Friday, December 28, 2007

Pomegranate Beverage

Pomegranate Beverage

4 C pomegranate juice
1 C cranberry juice
1 C fresh lime juice
4 Tbsp fresh orange juice

freeze pomegranate and cranberry juice in paper cups in about 1 C servings. Mix all ingredients together in a blender until mixed. Pour into glasses and garnish with orange or lime slice.

I kind of just ended up throwing random portions of ingredients in, whatever looked right. It ended up tasting really good, if I do say so myself. I love frozen/slushy drinks, and it was perfect for the holidays!

Double Chocolate Cheesecake

Double Chocolate Cheesecake

I made this for Christmas dessert, and it was so delicious. However, it is supposed to set overnight, and I was far too lazy to start it on Christmas Eve, so it ended up not being as set as it should have been on Christmas day. But the next morning, it tasted so much better! It is again from Epicurious (my new favorite recipe sight...never lets me down!)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Peppermint Bark

I have been busy in the kitchen this past week, making yummy Christmas goodies!! All of the recipes that I tried this year were new, and they all turned out so great.

First I made some peppermint bark, using a great recipe I found at It is really quite simple, but it can be a little time consuming as there are 3 layers of chocolate, and you have to wait until each one sets before you add the next. But they are so pretty and SO tasty. The recipe yields 36 pieces, but I found that those would be very big pieces, and they are very rich, so I opted for about 60-70 smaller pieces. I used Guitard white chocolate and bakers semi-sweet for the first batch, and then both bakers white and semi-sweet for the second batch, and both were absolutely delicious. I think I do prefer the Guitard white, but that might just be because I did more taste tests on that batch! :) I also found, that you don't need to use as much peppermint extract as it calls for, a little goes a very long way. I actually ran out of extract (except for a drop or two) after my first batch, so I just kept the pan that I melted the first batch of semi-sweet in, to mix with the second batch, and then added the drop or two left in the bottle, and it was plenty pepperminty. The candies also add plenty of peppermint flavor as well. There are also lots of great tips in the review section on epicurious, which were helpful. The biggest one that I found, was that when people kept it in the fridge too long after the last layer, before you cut it, it was really hard to cut, and often times the layers would split on them. So about 25 minutes was just perfect for me.

I definitely plan on making this every year for my goody plates. Good luck and enjoy!

**Updates 2009**
I just finished making my peppermint bark for my holiday goodies, and after 5 batches. some of which were not great, had some tips that I wanted to share with you, as well as remember for myself.

Tip 1: do not attempt this recipe with only 2 layers. The dark chocolate layer with the cream will be too soft, it needs a backing layer. I tried 2 layers and when I tried to remove it from the foil, I left half of it behind because it was too soft to stay together on it's own. Still tasted good, but looked terrible.

Tip 2: when adding the 3rd layer, the 2nd layer of white chocolate, make sure to re-heat the white chocolate, even if it is still spreadable. On my second batch, I decided to skip the reheating to save time (like 5 minutes) and it wasn't warm enough, so it didn't adhere to the dark chocolate layer. so when I went to cut it, the layers split because they never bonded. Despite what you may think, it is important for the layers to melt into each other a bit, so that they are bound. Of course, we don't want the dark bleeding into the white, so you have to make sure that you have enough white to cover those areas where they do melt together and mix a little. Even if you do get that happening a little, by the time you get the crushed peppermint on, and cool it and then break it, you can hardly notice those tiny little areas that didn't get completely covered. I read a tip from another blog that suggested letting the chilled layer sit out for a bit before adding the next layer, and then once you do add it, let it sit for 10 minutes or so before putting it into the fridge, just to give the layers more chance to bond together.

Tip 3: Instead of using foil, I would use wax paper, or even a silipat screen, or whatever those things are called. You really need something that will peel from the back of the chocolate easily to reduce the amount of touching of the chocolate you need to do, and just to reduce frustrations! ;)

Tip 4: If your finished peppermint bark is too soft, it makes it really difficult to cut. I had to keep putting my 3rd batch back into the fridge for a few minutes before cutting more because it was sticking to the knife and pulling the bark into an unshapely mess.

Tip 5: This is just a guess, because I have never tried it, except with the 2 layered bark I made for my mom, but I think if your layers are properly melted and bonded together, if you left it in the fridge for an hour or longer, and then went to break it, if you prefer the uneven look, the layers shouldn't split. I will have to try this next time, as I do enjoy the broken look. It worked with my moms, which was melted together nicely, so I don't see why it wouldn't work with 3 layers.

Tip 6: After having tried it both ways, I have found that it really is better to use the back side of the cookie sheet, versus the regular side... especially if you don't have an offset spatula. I had no way to smooth it out and make it nice because my mom just had a flat cake spatula, not offset. I also had the edge curl up when I did it on the regular side. When I did it on the back side, I put pam on the pan, and then laid the wax paper over that so that it wouldn't slide around, and it worked perfectly.

