Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Cookies Part 1- Vanilla Cherry Chocolate

Christmas cookies are a must, right? I honestly wasn't a huge cookie maker for Christmas until this year. Last year I made some cookies for Christmas day, but they turned out to be eh. Then I made some more for a Christmas get-together, and while those were wayyyy better, I still never really got into the Christmas cookie making thing. You know, making crap tons of them, giving them out, having after dinner, putting them out for Santa... Never.

This year I made three different cookies. The first of these cookies is a Vanilla Cherry Chocolate cookie I saw on Ask Aida. These cookies were definitely good, a bit sweet for me, but definitely a hit!

I was definitely excited about making them, but when I read some of the reviews, I was disappointed in people. I know that certain people's preferences are different than other people's, but that doesn't mean that people should tell someone their recipe is wrong. When you read the list of ingredients, yes it does look similar to a Tollhouse recipe. But the difference here is the heavy vanilla and low brown sugar to white sugar ratio. This is not a Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie! This is a sweet, chewy, fruity and yes somewhat chocolaty cookie. So to tell Aida her recipe is wrong was just plain nasty. Say you didn't like it and why, but don't tell the woman she messed up the recipe b/c she didn't.

Sorry, I needed to get that out. People's reviews are just plain nasty sometimes.

Vanilla Cherry Chocolate Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate)
1 cup coarsely chopped dried sweet cherries (Use tart cherries if you like them, this is definitely a sweet cookie and using tart might help cut back on the sweetness)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl until evenly combined; set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together the butter and sugars over medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Pour in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate and cherries until they are uniformly distributed.

Scoop the dough by rounded tablespoons onto a baking sheet. Bake until the cookie edges are golden brown, about 14 minutes. Leave the cookies on the baking sheets on racks for 3 minutes. Repeat this process with the remaining dough. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely before serving.

I sprinkled some extra milk chocolate shavings on top of the cookie before baking them. I like the little bit of extra chocolately goodness :) These cookies were definitely chewy and delicious. I admit probably a bit too sweet for me as I was really only able to have a couple, but everyone else really seemed to like them, so it was a good success for me!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My first time making pasticio for xmas dinner (sort of)

Every Christmas for dinner, we have roast leg of lamb, pasticio and Greek potatoes. Never changes. Well, mom has taken on the task for the last few years of making the pasticio. I've made the filling before, but since I am not a fan of the bechemel on the top, I never really got interested in making it.
This year, things changed.
I made the filling again, but this time, as mom made the topping, I helped (and snapped pics along the way)

I'll be honest, we aren't a measuring kind of family when it comes to food. I'm going to describe how we made it as simply as possible...

