December 30, 2017

Top Posts of 2017

As wild a year as 2017 was, at least there was plenty of good food. Here are 30 great recipes to start you off in 2018!

Top 10 Recipes of 2017:

10. Jerk Chicken Chili - A complex, spicy chili packed with chicken, beans, and veggies

9. Cheesy Buffalo Pretzel Ring - Hot, bubbly cheese dip with a buffalo kick and plenty of pretzel bites for dipping

8. Voodoo Shrimp - Shrimp and sausage in a spicy, boozy sauce

7. Italian Chicken Chili - A new take on chili with chicken, sausage, beans, tomatoes, and kale

6. Brownie Pudding - The only thing better than regular brownies: soft, gooey, hot brownies with vanilla ice cream on top

5. Cheesy Sausage Buns - Buns stuffed with andouille, caramelized onions, and pepperjack cheese, though it is easily adaptable to other flavors

4. Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Quiche - Quiche loaded with mushrooms, caramelized onions, and plenty of cheese

3. Chicken Florentine - A quick and easy chicken dinner with spinach and tomatoes in a rich, creamy sauce

2. Spicy Roasted Chickpeas - A spicy, crunchy snack, salad topper, or crunch factor

1. Chocolate Mousse - A rich, velvety chocolate mousse great for eating plain or layering into a parfait

10 Recipes That Need More Love:

10. Apple Pie Shortcake - Buttery, flaky biscuits layered with spiced apples

9. Christmas Light Cookies - Perfectly rolled sugar cookies frosted with Christmas light decor (featured in Madison Magazine)

8. Maple Apple Spice Cake - A moist, fluffy spice cake with saucy spiced apples on top

7. Zucchini Ricotta Crostada - Creamy herbed ricotta filling topped with summery zucchini in a buttery, flaky crust

6. Spinach & Prosciutto Stuffed Shells

5. Frosted Cinnamon Spice Bars - Incredibly moist and cakey cinnamon bars with a luscious cream cheese frosting

4. Tollhouse Pie - Basically a big, gooey chocolate chip cookie baked into a pie crust

3. Thai Squash Soup - The weirdest combination of ingredients in a soup you'll ever try but it works

2. Bourbon Peach Pecan Galette - Bourbon-spiked peaches and pecans in a buttery pecan crust

1. Peanut Butter Chocolate Shortbread - Peanut buttery goodness with plenty of chocolate added in

Top 10 Recipes of All Time:

10. Waffles - Crisp, buttery waffles: one of my all time favorites!

9. Cranberry Apple Muffins - Quick and easy muffins studded with seasonal apples and fresh cranberries

8. Croque Poulet - My favorite sandwich: chicken, bacon, and cheesy goodness

7. Brownies - Rich, fudgy brownies with added chocolate chips for good measure

6. Cucumber Salad - Crisp cucumbers marinated in a salty, tangy sauce with crunchy sesame seeds

5. Meatballs - Juicy, savory meatballs with a secret ingredient to make them absolutely perfect

4. Spicy Beer Chili - A classic made better with beer

3. Chili - Everything spicy and savory all in one bowl

2. Guacamole - The perfect balance of chunky and smooth with a hint of heat and acidity

1. White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies - Once again the most popular recipe on my blog! Buttery shortbread studded with cranberries and white chocolate

December 26, 2017

Eggnog New Years Countdown Cake

I'm sure everyone is in a food coma right now. I'm about to explode from all the Chinese food, latkes, Christmas cookies, and chocolate I've consumed over the last 24 hours. But the best time to plan your next great cooking adventure is while you're immobilized from your last, so boy do I have a New Year's dessert for you. Normally I go with something classy and seasonal, like a cranberry eggnog cheesecake tart or a maple apple spice cake. This year, I wanted something more festive. I got you covered with the seasonal eggnog flavors, but it's frosted as a clock counting down to the new year.

I knew I wanted a clock for this cake; it's the perfect decor for New Years without going too over-the-top with frosting and decorations. As long as you have the numbers and hands, you can decorate the cake however you want. I went with a night sky sort of theme with swirls of blue frosting and gold stars, but you can pick your favorite colors and flavors to work with. To make the numbers and hands, I used white candy melts (you can use white chocolate or white bark coating), scooped them into a piping bag or ziploc bag with the tip cut off, and drew everything on a piece of parchment paper. For some extra pizzazz, I sprinkled on some glittery gold sprinkles before the chocolate dried. I did make a couple extra of the particularly fragile ones since it's better to have some chocolate to munch on than to have a broken clock.

Eggnog is a great flavor for cake; it's rich and custardy with notes of rum and nutmeg. It's like a really rich vanilla cake but so much better. I essentially make a vanilla cake and swap in eggnog for the milk or buttermilk. I also add a splash of rum and a pinch of nutmeg to enhance the flavors of the eggnog. The only problems that arise are the leavening since you lose the acidity of the buttermilk and the makeup of the eggnog makes it weigh down the cake. I combat this by adding a ton of baking powder; it doesn't need acid like baking soda does and adding even more helps to leaven the cake properly.

