Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cookie Countdown to Christmas Recap

I will be starting my Cookie Countdown to Christmas at the end of this week.  Before I do that, I figured that I would I give you a little refresher on what cookies and treats I baked last year for Christmas.  Call me crazy, but for the last two years, I’ve written down every single type of cookie or treat that I’ve made for Christmas.  I also write down notes to myself so I’ll know not to bake a certain cookie (maybe the batch didn’t yield enough cookies), what to do differently, etc.  This year, I have some new Christmas cookies and treats that I will be baking and blogging about.  While I do like to spice things up and try new treats every year, I also have a few standbys that are too good to leave out.  Since I won’t be re-blogging about the cookies and treats that I’ve already made, I decided to give you a little refresher on what went down in my kitchen last December.  Enjoy!
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Chewy Peanut Butter M&M Cookies

Hope you had a wonderful weekend!  It’s almost December which means the start of my Cookie Countdown to Christmas.  These Chewy Peanut Butter M&M Cookies aren’t Christmas cookies, but they are one of my favorite go-to cookies to make when I’m craving cookies.  They are soft and chewy  and delicious to snack on with a glass of milk.  I used peanut butter M&Ms to give them even more peanut buttery goodness.

What’s your favorite go-to cookie to make?

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoonsvanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cup Peanut Butter M&Ms
Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients and set aside.
  3. On medium speed, in large bowl, blend sugars; add butter, mix till grainy consistency. Add eggs, peanut butter and vanilla extract; beat till fluffy. On low speed, add flour mixture until barely mixed into butter mixture.
  4. Drop by rounded tablespoonsful, 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Use a wet or flour coated fork to gently press a crisscross pattern on top of each cookie.
  5. Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned, approximately 18 to 20 minutes. Remove to cool on a flat surface.

Yield:  36 cookies

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Thanksgiving Round-Up

It’s almost Turkey Day!!  Are you ready to eat massive amounts of food???  I have to say that I really do look forward to turkey and gravy with some mashed potatoes and stuffing.  Those are my basics; if I have those I’m content!!  Not to say I don’t enjoy cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, apple pie, etc. too!  Here are a few Thanksgiving recipes if you’re looking for some last-minute ideas.
Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Pumpkin & Chocolate Brownie Swirl Cheesecake

It’s almost Thanksgiving which means a lot of wonderful food, like this Pumpkin & Chocolate Brownie Swirl Cheesecake, and a lot of time spent with family and friends. Sometimes I forget to stop and reflect on everything that I am grateful for, so I decided to list a few things for you:

1. My hubs – I’m so thankful to have a loving and compassionate husband. I can’t even begin to list all the wonderful things about him, but let’s just say that he is most certainly, my better half.

2. My family – I am so thankful to have an amazing family (my parents, in-laws, sister, brothers and sister-in-law, niece, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Time spent with family is priceless.

3. My friends – I’m thankful for great friends, some who I have known since childhood, since college, since 2 years ago, etc. Lots of great memories and great relationships!

4. My puppy – I never thought adopting a puppy from an animal shelter would significantly change my life, but my pup has; he’s the best dog ever and he truly is, man and woman’s best friend.

5. My career – I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am today and although I don’t ever talk about work on my blog (for privacy reasons), I just wanted you to know that yes, I am truly thankful to have such a wonderful and rewarding job.

6. House – It can be quite the headache for the hubby and I at times, but to have a place to call our own has been amazing. Those times that I used to complain about not being able to paint the walls while renting has finally come around to nip me in the bud!

7. My Health – I’m thankful for my health… this one really speaks for itself.

While you’re sitting and reflecting on what you are thankful for, enjoy it with a piece of this amazing Pumpkin & Chocolate Brownie Swirl Cheesecake!

Crust Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Cheesecake Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 8oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Directions:

  1. Crust: Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the chopped chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the melted chocolate mixture from the heat and let it cool slightly, then stir in the sugar and the lightly beaten egg until blended.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the melted chocolate mixture. Stir the chopped walnuts into the brownie batter. Spread the batter in the prepared springform pan and smooth the surface with a spatula.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, or until risen and dry to the touch. Let cool completely. Wrap the outside of the pan in a large sheet of foil. Leave the oven on.
  5. The Cheesecake: In a medium glass bowl, melt the chopped chocolate in a microwave oven on high for about 1 minute, stirring halfway through.
  6. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the cornstarch and vanilla.
  7. Add 1 cup of the cheesecake batter to the melted chocolate and stir until well blended. Beat the pumpkin puree and the pumpkin pie spice into the remaining cheesecake batter.
  8. Pour three-fourths of the pumpkin cheesecake batter over the brownie crust. Pour the chocolate batter on top of the pumpkin cheesecake batter. If the chocolate batter is too thick to pour easily, heat it in a microwave oven on high for 10 seconds. Spoon the remaining pumpkin cheesecake batter on top of the chocolate batter. Use a table knife to make a few decorative swirls: Do not overswirl.
  9. Set the springform pan in a medium roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to reach halfway up the side of the springform pan. Bake the pumpkin cheesecake in the hot water bath in the center of the oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until it is firm around the edges but slightly jiggly in the center. Turn the oven off, prop the door several inches open and let the cheesecake stand in the water bath in the warm oven for 1 hour, or until it is completely set.
  10. Remove the marbled pumpkin cheesecake from the water bath and refrigerate it until thoroughly chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the foil and springform pan ring from the cheesecake. Carefully transfer the cheesecake to a platter, cut into wedges and serve.

