Holidays

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

During the holidays, one of my favorite things to do is baking.  It's this beautiful meditation as baking takes a patient heart, a careful eye and most certainly a sweet tooth.  When the weather is cold outside, the kitchen becomes my favorite place of solace -- as it's always been my most sacred spot to relax.  I always believe that homemade gifts are the ones people remember, so what better way to spread the love than baked homemade gifts?  For years I've searched long and hard for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, the kind that you can't stop eating, the ones with just the right about of crunch, chewiness and chocolate.  I've tasted some great chocolate chip cookies in my lifetime but never found a home recipe to match.  But ALAS, right in time for the holidays I've finally stumbled across the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever tasted.

Jacques Torres, Mr. Chocolate himself was kind enough to share his chocolate chip cookie recipe via the NY Times.  Thanks to the Master Pastry Chef, this recipe will now become a family tradition for me and I can hardly wait for the memories that'll surround these cookies.  I'm not sure if the magic lies in the combination of cake flour and bread flour in the dough, or that it HAS to be refrigerated for a solid 24 hours -- but whatever it is, don't change a thing.  I haven't tasted a better masterpiece.

(If preferred, you can add a whole vanilla bean in place of the extract as I've done.  Just simply scrape the seeds and mix into the dough!)

The best part about cookie dough is it's simple to make and you can portion ahead.  What I did was quadruple the recipe, freeze overnight, slightly defrost the next day and portioned out around 75-65 3 ounce cookie balls using a cookie scooper.  Then I refreezed for an hour and placed half a dozen to a dozen in individual ziplock bags.  Don't forget to write the date!  Then you can simply bake a batch whenever needed as they take only abou 10-12 minutes in the oven and VOILA!  The best chocolate chip cookies will be ready for delivery :).  Whether its for a party, a gift for family or friends -- this recipe will leave any loved one with a happy tummy and full heart.  Thank you Jacques Torres for the genius recipe and NY Times for sharing the love.  Happy Holidays!

The Number Four

When it comes to alcohol, I'd be what people would call a "weenie".  I almost wince at the sharpness of most liquors, sometimes to the point of tears.  But let's quit the dramatics and get down to business.  I love this drink.  I love Angus Winchester.  And for those of you who don't know who he is, he's pretty much one of the big honchos in the world of bartending.  

This drink actually came off The Cedars Social cocktail menu and it sounded too good to pass up -- with a blend of gin, honey syrup, cracked cardamon pods and black pepper, this is one of those cocktails I could drink for hours.  HOURS. The honey adds just the right amount of sweetness, the cardamon really adds that perfect touch that accentuates all the spices in gin, and the black pepper gives it the nicest bite at the end.  Genius Angus, pure genius. It's smooth, whimsical and I feel kinda sexy when I drink it.  Give it a shot, share your thoughts : )

Now I'm not 100% sure what the exact Angus recipe is so please adjust the flavors to your liking.

In a highball glass, fill half way with ice.  In a shaker pour 3 oz of gin, 1 oz honey, a crushed cardamom pod, and a couple freshly crack black pepper corns. Stir until honey is mostly dissolved and pour into glass. Serve immediately.

 

**** It may help to heat up your honey a little to make it more liquid and easier to mix.

 

Holiday Berry Champagne Cocktail

It's hard to believe we're already in December.  Where did this year go?  As the days quickly approach towards the Holiday season, we're filled with urges to celebrate -- Ugly Christmas Sweater Party! White Elephant! Holiday Potlucks! Whatever your reason may be this year to celebrate, what's a party without the booze?

For the next few weeks I'll be posting some holiday cocktails for you guys to try this season -- this week I'm featuring this elegant Blackberry Champagne Cocktail.  As you know, I'm not the best drinker...my bar tab is usually under $15 before things start looking hazy.

So I usually gravitate towards "girly" drinks.  Seeing that most girly drinks usually mean some type of fruity flavor with TONS of sugar -- I wanted to remake a drink that gave me the fruity touch I needed but without the sweetness.  Plus anything with champagne makes everything a bit more fancy don't ya think?

Feel free to use other types of berries and fruits, strawberries, pomegranate, and orange would work well here.

Holiday Berry Champagne Cocktail
Recipe Type: Drink
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 25 mins
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 pint blackberries, cleaned
  • 1 750-ml bottle chilled Lindeman's framboise
  • 1 750-ml bottle chilled brut Champagne
Instructions
  1. Stir sugar and brandy in medium bowl. Crush about 10 blackberries; add to brandy mixture. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature, then strain. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover; chill brandy mixture and remaining blackberries separately.)
  2. Divide brandy mixture among 6 Champagne glasses. Add 2 blackberries to each glass. Fill halfway with Framboise and the rest of the way with Champagne; serve.

Happy Friendsgiving

 My favorite holiday of the year is hands down, Thanksgiving.  Growing up, my family didn't have many Thanksgiving traditions -- it was a foreign holiday that we never really embraced.  But I'd always dream about what kind of Thanksgivings I'd have when I grew up: the perfectly browned turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole with those nicely melted marshmallows on top, green bean casserole topped with crispy fried onions...the glory! Once I headed off to college and pretty much had to fend on my own, cooking was something that continued to stay constant in my life (Thank you mom!).  So before everyone would disperse for Thanksgiving every year, we'd get together, I'd make an epic Thanksgiving feast, and we'd eat ourselves stupid -- but in a good way. It was my way of showing my appreciation to my friends in the best way I knew how: through food.    Now as the years have passed I still maintain my annual Thanksgiving feast tradition.  I like that, tradition.  It takes a long time for something to become a tradition.

