Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rolo Cupcakes

It's that time of year when everywhere you turn there are pumpkin pies, apple desserts, turkey dinners and other fall staples. Williams-Sonoma has added autumn touches to all of their merchandise (this was under the category baking essentials -- explain to me how this is essential?), grocery stores are running 'specials' on canned pumpkin even though we are probably paying double what they charge in April (can you even get canned pumpkin in April? Note to self, make something pumpkiny this spring to find out.), and in my neighborhood, everyone is pumped about a little parade that is held on Thanksgiving where they blow up the balloons just a few blocks south of us.

Now that I have you all harvest-focused, I am going to break the reverie for a moment to present these cupcakes that are so sweet and so chocolaty and so delicious (and so beautiful!) that you won't miss the warm colors or the smell of cinnamon. Instead, think more along the lines of so-much-sugar-you-feel-your-heartbeat-increase and the-fun-doesn't-stop-on-the-outside since each of these has a surprise center that gets you every time. Hello Rolo Cupcakes, where have you been all my life?
I made these a few weeks ago to share with a few of our friends as well as to try to woo Robbie's coworkers into offering him a full-time position instead of the freelancing position he held. He is now a full-benefit employee as of last month and I have established my baking cred amongst our group of friends here in the city. I attribute both of these accomplishments to these cupcakes.

Rolo Cupcakes
Adapted from My Baking Addiction

For the Cakes
1 18.25 ounce package Devil's Food Cake mix
1 5.9 ounce package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp vanilla
24 frozen Rolos (I let mine freeze overnight)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners. Using the paddle attachment of a mixer, beat together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, eggs, water and vanilla until smooth. Evenly divide the batter amongst the tins. Push a frozen Rolo in the center of the batter, being sure to smooth the batter over the candy. Bake for 18-22 minutes until top is springy to the touch. Cool the cupcakes thoroughly on the wire rack.

For the Frosting
4 sticks unsalted butter; room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup caramel syrup
1 1/2 pounds confectioners' sugar

Cream the butter in the bowl of an electric or stand mixer. Add the extract, salt and caramel syrup and combine well. Begin adding in the sugar and mixing thoroughly after each addition. Add more caramel syrup if you want more of a caramel taste. I ended up adding another 1/3 of a cup.

For the Ganache
4 ounces bitter sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla (I have a confession, I accidently left the vanilla out of the ganache. To my knowledge, no one noticed.)

24 Rolos for garnish

In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the heavy cream until very hot but not boiling. Place the chocolate pieces in a heat safe bowl (I used a Pyrex measuring cup). Place chocolate pieces in a heat safe bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. I used this time to begin frosting the cupcakes. Whisk the cream and chocolate until smooth and thoroghly combined. Whisk in the honey, corn syrup and vanilla (if you can remember the vanilla). Allow to cool for about 15 minutes. I used this time to finish frosting the cupcakes. You do not want it to harden so that you can't spoon it over the frosting so you may want to check back on it. Once cakes are frosted with the caramel buttercream, spoon the glaze over the tops of the cupcakes. Top each cupcake with a Rolo and stand back for the stampede.

Friday, November 04, 2011

White Bean Soup with Andouille and Kale

This past weekend I experienced several firsts -- my first ever New York snowfall (not the brown slush I have encountered on previous trips post-snowfall); my first October snowfall (I didn’t even know snow existed before Christmas time), and my first New York Halloween.
I learned several things with which I will now enlighten you:

1) The weathermen up here are legit. If they say it is going to snow in October, then it is going to snow in October. Even if a borderline for the snowfall is mentioned (as in “we may be on the line for some snowfall”) that should be understood as “get ready for three inches of snow.” If only they were this good with hurricane strength predictions. 

2) Evidently there are different types of snow. In NC, when a forecaster mentioned snow, I would immediately stop listening and stare at the sky in anticipation of the appearance of any white substance. It is so abundant up here that they categorize. This one was classified as ‘big and wet’ which I was excited about because I was expecting dog-like kisses falling on my head. Which leads me to my third realization . . . 

