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Category Archives: Desserts

Kat’s Fantasy Elegant New Year’s Eve Dinner

individual beef wellington

Individual Beef Wellington

Alas, there will be no New Year’s Eve dinner for me this year. Things have been quiet in Kat’s kitchen, mainly because I’m still battling a cold and then have had a headache for four days on top of it. When I’m not feeling good I lose the desire to eat anything good for me (except, maybe soup) and gravitate to Christmas cookies and microwave popcorn. This may be a portent of things to come; I’ve heard that the sweet and salty taste buds are the last to go and that’s why elderly folk prefer sweet and salty food. It’s not a pretty thought, sigh!

Back to blogging and the dinner I wish I was cooking…actually I did cook this dinner a few years ago and it was then the culinary highlight of my cooking experience. As background, I joined a local group called Table for Six. The moderator cooked a five course meal for herself and five carefully chosen guests…but she only did this four times a year. I was blown away by the experience and offered to cook a dinner the following month. I’m flattered to say that this was the only time that her group dined outside her home. I still feel all warm and gushy when I think about it. However, after hosting a six course meal I can see why she only did this four times a year. I cooked all six courses from scratch and spent two full days in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, I was still whisking the gravy as the guests were pulling up. I also had to purchase and borrow extra dishes so that I could individually plate each course. Oh, but what a night!

In actuality if I were going to do it again, I would change a few things. Even though I spent weeks researching the perfect pairings, I’ve expanded my culinary repertoire so a few changes might be in order.

Champagne cocktail – I chose a dry champage which, ironically, tends to be slightly sweeter that Brut or Extra Brut. I dropped a raspberry in the bottom of each class for color instead of the lemon wedge.

Appetizer – Shrimp ceviche (served in martini glasses)

Soup – Cream of broccoli soup (served in Grandma’s crystal fruit cocktail bowls)

Salad – Tossed salad with artichoke-Parmesan crostini (served on salad plates)

Main course – Individual Beef Wellingtons, garlic mashed potatoes with green beans amandine to which I added a small amount of diced pimento for Christmas color (served on dinner plates) garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs

Dessert – Chocolate Cavity Maker cake with mint-infused whipped cream (served on dessert plates) garnished with fresh raspberry and mint leaves

Coffee with homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream and port. I had never been a huge fan of port until I had it alongside the coffee and chocolate cake.

It was a great night. Even though I won’t be cooking this year I enjoy reminiscing. Don’t feel too sorry for me though. I am going out tonight with friends where someone else will be serving me.

I hope your New Year’s Eve is filled with good food and good friends.

Cheers!

Kat

 

 

 

 

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Classic Tiramisu

We had an Italian-theme party last weekend for La Mama’s milestone birthday. Although we had the appetizers and main course catered by a family friend, my sister and I elected to do the desserts. My sister makes my mom cheesecake every year. This year she changed it up a bit and did mini cheesecake cupcakes with a strawberry topping. They were quite yummy and I’ll be posting them later this week when I get my hands on her recipe.

In an impulse moment I announced was going to make tiramisu from scratch. Once the commitment was out in the open, there was no turning back. I’d never made tiramisu before and I was a little nervous. I followed the directions on the back of the lady finger package (that took four clerks in my local grocery store to find) and immediately relaxed. I had a mild amount of anxiety over the whipping cream; I’m always nervous that it’s not actually going to whip. Someone told me that the trick is refrigerate the bowl and the beaters which seems to work.

Tiramisu and white russian

Tiramisu, as it turns out, is not really all that hard to make. I elected to build mine in a spring form pan. The good news is that the end result tasted great, my mom was thrilled The pictures honestly don’t do the dessert justice. In the midst of serving 40 people it was really hard to get good photos. Plus using lady fingers meant that the layers were not nice and crisp like they would have been had I used something akin to sponge cake.

I’ve already decided there will be a next time and that I am going to try using a sponge cake cut in half for more even layers. I may even double the amount of coffee liqeure.

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream (divided)
  • 2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfingers
  • 1/3 cup coffee flavored liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 1 (1 ounce) square semisweet chocolate
 Directions:
  1. Combine egg yolks and sugar; whip until thick and lemon colored, about one minute. Place in top of double boiler over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, stirring frequently.
  2. Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip *1-3/4 cup* cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.
  3. Split the lady fingers in half, and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl or spring-form pan. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the cream filling over the lady fingers. Repeat ladyfingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  4. Top with sweetened whipped cream. Combine 1/2 whipping cream, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Whip until stiff peaks form.
  5. Garnish with cocoa. Use a microplane grater or zester to get nice chocolate crumbles. You can also use a vegetable peeler or garlic slicer to shave the chocolate into curls.

