Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Recipe: Macaroon Kisses

I finished my holiday baking last week. This was the final recipe out of my kitchen for Christmas 2011. One day, I looked in my cabinet and said, “Why do I have 3 bags of coconut?” It’s rare that I have extra of anything. This much coconut could cause a crisis. The crisis was averted through the baking of Macaroon Kisses.
Macaroons are sticky. There is no escaping it. Every time I make macaroons I end up with coconut stuck everywhere. If you are using a standard cookie sheet, you can line it with foil (greased and floured). I skipped that line in the instructions and needless to say, if you don’t grease and flour the foil, there is coconut stuck everywhere and sad looking macaroons that are missing half their parts. Moral of the story: Use your silicone baking mats and avoid calamity.

1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 to 1 ½ teaspoons almond extract
5 1/3 cups flaked coconut
48 Hershey’s kisses

Preheat oven to 325. Line your baking sheets with foil (greased and floured) or with your silicone baking mats. In a large mixing bowl, combine milk and extracts. Stir in coconut. Roll coconut into balls and put on cookie sheet, flattening slightly. If you keep you hands wet/damp with water the coconut will not stick to you as badly. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Immediately press kiss into the center the macaroon (a piece of York Peppermint Patty is also delicious). Remove from baking sheet and cool on rack (or greased wax paper). Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Peppermint Snowflake Cookies

Just like snowflakes, no two cookies look the same. 
At least in my kitchen. 

I think I have reached the end of my holiday baking.   Treats have been mailed, taken to potlucks, brought to the office, and given to friends.    I will take some to my neighbor and pack a big tin in my suitcase.   By New Year's, all treats need to be eaten or given away.  Beginning in early January we have our annual wellness challenge and I will be on board, getting into "Greece" shape.....but until then, bring on the peppermint, chocolate, coconut, pecans and all other ingredients of deliciousness.   

Peppermint Snowflakes are flat and a crispy.  Once they have cooled, flip them over and "paint" the bottom with peppermint white chocolate and sprinkles.    Innocent and unassuming on top and awesome on the bottom.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter/margarine
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups uncooked regular oats
1 1/2 cups cornflakes

White Chocolate Peppermint "Paint"
3 cups white chocolate chips
3 tablespoons oil
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
(optional) sparkly Christmas sprinkles  

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, stir until blended.    This being Colorado, I added 2 tablespoons more flour to the mix after baking the first few cookies.

Beat butter/margarine at medium speak until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating well.   Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.   Add flour, mixing until blended.   Stir in oats and cornflakes.    Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto a silicone bake mat.    These spread quite a bit, so give yourself room or they will bake together.   Bake 12 to 14 minutes.   Cool slightly then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Lay out wax paper on the counter.   Flip cookies over on wax paper. 

I did my white chocolate "bottoming" in batches.   Per batch, melt 1 cup of white chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon oil, using low heat in the microwave.  Stir until smooth.   Once you remove it from the microwave, add 1/4 teaspoon pure peppermint extract and stir.   Spoon white chocolate onto the bottoms of the cookies and "paint" to cover the bottom.    Add sprinkles for festive cheer.  Once the cookies and the chocolate have cooled, store in an airtight container.   Makes 3-4 dozen.

Adapted from the Southern Living Big Book of Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2011

Good Cookie Winner!

Hooray, we have a winner!   Stephanie, you were comment #5 so you will get your own OXO Good Cookie Spatula.      Shoot me an email at travelerforgood (at) gmail (dot) com with your address, and I will get this good cookie on the road!

Thank you for playing along and sharing your holiday treats.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hooray for Buffalo Chicken Dip

I'm not sure how I've gotten this far in life without knowing that Buffalo Chicken Dip exists.   I like wings, I like hot sauce, I like buffalo chicken sandwiches and buffalo chicken pizza.    I was happy to find this recipe on From Cupcakes to Caviar.  Janet certainly knew what she was about with this recipe.   Click on over to her blog and take a look at the simple delicious awesomeness of this dip.    I laughed at her picture because she's right...it's hard to take a picture of dip.    A picture couldn't do it justice anyway.  Prepare it in advance and stick it in the fridge.   Throw it in the oven when you're ready.   Then dig in.

**OXO Good Cookie Spatula Giveaway!  This has nothing to do with buffalo chicken dip, except that you could use the spatula to shovel this dip directly into your mouth.    Thursday December 15, is the last day to post a comment here to win a new spatula of your own (and support a good cause).

