new to these parts? or afraid you may have missed something good?
check out the eleven most viewed posts in 2011 (and the top 10 of 2010):
i had my first macaron ever this past september at sugar factory in las vegas. they were surprisingly disappointing - the flavors weren't distinguishable and the bottom half of one was completely gone. the very next day, i picked up one, single, perfect pistachio macaron from bouchon bakery and was hooked.
these churros are really a testament to trial and error. since churros have been on my to make list for a while now and since my churro expert susie happened to be hanging out after an impromptu dinner tonight, we set out to make these.
the recipe and the dough is surprisingly simple. three things tripped us up: the right size tip when piping them into the hot oil, deflating churros, and the fry time. the first few i made with a small star tip. they were way too small and scrawny, so i upgraded to a large star tip. they were a lot thicker and one side looked beautiful. as the first side was cooking, the other side facing up split right down the center. once we got over the fact that their looks aren't perfect, we noticed some of the larger ones would puff up all nice and golden while cooking and almost immediately after we took them out of the oil, deflated - the middles sunk right in. this time, we weren't cooking them long enough and the insides were still gummy. a few more seconds on each side gave us a nice medium brown we were looking for. and of course we nailed it, with the very last bit of dough.
a mere ten years ago, although it seems like yesterday, my parents, sister, and i set out on one of our best vacations ever: italy. we saw it all - the colosseum and vatican in rome. what remains of pompeii with mt vesuvius in the background. the amalfi coast. the cinque terre. st francis of assisi's church. more churches and relics than i can count. the ponte vecchio and statue of david in florence. the towers of san gimignano. my mother trying to pronouce moltepulciano the first ten times. the bridge of sighs and kicking our feet in the water when st mark's floods in venice at night. and gelato every single day, sometimes more than once.
so it's no surprise that any time i eat - or even think - of gelato, it brings me back to that trip. it's always a different memory, but always a great one.
every christmas my grandma had a small glass covered dish of homemade fudge sitting on the bookshelf in her living room. each of us kids after dinner & all the hub of christmas was winding down - while watching a christmas story or some other christmas special - would sneak pieces of fudge until it was gone. the rest of us mad at the one who dared to take the last piece. that's how i remember it.
i had almost forgotten about that fudge until last week.
i've said it before and i'll say it again: i love gingerbread. not only does the smell instantly bring me back to my honeymoon in germany, and loudly announces - in all it's spicy glory - that christmas is here. each year i tell myself i'm going to roll, cut out, and decorate gingerbread men, and for last five or so, i've completely skipped it. partially because i've inherited my mother's cookie decorating skills, but mostly because i know my mom made a batch that my dad decorated. each year is different. there's been gingerbread at the beach. gingerbread boys and girls. gingerbread santa. all meticulously decorated by my father. the year we were engaged, my sister beat him to it and decorated a bride and groom for us.
this year i skipped the cut outs again and opted for chewy drop cookies studded with white chocolate. and next year, i'll probably do the same.
each and every time i email a request for a budget, modification, or some other financial request to one of our finance guys at work, the response always starts with "cookies!" followed by whatever information i'm asking for. sometimes - depending on how short i am on time when i put in the request or how involved the request is - i give in and ask him what kind. and it's always the same: oatmeal chocolate chip.
last week we were working on a particularly fussy and annoying budget, so i caved to the request. but who's the real winner?! i got my budget on time and got to eat cookies!
almond and raspberry is one of my all time favorite flavor combinations. let's be honest - anything i've ever had paired with almond is a winner in my book. these cookies have been on my to bake list for the past few christmases, putting them off because cutting out all those windows seemed like a lot of work. these cookies are a complete labor of love. and if you find that cutting out the middle leaves your kitchen in a flurry of broken tops, skip it, and make simple sandwiches. they taste just as good and no one will miss the fancy window.
