Monday, December 29, 2008

honey!

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My buddy called me up this morning to invite me over for a play date with our kids; and to hand off some of this amazing honey he received as a thank-you from his elderly neighbors after shoveling their walk during the snow storm. The neighbors are backyard beekeepers! My friends are already concocting plans to have their own flock of backyard chickens in the spring, and trading eggs for honey. I am seething with jealousy, of course.

So, I made it home with a large baby food jar of honey, and I haven't the faintest idea of what I'm going to do with it. I have all the time in the world, of course- honey lasts for years. But I'm so excited! Any type of backyard cultivation gets me pumped, homegrown eggs are delicious, everyone knows that backyard gardens are the way to go, and backyard honey! Oh, my lord. My friend was explaining to me the different flavor notes in the honey, (let's just say he has a very refined palate- he's a wine buyer.) and speculating on the various flowers the bees could be getting their pollen from. The smell is intoxicating, and the flavor is light and almost tangy. It's not as viscous as some honeys I've tried, maybe because it's so fresh?

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So, dear readers- I leave it up to you. Aside from drizzling it into my nightly chamomile, over a piece of warm toast, or into the bottom of a hot toddy- what on earth should I do to feature this lovely honey? I'm hoping to think of something really creative, where honey will be the star of the show. Feel free to drop your suggestions, and as I use it up, I'll post my concoctions here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

my mom's christmas cookies.

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Merry Christmas! We're still alive, haha. And still snowed in, if you can believe it. Summer managed to make it to California, but my unplowed hill has kept me from driving anywhere for days and days. It's a miracle we managed to make it out yesterday (with lots of cursing, pushing, and shoveling) to get to my parents' house for Christmas, but I'm not trying to go anywhere else until this ice has melted. My little Subaru with no chains is no match for ARCTIC BLAST '08®!!!!

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I've never really understood why some people guard their family recipes so closely- the crotchety grandmas who won't give up the recipe for whatever awesome noodle casserole, or so-and-so's aunt who makes the best pound cake ever but won't tell anyone what the secret ingredient is. Is that kind of exclusivity really necessary when it comes to food? Maybe it's because I've grown up on the internet, where every kind of information possible is free and easy to find. So that whole, "secret recipe" attitude has never made any sense to me. I'm happy to share! I'll make recipe cards for all my friends! When I find something delicious, the last thing I want to do is keep it to myself. That said, I still asked my mom if it was okay for me to print this recipe here. Thankfully, she approved.

In my mind, these cookies are like the UBER CHRISTMAS COOKIE- the platonic cookie, in other words- THE PERFECT COOKIE. The Christmas cookie which puts all others to shame, the Christmas cookie that Santa Claus wants. That doesn't mean this recipe is the end-all of Christmas cookies, or even that they're the best cookies I've ever had. It just means that I have a treasure trove of warm fuzzy Christmas memories of rolling out and cutting these cookies with my mom, every year since I can remember. It simply ISN'T CHRISTMAS without them. And now, happily, I have a copy of the recipe to tuck into my own little box so I can do the same thing with my son. Awww, but enough waxing poetic about the holidays.

When I called to ask my mom for the recipe, she told me that her written recipe was titled "Aunt Debbie's Butter-butter cookies." I said, "Does that mean they have twice as much butter?" No- they don't. We don't know why they're called that, but WHY NOT?

Aunt Debbie's Butter-butter cookies.

2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 c. softened butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp. (more or less) milk

In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg). In another large bowl, cream sugar into butter. Add egg and stir, then begin to stir in the dry mix, 1/4 at at time. Halfway through adding dry ingredients, add the tablespoon of milk. Continue to add dry ingredients until fully incorporated. If dough is too dry, sprinkle in a little more milk. Dough will be very thick and shouldn't be sticky. Form into a large ball, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour or two (though we always just do it overnight).

Preheat oven to 350ºf, and remove dough from refrigerator. Roll out to about 1/4 of an inch thick and cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until the bottoms just begin to brown but cookies remain very lightly colored. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from cookie sheet, then let them finish cooling on a plate or tray until it's time to decorate. (We always let them cool on brown paper grocery bags, just because it's handy.)

