Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Helloooooo my pretties. A whole tray of cupcakes, and not just any cupcakes - but Sprinkles pumpkin spice cupcakes. And the best part is, that I made them with the help of my friend...

The mix and recipe! The cupcakes came out tasting just like at Sprinkles, probably b/c you still have to add butter, milk, and eggs to the cupcake mix (as opposed to just oil and an egg) and then you make the icing from scratch. Cinnamon buttercream icing, thank you very much. I've never made buttercream before, and it was just a tad decadent. It's hard to lick the bowl when you're full after a couple dips. Making them at home allowed me to put on a little less icing than they do at the store, which meant you could actually taste the cake.

Making the cupcakes was a lot of work, but totally worth it. And thank God for that lovely Kitchen Aid mixer.

Oh and in other news, happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dinner Party

Last Sunday, our good friends Natalie and Mitch came over for a wee dinner party. Calling it a dinner party seems a bit of a stretch though, because we cook for each other pretty routinely. I didn't know what else was I going to call the post though, so we're going to pretend it was a real dinner party.

I made the butternut squash soup to start and then we had Indonesian Ginger Chicken. I took pics when making the chicken, but I decided not to do a full post on the recipe because it didn't really blow me away. I do recommend it when you have people over, though, because it marinates over night and you just stick it in the oven before your guests arrive. I don't know about you guys, but I'm still struggling to figure out how to host a dinner party without doing all of the cooking when my friends are there.

I also roasted some Bugs Bunny-style carrots. I've never purchased carrots with the full stems (is that the word for the green bit?) at the farmers market before, but I had fantasies of roasting them with those tiny green ends. So I did it and felt very Martha Stewart-esque. I don't know why these seem so Martha to me, but they do.

Mitch seems thrilled I poked our new camera in his face - especially because he knew it'd end up on the interweb.

Pppppphhhhllllllt to you too.

She did this sarcastically, people.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Foodie Dictionary

Well it's not exactly a foodie dictionary, but it's a book with 100 great words for foodies. John's mom sent me this book, and I love it. I know maybe half to two-thirds of the words, which makes me pretty darn pleased with myself. Some of the words seem pretty obvious. Cilantro? Nacho? Come on! There are a few words I didn't know a year ago that now seem so easy - deglaze, mandoline, aioli, roux, chiffondale, etc. I'm patting myself on the back right now.

But do you know what a teff is? An African grass with edible seeds. Gado gado? An Indonesian salad of vegetables with peanut and coconut milk sauce. Nuoc mam? Fish sauce. Bacalao? Codfish.

Well if you knew all those words then you are a fiercer foodie than me. But if you don't know these and want to learn, this is a great book for you. Or perhaps a good stocking stuffer for some gourmand in your life.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup

I love a good soup. Soup makes a great appetizer at a restaurant or a great lunch during a long day at work. Despite my love of soup, I've never made it in my life. I've made chili a bunch of times with a bunch of different recipes, but I've shied away from soup. I think I've been afraid, though that seems a bit weird to be afraid of a liquid meal. These are the issues that plague me apparently.

I know you've seen about ten million recipes for butternut squash soup lately, but this one is the easiest. I can't say it's the most delicious though, because I haven't tried the other ones. This one tastes perfect though - it tastes rich without hardly any fatty ingredients and it has a deep, full flavor that makes you want another bowl (and another, and another). John and I loved this soup so much when I made it for our dinner party on Sunday, that I'm making it again tomorrow for dinner. Crusty bread and velvety soup is the perfect meal on a crisp fall day. IMHO.

This is all you need - one butternut squash, one onion, one clove of garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons butter, and 3-4 cups of low sodium chicken broth.

In a large pot, melt your two tablespoon of butter.

Throw in your diced onion, once the butter is melted of course.

Let the onions cook for awhile until they turn translucent. This will take about 7 or 8 minutes.

Once the onions are cooked, add in your chopped pieces of peeled and seeded butternut squash. I will not kid you, peeling a butternut squash is a bit of a pain. Somehow you get this weird film all over your hands that won't come off. That is also a joy. Next time I might consider buying the pre-cut kind to make this recipe even simpler. Sue me.

