Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pistachio, Cranberry and White Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

It is hard to believe that this year is almost over. We have just hours until we shut the door to 2011 and move onto the next. The past twelve months have been wonderful and terrifying. They have been freeing and constricting. They have been a learning experience and a growing experience. I have come a long way from January 1, 2011. At that point, I still had a semester left in graduate school. I knew I was moving to Boston and so was Alex. I knew I had to look for an apartment and a job and a new life. I was outwardly confident and collected, but there were certainly times where I was questioning if anything would work out. 
 Looking back, I can say they did, but I was not always as confident and certainly not so collected. It took a while for things to get but moving, but in March, Julia decided she was going to move to Boston. I got in touch with landlords. I came up here and lived off of Alex and my sister. I met a lot of people trying to make connections. I got a job doing something I didn't want to do. Jules and I moved into an apartment with our third roommate, Senty. The place was a mess. There was still furniture everywhere. Julia got a job. I started to think I would never be able to find a better job. Then I got a different job. The house is better. The jobs are stable. We are stable. Life is stable.

With a little bit of time, and a lot of careful planning, you can produce something miraculous. And sometimes, that thing will crumble right in front of you anyway. Take for example, these shortbread cookies. Even when you are being meticulous and methodical, they may break while you are handling them. But, if you can deal with a few breaks and crumbles here and there, you can rest assured that these cookies are going to turn out perfectly, and so goes it with life. Happiest of New Years to all of my readers! May your 2011 end as you had planned and your 2012 begin with great joy and aspiration.

Pistachio, Cranberry and White Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
3/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 cup roughly chopped pistachios
1 cup white chocolate chips

1. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour and salt. In a third bowl, combine cranberries, pistachios and chocolate chips.
2. Add the flour & salt to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until it just starts to come together. Fold in by hand the dried cranberries, pistachios, and white chocolate chips about a half a cup at a time until it's fully incorporated. Mix until the dough forms a ball.
3. Roll into a log about 2 inches in diameter (or wider or skinnier depending on how big you want your cookies). Wrap with wax paper and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Slice the cookie log into 1/4 inch slices and place the slices on the sheet pan.
5. Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from the pan and cool to room temp.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hot Mulled Wine

When I was little, Christmas Eve was my favorite day of the year. It was hard to tell then, as I ripped through ribbon and tore through paper, but the truth was, the build up and mystery of December 24 was always half of my pleasure. Now that I am no longer a child waiting for sleigh bells on my roof, has Christmas Eve seemed to have lost it's sparkle? Now that I can buy basically whatever present I want for myself, and I can cook any day of the year, has the magic been lost? I say no, because of tradition.
Though now decades have passed since my sister and I were small children, my family's Christmas Eve routine has remained virtually the same. We go out to breakfast. We hit the over-crowded malls for any last minute shopping that hasn't been attended to. We come home and help my mom prepare for dinner. Dad falls asleep with the remote on his belly. We have fondue. We feast and laugh and overstuff. We roll downstairs and watch a holiday movie. Dad and Vanessa fall asleep. Vanessa wakes up angry attesting that she was awake. We trudge upstairs and wait for Santa.
These memories are kept alive every year because of tradition. And while they may evolve as we do, they live on. One thing that has changed for me is my choice of beverage. Nothing smells quite like the holidays like Hot Mulled Wine full of festive flavor. So pour yourself a glass, sit in front of your tree, and take in the magic one more time.

Hot Mulled Wine
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup bourbon (or more if you're feeling frisky)
1 (750-milliliter) bottle Cabernet Sauvignon
For the Mulling Spice Blend:
2 teaspoons whole allspice
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, broken in half (plus more for garnish)
1 (3 x 1-inch) strip orange rind

1. Combine the allspice, cloves, cinnamon stick and orange rind into a cheese cloth (or even a coffee filter). Secure with thread. Combine sugar, bourbon, wine and mulling spice blend in a large pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Discard mulling spice sachet. Serve warm with cinnamon sticks, if desired.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday S'more Bars & Christmas 1992

Dear Santa, Hi. How aer you? Im fine. I hope it is not too cold in the NORTH POLE. I tried to be vary good this year. I did good in scool and cleaned my room a lot. For Christmas this year, I would really like a doll house and a barbie car. It would be nice to also have some surprises. I like surprises. Please eat some of the cookies and say hi to Misses Claus and all of your raindeer. Love, Jessica

May your inner child be rediscovered this Christmas. Need a little inspiration? Try this recipe. You may be writing Santa again before you know it.

