Chicken Fajitas

Fajitas2

This past week has been quite… eventful.

Obviously I’m talking about Christmas, but for many of us in the mitten state, it was eventful for additional and altogether different reasons. See, last Saturday night (December 21st), much of the Michigan area was hit with the Ice Storm from Hell.  I assure you that that is not an exaggeration. It really was the Ice Storm from Hell. Maybe some of you have been hearing or reading about it in the news. For those of you that haven’t yet, just let me explain.

It all started with rain. Rain that was freezing into ice before it even hit the ground. As a result, it coated pretty much everything it fell on in a thick sheet of ice; trees, roads, cars, roofs…and power lines.

The result of all this: numerous trees collapsed under the weight of the ice, falling on cars and damaging the windshields, or even on roofs and damaging homes. The roads were a skating rink; there were some pretty bad car pile ups and accidents. But none of that is too unusual in Michigan- we can deal with that. The real problem was with what the Ice Storm from Hell (I’ll just call it the ICFH from now on) did to our power lines.

Short answer: carnage. Pure carnage.

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We had hundreds of downed power lines, and 40,000+ people that were left without any power. Even worse yet, our local power company had severely limited resources that quite frankly, couldn’t properly deal with the amount of repairs that had to be done. Keep in mind folks: this was December 21st- 4 days before Christmas. You see where I’m going with this?

Fortunately, my house was not one of the ones affected by the downed power lines. But there were many, MANY of my neighbors, and loved ones that were. I’m not just talking electricity folks. I mean people left in the dark without power or heat…when the temperature was dropping to lows of 10° at night. The mayor advised all affected people to seek shelter in hotels or local specially designated warming centers. It was pretty awful. One day went by, then another, and another, and another…

Yeah. There were thousands of people both in and outside of my town that were left without ANY power or heat on Christmas Day. If that doesn’t suck, then I don’t know what does. As for my crew, we were a very crowded, rather cramped bunch on Christmas- but although the inconvenience to my family was present, it was VERY minor in comparison to others who didn’t have relatives homes they could go to stay in, money for a hotel, or even a Christmas Dinner to enjoy.

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It’s now seven days after the ICFH hit, and though the majority of people  here that were affected have now regained their heat and electricity, there are still too many others that have not. They face the possibility of spending both their Christmas AND New Year without being home, or in a home without heat or power. It may sound like a minor inconvenience, but anyone who’s lost their power for an extended period of time knows that it’s not minor- especially in the dead of winter at the Holidays.

This week taught me a very valuable lesson guys: I learned the importance of being thankful for everything I have. We were crammed together on Christmas- but we were together, with electricity, heat and a wonderful dinner (cooked almost completely single-handedly by yours truly, by the way). That’s something that thousands of people around me couldn’t say.

I’m not trying to preach a sermon or anything at you guys, but…I really just want everyone to try and take a moment to stop and think about the things you have in your life to be grateful for, particularly at this time of year. Don’t take them for granted- they’re not small or insignificant. They mean a whole lot.

Okay, I’m done. Back to the food.

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I’m sure that all of you cookletes out there have a small arsenal of recipes that you can bust out at anytime, throw together in a pinch, and guarantee that it will be a big hit with the members of your household. I’ve got several of my own in my back pocket, and I decided the last time that I made one of them that it was silly for me not to put it here on the blog.

So  ladies and gents, boys and girls: I give you…fajitas.

The best fajitas I’ve ever had- and that counts restaurant fajitas too.

The original version calls for steak to use as the protein. I’ve done that before, as well as using chicken and steak together, and the results have been fabulous with every version. Me and my family just LOVE this recipe. It’s simple, but so flavorful. I love red peppers and onions, so that’s what I used, but if you’re a fan of more variety then feel free to use green, yellow, or orange peppers. They’re delicious too. Fajitas are meant to be put into tortilla wraps, but this recipe is good enough to eat straight with a fork all on its own over rice.

Until next time guys. Remember: try to be grateful for the little things. They may not be as little as you think they are 😉

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Chicken Fajitas

Recipe Adapted from Food.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 flour tortillas (8 inch/20 cm)
  • 1 -2 onion,
  • 2 small sweet peppers, of your choice (green, red, or yellow)

Directions

1. Slice chicken into thin strips.

2. In bowl, mix together 1 tablespoons olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper flakes, black pepper & salt.

3. Add chicken strips and stir to coat, set aside.

4. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in 350° oven for 5-10 minutes or until heated through.

5. Cut onions in half lengthwise and slice into strips, cut your peppers into strips.

6. In large non stick skillet over medium high heat, heat remaining tablespoons of olive oil.

7. Add onions & peppers stirring for 3-4 minutes, until softened; transfer to a bowl and set aside.

8. Add chicken to skillet, cook, until no longer pink.

9. Return onions and peppers to skillet; stir for about one minute.

10. To serve, spoon a portion of the chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla, top with your desired toppings , fold bottom of tortilla up over filling, fold the sides in, overlapping.

