Editor's note: We thought this post from the recipe archive of Stir It Up! blogger Sarah Murphy-Kangas (In Praise of Leftovers) has all the right ingredients for a New Year's Eve party.
Last night's party was delicious. In all my running around – taking dirty dishes, refilling crostini, fetching ice – I managed to promise guests that I'd post these recipes. They happen to be the two least labor-intensives nibbles of the night. The dates are from Dana's blog, and I've wanted to make them for a long time. Simple, quick, but still "Give-me-another-one-of-those" scrumptious.
RECOMMENDED: 20 easy game day recipes
The punch was an accident. In the prep kitchen, I pulled out my big punch jar and went to grab lemonade concentrate. A thousand expletives. It was in my freezer at home! And no supermarkets downtown! We decided on a cranberry cocktail to which I added rosemary syrup, a big chunk of ice, and a bunch of thinly sliced lemons. People were pining for it, and it looked so beautiful in the glasses.
It was a big joke on me – the thing everyone's begged for in the end for wasn't in the master plan. I'm sure you've got your own stories and metaphors where that's concerned. If we had it all together and never did things like forget lemonade at home, there wouldn't be room for cranberry punch. And what kind of world would that be?
Cranberry Rosemary Punch
This makes 5 quarts – a lot. Halve it for a smallish party. I often have simple syrups like this in the fridge, so you can just pour a little bit into a single glass of juice, too – taste, and adjust to your liking.
For simple syrup:
2 cup water
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
In a saucepan, combine sugar and water over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add rosemary, simmer for a couple minutes, then remove from heat and cool. Pour mixture through a sieve, discarding rosemary. Keeps in the fridge for a couple weeks. This makes more than you will need.
To make punch:
Combine 4 cans frozen cranberry juice concentrate with 12 cans water and 1-1/2 cup of rosemary simple syrup. Add lots of ice (you want to dilute the punch a bit since you've just added sugary syrup), two thinly sliced lemons, and a couple fresh rosemary sprigs. Serve confidently, acting like you planned this the whole time.
Goat Cheese and Pistachio Stuffed Dates
Makes 16. Adapted from Dana Treat, who adapted it from The New Classics by Martha Stewart. You can make the goat cheese filling one day ahead and refrigerate it. These hors d’oeuvres can be assembled several hours before serving. Loosely cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to three hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.
4 ounces soft goat cheese
3 tablespoons shelled salted pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon honey
8 plump, soft dried dates (preferably Medjool), pitted and halved lengthwise
1. Stir together goat cheese, pistachios,chives, and honey in a small bowl until smooth. Season with pepper.
2. Arrange dates, cut side up, on a platter. Using a small spoon and your fingers, fill each date with a small mound of the filling. Garnish, if you like, with additional chopped pistachios and chives. Thinly drizzle a bit of honey over the whole platter.
RECOMMENDED: 20 easy game day recipes
Related post on In Praise of Leftovers: Charred green chili dip with feta
Many recipes claim to be quick and easy, but few live up to expectations.
With the craziness of the holiday season, I’ve been wanting – and needing – quick-to-pull-together lunches. Given the choice, I prefer not to have cold lunches so sandwiches or salads are out. In the end, I usually have leftovers or cook something easy.
When Stephanie Stiavetti sent me her just-released cookbook co-authored with Garrett McCord, "Melt – The Art of Macaroni and Cheese" (Little, Brown & Company, November 2013), I was blown away by the gorgeous photography and creative mac and cheese combinations.
RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013
While flipping through the book, I came across a recipe that called for soba noodles, Brussels sprouts and Parmesan. It sounds like an odd combo, but if you’re an eclectic cook like me, you probably have these ingredients sitting right in your pantry. The recipe was oh-so brief and simple; I was sold!
I did tweak the recipe a little, using frozen Brussels sprouts instead of fresh ones and the dish came together in barely 15 minutes. Now the true test – did it taste good? Given its simplicity, I was astonished at how tasty it was – the bittersweet sprouts played very nicely with the salty Parmesan and the chewy soba bundled the flavors together well.
