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  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: December 2010

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

I had a friend ask me recently what my all-time favorite thing is to cook.  Eric laughed and said, “You’ll have to break it down into categories for her because she won’t be able to choose one favorite.”  He was right, but it didn’t take me long to answer that my favorite dessert to make is ice cream.  When I first started this blog, I was nowhere near close to making ice cream at home.  That all changed, though, when I saw recipes for it popping up everywhere.  Soon after that, I was adding an ice cream maker to my Christmas list.  Now, I can’t imagine not making ice cream at home. It’s funny how things change like that.

This ice cream is definitely the most interesting one I’ve made so far.  Most mint ice creams call for extract, but this one uses fresh mint. It gives the ice cream a somewhat herbaceous flavor, but in the best way possible. It’s very refreshing and will even leave you with good breath. ;) There’s nothing subtle about this ice cream, but the chocolate provides some balance to the strong mint flavor. Adding the chocolate just before the ice cream is done churning gives it the most wonderful texture. Instead of large chunks, there are thin flakes of chocolate, giving you more chocolate in each bite. While it’s not the traditional mint chocolate chip ice cream most people are used to, it’s definitely delicious. My only regret with this ice cream is that I didn’t make it over the summer when my chocolate mint plant was thriving.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
2 lightly packed cups fresh mint
5 large egg yolks
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, sugar, 1 cup of cream and salt until steaming. Add the mint leaves and stir until they are completely immersed in the liquid. Cover and steep for 1 hour. Strain the mint-infused mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Using a rubber spatula, press firmly on the mint leaves to extract all their flavor, then discard them. Pour the remaining cup of cream into a large bowl, preferably one with a pour spout, and set the strainer on top.

Rewarm the mint-infused liquid over medium heat until steaming. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Gradually pour the liquid over the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (or spatula). Pour the mixture through the strainer to remove any bits of egg that may have formed. Stir into the cream until incorporated. Place in an ice bath until cool, then chill completely in the refrigerator. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.

To make the chocolate flakes, melt chocolate in a microwave-safe measuring cup with a pour spout. Drizzle a very thin stream of chocolate into the ice cream maker as it is nearing the final stages of churning. Alternately, remove the ice cream from the machine and drizzle chocolate over while layering ice cream in the storage container, stirring to break any large chunks.

Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Cheddar Ale Soup

Cheddar Ale Soup

This is mine and Eric’s first full winter in Virginia, and it’s quite different than winters in Florida. The temperatures here have been in the teens, and it seems the only thing I want for dinner when it’s cold outside is soup. In fact, Eric and I actually had soup for dinner twice last week. It’s not something we made all that often while living in Florida, but we’ve definitely made up for that since moving here. We have so many favorites, but I was looking for something different than our usual. As luck would have it, I took a break from my meal planning because no recipes were really jumping out at me. I decided to peruse the Williams-Sonoma catalog and ended up discovering this recipe. Go figure. As soon as I saw it, I added it to the meal plan and decided to make it that night. It was the perfect thing to have after decorating our Christmas tree.

If you like fondue, you will love this soup. Flavor-wise, that’s what it reminds me of. It’s incredibly hearty, especially with homemade croutons and crisp pieces of bacon on top. My favorite part was the white truffle oil. Just a small drizzle of it totally transformed this soup, and Eric and I were both amazed at how such a small amount could permeate the soup. The beer adds more of a background flavor, but I could still tell it was there. We used Blue Moon, but any pale ale will work. Just make sure it’s one you like so that you can enjoy some with your meal. Also, I’ve halved the original recipe, as this is one soup that does not reheat very well. Other than that, it was perfect, and we’ll definitely be making it again soon!

If it’s cold where you are, here are some of my favorite soups to help warm you up!
Sausage and Fire Roasted Tomato Soup
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Chicken, Corn and Potato Chowder
Taco Soup

Cheddar Ale Soup

Cheddar Ale Soup
2 thick-cut bacon slices, cut into 3-inch strips
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pale ale
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and pepper, to taste
homemade croutons and white truffle oil, for topping

In a Dutch oven or medium pot set over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Reduce heat to medium. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and add onion, carrot and celery. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture and continue cooking 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ale and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add Worcestershire, milk and broth and increase heat to medium-high. Once the mixture comes to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 10-12 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Alternately, carefully transfer soup to a blender to purée, working in batches if needed. Return soup to pot and set over medium-low heat. Gradually add cheese by the handful, stirring constantly, until all the cheese is incorporated. Do not allow soup to boil. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Ladle soup into bowls and top with bacon, croutons and a drizzle of white truffle oil. Serve immediately.

