December 31, 2014

Top Posts of 2014

Hello everyone! It's that time of year again--the time for a giant compilation of my most-viewed recipes. However, there's a slight change this year. Since my blog is getting to be a few years old now, I decided to include the top ten posts of all time a well as the ten most under-loved posts (those that I think are delicious but just don't have as many views). Anyway, I hope you try out some of these recipes in 2015, and have a happy new year!

Top 10 Posts of 2014:

10. Tuscan Chicken - juicy chicken cutlets sauteed in a chunky tomato sauce with mushrooms, cannellini beans, and herbs

9. Blueberry Almond Tart - fresh blueberries baked in a creamy almond custard all cradled in a buttery, flaky crust

8. Breakfast Cups - the perfect on-the-go breakfast with bacon, hash browns, and eggs baked together

7. Lemon Cookies - crisp and chewy cookies bursting with tart lemon flavor and topped with creamy lemon frosting

6. S'mores - homemade graham crackers with a touch of cinnamon topped with oven-roasted marshmallows and molten chocolate

5. Beer-Braised Chicken - tender chicken thighs braised in a savory beer broth with potatoes and onions

4. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic - chicken simmered in a velvety sauce packed with sweet roasted garlic, shallots, and herbs

3. Passover Chocolate Pecan Thumbprint Cookies - pecan thumbprint cookies with a melty chocolate center perfect for Passover

2. Red Velvet Muffins - delicious red velvet cake in muffin form

1. Eggplant Rollatini - eggplant, prosciutto, and ricotta filling rolled up and baked in marinara until bubbly and golden

Top 10 Most Under-Loved Posts:

10. Ginger Chili Wings - chicken wings marinated in a spicy ginger soy sesame sauce and seared until crisp

9. Spring Quiche - mini quiches with mozzarella, squash, zucchini, shallots, and whatever else you have on hand

8. Pumpkin White Chocolate Biscotti - pumpkin spice biscotti studded with chocolate chips

7. Apple Scones - oatmeal scones with chunks of apples and a hint of cinnamon

6. Spicy Honey Lime Chicken Skewers - chicken marinated in a sweet and spicy citrus marinade, grilled, and served with a honey sriracha dipping sauce

5. Gingerbread Scones - all the flavors of gingerbread packed into scones

4. Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins - pumpkin muffins with a cheesecake filling and cinnamon streusel topping

3. Biscuits - fluffy buttermilk biscuits perfect for any occasion

2. Focaccia - fresh bread with lots of olive oil, rosemary, and sea salt

1. Orange Almond Biscotti - crisp orange biscotti with crunchy almonds

Top 10 Posts of All Time:

10. Raspberry Walnut Tart - fresh raspberries baked in a walnut custard with a walnut crust

9. Beer & Bacon Pecan Bars - pecan pie in bar form but with bacon and stout

8. Blueberry Muffins - muffins with fresh blueberries, a blueberry swirl, and streusel with a touch of cinnamon

7. Red Velvet Muffins - delicious red velvet cake in muffin form

6. Shrimp & Chorizo Pasta - pasta tossed in a chorizo sauce with shrimp

5. Eggplant Rollatini - eggplant, prosciutto, and ricotta filling rolled up and baked in marinara until bubbly and golden

4. Strawberry White Chocolate Mousse Tart - a buttery, flaky crust filled with sweet, creamy white chocolate mousse and topped with fresh strawberries

3. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies - all the goodness of homemade chocolate chip cookies with the added bonus of peanut butter

2. Apple Muffins - delicious apple muffins with a maple glaze that are secretly healthy and vegan

1. White Chocolate Cranberry Shortbread - the #1 recipe on my blog since the day it was published; buttery shortbread studded with tart dried cranberries and creamy white chocolate

December 24, 2014

Cranberry Eggnog Cheesecake Tart

I'm convinced this is one of the prettiest desserts I've made so far, which means it's perfect for all your winter festivities. It's not as difficult to make as it looks, and you can do a shortcut version using pre-made pie crust dough and whatever flavor jelly you prefer. There's a few components, but none are too challenging. There's the crust, the homemade cranberry jelly, the eggnog cheesecake, and more cranberry jelly and white chocolate ganache drizzled on top.

