Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tuscan Spinach & Mushroom Roll

So, here it is ladies and gentlemen.  The recipe you've all been waiting for...the recipe I have been aluding to for days, maybe weeks, now.  The greatest recipe of all time.  May I present to you...

Tuscan Spinach & Mushroom Roll.


I originally found this recipe in a cookbook I picked up when we were in Florence, Italy a couple of years ago.  Its titled simply Tuscan Cookbook and is a collection of recipes from two Australian women, Maggie Beers and Stephanie Alexander.  These women spent a summer in Tuscany hosting week-long cooking schools.  Oh, I am green with envy when I read this cookbook.  There are pictures of these fine women and their students cooking, drinking wine, eating, perusing local markets, filling their tummies and souls with Tuscan food and culture.  I promise you this, someday one of those students will be me.  This is a dream of mine, and one I believe to be attainable. 

This is a special occasion meal, no doubt.  This meal takes time and forethought and love.  I adore this meal and I am certain it turns out so well because of the love I pour into it while I am cooking.  I firmly believe that love is a huge, if not the biggest, ingredient in cooking or baking.  I have never made a terrific meal when I am in a bad mood.  I have made this four times and I have had the opportunity to share the process with two of the moms in my life on separate occassions.  This was such a joy for me.

Easter with my Mama

Christmas with my Mom-in-Law

I don't usually post step by step photos with the instruction in my recipes, but I am going to post a few this time because some of the steps are complex.  But, please believe me, this meal is worth every second you put into it.  This meal is a journey and one that you will fall in love with at the end. 

I always serve this with this Focaccia Bread  recipe, because it pairs well together.  You should too.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!

Tuscan Spinach and Mushroom Roll

Serves 8

6 whole eggs
4 cups (560 grams) all purpose flour
2 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cups (12 oz) cooking sherry
1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbsp Oregano, chopped
30 oz blanched (or thawed, frozen) spinach, water wrung out (see tip here)
zest of one lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
12 oz fresh shiitakes, or other field mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups homemade ricotta (recipe here), or 1-15.5 oz container store bought
1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup unsalted butter
16 sage leaves

Special Equipment
Pasta roller
2 CLEAN, large sized tea towels
Kitchen string

To make the pasta: Make in two separate batches.  Combine 3 eggs, 2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a food processor and pulse until the dough comes together.  If the dough still seems dry and will not stick together when pinched, add a teaspoon of water at a time until it comes together.  Knead briefly and shape into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Pasta can be made up to 8 hours ahead.

To make the mushroom filling: Warm 1/4 cup of sherry in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the dried porcini mushrooms to the pan. Add the remaining sherry a few tablespoons at a time until the mushrooms have been reconstituted to an edible softness.  This will take about 20-25 minutes.  Drain the mushrooms, being sure to reserve the sherry remaining in the pan.  Gently rinse the porcinis to remove any grit.

Heat olive oil in the same pan, then add garlic and saute on medium heat for a couple minutes.  Add the shiitakes and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.  Lower the heat to medium and add the reconstituted porcinis.  Cook for 20 minutes, adding the reserved sherry a little at a time until it all has been incorporated.  If there is sherry left in the pan, turn the heat up and cook until all liquid is evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.  Once cool, roughly chop.  Mushroom filling can be made one day ahead of time.

To make the spinach filling: Heat 3 tbsp butter over medium heat and cook the onion until softened.  Add the oregano, spinach and lemon zest.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.  Once cooled, add the ricotta, parmesan and nutmeg and stir to combine.  Spinach filling can be made one day ahead of time.

Assemble the pasta roll: Lay one tea towel out on a large clean work surface.  Remove pasta dough from fridge and divide into four pieces, keeping dough covered with plastic when not being used.  Run one piece of dough through the pasta machine on the second thinnest setting (this is a 6 on my Kitchenaid pasta roller) and lay on the tea towel.  With your finger or a pastry brush, wet about 1/2" along the long edge of the dough facing you.  Repeat with another piece of dough and lay this piece next to the first, overlapping the long edges where the water was brushed.  Gently seal the two pieces of pasta together. Cut the short edges to square them off (like the right side below).