Kat’s tip: Make the Tiramisu a day in advance so that it has time to set. I made mine the morning of the party and it 9 hours later it seemed a bit jiggly (although everyone loved it). Dust with cocoa immediately prior to serving for the prettiest presentation.

Kat’s second tip: Mascapone cheese is über expensive. As a substitute you can combine 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1/4 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons of whipping cream and then mix until blended and fluffy.

 
 

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Decadent Dulce De Leche Blondies

Moist and chewy blondies with dulce de leche

It’s hard for me to believe, but as I write this I realize that I have not had ONE Christmas cookie yet this year. Some of you may be quick to point out that I blogged about the pumpkin sugar cookies brought on Thanksgiving Day but A.) that was November and B.) those were clearly Thanksgiving cookies and clearly not Christmas cookies.

Again, Kat has had no Christmas cookies yet this year. I’m not really sure how that happened since I baked two batches of cookies and then attended a cookie exchange last weekend. I have a beautiful assortment of cookies from said exchange in my outside fridge. Let us not forget (because I certainly haven’t) that I have the already-baked and ready-to-be-frosted Xmas sugar cookies in my outside freezer, too.

I feel I have shown remarkable restraint this year but my no-cookie-eating streak is about to come to an abrupt end once the caramel blondies come out of the oven. OMG, blondies are like a little slice of heaven. I posted earlier this year about the mystical bar that I first had at a church function. It took me, literally, years to figure out what they were and nearly involved me stalking the lady who donated them. Let’s just say its a good thing I couldn’t quite remember where she lived.

Today’s version is a re-do of the original recipe that lead me to discover that blondies are actually blondies. A light bulb went off for me when I saw the recipe in People magazine last year. Like a kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait until my first batch came out of the oven. Sadly it was an epic failure. The original recipe called for a two-step cooking process and far too much of the star ingredient, a caramel-like creamy sauce known as dulce de leche. The end result was an ooey gooey mess that wasn’t a candy or a cookie. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out a way to redeem the sugary mess…so I threw it out and started over.

Now that the second batch (which looks way more brownie-like) is out of the oven, let the cookie eating commence!

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • one pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup dulce de leche
  • Optional: 1/3 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°

Spray an 8″ x 8″ baking pan with non-stick spray

Combine butter and sugars in a large bowl. Using beaters or electric mixer, beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; continue mixing and scrape sides with a spatula when necessary.

Add flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Spread the mixture in the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Pour dulce de leche evenly over the top. (The middle of mine “sank” a bit which left ridges on the sides. This was perfect to capture the dulce de leche when I poured in on.) Use a kitchen knife or spatula to swirl the batter slightly.

Return to the oven and bake another 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before removing from pan.

Yield: 16 squares

Nutritional info: Lets not ruin the moment by calculating how totally fattening these little delights are. January is right around the corner and we can count calories then 🙂


 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Cookies, Desserts, Holiday

 

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Vickie’s Pomegranate Jelly

Up until recently I gave little thought to the actual fruit itself but pomegranates grow well here in Arizona. Perhaps it is because of my new-found focus on seasonal produce that real in-the-flesh pomegranates have been showing up before me this year.

De-seeding the rosy red fruit is a cumbersome, multi-step process that is fraught with some peril since the juice stains. I was introduced to this process (and the warning) at a party in October when our hosts willingly shared the bounty from the tree in their back yard. Eating pomegranates reminds me of eating sunflower seeds or pistachios. There’s a whole lot of work involved for a little measly result; still plucking the seeds out of the white flesh is actually kind of addicting.

This is just one more reason why I tip my hat to my friend Vickie for her pomegranate jelly. Vickie is an Arizona native and remembers the days before population growth and urban sprawl took over when “rural” Phoenix was full of dairy farms and orchards. She’s been picking and eating pomegranates since she was a kid (read this as she has had years of practice). Regardless, the process of de-seeding the fruit is still time-consuming and somewhat tedious. Then, once you have the seeds, you still have to juice them. Sheesh!

As the recipient of one of the cute little jars pictured above (and since I’ve never canned anything in my life), I asked Vickie if she had any pearls of wisdom or words of warning to share with my readers. Vickie acknowledged that next time she would skip the de-seeding process/juicing process and start with 100% pomegranate juice that you can buy from stores like Trader Joe’s. This is encouraging if you don’t have access to pomegranate trees in your local area. If you do go the fully natural route her warning is to plan ahead; the juice has to sit for a few days before its ready to be used.

So, I’m thankful to have been on the recipient list for Vickie’s pomegranate jelly. I can’t wait to try the jelly in the streusel short bread recipe that I’ve got lined up to cook in the next day or so.

