March 31, 2011

Kisses for Lauren and Matt: A Party Focused Post

I am sorry for the brief hiatus. I am back now, but I was gone for a little while. Within four days my family had a funeral, a bridal shower, and a 90th birthday party. I can finally write now because my exhaustion has lifted just enough so I can see through the tired haze of roller coaster days.

I'd like to share with you my bridal shower, hosted by my vibrant and loving bridal party.

After all, this blog is about cooking and so much of how we enjoy food has to do with for whom and why we are preparing it. Food can taste better simply based on the design of the bowl it's eaten from, the company it's enjoyed in, or the festive ambiance of a gathering. In a bridal shower, it's amazing to see how the details of entertaining can make a huge difference.

The little wine glasses were decorated with our initials and lined up, ready to be filled!

Of course, I had my own drink ready:

Guests were handed a fizzy pomegranate, blueberry, and prosecco cocktail the moment they arrived.

Everyone received a necklace with a word having to do with our wedding on it. If a guest was caught saying that word in conversation, her necklace would be taken from her. The person with the most necklaces at the end won a prize!

Meanwhile, we munched on an array of wraps catered by my favorite high school deli (nostalgic!), an amazing pesto and mozzarella pasta salad, foccacia, and two of my favorite green salads: spinach with strawberries, feta, and sliced almonds with poppy dressing, and caesar with shaved parmesan. YUM. I am one lucky bride.

Little things make an impact at a party, such as color coordinated wrapped utensils, plates, and coffee cups.  I am sure my food tasted better because of those fun square plates!

Finally, guests went home with little baggies of dark and milk chocolate kisses. The kisses were wrapped in purple and silver, and so they matched the shower colors, along with the stickers on these adorable favors.

My shower was so memorable and special because of the great women who surround me every day and on that day! I can't believe there are less than two months until our wedding, but I have a lot to look forward to knowing that I'll be spending it with the great ladies who planned this event. Feel free to contact me if you want any of the recipes above, or if you'd like to share your own favorite tips for food presentation and hosting parties!

March 21, 2011

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

It's been an interesting week. As follow up to the Match Day/ St. Patrick's Day post, M matched for his pediatrics residency at our number one choice, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. There was much celebrating and eating of Irish Soda Bread. We feel very fortunate to have a few more years in Philadelphia. The  consensus on Match Day was that our group of friends is perhaps most excited to stay in Philadelphia because, after all, how could we cope with moving away from our foodie scene? The restaurants here are way too good, and our potluck dinners are far too vibrant, to leave behind.

I was happy. I baked peanut butter banana muffins. They are my favorite. 

There is so much comfort in biting into this soft, light muffin. And if you love peanut butter as much as I do, there is perhaps nothing more wonderful than the deep flavors of creamy peanut butter and the crunch of roasted peanuts to make you feel like the luckiest girl alive. Sometimes it is the simple things, really.

The happiness of Match Day was offset by the passing of my uncle yesterday, my father's brother. It was a day I spent in a fog. I only wanted to be out of Philadelphia and home, in Connecticut, with the rest of my family. My father and I share an intense love of all things peanut butter. If I could not be close to my father in person, I could turn to the one thing that never fails to provide provided me with the comfort of familiarity. 

I slowly pulled apart a muffin and watched the crumbs roll down the plate. I did not recognize my hunger, but when I took that first bite, I felt famished. In eating that muffin, I was somehow transported home, to a peanut butter loving family who were all together without me. These are the reasons that food is more than a just way to live. Food is life, shared and experienced.

And for the moment those muffins were more than peanut butter and banana goodness. They were connection, emotion, memory, and comfort.

1 1/2 cups ripe banana, mashed (about 3 large)
1/3 cup banana flavored yogurt (you can also use plain or vanilla)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
3 T. butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cups white flour
3/4 cups wheat flour
1/4 cup flaxseeds (whole or ground)
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. pumpkin pie spice (or allspice)
1/8 cup chopped peanuts

cooking spray and a muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients until well incorporated. Next, add both the granulated and brown sugars and beat until well blended.
Spoon the flour into measuring cups for accuracy, then in a separate small bowl combine the flour with the remaining ingredients. In small batches add the flour mixture to the wet banana mixture, beating only until it's just incorporated. 
Pour the batter into the greased muffin pan, about 3/4 full for each. Bake about 20 minutes or until puffed and slightly golden. A toothpick inserted should come out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pan to cool completely.

