Newlyweds navigating their way through married life – and the kitchen

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies

So I just got all the Saltine Toffee Brittle out of my system, so onto the next sweet treat!

Everyone has that one thing that indicates that the holiday season has begun –  it could be black friday shopping – putting up your twinkle lights – hanging your stockings by the chimney with care or ornaments on your newly cut christmas tree.

For me, it’s when that one thing I’ve waited for all year dawns the shelves at Trader Joe’s – their Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s.  And all of a sudden, I’m a kid again on christmas morning who just opened their brand new Nintendo Power Pad! (orrr um….iPad…right…iPad!)

There’s those special treats reserved for the holiday season that never taste quite as good at any other time of year as they do those few weeks leading up to Christmas.  And Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s are no different – Trader Joe makes them specially (just for me) for the Christmas season, and that alone is what makes them taste soooo good.  That and the fact that it’s a combination of 2 of my favorite things on earth – chocolate and cookies.

But, another good thing about them is that they’re easy as pie to make! I mean no offense TJ, but I could whip these bad boys up in no time.  And that my friends, is exactly what I’m gonna do.

Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies
*Inspired by Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s

INGREDIENTS
*yields about 2 -1/2 dozen

30 (or so) Double Stuff Oreo Cookies or Trader Joe’s Joe Joes (their version of the Oreo)

1 lb. dark chocolate
(I used the Trader Joe’s 1lb Dark Chocolate Bar)

1 tsp. mint extract

6 or 7 large candy canes, crushed

pepporeoswithinstruction

1) Line a wire rack with wax paper and lay out your Oreo cookies.

2) In a double boiler (or in the microwave), temper your chocolate.  To temper, take about 2/3 of the chocolate and place it in the double boiler (or microwave-safe dish).

3) When the chocolate starts to really melt, remove it from the heat and add the remaining unmelted chocolate to the pan, stirring constantly until it melts into the melted stuff.  The tempering will provide a nice shiny looking chocolate and avoid those unsightly little white spots that can sometimes pop up on chocolate.  When the chocolate is just about all melted, you can mix in the mint extract.

4) Place your candy canes in a ziplock bag and with a hammer or the butt of a large knife, crush them into tiny pieces/crumbs and set aside.

5) With a pair of metal tongs, give each cookie a ‘bath’ in the mint chocolate (best.bath.ever), covering it completely with chocolate.  Let the excess chocolate drip a bit, and then place them back on the wax paper.  When all have been ‘bathed’, sprinkle the tops with peppermint crumbles.

Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Cookies

For the cost of 1 package of TJ’s version, you could make almost THREE TIMES as many of these yourself in the comfort of your own kitchen!

And then, after you eat about a dozen yourself, making sure they’re just right, wrap them up and give them away – but, make sure you wipe the ‘evidence’ off your chin 🙂


Saltine Toffee Brittle

Saltines get a bad wrap – they’re square with little holes in them, hard to swallow if you eat too many at once, kind of an ugly color, and for some reason I always associate them with having a stomach ache (that and flat ginger ale).  For a while I thought all you could do to spice them up was slap peanut butter on them – until one fateful December when I discovered that they are the base for one of the easiest and most delicious sweet treats I’ve ever had in my life.

It was Sophomore year of college, right before Christmas break when Ash’s mom invited us gals out to the ‘burbs’ from Providence to have dinner with her family – a delicious pork dish with all the fixings was on the menu, a welcome change to the slop du jor we were used to at school.  And then after dinner she put dessert on the table – I saw chocolate – YES.  But then what in the…saltines? Are those saltine crackers under that chocolate? I was skeptical, but went in head first thinking “How bad can they be?”.

Saltine Toffee Brittle

Since then, this ‘brittle’ as Ash’s mom called it has been a staple for every occasion imaginable – at bachelorette parties, we hover over the ziplock bag of it after a night out thinking “who needs pizza when you have brittle!”  During the holidays, it’s perfect for wrapping up on a plate with pretty cellophane and ribbon and giving to co-workers, family members, or neighbors.  And the best part is that it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to make – 5 basic ingredients – you can top it with pretty much anything imaginable, or just leave it plain and simple.

Saltine Toffee Brittle

INGREDIENTS

Saltine crackers
(about 2 sleeves)

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 bag semi-sweet (or milk) chocolate chips

*chopped pecans, M&M’s, holiday sprinkles, etc. etc. for topping are optional

Saltine Toffee Brittle

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet (preferably with sides) with aluminum foil.  Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray and line the tray with the saltine crackers.

