Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a blessed day yesterday. It was s a beautiful white Christmas here in Michigan, we couldn't have asked for better. It truly felt like the story book Christmas. While I unfortunately had to work all day at the hospital yesterday, I am thankful that I am working at the hospital, and not admitted to the hospital myself. With Christmas music playing in the workroom, and the snow falling gently outside, it really wasn't too bad! I made the rest of the team breakfast for Christmas morning. Broccoli cheddar quiche, and coffee break muffins. Lara brought in a baked oatmeal and we all enjoyed a festive and delicious breakfast before getting to work!

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Thankfully, I was able to do a lot of baking and cooking for the holidays this year. First, Lara and I made Christmas cookies to give away to friends and co-workers. We decided on a trio of delicate snowflake Linzer cookies, thick and fruity stollen bars, and our yearly extra chewy molasses cookies (<-- these things are amazing! They may not look super exciting, but they are the best molasses cookies I have ever had!). We bagged those up a few weeks ago to get into the holiday spirit.

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Next, the annual decorated sugar cookies. We decided on cute little owls, snowy Christmas trees, and simple holiday words. They turned out super cute! Lara did most of the actual decorating as usual, and of course did a wonderful job! These were snacked on all weekend long by family, friends and coworkers. 

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We celebrated Christmas with the whole extended family in Holland on the water this year on the 23rd. It was a great turn out. Most of the family could make it from all areas of the country! We had a wonderful time eating and talking and just enjoying the day all together. 

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Grandpa and grandma got into the Christmas spirit! Looking good!

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And finally - Christmas day, at the hospital. Merry Christmas from the whole family medicine team!

If I had to work the holiday, at least it was with this great group of people!

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Peppermint Cheesecake

I can't believe that I have been blogging for so long and have not yet posted one cheesecake!! I do have a red velvet cheesecake cake, but no true cheesecake. Well considered this problem officially fixed today! Here is my first official cheesecake post, and it is a great one. My work had a work Christmas party a few weeks ago which included ugly sweaters, white elephant gifts, all that fun stuff. Obviously my first question is - what's to eat? It was potluck time, it was requested that everyone bring an appetizer or a dessert. This year it was time; Cheesecake time. 

I had stumbled across a cheesecake a few weeks earlier that for whatever reason had just caught my eye. On a whim I decided to just go for it. I went to the store and picked up cream cheese, ricotta, Oreos and candy canes and I am so glad I did. This cheesecake was so simple and turned out delicious. Creamy and light and silky smooth. A winner all around. 

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The original recipe included a graham cracker crust and was topped with fresh strawberries. Since it's December that wasn't quite right. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but as I was walking through the aisles at the grocery store my eyes caught on a package of peppermint Oreos and I knew what I was going to create - an Oreo peppermint cheesecake. I swapped out the graham crackers for peppermint Oreos, and added a hint of peppermint extract to the filling and voila! The perfect Christmas cheesecake was born! 

 
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Peppermint Cheesecake
Cheesecake Adapted from Lil cookie
Crust adapted from Crazy for Crust
Ingredients
For the crust:

  • 25 mint creme Oreos
  • 5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 8-ounce packages (450 grams) cream cheese
  • 1 16-ounce (450 grams) whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup (35 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs

For coating:

  • 1 8-ounce container sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions
For the crust: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch springform pan with aluminum foil (alternatively, you can use a 9 inch, tall sided cake pan with removable bottom). 
In a food processor with a steel blade, process the Oreos until crushed into small bits. Add melted butter and process until combined and the mixture is damp and cohesive. 

Press the moist crumbs to the bottom and the sides of the pan and bake for about 10 minutes. (I found it easiest to do this with a metal measuring cup.) Cool for a few minutes at room temperature. Turn the oven temperature down to 325 degrees. 

Meanwhile, make the cheese filling: Wipe the bowl of the food processor clean. Add the cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, peppermint extract, vanilla and salt and process until well combined. Add the eggs one by one, processing between additions until well incorporated. Add the flour and pulse a few times until the flour is incorporated into the filling.

Pour the cheese filling into the baked crust. Place cheesecake in the now 325 degree oven and bake for 60-70 minutes or until the cake is golden, a bit swollen and slightly vibrating in the center. Remove from the oven, turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake cool for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

While the cheesecake is baking prepare the coating: in a small bowl, mix sour cream, sugar and vanilla to a uniform mixture. Once the cheesecake has cooled about 10 minutes, pour the sour cream coating on top of the cake and return to the still-hot (but turned off) oven for 5-6 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely at room temperature before refrigerating it for at least 7-8 hours (preferably overnight).