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why I Love Homemade Peanut Butter Cups

Don't forget that this Thursday, December 15 is the last day you can enter my OXO Good Cookie giveaway.  Click here for the details - all you have to do is post a comment on the Good Cookie post about your fave holiday treat!

I could have been 5 years old or 20.    The drill was the same.   Anytime we visited my grandma, my sister and I would sneak to the basement and look in the freezer.  October through December was the optimal time for this search, but sometimes we would luck out, even in the summer.   For any kid with a sweet tooth the freezer was a gold mine.    In assorted Christmas tins would be spritz butter cookies, cordial cherries, candy Christmas trees, toffee, and peanut butter cups.   She would give tins of candy and cookies to her neighbors, her hairdresser, and her friends.   Whenever I do the same, I feel like it really is a family tradition.     

My grandma loved Christmas.   Our stockings, embroidered by name, would be hung on the staircase.   A tree with just animal ornaments would be in the kitchen picture window.   There was a tree in the living room and the family room.   Uncle Holly and Aunt Mistletoe figures would be hanging from the light fixtures.   My memories of her house at Christmas are some of the most vivid ones I have of Christmas as a child.  It was a sad Christmas Day in 2007 when she passed away.   But after that year, the sadness returned to joy.   She loved Christmas.   Our joy in the holiday can only honor her life.

My grandma was the only person I knew who made her own peanut butter cups.  This recipe may not be the exact same, but it is pretty close.   Get ready to spread your own Christmas cheer this year.

Peanut Butter Filling
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup butter/margarine, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all filling ingredient together until smooth.   You can chill for 15-30 minutes to make the filling easier to form into patties.  Line a mini-muffin pan with festive holiday liners.   My pan has 24 openings.  

Milk Chocolate Coating
Melt 1 cup of milk chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of oil on low heat in the microwave until melted then stir until smooth.   I melt 1 cup at a time just so that it doesn't cool while I'm working with it.    With the PB filling above (and probably 2 bags of chocolate chips) I made about 36 cups. 

Once your chocolate is melted, spoon enough chocolate in the bottom of each muffin cup to cover the bottom.   If you are feeling industrious, use a small decorating paint brush to brush some chocolate up on the side of the liners (about halfway up).    Place mini-muffin tin in the fridge for the chocolate to set.  It should only take 10 minutes or so.  

Take the peanut butter filling and shape into small flat-ish discs (how's that for a definition?).   You don't want the peanut butter center to touch the edges of the muffin cups.   Once the chocolate has set in the muffin cups, place a peanut "disc" into each muffin cup.   Top each cup with enough melted chocolate to cover the peanut butter completely and to get a smooth top (rather than a chocolate covered bump).   Put the peanut butter cups back in the fridge until the chocolate sets.   Store in a Christmas tin of your own.   Goodwill sells them this time a year for under a dollar.    Peanut butter cups freeze well and will be a special treat for your family when they scavenge in your freezer when you're not looking.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Georgetown Christmas Market

This was my first year going to the Georgetown Christmas Market and it was great.  All the best things about a small historical Colorado mountain town at Christmas.  There were actually chestnuts and an open fire.   Chestnuts are fairly new to me.  My first time eating Heisse Maroni when I went to Switzerland in 2006.

Spiced nuts (gebrannte mandeln) are also common in European Christmas markets and the different flavors offered in Georgetown were delicious.  I'm trying to figure out how I could recreate the ginger orange almonds I tried.  There are also stalls of handcrafts...I now am the proud owner of a small glass wine rack.   The market runs the first two weekends in December on the weekends.   Each day at noon there is a procession with St. Nicholas.  

We had chestnuts as our first snack, then baked treats at Cake prior to visiting the different shops.  We had lunch and some mulled wine at Troia's.   My meatball sub was all kinds of cheesy. 

I'm not going to lie.   One of the best things was the cuteness of this angel dog.
There is still a little time!  The market runs this weekend, December 10 and 11th as well.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Perfecting the Peppermint Martini

After my great success with the Pumpkin Spice Martini last month (at a baby shower, no less), I decided that I should work on a Christmas themed martini too.   Peppermint is one of those flavors that takes you to a certain, time, place or season.   Coffee shops and bakeries are very deliberate on when they release their peppermint flavored treats to tie in the with joy of the season.   Last year it was almost a crisis at Christmas when we went to multiple grocery stores and they were sold out of peppermint ice cream.  

Mix equal parts in a martini shaker with ice:
-Vanilla vodka
-Peppermint schnapps
-Cream or Half and Half

Then add a splash of peppermint coffee creamer.   Shake until cold.   Rim your martini glass with the same red sugar sprinkles you use for decorating Christmas cookies.  Strain the martini into the glass.  Garnish with a candy cane and red sugar sprinkles.  Cheers!

