Monday, December 31, 2012

Champagne Cocktail

It's just about time to bid farewell to 2012 - this calls for some bubbly! In my opinion, if you aren't sending 2012 off with a Champagne toast, you just aren't doing it right.

I tasted my first Champagne Cocktail at a restaurant called the Public House in Chattanooga.  This cocktail, which Victor Laszlo and Captain Renault both ordered in the 1942 film Casablanca, has an elegant, vintage feel that doesn't distract too much from the true Champagne flavor.  These days, you can find such a wide variety of champagne cocktails, from the French 75 to flavored bellinis, but the Champagne Cocktail is the original.

To make the classic Champagne Cocktail, place 1 brown sugar cube in a champagne flute.  Add 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and top with champagne (some recipes call for a 1/2 ounce of brandy and a lemon peel garnish, choose your favorite). Enjoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Banana Bread

I've been making a lot of banana bread as of late, largely because I keep buying bananas in bulk and I can't eat them fast enough!  Overripe bananas make the best banana bread - they're easy to mash, super soft and make a moist bread.

I eat my banana bread with cream cheese and it is just so good, you have to try it. That's how my mom made it when I was little and when I asked her about it, she said she learned that from the Neiman Marcus Tea Room, where they serve banana bread bites with cream cheese and strawberries- how lovely!

* 1 1/4 c. flour
* 1 c. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 1/2 c. butter
* 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
* 2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9X5 loaf pan, set aside.  Sift together all dry ingredients.  Cut butter into cubes and work it into the dry ingredients using your hands or a pasty cutter, until it is crumbly and the size of small peas.  Add the mashed bananas and eggs to dry ingredients and stir well to combine, being careful not to over mix (it will be slightly lumpy).  Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the highest peak comes out clean (test in a few places, keep in mind that the bananas will stay soft so sometimes the skewer will not be totally clean).  Serve warm with cream cheese.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

Since this will be the last year that we will be spending Christmas apart, Mike and I decided to celebrate what we call "little Christmas" a bit early this year.  We spent the whole day in our pajamas (well, a festive onesie for me), feasted on quiche and banana bread for breakfast, lasagna for dinner, more banana bread for dessert, and opened presents by the tree.  Honestly, I could not imagine a more perfect day!

I knew I wanted to make some special meals for our mini celebration, but I also knew I didn't want to spend the whole day in the kitchen or doing a lot of dishes.  Enter- quiche!  Quiche is so versatile, you can really add any ingredients or flavors that suit you.  It's also great for holidays or company because it can be made up to 3 days in advance and reheated in the oven when needed.

I use rice to weigh down the pie shell

* 1 small yellow onion, chopped
* 5-6 pieces of thick cut bacon, cooked & crumbled
* 1 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
* 3/4 c. heavy cream
* 6 eggs
* 1 tbsp. butter
* 1 prepared pie crust

Preheat the oven to 375.  Arrange the pie shell in a 12 inch pan(I really wanted mine to be pretty with perfectly crimped edges- but you can see, pie dough is not my forte!). Place a sheet of parchment paper over the dough and weight down with rice, beans or pie weights (this is called blind baking - it's a way to pre-bake the crust so it stays crisp; if you use beans or rice, just save them to reuse for this purpose, not to eat), and bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan to medium heat and melt putter.  Add onions to pan and cook until lightly browned (7-8 minutes).  In a bowl, add the eggs, grated cheese, heavy cream, cooked bacon, and onions. Stir well to combine.  Transfer the egg mixture to the pie shell and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the center of the quiche is just set.  If you are making the quiche ahead of time, let it cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 days.  Reheat in the oven at 325 for 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

Merry Christmas from my festive Reindeer! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

I love a festive baked good as much as the next person, but sometimes it's nice to give a little something savory along with all the holiday sweets. This salsa is tasty for any occasion, but this year I thought I'd include it in some gift bags because it's so easy to make, makes a pretty large batch (about 6 jars, I believe they each hold a cup), and it's great to set out with appetizers.  I'm giving salsa this year as gifts along with a bag of red and green tortillas (Trader Joe's!) and a store bought jar of queso.  Some margarita mix might make a nice accompaniment as well!  'Tis the season after all..

* 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies
* 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced fire roasted tomatoes
* 1/3 c. green onion, finely chopped
* 1/3 c. white onion, finely chopped
* 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (I removed half the seeds and membrane, if you prefer spicier salsa, include the seeds)
* 1/3 c. cilantro
* 1 lime
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1 tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Use an immersion blender to blend the ingredients until desired consistency is reached.  If you do not have an immersion blender, use a blender or food processor to blend the salsa.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peppermint Bark

I just adore giving homemade holiday gifts, especially ones that I know will be appreciated.  I've never met a person who didn't love Peppermint Bark, and it's SO easy to make homemade. 

Make a big batch now and keep gift bags of it in the fridge in case any unexpected friends or neighbors pop in with a gift.  I'm loving these treat bags I found at Target - 3 for a dollar, you can't beat that!

* 1 (12 oz) bag white chocolate morsels
* 1 (12 oz) bag dark chocolate morsels
* 1 tsp. peppermint extract
* 6 candy canes, crushed

Melt white chocolate over a double boiler (if you're not familiar with a double boiler, place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl- some glass is heat proof, but I use a stainless steel bowl just in case- and set it over a pot of boiling water; you only need an inch or two of water as you don't want it to touch the bottom of the bowl). When chocolate is melted and smooth, remove from heat and stir in crushed candy canes and peppermint extract.  Smooth white chocolate out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate until firm (30-40 minutes).  Once the white chocolate is firm, melt the dark chocolate using the double boiler, pour onto the firm white chocolate mixture and return to refrigerator until firm.  Break into bite size pieces and serve.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Edible Gifts: Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar

I'm always looking for creative gifts for those people on my list that are hard to shop for.  You know the type...The neighbors, your boss, your in-laws, the person who has everything.  A good Olive Oil and Balsamic are great gifts because they last well past the holiday season, but can also come in handy for the host who will be entertaining a lot throughout the holidays.  Some people may think that all olive oil is created equal.  I say those people haven't been to Taste the Olive!  

