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Monday, December 31, 2012

Pink Peppermint Lemonade


How are you ringing in 2013? I'm ringing it in with Greg, and we will be sipping on this pink peppermint lemonade when the clock strikes midnight (or, we will be fast asleep...). A few weekends ago when we had Tara over to celebrate her birthday, I made this lemonade. I had some lemons that were on the verge of going bad, and Greg had mentioned that it would be nice to drink some bubbly basil lemonade. Well, since it is winter and there isn't any fresh basil growing, I needed to think of something else to jazz up the lemonade. Peppermints were the answer! I popped Starlight mints into the mixture, which turned it a beautiful pink color, and then I topped it off with club soda. It was really good. I had a feeling I was going to love the flavor, because when I was young I would buy a lemon with a peppermint stick stuck in the middle at every swim meet - it was my favorite summer treat. If you are looking for a nonalcoholic beverage to celebrate the New Year with, consider this pink peppermint lemonade. Enjoy, and have a very happy new year! Here's to a fab 2013!

Recipe for Pink Peppermint Lemonade

INGREDIENTS:
1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/4 cups of water
1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
8 round peppermint candies
4 1/2 cups of chilled Club Soda
2 cups of chilled water
Crushed or Cubed Ice
Extra peppermint candies for garnish, if desired

DIRECTIONS:
Bring the lemon juice, water, and granulated sugar to a simmer over medium high heat Stir the mixture occasionally. Once the mixture is simmering and the sugar has fully dissolved, carefully drop in the peppermint candies, one at a time. Stir constantly, until the red on the peppermint disappears and the mixture turns pink (the peppermints will not dissolve completely). Pour the hot mixture into a heat-safe liquid measuring cup (one that holds 3 cups or more). Discard the mints from the mixture. Stir, and set aside to cool. Once mixture has cooled a bit, place it into the fridge until ready to serve. It should be fully chilled before serving, so it might be best to let it rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.
When ready to serve, pour the lemon peppermint mixture into a serving pitcher. Top it off with the chilled Club Soda and 2 cups of chilled water. Stir, and serve in glasses over ice. Drop a peppermint into each glass to give it the added red color at the bottom, if desired. Cheers!

Recipe makes 8 - 10 servings.

***Original Recipe***

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Creamy Macaroni & Cheese with Fontina


I used to think that boxed macaroni and cheese was really good. I actually really loved that packet of orange artificial cheese powder that was stirred into the noodles. I don't think I ever realized that you could eat macaroni and cheese from anything but a box! I tried out a classic mac and cheese recipe from a food blog, and although it was good, it wasn't mind blowing. Then I tried out this macaroni and cheese with fontina, and it was mind blowing! I also tried a gruyere mac and cheese recipe last night from Ina Garten, and it was also amazing. I have made this creamy macaroni and cheese recipe quite a few times, and Greg & I thoroughly enjoy it. I have to get my share of cheesy recipes in before the end of this year (4 more days), because Greg wants to try going lactose free at the start of the new year. Um, I am very worried about that, because I am a total cheese lover. I'll keep you posted on how long the lactose free thing lasts (wait a minute, does chocolate have lactose...), but for now, here is a delicious recipe full of all the dairy that I love! Enjoy.

Recipe for Creamy Macaroni & Cheese with Fontina 

INGREDIENTS:
1 16-oz box of medium-sized pasta shells
2 tsp. kosher salt
5 ounces of unsalted butter, divided
8 ounces of cream
A pinch of salt
A couple of dashes of ground nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
7 ounces of grated Fontina cheese
1/4 cup of panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS:
Add the 2 tsp. of salt to a large pot of boiling water and cook pasta shells according to package directions so they are cooked 1 minute shy of al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the cream in a small saucepan over low heat until it is warmed. Remove cream from heat and cover until ready to use. Cut 4 Tbsp. of the butter into small pieces and put into a large bowl.

Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain it completely in a colander. Add the pasta into the bowl with the butter and toss well. Stir in the cream, salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Then add in the cheese and stir until cheese is melted and creamy. Pour the pasta into a very lightly buttered 2-quart baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a smallish bowl, melt the 1 Tbsp. of butter. Stir in the panko bread crumbs and finely grated parmesan, and mix so the bread crumbs and cheese are coated with the butter. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the pasta.