In non-martini news, I'm hosting an OXO Good Cookie giveaway until December 15.  Click here for details. 

Recipe: Lemon-Coconut Snowballs

It is snowball season.   We had our second snowfall this past week - again people don't remember how to drive slowly with caution.   These are happy snowballs - perfect for your Christmas cookie tray.  Or any other time you want to zest a lemon.   Someday, I will own a zester (hint: Santa), but until then my grater works just fine.
What You Need
1 cup butter/margarine, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

What You Do
Beat butter/margarine at medium speed until creamy; gradually add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and extracts.  Add flour, lemon rind and salt, beating until combined.   Stir in coconut.  Cover and chill 30 minutes.
Shape dough into generous 1 inch balls; place on parchment paper (or silicone mat) lined baking sheets.   Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minutes until golden on bottom but still pale on top.   Cool for 5 minutes.

Place 1  1/2 cups powdered sugar in a bowl and roll warm cookies, coating well.   You will have time to set the down and then roll them again (and again).   The more powdered sugar, the more they look like snowballs.   Depending on how big you roll your snowballs, the recipe will make 2-3 dozen.

Recipe from The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Cookies: Cranberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

First, ask yourself:   Am I a Good Cookie?

My Good Cookie of the Day:  Cranberry-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
By nature most oatmeal cookies come with one unfortunate ingredient: raisins. I like raisins, by themselves, in a box. But not in my baked goods. Cranberries, however, are a different story. Obviously I need to cook with Craisins more often.
1 cup butter/margarine
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping cup Craisins (used the small 6oz package of Craisins - keeping a few for snacking)
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces, toasted
1 1/4 cups uncooked quick oats

Preheat oven to 375.

Beat butter/margarine on medium with an electric mixer until creamy, gradually add sugars. Add egg and vanilla, beating until blended. Combine flour, soda, powder, and salt and then add to the sugar mixture, beating until blended. Stir in cranberries, pecans and oats. Drop dough onto lightly greased cookie sheet (I used a silicone baking mat instead), 2 inches a part. Bake for 9 minutes (Colorado time). After the first batch, I put the dough in the fridge for a bit so that the cookies didn't spread quite as much.

The fancy holiday touch: I used some white candy coating to dip the majority of the cookies. You just warm the coating in the microwave and stir until smooth. Dip half the cookie into the coating and let cool on wax paper.

Adapted from The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas

{The Giveaway below is long since closed, but OXO still partners with Cookies for Kids Cancer and it is a great cause}

What's With the Good Cookie?
Two OXO employees who had a child with cancer started Cookies for Kids Cancer .  It provides inspiration, ideas and support for people everywhere to help fight pediatric cancer - through the simple concept of local bake sales.  All over the country individuals and organizations host bake sales, with the proceeds going to Cookies for Kids Cancer to help fund more research for pediatric cancer.

6 Ways to Bake a Difference

1.   Send a virtual cookie.   No calories and no guilt.  OXO will make a donation for each e-cookie sent, up to 10,000 cookies per week.
2.  Find a bake sale near you and eat your way through it. 
3.  Host a bake sale.  
4.  Host a cookie exchange.  Glad will donate $0.10 per cookie exchanged or sold this December as a part of their Glad to Give program.
5.  A second no-calorie option: Make a financial gift online.
6.  Buy the OXO limited edition Good Cookie spatula. 

Giveaway!  {CLOSED}
The good people at OXO gave me two spatulas for free as a part of the OXO Blogger Outreach Database.   One of the Good Cookie spatulas was to use for my own Colorado baking adventures.  It makes me smile every time I see it.  Every cookie is a good cookie.   There is a second one for you!  Simply post in the comments your favorite Christmas / December treat.   It doesn't have to be a cookie.   It doesn't even have to be sweet.    Just what it is and who makes it (or where you can buy it).  

I will choose a winner using random.org on Friday December 16, so make sure you comment by Thursday.  Anyone can post, but I am limited to shipping the spatula in the US.   You may even have your spatula before Christmas depending on how fast FedEx Ground moves and how far away you live. 

Let your inner Good Cookie shine!

How Cold Weather Ended My Laziness

When I first moved to Denver a co-worker referred me to a dentist.   From my office in the DTC it was about a 15-20 minute drive.   Not too bad for someplace you only go twice per year.   In the Spring of 2007 I started working downtown.   Now this dental office was 22.9 miles (at least a 30 minute drive pending traffic and weather) from my house and a similar difference and time from my office.   Still, it was only twice a year, so what's a 30+ minute drive?  Why bother making a change?  

