Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lemon Risotto with Peas, Proms and a Bake Sale

We've had a few extremely busy weeks and I feel like a broken record repeating it, but it really has been a wild ride here. Between senior proms, my surgery, soccer tryouts and various other functions, it seems almost impossible to find any time in the kitchen, nonetheless take pictures or write something. I might as well apologize already in advance, because until the middle of June I don't see it getting any better. 

To get back to the Proms though, both of them were a rousing success. She looked beautiful to her father and I (and we might be a tiny bit biased on this) and made us both choke up when we realized that our little girl is not so little anymore. The second prom which she attended with her best friend really hit us hard, they all looked so grown up and the little twinge I've been getting in my stomach about her leaving us soon hasn't let up and reality is starting to set in more with each day. Either way, I promised you all a picture, so here it is. Our daughter is the one in the pink dress which fit her personality perfectly and the girl in the yellow is her best friend.

The second thing on my agenda today is to let you all know that I'm participating in an online bake-sale that Becky from "Baking and Cooking, A Tale of Two Loves" is hosting on May 2nd. The bake-sale is going to be in the format of a silent auction and you can bid on some great goodies. Becky is hoping to raise money for a very worthy cause: Relay for Life, that will benefit the American Cancer Society and which she is also participating in. My contribution for this auction will be my Nutella Chocolate Cookies. The highest bidder will be able to pick their choice of bittersweet, semisweet, milk chocolate or white chocolate chips to customize the cookies to their taste. I hope you'll hop on over and check out all of the goodies up for auction and support a great cause that is very near and dear to my heart as well. My own daughter is actually participating in one of the Relay's for Life in our home state and will be walking in honor of her Opa, my dad, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

Trying to bring this hodge podge of a blog post back to food isn't going to be very easy or eloquently, but here it goes, just pretend I'm doing a fine job. This Lemon Risotto with Peas has been in my recipe files for several years and it truly is perfect for, well Spring. I found this recipe in a Light and Tasty Magazine and besides the fact that it is actually somewhat healthy, it also tastes great. If you've ever cooked a risotto, you know that they are not hard, but they do take a little bit time and quite some stirring. This risotto has a wonderful bright taste from additions of white wine, lemon juice and lemon zest, but also a creaminess that only a well cooked risotto produces, along with the sweetness of peas and the nuttiness of freshly grated Parmesan. I usually serve this risotto alongside grilled salmon, but chicken or even lamb are just as tasty. If you enjoy a good risotto with a nice lemony flavor this is definitely a great recipe to try.

Lemon Risotto with Peas
~makes 8 servings~

5 to 5 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup white wine
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

In a medium saucepan, heat broth and keep warm.

In a large nonstick skilled, saute shallots in butter for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Add the rice, thyme and pepper; cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine and lemon juice. Cook and stir until all of the liquid is absorbed.

Stir in heated broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Allow liquid to absorb between additions. Cook just until risotto is creamy and rice is almost tender. Total cooking time is about 20 minutes.

Add the peas, Parmesan cheese and lemon peel; cook and stir until heated through. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Light and Tasty Magazine

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ina Garten's Lemon Chicken Breasts

A few weeks ago I came down with a strep-throat like infection. I was miserable for several days and was pretty much surviving on  pudding and chicken broth until the antibiotics finally kicked in and brought relief. To keep me entertained, while trying to feel better and occupying the couch, I decided that watching some food-network was in order. Needless to say, it was also quite torturous watching the chefs prepare delicious looking dish after dish and not being able to eat. On the plus side though, I took tons of notes and ended up with several recipes on my "must-make list". One of the shows I watched was with Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa, which had me and my husband (who kept me company) literally drooling watching her prepare a recipe for lemon chicken breasts. We decided right then and there that this recipe would make an appearance on our dinner table as soon as I was able to eat solid food again.

This recipe is a must for any garlic and lemon lover. There are no subtle flavors in this dish, it is a smack you in the face kind of recipe and will truly satisfy a craving for a "done right" chicken dish. Nine garlic cloves are heated in a bit of olive oil on the stove before lemon juice, lemon zest, white wine, oregano and thyme round out this flavor experience. The scented oil is then poured into a baking dish, de-boned, but skin on chicken breasts are placed on top of the lemon-garlic mixture and are brushed with more olive oil before receiving a final sprinkle of salt and pepper. For good measure and to ensure even more flavor a cut up lemon is tucked in between all of the meat into to the pan before baking. After a baking time of around 40 minutes, you are left with incredibly moist pieces of chicken and a sauce that is to die for.

