Friday, December 31, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


***So, I know that this post is a little late, but I wanted to share some photos from this Christmas with you all.  I still cannot believe that 2010 is coming to a close.  It seems like this year just flew by so fast.  

I also want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very blessed and prosperous 2011!!  May this year be the best one yet!***

For the past 3 years, we've made it an annual tradition to make THESE CINNAMON ROLLS from scratch.  You may remember my previous posts about these incredible treats.  They are so amazingly delicious, that they should be illegal!  My mom-in-law talks about them all year long, so I look forward to baking them up for everyone.  The Pioneer Woman's recipe makes 6 - 7 aluminum tins full of ooey, gooey, incredibly sinful cinnamon rolls, so make a batch for all of your friends and family! 

We had a lot of fun making them this year on Christmas Eve!

I think that Brad had the most fun, though! Hehe

Pouring the Maple-Coffee glaze...oh my...


 It's important to move the tin around, to make sure the glaze soaks into every little crevice!


 Here they are folks, the most delicious cinnamon rolls on the planet!


The makings of Peppermint Bark...Melting the chocolate in a double boiler...

The Peppermint Bark was a big hit!

Chocolate covered pretzels have always been one of my favorites...they are my weakness!  This platter of goodies didn't last very long.

We had our own little Christmas miracle in Alabama this year...SNOW!  Look at what we woke up to on Christmas morning...It was beautiful.


The pups played and played with their new toys and treats that Santa brought.  ;-)

My adorable little niece, Dakota, had a blast on Christmas day!

My other little cute-as-a-button niece, Amber, does the funniest little thing...she does "The Look."  Here's a video...
video

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken


***Wow...So, this is the second recipe that I've tried from Rachael Ray's new cookbook, Look + Cook.  This dish not only photographed beautifully, but it was packed with delicious flavor.  I served this chicken with some homemade Parmesan mashed potatoes, which made the perfect accompaniment. They were a perfect pair, because the potatoes were even more delicious when  mixed with some of the scallions and balsamic sauce from the chicken.  

This is a very simple dinner that would be perfect for a busy weeknight.  The chicken sautes in a very short time, and there isn't a mountain of other ingredients needed.  The balsamic glaze can be mixed together very quickly (it's made up of only 3 ingredients!), and then it's just a matter of adding it to the chicken and waiting for it to thicken.  Instead of arugula, I simply substituted some fresh Spring Mix salad...Yum!

I have to say, so far I am really loving Rachael's Look + Cook cookbook.  I bought the ingredients for several other dishes during my last grocery trip, so stay tuned for more deliciousness!

Bon Appetit!***


Orange Balsamic Glazed Chicken
Source:  Rachael Ray's Look + Cook cookbook


Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts or any combination of light and dark meat
  • Salt and coarse black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
  • 1/3 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 scallions, whites and greens, finely chopped
  • 4 cups baby arugula
Directions:
In a large skillet, heat the EVOO over medium-high to high heat.

Season the chicken liberally with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. When the EVOO ripples, add the chicken and brown for 5 minutes, then turn and sprinkle with rosemary. Cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes more.

In a small bowl, stir together the marmalade, vinegar and stock and pour over the chicken. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and becomes a thin glaze. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter and serve topped with the glaze, scallions and arugula greens.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Marsala Mushroom Burgers - Rachael Ray


***I am loving Rachael Ray's new cookbook, Look + Cook!  Of course, the fact that she autographed my copy just adds to my excitement.  ;-)

I've officially broken in this book by trying my first recipe - Marsala Burgers. Your family will love this dish, because it's a deliciously different take on the traditional American cheeseburger. These burgers were pretty awesome...The ground beef (I used only beef instead of Rachael's combination of sirloin and veal) is mixed with garlic, fresh parsley, nutmeg, and salt/pepper.  This makes the meat very, very flavorful.  The portabella mushrooms are sauted until golden brown and then doused with a healthy splash of sweet marsala wine....YUM!

I found some freshly baked onion rolls at the grocery store, which made the perfect accompaniment to these burgers.  Mozzarella cheese makes a great substitution here, instead of the more expensive Parmigiano-Reggiano.  That's what I had on-hand, and I simply melted a few slices on the burgers before adding the mushrooms.

Give this one a try!


Bon Appetit!***
Marsala Burgers
Source:  Rachael Ray's Look + Cook cookbook
  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
  • 4 portabello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 crusty Kaiser or ciabatta rolls, split
  • A chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for shaving
Directions:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meats with the garlic, spices, salt and pepper and chopped parsley. Score the meat into four equal portions, then form four patties thicker at the edges and thinner at the center for even cooking.
Pre-heat a large nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon EVOO over medium-high heat. Add the patties to the hot skillet and cook for about 8 minutes total for medium-rare, 10 minutes for medium, or 12 minutes for well done, turning once.

