Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Easy Peppermint Bark

Four days until Christmas, and you are well on your way to assembling the perfect cookie platter! For the final treat, I have for you easy peppermint bark.  If you thought the macaroons were easy, these are going to change your world.

To start, prepare the peppermint.  Take about 10 candy canes, unwrap them, and seal them in a large Ziploc bag.  Wrap the bag in a kitchen towel and pound it with a hammer or rolling pin until the candy canes are broken into tiny pieces.  This is a great way to release some of the stress the holidays may be causing!

Next, melt two bags of white chocolate chips in a double boiler (like we did for the macaroons). 

Once melted and smooth, pour the chocolate onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Spread it evenly so that it's about 1/4" thick.

Sprinkle with the candy cane pieces and place in the refrigerator to cool (which will take several hours).

Once the chocolate has hardened, break it into small pieces. 

With three holiday treats under your belt, you can now assemble a pretty kick-ass cookie platter.  They make great gifts for your neighbors, coworkers, doormen, anyone!  I like to use disposable loaf boxes and pretty parchment paper.  Who can resist when they look this tantalizing?

Easy Peppermint Bark

2 12-ounce bags white chocolate chips
10 candy canes 

1. Break the candy canes into tiny pieces. Place them in a large Ziploc bag and seal.  Wrap with a kitchen towel and pound with a rolling pin or hammer.  Set aside.
2. Melt the chocolate chips over a double boiler.
3. Pour the chocolate onto a large cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Spread to 1/4" thick.
4. Sprinkle candy cane pieces over the chocolate.
5. Refrigerate for several hours or until chocolate has hardened.
6. Break into small pieces and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cranberry Coconut Macaroons

Five more days until Christmas! Hopefully you've already wowed everyone with your lemon sugar cookies.  Next up we have cranberry coconut macaroons, and they're even dipped in chocolate!  And I promise, these are incredibly easy cookies to make.  They're simple and use only a few ingredients, but are deliciously decadent and amazing.  They're sure to be a crowd pleaser. Be sure to hide them if you're saving them for them an event, because they'll be snatched up in no time!

In a large bowl, mix together the coconut, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.

Fold in 1 cup of cranberries (rinsed well and cut into quarters) until well combined.

Drop rounded teaspoons of the mixture onto a well greased cookie sheet.  The original recipe says to bake them on parchment paper, but this was a huge failure in my kitchen, so I strongly advise using some PAM instead.  Doesn't the parchment paper look pretty, though?

Bake them at 325 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes, or until they are set.  Remove from the cookie sheet immediately and let cool.

You can stop here if you're satisfied, or you can opt to dip these babies in chocolate (and who doesn't love some extra chocolate??) Melt a bag of milk chocolate chips in a double boiler.  If you don't have one (like me), boil a couple of inches of water in a medium saucepan.  Place a metal bowl over the water and pour the chocolate chips in. Stir them frequently until melted and smooth.  

Dip the bottom half of each macaroon in the chocolate. Place on cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate is hardened.  Serve and enjoy!

Cranberry Coconut Macaroons
Adapted from Bon Appetit August 2000

1 14-ounce package sweetened flaked coconut 
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cranberries, rinsed and quartered
1 12-ounce package milk chocolate chips (optional) 

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla.
3. Fold in the cranberries to combine.  
4. Drop rounded teaspoons onto a well greased cookie sheet. 
5. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until set.  
6. Remove from cookie sheet immediately and let cool.
7. If desired, dip them in chocolate - melt chocolate chips in a double boiler.  Dip the bottom half of each macaroon in the chocolate and place on a sheet of wax paper to cool and harden. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Christmas is almost here!  Prepare yourself for three great holiday treat recipes here on The Kitchen Holiday. Nothing makes me more happy than an afternoon in the kitchen listening to Christmas music (this album is my favorite this year) and baking up a bunch of cookies.  They're perfect for dessert during your holiday party and, wrapped up in festive packaging, they make great gifts.  In fact, once you bake these upcoming delicacies, you'll have a great cookie platter that anyone would be thrilled to receive. 

First up we have lemon sugar cookies.  Once I saw these, I knew they would be my favorite cookies of the season, and it's all because of the sanding sugar sprinkled on top.  This coarse colored sugar adds the perfect sparkle to your holiday treat.  I made these for a cookie swap and they were a big hit (or at least I'd like to think they were!)  Plus, the cookie swap was a great way to get a wide variety of cookies without spending days in the kitchen. 

To make the lemon sugar cookies, start with the dough.  It has to chill for at least an hour, so make it ahead of time.  

Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  This is easiest of the butter is room temperature, so take it out of the fridge a few hours in advance.  Add the lemon zest and vanilla and mix well (for the lemon zest, grate the rind of a lemon with the smallest holes on your grater, making sure you only grate the yellow part of the rind and not the white part, which is bitter).

