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Move over Baked Brie & Cranberries….. You’ve got competition. This colorful, jeweled appetizer of Pistachio & Thyme Crusted Goat Cheese, studded with ruby red pomegranate seeds naturally says “Happy Holidays” with just a few ingredients. It’s a bit creamy, a bit fruity, and a delightful play on textures. Make it a day ahead and you’ll be as relaxed as can be when party time rolls around.

Simple food can be so beautiful can’t it? There’s all kinds of holiday represented here: the pistachios are the evergreens of the season, twinkling Christmas tree lights represented by the ruby red pomegranate seeds, and blankets of white snow appearing as goat cheese.

Pistachios, Goat Cheese, & Pomegranate Seeds

On Christmas Eve we spend time with Brian’s family and forgo the stress of preparing a big meal.  Instead we all bring appetizers to nosh on throughout the afternoon alongside our Tom & Jerry’s, champagne, and mulled wine. I enjoy every minute of it, thankful that they have welcomed me with open arms just like one of their own since day one.

In just about every culture, food is associated with gathering together and I’ve come to realize there are generally two different types of people. There are those you can count on every year for bringing their famous pimento cheese dip or decadent cranberry cake with butter sauce, or those like me who “you never know what you’re gonna get” which can sometimes be a good thing or a bad thing….  But that’s the fun of it, right?

New Year's Eve Appetizer

Some chatter on Twitter a few weeks ago about pistachios got me thinking about one of my favorite ways to eat them –   Give me a glass of champagne, some great cheese, nuts, and fruit — and you’re looking at my perfect meal.

I took that idea and fancied it up a little with the presentation, but I swear – it couldn’t be easier to put together. Just 10 minutes of prep (deseed a pomegranate quickly with this tip!), 5 ingredients, and you’re on your way to an eye catching appetizer that has New Year’s Eve written all over it.

Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Appetizer

The pistachios have a salty sweetness, which is a lovely match for fresh and tangy chevre. You simply crush them with some fresh thyme and a little salt, then coat the best goat cheese you can find in it.

Rosemary would be a great substitute if you don’t have thyme. No pun intended ;) I like to slice the cheese into rounds and nestle bright pomegranate seeds within them, offering a gorgeous pop of color. As the sweet and tart rubies of the fruit world, their crunch is the perfect contrast to creamy cheese.

To 2013, you were a year I’ll never forget, filled with opportunities that I never dreamed of. But even more  meaningful was the outpouring of support from all of you. Gosh, {exhale} I am blessed.

So into the new year I go, with big ideas and even bigger dreams. I wish all of  you health, happiness, special moments, and lots of love. 2014, you’ve never looked better.

Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese with Pomegranate Seeds

serves 8

1 – 8 oz log of goat cheese
1/2 cup roasted pistachios (deshelled)
1 T minced fresh thyme
1/4 t salt
1/2 c pomegranate seeds (deseed in 10 seconds by doing this!)

In a food processor, pulse the pistachios, thyme, and salt together until pretty finely ground, like the size of breadcrumbs. It’s okay to have some larger pieces. Empty onto a cutting board and roll goat cheese log in it, patting with your hands to ensure it is well coated. Place into refrigerator for 10 minutes, then remove and cut into 1/4 inch wide circles with a sharp knife, pushing the knife against the cut side of the goat cheese as you slice through so that the round comes off in one piece. Arrange on platter and scatter pomegranate seeds around it.

Can be made a day in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator.

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Homemade Espresso Marshmallows

December 18, 2013

Coffee Marshmallows

Raise your hand if you’re scared of the candy thermometer! Hand raised high here.

The vanilla bean caramels I tried to make once? Fail. Grainy, too chewy, and a dismal light brown color. Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting? A curdled mess. But Homemade Espresso Marshmallows? Major win.

Candy Thermometer

Since seeing Joy the Baker’s Bonkers Awesome video and post on Gingerebread Marshmallows, (Gosh, love her!) I really wanted to try making my own fluffy, homemade marshmallows. Besides my fear of the candy thermometer, an internal battle about using corn syrup (one of the essential ingredients) was weighing on me. What I put into my body is very important to me and as you know, I try to eat mostly unprocessed foods.

