26 December 2013

Pumpkin Souffles

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Pumpkin Souffles
I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! Typically, I'd make a pie or some other traditional dessert for Christmas. This time, I decided to try my hand at souffles using pumpkin puree from Pacific Foods. They sent me a kit containing chicken stock, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin puree packed in Tetra Pak cartons. I have sort of been avoiding canned foods, though I've made an exception for pumpkin because I didn't realize I could get it in a box. Besides BPA, there are other reasons why foods packed in Tetra Pak cartons are more desirable:
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My kit included:
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Pacific Foods Chicken Stock. I like using chicken stock in cooking because it contains less or no salt than broth, leaving you in more control of the seasoning.

Chicken stock can be used in stuffing, gravy, and risotto, etc.

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Pacific Foods Pumpkin Puree. The quality of the puree seemed a little thinner compared to the thicker canned puree, and it had more liquid. The taste was fresher.
I'm using this today for the pumpkin souffles, though obviously it can be used for pie and other recipes.

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Pacific Foods Cranberry Sauce. I haven't tried this yet. It reminds me of my older brother since we always serve a can of cranberry sauce for him at holiday meals. He loves the texture and taste.

Besides as a condiment, I like using this as a spread for breads, or maybe even cinnamon rolls!

Pacific Foods Pumpkin Puree
Here, you can see what the consistency of the pumpkin looks like. It really does remind me of fresh pumpkin puree. The container is easy to open, but there is no good way to store it once opened.

mise en place
The ingredients have been assembled. Since this is my first try at a souffle, I didn't want to be left scrambling for ingredients. First, though, you should prep the baking dishes by buttering four 8-inch ramekins and coating in granulated sugar. Place in a large baking dish and set aside.

I halved a recipe from Epicurious. The method to make these souffles consists of a custard-like base, which is milk whisked with corn starch, a little sugar, and spices. After it's cooked, pumpkin puree is whisked in. In my stupidity, I didn't quite get that and I added the puree from the very beginning.

Pumpkin custard mixture
Although this mistake didn't ruin the souffles, I would advise you to follow the recipe according to the directions and not my oversight. For this particular pumpkin puree, my error worked out in my favor as it thickened up the moisture from the pumpkin.

egg white meringue
folding meringue into pumpkin custard
Once the custard has cooled to room temperature, you proceed with the recipe by whipping up a meringue, which is folded into the pumpkin custard. I think I did a pretty decent job, though I need to look up how thoroughly a souffle batter should be folded. Mine had just a few streaks of custard throughout the bottom, and I didn't want to go any further to prevent the meringue from deflating.

pumpkin souffle batter
The mixture looks very light, but I assure you it's still flavorful.

souffle batter in ramekins
Divide mixture between prepared ramekins. The original recipe called for 6-ounce ramekins, though it seems to me that the smaller size ramekins would have been too small for the amount of batter. Maybe I'll smooth the tops next time.

Pumpkin souffles
Mine rose quite dramatically! Although they didn't rise very symmetrically, and that might have been because the ramekin dishes weren't properly greased and dusted. In any case, they tasted delicious on their own with just a light dusting of confectioners' sugar. The sides were cooked while the centers remained softer. There were a few visible streaks of egg white in the center, which is probably my folding error . Again, I'm not quite sure how a proper souffle should be in consistency, though from what I remember of Master Chef, I'm on the right track!

I was pleased with the quality of Pacific Foods Pumpkin Puree. Since there is so much pumpkin left, I might make more souffles.

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18 December 2013

HERSHEY'S Dark Chocolate Treats at Duane Reade

Disclosure: I received compensation and information about dark chocolate from The Hershey Company. All opinions expressed within are my own.

#DReadeHSY #shop #cbias
We all have our go-to treats, and for many of us, it's dark chocolate. I enjoy it as a quick treat throughout the day, or after dinner as a dessert. The Hershey Company offers a wide variety of chocolate products to choose from that are convenient and portion-friendly and can be purchased at your local Duane Reade.

#DReadeHSY #shop #cbias
Duane Reade is new to me, as it's not a store I ever saw in Indiana. Now that I'm on the East Coast, I've become well-acquainted with Duane Reade, which is conveniently located all throughout New York City. I often stop there when I'm in the city and in need of a bottle of water or something easy to eat. Besides food, a variety of household items, personal items, and pharmacy items can all be purchased at Duane Reade, making it a one-stop shop if you're in need of any of those items.

There are also a few locations in New Jersey, which is where I stopped at today to pick up BROOKSIDE Dark Chocolate and HERSHEY'S BLISS Dark Chocolate. I couldn't walk there, but it was just as convenient to drive to. Parking was readily available, and I was in and out quickly thanks to the short lines.

#DReadeHSY #shop #cbias
I purchase BROOKSIDE Dark Chocolate on my own quite often, and it is a favorite of my dad's, too. I have a particular fondness for in dark chocolate with fruit flavored centers, so it's only natural that I'd pick up a bag. I like to enjoy these while I'm working on projects (right now, for example), or a quick treat whenever I happen to walk by the bag. (I have no shame.)