First, you start by browning the ground meat in a very large stainless steel pan. We normally use a pound of meat for a pound of pasta to put into a 13 X 9 pan. We used a lot more this time around. We had to do two pans of meat. :)
After the meat is browned somewhat, add ground black pepper, chopped dried onion and ground cinnamon. Start out w/ a sprinkling of each over the entire pan, then mix it up and try it. If you can taste all three ingredients, you're good. If not, add more of whichever needs it. Add one small can of tomato sauce when the meat is cooked. Let this simmer a bit, until the meat is completely saturated and after tasting, you can taste all of the seasonings and it tastes good :)
This is the only dish I'll ever make w/ no garlic in it. Trust me when I say, do not add garlic or really anything more than what I've added. (oh, well, you can sprinkle salt on top, but we're not salt adders)
While you are doing the meat, bring a pot of salted (I know, contradiction) water to a boil. Add the macaroni pasta. You can get this past at a local market that sells ethnic foods. It is No. 5 macaroni (you'll get it when you see all of the pinkish red packages) and it's basically spaghetti length elbow macaroni noodles. If you can't find it, elbow noodles will work fine. Don't use anything else. It's just weird.
After the pasta is cooked to al dente, pour the meat into the strained pasta pot and mix together. Toss in a couple of small handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese. Use grated cheese, not shaved or shredded. Pour the mix into the prepared pan like the above picture. Spread it all out evenly. Set aside. (Or in my case, just eat as is!!!)
For the bechemel. Everyone does their bechemel different. This is my mother's way.
Heat 4 cups of milk to a simmer in a saucepan. Melt a stick of butter in another saucepan and add equal amount of flour. Mix well. Slowly add the heated milk w/ a whisk (as seen directly above). While you are doing this, place 4 eggs in an electric mixer and let it go. Beat the bejebus out of those eggs. Get them nice and fluffy, like the below picture shows.
Once you've added the milk to the roux and it is completely smooth and not too thick, add some seasoning to taste, white pepper, cinnamon and some more Parmesan cheese. You don't want the sauce to turn red, so don't add a lot of cinnamon, just a bit to taste. Same w/ the cheese, adding too much will make the sauce grainy, so be careful. You can always add more if you want, but you can't take it away once you've added it to the mix!
After you're done w/ the sauce, add a little bit of it to the egg in the mixture, while it is running, to temper the eggs. The sauce is hot and you don't want to cook the egg when you add it to the sauce. Add it slowly and enough to temper, then add the sauce and egg mixture back into the saucepan.
And whisk it all together, like above!
Get your prepared pans out and pour the sauce over the top of the pasta and smooth it out.
The place the pan(s) in the oven at 350 degrees F for about an hour. Check it at about 45 min to make sure it's going well. You want the top to be GBG-Golden Brown Goodness!
I couldn't find my camera before dinner, so I used my phone to snap a couple of pics. I managed to get like the last piece on our serving plate (there was more still in the pan, but it was right there and it had lots of insides scrapes!) The top is a nice golden brown color and it set nicely.
My first serving :) Doesn't look like a lot huh? Don't worry, I had another piece of pasticio and like three more pieces of lamb! Yum!!!

Check this out!

It's a giveaway!

My godson's first birthday cake

When my cousin asked me to make a cake for my godson's first birthday, I was super excited! I am not known for my decorating skills, but I make a good cake. So I had all these plans on making it cowboy themed. Do you know how hard it is to make a plaid cake? Well, I didn't even try b/c the instructions were nuts! But she nixed me on using too much food coloring b/c apparently, food coloring make skids hyper. Like he's not going to be hyper eating an entire mini cake for himself. But I did my Nouna (godmother) duties and made a simple yellow butter cake w/ vanilla frosting. The cake is the same I made in class last year, so I knew it was a good recipe.

Cake ingredients:

6 large egg yolks

1 cup milk

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 cups sifted cake flour

1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray, line bottoms with parchment paper, then spray again. Set aside.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the egg yolks, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla extract.

In the bowl of your electric mixer combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until blended. Add the butter and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the egg mixture, in 3 additions, beating about 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the egg.

Divide the batter and pour into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with an offset spatula. (Pans will be about half full.) Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out w/ little crumbs stuck to it.

Place the cakes on a wire rack to cool, in their pans, for about 10 minutes. Then invert the cakes onto a greased rack. Cool completely before frosting.

The Frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick butter)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup heavy cream, or more if necessary

1 (16 oz) box confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat and stir in sugar and cream. Bring to a boil, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Add confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until it reaches a spreading consistency. At this time it may be necessary to add a tablespoon of heavy cream, or more, if frosting gets too thick. Just be sure to add cream in small amounts because you can always "add to," but you can't take away.

The cake was pretty good. I made the cake the night before, let it cool, wrapped it several times w/ plastic wrap and the refrigerated the cakes overnight so it would be easier to frost the next morning.

I also made a strawberry filling to go b/w the layers. I just cut the tops of the strawberries (I used 1 1/2 quarts of strawberries), then quartered them. Sprinkled some granulated sugar on top. Tossed the berries and sugar, covered the container and refrigerated them overnight. The next morning they were syrupy and sweet.

I put a layer of frosting on top of the bottom cake and them put the strawberries on top. Mistake. I should have just put the berries right on top of the naked cake b/c then the cake layers wouldn't stay straight!!! The cake was a wee bit lopsided, but hey, it was still good. It helps to pipe a circle around the edge of the bottom layer so when you frosting the entire cake, there isn't a big open space where the strawberries can ooze out of the sides. And this is def a cake that it important to do the crumb coat on b/c then it set the cake and frosting enough to be able to spread the rest of the frosting on w/ out the cake being even more lopsided.

top view, not too bad

side view... crooked!!!

