Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Citrus Thumbprint Cookies with Rose Hip Jam

I blame it on the rose hip jam. I was putzing around Lincoln Square the other day and happened to stumble across a large jar of it in the Lincoln Quality Meat Market. Not exactly sure, to be honest, what a rose hip was, but attracted to its beautiful rosy color, I paid for it and brought it home for some investigative work. My husband was convinced it was made out of tomatoes (the picture on the label did look a little tomato-y) but fortunately, it tasted nothing like tomatoes. Sweet, tart, and a little reminiscent of fruit snacks from your childhood, it seemed like a great find. Especially after reading more about rose hips. They are the flowering fruit of the rose plant and are super high in vitamin C, as well as D and E, and are a good source of antioxidants. The problem was, though, that I was coming up a little empty on recipe ideas. There just wasn't that much out there. Even "Culinary Artistry", my go to book on food pairings had nary an entry on rose-related items.

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and whip up some thumbprint cookies topped with the rose hip jam. Easy, right? Oh no- why make it easy? Feeling a little extra-ambitious, I decided I'd try a few combinations- citrus zest, walnuts, chocolate, cocoa nibs- and see which variation worked out the best. If you plan to do something silly like this and trash your kitchen like I did, at least have the sense to make the cookies in half batches, because I now have thumbprint cookies everywhere! Luckily, I had enough sheet pans and the cookies were pretty tasty. My husband happily obliged in a taste test to determine the best combination. We tried citrus zest thumbprints rolled in sugar or in chopped walnuts and chocolate thumprints rolled in sugar or in ground cocoa nibs. The hands-down favorite was the simplest- the citrus thumbprints rolled in sugar. Buttery and zesty, the cookie was a great complement to the tang of the rose hip jam. I think, though, that this recipe is sure to be just as good with the jam you have on hand. Enjoy!
Citrus Thumbprints with Rose Hip Jam
*Makes 3 dozen
Ingredients:
2 sticks salted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar, plus more for rolling
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon citrus zest (I used tangerine-yum!)
2 cups flour
1/2 cup Rose Hip jam

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare baking sheets with parchment or silpats.
-Cream together the butter and sugar.
-Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and tangerine zest and blend until combined.
-Add in the flour gradually and mix until just combined.
-Finish the dough by hand and form into a ball.
-Using a heaping tablespoonful of dough for each cookie, roll into a ball and coat with granulated sugar. (The ball should be about the size of a doughnut hole)
-Place on cookie sheets about an inch apart and flatten lightly while making an indentation in the middle with your finger.
-Fill indentation with the rose hip jam, careful not to overfill.
-Bake for 18-20 minutes, until light golden brown.
-Allow cookies to cool on pans before transferring to an airtight container.

Variation:
Chocolate Raspberry Thumbprints- These were our number 2 choice, mainly because we thought they'd be much better with raspberry instead of rose hip jam. Omit the citrus zest. Reduce flour to 1 2/3 cups. Sift 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder with flour before adding to creamed butter mixture. Swap rose hip jam for raspberry. Follow same baking directions. When cool, dizzle with melted chocolate and allow chocolate to cool before serving.

*Check http://joelens.blogspot.com for the baking challenge I entered this recipe in!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Clementine and Pistachio Salad

My mother-in-law called and invited us for a post-holiday dinner tonight. Incredibly nice, considering the fact that she hosted her entire family for Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day AND has spent the past two days at work. Did I mention that she doesn't seem tired in the slightest? I honestly don't know how she does it- she's amazing!

At any rate, I want to bring a few yummy dishes to share. In this after-Christmas haze, I seem to have some ingredients in my fridge and pantry that I need to put to good use. There are extra pistachios and dried cranberries from the various cookie recipes, clementines from my holiday centerpiece, and the loaf of pandoro bread I received as a gift. I'll be using the cranberries and pandoro for my cranberry-orange bread pudding and the pistachios and clementines for a delicious salad.

After all the excesses of the holiday, this light and refreshing salad is exactly what I'm in the mood for- crunchy, citrusy, and with a creamy tang from the goat cheese. The dressing uses oils and vinegar from Olive and Well, one of my favorite shops, but feel free to use what you have on hand. If using an unflavored olive oil, you may want to bump up the lemon juice a bit and throw some lemon zest in as well.

Clementine and Pistachio Salad
(Ingredients are listed for an individual salad so you can adjust to your number of guests)
Ingredients:
1 cup spinach leaves
2 Tbs. shelled pistachios
6-8 clementine segments
2 Tbs. crumbled goat cheese
Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)

Directions:
-Place spinach leaves on plate.
-Sprinkle pistachios and goat cheese over the salad.
-Arrange the clementine segments over the salad.
-Drizzle with lemon balsamic vinaigrette.