3) It is perfectly acceptable to use your umbrella in a snow storm. I went out without one in order to get the full effect of the dog-like kisses and instead, returned a drenched mess. Note to self - see realization #1 about the validity of weathermen. Big and wet means big and wet. I will take my umbrella next time. 

4) Halloween in NYC is still awesome with street-organized trick or treat routes of which you can opt in or out (Sadly we had none since they politely told us we were not needed after hearing we were on the 5th floor --I thought kids needed to be more active these days!) and various monsters/princesses/etc. riding on the subway as they head to various Halloween parties. Good luck determining if those green and red striped tights with the red heels on the 20-something next to you are part of a Halloween costume or just part of their Monday attire.  

5) Shops give out candy! Kids go from the deli to the food stand guy to the pet store to pick up candy. I got a mini-Snickers bar from my cleaners! I would have preferred a 40% discount but I’ll take what I can get. 

6) Evidently Halloween is one of my husband’s favorite holidays (I never thought to ask him this fact) and my plan to stay in and watch Twilight together was grudgingly accepted. So next year we are dressing up as Wall Street protesters and hitting the Village. I promise.

And so, with snow making its appearance before November, I am ready to hunker down for some winter cooking. Starting with this soup. I am SO glad I said ‘yes’ to packing my crock pot even though it is kept five feet above my head in our overhead closets and therefore a bear to get down and put back up because, even with the storage hassle, this soup was delicious and enough for the two of us to eat off of for a week - very handy for the inevitable snowfall that will make us want to stay in our (well-)heated apartment snuggling with Newt. 

Happy (snow!) Fall!
White Bean Soup with Andouille and Kale
From Real Simple

1 pound dried white beans (I used cannellini)
1/2 pound andouille sausage links, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme or another appropriate herb (I used sage because they share a song lyric)
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bunch kale, stems discarded and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces (about 8 cups)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

In a 4 - 6 quarter slow cooker, combine the beans, sausage, onion, celery and herbs. Add the brother and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours until the beans are tender. Twenty minutes before serving, discard the stems from your fresh herbs and add the kale. Cover and cook until the greens are tender for another 15 to 20 minutes. Add the vinegar and salt and pepper (about 1/2 teaspoon each).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

I know, I know. I am clearly not being avant-garde by doing a pumpkin bread recipe in October (but I am by using the word avant-garde!) so just bear with me. There is a reason for making this bread and the fact that it is October is just an appropriate coincidence.

There are two pumpkins in my life. One is Robbie who, in addition to loving all foods orange since he was a young boy according to his mother, was also his mother's pumpkin before she graciously let me take on the duties of keeper of RLS3. The second pumpkin is probably loved more by my friends and family than I am and he certainly turns heads wherever he goes. And that is our 22-pound orange cat, Newton (we call him Newt for short).

Since our unstable life which, ironically, started after we got married last October, we found ourselves going through the motions of Robbie finishing up law school and the concerns over not knowing where we would end up. Throughout all of that, Newt was a trooper. He learned to ride in a car without immediately getting sick(ish) and he moved seamlessly from Charlotte to Newton to Winston-Salem then back to Newton. After arriving in NYC in August we knew we had to make a decision about Newt. Do we bring a car-sick-prone cat to New York to live in about a tenth of the space he had in Newton or do we find him a better home (albeit someone willing to look after a diabetic cat who gets shots twice a day and has the uncanny knack of being in your face ALL. THE. TIME.)? We decided to bring him up.

