Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twelve Treats of Christmas-Caramel Corn

My Christmas series "The Twelve Treats of Christmas" continues with caramel corn. This might not be the most traditional of Christmas treats, but it should be! It keeps for a few days in a tightly sealed container, is a wonderful addition to a tin of homemade goodies, and ships beautifully. Plus, it's so fun to make up a batch, start a fire, and snuggle up with your honey to watch a Christmas movie. Yay for Christmas!

caramel corn
Caramel Corn
adapted from a family recipe

printer-friendly recipe

1 c. corn, popped (I used 3 microwave bags)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter

2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. white corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 c. almonds, chopped (or other desired add in)


1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Pour popcorn in a very large, wide bowl.

2. In a deep saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar. corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, for one minute. Continue boiling, without stirring, four more minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, baking powder, and almonds, if desired. Mixture will flare up a bit.

4. Immediately pour mixture of popcorn. Using a heatproof spatula, toss until popcorn is mostly coated. DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS! The caramel will be extremely hot. If popcorn isn't completely coated, that's okay. It will get more evenly coated as it bakes.

5. Spread popcorn onto two deep jelly roll pans. Bake for one hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

6. Pour popcorn onto wax paper. Let cool completely, then break into pieces and enjoy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Twelve Treats of Christmas-Peppermint Bark

It's Christmas time! Hooray! I am so excited for Christmas this year. I've always loved Christmas, but this year I am over the top with the decorations, music, and baking. Honestly, I'm like a little kid this year. And I love it.

To help all of you get in the Christmas spirit, I'll be doing a very special series I'm calling "The Twelve Treats of Christmas". From now until Christmas, I'll make twelve holiday favorites. Some of them are traditional to my family, some I'm making because they're traditional to other families, and others I'm making as a way to introduce new treats to include in homemade goodie tins, to take to cookie parties, and to place on bountiful buffet tables.

I'm kicking off the series today with peppermint bark, one of my all-time favorites. Peppermint is one of those things that really only gets used during Christmas time. And it's very good friends with chocolate. I happen to really love peppermint, so I've amped up the peppermint flavor here by using both peppermint extract and chopped up candy canes. I've also swirled the two chocolates together for a prettier and less expected presentation.

I hope you'll enjoy this peppermint bark all throughout this glorious season. Stay tuned for more treats as "The Twelve Treats of Christmas" continues!

homemade peppermint bark

Peppermint Bark
an "Apple a Day" original
printer-friendly recipe

1 lb. dark or semisweet chocolate

1 lb. white chocolate
1 tsp. peppermint extract

4 candy canes, crushed or chopped


1. Line one 9x13 baking dish with wax paper. Preheat oven to warm if only using one double boiler.

2. If using one double boiler, heat dark chocolate until just melted, them place in small heaps in lined baking dish. If using two double boilers, heat white chocolate and peppermint extract together until just melted. Place white chocolate mixture and dark chocolate in baking dish, alternating large spoonfuls for a checkerboard effect. If you do not want to swirl the chocolate, spread the dark chocolate out in the baking dish, let cool slightly, then carefully layer white chocolate on top.

3. Using an offset or other small spatula, swirl chocolates together until you have the look you want.
4. Sprinkle candy cane on top of swirled chocolate.

5. Let cool at room temperature. Chop into pieces when completely cooled.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ginger Pear Walnut Bread

My friend Katie, the Superwoman behind Good Things Catered, and I share a love of pears and ginger. So when I saw this delicious bread on her blog, I immediately added it to my list of things to make. And boy am I glad I did!

