Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiday Cookies 3 & 4

One oldie (but goodie) and another new cookie for you.

I have made the first cookie several times, but this is actually the first time I have added them to the holiday rotation. These apricot-orange shortbread bars are the best. They are from Bon Appetit and I have made them several times; they always get compliments. I think they are so popular because the flavor is a bit more complex than the average cookie due to the combination of almond, orange, and apricot flavors. Swap out the apricot jam for raspberry for an awesome twist.

The second cookie is a brownie biscotti from the online Allrecipes-Starbucks Cookbook. This is my 2nd biscotti attempt and this batch turned out much better than my first try where I put way, way too many nuts into the batter! I tried to cut them (the original biscotti) and they broke apart everywhere. These were perfect - tasted just like brownies and a great match for coffee or cocoa. Biscotti also make great gifts because they store very well.


Gift Baskets - 2007 Edition

I wanted to post about the various things that I put in my holiday gift baskets this year - hopefully, if you were lucky enough to get one (ha!), you won't be reading this post because then you will realize just how easy the items are to make. I love making food and homey gifts for the holidays - it is so difficult to know what to get everyone and I like to give something that has just a little bit of thought put into it. I love giftcards as much as the next guy, but to me, the holidays are about making it a bit more special. Mind you, this is coming from someone who won a $15 giftcard to Target in our Christmas Eve White Elephant gift exhange and is totally pumped about it, but you get what I mean.

Here are some of things that my gift baskets included:

I did not take as many pictures as I would have liked of the finished baskets before I gave them away....but I used supplies that I have been collecting for awhile. I try to package my cookies in airtight jars, tins or these wax-lined kraft paper bags. Here are a few great websites for bottles, boxes and packaging (also check around at your local discounts stores for good deals throughout the year):

Holiday Cookies 2

I'm a little late getting the rest of my holiday posts up, but maybe, better late than never? Let's hope so. As I said in my last holiday cookie post, I wanted to try out a few new recipes this year for the holidays. I love old favorites as much as the next guy, but to me, its really fun to bring something fresh to the table.

These may look like a regular butter cookie, but these punitions or sable cookies, are simply wonderful. They are seemingly lighter than traditional shortbread and even when turning them into cookie sandwiches, you can definitely eat more than 1 or 2 at a time :) These cookies are also so versatile - perfect for any holiday or for a party, gift or just as dessert. The french name "punition" translates to punishment in English, but these cookies are far from it!

The recipe is from one of my favorite blogs - Smitten Kitchen. I filled my cookie sandwiches with both raspberry jam and Nutella (so delicious!) and I also made them similar to a Linzer cookie by cutting a "window" in some of the cookies. The window let the jam/Nutella show through and made for a very festive look on my cookie platter. You can find some more info on these cookies and the best place to get them in Paris here.

Overall, you just can't go wrong with these cookies - they are so easy to make, the dough is just gorgeous and silky (I made the dough a few days ahead and then baked them the day before Christmas Eve) and they taste great! Plus, you can change the flavor to suit a variety of tastes. I think these would be great filled with lemon or lime curd too.

Punitions (Smitten Kitchen via Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan [which I now own!])

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
Slightly rounded 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
Filling of your choice
Note: I doubled the recipe and it turned out great

1. Use a food processor to make the dough. Add butter to the processor fitted with the metal blade and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the butter is smooth. Add the sugar and process and scrape until thoroughly blended into the butter. Add the egg and continue to process, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the flour all at once, then pulse 10-15 times, until the dough forms clumps and curds and looks like streusel.

2. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the ball in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap the disks in plastic. If you have the time, chill the disks until they are firm, about 4 hours. I ended up leaving my dough in the refrigerator for a few days and the dough was still perfect.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is between 1/8 and ¼ inch (4 and 7 mm) thick. Using a 1 ½-inch (4-cm) round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as you can and place them on the lined sheets, leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) space between them. (You can gather the scraps into a disk and chill them, then roll, cut, and bake them later.)

5. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are set but pale. Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature. Fill with your choice of jam/chocolate/nutella/curd/whatever if you choose. Store in airtight container.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Recipe Exchange...