I served this dish with rice, freshly grilled asparagus, and some crusty bread which helps to sop up all of the delectable sauce that is literally good enough to drink. This recipe is easily made on a weekday, but certainly would make for an impressive entree if entertaining as well. If you've been in a chicken "rut" and are always on the hunt to add a little excitement to dinner time, I highly recommend this dish. This is one of the few recipes that I've made recently that was good to go as written without me changing anything and that doesn't happen all too often. So far, none of the Barefoot Contessa's recipes have failed me yet and this one will be added to the list!

Ina Garten's Lemon Chicken Breasts
~serves 4~

1/4 cup good olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
1/3 cup dry white wine (I used a Chardonnay)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme eaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on (6 to 8 ounces each)
1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just 1 minute but don't allow the garlic to brown. Remove pan from stove, and off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon salt and pour into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

Pat the chicken breast dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper. Cut the lemon in 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned. If the chicken isn't browned enough, put it under the broiler for about 2 minutes. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve hot with the pan juices.

Adapted from: Ina Garten

Monday, April 11, 2011

Israeli Couscous with Balsamic Glazed Vegetables

I'd like to thank you all of you for your kind comments, thoughts, prayers and emails regarding my surgery. It meant a lot and I don't say this lightly. My surgery went off without a hitch Thursday and I was back home resting that evening. I had a few days of more pain than I expected, but I'm feeling a little better with each day.  I still have to take it easy for a few more days, but didn't want to leave you all "hanging". I'm not ready to hop back into the kitchen just yet, but I made a few recipes ahead of time before I went in for my procedure. So again, thanks to all of you and your support :o)

I love shopping at Trader Joe's and no, this is not a paid advertisement, it just happens to be one of my favorite grocery stores. It reminds me a lot of the stores I grew up with as a kid. Small, neighborhood stores with a fairly limited assortment of products, but yet everything available that you would need. Trader Joe's is like that. I could spend hours walking through that little store, checking out all of the cool and unique products they have. I always check out their flowers and more often than not, I end up with a bouquet in my basket to brighten up my day. Next up, I always have to stop at the cheese coolers, the glorious, amazingly stocked cheese coolers where I usually stand and have to check out all of the mouthwatering and at times, unique flavors. I also enjoy their wine selection and always seem to walk away with a new find. In fact, they do carry a lot of things that you just can't find at an ordinary grocery store and it is also the place where I buy my couscous among many other things. Israeli couscous that is, because my local supermarket likes to be difficult and won't stock it.

Israeli couscous is just one of those interesting foods, that put a little smile on my face every time  I cook with it. I don't know exactly what it is about it, but I guess I enjoy that the texture is quite unique and unlike regular couscous. Many times I turn it into a salad or simply cook it in some chicken broth for a bit of added flavor. This time though, I wanted to incorporate a good amount of vegetables into the dish and not just any vegetables, but balsamic glazed ones. Red and green bell peppers along with onion and baby portobello mushrooms were my choice for this recipe. To make this a true vegetarian dish, I decided to cook the couscous in vegetable broth to infuse flavor throughout. While the couscous cooks, the cut up vegetables are simply sauteed in a bit of olive oil.  They are seasoned with salt and pepper and a final touch of balsamic vinegar made these vegetables a standout. I also made sure to cook them "al dente" since I wanted to keep the integrity of the vegetables intact. Finally they are folded into the cooked couscous before serving.

The end result was such an incredibly tasty dish, that goes well with so many things. Anything from chicken to fish would be wonderful alongside, but it can certainly stand on its own as well. I served this dish hot right out of the pan, but happened to try it once it had cooled down, and it was equally delicious at room temperature. This turned out so well, that my family has already requested this dish again and with it being chock-full of good for you ingredients, I certainly won't have a problem cooking this in the future.

