Chocolate Recipes for Valentine’s Day

I have to admit that I think Valentine’s Day is kind of hokey. Teddy bears and silly cards are cute enough, I suppose, but overpriced flowers and prix fixe restaurant menus don’t do much for me. But this Hallmark holiday does have one major redeeming quality: chocolate.

Who can be cranky about a holiday that prompts coworkers to share bowls of hershey kisses and husbands to bring home cherry cordials? Even better, of course, are the home made treats. Nobody can resist chocolates from your very own kitchen. And on this one day, all chocolate is calorie-free. True fact. So go to town!

Below are a few of my favorite chocolate truffle-like recipes.

I hope you enjoy!

cake balls white chocolate
Cake Ball Truffles

chocolate goat cheese truffles
Nutty Goat Cheese Chocolate Truffles

peanut butter chocolate truffles
Peanut Butter Balls

Published in: on February 11, 2013 at 9:19 am  Comments (9)  
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More Gourmet Pigs in a Blanket

gourmet pigs in a blanket

Do you remember, a couple of years ago, when I shared with you all a few fun ideas for dressing up everyone’s favorite super bowl snack?  Gourmet pigs in a blanket are a major crowd pleaser.  The last time around, I made Cubano Piggies, Parmesan Piggies, Piggies from the City of Angels, and Super Chili Piggies.  They were gobbled up in seconds!

For Super Bowl LXVII, I have three more fun ideas for adding a little extra magic to the ubiquitous pastry-wrapped hot dog.  The Reuben Piggies are a play on my favorite deli sandwich, and are awesome with a side of Russian dressing.  The Asian Piggies are a surprising flavor twist, but the combo of hoisin sauce, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and hot dog just plain works. And the Antipasto Piggies, with the pepperoni, cheese and peppers are Jeff’s catnip. Of course, the possibilities for variations on gourmet pigs in a blanket are endless, so let your imagination run wild.

And whichever team you are rooting for on Sunday, I hope you have a tasty spread of snazzy Super Bowl snacks to enjoy!

reuben pigs in blanket

Reuben Piggies

Makes 24

6 all beef hot dogs

1 tube refrigerated crescent roll dough

2 ounces deli sliced pastrami

1 ounce diced swiss cheese

1/4 cup sauerkraut

1/2 cup bottled russian dressing, for dipping

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each hot dog into 4 pieces, and then cut a small slit into the top of each hot dog piece. Stuff a small bit of cheese into each hot dog.  Slice the crescent roll dough into 24 strips (they won’t be even but it doesn’t matter). Cut the pastrami into strips. To assemble the Reuben Piggies, lay a piece of pastrami on a strip of dough. Top with a small bit of sauerkraut, and then a piece of cheese-stuffed hot dog.  Roll up the dough and press together.  Place the assembled Piggie on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining hot dogs.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the dough is golden.  Serve hot with the dressing for dipping.

asian pigs in a blanket

Asian Piggies

Makes 24

6 all beef hot dogs

1 tube refrigerated crescent roll dough

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/8 cup canned bean sprouts

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each hot dog into 4 pieces. Slice the crescent roll dough into 24 strips (they won’t be even, but it doesn’t matter).  Brush each strip with a bit of hoisin sauce, place a hot dog piece and a few bean sprouts on each strip of dough, and then roll up and press together.  Place the piggies on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the piggies with sesame seeds, pressing the seeds into the dough. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 10-12 minutes until the dough is golden. (A quick tip: assemble the Asian Piggies right before baking because if they sit too long before baking, the dough will get soggy)

antipasto pigs in blanket

Antipasto Piggies

Makes 24

6 all beef hot dogs

1 tube refrigerated crescent roll dough

2 ounces very thinly sliced pepperoni

1 ounce diced mozzarella

1/4 cup thinly sliced jarred roasted red peppers

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each hot dog into 4 pieces, then cut a small slit into the top of each hot dog piece. Stuff a small bit of cheese into each hot dog. Slice the crescent roll dough into 24 strips (they won’t be even, but it doesn’t matter). On each strip of dough, lay a folded piece of pepperoni, a slice of pepper, and a piece of cheese-stuffed hot dog.  Roll up the dough and press together. Place the piggies on a baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes until golden.

