Homemade KIND Bars

Homemade KIND Bars

One of my friends has the best saying ever when she says goodbye to her kids in the morning, “Have a sparkly day and remember to do something nice for someone!”  I absolutely love it.  I think that if everyone left their homes in the morning with that mission, the world would be a beautiful place filled with lots of sparkly people.  Unfortunately not everyone has that attitude in life.  It shocks me sometimes how people can be so inconsiderate.  But then again, most of the time those people really have no clue…and I just end up feeling sorry for them.  At some point in their lives, they will have a very lonely existence.

I have been a little crazy about KIND bars recently.  It’s funny, because when I first tried one, I was not impressed.  That was because I didn’t choose the right bar…I am a nut person (yes, I am a nut).  I don’t really like dried fruit with my nuts either – I am a purest when it comes to nuts.  So, after spending a few weeks eating these KIND bars, it hit me – why can’t I make these myself?  They can’t be that hard…if only I could find the recipe.  BING!!

Yes, after one search I found this blog Powerhungry - and she definitely had done her research.  I immediately went to the store to find this brown rice syrup (which I easily found at Whole Foods), and then stopped at Trader Joes for an assortment of nuts.  I couldn’t decide which ones to get, so I got many varieties, so I can make all sorts of different bars.  You need to follow the recipe carefully, and they will come out perfectly.  I swear you will never buy another bar again after making these.

So this weekend, if you are looking for something to do while the Seahawks are hopefully killing the Broncos – make a batch of these.  Then share them with someone you love.  After all, they are KIND bars.  Just maybe you will turn them into a sparkly person, now wouldn’t that be nice?

Ingredients

  • 2 cups toasted or raw nuts (e.g., cashews, almonds, pistachios, peanuts), coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup crisp rice cereal
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup or organic corn syrup (e.g., wholesome sweeteners) (note: honey will not work–bars will be sticky, not crispy)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325F. Line an 8-inch square pan (9-inch is too big) with foil and lightly spray with (do not skip these steps!).  In a medium bowl, combine the chopped nuts and crisp rice cereal. Add the salt and syrup and stir to coat. Scrape/dump mixture into prepared pan. Now, to press it out evenly: Tear off a good size piece of foil  (around the size of the pan or slightly smaller). Lightly spray it with nonstick spray. Use the sprayed side of foil to press and spread evenly into pan. Works like a charm!

Bake for 18 minutes (the bars will not be hard at this point). Place pan on cooling rack and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes (give or take) until partially set up (it will depend on how hot or cold the kitchen—just don’t cool completely). Use the sides of foil to lift the bars from the pan. Do not try to remove from foil—they will stick like crazy. Cut into 8 bars.  Go and do something else until bars are completely cooled. Once cooled, the bars will lift right off of the foil. Wrap in parchment or wax paper and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Homemade KIND Bars

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Dairy-Free Banana Bread

Dairy-Free Banana Bread 2

Sometimes you just need a little comfort.  This could be in many different forms – although comforting food seems to be what people gravitate towards when that need exists.  No wonder we have such an obesity problem in the United States – comfort food restaurants are everywhere, and unless you choose wisely when to indulge (and maybe balance it out with some exercise), it can be dangerous.

I definitely love my comfort good – but all in moderation.  Friday night we went to our absolute favorite restaurant/bar in Seattle, and ordinarily I would never order something like this – but it was calling for me.  It was a wonderful bowl of carbonara – with a perfectly poached egg on top.  I am telling you – this dish of homemade angel hair pasta with the smoky ham – it was decadent, and I enjoyed every single bite.  If that wasn’t enough, I had a piece of peanut butter pie for dessert with a small scoop of banana ice-cream.  I went all out.  The next morning, I couldn’t get to the gym fast enough.  Thank goodness for Tabata.  But everyone deserves an indulgent night now and then.