I knew I'd made the right choice about ten minutes into the baking time when my whole apartment smelled divine. By the time the bread was done baking, I could hardly wait long enough for it to cool just enough to cut a slice. Katie said this bread would be better after cooling and sitting for a day (or overnight, in my case) and she was, of course, right. The flavors were at their prime the next day. Looks like another home run, Miss Katie!

ginger pear walnut bread
Ginger Pear Walnut Bread
adapted from from Good Things Catered

1 c. all-purpose flour
½ c. whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg
scant 1 c. vanilla sugar
1/4 c. oil or applesauce
1/3 c. pear nectar (If using oil, reduce to 1/4 c.)
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. ripe pears (about 2 small), peeled, cored and diced
1/3 c. crystallized ginger, diced
1/2 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and prepare a loaf pan (or four mini loaf pans).

2. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg and whisk to combine thoroughly, set aside.

3. In bowl of stand mixer, combine applesauce, pear nectar, and sugar and beat to combine thoroughly.

4. Add egg and yolk and beat to combine thoroughly. Beat in vanilla.

5. Turn mixer to low and add flour mixture, a little at a time, beating until just combined.

6. Stir in pears, ginger and walnuts.

7. Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan or mini loaf pans (batter will be quite thick) and spread evenly. Place into oven and bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let cool before serving, if you can. Keep in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped, up to three days.

One year ago: One of my favorite recipes I've ever made, both because of flavor and memories, pear pie with maple and ginger

Monday, November 16, 2009

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

I love, love, love soup. The smells that waft through the house when it's simmering away and the way it warms you from the inside out...I just can't get enough. And finally...FINALLY! Soup weather in Phoenix!

I've been waiting for this day. I've been keeping the ingredients on hand just in case (I've lived in Phoenix most of my life and I still hold out hope for a real fall day!) the day snuck up one me; I didn't want to risk missing it. And I didn't miss it. I enjoyed every single spoonful of this easy and comforting chicken noodle soup.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
an "Apple a Day" original

3 TBSP olive oil

3/4 c. chopped carrots

3/4 c. chopped celery
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBSP minced fresh thyme
2 qt. reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 1/5 qt. water

1 bay leaf

8 oz. egg noodles
2 c. cooked shredded chicken salt and pepper, to taste


1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large stock pot. Add carrots and celery. Cook until just beginning to soften, about eight minutes. Add onion and cook five minutes more.

2. Add garlic and thyme. Cook until fragrant, about one minute.

3. Add all broth, water, and bay leaf. reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 15 minutes.

4. Add noodles and chicken. Simmer 8-10 minutes more until noodles are cooked through. Add salt and pepper taste.

One year ago:
lemon-glazed spiced persimmon cake

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pumpkin Cookies Two Ways

I had the day off from work yesterday (Thanks to our courageous and selfless American veterans!) and, of course, spent a large part of the day cooking and baking. Pumpkin was a must for me, so I turned to one of my favorite seasonal cookbooks, A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash. It is just chock full of amazing recipes, sweet and savory, using every type of squash imaginable. It's so good, I even bought the sister edition that came out the following year!

In the notes to this recipe, the cookbook author suggests trading out the pecans and dried cranberries for walnuts and dark chocolate. So which variation did I pick? You guessed it! Like the good little food blogger I am, I made the batter, halved it, then tried out both mix-in combinations. Just think of it as an early Thanksgiving present. A little somethin' somethin' from me to you. Just something you can be thankful for.

So which was better? Well, it all depends on who you ask. I loved the chocolate walnut combination because, well, it's dark chocolate. Others loved the cranberry pecan combo for it's decidedly fall flavor. The final verdict is you really can't go wrong. I think next time I'll go with cranberry, walnuts, and chocolate!

pumpkin cookiesOn the left, cranberry-pecan cookies. On the right, chocolate-walnut.

Pumpkin Cookies Two Ways
from Lou Seibert Pappas, A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash


1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg
3/4 c. pumpkin puree

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 c. whole-wheat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice

1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg

1/2 tsp. ground ginger
pinch of salt
1 c. dried cranberries and 3/4 c. pecans, toasted and chopped

1 c. chopped dark chocolate and 3/4 c. walnuts, toasted and chopped


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with baking spray or line with silicone baking mat.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the brown sugar and beat until fluffy, about three minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and spices in a separate medium bowl.