March 13, 2011

Walnut-Cranberry Irish Soda Bread

It's true. I am not Irish. But.

I am marrying a man who is a certain percent Irish, that part is true. So is the part where I graduated from a college fairly rich in Irish-Catholic tradition, where St. Patty's Day was as revered as Easter and celebrated far more wildly than the rising again of Jesus himself. It is also true that I live in a city where the Erin Express makes it's annual rounds, escorting hoards of people in head to toe green with shamrock antennae flying from their heads from bar to bar. They look like aliens. It's pretty festive.

I don't like caraway, and so I generally never liked Irish Soda bread, but this year something in me shifted. I am not sure but it could have something to do with any of the above factors. It could also have to do with the fact that this March 17th is Match Day. What is Match Day, you ask? Be glad that you do not know. It is the day that all medical students everywhere find out where they will spend the next years of their life as a doctor. M is waiting his fate as a Pediatrician, and I am awaiting my fate as the soon-to-be wife of one. We try to think positive. It will be a  fun(!) surprise to find out where we match! Hurrah for surprises that determine our life's direction with the tearing of an envelope.

My future mother in law is visiting for Match Day. She is Irish, and she loves crumby carbohydrates, especially ones with cranberries in them. She is known to have fierce cravings for muffins and other breads. This I find both admirable and endearing.

I thought I would make an Irish Soda Bread for our unique and memorable St. Patrick's Day. My Irish Soda Bread would not have caraway. Instead, it would have walnuts and dried cranberries. And to make it all even better, my own mother was visiting for the weekend so we could bake together. She is Italian (like me), but she still got pretty excited when I told her what we were baking. Plus, she got to take home her very own loaf.

There was much stirring, measuring, and impatient waiting for the thing to cool so we could just cut a slice already. The apartment smelled like heavenly toast laced with the sweet edge of sugar. First, the loaves cooled a bit in the pan before we could move them to the racks. Hello, beauties:

In the baking, I also switched half of the flour from white to wheat. Nothing lost, everything gained. This recipe is a keeper, and despite the many pre-existing Irish influences in my life, I finally have found my very own reason for celebrating St. Patrick's Day. It has to do with a crisp, firm outer crust and a soft, moist inner crumb. It has to do with the earthy crunch of walnuts and tang of dried cranberries. Mom and I sat at the table over this bread for a long time, talking, pulling apart the pieces as the sun lowered in the sky, casting shadows on the crumbs in our plates.

The comforts of bread are plentiful, this I know. And this year, I need comfort, and I need celebration. Both at once, if I may. Pass me the knife and a pat of butter, I'm Irish.

Walnut-Cranberry Irish Soda Bread: Makes two loaves. Recipe adapted from Epicurious.
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole-wheat flour
8 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 T for sprinkling later
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon salt
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into cubes
2 cups lowfat buttermilk
1 cup or more dried cranberries
1.5 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

* Cook's note: I think this bread would benefit wonderfully from a T. or so of orange zest. I plan to bake another loaf in the next couple of days and use some orange zest -- I'll let you  know how it tastes!

Directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray two 8-inch-diameter cake pans with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using your fingertips, rub in until coarse meal forms. Make a well in center of flour mixture, then add the buttermilk. Gradually stir the buttermilk together with the dry ingredients until just blended, then mix in the raisins and walnuts. Using floured hands, shape dough into ball. Transfer to prepared pan and flatten slightly (dough will not come to edges of pan). Sprinkle dough with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake bread until brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool bread in pan 10 minutes. Transfer to rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

March 11, 2011

Thank You, Madame Quiche, Wherever You Are


This quiche recipe is adapted from, where I had been searching for a foolproof quiche. I stumbled upon a posting entitled "Madame Quiche's Quiche au Fromage." The description claimed that just one bite would transport you to the streets of France. That was enough to convince me.

I'd venture to say that this six-ingredient recipe (including crust) gets its luscious and velvety interior from the use of whipping cream. So, if you are looking to watch your waistline, perhaps this is not the recipe for you. However, I do promise you that if you pair a modest slice with a nice salad, your waistline will not suffer and your mouth, heart, and tummy will greatly thank you for it. It's well worth the slight indulgence. Do not skip the whipping cream...

