February 14, 2013
Dark Chocolate Heart Cookies
with Fondant Decorations
February 14: Valentine’s Day
“Love is patient…..” This scripture can apply to making dark chocolate heart cookies with fondant decorations for Valentine’s Day. Islander loves to bake but sometimes decorating cookies tries her patience. These cookies are like the chocolate wafers that we made before but Islander wanted to try out her new fondant imprint mat to decorate them. It really makes a great impression when the cookies go from plain to pretty! Dark chocolate heart cookies with fondant decorations may be time-consuming to make but are worth it when loved ones like to eat them all on Valentine’s Day.
(Adapted from Southern Living Incredible Cookies)
- ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
- 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar, sifted (plus more for decorating with fondant)
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup cocoa powder (we used Hershey’s brand Special Dark)
- pinch of salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (we used Wilton brand)
- Pink fondant (Wilton, Satin Ice, Fondarific or homemade)
- clear piping gel
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg. Stir in the vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon.
Gradually add these ingredients to the butter mixture. Blend until a soft dough forms. Make a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate to firm the dough for at least an hour.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and work in small portions at a time. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a piece of dough to no thicker than ¼ inch. Cut out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let sit in the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Cool completely to crisp up a bit. Store in an airtight container until ready to decorate with fondant.
On a surface dusted with powdered sugar, roll out the fondant to 1/8 inch thick. Place on an impression mat and press gently over the surface. Remove the fondant and cut with the same heart-shaped cookie cutter used for the cookies. Cut out enough imprinted fondant hearts for all the cookies. Set aside in a covered container so the fondant does not dry out.
Scoop out 1-2 tablespoons of clear piping gel into a bowl. Using a food-safe paint brush, brush gel over the surface of a cookie. Place a fondant heart over it and smooth out the edges with fingertips. Repeat until all the other cookies are complete. Brush off any crumbs and powdered sugar residue from the surface of the cookies. Store in an airtight container until ready to place on a cookie platter and serve.
- We used a 2 ½ inch heart-shaped cookie cutter, which yielded a little over two dozen cookies.
- If clear piping gel is unavailable, water may be used as an adhesive between the fondant and the cookie.
- Thanks to Lisa L. for gifting Islander with the cookie recipe book! Happy birthday and Valentine’s Day, Lisa!
February 10, 2013
February 10, 2013: Asian Lunar/Chinese New Year (Year of the Snake)
Kung hee fat choy! We rang in the Year of the Snake on this Asian lunar year (2013) with some slithery and slightly sweet sugar “snake cookies,” a combination of our Chinese almond cookie and freaky finger cookie recipes. Although these are not traditional treats, the cookies are cute and easy to make for a fun and festive new year (or Halloween) celebration.
- ½ cup vegetable shortening (we used butter-flavored Crisco baking sticks)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup almonds, slivered, blanched and chopped (optional)
- green food coloring
- 1 egg, beaten
- green sugar (we used Wilton brand)
- white tube frosting
- black tube gel frosting
- strawberry fruit roll up
- red tube frosting
Cream the shortening with the sugar until smooth. Stir in the almond extract. Mix in the flour until the dough sticks together.
Fold in the almonds, if using, and blend well. Tint with green food coloring. Shape into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and pinch out 1 ½ inch balls. Gently roll out into 5-inch long ropes. Curve into a slight S-shape, smoothing out the cracks.
Place on a slightly greased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Continue making the rest of the “snakes”. Brush the tops of the snake with beaten egg. Sprinkle with green sugar. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes but do not brown. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely and crisp up. Use a small round tip to pipe white eyeballs on one end of the snake cookies. Dab a little black tube gel on the white eyeballs to make the pupils. Unroll a strawberry fruit roll up.
Slice into thin strips, then into tiny rectangular pieces. Cut slits on one end to make a forked tongue. With a little red frosting, position the red fruit roll up tongues underneath one end of the snake cookies. Continue for the rest of the cookies. Place on a platter and serve or store in an airtight container up to a week. Yield: Approximately 15 snake cookies.
- Gel food paste yields a more vibrant color on the cookies than liquid drops.
- Minimize the frosted points of the piped white eyeballs by touching your fingertip with a little powdered sugar, then pressing down lightly to flatten before adding the black gel pupils.
February 4, 2013
Butternut Squash Soup
February 4: National Homemade Soup Day
At one of Highlander’s work conference dinners, we met a fellow foodie, Sol S., who aspires to write a comfort food cookbook. He wants to feature recipes that are homemade, healthy and hearty. He shared with us his butternut squash soup recipe to try out in our own kitchen. It was delicious and simply satisfying! Butternut squash soup is comfort food for cold weather and is also appropriate for National Homemade Soup Day.
(From Sol S.)