But the more I thought about it and with some reassurance from respected friends with the same food values, I went ahead and bought a bottle of Karo Syrup, knowing that a once a year treat is not going to kill me. And in the end, high fructose corn syrup can be used by our bodies for energy too, it just takes a little more work.
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Marshmallows2

A java junkie at heart, my sights were set on making fluffy Coffee Marshmallows drizzled with dark chocolate. They’re kind of like espresso and hot chocolate giving each other a hug. Or those chocolate covered beans you beg the Starbucks barista for “just one more” as she hands you your mocha.

When I bit into the first one, it was as if I was nibbling on a cloud. They’re so fluffy and soft! Springy and lightweight, I giggled as I watched them bounce off one another as I tossed them in the powdered sugar.
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A store bought bag of marshmallows could sit in my cupboards untouched for months, but these…. man, pure edible bliss. Laced with espresso powder and a touch of vanilla, they have just the faint complexity you’d want from a perfect cup of coffee.

The process was easier than I had imagined, and I even used a hand mixer because that’s all I have. Besides the detailed recipe (which don’t be scared when you see how long it is – that’s only because I wanted to give you good directions!) here’s a few tips to ensure marshmallow success for you too:

1. Make sure you have a good candy thermometer – this is the one I use and it’s sturdy, reliable, and easy to read. Be sure that the tip of the thermometer is submerged in the sugar syrup while it’s boiling for an accurate measurement.

2. One way to know your marshmallows will set properly is that that the batter will hold a soft peak before falling back on itself when you lift up the whisk.

3. Let the marshmallows sit in the pan for at least 6 hours, even better if you can wait overnight.

I was pretty proud of my marshmallow triumph so I packaged them up in gift bags for friends and family who I saw on Sunday. Seeing there eyes smile with joy and exclaim “Homemade Marshmallows?!” like little children was such a treat. Plain or drizzled in the best dark chocolate you can find, these little pillows of magic will certainly bring you happiness.

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Homemade Coffee Marshmallows

adapted from this recipe
makes 20-24 marshmallows

2 packets + 1 1/2 t unflavored gelatin
3/4 c water, divided
3/4 c light corn syrup
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
2 T espresso powder
2 t pure vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
2 oz of 65% chocolate of the best quality, melted

Before you begin, grease a 9″ x 9″ pan with nonstick spray. (Could also be a little larger of a pan if you would like, but smaller than 9″ X 13″) this size can vary) Add two teaspoons of powdered sugar and shake it around to coat the bottom.

Combine 1/2 cup warm water and espresso powder, whisking until dissolved. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator to cool. Pour the cooled coffee into the bowl of a stand-up mixer (or you can use a large bowl and a hand-mixer). Sprinkle the gelatin atop the cooled coffee mixture and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan with a candy thermometer attached to the side, combine the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and remaining 1/4 cup of water. Heat the mixture over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, barely stirring. Turn the heat up to moderately high heat and bring the mixture to a hard boil  until the candy thermometer reaches 238 degrees F, as it will creep up 2 more degrees to soft ball stage of 240 once off the heat.

Lower the whisk attachment or your hand mixer and turn it on low. Carefully add the boiling liquid to the gelatin mixture. Turn the mixer to medium and beat for 6 minutes, then turn up to high and beat for another 4-5 minutes, until mixture has doubled in volume and is thick and fluffy. Pour in the vanilla extract and beat for an additional 1-2 minutes.

Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula dipped in water until evenly disbursed. It’s okay if it’s not totally smooth! Dust the top with a few tablespoons of powdered sugar and cover with foil or plastic wrap to let them set, about 6 hours or overnight.

To release the marshmallows from the pan, run a knife around the edges and invert onto a large cutting board. Using a greased pizza cutter, cut the marshmallows into 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch cubes, then coat them in the powdered sugar to keep them from being sticky. Pat off the excess or place marshmallows in a strainer and shake. Place them on wax paper, drizzle with the chocolate and let set.

The marshmallows will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week. Enjoy!

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Flourless Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

On the 4th Day of December my Sweet Tooth Gave to Me……. Flourless Chocolate Peppermint Blossoms! With just 6 ingredients, these pretty holiday cookies starring chocolate and peppermint bark are rich, fudgey, and naturally gluten free. That’s reason for an all out kitchen happy dance.