*Adapted from Food & Wine

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Apple Pie w/ Crumb Topping


Hmmm apple pie is so good especially with a dollop of whipped cream on top!  At work, we had a Thanksgiving pot luck dinner, so I decided to make Apple Pie with Crumb Topping.  I know there’s several different ways to make apple pie, but I really do love the crumb topping pies the best.  You just can’t beat butter and brown sugar crumbles!  The crumb topping is also great because it saves me half of the dough that I can use to make another pie.  I was pretty impressed with this pie especially since I made it weeks ago and had been storing it in the freezer.  Sometimes certain desserts don’t always freeze well, but I’ve never had problems with apple pie (knock on wood since I’ll be bringing my other apple pie over for Thanksgiving dinner!).  I just took my pie out of the freezer and set it out at room temperature.  By noon the next day, it was defrosted and ready to go!
What’s your favorite kind of pie at Thanksgiving?  Do you enjoy a crumb topping, a flaky crust, or no topping at all?
Pie Crust (Makes 2 pies):
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup chilled shortening (Crisco)
  • 7 tbsp. ice cold water
Pie Filling (for 1 pie):
  • 6-7 large Northern Spy apples, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
Crumb Topping:
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
Directions:
  1. In the bowl of  a stand mixer, beat flour, salt, butter, and shortening until crumbly.  Add cold water and mix until a ball forms.
  2. Divide the dough into two balls and wrap each one in plastic wrap.  Chill dough for about 30 minutes
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Unwrap plastic wrap from one of the dough balls.  (If only making 1 pie, freeze the other ball of dough)  On a flour-dusted surface, flour a rolling pin and roll out dough into a circle, about 10-11″ in diameter.  Place dough into a 9″ pie dish.  Fold under the edges and crimp the dough between your thumb and forefinger.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine pie filling ingredients and set aside.
  6. To make crumb topping, mix flour, oats, almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  With a fork or a pastry cutter, cut butter into flour mixture until crumbles form.
  7. Pour apple mix into pie and sprinkle crumb topping over filling.  Bake pie for 60 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
  8. Serve immediately or freeze when completely cooled.

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Italian Sausage Stuffing

This past Veteran’s Day weekend, my parents were in town to celebrate “Thanksgiving” with me, my sister, our hubbies, and my beautiful 3-month old niece.  One of the dishes that I was in charge of preparing was the stuffing.  You can’t have turkey dinner without stuffing; it’s like having mashed potatoes without gravy (no one should be subjected to that!).  I looked at several stuffing recipes, but settled on this Italian Sausage Stuffing.  You remove sweet Italian sausages from their casings and brown them up into delicious little crumbles that are distributed throughout the stuffing.  If you want your stuffing to have a little kick, you could use hot Italian sausages instead.  One of the things that my hubby noticed was the slight crunch of the stuffing; I like my stuffing to bake for a little bit longer so it has some body and crunch instead of being on the mushier side.  You can really adapt this recipe to your liking.

What is your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?

Ingredients:

  • 2 loaves Italian bread, crusts removed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (20 cups)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 large celery ribs, finely diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sage leaves
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

 Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Spread the bread cubes in a large roasting pan and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dry and lightly browned.
  2. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the sausage and cook over moderately high heat, breaking up the meat, until browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the chopped onion, celery and garlic and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the sage and butter.
  3. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl, add the bread cubes, and toss. Stir in the stock and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Spoon the stuffing into a shallow baking dish and bake until the stuffing is heated through and crisp on top, about 60 minutes.  Serve with turkey and gravy.

*Adapted from Food & Wine

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew


Last weekend, I went antiquing in Leesburg, VA and Frederick, MD.  My friend introduced me to antiquing when I first moved into our new home, and I must say, it is so much fun and can be really addicting.  I’ve been trying to decorate our house tastefully with cool pieces.  Last weekend, there were a couple of antique stores that were holding their holiday barn sales.  Decked-out barns?  How fun, right?  I didn’t get any big furniture pieces (although I saw so many that I would’ve loved), but I did get a few cool pieces including this cranberry chalkboard for our dining room.  This color matches the drapes in our dining room, and I just love how you can write whatever you want on it; I will definitely be filling that out when company comes over.

Here’s the list of three great antique stores that I’ve been to in Leesburg, VA and Frederick, MD (I didn’t know this until recently, but Frederick and Leesburg are only around 15 miles apart.  Def can do both places in 1 day!).

  Antiquing has nothing to do with Slow Cooker Beef Stew, but it’s the perfect meal to come home to after a fun day of scouring the countryside for cool antiques.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 pounds stew beef
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 15 baby carrots
  • 2 potatoes, chopped
  • 1 package of white mushrooms
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • Cracked fresh pepper and sea salt for seasoning

Directions:

  1. In a saute pan, warm olive oil over medium heat and brown beef.
  2. In the bottom of a slow cooker, add beef, onion, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, pepper, and garlic.  Top with red wine, beef stock, bay leaves, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Mix to combine.  Cook over low heat for 8 hours.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

*Adapted from Food & Wine

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