This recipe is a winner on so many levels: it satisfies, uses few, easily available ingredients, and is indeed a 15-minute meal.
Soba with Parmesan and Pan Fried Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from "Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord"
The original recipe uses fresh brussels sprouts but I had frozen ones in the freezer and this added to the brevity of cooking time. If you do use fresh, be sure to remove the stems and outer leaves. Halve them and blanche them for quicker cooking, too. Wholewheat spaghetti would be an excellent substitute for the soba.
Makes: 2 entree servings
Time: 15 minutes
8 ounces frozen petite Brussels sprouts (about 20)
2 bundles soba (about 6-8 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Chili flakes (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Finely grated Parmesan
1. Thaw/cook the Brussels sprouts in the microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Drain excess water.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the soba per the manufacturer’s instructions. Once they are cooked, immediately drain and rinse under cool water for a moment, drain again, and then toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Do this regardless of what the noodle instructions say at that point, as some may instruct you not to add oil. Set aside.
3. Place the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the Brussels sprouts. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts start to turn golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4. Toss the soba in the hot pan for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add an extra glug of oil, if you desire. Plate and shower liberally with Parmesan. Serve immediately.
RECOMMENDED: 28 cookbooks from 2013
Related post on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Filipino noodle: pancit
Fresh herbs are quintessential to Vietnamese cooking. During the summer months, we try to grow basil, mint, perilla (tia to), coriander (rau ram), and our favorite rice paddy herb (ngo om) in our backyard garden. But now in December with the short days and long nights and record low temperatures our herb garden even here in Southern California has sadly wilted away and lies in wait for the spring. We are back to buying supermarket herbs of variable quality and freshness.
But all this changed four weeks ago when got the Aerogarden ULTRA, a dirt-free indoor hydroponics garden. We immediately put it together in minutes without any additional tools and had a variety of basil planted just as quickly. The smart LCD screen on the Aerogarden walked us through the quick start planting process step by step. Since planting day it’s practically maintenance free (it even notifies of you when to feed and water!) and the transformation from seed to full blown thriving basil plant right on our counter top has been simply amazing.
After just four weeks, we have beautiful bunch of basil varieties right on our kitchen counter. We didn’t have to deal with dirt, weeds, bugs, or – heaven forbid – pesticides. To take advantage of this bounty of fresh herbs, we decided to make some lamb chops as the gaminess of the lamb and zesty fresh basil go so well together.
Sous vide cooking isn’t featured on our blog very much, but we actually use it quite frequently. We absolutely love the Anova Sous Vide immersion circulator that retails for about $200. We always have some sort of duck, short rib, steak, or lamb seasoned and vacuum sealed frozen away for quick gourmet meals. Unlike traditional methods of cooking that would require a defrost, you actually cook straight from frozen with sous vide and it only requires only about 30 minutes extra cooking time. Plus, we can’t complain that it results in a perfect cooking temperature every time. A chimchurri is classic Argentinian herb sauce most commonly used with flat leaf parsley. It’s a great way to highlight the aromas of fresh herbs, particularly basil.
Sous vide lamb chops with basil chimichurri
For the lamb chops
2 racks of lamb, Frenched
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1 shallot diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1. Set sous vide temperature to 134 degrees F/56 degrees C.
2. Season lamb liberally with salt and pepper. Vacuum seal lamb with crushed garlic and sous vide for 2 hours.
3. Combine all of the ingredients of the basil chimichurri sauce in bowl and mix well. Season to taste and cover and refrigerate to let flavors blend together.
4. After two hours, remove lamb chops from bag and dry well with a paper towel. Sear with torch or scalding hot well oiled pan. Slice between the bones and liberally top with basil chimichurri sauce and enjoy.