In addition to the cake that served the guests, my cousin's friend made a cake using one of those cupcake pans. Pretty sweet cake pan. I want one!
That was Buddha's personal destroying cake. The whole thing ended up being way too huge though. And the frosting was still kinda cold and stiff from being in the fridge since Friday, so after he tried to eat some of the whole cake:
My cousin cut off a smaller slice to let him destroy. He actually probably ate more than he threw on the ground. And way more than any kid I have seen ever eaten on their first birthday!!!

He wasn't doing so bad at first. He was definitely happy!

And after a little while longer... He demolished the thing!!!

So now my little Buddha is 1! And I think he is going to need a cake from Nouna every year! The next one is chocolate though!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert!

Our dessert table had more stuff than the dinner table

For some people, Thanksgiving is all about the dinner. Well, it has been in my family too, but after finishing culinary school and still not being able to take dinner over, I moved onto desserts. We always had a spread of desserts for the holidays, but they were mostly box mixed cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and jello, all made by my mom or aunt. Well, I boo that b/c there really is only so long a person can go eating boxed mixes. Honestly, I will use the mixes for stuff like cake balls or if I am making something that adds more to it than just what is on the box, but not often. I don't mean to offend those who do, I really hope no one feels that way. I just feel that I've reached my max at making boxed stuff.

So I make desserts from scratch now. And apparently, the baking bug has hit some of my other family members too!

My one cousin has always liked baking things, but she's a senior in high school now, taking way too many AP classes and involved in way too many extracurricular stuff to have time to bake. My other cousin, who is in 6th grade, is really into Food Network and cooking and baking now, so he made cupcakes. He made 48 cupcakes! 24 chocolate and 24 vanilla. Mixed, baked and frosted all by himself! Awesome!!!

My mom made two pans of boxed brownies and my aunt, who wasn't really into baking/cooking lots, made an Ina Garten cheesecake topped w/ berries. It was delicious! Very good for her first time!

I made a pumpkin chocolate cheesecake and the most awesome ever apple pie!!!!
I'll start w/ the awesome apple pie b/c in all honesty, I can't hold back on this baby.

Upside-Down Apple Pie

6 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans

2 refrigerated pie crusts

2 tbsp melted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 large apples of your choice, peeled, cored and sliced***


Coat a deep-dish pie plate (I used a 9 inch cake pan) with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper. Coat the paper with cooking spray also.
In a small bowl combine 6 tbsp melted butter, brown sugar and pecans. Mix well and spread evenly over the bottom of the pie plate, on top of the parchment. Place one of the crusts in the pie plate, pressing it firmly against the nut mixture and up the sides of the plate. Set aside.

(Since I had a 9 inch cake pan and the pie crust were for 9 inch pies, I had to roll the dough out a little. I thought this worked better anyway b/c the first time I made this it was in a regular pie pan w/ less topping and the crust was too thick and over-powered the pie)

This picture is from the first pie. I used a shallow pan and less topping, the topping REALLY makes the pie.

In a large bowl, combine granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. Mix well. Add the apples in and toss gently to coat. Spoon into the pie crust.

Place the second crust over the apple mixture. Trim and fold the edges together to seal and cut some slits in the top of the crust for venting. Because my cake was so deep I rolled the top layer of dough out some too, so that I could push the edges into the cake pan on the sides that didn't have much overlap and press the two pie dough layers together. I really couldn't fold and seal but I got it closed.

1-1/4 hours or until crust is golden brown in a 375 degree oven. Make sure to place a cookie sheet on the bottom oven rack to catch any drips from the pie. There will be drips since the brown sugar and butter mixture will boil over the sides. I'd also place a piece of foil on top of the cookie sheet to help w/ clean-up.
You want to make sure you have the maximum baking time w/out burning the crust of course. This guarantees that the butter sugar mixture will melt fully and ooze nicely over the pie when you flip it. Also, when I melted the butter in the saucepan, I put the brown sugar in the saucepan and let it melt into the butter for a couple of minutes before putting it into the lined cake pan. Again, another trick to get the sugar to melt better and not be grainy.

