Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2011

It's a little late to be posting a recipe for your party tonight, but you can still pull it off. It's Jalapeno Popper Dip and when you eat it, steam will come out your nose and your face will turn red and you will snort like a bull. I love it when that happens. If setting your tongue on fire is not your idea of a good time, then use more green chilies and less of fiery peppers. This morning I've been working on my New Year's card, as opposed to a Christmas card which I can never manage to send. (Do you want a New Year's card? Send me your address at I've been looking at all of our best memories of 2010. But then I realized that I failed to include any pictures from this last week. This week was kind of an important one. So I'm putting my pictures here instead. And since they aren't going on a card, I can include the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let's start with the ugly. This is when I dropped my cell phone in the pumpkin pie because I was on the phone with my sister Leslie while baking. I should never ever bake when I talk to Leslie. Haven't I said this before?This is our rag-tag Star Wars-y Nativity. We have a Jedi costume, two Princess Leia costumes, a belly dancing costume, and a real authentic galibea (spelling?) on West from my trip to Egypt. This is West with his new electric drumset. I think he must have seen a movie with some cool kids and their boomboxes. Well, he can try.
Sailor has been wanting an American Girl doll for years, but between you and me, I've always thought they were too pricey. Then Santa stepped in. The charges cut out cookies all by their lonesomes while I finished up some pressing work. Can't remember why it was so pressing now. I should have been cutting cookies with this two. A little boy breakfast party. I love having parties that aren't birthday parties. The expectations are low. I can live up to that.
The same party, next day with the itty-bitty neighborhood females. Same menu. Same low expectations.
We almost went biblical and built an ark to escape the rains. But then a beautiful rainbow appeared in the backyard. Then it started raining again. But that doesn't make a good end to the story, does it? Let's end with the dip instead.Here's that dip I was telling you about. The idea is to capture everything you love about jalapeno poppers in a scoopable form. I tried a couple of versions and we liked this hybrid version best. You can top it with breadcrumbs to mimic the coating on a popper, but it seemed like overkill to me if you are going to serve it with tortilla chips. It's better with just another layer of melted cheese. I'm going to make another batch right now. Guests arrive in 4 and 1/2 hours. Happy Spicy New Year!
Jalapeno Popper Dip
Estimated Cost $5.00
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 sour cream
4-8 jalapenos, minced
1 tablespoon lime juice, plus 1 teaspoon lime zest
1 cup shredded jack, plus more for the top
1 (7 ounce) can diced green chilies
crushed red peppers, optional
Grease a pie or quiche dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients. Taste and adjust heat by adding crushed red peppers. Season to taste with salt. Sprinkle with extra cheese and bake for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do you Mastermind too?

I am in the throes of a serious obsession. Don't try to help me because I don't want out. Yet. I haven't written and I won't call. There will be no homecooked meals or midnight movies or tidied rooms till this thing runs its course. It's Mastermind and Sailor got it for Christmas. She hasn't had a chance to touch it since except to set new codes for me. Have you ever played Mastermind? If not, don't bother unless you are willing to ignore your offspring, your hungerpangs, your Christmas decorations, and your blog. You've been warned.
PS Play online right here. It's not quite the same as handling the candy-colored pieces in your hand, but it'll do till you can run to Target.
PSS I'll be back with Jalapeno Popper Dip. You can dip with one hand while you play Mastermind with the other.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What to do after Christmas.

