Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Five Recipes to Date and Thank You - 2014

Each year around this time, I take a little time to go through my blog statistics and see which recipes have been most popular over the last year. From year one to year two, many of the favorites remained the same. Finally, this year, we have a few new contenders but it looks like nothing is going to unseat the muffin in the top spot!

No. 5 - Homemade Cheese and Spinach Ravioli



This recipe is a personal favorite because making homemade ravioli is a fun family activity as well as a delicious meal. If you are over visiting, we’ll put you to work as well. Best part is, you also get to share the meal.

No. 4 - Vegetable Noodle Stir-Fry


I make this vegetable-full stir-fry often when I need a quick meal that’s not too heavy. I was surprised when it made it into the top five last year because it’s one of my older posts and the photos are pretty sad. It gives me hope though that the recipes matter more to you all than my pictures and I am pleased to think that at least I have improved since then.

No. 3 - Spicy Keema Naan


I love belonging to different blogger groups that challenge me to step outside my comfort zone and use ingredients or make recipes that are unusual. This keema naan was my last for a group called Twelve Loaves, which motivated me to start Bread Bakers with my friend Renee from Magnolia Days. If you are a bread baking blogger and would like to join us, check out the link to find out more.


No. 2 - D.I.Y. Veggie Cup Noodles


This do-it-yourself veggie noodle cup is a great recipe I adapted from River Cottage Veg (<affiliate link) for another of my favorite groups, Sunday Supper, which is dedicated to encouraging folks to gather once more for meals around the family table. It pleases me immensely that a relatively recent Sunday Supper recipe made it so far up the popularity list for the year.

No. 1 - Cheesy Spinach Muffins


And here again, for the third year running, are my cheesy spinach muffins in first place, so far ahead of the runner up that I really cannot imagine any post catching up. I love a savory muffin, especially when it involves cheese but I suspect the popularity of these can be attributed to the tomato slices perched so jauntily on top of the muffins before baking. They make something simple and delicious look fancy.

If you’d like to see 2012's top five list, click here. And here for the 2013 list.

Many, many thanks! 
It is my great honor that you take the time to visit me here and interact with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Nothing gives me greater joy than to read your kind comments, especially those of you who let me know when you’ve made and enjoyed a recipe I’ve posted. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for stopping by and reading. I wish you all a marvelous new year filled with love and good food.

Fondly yours,

Stacy


Monday, December 29, 2014

Dried Plum Honey Muffins #MuffinMonday

These delicious muffins are sweetened with chopped dried plums - formerly known as prunes - cooked briefly with honey and a little Cognac, which softens them slightly and plumps them up but still leaves them nice and chewy. Great for breakfast or with a cup of tea at snack time.

Dried plums are just prunes with a better public relations campaign. Back in 2000, the California Prune Board received permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the name, citing research that the fruit would sell better if it lost the negative moniker prune, more commonly associated with things old and wizen and past their best. That organization has since become the California Dried Plum Board and sales have indeed improved dramatically, a result I figure is akin to the Hollywood studios renaming future stars Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson and John Wayne, back in the day.

Salt prunes
As a child, I knew two types of prunes: Salt prunes, which are completely desiccated, salty, sweet and sour, which I adored, and the stewed kind. It was hard for me to fathom that these were even remotely related. Swollen and mushy, dark and forbidding, I avoided the black ones with all the ingenuity a repulsed child can muster. Which is to say, a lot. As I got older and more adventurous, I learned that soft dried prunes could be eaten as is, like very large raisins and, although they were still dark and a little scary looking, they were actually sweet, chewy and rather tasty. It was a happy turning point. Turns out soft dried plums are pretty healthy too.  If you hated prunes as a child, it might be time to give soft dried plums a chance.

Perhaps someday the lowly prune or I should say, soft dried plum, will become, like Norma Jeane Mortenson, Roy Scherer and Marion Morrison, as popular as it deserves to be, even as we all giggle at the original name. Here’s my effort to forward that goal.

