Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Cookies!!

So about two and a half weeks ago, I decided I need to bake an extravagant assortment of Christmas cookies.  I probably spent upwards of 24 hours in the kitchen over the course of the weekend, and I started to update this blog...and then completely forgot to finish it.  But now that the cookies have been distributed from here to the East Coast, I figured I should at least publish the recipes I used in case anyone wants to replicate any of these delightful treats!  I cannot take credit for creating any of the recipes but I'd like to think I have a good eye for picking out a recipe and executing it to its best potential.

Molasses Sugar Cookies - one of my all time favorites.  Super important to chill the dough over night.  Even after you roll the dough in the sugar prior to baking, I refrigerate again.

Holiday Biscotti - Pretty holiday colors with cranberries & pistachios, dipped in white chocolate and sprinkled with colored sugar.

Snowballs  - Otherwise known as Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cookies.  A favorite when I was a kid!

Super Gooey Chocolate Drops - These are best fresh - slightly unbaked so they stay gooey.

Rugelach - My first attempt at these - NOT easy.  The dough was very sticky and required a lot more flour before rolling out.  Getting the dough super thin was also a challenge but the chocolate, raspberry and pecan filling was much more prominent when the dough was thinner.  I will definitely try making these again, I think they have great potential!  Plus you can do whatever combination of fillings that you like.

Chocolate Peppermint Surprise cookies - I actually ripped a page out of my Rachael Ray magazine to make these but someone else beat me to typing it up.  A lot of work and MESSY - I was covered in white chocolate by time these were done.  I didn't think the chocolate cookie recipe was anything special but the mint inside and the white chocolate on top made these pretty darn good.  I got a lot of positive reviews on these!

Cranberry Orange Cookies - My mom really loves these so I had to make some to bring home.  I used pecans instead of walnuts.  Nice combination of tart and sweet with the drizzle on top.

Here's the whole assortment, along with a few white chocolate covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's.

After a long baking weekend and entirely too much time on my feet, I still had enough energy to cook up a really good Sunday dinner.  Rebecca was kind enough to whip up a batch of her homemade pasta to serve with a new recipe for Brussels Sprouts and my own rendition of Chicken Picatta, which I hadn't made in years.

These Brussels Sprouts were seriously the most delicious sprouts I'd ever eaten.  Very simply roasted but the lemon dressing with Romano cheese made these so good you'd regret ever feeding your vegetables to your dog as a kid.  Although I tested the recipe out on my parents and niece & nephew and the kids still wouldn't try them.  I blame my mom for telling them "they're like little cabbages!" as if that would entice the kids to eat these based on previous bad experiences.  But seriously, if you haven't liked them before, this recipe could change your mind.

Then there's my Chicken Piccata recipe.  I've attempted to write it down several times but I don't measure anything so here's sorta what I did:

I used 2 chicken breasts; butterflied and then smacked the crap out of them until 1/4 inch thick.  The chicken was salted & peppered, and then I used a small sifter to coat them lightly in flour on both sides.  Heat up some butter and olive oil (tablespoon-ish of each) in a skillet.  When hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on one side, flip and cook through completely.  Remove from pan and then add the juice of 2-ish lemons, a few ounces of white wine (I think I used Chardonnay), and whisk it all up to get all the tasty bits from the pan.  Then using the sifter, add in a little flour to thicken the sauce.  Taste, add more wine/lemon/butter as necessary - actually this time we added a bit of the pasta water because the lemon & wine combo had a bite to it.  Once the sauce is thickened, add the chicken back in the pan.    Serve with tasty homemade pasta and brussels sprouts!

Oh and this past weekend I baked some Snickerdoodle Cupcakes and decorated them like Rudolph!  I didn't take any pictures of the process but here's one of the disgruntled Rudolphs with slightly googly eyes.  The eyes are white chocolate chips with a dot of gel frosting...pretzel antlers, and a Chocolate Cinnamon M&M for the nose.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday sammich

Sundays are pretty much my only cooking day.  Unless you count veggie burgers or breakfast burritos (for dinner) as cooking, it's the only day I'm willing to invest any time into a recipe that takes longer than 17 seconds to make.  I spend a ton of time all week looking and recipes online and finding ideas but when it comes down to it, I don't make most of the things I find that look absolutely amazing. Partially due to time, partially because I cannot have cakes and cookies around the house every day. And as much as I love trying new recipes, sometimes I just need an old favorite.  So today I did both - a new sandwich that required a little more work than a deli-meat panini, and my favorite recipe for carrot cake.  I do need some cake!