Pipe or spread on your favorite frosting (honestly, I prefer the vanilla stuff from a can. I know.) and sprinkle with decorator's sugar or sprinkles.

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Serve with a glass of milk and a Bing Crosby Christmas album. Try not to eat the whole plate.

Monday, December 22, 2008

cheddar broccoli soup.

Yeah yeah yeah, soup. I don't even have anything funny to say about it. I'm just about all out of sense of humor after a few days of this:

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We're still huddled under layers of snow and ice (literally- outside it goes snow-ice-snow, and tonight we'll probably get a new layer of ice on top of that.) and trying to find ways to keep warm. A hot mug of cheddar soup definitely solves that problem.

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You'll need:

1 pound of cheddar cheese, grated finely (we used Tillamook.)
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves of crushed garlic
"a big chunk of butter"
a handful of flour
3-4 cups of stock
1 cup of milk
3 smallish heads of broccoli, chopped into small bites
bay leaf
white pepper

First, lightly steam the broccoli and then rinse in cool water to halt the cooking process. Set aside. In a large soup pot, melt a hunk of butter and saute onions and garlic until glassy. Toss in a few pinches of flour and whisk until you have a roux. Toast the roux lightly, then add stock a little at a time, stirring continuously with a whisk. Add milk in the same manner, then a bay leaf. Begin to sprinkle in cheese, still stirring continuously. Incorporate the cheese as it melts. Continue to stir, season with some white pepper. Stir in broccoli and allow it to heat up. Let soup thicken a little and spoon into mugs.

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This was incredibly rich and very delicious. As my husband pointed out- you don't really have to dress up a pound of cheese- it kind of does the work for you. Plus, if you eat enough of it, you'll have plenty of extra padding to protect you from freezing cold weather.

Edited to add: This has been one of our more popular recipes, and I've gotten a lot of emails about it. Please keep in mind that the cheese must be grated rather finely, and you need to add it very slowly, being sure to mix it in thoroughly before adding more, or else it will not incorporate and you'll end up with stringy, lumpy soup. It's not difficult, it just requires patience. Good luck!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

gingerbread cake.



Oh, Portland- you've surprised us this year. Instead of the usual couple inches of snow during January, you have covered yourself with a very thick blanket of snow mid-December and have been wearing it for a week now. When I looked out our bedroom window yesterday morning, I couldn't believe it was the same old street I have been looking down upon the past few years. It looks like an image from an old Christmas movie: families bundled up in big coats and scarves, holiday lights strung on houses, and snow everywhere. I must say, I am quite smitten with this change in you and quite sad that I am going to be missing out on the white Christmas you are surely to bring as I pack up and head out to sunny California tomorrow.

Do you know what's delicious during days like this? Homemade gingerbread cake with cups of black tea. I baked one a couple of days ago using one of my favorite recipes and have been enjoying it greatly. What better way to spend a snowy morning then with warm blankets, cake and tea with cream & honey, and the murmur of a cozy house.



Gingerbread Snacking Cake: from Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsulfured molasses (I ran out and used 1/2 cup molasses and 1/2 cup pure maple syrup and it worked perfectly)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch cake pan; set aside.

In a bowl, combine boiling water and baking soda; set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, ground spices, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

With an an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter until light. Beat in brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in molasses and grated ginger, baking-soda mixture, and flour mixture. Beat in eggs.

Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares; dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

chocolate crinkles.



How did I get so behind on my Christmas baking? Usually around this time of year I am a crazy baking machine, pumping out all sorts of festive cookies and spicy breads. Instead, I am all too behind on buying and wrapping presents, packing for going home for the holidays, and very slowly trying to put our all-too-messy home back together. It also doesn't help that there has been an unusual amount of snow and ice around town, resulting in poor driving conditions for Alice, my dear photographer, to make her way over to my house. And as much as I love the idea of baking during snowy weather, one will usually find me piled under soft blankets on the sofa, happily enjoying the beautiful view out the window.

