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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake

For Christmas Eve I wanted to come up with something really decadent and, of course, that meant something chocolate!  Plus, I bought some beautiful strawberries this week so I knew I wanted to incorporate those in the dessert, too.  I started off thinking about chocolate mousse, and wondered if I could use some individual Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates that I had on hand as the base of the recipe.  Hmmm.  Can you do that?

So that's where this recipe began. I found an old recipe for mousse and adjusted it a bit here and there until I thought it would work (and being Christmas Eve I was really hoping and praying that it would work!).

I really don't do a lot of baking, but when I do, it's got to be chocolate and this recipe turned out amazing. The cake has a smooth and creamy texture that just melts in your mouth and is so delicious, it doesn't even require frosting.  Although this cake is made in an 8-1/2 inch pan, it will easily serve 8 people, and maybe 10 if you want to go with smaller slices.

When making this Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake you'll notice there are not a lot of ingredients.  Just the basics are needed, chocolate, butter, sugar and eggs. How easy is that?  That's my kind of baking.

If possible, try to buy superfine sugar for this recipe, which can be found at most grocery stores.  Since it is more finely granulated, the superfine sugar dissolves almost instantly.  This type of sugar is also great to use when making meringues.

This is a beautiful dessert to serve for any special occasion and it is very easy to prepare.  I hope you get a chance to try our Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake this holiday season.  Enjoy!!

10-1/2 oz  Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolates (1 bag + 8 additional pieces)
5 oz  Unsalted Butter
4 TB  Superfine Sugar
6  Eggs, separated
Butter, to grease the pan

Confectioners Sugar for Garnish
Strawberries for Garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-1/2-inch spring form pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolates and butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted and smooth.  Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs whites until they are stiff peaks; set aside.  In another bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined and set aside.

Once the chocolate has cooled slightly, slowly stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate.  When combined, use a spatula to fold the egg whites into the batter until fully incorporated.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake on the center oven rack for about 23 - 25 minutes or until the center is just set.  (If you touch the center of the cake it should bounce back slightly.) The cake will have risen at this point, but will deflate as it cools.  (Don't panic when it begins to deflate, this is what creates the mousse texture.)

Cool the cake completely then dust with confectioners sugar and serve with sliced strawberries.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Trying to decide on a dessert for your guests can be almost as challenging as the main course.  You want to serve something a little sweet, but with everyone snacking on lots of cookies during the season, you might want to serve something that is a little less calorie-dense.  To solve that problem all you need is a little chocolate, and maybe a few pretzel rods and cookies.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries are an easy dessert to prepare and they add a nice seasonal touch of red and green to your buffet.  To make this dessert easy to serve while your guests mingle, place the strawberries and a few coated pretzels on several small decorated plates and place them throughout your living room and dining room.  Just add a stack of cocktail napkins next to each plate and your guests can serve themselves.

The strawberries only take a few minutes to prepare and, if you need a little extra help, this is a great project for kids.

Baker's German Sweet Chocolate, broken into pieces
Fresh Strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
Pretzel Rods, broken in half or thirds
Shortbread Cookies or similar store-bought cookies

Place several pieces of chocolate in a small glass bowl and melt in the microwave at 30 second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds, until the chocolate is smooth.  Once the chocolate is melted, allow to cool for just a few minutes, then stir again.

Use a spoon to spread the chocolate onto the strawberries, working in a circular motion.  This same method works for the pretzels, just twist the pretzels to get an even coating of chocolate, making sure not to apply the chocolate too thick.

Place the coated strawberries onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes or until set.  The cookies or pretzels will only take about 5 minutes to chill. Enjoy!!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Seafood Salad Appetizers

Today we continue with another selection of appetizers for your upcoming Holiday parties, and something that is always popular, seafood.  I love to offer guests a selection of hot and cold appetizers and this Seafood Salad can actually be served as three cold appetizers from the one salad.

Serving fresh seafood on your Holiday hors d'oeuvre buffet is always a great treat for your guests.  Unfortunately for you, this can be an expensive appetizer to serve and fresh seafood is almost always the first thing your guests will polish off, even before the party gets started.

