Chocolate Valentines

Chocolate Valentines

Jamison loves chocolate peanut butter cups, so I decided to make him some heart shaped chocolate peanut butter “cups” for Valentine’s Day. Only one problem since it’s supposed to snow tonight and then be followed by ice for the next two days, meaning Jamison will most likely be working from home, I knew I would need to make them today. Add to that that Alexis helped and wouldn’t know how to keep a secret given she’s 3 1/2, and actually tried to tell him twice on his way home when she was talking to him on the phone, we ended up having to give them to him tonight since Alexis was determined to keep trying to tell them about his chocolates. They turned out great!

What You’ll Need:
7 bars of Ghiradhelli milk chocolate
3 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of peanut butter
1/2 cup of powdered sugar

Melt and temper your chocolate. Once chocolate is melted stir in 3 tablespoons of butter until melted. Coat chocolate molds with a layer of chocolate and let harden.

Mix peanut butter and powder sugar and add a dollop of peanut butter to the center of each hardened chocolate mold. Spread out and top with another layer of chocolate. Let harden and pop out of chocolate molds. Store in a dark, cool place.

Simple, easy and delicious!

Chocolate Valentines

No Knead Bread

No Knead Bread Baked

For a while now I’ve been reading with interest the buzz around the food blogs concerning a no knead bread recipe that was published in the New York Times. The recipe is adapted by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery and I decided that it sounded good and had to be tried. The results were excellent!

My next endeavor is going to be figuring out a whole wheat version, as well as a dark pumpernickel version, but for now I share with you the basic white no knead bread! It’s super easy. What’s not to like?

What You’ll Need:
3 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon of yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
1 1/2 cups of lukewarm water

Mix the ingredients together in a large dish and cover with a towel or saran wrap and sit in a warm place for 12-20 hours. (I’ve done two loaves and have let one sit 18 hours and one about 19.5.) I usually just put the dish in my oven with the oven light on. The light makes enough heat to make a nice rising place.

After it has risen it should look something like this:

No Knead Bread After 18 Hours

This is a sticky dough so don’t let that make you think something is wrong. It isn’t. It should be sticky.

Using a little bit of flour or corn meal turn the dough out onto a flat surface and fold over once. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

At this point I deviated a bit from the recipe after the first go around. The recipe calls for taking a cotton towel (not terry cloth) and placing it in a bowl. Then you are supposed to cover the towel in flour and place the folded dough into the towel lined bowl. I did this the first time and the dough stuck to the towel . It wasn’t pretty! It was a mess! So the next time I made it I lined my bowl with aluminum foil and sprayed it with a little non-stick spray. That worked MUCH better!

Let dough rise in the line bowl for about 3 hours. After 3 hours it should look something like this:

No Knead Bread Second Rise

After the dough has risen for 3 hours you need to preheat your oven to 450 F WITH the bowl/pot you plan to bake the bread in in the oven. I used a Pyrex dish with a lid. I’ve seen it done in cast iron skillets or pots. It’s up to you. I only heated the dish and not the lid.

Once the oven and dish/pot is preheated then remove the dish and dump the bread dough into the hot dish/pot carefully. Shake it around a couple of time with a pot holder to settle the dough. It may look lumpy, but don’t worry it will all work out in baking. Put the lid on the dish/pot and bake for 30 minutes. Do NOT grease the pan. I know it sounds counter intuitive, but trust me it works!

At the end of 30 minutes take the lid off of your dish/pot and let the bread continue to cook for 15-20 more minutes or until browned.

You’ll end up with a crusty, hearty white bead that is to die for!

No Knead Bread: The Inside

At first when I saw this recipe, though everyone kept going on and on about how simple and good it was I hesitated due to the fact you have to let it sit so long the first rise. The best thing to do is mix it up in the afternoon and let it rise over night and then begin in the morning. It’s really quite easy and it’s really quite good! Try it…You’ll love it!

Mushroom Lobster Risotto

Mushroom Lobster Risotto

While surfing the food blogs the other day I came across this Lobster Risotto recipe and I was immediately intrigued! My brain immediately started working and I came up with my own little twist of the recipe! It’s warm, satisfying and oh so good!

What You’ll Need:
2 large lobster tails
Extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
4 large button mushrooms, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 – 16 ounce package of Arborio rice
1 1/2 cups of warm water or broth, plus more as you cook the risotto (we’ll discuss this in the recipe itself)
1 1/2 cups of frozen peas
5 ounces of Parmesan cheese

Steam lobster tails until done and cool. Remove shells and chop meat into bite sized pieces.

In a large pot over medium heat saute onion, mushroom and garlic with sea salt and black pepper in olive oil until tender. Stir in risotto and let cook for 5 minutes or so to toast the grains. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of warm water or broth and cook stirring occasionally until liquid evaporates. Add another cup of water or broth and repeat. Keep doing this until the rice is almost tender (about 35-40 minutes).