Most of the time what comforts me the most are the simple pleasures – like banana bread.  My mother’s banana bread recipe is just as perfect as it could be.  Although this time I decided to see if could survive the dairy-free challenge.  I substituted coconut milk for buttermilk – and you would have never known.  My husband and I couldn’t believe it – this was something he used to be nuts about, and when he gave up dairy, he had to give this up as well.  Not anymore though – this is now back in our lives, and better than ever.  Thank goodness for the small comforts in life…because seriously, sometimes that’s all you need.

Ingredients

  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cups chopped nuts (optional)

Preparation

Pre-heat oven to 350.  Mash bananas with a fork and set aside.  Mix oil, sugar, coconut milk, vanilla and eggs well.  Add mashed bananas.  Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl, and add to banana mixture with nuts (optional) until just combined well.  Pour into 2 greased and floured 9 x 5″ loaf pans.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from pans while still warm and wrap with plastic.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Dairy-Free Banana Bread

Dairy-Free Banana Bread

Chocolate-Pistachio Sables

Chocolate-Pistachio Sables

I know that one of my New Year’s resolutions was dairy-free baking, but everyone needs just a little break from their resolutions every once in a while.  I am no exception – particularly because I love butter.  It has been fun experimenting without butter lately, but sometimes you just need a little butter in your life.  With 75% of our household being dairy lovers, every once in a while we just need to indulge.

As I was making these delicious morsels, I was reminded about the last time I had pistachios in my baked goods.  Yes, my wonderful week in Istanbul…  So, Istanbul has always been one of those places that I read about, but never thought I would actually go there.  As it turns out, I was asked to travel that in the fall for work.  Lucky for me, my meetings didn’t start until Monday evening, so I had Monday during the day to explore, and I definitely wanted to make the best of it.  Of course food was at the top of my list.

I did some research on the internet, and all roads led to this woman named Olga.  She was amazing – her blog captivated me instantly.  She runs a food tour (as well as owning a B&B), and it was exactly what I was looking for.  Five hours of walking the city tasting all of the local delicacies. Fortunately I had some adventurous co-workers that I was travelling with, and when I told them about this fun excursion, they were completely on board.  We had the most incredible day.  It started off with a delicious breakfast (eggs with tomato sauce, cheese, peppers, sausage, etc…) then onto a pastry shop where we tried two sweets with some amazing Turkish coffee, we went to markets, local eateries, bakeries, and everything in between – and ended the afternoon at a very local fish restaurant.  Of course I couldn’t try the fresh fish, but they brought me other local food to eat instead.  I was absolutely stuffed, but loved every minute of it.  We learned so much about the food and culture of Turkey, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Oh, and did I mention the amazing restaurant recommendations?

Of course my favorite of all the sweets I had in Istanbul was pistachio baklava – and when I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit, that’s immediately what I thought about.  These cookies are much easier to make than baklava – although quite tasty.  What I loved most about this recipe was that I could leave 3 logs in the freezer, and make a fresh batch of cookies in just minutes.  The girls have been taking these in their lunches, and I think they are helping them focus in the afternoons – with all that chocolate, how could they not?

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white
  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
  •  Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Preparation

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in egg white. Fold in chocolate and pistachios.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.)

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart.

Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

DO AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Chocolate-Pistachio Sables

Triple-Chocolate Muffins

Triple-Chocolate Muffins

Am I a bad Mom because I let my kids eat chocolate for breakfast?  That thought definitely crossed my mind as I was making these muffins this weekend.  My older daughter has been on a muffin kick for a while now, it started with her braces, and has just continued because it is so much easier to pop a muffin in your mouth before heading to the bus stop, then to pour a bowl of cereal.  She also claims that a muffin fills her up more – and I believe her.  Particularly when they are big and hearty.

