Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cranberry Apple Crisp

Winter food might possibly be my favorite kind of food. First of all, during the winter time you are excused to eat anything and everything heavy, simply because it is winter and you need the warmth and layer of fat... even in so-cal (or so I tell myself). Savory dishes ladened with butter and cream, hearty soups, and sweet warm desserts. Things that I would eat year round given the option and a better metabolism. But it's not just the heavy foods and desserts that I love, it's the produce that is in season that I can use to make those heavy foods and desserts. Winter brings us sweet potatoes, kale, winter squash, parsnips, turnips, kumquats, beets, brussels sprouts, and one of my absolute favorites - cranberries.

This brings me to our Christmas dinner dessert. Cranberry Apple Crisp. It was the perfect dessert to cap off a heavy meal of meat and hearty side dishes. The cranberries are tart and pleasing and the whole thing is sweet but not overwhelmingly so.

Plus, it's packed with fruit and cranberries have a ton of antioxidants... so, this crisp is practically a health food! 

Cranberry Apple Crisp
Serves 8 - 12

For the filling:
2 small apples or one large apple - peeled, cored, and diced*
approx 4 cups cranberries - I used 1 and 1/2 - 12oz bags*
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons flour
2 oz orange juice (use the orange you zest)
butter for the pan

For the crisp topping:
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup or 1 stick butter - cut into small pieces

- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Butter a 9x13 baking pan. Peel, core, and dice apples. Put the ingredients for the filling in the pan - apples, cranberries, brown sugar, vanilla, orange zest, cinnamon, flour and orange juice. 
- Mix well to coat the fruit with the other ingredients.

- In a bowl combine all the dry ingredients for the crisp topping. 
- Add the cut up butter and mix using your hands or a spoon. You want the topping to be chunky looking.
- Pour topping over fruit evenly.

- Bake in oven for 35 - 40 minutes. You want the topping to be golden brown.

Serve plain, with vanilla ice cream, or whip cream.

*If you don't have any use for a half open bag of cranberries or want a sweeter fruit crisp - use one 12 oz bag of cranberries and 2 medium to large apples. 

Peace, love, winter food, and happiness!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Feast, Family, and Friends

We had quite the holiday feast and fun on Christmas! I got to boss my Mom around in the kitchen, so that was fun. We drank wine, beer, and my cranberry infused vodka. My Dad made after dinner mexican hot chocolate drinks and everyone posed for a group photo. It was a very successful Christmas dinner.

{Table Settings}


{Butternut Squash Casserole}

{Green Beans with Nuts and Feta}

{Dad's Prime Rib}

{My Christmas Plate}

{Cranberry Apple Crisp}

{Christmas Dinner - Family and Friends}

{Adam, Penny, and Me}

Cranberry Apple Crisp Recipe to come! Happy Holidays everyone! Hope you had a great time with your friends and family! 

Peace, love, Happy New Years, and happiness!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Caramel, Conquered.

Caramel was my nemesis last year. I desperately wanted to make chewy salted caramel candies wrapped in wax paper to give out as gifts. It seemed like every blog I looked at had a recipe up and made it seem easy. Easy I tell you! I thought no biggie, I can do this. Candy making is so going to be my thing. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. THREE batches and no chewy salted caramel candies wrapped in wax paper to show for it. Instead I had one batch of what-looked-like-a-perfect-caramel-but-quickly-hardened-into-an-inedible-rock, one batch that turned into a crystal like toffee looking thing with a slick of oil on top, and one runny batch. This is when I decided to stop, give up, and cry in a corner... AND THEN I thought this runny caramel tasting muck would be great encased in chocolate. Caramel Cups, if you will. Genius. (Yes, I know I'm not the first person to think of this - but give me a break, I had to make myself feel better after the failed caramel attempts.) Turns out the caramel cups were a big hit last year! So maybe... caramel cups are my thing. You know, the thing that people look forward to every year that is associated with you. Like, "I can't wait for Michelle's caramel cups for Christmas." Yes, I dream big. But how was I going to replicate my failed caramel that I used last year for the caramel cup filling? Dilemma. Well, instead of trying to replicate a failed attempt at caramel, I decided to try to make caramel. Again. Dun, dun, dun.

