Monday, December 16, 2013

minty sweets and holiday treats: part II!

do you feel like you've mastered my peppermint bark?  are you still looking for some fresh new ideas for holiday candies to spice up that dessert tray?  are you tired of the traditional treats that you see year after year?  well then this is the post for you!  i'll help you make a dish of treats that looks just as fun, colorful, and delicious as this one!

in this second part of my "minty sweets and holiday treats" series, i'll be showcasing delicious cream cheese mints as well as marzipan almonds and caramel pretzel sandwiches.  all three take just five ingredients or less to make and can be whipped up in less than 10 minutes flat!  let's get started!

the star of this "non-traditional holiday candies" post is really the cream cheese mints.  sometimes people call them "party mints" and they are similar to those multi-colored candies that restaurants have in bowls up front for guests to take as they leave.  but, unlike that chalky consistency, my cream cheese mints are soft and sweet and i make them in three different flavors and holiday colors.  they are almost stupid easy!

the shopping list:
-4 oz. softened cream cheese (1/3 fat or regular-- not fat free)
-3 cups powdered sugar
-your choice of flavorings (i used raspberry extract, almond extract, and peppermint extract)
-food coloring (i used red and green)
-1/2 c. regular white sugar to roll the mints in

to start, grab a medium sized bowl and add the softened cream cheese.  to the cream cheese, add the three cups of powdered sugar and start to combine them with a fork.  this process tends to take a little while because the sugar and the cream cheese don't seem to like each other very much.  you might find that using your hands will speed up the process slightly :)  here's what mine looked like in stages:

i like to make three different color and flavor mints just to add some variety to my christmas treat plates.  so at this point, i divided the mixture in to thirds and put each section into a little glass bowl.  i decided to make a green mint, a red mint, and leave the third one white.  using just a drop or two of food coloring, dye your mints and stir well.

next for the flavoring.  i chose to make the green mints peppermint flavored, the white mints almond flavored, and the red mints raspberry flavored.  i added 1/2 tsp. of each flavoring to their correct color bowl and stirred around well.  now its time to form the mints!

take a ball the size of a nickel of your "dough" and roll it around in your hands until its round.  then, drop it in a little dish of white sugar and coat it completely.  lastly, take a fork and press the mint down in to a flat disk and carefully remove the fork to create pretty grooves in the mints.  they should look like this!

and voila, you're done!  store these in the fridge for the long-term until you're ready to give them out.  these are sure to be a big hit at your party!


the next treat we are going to make is super simple:  marzipan apricots sprinkled with nutmeg or dipped in chocolate.  delicious!

the shopping list:
-1 bag whole (and pitted) dried apricots
-1 log of marzipan (ground almond paste)
-melted chocolate OR ground nutmeg

i am telling you... this is the simplest but most crowd-pleasing dessert out there!  there are like three steps:

one) find where the apricot has been pitted-- there should be a small slit opening.  open it further to expose the inside of the apricot but don't pull it in half

two) take a small ball of marzipan and place it right inside the split apricot, and then press the apricot halves together to seal the marzipan inside

three) either sprinkle the apricots with a little fresh nutmeg, or half dip them in dark chocolate for a more decadent version of this fruity treat!  serve them up in a little cupcake liner and enjoy!

*note: this was taken right before the nutmeg sprinkle, but serve them whichever way you prefer!


lastly, i wanted to share a lightning-fast recipe for delicious caramel pretzel sandwiches that i'm sure every mom has a variation of in her "toolkit" of christmas goodies.  but they were too cute to leave out, so here it goes!

the (meager) shopping list:
-1 bag "snap" shape pretzels (or the ones that look like squares with windows)
-1 bag of Rolo candies

this really doesn't even warrant the title "recipe", but what the heck!  this might be the easiest candy you'll make all holiday!  lay down a layer of pretzels on a microwave-safe plate and on each pretzel place an unwrapped Rolo candy.  put the plate in the microwave for 15 or 20 seconds, or until the Rolos are looking slightly soft.  then, take the plate out and cap each Rolo and pretzel with another pretzel, effectively making a chocolate and caramel pretzel sandwich.  let me tell you, these things are addictive!  

just look how cute they look on the plate with all the other candies!

i hope you enjoyed these three "non-traditional" recipes!  they are lovely additions for those who want to spice it up this holiday season.  let me know what you think!

happy holidays from piquant plates, straight to you!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I'm baaaaack! And, Swedish Christmas Part 1: Lussekatter!

