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 :)