Meanwhile, heat another large skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining EVOO. Let the EVOO get hot, then add the mushrooms and sauté until golden brown. Season with the salt, pepper and thyme. (Hold off seasoning unti lthe mushrooms are brown because the salt will draw out liquids that would otherwise slow down the browning process.)  Douse the pan with the Marsala and reduce for 30 seconds, then add the butter, melt, and turn off the heat.

If the rolls are not super-crusty, warm them in the oven on low heat.

To assemble, place a patty on the roll bottom and top each burger with mounds of Marsala mushrooms. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few curls of Parmigiano on top of the mushrooms and set the roll top in place.  Serve with fries alongside.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Easy & Festive Peppermint Bark Candy


***If you are looking for an easy candy recipe for your holiday gift-giving, this just might be the one!  You may be familiar with the beautiful Peppermint Bark that Williams-Sonoma sells during the holiday season.  The only problem is, it is pretty expensive ($26.50 per lb).  The good news is, you can make your own Peppermint Bark that is equally pretty and just as tasty.


Peppermint Bark is extremely easy!  In fact, there are only about 3 main ingredients - white chocolate, dark chocolate and crushed peppermint candies.  Voila!  If you can find it, peppermint oil or peppermint extract would be a delicious addition to this particular recipe.


Right now, my refrigerator is filled with little gift tins of holiday candies for my co-workers.  I made an assortment of different candies...I sure hope everyone likes them!  I made dark and white chocolate covered pretzels, peanut clusters, and ritz/peanut butter crackers that are dipped in chocolate...Yum!


The Peppermint Bark turned out beautifully...I'm excited to share these goodies with everyone tomorrow morning!


Bon Appetit!***


Peppermint Bark
Source: Adapted from JoyofBaking.com

Ingredients:
24 ounces semi sweet OR milk chocolate morsels
8 teaspoons vegetable oil
24 ounces white chocolate morsels
50 crushed peppermint candies

Directions:
Line the bottom and sides of a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, smoothing out any wrinkles (I used a silicone baking mat).

Melt the semi sweet chocolate and 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Immediately pour the melted chocolate into the prepared pan and tilt/shake the pan so the chocolate makes an even layer. Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the chocolate has set.

Then, melt the white chocolate and remaining 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Immediately pour the melted white chocolate over the dark chocolate and tilt/shake the pan so the chocolate is in an even layer. 

Sprinkle the crushed candies evenly over the white chocolate, lightly pressing them into the chocolate (crush the candy using a zip lock bag and hammer...do not use a food processor). Place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes - 1 hour, or until the chocolate has set.

Remove the Peppermint Bark from the pan by lifting the edges of the aluminum foil. Peel back the foil and break the bark into small irregular pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Meeting Rachael Ray!!


A few months ago, I found out that Rachael Ray was coming to Birmingham, AL for a book-signing.  I was SO excited to hear this news, because I missed it when she was here last time.  I've been a big fan of Rachael for quite some time.  Her recipes are always easy to follow, and are packed with flavor.

If you haven't heard, she has an awesome new cookbook out, called Rachael Ray's Look + Cook.  It's FILLED with photographs of each dish...600 photos, to be exact.  As a food photographer, I really love this.  There are even photos of the preparation process, which is very helpful!  Cookbooks with a lot of pictures are always my favorite.  And it's always neat when cookbooks include photos of the prep...and not only the finished dish.  This would make the perfect Christmas gift for the foodie in your life (or for yourself!).




My wonderful hubby, Brad, came along with me tonight to meet Rachael.  I was lucky enough to get an early line number...I was #12!  Rachael greeted me with a big smile, and when I told her that I was a food blogger and photographer she lit up!  She shook my hand, and then she even opened the cookbook and started showing me different pictures and telling me about them.  She said that for most of the photos, it was just her and a photographer friend.  She'd make the dish, and the photographer would simply snap some photos.  She said that they did not spend much time styling each shot, and they tried to use only natural lighting.  Now, I was thrilled when she went into so much detail with me!!  I found the info she shared very interesting...especially the parts about natural lighting and not spending hours styling each photo...how refreshing!  Rachael was EXTREMELY nice, and I am so happy that I got to meet her!

I am thrilled to have a copy of this cookbook (especially an autographed copy!).  There are so many recipes that I cannot wait to try.  Without a doubt, it will keep me busy for a while.  I feel inspired already just by flipping through the book.  I'll definitely be blogging about every recipe that I try! 
Here's a link to her official website - www.rachaelray.com  

Rachael took the time to open the cookbook and tell me all about the photos...
It was awesome!  :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Caramelized Sea Scallops - Thomas Keller


***If you haven't heard about a wonderful chef named, Thomas Keller, then you are missing out.  He is quite the chef and is classically trained in French cuisine.  Chef Keller has several famous and very successful restaurants, three of which include The French Laundry, Bouchon and Ad Hoc.


