Maraschino Jelly makes everything better

Maraschino Jelly makes everything better

Maraschino Cherry Jelly

Some things just seem too good to give up even when you get older.  Maraschino cherries are one of those things.  Every kid loves them, they make a soda turn into a Shirley Temple and you just can’t have ice cream sundaes without one.  This recipe has been around forever I’m sure, but is still a great way to keep the taste around.  Because of the recent cupcakes, I had a large jug of cherry juice left so I made a giant batch of jelly (I multiplied the recipe by 4 since I had four cups of juice).


1 cup of maraschino cherry juice

1/2 cup of sugar

3 TBS liquid pectin


Mix the sugar and juice and bring to a full roiling boil and let it boil for 2-3 minutes.  Add the pectin and boil for another minute.  Pour into jars and sterilize, or if you intend to use it right away, pour into a clean container and refrigerate.

The Daring Baker’s Challenge:  Strawberry Vanilla and Maraschino Cherry Panna Cotta with Florentines

The Daring Baker’s Challenge: Strawberry Vanilla and Maraschino Cherry Panna Cotta with Florentines

Strawberry Vanilla Panna Cotta with Florentines

Maraschino Cherry Panna Cotta

Strawberry Panna Cotta

Florentine Cookies

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.  This one was perfect for me and my favorite so far – two of my favorites creamy and cookies!  I decided to make maraschino cherry layers because I had some maraschino cherry jelly that I made recently and thought it would be a great combination.  While at the store, I found the first really nice strawberries of the year, so I couldn’t resist them, nor could I decide between the two so I made both versions.

Washing the Berries

First, the Florentines I followed the Nestle recipe, however, I found that a Tablespoon of dough for each cookie spread way too much and ended up with one giant cookie  (so sad you know we had to eat the mistake).  With each batch I reduced the amount, then finally got it to 1/2 teaspoon per cookie which made the perfect size.   Also, instead of making a sandwich cookie, I just drizzled them with chocolate as I liked the look better and wanted to lighten them up a little to serve with the Panna Cotta.

Ingredients for Florentines

Following the recipe (with the addition of 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon) I mixed up the dough, which looks like this:

Florentine Cookie Dough

As I mentioned, the recipe calls for a Tablespoon of dough for each cookie, which was way to much so I reduced that down to 1/2 teaspoon as they really spread, and actually that’s what you want because it makes them nice and lacy.

Florentine Cookies

Next:  Strawberry/Vanilla Panna Cotta.  Never having made this before, I found it much easier than I had expected not much more complicated than making jello.

For the strawberry portion:

1 lb strawberries

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 packet unflavoreed gelatin

1/4 cup water

1/1/2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

Few strawberries for garnish

First decide how you want to display – in a glass or in a mold.  If using a mold, spray it with vegetable spray.  I like using various glasses for the presentation as it eliminates the worry of getting them out of the mold and you still get to see how beautiful it is – plus it is a great excuse for using all the pretty glasses that at least at my house don’t get out very often.  I did try one in a mold, but unfortunately, I left it in the hot water too long so it pretty much lost the “mold” design and looked like a blob surrounded by melted pudding – not my best effort.  I’ll probably try again, but the ones in the glasses turned out much better.

1.  Puree the strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor until very smooth and press through a sieve to remove the seeds. Remove 1 cup and reserve the rest.

Puree the strawberries

2.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small microwave safe bowl and let stand for 5 minutes to soften. Place in the microwave for 5 second intervals until it dissolves.

3.  In a medium size microwave safe bowl, bring the milk to a simmer, 1 1/2- to 2 minutes – don’t boil.

4.  Add the gelatin, strawberry puree and the cream and mix.

5.  Pour into the serving dishes and chill until firm. If you want to make layers as I did, fill the glasses partially and chill before adding another layer.

Using the reserved strawberry puree top the panna cotta and just before serving, add a Florentine cookie.

Strawberry Panna Cotta

Vanilla/Almond Panna Cotta

Remember if you are planning on layering the dessert, wait until the first layer firms up before making this layer.  I made a double batch of Giada’s Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries recipe , up to the last step but splitting it into two containers adding vanilla to one and almond extract to the other (for the maraschino cherry ones).  I noticed that this recipe was much smoother and creamier than the one with strawberries.

For the maraschino cherry layer I used the maraschino cherry jelly I made recently.  I warmed it slightly so it would pour into the glasses and put a layer on the bottom of the glass.  Poured the almond extract version over that, let it harden and then on some I put another thin layer of jelly on top.