You can use your favorite cake recipe here; the flavor doesn't really matter. I chose eggnog to bring an extra bit of holiday flair, but the important thing is that your friends and family like it. Keep in mind that darker cakes tend to show through the frosting more, though that's a great excuse to keep piling more frosting on. You also don't have to attempt a night sky feel for the frosting since you can put the clock decorations on pretty much anything.

1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 3/4 Cups Sugar
4 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
3 Cups Flour
1 T + 1 tsp Baking Powder
1 1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 1/2 Cups Eggnog
3 T Rum
4-6 Cups Frosting, Colored as Desired
1/2 Cup Melted White Chocolate/Coating

Heat oven to 350F. Line 3 9" round cake pans with parchment and grease.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together. Whisk the rum into the eggnog.

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla. Add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the eggnog in 2 additions.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.

Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then flip onto wire racks to cool completely. Level the tops with a large serrated knife if necessary. Spread a spoonful of frosting onto the center of a platter or cake plate. Flip the first layer onto the plate. Top with 1/2-3/4 cup frosting and spread evenly to the edges. Repeat with the next two layers. Spread 1/2-3/4 cup frosting on the top layer, pushing down the sides as necessary to form a very thin coat of frosting. Spread some of the remaining frosting on the sides of the cake to form a thin but uniform layer. Refrigerate the cake with this thin crumb coat for 30 minutes or until firm.

Meanwhile, pipe the melted chocolate into numbers 1-12 about an inch tall, piping extras as necessary to make up for breakage. Pipe one short arrow and one long arrow, about 2" and 4". Sprinkle with glitter if desired while still wet. Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake as desired. Press the numbers on the outer edge of the top of the cake as if making a clock. Add the arrows.

Makes 1 3-Layer 9" Round Cake
Recipe Adapted from AllRecipes

December 19, 2017

Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

In my opinion, winter dinners should take advantage of the few in-season ingredients, be easy to prepare, can be scaled up easily to feed all your guests, and warm you up from the inside for those days that are too cold to move and/or freeze your soul with studying (yay finals!). This cranberry balsamic chicken meets all of these goals; a surprising amount of flavor is packed into one dish, it's a savory way to use cranberries, it's the same amount of work to feed one or ten people, and it's cozy enough to eat while binge-watching Netflix in a giant fuzzy blanket while ignoring your responsibilities. Did I mention it's finals week?

The chicken starts with a marinade of olive oil, spices, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar. It's an acidic punch that tenderizes the chicken and is full of flavor. The best part is that it only needs an hour to marinate instead of all day and all night, though you could leave the chicken in for a few hours if you have other things to do.

I like chicken thighs for dishes like this. The bone keeps the chicken juicy and tender, and the skin adds a nice crunch and keeps all the moisture in. Chicken thighs also present better than other cuts, as you can tell from my gorgeous pictures this week. However, I can attest that chicken breasts work just fine, since my dad prefers those and he thoroughly enjoyed his meal too. Just watch your cooking time since the chicken breasts dry out much more easily.

Before roasting, the chicken gets topped with a cranberry relish. It consists of fresh cranberries, more balsamic vinegar, a bit of brown sugar, more lemon juice, and seasoning. You can't substitute anything for the fresh cranberries, which is why this dinner is so great for this time of year. If you become addicted to this recipe and want to make it year-round, cranberries freeze unusually well, so I buy a few extra bags when they're available and freeze them for later use. The vinegar complements the tartness of the cranberries and brings the dish together since it matches the marinade, as does the lemon juice. The brown sugar is necessary to counter all the tart ingredients in the relish and the marinade, so add more to taste if it's exceptionally acidic.

Sides are just as important as the protein, and this couscous certainly stands up to the chicken. You could do rice or potatoes or pasta, but couscous are extremely easy and ready in just 5 minutes. Although the box typically says to cook the couscous in water, I use chicken broth for extra flavor. I also add some of the chicken drippings, again to tie the dish together. The great thing about couscous is that you just add it to boiling liquid, turn off the heat, and let it steam for a few minutes until it's done. No watching to make sure it doesn't boil over, no checking to see if it's al dente, and no awkwardly pouring out boiling water into the sink without spilling pasta everywhere. Once the couscous is cooked, I fluff it and toss it with lemon juice, parsley, and red onion to bulk it up a bit and add some freshness to the dish.

To serve, I scoop the now-roasted cranberry relish onto each piece of chicken and serve it with a pile of couscous. You could add some green veggies on the side and a tasty dessert to complete the meal. This recipe also makes fantastic leftovers, so you can scale it up even more and avoid cooking to stay wrapped in your cozy blanket even longer.

5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Olive Oil
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Paprika
3 T + 1 tsp Lemon Juice
5 T Balsamic Vinegar
1 1/2 lbs Chicken Breasts or 4-6 Chicken Thighs
1 Cup Cranberries
2 T Brown Sugar
1 Cup Chicken Broth
1 Cup Couscous
3 T Chopped Parsley
2 T Minced Onion

Combine the garlic, olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, 2T lemon juice, 3T balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Add the chicken and marinate for 1-6 hours.