English Toffee

I also made one of our family favorites, English Toffee. If any of you have ever tried to make toffee before, you know that it is VERY easy to burn. You have to get it to just the right tempurature and color. My recipe is actually a little bit different from the one that my mom uses. When she started making toffee forever ago, she used a recipe that didn't call for Karo syrup, but said she was burning it a lot. But then she found a recipe with KS, and it didn't burn anymore. Well, the first batch I made, I used a Ghirardelli recipe that I found, and it didn't call for KS and it turned out perfect. But I wanted the toffee a little thicker, so I called my mom to see how much butter and sugar she used per batch, and she told me she added KS as well. Since she couldn't really tell me the purpose of the KS, I decided that since what I was doing was working, why change it?! I also like the idea of having one less ingredient that would add even more sugar than is already called for. So I will give you both recipes, and if one doesn't work for you, try the other one. But I have to say, toffee is so scrumptious, and it really is so fast and easy. It's perfect to make for holiday treats as it is pretty inexpensive, and it's so easy to make a ton of batches. So this will definitely be a holiday staple for me, for years to come! Really quickly, another weird thing about the 2 different recipes is that my mom only cooks her to 290 degrees, but I go to about 300-302 degrees, and it still doesn't burn. I don't know how that works, but in all the recipes I have seen, and even on the candy thermometer, it says the hard crack stage is between 302 and 305 degrees F. On my second batch, I even looked at it at about 290, and it clearly wasn't ready to come off yet. So again, maybe that's the KS thing, and again, do whatever works best for you! You may have to experiment a little to find out what that is.

Ghirardelli English Toffee
(this is the recipe I like, I just double it for one batch for thicker toffee)
3/4 C pecans or almonds FINELY chopped
1 C butter (NOT margarine)
1 C sugar
2 Tbs water
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips (i love semi-sweet) or 8oz baking chocolate

preheat oven to 350 degrees. toast chopped nuts 6-8 minutes or until fragrant

line cookie sheet with foil
in a heavy sauce pan, cook butter until just melted, then add sugar, water and salt. Clip candy thermometer to side of pan and stir occasionally until temp reads 302 degrees F. It will be a dark golden brown. Immediately remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Pour mixture onto foil, spread out then let sit at room temp until hard, about 45 min.

Melt chocolate according to instructions, then spread over toffee.

Sprinkle nuts on top, then let set at room temp for about 1 hour until chocolate is set.

Break into pieces. Store covered at room temp for up to one month. (I like to store it in the fridge)

*These pictures were taken during my first batch, so you can see that it is spread thin. My second batch was able to be spread over more of the pan and was thicker.
* Another tip, be sure to watch the temp very closely, especially when it is nearing the desired temp, as it goes very fast near the end. On my second batch, I actually added the vanilla around 290 degrees, and the temp didn't rise as fast, I don't know if the vanilla had anything to do with it, but my second batch was better, I think. I am making a third batch today, so we will see how that one turns out.

Mom's English Toffee Recipe
1 lb real butter
2 C sugar
3/8 water
2 Tbs light corn/karo syrup
1 tsp vanilla
about 3/4 C crushed almonds
3/4 C choco chips (semi-sweet)

Follow instructions above. Add KS when add sugar and water. My mom cooks hers to about 290 degrees.

On either of these recipes, you can also add nuts to the toffee before it hardens, as well as on top of the chocolate.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

These are the best sugar cookies that I have ever had. They are nice and thick and always soft and chewy, and delicious!

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tea salt
1 tea baking soda

1 cup butter
1 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 tea vanilla

Mix and refrigerate overnight

375 degrees F 8-10 min.

1/2 cup butter
a little milk
3-4 oz creme cheese
1/4 tea of vanilla
3 cups powedered sugar
pinch of salt

Roll 1/4 thick lots of flour use ungreased sheet

Frozen Hot Chocolate

This is such a fantastic treat! I love LOVE lOvE it!! It is one of the recipes that Serendipity in NYC is famous for (you know the restaurant in the movie Serendipity with John Cusack?)! It is especially great around the holidays as a small, festive dessert.

6 1/2 oz pieces of chocolates
2 tsp store bought hot chocolate mix (it's fun to try the creative flavors like chocolate cinnamon or caramel de leche, or dark chocolate!)
1 1/2 Tbs sugar
1 1/2 C milk
3 C ice
whipped cream
chocolate shavings

chop chocolate into small pieces. Place in a double boiler over simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted. Add hot chocolate mix and sugar and stir until melted completely (this part takes a little while). Remove from heat and slowly add 1/2 C milk until smooth. Cool at room temp. In a blender, place remaining cup of milk, room temp chocolate mixture and ice. Blend on high speed until smooth and the consistency of a frozen daiquiri. Pour into giant goblet (holiday ones to make more festive) and top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.