Chocolate Espresso Snowballs

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I used to be an avid baker. I would bake something sweet at least once a week because I refuse to buy grocery store cookies and cakes because they all taste horrible. Once I started working at a bakery in March, I stopped baking. Almost everything we make at work is better than anything I could ever do, so it became a lot easier for me to just pick up some cupcakes for a party rather than bake my own. There are also those days when I can’t stand to even look at another cookie once I walk out of those doors. Now that the holidays are upon us, I feel like my love of baking has come back in full force. The bakery I work at creates really beautiful baked goods, but it makes me miss the homemade taste and look of my own kitchen. I spend all day tossing cupcakes that are slightly smooshed or cookies that are a little brown. But when I come home and bake, I embrace those imperfections rather than criticizing them. It’s those imperfections that let my family know I made these goodies with my own two hands rather than just taking the easy way out. Even though I love small businesses and family-owned bakeries, I strongly encourage everyone to bake something yourself this Christmas. Your family will love it so much more than anything from a store, I promise!

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But anywho, enough about me. These cookies are the bomb. They’re a riff on traditional Italian Wedding Cookies. I took a boring and predictable cookie and punched it up with strong coffee and chocolate flavors. The chocolate isn’t overly sweet and the espresso isn’t too bitter. You’re left with a well balanced and crunchy cookie that’s perfect with coffee and milk. Since they are a harder cookie, they’ll travel well no matter where you go this holiday season. They also freeze beautifully. I made one dozen to enjoy now and set aside 2 dozen to  freeze for Christmas. To freeze, just place the cooled cookies (do not powder them!) into a large ziploc and remove all of the air. Then store them in the freezer for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to eat, take the bag out of the freezer and pour some confectioners sugar inside. Zip it back up and toss the cookies in the sugar as they’re defrosting. It couldn’t be any easier!


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Chocolate Espresso Snowballs

Adapted from Food & Wine

Makes about 3 Dozen

  • 2 sticks softened unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kahlua
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • confectioners sugar for coating

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.Combine the butter, sugar, Kahlua, cocoa powder, and espresso powder in a large bowl. Mix the ingredients until light and fluffy using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add the flour in 1/4 cup increments until the flour is thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans. Cover and refrigerate the dough for half an hour.

2. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets using the butter wrappers from earlier. Gently roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place them about 2 inches apart from each other on a cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are dry and slightly firm to the touch and the bottoms have begun to brown. Allow the cookies to cool for 10 minutes on the cookie sheet. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Once the cookies are cool, coat with powdered sugar. Enjoy with family and friends over a cup of coffee or a glass of milk.

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Jan’s Caramelized Shallot and Chive Mashed Potatoes

The latest installment in my Thanksgiving sides feature is a dish that you can, and should, eat all year. Caramelized Shallot and Chive Mashed Potatoes will change the way you look at the humble potato forever. I learned this recipe from Jan, my former boss and mentor. Not only did she teach me so many recipes that I now cook almost weekly, she also taught me a tremendous amount about being a good businesswoman, friend, and future wife. I had the privilege to work with Jan for a little less than a year, and I wish that I could have spent more time under her wing. I miss seeing her smile and hearing her big laugh fill up our little office everyday. She was recently diagnosed with lung cancer so I’m dedicating this post to her.

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Jan always said that in order to change people’s minds, you have to slowly introduce subtle changes over time. These potatoes are a great example of that. The mashed potato base is a very simple recipe. There’s no sour cream or tangy buttermilk. Just cream, butter, and salt. Then you add chives which really isn’t that uncommon. After the chives, you mix in ribbons of sweet, roasty toasty shallots. This may make people’s heads turn, but because the mashed potato base and additional chives are so familiar, people won’t write off the dish all together. I think that after one bite, even your pickiest eaters will change their mind. Gravy compliments all of the flavors so beautifully. It really would be a shame for your amazingly rich gravy to sit on top of ho-hum potatoes. Jan also taught me that shallots are very forgiving. So don’t worry about overcooking them, because it’s virtually impossible. The onion’s milder cousin can really take the heat. This recipe is also very customizable. I went a little conservative with the amount of chives and shallots, but you can tailor it your liking. Max said that each bite was 80% perfect mashed potato and 20% sweet onion goodness. That right there makes me want to get another bowl.