Place the pasta into the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Let cool for about a minute before serving. This dish goes well with a green salad or green vegetable. Enjoy!

Recipe Source: Annie's Eats 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Best Coconut Macaroons Ever X 2 (w/almonds & chocolate)



Well I am pretty much cookie'd out, but I wanted to post one more cookie recipe before Christmas. This week I participated in a cookie exchange at work and two potlucks, and I have had SO many sweets. I am sure you have too! I decided to take these coconut macaroons to the potluck yesterday. These macaroons are the new and improved version of the best coconut macaroons that I posted back in June. This recipe adds in almonds and dark chocolate to the mix - yum! Many friends have mentioned to me how much they like the macaroons and coconut truffles, so I thought combining the two recipes would be a great idea. And it was. Now it's time to go on a water and celery diet until Christmas (yeah right)! Enjoy.

Recipe for Best Coconut Macaroons Ever X 2 (w/almonds & chocolate)

INGREDIENTS:
1 14-oz bag of sweetened shredded flaked coconut
1 14-oz can of sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp. of all-purpose flour
2 tsp. of vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. of almond extract
1 cup of finely chopped almonds
8 oz of semisweet baking chocolate squares, broken in half

DIRECTIONS:
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, flour, vanilla extract, almond extract, and finely chopped almonds in a large mixing bowl. Mix until it is well blended. Cover the bowl and put it into the fridge for at least 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 330 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Use a cookie dough scoop to scoop up the mixture. Use your hands to form into 1 1/2 inch balls and place on the baking sheet, leaving an inch of space between each. Place in oven and cook for 20 - 23 minutes, or until tops are golden. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool completely.

Once macaroons have completely cooled, place the chocolate into a small saucepan and set it over low heat. Stir constantly until the chocolate melts. Turn off the heat. Use a fork to drip chocolate over the cooled macaroons (using as much or as little chocolate as you like). Place macaroons in the fridge until the chocolate hardens, then remove from fridge and store in an airtight container.

*Recipe makes about 30 coconut macaroons*

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Potato, Chorizo & Goat Cheese Tacos with Smoky Aioli




Well, I finally got around to making the potato, chorizo, and goat cheese tacos again - and this time I made enough so I could create this posting! Last Saturday night we had our friends Tara and Marcus over for dinner to celebrate Tara's 29th (youngin') birthday. Before we sat down for dinner, Tara commented on the "interesting" things that were on the table for the tacos. As she was eating her tacos, she said "Wow Beth, I got to be honest, I was a little concerned when I saw everything out for the tacos. But it's like the weirdest things come together and make this totally delicious combination of flavors!" I took it as a compliment.

I got the idea for the "weird" tacos from Paladar Restaurant. I dined at Paladar with my husband, and I was eyeing the tacos on the menu. But Greg wanted to order other things, so I didn't get the chance to try them. I decided that I would attempt to make them at home. They are super, super yummy. I am not sure if I like the sweet potato tacos or potato, chorizo, and goat cheese tacos better. They are both so good. But as my friend Krista says, all tacos are good tacos. Serve the tacos with slow cooker refried beans and sweet corn pudding. Enjoy!

Recipe for Potato, Chorizo & Goat Cheese Tacos

INGREDIENTS:
3 lb of golden potatoes, peeled & cut into small cubes
3 Tbsp. of olive oil
salt and pepper
2 lb of chorizo sausage, casings removed
Shredded red cabbage
Cilantro leaves
Crumbled goat cheese
Smoky aioli (recipe below)
16 soft corn tortillas (taco size)

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put the cubed potatoes on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast the potatoes for 12 minutes, then use a spatula to loosen the potatoes and toss around. Put potatoes back in the oven for another 10 - 12 minutes, or until they are lightly golden brown. Leave the potatoes on the pan and set aside. Lower the oven temperature to 270 degrees. 
Cook the chorizo. Put into a large pan and use a spatula or spoon to crumble the sausage as it cooks. Cook until sausage is completely done and make sure it is crumbled small.
Once chorizo is fully cooked, put it onto the pan with the potatoes. Toss together. Put pan back into the oven while you prepare the fixings.
Put cabbage, cilantro, and goat cheese into small serving bowls. Make the smoky aioli (recipe below). Put tortillas on a plate and cover with a paper towel. Heat in the microwave on low for about 25 - 30 seconds. 
Once all the fixings are prepped, take the potatoes and sausage out of the oven and put into a serving dish. Put tortillas, cabbage, cilantro, goat cheese, potatoes & chorizo, and smoky aioli out and allow everyone to assemble their own tacos. 