Toss in a clove or two of pressed or diced garlic, because every savory recipe needs some garlic in my house.

Now add your 4 cups of chicken broth.

Bring this sucker to a simmer and keep cooking until the butternut squash is fully cooked. This will take 15 minutes or so. I would err on the side of cooked here as opposed to uncooked. No al dente squash, please.

Remove the squash with a slotted spoon and place in the food processor or blender. I recommend you work in batches so that the squash has more room to puree.

Blend until no chunks exist and it's nice and smooth. After making this recipe, an immersion blender landed a top spot on my Christmas list this year. That way all of the veggies in the soup would be the same texture. But alas, I got stuck with a food processor instead.

Add your squash puree back to the bowl and mix. This is also the time to add your spices - kosher salt, cracked black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. I added a generous shaking of each. (John likes spice, so he added lots of extra pepper to his.)

You can either choose to heat the soup for just another couple minutes and then serve it...or you can cook it for another 45 minutes or so, like I did. I wanted to thicken the soup up a bit, but mostly I was just waiting for the rest of dinner to cook.

I should have chosen our cute soup bowls to serve at the dinner party, but instead I used our generic cereal bowls like a big frump. Good thing the soup wasn't frumpy.

Easy and Delicious Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes
1-2 garlic cloves, diced
3-4 cups low sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Cayenne pepper

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add 1 chopped onion and cook 7-8 minutes, until translucent. Add cubed butternut squash, 1-2 cloves of diced garlic, and 3-4 cups low sodium chicken broth. Simmer until butternut squash if fully cooked (about 15 minutes). Remove butternut squash with a slotted spoon and puree in food processor (in batches). Add the squash puree back to the soup pot and stir. Add kosher salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper to taste. Either serve immediately or simmer until ready to eat. Enjoy your easy, healthy, and delicious soup!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Great Pumpkin

On Saturday, John and I set off in search of The Great Pumpkin. And instead, we came back with several pumpkins and loads of photos while making use of the new camera.

They had tons of pumpkins and plenty of gourds too.

And most importantly, tons of adorable little munchkins in wagons.

John and I had a great time wandering around checking out all the different varieties of pumpkins.

And Maddie came along to enjoy the fun too.

We obviously had to get a zebra pumpkin.

Farmer John, the owner, made sure to make the place very photogenic for us.

Nothing like a square pumpkin to make you break out the camera (okay ours was already out and taking tons of pictures).

I'm not sure I want to know where this tub came from.

Somehow we forgot to pick up one of these cool star-looking things.

They had tons of the regular olde purty kind.

Here's the family with our stash.

Looks like a pretty good haul to me.

Oh wait, now with two huge stalks of brussel sprouts, we are officially done.

They should count themselves lucky I didn't walk away with any sunflowers.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Brother's Wedding

A big (belted) congratulations to my brother, David, and his new wife, Kathi. They got married last weekend in Ohio, and John and had a great time celebrating with them.

Kathi was sweet enough to ask me to be a bridesmaid, and I happily obliged. It was my first time as a bridesmaid. You could almost say I'm "always a bride, never a bridesmaid."

They did a cool autumn theme with the flowers and arrangements at the wedding. The "flower" girls even walked down the aisle sprinkling leaves as they went.

John was also in the wedding party, and we got a second run and walking down the aisle together. Pretty fun!

However, part of his fate as a groomsman meant that the DJ felt it was his duty to embarrass him. The DJ called him and all the other groomsman to the dance floor to perform YMCA in the appropriate Village People headgear. In the picture, I am sitting behind them in horror.

Of course I had to even the score and embarrass myself by doing the electric slide. My cousin's wife is enjoying the fun too and dancing in front of me. She is having a baby in January and I'm so excited for them. It will be the first baby of all of the cousins (there are only 4 of us).

Here John and I are at the rehearsal dinner. We had such a great weekend with the family and I'm so happy to welcome Kathi to be a part of it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Red Mango

Tell me that doesn't look delicious. I dare ya.