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Jan’s Caramelized Shallot and Chive Mashed Potatoes

Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 6 tablespoons of room-temperature butter, divided
  • 2 pounds russet potatoes (about 7 large potatoes), peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half, heated
  • 1/4 cup chives, finely chopped
  • salt, to taste

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Add sliced shallots and saute on medium low until they soften, about 5 minutes. Once they begin to brown, cook on low for 15 minutes, or until they’re fully caramelized. Stir often.

2. While the shallots are cooking, boil the potatoes in a pot of salted water until they are fork tender. When the potatoes are done, drain them thoroughly. No one wants soggy potatoes.

3. Transfer the potatoes to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the potatoes on medium-low until they are coarsely mashed. Then, slowly pour the warmed cream while the mixer is on low. Then add 4 tablespoons of butter. Once the potatoes are mashed to your liking, turn off the mixer and fold in  the chives by hand. Then pour the shallots into the potatoes, brown butter and all. Fold the shallots into the potatoes. Be sure to fully incorporate them. Taste the potatoes and season accordingly. scmp finished 5

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The Gingered Apple

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As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t enjoy overly sweet cocktails. If I had to choose between a strawberry daiquiri and a gin and tonic, I’d pick the gin any day. So that means you can count me out on all of your gingerbread martinis and drunken pumpkin pies. I concocted a cocktail for everyone like myself to drink this holiday season. It starts out with a shot of Irish whiskey, a swizzle of spicy homemade ginger syrup, a splash of tart apple cider. and then topped off with a little ginger ale for some fizz. The cinnamon rim adds some much needed spice and a festive touch. The whiskey will warm your belly and give you just enough buzz to listen to your weird uncle’s post-dinner political rants. The Gingered Apple won’t fill you up like those super rich holiday martinis do, which means more pumpkin pie for you! Don’t be intimidated by the ginger syrup. It’s surprisingly easy to make. You don’t even need to peel the ginger. I just thinly sliced a piece of ginger slightly longer than my thumb and steeped it along with water and sugar in a saucepan for an hour. It’s one of those recipes you don’t have to babysit. Just make sure that you strain the syrup well. Pieces of ginger floating in your drink is not that appetizing.


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The Gingered Apple

  • cinnamon for the rim
  • a shot of Irish whiskey
  • 2 oz of ginger syrup (about a shot and a half)
  • 5 oz of apple cider
  • a splash of ginger ale
  • apple slices and a cinnamon stick for garnish (optional)

1. Wet the rim of a tumbler with your finger. Sprinkle some cinnamon on a plate and twist the wet side of the glass in the cinnamon until the rim is thoroughly coated. Carefully place 3 ice cubes in the rimmed glass.

2. Pour a shot of whiskey and a shot and a half of ginger syrup in the glass. Stir to combine. Add apple cider until the glass is 3/4 of the way full. Stir. Then top off the drink with a splash of ginger ale. Add apple slices and a cinnamon stick to garnish. Sit by the fire and enjoy your drink.

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Whiskey that’s old enough to buy cigarettes is a nice touch.

Gourmet Green Bean Casserole

Green bean casserole is one of those dishes that you either love, or love to hate. I, myself absolutely love it. I look forward to it every year. There’s nothing better than crisp green beans enveloped in a creamy sauce topped with salty fried onions. What I don’t love is condensed cream of mushroom soup. That stuff is nasty. What goes into that can is anything but natural. My take on green bean casserole is stepped up a notch without sacrificing any classic holiday flavors. And besides, the best meal of the year deserves far better than creepy canned goods (I’m lookin’ at you, cranberry sauce!).

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This version starts out the best way possible, with caramelized shallots. The shallots instantly give the dish a homey taste that you expect at Thanksgiving. Then we add a delectable blend of mushrooms that includes baby bellas, shittakes, and oysters which are far better than those unrecognizable gray chunks in a can. I like to pick up the gourmet blend of pre-sliced mushrooms at my grocery store to cut down on cost and prep time. After that we add cream, fresh thyme, sharp Vermont cheddar, and chicken stock to create the foundation of the casserole. Since green beans are no longer in season in Illinois, I decided to use frozen instead, and I think it worked out better. This way, there’s no chance of over cooking. After the filling is assembled, you sprinkle on the delectable topping. This is where it gets good. The topping is a blend of buttery panko bread crumbs and crispy French fried onions for nostalgia purposes. I love the contrast between the crunchy crust and velvety filling. This gourmet casserole may turn all of those haters into lovers. I mean, how could you not love it?!

