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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract!

Homemade vanilla extract! Its easy! And fun! And you can make massive (Costco) amounts for much cheaper than buying the good stuff by the 4-ounce bottle. This is a project I've been working on for a while now- and I hate that it took me so long to share it- but I've been patiently waiting for my vodka to get fully infused by the vanilla beans.

The best part about this recipe: the vanilla NEVER goes bad. It has a shelf life that will outlive each and every one of us. Use a teaspoon of vanilla in your cookies... replace it with a teaspoon of vodka... and it just keeps on working. I chose to keep a few vanilla beans in the bottles that I gave away as gifts so that they can keep giving flavor (especially while they sit in a wrapped box for the next 10 days).

2 cups of good vodka
10-12 vanilla beans*
1 glass mason jar

Run the mason jar through a hot dishwasher, or submerge in boiling water. Once dry and cool, pour 2 cups of vodka into the mason jar. Take the vanilla beans and split them lengthwise on one side of the bean (don't cut them in half), so that some of the beans are exposed. Place them in the mason jar. Close the lid and give the jar a good shake. Keep in a cool, dark spot in your kitchen, shaking once every few days/once a week. Oh, and each time I shake the bottle, I make sure to open it and smell... drooooool. Your vanilla should be ready to use after 8 weeks.
*You can add more vanilla beans if you want... the more you add, the quicker the vanilla will be ready to use.

** P.S. Mom, if you happen upon this post before December 25th.... well, I'm sorry part of your present wasn't a surprise. Ooops.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark is one of my favorite winter treats. This "recipe" is so fast, easy, and affordable... only 4 ingredients! This will be a hit at any holiday party, a wonderful gift for a coworker or loved one, and is a perfect treat to make tons of and keep all for yourself.

*In order to have the white chocolate melt properly, make sure that you get real white chocolate chips, not "white morsels." If you're unsure if its real chocolate, check the ingredients: one of the first 2 ingredients in real white chocolate is cocoa butter.

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 ounces real white chocolate chips
1/2-1 teaspoon peppermint extract
6 candy canes, crushed

Take the semi-sweet chocolate chips and place them in a glass bowl. Microwave the chips for 15 second intervals, stirring with a spatula in between, just until melted- you do not want the chocolate to be hot. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a spatula, spread the chocolate into an even layer, about 1/8-inch thick. Put in fridge for about 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the white chocolate chips the same way as the semi-sweet chips. Once melted, add the peppermint extract, and stir together, tasting to make sure you've added enough. Once the semi-sweet layer has hardened, pour the white chocolate on top and spread evenly. Top with crushed candy canes. Refrigerate for another 20-30 minutes, or until very hard. Remove from fridge and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container/tin. These will stay good in the fridge for weeks, the freezer for months, or on your counter for a good 10-days. YUM.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

My thoughts on soup/any food: if it has bacon in it, I pretty much love it. Anything that is a vessel for bacon = perfection. And this roasted cauliflower soup is just that... and its phenomenal. I based the soup off of a Bon Appetit (Jan 2007) recipe, and messed around with my food processor to make the chive oil. Its gooooood.

6 cups cauliflower florets (from 1 large head of cauliflower)
3 slices uncooked bacon, plus more for crumbling
3/4 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons grated romano
1/4 cup cream/half-and-half
salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon juice
bunch of chives
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with lightly greased tin foil and throw the cauliflower florets, a drizzle of olive oil, a few shakes of garlic powder, and salt and pepper in the pan. Toss to coat and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10.

Meanwhile, cook 3 strips of bacon in a large soup pot on medium heat until lightly browned and some of the fat has rendered. Add the diced celery, onion, garlic and salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cover and let cook until veggies begin to soften, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding olive oil if they start to burn. Add the roasted cauliflower florets to the soup pot, along with the chicken broth, and the romano/good parmesan and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and cover and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes to let all the flavors marry.

In another pan, cook more bacon to your liking to crumble on top of the soup. Once finished cooking, let  cool on a paper towel and crumble for topping. Reserve for later.

Once the soup has simmered for a bit blend with an immersion blender (or put batches in the stand blender) and blend until smooth. Add more chicken broth if its too thick. Add the cream/half-and-half and stir to combine. Taste for salt and pepper.

To make the chive oil... In a food processor combine the olive oil, butter, chives and lemon juice and blend until incorporated and smooth... you may have to scrape down the sides a few times.

Ladle into soup bowl and drizzle the chive oil on top, followed by bacon crumbled. Mmm-mmm-mmm. And man is this soup filling!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

I love mac-n-cheese. Every kind. Even the yucky powder-cheese kind. One of the best mac-n-cheeses I've ever had was from Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, NC. Not only was it extra gooey, but had quite a spicy punch at the end. Unreal. I've wanted to recreate it ever since and have tried a few different times but wasn't quite pleased enough to post the recipe. I ended up giving this batch away to my friend who just had surgery, but not before stealing a few bites. I think I found a winner.

1 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup grated onion
1 4oz. can diced green chiles, drained
4 tablespoons butter, separated
1/4 cup flour
2-2 1/2 cups milk/cream
12 ounces Velveeta, cubed
12 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs

Boil the macaroni in salted water 2 minutes less than instructions on the box. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a very large bowl mix together the cayenne, salt, pepper, ground mustard, nutmeg, sour cream, grated onion and diced green chiles. Set aside.

In a large soup pot melt half the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly for 3 minutes with a spatula. Slowly pour in the milk/cream, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the Velveeta and most of the pepper jack. Stir until everything is incorporated. Pour cheese sauce and pasta in the large bowl of seasoned sour cream. Stir to incorporate. Taste, moan, curse that it is supposed to bake before you can eat it, adjust for salt & pepper and other seasonings. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle remaining jack cheese on top.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and mix with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the mac-n-cheese and bake for about 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees, or until bubbly.

* Dry seasoning mixture adapted from Sunny Anderson's Spicy Mac&Cheese

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chewy Molasses Holiday Cookies

I've been testing out new recipes for my annual holiday cookie tin project that takes over my kitchen starting mid-December. In the past I've included treats like truffles, peppermint bark, and Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies, which are my personal favorite holiday cookie. This year, I wanted to try something different and had never made molasses spice cookies before. I wanted a chewy thick cookie, rather than a rock-hard wafer thin guy, so I found this recipe from Cook's Illustrated and went for it. They were delicious! A very strong and rich molasses/brown sugar/spice flavor... they hit the spot. Consider these for your holiday treats!