So I found these muffins in Cooking Light last month – and I guess I was not the only one.  My daughter will usually grab the magazine before I have a chance to read it; she likes to get a preview of the food she will be eating – which I find absolutely hilarious.  So last month I guess she took this issue – and saw these muffins.  Now, instead of cutting out the recipe and putting it in my recipe pile herself – or even telling me that she was hoping I would make them, she just kept all that information to herself.  She had a ton of homework this weekend, so I decided on Sunday to make her a batch of muffins for the week.  At some point she asked me what I was making, and she got a big smile on her face as she said, “Oh good, I was hoping you would make those!!  I just didn’t think you would let me eat them for breakfast!”

I normally don’t look at the reviews online before making something – it takes all the fun out it.  But this time when I cut out the recipe, I cut out a little too much – and had to go online to check on the baking time.  Needless to say, no one liked these muffins online.  They weren’t sweet enough, they were too dry, they went on and on.  So – I was not expecting much.  Maybe my girls are just not that picky when it comes to eating chocolate for breakfast – but they LOVED these!  They warm them up in the microwave for 15 seconds just to soften them up in the morning, and 3 days later, they are still loving them.  Go figure.  Ok, so bad Mom, or Mom of the Year?

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 1/2 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 9 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2  large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°.

Combine butter and bittersweet chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH 45 seconds, stirring every 15 seconds. Stir until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through baking soda) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk.

Combine granulated sugar, milk, vanilla, and eggs in a bowl; stir with a whisk until well combined.

Add butter mixture and milk mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Gently stir in chocolate chips. Divide batter evenly among 12 lined muffin cups. Bake at 425° for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375° (do not remove muffins from oven). Bake at 375° for 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in pan on a wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Triple-Chocolate Muffins

Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Things are not often as they appear.  I love that saying on mirrors on cars, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”  It should just say something like this, “Watch out, nothing is ever as it seems.”  Many people don’t like to admit that though, and are stuck in the past.  That is definitely not me – sometimes I feel like I live a little too much in the future, thinking that things have changed when they haven’t just yet – maybe just hoping.

I have almost surpassed a major milestone – I have lived in Seattle just about longer than I have ever lived anywhere in my life.  That is quite a big deal – particularly because I didn’t grow up here, and I didn’t leave my home town until I went to college – so we were not one of those families that moved around.  In addition to that, when I go back to my home town (which I don’t do very often), nothing is really the same – including where my parents live.  When people tell me that I haven’t changed a bit – they are only looking peripherally.  In my view, there is very little that hasn’t changed.  Or maybe those people never really knew me to begin with.

The thought of making dairy-free and gluten-free baked goods has just no appeal to me whatsoever.  I have really never been impressed with a gluten-free baked good – but then again, I don’t really eat them very often.  I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit, and it is a good thing it was not labeled DF and GF.  I swear, had it been, I would have passed right over it.  Instead, the title got my attention, and there it went into the pile.  It didn’t really hit me until after the batter was made what I had done.  I was actually falling for a DF and GF baked good – and wow did I fall hard.  These cookies were outrageous – and so ridiculously easy to make.  I let a few different people sample these, and the reviews were unanimous – in addition to the kids, who absolutely devoured them in their lunches.  So, there you have it – nothing is ever as it seems – particularly when it comes to these Chocolate Brownie Cookies.  Nothing like a good taste of reality.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups gluten-free powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1  teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2  large egg whites
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons cacao nibs

Preparation

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Whisk powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl, then whisk in egg whites and egg; fold in chocolate and cacao nibs. Spoon batter by the tablespoonful onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart.

Bake, rotating sheets once, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and set just around the edges, 14–16 minutes.

Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool on pan (they’ll firm up).

Do Ahead:  Cookies can be baked 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Chocolate Brownie Cookies – GF and DF

Pear and Apple Crisp

Pear and Apple Crisp

January is a very dark month – and I finally figured out why.  In December, even though it starts getting dark at 3:30pm, there are tons of lights everywhere – to celebrate the holidays.  All of a sudden in January, the lights start disappearing, although it is still getting dark very early.  Top that with the fact that most of the time it is raining – sometimes I look out my window at 3:00pm, and it already looks like it is time to be heading home. Fortunately for me – I absolutely love it.  I love that it gets dark so early – for some reason I get a lot of energy when it gets dark early – I feel even more productive because it looks like you should be going to sleep, but I am still getting stuff done.  I know – I am a glass half empty girl most of the time – except in the winter.