Israeli Couscous with Balsamic Glazed Vegetables 
~makes 8 servings~ 

For the couscous:
1 1/3 cup Israeli couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 3/4 cups vegetable broth

For the balsamic vegetables:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, 1/2-inch diced
1 green bell pepper, 1/2-inch diced
1 pound baby portobello mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

For the couscous: In a 2 quart saucepan, saute 1 1/3 cups Israeli couscous with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until couscous is lightly browned (about 5 minutes). Slowly add 1 3/4 cup hot vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. Simmer for 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

For the balsamic vegetables: In a large pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers and portobellos and saute until vegetables begin to soften. Season with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. Continue to cook until most of the moisture from the vegetables has evaporated and the balsamic has glazed them, making sure not to over-cook the vegetables. Fold the sauteed vegetables into the cooked couscous and serve immediately or at room temperature.

A Susi's Kochen und Backen Original Recipe

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Tomorrow I'm having a surgical procedure. Nothing huge, but I will receive general anesthesia and will most likely be quite uncomfortable for a few days. Stuff like this tends to give me a little bit of anxiety in the days leading up to it. To keep my mind of off things, I headed into the kitchen over the weekend to work on some recipes and posts so you guys would be well entertained during my "down time". Working in the kitchen, concentrating on a recipe, always has a calming effect on me and helps me to clear my head and this time was no different.

First thing I made was this Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Cake that I found once again on "Tasty Kitchen". It struck a chord with me right away for its flavor combination, but also for the simplicity of the recipe. Another bonus: getting rid of some of my very last frozen berries, which is perfect since fresh berry season is just around the corner. The cake is made quickly with just a few everyday items. Once baked, it almost appears like the cake has layers because of the blueberries sinking to the bottom and the taste is very reminiscent of an old fashioned cake you would find in Grandma's kitchen. The cake crumb is just lightly sweetened with hints of lemon throughout, without the citrus flavor being too overpowering. The buttermilk ensures a light and fluffy texture and the juiciness of the berries works perfectly. To top it all off, the cake has a crunchy sweet crust from sprinkled on sugar which is added right before baking. The sugar crust also helps balance the sweetness level.

This cake is simply wonderful for breakfast or even dessert, especially when enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea. Since I made this on the weekend it was an amazing early morning treat that everyone in the family gave the thumbs up to. This recipe worked great with the frozen berries and there was minimal "bleeding"; however, I'm really looking forward to making it again when fresh berries are in season. Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Cake; it's a good thing!

Blueberry Lemon Buttermilk Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons for sprinkling on top
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk, well shaken
5 ounces fresh (or frozen, un-thawed) blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar on medium-high until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla extract, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add the egg and beat well.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches, mixing until just combined. Carefully fold in berries.

Pour batter into cake pan, spreading and smoothing the top. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 35* minutes. Remove from oven  and cool in the pan for 10 minutes then turn out onto a rack and cool for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Invert onto a plate and cut into 8 slices.

*When using fresh berries start checking the cake after 20 minutes 

Adapted from: Tasty Kitchen

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring Onion Jam Bruschetta

 The time has come for another Progressive Party. Progressive Parties, in case you are wondering, are a wonderful way for bloggers to get involved with companies or sponsors to showcase their creative side in coming up with unique recipes. Six bloggers taking a stab at one ingredient in six different courses, sounds like fun, right? The parties are the brainchild of Casey and are hosted over at Kitchen Play where you can find all the info and can check out today's and previous parties.

Many of you might remember my previous involvement last November when I created the "Bloody Olivia". Imagine my excitement when I was chosen again. This month the "mystery" ingredient happens to be spring onions or sweet onions and is sponsored by the National Onion Association. When I first received the assignment and it said spring onions, I was actually a little puzzled and wasn't quite sure what they were. Thankfully with some research on the association's great website, I was ready to get in the kitchen and start creating.  Spring onions are also called sweet onions and are typically available from March through August. They tend to have a much lighter, thinner papery skin and are sweeter than storage or fall onions. Their moisture content is also higher and with that, they are actually more susceptible to bruising. Some common trade-names that you all might be familiar with are Walla Walla Sweets, Maui Sweets and the ever popular Vidalia Onions just to name a few.