Also, if you're like me and you love hosting parties and cooking for them, but you sometimes feel uninspired and were born without the decorating gene, check out my friend Alison's TwinStripe Magazine for great unique ideas for celebrating the holidays this year! 

And finally, thanks to Jason Volpe who has been offering me brief and very informal (usually over cocktails) photography lessons. Hoping to continue learning! 

2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dipping cookies
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark molasses

Sift together the flour, baking soda, the spices, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and set aside. 

In an electric mixer with a paddle attachment beat the butter and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and 1/3 of dark brown sugar. Let beat for 2-3 minutes on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the molasses and beat until incorporated. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. 

Roll heaping tablespoons into balls and dip them in the extra 1/2 cup granulated sugar and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Let cool for 5 minutes, then do the other batch of cookies the same way- don't put two cookie sheets in the oven at the same time with this recipe. YUM.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Veal Parmesan

As you all may know, I used to be a "vegetarian" for about 4 months. There were many reasons why I chose to cut out meat for a while, but part of it was because I was just sick of chicken, which was mostly all the meat that I ate before that, with the rare (pun) steak once or twice a year. My "vegetarianism" ended when a friend of mine served me grilled filet mignon wrapped in bacon and I've never looked back since. Since then I have fallen deeply and madly in love with veal. I made veal parmesan last week (the main course before the tiramisu) and it was absolutely delicious. It was very easy to make and was a crowd pleaser- everyone licked their plates clean.

1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder 
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 1/2 cups dried plain bread crumbs
1 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon water
2/3 cup flour
8 veal scallops (1/8 inch thick)
1/3 cup oil, for frying
2 cups tomato sauce
4-6 ounces grated mozzarella cheese

Pasta Ingredients
1/2 pound angel hair pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper

Mix together all the spices and add 1 tablespoon to the breadcrumbs in a pie dish along with 1/2 cup of parmesan. Set aside. Add the other tablespoon of spices to the flour in another pie dish or shallow bowl. Set aside. In another shallow bowl mix the eggs and water and beat with a fork until incorporated. Set aside. 

Pat each veal scallop dry and sprinkle with meat tenderizer (optional). Coat each side of the veal with flour, shake off excess, then dunk each side in egg mixture, and finally dunk in the bread crumbs. Place in a heated pan with oil and fry on medium about 1 1/2 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Pour a little bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 in baking dish and place each browned veal scallop in the dish on top of the sauce. Continue this same process with each piece of veal until all are done and in the baking dish. Cover with more tomato sauce, followed by the mozzarella cheese, and then 1/2 cup parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown on top. 

Meanwhile, boil water and add 1/2 pound of angel hair pasta, cooking according to directions on the box. Drain and return to pot along with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a few splashes of chicken broth, the rest of the parmesan (1/4 cup) and a generous amount of salt and lots of pepper. 

Serve veal on top of the pasta. YUM. Serves 4. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I really love cheese in desserts, like cheesecake, cannoli, and tiramisu. I had never made tiramisu before, but was making an Italian dinner for some of my friends the other night and decided to finish the evening with this delicious cheesey/boozey/espressoy/chocolatey dessert. It was a wonderful end to the meal.

It requires some ingredients that may not be at every grocery store in this fine nation, but one should be able to find mascarpone and lady fingers somewhere near where s/he lives. If you cannot find mascarpone, or you don't want to pay for it (its a bit pricey), you can substitute 8ounces of mascarpone with 8 ounces of cream cheese + 2 tbs. heavy cream + 3 tbs. sour cream. Recipe Adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

1 1/2 cups strong black coffee, room temperature
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
6 tablespoons dark rum
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 (scant) teaspoon salt
16 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (cold)
40-50 ladyfingers, depending on size
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate, grated

Brew the coffee and let sit until room temperature. Add the espresso powder and 3 tablespoons of rum and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

In an electric mixer beat the egg yolks until smooth. Add the sugar, and beat until pale yellow and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of rum and beat until incorporated. Add mascarpone and beat until no lumps remain, scraping down the sides once or twice. Pour mixture into a large bowl and set aside.

Pour the whipping cream in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Slowly and carefully fold whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture just until combined. Set aside.

One at a time, drop half of each lady finger into the coffee mixture, roll to dip the other side, remove and transfer into the bottom of an 8x8 glass baking dish. Do not submerge the lady fingers-- each cookie should be in the coffee mixture for 2 seconds or less. Arrange the soaked cookies in an even layer on the bottom of the dish. Layer with half of the mascarpone mixture. Top with half of the sifted cocoa, followed by another layer of the soaked lady fingers, the rest of the mascarpone, and the rest of the sifted cocoa.

Cover and refrigerate 8-24 hours. Before serving shave chocolate on top of the tiramisu. Cut and serve!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie

This double-layer pumpkin pie is a real treat for pumpkin lovers and even those that don't like pumpkin pie (me) will even enjoy it! The bottom layer is a traditional pumpkin custard layer, just like any other pumpkin pie, but the top layer is a pumpkin mousse/whipped cream topping that is outstanding. Finger (spatula) licking good. This pie does require cooling and chilling time, so you may want to start early in the morning or even the night before serving.

Photo by Jason Volpe.

Pumpkin Custard Ingredients
1 9-inch deep dish pie crust
1 ½ cups canned pumpkin
2 eggs
¾ cups white sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus a pinch
¼ teaspoon ginger
12 oz can evaporated milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together all ingredients in the order given above. Gently fold the custard into a pre-made (homemade or store bought) pie shell. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes or until custard is set. Remove from oven and let cool completely before topping with the mousse. You may also refrigerate the pie overnight at this point. 

Pumpkin Mousse Ingredients
1 ¼ teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the rum in a small heat proof cup. Let soften several minutes while you combine pumpkin, sugar, yolk, and seasonings in a large bowl. Set the gelatin/rum cup in a pan of gently simmering water until gelatin dissolves. While gelatin in still hot whisk it into the pumpkin mixture.

Using an electric mixer beat the cream into soft peaks. Carefully but thoroughly fold it into the pumpkin mixture. Once combined, chill the mousse for 30 minutes, and mound the mousse onto the custard pie. Chill for 4 hours and serve with a dollop of whipped cream on top. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

This pie is fantastic and should be seriously considered as part of your Thanksgiving meal this year. Pecan pie is a traditionally southern treat, but the addition of dark chocolate and bourbon makes it enjoyable for everyone who lives anywhere. This is another Thanksgiving staple in my family- my dad has been making it for as long as I can remember.

Bonus: its incredibly easy to make (SO SO easy).
BONUSx2: if you have any leftover, its amazing the next day (read: right now as I type this).