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  Related articles

Sugar Cookie Torte

Sugar Cookie Torte6

12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

Three days til Christmas! Can you guys believe it? I don’t know where this entire year went, much less December. I swear it was just yesterday that I was sharing my Thanksgiving recipes with you guys. Only six more random Christmas facts to share, here’s three of them for now:

  1. 1 in 10 – The number of the presents received that will be broken by the New Year. (To be honest I would have thought that number would be higher.)
  2. Coca Cola was the first beverage company to use Santa for a winter promotion. (Anyone remember the old Coca Cola commercials with Santa and the polar bear from the 90s? I miss those.)
  3. 7 in 10 – The number of dogs that get Christmas gifts from their owner. (I’m not surprised at this one at all. I don’t have a dog -or a pet, period- but from what I hear it’s just like having another pet.)

Source

Sugar Cookie Torte4

This is another recipe that I’ve been curious about since I was little. The cookbook I got it from is my mom’s and was first released in 1997- just to give you an idea of how old it is. Sugar cookies are my all time favorite cookie to eat. This recipe uses them when crushed up as a large substitute for flour. I thought it sounded good then, and I still thought it sounded good now. But unlike in 1997, I’m now old enough to actually use a stove on my own, so I thought that I would make it this year and put it in the series of Christmas Treats.

All of my fellow foodies out there are probably wondering why this is called a torte and not just a cake. Maybe some of you out there are wondering what the difference is supposed to be between them in the first place. Then maybe some of you just don’t care. Whichever group you’re in, I’ll give an explanation anyway.

Sugar Cookie Torte3

If you want to be general about it, tortes are a kind of cake. The word ‘torte’ is German for the word ‘cake’ in fact. So if you’re a fan of cake, then chances are you’ll like tortes too. Now if you want to be technical about it, tortes do usually have a few significant changes in the ingredients. The flour is usually replaced by some kind of ground up nuts or breadcrumbs, which gives it a heavier texture. There’s no baking soda or baking powder in the dry ingredients, so they usually don’t rise very high either. They’re also typically decorated with some kind of fruit, cream or custard filling that helps to balance out the heaviness of the torte.

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This torte turned out somewhat different from the ‘conventional’ way. In the first place, even though there aren’t any baking soda or baking powder and very little flour, it still rose pretty high. My only guess would be that it was the 6 eggs that gave it an extra ‘lift’. There’s also no filling in it, though I don’t think that it’s necessary in this case. This torte is more than yummy enough to stand on its own. Although I do think this would taste pretty good warmed up and topped with some whipped cream or cool whip and strawberries with a Vanilla latte on the side. I think this recipe was well worth the wait- give it a shot, and I’m pretty sure you will too.

Christmas Carol Movies

Rather than try to give a recommendation for each of these movies, I thought I’d just throw them all together in one post and suggest you just set aside a few hours in the next 3 days to just try and watch them all together in A Christmas Carol marathon…Like I’m doing today.

So let’s recap: you guys have now got Mickey Mouse, the Muppets, Jim Carrey and Vanessa Williams giving you their version of Charles Dicken’s classic, as well as this recipe for a sugar cookie torte. Thank me later: for now, just get baking and watching.

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Sugar Cookie Torte

Recipe Courtesy of Christmas with Southern Living (1997)

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 cups slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 (5 1/4 ounce) packages of sugar cookies, finely crushed (3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar (optional)

 Directions

1. Draw a 10’ circle on a piece of wax paper, using a 10” tube pan as a guide. Cut out a circle. Set tube pan insert in center of circle. Grease bottom of pan, and line with wax paper cutout; heavily grease and flour wax paper and sides of pan. Set aside.

2. Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add almonds. Pulse 4-6 times or until almonds are coarsely ground. (Be careful not to overprocess, as this releases oil from the almonds).

3. Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy;; gradually add 2 cups sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

4. Combine cookie crumbs and flour; add to butter mixture alternately with half-and-half, beginning and ending with crumb mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in almonds and vanilla.

5. Spoon batter into prepared pan. (Batter will fill pan only half full). Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. (Torte only rises slightly). Let cool completely in pan on a wire pack.

6. Run a sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen torte. Carefully invert torte onto a serving plate; peel off wax paper. Invert torte again. Sift powdered sugar over torte, if desired.

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Gingerbread Men Cookies

Gingerbread Men1

4 Days til Christmas, guys! Today I get to share one of my favorite recipes from our Christmas series. I hope you enjoy it- but first, some more trivia:

12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

  1. During the Christmas buying season, Visa cards alone are used an average of 5,340 times every minute in the United States. (This isn’t very surprising, I’ve certainly been putting mine to good use.)
  2. The busiest shopping day of the year is not Black Friday, but the Saturday before Christmas. The busiest online shopping day takes place on the Monday or Tuesday a week or two before the week of Christmas. (I hate to admit it, but I’m absolutely one of those people who wait until the last minute to do the bulk of my Christmas shopping. It sucks, but it’s the truth.)
  3. Retailers take advantage of traditional Christmas smells and tastes to attract customers. For example, retailers may waft the smell of roasting chestnuts throughout their store and offer free samples of Christmas cookies. Holiday smells and tastes also stimulate the saliva glands, which makes shoppers hungry. Hungry shoppers are more likely to buy anything, not just food. (It could just be that I live in a small-ish town, but I’ve never experienced this in any of the major department stores that cater to Christmas shoppers where I love. That is an interesting and probably very effective tactic though.)