Chocolates with fruit flavored centers can often be too sweet, but BROOKSIDE Dark Chocolate is well-
balanced with the dark chocolate complimenting the fruity flavors instead of the sweetness of the two components clashing. I picked the BROOKSIDE Dark Chocolate Goji and Raspberry Flavors because it's my favorite from the variety available.

#DReadeHSY #shop #cbias
Since it’s always a good idea to have more chocolate on hand, I picked up a bag of HERSHEY'S BLISS Dark Chocolate. I find that individually wrapped dark chocolate is convenient to take with me, so I'll stash a few pieces in my purse for on-the-go treats.

HERSHEY'S BLISS Dark Chocolate is very smooth with a rich chocolate flavor. Its deep flavor really makes this a favorite of mine, especially since it’s not bitter. It’s just a great chocolate.

Growing up, my familiarity with Hershey was with their chocolate bars that are most commonly used for s'mores. Now that I've developed more of an adult palate, I find myself gravitating towards dark chocolate with complex flavors, and it's nice to see a great selection of dark chocolate available by a company with whom I am familiar. I see myself enjoying dark chocolate from Hershey throughout the winter season with cups of hot cocoa.

16 December 2013

Easy Movie Night Boxes with Popcorn Bars, Hot Cocoa, and Meat Sticks

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias and its client.
#EasyGifts #shop #cbias
Here's another fun gift idea! One of my many holiday traditions that I look forward to every year is watching all of my favorite Christmas movies. I especially enjoy sipping hot beverages like hot cocoa, eating popcorn, and nibbling on other snacks, which is why I know others would enjoy a homemade movie night box filled with goodies. For this box, I made marshmallow popcorn bars using Orville Redenbacher Popcorn, Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa, and Slim Jim Meat Sticks purchased at Target.

#EasyGifts #shop #cbias
Also available at Target, located in their dollar bin area, are gift boxes in various sizes, perfect to package all the treats.

#EasyGifts #shop #cbias
To begin, let's make some marshmallow popcorn balls. You've likely all made the crispy cereal rice version before, and all I'm doing here is substituting the cereal with popcorn and peppermint crunch bits.

Side note: I love the pop up bowl design of the bags. Although I mostly make stove top popcorn, when I do use bags I always empty it into a bowl since it's rather obnoxious to eat otherwise.

The popcorn balls come together fairly quickly. Begin by lining a 13x9-inch baking dish with parchment. Grease the popcorn.

#EasyGifts #shop #cbias
1. Assemble ingredients: 1-2 bag popcorn, 1 bag mini marshmallows, 1/4 cup unsalted butter, 1/4 cup peppermint white chocolate chips, 1/3 cup white chocolate, 1 tsp shortening, red food coloring.

Pop the popcorn (you may need to use a second bag). Measure out 9 cups, removing any unpopped kernels.

2. Once all the ingredients have been assembled, melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the marshmallows and lower the heat to medium-low. Stir until the marshmallows are completely melted.

3. Remove from heat. Carefully stir in the popcorn, folding to coat with the melted marshmallows. Add the peppermint chips and stir into popcorn. They will probably melt, but that's okay.

4. Place popcorn in prepared baking dish and pack down lightly. Let cool.

5. Melt white chocolate with shortening in a small dish over low heat until smooth. Add however much red food coloring you want to achieve desired color. Drizzle over popcorn bars; let stand until firm.

6. Using overhanging parchment paper, remove popcorn bars and slice into 12-16 squares using a large chef's knife. Wrap individual bars in plastic wrap.

#EasyGifts #shop #cbias
Package the box by lining with a sheet of tissue paper (optional). Place wrapped popcorn bars on the bottom, then add a couple packets of hot cocoa mix, meat sticks, and another packet of popcorn. (You can never have too much popcorn.)

#EasyGifts #shop #cbias
That's about all it takes to put together a festive movie night snack box! Out of all the items, you can put together at least two boxes, making it an affordable gift. To personalize it, add a treat you know the recipient enjoys.


Create a Holiday Treat Basket from Duane Reade

I am a member of the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® Community. This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper amplification for Collective Bias and its advertiser.
#DRHoliday #shop #cbias
Oftentimes, the hardest people to shop for are the ones we don't know all too well, such as hair stylists, mailmen, coworkers, and even new friends. I like giving gifts, though it's not always in my budget to get something big, not that it's necessary. Small, inexpensive gifts can be thoughtful if personalized, like this gift basket I created with supplies purchased from Duane Reade. A gift like this is also good for a Secret Santa exchange or as a stocking stuffer. By including homemade goodies, it can be personalized even more.

When I was young, I was really into decorating gifts, which is why this cute treat box with a cellophane wrapper stood out to me. It's big enough to fill with a few different, small items, and small enough to be the perfect size for a small gift.

#DRHoliday #shop #cbias
If you're unfamiliar with Duane Reade, it's a drugstore in NYC and a few surrounding areas that is basically a one stop shop. There is also a great selection of holiday supplies, and while I was there I picked up candy for the treat box, wrapping paper, ornament hooks, and gift tags. What stood out to me, among the holiday supplies selection, was an assortment of gift boxes for clothing and other things. I use those more than you'd think, but I usually save various boxes throughout the year to accomplish this task.

