You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

No real post today…just an update. Things have been absolutely crazy with the holidays, Billy and I haven’t even cooked a real dinner in over a week! We have definitely eaten plenty of food though. We’re in Colorado (which is completely freezing by the way) for the remainder of the week and will hopefully get back on a regular schedule starting Saturday. We did a lot of experimenting this holiday season and had a total blast doing it. I’ll be catching up on blog posts as soon as we return to normal.

Thanks to all my readers for making this blog a success (at least in my mind) and for sticking with me through such a busy time of year! And a special thanks to all my new blogger friends who have all been a tremendous help and inspiration since I started this thing six months ago! And thanks, of course, to the Daring Bakers’ for teaching me that trying new things is possible without disaster! The food blogging community is awesome!

I hope everyone has a happy and healthy new year — here’s to 2010!

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I can’t explain how awesome it feels to actually feel good about a challenge! This month was so hectic for us, but I couldn’t wait to bake and assemble this house! It took two tries to get the dough right, but in the end it was worth the extra effort.

We used Anna’s recipe, which came from Good Housekeeping. The first time we made it, it came out very dry — so dry that we couldn’t even roll it out — and cracked apart. We ended up tossing it and starting from scratch (18 cups of flour later), making a few changes based on the comments from other Daring Bakers’ (thanks guys!).

Dry Gingerbread Dough

The new batch of dough came out much better. We chilled it, rolled it out, cut out the pieces using a haunted Halloween template and baked it off. They came out perfect. They were a good texture — not too hard, not too soft. Some of the pieces expanded during baking, but nothing we couldn’t work with during assembly.

Gingerbread Pieces, Pre-Baking

After a day of baking, we left the pieces overnight and assembled and decorated the next day. Even though it was stressful putting the house together (I was terrified it was going to fall apart!), it was such a blast! We’re totally doing this every year from now on!

The House Coming Together

The House, Pre-Decorated

Without Billy’s help, I probably would have failed miserably at this. Maybe in a prior lifetime he was a contractor or something, but he rocked at putting this thing together and piping the royal icing! It was a total blast building and decorating the house from start to finish, and I think it will be a family tradition from now on. Plus, I think for our first ever shot at a gingerbread house we did a pretty good job!

Our House!

Decoration Detail

Decoration Detail (Again)

Recipe Link: Spicy Gingerbread

It’s been a while since I posed about Arabic food (actually, it’s been a while since we made Arabic food), so I thought I’d share something before we get rolling on all the Christmas goodies (yay!). Mugrabidi is a sort of soupy dish with tiny pasta, garbanzo beans and chicken. This is a perfect dish for a cold winter night — I promise it will hit the spot and warm you up instantly!

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 8 cups water
– 4 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
– 1 onion, chopped
– 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
– 1/2 to 1 pound acini de pepe pasta (amount depends on what kind of pasta to bean/chicken/liquid ratio you want)
– salt and pepper to taste

This is a really simple recipe, but the end result is nothing but! First, add the cut chicken pieces to a pot of boiling water. Let the chicken begin to cook and when the water returns to a rolling boil, add the garbanzo beans. Meanwhile, saute the onion until it begins to turn brown then add it to the boiling water. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked through. Finally, add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 15 more minutes. At this point the chicken and pasta should be done. Season with salt and pepper and you’re ready to serve! (There will be quite a bit of liquid left, the consistency of the dish is supposed to be soupy.)

Mugrabidi

Of all the Arabic dishes I’ve had, I would say this is the least Arabic tasting…if that makes sense. It doesn’t have any of the flavorings and spices found in most Arabic dishes. Nevertheless, this is a great dish and it’s one of my favorites. I love the soupy consistency and the flavor the beans give to the liquid. I think the best way to eat mugrabidi is to get a little of everything in each bite — you really get a great flavor and texture combination that way.

Whether you care to admit it or not, Gordon Ramsay is bad ass. Hell’s Kitchen may make him seem like a total ass (sans bad), but deep down all he really cares about is food. He’s passionate about food and it’s evident in his recipes — as Billy and I have learned testing some of the recipes from his book Fast Food.

We’re always looking for new ways to cook chicken since it can sometimes get boring, and this recipe is definitely a keeper. Unlike a lot of sauces and glazes, Ramsay’s lemon sauce really penetrates the meat and flavors all of the chicken, not just the skin.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 chicken cut into 8 pieces (we used only wings)
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 head of garlic, sliced in half horizontally
– 2 to 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
– 1 lemon, cut into slices, plus the juice of a half a lemon
– a “good splash” of water (about 1/3 cup)
– 1 bunch fresh thyme, minced
– 2 tbsp honey
– salt and pepper
– fresh parsley, chopped

In a large, high-sided pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. With a paper towel, pat the chicken dry, season with salt and pepper and place in the pan, skin side down. Brown the chicken on both sides — two to three minutes per side.

Once the chicken has browned, add the soy sauce and vinegar. Place the head of garlic, cut side down, in the pan, top everything with the lemon slices and drizzle the lemon juice over the top.

Carefully and slowly begin adding the water to the pan. You don’t want to cover the chicken in water, but you want enough to create a thick sauce and help the chicken to cook through. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer, turning the chicken pieces every few minutes, until the water is mostly evaporated or the chicken is cooked through, about six to seven minutes.

Add the thyme to the pan and drizzle the honey over each piece of chicken. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve!

Sticky Lemon Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans

I don’t think I’ve ever had such flavorful chicken. What was different about this recipe was that the flavors really penetrated the meat of the chicken. (I always hate biting into juicy chicken and the flavor is only on the skin…don’t you?) The lemon wasn’t overpowering and it paired perfectly with the thyme. The chicken was so juicy and delicious, it tasted as if it had been marinading and cooking all day. This was also a good alternative to making some kind of lemon rub or sauce and cooking chicken in the oven or on the grill.