While I don't typically count making sandwich as a recipe, but this was pretty worthy and was much more labor intensive than ham and cheese on white.  This Peppered Beef Sandwich was pleasing combination of flavors I never would have thought of on my own.  I had thought about REALLY making the whole thing from scratch - the bread and the mayo base - I cheated and it turned out just fine.  Actually I did try to make a mayo but the recipe I found was not good and I wasted a cup of olive oil.  Anyway, for the bread I used a flax seed ciabatta from Trader Joe's.  I think sour dough would have been good too but Rebecca did not agree with me on that one!  The bread was pretty flavorful, and very sturdy.  The beef was thanks to Rebecca, who brought me extra filet from a family party.  I pretty much never ever cook beef, and also very rarely eat it, but I do love a good piece of steak!  And then there was the mayo.  I usually hate mayo.  Mayo is nasty, unhealthy, and texturally displeasing.  It pained me to buy it but somehow the recipe sounded so good to me - even with mayo, red onion, capers, and lemon juice?  These are not things I really love (except lemon juice).  But the flavors complimented each other so well!

Here's the big hunk of beef, doesn't it look huge on my mini iron skillet?  So peppery that the smell of it made me sneeze!

After searing it, I had to chill it for awhile before slicing and then pounding the crap out of it.  That was super fun.  So rare, I love my beef still mooing.

Instead of slicing the ciabatta so there was more crust than bread innards exposed, I cut it on an angle like a loaf of French Bread.  This was Rebecca's idea so that it didn't get TOO crispy in the panini maker.  We assembled bread, the peppered beef, and havarti cheese, and grilled it.

After the cheese was melty and the bread was toasted, we added arugula (aka rocket, I love that word) and caper red onion mayo.  Here's the final product...the beef was just juicy enough to soften the bread but yet it was still crisp.  The tanginess of the mayo matched the peppery beef just perfectly.

And some tots on the side.  It upsets me how good these stupid things are with cream cheese!  Probably not the healthiest meal, which is typically my goal, but Rebecca & I have been doing a crap ton of yoga and we figured this was a fair reward for all of our efforts to perfect Warrior & Triangle poses.

So onto the old favorite.  Carrot cake.  While I prefer most of my baked goods to revolve around chocolate and/or peanut butter, this is a worthy exception.  I adapted the recipe from years ago and it always gets rave reviews.  I actually healthed this up as much as you can without compromising flavor - cutting out some of the sugar and oil in the original recipe.  But since it's a vegetable cake I'm assuming it's as nutritionally beneficial as a bowl of broccoli.

Anyway, my mom really loves carrot cake so I'm assuming that's why I started making this in the first place - at least 3 or 4 years ago.  One time I even baked it here in California, flew back to Michigan for a weekend, and surprised my mom.  I waited to make the frosting until I got to my parent's house but the cake survived the flight quite well!  Here's how to make magic:


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped pecans
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

12 oz package cream cheese - I used 8 oz of regular & 4 oz light
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and 2 9 inch round pans.
  2. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center and add sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix with wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in carrots, coconut, walnuts and pineapple.
  3. Pour evenly into each of the round pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 - 35 minutes. Allow to cool.
  4. To make the frosting: Cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the confectioners sugar and beat until creamy.
  5. Eat excess amounts. :)

Next up:  Christmas cookies!  Hopefully I'll get to those the first weekend in December...for Thanksgiving weekend I'll be too busy over indulging in the culinary delights of New York City!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Bacon Edition

Bacon cupcakes.

Bacon bacon everywhere. I started thinking of bacon after my parents decided to be bacon and eggs for Halloween (see below). I thought how fun it would be to bring bacon candy to a Halloween party if you were going as bacon! Alas, I had to attempt a bacon brittle. I started with a normal peanut brittle recipe, but replaced the peanuts with cashews since I thought the buttery cashew would go really nicely with a salty bacon bit. The brittle was very well received by the neighbors, on par with the Guinness ice cream I made a while back.