Didn't turn out so well for me :) I should rephrase - the German Chocolate Pie that I made tasted really good (how could chocolate, coconut and pecans be bad!) but it just didn't look at good as I would have liked. Totally my fault, by the way - my pie plate was too deep and apparently, I burnt my crust; plus, the bottom crust was a bit soggy. Who knows, definitely not my day. I normally would have tried it again but with all the things lined up to make for Christmas, I just couldn't spare the ingredients. I ended up taking the pie to work for our holiday potluck - it got very good reviews so I would suggest trying the recipe if you like chocolate and pecans. Please let me know how it turns out!

I really like the idea of a non-fruit pie and the layer of chocolate on the bottom was genius. Thanks to Katie of Good Things Catered for hosting this fabulous and fun event, I can't wait to what recipes everyone else made!

German Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 stick chilled and cut into small pieces 1/4 cup ice water
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 1/2 cups (about 10 ounces) pecan halves, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened flake coconut
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 5 seconds. Drizzle in the ice water and pulse just until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap; flatten to form a disk. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch round; transfer to a pie pan. Cut the excess dough to leave a 1/2-inch overhang. Using your fingers, roll the dough edge under and crimp. Prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork; refrigerate for 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

3. Line the shell with foil and pie weights or dried beans; bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans, reduce the heat to 375ยบ and bake for another 12 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs. In a heavy, medium saucepan, whisk together the remaining 5 tablespoons butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt with the brown sugar and corn syrup over medium heat until melted and smooth. Whisk the sugar mixture into the beaten eggs. Stir in the nuts and coconut.

5. Spread the chocolate chips in the pie shell. Pour in the filling and bake until set, about 25 minutes. Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is it really the last minute?

Already? Nah, not in my book. Its only 12/21 - I still have at least 3 more days to get everything ready for the holidays - and 2 of those days are on the weekend baby!! Everyone keeps asking me - did you do this, did you go shopping, did you prepare your menu, what are you bringing. To be honest, I'm a little behind, but I have it all in my mind :) I have made a few things and I am planning on a few holiday posts (hopefully they will be of some help to all you last minute folks out there like me!), but here is my pseudo-to-do list for the next few days....
  • 5-6 types of cookies
  • Cheesecake (& maybe another cake for Christmas at my mom's)
  • A main dish/side dish for Christmas at my mom's
  • A bit more shopping & a whole lot of wrapping
  • Design, shop, and make a light cocktail menu for my Christmas Eve Open House
  • Finish gift baskets (more to come on that later)

I think thats it - totally doable, no?

Until I get all the pictures and posts that I have been collecting this week up here, I thought I would post a few websites that have great last minute recipes, gifts and other holiday ideas.

  • Great-looking (and easy) recipe from Smitten Kitchen (starred on my google reader this morning) for icebox cookies (with unlimited variations!)
  • I love these as ornaments or just as small vases hanging in a kitchen window - from CB2 [they have a store now in SoHo in NYC - I can't wait to check it out!]. The green hourglass photo above is from CB2 as well - they come in two sizes (either 15 minutes or 1 hour)
  • A really cute online cookbook (that you can print and give away with some cookies as a gift!) from Allrecipes
  • Last minute gifts from Red Envelope! Use the code: MCRUSH and your mastercard ($50 minimum required) and get free overnight shipping (offer deadline: 12/22 @ 2pm)
  • Some additional holiday baking ideas from Martha Stewart & Everyday Food
  • Tree looking a little bare? Need something to do with the kids on Christmas Eve? Check out this homemade ornament roundup by How about orange
  • Decor inspiration? Run over to Hostess with the Mostess and check out the many holiday decor themes like Peppermint Twist

Friday, December 14, 2007

Snow = Soup!

This was the view outside my kitchen window yesterday! We got our first snowstorm of the season, about 8-10 inches total. The roads were a mess and I was happy to stay home - wrapping gifts, cooking & baking, catching up on my Google reader.... The day was also perfect for a good, warm, comforting meal. For the past week, I've had my eye a recipe from the December issue of Everyday Food for a quick lentil soup. Yesterday turned out to be the perfect day to try it since I had a day of baking lined up in my kitchen (hoping to get to those recipes in the next few days!).

The recipe for this soup can be found here - I only made very minor changes to it since it is very simple to begin with - all my changes are in the ingredient list. The recipe itself is very forgiving - you can add whatever vegetables you like to it without a problem. I decided to add a few red potatoes (because my husband loves soups & stews with potatoes in them) but peas would also be a great addition.