Hi hello hallå hej hei hola bonjour and welcome back to my blog!  I apologize for the hiatus but I assure you that I have been cooking just as much as ever.

In the time since I wrote my last food blog post (May 2012, embarrassingly enough..), I graduated from university, got a proper job, GOT A STUNNING KITCHENAID MIXER, spent the entire summer in my beloved Sweden, hit all 5 Nordic countries in the span of 8 weeks, and have now been a working girl for a solid 5 months. That came out wrong.  I have been an employed female for 5 months.

Last year I started a tradition of throwing a Christmas party at my apartment with all of the traditional dishes on a Swedish julbord, or Christmas buffet.  I even went as far as making the most difficult cake in the history of the world, the prinsesstårta.  Its not traditionally eaten at Christmastime but I wanted a show stopping dessert and I sure made one!  It is a sponge cake brushed with a layer of raspberry jam, topped with homemade pastry cream and topped off with mountains of fresh whipped cream.  The whole thing is covered in a layer of thin green marzipan and adorned with a pink rose.  It is the perfect slice of cake.

The actual process of creating the prinsesstårta is documented photo by photo in my records and I'll blog about it later on.  For now I will simply leave you with a photo of my masterpiece:

This year, after spending so much time in Uppsala this summer and missing the delightful Swedish food, I was especially excited to throw my Swedish Christmas party again.  I perfected my recipe for Lussekatter (or Lucia buns) and made a double batch of Kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls) to share with my Svenska Skolan classmates the next day.  The apartment was decked out in silver and gold, our little modest Christmas tree was twinkling, and I had some of my best friends and family around me.  It was a spectacular evening.

But enough chat, let's get to the food.

As I've already blogged about cinnamon rolls, I thought it would be appropriate to share the recipe for Lussekatter as most Americans have never heard of them.  Its a shame, really, as these little soft and fluffy buns are a little sweet and a little savory, and are perfect with a cup of coffee or just on their own if you are like me and can't wait to pop one in your mouth as they come out of the oven.  

Every year on December 13th, Swedes celebrate Luciadagen, or St. Lucia Day.  You can read more about the cultural significance of day event here and watch the little videos if you'd like!  

As for Lussekatter, here's what you will need:

-1 1/2 sticks of melted butter (3/4 c.)
-1 3/4 c. warm milk (any %, but whole milk makes them super rich!)
-1/2 tsp. saffron threads, broken up in your hand
-2 blocks of FRESH yeast if you can find it! (2 of the 0.6 gram blocks)

-1/2 to 2/3 c. of sugar (depending upon how sweet you like your lussekatter)
-good pinch of salt
-1 egg, beaten
-5 or 6 cups AP flour (whole wheat works beautifully here)

-1 egg (for eggwash)
-raisins for decorating!

Warm the butter and milk on the stove until it is finger warm.  This means it is quite warm to the touch but not hot or else it will kill the yeast.  When this is warm, put it in a bowl or stand mixer and add the 1/2 tsp. of saffron threads.  This is the KEY ingredient in lussekatter-- its what gives them their beautiful golden color and the distinctive delicious flavor.  Let it steep in the milk and butter mixture for a minute or two until the liquid turns bright yellow.  Next, crumble in the two cakes of fresh yeast.  It is found in the refrigerated section and looks like this if you've never worked with it before:

Next add the salt, sugar, and beaten egg, and mix with the dough hook attachment (or a spoon) for a few minutes while the yeast starts to bubble.  Then slowly add the first 4 cups of flour a little at a time, adding the 5th if the dough is still too wet.  When the dough starts to pull away from the bowl and come together, stop adding flour and turn off the mixer.  I like to take my dough out when its still quite sticky because I can always add flour when I knead it, but its hard to correct too much flour from the beginning.  Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm place.

