Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012

Well, it's New Year's Eve.  I hope you're getting glammed up and popping some champagne!  Let's celebrate the end of 2012 and look forward to all the possibilities that 2013 will bring.  Here at K&K Test Kitchen, we'd like to thank you all, old friends and new, for your readership and friendship over the past year!  These are some of my favorites from the past year!

Favorite Cookie: Gluten Free Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies - These cookies turn out every time, and they are crispy and delicious!

Favorite Salad: Roasted Beet and Hazelnut Salad with Pickled Onions - My favorite SRC post too, this salad has it all, sweet, sour, crunch.

Favorite Treat: Caramel Peanut Popcorn - One word: addictive!

Most Popular on Pinterest: Easy Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting - Maybe it was the nickname we gave these, but these super easy, cinnamon rolls exploded on Pinterest (of course the Strawberry Lemonade Bars will always be the Pinterest winner, but those were from 2011!)

Favorite Main Dishes: Chicken Tinga Tacos and Bucatini all'Amatriciana - Both of these dishes are hearty and spicy. I'll be making them again and again in 2013!

Most Popular Post: Dr. Oz 3-day Cleanse Results - Combine the world's most famous doctor and the fact that most of us have a New Year's resolution to get fit, this post has exploded over the last month to become the most popular of 2012 (okay, again Strawberry Lemonade Bars will always win, but this is the most popular of the posts actually from 2012).

Recipes I make the most often: Peanut Butter Granola, Green Goodness SmoothieIt's Italian Bruschetta and Chicken Parmigiana - All of these are in constant rotation, whether for breakfast or dinner, or for when I have guests over!

I also did a really fun challenge twice last year, where I did two weeks of 5 meals under $50: Week 1 shopping listweek 2 shopping list.  I will think about whether I will attempt to do this again in 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Tuscan Pot Roast

With the holidays wrapping up and the New Year rolling in soon, I thought I would share this Tuscan Pot Roast recipe. It is a great dish to throw on the stove and forget about while you entertain company or watch football games on New Year's Day.  My sister Carol made this at a cooking class and since then she has been serving it to company as it is elegant, delicious, and easy.  I made it for dinner when my cousin was in town and she and my husband were ready to lick the plate.  Tim declared it the best recipe that I have made since Kelsey and I started K&K Test Kitchen.  I served it with Pappardelle noodles and my sister recommends baked polenta.  Either way this dish is a winner;  this photo does not do it justice.  Give it a try and I am sure you will add this to your go to dishes for company.

Tuscan Pot Roast

1 (2-1/2 to 3 lbs) boneless beef chuck roast
2 teaspoon salt divided use
1/2 tsp ground pepper divided use
1 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup red wine (Pinot Noir or Merlot)
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, divided use
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red peppers
1/2 cup halved pitted Kalamata Olives (optional)
Carrots (optional)

Season beef with half the salt and pepper. Heat oil in dutch oven. Add roast and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned on all sides. Remove roast and set aside.

Add onions to pot and cook over medium heat until soft and golden (about 10 minutes) stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add wine increase heat and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add tomatoes, bay leave, half the basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes. Add remaining salt and pepper bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Return beef and any juices to pot, cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours or until beef is tender. Remove beef from pan and cover loosely with foil.

Add olives to sauce and boil until slightly reduced, add remaining basil and season to taste. Slice beef and serve topped with sauce.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Life Update

Hey everyone! We are hanging out in Arlington, VA for the holidays! Hope you all had a great holiday and a lovely time with your family and friends. Pictured above: snow in Ottawa, tree at my parent's house, the Christmas dinner spread, and my new knives and pasta maker!