Today there was the added bonus of rush hour traffic and inclement weather.   It took me an hour to get to the dentist.   While my car was going 2 miles an hour on the Dam Road (the actual name), I thought that this was probably the kick in the a** that I finally needed to change to a dentist closer to home or to work.    Although I called the dental office to let them know that I was running late, I got there 20 minutes after my appointment time and there was not time for them to get me in before the next patient.  The next appointment I could get was in mid-January.  They offered to put me on a wait list so that I could get a call with any last minute cancellations.   But with the office being so far, that wasn't a feasible option.

Bottom line, the hour wasted in snowy traffic was what I needed to make a change.   This will save me up to an hour of driving time and gas at least twice a year.   I can think of a lot of other things I can do with an hour rather than drive to the dentist.  

Maybe I can divide that hour up and floss more often so that my new dentist gives me a gold star.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Recipe: Mudslide Brownies

I love sweet cocktails.  I made it through college drinking White Russians and Amaretto Stone Sours (better than Keystone Light any way you look at it!).   A mudslide, to me, might have ice cream and chocolate drizzle in a glass.  By definition, it will have vodka, Irish cream, coffee liquor, and cream.  A calorie killer to be sure - probably just as bad as having a frappucino every day.  But it's the Christmas baking season.  You'll have plenty of parties and cookie exchanges where you can pass these off to your friends.  

What You Need 

6 oz unsweetened chocolate baking squares
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter/margarine
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
4 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Irish Cream, I used Bailey's
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons whipping cream
2 tablespoons vodka, I used Smirnoff Vanilla (from the Pumpkin Spice Martinis)
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Garnish:  Chocolate covered espresso beans, chopped.   I supported the local charity The Women's Bean Project and bought these beans at church.

What You Do 

Melt 4 chocolate baking squares and 1/2 cup butter/margarine in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally.   Remove from heat, and scrape into a mixing bowl.   Add sugars, stir well.   Stir in eggs, 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules, and 2 teaspoons Irish Cream.     Add flour and salt, stirring until blended.  Add pecans.    Spread batter, it will be thick, into a foil lined 13x9 pan lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake at 325 for 25 minutes, Colorado time, or until brownies appear set on top.  Cool completely.

Frosting note:  When I made it, I did it while I was making other things, so by the time the brownies were cooled, it had gotten very stiff.   I just added some more whipping cream and was good to go.

Melt remaining 2 baking chocolate squares and 2 tablespoons butter/margarine in a heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.   Remove from heat and put in medium bowl.  Stir in remaining 2 teaspoons coffee granules and remaining 2 tablespoons Irish Cream.   Add powdered sugar until it reaches a good spreading consistency, beat with an electric mixer.   Smooth frosting over brownies.   Garnish by pressing chopped chocolate espresso beans into the frosting.    These are sweet and rich, so you can cut them small if you'd like. 

Enjoy with a big glass of milk.

Adapted from The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas

Friday, December 2, 2011

Recipe: Peppermint Bonbon Cookies

In spite of my complete lack of real world experience with the Southern lifestyle (so much so that our hosts for Thanksgiving wanted to make sure I would eat greens), I am falling in love with the recipes from The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas, courtesy of my local library.   My first recipe was the cranberry-maple sauce that was a 5 minute Thanksgiving breeze.   The next couple cookies that I post up here are all from the same book.   I'm impressed.  I'm always picking up books from the library.  One of the many reasons I love the library - I can continually try new things...and not have to buy and store tons of cookbooks.
So, on to the bonbons (their name for it).  I could probably call them something like Chewy Chocolate Peppermint Cookies, still apt, but not as catchy, unless we just referred to them as the CCPC.

On Dasher, On Dancer, let's get these cookies in the oven!

What You Need

8oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used a cup of chocolate chips)
1/2 cup butter/margarine
1 and 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (one and a half of the Bakers squares)
1/2 cup crushed candy canes - put them in a ziploc and whack them with a rolling pin...it works
6 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Making it pretty on top:
Crushed candy canes for garnish
Glaze:  1/2 cup powdered sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons milk
Chocolate Drizzle:  1/2 cup chocolate chips, melted

What You Do

Combine the first three ingredients in a small saucepan, cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.  Scrape into large bowl.   Stir in candy canes and sugar.  Let cool for 30 minutes.  Add eggs to mixture one at a time.  Add extracts.   Combine flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to chocolate mix.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm. 