Makes 3 servings

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Peppermint Simple Syrup for Peppermint Mochas

Peppermint White Mocha

I am a big fan of peppermint white mochas. In fact, once the cool weather comes around, that’s pretty much the only espresso drink I want. They just seem so festive, and I can’t resist the peppermint and white chocolate combination. Since we have an espresso maker at home, it seems silly to always run out to a coffee shop whenever the craving hits. Since not much was going on here Sunday, I decided to make peppermint simple syrup so that I can have peppermint white mochas whenever I want. This is both a good and very bad thing.

Simple syrup is just that – simple. Once you know how to make it, you can pretty much make any flavor you want. I love making things on a whim, and this was definitely one of those things. Eric and I were enjoying peppermint white mochas shortly after I decided to make the syrup. Gotta love that! You only need three ingredients – sugar, water and peppermint extract. I started with a 1/2 teaspoon of extract, which wasn’t strong enough, so I increased it to 1 teaspoon. I also added some candy cane pieces to give it that pretty pink color, but that’s certainly not necessary.

I was unsure about storage and looked up how to store simple syrup. From what I’ve read, it seems best to refrigerate syrup made with a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water (apparently more sugar gives it a more stable shelf life, so 2:1 simple syrup could be stored in the pantry). I’ve read it can be kept from one month to up to six months, but I don’t think you’ll have any problem using it in a month’s time. At the rate I’m using it, I’ll probably be making more next week. If espresso drinks aren’t your thing, I think this would be great in a martini or mixed with club soda, too.

Peppermint Simple Syrup

Peppermint Simple Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon candy cane pieces, optional

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and stir constantly until sugar is dissolved. Stir in the peppermint extract and candy cane pieces, if using. Cool to room temperature and store in a glass bottle in the refrigerator. To make the peppermint (white) mocha, combine one shot of espresso with 2 tablespoons peppermint syrup, 1 tablespoon chocolate or white chocolate sauce and desired amount of milk. Top with whipped cream and candy cane pieces, if desired.

Cook Like a Champion original, inspired by one of my favorite Starbucks drinks

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

With the holiday season upon us, you might find yourself short on time and energy.  This time of year can be hectic for many people, so I wanted to take a break from my Thanksgiving recipes and post a simple dinner that can be made in next to no time.  When Eric and I went shopping last week, he commented how sad it was that so many people were eating in the mall’s food court, which is filled with mostly fast food restaurants. The lines were outrageous, as well, and I just can’t imagine waiting in line that long for mediocre (at best) food.  To me, this is one of the reasons menu planning is so important.  If I know I have a busy night coming up, I can plan something simple and quick to make for dinner rather than resorting to fast food.  This pasta sauce can be made in less than half an hour, which I think is just as convenient as fast food or takeout.

I love roasted red peppers and I love pasta, so this recipe went on my “to-make” list the moment I saw it. The sauce tastes incredibly fresh, and I love the use of sage in it.  There’s just a touch of heat from the cayenne and some smokiness from the paprika.  Many recipes for roasted red pepper sauce use cream, but this one does not.  I like that because it allows the flavors of the peppers to really shine.  I had everything I needed for this except for anchovy paste, but I fully intend on getting some before I make this again.  The sauce tasted wonderful without it, but I’ve never used anchovy paste (or anchovies, for that matter), and I’m excited to try this dish again with it included.  I’m pretty picky about my leftovers, but this sauce tasted just as delicious the next day.

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
2 anchovies or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (Use 1/2 teaspoon dark miso paste to make this vegetarian.)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine
2 cups jarred roasted red peppers
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Grated parmesan cheese and minced sage, for garnish

Drain the roasted red peppers and soak in cold water for 10 minutes to remove some of the acidity. Heat the olive oil in a pot set over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt as the onion cooks. Add the garlic and sage and continue cooking an additional minute. Add the anchovy paste and cook for 1 minute, then stir in the tomato paste. Continue cooking 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the paste begins to darken.

Stir in the red wine and increase heat to high. Once the wine has reduced by half, add the roasted red peppers and decrease heat to medium. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until peppers are soft. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Transfer the pepper mixture to a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of blender as needed. Return sauce to the pot and cook over medium-low heat until heated through. Stir in paprika and cayenne and serve immediately, topping with parmesan cheese and sage as desired.

Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator up to a week.

4 servings

Adapted from Simply Recipes, original recipe from Hank Shaw