Happy Holidays! ~ Sweet and Spicy Gochujang Nuts

Happy holidays! I hope the close of 2018 is filled with many celebrations, but also quiet time to thoroughly enjoy and reflect upon the season.

My final recipe of 2018 follows my interest in Korean food that was sparked earlier this year. Since then, I’ve made many traditional Korean recipes at home, and I’ve also played with popular Korean ingredients to make my own dishes. This is a twist on the classic holiday party snack of sweet and spicy mixed nuts, but I used gochujang to add a delicious depth of flavor.

Sweet and Spicy Gochujang Nuts

Inspired by a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons gochujang

1 1/2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups raw shelled mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar, gochujang, water, and sea salt until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, toss the nuts with the sugar mixture until evenly coated.

Spread the mixture evenly onto the prepared sheet pan.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool completely. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for later snacking.

Korean Culinary Adventure! ~ Spicy Shrimp and Winter Squash Canapés on Sesame Crackers

My hubby and I visited a Korean restaurant earlier this winter, which sparked my interest in this delicious cuisine! Coincidentally, the Winter Olympics are now in South Korea, so this culinary adventure was well timed! I have made many visits to the Korean grocery store and cooked many traditional recipes this winter to explore the wide range of dishes. We’ve tried everything from japchae to tteokbokki to kalguksu to bibimbap to name a few. And I still have many many other dishes on my wish list that I want to try! A lot of the dishes are hearty and comforting (and spicy!!), so they are the perfect way to liven up our wet and gray winter days here in Seattle.

These little bite-sized appetizers were inspired by this Korean culinary adventure. I made sesame crackers as a base, since sesame seeds and/or oil are used in many traditional recipes I’ve tried. I made a winter squash purée as a seasonal sweet center to contrast with the salty cracker and the spicy shrimp. Then I topped it with shrimp coated in gochujang (Korean spicy pepper paste), sesame oil, and soy sauce. I also added a little gochugaru (Korean spicy pepper flakes) to kick up the heat a little more.

Spicy Shrimp and Winter Squash Canapés on Sesame Crackers

Makes about 25 canapés

For the crackers:

1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the tops of the crackers

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 tablespoons light olive oil

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water

For the squash:

1 butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into approximately 3-inch chunks.

Approximately 1 tablespoon high-heat cooking oil, such as rice bran oil

Salt to taste

Water for thinning the purée

For the shrimp:

2 tablespoons gochujang

2 tablespoons warm water

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Gochugaru to taste, optional, (if you like it extra spicy!)

Approximately 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil, such as rice bran oil

Approximately 1/2 pound small raw shrimp (I used 70-90), peeled and deveined

For garnish:

The green portion of approximately 4 green onions, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces, sliced into very thin strips

For the crackers:

Preheat oven to 450 F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, seeds, salt, and baking powder. Add the olive oil and water, and stir until combined. Knead the dough until it becomes a cohesive ball. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 3 portions. One portion at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/8-inch. Cut out crackers in desired shapes, or make squares with a pizza wheel. I used a biscuit cutter that was about 2-inches wide.

Place the crackers on the prepared baking sheets. Sprinkle with a little salt on top. Prick the top of the crackers with a fork to ensure they don’t rise and bubble very much as they bake. Bake each tray individually for about 6 or 7 minutes, turning once, until the crackers are crisp and lightly golden.

Set the crackers aside as you work on the squash and shrimp.

For the squash:

Keep your oven heated to 450 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the pieces of squash with oil and salt until coated. Bake for about 30 minutes, turning once, until soft and slightly caramelized.

In the bowl of a food processor, purée the roasted squash. Add a little water if it is too thick. (It should be a consistency that allows you to pipe the purée.) Season with more salt to taste if needed.

Cool the squash purée to room temperature.

Scoop the squash into a piping bag with a large round tip.

Set aside.

For the shrimp:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the gochujang, water, sesame oil, and soy sauce until smooth. Add a pinch of gochugaru if you would like the sauce to be spicier.

Preheat the high-heat cooking oil in a medium sauté pan until shimmering. Add the shrimp, and sauté on both sides until just cooked through. Toss the shrimp in the bowl with the gochujang mixture until well coated.