For this progressive party I was assigned the appetizer course and decided to go with Walla Walla Sweets for my dish. I was still able to find them at my grocery store in the fall, which is when I was assigned with this party. Unfortunately this particular kind won't be available again until the June time frame, but there are many other options that will work just as well, like Vidalias. Just head on over to the National Onion Associations' website to see what's available. Coming up with a recipe wasn't quite as easy as one might think. I use onions on a daily basis in my cooking at home and we are typically a family of onion lovers. However, I wanted to make sure to create a dish that showcased the onions' sweet taste, but was also light and "spring like" tasting.  My first instinct was to go with bruschetta which I love serving as an appetizer as you can really transform them to fit any season or occasion.
I played around with a few different applications for the onions, but finally decided that making an onion jam would highlight this great ingredient best. Typically, onion jam is made with dark balsamic vinegar, but in order to keep my jam light tasting, I decided to use white balsamic instead. That, along with light brown sugar and white wine, made for a great start. Some seasonings, fresh thyme and just a bit of apricot jam added the finishing touch. The onion jam turned out beautiful, with just the right amount of sweet to tart ratio. 
After taste testing several bruschetta combinations (I know, being a food blogger is rough), I decided to create a bruschetta that would satisfy all of my senses. I had in my mind that the bruschetta should be sweet, but also creamy, crunchy and salty. I found the latter three components by simply putting the onion jam together with crunchy, toasted baguette slices, creamy and slightly tart goat cheese and last but not least, salty slices of prosciutto. Topped with the spring onion jam, this appetizer turned out even better than I had dreamed.

This is really an amazing appetizer and I'm incredibly proud of this creation. I've served this already several times to friends and the reaction is always overwhelmingly positive. On a side note, while the jam is spectacular in the showcased combination, it is also fantastic in many other applications. Think of it as a tasty condiment which can perk up a vast array of dishes.

If at this point my recipe has made your mouth water, go ahead, make the spring onion jam bruschetta, blog about them and submit your link to Kitchen Play. By doing so, you will have a chance to win $100.You have until April 30th, 2011 to enter, so don't wait, I know all of you could use a little extra money with vacation time approaching!

Spring Onion Jam Bruschetta
A Susi's Kochen und Backen Original

18 1/2 -inch thick diagonally cut baguette slices
Olive Oil
18 tablespoons soft goat cheese
9 thin prosciutto slices, cut in half crosswise
 Spring Onion Jam (recipe to follow)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange bread slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush top of each with olive oil and roast bread until top is golden 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool toasts on sheet.

Spread 1 tablespoon goat cheese on each cooled toast. Arrange prosciutto halves on top of the goat cheese and top each toast with spring onion jam. Arrange on platter and serve.

Spring Onion Jam 
A Susi's Kochen und Backen Original

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large spring onions (I used Walla Walla Onions), sliced thinly
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup white wine (Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio works well)
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons apricot jam
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
Kosher Salt and black pepper to taste

Melt butter and oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add sliced onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the sugar, wine, balsamic vinegar, apricot jam, thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the liquid thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 35 minutes.
Transfer the onion jam to a bowl and let cool. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Thai Shrimp-Scallop Curry

We've had quite the eventful week. The kids are back in school after enjoying a two week long spring break. This is a big deal for two reasons, one, summer break is literally just around the corner two months from now, and secondly, this is my daughter's last quarter in High School. Ever. She is graduating in 9 short weeks and I'm not sure if I'm ready. I keep looking at pictures from when she was just a teeny one year old and keep thinking where did all the time go? We are also getting ready for prom, which is coming up this weekend and the following weekend (yes, she is going to two). We happened to find the perfect dress over break and this week it is just mayhem trying to pick everything up that still needs picking up, along with various other school functions. Dinners during weeks like this have to be quick and well planned out.

While looking for inspiration in my magazines last weekend trying to come up with my weekly dinner menu, my eye caught a recipe for a Thai Curry. I found this recipe in my newest bon appétit magazine in their "weeknight cooking section". So far my experience with Thai food has been pretty much limited to eating it at a restaurant, but the recipe sounded easy enough that I was willing to give it a try. Halibut and Shrimp was the magazine's choice of fish in this dish, but after contemplating these ingredients and checking my freezer, I decided to switch it up slightly and go with big, juicy scallops and shrimp instead; and I'm so glad I did. I also ended up adding some extra chili garlic sauce and more curry paste for additional heat and flavor, increased the fish sauce and used light coconut milk since this is what I had on hand.

