Monday, December 31, 2012

Pecan Tassies

It’s the end of the year already!  I hope everyone’s Christmas was wonderful. My holiday went by so quickly that I only got to reenact Elf scenes twice instead of the preferred half-a-dozen times. 

2013 is hours away and I am inundated with “Best of 2012” lists.  I adore compilations and montages of any sort so the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a thrill for me as I relive the year in pictures, the year in books, the moments that restored our faith in humanity, and basically anything else on this website.

If you will indulge me, I would like to give you two of my Top 5 lists of 2012.  (Items listed are in no particular order.)

Top 5 Meals
·           Momofuku Ko, NYC – I treated Robbie on his 30th birthday to dinner at David Chang’s fine-dining establishment.  With only 12-seats in the restaurant, and no menu, it was an intimate dinner full of surprises.  And shaved fois gras.  Who knew you could shave fois gras. 
·           Parm, NYC – We ate here several times this year as it is one of our more frequently visited restaurants.  The food is delicious and affordable and the atmosphere makes me feel like I’m cooler than I really am (mainly because they play a lot of Tribe Called Quest and Rick Ross songs that I am able to recognize).
·           Daniel, NYC – Our two-year wedding anniversary was destined to be a special one when we snagged reservations here.  Even though we were on the outskirts of the dining room, the fact that Chef Daniel Boulud made an appearance outside of the kitchen was thrilling and the extra dessert in celebration of our anniversary shows they know how to make someone feel special.   Or just me.
·           Tosaka’s, Newton, NC – After a year in NYC, I have yet to find a restaurant like Tosaka’s.   I ate here every time I came home.  Someone needs to tell me where I can find teriyaki chicken, rice, sweet carrots and unlimited shrimp sauce in the 212 (I’ll even take the 718). 
·           Fatty Cue, NYC – Soon after Hurricane Sandy, and after my second straight week of working from home, I was getting a tad stir crazy.  We decided to join in the #DineOutNYC movement one Saturday night and ventured downtown to Fatty Cue, a BBQ joint with an Asian flare.  It was great to get out and support restaurants that were closed for over a week post-hurricane and my tweet about that meal was one of the three retweets I got this year – proving Joey’s theory that there is no selfless good deed (Friends reference – The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS).

Top 5 Moments  
·           Duke/UNC Basketball - In March, we went to watch the Duke vs. Carolina basketball game in Brooklyn with our UNC friends, Kate and Tom.  After an intense 39 minutes of basketball, the game winning shot by Austin Rivers was one of the most emotional and euphoric endings to a basketball game that I had ever seen.   Robbie showed more emotion that night than I think I had ever seen as he ran screaming up and down the barroom floor causing some hipster to come up to him and say “I don’t even know you but I want to give you a hug in congratulations.”  I think his pure, ecstatic response converted a few Brooklyn-ites into Duke fans. 
·           Adrienne’s birthday - I spoke of that day here, but it must be included since it was such an exciting moment when I learned that there was another female Mullinax in the world.
·           Jazz Club Night – One random Tuesday evening Robbie and I ventured to Dizzy’s Jazz Club, a part of the Lincoln Center Jazz Center.  We spent a lovely two and a half hours listening to Morgan James (from Godspell!) sing Nina Simone.  Although we may have been the youngest people there, it was pretty awesome and, if you buy this cd, you may be able to hear my ‘Amen!’ in the background when she sings ‘Save Me.’
·           Visit to Seattle – My job had their annual meeting in Seattle this year and I was able to finally visit my west coast relatives in their hometown.  My mom accompanied me and we had a wonderful few days seeing the sites with my aunt and uncle and cousin.  They were patient with us as we constantly mispronounced Mount Ranier and while I wrecked havoc on the monorail.
·           Life Events of Friends – 2012 welcomed multiple weddings and babies into the lives of some of my closest friends (one needs only to look at 1/10th of my Facebook News Feed at any given moment to see what I’m talking about).  Many of them I got to celebrate with in person but others I relied on social media and emails to see the good news.  Seeing all of them so happy was a wonderful moment indeed. 