Surprisingly, we haven't made much by the way of new recipes. We did a pretty traditional Christmas dinner and we've been invited to friends' houses for the past few nights. For Christmas, we had a heritage turkey from a farm in Virginia. We were a little bit skeptical about this skinny looking bird.  Our turkey was allowed to fly and roost in trees and was raised organically and cruelty-free. It was one of the most delicious turkeys ever.  We brined it using this recipe.  We also had a gorgeous prime rib, that my dad stuffed with garlic cloves, crusted with rock salt and herbs, and cooked on the BBQ.  The rest of the meal included: green bean, feta, and bacon salad; bourbon sweet potatoes; stuffing - a combo of two recipes; slow cooked kale; arugula, pomegranate, and apple salad; mashed potatoes; and sautéed brussels sprouts. We finished the meal with pecan pie.

A few other tidbits about my visit so far:

We went to the Union Market in DC to do a little shopping and exploring.  While there, we had the best peppermint ice cream ever, maybe even the best ice cream ever, from Trickling Springs Creamery. We had tacos from TaKorean for lunch. We picked up some delicious pickles and of course, we got our turkey. I had a delicious latté from Peregrine Espresso, made with the farm fresh milk from Trickling Springs.  The sandwich pictured above is from The Italian Store, near my parents place in Arlington.  It is amazing and reminds me of my childhood; their sandwiches and hoagies are awesome, and so is their pizza!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cookie Exchange 2013

This year's cookie exchange with my book club girls yielded an amazingly delicious array of cookies! Thank you to Krissy for hosting us!  I'm going to let the cookies speak for themselves. Lots of tasty treats here if you are looking for some holiday weekend baking inspiration!

Homemade Candy Cane Oreos - Kelsey

Adapted from Kelly Bakes and Country Cleaver

For the shortbread
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup superfine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
⅛ teaspoon salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

For the filling
⅓ cup shortening
¼ cup water
1¼ Tablespoon peppermint extract
1 pound powdered sugar (about 1 bag of sugar)
½ teaspoon salt
crushed candy canes, optional

Cream butter, sugar and salt in a bowl until well combined. Add vanilla extract and eggs, blend to combine.

Sift flour and cocoa into butter mixture and blend just until mixture forms a soft dough.

Divide dough in half and place each half in between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough out to roughly ⅛″. Chill dough, uncovered, until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F while dough chills.

In a stand mixer or bowl, combine shortening, salt, peppermint and water.

Mix on lowest speed with paddle attachment or handbeaters. As liquid gets incorporated into shortening, gradually increase speed until creamy and combined.

Reduce speed to low and gradually add ¼ of the powdered sugar until incorporated.

Slowly add the rest of the sugar, working in 4 additions. Taste test. The cream should be spreadable, but not too thin. If the mixture is too thin, you can add more powdered sugar and if it is too stiff, you can add more water.

Remove one sheet of dough from the fridge. Cut circles with a 1″ – 1.5″ cookie cutter and place on cookie sheet. Bake shortbreads in middle of oven until centers are dry to the touch and edges are slightly darker, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet on a rack 10 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.

Once the cookie shells are cool, take one circle, spread it with a layer of peppermint filling and top with another shortbread circle. Continue assembling cookie sandwiches until you’ve used up all the shells. Roll frosted edges in crushed candy canes, if desired.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies - Brittany

Makes 2 dozen

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup margarine, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons white sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir the sifted ingredients into the molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.    

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Soft and Chewy Almond Sugar Cookies - Annie

From Confections from the Cody's Kitchen

1 1/2 C white sugar
2/3 C unsalted butter (cold)
2/3 C shortening (room temp)
2 eggs
2 tsp almond extract
2 3/4 C cake flour
1 C all purpose flour
1 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Sugar in the raw (Any coarse sugar or sprinkles would work)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare baking sheet.

Cream sugar, butter and shortening.  Stir in eggs and almond extract.  Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt and add to butter/egg mixture.

Use electric mixture to ensure dough is thoroughly combined.

Chill dough in fridge for 30 minutes.

Cookie Bark - Erica

From Kraft Foods

1 package (8 squares) Baker's Semi-Sweet Chocolate
1 package (6 squares) Baker's White Chocolate
10 Oreo Cookies

Melt semi-sweet chocolate and white chocolate separately. Crumble half the cookies over chocolate in each bowl; mix well.