And guess what? I did it! I celebrated by jumpimg up and down in my kitchen while Penny padding around me nervously wondering what I was so worked up about. Oh, If only she could taste, the chewy, delicious, perfect caramel I made. And so another year of caramel cup gifting is born! AND I'm that much closer to it becoming my thing!

EXTRA special thanks to Not Without Salt's caramel recipe that I used. I really wanted to make her Homemade Twix bars - which is the recipe I took the caramel from - but since I was rushing to do this before leaving for work I decided to see if I could at least get the caramel right first. And oh momma, did I ever get it right. These caramel cups are going to be TO. DIE. FOR. 

I dusted them with fine grain sea salt since that is what I had on hand, but I prefer sea salt from a grinder so you get the bigger salty chunks to contrast with the sweetness of the candy.

Michelle's Salted Caramel Cups
Makes approx 24 cups, possibly with caramel leftover 
(Printable Recipe)

1 - 11.5 ounce bag of Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Baking Chocolate Chips
1 tbls. sea salt or fleur de sel

For the Caramel - halved from Not Without Salt's Homemade Twix Bar recipe

1 cup sugar
3 oz light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/8 teaspoon salt

- Place a pot of water to boil on the stove and set a smaller pot in it so that the bottom of the smaller pot is submerged in water. I used a saucepan. Or you could use a bain marie if you have one. Boil the water. 
- Meanwhile place the silicone baking cups into a mini muffin tin. 
- Once the water has started to boil, place the chocolate chips in the smaller pot. Turn the heat to medium low. Keep an eye on the chocolate as it starts to melt. Mix with a rubber spatula. Once the chocolate is melted, turn the heat to very low. You can leave it like this while you make the caramel, but check to make sure the chocolate is not burning.
- Spoon about a teaspoon of chocolate into the bottom of the silicone cups. Smear chocolate up the sides of the cup. Use enough chocolate so that you will have a strong shell to place your caramel in.
- Once all cups have chocolate in them, place them in the freezer.
- Start your caramel. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and lemon juice in a large saucepan or pot. Stir just to combine. Turn the heat on to medium-high and bring to a boil. Do not stir while boiling. Continue to boil. Keep an eye on it watching for a change in color. The mixture will be very bubbly.
- When it starts to turn golden brown insert a candy thermometer (I used my digital meat thermometer) to check the temperature. When it turns to 300F, remove the pan from heat and let it sit for 1 minute or until the bubbles go down.
- Whisk in the 1/2 cup heavy cream. Whisk until smooth and combined. Whisk in 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk. Whisk until smooth. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Return the pan to medium heat and stir constantly until caramel reaches 240F. Take pan off of heat and allow caramel to cool.
- Once caramel is cool, take your cups out of the freezer. Using a spoon and some canola spray on your hands - to keep the caramel from sticking. Roll a generous teaspoon sized ball of caramel in your hand and place into the cup. Continue for all 24 cups.
- Once caramel is in all cups, spoon melted chocolate over caramel. Smooth the top. Continue for all 24. Sprinkle with sea salt while the chocolate is still melty. Place in fridge (or freezer if you are in a hurry). 
- These should keep for 2 - 3 weeks (but who could save them for that long!). I recommend storing them in the fridge.
- Before giving them out, carefully peel away the silicone cup my tugging at the side and inverting the silicone cup.

*Since my caramel recipe is coming from a recipe intended for another purpose the amont of caramel is probably more than what it takes to fill 24 cups. I halved the recipe so you won't have a boatload of caramel left over. But link to the original recipe if you want to make a larger batch and use the leftovers for other treats.
 **I've never used paper cups for this recipe. I've only used the silicone ones. I like the sturdiness of them so that I can get the chocolate up the sides. I worry the paper ones wouldn't hold their pleats while you try to smear chocolate up the sides. But if you try them let me know!

Peace, love, candy, and happiness!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!!

CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE!! Can you tell I'm excited?

{Our Tree}

I'm so excited to spend time at my parents house cooking and eating! I'm excited to have all three dogs together, although also nervous because Penny is anti-social with other members of her own species. I'm excited to spend time with my family and Adam's family. And I'm really excited to have some time off from work! I hope you get to spend the holidays with loved ones and lots of good food!

{Wood Snowflake Ornament}

{Bow Tree Topper and Adam's Ornament Addition}

This is what is on our Christmas Dinner Menu:

*Dad's Prime Rib - I'm gonna get the recipe this year!

