Friday, December 29, 2006

Holiday Baking, Finally!

I waited until Christmas Eve to bake holiday cookies. We traveled to Atlanta, GA to spend the holidays with my husband's side of the family. The packing, unpacking, flying, and getting settled wasn't very easy with our little guy but we had a very pleasant time. I thought I would have a hard time baking on a kitchen other than mine but that was easy and I had a good time. The house smelled like cookies all day.
I went traditional on some of them, made lots of sugar cookies in holiday shapes such as bells, sugar canes, snow flakes and had the help of my little niece K to decorate them. I also made grown-up cookies -- half moon sugar cookies topped with chocolate covered cherry and white frosting. This recipe is very straightforward and I used store-bought icing to make things easier.

Grown-Up Cookies

3 cups flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup soft butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tsp almond extract

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate
Maraschino Cherries with Steam
White Icing with small tip

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and almond extract, beat until light and fluffy. Combine dry ingredients and add to batter, stirring to blend.
Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Using a rolling pin, roll on dough between parchment paper. Cut out, bake on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 5-8 minutes at 400 F. Remove the cookies from the oven. Let cool completely.

Melt 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate on a microwave safe bowl using 30 seconds cicles and stirring the chocolate between them until completely melted. Drain the maraschino from the cherries, pat dry with paper towels, dip in melted chocolate and allow to dry on a flat surface.

Melt 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate using the method above. Using the back of a spoon, spread on cookies, allow to dry.

Using a small tip, make a round bed of icing, place the chocolate covered cherry on top and let dry.

This is the second year I made this Chocolate Wreath. It's very easy and looks so nice.

Chocolate Wreath

12 ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter chips
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounce can walnuts, plus more for topping
Cherries to decorate top
Softened butter to grease an 8 inch round cake pan

Grease an 8-inch angel food cake pan with softened butter. Pour the chocolate and butterscotch chips, condensed milk and vanilla into a medium saucepan. Put the pan on the stove and turn the heat to low.

Stir the chips and milk until they melt together, about 3 minutes. Stir in nuts and raisins. Pour the mix onto the angel food cake pan. Decorate the wreath cherries and walnuts.

Put in the fridge and chill until firm. Loosen the sides and bottom of the wreath with a spatula to remove from cake pan. Cut the fudge into thin slices to serve.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe doesn't need to be posted. It's the same of the back of the Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip bag. The recipe directly from their website is located at Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blind Wine Tasting

Tonight I attended the most fun party I have been in a long time. My friend A, her husband M and baby S threw a Holiday / Wine Tasting Party. The wine tasting had some rules to be followed but once you got the hang of it the rules became quite easy. Each guest brought a bottle of red wine. Upon our arrival we were given a brown paper bag and we would number our wines sequentially - without letting anybody see what wine we had brought. The wines were placed in order and everybody had a glass and a tasting card with several options and their ratings such as appearance, aroma, and flavor. We also could try to guess the grape variety and vintage and give an overall rating. Our wonderful host provided several types of cheese, bread, crackers, dipping, tapenade, chocolate, cheesecakes, pies, cookies. It was so much fun. In the end, R compiled the results and our host had three wrapped gifts under her Christmas Tree for the guests who brought the winner wines. Guess what? My husband and I were first and second place! It was great. Our wines were the favorites. We got a nice set of wine themed glass coasters and a modern wine opener that we don't need to twist. I loved my gifts and loved the party!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Holiday Baking

I haven't baked a single holiday cookie this year. I know, Christmas is only a few days away... I baked an apple cake though, I hope it counts. Things are still very busy around here, between a full time job, family, a 6-month-old baby, and holiday shopping, there is very little time for everything else. I hope I will bake some cookies this year -- maybe on Christmas eve. I baked the apple cake because my husband is a big fan of apples. However he buys more than he can eat and we often throw apples out. I try very hard to buy only what we can consume and avoid wasting food. We had apples lying around and I knew they would go bad soon if I didn't take action, so I went ahead and baked a cake. It's a very easy recipe and it tastes great. The cake is so moist that tasted like bread pudding.

Upside-Down Brown Sugar Apple Cake

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash nutmeg
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced apples (about 3 small apples)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter the sides of a 9-inch cake pan.
Combine the butter, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and boil 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Sprinkle the apples all over and press them down slightly to level them.
To make the cake, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Sprinkle in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, and beat 10 seconds. Pour in the milk and beat just until the batter is evenly moistened, about 1 minute. Spoon the batter over the apples and smooth the top.
Bake 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out dry. Run a knife along the outer edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Place a plate over the cake, then flip it over to invert the cake onto the plate. Let the cake cool completely before serving.

Great Holiday Articles

Grab a cup of hot cocoa, turn your computer on and read these great articles before you start baking this holiday season. You will find recipes, tips, questions & answers, strategies, and much more.

Seven Reasons to Bake Your Own
Perhaps you're still deciding whether to join the cookie-baking crowd this year. Maybe you're wondering if this age-old holiday custom is worth the time, or worried you don't have enough expertise, equipment or kitchen space...

Cookies Crumbling? Read On
Having written several cookie cookbooks, I get a lot of questions about baking cookies. The same questions come up over and over, but occasionally an unusual one pops up, including the most surprising I've heard recently: "How far should I drop drop cookies?"...

Strategies for Marathon Baking
Baking holiday cookies goes so much more smoothly with the right planning. A baker's dozen tips on how to set up for a marathon session...