This selection of appetizers can be prepared using the same Seafood Salad mixture and you have the option of preparing these in advance for your guests, or let them help themselves by serving the salad in a large bowl with the crackers, small sandwich rolls and an assortment of serving dishes for those who would rather skip the carbs.  With a handful of veggies on the side, this makes a very eye-appealing snack for your guests.

By using imitation crab meat, also known as surimi, you can serve seafood on your buffet while also keeping your costs under control.  If you have never used imitation crab before, it is actually the same crab used in most varieties of sushi. Made from Atlantic whitefish, surimi is quite versatile and can be used in many dishes.  At about $3 - $4 per pound, it is also quite affordable.

Along with the crab we included pre-cooked shrimp in this salad, which you can buy fresh or frozen at your local market.  If you look for the shrimp marketed as "salad shrimp" or listed as 100 - 160 count, these are small enough you can leave them whole in the salad.

The Seafood Salad has a creamy lemon and horseradish sauce which accents the crab and shrimp, and the dill and lemon pepper enhance the seafood flavors.  The salad is delicious served on a variety of crackers or as a small sandwich, but is equally good on its own, and is something your guests will greatly enjoy.

2 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
1-1/2 tsp  Horseradish
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1/4 tsp  Lemon Dill Seasoning
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
2 TB  Sour Cream
1 tsp  Lemon Juice
1 stalk  Celery, very finely minced
1 lb  Imitation Crab (surimi), flaked into small pieces
6 oz  Small Cooked Shrimp, chopped if needed

Hawaiian Rolls or small slider rolls, sliced
Carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices and other bite-sized veggies
Assortment of Crackers

In a medium bowl combine the cream cheese, horseradish, salt, lemon pepper, lemon dill seasoning, pepper, mayonnaise, sour cream and lemon juice, stirring with a fork until blended.

Add the celery, crab and shrimp to the mixture and stir gently to combine, coating the seafood evenly with the sauce.  Taste test and add more salt or pepper, if needed.  Chill for 1 hour before serving.  Serves about 20 - 25 as an appetizer, or about 12 - 15 small sandwiches.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Baked Chicken Strips and Sweet Potato Waffles

Have you ever heard of Chicken and Waffles?  Served together, as in on the same plate? No?  Well, I had never heard of such a meal either until moving to the South.  I saw this meal on a handful of menus around town and it was mentioned a few times in conversations, but I never really thought about it.

The most common description for this meal is a piece of fried chicken served on top of a buttermilk waffle, then everything is drizzled with maple syrup.  It sounded a little odd, but intriguing at the same time.  So I had to make this meal just for fun and I thought my kids would get a kick out of the idea of chicken and waffles for dinner.  The funny thing was, we all loved it!

We decided to make our own interpretation of this meal and try to make it a bit healthier.  Instead of using fried chicken, we went with lightly breaded and baked white meat chicken strips.  Not "authentic" according to most sources, but healthier.  The recipe below for chicken strips can be used for lots of other meals, too, and you can even spice them up a bit to suit your own taste.  (See the note below for alternate spices.)

The waffles were another project altogether.  I've read many recipes for pumpkin waffles, which are quite tasty, but since I had some leftover mashed sweet potatoes, and I had always wanted to try a waffle made out of sweet potatoes, the recipe kind of came together on its own. Sweet potatoes + chicken + maple syrup? It was sounding better and better!

This was the first time I've used a waffle iron but I'm already in love with it.  The waffles had a light airy texture inside and the exterior was nice and crispy.  Perfect!  In addition to maple syrup we also tried a drizzle of honey on the waffles and it was also delicious, but we all voted in favor of the maple syrup.

Although this recipe seems a little strange I do hope you get to try it.  The flavors are an amazing combination and the sweet potato waffles are really a unique treat which would even work well for breakfast..lol.  So here is my question for you... Have you ever tried Chicken and Waffles? Is it really a Southern meal? Leave me a note below, I'd love to hear what everyone thinks of this somewhat classic dish.