Winter is also the time when I want to be home baking.  I love filling the house up with all those wonderful scents – but I am still a little fixated on fall – and can’t seem to move past it.  It also doesn’t help that there are still tons of beautiful looking pears at the market – and apples galore, living in Washington State.  So – I told you about one of my New Year’s resolutions about getting more sleep – but I neglected to talk about the other one I have…more dairy-free baking.

My husband has been dairy-free for quite a while now, and it seems to be working well for him.  Of course there are certain things that require that buttery taste – and substitutions will just not work – but I am on a quest to make delicious dairy-free baked goods for him this year.  Needless to say, he is very excited about 2014.

I knew that this recipe would be a winner, since I had already experimented with the Apple Crisp – but I must say – the addition of pears made this even better.  Now that I think about it – I should have added some cranberries in as well – so maybe you can try that out.  Even without dairy, the possibilities are truly endless on how to spend your time in these dark winter months.  Now get to work!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced
  • 1 1/2 pounds Pears, peeled, cored, sliced
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled Earth Balance sticks, cut into  pieces (or butter, if you can eat dairy)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in large bowl. Add apples, pears and lemon juice, and toss to coat. Transfer apple mixture to prepared dish.

Combine flour, 1 cup  sugar and Earth Balance in a medium bowl. Using pastry blender or fingertips, blend  ingredients until coarse meal forms. Spread flour mixture evenly over pears and apple mixture.

Bake crisp 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake crisp until apples are tender and topping  is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Pear and Apple Crisp

Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

I am gearing up for real life…and am a little bit in denial right now.  I feel like when my alarm goes off tomorrow, it will feel like I am participating in the Polar Bear Plunge.  Nothing like a good wake up call for the new year.

I am embarrassed to say that I am finally getting around to posting the cupcakes I made for my younger daughter’s birthday party this year.  If you remember, she requested these for her actual birthday – making sure that they had nothing to do with any type of Thanksgiving dessert.  But she wanted something pretty mainstream for her party - but boy were they delicious.

This week was my birthday – I am not sure when, but at some point, I really stopped looking forward to my birthday.  Once you have kids – your birthday is really just an excuse for them to pick out a cake for you.  So this year I decided to do something a little different.  The girls were still off from school – and I was not back at work yet.  As you can tell – I am pretty into food – particularly baked goods – and I do a lot of reading about the hottest new bakeries in the city.  Unfortunately I don’t get a lot of time to visit them – and most of the time I would rather make my own treats.  Except on my birthday.  In the past I have been known to make my own cake – but this year I came up with a better plan.  I decided we would visit four local bakeries that we had not been to – sample some stuff while we were there, then bring home goodies for later.

Here was the list:

They were all outstanding in different ways.  Holy Cannoli had some delicious Stromboli’s – we thoroughly enjoyed them.  The cannoli’s were pretty darn good as well.  Fuji Bakery was like a cross between a Japanese and French bakery – we had a great bacon roll but their cinnamon bun was the winner.  At Crumble and Flake, they didn’t have a ton of selection, but the pain of chocolate took me right back to Paris – completely authentic.  Last but not least was Bakery Nouveau – where we sampled some of their pizza’s and I had a veggie sandwich.  Their baked goods looked outstanding, but I needed some healthy food at that point.  I will definitely be back.

So there you have it – what a great day.  Now I leave you with my baked goods.  I found the Vanilla Cupcakes on the blog SugarCooking – which I only changed slightly.  The recipe actually was adapted from “Baking: From my Home to Yours” – by Dorie Greenspan.  The frosting, well I used my favorite Marshmallow Frosting, and they made a perfect pair.

