Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chocolate-Pistachio Trees

I know it's been a while since the last entry on this blog.  Thanks to all those who've continued to visit, comment, and like on Facebook.  I really appreciate the support and encouragement.  I haven't been able to devote as much time to the blog as I'd like, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share these delightful cookies with you.

I participated in a cookie exchange with 9 other moms at my son's preschool.  Had I known I had to make 5 dozen cookies beforehand, I may not have participated!  But it was well worth the effort and the cookies were fairly easy to make.  The hardest part was shelling the pistachios!  I should've bought the package of shelled pistachios but they cost more and I was trying to save money instead of time (which is often a huge mistake and something I have yet to learn).

The initial product went from looking like crap (quite literally):
Though not appetizing to look at, it smells delightful.

To a beautiful presentation of lovely chocolate trees:

Now that's more like it.  :)

I was actually disappointed the cookie didn't come out crispy or crunchy as I had expected.  It was a softer cookie, but my husband and boys loved it.  The cookie itself also wasn't very sweet, but the melted chocolate added just the right amount of sweetness along with a nice added crunch from the pistachios.

Hope you enjoy, too!  I'd love to hear what some of your favorite holiday cookies are.  Maybe I'll try those out for next year's cookie exchange.

And just in case I don't get around to another post this year,

Christmas and 
Happy New Year to all!  
Hope this holiday season is filled 
and brimming with life's greatest joys.
 From family to friends and loved ones far and
near.  From feasts to sweets and everything delightful
in between.   From angels singing to wise men bowing and
all of earth rejoicing.  May the Lord bless you & your loved
ones this

Chocolate-Pistachio Trees
From Better Homes & Gardens

{Prep time: 60 minutes, Chill time:  30 minutes, Bake:  9 minutes per batch, Makes:  about 48 cookies}

1 cup butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg, beaten
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup finely chopped pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon shortening
½ cup ground pistachio nuts

To prepare the pistachios for this recipe, place 2 cups whole shelled pistachios in a food processor.  Pulse several times until the nuts are finely chopped.  Remove the ¾ cup to be used in the dough.  Continue pulsing the remaining nuts until finely grounded to use for garnish.

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar; heat and stir over low heat until butter is melted.  Remove saucepan from heat; stir in vanilla.  Cool mixture for 15 minutes.  Stir in egg, flour, and cocoa powder until mixture is combined.  Stir in the 3/4 cup pistachio nuts.  Divide dough in half.  Cover and chill about 30 minutes or until dough is easy to handle.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough, half at a time, to a 1/4-inch thickness.  Using a tree-shape cookie cutter, cut out cookies.  Place cookies 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  3. Bake in preheated oven about 9 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer to a wire rack; cool.
  4. In a heavy small saucepan, combine chocolate pieces and shortening; heat and stir over low heat until chocolate melts. Remove from heat.  Dip one-third of each cookie into chocolate mixture; roll edges of cookie in ground pistachio nuts.   Makes about 48 cookies.

Layer cookies between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store in refrigerator for up to 3 days.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Whole Foods Cherry Fest: Cherry Fruit & Cheese Quiche Tart

Whole Foods had an amazing sale on organic cherries last Friday, July 8 ($2.99/lb).  I didn't waste any time heading over that morning and buying 4 bags.  My lovely friend, Junia of Mis Pensamientos, also informed me about the cherry recipe contest being hosted by Whole Foods.  I had no intention of entering but then I figured what the heck (and who couldn't use some free grocery spending money?).

But I was stuck.  Because you see in our household, we like our cherries like this:

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of cooked cherries.  I prefer them pure and untainted, and it seemed wasteful to do anything but pit 'em and eat 'em.  But I pressed on.

I tried a few things from fruit salad with adzuki beans, to tofu and edamame drizzled with cherry sauce, to a fruit and bean smoothie.  But either the flavors didn't work together or the kids didn't really care for it (like the tofu with cherry sauce).  I knew I had to stick with a dessert, and then I finally caved in and decided to bake (which I was trying to avoid in this crazy hot weather).  So with it being nearly 100 degrees today, I cranked up the air conditioner, turned on the oven, and created a fruit and cheese filled quiche tart.

I know most people think of savory when it comes to quiche, but I thought one incorporating these fresh fruits would be nice:

And the flavors of the cherries, pineapple, and strawberries worked beautifully together.  The best part about it is how simple it is to make with a few ingredients, including a refrigerated crescent roll (yes, Whole Foods carries a product manufactured by Immaculate Baking Company). My older son loved helping me out.

The pictures above show the quiche being baked in individual ramekins (7 ounce size) which gives it a more sophisticated presentation.  But it takes longer to bake than it does in a muffin pan.  I made two batches and used both (the instructions below indicate the muffin pan).

So while I prepared lunch and fed the boys, dessert was baking in the oven.  And the wonderful aroma that filled the kitchen made me reconsider my dislike of cooked cherries.  But it was the taste of it that made me a believer in the value of baked cherries. 

I saved some for my husband and the little fellas, too.   The youngest one couldn't get enough.

And that alone was worth all the effort.

Happy cherry feasting!