Roll dough into balls, place on parchment lined (or silicone baking mat lined, in my case) baking sheet.  Bake at 325 for 12 to 13 minutes.   Colorado baking time:  13 minutes worked out just fine.   The cookies didn't look "puffed and cracked on top" like the original recipe said, they were pretty smooth, but since the end result was delicious, I didn't mind.    Right after you take the cookies out of the over, lightly press some of the crushed candy cane garnish into the top of the cookie.   Let cookies cool a few minute on the sheet before transferring to the counter/rack  to cool.  

To make them look even prettier on top, mix the milk and powdered sugar together to drizzle over the cookies.  Follow that drizzle with drizzle from melted chocolate chips and then sprinkle a little more candy cane on top.    Share with friends, quickly, before you eat them all.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Denver Restaurants: Euclid Hall

My shortest restaurant commentary ever.

It was a dark and stormy night.   Well, dark anyway.  We sat upstairs in a dim corner.   I couldn't really see my food.  But I could taste it, and it, the duck poutine, was amazing.

The End.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shoe Love Update

I wanted to give you a quick update on the shoe love that we had going on over the past two months.   The deadline for the Soles 4 Souls Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge was November 14.   I found out on the 15th that my blog made the Final Five based on shoe donations.   On Wednesday they will announce the winner.   But there are no losers in this game.   Every pair of shoes is a win for those in need.

My sister wrote about the shoe drive on her blog at work.  When she saw that people were liking it on FB and sharing it on Twitter her response was  "Who do I know that retweets things?"  Click here to read about the shoe love that Regis University has for S4S. 

If you have shoe love of your own, visit the S4S page to learn how to get involved!

And a quick shout of appreciation to the folks at Flip Flop Wines
who sponsored the Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge.   
We celebrated a friend's birthday with it earlier this month.  Cheers!

Denver Restaurants: Ondos

Pintxos on Toasted Bread

I'm pretty convinced that sangria makes life better.  I've pretty much perfected my red sangria and it is an essential staple for the summer.  I can scarcely imagine City Park Jazz without it.   One of my friends recommended Ondos to me for their sangria and happy hour specials.   We had a coupon that was not valid for happy hour, so we stopped by around 8pm on a Thursday just for a little snack.  I think I'll have to go back for happy hour so I can try all the different pintxos...and maybe the red sangria.

This photo is not my best work, but these Croquetas were delish!

White Sangria

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cranberry Maple Sauce and Thanksgivings Past

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!   What a joyous day to celebrate family, friends and all our blessings.   This morning I was thinking about where I've been for Thanksgiving over the past 5 years.  I usually see my family at Christmas, and the nature of the hotel business is that our office is only closed on Thanksgiving Day, so sometimes I work on Black Friday (better making money than spending money).   It's been quite an adventure the past few years. 

2006 - Baden, Switzerland - My friends had just moved there a few months before and this was their first major American holiday living abroad.   We had Swiss raclette for Thanksgiving dinner.    I just looked at some of the pictures today....we had a great time!
2007 - Denver, Colorado - I cooked an early dinner with a friend who had to work at 2pm.    I think after that I must have started on my holiday baking.

2008 - Monterey, California - Our family decided to take Thanksgiving to the West Coast.   I remember enjoying a great dinner that included turkey...and sushi...and mimosas
2009 - Denver, Colorado - I was adopted by some friends and enjoyed dinner, football and Mario Kart.

2010 - Curacao - We spent the week in Curacao (Dutch Caribbean).   It poured rain in the morning and in the afternoon we went to an aloe plantation and an ostrich farm.   Non-traditional and memorable.
Today - We have been adopted by a family who will make sure we have "greens" in addition to all the other Thanksgiving treats.   We've been warned that dressing up is forbidden and that even jeans with a sweater is too much.

I picked up a fantastic book at the library last week The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas.  I don't even think I have enough time to try all the recipes I bookmarked in the next month.    Today while I was baking the pecan pie that I'm taking to dinner, I had the time to try out the Cranberry Maple Sauce.  It is quick and easy, as promised by the good people at Southern Living.

Adapted from The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas
*The original recipe called for 3/4 cup of maple syrup and 1/4 cup water, but since I only had a 1/2 cup of maple syrup left, I adjusted the measurements and did not feel cheated in any way.

 1 12oz package of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar, packet
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one clementine, plus the juice squeezed into the sauce (in tribute to my Grandma, who made a delicious cranberry relish that was made with ground cranberries and orange zest)

Combine all ingredients into a heavy saucepan.   Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes until the cranberries begin to pop, stirring often.   Let cool. 