Related post on The Ravenous Couple: Nem Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork) with Kimchi and Sriracha Sliders
To be honest, we’ve always been ambivalent about slow cookers. Wherever we live, there never seems to be enough counter space. Worse, our current kitchen has exactly two double electrical outlets, both inconveniently placed. The biggest issue for me, though, is that, in my admittedly limited experience of eating slow cooker food, everything has tasted at least a little like canned Dinty Moore beef stew.
But slow cookers have been experiencing a bit of a renaissance, with people who love food and know a thing or two about it embracing them. There are entire food blogs devoted to them. So when we approached the tower of four-quart Crock-Pots priced at under 20 bucks, we an impulsive decision.
Slow cookers gained popularity in the 1970s as a growing number of women entered the workforce. Their primary selling point was convenience. You could throw various ingredients into them in the morning and come home to a cooked meal, ready to eat. Recipes tended to reflect that mindset as well as the times. Canned cream of mushroom soup was featured in an alarming number of them, as were packets of dried onion soup mix.
This approach to slow cooker cuisine still has plenty of proponents, relying on heavily processed food products and producing meals that are familiar, if prepackaged in flavor. Happily, there are also many cooks working with fresh ingredients and big, exciting flavors. Longtime food blogger Kalyn Denny recently launched the blog Slow Cooker from Scratch as a “resource for home cooks looking for tested slow cooker recipes that use whole food ingredients.” Food writer Anupy Singla has created "The Indian Slow Cooker," an accessible cookbook with 50 authentically Indian recipes.
For my first foray into slow cooker cooking, I chose pot roast. Chuck roast is a flavorful beef cut that lends itself to long cooking, perfect for the eight or more hours required. I grew up loving this hearty, if often chewy roast. Over the years, I’ve prepared it numerous ways here, including adding a mysterious quality with Indian biryani curry paste and giving it a Provençal flavor with capers, garlic and anchovies.
This time, I wanted something a little more straightforward, but still with some flavor and complexity. A mix of red wine, onions, garlic, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves and beef stock sounded like it would do the trick. The resulting roast was a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal perfect for the cold snap and snow that invaded Chicago last weekend. It was less complex than I expected – the long cooking time muted the rosemary and bay leaf. But it’s the kind of meal that would be great to come to after a long day.
Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Carrots
2 to 2-1/2 pound boneless chuck roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
5 to 6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch sections
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/4 cup dry red wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine]
1-1/4 cup reduced sodium beef broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper and dust it lightly with flour on both sides. Heat a large skillet over medium flame and brown the roast on both sides, about 10 minutes, turning occasionally.
2. Transfer the roast to a 4- to-5-quart slow cooker, cutting into 2 pieces if necessary to make it fit. Add onions, carrots, garlic, wine, broth, rosemary and bay leaves. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.
3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer carrots and onions to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Transfer roast to a platter and tent with foil. Turn slow cooker to high. Combine cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and whisk until it is smooth and lump-free. Add add a couple of spoonfuls of liquid from the slow cooker to slightly warm it, stirring to combine. Whisk cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the slow cooker, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly into a sauce, about 1 minute or so. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.
4. Slice pot roast and serve slices with carrots and onions, spooning sauce over everything. I also cooked mashed potatoes, which played nicely with the sauce.
Related post on The Blue Kitchen: Homey, healthy braised red cabbage
I can’t make it through the holiday season without the flavor of eggnog. I cook and bake with eggnog in all sorts of ways, from Overnight Eggnog French Toast Caserole to Eggnog Pie and I fall for all the eggnog seasonal flavors on the grocery shelves. That perfect holiday richness with the whiff of nutmeg really puts me in the holiday spirit.
These simple bars are a perfect take-along to a party or great wrapped up as a gift. I like them with a mug of eggnog or steaming cup of hot chocolate.
Makes 16 bars
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup refrigerated dairy egg nog
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup white chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8- by 8-inch pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper with some overhang on each end, which makes it easier to remove, then slice the bars.
2. Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the egg, beating well, then add the eggnog and vanilla. Beat until thoroughly combined. Don’t worry if the mixture looks a little curdled.