Published in: on January 27, 2013 at 8:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup

vegan indian vegetable soup

Almost every year, I succumb to a moment of temporary insanity on December 31st.  I make all sorts of crazy resolutions for the next year. And in the first few weeks of January, those New Year’s resolutions generally hold firm.  I go to the gym, forgo the ice cream, munch on raw broccoli and drag my butt to Pilates class.  But by the third week of the new year, all my good intentions have been waylaid by stressful late nights at the office, snowy winter mornings, movie theatre popcorn with extra butter, and cozy cuddling on the couch.

Let’s be honest.  Am I really going to keep my vow to make it to the gym every single day? Nope. Not likely. And give up ice cream?  Why did I ever want to give up ice cream?  Seriously… what was I thinking?

So I’m trying to bring a little bit of balance to my January.  Healthy, wonderful, delicious food – like this soup.  And a bit of ice cream every now and then too.

This soup is amazingly fragrant, easy to make, and perfect for a cold night.  It actually gets even better the next day, so makes for tasty leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. I’m not usually an advocate of frozen veggies, but in the case of soup, I’ve found that frozen is usually as good as fresh.  So feel free to use a bag of frozen cauliflower in place of the fresh in this recipe.

I really like good, grainy croutons on top of this soup, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.  But a handful of toasted sunflower seeds would be lovely too. And adding a sprinkle of finely chopped hard-boiled egg or a big dollop of Greek yogurt would make this soup into a hearty meal (but would, of course, make the dish no longer vegan). Basically, anything goes. Use your imagination, and enjoy!

vegan curried cauliflower soup

Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4

For the soup:

1 pound fresh cauliflower (about 1 head) chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup plain unsweetened almond milk

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the toppings:

4 slices whole grain bread, cut in cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (or any other fresh herbs you have in the fridge)

Steam the cauliflower until very tender.  Meanwhile, in a large pot, saute the onion in oil over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add the ginger, garlic and spices and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes.  Add the cauliflower and broth to the pot.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes.  Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor.  I like it to retain a bit  of texture, but you can puree until completely smooth if you prefer. Return the pureed soup to the pot and stir in the almond milk.  Heat until fully warmed through.

Meanwhile, toss the bread cubes with oil, salt and pepper.  Toast under the broiler until golden brown.

To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with croutons and cilantro.

Published in: on January 21, 2013 at 7:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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Butternut and Feta Omelet With Fresh Mint

omelet with buternut squash feta cheese and mint

I love brunch.  Brunch at home, brunch at restaurants, sweet brunch, savory brunch – I love all of it.  But recently, in my brunching, I have begun to notice that there is a lot of omelet snobbery out there in the world.  From arguments over the merits of adding a splash of milk to debates over whether or not to flip, people tend to be passionate about their omelet preferences.  In fact, omelet eating seems to inspire a level of intensity akin to wine drinking. No, none of my friends have yet attempted to determine the terrior of the eggs from a single bite of Sunday brunch, but such nonsense wouldn’t actually shock me.

I have to admit that I am as picky about my omelets as anyone out there.  I like a splash of milk for volume, but not too much.  I like a slight bit of browning, but no crisp edges.  I hate a runny center, but don’t want my omelet overcooked.  And most of all, I detest a filled rolled omelet.  I like plenty of fillings but want them cooked right into the egg, not sandwiched in pillowy egginess.

So yes, I’m picky.  But just as with wine, I don’t think omelets are about right or wrong, it’s just about figuring out what you enjoy.  Sure, a true, traditional French omelet has no filling and a runny center.  But I’m not a fan.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but to me, the best part of ordering an omelet in France is that it usually comes with fries.  Actually, for years I thought I hated all omelets, but it turns out that I just had to do a little experimenting.

And I’ve even found a few local brunch places that make my kind of omelet, but I still like my own home-cooked omelets best of all.  Particularly because they are a great way to use up leftovers lingering in the fridge.

I had a bit of leftover squash and a few wilting mint leaves to use up this weekend, so an omelet was born.  I love the combination of sweet butternut squash and salty feta cheese.  But the best part of this omelet is the unexpected burst of fresh earthiness from the mint, which cuts through the richness of the egg and the tanginess of the cheese.