Now, if I am ever out in Yountville, CA, I definitely want to visit Ad Hoc.  It has such a unique concept, that I think is awesome.  The concept is best described on the official website:
"The idea for Ad Hoc was simple - 5 days a week we'd offer a 4 course family style menu that changed each day, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list in a casual setting reminiscent of home."

Sounds neat, doesn't it?  Last Christmas, Brad gave me a copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.  This book quickly became one of my favorites....a staple in my kitchen!  You can see my collection of other recipes from the Ad Hoc cookbook right HERE on my blog.


A friend of ours that is currently in culinary school gave us some fresh sea scallops.  They were large and beautiful...and I had just the recipe!  I've had my eye on Chef Keller's recipe for Caramelized Sea Scallops since I got the cookbook.  It's a simple recipe, with an outstanding result.  These scallops came out beautifully...Perfectly cooked, moist, and very flavorful!


His suggestion of using a stainless steel pan instead of a non-stick pan is essential!!  You'll get a much pretty caramelization that way.


Bon Appetit!!***

Caramelized Sea Scallops
Source:  Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook
www.adhocrestaurant.com
Ingredients:
2 cups kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 cups hot water
8 cups cold water
12 large sea scallops (about 1 3/4 pounds), preferably dry-packed, tough side muscle removed from each one
About 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Clarified Butter
1/2 lemon (optional)

Directions:
Line a small baking sheet with paper towels. Combine the 2 cups salt with the hot water in a large bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the cold water.

Add the scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes (no longer, or the scallops may become too salty). Drain the scallops, rinse under cold water, and arrange in a single layer on the paper towels.

Heat the clarified butter in a large stainless steel frying pan over medium-high heat until it ripples and begins to smoke. (Although you may be tempted to use a nonstick pan, a stainless steel pan will produce a more beautiful caramelized exterior.) Sprinkle the scallops lightly with salt and add them to the pan, without crowding. (If necessary, cook the scallops in two pans or in 2 batches; if they touch, they will steam rather than caramelize.) Cook, without moving the scallops, until the bottoms are a rich golden brown, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Turn the scallops and caramelize the second side.

Transfer the scallops to a serving platter and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice on top, if desired.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Decadent Vanilla Bean Cheesecake



***About two weeks ago, we celebrated my niece's birthday, Dakota.  She is so special to me...I love that little girl so much!  :-)  She asked for a simple, classic cheesecake this year.  I was up for the challenge!

With limited time to prepare and bake the cake, I began searching for the perfect recipe immediately.  After searching, and searching, and searching, I stumbled across this recipe for Vanilla Bean Cheesecake in my copy of Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking cookbook.  It looked decadent, with a creamy and wonderful texture.  I made a grocery list and got to work!

Thanks to this cake, I think that I have officially convinced my hubby to like cheesecake!  This cake has an incredible texture - Everything that you want in cheesecake when you decide to indulge yourself.  The vanilla beans in this recipe make all the difference.  Once you begin baking with fresh vanilla beans, it will probably be hard for you to stop.  You can't really tell from the pictures, but the vanilla beans look so pretty mixed in with the cake.  The vanilla beans infuse the entire cake with deliciousness!  The topping is easy to make and adds a beautiful finish to the top of the cake.  Needless to say, none of this cake went to waste!

Bon Appetit!***



Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
Note: To get the best texture, it’s important that your cream cheese and eggs are at room temperature, and to beat as little as possible to prevent whipping air into the mixture.

Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 8 crackers)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts

Filling:
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
2 vanilla beans
Juice of one lemon, strained (use only half a lemon if you prefer less tartness)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Topping:
2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a food processor, combine the crumbs, butter, sugar, nutmeg, and nuts. Pulse until mixed thoroughly. Press the mixture into the prepared pan and 1.5 inches up the sides (it helps to use a flat bottomed, straight-sided cup to press in the crumbs). Bake the crust until it darkens a bit, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool. 

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on low speed until creamy. Add sugar and beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating gently after each addition. Split vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape seeds into the cream cheese mixture. Add vanilla extract and lemon juice, and mix until smooth and creamy. 

Put the pan with the crust on the baking sheet. Pour the batter into the crust – you may have a bit too much filling, depending on the size of your pan, so don’t necessarily put it all in (you can bake the extra in a ramekin, or as I did, just eat it with a spoon). Cover the cake pan with a lid. Bake the cheesecake until the centre jiggles slightly when centre is shaken, 50-70 minutes. If it looks soupy, keep baking a few more minutes. 

For topping: in a small bowl, combine sour cream and sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the bowl, stirring well. 

When cheesecake is baked, remove from oven and pour sour cream topping over. Gently spread the topping over the cake. Return the pan to the oven for 5 more minutes. 

Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for 1-2 hours. Cover and refrigerate overnight.