Archive for December, 2009

Chocolate Crinkles

For as long as I can remember, my family and I have been making Chocolate Crinkles during the holidays.  They are one of our favorite kinds of Christmas cookies, and every December we get together to bake these cookies (as well as a few other family favorites).  These cookies are moist, chewy, chocolatey, and delicious!

Recipe from: Betty Crocker

Chocolate Crinkles


  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted & cooled
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup powdered sugar


  1. In large bowl, mix oil, chocolate, granulated sugar and vanilla.  Stir in eggs, one at a time. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Cover; refrigerate at least 3 hours.
  2. Heat oven to 350°F.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls into powdered sugar; roll around to coat and shape into balls. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
  4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until almost no imprint remains when touched lightly in center. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.

Makes: 6 dozen cookies

Italian Sausage, Red Pepper, and Mushroom Risotto

A few nights ago, Eric and I made risotto for the first time.  Eric really likes risotto and often orders it in restaurants.  I haven’t had a lot of risotto (aside from a few random bites that I’ve tasted), so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this dish.  After reading the recipe and seeing that it had all of the ingredients that I love (Italian sausage, mushrooms, peppers, etc.), I figured it couldn’t be too bad.

This dish turned out to be amazing!  It far exceeded my expectations, and it was one of the best new recipes that we’ve made in a long time.  We devoured it that night, and then had the leftovers for lunch the next day.   It was great served with a simple side of steamed asparagus.  It was very filling so I recommend serving it with something light such as a salad or steamed vegetables.  I can’t wait to make this risotto again!

Recipe adapted from: Brown Eyed Baker blog, originally from Giada De Laurentiis

Italian Sausage, Red Pepper, & Mushroom Risotto


  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage, casing removed (2 Italian sausages)
  • ¾ cup finely chopped onion (approximately 1 small onion)
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper (we didn’t have a red pepper, so we used a green one)
  • ¾ cup chopped mushrooms (cremini or white buttons)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ cups Arborio rice
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped Italian parsley or basil


  1. In a medium saucepan bring the broth to a simmer. Cover the broth and keep warm over low heat.
  2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sausage and sauté, crumbling, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, and mushrooms and sauté until tender, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute.
  4. Add ½ cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 25 to 30 minutes total. Remove from the heat.
  5. Stir in ¾ of the Parmesan. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the parsley (or basil) and the remaining Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Serves: 4-6

A mixture of red & green bell peppers adds color to the dish.

Step 2: Add the onion, bell pepper, & mushrooms to the sausage and saute until the vegetables are tender.

Step 3: Add the rice and stir to coat.

Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies

My sister hosted Thanksgiving this year and asked me to bring a type of dessert.  I decided to make Peanut Butter Blossom cookies because I knew they would look nice on her dessert table and they are delicious.  (Who doesn’t like chocolate & peanut butter??)  To make the cookies a little more festive, I used a mixture of milk chocolate kisses, caramel kisses, and white chocolate hugs.  All of the desserts were delicious!

Beautiful Dessert Table

Recipe from: Hershey’s

Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies


  • 48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Granulated sugar


1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.

2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Sugar Cookies

One of the things I love about Christmas is that it gives me an excuse to bake lots of cookies.  Today I made my first batch of Christmas sugar cookies.  I used this recipe for the cookie dough and decorated the cookies with royal icing.

Here are a few photos:


Last year I made homemade croutons for the first time, and ever since then I have been hooked.  They are super easy to make and so much better than store bought ones.  I love to put them in soup, but they would be great for salads as well.

When I make these croutons for soup, I like to use herbs that complement the type of soup I am making. 

Some examples:

-          Butternut squash soup: sage

-          Minestrone soup: Italian seasoning, or any Italian herb

-          Broccoli soup: thyme

Adapted from: Real Simple



  • 1 white or wheat baguette, sliced into ½-1 inch cubes
  • 1-2 large clove garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh (or dried) herbs
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • cracked pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Toss all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl to coat. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until crisp and golden brown.

Broccoli Leek Soup topped with thyme-flavored croutons

Winter Minestrone Soup

Soup is one of my favorite things to make, especially on a cold day.  I love minestrone soup because it’s easy to make, healthy, and delicious.  I found this recipe on the Food Network’s website, and immediately knew after reading it that it would be a keeper.  And I was right- it really did live up to my expectations, and my husband said it was one of the best minestrone soups he’s had.

The pancetta gives the soup lots of flavor, and the vegetables make it healthy.  The nice thing about minestrone is that you can add whatever vegetables you have on hand.  I had planned on adding zucchini to the mix, but forgot to get it at the store, so I left it out.

This recipe is different than other minestrone soup recipes I have made because before adding the cannellini beans to the soup pot, they are pureed with broth.  This gives the soup a wonderful creamy texture.  My mini food processor worked great for pureeing the beans & broth, but you can also use a regular food processor or a blender.

Adapted from: Giada De Laurentiis


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • ¼ pound thinly sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup basil, chopped roughly
  • 1 russet potato, peeled, cubed (small cubes)
  • 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig or 2 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained & rinsed
  • ½ can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth
  • ½ cup small shaped pasta (mini shells work well)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • Salt and pepper


Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, pancetta, and garlic.  Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the potato; sauté for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, basil, thyme and rosemary. Simmer until the tomatoes break down, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend 3/4 cup of the cannellini beans with 1/4 cup of the broth in a processor until almost smooth. Add the pureed bean mixture, remaining broth, and Parmesan cheese to the vegetable mixture. Simmer until the potato pieces are tender, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes).

After the soup has been simmering for about 5 minutes, add the dried pasta and stir to mix.  Continue to let the pasta and potato cook for another 10 minutes or until the potato is tender and the pasta is almost fully cooked.  Then stir in the rest of the cannellini beans, kidney beans, and parsley. Simmer until the beans are heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Discard the rosemary sprig, if fresh rosemary was used (the leaves will have fallen off of the stem.)

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.  Top with additional Parmesan cheese if desired.

Serves: 4-6

Winter Minestrone Soup

Pomegranate Fizz Cocktail

The holidays are here!  This is a recipe for a simple and festive cocktail.  It would be great to serve at a Cocktail Party or New Year’s Eve Party.  The juice gives the drink a beautiful red color, and pomegranate juice is high in antioxidants, which is an added health bonus!

Source: Adapted from Shape Magazine, December 2009


Fill a champagne flute half to two-thirds full with pomegranate juice.

Then fill the glass to the top with champagne or sparkling wine.  (For a non-alcoholic version, substitute sparkling water or sprite for the champagne.)


Eggplant Timbale

Lately I have been attempting to try more recipes from my cookbook collection.  So last week I was flipping through this book, and came across this recipe for Eggplant Timbale.  It sounded interesting, and it seemed like a good opportunity to use my brand new spring form pan that was a wedding gift from my friend Meghan.  I don’t care for cheesecake, so pasta seemed like the perfect thing to bake in a spring form pan!

I made a few modifications to the recipe to tailor it to my taste, mainly by adding zucchini, using Parmesan cheese & part-skim mozzarella cheese instead of smoked mozzarella & Pecorino Romano, and substituting Chardonnay for the Marsala wine.  The resulting dish tasted great, but the spring form pan was a flop (literally!)  As soon as I turned the pan over to invert it onto the plate, (hoping to get a perfectly shaped timbale like the picture in Giada’s book), it completely flopped all over the plate & counter!

Perfectly assembled timbale in spring form pan

Collapsed timbale

It made me laugh because it totally caught me off guard.  When I was assembling the timbale, I was so careful to make it look perfect, and then it just completely collapsed all over the counter.  Nevertheless, it still tasted delicious.

I made this recipe again last night for a family dinner, and this time I assembled the timbale in a 13×9 inch Pyrex baking dish.  This worked MUCH better.  This recipe is a definite keeper & I will be making it again!