This recipe makes one omelet – my way.  If you happen to like your omelet thinner, use a larger pan.  If you prefer a filled omelet, just cook the egg and then toss in the butternut and feta af the end.  If you want to simply skip the fuss and go for a scramble, it will taste just as lovely.  But don’t skip the mint.  It really is worth a try – trust me.

omelet filled with squash and cheese

Butternut and Feta Omelet with Fresh Mint

Serves 1

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sliced garlic

2 extra large eggs

2 tablespoons milk

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided

1/3 cup cooked cubed butternut squash

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Heat the oil in an 8-inch omelet pan over medium-low heat.  Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.  Meanwhile, beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper with a wisk until very well combined. Add half of the mint to the egg mixture.  Reduce the heat to low and add the egg mixture to the pan, making sure to distribute evenly.  As the egg begins to cook on the bottom, sprinkle the cooked butternut and the feta cheese over the top of the omelet. Continue to cook the omelet until the top is no longer runny (you can cover the pan to speed this process, if you like, but it will change the texture slightly). Using a spatula to lift the edges of the omelet from the pan, slide the omelet carefully to a plate.  Top with the remaining mint and serve hot.

Published in: on January 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm  Comments (7)  
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Coconut Hot Cocoa

coconut milk hot chocolate

It’s official; I’m an old fogie.

I’d rather be curled up on the sofa with a mug of cocoa than partying it up at a bar.

When did that happen?  When did my PJs and a James Bond movie marathon become my idea of a perfect evening?

At some point along the way, a steamy mug of really great hot chocolate eclipsed tequila shots as my New Year’s Eve drink of choice.  And this coconut hot cocoa is about as great as cocoa gets.  It’s incredibly creamy and full of deep, rich chocolate flavor.  But best of all, it smells incredible. The combination of coconut and chocolate is addictive.  And it’s so easy to make!

You could certainly top this cocoa with a dollop of whipped cream or a few mini marshmallows.  But I’m a hot cocoa purist.  To me, whipped cream detracts from the chocolate, and elusive little marshmallows distract me from my chocolate desires. But I do advocate a splash of coconut rum here.  After all, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m not THAT old!

Happy New Year!

Coconut Hot Cocoa

Serves 2

1/2 cup low-fat milk

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 cup canned lite coconut milk

2 tablespoons coconut rum (optional)

In a small saucepan, wisk together the low-fat milk, sugar and cocoa powder over medium-low heat.  Once the sugar has dissolved, wisk in the coconut milk and heat, stirring, until hot but not boiling.  Add the rum, if using.  Pour into two mugs and enjoy. Great with ginger snap cookies!

Published in: on December 30, 2012 at 7:33 pm  Comments (10)  
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Snickerdoodle Cookies

snickerdoodles

Sweet, cinnamon-coated snickerdoodles are hands-down my favorite holiday cookie.  There is nothing fancy about these rich little cookies.  Just simple, buttery goodness.

You probably already have an identical snickerdoodle recipe in your recipe box. But when was the last time you used it?  In our house, it had been a while.  For years, I had overlooked my beloved snickerdoodles in favor of more trendy holiday cookies. But trendy doesn’t necessarily trump delicious. So, I just wanted to remind you about the humble snickerdoodle.

christmas cookieThe best thing about snickerdoodles is the warm cookie smell.  Something about the combination of cinnamon and butter is both homey and festive.  I don’t actually remember my grandmother ever baking snickerdoodles. She was always way more into brownies than cookies. Even so, the snickerdoodle aroma takes me back to her cozy kitchen anyway.

I also love that snickerdoodles keep very well.  Plop them in a parchment-lined cookie tin, and they will be soft and chewy for at least a week, maybe longer. I don’t really know how much longer – we always eat them all within a week. If you want to ensure that they last for a few weeks, or even a few months, you can freeze the baked cookies, and simply leave them on the kitchen counter to thaw when you want to enjoy them.

