Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cheesecake Cookies

Earlier this month, my department had its annual holiday party and team building event. Instead of doing a Secret Santa exchange, we decided to all write down our favorite drink, appetizer and dessert. Then, we all randomly picked a piece of paper and had to make or buy one of the items on the list. Now this is my type of gift exchange! Of course I got the one with the dessert I don't make - cheesecake! You see, I can't give something to someone without it being homemade. It's just against my cooking religion. I was so torn and going back and forth on what to do. I was drowning in final projects and preparing for finals week and just couldn't find the time to research what to do. I even asked my husband if he would make a cheesecake (he makes the BEST cheesecakes EVER), but it was too short of notice and I really wanted to have the time to learn from him. Ugh. Baking problems!

Then a miracle happened. I sat down for a few minutes and came across how I could still make a cheesecake, but in a different form. And one that would not take two days to make or take hours for the cream cheese to soften. That may be why I don't make real cheesecakes. I am impatient and can't wait hours and hours (and more hours) for the cream cheese to soften. But that's a whole other story. Nevertheless, I came across a fabulous recipe for cheesecake cookies! I had looked for something like this before, but nothing looked this good or was even close to what I needed. How did I not see these before? They were literally cheesecake cookies. The cookies have graham cracker crumbs in batter and are filled with a cheesecake filling. They are pretty much a cheesecake thumbprint cookie that is out of this world delicious. And they taste just like cheesecake!

A cookie that taste like cheesecake and is easier to make than cheesecake? Heck yes. These cookies really are simple to make and a whole batch was made and baked within 40 minutes. Now that's what I'm talking about. The batter is simple to make and the best part, no chilling the dough. A lot of thumbprint style cookies require you to chill  the dough for a least an hour after making it, if not more. No one has time for that. At least I don't. I want cookies now! Once the dough is all ready to go, you scoop it out and make an indentation in the top to hold the cheesecake filling goodness. While a thumb works pretty well for this part of the process, I would recommends using a measuring teaspoon. This seemed to give me a good size indent and didn't cause cookie dough to get all under my nails. Win win. I would also suggest saving a bit of graham cracker crumbs for here. Before you indent the cookie, dip the teaspoon in the grahams. This way, the cookies won't stick and you can get them all done in a flash! That's just my two cents though. Flour or brown sugar would work just fine here too.

You can enjoy these cheesecake cookies just as they are or fancy them up a bit. You can top them with a cherry pie filling, drizzle with caramel or chocolate or even add fresh fruit of your choice. How good would chopped strawberries be on these? Mmm. No matter how you enjoy these wonderful cookies, you are sure to love them. I know my secret santa cheesecake cookie recipient did!

mmm, cookies!

Cheesecake Cookies (slightly varied from My Baking Addiction)

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 1/2 sticks softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, separated
4 ounces of softened cream cheese
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray well with non-stick spray.

In a stand mixer, add the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. About three minutes. Then add in the egg white and mix until combined. Once mixed well, add in the graham cracker crumbs flour and baking powder. Once the batter is ready, you'll need to make the filling. In another bowl,. add the cream cheese and sugar and mix until it's nice and creamy. Then add in the egg yolk and vanilla and mix until combined.

Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop out the dough leaving about an inch between cookies. Once you've scooped out all the cookies, you'll need to make an indent in the tops to hold the cheesecake filling. You can use your thumb or a teaspoon. Then, fill each of the cookies with the cheesecake filling. Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes or until the filling is just set and the cookies are slightly browned on the top. Enjoy!

Cheesecake in a cookie form? Heck yes!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Candy Cane Vodka

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I totally failed to share this candy cane vodka with ya'll three days ago. Oops. Between getting home after vacation and actually unpacking my suitcase (instead of waiting two weeks to do it), I completely forgot. Please forgive me. By the way, did you know that the day after Christmas is National Candy Cane Day? I wonder why it's not the 25th. That seems like the perfect day, doesn't it? Nevertheless, since it's still the holidays and candy canes are everywhere to be found (and now even cheaper as stores are trying to clear their shelves for Valentines Day sweets!), you need to make this super amazing holiday treat. It's literally just candy canes and vodka. Nothing else. Seriously. Candy canes and vodka!

One of my super sweet classmates this semester told me that she makes all kinds of flavored vodka with a variety of candies. Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, etc. It got me thinking - what could I make that was extra holiday-y? I did a quick search online and low and behold, candy cane vodka. I wondered if it was really as easy as it said it was, and let me tell you, it was! The hubby and I have several handles of vodka left over from our wedding so this was the perfect opportunity to try something new and festive for quick and easy holiday gifts. I ran to the store and bought a ton of candy canes. Handfuls and handfuls of candy canes. I think the lady behind the register at our local grocery store thought I had gone crazy with a cart of candy canes. Once I had the candy canes at home, I literally got a big jar (I used a gallon size Mason jar), filled it with vodka and then plopped in the candy canes. The hardest part about all of this was unwrapping those darn things. For some reason, the tops always seemed to break! I thew everything in, closed up the jar and in just a few hours, the candy canes dissolved and created a wonderful flavored vodka. 