Spoon half of the mushroom mixture onto the middle of the pasta sheet closest to you.  Spread half of the spinach mixture over the top pasta sheet.

Fold a small edge from the short sides of the pasta over. Starting from the mushroom edge, carefully and tightly roll the pasta and then seal the edge with water.

Wrap the tea towel tightly around the pasta then take kitchen string and tie it around the tea towel as shown below:

Repeat this process with the remaining dough and fillings.

Bring a very large stockpot of water to a boil.  Add one roll to the pot and boil for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, melt the 1/2 cup of unsalted butter over medium heat until it is golden brown and has a nutty aroma, about 8-10 minutes.  Keep on eye an the butter though because it will turn from golden brown to black in an instant.  Pour the brown butter into a spouted measuring cup.  Add the sage leaves to the hot pan and cook until crisped, about 1 minute.  Transfer to a paper towel and set aside.

After 20 minutes, remove the roll from the boiling water using two sets of kitchen tongs and place on a large cutting board.  Be very careful not to burn yourself because the roll is heavy and awkward and really hot!  Add the second roll to the boiling water for 20 minutes.

Allow the roll to cool for about 5 minutes and then carefully cut the string and unroll the towel.  Transfer the pasta roll to a cutting board and cut into 2 inch slices.  Place 3 or 4 slices on a plate and drizzle with brown butter and garnish with sage.  And then finally...finally...because you totally earned can...

Eat it!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kitchie Tip: Draining Spinach

I love kitchen tips that make my life easier in the kitchen.  I love kitchen tips that make me bang my forhead with the palm of my hand and say "why the hell didn't I think of that?"  I have a lot of these to share with you.  Tips and processes that have continually made my life go from: frustrating and recipe-avoiding, to: duh and gimme-that-recipe!  So, because of this, today I am starting Kitchie Tips!  I hope that these tips will reach you, or anyone out there in desperate need of a shortcut, and make life easier in the kitchen.

The first tip I want to share with you, is another lead-up to my much alluded to spinach and mushroom roll.  Come on, come on, let's get on with it Maggie.  I know this is what you're thinking.  I am getting there.  I am taking you on a journey.  This meal is all about the journey.  And at the end, you will have a beautiful and well-earned meal.  This I promise you.

What I want to share with you is an invaluable tip I learned about draining cooked spinach.  I had been frustrated for years with pressing spinach in a strainer with the palms of my hand and still turning out watery, runny quiches and pastas.  I wish I remembered where I learned this tip from, but I don't.  So, whoever taught me this beautiful trick, thank you.  You deserve one million dollars for your insight.  Or at least some credit. 

So, here goes:

To drain all the water out of cooked spinach:

1. Place the cooked spinach in a clean towel, that you don't mind getting stained, on a clean surface (counter or cutting board).  The spinach will stain your towel green and I now have a designated "spinach draining towel" I keep in my kitchen.

2. Gather the towel around the spinach and wring it out, like you'd wring out a wet towel.

3. Twist the towel back and forth in both directions several times, until you get all the water you can out of the spinach.

4.  Unroll the towel and you will have perfectly drained spinach!  Use as directed in your recipe.

Creamy Homemade Ricotta

You will thank me for this one.

When I tell people that I made the ricotta they are eating, their eyes bulge, their jaws drop and they are in awe.  Little do they know how incredibly simple it is.  I try to tell them this.  Swear up and down that, they too, could make their own ricotta.  No one ever believes me.  You'll believe me won't you?

I've made ricotta many times over the years and have tried many different recipes.  After combining several recipes and experimenting with different % milks and cream, I feel like I have a tried and true winner.  Its creamy and flavorful and perfect. 