Here’s to a wonderful 2013!  Let's all shine bright like a diamond for the new year!

Pecan Tassies
From Pampered Chef All the Best
These are perfect to take along with you to your New Year’s party.   They are incredibly easy to make and are enjoyed by pretty much anyone with tastebuds.  Most people can’t resist small versions of anything, much less mini-pecan pies with the word ‘tassie’ in their name.   

½ cup butter, softened
3 ounces cream cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter
¾ cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pecan halves (chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Beat butter and cream cheese in a standing mixer until well blended.  Add flour.  Mix until a soft dough forms.  Form a tablespoon of the mix into 1-inch balls and place them into the cups of a mini-muffin pan.   Using your fingers, press the dough into each cup until it covers the bottom and slightly up onto the sides of the wells.  In a separate bowl, melt the butter in the microwave and stir in brown sugar, egg and vanilla.  Add pecans.  Fill each shell with filling just until full (do not overfill). Bake 20 or 25 minutes or until the tassies are a light golden brown color.   Let cool in pan for several minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Edamame Chicken Stir-fry

Christmas is one week away!  The city is decked out. Presents are bought and shipped.  The kitchen at work is overflowing with deliciousness from colleagues and vendors.  Our Christmas Tree is filled with holiday cards.  In light of recent events, we are using this time to appreciate what we have and not what we don't have -- something we should do more often.  We are very lucky in our fifth floor two-by-four 'pent house.'

Newt feels otherwise.  We have been waging a three-week battle because the placement of our Christmas tree required that we move Newt's litterbox four inches to the left.  Apparently this has shattered Newt's world and he is agitated and will stand in the litter box and meow and do things that require Lysol and an entire roll of paper towels.  (I'll stop there since a food blog is not the venue for this story).  Our counter-insurgency method was to just move his litter box entirely.  Away from the tree.  And into the fireplace.  Incredibly, he seems to have calmed down.  Apparently Newt's middle name is Scrooge.  And let's hope Santa knows we will be in Virginia for Christmas and doesn't try to come down our chimney.

For the sake of not having three straight cookie posts, I decided to throw in a savory recipe.  Even though it is December and I usually live off of cookies, chocolate, and Red & Green M&Ms the entire month, I will need some protein in some form other than nougat.  This recipe is quick to throw together and you can personalize it according to your preferences.  Don't like Snap Peas?  Leave them out.  Add zucchini instead.  Don't like Chicken?  Use shrimp.  Or pork.  

Or nougat.

Edamame Chicken Stir-fry
Adapted from Devilicious!  A cookbook by Newton-Conover High School Alumni
For more information on this book, check out my friend and fellow-blogger's post about it here.  Side note: This was one of her recipes in the book.  Thanks Sharon!

1/8 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry wine
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 packet Splenda
8 oz. chicken breast, sliced
2 teaspoons sesame oil (I used light)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 c. frozen edamame
2 c. snow peas
1 c. mushrooms
1 c. shredded carrots

Combine hoisin sauce, sherry wine, rice vinegar and Splenda in a Ziploc bag.  Add chicken to the bac and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Heat 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a skillet and add chicken.  Cook until just done, then remove.  Heat remaining teaspoon of the oil in the skillet.  Add garlic and ginger.  Cook for just a minute.  Add vegetables and stir-fry for several minutes until desired tenderness.  Add reserved chicken with any extra marinade you have and cook through until hot.  Serve with rice.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peanut Butter Fudge Oat Cookies

This year, I joined in the 2012 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap where I received the names and addresses of three fellow food bloggers and shipped each of them a dozen cookies.  In return, I got a dozen cookies from three other food bloggers that had received my name.  

The hardest part of the entire process was deciding what to bake.  I think the cookie you choose says a lot about you and so I wanted it to be somewhat creative (I didn’t think plain sugar cookie was the way to go here) but comforting enough to where folks wouldn’t be disappointed (I also didn’t think fancy schmancy was the best option here).  I settled on these peanut butter fudge oat cookies. 

