Monday, December 23, 2013

Classic Fudge... Rich and Irresistible with Dairy-Free and #Vegan Option

Classic Fudge with Dairy-free and Vegan Option

Fudge... another holiday classic.  Luscious, rich, and melt in your mouth fabulous, can you imagine receiving a plate and not being able to eat it?

Such is the case with my teenage son.  Years ago lactose intolerance hit with a vengeance and a decadent taste of dairy-filled fudge was no longer an option.  He rarely complains, and accepts his dairy-free life with a positive attitude, but the holidays are often difficult as treats that used to be favorites arrive on festive plates he can't touch.

This year after we received a gift plate overflowing with the chocolate confection, he dejectedly turned and walked away.  Knowing how much he wanted a piece I did a bit of research and put together a version that soon had him swooning.

Using alternative butter and almond milk combined with cocoa powder, this version brings that same luscious mouth-feel and a rich chocolate flavor that melts nicely on the tongue and has you reaching for seconds when no one is looking.

The smile spreading across his face followed by a rare hug and a simple "I love you, Mom.", had my already full heart growing three sizes in just that moment.

From all of us here at Liv Life, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with health, adventure and food that makes you swoon.

Classic Fudge with Dairy-free and Vegan Option

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Triple Orange Biscotti ~ #ChristmasWeek #CakeBossBaking

Welcome to Day #6 of Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen from Juanita’s Cocina!  Each day we will be celebrating the holidays with a different set of Christmas-themed treats, as well as a fabulous Christmas giveaway.  We hope you enjoy this fabulous event.  Tune in each day starting today, Monday, December 9th and ending Saturday, December 14th.


A few weeks ago I posted about my holiday spirit... or as you may remember, it was my lack of holiday spirit that concerned Liv and had her proclaiming how much more joyful other moms made the season.  Well, this year I've been working on it, and I'm succeeding!

Christmas Spirit just may be a state of mind, but embracing this season has had my December a really joyful place.  From decorating and shopping to  wrapping presents and writing cards, this season has been amazingly fun and I owe a part of my joyousness to Kim and Jen for setting up #ChristmasWeek and including me in the festivities.

Reading the cheerful and jolly posts from this fabulous group of food bloggers, one's heart can't help but soar.  And today, we wrap up this celebration with even more treats and one final giveaway... the best of the week according to Liv.  Everyone knows Buddy from the Cake Boss right?  Check below for this awesome Cake Boss bakeware and tools giveaway!

But first we have a treat.  The amazingly bright Triple Orange Biscotti.  If you're a regular reader of Liv Life, you can probably guess my favorite ingredient of the orange trio... that heavenly and luscious Grand Marnier. 

While the recipe includes only a few tablespoons of the ambrosial liquor, I've found the ingredient truly takes the biscotti up a level.  Along with fragrant orange zest in combination with the juice of a seasonal sweet orange, these crunchy treats bring a brightness to your morning coffee and a perk to an afternoon treat.

Packaged in a cute tin or a clear bag with a bow, these cookies make an ideal hostess gift, and with the decent sized result from the recipe, there are always plenty to save a few for yourself.

I've been making biscotti for some 20 years, and while I love everything about these cookies, I have to admit their sticky dough is one of the most challenging I've worked with.  A Fine Cooking recipe from 2003, I've made this recipe several times as written as well as with a few variations, all with success.

With olive oil included in the ingredient list, I've occasionally left the oil out to reduce the calorie count, and I've also substituted whole wheat flour for a portion of the all-purpose.  But for the holidays I usually stick to the original recipe and these sunny biscotti are always welcomed with a smile.

The recipe comments that the dough will be sticky... and be aware that they really mean it.  Sticky... very, very sticky.  Making my biscotti yesterday I decided to try two batches, one exactly as written in 2003 and the second, making changes where I figured I could probably make the biscotti better.

How did they turn out??  Well... lets just say both versions were exceedingly good, and while my version was innately easier to work with, the Fine Cooking version baked up better.  Hence, I'm sticking with the sticky dough (it almost seems slack, as if it will puddle off of the cookie sheet, but it won't) and admitting that Fine Cooking really might know as much as, or perhaps... a little more than I about baking.