Ingredients
Generous half cup, chopped roughly, or 110g soft dried plums
1/3 cup or 80ml honey
2 tablespoons Cognac or Armagnac
2 cups or 250g flour
1/4 cup or 50g sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup or 120ml buttermilk
1/4 cup or 60ml canola or other light oil

Method
Put your roughly chopped dried plums in a small pot with the honey and the Cognac.

That golden color is from my UAE honey. Well, and the Cognac.
Bring to the boil and then take the pot off the stove and allow to cool.



Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare a 12-cup muffin pan by greasing it liberally or lining it with paper muffin cups.

In one big mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.



In another smaller bowl, whisk the egg with the buttermilk and oil.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. There should still be lots of dry flour showing.



Take out a couple of spoonfuls of the dried plums with syrup to add to the top of the muffins before baking.



 Then fold the rest into the batter.

Divide the batter between the muffin cups.

Top each with a piece or two of the honeyed dried plums with a little syrup.



Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.



Remove from the muffin pan and finish cooling on a rack.


Enjoy!



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

La Marquita Cocktail #NorthAmericanWhiskeyGuide #Giveaway


Twin ruby liquids, fresh cranberry juice and sweet rhubarb syrup combine with Tennessee whiskey to make a delicious cocktail that is perfect for the holidays or, indeed, any time of the year. 

I could tell embarrassing stories on myself of underage bourbon drinking back in the Dark Ages that may or may not have involved Big Gulp Coca-Colas from 7-11 but suffice to say that bourbon was my drink of choice for many years. I have since expanded my repertoire considerably, but our bar at home still always has Jack Daniel's as it’s my husband’s favorite cocktail time beverage: no Coke, just ice and water. And the quantities are more sensible. We don’t often use it for mixed cocktails though so I was delighted to see a bourbon drink in the list of recipes I could publish from the recently released, North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar.

Clearly we have not branched out enough in our exploration of whiskeys! According to authors, Chad Berkey and Jeremy LeBlanc, there are more than 900 whiskeys from which to choose. And that’s just those made in North American – that is to say, the United States and Canada. I discovered that Jack Daniel’s is not just bourbon, but a subcategory of same called Tennessee whiskey because of the unique process of filtering the bourbon through sugar maple charcoal before it is put in barrels to age. No wonder it has a sweetish quality – which is what makes it so drinkable and so popular.

If you are looking for a gift for the whiskey lover in your life, look no farther. This book is the ONE. Full of recommendations from top bartenders who have blind taste-tested more whiskey than I even knew existed, to give you a short list of 250 well worth drinking. Just the reviews make me want to buy a bottle or three. For instance, the Cabin Still Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is described by one of the bartenders thus: “Candy corn and kettle corn. It's like Halloween and the Town Fair had a whiskey baby.” Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Or the Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey: “The nose on this is beautiful. Vanilla, spice (cloves, I think) and maybe a hint of orange blossom. There's some burn to it but you'll still get the vanilla and spice. This is a good one.” I’ve never tried rye whiskey but now I’d really like to, especially the Sazerac. Make sure to scroll on down to the bottom and enter the giveaway for your copy of this great book, courtesy of Page Street Publishing.

The North American Whiskey Guide also gives you loads of information on origin, age, proof and price so you can make an informed decision before buying or ordering but my favorite part of the book (aside from 30 cocktail recipes, of course!) is the North American Whiskey Drinkers’ Bucket List detailing 20 whiskeys that every serious whiskey drinker should try, many of them quite rare and hard to find. Challenge accepted! I’m printing off the list, as suggested, to take along on my travels.

On to the promised bourbon cocktail
The description of the Marquita says that the pomegranate arils will take on a smoky flavor after sitting a while in the cocktail. I had my doubts but they really did! The beautiful rose-colored drink itself is delicious and those smoky sweet arils at the end were a treat. The step-by-step for the rhubarb syrup can be found here,  except make sure to add in the appropriate amounts of sugar, rhubarb and spices as outlined in the ingredients list below.