To assemble:

Pipe a small dollop of squash onto the crackers. Top with 2 shrimp. Top the shrimp with the green onion. Serve immediately.

PS. This appetizer is good warm, room temperature, or cold, so you can make all of the components ahead of time. If you are not assembling the appetizers right away, store the crackers in an airtight container, and refrigerate the squash and the shrimp.

Winter Wonderland ~ Snowflake Wonton Crackers

Remember the paper snowflakes you used to make as a kid? Fold up a piece of paper and cut slits into it. When you open it up again, you end up with a beautiful snowflake! That is the general idea behind these crackers. Let your inner child come out to play this winter with this fun little baking project. 🙂 Bonus: It will warm up your kitchen!

Snowflake Wonton Crackers

Round wonton wrappers

High heat cooking spray

Salt to taste

Grated Parmesan, optional

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Fold each wonton wrapper in half, and then in half again. With a sharp pair of kitchen scissors, cut little slits into the sides of the wrapper. Open the wrapper so it lays flat again. Spray the wrapper with a light coating of cooking spray and gently rub the oil evenly over the surface with your finger. Season with a sprinkling of salt and Parmesan if you would like. Repeat with as many crackers as you desire.

Bake for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until the wonton wrappers are golden brown and crunchy.


A Tropical Treat for Santa ~ Macadamia Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

Merry Christmas! I hope you enjoy these tropical Christmas cookies as much as we did. 🙂 If you use coconut oil instead of butter, they make your whole house smell like a tropical oasis as they bake. Ahh…

Macadamia Nut Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup coconut oil or butter, room temperature

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the sugars and the oil or butter, whichever you are using, until well combined. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well incorporated.

Add the flour, baking soda, and salt, and beat until just combined.

Add the nuts and the chocolate. Mix them into the dough by hand with a spatula.

For each cookie, scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough and roll between your hands to form a dough ball. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets, pressing down slightly to make them discs. Make sure to give them about an inch and a half to spread while baking.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through, rotating the pans halfway through to ensure even baking.

One more Christmas cookie for the season ~ Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Glaze

Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog GlazeI couldn’t resist making one more batch of Christmas cookies before the holiday. 🙂 I altered my sugar cookie recipe to make them eggnog sugar cookies! I added a good amount of nutmeg to the batter, and replaced a little of the butter in the original recipe with eggnog. Then I made a simple eggnog glaze as the finishing touch.

Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

Eggnog Sugar Cookies with Eggnog Glaze

For the cookies:

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

2 tablespoons eggnog (I used Organic Valley Eggnog)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar, or more to make a thicker glaze

1/4 cup eggnog

For the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, nutmeg, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the eggnog and vanilla, and continue beating until all of the wet ingredients are well combined. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough until it is slightly thicker than 1/8 inch. Cut into desired shapes with a cookie cutter.

Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until slightly firm in the middle, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cookies completely on a wire rack.

For the glaze:

Whisk the sugar and eggnog together until the mixture is completely smooth. Either spread or pipe the glaze onto your cookies.

Christmas Cookies! ~ Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies

Mexican Hot Cocoa CookiesIt’s Christmastime again! I hope you are enjoying all of the things this season has to offer…the lights, the decorations, the music…and of course, the cookies. 🙂

I made these festive little Mexican hot cocoa cookies this year. They are sweet and tender bites with a little spicy heat from cayenne pepper. I also love that Mexican hot cocoa naturally includes Christmassy spices like cinnamon, and sometimes nutmeg, so these cookies seemed like a perfect choice for this time of the year. 🙂

Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies

Inspired by a recipe from Martha Stewart

Makes about 18 cookies

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided

6 tablespoons room temperature butter

1/2 cup + 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons skim milk

1 egg

Move your oven rack so that it is about 1/3 of the way down from the top. Preheat to 400 F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, milk, and egg. Beat until well combined. The mixture will look a bit broken when you start mixing at this point, but just keep at it, and it will come together. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The dough will be rather sticky.

In a shallow bowl, add the remaining sugar (1/4 cup) and cinnamon (1 teaspoon.) Whisk until combined.

Using a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough. Roll the balls between your hands. Drop them into the sugar and cinnamon mixture and coat well. Place the dough balls on your prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process until you use all of the dough. Make sure the cookies have a couple of inches to spread on the sheet.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies are set and a bit cracked on top.