1 9-inch deep dish pie crust (homemade or not)
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup pecan halves, broken into large pieces
1 tbs. flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Roll dough into a deep dish pie plate, or get out a pre-made deep dish pie shell. Spread the chocolate chips in the bottom of the pie crust, and top with the pecans (save a few whole for later)

Stir together the flour and brown sugar until incorporated.

In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and corn syrup until combined. Add the bourbon and vanilla extract, and then the brown sugar/flour mixture, whisking after each addition. Lastly, add the cooled/melted butter and whisk together. Pour on top of the pecans and chocolate. Add a few of the whole pecans on top for aesthetics.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, or until crust is golden and pie is lightly browned. Let cool and serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream or with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next morning.

My Grandma's Thanksgiving Stuffing

My Grandma makes the best stuffing in the universe. No question. Over the years she has taught me how to make it and now I'm officially in charge of making the stuffing on Thanksgiving morning. I'm even more excited this year, though, because my brother and I are kicking the old folks outta the kitchen and making the entire meal together. And by together, I mean, we are divvying up each part of the meal because we bicker too much if we try to "share" making a dish.

"Michael, are you really going to add that much salt?"
"Get away, Sarah."
Yes, I usually (always) start it.

1 loaf challah bread, sliced
1/2 loaf pumpernickle bread, sliced
1/2 loaf whole wheat bread, sliced
2 sticks butter (plus more later)
2 medium/large onions, chopped
~5 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 container baby bella mushrooms, 1/4 inch sliced
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme
2 teaspoons fresh chopped sage
~2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
onion powder
celery salt
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and fill a baking sheet with slices of the bread. Toast in the oven until barely browned and dried out. Continue this process until you have finished toasting all the bread. Once cooled, chop bread into about 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt a stick of butter in the bottom of two very large saute pans on medium heat. Add half of the celery and onions to each and cook stirring until vegetables begin to soften. Add the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently. Sprinkle a little onion powder, celery salt, and salt and pepper on the vegetables. At this point you'll probably want to add another half stick of butter to each pan (I certainly did), but if you're concerned about clogged arteries, you can just use more chicken broth later.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the chopped (toasted) bread, half in each pan, and stir to combine. Add the fresh herbs and some chicken broth in each, until no longer sticking to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle more onion powder and celery salt on each and stir to combine. Taste the stuffing and add more of whatever else you think it needs- maybe more chicken broth, maybe more seasonings. But don't over salt it-- remember it will be stuffed in a (brined) turkey and get even more flavor and will likely have salty gravy poured on top. Drool.

Pour into a large 9x13 baking dish and set aside until ready to use. Take a cheesecloth and pour stuffing inside the cheesecloth, tie it up, and stuff it in the turkey (this makes it easier to remove once you're ready). Once finished in the turkey, mix with the rest of the stuffing that didn't fit in the turkey and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until all the way cooked through and crisp on the top and soft on the bottom.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Crook's Corner Shrimp and Grits

Crook's Corner is a locally owned restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC and I've been eating their shrimp and grits ever since I've been able to chew. This is their signature dish and deservingly so- its rich and creamy and salty and lemony with a little kick. It makes me proud to be a southerner.

I've been craving it recently, and since I now live 5 hours away from Crook's I can't get it whenever the craving hits. I found their recipe online and ohhhh myyyy goodness. It was the best dinner I've made in as long as I can remember. It tasted just like the real deal and only took 20 minutes start to finish. This just went into the recipe vault where it will stay in regular rotation forever. If you like food, you need to make this. Tonight.

2 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick cooking grits
1 cup grated cheddar
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon Tobasco
1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 slices bacon
1 lb. medium shrimp, deveined and peeled
salt and pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced scallions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Tobasco

To make the grits: Add the water, chicken broth, half-and-half, and the salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat until boiling. Whisk in the grits and reduce heat to low/simmer. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until thickened, stirring occasionally. Add the cheeses, butter, Tobasco, and pepper and stir. Keep warm.

To make the shrimp: In a large pan cook the bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, crumble and set aside. Keep 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings in the pan and add the sliced mushrooms, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper and then dredge in flour- add them and the garlic to the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until shrimps are lightly browned. Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and tobasco and cook another 2 minutes until sauce has thickened.

Stir the grits before serving. Once ready, pour the grits in the bottom of individual bowls and place even amounts of shrimp on top. Serve with a slice of lemon to squeeze on top. Serves 4.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

So this is the first recipe I made from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my home to yours, which is my new favorite cookbook. Her espresso cheesecake brownies looked so delicious and I figured that anything topping that is made from sour cream (sweet or savory) is bound to be delicious. And it was. So was the espresso cheesecake layer... absolutely unreal. Unfortunately, the brownie layer was kind of strange-- too hard, not enough butter/sugar/flavor. So, I've replaced Dorie's brownie recipe with my own and kept the rest of her recipe the same. This is DYNAMITE.

Brownie Batter Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup flour
These are great

Cheesecake Ingredients
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon boiling water
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flour

Topping Ingredients
1 1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Make the brownie layer: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Heat the butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat, whisking just until melted. Remove from heat and whisk in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until well combined. Whisk in flour until just combined. Set aside.

Make the cheesecake layer: Dissolve the espresso in the boiling water; set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until completely smooth. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and espresso. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Reduce mixer to low and add sour cream, followed by flour. Batter should be smooth.

Stir the brownie batter to make sure its smooth and pour about 3/4 of it in the prepared baking pan. Smooth the brownie layer and pour the cheesecake batter on top in an even layer. Dot the top of the batter with the remaining brownie batter, then slightly swirl the two batters together- don't over swirl!

Bake for about 30 minutes or until brownie pull away from sides of the pan and the cheesecake is beige in the center. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Make the topping: Stir together the sour cream and the confectioners' sugar until smooth and sugar is dissolved. Pour on top of the cold cheesecake layer and refrigerate another hour.

Run a knife under hot water before cutting brownies. Serve and ENJOY.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Creamy Potato Leek Soup

This is a really wonderful soup with simple flavors that proves that sometimes less is more.  This creamy soup is made without any cream or milk product and so you can really taste the flavors of the leeks and the potato. Its a winner and I topped it with my favorite soup topper-- pancetta and leeks. It was like a loaded baked potato in soup form! Delish.

4 large leeks
1 medium onion
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
4 tablespoons butter
8 ounce russet potato, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 large slice white bread, lightly toasted
Ground black pepper

Cut the leeks in half where they turn from light green to dark green. Then slice separate part in half lengthwise and was thoroughly. Thinly slice the white/light green part of the leeks and chop the onion and set aside. Take the dark green parts and cut into 2-inch pieces and place in a large pot with the broth and water over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the potato in half lengthwise, then thinly slice the potato (1/4-inch slices). Set aside. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch pieces and set aside.

