Pepperoni Stuffed Mushrooms

I totally forgot to take a "finished product" picture of these mushrooms, but I couldn't let that stop me from sharing these with you. These aren't the most sophisticated or difficult things I've ever made, but they're just plain good. They're crowd pleasures - perfect to bring to any party you're invited to because they're great hot and even good at room temperature.

They're super easy to make, so let's get started:

Start by washing your mushrooms. Be sure to dry them off with a paper towel when you're done so they don't have any extra moisture in them when you go to cook them. You can use any mushroom you have on hand, but I suggest using baby bellas because they have a nice depth to their flavor. Remove the stems and set them aside. Slice the woody end off of each stem, then chop the rest of the stem up. Do this with all of the stems.

Next chop up some onion, red and green pepper, and garlic.

Grate or finely chop some parmesan cheese and a package of pepperoni.

Smash up your saltine crackers. I used a ziplock bag to make it easy and if you have a kid, I'm sure they'd love to do this part for you.

In a large pan, melt your butter over medium heat, then add the mushroom stems, onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Saute until the vegetables are tender.

Next, add the pepperoni, parmesan cheese, crackers, oregano, salt and pepper. When you stir the mixture, you'll notice that it's pretty dry. Now's the time to add your chicken broth.

Pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of broth - just enough until the mixture has a "stuffing consistency". Then turn off the heat and transfer the pepperoni stuffing into a bowl so it can cool a little.

Now you're ready to over-stuff your mushrooms. Once they're stuffed, place them into a glass baking dish and add a little water to the dish so your mushrooms steam first, then brown up at the end. Bake your mushrooms at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. I so wish I had a picture of the finished product for you, but I'm sure you can use your imagination. They looked pretty much the same, just a little browner. I recommend them for a great party appetizer idea, so make some up and take them to your New Year's Eve party this year! I promise you won't be disappointed.


Panettone Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Syrup

I'm back! Sorry I was away for so long, but you understand... I got all caught up in the holidays and yesterday I was just up for one thing: nothing. I watched some movies on HBO and ate leftovers for dinner and it was all that I wanted.

Since we spoke last I've visited my mom and had her wonderful Stuffed Cabbage and this pistachio pudding dessert she makes with a flaky crust and whipped cream on top - yum! The next day was my dad's house with spinach artichoke dip, backed spicy peel 'n eat shrimp, and lasagna with salad for dinner. The following day was appetizers and wine at Mark's parents' house featuring our friends Chris and Lex's Pastry-Wrapped Asparagus dipped in Jalapeno Cheese Sauce and my Pepperoni Stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms. Then on to Christmas dinner the next day at Mark's parents' house where Mark prepared an amazing charred-on-the-outside, juicy-and-pink-on-the-inside Delmonico Roast with Au Jus and I served (Giada's) my Panettone Bread Pudding. Mark's mom made this outstanding french onion soup and a delicious Beet and Orange Salad (recipe courtesy of Chris and Lex). So as you can imagine, probably the furthest thing from my mind yesterday was eating food, let alone blogging about it.

But today's another day and I'm back in the saddle again and ready to tell you all about my first experience with making bread pudding and actually with eating bread pudding. I think I've tasted it once, but I've never really sat down to a dish of it and certainly not with homemade cinnamon syrup. It was like the best french toast you've ever tasted with the best syrup you've ever poured on it. The only thing I'd change next time would be to add a bit more panettone than the recipe calls for because it was a little eggy and probably could have stood to be a little more firm.

So how do you make such a thing you ask? Well here's how ya do it:

You start with... a Panettone. Are you a part of an Italian-American family? Then you already have one.
Go look, I'll wait...

Did you find it? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Haha... Seriously, though, since I've known Mark, who is of Italian decent, I've learned that this is an extremely popular thing to give and receive during the Christmas holiday season. We got two this year.

Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins and candied orange and lemon peel from Milan. According to i-Italy, one of the legends of Panettone says that the person who invented it was the Milanese nobleman Ughetto degli Atellani who lived in the 1400s. He fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To win her over, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich bread in which he added to the flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins, and candied peel. The duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro Sforza, encouraged the launch of the new cake-like bread: pan del Ton (or Toni's bread).

