Monday, December 15, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Maraschino Cherry Cookies

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take part in this year's Food Blogger Cookie Swap with a tiny one in tow, but I'm sure glad I signed up despite my initial doubtfulness. I mean, who wouldn't want to be part of something where you get cookies in the mail??? AND help out a great cause, to boot!

I have to admit, finding time to bake with a baby who is just a few weeks old was a challenge. But after some browsing through holiday baking magazines, I found a great, easy recipe that was totally doable... even between feedings, diaper changes and all those other baby odds and ends that need to be constantly tended to.

Chocolate Dipped Maraschino Cherry Cookies

These simple cookies get a festive look from chopped maraschino cherries {an ingredient I almost never have, but happened to find from another project in my pantry}. The red speckles give the cookies a decorative touch without much effort. To fancy them up, a little dip in a melted chocolate bath give them a luxurious feel that makes them gift-worthy!

If you're short on time but need pretty cookies for a holiday gathering or for gift giving, these are the perfect solution.

I was a lucky girl to be matched with Plating Pixels, The Housewife in Training Files and Authentic Suburban Gourmet as my cookie-sending pals.

From Plating Pixels, I received these amazing Almond Tangerine Butter Cookies. They were pure citrusy perfection!

From The Housewife in Training Files, I got these incredible Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies. So rich and chocolatey, it's hard to believe they're made without any flour!

And from The Authentic Suburban Gourmet, these Cranberry & Orange Shortbread Cookies arrived on my doorstep. The combination of zesty orange and chewy, tart cranberries tastes like a holiday, for sure.

A big thank you to these three bloggers for making my mailbox a little merrier!

It's officially time to crank up those ovens and get to baking for the holiday, and now you have a few great recipes to get you started!

If you're a food blogger and you'd like to participate in next year's Food Blogger Cookie Swap, make sure to sign up on their website to receive info about how to get in on the fun next time around!

Chocolate Dipped Maraschino Cherry Cookies
Adapted from Land O Lakes Recipe Collection Holiday Cookies Magazine

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries {rinse and drain before chopping}

3.5 ounces dark chocolate, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. Cream together butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy.

3. Add egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again until well-combined.

4. Slowly add flour, baking powder and salt, mixing at low speed until just incorporated. Stir in cherries until well distributed throughout the dough-- if you mix too much your cookies will be completely pink.

5. With a cookie scoop or a tablespoon measure, scoop dough and drop onto prepared baking pan leaving about 1 1/2 to 2 inches between cookies. Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes or until cookies are set and edges just begin to brown.

6. Remove from oven and cool completely.

7. When ready to dip, prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment or silicone baking mat. Dip each cookie half way into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Place on prepared baking pan and allow chocolate to set -- you can do this even quicker by placing it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.

When chocolate is set, they're ready to package!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Castello Aged Havarti & Dill Crackers | Sponsored Post

I love easy recipes for entertaining. I've done the whole fussy hors d'oeuvres thing -- the kind that practically take tweezers and a magnifying glass to perfectly place the garnish atop the tiny, mutiple-step bite. As beautiful as those types of appetizers are, let's be real: Who has the time?! 

For that very reason, I love a good cheese board. So much so, in fact, that I wrote a whole post last year about how to create the perfect one for holiday entertaining. I mean, who doesn't love cheese? It's one of the few things you can get away with plopping on a plate as is and still manage to receive compliments about.

It's the easiest option whether you're throwing your own shindig or attending someone else's, and I highly recommend it especially if you're running a little short on time. 

But if you really want to impress, you can step it up a notch with the cheese love and make your own cheese crackers.

You heard me! It's really not as hard as it seems. 

These Aged Havarti & Dill Crackers are the savory equivalent to Christmas cookies. They sort of come together like pie dough with just a handful of ingredients, and yet, the final result is an irresistible, buttery cracker bursting with flavor.

The Castello Aged Havarti cheese I used for these crackers is delicious on its own, too, so don't be afraid to make it the center of a cheese board and surround it with tasty accoutrements for your holiday festivities. Aged for a year, this cheese gets a rich flavor and unique crystallization {think: amazing little crunchy bits, sort of like a good Parm} that make it a delight to munch on. The buttery taste shines through and is enhanced by fresh dill... you won't be able to stop at one.