Drop spoonfuls of the chocolate mixtures onto waxed paper-covered baking sheet, alternating the colours of the chocolates. Swirl gently with knife.

Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. Break into 14 pieces. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Christmas Tree Cookie Pops - Erica 

From Kraft Foods

1 package (250 g) Philadelphia Brick Cream Cheese, softened
1 package (350 g) Oreo Cookies, finely crushed
2 package (170 g each) Baker's White Chocolate
3 drops green food coloring
1 Tablespoon miniature candy-coated chocolate pieces
Decorating icing

Mix cream cheese and cookie crumbs until blended.

Shape into 40 (1-inch) balls. Mix melted chocolate and food colouring until blended. Dip 1 lollipop stick in melted chocolate, then insert chocolate-dipped end into center of 1 cookie ball. Place on waxed paper-covered rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining cookie balls. Freeze 10 min.

Dip balls in remaining chocolate; return to baking sheet. Decorate with decorating icing and candies as you wish. Refrigerate 1 hour or until chocolate coating is firm.  Store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Brandy Cherry Cookies - Manique

From Southern Jewel's Recipes Remedies and DIY

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dry red wine, such as burgundy (delicious addition)
10 ounces (my fav) dark chocolate, broken into chunks (substitute milk chocolate if you want)
1 cup dried tart cherries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl. In a bowl of an electric mixer, or with a handheld mixer, combine butter and sugars until fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, and wine and combine. Slowly in batches add the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the chocolate and cherries. On a nonstick cookie sheet, place a heaping tablespoon of dough for each cookie about 2 inches apart from each other. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until tops are still soft looking but edges look firm.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies - Krissy

¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
Pinch salt

In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in egg and vanilla.  Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt; stir into butter mixture in 3 additions.

Divide dough in half; shape into discs.  Wrap each in plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour. (make-ahead: refrigerate for up to 24 hours).  Let stand at room temperature until soft enough to roll out, about 15 minutes.

Between waxed paper or on floured surface, roll out 1 disc of dough to 12- x 10-inch (30 x 25 cm) rectangle.

Cinnamon Sugar
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine sugar, butter and cinnamon: spread half evenly onto rectangle.  Starting at long side, roll up dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Cut rolls into ¼-inch thick slices; place, cut side down and 1 inch apart, on parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheet.

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, in 375ºF oven until pale golden on bottoms and edges, about 10 minutes.  Let cool for 1 minute; transfer to racks and let cool completely.

Cream Cheese Glaze
Quarter pkg (250g pkg) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp milk, warmed

Combine cream cheese, icing sugar and milk; drizzle over cooled cookies.

Double Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies - Rebecca

From Rachael Ray

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 (6 oz.) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 egg
24 miniature (about 1 1/2-inch) peppermint patties, such as York, unwrapped and chilled
6 ounces white chocolate (not chips), chopped
Peppermint candy canes or candies, crushed or finely chopped

Using an electric mixer, beat the flour, cocoa powder, both sugars, salt and baking soda on low speed. Beat in the butter, then the egg. Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk; seal. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees . Line 2 large cookie sheets with parchment. Working with 1 tbsp. of dough at a time, use your fingers to evenly encase each peppermint patty with dough. Place on the prepared pans and smooth the dough with your fingers. Bake, switching the pans halfway through, until just firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool slightly. Transfer the cookies on the parchment to a rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a double boiler or small, heatproof bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water, melt half of the white chocolate, stirring until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining white chocolate until smooth. Using a large spoon, drizzle the white chocolate over the cookies. Sprinkle immediately with the crushed peppermint candies. Let set completely before serving or storing.

Orange, Cranberry, and Chocolate Cookies - Louise

2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
4-5 teaspoons clementine zest
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease baking sheets.

In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar.  Add eggs and zest, stir.  Gradually add flour mixture to large bowl, stir until just combined.  Add chocolate chips and cranberries. 

