Monday, November 28, 2011

Spiked Gingerbread Coffee for the Thanksgiving Aftermath

Another Thanksgiving dinner is in the books. And although two days of cooking boils down to what seems like minutes of eating, it’s always worth it in the end when you hear the happy sounds coming from the dining table, isn’t it?

This year was a little bit different than usual. Instead of the standard Thanksgiving fare, I used the gathering to test out a five-course wine pairing dinner that I’ll be making for the highest bidder at a benefit auction. (More on that later.)

My goal for the actual event is to have as much as possible done ahead of time, to minimize both stress and preparation needed in a foreign kitchen. So for our test-run, my dad and I prepped almost every component of every dish the day before Thanksgiving. We were feeling great after about six hours of cooking and toasted our success with a celebratory glass of wine. All that was left to do were some last minute touches, reheating and assembling. We went into Thanksgiving more relaxed than we’ve ever been. Everything was under control.

This is usually where my story takes a turn for the worse and I tell you that I caught the kitchen on fire, or almost cut my finger off or that Andy accidentally kicked me in the head. But not this time…dinner went off without a hitch. Fingers crossed that it goes as smoothly next time.

Fast forward through the next several days of me being about as lazy as humanly possible. We’ve lounged and read and watched football and napped. Not much cooking has happened, save for heating up some leftovers and frozen pizza. Late into the weekend, I realized I was feeling a bit off, but did my best to ignore what I was feeling. By Sunday morning, my throat felt swollen and my voice raspy. It never fails…one of us is always sick during the holidays, but at least I made it past Thanksgiving this year. And I’m getting it out of the way early so we don’t have to worry about Christmas. Now Andy just needs to keep away from me for a few days.

Since this was our last day of a fantastic long weekend, I was determined to enjoy it. I thought a spiked coffee might be just what the doctor ordered.

Spiked Gingerbread Coffee with Crème de Cacao Whipped Cream

1 ounce gingerbread liqueur
1/2 ounce Amaretto
1/2 ounce coffee liqueur (I used Starbucks)
1/2 ounce heavy cream
freshly brewed hot coffee, to taste

Whipped cream (optional):
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 ounce crème de cacao
1 tablespoon superfine sugar

Combine gingerbread liqueur, Amaretto, coffee liqueur and cream in a mug. Fill with coffee to taste. Top with whipped cream, if desired.

To make whipped cream: pour cream, crème de cacao and sugar into electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whip on high until peaks form.

This is Christmas in a mug. It made me wish for Bing Crosby and our tree adorned with sparkling lights and ornaments. Coffee, gingerbread, chocolate-tinged whipped cream…it’s rich and flavorful and hard to drink slowly. It will warm your hands and your spirit. I was feeling much better after one of these…

Onto the Christmas season…are you ready? (Have a coffee if you're will help, I promise.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fast as Lightning and Apple Butter That Isn’t

Are you ready? No, not for Thanksgiving dinner…I’m talking about the much-anticipated Black Friday sales that get those very determined people out of bed at three o’clock in the morning to stand in ridiculously long lines and wrestle over Elmo. Me? No…I am decidedly not one of those people. I will however, spend oodles of money happily from the comfort of my couch, snuggled cozily under a blanket. No crowds, no lines, no waiting; just a hemorrhaging wallet.

Last year we were both sick at Thanksgiving and had to forego our usual Black Friday tradition of wandering around our sleepy downtown, eating and drinking ourselves silly. Instead, stuck in the house, we stumbled upon the lightning deals happening on Amazon, which turned out to be a very dangerous discovery.

Have you seen these lightning deals? They’re fantastic. You get a little clue as to what’s coming up for the next deals, and then you’ve got to move fast when that time hits. (Hence the lightning aspect.) They had us riveted in front of the computer all day, merrily clicking away, sometimes seemingly for no other reason than that is was “such a great deal!” Hundreds and hundreds of dollars were spent that day, and more in the following days of this lightning extravaganza.

