Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve Countdown Cookies

I found this great idea on Pinterest. The concept is easy, fill a cookie with sprinkles so when you break it open at midnight, you have a confetti themed dessert. I chose to make sugar cookies but you can make whatever flavor cookie you like. I hope you enjoy this cute cookie that is perfect for a New Year's Eve party.

Recipe yields 10 cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

3 cups confectioners' sugar
4-5 tbsp milk

Sprinkles for confetti

In a large bowl, combine your butter and sugars. Beat until butter is smooth and airy.

Add your eggs, one at a time and beat in between. Continue to beat until eggs are fully incorporated.

Mix in the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Mix together with a fork. A little at a time, mix the dry ingredients into the wet, being sure not to over mix.

Form the dough into a ball and wrap in saran wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour but preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare your working surface with flour and a bit of granulated sugar. Roll out your dough to 1/4" thick. Use a cookie cuter (or the rim of a glass) to cut out circles.

Prepare your baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Place your circles on the sheet. For every two circles, cut a smaller circle out of the center of the third. In other words, each cookie should have two circular discs and one doughnut shaped circle.

Place the cookies into the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes. The second the edges start to brown, remove from the oven.

Allow cookies to cool completely on a wire cooling rack. In the meantime, you can prepare your frosting by mixing together the sugar and milk. If you would like the icing to be thinner, just add a little more milk (I suggest only adding 1/2 tsp at a time.)

Now it is time to assemble your cookies. The bottom layer will be one of the circular discs. Coat the edges with icing and 'glue' together a doughnut shaped cookie.

Fill the hole with a teaspoon of sprinkles. Now add icing around the edges of the doughnut shape and 'glue' on another circular disc.

Now you have a cookie sandwich with a surprise confetti center for your countdown. Decorate the top cookie however you like.

Bring these to your New Year's Eve party and serve just before midnight. Enjoy!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Twice-Baked Potatoes

No side dish can make a holiday meal complete like potatoes. (Those buttery and flaky Pillsbury Grand rolls come in as a close second, though!) One of my favorite style of potatoes is twice-baked. In my family, we reserve twice-baked potatoes for special occasions (such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter) so they are always a treat.

Recipe yields 20 potato halves

10 large russet potatoes
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded colby-jack cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Scrub potatoes until clean and all excess dirt has been removed.

The next step can be prepared two ways. If you are in a pinch for time (like I am when trying to prepare a holiday feast) you can wrap your potatoes in saran wrap, poke them with a fork and microwave for 10-12 minutes. If you have all the time in the world (tell me your secret!) place the potatoes on a baking dish and into the oven at 350 degrees until soft (cooking time will vary depending on the size of your potatoes).

Once the potatoes are cooked, slice in half and scoop out the insides, leaving behind a nice boat to hold our mashed potato mixture.

Scoop out all the insides into a large mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes to remove any chunks.

Melt your butter and add to the potatoes, along with your heavy cream, salt and pepper. Mix until well combined. Add your cheddar jack cheese and combine to incorporate into the mixture.

Fill your boats with spoonfuls of the mashed potato mix. If you have any excess, top them off with a rounded outside.

Sprinkle each potato with the cheddar cheese. At this stage, you can let the potatoes rest on the side until you are ready to eat.

Once it is time for dinner, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes on a middle rack and bake for 15 minutes. The cheese should be melted and the potatoes should be nice and hot.

Serve alongside your Christmas roast for a delicious holiday feast. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Roast

After a seafood feast the night before, Christmas dinner is always centered by a beautiful roast. This year, we had a boneless ribeye roast that was delicious down to the last bite. If you are looking for a meal to impress, this will surely do the trick.

Recipe yields 15 servings (estimate 1/2-3/4 lb per person)

9 lb boneless ribeye roast (try for a choice or prime cut)
1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup freshly crushed black peppercorns
3 tbsp fresh rosemary
3 tbsp fresh thyme
Olive oil

Two hours before you plan to start cooking, remove your meat from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Before you begin, pat it down with a towel to remove any excess moisture.

Start by preparing your seasoning. Add salt and fresh peppercorns to a small bowl. Remove leaves from the stems of the rosemary and thyme and add them to the bowl. No need to chop them. Mix together all the ingredients and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. and arrange a rack in the bottom 1/3 of the oven. Heat 2-3 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet and sear the meat on high until it is browned on all sides. About 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and arrange on your rack inside a roasting pan with the fat side up.

Let the meat cool about 2 minutes and then drizzle it with olive oil. Rub handfuls of your seasoning on the roast.

Place in the oven. After 30 minutes, lower the temperature to 300 degrees. Continue to cook for 1 hour or so. You want the internal temperature to read 126 degrees (for medium/medium rare), so after 40 minutes, check the temperature and continue to cook accordingly.

Remove the meat from the oven and tent with tin foil. Let the meat rest for 20 minutes before slicing. Serve alongside your holiday favorites. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baked Sea Scallops

It is a tradition in my family to have a seafood feast every Christmas Eve. From shrimp to scallops and crabs to clams, we cover it all. One of my favorites of the night are the baked sea scallops. My Nanny has practically perfected these and I would argue she could top anyone out there. The recipe is simple and nothing to fussy, but the secret to these delectable bites is easy - get your hands on the freshest and most plump sea scallops you can find!