Here is the recipe list - my changes are in bold.

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 small onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 handfuls baby carrots, cut into coins
3 baby red potatoes, cubed
1 bag (1 pound) brown lentils, picked over
Approximately 32 ounces vegetable broth
1 dried bay leaf
Italian bread, handful of torn pieces (toasted up with garlic powder and a bit of Parmesan cheese)

The soup was very good and satisfying - made for a perfect lunch, especially with the croutons on top!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Cookies 1

In the coming weeks, I'm hoping to do a whole series on holiday cookies. My mom and I have been baking up at least 5 types of cookies each year since I was small and our family (me included) definitely looks forward to it every year. We have about 6 or 7 types of cookies that we rotate between, and we try to test out new recipes and maybe add in a new type of cookie each year. This year, I'm hoping to bake up some old and new recipes to blog about and hopefully, some of you can use them for your holiday baking this year!

The first new cookie I tried is not all that "new". I saw these snickerdoodles on Bake or Break the other day and I loved the shape. Usually when I make snickerdoodles, they are pretty flat, but these (recipe originally from Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess) were like little balls! Plus, for my husband the chocoholic, there was an alternative recipe for a chocodoodle using the same batter. I definitely had to give them a try.

So, I tried them on Sunday. So easy to make. But, I think I would revise the name to be a type of spice cookie rather than a snickerdoodle. The snickerdoodles that I'm used to making are fairly sweet and have a cinnamon-sugary flavor. These cookies are definitely more on the nutmeg side and are not that sweet. On the first taste, I was surprised and not sure that I liked them, but several cookies later :), I realized that they were actually really good, just not the snickerdoodle that I was used to. The consistency is great, more cake-like than cookie-like. I would definitely give them a try and maybe adjust the seasonings to your liking after the first go-round. These will definitely be on my cookie platter this year.

You can find the recipe for both Snickerdoodles and Chocodoodles here.

Seasonal Views - Winter I

I love taking pictures during the winter/holiday season. The colors, foods, and weather really inspire me. I thought I would post a few of my favorite photographs from this season so far...Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's In My Fridge?

I find myself in this situation often: didn't make it to the grocery store, used up one of the ingredients that I planned to use for dinner, or somehow left myself with a bunch of random ingredients in the kitchen. On days like these, I have a new goal - takeout! Kidding...the plan is to challenge myself to make something delicious from what I have available - which serves a few purposes: (1) it allows me to be lazy and not go to the store on cold winter days, (2) I use up odds and ends of things in my kitchen, which makes me feel good :) and (3) produces great new recipes!

I had one of these days last week, or maybe two weeks ago. I had nothing in the refrigerator - mostly Thanksgiving leftovers. My mom's garlic smashed potatoes were staring at me - they are so good, but I was just sick of mashed potatoes after 3 full days of Thanksgiving food. I also had some leftover phyllo dough and to me, phyllo dough screams appetizer. So, from my kitchen that night, Garlic & Caramelized Onion Potato Parmesan Triangles were created! And no, I could not think of a shorter title.

The recipe will be a bit difficult to follow as I used my mom's garlic smashed potatoes, but this recipe is so forgiving, that you could really flavor your potatoes with anything (herbs, butter, chicken stock, garlic, etc.). Mashed sweet potatoes would be delicious as well. My husband and I ate these as an appetizer with our dinner and they were excellent! I will definitely be making these again, maybe for my holiday party this year.

Garlic & Caramelized Onion Potato Parmesan Triangles
Note: the amounts really do not matter, as it depends on how many you would like to make and what size you make them; this recipe is for approximately 12 medium-sized triangles

~ 2 cups prepared garlic smashed potatoes
1.5 - 2 cups sliced sweet onion
Fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1 roll phyllo dough, thawed
Few tablespoons of melted butter (I used smart balance)
Olive oil
Cooking spray

1. Caramelize sliced onions in olive oil (about 1 tablespoon or one turn of the pan - your discretion based on how many onions you have) over low heat until they are soft and have a nice light brown color.

2. Add onions to potatoes and combine. Add Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper to taste. Set aside. Note: I added approximately 1/2 cup, but tasted it as I went along, so use as much you like!