Make small rounded balls and bake for 11-14 minutes (until edges are lightly browned). 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chocolate Orange Pillow Cookies

My aunt shared this cookie recipe with us last week, and it sounded too good not to share with you guys! So take it away Auntie Carol: 


Hi Kelsey and Kim, I made these cookies and they are very good, decadent and easy to make when chocolate is involved. We first had these cookies at our favorite coffee shop and loved them. I found the recipe on line and made them for my new cookie this year. Every year I try and find a new recipe some times they turn out and sometimes not. This one is a keeper and I am taking it for my cookie exchange. If you are looking for something for your blog here it is. I found the recipe on the Big Oven site. Hope you like them. Love you guys

Chocolate Orange pillows

24 ounces of dark chocolate
4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
4 ounces of unsalted butter
7 ounces of bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
8 ounces of almond meal; finely ground
6 eggs
7 ounces of sugar
1/3 cup orang liqueur
zest from 4 oranges
Powdered sugar and sugar for rolling


Chop chocolate into small pieces. Melt butter and chocolate over simmering water. Keep warm until added to mixture.

Sift bread flour and baking powder together, add almond meal and mix together. Set aside.

Whip eggs and sugar until ribbon stage.

Mix orange zest and orange liqueur together and add to egg mixture.

Stir in dry ingredients, mixture will be runny.

Place dough in refrigerator for 4 hours or until firm.

Divide the dough into 6 equal parts, roll the pieces into 12 inch ropes. Cut into 12 equal pieces. You can also use an ice cream scoop to form the balls. This is how I did it and it worked great.

Roll pieces into balls and then roll first in sugar and the in powder sugar. The cookies must be throughly coated in the powder sugar in order to remain coated while baking.

Place on a lined cookie sheet and press down lightly.

Bake at 375 for 15 to 20 minutes. The cookies will puff up, leaving a cracked white crust. Makes 72 cookies.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Spinach, Mushroom and Fontina Strata

Spinach, Mushroom and Fontina Strata recipe
Strata is the perfect brunch dish.  It is a sort of savory, egg-y, bread pudding. I had never had it before, and it may be my new favorite thing to eat for brunch.  You make the strata the night ahead of time, some magic happens in the fridge overnight, and then you bake the strata into something melty and mouthwateringly delicious. With Christmas just a week away, have you started planning your menus?  If you haven't, I highly recommend considering this strata for your Christmas Day brunch.  You can take it out of the fridge and pop it into the oven to bake while you open gifts. Easy peasy.  It will fill the house with delicious aromas while it bakes. Plus it is filled with delicious spinach, mushrooms, and gooey Fontina cheese.  Fontina is probably one of my favorite cheeses to cook with - it melts perfectly.  You could also adapt this recipe by adding some sausage or switching up the cheese or veggies to suit your tastes. 

A few other brunch ideas:  Cinnamon Rolls, Gougeres, Fruit Salad with Limoncello, Bloody Mary / Caesar Bar

Spinach, Mushroom, and Fontina Strata

Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
2 pounds spinach, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter plus extra for buttering the dish
5 ounces cremini mushrooms
Sourdough loaf (pre-sliced)
8 ounces young Italian fontina cheese, grated, divided
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/3 cup), divided
8 large eggs, divided
2 2/3 cups whole milk, divided

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Fill pan with as much spinach as will fit; cook, stirring, adding remainder a handful at a time as space allows. When all the spinach is wilted, stir in pepper and nutmeg. Drain spinach in a sieve. When cool enough to handle, squeeze excess moisture from spinach by hand.  Wipe the pan clean, then melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until golden brown.

Butter a 3-quart baking dish. Place a third of the bread in a single layer in dish. Top with half the spinach mixture, half the mushrooms, and a third of the cheeses. Repeat layering with a third of the bread, remaining spinach mixture, and a third of the cheeses, then top with remaining bread.