After the hour, take the dough out of the mixer, put it on a clean and floured surface, and knead for a few minutes until it forms a soft dough ball. 

Once it is soft and pliable, roll the dough out to about 1/2 of an inch thick.  

Now comes the fun part-- rolling the dough in to the classic lussekatter shape!  They usually look like curled "S" shapes with raisins in each of the curls.  You can shape the dough this way by cutting 10-12 inch strips of dough and rolling the ends in the opposite directions to make the "S" as follows:

Do this with all of the remaining dough and place the rolled lussekatter on to a greased baking sheet.  They won't spread too much when they bake, so you can place them relatively close together.  They will need to do their final rest and rise on the baking sheet for another 45 minutes, covered with a tea towel.  Here they are, the little beauties, ready for a rest:

The last step is to brush them with eggwash (a beaten egg mixed with a tiny bit of water or milk) and place the obligatory raisin in each of the curls.  Most recipes call for a very high oven temperature and a short cooking time for these buns, but be very careful because the bottoms can burn.  I like setting my oven to 400ºF and baking them for around 15-20 minutes, checking them after 15.  They should be just puffed slightly and golden brown on the top, but they don't require a long stay in the oven.  When in doubt, take them out early and taste one. No one likes a dry Lucia bun.

Here's they are, ready for their close-up!

Stay tuned for the next post with a quick refresher on kanelbullar (cinnamon buns) and a closer look at this year's Julbord complete with a Christmas ham and a beautiful almond pound cake!  

Vi ses! 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

an apology... and a new blog for the summer!

GUYS. Oh my goodness, I am so sorry that I haven't posted in so long.  BUT FEAR NOT: I have been writing a travel blog all about my Scandinavian summer, complete with food photos, jumping pictures, and friends.  Check it out!

I will return to this blog as soon as I am back from my trip and back in the kitchen!


Monday, May 28, 2012

the portable pie: a strawberry, rhubarb, and lemon crostata!

happy memorial day, everyone!  i hope you are all enjoying a relaxing day off!  it seems to me that memorial day is one of the biggest cook-out and grill-fest days of the year.  while dad cooks up those brats and mom cuts the watermelon, let me share a delicious, portable, and summery dessert that should make your whole family happy!

when my mom and her brothers and sisters were growing up, my grandparents had a rhubarb plant in the backyard.  around this time of the year, the rhubarb would start to grow tall and fast, resembling blood-red celery.  its tart, fruity flavor was always one my mom loved, and she'd go out back with a sugar shaker and eat it right out of the garden.  to this day, she still loves rhubarb and waits patiently for it to show up at our local grocery.

this year, i thought i would make something with rhubarb that was a little more rustic than a lattice-topped pie, but equally as delicious.  i walked by the most gorgeous strawberries at the market and picked up a pint, snagged a bright yellow lemon, and four long stalks of rhubarb.  i wanted to make something that could be slicked apart and eaten without a knife and a fork.  so, with a final stop at the dairy section, i picked out my favorite prepared pie crust and headed home to make a strawberry, lemon, and rhubarb crostata.

okay, wait, what is a crostata?  its a fancy name for a free-form pie.  don't have a pie plate?  no problem!  don't want to spend all that time crimping pie edges and latticing the top?  you don't have to!  want to make an adorable and portable version of any pie?  then the crostata is just the thing for you!  we'll get to how to form this mythical pastry in a moment.  but first:  the filling.

here's what you'll need for the crostata filling: (makes two crostatas)
-3 cups of rhubarb, chopped
-3 cups of strawberries, sliced or quartered
-2/3 c. packed brown sugar (dark or light)
-1/3 c. granulated sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)
-1/4 c. cornstarch
-2 tbsp. lemon juice
-2 tbsp. lemon zest
-1 tsp. cinnamon
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 egg (for egg wash)

first, cut off the woody ends of the rhubarb stalks and discard them.  then, with a sharp knife, slice the rhubarb into 1/2 inch pieces.  quarter or slice your strawberries and toss them in with the rhubarb.