Happy Christmas! ~ Star-Topped Mince Pies

Star-Topped Mince PiesHappy Christmas! I hope you had a lovely Christmas Day. 🙂

These sweet little star-topped mince pies were the grand finale of my Christmas dinner this year. They were the perfect finish, and just the right size after a beef Wellington feast.

I used Nigella Lawson’s cranberry mincemeat recipe with a few small changes. I replaced the brown sugar with a diced apple and a little extra honey, I used two oranges rather than one, and I added a dash more of brandy, since it was Christmas after all! 😉

For the crust, I used store-bought pastry cups, but I also made my own pastry. I could have just used the ready made cups, but I really wanted to make stars for the top. 🙂 Then I had a lot of extra dough after making the stars, so I made some homemade shells, as well. They weren’t as fancy as the ones I bought, but I actually preferred the texture and taste. Using a food processor, the pastry is very easy to make…It literally only takes 5 minutes, so I figured I could fit that into my holiday schedule. 😉 This is the same short crust pastry dough I used for my meat pies this September, and it worked as beautifully for sweet as it did for savory.Star-Topped Mince PiesStar-Topped Mince Pies

Cranberry Mincemeat

Recipe based on Nigella Lawson’s cranberry studded mincemeat

¼ cup port

½ apple, peeled and diced

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ cup currants

½ cup raisins

¼ cup dried cranberries

2 clementine oranges, zested and juiced

3 tablespoons brandy

3 drops almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

4 tablespoons honey

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the port, apple, fresh (or frozen) cranberries, and spices. Cook until the cranberries begin to bubble and pop. Then add the currants, raisins, dried cranberries, and the orange zest and juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the fruit has absorbed most of the liquid. If you still have many whole cranberries, you can squish them with your spoon to help them incorporate into the mixture. Remove the pan from the heat. Then add the brandy, extracts, and honey. Stir until everything is well incorporated.

Let the mincemeat cool before using in your pies.Star-Topped Mince PiesWhole-Wheat Short Crust Pastry

Based on a recipe from BBC

125 grams ivory whole-wheat flour

Pinch of salt

55 grams cold unsalted butter, cubed

Approximately 5 tablespoons ice water

With a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, and butter until the butter is the size of small peas. Gradually add the water until the mixture comes together. Add only enough water to combine everything. You may not need a full 5 tablespoons. Form the dough into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes before rolling it out. It also freezes well. Just take it out of the freezer and refrigerate the night before you will need it.Star-Topped Mince PiesTo assemble, grease a mini muffin pan very well, and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 425 F.

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a very thin sheet. Cut out circles for the crust and stars for the top. Carefully fill the muffin pan with the crusts, fill each crust with the cooled mincemeat, and top with a pastry star. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden, and the bottom crusts are baked through. Let cool before serving.Star-Topped Mince Pies

Merry Christmas! ~ Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups

Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup CookiesThese festive little cookie cups will make a perfect dessert for your Christmas meal. I think Santa might like them too! 😉Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup CookiesI made a simple whole-wheat sugar cookie dough for the cups and handles. They have a lot less sugar and butter than many recipes to keep them a little lighter. Then I filled the cute little cups with my favorite chocolate mint pudding that is a regular at our house.

If you are looking for a fun way to spend a few hours in the kitchen, I think you’ll enjoy these. (Or if your holiday schedule is already full, make them next month. 🙂 I think hot cocoa is just as fitting in January as it is in December! Why should December get all the fun cookies? 😉 ) Either way, I hope you’ll enjoy giving these a try.Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup CookiesPeppermint Hot Cocoa Cookie Cups


2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup unsalted room temperature butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

Approximately 1/8 cup milk, dark, or white chocolate (to attach the cup handles)


2/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 1/2 cups skim milk

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon peppermint (or mint) extract

To make the cookies:

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a second large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour mixture, and beat until just combined. You may need to hand mix the last bit if the dough becomes too thick for the mixer.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare a mini muffin pan by greasing it very well. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Reserve about 1/4 cup of the dough for the cup handles.

