Sunday, December 28, 2008

Homemade Gifts

Chocolate Covered Pretzels...
they look easier to make than they are.

I found these cute containers at the Christmas Tree Shop. I usually find something there every year. I filled them with milk and dark chocolate covered pretzel nuggets. Not the easiest pretzel to cover. Because they are so small it was difficult get them out of the chocolate and to let them drip after dipping.

I filled these ornaments and small holiday trays with large sour dough pretzels dipped in dark chocolate. These were a little easier to manage.

Oh did I tell you that my first batch all turned gray?? Yeah, what a nightmare. I guess it had something to do with not tempering the chocolate. I have never tempered chocolate before and never really had a problem. I think I just left the chocolate on the heat (in the double boiler) too long. So anyway, I had to unwrap everything and start all over again. What a back ache~ literally! My back is killing me and this disaster didn't help.

Oh well, at least they turned out nice in the end! I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Penne with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Olives

Really Tasty Pasta Dish!

I know it doesn't look like much, but this was a really flavorful dish. Roasting the vegetables is the trick. It brings out the sweetness and creates a yummy sauce from all the juices.

My inspiration for this recipe came from Ina Garden's recipe Orzo with Roasted Vegetables.
I used the same dressing and it really gives the pasta a nice zing!

With the holiday fast approaching things have been pretty hectic lately. Between nursing a back ache and now trying to get over a cold, it has been a real challenge to get anything done. I did manage to bake my usual cookie marathon. I made so many cookies, bars and brownies that my head is still spinning. I spent all day Saturday from 9:30am to 9:30pm decorating and packaging them all. Now I have to figure out how to deliver all of them in the mist of all these snow storms. I got over a foot of snow in my neck of the woods.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday!
Happy cooking and baking!

Penne with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Olives

1 medium/large eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced
2 red bell peppers, 1-inch diced
1 large leek, ends cut off, cut vertically, 3/4 inch sliced and washed thoroughly
2 cups black olives, pitted and left whole
3 medium shallots, quartered
8 garlic cloves, left whole
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound penne or your favorite pasta shape
1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts), toasted
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, leeks, shallots, olives and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 45 minutes, until browned, turning once halfway through cooking.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid; drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. If the pasta is a little dry add some of the cooking liquid. Add the pignolis, Pecorino, and parsley. Taste for seasoning and serve. May also be served at room temperature.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cinnamon Breakfast Biscotti

Breakfast Anyone?

I have been craving anything with cinnamon lately. It must be the crisp December air. Cold weather always makes me think of all the warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, etc. So it got me thinking of cinnamon cookies. Of course cookies are always on my mind, so this was not a far reach. ;) I was going to make snickerdoodles since I have never made them before, but I decided to go with biscotti at the last minute.

Biscotti are like a guilt free cookie to me. Because there is not a lot of fat used in most biscotti recipes, I feel like I can eat more of them. I made this recipe on an even healthier note. I used a lot less sugar than in a traditional biscotti. It also has lots of heart healthy whole grains in it. Since these biscotti are not overly sweet, they are perfect for breakfast or even a late night snack!

Cinnamon Breakfast Biscotti

by Mixed Salad Annie

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 tablespoons wheat germ
3/4 cup natural sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg whites and 1 whole large egg
2 tablespoons tub margarine, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325°.

Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; set aside.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, mixing with a whisk. With an electric mixer combine eggs, margarine, and vanilla on low speed. Add to flour mixture, mixing just until moist.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for about 1 minute. Shape dough into 2 16-inch-long rolls. Place rolls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; flatten slightly and square off ends. Sprinkle reserved cinnamon sugar over dough; pushing down lightly with fingers.

Bake at 325° for 20 minutes. Place rolls on a cutting board; let cool 10 minutes. Cut each roll diagonally into (1/2-inch) slices. Place cookies on their sides back onto the baking sheet. Bake at 325° for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from baking sheet; let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Apricot-Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

A Classic with a Twist...

When ever you are unsure of what type of cookie to make for a party or to give to someone for a gift, stick with the classics. The thumb print cookie is surely that. They are pretty easy to make and everyone seems to love them. You can fill it with any jam or preserves you like, but apricot and raspberry are tried and true.
I added a surprise element to these cookies by drizzling them with chocolate. I love the way chocolate and apricots or even raspberry taste together. It also dresses them up a bit for the holidays! But you could omit it or even use white chocolate if you want.

Even though my blog is usually healthy versions of classic recipes, this one was a little hard to change without altering the flavor. So I kept half the butter and used a healthier (non-hydrogenated) margarine to replace the other 1/2 cup of butter. So I did replace some of the saturated fat. Oh well, it's the holidays, not every recipe can be healthy. So just eat in moderation! I'll try, but no promises ;)
Apricot-Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup tub margarine (such as smart balance), softened
3 /4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or almond extract)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup apricot jam/preserves (or raspberry)
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

Beat butter, margarine and sugar on medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy and fluffy. Add egg yolks and vanilla; beat well.

Add combined flour and salt to butter mixture and beat until just blended. Lightly beat egg whites in a small bowl. Set aside. Put chopped walnuts in another small bowl.

Form rounded teaspoons of dough into balls; dipping each ball in beaten egg white, then roll in the chopped walnuts. Place cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets. Press thumb or the back of a 1/2 teaspoon gently into center of each ball, to make an indention; fill each cookie with about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon preserves.

Bake at 350° for 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown. Let cookies cool 2 minutes on cookie sheets before moving to wire racks to cool completely.

With a spoon, drizzle melted chocolate over cooled cookies. Let dry and store in airtight container.