3 -4  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into 3/4-inch strips
2 TB  Canola Oil
1 cup  Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup  Shredded Parmesan Cheese
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the chicken and canola oil (**see note)  and stir to evenly coat the chicken.

In a second bowl combine the bread crumbs, cheese, salt and pepper.

Dip the chicken strips in the bread crumb mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake 10 minutes, turn, and bake 5 - 8 minutes longer or until the chicken is cooked through.

**Note:  If you plan on serving the chicken as part of a different meal than the Chicken and Waffles, and you would like the chicken a bit more spicy, add 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon Frank's Hot Sauce  to the oil and chicken, then proceed with the recipe as above.  This is a fast and easy way to make chicken strips for kids without all the processing you get in the store bought chicken nuggets.

Sweet Potato Waffles

4 TB  Butter, softened
1 TB  Sugar
1  Egg, separated
1 cup  Milk
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Nutmeg
3/4 cup  Flour
1 cup  Mashed Sweet Potatoes (leftovers work great)
2 tsp  Baking Powder

Use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg yolk and blend, then gradually add the milk, slowly incorporating it into the mixture.  Add the salt and nutmeg and blend until smooth.

Beat in the flour, sweet potato and baking powder until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until you have stiff peaks.  Using a spatula, gently fold the egg white into the waffle batter, combining the ingredients without over stirring.

Heat a waffle iron up to temperature according to your user guide.  Add about 1/3 cup of batter for each waffle and cook for 4 -5 minutes or until the waffles are set.  (Check your users guide for the appropriate amount of batter to use and suggested cooking times.)

To serve, place two waffles on a plate, top with one chicken strip and drizzle with maple syrup.  Enjoy!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Peanut Butter Brownies

We are now deep into Christmas cookie season so this recipe is just in time for your next school function or Christmas party. Every year there seems to be somewhat of an unspoken battle among Moms who bring cookies to school.  You Moms know who you are, too!  You arrive in your child's classroom with dozens of perfectly cut out gingerbread men, and sparkling iced snowflake cookies, and thumbprint cookies with just the right amount of green or red frosting in the center. Ugh! Where do you people find the time?

I admit, I am not much of a sweets baker, but I do manage to make some pretty tasty cookies on occasion like our Triple Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling, which are a Christmas favorite.  I love to make Gingerbread Cookies, but they are all round, and if I have the time I will even frost them with some basic Royal Icing.  But, I've never had the patience to make cutout cookies.  The little gingerbread men lose their heads, the snowflakes are not symmetrical but are kind of squatty shaped and I generally end up with all round(ish) cookies that taste great but look...a bit sad.

But I'm OK with that, because I can make brownies!  Anything that I can make in one pan and cut into bars, that's a recipe for me.  Which brings me to today's Peanut Butter Brownies, which are so amazingly good.  This is a very old recipe from one of my grandmother's cookbooks.  Back in the old days they used a minimal amount of ingredients and came up with some great tasting food.

With a light peanut butter flavor and a cake-like texture, these are a nice change from the usual super-sweet chocolate brownies.  For a holiday display table dust the top of the brownies with powdered sugar and they will look nice and festive.  If you take these to a school function, (especially in Florida) tell the kids they are dusted with snowflakes and you will be the favorite Mom of the day! lol  Enjoy!!

1/4 cup  Butter
1/4 cup  Peanut Butter
1 cup  Sugar
2  Eggs, beaten
2 squares  Unsweetened Chocolate, melted
1/2 cup  Flour
1/2 tsp  Baking Powder
1/4 tsp  Salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9 X 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with butter;  set aside.

Use a mixer to cream the butter, peanut butter and sugar together.

Add the eggs and melted chocolate and blend until combined, then add the flour, baking powder and salt and blend again.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 20 - 22 minutes or until the center is set.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Spicy Guacamole

Guacamole is a great item to add to your football party or holiday snack table.  Offer this dip along with a variety of white, yellow and blue tortilla chips and even some fresh cut veggies.  Many people who choose to stay away from tortilla chips will have the option of dipping veggies in the dip, and still get to enjoy this Spicy Guacamole.