So our previous tradition is now out the window. Lightning deals are the new tradition. And we’ve been waiting all year to do it again. I think I can hear my wallet whimpering already…

Here’s something that’s not anywhere near as fast as lightning: my apple butter recipe. But is it worth it? Mmmm, yes!

Apple butter is new to me. I’d never made it before, but knew I wanted to use it in a dish that I was planning. My first attempt was basically applesauce. It was very loose and while it tasted great, wasn’t exactly what I was going for. After some research, I decided to take the advice of many people who said cooking it for a long time is a good way to achieve that butter-like thickness. Good thing, because we fell asleep with it on the stove.

Every hour I would peer into the pot and determine that I wanted it to go just one more hour. My final plan was to go six hours. So when we woke up at the eight-hour mark, I thought I might have one big piece of apple jerky. But no…it was perfect. Slow cooking is definitely the way to go.

Ancho Chili Spiced Apple Butter

Makes approximately 2 cups

4 cups cored apple, cut into large chunks
2 cups apple juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat apples and apple juice to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, until apples are very soft. Stir occasionally.

When apples are soft, run through a food mill. Return back to pot with juice. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. Heat on the lowest flame possible for about 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Mixture will get very thick.

Remove from heat and use a blender or immersion blender to puree. (If using a regular blender, you’ll need to move the apple butter around to get it all pureed since it's so thick.)

Oh how I adore sweet and spicy combinations, and this apple butter is just that. I love ancho chili powder for the rich flavor that it adds to dishes, however, it doesn’t add a lot of heat. I wanted just a little kick in this apple butter and a dash of cayenne adds the perfect hint of spice at the finish. Apple butter has endless uses…whatever you think it might be good on, it probably will be.

Hopefully I’ll be back later in the week after the cooking marathon has ended and I’ve recovered from my buyer’s remorse…

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Update: I just checked Amazon and saw they’re already doing lightning deals. I screamed. I may have a problem.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

News and a Cocktail

Lots of exciting news to share today!

Have you heard of the food site Gojee? Gojee is full of hand-picked recipes with fantastic photographs that will make your mouth water. The site is unique in that you can specify exactly which ingredients you have on hand, which ingredients you dislike, or what you’re craving and the magical computer wizards spit out suggestions for exactly what you’re in the mood for with recipes within those parameters. I was recently asked to become a contributor to the new drinks section of their site and I happily accepted. You can view my profile here

Some of my recipes that you’ll find there include: 

There are some others too, along with tons more drool-worthy recipes, both food and drink, from some very talented bloggers with whom I’m just thrilled to be included with. Go check it out…just be warned that if you go in hungry, you’ll leave even hungrier. 

In other news, I was recently featured on Yupeat, a new San Francisco-based company that makes grocery shopping and meal planning a dream, as in, they do it for you…doesn’t get much easier that that, huh? Check it out here to see my interview and recommended dish. 

Now I couldn’t announce all this good news without a celebratory cocktail, could I? A few weeks ago I made Grown Up Chocolate Milk, which had banana rum in it. After I posted it, Andy and I decided that because of the bananas, I should have named it more appropriately: The Sexy Monkey Cocktail. I liked that name so much that I decided to come up with another beverage with bananas in it that I could legitimately name something “Sexy Monkey.” Also, I clearly just like to say “Sexy Monkey.” This should get me some interesting spam, huh? 

Sexy Monkey Cocktail (Blended Tropical Banana Cocktail)

Makes 2 cocktails 

2 cups crushed ice 
1 ripe banana 
2 tablespoons cream of coconut 
2 ounces pineapple juice 
3 ounces banana rum 
1 teaspoon chopped pineapple sage (optional) 

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until no ice chunks remain. Garnish with pineapple sage, if desired. 

Note: Pineapple sage is an herb that has a very distinct pineapple essence. If you don’t have pineapple sage, just leave it out. (DO NOT substitute regular sage.) The omission won’t affect the drink much. 

I’ve got to tell you…cocktail testing does not hurt my feelings, especially when I get a result like this. Normally, I’m more of a beer and wine kind of girl. If I am going to have a mixed drink, it’s usually not blended. I leave those for Andy who prefers drinks with umbrellas and fruit garnish (read: girly drinks). So I knew this would be a hit for him, but I was surprised at how much I liked it as well. 