I ventured to Taste the Olive recently to pick up a bottle of Greek olive oil.  Little did I know that Greek olive oil is not in season until February or March!    I set out to tasting their variety of oils to pick one that suited me and I settled on a Chilean Frantoio.  As I picked a few to taste, I really didn't anticipate being able to differentiate, but you'd be surprised how unique the various oils are based on their region.  The Chilean oil had a smooth, buttery flavor we all know and love in an olive oil, but it also had a peppery after taste.   The quality olive oils are best eaten raw as opposed to using them in cooking. I like to serve mine with parmesan and balsamic (I picked up this parmesan herb blend to try while I was there) and a crusty bread, drizzled over a sharp cheese, or  of course with a big bowl of pasta, and whoever is lucky enough to get this as a gift will too!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rum Cake

Rum cakes are the perfect holiday treat- rich and buttery with a crunchy sugar crust.  They keep well for a few days and make a great dessert, snack, or even breakfast! The first time I made this cake, one of my good friends, Katie, had just returned from a trip to Trinidad and brought me a HUGE bottle of dark Trinidadian rum. Since i'm not much of a rum drinker, I decided to make a cake with it.  I brought her my first rum cake as a thank you, and ever since this recipe has been in high demand!

I found the recipe in a book my mom gave me, "Someone's in the Kitchen with Melanie," by local Greensboro cookbook author Melanie Soles.  It starts with a boxed cake mix and the best part is everything goes into the same bowl.  You can whip up the batter in no time, so it's quick in a pinch!

* 1 package Duncan Hines Deluxe Golden Yellow cake mix
* 1 regular size instant vanilla pudding mix
* 1/2 c. water
* 1/2 c. dark rum
* 1/2 c. vegetable oil
* 4 eggs

* 1 1/2 c. sugar, divided
* 1 stick butter
* 1/4 c. dark rum (**The recipe says light rum for the glaze, but I use dark rum)
* 1/4 c. water

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flower a Bundt pan.  Comine all ingredients for batter and mix until smooth.  Pour into the Bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until cooked through (insert a wooden skewer into the cake; when it comes out clean the cake is done).  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for ten minutes or so.  Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by bringing 1 c. sugar, butter, rum, and water to a boil.  Whisk the glaze continuously for 2-3 minutes (don't walk away!).  Remove the heat, set aside.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil and a wire rack, and flip the cake on top of the rack (I do this so that the any glaze drips fall on the tin foil).  Stir in the additional sugar to the warm glaze.  Spoon the glaze over the cake and sprinkle with additional sugar if desired.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Somehow, I managed to escape the all too common childhood trauma of being forced to eat my brussels sprouts.  I'll have to check with my mom on that one, but I have a sneaking suspicion she doesn't like them herself!  Hmm..

I recently had brussels sprouts for what may have been the first time in my life and, as it turns out, they're delicious!  This recipe was my first attempt at making them at home and it was so simple, I think I'll make it a more common staple.  The brussels sprouts were delicious simply roasted with olive oil, but the bacon adds that extra something special.  I served them with mustard roasted salmon and skipped the starch - and I didn't even miss it!

* 1 lb. brussels sprouts
* 1/4 c. olive oil
* 3 strips bacon, chopped
* Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 375.  Rinse the brussels sprouts, remove any loose leaves (these tend to burn in the oven), and cut into halves or quarters, depending on your preference.  Arrange the brussel sprouts on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Transfer to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes until they're nicely browned, stirring once.  Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the bacon and cook until crisp.  Set the bacon aside on a paper towel to drain and reserve the bacon fat in the pan.  When the  brussels sprouts are finished, top with crumbled bacon and 1 tsp. of the bacon fat.  Serve warm.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ice Cream Soda

The holidays are upon us!  Can you believe it?  I think the season's arrival calls for a special treat.  Ice Cream Soda is actually a specialty of my mom's; I don't remember a week going by when I was younger that I didn't have one (I mean, it was the perfect accompaniment to my weeklyTGIF Pizza Party after all).  It's such a delicious, nostalgic treat, and it only takes two ingredients: Vanilla Ice Cream and Vernor's Ginger Ale ( and I insist you use Vernor's).  The ginger ale gives the ice cream almost a freeze dried texture and creates a yummy, bubbly foam on top.

Not only is Ice Cream Soda a fun dessert for adults and kids alike, but also make for a lovely finale at a dinner party.  No matter what I make, I find that people are almost always too full for dessert (ok, so I may be guilty of refilling the cheese plate until it's gone, but who am I to judge how much cheese 5 people   can consume?!).  Not the case with ice cream soda!  The first time I made it for friends was after my first annual ladies gift exchange a few years ago.  I made Julia Child's famous boeuf bourguignon and everyone was about to burst when I mentioned dessert.  Most of the ladies politely declined, but as soon as I brought out a few Ice Cream Soda's on a tray, their eyes perked up!   It's such a refreshing, sweet treat, it really is hard to resist.    Be sure to serve it up with both a straw and spoon (I found these red striped straws at Sur la Table).   Merry Sipping!