So after some monitoring and testing of some strong sedatives by the awesome staff at Maiden Small Animal Hospital, Newt arrived on September 15th, after a 12 hour drive, at 11:50 pm. And boy was he confused. We unloaded him in the middle of West 89th Street and I carried him in my arms up five flights of stairs into his new home while Robbie got the important duty of carrying up the rest of his food/litter box/etc. (I like to play favorites.) I laid him down in the living room. He immediately walked from one end to the other, through our kitchen area into the bathroom and then walked into the bedroom before turning around and emitting a rather irritated and trite "Meow!" as if to say "This is it? This is the Big Apple? Looks more like a Little Apple to me." Since that night over a month ago Newt has become adept at looking from his throne (our window ledge) over his kingdom (West 89th Street) while cars go by, pigeons fly, and the cable wires outside our window blow with the wind. I hope he is happy.
We did buy a cat stroller for him (yes, they exist) and we did take him to Central Park for one afternoon (actually, it was like a 20 minute visit) and really, the only reason we came back to the apartment was because I was too embarrassed by all the looks people gave us. I wanted to remind them of the crazy people who reside at every corner in the city and that we, with our 22-pound cat in a stroller and letting him eat grass on a leash, were the least crazy ones. But I pick my battles.

So, in honor of my two pumpkins, the one who married me one year ago this month and the one who celebrated his first month in New York City just last week, I make this pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin or pumpkin pie filling (I believe these are the same thing actually.)
1/3 cup applesauce
2 large eggs
1 tsp pumpkin-pie spice
1 1/4 cups of sugar
1/2 a cup of chopped walnuts

Preheat over to 350F. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. In a bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer using the whisk attachment, mix the pumpkin, applesauce, eggs, spice and sugar. Fold in the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the walnuts. Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes until a wooden tester comes out clean (mine actually took longer -- about 55 minutes). Cool in the pan on a rack for a few minutes until taking the bread out of the pan. Continue to cool on the rack. This bread is super moist and rose beautifully. I learned that it is also great with cream cheese on top.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Egg and Kielbasa, Open-faced

One of the (many) amazing things about living in NYC is being exposed to an unprecedented amount of culture oftentimes at minimal cost to your pocketbook and sometimes at no cost. For instance, this weekend held the New York Food & Wine Festival, the New York Musical Theatre Festival and the New York Film Festival. If you lived within 12 subway stops of any of these places and complained that you were bored you should be ashamed. I, on the other hand, quickly realized I would not be able to go to a symposium on meatballs, see a musical version of Pride and Prejudice and stalk the celebrities in town for the film festival in one weekend – there just weren’t enough hours in the day. So I had to choose.

Luckily, Robbie and I live a mere twenty blocks from Lincoln Center and the proximity made my decision easier. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights we strolled down to the new film theatre at the Lincoln Center to listen to two different panels of screenwriters all of whom live in New York (this tends to be an anomaly as most screenwriters are based in LA). We heard the writer of Working Girl, Meet the Parents, Spiderman, Jurassic Park, American Splendor and Black Swan (just to name a few) and they all talked about their love of New York City -- albeit the gritty side of it which seemed to be their favorite part.

I, on the other hand (again), like to think I live in the New York of Carrie Bradshaw, shopping for Louboutin’s and having brunch every day while not gaining a pound. I do not find intriguing the life of Travis Bickle as he traversed the NY streets at dark and befriended a child prostitute. The reality is that I live in neither of these worlds. I may catch a glimpse of these various segments of New York City living but in reality, living in New York is pretty much the same as if I was still in North Carolina – just with mass transit and no personal space.

That’s where this recipe comes into the picture – it’s a little rough around the edges. Some people won’t like it. It is probably an acquired taste but it is easy enough to make for Carrie and company and comforting enough for the loneliest of taxi drivers.

Egg and Kielbasa, Open-faced

Adapted from the New York Times

1 pound kielbasa (salami or corned beef will work too -- could this be more New York-ish?)


8 eggs

Dijon mustard

Rye Bread

*I made this in portions. It's pretty easy to throw together depending upon how many you serve. For the two of us I did 1/2 the kielbasa and 4 eggs and then made the second 1/2 later in the week.