- 1 medium butternut squash (we used 2 12-ounce bags of squash already cut and cubed)
- 1 sweet onion, quartered
- 3 cloves garlic with skins on
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 ½ cups chicken stock
- 1 cup sweet corn
Peel the butternut squash, cut the ends off, remove the seeds and dice into 1-inch cubes. Peel and quarter the onion, removing the ends. In a large bowl, mix the squash, onions and garlic with the olive oil, salt and pepper until well coated. Place on a foil-lined baking pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes (after 30 minutes, stir to roast evenly). Remove from the oven and discard the garlic skins.
In a large pot, place the roasted vegetables (squash, onions and garlic) and cover with the chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. In a blender, puree in batches. Put the pureed vegetables back in the pot and simmer with the sweet corn until heated through. Serve immediately in soup bowls.
- Sol S. garnishes his butternut squash soup with cooked shrimp or crabmeat or shredded chicken. The sweet corn adds texture to this recipe. Good luck to him as he authors his project!
- Search our blog for other soup recipes.
February 4, 2013
(Russian Cold Cucumber Soup)
February 4: National Homemade Soup Day
A Russian friend of a friend came to our house blessing in Illinois and was kind enough to share a cultural dish for our special occasion. Kristina Y., whom we met through our Ukrainian friend Olga W., made a refreshing cold cucumber soup called okroshka. They explained that it is eaten during the short summer months in Russia and Ukraine.
Although it is still winter in the northern hemisphere, and hot homemade soups are on most menus, okroshka may still be enjoyed where the weather is warm (such as in the southern hemisphere).
For a refreshing Russian soup, try okroshka for National Homemade Soup Day.
(Adapted from Bella Online)
- 1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup green onions, sliced (green parts only)
- 2 sprigs fresh dill, minced
- 2-3 hard boiled eggs, chopped
- 4 cups water
- 3 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 ½ cups cooked ham, chopped
- salt to taste
Chop the cucumber, slice the green onions, mince the dill and chop the eggs. Place everything in a large bowl.
Pour in the water. Mix in the sour cream. Chop the ham and add it to the soup. Season with salt. Chill in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend. Ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with additional dill (optional). Serve cold.
- This soup is traditionally made with kvass (a fermented beverage made from rye bread). However, it is difficult to find kvass here so it is fine to use water as the liquid in the soup. Kvass adds a unique flavor to the soup.
- Instead of ham, sausages or other flavorful cooked meats, such as lamb, beef or chicken, may be used in this recipe.
- Sometimes ice cubes are added to the recipe to ensure a very chilled soup.
- Thanks to Olga W. for the ceramic figurine from Ukraine which we used in the final food photo above.
- January is also National Soup Month.
February 4, 2013
Tinolang Manok (Chicken Tinola)
February 4: Homemade Soup Day
Chicken soup is often served to sick people. This comfort food helps to clear up congestion, soothes a sore throat and warms up those who have the chills.
When Islander has a cold or the flu, her parents would feed her a Filipino-style chicken soup called tinolang manok (chicken tinola). The ingredients are a healthy combination of chicken, green papayas, ginger and malunggay leaves (also known as moringa, malunggay is used as herbal medicine in the Philippines).
We make tinolang manok in the winter time to warm us up. But Islander also likes to cook tinola whenever she has nostalgic cravings for her parents’ homemade soup. For a Filipino twist to chicken soup, try tinolang manok on Homemade Soup Day.
- 2 small chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1-inch piece of ginger, sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 1 green papaya, peeled and cubed
- 3-4 cups water or chicken broth
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup malunggay leaves (optional)
Wash and peel the green papaya. Cut into cubes. Wash the malunggay leaves and separate them from the stems. Set aside.
Saute the ginger and garlic slices in oil until fragrant (about a minute). Add the chicken pieces and brown slightly. Add the green papaya. Pour enough water or broth to cover the chicken. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the papaya about 10 minutes later and cook until softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the malunggay leaves and heat until slightly wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and serve hot with rice.
- If green papaya and malunggay leaves are not available, omit them. Boil the chicken with the ginger and garlic in water or broth, season with salt and pepper and garnish with a tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Serve this simple ginger-chicken soup while it is hot with rice (optional).
- Spinach may be substituted for the malunggay leaves.
- Maraming salamat (thank you very much in Tagalog Pilipino) to Islander’s Daddy for being the guest chef for this blog recipe post.
- Search our blog for more soup recipes.
February 3, 2013
Elmo Cheesecake Pops
February 3: Elmo’s Birthday
The news of Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash, is distressing, unfortunate and scandalous for Sesame Street and its fans and followers. Despite the negative circumstances, we are reminded that God loves the sinner but not the sin. Elmo still represents happiness, fun, optimism and goodness. But there are haters and pessimists who will always find fault and promote perversion. We pray there is healing, repentence, forgiveness and righteousness in this sad Sesame Street situation.