When you shop for avocados, look for the ones that are dark skinned and just slightly soft to the touch.  You have to be a little careful when selecting avocados. Most grocers tend to throw new avocados in with the older ones, so you have to make sure you are not buying under ripe or over ripe  produce.  One one hand if you get a very soft avocado the flesh will probably be dark and not look very appetizing.  On the other hand, an avocado that is hard as a rock and a light greenish-yellow color inside will look nice but since it's under ripe, you won't get a creamy guacamole no matter how long you blend it.

Another handy tip when choosing an avocado is to look for the piece of stem on top.  If you can push off the stem, and it looks moist and fresh, you've got a fresh avocado.

When preparing the guacamole be sure to taste for the level of spice.  If it is too spicy for your taste, adding 1-2 teaspoons of sour cream will tone down the heat, but keep the guacamole creamy.  For a complete meal serve this Spicy Guacamole with Baked Chicken Chimichangas.

3 Avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 Lime, squeezed and juice reserved
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground Cayenne Pepper
1/2 small  Red Onion, diced (optional)
1/2 small  Tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

Scoop the avocado pulp into a food processor and add the lime juice, tossing to coat.  Add the salt, cumin and cayenne to the avocados and blend until smooth, or process just briefly for a more chunky texture.

Add about 1 TB (or more) of lime juice until the guacamole is the desired consistency. Chill or let sit at room temp for 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Calzone Bites

After several days of sick kids (and parents), I'm finally getting back to adding some new appetizers for the  upcoming holidays.  Today we get into the holiday spirit with a cheesy Italian hors d'oeuvre.  A Calzone is traditionally a stuffed pizza that looks like a turnover, so we created a bite-sized turnover.

These mini Calzone Bites are a great party appetizer to serve when you want to offer something a little more substantial than veggies with dip.  The spinach, sausage and pepperoni filling gets its creaminess from a combination of three cheeses, ricotta, cheddar and mozzarella.  With these little bites, you get all the goodness of a calzone in an appetizer-sized bite.

Although this recipe utilizes a bread machine to make the dough, you could also use store bought pizza dough.  The Publix stores in our area make a tasty pizza dough that would work just fine, just be sure to buy the dough early in the day since it is usually kept frozen until needed.

This recipe makes about 24 Calzone Bites using 2 large muffin tins, and the finished calzones are about 3 inches across.  Just the right "finger-food" size for your guests.  As a dipping sauce you can use your favorite marinara sauce or buy a good quality, already seasoned tomato sauce. The sauce can be heated in a small saucepan just before serving and, instead of pouring the sauce directly on the plate, I loved serving the marinara in these vintage shot glasses that belonged to my grandmother.  I think they were the perfect little vessel for sauce and they were just the right size.  Enjoy!!

Calzone Dough in the Bread Machine
1 cup + 2 1/2 TB  Water
2 1/2 TB  Olive Oil
3 cups  Bread Machine Flour
1 tsp  Salt
1/2 tsp  Sugar
2 tsp  Garlic Powder
1 1/2 tsp  Bread Machine Yeast

Combine all ingredients in the bread machine pan and set the machine to the Dough Setting.  At the end of the first kneading cycle, press the stop/clear button and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until almost double in size.

Punch the dough down and remove the dough from the bread machine pan to a lightly floured cutting board.  Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.  While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.

Calzone Filling
15 oz  Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese
1 cup  Grated Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup  Grated Mozzarella Cheese
2 oz  Diced Pepperoni
10 oz  Frozen Spinach, defrosted, cooled and well drained
1/2 lb  Fresh Sausage, cooked and drained
1 tsp  Dried Oregano
1 tsp  Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Seasoned Olive Oil
1/4 cup  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Minced Fresh Garlic
1/2 tsp  Dried Oregano
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Mix the olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a small glass bowl and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Spray 2 large muffin tins with olive oil spray and set aside.

Using a pastry cutter, or a very sharp knife, cut the dough into 24 equal portions.  Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll each piece of dough into a large thin circle, about 5 inches across.  Place a generous tablespoon of filling into the center of each circle, then fold the edges over and pinch the edges so the filling will not leak out.

Place each bundle into the muffin tin with the seam side down and brush the tops of each calzone with seasoned olive oil. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Serve with a shot glass of your favorite marinara sauce for dipping.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shrimp Mousse Deviled Eggs

These tasty little eggs are a great addition to your holiday buffet table, especially when served with  Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs.  With a delicate shrimp flavor and just a touch of cream cheese and sour cream to add creaminess, these eggs add a touch of elegance and a little wow factor to your table.

This recipe makes 12 egg halves and it's very easy to double the recipe.  Once the egg whites are filled,  you might have extra shrimp mousse left over, especially if you double the recipe. Simply place the extra Shrimp Mousse in a glass bowl and serve with assorted crackers.  The cost of the shrimp is pretty minimal.  Using medium shrimp (about 30 - 40 per pound), which run about $7 per pound, you will need 16 pieces of shrimp to make one dozen egg halves.

6  Hard Boiled Eggs, peeled and halved
4 medium  Cooked Shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Sour Cream
1/4 tsp  Lemon-Dill Spice
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
12 medium  Cooked Whole Shrimp, deveined and shell removed, with tails attached for garnish

Place the egg whites on a platter and set aside.  Place the egg yolks and the remaining ingredients, except the whole shrimp, in a food processor.  Puree until smooth, then spoon the mixture into a pastry bag and pipe the mixture into the egg whites using a large-opening decorator tip.

When all of the egg whites are filled, stand a whole shrimp on top of each egg half and press the shrimp gently down into the mousse so it will stand up.  You can also choose to garnish some of the eggs with fresh chives to add a little color to the arrangement. Keep the eggs chilled until ready to serve.  Makes 12 egg halves.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

Can you believe it's already December?  The last few months have zipped by so quickly, and now it's time to think about the upcoming holidays.  Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve and so many other holidays are just around the corner.  It's a chance for people to come together, celebrate, and share some good food, good friends and happy times.

But planning a holiday buffet table for a big party can be a challenge. You want to include lots of tasty bites for your guests, and have everything look special, but how much will all of this cost? And, how much time will it take to put all of these appetizers together?

Well, don't worry, it can be done.  Over the next few weeks, we will be posting lots of hot and cold appetizers, snacks and drink ideas for your upcoming parties.  Several of the recipes can be made a day or two in advance, which will save you a lot of time, they are easy to prepare, and also easy on your budget. So let's get started with something everyone loves, deviled eggs.

Appetizers are a must for upcoming Christmas and Holiday parties, and deviled eggs can be found on almost any buffet, but these little bites are something special.  Adding smoked salmon to the filling, then topping each egg half with a slice of salmon, you get a snack that is both elegant and tasty.  The smoked salmon is pretty inexpensive at about $4 - $5 for a 4-ounce package, which is enough for about two batches of these deviled eggs.

Arrange the Salmon Deviled Eggs with several of the Shrimp Mousse Deviled Eggs and you have a beautiful centerpiece for your party buffet.  The deviled eggs can be made several hours before needed and kept refrigerated.  The smoky flavor of the salmon will be more pronounced if it has a few hours for the flavors to blend.  Enjoy!!

6  Hard-Boiled Eggs, peeled and halved
1/2 cup  Sour Cream
2 oz  Cream Cheese, softened
2 TB  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1 TB  Lemon Juice
2 TB  Chives, minced
2 oz  Smoked Salmon
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper

Place the egg whites on a platter and set aside.  Place the egg yolks and the remaining ingredients in a small food processor, and blend until very smooth.

Use a pastry bag with a large-opening decorative tip to pipe the filling into the egg whites.  (You can find disposable pastry bags with the tips at most kitchen stores.  Or you can use a small spoon to fill the egg whites and smooth the tops.)

Use a sharp knife to cut small pieces of the smoked salmon, then add a slice to the top of each of the deviled eggs.  Chill until ready to serve.  Makes 12 egg halves.