I know the weather is just turning cold, but a Sexy Monkey will definitely warm you up (get your minds out of the gutter!), especially if you have a few. One sip and I felt like I should be sitting poolside in Hawaii. The Sexy Monkey is a creamy cocktail, full of coconut, banana, pineapple and aloha vibes. There definitely would have been an umbrella in this if I’d had one…it just makes sense.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Virtual Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is next week. You probably already knew that, but today it hit me that it’s only nine days away and I got a little panicky. That’s not a lot of time if you haven’t made the big turkey-day decisions yet. So, if you need ideas, you’ve come to the right place.

Being part of the food blogging community means that you get to have really big parties without all the dishes to wash, plus, if someone has too much to drink and ends up doing something ridiculous, nobody is the wiser. (I am not speaking from experience, thank you very much. Okay…maybe I am.)

Food Network is hosting a virtual Thanksgiving this year, where everyone can pull up a chair at The Communal Table. See below for a list of all the wonderful Thanksgiving dishes that Food Network has collected from across the web.

One thing I knew was that I would not be bringing turkey to this party. For the last several years I have tried to make a turkey breast for our little two person post-Thanksgiving dinner. And every year, I have failed miserably. There was a very unfortunate faux-turkey breast incident, where I didn’t realize the faux part until I cut into it. Pressed turkey just doesn’t do it for me. Then there was the debacle with an entire container of truffle butter where the whole turkey breast went in the garbage. I was tempted to just drink the pan drippings in that case. And finally, my most recent failure is the turkey you see pictured in my latest stuffing post. Doesn’t it look good, or at least edible? Hardly. Andy deemed it “turkey gum” and that is a most accurate descriptor. We both sat chewing and chewing and chewing; staring at each other with bored looks that said, “Seriously? Again?” My bites were spit out in a very unladylike fashion. Andy tried harder than I did to like it, but in the end also gave up. Turkey definitely has my number.

So, since I dare not push my turkey dishes on innocent people, my contribution to The Communal Table is dessert. #PullUpaChair, won’t you?

Spiced Apple Panna Cotta with Caramelized Apples and Caramel Sauce

Makes 4

Panna Cotta:
1 cup apple juice
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
5 whole cloves
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
1 teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon water
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Caramelized apples, recipe below
Caramel sauce, recipe below

Combine apple juice, cinnamon stick and cloves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce apple juice to 1/4 cup. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves.

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cold water. Let sit undisturbed.

Whisk the yogurt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a large bowl.

Add cream, sugar, vanilla bean and seeds to the reduced apple juice in the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Off the heat, remove the vanilla pod and whisk gelatin into cream to dissolve, then whisk cream mixture into yogurt.

Pour into ramekins and refrigerate at least 6-8 hours, until firm.

To unmold, dip the ramekins in hot water. Slide a knife around the edge and tip out onto a plate. Spoon caramelized apples and a drizzle of caramel over the top.

Caramelized Apples:
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar, divided use
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Melt butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add apples, 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon. Stir well to coat apples. Cook for about 8 minutes, until apples are softening, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of sugar over the apples and stir to coat. Let cook about 2 more minutes. Sugar mixture will thicken and caramelize slightly. Remove from heat but reserve in hot pan. Let sit for at least 5 minutes.

Caramel Sauce:
8 caramel squares
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat caramel squares and cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Once caramel starts to melt, stir frequently until completely smooth. (If sauce sets up too much, reheat over low heat to desired consistency.)

Fall flavors abound in this creamy dessert with apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel in each bite. The panna cotta is silky, the caramelized apples offer the slightest crunch, and all the sweetness is offset by the tanginess of the yogurt.

