Happy Holidays

December and November have been a couple of quiet months around Our Life in Food. It’s not because we haven’t been trying and enjoying new recipes (we have!), but the winter months are really just so frustrating for me when it comes to food blogging. The absence of natural light in the evenings really leads to a lot of trouble when it comes to taking photos of food.

But we’re still here :) Brandon and I have been enjoying our share of holiday treats (including this beautiful glass of Jolly Pumpkin Christmas beer), and I’m so excited to get back to food blogging on a regular basis in the new year. Brandon and I exchanged our Christmas gifts a few days early before heading off to visit family, and Brandon bought me the best gift that a food blogger could ask for – a DSLR camera! (!) I can’t wait to make Our Life in Food so much better than it has ever been. :)

Until then, we want to wish you a happy holiday season. We’re looking forward to better things here on the blog in the next couple of weeks!

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Amaretto Almond Tiramisu

Inspiration: We don’t make desserts around our place often (I would eat them all.day.long.), but when we do, I like to make sure that they’re rich and indulgent and worth it. I would guess Brandon’s favorite desserts to be brownies, tiramisu, and baklava, and one of his very favorite flavorings is almond. He’s been lobbying for this tiramisu ever since I made it a year or two back, so I figured that his birthday this year would be the perfect time to make it again. Happy 27th B :)

What we Loved: Everything? Ever since I first made this recipe, I’ve been disappointed in any other piece of tiramisu that I’ve had. Regular tiramisu just isn’t as good anymore as a piece of tiramisu with a fabulous added almond flavor. I mix almond extract in with the mascarpone and Amaretto in with the coffee (hazelnut coffee, at that!), and the result is an over-the-top nutty almond flavor that we both just love. It’s creamy and cakey, with rich and indulgent almond-chocolate-coffee flavors. What’s not to love?

Helpful Hints: I have four pieces of advice for this recipe. The first is to follow it exactly. The first time that I made this, I decided to use about half as many ladyfingers, because I wanted the tiramisu to be extra creamy. I also used a deep, oddly shaped casserole dish, and I didn’t beat the cream long enough. The result was a delicious dessert, but it never even came close to setting. So it was a delicious, creamy, somewhat soupy dessert :) Followed exactly, though, the consistency is perfect.

My second piece of advice is not to skimp on the almond flavorings, even if the amounts seem outrageous. I use an entire bottle of extract in the cream mixture, but I really think that every drop is needed. One of my pet peeves is recipes that claim to be almond or blueberry or whatever flavor that they claim to be, then only have a trace aftertaste of that ingredient. This recipe is almond through and through. You can even taste the delicious amaretto in the ladyfingers.

Thirdly, make sure to use a mesh sieve for sprinkling the cocoa. I’ve tried by hand, and it really doesn’t work.

And lastly, I would recommend chilling this overnight. Some tiramisu recipes call for as little as 5-6 hours in the fridge, but I’ve really found that overnight is best.

Amaretto Almond Tiramisu
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Cook’s Illustrated

Here’s the recipe as I made it.

2 1/1 cups brewed coffee, room temperature (I used hazelnut)
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso granules
5 tablespoons Amaretto (I used Disaronno)
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds mascarpone
1 fluid oz almond extract (I used one McCormick bottle)
3/4 cup cold heavy cream
14 ounces (42-60, depending on size) dried ladyfingers
3 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1. Stir the coffee, espresso, and 5 tablespoons of Amaretto in a wide bowl until the espresso dissolves.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the yolks at low speed until just combined. Add the sugar and salt, and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice. Add the mascarpone, and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Add the bottle of almond extract, and beat for 30 more seconds. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

3. In the now-empty mixer bowl (no need to clean the bowl), beat the cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes. Increase the speed to high, and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1-1/2 minutes longer. Using a spatula, fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain.

4. Working one at a time, drop a ladyfinger into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to a 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Do not submerge the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture. The entire process should take just a few seconds for each cookie.

5. Arrange the soaked cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking or trimming the ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into the dish.

5. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers. Use a spatula to spread the mixture to the sides and into the corners of the dish and to smooth the surface.

6. Place 2 tablespoons of cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer, and dust the cocoa over the mascarpone.

7. Repeat steps 4-6 with the remaining ingredients.

8. Cover the dish with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Serve chilled.

Chocolate Truffles

Chocolate Truffles

Inspiration: I’ve made these chocolate truffles every year for Christmas gifts for the last four years, and if you follow my blog, you might remember that I posted about them last year. I always dedicate an entire day to making these right before Christmas, and I enjoy it so much that I wanted to update my post this year with my newer blog format and with better pictures.