3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

4. Prepare phyllo dough - lay one sheet out and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt and pepper. Lay 2nd sheet of dough on top of the first sheet and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with final sheet. Cut the dough into 3 or 4 strips (strips should be cut the short way, not the long way). The size of the strip will determine how many triangles you get per layered square of phyllo.

5. Add a small scoop of filling to one corner of each strip and fold each like a flag. You should end up with a small flap at the end that folds over. I usually put the end piece on the bottom of the baking tray so that the triangle stays closed. You can also brush it with butter or a bit of water to make it stay closed.

6. Place each triangle on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Lightly spray with cooking spray and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the top of each one. Bake until golden brown and a bit crispy.

Enjoy! They were so good, we ate all of ours in one night! Hey, at least we got rid of the leftovers....

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Eco-friendly holidays

Growing up we always had a fake tree for Christmas, but now that I'm married, my husband likes to get a real tree and I'm happy to go along with that tradition. We go and cut it down locally - its really fun and gets you in the holiday spirit. I'll be sure to post some pictures of our adventures this year.

I'm hoping to have a few posts on the topic of eco-friendly holiday ideas throughout the month, but I just wanted to quickly post an article this morning regarding the most "eco-friendly" type of Christmas tree - real or fake?

Check it out here! Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 3, 2007

but...I don't like macaroni & cheese!

I swear I don't...or didn't until tonight. I have a few so-called "weird" food dislikes (and likes, for that matter :). I don't like most chocolate, I'm sure that my dislike for most condiments has also been mentioned before, but not until today have I mentioned that I really don't like melted cheese. I think its a consistency thing. Before you judge me, let me say also that I am also not a fan of coffee.

Had enough confessions for one day? I'll attempt to get on with it - the point of the story is that I was never one of those people who ran and went crazy over macaroni & cheese. I just thought of it as food from a box and I never understood what people loved about it (especially in college - people went crazy for the stuff!).

This leads us to a few weeks ago. Tim & I were having dinner at a local restaurant with our friends, one of whom suggested we try out a "fancy" macaroni & cheese on the menu. I figured that I would let them eat it, but for some reason, I gave it a quick try. This was no shells & cheese! Maybe I had to give real macaroni & cheese another chance? I mean, what could be so bad, right?

Tonight, I did. What.was.I.waiting.for.

I reviewed several different recipes to figure out the best cheeses to use and the correct proportion of milk to cheese. I ended up tweaking the ratios from a Rachael Ray recipe and using most of the ingredients from this recipe by Ina Garten.
If you want to give it a try, check out those two recipes and then, my notes on the changes that I made:

  • I used an 8x8 pan and used the milk/butter/flour measures provided in the RR recipe.
  • I used a combination of Gruyere (~2 cups), white cheddar (~2 cups) and Parmesan cheeses (handful). I have to say that while it was cheesy, it was not dripping in cheese, so if you prefer a super-cheesy mac & cheese, you might consider adding more.
  • We try to keep it on the lighter side in our house - since this recipe uses so much cheese, I did not use real butter but Smart Balance; (which worked out great); I also used skim milk instead of whole milk and we really did not miss it.
  • The tomatoes and topping in the Ina Garten recipe makes the whole dish - make sure to use real breadcrumbs!
  • I added chopped grilled chicken to the mixture before baking - it was perfect and made the dish even more satisfying.
It was the perfect meal for our first snowy day. Definitely psyched for leftovers (although usually I don't like those either....)

Apple Guide

I picked up this great pamphlet at my local farm market last week - it explains the best uses (cooking, baking, eating) for many apple varieties. I know that the time for picking has passed but we will be inundated with hoards of apples until that bright green grass starts to peek its way out of the ground next spring (or at least that is the case for this part of the country!).

I have embedded the guide into this post as a pdf, so hopefully you will be able to scroll & zoom to be able to see all of it. If you would like me to email you the guide, just drop me a line or leave a comment with your email address.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reuse & Recycle - Holiday Cards

Ahhh, not another craft! How about we call it recycling instead :)

I love to reuse things. Holiday cards can make great gift tags for the following year. I thought I would post this quick and easy idea (from my mom!) before everyone started getting their cards in the mail - this way you remember not to throw them away!

Check out my tags from last year -- the most difficult part is remembering where you put the bag of tags...

Cut whatever shapes/designs you want from the card. Use hole punch to make a hole for the ribbon and that's it! Make sure you don't use areas that have writing on the back if you want to be able to write to/from on the tag (usually the front panel of the card works better since less people write on that side). Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings...

in photos!

I made several dishes for the two Thanksgiving meals we attended this year (Thanks Mom and MIL!). They included mini-black bottom cheesecakes, a cranberry linzer tart (from Orangette - it was delicious, extremely fruity, tart and sweet all at the same time), my favorite roasted brussel sprouts, a cheese platter (assembled it so I can't take credit for the actual cheese, but I did make the chocolate-covered seckel pears, which were a huge hit!), an apple crostata, and cranberry bellinis (cranberry juice + prosecco or other sparkling wine = easy and so good!). Tim also made his "famous" roasted red potatoes, which I'll have to have him post about another time. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the day....

Love this table setup - maybe COTM?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Holiday Toast!

I love an excuse to make a new our Thanksgiving, there will be drinks, even if I'm the only one who has one. I don't need an excuse to rim a glass, cut up some garnish, and take out the cute glasses, do I? Here are a few good-looking recipes from around the web for festive, season-appropriate libations.

I think I'm going to go with an easy-but-delicious champagne option; probably cranberry for us, but Food Network has a recipe for a pomegranate champagne cocktail that looks delicious (I'm a sucker for pomegranate).

This amaretto-cranberry martini looks great too!

Slashfood posted a recipe for a pumpkin pie martini - I'm thinking that this might be similar to what I call "dessert-in-a-glass" (akin to the Chocolate Martini). I find these type of drinks to be quite filling and I can never finish them, but maybe someone else will like this! I won't stand between anyone and their holidaze...:). Back to the recipes...

How about something a bit more traditional? I love apple cider - we usually serve it warm spiked with a bit of apple brandy. Some other ideas:

Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Photographs: (1) Food Network, (2) Epicurious, (3) Slashfood

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bring this easy dessert to Thanksgiving!

I love this pie - its nothing new, but when I learned how to make it, it was definitely new to me. A pie - no pan! Looks rustic, but so easy to put together. 15 minutes flat. I have been making this basic recipe for a few years and have made all different variations of fruit fillings (apple, plum, peach, berry, etc). It always gets rave reviews.

This version uses apples and strawberries. I had actually never made a strawberry pie before - it turned out really nice, but I would be careful not go overboard with the strawberries.

Apple Crostata / Apple Freeform Pie (adapted from this recipe)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tablespoons ice water

1 1/2 pounds apples (about 3 large, but change according to the size of your dough round. I usually use a mix of apples for a good depth of flavor. Use apples that you like but don't use all soft apples. I tend to go with golden delicious with a macoun thrown into the mix. You can find an apple use chart here)
6 strawberries, hulled and halved
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon plus an extra dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

1. Place the flour, sugar, and salt into a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas. While its running, add the ice water through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Note: I promise the dough only takes a few minutes to make, but you can also use a premade dough from the supermarket here to save time, but there is a difference in taste :)

2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

3. Roll out the pastry into an approximate 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet (makes for seriously easy removal when it is done). The size is also variable - if you make a bigger or smaller circle, you will need more or less filling. You can also make small, individual-sized tarts, just use smaller circles of dough.

4. For the filling, peel the apples and cut off all the sides (you could also core the apple and cut from there). Cut each apple side into 3 pieces and each piece into 3 chunks. The pieces don't need to be perfect in shape; you just want it to be more on the chunky side, not minced. Toss the chunks with the orange zest. Add strawberries. Add filling to the center of the dough circle, leaving an approximate 1 1/2-inch border.

5. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and other spices into the food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is crumbly, but not one mass. Pour into a bowl and rub it with your fingers until it starts holding together. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the filling. Once the crumble mixture is covering the filling, carefully fold the edge of the dough over the filling, pleating it to make a circle. You can brush the top of the crust with a bit of milk or an egg wash to make it look pretty (a sprinkle of sugar never hurt anyone either!).

6. Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Note: through all my trials, I have found that baking time varies dramatically depending on whether you are using a gas or electric oven. Also, in an electric oven, I have found that the outer edges of the pie burn before it is fully cooked - if you cover the edges with a bit of aluminum foil, it comes out great. Just take the foil off for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Just make sure you watch it to figure out how much time your oven needs.