For all my turkey failures, I think I’ve redeemed myself with this recipe. Maybe I’ll just stick with side dishes and desserts this year…

Here's what all the guests brought to The Communal Table:

Cocktails, Appetizers, Soups and Salads:
Eat Be Mary: She's Mulling It Over Wine
Cookistry: Bread With Ancient Grains
Celebrity Chefs and Their Gardens: The American Hotel Peconic Clam Chowder
Picky Eater Blog: Butternut Squash Soup With Thyme and Parmesan
Good Food Good Friends: Mushroom Soup

Mains: Grilled Quail with a Warm Beet, Frisée, and Pistachio Salad
She Wears Many Hats: Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey

Living Mostly Meatless: Vegan-Friendly Corn Casserole
Healthy Green Kitchen: Red Kuri Squash Pie
The Naptime Chef: Crispy Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes
Gluten-Free Blondie: Apple and Cranberry Studded Stuffing
Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat: Blue Cheese and Rosemary Celebration Potatoes
Burnt Lumpia: Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Empanadas
Panfusine: Pan Fried Polenta Seasoned With Cumin, Ginger & Black Pepper
Homemade Cravings: Warm Brussels Sprouts and Cranberry Slaw
Bakeaholic Mama: Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Crispy Prosciutto
Show Food Chef: Beer-Braised Brussels Sprouts
T's Tasty Bits: Sweet Empanadas with Pumpkin and Lupini Beans Filling
The Amused Bouche Blog: Braised Kale
The Little Kitchen: How to Make the Perfect Mashed Potatoes

The Macaron Queen: Macaron Tower
Poet In The Pantry: Amaretto Apple Crisp
Farm Girl Gourmet: Pumpkin Coconut Panna Cotta
That's Forking Good: Cinnamon Chip Pumpkin Blondies
Out of the Box Food: Out of the Box Food Maple Pumpkin Pie
Cake Baker 35: Orange Spiced Pumpkin Pie
Lisa Michele: Pumpkin, Pecan, Cheesecake Pie
Food For My Family: Buttermilk Custard Pear Pie
Simple Bites: Black-Bottom Maple Pumpkin Pie
A Cooks Nook: Swedish Apple Pie
Yakima Herald: Pretzel Jell-O Salad
How Does She: Three of Our Favorite Desserts
Dollhouse Bake Shoppe: Thanksgiving Candy Bar Name Plates
Sweet Fry: Pumpkin Latte
Tasty Trials: Spiced Apple Panna Cotta With Caramelized Apples and Caramel Sauce
An Uneducated Palate: Puff Pastry Apple Tart
Frugal Front Porch: Mini Cheaty Cheesecakes

Even more:
Kitchen Courses: Thanksgiving for Six People Under $60
A Curious Palate: The Communal Table

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stuffing time already??

Seems that we’ve officially rounded the corner and are barreling towards Thanksgiving. Next up, Christmas. And as much as I adore Christmas, it’s all happening a little too fast. 

I want to enjoy November, yet my mind is already consumed with the big holiday dinners. I got a text message from Andy the other day that said, “Let’s have a fire and a glass of wine tonight.” That sounded like a fine idea and one that I desperately needed. I suspect he senses the impending craziness that will overtake the kitchen (and me) in the coming weeks. What I couldn’t believe was that we haven’t yet had a fire this season and it’s already the middle of November. Even though we don’t have the coldest fall weather here in California, we have been known to have fires in the middle of summer if the mood strikes us, just because it makes us think of fall. And we love fall. Because really, doesn’t sitting together in front of a fire on a chilly night with a glass of good red wine, a book and a cozy blanket sound like the best way to spend a few hours? Close, quiet moments are what I’m craving, before all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season gets here. I will always accept invitations like that one, no matter the season or weather. 

Back to reality where I’m in test kitchen mode…we traditionally serve turkey for Thanksgiving, which I’ve waxed poetic about before. Seriously, just thinking about my dad’s barbecued turkey gives a happy, fuzzy feeling inside. Love isn’t a strong enough word for what I feel for that turkey. Oh…excuse me while I wipe up my drool… 

Okay, so one thing that doesn’t happen with our turkey is stuffing. We’re not a stuffing-in-the-bird kind of family. Our stuffing gets baked to crispy perfection in the oven. Does that make it dressing? It’s always been stuffing to me. 