Christmas Cookies 2016

Although they were a little late this year, I made sure to decorate my yearly batch of Christmas cookies. I whipped these together with my sister, and we went with a couple simple designs that would be simple to create; some cute little snowmen, and some festive gloves. I wanted to do mittens, but we didn't have a mitten cookie cutter, just a glove, so that's the route we went. Decorating Christmas cookies has become one of my favorite Christmas traditions so I was glad that we were able to find the time to do it again this year!

 
 

I had a great time the rest of my Christmas; going to the IMAX with my whole family to see Star Wars on the
big screen was tons of fun. 

 
 

And our family Christmas party is one of my favorite times of the year. We've made it a tradition to have homemade pizza for our get together. It's fun, casual and delicious. We've done personal pizzas in the past, but this year I just made two big pizzas that we all shared. They turned out delicious!

 

Try out this delicious homemade French onion dip from How Sweet Eats

 
 
 

Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year to everyone out there! I hope your Christmas season was as wonderful as mine!

Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving is over once again. It's now December and as I sit and type this the snow is falling outside, beautiful yet I'm not ready. I don't want to have to think about scraping my ice off of my windshield in the early morning, or trudging through piles of snow. But today I'm going to look back, not ahead. Back to last week Thursday. Thanksgiving 2016. This year I was even more thankful to be able to celebrate the day with my family because of my crazy work schedule. I was in the middle of an (almost) 28 day stretch of work, so when I found out that I actually did get Thanksgiving day off I was incredibly excited! That one day was very much needed. 

It was a pretty quiet holiday this year; just my immediate family went over to my Grandparents place for the big meal, only 9 of us. Since I didn't know in advance exactly how many people would be there, I went big an ordered a large turkey just in case. Well, it was quite a bit bigger than we needed, but that was okay. Plenty of leftovers is not a bad problem. 

 
 
 

I brought a wine from my favorite wine shop to Thanksgiving this year. It was recommended by one of the store employees and I enjoyed it quite a bit! A Spanish wine, Bodegas Juan Gil 2013 100th anniversary bottle. A commemorative  bottle blended and bottled to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Juan Gil winery. A blend of 50% Mourvedre, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Syrah. Grandpa approved! 

 
 

The week following Thanksgiving brought my family and me something, or should I say someone, else to be thankful for. My sister-in-law gave birth to her and my brother's second child, a little girl they names Piper. She's beautiful and perfect. I'm already in love. I can't wait to get to know her in the months and years to come! 

 

Christmas Cookies - 2015

Almost a week later, but here it is, the last of my Christmas cookie posts, and probably the most anticipated! Every year my sister Lara pulls out the meringue powder and whips up a batch of sugar cookies beautifully decorated with royal icing. This year was no exception. And even though she had to whip these together pretty quickly this year, they still turned out just as gorgeous as ever. Enjoy!

Check out previous year's decorated Christmas cookies for ideas and recipes

2011

2012

2013

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

I have to quick share these cookies while the sweet memories of Christmas are still not too far from everyone's minds. They were one of the cookies on the Christmas cookie platter this year, and were included in the bags I delivered to the neighbors. I do have to say that they were absolutely fantastic! A great double chocolate cookie is difficult to find. I've shared several on the blog, and while I adore my Death by Chocolate Chip Cookies, they have so much melted chocolate in them that they can be a little more expensive to make, not to mentioned incredibly rich (not that I'm complaining!). Finding a recipe with just cocoa powder has left me disappointed in the past, but these cookies are not included in that disappointment. 

These cookies are thick, soft, and super chocolatey. The addition of peppermint extract around the holidays is a wonderful touch, but they can be made without the mint flavor at any time of year. Throw in some espresso powder instead if you have it, another great combo. Dipping in some white chocolate sprinkled with candy canes was the perfect touch for Christmas, it really ups the festiveness of these already amazing cookies.

The only thing you want to make sure of when making these cookies is that you have at least a couple of hours to let the dough chill in the fridge before you shape into balls and bake. The dough is just too soft when it is first made. As long as you have the extra time these cookies are quick and easy to make. They really are a favorite of mine, a new go-to recipe when all I need is chocolate!

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons (53g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (180g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 large candy canes, crushed

Directions
In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg, vanilla and peppermint extracts on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. The cookie dough will be quite thick. Switch to high speed and beat in the chocolate chips. The cookie dough will be sticky. Cover dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough.

Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes - if the cookie dough chilled longer than 3 hours, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This makes the cookie dough easier to scoop and roll.

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Scoop dough (I liked about 25 grams of dough each, if you have a scale, I made a few larger one first at 50 grams and I actually liked the look of the smaller cookies better) and roll into balls and place on the baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes rotating once during bake time. The baked cookies will look extremely soft in the centers when you remove them from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet. They will slightly deflate as you let them cool. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Melt the chopped white chocolate in a microwave: placing the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Melt in 15 second increments, stirring after each increment until completely melted and smooth. Dip each completely cooled cookie halfway into the white chocolate and place onto a parchment or silicone baking mat-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of the chocolate. Repeat with the rest of the cooled cookies. Place the baking sheet into the refrigerator to help the chocolate set. Once set, enjoy!

