The Amish “Monte Cristo”

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For all the food purists out there, I want to start by saying I understand this sandwich is not a true Monte Cristo. A Monte Cristo (based on my dining history and a quick google search), is a ham/turkey and cheese sandwich that is dipped in an egg/milk batter and then pan fried like French toast and served with jam. It is a delightful combination of sweet and savory and a fabulous Sunday brunch meal.

This version has not been dipped in a batter, but it contains the other components and I thought it wouldn’t upset the food gods too much if I deemed it the Amish Monte Cristo.

What makes it Amish, you may ask? Well, all of the ingredients come from an Amish origin. Not only did I grow up in an area that has a dense population of Amish; but there is a small settlement of Amish about 20 minutes west of Columbus in Plain City. On my days off of work, I sometimes venture out west to stock up on a few items. The bread, ham, and cheese all come from an Amish Farmer’s market in Plain City. The apples are from an orchard back in my hometown; and the apple butter was made by my in-laws, who share a family tree with this unique group of people.

The good news is you don’t have to have super magical Amish ingredients to make this sandwich. Just some good (as Ina Garten would say) ham, cheese, apple butter, apples, and bread. It’s a fast and tasty way to dress up a boring ham and cheese sandwich on cold Fall nights.

Amish Monte Cristo

Directions:

1. Spread a generous amount of apple butter on 2 slices of bread

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2. Layer one slice of bread with thinly sliced apples of your choice (I used Honeycrisp)

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3. Top with ham and swiss cheese.

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4. Grill in a lightly-buttered, heated pan until the cheese is melted.

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5. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Oh sweet baby Jesus- I do love Septembers. While I enjoy summertime, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with how chaotic it can get. Weddings, traveling, cookouts. It’s all wonderful stuff, but I find I always welcome the return to routine that the ninth month of the year brings. We are home more on the weekends and football Saturdays seem to make time slow down a little bit.

Another good bonus is that I have more time to bake. I made these particular  cupcakes for my friend Jess’s owl-themed baby shower that her husband’s side of the family threw her. I also made pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream, but these were my favorite of the three. The cake has a lighter texture and the addition of real vanilla bean takes the flavor up a notch. The fluffy buttercream frosting is delicious and a perfect pairing with the cake base.  I found the idea for the royal icing owl toppers from the fabulously-creative Bridget at Bake at 350. I am always amazed at the magical nature of royal icing and was very pleased with how these babies turned out. They are a much cheaper option than the cupcake-toppers available online and in craft stores.

I will definitely be saving these recipes for future vanilla baking adventures.

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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Printer-friendly version

Yield: About 2 dozen cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cupcake Directions

1. Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisktogether the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 mins). Add in the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth, then gradually add in the last of the dry ingredients.

5. Once ingredients are well incorporated, mix the batter for 2 minutes longer to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Using a 2 inch ice cream scoop (or large spoon), distribute the batter evenly, filling each well 2/3 full.

6. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack. Decorate with vanilla buttercream icing as desired (recipe below).

Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
  • 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted***
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Frosting Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed for a few minutes with a mixer with the whisk attachment until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer off and gradually add in the powdered sugar (about 1 cup at a time), mixing on low speed after each addition until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 4 tablespoons of cream and beat for 3 minutes. Store in an airtight container or ice cupcakes right away.

Source: Cupcakes- slightly adapted from My Baking Addiction; Frosting- Savory Sweet Life; Owl Royal Icing Cupcake Toppers- Bake at 350

Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

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You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Christmas cookie baking is in full swing. Woohoo! I spent a good amount of this last weekend in a kitchen whirlwind and these chocolate chunk espresso cookies were one of the first items that popped out of the oven.

While they aren’t a traditional Christmas cookie, they are definitely something to celebrate. The flavor of chocolate (as the Barefoot Contessa will tell us) is amplified with two flavors: vanilla and coffee; and these cookies have both. The coffee flavor comes from espresso powder, which can usually be found in the coffee section of most grocery stores (I used Megdalia D’oro).

These bad boys are rich, dense, and go fabulously with a chilled glass of milk. Leave them under the tree on Christmas eve and Santa will surely lick the plate clean.

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Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
  • 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a small bowl mix together the espresso powder and vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the egg and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla/espresso mix and beat until well-combined.

4. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt) in a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until just combined. Gradually fold in the chocolate pieces.

5. Drop the dough in even spoonfuls (I used a 1.5 inch ice cream scoop) onto the cookie sheets and flatten slightly with your hand. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are just set. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack before transferring to parchment paper to cool completely.

6. Store in an airtight container for 1 week or freeze for 3 months.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart

Homemade Lemon Curd

I’ve grown to love the peace and solitude of the mornings. Now that we’ve put up our Christmas decorations, I especially look forward to getting up before the sun rises, drinking my coffee, and sitting under the glow of the lights from our tree. The mornings keep getting colder and the low temperatures seem to magnify my affection for these moments.

