Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

I've spent the day trying to match receipts and credit card charges. Mostly this is difficult because of how Amazon groups orders, ships orders, taxes orders, and it looks to me like they are not using the correct % sales tax for where we live. Ugh!

Since last week's Thursday Thoughts it's been all about the Christmas holiday. We had our families here for Christmas Eve, so there was a lot of preparation for that on Friday & Saturday and then a lot of clean up over Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday. We're taking things pretty slow! Christmas Day was at my parents' place. The day after we went to see the new Star Wars movie, finally, with about a billion other people who decided to see a movie. Yesterday we stayed inside, huddling under blankets to stay warm on these unusually chilly December days.

What We're Eating:

  • Leftover Christmas Eve food (lasagna, salad, veggie tray veggies & dip, cheese ball)
  • Leftover Christmas food (ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans)
  • Dessert: The remaining Christmas Cookies

What We're Watching:

  • We finished watching The Punisher on Netflix.
  • We started Alias Grace on Netflix - really enjoying it so far. Watched 4 episodes, 2 to go.

What I'm Reading:

  • The library pile is at 3 books.
  • The magazine pile is down 2, so I think 4 more to go.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Gouda Cheese Logs

I wanted something a little different in the appetizer selection at the holidays this year, especially since I have so many appetizer recipes I have yet to try. So I decided this would be the Year of the Cheese Log (or ball, which is easier to shape). I've had this recipe for Gouda Cheese Logs forever. Like the Roasted Red Pepper & Artichoke Dip, it was ripped from one of my old cookbooks/recipe books, one of those small, paperback ones, like what you sometimes see (or used to see) in check out lines.
Cheese logs/balls seem kind of old school, but I always liked them. Not the nuts they were frequently coated with, but the creamy, cheesy, spreadable blob of cheese itself. So we made one, the same one, for Thanksgiving and for Christmas Eve. It's super easy: shred the block of gouda in the food processor (or by hand, or buy already shredded gouda, which I've never seen but MIL told me she bought it), combine with cream cheese (easier in food processor or with electric mixer but SP did the Christmas Eve one by hand), stir in chopped sun dried-tomatoes, enjoy. We did coat ours in some chopped pecans which I, of course, picked off.
I love this cheese ball. Mild gouda, creamy from the cream cheese, tangy from the sun-dried tomatoes, a little crunch from the pecans. It's also very good on sandwiches/panini or with celery/carrot sticks or just eaten by the spoonful. We'll be making this again.


Gouda Cheese Logs (or Ball)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups (8 oz) shredded Gouda (could also use Colby)
1/4 cup sliced drained sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives*
1/4 tsp garlic powder**
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley OR 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Mix cream cheese & Gouda cheese until blended. Stir in chives, tomatoes, and garlic powder. Shape into 2 small logs or 1 large ball. Roll in parsley or in chopped pecans. You could also omit the chives in the cheese mixture and roll the logs/ball in the chives instead. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours until firm. These can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Make sure to let it sit out for at least an hour to soften before serving.

*We omitted because we didn't have fresh and dried chives aren't that great.
**We omitted because we don't have.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas & the 2017 Holiday Cookies

We celebrate Christmas, but whatever holiday you celebrate, we wish you a wonderful, cheer filled day!

The 2017 Holiday Cookies:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Cranberry, White Chocolate, Macadamia Nut Cookies

This year we made two new-to-us holiday cookies. The first was the Sparkling Coffee Stars. The second is these Cranberry, White Chocolate, Macadamia Nut Cookies from America's Test Kitchen. They are in The Perfect Cookie. Turns out they're also in the Christmas Cookies magazine/book that was sold back in 2012 at the holidays.
These are easy to make, especially if you buy already chopped macadamia nuts (we did, we found some in Walmart) and if you have someone else chop the dried cranberries (thanks mom!). We did have a debate about whether or not we wanted to make each cookie from 2 tbsp of dough. That sounded like a huge cookie. I prefer smaller cookies for a cookie tray with lots of varieties of cookies. Otherwise, one big cookie can fill you up and then you don't have room for the other ones. We settled on just using our cookie dough scoop like we do for chocolate chip, triple ginger, etc. We watched the bake time closely, wondering if they'd need less time since they were a bit smaller. The answer for us was no. Ours baked 18-19 minutes. We also got 48 cookies instead of 32.
I picked these cookies because I figured SP would like cookies with dried cranberries and nuts. I like cranberries with white chocolate in a cookie. Also, the cranberries would add a festive red color to the cookie tray. These are chock full of tasty bits in each bite (1 cup each of cranberries, chocolate, and nuts). They're soft and chewy and a little crisp around the edges. These definitely might make  a repeat appearance on future holiday cookie trays.