3. Add the flour, baking powder and nutmeg and beat until the batter is completely incorporated and smooth. Stir in the white chocolate chips. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer. Sprinkle a bit of nutmeg over the top of the batter. Bake the bars for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
4. Cool the bars in the pan for 10 minutes, then gently lift them out using the overhanging foil and palce on a rack to cool completely. Cut into small squares.
The bars will keep for 2 days in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Egg nog pie
In the kitchen, surrounded by a surfeit of holiday baking supplies, I had a sudden craving for Hello Dolly Bars. I love Hello Dollies (or Seven Layer Bars or Magic Bars, whatever you call them), but they are not something I generally make, because I have lots of friends for whom it’s their standard recipe for to parties and weekends away.
So I generally rely on others for my dolly fix. But standing there, with that craving, I suddenly thought I could get a little creative. I simply substituted warm, spicy speculoos cookies in the crust and added cinnamon chips to the butterscotch. I left out the coconut, because I don’t love it, but also because I think it takes away from the unique spicy note of this version of the classic.
Spiced Dolly Bars
Makes 16 bars
2 (8.8 ounce) packages Biscoff cookies (about 60 cookies)
1/2 (1 stick) cup butter, melted and cooled
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (11-ounce) package butterscotch chips
1 (10-ounce) package cinnamon baking chips
1 cup chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13- by 9-inch baking pan with foil, with the edges overhanging. Use non-stick foil if you can, spray it well with cooking spray if you can’t.
2. Break the cookies into the bowl of a food processor and grind to crumbs. Add the melted butter an process until the mixture comes together. Press the crumbs in a layer on the bottom of the prepared pan, making sure there are no holes. Pour the condensed milk over the crust, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the butterscotch and cinnamon chops over evenly over the crust, then the walnuts. Gently press the chips and nuts into the condensed milk.
3. Bake the bars for 25 minutes, until everything is bubbly. It will look a little liquid, but will firm up as it cools. Cool the bars completely, then lift the whole thing out of the pan using the overhanging foil.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Sorghum buttermilk pie
Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.
I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the United States where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican wedding cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”
When my sister and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last after we moved away.
Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).
To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hectic atmosphere of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome – and pretty to look at – treat on your table.
Lemongrass and pandan Christmas sugar cookies
Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour, too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to 1/2 cup more sugar.
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup lemongrass confetti (see below)
1 tablespoon pandan extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.
4. Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.
5. Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.
6. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.
7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.
8. Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.
Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils.
Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.
Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)
Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.
Related post on The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Chinese New Year Cake
Christmas is the perfect time for red velvet. It’s the festive color of the season, and it is just so fun.
I’ve made red velvet polka dot cookies and red velvet surprise cupcakes, and experiment with even more ideas. But this may be the most practical. Pound cake is such a holiday staple – it’s easy to make, keeps well and freezes beautifully. Serve hefty slices with whipped cream or ice cream and some festive sprinkles for a dessert, or smaller slices on a buffet. Wrap a loaf in plastic wrap with pretty ribbon and it makes a beautifully fun, festive gift. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it would be lovely baked in those little decorated paper mini loaf pans as a gift.
I’ve added a simple glaze (skip it for freezing or wrapping) because it adds a lovely snowy top, but the cake is rich even without it. I’ve even sprinkled the glaze with sparkling sanding sugar to give it a real winter wonderland effect.
Red velvet pound cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 tablespoons red food coloring
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup buttermilk
For the glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan or use a baking spray.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and food coloring on slow speed.
3. Sift the flour, salt, and cocoa together in a bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar and add to the buttermilk in the measuring jug. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter and egg alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, mixing well after each and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release air bubbles. Bake for about 50 minutes or until cake is done and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the glaze
Whisk together the powdered sugar and buttermilk until you have a runny glaze (use a bit more buttermilk if needed). Pour the glaze evenly over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Traditional pound cake
Remember my epic fudge fail? I told myself I would try that recipe again and make it right but it's been two years and the trauma hasn't faded so I never did give it another shot. Truth be told, I don't think I've even made any kind of fudge since then. Not sure if I was really that traumatized or just risk averse and wanted to make other things that had a higher chance of success.