On the weekends, I obviously have more time to cherish these times and I like to savor something special for breakfast besides my standard cereal or oatmeal to celebrate the freedom from the daily grind. This lemon curd fits into that category.  It helps cultivate my ongoing daydream of sitting in a French cafe with Ina Garten and her friends (and maybe even Jeffrey is there too,  on leave from Yale) and we’re sipping espressos and planning our day. Ahhh…. I live a wild life.

But seriously, this lemon curd is delightfully tart and sweet and a little bit goes a long way. It goes very well with plain Greek yogurt or as a tasty addition to pancakes. It’s also a delicious in baked goods and I actually used the majority of this batch to make lemon curd cupcakes for a friend’s birthday (recipe coming next week!).

Enjoy your weekend, my friends. And don’t forget to take a few extra minutes to relax and sip your cup of coffee, with or without Ina on your mind.

Homemade Lemon Curd

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (7 oz) fresh lemon juice, from roughly 8 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 9 tablespoons (4.5 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

1. Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

2. Pour the lemon juice through sieve to ensure there are no seeds or pith remaining. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a medium, heat-resistant bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (also known as a double boiler). Stir occasionally until the sugar fully dissolves.

3. Take the lemon juice mixture off the simmering water, but don’t turn off the stove or remove the pot. While whisking the eggs, slowly add in about 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the egg mixture at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. If you add the eggs all at once, you will end up with chunks of scrambled eggs. Not cool.

4. Next, put the bowl with the egg and lemon juice mixture back onto the double boiler. Whisk continually, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken. You’ll know it’s done when the curd coats the back a spoon and doesn’t slide right off.

5. Remove the curd from the heat and add in the butter. Whisk until smooth and no lumps of butter remains. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and over the bowl so that a film doesn’t form on top of the curd while cooling. Place in the fridge for an hour to allow to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator.

Source: This very informative video from The BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel (skip to 0:30 to avoid the intro)

Corn and Crab Chowder

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging summer break. I could go on and on about how it has been a jam-packed summer for us, but I know it’s the same for everyone. Life is busy. That’s just the way that it is. I keep thinking it will calm down soon; but I think my friend Jess summed it up when she told me, “you know, you’re not going to get any less busy, right?”

Sometimes, I catch myself thinking, “I will do x, y, and z as soon as I have more time.” The truth is that I can’t keep putting things off until then, because it will never come. This is how life is and I will never do the things I want unless I make them more of a priority. This is living, my friends.

This crab and corn chowder is a wonderful summer meal, especially with Ohio sweet corn being positively scrumptious right now. Despite the seemingly long list of ingredients in this, it really comes together quickly and it’s a great alternative to the more traditional corn chowder we enjoyed last year.

Go get yourself some corn, and whip this up for a tasty weeknight meal. Happy Monday, everyone!

Corn and Crab Chowder

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 serrano pepper, minced
  • 4 ears raw corn, kernels removed and cobs reserved
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over to remove shell pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the onion, garlic, Serrano pepper, and corn kernels. Stir to combine and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

2. Add in cumin, chili powder, cayenne, and paprika and stir to coat the vegetables evenly. Mix in the chicken broth, milk, and water.

3. Add in the corn cobs and cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes.

4. Remove the corn cobs and transfer 2 cups of the soup mixture into a blender (with a tightly-secured lid) and blend until smooth. Add the puree back into the pot and stir to combine.

5. Reduce the heat to low and add in the cilantro, crab meat, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Remove from heat and serve hot.
Source: Adapted from The Fresh 20

Copper Mountain, Colorado

No new recipes for today. Things have been pretty simple in the meal department the past two weeks, but I wanted to share a few pictures from our ski trip to Copper Mountain, Colorado. My dad has been planning this family vacation out west for several years now. I remember he was even talking about it when I was still in high school. It’s been a long time coming. Finally, we were all able to make it happen. The trip was set in stone for over a year and, I must say, it lived up to the hype.

Having never been to Colorado before, I was taken back by the beautiful scenery. I can’t imagine living with a view of evergreen-studded, snow cap mountains through my back window. Simply amazing.

The altitude was a big adjustment for us Ohio folk. The first day we got in, we walked down to the village to get helmets and we could barely talk because we were so out of breath. Luckily, though, we were feeling better after a few days and none of us got too sick from the high elevation.

Robert and I were also able to meet up with Jeff, one of my friends from PT school, as well as one of his fellow engineering friends from college. I am a bit envious they get to live in Colorado year round, but I won’t hold it against them.

Another thing I noticed- everyone’s in good shape. I barely saw any overweight people. In fact, I think I may have been the plumpest one around. It turns out, Colorado is the thinnest state in the nation. Can’t say that about Ohio. :)

Aside from my mom’s injury on the last day, we had a wonderful time in Colorado. I can’t wait to go back again!