How was it, everybody? Was Christmas everything you hoped it would be with sugar on top? We had a lovely, happy day around here. We did everything in slooooooooow motion to make the magic last. We spent four and 1/2 hours opening presents. Don't worry-it's not because we spent our retirement on a million presents. Everything we opened, we stopped and played with together. Slowly. With enthusiasm. And patience. We put together A Hello Kitty puzzle, played Star Wars Guess Who, banged on West's drumset, dressed up Sailor's doll, read a chapter in West's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and another chapter in Sailor's "Sisters Grimm, then "designed a dress for Sailor's fashion studio, used West's science kit to make laboratory snow, doodled in Sailor's sketchbook, read Far Side comics, and rollerskated up and down the neighborhood in between. I'm doing it this way from here on out. Of course, there's nothing new to do today since we've already done it all. We can solve that. It was unforgettable. And sweet. And very, very Merry. Hope yours was too (with sugar on top).
Today I'm browsing around Blogher and I'm hoping you'll do the same. They've got an incredible prize for a lucky someone who comes poking around: A full conference pass to BlogHer Food11 in Atlanta, Georgia. Click here to peruse and enter. You can't win it if you're not in it. So give it a go!
But there are so many reasons, not just the chance of a prize, to check out Blogher. They've got expert advice, light hearted stories, discussion panels, recipes-you name it. If you're thinking of starting a blog, they'll help you get there. If you've got a blog, but you'd like it to be better (um, me), they've got writing pointers for bloggers. They've got their Month of Features page, which aptly highlights sidedishes (jalapeno creamed corn!) for December and will switch to Health and Fitness for January. Speaking of January, if you need a shot in the arm during the bleakest month, check out the Kids Give me Hope feature for some sweet warm fuzzies. I dare you not to smile. My favorite new feature I saved for last. Own Your Own Beauty is a movement to redefine what beauty looks like. This month's theme: Creativity.Real women are standing up for authentic beauty that comes from within-not the kind that comes in a bottle, a bag, or a plastic surgeon's chair. I love the motto: "We are the beautiful people. All women. Everyone of us. And that's Amazing." Be part of the change. Check out some of the posts, tips, and pictures. Take the pledge to Own Your Own Beauty. I'm doing it because I have to raise my daughter in this image obsessed world. We can help be part of the change for the next generation.
There's something for you to do today while the kids are using up their batteries and showing off their Christmas loot. I promise that it's much more fun than taking down Christmas trees and throwing away wrapping paper. That can all wait till tomorrow. Or never.
Be back tomorrow with Jalapeno Popper Dip. Thats right you heard me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pack a Punch Ginger Cookies (for Courtney)

These ginger cookies from the Cookie Swap are perfect. Perfect! The texture is chewy and crackly. The flavor is unmistakably ginger, due to a heaping tablespoon of dried ginger. A tablespoon might sound overpowering, but it isn't. It's just perfect. (Did I mention that already? Perfect!) The drizzle of white chocolate tames the heady ginger with a bit of richness. These will be my new go-to perfect ginger cookie. One of my favorite readers, Courtney just left me a comment telling me she needed this cookie post haste. I think she might be right. We all need these cookies. I'm going to try to whip up a batch with white chocolate chips in the dough and skip the drizzle. I'll let you know how it goes. Credit for the recipe goes to my friend Nancy Gubler. She's leaving in January for a mission to New Zealand. I hate to see her go, but I'm sure glad she gave me her recipe before she left the country. That was close.
Gingersnaps from Nancy Gubler
Estimated Cost: $3.00 for 3 dozen
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1/4 molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ginger
2 cups flour
sugar, for rolling
melted white chocolate for drizzling, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add molasses, salt and egg, mixing well. Sprinkle in cinnamon, soda, and ginger. Gently mix in flour. Shape into 3/4 inch balls. Roll in sugar and bake on baking sheet for 12-15 minutes. Drizzle with white chocolate, if desired.

Waxing Poetic about Fruitcake

Do you eat this stuff? Nah, me neither. But I do write about it. The Tampa Tribune hosts an annual Fruitcake haiku writing contest. You know how I love finding a good contest. The only thing better than finding a good contest is winning a good contest. I was thrilled to nab the top honors. My prize of three incredible cookbooks arrived in the mail just yesterday. It was an early Christmas for me. You can read all about the contest and my winning verses right here.
Last night we had a little lull in the rain, so this morning the waters in the Santa Clara and Virgin Rivers have receded. However, the rains started again about 30 minutes ago and we are expecting another 2-4 inches. We are not out of the woods and it will be touch and go until about midnight tonight. I'll keep you updated by twitter and you keep our community in your prayers. (You can read twitter updates on my sidebar.)
This morning I'm hosting a Christmas breakfast for West's neighborhood gang of 7 year old boys. West was really worried that our house would be destroyed in the flood and we wouldn't be able to have his holiday breakfast party. So phew! It's hard to explain to a 7 year old that the loss of pancakes and sausages would be the least of our worries. Still, I appreciate his childlike concerns. They keep us smiling around here. The guests should be here in about an hour so I better get busy cooking. I'll be back later today with those upcakes and cupdates...or is that updates and cupcakes?? Oh, you know what I mean!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Savory Treats can be Sweet....