But who knows more about baking than anyone??  The Cake Boss!!  And wouldn't you love to be the lucky recipient of this fabulous giveaway???  Liv looked at it this morning and exclaimed, "Why, oh why did you have to write for this one?  What were you thinking??"  I believe I got one of my first serious eye rolls included somewhere in there too.  But she's kind of right, how cool is this???!!!

Today’s #ChristmasWeek giveaway comes courtesy of Cake Boss Baking. Cake Boss Baking is the new branded bake ware from Buddy Valastro, the talented chef and baker behind the TLC TV show, "Cake Boss". Cake Boss Baking features a full line of cake pans, decorating tools, dessert plates and more, with product for all levels of expertise. Cake Boss Baking is offering one #ChristmasWeek reader the opportunity to win a prize package full of baking tools and essentials {ARV: $260}, including: 

To enter, read the details and use the Rafflecopter below!
 ***This giveaway is for one Cake Boss Baking baking essentials prize pack (details listed above).  This giveaway is open to Continental US residents only.  When the contest concludes, the winner will be chosen by random draw.  The winner will be notified through e-mail and they will have 3 days to respond or another winner will be chosen.***
And now that you've entered to win that awesome prize package, take a trip with me to see what everyone else brought to close out this fabulous #ChristmasWeek!

  • How To Make Perfect Gingerbread People by Cravings of a Lunatic
  • Slow Cooker Pumpkin Cobbler by Juanita's Cocina
  • S'mores Fudge by Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
  • Cherry Noir Noel by Noshing With The Nolands
  • Japanese Blondies by Ninja Baking
  • Peanut Brittle by Food Lust People Love
  • Elf Nibbles by Dizzy Busy and Hungry
  • Cheesecake Chocolate Chip Cookies with Salted Caramel by Rants From My Crazy Kitchen
  • Gingerbread Men Cookies by Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts
  • Mint Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookie Bars by Mom's Test Kitchen
  • Penuche by Cooking In Stilettos
  • Triple Orange Biscotti by Liv Life
  • Homemade Caramels by Jen's Favorite Cookies
  • Kerstol (Dutch Christmas Bread) by The Dutch Baker's Daughter
  • Dark Chocolate Orange Ricotta Tart with Honey Almond Crust by Cupcakes & Kale Chips
  • Tropical Toffee Brittle by Home Cooking Memories
  • Chocolate Raspberry Linzer Cookies by Pineapple and Coconut
  • Lemon-Pistachio and White Chocolate Biscotti by The Little Ferraro Kitchen 

  • Thursday, December 12, 2013

    Cinnamon Raisin (Cranberry) Oatmeal Bread ~ #ChristmasWeek

    Welcome to Day #4 of Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen from Juanita's Cocina! Each day we will be celebrating the holidays with a different set of Christmas-themed treats, as well as a fabulous Christmas giveaway. We hope you enjoy this fabulous event. Tune in each day starting today, Monday, December 9th and ending Saturday, December 14th.


    Ahhh... cinnamon!  Wafting through your kitchen it seems to be the aroma of the holidays.  From cookies to cider to steaming French Toast, cinnamon is nearly universally welcomed.  We love our cinnamon treats, but with the cookie and treat overload these past few weeks, I've tried to incorporate holidayish flavors into a hearty and healthy bread.

    Personally, I find making homemade bread incredibly fulfilling.  Knowing exactly what ingredients are in my loaf allows me to tweak the bread as I see fit for that day.  Need something more healthy?  We can always add more grains.  Need a bit of a treat?  A nice white loaf usually does the trick.  But want something in between?  We've got the answer right here in this soft, tender Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Bread.

    Hearty with whole oats, yet sweet with cinnamon and either raisins or cranberries, this bread makes fabulous toast and a mean PBJ.  French Toast becomes extra special with a double dose of cinnamon and a drizzle of pure maple syrup, and with each serving the bread brings servings of heart healthy fiber and whole grains.

    So why not join me in a slice and a cup of tea as we visit the rest of today's #ChristmasWeek participants?  I'm certain they have treats to make us swoon!
    And that brings us to today's giveaway courtesy of Swissmar.   Le Cordon Bleu has been a worldwide leader in gastronomy and hospitality for over 100 years and is widely considered the guardian of French culinary technique.   Swissmar now combines this culinary expertise with their own knowledge and brand recognition to introduce this fantastic new line.   The Le Cordon Bleu ceramic ovenware from Swissmar is all freezer safe, oven safe, dishwasher and microwave safe.  The French-inspired Charmant Collection 5 qt. Rectangular Roaster has scalloped edges and is beautiful enough to go straight from oven to table.  Want one for yourself??  Enter to win a Swissmar Roaster  with the Rafflecopter below! 

