Monday, November 29, 2010

Foodie Gift Guide Part I

Don't worry, friends and relatives of foodies, I haven't forgotten your gift-giving needs this year.  In fact, I have so many gift ideas this year I'm splitting it up into multiple posts.  So break out the credit card and spoil that foodie you love so dearly.

Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I'm a big David Lebovitz fan.  I've scoured this book from cover to cover in the brief three weeks we shared together.  I was bitter someone else at the Mountain View Library knew how wonderful David Lebovitz is and had the gall to put this book on hold after me.  This book is a great choice for a book with tons of wonderful dessert recipes and pictures to make your stomach growl.

Le Creuset Dutch Oven Magnets

Someone who knows me quite well (the lovely Anika of course) gave me these adorable Le Creuset magnets.  This would make for a great stocking stuffer.  One you'd actually be happy to get (fancy that!).

A Year of Cookie Cutters

It took me a few tries, but eventually I was able to figure out which cookie cutter went with each month.  It's not like August really has a go-to holiday you bake cookies for.  This would make a really fun gift for someone that loves baking cookies.  Someone like me, honestly.

Box of Chocolates Soap

Any chocolate lovers in the house?  Meeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!  The whole stocking can't be full of chocolate, so this gift offers a more unique approach to satisfying chocolate cravings.  Feel free to pick any other flavors your foodie might enjoy, such as Cup o' Joe, Pink Sugar Cookie, Bottle of Wine, or Pumpkin Apple Butter.

Monogrammed Mugs

Nothing like a monogram to lay claim to your work mug.  I'm a tea or hot chocolate kind of gal, but I suppose if you like coffee this will serve those purposes as well.  

Ruffled Cake Stand

I've been dying to buy this cake stand with a dainty ruffle for over a month now.  Could there be a cuter cake stand to display your creations?  Even without a cake this piece would look lovely in any kitchen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving with the Kiddos

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  I'm spending mine surrounded by kiddos.

Well, adults are here too, but they are less keen to be photographed.

This little doll is Fiona.  Don't you love the pose?

Her brother, Grayson, had no intention of taking off these cool goggles for any pictures.  Oh well.

Ryan isn't little like the rest of them, but he is still my nephew.

Ryan is an amazing guitar player.  Kinda makes us adults feel like we are lacking in skills.

We were surprised today to find that it was a white Thanksgiving.  Apparently that happens in Pennsylvania.  We're not in California anymore.

I took a run in the snow, and there's nothing like a chill to make you pick up the pace.

Little Liam is the chattiest three year-old I know.

He and his dad went to go play in the snow.

Liam is going to be big and strong like his dad; look at him go!

I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and are spending it around those you love!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

They say that a lot of people change as they age and sometimes those changes don't make a married couple more compatible than they once were.  Luckily for John, I am changing for the better in his eyes.  Yes, my dear readers, I am finally starting to really like spicy food.

I'm not into the it'll-make-you-sweat spicy food, yet.  But I have found myself adding a lot more spice than certain recipes call for to give it more of a kick.  I'm not adding spice to random foods, but when I want something to be spicy, like a curried butternut squash soup, then it darn well better give me a zing.  I grew up in a household where none of us liked spice.  We were eating mild salsas, avoiding Indian food, and staying away from jalapenos.  Now I carry multiple kinds of ground pepper in my pantry and have various kinds of hot sauce.  My how I've grown.

The curried butternut squash soup was so delicious that John and I saved the leftovers in our freezer for a rainy day.  Just knowing I have this creamy soup with a bite in my freezer makes me happy.  Eating it right now would make me happier, but it is only 10:43 AM, so I guess I'll wait.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted quite a bit form Simply Recipes

1 medium-large butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon cayene pepper
Pinch of ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2-4 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
3 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon kosher salt (to taste)

Pumpkin seeds for garnish

To cook butternut squash (can be done up to one day ahead; I suggest doing it while you cook dinner the night before you want to make the soup so that the soup comes together in no time): Cut the butternut squash in half from root to tip with a sharp knife (this will be a difficult task).  Scoop out the seeds and place cut-side down in a roasting pan with 1/4 inch of water and roast at 400 degrees for 55 minutes or so.  The flesh of the squash should be scooped out with no resistance.  Place in an airtight container in the fridge until you're ready to make the soup.