Stir in peas and lobster and cook for 5 minutes or until rice is completely tender. Stir in Parmesan cheese and parsley and let sit for about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Notes: The original recipe called for beer, but I didn’t have any on hand and forgot to pick some up while I was out. You could also do this with the broth of your choice for the 1 1/2 cups of initial liquid and add water there after. You could also add in shrimp or any other seafood along with the lobster or in place of the lobster.

Thousand Island Dressing

Thousand Island Dressing

I can’t describe my love of Thousand Island Dressing, there aren’t enough adjectives in the world! When I was pregnant with Alexis I craved this stuff, and I craved it on pizza. Aren’t pregnancy cravings grand? This is quick, easy and better than most bottled varieties. Try it and see!

To Make the Thousand Island Dressing:
1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/2 cup of organic ketchup
1/2 cup of sweet pickle relish
A pinch of sea salt
A pinch of black pepper

Add ingredients and stir to mix.

Like I said simple!

Chocolate Cheesecake

Chocolate Cheesecake

I LOVE cheesecake! I have a basic cheesecake recipe that I tweak depending on what type of cheesecake I’m in the mood for. I make pumpkin cheesecakes (one of my favorites), turtle cheesecake (probably my most favorite), peppermint cheesecake, key lime cheesecake, peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, cookie dough cheesecake, and so many more!

Last night I made a chocolate cheesecake since we are having some friends over for dinner. It’s rich, creamy and oh so good! Cheesecake AND chocolate…what’s not to like!??!?!?

What You’ll Need For The Crust:
1 sleeve of chocolate graham crackers, crushed
3/4 a stick of butter, melted
1/4 cup of sugar (optional)

In a food processor process graham crackers until crushed. Add butter and sugar (optional) and pulse until combined. Press into a spring form pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Sit aside.

What You’ll Need For the Cheesecake Batter:
4 -8 ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of ricotta cheese, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup of cocoa (I’ll say this every time I use chocolate. I recommend Ghirardelli or Green and Black’s! I’ve also heard Dagoba is excellent, but I haven’t tried it because it’s a bit pricey, but I’ll let you know if I ever do!)
1/2 cup of unbleached all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 F. IMPORTANT!! DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!

Cream together cream cheese, ricotta, sugar and eggs until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowls to ensure everything incorporates properly. Add cocoa and mix until completely incorporated. Add flour and mix until just incorporated. Pour batter into pan with crust and spread out evenly. Tap a few times on the counter top to ensure you remove any air bubbles.

Wrap the bottom and sides of the the springform pan with aluminum foil making sure you have an airtight seal. Place pan into a baking dish. Add enough warm water to come up to 1/2 way up the springform pan. You want it to come up at least 1/4 of the way minimum. This helps keep the cheesecake from cracking.

Chocolate Cheesecake Ready To Bake

Place baking dish in the oven and bake for 1 hour. Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in the oven with the oven door in the broil position for 1 more hour. Remove cake from the oven and refrigerate. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Vegetarian “Sausage” Balls

Vegetarian "Sausage" Balls

Today I tried out a sausage substitute and adapted an old sausage ball recipe I used to use and it worked out PERFECTLY! Trust me, you’ll never know the meat sausage is not there!

What You’ll Need:
1 – 8 ounce bar of cheddar or Colby cheese, shredded
2 cups of baking mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill Buttermilk Biscuit Mix)
1 package of Gimme Lean Sausage Style
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the bowl of your mixer dump all the ingredients and mix until crumbly. It looks crumbly, but it will readily stick together when mashed. Form into small balls using roughly 1 tablespoon of crumbles and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Makes about 3 dozen.

Note: The vegetarian sausage does have the fat content that meat sausage does so you have to add a little fat into them to get them to bind together.

Not Your Mama’s Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup

As a kid most of us ate alphabet soup, but these days who wants to eat soup with all those preservatives and such a high salt content? Not me! And I certainly wouldn’t feed it to Alexis! So here’s my take on the classic. It’s warm and oh so comforting! It will remind you of your childhood.

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of red onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped into small pieces
1 rib of celery, chopped
2 large button mushrooms, chopped
1 cup of chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup of chopped scallions
1 cup of frozen peas
1 cup of frozen corn
1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth
1 – 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1 pinch of sea salt
1 pinch of black pepper
1 pinch of dried oregano
1 pinch of dried basil
ABC noodles

Alphabet Soup

In a medium sized stock pot over medium heat saute garlic through scallions until tender. (Note: Carrots will not be tender. They will continue cooking while the soup cooks.) Add the rest of the ingredients except for ABC noodles and cook for 30 minutes to an hour. Add noodles and cook for 8-10 minutes and serve immediately.