Lemon Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
Ingredients:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar. (I used Olive and Well's Black currant balsamic)*
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. sea salt
Pinch of black pepper
1/2 cup Meyer lemon olive oil*
1/4 cup grapeseed oil

Directions:
-Whisk the first five ingredients together.
-While whisking vigorously, slowly stream in the oils and continue whisking until emulsified.
-Transfer dressing to a squirt bottle.

*Black currant balsamic vinegar and Meyer lemon olive oil are available at www.oliveandwell.com)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Cookies

Christmas is one of those magical opportunities for really enjoying and appreciating the gifts we have, isn't it? With all that needs to be done- shopping, cooking, baking, and cleaning- we sometimes need a little reminder of the important things in our life. Family, friends, and being able to spend time with them- what could be better?

This past week, I was definitely in need of a refresher course on the important things in life. Things were so crazy with school getting out for winter break, my three cooking classes ending for the semester, and trying to get my holiday camp program organized on top of that. I was feeling a little crazed! Luckily, one of my wonderful second grade moms came to read to the class and brought with her a very special book called "Christmas Cookies" by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. If you have a little one in your life, this is the perfect book to read with them, especially if you really are making Christmas cookies.

It's a gentle reminder of the important things during this season of festive fun and happens to be on one of my favorite topics- baking! A few of my favorite excerpts:

-Anticipation means, I've been thinking all day about making the cookies. I'm so excited, I can't wait!

-Celebrate means, time to get out the sprinkles!

-Appreciative means, thank you so so much for taking the time to bake with me.


And if I'm going to be really honest...

-Disappointed means, I tried to make it look like a star but it didn't turn out at all the way I expected.

...because as I have spent the past week baking with the children in my camp program, we've learned to enjoy the imperfect cookies just as much, if not more than, the perfect ones. No disappointments here!

Hope your holiday is full of family, fun, and deliciously imperfect holiday treats!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday Cheese Ball

All I can say is yum! Maybe it's because I have a soft spot when it comes to cheese, but those holiday cheese balls, served with veggies and crackers, are such a treat this time of year! Growing up, they were bright orange and covered in sliced almonds- a staple at all of our family gatherings. Nowadays, the cheese ball seems to be making a comeback- not in the bright orange version we might be familiar with, but delicious nonetheless.

Real Simple featured a recipe for cheese balls of goat cheese rolled in a variety of toppings such as crushed wasabi peas or fennel and parmesan cheese. Amy Sedaris' Lil Smokey Cheeseball uses smoked gouda and A1. My sister-in-law often serves this amazing blue cheeseball from a caterer in her neighborhood that we all love. All good in my opinion...and kind of makes me wonder why they disappeared from my family's holiday menus between 1989 and now.

My recipe uses two of my favorite cheeses- white cheddar and blue- and gets a little extra tang from, believe it or not, white cheddar popcorn seasoning. Kernel Seasons (www.kernelseasons.com) has a wide variety of super tasty seasonings that are great on popcorn but also pretty useful for adding an extra punch of flavor to your recipes as well. It's easy to make and a great appetizer for your next holiday party.

Ingredients:
1 8-ounce package low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup finely shredded white cheddar cheese
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
2 green onions, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
Kernel Season's white cheddar seasoning (www.kernelseasons.com)
1/3 cup ground pecans or walnuts

Directions:
-Place the cheeses and chopped onions in a mixing bowl.
-Add 1 teaspoon of white cheddar seasoning and pinch of salt.
-Blend ingredients together until smooth.
-Carefully roll into a ball.
-Combine ground nuts and 1/2 teaspoon of white cheddar seasoning and place on a plate.
-Roll cheese ball in nut mixture and refrigerate until needed.
-Serve with veggies and crackers.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tis the season...for more frosting!

There's nothing like decorating freshly-baked Christmas cookies to put you in a holiday mood, especially when you're decorating those cookies with a hilarious group of kids! This Christmas break, I am running a program at my school, a holiday camp of sorts. Cooking, crafts, holiday movies for the kids- and the morning off for the parents to finish their holiday shopping and preparations.

