Sunday, December 25, 2011

Eat: Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Pretzels

Merry Christmas, everyone! Today is a day for many things. For me, it is a day to celebrate Christ's birth while also spending time with my family and friends, eating way too much food, and rocking my favorite red sweater. However, today is decidedly not a day for blogging! With that in mind, I'm going to keep this post short (in its length) and sweet (in its recipe).

I first set out to make these Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Pretzels for my coworkers but quickly doubled the recipe so my family could enjoy them as well. This doubling, coupled with a few modifications on the original recipe, resulted in a decently long kitchen session. I'm sure that if I make them again, the process will be faster. Regardless, the final product is delicious! These little guys are salty and sweet and crunchy and soft. So everyone is bound to like something about them!

Happy holidays to you all! I'm looking forward to trying all sorts of new recipes in 2012!

TOTAL TIME:2 hours (including inactive cooling period)
YIELDS: 60+ candies

1 jar of creamy peanut butter (I bought the cheapest I could find!)
2 tablespoons of butter, softened
1+ cup powdered sugar
Flour, as needed
Bag of bite-sized pretzels
1-2 bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine the peanut butter and softened butter in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Your goal is to get the peanut butter blend to be easily rolled into small balls without being sticky and getting all over your hands. I had to keep adding and adding sugar until I finally started adding flour to avoid insanely high sucrose levels. The amount of peanut butter that you use will determine how much sugar and/or flour you will ultimately need.

Scoop out teaspoon-sized portions of the peanut butter blend. Using your hands, roll each bit into a small ball (it does not need to be perfectly shaped) and sandwich it between two pretzels. Repeat this until you run out of peanut butter, placing each new sandwich onto a baking sheet.

Place your tray(s) of pretzels in the refrigerator for an hour.

Pour the chocolate chips into a double boiler and melt over low heat. Dip one pretzel at a time into the melted chocolate, covering only half of it. Allow excess chocolate to drip back into the pan and place the pretzel onto a piece of parchment paper. Repeat for the remaining pretzels.

Store the pretzel bites in the refrigerator or freezer until serving time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eat: Stuffed Zucchini "Boats"

I guess you could say that this week’s dish was love at first sight. As soon as I saw the photo for this stuffed zucchini recipe, I was hooked. The mix of colors nestled into a perfect little vegetable “boat” was simply too much for me to resist. Plus, my previous foray into stuffed tomatoes turned out so fantastically that I felt as though I was ahead of the cooking game. All in all, this recipe was not particularly challenging; the most difficult part was removing the zucchini halves from their baking dish without destroying them! Given the nature of its ingredients, this dish is best when served right of out the oven. With that in mind, I suggest that you make only what you plan to eat in one sitting. The up side to this was that I used a leftover fresh zucchini as inspiration to bake zucchini bread and muffins!

The recipe that I used (from Kayotic Kitchen) simply suggests “cheese” to sprinkle atop your newly filled zucchini boats. Well, I must to tell you, my friend, that your cheese selection is far more important than that description implies. Although this dish offers much in the way of presentation, texture, and health, its flavor tends toward subtle. The cheese you select will greatly impact the overall taste of the dish. I used blue cheese and recommend it, but other scrumptious options include (yet are not limited to) gorgonzola, feta, parmesan, provel, and provolone. Those are a few that I really enjoy, but the possibilities are expansive. Choose one that you already love or be a little adventurous and try something new!

TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes
YIELDS: 4 servings

1 tablespoon of light sour cream or crème fraiche
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon of yellow curry powder
½ of a tomato
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
2 zucchinis
1 onion
your choice of cheese (I used blue)
salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Begin my preparing the zucchinis. Thoroughly wash and dry them, then slice each in half lengthwise. It is not necessary to cut off the rough ends but remember to not eat them later! Using a regular-sized spoon, scrape out the middle of each zucchini half leaving a ½ inch shell. It should look like a miniature canoe.

Now, chop the newly scooped-out zucchini, onion, and tomato.

Sauté the chopped onion in a dollop of oil for a few minutes; add the curry powder and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Note: if you allow the onions to cook in curry for too long, the blend will become bitter.

In a large bowl, mix together the onion, thyme, salt, sour cream, zucchini “pulp”, and tomato. You can also add pepper, to taste.

Grease a glass baking dish (whatever size best accommodates the zucchinis; I used a 9 x 13”) and set the zucchini shells in it. Fill each shell with the vegetable blend and sprinkle generous amounts of cheese on top.

Bake the zucchinis for approximately twenty minutes and check their progress. Turn on the oven’s broiler and cook for a few minutes longer or until they are lightly browned.

