23 December 2013

Are you ready for Christmas?  I hope so, because it's coming up fast!  I have one last recipe for you before the big day.  I get totally obsessed with chocolate peppermint things this time of year.  It's just the perfect combo.  I've made a couple different recipes for peppermint brownies over the years, but this year I perfected them.  I started with this recipe from Julie's Eats and Treats and changed it up slightly.  Here's the recipe for the "perfect" peppermint brownie.

Peppermint Crunch Brownies

1 box brownie mix
Eggs, oil, and water called for on brownie mix box
1 tsp peppermint extract
½ cup butter, melted
⅓ cup buttermilk
½ cup cocoa
3½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips

Prepare brownie mix according to package directions, stirring in the peppermint extract along with the eggs, oil, and water.  Bake according to package directions in a 9x13” pan.

When brownies are almost done, combine butter, buttermilk, and cocoa in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar. 

When brownies are done, remove them from the oven and spread the frosting over them while warm.  Let cool.  Sprinkle on the peppermint bits and press down very lightly to set them in place.  Cut into bars and serve.

Makes 20 brownies.

I don't usually frost brownies, but it really takes these brownies up a notch and makes them more special.  Perfect for Christmas.  You can't really taste the buttermilk in the frosting, but it just gives it a tangy depth of flavor.  

This is what I used for the topping.  Yummy little peppermint bits.  You want to put them on at just the right time.  If you put them on when the brownies and the frosting are still hot, they could melt into it.  The first time I made them, I did that and then put the lid on my dish to take it somewhere.  They were all melty by the time we got there.  But you don't want the frosting to completely cool and set up either.  Then the peppermint bits won't stick and will fall off when you eat them.  

This will most likely be my last post in 2013. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  

19 December 2013

It's time for this month's Improv Challenge.

This month's assigned ingredients were white chocolate and lime.   Mmm.  Definitely dessert ingredients, which is perfect for this time of year.  I had a few ideas rolling around in my head, but then something reminded me of a dessert cheeseball.  Have you ever had a dessert cheeseball?  My husband and I used to host a St. Nicholas Day open house every year when we lived in Michigan, and every year I went to Hallmark where they sell these little mixes for dessert cheeseballs.  You mix the contents of the package with cream cheese and butter and then roll it in some sort of coating.  Then a few years ago I tried making one of my own, a Peanut Butter Cheeseball.  That was awesome!  So I decided it was time to make another dessert cheeseball.  I googled "white chocolate lime cheeseball" and didn't come up with anything with those specific flavors, so I took a recipe for a White Chocolate and Hazelnut Cheeseball and adapted it. I added lime zest and juice to the cheeseball and used almonds instead of hazelnuts on the outside.  Here's how I did it.

White Chocolate and Lime Cheeseball

⅓ cup white chocolate chips
2 tbsp corn syrup
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1½ tsp lime zest, finely grated
1 tsp lime juice
½ cup powdered sugar
½ cup sliced almonds, very finely chopped

Put the white chocolate chips and corn syrup in a small glass bowl.  Microwave for 30 seconds or until the white chocolate has completely melted.  Stir well.  In a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese and the white chocolate mixture until completely smooth.  Stir in the lime zest and lime juice.  Dump in the powdered sugar and stir to combine.  Form into a ball shape in the bowl and refrigerate mixture for a couple of hours to set up.

When the cheese ball has firmed up, remove it from the bowl, shape into a ball, and then roll in chopped almonds.  Place on a serving platter or large plate and serve it with graham crackers, pretzels, or anything else you like.

Makes lots of servings.

This was a great success.  I love the little flecks of bright green inside there.  The lime flavor is very subtle; it's definitely not overpowering.  Just sweet with a hint of lime.

I served this with graham crackers, but pretzels would be really good too.  Especially if you like that whole sweet and salty thing.  Another option would be apple slices if you wanted to make it a little healthier.  Any way you serve it, this would be a great addition to your next holiday gathering.

Be sure to check out all of the great white chocolate and lime recipes below and come back next month to see what fun thing I make with cheese and crackers!

14 December 2013

It's time again for The Salad Bar, hosted by Wendy of The Weekend Gourmet.  

This month's theme was pomegranate.  I considered sitting out this month because I'm not a huge fan of pomegranate.  I don't care for pomegranate juice, but I realized that I had never actually bought a pomegranate and used the arils.  I ran across this recipe from Lauren's Latest, and decided to give it a try.  She throws the word "holiday" into the title of this salad, and I think that's because the beautiful red arils on the green lettuce are reminiscent of a festively decorated Christmas tree.  Perfect for this time of year.

Pomegranate Hazelnut Salad

4 cups mixed greens
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
½ cup hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
1 pomegranate, arils removed
Your favorite salad dressing

Place greens in a bowl or on a plate.  Sprinkle with bacon, hazelnuts, and about half of the pomegranate arils.  Drizzle with your favorite salad dressing and toss.

Makes about 2 servings.

I liked this salad a lot more than I was expecting.  Since I don't like pomegranate juice, I didn't think I would like the arils either, but I was wrong!  They're so neat!  What else in the world is both crunchy and juicy at the same time?  My five-year-old, Lena, loved them too and requested them on her salad.

Lauren's recipe also came with a dressing.  Maple Bacon Dressing.  Sounded amazing, so I made it to go with the salad.  It was NOT amazing.  I hate to say it, but it was actually really gross!   I don't know if it's because my bacon was from a butcher and not a grocery store variety, but it just tasted like straight-up fat.  No flavor.  Blech!  So I scrapped using the dressing and used a little bit of my favorite honey mustard on it.  

I love this salad because it's such a great combination of flavors and textures.  Crunchy, juicy, nutty, sweet, tangy, and salty.  The best of all worlds!  And it's so pretty.