Yesterday, though, snow was replaced by rain and higher temperatures, so I caught up a bit on some baking and Alice was able to make it over in the early evening to photograph my sweets. I ended up making a couple things that usually always make me think of this time of year: chocolate crinkle cookies and gingerbread cake (which will be blogged later this evening.) What I adore about these cookies is how they look like little hills covered in snow, just perfect for the holiday season. What I also love is just how very, very good they taste: chewy and deeply chocolatey, with a perfect texture and a wonderful sweetness from the sugar on top.

*Note: Keep in mind that these cookies take some time to chill. I recommend either making the dough early in the morning or late at night before going to bed.





Chocolate Crinkles: from All Recipes

Ingredients:

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, white sugar, and vegetable oil. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the cocoa mixture. Cover dough, and chill for at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough into one inch balls. Coat each ball in confectioners' sugar before placing onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand on the cookie sheet for a minute before transferring to wire racks to cool.

kale with pancetta.

Look, I'm going to be frank. I love vegetables, ALL vegetables, but do you know what else I love? Pig fat. The marriage of hearty winter greens and fat from some smoked pig is a thing of beauty, I have to say. So, yesterday afternoon, when my son asked for a bacon sandwich for lunch, I was happy to oblige. I had some leftover pancetta from pea soup the other night, and some unused kale from the wedding soup.

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I fried some pancetta for my son's sandwich and pulled it out, leaving a pan full of rendered fat. In that pan, I tossed some chopped garlic, and then a moment later, some chopped kale. I sauteed it for a few minutes and tossed in some chopped pancetta, because really- I was already halfway there, right?

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I really, really enjoyed eating this. What I'm not happy about is the blanket of snow on the ground that's keeping me from going jogging the morning after, haw haw.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

italian wedding soup.

Okay, okay- I swear we don't eat nothing but soup! Really! It's just been so cold and icy, and we've been all hunkered down in our little cave- soup is easy, healthy, and great leftover. So, here's another.

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Last night was my husband's company holiday party, and, well- to put it lightly, they know how to throw a rager. We stayed out late, stumbled out of our cab at 3 a.m., and I was feeling it pretty hard today. I didn't feel like making ANYTHING for dinner, but luckily my husband came home with the goods for this amazing soup. It was perfect- filling without being too heavy, brothy without being too weak, filled with healthy vegetables, but satisfying in a way that only meatballs made of sausage can be. I'd never even heard of Italian wedding soup before, but apparently it has tons of variations, with the main elements being meatballs and greens. We used pork sausage and kale for ours.

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Italian Wedding Soup

3/4 lb. bulk Italian sausage, or ground meat. (If you buy ground meat like beef or chicken, I'd recommend seasoning them before you cook them, mix with some finely chopped garlic and onions, some basil, and "italian seasoning." Use an egg and some bread crumbs to hold them together.)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 medium to large zucchini, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 a bunch of kale, roughly chopped
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
some fresh thyme
8 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
a pinch of chili flakes
salt & pepper to taste
2 cups of orzo pasta

In a very large pot, fry the meatballs until browned. Remove from pot and save on a plate. Saute onions, carrots, celery, zucchini, and garlic until onions become glassy. Dump in the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, stir, and add stock. Add a pinch of fresh thyme, but save the rest for garnish. Season with salt & pepper, chili flakes, and rosemary. Add kale, simmer for few minutes. Add meatballs a few minutes before serving to ensure they're cooked all the way through. Cook pasta in a separate pot, drain, and add before serving.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

pink party : the recipes.



As Alice talked about here, a few nights ago we threw a holiday party as a chance to meet up with local bloggers and artists. The soiree was at my house and the theme was pink, inspired both by my pink Christmas tree and the amazing monochromatic styling of Amy Atlas.