Another story says that Toni, the young helper of a cook, was the real inventor. It was Christmas and the court chef had no dessert to offer. What he had prepared wasn’t good enough to be served. So Toni prepared something using everything he had available. Hence the name panettone, “il pan de Toni” (Toni’s bread).

To make this bread pudding, you start by trimming the dark crust off of a 1 lb. panettone (I suggest you use about 3/4 of a 2 lb. panettone). You then cube the trimmed panettone and put it into a lightly buttered baking dish.

Next, whisk together 8 large eggs, cream, milk, and sugar to make a rich custard.

Next, pour that custard all over the panettone cubes and gently push on them to submerge them into the mixture. Let the pudding sit for 30 minutes, every now and then pushing down on the cubes to make sure they're completely submerged and soaked by the custard.

Bake the bread pudding for about 45 minutes until the center is set and the pudding puffs up. While the pudding is baking, prepare the cinnamon syrup.

To make the syrup, combine 1 cup of water and 1 cup of brown sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil until the syrup reduces to 1 cup - about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and cinnamon.

Serve the warm pudding in small squares with some warm syrup drizzled over the top. By using panettone, the taste is so very "holiday". It was very good and I would definitely make it again. Let me know if you decide to try it!


Pistachio Coin Cookies

Now, I have to wait until someone in my family other than me has tried these cookies this holiday season, but I think I'm accurate in saying that these will become a new cookie tradition in our family. Actually, we don't really HAVE a specific cookie tradition now. It's more like, whatever I feel like cooking or baking that year. However, these cookies look so festive and they taste great (think Pecan Sandies with a touch of white chocolate frosting and some chewy cranberries on top), and they're actually really easy to make! There are specific steps involved in making them and you need to take the hour and a half or so that it may take you to do this, but it's worth it. You end up with a lot of cookies and they're pretty. And really, yes cookies should taste good, but they should definitely be PRETTY! Why the heck else are you going to spend all this time on them?

I got this recipe from Epicurious.com, probably my favorite place to find recipes on the web. I love that site because it has a lot of the kind of recipes I like: really good and just challenging enough to make that it keeps things interesting. I really kinda hate recipes that are like, "take this, this, and this... stir it up, and you're done". No fun. Cooking is my "arts and crafts" time with a bonus: I get to eat my project. :-)

Another thing I love about Epicurious.com is the user reviews. I always read them - every single one - before I make a recipe. They are invaluable. They save you the trouble of figuring out what you could have done better when making the recipe after it's already been made. So in reading the reviews for these cookies, I saw one very strong theme. These cookies have become tradition in many families since the recipe was published in Gourmet magazine in 1997. The reviewers, whom on Epicurious are usually people that know cooking and cook often, couldn't say enough about how everyone loved these and that they make them every year. Sadly, there's no picture of these cookies on the original recipe posting, which was an even bigger reason to make them! They sounded so pretty, I had to see them for myself!

Another theme in the user reviews was all about the white chocolate topping. The recipe tells you to melt the chocolate and butter together in a saucepan. The reviewers say "don't do this!" They suggested melting the chocolate first, even using more chocolate than originally called for, then stirring in the melted butter at the end. This is how I did it so that I could control how thin the chocolate got. If the amount of butter they called for seemed to be too much, I wouldn't have added all of it. I ended up using all the butter, but doubled the amount of chocolate used. This made sure there was enough topping for all the cookies (another concern of many reviewers) and also made sure there wasn't too much butter that may have taken away from the taste of the white chocolate. Other than that, I changed nothing else and didn't need to - these cookies taste absolutely fantastic.

To make these beauties, I started by whisking together one egg with some lemon and almond extract.

In the food processor, I pulsed together flour, pistachios, sugar, and salt without completely grinding up the pistachios.

Next, I added the softened butter and pulsed until it formed a coarse meal. I then added the egg mixture and pulsed until it formed a dough (which only took a few seconds).