Slice kielbasa and saute in a little oil. Break the eggs in a bowl and beat them as if you were making scrambled eggs. Add the eggs to the saute pan and scramble along with the kielbasa. Serve atop slices of rye bread that have been spread with Dijon mustard.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kung Pao Chicken

No, the delay in posting is not an indicator that I have nothing to say about living in New York. And no, the delay in posting is not an indicator that I am losing inspiration in my cooking. The delay in posting is evidence of how little time I am spending in the kitchen due to the tempting restaurants and easy eats that exist on the street.
I’ve had an incredibly filling meal of beef, lamb, yogurt sauce, pita bread and rice, all for just $6, while overlooking the crowds streaming into Radio City Music Hall, oblivious of the deal they were walking past from the food cart. I’ve had a 99 cent pizza slice, a West Side Market ‘tv dinner’ for only $9.99 that you could, in theory, eat off of for two days (but not for me because I don’t believe in leftovers) and then I’ve had some gourmet treats as well – delicious, all-natural gelato, an incredible birthday meal here, and some South American splendor here. The food options are overwhelming. Now I need to focus on recreating them in my kitchen!One of the more transporting experiences was last weekend’s trip to Chinatown for Dim Sum. At first, I thought I was being offended when someone said those two words to me. But no, they were not calling me a name, but were explaining it was a must-try New York experience. So I signed up as soon as possible and Saturday, a friend and I ventured downtown to Golden Unicorn for a real-live Dim Sum experience. It was amazing. And cheap! I ate well over my capacity and all for $11. And the concept of pushing carts around a dining room filled with mini plates of delicious pork buns, dumplings, meats and vegetables is the same theory I have on a future dessert restaurant. Only with donuts, cupcakes, fruits and creams.

While in Chinatown, you can’t miss the many markets with fresh produce, fish (real fresh . . .), meat and other groceries. Right beyond the corner of Canal and Bowery is where I found one of these and bought the ingredients for this dish. The special ingredients specific to Chinese cooking would have been much more had I gone to my go-to Upper West Side market but there, in Chinatown, they were cents instead of dollars. And I was able to bring a little bit of the Orient uptown . . .

Kung Pao Chicken
Adapted from My Recipes

1 tablespoon canola oil
4 cups broccoli florets
1 tablespoon ground fresh ginger, divided
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts on the thin side or pummeled to a thinner cut; cut into 1/4-inch strips
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped salted peanuts
Brown rice

Get the brown rice going according to the instructions on the box. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli and 2 teaspoons ginger to pan; sauté about one minute. Add water (I ended up adding a bit more than two tablespoons as you can tell from my pictures – don’t let the miniscule amount concern you). Cover; cook 2 minutes or until broccoli is crisp-tender. Remove broccoli from pan..

Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in pan; add remaining 1 teaspoon ginger, crushed red pepper, and chicken. Cook 4 minutes or until chicken is lightly browned, stirring frequently.

Combine broth and next 5 ingredients (through garlic) in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk. Add broth mixture to pan; cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Return broccoli mixture to pan; toss to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve over brown rice.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grilled Peaches

I couldn’t believe it when I swiped my subway card one morning last week and the words “insufficient fare” flashed up leading to me awkwardly backing out of the stall much to the irritation of the ten people practically running me over Pamplona-bull style as they tried to get to the train before the train operator – who sees you running at breakneck speed –inevitably shuts the door in your face. I digress. Those two words “insufficient fare” meant that I had been in NYC for thirty days. I had used up my first metro card. I took a moment to savor this instant before being pushed aside by the next rush of people.

In these past thirty days I have celebrated a birthday, experienced an earthquake on the 18th floor of a high rise, scared my mother to death by calling her and exclaiming “Mom, you aren’t going to believe this! We just had an earthquake!” and educated my co-workers on the proper Hurricane preparation techniques North Carolinians get used to (fill the tub with water, buy bottled water and stock up on non-perishables like apples, boxed milk, Fig Newton’s and M & M’s.) I have explored several neighborhoods in Brooklyn, checked out a local comedy club on a Saturday night and had my fair share of New York style cheese pizza.