With the remaining dough, roll approximately 1-inch balls between your hands, and place them in the prepared muffin tin. Push the center of each ball until it squishes up the side of each hole. Make sure to press the sides and bottom firmly so there are no gaps in between the dough and the pan, and make sure the top is neat. The sides and top will be visible in the final product.

With the reserved dough, roll small pieces into thin lines, and fashion them into tiny cup handles. Place the handles on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the cups for about 15 minutes, or until firm, rotating the pan halfway though. Let cool for a couple of minutes before removing the cookies from the pan. Bake the handles for about 7 minutes, or until firm, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool the cups and handles completely on a wire rack.

To attach the cup handles:

Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Place all of your cups on their sides in the cleaned mini muffin pan to prop them up. The side of each cup should be facing up. Dip the edges of the cup handles in the chocolate, and gently place on the side of the cups. Let stand to dry for at least an hour.

To make the pudding:

Begin by placing a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Set aside.

Off the heat, in a medium saucepan, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa powder. Turn the heat onto medium high. Gradually add the milk, whisking well to dissolve the cornstarch. Add the egg yolks, and whisk until incorporated.

Continue to whisk occasionally, until big bubbles begin to form. At that point, reduce the heat to low. Cook one more minute, whisking constantly. The consistency should be creamy and thick.

Remove the pudding from the heat and pour it through the strainer into the bowl. Add the vanilla and mint to the hot pudding, and whisk until well incorporated.

Cover the pudding directly on the surface with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least three hours. Before serving, whisk it one more time to make sure the consistency is smooth.

To assemble:

Place the pudding into a piping bag to neatly fill the hot cocoa cups. Use the back of a small spoon to smooth the top.Peppermint Hot Cocoa Cup Cookies

A bright salad for a winter day ~ Kale and Citrus Salad

Kale and Orange SaladThis is a healthy, easy, and colorful salad to put together as a side dish to any meal. I love to make it at this time of the year, when citrus is in season. (Isn’t it cool that citrus fruit is at its peak in the middle of winter? It brightens up the darkest months. 🙂 ) Feel free to add any other favorite ingredients. I think grapefruit, avocado, beets, or pomegranate would go well. The sky is the limit! I kept mine simple this time around. It is a good, basic recipe to build on.

Kale and Citrus Salad

Serves 2

4 or 5 large stalks of kale, cut or torn into bite-size pieces (Discard tough center stems.)

1 orange, cut into supremes (For how-to, check out this link.)

Juice of the remaining portion of the orange (After supreming, squeeze the remaining portion of the orange over a liquid measuring cup to use all of its juice.)

Lemon juice, added to the orange juice so the total volume of the combined citrus juice equals ¼ cup

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Place the torn or chopped kale into a large bowl.

Slowly drizzle olive oil into the citrus juice mixture, whisking as you go until it is emulsified into a vinaigrette. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour as much of the vinaigrette over the kale as you would like. Rub the vinaigrette into each leaf, so every piece is well coated.

Top the greens with the orange supremes and enjoy!

Kale and Orange Salad

Lucky Dinner for the New Year ~ Sausage, Lentil, and Kale Soup

Sausage, Lentil, and Kale SoupOne of our first meals this year had not only one, but two lucky ingredients to eat in the New Year! Lentils and kale. If I had used pork sausage, it would have been three, but the healthier option won out, and I chose chicken sausage. This is a hearty and delicious soup for a cold winter night. 🙂 Perfect for the New Year!

Sausage, Lentil, and Kale Soup

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed

2 celery stalks (with leafy tops), thinly sliced

1 medium yellow onion, diced medium

1/2 cup dried lentils

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) kale, preferably Tuscan, stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add celery and onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add lentils, broth, and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a rapid simmer, partially cover, and cook until lentils and vegetables are tender, 25 minutes.

Add kale and season with salt. Return soup to a rapid simmer, cover, and cook until kale wilts, about 5 minutes. Remove soup from heat, stir in vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.

Sausage, Lentil, and Kale Soup

Merry Christmas ~ Creamy Chestnut Soup

Chestnut SoupInstead of roasting chestnuts over on an open fire, I made a festive and creamy chestnut soup with truffle oil for Christmas this year. 🙂 It was a unique and delicious first course to our family dinner!