My reasons were three-fold (Friends reference, “The One with Chandler in a Box”):
  • These cookies made enough for my three recipients and then some.  The ‘some’ I ate.  ie, I could not mess these up by faulty math.  And I’m one of those people that gives gifts that I want.
  • They seemed pretty viable. They were soft enough to give a little should they get bumped on their journey but not so soft that they fell apart.  At least this was my theory and those who received them hopefully did not have a box of sticky, peanut buttery oat crumbs?
  • I was confident in the ingredients.  Who wouldn’t like the combination of peanut butter, oats and fudge?
The recipe made a ton of fudge so next time I may even put more fudge on each cookie before baking them instead of standing over the pot with pretzel rods, apple slices, a straw, etc. in an effort to not waste the glorious fudge.   

I sent a batch of these to Sarah of My Little Red Mixer, Tara of Saucy Mouth and Kate of Food Lust
Here are the cookies I received (and enjoyed thoroughly):
  • Chocolate Gingerbread Men* from A Frosted Kitchen – obviously Sarah takes pride in impeccable decoration without sacrificing necessities like good taste and texture. 
  • Yummy Fruit & Oat Bars* from – Felicia's note said that she got these from Thomas Keller’s new cookbook.  This fact set an incredible standard.  Dropping a TK bomb sets a certain tone for sure.  BOOM! 
  • Biscotti* from Slim Pickin’s Kitchen - The Biscotti was great.  But to top it off Amber included a little bag of Chai tea!  Stop. It.  She clearly goes the extra mile and realizes details matter. 
The anticipation of seeing a box shaped like a possible cookie container, coupled with the yumminess that inevitably arrives at your doorstep, makes me want to do a quarterly cookie swap.  I think every change in season warrants an event such as this one.  Who’s in?

*Note, I may not be calling these cookies the correct name so head over to their blog to get the full story, legal name and recipes.  For instance, TK would never use the word ‘yummy’ in the name of one of his dishes.  He’s to sophisticated.

Peanut Butter Fudge Oat Cookies
Adapted from TheKitchn

1/2 cup butter, very soft
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/2 cups oats (I actually used a mix of old-fashioned and quick)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350°F and line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, mix the butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Add the oats, baking soda, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate the dough. 

Begin preparing the fudge topping by mixing chocolate chips and condensed milk in a saucepan.  Turn the burner on low and, stirring frequently, warm the chocolate until it is completely melted and evenly mixed.  Keep the burner on simmer and keep a spoon handy as you may need to restir the chocolate before topping the cookies.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, using a cookie scoop (or else your hands will be a gooey mess), drop wanut-sized balls onto the cookie sheet.  Press each ball semi-flat and top with a dollop of the chocolate mixture.  Bake the cookies for 10 – 12 minutes or until just golden around the edges. Let the cookies firm up a bit then transfer the parchment sheets to wire racks before completely cooling. 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Sugar and Spice Cookies

In this world of texts and emails sent on an hourly basis, it is rare that one produces such an emotional response as to leave me breathless (cue The Corrs).  However, on November 1st a little after 3 am I got the following text from my brother "Adrienne Joy.  Born November 1 at 1:58 am. 7 pounds 3 ounces."  That was all he said.  My brother is a man of few words (which is probably why he was the less troublesome child) but those eight words and six numbers were enough to keep me up the rest of the night.  I had a niece!  I cannot wait to be a part of her life and to teach her all the wonderful things that aunts teach their nieces like the love of cats (Aunt Linda), the female family members' tradition of Duke (Aunt Peg), the benefits that come with a great sense of humor (Aunt Sherri), and the sophistication of red nail polish (Aunt Molly).  
I got to meet her for the first time over Thanksgiving and I think we really made a connection.  She has a ton of hair and is quite the little squirmy bug.  She sleeps a lot and looks absolutely beautiful in pink.  She also sleeps just like her big brother did with her arms straight up over her head.  We are still waiting to see if she inherited the family dimples.  And her aunt's sharp wit.

In honor of her birth, I made these Sugar and Spice Cookies.  They were incredibly easy to make and since I was unable to meet her until nearly three weeks after she was born, I wanted the record to show that I did something in honor of her on the day she was born.  I then shared them with friends while Robbie shared them with his coworkers with the payoff that they had to share in our enchantment with her pictures.  Happy 1 month little Adrienne!  

