Friday, December 31, 2010

Easy Breakfast Casseroles that are Perfect for the New Year

I'm a huge fan of big weekend breakfasts that you can make the night before and pop in the oven along with your bacon. There seems to be no better holiday for this than on New Year's when you've been up all night partaking in more than a few glasses of champagne. The last thing you want to do is make a huge breakfast with a headache. However, you'll need a good breakfast to reverse the effects of too much celebrating.

Since it's the end of the year, I thought I would revist my favorite make ahead breakfasts that are also perfect to make for New Year's Day.

  1. Banana French Toast Casserole (see above)
  2. Sausage & Pepper Strata Recipe
  3. Vegetarian Breakfast Casserole
  4. Fiesta Breakfast Casserole
  5. Creme Brulee French Toast
  6. Manly Breakfast Casserole
  7. Breakfast Casserole for 2

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pork Fried Rice - A Great New Year's Eve Snack

There are many benefits to thinking ahead for New Year's Eve. For instance - when you get home after a great New Year's party it's always a good idea to have a snack to ease the effects of all the glasses of champagne. Even when I've had parties at my home and people have stayed until the wee hours I've always found myself making a snack for my guests before they go home.

Recently after making a turkey and ham for Thanksgiving, I found myself with lots of ham leftovers. One night I decided to use the ham to make pork fried rice for dinner. It was a hit with my husband and really easy to make.  This alone makes it the perfect after New Year's party snack so you'll wake up feeling ready to take on the New Year.

Pork Fried Rice (with ham) 
Adapted from

1/2 cup onion, sliced
1/2 cup celery, diagonally sliced
2 cups ham, diced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons oil
3 cups cooked rice, cold
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 egg, slightly beaten
pinch of hot pepper flakes or cayenne, to taste
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
Sauté onions, celery, and ham in oil until vegetables are tender crisp.Add rice. Combine pepper, salt, egg and soy sauce.
Stir into rice mixture. Cook, stirring 2 to 3 minutes or until heated.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chocolate Cherry Cookies with Walnuts

While most people are ready to detox after the holidays from all the sweets and delicious food they've (over) consumed, I've only just now gotten started. Our Christmas was sans sweets due to the fact that I was sick with the flu. So I thought it was only fair, in these waning moments of 2010 to make a treat for my husband in appreciation for his caretaking skills.

While I know he LOVES chocolate cookies, I also knew I wanted to do something a little different. Luckily I still had leftover dried cherries and walnuts from the lack of holiday baking I did. I did have strength to stock up on the supplies evidently. 

I love the combination of chocolate with cherries and nuts. It almost feels like its a healthy cookie if you overlooked the two cups of sugar and half a pound of butter. 

I won't tell anyone if you don't.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies with Walnuts
2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks or 8 ounces) of unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups dried cherries
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy (a couple of minutes) Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the cocoa (1/3 cup at a time) mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides and resume. Add the flour (1/2 cup at a time) let incorporate and then add another 1/2 cup until the flour is completely mixed in. Stop the mixer and take out the mixing bowl. Add the dried cherries and fold in with a spatula until incorporated. Repeat with the walnuts. Use a 1 inch cookie scoop and place on cookies sheets. Bake on (parchment lined or silpat lined) cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. They will seem slightly underdone but as my mentor (a chef) once said - "You can never under-bake a cookie"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Blueberry Ginger Jam

Making jam is really a cathartic experience for me. 

Making jam is the ultimately domestic cooking experience along with baking bread. Lucky that the two go perfectly together. Lately I've made my jams instead of buying them at the store. While I haven't gotten to a large enough quantity for canning and storing them in my pantry, I'm heading in my direction. Recently my best friend started canning large quantities of soups and other goodies. When it was time to put together Christmas goody bags, she said it was like shopping in your own pantry: easy and stress free.

I'm a fan of stress free.

I've continued to gain strength from my recent bout with the flu and yesterday I decided as I was making dinner, that I was cook some new jam. There were frozen blueberries and fresh ginger and a new jam was born. This recipe is a skillet recipe. Just add all the ingredients in a skillet and put in a jar. No need to seal it off as it makes enough for one jar which is perfect for the Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches we'll have in the next month along with a few smears on toast for breakfast.