Cupcakes are coming tomorrow.I've been baking for eons now. There's been lots of creaming and beating and whipping and mixing and folding and stirring and separating and filling and frosting. All of it has been sticky sweet. Last night I went to see Sailor dance in the Nutcracker. When the Sugarplum Fairy was leaping through the air, I felt a little dizzy. Maybe I've had a bit too much sugar. Maybe. Maybe not. I think a kitchen Goddess somwhere might be looking out for me, because look what came this morning by way of UPS. A new friend sent me a giant box of Hickory Farms goodies. A Signature Party Platter! Party tonight, family room carpet, 10:15 sharp (right after final performance of Nutcracker). I remember getting boxes from Hickory Farm when I was a little girl. We used to fight over the best stuff and not much has changed. Sailor wants the smoked cheddar cheese, I'm after the cheeseball and crackers, and the boys are already making big plans for the sausage. I went online to check out Hickory Farms to send to a few faraway friends. They've got an initiative going called No Kid Hungry. For every Signature Party Planner you order, Hickory Farms will donate $5 to their No Kid Hungry Campaign. So what are you waiting for? Head to the nearest mall or click right here for all kinds of savory treats with a sweet feeling. (I just saw they are offering Free Shipping through Christmas Eve, too.)
I'll be back with my chocolate cupcakes with peppermint marshmallow filling and gingerbread cupcakes with maple frosting.
PS The river behind my parent's home is full to capacity and the rain is coming down hard. Keep our community in your prayers!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies

My friends Denise and Kellie hosted a Cookie Swap this week. I didn't think I would be able to make it (finals!), but then how could I miss it? Cookies! Friends! Fun! promised the invitation. I rearranged my schedule and called my favorite babysitters (mom and pop) and looked for a knock-your-socks-off cookie recipe. You'd think I'd have one by now, but I wanted a brand new knock-your-socks off cookie recipe. I spotted this brand new cookie recipe in the December Bon Appetit. You know how I feel about chocolate and peppermint at Christmas time, but still, it had to be extra special. I checked the Internet to see what any other cooks had to say about Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies-four forks and rave reviews all the way around. Can I add my forks to the pile? Yum! This is my new favorite Christmas cookie. Sorry Santa, I doubt you're getting any. Take a look: The cookie base is like a rich crackly brownie with chunks of chocolate. It's topped with more melted chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy canes.
And this is what you end up with. Candy Canes and Chocolate. A Christmas match made in heaven. Like Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. Holly and Ivy. Scrooge and Jacob Marley. Frosty and um....Mrs. Frosty. Rudolph and Clarice. Grinch and Max.
I might have eaten all the cookies myself, but then I remembered the Cookie Swap! I packed these little treasures up in a tissue paper lined box and headed over to the Cookie Swap at Denise's gorgeous house.

Denise and Kelly made the whole party so pretty. Look at all these adorable decorations!
All of the beautiful cookies and recipe cards were arranged on the counter top for sampling.

It was hard not to be greedy since the cookies were amazing, but then I remembered that I was going to be taking some home so I settled down. A little. The cookies were second only to the conversation. Remind me to take a break and talk to friends more often. I think I'd like to do this once a week. Or once a day. Or maybe twice a day. Or maybe I should just move in. Denise? Kellie? Could you clean out the spare bedroom?

Look at all the cookies I came home with!

Kellie's butter cookies: The butter flavor is so luxurious!

Lainie's M and M cookies. I know these guys. They're like old friends that you never see enough of.

I'm not sure if these whoopie pies came from Jen or Robyn but all I know is I didn't get one bite. West ate all three of them in less than 24 hours. Please don't call social services. Once in a while he eats something that grew in the ground.

Nancy and Lexie brought these white chocolate coated ginger cookies. They pack a whopping ginger punch and I couldn't get enough of them. I might have to make some tonight.

Denise made these darling little coconut-marshmallow-chocolate balls. It was almost like a bumpy, rich little truffle. You'll love them.
And these? You recognize these, don't you?

I raced home after the party and then the babysitters and charges had another party with the cookies. Within 48 hours, I didn't have a single cookie left. But I've got the recipes and you can bet you'll be seeing them right here.
Money Saving Tips: But chocolate chips on sale throughout December. These cookies are a good use for already broken candy canes.
Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies
$5.00 for 50 small cookies
2 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (do not exceed 61% cacao; 15 to 16 ounces), divided
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 large eggs
4 candy canes or 16 red-and-white- striped hard peppermint candies, coarsely crushed Read

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir 2 cups chocolate chips in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Measure 2/3 cup melted chocolate; transfer to small metal bowl and reserve for drizzling.
Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy. Add sugar and both extracts; beat until smooth. Add eggs; beat to blend. Beat in melted chocolate from medium bowl. Add dry ingredients; beat just to blend. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Measure 1 level tablespoonful dough; roll dough between palms to form ball. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing cookies 1 1/2 inches apart.
Bake cookies until cracked all over and tester inserted into center comes out with large moist crumbs attached, 8 to 9 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment paper to racks to cool completely.
Rewarm reserved 2/3 cup chocolate over small saucepan of simmering water. Using fork, drizzle chocolate over cookies. Sprinkle crushed candy canes over, arranging some pieces with red parts showing. Chill just until chocolate sets, about 20 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 weeks ahead. Store airtight in freezer. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Up Next: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Maple Frosting and Chocolate Cupcakes with Peppermint Marshmallow Filling

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Multi-tasking gone bad.....