I removed the dough from the food processor and worked it just a little on my board with some flour so that it felt smooth and cohesive. No need to grab your rolling pin, there's no rolling involved in this recipe.

The recipe tells you to use a teaspoon to measure these out, but I used a tablespoon. I thought the cookies looked a little too small the other way. So all you do is drag the tablespoon against the dough ball to fill it with dough, remove the dough from the tablespoon,

and roll it into a ball. Place the little dough ball on your cookie sheet.

Once your cookie sheet is filled with dough balls, with some space in between each one of course, it's time to make a thumbprint into each one. Press down until you almost hit the bottom of the cookie because as these bake, that hole will become more shallow.

Bake the cookies in batches in the lower third of your oven until the bottoms are a pale golden color, about 12 minutes.

Once the cookies are cooled, it's time to make the topping. Take a big handful of pistachios and another of dried cranberries (I used Craisins). Chop them up a bit so you can see the green of the inside of the pistachios and the cranberry pieces are small enough to sprinkle onto the cookies. Set those aside.

Get some good quality white chocolate and break it apart so you can melt it. Now, I always melt my chocolate in the microwave. Just nuke it a little bit at a time and when it looks almost melted, take it out and stir it up and it'll finish melting the rest of the way. It's the easiest way to do it.

I then melted the butter in the microwave, then slowly stirred it into the chocolate until the chocolate was thin enough to pour into the top of each cookie.

Then, using a spoon to control the amount, drizzle enough chocolate into the top of each cookie to fill the little thumbprint. Then sprinkle some pistachio and cranberry on top of each one.

Let them sit long enough for the chocolate to set before storing them to take to your holiday party.

That's it! Easy, right? Seriously - it really was. And they were fun to make, too. Relaxing, even. Give them a try and maybe you'll start a new family cookie tradition this year, too!

I'm not done baking yet! In the next couple of days, I'll be making some Panettone Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Syrup, so don't miss it! If you're not back by the time Christmas rolls around, then Merry Christmas to you!


Nutella Men

Watch out! Extreme cuteness comin' right at ya! I LOVE how these cookies turned out once I decorated them. Cute cute cute!!! Seriously, when I was done decorating them, I let out a little tiny scream and stuck my hips out to the side with my hands in the air. I'm definitely making these next Christmas because they look so festive! There's another cookie I'm definitely making next year too, but you'll have to wait another day for that gem my pretties.

Today I'll tell you how I took a shortbread cookie recipe and turned it into what I really wanted: something that I could bake that tasted like Nutella. You know, that smooth, wonderful, heaven-like substance in a jar? Yeah, THAT Nutella. I know, you forgot it was in your cupboard, right? Ha! Now you gotta go grab your peanut butter and crackers and go to town with it, don't ya? Sorry!

I remember the day my boyfriend introduced me to Nutella. I had sort of heard about it (this was just when I started watching the Food Network - pretty much when it first came on - and Giada started talking about it every other episode), but I never really thought to go out and get some. Well, me being a complete chocoholic, Mark thought that I just MUST try it. Well THAT was a mistake because I LOVED it! Now I have to hide it from myself so I don't eat it every day. I do end up forgetting about it for a while, which is a good thing.

So back to the cookies. I wanted to make gingerbread men because I love how they look. I even love how they taste, but I really really wanted to make something using Nutella because we bought the value pack at Costco, so baby we had a lot. And that's when my Nutella Men were born.

I started with this shortbread recipe and changed it up a bit. Instead of coffee granules and various chocolate chips, I added 4 HEAPING TABLESPOONS of Nutella. Yum! Now, I'm actually kind of new to baking. I've always been a cook, but recently I've started to want to learn more about the sweet side as well. Therefore, I wasn't sure if adding this much Nutella would work in a cookie. Would it bake right? Would the cookies ever firm up? I didn't know, so I just gave it a shot and thankfully - it worked.

I started by creaming the butter, sugars, and Nutella together.

I then added the flour and salt to make a stiff batter. With some flour, however, it was definitely roll-able.