What are you thankful for this year?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Martini

You know she's a good friend when she sends you a message that says "I drove by a sign for pumpkin spice martinis....you need to look into this."   There is a limited time of year that you are able to find pumpkin liquor.   I went to Cornerstar, which is a huge liquor store, assuming that if anyone had it, they would.   Did you know that you can find gingerbread and caramel apple liquor this time of year?  Neither did I, but it's in the same aisle as sloe gin...and Bols Pumpkin Smash.   I had never heard of Bols, but they've been around since 1547 (where, I don't know).   The staff at the liquor store appreciated my sense of adventure commenting that the bottle will last forever and that I can always cook with it if I don't drink it.   Based on popular response yesterday, I don't think I'll have to worry about finishing the bottle this holiday season. 

Yesterday I was helping host a baby shower, which had a fall theme, so I brought the ingredients and we served them in shot glasses and espresso cups for sipping.   I'm going to enjoy the pumpkin season as long as I can.

I used Bols Pumpkin Smash, St. Brendans Irish Creme and Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka, but you can use your choice of pumpkin liquor, vanilla vodka and Irish creme.

In a martini shaker mix equal parts (ie a shot each):
pumpkin liquor
vanilla vodka
Irish creme

Then add:
a dash of cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
a generous splash of cream
ice for shaking

Shake, shake, shake until the cocktail is cold and delicious.   Serve in the shot glass, espresso cup or martini glass of your choosing.   Brown sugar for rimming is optional.   Cheers!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Fudge

I've never made any fudge that wasn't the traditional chocolate, so I was intrigued when I saw this recipe over on The Cultural Dish.   It is a great fall treat and got good reviews from everyone I shared it with.   Fudge is by nature VERY sweet.  I posed the question on facebook as to how I could make fudge sweeter.   The #1 recommendation?  Frost it.  That made me laugh. 

Fudge is the kind of treat that you can cut into small pieces in order to share the autumn love with more people.   The original recipe suggested a 9x13 pan (or an 8x8 for larger pieces).   I compromised by using my 9x9 silicone pan.     

Click here for the recipe.  I didn't make any modifications other than omitting the nuts.  **Candy in Colorado Note - when you use a candy thermometer, you will usually cook the candy about 10 degrees lower than what's posted in the recipe - and that's at a mile high.   If you live up higher, it's probably more than that.**

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already next week.   I love that Thanksgiving because it is not commercial - simply a day to enjoy food with family and friends.   My sister and I have been adopted by a family for the holiday...they are worried that we've never had "greens" at a major holiday meal before.   I've been assigned to make a pecan pie.    I'm going to try the Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie recipe I saw in Cooking Light.   If it's successful, you'll see it posted here.   What are you thankful for this year?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recipe: Hi-Hat Cupcakes

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have moved beyond the realm of standard cupcakes and moved into fancy cupcakes.   A friend and I finally got together for our cupcake baking adventure.   She has a great cookbook:  Cupcakes by Elinor Klivans, and had earmarked the Chocolate Covered Hi-Hats as our culinary adventure.    Looking at the picture in the book, I didn't know if our finished product would measure up.   But it did.   All the pictures in this post were taken by my friend Angela....cooking with friends is much more entertaining and in the case of these cupcakes, four hands were better than two. 

This recipe is all about the frosting and the dipping.   We opted to use cake mix to make the chocolate cupcake base.   We had two kinds, the Sprinkles brand from William Sonoma (apparently the only thing you can buy in the store with a $10 gift card) and a triple chocolate mix from Duncan Hines.  The key thing about baking these cupcakes is not to overfill.   You do not want a muffin top when you start dipping a top heavy cupcake into chocolate.   Once you have baked and cooled your cupcakes, you are ready for the next step.

Cooked Frosting?
This was my first time cooking a frosting.    The white frosting has almost a marshmallow-like consistency.   It holds up amazingly well for the dipping stage. 

1 and 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Put sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar into a heatproof container.   Beat with hand mixer 1 minute until foamy.   Put heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.   Beat on high for 12 minutes (until the frosting reaches 160 degrees) and forms stiff peaks.    Remove bowl of frosting from heat, adding vanilla and almond extracts, beating 2 more minutes.   Fill a pastry bag full of the icing and put a big swirl on the center of the cupcake (up to 2 inches).    Put iced cupcakes in the fridge to chill.

Dipping a cupcake?
The picture in the book reminded me of a dipped ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.   I still love a good cherry dipped cone if I can find one.    The same scientific principle that stops your ice cream from falling in the vat of cherry coating must be what works in these cupcakes.   The frosting "adheres" well to the cupcake and once chilled it can stand up to the quick dip.

