Sunday, November 30, 2008

Homemade French-Style Macarons - "Cook's Illustrated"




***Finally...I'm making progress with the ever-hard-to-make French Macaron. I found this recipe in the recent "Holiday Baking" special issue of Cooks Illustrated. Their recipes have never failed me...they test, re-test, and test again every single recipe...until they are almost fool-proof. I noticed that this recipe for macarons was a little different from the ones I've been using. One big difference was the addition of Cream of Tartar to the egg whites. It acts as a stabilizer and helps to stiffen the egg whites. Also I recently purchased a silicon baking mat....what a great investment! I only have one right now, so I had to make the other batches of macarons on regular parchment paper. The macarons baked on the silicon mat looked much better, seemed to bake more evenly, and even rose higher. It looks like I'll be buying a few more of those mats soon. Hmm...maybe Santa can leave a few of those in my stocking? ;)

So, here's a list of some things I did differently this time around:
1. Added a pinch of Cream of Tartar to the egg whites
2. Aged the egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours (covered)
3. I processed my own almond flour by processing 11 ounces of slivered almonds to a fine flour in a food processor.
4. Used a silicon baking mat on one batch.

Cookies
3 3/4 cups (15 ounces) almond flour (see my note above)
3 1/3 cups (13 1/3 ounces) confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. table salt
5 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch cream of tartar
5 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit large pastry bag with 1/2 inch plain tip; set aside. Process half of almond flour, half of confectioner's sugar, and salt together in food processor until mixture is very finely ground, about 20 seconds. Transfer to bowl and repeat with remaining almond flour and confectioner's sugar; stir together and set aside.

2. In stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites at medium-low speed until opaque and frothy, about 30 seconds. Add cream of tartar, increase speed to medium-high, and continue to beat until white, thick, and voluminous, with consistency of shaving cream, about 90 seconds. Slowly sprinkle in granulated sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form and sugar is incorporated, about 60 seconds.

3. Gently fold one-quarter of almond flour mixture into whites, followed by vanilla. Gradually fold in remaining almond mixture until thick batter forms.

4. Fill prepared pastry bag with batter. Twisting top of bag to apply pressure, push batter down toward tip and pipe twenty 2-inch mounds about 1 inch apart. Use back of teaspoon or finger dipped in bowl of cold water to even out shape and smooth surface of piped mounds. Repeat with remaining batter and baking sheet. Let cookies sit at room temperature until tops are dry and smooth skin has formed, 1 to 2 hours.

5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Carefully slide parchment paper with cookies onto wire rack and cool completely. Bake second batch of cookies while first batch cools.
***Note: If your macarons stick to the parchment paper and won't easily come off, put about 2 tbsp. of water between the parchment paper and baking sheet. Let sit for about 15-30 seconds and try again. Don't wait too long...the water will make the macarons soggy!***
Chocolate Ganache Filling
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions:
Combine the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a boil. Remove from the heat and immediately pour over the chocolate and butter. Stir with a wire whisk until the chocolate and butter melt and are smooth. Let cool until spreadable. (I chilled the ganache in the fridge until it was the consistency that I wanted.)

To Assemble:
Spread about 1 tbsp. chocolate ganache over flat sides of half of cooled cookies and gently cover with flat sides of remaining cookies to form sandwich cookies.




Source: Cooks Illustrated - Holiday Baking special issue, Holiday

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008


The Spread...all made from scratch! :)
Roast Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter
Sauteed Spinach with Pecans & Feta
Mashed Potatoes
Cider Gravy
Broccoli & Cheese Casserole
Cornbread Dressing
Double Cranberry-Apple Sauce
Honey Yeast Rolls
Sweet Potato Souffle
Carrot Cake
French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache
Walnut Brownies
Cheese Ball with Pecans


Cornbread Dressing with Sausage:


Double Cranberry-Apple Sauce:



Walnut Brownies:



French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache:

Cranberry Sauce & Cheese Ball:



Carrot Cake:



Desserts!

Whew...my first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner was a huge success! Everything from the amazingly delicious turkey to the yummy carrot cake turned out great. I posted my entire menu in the post below (along with links to the recipes!), but I wanted to share some photos from the big day here.
This was only my second time roasting a turkey, so I was a little nervous about how it would turn out. I found THIS recipe at Bon Appetit, and let me just say...I've never had better turkey! The bacon-herb butter that's put under the turkey skin is absolutely delicious. It has the perfect taste...with just the right amount of flavor. And the cider gravy...YUM! I basted the turkey every 30 - 45 minutes while it was roasting.