The more candy canes you add, the more flavorful it will get, but the minty level is up to you. This vodka can be enjoyed over ice by itself, mixed in to make your favorite holiday cocktail or my favorite way to enjoy it is in hot cocoa. Hello deliciousness! No matter how you enjoy it, it's too easy not to make and everyone will wonder how you did it (and you don't have to tell him just how easy it was!). How easy was that? Now I am channeling my inner Barefoot Contessa.

The first time I made this, I used peppermint candies. It worked, but make the vodka look more like Pepto Bismol!

Candy Cane Vodka

Jar or container (with a lid!) large enough to hold the vodka and candy canes
1 bottle (750 ml) of your favorite vodka
10-12 candy canes (more if you want it really minty, less if you want it not so minty)

Pour vodka into a large jar. Unwrap candy canes and place in the jar. Seal the jar and give it a little shake. Let sit for one to two hours, or until candy canes are dissolved. Enjoy!

This candy cane vodka is also amazing in coffee to give it a little bit of extra holiday cheer!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Overnight Cranberry Eggnog Coffee Cake

You know it's the holiday season when the eggnog comes out. Creamy, delicious, nutmeggy eggnog. And this overnight cranberry eggnog coffee cake is the perfect holiday morning breakfast treat. There is always something a little extra special about Christmas morning and this coffee cake fits that bill. Even better, you can make it the night before so all you have to do is pop it in the oven before everyone gets up or while everyone is opening gifts. I love anything you can make ahead and this recipe is just perfect. I never ever would have thought to do coffee cake over night, but this recipe has changed my mind. There is something that happens to the batter that makes it so moist and dense. But in a good way of course. It's the perfect holiday coffee cake.

To get this coffee cake started, you'll need the basic coffee cake ingredients, plus a few extra special things - eggnog, dried cranberries and orange zest. Those three things take this coffee cake over the top to holiday special goodness.  Oh, that and the eggnog glaze that is poured over the crumby top after it has baked to perfection. Mmm, eggnog glaze. Just give me a spoon! Okay, back to coffee cake. Once the batter is made (please try not to eat it all before it goes in the pan), you'll spread it out in to a 9x13 prepared pan. You can use butter and flour to prepare the pan or non-stick spray. I use the latter, but it's up to you and what you like. Once the batter is in the pan and all ready to go, you'll need to prepare the crumb topping. To me, this is the best part, but I am a crumby person. Some people don't like crumbs. Those are strange people. The crumbs are just flour, butter, sugar, cinnamon and nuts. If you don't like nuts or are allergic, you an leave them out. Top the batter with the crumb mixture and then cover with plastic wrap (or a lid, if your pan has one) and place in the fridge overnight.

When you wake up in the morning, all you have to do is remove the plastic wrap and/or lid and place in to a 350 degree oven. In about 35 minutes, your home will be filled with the best holiday smell ever. And the best part, you had to do little work in the morning to get it all ready to go and can spend more time with your family and loved ones. Once the cake has baked and cooled for about 20 minutes, then you can pour the glaze all over the top. I doubled my glaze (I really like glaze), but this is up to you. Also, make sure to use teaspoons of eggnog and not tablespoons. I am not sure I was fully away the first time I made this and wondered why the glaze was so darn runny. Oops. Thank goodness I caught it before I poured it all over the top.

Once the cake is glazed, it's ready to diving in and enjoying. This coffee cake could not be more perfect and is wonderful for the holiday season or when you have guest over. Easy. Delicious. Wonderful. Now that's my kind of coffee cake. Here's to wishing you wonderful coffee cake a very merry holiday season!

Mmm, eggnog!

Overnight Cranberry Eggnog Coffee Cake (slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

For the Cake:

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup eggnog
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
¾ cup dried cranberries

pinch or two of nutmeg (if you want your coffee cake a bit more eggnoggy)

For the Streusel:
⅔ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans (or any nut you prefer)

For the Glaze:
½ cup powdered sugar
4 teaspoons eggnog

pinch or two of nutmeg (if you want your glaze a bit more eggnoggy)

Prepare a 9x13 baking pan with non stick spray or butter and flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the eggnog, sour cream and vanilla extract. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar with the orange zest. Using your fingers, work the zest into the sugar until all of the sugar is evenly moistened. Add the butter and cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the eggnog mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. (The batter will be thick.) Using a rubber spatula, stir in the cranberries. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and spread into an even layer.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Work the butter into the mixture using your fingertips or a pastry blender until it is completely incorporated, then stir in the chopped pecans. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over batter. Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, up to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the pan from the refrigerator while the oven heats. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes. While the coffee cake cools, in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and eggnog until smooth; drizzle over cake. Allow the glaze to set for about 15 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature. Leftover cake can be stored, covered, at room temperature for up to five days or so. Enjoy!