Maraschino Cherry Panna Cotta with Florentine

For the strawberry version I used the already hardened layer of strawberry and added another layer of vanilla on top, then a layer of the reserved strawberry puree.

Iron Skillet Steak with Basil Cream Sauce – sometimes the old fashioned way really works

Iron Skillet Steak with Basil Cream Sauce – sometimes the old fashioned way really works

Pan Fried Steak with Basil Cream Sauce

As I have mentioned before, I love my cast iron skillet rediscovered a couple of years ago when husband unexpected brought one home.  Our weather is pretty much grill friendly all year, but I also really love gravies and sauces so I decided to go with the pan for some steaks this time.  I also roasted some vegetables (very simply yellow squash, zucchini and Roma tomatoes, cut in half, drizzled with some olive oil and sprinkled with garlic bread crumbs and shredded Parmesan) and did a recipe test of Cook’s Country Delmonico Potatoes with some small multi-colored potatoes.  The potatoes turned out well and I was pleased with the mult-color.

For the steaks:

2-4 steaks – whatever kind you prefer

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons garlic minced (I always use lots of garlic feel free to use less if you prefer)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves torn into small pieces

1 small onion chopped finely

1/2 cup heavy cream

Montreal Steak Seasoning or salt and pepper


Steaks marinating

In a large glass baking dish lay the steaks flat, sprinkle with the seasoning salt, drizzle with  1 tbsp olive oil, spread 1/2 the garlic on the steaks, splash with Worcestershire and sprinkle with 1/2 the basil.  Turn them over and do the same on the other side.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave out for 1/2 hour.  Meat will cook more evenly if it is closer to room temperature.


Add 1-2 table spoons olive oil to an iron skillet over high heat until it is shimmering and really, really hot.

Reserve the Marinade

With a spatula push the garlic and basil off the steaks and reserve in the pan for the sauce (otherwise it will burn).

Steaks in the pan

Place two steaks in the pan, don’t crowd them or they won’t brown as well.

Almost done

Cook about 4 minutes on each side for medium on a fairly thick steak, more or less to your taste and the thickness.  They should have a really nice brown crust and be at least 120 degrees when tested with a thermometer.  Remove the steaks from the pan and place under a foil tent to rest.  If you are doing more steaks, repeat this.

Brown the onions then add the reserved marinade

When you’ve finished the steaks, add the onions to the pan and cook them until they are soft and  brown, then add the reserved marinade from the baking pan.  Cook briefly, for 1 minute or so to prevent the garlic and basil from burning, then add the cream and cook for another minute or so.  Check the plate the steaks are resting on and if there is any juice, add that to the sauce.

Add the cream

Serve the steaks with some of the sauce.

Valentines Day Meal:  Chicken baked in pastry crust, pearl couscous in cream sauce and fresh asparagus

Valentines Day Meal: Chicken baked in pastry crust, pearl couscous in cream sauce and fresh asparagus

Chicken in Pastry, Couscous in Cream Sauce and Asparagus

My Valentine has gotten used to being the test dummy, not being able to eat until the pictures are done, having holiday meals on days other than the holiday and best of all, cleaning up my endless messes, all with good humor and little whining so I was quite happy that this meal got the seal of approval!  It is fairly simple, not too many ingredients, doesn’t take too long and didn’t make that much of a mess but it was really tasty.  You can even do part of it ahead of time and be able to finish in less than an hour, with most of that just baking time.  The couscous and asparagus take less than 10 minutes so you can do the chicken ahead of time and just finish up while it bakes.  For dessert see my Tunnel of Fudge Mini-bundt cake recipe.



4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 package puff pastry sheets

6 oz cheese Asiago and/or Gruyere

12 large fresh basil leaves



1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning

Cut and seasoned

First trim and cut the chicken breasts into approximately equal size pieces, 3-4 per breast and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.

Brown the chicken

Heat a heavy skillet with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil until it is very hot.  Add the chicken and brown well on each side.  It won’t take long, a minute or two on each side.  Don’t cook it through, just get it nice and brown and don’t crowd the pan, do two batches if it doesn’t fit nicely.  Once the chicken is browned, set it aside in a bowl.

Chicken browned and set aside

Slice the cheese

While the chicken is browning, slice the cheese into strips about 2 x 2 or 2 x 3  inches.  It doesn’t have to be exact.

