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1  Wanna Hot Date For Valentine's Day? in Recipes and Cooking Tips by playinghooky on: February 07, 2008 11:54:46 AM

Dates with goat cheese served on pistachios, ha ha

This is one of my favorite easy appetizers.  All you need is some good dates and some mild goat cheese (not to goaty).  You can scale it up or down for a big gathering or an intimate dinner.  All you do is cut the dates in half, remove the pit, fill the inside of each date half with goat cheese, and then toast them in the toaster oven or regular oven.  They should only go one or two cycles in the toaster oven, or about 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  You want the cheese to get soft and a little browned on top, but be careful not to burn the sugars in the dates.  The salty tang of the goat cheese is wonderful with the sweet caramel flavor of dates.  I recommend medjool dates since they are the meatiest and most succulent. 
I think this would be a great college dorm party food when you don't have much space or kitchen equipment.  Hope you like 'em!
I have more on my blog at http://figswithbri.com/?p=112   
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2  Marzipan Snowball Truffles in Dessert by playinghooky on: January 03, 2008 12:35:53 PM

My husband and I decided to make chocolate truffles for holiday presents this year, and my favorite ones we made were these marzipan ones.  Marzipan is a paste of ground almonds and sugar and is used in European desserts a lot.  These truffles were really easy to make and had a big wow factor.  So, I wanted to share them with you all.  I have more information in my blog post: http://figswithbri.com/?p=101

Marzipan Truffles

a little less than 2 to 1 ratio of chocolate to cream, as example, say, 8 ounces chocolate and 5 ounces cream (we used a dark, bittersweet chocolate since the marzipan is already quite sweet)
1-2 packages of marzipan (we used a 7 oz. tube of Odense)
almond extract
white sugar

double boiler (or bowl suspended over a saucepan with an inch or two of simmering water)
rubber or silicone spatula
melon baller (small scoop should be 1/2 tsp size or smaller)
cookie sheet (preferably cold from the fridge or freezer)
parchment paper
rolling pin
2 1/2 round cookie cutter


Chop the chocolate into small uniform chunks and put into a bowl. Heat cream in double boiler until small bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat and add half of the cream to the chocolate chunks, stirring with the spatula to melt the chocolate. Incorporate more of the cream into the chocolate to continue to melt it, until the mixture becomes smooth and glossy. If you need a little heat to facilitate meltage, you can put the bowl over the simmering water for 10-15 seconds at a time, just dont scorch it and make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. All of this will vary depending on the humidity and temperature in the room, type of chocolate, water content in your cream, etc. So, this is all a guide, not hard and fast rules.

Once youve reached smooth, melted, glossy chocolate ganache, this is the time to take it off the heat and add flavorings. You could split it up into a few separate bowls to create different flavors. How strongly flavored your particular chocolate and almond extract are, will determine how much of the extract you use. Start with say, 1 tsp. and keep tasting and adding extract as you like. You are creating this for yourself, so flavor it to your taste, once you think youve gotten it to a place you like, have someone else taste it as well. Believe me, once youve tasted it 4 or 5 times, its good to get another perspective. You also dont want to overpower the chocolate with too much extract, so start with a small amount and add more. If you accidentally add too much, you could make a little more ganache, to dilute it.

When it tastes delicious, press plastic wrap down on the top of the ganache, and put the bowl in the freezer for about 2 hours, or you can put it in the fridge and come back to it a day or two later, to start the balling process. You will want the ganache to be hard enough to scoop individual balls out of, but not so hard you need Hulk-like strength. Based on our experience, its best to make the balls of ganache smaller than you think they should be. They will be covered in marzipan, (or tempered chocolate, if you were going that route) so they will gain another 50% or so in size.

A smaller truffle is a treat, that leaves you wanting more, a giant truffle is too sickeningly sweet, and can become a chore.

The most effective way we found for balling the cold ganache, is to warm the melon baller scoop in very hot water or in the flame of the gas stove. Warm though, not so hot the chocolate melts and sizzles. Then, if you have the technique right, you can scoop the chocolate into balls, and just tap it onto the cookie sheet. Warm the scoop again when you start having to fish around with your finger to smoosh the ganache out. Just make sure the scoop is dry when you start balling again.

The ganache balls most likely will not be perfect balls, right out of the scoop, so its best to have another person there to help you by rolling them quickly between their palms. It becomes a much messier job, and a lot slower, if you try to scoop them and roll in your hands yourself. You want to work relatively quickly too, because the ganache is getting softer and softer the more time it spends out of the fridge/freezer, and therefore harder to work with. Youll end up with a lot more on your hands than on the cookie sheet.