This coffee cake is sure to become a family holiday favorite!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Saltine Toffee

Disclaimer: This saltine toffee is highly addictive.

This saltine toffee is one of the most amazingly strange holiday treats ever known to man. I kid you not. Who would have ever thought that you could make toffee with saltines. Right? Let me just say that once you make this, you won't go back to making toffee any other way. It couldn't be simpler (no candy thermometer needed!) and it takes only 20 minutes to make from start to finish. And depending on your oven size and number of pans you have, you can make two batches at a time!

Okay, so let's get to it. Here is what you will need to make this incredible and addictive toffee - saltines (of course), brown sugar, butter and chocolate chips. As for the saltines, don't use the fat free ones or unsalted ones. I tried that and it just didn't taste right. Go for the regular 'ol saltines in the cracker isle. I also highly recommend using non-stick foil. I know I've mentioned it before, but it's seriously the best thing ever. You can find it right next to the regular aluminum foil. If you don't use this or don't want to buy it, make sure to spray your foil with nonstick spray. Otherwise, you'll never get the toffee off. Maybe you will, but it may have little bits of foil on it and no one wants to eat foil. At least I don't.

Once you have all your ingredients ready to go, line your cookie sheet with foil. Make sure the foil goes up the edges just a little as the toffee mixture will bubble up the sides a bit. Once the pan is all ready to go, line up saltines side by side until the entire pan is covered. If you need to break up some of the saltines to fit in the areas that don't have any. Broken up pieces are just fine. It doesn't have to be pretty, just cover up the foil. Then, add the butter and brown sugar to a pan on the stove. Heat until all melted and bubbly. Pour the mixture over the saltines to coat them all. You may need to use a spatula to spread it out a bit, but it does not need to be perfect. Then comes the part where it gets all its toffee goodness - place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes. Once the time is up for the oven, pull the pan out and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Let those sit for about five minutes and then spread it all out to coat. At this point, you can leave the toffee as is or add whatever toppings you like. I like to add crushed saltines on top, but you can add toffee chunks, sprinkles, any kind of chopped nuts, or candies such as mini m&m's. 

After you've added whatever toppings you like, let the pan cool for 30 minutes and then place in the fridge to harden up for at least an hour. I like to leave mine overnight, but sometimes it's hard to wait that long. I told you this stuff was addictive. Once it's all set and hardened up, remove the foil from the toffee and break up in to chunks. At this point you can just shovel it in to your mouth or place it in tins or bags to give away as a wonderful gift anytime of the year. It's so easy to make and something that is now part of my annual holiday treat making extravaganza. In fact, I am almost certain I've made over 10 pounds of this stuff already this season! What are you waiting for - get in there and make this saltine toffee today!

So toffee-y, so delicious!

Saltine Toffee (my wonderful coworker, Jan)

30-45 saltine crackers (or however many you need to fill your cookie sheet)
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter 
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
Toppings, as desired (toffee bits, crushed saltines, candies, nuts, etc)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet (or 9x13 pan) with foil. If you are not using non-stick foil, spray your foil with cooking spray. Place the saltine crackers in a single later on the foil and if needed, break some of the crackers to fit the areas where a whole cracker will not fit. Little pieces of cracker are okay, but try not to overlap too much.

Once the pan is ready to go, melt the butter and brown sugar in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Once everything is melted, boil the mixture for 1-2 minutes and then pour evenly over the saltine crackers. You may need to spread it over the crackers to get it totally coated. Then, place in the oven for 10 minutes, until hot a bubbly. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips on top. Allow the chocolate chips to soften up for about five minutes and then spread in to an even layer. Add toppings at this point, if using.

Let the pan cool for about 30 minutes and then place in the fridge for at least an hour or until set. Once toffee is set, remove foil, break up in to pieces and enjoy!

This toffee will last for about two weeks at room temperature or int he fridge for several weeks. But, it will probably be gone before before you can say saltine toffee!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

As the weather begins to get colder and the rain starts falling, it's time to start pulling out the soup recipes. In fact, the hubby and I have made Sunday "soup Sunday". It's a pretty good winter tradition if you ask me. We've been trying lots of new soups and reinventing some of the ones we love. While browsing through one of my favorite blogs, Handle the Heat, I came across a fabulous Turkey Pot Pie soup. It jumped out at me 1. because it was soup Sunday and 2. my husband has been craving pot pie for weeks. As much as I love a good crust, I wanted to see if this soup would give me all the flavors of pot pie, but without having (or without missing) that flaky and buttery crust. Ooh, that buttery crust. Yum. But I digress.