Chestnut SoupThe original recipe was from a cooking class at Sur La Table. I omitted the 1/2 cup of heavy cream altogether since it was luscious and creamy without any dairy, and I replaced the butter with Earth Balance. I also added a little more chicken broth than the original recipe called for to make the soup a little thinner.

Chestnut Soup

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Truffle Oil

Based on a recipe from Sur La Table’s cooking classes

Yield: 6 servings

2 tablespoons Earth Balance

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup roughly chopped onions

1/2 cup roughly chopped carrots

1/2 cup roughly chopped celery

1 medium garlic clove, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups cooked peeled chestnuts

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup dry sherry

2 (4-inch) thyme sprigs

3 cups low-sodium
 chicken broth, plus more to thin the soup if you desire

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Black truffle oil, for drizzling

Place a large, heavy saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Heat the Earth Balance and oil until melted. Stir in the onion, carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Stir in the chestnuts and salt and cook until the chestnuts are coated in the aromatics and warmed through, about 4 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the sherry and thyme and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the chestnuts are tender, about 30 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Using an immersion blender or standard blender, puree soup until smooth. Return the saucepan to the heat, add more broth if you would like the soup to be thinner, and bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

To serve: Using a ladle, transfer the soup to individual bowls. Drizzle with truffle oil and serve immediately.

Chestnut Soup

Christmas Baking ~ Gingerbread Cupcakes

Gingerbread CupcakesI baked a batch of gingerbread cupcakes to go with my gingerbread caramels. (Sensing a gingerbread theme this month?? I figured Santa might like choices! 😉 )

I based the recipe on Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Snacking Cake. It is such a flavorful recipe with the addition of fresh ginger, but I wanted individual cupcakes instead of one big sheet cake. I replaced the butter with light olive oil, and I replaced the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour. The bold flavors of the cake stand up the whole grains beautifully. I hope you’ll give this recipe a try! I will definitely keep these cupcakes in my holiday recipe collection. 🙂 Yum!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Based on a recipe from MarthaStewart.com

½ cup light olive oil

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup boiling water

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar

1 cup unsulfured molasses

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix oil and brown sugar. Beat in molasses and grated ginger, baking-soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in eggs.

Pour batter into a muffin pan lined with paper liners, filling each about ½ full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Merry Christmas!!

Gingerbread Cupcakes

A Decadent Holiday Treat ~ Gingerbread Caramels

Gingerbread CaramelsI typically don’t make treats quite as rich as these, but a small bite is all you need to feel like you’ve had a decadent treat. Share them with friends and family since they travel well, or leave them by the tree for Santa. He might like them even better than cookies. 😉

I have never made caramels from scratch on my own before, so I followed the recipe from Martha Stewart to the letter. Candy making is really a science, and a few degrees can be the difference between a success and a dud. I learned two important lessons through this experience. The first is to make sure your thermometer is calibrated. I learned this the hard way, as my first attempt was a mess that did not set since it did not boil to the proper temperature. The second lesson I learned is that you can rescue your caramel if it doesn’t set by re-boiling it! On my second boil, I used a different thermometer, and the temperature reached the accurate level. Ta da! Success! 🙂

Gingerbread Caramels

From MarthaStewart.com

4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream

2 cups light corn syrup

4 cups granulated sugar

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

Lightly coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking
sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment
paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short
sides; spray paper.

In a large pot over high heat, bring cream,
corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil,
stirring until sugar has dissolved. Continue to
cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently,
until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage)
on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet, without scraping pot. Let stand, uncovered, 24 hours at room temperature (do not move pan).

Generously coat a large cutting board with cooking spray. Lifting it by the parchment overhang, invert caramel onto the cutting board; use a sharp knife to loosen parchment, and remove. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored up to 1 month in airtight containers.