Pomegranate Jelly Recipe from Simply Recipes

The process of canning jelly is specific to what fruit you are canning, the type of pectin you are using – whether natural, liquid, powder – and the ratio of juice to sugar to pectin. If you plan to store your jelly on a shelf, and not in the refrigerator, you need special canning equipment to ensure against spoilage.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 5 cups white cane sugar
  • You’ll also need:
  • 6-7 Eight ounce canning jars

Method:

  1. Make or buy the juice. If making the juice, see the two tips below on the best ways to accomplish these.
  2. Prepare canning jars. Seep the clean, empty canning jars in boiling water for several minutes. Boil a few cups of water in a separate kettle and pour over the lids in a small bowl to sterilize.
  3. Measure pomegranate juice and lemon juice in a 6-quart pan. Add pectin, stir and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reach a full rolling boil, that cannot be stirred down, and add sugar. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand for a minute and skim off foam.
  4. Fill jars to 1/2″ of the top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids.
  5. Finish canning. This step you need to take if you plan to keep the jelly unrefrigerated. Place the jelly jars, not touching, on a rack in a tall pot of boiling water. The water should cover the top of the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 5 minutes and then remove from the water. Let the jars cool. Check seals, the lids should be sucked down (you’ll hear a popping noise as the jelly cools). Once the jars reach room temperature, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to complete the jellying. Lasts about 3 weeks once opened.

Yield – 6-7 cups.

Making the juice:

There are two basic ways to make pomegranate juice from fresh pomegranates. The first is to cut open a pomegranate and submerge it in a large bowl filled with water. Remove the seeds underwater; they will sink to the bottom while the white membrane holding them together will float. Discard the peel and membranes. Strain the seeds and put them in a blender. Pulse the blender only a few times so that the seeds are broken up. Place a mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the seed mixture through the strainer. Use a rubber spatula to help press the pulp against the strainer as to extract as much juice as possible.

The second way to juice a pomegranate is to use a juice press. I have an old fashioned press that I use. I wash the pomegranate and cut it into quarters or halves, depending on how big the pomegranate is. I then crush the sections with a press and strain the juice through a mesh strainer. I have found that this method takes half the time or less of the first method, but the flavor can be a little more bitter because you are squeezing the peel as well.

Source: simplyrecipes.com

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Breakfast, Desserts, Holiday

 

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Eddi’s Christmas Mice Cookies – The Hit of the Cookie Exchange

"Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."

The hit of this year’s cookie exchange was definitely the mice cookies. Aside from the oohs and ahs emitted by the ladies present, the sentiment was echoed by a substantial number of comments on my Facebook page after I posted a picture of my take from Saturday’s event. Several astute observers spotted the mice cookies amidst my bounty and asked about them. Since inquiring minds want to know…and I had the forethought to take photos of the mice cookies before we snatched them all up…and Eddi was kind enough to share the recipe she used, I’m now able to pass it on to you.

People are so creative and there seems to be no end to the wonders you can find on the internet. Leave it to Martha Stewart to come up with something as clever as these. I did overhear Eddi mention that mouse cookie assemblage is a two-person job. Because the cookies will appeal to children of all ages, why not draft a few to help put these cute little critter cookies together!?

I haven’t been able yet to get up the nerve to eat one of the mice cookies because they are so darned cute. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

The recipe below is for white mice cookies; see below to adjust the recipe to chocolate or dark cookies.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup sliced natural almonds
  • 4 30” black licorice laces, cut into 3-inch lengths

Directions:

  1. Whisk to combine flour and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until creamy (about 2 minutes). Add sugar gradually, beating until mixture is pale and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in extract, then egg. Reduce speed to low, and add one-third flour mixture. Gradually add remaining flour mixture, beating just until blended. Halve dough and shape into disks; wrap each in plastic, and chill for 2 hours or up to 1 day.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Roll about 1 tablespoon of chilled dough between your palms to form 1-1/4 inch to 1-1/2 inch-long oval shapes. Slightly elongate one side to form face. Gently pinch bridge of nose to form eye sockets. With a paring knife, make 2 small slits at top of each shape for placement of ears. Place 2 sliced almonds into slits. Place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.
  3. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through until cookies are light golden brown on bottom and around edges and tips of ears are golden brown (about 20 minutes.) Transfer sheets to wire racks, and immediately insert a wooden skewer about /2 inch into mouse’s rounded end. Remove skewer and insert curved length of licorice for tail. It should adhere to the still-warm cookie. Let cookies cool completely on wire racks.
  4. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Turn off heat; keep chocolate warm until ready to use, stirring occasionally Place melted chocolate in a parchment cone or a resealeable plastic bag with a tiny hole cut in one corner. Pipe chocolate in tiny dots to form eyes and nose. Chill until chocolate is set, about 20 minutes.
  5. Cookies can be stored in a single layer in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Yield: About 3 dozen

Variation:
For chocolate mice, reduce flour to 2 ½ cups. Add one half a cup of unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder. Increase sugar to 1 cup. Proceed with the recipe, forming mice and then bake, rotating sheets halfway through until cookies are firm and tips of almond ears are golden brown (about eighteen minutes). Use three ounces of white chocolate, melted and kept slightly warm to pipe small eyes and a nose onto the face of each chocolate mouse.
Source: www.marthastewart.com; includes video tutorial.
 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Cookies, Desserts, Holiday

 

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Grandma Millie’s Mexican Wedding Cakes

It takes all my willpower not to eat the whole batch

If there is one cookie that epitomizes my family, it would be the Mexican Wedding Cake (you might call them Pecan Sandies or Russian Tea Cakes). Ever since I can recall, these cookies have been a staple in our house for Christmas.

This recipe was handed down from my Grandma Millie. My Dad loves these cookies so much that we have to put him on rations. I’ve been known to make an entire batch just for him.

As a matter of fact, the first year we did our Secret Santa I had my Dad. All he asked for was a gift certificate to Home Depot. How boring and un-fun is that for the gift-giver?? I spruced up the gift by making a whole tin of these cookies (that he wouldn’t have to share) and then put the gift card in a wax paper “envelope” on top of the cookies. Dad pocketed the gift card and hid the cookies in his room.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°

Slice butter into 1/2 inch pieces. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for about one minute. Add in sugar, vanilla and water. Beat until thoroughly combined. Add 1-1/4 cups flour and mix. Add the remaining flour and pecans. Use your hands to turn the dough until it is mixed all the way through. Chill for 1/2 hour in fridge.

Divide dough into 36 balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes until the bottoms are lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool slightly and move to a wire rack. Please cooled cookies in a bowl and shake gently with confectioners sugar.

Hide cookies from Dad lest he eat them all 🙂

Kat’s tip: Unsalted butter is preferred over salted butter for cookies and other baked goods but you can use salted butter if that is all you have. To soften butter, leave it on the counter for about an hour. Try to avoid softening butter in the microwave as it can fool with the consistency of what you’re making. In the same vein, it may be tempting to melt it in the microwave but that can REALLY mess with your results.

Kat’s second tip: I am partial to buying chopped nuts over whole/half nuts because they’re less expensive. I learned the hard way that 1 cup of nuts chopped yields about 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts. Adjust your recipe accordingly (2:1) depending on what size nuts you’re starting with.

Calories 91.9  Total Fat 5.8 g  Cholesterol 13.8 mg  Sodium 0.9 mg  Potassium 14.0 mg  Total Carbohydrate 9.1 g  Protein 0.9 g

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2011 in Desserts, Holiday

 

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How to Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange

I’m a HUGE fan of sugar cookies. Case in point, I ended up gobbling all six of the pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies my sister brought over on Thanksgiving for breakfast the next day. That’s right, while the rest of the world was pigging out on leftover turkey and stuffing, I went right for the sugar.

So, the cookie season already started for me. Then, in that weird way that the universe works for me, over cocktails last weekend me and my bestie talked our other friend into hosting a Christmas cookie exchange. In all fairness, the other friend was already half committed to the idea and just need her chums to enthusiastically back her plan, which we did. Of course we did. I’m already having sugar cookie withdrawals and it’s not even December 1st yet.

It’s hard for me to believe this, but I’ve only been to one Christmas cookie exchange in my life and that was only last year. Said event was either poorly planned, ill managed *or* extremely casual. I baked my favorite cookies and went armed with six dozen to swap. I was supposed to end up with six dozen to take home with me but I’m fairly certain that didn’t happen.

No doubt, my BFF will have a better handle on her Christmas cookie exchange. I’m pretty excited because her father was a baker by profession. This, I hope, means the bar will be set kinda high so I should score some majorly good cookies out of it. Sweet!

If you’re not familiar with a cookie swap, it is an awesome way to get a wide variety of cookies without having to spend days in the kitchen baking. It’s brilliant, really! The general jist of the event is this:

  • Bring six dozen cookies nicely displayed on a platter (carefully label any with nuts in case of allergies)
  • Bring an extra basket or large Tupperware container with you
  • Go around the table and takes one to two cookies from each platter until all the cookies are divided up
  • Be ready to share your recipe and/or a story of why you chose the cookie you did

We’re doing our cookie exchange next Saturday. If you love the idea, you might want to get started on your own soon since people need time to prepare and schedules are starting to get a little crazy. I googled “how to do a cookie exchange” and came up with dozens of articles on how to pull this off.

I’m bringing the family favorite, Grandma Millie’s Mexican Wedding Cakes.

Tell me, what’s your family’s favorite cookie??

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Desserts, Holiday, NaBloPoMo

 

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