For today's kitchen portion of the program, we tackled decorated sugar cookies. This is not a project for the faint of heart, or for the ultra-tidy, but incredible fun nonetheless. Watching the kids try to roll out the dough- wafer thin in some spots and an inch thick in others- and then cutting the cookies out, is bound to put a smile on your face. The fun really begins, though, when the cookies come out of the oven. When it comes to kids and cookie decorations, there's no such thing as too much. The cookie may break under the weight of the frosting, sprinkles, and chocolate chips, but who cares!

Although toppings in the excess was the common theme of our decorating, everyone seemed to have their own approach. Some were meticulous in applying the sprinkles and candies, creating faces for their gingerbread man and stripes on their candy cane. Others were more free form- scattering the toppings on any available surface...and into their mouths! It really seemed reflective of their individual personalities. Regardless of the approach, all of the cookies turned out as cute as can be and with the exception of a few bellyaches from too many sweets, the kids were all smiles!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Peanut Butter & Jelly Bars

Every week, I stress a little over the recipes I'll teach in my cooking classes. I, of course, hope the kids will like the dishes they create and want to make them again at home. But at the same time, I also want the recipes to be a little different than the norm- something original that they might never have tried before. This, of course, is quite a balancing act and I find myself constantly writing and experimenting with new recipes. Why? Well, the dishes that many kids like are the ones they always eat- over and over and over. How they don't get sick of the same old chicken fingers and mac and cheese, I'll never know.

New ingredients, and tastes, and textures can be a little scary to kids. One strategy I've had luck with is using a familiar ingredient (like peanut butter) as a base for some new recipes. I also let the kids check out the new ingredients- smell them, taste them- like the soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar we used along with the peanut butter to make Thai-style "Nutty Noodles." I also try not to get frustrated when they loudly announce that something is "disgusting" (like the smell of rice wine vinegar) because they may be singing a different tune when their mouth is full of said "Nutty Noodles."

This week, along with the noodles, which turned out to be much more popular than I anticipated they'd be, we made "Peanut Butter Cup" dip for pretzels and fruit, and PB&J bars. I knew the PB&J bars would go over well with them- no questions asked- especially because the majority of my recipes for this class have been on the healthier side. Everyone deserves a treat every now and then- and these bars are it. They have great peanut butter and jelly flavor and are so easy to make. They are quite rich though, so cut yourself a small one and enjoy it with a glass of milk.

Ingredients:
1 box French Vanilla cake mix
1 stick butter or margarine, very soft
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup strawberry jam, warmed
Cooking spray

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Spray an 8x8 baking pan lightly and set aside.
-Open cake mix and pour into bowl.
-Add butter and peanut butter.
-Blend ingredients together by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. The mixture will be quite crumbly.
-Press about 2/3 of the cake mix into the bottom of the prepared pan.
-Bake at 350°F for about 12-15 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown.
-Remove from oven and pour the jam over all the crust.
-Crumble the remaining cake mix over the top and return to the oven until golden brown, about 18 minutes.
-Remove from oven and allows bars to cool completely.
-Once completely cool, cut bars into twelfths.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Turkey Chili, Revisited

I'm having an awfully hard time believing it, but this blog is two years old (just over- it actually slipped my mind until the day had passed). A lot has happened over the course of the past two years, and I've learned a lot during this time. I've become much more comfortable writing recipes and talking about them, so I'm able to post more frequently than when I first started.

I do like to circle back to my older recipes, though. For one, because I really do like and use each recipe I post on this site, and also because I like to tweak and adjust things if necessary. This turkey chili was the first original recipe I created for this blog. I posted it with my turkey stock recipe shortly after Thanksgiving, but I think it got lost in the shuffle because I made barely a mention of it in my post and the recipe was all the way at the bottom of the page.

Despite this, I've come back to this chili over and over again, and really enjoy it each time I make it- no tweaking required. It is a filling meal that's also good for you, makes enough to feed a large group, and freezes really well (because I sadly don't always have a large group to feed chili to).

I do recommend it with cornbread for a cold and blustery day- which if you're in Chicago, may very well be every day between now and April 1. Winter has really set in...

Turkey Chili

Ingredients:
2 tbs. Olive Oil
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 Poblano Pepper, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. ground turkey meat
2 tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
4 cups homemade turkey stock (see here) or store-bought chicken stock
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 30 oz cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 lb. fresh or frozen corn

Directions:
-Heat olive oil in large stockpot.
-Add onions and peppers and cook 5-10 minutes, until onions start to soften and get translucent.
-Add turkey meat and garlic. Cook with vegetables until no longer pink.
-Add spices and cook for a minute or two more more.
-Add turkey stock, tomatoes, beans, and corn.
-Simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally.
-Garnish with cheese, hot sauce, and serve with cornbread.