Once the broth is done boiling, pour through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl pressing the leeks to get all the juices out. Discard the solids and set the broth aside. Clean out the pot and return to stove.

On medium heat, melt the butter and add the white/light green sliced leeks and the chopped onion, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables are softened- about 10-15 minutes. Turn heat to high and add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to low heat and add the potatoes, thyme sprig, and bay leaf and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add the bread pieces and cook for about 5-7 minutes, until it starts to break down. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig and blend with an immersion blender or in a stand blender. Add some freshly ground pepper and taste for salt.

Serve with sauteed pancetta and leek... or bacon and sour cream. MMmmm.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Homemade Caramel Apples!

Mmmm I love caramel apples. In high school there was this candy apple shop right next to the movie theater and I used to sneak in apples instead of popcorn. This was my first time attempting to make them at home and it was SO much fun and quite easy. I topped them with whatever chocolate/candies/cookies/sprinkles I had in my pantry, which meant they did not require many special ingredients other than caramels and apples. MAKE THESE ASAP.

6 granny smith apples
2 (14oz) bags wrapped caramels
4 tablespoons half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces white chocolate, melted
8 ounces milk chocolate, melted

Sticks: Chopsticks

Toppings: sea salt, sprinkles, chopped nuts, crushed OREOS, Heath Bar pieces, mini M&M's, crushed Whoppers, coconut, etc.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and submerge each apple in the water for about 20 seconds. Remove and use a vegetable brush/rough sponge to scrub the wax off. Dry the apples thoroughly and keep at room temperature. At this point your apples should look dull and without shine... this is good. If you do not do these two steps, your caramel might not stick to the apple. Take the stems off the apples, turn them upside down and stick a chop stick in the middle of the bottom. Set aside.

In another large pot add the unwrapped caramels, half-and-half, and salt and stir constantly over medium-low heat until melted. Take each apple and dunk in the caramel, making sure to coat a bit of the chop stick. Use a spatula to completely coat each apple and let the caramel drip a bit before placing on greased parchment paper-lined cookie sheet in the refrigerator. Let sit in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile get your toppings ready and put them in separate bowls. Place the melted chocolate in either a candy squirt bottle or a ziplock back with the corner cut off. One at a time, remove each apple from the cookie sheet and drizzle or coat with melted chocolate and toppings however you wish! Then devour them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

I've been wanting to experiment with a new pumpkin muffin/cupcake recipe this fall. Not because I don't love my old faithful (click here for recipe), but because I wanted something a bit less muffin-y and more cake-y, so that I could frost it with a browned butter cream cheese frosting. I've been into browning butter when baking for a few months now (see Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies and Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispies), and I thought it might make these fall cupcakes even more warm and cozy on a cold and rainy day like today. These are great classic pumpkin cupcakes/muffins and could also be served without frosting if you want to throw in a few chocolate chips or nuts or dried cranberries, or all of the above.  Cupcake recipe adapted from Paula Deen's, although just now I realized I forgot to add all of the baking powder and they still turned out great.... and the frosting I sorta made up as I went. 

1 cup vegetable oil
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
15-ounce can pumpkin
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (apparently optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

With an electric mixer on medium speed beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, and pumpkin until light and fluffy- about 2 minutes. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat on low until incorporated. Pour into prepared muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

1 stick butter
12 ounces cream cheese, softened for about 30 minutes
2.5-3.5 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Take the butter and cut the stick in half. Cube half and place in a small bowl and set aside. Place the other half a stick of butter in a small pan and turn the burner on medium heat. Stir the butter with a spatula, scraping the bottom until butter is browned (the butter will first bubble a lot, then calm down, then brown pieces will begin to form on the bottom of the pan- scrape them up and continue cooking just a bit longer). Pour browned butter on top of other butter in the small bowl and stir together until all butter is melted. 

With an electric mixer begin beating the cream cheese while adding the butter mixture and the vanilla. Add the sugar, about a 1/2 cup at a time, tasting as you go until desired sweetness. You may add a bit of milk if you find it too thick, but I prefer a thicker frosting. Frost cupcakes and eat!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I LOVE CINNAMON RAISIN BREAD. It makes the best toast. I made 3 loaves of this a few weeks ago and my friends and family and I pretty much ate this and only this for a week straight. It freezes well, it makes a great gift... its just wonderful. Even though making bread takes time, don't let that discourage you. Its worth the time!

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2-2 packages of yeast (not quick rising)
8 cups unbleached flour (about)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
2 sticks butter
5 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 stick melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

1. Mix water and 3/4 cup of sugar in a very large bowl. Add the yeast and 3 cups of flour. Stir with a fork and cover with plastic wrap, letting it rise for about 30 minutes in a warm place.

2. Meanwhile, in another bowl measure and mix together 5 cups of flour, salt, cinnamon, and 3/4 cup sugar. Add the butter and cut with a knife or pasty blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. In a small bowl, beat 4 eggs with a fork and add vanilla. Add to yeast mixture and mix well. Add flour gradually to yeast mixture, stirring with a spoon.  When all the flour is added, dump onto a floured counter and knead for about 7 minutes. (be sure your hands are floured).  If sticky, add more flour. Dough should be smooth and elastic.

4. Oil a large bowl and return the dough to it. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled in size. Punch down dough and knead lightly.

5. Divide dough into 3 parts and roll eat part out into a flat rectangle (each about 8x15inches). Baste with melted butter (as much as you can put on there without it spilling over). Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (you can use light brown or white sugar). Sprinkle raisins on top and roll into a load. Pinch edges closed and place in oiled loaf pan. Let rise.

6. Baste with remaining (beaten) egg and bake in 350 degree oven until golden brown (30-45 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool. Remove from pans, eat and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque

Butternut squash is one of my favorite things about this time of year. Yea yea yea, I love fall, you get it. But I really do love fall and all the seasonal foods that go with it-- like butternut squash risotto, pumpkin muffins, apple cider, thanksgiving stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc. I wanted to make a butternut squash soup that was fairly straight-forward without the bells and whistles of some recipes (like apple or curry- i.e., the recipe I posted last fall). This one really showcases the squash and leeks, which are the best ingredients in the soup. Very good!