I am posting this recipe as a build-up to our super duper Christmas dinner.  This ricotta is part of a spinach and mushroom roll recipe I can't wait to share with of my favorite meals of all time.

You'll need a few things to make the ricotta, but nothing that can't be bought at your local grocery store.  You will need a thermometer that reaches 200F and cheesecloth.

Then, you've got to have time to make something out of this simple delicacy.  This ricotta is perfect for spreading on crostini and also strong enough to hold up in a lasagna or other baked pasta.  Like the Spinach Mushroom roll....for real.  I'll share this soon.  I promise.  But for now....enjoy this nummy one...


Whole-Milk Ricotta

Makes approx 2 cups (16 oz)
6 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan combine the milk and cream over medium heat.  Attach a thermometer to the side of the saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally, to 190F.  Remove from the heat and gently stir in the salt and vinegar.  The mixture will curdle almost immediately, this is normal.  Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes undisturbed.

Meanwhile, line a strainer with several layers of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl.  Pour the milk mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and allow to drain for at least one hour.  You may need to empty the bowl under the strainer once or twice, if the liquid reaches the bottom of the strainer, to allow more room for the whey to drain.

You can use this immediately, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.  But, of course, then you should...

Eat it!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Guess Who's Home...

The pages of my blog have been silent this past week.  I have been enjoying this way too much to do anything else.

Mace returned home on Friday evening and Anna and I have been blissfully attached to his hip ever since.   I hope we never have to go 5 months being apart again, it just plain sucks.  But, we did it.  We made it through.  And being together as a family has taken on a whole new light.   I've learned with all my soul, during this Fall, that absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  I have a whole new appreciation for my husband.  And not just the things he does around the house (although I am so grateful for this too), but the love and laughter he brings to our family.  Our home feels warmer and cozier and more peaceful with his presence filling the walls.  This man makes my heart beat wildly, makes me giddy and giggly, makes me feel like every day is Christmas.  He's just so darn amazing.

So, besides being all googly-eyed at each other, we did some other really fun stuff this weekend.  We got our Christmas tree, the second tree we've ever gotten together.  We decorated and smiled as Anna stared at the tree in awe, and then tried her hand at some tree trimming. You know, for her first time, she did pretty good.

We ate some really good food.  I was a very naughty food blogger and didn't take as many pics as I should have, but I made an amazing savory galette for Mace's homecoming dinner.  I got the recipe for this butternut squash and cabbage galette from Mind Over Batter and it was out of this world!

I am going to make it again for Christmas Eve dinner, and if I can get my mind out of the gutter I'll take some action shots with my new Canon Rebel T2i and post my version of this recipe.

What's that?  Oh, the Canon Rebel?  Its nothing really.  Well, okay, its something.  If you really want to know...maybe I'll gush just a little...its pretty amazing...I like it a lot...okay, I am wild about this new toy!!  In crazy wild passionate love with this camera.  My early Christmas present.

I have no clue how to operate it.  Well, except the very basic point and shoot settings (which I happen to think still takes pretty phenomenal pictures).  If anyone has any photography tips regarding DSLRs I'd love to hear them.  I'm on a mission to conquer this Canon.

My tummy is butterflying like crazy in anticipation of Christmas.  We're spending it in Missoula, which we've never done before.  We are going to wake up in our own house, in our own bed, and have coffee on our own couch.  Together.  My in-laws are coming on Friday for the weekend and Danesa and her family are coming over for Christmas Eve dinner.  My mom-in-law and I are going to make one of my favorite meals of all time on Christmas Day.  Its a Tuscan recipe with spinach, mushrooms, homemade ricotta and fresh pasta.  Stay tuned, I am chomping at the bit to share this one.  Its a good 'un.

Have you ever seen one of these?