But I got this recipe from one of the ladies on my online fitness board who's also a baker so I was willing to give making fudge from scratch another chance. I modified her original recipe which called for peanut butter and instead substituted in the same amount of Nutella. I also added whole toasted almonds for additional flavor and texture.
Thankfully, my fudge curse may have been broken, as I thought this turned out really well. There was a hold-my-breath moment when it seemed like the fudge was going to be dry and not creamy once it had lost its initial gloss after I melted and beat in the chocolate chips and Nutella, but the moment passed and I could exhale.
The fudge was a trifle more firm than creamy but it wasn't dry or crumbly. I think the firmness might have been due to the Nutella substitution as it was also cold in my kitchen when I was making this (I'm notoriously cheap about not turning on my heater until I'm practically blue from frostbite) so the fudge mixture cooled more quickly than I anticipated before I was able to get the chips fully melted and the Nutella incorporated.
Despite the marshmallow creme, this wasn't too sweet. You can't really taste the Nutella too much so I think it served the purpose more to add creaminess than flavor to the fudge. I will have to try the peanut butter version shortly and see how the flavor turns out. Plus, I need more fudge for my holiday gifts as I took this batch of fudge into work today and it's all gone. This also freezes well so it's a good do-ahead recipe and definitely a keeper.
Almond Nutella fudge
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup Nutella
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole almonds, toasted, optional
1. Line an 8- by 8-inch baking pan with foil and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine marshmallow creme, sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt. Bring to a full boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from heat and pour in the chocolate chips and Nutella. Stir until the chocolate is melted, the Nutella is combined and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Add toasted almonds if desired. Pour into prepared pan and smooth. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours or until firm.
Related link on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Nutella-filled chocolate chocolate chip coookies
When I told my friends that for this week’s post I would be making whoopie pies, no one said, “Making what?”
Pretty much everybody in the United States these days knows what a whoopie pie is. A cookie sandwich with an icing filling, it’s simpler than cake, a happy intermediate between a cupcake and a sweet bread. Whoopie pies emanated from the American Northeast – Maine (where it is the “official state treat”), Pennsylvania and Boston all vow they invented it. Wikipedia reports that the world’s largest whoopie pie was made in South Portland, Maine in 2011. It weighed 1,062 pounds. This is a real thing, that happened.
In the last couple of decades or so, whoopie pies have moved from the humble North Atlantic lunchbox to tables all over the country. They are in hipster bakeries and everywhere on the Internet – hundreds of thousands of recipes and all sorts of flavors. There are Pinterest boards devoted to photos of them. Chocolate, chocolate chip, red velvet, lemon, salted caramel, peanut butter, raspberry, sweet potato … there’s a royal purple one on one pinboard that I am trying to get my head around. But after our recent visit to Syracuse, pumpkin has been on my mind.
This is an adaptation of about 40 online recipes. The recipe can be made in stages – bake the cookies in the morning, then later in the day make the icing and assemble the whole shooting match. Then you will have these convenient treats around for a quick afternoon pick-me-up or informal dessert or on hand when people drop in over the holidays or as part of a game day TV marathon buffet. Or you could take a batch to the office like I did on Monday or bring it to a holiday pot luck.
After sorting around online for a while, that is what I went with – a classic soft pumpkin cookie, and a cream cheese filling. But we agreed that we wanted more than just cream cheese. This ain’t carrot cake. Terry suggested something to emphasize the tanginess of the cream cheese: lemon. And I proposed something to enhance the warm spicy flavors in the cookie: maple syrup.
The thing about cream cheese filling is that first you mix up the base icing, and after that, you add the flavor. The commitment to a flavoring happens last. This really cheered me up because I did not have to decide between the two flavors – we could have both.