    ***This giveaway is for one Swissmar Charmant Collection 5 qt. Rectangular Roaster (winner's choice of color: blue, yellow, red, or white).  This giveaway is open to Continental US residents only.  When the contest concludes, the winner will be chosen by random draw.  The winner will be notified through e-mail and they will have 3 days to respond or another winner will be chosen.***

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Monday, December 9, 2013

    Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Glazes

    Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | Liv Life

    Welcome to Christmas Week, a multi-blogger event co-hosted by Kim of Cravings of a Lunatic and Jen from Juanita's Cocina! Each day we will be celebrating the holidays with a different set of Christmas-themed treats, as well as a fabulous Christmas giveaway.  We hope you enjoy this celebratory event and that you will tune in each day starting today, Monday, December 9th and ending Saturday, December 14th.


    Chocolate Pumpkin Cake | Liv Life
    Usually I'm behind the power curve when it comes to getting involved in blogging events, but this week I'm actually involved!  Celebrating all things Christmas with a multitude of blogger friends, we're bringing you treats for the holiday as well as a giveaway every day.  Liv Life will be participating today, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, but don't forget to keep an eye out for posts on Tuesday and Friday as there's a new giveaway in combination with delectable treats each and every day!

    Today we're bringing one of our favorite Christmas Treats.  (Well... I know I'm supposed to post Christmas treats, but I have to admit that this Chocolate Pumpkin Cake is something that I stock up on seasonal pumpkin for as we've been known to bring it to summer bbq's as well).  But for today, it's for Christmas, and a wonderful addition to any Christmas Party it is.

    With the indulgence of the season, this cake with it's lower fat content and a touch of whole grains is one I love to make for the holiday season.  Adding pumpkin puree kicks up the nutrition content even more, and while I don't think we can really call it "health food", it's definitely not as indulgent as some of the other treats we've been sampling these last few weeks.

    Chocolaty and doused in not just one, but two spiced glazes, this moist cake goes a long way to serve a crowd.  Sliced into thin slices, we've been known to get nearly 20 pieces out of one cake, and it's so popular, often there are no leftovers for me to bring home.  Decadent chocolate enhanced with seasonal spices... this one has earned its place on the top of our favorite list.

    And now that we've had a treat... how about that giveaway I mentioned??

    Today's #ChristmasWeek giveaway comes courtesy of Magimix by Robot-Coupe. Magimix has an impressive history, and is the inventor of the first food processor for home cooks. Their machines are still handmade in Burgundy, France, and they are the only company to manufacture their own motors which feature a 30 year guarantee!  Chefs Catalog is offering a new, exclusive Magimix by Robot-Coupe 3200XL 12-Cup Food Processor package.  The food processor features nested bowls, stainless steel blades, and a large feed tube.  The included blender attachment transforms the processor into a fully-functional blender, and the citrus press is ideal for extracting juice from all types of fresh fruits.   To enter, read the details and use the Rafflecopter below!

    ***This giveaway is for one Magimix by Robot-Coupe 3200XL 12-Cup Food Processor (in white)! This giveaway is open to Continental US residents only . When the contest concludes, the winner will be chosen by random draw. The winner will be notified through e-mail and they will have 3 days to respond or another winner will be chosen.***

    I'm so happy to be participating in #ChristmasWeek this year, and thrilled to be writing alongside some fabulous food bloggers.  Give them a visit and see what they brought to the table!