And now the summer is winding down. The day after tomorrow is September 1st and you can already feel that crispness in the air. The breeze off of the river is much chillier than it was two weeks ago and the leaves that Irene left on our trees will inevitably start showing a tinge of Autumn soon. But what a summer it has been. To celebrate the winding down of the past few months, I decided to send Summer off with one more peachy-keen dish. Literally. This dish was a simple, light and delicious dessert that I will plan on having again – only for breakfast. Because I like to pretend I’m adult enough to have a fruit dessert but in reality I just want a giant hot fudge sundae with sprinkles and will save my sophisticated fruit concoctions for a time more appropriate for those ingredients – like breakfast.
Grilled Peaches
Adapted from Weight Watchers

cooking spray
1/4 cups low fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons reduced fat sour cream
1 tablespoon honey (I would increase this -- or at least add an extra drizzle once the dish is plated. You can never have too much honey.)
3 peaches, pitted and halved

Heat a grill pan (or a regular grill if you live in more than a ten by ten foot space and have the luxury of an outdoor space) and spray with cooking spray. Place peaches cut-side down until marked. (Mine never got marked and I kept them on there a couple of minutes. But they were still sweet and delicious.) While peaches are grilling, mix cream cheese, sour cream and honey in a bowl until smooth. Place cooked peaches on a platter, cut side up. Garnish with a spoonful of the cheese mixture and drizzle with extra honey.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Orzo, Zucchini and Shrimp Salad

We made it! The past two weeks have come and gone and each new day brings a new experience of the wonder, magic and inconveniences of living in New York City. But I love it and Robbie loves it and we have a home of our own now. And that is what is most important. I have wandered aimlessly for blocks at a time, I have taken the subway to work like 95% of the other New Yorkers, I have dined out more than I have dined in and I have obtained my New York City Public Library card. My goal next week is to reenact the scene from Funny Girl where Fanny belts out Don’t Rain on my Parade on a chug boat as she blows past the Statue of Liberty. Instead of meeting Mr. Arnstein, I will meet Robbie on Governor’s Island who will greet me with a Mister Softee ice cream cone. Fingers crossed the weather cooperates!

Now, about those inconveniences . . . Our brownstone, which is broken up into several apartments, was built in 1900. There is a beautiful wooden staircase that goes up the center of the building, lifting its residents to their respective floors. It’s very Edith Wharton-like. Unfortunately, we are on the 5th floor. That’s right, don't let the apartment number 1E fool you. At least once a day, I travel up five flights of stairs to get to my apartment, inevitably remember an errand I forgot to run, turn around, sulk down the stairs, run the errand, and return – for another 5-flight walk. At least we won’t have many visitors. Or robbers.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that FedEx, USPS, and UPS all dislike residents living on the fifth floor of walk ups and conspire to make it an act of Congress to get any item of mail bigger than our 4 x 12 inch mail box/cubby hole delivered. Currently, FedEx holds our new router after an ‘unsuccessful’ delivery on Friday and USPS is holding, since Thursday, the microwave we bought after an ‘insufficient address’ claim. I think it was a ‘no-way-am-I-walking-up-5-flights-of-stairs’ excuse but that was not an option in the electronic thing they carry around. Alas, several calls later and trips to the local FedEx store we still do not have our respective items but we remain optimistic that this week will bring success. And clarity as to how you actually get packages delivered in NYC.

The lack of a microwave has created challenges to my cooking repertoire. I really like to make things that I can get at least an additional meal out of but without the 20th Century luxury of the ‘reheat’ button on the microwave, I have been limited as to what I can make. So during our first week, I made this easy orzo pasta dish knowing that you could have it cold if in dire straits (which we did, and it was not that dire). It was our first home cooked meal in our home and we raised our Coke Zero’s to New York City.

Orzo, Zucchini and Shrimp Salad
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Coarse Salt and Pepper
1 cup orzo
1 tbs. + 1 tsp. olive oil, divided
2 med. zucchini, quartered and chopped
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1 to 2 tbs. white wine vinegar
1 pound of salad ready shrimp (already cooked)

Cooke orzo according to the package instructions. Allow to cool. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add zucchini and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally until crisp-tender, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add shrimp and stir for another minute or two. Transfer orzo to a medium bowl, add zucchini mixture, basil, vinegar and remaining teaspoon of oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Makes four servings.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Peanut Butter Cookies

Last week, Robbie scoured Manhattan for an apartment that we will call home in less than two weeks. In the midst of a very hectic time for him, he did this for us. And I am eternally grateful.