That said, that luscious interior I speak of is what makes this quiche out of this world. It's pretty impossible to overbake this quiche -- no matter how lightly or deeply browned the crust or top gets, the inside is still supple, gooey, and absolutely creamy. It's a quiche to have fun with. Use the six ingredients listed here as a base, then play with the rest by adding whatever you choose, whether meats, vegetables, or various cheeses. 

Wherever you are, Madame Quiche, I have two words for you. MMM Mmmm!..... I mean, Thank you!

one pre-packaged pie crust
6 large eggs
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk (preferably whole)
8 ounces gruyère, emmenthal, or other Swiss-type cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg - optional
Chef's note: I made mine with cheddar, onions, tomatoes, and asparagus. Also, do add a generous dash of salt and pepper. The filling will made more than enough for a pie, and you will have a little left over.
Directions: Lie the pastry in a 10-1/2 inch glass or metal pie plate (not removable bottom). Crimp the edges, poke the bottom with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife, and place the pastry in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line the pastry with a coffee filter and pastry weights or beans and bake in the bottom third of the oven until the pastry is golden at the edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the filter and pastry weights. Return the pastry to the oven to bake until the bottom is golden, an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. 
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, and the milk until thoroughly blended. Season with the salt and pepper, then add the cheese and stir until it is blended. Add any additional ingredients, such as vegetables or meat, spread evenly across the bottom of the pie crust. Then pour the filling mixture into the pre-baked pastry, and spread out the cheese evenly over the bottom of the pastry. Sprinkle the top with nutmeg if you've used a Swiss-type cheese, and bake in the center of the oven until the filling is golden and puffed, and is completely baked through (Here, the original recipe says 30 minutes, but mine takes up to 50 usually). To test for doneness, gently shake the quiche - if it is solid without a pool of uncooked filling in the center, it is done. You may also stick a sharp knife blade into the center of the filling and if it comes out clean, the quiche is baked through. Remove the quiche from the oven and serve immediately.

March 8, 2011

Chunky Slow Cooker Sauce with Spicy Turkey Sausage and Polenta

I love a chunky sauce with polenta because of the combination of textures. Polenta, in its just-cooked form, has a consistency that dances on the verge of being congealed while still being silky soft. It is smooth, and  yet at the same time hints gently at the grains from which it was created. These contradictions make this ages-old Italian cornmeal mush utterly addicting. As in I-can't-stop-scraping-the-pan-for-more addicting. 

And they make it the absolute perfect vehicle for a hunky, serious sauce. This sauce is made in the slow cooker but can just as easily be made on the stove. Since it simmers for hours in the slow cooker, the vegetables are fragrant and tender and the flavor of turkey sausage lends a gently meaty, smoky undertone. Served over the polenta, with your favorite soft Italian cheese for topping, it's hard to find a more relaxing and comforting meal than this. I'd even venture to say it tastes even more wonderful the next day... if there is any left over. 

Chunky Slow Cooker Sauce with Spicy Turkey Sausage
Serves 4-6. Adapted from Cooking Light
1 T. olive oil
1 medium to large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrot
1 small can mushrooms, rinsed and drained
6 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 link hot Italian Turkey sausage per person
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 T. grape jelly
1 t. sea salt
1/2 t. crushed red pepper
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes in juice
1 t. dried oregano
torn fresh basil
Parmesan, fontina, or other Italian cheese

Directions: Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan until it shimmers, over medium heat, then add the onion, carrot, and mushrooms. Cook until somewhat tender and fragrant, 4-6 minutes, then stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Transfer the vegetables to the slow cooker and add the turkey sausage to the pan. Brown the sausage, turning every few minutes, then transfer to the slow cooker. Stir the remaining ingredients through the crushed tomatoes into the slow cooker. Set to low and allow to simmer 8 hours. Last, stir in the oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with basil and cheese, over polenta. 

Soft Polenta: from the Williams-Sonoma Bride and Groom Cookbook (thanks Cait!)
3/4 cup polenta
2 tsp. sea salt
3 T butter
cheese for serving

Directions: Bring 4 1/4 cups water to a boil in a large, heavy pot over high heat. Lower the heat slightly and add the cornmeal slowly as you whisk, until cornmeal is completely incorporated. Whisk often for the first few minutes to avoid any lumps, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes. Season with salt, stir in butter, and cook until thick, smooth, and no longer grainy, about 25-30 more minutes. Season to taste and serve hot.