next, add the brown sugar, white sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt, and toss making sure all the fruit is coated with the mixture.  then, add the lemon juice and lemon zest for a tangy kick and to prevent the fruit from turning brown.

then, take the pie dough from the box and spread out one 9-inch round on an aluminum-lined baking sheet.  place half of the filling in the center of the dough, making sure to leave a generous two-inch border all the way around.

once the filling is in the center, fold one side of the dough up so that it overlaps the edge of the filling.  then, continuing around the crostata, fold more and more of the dough over itself (overlapping as you fold) and on to the filling of the pie.  make sure to leave the center uncovered-- you want to see the fruit poking through!  repeat this process with the other pie crust and place them next to each other on the baking sheet.

finally, brush the outside of the pies with a little egg wash (one beaten egg, a splash of water) and sprinkle the top with a healthy amount of sugar.  this gives the pie a shiny finish and a sweet crunch.  i like to add a little fresh lemon zest right on the top!

bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, checking on it throughout and rotating the sheet halfway through.  depending upon the amount of filling and the thickness of your crust, the crostatas could take even around an hour to finish baking.  just keep an eye on them until they are bubbly and golden brown.

when they emerge from the oven, let them cool for 20 minutes!  i know you don't want to.  but you must, or else you'll have a very burned roof of your mouth.  (trust me, i made this mistake!)  once they are cooled, leave them just as they are or serve with serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  if you have the foresight to make them in advance, they should hold up to slicing and eating even without a plate!

the combination of strawberry, rhubarb, and lemon brings back summer memories of my own childhood, and i hope you make this delicious dessert and make memories with your family, too :)


Sunday, March 25, 2012

hearty, healthy, and ready in a flash!

have you ever had one of those nights where no two people in your family are ever in the house at the same time?  where soccer practice, after-work meetings, parent-teacher conferences and dance class get in the way of dinner time?

well, when I was growing up, my family definitely had those nights.  its tempting to just stop by a fast-food restaurant on the go instead of finding time (and the energy!) to cook dinner. but let's face it-- fast-food is hard on your waistline, arteries, and your wallet.

so what would you say to a weeknight meal that sticks to your ribs (hearty!), is full of veggies and good vitamins and minerals (healthy!), is only FIVE ingredients (cheap!), and is ready in 15 minutes (fast!)?  i guarantee you can make this meal any night of the week, and it will be hot and steamy whenever your family rolls in the door!  get ready for a delicious bowl of italian wedding soup!

here's what you need:
-two quarts of chicken stock (low sodium, so you can control the salt)
-1/2 pound of mini shell pasta (whole wheat!  they'll never taste it!)
-1 pound turkey meatballs, cut in quarters
-2 packages (16oz) frozen spinach (thawed)
-2 cups marinara sauce

this is literally a fool-proof and absolutely delicious recipe!  start by cooking the pasta in boiling salted water for 5 minutes.  we definitely want to undercook the pasta, even a little tougher than al-dente, because the shells will finish cooking in the chicken broth.  while the pasta is boiling, put the frozen chopped spinach in a microwave safe bowl and thaw it out.  this should take about 8 minutes, stirring once or twice.

in a large soup pot, warm up the 2 quarts (64oz) of low-sodium chicken stock with a nice pinch of black pepper.  once the pasta is par-cooked, drain it and put it aside to cool off for a moment.  take the spinach out of the microwave and just make sure that it is no longer frozen.  *hint: keep that spinach water!  all of the vitamins and minerals that make spinach so good for you are cooked down when spinach is heated and remain in the green water.  don't throw it away!  since this is a soup, save the water and add it in the broth with the spinach!

and now, its time to assemble!  in with the chicken broth, add the spinach and all of its water.

then, add the quartered turkey meatballs and mini shells.  this is a perfect way to get more whole grains in to your family's diet-- they will never know its not white pasta when its mixed in the delicious soup!

lastly, finish it off with two cups of your favorite marinara or tomato sauce.  this adds a great subtle tomato flavor and a beautiful blush to the soup.  bring the entire soup just to a boil, and then turn the heat off.  and there it is: quick, healthy and hearty italian wedding soup!

