HELLO! I’M BACK!

Oh my goodness, I so did not mean to take this long to write another post.  It has been one heck of a holiday season!  Work was insane….which scares the heck outta me because typically the spring semester is busier than the fall semester.  Time just seems to go faster and faster every year.  I can’t believe we are already in the second week of January.  It is hard to believe that my students come back on Monday.  I doesn’t feel like it has been a week since they left.

Anyway, I have been cooking and taking photo’s – just not blogging – so here goes!

For the last admissions open house in December, I always make desserts for our student ambassadors.  This year, time was tight, so I made a pan of caramel brownies, a pan of blondies, and this amazingly awesome apple cake.  Oh my, was the apple cake delicious, so full of apples, barely sweet, with a nice hint of dark rum….YUM! It was the first dessert that the kids devoured, but have no fear….they ate every bit of the home made desserts and begged for more.

 

2016 was a crazy year and I didn’t get the opportunity to make as much jam as I usually do, thankfully, I was able to make a 5 gallon batch of hard cider and multiple batches of cranberry vodka, so at least I had gifts to give away to friends and co-workers.

Hard Cidercranberry-vodka

I, of course,  made  multiple batches of what my neighbor Kim lovingly refers to as Christmas Crack….aka….Burnt Sugar Almonds

sugar almonds

So all was right with the world.  I am hoping that life will slow down a bit once I am finish my responsibilities as task force chair of one of our program review teams.  I am putting in an additional 15-20 hours per week as part of the task force.   March 1st can’t come soon enough!  I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, mine was good, it just went  by wayyyyy to quickly!

Baby Shower

A dear friend of mine is due to have a lovely baby girl in August.   I was thrilled to be able to throw her a baby shower at my house on Saturday afternoon.   It wouldn’t be a party at my house if we didn’t have enough food to feed an army.  Since the event didn’t start until 2pm, I decided to make mini sandwiches, for those that hadn’t had lunch, snacks, for those that DID have lunch, and desserts, because seriously, everyone needs sugar to get through the opening of that many gifts!

buffet

I ordered three dozen dinner rolls from the local Italian bakery.  I used them to make mini sandwiches.  I  made a curried chicken salad with pistachio’s

A recipe I used to make at the restaurant where I worked as a line cook.  I started by poaching several boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and after they cooled, I diced the meat.  I added finely diced red onion, celery, and carrots before adding in a generous handful of pistachio nuts.  I toasted Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder in a dry saute pan to intensify the flavor then mixed that into some store bought mayo.  I would have made my own, but since my friend is pregnant, I didn’t want to risk it. I added the mayo to the meat and vegetables for a delicious chicken salad.

curry chx salad sammie

Next up, I made Caprese Sandwiches for the vegetarians in the group.  I sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.  I made a small batch of homemade pesto, which I spread on the roll, then topped it with the cheese and tomato. Easy peasy and so YUMMY!

The third sandwich was a simple smoked ham with swiss cheese and a spicy grainy mustard.  I was surprised, there wasn’t a clear favorite among the sandwiches!

For dessert, I made a pound cake with fresh sliced strawberries, a big batch of rice pudding, and chocolate crinkle cookies.  I know, a bit of a mish mosh, but I had very good reasons for each.  The rice pudding is one of Catherine’s favorites, the cookies are one of her mother’s favorites, and pound cake is one of my favorites….

rice pudding

Snacks were simple – a cheese display with marcona almonds, veggies with hummus, and chips with dip.

I swear I should have been a housewife from the 1950’s – I LOVE making (and drinking) punch.  I made two for the party.  A pink baby shower punch (cranberry juice, gingerale, and pink lemonade) and a whiskey lemonade punch.   The recipe for the whiskey lemonade punch called for a herb infused honey simple syrup.   I used thyme because I thought the earthy flavor would pair well with the whiskey and honey.   It was delicious and deceptively easy to drink.  All I had to do was infuse some water with lemon and we were all set.   I used my grandmother Irene’s punch bowl for the pink punch, I know she would have been thrilled!

punch

We all had a wonderful time.  Cat received some amazing gifts, and everyone walked away full.  I would say it was a total success!  The hubby was thrilled that we had some rice pudding left over for him to eat when he got home from entertaining the father to be.  A win/win situation if you ask me.  Now all we have to do is wait for their bundle of joy to grace us with her presence.

 

Christmas Eve and the Elves have been Busy

Today dawned rainy and gray here in PA, but I was totally OK with that, I had tons of things to finish in the kitchen!

dreary day

I started my day with a last-minute trip to the grocery store and then in the kitchen to make batch after batch of homemade granola

Homemade granola

I had made the dulce leche for the vanilla caramel liqueur yesterday, so all I had to do was assemble the liqueur today.  I am so glad I had originally planned on making a double batch, when I tested the recipe as written, I could hardly breathe!  WAAYYYYY too much alcohol in the mix.   I added the additional two cans of sweetened condensed milk, the rest of the 750 ml bottle of white rum and a second vanilla bean and it was perfect.

vanilla caramel liqueur

After finishing that, I made a batch of rice pudding for dessert tomorrow.

rice pudding

Some hazelnut truffles and yes, they have nutella in them, whooo hoooo!

hazelnut truffles

and last, but certainly not least……BOURBON BALLS!

making bourbon balls

This is the mixture before shaping it into balls and dipping in chocolate.  It couldn’t be simpler.  I got the recipe from a lovely woman who used to work in my office.