1 3-lb butternut squash
6 tbs. unsalted butter
2 large shallots, diced
1 large leek, sliced thin
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1/3 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel the butternut squash and then chop into 3/4 inch cubes. Mix with a little salt and pepper and olive oil and roast on a cookie sheet for about 25-35 minutes, until soft and lightly browned (toss halfway in between). Set aside.

In a large soup pan melt the butter, adding the shallots, leeks, carrot and celery. Stir occasionally and cook for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the flour and stir constantly for 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (the the broth mixture will thicken during this stage). Once boiling add the wine, bay leaves, and squash. Stir, breaking up the squash and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and then blend (with a stick blender or stand blender) and return to pot. Add the half-and-half and taste for salt and pepper. Keep warm and either make a sauteed shrimp topping or a pancetta leek topping... or all 3 in one. Mmm.

Pancetta/Leek Topping
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 ounces diced pancetta
2 leeks, thinly sliced
3/4 pound raw, deveined, tail-less shrimp

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the pancetta and sliced leeks and cook, stirring frequently until fat is rendered from pancetta and leeks are lightly browned and a bit crispy. Just before finishing, add the shrimp and saute just until cooked through. Dollop a fair amount on the top of each bowl and serve. You do not want to skip this step. Insanely good. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Easy Apple Crisp

I recently bought a bunch of local apples at a fruit stand and wanted to make something yummy with them. I decided to make an apple crisp/crumble (mostly because I was too lazy to make a pie crust). It was so easy and absolutely delicious. In general, using firm apples, like granny smith create the best pies or crumbles, but I bought gala apples- whereas they are not as firm as granny smiths, they did stand up better than most apples.

5 gala or granny smith apples
1/2 lemon, juiced
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 8x8 pan. Set aside.

Peel and slice the apples into 1/3-inch slices. Toss with lemon juice and place in the bottom of the prepared pan. In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, flour, oats, butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg until all ingredients are incorporated. Sprinkle over the apples and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Remove from over and serve in bowls with a scoop of ice cream on top!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thai Coconut Soup

Its fall! My favorite season! Makes me want to make warm and spicy soups. This soup was recommended to me months ago by my friend Dani and is loosely based off of a Cook's Illustrated recipe. It turned out quite well and has many layers of flavor- spicy, salty, tart, etc. Just as it should be. Mmm-mm-mm. If you can find lemon grass at your store/market, add 3 stalks (with the first few layers removed, halved) with the shallots and cilantro.

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 shallots, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
4 cups chicken broth
2 (14 oz) cans coconut milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 lb. chicken breasts, 1/8 inch slice
5 oz thin rice noodles, cooked and drained
4 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon red thai curry paste

In a large pot heat the oil. Add the shallots, cilantro and 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce and the soy sauce (pour the rest in a small bowl and add the lime juice and curry paste, stirring together- set aside). Stir and cook the vegetables just until they begin to soften- about 3 or 4 minutes. Add chicken broth and 1 can of shaken coconut milk. Stir together and bring to a simmer. Then cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain soup into a large bowl, discarding the onion/cilantro mixture. Wipe out the pot and put the broth mixture back into the pot.

Return heat to medium-high and add the other can of shaken coconut milk, along with the sugar. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Add the sliced red bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the noodles and the curry/lime juice/fish sauce mixture. Taste and add extra seasoning if necessary (ex: more curry paste, more lemon juice, etc.).

Serve in bowls, sprinkling freshly chopped cilantro, scallions, and jalepeno on top of each bowl. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top and serve.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mexican Chocolate Streusel Cake

I absolutely love mexican chocolate. You can buy mexican chocolate at most grocery stores- it will either be in the ethnic food aisle or in the hot chocolate aisle... I usually buy the Ibarra brand, but Nestle makes some that looks and tastes the same and they call it "Abuelita." I grew up having mexican chocolate in the form of hot cocoa.... My mom used to make us mexican hot chocolate on cold winter days and the smell of this cake takes me back to winter breaks in elementary school. (To make mexican hot chocolate, take 2 tablets/~ 1ounce of mexican chocolate and place in the bottom of a blender. Add 8 ounces of very hot milk-- but not quite boiling. Blend until frothy and incorporated. Pour into a mug and drink. Mmmmm. Drool... its really very good).

And this cake is vewy vewy good. It has more than a pound of mexican chocolate in it, so how could it be bad? It is also very forgiving. I know this because I added the ingredients in the completely wrong order, and I don't think it made a bit of difference in the end. And if that wasn't enough, just now I realized I forgot to add an entire egg. Whoops. Either way it was awesome, and I can't imagine how much better it will be when I actually make it correctly. Its a major crowd pleaser. Recipe from Rick Bayless.

**Oh, and the reason that this photo is so incredible is because I had absolutely nothing to do with it. PHOTO BY Jeff Wischkaemper. Please photograph all my food from now on?

Streusel Topping Ingredients
9.5 ounces mexican chocolate, chopped
1 large egg yolk
7 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Cake Ingredients
9.5 ounces mexican chocolate, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

First, prepare the chocolate. Once coarsely chopped, add 9.5 ounces into a food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Remove from processor and put in a bowl and set aside for the cake batter. Next, add the rest (9.5 ounces) of the coarsely chopped chocolate to the food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir together the egg and salt and add to processor, along with the butter, and flour. Pulse until streusel resembles a moist crumbly mixture- you do not want to over pulse. Set aside.

Add the butter, cream cheese, and sugar into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated before each egg is added. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder and add it to the batter, beat until incorporated. Stir in the reserved 9.5 ounces of mexican chocolate and pour into a buttered and floured 9x13 baking pan. Spread the batter evenly and add the streusel topping, spreading evenly, and making sure there are no large pieces.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. YUM.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chicken, Corn, and Sour Cream Enchiladas

I've made these twice now in the past two weeks and they are seriously delicious. They are easy to make and can be doubled with little effort if you need to feed an army. They are also very forgiving, so if you don't like an ingredient or ran out of something before making, just replace it with something else.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon taco seasoning
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 ears of corn cut off the cob
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo sauce
8 ounces sour cream
2-4 ounces diced green chiles (canned)
2 green onions, diced
8 ounces colby-jack cheese, grated
8 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated
2 cups enchilada sauce, canned
12 small tortillas (corn or flour)

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile, mix together the cumin, garlic powder, and taco seasoning in a small bowl. Sprinkle each side of the chicken with salt, pepper, and spice mixture. Place chicken in skillet and cook chicken breasts for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through. Remove from pan and shred once cooled. Place chicken in a medium-large bowl. Set aside.

