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This Weeks Menu

With New Years Eve smack dab in the middle of this week, I have no idea how dinners are really going to play out. There’s even a chance that I may go visit my parents for a few days over New Years since the mister has a DJing gig that night so I’d be alone anyway and he also wants to paint our brand new built in window seat that was installed this week and doesn’t want me in the house during the day/s it takes to do that (best thing ever to come out of this pregnancy so far is getting out of helping with fumey projects like these! JK. Sort of.) Anyway, nothing is planned yet so I’m still not sure and figured I should at least get some meal ideas just in case I’m home/cooking.

After these past few days of cookies and delicious baked goods and snacking all the time I kind of can’t wait to have some basic and healthy(er) meals again this week. And then we can get fully back on track for the rest of the new year right?

Monday: Pasta with Chicken and Light Cream Sauce

Tuesday: Cheesy Quinoa & Broccoli

Wednesday: -New Years Eve-

Thursday: Caribbean Shrimp with Spicy Pineapple Rice

Friday: Butternut Squash Soup

Saturday: Out

Sunday: Bang Bang Chicken

Pecan Puffball Cookies

Say hello to your perfect Christmas Eve cookies! If you didn’t get around to baking yet, or you did but all the cookies are mostly gone already (ahem) and you need a great Christmas Eve cookie to bake today, these are them. These cookies have so many different names I can never keep it straight. I just call them puffballs because that’s exactly what they look like. And taste like. They are just literally little puffballs that melt in your mouth. They are so so good. They’ve always been my absolute favorite. They’re completely addicting! And since they’re basically bite size, it’s so hard to not just keep popping them in your mouth. They’re also easy to make and really pretty quick– perfect for some last minute baking just to get the festive air going in your house for Christmas Eve but not actually spend all day slaving away in the kitchen.

Pecan Puffball Cookies

For a long time I kept trying all these different recipes for these cookies trying to make them exactly right and as best as they possibly could be. Then I finally remembered that I actually have a recipe written down from my aunt years ago. She always made great ones every year for Christmas and I think they were actually the ones I had in my mind as the example of the perfect pecan puffballs and I had just totally forgotten. This is now my new tried and true recipe and there is no reason to try any others. I also like that this recipe makes a large enough batch that they’re not gone in the first few minutes after making them. They lasted like two whole days in my house. I had all intentions of bringing some of these to people as little gifts and treats for Christmas since I had a couple of parties and dinners to go to, but my husband ended up eating literally all of them before I brought any anywhere! I’m just glad I found a treat he loves because usually he claims to not be into sweets which is just not something I can comprehend.Pecan Puffballs

So fluffy!

Definitely making these again though before this holiday season is over. I like that they are so festive and cute too because they work perfectly for New Years Eve as well as Christmas is my opinion. I don’t refer to these as Christmas cookies, they are just perfect celebration cookies in general.

:Pecan Puffballs:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup butter

4 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups pecans

2 cups flour

1 cup confectioners sugar

ASSEMBLY

Heat oven to 300. Beat butter until soft. Add sugar and keep beating until creamy. Add vanilla.

Grind nuts in food processor until they are the consistency of sand. You want them totally tiny and ground up, but stop before you turn it into a nut butter. Add to butter. Add flour, and mix until both are thoroughly combined.

Roll into small balls, about an inch in diameter, and place onto parchment lined baking sheets. They expand a little but not much, so just leave a little space around each one. Bake for 30 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Let cool for only a minute or two, just so they’re cool enough to handle.

Pour confectioners sugar onto a plate and roll warm cookies in it until thoroughly coated. Let cool completely and sprinkle with another layer of confectioners sugar. The first layer will absorb into the cookies a bit, but the second layer will sit on top and make them look like little snowballs.

Toffee Buttercrunch Two Ways: Toasted Coconut Almond & Hazelnut Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt

Can you just look at this.

Brown Sugar Toffee

Oh my goodness. These are some of the most gorgeous things I have seen in a long time.

Toasted Coconut Almond Toffee

Buttercrunch, or toffee, whichever you prefer to call it, is one of my absolute favorite candies. I think a lot of people don’t know how easy it is to make it, which makes it seem so special and fancy. But it actually really is so easy! A bit dangerously easy really.. And the best part is you can mix and match the nuts and toppings and make it exactly to your liking or those of your friends or¬†whoever may be lucky enough to be receiving some of your delicious treat. On one I used white sugar for a classic toffee and made it with almonds topped with milk chocolate, more almonds and toasted coconut. I made another version using brown sugar instead of white for a brown sugar toffee base, used hazelnuts, and topped with dark chocolate, hazelnuts and sea salt. Both are seriously superb. The brown sugar version is a little more difficult because the mixture starts out very close to the color of the finished product so you can’t use the color as an indicator of when it is finished the way you can with the white sugar version that turns the shade of brown that you expect toffee to be once it’s done.