Recipe here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

It has been a busy cookie baking week! SP & I baked some last Sunday, then Tuesday/Wednesday my mom came over and helped me make 3 kinds, and today I made pizzelles. I think Mom wanted to make sure I made her Chocolate Dipped Crescents.

Otherwise, not much going on besides wrapping gifts and other holiday related preparations. We are hosting the families for Christmas Eve so we're getting ready for that.

What We're Eating:

  • Sloppy Joes
  • Leftovers from Central Diner last weekend
  • Tonight & tomorrow are TBD
  • Dessert: Cookies

What We're Watching:

  • We're caught up on our shows, even the baking championship shows.
  • We've been watching The Punisher on Netflix. We're enjoying it a lot - it's much better than Iron Fist!

What I'm Reading:
Nothing. I have no idea where the day goes, but I've had no time and no interest in tackling the magazine pile.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Roasted Red Pepper & Artichoke Dip

I have pages of recipes in my binders that I've never tried, some as old as 10+ years. Yet I refuse to toss them out because someday, I will make them, right? Right. Like this Roasted Red Pepper & Artichoke Dip. It was ripped from one of my old cookbooks/recipe books, one of those small, paperback ones, like what you sometimes see (or used to see) in check out lines. I have no recollection of which little recipe book it was. I remember being annoyed with so many small, paperback recipe books and no good way to store/display them so I decided to rip out what I wanted and toss everything else.

This one got ripped out because SP likes artichokes & roasted red peppers. We buy artichoke hearts in huge jars at Costco, so I figured any recipe that used artichokes was a good recipe to keep.

We made it at Thanksgiving. TXSIL helped us make it the day before and she liked it. We both liked it, too. It's tangy and definitely roasted red peppery and marinated artichoke-y! My dad doesn't like either main ingredient. My mom likes both but thought the dip was just so-so. I'm not sure what anyone else thought.

But we like it, and we'd make it again. It was tasty on Wheat Thins and Triscuits.

Roasted Red Pepper & Artichoke Dip

1 jar (6-7 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup drained roasted red peppers
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley*

Place artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper in food processor. Cover and process until coarsely chopped. Add remaining ingredients. Cover & process until blended. Garnish with additional parsley (if desired). Serve with crackers.

Makes about 2 cups.

*We did not have fresh parsley, and we didn't substitute dried parsley because we didn't think it would add much to the dip.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Sparkling Coffee Stars

Holiday cookie baking has started! This year we are trying two new-to-us cookies. This is one of them: Sparkling Coffee Stars from America's Test Kitchen. The recipe is in a holiday cookie magazine SP bought me a few years ago.
I'm pretty sure this cookie will not make another appearance on the holiday cookie tray. They were pretty easy & straight forward to make until the chocolate drizzle part and then it all went downhill.
See? Lovely looking stars studded with instant espresso.
Edges nicely browned. Maybe we should have stopped there. Let's talk chocolate drizzle. The recipe says to microwave the chocolate. So SP did. Or tried to. Neither the semi-sweet nor the white chocolate would melt into drizzle consistency. The white chocolate turned into a lump of chalky looking crud. I was getting annoyed. I hadn't said anything. I try to not be "I know what's best wife" so I didn't say what I was really thinking which was along the lines of CHOCOLATE NEVER MELTS RIGHT IN THE MICROWAVE YOU MORON WHY ARE YOU WASTING TIME & ENERGY? But. No. I let him rediscover this. Maybe for other people it melts in a microwave. But not us. Especially white chocolate. It always turns into a pile of white crud for us.
So after some snipping at each other, we switched to make-shift double boilers (glass bowls set over saucepans of boiling water). This helped melt the chocolate, even the white, but as soon as it was removed from the heat, it became non-drizzly. I was starting to get super annoyed. So I yelled at SP to get out my old hotpot and plug it in. We set a large glass bowl over the boiling water and melted the chocolate. But it still didn't want to drizzle. Our final process:

  • Put hotpot on table next to cookies. Melt white chocolate in glass bowl over boiling water in hotpot, pray for no steam burns, and use a fork to attempt to make white chocolate drizzle lines across stars (keeping water at boiling the entire time). SP decided he should sugar up the cookies while the white chocolate was still melty, so he sprinkled sugar on. I did not think this was a good idea, but I said nothing. 
  • Finish "drizzling" white chocolate, get it all over your shirt, pants, and hands, and get super annoyed with it all.
  • Sigh repeatedly in frustration and curse the cookies. Complain that they look nothing like the photo.
  • Melt semi-sweet chocolate in glass bowl set over boiling water in hotpot. Pray for no more steam burns. Use a new fork to attempt to drizzle semi-sweet chocolate.
  • Curse at chocolate. Curse at non-drizzly chocolate. Curse at cookies. Curse at husband.
  • Get hot, melty semi-sweet chocolate all over your hands, shirt, pants, table.
  • Decide to complain about too much sugar already drizzled on cookies and how the semi-sweet chocolate is just melting it and the sugar should never have been sprinkled on between chocolate drizzlings.
  • Put the Steelers-Patriots game on and curse at Tom Brady and the Patriots.
  • Complain about ugly cookies.
  • Finally finish, curse some more, wash hands, and change clothes. Chill cookies until chocolate is set. Layer in cookie container, using waxed paper between cookie layers.
  • Inform husband that these had better be the best cookies ever and if they are, that's too bad because we're never making them again.
  • Look at clock and curse because what should have been a 10 minute step took over an hour and made a lot of mess.

We have a difference of opinion on these. SP says he really likes them and would definitely make them again. I don't care for them and have no desire to ever make them again. This surprises me because it's an America's Test Kitchen recipe. Ours just do not look like the photo in the magazine. The chocolate drizzle issues were super annoying. So I give them a thumbs down while he gives them a thumbs up.

Recipe here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

We entered the PA Special Limited-Release Lottery to win the opportunity to purchase a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, which we've never tried, just heard about how good it is. I didn't expect to win, but we did, so we gave ourselves a holiday gift of Van Winkle bourbon. We cracked it open last weekend. It's good, just as good as the Blanton's SP got me for my birthday. For the price, I'd rather have the Weller 12 Year, but since that seems impossible to locate, I'll just enjoy this bottle and wait for (hopefully) another Van Winkle lottery next year. It'll be a bit of a sad day when the Van Winkle and Blanton's are gone and we return to the "cheap" bourbon.

Last weekend my brother called to tell me they got 9 inches of snow. That's a lot for GA. They usually shut everything down after only 1 inch! He used his tractor to clear their road up the mountain (Literally. He lives partway up a mountain. It's a dirt/gravel road.). Here in PA, we finally got our first significant snow: 3-4" of fluffy white stuff for SP to clear from the drive and walkway. He was pretty excited there was enough to use the snowblower instead of a shovel. 

The new Star Wars movie opens tonight. We're thinking of trying to see it this weekend but are not sure if we'll have time (holiday time traffic & all the shoppers means the usual weekend shopping/errands can take up to twice as long as usual). I'm not loving our theater's switch to reserved seating. It makes it hard if we maybe, might have a friend meet up with us but the friend can't make a decision until the last minute because of their work and also because of me needing the wheelchair accessible seating which usually has a rule about only 1 additional companion in that area. So with so many unknowns on opening weekend, maybe we'll wait until after the Christmas holiday.

Last weekend we both had hair appointments on Saturday and after, we met a friend and her family for lunch. That was nice. After, we went to do our shopping/errands. It was just as awful as I feared. The traffic in Robinson. The idiot drivers. The people shopping. Tripping over me. How do people so easily trip over someone in a wheelchair? It happens all the time.
After getting home and dropping off everything, we decided to go out again, for dinner at Burgatory. I was questioning our sanity a bit - go out again in the crowds, deal with idiot drivers, and do it in the cold weather? But it wasn't as bad as I feared. I ate my usual custom creation (chicken, fried egg, bacon, cheese, brioche, greens, tomato, cucumber) and we shared the special Chocolate Marshmallow shake, spiked with chocolate vodka. It was really tasty.