Success with the Pyrex baking dish

Eggplant Timbale

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis (Cookbook: ‘Giada’s Kitchen’)

Serves: 6-8 servings


-         1 medium eggplant, sliced ¼ inch thick

-         4-6 zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick

-         1/3 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

-         ½  teaspoon salt

-         ¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

-         1  pound penne pasta

-         1 medium onion, diced

-         1-2 cloves of garlic, minced

-         ½  pound ground beef

-         ½  pound sweet Italian pork sausage, removed from casings

-         ¼  cup dry white wine

-         1 cup frozen peas

-         4 cups marinara sauce

-         1 ½ cups shredded part skim mozzarella cheese

-         ½  cup grated Parmesan cheese

-         ¾  cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus 2 tbsp.


Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or pre-heat a gas or charcoal grill. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the eggplant slices with 1/3 cup olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Or you can just place the sliced eggplant/zucchini in a large bowl & toss with the olive oil & salt to coat).  Grill the eggplant & zucchini until tender and colored with grill marks, about 4 minutes per side. Set aside.  (Note: You can omit the eggplant & just use zucchini, if desired).

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally.  Drain pasta.

Meanwhile, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes.  Add the beef and Italian sausage, and brown the meat, breaking it into bite-sized pieces with a wooden spoon until fully cooked. Add the wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Add the peas and marinara, stir to combine, and simmer 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat. Stir in the basil and cooked pasta. Season with salt & pepper if desired.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 13×9 inch baking dish with the grilled eggplant and zucchini, alternating.  Then layer the pasta, mozzarella & parmesan cheeses, and top with another layer of eggplant & zucchini.  Repeat.  Top with one last layer of eggplant/zucchini to completely enclose the pasta.  Bake until warmed through and the cheese has melted, about 30 minutes.  Serve with the remaining Parmesan cheese & basil.  Enjoy!

pasta mixture

Cooking with Karen has a new look!

Check out ‘Cooking with Karen’s’ new & improved look.  The header photo and side bar were updated.   Another new feature: You can now subscribe to my blog’s RSS feeds by clicking on the “Subscribe” icon on the right-hand side bar.  And in case you were wondering, the cookie featured on the header is a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie.  The recipe will be posted sometime in the near future!

Butternut Squash Mashed Potatoes

A few years ago I had dinner at this restaurant in Lake Tahoe.  One of the side dishes on my plate was mashed potatoes that were orange colored.  They were delicious!  They were so good, I even asked the waiter what it was that made them orange.  He told me that it was a mixture of white potatoes & sweet potatoes.  I thought this was a brilliant idea, and ever since then I have wanted to make my own “orange” mashed potatoes.

Since I did not have sweet potatoes on hand, I decided to make butternut squash mashed potatoes.  I had a leftover butternut squash sitting on my counter that was not used for Thanksgiving, so I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to use it.  I quickly turned to Google to search for recipe inspiration, and I found this recipe from Epicurious.  After glancing it over and seeing the stellar reviews, I decided it was worth trying.

The mashed potatoes turned out excellent, and they were so easy to make.  They are a great alternative to regular mashed potatoes, and I will definitely be making them again.  They also look pretty on the plate because of the orange color.   I served them with a side of steamed broccoli and a chicken breast and it was a very easy, healthy, and yummy dinner!

Next time I will try making this recipe with sweet potatoes instead, just to compare.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit (December 1993)

Mashed Potatoes and Butternut Squash


- 2 large russet potatoes, peeled & cubed

- 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed

- 3 garlic cloves

- 2-3 tablespoons butter

- Salt

- Pepper


Bring 1 inch of water to boil in large pot. Set steamer rack in pot. Place potatoes, squash and garlic on rack. Cover pot and steam vegetables until tender, adding more water to pot if necessary, about 15 minutes.  Remove garlic cloves & discard.  Transfer vegetables to large bowl. Add the butter and mash vegetables until fairly smooth.  (If desired, add a little warm milk to reach desired consistency).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

(Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Reheat uncovered in 350°F oven for 30 minutes.)

Yield: 4-6 servings

I served these mashed potatoes with a chicken breast and side of steamed broccoli.

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