Enjoy - Let me know if you have any interesting filling ideas!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My "Panzanella"

Panzanella is an Italian bread-salad - I love it. Its easy, fast, healthy and delicious. I titled this post "My Panzanella" because I definitely venture away from the traditional Italian bread salad (eek! I toast my bread!) to a dish inspired by fresh ingredients and different cultures. Maybe I should call it Italian/Greek/California farmer's market semi-panzanella.

Therefore, this recipe is more of a guideline rather than an actual defined step process as I make it different every time. While I think it is important to understand and acknowledge the tradition surrounding certain dishes, I don't like to tell anyone exactly how to cook or to pretend I always know exactly what is traditional versus not. I love to create and provide variations to recipes that might jazz up something you have been making for awhile. I think cooking is really a creative process and once you get a handle on the idea of a recipe, feel free to change it up!

I tend to cook with a lot of Mediterranean ingredients, so I often have the ingredients that I need for this salad, but if you are missing a few, don't worry! It is so versatile - you can use up vegetables or other ingredients that you have in your kitchen. Great as a side or main dish.

Here are the main ingredients I normally use:

  • Baguette or other available high-quality bread, ripped into pieces, or roughly cubed (authentic panzanella calls for the use of stale bread, but if you are going to toast the bread, you can use either)
  • Ripe plum tomatoes
  • Seedless/English cucumber
  • Feta cheese
  • Kalamata/Greek olives, halved
  • Diced chicken (added when using salad as a main dish)

Basic Steps:

  • Prepare bread, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and add a dash of garlic powder; toast at 425 degrees until golden brown.
  • Chop/cut/prepare all other ingredients to a similar size (the cheese should be a bit smaller dice because of its strong flavor). Note that the quantities don't matter so much, it all depends on what you like and how much salad you need.
  • Put all ingredients (except bread) into a large bowl and season with kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste.
  • Add a gulg of white balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil (also to taste). You can also add some fresh lemon juice here if you like; also, if you don't want to add a vinegar tang, just use the oil. Add bread into the bowl and lightly combine with other ingredients.
  • You are finished! I like to serve it while the bread cubes are still warm and the rest of the salad is cold, makes a wonderful contrast.
  • Other things you might want to add: chickpeas, red/yellow peppers, fresh basil, fontina cheese, zucchini, other marinated vegetables, red onion, grilled shrimp, bacon or pancetta, black olives...

Here are a few links to other panzanella recipes (some traditional and some alternative) from around the web:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tim Can Cook

I'll admit it, Tim is pretty good in the kitchen, even though the kitchen looks like a bomb hit it when he is done (the mark of a real cook, right?). I can't deny that I love when he cooks on the nights when I have to work late. Last Monday night was one of those nights and Tim came up with this:

His version of Crusted Chicken Romano ala The Cheesecake Factory. We go to this restaurant every once in awhile and really enjoy this dish, so Tim decided to try to make a home version. He did an excellent job - he based it on this recipe and I asked him to write up any edits to the recipe below.

Tim here! The only real recipe edit that I made was to use skim milk instead of heavy cream to lighten up the sauce but keep the fat content low. Also, make sure not to overcook the chicken in the saute pan, since you are going to finish cooking it in the oven.

Monday, November 5, 2007

It's that time of year again...Holiday Cards!

I know that everyone is busy - all the time. Busy with family, work, whatever. It's not just you - I'm guilty too. Some weeks it is difficult to find a free moment, but this does not free you from holiday cards :) I mean, you can skip them and then feel guilty when you get one in the mail and tell yourself that you'll find time next year, but why not just put forth a bit of effort and find a spare moment in that insane schedule to send out a card. I'm not saying that everyone needs to send out those tedious "family updates" as I'm a bit over those myself (at least for close friends/family members or "updates" that are over 1 page long!); but, a little card definitely adds to the feeling of the holiday season. And, let's be honest - those email cards are just not the same. Ok, I'll end my rant here with a few web resources for cards...feel free to send one my way!

My favorite websites for quick, but cute personalized photo cards are Kodak and Shutterfly. They have really added to the options they offer this year and now offer a ton of different, unique designs - plus, you can add a personal photo (or photos) to all the designs. And, they both also offer folded cards (always my preference because who wants to tape up flat cards!).