I’ve heard that you should really use a candy thermometer to make this and that you will then know exactly when it’s ready based on temperature, but let’s be honest, I don’t know a single person who owns a candy thermometer. It’s not too hard to gauge it based on color and texture, once you know what you’re looking for though and it’s totally worth figuring it out.

Try these combinations, or try making up your own. But be careful- this is so good and so simple you definitely need someone to give most of it to as soon as it’s done so that you don’t end up eating it all yourself in one day. Not that I would know.

 

:Toasted Coconut & Almond Toffee Buttercrunch:

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

1 1/4 cups chopped almonds

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

ASSEMBLY

Heat oven to 350. Place coconut on a parchment covered baking sheet and heat for 3-5 minutes, just until slightly toasted. Remove from pan and set aside. Place almonds on the parchment covered baking sheet and heat for 5-7 minutes until toasted and just becoming fragrant and slightly browned. The exact time will depend on how small you chopped the almonds so watch it carefully- just one extra minute and they will go from toasty to burnt. Remove from oven and remove 1/4 cups of the almonds and set aside for later. Leave the remaining almonds on the sheet, evenly scattered, and set the whole sheet aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 15 minutes. The mixture will start getting bubbly and thick, but keep whisking constantly until it starts to turn brown, becoming the color of toffee and thins back out into a liquidy, pourable consistency.

Immediately remove from heat and carefully pour over the almonds in the baking sheet. Let cool about 3-5 minutes and then sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly on top. Let them sit for about 3-5 more minutes and then gently spread the chocolate into an even layer using a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with remaining almonds and toasted coconut. Let cool until set. Break into pieces using a sharp knife.

 

:Brown Sugar Toffee Buttercrunch with Hazelnut, Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt:

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips, plus a few extra for topping

1 1/4 cups chopped hazelnuts

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

ASSEMBLY

Heat oven to 350. Spread 1 cup chopped hazelnuts evenly over a parchment lined baking sheet and heat for 5-7 minutes until toasted and just becoming fragrant. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat butter, sugar, vanilla and salt over medium heat, whisking constantly for about 10 minutes. The mixture will start getting bubbly and thick, but keep whisking constantly until it starts to¬†thin back out a little bit and the butter is completely incorporated with the sugar. This one doesn’t want to get as liquidy as the other kind so remove from heat when it’s still a little thick.

Immediately remove from heat and pour over hazelnuts. Let sit for 5 minutes and then sprinkle dark chocolate chips evenly on top. Let them sit for about 3-5 more minutes and then gently spread the chocolate into an even layer using a rubber spatula. Sprinkle with remaining hazelnuts and sea salt. Let cool until set. Break into pieces using a sharp knife.

 

Italian Sesame Christmas Cookies

My family has made these cookies every single Christmas for as long as I can remember. We’ve never tweaked the recipe, besides doubling or tripling it, because it’s already literally perfect as is. It’s from the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook, which is apparently something my mother has had forever and ever. I’ve never known anyone else who makes these, but my family was known for them and all my friends always remembered them and expected to get to have some from our house at Christmastime. I don’t even know if they’re technically considered a Christmas cookie or if we just happened to always make them at Christmas.Italian Sesame Cookies

Honestly, even though I’m half Italian, it was my (non-Italian) mom who instigated making these and who was always in charge of mixing the dough and rolling it into balls. Then me and my sister would sit at the counter and one of us would be in charge of dipping the little logs into the egg and the other into the sesame seeds. I think it’s just a coincidence that they are called Italian, and my mom found the recipe once and the rest was history– they weren’t actually a recipe passed down from the Italian side of the family. Still, it seems like a nice nod to my Italian heritage to make these every year. And plus they’re just fun and yummy. This was the first year I ever made them all by myself and I can’t wait til my little one is able to help me with them next time.¬†Italian Sesame Cookies

This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies and is very quick and easy, with only the egg and sesame coating part taking any time at all, so they’re great to make for a crowd. They’re¬†a great addition to Christmas cookie baking because they are not actually very sweet. First of all, you feel like you can eat a bunch because they’re not that rich. There’s not an abundance of sugar and there’s no chocolate or even eggs, so they feel almost more like biscuits than cookies. But they’re just crisp (although almost fluffy on the inside) and special enough that they totally hold their own on the cookie platter. Added bonus is that the non cookie lovers or people who don’t love sweets tend to enjoy them a lot too. They go great with milk but also coffee or hot chocolate. And Santa always loved them at my house growing up ūüėČ

:Italian Sesame Cookies:

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 eggs (2 for dough, 1 reserved for dipping later)

1 3/4 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons wheat germ

2 tablespoons stoneground yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup sesame seeds (I sometimes need a little more than that)

ASSEMBLY

Preheat oven to 425. Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together until very light and fluffy. Beat in two of the eggs very well.

Mix together the rest of the ingredients except the sesame seeds and stir into the creamed mixture gradually.

With your hands, shape the dough into rolls about two inches long and three quarters inch in diameter.

Beat remaining egg and set up a plate with the sesame seeds poured on it. Dip dough logs in egg and roll in sesame seeds. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake 12 minutes or until brown. Cool on a rack.