This recipe can be found in Ramsay’s book Fast Food (which we love). I wasn’t able to find his exact recipe online, but I did find Brandon Eats version — along with a video of Ramsay at work.

Last year Billy and I hosted our first holiday. I was determined to find the perfect bread/roll recipe since it’s such an important part of every holiday table (especially with a bunch of hungry Italians). I can’t even remember where I found the recipe for these honey rolls, but we won’t ever go another holiday without them.

Here’s what you’ll need: (for three dozen rolls)
– 3 packages active dry yeast
– 2 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
– 1/4 cup honey
– 2 tbsp canola oil
– 1 tbsp salt
– 2 eggs, plus 1 egg, separated
– about 8 cups bread flour
– 1/2 tsp cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), dissolve yeast in warm water. Once all the yeast has dissolved and the mixture has become frothy, about two minutes, add the honey, oil, salt, two eggs, the yolk of the separated egg, and five cups of the bread flour. Mix on low to medium speed until smooth. The dough will still be pretty sticky at this point, but you’re just trying to get everything combined. Begin adding the remainder of the flour, one half-cup at a time, until a stiff dough is formed. You may not end up using the entire eight cups of flour, but just base it on how the dough looks and feels. When you poke it, it should hold the form of your finger but shouldn’t be sticky enough to stick to your fingers.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about six to eight minutes. You’ll know when the dough is ready based on the way it looks and feels — you’ll also notice a difference from the time you took it out of the mixing bowl and the time you started kneading. Form the dough into a ball and place it into a large greased bowl, turning once to cover the entire surface of the dough with grease. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.

Punch the dough down (it’s perfectly normal to picture someone’s head while doing this :)) and begin dividing and forming the dough into desired sizes and shapes — we usually form 2-inch balls since the dough will rise again before baking. Place on a greased baking sheet, one to two inches apart, and cover. Let the divided pieces rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the white of the separated egg with the 1/2 teaspoon of cold water and brush over dough. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet immediately and let cool on a wire rack.

Honey Rolls

Sorry for the horrible picture…but it’s the best I could get in the midst of all the Thanksgiving madness. Regardless, I guarantee these will be some of the best rolls you’ve ever had. They’re perfectly fluffy (yet substantial) on the inside and have a nice firm crust. The hint of honey really makes these rolls stand out in comparison to a regular bread dough, but it definitely doesn’t give them an overwhelmingly sweetness. They’re full of flavor, with or without butter, and they make a great Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich. This is most definitely our go-to recipe for rolls, any time of the year (and it should be yours, too!).

This is the first holiday season that I’ve actually been excited about baking. I’ve never been much of a baker, and for the most part I still leave most of the baking up to Billy, but the results are always so darn tasty that it’s hard to resist. And what better time to bake and try new recipes than the holidays, right?

I’ve never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie (I know what you’re thinking…who doesn’t love pumpkin pie?) and Billy doesn’t eat it at all. So this year I decided I’d find a new pumpkin-related dessert and give it a shot. Turns out it only took one try to find a success — Better Homes and Garden’s pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake bars were a huge hit at both families Thanksgivings. They’re definitely worth the time they take, so I encourage you to give them a try for Christmas or keep them in mind for next year!

Here’s what you’ll need:
Crust
– 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup butter, melted
Pumpkin
– 2 (8 oz.) packs cream cheese
– 1 3/4 cups sugar
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup canned pumpkin
– 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon, cloves and ginger)
– 1/2 tsp vanilla
– 1/4 tsp salt
Chocolate
– 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
– 2 tbsp butter
Topping
– 1 1/4 cup sour cream
– 1/4 sugar
– chocolate pieces and nutmeg (for garnish)

This recipe is done in phases, so at first glance it seems like its going to be a beast. In actuality it’s really pretty easy, it just takes time and there’s a lot of waiting in between steps. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

The first step in the process is to make the “crust.” In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the first 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir in the 1/2 cup melted butter and press evenly into a greased 13×9 pan. Set aside.

Next, combine the cream cheese and 1 3/4 cups sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on low speed until completely combined before adding the next egg. Once combined, add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and salt. Beat on low speed until completely combined. Remove 1 1/4 cups of the mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the chocolate and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly until completely melted. Whisk the 1 1/4 cups of the pumpkin mixture into the melted chocolate and butter. Once combined, pour over the graham cracker crust and spread evenly across. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the remainder of the pumpkin mixture over the baked chocolate layer. Return to the oven and bake (still at 325) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin has puffed up and the center has set. Remove from the oven and cool, in the pan, on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Finally, combine the sour cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Carefully spread over the pumpkin layer and continue to cool. Once the bars are completely cool, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. Cut into bars (24 to 36, depending on size) and garnish with chocolate pieces and ground nutmeg.

Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

I will probably get yelled at by some people for saying this, but these bars were way better than pumpkin pie. Every single day since Thanksgiving I’ve been craving these stupid bars. They’ve got so many different layers of flavor and texture, but they all work together to form an overall great dessert. The texture of the pumpkin and cream cheese layer is so smooth and creamy and the graham cracker and chocolate layers give it a little crunch. Pumpkin is definitely the star of the show here, but each layer really adds to the flavor of the bars. These bars will most definitely be a Martin family tradition from now on!

I got this recipe from the 2009 Holiday Recipe Collection edition of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere online. Hopefully you can trust my rendition enough to try them anyway. :)