Note: You can put in as few or as many noodles as you like. I like more so I added between 1 cup and 1 1/2 cups.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

We woke up this morning with snow on the ground and on days like today I want to bake things and I want to make soup! I decided I wanted to make an old stand by of mine Butternut Squash Soup. This soup is creamy, hearty and just perfect for a cold winter day!

What You’ll Need For the Soup:
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 large sweet potato, cut into cubes
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 large stalk of celery, chopped
Coarse ground pepper
Pinch of sea salt
1 container of vegetable broth

Place veggies and apple in a large stock pot and pour in broth. Add water until the veggies and apple are just covered. Add salt and pepper. Bring ingredients to a boil over medium heat and cook until tender. Remove vegetables from broth, reserving the liquid. In a food processor or blender process veggies until smooth adding broth as needed to smooth out the mixture. (Normally no more than 1 cup of broth total).

Serve immediately.

Note: Leave the peels on the potatoes and apples for added vitamins. You can also add 3 or 4 garlic cloves if you like. It’s a healthy, easy soup to play with and it’s delicious!! I usually reserve the left over broth to make lentil soup or something later.

Bread Machine Brown Bread

Brown Bread

I love brown bread! The darker the better in fact! I was recently very surprised to learn that the flour is not what makes the bread brown, but in fact the addition of unsweetened cocoa (no you didn’t read that wrong…COCOA!) and/or coffee are what do the trick! I even asked a local baker what they used and their reply was, “You won’t believe me, but cocoa!” So I knew the recipes I was finding must not be off, though at first I was convinced that there were a lot of typos out there! 😉

My pumpernickel flour has not arrived yet, but I decided to try a dark rye bread instead. This recipe is an adaptation from page 94 of the book “The Cook’s Encyclopedia Of Bread Machine Baking” by Jennie Shapter entitled “Russian Black Bread”. I switched some things around and did not add the coffee, because well I was afraid it would taste like coffee and who wants that? (Not me!) The Cocoa however surprisingly does not make the break taste like chocolate.

The bread is very hearty and soft. It’s perfect! And I’m really beginning to believe the old adage if you make you own bread you won’t want the stuff that comes from the store. It just tastes better!

Brown Bread

What You’ll Need:
Almost 1 2/3 cups of water
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons of honey
1 1/4 cups of rye flour
3/4 cup of whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons of wheat bran
3/4 cup of bread crumbs
1 1/2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast

Place in your bread maker’s pan and set to the whole wheat cycle. (I used the 2 pound whole wheat rapid cycle). Sit back, let it do it’s thing and in a few hours you’ll have a scrumptious loaf of brown bread!

Dianne’s Kicked Up Clam Chowder

Dianne's Kicked Up Clam Chowder

I love New England clam chowder. I mean I LOVE it! I have loved New England clam chowder since I was a child and for years I have ordered it at restaurants whenever I had the chance. A few years ago I set out to make some myself. I’ll admit at first I was a bit intimidated, because it’s yet another one of those recipes that have a “hard” mystique about it, though it’s a mystique that is unfounded as I’ve found with many recipes over the years that have that aura about them . So I developed a basic clam chowder that was creamy and good!

A year or so ago I happened to try the clam chowder at Outback Steakhouse and it had a zing to it. It took me about two seconds to realize their “zing” was Old Bay Seasoning or something like it and I decided to take my basic clam chowder recipe and add a little Old Bay and see what happened. The results were delicious!

What You’ll Need:
Extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 large celery ribs or 4 small ribs, chopped
1 potato, unpeeled and cut into small cubes
1 pinch of sea salt
1 pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning (Add the amount of Old Bay in preference to your own tastes. If you want it a bit zingier go for the tablespoon, less so go for the teaspoons instead.)
1/4 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
2 – 8 ounce bottles of clam juice
1/2 a quart of half and half
3 bay leaves
1 -15 ounce cans of steamer or baby clams, drained and rinsed(If you’re in the mood for bigger clams go for the steamers. If you’ve in the mood for small bits of clams then go for the baby clams. Last night I chose the steamer clams.)

In a large stock pot over medium heat saute onion, celery and potato with salt, pepper and Old Bay seasoning until tender, but celery and onion still retain some of their color. Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Then add clam juice, half and half and bay leaves and bring to a quick boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook covered stirring occasionally for 30-40 minutes. Add clams and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes and serve immediately.

Notes: I drain and rinse my clams because sometimes there is some residual sand and it’s always better to wash that away.

You add the clams at the last minute because you just want them to heat through since they are already cooked. You don’t want them to get too tough.

You can also serve this with chopped parsley if you like.

If you leave out the Old Bay seasoning you have just basic New England clam chowder.

One day I’m going to make it starting with fresh clams, but I haven’t gotten that brave yet.