Sunday, January 29, 2012

No-Bake, Fast & Easy Dessert - Cherry Almond Clusters

I've arrived home from my weekend in Poughkeepsie and I'm happy to report that every last crumb of the Cherry-Almond Bars I made were devoured and enjoyed (over-done edges and all). The only down-side to this was that I was so busy enjoying the new cookies that I didn't even get to taste the Chocolate, Fruit, and Nut Clusters my mom made. This is a favorite recipe I discovered many years ago in Health Magazine. Most of my family is nuts for chocolate and the darker the better, so we always make the clusters with just semi-sweet chocolate and skip the milk chocolate altogether. After I arrived home, I unpacked, ate dinner, and when I was looking for a little something sweet for dessert, I was really missing those clusters. I decided to make some of my own, but change it up a bit.  I swapped out the cranberries and pecans, trading them for cherries and almonds. Quick, delicious, and not even too terribly unhealthy (in my opinion, anyway). So here is my adapted version:

Cherry-Almond Clusters
Print Recipe

1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (my favorite is Trader Joe's brand)
1/3 cup dried tart cherries
1/3 cup slivered or sliced almonds

1. Line a baking sheet or other flat surface with parchment or wax paper. (Trust me, you will regret it if you skip this step).

2. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat the chocolate chips in 30 seconds increments, stirring after each, until melted and smooth. Stir in the cherries and almonds until completely coated in chocolate. 

3. Drop mixture by the spoonful onto the lined baking sheet. You can make these any size you want, but usually somewhere in between a teaspoon and a tablespoon works well. Let sit until chocolate is set and no longer shiny. 

I store mine in a tin at room temperature, but if your house is too warm, you may want to refrigerate them. They will stay fresh for a week or so, but most likely they will not last that long!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cleaning House - Cherry-almond bars

Another visit to Poughkeepsie means another new dessert! In anticipation of this weekend I decided to make Cherry-almond bars from The Bon Appetit Cookbook. I specifically chose this recipe (with the help of Eat Your Books) because 1. I didn't want to go to the store and 2. I wanted to use up some more pantry items from my overflowing stash. With this recipe, I used up some delicious cherry jam (courtesy of Grandpa Murphy) and almonds which were on the brink of expiration - I saved them just in time. 

A couple of notes on this recipe. First of all, the initial baking time of 45 minutes is WAY too long. I talked myself into thinking this was a reasonable cooking time due to the thickness of the cookie dough, but my first instinct was right. I pulled these out a few minutes early and they were already quite dark. When I tasted them, the flavor was very good, but the edges were definitely overdone. Lucky for me, I'm bringing these to relatives who like things on the more "done" side.  Second, I
 think next time I might try making these into a crumble cookie. The recipe as written is more of a bar cookie with a jam topping. Even though I already have a great basic crumble bar recipe, the combination of cherry with almond is really, really yummy. The raw almond dough was even good on it's own, just saying.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cupcakes, cupcakes everywhere! (and a recipe for homemade frosting)

Since I love to bake so much (and am slightly crazy) I volunteered myself for cupcake duty this weekend.  There was a going away party and cake was needed, but what fun is just one flavor? So it was decided that cupcakes were in order - vanilla, chocolate, banana, and carrot cake to be precise (with chocolate, vanilla, and cream cheese frostings to mix-and-match).  For this baking project, I mostly relied on one of my favorite baking books, The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, by Alyssa Torey and Jennifer Appel.

Check out their recipe for Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes. They go great with my Homemade Vanilla or Chocolate Frosting.  Believe it or not, frosting is super simple to make, so I don't even bother with  precise amounts for the ingredients.  Just taste as you go, that's the easiest way to make sure it's the way you like it.  Not chocolately enough? Add more cocoa. Too thick? Add some more milk.  Too thin? Add some more confectioner's sugar.  Not creamy enough? Try another bit of butter. 