Sometimes when I am doing too too much, everything comes crashing down and sends me back to square negative one. Like this morning, for example. I had been up late night grading term papers and assigning final grades. I woke up early to alter Sailor's leotard for Nutcracker dress rehearsal tonight, organize my courses for next semester, and to make 4 dozen cookies for this afternoon's cookie swap. At 10:30 my hair was still in a wet bun, my kitchen was a disaster and my two young students were trying to teach themselves math while I shouted orders from the kitchen. Right when I was up to my ears in melted chocolate, West tried to get himself a drink of OJ from the fridge and knocked down a full gallon of milk. It splattered all over the kitchen, inside the fridge and all over me. (Goodbye purple shoes, it was nice knowin' ya.) Just at that moment and right as my chocolate was deciding to seize up, the doorbell rang. It was my visiting teachers, the two lovely ladies from church assigned to peek in on me on a montly basis. Sailor answered the door in curlers-she has to have tight wringlets for her Nutcracker performance. Brooke and Amy came right in and helped West mop up the floor while I got the last of the chocolate on the cookies. Even though I'm trying to do much, it felt like someone was looking out for me-crazy, chaotic me. Do you have visiting teachers? You might want to think about getting some. If not, you could find yourself crying over spilt milk in a messy kitchen ten days before Christmas. I narrowly escaped. And you know what? I was so frazzled, I didn't even offer those girls a cookie. I'm pretty sure I can fix that.
PS The cookies were so amazing! I can't wait to post the recipe tomorrow. After I grade 120 more term papers, assign 120 more final grades, make it to two holiday parties and one Nutcracker rehearsal and drop off two plates of cookies to Brooke and Amy. See you then.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bark in a Splendid Variety

I really like writing "Bark in a Splendid Variety." It has the clunkiness of something translated from a foreign film. "Bark in a Splendid Variety." I've got bark in splendid varieties and lots of it! Yesterday I made ten plate fulls of the lovely stuff. It took less than thirty minutes of active work and I didn't wash a single dish. This might just be the easiest treat you'll ever make. If you can spread chocolate chips in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet, then you can make bark.
Put the chips in the oven at 325 for about 2-3 minutes.
If you can find the mint chocolate/dark chocolate chips from Nestle, then you can make Jackson Pollock bark.
Just swirl the melted chips around with a toothpick. It will come out ridiculously gorgeous.
Sprinkle some nuts, if you like. Yep, nuts. They're suprisingly good with mint. After you sprinkle the toppings on, hold the pan a good six inches above your counter and drop it down with a thud. It'll wake the dead and keep your toppings in place. Two good things in one.
Here comes my white chocolate bark with Grasshopper cookies. Kim wrote me a comment to suggest I use Oreos, but I didn't have any and I almost cried bitterly. But then I found these cookies in my cupboard and wiped the tears and forged ahead. It was in high demand from the kitchen scroungers, i.e. the kids and me.
I call this one "Candy Cane Lane" Bark. It's just so Christmas-y. Marshmallows, Candy Canes and Christmas sprinkles deck the halls of dark chocolate. Santa's getting some on his plate this year.
I also made a Candy Bar Cunch bark. It's in the back on the left and consists of a lovely blend of milk chocolate, rice krispies, cornflakes and roasted peanuts. I could have sworn I took a picture of it. Where did it go? Where oh where did it go?

After all the bark has cooled, break it into pieces and arrange on paper plates. I tried putting the bark in pretty boxes, but the bark is too pretty to hide its light under a bushel. Let it shine, baby, let it shine.
See what I'm talking about?
I made four double batches and got ten plates of bark in a splendid variety. Maybe I spent $20. Maybe even a little less. I'm doing a repeat today. For complete instructions, click here.

And one more thing before I go. Here's your chance to do something so easy and good today. Nuskin has developed a product for malnourished children all over the world. Vitameal is specifically formulated to target the nutritional needs of the poorest little people all over the world. Each Vitameal pouch contains 31 child-size meals-enough for a whole month for a hungry little soul. Here's what you can do: like this page on Facebook (click here) and Nuskin will donate a pouch. Easy, right? Spread the word and spread the love.

And one more one more thing before I go. I'm going to a Cookie Swap tomorrow and I don't know what I'm making yet. Any suggestions?

Next Up:

Salted Browned Butter Cookies