Having bought the bacon for the brittle at Costco, I had enough left over to experiment with, and finally decided to make maple bacon cupcakes. The bacon cupcakes were really moist, and not overly sweet, with a surprising hint of vanilla. The bacon garnish added the right amount of meatiness. Perhaps next I should attempt a maple bacon donut to mimic those at Dynamo Donuts in San Francisco?

My parents' Halloween costume. No, that's not my parents.

So I bought mini baking cups in bulk, only to find out there were slightly too large for my cupcake pan. However, I found out they are stiff enough to stand on their own, how fun!

Candied bacon for the garnish on my bacon maple cupcakes. Basically just cooked bacon with a little brown sugar.

These cupcakes aren't going to eat themselves!

Bacon brittle

Bacon Brittle
Adapted from GastronomyBlog

  • 1 lb of good quality bacon
  • 2 cups salted dry-roasted cashews, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1. Dice and cook bacon until crispy, reserve some of the bacon fat.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook this mixtures on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until the sugar turns thick and syrupy. Slowly add the softened butter and bacon fat and continue stirring until the mixture emulsifies. Keep cooking and stirring until the mixture is golden brown, between 300 degrees F and 310 degrees F (it will take forever to get near 300 degrees F, until all of a sudden it will pass 300 degrees F).

3. Remove pan from heat, stir in the baking soda, salt red pepper, vanilla, bacon bits, and cashews. Stir quickly, and spread onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment.

The final product.

Sunday night dinner. Larry made these cheese stuffed burgers I've been craving. I made the homemade rolls. The whole dinner was A-MA-ZING.

Best hamburger buns I've ever eaten! Ever.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Need some vegetation!

So I just got back from a 2 week whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean (Spain, France & Italy) and stuffing my face full of European delights.  Waaaaaaay too much ham, cheese, bread, Nutella, sangria, more ham, pasta, pizza, wine, more ham, and gelato every day.  Sometimes twice a day.  While all of the food was very delicious (ok, that's not true, Spain's food wasn't all that impressive), I have one gripe about Europe cuisine:  where are the fruits & veggies!?!? The closest thing to fruit I ate was blackberry gelato (and it was AMAZING), and some fresh currants we found at a street market.  And vegetables?  Tomato sauce on the pizza.  Lots of potatoes, usually fried, and uh, that's about it.

Today's creation was a desperate need for some veggies, with no freaking ham.  I am definitely on a ham strike.  I started looking for recipes for vegetarian chili and found a few that sounded pretty good.  And then when I went to the grocery store, I apparently remembered parts of several different recipes so I ended up improvising.  The final product is actually my own creation from several other recipes; here's what I ended up with:

Makes 5 Servings
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 heaping teaspoons of minced garlic (from a jar)
palmful of chili powder
palmful of ground coriander
1 14.5 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
2 14.5 oz cans of black beans, drained
3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced
4 cups veggie stock (1 box)
small palmful of dried oregano
1 large sweet potato (about 1 lb), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
~1/2 cup wheat bulgur
juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a large, heavy pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and peppers, stirring occasionally, and cook until soft and beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add the chili powder and coriander and stir for 1 more minute.

2. Stir in the tomatoes and their juices, the beans, chipotle, oregano and veggie stock. Bring the mixture to a boil. Season with salt to taste. 

3. Stir in the sweet potato and bulgur. Simmer uncovered until the sweet potato and bulgur are tender, about 30 minutes. Taste again for salt. Squeeze in lime juice & package up for a healthy lunch all week!

Not the prettiest picture...but very tasty!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fig Newtons!

I always have over ripe bananas in the freezer in anticipation of making banana muffins just like my mom's.  But this time, I decided I wanted to make something different with those frozen bananas, and expand my horizons.  That and I recently learned I am allergy (altho not deathly) to walnuts and I feel like banana muffins would be naked without them.  So I found this recipe for Nutella Banana Bread and decided I needed it immediately!

The verdict?  Delicious.  I made a small sample loaf for Rebecca & I so there were lots of crusty edges.  I didn't feel like the Nutella flavor was super strong (and I used about a 1/4 cup extra to use up the jar) but Rebecca said she could definitely taste the chocolate.  Here's the finished product...with some pretty sweet swirling!