Sugar and Spice Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon 
3/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 large egg
2 cups whole wheat flour

In a bowl, beat butter, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice and ginger together until smooth.  Add the maple syrup and beat until incorporated.  Add the egg, mixing until incorporated.  Mix in the flour.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.  When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.  Drop the dough by the teaspoonfuls onto your prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10 to 11 minutes until the edges are golden.  Transfer to a rack to cool.  When baking in batches, keep extra dough in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels

How are we feeling? Have we eaten enough the last few days?  I know I have.  I started eating at a Thanksgiving pace on Veteran’s Day so I should probably get it together before the onslaught of Christmas.

Here’s an easy, light dinner for you (me).

I was pretty nervous about cooking mussels.  My previous experiences with non-shrimp seafood dishes had turned out well (here and here) but I was still anxious.  What if I can't tell if they are open or not and I butcher the 'throw-away-any-mussels-that-don't-open' rule?  What is this debearding business?  How strict is the rule about soaking them in water to remove any salt water?  And so it went. I even planned this dish around vacations.  I purposefully waited until all travelling was over for a bit before making these because I didn't want to cause a bout of food poisoning for Robbie or me.  Bless my heart.
Once we - (let's be honest, this was my paranoia) - once, I figured out the perfect timing to prepare the meal, I ignored my fears that had been harboring (ocean reference!).  I didn't do any debearding as I didn't see anything that seemed to need any debearding and I didn't soak any mussels in water.  Just a quick rinse turned out to be ok for my batch of mollusks.  And, those little suckers are pretty transparent.  This may come as a shock to you, but I could clearly tell the open mussels from the closed ones and was able to throw the latter out accordingly.  

And it's been some time now and no one has gone to the hospital.  I'd say we narrowly escaped that one.  

Coconut and Basil Steamed Mussels
Adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 cup shallots, minced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup light coconut milk
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Sriracha
1 pound of mussels, scrubbed and debearded (if indeed, you see beards)

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.   (Side note – I love any recipe that lets me use my Dutch oven.)  Add oil to pan. Add shallots and garlic and cook until tender.  Tear your basil.  Stir in coconut milk, water, chicken broth, newly-torn basil, lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce and Sriracha.  Bring this mixture to a boil.  Add your mussels to the Dutch oven and cover.  Cook about five minutes or until shells are open. Discard any unopened shells – whether or not they are open will be very clear to you.

Divide mussels between 2 serving bowls and keep warm. Bring broth mixture to a boil once more and cook for five more minutes.  Divide sauce over each bowl (or until you have your desired amount – it makes a lot of sauce).  Serve with a chunky piece of bread because I hear that is what you do with mussels in order to soak up the delicious sauce.  Rice would also work.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pumpkin Donut Holes

Of course I am going to sneak in another pumpkin recipe a mere eight hours before Thanksgiving which, I believe, is the last legitimate day you can present pumpkin in a dish until September of the following year.   Although I tend to spread this out a little.  I don’t mind a pumpkin bread for Christmas breakfast or some pumpkin spice in August.  I also start listening to Christmas music in October.  No wonder I slide into a moderate depression come January.

I was really excited when I saw this recipe because, let's face it, the prospect of presenting people with Pumpkin Donut Holes?  I could practically hear the gasps of excitement!  And no fryer required – these are baked.  I didn’t have mini-muffin pans so I immediately ran to the nearest Crate + Barrel, used one of the last remaining wedding gift cards to purchase two, rushed home, prepared the batter, spooned perfect little tablespoon-fuls into the muffin pans and turned to put the first pan in my oven.  And the mini-muffin pan didn’t fit. 
So, these little bites are quite resilient.  They baked up perfectly with the oven open several inches and the pan sticking out.   That wouldn’t happen with your regular sponge cake I bet.  The recipe makes a lot of donut holes.  So you could have donut holes for the entire family Thanksgiving morning.  Or on a random August day when you just need a touch of fall. 