I know this craze has been around awhile, but can we please discuss the whole frozen yogurt phenomenom? I'm not talking about TCBY (which, by the way, I thought stood for "That Can't Be Yogurt" for the longest time), I'm talking about all the new places out there with active yogurt cultures and fruit toppings. You know - the ones that sell you somewhat unhealthy food that you believe is quite healthy. Don't get me wrong, it is clearly much healthier than ice cream.. But it isn't healthier than a tiny cup of yogurt or just the fruit. For those of you who haven't partaken in this new fad, the yogurt is actually quite tart - the way yogurt in the grocery store is - and it's light and refreshing. I always get one fruit topping (either raspberries or strawberries) and then some form of chocolate chips (but I am bitter when they only have carob chips). The combo just does it for me, and for John too, who now orders the same thing as me. These froyo joints were all over NYC, and they are fairly common out here in San Fran too. I think that it's mostly a big city thing so far, and I'm not sure if the trend will die before it makes it to middle America. We are lucky enough to have a Red Mango nearby in Palo Alto, and we go here once a month or so. Red Mango was one of my favorite brands in NYC too, and in my opinion is much better than Pinkberry. Anyone else have an opinion on frozen yogurt?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marin County Food Tour

John and I went on a bit of a food tour in Marin County the other weekend, and it was glorious. Just the type of thing I like to do on my vacations.

Our first stop was Point Reyes. We heard Cowgirl Creamery was made there, so clearly we had to go. If you are into cheese and live in the Bay Area, you've probably heard of Cowgirl Creamery. If you haven't, your loss.

This is the second time I've seen cheese made, and it pretty much looked the same at both places. Kind of sterile and not exactly appetizing.

Apparently this is where cheese stars are born.

Hello my lovely cheese beauties. We went here twice during our trip because just once wasn't enough. John found the cheese of his dreams - and he isn't a cheese guy - so this was a big deal. I picked up a few cheeses for myself too, natch.

Post-cheese we headed to the Point Reyes farmers market - because it was there and I can't turn one down. It actually was a little light on the produce, but made up for it with lots of awesome prepared foods.

Grilled cheese at a farmers market; don't mind if I do. "GBD" stands for "Golden, Brown, and Delicious." Gotta love that. It is run by a former chef of Union Square Cafe, my favorite restaurant. He apparently came to Point Reyes to intern at Cowgirl Creamery and then stuck around to open a grilled cheese stand and then later Osteria Stellina (an amazing restaurant John and I ate at and fell in love with).

I ordered the sandwich with basil and tomato...and cheese of course. It was just the right amount of grease for 11:00 AM.

Fresh hummus at a farmers market is just about the best idea I've ever heard of. They had all kinds of flavors, but we chose the garlic because it's what we do. We also bought a huge bag of super-extra-fried pita chips. I love some great veggies with hummus, but let's be honest, a good pita chip really takes the cake. Especially a fried one.

We also picked up some artisan butter that went perfectly with the huge loaf of sourdough we scarfed down. I also bought some delicious raspberry rhubarb jelly, because I obviously needed another excuse to buy loaves of bread and eat them for entire meals.

The next day we went to the Marin County Farmers Market, which is one of the biggest in the area, and has some 200 farms. Natalie went once and told us we had to stop by the Belgian waffle truck. Not that I needed much convincing.

It's pretty awesome to eat waffles in your hands. And with a name like "So Good," you know it's going to good.

Am I the only one who didn't know chestnuts grow with a furry urchin-like casing? It's called a "hull" apparently. Which reminds me of Star Trek more than I care to admit.

John had half a mini pizza, which he claims was delicious.

I couldn't be outdone, so I had to get some dim sum. Sorry my feet are the only thing in focus in this picture. Gross in a food picture.

On the way back from the Marin farmers market we went to The Tyler Florence Shop in Mill valley. The whole back end of the store was a library filled with different cookbooks. How awesome is that? (To me, very awesome.)

There is also a huge beautiful kitchen that I can hope gets used for demos on occasion. Also, please note the Julia Child video playing. Good taste, Tyler, good taste.

The rest of the store was filled with kitchen gadgets, plates, serving ware, and all kinds of beautiful kitchen stuff. The coolest thing was that they had lots of cool kitchen antiques, perfect for gift-giving season coming up around the corner. I just love a good kitchen store. And a good vacation filled with food.
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