Oh, and how could I forget… we got to spend lots of quality time with this little leprechaun…

 

Italian Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Robert and I, along with a group of friends are heading to Pennsylvania this weekend for a snow skiing getaway. Things always seem to get really busy right before leaving town. Bert’s been traveling for work and I’ve been working longer hours so I can get done with work early before our mini vacation begins. Thank goodness I found this recipe this week. It’s fast, easy to make, and very nutritious. Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, and fresh basil make this a  fresh and filling dish. It makes tasty leftovers as well.

Happy weekend, everyone! I will be posting about our ski trip next week. :)

Italian Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Printable Version

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound(s) uncooked turkey sausage(s), Italian-style, casings removed
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine (I used Zinfandel)
  • 1 fresh clove of garlic
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz whole wheat pasta, uncooked
  • 1/3 fresh basil, chopped
  • Freshly grated parmesan, optional

Directions

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
  • Meanwhile, to make sauce, in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage, stirring and breaking up meat with back of a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes; remove to a plate.
  • Heat oil in same skillet. Add peppers and onion; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly colored and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add wine and garlic; cook until most of liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt and browned sausage; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and sauce is heated through, about 10 minutes.
  • While sauce simmers, add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Drain pasta; return to pot. Add sauce and basil; toss to mix and coat. Top with parmesan. Yields about 1 1/3 cups per serving.

Source: Weight Watchers

Puppy Chow

My brother-in-law, Kenny, was sick this past weekend. If there’s one thing I know about Kenny, besides the fact that he likes to purposely push my buttons, it’s that the lad loves puppy chow. Puppy chow, or sometimes called Muddy Buddies (?), is a chocolate and peanut butter Chex mix delight. It takes less than 15 minutes to throw together and it’s always a hit.

Kenny came over for dinner (and a round of Modern Warfare with Robert) and I sent him home with a bag of this mix. He seems to be on the mend and I’m chalking it up to the old puppy chow cure. ;) Love ya, Ken!

Puppy Chow

Printable Version

Yield: 18 servings

Ingredients

  • 9 cups Corn Chex cereal
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

Pour the Corn Chex cereal into a large bowl. Set aside. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter, and butter, stirring after every 30 seconds until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour over the cereal and gently stir until all the cereal pieces have been coated.

Transfer the cereal mixture to a large food storage plastic bag. Carefully pour the powdered sugar in the bag. Seal the bag. Shake until all the pieces are covered.

Source: General Mills Corn Chex Cereal

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

The weather in Ohio has been unseasonably warm the past week. The sun is shining. People are out walking and running around our neighborhood. You really can’t tell it’s January. I could get used to this. All the sunshine makes me excited for summertime, even if it is five months away.

During the summer my parents spend a lot of time up at their cottage on Lake Erie. It’s so much fun, especially since we have a lot of extended nearby. My aunt Molly often stops in and she seems to frequently bring some sort of hummus with her. So, when I found a can of garbanzo beans and canned roasted red peppers, I decided to make this hummus in honor of her, dreaming of the endless days of summer. It’s a flavorful, delicious and healthy dip for vegetables and baked pita chips and it would also be very tasty as a condiment on a wrap or sandwich.

I found this recipe while surfing the web and it calls for tahini, or sesame paste. I was all set to buy it at the grocery store until I saw it sitting on the shelves with a hefty price tag of $11. I quickly decided this would be a tahini-less recipe. And the hummus was still glorious.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Printable Version

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and seeded (I used a jarred version I already had on hand)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped red onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

Place all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Stop and scrape down the sides as necessary. Serve with vegetables and/or baked pita chips. Store in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week.

Source: Slightly adapted from Pinch My Salt

Chocolate Orange Sable Cookies

Chocolate and orange has become one of my favorite flavor combinations. So, when I saw the recipe for these orange sable (French for “sandy”) cookies, I thought a chocolate orange drizzle would make these cookies a citrus-lovers dream. With zest in the cookie and in the chocolate glaze, people needing an orange fix won’t be disappointed. The oranges are extra delicious this time of year, so I am finding any excuse to take advantage of the seasonal deliciousness.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Chocolate Orange Sable Cookies

Printable Version

Yield: About 5 dozen cookies

Ingredients

For the Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds or 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (2 to 3 oranges)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the Glaze

  • 2 tsp fresh orange zest
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Place almonds and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal; set aside.
  2. Place butter and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, add almond mixture; beat until combined, 10 to 15 seconds. Add egg and orange juice; combine. Add flour; combine.
  3. Place two 12-by-16-inch pieces of parchment on a clean work surface. Divide dough in half. Form a rough log with each half; place on parchment. Fold parchment over dough; use a ruler to roll and press dough into 1 1/2-inch-diameter logs. Wrap. Chill for at least 3 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.  Unwrap logs. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds; place on sheets, 1 inch apart. Bake until edges turn golden, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  5. To make the glaze, melt the chocolate and orange zest in in a double boiler or microwave. With a fork or in a ziploc bag with an edge cut off, carefully drizzle the glaze across the cookies. Allow to harden. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart