Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Recipes of 2010

Wow, readers.  I cannot believe this year is over.  And, my goodness, what an emotional year it was.  It started out with three family deaths in a five-week period, which is more than two people should ever have to deal with.  As horrible as it was, M and I came through the sadness stronger together and even more certain than before that we were meant to spend the rest of our lives together.

Thankfully, 2010 had one gigantic high point.  Seeing the man I love get on one knee under a beautiful oak tree was exactly what I'd been hoping for.  Hearing him ask me to marry him was even better than I'd dreamed it would be.  I don't think I'll ever forget a single second of that perfect moment.

Through it all, I cooked.  I cooked through the sadness and the mourning.  When M's family needed it, I made them chicken noodle soup.  When M was hurting, I made him oatmeal raisin cookies.  When we celebrated our engagement with our families, I made a feast.  When we decorated our Christmas tree with the ornament we bought the day after our engagement, I made lemon bars, just as I had the year before.  I like that we're already finding our traditions.  I love that, one day, we'll be decorating our Christmas tree and eating lemon bars with our children.

Throughout this year, I've made some recipes that really stood out--ones that M and I loved after just one bite.  Here they are, readers.  I hope you'll like them just as much and my future husband and I.  Gosh...I sure do love saying that.

My year in the kitchen started off with this delicious slow cooker pulled chicken.  Not only is it economical and ridiculously easy to prepare, it's tasty and freezes perfectly for a weeknight dinner down the road.

When M told me his favorite kind of cake was plain ol' white cake, I could hardly believe him.  I knew I had to up the ante on white cake and I knew Dorie Greenspan was just the person to help me with it.  Her Perfect Party Cupcakes were made even tastier with the addition of raspberry buttercream.  M loved them.

Sometimes simple really is best, and this simple citrus salmon proves it.  With about three minutes of prep time, this recipe is as quick and easy as they come.  It's tasty, healthy, and presents beautifully.  The night we ate this, I already knew it'd be in my year-end roundup.

I just couldn't talk about my favorite recipes of 2010 without including this breakfast quinoa.  We first ate this for breakfast before heading out on a twelve-mile bike ride with the new bikes M boght us for Christmas.  We loved the taste and the protein in the quinoa kept us fueled up throughout the ride.  We were sold that day and we've enjoyed this breakfast with the season's best fresh fruit all year long.

As a child, I loved going to the lake with my mom.  many times, we'd stop for a cherry limeade from Sonic along the way.  In June, I turned my beloved treat into a frozen cherry limeade pie and boy, did it bring back great memories.  I can't wait to make it again this summer!

Another great summer dessert was this delicious bumbleberry pie.  With five fantastic fruits combined in one pie, it was bound to be good.  When all all those fruits were baked between my favorite pate brisee, it was a definite winner.  Trust me on this one, readers, and bookmark this one for next summer.

I recently saw a study that said the general population is split 50/50 on choosing chocolate vs. lemon in desserts.  M and I live up to this.  I'm a chocoholic and he is definitely a lemon lover.  (Remember his favorite lemon bars?)  To show him just how much I love him, I made these lemon-ricotta pancakes with fresh berries.  He was in lemony, breakfasty heaven.

As much as M and I love indulgent food, we are also health-conscious people.  This isn't as much of a conflict as one might think when you've got great recipes like this salmon florentine in your arsenal.  It's packed with flavor and nutrients, but not fat and calories.  As if that wasn't enough, it's quick enough for an easy weeknight meal.  Perfect!

Oh wow.  Oh goodness.  These pumpkin chai blondies with spiced cream cheese frosting were off the charts.  In fact, they were one of my most popular recipes of the year.  The blondies are dense and moist and full of warming chai spices.  The frosting adds a spicy tang that is the perfect topping.  I am 100% sure I'll be making these again come fall 2011.

The smell of these pear and apple upside-down gingerbread cakelets brought me right back to the holidays of my childhood.  The flavor didn't let me down either.  Even though I made these "just because" they'd be wonderful for an evening gathering of friends and family.  After all, who doesn't love getting their own miniature nostalgic dessert?

Looking for another holiday winner?  How about these cranberry turtle bars.  They were fun to make and were a huge hit with everyone who tasted them.  They are quite rich and one batch really does go a long way, making them perfect for a holiday party or potluck. 

After all the fall desserts I was making, it was time to lighten up a bit.  After seeing chef Bobby Flay make Mesa Grill's pumpkin soup on CBS' "Sunday Morning", M asked if we could make it.  I went right to my bookshelf and looked up the recipe in The Mesa Grill Cookbook.  Simply put, it was outstanding.