4. Add the egg, pumpkin, and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat until smooth.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix until just incorporated.

6. Stir in cranberries and pecans or chocolate and walnuts by hand.

7. Drop the batter by rounded tablespoons (I used a scant standard-sized scoop) onto the prepared pans. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

8. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container up to four days or wrap tightly and freeze for up to one month.

One year ago:
another pumpkiny treat, pumpkin-orange waffles with sweet orange butter

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Basil Pesto a la Kelsey

Yup. You guessed it. I had a huge package of amazing organic basil to use up. And I'm not sorry. I love the look of the beautiful, bright leaves and that irresistible basily smell. Consequently, I love pesto. Not that super oily, funky store-bought kind, though. The real stuff. Fresh, homemade, and seasoned just to my liking. This recipe might not be the ultimate in traditional basil pesto, but it sure is tasty!

basil pesto

Basil Pesto a la Kelsey
an "Apple a Day" original

2 c. fresh basil, lightly packed
1/3 c. toasted walnuts
1 garlic clove
1 TBSP lemon zest
2 TBSP lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place all ingredients except oil in food processor. Run until almost smooth.

2. With processor still running, drizzle oil through feed tube until completely mixed. That's it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

I normally prefer my banana bread with only walnuts. And that's weird for me. See, as those of you who read my blog regularly know, I'm a pretty severe chocoholic. There are very few desserts I don't think are better with chocolate. Very few. But banana bread...usually better with chocolate.

Nonetheless, I got a mean craving for banana bread with chocolate chips the other night. And since I know many of my readers probably love banana bread with chocolate chips, I went with it. I made this outstanding banana-walnut bread from my favorite baking book, Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking, not too long ago. The recipe was absolutely wonderful, but I wanted to try something new just for comparison purposes. This Joy of Cooking recipe was good. I'm definitely glad I tried it. I'd have to say, though, if I ever get another craving for banana bread with chocolate chips, I'll make the Williams-Sonoma recipe.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips
adapted from The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking

2/3 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. whole-wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
5 1/3 TBSP (1/3 c.) unsalted butter
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2/3 c. light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. mashed, very ripe banana (about 2)
3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with baking spray or grease and flour.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, vanilla, and brown sugar together on high speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon.

4. Beat flour mixture into butter mixture until completely blended and the consistency resembles brown sugar. Gradually add in the eggs.

5. By hand, fold in bananas, chocolate chips, and walnuts until just combined.

6. Pour the batter into loaf pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes.

7. Let cool in pan on wire rack for five minutes before turning out to cool completely on rack.

One year ago: magic blondies

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cornmeal and Rosemary Cake with Balsamic Syrup

Back when I was in my own house, I would have my mom and sister over for dinner every Wednesday night. We'd eat, take the dogs for a walk, watch tv, talk, then eat dessert. I loved being able to have them over. I loved being able to try new recipes every week and get multiple opinions. Most of all, I loved being able to take care of my mom, if only just a little, after all she's done for me. Sadly, I had to move out of my house, my sister has had night classes for the past few semesters, and our weekly dinners have come to an end.

But this past Friday night, everything worked out for my mom to come over for dinner once again! I was so excited and couldn't wait to cook for her. We had a great time.