Whisk together 6 eggs, 2 cups milk, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and carefully pour over bread. Cover with parchment, and gently press down with hands until egg mixture soaks through top of bread. Cover parchment with foil, and refrigerate at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, remove strata from refrigerator, uncover, and let stand 30 minutes. Whisk together remaining 2 eggs and 2/3 cup milk, and pour over strata, gently pressing between layers of bread with a spoon or spatula to ensure that egg mixture seeps to bottom. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake until puffed and golden brown in places, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Garlic Lime Chicken

I am sure that everyone knows at least 10 people who will start the New Year with a diet and good intentions to exercise and improve their health.  Well, Tim and I decided that we wanted to lose some extra weight before the holidays and not wait until after we overindulge throughout the month to do so.  Kelsey’s Dr. Oz cleanse from last month was an inspiration and it coincided with the release of a new product from Vemma, the Chris Powell meal replacement shake.   We, too, did a cleanse; it was the Bode cleanse by Vemma and it was a 7-day one that is intended to be a gentle way to prepare your body for transformation.  The nice thing about this cleanse is that it was an easy preparation of mixing the concentrate with 12 to 16 ounces of purified water and it has a pleasant flavor. We also have been following the Chris Powell Bode program of carb cycling and using the new shake to kick start our morning.  With the program, there is support app with meal ideas and recipes.  For dinner last week, I tried the Garlic Lime Chicken.  Tim and both really love the flavor of this chicken.  It was very moist and spicy in flavor.  It was a great low calorie way of preparing chicken.  We will be having this dish again.  

If you are looking for a body transformation program for the New Year, you may want to try Chris Powell Bode 12 week Challenge.  The product is good, the carb cycling is easy to do, the support from the app is awesome and you get to eat real food.  So far, Tim has lost 8 lbs and I have lost 4 lbs and we have a head start on our New Year resolution.

Our dinner while following the Chris Powell carb cycling program!

Vemma's Bode Protein Shake...Breakfast!

Garlic Lime Chicken

recipe from Chris and Heidi Powell and the Vemma Bode app

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chicken broth, low-sodium
2 teaspoons butter
2 pieces chicken breast halves, boneless, skinless (4-6 ounces each)
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Zest of lime


Mix the seasonings together in a large zip-top bag.  Add chicken breasts to the bag, seal and gently massage around until all the chicken is well coated with seasoning.  

Heat pan over medium heat: add butter and olive oil to the pan.  Once butter is melted, add chicken and cool on both sides until done.  Remove from pan and keep warm by lightly covering with foil.  

To skillet, add lime juice and broth.  Using a whisk, mix liquids to get browned bits off the pan bottom and sides.  continue cooking until sauce has slightly thickened.  Add chicken back to the pan, coating with the sauce.  Sprinkle the lime zest on top of chicken and serve!

Recommended to be served over rice for a high carb meal on the Chris Powell Bode program. We choose Sweet Potatoes as our high carb choice and asparagus to complete the meal.  It was delicious.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  

*Vemma Nutritional company recommends you follow a healthy approach to weight loss by consulting with your physician or health care provider before starting any new exercise, diet plan, nutrition or supplementation program, particularly if you suffer from any medical condition or regularly use prescription or over-the-counter medications.

*Our results may not be typical weight loss, everyone will be different.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

It is time for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap again!!

This is the second annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, organized by Lindsay of Love & Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen.  This year 576 bloggers participated and there was a participation fee with 100% of the proceeds (less the payment processing fee) going directly to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. The swap raised over $2200 and OXO matched it dollar for dollar, which means we helped raise over $4400!

And the best part of the cookie swap, of course is that I received lots of delicious cookies from these lovely, talented bloggers:

Fareen at Food Mamma - chocolate dipped walnut shortbread
Elizabeth at A Sweet Baker - white chocolate dipped molasses cookies
and Alicia and Celeste, the Chronic Master Bakers - gingerbread biscotti

My co-workers and friends were very happy that I was participating in the Food Blogger Cookie Swap again this year, since I so generously shared the cookies with them (after trying one, okay maybe three of each, myself).