Another dinner hit in 2010 was this Moroccan-spiced chicken tagine.  One-pot meals are perfect for weeknights and this one was no exception.  We both loved the flavors, which were out of the ordinary for us.  This recipe made enough to heartily feed six, and the leftovers made for delicious lunches.

The year came to and end with a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner of tamales and posole.  It's M's family tradition and I wasn't about to argue with such a delicious tradition!  I wanted to be able to participate, so I brought this sopaipilla cheesecake.  Even though we were stuffed, both M and I thought it was an outstanding end to a fabulous meal.

 Readers, I hope you've enjoyed this year at "Apple a Day".  I know I have.  I certainly appreciate you sticking with me and reading my blog.  I love when I hear that you've tried the recipes I feature.  I especially like it when you and your families enjoyed the recipes.  I'm looking forward to my kitchen adventures in 2011.  I hope you'll come along on the journey!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sopaipilla Cheesecake

Merry Christmas, readers!  I hope you all are reading this in the company of family and friends.  I hope you're reading this in warm homes and with full bellies.  Most of all readers, I hope you're reading this and thinking about what a wonderful year you've had.

Here in Arizona, the Southwestern influence is especially strong during Christmas.  Many people celebrate with a candlelight church service and a big family dinner of posole and tamales.  This year, I'm bringing dessert and I wanted to make sure it would be one to impress.  I took inspiration from another New Mexican treat--sopaipillas.  Cinnamon sugar, Mexican vanilla, and honey meet cheesecake.  Que delicioso!

Sopaipilla Cheesecake
an "Apple a Day" original

For the crust:
12 honey graham crackers, processed into crumbs
1 TBSP vanilla sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 TBSP butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
3 (8-oz.) bricks cream cheese
1 c. sour cream
1 c. vanilla sugar
4 eggs
1 TBSP Mexican vanilla extract
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. cinnamon sugar mixture

For the garnish:
honey, for drizzling
confectioner's sugar, for dusting

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Wrap a springform pan with foil.  (This will prevent water from the water bath getting into the pan.)

2.  Combine all ingredients for the crust and press into a springform pan, going halfway up the sides.  bake for ten minutes.  Allow to cool.

3.  While crust is cooling, beat cream cheese and sour cream until well combined.  Add vanilla sugar and beat on medium speed until creamy, about three minutes.

4.  Add in eggs, one at a time, and beat until thoroughly combined.

5.  Add Mexican vanilla, honey, and cinnamon to cream cheese mixture.  Pour over cooled crust.

6.  Place springform pan in a water bath and bake for approximately one hour. 

7.  After one hour, remove cheesecake from the oven.  (The center will still be jiggly and the outer edges of the cheesecake will be pulling slightly away from the sides of the pan.)  Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the top of the cheesecake.

8.  Turn oven to broil and place cheesecake back in the oven.  Watch carefully and pull the cheesecake from the oven as soon as the cinnamon sugar has caramelized.  Place on a wire rack and allow to cool, uncovered, for three hours then cover and place in the refrigerator for at least three hours before serving.

9.  To serve, cut into 12-16 pieces.  Place each slice on a plate, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

two years ago: Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, one of my most popular posts.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce

Right before Thanksgiving, a friend had a whole bunch of us over for a trial Thanksgiving run.  She made the entire meal.  It was absolutely wonderful.  The turkey was moist, the stuffing was flavorful, and the desserts were stellar.  Still, we all agreed the meal had one clear standout--this cranberry sauce.  I asked for the recipe right then and there and knew I'd be insisting on bringing it to Christmas dinner! 

With the cranberries, apples, and orange juice and rind, it has just the right balance of sweet and tart.  The texture is absolutely wonderful--somewhere between a jellied cranberry sauce and a chutney.  It's not too solid (a la cranberry sauce from a can) and the bits of orange rind and apple give just the right amount of bite.  The flavors come together beautifully and the cinnamon and cloves give you just a hint of holiday warmth with each bite.

Apple-Orange Cranberry Sauce
printer-friendly recipe

1/2 orange
2 c. water
1 tart apple, such as Granny Smith, Pippin or McIntosh
3 c. fresh cranberries
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves 

1.  Squeeze the juice from the orange and set the juice aside. Remove and discard the membrane from inside the orange rind and cut the rind into small dice. 
2.  In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the rind and the water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

3.  Peel, core and quarter the apple.  Cut into half-inch dice and place in a saucepan. 
4.  Sort the cranberries, discarding any soft ones. Add to the apples along with the orange juice, orange rind, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan partially. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, the apple is tender and the cranberries have burst, ten to 15 minutes.