#DRHoliday #shop #cbias
For this box, I went with various white chocolate candies, such as peppermint bark and white chocolate truffles. Mini candy canes are perfect for adding an additional sweet holiday touch.

#DRHoliday #shop #cbias
Each treat box includes one box, two cellophane wrappers, two red ribbons, and one gift tag. For an added touch, I lined the box with a sheet of tissue paper, though the inside of the box has a festive red-and-white color scheme and this step can be skipped, if desired.

Fill the box up with treats, then place the box in the middle of the wrapper. Gather the edges and string the red ribbon through the holes of the wrapper. Before tying the ribbons, string one side through the gift tag. Tie shut and curl the ribbons.

#DRHoliday #shop #cbias
That's all it takes to create a sweet (literally) gift. Isn't it cute? If I were someone else, I'd appreciate being the recipient of this gift, but I may be biased since I like all the candy I picked out.

11 December 2013

Speculoos Buttons for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013
Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
Last year, I kept seeing posts about the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap on various blogs and thought that I'd like to join in next year. So I did! Upon registering, each blogger is given the names and addresses of three other bloggers to whom you'll send a dozen cookies each. The requirement is that you make three dozen of the same cookie, take pictures, and blog about it all on the same day.

I didn't quite get my act together in regards to packaging. I forgot that I can order free small priority boxes from USPS until the last minute, so I wasn't able to package my cookies as decoratively as I wanted. Next year, however, I have a better idea of what to do and will hopefully not make the same mistakes.

When deciding what to bake, I looked for a cookie that I felt would ship well and age well. Also, I wanted a cookie with a high yield so that I didn't have to make more than one batch. I settled on speculoos buttons from Bon Appetit, a small, spicy cookie with a decorative sprinkle edging and a dollop of icing.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
A few reviews mentioned that the dough was too dry and crumbly, which is always a concern with slice and bake cookies. To prevent this from happening, I increased the butter from 1 stick to 1 1/2 sticks. The dough needed a little elbow grease to form a ball despite the extra butter, and it probably would have been impossible to work otherwise.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
After the dough is portioned into three little logs and frozen overnight, it came time to decorate and bake the cookies. To do this, you gently beat an egg white, then brush a light coating over a dough log. Then, you roll it in decorative sugar, pressing gently so that it adheres. It's best to pour the decorative sugar out on a plate, or a small rimmed baking sheet.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
Next, you MUST freeze the dough log for at least ten minutes. Not only will it be easier to slice, but the sugar won't slide off the cookie in the oven. Yeah, that happened. If you're looking to bake exactly 36 cookies, it's crucial that you do not skip that step. (No, I didn't get anywhere close to 90 cookies, as the recipe states.)

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
When it comes to my wardrobe, I have this problem of picking either black or neutral shades, like tan. The other day, I bought a tan sweater. It wasn't until I took it home and tried it on with my other clothes that I realized that tan is my "safe" color. I returned it for a lovely bright pink.

Obviously, that habit is bleeding over into my baking. If you noticed, the dough is kind of a dark brown. The gold sprinkles might as well be tan, and these cute little gingerbread mean are... brown. I apologize to my food blogger matches for such a monochromatic cookie.

Anyway, to decorate the cookies, you whip up a small batch of icing consisting of confectioners' sugar and water. Next time, I would do a small batch of royal icing or pick a cookie without any icing, since this icing didn't set up well for shipping. I should have kept adding more sugar to it. My bad.

The dollop of icing is then topped with more sprinkles. I chose not to buy dragees, as I wasn't sure how everyone would feel about it. The little gingerbread men looked cute and festive, though, like I said, I should have picked a decoration with a contrasting color.

Despite the blandness in color, I enjoyed making these cookies and I enjoyed the extra cookies I got to taste even more.

I'm glad that I signed up for the cookie swap this year. It's a fun and festive food blog event that reminds me of food blog events back when I first became a blogger. It's not about winning anything, but about food bloggers interacting with each other and building a community, which is what made me want to start blogging in the first place. To sign up, you are required to donate $4 to Cookies for Kids' Cancer, a national non-profit organization that the Cookie Swap partnered with last year, and the donations from the food bloggers are matched (up to $3000) by each of the event's brand partners. The donation is tax-deductible and 100% of the donation goes directly to CFKC.

In addition, the cookie you create must be new to you, meaning you've never blogged about it before. You can also opt-in to receive a few goodies from the brand partners. I've received a 3-piece rubber spatula set from Oxo! That came in handy, as I only had one large rubber spatula.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap '13
To Julie, Jamie, and Natasha, I hope you enjoy your cookies!

I received the following cookies from three different bloggers:

the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

1. Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Christina
2 & 3. Shortbread with Chocolate Drizzle from Liz
4. Vanilla Bean Glazed Cinnamon Bun Cookies from Heather

Your cookies were delicious and I loved the packaging! Thank you so much.

And a big thank you to Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil and Julie from The Little Kitchen for continuing to host this amazing event. $13,778.40 was raised for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer!

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