For the soup:
In a large dutch oven heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add in one medium diced onion and cook until translucent.  Create an onion free spot in the pan and add in 1/4 cup butter.  Once butter is melted, add 1/4 cup flour and stir constantly (being careful not to bring in the onions) until it turns a light brown color.  Once the roux is finished cooking, stir it with the onions and add in 1 clove of minced garlic.  Quickly add in 1 teaspoon cayene pepper, a pinch of ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 2-4 teaspoons curry powder (depending on how much curry flavor you want), and 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder.  Stir to coat the onions with the spices.  Slowly pour in 3 cups of chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits as your pour.  Add in your cooked butternut squash (directions above) and stir until completely mixed.  Bring the soup to a simmer and then blend using your immersion blender or in batches in your blender (being careful to leave an air vent if you do, and work in small batches).  Once blended, simmer for a couple more minutes and taste for seasoning.  Add in kosher salt and more spice if needed.  Stir in 1/2 cup cream and cook for a couple of minutes more.  Serve with pumpkin seeds for garnish.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving Dessert Alternatives

In case you are tired of pumpkin pie (or, God forbid, you don't like it), I thought I would compile some Thanksgiving dessert alternatives for you lost souls.  Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese icing might be fun for a younger crowd.  Apple crisp is a classic fall dessert that is easy as pie (read: much easier than pie) to make.  Forgive the orangey photo, but pumpkin bread pudding is delicious and tastes exactly as the name implies.  Sugar pie has the same texture as pumpkin pie, and similar fall spices, but might be more acceptable to pumpkin haters.  Pumpkin butter bars are buttery and complete addictive.  And last but not least, ginger cookies are great for snacking on all day on Thanksgiving.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving Helper

Sorry to subject you to this greasy forehead again, but it's time for one of my favorite holidays!  I'm not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year (for better or for worse), but I do have one whole year of experience behind me, such that I feel justified in telling you what to do.  

Well, not exactly, but I do have a few recipes to share for your efforts next week.

Cranberry orange relish is a classic in my family.  It's tart and sweet at the same time, and provides a refreshing contrast to the richer menu items of the day.  

No Thanksgiving is complete without pumpkin pie.  This easy and delicious recipe provides the perfect amount of spice to complement the pumpkin.

Fresh rolls on Thanksgiving are a special treat that your family will ask for yearly.  The recipe makes a lot of rolls, so you can freeze the excess for another less already-stuffed occasion.  The Pioneer Woman's recipe doesn't even require kneading!  

My absolute favorite side of Thanksgiving was this fresh, homemade stuffing.  Cornbread and French bread combined into one stuffing, binded together by lots of butter.   Need I say more?  If you don't already have a go-to stuffing recipe, this should be your new standby.  

Good luck at your Thanksgiving dinners these year!  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Spicy Zucchini Slices

I cook dinner 5-6 nights a week, and most of those nights include one or two vegetables.  That's a lot of roasted vegetables in a week's time.  Don't get me wrong, I love roasted vegetables (which is why I make them that way instead of steaming or boiling them), but there can be too much of a good thing.  Occasionally I like to spice it up, literally and figuratively.

I find myself drawn to recipes for sides in cookbooks, probably because they are simple, but not too simple.  Since most nights I am cooking after a day of lawyering, I'm not looking for anything too fancy.  A recipe like this is different enough than my usual fare to get me excited to eat it and make it.  The thin slices fold delicately in your mouth and the butter and lemon balance perfectly with the chili flakes.

These zucchini slices don't have to be spicy, but I find myself craving spice more and more these days.  It's either from John's influence or because as I age my taste buds or failing me.  You decide.  If you don't want the dish to be spicy, just use 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes.  But if you want some kick at the end of your workday, here's your chance.