Keep the pan on medium heat and add the onion, corn, and salt and pepper and saute, stirring, until onions are softened. Add the adobo sauce and stir together. Remove from heat and add the corn/onion mixture to the chicken.  Once somewhat cooled, add the sour cream**, diced green chiles, green onions, and 1/3 of the grated cheese. Stir together and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread 1/2 a cup of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 pyrex. Heat the tortillas so they are more pliable. Place some of the filling in the middle of the tortilla, sprinkle some cheese on top, and roll tightly like a burrito. Place seam-down in the pan. Repeat with rest of tortillas, filling, and cheese, leaving about 1/2 a cup of cheese for the end. Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce evenly on top of the rolled enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.

Remove from oven and serve with a dollop of sour cream on top and rice and beans on the side. Mmm.

** So, another option to make these rich and creamy is to take out half of the sour cream and replace it with half of a can of condensed cream of chicken soup. May sound gross, but its to die for.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Congo Bars

So, I've recently been in the mood to try out some new sweet treats. I was looking online and found a number of recipes for "Congo Bars" which are essentially a mix between blondies and 7-layer bars... I am in love with both, so I thought I'd try these out. I used a few recipes and mixed and matched parts from each. The result was a yummy and very chewy cookie/brownie. As you can see in the picture, these are more chewy than they are ooey gooey. They could be made with chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, or any combination of the three (I did a combo). They were quite good, very easy to make, and bake in 30 minutes!

- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2/3 cup butter, melted
- 2 1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- 3 eggs
- 1 generous teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup ground walnuts
- 1/2 cup coconut
- 1 1/2 cup chocolate/butterscotch chips

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl stir together the melted butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and beat together with a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla and stir together. Add the dry ingredients and stir until almost combined. Add the nuts, coconut, and chips and stir together until incorporated.

Pour into a tin-foil-lined (and greased) 9x13 pan. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut into squares and eat!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Salmon with Red Pepper Pesto

This is a very healthy, flavorful, and quick dinner! It was on the table in 10 minutes- start to finish! The red pepper pesto is very easy to make and would taste yummy on almost any fish or chicken. Mmm-mmm-mmm.

- 4 (6oz) filets of salmon
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
- salt & pepper

Lightly grease (with spray or olive oil) a grill pan and place on medium-high heat. While warming up, prepare the salmon filets by sprinkling each side with salt and pepper. Place in grill pan and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until desired doneness.

Meanwhile, put the red peppers, tomato paste, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a food processor. Process until smooth.

Once fish is cooked through, plate and dollop the pesto on top. Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Okay, so when I first heard of this I was really skeptical. I am a HUGE fan of regular zucchini bread (my aunt makes the best around) and I was afraid to mess with a good thing. But my friend Stephanie (her blog here) made these and we frequently share recipes... I thought that if she deemed them worthy of trying, I could also take the risk.

The zucchini makes this bread/cake extra gooey and all the chocolate chips make it quite rich. Its not your typical zucchini bread and the dark color of the chocolate makes it nearly impossible to even see that there is any zucchini in it. And, of course, you cannot really taste the zucchini... its purpose is really for moisture. I looked online at a few recipes and added a few things, like more chocolate, some sour cream, and then some more chocolate, resulting in the recipe below. 

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup vegetable oil plus 2 tablespoons
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 cups grated zucchini
3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chop the unsweetened chocolate into small pieces and melt in a microwave, stirring every 15 seconds or so, until melted. Remove from microwave and pour into large mixing bowl. Add the oil, sugar, and eggs and beat with an electric mixer until combined. Add the zucchini, sour cream, and vanilla and beat to combine. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips to the dry ingredients. Pour the dry ingredients into the chocolate/zucchini batter and fold with a spatula just until combined.

Pour batter evenly into 2 lightly greased loaf pans (9x5) and bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Remove from oven when toothpick in the center comes out with small pieces of cake (not clean!).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tomato Soup

I have always loved tomato soup and often order it when I got out to eat for lunch, but I've never had a great recipe before... either it tastes really bitter, or too sweet, or too much like spaghetti sauce. I had read about the "bread trick" when making good tomato soup and decided I would try it out. Instead of having to use milk or heavy cream to make the soup rich and creamy, this recipe uses pieces of white bread blended into the soup to make a rich, creamy, non dairy/fattening soup. Delish!

4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
2 (28oz) cans whole tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
3 pieces white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons brandy
salt & pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a dutch oven/soup pot on medium high until smoking. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and basil, breaking up the tomatoes with a potato masher/whisk. Bring to a boil and add the bread pieces, cooking until the bread begins to break down. Remove bay leaf and discard.

Transfer half of the soup into a food processor, add 1 tablespoon of oil, and process until completely smooth and creamy (about 2 minutes). Pour into a separate bowl. Repeat with remaining soup and olive oil, blending until creamy. Rinse out pot and pour blended soup back into pot. Add the chicken broth and brandy and stir. Bring soup to boil and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls and drizzle with olive oil. Eat with your favorite grilled cheese sandwich!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spinach, Sausage, and Feta Frittata!

Oh boy. Oh geez. This... was... soooo good. I made this a few months ago to serve at a birthday brunch for a friend. It was very very good and 3 of us just about polished it off in one sitting. I am looking forward to making this again soon! (adapted from Bon Appetit)

- 1 package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 8 ounces Italian sausage, broken into 1-inch pieces
- 8 large eggs
- 1/4 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- dash of salt
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8x8 inch pyrex baking dish with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add sausage and saute until brown and cooked through, breaking up with a fork, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, salt and pepper in a large bowl to blend. Add the spinach and cooled sausage mixture, then feta; stir to combine. Transfer mixture into prepared baking dish. Bake frittata until set in center, 45-55 minutes. Let cool on rack for 15 minutes and slice frittata and serve on a platter.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I love Ina Garten. I've said it plenty before and I'm sure I'm not finished saying it. This is one of her recipes that I made for a work breakfast this past week. It was very easy to make, required no obscure ingredients and tasted out of this world. It is incredibly moist, due to the sour cream and extreme amount of butter, and when you cut into it, you find a lovely cinnamon-sugary butter layer in the middle. I added a few chopped walnuts to the streusel on top and enjoyed the extra crunch that they added. The maple glaze made this even more tasty. This is a winner!

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 extra large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup sour cream
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a tube pan by greasing the bottom, and sides with butter and dusting with flour. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, scraping the sides as needed. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat together.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry cake ingredients. Slowly add them to the cake batter, while beating on low, just until incorporated. Turn beaters off and slowly finish mixing the batter by folding it with a spatula. Do not over mix.

