Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas cookies' story 2013

As every year, I had big BIG plans for my Christmas cookies. The closer the time to bake the cookies, the more worried I got that I am actually not going to be able to make any. Between work, family, kids and everything else, it almost seemed impossible.
I was getting more and more frustrated...and then, a miracle happened. I was looking through my old blog recipes and I stumbled upon my last year's article on baking dozens of cookies without really trying  . Boy, did that hit home! I decided to take my own advice and believe it or not, although I was full time I managed to pull off enough cookies for the neighborhood cookie swap ( 7th year in a row), bring some to the work Christmas cookie party AND give everyone individually wrapped chocolate covered pretzels as gifts. 
What did I bake this year? 

1. Mint sugar cookies ( leaves)
2. Butter cookies with strawberry jam.
3. Individual square cakes with rose Turkish delight and sesame seeds and no eggs. 
4. Pumpkin cream cheese truffles, covered in dark chocolate and with toffee crunch on top
5. Gingerbread white chocolate truffles, covered in white chocolate and spices on top.
6. Chocolate cream cheese Baileys truffles with toffee crunch inside, covered in dark chocolate. 
7. Chocolate covered pretzels with assorted sprinkles, candy and candy cane crunch. 

As you can tell, my family was insisting on a LOT of truffles...and I was happy to oblige.  

These are the pretzels, which everyone pitched in to wrap and get ready for giving away.

It all sounds so great, doesn't it? Working mom, 57 different kinds of cookies, happy kids and husband, just magic!
Yeah....and no. 
I have to give credit where credit is due. 
This year, Ellie ( my 7 year old) did all by herself the flower shaped butter cookies with jam. And she did A LOT of them. I was worried that she would get bored and not finish them( hence I will be stuck with finishing them), but she was a trooper and did them all by herself. So, thank you Ellie for all your hard work, you were a delight!

One more person to thank is my son Kalin, for helping out with washing all the dishes that we got dirty in the process of cooking, baking and eating, not to mention  he washed most of them by hand, because we had so much that the dishwasher couldn't take them all. That was a tremendous help and a sanity saver for me, no doubt!

Many thanks to my love Alex for managing everything while I was working- house, cooking, sick kids AND working from home. You're the best!

And last but not least- thanks to my entire family for putting up with eating sandwiches 3 days in a row, for not having cleans socks for a week and for missing me all day. I love you!
It's not all fun and games, but we can pull through so much more than a holiday season. And even though I know it's true, I am still proud of how everyone without exceptions worked hard to enjoy what we all did together.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your hearts be filled with love, your home with warmth and care, and may your family and friends be always healthy!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Triple Chocolate Cookies

You know those days when it's raining outside and you feel kind or blah, and you totally need something to "pick you up"? Well, then you probably know the saying that "chocolate understands", right?  And one of the best ways to eat chocolate is what? CHOCOLATE COOKIES, of course!

This recipe I got from my friend Maria ( Thank you, you are a gem!) since I ate all the cookies my son brought home when he had a sleepover in her house. Yes, they are THAT GOOD.

Triple chocolate cookies (4 of 6)
So, in case you want to make this chocolate deliciousness you will need:

2 cups of chocolate chips ( for melting)
1 cup of chocolate chip ( whole to add later)
1/2 stick butter ( 1/4 cup)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven at 350F.
2. Mix the dry ingredients ( flour, baking powder and salt) and set aside.
3. Melt the 2 cups of chocolate chips and the butter.
4. Beat the eggs mixture ( sugar, eggs and vanilla) and then add the melted chocolate mixture to it, then gradually add the flower and fold by hand until well incorporated.
5. Add the walnuts and chocolate chips to the mixture. (NOTE: The cookie batter will look runny- it is supposed to be that way!)
 6. Use an ice cream scooper or a spoon to place the batter on cookie trays lined with baking paper. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven. The cookies will crack on top.


Triple chocolate cookies (6 of 6)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dinning in with style!

I love going out to dinner. Of course I have favorite places, but I like trying new things as well, but I've noticed I'm less "adventurous" when the kids are with us. So, dinner dates are perfect time to find out some awesome hidden gems that otherwise we would have missed and I am always looking forward to them. I have to admit that it's a bit of hit and miss with the quality of the food and often we do not go back to places we've visited just to give them a try. But that's OK. We've found plenty of excellent places around that deserve a second, third etc. visit.

However, going out is a great, great idea, when you can actually do it.
Most of the time everything works out as we planned. Sometimes though, things are not exactly falling into place. Like for example, your two kids suddenly getting sick.
It happens.
We could have pushed things a little and we could have gone out, but honestly, since my semester is over ( and the new one starting VERY soon), I was dying to prepare something fancy at home. Therefore, we took it a sign and my sweetheart and I decided to stay in.

