
  • 1 C dark chocolate chips
  • 1 C smarties
  • 4 1/2 C oatmeal
  • 1/2 C flour
  • My original recipe’s directions are this: bake till done. However I will try to be a little more helpful.
  • Beat butter and sugars. Beat in eggs one at a time until well combined. Beat in vanilla, corn syrup and peanut butter.
  • Sift together dry ingredients: baking soda, salt, oatmeal and flour. Add to peanut butter mixture and mix well. Add in chocolate chips and smarties.
  • Chill dough at least 4 hours.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 12ish minutes. It’s important not to overbake these cookies or they will dry out. And you will be sesriously disappointed.

Notes:

  • I grew up with these cookies… they are in a lot of my memories. I’ve always had them with smarties (and apparently not just because I’m a smartie pants) but feel free to use M&M’s or whatever you like.
  • These cookies work well to roll into balls and freeze until you’re ready to bake & eat them. They also freeze well once baked, but who doesn’t love a fresh, warm cookie?
  • Don’t be alarmed if the smarties and chocolate chips don’t stick in the dough. Just press them in as you go along.
  • This is only a half recipe. Feel free to double it if you’re feeding a crowd. As is, it makes about 36 large cookies. Don’t try and make little cookies. They will just dry out. They are called MONSTER cookies in reference to their size.
  • I’m pretty sure these cookies won’t be featured on the course syllabus at My Personal Academy but if you leave a comment (DF) you might be lucky enough to get them fresh out of the oven next time you’re at my house.

Double-Shot Dare

For some inexplicable reason I think that caffeine will inspire me. I think that as a free-lancer it’s my “right” to fritter hours away in the local coffee shop, utilizing free band width and “working.” Because it’s inspiring (note tone of sarcasm).

Like earlier this afternoon…. I was having a little trouble coming up with something interesting to say about pumpkin, sitting and staring at my usual vista. Pumpkin gets kind of over played this time of year yet for some reason it never loses it’s appeal to me. So in typical fashion and in hopes that my muse Caffeine will come through and make pumpkin interesting to the masses (ok, “masses” might be a bit of a stretch) I trekked to the local coffee shop and ordered a double tall, non-fat, iced latte (my internal thermostat has not quite reached hot drink levels yet). I was reaching into my wallet to grab some cash when a quite-young girl behind me said “I would like to get this for you. You look like you could use a little cheer today. Pass it on next time you see someone who needs it.”

I was truly humbled. And inspired.

So now I double-shot dare you: next time you’re in line for coffee pay for the person behind you, or in front of you. You’ll bond, even if just for an instant. You will most definitely make someone smile. And, you’ll make your world a little brighter.

Mini Pumpkin Puddings with Pecan Brittle and Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Source: adapted from Canadian House & Home

Serves 8

Pecan Brittle:

  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3/4 C pecan halves roughly broken
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • Melt half the sugar in a small sauce pan over medium to medium low heat. Once the sugar starts to melt around the edges of the pan stir until the sugar has melted completely. Add the remaining sugar and stir until it turns a caramel color. This could take up to 15 minutes, but once it starts to happen it happens very quickly. If you have a candy thermometer it should read 250 degrees f, just below a hard boil.
  • Stir in the pecans and salt and QUICKLY pour the mixture onto a lightly greased baking sheet (I highly recommend doing this prior to starting!). Use a lightly greased spatula to smooth the brittle into a 1/4″ thick layer. Work as fast as you can. Allow the brittle to cool then break into pieces. Store in an air tight container.

Pumpkin Puddings

  • 14 oz. pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 3/4 C lightly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 C evaporated milk (not condensed milk)
  • 2 Tbsp dark rum
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Mix until combined.
  • Whisk together the eggs, milk, rum and orange zest then stir into the pumpkin mixture.
  • Divide the custard between 8 ovenproof ramekins (or any ovenproof dishes). Place into a roasting pan then pour warm water into the pan until it comes about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Place a large piece of foil over the top of the roasting pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until the puddings are just slightly jiggly in the middle.
  • Cool on a wire rack. Once the little puddings are room temperature, refrigerate, covered until serving.

Cinnamon Whip Cream

  • 1/2 C whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Combine everything and whip until soft peaks form.
  • Garnish each mini pudding with whipped cream and a piece of pecan brittle. Serve either at room temperature or slightly cool, however you prefer.

Notes:

  • The servings are pretty large if you’ve just eaten a turkey dinner. Plan on sharing. Also, I’d only make half the brittle next time. Unless you like brittle. It does keep for a couple of days.
  • The reason this recipe came to be is that my brother and I hate pumpkin pie crust. It never fails to be soggy and we usually leave it behind and eat the filling. This was the perfect solution!
  • These little puddings are not that bad for you compared to traditional pie. Each pudding alone has 185 calories and about 5 grams of fat. I have, since making these found fat-free evaporated milk which would defat and decalorize things even more. Leaving you more room for stuffing. Or whatever….

Listen Now

I usually talk. Or write. But this time I’m listening. As I baked up my latest recipe I had my current-favorite playlist at top volume in the kitchen. I listened.

To inspire.

To enjoy.

To dance.

To take me to a different place.

To breathe.

What are you listening to right now?

What is your playlist inspiring you to do?

Mine’s leading me to bake up a batch of biscuits. The weather is kinda grey, and biscuits seem like comfort food but I’m going to add some color and heat. Just to spice things up a bit….like track no.12…


Smoked Jack & Jalapeno Buttermilk Biscuits

Source: me

Makes approximately 15 biscuits

  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Combine flours, baking powder and soda, and salt. Stir in cheese. Using your hands, mix in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs (or you can use a pastry blender if you don’t want to get your hands dirty).
  • Combine the buttermilk and honey. Using your hands (or a fork if you must) mix together the wet and dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Pat into a ball then roll out to about 3/4″ thick. Cut into 2 1/2″ rounds using a cookie cutter or whatever you have on hand.
  • Place on your parchment lined sheet, top with a piece of sliced of jalapeno and bake for about 12 minutes.
  • Best served warm!

Notes:

  • Because these are de-fatted (a term recently gleaned from my mom’s 1964 Mennonite Treasury Cook Book) they really are best eaten warm. And with soup. Maybe a Chipotle Corn Chowder.
  • Each biscuit has about 110 calories, 4 g fat, and 152 g carbs. Just in case you wanted to know.