Such a cool gift for a cook.  My mama sent this to me for Christmas, its a Cooks Wreath from Williams-Sonoma, and the herbs on the wreath can be used in cooking.  I hung it on a wall in my kitchen and I've already used herbs off it a couple of times.  This theoretically will last up to a year...but I have a feeling it will last more like 3 months in my house.  Look at all those gorgeous bay leaves!  Can I say: SOUP all winter long?

I'm rambling today.  My mind is still blissfully foggy and lovey from Mace's arrival and I wanted to share this joy.  My heart is running over with all this good stuff.

What are you most grateful for at this very moment?  I'd love to hear the holiday jabber in your heads.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pecan Vanilla Shortbread

I am beginning to think that I misnamed this blog.  After looking at all the recipes I've posted I am thinking perhaps it should have been Cookie Coo.  Thoughts? 

Well, that's a joke of course (or, maybe not) but, I have been just a little obsessed with cookies recently.  I have only posted a small portion of the cookies I've please hold onto those pants with the elastic waist a little longer, you know the ones.  I'm not quite finished with my cookie gluttony.

These shortbread cookies have been a favorite of mine for years now.  They are super simple and super tasty.  Plus they have real vanilla bean beat into the dough.  Anything that uses a real life vanilla bean gets an A+ from me.  I love the depth of flavor it adds to baked goods and I also love how purdy the black specks look in the dough.  See?

I make this shortbread every year to give away for goodies around the holidays; and I always make extra for myself.  These freeze very well and I usually make enough to last me several months past Christmas.  And the best (or worst?) part?  They taste even better straight out of the freezer so need to unthaw.  Just snatch and snarf!

Jazz these babies up with a little colored sugar and you've got some festive shortbread you can take out on the town. 


Pecan Vanilla Shortbread
Adapted from Food and Wine
Makes Approx 30 cookies

3/4 cup (75 grams) pecans, coarsely chopped
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (55 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar in the raw or other coarse sugar
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350F.  Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast for 5-7 minutes or until nuts are lightly browned and fragrant.  Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, powdered sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, vanilla extract and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and add the flour in three batches until incorporated.  Remove the vanilla bean from the bowl and stir in the pecans.

Transfer dough to plastic wrap and use wrap to help guide and roll the dough into a 1 1/2 inch thick log.  Wrap the log in the plastic and refrigerator the dough for 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside near your work area.  Spread raw sugar on a cutting board.  Brush the chilled dough log with the egg yolk and roll in the sugar, using your fingers to coat the log entirely with the sugar.  Slice dough into 1/2 inch rounds and place on prepared baking sheets, approximately 1 inch apart.

Bake the cookies in the 350F oven for 20 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden brown.  Rotate baking sheets halfway through baking if baking two sheets at a time.

Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool and then...

Eat it!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Champagne Cake Balls

I have made 100 cake balls in the last 4 days. 100.  You know, for a girl who doesn't like cake, I sure bake a lot of cake.  Although, it turns out that its that ooey gooey pasty icky store bought cake I don't like.  And all this time I thought it was cake I didn't like...but it turns out its just the source.  Sorry cake for hatin' on you all these years!  Can we be friends?

We had another GNIPL on Friday evening and I deemed a theme for the evening.  Appetizers!  Yeah, so why not cake balls?  That's a tasty appetizer.  Okay, okay, I made an appetizer that I will share with you all soon, because it was awesome.  But, I also made these cute little cake balls, and since I got so many requests for this recipe on Friday night I thought I'd post it first.  You know that old saying, "Life's unexpexted, eat dessert first"?  That applies to blog posts and baking recipes too.  I'm surprised you didn't know that.

I had a taste tester...

I got this recipe from Laura at Sprint 2 the Table and made some adaptations to suit my tastes.  Her review was that these were a very doughy cake ball and I wanted something a little more cakey.  So, I added egg whites and oil to acheive this result. 

Besides the final product, the very best part of making these cake balls is the leftover champgne.  One generous glass to be exact.  That I am drinking right now.  While munching on a cake ball.