To garnish, you may use a bit of fresh parsley. You can also cut each zucchini half into smaller portions to serve as a side dish.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eat: Christmas Party Craze

This week’s “Sunday Dish” is wee bit different. One could say that it is a recipe post on steroids. Or it could even be called a culinary exploration in party-planning madness—okay, that is probably too dramatic. You see, last weekend, Matthew and I hosted our second annual “Ritter Christmas Kick-Off Party”. After countless hours spent browsing Pinterest and, I acquired a collection of seven recipes that offered something for everyone: sweet, savory, spicy, and always aesthetically pleasing. Although the plan was ambitious, I must say that I was very pleased with the final results. I also want to give a special thanks to my ever helpful hubby as well as our friends who brought their own tasty dishes to the party. By the end of the night we were all happy and well fed with leftovers to spare.

In my opinion, the key to keeping your party menu stress-free is to mainly select dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. With my right hand man, we did one recipe every night leading up to the party. Some dishes had to be done the day-of, but I didn’t feel stressed about it. I recommend all of the recipes I tried, which are briefly outlined below. Pick your favorite and give it a go!

Up first, some sweets…

Caramel Pecan Tarts by Betty Crocker
This was by far the most labor intensive dish that I made. However, it was certainly worth it since they are delicious, make for an elegant display, and are quickly consumed by partiers. Note that the assembly can be modified for twelve cupcake-sized tarts instead of twenty-four minis.

1 cup of all-purpose flour
½ cup of butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup of powdered sugar

¾ cup of packed brown sugar
½ cup of chopped pecans
1 tablespoon of butter or margarine, softened
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 egg, slightly beaten

1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF. In a medium bowl, use your hands to mix together the flour, ½ cup of butter, and the powdered sugar. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces. Press each piece in the bottom and up along the sides of an ungreased mini muffin cup.

2. In separate bowl, blend the filling ingredients. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of the mixture into each cup.

3. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool slightly and loosen the tarts from the pan with the tip of a knife. Let them set on a wire cooling rack for 1 hour.

Cookie Dough “Bites” by Chick Who Cooks
Who doesn't love to eat cookie dough? Now your guests can do so without those pesky concerns over salmonella. This is a super easy recipe that did not even require a trip to the grocery store! It is also a great option for your random egg-allergy-ridden party goers.

1 cup of salted butter, softened
1½ cups of packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of flour
Chocolate chips or M&Ms (or whatever else you’d like to add)
Optional: melting chocolate

1. Mix the butter and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients and blend thoroughly. This will work best if you use your hands.

2. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer. Let stand for about 10 minutes before serving.

Optional: Melt chocolate in a double boiler; you can also use the microwave but I don’t recommend it since the chocolate is more likely to burn. Dip the “bites” into the chocolate. I served my batch without the extra chocolate and did not get any complaints!

Candied Pretzels
These treats present beautifully when arranged in a bowl, small vase, or mug. In fact, some of our friends said the pretzels were too pretty to eat! I think they really meant it because we had several leftover. Oh well, more for me!

Bag of pretzel rods (the bag I used had 16 sticks)
Almond bark or melting chocolate
Assortment of toppings: crushed candy canes, sprinkles, chopped M&Ms, etc…

1. Spread the toppings out over a piece of parchment paper. Lay out another large piece of parchment paper on your kitchen counter (for the newly dipped pretzels).

2. Melt chocolate or bark in a double boiler—I highly recommend this melting method for this particular dish since the chocolate will need to stay warm for a long time without burning.

3. Dip the pretzel rods in chocolate. Unless you use a whole lot of chocolate (to fill the pot), you will likely need to use a spatula to adequately cover half of the pretzel.

4. Roll the newly dipped pretzel rod among toppings and set on parchment paper to cool/harden. Store in an air tight container.

Candied Marshmallows
Equally attractive as candied pretzels but apparently less intimidating to guests, since several more of these were eaten.

Bag of marshmallows (regular size, not mini)
Melting chocolate
Crushed candy canes

1. Begin by spreading the crushed candy canes out over a piece of parchment paper. Lay out another large piece of parchment paper on your kitchen counter (for the newly dipped marshmallows).

2. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over low heat to avoid burning.

3. Dip one marshmallow at a time into the chocolate and allow the excess to drip off.

4. Sprinkle the topping onto the marshmallow or dip the chocolate end into the crushed candy. Set aside on the parchment paper to cool/harden. Store in an air tight container.

And now, for the savory crowd…

Mini Salsa Bowls by Betty Crocker
This is my absolute favorite appetizer in the entire bunch! The salsa is a cinch to mix together and the little wonton cups are just too stinking cute. You can make the salsa and wonton cups ahead of time, but wait to assemble until right before serving as the “bowls” can soak up some of the salsa’s liquid and get mushy.

40-50 wonton skins (typical package)
2/3 cup of salsa, thick and chunky works best
2 tablespoons of dried cilantro
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of chili powder
1 can (15oz) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (15oz) black beans, rinsed and drained

1. Preheat your oven to 350º F. Handling the wonton skills carefully (as they are prone to tear easily), press one piece into a mini muffin cup, repeating until the pan is filled. Bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from pan and repeat the process for remaining wonton skins.