Last year I made Spicy Ginger Stuffing and wanted to go a different way this year. When I was asked to create a Thanksgiving recipe for Smart & Final this week using one of their sale items, it was the perfect opportunity to test a new dish. And after I saw that spiral sliced ham was on the list, I instantly knew what would go into my stuffing. 

Add this sweet and salty stuffing dish to your Thanksgiving table this year…it’s the perfect complement to turkey. 

Stuffing with Ham, Apple and Gruyere Cheese

Serves 8-10 

Prep time: 35 minutes; Cook time: 30-35 minutes

6 cups diced French bread
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use (plus extra to butter dish)
3/4 cup chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups diced peeled apples
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups diced Farmer John spiral sliced ham
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided use
3/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Spread bread on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, until dry and toasted. Remove and reserve in a large mixing bowl. 

In a large pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté shallots until soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic; cook 30 seconds. Add apples, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper. Stir well and let apples cook about 10 minutes, until slightly soft. Add ham and heat through for 5 minutes. Just before taking the pan off the heat, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into the ham mixture. Remove from heat and add to bread. Stir well to combine, then stir in 1/2 cup cheese.

Heat chicken broth and cream in a small saucepan just to a simmer.

Butter baking dish (approximately 13” x 9”).

Pour liquid over stuffing mixture and combine well. Pour into baking dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. 

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until top and edges are crisp and slightly brown. 

Note: Stuffing can be prepared ahead. Refrigerate combined bread and ham mixture, then continue with broth step when ready to serve. 

If you’re a fan of sweet and salty combinations, this is the stuffing for your holiday dinner. The traditional sweetened ham glaze is mimicked with the addition of the brown sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon, but the saltiness of the ham comes through. Apples give an added bit of tart-sweetness and the Gruyere cheese adds nuttiness. (And be warned: there may be fighting over the crispy edges.) 

Slowly but surely items are being ticked off the Thanksgiving menu to-do list. Maybe there’s time to sneak in another fire or two before the big day. I’m determined to slow November down somehow! 

This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Being Thankful and a Fig Tart

The two subjects of my title don’t necessarily go together unless you’re thankful for fig tarts, which I suppose I am because they’re quite tasty, but I had something else in mind first.

With the time change last weekend, my sleep pattern has taken a beating. If I can stay up past eight o’clock, I consider that a win. Of course, going to bed so early means that I’m waking up in the wee hours of the morning. Each day I’ve been sleeping a little bit later though, and today’s wake-up time was four o’clock. In the morning. Yawn.

The nice thing about being awake so early is the complete quiet. The cats and the dog haven’t yet started their campaigns to be fed, the birds aren’t chirping, there’s no city noise or traffic…just absolute silence and only the faintest light in the sky. As someone who absolutely loves my bed, I could lay for hours in this scenario. The trouble is that eventually the rest of the world wakes up, including said animals who want to be fed. They go about letting you know this in ways that are fairly hard to ignore like licking the Carmex off your lips or knocking over the water glass on the nightstand or getting in a paper bag and thrashing around loudly. (Anyone want two cats? Kidding…sort of.)

But this morning I was wide awake, thinking that there was no way I would be able to go back to sleep. As I lay there with my mind racing from subject to subject, I thought about the trend I’ve been seeing online where people are listing one thing they’re thankful for every day of November. Just as I was thinking about that, my feet found Andy’s and I immediately knew what I was thankful for: not just his warm feet, but him. Period. Exactly the way he is. And like he was reading my mind, he turned over in his sleep and put his arm around me. Two hours later, I woke up feeling more comfortable than I thought possible. Without fail, if he puts his arm around me, I fall asleep instantly. He’s my sleeping pill. And I’m thankful for that, too.