Source, Source

Gingerbread Men2

I know that by now in the series, I’ve already made Ginger Snaps and Gingerbread.You’re probably wondering: Jess, is it really necessary to throw in one more ‘ginger’ themed recipe? Answer being….yes. Because you can never have too much ginger-stuff- especially not at Christmas. And especially not when it comes to these gingerbread men cookies.

Gingerbread Men4

Whereas Gingersnaps are traditionally either really chewy or crunchy and Gingerbread is fluffy and almost cake-like, these Gingerbread men meet somewhere in the middle of those two. Of all three ginger recipes that I’ve made this year, I’ve gotta say that these are without a doubt, my favorite. They really puff up in the oven, so they’re thick and sturdy enough for decorating. Best of all, as long as you don’t over bake them,  the dough stays soft and tender for days (which is how I prefer to eat them).

As you can see, I chose to decorate my gingerbread men with my standard favorite toppings: an icing made with powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract with sprinkles on top. However, if you have small children at home, feel free to use whatever else you like. I found this recipe at browneyedbaker.com and have been using it for the past couple of years or so. It’s easy to follow and makes quite a few cookies to share…or keep all to yourself. Your choice.

Today’s Christmas recommendation is actually for a short story by Truman Capote called “A Christmas Memory”. I first read it many years ago in school (I don’t remember how old I was), but I do remember that it made an impression on me, and that I liked it very much. It’s about a young boy named Buddy that recalls a memory he has from his childhood of baking Christmas fruitcakes with one of his distant relatives who is slightly mentally retarded. It’s simple, but very sweet and even somewhat sad at the end. I like to read it not only because Truman Capote is a gifted writer, but because there’s a kind of Christmas nostalgia in the language of the story that I just love. I’ve included a link to an online version of it in the picture, so if you would like to read it (and I highly recommend that you do).

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Gingerbread Men Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly.
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Directions

1. In food processor workbowl fitted with steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With machine running, gradually add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms soft mass, about 10 seconds. (Alternatively, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt and baking soda at low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Stop mixer and add butter pieces; mix at medium-low speed until mixture is sandy and resembles fine meal, about 1½ minutes. Reduce speed to low and, with mixer running, gradually add molasses and milk; mix until dough is evenly moistened, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly combined, about 10 seconds.)

2. Scrape dough onto work surface; divide in half. Working with one portion of dough at a time, roll ¼-inch thick between two large sheets of parchment paper. Leaving dough sandwiched between parchment layers, stack on cookie sheet and freeze until firm, 15 to 20 minutes. (Alternatively, refrigerate dough 2 hours or overnight.)

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

4. Remove one dough sheet from freezer; place on work surface. Peel off top parchment sheet and lay it back in place. Flip dough over; peel off and discard second parchment layer. Cut dough into gingerbread people or round cookies, transferring shapes to parchment-line cookie sheets with a wide metal spatula, spacing them ¾-inch apart. Repeat with remaining dough until cookie sheets are full. Bake cookies until set in centers and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes, rotating cookie sheet from front to back halfway through baking time. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on sheets 2 minutes, then remove with wide metal spatula to wire rack; cool to room temperature.

5. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting and baking in steps 2 and 4. Repeat with remaining dough until all dough is used.

6. Once cookies are cool, decorate with royal icing, if desired. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

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Snowball Cookies

Snowball Cookies3

12 Days of Christmas Treats

More  Christmas Trivia:

  1.  Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names, such as Blitzer, Comet, and Cupid. However, male reindeers shed their antlers around Christmas, so the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely not male, but female or castrati. (So basically… women do all the work and the man gets the credit? Interesting.)
  2. Mistletoe (Viscum album) is from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings. (Remind me never to kiss anyone under a mistletoe. Reading this makes me feel like it would be a bad omen or something.)
  3. According to data analyzed from Facebook posts, two weeks before Christmas is one of the two most popular times for couples to break up. However, Christmas Day is the least favorite day for breakups. (Well that’s…depressing. If you break up with someone that close to Christmas, then-unless it’s under extreme circumstances- then I’m sorry, but you’re just a jerk.)

Source

Snowball Cookies1

It’s Christmas time…so you gotta have snowball cookies. They’re a must. These were some of the first cookies that my mom would make for us at Christmas time when I was little and they’re still a favorite for us. The cookies themselves aren’t that sweet; it’s the powdered sugar that they’re rolled in after baking that gives them their sweetness. My mom used to fold finely chopped walnuts in the batter, but my sister Jas isn’t fond of nuts, so I left them out this time.

Snowball Cookies2

 These cookies are extremely light and tender- as in melt in your mouth tender. And they’re good. Really, really good. We’ve always called these snowball cookies in my house, but I’ve heard people give them other names too: Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Teacakes, Polvorones. Call em whatever you like, just make em.