5.  Transfer the cranberry sauce to a heatproof bowl and let cool for one hour before serving. Alternately, cover and refrigerate, then bring to room temperature before serving. Transfer the cranberry sauce to a serving dish and pass at the table.  Makes 3 1/2 to 4 cups.
two years ago: My other favorite cranberry sauce, vanilla-bourbon cranberry sauce.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts

Christmas is three days away.  Are you ready?  I know I am.  I'm wrapping up the last of the gifts and baking the last of the treats for M's bosses and coworkers.  For this year's tins, I'm including foolproof holiday fudge, oatmeal cookies with cranberries and white chocolate, and, for a savory treat, these delicious chipotle and rosemary roasted nuts.

These little gems are a great treat to balance out all the sugary treats we indulge in during the holidays.  Plus, they're as easy as can be to make and they look so festive when you put them into pretty little bowls and dishes to set out for your guests to snack on.  It's a win-win-win situation!

chipotle roasted nuts

Chipotle and Rosemary Roasted Nuts
adapted from Ina Garten, How Easy is That?

8 c. your favorite mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts)
3 TBSP vegetable oil, divided
1/3 c. pure maple syrup
1/4 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 TBSP freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tsp. ground chipotle powder
4 TBSP miced fresh rosemary, divided
3 tsp. salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  

2.  In a large bowl, combine nuts, two TBSP vegetable oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, orange juice, chipotle powder, two TBSP rosemary, and two tsp. salt.  Stir to combine.

3.  Brush a sheet pan with remaining TBSP of oil.  Spread nuts on the sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, stirring twice, until nuts are glazed and golden brown.

4.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining rosemary and salt.  Toss well and set aside at room temperature to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  Serve warm or cool completely and store in airtight containers.

one year ago: Egg nog martinis, a boozy addition to my Twelve Treats of Christmas.
two years ago: molasses crinkles

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sparkling Pepper Berry Cocktails for a Virtual Holiday Party

Every year, I look forward to invitation to holiday parties.  Work parties, church events, cookie exchanges, and college football bowl games--they're all fun to me.  This year, I received an invitation of a new sort.  Annie, blogger extraordinaire and gracious hostess of Annie's Eats, invited me to a virtual cocktail party.  What a fun idea!

Of course, I said yes without even one bit of hesitation.  No way in the world would I miss a party with Annie and so many of my favorite bloggers-turned-friends.  These ladies started out as people I turned to when I had recipe questions.  Over time, they became ladies I turned to in times of stress, heartache, and loss.  Thankfully, they were also the ladies with whom I've been able to share success and new and wonderful love.  I've always known they are wonderful and talented women, but after seeing all their delicious contributions, I'm wishing it was a real-life cocktail party more than ever!

I'm offering my dear friends a sparkling pepperberry cocktail to help them warm up upon their arrival.  The recipe is at the end of this post.

pepper berry champagne cocktail

Tara of Smells Like Home is serving cranberry lime bellinis.  I've always loved classic peach bellinis and Tara's holiday twist looks delightful!

Nikki from Pennies on a Platter made this yummy baked fontina.  Who doesn't love ooey, gooey, bubbling baked cheese with crusty bread for dipping?!?

Elly, the talented host of Elly Says Opa!, offers these homemade vegetarian dolmades.  I love when party guests bring dishes I've never made before!

Josie of Pink Parsley made these delicate and oh-so-pretty raspberry cream puffs.  Cream puffs have long intimidated me, but Josie's version has given me confidence to try them on my own!

And last but not least, Annie's gorgeous candy cane macarons.  What a beautiful and festive contribution from our gracious hostess.

I hope you've all enjoyed this virtual holiday party as much as I have!

Sparkling Pepper Berry Cocktail

6 oz. chilled vodka (pepper vodka for an extra kick!)
4 oz. cranberry juice
2 tsp. raspberry flavored liqueur
24 black peppercorns
4 oz. soda water
4 small fresh mint sprigs, if desired

1.  In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the vodka, juice and raspberry liqueur. Cover tightly and shake for ten seconds.