Chocolate Coating:
2 cups chocolate chips (we used Ghiaradelli)
3 tablespoons canola oil

You can use the same pan of simmering water you used for the frosting to melt the chocolate and oil in a heatproof bowl.   Once the chocolate is melted, pour it into a small deep bowl, in our case a mug, and let cool for 15 minutes.  

Then it's time to dive in.   Take the chilled cupcake and quickly dip the frosted top in the melted chocolate, using a spoon to cover any of the white if necessary.   Pop them them back in the fridge after the dip to allow for the chocolate to set.   Prepare to awe your family and friends.

Guaranteed to Impress

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Worldwide Shoe Love

The fun part about the Soles 4 Souls Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge has been spreading the word about S4S and the need for something as simple as adequate footwear everywhere in the world.   My sister and I have been sharing my blog posts as well as pictures and creative status updates via Facebook, letting us reach our neighbors here in Colorado as well as friends all over the world.   Our family friend Ann is currently in Babati, Tanzania waiting for a container ship of donated school supplies to arrive for Amka Afrika School.  She saw my post about the shoe drive on Facebook and offered to give a pair of shoes to someone locally in Tanzania to support our efforts (above).   At the most basic level, that's what it's all about.   A pair of shoes going to someone who can use them.  Wherever.  Whenever.  However.          

Can you guess which one is Ann?
Her passion is education and she's working hard to make a difference!
All shoe donations for the Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge need to be made this weekend.   All shoe donation forms need to be submitted by Monday at noon central time and on Tuesday we'll see if we make the final leaderboard.  My sister and I have seen more shoes in the past month than ever before, outside of a shoe store.   It's been a great run.   Literally. 

The holidays are approaching - did you know that the challenge sponsor, Flip Flop Wines, will donate a pair of shoes to Soles 4 Souls for each bottle purchased?   If you bring a bottle of wine to someone as a gift or serve it at home, you'll be doing something great.   You don't even have to say anything.  It will be your little secret.  Helping the world, one pair at a time. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Recipe: Toblerone Bars

Are you troubled by the question of "What to do with a six pack gift box of Toblerones?"  The obvious answer is to eat them.   By putting them up in the cabinet, they are out of sight and out of mind.   Except for the one that I melted and used for ice cream topping.    So now you know three things to do with a Toblerone:  1) eat it   2) melt it over ice cream  3)bake with it.   Pondering what I could make with them without having to go to the store, I settled on using my recipe for butterscotch blondies, but replacing the butterscotch with Toblerone.   They aren't very blond, but they are moist and yummy.   Now, what to make with the leftover peanut butter cups from Halloween?

3/4 cup butter/margarine, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (3.5 oz) Toblerone bars coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 350.  Line a 9x13 pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.   Beat butter and sugars in large bowl until creamy.  Add eggs, beating well.   Stir together the flour, soda and salt in a small bowl.   Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, blending well.   Stir in Toblerone and spread into prepared pan.    Bake 30 minutes (Colorado time) until golden brown.   Cool, use foil to remove from pan and slice into pieces of your choosing (large for you, small for your friends).   

I've still got 3 more Toblerones to go.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Saving Soles: A Visit to the Cobbler

For the past month I've spent more time than normal thinking about, lifting, sorting, and collecting shoes.  (You didn't know?  Check out my posts about the Soles 4 Souls Flippin Good Deeds Challenge here, here or here).   So last week when the sole on the heel on my brown dress flats fell off on the train, I decided to take action rather than pushing them to the back of the closet hoping they would fix themselves.   A week or so one of my co-workers took his shoes to the cobbler.

Cobbler.   Apple Cobbler.  Peach Cobbler.  Blackberry Cobbler.  Shoe Cobbler?  It's an image I associate with Disney movies, fairy tales and picturesque German villages.  In our "throw away" society, I didn't really think about people who repair shoes.   But then I started to think about my shoes.   I invest in my work shoes.   Payless shoes don't cut it for very long.   

Let's say I paid $50 for my shoes at Nordstrom Rack a year ago.   I work 48 weeks per year (gotta love my 4 weeks of vacation).    I wear them twice a week.   Then this past year, I've paid $.52 each time I've worn them.    Considering that same $50 would only buy me about 11 peppermint mochas at Starbucks, I'm getting a lot more value from my shoes.   Hopefully the $12 I paid my local cobbler today will keep my shoes in business for another year.    Now (according to my wildly scientific shoe math) I am paying roughly 13 cents per day worn (assuming I still wear them twice a week 48 weeks per year) to recoup the costs of repairing my shoes.  If I didn't repair them I wouldn't be wearing them at all, and it would cost me much more than $12 to get another pair of similar quality.  

