Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Peppermint Bark

It's the season for baking and cooking all sorts of treats to indulge in at home and to give away as gifts. I made a few batches of peppermint bark this past week. And I'm not the only one in the food blog world whipping up this easy and tasty treat. Using a recipe from an old issue of Bon App├ętit as inspiration, I swapped out the white chocolate for more dark chocolate and subbed Peppermint Joe Joe's from Trader Joe's for the peppermint candies. I made these substitutions because I'm not over the moon about white chocolate in large doses or for strong peppermint flavors. By reducing the amount of white chocolate and using peppermint scented cookies I got a product I was very happy with.

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Aside from the recipe mentioned above, I was inspired when this box of cookies just jumped into my cart when I was shopping at Trader Joe's. If you don't know Trader Joe's, I'm sorry. I truly am. It's a great store with all sorts of rotating goodies to try and fall in love with, only to lament when they discontinue stocking your beloved products. Anyway, if you don't have a Trader Joe's you can use regular Oreo's and add peppermint extract to your chocolate.

Peppermint Bark

24 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
15 Peppermint Joe Joe cookies, coarsely crushed
7 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
6 Tbsp. heavy cream
¾ tsp. peppermint extract, optional

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Turn a large baking sheet upside down, and cover it securely with non-stick aluminum foil. Measure out and mark a 9 x 12 inch rectangle on the foil.

Put the white chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 30 second increments, stirring after each increment until melted. Melt the dark chocolate in a similar way, using a larger bowl. Pour 1/3 cup of the white chocolate and the dark chocolate onto the rectangle on the foil. Using an icing spatula, spread the chocolate to fill the rectangle and swirl the white and dark chocolate together. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the crushed peppermint cookies. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small separate bowl transfer a cup of the dark chocolate and add the cream and peppermint extract, if using. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Then remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator, and pour the cream and chocolate mixture over the swirled dark and white chocolate rectangle. Using an icing spatula –spread the chocolate cream in an even layer. Chill until very cold and firm, about 25minutes.

Rewarm the remaining white chocolate and dark chocolate in the microwave. Working quickly, pour the white and dark chocolate in spoonfuls over the firm ganache layer, and spread it to cover. Sprinkle with remaining crushed peppermint cookies. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes.
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Carefully lift the foil from the baking sheet onto a large cutting board. Trim away any ragged edges of the rectangle. Cut the bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using metal spatula, slip the bark off of the foil and onto the cutting board. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 squares, and then cut each square diagonally into 2 triangles.
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Pack into an airtight container, with sheets of wax paper between layers of bark to prevent them from sticking to one another. Store in the refrigerator.

Friday, December 12, 2008

If you were born on December 21st, in the year 1978, you and Morton's The Steakhouse will be celebrating your 30th birthday this year.


In celebration, Morton's is offering to feed a scrumptious dinner to the first 21 people who share their birth date. Proof of date of birth (valid I.D.)is required as well as advance reservations by calling 215-557-0724 and specifying "December 21 Birthday".

So what do you get if you were lucky enough to be born on the day that Morton's The Steakhouse was launched?

The free, birthday dinner consists of a single-cut filet; choice of Morton'sjumbo lump crab cake, shrimp Alexander, or broiled sea scallops; choice of
Caesar salad or Morton's salad with blue cheese dressing, chopped egg and
anchovies; choice of one side dish; and choice of Morton's Legendary Hot
Chocolate (Birthday) Cake or key lime pie.*

Additionally, Morton's is providing complimentary prime miniature
cheeseburgers in its bar area to all guests from 5 - 6 p.m. on Sunday,
December 21, in honor of the occasion.

Morton's The Steakhouse
1411 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
Morton's - the Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

*This special four-course "30th Anniversary Menu" is also available to all
Morton's guests for $49.50 per person through Sunday, December 28.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Running your mouth off...

Can sometimes make you sound like a moron. Most of my fellow foodies contained themselves while Rick Nichols was around, but I decided to say stupid things and I'm going to blame the wine. All I can say is, sorry David.