Recipe for Smoky Aioli

INGREDIENTS:
1/3 cup real mayonnaise
Juice of one lime
1 garlic clove, pressed (or 1/2 tsp. of garlic powder)
1 1/4 tsp. of smoked paprika
salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:
Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Potato Latkes (potato pancakes)


I love latkes! Potato latkes were one of my favorite meals that my mom would make for us during the holiday season. On Wednesday night, Greg and I went out to get our Christmas tree and then I made latkes for dinner. I have made them a few times before, but the recipe I used Wednesday was super yummy. I served them with homemade applesauce, sour cream, and ketchup (the ketchup is for Greg - he loves ketchup)! Latkes are a delicious and fun meal for everyone. Enjoy!

Recipe for Potato Latkes

INGREDIENTS:
2 1/2 Tbsp. of finely chopped onion
1 small clove of garlic, minced
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp. of kosher salt
1/8 tsp. of black pepper
3 Tbsp. of all purpose flour
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and grated (peel & grate right before you are ready to cook the latkes)
3 - 6 Tbsp. of peanut, vegetable, or canola oil (I used canola)

DIRECTIONS:
Put the chopped onion, minced garlic, eggs, salt, black pepper, and flour into a large mixing bowl. Peel and grate the potatoes, and add the grated potato into the mixture. Stir together to mix all of the ingredients. In an electric skillet set on medium heat, heat 2 tbsp. of oil. When the oil is hot, use a spatula to carefully place about 1/4 - 1/3 cup of the potato mixture onto the hot oil. Flatten with the spatula to make into a pancake. Repeat that step. Allow the pancakes to heat for a few minutes on each side, and then flip. Watch to make sure the heat is at a good temperature, and adjust as needed. When the pancakes are crispy and browned on each side, use the spatula to transfer them to a paper towel lined plate. Continue to make pancakes with the rest of the mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed. If desired, place the already cooked potato latkes onto a baking sheet and place in a warm oven (set at about 270 degrees) so they don't get too cold while the others are cooking. Before serving, sprinkle the potato latkes with a little bit of salt.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream. And ketchup...

*Recipe makes about 8 potato latkes.*

NOTE: If you plan on making this homemade applesauce to go along with your latkes, be sure to double the recipe!

And here is our Christmas tree!
We finally finished decorating it today. 
A menorah (Latkes are a traditional meal served during Hanukkah) made by my sister
and 3-year old nephew. Made with toilet paper rolls & artwork from school. How cute!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Peppermint Sugar Cookies


I had so much fun making the peppermint truffles the other day! I had leftover peppermints, so I wanted to make another fun treat. I came across a peppermint crunch ball cookie recipe, and I decided to try it out. The cookies did not turn out exactly how I thought they would (I thought they would be crunchier and I didn't think they would flatten - I guess names of recipes can be deceiving), but they were really yummy. The cookie is sweet, but not too sweet - with just the right amount of peppermint. The texture is nice & I love the slight crunch from the crushed mint and sugar. They are cute & festive and perfect for the holidays - enjoy!

Recipe for Peppermint Sugar Cookies

INGREDIENTS:
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup of confectioners sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp. of vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. of peppermint extract
2 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. of salt
10 - 15 crushed mini candy canes or Starlight mints
2 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
Decorative Sugar (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the softened butter and confectioners sugar with an electric hand mixer set on medium speed. Mix for a few minutes, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add in the egg and mix to incorporate. Stir in the vanilla extract and peppermint extract. Slowly add the flour to the mixture, by pouring in 1/3 cup at a time. Use the hand mixer to beat on low for several seconds after each addition of flour. Mix in the salt. Make sure all ingredients are well blended together. Cover the bowl with a lid and put into the fridge for 1 - 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix together the crushed peppermints (I grind up the Starlight mints in my food processor) and granulated sugar. Take the mixture out of the fridge. Use a cookie dough scoop to scoop the mixture up and roll into 1 1/2-inch balls. Coat the balls in the crushed mint and sugar mixture and place on baking sheet. Space each ball about 2-inches apart from each other. Place in oven and bake for 12 - 14 minutes.