Pumpkin Donut Holes

For the Donuts
1 ¾ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoons nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoons ground cloves
1/3 cup vegetable oil
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup pumpkin puree
½ cup milk

For the Coating:
1 stick butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease two 24-cup mini muffin tins.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, pumpkin and milk.  Mix until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.  Divide the batter into your muffin tins. You may have extra batter.   Obviously, you should use this to make more donut holes.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the donuts pass the toothpick test.  Even with my oven ajar, this took only about ten minutes.  Once the donuts are done baking, let cool for a couple of minutes.  Place your butter in a bowl and melt in the microwave.  Stir your cinnamon and sugar together in another bowl.  Dip each donut hole in the melted butter and then roll it in the cinnamon sugar mixture.   These are best served immediately but I know some folks did not have any trouble eating them the next day.

Adapted from Pennies on a Platter

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pork and Rosemary Stuffed Peppers

I remember the day I discovered the Game Show Network.  I spent hours watching back to back episodes of retro Press your Luck (No Whammies!), Super Password (with that creepy whisper-y voice) and Family Feud (I enjoy episodes featuring all four hosts).  I then introduced the channel to my grandmother, and we would watch the shows together after school.  I am not sure she enjoyed this as much as I did, but she was a good grandmother and humored me.

My favorite shows were the winning combo of $25,000 and $100,000 Pyramids.  A quick run through of how this one worked in case you were doing more important things between the years of 1973 and 1988:  two contestants are paired up with two celebrities (usually the most popular soap opera actor at the time) and a category is chosen by each pair.  Words or phrases associated with that category are described by one player, without saying the word, and the other partner has to name the word being described.  Each word guessed correctly equals a point.  The non-celebrity player with the most points win.  An example of a category could be "Twinkle, Twinkle" and then a clue would be "Something in the sky" and the answer would be "Little Star!" but it has to be yelled enthusiastically and in a staccato-like fashion.  You would now have one point and would go on to guess things like "Your child's eyes," "Christmas lights," etc. -- all from clever clues your partner shouts at you. 

I used to play along by turning my back to the TV so I couldn't see the word printed at the bottom and try to guess it before the actual players in the studio could.  I'm sure my grandmother found this just precious.  
When I made this recipe, I thought about how timely it was considering these peppers are stuffed just like turkeys and stockings and other holiday items like my festive skinny jeans (particularly stuffed after all the food I eat).  This made me naturally start shouting random words to Robbie like "Thanksgiving turkeys!", "Christmas Stockings!", "Bell Peppers!" until he got up and left the room.  If only he could have heard the game show theme playing in my head and he would have realized the appropriate response would have been "Things that are stuffed!"  But not everyone spent a large percentage of the afternoons during their youth watching the Game Show Network.  Their loss.  Literally -- Robbie has zero points in this game.

Pork and Rosemary Stuffed Peppers
From Nigel Slater's Tender

1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 bushy sprigs of rosemary
2 large tomatoes, chopped
12 ounces chopped pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
5 - 6 medium sized bell peppers
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a pot of water to boil. While water is boiling, cut your peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and white parts.  Drop your peppers in batches into the boiling water and boil until slightly limp, about six minutes.  Set pepper halves onto a baking sheet, skin side down.  Pour oil into a saute pan and saute your onion until softened. Remove the stems from the rosemary leaves and chop. Add the minced garlic and rosemary to the onion mixture until soft and fragrant. Stir the tomatoes into the mixture.  Cook for another few minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the minced pork and breadcrumbs.  Cook for a few more minutes until the pork is slightly browned.  Remove from the heat.  Divide the mixture into all the pepper halves.  Drizzle with olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.  Cook for 35 minutes or until desired doneness.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes

Two weeks ago, we were bracing ourselves for a hurricane.  One week ago, we were following the route of a Nor’easter that would bring us a few inches of snow and now, I can legitimately walk around in short sleeves with this 65+ degree weather. 

Congratulations fall 2012, you are officially the most dramatic season ever. 