Happy Holidays!

christmas cookie

Snickerdoodle Cookies

makes about 5 dozen cookies

11/2 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup for topping

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 eggs

3 cups flour

2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

pinch of salt

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Beat  together the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs and beat to combine.  Add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, vanilla, nutmeg and salt.  Beat well until all ingredients are well mixed.  In a small bowl, combine the remaining sugar and the cinnamon.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place the dough balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets (place the remaining dough in the fridge in between baking batches of cookies, as this will make it easier to roll the next batch into balls). Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the edges just begin to brown.  Avoid over-baking.  Allow to cool slightly on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack to cook fully.

Published in: on December 16, 2012 at 4:24 pm  Comments (5)  
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Lighter Creamy Mushroom Soup

mushroom soup 2

It’s December.  So I shouldn’t really be too shocked that it’s freezing cold and dreary outside. But every year about this time, I find the cold jarring.

Fuzzy slippers and hearty soups are all that are keeping me from hopping a flight to Florida.  In a few weeks, I’ll settle in and remember that I enjoy crackling fireplaces and hot bubble baths, and pristine snow falls, and steaming cups of cocoa. But for now, it’s all about soup. A big bowl of soup, a piece of crusty bread, and maybe a simple green salad, and I’m about as happy as I can be in early December.

This creamy mushroom soup is actually more mushroom than cream.  Even so, the texture is still lovely and rich from the pureed mushrooms and the small amount of reduced fat cream cheese.  I happen to like the meatiness of mushroom bits in my soup, but if you prefer, you can fully puree all of the soup.

I’ve made this soup with a variety of mushrooms, and it all works.  This time I went for a combination of shiitake, crimini and regular old white button mushrooms.  Use what you like, though, or what you can find at the store.  I’ve never tried using reconstituted dried mushrooms, but I imagine they might add another level of flavor and texture, so that could be worth a try. I use beef stock, because I think the flavor combination of mushrooms and beef is lovely. You can certainly use vegetable stock – or better yet mushroom stock – for a vegetarian soup.

mushrooms

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

4 cups chopped mushrooms, mixed variety

3 cups beef stock

4 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese (not fat-free)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh fennel fronds for garnish (optional)

Published in: on December 2, 2012 at 4:59 pm  Comments (7)  
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Green Tomato Relish

easy green tomato relish

At the end of the season, there always seem to be green tomatoes left clinging to the vine. Over the weekend I went to my mom’s house on the shore to help ‘batten down the hatches’ before the hurricane. During summer, she had the most bountiful tomato plants with the sweetest tomatoes. But with a massive storm surge on the way, it was time to salvage what we could, and say goodbye to the plants.  So I came home with a pile of green tomatoes.

I spent Sunday night cooking up a storm, in preparation for the hurricane. As it turned out, we were extremely lucky and never lost power, but I had baked bread, tossed pasta salad, and made meatloaf. And I began the great  green-tomato-relish-experiment.  Not only had I never made green tomato relish, I had never even tasted green tomato relish.

It turns out that green tomato relish is really easy to make, and also really tasty.  However, after an evening of experimentation I determined that the type of vinegar is really key here.  Although many recipes call for cider vinegar, I really liked my batch with white balsamic best.  Of course, white balsamic is quite sweet, so you don’t need as much sugar as you might see in other green tomato relish recipes.

This relish is tangy and sweet and wonderful on meatloaf.  It also happens to be great on grilled cheese.  And I spooned a bit over my scrambled eggs this morning, which was lovely. Of course, it would be great on a hamburger or hot dog too!

I hope you all made it through the storm safe and sound!

Easy Green Tomato Relish

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups chopped green tomatoes

2 cups white balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup of water

3 tablespoons sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a saucepan, saute the onion, pepper and garlic in oil over medium heat until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, the vinegar, the water and the sugar. Simmer gently over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated – about 20 minutes (plus or minus depending on your tomatoes). Add the salt and pepper to taste.  Cool the relish and serve or store in the fridge for up to a week.

Published in: on October 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm  Comments (8)  
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Radish Green and Cashew Pesto

pesto made with radish leaves

Remember in the spring when I made this lovely radish tartine? I was thrilled at the adorable little radishes growing in my garden.   I have long dreamed of a beautiful and fruitful kitchen garden. I always believed that if I ever got to live someplace with a back yard, I would have pounds of squash and bushels of peppers.  But as it turns out, even with that lovely back yard at my disposal, gardening is not an innate talent that I possess.