When you have all of your ganache balls made, put the tray into the freezer for about 1 hour (less if you were able to work quickly and they are still cold). While the balls of ganache are chillin in the freezer, time to play with marzipan. Between two layers of parchment, roll the marzipan as thin as you can, (about 1/16 inch) without being transparent. We found that a 2 1/2 inch cookie cutter created the perfect sized circles to wrap around the ganache balls, but you could also free-hand it, or improvise with something else.

Remember that you dont want to stain the outside of the marzipan layer with chocolate on your fingers, so toothpicks come in very handy at this stage. When your ganache balls are chilled, you can get started, by picking one up with a toothpick and dropping it in the center of your circle. Then wrap the marzipan around the chocolate, sealing it up with an excess of marzipan at the end.

Cut that excess marzipan off, and roll the the marzipan truffle between your palms to smooth it into a ball. If you accidentally cut into the chocolate, it is easy to patch with a little excess marzipan. Eat that little brown bit, so you dont contaminate the other marzipan with chocolate. Every time you have extra marzipan left over, you can just smoosh it together again, roll it out, and make another truffle. Roll each one in white sugar, and youve got tasty, festive holiday treats that look like little snowballs. We found little paper baking and party cups to present them in, from our local craft store in the candy/cake decorating section.

Its hard to say just how many truffles youll get out of each batch, since the size will vary, but using the small scoop of the melon baller, we got over 30 truffles from 6 oz. chocolate and 3-4 oz. cream. Then rolling it out thin, we got 17 marzipan circles from a 7 oz. package. We could have bought another package of marzipan, but I think well dip the rest of the almond ganache balls in tempered chocolate and top them with a sliced or slivered almond to give a hint of whats inside.
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3  Holiday Foodie/Crafty Gift: Meyer Lemon Curd in Dessert by playinghooky on: December 04, 2007 02:04:25 PM

I made some lemon curd for a friend's birthday and my husband made labels for the jar.  I just reused a 16 oz. preserves jar.  Marc used cloves for eyes, and cut eyebrows and a grinning mouth into the lemon, took a picture and then made the labels that he attached with a glue stick. 

This is an awesome holiday gift since it's SOOOOO tasty, and incredibly easy.  This is just a silly picture once the lemon face had been juiced:

 Lemony Meyer Lemon Curd

3 Meyer lemons
3/4 C. organic evaporated sugar cane juice (its unbleached granulated sugar that has a blond color and still has the natural minerals and enzymes from the sugar cane. great stuff if you havent tried it yet and tastes delicious.)
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 C.), cut into 6 pieces

I suggest you use organic ingredients in general, but especially when you are zesting citrus, it's important because the chemicals tend to settle and stay on the peels.

Finely grate zest from lemons, and squeeze enough juice for 1/2 cup (my meyer lemons were so juicy, I only needed 2 1/2 lemons to get 1/2 cup juice.
Whisk juice, zest, sugar and eggs in double boiler (can just set a bowl over saucepan with an inch or two of simmering water in it). Once the eggs are well incorporated, and the sugar has dissolved, add butter, and continue whisking over the simmering water about 10 minutes. It will become opaque, lighter in color and thickened quite a bit, but still pourable. Since this recipe calls for both the white and yolk of the egg, there will be little bits of cooked white. While its still hot, carefully pour the lemon curd through a fine strainer/sieve. This step is also why you dont need to be too careful about the lemon seeds. Youll have about 16 oz. of silky decadent curd that fits neatly into two 8 oz. jars. One for you, and one for a friend.

I have more info in the post on my blog: http://figswithbri.com/?p=91

Lemon curd is awesome with crepes, on toast, folded with whipped cream and served on puff pastry...you name it.  Enjoy!
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4  Acorn Squash and Sage Mac 'n' Cheese in Recipes and Cooking Tips by playinghooky on: November 30, 2007 04:36:35 PM

I made this healthier twist on macaroni and cheese the other night and thought you crafty cooks might like to try it out.  It was utterly heavenly. The smell of the ingredients at each step, and the creamy mac and cheese with the crunchy panko topping, were awesome. The combination of the hint of sweetness from the squash, with the sharp cheddar and aromatic sage was unbelievably good. It was a multi step process, but the end result was so fantastic, I will definitely make it againsoon. This is really a rough guide. Feel free to play with it depending on what pasta you have around, what cheese is in your fridge, and what type of squash your local farmers are growing.

 Acorn Squash and Sage Mac n Cheese

1 acorn squash (about 2 cups after its been roasted and mashed)
12 oz. pasta (I used colorful corkscrew swirls that are dyed with spinach, carrot, red pepper, beet and paprika)
1 C. cottage cheese
olive oil for sauteeing
1 onion, diced
several Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
2 C. milk (1%, 2%, whole, whatever you have)
12 oz. or so of grated cheese (I used a combo of sage cheddar and jack, but you could used whatever appeals to you)
1/3 of a whole nutmeg freshly ground (about 1/4 tsp. nutmeg powder)
2 Tbs. fresh chopped sage leaves plus a few more whole sage leaves for garnish later
1/2 C. panko bread crumbs
1/3 to 1/2 C. grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cut squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and cut into thick wedges (maybe 2 inches wide). Spread out in large baking dish (913 is good size) and drizzle with olive oil and a little salt.

Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes, until tender. Remove foil and roast another 15 minutes or so until squash develops some golden color and the liquid in the pan from the squash has evaporated. This step will bring out the sweetness in the squash and dry it out a little so your final cheese sauce wont be runny. When the squash is cool enough to work with, cut off and discard the peel.

Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water, and add a liberal amount of salt to it since this is your only chance to salt the pasta directly. Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain, add a little butter, so it doesnt clump while you prepare the cheese sauce.

Blend the squash and cottage cheese in a blender or food processor, just long enough to smooth the consistency, and set aside.

Over medium heat, in a large pan with a little olive oil, saut onion until soft and golden, then add 1-2 Tbs. butter. Wait for it to melt, then add flour, stirring vigorously and continuously. When the onion/fat/flour mixture reaches a blondish color, (rather than white from the flour) you have a roux, which will thicken the sauce.  Be patient with the roux and dont turn up the heat, because it can burn, and youd have to start over with the onions.

Slowly add the milk, stirring the whole time so you dont develop lumps. When it is totally incorporated, and has thickened, set aside 1/2 cup of your grated cheese for the topping, and melt the rest into this thickened onion/roux/milk sauce. Incorporate everything well, turn off the heat, add squash/cottage cheese mixture, nutmeg, chopped sage, salt and pepper. Taste it for seasoning. It should be divine. If not, tweak it.

Carefully mix the cooked pasta into the sauce, and taste again for seasoning.

Scrape up any squash bits in the bottom of that baking dish you used, and use a little butter to grease the bottom, if there isnt enough olive oil left on it.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the panko bread crumbs, reserved 1/2 cup grated cheese, and parmesan.
Spread the mac and cheese evenly into the baking dish and top with the panko and cheese mixture.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes in the 350 degree oven, until it is golden, crispy and melty on top, and the cheese sauce is bubbling from underneath.

It will be very hot, so for your tongues sake, please let it cool off a bit for about 15 minutes. While the mac and cheese are cooling, melt about 2 tablespoons of butter on medium-low heat, in a very small pan. It will start to bubble and make a lot of noise, once it starts to settle down (in about one minute), add the fresh, whole sage leaves and the butter will quickly become browned. The sage will pop and crisp and will only take about one more minute to become a darker green, but not brown. Take it off the heat and garnish the crisp (though make sure they arent burnt) sage leaves on each serving of the mac and cheese. If the sage or butter burns, its no big loss, just throw it out, and start over. 
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5  Fun Faux Turkey in Thanksgiving by playinghooky on: November 21, 2007 01:52:01 PM
I did a series of vegetarian Thanksgiving recipe posts this week on my food blog.  As I was gearing up for it, my genius husband, Marc suggested we make a turkey out of potatoes.  This is what he created:

In the spirit of craftiness, he used one larger Yukon Gold potato as the body, one smaller Yukon Gold cut in half for the thighs, and then the wings are slivers of another potato.  The ends of the turkey legs are the whites of green onions.  He stuck it all together with various lengths of toothpicks, and we garnished it with dried cranberries and sprigs of fresh herbs.  Of course, it was just decoration.

Since you liked his snake gourd eating a baby pumpkin: https://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=205426.0
We thought you'd get a kick out of this too. 
The permalink to the article on my blog is: http://figswithbri.com/?p=83
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6  Re: Soupily challenged in Recipes and Cooking Tips by playinghooky on: November 19, 2007 10:46:35 AM

This is a soup that I just love and goes over really well when I make it for the holidays.  I just put it up on my blog a few days ago.  It's very simple, not too many ingredients or steps, and can easily be made vegan. Hope you like it.

Carrot Leek Soup with Fresh Thyme

2 C. chopped leeks (about 1 med. leek)
4 C. chopped carrots (about 7 med. carrots)
2 C. chopped, peeled yams (about 1 large yam)
1 celery stalk, chopped
5 C. water
2 heaping Tbs. minced fresh thyme leaves (strip the leaves off the stem, then mince them)
salt and black pepper

Boil water in kettle (saves you about 5 minutes of waiting for the soup to come to temperature later).
Saut leeks and carrots about 10 minutes, until they are both a bit caramelized and the leeks are reduced in size.
Add the hot water, yams, celery, salt and pepper, and simmer about 20 minutes. About halfway through, add half of the thyme. When the carrots and yams are soft, turn off the heat and add the rest of the fresh thyme. Because I dont like transferring burning hot liquids into and out of the blender, I use a stick blender. Very convenient, and no one gets hurt in the process. Just be sure to fully immerse the stick blender, otherwise youll have an orange kitchen. Finish with some freshly ground black pepper. This recipe serves about 4-6 appetizer portions.