My kids were all extremely leery when finding out what I was cooking, none of them trusted that this "strange" hodge podge of ingredients would come together. I guess it worked though, as proven by my empty pan. Every single one of them asked for seconds and the dish was incredibly tasty. The flavors are wonderful and the shrimp and scallops worked beautifully together. I used pretty large scallops and shrimp, so cooking it at 5 to 6 minutes was spot on, the scallops were perfect with just the slightest bit of opaque inside and tender as can be. However, if you plan on making this and you use smaller shrimp or bay scallops, you will have to reduce the final cooking time to avoid turning them into rubber.

This recipe was a great new discovery that has already been requested again and will be a great addition to my ever growing recipe collection. I really hope you consider giving this one a try!

Thai Shrimp-Scallop Curry
~makes 6 servings~

3 large limes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
4 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
1 13 1/2 to 14-ounce can unsweetened light coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 pound large scallops
1 pound deveined uncooked large shrimp
Kosher salt and pepper
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Finely grate enough peel from 2 limes to measure 1 1/2 teaspoons. Squeeze enough juice form 2 limes to measure 2 tablespoons. Cut third lime into wedges.

Heat vegetable oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chopped shallots, diced red bell pepper, and minced ginger; saute until shallots are tender and pepper soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry paste, chili garlic sauce, coconut milk, fish sauce, 1 1/2 teaspoons lime peel, and 2 tablespoons lime juice. Simmer gently, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle scallops and shrimp with salt and pepper. Add scallops and shrimp to curry sauce. Return to very gentle simmer and cook just until scallops and shrimp are opaque in center, 5 to 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently stir in cilantro and basil; serve with lime wedges.

Adapted from: bon appétit

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Asian Inspired Cucumber Salad

We are a family of salad lovers. I know I've said it before, but I'm truly blessed with children who are not picky and always willing to give something new a try. They also adore their "greens" and a meal at our house would not be complete without a salad or vegetable along with dinner. Sure they all have their favorites, but even some of the less liked vegetables get eaten. They are all in agreement though when it comes to cucumbers; every single one of my kids loves them. They enjoy them when tucked into their lunchboxes with a little bit of light ranch dressing, but also love cucumbers with abundance when included in any kind of salad. 

My husband brought home two gorgeous looking English cucumbers a couple of days ago and after snacking on one, I still had one leftover to make a salad. I was looking for an Asian inspired recipe since I was preparing a Thai meal that evening. Checking the inventory of my fridge I also found carrots, radishes and red onion and figured all of them would fit perfectly into a salad. I found a basic recipe on Savory Sweet Life and decided to give it a go. This salad comes together quickly, it's the cutting of the carrots and radishes into matchsticks which will take you the longest. Once all the vegetables are cut, they are combined with the dressing. The vinaigrette is a simple mixture of rice vinegar, sugar (which I reduced from the original), chili garlic sauce and salt. The dressing is added to the vegetables and then everything is refrigerated for a couple of hours. I added two teaspoons of the chili garlic sauce and found it a sufficient heat level, but feel free to add more or less to taste.

This salad turned out great. The kids and us adults really enjoyed this great mix of sweet and sour along with the crunch of the vegetables. This is definitely a keeper and lends itself to so many different meals. I especially loved this salad since it is very light and with no oil in the vinaigrette it is also not too shabby on your waistline and boy, don't we all know that the bathing suit season is approaching!

Asian Inspired Cucumber Salad

1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced (a mandolin works great)
1 large carrot, peeled and matchstick-julienned
4 radishes, matchstick-julienned
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a microwavable bowl add rice vinegar, sugar, chili garlic sauce, and salt. Heat the bowl in the microwave for 45 seconds. Stir the vinaigrette until the sugar is completely dissolved. In a medium size bowl add the sliced cucumbers, carrots, radishes, and red onion. Pour vinaigrette over the cucumber mixture and toss. Cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

Slightly adapted from: Savory Sweet Life 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mini White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecakes

Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary. I can honestly say it's been a blast. 19 years of laughter and love and hopefully many more to come. 
We decided to keep our special day fairly low-key and enjoy it with our children. The weather was spectacular with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the high 70's. Perfect!
We started our day with a lovely brunch of salmon and different cheeses along with artisan bread, fruit and of course mimosas (for the adults). We spent the afternoon just hanging out on the back porch, reading and sharing a good bottle of wine. Our dinner was just as lovely and truly a combined effort. My husband grilled some nice looking T-bone steaks and fresh asparagus, while I made roasted herbed fingerling potatoes and my Favorite "Fancy" Salad. I knew I wanted something special for dessert and knowing how much my husband loves anything with fruit that's not too sweet, I thought a cheesecake would fit the bill. 

I found this great recipe on for a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. I did make a few changes to the written recipe and it turned out great. Instead of making one big cheesecake I thought it would be fun to make mini cheesecakes. There is something that appeals to me every time when presented with a "personal" dessert. The crust is simply composed of graham crackers and slivered almonds, ground up in a food-processor until well combined and mixed with butter. That's it, no extra sugar required, which I really liked considering the filling is quite rich. The cheesecake part is pretty much your average recipe, but is in enhanced with melted white chocolate which takes away a little more of the tartness of the cream cheese and leaves you with an incredible smooth mouth-feel with every bite. It also helps adjust the sweetness level since the filling only calls for a little more than 1/2 cup of sugar. To make my cheesecakes even more special, I decided to add dollops of seedless raspberry jam to each of my Mini Springfrom Pans and gently swirl it into the filling with a toothpick. The mini version of this dessert bakes up in just 25 minutes. You will however have to cool the cheesecakes in the refrigerator over night which really helps "set" the finished dessert.

We ate these fantastic cheesecakes with fresh raspberries on the side and they were indeed a fitting ending to a wonderful Anniversary! I think these cheesecakes would be wonderful for any occasion. I could definitely see them being served for baby showers, birthdays, a special dinner, or simply as the perfect dessert for the perfect husband!

Mini White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecakes
~makes 6 Mini Cheesecakes~

For the crust:
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups (7 ounces) graham crackers
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
7 ounces fine-quality white chocolate
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam, slightly warm and whisked to remove any lumps
Fresh raspberries for decoration (optional)

For the crust: Finely grind almonds and graham crackers in a food processor and add butter, blending until combined. Press over bottom and 2/3 up the sides of 6 mini springform pans*. Set aside.

For the filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth, and remove from heat.

Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy, then beat in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well at low speed and scraping down the bowl after each addition.

Beat in flour and vanilla until just combined, then add melted chocolate in a slow stream, beating until filling is well combined.

Pour filling over crust. Add a couple of teaspoons of raspberry jam to each pan and gently swirl with a toothpick to get a marble effect being careful not to overmix.

Set mini-pans on a baking sheet and place in the middle of oven. Bake for about 25 minutes or until cake is set, but center is still wobbly when pans are shaken gently shaken.

Remove from oven, run a thin knife around edge of cake to loosen, then cool completely in pans on a rack. (Cake will continue to set as it cools). Serve chilled with additional raspberries if desired.

*Alternately you can just make this in a 10-inch springform pan. 

Adapted from: Foodnetwork

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Snickerdoodle Muffins

I bookmark and print out a lot of recipes almost daily. There are so many fabulous bloggers and blogs out there that have appealing dishes, that my list is ever growing. Unfortunately, it also means there are not enough hours in the day to make all of these delicious sounding and looking dishes. If there was, I'd be in serious trouble and probably would be spending more time at the gym than in the kitchen anyway. Every once in a while though, I look through my piles of papers or bookmarks to try something new. This week was the perfect opportunity to make some muffins. The kids were on spring break and had been begging me to fix some muffins for breakfast. Looking for something that could be made quickly, I remembered a recipe for Snickerdoodle Muffins which I had printed out a while back from Tasty Kitchen.

I made Snickerdoodle Cupcakes almost a year ago and the entire family loved them, but they are hardly what I call breakfast appropriate. These muffins seemed to fit the bill a little more. Now, don't get me wrong, they are still not healthy, but they are a great occasional treat. The dough comes together quickly, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla are mixed with flour, baking soda, baking powder and cream of tartar. The addition of sour cream and buttermilk are what makes these muffins light as a feather though. The dough is fairly stiff once it is all mixed together and this is were the real fun starts. You drop "blobs" of it (a 3 Tbsp. ice cream scoop works great) into a cinnamon sugar mixture and carefully roll the dough around in it to make sure it is coated on all sides before carefully placing it into a lined muffin tin. Then, another sprinkle of cinnamon sugar is applied on top before being baked.