What We're Eating:

  • Chicken Noodle Soup. But with pastina instead of noodles. And some peas, parmesan, and lemon zest added to the chicken, pastina, carrots, and celery. So I guess really a mash up of our chicken noodle soup and Giada's pastina soup. Used up another half bag of peas! That's 3 down, 1 to go!
  • Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Ricci's breakfast sausage and blueberries.
  • Dessert: Raspberry Shortbread Bars.

What We're Watching:

  • We watched Atomic Blonde the other night. It was pretty good, a bit different from my expectations.
  • I watched Wind River, which I enjoyed a lot even though it's kind of a sad movie.
  • We're enjoying The Gifted quite a bit. 
  • Designated Survivor surprised me at the end of last night's episode, but I guess I shouldn't have been surprised given some earlier in the TV season announcements that I apparently missed.

What I'm Reading:

  • No books this week. Nothing from the library. I need a break from the constant book pile. Plus, it's cookie baking time.
  • One more magazine down, 3 to go.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Chocolate Creme Brulee

Yes, my birthday was a while ago, but I haven't yet written about what I chose for my "special" dessert that week: Chocolate Crème Brûlée from Ina Garten's Cooking for Jeffrey. Our last few crème brûlée attempts were not exactly successful, so I wanted to try again. Plus, chocolate with coffee and kahlua - yum!
Our unsuccessful attempts all had the same problem: they were not set. Too runny. Like liquid. We figured we just weren't cooking them long enough. We've also been noticing some inconsistencies with baking times and at Thanksgiving with the turkey cooking time, so we're wondering if our oven temperature needs to be calibrated. We could do this ourselves, the manual tells us how, but... We just haven't.
Well these chocolate crème brûlée were definitely not runny! They were perhaps cooked a bit too long, but after the runny ones, we were OK with this thick, rich, dense dessert that was probably past custard status.
But it was so tasty, even if a bit overdone. Terrific chocolate and coffee flavor. You might notice the one in these photos does not have a caramelized sugar top. That's because:
1. We caramelize the tops as we eat them, so if they're in the refrigerator, like this one was, they don't have the topping.
2. Neither of our torches were lighting. SP kept using his can of torch re-filler stuff and playing with the torches and it was stressing me out because I was sure he was going to suddenly set something, maybe himself, on fire. Yes, we have 2 torches because we each had one from before we were dating. Yes, now we have 2 non-functional torches. I am sure SP would disagree with "non-functional" because on the first night he did eventually get one to light and he was able to caramelize sugar on top, but on subsequent nights, they again wouldn't light and we ate the crème brûlée without caramelized sugar.

We'd definitely make these again but not give them the extra time in the oven that we gave them because we feared runny custard. And maybe buy a new torch.

Recipe here.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

It finally feels like winter. It's cold and there are flurries and I'm bundled up under a blanket but still cold. How many days until spring?

Last weekend was SP's work holiday party. This year it was at Heinz Field. It was a nice evening and we got to go on a tour of the stadium, into the Steelers locker room, and out onto the field (but not on the actual field, just on the path around the perimeter of the field).

Speaking of Steelers, I am so glad they defeated the much disliked Bengals but good grief that game was brutal. I was a little teary when Shazier was flat on the field, not because I'm such a huge football fan or super, duper Steelers fan but more because I was scared for him and it upsets me that a player's life has the potential to be so profoundly changed from something as seemingly simple as a football tackle. I know they know the risks, they choose to play. But. I hope he is able to fully recover.

What We're Eating:

  • Shepherd's Pie. Yum! I had forgotten how much I like this dish. Plus we used 2 of the 4 half bags of peas.
  • Salad. To make up for 2 weeks of pretty crappy eating habits.
  • Dessert: Snickerdoodles

What We're Watching:

  • I watched American Assassin and it was OK. I love the Mitch Rapp books and was disappointed because I thought the movie could have been so much more, much as I feel about the Stephanie Plum (books by Evanovich) movie and the Jack Reacher movies. The only books I always read and love that have been made successful on TV/in movies are the Harry Bosch books as Bosch on Amazon Prime.
  • I watched Shot Caller, which I thought was quite good.
  • Agents of SHIELD is back on TV and so far this season is much, much better than last year's stupid robot girl/framework crap.

What I'm Reading:

  • I finished Deep Freeze and enjoyed it.
  • I read the new Jack Reacher book, The Midnight Line. It was good, better than the last one which I found slightly disappointing, and it's a little... different. In a good way.
  • My magazine pile is down to 4. That's half what it was.