Holiday S'more Bars
12 chocolate graham crackers
3/4 cup butter
3/4 firmly packed brown sugar
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup red and green M&Ms

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 15x10x1-inch jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil leaving a 1-inch overhang on ends; spray foil with no-stick cooking spray. Place graham crackers onto foil so sides touch.
2. Melt butter and brown sugar in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and mixture just comes to a boil (4 to 6 minutes). Pour evenly over crackers. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes or until bubbly.
3. Remove pan from oven; sprinkle with marshmallows.Continue baking until marshmallows begin to soften (2 to 3 minutes). Sprinkle with M&Ms. Cool completely. Lift from pan using foil and cut into bars.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chocolate-Mint Cookie Blossoms

I've told you many times that as soon as possible, I begin to celebrate the holiday season. Okay, CHRISTMAS. I celebrate the most wonderful holiday there is, and like I've said before, I'd start in September if possible. So you can imagine, come December, I feel as if the fun is almost over.
And I panic. It's the week before Christmas and I don't think I've soaked enough of the holiday into my blood to last me for another year. I've seen the Nutcracker (twice), watched movies, baked up a storm with Julia, thrown a Yankee Swap party, and yet, I haven't had enough. So to hold on for just a little longer, when all else fails, make Christmas cookies. Julia found all the recipes we made this year, so thank you Jusie!

Chocolate-Mint Cookie Blossoms
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
42 peppermint-swirl candy kisses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine butter and shortening. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Beat until just combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, and peppermint extract until combined. Slowly add flour by 1/2 cup increments. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.
2. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are firm.
3. Give the cookies about 3 minutes to cool transfer to a wire rack. Press a peppermint Kiss on every one. Allow to cool completely before moving.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chocolate Lovers' Cake

This weekend, while laying on the couch being lazy, my roommate and I discovered my (and now our) problem. We are addicts. Not to drugs, not to alcohol, not to anything illegal. We are addictions. You may laugh, or think I'm crazy, but it's true. I could literally watch hours of intervention. I could read page after page of books like Go Ask Alice of A Million Little Pieces. My name is Jessie, and I am addicted to other people's addictions.
But that aside, if I could pick one other thing, it might be this cake. I cannot say it is my own recipe, but I can tell you that I took it from a valid baking source, my friend named Janna. really wish I could say I was not a chocoholic, because we are a weak breed, but if you are, boy you're in for a treat. This cake isn't hard to make, but it does take time. It is worth every little second though, of that I promise.

Chocolate Lovers’ Layer Cake
1 (18.25 oz) package Devil’s Food Cake Mix
1 (3.9 oz) package instant chocolate pudding mix
2 cups sour cream
1 cup melted butter
5 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

12 oz chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup butter, room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, to taste/consistency
½ cup Ganache, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2-circular layer cake pans
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together cake and pudding mix. Make a well in the center and pour in the sour cream, melted butter, and vanilla. Mix until combined.
3. Add eggs one at a time, mixing slightly after each. Scrape bowl and beat for 4 minutes on medium speed. Stir in chocolate chips with a spoon and pour batter evenly into pan.
4. Bake in preheated oven 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
5. While cooling, make ganahce and icing. For ganache, place chocolate chips in a large bowl. Pour cream into a saucepan and heat on medium to boiling. Once it begins to boil, pour over chocolate chips. Stir until completely incorporated.
6. For icing, mix butter, vanilla and ½ cup (or more to taste) of ganache. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar until icing meets your desired consistency.
7. Once cakes are completely cooled, frost entire cake with one coat of icing. Refrigerate, if desired, and frost again to make sure no crumbs are showing. Pour ganache on the top of cake and let it overflow the sides.

Friday, December 9, 2011

S'more Brownies

It's finally beginning to feel like December in Boston. The days of short sleeves and open toed shoes are long gone. The winds are fierce and there is frost spreading on the cars in the dark of the morning. Right now it's easy to look forward to winter because, um, Christmas, but come February, I'm pretty sure I, along with the rest of the city, is going to be craving a little bit of summer. Fear not, folks. When the weather outside is frightful... make S'more Brownies.
S'more Brownies
1 box brownie mix -OR- your favorite recipe
5 full Graham Crackers
4 Full size Hershey’s Bars
16 large marshmallows

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line an 8x8 baking pan with tin foil and cooking spray. Prepare brownies as directed.
2. Pour half the brownie batter into lined pan. Layer graham crackers over brownies. Layer Hershey Bars and then top with 16 marshmallows. Top with remaining brownie batter as evenly as you can distribute it. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick comes mostly clean from center (keep in mind the chocolate bars will be melted). Remove from oven and let cool completely. Carefully remove foil and brownies from pan. Peel any foil from away from edges and cut into 16 squares.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake

I am one of those obnoxious people who begins to celebrate Christmas at the first cool day after summer. I've been listening to the Holiday Stations on Pandora since September. I have a little Santa Bear ornament handing on my dresser knob all year long. So I get it, December is for Christmas.
But, but, before you go all uber-festive on me, remember one thing. Technically, fall isn't over. In fact, we have a full two weeks until it's over, and I say we take advantage. So I have just a few more recipes coming your way, and this one was the co-star to our Thanksgiving dinner this year. You see, I like Pumpkin Pie, but I will only eat my own Family Recipe. So if you're finicky like I am about the seasonal favorite, try a similar rendition, Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 cup frozen whipped topping, thawed

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Blend in eggs one at a time. Remove 1.5 cup of batter and spread into bottom of crust; set aside.
2. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the remaining batter and stir gently until well blended. Carefully spread over the batter in the crust.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until center is almost set. Allow to cool, then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Cover with whipped topping before serving.

**A nice tip to save time -- use pumpkin pie filling instead of plain canned pumpkin with all the flavor and none of the work!