It was our first Thanksgiving feast in our new home this year so I knew I had to make it special.  To prepare a feast for 15 people can often be a challenge so I kept my recipes simple and made sure to start prepping as early as possible.  I created prep lists to keep track of all the tasks that needed to be completed and made detailed shopping lists of what stores and what items I'd need.  I started prepping 3 days before the event and once the big day came I wasn't running around the kitchen like a maniac.  I felt revived after not cooking for so long and yes there were some mistakes but overall the entire meal was a wonderful success.  People went back for seconds and thirds, others passed out from intense food coma, and of course to maintain "tradition" we ended the meal by forcing the cook to perform a piano solo.  (Thank you Jenni)  Apparently there is NO REST for the weary. :)

We had Cajun Turkey, Southwestern Cream Corn, Green Bean Casserole with Maitake Mushrooms, Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage and Apples, Sweet Potatoe Casserole with Marshmallows, Fresh Garden Salad, Roasted Vegetables with Walnut Gremolata, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Peanutbutter Chocolate Trifle, Caramel Apple Pie, Sugar Shortbreads and Peanutbutter M&M Cookies.  I'd like to share two recipes that I think many of you will enjoy during thanksgiving: Maple Corn Bread and THE Chocolate Peanutbutter Trifle. 

I adored this cornbread recipe that I found via Real Simple. It was easy to make and the results was a buttery sweet cornbread with a slightly crisp edge and top.  I wished I had made extra for tableside bread but I actually used this cornbread recipe for my stuffing.  I made the recipe two days beforehand to save time, plus this gave the bread time to dehydrate a little bit before cooking.  I even used some leftover cornbread pieces and used them for croutons on a salad.

I didn't discover the beauty of trifle until I started to date my husband.  Before that my main reference to trifle was through Friends when Rachel made a trifle, messed up the recipe because one of the pages were stuck to Shepard's Pie but hey Joey liked it -- custard, jam, meat, what's not to like?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=pqq_Wrwo5zw

My first real experience with trifle was through my Aunt Lauri -- she made this incredible trifle of moist cake, custard, cream, lots of chocolate...it was a beautiful thing.  I never was able to shake the memory of her wondrous trifle until the following year when we'd all get to have it again for Thanksgiving.  This time around I thought I'd try a trifle for Friendsgiving.

There were a few problems I'd like to note about my first trifle experience that will help you guys out --

1. Make BIG generous layers.  My problem I made the layers too small so when it came to serving time, all the layers kind of blended together.  I realized when you make big generous layers of every filling, when it comes to serving time, your guests will be able to differentiate the different layers you have going on for your trifle.

 

2. I originally used gingerbread for my cake layer.  I should've used a moist chocolate cake (which is what I changed the recipe to).  Ginger, chocolate, peanut butter -- not good. Chocolate, chocolate, peanut butter -- REAL good.

 

Other than that, the fillings were really quick and easy.  I found the peanut butter mousse and milk chocolate pudding via Epicurious  and the salted caramel sauce from Food and Wine.  The peanut butter mousse tasted very similar to the filling in a Reeses peanut butter cup and the milk chocolate pudding was rich and decadent.  I used a gourmet dark chocolate bar I found at my local store for a bolder flavor but feel free to use milk for a milder touch.  And the salted caramel sauce adds the perfect finishing touch and I used whatever was leftover and poured it on top of my Apple Streusel Pie so it became an Apple Caramel Streusel Pie. :)

 

 

Holidays are the best time to try your luck in the kitchen.  What better reason to discover your inner chef?  Whatever your drive may be, remember: food is always love.  Even if you happen to have a little meat in your trifle.  Happy Thanksgiving friends.  Best wishes for a wonderful time with family and friends and don't forget to go for extra helpings of dessert :) (in moderation) <--- who are we kidding?

 

 

Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

I live for the holidays, it's what I look forward to every year.  Why?  Well besides the obvious -- spending time with family and friends, shopping for presents, holiday decorations -- it's the FOOD.  The yummy turkey, candied yams, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes ... I could go on forever but I'll risk sounding like a porker today. 

With that being said, the holidays is also the easiest way to pack on the pounds (I know, life is cruel) with all the holiday office parties, family functions -- it's inevitable!  So what better way to help your friends and family from pulling out their fat pants than making these Mini Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes? 

Sure that Uncle Michael might eat half the batch but for everyone else out there it's nice to have a tiny dessert to end the meal opposed to a heaping plate of pie cake trifle ...(not that I would judge you if you did :) ) This dessert is the perfect bite -- with a moist tender crumb and the mixture of spices topped with a decadent cream cheese frosting, I guess I wouldn't expect anything less from the fabulous Martha Stewart. 

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes: Makes 18; Prep time: 25 minutes Total Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.
  3. Divide batter evenly among liners (I used mini cupcake liners but you can use regular liners as well), filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
  4. Read more at Marthastewart.com: Pumpkin Cupcakes - Martha Stewart Recipes

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting: frosts 18-24 cupcakes, 50-60 mini cupcakes

  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Cream butter and vanilla in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, once butter is fluffy gradually add in the sugar until well mixed.  Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  Once chilled place frosting in pastry bag and ice the cupcakes using an open star pastry tip.  Top with graham cracker crumbles or pumpkin granola or candied pecans.