That aside, I'm glad someone from the mainstream media attended our rotating potluck and that we made it on the front page of the Food section in the Philadelphia Inquirer. If you've yet to make a friend out of a food blogger, I suggest you act on it and get yourself invited along to our next potluck.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Philly Food Blogger Potluck

This past Friday many area food bloggers (aka food and drink nerds) got together to eat and drink far too much! It was a terrific showing with lots of new faces. It seems every week or so a new food blog pops up and the more the merrier!
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I tried to take pictures, but I'd already had a few glasses of wine by the time I pulled by camera out, so the majority were blurry and instead of posting them here. The only decent shot I got is the one above of cookies from Taylor of Mac & Cheese Review. The middle row are her Moravian Molasses Cookies that she whipped up just for me after I drooled over them on her blog. The cookies on either side were studded with black and cayenne pepper, then half dipped in chocolate, yum! For more delicious photos, I'll refer you to Albert's Flickr Set of the event. There you can find pictures of some of the yummy dishes we all enjoyed as well as a series of pictures utilizing the Pick Your Nose cups I brought along for fun. I brought my Coconuut Toffee Almond Crunch Cookies as well as a new Diabetes friendly recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies that can be found on my new blog, The Sugar.

It was great catching up with some old buddies and really great to make some new friends. I especially enjoyed talking with Rick Nichols, eating meatballs made by my new BFF, Jess, seeing my first Yule Log thanks to Lauren, and trying to refrain from gorging on mini cherry rum cakes from Cat.

Overall, between all that wine and all those sweets, my blood sugar took a serious hit, but I'm already excited for the next potluck. Thanks to Messy & Picky for hosting at their house!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Swallow: Mac & Cheese Bistro

Last week, the former French inspired menu at Swallow on Liberties Walk changed drastically to the happiness and dismay of many Northern Liberties residents. I had some initial doubts about the menu too, it seemed eerily similar to a menu at a restaurant not even fifty feet from Swallow's front door, so I had to go check it out. I was happy to find that this rendition of mac and cheese is not an exact copy-cat of any versions already available in Northern Liberties.

The menu is a radical departure from Jason & Cindy's initial menu for Swallow. The new offerings encompass unfussy customizable comfort food all the way. Here's the skinny: You pick what size mac & cheese you want (small or large), then pick two cheeses from an extensive list, and up to three mix-ins for about $8 to $12, depending on the size you chose.
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I brought a partner in eating who enjoys spicy things, so she chose pepper jack and cheddar cheeses with jalapenos, broccoli and scallions. The result was a bowl of smooth and creamy noodles with flecks of spice and perfectly steamed broccoli. Aside from the kick of the jalapenos, this dish was rather bland. Monterey jack is a seemingly bland cheese, but we expected more heft from the cheddar. Maybe a little more of a heavy hand with the cheese, please?
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We also sampled a plate of mac and cheese studded with cheddar and Gruyere cheeses, bacon, grilled chicken, and sweet corn niblets. As far as flavor goes, this second plate surpassed the first, but was significantly less healthy for us. The sweet corn was an inspired addition and complemented the smokey bacon flavor very well. We opted to top both dishes of mac & cheese with buttered breadcrumbs which were then toasted under the broiler and gave each dish a nice subtle crunch on top.
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I'm not one to judge on main dishes alone, so we tried a side of green beans. The menu said "slow-cooked" but I asked the server how they were prepared because I don't appreciate a green bean that has no texture. She replied they were sauteed with butter, what could be better? Well, she was wrong. Not only were the green beans cooked beyond recognition, they were doused with and sitting in a pool of salty brown sauce that had to have contained some sort of mushroom or beef stock. Not at all what I was expecting when I heard "sauteed with butter" but more true to the menu description of "slow-cooked". In my opinion, skip the green beans. I'd rather have canned.

Overall, Swallow's new menu is less appealing for the old crowd it used to draw, but is more appealing for those who want a reasonably priced comfort food meal with a serious level of customizability. The new menu is likely to keep Swallow afloat in these trying economic times, but I for one am going to miss the seared tuna over white bean puree and the perfectly grilled flank steak from their earlier incarnation. The mac & cheese debate will likely continue to roar in Northern Libs, but the newest venue for serving up this classic dish has some unique things to offer at an affordable price. If you check it out, let me know what you think. For me, if I'm craving mac and cheese, my first stop will be A Full Plate Cafe for their down-home version made with whole wheat pasta and baked to perfection with a crust of panko breadcrumbs. If AFP is closed, I'd head over to North Bowl for their sharp and creamy version topped with crushed goldfish. If those first two attempts at procuring Mac & Cheese failed, then I'd head to Swallow. Extra corn niblets, please!