Combine the cranberries, remaining 2T balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 400F and grease a large baking dish.

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken skin-side down (if using skin-on chicken) and sear until browned, about 4-6 minutes per side. Transfer to the baking dish and top with the cranberry mixture. Roast for 25 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth and 2T chicken drippings to a boil in a small pot. Add the couscous, cover, turn off the heat, and let steam for 5 minutes. Fluff and toss with the remaining 1T lemon juice, parsley, red onion, and salt and pepper.

Serve the chicken with the relish over the couscous.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Chasing the Seasons

December 6, 2017

Cranberry Gingerbread Linzer Cookies

One of my favorite parts about this time of year is all the cookies. You can bake cookies for no reason and nobody will question it or berate you for ruining their summer bodies or New Years resolutions. It is prime cookie-eating time, y'all, and boy do I have some good recipes for you. There's my all-time most popular recipe for white chocolate cranberry cookies, some naturally beautiful red velvet crinkle cookies, festive Christmas light cookies, and the best of holiday cookies swirled into one snickersnap. These cranberry gingerbread linzer cookies only add to the merriment and the food babies. They consist of spiced gingerbread cookies sandwiched with a fresh cranberry compote, and you can sprinkle them with powdered sugar for extra holiday flair.

The keys to any good gingerbread cookie (or gingerbread in general) are molasses and the perfect blend of spices. Here, I mix the molasses in when I add the eggs to the creamed butter and sugar. This makes sure it's properly incorporated, since you have to avoid overworking the dough once you add the flour. I normally add brown sugar to most of my cookies, but here you get the molasses flavor and chewiness from the molasses itself, so granulated sugar works just fine. The spice mixture is my favorite blend of 3 parts cinnamon, 2 parts each ginger and nutmeg, and 1 part each allspice and cloves. You can adjust that if you want extra-gingery gingerbread or have other preferences, or you can just buy pumpkin pie spice blends if you don't plan on using these spices much.

Most of my cookies are scoop and bake, meaning that you can just take a cookie scoop or spoon to the dough and bake it right away. Others are slice and bake; you roll the dough into logs, slice them into coins, and bake them. These are probably the most complicated since you have to roll them out and cut them into the proper shapes. If you want oreo-style sandwich cookies, you can use the slice and bake method, but for the classic linzer cookie shape with the center cutout to see the filling, you're going to need to roll them. I make mine about 1/4" thick (chilling for a few hours definitely helps with the rolling) so you still get some chew with a bit of crispiness, and I have a set of round cookie cutters with scalloped edges. You can make these any shape, whether it's simple round cookies (use a glass/cup if you don't have any cookie cutters) or more festive shapes. I cut all the dough to the same size then cut out the centers of half the shapes. This way, you get one whole piece for the bottom and once piece with a window for the top.

The cranberry filling is like a traditional cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving but cooked down more (and with more sugar) so it's more of a jammy consistency. If you can find cranberry jam or another flavor of jam you prefer, you can save yourself some time and swap it in. I, however, love taking advantage of the cranberries since they're only in season for a few weeks out of the year.

All you have to do is combine cranberries, sugar, and a splash of orange juice and cook it for 10 minutes or so until the berries burst. I take a wooden spoon to it to help crush the berries since I like some texture but whole berries would be a bit too clunky for these delicate cookie sandwiches. If you want it really smooth, you can pulse it in a food processor or blender and/or strain the compote to get out the big pieces. The natural pectins in the cranberries help to thicken the mixture, as does boiling off the water during cooking. If it looks too thin (it should be a spreadable consistency), put it back on the stove until it's ready.

Once the cookies and the cranberry compote cool, it's time to sandwich them. I take a whole cookie, spread some cranberry jam on the flat side (the bottom of the cookie since the top puffs up a bit), and top it with a cookie with a window. Just before serving, I like to dust them with powdered sugar to dress them up a bit and give even more color contrast. These would make lovely gifts, especially if boxed with some of the other cookie recipes, or can stand on their own for a platter to keep your holiday guests happy.

1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
3 T Molasses
2 2/3 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Cloves
1/4 tsp Allspice
2 Cups Cranberries
1/4 Cup Orange Juice

Beat the butter and 1 cup sugar together. Add the eggs, vanilla, and molasses and beat until smooth.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices together. Gradually add to the butter mixture. Chill for at least 2 hours or until firm.

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

Split the dough in half and roll to 1/4" thick. Cut into circles and rings and bake for 6-8 minutes or until just golden.

Meanwhile, combine the cranberries, remaining sugar, and orange juice in a medium pot. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat until thick, stirring occasionally and mashing with a spoon until the berries are burst.

Spread a small spoonful of cranberry compote on each cookie. Top with another cookie or ring and repeat until all cookies are sandwiched.

Makes 28