Okay, so am I the only one in love accappella groups? When I was in undergrad, there were several accappella groups on campus that were really very good. It takes a really talented singer to be able to sing and harmonize without the aid of music and when you take ten singers like that and put them together, it just sounds so beautiful. I first discovered Straight with No Chaser through my Christmas Pandora music station. Several of their songs were featured and I got hooked on their sound really quick. This album is fantastic, and although it’s a new favorite, I’m sure it will become a regular on my Christmas playlist from here on out

Favorite Tracks: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard on High”, “Indiana Christmas”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “This Christmas”

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Snowball Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Land O’ Lakes

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar for rolling

Directions

1. Heat oven to 325°.

2. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3. Add flour, about 1 cup at a time, scraping sides of bowl in between additions until well mixed. Add vanilla extract.

4. Wrap cookie dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least for an hour.

5. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place 1 inch apart onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake 18-25 minutes, or until lightly browned.

6. Cool 5 minutes; roll in powdered sugar while still warm and again when cooled.

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My Grandma’s Peanut Brittle

Peanut Brittle2

12 Days of Christmas Treats

Christmas Facts Continue:

1. Did you know if Santa Claus was alive today he would be 1739 yrs old? (The kid in me wants to say: “But he IS still alive…isn’t he?” lol)

2.Did you know originally the 9th reindeer that Santa had was actually called “Rollo”? (Rollo the Red Nose Reindeer…doesn’t really have that much of a ring to it, does it?)

3. Did you know in Morocco, Santa Claus is called “Black Peter”? (Umm….I don’t get it. Why?)

Source

Peanut Brittle1

This another one of those recipes that I’m extremely proud of myself for pulling off. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I was gonna be able to. Peanut brittle is literally candy, and there’s always been something about making candy from scratch that’s scared the living bejeesus out of me. There’s so much to worry about; temperature, stirring, burning, cooling, consistency- ugh.

In this case however, I was prepared to roll up my sleeves, suck it up, and make an exception. My grandma’s peanut brittle is worth it. More than worth it. It’s been a Christmas institution in my family for literally as long as I can remember. My grandma always made it since my grandpa’s a huge fan of nuts. Being a ‘grandpa’s girl’, I wanted to eat whatever it was that he was eating. The best part was, I didn’t even have to pretend that I liked it just because he did. From the very first time that I sampled peanut brittle, I loved it. The saltiness of the peanuts works so well with the rich caramel flavor of the brittle. It’s seriously addictive.

Peanut Brittle3

As you can see, the peanut brittle fortunately turned out pretty well. Luck? I don’t think so. In fact, I know so. In retrospect, I can see several essential factors that played into this recipe’s success:

1. A Candy thermomemeter. I can’t emphasize the necessity of having this on hand when making peanut brittle enough. i’m pretty positive that if I hadn’t had one of these suckers, I would’ve messed up the whole thing. If you’re not experienced with making candy, then you must have a candy thermometer. I repeat: you MUST have a candy thermometer. Also if possible, try to use a candy thermometer that gives the numbers, as well as the various ‘candy stages’  (Soft Ball, Hard Ball, Soft Crack, Hard Crack, etc), and one that clips onto the saucepan so you don’t have to keep pulling  it out of the caramel.

Peanut Brittle4

2. Stirring. The recipe will tell you to stir the caramel constantly as it cooks, but I’m gonna place a particular emphasis on it here too. Just so you know that it’s serious. Stir. Stir. Stir. I’m not saying that you have to be glued to the stove top, but don’t wander off to do laundry, take a shower or anything that keeps your eyes off the saucepan for longer than 1-2 minutes. You’d be surprised how easily this stuff can stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, especially nearing the end when it’s almost done. You don’t want it to happen to you. At all. Once it does, the burnt flavor will get into the entire caramel and the batch will be ruined.

3. Butter your sheet pan thoroughly. When the caramel is done cooking and is ready to spread out, it’s gonna be very hot, but it’s also gonna be VERY sticky. Making sure the sheet pan is nice and oiled up with butter ensures that the brittle will spread as quickly as possible, and will also come off easily when it’s fully hardened.

I know it may sound intimidating, but if you just follow the directions, and my tips, this peanut brittle really isn’t so hard at all. And it’s definitely worth it!

I don’t think this movie needs much of an introduction, or defense. If you’re looking for feel-good movie at Christmas (or come to think of it, any time of year) then Love Actually is a must see. It’s a romantic comedy that takes place in the UK, featuring a stellar cast each with their own personal stories and challenges that interweave with one another that all center around…love actually. I’ve watched this movie twice already and I just may try to sneak it in one more time before Christmas. Because all I really need this time of year is my family and love…actually.

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My Grandma’s Peanut Brittle

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

*2 tbsp butter

* 2 tsp baking soda

* 1 tsp vanilla extract

*2 cups raw peanuts

*2 cups sugar

* 1 cup white corn syrup

*1/2 cup water

Directions

1. Bring 1/2 cup water to boil. Add 2 cups sugar and 1 cup white syrup.

2. Now add 2 cups raw peanuts and cook slowly over a low fire until hard crack stage (300°-310º), stirring constantly.

3. Take from heat and add 2 tbsp butter, 2 tsp baling soda and 1 vanilla extract. Stir quickly.

4. Spread on large, well buttered cookies sheet. Place in refrigerator until completely hardened and shiny. Use a knife to break up the pieces of peanut brittle into shards. It should crack easily.