Meanwhile, make the streusel topping by stirring together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Add the butter and crumble together the ingredients using your hands, until resembles a coarse wet sand-like mixture. Set aside (without adding the nuts).

Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the prepared tube pan and smooth with a spatula. Pour most of the streusel topping on top of the batter in an even layer and then pour the rest of the batter on top and smooth with a spatula. Add the nuts to the remaining streusel and sprinkle on top of batter.

Bake in oven for about 45-50 minutes, removing from oven just when toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes then remove and finish cooling on a rack.

Stir together the confectioners sugar and maple syrup until combined. Add water as needed so that it is a drizzle-able consistency. Once ready, pour over the cake. Slice and serve with a big mug of coffee.

Lemon Artichoke Hummus

I didn't snap a photo of this hummus, but I wanted to post it anyway because it was SO delicious. This recipe has a significant amount of artichoke hearts in it, which makes this hummus both light and tart. It is very very good. Make me! From

1 cup canned artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and dried
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons tahini, stirred well
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14oz) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
pinch of cayenne

Combine lemon juice and water in small bowl. Whisk together tahini and olive oil in second bowl.

In a food processor, process the chickpeas, artichokes, garlic, salt, cayenne, and lemon zest in food processor until almost fully ground. Scrape down bowl with spatula. While machine is running, add lemon juice-water mixture in a steady stream through the feed tube. Scrape down bowl and continue to process for 1 minute. While machine is running, add the oil-tahini mixture in a steady stream through the feed tube; continue to process until smooth and creamy.

Spread into a bowl, garnish with olive oil, cayenne, and parsley. Serve with pita bread.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blueberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

I made these muffins last week and brought them to school for a morning meeting. The best thing about this recipe is that you can make the batter ahead of time, keep it in the refrigerator, and bake them right before serving. This saved me a lot of time and made it so that I didn't have to wake up at 6am to make them... hugely helpful!

The consistency of these was phenomenal- absolutely the best of any muffin I've made before. They were light and fluffy and perfect. The batter was lacking a bit of flavor, so I've adjusted the recipe to add a bit more. I also made a small amount of cinnamon/sugar streusel topping to give these an extra crunch. Yum. Adapted from Cook's Illustrated. Yields 12-15 muffins.

- 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 cups blueberries, plus 1 tablespoon flour

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition.

Add the lemon zest and vanilla to the yogurt, and stir to combine.

Reduce the mixer to medium-low and beat in half of the flour mixture, followed by one-third of the yogurt mixture. Then pour in half of the remaining flour mixture, followed by one-third of the yogurt mixture, then finish with the rest of the flour and the rest of the yogurt, mixing just until combined. Do NOT overbeat.

Mix the 1 tablespoon of flour with the blueberries and toss to coat. Pour the blueberries into the batter and slowly fold to combine. If baking immediately, pour into prepared muffin tins and sprinkle with streusel topping (recipe below). Bake at 375 degrees for 20-28 minutes until lightly browned and toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool on rack and serve hot!

** If NOT baking immediately, pour finished batter into an air-tight container and refrigerate up to 24 hours. Scoop batter into prepared muffin tins and sprinkle with streusel topping. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool on rack and serve hot!

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

In a small bowl mix together the flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Add the pieces of butter and using a fork or your fingers mix together until mixture resembles a coarse grain. Sprinkle on top of un-baked muffins.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Carrot Cupcakes with Orange Frosting(s)!

These bad boys were first made by my friend Andrea a few months ago for a birthday celebration. They were SO good. The original recipe suggests an orange glaze on top, which was absolutely phenomenal. I would recommend that as well as the orange cream cheese topping that was made for these cupcakes for the bridal shower. I will give both recipes, so you can choose which icing you'd rather have. From Gourmet, 2007.

- 2 cups grated carrot
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together the dry ingredients, including the spices in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl whisk together the oil, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and carrots. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour into lined cupcake tins. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

Orange Glaze                                                        
- 1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar                          
- 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest                          
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh orange juice                  
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 2 (8 ounce) blocks of cream cheese, cold
- 1-2 cups confectioners sugar
- 1 teaspoon orange zest, plus 3 tablespoons juice

For the glaze, whisk together the above ingredients. Dip each cupcake into glaze and let harden.

For the cream cheese frosting, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium-high until fluffy and smooth- this will take a few minutes. Add the confectioners sugar to taste. Add the orange zest and juice, and a dash of vanilla, if you choose and beat until combined. Pipe or spread on cooled cupcakes.

Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes w/ Buttercream

These cupcakes were also made for the bridal shower that I co-hosted this past weekend. The bride has been very into lemon cakes recently, and so the co-host and I decided we'd give these a whirl. We used Martha Stewart's lemon cupcake recipe for the base, added our own lemon glaze, followed by raspberry jam, and finished each with a swirl of vanilla buttercream. The frosting is very sweet, but perfectly balanced by the tartness of the lemon flavor. These were a DELICIOUS.

- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 3 tablespoons lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk

Lemon Glaze
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons sugar

Vanilla Buttercream
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

With an electric mixer of medium speed cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Beat in zest and vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk and lemon juice, beating just until combined. Divide evenly into muffin tins and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven.

While in the oven, make the lemon glaze. If the sugar won't dissolve, microwave the mixture and stir until combined and syrupy. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Poke holes in the cupcakes with a tooth pick and brush the lemon glaze on top of the cupcakes, letting the glaze slowly seep into the cake.

With an electric mixer beat the butter until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Slowly (1/2 cup at a time) add the confectioners sugar, beating until incorporated before adding the next half cup of sugar. After ever 2 additions of sugar, beat on high speed for 10 seconds before returning back to low, and adding more sugar. This process should take about 5 minutes total. Add the vanilla and beat until combined.

Once cupcakes are cooled, spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on top of each cupcake. Pipe buttercream on top of the raspberry layer on each cupcake. Serve and enjoy!

Greek Tortellini Salad

I made this pasta salad the other night for a bridal shower that I was co-hosting... Its an imitation of the tortellini salad at this great panini/gelato spot in downtown Knoxville called Coolato Gelato (arguably the bride's favorite local eatery). If you've never been, you really should. Similarly to all pasta salads, this one is infinitely adaptable and you can add whatever you like to it.