2.  Put the peppercorns in a chilled champagne glass or cocktail glass and pour the cocktail into the glass. Top off with soda water and garnish with mint sprigs, if desired.  Serves four.

one year ago: Yellow bowl, the most nostalgic of my Twelve Treats of Christmas.
two years ago: chocolate candy cane cookies

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Garlic-Roasted Cauliflower

Oh, Ina Garten, how do you do it?  How do you make everything you touch taste so darn delicious?  How is it that this roasted cauliflower was one of M's most favorite dishes I've ever made?  I mean, it's not like we were at your table, in "the barn" in the Hamptons.  We were at our little ol' table in Arizona.  And still...this cauliflower was good.  So, so good.  

Garlic-Roasted Cauliflower
slightly adapted from Ina Garten, How Easy is That?
printer-friendly recipe

1 whole head garlic, cloves separated but not peeled (I used pre-peeled cloves found in the refrigerates section of the produce department)
1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut and cut into large florets
3 TBSP olive oil, divided
1 tsp. salt 
1 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 c. minced fresh parsley
3 TBSP pine nuts, toasted
2 TBSP freshly-squeezed lemon juice
more salt and black pepper, to taste

1.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  

2.  Bring a small pot of water to boil.  Add the garlic cloves (with peel).  Boil for 15 seconds, then peel and cut off any brown parts.

3.  In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower, two TBSP olive oil, two tsp. salt, and one tsp. pepper.  Spread out onto a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, tossing twice, until the cauliflower is tender and the garlic is lightly browned.  Reserve empty bowl.

4.  Scrape the roasted cauliflower back into the empty mixing bowl, along with the garlic and any pan juices.  Toss well with remaining TBSP oil, parsley, pine nuts, and lemon juice.  Salt and pepper, to taste. 

5.  Pour into a serving bowl, if desired.  Serve hot or warm.

one year ago: My dad's favorite part of last year's Twelve Treats of Christmas--hazelnut and dried cherry biscotti.
two years ago:  miniature pumpkin cheesecakes with cinnamon crust

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pork Chops with Warm Apple Slaw

Whew!  Things are certainly getting a little crazy at my house.  Between having to pack my classroom to move to our brand new campus and Christmas, I'm feeling swamped.  Thankfully, I've still managed to make several healthy and hearty meals to keep myself fueled up for the hectic days.

This one-pot wonder comes from Ellie Krieger, one of my favorite healthy cooks.  Her original recipe calls for thinly slicing the cabbage, but I used bagged slaw mix because it was a) on sale and cheaper than a head of cabbage and b) quicker and easier.  Obviously, the texture would've been a little better had a taken the time to slicing my own cabbage and shred my own carrots, but I was quite pleased with this meal, nonetheless.  I hope you'll like it, too!

Pork Chops with Warm Apple Slaw
adapted from Ellie Krieger, The Food You Crave

4 tsp. chopped fresh sage or 1 1/2 tsp. dried
2large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt, divided
freshly-ground black pepper
4 (3/4-in.) bone-in pork loin chops (about 8 oz. each)
1 large red onion
2 medium Granny Smith apples, cored
1 bag slaw mix OR
1/2 head green cabbage, cored
3 large carrots, shredded
2 tsp. olive oil, divided
1/4 c. cider vinegar
3/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1.  Combine three tsp. fresh sage or or 1 tsp. dried, garlic, a half tsp. of salt, and pepper.  Rub into the pork chops and let sit at room temperature for ten minutes. 

2.  Meanwhile, thinly slice the onion, apple and cabbage (if necessary).  Shred or julienne the carrots. 

3.  Heat one tsp. of the oil in a large nonstick saute pan until hot but not smoking. Add the chops and brown on both sides, one to two minutes per side. Remove and set aside.

4.  Heat the remaining teaspoon oil over moderate heat and add the onion, apples, and remaining sage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft and golden brown, four to five minutes. 

5.  Add the cabbage, carrots, vinegar and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt.  Cook until the cabbage and carrots begin to soften, about five minutes. Add the broth and return the pork chops to the pan burying them in the vegetable mixture.   Cover and cook five to seven minutes longer.

 6.  To serve, arrange the warm slaw on individual plates and top with a pork chop and pan juices.

two years ago:  gumdrop cookies, a childhood favorite

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

31 While 31--Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Royal Icing

So readers, I've been doing a miserable job with my 30 Things.  I've got two months left and 16 more recipes to take care of.  Gulp.  Who knew planning a wedding could interfere with my kitchen time?  It's okay.  I'll gladly take the interference.