March 4, 2011

And then we baked cookies inside of cookies...

These cookies are Part II of the baking adventures that resulted in this Cookie Topped Apple Cobbler. Inspired by these cookies here (don't they look to die for?) Camille and I decided to use the remaining oatmeal coconut raisin cookie dough to bake cookies inside of cookies. I am not even going to pretend that our cookies turned out as gooey and indulgent as the ones displayed on Serious Eats, but they were pure fun and totally delicious. The layers of flavor were so addicting, especially when they were eaten still warm and soft fresh out of the oven. 

We decided to envelop two types of cookies inside our cookies: peanut butter creme sandwich cookies and chocolate coconut caramel cookies.

Again, have fun with this concept. Use your favorite store-bought cookies inside of the cookie dough you most crave. Thanks, Serious Eats, for the inspiration. After all, why eat just one cookie when you could have two?

Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookies
makes about 24 cookies in a cookie
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 t baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves (or nutmeg)
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1.5 cups all purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup raisins, plumped for 15 minutes in 1/2 cup boiling water then cooled

Preheat the oven to 375. Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, a dash of salt, cinnamon, and cloves and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in as much of the flour as possible then stir in the rest with the coconut and raisins. Scoop a T. of batter and press it over your favorite cookie, then top with another T of batter, sealing the sides. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat until the dough is gone. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges are slightly golden.

March 1, 2011

Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookie Cobbler

So this weekend my friend Camille and I had an insane moment of giddy, ridiculous glee when we decided that we would make apple pie filling but instead of cobbler topping, we would drop cookie dough on top.

I think this moment was only eclipsed by a later moment of even giddier, more ridiculous glee when it actually worked out. It was unbelievably delicious.

At its first inception, Camille and I thought perhaps the idea was completely crazy. But were too excited at it. After all, we reasoned, cobblers are topped with "cobbler appropriate topping"... Why couldn't we swap the expected for the unexpected -- in this case, ginormous mounds of soft, chewy cookie in a delectably compliment-able flavor to the filling of choice?

We knew we craved apple pie, but we debated a bit over the cookie topping that would work best with the filling. When we arrived at a hearty oat-filled cookie that would be laced with sweet coconut and plump, juicy raisins it was perfect. Although we debated adding cranberries in the apple pie we instead settled on including raisins in the cookies.

The reason I'm telling you about all of this baking back and forth is to essentially deliver the message that you should absolutely use this idea as a chance to go wild.

Choose the pie filling you love, and then top it with your favorite cookie dough flavors. Make what tastes good to you.... Some of the combinations I am still dreaming of are: blueberry pie filling topped with chocolate chip cookies. Peach cobbler topped with toffee cookies. Cherry pie topped with macadamia. And please, if you do make this, let me know how it turns out! I would really love to live vicariously through your baking experience. And this is one baking experience I plan to live again as soon as I possibly can!

Apple Pie Filling: (serves 6)
4 crisp, sweet cooking apples (Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith), peeled and thinly sliced
2 T. lemon juice (optional)
1/2 cup sugar
2 T. all purpose flour
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
1/8 t. apple pie spice (if you have)

Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookies
makes enough to top the pie filling and over a dozen extra cookies
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 t baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves (or nutmeg)
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1.5 cups all purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup raisins, plumped for 15 minutes in 1/2 cup boiling water then cooled

Directions to make the Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookie Cobbler:
Prepare the apple pie filling by tossing the apples with lemon to keep them from browning, then combining the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Stir the apples into the flour and spice mixture until well combined, then pour into a round baking dish.

Next, preheat the oven to 375. Beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, a dash of salt, cinnamon, and cloves and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in as much of the flour as possible then stir in the rest with the coconut and raisins. Drop large tablespoons of cookie batter on top of the pie filling and gently spread to the sides. The cookie dough will spread during baking, but the dough should cover the baking dish fairly evenly. Bake for 25 minutes or until cookies appear golden brown on top. Remove and cool 5 minutes, then serve topped with your favorite ice cream.

All of the recipes used were adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book: Celebrating the Promise. It's an amazing reference book for all the go-to recipes you could ever want!


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