On a happier note, cheers to Elmo with cheesecake pops on his birthday! Elmo loves you and so does God!
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’” (Zechariah 7:9)
- Leftover cheesecake (such as our white chocolate cheesecake or 1 small cheesecake, like Sara Lee brand, thawed)
- Red candy melts
- Mini Oreo cookies
- Chocolate tube frosting
- White tube frosting
- Mini chocolate chips
- Orange tube frosting
In a large bowl, crumble the cheesecake, crust and all, and mash together with a spoon or spatula until well blended. Roll into 1 ½ inch balls. Place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
In a microwave safe bowl or double boiler, melt the red candy and stir until smooth. Dip one end of a lollipop stick into the red candy melts and then stick halfway into a cheesecake ball. Stand the pops in a styrofoam base and refrigerate to set the candy melts.
Quickly dip and coat the cheesecake balls in the red candy melts to cover the surface. Put them back on the styrofoam base and refrigerate to set. Meanwhile, twist apart a mini Oreo cookie and scrape off the white filling with a knife. Cut the cookie in half to form Elmo’s mouth.
Use chocolate frosting from the tube to “glue” the mouth to a cheesecake pop. Continue assembling the rest of the mouths, refrigerating frequently. Use white frosting from the tube to pipe two round eyes.
Place a mini chocolate chip into the eyeballs to make pupils. Pipe Elmo’s nose with the orange frosting from the tube. Refrigerate all to set. When ready to serve, place on a decorative lollipop or dessert stand.
- Cheesecake tends to hold its shape better than brownie or cake pops.
- Keep the cheesecake balls cool at all times so they are firm and do not slide down the lollipop stick (see our Food Flops for an example).
February 1, 2013
Mardi Gras Bread Pudding
with Vanilla-Whiskey Sauce
February: Mardi Gras Season
Laissez les bons temps rouler! We “let the good times roll” when Islander’s conference sessions ended for the day in New Orleans, Louisiana (pre-Katrina). In the late afternoons and evenings that week, we wandered around Bourbon and Canal streets and strolled around the French Quarter. We liked listening to live jazz bands while dining on crawfish etoufee, jambalaya and gumbo at one of the many restaurants in town. Highlander drank chicory coffee at Café du Monde. He even tasted fried alligator nuggets in N’awlins! And Islander, with her notorious sweet tooth, enjoyed both the beignets and bread pudding in the Big Easy!
Cajun and New Orleans-inspired foods are prominently featured at Fat Tuesday celebrations outside of Louisiana. For Mardi Gras get-togethers here in South Texas, we usually bake bread pudding and serve the slices with a vanilla-whiskey sauce (and during Lent, we cook capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding).
Before Ash Wednesday, indulge in this Bourbon-infused bread pudding for a merry Mardi Gras. Bon appétit!
(Adapted from San Antonio Taste magazine, Spring 2011)
For the Mardi Gras bread pudding
- 6 slices cinnamon-raisin bread (we used Cinnabon brand)
- 3 eggs
- 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
- 3 cups milk
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (we used a packet of Bourbon vanilla)
Slice the cinnamon bread into large chunks. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the condensed milk. Add the bread to the bowl and allow to soak for half an hour.
Pour in the milk, melted butter and vanilla and toss well. Place into a greased 8x8x2-inch square baking pan.
Place the pan in a larger pan. Make a water bath by filling the larger pan with water about ½-inch up from the smaller pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until set. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to solidify. Slice cold. The bread pudding may be reheated in the microwave and served with vanilla-whiskey sauce.
For the vanilla-whiskey sauce
(Adapted from About.com – Southern Food)
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2-3 pods cardamom (or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom)
- 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¼ cup whiskey (Bourbon) or brandy
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon vanilla (we used Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract)
In a saucepan, mix the sugar with the cream. Add the cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Place the butter in the mixture and bring to a gentle boil, stirring well, until the butter is melted.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, make a slurry by mixing the whiskey with the cornstarch until smooth. Add the vanilla. Pour the slurry into the gently boiling butter mixture. Stir until the sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from the stovetop and cool slightly before generously pouring the sauce on top of a slice of bread pudding. When reheating, the sauce will become more liquified.
- Feel free to add ½ cup of raisins to the bread pudding batter before baking.
- The vanilla-whiskey sauce has a slightly thin, syrupy quality and does not have an overpowering alcoholic taste, which complements the custard-like texture of the bread pudding well.
- King’s cakes are also popular on Mardi Gras. We made a galette des rois for Epiphany with the same concept of a hidden trinket (representing Baby Jesus) in the king’s cake.
- Thanks to Lisa L. for the sample packets of Bourbon vanilla from Europe.
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