Oreo Truffles

I first had these little nuggets of goodness last year at Christmas. My aunt made them and they were rightfully hidden from us most of the time. To say they are awesome is an understatement. So, when I came across the recipe on Bakerella's blog, I just had to make them. She does a cute Hershey Kisses Valentine version I think I will try in February.

Oreo Truffles

1 package oreo cookies
1 8oz. package cream cheese (softened)
white chocolate bark

1. Finely crush cookies and stir in softened cream cheese. Use the back of a large spoon to help mash the two together.

2. Roll the mixture into 1" balls and place on wax paper covered cookie sheet.

3. Melt chocolate as directed on the package and then dip balls into chocolate, tap off extra and set aside on wax paper covered cookie sheet to dry.

4. Once dry, refrigerate and enjoy! Makes about 36 truffles.

The Windy City

One of the first things I did after we decided to head to Chicago after Christmas for a little R&R was book a reservation at Rick Bayless' restaurant Topolobampo. I've been watching Rick for years on his PBS show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time (I could watch cooking shows ALL DAY). Topolo is connected to his other Chicago restaurant, Frontera Grill. After looking online at both the menus, we decided on Topolo. If you plan on stopping in at either one of these (and I think you should), I strongly recommend a reservation. Both places were packed! We couldn't even find a spot for a pre-dinner drink at the bar. Frontera was a lot more laid back and Topolo was a nicer, more "upscale" side.

At Topolo, you can order a la carte or they have three tasting menus to pick from. Each tasting menu is 5 courses and you can opt to have a wine pairing with each course. The server suggested a tasting menu, that way you get to try the most dishes. I chose the Celebration Tasting Menu and Jeff had the Holiday Tasting Menu. We passed on the wine and went for their famous Topolo Margarita. It took us over 2 hours to complete dinner. By the end, I was so full and happy that I wanted to try out Frontera Grill the next day.

I didn't feel comfortable taking pics in the restaurant. But, thanks to the World Wide Web, I was able to find a description and pictures of everything we had. And, a copy of the margarita recipe. Which we have already made since returning ;-)

This was, by far, one of the best meals we have ever eaten. Not only was the food delicious, but the service was awesome. The server knew the menu inside and out and we were never without a fresh margarita.

Topolo Margarita
Made in a shaker and served tableside
Makes about 2 cups, serving 4

Finely grated zest of 1 1/2 limes, about 1 teaspoon
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 large limes...we used 8 small limes)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
Lime wedges
Coarse salt
3/4 cup Sauza Conmemorativo tequila
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Gran Torres orange liqueur OR 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
About 1 cup coarsely broken ice cubes

1. Making 1 1/4 cups of tangy limeade: combine the lime zest, lime juice, sugar and 10 tablespoons of water in a glass or plastic pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (but no longer than 24 hours). Strain into another pitcher.

2. Finishing and serving the margaritas. Rub the rims of 4 martini glasses with a lime wedge, then dip them in a dish of coarse salt. Refrigerate the glasses if desired. In a shaker, combine the limeade, tequila and orange liqueur. Add ice and shake 10 to 15 seconds, then strain into the prepared glasses.

Celebration Tasting Menu

Tacos de Huitlacoche, Estilo Escuinapa
Crispy tacos of Tracey's huitlacoche, roasted vegetables and truffle, doused with tomato broth and topped with crunchy pickled vegetables and avocado.

Sopa Invernal
Creamy parsnip soup with applewood-smoked Gunthorp chicken, chipotle-roasted fennel and fennel pollen.
Langosta a la Yucateca
Achiote-marinated Maine lobster, pan-roasted, Yucatecan pipian. Amaranth polenta (infused with pumpkinseed sikil pak), garlicky Snug Haven spinach, toasted pepitas, crispy epazote.

Borrego en Salsa de Chile Guajillo y Pera
Roasted rack of Elysian Fields lamb in pear-infused red guajillo chile sauce. Layered budin of Nichols potatoes, Honey Crisp apple and bacon; cascabel-tomatillo salsa; roasted pear; "shoots" salad.
Pastel de Chocolate, Cremosa de Vainilla, Fresas Confitadas
Warm, fudgey chocolate cake, panna cotta-style custard scented with Mexican vanilla, confit of Mick's Michigan strawberries.

Holiday Tasting Menu

Salmon Curtido con Ensalada de Noche Buena
House-cured Alaskan King salmon with Mexican holiday salad of agave-braised beets, crunchy jicama, tangerine and Bayless Garden microgreens. Roasted peanut dressing, Collins citrus-infused white fish roe.

Uchepos Gratinados
Three Sister's Garden sweet corn tamales, steamed in corn husks, then baked with chilaca chile cream and dry Jack cheese. Buttery wild chanterelle mushrooms, freeze-dried sweet corn, watercress.

Atun Sellado con Bacalao
Pan-roasted rare Hawaiian ahi tuna with Ana Elena's celebration bacalao (cod simmered with red pepper, tomato, capers, olives, white wine). Steamed potatoes, "wilted" Snug Haven spinach, fried parsley salad.

Puerco en Mole Negro (de Lujo)
Maple Creek Farm pork three ways: grill-roasted pork loin, 12-hour-braised pork belly, adobo-roasted pork shoulder. Served with classic Oaxacan black mole (made from chilhuacle chiles and 28 other ingredients), Iroquois white corn tortas (infused with Tracey's green garlic), grilled green beans, roasted knob onions and three nut crunch.

Bunuelo de Viento, Helado de Jengibre
Ana Elena's grandmother's crispy rosette "fritter" with slow-poached quince and tequila-infused cranberry salsa. Ginger cookie ice cream.