Essential Ingredients for a Holiday Kitchen
It's that time again for holiday cookies and desserts. For the best results, start with good ingredients. Use our guide to help you stock your pantry with the right stuff so you can bake like a pro...

12 Days of Cookies
Bake some of these favorites from 12 Days of Cookies past and you'll be ready for any holiday party, cookie swap or Christmas Eve visit from Santa...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday Sparkle

You may call it Bubbly, Sparkling, or Champagne. But we all agree on one thing: pop open a bottle to turn an ordinary moment into a celebration. Champagne or Sparkling Wine - Champagne is used only for wines made in the Champagne Region in France - is the ultimate indulgency. For Holiday Celebrations, Brunches, Dinner Parties, or to just lift your spirits, try one of them:

Zardetto Prosecco Brut $12
If you are throwing a party and don't want to spend a lot on Sparkling, this will do it. Zardetto Prosecco is an excellent and inexpensive Sparkling Wine.

Roederer Estate's L'Ermitage Brut $35
From the folks who make Cristal in France - they fly to California every year to make this Sparkling Wine.

Gosset Grand Reserve Brut $50
Champagne Gosset is the oldest winemaker in Champagne. They have been making champagne since 1584 - for four centuries. They sure learned a thing or two about wine making!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Planning for Christmas 2007

This may sound crazy because the 2006 holiday season just started but I am planning on a little family gift for the 2007 holiday season. A cookbook! Not any cookbook. Not a published cookbook. A family cookbook I'll create, print, and gift members of my family next year. I came across a wonderful resource Blurb to make it happen. You can download a software with templates for any book you would like to write. Then when you are ready, you can upload them and order a printed book. There is a cookbook template that could be used for a professionally published cookbook or a family cookbook. I have some ideas on how I am going to build my family cookbook. I will start with favorite recipes, take a picture of the family member who created, made, or really enjoyed the recipe, take a picture of the dish and include the recipe. So every couple of pages will be dedicated to a member of my family, such as my Aunt's Four Layer Pineapple Cake, my Mother's White Chocolate Ganache Cake that everybody loves, my Brother's favorite Nhoque, and so on... I'm hoping to create a photo album, recipe book, and a keepsake at the same time and I will have an entire year to accomplish just that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Toss one recipe, keep the other one. Pumpkin Bread was a keeper.

Saturday was such a lazy day. We had plans, errands to run, tons of things to do outside the house but we kept procrastinating until it was too late to go out. It was fun though. My husband doesn't care much for cooking, he cooks when the mood strikes. He's usually very good and precise and his dishes turn out good most of the time. On Saturday he made Turkey Fajitas while I made a cornbread. We nibbled on chips and salsa, had Corona beers, and cooked together. His fajitas turned out great, my cornbread - on the other hand - didn't... It was unbelievable! It looked nice, smelled nice and tasted like absolutely nothing. Granted that it was an adaptation to a light recipe but some things you cannot cut calories from - I just learned that cornbread is one of them. Luckily we had plenty of chips and fajitas. I tossed the cornbread and the recipe. All I wanted was something similar to a sweet, savory, and spicy cornbread that Au Bon Pain makes. I'll keep trying.

Later that day, I made a Pumpkin Bread. It yields two loaves, so I had an extra loaf to share with my neighbors. Here is the recipe:

Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 cups (490 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (400 grams) sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 can (15 oz) can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup toasted and chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in center of oven. Butter and lightly flour two - 9 by 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pans. Set aside.

To toast nuts: Place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 - 10 minutes or until brown and fragrant. Cool completely and then chop coarsely. Set aside.

Pumpkin Bread: In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk the eggs until lightly beaten. Add the sugar and melted butter and whisk until blended. Whisk or stir in the pumpkin, water, and vanilla extract.

Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Do not over mix as it will make the bread tough.

Divide the batter between the two prepared loaf pans, smoothing the tops. Bake the breads for about 50 - 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. (You may notice that the tops of the pumpkin breads have cracked a little.)

Place pans on a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing breads from pans. Let cool completely before covering the tops of the loaves with the frosting.

Can serve warm, cold, or at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator or else freeze for later use.

Frosting: Beat the butter and cream cheese until very smooth with no lumps. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until fully incorporated and smooth. Beat in the vanilla extract. Divide the frosting and spread on the tops of the pumpkin breads. Garnish with toasted and chopped pecans.

Makes 2 loaves.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Thanksgiving day was great. Our friends Y and K and their adorable 10-month-old daughter joined us. The gathering went beyond my expectations - we ended up in the kitchen together - and I love to cook with friends! I roasted the turkey, made two types of cranberry sauce, a sweet potato casserole, and gravy - from scratch with turkey stock that simmered for 3 hours the night before. They made mashed potato, another sweet potato casserole, and a yummy and moist cake. I had a great time, everything was very casual, shoes off, sitting on the floor and playing with the babies (mine and theirs), eating, talking...

Next day my son had a fever and I thought he had a cold. Unbeknown to me, it was a stomach flu and the six of us caught it. It was going around in my office the week before and since Y and I work together we don't know who brought it home. Doesn't really matter. But we were miserable the entire weekend. My 6-month-old son was worse than me and my husband combined, poor thing. We were sick the entire week. Now, a week later we are back to normal again.

Anyway, I had a great Thanksgiving day and I am thankful for wonderful friends.