3) In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and vanilla together.  Let them come to a rolling boil for about 3 minutes.

4) Pour butter/sugar/vanilla mixture over the saltine crackers and place in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until the sugar/butter mixture starts to bubble.

5) Pour the chocolate chips over the saltines.  Throw back in the oven for another minute, just to melt the chocolate chips a little more so they become more spreadable.  Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate to cover the saltines entirely.

6) Place in the fridge to let cool and then break into pieces once completely cooled.

When I say this stuff is addicting, that is a total understatement.  I couldn’t even wait for the stuff to cool last night and boom, 1 row of brittle, in my belly.

It can be served at room temperature, but it tastes really good cold/frozen as well.  It freezes fantastically too, so break it up, toss it in the freezer, have a piece (or 2 or 3) every night for dessert, or you can save it for that holiday party you’re hosting.  While no ones looking, take it out of the freezer, arrange it on a pretty Christmas plate, and say “Ohhh I just whipped this up! Enjoy!”.

Even puppies want in on it 🙂

Saltine Toffee Brittle


Leftover Stuffing Bites

Back to the office this morning, sporting my stretchiest and most forgiving pants with the taste of turkey still on the brain – I hope everyone had a great, great, great Thanksgiving weekend 🙂

The last four days were full of:

Turkey…Leftover Stuffing Balls

Dessert…

Leftover Stuffing Balls

“Mikey (or my cousin Jack) likes it!”

Some kitchen mishaps…

Leftover Stuffing Balls

After attempting to make/blog my Grandmother’s amazing pecan rolls, I accidentally left the dough out overnight and THIS is what it looked like in the morning – I won’t confirm or deny if a few T-day eve cocktails were to blame…nope…

And now Christmas is in full effect at the Schoon house!

Leftover Stuffing BallsBut still, I was itching to make good use of our leftovers, especially the stuffing.  I don’t know about all of you, but for me Thanksgiving isn’t about the turkey or the pies – it’s about the stuffing. I.love.stuffing.  I could eat it for days (and did). And I feel as though it never tastes as good at any other time of year than it does on Thanksgiving.  This year, I made the standard and also a Cornbread Bacon stuffing from Martha Stewart that was so delicious! We had so much of it leftover, I did all kinds of googling to see what I could do with it.  But I wasn’t finding anything that I thought sounded good.  Then for some reason, meatballs popped into my head, not really sure why.  But I thought “Why not take the stuffing as the ‘meat’ you’d use in a meatball, and prepare a ‘stuffing’ ball in a similar fashion?”.  So I pulled up the recipe for Paula’s Crockpot Meatballs,  made a few adjustments, gave it a shot, and most times when I go at things in this fashion, there’s always something that goes awry, but not this time!

Leftover Stuffing Bites

INGREDIENTS
*yields 10 larger size balls or 20 smaller ‘bite size’ ones

1.5-2 cups leftover stuffing
(If you don’t already have stuffing, Pepperidge Farm has a really nice stuffing mix that is super fast and easy to make that would work well with these too!)

1 egg

1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

FOR DIPPING SAUCE

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tbsp. honey mustard

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2) Combine egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and garlic powder in a small mixing bowl to form a paste.

3) Add the leftover stuffing to the paste, mixing with a spatula (or just your hands) until it becomes a dough like consistency.

4) Take 2 tbsp of the stuffing dough (for larger sized balls – 1 tbsp. for bite sized) and roll between the palms of your hands to form a ball.  Place stuffing balls on a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray.

5) Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes – flip over and then cooking for another 10 minutes on the other side (20 minutes total).

6) Mix honey mustard and mayo together in a small mixing bowl and serve with stuffing balls as a dipping sauce.

I asked Dave to try one, and he said “It tastes like stuffing” (deep thoughts).  Which it did – but it has a nice moist texture, similar to that of a meatball, with the same great flavor that everyone loves about stuffing. It’s a great way to re-purpose your leftovers, or if you don’t have the stuffing leftover, you could whip up a quick Pepperidge Farm batch and serve these as an appetizer at your holiday parties.  And people will say “Hey, these taste like stuffing! YUM!”  – GENIUS!  Feel free to adjust the spices/seasoning if you wish – I wanted to go light on that aspect of it, only because the stuffing itself already has so much flavor that you don’t need to add a whole lot to it.