  • Coconut Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Covered Spoons by Cravings of a Lunatic
  • Chocolate Shortbread Bars by Juanita's Cocina
  • Peppermint Mocha Cupcakes by Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
  • Frosted Sugar Cookies by Dinners, Dishes, and Desserts
  • Peppermint Mocha Brownie Cookies by Chocolate Moosey
  • Holiday Pinwheels by That Skinny Chick Can Bake
  • Cranberry Pistachio Eggnog Bark by See Aimee Cook
  • Chocolate Peppermint Donuts by The Girl In The Little Red Kitchen
  • Cranberry-Orange Gin Fizz by The Messy Baker
  • Pokey Fudge by Ninja Baking
  • Vanilla Wafer Holiday Bark by Dizzy Busy and Hungry
  • Peanut Butter n' Jelly Thumbprints by The Little Ferraro Kitchen
  • Buckeyes by My Catholic Kitchen
  • Coconut Cream Tres Leches Cake by The Dutch Baker's Daughter
  • Gluten-free Cinnamon Star Cookies by Masala Herb
  • Nanny's Pecan Pie by Food Lust People Love
  • Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies by Jen's Favorite Cookies
  • My Mother-in-law's Fudge by Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker
  • Peppermint Brownie Pops by Home Cooking Memories
  • Chocolate Cherry Hazelnut Fudge by Rants From My Crazy Kitchen
  • Flourless Peanut Butter Nutella S'Mores by Cupcakes & Kale Chips
  • Cranberry Yogurt Cookies by Mom's Test Kitchen
  • Chocolate Pumpkin Bundt Cake by Liv Life
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter No Bake Cookies by Try Anything Once Culinary
  • Peppermint Fudge by Like Mother Like Daughter

  • Chocolate Pumpkin Cake with Spiced Glazes

    Saturday, December 7, 2013

    Hershey's Classic Peanut Blossoms

    Peanut buttery with a delightful sugar crunch and kissed with a touch of chocolate, most everyone loves these classic cookies.  For many of us, the Peanut Blossom transports us back to our childhood, while faces of kids today shine with recognition as they eagerly reach for seconds.

    I'm guessing Mrs. Freda Smith, of Gibonsburg, Ohio had no idea the impact her recipe would have on generations to follow when she entered the 9th Annual Pillsbury Bake-off in 1957.  While she didn't win the Grand Prize, the popularity of her cookies have far outreached the Accordion Treats brought by the 1957 Grand Prize Winner, Gerda Roderer.

    With adaptations made and published by numerous companies, it was the Hershey Company that acted on a hunch and printed Mrs. Smith's Peanut Blossom recipe on the back of packages of their Hershey Kisses.  Slightly less sweet and with a bigger peanut butter punch, the Hershey version remains my personal favorite.

    Freda may not have been Bake-Off winner, but she will forever be thanked and appreciated by the millions who have enjoyed her sugary peanut butter/chocolate combo for over 55 years.  A true classic, no cookie repertoire is complete without this recipe.  Thanks Freda.

    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    Rustic Orange Pistachio Biscotti with Cranberries

    December, for me, usually represents a touch of indulgence.  Somehow because it's the "holiday season" I give myself permission for that 3rd or 4th cookie on the plate, the extra cheese and crackers with my wine, and one more piece of Mom's Rocky Road Candy that I'm devouring even though it's safely hidden in the freezer.  Knowing I really won't get back on the full healthy eating track until after the New Year, I try to add healthier ingredients where I can, and I'm feeling pretty darn good about these Rustic Pistachio Biscotti.

    Biscotti, with their low fat content, tend to be a healthier choice when cookie indulging, but adding nuts, cranberries and whole wheat flours to the mix makes them an even better choice in my book.

    Receiving a care package from the lovely people at Hodgson Mill, their box arrived just in time for my baking duties for a fundraiser for Liv's high school dance team where these biscotti received the ultimate compliment.  Set out as part of an array of treats for an afternoon fashion show and tea, one of the grandfathers in attendance proclaimed these biscotti "The best treat on the table!"  As my heart swelled with pride, I felt pleased knowing these treats brought a healthier cookie choice to the event.

    Choosing Hodgson Mill's White Whole Wheat Flour, I feel I can easily incorporate whole wheats into my baked goods while still keeping the treat, well... sweet.

    Rustic Orange Pistachio Biscotti with Cranberries
    White whole wheat is named for it's lighter color, and while it's actually tan, the flour lends a lighter, whiter color than its red-colored cousin.  Milder and sweeter than the red wheat, I use the white wheat frequently in cookies, pancakes, muffins and other baked good where I don't want a heavy wheat look and/or flavor.

    Hodgson Mill is a flour I often turn to as I know their flours have no added chemicals or preservatives and they aren't bleached.  Stone ground at Hodgson Mill's mill, this whole wheat flour includes the entire healthy wheat kernel including the bran, germ and endosperm bringing fiber along with all the nutrients, protein and minerals the wheat plant grew.

