Now that it’s December, each day I can just hardly contain my enthusiasm for all of the things I want to bake and do before Christmas arrives!  So many treats to bake, presents to buy, decorating to do and GIVEAWAYS to host!!!

I have told you before that I am an absolute cookbook and cooking magazine junkie.  I subscribe to an embarrassing number of magazines and there are things I like and dislike about each of them.  One magazine in which I cannot find anything to dislike however is Fine Cooking.  Each issue is filled with fabulous photos, inspiring recipes and there are no ads!  So cover to cover, each page is filled with mouthwatering recipe ideas, new kitchen products and extremely helpful tips.

I flipped open the Holiday Baking book and was immediately impressed with explanations about which ingredients and methods serve which purpose in baking.  For example:

  • Did you know that the reason we cut butter into more delicate pastries is to coat the flour with fat so that less gluten is formed and thus the dough is not tough?
  • Or did you know that the reason we butter and flour pans when baking to prevent sticking is so that the proteins in the batter will not touch the side of the pan and therefore we will not end up with muffins half stuck to our pans?
  • Or did you know the ideal temperature for creaming butter is 68°?

I know, how have we lived our whole baking lives without fully understanding these concepts?!  These tidbits of useful information are, as I mentioned, one of the may reasons that I love Fine Cooking products.

I browsed through the Cookies book which is filled with Fine Cooking’s 200 favorite recipes and these little beauties are just one of the many temptations I encountered.

 

recipe to come….

So sweet teeth, in the spirit of Christmas, I am pleased to offer one lucky reader copies of all three books!  You not only get the Cookie book and the Holiday Baking Book, you also get the Appetizer book!  Will that make your holidays a little more merry and bright?  I hope so!


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It’s true what they say about the fact that the simplest things in life can make us the happiest.  I like to challenge myself with complex dishes from time to time in the kitchen, but there are also times when I am going to a party or invited to dinner and I just want something quick, simple and delicious to bring.  A friend of mine made this dip at a party and it was just so flavorful and yummy, I couldn’t stop snacking on it.  I was pleasantly surprised when she shared the recipe for this Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Dip that it only involved a few ingredients and could be made in a matter of minutes.  This dip is great served with sliced veggies, pita chips or tortilla strips.  It would also be a great sandwich spread!

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(Recipe adapted from epicurious.com)

char red peppers

chop peppers, add all ingredients to food processor and purée


What is your favorite quick and easy dip?
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I love spring rolls but for some reason I had always feared the sticky rice paper and been too scared to make them myself.  All that has changed thankfully.  A good friend and I recently attended a cooking class and spring rolls were on the list of dishes to make.  I have always recognized that the ingredients are simple, but I have had negative experiences with rice noodles in the past and I thought that getting that rice paper wet would leave me with a sloppy clump of frustration.  Much to my surprise, rice paper is relatively easy to work with and even if minor tears do occur, it all gets rolled up anyway!

So to make fresh spring rolls, you can basically just choose the vegetables (sprouts, lettuce, peppers, carrots, etc.), protein (tofu, shrimp, chicken, pork, etc.) herbs (basil, mint, cilantro) that you like and you could even stuff in some rice or rice noodles in if you would like.  The ingredients you choose need to be sliced very thin.

Let me tell you about rice paper in case it causes you anxiety like it did for me.  The rice paper may be kept in the produce section of your grocery stores by wonton wrappers and other specialty ingredients.  Each sheet is very thin and somewhat brittle.  To soften the rice paper, all you need to do is put some hot (not warm) water in a large shallow bowl and place one sheet of rice paper at a time into the bowl until it is soft and pliable (just a few seconds).

Once the paper is pliable lay it out on your work surface (I used a plastic cutting board).  Now let’s think of the rice paper as a clock face.  Line up your thinly sliced vegetables and protein at 6:00.  Then sprinkle your herbs around the rest of the clock.

Now for the folds.  First, fold 3:00 and 9:00 sides of the rice paper in toward each other.

Next, begin folding at 6:00 and roll up to meet 12:00.

That’s it!  Wasn’t that easy sweet teeth??  Now for a super simple and delish dipping sauce, mix soy sauce, sweet chili sauce and sriracha (or garlic chili paste).

Ok, so now you have a fabulous appetizer.  May I suggest this Shrimp Pad Thai for your entrée? (recipe from Bake Your Day)  It is the best Pad Thai I have made at home.  (In the photo below, I did not have rice noodles on hand, so I used whole wheat spaghetti which works great too.  And I prefer to double the sauce in the recipe).

 Get the Pad Thai recipe here

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I was at Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks ago and came across Fig Butter.  The ingredients were minimal and it really was mainly just mashed figs.  I could not wait to find a use for this new item.  When it comes to raw onions, you either love them or hate them and may even find them offensive.  I am not a lover (of raw onions that is :)).  But I do love the natural sweetness that comes from cooking onions and letting them sweat until they become caramelized and taste as sweet as candy.  I bet you are shocked, right?  Me?  Like something sweet?  Anyway, sweet figs with sugary caramelized onions is a natural combination in my book.  Add some creamy goat cheese and you’ve got an appetizer that not only looks gorgeous and tastes wonderful, but it’s a cinch to put together.  What could be better than that?

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Come share in the tomato love at the Tomato Love Recipe Exchange, hosted by Gimme Some Oven & Bake Your Day, sponsored this week by KitchenAid.  Also visit Recipe for Change to learn more about how to support tomato farmers.

Do you ever wonder if our brains are more active today than in the past?  Lately, I find that I cannot only complete one task at a time.  I have to be multi-tasking.  I write my blog while I watch TV.  I check my email and Twitter while I am on the elliptical machine at the gym.  I write to-do lists while I listen to a seminar.  I am not proud of this multi-tasking.  Sometimes it makes me feel a bit dizzy.  Is this healthy that our brains are constantly whirling from one thing to the next?  Is it some form of an attention deficit that we have all developed due to all of the elements of society that compete for our attention at once?  Or do I just need to give up my morning latte??  What do you think?

Ok, let’s just focus on two things:  the upcoming holiday weekend and bruschetta.  Labor Day weekend is a great time to decompress from the craziness of summer and focus our minds to get geared up for the impending fall and winter.  I will be headed to the lake cabin for “one last hoorah” with the family.  I have spent all evening baking so that I have a hearty stock of treats to feed all of those sweet teeth.  An easy appetizer that I will make for the weekend that takes advantage of the late summer’s bounty of produce is classic bruschetta.  When I lived at home with my mom, all summer long she kept a jar of bruschetta ready-to-go in the refrigerator.  That way, if an unexpected guest stopped by, she always had something fresh to serve them.  As she would deplete the jar or tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil, she would chop and mince a few more ingredients and add them back to the jar.  To me, nothing tastes like summer as much as tomatoes and basil.  And for the perfect cocktail to accompany this simple appetizer, Emily’s exquisitely refreshing Champagne Mojitos are a must.

 

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