Mix the butter mixture on medium speed for 3 minutes.  Add the egg yolks and beat until just combined.  

Slowly add the flour mixture, adding it in small batches and mixing until fully combined each time.  Towards the end you may need to use your hands to work it in.  Once combined, divide the dough into two sections.  Roll each into a 10" log (it helps to actually measure it, as Iearned that my estimating skills are horribly inaccurate).  

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.  Once sufficiently chilled, remove from the fridge and place on a cutting board.  Using a sharp, floured knife, cut into 1/4" slices.  

Place on a greased cookie sheet about 1" apart.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until edges are set.  Don't let them get too brown - this way they will stay soft and moist. Remove from the pan immediately and let cool on a rack.

While they're cooling, mix together the icing.  In a small bowl, mix together the powdered sugar and just enough milk to bring it to the right consistency (start small and add the milk in very small increments).  Transfer the icing into a pastry bag.  Since I don't have those, I used a Ziploc bag and cut a tiny hole in one of the corners.  

Drizzle the icing over the cookies. Sprinkle the sugar over the icing immediately, before the icing has time to set.  I worked in small batches, icing 3 rows of cookies at a time, then stopping to add sprinkles.  Let the icing set for 1-2 hours before storing in an airtight container. 

Enjoy the beauty of the cookies you just created!

Lemon Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetit December 2011

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons (or more) milk
Sanding sugar (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Add in the lemon zest and vanilla and combine, mixing for several minutes.   
3. Mix in the egg yolks until just combined.
4. Slowly add the flour mixture until well combined, using your hands if necessary.
5. Divide the dough into two halves.  Roll each half into a 10" log.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 
6. Remove dough for refrigerator.  Slice with a sharp, floured knife into 1/4" thick cookies. Place on greased cookie sheet.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are set.  
8. Remove from cookie sheet immediately and cool.
9. Make the icing - mix together the powdered sugar and enough milk to make the icing thick but able to be drizzled.  
10. Transfer the icing into a pastry bag (or Ziploc bag with a small whole cut in one corner). Drizzle over cookies, working in batches.  After each batch, sprinkle sugar or sprinkles over the icing immediately.  Let icing set for 1-2 hours.  Store in an airtight container. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pasta Alfredo with Kale

Sunday in DC was finally the cold, crisp winter day I've been waiting for.  The Patriots played the Redskins, causing a clash of my New England loyalty with my new life in Washington, and it the Redskins actually held their own.  They lost, thank goodness, else I would have had to reconsider the natural order of the world.  With most of my friends out tailgating, I decided it was the perfect time to make some warm, creamy comfort food (I mean, at least I wasn't out devouring pulled pork and playing flip cup, right?).  

This was the first time I've made an alfredo sauce, and I was shocked at how simple it was!  With only three ingredients, it was hard to go wrong.  Yet despite the simplicity of it all, the result was incredibly decadent, rich, and smooth, perfect for either a dinner party, Sunday meal, or quick weeknight dinner. 

It's also easily adaptable.  I made mine with tender, cooked kale, but you could substitute spinach, chicken, tomatoes and basil, or whatever vegetables you have in the fridge.  

To start, pour your wine.  Of course there isn't any in the recipe itself, but Sunday afternoon cooking calls for a cold glass of Chardonnay.

Next, prepare your ingredients.  The list is so short, you can count them on one hand.  Plus, they're things you usually have in the fridge.  This is my kind of recipe. 

First, prepare your kale.  Rinse it well and rip out the stems and any large veins.  Add it to a large pot or saucepan with 1/2 cup water.  Cook it over medium heat until it's wilted and tender, or about 5 - 10 minutes.  Drain the water and set aside.

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente (according to the directions on the box).  Fettuccine would be the most traditional pasta to use, but anything will work. I used whole wheat angel hair since that's what I had on hand, which I like since it cooks so quickly.  Once it's cooked, save about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Drain the pasta in a colander and set it aside.

Now it's time for the best part, the sauce!  It will only take a couple of minutes.  In a large saucepan (you can use the same one in which you cooked the kale), melt the butter.  Add the cream, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Remove sauce from the heat and toss in the pasta, kale, pasta water, and cheese.  And that's it!  Time to enjoy.  I recommend serving it with a garden salad since the alfredo is so calorie rich.  That's if you can hold yourself back from devouring the pasta right away!

Pasta Alfredo with Kale
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2008

Makes 4 servings.

7 to 8 ounces dry pasta of your choice (1/2 box)
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 bunch kale

1. Rinse the kale, remove stems, and tear into bite-sized pieces.  Cook in a large pot over medium heat with 1/2 cup water until wilted and tender, 5-10 minutes.  Drain and set aside. 

2. Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente.  Remove 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.  Drain the pasta.
3. In a large saucepan, melt the butter.  Add the heavy cream, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer.  Toss in the pasta, kale, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serve hot, with a side salad. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Home Cooked Turkey Soup

This weekend I decided to host a second Thanksgiving with my friends from college.  Prior to the actual holiday, this seemed like a great idea, as if no one could ever have enough turkey and stuffing.  Fast forward nine days, two Thanksgiving meals and lots of leftovers later, I discovered that, while the turkey does get a little less exciting, any reason to get your friends together and share a meal is a good one.  

I roasted my first official turkey using Alton Brown's Good Eats Roast Turkey recipe, complete with brining bag and aromatics.  It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

The next day, I was left with a whole lot of leftovers.  Not wanting to throw the turkey carcass (a really horrible word) away, I decided to make some soup with it.  Let me tell you, the aromas in my apartment on Sunday rivaled actual Thanksgiving day, and it was super easy.  A friend stopping by even said, "How homemaker-ish of you!" That's right, I'm a soccer mom living a single girl's life, and loving every minute of it.  

This soup embodies many of the tastes of Thanksgiving, with fresh sage, turkey, and lots of vegetables, but has the added bonus of being healthy.  You won't feel guilty after eating a big bowl, even if you have it for lunch three days in a row (which I may or may not have done this week, don't tell!) On cold winter days when it's dark by 4:30, turkey soup will warm you right up.  Plus, while it's simmering you'll have time to drink a mug of mulled wine and watch Home Alone, and who doesn't want to do that?

Here's how I made the soup:

First, put your turkey in a large stockpot, add an onion (quartered), 3 stalks of celery, and a bay leaf and cover with water.  Bring it to a boil and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  This isn't the prettiest part of the process, but it definitely smells the best. Remove the turkey from the stock pot and put in a bowl to cool.

The water in the stockpot is now delicious broth.  Pour it through a strainer or some cheesecloth to remove any remaining solids.  Set it aside and let it fully cool, letting it sit in the fridge if possible.  This will allow the fat to separate and float on top. Scoop it off and discard.

Once the turkey carcass has cooled enough so that you can touch it, remove all the meat from the bones, discarding everything else.  Slice it into bite sized pieces.

Back to the stockpot.  Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil and saute one minced onion, the remaining celery (sliced), and all of the carrots (sliced).  Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Add a small handful of chopped sage leaves, along with 2 cloves of garlic, minced and cook for 1 more minute.

Add the broth, remaining bay leaf, turkey, rice or barley, and your vegetables.  I used a bag of frozen green beans and a bag of frozen corn, but you can use whatever veggies you prefer.  It's a great way to use up leftovers.  Bring everything to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.

Add salt, pepper and thyme to taste. So go ahead, grab a spoon and taste it!  Remember, you can always add more salt, but you can't take it out.  Simmer the soup for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours longer, depending on how much time you have.  A pot of soup on the stove makes for a pretty cozy Sunday, so I don't recommend that you rush.  

Serve piping hot in a pretty bowl and enjoy!

**Once I made this enormous pot of soup, I realized I might have solved the problem of what to do with the turkey carcass, but I had no idea what I was going to do with all this soup!  Luckily, soup is easily frozen and makes for great leftovers.  Once it cooled, I poured the extra soup into some Ziploc bags and froze flat in my freezer.  That way, I can stack them easily and they won't take up too much space. 

Home Cooked Turkey Soup
Adapted from The Food Network

1 leftover turkey carcass
1 onion, quartered, plus 1 onion, minced
1 bunch celery (3 whole and remaining sliced)
1 lb carrots, sliced
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small handful fresh sage leaves, chopped (about 10-15 leaves)
3 cups leftover or frozen vegetables of your choice
1-2 cups rice or barley
1-2 teaspoons thyme (to taste)
Salt, pepper to taste

1. Put a leftover turkey carcass (with some meat still on the bones) in a large stock pot and cover with water.  Add one onion, quartered, 3 stalks of celery and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil.
2. Simmer the turkey for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the turkey to a large bowl and let cool.  Through a strainer or cheesecloth, strain the water, which will now be broth, from the stock pot and set aside.  
3. In the stockpot, saute 1 minced onion, the remaining celery, sliced, and all of the carrots, sliced, in olive oil until softened, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and fresh sage and cook for 1 minute longer. 
4. Pour the broth into the stockpot and add the remaining bay leaf.  
5. Once the turkey is cool enough to touch, remove the meat from the bones, discarding everything else.  Slice the turkey into bite-sized pieces and add to stockpot.
6. Add vegetables to the stockpot and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes and season with salt, pepper, and thyme to taste.
7. Simmer for 30 minutes to several hours.
8. Serve piping hot, preferably with a slice of crusty bread or crackers.

Note: Soup can be frozen for up to 6 months.
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