These were a hit!  I hope you enjoy them as much as me and my little cake monster did!

Champagne Cake Balls


Makes 30 cake balls

Cake Ingredients:
1 box white cake mix
1 1/4 cups champagne (I used medium-dry)
3 egg whites
1/3 cup canola oil

Frosting Ingredients:
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp champagne
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (165 grams) powdered sugar

Candy Coating:
1 pound white or bittersweet chocolate (or both)

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9 x 13 pan with butter or cooking spray and set aside.

To make the cake, combine all cake ingredients and beat with an electric or stand mixer until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Set on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

To make the frosting, bring 1/2 cup champagne to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until it is reduced to 2 tbsp, about 10 minutes.  Allow to cool completely (I made the cake and the champagne reduction and, to allow adequate cooling time, moved onto the rest of the recipe the next day).

Add butter and powdered sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Reduce speed to low and slowly add the cooled champagne reduction and 1 tbsp champagne.  Increase speed to medium and beat for one minute or until well combined.

In a large bowl, crumble the cake and then add 1/2 cup of frosting.  Using your hands, incorporate the frosting into the cake until well combined.  If the cake seems dry keep adding frosting 1 tbsp at a time, up to an additional 1/4 cup, until it reaches your desired consistency (you can do some taste tests here until the taste suits you).

Using your hands, roll the cake mixture into 1 tbsp sized balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 20 minutes to firm up cake balls.

In a microwave safe bowl melt the chocolate in 30 second increments, stirring in between until almost melted.  Stir vigorously and if the chocolate is still not melted, microwave in 15 second increments until melted and smooth.

Using a spoon, take one chilled cake ball at a time and place in the melted chocolate.  Spoon chocolate over the cake ball to coat.  (Don't roll the cake ball in the chocolate or you will create crumbs that don't look pretty on your final product.)  Remove cake ball from the chocolate with spoon and very gently return to wax paper on the cookie sheet.  Repeat with remaining cake balls.

Allow to chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour and then...

Eat it!!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Goodness!!  This swap was so much fun to participate in!! The 1st annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap  was hosted by Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen.  Their Facebook Page said they had 625 participants.  Wow. 

The premise of this swap was easy.  Each person makes 3 dozen cookies and sends them to the three other bloggers that were assigned to them.  In exchange each person receives 3 dozen cookies from three other bloggers.  What a great way to unite bloggers around the world!  Everyday we get to see the creations our fellow bloggers make, and salivating, wish we could pick that food off the computer screen and eat it.  This swap made blogging come alive.  Blogging in tangible, edible form.  We get to taste each others creations.  Wow. 

All the cookies I received were unbelievable. They were also all cookies that I had never made myself and I am so excited to get my hands on the recipes. Beautiful gorgeous absolutely delicious cookies!!!

The day I received my first package from Shari at My Judy the Foodie, I was so stoked.  Because, who doesn't like to having cookies delivered right to their door?  These cookies were sugar cookie-like with thick chocolate frosting on the top.  Divinity in a cookie.

My second cookies to arrive were these babies sent by Meghan of Stir and Scribble.  They were out of this world.  Chocolate sandwich cookies with peppermint cream.  I wanted to scream they were so good.

I met the FedEx man at the door Friday morning to get my third box from Janet of Food Beautiful.  I ripped into them within seconds of closing the door and found double espresso chocolate cookies.  Janet, do you know how much I love espresso?  How chocolate and coffee are maybe one of my favorite combos in the whole wide world?  These were unreal. 

I kinda feel spoiled rotten. 

So, are you curious what I sent out the door?  Cardamom Butter Cookies.  Yes, Cardamom.  With espresso and chocolate drizzles.  These were the most delightful cookie I have ever had the pleasure of baking.  I had so much fun!  And knowing that three fellow bloggers I have never met were going to be eating them made this process even better.  These cookies were filled to the brim with joy and love from me. 