Karmel Korn

Better late than never! This is one of my favorite Christmas treats. Not only is it highly addictive, it is simple to make. Those are two important qualities in a Christmas goodie.

Karmel Korn

2 sticks butter
2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. Karo (light)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 pkgs. corn puffs

Boil the butter, brown sugar and Karo for 5 min.

Stir in the baking soda. (This will bubble up.) Pour over corn puffs and stir until well coated.

Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour. Turn every 15 minutes.

I have a pile of recipes I need to post as well as a trip to Chicago to report on, including a fabulous meal at Rick Bayless's restaurant, Topolobampo.


Peppermint Bark

This has to be one of the easiest and tastiest treats to make for the holidays. The recipe below is a rip-off of the Williams Sonoma Peppermint Bark and it tastes just as good! I made two batches and will be giving it out to my co-workers. As long as we don't eat it all first.

Peppermint Bark
from AboutEating.com

12 oz chocolate chips
1 pound white chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup peppermint candy, crushed

Preheat oven to 250. Line a 9x13 pan with foil, letting it hang over the sides. Spray foil. Pour the chocolate chips in an even layer on the foil.

Place in oven for 5 minutes or until almost melted. Meanwhile, crush up some candy canes.

Remove the chocolate chips from the oven and smooth with an offset spatula or knife.

Place in refrigerator until cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Melt white chocolate chips in a double boiler or in a metal bowl over simmering water (don’t let bottom of bowl touch water), until chocolate is almost melted. Remove bowl from water and stir until completely melted, stirring in extract. Let cool a little bit so it doesn’t melt the chocolate layer when you pour it on top. Pour this over the chocolate layer, and, working quickly, spread to cover. Sprinkle with crushed candy.

Chill until both layers are firm. Lift foil out of pan and shake off excess candy. Trim edges. Cut into 2” wide strips. Peel bark from foil and cut each strip as desired. Chill in covered container. Makes about 2 pounds.


Cranberry Orange Polenta

Since discovering polenta a few months ago, I have made it several times. It is so quick to whip some up and doesn't require alot of work. This recipe in Rachael Ray's magazine caught my eye (I know...again with RR!). We paired this with Mahi-Mahi, that Jeff spiced with ginger and orange zest and it was delicious. I made Jeff's without the cranberries and just tossed some into mine at the end. It was great either way!

Cranberry Orange Polenta
from Rachael Ray
Serves 4

2 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup dried cranberries
grated peel of one orange
1 cup of milk
3/4 cup polenta (or corn meal)
2/3 cup grated Parmesan or romano cheese (we used a mix)
2 tbls of butter

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth, cranberries and orange peel to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the milk and return to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and cook, whisking, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheese and butter. Season with salt and pepper and serve!


Tuesdays with Dorie: Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

First, just so there isn't any confusion, I think it is important to point out that these aren't MY Grandma's sugar cookies. These are Dorie's Grandma's sugar cookies. I was looking forward to trying this week's TWD recipe, chosen by Ulrike of K├╝chenlatein. Growing up, making frosted sugar cookies was a big deal. All of us kids would head to Grandma's house, where we had our pick of green, red, blue, and yellow frosting and a variety of sprinkles. Most of the time, the cookies barely made it to the platter (for us to share with everyone on Christmas Eve). We would always "over sprinkle" a cookie, which had to be eaten right away. I recall one year, when my cousin ate so many, she got sick. Good times!

Because I have a feeling I'm going to be up to my eyeballs in cookies and fudge, I decided to halve this recipe. In hindsight, this was not a good idea. I think it was the egg and egg yolk ratio that I went with. Don't let these pictures fool you...these little devils are as hard as a rock. I don't blame Dorie's Grandma...I blame myself. My husband, however, thought these were the best sugar cookies ever and stuffed two in his mouth in less than a minute.


Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken Soup

I've been trying to give her a second chance. Every month, I buy her magazine. I clip out dozens of her recipes. Yet, each one I try is a flop. And doesn't make it to Vanilla Bean. We tried to give her a try again with this recipe and I am happy to report it is fantastic! We've adapted it a bit...making it easier and perfect for a weeknight meal. We used a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. It saved cooking time and we have leftovers for BBQ Chicken Pizza tomorrow!

Creamy Wild Rice and Chicken Soup
Adapted from Rachael Ray's magazine

6 cups of chicken broth
3 tbls olive oil
1/4 cup diced onion
2 tbls sage
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
One 6-ounce box long grain and wild rice mix (We used the Chicken flavor and added the spice mix in the box to the pot)
1/2 of a rotisserie chicken, shredded
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 chopped carrots
3 stalks of celery, chopped

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery and sage. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the broth, the rice mix and seasoning, and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken, lower the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until the rice and carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, simmer for a few minutes, and serve.

Snowball Cookies

I grew up in Minnesota and now live in Missouri. We only get back for Christmas every other year, and this year ain't it. So it is imperative that I bake all the holiday goodies I would have if I were Up North. Snowball Cookies are about as "home" as I can think. My Grandma Gloria made them. My mother would have tins of them in the garage (they are a great cookie to freeze and in MN, it is freezing in the garage). Since I have a ton of baking to do this holiday season, I decided to make these first.

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 cups of flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1 cup mini chocolate chips (I used regular sized and they still worked)

Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg in a mixer. Add the flour, salt, nuts and chocolate chips. Roll into balls. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 min.

Take the cookies out of the oven. Allow to cool and roll in powdered sugar. They freeze well. If you want, wrap them up and put in the freezer. Or, if it is cold enough, in the garage.