2. Mix all of the remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble and serve the “bowls”.

3. Just before serving, spoon 1 teaspoon of salsa into wonton cups.

If desired, garnish with a teaspoon of sour cream and sprig of fresh cilantro.

Caprese Skewers (this is a pretty common recipe found in several resources, such as Mel’s Kitchen Café )

My entire motivation behind this selection was to have a red and green appetizer. Fortunately, this oh-so-fancy treat also happens to taste great. I am sorry report, though, that more than one guest grabbed their skewer a bit too eagerly and dripped balsamic vinegar down his or her shirt. A small price to pay, in my opinion.

1 pint of red cherry tomatoes
A few handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
8 ounces mozzarella cheese (in a block, not shredded)
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
3-4 dozen toothpicks

1. Begin by prepping all of the ingredients: slice cherry tomatoes in half, cut the mozzarella into small cubes, and trim the stems off of the spinach leaves.

2. To assemble: skewer a piece of mozzarella onto a toothpick. Next, fold a spinach leaf in half and slide it onto the toothpick next to the mozzarella. Last, skewer a tomato-half (sandwiching the spinach) to form the base (cut side down). Stand upright on serving platter and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

Edamame Hummus
Look familiar?


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Eat: Sweet Potato Biscuits (or more accurately, cookies)

A delicious failure. That is how I would classify my attempt at sweet potato biscuits. Allow me to explain. After last week’s Thanksgiving festivities, I found myself with three lonely sweet potatoes. While searching for and weighing the options for said potatoes, I had a culinary flashback (complete with wiggly lines across the television screen in my head). Years ago, my mother-in-law tried a Paula Dean mix for sweet potato biscuits that were very, very good—I mean good enough that years later I am sitting here thinking about how good they were. It was only natural to assume that making similar biscuits from scratch could only be better. I was wrong. After laboring over the dough for a good while and waiting patiently for my creation to bake, I excitedly approached the oven with mitted hands. Yet disappointment fell upon me as I opened the oven door and my gaze beheld collapsed discs of orange dough. My should-have-been-fluffy biscuits turned out as flat as cookies. In fact, had I served them to anyone other than Matthew, I would have said they were cookies just to avoid the embarrassment. However, I must admit that my labor was not a complete waste as they still tasted like biscuits and were indeed sweet and yummy.

My research concluded that just about every recipe for sweet potato biscuits is basically the same. I decided to combine two recipes from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Before you start smirking in that know-it-all way, that is not why this dish failed. I simply added a combination of spices I liked from the former to the latter, so I in no way altered the cooking science involved. I honestly don’t know what happened! I used the right proportions of ingredients, avoided too much hands-on contact with the dough (so as to not overheat it), and even chilled the little guys prior to baking.

The experience did not break my heart but I couldn’t help but think that had I just bought good ole Paula’s boxed mix I would have saved myself lots of time and mess. Plus my biscuits would have looked more like hockey pucks than pancakes! Here is the lowdown, if you would like to give it a try yourself. Perhaps you will fare better.

TIME: 45 minutes
YIELDS: Approximately 20 small biscuits
SOUNDTRACK: Local Christmas radio station

3 small sweet potatoes (1 lb)
2 ½ - 3 cups of all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
2 tablespoons of sugar
½ - 1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
¼ teaspoon of ginger
1/8 teaspoon of cloves
8 tablespoons of chilled butter
1/4 cup milk

To prepare the sweet potatoes…

Quick & Dirty Method: prick the potato(es) a few times with a fork (to avoid a starchy explosion in your microwave) and wrap in a moist papertowel. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Check for tenderness and microwave additional minutes as needed. Mine needed a total of 10 minutes.

Domestic Goddess Method: prick the potato(es) a few times with a fork (to avoid a starchy explosion in your oven) and bake at 350°F for approximately 1 hour.

Once you have finished your chosen method, allow the potatoes to cool before handling them. Remove the skins and mash the potatoes to a fine puree. You can use a sieve, ricer, food processor, or just a handy fork coupled with strong wrists. You will have somewhere around 1 ¾ cup of puree.

To make the biscuits…

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and spices. Cut the butter into small pieces and add it to the dry mix using a pastry cutter or a knife or your fingers. Do this until it resembles a coarse meal.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the sweet potato puree with milk. Add this to the flour blend and mix the dough just enough to stir it all together. If the dough has a sticky texture, add more flour as needed.

3. Place the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times. Do not over handle the dough. Flatten it out to a 1/2 inch thickness. Cut biscuits with a cookie cutter or small glass.

Note: You can make the biscuits as large or small as you like. I made mine small (2 inches) and the baking instructions below are for such a size. Be mindful of adjusting your baking time.

4. Place the on parchment-lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Bake for approximately 12 minutes or slightly brown.

These are best when served fresh and warm. The great thing about small biscuits is that you don’t feel quite as guilty eating several at a time!