You have my word that next month's salad will not include bacon, as our theme is light and healthy salads!

08 December 2013

It's time for this month's Secret Recipe Club! The Secret Recipe Club is a group of food bloggers who secretly make one of someone else's dishes and post them all on the same day at the same time.  It's really fun, choosing a recipe to make, making the recipe, then reading about everyone else's recipes.  It's a great way to "meet" other bloggers and check out some great blogs that you never knew about before.

Secret Recipe Club

This month I was assigned the blog Food Ramblings, written by Elizabeth.  I love her blog!  She has so many great recipes that I want to try.  A couple of savory dinners that caught my eye were her Beef and Tomato Risotto and her French Onion Casserole.  But with the holidays coming up, I was kind more in the mood for dessert.  The first dessert of hers I pinned was her Chocolate Buttermilk Pie.  I make a regular buttermilk pie and was very interested in how a chocolate version would taste.  But then I saw her recipe for Gingerbread Oreo Blondies, and I am all about everything "gingerbread" right now, so that's what I went with.  

Gingerbread Oreos are very hard to find.  I googled it and found out that last year Walmart was the only store to carry them.  My Walmart didn't have them this year.  Shoot!  But I already had my mind set on making these blondies, so I did something I have never done before: I bought food on Amazon.com.  They were selling them as an "add-on" item, so I ordered my daughters some Christmas presents and added on these cookies.  It wasn't until after I received them and went to print out Elizabeth's recipe, that I saw her solution to the availability problem.  She couldn't find them either, but found a similar cookie at Target.  Oops.  I had read that the first time I saw that post, but had (inconveniently) forgotten that part.  Oh well!  

Gingerbread Oreo Blondies

1 cup butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup white chocolate chips
20 Gingerbread Oreos or Target Brand

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 9x13 pan with baking spray and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and brown sugar.  Stir in eggs and vanilla.  Dump in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients until combined.  Stir in the white chocolate chips.

Pour half of the blondie dough into the pan and spread evenly. Press the Oreos on top of the blondie dough, evenly spacing them out.  Using two spoons, place a blob of remaining dough on top of each cookie.  Spray a silicone scraper with Pam and use it to flatten out the dough blobs a little bit.  Don’t worry about the spaces between the cookies; they will fill in with dough as it bakes.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a fork comes out clean. Allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve.

Makes 20 blondies.

Here are a few pics of the process.

 The dough is very thick, so you have to be very careful in spreading it out in the pan.  

 The cookie layer.  I forgot to take a pic of the next step, where I blobbed the dough on top of the cookies and flattened it out.  Sorry!  It's really neat how the cookies just kind of meld into the dough as it bakes.  After it cools on the counter for a while, you can kind of see the lumps where the cookies are, which is really nice because it makes it very easy to cut even portions (something I am always bad at).

They aren't the prettiest things in the world, but after one bite, no one will care what they look like.

Oh my goodness, these were so good it was totally worth the Amazon splurge.  I just love blondies.  I certainly don't have anything against brownies, but there is just something about blondies.  They are so buttery and decadent. And the gingerbread flavor in these is just perfect.  The only thing I changed about Elizabeth's recipe was to increase the ginger in the dough.  She called for 1/8th of a teaspoon, but I love ginger, and since "ginger" is in the title of the recipe, I decided to bump it up a bit.  The cookies are really good on their own too.  I had to try one by itself, of course!  I'm surprised that Oreo doesn't distribute these more, because they are delicious.  If you happen across a package, get one!  (Or two.)  I am definitely going to look for the Target brand too.

These made the perfect dessert for when we had friends over.  They were a hit with the adults and kids alike.  These blondies definitely satisfied my craving for gingerbread-something and they are the perfect dessert for this time of year.  Thanks for a great recipe, Elizabeth!

The Secret Recipe Club is taking a little holiday break, so Group A is taking January off.  We'll be back with another great reveal the first Monday of February.  Merry Christmas to all of my fellow SRC members!

05 December 2013

Happy December!  Now that we are done with Thanksgiving, I am in full Christmas-y mode.  Perfect timing as today we are all posting Christmas-themed cookies for this month's Fill the Cookie Jar.

This is actually a cookie that I made last year, that I never got around to posting before Christmas.  I got the idea from Caffeine and A Prayer.  I made them for my daughter's preschool class last year and she reported back that they were a big hit with the kids.  Not only are these cookies bound to be loved by kids, but they are great cookies to be made by kids.  They are easy for kids to help with and a lot less messy than decorating sugar cookies!  I did my cookies just slightly different from the original; here's how I did them.

Reindeer Cookies

Frosting (canned is fine)
Brown food coloring
Nutter Butter cookies
Tiny twist pretzels
Red and brown M&Ms

Stir brown food coloring into frosting until it is the approximate shade of the Nutter Butters.  Spread a small glob of frosting on the top of each Nutter Butter and attach two pretzels to make the antlers.  Place two small dollops of frosting and stick on brown M&Ms for the eyes.  Do another small dollop of frosting near the bottom and attach a red M&M for the nose.

Let sit for an hour or so to allow the frosting to harden.  Serve or store in an airtight container for serving the next day.

Makes as many as you like!

If you click through to the original recipe, you will notice two main differences.  She didn't color her frosting for the "glue".  You don't have to do this, but I think it looks better this way.  You don't want that part to stick out so much.  It would be tempting to use peanut butter for this purpose, but it won't harden as much as the frosting, and your antlers, eyes, and noses might not stay on very well.

The other thing I changed was to use two pretzels for the antlers instead of just one.  I think they look more "antler-y" this way.

Aren't they adorable?

Check out all the other great holiday cookies below and happy baking!