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Caramelized shallots and mushrooms

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Creamy and dreamy homemade mushroom gravy and crisp green beans


Gourmet Green Bean Casserole

Adapted from The Galley Gourmet

Serves 10

Ingredients

For The Topping:

  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups (6 ounces) of French fried onions

For the beans and mushroom gravy:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Vermont cheddar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 pounds frozen green beans

For the topping:

1. In the bowl of a food processor combine butter and Panko. Pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add fried onions and pulse a few more times until the butter is well incorporated. Set aside.

For the casserole:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add sliced shallots and cook over low heat until they start to caramelize. About 8 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are softened and begin to brown. Add fresh thyme and stir.

2. Add the flour to the pot and stir until the onions and mushrooms are coated in flour. Cook for a bout 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add cream and stir. Cook over medium until the sauce has thickened. Add cheese and nutmeg then stir. Pour in chicken broth and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Add frozen green beans to the sauce and stir to coat. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle the topping over the beans and bake until it is golden and bubbly, about 15 to 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool for 7 minutes before serving.

**To make in advance-
The topping can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, then combined with the fried onions just before cooking.  Once the beans and sauce have cooled separately, they can be combined.  Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  To serve, remove the plastic wrap and cover with foil.  Heat the the casserole in a 400º F oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil, add the topping, then bake for another 10-15 or until browned and bubbling.

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Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

When I was 16, I asked for an ice cream maker for Christmas. My mother did not understand my crazy food obsession and told me that I wouldn’t be receiving one because it was “stupid and impractical”. Well last week, I bit the bullet and finally bought the ice cream maker of my dreams. To my surprise, my mom was thrilled about my newest purchase. I was bombarded with questions like, “What kind of ice cream are you making? When will it be ready? Can you put coconut in it?”. I obviously took every opportunity I could to remind her about the time she didn’t get me an ice cream maker for Christmas.

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Considering the fact that this was my first foray into homemade ice cream, I think it went pretty well. I did a fair amount of research beforehand and I gathered a few valuable tips.

  1. Always freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker for at least 24 hours beforehand.
  2. Use a strainer to remove any cooked egg bits from the ice cream base.
  3. Add a small amount of alcohol to the ice cream base before churning to improve scoopability.
  4. Use the freshest and highest quality ingredients you can find.
  5. Freeze the ice cream for a few hours after churning.

I was raised on Sherman’s ice cream from Michigan which is in my opinion, the best ice cream on the planet. I love creamy hard packed ice cream that you can only get at old fashioned ice cream shops, and that’s what you’ll get from this recipe. I love the perfect blend of luxurious vanilla flavor and bright strawberry freshness. I highly recommend buying strawberries from your local farmer’s market. You want the freshest berries you can get your hands on. The chocolate chips aren’t totally necessary, but they are a fun touch. Make this recipe for the Fourth and impress your friends and family.

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Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream

Adapted From The Pioneer Woman
Serves 16


Ingredients

  • 3 cups Half-and-half
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1 whole Vanilla Bean (or 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract)
  • 9 whole Large Egg Yolks
  • 3 cups Heavy Cream
  • 1 pound Strawberries, Hulled
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 3 T vodka
  • 1/2 c dark chocolate chips

1. Stir together the half-and-half and 2 cups sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the beans, and add it to the mixture (or add the vanilla extract.) Heat the mixture until it’s hot but not simmering or boiling. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks vigorously with a whisk until they start to lighten in color, about 2 minutes.

2. Next, grab a ladle of the hot half-and-half mixture and very slowly drizzle it into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking the whole time. (The purpose of this is to temper the egg yolks and bring them to a good temperature before adding them to the pan.) Repeat with a second ladle of hot half-and-half mixture, making sure to whisk the whole time.Pour the tempered yolks into the saucepan with the rest of the half and half mixture and stir gently with a wooden spoon for 2 to 4 minutes, cooking it slowly until it’s thick enough to coat the spoon. Pour the thick liquid through a fine mesh strainer and into a clean bowl. Add the heavy cream to the bowl and stir gently to combine. Refrigerate this mixture for 2 hours, or until chilled.

3. Combine the strawberries, 3 tablespoons of vodka, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a blender. Puree until smooth (or you can stop just short of smooth if you want a little texture.) Pour the pureed strawberries into the chilled custard mixture and stir.