The crust is your standard pie crust recipe baked in a tart pan. I blind bake mine, which means I roll it into the pan, chill it until cold, press a sheet of foil on top, fill it with pie weights (dried beans or peas work fine), and bake until it's just cooked through. This prevents the crust from puffing up and getting soggy. I don't worry about it overbrowning because it doesn't brown much during blind baking and the filling bakes at a very low temperature.

The cranberry jam is made from cranberries, sugar, orange juice, and a little gelatin to thicken it. Just throw everything in a pot and simmer it for 20 minutes or so until it's thick and velvety. I press mine through a strainer when it's done cooking so I get a completely smooth texture, but some of the cranberry solids would be delicious mixed back into the jam for the bottom layer. It's sweet and tart, and there will be extra, which means you can slather it on biscuits, toast, or anything else you can think of.

Usually eggnog-flavored recipes call for actual eggnog, but this cheesecake is made from scratch. It's all made in a food processor for a creamy, uniform texture. I start by pulsing cream cheese, sugar, and a splash of cream, then I add some vanilla, nutmeg, salt, and, of course, rum, though the rum could be swapped for your favorite liquor or simply omitted. Finally, it is eggnog, so I add 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, which also help bind everything together and add to the creaminess.

To assemble the tart, I spread a thin layer of the cranberry jelly (with or without adding some of the solids back in) on the blind-baked crust. I chill that until firm so that when I pour in the cheesecake mixture the two don't mix, leaving two distinct layers. I bake the jam and cheesecake until it's barely set. Once it cools and chills, the tart is ready to decorate.

I personally like to spread a thin layer of jam on top and then drizzle some white chocolate ganache on top. The jam can overpower the cheesecake fairly easily, so the top layer is totally optional, and the ganache is, too. I do love the look of swirls of white chocolate on a bright red base, and some dark chocolate would add a nice contrast as well. Another option would be to swirl a few spoonfuls of the jam into the cheesecake before it bakes, but really there are nearly infinite possibilities. Luckily, with New Years, Valentine's Day, and other holidays approaching, you'll have plenty of opportunities to play around. You'll want to bake this for every event for the next few months, so start stocking up on cranberries!

1 Recipe Pie Crust, Blind Baked in a Tart Pan
12 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
3 T Cream
1 1/2 Cups + 2 T Sugar
2 Eggs
2 Egg Yolks
2 T Rum
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Salt
12 oz Cranberries
1/3 Cup Orange Juice
3/4 tsp Gelatin
3 oz White Chocolate

Stir the cranberries, 1 cup sugar, orange juice, gelatin, and 1 cup water together in a medium pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to low heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until thick. Press through a fine sieve and set aside to cool.

Spread some of the cooled cranberry jam onto bottom of the crust and chill until cold.

Heat oven to 300F.

In a food processor, combine the cream cheese, 2 T cream, and remaining sugar and pulse until smooth. Pulse in the rum, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt, then pulse in the eggs and egg yolks.

Pour the cheesecake mixture into the crust and smooth. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until almost set. Set aside to cool to room temperature, then chill until cold.

Heat the remaining cream and the white chocolate together and stir until smooth. Spread some of the remaining jam on top of the tart and drizzle with the white chocolate ganache.

Makes 1 Tart
Recipe Adapted from Gourmet

December 19, 2014

Chicken with Shallot Cream Sauce

I'm sitting in the airport waiting to go home. I'm surrounded by small screaming children and I'm sitting in a very uncomfortable seat with who knows how many germs. The only thing getting me through the next hour (until I go to an even more noisy, cramped space) is the thought of home-cooked food. I don't think I've had chicken that's not breaded and fried until desert-dry in months, so this is definitely one of the dishes I miss most. I can't wait until I'm able to cook this succulent, crispy chicken with a velvety, creamy sauce and serve it over a heaping pile of buttery mashed potatoes.