These muffins bake up beautiful. The top starts to crackle and gets a nice little cinnamon sugar crust. The muffins itself aren't overly sweet, but have a great flavor because of their "bath" in the sugar mixture. The inside of the muffins are incredibly delicate and light, they literally melt in your mouth. Huge hit with the entire family and they are perfect with a cup of coffee, tea or cocoa, which is how my crew decided to enjoy them. This recipe got two thumbs up all the way around, or in the words of my 13 year old "Mom, these muffins are super duper delicious!"

Snickerdoodle Muffins
 ~makes 20 muffins~


1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup buttermilk

For the topping:
2/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add half of the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the sour cream and buttermilk and mix to combine. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until you have smooth batter, making sure not to overmix.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping. Use an ice cream scooper (I used a large 3 tablespoon one) and plop a scoop of batter into the bowl with the sugar and cinnamon. Gently roll the batter in the sugar and cinnamon. Place the ball into the muffin liner.

When you have completed all of the muffins, sprinkle the leftover cinnamon sugar onto the tops of all of the muffins.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for about 15-18 minutes or until they are golden on top and just baked through.

Adapted from: Tasty Kitchen

Thursday, March 24, 2011

German Soft Pretzel Bites

I grew up eating pretzels from a young age. Us Germans start early on with cultivating our love for certain foods, in fact, even young babies around 1 year of age tend to have their first pretzel experience by being handed a piece of pretzel to chew on. There are so many ways to enjoy a good pretzel in Germany. In Bavaria for example, a good pretzel or "Brezen" is enjoyed with beer, a pair of Weisswurst and German sweet mustard on the weekends for brunch. While the soft pretzel shape is very popular in Germany, the same dough is also formed into rolls or bread-sticks, before being immersed into a lye mixture which will give the pretzels their typical color and taste. For the "home-baker" though, a baking soda/water solution will produce a similar result.

You would think with eating pretzels all my life I would be an expert on making them as well, but forming a decent one is more difficult than it looks. I've tried it many years ago and while they didn't look half-bad, it is much easier to purchase them, especially when living in Germany. You can find great bakeries on almost every corner. Their prices are great and most of these bakeries still produce their daily offerings on site. Unfortunately, the closest thing I've ever found to an authentic tasting German pretzel here in the United States happens to be at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia where some of the Amish vendors sell them and they taste almost like home.

While browsing blogs, I happened to come across these Pretzel bites on Two Peas and Their Pod and was instantly intrigued by the color of these little gems along with the ease of the recipe. Would I be able to produce a similar tasting experience I grew up with? The dough is a simple yeast dough which comes together with ease, especially when using a Kitchen Aid or a bread-maker. The dough then sits to rise for about an hour before being formed into long ropes. The ropes are cut into 1 1/2 inch size pieces before being immersed into a water/baking soda mixture for 30 seconds. Finally, the nuggets get a brushing with egg-wash and a sprinkle of Kosher salt before being baked.

These little guys are perfect! The do taste very similar to the pretzels I remember and I was instantly thrown back to my childhood. As soon as I pulled one tray out of the oven my husband and kids kept nibbling away on them and I had to remind them that I still needed a few to take pictures with. I served my pretzel bites with assorted mustards and they were simply fantastic. These nuggets would be fabulous served at any time and a glass of cold beer on the side makes them even better. Now I wish I could just get my hands on a pair of those Weisswursts.

German Soft Pretzel Bites

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
3 ounces unsalted butter, melted
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
3 quarts water
3/4 cup baking soda
1 whole egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse Kosher Salt

Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and 4 1/2 cups of flour and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 yo 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.

Oil a large bowl with vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Bring the water to boil in a pot over high heat and add the baking soda (be careful while you do this as your pot will start to bubble over very easily).

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (I ended up with 9 pieces) about 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring 22 inches and shape. Cut the dough into 1 1/2- inch pieces to make the pretzel bites (a bench scraper works wonderful for this). Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches (about 15 pieces at time). Boil for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon. Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooing spray. Make sure they are not touching. Brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minute or until golden brown. (The color of my nuggets is pretty much spot on with a German pretzel).

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. Serve with mustard. 

Adapted from: Two Peas and Their Pod


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