He has dealt with my requirements and gently explained that most of my deal-breakers don’t exist (central air, a built in shoe rack, etc.) and that we should really focus on logistics (is there laundry nearby, does it allow diabetic cats, etc.). His patience is commendable and there is a blessing in disguise that he is doing this without me. He will not have to deal with me over-analyzing every place we see and he is more of a city boy than I am a city girl so knows when a place is good and when it is not. I tend to get distracted by charming details that may be a nuisance in the end, ie, I love that there is a roman column in the middle of the living room – that will add such character to the place!

Nevertheless this is a very exciting next step for us. After celebrating the fact that we will be living in the same city for the first time since 2008, we are now celebrating finding our own place. In this place we will greet each other after long days at work, relax on Sunday afternoons with NFL football (pending lockout), bring our first Christmas tree home (even if it is 12 inches tall), watch our first New York snowfall, complain about our sixteenth New York snow fall, watch hours of Duke basketball, enjoy the Spring thawing the city undergoes and anticipate the heating up of the summer months until we can celebrate our one-year-together-in-an-apartment anniversary.

In this home I will also make meals and meals and meals. And cookies and cookies and cookies. Especially these peanut butter ones which will make me think of Newton and my nephew John. When he was 1 week old I made his parents a batch of these cookies. Ironically, when I asked him recently what type of cookie he would like for me to make he requested “the brown peanut butter ones!” I like to think I’m the one that turned him on to these just like I’ll be the one to turn him on to the wonders of NYC.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from the
Bon Appetit Cookbook

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Using a mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter and vanilla in a larger bowl until well blended. Beat in both sugars, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Stir in half of the flour mixture and add an egg until incorporated. Add the second egg and blend before adding the remainder of the flour. Roll 1 heaping tablespoonful of dough into uniform balls. Arrange them on baking sheets and use the back of a fork to flatten the balls and form the crosshatch design. Bake until dry on top, about 14 minutes. Cook cookies on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. If the cookies are hard the next day, heat them up for 12 seconds. Makes about 48 cookies.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Newton-style Pizza

I still remember landing at LaGuardia airport the first time I went to New York City. I was in 8th Grade and I remember turning to my mom and saying something to the effect of “I can’t believe I am going to New York City! I mean, this is like the fashion capital of the world!” I was probably wearing a flannel button-down shirt and my Levi’s that I had to buy from the boys department because I couldn’t wear girl’s sizes (bless my heart . . .) but I was still in awe of the whole concept of New York City.
Nowhere else can you get anything you need at any point during the day just by walking a few (or many) blocks. Even myself, who is in bed on a Friday night by 11 pm, loves knowing that if I wanted to go to a club until 4 am, I could. Even though my mother and I did not go beyond a seven-block radius of our hotel on that first trip, I still loved all the action.
And now, I am excited to say, I will be living there in two weeks. With my husband. This is huge on many levels – Robbie and I will be in the same town in our own residence for the first time since getting married and I will be living in a city in which I never thought I would have the courage to live. But Robbie and I are going to take it on together. Luckily, he’s lived there before and I feel that I am well-prepared to bring some Southern charm to the Big Apple.
In honor of this moment, I decided to make pizza. But not just any pizza. I wanted to pay homage to the city that has prepared me for everything in life. So I used basil from my parent's back yard, squash from my father’s garden and goat cheese from Wal-Mart. Thank you, Newton, for being the foundation for everything I’ve accomplished thus far in life. For me, home will always be within your city limits.
Squash and Goat Cheese Pizza
Adapted from
Smitten Kitchen