The chicken part of this dish isn't too complicated. Use whatever your favorite cut of chicken is, but try to pick some of the bone-in, skin-on variety. The bones add extra flavor and keep the chicken moist and juicy, and the skin crisps up beautifully and prevents the chicken from drying out. Personally, I prefer chicken thighs, but breasts and drumsticks would be wonderful, too.

Once you have your chicken pieces, pat them dry with a paper towel. This gets you a nice crispy crust since there's no moisture on the outside to ruin your sear. I also dredge mine in some flour because it adds to the golden, crunchy exterior. The seasoning is pretty basic; I just use salt and pepper, but some thyme would be delicious as well and would compliment the sauce nicely. To cook the chicken, I sear it in a skillet and then throw it in the oven until done. Normally, I would do that all in the same skillet, but here I transfer the chicken to another baking dish so I can use the skillet for the sauce.

The sauce is where the dish really shines. I douse my chicken and potatoes with it and sop the rest up with some crusty French bread. I start by caramelizing some thinly sliced shallots in the chicken drippings. Since shallots don't caramelize as readily as onions, I throw in a pinch of baking soda, which instantly deepens the color and enhances their natural sweetness. Once they are tender and golden, I stir in some white wine, chicken broth, and thyme and let that reduce. Finally, I stir in the cream and let it all cook together for a few more minutes to reduce further and let all the flavors meld together.

Like I said, I love this dish served over mashed potatoes, but any type of potatoes would do. The chicken and the sauce are flavorful but delicate, so they definitely wouldn't overshadow most vegetables. Really, this is a great recipe to serve with just about any side, and I plan on eating copious amounts of it as soon as I land.

2 1/2 lbs Bone-In, Skin-On Chicken Pieces
1/4 Cup Flour
3 Shallots, Sliced Thinly
Pinch Baking Soda
3/4 Cup White Wine
3/4 Cup Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Cream
2 Sprigs Thyme

Heat oven to 350F.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, dredge in the flour, and sear on all sides until browned, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Pour out all but a spoonful of oil from the skillet. Add the shallots and baking soda and cook over low heat for 6 minutes or until tender and golden. Stir in the wine, chicken broth, and thyme and cook for 4 minutes, then stir in the cream. Cook for 8 minutes or until thickened; serve over the chicken.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Perpetually Hungry

December 11, 2014

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

It's that wonderful time of year where the season for Christmas cookies, all things pumpkin, and shameless stress-eating all overlap. These pumpkin oatmeal cookies are the perfect solution to all these problems and more.

I know oatmeal cookies get a lot of hate, but I think that's only because people think they are getting chocolate chip cookies and end up severely disappointed. These oatmeal cookies are chock-full of pumpkin and spices, and they don't have raisins (unless you want them to). Instead, I load them with white chocolate, dried cranberries, and pecans, though you could use whatever mix-ins you want and/or have.

Don't be scared off by the long list of ingredients. These are just cookies. There's flour (you can sub half for whole wheat flour if you want), baking soda, salt, a bunch of basic spices, and oats. Make sure you use old-fashioned rolled oats and not instant oats or your texture will not turn out well. There's also lots of butter, some molasses, sugar (granulated and brown), an egg yolk, pumpkin puree (yes, there are cans available all year if you look hard enough), and a splash of vanilla.

You don't even need a mixer since the dough is soft enough. It may look a little too soft, but it will firm up after a few minutes once the oats start absorbing moisture from the batter. The cookies still bake up nice and soft, so if you like slightly cakey cookies, you should bake a few batches.

