Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Treats - Bark and Biscotti

Last year, I made bark to give as gifts to people at work, in addition to some other goodies. This year, I decided to broaden my bark repertoire and also try my hands at some biscotti.

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark

2 pounds of white chocolate
2 tabs of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
lots of crushed candy canes (sorry, I didn’t measure)

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. Be really careful with white chocolate, it tends to seize really easily and quickly. Thankfully this year, I had great success – not a single batch seized! Once nearly melted, add the butter to give the chocolate extra sheen. Also add the extract and crushed candy canes. Stir to combine and then spread on a wax paper covered baking sheet. Spread evenly and stuck in fridge to harden. Break into odd shaped pieces, package, serve, or eat!

Dark Chocolate Bark with Candied Pecans and Cranberries

2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate
2 tabs unsalted butter
fresh ground cloves
fresh ground cinnamon
fresh ground nutmeg
2 cups pecans, chopped
2 cups dried cranberries

First, candy the nuts by combining a half stick of butter with ¾ cup brown sugar. You can always adjust the butter/brown sugar amounts to suit your needs. Once combined, add the chopped pecans, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Sauté for about 5-8 minutes, then transfer to a wax paper lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350. Let cool. Once cooled, break apart into small pieces.

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Once nearly melted, add the butter, and a few dashes of cinnamon and cloves. You can then proceed one of two ways…

1. Stir in the pecans and cranberries, then spread chocolate mixture evenly onto a lined baking sheet.
2. Spread cranberries and pecans on a lined baking sheet, then add chocolate mixture on top, spreading evenly.

Cranberry-Pistachio and Almond-Cherry Biscotti

I used this Martha Stewart recipe, but made some changes or additions. I made one batch with the cranberry and pistachio, as Martha suggests, and in a second batch, I used dried cherries and almonds, and instead of 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, I did one vanilla and one almond extract.

1 cup dried cranberries (recipe called for ½ cup, I increased this)
1 cup boiling water
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons room temp. unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
3 large eggs
1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (in one batch, I did one vanilla, and one teaspoon almond)
¾ cup coarsely chopped pistachios, unsalted (in one batch, I replaced for almonds)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cranberries in a small bowl, and add boiling water to plump. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.

In an electric mixer (using paddle attachment), mix together butter and sugar. Then add eggs, one at a time. Next add extract, and then add flour mixture in 2 or 3 steps. Mix on low speed until combined, then add cranberries and nuts.

Move dough to lightly floured surface and dust completely with flour. Cut dough in half and transfer to baking sheets. Then form into two evenly shaped logs and square off ends.

Cover logs in an egg wash, and then sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes.

Then slice on a diagonal into ½ slices. Place on baking sheet and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes.

I then drizzled some with white and dark chocolate, and dipped others. The dough was a little sticky, but I liked the consistency of it, as it was easy to form and held its shape. Once dusted with flour, the stickiness was a non-issue.

This was my first time making biscotti, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I thought it was delcisou and fairly simple to make!

My treats, ready to go...

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup

I’m back! With a spicy recipe for chicken tortilla soup. My absence wasn’t really due to my lack of cooking, although I don’t do nearly as much of it as I used to…it was mostly due to all the repeats I have made over the past few months. Since I’m not in my own kitchen, I just don’t have the urge to try something new. But, I finally caught the creativity bug, and was dying to make something different. I knew I wanted to make a soup, a healthy one, and I had been wanting to make a version of tortilla soup.

I looked at a few recipes, and sort of combined my favorite things from a few of them to create the recipe below. I will say that most of my inspiration came from, gasp, Rachael Ray. I’m not a big fan of her. I try not to watch her on TV, I try not to look at her products in stores, and I try not to make her dishes. But, she knew what she was talking about with this one. Although, big surprise, it took me longer than 30 minutes to make!

nonstick cooking spray
1 lb. chicken breast, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 can corn, drained
a few large carrots, chopped
2 peppers in adobo sauce (canned), finely diced (I used 3 and it was too hot!)
28 oz. can of stewed tomatoes, juice and all
8 oz. can of tomoto sauce
4 cups chicken stock
1 tspn. cumin
½ tspn. chili powder
1 tbspn. poultry seasoning
fresh thyme
fresh chopped cilantro (some to add to soup, some to garnish)
blue corn tortilla chips
3 cloves garlic, minced
diced red onion, for garnish
low fat sour cream, for garnish
low fat shredded cheese, for garnish

I started by getting the onion, pepper, and carrots going with some nonstick spray in a pan. Then, I sprayed the bottom of the soup pot with nonstick spray and added the diced chicken. Add seasoning (except garlic) and continue to cook. Next, add in the vegetables and garlic, and cook for about 8 minutes or so. Then add the stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and stock. Stir, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for 15 minutes. Add corn and a handful of chopped cilantro to soup, simmer for an additional 3-5 minutes, and serve.

I sprinkled the tortilla chips in each individual bowl so I could use the soup for leftovers and not have mushy corn tortilla pieces floating everywhere. I ladled the soup into a bowl, folded in crushed tortilla chips, then sprinkled with shredded low fat cheese, cilantro, and diced red onion, then added a spoonful of sour cream.

This soup was soooo tasty! It was on the spicy side, so if you aren’t a fan of heat, I would cut back on the peppers in adobo, or if you want it really mild, eliminate all together. I served with corn muffins and a few extra chips on the side.