Pizza Dough (makes a 10-12 inch pizza)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Stir flour, salt and dry yeast in a large metal bowl. Add water and olive oil and stir until a ball forms. Dump the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead everything into a ball for a minute or two. Lightly spray the bowl with cooking spray and put the dough back in the bowl, flipping the ball over so all sides are coated with the spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it undisturbed for an hour or two, until it has doubled in size.
Dump it on a floured surface and gently press the dough with the palms of your hand to remove the air from the dough. Fold the piece into a ball shape (or close to it) and let it sit under plastic wrap for twenty minutes.
Roll it out onto a baking sheet or pizza stone and top with any toppings you like!
I used the following:
1 lemon
4 ounces goat cheese, not crumbled, the kind in the tube
Few leaves of fresh basil, cut into thin slivers
1 medium squash
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together goat cheese with the juice of half a lemon. Season it with salt and pepper. Spread this mixture over your pizza dough and sprinkle it with the basil slivers. Arrange the sliced squash on the pizza. Drizzle it with olive oil and a little more salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 10 to 25 minutes (depending upon your baking time and the placement of the rack). Most pizzas take 10-15 minutes but ours took more like 25. The pizza will be done when the edges begin to golden and the squash begins to look roasted on the edges.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Barley with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms

Happy Father’s Day! My dad and I are scarily similar (check out my Ode to Dad on this post.). No surprise then that we appreciate the same things in life – playing a hand of solitaire to relieve stress, the art of attracting birds to the backyard by using an array of bird feeders, a love for animals, an appreciation of common sense and the knowledge that we have more than anyone else (j/k . . . sort of . . .) and how, if you commit to something, you commit to it 100%. Nothing less, Dad, nothing less.

Dad’s always a comfort to me because I know if I need anything, I just have to ask. That’s what makes comfort foods such a favorite of mine too. The emotional satisfaction I get from comfort foods is a guarantee – just like Dad’s support during a challenging time. Although Dad's comforting ways are year round, it is harder to have comforting foods in the summer when you are tempted with all the fresh fruits and veggies. I do love farmer’s markets though. And I do love the taste of fresh green beans as opposed to canned green beans. And I do love how I drive by about six produce stands on my way home that are brimming with goods. I should clarify that my definition of produce stand includes anything resembling a lean-to to a slab of plywood on two cinder blocks. Folks are quite resourceful on Highway 16.

That being said, I am slightly excited that the first day of summer is next week which means the days start getting shorter which means cooler weather (and Christmas!) won’t be too terribly far behind. I know, I know. This is wishing my life away. But, wow, when I see 95+ degrees on more than four days of a seven-day-weather-outlook, I start to get annoyed. That is exactly why I stay inside in the summer and don’t take the time to enjoy those cute produce stands. I can’t surround myself in a 68-degree bubble like, say, the interior of my car, while I sort through some heirloom tomatoes.

Yes, fruits make fantastic summer desserts and crisp salads are the ultimate light summer dinner but there is something about a warm bowl of something. So I give you this recipe. It uses fresh veggies (mushrooms and onions – I’m starting off easy for you) with some hearty elements. So you can have some comfort food when it is 98 degrees. Check back with me in December and I’ll see if I can make a legitimate fresh fruit pie when the ground is frozen solid. At least I know my dad will still have my back.

Barley with Caramelized Onions and Pasta
Adapted from The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 cup pearl barley
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup small pasta (I used Macaroni)

Heat oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until deep brown, about 15 minutes. Add barley and stir 30 seconds. Add mushrooms; sauté until barley browns and mushrooms begin to soften. Mine took about 4 minutes. Add broth; bring mixture to boil (which was pretty immediate for me). Cover pan, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until barley is tender and broth is absorbed, about 25 minutes. While mixture is simmering, cook pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain pasta when cooked al dente. Mix pasta into barley once barley has absorbed the broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 good-sized servings.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sugar Cookies

Mom. The sound of that word brings an immediate release of stress to my life. If mom is around, I know things are going to be ok. If mom is on the phone, I know whatever problem I have will be worked out. If mom is ok, then I am ok.