4. Now pour this mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze it according to its directions (You may have to do it in two batches depending on its size). Add the chocolate chips, of using, 5 minutes before the mixture is finished churning. After it freezes, transfer it to a freezer-safe container and freeze it for at least 4 hours, or until frozen firm.

5. Serve with strawberry garnish!

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My Favorite Breakfast

When I was a little kid, I used to hate breakfast. I would always argue with my parents when they would make me eat cereal before school. Well, I still hate cereal, but I love breakfast. It has quickly turned into my favorite meal of the day. I love making myself a really special breakfast on the weekends. It always feels like such a treat to eat eggs instead of a cold yogurt. I first saw this recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris when I was in high school and I’ve been tweaking it for years. By the time I was in college, I had perfected it. This dish feels so luxurious and the presentation is so beautiful. It would be perfect to serve guests at an Easter brunch. Best of all, it’s so simple to prepare. The first time you make it, you’ll be sad you’ve gone all of these years without it. The eggs taste so rich from the small amounts of cream and butter, you’ll be surprised at how little you actually need. This dish is also easily customizable. Feel free to use whichever seasoning and cheese pairing you like. I’ve made it with Lawry’s seasoning salt and cheddar cheese, which was amazing. I’m partial to the Lake Shore Drive Seasoning from the Spice House in Chicago. It is by far the best seasoning blend I’ve ever had in my life (this is not a paid advertisement from The Spice House. I’m just obsessed with them and they don’t even know I exist). You can buy it here. The most important thing to keep in mind about this recipe is that the timing is very important. I’ve overcooked my eggs far too many times than I’d like to admit. If you follow this recipe closely, it will turn out beautifully!

Ingredients 1

Herb Broiled Eggs

Serves 1

  • 2 eggs, the fresher the better
  • 2 T heavy cream
  • 1 T butter 1/4 t of your favorite seasoning blend
  • 2 T of your favorite cheese
  • toast, for dipping
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Special equipment A small, shallow baking dish, such as a gratin dish.

1. Preheat broiler to a medium heat. I set mine at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour cream and seasoning into the baking dish. Then cube butter and scatter in the dish, as pictured above.

2. Carefully crack the 2 eggs without breaking the yolk, and place in a small bowl near the oven.

3. Put the dish with the cream and butter in the broiler for 3 minutes, or until bubbly. Put the bread in the toaster.

4. Once the cream and butter are visibly bubbly, carefully slide the eggs into the dish. Do not break the yolk! Broil for 2 minutes, or until the whites are just set, as pictured below.

5. Sprinkle cheese on top and broil for another minute. Carefully remove the dish from the broiler and serve with a towel or pot holder underneath. Serve with toast and enjoy your weekend!

cooked eggs  You want the cream and butter to be bubbly and the whites to be firm before you add the cheese.

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Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

If you’re not familiar with the delicious, yet terribly dangerous, concoction that is the Irish Car Bomb, I’m not sure if you should get acquainted. A traditional Irish Car Bomb consists of a shot glass filled with Baileys Irish Cream and Jameson that is then dropped in a nearly full glass of Guinness. The recipient must then chug the whole thing before it curdles. This usually results in a big foamy mess, but that’s part of the fun. If it wasn’t obvious yet, these drinks will really mess you up. My boyfriend has a lovely story about too many Car Bombs on his twenty-second birthday that I’m sure he would love to share with you all (sorry babe, I had to). They taste like the best mocha milkshake you’ve ever had, which makes them all the more dangerous. Luckily for you, I managed to put all of the booze, and none of the pain, in a heavenly cupcake just in time for St.Patty’s day.

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I should warn you, this recipe calls for a lot of alcohol that isn’t exactly cheap. However, don’t be intimidated! When I went to my local grocery store, I was able to buy a single can of Guinness and knock off Bailey’s. Since whiskey isn’t my libation of choice, I went to the liquor store and bought a mini whiskey and saved a lot of money. But if you have a bar fully stocked with all of the necessary alcohols, then you have no excuse not to make them!

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes

  •  1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (optional)

Baileys Frosting

  • 3 to 4 cups confections sugar
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperatue
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (you can also use Irish cream flavored coffee creamer)

Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer (I used the round end of a large piping tip) and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work)

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your “tasters”. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

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That’s what I used to core the cupcakes for the ganache.

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filling

Enjoy these festive treats! I hope you have a fun, and safe, St. Patty’s Day!