When it came to putting together a menu, it really wasn't hard for me to come up with a number of pink confections that would work nicely for a holiday party. Pink is always a color that can be thrown into a dessert to make it turn out a bit lovelier. And so, the sweets menu turned out to be this: pre-packaged pink candies (strawberry malted milk balls and Japanese hard candy), strawberry cupcakes with strawberry frosting, vegan chocolate mint cupcakes with mint frosting (pink sprinkles, of course), pink & white vanilla cake balls, peppermint bark, strawberry striped wafer sticks, shortbread hearts (made vegan), and pink lemonade. Enough to appease your sweet tooth? I think so.

Instead of typing down every recipe of the day, I thought I would just include my three favorites: the peppermint bark, the shortbread hearts, and the cake balls (which seemed to be the biggest hit of them all.)

P.S: I am already daydreaming of the next monochrome event to throw. Perhaps an all-red Valentine's Day?



Peppermint Bark:

Ingredients:

1 bag of white chocolate chips (milk or dark can also be used instead)
6 peppermint candy canes
a few drops of pink or red (use less) food coloring, optional

Directions:

Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so. Add in optional food coloring. Place candy canes in a zipped plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin into very small pieces. Stir into melted chocolate.

Spread mixture out on waxed paper to desired thickness. Place in the refrigerator until completely solid, then break into pieces. Store in airtight container at room temperature.



Shortbread Hearts: recipe altered from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Ingredients:

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter or vegan margarine at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
sugar or sugar sprinkles for tops

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer or with a handheld mixer, cream together the butter or margarine and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and roll shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a 3-inch heart-shaped cutter. Place the hearts on an ungreased sheet pan and sprinkle with sugar or sprinkles. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Note: I halved the recipe and it still made quite a bit.









Cake Balls: idea originally seen on Bakerella

Ingredients:

1 homemade 9 x 13" vanilla cake, made from a box or from scratch (I used a recipe by Amy Sedaris and added pink food coloring to the batter)
1 can or homemade batch of vanilla or cream cheese frosting
2 bags of chocolate chips, white or dark

Directions:

After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble it with your fingers in a large bowl. Stir in frosting with a heavy wooden spoon. Roll mixture into small bite-sized balls. Chill for several hours in the fridge or about an hour in the freezer.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly. Roll balls in chocolate and lay on wax paper until firm. (Use a spoon to dip and roll in chocolate and then tap off extra.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

split pea soup with pancetta.

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Summer tells me she's going to bring more party sweets to the table later this evening, but until then, please enjoy this offering of warm pea soup. Portland is currently under a blanket of snow and ice, with below-freezing temperatures keeping everyone bundled up indoors. However, stir-crazy happens to the best of us, and for me, it usually happens within 10 minutes of realizing I can't go anywhere or do anything, ha! After a completely boring day indoors yesterday, I layered myself in what felt like 30 pairs of leggings, stuffed my son into a pile of sweaters, and walked to the grocery store just to kill some time. It was chilly, but I knew it was worth it when inspiration struck in the bulk dry goods aisle- split pea soup! I grabbed about a pound of bright green peas and started poking around the meat department looking for something bacony- some pancetta did the trick.

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It's supposed to be below freezing for the rest of the week, so I planned for LOTS of leftovers. I made like a gallon of soup tonight! It's going to be so great tomorrow afternoon.

Here's what I did:

1 pound (about 3 cups) of dried split peas
1/2 a pound of pancetta
about 8 cups of vegetable broth
2 onions, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 potato, diced
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
bay leaf, salt & pepper

In a very large pot, fry pancetta with a small splash of olive oil until crispy and browned. Remove from heat and spoon out all the pancetta onto a plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Place back on heat and saute veggies until onions are glassy and begin to soften. Add broth (it is best if you bring it up to temperature in a separate pot beforehand) and stir. Add potatoes, then peas (rinse first), and bring to a boil. Turn heat down, season, and simmer for about an hour, or until peas become soft and soup thickens. Sprinkle with crunchy pancetta before serving.

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Man, my table was full of all the very best B's tonight- beer, bread, butter, bacon (well, pancetta is basically bacon)- very rich, very satisfying on an icy cold evening.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

puff pastry with herbed goat cheese and roasted beet.