Normally I’m a peanut butter blossom or frosted sugar cookie kind of girl, but when I spotted the Hershey’s peppermint bark bells, inspiration for a chocolate peppermint came over me. Pretty soon I was seeing visions of sugar plum fairies, otherwise known as decadent chocolate cookies rolled in powdered sugar and topped with peppermint bark candy.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

One of the reasons I love peanut butter blossoms is because this recipe became my go to during my very first gluten free holiday season. They were extremely easy and so delicious! I brought them to a Christmas cookie exchange and they were a hit. Nobody could believe they had just 5 ingredients and were naturally gluten free.

That’s when the light bulb clicked. What if I could make a peanut butter blossom type cookie using something like Nutella or Jif’s Hazelnut spread and the peppermint candy? I knew the tough part was going to be keeping them flourless because chocolate hazelnut butters behave differently in baking recipes compared to a pure nut butter. Essentially they spread a lot more when heated so flour normally helps prevent this.

My kitchen was in quite a disarray after a few failed recipe tests, but with chocolate smeared hands and a powdered sugar kissed nose, I finally landed on a winner!

The secret to preventing them from spreading into a gooey mess came down to two things:

~ The speed and length of mixing time

~ Using equal parts powdered sugar instead of 1 cup of granulated like in the peanut butter blossom recipe

~ A brief chill down in the freezer

 Cat and Christmas Cookies
These Chocolate Peppermint Blossoms have just the right amount of fudgey chew and a nice crisp outer edge, precisely my definition of a great cookie. With rich cocoa, cool mint, and their snow kissed look, your holiday dessert tray is begging for their presence. You probably have half of the ingredients on hand and an innocent plug here – all six are available for you to save on right now with Cartwheel by Target, the project I work on during my day job.

So now that you’ve got the details its time to get baking!  Let the powdered sugar fly, the holiday tunes blast, and your merry spirit shine with the start of the holiday season.

*One thing to note: I contacted Jif and confirmed that their Hazelnut spread is gluten free. Here is their response: “We’re happy to help, Amanda! Jif® Chocolate flavored Hazelnut Spread does not contain ingredients derived from wheat/gluten. However, there is a potential for cross-contact in our processing facility because we make other products with these ingredients, which is why wheat is listed in the May Contain statement.” If you or someone you are baking for has full blown celiac disease, I would use Nutella in this case as it is made in a completely gluten free facility. *

Flourless Chocolate Peppermint Christmas Cookies

Flourless Chocolate Peppermint Blossoms

makes about 2 dozen cookies

1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 c Nutella or Jif Hazelnut Spread
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 bag Hershey’s Peppermint Bark Bells
Additional powdered sugar for rolling dough balls in

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add the Nutella or Jif hazelnut spread and sugars to large mixing bowl. Cream together for 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping down the sides of bowl periodically. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add in egg. Mix on low for 1 minute. Add the baking soda and mix on medium for 2 minutes. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. (Don’t skimp on the time.)

Add about a 1/2 cup of powdered sugar to a small bowl. Heavily grease a cookie sheet with nonstick spray. (This is important!) Remove dough from freezer, grab a heaping teaspoon of dough, and roll into a ball, then roll in powdered sugar to give them a thick coating. Repeat with 8 more dough balls, then place them evenly across cookie sheet (9 per sheet). Place bowl back in freezer. Bake cookies on middle rack for 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 7 minutes on the pan, then lightly press peppermint bell in middle of each. Repeat with remaining dough. Store in covered container for 4-5 days.

*Full Disclosure: As I mentioned above, I am employed by Target Corp, but these opinions are solely my own.

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Zesty Cranberry Orange Salsa

November 24, 2013

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When fresh Wisconsin cranberries begin to appear in early November at the farmer’s market it’s like nature signaling the holidays are here. With their scarlet red hue matching the universal color of the season, they brighten many Thanksgiving tables in the form of relish or a smooth sauce, but this Cranberry Orange Salsa recipe is my favorite. A little bit sweet, spicy, and tart all at the same time make it a definite palate awakener.

