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Monday, December 16, 2013

Dark Chocolate Mini Jam Tarts

We have all of these delicious jams given to us as a gift. The holidays are the perfect time to make a cookie that highlights their flavors.

I have a shortbread recipe I have made before with jam, but I wanted something different this year. Since one of the flavors of jam we had on hand was a sweet cherry, chocolate seemed like it should pair well.

The part I wasn't prepared for was how much jam I would need. I used up a considerable amount of my stash making these. The tarts are very intensely chocolate, with a nice bite of jam in the middle. Experiment with different combinations ! I chose the cherry, strawberry and blueberry for this batch. All were tasty, but the cherry was definitely the star.

Dark Chocolate Mini Jam Tarts
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dark chocolate powder
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups cherry jam (or any flavor you prefer)
Preheat oven to 350. Spray mini muffin tins with non-stick spray and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugars and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients,  then slowly mix into creamed ingredients. Form into one inch balls and press into mini muffin tins. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon jam into each of the cups. Bake 10-12 minutes until cookies are firm. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan. Top with additional jam, if desired.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Crockpot Chicken Stew

I know I go on and on about never using things that are pre-packaged, and I am breaking one of my rules here. But trust me on this one, you will love this dish! 

I have been making this for years, and it is one of my all-time favorite crockpot dishes because it is so easy. It reminds me of the filling for a pot pie. Ray doesn't like pot pie (honestly, sometimes I don't know what't wrong with that man), because he doesn't like the crust. This is a perfect compromise. I made biscuits to serve with it, and it was just what we needed to keep us warm on a sub-zero day. 

Crockpot Chicken Stew 
1 large onion, diced 
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced into 1/4 inch pieces 
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces 
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon pepper 
1 small bag frozen mixed vegetables 
2 cans cream of chicken soup 
In a medium crockpot, start by layering onions, then potatoes. Toss chicken in poultry seasoning, salt and pepper, and place on top of potatoes. Put frozen vegetables on top of chicken, then pour soup over the top of the vegetables. Add one can full of water. Heat over low 8-10 hours. Stir together, and serve over hot biscuits. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mulled Wine with Honey

This time of year, who doesn't want something warm, sweet and alcoholic to chase away the chill of winter ? When I was creating a feast for our Game of Thrones Thanksgiving, there was a recipe in the cookbook I used as a reference for mulled wine. Of course, I had made mulled wine before, but I haven't for many years. Why ? I am not really sure, because I have very fond memories of it.
And, we have a LOT of wine at our house. We make it ! Mead actually, although for this recipe any red, not too sweet wine will work. And it's so easy, you can experiment with whatever spice blend you prefer. This recipe might seem like it made an enormous batch of beverages, but trust me on this, you will drink it all !
Mulled Wine with Honey
3 bottles dry red wine
3 cups apple cider
1 cup honey
2 oranges, cut in half
1 lemon, cut in half
3 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 cardamom pod
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
Pour wine, cider and honey into a large pot. Squeeze oranges and lemon juice into the liquids, being careful to remove any seeds. Place orange and lemon rinds in the liquid mixture. Toss the cinnamon sticks into the pot, and make a small cheesecloth pouch with the remaining spices. Heat over low heat for 30-40 minutes until warm and fragrant. Pour into mugs and garnish with an orange slice.

Friday, December 6, 2013

"Games of Thrones" Themed Dinner

Both my husband and I are big fans of all of the "Game of Thrones" books, and the HBO series as well. It was fairly obvious early on as I read the novels, there is quite an emphasis on the descriptions of food and feasting throughout all five books. Since we love food, and cooking, I really wanted to see if there was a way to incorporate some of these ideas into a party or dinner. As I was researching, I found there had already been a cookbook created for just such an event !

We set about creating a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner for some friends designed around several of the recipes in the book. Most of the dishes have the option of a "traditional" and a "modern" preparation, and in each case we could, I opted for the traditional, we wanted the experience to be as authentic as possible.

Here is the problem...apparently the recipes weren't very well researched in terms of proportions and process. I am an experienced cook, and I could tell by just by looking at some of these were not going to work. The mistake I made was assuming the authors had done their research, tested these out and that the photographs actually represented the finished product. Silly, silly me. I ended up doing a lot of tweaking to their recipes, and had one that was a total fail, completely unsaveable.

Here is the menu I designed for the event:
We have the added benefit of having all our own meads and ales, so that was fun, but every other dish was made from or inspired by the cookbook A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook.

The one dish we most wanted to include in our feast was lemon cakes, because they are Sansa's favorites, and were mentioned several times throughout the books. They were a complete disaster, the original recipes proportions were off so much, the dough came out like sand. I tried adding extra lemon juice to form it into something of a cake or cookie, but they were burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. And, I knew it wasn't going to work when I looked at the recipe, but I somehow trusted that a published recipe had to have been tested, right ?

The other really big fail for us was the pease porridge. There simply wasn't enough liquid to make it porridge-like at all. I would probably re-make it, because the flavor was nice, but again, proportions were way off.

The one big score of the day was the Blueberries in Bastard Crèam. I think we would have been happy just drinking the cream, it was delicious. My husband thinks that recipe was worth the price of the cookbook ! And, I recalled my love of mulled wine, which we indulged in all throughout the day, and well into the evening. I will share that recipe, and possibly repost some of the others after I have refined them.

All in all, not the most successful dinner party I have ever hosted, but I learned I should always trust my instincts when attempting a new recipe. Just because someone has published a cookbook that has beautiful photos does not mean they have all the answers !