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Is it ridiculously dorky that I'm blogging about this already, even though the party was this evening? I don't care. These were so tasty, and it was one of those things that when I bought the ingredients, I was practically bouncing up and down for a whole day waiting to make them, because I was KNEW they were going to be delicious. And hey, guess what? They were.

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Oh yeah, so a party, right? Summer and I decided to throw a little party to get to know some of our fellow bloggers and local creative-types, and of course we had to get nerdy and pick a theme. It wasn't hard to go for pink, since Summer already has that glorious pink tree. While we didn't have any trouble coming up with ideas for pink sweets to lay out, (cake balls! meringues, an idea that was scrapped at the last minute because of the rain, boo- strawberry cupcakes! candy canes! etc.) we grasped for a few minutes to think of a savory item, before I chimed in with, "Beets!" I love beets. Whenever I roast them for something specific, I have a hard time not just gobbling them up when they're fresh from the oven. I managed to restrain myself to put together these adorable little appetizers, and it was worth the wait.

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Initially, I thought I'd just throw together a roasted beet salad, but Summer mentioned something about puff pastry and the wheels in my head just started clunking around. I came up with this easy recipe (if you can even call it a recipe- how about "serving suggestion" ?) in a few minutes and the rest was delicious history.

Puff Pastry Appetizers:

5 oz. chevre
8 oz. cream cheese
handful of chopped fresh tarragon
1 package of Trader Joe's frozen puff pastry (or whatever brand you can get.)
a splash of milk
Roasted beets (roast them the night before and refrigerate or get extra lazy and buy canned beets, if that's your thing. My mom adores canned beets. I prefer to roast my own, peeled, and wrapped in tinfoil with a little bit of olive oil and salt.)


For the filling:
In a large bowl, mash together the chevre and cream cheese. Add milk a few splashes at a time while mixing until it reaches the consistency of very thick sour cream. Stir in chopped tarragon.

To make puff pastry cups:

Remember these? I just used the exact same technique to make a pastry cup. Roll out the pastry to about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut rounds using a biscuit cutter or a glass or whatever round thing you have around in the size you want. Then, match up the rounds into groups of 2. Use a slightly smaller cutter to cut the middle out of every other round, so you end up with a 'rim' to stick on the other rounds. Use water to adhere the rims. The recipe for the persimmon tartlets says to weigh down the centers with a bunch of fancy crap, but when we tried to do that last time, they just puffed up and made a mess of the rice we used to try and weight them. This time, I didn't bother weighing them and I just pushed in the center right after they came out of the oven and they were still a little pliable. I ended up making them in a bunch of different sizes, because each time I cut out the center of a round to make a rim, I ended up with a smaller round, which I'd make a smaller rim for. Eventually I ended up with a bunch of puff pastry scraps, which I rolled out and punched out a bunch of tiny shapes just to nibble on. This recipe calls for 1 package of puff pastry, which is what I used, but I ended up with some leftover filling. No big deal, I just scooped it in a bowl and served it alongside the tiny puff pastry bits I baked, and dipped them in the cheese.

Pipe the filling into the pastry cups (a plastic baggie with the end cut off works just fine) and top with a slice (or, if you're feeling cutesy, find some fondant cutters and make some flower shapes like I did) of cold roasted beet.

The amounts of everything can be adjusted depending on how many people you want to feed- this made enough to keep a party of about 10-15 people happy. Honestly though, I could have nibbled on these all night. You might want to double it if you're having a large get together. Also, I think the smaller pastry cups had the best filling-to-pastry ratio, and if (or should I say "when") I make these again, I'll definitely be doing them on the small side.

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Keep an eye open, we've got a couple more awesome party food recipes coming up, just in time for holiday parties!

Friday, December 12, 2008

my favorite pasta salad.



I have never really liked pasta salad. Not in the least. It has always been served to me smothered in mayonnaise or vinaigrette, usually with soggy noodles and one of my least favorite vegetables, celery. I have just never understood the appeal or why it is so popular for delis, parties, and picnics. The idea of it is innocent enough: cold pasta, some sauce, and some vegetables, but somehow it is all too frequently executed badly.