A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of baking cake or making frosting, but it really is very easy. Give it a try next time it's your turn to bring the cake (or cupcakes) and definitely check out The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook for more delicious recipes. I can attest that many, many  of their recipes are fabulously delicious. Besides the vanilla, chocolate, banana, & carrot (cup)cakes I made this weekend, the recipes for hummingbird cake, apple walnut cake, red velvet cake, and caramel frosting are also incredibly delicious. (Not to mention the muffins, cookies, brownies, cheesecakes, pies, etc.).

Homemade Vanilla (or Chocolate) Frosting
Print Recipe

1 stick butter, softened
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp vanilla
confectioner’s sugar
cocoa powder  (for chocolate only)

With an electric mixer, cream butter, salt, vanilla.  Mix in remaining ingredients until you reach a desired consistency and flavor, making sure to add the milk a little at a time. (It's much easier to add more milk than to try to fix a frosting turned to soup!) 

Friday, January 6, 2012

An Old Favorite with a New Twist - Split Second Cookies

This weekend, Nick and I are traveling down to my parents' house for what I like to call our "third Christmas." Granted, we are not even in the correct year anymore, but since we always try to see all the branches of our family tree each holiday season, sometimes Christmas spills over into the New Year.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I never show up empty handed, so this brings me to today's recipe: Split Seconds.  This is an old recipe of my grandmother's that has been a family-favorite for years. My mom told me I could make them with whatever flavor jam I wanted, as long as some of them were tried-and-true raspberry.  This was actually the first time I made these cookies with anything other than raspberry, but I figured I couldn't go too far wrong. So, I decided to make half the cookies with homemade triple-berry jam from Nick's grandfather.  The triple-berry was really delicious, so I think next time I might try cherry, blueberry, or peach (all courtesy of Grandpa). This is a very basic recipe, so if you like butter cookies and jam give this a try with your own favorite flavor.

Split Second Cookies
Print Recipe

3/4 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt (if you use salted butter, leave this out)

Cream together butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla and egg. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt until dough forms.

Divide dough into 4 parts. Roll each part into a 3/4-1 inch thick log. Place the 4 logs onto un-greased cookie sheets and flatten each to about 1/4 inch thickness. Make an indentation down the center of each strip, starting about 1/4 inch from each end. Fill each indentation with jam of your choice.

Bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cookies should be golden brown. Let cool slightly before cutting on the diagonal into individual cookies.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I can hardly believe it been almost two months since my last post!  With all the holiday festivities, I really haven't been making many new recipes.  For me, the holidays are more about family and tradition, so this time of year I usually make a bee-line for the tried & true.  But, now that the holidays are behind us and it's a fresh new year, I think I will be back to my usual self trying all kinds of new things. So here are a couple of my food & cooking related resolutions for 2012:

1. Try at least 50 new recipes - This will be even easier to do in combination with resolution #2...

2. Index my personal recipes & the cookbooks I am able to on EYB -  EYB stands for Eat Your Books, a fabulous website that is a search engine for cookbooks (and magazines, and blogs, and personal recipes). As a member, you add your cookbooks to your "Bookshelf" and then you can perform searches by title, ingredient, occasion, recipe type, etc. and get results from your personal collection. Many, many cookbooks and magazines (especially the popular ones) are indexed already.  If you have less popular books or magazines, you can request to index them yourself and have the information added to EYB's database. The more member-indexing I do, the more comprehensive my searches will be.  I hope one day to have 100% of my recipes on EYB. Any other cookbook lovers out there, check it out!

3. Take stock & use up pantry items that moved upstate with us - Nick and I packed up about 4 large bags full of non-perishable pantry foods and most of them are still sitting in those same bags.  I want to use them up before they linger around too much longer.  I'm thinking this resolution can go quite nicely with the other two: I can find new recipes (#1) on EYB (#2) to use up said pantry items (#3).

I think it would be fair to say that in 2012, I want to cook more, cook healthy (most of the time), enjoy food, family & friends, try new things, and discover some new favorite recipes - overall, not too much different from past years!