Dough with sliced cheese

Prepare the dough by unwrapping.  It usually comes with two sheets, each folded over into three parts, so after it is flat, cut each sheet along each fold and once in half to make a total of 12 pieces.  Place a slice of cheese in the center of each piece.

Add basil

Add a basil leaf.

Add chicken

Top with a piece or two of chicken depending on the size, make sure you leave enough room to fold over the dough.

Wrapped up

Fold the dough up over the filling – it doesn’t have to be that pretty on the bottom, just make sure it is sealed well or the cheese will leak out.

Flipped and placed on baking sheet

Place on a baking sheet, flipped over so the bottom is the wrapped portion and the top is flat and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until the crust is browned.  If you want to do this ahead, just stop before the baking and wrap the pan in plastic.  You may have to add 5-10 minutes to the baking time if you refrigerate.

Toasted Couscous with Cream Sauce

About 30 minutes after you put in the chicken, start the couscous and asparagus.  For the couscous, here is the recipe, which takes about 10 minutes.


For the asparagus, trim a bunch and place in a microwave safe bowl with about 1 teaspoon of water.  Microwave for 2 minutes.  Heat a skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter.  Add the asparagus and cook for 3-5 minutes, rolling them over occasionally, depending on how crisp you prefer.

Valentines Day Recipe Test:  Cook’s Country Tunnel of Fudge Mini-Bundt Cakes

Valentines Day Recipe Test: Cook’s Country Tunnel of Fudge Mini-Bundt Cakes

Tunnel of Fudge Mini-Bundt Cake

Of course Valentines day requires chocolate, and lots of it.  Years ago (too many for me to want to remember) after a particularly disappointing Valentines Day meal out where it seemed that no place would take reservations and when we arrived around 6:00 there was a three-hour wait, the service was poor and they had a “special” meaning very expensive menu only.  After that, I decided that going out to dinner on Valentines Day (and most other holidays) is more trouble than it is worth.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice dinner out as much as anyone I just prefer to go a different day, when they take reservations and aren’t overwhelmed trying to serve the huge crowds.  Mostly, I really don’t like crowds or waiting I’d much rather make dinner and enjoy it at home.

This recipe is a test of the Cook’s Country Tunnel of Fudge recipe, which I cut in half and used in mini-bundt cake pans.  It can be made a day or two ahead.  It’s a perfect dessert for a small dinner party and even better for just two as there are leftovers!  I’m serving this with a meal to go with it simple and quick enough for a weeknight: chicken breasts baked in pastry crust, asparagus and pearl couscous in cream sauce.  If you don’t have the mini-bundt pans or prefer to make the full size, just use the whole recipe but these look so cute!


Ingredients I used:

1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon cocoa (Cook’s Country recommends Dutch processed but I didn’t have any so I just used regular Hershey’s Cocoa)

1/4 cup boiling water

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips

1 cup flour

1 cup pecans chopped finely (which I forgot to show in the picture)

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

1/2 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 1/4 cups butter softened

To make cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a mini Bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder.

Put the chocolate in a small bowl and add the boiling water, mixing until smooth, set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk 3/4 cup cocoa, flour, walnuts (or pecans), confectioners’ sugar and salt.

In another bowl or mixing cup, whisk eggs and vanilla.

In mixing bowl at medium speed beat granulated sugar, brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low, add egg mixture and mix until just combined. Add chocolate mixture and mix until just combined. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Put batter into prepared pans, smooth and bake 20-25 minutes until edges are beginning to pull away from pan; do not overbake (do not use a cake tester, toothpick or skewer to test the cake).

Remove to a wire rack and cool, upright, 1 1/2 hours. Invert cake onto serving plate and cool completely, at least 2 hours.

I followed the recipe instructions given by Cook’s Country, the only difference is because of the smaller pan I baked them for 25 minutes but that may have been just a little too long, start checking them at 20 minutes as mine didn’t have much of a fudgy center.  Even so it was very moist and almost brownie like with a good flavor from the nuts.   I would definitely make them again, they were very tasty.

Here are the progress photos:

Chocolate melted in boiling water and chopped pecans

Sprayed and cocoa in the pan

Ready to bake

Baked and cooling

Tunnel of Fudge Mini-Bundt Cake

I did some chocolate dipped strawberries from an earlier post and added a little strawberry syrup to a heart shaped plate to finish up.