Let the pie cool for 5 minutes and then place a plate that is larger than the pie on top of it and flip it over. Use oven gloves as it will still be HOT. Remove the pie plate and gently lift the paper. Allow to cool, but not completely. Serve warm or at room temperature.
(it's way better served warm!!!)

See the yummy melty caramelized gooeyness??? YUM!

Look at all those apples, yummmmmm
Nice huge yummy piece for daddy :)

***For the apples, I cored the apples w/ a corer, then peeled them w/ a veggie peeler, then cut the apple in half, from top to bottom. Then I sliced the halves, not too thinly, as you can see. I did one apple at a time. To keep them from browning, I had a shaker of cinnamon sugar next to me and would shake some over the sliced apples. This is way better than using a bowl of lemon water. That makes the apples to wet and will make your filling less stable. This way, the apples don't brown and you get more cinnamon sugar goodness. :)

On to the awesome cheesecake!!! I used Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake. It is a great base to work with, I've used it many times in the past!

Pumpkin Chocolate Swirled Cheesecake


One box of chocolate teddy grahams
1/2 stick of melted butter


4 (8 oz) pkgs of cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temp
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combo of the two
1/2 melted milk chocolate, slightly cooled
15 oz can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix!)


Spray a 9 inch spring form pan w/ non-stick cooking spray. Wrap the bottom of the pan w/ two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Set aside.

Crush or grind the cookies, depending on your preference for the crust. Stir the crumbs w/ the melted butter. Press into the prepared pan. Bake the crust at 350 degrees F for 10 min. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F

Put a small saucepan of water on the stove top and bring to a boil. While the water is boiling, make the batter.

Beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft, about 4 mins. W/ the mixer running, add the sugar and continue to beat about another 4 mins, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating a full minute after each addition. Reduce the speed to low and add the sour cream/heavy cream.

Take out half of the mixture and place in a large bowl. Add the pumpkin to the half in the bowl and fold it into the batter, until completely incorporated. Add the melted (but slightly cooled) milk chocolate to the batter left in the mixing bowl and mix at a low speed until the chocolate is completely incorporated.

Using one measuring cup for each batter, dump a cup full of the pumpkin batter and then a cup full of the chocolate batter on top and then the pumpkin again and keep doing this until all the batter is in the pan. You don't have to make it perfect, it can be lopsided, it can have more of one layer than the other at different parts, it doesn't matter, as long as you dump one at a time on top of the other. It'll look like this:
This is about halfway through filling the pan

Once you've filled the pan w/ all of the batters, place a large roasting pan on the oven rack. Place the cheesecake pan in the middle and then slowly and carefully pour the boiling hot water into the roasting pan. Slowly and carefully push the rack into the oven and bake the cheesecake for 1 1/2 hours.

After the cheesecake has finished backing, turn off the oven and prop open the oven, just enough to let the air escape, like this:
This is what the cheesecake is going to look like inside the oven, sitting there... cooling...
Take the cheesecake out of the roasting pan and allow it to cool to room temp on the counter. Once it has reached room temp, place the cheesecake in the refridgerator for at least 4 hours, but overnight is preferred.

Once you've cooled the cheesecake, carefully remove the springform. Some people use a hair dryer to remove it, but honestly, I just take a very thin knife blade, run it along the inside, careful not to knick the cake and then pop off the springform.

See, the layers aren't perfect, but you can see them, which is cool. And the cheesecake is delicious. Smoothy, creamy, dense, awesome!

It's best cut w/ a long thin knife that has been run under hot water and lightly wiped. You will want to wipe the blade w/ a warm wet towel after each cut, or at least every other cut, to ensure a pretty slice of cheesecake is being placed on the plate. The first piece is always the hardest to get out, so don't be worried if it comes out a mess. The next ones will look better :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peanut Butter and Jelly (and more!) Thumbprints

Okay, so I have a hard time refusing anything peanut butter. Really, I do. I love the taste, texture, stickiness, everything about peanut butter! So when I see new peanut butter cookies, what do I do? Make them!!!

It actually started out when I was reading Shannalee's post on foodloveswriting and I saw the delicious peanut butter cookies she made... I wanted them badly. Well, I finally got to making them one horrible night, but instead of dipping them into chocolate, I pressed the bottom of an apple peeler into the middle of them half way through the baking process and made thumbprints instead!

So the fillings aren't homemade. I used Smuckers red raspeberry preserves, black raspberry preserves, Smuckers hot fudge and that caramel stuff that you can get at Jewel to dip your apple slices in. I was lazy, upset, and needed a quick fix, what can I say???

Peanut Butter Thumbprints

adapted from foodloveswriting, who adapted her recipe from Joy the Baker

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover two large cookie sheets w/ foil or parchment paper.

Beat the butter and peanut butter w/ an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed for a minute.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.

Scoop the dough into even sized balls w/ a cookie scoop (it's like a really mini-ice cream scoop). Place on the lined cookie sheet aprx 2 inches apart. Bake for aprx 10 min, until they are puffy. Take the bottom of an apple corer (or any kitchen tool w/a rounded bottom) and press the tip onto the top of the cookie, creating a little bowl for the topping. Bake for another 6-7 mins, until the edges are a golden brown.

Let cool just a bit and fill w/ whatever your heart desires!!!

It's better to have them cool a bit but not completely so that whatever topping you choose can melt a bit into the cookie.

I have to say, I was outside getting my car blessed (short version of a long story, me and my car were hit w/ the evil eye. I'm not crazy) so I took the cookies out at 11 mins to make the impressions in them and then they were in another 6 mins, and my mom took them out, but I let them cool too long before topping them, so the topping really didn't "glue" itself to the cookie. No biggie. We all ate them anyways!!!

Black raspberry and red raspberry flavors
Caramel and hot fudge topping. The caramel was my fav, hands down. I did have to melt the hot fudge for 20 secs in the microwave to make it easier to drop into the cookie imprints. Yum.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apple Cider Pound Cake

I must be getting old. Lately, I have been so wiped out that I've been just wanting to go home and veg out when I get home from work. I have so many posts to put up and I have been slacking. I could be posting once every couple of days if I just stopped being so lazy, but in all honesty, I've been in a funk lately. It has a lot to do with my car. Things are getting better, but in all honesty, I am in a funk. I'll get out of it though. Thanksgiving helped and Christmas will help a heck of a lot more!

So after the pumpkin fiasco I decided to make an apple cider pound cake that night. This cake is phenomenally yummy.
It didn't call for apples in the batter, but I had a ton of them still left from picking (btw, I still have a ton left! Those things are still good and I got them mid-October!) and I decided to small dice two of them and toss the apples in there. In all honesty, the cake would have been better w/out the extra moisture from the apples getting tossed in, but it still wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was DELICIOUS. :)

Apple Cider Pound Cake w/ Caramel Glaze
slightly adapted from Amanda's Cookin, which is slightly adapted from CDKitchen :)


1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
3 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Caramel Glaze:

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch salt
1/2 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a bundt pan with a baking spray that has flour in it. It makes the cake come out nice and easy and CLEAN!

For pound cake, beat the softened butter. Gradually add sugar, beating for 1 minute. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating for 1 1/2 minutes after each addition.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Blend together cider and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with cider mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until just completely blended. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for aprx 1 1/2 hours, or until done. I normally check cakes about 15 min before the bake time on the recipe to be safe . Cool the cake in pan for ten minutes, then remove from pan and cool on wire rack.

While the cake is baking, make the caramel glaze. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Add sugar and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add salt and cream; bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring, for 2 minutes. If the cake is done before the glaze, let the cake cool completely before you top the cake w/ the glaze. Once the glaze is done cooling, at least 15- 20 mins, and the cake is cooled, pour the glaze over the cake, letting it drip in the middle and on the outside.

EAT and ENJOY!!!

The batter in the pan. Look at how thick it is. Btw, those apples I talked about before. If you want them in there, just small dice two medium apples and fold them into the batter after it is completely mixed.

Almost done baking.
Finishing cooling on my mom's retro (ahem, old) cake plate
Covered in ooey, gooey deliciousness
I can seriously drink that glaze. Oh it was soooooooo good. The cake, the glaze, everything. It definitely made me feel a bit better after the rough day I had. It's definitely a great fall dessert, but honestly, I'd make this all year long!