Gingerbread Caramels

Warm Muffins for a Chilly Day ~ Pear and Granola Muffins

Here’s a sweet treat for the New Year. Perfect for a light breakfast, or a pick-me-up in the middle of the day. We enjoyed them for our first breakfast of 2014. 🙂

I replaced the low fat yogurt with non-fat, and the butter with Earth Balance. Since Earth Balance already has salt in the mix, no extra salt was needed. I couldn’t find store bought plain granola, so I used an apple cinnamon flavor instead of making some from scratch. It was a really nice combination with the pears. I tried replacing the all purpose flour with 100% whole wheat pastry flour, as well. It is a heartier (and healthier) muffin if you choose to do it that way. They are lighter and fluffier with a mixture of the two types of flours. Your choice. 🙂 I think I preferred the blend, however, so that is how the recipe is as follows:

Pear and Granola Muffins

Based on a Recipe from MarthaStewart.com

For the muffins:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large eggs

3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted

2 D’Anjou pears (2 cups), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

3/4 cup plain or apple cinnamon granola

For the topping:

1/2 cup granola

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

3 tablespoons chilled Earth Balance

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, yogurt, and Earth Balance. Make a well in the center of flour mixture. Add egg mixture to well, and mix in flour mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the granola and pears.

 Make Granola Crisp Topping: In a bowl, toss together 1/2 cup granola, and 1/4 cup each all-purpose flour and packed light-brown sugar. Cut 3 tablespoons chilled Earth Balance into pieces; add to granola mixture, and rub in with fingertips until clumps form.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full. Sprinkle with granola topping. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before removing from tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Happy Christmas ~ English Christmas Pudding

I decided to explore my British heritage a little this December by making Christmas pudding. It is also called plum pudding, but the interesting thing I learned is that there are no plums in the dish. The pre-Victorian use of the word “plum” meant “raisins,” and it does have plenty of those!

I love the tradition of making a wish as you stir the pudding. It is also traditional to pour brandy on the top of the pudding, light it, and bring it to the table with a flame. It produces a subtle, but pretty blue color. There is so much history in this little dish. I found it fascinating to take part in a tradition my great-grandparents and their parents probably also took part in.

I based my puddings on a recipe from the BBC. I halved the recipe, and made individual puddings in 6 small 8-ounce ramekins. I replaced the Bramley apple with a Granny Smith, since Bramleys are not readily available to us in the States. I only used 4 ounces of butter for half of the recipe, since American butter is packaged in 4-ounce (or 113 gram) sticks. It was a little less than half of what the recipe called for, but it was plenty. I only needed to steam the puddings for 3 hours instead of 8 since I made them in the small ramekins rather than larger bowls. I also used a simple glaze of powdered sugar and cognac instead of the buttered version.

I’ll leave the recipe in the metric format to keep it authentically British. 🙂

Classic Christmas pudding

Recipe based on BBC Good Food

25g (about 1 oz) blanched almonds

1 large Granny Smith apple

100g (3.5 oz) box candied peel (in large pieces) or all citron if you can find it

1 whole nutmeg (you’ll use a little over 1/4 of it)

500g (18 oz) raisins

70g (2.5 oz) all-purpose flour

50g (1.75 oz) soft fresh white breadcrumbs

50g (1.75 oz) light muscovado sugar, crumbled if it looks lumpy

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 tbsp brandy or cognac, plus extra to flame and for glaze

113g (4 oz) packet butter, taken straight from the fridge

Confectioner’s sugar for glaze

Get everything prepared. Chop the almonds coarsely. Peel, core and chop the apple. Sharpen your knife and chop the candied peel. (You can chop the almonds and apple in a food processor, but the peel must be done by hand.) Grate a little over 1/4 of the nutmeg. Mix all the ingredients for the pudding, except the butter, in a large bowl.

Holding the butter in its wrapper, grate a quarter of it into the bowl, and then stir everything together. Repeat until all the butter is grated, then stir for 3-4 minutes – the mixture is ready when it subsides slightly after each stir. Ask the family to stir too, and get everyone to make a wish.

Generously butter six 226 g (8 ounce) ramekins and put a disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each. Pack in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, pleating it to allow for expansion, then tie with string (keep the paper in place with a rubber band while tying). Trim off any excess paper.

Now stand each bowl on a large sheet of foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.

Steam the puddings for 3 hours, topping up with water as necessary. (I used a big pot with a steamer basket on the stovetop, taking care to keep the puddings above the water.) Remove from the pan and leave to cool overnight. When cold, discard the messy wrappings and re-wrap in spanking new greaseproof or baking parchment, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

On Christmas Day, steam until warmed through. (Microwaving also works in a pinch.) Unwrap and turn out. To flame, warm 3-4 tbsp brandy in a small pan, pour it over the pudding and set light to it.