Since chances are that you're already busting out the rolling pin for holiday baking, why not give these savory crackers a try? The holidays are never a bad time to be over-the-top cheesy. :)

Disclosure: Compensation for this post was provided by Castello Cheese via Honest Cooking. As always, the opinions here are all my own!

Aged Havarti & Dill Crackers
Makes about 28 two-inch round crackers

4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 cup Castello Aged Havarti Cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely hopped {or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill}
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream or half & half, cold

1. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, pulse together butter, flour, salt, onion powder and dill.

2. Add cream or half & half and pulse a few more times until the mixture begins to form a ball or looks like clumpy, wet sand.

3. Turn mixture out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a disk. {I like to roll my dough out at this point by covering the dough with a second sheet of plastic wrap and rolling to desired thickness. I find it easier when the dough is soft.} Wrap well and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

5. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness {or thinner if desired} if you haven't rolled it out already. Using a cookie cutter or a pizza cutter, cut out or slice into desired shapes. Place on prepared baking pan. Prick the tops of each cracker a few times with the tines of a fork.

6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the tops begin to turn a light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cooking with Ming Tsai | Macy's Culinary Council

I get to do some pretty fun things thanks to the blog. Remember a while back when I attended a Macy's Culinary Council cooking demo with Chef Marcus Samuelsson? Well, guess what? I get to do it again, this time with celebrity chef Ming Tsai!

I have even better news: You're invited, too! 

Next Friday, December 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Ming Tsai will be serving up his favorite holiday dishes and teaching us how to whip them up for family and friends! This will all take place in the culinary kitchen of Macy's Dadeland. 

I had heard of Ming Tsai before being invite to this event, but I discovered even more about him when I read his bio. The guy graduated from Yale with a degree in Mechanical Engineering... AND attended Le Cordon Bleu during the summers of his schooling. Did I also mention that little Master's degree in Hotel Administration and Hospitality Marketing he picked up at Cornell University?! No big deal...

It's obvious he wasn't just smart, but also motivated and talented enough to open not one but TWO award winning restaurants -- Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA and Blue Dragon in Boston. 

If that's not enough to make you want to learn from this fella, he's also the host of several TV cooking shows like East Meets West with Ming Tsai, Ming's Quest and Simply Ming. He's also the author of five cookbooks! 

I'm looking forward to learning some pro tips from Chef Ming Tsai! If you'd like to join me, head over to the Eventbrite page to RSVP for a seat... spots are limited! 

If you can't make it but want to check out the event, make sure to follow me on Instagram where I'll be posting pics live from the demo! 

Hope to see you there! xo

Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Speculoos Whiskey-Ginger Truffles featuring Templeton Rye

It's been 9 {almost 10} long months of soberness for this gal.  Now that the bun is out of the oven, a whole new world of cocktails and spirit-infused goodies are back on my radar. {That is, with some careful planning between feedings.} Just in time for the holidays, too! Good timing.

When it comes to cocktails, whiskey is my liquor of choice. This often comes as a shock to people because it seems that somewhere along the line the idea of being a whiskey drinker was solely reserved for big, burly men. I'm here to tell you that petite women can be fans, too!

So, I was quite excited when I received an email asking if I was interested in playing around with Templeton Rye Whiskey in a truffle recipe. Um, whiskey AND chocolate?! Yes, please! However, it was while I was still pregnant, so I set the bottle aside and started dreaming up ideas to try out after the little tot arrived.

Fast forward to last week, I finally popped open the bottle of Templeton Rye and went to town with creating boozy confections. The goal: to create a truffle that was perfect for gift giving and spreading holiday cheer. For that, I knew I'd need some flavors that bring to mind images of cozy winter sweaters, crackling fireplaces and twinkling Christmas trees.

Along with the bottle of whiskey, I also received some Simply Organic from Frontier Coop ground ginger and vanilla extract. Both actually fit right in with my truffle idea.