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Gingerbread

Gingebread3

12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

Hey guys, more Random Facts about Christmas coming your way:

  1. In 1999, residents of the state of Maine in America built the world’s biggest ever snowman. He stood at 113ft tall. (A part of me thinks that this is pretty cool…another part thinks that these people just had way too much time on their hands.)
  2. Many theologians estimate that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 but sometime in September between 6BC and 30AD. (I’m totally calling it guys: Jesus was born on September 27th….same day as yours truly ;-))
  3. MANY parts of the Christmas tree can actually be eaten, with the needles being a good source of Vitamin C. (Yeah, um…I’m not eating pine tree needles. Like, ever.)

Source

Gingebread1

Living in Michigan means that we generally get to go through all four seasons throughout the year. In the summer, it’s generally pretty hot, in the spring it’s cool and rainy, in the fall it’s chilly with golden trees, and in the winter it’s cold and snowy (most of the time). I like living in a place where I can have a ‘White Christmas’, but one of my longtime Christmas wishes/dreams is to actually be able to spend the holiday season (from about December 1st-January 2nd) someplace else.

New York City to be exact.

It;s bad enough that I’ve never been to the Big Apple (I know, that alone is a travesty), but every year that goes by without me getting to be in NYC during Christmas time does make me rather depressed. I’d love to be able to go skating and see the tree at Rockefeller Center, go and get lost in Macy’s, and of course be in Times Square for New Years Eve. I just want soak up the busy, electric atmosphere of the city. I’ve never been to New York, but I LOVELOVELOOOOVE Chicago, Atlanta and Boston, and if New York is anything like those places, then I know it’s where I belong. If I did still believe in Santa Claus, a Christmas in New York would be definitely be on my wish list of things to ask him for.

Gingebread4

I’ve actually wanted to make this recipe for a pretty long time now. It comes from a huge cookbook that my mom has had since I was a little girl. It’s supposed to be a cookbook/recipe encyclopedia that tells you how to basically cook EVERYTHING in life, with recipes as simple as pound cake, to as complicated as octopus. The photography is fancy and completely stunning. I’m waiting for the day that my pictures look as beautiful as the Recipe Encyclopedia’s. I used to flip through the book, marking off all the things I was gonna ask my mom to make for me. This gingerbread was one of them, and I must say that after years of suspense, it didn’t disappoint. The ginger and allspice are what really give this bread it’s flavor. It’s subtly sweet, with just the right amount of spice to give it a ‘bite’. Definitely a win for Christmas treats.

Today’s recommendation is for another music album, and yes, it’s from the 90’s. What can I say, that was the crux of my childhood. Plus, if you ask me, music in general was just better quality then. Vanessa Williams had some of her most successful years as a recording artist in the 90’s. My mom listened to her cassette tapes and CDs all the time, and I’m still a huge fan of hers now. All of her albums are fantastic, but I think that my favorite to this day is still her Christmas record, ‘Star Bright’. Vanessa has a smooth, velvety voice that’s very soothing and pleasant- perfect for music you can put on in the background while opening gifts on Christmas morning.

Favorite Tracks: “Star Bright,” “What Child is This?“, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “I Wonder as I Wander”, “The First Noel”, “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

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Gingerbread

Recipe Courtesy of Recipe Encyclopedia

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Preheat oven to moderate 350°. Brush a deep 8 inch square cake pan with melted butter, line the base with paper; grease the paper.

2. Place the butter, brown sugar, molasses and water in a large pan. Cook over low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. Cool slightly.

3. Add the lightly beaten egg to butter mixture.

4. Sift the flour, ground ginger, allspice, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the ingredients and add the butter and egg mixture; stir until the ingredients are just combined and moistened.

5. Spoon into the prepared cake pan; bake for 30 minutes, or until the gingerbread is cooked through.

6. Gingerbread may be served warm with whipped cream, or cold, dusted with confectioners’ sugar; or spread with butter.

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Danish Butter Cookies

Butter Cookies2

12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

About that Christmas thing:

  1. According to an old wives’ tale if you bake bread on Christmas Eve then it will be fresh forever. (I know that it’s just a superstitious folk tale, but I just may try this. Even if it does go stale, I can always use the bread for a French toast recipe.)
  2. The customary Christmas dinner in England included a pig head with mustard sauce. However, this is not followed anymore In England. (My grandma tells me that her family used to use pig head to make hogs head cheese. I’ve seen pig cheeks prepared like bacon in fine dining. I’ve seen pig’s ears in the mystery basket on ‘Chopped’….yet I will never eat any meat from a pig’s head. Especially not with mustard sauce. Not gonna happen.)
  3. Oliver Cromwell stopped the celebration of Christmas in England during 1647- 1660. According to him it was immoral to celebrate the holiest day of the year. It was a criminal offence. He or she could find him or her behind the bars if he/she was found guilty of celebrating Christmas. (What.. a …tool.)

(Source: http://www.theholidayspot.com)

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Christmastime was so much fun for me growing up.

Seriously, I wish every kid could have had the chance to grow up in my house if for nothing else, for the Christmases. First of all, we were the type of family that decked the whole house out in yuletide gear. We had outdoor lights and wreaths hanging on the doors outside. Inside there were Christmas ornaments, decorations and cards displayed on empty tabletops and on the walls. Assorted nut trays and bowls with red and green Hershey’s kisses were out for guests. Our tree may have been fake, but it was pimped out to the maximum; every available branch held ornaments, candy canes, and the ugly little art projects me and my sisters made in school and at Sunday School that the adults put on the tree anyway. We wound lights, tinsel and streamers from the top and tucked them in between the branches. One of the clearest memories I have as a little girl is sitting in the living room at night with all the lights out just watching the Christmas tree.

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Church was really busy and bustling at that time of year because we were always in the Christmas pageant/show that the kids put on for the rest of the church. I can still remember the year where we all were given bells to shake during the song “Come on Ring Those Bells”. I dropped my bell on the ground. So I just started shaking my hand up and down, hoping that no one would notice. Good times.

I’m huge fan of those butter cookies you buy in the shiny blue tins at the store. They’re simple, but filled with so much flavor They tend to make more of a visible appearance at this time of year, and while I could have bought one, I (of course) decided to take the ‘scenic route’ and try to make my own. I found a recipe on Food.com that is actually very similar to the original. After they were done, I topped them with a simple icing (powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract) and sprinkles. Aren’t they purdy?

There are so many reasons why this movie is a ‘must’ at Christmas, I couldn’t even start to name them without boring you all. Hopefully I’ll just be ‘preaching to the choir’ rather than just actually trying to convince anybody out there that Elf is something you must make apart of your yearly traditions and rituals. It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since it first came out, but in reality it was released in 2003.

That’s ten years ago guys. Long enough for anything to feel like a classic. Also long enough for me to feel like I’m getting old.

Anyway, back to Elf. Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human elf from the North Pole that comes to NYC to try to find his long lost  birth father who is on Santa’s “Naughty List” (dundunDUN). Safe for all ages, it’s a really sweet, feel-good story meant to get you in the Christmas spirit (literally). It’s also friggin hilarious….one of the few truly hilarious movies that Ferrell has been in. (Oops, did I just say that?) 

Friends don’t let friends be a cotton-headed ninny-muggins. They tell them to watch Elf for Christmas. That’s what I’m doing for all of you: watch it. It’s for your own good.

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Danish Butter Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Food.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

1. Beat the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla together until smooth and creamy.

2. Mix in the egg yolk until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once.

3. Add the flour and mix just until incorporated.

4. Scrape onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times, just until the dough smoothes out.

5. Turn onto a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log, wrap up and refrigerate for several hours or freeze.

6. Before baking, preheat the oven to 325°F.

7. Line your baking sheets with parchment.

8. Slice the dough into slices about 1/8″ thick and place them on the sheets about an inch apart (they won’t be spreading very much, but they need air room around each cookie).

9. Bake until JUST beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 10-12 minutes.

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Rice Krispie Treats

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12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

Did you know….

1.  In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim was originally going to be called ‘Little Fred. ‘Dickens had two brothers called ‘Fred,’ Frederick and Alfred, the latter of whom died young. He probably altered the name to ‘Tiny Tim’ because the alliteration made the name catchier. (Although I can appreciate the connection to his family, I gotta say that ‘Tiny Tim’ sounds better than ‘Little Fred’).

2.  Harper Lee’s friend gave her a year’s wages for Christmas, on condition that she give up work and write. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. (You want my opinion? That was a huge waste of money. That’s right. I’ve never been a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t even know if I can really explain the reason, I just didn’t like it.)

3.  There is a species of snail called Ba humbugi. The Fijian snail is named after Scrooge’s famous exclamation in A Christmas Carol, although Scrooge only utters the words ‘Bah, humbug!’ twice in the whole story (though he exclaims ‘Humbug!’ a number of times). (Umm….okay. I’ve got nothing else to say about this one.)

(Source: The Huffington Post)

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Rice Krispie Treats. I know some of you are probably thinking that they don’t really count as a ‘Christmas’ goodie, considering they’re available in stores year-round. My sister Ashley disagrees with you though. When I was planning what I would post for Day 4 of the 12 Days of Christmas Treats series for the blog, she suggested I make some of these for her (she’s a fan). After thinking about it for a minute or two, I agreed…so I guess I disagree with you too. These most definitely count as Christmas Treats.

Rice Krispies2You may be able to buy these in stores, but I do think that they’re worthwhile to make on your own. I’m not exactly sure why, but they do taste different…and better than the pre-made treats. It probably has to do with the freshness of the marshmallows (as ‘fresh’ as processed marshmallows can be anyway) and butter. They didn’t last long in my house. If you’ve never had homemade rice krispie treats, then I’m very sorry for you. They’re not only very tasty, they’re also RIDICULOUSLY easy to make. As in less-than-10-minutes-easy. You’re welcome.

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This time, I’m giving you guys two very strong, very emphatic recommendations for the price of one. The first I don’t think really needs much of an introduction or justification. I mean, who DIDN’T grow up listening to this book being read to them at Christmastime?  Who DIDN’T grow up watching the cartoon narrated by Boris Karloff?  Hearing him sing “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” is worth watching the movie in an of itself, but I just love the traditional animation given to the Whos. This movie brings back so many memories and feelings of nostalgia for me. I watch it every year, at least twice at Christmas.