Well folks, that’s my last T-day recipe for ya – next will be ALL Christmas – ALL the time – get excited – I know I am!

*Many apologies for the less than appetizing picture – I was preoccupied with skipping through the house putting up Christmas Decorations when I realized I needed to snap a pic of these yummies before it got dark at 4pm – damn you natural light! They taste MUCH better than they look in the pic, swear!


Carrot Souffle

I’m sure you’re thinking “Carrot Souffle? What in the world?”

I know – I know – but bear with me here…

A few years back, Dave and I attended a holiday dinner party at his former bosses house, and his wife did a bang up job with dinner!  I remember sitting down to the table with bug eyes at how amazingly delicious everything looked – except for this one orangey looking thing, covered with nuts.  I started to sweat, because it’s really in poor taste to not try everything at a dinner party, so I scooped a little teeny smidgen of it, and went at it with my fork in one hand and my glass of wine in the other, just in case I needed an emergency wash down.

Carrot Souffle

I took my first teeny little bite, small enough that I could taste what I was eating but not so much so that if I was about to gag it would be totally obvious – and thought “oooh, mmmm….this is pretty good actually.”  My next bite was bigger, and after only a couple bites my small little scoop was gone – but I wanted more! So I took seconds….thought about thirds but didn’t want to embarrass Dave in front of his co-workers by stuffing my face.  I knew I had to have the recipe and finally, she emailed the recipe to Dave and he forwarded it to me, and since then, it’s become a staple at Thanksgiving and Christmas, like the mashed potatoes or green bean casserole.  It’s a light and fluffy combination of pureed carrots and lots of other ingredients that are better not to know – but luckily for you, I’m gonna share them, right now!

Carrot Souffle
*Dave’s former bosses fabulous cook of a wife! (guess I should have gotten her name, eh?)

INGREDIENTS
*yields enough for a 9×13″ baking pan for a larger crowd – halving it would be just enough for an 8×8″ dish

4 lbs carrot, cooked and pureed

12 eggs
(I know – seems like a lot!)

1 & 1/3 cups sugar

8 tbsp flour

4 tsp baking powder

4 tsp vanilla

few dashes of cinnamon & nutmeg

For the topping

1 cup cornflake crumbs

4 tbsp. brown sugar

2 & 1/2 tbsp. butter, melted

1 cup chopped pecans

1)Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare your baking dish by greasing the bottom and sides with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

2) Cook the carrots in boiling water until fully cooked through.  Puree them with an electric mixer or food processor and allow to cool completely.  In the mean time while they’re cooling, you can prepare the topping by pulsing the corn flakes in a food processor (or just crushing with your hands in a ziplock), then adding them to the brown sugar, melted butter and pecans.

3) Once the carrots are completely cooled off (the eggs will cook when you add them to the carrots if they haven’t cooled enough), add all of the other ingredients and blend with a mixer until fully combined.

4) Pour carrot mixture into the dish and then top with cornflake/pecan topping.  Feel free to make more of the topping if you’d like – it is quite delicious!

5) Bake souffle in preheated oven for 1 hour.

This Carrot Souffle is a sweet treat for your tastebuds to take bites of in between the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and….

Is it Thursday yet?


Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria

Mondays are bad enough, but when you have a food hangover, they’re even worse.  But, the food hangover was well worth it! Thanksgiving dinner, part I went off without a hitch, and we now have enough left overs to feed an army – serioulsy.  So many leftovers. OMG.

Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria

All the essentials – butter, sangria, turkey, and mustaches

But I’m anxious to share some recipes with you that I really think will add some zing to your t-day dinner!

In the last few  years, I’ve come to realize that cocktails are equally as important as Turkey & Stuffing on T-day, so I tried to think of a festive signature bevvie to serve alongside the usual beer & wine. And let me tell you, this Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria was a HIT!  I will say that it sat for over 24 hours, which I believe it what made it as tasty as it was.  Sangria really is it’s best when it has time to chill and let all the flavors meld together.