Recipe printed with permission of Page Street Publishing

Ingredients 

For the cocktail:
Ice
1 1/2 oz or 45ml whiskey - We like to use Gentlemen Jack for this recipe. (I didn't have any so I used the normal Jack Daniel's.)
1/2 oz or 15ml red cranberry juice
1 teaspoon homemade rhubarb syrup*
2 teaspoons pomegranate seeds

*For the syrup:
2–3 small stalks rhubarb, chopped
1 cup or 190g cane sugar
2 cups or 470 ml water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 vanilla bean pod

Syrup Instructions
Combine ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes, then let cool completely. Strain ingredients. Syrup will keep well covered in fridge for 2 weeks.

Cocktail Instructions
In a shaker, combine a scoop of ice and whiskey.

Pour in the juice and syrup.


Shake vigorously for a count of 15 seconds, strain and pour into a cocktail glass.


In your glass, add seeds and stir for about 10 revolutions. Cheers and enjoy! Merry Christmas everyone!

A good vigorous stir! 


Win your own copy! 
The rules: If you’d like to win a copy of The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar, please leave a blog comment telling me what your favorite whiskey for sipping or for cocktails is, then click on the Rafflecopter widget for other opportunities to enter. Not leaving a comment will disqualify your other entries. Please be aware that the publisher will only ship to US and Canadian addresses. The winner will be randomly picked by Rafflecopter and will be notified by email and have 48 hours to respond. After 48 hours, another winner will be randomly chosen. Good luck!



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Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of The North American Whiskey Guide from Behind the Bar to review but no other compensation was offered or accepted. Links to the book are Amazon affiliate links.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Fresh Cranberry Muffins #MuffinMonday

A delicious muffin made with fresh cranberries in a vanilla batter which lets the cranberry flavor shine through. These babies would be perfect for Christmas morning or for bringing along to a Christmas brunch. 

T'is the season for fresh cranberries in the United States, and from the looks of the refrigerated supermarket shelves here in Dubai, the trend has spread. Last year I had a comment on muffins I had made with dried cranberries, asking if they could be made with fresh as well. So this recipe is for my friend, Marilyn, who lives in cranberry country, that is to say, the US northeast. I have been a regular reader of her blog, Communicating Across Boundaries,  since I connected with her through a post about Egypt, where I was living at the time and she had lived for many years. I knew I’d met a kindred expat spirit as I read about her struggles to fit in and at the same time maintain traditions while living overseas and raising children. And with the challenges of moving back to the US after a life abroad. Every word she publishes enlightens me and makes me think. If you are a third culture kid or are raising some, I am sure you will love her too.

Along with fresh cranberry muffins, may each of you enjoy the wonderful Christmas I wish also for Marilyn and her family!

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups or 170g fresh cranberries
1 cup or 200g sugar, plus two tablespoons
2 cups or 250g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup or 120ml milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup or 60g butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla

Method
Preheat your oven to 350°F or 180°C and prepare your 12-cup muffin pan by greasing it or by lining it with paper muffins cups.

Chop the cranberries roughly and put them in a bowl. Separate 12 little pieces of cranberry to top the muffins with before baking, if desired. Sprinkle the rest with the 2 tablespoons extra sugar and toss to combine.



In a large mixing bowl, combine the rest of the sugar and the flour, along with the baking powder and salt.



In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, melted butter and vanilla.



Add your sugared cranberries in the dry ingredient bowl and toss them lightly with a spoon to coat them.

Fold your wet ingredients into your dry ones until just combined. You may still see a little flour showing and that’s okay.



Divide the batter between the muffins cups. Top with reserved pieces of cranberry, if you kept some back.



Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes and then remove the muffins to a wire rack to cool completely.




Enjoy!


Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Mint M&M Chocolate Fudge #ChristmasWeek #Giveaway

This quick and easy fudge recipe has two layers of both chocolate fudginess and holiday mint M&Ms. Change it up to add the chips or M&Ms of your choice. It's easy to make but hard to give away. You'll want to eat it all yourself.