Spicy Zucchini Slices
Adapted from Cook with Jamie

3-4 small zucchini
Olive oil
1/2 - 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon butter

Slice zucchini with a mandolin or a very sharp knife until under 1/4 inch thick.  Heat a large saute pan over high heat and pour in 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add zucchini slices, red chili flakes (to your liking) and slices of garlic to oil and cook for 2-4 minutes until zucchini begin to brown.  Season with salt, lemon juice, and butter and cook for another two minutes.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fresh Herb Dip

Is it sad to admit that I didn't know the song "Every Rose Has its Thorns" until I watched "Rock of Love?"  Or is it sadder to admit I watched Rock of Love?  I hanker to guess that quite a few of my readers have watched Rock of Love, and while it was one of the trashier shows I've laid eyes on, that first season sure was entertaining.  I managed to catch my first episodes during a marathon on a cross-country flight with free direct TV.  As you can imagine, this is probably the best cross-country flight of my life.  I think John tried to pretend he didn't know me.

The reason I bring up Brett Michaels at all is because I loaded up these pictures of herb dip and immediately thought "every good dip has its cream cheese" - to the tune of Poison's masterpiece of course.  And since blogging involves over-sharing inherently, I decided to wax poetic about the best/worst reality show of all time.  John and I often make up LaBarre family versions of special tunes, many of which have to do with Maddie.  This one happened to be about cream cheese.

Good vegetable dips need serious cream cheese, in my opinion, and this dip is no exception.  It certainly isn't healthy, but what did you expect?  Grab some hummus if that's what you're looking for.  We aren't getting that here.  Instead, we're beating cream cheese with sour cream and mayo.  All three dip-masters in one place.  Toss in some fresh herbs and you'll manage to create everyone's favorite party dish in under 10 minutes.  Brett Michaels might even enjoy it.

Fresh Herb Dip

1 package cream cheese (8 oz.), softened
1/2 cup sour cream 
1/2 cup mayonnaise 
4-5 scallions, diced (start at the white ends and go up about 2/3 of the way)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat until blended well.  Be sure to use full-fat cream cheese, sour cream, and mayo to insure the right consistency and taste.  Serve at room temperature with vegetables and pita chips.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Baby Shower Menu

No, sadly, I am not talented enough to bake the onesie cookies we used as shower favors.  They are from Etsy (and organic!), though I should be flattered everyone kept asking if I made them (right?).  I was proud enough to have found something so cute, even if I didn't make them myself.

Apparently my post on pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese icing won over at least one reader, because Anika immediately requested I make them for her shower.  (Well, I kept asking her what kind of cupcakes she wanted, she didn't just demand them out of the blue.)  If you want the all-over-sprinkles look, pour some sprinkles into a bowl, dip the cupcake in, and voila!  The sprinkles stay on really well this way because they are somewhat pressed into the icing.  And it makes you look like a professional.  Win-win, people.

Next up, broccoli salad, though this one had beef bacon.  I had never had beef bacon before, and I plan on never having it again.  While it looks like bacon, it tastes very little like bacon (more like jerky).

One of the new recipes I tried for the shower was an herb dip that ended up being incredible.  I'll be posting on it soon, so be on the lookout.  This is definitely the best dip I've ever made.

Laura did a great job cutting all the vegetables all pretty.  I think we ended up going through all of them, to be honest.  People in Chicago must be healthy eaters.  Weirdos.

Laura also made a fruit salad, since someone's baby seems to prefer vegetables and fruits to unhealthy food.  I suppose since it was in her honor, we should respect her wishes demands.

One thing that didn't managed to get photographed were the mini frittatas.  I might have to make them again soon, because, people, these adorable bites were delicious.  Next time I throw a party, these suckers will be there.  Easy, healthy, and delicious?  Who knew that could be possible with party food.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Baby Shower Fun

This past weekend I went to Chicago to throw my dear friend, Anika, a baby shower.  I've only been to, what, one baby shower in my life, so I'm obviously an expert in these sort of things.  I had energy though, so that was a step in the right direction.