from as far back as i can remember, my grandpa worked in a nestle plant. their candy drawer was always full of boxes of gobstoppers and nerds and bags of funsize butterfingers, o henry, and baby ruth. the fridge was loaded with juicy juice. grandma would tease us with stories of her trips to the company store - all that candy! and cheap! it was a kid's dream. and every year for christmas each of us grandkids got a milk chocolate santa. except me. i got a white chocolate snowman. i can still remember ripping open the box, sliding the plastic mold out, and biting the head off on christmas morning. i don't know exactly what year chocolate santas stopped coming - probably around the same time grandpa retired from the chocolate works, as he called it - but not a christmas day goes by that i don't have a split second vision of that snowman.
as an adult i tend to get most of my white chocolate in the form of hot chocolate. which surprisingly i have never thought to make myself until this year. besides, i needed something to wash down all these cookies.
these holiday biscotti are a simple riff on my favorite - i added dried cherries and white chocolate chips to my favorite pistachio biscotti to get all the holiday colors in one cookie. it's the same combination i used last year to make killer holiday shortbread cookies. biscotti are the perfect cookie: insanely easy to make, pretty difficult to screw up, and they're just fancy enough that people are impressed you can make them from scratch.
every year, the last week before christmas is deemed 'cookie week' at work. years ago when i first started, there was a sign up sheet to ensure treats were spread out among the week. needless to say, the week is complete cookie chaos and the sign up sheet soon went out the window. and in honor of our week of sweets, i've got five of my christmas cookies and treats this week, just in time for the big day.
but wait - don't forget about the archives! there are tons of holiday treats already there!
don't let it's looks fool you. while this soup isn't much of a looker, it's packed with flavor. the meatballs are spiced really well and the soup is a pretty basic homemade tomato soup - sweetened up a touch with a bit of carrot and celery added. it's a really great winter soup.
and don't let the time fool you. sure, it took me a good 45 minutes to make it. but there's a 20 minute chunk of time right in the middle where the soup is simmering - which means you can wrap presents, watch a half an hour DVRd show, or just plain relax for that matter.
eight months ago, my first attempt at gnocchi ended in a miserable failure: the little dumplings fell apart in the water and i ended up with a pot full of mush. and ever since i've been oh so timid and anxious about trying again. there's nothing like spending a good hour or so on a dish only to watch it get completely ruined in the final minute of preparation. it's a big turn off. [and the reason why i gave up on trying to make cake pops. but that's another story.]
this time, thanks to michael chiarello [anybody else tuning into next iron chef?], i had some pretty darn good homemade gnocchi. granted they weren't as pillowey light as they could be, but they were light years above some dense as a rock gnocchi i've been served in restaurants in the past.
i've been in kind of a food funk for the last month or two. where my google reader is typically busting at the seams every week with too many dinners, too many desserts, and too many snacks to make each week, lately it's been the opposite. few recipes have caught my attention and i've been mildly stuck in a rut of old standbys.
maybe it's the weather. we're stuck between 'is it still fall?' and 'is it finally winter?' at a time of year when the high is typically thirty degrees and we've already had a snow storm, we've had a full quarter inch of snow and the temperatures have stayed in the fifties, with no chance of going down. it's really odd. and throwing me off.
so to break the rut i've been in, i dug out a few old cook's illustrated special editions i picked up a couple months ago when borders was going out of business. which led me to a week's worth of new meals. starting with this easy & delicious white chicken chili. bonus that it's light and leftovers reheat perfectly.
i made this graham crackers a long time ago - months ago, to be exact. and since i felt ambitious, i decided to make two different kinds and have a taste off. the winner? both. karen's honey graham crackers have the perfect amount of sweetness to them while alton's have the perfect amount of spice from the cinnamon.
if you haven't made or eaten homemade graham crackers, they don't have much in common with their store bought mass produced counterparts. where store bought crackers are super light, these are definitely a bit more dense, almost like a cookie. and the flavor is light years better than the relatively bland ones from the store.
whenever i am in new york city, i try to end an evening in little italy. can you blame me? when it's right, it's everything great about new york. great people watching, amazing food, good asti spumante, and the choice of two of my most favorite desserts: gelato and cannoli. neither of which i have ever tried to tackle myself. maybe it's because they both sound tricky or maybe there's something magical about sitting on mulberry street, sipping cappuccino and eating cannoli with ten year old friends, catching up on life, that you simply lose all sight of when you're home.
