Chocolate Pecan Pie

photo 3There are many reasons to love the holidays: time off from work/school, snowy weather, family gatherings, festive decorations, and food. I’m sure it’s no surprise that my favorite aspect of winter celebrations is the latter on this long list, but I’m prepared to be even more specific. I love, I mean am practically obsessed with, holiday desserts, and pie is on the top of the list.

I recently attended a book signing by Rose Levy Beranbaum where she detailed her latest book, The Baking Bible, practically a Godsend. Hearing her speak was both compelling and inspiring; I simply couldn’t wait to go home and bake. I absolutely recommend buying the book because there are countless tips and tricks for baking lovers, as well as hundreds of pages of detailed recipes and mouth-watering pictures. However, I did a little research and managed to find an online version of one of her most valuable baking formulas: Cream Cheese Crust. While I was used to using either butter or shortening for my pie crusts (and, honestly, have even used a store-bought crust from time), the cream cheese addition in this recipe made for a truly beautiful, flaky crust. I used the Cream Cheese Crust for all of my Turkey Day pies and they were a huge success – not a crumb lasted through the weekend.

photo 2This recipe was a variation of my typical holiday pecan pie; I’ll admit, I was just a tad nervous and anxious about straying from tradition. But my decision was soon vindicated. This scrumptious confection was a huge crowd pleaser among the friends and family at my own Thanksgiving feast. The slightly salty, savory pecans are complimented perfectly by rich and melty chocolate pieces, and the flaked coconut adds an awesome texture to the smooth caramel base of the pie. Serve it warm or cold and topped with a dollup of fresh whipped cream – the perfect way to top off a festive celebration.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

  • Pastry for Single Crust-Pie
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
  • Whipped cream (optional)

Prepare pastry for single-crust pie. Roll out the crust and gently transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Fold under extra pastry and crimp the edge. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, add eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Stir to combine.

In pastry shell, layer semisweet chocolate pieces, 1 cup coconut and pecan pieces. Pour egg mixture over all, spreading evenly.

photo 1To prevent over browning, cover edge of pastry shell with foil.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil, then continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes more or until set. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and store in refrigerator within 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Namas-tasty!

Creamy Ham ‘n’ Cheddar Chowder

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In anticipation of the rapidly approaching holiday season, next week will be spent eagerly preparing in all the quintessential ways: decorating and cleaning the house for guests, planning menus and buying groceries (and groceries and more groceries!). Recently, I’ve also been thoughtfully planning for when my favorite time of year is, sadly, over.

A common side effect of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, besides some extra inches around the waist, is tons of leftovers. I really hate seeing all that delicious food go to waste, so every year I try to find new and creative ways to utilize every last scrap.  This recipe is the perfect way to make use of that uneaten holiday ham! Loaded with veggies (even carrots!) and a delectible creamy base, one batch of chowder makes plenty to feed the entire extended family for an encore feast. But feel free to halve the recipe for a smaller crowd.

Creamy Ham & Cheddar Chowder

  • 3 ¼ cups water
  • 4 cups peeled, cubed Butter Gold or Yukon Gold potatoes (cubes about ½” to ¾”)
  • 1 cup sliced carrots (I buy shredded carrots and chop those in thirds)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
  • 2 cans corn (or about 3 cups fresh)
  • 4 cups cubed cooked ham

In a large pot, bring water, potatoes, carrots, and garlic to a boil. Stir in salt, garlic salt, and pepper.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are tender. Add the ham cubes and corn. Reduce heat to lowest setting.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in cornstarch until fully combined. Add the milk to the butter/cornstarch mixture and whisk together. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add cheddar cheese and stir until melted.

Pour milk mixture into the large pot of ham and vegetables and stir to combine. Heat through over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until read to serve. Serve topped with extra cheddar cheese and a small slice of bread or pita, if desired.

Namas-tasty!

Gameday Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup

With the recent snow and freezing temps in Denver, there was no better time for me to take out that old slow cooker and whip up a nice warm soup. Nothing screams winter like a hearty stew… and just in time for a weekend of football, too!

Resembling a chili (but way better), this recipe has tons of beefy bean and tomato goodness, with more veggies and a plethora of pasta to top it off. Throw it in the slow cooker in the morning and you’ll have a crowd pleasing, well-rounded complement to all that beer, in plenty of time for the afternoon and evening games. Plus, the leftovers will last you all the way til next weekend!image

Makes 10-12 servings
Ideal slow cooker size:  6 quart

Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli Soup

  • 1lb ground beef (I always use at least 90% lean… you can also use ground turkey if you choose)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 (8 oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 (15 oz) cans beef broth
  • 1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, with liquid
  • 1 (15oz) can great northern beans, with liquid
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste, if needed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 8 oz dry pasta (I used mezzi rigatoni – slightly smaller versions than the original – because it gives the soup a heartier look. Feel free to use ditalini or even shells if you prefer smaller noodles)
  • Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley, for serving

Brown ground beef in a skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink, lightly seasoning with salt & pepper. Drain then add to a large slow cooker. Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth, kidney beans, great northern beans, salt, oregano, basil, thyme and pepper.

Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, or until veggies are tender.

Add in apple juice (I know it sounds weird but trust me on this one. It gives the soup a slightly tangier touch, a whole new dimension of flavor).

When you are just about ready to serve, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until just under al dente. Drain, then add to the soup and let cook for about 5-10 more minutes.  (if you add the uncooked pasta straight to the slow cooker it will absorb all the liquid and all you’ll be left with is pasta and veggies. That defeats the purpose!)

Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into serving bowls and top with Parmesan cheese and a little sprig of parsley to garnish.

Namas-tasty!

Apple Chai-Spiced French Toast

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One of my all-time favorite seasonings for fall is chai spice – similar to the flavorings used in apple or pumpkin pie, it is a rich mix of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, with the added zing of allspice and cardamom. A spiced chai latte or iced chai with milk are perfect companions to a crisp fall day spent amongst the colorful leaves.

This weekend, however, I decided to use some chai spice in a more creative way: to jazz up my typical Sunday morning french toast! This recipe also makes use of all those fall apples you might have lying around, and will fill your kitchen with a phenomenal combination of autumn aromas.

Apple Chai-Spiced French Toast

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs Chai Spice
  • 1/2 tsp + a pinch ground cinnamon
  • 6 thick slices French bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter, plus more for serving
  • 3 apples, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • whipped cream and powdered sugar for topping

Whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, chai spice and a pinch of ground cinnamon in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Add the bread in a single layer, turning until all the egg is absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter, and add apples and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, stirring to coat until starting to caramelize. Add the water, cooking until water has evaporated and apples are tender, about 4 minutes. Pour in the maple syrup; simmer for a minute to combine.

In a large, heated nonstick skillet or griddle (I like to spray mine with cooking spray to further prevent sticking), saute the soaked bread until golden brown on each side, about 4 minutes. Place French toast on a plate and top with apple-maple mixture, plus whipped cream and/or powdered sugar if you’d like!

Namas-tasty!

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Kiss Cookies

photo 3Despite this lovely warm weather we’ve been having, I have been deep in fall baking mode. While visiting Chicago last weekend I simply had to do some apple picking; one of the few shortcomings of beautiful Colorado is its lack of apple orchards.  I came home with several humongous honeycrisp apples to make good use of, so of course I had to make one of my Famous Apple Pies.

I also found these delicious Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses while at the grocery store a few days ago. I was momentarily distracted by the shock that Hershey’s actually made a flavor of chocolate treat that I had yet to try… but within moments I had a great idea for a new autumn recipe.

photo 4These adorable Kiss Cookies are tasty and festive – call them “Wicked Witches Hats” and they are perfect themed treats for a Halloween party. The deep chocolate flavor of the cookies pairs perfectly with the rich and sinful sweetness of the spicey Kisses. They are delicious straight from the oven when the Kiss is slightly melty, but can be stored for up to two weeks in an airtight container. This recipe makes about three dozen cookies and can easily be doubled – or even tripled – for a big event!

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Kiss Cookies

  • ⅓ cup butter, softened (5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ⅔ cup dark cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 36 Pumpkin Spice Hershey’s Kisses

photo 1Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the Greek yogurt and egg and beat until smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture until just incorporated.

Using tablespoonfuls of dough, gently roll cookies into balls. Place 2 inches apart onto a non-stick (dark) baking sheet. If your baking sheet is not non-stick, line to sheet with parchment paper.

photo 2Bake cookies for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 1-2 minutes. During this time, unwrap the Hershey’s Kisses. Place one Hershey’s Kiss on top of each cookie, pressing down gently. Do not move the cookies until they are completely cool and the kiss has a chance to set.

Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Namas-tasty!

Gameday Guacamole

from threelayercake on flickr creative commons

  • 3 ripe avacados
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded (I highly recommend using fresh, but you can also use canned diced tomatoes)
  • 1 small onion, diced (if you prefer a chunkier guacamole, just give them a rough chop)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 lime
  • handful of cilantro
  • dash of salt

Cut your avocados in half, then score the flesh with a knife before sliding a spoon between the flesh and the skin to quickly release it into a bowl. Mash the avocado with a fork to your preference; you can also use a food processor or blender if you like really smooth guac. Save the avocado pits and set them aside to preserve the freshness of the avocado later!

Quickly seed your tomatoes by cutting them in half and squeezing out the seeds.  Dice ’em up roughly and add them to the mashed avocado. Dice the onion and garlic and stir those in, as well.

Cut the lime in half and squeeze juice into the bowl.  Roughly chop the fresh cilantro and toss it in. Mix all of the ingredients together. Finally, add a dash of salt to taste. Refrigerate your guacamole for at least an hour; serve with some tasty tortilla chips or simply eat with a spoon!

Help keep the guacamole from turning brown over time by pressing the avocado pits into it. You can also cover the guacamole with plastic wrap, touching the wrap to the surface.

Namas-tasty!

*Image from threelayercake on Flickr Creative Commons

Densely Delicious Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

photo 4Yesterday was a dreary, drizzly, chilly day in Denver — aka the PERFECT opportunity for some more fall baking! I decided to make some chocolately pumpkin bars to curl up by the fire with. These dense treats are rich, moist, and full of pumpkin spice flavor and chocolate in every bite, almost like nibbling on a hunk of fudge! They are easy to make in mere minutes and can be enjoyed solo or with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Densely Delicious Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars

adapted from Avery Cooks

  • photo 1-11/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (plus more for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl melt the butter. Let cool for one minute. Add the egg, pumpkin, brown sugar, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and whisk until smooth.

photo 2Add the flour and stir until just combined, don’t overmix! Stir in chocolate chips.

Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula. Evenly sprinkle with chocolate chips, as few or as many as you would like🙂

photo 3-1Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Allow bars to cool in pan for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. I found that the flavor was intensified after sitting in the pan overnight, and I did not cut them into bars right away. Bars continue to get softer and moister for about 3 days after baking. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Namas-tasty!