serve with crusty rolls and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and I guarantee your family will love it.  the nice thing about this soup is that it gets better the longer it sits, so make a big pot and let everyone help themselves when they finally get home!

bon appetite!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

minty sweets and holiday treats!

i finally finished the fall semester!  it seemed like one of the longest 4 1/2 months of my life (for various reasons), but i made it through with flying colors.  four classes, straight a's and one brand new language later, i am finally home and enjoying the holidays with my family.

one of our great many traditions in my house is making christmas candy to give away as gifts.  i was originally going to blog about the best, richest, smoothest, and most chocolatey fudge in existence, but my mother insisted it was a secret family recipe and my camera was not welcome in the kitchen that afternoon. we compromised and i talked my way in to photographing and sampling some decadent peppermint bark.  it is super easy to make and turn in to fabulous additions to the regular spread of christmas desserts.  let's get started!

for the peppermint bark, you can really choose whatever kind of chocolate you personally like.  the traditional combination is milk chocolate and white chocolate, but my family are dark chocolate lovers so we swapped the milk for dark.  i despise white chocolate but others seem to really enjoy it so we kept it in this batch (mostly because its a beautiful contrast against the dark chocolate!)  the only other ingredients you'll need are a little vegetable oil, peppermint oil (not extract-- i'll show you why later!) and crushed candy canes or peppermint candies.

the shopping list:
-one bag (12 oz.) dark chocolate chips
-one bag (12 oz.) white chocolate chips
-2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or any flavorless oil)
-1/2 to 1 tsp. peppermint oil (NOT EXTRACT!)
-crushed peppermint candies or candy canes

first thing's first: let me tell you about the terrible, terrible things that can happen to chocolate when it mixes with water.  this is a warning in advance so that you don't lose a whole entire batch of chocolate because it seized up!  water and chocolate DO NOT MIX.  even so much as one teensy weensy drop in the bowl you're using to melt in, or a damp bowl that's just been cleaned can ruin a batch of chocolate in no time flat.  make sure that whatever vessel you choose to melt in is perfectly dry and that no water comes in contact with the chocolate at any point!  you don't want your chocolate to look like this, but it should look like this instead!

okay so to start, grab a 9x13 inch baking sheet and either grease it with a little butter or spray it with nonstick spray (just to make sure the bark won't stick when you're all done).  take a large glass bowl and add your dark chocolate chips and one tbsp of vegetable oil (to keep the chocolate shiny!).  pop it in the microwave in 30 second increments at 3/4 power (gently melting), and stir every 30 seconds until the chocolate is all melted.  at this point, add your 1/2 tsp of peppermint oil* and stir together.

**side note: remember how we just talked about chocolate not liking water?  well if you wanted to make your chocolate pepperminty and added peppermint extract (which is like water) to your bowl, it would act just like water and seize up your beautiful dark chocolate.  instead, any baking supply store (and even some supermarkets now!) have peppermint OIL which is much stronger but in an oil form so it won't affect your chocolate!

when the chocolate is melted and the peppermint has been added, taste and see if its pepperminty enough for you.  remember, the white chocolate won't get peppermint flavoring so the dark chocolate needs to be pepperminty for both!  your chocolate will look like this:

once the chocolate is sufficiently pepperminty, pour it in to your buttered pan and smooth it out evenly with the back of a spoon or an offset spatula which is my favorite cooking utensil in the world and everyone should have one because they are the best okay sorry :)

put the dark chocolate in to the freezer to harden while you melt the white chocolate.  ideally the dark will chill for 20 minutes to get hard (unless you want to swirl your bark, in which case you'll need both chocolates to be liquid in order to make this design-- if you like this, pour the white on top of the still warm dark and swirl with a toothpick!)