I still remember the first time I saw the second movie poster in the hallway of a movie theater as I was coming out of another movie (I don’t even remember what was now). I flipped out. I was so excited, guys. Without knowing a single thing about the script or story line, I made up my mind that I HAD to see it. I went in with super high expectations- and by the time I went out, I didn’t find myself disappointed. I don’t care what the critics had to say about this movie- it’s good. It just is. Never in a million years would I have though about giving the Grinch a back story explaining why he hated Christmas, where he even came from, or why he was living alone with a dog at the top of a mountain. Luckily someone else did. I won’t spoil it just in case there are some people who haven’t seen the movie- I will say though, that it’s a very creative idea (you may even shed a few tears). Jim Carrey stars as the Grinch. I will admit: Even beneath all that makeup and the Grinch suit- you will DEFINITELY know that Jim Carrey is in there. Like every other major comedian out there, he has his own trademark ‘schtick’. He takes the part and makes it his own. I’ve always been a Jim Carrey fan though, so I don’t mind when he goes into ‘character.’ It doesn’t ever take away from the story or other acting- it could just be due to how the script was written, but I couldn’t really see anyone else playing this part. Plus, according to IMdb:  “The prosthetic make-up Jim Carrey wore took 3 hours to apply. Carrey felt so horribly confined and uncomfortable in the latex skin he needed counseling from a Navy SEAL who taught him torture-resistance techniques.”

I think he deserves props for that alone, wouldn’t you agree?

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Rice Krispie Treats

Recipe Courtesy of Kraftrecipes.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 pkg (10-1/2 oz.) JET PUFFED Miniature Marshmallows
  • 6 cups KELLOGS RICE KRISPIES Cereal

Directions

1. Melt butter in large saucepan on low heat. Add marshmallows; cook until marshmallows are completely melted and mixture is well blended, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

2. Add cereal; mix well.

3. Press onto bottom of 13×9-inch pan sprayed with cooking spray. Cool completely. Cut into 12 squares.

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Vanilla Biscotti

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12 Days of Christmas {Treats}

I thought I’d kick off this post with some random facts about Christmas that you may or may not have known before:

  1. The common abbreviation of Christmas to “Xmas” is derived from the Greek alphabet. “Chi,” the first letter of Christ’s name in the Greek alphabet, is written as “X.” (So I guess all the ‘War on Christmas’ propoganda is a bunch of bologna. Go figure).
  2. The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples. (We actually had fake apple ornaments on the Christmas tree from my childhood. I never quite understood why until now).
  3. The most expensively dressed Christmas tree was valued at $11,026,900 and was displayed by the Emirates Palace in the United Arab Emirates last year. (That tree better be trimmed in “decorations from Tiffany’s” as  the song goes, that’s for sure.)

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I’ll give you guys some more trivia throughout the series, but for now let’s get down to treats. For the second day of our Christmas treat series, I wanted to try something new that I’ve never tried before, both in the kitchen and in general. Biscotti were something that I’ve heard of but never really thought I would care for. They’re essentially twice baked cookies that are meant to be dunked into coffee to make them soft enough to bite into, as the traditional Italian style ones are quite hard. The thought of jaw-breaker cookies was never very appetizing to me, so I never bought any that I would see at Starbucks. Interestingly enough, when I was brainstorming ideas for the series, biscotti came to my mind. I tried to ignore it, but it just kept coming up.

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You guys know me by now. Once I get an ‘itch’ to cook a new recipe, I’m gonna follow through with it. There are a TON of biscotti recipes online, but eventually I settled on this one for two reasons: #1, it’s supposed to be an ‘American’ biscotti which means that it won’t chip a tooth when you take a bite out of it without coffee, and #2, it’s a vanilla biscotti- and I love ANYTHING that’s vanilla flavored.

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They looked pretty good on their own when they finished their second round in the oven, but I went ahead and threw together a basic powdered sugar icing that I flavored with milk and vanilla extract, then topped them with red and green sprinkles. I think it makes them look so much more festive and ‘Christmas-ey’, don’t you think?

(Click on the Picture for a link to the YouTube playlist. You know you want to.)

Today’s Christmas album recommendation is for A Special Christmas by SWV- or, the Sisters with Voices. Anyone who was or still is a fan of the old school R & B from the 90’s (like me) is going to be a huge SWV fan. Their songs just never seem to get old, and their Christmas album is no exception. They give a smooth rendition to the traditional Christmas carols that are very reminiscent of 90’s music. It’s been apart of my must-haves Christmas collection for years now. It definitely should be apart of yours too.

Favorite Tracks: “The Christmas Song”, “Give Love on Christmas Day”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Christmas Ain’t Christmas (Without the One You Love)”

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Vanilla Biscotti

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) one large (about 18″ x 13″) baking sheet.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, almond extract (if you’re using it), and baking powder until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

3. Beat in the eggs; the batter may look slightly curdled. At low speed of your mixer, add the flour, stirring until smooth; the dough will be sticky.

