Easy Salty and Sweet Christmas Bark

I used to go with my mom to a small chocolate store half an hour from where we lived in Illinois every December. We would pick up bags of red, green, brown and white melting chocolate which we would bring home, melt and pour into different Christmas molds like wreaths, bells and snowmen. I really miss that. I hadn’t played with melting chocolate since then which was way too long ago. I found melting chocolate at Target and next thing I know, I’m throwing pretzels, chocolate cookies and peanut M&Ms into my cart. I ended up making this Easy Salty and Sweet Christmas Bark.

Why haven’t I been doing this before? Making bark is SO easy! And now that I know that, I’ve been looking up different kinds of bark on Pinterest and my mind is reeling. I want to make more! Now that I know where to find melting chocolate, how easy it is to work with and how stinking good it is, I’ll start making bark all year, not just during the holidays!

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Easy Salty and Sweet Chocolate Bark

  • 1 pound white melting chocolate (I used CandiQuik vanilla candy coating)
  • 1 cup pretzels (preferably holiday shapes – trees, bells & stars)
  • 6-8 chocolate sandwich cookies with red or green filling (like Oreo)
  • red and green m&ms (regular or peanut)
  • red and green sprinkles

Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or wax paper; set aside. Chop cookies into 1/4th; set aside. Melt chocolate according to package directions. Pour half the melted chocolate onto the baking sheet; spread to approximately 1/4 inch thick.

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Working quickly, add the pretzels, cookies pieces, m&m’s, and sprinkles over the chocolate in a sporadic pattern.

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Drizzle the remaining melted chocolate on top of the pretzels and cookies. Garnish with additional sprinkles; if desired.

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Place the baking sheet in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. Once set, break the bark into pieces.

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Chocolate-Pistachio-Cherry Biscotti

I didn’t grow up familiar with biscotti. I’ve only ever made it once and each time I make it, it seems daunting. But even though there are a few steps, it really is easy. I took some of this Chocolate-Pistachio-Cherry Biscotti to the Philadelphia Eagles tailgate I went to on Sunday and saw someone eat one, then walk over and grab another one. I hadn’t even tasted one yet so I tapped him on the arm and asked him how they were. “The best biscotti I’ve ever had,” he said. His wife agreed and said she’d never seen him eat TWO biscotti. I was thrilled!

With a chocolate dough base, these biscotti have dried cherries (my fave!) and pistachios mixed into the dough giving little flecks of red and green that seem so appropriate for the holidays. Dried fruit and nuts are such an amazing combination and putting them in a cookie is a great way to enjoy them without having to cut into a fruitcake. With one end dipped in a little semi-sweet chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate, these will sure to satisfy your chocolate sweet tooth.

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Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

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Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating until blended.

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Stir in pistachios and cherries.

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Place half of dough on each prepared baking sheet. Shape each half into a slightly rounded log about 10 x 3 inches using floured hands. (Dough will be very sticky.)

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Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until dough is firm to the touch. Let cool completely on baking sheet on a wire rack.

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Transfer logs to a cutting board, and cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-wide slices with a serrated knife. Place slices, cut sides down, on a baking sheet. Bake 4 minutes on each side or until crisp. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

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Dip ends of biscotti in dark chocolate, and drizzle with white chocolate, if desired.

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Place on wax paper to set.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Coastal Living magazine

Chewy Molasses Cookies

This really is my favorite time of the year. And I’m not just talking about Christmas time. I’m talking about cookie time! I know I can make cookies at any time during the year but the truth is I don’t. So I get giddy like I a little kid when I can carve out a weekend day to spend hours in my kitchen covered in flour baking batch after batch of cookies and treats. I had a lot going on this past weekend but I didn’t let anything get in my way when it came to baking on Saturday morning. The first cookie I decided to make were these Chewy Molasses Cookies.

Similar in flavor to gingerbread, these molasses cookies are soft, chewy, and mouthwatering. With warm spices of cinnamon, ginger, and ground cloves, these treats scream happy holidays and belong in anyone’s cookie jar. Ginger and spice and everything nice? Check! As much as I love baking cookies, I don’t like having cookies in my house so I bake for my family instead. We all live far apart and I love nothing more than filling up a tin of cookies, shipping them away, and having my family thankfully appreciate them. It makes me warm and fuzzy. Kind of like these cookies.

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Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through salt) in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place butter, 5 tablespoons granulated sugar, and brown sugar in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 5 minutes or until fluffy. Add egg; beat 30 seconds.

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Add molasses; beat just until combined.

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Add flour mixture to butter mixture; beat at low speed or just until combined. Cover and chill 30 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 24 balls, about 1 1/2 tablespoons each. Roll balls in remaining 3 tablespoons sugar; place 2 inches apart on baking sheets covered with parchment paper. Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes or just until set.

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Cool 3 minutes on pan; remove to a wire rack.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Gingerbread Cocoa

It really is kind of amazing how different your house can feel once you put up Christmas lights. So when you have the lights on and look out the window to see it is snowing delicately outside, doesn’t your mind instinctively develop a hot chocolate craving? Not to mention that it’s so cold out that sometimes you want to drink something other than coffee to warm you up. This Gingerbread Cocoa is warm cup of festive comfy goodness.

Cocoa, sugar, apple pie spice, and ground ginger are combined with milk and whisked together until warm and smooth. The cocoa and spices melt away and develop a warm, subtle spicy flavor that will make anyone wonder what’s in this milky cup. This recipe called for a gallon of milk which was a little more hot cocoa than I needed so I cut this recipe in half… and in half again. I also used unsweetened vanilla almond milk because I’m crushing on it lately and it’s what I had on hand. The result was a creamy, chocolate-y thing that makes you go hmm. And perfect for a snowy day.