Then there's the Fig Newtons.  Much like I found with homemade Girl Scout cookies, the homemade version is much better (duh, fresher).  But they were also kind of a pain; I'm sure Nabisco has a much more efficient method.  A few notes about the recipes...1) The figs came in a 6 oz bag.  Come to think of it, I had thought there was too much water when I was making the filling and I guess that makes sense because I didn't cut back on the water but did cut back on the figs.  2) There's a reason it says to chill the dough....otherwise it will spread a bit in the oven. 3) It look longer than 20 minutes to get them brown.  4) Yum, I forgot how good these cookies are!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Yellow(ish) Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Mmm...been craving this one for awhile. And I wanted it in actual cake format, not cupcakes.  No special occasion, just a Sunday morning activity to keep me entertained.

The cake (someone's adaption from McCall's Book of Cakes and Pies):

Old-Fashioned Yellow Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 + 1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk (I used half and half...figured if was an "old-fashioned" recipe, skim milk didn't exist. That and I had half and half to use up).
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans.
2. In a large mixing bowl sift flour and sugar, baking powder and salt.
3. Add butter, milk and vanilla. Beat with a hand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, occasionally scraping sides of bowl.
4. Add eggs, beat for 2 more minutes.
5. Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally among both. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Turn out and cool thoroughly on wire racks.

Perfect Chocolate Frosting (from Hershey's)

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
1 cup cocoa powder
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Stir melted butter into cocoa and alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add a small amount of additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. Makes about 3 1/2 cups frosting. Frost cake when completely cooled.

The verdict?  The cake was good but the frosting was definitely the best part - but that's usually how I feel.  Cake is just a vehicle for eating more frosting...because I would NEVER eat a huge amount of frosting on its own...ever! ;)

I forgot to take a picture of the batter...not super yellow...but here's the cakes pre-frosting:

And a big bowl of chocolately frosting:

SOMEONE had to lick this spatula after the cake was frosted...:

The final product...mmm:

Delicious with an ice-cold glass of milk!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Opa! It's a Greek fundraiser! And some cupcakes!

It's been a looooooong time since I've posted.  Between traveling for work and various social events, I haven't spent a whole lot of time in my kitchen lately. I used to get some extra kitchen time every week when I volunteered for Cooking Matters Los Angeles, but the last class I helped with ended in March!  So when I heard about the opportunity to do a dinner party fundraiser to benefit this group, I jumped at the chance.  Basically I got to throw a dinner party, which I love doing anyway, and charge my friends $20 to donate towards Cooking Matters LA.  I received donations from two of my favorite stores- Trader Joe's and Henry's that covered all of the cost of groceries so that my friends' donations were contributed 100% towards the cause.

Here's part of the information I sent on the invite:

SUMMARY: Donate $20 and I'll make you dinner

DETAILS: You are invited to my Share a Table Opa! Greek Feast Night at my home on Sunday, July 31st from 5 pm – 8 pm. It's a benefit for Cooking Matters Los Angeles that educates families in need on how to prepare healthy food on a budget.

Enjoy a variety of Greek-themed appetizers, entrees & desserts while enjoying good vibes in good company by contributing to this great cause. Don'
t bring anything except for the suggested minimum donation of $20 that will make a direct impact on the health of families at risk of hunger in Los Angeles.

100% of funds raised will support Cooking Matters’ efforts to provide nutrition education to low-income families in LA. Come out and join me in the effort to help empower and educate under served families in Los Angeles.
Anyway, on to the good stuff.  The food.  I chose a Greek menu because a) Greek is good, and b) most of the food could be prepared ahead of time.  So by course, here we go...

Obviously, hummus and pita bread.  My amazingly awesome roommate Rebecca volunteered to handle this part and she exceeded by expectations!  She made 2 batches of regular hummus (tahini, garbanzo beans, lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil, and some magic) that were perfectly smooth and delicious, and then I had her make one batch with roasted red peppers added in.  So, so good!  The pita bread blows my mind - how it knows to puff up the way it does - pretty fun to watch in the oven. Not the best pictures but here's a few puffing up..