Doreen’s Bourbon Balls

2 Sticks Butter

3/4 Cup Chopped Pecans

2 Boxes of Confectioners Sugar (2 lbs total)

7-12 T Bourbon

Mix butter, sugar, and pecans together.  Add 7 T of bourbon, if the mixture is still too dry, add additional bourbon, 1 T at a time.  Roll into balls, place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes.  Dip in chocolate, refrigerate until firm.  Store in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Up next, dinner.  According to folklore, anyone who smells rosemary on Christmas Eve will experience happiness in the coming year.  After the year we have had, I really need a nice dose of happiness so rosemary garlic rack of lamb in our on menu tonight.

Happy Christmas, may Santa bring you everything you asked for…..

Update on the Cranberry Liqueur

Holy cow am I happy with the way this drink turned out.  The flavors are terrific, it is a little sweet, a little spicy, and definitely tart!  I am in the process of straining out the solids and bottling the beverage for holiday presents.  Here is my original post, if you want to try to make it.  It takes a bit of time to make, you need at least two months, so it would be the perfect gift for Valentines Day, I mean, really LOOK at that color!

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I have tried it over ice and it is fantastic.  I am thinking about including a bottle of club soda for everyone, it was really nice as an adult soda.   I am anxious to try it hot, in tea, the next time I am feeling under the weather.  Yippee! Another success and more importantly, one more present DONE!  I am moving right along, next up, holiday baking, whoo hoooo!

Christmas Liqueur

Around here it is never too early to start planning and creating Christmas gifts.   I try to make a liqueur every year, just because it is such fun and nothing warms you up on a cold winters night like a nice alcoholic drink! In the past I have made coffee liqueur, limoncello, and last year I even brewed up a 5 gallon batch of hard cider.   I always learn so much along the way, the hard cider was definitely my most adventurous project to date but I think the recipe for this year is going to be a winner.

I found this recipe a few years ago and I have been eager to try it.   I enjoy drinking cranberry and vodka, how bad could it be to add a bit of sugar, spice and citrus?

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I used my food processor to prepare the cranberries and added the orange and lime peel.   I dropped in a cinnamon stick, but didn’t add the allspice because I just wasn’t feeling it.   I think the color is fantastic!  What a great cheery color for Christmas and the long winter months that follow.   It won’t be ready until right before the holiday, but I will keep you posted on how it turns out.

Do you make homemade gifts for the holidays?  If so, what do you make?

 

Apple Peel Bourbon

On Thursday I made some homemade apple sauce and I ended up with a nice pile of apple peels.  Thank goodness I remembered that I had seen a recipe a few days back for an Apple Peel  Bourbon!

I found the recipe on the Food52 web page, if you haven’t checked it out, you should.  They have some great articles and some really fun recipes.

Anyway, I threw together a batch of the apple peel bourbon, I am in the wait and see stage. I figure I will break it out on Halloween night, when we are standing around outside handing out candy to the kids, I can hand out cups of bourbon to the adults and everyone wins!

apple peel bourbon Halloween 2013 002

I will keep you posted on the progress and let you know how it tastes, wish me luck!

Lemonade

I just love homemade lemonade in the summer.  It is such a refreshing drink and it can be used as a base for so many other drinks.  My mother’s favorite is an Arnold Palmer, equal parts lemonade and iced tea.   I love adding vodka to my lemonade.  With strawberries in season I was seriously tempted to puree a few berries and add them to the lemonade but in the end, I just really wanted a tall, frosty glass of sweetly tart lemonade.

Lemonade is such an easy recipe with only three ingredients – water, sugar, lemons.  You can’t really get any simpler than that.  As I said above you can always puree another fruit into the finished product for a different taste and or texture but the drink really doesn’t need any embellishment.  It is perfect as is.

Lemonade – 2 Quarts

12 Lemons, Juiced

4 Cup Water, Divided

1 Cup Sugar

I begin by combining one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a sauce pan, bring it to a boil and once the sugar dissolves.  I take it off the heat.  It is your standard simple syrup recipe.

Once the simple syrup is cool, I combine it with the juice of 12 lemons and 3 cups cold water.  That’s it, now pour it over ice and enjoy!

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If you are looking for a way to change-up the flavor, you can always add ingredients to your simple syrup to infuse the drink.  I wait until the sugar is dissolved and I have turned off the heat, then I add the flavor component and let it steep.  It is up to you if you strain it out before adding it to the lemonade.  Some of my favorite additions are: lavender (make sure you have the edible kind!), basil, thyme, or ginger.  I especially like infusing flavor into the lemonade if I am using it as a base for an adult summer beverage.

It is a bit hot out today, I can’t wait to put a cool glass of lemonade in my hand and sit under the umbrella on the deck, watching the world go by, happy lazy days of summer to you, my friend! A word of caution, this is a very tart lemonade, if it is too tart for you, add up to one additional cup of superfine sugar to the finished product until it reaches your desired level of sweetness.