A comforting way to regroup after the holidays. Now it's time for me to make plans for canning this beautiful jam. I can wait to see my pantry full of jam.

Blueberry Ginger Jam
2 bags of 16 oz frozen blueberries
2 cups sugar
6 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp grated ginger

Combine the blueberries and sugar together and add the juice and ginger. Bring to a boil on medium high and let reduce down for about 20 minutes.  Test to see if the jam is ready. Let cool and then put in a jar with a lid and put in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Homemade Granola Recipe

It started with the flu and then just went down hill from there. All I remember is feeling extremely rundown. It was a Monday, a little less than two weeks before Christmas. We were leaving on Friday to go to my sister's house. By Thursday I was struggling to do the normal things a person does (like walking) and on Friday morning I found out from the doctor that I had the flu.
Christmas plans denied...
So it's almost two weeks later and I'm finally writing a blog post. I'm still a little tired and facing the fact that I have to go to work tomorrow. I decided that it was time to get back to my blog and to get back into the kitchen. Now I just needed to have a subject to write about. I don't have grand recipes and menus to blog about from Christmas unfortunately. So I decided to face a New Year's resolution to eat breakfast regularly (my husband will be happy to hear this). I raided my cupboard and found some dried fruits and nuts leftover from my holiday baking combined it with some quick cook oats, honey, maple syrup  and a few other ingredients and turned it into homemade granola. It's the first step to a New Year and getting back into the groove of blogging. 

I think it's going to be ok...

Homemade Granola
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
4 cups quick cup oats
1 tsp lemon flavoring (or vanilla)
8 oz dried figs
6 oz dried apricots
1 cup dried cherries

Combine the the vegetable oil, lemon flavoring, maple syrup and honey together. Chop the dried fruit together and combine with nuts and the oats. Pour the wet ingredients into the dried ingredients and work into the oats with your hands until the mixture is moist through. Put onto two cookie sheets and into a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the granola is toasted golden brown.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lemon Flavored French Toast

This may look like your average French toast but it's not.

Almost every winter when it's so bitter cold you can't stand it anymore, I start to crave citrus. I crave it in my bones like my body is trying to take me back to my days in Florida where the temperature never got below 50 degrees. Even when it did my parents forced us to wear ski jackets. 

You might have seen that I've been on a French toast kick lately. I cannot defend this action except to say that French toast is easy and time is something of a precious commodity these days.  Recently, I needed to buy lemon flavoring (you'll find it next to the vanilla in your baking aisle) in order to make the Panettone recipe in my "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" cookbook. I loved how the flavoring permeated the bread and thought it would be a great addition to French toast as well.When using lemon flavoring just use it in place of your vanilla (1 tsp) and then combine it with the zest of a lemon and add them both into the egg batter mixture.

It was a welcome change from my normal French toast recipe. Now if I could only transport myself back to Florida.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Made For You Monday: Easy Wine Bags

Some people are so talented with their hands. 

These people are a wealth of creativity and have no problem coming up with enough inspiration and ideas to make all their Christmas gifts. I admire such people. I love the idea of handmade gifts. I love the idea of the personal touch it gives the recipient and knowing that there isn't anything else like the gift you've just given. 

I don't like the time it takes to make a handmade gift for every person I know.

When you're a working girl you rarely have time to make dinner let alone gifts unless you start in September or October. But then you need the time to think of that in September and October and make your plan. No doubt it's a vicious circle. I've found out myself through following tons of talented craft blogs that there is a middle ground. So recently when I was invited to a Hannukkah party and I knew I wanted to bring a bottle of wine to the hostess and a friend of mine that would also be there, I decided to make the wine bag to give it a personal touch. 

I used some leftover burlap (I keep a stash at all times) and some felt to make a rose and the leaves to decorate it. The wine bag was pretty simple. I cut it out in one piece and sewed the sides together which left me an automatic handle.

1 piece of burlap that is approximately 30" long and 10" wide. 
Sewing Machine and thread (I used brown thread)
Hot Glue gun
Glue Sticks
Red felt
Green felt

Fold the burlap over so the fold is at the top of the wine bottle. Cut out a larger form of the wine bottle tapering down slightly at the neck and leaving two inches on all sides.  It should come out in one piece. Then pin the sides together with a 1/4" seam allowance and sew the sides and bottom together. Make sure not to sew too far up past where  the neck of the bottle begins because you will need enough room to get the bottle in the bag.