As soon as I saw these peppermint swirl cookies over on Bake at 350, I knew I'd found a recipe that would help me check off one more item from my list.  Except, in the process of preparing to  conquer sugar cookies with royal icing, I got an idea.  An idea that I liked so much, I couldn't go back to plain ol' sugar cookies.  After all, the best way I could think of to make cookies decorated to look like peppermint swirls even better was to actually use peppermint in the cookie.  Chocolate and peppermint, that is.  And then, just to take it all the way, I could add peppermint to the icing.  Forgive me, readers.  

I didn't feel too bad about making my changes, though.  I've already made sugar cookies and I would've used the same recipe again.  The reason I included sugar cookies with royal icing on my 30 was to become comfortable with working with royal icing.  I also don't feel bad because these cookies were so, so good.

I was pretty happy with how my icing job turned out, but I've still got plenty of work to doo.  Good thing royal icing is so much fun!  Unfortunately, I was so engrossed in my own decorating, I didn't take the pictures I'd originally wanted to.  Luckily, Bridget is great with these things.  To see her fantastic tutorial on how to decorate these cookies, click here.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Royal Icing
cookie recipe adapted from

For cookies:
16 TBSP unsalted butter, room temperature 
1 3/4 c. sugar 
2 large eggs 
2 tsp. peppermint extract 
2 c. all-purpose flour 
1 c. Dutch process cocoa powder 
1 tsp. baking soda 
1/2 tsp. baking powder 
1/2 tsp. salt

For royal icing:
4 c. (1 lb.) confectioners' sugar
3 TBSP meringue powder
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
4-6 TBSP warm water, depending on humidity of where you live

1.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until well blended.  Beat in eggs and peppermint extract. 

3.  Add flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Beat until well blended. Form dough into two discs.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for one hour.  

4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

5.  On a generously floured work surface, roll out the first disc of dough to a half-inch in thickness.  Cut out cookies and place on baking sheets, spaced an inch apart.

6.  Bake cookies until edges begin to firm but center still appears soft, 10-11 minutes.  Cookies will appear underdone, but will firm up as they cool.  Let cookies cool on baking sheets for five minutes, then transfer to racks and cool completely. 

7.  While cookies cool, make royal icing by placing confectioners' sugar, meringue powder, peppermint extract, and four TBSP water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beginning on low speed, mix ingredients. Add additional water, one TBSP at a time, until icing reaches desired consistency.

8.  Turn mixer to medium-low and run for five minutes, until the sheen comes off the icing.  Because royal icing dries very quickly, immediately place any unused icing in a tightly sealed storage container with a layer of plastic wrap directly on the icing. Keep in the refrigerator until use.

9.  Decorate cookies according to Bridget's directions.  Let dry, uncovered, overnight. 

two years ago:  My all-time favorite chili recipe, Jamie Deen's chili.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Tagine

I love Thanksgiving.  I wait all year for the turkey, the sweet potatoes, the cranberry sauce, and the pumpkin cheesecake.  I look forward to the cooking, the eating, and especially the leftovers.  After all, the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce often taste better the next day.  But even with my love of leftovers, I'll admit they lose their luster after three straight days.  I wait all year for the Thanksgiving feast and, inevitably, I find myself ready to move on to different foods with very different flavors.  

My first thought was to break the monotony with Mexican, Greek, or Italian food, but I eat that quite frequently, too.  I was on a quest to find something completely and totally different from not only Thanksgiving, but my normal routine.  And man, did this tagine fit the bill.

It was full of flavor, simple to make, and unlike pretty much any dish I'd ever made.  After only a couple of bites, I knew that I'd be having this dish again.  Luckily, it was not only delicious but also healthy, easy to prepare, and provided me with a couple of lunches.  I'm never one to complain about one-pot meals, especially when they're this tasty!

Moroccan chicken tagine

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken Tagine

2 TBSP olive oil 
3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into two-inch chunks 
1/2 tsp. salt 
1 medium red onion, chopped 
2 medium-sized zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices 
1/3 c. drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes 
2 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth 
1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained 
1/3 c. golden raisins 
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin 
1 tsp. crumbled saffron threads 
1/2 tsp. ground allspice 
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg 
1 tsp. black pepper 
1 c. uncooked couscous (I used whole wheat)
3 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
3 TBSP toasted pine nuts, for garnish

1.  Place the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. 

2.  Sprinkle the chicken with salt, then add to the pot along with the onion, zucchini and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender, about five to seven minutes.

3.  Add all remaining ingredients except the couscous, cilantro, and pine nuts. Bring to a boil over high heat. 

4.  Stir in the couscous, cover, and remove from the heat. Let stand for seven minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Serve sprinkled with cilantro and pine nuts.