Monday, November 5, 2012

The colder air is finally here to stay for the remainder of 2012. It’s hard to believe that we will soon be gathering with family and friends around the holiday table.

The upcoming holidays have prompted me to begin thinking about various dinner dishes as well as goodies to bake. For Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter I like to challenge myself to try new recipes.

A new recipe is like an adventure. First you begin by gathering everything you’ll need. Then the anticipation builds as you complete each step. Finally you have reached your destination, but is it what you’d imagined it would be?

This year I’m trying something new. I have already found a few recipes I know I want to try throughout the holiday season. After the holidays are over, I’ll report back and share my cooking adventures with you.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I look forward to setting my DVR to record new episodes of my favorite cooking shows on the Food Network on Saturday mornings. Recently I caught a bit of Trisha Yearwood (country music star and wife of Garth Brooks) on “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen.” She and Brooks’ daughters were making this soup together.

On Christmas Day, my family usually eats appetizers, soup and sandwiches instead of a big dinner so we can relax and enjoy watching the four grandchildren open gifts and play together. I think this will be a nice change of pace for our midday meal.

3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (14 oz) cans chicken broth
4 cups half-and-half
1 (10.75 oz) can cream of chicken soup
1 cup prepared salsa, mild or spicy
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, boiled, drained and shredded
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained (I will use frozen corn instead)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1(1.27 oz) packet fajita seasoning
tortilla chips
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, grated
8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup sour cream

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for 1 minute more. Add the broth and the half-and-half. Stir in the cream of chicken soup, salsa, chicken, beans, corn, cumin and fajita seasoning. Continue to simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Crumble the tortilla chips into individual bowls and top with a ladle of soup. Sprinkle each serving with cheese and add a dollop of sour cream.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

One of my new favorite cooking shows, “The Pioneer Woman,” features Ree Drummond, a mother of four who lives on a ranch in Oklahoma with her cowboy husband. Ree’s food isn’t fancy or fussy, but it always looks delicious.

I’m going to try this pie specifically for my husband, Danny, who loves chocolate and peanut butter. He especially loves pie with a graham cracker or cookie crust.

25 whole Oreos
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 pkg (8 oz) softened cream cheese
1¼ cup powdered sugar
1 pkg (8 oz) Cool Whip, thawed

Crush Oreos until they’re fine crumbs. Pour melted butter over the top and stir with a fork to combine. Press into pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
Using an electric mixer beat the peanut butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add in the thawed Cool Whip and beat mixture until smooth, scraping the sides as needed.

Pour filling into crust, evening out the top with a knife or spatula. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Peppermint Stick Cookies

During the Christmas season I love to indulge in a steaming hot peppermint mocha. Peppermint is the perfect holiday flavor.

I don’t like to bake as much as I love to cook. I’m a bit impatient and I dislike hauling out the flour and sugar and cleaning up the kitchen. Plus two little boys make it hard for me to spend an afternoon baking to my heart’s content. However, this recipe looked simple and maybe something I’ll try for my school’s annual cookie exchange.

¾ cup butter
6 tablespoons sugar, plus additional for dipping
1 egg, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
½ cup crushed peppermint sticks or candies
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a sheet of parchment paper on cookie sheet. Cream butter with 6 tablespoons sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla. Blend in flour, ¼ cup at a time. Stir in crushed candy by hand. Beat egg white until frothy. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Dip top of each egg white and then into extra sugar. Place on cookie sheets, sugared side up. Put thump print in top of each cookie and top with a chocolate chip. Bake 10 to 15 minutes.

Yield: 5 dozen cookies

Chocolate Gingerbread Trifle

One day for lunch I decided to take the boys to Jason’s Deli in Clive. I figured the fastest way to feed them would be from their large salad bar. Their salad bar always has two varieties of mini muffins. Their gingerbread muffin is especially yummy with just enough spice to it. I was eating a muffin along with a bit of their chocolate mousse with chocolate chips and thought this would make a festive Christmas dessert.

I looked online and found that I was certainly not the first to think of this idea to create a gingerbread trifle layered with chocolate pudding. I think I will add a layer of chocolate chips to my trifle. I’m hoping this dessert is as scrumptious as I think it will be.

3½ cups milk, divided
6 (1 oz) squares Baker’s semi-sweet chocolate, divided
1 (370 gm) pkg gingerbread flavor cookie and cake mix
2 (4 serving size) pkgs Jell-o chocolate instant pudding
1 (1 liter) tub Cool Whip whipped topping, thawed
2 tablespoons slivered crystallized ginger (optional)

Microwave 2 cups milk and 4 chocolate squares in large microwaveable bowl on medium for 4 minutes; whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is well blended. Add remaining milk and dry pudding mixes; stir for 2 minutes. Refrigerate 3 hours or until chilled and set. Meanwhile, prepare cake batter and bake in 9-in square pan as directed on package for gingerbread cake; cool completely.

Cut cake into cubes; place half in clear trifle bowl. Cover with layers of the half of the pudding mixture and half of the Cool Whip. Repeat layers of cake and pudding mixture. Drop remaining Cool Whip in dollops over dessert. Cover and refrigerate trifle for 6 hours.

Meanwhile, make chocolate curls from remaining chocolate square. Add to top of dessert with ginger just before serving.