Top with a glaze of brandy or cognac and powdered sugar. Add a little brandy at a time to the sugar until the glaze is to the consistency you like. Pour the glaze over the puddings before serving.

Happy Christmas!

PS. The top photo has a faint blue cognac flame on my Christmas pudding. 🙂 Click on the picture for a closer view.

Holiday Treat ~ Snowflake Marshmallows

Happy holidays!

We had a festive weekend – We put up our Christmas tree, decorated the house, and baked gingerbread Christmas cookies. We also cut out some snowflake shaped marshmallows to go with our hot cocoa. Since I learned how to make homemade marshmallows last month, I am excited about all of the possibilities! This one is perfect for the season, I think. 🙂

The recipe for the marshmallows can be found here.

Welcome 2013 ~ Five Spice Duck Breasts with Caramelized Quince

Happy New Year 2013!

On New Year’s Eve, we celebrated the last day of the year with a few Spanish tapas. My favorite was made with quince paste, Manchego cheese, and Marcona almonds. I had never cooked with quince before, and it really intrigued me! If you’ve never had it, I would describe it as a cross between a pear and an apple, but it needs to be cooked to bring out its sweetness. I love to explore ingredients I have never tried before. It keeps the kitchen fun and interesting.

I stayed with the quince theme for our New Year’s Day dinner. A new fruit for a new year seemed fitting! We had Five Spice Duck Breasts with Caramelized Quince to kick off 2013.  I followed the recipe from Cooking Light magazine pretty closely except that I cut the sugar in the poached quinces quite a bit. Other than that, we thought it was a really exceptional recipe!

Poached Quinces

Based on a recipe from Cooking Light magazine

2 cups water

1/8 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 cinnamon stick

1 (1-inch) julienne-cut lemon rind

2 cored peeled quinces, quartered

Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a sauce pan, and cook 2 minutes. Add quinces; reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature. Remove quinces from liquid with a slotted spoon. Strain liquid through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids. Pour liquid over quinces.

Five Spice Duck Breasts with Caramelized Quince

From Cooking Light magazine

Poached Quinces from recipe above

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 (12-ounce) packages boneless whole duck breasts, thawed and cut in half

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions

Reserve 3/4 cup poaching liquid from Poached Quinces. Reserve remaining liquid for another use. Cut the quince quarters into cubes; set aside.

Combine 1/2 cup reserved poaching liquid, five-spice powder, ginger, and garlic in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add duck to bag; seal and toss to coat. Marinate in refrigerator at least 24 hours or up to 2 days, turning bag occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Remove duck from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle duck evenly with salt and pepper. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Place duck, skin side down, in pan; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until skin is golden brown. Turn meat over; cook 1 minute. Place pan in oven. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160° (medium) or until desired degree of doneness. Remove duck from pan, reserving 2 teaspoons drippings in pan. Place duck, skin side down, on a cutting board or work surface. Brush meaty side of duck with remaining 1/4 cup poaching liquid.

Heat reserved drippings in pan over medium-high heat. Add cubed quince quarters; sauté 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in sliced green onions.

Remove skin from duck; discard. Cut duck diagonally across grain into thin slices. Divide duck slices evenly among each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1/4 cup quince mixture. Serve immediately.

PS. The leftover quince syrup was a nice addition to a glass of sparkling wine to ring in the new year :).

PPS. The festive little paper hats were free to download and print from http://www.ellinee.com. Super cute!

Irish Week ~ Guinness and Beef Stew

Since Saint Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, I was in the mood for something a little Irish. To celebrate, I made Guinness and Beef Stew tonight. It’s one of those dishes that simmers on the stove all afternoon and makes the whole house smell inviting until the beef falls apart with a spoon. My Irish hubby said it’s one of the best stews he has ever had. I hope you’ll give it a try!

I followed the recipe from Cooking Light pretty closely, since it was already a fairly healthy dish. The biggest adjustment I made was replacing the chuck roast with a round roast of beef, since it is a little leaner cut of meat that also braises beautifully. I also omitted the raisins, simply because I don’t like raisins in most dishes. I found that I didn’t need the full amount of salt, either. Just taste as you go.