Swallow Bistro
1030 N American St
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Swallow on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I enjoy the tangy bite of cranberries in baked goods, juice and sauces, but have never been too crazy about it in the traditional "sauce" form served with turkey around holiday time. So when it came time for Thanksgiving last week, I decided to forgo the canned variety and make a quick and easy cranberry sauce that wasn't too sweet or too solid in texture, but that had a slightly tart flavor and just enough body to not run all over the plate.
I started with a large pot, and added one pint of hierloom cranberries from Whole Foods along with 1/2 a pint of fresh red raspberries. I stirred the berries together with 3/4 of a cup of orange juice and 3 tablespoons of Brown Sugar Blend from Splenda.
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Let the berries and juice come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes my raspberries had completely broken down, but the cranberries still maintained their shape despite being able to hear their skins popping from inside the simmering pot. I used my potato masher and gently pressed the mixture until only abount half of the cranberries remained whole.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl with a tight fitting lid and let it chill out in the fridge for a few hours before serving. The consistency is a bit thicker than a sauce, but not quite to the point of jam or jelly, so I'm calling it a compote. You can check out this picture to get a better idea of the consistency.

This recipe is so easy to do, it only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish and requires very little skill. It can also be made a few days ahead of your holiday party. In fact, the flavors of raspberry and cranberry meld together the more it sits, so you might want to make sure to prepare this compote a few days ahead of when you plan to serve it so that it develops maximum flavor.

Monday, December 01, 2008

This year's Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. I ate almost everything on my plate (needed to save room for dessert!) and even though I had a house full of people for dinner, I still had a fridge full of food after they all left.
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I grew up with a mom who was an excellent home cook, she has a small arsenal of recipes that she's repeated over the years to use up Thanksgiving Day leftovers. Turkey Tetrazzini was always a favorite of mine, while I clearly remember my father and brother preferring the leftover turkey straight out of the fridge or on a sandwich. But sometimes deviating from tradition is fun, and discovering new ways to use what may seem mundane after days of the same ingredients is a challenge I like.

I recently posted about a new twist for using your Thanksgiving leftovers, and tonight I'm planning on making Turkey & Dumpling soup, but lots of other creative ideas are floating around the web. Here are a few of the most unique ideas from some of my favorite bloggers.

Thanksgiving Pizza Pie from I'll Have Another Stout

Stuffing Frittata from My Last Bite

Double Chocolate Mashed Potato Brownies from Cookie Madness

How are you using your leftovers?

Angela was just in town for my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, and came having just made some fun appetizers that are perfect for using up leftover turkey and fixings. She was kind enough to share the technique with me and the only ingredient I had to go to the store for was a tube of crescent rolls.
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Unroll the tube of dough, and split it in half so you have a nice squre of dough to work with. Pinch the seams together well.
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Spread some leftovers (in my case sweet potatoes roasted with olive oil, garlic, and basil) to within a half inch of the edges. Top with shredded turkey and some monterey jack cheese. Carefully roll up the crescent rolls (much like you would if you were making a jelly roll cake)
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With the other half of the dough, I swapped out the sweet potatoes for cranberry sauce and put a tangy twist on this snack.

Put the rolls on a greased baking sheet and place in the freezer to firm up for about half an hour. After the rolls are firm, remove from the freezer and slice each roll into 12 pieces. Lay the slices on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 14 to 18 minutes until golden brown.
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These little roll ups encompass all the flavors of a Thanksgiving meal, but you can eat it with your fingers and it's a great way to use up whatever you have leftover. No sweet potatoes or cranberry sauce? Use mashed potatoes or green bean casserole. The possiblities are limited only by what you've got leftover in the fridge.

My Thanksgiving was lovely, by the way. I was surrounded by a great group of friends and many bottles of wine. Our fried turkey turned out to be more of an oil poached one, but it was still moist and delicious. Most importantly, everyone was stuffed and we laughed a lot, I couldn't have asked for a nicer holiday, so thank you to everyone who came over to my house, donated wine or beer (Thanks Suzanne!), or helped with the cooking or the clean up. You all are great friends, and you're welcome back next year.