What we Loved: These are one of our very favorite desserts, and B insists that I make them every year. Which is fine with me, because I love everything about the process of making them and everything about how they taste. To me, they’re just a part of Christmas! I use a ton of extract flavoring when I make these, because I really love the different flavors to punch you in the face as you bite into them. The flavorings definitely aren’t subtle in my truffles! Combined with plenty of chocolate, these are a very, very rich and decadent dessert. Which is just how we like our desserts to be :)

Helpful Hints: If you make a lot of these, it’s definitely an all-day (or two) process. I made eight different flavors this year, and it took me about ten hours, with only a break for supper. When I first started making these several years ago, though, I needed a few days to get them done. It’s a really slow process that I used to find frustrating at times. Often, the melted chocolate that you use to coat the truffles will  harden too quickly, which means that you have to re-temper the chocolate and add even more time onto the process. There’s definitely a lot of waiting and a lot of dishes involved. My biggest advice is to just give yourself plenty of time and to not care if your truffles aren’t as pretty and as perfect as you want them to be. They’ll still taste great, and it’s such a rewarding experience to see your counter covered in the hundreds of truffles that you made!

Chocolate Truffles
Source: Adapted from a recipe given to us by a friend of B’s

*This recipe will make approximately 60 truffles. I made four batches, dividing each filling in half before adding the extract. This gave me approximately 30 truffles for each of the eight flavors.

12 oz semisweet chocolate
9 tablespoons whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Extract flavorings of your choice

Additional chocolate (approximately 12 oz per batch, but this will vary quite a bit depending on your technique and how many truffles you make)
Desired toppings (I used almond flour for almond truffles, powdered sugar for coconut truffles, red sprinkles for cherry truffles, white chocolate stripes for banana truffles, cocoa powder for raspberry truffles, semisweet chocolate stripes for strawberry truffles, and no additional topping for orange truffles)

1. Melt the semisweet chocolate  in a double boiler. In another small saucepan, heat the whipping cream over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan (right before the cream starts boiling).

2. Mix the whipping cream into the chocolate to combine.

3. Add a tablespoon of butter and whisk until smooth. If desired, split the mixture into separate bowls before adding the extract, allowing you to make more flavors. Add the desired amount of extract to the chocolate mixture(s), and whisk until smooth. I use a lot of extract because I like the flavor to be strong (approximately half a bottle per half batch). It’s best to mix in a little extract and then taste the chocolate, adding more extract until you’re happy with the strength of the flavor.

4. Chill the chocolate mixture in the refrigerator until hardened, at least 1 hour.

5. Remove the mixture from the refrigerator. Using a spoon and your hands, form the mixture into truffle-sized balls and place on a wax paper- or foil-lined baking sheet. It helps to wash your hands often with very cold water while you are working, which will leave your hands cold and make it easier to work with the chocolate without melting it. When you’re finished rolling all of the truffles, place the sheet into the freezer to harden.

6. While the filling is hardening, melt about 9 oz of chocolate in a double boiler. Place a candy thermometer in the chocolate and heat it to 113 degrees F. Remove the top of the double boiler from the heat and place it on a pot holder or a towel on the counter. Add another 3 oz of chocolate to the pot, and mix to combine. Place the thermometer back into the chocolate and let it cool to 88 degrees. This process of tempering the chocolate will ensure that the chocolate coating for the truffles will be hard when it cools, instead of melting to the touch.

7. Drop a truffle into the tempered chocolate (one at a time), coating it quickly with a spoon and removing the truffle to a foil-lined sheet to dry. It takes some practice to get the coating on the truffles to look clean and pretty, but I’ve found that the best method is to roll the truffle off of a spoon onto the baking sheet, smoothing as necessary. After placing a chocolate coated truffle on the baking sheet, you will want to add any toppings to the truffle before the chocolate coating hardens. Work quickly, because the chocolate you are using for the coating will cool quickly, and your truffle fillings will begin to warm and melt.

8. When the chocolate you are using for the coating begins to cool to the point where you can’t work with it, heat it again in a double boiler to 113 degrees, and then let it cool back down to 88 degrees. Place your remaining truffle fillings back into the freezer until you’re ready to begin coating again.

9. Repeat Step 8 as necessary until all of the truffles are coated, adding more chocolate to melt as you run out (keeping the ratio at 2/3 melted, 1/3 added cold to the melted chocolate).