*My Mushrooms in Cream and Ale Sauce - excellent for piling high on a slice of prime rib

*My Roasted Garlic Creamy Mash Potatoes - made these for Thanksgiving and they are just so good.

*Erica's Green Beans with Garlic and Feta - can't wait to share this recipe with you!

*And for dessert - Cranberry Apple Crisp


Wishing you and your family lots of love and a very happy holiday!

Peace, love, joy to the world, and happiness!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Ham

Still undecided about braving the line for the HoneyBaked Store? Here is a solution so you don't have to - Glaze your own ham! Glaze it with delicious figs, spicy dijon mustard, and smoky bourbon - or in my case triple sec since I didn't want to buy bourbon.

That's what I did on Sunday night so I would have ham leftovers for the rest of the week. We are doing prime rib on Christmas which has become our tradition, so no chance of ham overdosing over here. I used  this recipe from Claire Robinson's Five Ingredient Fix on Food Network. The ham turned out great but I had so much glaze I didn't know what to do with it all! But the flavors were very nice. Fig jam was a little hard to find, I got mine at Sprouts.

There was a lot of mustard in the recipe and I would be quite happy reducing that by half or more, mainly cause I don't like mustard. If you're like me and not keen on mustard give this Fig and Orange Glazed Ham recipe a try and let me know how it turns out!

If you are still searching for a yummy (and healthy!) side dish for your holiday feast - roasted root vegetables are delicious and pair wonderfully with ham or turkey. 

I did sweet potatoes, parsnips, golden beets, and onions with rosemary and balsamic vinegar. The best word to describe these would be lovely. They were simply lovely. And delicious.

Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar Roasted Root Vegetables
serves 4

2 medium sweet potatoes
4 large beets (or 6 small ones)
2 large parsnips (or 3 small / medium ones)
1 medium onion
2 tbls. olive oil
2 tbls. balsamic vinegar
4 sprigs rosemary
1 teas salt
healthy grind of fresh pepper
- Preheat oven to 400*
- Peel sweet potatoes and parsnips. Scrub and peel beets. Cut all into 1 inch chunks as uniform as possible.
- Cut the onion into large pieces.
- Spray the bottom of a baking pan with canola oil. Add vegetables. Drizzle Vegetables with olive oil and vinegar. 
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.Add the rosemary sprigs and toss everything very well.

- Bake for 40 - 60 minutes. Flipping once. The sweet potatoes only need about 30 - 40 minutes but the beets take a little longer.

*I did mine in the oven with the ham at 325 for an hour. Once I took the ham out I cranked the oven up to 400 and let the veggies have an extra 10 minutes in there.

Hope you holiday feast is delicious and delightful! Enjoy!

Peace, love, holiday food, and happiness!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Baking

This week seems to be the most overwhelming week at work ever. Pair that with the fact that I'm terribly behind on all Christmas errands and the fact that my dog insists on eating everything and anything she can get her grubby little paws on, including 2 dozen cookies and a pound of See's milk chocolate candies. That was quite a scare. I'm left with little energy for words. Here are some photos of treats that I've been making. Neither came out the way I wanted, they weren't bad just not quite as good as the original recipe intended -  but I'll give you the link and maybe you will have better luck! I blame my failures on my lack of a KitchenAid mixer. Sigh. Someday.

Peace, love, Christmas treats, and happiness!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Food From the Weekend - and one very bad dog

The holidays are in full swing! And I need to catch up!

{Sabrina's Holiday / Birthday Party}

{Adam and I's Gingerbread House}

{Holiday Treats}

{Dean's Pizza's Thai Curry Chicken Pizza}

This little "angel" ate 2 dozen lemon cookies and a one pound box of See's milk chocolates (that was hidden from her). So that was fun. Turns out it takes about an ounce of MILK chocolate per pound of dog to be badly toxic. Dark chocolate is a whole different story. Man, am I glad a got the milk instead of dark. Since she is 40 pounds and ate about 12 ounces of chocolate Adam forced her to throw up and after that she was pretty much fine - besides acting like she was on crack for two days. Don't get us chocolate for Christmas - Penny will probably be able to find it and eat it even if it is in a padlocked safe. I swear that dog has opposable thumbs.

Peace, love, holidays, and happiness.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Last Minute Holiday Madness!