Now, am I also thankful for fig tarts? Yes, I think I am. My adoration for figs is fairly new and I’ve been buying them like crazy while they’re still in season at the farmer’s market. What I love about figs is that not only do they stand alone perfectly, but they also combine so well with other flavors. But what I’ve found is that I prefer dishes where the fig is allowed to shine, it’s flavors coming through loud and clear, even when paired with other ingredients. The bowl of pears sitting on the counter were practically screaming at me to use them with figs in a dessert, so what could I do? This very easy, very simple tart lets both the figs and pears stand out.

Fig and Pear Chocolate Tart

1 sheet refrigerated pie crust
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
4 ounces chocolate (I used 60% bittersweet)
10 figs, quartered (or enough to fill the tart)
2 pears, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Press pie dough into a 9” tart pan with removable bottom, then press a piece of buttered foil into crust. Fill with dried beans and blind bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil, prick bottom of crust with a fork, and bake for another 10 minutes uncovered, until crust is slightly brown. Remove and let cool.

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil and let thicken slightly. Brush the inside of the pie crust with the sugar mixture and allow to dry for about 15 minutes. Reserve remaining to glaze top of tart.

Heat chocolate in the microwave, stirring occasionally, until completely smooth. Spread chocolate evenly over the bottom of the crust.

Layer figs around the outer edge of the tart. Next, layer pears inside the row of figs, overlapping slightly. Lastly, layer figs in the middle of the tart. Brush the top of the fruit lightly with glaze.

Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting.

I’m always so proud of myself when a dessert comes out well, since I consider myself dessert recipe-challenged. (Although I do have to admit to a failed first version of this tart that involved caramel.) But this is such an unfussy tart and is so easy to make, it’s hard to go wrong. The layers of simple but flavorful ingredients turn it into something special. Rich chocolate, sweet pears and that earthy deliciousness of figs combine to make a perfect fall dessert.

So today I’m thankful for warm feet, a cozy bed, quiet animals, my sleeping pill (which happens to be my husband), and a chocolaty fig tart. Not a bad collection…

Monday, November 7, 2011

Chili: It’s good for what ails you

Chili is another one of those comfort foods that we start craving this time of year. It just hits the spot and makes you feel good, even after your loving husband kicks you in the head. Now hold on…before you alert the authorities, let me assure you that it was an accident. And now that a few days have passed, we’re laughing about it. 

It all started when we were watching a movie where one of the characters (a rather well-built Ryan Gosling) was doing push-ups against a wall while doing a handstand. Since I like to dish it out whenever I possibly can, I started teasing Andy that there was no way he could do even a single push-up while upside-down. He assured me that he could, and many of them. After several minutes of banter, he decided to prove it to me. It all went downhill from there... 

You see, Andy thought I was standing farther back than I was. I was planning to help him turn upside-down against the wall, therefore standing RIGHT BEHIND his legs. He kicked out to propel himself upwards and with quite a bit of power nailed me square in the jaw. The kick was hard enough that I flew backwards against the wall with such force that I now have a huge bruise on my backside. Then there was collapsing to the floor, lots of wailing, a worried dachshund, and a very concerned husband. 

When I finally stopped sobbing and took some aspirin for my splitting headache, I began to worry that I might get a black eye. Although Andy assured me that a kick to the jaw shouldn’t produce a black eye, I proceeded to ask him about every fifteen minutes if I was bruising. And even though I know he was tired of me asking, he played along nicely since he had just kicked me in the head (ahem!). The next morning when we woke up it was the first question out of my mouth. After much consideration he said, “it’s either black eyes or you have really dark circles.” Well, that’s a relief…my dark circles are bad enough to be mistaken for black eyes, thank you very much. 

So, in the end, I did not get black eyes, but do have a very sore jaw. And I think the most important thing to note here is that Andy still has not performed a push-up while doing a handstand. I’m just saying…

We’ve been eating huge bowls of this chili all weekend…maybe it’s the chili that’s making me feel better or maybe it’s the beer I’m drinking with it. Either way, I’m on the mend. 


6-8 servings

1 pound ground beef 
2 hot link sausages, cut into large dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 jalapeno, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
3 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 bottle of beer (I used an Amber Ale)
1 teaspoon hot sauce (like Tapatio)
1/2 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

For serving (optional): 
grated cheese
chopped red onions
minced jalapeno 

In a large pan, brown ground beef over medium heat until cooked through. Drain off all fat and reserve. 