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 2 ¼ cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Center a rack in the oven and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Beat together the butter and sugar at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one-third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and will aerated.

Fill each cupcake 3/4 full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch- a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool.

To make the frosting, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Combine the egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, water, and cream of tartar in a large bowl.  Set the bowl over the simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

With an electric mixer on high-speed, beat the mixture, still over the simmering water, until thick and fluffy, about 7 minutes.  Beat in the vanilla extract.  Serve this the day it is made as it becomes granular if it sits.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Vanilla Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Susina Sour

Susina Sour

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone was able to ring in the new year with wonderful food and friends.  We had a terrific evening, which started with some appetizers and cocktails at our house, then we made our way down the street where the kids were – and had a delicious prime rib dinner.  It was definitely a special evening.

So – I have been thinking all week about what my new year’s resolution will be this year.  I remember my post from last year (which coincidentally I ended up making last night, and they were amazingly good, again!) where I said that 2013 was the year to simplify – so, as we do at work, it is only fitting for me to evaluate how I did, and decide what my goal will be this year.  Hmmm…I wouldn’t exactly say that I knocked it out of the park.  I tried really hard though, so I am going to give myself a *star* for trying, but no, I can’t really say that I simplified my life too much.  Now the question is, do I try again this year?  Or do I go for something completely different.  I think I am going to with something new – although I will keep the simplifying any way I can.  This year’s focus I think needs to be about energy.  Compared to others, I have boundless amounts of energy, but I know I can be even more productive (without adding to my life – see *simplify*) if I just try to get a little more sleep every night.  That is going to be my resolution this year – more sleep = more energy.  Let’s see how I do…

Last night we came up with 5 festive holiday cocktails to celebrate New Year’s – and I must say – this was definitely my favorite.  I read about it in Bon Appetit – and it just so happens to be from a bar in Portland, Oregon called Nostrana - our neighboring state.  Portland has really become a cocktail haven – the bars there are supposed to be amazing with their craft cocktails – I have only been there once, but I need to go back to do some serious research.  Ok, back to this cocktail.  I loved everything about this – it wasn’t too sweet, with lots of flavor – and the sprig of rosemary with the cherry on the end was just awesome.  Unfortunately I don’t have a good non-alcoholic version of this one – but what I will say is if you don’t drink alcohol – a sparkling apple cider is the best way to go on New Year’s.  You really can’t get any better than that.

I hope 2014 is a great year for everyone, with lots of delicious food, family and friends – and most of all….energy.

Ingredients

Honey simple syrup

  • 1/4 cup clover honey

Cocktail

  • 3 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 oz. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 3 oz. slivovitz or other plum brandy
  • 2 oz. gin
  • 4 maraschino cherries
  • 4 small sprigs rosemary

Preparation

Honey simple syrup

Dissolve honey in ⅓ cup hot water. Chill syrup until cold.

DO AHEAD: Honey syrup can be made 1 month ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

Cocktail

For each cocktail, combine ¾ oz. honey syrup, ¾ oz. lemon juice, ¾ oz. Grand Marnier, ¾ oz. slivovitz, and ½ oz. gin in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a Martini or coupe glass and garnish with a cherry skewered on a rosemary sprig.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Susina Sour

Black Pepper and Cheddar Cheese Straws

Black Pepper and Cheddar Cheese Straws

Is it time to start thinking about New Year’s yet?  Since we don’t celebrate Christmas, and Hanukah has been over for almost a month, I have spent most of my time thinking about what to make for New Year’s Eve.  I am hoping that many people are in the same boat as I am – so I am going to make your life just a little easier.  This year we will be hosting drinks and appetizers (although a friend is bringing some appetizers, which makes my job even easier) – so at least I can focus on only that.  Of course there are a million ideas running through my head, but I thought I would share with you some of my favorites in case you are looking for some ideas.  My family is obsessed with the year-end-reviews that seem to be everywhere – so here is my version.