For my contribution, I made Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti and they were quite delicious, if I do say so myself.  I did a test batch of biscotti a few weeks ago and I burnt most of the Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti that I made (the almond biscotti were fine).  BUT it was still good, even burnt, so I knew it was the winner for the cookie swap.  For the cookie swap batch I adjusted the baking time and switched to a different cookie sheet.

To learn more about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap and receive notifications about next year's swap, click here!

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

From Amy's Bread via Serious Eats

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cups hazelnuts, whole, toasted
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 large egg for egg wash

Position one rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar for 1 minute or until a sandy mixture forms. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until fluffy and lighter in color, about 1 minute more.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the flour, cocoa powder, coffee powder, baking soda, and cinnamon and whisk together. Add to the butter-and-egg mixture in 2 additions, and mix only until combined.

Fold the hazelnuts and chocolate chips into the dough, and mix until evenly distributed. The dough will be thick and hard to stir. If it is too sticky, chill briefly.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces, about 454 grams/16 ounces each. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a log about 2 inches wide by 14 inches long by 1 1/2 inches high. Place the logs on the prepared sheet pan with several inches between them.

In a small bowl, mix 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush each log with egg wash, coating them evenly on the top and sides.

Bake for 27 minutes, rotating the cookie sheet from front to back halfway through baking, until very lightly browned and somewhat firm (depending on how your oven cooks, consider cooking for 23-25 minutes). Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF.

Cool the logs for 20 minutes, then place them on a cutting board. With a serrated knife, slice each log on a slight angle into 3/4-inch-thick pieces, keeping them in a row. Slide the row of biscotti together, lift and place back on the cookie sheet, then separate the slices, leave 1/2 inch of space between each one.

Bake again for 9 to 12 minutes, rotating once during baking, until the biscotti feel slightly firm.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sugar and Spice Pecans

Spiced Pecans Recipe

It feels a bit strange to be the one writing this post.  This is a classic Kim recipe.  She has been making these spiced pecans since I was a kid, but she has been off hanging out in New Orleans and Nashville with my little sister, so I decided to make the nuts myself so we could share the recipe with our lovely K&K readers.  I also thought that I would make these spiced nuts to give as hostess gifts and to spread holiday cheer to my friends.  These spiced pecans are definitely a crowd pleaser (though I suppose these days we need to worry more about allergies than in the past), and they make a nice, thoughtful gift during the holidays.  It's also always nice to have a bowl out to snack on when you have company visiting.  Whether you give these spiced pecans away or keep them for yourself, they will be a hit.

sugar and spice pecans recipe

Sugar and Spice Pecans

From Kim

2 pounds pecan halves (about 8 cups - this is the amount in one of the Costco bags)
2 egg whites plus 2 tablespoons cold water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

Whisk together egg whites and cold water in a large mixing bowl until the whites are frothy.  Add the pecans and stir so that the all the pecans are "wet."

Mix together the sugars and spices until well blended.  Pour the sugar mixture over the pecans and stir well to coat.

Spread the pecans on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet and bake for 1 hour.  Stir often to ensure that all of the nuts dry (especially if your baking sheet is on the smaller side).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Caesars / Bloody Mary Bar

Caesar fixings
It's Friday!! TGIF. Okay, the holidays are a great time for getting family and friends together.  And while cocktail parties and family dinners are fun, I think that brunches are one of the best parts of the season.  So that is why today's Cocktail Friday recipe is for a drink that is appropriate at anytime of day.

When you have a lot of people to please (as is often the case at this time of year), sometimes it is easier to let your guests DIY-it.  Rather than guessing what they like in their morning cocktail, set out a self-serve bar, with all the fixings for a delicious boozy brunch. (If you are worried that people might be a little heavy handed when pouring the vodka, feel free to premix it with the Clamato/tomato juice.)  Now, I realize that not everyone likes Caesars / Bloody Marys, so you could also put out some juices - orange, grapefruit, cranberry, pomegranate - and Champagne for mimosas!  And for the kids, you could do hot chocolate as well as juice. 

Next week, I have an amazing recipe for an elegant main dish your holiday brunch to share with you!