I rolled out the dough and cut out my little Nutella Men. I baked them at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. I've attached my reconstructed version of this recipe so you can see exactly how I made them. They taste very chocolately and just a little sweet - not a lot. They have that taste that makes you want to eat them with coffee or tea.

Also, keep in mind, when you pull these out of the oven, they're going to almost look like they're not done and they'll be a bit soft. Just use a spatula and place them on a cooling rack. They start to harden almost instantly and turn into crunchy chocolate cookies.

When I went to decorate them, I used this Royal Icing recipe. However, I added a bit of milk to the mixture because the frosting was way too stiff and really didn't want to mix together without a little more liquid in the bowl. I think I added about 1/4 cup of milk.

After beating the icing for like 8 minutes on high using my stand mixer, it was ready to put into the decorating bag and apply to the cookies. I tried doing the outline thing before doing the eyes, mouth, and buttons... Yeahhhhh, that didn't work out. I ate that one - sorry no picture! haha... So I decided to go the simple route and made them super cute by placing colored candies as the buttons. I think the color really made them pop.

Everyone seemed to like them. They must have because they're all gone!


Seared Scallops with Mushroom, Shrimp, and Truffle Risotto

I bought my first bottle of white truffle oil today, yeah! Boy, does THAT have a strong, strange smell when you stick your nose in the bottle and take a big whiff, eh? Wooh! However, when drizzled over something like what I made tonight, it just adds that layer of nuttiness that you can't quite place, but you know tastes good.

My friend Kara came over tonight and I told her that I would cook for her. She said she loved scallops so I decided to make those and a risotto for her. I followed the attached recipe from Bon Appétit magazine (2003), only adding mushrooms. I also had to add a bit more heated chicken broth because the rice was still thirsty once I ran out of the clam juice/chicken broth mixture.

I started by cooking my shrimp in some heated olive oil for just a few minutes until just done.

I then removed the shrimp from the pan and chopped it up to be added to the finished risotto later. I then added my onions, garlic, and mushrooms to the pan and sauteed those for a few minutes.

Next, I added a cup of the arborio rice and sauteed that until the rice was slightly browned.

I then added some white wine to deglaze the pan and started the risotto-making process. I learned the process of making risotto from my boyfriend, Mark, who happens to be part northern Italian. Actually, the first thing he ever cooked for me was a wild mushroom and wine risotto and it was so good. Risotto is the greatest because it's so creamy and full of deep, rich flavor. It's also one of those "empty canvas" type of foods where there are just endless possibilities of what you could add to it to make it fresh and new.

I grabbed my ladle and little by little, added the hot clam juice/chicken broth to the rice mixture and stirred away with my wooden spoon. The arborio rice released it's wonderful starchiness, sucking all the liquid up and producing a rich, flavorful gravy in return. I continued to add the hot liquid as the rice absorbed it, until the rice was finally al dente.

I then added the chopped, cooked shrimp and seasoned the risotto with salt, pepper, parsley, and some grated Parmesan cheese. Is it even considered risotto without Parmesan cheese? Not in our house!

The risotto was finished, so I moved on to the scallops, which are about the easiest thing in the world to make (at least when you have your trusty cast iron pan). I simply drizzled some olive oil on them and seasoned them with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and garlic powder. I seared them in canola oil until browned on both sides.

To plate this dish, simply place the scallops on top of the risotto or circled around it. Top the risotto with a little more Parmesan, then lightly drizzle your truffle oil over everything. It ended up tasting great and wasn't heavy. It was a great meal for two girlfriends to gobble up with some pinot grigio and a healthy side of gossip and remember-whens. She had me crying (with laughter) at one point when she reminded me that I was always crazy about "fancy" food. Anytime my mom would let me cook, I would always want to make some kind of fancy little appetizer. It couldn't be anything considered normal, it had to be something I saw someone eat on TV or in a magazine. I don't know where I got this obsession with all things food, but after reminiscing with my friend tonight, I now remember that it's always been a love of mine. And believe me, always will be.