So, Christmas Week comes to a close with this fifth and final day. Now the actual holiday baking of pecan pies and roast turkeys begins! I told a friend jokingly today that our Christmas dinner was already cooked. All organized! And she took me seriously. Truth is, I don’t have one thing done. Oh, sure! I’ve been making candy and baking cakes and muffins but those are just welcome extras. At our house, there’s got to be turkey and stuffing. Or baked Christmas ham with pineapple, brown-sugar-mustard glaze and those weird cherries that look so cool but that no one eats. Does anybody anywhere eat those?!

The first year I started this blog, I wrote about my grandmother who always made a variety of fudges for presents at Christmas time. It was kind of a competition between her and her sisters to see who made the best.  The two I remember best were a snow white divinity fudge and a chocolate pecan fudge, both of which I’ve tried to replicate.

I think my grandmother would have been thrilled at the ease of the fudge I've made for you today. No thermometers or tricks. Just boil, simmer, mix and pour.

My most grateful thanks go out to our wonderful hosts for Christmas Week, Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Susan of The Girl in the Little Red Kitchen. Putting one of these events together takes a lot of work before and during and I really appreciate your efforts. Wish I could send you both some fudge!

Make sure you scroll on down to see all the Day 5 treats my fellow Christmas Week bloggers have made for you and enter the drawing for a bunch of fabulous prizes!

Ingredients
3 cups or 600g granulated sugar
2/3 cup or 150ml evaporated milk
3/4 cup or 170g butter
7 oz or 200g marshmallow creme
12 oz or 340g semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup or 9.9oz or 280g Holiday Mint M&Ms, divided in half

Method
Line a 9x13 in or 23x33cm pan with parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray, below to help it stay in place and on top to help the fudge turn loose later.

In a large pot, combine your sugar, evaporated milk and butter over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring often.



Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. It’s still going to bubble gently the whole time since that is the nature of sugary candy.

Remove the pot from the heat; add the marshmallow creme and chocolate chips, stirring until the mixture is smooth. Then stir in the vanilla and salt.






Pour half of the mixture into your prepared pan and spread it around.

Scatter half of the M&Ms over the fudge.



Spread the remaining fudge over the top. Shake the pan to help the fudge spread out in the pan.

Sprinkle the remaining M&Ms into the fudge. Shake the pan gently again. The hot fudge will continue to spread. Tap the M&Ms gently to make sure they are stuck into the fudge.



Allow the fudge to cool until firm. Cut into squares.



Store in an airtight container. This stuff makes excellent gifts if you can bear to give it away.

Still looking for Christmas inspiration? We’ve got you covered!
And many thanks to our Christmas Week sponsors! 
Anolon is donating a 5-piece Bakeware Set. Swing by their Facebook Page to show them some love. We also have Ball supplying us with 4 sets of Jars in their gorgeous Green Heritage Color. Swing by their Ball Canning and Recipes Facebook Page to say hello. Plus cookies and brownie brittle and loads of beautiful cookbooks! Please be aware before you enter that prizes will only be shipped to US addresses. One winner takes all!



Giveaway Prizes include:
Plus 1 Copy of each of these cookbooks:

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Disclaimer: Christmas Week participants received no compensation or gifts from our sponsors. Cookbook links are Amazon affiliate links.





Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dark Chocolate Mint Truffle Mini Bundts #BundtBakers

Homemade dark chocolate mint truffles make these darling little Bundts special. Start at least one day ahead to make sure the truffles have time to set and freeze before baking your little cakes. 

Technically this is not part of the official Christmas Week posts but, seriously, what is more Christmassy than mint? I'm thinking candy canes, After Eights, York Peppermint Patties and all manner of candy bark with crushed mints. I submit to you, nothing is! That is why I was delighted when this month’s Bundt Baker host, Laura from The Spiced Life chose mint as our theme. And since my younger daughter is now home for the holidays, I went with one of her favorites, mint and chocolate. From the time she was tiny, her favorite candy has been those York peppermint patties. It’s a classic combination.

