Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Need a last minute Valentine's idea? Make your own chocolate covered strawberries for your sweetheart!

Chocolate covered strawberries are a popular gift for Valentine's day. They can be a little pricey if you purchase them, so I always opt to make my own. All you need is a good-quality chocolate, fresh strawberries, and some white chocolate for drizzling.

To ensure that the strawberries stay nice and fresh, I wash them in a 4-to-1 solution of water and vinegar (you can find more details on the method here). Allow the berries to soak for a little bit, drain, and pat dry with paper towels. Washing the fruit with a little bit of vinegar kills bacteria and helps the berries stay fresher, longer.

To melt the chocolate, I prefer to use the double-boiler method but have included microwave instructions if you opt . No matter which way you do it, you need to stay right by the chocolate--don't walk away! Semisweet or milk chocolate is best for melting. I've tried to use dark chocolate, but it does not melt as well. You really need a chocolate that has enough fat to melt to the right consistency. Once the chocolate is melted, dip your strawberries and decorate with melted white chocolate.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  • 4-5 ounces white chocolate chips

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Rinse strawberries and pat dry with paper towels (you can find my method for washing fruit here).

2. Fill a medium size saucepan one-third of the way with water. Bring the water to a light simmer. Pour semisweet chips and a smaller size saucepan and place saucepan into the simmering water. Once chocolate begins to melt, stir continuously with a rubber spatula until melted and smooth.

3. Dip Strawberries into melted chocolate and place on parchment paper. Melt white chocolate chips in the same manner and pour into a small Ziploc bag. Cut off one corner of the bag and pipe melted white chocolate onto the dipped strawberries. Refrigerate strawberries for 30 minutes or until chocolate is set. Enjoy!

Microwave instructions: Place chips into microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium to low power in 15 sec increments. Stir well after each increment until chocolate is smooth. This should only take 30-45 seconds total for the amount of chocolate used.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vegetable Beef Soup

My personal take on a comfort food favorite: vegetable beef soup. Slow-simmered and full of flavor.

It's New Year's Eve and what am I doing? I've got my sweat pants on and am snuggled up in my favorite blanket watching cooking shows. Yep, New Year's Eve is a pretty uneventful holiday in our house. There's no staying up until midnight for us. Just food, TV, Wii games, and to bed at a normal time.

I was fortunate to take this week off of work. My husband is a teacher so I always try to plan to take some time off during his breaks. It's been a much welcome break this week to have some time to rest and recharge.

Lady has loved the extra snuggle time
I love having the time to cook more when I'm off and away from work. But, in case we make plans, I like to have plenty of leftovers so we can make a quick meal. I made a pot of this vegetable beef soup at the beginning of the week for us have on hand.We had it for dinner one night and will probably get two lunches out of it.

I've had many different kinds of vegetable beef soup. Most everyone I know has a rendition of it with some of the ingredients varying. It's the kind of soup you can make with whatever you have in your pantry/refrigerator. I've been known to make the soup without one or two of the vegetables and it still turns out great.

I wasn't always a fan of this soup. I've had a few versions that were awfully bland, so I have tweaked my version to be flavorful and satisfying. Start by browning the beef and sauteing the onions, celery, garlic, and tomato paste. Assemble the rest of the soup and throw it in the oven for a little over an hour. I like to simmer mine in the oven, but you can easily simmer it on the stove top or throw it in the crock pot and it will turn out just as good.

One thing I've discovered, is that it is best to let the soup rest after cooking for the best texture. I'm not sure if there is a scientific explanation behind it, but I have found that if I serve it immediately, the potatoes tend to fall apart. Once you've take it out of the oven, allow the soup to sit covered for about 20 minutes and uncovered for an additional 5. This allows the soup to cool to a more manageable temperature and the potatoes absorb some of the liquid and firm back up.

Soup always seems to taste better the second day, so this makes great leftovers!

Vegetable Beef Soup

  • 1 lb. ground chuck
  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely minced
  • 1 large stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, smashed and finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1-14.5 ounce can cut green beans
  • 1-14.5 ounce petite diced tomatoes
  • 5-6 medium to large size potatoes
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 32 ounces (4 cups) low-sodium beef broth
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar
  • 4-5 bay leaves 
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a dutch oven (5 quart size or larger), brown chuck over medium high heat. Break into small pieces as it browns (I like to use a potato masher to break it into even size pieces). Season with 1 teaspoon of salt. Pour beef into strainer and wipe dutch oven clean. Return dutch oven to stove top and heat canola oil over medium-low heat. Saute onions and celery until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and saute for another minute or until the paste deepens in color.

2. Stir in green beans (including the green bean water from the can), diced tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, corn, peas, bay leaves, sugar, and pepper. At this point, I don't think it is necessary to add additional salt (since we seasoned the beef and the broth is already lightly salted). Taste at the end and see if it needs extra salt. Add in ground chuck and beef broth. Make sure everything is submerged under the broth and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, cover with the lid and transfer to preheated oven and bake for one hour and fifteen minutes.

3. Carefully remove the dutch oven from the oven and allow the soup to sit, covered for 15-20 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with biscuits or crackers.

Yields: 6-8 servings

Source: Tasteful Cuisine (and adapted from the many vegetable beef soup recipes I've tasted).

Happy New Year! I wish you a happy and prosperous 2015.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas M&M Cookies

Merry Christmas Eve! Here is a last minute cookie idea for your holiday baking.

One thing I have not been able to do much this month is bake. I've had a fairly busy month at work, and by the time I get home, baking is not what I want to do. It's kind of sad because Christmas cookie baking has always been one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. Sometimes it stinks being an adult and not having the time to do the things you want to do.

Okay, sorry about the pity party. This month has just flown by too fast for me to enjoy it! Thankfully I'll have a little time off these next couple of days and next week so I can do some late, holiday baking.

I did manage to bake these beautiful cookies for a Christmas party and Christmas program this last weekend. I decided to freeze an extra batch and baked some this afternoon for one our of Christmas dinners.

M&M cookies are one of my favorites and come in to a close second to my all time favorite: chocolate chip. For this recipe, I use my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. I combine mini chips and holiday M&M's to create a beautiful Christmas cookie.

Christmas M&M Cookies


  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup mini-chocolate chips
  • 1-12 ounce bag holiday M&M baking bits

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients. Set aside.
2. Using a hand or stand mixer (or a bit of elbow grease), cream butter and shortening together until combined. About one minute. Add the sugars and cream for an additional 3 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the eggs and vanilla and mix until incorporated and fluffy. Stir in dry ingredients until combined, do not over mix. Fold in the chocolate chips and M&M's
3. Roll cookie dough into tablespoon size balls. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing them 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes. Move cookies to a wire baking rack to cool.

Yields: About 5 dozen cookies

 Thank you for visiting and reading my blog! I appreciate all of my Tasteful Cuisine followers.
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas! 

Here is another Christmas cookie favorite...