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Whisk together first sugar, cocoa, apple pie spice, and ground ginger in a pot or Dutch oven until blended; gradually whisk in milk.

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Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

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Transfer to a slow cooker, and keep warm on LOW, if desired.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions:

  • Unsweetened vanilla almond milk

Overall Rating: Like It

Source: Southern Living magazine

Caprese Sliders

Yes, I know, caprese tends to be a little more July than December. After all, tomatoes are a little redder, a little plumper, and a little juicier in the summer. But if I only ate caprese during warm months, I think I’d die. Okay, so I’m dramatic. But I could easily eat it in some way every single day. Even if the tomatoes aren’t in season, caprese can still be good because fresh mozzarella and basil are always available. And if you add a little bit of balsamic vinegar or pesto, it can help you forget that tomatoes aren’t at their best. I needed a caprese fix now so that’s why I made these Caprese Sliders.

Slices of tomato are grilled on the stove (although I didn’t actually grill them) before being layered with avocado, basil, and fresh mozzarella onto warm, doughy rolls smeared with vibrant bold pesto. Really, you don’t need to grill or warm the tomatoes but if the tomatoes aren’t so great, what’s it hurt? In season, I would stick to raw tomatoes but since it’s not, warming them actually makes them a little juicier so I didn’t mind. These sandwiches didn’t stand a chance with me. So what if they fell apart a little bit? Scooping up pieces of a really good sandwich and having juices dripping down your wrists is a sign of a good sandwich. And this is a really good sandwich!

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Heat oven to 400 degrees . Place rolls on a baking sheet and bake 10 to 12 minutes, following package directions. Allow to cool. Heat stovetop grill to medium-high. Brush tomato slices with olive oil and grill 2 minutes. Turn and grill 1 additional minute.

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Split rolls horizontally and spread bottom half of each with 1 tsp pesto. Layer each with 1 tomato slice, 2 basil leaves, 1 mozzarella slice and 2 avocado slices. Top with remaining roll halves.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Family Circle magazine

Chicken Bites with Tomato Mint Salsa

I was in Atlanta last week for work and every time I travel, I look forward to getting home and cooking. I know several people who just don’t understand that but it’s something that puts me at ease. Also, after eating restaurant food for five days, I just want to eat something that I cooked. Anyone else like that? So, of course, I decided to make chicken. You know, something (not so) new and different. Boring chicken these Chicken Bites with Tomato Mint Salsa aren’t. I’m wowed.

Tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño are broiled in the oven giving them a deep rich, sweetness and then whirled together with chipotles in adobo sauce, cumin and fresh mint and cilantro. The chicken is seasoned with cilantro and cumin giving it a warm, comforting flavor that mixes so well with the bold salsa. This salsa though…my gosh. Even if you don’t want to make the chicken, make this salsa. It’s bold, it’s vivid, and it’s alive. It makes the salsa from my hotel happy hour last week look like sad, pathetic, lame, boring nothingness.

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Preheat broiler with a rack set about 4 in. from heat. Set tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning as needed, until blackened, 15 to 25 minutes; as done, transfer to a bowl and let cool.

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Peel, stem, and seed chile. In a food processor, pulse vegetables (including blackened parts from tomatoes and onion) and their juices until chopped. Add remaining salsa ingredients and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl.

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Cut chicken into 1- to 1 1/2-in. chunks. In a bowl, combine 2 tbsp. oil, the cumin, salt, chopped cilantro, and chicken.

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Heat a 12-in. frying pan (not nonstick) over high heat. Add remaining 1 tbsp. oil; swirl to coat. Cook chicken, stirring and turning once, until lightly browned but still moist, 5 minutes.

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Stir cilantro leaves into chicken; transfer with a slotted spoon to a platter. Serve with salsa and skewers.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Sunset magazine

Herbed Corn Muffins

So what do you do when your Thanksgiving leftovers are all gone but yet you still have leftover ingredients in your fridge? Leftovers from leftovers? Ugh! This happens to me all the time when I’m cooking. Really, unless you are making a parsley pesto, who ever needs more than a few tablespoons of parsley? Yet you can only get a big bushel in the grocery store. I hate throwing out herbs but it happens all the time. I’m sorry. I hate to say it, but it’s true. I refused to do it this time and sat down specifically looking for a recipe that I could use these herbs in. Thank goodness for these Herbed Corn Muffins.

Cornmeal batter made with buttermilk (also a leftover in my fridge that I never use up) gets a fresh kicky spirit from three leftovers in my produce drawer: thyme, parsley, and scallions. Oh, and some pecorino cheese! Talk about a perfect use for those random Thanksgiving hangers-on. Considering I always have baking items on hand (for when that cookie dough breakdown occurs), muffins are an easy way to use up leftover herbs because not only are they really easy and quick to make, they freeze so well. You can bake them and put them away for when you want them the next time you make soup or chili. And these muffins have such an amazing flavor from the cheese and herbs, you’ll be so happy that you made them now and have them later. It’s thyme to bake those herbs away, friends. Sorry…I had to. :)

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Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine buttermilk, olive oil, and egg; stir well with a whisk. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, and pecorino Romano cheese in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk.

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Make a well in center of flour mixture. Add milk mixture, and stir just until moist.

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Gently stir in green onions, parsley, and thyme.

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Spoon into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray.

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Bake at 400°F for 13 minutes.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions: None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

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