So THAT means that you still have time to:

1) go get your ingredients

2) find a big old pitcher to put it in

3) give it at least 24 hours to chill to perfection

Cherry Pomegranate Sangria

Cranberry Pomegranate Sangria
*Adapted from Food Network (Bobby Flay) & Deep South Dish

INGREDIENTS

2 bottles of red wine of your choice
(I used Shiraz)

2 cups cranberry juice

1 cup brandy

1/2 cup triple sec

1/2 cup simple syrup

1 cup OJ

1  bottle of sparkling pomegranate juice
(Trader Joe’s has a really nice one or you could use pomegranate flavored seltzer water or even just sprite if you can’t find either of those!)

1 bag of cranberries

3-4 oranges, sliced

1) Combine all ingredients except the sparkling juice in a large container.  Let chill in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours, but as I said, overnight is best.

2) Just before ready to serve, add the sparkling juice to the container (or you can pour a little bit in each glass and then fill the rest of the glass with sangria)

*please note that I actually doubled the recipe for the large container pictured above

Such a fun and festive beverage, not just for Thanksgiving but Christmas too!  Trust me, if there was any leftover, I’d totally be pouring myself a tall glass when I got home 🙂


Perfect Thanksgiving Table

One week from tomorrow, we’ll be hours away from the biggest eating holiday of the year: THANKSGIVING! And this weekend, Dave and I will be hosting Dave’s High School clan for a ‘practice’ T-day dinner – because let’s be honest, this is the only month where that extra 5-10 lbs can be solely blamed on the fact that there is one day in the month where your caloric intake for the day might be what your monthly caloric intake should be.  But hey – that’s what sweatpants are for! So LET’S EAT!

Besides the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the squash, cornbread, green bean casserole, apple, pumpkin and pecan pie (tissue – wipe drool – continue typing) the next most important thing is the table you serve it on. Have some fun with it – it only comes once a year afterall!

Your perfect Thanksgiving Table doesn’t have to be expensive to set and it allows you to really let your creative side shine through! Here’s some ideas (although, the options really are endless – thank-you Pinterest!) But, here’s my attempt to invite you to our house for dinner 🙂

Start with your base – decide on either a table cloth or runner to lay on your table.  I chose a solid white runner vs. one with a pattern, only so that the items on the table wouldn’t clash but there are a lot of really fun cloths and runners out there, with patterns and solid as well!  Or hit up a fabric store and get a piece of cloth or burlap and make it a DIY base for your table.

Placesettings – whether it’s a small dinner for 2, or if you’re like my family, a cluster bomb of a dinner for 25, you can really get creative with your place settings.  Try layering, with a few different placemats that are different shapes and colors.  As you can see below, I used 2 different round placemats, one orange, one green, but varying in size just enough so that they would create a layered look.  Topped with a gold charger and beige salad plate (all super cheap!).Perfect Thanksgiving TableYou can then choose a fun topper for the plate, whether it’s a cute little pumpkin, a cloth napkin with a creative napkin ring around it, or those fun paper poppers with prizes inside! I found them at the Christmas Tree Shop for $3.99 for 6, and they provide hours of endless entertainment (especially after a couple cocktails!). Another option is a personalized place card for each person, if you do assigned seating.

Perfect Thanksgiving Table

Your Table ‘Flair’ –

‘Flair’ – noun \ˈfler\ -: a uniquely attractive quality

This is  your chance to show your style – with your table ‘flair’.  Honestly, there are soooo many fantastic ideas out there, it’s almost overwhelming.  But the best part of fitting your table with it’s flair is that you can keep it simple, or get a little cray cray – anything goes.  And, you don’t have to spend a lot of money doing it! I think a main focal point to have in the center of your table is key, and that can include a wide range of things, whether it’s a special Thanksgiving flower arrangement you got from distant relatives, or a Turkey that your kids made in Art class with construction paper.  It’s the first thing people will look at when they see your table, so get creative and enjoy the ‘oooh & ahhhh’ factor!

Myself, I am OBSESSED with those big candy jars that are popping up everywhere. The main place I’ve been seeing them lately is on the Food Network, and they’re usually filled with delicious candies or fruits.  I found this one at Home Goods, on clearance marked down to $8 from $40, but you can find these essentially anywhere (Target, Marshalls, any place that has a home goods department will surely have these!)  And I decided to fill the bottom with some faux grass I got at the dollar store (for, you guessed it, $1) and then a variety of gords and pumpkins to add some color poppage that would compliment the colors of the place settings.