Another favorite was the homemade cranberry sauce. I've always eaten the cranberry sauce right out of the can....you know, the jellied kind. I don't think I'll ever go back now...LOL.

There's no way that I would have been able to coordinate all of these dishes and get them all on the table at the same time without being VERY organized. Microsoft Word was my best friend during this process. I started by putting all of my recipes in one document, along with a photo of each dish. I then created a shopping list and organized it by sections in the grocery store (baking aisle, fresh produce, dairy, etc.)....also including the quantity of each ingredient that I needed. The last thing that I did was create an itinerary for Turkey Day. I knew exactly what time to put the turkey in the oven, peel the potatoes, and start the yeast rolls...haha. It may sound like a lot of preparation, but hey...everything was done at the same time! I was also able to make several things ahead of time. I started on Monday with the Cranberry Sauce, made the gravy base and bacon-herb butter on Tuesday, and then I made the desserts & cheeseball on Wednesday. I also prepped the turkey and broccoli & cheese casserole on Wednesday, so I only had to pop them in the oven on Thursday! All of this preparation certainly made Thanksgiving Day even more enjoyable and easy.

On top of all this, I got the opportunity to bake a friend's Thanksgiving desserts...she placed an order for a Carrot Cake, Double Chocolate Cake, Walnut Brownies, and another batch of regular brownies. I was so excited to have my first big "order." My wonderful husband, Brad, designed a cute logo and made some decals for the bakery boxes. Take a look...I was so happy with the way everything turned out...I hope that Mrs. Watson was just as thrilled...


At the end of the day, I loved preparing Thanksgiving dinner! It was a BIG job, but I had so much fun with the preparations.

I hope that your Thanksgiving celebrations were just as wonderful!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Turkey Day is Almost Here!!!

Above Photo Courtesy of Bon Appetit magazine

Here are my serving dishes...all washed and ready to go!

***I'm so excited about Thanksgiving....it's my very first year hosting the big dinner. There's a 21 lb. turkey hanging out in my fridge, waiting for his time in the spotlight. I thought I would share my menu here. I'll be sure to include a post after the big day...complete with photos and all recipes. I've included some of the recipes below...just click on each menu item, and it should take you to the recipe.

Appetizer:
Cheese Ball with assorted crackers (I'm using my Dad's recipe)

Main Course:
Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter (pictured above)
Cider Gravy
Cornbread Dressing
Mashed Potatoes
Double Cranberry-Apple Sauce
Broccoli & Cheese Casserole
Sweet Potato Casserole
Sauteed Spinach with Pecans & Feta
Honey Yeast Rolls

Dessert:
Carrot Cake
French Macarons with Chocolate Ganache Filling
Walnut Brownies

Beverages:
Hot Apple Cider
Tea
Pinot Noir Wine
Coffee w/Pumpkin Spice Creamer

I found this gravy boat at my favorite store...Anthropologie...I thought it was adorable!!


New tablecloth...perfect for Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Braised Fingerling Potato Coins

***This is another yummy side dish that I found flipping through the pages of Gourmet magazine (October 2008 issue). It was extremely easy to prepare, and the taste was delicious and satisfying. I served this dish with chicken, but I think it would also be the perfect complement to a beautiful steak.***

From Gourmet:
"Alice Waters, founder and owner of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, champions the environmental benefits of organic produce and highlights vegetables’ freshness with simple preparations. In this adaptation of her potato coins, we coax the starch out of waxy, thin-skinned fingerlings to create a silky pan sauce. The faint vegetal sweetness of this dish pairs well with just about anything. "

Ingredients:
2 pounds fingerling potatoes, peeled if desired
2 cups water
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Equipment: an adjustable-blade slicer

Preparation:
Cut a round of parchment paper to fit just inside a 12-inch heavy skillet and butter one side.
Slice potatoes 1/8 inch thick with slicer. Arrange in skillet. Add water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Dot top with butter. Cover potatoes with parchment, buttered side down, and briskly simmer until tender and most of liquid has evaporated, 30 to 35 minutes.

Serve sprinkled with parsley.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bart & Misty Tie the Knot + The Bright Star!


Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

My cousin, Bart, recently tied the knot with his beautiful bride Misty. The wedding was wonderful...from the gorgeous flowers...to the great food...and of course, the wonderful time that I got to spend with my extended family. Brad and I had a blast hanging out with everyone.
The rehearsal dinner was held at a Birmingham area landmark...The Bright Star. It's been in business since 1907!!! In fact, Gourmet magazine recently named it one of the "21 Legendary American Restaurants You Must Visit!" They ran a feature about the restaurant in their October 2008 issue. I had heard A LOT about the restaurant....and about the amazing food. I went with high expectations, and I wasn't disappointed. I had the Fresh Snapper Almondine...and it was FABULOUS!
You can take a look at The Bright Star's website and menus HERE. If you're ever in the Birmingham/Bessemer area, you shouldn't miss a chance to eat here.
Also, here's a link to Gourmet's site
Of course, the food paled in comparison to the great time we got to spend with the family. ;)

Here are a few snap shots from the big day...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"The Sweet 100"


***Recently, you may have seen something called "The Omnivore's Hundred" floating around on numerous food blogs. When I spotted the similar list below, called "The Sweet 100," I couldn't resist playing along...I love sweets! :)

The fabulous CakeSpy created this fun list. You can visit her site HERE. The best part about this list is that CakeSpy has included links to photos and recipes. If you don't know what something on the list is, just click on the name to find out!

Anything that I've tried or made is in bold...and colored purple. It looks like my magic number is 62...what's yours???***

From Cakespy's site:
"Recently, a website called Very Good Taste started something of an internet fire with a list called "The Omnivore's Hundred", which listed 100 foods which "every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life." We liked the idea, and inspired by the vegan variation on Hannah Kaminsky's site, we thought--why not make our own Sweet 100!? Like the original, our list includes "fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food"--but in our universe, it's all sweet! (In case any of them are foreign to you, links to pictures and recipes are included; also, for any vegans, feel free to go through the list assuming it's a vegan counterpart). How many have you tried?

If you'd like, feel free to follow the same guidelines:
1) Copy this list into your site, including the instructions!
2) Bold all of the sweets you've eaten--or make them a different type color.
3) Cross out any of them that you'd never ever eat.
4) Consider anything that is not bold or crossed out your "To Do" List.
5) Optional: Post a comment here linking to your results--or just post a comment letting us know how many you've tried, or what you're going to try next!"

Red Velvet Cake
Princess Torte
Whoopie Pie
Apple Pie either topped or baked with sharp cheddar
Beignet
Baklava
Black and white cookie
Seven Layer Bar (also known as the Magic Bar or Hello Dolly bars)
Fried Fruit pie (sometimes called hand pies)
Kringle
Just-fried (still hot) doughnut
Scone with clotted cream
Betty, Grunt, Slump, Buckle or Pandowdy
Halvah
Macarons
Banana pudding with nilla wafers
Bubble tea (with tapioca "pearls")
Dixie Cup
Rice Krispie treats
Alfajores
Blondies
Croquembouche
Girl Scout cookies
Moon cake
Candy Apple
Baked Alaska
Brooklyn Egg Cream
Nanaimo bar
Baba au rhum
King Cake
Sachertorte
Pavlova
Tres Leches Cake
Trifle
Shoofly Pie
Key Lime Pie (made with real key lime)
Panna Cotta
New York Cheesecake
Napoleon / mille-fueille
Russian Tea Cake / Mexican Wedding Cake
Anzac biscuits
Pizzelle
Kolache
Buckeyes
Malasadas
Moon Pie
Dutch baby
Boston Cream Pie
Homemade chocolate chip cookies
Pralines
Gooey butter cake
Rusks
Daifuku
Green tea cake or cookies
Cupcakes from a cupcake shop
Crème brûlée
Some sort of deep fried fair food (twinkie, candy bar, cupcake)
Yellow cake with chocolate frosting