I will be honest, it was a little stressful finding the perfect cookie to send my fellow blogger friends.  I mean, that's what we do...what if they aren't good enough?  Especially since I got one of my very favorite bloggers Scarletta Bakes as one of my recipients!  This was intimidating, but exciting.  I was up for the challenge.  Then I came across this recipe and my fears were no more. 

I'm not gonna, lie...these cookies are time consuming.  But, they are worth every minute of your time.  They will impress people with their complex mix of spices and flavors.  Plus they're so pretty!  You can't go wrong.

I hope my recipients love eating them as much as I loved making them.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Cardamom Butter Cookies with Chocolate & Espresso Drizzles
Adapted from Gourmet

Makes about 4 dozen


  • 3 (420 grams) cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Espresso and Chocolate Drizzles
  • 1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup (110 grams) powdered sugar
  • 3 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted

To make the cookies, whisk together flour and next 5 ingredients (through allspice) in a bowl.  Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce to low speed and add flour mixture until just combined.

Form dough into 2 (12-inch) logs, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, on their own sheet of plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap and your hands to help guide the dough and roll, press, and square off sides of logs. Chill logs in refrigerator on a baking sheet until slightly firm, about 1 hour.  Smooth logs with plastic wrap and a hard flat sided object (I used a cookbook) to square off the cookie. Chill logs on baking sheet until firm, about 1 hour (or up to 5 days).

Adjust racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut dough into 1/4" thick slices from one log and place onto 2 large ungreased baking sheets, 1 inch apart.  Rewrap remaining dough and put back in refrigerator.

Bake cookies, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes total. Cool on sheets 3 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.

To make drizzles, whisk espresso powder, vanilla, and 1 1/2 tablespoons milk until espresso powder is dissolved.  Add powdered sugar and enough additional milk to make a thick pourable icing. Spoon into a sealable plastic bag and snip off a very small (about 1/8") bottom corner, when ready to use.

Spoon melted chocolate into another plastic bag and snip off bottom corner, when ready to use.

Drizzle espresso icing and chocolate over each cookie with a back and forth motion.  Allow drizzles to set on cookies until dry, about 2 hours and...

Eat it!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Caprese Bites

Tomatoes you say?  In December?  Pssht.  Tomatoes can't be good in December.  Not in Montana, nope! 

Au contraire!  These tomatoes were almost as sweet and juicy and ripe as a July tom.  They were close enough to perfect.  As I was wandering around the grocery store today, conjuring up an appetizer to make for tonight's white elephant party (sans child, which is very dangerous for my bank account), I came across these tomatoes.  They were ripe and red and round.  They were grown in Montana.  They...wait, what?!?!  They were grown in Montana?  In December?  Pssht.  What ev. 

No really, they were.  If you are lucky enough to find locally grown tomatoes in the middle of winter, for God's sake, BUY THEM!!  They're greenhouse tomatoes, most likely, but they are going to be far superior to any tomatoes you buy that travel from Mexico or some other far off place.  Typically, tomatoes that one can find in the winter are grown in a land far far away, picked before they are ripe and will never ever reach their full potential.  I rarely even bother with tomatoes in the winter time unless they are canned.

Soooooo....since I found these far superior tomatoes I knew at that moment exactly what I would make tonight.  They're my go-to appetizer in the summer.  They bring me back to Italy where my husband and I ordered caprese salad with every meal just because it was that good.  Its almost impossible to beat.  This is caprese salad all wrapped up in one big bite, and while it looks all fancy-pants like, its actually quite easy to make.

 Its as easy as 1...2...3!  Then a little drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and you've got party food!

Caprese Bites

1 pint cherry, grape or cocktail tomatoes
8 oz mozzarella (if you can find it in small ball form buy these)
1 bunch of basil
Oilve oil and balsamic vinegar for drizzling
Toothpicks or small skewers

Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. 

Cut the mozzarella in pieces about the area of the halved tomatoes,  or in half if you are using mozzarella balls.