Make sure you scroll on down to the bottom of my recipe to see the mint delights that all the other Bundt Bakers have created for you today.

Ingredients
For the truffles:
1/3 cup + 5 teaspoons or 100ml whipping cream
7 oz or 200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (I used one bar of plain dark and one bar of dark with mint to add more minty goodness.)
1 1/2 teaspoons mint extract
Cocoa and/or powdered sugar, for rolling

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups or 190g plain flour
1 cup or 200g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup or 40g best-quality cocoa powder
3/4 cup or 170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup or 150ml sour cream

For the mint glaze:
1 cup or 125g confectioner’s or icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
1-2 tablespoons milk

Method
First we need to make the truffles. They are super easy but the chocolate/cream mixture needs time to set before rolling into balls. And then you want to freeze them before adding them to the batter to bake. So, as mentioned in the headnote, start a day early.

The Truffles
Bring the cream just to the boil in a pan or in a microwaveable bowl in the microwave oven. Remove from the stove or microwave and stir in the mint extract and chocolate.

You could eat this with a spoon. Try not to. 

Stir until melted. Cool, then chill in the refrigerator until the mixture is solid, about 2-3 hrs.

Scoop out teaspoons of the mixture and roll into tiny balls with your hands, then roll the balls in cocoa or powdered sugar.

You want at least 24 balls (two per mini Bundt) but will probably get many more since they have to be small to fit in and on the little Bundts. Not to worry. They are delicious and any extras will get eaten. Freeze the truffles till you are ready to bake.

I did half cocoa and half powdered sugar. And yes, there are three big ones. I got tired of rolling when I had enough little ones. 


Okay, so it’s the next day now, right? And your tiny truffles are frozen. On to the cake!

This recipe is from Nigella’s Feast and could not be easier. She chucks everything straight in the food processor but I like to sift my dry ingredients (except the sugar) since sometimes they have lumps. Feel free to follow her method. Original recipe can be found online here.

The Cake Batter
Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C. Grease and flour your mini Bundt pan or use that baking spray that has flour in it.

Measure your flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl and mix well.

Put the rest of the cake ingredients - sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream - into a food processor. Sift the dry ingredients into the processor.



Process until you have a smooth, thick batter.

You could also eat this with a spoon. Try not to.


Put one scoop of batter into each cup. Press one mint truffle into the batter then top with the remaining batter. I put the powdered sugar ones in the cakes and saved the cocoa ones for on top.



Bake in your preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes or until the tops are springy to the touch. Clearly the toothpick-in-the-middle test won’t work here.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes then turn the Bundts out to cool on a wire rack. I trimmed the overhanging edges off of my mini Bundts to neaten them up but you can leave yours on if you want.



While the Bundts cool, mix up your glaze.

The Glaze
Put the powdered sugar into a small mixing bowl with the mint extract and one tablespoon of milk. Stir well.



Keep adding milk a 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you get the pouring consistency you desire. I like a thick glaze but some people prefer thinner so you have to be the judge.

When the little Bundts are cooled completely, pour or drizzle on the glaze. I like to use a piping bag because it’s less messy than actual drizzling and I have more control.



Top each mini Bundt with a little chocolate mint truffle.



Enjoy!

The truffle inside makes a nice minty,chocolate rich bite near the top of the mini Bundt.






Bundt Bakers Logo


Your Bundts with mint! We've got 'em!

What is Bundt Bakers? It's a group of Bundt loving bakers who get together once a month to bake Bundts with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Bundt Bakers Pinterest board for incredible Bundt cake recipes and inspiration.  You can find information and links to the recipes for each month in our  #BundtBakers page.

How is the monthly theme determined? We take turns hosting each month and the host gets to choose the theme/ingredient.

Would you like to join in the fun? If you are a food blogger, send an email with your blog name and url to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com.

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