November 23, 2016


Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you are enjoying good food, good people, and good times today!

Today's recipe is for Vanillekipferl and comes from the new cookbook, Classic German Baking by blogger Alicia Weiss of the Wednesday Chef.  Coming from a very German family (ha, those who know my family are probably laughing at that as it is an understatement!) and having just visited Germany and Austria, I have a fascination with German baking which has influenced so many cultures and baked goods!  It's difficult to find German cookbooks, and I'm very excited for such a beautiful cookbook on German baking.   

Vanillekipferl are an Austrian cookie--a crescent-shaped vanilla almond cookie that is dusted in vanilla sugar.  They are traditionally made at Christmas but are enjoyed all year round.  These are similar to Russian tea cakes, but vanillekipferl are a little finer in texture and more vanilla in flavor (thanks to the vanilla sugar!).

Vanilla sugar is a common ingredient in European pastries, and pre-packaged vanilla sugar is readily available in European grocery stores.  When my sister lived in Germany last year, she stocked me up!   It's a little harder to find in US grocery stores, but it's easy to make: combine 2 cups of granulated sugar with the scraped seeds from one large vanilla bean into an airtight container, bury the bean in sugar and seal, and let it sit for two weeks.  The longer it sits, the better it tastes!

When I was in Germany last month, I was on a hunt for springerle molds and found some other fun baking toys, which included crescent cookie baking sheets, so it was fun to make these in my new molds.  :)    

Make sure the dough is well chilled before you begin molding it into crescents, as this will make it much easier!  After the cookies finish baking, let them sit for a few minutes on the baking sheets before dredging them in the confectioners' sugar.  The cookies are very delicate and break easy, and I found that giving them a few minutes to "chill" made a difference.

These are easy peasy and very tasty!  I look forward to sharing more sweet adventures this Christmas season.  Happy baking!

Vanillekipferl (Melting Vanilla-Almond Crescents)
Yields 4 dozen cookies

175 grams all-purpose flour (1 2/3 cup plus 1 tbsp.)
120 grams butter, at room temperature
175 grams confectioners' sugar (1/4 cup for the cookie dough and 1 1/2 cup for dredging the baked cookies)
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (Vanillezucker) (1 tbsp. for the cookie dough and 1 tbsp. for mixing with the confectioners' sugar for dredging the baked cookies)
100 grams almond meal (1 cup)
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and confectioners' sugar.  Mix on low speed until combined.  Then, add the flour, almond meal, vanilla sugar, egg yolk, and salt.  Mix on low until a smooth dough develops.

Divide the dough into three equal portions and roll each portion into a 1 inch cylinder.  Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days.

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.

Remove one roll from the refrigerator and cut it into 1/2 inch slices.  Roll each slice until about 2 inches and the ends are slightly tapered.  Form each into a crescent and place on the baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough until the sheets are full.  The cookies will not spread too much, so they should have about 1 inch of same between them on each side.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cookies are just lightly browned.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

After the cookies finish baking, allow them to sit on the baking sheet for about five minutes.  While the cookies are sitting on the baking sheet, mix together 125 grams (1 1/4 cups) of the confectioners' sugar with 1 tbsp. of the vanilla sugar in a pie plate or a shallow bowl.  Very carefully, dredge each cookie in the confectioners' sugar and place on a baking rack to finish cooking.

Source: Luisa Weiss' Classic German Baking

November 20, 2016

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bruschettas

Ina Garten's new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey, recently came out.  In the introduction, she describes the act of cooking for someone as an act that says, "you're important enough to me to spend [this] time and effort."  For her, "Cooking is more gratifying and, frankly, more fun when I'm cooking for people I love."  I could not agree more!  This cookbook is a homage to her husband Jeffrey's favorites, and Ina's love and happiness for Jeffrey just exudes through every page of this cookbook.  It is really a fun and happy cookbook!

So many of her recipes are simple with an elegant twist, and today's recipe is just that: butternut squash and ricotta bruschettas.  Most of the time, we think of bruschetta as involving a tomato and basil topping.  Bruschetta itself is just grilled oil rubbed bread, and the toppings are endless.   
I love regular tomato bruschetta, but butternut squash takes it to a whole new level.  It's a great appetizer for Thanksgiving!  

I'm not a fan of pumpkin, but I do like butternut squash.  Butternut squash has a sweeter, nuttier flavor compared to that of pumpkin.  In this recipe, butternut squash is roasted and then combined with caramelized onions.  You put a layer of ricotta cheese on toasted bread and then top it with this roasted butternut squash goodness.  YUM!

Butternut squash can be a pain in the arse to cut up.  Don't let that deter you from making this and so many other butternut squash dishes!  In the produce section of most grocery stores, you can find nicely diced butternut squash.  I've seen it at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and even Costco.  

Happy cooking!

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Bruschettas 
Yields 6+ servings (depending on bread)

1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2-3/4 inch. cubes
2 sweet yellow onions sliced
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp. maple syrup, apple cider, or apple juice (I used maple syrup)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Extra virgin olive oil (or "good olive oil" as Ina calls it)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 loaf bread (I used a french baguette, Ina calls for 6 1/2 inch thick rustic country bread)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese

On a large baking sheet, place the squash, 2 1/2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, and the red pepper flakes, and toss to combine and spread in one layer.  Roast for 15 minutes, and then remove from oven to toss once with a spatula.  Return to oven for another 15 minutes to continue roasting until the squash becomes very tender and begins to brown on the edges.   (Total roasting time is 30 minutes.)

While the squash roasts, heat the butter and 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Add the onions and cook over medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until golden.  Then, add the apple cider vinegar and maple syrup, and simmer for about five minutes until the liquid is reduced.  After the squash finishes cooking, add it to the same sauté pan with the onions and mash it lightly with a dinner fork or a wooden spoon.