The flavors of floral vanilla and spicy ginger were a fantastic complement to the butterscotch and toffee notes of the whiskey. To give the truffles a little extra zing, I coated them in a fine dusting of cocoa powder and pulverized Speculoos cookies. {I haven't been able to get them off my mind ever since I used them in the crumble topping for this pie.}

These truffles taste like the holidays to me; full of spice and warmth, and of course, concealing a boozy kick.

What flavors would you infuse into your homemade truffles? Cheers to homemade holiday goodies!

Disclosure: I was provided with whiskey, spices and a whisk to use for the creation of this recipe, as well as compensation for purchasing the ingredients. As always, all opinions seen here are my own!

Speculoos Whiskey-Ginger Truffles featuring Templeton Rye

For truffles: 
Scant 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 {3.5 oz} chocolate bar {I used Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa}, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon Simply Organic ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon Simply Organic vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Templeton Rye Whiskey

For coating:
About 1/3 cup crushed Speculoos cookies
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Place chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. In a small microwavable measuring cup, pour just under 1/4 cup heavy cream and heat for about 1 minute on high or until just starting to come to a bubble. Pour hot cream over chocolate.

3. Add ginger, vanilla and whiskey and stir together until the chocolate is completely smooth and melted.

4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours until firm, or overnight.

5. When the mixture has firmed up, scoop by the heaping teaspoonful and roll into a ball. {This is much easier with cold hands!}

6. Place each ball in the bowl of crushed cookie and cocoa mixture; roll around to coat. Continue with remaining ganache.

Keep refrigerated. Bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.

Monday, December 1, 2014

White Chocolate Almond Rugelach with Vanilla Raspberry Sauce

Christmastime may as well be synonymous with the word "cookie." It seems like every baker, every family and every culture has its own special cookie that the holidays would just not be complete without.

My mother-in-law makes her Italian pizzelles every year. She makes oodles of them, so we freeze them and eat them straight out of the freezer for months! Steve's grandma and great aunt both make amazing cookie trays with all kinds of Italian delicacies like knot cookies and strufoli. The ladies in my family join me in a small-scale cookie swap every year {and I'm not gonna lie, most of the time they buy their cookies, but it's still just as fun!}, and I usually get creative with trying out new recipes.

My cookie? Biscotti. I make tons and tons {and tons} of them, wrap them up and give them as gifts to family and friends. It's biscotti madness for, like, 3 days in my kitchen. We'll see how that works out this year with a tiny tot strapped to me.

Anyway, the point is, when it comes to cookies, we may have our favorites but we're open to letting new ones in on the holiday fun.We don't discriminate. If it's delicious, it's welcome.

These cookies might just have to make an appearance this year. So. Good.

They're Dorie Greenspan's Rugelach with a Dianna Muscari twist. I filled these beauties with chopped almonds, white chocolate and a sprinkle of brown sugar. And because it never hurts to go over the top, I made a delightful Vanilla Raspberry Sauce to go along with them.

Rugelach dough is shockingly simple. Made with butter, cream cheese, flour and salt, it comes together to make the flakiest yumminess you can imagine. You can fill rugelach with whatever your heart desires, though I highly recommend trying this white chocolate almond combo because it worked really, really well.

What are you favorite kinds of cookies for the holidays? Does your family have a special kind of cookie that makes an appearance this time of year?

Be sure to give these cookies a try... they may just become a new family favorite! 

Disclosure: I received a copy of Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook, Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere as well as product coupons and compensation for this post. As always, the opinions expressed here are all my own!

White Chocolate Almond Rugelach with Vanilla Raspberry Sauce
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere

4 oz. cream cheese
8 tablespoons {1 stick} butter
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup almonds, roughly chopped
Heaping 1/3 cup white chocolate chips or white chocolate bar, chopped
Pinch of cinnamon

1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
{Optional} Sanding sugar or granulated sugar

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer {or alternatively in a blender equipped to make dough}, combine cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add flour and salt and mix {or pulse} until a pebbly, clumpy mixture begins to form.

2. Scrape dough from bowl and press together to form a ball -- divide it in half. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap. Pat dough into 2 square shapes and wrap well. Refrigerate until the dough is firm, several hours or overnight.