Now to make the rose. This part is not hard either. Cut out a 8" diameter circle of red felt. Start and the edge and begin to cut a spiral all the way to the inside of the circle. There is a great tutorial here which is where I got the idea to make the roses.

Then cut out two leaves per rose. Just hot glue the rose and the leaves to the front of the wine bag and you're done. It felt great to put a handmade touch on something that was a gift. It didn't take too much time and they loved it - after I explained to them that I didn't get it at World Market.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese with Crispy Shallots

I got home from the gym last night and the pantry was bare. My finger was about to call the nearest pizza place when I got my spirit back and decided there had to be something I could make for dinner. 

Pasta was the first piece of treasure I found. I always have pasta. The next was one piece of Chorizo. No shredded cheese but I did find some sharp cheddar sliced cheese that we use for sandwiches. Then I found a true treasure. A container of crispy shallots that I had purchased for a spruced up version of green bean casserole that never happened.

We have the players now it's time to throw it together.  When I make homemade macaroni and cheese I rarely look up the recipe any more. It's all about making a roux by melting a half of stick of butter (4 tbsp) and combining it with 1/4 cup flour to make a paste in a sauce pan. Then let the paste cook out the flour taste and pour in cold whole milk. I say cold because to avoid lumps you always have to combine hot ingredients into cold or cold ingredients into hot.  Add 1 1/2 cups of milk and season with salt and pepper. Then add 2 cups of sharp cheddar cheese.  Stir until melted. In a separate skillet I took the diced chorizo sausage and cooked it and added it to the Mac N Cheese. Then I spread the crispy shallots on top. A delicious Hail Mary. 

Now I'm off to make a grocery list or we might quite possibly starve tonight...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Panettone French Toast

In my office it's a safe bet that starting on December 1st you'll start seeing gift baskets and food presents start to arrive and continue until the week before Christmas. Panettone is one of those holiday food presents that reminds you the holiday is fast approaching. They line the shelves of specialty stores and my local organic grocery like little tin soldiers ready do to their duty as a hostess gift or present. 
Whether you receive Panettone as a gift or make it yourself as I did recently, it's always a good idea to use it in a couple of different ways. It's a lot of bread. So after I baked a couple of loaves I decided to make some French toast out of what was leftover. I've said it time and time again:  French toast is the easiest breakfast to make without having to feel like you phoned it in. Since you can use all types of breads, the possibilities are endless. You can even use it as a dessert as well. Your guests will hail you as brilliant.

The Panettone added a delicious flavor to the French toast which made it sweet and savory. The dried fruit and lemon flavoring was delicious and topping it with powdered sugar puts the finishing touch.

If you are going to have tons of food around the house from gifts you mine as well use it to your advantage and use your time more wisely - like relaxing with a cup of coffee. 

Panettone French Toast for Two
4-6 slices of Panettone
3 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 tsp vanilla
Powdered sugar

Beat the eggs with the cream in a mixing bowl. Dredge the sliced of Panettone through the egg mixture on both sides. Put in a preheated frying pan on medium heat and cook until golden brown on each side. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saveur Cookies We Love: Mexican Butter Cookies With Sprinkles

You can't win at every recipe. This is good because it gives me a chance to show you that no one is perfect. We all have missteps in the kitchen. It happens, you learn from it and you move through.

Last year I was lucky enough to participate in a cookie round-up of Bon-Appetit's recipes. This year our group decided to choose Saveur's holiday cookies from around the world.   Unfortunately I'm already a little late in posting this. Besides being late I chose the Mexican Butter recipe which looked like a low maintenance cookie that is a great holiday cookie for those of us working gals who don't have a lot of time. 

But the cookies spread and the hole in the center disappeared when they baked. I would leave the cookies to chill a couple of hours before you bake them if I were to do it again. No matter how the cookies looked the tasted delicious. A chewy butter cookie that I thoroughly enjoyed

Mexican Butter Cookies with Sprinkles (From Saveur December 2010)
1 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
8 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 egg yolks
1 egg white (lightly beaten)
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.  In a mixer, beat together sugar, butter, and vanilla until fluffly. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix. Roll dough into a 12" long cylinder. Cut cylinder into 3 pieces; roll each into a 12 1" long pieces. Roll each into a ball; transfer to a lined baking sheet.  Flatten each into a small disk; using your finger, poke a hole in center of each disk. Chill for 1 hour.  Heat oven to 300 degrees. Brush each ring with egg white; dip into sprinkles to coat. Return to baking sheets; bake for 15 minutes. Let cool.
If you want to look at some other "Cookies we Love"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pumpkin Scones

On the weekend after a tough week all I want to do is nurse a cup of coffee and feed myself fluffy baked goods to drown my stress. 