the summer i left for my second year of college, my mom photo copied a few recipes for me. after all, i was out of the dorms and into my own apartment. there was homemade macaroni and cheese (perfected by my mom and her brother), my all time favorite mushroom bisque, a few cookie recipes from her betty crocker, held together by a rubber band, and this soup. all in all i have made this soup at least ten times - at least once every winter since.
i'm about six months early on my chocolate chip cookie craving. but lately, with all this talk of turkey and pumpkins and everything else leading to turkey day, my mind has been on one single thing: a perfectly crunchy, chewy chocolate chip cookie.
while i can't boil a pot of white rice to save my life, i can whip together a risotto in no time. and since i haven't had much trouble with risotto, the time commitment can be a pain in the you-know-what sometimes, with all the stirring and babysitting. so when i saw this recipe for baked risotto - completely hands off - i made it the very next day.
there's been a heck of a lot of sweet treats around here lately, and not a single bite of apple goodness. which is surprising, since a couple weeks ago we made our annual trip to the orchard where we picked a mere thirty three pounds of apples and picked up a gallon of fresh pressed cider. apple pie was made the next day, followed by one of my fall favorites: apple chicken chili.
i love love love the combination of apples and chicken together, so as soon as i saw this recipe in cooking light, it was ripped out and stuck to the refrigerator, patiently waiting for cider. and man, was it worth the wait. not only is it a mere five ingredients, all of which i had in my pantry, but it comes together in way under thirty minutes and tastes amazing. cooking light suggests serving the chicken over brown rice, but our leftover mashed potatoes served us just as well.
for the last almost five years, it's been my own mission to make an amazing german chocolate cake. i've only had it a few times in my life, and really only one that's worth remembering. almost five years ago, on my birthday, i cut myself a big piece of homemade german chocolate cake - made by my grandmother's best lifelong friend - and was sitting in my grandparents dining room eating it. after a couple bites, dad told me german chocolate cake was my grandma's favorite. how fitting that afternoon - of my birthday and her funeral - was the day i realized how much my grandma and i actually have in common.
it's taken me almost five years to get up the courage both to make it and to eat it. and this cake was definitely worth it. the cake and the filling sound a bit complicated, but couldn't be easier to throw together. and while this cake is pretty damn good, nothing can beat my twenty fifth birthday cake.
this year, just as years past, mom hosted her halloween soiree. while this year's wasn't as big, scary, or as theme based as years past, it was fun none the same. and even though i didn't intend to - i started my own theme with pumpkin cakes. last year it was this iced pumpkin chocolate spiced bundt and this year - i swapped the bundt pan and the chocolate for brown sugar and cream cheese. best decision i ever made.
and while we were all too busy munching on popcorn (like snoopy in a charlie brown thanksgiving), crunch bars, and chocolate spiderweb cupcakes, everyone took some home. and the email requests for the recipe started the very next day.
my husband and i did not take what i would call a 'traditional' honeymoon. we spent a week in prague, where it snowed each and every day in october, and spent a second week roaming around germany and austria. while we were too early for all the christmas and holiday festivals and markets, the market in nuremburg germany was full of lebkuchen. not too sweet, perfectly spicy, some dipped in chocolate, some decorated with whole almonds, we feasted on lebkuchen for days. while germany's gingerbread is distinctly different from what i consider traditional american gingerbread - ours rolled thin, cut with cookie cutters, and decorated and their drop cookies, chewy and soft - i couldn't get enough. while i was always a sucker for good spicy gingerbread before, that trip - and those cookies - sealed the deal for me. now every time i so much as get a whiff of gingerbread, i'm transplanted back to that market, sitting on the edge of a statue, sharing a cookie and hot chocolate with jason. it's funny what food does to our memories.
so this month, when selecting my secret recipe club recipe, i had a cold, hard stop when i came upon camilla's recipe for gingerbread muffins at culinary adventures with camilla.