In all three weather scenarios, these little packages should be welcomed in all of their creamy, deliciousness with pockets of crunch and a surprise crust of a single Oreo cookie.  Cheesecakes aren’t my usual go-to dessert (they are similar to pies in my book) but these hit the spot.  Not to mention that the recipe calls for a specific number of Oreos that I insisted upon because, let’s be honest, even though I know I’ll only use 5 from the extra package, you can never have too many Oreos. 

They make a perfect side dish to these cupcakes themselves.  And the requisite glass of milk.   Which I may or may not have dipped an entire mini-cheesecake into. 

Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes
Adapted from my home girl Martha

42 Oreos
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
Pinch of Salt

Preheat over to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Line up your baking sheets and place muffin liners in 30 wells.  Place an Oreo in the bottom of the 30 lined cups.  If you are working in batches because you have a Lilliputian oven and can only fit one muffin tin in it at a time, go ahead and do this step so you are ready to move one tray in the oven when another tray comes out.  Coarsely chop the remaining 12 Oreos.  Set the crushed Oreos aside.  Slice the cream cheese into large pieces to make it easier to mix and put into a bowl.  With a mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream cheese until it is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Gradually add sugar and beat until combined.  Beat in vanilla.   Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time and beat after each addition.  Beat in sour cream and salt.  Stir in the chopped cookies by hand.  Divide the batter among your Oreo-based muffin liners.  Bake about 22 minutes or until filling is set, rotating halfway through.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely.   Place in a fairly tight container so that they support each other (but aren’t smashed) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.  If you have enough muffin tins and/or room in your refrigerator, chill them in the tins.  

Monday, November 05, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

Things are slowly getting back to normal for the Apt. 1E crowd although I am still working from home due to ‘severe electrical damage’ to our office building.  Seeing the devastation that others in the area have experienced, and continue to experience, makes me thankful though.   And it reminds me to take advantage of the extra quality time with Newt (even though he sleeps in the closet all day). 

In light of last week’s storm, tomorrow’s election, and the pending Nor’easter off the East Coast, I am anticipating that many people will need some comfort this week.  That’s where this recipe comes in.  Your basic tomato soup kicked up a notch but still easy enough that comfort is only a short jaunt-in-the-kitchen away. 

Speaking of Nor’easters - using an apostrophe in the middle of a word is a very under-utilized tool.  A “Nor’easter” sounds a lot better than a “Northeaster.”  Therefore, I present to you an alternatively named, Roasted T’mato and Bas’l Soup.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup

2 ½ pounds Roma tomatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium onion
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Red Pepper flakes
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice your tomatoes lengthwise and arrange, cut-side up, on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour to desired roasted-ness.

Chop your onion.  In a large stockpot, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until tender.  Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the canned tomatoes, fresh basil and broth to the stockpot.  Stir in the oven-roasted tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes. 

At this point you can use either a food processor (and work in batches – but be careful, it will be hot!) or use an immersion blender (as I did) and puree the soup until slightly smooth (a few chunky tomatoes aren’t a bad thing in this soup). 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Sugar Cookies

I always liked Rizzo better.  “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was so much more heart-wrenching than “Hopelessly Devoted” and, let’s be honest, not everyone could make a short, punkish, curly hairdo coordinate perfectly with a satin pink jacket.

Robbie and I made it through this week's Hurricane Sandy just fine although I can’t say the same for others in the area.  We were very lucky in our neighborhood and just had a lot of debris, wind and rain.  There were a few crashes and car alarms throughout the worst of it but I will take that over loss of power or worse circumstances any day.

I spent all weekend following the weather and trying to figure out how much I needed to prepare.  I ended up filling the bathtub with water. (To refill the toilet, not to drink, as most locals thought.  Bless their hearts.) I started saving my Big Gulp cups and filled those with water to drink.  We bought some non-perishables, stocked up on toilet paper and then waited for the storm.  I didn’t buy extra batteries and I didn’t tape any windows and I went with the assumption that I could use Newt as a flotation device.  We made it through Irene without any drama so I figured this would be the same.