There are lots of other fillings you could devise for these simple desserts. Instead of lemon, go for orange or don’t use icing at all, use a little Nutella. Or use the cookie recipe on its own with a simple fat-free icing – powdered sugar and lemon juice mixed together, then drizzled over the cookies, for instance.
Pumpkin whoopie pies
Makes about 15 or 16 3- to 4-inch whoopie pies
For the cookies
3 cups flour
2-1/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed – see Kitchen Notes)
1 cup canola oil
1 can pumpkin puree (15 ounces)—not pumpkin pie filling
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
For the icing
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the half-recipe of lemon icing
2 teaspoons lemon zest, chopped fine
2 teaspoons lemon juice
For the half-recipe of maple nutmeg icing
1-1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
A pinch (okay, 1/16 teaspoon or maybe less) freshly grated nutmeg
1. Make the cookies. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper – you won’t need oil or butter.
2. In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, mix together the canned pumpkin, oil, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, allspice, and salt. Mix until there are no lumps.
3. Add the baking soda and baking powder. Stir and then add the flour in batches. The dough should be smooth and a little glossy.
4. Drop spoons of batter onto the cookie sheet, leaving about 1-1/2 inches between blobs. Each of mine was about 1-1/2 tablespoons of dough. The dough is very sticky and a little fussy to work, and at times seems to be feeling its way along your hands, and you will have an adventure getting it from the spoon to the sheet. Keep a wet cloth at hand to minimize the damage. (Note to self: move laptop away from work area.)
5. Slide the sheets into the hot oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes depending on your oven. I did two sheets at a time, three batches. When done, the cookies should be firm to the touch and your tester should come out clean. Lift the cookies off the sheets right away with a spatula and cool completely on racks.
6. Make the icing. While cookies are cooling, put the butter in a big bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and add the cream cheese. Beat again for about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla. Add the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Scrape down the bowl now and then. Pretty quickly, it will take on that lavish look of cream cheese icing, and even if you have done this a hundred times before you will think: say, that was easy!
7. This recipe yields about 2-1/2 cups of cream cheese icing. To make the two flavors, divide the icing in half into two smallish bowls. In one bowl, add the maple syrup (the icing will have a subtle maple flavor) and grate in the nutmeg – go easy on it.
8. In the other bowl, stir in the 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and the lemon juice.
9. Assemble the whoopie pies. Prepare a plate or surface to hold them – I ended up using pizza pans. If you are making two different fillings, then divide the cookies into two and use two different sheets to sort them. There’s not a lot of visual difference between the fillings, and it’s easy to lose track of which is which (see Kitchen Notes).
10. Hold one cookie flat in your hand, flat bottom side up, dollop on a generous tablespoon of icing, then gently place another cookie on top. Don’t squeeze it. Settle it in place firmly.
11. Slide the whoopie pie-laden sheets into the fridge for a little while to firm them up. That’s it. Done. Store finished whoopie pies in a single layer in airtight containers in the fridge.
Brown sugar. Before you add the brown sugar to the batter, eyeball it for lumps. If it is looking like there are hard stubborn lumps, try to crush them and break them up.
What would I do differently? I would add a tiny drop of yellow food coloring to the lemon icing, because honestly, it was really hard to tell the difference between these two flavors visually. I might also try making the cookies smaller (with a corresponding shorter baking time).
What if you only want one icing flavor? Use the whole icing recipe and double the flavorings.
Whoopie? How did they get that name? Supposedly, because that’s what kids would say when offered one.
Use real maple syrup, not “maple-flavored” stuff. We still have some of the superb maple syrup we got at beautiful Moondance Gardens in upstate New York during sugaring time – but use any kind that you have available.
And finally, fun with cats. After I prepared the lemon zest, I went in the living room and patted the more scornful of our cats. Now you smell like lemon, I said to her.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Roasted baby pumpkins, white chocolate with buttery pecans and candied orange peel