cold and rainy in your neck of the woods too? it's the perfect time of the year for hot, steamy bowls of pasta! lasagna is one of my favorites, yet i make it maybe once a year, simply because i don't have the patience for it. and seem to burn the tips of my fingers every time i make it while handling hot noodles during assembly. so dealing with the noodles is completely cut out and instead, the meat sauce and alfredo sauce are layered with short cut pasta. simple. delicious. and ready in about 30 minutes.
there's an obvious absence of ricotta cheese from this recipe. i am not a fan of ricotta in lasagna, and ever since a good friend turned me on to bechamel with stuffed shells, i haven't looked back. if you simply can't live without it, add a tablespoon or two to the bottom of your pasta bowl before you add the pasta.
my canner is getting a workout this year. i started with cherry almond jam, the moved into spiced plum butter with smitten kitchen's peach butter thrown in somewhere, and a few unmentionables that will show up around christmas time. it seems like every other weekend i've canned something. now that it's pear season - and two quarts of pears cost a mere $2 at the farmer's market - it's finally time for this pear butter that i bookmarked back in august. it's a play on one of my all time favorite combinations: caramel and fresh fruit. and if you love that combination even half as much as i do, this pear butter is to die for.
last month's vacation didn't only take us to las vegas. we rented a car and headed straight for utah, stopping first at valley of fire state park to check out the red rocks before continuing onto springdale and zion national park.
each year from about the age of twelve to eighteen my mom, dad, sister and i took a trip out west. (sorry dad, i can't remember the exact years and places we went each year with even half of the accuracy that you have. many of the trips blend together for me. which really isn't so bad, i just remember it all started with yellowstone and ended with the raft down the colorado, with mesa verde, taos, arches, canyon de chelly, and others thrown in.) every year around christmas the four of us would talk about where we'd go the next summer, what did we want to see, what did we want to do. and once decided, dad spent months pouring over books, calling far off places to make reservations because of course, the only internet we got at our house was through a phone cord strung across the kitchen floor, into the laundry room where the computer was kept. and we'd spend our time riding horses, hiking to arches, floating down rivers, looking at old churches, eating navajo tacos and watching the mittens through the rental car window in monument valley. i wouldn't trade it for the world. it's hard to believe it's been ten years since i've been out there.
in the last week, i went from complete and total denial of the changing of the seasons, to full on in love with fall. i went from refusing to wear a jacket (or long sleeves for that matter) to work to apple picking, chili making, and hot cider drinking. the only thing that speaks fall just as much, if not more than apples, is pumpkin. last fall kicked off with mini pumpkin spice cupcakes, moved on to pumpkin spice scones, and ended with an iced pumpkin chocolate spiced bundt cake for my mom's annual halloween party. this year i am kicking off fall with these pumpkin gingersnap cookies i saw last week on two peas & their pod.
i really need to get on the slow cooker bandwagon. what has taken me so long?! it all started with the chicken tacos i made a couple weeks ago - before vacations and conferences and weddings got in the way - and i realized the only thing better than eating a homecooked meal every night, is eating one that's been cooked while you were at work.
this time i tackled soup. french onion soup. one of my absolute favorite soups. i attempted a garlicky version a year and a half ago but have yet to master the original. this time i decided to let the slow cooker do the work of cooking down the onions and added beef. yes, i know beef is not traditionally in french onion soup, but around these parts, i knew i needed to add some meat to the soup to get a certain someone to at least try it.
on the surface, deeba from passionate about baking and i don't have a whole lot in common. she lives in a country - a whole continent - i've never even visited, outside new delhi, india. deeba is a stay at home mom to two teenagers. i am a workaholic newlywed (when exactly do you move from newly wed to just plain married?). deeba's photos are absolutely gorgeous and she freelances in her spare time. but once you start really digging into who she is - a woman passionate about baking (as the name suggests), dedicated to making from scratch, and a supporter of all things local - it's easy to see how i got engrossed in her blog so easily. the fact that her current passion is baking with fruit had me hook, line, and sinker. if you haven't noticed, it's one of my favorites too.
since i am out of town again this week, i'll keep this one short and sweet.