9. Refrigerate the coated truffles until hardened (approximately 15 minutes), then place in air-tight containers.

Pretzel, Hershey Kiss, and M&M Bites

Inspiration: I first had these little snacks a few years ago when my Mom brought some home from a friend at work who had made them. Then, I ran across them again a few weeks back  on The Cooking Photographer and was reminded of how good these little treats are. I had a family cookout coming up and decided to make these as a quick and easy snack to bring along.

What we Loved: These are just a really fun little variation on chocolate covered pretzels. I have always loved snacks like trail mixes or Chex mixes that are both salty and sweet, and that’s the reason that I love these so much. They’re not so much a dessert as a salty, chocolatey snack. Plus, they’re incredibly easy to make, and they travel well. I always love finding snacks that are easy to take along to a party.

Helpful Hints: With all of the different kinds of Hershey Kisses and M&Ms that there are now, you can use any number of different flavor combinations with these. You can also use Rolo candies instead of Hershey Kisses, like The Cooking Photographer did, and there are plenty of other little chocolates/toppings that could be used in place of the kisses or M&Ms. And of course, with M&Ms, you can always coordinate the colors for a holiday or season.

Pretzel, Hershey Kiss, and M&M Bites
Source: From my Mom’s work friend and The Cooking Photographer

Pretzel snaps
Hershey Kisses

1. Place the pretzel squares on a baking sheet, and top each one with a Hershey Kiss.

2. Cook for 3 minutes in a 200 degree oven.

3. Press an M&M into the center of each Hershey Kiss. Refrigerate for approximately 15-20 minutes or until cool.

Cherry Lemonade

Inpsiration: I was so excited when I walked into the grocery store last week and saw the first batch of fresh cherries in the produce section. To me, cherries just scream summer time, and there’s nothing like a bag of fresh cherries in my lunch on a sunny day. They’re one of those foods that just improve my mood by being so tasty and so summer. I always just eat them by the handful, but this year, I’ve been thinking of trying some recipes using fresh cherries. A nice cherry lemonade sounded like a perfect treat for a long holiday weekend.

What we Loved: B and I both agreed that this was the best lemonade we’ve ever had. It was tart and sour like you’d expect a lemonade to be, but also so sweet and cherry flavored. It was just delicious. And isn’t the color beautiful? We enjoyed this as an afternoon snack on Memorial Day after a nice bike ride. Perfect.

Helpful Hints: My only advice here is to make a lot! The below recipe just barely makes enough for two 8 oz glasses of lemonade (with ice), but B and I both really wished that we had more. I would double the recipe, or even make enough for a pitcher. This lemonade would be great for a summer party or BBQ.

Cherry Lemonade
Source: New York Times

1/2 cup cherries, pitted
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup cold water
4 tablespoons sugar

1. Blend all of the ingredients together in a blender.

2. Pour the lemonade through a sieve in order to collect the bits of cherry peels that remain unblended.

3. Serve over ice, garnished with fresh cherries.

White Chocolate Christmas Trail Mix

I love this Christmas candy. It’s so hard to stop eating it once I’ve started. B’s mom always makes it at Christmas, so I always associate it with Christmas time, but I suppose you could use any color M&Ms that you’d like and eat this at any time of the year. It’s sweet, salty, and very addicting :)

White Chocolate Christmas Trail Mix
Source: B’s Mom and a family friend  

*I divided the below recipe in half, and it still made enough to fill a large mixing bowl.

3 cups Cheerios
5 cups Crispix (I used Chex)
4 cups pretzels (I used mini twists)
3 cups peanuts
16 oz M&Ms
1 1/2 pounds white chocolate

1. Mix the Cheeros, Crispix, pretzels, peanuts, and M&Ms in a large mixing bowl.

2. Melt the white chocolate in a microwave or double boiler.

3. Pour the chocolate over the cereal mixture, and stir until everything is evenly coated.

4. Spread the mixture onto a wax paper- or foil-covered cookie sheet, and cool in the refrigerator until hardened. Break the mixture into chunks and store in an air-tight container.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie Cocktail

Strawberries, bananas, rum, vodka, tequila….delicious and nutritious, right? B’s the bartender at our house, and he mixed up this recipe for us. It was very tasty and refreshing, and don’t you love the color?

Strawberry Banana Smoothie Cocktail
Source: Original Recipe

2 medium bananas, chopped
3/4 quart of strawberries
3 shots of rum
3 shots of tequila
2 shots of vodka
1-2 trays of ice, depending on desired consistency

1. Place all ingredients in a blender, blend, and enjoy.