- 1 pound tri-colored cheese tortellini pasta
- 8-10 ounces of good greek salad dressing
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 orange bell pepper, sliced thin
- a bunch of chopped marinated artichoke hearts
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Boil the pasta, according to directions. Add all the vegetables and feta and about half of the greek salad dressing. Toss to coat. Taste and add extra dressing until you have enough. If you make this in advance, only add half the dressing ahead of time and add the rest of the dressing right before serving. Also wait to add the tomatoes, so they don't get soggy. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Smokey Lentil Soup with Grown-Up Grilled Cheese

This is a recipe that I found from a William Sonoma recipe section of their most recent catalog. They suggest that you make this in one of those classic William-Sonoma-One-Purpose-Gadgets where its a pot/blender/soup bowl/waste of money all in one... Yeaaa, I just did it the old fashioned way with separate appliances. Worked juuuuust fine. Both the soup AND grilled-cheese were great and I would serve each together or separately again!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, 1/4 inch dice
1 celery stalk, 1/4 inch dice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
3/4 cup split red lentils, rinsed
1/3 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream
3 strips bacon, crumbled (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the vegetables, tomato paste and paprika. Cook covered, stirring every few minutes, until vegetables have softened- about 25 minutes. Add the lentils, tomatoes, and chicken broth. Cover and cook on medium-low for about 35-40 minutes, until lentils are softened. Pour into a blender and blend briefly. Pour back into pot and reheat until ready to serve. Add the vinegar and taste for salt and pepper. Serve in bowls with sour cream and crumbled bacon on top. Serves 4.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 yellow onion, sliced
8 slices sourdough bread (for 4 sandwiches)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon dijon mustard, stirred into butter
8 ounces gruyere, sliced thin
3/4 cup arugula

Heat the olive oil in a large grill-pan and caramelize the onions (will take about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and wipe the pan with a paper towel. Brush the outside pieces of each sandwich bread with olive oil. Brush the insides with the butter/dijon mixture. Layer gruyere on the inside of the sandwich, followed by caramelized onion, and then more gruyere. Put the other piece of bread on top and place in heated grill pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from pan and open sandwich, quickly placing arugula inside. Place bread back on top and cut sandwiches in half. Serve with soup.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Funfetti Cupcakes!

I found these on a really cute baking blog a few weeks ago and though I'd give them a whirl. Everything on her site looks really good (her blog here), but I had never tried a recipe from this blog before, so it was a total experiment.

In the end, I loved the idea, but would change around a few things. I found the batter to be too tough-- almost bread-like, which I know was at least partially, if not all, due to me over-beating. And I didn't think it had enough flavor, despite adding more vanilla than the recipe suggested. 

So, below I've posted a different yellow cake batter that I've made before and really enjoyed- it will not change the coolness of the funfetti inside. And I wanted to try making a white chocolate cream cheese frosting, because I thought it would pair well... it was very good. They look awesome and (should) taste great with the new cake batter!

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup nonpareils sprinkles

Whisk the first four dry ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside. With an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add the vanilla and one egg at a time, beating just until mixed. Add the buttermilk and the dry ingredients alternatively, beating slowly just until mixed. Fold in the sprinkles. Pour into cupcake tins lined in papers. Bake for about 15-20 minutes (check with a toothpick- do not overcook). Remove from oven and let cool completely before frosting. Makes about 12 cupcakes.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened slightly
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
5 ounces melted white chocolate, cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 cups powdered sugar
Sprinkles for decorating

With an electric mixer beat together the cream cheese and butter on high until soft and incorporated. Add the white chocolate while mixing and the vanilla. Slowly add the powdered sugar until it reaches the desired consistency/sweetness. I tend to use less, but that is my personal preference. Frost the cupcakes to your liking and decorate with sprinkles.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This recipe post is a birthday of sorts... its my 100th recipe! I thought for a long time about what I wanted my 100th post to be. I knew it needed to be something sweet and baked. I had originally thought I'd do a big birthday cake- maybe a german chocolate, or a cheesecake... but I try to only make those things when I also have another occasion to cook for (other than the blog), so that it actually gets eaten. I made these last weekend to bring to a girls weekend in Asheville, NC and they were delicious... undoubtedly because they have both butter and crisco in them. Top notch... figured they were worthy of the 100th post. Enjoy! (Adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch of kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1/4 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for rolling dough
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon for rolling dough

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

With an electric mixer beat the butter, shortening, and sugar until smooth- about 1-2 minutes. Add eggs, and beat about 30 seconds- scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat on low just until combined.

In a small bowl mix together the 3 tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon. Roll the dough into heaping tablespoon sized balls and roll them in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes. Cookies will be crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Delicious.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Homemade Blackberry Jam

I went berry picking this past weekend for the first time in maybe 15 years. I went with a friend who had also not been berry picking in ages. I think we had forgotten how many gigantic bugs we would encounter and I'm sure we looked and sounded like the most prissy berry-pickers the farm had ever seen (there were lots of screams, shudders, and backward jumps to avoid certain critters).

Despite the creepy critters, the end result was wonderful and I can't wait to go back again soon. Not only did we come home with pints of delicious blackberries, but we met a rabid horse, and a bear-dog... And a very nice old man that taught us about the chemistry behind how non-sugar-binding pectin works to thicken homemade jam.

4 cups fresh crushed blackberries
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons non-sugar-binding pectin
4 12ounce glass jars with tops

Mash the berries with a fork or potato masher. Add them to a large pot with the lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add the pectin and bring to a rolling boil again (make sure you also add the appropriate amount of calcium water that will be in the same box as the pectin- I used 2 teaspoons). After 2 or 3 minutes remove from heat. Pour into hot, sterilizing jars and put the tops on. Let sit on the counter for 12-24 hours then refrigerate. These will stay fresh in the fridge for about 3 weeks, or in the freezer for longer. YUM. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Avocado, Apple, Blue Cheese, & Steak Salad

The story behind this salad is that a version of it was first made during a beach weekend when a few of my girlfriends and I were celebrating our friend's last few days as a bachelorette. We all ooh'ed and ahh'ed about it all weekend and have each made and served it at almost every possible occasion since. The last time I made it I grilled a filet and popped it on top (as pictured), although most of the time I make this as a side salad without any major protein. Its amazing either way. The 2 critical items: the dressing, and avocado. If you change it around at all, thats fine, but don't ditch either of those things.

Salad Ingredients
5 ounces mixed baby greens
1 avocado, chopped
1/2-1 granny smith apple, chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 handful candied pecans (homemade or not)
3 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Put all of ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Prepare the salad dressing...

Salad Dressing
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Put all dressing ingredients in a small jar. Put lid on tightly and shake to incorporate/emulsify the oil and vinegar. Pour however much dressing you want on the salad. Toss together and serve (with or without filet, although I'm going to just say that pretty much anything is better with filet on top. And yes, I do remember that I used to be a "vegetarian." Shhh.).