Since the venue was all set, I moved on to the menu. By now you know I'm a sucker for fish, so the menu was entirely fish, except the dessert of course. Then again, I had this excellent Pouilly-Fuissé chilling in the fridge for the past month, waiting for the opportunity to be enjoyed with some succulent seafood, so I really had no choice, you see.

Since we hadn't had salmon recently, I decided to go for it and here is the menu that I came up with:

Annie Presentation (5 of 28)
- A homemade salmon pate in endive cups
- smoked salmon parcels
- A cucumber stuffed tomatoes
- A roasted red peppers cream soup
- A Sliced avocado
- Almond stuffed green olives
- Marble rye bread with herb butter

Pouilly-Fuisse with lemon rind.

Main course: 
( Unfortunately, I couldn't take a picture of that, because I served the food and I completely forgot)
- Pan seared salmon
- Grilled asparagus  with pine nuts
- wild rice mushroom risotto served on a giant portobello.

Annie Presentation (20 of 28)
- Filled lobster tails
- chocolate covered strawberries
- Raspberry delight ( my creation made with coffee flavored mascarpone cheese, fresh raspberries, crumbled brownie thins, whipped cream and dark chocolate)

Some of these are my own recipes, but I also used some Pinterest inspiration too. :-) If you would like to check them out : Roasted Red Pepper Soup, Smoked Salmon Parcels, Salmon Pate, Lobster Tail Pastry

Annie Presentation (28 of 28)

So, a blanket and a couple of pillows on the ground, a small coffee table, a movie and you're good to go. Staying is is not as bad as you might think, just a little creativity and a good company and you'll have be best "night in" ever.

Have fun!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter, 2013!

In general, my family is supposed to celebrate the orthodox Easter, which is May 5th. However, since we moved to the States ( more years that I would care to actually count), we have embraced the idea of "international" holidays, combining traditions from Bulgaria and US.
This year, Easter in the US is much earlier than previous years. Since my father-in-law is visiting us for a short period of time, we decided to celebrate Easter tomorrow, instead in May ( or maybe we'll celebrate it in May again, that's the awesomeness of having international cultural background).
The kids had a blast coloring eggs with their Grandpa ( their first time ever).
Annie Presentation (1 of 9)
They did awesome, didn't they? I just love Ellie's portrait of her and Kalin on the purple egg. Check out the green MineCraft creeper in greenish-blue.

I also had a blast creating magic in the kitchen involving tons of baking as usual:
Easter breads...( check out the recipe here)
Annie Presentation (9 of 9)
Easter sweet croissants...( check out the recipe here)
Annie Presentation (4 of 9)
And banana cream pie, which unfortunately didn't get to take a picture of. It was eaten as soon as it was cool enough. 
 Tomorrow we'll have Easter egg hunt, traditional Bulgarian "egg fight" and American Easter lunch with glazed ham. Hurray for international traditions! 

From my family to yours, Happy Easter, no matter which day you celebrated on or if you celebrate it at all!  Be happy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Homemade spaghetti

Homemade spaghetti 0001

This recipe has been sitting in the "queue" for a while and I am glad that I finally got the chance to publish it. So, what's the story this time you'll ask? It is quite simple actually. As pretty much everyone else I know, I have a pasta machine. And, as pretty much everyone else I know, I'm not using it to make pasta. I've used it for fondant, gumpaste, even playdoh but not pasta, no. Why? Well, I don't have a better answer than the fact that  I was intimidated. I thought, it will take SOOO much time and it would be SOOO difficult, and it will be SUUUCH a tedious job that I avoided making homemade pasta as the plague.

 Then, one day, I simply decided to give it a try and you know what, it turned out that it took NO time, it WASN'T difficult or tedious at all, BUT it was the most DELICIOUS pasta I've ever made that I've been hooked ever since.

The recipe is  extremely easy to make, does not require ton of products and I recommend it for all levels of experience with cooking. The only thing you absolutely need is the pasta machine.
My pasta machine is similar to Atlas Pasta Machine w/Motor Set - Made in Italy
. For some reason my Atlas model is not for sale anymore, but mine also includes the electric motor, that is why I am recommending this model. I don't think it was that expensive when I bought it, so you might want to shop around for a better price. However, I highly recommend buying pasta machine with detachable electric motor. Once you start making pasta you will appreciate the electric motor, trust me.

For the pasta dough you will need:
5 eggs
4 1/2 cups of flour
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil

1. In a large mixing bowl beat the eggs with a fork ( or you can use your mixer if you have one). gradually add the oil, salt  and flour. Mix well until you get a dough ball.You will feel the dough being very elastic and dense, that is normal. Don't be surprised it is not very big, it is enough for a huge amount of pasta.

2. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 min at room temperature.

Homemade pasta0010

3.Get your pasta machine ready according to the instructions, make a small ball of dough and flatten it with your hands enough to go through the pasta machine. Turn the pasta machine on and start from the first setting going up to 5 ( or 6, depending the pasta you want to make).

Homemade pasta0012
4.I wanted to make spaghetti, so I used my spaghetti cutter for the pasta machine. If you have other attachments for different type of pasta( like linguine etc), you can use them as well. After you make your dough sheet ( which is perfect  for lasagna by the way) get the pasta sheet through your pasta attachment and voila, you have pasta!

Homemade pasta0008

5.  Get the pasta in the middle of the length, if you have a pasta rack, let it dry on it. If you don't ( like me), then you can use paper towels to dry it. Just make sure you sprinkle some flour on top of the pasta so it doesn't stick together. Let it dry around 30 min then proceed as with regular pasta.

After your pasta is ready you can :
- use it right away
- store in the refrigerator ( in a storage bag) for up to 7 days
- freeze in a freezer bag for up to a month ( for best results)

I made a huge pot of spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce, for this occasion and  believe it or not, it was gone in a flash.
 Homemade spaghetti 0013

This is a great recipe to add to your collection- it is easy to make, it doesn't require a lot of ingredients, it is completely homemade and delicious. It is a great way to make that Valentine's day last minute meal extra special.

Pair with red wine and good company.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Brie with berries

I am a very visual person, so when I look at a recipe online the first thing I want to see is a picture of what the finished meal is supposed to look like. That's why I don't like recipes that don't have images. Not that having an image always helps, we all know what happens with stolen food images online- they get posted to random recipes and then poor people who try to make the recipe wonder why their food doesn't look like the picture. This is an especially common problem with sites that "collect" recipes.
I think I can always tell if the person who posted the recipe and the picture actually made it. In any case, that didn't help this time.
I was looking for instructions on how to bake brie cheese in pie crust and I found MILLIONS of recipes with BEAUTIFUL pictures...and not a single one with the instructions on how to actually fold the damn dough!

Yeah, you take the cheese and cover it with dough, it's not a rocket science, I get it. But HOW do you fold the dough? Do you fold it so it is open on top or on the bottom? Are there special folding designs that can be used? Do you leave an opening so the cheese can breathe or do you close it completely? Soooo frustrating!
So, I decided to follow the saying " see a need, fill a need" and to create my own step by step.

I love brie and I have done it in so many ways, however pie crust I have never tried therefore one of the appetizers for New Year's Eve was going to be this, plus white wine ( + salads, salmon bites etc).

In any case, my "research" showed that the cheese indeed can be done many ways. Some people trim the dough around the edges leaving the cheese completely exposed on top ( the dough looks like a cup), others completely fold it underneath, then some "wrap" it like a present on top ( like a wonton for wonton soup). I chose to fold it on top and see how it turns out.

Here is a time to mention what I got for Christmas. Well, at least one of the things, the other one I'll share in a separate post. ;-)
I got MY PRECIOUS ( that's how I call him). It's a Wacom Intuos5 Touch Large Pen Tablet (PTH850) and it's beautiful.  So, itching to try it, I decided to present to your attention the recipe in a little different format than usual. I hope you like it, and I hope my plans for more amazing products for my Etsy store created with it's help come true sooner rather than later. :-) Enjoy!


1 brie cheese
1 pie crust
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp butter
1 cup mixed berries ( NOT frozen- they will get the dough soggy if they are frozen)

(Optional) cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, honey

It pairs perfectly with white wine. Don't forget the crackers!

For full screen view you can click on the picture if you like. 

Brie 2

Once you have folded the brie in, grease the bottom of a small pan with butter ( it's better to be glass, but other pans work as well), sprinkle the brown sugar and maple syrup on top and place in a COLD oven at 350F for about 30 min or until it becomes golden on top.

Brie with berries9      Brie with berries10

Then  place the berries on top and bake for 5-6 min more. Do not overbake them, let the "warm up" only, so they keep the fresh taste but produce warm juices at the same time.  The taste combination is incredible! At this point if you choose to use spices, add them.

Brie with berries11

Then the cheese is completely done, take it out of the oven, place in a plate and sprinkle some honey on top, cut a small piece so the brie can "spill" out and dig in while it's still hot.

Brie with berries12
Choose crackers that are plain- no salt, no spices, no cheeses and other stuff. The flavor of the cheese and berries is enough.

 And this is how it's done- easy and mindbogglingly delicious! It's a keeper!


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