have some end of the summer - better eat them up soon before the plants die - tomatoes? how about some basil that you know won't last too much longer? do yourself a favor and whip them up in this pesto cream pasta. there are few things that stretch out summer like a bowl of fresh pesto.
have some end of the summer - better eat them up soon before the plants die - tomatoes? how about some basil that you know won't last too much longer? do yourself a favor and whip them up in this pesto cream pasta. there are few things that stretch out summer like a bowl of fresh pesto.
scarpetta, the cosmopolitan
jason and i often find ourselves watching chopped on the food network friday nights and have seen scott conant go crazy over chefs that cook pasta incorrectly. so we decided - since we were celebrating our anniversary on this trip after all - to have one night out in a swanky restaurant and chose conant's scarpetta. partly because we love italian food and partly because we had to taste his pasta!
jason and i have very different weekday lunch habits. he goes out to lunch with the guys almost every day and refuses to eat the same lunch two days in a row. i am the complete opposite. i bring my lunch almost every day and regularly eat the same thing five days in a row (i've been known to eat the same lunch for weeks at a time). and because i tend to eat the same thing for at least five days in a row, i like lunches that are either quick and simple to assemble every day or something i can make once and eat all week.
if you hadn't realized, i was on vacation last week. we ate some really great food and some really horrible food - more on that later - and while i had great intentions of lining up posts before i left, vacation planning and preparing to be away from work for a week took over, leaving me with little time to post. which also means i have a week's worth of cooking and eating ready to share!
i'm a sucker for a good cookie. aren't you? peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal. i'll take them all. and lucky for me, this cookie has all three rolled into one!
i made a batch of these the day before i left on a four hour drive with a carload of women. 55, 50, 29, and 19 year old women to be exact. surprisingly, no one ate a cookie until midafternoon. when it was pouring rain and we stopped at a gas station. three of us waited in the car while one ran in. it was that exact moment when my mother said "hmm, ok, i'll take one of those cookies now." perfect timing. the three of us devoured eight in the next two minutes.
these are not my mother's orange slices.
my mother loves orange slices. those sickeningly sweet, coated in sugar, chewy candies that look like cartoon orange slices. not every time, but most times, we went to the grocery store, my mom would buy a small bag of these. and she always opened them as soon as she got in the car, passing the bag around to my sister and i until our teeth couldn't take it. then they would end up closed with a clothes pin, stashed in the candy cupboard at home. i don't know what it was about those things, but mom loved them.
this cake combines two of my absolute favorites: blackberries and peaches. blackberries make an appearance pretty frequently around here, so it's no surprise they're one of my favorites, but i have yet to profess my love of peaches.
the first pie i made by myself - no help from mom or grandma - was almost exactly ten years ago. it was my second year of college and my friends and i had moved from the dorms into our on campus apartment. we, as i'm sure most college kids do, became our own mini family unit. we grocery shopped together. ate dinners together. bet quarters playing cards all night together and then went out for breakfast in the morning. and that year, before we went home to our own families, we had our own thanksgiving.
this month, when selecting my secret recipe club recipe, i used the same method i always do - i start by going back as far as i can in the history. and then i look through the posts in the same month i am cooking from them. that way, i get the best of both worlds - reinvent an old recipe and cook something that fits in with the time of year. this month, i adapted katrina's banana caramel cake from baking and boys!
when i try a recipe and like it, it usually takes a good six months - if not longer - for me to make it again. even some of my favorites - chocolate chip cookies, soft pretzels, white layer cake with blackberry buttercream - i have yet to make again since the day they first appeared here. so it's really rare for me to make the same cake twice. but this cake? i made it twice in three days, a different way each time.
i almost always have egg whites left over when i make ice cream. and since i'm not a fan of meringue and a girl can only eat so many scrambled egg whites, i've been on a mission this summer to find uses for whites. and these amaretti are perfect light clouds of almond goodness. yes, i was slightly afraid they would be more like meringues, but good news (for me, anyway) is that the almonds add just enough texture. and the crackly tops are the best part. be sure to eat a few right after they come out of the oven, when the bottom is perfectly chewy and hasn't had a time to cool and get crunchy. perfect.
below is the
third fourth installment from jason, my taste tester, who has decided
cooking isn't really too hard. he has occasional food projects, just
like me, that he wants to share too. (check out his stovetop mac & cheese and egg sandwich experiment too.) this time it's today's lunch - a quick pasta sauce full of fresh vegetables.