Smokey Four Cheese Mac & Cheese

There really isn’t any better comfort food than mac & cheese, am I right? There’s just something about the creamy, cheesey, warmth to it that makes it so delicious and happy. I think it’s one of those dinners that literally everyone loves. I really don’t think I have ever met someone who didn’t like mac & cheese.

Smokey Four Cheese Mac & Cheese

That being said, there are all different types of mac & cheese out there. While homemade is always best (usually from a restaurant, because let’s be honest, how many people actually grew up on real homemade mac & cheese at home?) I feel like most people are used to mac & cheese from a box of some kind. Personally I grew up on Annies, the more ‘natural’ kind– white cheese covering little shells. It was the meal of choice when we had babysitters or needed a quick dinner¬†before an evening activity. I never experienced the blue box- Kraft mac & cheese until much later in life, and those bright orange covered elbows. I have to say bright orange cheese never really appealed to me, I guess because I didn’t grow up with it. Then comes Velveeta, and not only is it bright orange but it comes already in liquid form (or a paste? gel? what would you even call that and how is it food?) that squeezes out of the package all ready to go. This one I never even came in contact with until I met my husband, for whom this is the mac & cheese of choice for some reason that I cannot comprehend.

Smokey Four Cheese Mac & Cheese

Those are all a different species of mac & cheese than this real homemade version. This is a mac & cheese you can feel good about. I mean yes, it is made with an awful lot of full-fat cheese, and a bit of butter, but at least it’s real cheese and you know exactly where it comes from. I believe dairy is good for you and choose to ignore those who say cheese is unhealthy! Anyway, this is fairly easy too, as long as you get all your cheeses together beforehand and have them all grated and ready to go so that you can just add everything to the pot at once. The smoked gouda gives it just enough of a smokey flavor without being overwhelming, and the mascarpone makes it super creamy. I used medium shells because I like them and I like how much cheese they scoop up, but you can totally use classic elbows if you want. There’s even a dash of paprika which¬†gives it a tiny bit of an orange hue in case you’re into that ūüôā And you can totally leave it out if you prefer your mac white.

Do yourself a favor and make this for dinner the next time you invite friends over. They will be seriously impressed. Also, it makes a lot, so it’s good to have people to share it with!

 

:Smokey Four Cheese Mac & Cheese:

INGREDIENTS

1/2 stick butter

3 cups milk (I used whole)

1/3 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika (optional)

2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 1/4 cups smoked gouda cheese

1/2 cup shredded parmesan (I use the pre-shredded kind, but fresh would be great too- parm is the only cheese I would use pre-shredded, other cheeses won’t melt as nicely unless they’re fresh)

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (this comes in a tub and is often found in the specialty cheese section)

ASSEMBLY

Grate all cheese and set aside.

Boil a pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions. Strain and set aside.

Heat a large saucepan over  medium heat. Add butter until melted and bubbly, then add flour and stir to combine. Lower heat to medium low and add milk, whisking constantly to form a thick sauce. Add all spices, and add the cheese, whisking until smooth. Add the cooked pasta to the pan and carefully mix into sauce until each piece is coated. Serve immediately.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Muffins

I’ve been craving chocolate cake and all kinds of cupcakes lately, and trying really hard not to eat them too much. I have to admit, while I like muffins and they are always good in their own right for certain situations, they are still always just muffins. A muffin is like a cupcake’s annoying little brother. Until these ones. These ones have chocolate chips in them and are so light and fluffy and delicious. And have chocolate chips in them. Need I say more?Chocolate Chip Muffin

These are a perfect morning treat with a cup of coffee, or an afternoon pick me up. They’re best after being reheated in the toaster oven for a few minutes to warm them through right before eating. I may have also turned them into complete dessert by sticking one in a mug and cutting an X in the top and sticking more chocolate inside (or a whole Trader Joe’s chocolate peanut butter cup) and then microwaving it for a few seconds. Yum. I may have had multiple ones of these for the last few days in a row. I wonder if three chocolate chip muffins in one day is really better than eating a cupcake? Somehow I worry it may not be…Chocolate Chip Muffins

This recipe is from Little Sweet Baker and I did not alter it at all when I made these. I may play around with it a bit just to see what else can be done with these, but for now her recipe is quite perfect for a wonderful, fluffy chocolate chip muffin.

:Chocolate Chip Muffins:

INGREDIENTS

2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

ASSEMBLY

Preheat oven to 425¬įF and spray a 12 cup muffin tray with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips in a large bowl.

Whisk together melted butter, sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla and then add it to the dry ingredients. Gently fold together until JUST combined.

Pour into¬†muffin cups (it will fill them all right to the top) and bake at 425¬įF for 5 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375¬įF and bake for another 13 minutes. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes but take them out of the pan before they have completely cooled so they don’t stick.

Recipe from Little Sweet Baker

Chocolate Chip Muffin

I had to mutilate one so you could see how chocolatey and delicious it is on the inside!