I’m working on it. With advice from friends, and some trial and error, I may just get that fantasy garden someday. For now, I make do with easy to grow radishes.  Radishes do especially well in cool weather, making them a great fall pick as well as a spring treasure. And at the moment, I have more radishes than I know what to do with.  A lovely problem to have.

I also have more radish greens that I can store in my fridge.  I’m not one to waste food in general, particularly not food I’ve grown in my own garden.  So I’ve been finding all sorts of ways to enjoy these greens, which remind me a bit of watercress. Young radish greens are tender and sweet, and add a nice bite to salads.  More mature radish greens are a bit spicier and a little more woody, and are lovely sautéed with garlic in oil and tossed with pasta. If you are using radish greens from store-bought radishes, just be sure to pick bunches of radishes with the freshest, brightest-looking greens (this will ensure fresh, crisp radishes too).

For this radish green and cashew pesto you can use young greens for a milder flavor, or mature greens for greater intensity. Either way, this is a unique sauce.  Don’t expect this to have any of the subtle sweetness of a traditional basil pesto. No, this pesto is bold and radish-forward.  But it is lovely.  It is wonderful on sandwiches, delicious over grilled fish, tasty tossed with fresh pasta, and fantastic stirred into scrambled eggs.  My favorite way to eat it, though, is spread thickly on a simple piece of whole grain toast.

This pesto will keep for a few days in the fridge, but I do plan to freeze my next batch.  The flavor pop of fresh radish greens will be welcome on a cold day mid-winter, I am sure.

pesto made with garden fresh greens

Radish Green and Cashew Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh radish greens

1/2 cup roasted unsalted cashews

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated

1/4 cup olive oil

Add the radish greens, cashews, salt, and cheese to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse to finely chop the nuts and greens. Slowly, with the machine running, drizzle the oil into the bowl.  Continue to process until the mixture is well combined and no chunks remain (stop and scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl as needed). Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Published in: on October 14, 2012 at 2:37 pm  Comments (9)  
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Aleppo Roasted Carrots with Green Garbanzos and Cider-Poached Raisins

carrots green garbanzo beans

Last weekend we were in Vermont for a dear friend’s wedding.  In between a rehearsal dinner of sweet potato coconut pizza, the heart-warming marriage vows, and the after-party bonfire s’mores, Jeff and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Rutland farmer’s market. A great farmer’s market is a treasure. And hitting a great farmer’s market on a great day in the middle of a great harvest, well, that’s just about as good as it gets.  I’m very lucky that Jeff is ever-willing to help me haul my purchases home, because I couldn’t help myself.  From beautiful pink radishes to tiny jars of picked garlic, to shimmering bottles of sweet icewine, I went a little overboard. But the best purchase of the day was these beautiful multi-colored carrots.

multicolored carrots

I adore roasted carrots.  They are nutty and sweet, and when dusted with Aleppo pepper, just a bit smokey. The combination of sweet root vegetables and subtle Aleppo pepper is addictive. You can serve the Aleppo roasted carrots all by themselves as a great side dish.  But the addition of green garbanzo beans and plump raisins takes this from side dish to meal. I have occasionally been able to find fresh garbanzo beans, but more often they are available frozen.   And if you can’t find Aleppo pepper, you can substitute Spanish paprika to mimic the sweet and smokey flavor.

puprple carrots yellow carrots white carrots

Aleppo Roasted Carrots with Green Garbanzos and Cider-Poached Raisins

Serves 2 as a main course

5 cups chopped carrots

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup frozen green garbanzo beans

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup apple cider

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the carrots with the oil, Aleppo pepper, and salt.  Spread the carrots on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned at the edges, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, microwave the garbanzos with a few tablespoons of water for 2 minutes, then drain.  Simmer the raisins in the cider until they are very plum, about 5 minutes (you can also do this in the microwave if you prefer, just watch so it doesn’t boil over).  To serve, toss the roasted carrots, garbanzos, and raisins together.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if you like.

Published in: on October 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm  Comments (5)  
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