    Want to try Hodgson Mill flours for yourself?  First off Hodgson Mill is offering a $1.00 off coupon for a 5lb bag of flour or cornmeal, but better yet, they have provied us the opportunity to run a giveaway in celebration of their 25 Days of Grain Holiday for a prize pack filled with Hodgson Mill goodies (Gluten Free option available - Prize valued at $25).

    ~ Hodgson Mills #GRAINholiday Giveaway ~
    The Fine Print...

    • No purchase necessary
    • Open only to residents of the United States (no P.O. Boxes please...)
    • Duration:  Wednesday December 4rd through Tuesday, December 10th at noon PST
    • Use PromoSimple Widget to enter
    • Winner will be selected by PromoSimple within 48 hours of the sweepstakes closing and contacted by email. Winners have 24 hours to respond to their notification email to claim their prize. If they do not respond, another winner will be chosen. All prizes will be awarded.
    • Prize Description:  
      Whole Wheat Prize Assortment:
      ·         A copy of the Hodgson Mill Cookbook
      ·         1 2LB bag Whole Wheat Flour
      ·         1 bag 9-Grain Bread Mix
      ·         1 box Whole Wheat Angel Hair Pasta
      ·         1 package Quinoa & Brown Rice (Garlic and Herb flavor)
      ·         1 package Steel Cut Oats
      ·         A variety of promotional products spatula, measuring spoon, pizza cutter
      Gluten Free Assortment:
      ·         A copy of the Hodgson Mill Cookbook
      ·         1 package Gluten Free Brown Rice w/ Golden Milled Flax Seed
      ·         1 box Gluten Free Sweet Yellow Cornbread mix
      ·         1 package Gluten Free Seasoned Coating Mix
      ·         1 package Quinoa & Brown Rice (Garlic and Herb flavor)
      ·         A variety of promotional products spatula, measuring spoon, pizza cutter
    • Giveaway sponsored by Hodgson Mills
    I can't tell you how envious I am of the lucky winner here... I'd love to see a copy of that cookbook!  For additional info and ways to win Hodgson Mills products be sure to check out their "25 Days of GRAIN Holiday” Sweepstakes!

    Rustic Orange Pistachio Biscotti with Cranberries

    Tuesday, December 3, 2013

    Homemade Whole Grain Bread

    Full holiday mode has filled our life for the last few weeks, and as such, I've been living the life of indulgence.  But with schedules bouncing us from even to event, I'm embarrassed to admit I've occasionally considered a whole grain peanut butter cookie to be lunch (protein and whole grains... right??).  Needless to say, my menu planning has been a bit sketchy.

    However... thanks to an offer from the fabulous people at Kroger, we've been the lucky recipient of their new line of Private Selection Finishing Butters.  And thanks to this offer, my meal planning suddenly took a turn for the better.

    Receiving their entire line on a Monday, our busiest day of the week with Liv's schedule putting her through a 14 hour day of school and dance rehearsals, I needed to have dinner on the table perfectly timed for her 1 hour break.

    With chicken being a frequent request, I had a beautiful bird ready to roast, but I had forgotten to make the rub.  Enter Kroger's Lemon, Garlic and Herb Butter!

    Quickly melting the already seasoned butter I simply rubbed it onto the chicken and had him in the oven and me out the door to gather Liv in no time.  Arriving home to the house filled with restaurant-like aromas, Liv tucked into the chicken and proclaimed it "One of the best ever."  When she asked how I made it so good, I simply told her it was a new recipe I put together, to which she replied, "Good... make sure not to lose this one!".  (Sorry Kroger... I didn't tell her how easy it was!!  Nor did I share the recipe credit...)

    Thanksgiving week brought a little extra time along with homemade dinner rolls, and a brush of the Roasted Garlic and Herb Butter lent a nice touch to the top of our freshly baked rolls, again, making me look good.  Leisurely mornings with French Toast?  A dollop of the Cinnamon and Brown Sugar Butter gave breakfast a special touch, and once again... cooking kudos for me.

    But my favorite of the week had to be this Homemade Whole Grain Bread topped with Premium Selection Honey Butter.  I've always had a weak spot for a sweet honey butters, but I have to admit I don't always take the time to make them.  With Kroger's Honey Butter sitting already prepared in the fridge, a simple brush of the melted butter proved to be the perfect finish.