But now, as I am approaching day three of working from home and have had a trip to North Carolina this weekend cancelled by US Airways, I am realizing how crazy it is out there.  Since yesterday morning, I have been watching 24-hour news and am stunned by the damage.  But as one news anchor alluded, this is New York.  A city of 8 million people who put up with grittiness on a daily basis and no matter what you throw at it, its inhabitants seem to build each other up.  We won’t make eye contact on the subway but if someone needs help, there will be a donation made to city relief, a warm shower provided or some bright sweets to welcome neighbors home the day before Halloween.

Halloween Sugar Cookies
Adapted from My Recipes 

1 stick of butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1/2-1 teaspoon lemon juice
Yellow gel food coloring
Red gel good coloring

Slice butter into several slices once softened.  Beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy – about two minutes.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and lemon zest.  Gradually mix the flour, salt and lemon zest mixture into the butter mixture until well combined.  Squeeze the lemon juice into the bowl and continue to mix. 

Divide the mixture into thirds.  Place 1/3 of the dough into the bottom of a 9x5 inch loaf pan and press with your fingers until evenly spread across the bottom.  For the remaining 2/3s, mix yellow gel food coloring until the dough is a bright yellow.  Take half of that and place in the loaf pan, patting down on top of the white dough.  For the final 1/3 that is now bright yellow, add red food coloring until it is a bright orange.  Pat that into the loaf pan on top of the other two colors.  Refrigerate for two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degree Fahreinheit.  Turn dough out onto a work surface and slice off about ¾’s of an inch like you are slicing a piece of bread.  Cut the slice into triangles.  Repeat with the remaining dough and place on a parchment or foil-lined cookie sheet.  Bake 7-8 minutes until slightly hard.  They will continue to cook once taken out of the oven.  Cool on a wire rack.     

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chocolate Flank Steak with Pineapple Salsa

When Robbie and I got married, some of my favorite gifts were recipes that were collected at bridal showers and given as gifts during the wedding festivities.  This recipe was one of those and came from a dear family friend (Hi, Ms. Wicklin!) who is both a talented artist and a fantastic art teacher.  She is one of those family friends who you get to know through your parents and as you get older, you continue to refer to them as Mr. or Ms. and they continue to insist that you call them by their first name but you just can't do it because you refuse to admit you are a contemporary of other adults.  Maybe that's just me.  

This recipe was ideal for our apartment living since we don't have a grill but we do have a fantastic grill pan.  We also do not have a good circulation system in our apartment as the moment I threw this flank steak onto the pan, those spices created some impressive fumes that led to a major coughing fit.  I realized my mistake was using chili chipotle powder instead of ancho chili powder and did not thoroughly mix the spices and marinade. First time marinating meat.  Rookie mistake.  This led to a steak that did not have equal disbursement of the flavors and created bites that were much more fire-y than others.  The cocoa actually helped meld the spice out which was an unexpected outcome.    

Luckily, we used Newt as our 'canary in the coal mine' and since he didn't keel over from the spicy air, I knew we were going to be ok.  Even if we did eat it over by the open window.  The salsa in this recipe was a winner.  The fresh tang of the pineapple complemented the heat of the steak perfectly and the avocado added a buttery texture to the sometimes tougher flank steak cut.  

Chocolate Flank Steak with Pineapple Salsa
From the Kitchen of Ms. Wicklin

4 tbs. white wine vinegar
2 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. ground cumin
2 tsp. ancho chili powder (or chipotle chili powder if you want a spicier, smokier flavor)
1 1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
2 lbs. flank steak

Mix the vinegar, cocoa powder, olive oil, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. When thoroughly mixed, pour the mixture into a plastic, resealable bag. Add the flank steak. Refrigerate for one to two hours or overnight. When ready to cook, remove steak from marinade and discard left over marinade. Using a grill pan, cook over medium high heat – about 4-6 minutes on each side. If you are using a smaller flank steak, the time should be adjusted to 2-5 minutes. Make a small cut into the middle of the flank steak to get a sense of how done it is. Leave on longer if you prefer a more well-done steak.

