Bacon & Blue Cheese Straws

Bacon and Blue Cheese Straws

Since Matt and I bailed on all Thanksgiving-related cooking duties this year, we’ll be doing double-duty for Christmas, entertaining my family Christmas Eve, his family on Christmas day.  It’s going to be a lot of fun, but I’ll need to have a few tricks up my sleeve to pull it off.  And a stiff drink at the ready.  

Strategy is crucial when cooking for big groups, especially out of a not-so-big kitchen.  My wheels are already turning, thinking about what can be made in advance, what dishes everyone will like, and what appetizers can be prepped in 2 minutes or less.  What to make, what to make?

Cheese straws!  They’re a win-win-win appetizer solution.  Who wouldn’t love warm, flaky puff pastry crusted with cheese?  And if I up the ante by adding crispy bacon, they’ll be even better!  I can prep them in a couple of minutes, freeze them, then pop them in the oven to bake, just as my guests are arriving.  Now if I could just figure out a way to fill everybody up on cheese straws alone…

[Read more…]

Cherry Almond Thumbprint Cookies + A Cookie Swap!

Cherry Almond Butter  Thumbprint CookiesA cookie swap is such a beautiful thing.  You make a big batch of cookies and divvy them up, trading your single variety for a little of this, a little of that.  This year, I participated in a different sort of cookie exchange.  Instead of partnering up with friends or co-workers, I signed up to swap cookies with total strangers…other food bloggers!  I sent off boxes of almond thumbprint cookies filled with homemade sour cherry preserves to Deb, Lynn, and Katie and, in return, received packages from 3 other bloggers.  

I’ll walk you through my recipe for almond butter and jam filled thumbprints, then show you the loot I received in exchange.  

[Read more…]

Stout Braised Beef Roast with Cinnamon & Orange

Stout Braised Beef Roast with Cinnamon, Clove, and OrangeA few days ago, I waited on a woman who warned me of her severe cinnamon allergy.  Cinnamon?!  I’ve been in the service industry for a loooooong time and that was a new one for me.  I was immediately struck by how tragic it would be, especially this time of year.  I’m sneaking cinnamon into everything I make, from chocolate cookies to my latest braised beef, and loving every moment of it.

This is a beef roast inspired by a beef stew I had in Belgium.  It’s a chuck roast that has been braised in a dark, chocolatey stout with orange peel, cinnamon sticks, and cloves.  It’s dusky, spicy, and tastes exactly as December should.  Matt and I ate it on a quiet night in, but I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it for any winter/Christmas dinner party, provided no one on the guest list has a cinnamon allergy.

[Read more…]

Apricot & Almond Torrone Morbido

Almond Torrone with ApricotsLast week, I spotted a really simple recipe for torrone and even though I thought I wasn’t a fan of the Italian candy, I just had to give it a try.

Torrone, if you’re unfamiliar, is a shiny white nougat dotted with nuts and dried fruits that makes an appearance in every Italian shop and household at Christmas time.  I’m sure my brothers and sister remember it as that weird white candy our Italian relatives would faithfully send every year.  We’d dare each other to try it after we finished our more palatable peanut butter balls and cut-out cookies…in other words, it may be an acquired taste for some.

Well, it’s a taste that I’ve now acquired!  This likely has to do with the fact that this is a softer, chewier torrone; the torrone of my childhood was torrone “duro”, a very hard candy that would split into crunchy shards when cut.  Torrone “morbido” is a soft, chewy torrone.  It’s made with whipped egg whites and honey, cooked together until they’re thick and sticky, then flavored with whatever nuts and dried fruit you like.  

Interested?  You should give it a try!  I’ll walk you through the process.

[Read more…]

Spiced Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Spiced-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Remember a couple of days ago, when I said I was going to lay off the baking and hefty eating until I fully recovered from Thanksgiving week eating?  Yeah, about that…

…it didn’t happen.  See, I found myself with an unexpected morning off this week.  And it just happened to be in the middle of a massive snow storm.  And I had to shovel.  That’s hard work, you know.  You’ve really got to keep your strength up if you’re going to be shoveling lots of heavy, wet snow.  So the butter came out to soften and my holiday baking was underway.

I started with these spiced chocolate shortbread fingers.  They are the perfect cookie to bake when you’re snowed in, relying on just a few staple ingredients you can almost always count on having on hand: butter, flour, cocoa, sugar ‘n spice.  The flavor of the shortbread actually intensifies after sitting for a few days, making them an excellent treat for gifting.  Plus, waiting for them to age to perfection buys me some more salad time.  It all makes perfect sense, right?  Right.

[Read more…]