A few years ago, however, I came across a recipe that made me realize just how good pasta salad could be. The rather loose recipe was hidden inside the pages of one of my favorite zines, Invincible Summer by Nicole Georges, written sweetly in her swirly writing. I hungrily decided to make it one afternoon and fell completely in love with the combination of strong garlic, sundried tomatoes, and white beans. I like to eat it cooled just to room temperature with fresh parmesan and crushed red pepper sprinkled on top. Just perfect.





The Best Pasta Salad: adapted from Invincible Summer

Ingredients:

1 bag pasta, your choice (I like penne or corkscrew)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, crushed or sliced
1 carton or about 1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 jar sundried tomatoes with oils
a little bit of fresh or dried basil
a little bit of fresh or dried oregano
4 stewed tomatoes, sliced, or 2 fresh, diced
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
about a handful of sliced black olives
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1. Boil the pasta.
2, In the meantime, sautee the garlic in the olive oil for just a few minutes, until golden.
3. Add mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, basil, and oregano. Cook on medium for about five minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, beans, and olives. Cook for five more minutes.
5. Drain pasta. Stir the finished mixture into pasta and add salt and pepper, to taste. Add more oil if necessary, but the juices from the other ingredients should suffice.
6. Serve hot, room temperature, or cold, depending on your own preference.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

chocolate cake. (cake fail?)

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Sometimes towards the end of the year, I feel like there's a mad rush of garbage that comes out of nowhere to stress me out. Summer and I have both been kinda mopey, and when I sat in her kitchen the other day, watching my toddler spazz out over some trivial nonsense (I believe he was furious at Summer's son for repeating the phrase, "To infinity, and beyond!" For some reason, it just makes him LIVID. Uh, get over it, kid.) she asked me what she should bake that we could just chow down immediately. "Chocolate cake, duh."

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Things started out innocently enough, but between flipping absentmindedly through cookbooks and rowdy kids, the cake got left in the oven a few minutes too long and it was a smidge on the dry side. Boo hoo. Instead of getting discouraged, I decided to go crazy on the cake, and I cut the single layer into rounds for mini layer cakes. My initial idea was a grandiose notion- a Dr. Suess-like, 6-layer cake. Uh... unsurprisingly, we were unable to frost it.

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Still, we endured, breaking the 6-layer cake in half and turning it into two more reasonable-looking miniature triple layer cakes. At that point we abandoned any notions of vanity and allowed the kids to help us decorate the cakes.

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Anyway, the craving was satisfied, and of course, miniature cakes have my heart for all time.

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Chocolate cake with frosting:

ingredients:

1/4 pound (1 stick) plus 5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons milk

frosting:
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons milk
2 generous teaspoons honey

directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 1/2-inch
springform pan.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then add the
chocolate and cocoa, and stir until melted. Remove from heat. Whisk
the egg whites in a bowl until they are creamy and stiff. In another
bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they are foamy, then beat in the
sugar. Add the chocolate mixture, a bit at a time initially to to
acclimatize the eggs. Next, sift in the flour and baking powder and
mix well. Add the milk and mix until smooth.
Carefully fold in the egg whites, trying not to deflate them, and
gently mix until they are completely incorporated into a fluffy but
dense mixture.Scrape out into the pan and bake for about 30 to 35
minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pan before
moving to a serving plate.
For the frosting, whip the butter with the confectioners sugar until
fluffy. Whisk in the cocoa a little at a time so that it doesn't fly
everywhere. When it is completely incorporated, add the milk and
honey, and whisk until very smooth. Spread it over the top of the cake
with a spatula, using swift smooth strokes.