4. Plop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Divide it in half, and shape it into two 9 1/2″ x 2″ logs, about 3/4″ tall. Straighten the logs, and smooth their tops and sides; a wet spatula or wet bowl scraper works well here. Sprinkle with coarse white sparkling sugar, if desired, pressing it in gently.

5. Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove it from the oven.

6. Using a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water, lightly but thoroughly spritz the logs, making sure to cover the sides as well as the top. Softening the crust just this little bit will make slicing the biscotti much easier. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

7. Wait 5 minutes, then use a sharp chef’s knife or serrated knife to cut the log crosswise into 1/2″ to 3/4″ slices. Or cut the biscotti on the diagonal, for fewer, longer biscotti. As you’re slicing, be sure to cut straight up and down, perpendicular to the pan; if you cut unevenly, biscotti may be thicker at the top than the bottom, and they’ll topple over during their second bake.

8. Set the biscotti on edge on the prepared baking sheet. Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, until they feel very dry and are beginning to turn golden. They’ll still feel a tiny bit moist in the very center, if you break off a piece; but they’ll continue to dry out as they cool.

9. Remove the biscotti from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Store airtight at room temperature; they’ll stay good for weeks.

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Peach Bourbon Pork Roast

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Are there any fans out there of the Food Network show “Chopped”?

In case you’re not, I’ll give everyone a brief explanation: “Chopped” is culinary cooking competition show that features 4 chefs/cooks that are required to cook a three course meal for three judges for a prize of $10,000. What’s the catch?

They have to cook each course in a very short amount of time. I’m talking 20-30 minutes. Then, they have to successfully incorporate 4-5 unique, rare (and sometimes just bizarre) ingredients into their food. Each dish is judged based upon  taste, creativity and presentation. After tasting each dish at the end of each round, the judges deliberate as to which chef prepared the weakest dish, and that unlucky duck and their dish is placed on the chopping block, and ‘chopped’.

Pork Loin2

If that sounds pretty tough, then I guess that’s because…well, it is. In the first place, I can’t imagine putting together four plates of food in thirty minutes, not to mention making them meet the standards of professional chefs with Michelin star restaurants. Second, I’m absolutely terrified of doing anything with ingredients like durian, sweet breads (Google it), or ostrich tenderloin. My mind draws a complete blank when even trying to imagine planning a dish with those things. I couldn’t do it in an hour, much less the few seconds the chefs have to deliberate before actually starting to cook. Third, can you imagine putting a plate of your food down in front of Iron Chefs Geoffrey Zakarian and Alex Guarnaschelli and waiting to hear their feedback? Just the thought of that makes me wanna sweat bullets. If they like my food, I’d feel like 1  million bucks. If they don’t, I’d quit cooking forever.

Just kidding about that last part (…I think).

 I like “Chopped” for a lot of reasons, but the primary one has gotta be that I have a great deal of respect for the people that actually have the guts to sign up to compete on the show. Cooking may be my sport, but even I don’t think I’m good enough to do that. Having said all that, I do sometimes find myself putting together dishes for my family that have a “Chopped’” kind of theme to them- meaning, I open my pantry/fridge, and scrounge around for random ingredients that I end up throwing together, knocking on wood, saying a prayer, and hoping that it turns out in a tasty dish.

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This roast is one of my favorite ‘Chopped-Jess-style’ dishes. I’ve made it a few times before for my family, but this time around, I actually had enough time to write down the exact ingredient measurements to form into a recipe. The peach preserves give the pork the ‘sweet’, the mustard gives it the ‘tang’, and the Bourbon gives it a ‘zip’. It may sound like an odd combination, but they all really do work very well together. Trust me. I wouldn’t lie to you. I used sweet potato as an accompaniment to the roast, but if you’re more partial to white, you can always substitute accordingly. One more thing:  I know that the recipe calls for this to roast in the oven, but I’ve also made this dish before in the slow cooker and the results were just as good. Choose whichever works for you.

FEED(ME) BACK: Do you watch Chopped? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen in the ingredient basket?

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Peach Bourbon Pork Roast

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 4.5-5 lb boneless pork loin
  • 18 oz peach preserves
  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 Bourbon whiskey
  • 2 tablespoons Jim Bean Spicy Bourbon BBQ Rub, or your favorite BBQ spice blend
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into large chunks
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Mix together preserves, mustard and whiskey in a separate bowl and set aside.

3. Pour olive oil into a  Dutch oven or a large pot.

4. Season outside of pork loin liberally with BBQ rub and place in Dutch oven or large pot. Brown on stove top over medium high heat on both sides, just enough to sear on the outside. Remove from heat.

5. Pour sauce mixture into the pot and spread evenly on top of and under pork loin. Add chopped onion.

6. Cover with lid or aluminum foil and roast in oven for about 1 hour.

7. Add chopped sweet potato to pot, cover again and allow to roast for an additional 45-60 minutes, or until the thickest part of loin reaches an internal temperature of 145°-160°.

8. Remove roast from pot and drain the juices into a saucepan. Place saucepan on stove top over high heat, and add the flour, whisking thoroughly to combine. When the liquid begins to bubble and flour has cooked down, reduce heat to low and cook for about 3-5 more minutes, until thickened to a gravy. Serve with roast and vegetables.

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