Photographs: [top] Shutterfly; [bottom] Kodak Gallery

You can also get really beautiful custom cards from a number of sources - try out Papersource or Paper + Cup for unique designs. And, for those who just have to do it themselves - there are a host of ideas available from Martha.

Photographs: Martha Stewart
Note: Just to clarify, if you are not into cards or the holidays, please don't take offense - that's cool too :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I finally gave in...

I made something 'somewhat' Halloween-related. I couldn't get my energy up to make really intricate or cute cupcakes (like I have seen on so many awesome food blogs - like these and these), but I really wanted to use these Halloween mini-cupcake liners (a gift from my mother-in-law) -- and so, this blog-post was born.

I have also been making a lot of heavier desserts lately, and I wanted to make something that was lighter and more reasonable to eat as an after-dinner snack. I decided to make brownie "bites". After doing a solid recipe search and comparison, I decided on the recipe below, with some changes (of course!). The main change is that I substituted my recently made apple butter in place of most of the fat. I know that applesauce is a common substitute for oil, but I was a bit unsure of the apple butter, only because the spices are much stronger than in regular applesauce. But, there was no need for worry - the results were fabulous! My chocolate-loving husband was very happy to wake up to these on Sunday morning and I was happy knowing that I was not tempting him with something super-unhealthy.

Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites (adapted from BakingSheet)

Ingredients (makes ~ 24 bites)
6 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1/3 scant cup apple butter (recipe adapted from Good Things Catered - so delicious!)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup peanut butter chips, plus more for topping
Mini-marshmallows (or homemade), for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together cocoa, apple butter, vegetable oil, sugar and brown sugar.
3. Whisk in eggs one by one, followed by vanilla extract.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
5. Add flour mixture to cocoa mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Stir in peanut butter chips.
7. Fill mini-muffin cups evenly (about 3/4 full) with batter.
8. Bake for 12-16 minutes, until just set and slightly firm to the touch. A tester should have a few crumbs.
9. Top each warm brownie with a few peanut-butter chips. As they melt, press a marshmallow into the peanut butter. Let stand until set.

1. When I made the apple butter, I only used cinnamon (not the cloves or allspice) - I'm not sure if a "spicier" apple butter would make a difference in the brownies. Either way, the apple butter is so delicious, definitely give Katie's recipe a try.

2. These can be made using any kind of chips - white chocolate, dark chocolate, toffee chips, butterscotch, you get the idea...

3. As an FYI, these are not super-fudgy type brownies, they are a bit more cake-like - almost like a brownie cupcake.

Friday, October 26, 2007


I love mushrooms, but so often, they are part of a dish, rather than the star of a dish. I have been making this pasta dish for a few years now (originally from Cooking Light), especially perfect when you want a meatless dish but still want really full, strong flavors. The wine is just perfect and really adds to the comfort factor of this pasta. The recipe below is edited from the original, but you can find the original here.

Penne with Mushroom Sauce (adapted from Cooking Light)

2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10.5 ounces beef broth (or good vegetable broth)
1 (8 ounce) package button mushrooms, sliced
1 (8 ounce) package cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups hot cooked whole wheat penne rigate
Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, for serving

1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add in onion, celery, and carrot; stir/saute for 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste; cook 2 minutes, stirring continually.
3. Add in wine; cook for 10 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in thyme, pepper, and broth; bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1 cup (about 3 minutes).
4. Strain through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.
5. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Add in mushrooms; stir/saute for 5 minutes. Add in broth mixture and bring to a boil.
6. Lower heat, and simmer 5 minutes.
7. Combine water and cornstarch, add to mushroom mixture along with salt; bring to a boil.
Cook 1 minute or under the sauce has thickened enough to coat.
8. Combine pasta and sauce; tossing gently to coat. I top mine with parmesan cheese and a bit of chopped parsley.

A few notes - (1) I use whole wheat pasta, but regular semolina pasta is fine; (2) The addition of any other type of mushrooms is great, I add creminis, but wild mushrooms would also be excellent - you could even add more than the amount that I did; (3) to make this dish truly vegetarian, use vegetable broth instead of beef broth - homemade is the best! find my recipe here; (4) if you find the sauce to be too thick, just add a bit more liquid - its no problem. (5) feel free to add chicken, not vegetarian anymore, but its a delicious addition to the recipe.