This recipe was a perfect dessert to the chicken cacciatore and mixed greens with balsamic-honey dressing I served for dinner. My mom and I both really loved it for it's great texture, which was like sweet, moist cornbread, and the unique flavor of the balsamic syrup. If you're looking for a great way to end an Italian meal, look no further!

cornmeal rosemary cake with balsamic syrup
Cornmeal and Rosemary Cake with Balsamic Syrup
from Giada DeLaurenttis, Giada's Kitchen


For the cake:
1/2 c. fine yellow cornmeal
1/2 c. cake flour
1 TBSP minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream (I used lowfat plain yogurt)

For the syrup:
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/2 small fresh rosemary sprig

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour (I sprayed with baking spray) an 8-inch round cake pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, cake flour, minced rosemary, baking powder, and salt.
3. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and vanilla on low speed until combined. Slowly add the powdered sugar.
4. Once the sugar is incorporated increase the speed to high and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
5. Add the egg yolks and eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce the speed to medium and add the sour cream or yogurt.
6. On low speed add the dry ingredients just until incorporated.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake in the lower third of the oven until the cake is golden and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 35 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, place the sugar, balsamic vinegar, and rosemary in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Discard the rosemary sprig and let the syrup cool.
9. Once completely baked, remove the cake from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool.
10. To serve, place a slice of cake on a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and spoon some syrup around the plate.
One year ago: autumn fruit streudel

Chicken Cacciatore

I really like to cook Italian food. I'm not really sure why, but it's my favorite cuisine to prepare. The problem is, it can get pretty heavy on the carbs. This dish was easy, flavorful, and much lower on carbs than a pasta dish would be. Plus, the sauce is a great way to get in a ton of veggies!

The original recipe calls for two bone-in breasts with skin and four bone-in thighs with skin, but I used two split boneless skinless breasts to keep it lighter. Next time I make this (there will be a next time!) I probably won't dredge the chicken, either. Even though it's a minimal amount of flour, it's another cut I don't think I'll miss. Also, there was enough sauce to throw in another breast or two, if you want. I tend you like a lot of sauce (again, trying to sneak in some extra veggies) and the leftover bit was great with scrambled eggs the next morning!

Chicken Cacciatore
slighty adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis, Everyday Italian

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 c. all-purpose flour, for dredging
3 TBSP olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 c. sliced button mushrooms
3/4 c. dry white wine
1 ( 28-oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice
3 TBSP drained capers
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

1. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 tsp. of each salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly. 
2. In a large heavy saute pan, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and saute just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, saute it in 2 batches. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
3. Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic, and mushrooms to the same pan and saute over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, capers and oregano.
5. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes.
6. Transfer the chicken to a platter. If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Spoon off any excess fat from atop the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Banana-Oat Muffins with Apricots

This weekend was great. On Sunday, I had a delicious brunch then watched a whole bunch of football on Saturday night (well, I suppose the Oklahoma State debacle would be the low point of the weekend.)  

I hung out with my mom and little sister on Friday. That's where the four ripe bananas came from. As the family food blogger, I'm the recipient of many an extra ingredient. Then it's up to me to figure out what to do with them. What a great perk!

I didn't want to make banana bread and I wanted to use some of the gorgeous dried apricots I had on hand. I searched and searched for a recipe, but I didn't find one that was exactly what I was looking for. I ended up using this Martha Stewart recipe as a basis. I tried to make it a little healthier and I added some oats and the apricots for flavor and texture. The results were wonderful! I took the extras to work Monday morning and they were gone within an hour!

banana oat muffins
Banana-Oat Muffins with Apricots
adapted from Martha Stewart


4 ripe bananas
3/4 c. packed dark-brown sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c. apple cider or apple juice
1 large egg
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 c. low-fat or fat-free plain yogurt
3/4 c. quick-cooking oats
2/3 c. dried apricots, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Spray the liners with non-stick spray.

2. Peel four bananas and place them in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until mashed, about one minute.

3. Add brown sugar, applesauce, apple cider, and egg; beat until smooth.

4. Reduce speed to low. Add flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; beat until smooth. Add yogurt and beat until smooth.

5. Mix in oats and apricots by hand until just incorporated.

6. Fill muffin liners three-quarters full (I like to use a standard-sized scoop). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

7. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Store, covered, at room temperature. Yields 21-24 muffins.

One year ago: one of my favorite cool weather meals, classic roasted chicken