Cherry Fruit & Cheese Quiche Tart
Serving: 6 quiche tarts; Prep time: 15 minutes; Bake time: 30-35 minutes


1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1/2 cup chopped fresh strawberries
6 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp confectioners' sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tube (8 oz) refrigerated crescent roll

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Separate crescent dough triangles.  Line each cup of the greased muffin pan with a triangle, creating a thin layer on the bottom and lifting the dough up to the sides.  Use extra triangles to add more dough along the side of cups if necessary.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix 6 oz. cream cheese with 1 tbsp confectioners' sugar until smooth.  Mix in beaten eggs. 
  3. Set aside 1/4 cup cherries for topping. Chop remaining cherries. Gently fold chopped cherries, pineapple, and strawberries into the mixture.
  4. Pour fruit and cheese mixture into each cup.  Top each with a few halved cherries.
  5. Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes or longer until the rims of the tart are golden brown and the filling is firm.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    A Salute to the Red, Lemon, and Blue

    When I saw the frozen lemon souffle recipe in the June issue of Everyday Food, I immediately tore out the pages and pinned them on my cork board.  This was definitely a must-try.  And I am so glad I did.  The tartness of the lemons combined with the sweetness of the whipped cream is incredibly refreshing, and the dessert overall is a terrific way to end a meal.  It's not too heavy and the flavors help clean the palate after a hearty meal.

    The magazine garnished their souffle with raspberries, but I knew I wanted to go with a red and blue theme for the upcoming 4th of July holiday.  Blueberries complemented the lemon perfectly.

    The dessert did take some time to prepare.  The instructions in the magazine called for wrapping parchment paper around the ramekin so you can pour the mixture above the rim.  This is purely for aesthetics and not necessary.  But presentation is always a plus so if you're willing to go the extra step, it doesn't hurt.

    I expected the finished product to be creamy and silky, but it was just a tad icy and didn't scoop very smoothly.  Nevertheless, it was delicious and definitely worth the effort.  And it's perfect for Independence Day.

    Frozen Lemon Souffle with Fresh Berries
    Source:  Everyday Food, June 2011 issue

    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus 3/4 cup lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
    8 large eggs, white and yolks separated
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 cup cold heavy cream
    1 1/2 cups raspberries (6 ounces)
    1/2 cup blueberries
    Confectioners' sugar for dusting

    1.  Wrap outside of a 3 1/2-cup souffle mold or four 6-ounce ramekins with parchment, extending 2 to 3 inches above rim (it should fit snugly).  Secure with tape; set aside.

    2.  In a medium saucepan, whisk together granulated sugar, lemon zest and juice, egg yolks, and salt over medium-high.  Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and small bubbles form around of pan, about 5 minutes (do not boil).  Immediately remove from heat while continuing to whisk.  Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl, pressing on lemon curd with a rubber spatula.

    3.  Place plastic wrap directly against surface of curd and refrigerate until cool, about 30 minutes (or up to overnight).

    4.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites on high until stiff peaks form, 2 minutes.  Gently fold egg whites into cooled lemon curd.  In the same large bowl, beat cream on high until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.  Gently fold whipped cream into lemon curd mixture.  Pour into mold and freeze until firm, 6 hours (or up to overnight).  To serve, remove parchment, top with raspberries and blueberries.  Dust with confectioners' sugar.


    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    A Big Bash for the Birthday Boys

    Over Memorial Day weekend, we celebrated my son's 3rd birthday along with my brother's big 3-0 down in good ol' Virginia.  They share the same birth date of June 10.  It's kind of sweet.

    All of us had different assignments in preparing for the party.  The guys ran errands.  Sis-in-law was in charge of bringing my brother over to my sister's house and keeping it a surprise.  Sis and I were in charge of the menu and drinks.  Mom assisted us with preparing some Korean side dishes and the traditional birthday seaweed soup. 

    Dad had the hardest job of all - he was in charge of keeping the kids preoccupied.  He's looking pretty good with the feminine baby carrier, isn't he?

    Once the older birthday boy showed up, we sat down to feast (except DC who was so excited, he dug in standing up).

    We gorged ourselves on steamed blue crabs seasoned with Old Bay . . .

    Shrimp seasoned with cajun spices and garlic . . .

    A side of steamed squid (my brother's favorite) and sweet potato fries . . .

    Sweet corn on the cob . . .

    And for good measure, we rounded it out with Bon Chon chicken (the best Korean fried chicken there is) and some strawberry spinach salad with toasted almonds . . .

    And a fabulous fruit tart from Wegman's to complete the show.

    We had a wonderful time, but the best for the little birthday boy was opening up presents.

    Our absolute favorite gift was this little guy:

    Though the festivities and the food were fabulous, the thing that marks the occasion are the people.  And there's nothing like being with family.

    Happiest birthday wishes and love to my darling son and my dear brother!

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Refreshing Watermelon Granita

    If my children had a choice, they would probably live off of watermelon if they could.  And though we've yet to test this, I think each of my sons could eat a whole large watermelon in one sitting.  I would not be surprised.