Cut the basil into squares approximately the area of the halved tomatoes and mozzarella (this is an art, not a science so no need to measure or be exact).

Taking one toothpick at a time, pierce one tomato half, one basil square, one mozzarella piece, one more basil square and the other tomato half (in that order) and set aside.  Repeat with remaining tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.

Arrange bites on a platter and drizzle with oilive oil and balsamic vinegar and...

Eat it!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Cookies

Do you remember these Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies?  The ones I raved and raved about that were soooo good, the best peanut butter cookie in the history of the universe, yada-yada-yada?  Well, it turns out this it true, but then I decided to make them even better. 

I dipped them in bittersweet chocolate.

I dipped them in bittersweet chocolate and they became the most beautiful cookie to ever grace these lips.   

I dipped them in bittersweet chocolate and they tasted so good I almost cried.

I dipped them in bittersweet chocolate and fell madly in love for the third time in my life...first Mace, then Anna, then Chocolate Dipped Peanut Butter Cookie.

Don't even pretend that you're not going to eat every last one of these when you make them.  I was going to give them away for Christmas treats, but I am not sure they'll make it that long.  Sorry guys!  Merry Christmas anyway? 

J/K.  I'll at least leave you with the recipe so you can make 'em yourselves.  I wouldn't be so mean as to leave you totally hanging, eh? 

Bittersweet Chocolate Dipped PB Cookies

1 batch Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies - Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies recipe can be found here
1 pound (16 oz) HIGH QUALITY bittersweet chocolate (please please please use good chocolate, its what brings these cookies from amazing to extraordinary.)

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a microwave proof dish melt the chocolate in 30 second increments, stirring in between.  When chocolate is almost completely melted remove from the microwave and stir with a rubber spatula until smooth. 

Transfer chocolate to a dish wide enough to fit the peanut butter cookies, but narrow enough to have some depth for dipping.  Taking one cookie at a time, dip half of the cookie into the chocolate and then lay carefully on the prepared cookie sheet.  Repeat until the cookie sheets are full.  Chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes or until the chocolate is set completely.  These can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or a freezer-safe bag in the freezer. 

But who are you kidding?  If you're anything like me, you're just going to...

Eat it!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chocolate Cookies with White Chocolate Mint Drizzle

I get so spittin' mad when a recipe doesn't work out the way its supposed to.  I know I should accept these defeats and try to learn from them.  But usually I just throw a temper tantrum and then throw the food in the garbage.  I hate wasting food, it makes me crazy.  So, when the recipe for these "supposed" chocolate mint cookies, came out tasting like so-so chocolate wafers, said temper tantrum commenced.

But then, out of nowhere, my creative side made an appearance yesterday.  And it told me to melt that gorgeous white chocolate I've had hiding in my pantry, add some peppermint extract to it and drizzle it all over those cookies.  And, BAM!  Before I knew what was happening, these poor excuses of a cookie were transformed into a divine and glorious holiday treat! 

Ugly ducklings...

...transformed to a swan!

You can find the recipe for the cookies here, which I am not going to type out because I didn't change anything from the original except the drizzle.  This difference is that they have you melt plain old chocolate and drizzle it on the cookies, which in my opinion is stupid and boring.  So skip that last paragraph and do this instead...

Peppermint White Chocolate Drizzle

6-8 oz white chocolate
1/8 tsp peppermint extract

Melt 6 oz white chocolate in a glass measuring cup in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Continue heating in 30 second increments, stirring in between, until the chocolate is melted.  Add the peppermint extract stirring quickly.  If the chocolate seizes from the addition of the peppermint extract, add another ounce or two of white chocolate and stir until it is smooth. 

Transfer the white chocolate mixture to a ziploc bag and snip a very small corner to squeeze the chocolate through.  Drizzle in a back and forth motion over completely cooled cookies.  Allow chocolate to harden at room temperature for 1 hour and then...

Eat it!