Guinness and Beef Stew

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

3 tablespoons canola oil, divided

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 pounds boneless round roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

5 cups chopped onion (about 3 onions)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth (my favorite store bought beef broth is from Kitchen Basics)

1 (11.2-ounce) bottle Guinness Stout

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Black pepper to taste

Salt to taste

1 1/2 cups (1/2-inch-thick) diagonal slices carrot (about 8 ounces)

1 1/2 cups (1/2-inch-thick) diagonal slices parsnip (about 8 ounces)

1 cup (1/2-inch) cubed peeled turnip (about 8 ounces)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Place flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with salt; dredge beef in flour. Add half of beef to pan; cook 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove beef from pan with a slotted spoon. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and beef.

Add onion to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in broth and beer, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Return meat to pan. Stir in salt, caraway seeds, and pepper; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Uncover and bring to a boil. Cook 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add carrot, parsnip, and turnip. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and bring to a boil; cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with parsley.

Happy 2011! ~ Julia Child’s Clafouti aux Poires

Happy 2011!

I have been on a little Julia Child kick this winter…I watched the movie Julie & Julia again, I am reading My Life in France and I tried a couple of recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. One of those recipes was for a pear clafouti, which we had as our first dessert of the new year. It’s one of the recipes in the book that isn’t heavy with butter or cream, so I actually followed it pretty closely. The woman knew what she was doing, so who am I to fiddle with her recipes too much? 🙂 The only minor substitution I made was skim milk instead of whole.

Clafouti aux Poires

3 cups peeled, cored and sliced ripe pears (about 1 1/2 lbs)

1/4 cup cognac (I used VSOP Hennesy Privilege)

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 cup skim milk

Another 1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon butter

Prepare the pears, and let them soak in the cognac and 1/3 cup sugar for about an hour.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking dish (I used a casserole dish) into the oven to preheat.

Place the ingredients from the milk to the flour in a blender  along with the remaining cognac and sugar poured out from the pears, and blend at top speed for a minute.

Take your baking dish out of the oven when it is hot, and lightly butter the bottom and sides. Pour a 1/4 inch layer of batter into the bottom. Spread the pears over the layer. Then pour the remaining batter on top so the pears are covered.

Bake on the middle rack for about an hour, or until it is puffed and browned and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Serve warm.

I hope you enjoy this sweet start to the new year! Bon appétit!

Merry Christmas ~ Three Kings Salad

One of our favorite salads for Christmas is called a Three Kings Salad. It fuses a colorful group of three of the season’s best and tastiest :). I was inspired by the original recipe, which can be found at MyRecipes.com, but I added and omitted ingredients to our taste. It is forgiving, so use whatever you like. If you like less orange or more onion, that’s fine. Make it yours :). Honestly, we kind of changed one of the “kings” from red onion to pomegranate seeds. I only used a tiny bit of onion for garnish, since neither Rob nor I are big raw onion fans, and I used a ton of pomegranate seeds since we love them! Is there anything more festive than roasted beets and pomegranate seeds? I don’t know what it is about those two, but it just feels like a holiday to me! Both take a wee bit of work to prepare, so they feel like food for a special occasion.

Three Kings Salad

4 seedless oranges

3 or 4 beets…One big bunch

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little more to drizzle over the beets

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

1/4 cup thinly slivered red onion

Pomegranate seeds from ½ of the fruit

Preheat your oven to 375. Trim the beets of their greens, drizzle with a little olive oil and wrap tightly in tin foil. Roast for 45 to 55 minutes (depending on the size of your beets) or until they can be pierced with a fork. Let them cool. Preferably with some sort of thin disposable gloves so you don’t dye your fingers, peel the outside and cut into wedges.

Peel and section oranges over a bowl with a knife so none of the pith or membrane remains. Squeeze the extra juice into the bowl when finished. Set the orange sections aside and reserve about 2 tablespoons of the juice.

Combine the reserved 2 tablespoons of orange juice, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk well.

Divide the beets, oranges, pomegranate seeds and onion evenly among 4-6 salad plates, depending on the size salad you would like to serve. Drizzle with as much of the vinaigrette as you like.

I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!