To assemble the bruschetta, spread a thick layer of ricotta on each bread slice and spoon the squash mixture on top.  Sprinkle with salt and enjoy!

** Note: I would recommend toasting the bread before assembling the mixture on it.  To toast the  bread, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toast in a 350ºF oven for 12 minutes.

*** You can also prepare the butternut squash mixture ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat on the stove by adding a few tablespoons of apple cider, if desired.

Source: Ina Garten's Cooking for Jeffrey

November 17, 2016

Sugared Cranberries

Happy November!  The first snow finally came to Denver today.  Usually, snow arrives in October!  Yesterday, it was 80 degrees, and today brought snow.

It seems a little surreal that Thanksgiving is a week away.  I am grateful for such a fun fall that involved amazing travel!

I get very excited for the Christmas season.  Yes, I'm one of those people that puts up Christmas decorations very shortly after Halloween. ;-)  It just makes the house feel so happy!  The season goes by too quickly, and it really is such a special time of the year.  

My friend Kyla owns a fashion boutique, Birds & Belles (if you are in Denver, check it out!), and her Christmas soiree is always the first to kick off the Christmas festivities.  I made some appetizers for the party.  Since the party involves shopping, easy finger foods were a must.  I wanted to do something festive, so I made sugar cranberry brie bites.  Trader Joe's had some cranberry crackers, so I just topped them with a slice of brie and a sugared cranberry.  The sugared cranberries were a cinch to make, and they are a versatile way to dress up any appetizer or drink!  They also make a sweet treat.

To make the sugared cranberries, you first make a simple syrup.  Make sure to let the simple syrup cool, and after it cools, you coat the cranberries in it to make them sticky.  After they set, you then roll them in sugar.  Voila, sugared cranberries!  

Sugared Cranberries

2 cups of cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water

First, make the simple syrup.  In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 sugar with the 1/2 cup water.  Cook on medium high heat until sugar is dissolved.  Once dissolved, remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool for 20 minutes.

While cooling, set a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet lined with foil or a silpat.  Set aside.

Once the syrup is cool, add 1/2 cup of cranberries at a time into the pan, and completely coat with syrup.  Use a strainer or a slotted spoon to remove the cranberries from the syrup, and set the cranberries on top of the cooling rack.  Repeat with remaining cranberries, and allow the cranberries to set on the rack for at least an hour.

After the cranberries have set, put the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl.  Transfer a small amount of cranberries to the bowl and roll them around with the sugar (I used a spoon to do this, but fingers also work :)).  Remove from bowl and return to the cooling rack to set.  Repeat with remaining cranberries.

You can store these in a container in the refrigerator and use them as a holiday garnish!

A Simple Sweet Justice Original, inspired by the festive season

September 20, 2016

Chicken Mustard Milanese with Arugula Salad

Wow, summer flew by, and fall is here, just like *that*!

Today's recipe is a quick elegant dinner that works great for a weeknight dinner or even a make-ahead dinner party with friends.

You can prepare the chicken up to a a day in advance.  To prepare the chicken, you would butterfly a chicken breast, pound it out, and then dip it in flour, egg white mixture, and bread crumbs.  Pounding the chicken makes it much more tender. The egg white mixture will contain egg white along with some herbs and Dijon mustard.  Once you coat the chicken, it needs to be chilled so that the topping will set.  The longer you refrigerate, the more the topping sticks to the chicken, and the more the mustard and herb flavors marinate into the chicken.  You could do this the day before a dinner party and minimize your prep time the next day!

When it comes time to cook the chicken, you just fry the chicken in some oil, pat it dry with paper towels, and stick it in the oven to keep it warm.  Think of this as a much easier way to make fried chicken at home.  The thin chicken stayed very juicy and moist, and the breading made it even more flavorful.  It felt more "dressed up" with the French Dijon mustard, too.

Serve this chicken with a simple arugula salad, and you're all set.

Chicken Mustard Milanese with an Arugula Salad
Yields 2 servings


For the chicken:
1 large boneless chicken breast
1/4 cup (33 grams) all-purpose flour
1 egg white
1 tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. grated lemon zest
3/4 cup (40 grams) panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grapeseed oil, canola oil, or other oil for frying

For the salad:
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 cup olive oil
3 oz. arugula leaves

Using a very sharp knife, butterfly the chicken breast on a cutting board with a very sharp knife.  Slice the chicken breast all the way through so that you end up with two cutlets.  Using a meat pounder, pound the cutlets out between two pieces of plastic wrap to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white, Dijon mustard, oregano, parsley, and lemon zest.

On your counter, set up three large plates.  On the first plate, add the flour.  On the second plate, add the egg white mixture.  On the third plate, spread out the breadcrumbs.

Pat both sides of the chicken lightly in the flour mixture.  Next, dredge both sides of the chicken heavily in the egg white mixture.  Then, pat both sides of the chicken heavily with the breadcrumbs.  Repeat with the second piece of chicken.  Arrange the breaded chicken on a large plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour to 1 day.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 175º.  Pour 1/2 inch of oil in a large pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is heated, cook the chicken until golden on both sides, about 3 to 5 minutes on the first side, and 2 to 3 minutes on the second side.  Remove the chicken from the heat, and salt and pepper the chicken again on both sides while draining on paper towels.  Once it is drained, transfer the chicken to a baking tray and insert it in the warm oven.  Repeat with remaining chicken.

For the salad dressing, whisk the lemon juice, mustards, and olive oil together in a large bowl.  Add the arugula to the bowl and toss.  When ready to serve, plate the salad and add the chicken.

Source: Smitten Kitchen cookbook
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