    Well, thank goodness there's an endless supply of the fruit in the summer.  I'm trying to find more creative ways to prepare and serve it, and when I saw a watermelon granita recipe in the latest issue of Whole Living, I knew I hit the jackpot.  And can I tell you how much my sons loved it?

    The real beauty of this delightful treat is how incredibly simple it is to make.  My older son loved lending a hand in making this, almost as much as he loved eating it.  Almost.

    If you're having a barbeque or get-together this coming holiday weekend, I couldn't recommend an easier or more refreshing dessert to serve your guests.   Garnish with mint or a slice of lime.  Top with raspberries or blueberries. 

    And then grab a spoon and dig in.  I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

    For recipe as featured on Whole Living, click here.  I reduced the sugar to 1/4 cup, and it was just enough.  Garnish with lime and raspberries.  Delicious.

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    Sweet Summer Days

    I sense a bounty of warm summer days coming our way.  And oh, how we love it!  The feel of freshly cut grass beneath your bare toes, the sip of ice cold raspberry lemonade, the joy of running through the water sprinkler, the smell of barbeque cooking on the gas grill, and a ready supply of fresh fruit and vegetables available from the backyard garden.  What's there not to love?  Maybe the pesky flies, but even then, I prefer summer over any other season.

    Growing up, however, nothing said summer like the abundance of frozen treats.  I can remember summer days playing outside with my sister and brother and hearing the music of the ice cream truck nearing our street.  We'd run inside our apartment to beg our grandfather for a couple dollars.  He could never say "no" to his grandchildren, so he'd reach deep into his pockets, pull out several quarters, and with lightning speed, my siblings and I would run out to the front of our apartment building waving down the truck.   Our absolute favorites were the Rocket and Pac-Man popsicles.  Ahh, the memories.

    Well, the ice cream truck doesn't seem to make its way around these parts too often.  But that's okay because the kids are enjoying homemade frozen treats instead, which I prefer for them.   The boys love 'em and maybe one day, these will conjure up the same kind of nostalgia Pac-Man popsicles do for me.

    This little contraption here makes it so easy.  Can I tell you how much I love this popsicle mold from Ikea for less than $2 (comes with 6 individual molds)?  It's one of the best purchases I've ever made.  It gets used all summer long.

    Making these popsicles is so easy.  You take some fruit, yogurt, milk and/or orange juice and blend. 

    I made the one pictured with strawberries, banana, blueberries, vanilla yogurt, milk, flax seeds, and a squeeze of lemon.

    Then you mix the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.

    Pour it into the mold and freeze.

    And a couple hours later, viola.

     You have some very happy kids cooling off in the summer heat with a sweet treat.

    To beautiful summer days to come,

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Rosa Mexicano's Guacamole Dip

    I love a good guacamole dip, but you just can't buy them in the stores.  Thank goodness making your own is so simple.

    I first discovered how easy it is to make guacamole at a lunch outing years ago to a popular restaurant here in New York, Rosa Mexicano, near the Lincoln Center (this is their original location which opened in 1984 but they now have other locations throughout the country).  This is considered an "upscale" Mexican restaurant, but honestly, the food is okay.  I've gone a few times now, and the dishes I've had there haven't necessarily been astounding or make me want to go back for more.  But the guacamole is a different story; it's the one reason I do go back.  A server comes to your table with a cart full of fresh ingredients and prepares the guacamole in a traditional molcajete, a Mexican version of the mortar and pestle.  I love that this is prepared right in front of you so you know exactly what's going into it.  You can even indicate how spicy you'd like it, and they'll grind in more jalapeno in the paste for a little extra kick if you like (which I always do).

    But you don't need a molcajete to make this dip.  A mortar and pestle will work just fine.  The key is to use the freshest ingredients.  These were picked up from our town's small supermarket a couple blocks from our house.  Their produce is always exceptional.

    This guacamole is perfect for Cinco de Mayo or any occasion (even as a late night snack).

    Rosa Mexicano's Guacamole Dip
    From Rosa Mexicano Recipes
    Makes 4 servings

    Chile Paste Ingredients
    1 tablespoon finely chopped white onion
    1 firmly packed tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
    2 teaspoons finely chopped jalapeño, or more to taste
    1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
    Squeeze of lime juice, optional (I added this for a little citrus zest)

    Additional Ingredients
    3 medium ripe but firm Hass avocados (about 8 ounces each)
    3 tablespoons diced tomato
    2 firmly packed tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    1 tablespoon finely chopped white onion
    Salt if necessary
    Tortilla chips and/or fresh corn tortillas

    Make the chile paste:  Grind the onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and salt together in a molcajete until all the ingredients are very finely ground.  Alternatively, use a fork to mash all the ingredients to a paste in a wide hardwood bowl.

    Cut each avocado in half, working the knife blade around the pit.  Twist the halves to separate them and flick out the pit with the tip of the knife.  Fold a kitchen towel in quarters and hold it in the palm of your “non-knife” hand.  Rest an avocado half cut side up in your palm and make 3 or 4 evenly spaced lengthwise cuts through the avocado flesh down to the skin, without cutting through it. Make 4 crosswise cuts in the same way.  Scoop the diced avocado flesh into the molcajete/bowl.  Repeat with the remaining avocado halves.
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