The holidays can be a crazy time. There is so much to do and so little time. Next thing you know Christmas is a week and 2 days away... Eek! (I better stop blogging and get to shopping!) But before I let my own holiday last minute madness take over, I've got you covered if you find yourself in a holiday time crunch. Scrambling to find a present, make a treat, or just need some ideas - here's a list of holiday helpers that will make you look like you've been planning for Christmas all year.

For your holiday potluck that you forgot about until 10pm the night before:

{image from Lauren's Latest}

Candy Cane Crinkle Cookies - they are festive, delicious, and only take about 30 minutes to make.

For when you find yourself wrapping a present 10 minutes before heading out to the holiday gift exchange and you find yourself out of gift tags:

{image from Love vs. Design}

Printable Holiday Gift Tags - all you need is some cardstock and a printer to have the cutest gift tags on the block with this pdf from Love vs. Design.

For when you are putting up your tree the day before Christmas and you realize you don't have enough ornaments and all the stores are sold out of everything but the tacky ones:

{image from Cook Love Craft}

DIY Glitter Ornaments - granted you do need glitter and clear ornaments, so this may take a little more planning than I originally led you to believe... but aren't they awesome?

For when you realize you have more people on your shopping list than the number of gifts you bought:

{image from Crafty Budget}

Homemade Sugar Scrub - this stuff goes for like $10 or more in a store but it's super easy to make! And it's  much more personal gift if you make it yourself.
If you want to get fancy, make this Chocolate Mint Sugar Scrub - especially suited for the holidays.

Hope your holidays are lovely and stress free!

Peace, love, happy holidays, and happiness!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chicken Enchilada Noodle Casserole

Holy enchilada! Chicken, cheese, beans, corn, and noodles! It's enchilada flavor with pasta power, all in a casserole.

And believe me,  it will get eaten up pretty darn fast. Especially if you have a 6 foot 2, food eating monster in your house. This recipe should make 8 healthy sized servings, but we barely squeezed 5 out of it. I guess that just means it was yummy.

Casseroles are quickly becoming one of my favorite things. I can prep everything in the morning, mind you doing it in quite a rush, pop it in the fridge and leave instructions for Adam to cook it when he gets home. This is a win win for both of us. Since he gets home earlier than me we will be able to have dinner without having to wait until 9pm, and when I get home dinner will be done so I can eat right away. Therefore ensuring that neither of us will be grumpy, or at least grumpy from hunger.

I chopped up some green bell pepper and onions and threw them in a pan with some oil and from there it was just the process of adding and mixing. Easy peasy. I had chicken breast tenders that I pulled out of the freezer the night before and the partially frozen texture made them easy to chop into small pieces and toss in the pan. Next, some taco seasoning, beans and corn.

Pretty, isn't it? Next, my favorite part - add lots and lots of enchilada sauce. YUMMY.

Toss this with some cooked whole wheat pasta shells and cheese and you've got yourself a mighty tasty casserole for dinner and some easy to reheat leftovers. Perfect for a busy week, which seems to be every week in my life.

Chicken Enchilada Noodle Casserole
6 - 8 servings

12 oz whole wheat jumbo pasta shells
1 green bell pepper - diced
1 onion - diced
1 jalapeno - seeded and diced
1 small can green chiles
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teas salt
1 pound fresh chicken tenders - cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 pack taco seasoning mix
1 can black beans
1 can corn
1 15 oz can red enchilada sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded mexican style four cheese blend

- Pre-heat oven to 350 if baking the casserole right away.*
- Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Heat oil in the skillet. Add chopped peppers, jalapeno, onions, and can of green chiles. Add 1/2 teas salt. Cook until onions start to turn translucent - about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add chicken to the pan with the onions and peppers. Sprinkle with the half packet of taco mix. Stir. Brown the chicken on one side. Stir. Brown the other side. About 3 to 4 minutes each side.
- Rinse the canned beans and drain the can of corn. Add to the pan. Stir. Add the enchilada sauce. Stir.
- Add the cooked noodles to a 3 qt rectangular baking dish. Add the chicken mixture. Toss / stir together. Fold in 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. 
- Top with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese.
- Bake, covered, at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 more minutes or until cheese is nice and bubbly.
- Serve as is or with sour cream, guacamole, and tortilla chips.

*You can make this a day ahead and refrigerate until ready to bake. Take out of the fridge 20 minutes before baking to allow for the glass to get the chill off.

Peace, love, casseroles, and happiness!