As I was entering this new blog post, I started typing in the word pumpkin and a ton of suggestions popped up. My previous titles included Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Waffles, Pumpkin pancakes, and so on. It's no surprise that I love pumpkin. Pumpkin scones were the next variation for a lazy Saturday brunch for my husband and I. So I made these scones along with scrambled eggs and grated Gruyere cheese, thick-cut bacon and a huge cup of coffee.

Baked goods make all your troubles go away.
Pumpkin Scones
3 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 cup butter)
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice

Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice together in a bowl. Cut the butter into tiny cubes and then work the butter  into the flour with your hands until it resembles sand. Make a well and pour the buttermilk into the center. Mix until incorporated (don't knead) and just wet. Turn out the dough on a floured board and gather together into a circle. Cut into wedges and put on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Holiday Specialty Appliances To Make Baking Easier

Breville Pie Maker

Can someone say Easybake Oven?

That's all I can think about when I see the recent trends in specialty appliances that are coming out for this holiday season. It started with the Pie Maker Gift set on the Williams Sonoma website.  It seemed like a mirage until I saw it again in the catalog. A waffle iron type contraption that you can make 4 individual pies and it will crimp the top crust onto the little pie.

Babycakes Cupcake Maker
 Then I was perusing the sale papers for Black Friday and saw the Babycakes Cupcake Maker at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It makes 5-8 cupcakes in 8 minutes... Clearly I was out of the loop so I decided to do some internet searches on what other new appliances were around. Then I ran across this electric cookie press from Cuisinart. No more struggling with pressing cooking dough through little discs on your own. There's a new cookie press in town and its got its own mojo.
Electric Cookie Press from Cuisinart
It seems like we've regressed to our childhood with tabletop specialty appliances that are geared towards making your baking needs easier.  The funny part is that I never had an easybake oven and stood in awe of my friends who had them. Now that I'm older I can make good on this need was never fulfilled.

Oh wait no I can't...

Let me explain: while I love my older cottage home, I don't have a lot of kitchen storage. Since I have these space issues I have to be careful which appliances I choose to take the little space I have. For most bakers who are established you won't find you need these tools but I can't help thinking that these are the perfect gifts for those loved ones who are just beginning. So give the gift of an adult easybake oven - you have plenty to choose from.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dark Chocolate M&M Cookies

The holiday baking season has officially begun.

It's December 1st which means it's the first day of our Advent calendar gifts. Since I recently crafted my own baking inspired Advent calendar, I decided to put it to good use and bake something for my husband's first gift. It's no secret in our house that my husband is a huge dark chocolate fan. In fact he takes the Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate bars I keep for baking as his own dessert stash. 

While I was searching for little gifts to buy, I found a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms that I picked up for one of his gifts. Then I thought they would be put to better use in a chocolate cookie to really give him his dose of dark chocolate. 

So I went to my chocolate cookie standby and used Barefoot Contessa's White Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe and adapted it for my own personal uses. As usual I substituted self-rising flour for all the leavening agents. Then I added chopped pecans and the dark chocolate M&Ms.

The result was a serious chocolate cookie and a great start to the Advent calendar tradition..

Dark Chocolate M&M Cookies 
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa's White Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe)

2 cups self rising flour
2 large eggs
1/2 pound unsalted butter
2/3 cup cocoa
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark chocolate M&Ms
1 cup chopped pecans

Set the oven to 350 degrees. With a mixer cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs. Add the cocoa until fully incorporate and then add the 2 cups of flour.  Stop mixer and by hand fold in the M&Ms and pecans. Use a large cookie scoop (my preference) and on a parchment lined cookie sheet scoop out the cookies (you will get roughly 28) Wet your hands and lightly push the tops down so its level (it helps it spread evenly) Bake for about 12-15 minutes.
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