Recipe yields 5-6 servings (yielding 2-3 pieces per person)

15 fresh, large sea scallops
8 cloves garlic
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3 tbsp parsley
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, add finely chopped garlic.

Mix in breadcrumbs and parsley.

Add olive oil to the mixture and stir until crumbly.

Arrange scallops in a baking dish and add a handful of crumbled mixture on top of each piece.

Place the dish in the oven and bake for 8 minutes on the middle rack. Switch the temperature to max broil and place the dish on the top rack under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, just to get the tops nice and brown and crispy.

Serve alongside your Christmas Eve feast, or treat yourself to something special any night of the week. Enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Cookie Week Day 5: Tri-Color Cookies

For the grand finale, I have for you one of my family's biggest traditions - tri-color cookies. Also referred to as rainbow cookies or seven layer cookies, these treats are a staple in any Italian household for Christmas. This is a tried and true recipe that has been passed down through generations. I hope you have enjoyed my Christmas cookie recipes and hope you have a wonderful holiday season! (Check back after Christmas to see what I served for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners.)

Recipe yields 48 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
8 oz almond paste
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 large eggs
Red food coloring
Green food coloring
12 oz apricot preserves
16 oz bittersweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Start off by preparing your pans. You will need three 13" x 9" jelly roll pans. Butter and flour the pans and then line them with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift your flour and sprinkle with the salt.

In a large bowl, beat together your sugar and almond paste. Almond paste can be very thick, so it is helpful to shred it to better incorporate with the other ingredients. Break off bits of your butter and add it to the mixture a little at a time until all butter and ingredients have been combined.

Separate your eggs so that you have your yolks in one place and your whites in a mixing bowl.

Add one egg yolk at a time to your butter mixture, making sure it is fully mixed in before adding the next. Repeat until all yolks have been incorporated. Once the yolks are in, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until combined. Continue adding flour a little at a time until it is all combined.

In the bowl with the egg whites, whisk until they become thick. Once you see them start to foam, add your remaining sugar. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks start to form. (Helpful Hint: It is always better to use egg whites that are at room temperature. They will fluff up easier and remain airy for longer.)

Gently fold in 1/3 of your egg whites to the batter. Continue with another 1/3 and then the final bit. Your batter should now be light and airy. It should seem quite fluffy.

Using a kitchen scale, a measuring spoon or a well trained eye, divide your batter into three separate bowls. Add red food color to one bowl, green food color to the second bowl and leave the third bowl alone. Stir in food color and continue to add more until you reach the color you are looking for. Key Tip: The batter will always lighten in color after it is baked, so it is always better to go a little bit on the darker side. Also, it is best to use gel food coloring over liquid; that way the liquid does not change the consistency and texture of your batter.

Spoon the contents of each bowl into one of the prepared baking sheets. Dip an offset spatula in warm water and use it smooth out the tops of each layer. Do your best to spread all three as similar as possible so you have three even layers.

Place your trays in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in their pans. No need to move them to a wire rack just yet.

Once the cakes are completely cooled, it is time to apply your jam. Use about 6 oz of jam for each layer, so using an offset spatula, spread about 6 oz of jam on your green layer. If you like more or less jam, you can adjust accordingly, but be cautious to add too much or it will be difficult for the cookies to stay together as each layer will be sliding around. Another little note is to not spread the jam all the way to the edges, when you arrange your cakes in layers, the jam will ooze out a little and reach the edges.

Once your green layer is set, use a wide spatula to lift your white layer from its tray and place it on top of the green layer. Remove the parchment paper from the bottom and then jam up your white layer similar to your green.

In the same manner with a spatula, transfer your red layer from its pan to on top of the white and jam layer and remove the parchment paper. Wrap up your cake with saran wrap. Use a second pan to rest on top and you can even put on cans or jars to weigh the pan down. Place the pan in the refrigerator and let it cool overnight.

In the morning, remove your pans, unwrap the saran wrap and gently flip your cake onto a cutting board. Peel the parchment paper off the green layer. Using a long serrated knife, cut the edges of the cake so you have four nice clean lines.

Now it is time to transfer your cakes to a wire cooling rack. Arrange the rack to it is on top of a baking sheet or some other surface that you won't mind getting a little dirty. Melt your chocolate over a pot of simmering water. Pour your chocolate on your cake, letting it drip down the sides so all edges are covered. You can use an offset spatula to smooth it out and help create an even surface on top. Tip: At this point, you get to determine how thick you want your chocolate layer to be. Just use your spatula to scrape off extra chocolate to create a thinner layer. Let the chocolate harden just enough so that it will hold its shape and then use a fork to create designs on the top.

Once the chocolate has sufficiently hardened, you can cut your cake into bite sized cookies. I was able to cut 48 cookies out of mine, but if you want them to be a little bigger, you will get less. To make it easier to cut through the hardened chocolate without cracking it, dip your serrated knife in hot water. Helpful Hint: In between each cut, clean off any debris on the knife (such as jam or cake crumbs), dip the knife in hot water and then make your cut. If you do this in between each cut, it will be much easier and the pieces will not crumble or become deformed.

Place your cookies on a tray and let them cool in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve them. Personally, I like these when they are a little on the colder side, but feel free to let them reach room temperature before serving. Enjoy & Happy Holidays!