Summer is great for food because you can always find fresh ingredients at the local farmers' market or your own garden. Sometimes you bought (or harvested) a lot of great vegtables and don't know what to do with them. With no meal planned on a lazy Saturday afternoon, we were getting very hungry and needed something fast. I made a fresh pasta sauce from the tons of fresh vegtables in the house.
one food jason and i don't agree on are eggs. his are always cooked to death - not even a hint that the yolk might run or be the slight bit soft - mine are cooked just enough so the whites are set. which could be a pain in the you-know-what, forcing us to retire eggs from the dinner and breakfast rotation. luckily it hasn't happened yet.
this time eggs are paired perfectly with fresh garlicky tomatoes, melty mozzarella, a gooey poached egg (for me and a hard poached egg for jason) and fresh pesto. topped above a piece of italian bread, it's the perfect bite. and even though these made a weeknight dinner appearance for us, this would be an amazing weekend breakfast or lunch.
the last few times i've been to the distillery, i've had their crispy green beans - green beans perfectly fried with a buffalo ranch dipping sauce. since green beans are now competing with cucumbers for the top spot in my garden and i finally have the courage to try frying something again (let's just say i had a batch of homemade donuts that did not end well), i turned about a pound of them into the perfect salty spicy snack.
a few years ago, i made a mistake with zucchini. it was the first summer in our house and i was excited to have my own space to grow whatever i wanted. a quarter of the space was dedicated to six zucchini plants. yes, six. i spent the second half of the summer trying to give away zucchini faster than they were growing. i vowed never to plant so many again. that same year, my cucumbers did absolutely nothing.
i've been on a canning spree the last couple weekends and i don't see an end in sight! this week at the market i picked up 2 pounds of local yellow plums for $2, and spiced them up with two of my favorite things: cinnamon and cardamom. not sure what cardamom tastes like? if you've had chai tea, chai latte, or anything else "chai" flavored, you've had cardamom. it's a unique flavor, almost floral and herbaceous at the same time, and it pairs really well with the sweet plums.
anybody else think it's outrageous how much spices cost in the grocery store? the best kept secret: indian grocery stores or indian spice stores, if you have them were you live. i stock up my chai spices about once a year and recently stopped in for chili powder and other spices for taco seasoning. the prices are unbelievable! case in point: black peppercorn. last time i was there, i picked up 7 ounces for $2.40. there's no way i could get a normal sized 2 ounce jar in the grocery store for less than that. it's the best.
every sunday i plan breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the work week to reduce shopping trips and make it easier to answer the "what's for dinner?" question. as consistent as i am about planning weekday meals, the weekend is another story. saturday and sunday lunch are almost always neglected.
lucky for me - and probably you - my tomatoes are perfectly ripe and my basil is out of control. why not fold some perfectly ripe tomatoes (preferably homegrown from the plant your grandpa grew for you from seed) into eggs and top with pesto? it's the perfect mid-day lunch, quick breakfast, or meatless dinner. this one's a keeper for sure.
i don't know what i was thinking when i chose these whole wheat honey pancakes from itzy's kitchen for my secret recipe club selection this month. don't get me wrong, it took me no time to make them and the flavor is great. no matter what i do, cooking pancakes is one thing i have yet to master. (and cooking rice, but that's another story all together. how come i can make ravioli from scratch, endless varieties of risotto, towering layer cakes, and jam with ease, but two simple things always defeat me?!) i thought i had mastered them last winter, and it wasn't until i was elbow deep in wheat flour and honey making these when i realized those carrot pancakes were made on my electric stove, which thankfully was kicked to the curb a couple months ago in exchange for gas. long story short, my heat and timing were all off and the first two batches were either burnt to a crisp or raw in the middle. luckily the last batch came out perfectly brown and cooked through.