melt the white chocolate the same way as the dark (no water, remember!) but this time don't add the peppermint oil or else the bark will be too strongly flavored.  while the white is melting and the dark is chilling, crush up some candy canes or peppermint candies in to small and larger chunks to sprinkle on the top of your white chocolate.  get this ready in advance because once you pour the warm white chocolate on the cold dark chocolate, the white will firm up almost instantly when it hits the cold dark chocolate and the peppermint candies won't stick when it sets!  my crushed pieces looked like this:

next, take the melted white chocolate and pour and spread it over the chilled dark chocolate.  while its still wet, sprinkle the white chocolate with the crushed candy pieces making sure to tap them in lightly with the palm of your hand to make sure that they stick. 

chill this entire pan in the fridge for an hour before you take it out and break it in to pieces.  you can either snap pieces off with your hands, or sometimes its even more fun to pick up the entire bark and drop it down again on to the pan.  it should shatter in to nice pretty chunks!  store this in the fridge until its time to give it away or snack on it during the holidays.  i hope you enjoy it!

happy holidays to you and yours!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

apple pie bars? yes please!

i love autumn!  i know i've said it before, but its my all time favorite season and i love the flavors and colors that go along with it.  pumpkin, apples, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg... ahhhh.  it puts me in a good mood just thinking about it :)

a few weekends ago was the 50th anniversary of the oyhenart family in the united states, so my aunt planned what i began to call the "oyhenartextravaganza" for saturday night.  i had a free weekend before the craziness of concert week with the virginia belles, so i grabbed a train home and spent the weekend in fairfax.  when i got home, my mom informed me that we were responsible for bringing a main dish and a dessert-- and that she didn't want to cook either of them, so it was all up to me.  best news i'd heard in a long time!  i had free reign of our beautiful kitchen plus all the kitchen gadgets, so i was over the moon happy and ready to plan the meal.

for the main course, i made a beautiful chicken and merlot pot pie in a casserole dish and latticed the pie crust right on top.  it is a great make-ahead dish and we popped it in the warming drawer when we got to my aunt's house and it was ready when we were!

but, the dessert was my crowning glory.  i had been looking around for fall apple recipes and found an awesome food blog with the recipe for "szarlotka", or polish apple pie bars.  with a soft cakey bottom, a thick layer of roasted apples, and a crumble top-- i was sold.  you'll want to make these all year round, but they are absolutely perfect for autumn!

for the cake/biscuit base:
-1/2 c. butter
-1 1/4 c. sugar
-1 egg and 1 egg yolk
-1 1/4 c. flour
-1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
-1 tbsp. milk

this is a basic biscuit base, so cream the butter and sugar together with a hand mixer or a fork, add in the egg and egg yolk, and finally the milk.  mix until smooth and combined.  next, add the flour and baking powder (slowly) until everything is incorporated.  it should look like this:

here's what you'll need for the filling:
-8 granny smith apples
-2 tablespoons butter
-2 tablespoons sugar
-healthy dash of cinnamon

first, peel (painstakingly) and dice up all 8 granny smith apples.  its totally worth it, i promise!  your enormous pile of apples will look like this:

toss them in a large pan with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter and add the sugar and a large dash of cinnamon.  i like mine nice and cinnamony, so i added about a tablespoon.  but adjust this to your taste!  let the apples cook down on low, stirring a bunch, until the apples break down and get nice and soft.  here's the before and after:


and finally for the crumble:
-1 1/4 c. flour
-3/4 c. sugar
-1/2 c. butter
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp nutmeg

cube the butter (make sure its super cold!) and add the sugar, flour, and spices right on top in a bowl.  using your hands-- yes, your hands!-- combine all the ingredients together until the butter makes everything in to nice, big crumbles.  looks good, no?

and now for the assembly:  
line a large glass pan (i used a 9x13) with parchment paper (or spray it with non-stick spray) and spread the biscuit batter in the bottom.  take care to spread it all the way out to the edges and keep the batter in a nice even layer.  

bake off the bars in the oven for 45-60 minutes at 325 and let them cool completely before you cut them. if you don't let them cool all the way (which, believe me, is difficult), then they won't come out in one piece.  so let them set!  once they're ready, use a sharp knife and slice out a perfect little square.  serve these with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream or just pick one up and pop it in your mouth! 

these were a big hit-- i hope you enjoy them!