    I can't thank Kroger enough for giving us the opportunity to try the butters, but even better... Kroger providing us a giveaway that includes a Private Selection Kit filled with a sweet and savory inspired selection of Private Selection Items along with a $100 Kroger (can also be used at Ralph's) Gift Card to one of our readers!

    -This Giveaway is Closed-

    Private Selection Sweet  Savory Kit and Kroger Gift Card Giveaway Rules
    • No purchase necessary
    • Open only to residents of the United States
    • Duration:  Tuesday December 3rd through Monday, December 9th at noon PST
    • Use PromoSimple Widget to enter
    • Winner will be selected by PromoSimple within 48 hours of the sweepstakes closing and contacted by email. Winners have 24 hours to respond to their notification email to claim their prize. If they do not respond, another winner will be chosen by PromoSimple. All prizes will be awarded.
    • Prize Description:  The giveaway includes a Private Selection Kit filled with a sweet and savory inspired selection of Private Selection items and a $100 Kroger family of stores gift card.
    • Giveaway sponsored by Kroger
    Many thanks to Kroger for making me look good these last few weeks even though my schedule hasn't really allowed for special planning.  We appreciate the opportunity to try the finishing butters and also to share them.

    But, how about that bread recipe??  Deemed a new favorite in the Liv Life household, we've had 3 loaves in the last week alone and I can't see our love stopping any time soon.  Filled with whole grains, this bread provides soft, tender slices for sandwiches and also toasts like a dream.  Enjoy!

    Sunday, December 1, 2013

    Kahlua Brownie Kisses

    Kahlua Brownie Kisses

    Receiving the motivation I needed a few weeks back, I've kicked myself into the holiday spirit.  According to Liv, there are moms out there (and apparently I wasn't one of them..) who allegedly make the holidays super fun with their sheer joy in everything holiday.  Well... starting with Halloween I've been working on my attitude.  We had Halloween decorations and desserts to share, and then moved smoothly into Thanksgiving with family and friends and a home filled with fabulous food cheer.

    Homemade Kahlua
    Click for Homemade Kahlua recipe
    Transitioning to the somewhat shortened Christmas season, I'm hereby making the most of these few short weeks with the house sporting its holiday finest, spirited baking adventures in the kitchen and gift wrapping already in progress.

    I have to admit that the gift planning part is one of my favorite activities of the holiday season, and finding that perfect gift for those I'm thankful to have in my life truly brings joy to my heart. 

    And now, I have these fabulous Kahlua Brownie Kisses featuring a splash of this year's fresh batch of Homemade Kahlua.  Rich, chocolaty and somewhat irresistible, these little kisses are the perfect treat for a holiday get together or a last minute hostess gift.  See below for the recipe.

    A wonderful way to share a taste of holiday cheer, these ultra luscious and Kahlua laced ganache brings a lovely topping to these rich, fudgy brownies.  Easy to make and a definitely a chocolate lover's dream, these kisses make a fabulous addition to any holiday platter and will bring a smile to the face of someone special.

    Kahlua Brownie Kisses

    Tuesday, November 26, 2013

    Irresistible Orange Sweet Potatoes with Almond Streusel

    Some dishes only come around a few times a year.  And while I  really can't think of a good reason to wait an entire year for something so good, we do.  While we do eat Sweet Potatoes often, these orange laced, incredible, awesome, fabulous, luscious, irresistible, exquisite, heavenly, sumptuous sweet potatoes usually only find their way to or table around the holidays and I savor each and every bite.  Why I wait all year to make something I love so much I don't know, but, a holiday tradition for years, these sweet potatoes are something I can't have Thanksgiving without.

    Laced with the essence of orange and enhanced with a generous splash of my beloved Grand Marier, this sidedish is low on added sugar and butter and relies on fresh ingredients to bring that luscious mouth-feel and flavor to the plate.  Sprinkled with a toasted streusel of almond and a touch of paprika, these sweets aren't your over the top ooey-gooey marshmallow topped sweets of your childhood.  They're so much better.