Optional: About 3 minutes before the cookies are finished baking, sprinkle decorative sugar on top of each cookie and then put back into the oven.

Once cookies are finished baking, transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

*Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Recipe Adapted from: Mr. Food

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles



I was going to wait to post this recipe over the weekend, but I am just so excited about it that I had to share it now! I made peppermint truffles for the first time yesterday. The filling was made with a dark chocolate ganache with peppermint extract, and then I dipped them in dark chocolate and sprinkled on some crushed mints. They were pretty amazing. I took some by a friend's house this morning on my way to work, and she messaged me to let me know that they are the best truffles I have ever made (she has sampled the coconut truffles, sweet cream and walnut truffles, cookie dough truffles, and pumpkin truffles)! I think I might agree with her, but I need to go eat another one before I can know for sure. Greg loved them too, and so did my coworkers at the elementary school.

These truffles are the perfect holiday baking project - all of your friends, coworkers, and family would love to have some of these delicious festive treats! They would also be great to serve at a holiday party, or at a shower that is held during the holiday season. Enjoy.

Recipe for Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles 
INGREDIENTS:
For the filling
10 ounces of semisweet baking chocolate, chopped very finely
8 ounces of whipping cream or heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 - 2 tsp. of peppermint extract (I used 2 tsp.)
For the coating
16 ounces of semisweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped or broken in half
10 - 15 crushed mini candy canes or Starlight mints

DIRECTIONS:
For the filling
Chop the chocolate. It can be chopped by putting it into the bowl of a food processor and pulsing until chopped very finely. Put the chocolate into a heat-safe metal bowl. Put the cream into a small saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer (watch it closely). Once it simmers, pour it over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for 1 - 2 minutes. Gently stir the mixture for about a minute, making sure to fully incorporate the cream and chocolate together. Stir it until it is smooth and completely dark in color.  Stir in peppermint extract.  Let it rest on the countertop for about 10 minutes. Cover the bowl with a lid and place it into the refrigerator for several hours, to allow the mixture to harden.

Use a cookie dough scoop to scoop up the mixture and then roll with your hands into 3/4-inch to 1-inch balls. Place the balls onto parchment lined containers. Cover the containers and place in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

For the coating
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the crushed mints on a corner on the baking sheet or in a small bowl. Use a small spoon to sprinkle the mints onto the truffles, when ready for that step.

Put the coarsely chopped chocolate into a small to medium saucepan. Put about 3/4 cup of water into the bottom pan of a double boiler. Set the double boiler over medium-high heat. When steam begins to come up, place the saucepan with the chocolate on top of the boiler. Stir the chocolate frequently until it is completely smooth and melted. Turn off the stovetop. Take one container of the filling out of the freezer. Drop one of the balls into the melted chocolate, and use a spoon to completely coat. Use the spoon to carefully place the truffle onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle the crushed mints on top, while the chocolate is still wet. Repeat until each truffle is coated with the chocolate. Repeat with the remaining containers of the filling in the freezer.

Place the baking pan with the truffles in the fridge, and allow the coating to harden before serving.

Recipe makes 25 - 30 truffles.

Recipe Adapted from: Food For My Family 
Dark chocolate peppermint truffles - possibly the best truffles I have ever made...

NOTE: Since there is cream in the filling, it is best to store the peppermint truffles in the fridge - don't let them sit out long. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Delicious & Easy Refried Beans in a Slow Cooker - no grease or frying!

Okay, these beans are not "refried," but they taste as good if not better than actual refried beans. I came across the recipe a couple weeks ago, and there were hundreds of great reviews, so I gave it a shot. The  beans cooked in the slow cooker all day, and they made our house smell amazing. And, the beans were as yummy as they smelled! The beans are great as a filling in tortillas, a side to quesadillas or tacos,  a dip with chips, or plain for a quick and easy lunch.