I made my mom these sugar cookies – classic, sophisticated and comforting.
Just like Mom. My mom is a retired teacher and guidance counselor who now does full-time counseling for a living. Yet she always has time to teach and counsel me and for that I am eternally grateful. She’s the shoulder I lean on after a bad day, the first person I call when I’m off of work for the evening, and my first lifeline I turn to if I need some advice.

To all you mothers out there – thanks for all you have done, continue to do, and will do for the livelihood of your kids.
Thanks also for the many things you forbid us from doing and will discourage us from doing in the future because odds are, you know what’s best for us. And thanks for being there when we don’t heed your advice and have something broken, hurt, or lost due to our ‘independence.’

A plate of sugar cookies may not mean much but I imagine no gift in this world could represent the gratitude kids have for their mothers. I know it doesn’t in my case. So I just thank God for her every day.

I love you Mom. Thanks for always being my biggest fan.

Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Charlotte Cooks Again (I halved the original recipe amounts and played with my ration of sugar to powdered sugar due to a shortage of the former.)

1 stick butter
¼ cup sugar
¾ cup powdered sugar
1 well beaten egg
½ tsp. salt
½ cup oil
½ tsp. vanilla
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cream of tartar

turbinado, sprinkles or colored sugar for sprinkling

Cream butter and both sugars. Add eggs and salt – mix well. Add the oil and vanilla. Mix well. Sift the flour, baking soda soda and cream of tartar and add to first mixture. Mix well. Drop teaspoons of dough on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with either a glass or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with colored sugar or, as I did, with turbinado sugar. Cook for about 11 minutes in a 350 degree oven. This recipe made about 3 dozen cookies.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Giant Chocolate Chips Scones

I have now been up since 3:55 in the morning and I am still watching coverage of the Royal Wedding. And I continue to try and figure out how to incorporate the words 'betwixt' and 'troth' in my daily vocabulary.

It took me about three days after Prince William and Catherine announced their engagement to decide to take off work on the day of their wedding. It took about two more days to confirm that I would spend the morning watching TV and enjoying a real British breakfast. It took about two seconds - after Googling "English Breakfast" - that I decided I should rethink this plan since baked beans and toast are not as refined as I was hoping.

Then, it was announced that the wedding would begin at 11 am. London time. I admit, after doing the math, I thought that this fun-filled plan might not be the best idea. But no, as a real-life-princess (Just ask my father. And Robbie. They will confirm my status.), I had to stay committed to the future Princess Catherine. So, I roped my parents into going to the beach for a long weekend for our own celebration (Robbie, meanwhile, is studying copyrights, securities regulations and other fun topics). We had English muffins, tea, strawberries and cream* and of course, scones. As I understand it, British scones tend to be dainty and petite and include something healthy like dried fruit and lemon zest. In light of this, I Americanized them by tripling their size and filling them with chocolate.

*A note on strawberries and cream. If you have never had strawberries and cream, you must go to the store immediately, pick up some heavy cream, slice some strawberries and have a bowl. Now I understand what all the fuss is about at Wimbledon. The sweet strawberries combined with the rich cream create this thick, delicious bowl of richness. It makes anyone feel like royalty. And will make you wonder why anyone would have 2% milk when you can have 36%.

Giant Dark Chocolate Chip Scones
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

3¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups (about 12-oz) package dark chocolate chips
2 cups chilled heavy cream (may need an additional splash of cream)
melted butter for brushing on top
Additional sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Stir together flour, ½ a cup of sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl (make sure it’s a fairly large bowl and, ideally, a little shallower than normal so you can do all of the kneading, flattening and cutting in one place). Pour cream into flour mixture, stirring just until ingredients are moistened. Add a bit more if needed to completely incorporate the flour. At this point, you can turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and knead gently. I did this in the same bowl, kneading for about two minutes with flour-dusted hands until a soft dough forms. Flatten the ball into a circle and cut into 8 triangles. Transfer triangles to prepared baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake about 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm.