Archive for December, 2007

Christmas Party Menu

Last weekend, we hosted a Christmas Party for our friends. The menu was basically appetizers, chili, and cookies. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and had to scratch a few things off the menu and take a couple of short cuts but overall the food turned out ok. Here are some of the highlights.

Carmelized Onion and Brie Bites (Joelen’s Culinary Adventures)

1 can of biscuit dough
¼ cup flour
1 cup caramelized onion
½ cup brie, diced
cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin pan by spraying the inside of each well with cooking spray.

Open can of biscuit dough and separate into individual biscuits. Cut each biscuit in quarters to form dough pieces. Place a dough piece in each well. Gently push the dough piece inside the well to form a cup. Repeat until all wells are filled with a dough piece. Fill each well with brie. Top each well with caramelized onion.

Bake in preheated oven for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown

Unfortunately, these are best served nice and warm and they do get cold quickly. They are delicious though and very easy to make.

Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato Crostini (Williams Sonoma)

Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing, plus 1/4 cup
1 baguette, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick
Salt and coarsely ground pepper, to taste
8 vine-ripened tomatoes, about 1 1/2 lb. total
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
2 Tbs. finely minced red onion
1/4 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbs. aged balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese


Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Brush a baking sheet with olive oil and arrange the baguette slices on the sheet in a single layer. Brush the tops with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake until crisp and golden, 15 to 18 minutes. If not using immediately, let the crostini cool, then store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to use.

Core, seed and dice the tomatoes. In a bowl, stir together the tomatoes, half of the basil, the onion, garlic, vinegar, the 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper.

Slice the mozzarella into 1/4-inch-thick pieces or into smaller pieces so they fit on the crostini. To assemble, lay a piece of mozzarella on each crostini and spoon 1 to 2 Tbs. of the tomato salad on top. Garnish each with a pinch of the remaining basil.

These turned out well and are very easy to make. You don’t need to follow the recipe that closely for it to turn out.

Stuffed Mushrooms (allrecipes.com)

12 whole fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 (8 ounce) package cream
cheese, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon ground black
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Carefully break off stems. Chop stems extremely fine, discarding tough end of stems.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and chopped mushroom stems to the skillet. Fry until any moisture has disappeared, taking care not to burn garlic. Set aside to cool.
3. When garlic and mushroom mixture is no longer hot, stir in cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Mixture should be very thick. Using a little spoon, fill each mushroom cap with a generous amount of stuffing. Arrange the mushroom caps on prepared cookie sheet.
4. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the mushrooms are piping hot and liquid starts to form under caps.

These are the best stuffed mushrooms ever. Plus, they are veggie friendly which is rare it seems! I make these all the time for parties.

Pigs in Blanket (mercurynews.com)

1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)
1/2 pound cream cheese
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons heavy cream, divided use
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 36 small sausages
1 egg

Make the pastry: In electric mixer, cream butter and cream cheese together thoroughly. Add 1/4 cup cream and whip for 3 minutes. Gradually add flour and salt and work into a firm ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.
Roll out pastry on a well-floured surface and cut into strips just large enough to wrap sausages around the middle and leave a bit of each end exposed. (For the Aidells sausage, I cut strips about 1 1/4 inches wide and 3 inches long.) Roll each sausage in a strip and pinch ends together firmly. Place sausages on baking sheets, seam side down and slightly separated to allow dough room to puff up.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk egg and remaining 3 tablespoons cream together in a small bowl. Brush each sausage roll with the egg mixture and bake until pastry is golden brown and crisp, about 25 minutes.

I actually did not like this. They were boring and bland. I would not make them again. Too much effort for the lack of taste.

Lastly, the main course!!!

Vegetarian Chili (allrecipes.com)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (4 ounce) cans chopped
green chile peppers, drained
2 (12 ounce) packages vegetarian burger crumbles (I skipped this and added zucchini instead)
3 (28 ounce) cans whole
peeled tomatoes, crushed
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground black
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans,
1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black beans (skipped and added more kidney beans instead)
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel (skipped totally) corn

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and season with bay leaves, cumin, oregano, and salt. Cook and stir until onion is tender, then mix in the celery, green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and green chile peppers. When vegetables are heated through, mix in the vegetarian burger crumbles. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer 5 minutes.
2. Mix the tomatoes into the pot. Season chili with chili powder and pepper. Stir in the kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and black beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in the corn, and continue cooking 5 minutes before serving.

The chili turned out pretty good. I accidently added too much chili powder though and some people thought it was a bit hot. Oops!


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Christmas Baking

The lack of posts has been due to all my time going to Christmas baking. Everything is finally finished, so now I can post about all the goodies that I made this year.

First up, Chocolate Almond Biscotti.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti (Adapted from joyofbaking.com)

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (I skipped this)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup almonds (toasted and coarsely chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). To toast almonds: spread on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. and the skins begin to flake. Remove from oven. Cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside while you prepare the dough.

Reduce temperature of oven to 300 degree F (150 degrees C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the coarsely chopped chocolate and brown sugar and process until the chocolate is very fine; set aside.

Sift or whisk together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of your electric mixer combine the eggs and vanilla extract and beat to blend, about 30 seconds. On low speed mix in the chocolate/sugar and flour mixtures until a stiff dough forms, adding the almonds about half way through mixing.

On a floured surface divide the dough in half. Form each half into a log 12 inches (30 cm) long. Do this by rolling the dough back and forth into a cylinder shape with floured hands. Transfer the logs to the baking sheet, spacing them well apart (width-wise on the pan), and pat to even the shapes. Bake until almost firm to the touch, about 35 – 40 minutes (logs will spread during baking). Remove from the oven, place on wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes.

Using a long spatula transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife cut the dough into slices 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick on the diagonal. Arrange the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake until crisp and dry, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

CONCLUSION: The biscotti turned out well, but I probably should have cooked them a bit longer to get them a bit more dry.

Next up (my personal favorite), Russian Tea Cakes.

Russian Tea Cakes (from my mom!)

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups finely chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 . Mix butter and powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix
flour , salt and nuts into dough until it holds together. Spape
dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Bake
for 10 to 12 minutes until set and not brown. Roll in powdered sugar
when warm and then roll in powdered sugar again when cold.

CONCLUSION: The key to good Russian Tea cakes is to not overcook them. Do not let them brown or they will be too dry and fall apart. These turned out fabulous this year!

The third cookie I made was Spritz which s a tradition in my family since my mom is German. These have special meaning to me because my grandma (Oma) passed away 2 years ago on Christmas. I made these in her honor.

Spritz (ala Oma)

1/2 lb butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds. (food processor works great)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
little lemon zest
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon backing powder

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and egg yokes, vanilla and lemon
zest. Sift together flour, baking powder and almonds. Add to
creamed mixure. Roll into a ball on floured board and wrap in
plastic and place in fridge for an hour. Take out and cut chunks off
and put into cookie press and press into desired shapes. Place on
greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on
rack. Check cookies because sometimes they take more time like 20
minutes. This depends on how thick they are.

CONCLUSION: It can be difficult to get them through the cookie press if the dough is not at the right temperature. But on the flip side, you don’t want the dough too warm or it wont stick to the sheet when you are pressing. So find a happy compromise.

The fourth cookie I made was Cinnamon Stars. Well.. they aren’t star shaped because I realized the star cookie cutter I had wasn’t right (long story). You can use any shape though.

Cinnamon Cookies (from my mom)

1/2 lb butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat
well. Shift together flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Add
to creamed mixture. Chill about and hour for easy handling.
Roll on floured board to 1/8 inch thick and cut into desired shape.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10 to 12
minutes. Cool on wired rack.

CONCLUSION: The trick to getting really good Cinnamon cookies it to roll the dough out thin. If you do too thick they will taste very blah. I made mine a bit too thick this year.

The fifth and final cookie was the required Sugar Cookie!

Sugar Cookies (foodtv.com)

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

CONCLUSION: These cookies are very easy to make. I use colored sprinkles instead of icing.

Moving on to the candy making, I attempted two different candies this year. This was actually my first year making candy and I learned a lot.

Two Toned Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge (desertculinary.blogspot.com)
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 7 ounce jar marshmallow cream
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8″ X 8″ pan with foil. In 2 separate heat-safe medium bowls, place 1 cup peanut butter chips in one and chocolate chips in the other In a heavy 3 quart sauce pan, combine sugar, marshmallow creme, evaporated milk and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils; boil and stir 5 minutes. Remove from heat and quickly stir in vanilla.

Working safely, but quickly, stir one-half of the hot mixture into peanut butter chips and the other half into the chocolate chips. Stir the peanut butter mixture until fully melted and quickly pour into prepared pan. Stir the chocolate chips mixture until fully melted and carefully spread over top of peanut butter layer.

Let sit at room temperature until completely cool. Cut into small squares.

CONCLUSION: The thing with fudge is you have to boil the mixture until it reaches a certain temperature or it will be too soft and don’t go over that temperature or it will be too hard. My jar or marshmallow cream said 234 degrees I think. So I attempted to get it that hot. My second attempt worked well. Be sure to have a good candy thermometer! I need to get one for next year 😉

Lastly, we have Peppermint Bark.

Layered Peppermint Bark (desertculinary.blogspot.com)
17 ounces high quality white chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces peppermint candy canes, crushed
7 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate
5 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Turn large baking sheet bottom side up. Cover securely with foil. Mark 12 x 9-inch rectangle on foil. Stir white chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch
water) until chocolate is melted and smooth and candy thermometer registers 110°F. (chocolate will feel warm to touch). Remove from over water. Pour 2/3 cup melted white chocolate onto rectangle on foil. Using
icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture in long
lines over white chocolate rectangle. Using icing spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate in even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water to 110°F. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining
crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes. If you let the bark go much longer than this – it will be very hard to cut neatly.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work surface. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section diagonally into 2 triangles. You can also just break into large chunks and enjoy!

CONCLUSION: I actually cheated and melted my chocolate in the micro. You have to be really careful when you do this so that you don’t burn the chocolate. Go in 15 sec increments and go slowly. The bark turned out excellent and was very easy to make. Did you know this stuff sells for $35-$40 in the stores???

So that concludes the 2007 Christmas Baking Spree. I hope you enjoyed it as much as me. I am now exhausted!

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Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Sorry no pictures of this pot roast, but it tasted great!

Awesome Slow Cooker Pot Roast (Adapted from AllRecipes.com)

2 (10.75 ounce) cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 (1 ounce) package dry onion soup mix
1 1/4 cups water
5 1/2 pounds pot roast
1/2 medium onion
4 potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
1 cup carrots

1. In a slow cooker, mix cream of mushroom soup, dry onion soup mix and water. Place pot roast in slow cooker and coat with soup mixture. Add in veggies.

2. Cook on High setting for 3 to 4 hours, or on Low setting for 8 to 9 hours.

I found that it turned more into a soup because of how thin the liquid was. If this happens to you, just remove the meat and veggies and turn the liquid into a gravy.

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Cajun Seafood Pasta

This cajun seafood pasta was really good and its also somewhat healthy. I had enough for 3 dinners (for 2 people) out of this recipe. The leftovers tasted just as good!

Cajun Seafood Pasta (Adapted from allrecipes.com)


  • 1/2 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound bay scallops
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (I added 1 tab more in the last step.. but you can skip that if you want)
  • 1 package whole wheat spaghetti pasta
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 package fresh mushrooms,sliced
  • 2 tablespoon chopped shallots
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 16oz package fat free sour cream
  • 2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 can (15oz?) vegetable broth
  • 1 red pepper, sliced



  1. Combine peeled shrimp, scallops, oil, and Cajun seasoning in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Cook and stir mushrooms, red pepper, and shallot in butter until tender. Remove from pan. Add shrimp and scallops cook until the shrimp turn pink about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from pan. Add 1 cup wine to pan, and bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, until reduced to 1/2 cup (2 to 3 minutes).
  4. In a small bowl, stir together sour cream and cornstarch; mix in vegetable broth. Stir into reduced wine in the frying pan.
  5. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Cook 1 minute more.
  6. Stir in shrimp, mushroom/pepper mixture. Heat through, and season to taste. (I added more cajun seasoning at this point..). Serve over pasta.

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Quick Chicken Enchiladas

I didn’t make this from any recipe. I just took some ready made ingredients and put them together to make a delicious meal.

Quick Chicken Enchiladas (by Tanya)

  • Rotisserie chicken (1/2 of the breast meat is enough.. or whatever you have leftover from another meal)
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 red pepper cut into strips
  • 1/2 medium onion cut into strips
  • reduced fat mexican cheese
  • large can of red enchilada sauce
  • low carb flour tortillas (or corn if you want)
  • olive oilPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan. Add onions and saute until soft. Next, add the red pepper and saute until they just are starting to get soft (I like them crunchy). Remove onion and red pepper from heat.

    Drain and rinse the black beans and set aside.

    Now its time to assemble the enchiladas. Take 1 tortilla and add some black beans, chicken, onion, and red pepper. Sprinkle a tiny bit of cheese on top. Roll the tortilla. You do not want it to be so full that you can’t roll it. Repeat until you have filled a 9×13 pan with enchiladas (I had 6).

    If you have leftoever filling, just put it on top of the enchiladas (except the cheese!). Cover enchiladas with the red sauce. Then top with cheese. Bake until bubbly!

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