Pineapple Salsa

1 whole pineapple, peeled and diced
1 avocado, halved, pitted and flesh diced
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tbs. lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt

In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour before serving with the flank steak.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Maple Oat Scones

Fall weather gets me excited about the kicking off of the holiday and Oscar movie seasons.  There are so many coming out that I am very excited about.  The majority of them take me back to my English major days (Hello Les Mis, Anna Karenina, and The Great Gatsby) but I am actually looking forward to doing the whole book vs. movie debate on some French and Russian lit.   I have a feeling the Great Gatsby will just be a good time but not worthy of any sort of literary critique.  Thank you Baz Luhrmann. 

We saw Argo this past week and I found it fantastic.  Ben Affleck has really come around since Chasing Amy (that was a movie ahead of its time if I ever saw one).  Robbie on the other hand, felt differently.  I knew I had a problem when I turned to Robbie with wonder in my eyes as the lights came on in the theater and gushed “That was amazing!” and he said “Ehhhh, it was ok . . .” and wouldn’t make eye contact with me.  Robbie’s biggest problem was that (SPOILER ALERT – But only if you aren’t familiar with history) the movie did not follow up with the remaining dozens of hostages that were released only once Reagan came into office.  My biggest problem was when (SPOILER ALERT – Sort of) Ben Affleck’s character goes to the home of his wife and son, and his wife was not played by Jennifer Garner.  Lost opportunities for perfect cameos are a pet peeve of mine.


One thing we do agree on is how crisp mornings should naturally lead to maple flavored goodies so I found these from Smitten Kitchen and decided to follow suit.  I will admit, mine are not as pretty as Deb’s but they were just as delicious and served as a comforting breakfast/snack/dessert on the subsequent days. 

Maple Oat Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Prepare a baking tray by lining it with parchment paper.  Whisk both flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt together in a bowl.  Cut the butter into pieces and add to the bowl.  Work in with your fingers, pastry blender, or with a fork, as I did.  In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the syrup.  Add these to the butter and flour mixture and bring everything together to form a softish dough.  (Warning – Here’s where I deviate from the original because of my very limited counter space so if you want to hear about rolling and patting the dough, click here.)  Using two tablespoons (the dough will be sticky so you can do what I did and just used my hands), drop the dough onto your prepared cookie sheet.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until they begin to brown on the edges.  Serve warm with butter and jam, obviously.   

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sautéed Halibut with Mushrooms

I am afraid that I don't have much of a story about this recipe.  I made it to maintain my one-seafood-recipe-a-year trend.  And, just like the other two recipes, the recipe was easy, quick, and delicious and made me wonder why I don’t cook with seafood more often.  Then I remembered – it costs a lot.  These halibut filets?  Were embarrassingly expensive.  When I went home and Googled ‘Halibut’ to confirm my assumption that they were made of gold, I discovered the opposite.  They are not made of gold (they are actually quite ugly looking) and they are ginormous.  Which explains their scientific name Hippoglossus.   I love Wikipedia.  When one fish averages 24 – 30 pounds, one would think the cost of four 6-ounce filets would be cheap.  Maybe they cost more because their eyes migrate from one side of their head to another.  (Again, I love Wikipedia.)

Anywho, impress your significant other or just perk yourself up on a random weekday night and make this restaurant-quality dish.  The original recipe called for bass which my grocery store didn’t have so I had to adapt quickly – both to a new fish and to filets with skin on one side.  After a quick call to my omniscient mother, I was good to go with slightly amended instructions. 

Sautéed Halibut with Mushroom Sauce
Generously adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons canola oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 (6-ounce) halibut filets
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons bottled ground ginger
¼ cup water
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the skinless side of fish.  Add fish to the pan, skin side down; cook for two and a half to three minutes on each side or until the fish meat flakes easily with a fork.  Place the fish on a plate and cover to keep it warm.  Add mushrooms and sesame oil to the same pan and sauté for a two minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic to the pan.  Sauté for another minute.  Add the water, soy sauce and lemon juice to the pan and sauté for two minutes.  Arrange each piece of fish on a plate and pour some of the mushrooms with the sauce onto each filet of fish.

Serve with a green salad garnished with citrus fruit and vinaigrette of your choosing.  And a glass of white wine.