They funky-shaped pita were turned into delicious pita chips:

 I also served tzatziki, a super delicious Cucumber Yogurt dip (sorta?) - with my own recipe...something like this:
-1 lb of Fage 2% Greek Yogurt
-2 small cucumbers - shredded and strained to get out the extra water
-Juice of half a lemon (or maybe it was the whole thing, I don't know)
-Lemon Pepper
-This random dill mix I found in my pantry

Mix if it sits over night.  Delish on pita.

Main Dishes
I decided to do 3, because otherwise I wouldn't have enough food.  Ha!  That and I have several vegetarian friends so I wanted to make sure to have options.

My favorite was this Shrimp Orzo Salad.  Holy cow.  It was really good.  I modified slightly - I used an entire pound of orzo instead of 3/4 pound (why measure when it comes in a 1 lb bag?).  I also used half a red onion in the salad.  And since I used extra pasta, I made double the dressing but had enough left over to make the salad again with half a pound of orzo.  For the shrimp, I just used a tiny bit of olive oil, salt, and lemon pepper, and then grilled it.  I don't recall how much shrimp but it was a bag of frozen shrimp, lil' ones, tails & veins removed, from Trader Joe's.  I will definitely make this one again and again - it was good cold or luke warm, and was a great lunch to take to work.  I'd probably actually put more shrimp it in going forward just so there's more protein.  And the dressing was super good - I used about half the amount of olive oil in the recipe and it was just fine!  I don't normally like Dijon mustard (it's my lease favorite mustard) but it worked really well with the dill.

Then I made a modified souvlaki chicken.  I just seasoned some chicken with salt & lemon pepper and marinaded it in Greek yogurt and lemon juice - just for a few hours.  Then I grilled it and served it with more pita bread, tzatziki, roasted red peppers, onions, and feta to make pita samiches.  I think lamb would have been better...maybe next time.

The last dish was Spanakopita, and for the life of me, I can't find the recipe I used.  Something along the lines of:
8 oz - 1 lb ricotta cheese
A ton of frozen spinach (one box but I bought bags and the bags had a different amount than a box) - drained & squeezed
2 (?) eggs
Tons of feta cheese (12 oz? 16 oz? idk...)
Green onion (I think I had to saute this in olive oil)
Dill, garlic, onion
Half a box of phyllo dough

I made a 9x9 pan - layer some phyllo on the bottom, filled it with all the other stuff that was mixed together, layered the top with more phyllo, brushed it with butter, and baked it.  It was tasty, but I'm not sure it was necessarily worth the effort, mainly because I really hated phyllo dough by the time I made this since I made dessert first...which was...

Obviously Baklava.  The link is to the recipe I used, but the ingredient list was more like this:

1 pounds phyllo dough (approx. 40 sheets)- this was one box
2 bags of mixed (cashew, almond, pistachio, macadamia) dry roasted nuts from Trader Joe's (I can't remember the package size), plus more almonds - when chopped finely, I had 6 cups of nuts

1 ½ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 pounds unsalted butter (melted) - WAAAAAY more than the recipe said I'd need - oops?
2 ½ cups honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice

The process of layering each sheet of phyllo dough, buttering it, layering more, buttering it, etc...took SO freakin' long.  I did not particularly enjoy it, but I DID enjoy eating the baklava - it was basically amazing.  The nuts worked great - the dry, salty flavor with the sweet honey was a great balance.  I don't know if I could be convinced to make it ever again, but it was definitely a hit!  Maybe instead I should find a way to make a baklava cupcake...

I also made a little apple pie out of the extra phyllo dough...(most of) that was given away to the next door neighbors.

Anyway, dinner was a success.  Thank you to Rebecca for all of your help - I couldn't have done it without you.  And thank you to Rakhee, Allison, Haley, Adam, Doug, Zimmer, and Steve for coming to dinner to support my cause.  And, thank you to Catherine & Cat for your help!!

And on another note...I made cupcakes last weekend for a birthday + treat to bring to work.  Nothing more to say except...Yum.

Cajun Chocolate Cupcakes 
Topped with Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream - from
5 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

The cupcake did not really taste spicy to me at all - but, the frosting was magical.  And I forgot to take a picture.

And then S'more good.

Beating the crap out of the marshmallow frosting...

It's not a s'more with out toasting the marshmallow...or lighting the cupcake wrapper on fire?

The final product...

Turns out today is National S'Mores Day - shoulda waited a few days to make those.  Or else I should make them again! :)