3. When the dough is firm, place one square onto a well-floured surface and roll out to about 12 inches square. Cut square in half -- you should have approximately a 12x6 inch piece. Brush all over with melted butter. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar.

4. Carefully sprinkle with 1/4 of the chopped almonds, white chocolate and cinnamon leaving a small border around the dough. Press down lightly to help it stick.

5. Starting from the non-cut side, carefully roll {jellyroll style} up the dough, then flip seam side {the side with the neat cut edge} down. {Some of the filling may fall out the ends. Just do your best!} Wrap rolled up log in plastic wrap and place in freezer until firmed up a bit {30 minutes to an hour}. Meanwhile, repeat the process with rest of the dough and filling.

6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Set aside. Using a sharp or serrated knife, cut approximately 1 inch pieces from roll and place {seam side down} onto baking sheet.

7. Whisk together egg and water in a small bowl. Brush egg wash over each piece and sprinkle tops with sugar.

8. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until golden brown on the tops. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly {about 15 minutes} before removing from pan.

For Vanilla Raspberry Sauce

1 pint Driscoll's Raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Blend berries in a blender or food processor until smooth.

2. Combine berry puree and sugar in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Simmer until slightly thickened and darkened, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Serve alongside rugelach.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Baby Prep: Nursery Tour + Paperramma Review

This is probably not breaking news to people who know me pretty well, but I'm gonna put it out there anyway: I'm a pretty particular person. {Read: Nitpicky.}

I'm a perfectionist by nature and that translates to lots of parts of my life: Organization, work-style, surroundings, etc. Sometimes being so picky causes things to take a little longer than it would for others -- like picking out nail polish colors when I get a pedicure and deciding on a color scheme for a room.

I'm learning to let go of this because I know that babies aren't all about perfection and order, so I need to get over it. But when it came down to putting together the baby's nursery, I knew I wanted something that I'd feel happy in since I'll inevitably be spending many early mornings and late nights hanging around in there.

The main issues I had with nursery planning could be categorized by three main factors: budget, space and a lack of interest for anything that looks remotely babyish.

Some people are all into themes and cutesy little things that scream "newborn", and I can understand why teeny tiny soft things can definitely bring about the warm fuzzies. But I prefer a more classic style that can easily translate to life after diapers, so it was a challenge looking for things that towed that line. These were some of the looks I had pinned when the planning first began:

Swoon. {From Eat.Sleep.Decorate.}
masculine looking baby boy nursery
Found on Pinterest.
I started out with bedding because I figured that would be a good jumping off point as far as colors and styles. I found this "Make a Splash" crib bedding set from Land of Nod and thought that the colors were great and the whales gave a playful touch without overdoing the whole animal thing. With that picked out, I was able to go from there with the rest of the d├ęcor.

New School Crib Bedding (Make a Splash)  | The Land of Nod

We live in a rental -- a three story, 2 bed 2.5 bath townhome -- so I knew there wouldn't be any wall painting to do because we didn't want to have to worry about painting it back in the future. So, picking out cute art was a must.

Enter Paperramma. Upon first glance, I immediately loved the look of their modern, fresh prints that had all the whimsy you want in a nursery with a custom twist.

I browsed their stuff and fell in love with the idea of creating a custom,"interactive" map to put over Cole's crib, but wasn't sure if I could pull off buying all the wall art I wanted and still stay within budget.  Lo and behold, I found out that they were working with bloggers and offering custom creations for those who wanted to review their Paperramma experience. How perfect! It was meant to be.

After getting accepted to work with Paperramma, they immediately started the customization process asking me things like the baby's name, date of birth, color scheme and any other special things that might be important to the design. This is where I immediately started to freak out. Because this is usually the part where I can't make up my mind, or can't express exactly what I'm looking for.

So... I emailed them with as many details as possible. I sent a picture of the bedding and asked if they could coordinate the colors {they could}, and if they could add a custom quote instead of the date of birth at the bottom {they did}. I basically mashed together two of their custom map ideas to create one perfect map to match what I had in mind.

The two maps I used for inspiration.
My custom map!
With just ONE try, they were able to capture exactly what I imagined. That never happens! Color me impressed.