Jelly Roll
Pop Tarts
Charlotte Russe
An "upside down" dessert (Pineapple upside down cake or Tarte Tatin)
Hummingbird Cake
Jell-O from a mold
Black forest cake
Mock Apple Pie (Ritz Cracker Pie)
Kulfi
Linzer torte
Churro
Stollen
Angel Food Cake
Mincemeat pie
Concha
Opera Cake
Sfogliatelle / Lobster tail
Pain au chocolat
A piece of Gingerbread House
Cassata
Cannoli
Rainbow cookies
Religieuse
Petits fours
Chocolate Souffle
Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)
Rugelach
Hamenstashen
Homemade marshmallows
Rigo Janci
Pie or cake made with candy bar flavors (Snickers pie, Reeses pie, etc)
Divinity
Coke or Cola cake
Gateau Basque
S'mores
Figgy Pudding
Bananas foster or other flaming dessert
Joe Froggers
Sables
Millionaire's Shortbread
Animal crackers
Basbousa
***Photo courtesy of StyleHive.com***

Friday, November 14, 2008

Giada's Butternut Squash & Vanilla Risotto


***I was recently watching an episode of Everyday Italian, and Giada whipped up this dish. I LOVE butternut squash and this recipe just sounded divine....especially with the addition of vanilla, which is another one of my favorites. I made this as a side dish for tonight's dinner. I loved it! The vanilla adds such a nice, warm flavor, and the onion really balances it all out.
Vanilla is one of those things that you don't necessarily think to add to savory dishes, but it definitely works here. I didn't have any vanilla beans on-hand, so I just used a splash of pure vanilla extract instead. This dish is all about flavor...it would make a nice addition to any holiday meal!***

Ingredients:
4 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken broth)
1 large vanilla bean (I used a splash of pure vanilla extract)
3 cups peeled cubed (1-inch wide) butternut squash, about 12 ounces
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 cups finely chopped onion (from 1 onion)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives


Directions:
In a medium saucepan, warm the broth over medium-high heat. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them, and the bean, to the broth. When the broth comes to a simmer reduce the heat to low. Add the butternut squash to the simmering broth and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove the butternut squash to a side dish. Turn the heat on the broth down to very low and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.

Discard the vanilla bean. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the butternut squash, Parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and salt. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve immediately.
Source: Giada De Laurentiis @ FoodNetwork.com

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes




***These twice-baked sweet potatoes were pretty darn scrumpdidaliumptious!...Is that even a word??? :)
I recently needed to come up with a great side for a dinner party...something pretty quick and easy. I turned to a recent issue of Kraft Food & Family magazine (Fall 2008), and what did I find?...the perfect thing. Even better....I just happened to have the right ingredients on-hand. Whew...no last minute run to the grocery store was needed.

Twice baked potatoes always make a pretty presentation. These were no exception. I thought it was a nice twist on the usual Russet potato variety. And plus, sweet potatoes are one of those things that just scream - "Hey! It's the holidays!!!"

Also, if you haven't already signed up for a FREE subscription to this magazine, then you should! It's stuffed with tons of great, easy recipes that you'll love. You can sign up HERE....and yes, it's totally FREE!***

Ingredients:
2 large sweet potatoes (1-1/2 lb.)
2 oz. (1/4 of 8-oz. pkg.) Neufchatel Cheese, cubed (I used regular cream cheese)
2 Tbsp. fat-free milk
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup Pecan Pieces

Directions:
Heat oven to 425ºF. Cut potatoes lengthwise in half; place, cut-sides down, in foil-lined 15x10-inch baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 min. or until tender.

Scoop out centers of potatoes into bowl, leaving 1/4-inch-thick shells. Add Neufchatel cheese, milk, sugar and cinnamon to potatoes; mash until blended. Spoon potato mixture into shells; top with nuts.

Bake 8 min. or until potatoes are heated through and nuts are toasted.
Kraft Kitchens Tips:
Shortcut

Pierce whole sweet potatoes with fork; wrap in damp paper towels. Microwave on HIGH 7 to 8 min. or until tender. Cut potatoes in half; scoop out centers and continue as directed.
Make Ahead
Stuff potato shells as directed; cover and refrigerate up to 1 hour. When ready to serve, uncover and bake as directed, increasing baking time as needed until filling is heated through.

Source: Kraft Foods

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Danish Braid - Revisited!


***I just couldn't resist...the Darings Bakers Challenge from June 2008 was the most fabulous thing I've ever put in my mouth...seriously...lol. You can find my original post HERE. The first time I made the recipe, I whipped up a homemade mixed berry filling...YUM! However, the original recipe called for an apple cinnamon filling. Because that's one of my all-time favorite combinations, I promised myself that I would use the original recipe next time I made it. Well, I finally got the chance recently.