If you like really cakey cookies, these pumpkin cookies are wonderful. They are practically whoopie pies, so feel free to slather them in frosting and call them that. On the other end of the spectrum, there's my pumpkin white chocolate biscotti, which are crunchy and great for dipping in hot winter beverages. Lastly, these may not be cookies, but while you are on a pumpkin kick you absolutely have to make them: my pumpkin cheesecake muffins. They are pumpkin muffins with a creamy cheesecake filling and sweet, crunchy streusel sprinkled on top.

Although Starbucks has moved on from pumpkin, that doesn't mean you have to. It's still technically pumpkin season, and anyway there's a reason why grocery stores have canned pumpkin all year. Hint: it's so you can make delicious stuff like this.

2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Allspice
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/8 tsp Cloves
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Cups Oats
2 Sticks Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Molasses
1/2 Cup Sugar
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup White Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 Cup Chopped Pecans, Toasted

Heat oven to 350F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves, and salt together. Stir in the oats.

Combine the butter, molasses, sugar, brown sugar, and egg yolk, Whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla, then stir into the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate, cranberries, and pecans.

Scoop the dough into balls and bake for 12 minutes or until soft but cooked through.

Recipe Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

December 7, 2014

Gingerbread Biscotti

It's a little sad when all you have for Christmas cookies are overpriced little boxes from the dining hall. All I want are some warm, fresh, homemade cookies. Is that too much to ask? I guess I'll just have to settle for microwaving their chocolate chip cookies.

Luckily, you don't have to. These gingerbread biscotti are absolutely perfect for this time of year because they are flavored for the season, one batch makes a ton, they aren't too bad for you, and they last much longer than regular cookies. You can eat them plain, dunk them in coffee or tea, crumble them over ice cream, or eat them however else you can imagine.

Biscotti roughly translates to "twice-baked," which is why they last so long. You shape the dough into logs, bake them once, slice the logs, and then bake them again until crisp. Most cookies go hard and stale after a few days, but these last for upwards of a week with little noticeable change and freeze wonderfully if you need them longer.

I'll start with the dry ingredients. I use a mixture of regular all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour because you can't really tell that it's whole wheat with all the spices in there (so why not make them a little healthier?). Speaking of spices, I use ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, four of your Fall staples. You can't have gingerbread without them! Granulated sugar is all you need for sweetness; there's no need to use brown sugar since I add the molasses separately and that's the only difference between the two types.

For the wet ingredients, I use a little bit of butter, eggs, and, of course, the molasses. The molasses is the key ingredient for the gingerbread flavor, and it also gives it a lovely brown hue. There's less than a stick of butter in the whole batch, which makes 40-50 slices, so that's part of the reason why I use so many eggs. The eggs provide the necessary moisture, and they also help hold it all together.

Biscotti typically have add-ins like nuts, chocolate, or dried fruit. You can use one, a combination, or none depending on what you like and what you have on hand; I recommend using dried cranberries, pecans or walnuts, and/or white chocolate chips.

Whether you have a cookie exchange, gifts to give, or guests to feed, biscotti can solve all your problems. You can mix and match these, pumpkin white chocolate biscottichocolate orange hazelnut biscotti, orange almond biscotti, or whatever other flavor combinations you create. I'm sure everyone will love them!

1/3 Cup Butter, Melted
1 Cup Sugar
3 Eggs
1/4 Cup Molasses
2 1/4 Cups Flour
1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1 T Baking Powder
1 1/2 tsp Ginger
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Cloves
1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries and/or Diced Crystallized Ginger, Optional
1/2 Cup Chopped Toasted Pecans, Optional
1/2 Cup White Chocolate Chips, Optional

Heat oven to 375F and line cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the butter, sugar, eggs, and molasses together. Sift the flour, whole wheat flour, salt, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg together. Stir the butter mixture and the flour mixture together, then fold in the cranberries and pecans if using.

Split the dough in half and shape each into a log. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Slice the biscotti and bake for 12 minutes or until crisp; they will continue to dry as they cool.

Makes 48
Recipe Adapted from Chew Out Loud