I'm so excited about the fact that we can add pins to show Cole's future travels. Gotta start planning some trips soon! I'm also going to eventually add a wooden frame around the border -- that's a DIY project for when things get a bit more settled. I'm thinking a distressed gray outer frame... anyone want to come over and build it for me?!

We had a few more frames to fill over Cole's changing table, so I purchased one more print from Paperramma -- a print that holds a lot of meaning to our little family. For years, "Three Little Birds" has been our song whenever times are tough so, as soon as I saw this adorable print, I knew we had to include it in the decor.

The rest of the artwork we {will} have on the walls I made myself with PicMonkey using inspiration from other quotes I had seen during my pinning sprees. I simply created them and will have them printed and hung them in these nice frames that I purchased during Michael's BOGO sales. I repurposed an old frame I've had since college and turned it into a little clipboard frame for mementos and pictures with a quick coat of paint and some metal clips. Done and done... and on the cheap, too!

Classic white furniture {just a crib, a glider and a dresser for which I purchased a removable changing table top} and a bold striped rug easily completed the look I was going for -- clean, boyish and modern.

Side note: One of my favorite parts of Cole's room is actually his closet. I love storage and organization. I bought this piece from Walmart and it works perfectly for all the little odds and ends that need a home but that I don't necessarily want out in plain view. I now want to redo my entire closet so it's as tidy as his!

So. Much. Clothes.
There are still little things here and there that I'd like to tweak and add to, but I'm so happy with how Cole's space turned out -- and even happier that I came across Paperramma and had the amazing opportunity to work with them!

Looking for custom prints of your own? Paperramma is offering The Kitchen Prep readers $5 off any order of $50 or more! Simply type in the coupon code TKPREPBLOG14 at checkout.

A big thank you to my friends at Paperramma for creating the finishing touches for the baby's room! I'm sure I'll be making some more purchases in the future for more custom adorableness. :)

{Note: I had the baby! I wrote most of this post before he arrived, so there's not much about him in it -- except, of course, that last picture! I'll be sharing more about our new lives as parents soon!}

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Spiced Cider Braised Pork Tenderloin | Sponsored Post: Fiji Water - Perfection Takes Time

Think of some of your favorite dishes to eat and make around the holidays. The ones that warm your soul and bring feelings of nostalgia welling up from deep inside. You know the ones I'm talking about.

Grandma's homemade pies. Mom's slow-cooked roast. Your family's famous Sunday "gravy". 

Many of these dishes have one thing in common: They take time to make. That's why they're so special! Because you don't have time to whip them up on a daily basis. They may only make an appearance once a year, and therefore, they earn a special place of honor when they do show up at the dinner table.

I know many of us have fallen into the "30 Minute Meals" mentality because, well... life. Most of us don't have the luxury of being able to start a slow-cooked dinner at 10 a.m., which is a shame because who doesn't love the thought of coming home to something that's been baking, roasting or simmering all day long?

Sure, shortcuts can still produce some pretty delicious meals, but the truth is simple: Perfection Takes Time.

The best things in life often do. 

Fiji Water knows all about how perfection is a process not to be rushed. Starting as rains falling over the Fijian rain forest, Fiji Water makes its way from the clouds down through layers of ancient volcanic rock. Along the way, it gathers minerals and electrolytes that give the water it's distinct, smooth taste. Finally, it gathers in a protected artesian aquifer where it sits until it is bottled at the source.

Now, doesn't that make Cider Braised Pork Tenderloin sound like a cinch? ;)

In honor of life's slow and wonderful processes, I came up with this seasonal recipe that takes a little time but is so worth the effort.

Pork tenderloin is seasoned, seared and braised, nestled among onions, apples and fragrant sage in this slow-cooked meal. It's both simple and succulent. Because the meat cooks for several hours, it becomes fork-tender and absorbs all the amazing flavors that surround it as it simmers away. 

Your house will smell like fall, and your taste buds will rejoice when they taste the product of patience -- pure perfection.

Get this and other "Perfection Takes Time" recipes on

Disclosure: Compensation for this post was provided by Fiji Water via Honest Cooking. As always, the opinions here are all my own!