Naturally I spent most of my time preparing for the shower by planning the menu.  I made a lot of lists, as is my nature.

Pumpkin cupcakes for dessert, per Anika's request.  Next time I throw a shower, I will make more dessert.  That's what everyone wants to eat anyway.

What newborn's wardrobe is complete without a Michigan State onesie?

There were lots of cards and gifts to open.  Everyone loves to shower their favorite friends with adorable gifts.

There were two other hostesses of the shower.  Rory and Anika have known each other since middle school, I think.  Rory's shower game was amazing: a quiz about Anika and Justin and their baby girl.  I was pretty embarrassed I didn't do better than I did, considering I talk to Anika every day.

Laura also hosted and graciously invited a dozen ladies into her home.  Not something one should do lightly.  

We had some group picture issues, but Anika managed to get one of all the guests.  Next time I should figure out how to use my self-timer before the party.

I had a great time at the shower and I hope everyone did too.  And if you're ever at a shower with me again, I promise to make more dessert.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall Back

I spent the weekend in Chicago breaking out a scarf for the first time in ages and trying to remember how to put boots on.  I actually lucked out with the weather, but it didn't actually matter much, because most of my time was spent indoors celebrating Anika's baby shower (or cooking to prepare for said shower).  A great time was had by all and I will be back with a full report once I get over the fact that "falling back" daylight savings time doesn't have quite the same effect when you are coming from a city two time zones away.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Salvaging the Last Dozen

When you make cookies as often as I do, it is in everybody's best interest that you share said cookies instead of keeping them all to yourself.  John usually brings a big stash to work, but when there are chocolate chip cookies to be eaten, John can be a little less generous.

I made crispy chocolate chip cookies on Halloween, and despite putting them in airtight containers, they managed to get stale in a matter of days.  Throwing away homemade cookies isn't usually high on my to-do list, so I figured out a way to salvage them.

Next time you have stale cookies, all you have to do is heat them in the microwave for 15 seconds or so.  The staleness disappears and the chips become fresh-out-of-the-oven melty.  Just what I needed, a way to finish that last dozen cookies!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nutella Cookies

If there is anything I can do, it's cookies.  Now that I've baked about a dozen different varieties, I'm always looking for new recipes to tempt me into making about 5 dozen more cookies than any human should possibly consume in a weekend.  Something called "Nutella cookies" would qualify as such a seductive recipe.  

Now, I haven't always been a Nutella kind of gal.  I probably never even tried it until college or law school when worldly Eve Radin managed to bring it to my attention.  I don't just love the combination of chocolate of hazelnut, I also love the texture.  Like chocolate chips, Nutella manages to be sweet but not too sweet at the same time.  Nutella goes great in crepes, on hand-held waffles at the farmers market, and apparently in cookies.

When I mentioned to a few people that I was making Nutella cookies, people envisioned sugar cookies topped with Nutella.  I think everyone can agree that a cookie that contains and embodies Nutella is going to be a lot better than some cookie topped with the stuff.

These cookies contain an entire cup of Nutella, are filled with chocolate chips and hazelnuts, and have a deep rich chocolate flavor from a thick dose of cocoa.

These are some of the best cookies I've had in ages.  They aren't overwhelmed by the taste of Nutella, surprisingly, but manage to satisfy everything you would want from something with the word "Nutella" in the name.  These are best enjoyed with a glass of milk while watching Vernoica Mars, or for breakfast.  Your choice.

Nutella Cookies
From Simply Recipes

1 1/2 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Nutella
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (not dutch-processed)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream 1 1/2 sticks softened butter in an electric mixer for about three minutes, until fluffy.  Add 1 cup Nutella, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 3/4 cup sugar to butter and mix well.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.  Add the two eggs, one at a time, and beat for 30 seconds after each edition.  Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and beat for 10 seconds.  In a separate bowl sift together 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until incorporated.  Be sure to scape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure it is fully mixed.  Fold 1 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts into the dough.  Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes. Spoon tablespoon-sized balls onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.  Let the cookies cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet and then allow them to cool completely on a cookie rack.
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