I love many things about this recipe. I love that the beans require very little (less than 5 minutes) hands-on preparation time. I love that there are no unhealthy ingredients in the recipe. And, I love that the beans taste so delicious - the texture is creamy & smooth, and the flavor is perfect.  Greg loves how inexpensive the beans were to make, and he loves how delicious they tasted. He pointed out to me that I should never buy canned beans again - because compared to dried beans, they are much more expensive. He is right on this one (don't tell him though)! I hope you are as excited about cheap, easy, healthy, and delicious un-fried refried beans as we are! Enjoy.

Recipe for Delicious & Easy Refried Beans - no grease or frying! 

INGREDIENTS:
3 1/2 cups of dried pinto beans, rinsed (place beans in colander and set under running water for a minute)
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped small (deveined and seeded - but I kept a few seeds to kick up the heat)
3 Tbsp. of dried onion flakes
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. of cumin powder
2 1/2 tsp. of salt
1 1/4 tsp. of black pepper
10 1/2 cups of water

DIRECTIONS:
Place the rinsed beans, chopped jalapeno, onion flakes, minced garlic, cumin powder, salt, and pepper into a slow cooker. Cover with the 10 1/2 cups of water. Turn the slow cooker on high and cook for 8 hours. Use a ladle or spoon to skim any excess water out of the beans. Use a potato masher to mash the beans to desired consistency. Serve & enjoy!

*Makes 12 - 16 servings of beans. Hands-on time is less than 5 minutes!*

Recipe Adapted from: All Recipes

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies (chocolate Snickerdoodles)



Yesterday on my lunch break I stopped at Sweet Hearts Patisserie, a bakery in Annapolis. I have been there a couple times before, but I had never sampled any of their yummy-smelling and great-looking treats. I always order a hot chocolate and resist the urge to buy anything else. Well, it was a long week, and yesterday I could not resist the urge. I saw "Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies" right in front of me, and by the time my drink was ready, my mind was made up - I was not leaving the store without the cookie! The cookie was pretty big, so when I got back to work I asked my coworker if she would be willing to share it with me. If I hadn't asked her to share, I would have had no problem finishing the cookie myself. It was so super yummy. The cookie itself was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, and the flavors of chocolate and cinnamon were intoxicating.

Today I decided to recreate the cookie in my own kitchen. I found a few different recipes online for the cookies, and I followed one with only a few minor changes. The batter is made with cocoa and just a little cinnamon, and then the dough is rolled in a delicious mixture of sugar, cinnamon, and ancho chile powder. These cookies are kind of like Snickerdoodles, but they are chocolate instead.  They smelled so good while baking, and they tasted amazing. Greg has already had several of the cookies since I pulled them out of the oven. I will definitely be making these again. I think I might take some to the neighborhood holiday party next week! Enjoy.

Recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies 

INGREDIENTS:
For the cookie dough
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of cocoa powder
2 tsp. of cream of tartar
1 tsp. of baking soda
1/4 tsp. of sea salt
1/4 tsp. of cinnamon
For the cinnamon-sugar coating
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
2 tsp. of cinnamon
A dash or two of ancho chili powder (optional)

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer set on medium speed. Beat until smooth and creamy. Add in the eggs, and incorporate well.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Pour the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Mix together the ingredients with the electric hand mixer set on the lowest speed, until the ingredients are well incorporated and a batter is formed.
In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cinnamon, and ancho chile powder - this is the cinnamon-sugar coating.

Use a cookie dough scoop to scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the batter. Use your hands to form the dough into balls, and then roll each one into the cinnamon-sugar mixture, until fully coated. Place on a baking sheet, and leave about 2-inches of space between each (I put about 12 on a baking sheet, using 3 baking sheets). Place baking sheet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet, and then cook another 5 or so minutes. The cookies are done when they begin to crack on the tops. After you remove the cookies from the oven, let them rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

***Makes about 3 dozen (36) cookies***

Recipe Source: A Pretty Life