The moral of the story?  It's cheaper to find your local cobbler and repair a pair that you love than to buy a new pair.   But....if you have gently used pairs that you aren't going to wear, please donate them to someone who will. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Illinois Weekend: Morton Arboretum & Naperville

Squirrel enjoying a snack
When I was back in Illinois two weeks ago I also spent a day out of the city with a friend.   Our conversation went like this?  Is there something you particularly want to do?  No, but if it's nice, I'd like to be outside.   She did a great job suggesting the Morton Arboretum.  It's fall, there are leaves changing colors, you get a little fitness, and learn about nature.   We just won't mention the giant caramel apples.   The kind that are sliced, put in a boat, covered with warm caramel and then covered with all your favorite nuts and crushed candy bars.   A fantastic fall day all around. 

The arboretum has a current art exhibit called Nature Unframed
The pictures above and below are a part of the exhibit

Many of the trees were still a week or two away from changing colors.
This one was ahead of the curve.
Tapas at Tango in Naperville
Bacon wrapped plantains and scallops...yum!

Finished off by stopping off at Gelati for dessert

Sunday, November 6, 2011

DU Vin Festival Wine Dinner 2011

You know you're at the right building because there is a pineapple on the sign.

What?  You didn't know?  The pineapple is the international symbol of hospitality.

Everyone loves a free dinner.   Even better when it's five courses.  With wine.  Lots of wine.  Ruffino wines to be exact.  Our company bought a table for the event and we were the lucky ones who enjoyed an evening being served (we work in a hotel...we spend all day every day taking care of others).   Take eight people who work in hospitality, who know a lot about food, wine and service, and you know the conversation will be lively.  Every new wine was an excuse to toast the table.   As much as I like food, I think that I enjoy things on a simpler level and I don't tend to analyze all the ingredients and whether their flavors and textures compliment each other....but it's very entertaining listening to my friends who do.  For me:  Do I like it?  Check yes or no.  For the seniors in the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management this is one of their big projects.  I think back to my senior projects at Illinois and this was an entirely different, very impressive, animal.  Three of the seniors have been / are employees at our property.  It made us proud.   And of course we gave the most enthusiastic applause to the students who are "ours." 

As always, I'm taking pictures of the food.   But then I noticed....wine fest.  No pictures of the wine.   Oh well.  You know what wine looks like.  Know that wine was enjoyed with each course.   Cheers!

Shrimp BLT with Roasted Pork Belly

Pappardelle Bolognese

Seared Sea Scallop

Roasted Leg of Colorado Lamb
conversation over this course went like this:
Friend:  I like food in a more rustic style
Me:  So, you like big hunks of meat
Friend:  That's what she said
(toasting our glasses)

Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake – Vanilla Gelato

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Size 12 Woman in a Size 8 World (of shoes)

You could feel the disappointment this morning at Nordstrom Rack.    It was the semi-annual large size shoe event (10.5 - 13).   Big footed women of south Denver had made the trek first thing in the morning hoping to get their hands, and feet, on some stylin' shoes.   One lady said that she had driven up from Colorado Springs.  We're bunched in the back of the store trying not to trip over each other (we have big feet, that makes it challenging).  Why were we sad?   There were only two racks, top to bottom, of size 12 shoes.

Other than Nordstrom / Nordstrom Rack and Payless (which are the opposite ends of the shoe spectrum) there aren't many options to go shoe shopping in person.   I'm thankful for sites like Zappos and Shoebuy that carry pink tennis shoes, orange gogo boots and other, more practical, shoes for the big footed.   

For the size 12 woman, you don't usually get to make a spontaneous shoe purchase.   You're with your girlfriends and you stop at DSW.   They are trying on all kinds of cute sandals (summer) and sexy boots (winter).  You futilely scan the rows looking for the colored stickers that identify the size 11 or size 12 shoes.   You've almost given up hope.   Then you see it.   One pair in your size.   You grab the box like it's Christmas imagining that you will have a fun new pair to wear out tomorrow.  No dice.   They are orthopedic shoes in a charming shade of oatmeal. 

I managed to escape air of depression in the back of the store.   I made it out with two pairs today.  One pair was so cute that I changed into them right away.    For today I'm going to bask in the glow of my new Steve Madden flats.    And no sympathy for you size 8 ladies.  They probably had 10 racks of shoes in your size.


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