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil and sauté onions until soft. Add jalapeno and garlic; cook for another 30 seconds. Stir in ground beef, sausage, all spices, canned tomatoes with juices, beer, hot sauce and Worcester sauce. Combine well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes. Then stir in beans and tomato sauce. Bring back to a simmer. Simmer for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Check seasonings for salt, pepper and hot sauce, and remove bay leaf. 

Top with chopped red onions, minced jalapeno and grated cheese, if desired. 

This chili recipe has been in test kitchen mode for over a year, and I’ve been tweaking it a little each time I make it. This batch was the one that finally made me think it was “done.” 

It’s meaty and spicy. It has a good bean to meat ratio. The diced tomatoes add texture and lighten it up a bit. The beer provides depth. I think it’s great chili although I may be a bit biased. And I did get kicked in the head, so take that into consideration…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leftover Candy

Okay, okay…I’ll just come right out and admit it: we have a problem in our house. A big one. It involves copious amounts of candy and two confirmed candyaholics. (Another confession: I’m not really a big fan of Halloween. Gasp!) 

In our neighborhood, all the little ones assemble at a prescribed time and go door-to-door as one group. This works out perfectly as our doorbell only rings once, which means I only have to tackle the dog once. So, we grab the bowl that contains the candy that we’ve identified as “not good” and pass it out to the eager trick-or-treaters. (Oh, c’mon…you know you keep the good stuff for yourself.) And that’s that. Halloween is over quickly and fairly painlessly, except for the many pounds of leftover candy.

Yes, we purchase Costco-sized bags (plural) of candy knowing that we will have less than ten trick-or-treaters. We’ve been eating Halloween candy happily since September and we’ll probably be eating it through Christmas. And I’m fine with that. 

The alternative to this is to not buy any candy so that we don’t eat any (which doesn’t sound as tasty). That’s what my parents do. Then they hide in the back room and don’t answer the door to the trick-or-treaters. I kind of wanted to do that just to avoid the trick-or-treaters, but then who would I pawn the Dots off on? 

So…when faced with a mountain of leftover miniature candy bars, what should one do? Make a Butterfinger cheesecake, of course! 

Chocolate Covered Butterfinger Cheesecake

1 package graham crackers (9 crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 

16 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
12.5 ounce bag Butterfinger candy bars

Chocolate topping:
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate chips (or other dark chocolate)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place graham crackers in a food processor and run until crackers are a fine crumb. In a bowl, combine cracker crumbs, sugar, cocoa powder and butter. Press into a 9” springform pan. Bake for 9-10 minutes. Remove and let cool while you prepare the filling.

Place Butterfingers in the food processor and pulse until all the candy bars are broken into very small pieces. Reserve a heaping 1/4 cup for topping.

With an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, peanut butter and sugar. Mix in eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated. Last, add in Butterfinger crumbs and mix until just combined.

Pour filling on top of crust and spread out evenly. Bake for 40-45 minutes until center is just set.

When cheesecake is done, let cool on a wire rack for about an hour, then transfer to the refrigerator.

When cheesecake is cool to the touch, run a knife around the edge and remove springform band. Place cheesecake on a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Prepare the topping by combining chocolate and cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk until completely smooth. Immediately pour chocolate mixture over cheesecake, spreading it over the top and pushing over the edge to coat sides. (You may have a little left over, depending on how thick you want the chocolate on top of the cheesecake.) Sprinkle the remaining Butterfinger crumbs over the top of the chocolate.

Refrigerate until cheesecake is completely cool, at least 3 hours. 

I was incredibly worried that an entire bag of perfectly good Butterfingers would be wasted if this recipe didn’t work out, but my worry was for naught. This is one rich, decadent, Butterfinger-y cheesecake. Even though I was stuffed from dinner, I managed to scarf down my own slice and finish off Andy’s. Because there’s always room for dessert, especially when it’s made with Butterfingers.