These are some of my favorite drinks for this season  – and of course you can make any of these non-alcoholic.  Some of the recipes have my non-alcoholic versions, but if they don’t and you are stuck – feel free to send me an email:

And last but not least – my absolute favorite drink that I made all year – now, it might not be the perfect seasonal drink, but seriously I can drink this any time of year:  Summer Sunset

Now – how about some food to go with those drink?  Here are my favorite appetizers:

But don’t forget about these Black Pepper and Cheddar Cheese Straws that the girls and I made at the Pantry this holiday season.  This was my first time making crackers, and I have no idea why I have waited so long.  These were super easy, and so much fun to make.  I think the best part was letting my older daughter make creations with the scraps – she had the whole class making snails – it was pretty funny.  If you are looking to impress your friends and family this year – this is definitely one way to do so.  They were crunchy, flavorful – and all around delicious.

So, what’s on your menu?

Ingredients

  • 12 ½ ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chile flakes, ground
  • 1 pound 3 ¼ ounces pastry flour
  • 1 cup crème fraiche
  • 4 ounces parmesan, finely grated
  • 7 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
  • Egg white for brushing
  • Sea salt

Preparation

In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, salt, black pepper and chili flakes on medium speed for 3-4 minutes.  Lowered the speed and add the flour.  Mix until it is the consistency  of course meal.  Add the crème fraiche and cheeses, mixing until the dough just comes together.  You might need to transfer the dough to a floured surface and give it a few kneads to smooth it out.  Roll the dough to be 3/16” thick between sheets of parchment.  Place the dough into the fridge to chill until firm, at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the dough into strips that are ½” wide.  Place on a parchment lined sheet tray.  Brush with the egg white and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake until very lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, please click here:  Black Pepper and Cheddar Cheese Straws

Chewy Molasses Cookies

Chewy Molasses Cookies

There is really only one time of year when everything slows down, at work, at home, and pretty much everywhere.  We are in that zone right now, and boy am I loving it (as I knock loudly on wood).  Thanksgiving was more like a tease…there was hopes of quiet in the air, but that never really happened.  Similar to any vacation I try to go on during the year, life never stops, you just dodge the waves the best you can and put everything back together again when you return.

Of course relaxation in my world takes on a very interesting form.  Yes, cooking is always involved, and I am looking forward to making some fun creations for New Years this year.  So this brings me to this recipe.  As I mentioned before, Thanksgiving was a little crazy for me, mostly on the work front, and of course because I thought things would be slow, and I was taking some time off, of course I tried to cram in a little too much.

A week before Thanksgiving I travelled to Istanbul (definitely more on another post), and the day after I retuned our house guests started arriving.  I have no idea what possessed me to do this, but when the email came asking for baked goods for teachers during parent- teacher conferences, I signed up.  Big mistake.

So, here I was scrambling for a simple yet delicious holiday cookie.  It was a good thing I read the annual cookie edition of Bon Appetit and found these morsels.  I swear they were a life-saver.  Within an hour, the house smelled amazing, and the girls were standing over the counter drooling.

As I sit here relaxing, I look back on that day with a smile.  Typical me trying to do too much, but it ended in sugar, spice and everything nice.  Just the way a holiday should be.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup mild-flavored (light) or robust-flavored (dark) molasses
  • 1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • Coarse sanding or raw sugar (for rolling)

Preparation

Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 375°. Whisk flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk egg, butter, granulated sugar, molasses, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in dry ingredients just to combine.

Place sanding sugar in a shallow bowl. Scoop out dough by the tablespoonful and roll into balls (if dough is sticky, chill 20 minutes). Roll in sugar and place on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart.

Bake cookies, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until cookies are puffed, cracked, and just set around edges (overbaked cookies won’t be chewy), 8–10 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

DO AHEAD: Cookie dough can be made and rolled into balls 2 weeks ahead. Freeze on a baking sheet; transfer to resealable plastic bags. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling in sugar.

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