    I'll admit I've tried for the last 3 years to bring a decent photograph to you, and even though I'm still not thrilled with this year's shots, I've decided this recipe is just too good not to share.  My favorite Thanksgiving dish of all time, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!  Happy Holidays my friends!!

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    Fine Cooking's Linzer Cookies... a Food Photography Challenge

    Little Window Cookies... that's what we've called Linzer cookies since Liv dubbed them such some 10 years ago.  Thin, tender and sightly sweet, these hazelnut/almond shortbread treats bring a festive flair to any holiday table, and with this month's Inspired Plate Theme being Festive Food Fare, our choice didn't take much thought.

    Evolving from the Austrian Linzer Torte, a lattice designed pastry traditionally filled with black currant jam, the Linzer Cookie's most popular filling tends to be raspberry, but any flavor will do.  I'll admit to raspberry being my personal favorite, but we've used strawberry and blueberry jam with equal success and Thanksgiving brings the perfect occasion to use some of that jewel-colored cranberry sauce you may have hanging around.

    The cookies alone are quite crisp (I love that!), but will soften up after being filled with the jam.  Hence, if your preference is a crispier cookie you may want to fill the cookies the day of serving.  While I love a good crisp cookie, I can't get enough of these "little windows" a day or two after filling when the flavors have melded and the cookie has softened to a nice tender bite.

    Now won't you join me all the way on the other side of the world as we join Inspired Plate Member, the newly graduated, Dr. Sabrina Wong, a food photographer from Perth Australia.  I'm eager to see her festive food and I'm totally envious of her holidays in summer!

    Saturday, November 23, 2013

    DIY Homemade Kahlua ~ 3 Versions

    DIY Homemade Kahlua

    Spirits of the alcoholic sort aren't usually my thing... however a 2008 Christmas gift of a homemade bottle of Kahlua became a treasure I savored for years.  Rich, sweet and bursting with mocha flavors, this coffee liquor is a fabulous treat over crushed ice, or for me, it's become a holiday baking ingredient I can't live without. 

    I'll admit I had never tasted the liquor before my girlfriend gave me a bottle, but polishing off the bottle in a matter of months I begged for another the following Christmas.  Now out of Kahlua again, it's time I learned to make this necessity myself.  And who knew it was so easy?  With only 5 ingredients (including water), Kahlua mixes together in less than 20 minutes and then needs a just a few weeks to infuse with heavenly vanilla to bring it to its full potential.

    DIY Homemade Kahlua
    A simple internet search brings a plethora of recipes, each bringing its own variance to the table, or shall we say, to the bottle.  White vs. brown sugar, rum vs. vodka, and brewed vs. instant coffee, each variation allows one to bring one's own touch to the concoction, be it traditional or not.

    For our first experiment, we decided to keep to the basics - coffee, vodka, granulated sugar and vanilla beans.  My quandary though, became brewed or instant coffee?  Unable to decide, I made batches of both.

    Advice from a facebook post on DIY Kahlua brought agreement on one thing in particular... good coffee.   Most responders recommended using the best coffee available, and let me just note here that knowledge of making a good, strong cup of brewed coffee is a plus (and perhaps not my forte...).

    As for the alcohol, the general consensus had me using a nice medium grade vodka, not too cheap, but definitely not the top shelf stuff.  And vanilla beans?  I like to use the best, and for me, my one stop shop is Beanilla.  Having used their beans and bottles for our general baking as well as DIY gifts for the last few years, I wouldn't think of using anything else.

    DIY Homemade Kahlua
    Being somewhat of a traditionalist, my first batch included freshly brewed coffee.  Might I just mention here that my husband is the coffee maker in the house, and my "strong" freshly brewed coffee left much to be desired.  Hence, I found my first batch of Kahlua to be somewhat weak - if you are a good coffee maker though, you may have better luck.

    My second batch however, following the Beanilla recipe with instant coffee (we used  Medaglia D'Oro Instant Espresso Coffee), proved to be more traditional and brought a rich, dark coffee liquor immediately begging to be tasted.

    Our conclusion to the DIY Kahlua experiment recommends using very strong coffee if you use freshly brewed, or better yet, stick with the majority of the recipes out there and use a premium instant brand for an even stronger result.

    Agreeing with our facebook poll we suggest:

    ~  Good coffee ~
    ~  Decent Vodka ~
    ~  Excellent Vanilla ~

    DIY Homemade Kahlua