Cardamom Walnut Snowballs

It's Christmas week and I'm on break! I've been taking advantage of my free time by doing one of my favorite things - baking Christmas cookies! Since I have so much to share and only a few more days to do that yet, I'm going to post a couple additional recipes this week. Today I'm sharing these festive cardamom walnut snowballs. They are really quick and easy to make, and they are absolutely delicious, plus, they're just so darn cute! And since there's not even a hint of snow on the ground (it's going to be 60 today!! What??) these cookies are the only way we're going to have a white Christmas this year! 

These little butter cookies are melt-in-your-mouth tender, buttery and nutty, and not overly sweet. It's a perfect combination. I love the mild walnut flavor combined with the somewhat citrusy, herbal character of the cardamom. If you don't have any cardamom you can skip it, but I highly recommend getting some and giving it a try if you haven't tried it before. All-in-all, a wonderful addition to your Christmas cookie platter!

Other than grinding up some walnuts, this is a super basic recipe. Cream some butter and sugar, add in the dry ingredients, mix it up and you're good to go. There's not even any eggs. Once the cookies are cool you just roll them in some powdered sugar and you're done. You can roll them a second time in the sugar to get an extra heavy dusting, or just leave them after the first time. They're cute and delicious either way!

Cardamom Walnut Snowballs
Adapted from American Heritage Cooking
Ingredients

  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups finely chopped walnuts, divided
  • 1 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cups powdered sugar, for coating

Directions
Preheat oven to 325°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a food processor pulse half of the walnuts until they are finely chopped; remove and set aside. Add the remaining nuts to the food processor and pulse until medium grind (no big chunks remain).

In a medium bowl combine the flour, walnuts, cardamom and salt; whisk to combine. Set aside. 

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla until well combined. Add all the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.

Use a tablespoon cookie scoop to scoop the dough and then roll into balls.

Bake until the bottoms are golden and the tops are beginning to brown, 15-18 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake them or they will be dry and crumbly.

Cool the cookies 2 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Place powdered sugar in a large plastic bag. Working with two cookies at a time. Toss gently to coat and place back on the wire rack.

Allow the cookies to sit at least an hour, up to overnight, and then repeat the tossing in powdered sugar.

Yields: 24 cookies

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

School is out! And that means one thing - it's Christmas cookie time! I love holiday baking and now that I am free for 2 weeks it is time to fire up the oven and get the cookie party started! This year is bittersweet to me because it is my last official "Christmas break". I think I may cry a small tear. I know, most people don't get a Christmas break until they're 28 but when you're in school for forever you have to find small victories once in a while! So I'm going to revel in this last official break and enjoy every minute of it. 

I've made a few batches of cookies this weekend and the first one I want to share is this cranberry pistachio biscotti. If you take a look around my blog you might notice that I have quite a few biscotti recipes, I just love the stuff. It's so easy and delicious, and something a little different from the norm. The instant I saw this festive biscotti pop up I knew it was on the list for 2015. I wasn't disappointed, and I don't think you will be either. So grab you own mixer and start baking!

This was a new recipe for me, which always makes me just a little bit nervous. You never quite know how much biscotti is going to spread. But there was no need to worry here, the cookies baked up beautifully. My only disappointment was not having quite enough pistachios to fold in. I threw in what I had and just made the best of it, but if you can, try to get the entire 3/4 cup mixed in. It just adds even more to the festiveness of this deliciously crunchy cookie. 

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/4 cups (280g) all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup (200g) packed brown sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable or olive oil 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (75g) pistachios
  • 3/4 cup (120g) dried cranberries
  • Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon milk

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl until combined. Add in the cold butter and mix until mixture is crumbly. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil, and vanilla together. Pour into the flour/butter mixture and mix until everything is just barely moistened. Fold in the pistachios and dried cranberries.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead lightly until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, about 8-10 times. If it's uncontrollably sticky, knead 1-2 more Tablespoon(s) of flour into the dough. With floured hands, divide the dough in two and place each half onto a baking sheet. Shape each half into an 8-9 inch long roll, patting down until each is about 1/2 inch thick. 

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top and sides of each biscotti slab with egg wash.

Bake in batches (or together) for 25-26 minutes, or until the top and sides of the biscotti slabs are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, but do not turn off the heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. 

Once the slabs are cool enough to handle, cut each into 1 inch thick slices. Set slices cut sides upright, ¼ inch apart, on the baking sheets. Return to the oven to continue baking for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once while baking. The cookies may be slightly soft in the centers with harder edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. As the biscotti cools, it becomes crunchy.