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To transform your single layer of chocolate cake into wee sloppy layer cakes, just use a biscuit cutter, or cut out rounds using a margarine tub as a guide, and stack. Dip the leftover bits in frosting and eat them, of course. Summer had a half of a pint of raspberries on their way out, so she mashed them up with a few tablespoons of sugar and stuck it between some of the layers. You could fill the layers with darn near anything, though I tend to prefer just straight up frosting.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

chicken noodle soup

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Ah, another day, another soup. I kind of feel like if Summer gets to post all her adorable tarts, then I should get to blab on and on about soup, even if it's the same basic chicken soup with slightly different additions each time. I can't help it- as much as Summer swoons for any pastry spiked with nutmeg, cinnamon, and apples, I love a hot cup of soup. I love hot soup so much that I get kind of grossed out when I see the words "cold soup." Eeeeh. It's actually kind of a running joke between our families, because whenever I'm hanging out at Summer's house and she asks me what to make for dinner, I usually make an offhand comment like, "I don't know, some kind of soup?" and then remember that her husband can't stand soup, ha! He's always like, "What's with you ladies and SOUP, anyway? Stop pushing your soup agenda."

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This was a very simple soup:

6 cups of homemade chicken stock
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
a couple of garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
salt, pepper, bay leaf
a handful of fresh basil
your choice of noodle
1 chicken breast

Heat broth in a separate pan. Saute veggies (garlic and onions first) in a large pot until they begin to soften. Dump in hot broth, stir, season with salt & pepper, add a bay leaf. Cook at a medium simmer until vegetables become nice and soft (about 25 minutes). Then add cubed chicken breast and cover. In a separate pot, boil noodles (I used 2 kinds, the tiny rice-shaped kind, and alphabet noodles) until just cooked, drain, and add to soup. Just before serving, stir in a handful of chopped fresh basil. Make sure to check that your chicken is fully cooked before serving (you can just pinch a chunk between your fingers and look).

chickensoup

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

savory vegan biscuits with dill and onion.

Whew! A lot of you are probably noticing that we haven't quite resumed normal posting since Thanksgiving, and alas- things will only get worse before they get better, thanks to Christmas coming up fast. But what can you do? We've been enjoying the pre-holiday bustle, setting up decorations in our homes and dreaming up treats for our holiday party that we're throwing this weekend. That said, we're still around and still making lots of food.

biscuits2

Today, I went to visit a good friend who is starting a regular Tuesday crafternoon session. We let our kids roam around banging on toys while we sit and draw or sew or knit, and it's very relaxing. Today when we stopped in, she offered me a biscuit right when I sat down, and really- who can say no to a freshly baked biscuit? Through a mouthful of crumbs, I told her she had to send me the recipe and I'd throw it up on the blog for everyone else to share.

biscuits

From the cookbook "How It All Vegan!" by Tanya Barnard & Sarah Kramer

"Fancy Biscuits"
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil -or- shortening
1 cup sour soy milk (soy milk + 1 tsp vinegar) (note to non-vegans, you can do this with regular milk too, or use buttermilk.)
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp dried dill
1/4 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 450ºF. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the oil, sour milk, onions, dill, and pepper and mix together gently until "just mixed." Spoon into lightly oiled muffin tins. Bake for 12-18 minutes. Makes about 6 biscuits.

biscuits3

I can imagine these being the perfect side for a hot bowl of creamy soup, like cream of broccoli or clam chowder. Alia and her family enjoyed theirs with a thick bowl of barley and mushroom stew. Or, slice them in half and have biscuit sandwiches with a fried egg and some bacon, yum! Better yet, toss them on a plate and spoon some sausage gravy over the top. Or, if you want to keep things vegan, mushroom gravy, topped with fresh slices of scallion, yum.

Edited to add: Tonight I made these at home, and they were tasty! I slightly amended the recipe because I didn't have any dill. I did the chopped green onions, but instead of dill, I added some chopped fresh basil. Then, inspired by the basil, I tossed in a crushed clove of garlic. THEN, looking at the dry mix, I thought to myself- "Self? These need cheese." So I grated some cheddar in. SUPERB, friends! The only thing that could make them even MORE tasty would be an even more fragrant cheese, like parmesan or manchego (a personal fave).