You can also check out my food blog at www.figswithbri.com
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7  Super Tasty Cranberry Sauce with Pineapple Juice in Recipes and Cooking Tips by playinghooky on: November 16, 2007 04:18:16 PM
So, I figure cranberry sauce is a really easy dish to contribute to Thanksgiving.  If you are going to someone's house for a holiday meal, why not spend 20 minutes and less than $5 on a simple dish that will wow them, right?  So, here is my version of homemade cranberry sauce.

Citrus Cranberry Sauce with Pineapple
12 oz. fresh cranberries
zest of 1 meyer lemon
1 C. pineapple juice
1/2 C. orange juice
1/2C + 1 Tbs. sugar (I use evaporated cane juice which has a blond color and retains its natural minerals)
Its so simple. Throw all the ingredients in a pot, stir occasionally and watch it go through these four stages. When it looks like jam, you are done. Yum!

I have more Thanksgiving recipes on my blog at www.figswithbri.com
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8  The dark side of pumpkins in Halloween Decor and Parties by playinghooky on: November 01, 2007 01:22:37 PM
We picked out a baby ear of ornamental corn, a gourd and a baby pumpkin from our local farms. 

This is what happened when we left them alone:

Thought you'd enjoy the festivities.  You can check out more pics on my blog at: http://figswithbri.com/?p=67

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9  Tasty Israeli Couscous One Pot Meal in Vegetarian / Vegan by playinghooky on: September 17, 2007 12:06:26 PM
I thought you all might like this super quick, tasty and filling vegetarian dish.
Israeli couscous is not a type of grain. It is a pasta made from wheat. So is regular couscous, for that matter. So, if you have any wheat allergies, feel free to use quinoa instead. But, Israeli couscous has a unique texture a little chewy, hearty, like tiny pasta. I think kids would think it was really fun.

Recipe feeds about 4

Israeli Couscous with Yellow Zucchini, Garbanzos and Green Olives
a couple Tbs. olive oil for sauting
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium to large zucchini (I used yellow zephyr summer squash), diced
1 1/2 C. Israeli couscous
3-4 C. water 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 C. chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, oregano and parsley because thats whats growing in our yard)
1/3 C. green olives (I used Spanish, stuffed with pimientos)
1/3 C. Parmesan plus more to garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Put a kettle on with the water so that when you add it to the couscous, it will already be hot and save 5-10 minutes cooking time. This is a one pot meal, so find a pot big enough to hold everything, but heavy bottomed to handle sauting.

Saut onion and carrot just until the onions start to get translucent for a little caramelization. Add zucchini for about 2 minutes for same reason.

Add Israeli couscous, hot water and garbanzo beans, a little salt, but not too much because you will get saltiness from the olives and Parmesan later. Stir, cover, and cook about 5 minutes. The Israeli couscous is done when it is soft, but still al dente. You may have to taste it a couple times to get it just right. Dont over cook, and dont let it stick to the bottom and burn.

When its cooked, throw in the olives, Parmesan, and fresh herbs. You dont want to cook out the brightness of the fresh herbs, but the heat will infuse the dish with their essential oils. At this point, taste for salt, and add pepper too.

Serve as a one pot meal, or with a side green salad and crusty bread. It really is a quick and tasty dish. Who said fast food had to be bad for you?
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10  Yummy, healthful, easy pasta dish in Vegetarian / Vegan by playinghooky on: September 13, 2007 06:28:32 PM
Recipe for Beet Greens Penne with Sweet Peppers, Capers and Pine Nuts serves 4

1 lb. penne pasta

3 big bunches of beet greens roughly chopped (maybe 8 cups or so, uncooked)

1/4 C. pine nuts

1 medium onion diced

1 medium sweet pepper diced (I used a couple of long thin quirky sweet Italian peppers called Jimmy Nardellos)

2 Tbs. capers

Approx. 1/3 C. sour cream c

hopped basil and parmesan for garnish

Put large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Once its boiling, liberally salt the water and cook penne according to package instructions.

In a large skillet, toast pine nuts for a few minutes just to bring out the flavor, but be careful not to burn. Put them in a bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, sautee onions for a few minutes until they start to become translucent and soft. Add in the sweet peppers and sautee until they soften. Carefully add in all of the beet greens, turning them over to wilt without flying onto the stove.

When they have all wilted and started to cook, add capers, toasted pine nuts, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and if it isnt saucy enough, pour in a little of the pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time.

Top individual servings of pasta with the bright veggies (which will be a little pink from the beet stems), and garnish with basil and parmesan. Enjoy!

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