The best part about this soup is that it takes only 30 minutes to make. No joke. This is super fast soup. Or maybe it's souper fast soup. Now that's funny. Okay, back to the soup. This soup starts off with garlic, onion, celery and carrots in a big pot with a little bit of butter. Once all of the veggies are softened, you add in diced potatoes, fresh sage (mmm!) and then salt and pepper. Give it a good stir and then add in chicken broth and a bit of water. Let all of those flavors do their thing for about 10 minutes while the potatoes get nice and soft. Once the potatoes are cooked, add in the shredded chicken (or turkey if you have it) and half and half.  Just a bit to give it some creaminess, but not too much. Of course you can add more, if you want it extra creamy and rich. Give the soup a few more minutes to warm through and you are pretty much ready to go. If you are feeling extra fancy, now is the time to add a few handfuls of frozen peas. If you add them too soon, you'll get pea mush. Yuck. They just need a minute or two to heat up and your soup is ready to enjoy. Pot pie perfection!

This chicken pot pie soup is so flavorful, creamy and souper satisfying. It's literally pot pie in a bowl! The only thing that would make this soup better (if that is possible) would be a cheesy garlic biscuit to dunk in it. Don't worry, I made those too and the recipe is coming soon too! And they are so cheesy delicious and perfect for this soup.

soup + biscuits = love

Chicken Pot Pie Soup (slightly adapted from Handle the Heat)

1 tablespoon butter

1 small yellow onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup half-and-half
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 cups shredded leftover chicken or turkey meat (rotisserie chickens are great for this soup!)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the butter in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook until softened. About 5-7 minutes. Add in the  flour and cook for about one minute. Then add the potatoes, sage, and pepper. Pour in 2 cups water and the chicken broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for about 10 minutes.  Add the shredded chicken and half and half and cook until warmed through, about  five minutes. If adding in frozen peas, add them in now and let heat through for 1-2 minutes.

Add in the parsley and season with the salt. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary before serving.

This soup is souper good!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Honey Rosemary Roasted Walnuts

I know you all have been wondering where the heck I have been hiding, but let's just say that between grad school, getting married and work that I have not had much time to blog. Or sleep. Or see my husband. I promise to go into all the wonderful details of our wedding soon (I know you want to here all about!), but today is all about walnuts. Yummy, buttery, nutty walnuts. 

I recently bought a HUGE bag of walnuts and although I usually go through them in a heartbeat with all my holiday baking, I wanted to do something different this year. I wasn't sure how, but I wanted to do something a bit more savory. I love my sweet treats, but you have to have something salty and savory to balance it all out. As my husband would say, it's all about moderation. Maybe that was more about eating the treats. Oops. Nevertheless, these honey rosemary roasted walnuts are a must make and they couldn't be simpler. Let me tell you all about them.

All you need is walnuts, olive oil, a little cayenne pepper (just a pinch), honey, rosemary (fresh or dried) and salt and pepper. I ended up using dried rosemary because that's what I had in my pantry. And to be honest, I had already gone to two stores looking for fresh and both were out. Ugh. I was not about to go to a third when I knew I had dried. Also, if you are worried about the the cayenne, it is just a bit. I was worried it might be too much of a kick in the nuts, but you barely noticed it was there. Promise. Once you have gathered all your ingredients, you literally mix everything together and then bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Your home will fill up with the most heavenly aroma while the nuts bake. A little savory. A little sweet. A lot of deliciousness. 

Once the nuts come out of the oven, you will want them to cool before you enjoy them. Hot nuts are not good nuts because they will burn your tongue. That's not fun. Once the nuts are cooled, you can bag them up for gift giving, enjoy them as a snack or bring them to your next dinner or party for a yummy little appetizer. They are so delicious and are guaranteed to be gobbled up in a jiffy - go nuts!

feeling nutty?

Honey Rosemary Roasted Walnuts (Alaska from Scratch)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dried rosemary (or 2 tablespoons of fresh, minced)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups walnut halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, honey, rosemary, cayenne, pepper and salt. Add the walnuts in to a larger mixing bowl (enough to hold the nuts) and then pour over the oil and spice mixture. Mix enough to coat all the nuts well.

Line a cookie sheet with non-stick foil (if you use regular foil, make sure to spray it with non-stick spray such as Pam). Then spread the walnut mixture in a single later. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the nuts are hot, golden brown and your home is filled with the delicious scent of honey and rosemary.

Serve the nuts warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

If you allergic to walnuts, pecans, almonds or cashews can be substituted. This recipe also doubles and triples really well!