My neighbors just had a gorgegous baby girl. She's absolutely adorable! I wanted to do something special for them, so I made them a Danish Braid. I made their Danish Braid with the mixed berry filling and I made the second braid with the apple-cinnamon filling (for us). I brushed the tops of each braid with a glaze made from freshly brewed coffee and confectioners sugar. I finished it off by wrapping a cute pink and polka dot ribbon around the braid...pure cuteness! Oh.my.goodness....I'm dreaming about making another one already...Ha. I can just smell the cardamom, vanilla, and orange scents wafting through the house right now...***


DANISH BRAID
Makes enough for 2 large braids

Ingredients
1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.
Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.


Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

DANISH DOUGH
Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough

Ingredients
For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
½ cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled¼ cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour

DOUGH
Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
BUTTER BLOCK
1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.


APPLE FILLING
Makes enough for two braids

Ingredients
4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Taco Soup



***Alrighty, here's the Taco Soup recipe that I mentioned in my Halloween post below. We had so much fun making this at our little Halloween party. It was SUPER easy to make, and you know that I love any recipe that I can use my Dutch Oven on. ;)

I found this recipe on Monica's food blog, Buon Appetito! ...be sure to hop over and check her site out also!

I'll definitely be making this again in the upcoming chilly months. It will be perfect on a cold winter night...plus, it couldn't be easier to throw together. The only change that I made to the original recipe was the addition of water...you'll see my notes below.

Enjoy!***

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground beef (I use round)
1 onion, chopped
1 can chili beans
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can corn, drained
1 can rotel
1 can diced tomatoes
1 pkg. taco seasoning
1 pkg. ranch dressing mix
2 to 4 cups water (add water until your desired consistency is reached)
Directions:
Heat dutch oven to medium heat. Add about 1 tbsp. olive oil to pot, and saute the onion until softened (about 3 - 5 minutes). Add the ground beef and brown.
Drain the beef on paper towels to remove the excess oil. Add beef/onion mixture back to dutch oven.

Add all other ingredients and cook on Med to Med-Hi for about 30 minutes, covered.

Serve with Fritos, shredded cheese, and sour cream if desired.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Tribute to My Sweet Great Aunt Nell

My Great Aunt Nell was one of those women that you admire...that you want to be like. She was such an incredibly strong, caring, and loving person. When you were around her, her smile and loving nature were contagious! She's battled an illness for a long time now. I got the devastating news this past Thursday that she had passed away...after a long fight. I have so many wonderful memories of my Aunt Nell that I will forever cherish. I'll never forget spending time at her home in Minneola, FL when I was younger...those were such happy times. Aunt Nell always had a great story to tell...

I spoke with Aunt Nell a while back, and she told me a story about how she and my Uncle Bill had gotten out all of their love letters from when they were dating. They had read all of those letters to each other earlier that day. It was just such a sweet story that brought tears to my eyes as she was telling me. Aunt Nell and Uncle Bill's love for each other was so obvious and strong...it's so inspiring to see a love as strong as theirs after so many wonderful years together.

I was SO happy that Aunt Nell and Uncle Bill were able to travel all the way to Dothan for our wedding in May 2006. The picture above was taken at the end of the night...of Uncle Bill, Aunt Nell, Me, and Brad. I loved Aunt Nell dearly, and it's so hard to let her go. One thought that comforts me is that she is up in heaven with my grandmother (her sister), having a good ole' time. They're both probably looking down on us right now, with a great big smile on their faces...

We love and miss you Aunt Nell!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I must say that Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays...I love decorating with all the fun, spooky stuff! We had planned on having a fun Halloween party this year...we had a great time. I broke out the decorations and went all out.

The chocolate cake that you see is the Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Cake that I recently posted. When I made it the first time, it was for a friend so I didn't get to try it. I've been waiting for the perfect opportunity to try out all that chocolatey goodness, so I baked it again for the party. I had seen so many fun cakes and cupcakes in magazines and on the internet with the spider web design on the top, and I wanted to try my hand at it. The picture above shows my results. A cute little spider made with a jaw breaker and black icing was the finishing touch. A layer of vanila buttercream (colored orange with food coloring) made the perfect addition to the inside of the cake.

We made some yummy taco chilli for dinner...stay tuned for that post!

I'll let the photos do the rest of the talking...