DIY Bloody Mary Bar

The Perfect Caesar / Bloody Mary Bar

Mott's Clamato Juice (for the Canadians) or Tomato Juice (for the Americans)
Worchestershire Sauce
Prepared Horseradish
Hot Sauce - Cholula, Frank's, Tabasco, pick your favorite
Limes and lime juice
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Pickled Green Beans (Canadians - go for Matt and Steve's Extreme Beans)
Others: Celery, Pickled peppers,
Cute Straws for sipping

Let your guests mix their own to their preferred spice level!

*To cook your bacon, so it lays flat, start with a cold frying pan.  Lay the strips of bacon and cook, flipping often, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy and browned.

Bacon and Pickled Green Beans for Caesars

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Almond Biscotti

almond biscotti recipe

Let's do some holiday baking, shall we?  I started out by making biscotti this year.  Biscotti keeps really well, so if you make it now and store it in an air tight container, chances are it will last til the holidays... if you can keep yourself from eating it!  I didn't realize how easy biscotti is to make.  It is also one of those cookies that you can play around with, adding different nuts, extracts, chocolate, dried fruit, etc. to make it your own. This version is scented with orange zest and almond extract and studded with toasted almonds.  It tastes like a much more delicious version of the almond biscotti they have at Starbucks.  Speaking of coffee, some homemade biscotti with a coffee mug would make an especially cute gift as well at this time of year!

What is on your baking list at this time of year?  Any favorites or family recipes that you turn to year after year?  This biscotti recipe will be added to my favorites list for sure!

Almond Biscotti

From America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book via Serious Eats

2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) almonds, toasted and chopped coarse
2 tablespoons grated fresh orange zest

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla and almond extracts until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the almonds and zest until just incorporated.

Press the dough into two 13- by 2-inch loaves on the prepared baking sheet, spaced about 3 inches apart. Bake the loaves until golden and just beginning to crack at the top, about 35 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking.

Let the loaves cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325°F.

Transfer the loaves to a cutting board and slice each on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Lay the slices about 1/2-inch apart on the baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes, flipping the slices over halfway through the baking. Transfer the biscotti spices to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving, about 1 hour.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Squash Ricotta Toast

Squash Ricotta Toast recipe

While I was in NYC a few weeks ago, I went out to brunch with a few girlfriends at ABC Kitchen.  We had the most amazing squash toast as an appetizer for our brunch and I could not get it off my mind.  Fast forward a few days later and I see the recipe for it posted in the New York Times! I had planned to attempt to make the squash toast on my own, but when I saw the recipe, I knew it was meant to be!  This stuff is awesome.  It is so complex and delicious, with crispy, crunchy bread, creamy ricotta, and sweet and savory squash.  It would  make a great holiday appetizer (vegetarian!).  You have to make this soon!

Squash Ricotta Toast with Fresh Mint

Squash Ricotta Toast

From Jean-Georges Vongerichten via the New York Times

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound kabocha or other yellow-fleshed squash, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick (I used buttercup squash)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more to taste
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 slices country bread, 1-inch thick
1/2 cup ricotta (goat cheese, feta or mascarpone work too)
Coarse salt
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Heat the oven to 450. Combine the squash, 1/4 cup olive oil, chile flakes and 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl and toss well. Transfer the mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook, stirring every few minutes, until tender and slightly colored, about 15 minutes or a little longer. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, heat another 1/4 cup olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onions and remaining teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are well softened and darkening, at least 15 minutes. Add the vinegar and syrup, stir and reduce until syrupy and broken down, again at least 15 minutes or so; the mixture should be jammy.

Combine squash and onions in a bowl and smash with a fork until combined. Taste for seasoning.

Add the remaining oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add bread and cook until just golden on both sides, less than 10 minutes total; drain on paper towels. Spread cheese on toasts, then top with the squash-onion mixture. Sprinkle with coarse salt and garnish with mint.

The squash mixture can be made ahead of time and reheated (or not) when you are ready to serve the toast (it works warm or cold).

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