 

Perfect Thanksgiving Table
Then compliment that focal point with other smaller/shorter items.  I used two other smaller sized hurricane lamps that we had and again, filled the bottom with fake grass and then placed two birch pillar candles from our wedding (purchased on Etsy) but really any pillar candle will do, and those you can typically find pretty cheap as well.  Then in between the two hurricane lamps, I filled the space with smaller sized pumpkins and more short candles, sprinkling the white runner with faux leaves purchased at the dollar store (I should buy stock in this joint) to break up the whiteness and add some color.  You could also use a vine with berries on it (bittersweet always looks really nice with the reds and yellows).  Candles are great too because they’re cheap and come in all different sizes and heights and really push the ambiance to the next level.
Perfect Thanksgiving Table
So there you have it folks – hopefully this will inspire you to get your T-day flair on! You still have a whole week to collect your items and lay them out perfectly before everyone arrives next Thursday.

And I’m sure when everyone arrives on Saturday and is ready to hunker down for Thanksgiving dinner…..

The men will sit in the living room at the coffee table and the women at the kitchen counter 🙂

Ah well, in theory, a beautiful Thanksgiving table setting is a great idea!

Perfect Thanksgiving Table


pumpkin cheesecake dip

I’m not afraid to admit when perfectly laid out recipes go astray.

Last Thanksgiving, we had some friends over for a makeshift ‘Thanksgiving Dinner” and our friend Alissa brought this pumpkin dip with various treats to dip in it, and OMG – it was beyond good.  And the best part was that it was served in a hollowed out pumpkin! Major points for presentation!

So this past Sunday, Dave, Hairy and I had plans to meet up with my cousin Catherine and Buddy and my Aunt Jane at Buddy’s fab apt. in the north end (recess lighting and all).  Pizza from the ORIGINAL Pizzeria Regina, which is right around the corner from his apartment  (I swear I’d be well over 300 lbs if I lived there) was on the menu, so I decided I was going to make this pumpkin dip as a nice ‘lighter’ option for dessert.

Ooof.

I literally stood over the bowl with the electric mixer for a good 10 minutes, just waiting for all these little lumps of cream cheese to disintegrate.  But it didn’t happen.  And while it tasted pretty good, I am a firm believer that you taste with your eyes just as much as your mouth, and the sight of this mess of a dip even made me, someone who never passes on dessert, want to say “Ahhh ya know what? I am just SO full I think I’ll pass on dessert!”  I was so ashamed of it, I frustratedly tossed it in the dumpster outside of Buddy’s apartment as we were walking to our car – $1 leaf bowl from Target and all.

But I was determined to make this better somehow.  So I tried it again last night, using essentially the same recipe, but using a different process to combine them together, and BINGO!!!! We have a winner!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip
*Adapted from Allrecipes & Very Best Baking

INGREDIENTS
*makes about 1.5 cups – perfect amount for a small pumpkin!

1 – 8oz block of cream cheese, softened (room temp is ideal)

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1) In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and pumpkin puree with an electric mixer on low until both are fully combined and smooth.

2) Gradually add the powdered sugar to the pumpkin/cream cheese mixture (I did about 1/3 at a time) mixing well in between.

3) Add the pumpkin pie spice and mix well until all ingredients are combined and smooth.

4) Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour (up to overnight).  Serve with whatever you see fit to dip! Personally I think that chocolate goes really nice with this, so  I used chocolate animal crackers, graham crackers and bite sized oreos, but the options are endless!

So what was the difference between the two?

In version 1, the directions said to mix the softened cream cheese and the powdered sugar together until smooth – without sifting the sugar first, causing big sugary lumps of cream cheese to form before the pumpkin even went into the mixture.  After that, there was no going back, no matter how much you mixed.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

The second version though, I mixed the pumpkin and cream cheese together first, until smooth, and then gradually add the sifted confectioners sugar, which honestly makes perfect sense now that I look back, but at the time I just followed the instructions without giving it any thought.

Finally, after 2 tries, it was what I had always envisioned it being – a deliciously smooth combination of pumpkin and cream cheese that’s fun to eat and ridiculously easy to make. Feel free to tweak the measurements of pumpkin too, adding more or less depending on your pumpkin tastes.  And, putting it in a cute hollowed out little pumpkin = genius.  Perfect for a pre-dinner dessert for people to graze on, or a nice, lighter alternative for people after the big meal is over, as you can dip as much or as little as you like – it’s commitment free!

So go now and dip it.  Dip it good 🙂



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