I’ve tried many raw cranberries salsas, but I’m just not a fan of their texture. I’ve remedied this by cooking half of the cranberries down during a short stint on the stove with ginger, orange zest, and a bit of sugar to bring out their natural sweetness. Many times you’ll find cranberry recipes loaded with sugar to temper the tartness, but stewing the fruit a bit achieves the same result.

Cranberry Orange Salsa

Ideally I like to give the salsa a few hours in the refrigerator for the flavors to mingle, but if you’re in a pinch it’s still great right after it’s made. Another reason I love this recipe – its versatility. Go ahead and use it to amp up a few dishes after you’re done noshing on it with crunchy tortilla chips. I enjoy it spread on gluten free bread with triple crème brie for an easy, gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. Whisked with olive oil, it also makes a punchy vinaigrette for a hearty green salad. Whatever way you choose, hop on over to Mother Earth Living to get the recipe and enjoy this fresh, zesty salsa over the upcoming holiday season!

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champagne cocktail

Ready for a glitzy cocktail this holiday season? I sure am. But then again, when would I ever turn down a drink with bubbly? This beautiful, rose tinted sparkling cocktail comes together in no time thanks to the Tart Cherry, Pink Peppercorn, & Thyme Shrub Syrup made by the talented & local Dorothy Stainbrook, founder of Heath Glen’s Organic Farm & Kitchen. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with shrubs, don’t feel bad. I just learned about them this summer while we were vacationing in Healdsburg, CA. An “old is new again” trend, shrub syrups go back hundreds of years as a way of preserving fruit juices in vinegar. They were then mixed with water and served as a refreshment. Now, their tart, acidic properties are quite appealing to mixologists who are using them as a mouth pleasing alternative to traditional limes and lemons. The combinations of flavors are endless, and that’s what gives them the ability to magically deepen a drink profile without messing with the spirits.

When Dorothy let me try some of the syrups  at the St. Paul Farmer Market a few weeks ago, I couldn’t get over the fact that I could individually taste each ingredient she uses for her apple cider vinegar based mixes. The Tart Cherry, Pink Peppercorn, and Thyme Syrup was my favorite. Montmorency cherries have a unique flavor that’s not too sweet, and the pink peppercorns are the perfect savory compliment. They deepen the fruit a touch more, but also give it a little peppery attitude at the end which I loved. In the background you can taste the french thyme, which is a member of the mint family so it’s wonderful in drinks.

A splash of cherry bliss + sparkling wine + peak of season cranberries = one stunning holiday cocktail.

sparkling shrub cocktail

You can tell that Dorothy’s attention to detail and flavor creations are second to none, which is just one reason her products have recently by noted by Saveur & Wine Spectator! Most of the fruit they use comes from their organic farm and is utilized immediately after it is harvested in their commercial kitchen, also conveniently located on their farm. Another favorite of mine is her Meyer Lemon & Ginger Marmalade. Spread on a piece of toast on a cold January morning, it’s citrus punch is just the burst of sunshine I need.

Check out her online shop to see all of the berry and stone fruit preserves, citrus marmalades, and fruit syrups. You can find Heath Glen Farm Products at several local retailers like Golden Fig or click here for the complete list. And she’ll also be at the following two events so put them on your calendars!

[box] December 4th: Cheesecake Sampling & Holiday Fundraising Event at Muddy Paws Cheesecake in St. Louis Park

December 5th-7th: Holiday Bazaar at the Landmark Center[/box]

 

How lovely would a bottle of Prossecco and one of the shrub syrups be for a hostess gift? Or how about some Raspberry Habernero Jelly, aged white cheddar, and a package of artisan crackers? That’s what I call gift giving made easy.

Shrub Syrups

 {Image Source: Heath Glen’s Kitchen}

 

Sparkling Tart Cherry & Pink Peppercorn Cocktail

For each drink:

6 oz dry Prosecco or Cava (I like this one, which is relatively inexpensive but has a nice clean finish)
1 to 2 tablespoons of Tart Cherry & Pink Peppercorn Shrub Syrup or make your own using these instructions
Frozen cranberries or raspberries

Add two or three pieces of fruit to each glass. Measure syrup and pour into champagne flute, then top with sparkling wine. Could also be made into a mocktail by using sparkling water instead of the sparkling wine.

 

*Special thanks to Dorothy for giving me the sample after I ooed & awwed over it at the Farmer’s Market. ;)

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