December 30, 2013

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are no regular chocolate chip cookies. Can we talk about browned butter? Salt on top? Extra vanilla extract?
Yes, yes we can.
I suggest making these cookies extra big, and under baking them so they're especially soft. They'll be chewy and positively luscious, while still having that conmpletely addicting crisp outer edge.
Adding a sprinkling of kosher salt on top before baking is insanely good.
You'll never want to bake cookies without salt on top again.
We had to hide these cookies in a cabinet so that they wouldn't all get eaten immediately... And once they were out on the table they lasted all of about a minute.
Feel free to eat while warm with ice cream on top! Happy New Year!

Best Chocolate Chip Cookes (with salt!)
1¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 T. kosher or other large flake salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk together flour and baking soda. Set aside.
Heat 10 T. of the butter in a skillet over medium high heat, swirling constantly until the butter is dark brown and has a nutty smell. Remove the skillet from heat and pour the butter into a heatproof bowl. Stir the remaining 4 T. butter into the hot butter until melted. Cool to room temperature. Add both sugars, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and whisk until there are no lumps. Let stand for 3 minutes then stir for 30 and repeat this twice. Then stir in the flour mixture until just combined, then stir in the chocolate chips.
Use an ice cream scoop or big spoon to divide the dough into about 16 big cookies, 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Sprinkle and gently press the salt onto the tops of each of the cookies evenly.
Bake 8-10 minutes each, rotating halfway through. Cook on the sheets 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

November 23, 2013

Waffle-Maker Fritatta

I tried it! Using my waffle maker for eggs that were deliciously fluffy, veggie and cheese laden, and piping hot.

This was not my idea -- I saw it this past Wednesday morning on a segment of the Today Show. I am so glad I saw it because I was about to toss my waffle maker for lack of versatility. It seemed to take up too much space while lacking versatility. I'm kind of just over one-purpose gadgets (except for you, coffee maker).

Now I know my waffle maker is a secret multi-purpose gadget! I'm so excited, and so is the waffle maker since he won't end up on the curb in this week's trash pick up.

2 large eggs, beaten together with 1 T. water and a pinch of salt
1/2 cup of cooked veggies of choice (or well diced raw veggies)
2 big tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
Non-stick spray 

Directions: preheat waffle maker (I used setting 4) then spray the top and bottom with non stick coating. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, veggies, and cheese. Pour evenly over the waffle pan and move the veggies around if they all landed in one spot. Close the top gently and don't turn it over, just let it cook an both sides. After 3-4 minutes you've got a wonderful, quick Fritatta to enjoy.

November 2, 2013

Freezer Cleanout Challenge: Slow Cooker White Bean Chicken Chili


A couple of weeks ago I opened the freezer and almost broke my toe. Sadly, this freezer attack (this time, the perpetrator was a sliding slab of rock hard bacon) was subconsciously expected. I jumped back quickly and the bacon slab slammed to the ground, slid a few inches, and stopped. Then began an avalanche of every other frozen, odd shaped, stuffed-into-any-available-crevice food item.

This avalanche was the equivalent of a sit-down intervention, just a bit more active (and frantic).

I knew my tendency to freeze everything was catching up with me in a big way. Not only was there no  more room, but the whole freezer screamed "open me and risk a trip to the E.R.!"

Oh, and there was also the whole part about not having any idea what's in there anymore or how long it's been in there.

Please tell me you know what I'm talking about.


Freezer addicts, you know who you are. We're the breed that hates to waste food and just knows we'll have some better use for the rest of that bacon slab at a later date... that may just never come because now the bacon is hidden behind half a steak, some broccoli spears, and that chipotle-cilantro butter you made for steaks last Thursday.

As I shoved the freezer door closed, crinkling bags and shifting containers still precariously moving inside, I made a vow: for the next month (at least) I'd cook dinner only with items out of the freezer -- no adding!

Thus this chicken chili was born. It uses some frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs, some of the bacon that attacked me, and a few fridge and pantry items. I was proud of myself for making a dent in the freezer.... It was a step forward, post-intervention.

If we're going for honesty here, a few days later I took a step back as I packaged up leftover chili into little containers and... yes... froze them.

Hey, awareness is the first step toward change, right?

My freezer challenge isn't over. Future posts are TBD as I make my way through the cavern of cold! Hopefully someday soon I won't open that little door with fear for my life, but confidence about what's inside. Stay tuned!

Slow Cooker White Bean Chicken Chili: makes 6-8 generous servings
1 bag dried white beans (cannelini), rinsed
about 6 cups water
2 strips thick cut bacon, diced
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt + pepper
olive oil for the pan
1 large red onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. chili powder
1 T. cumin
1 t. dried basil
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. paprika
2 large Idaho potatoes, diced into 1/2" pieces
2 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
salt + pepper to taste
hot sauce and shredded cheddar, optional

In a large slow cooker, add the dried beans and 6 cups water (enough to cover the beans by a couple inches), and turn the cooker onto low and cover. Preheat a large pan or dutch oven to medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Once hot, add the bacon and cook until just crisp. Set aside. Add the chicken thighs to the bacon grease and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken on both sides a few minutes, then add this and the bacon to the slow cooker.

Add olive oil to the pan and again allow to heat through. Then add the onion and carrots and stir. Make a clearing in the middle of the pan/pot and add a little more oil. Then add all of the spices to the oil clearing and allow to heat, about 1 minute, before stirring in with the carrots and onions. Once the vegetables are slightly golden, add these to the slow cooker along with the diced potatoes. Return the pot to the stove and use the chicken stock to de-glaze the pan, scraping up all the flavorful bits before pouring this into the slow cooker and adding the bay leaves.

Slow cook on low 6-7 hours, or high 3-4 hours. Remove the bay leaves, salf + pepper to taste, and top with hot sauce and shredded cheese.

October 22, 2013

Night Market Challenge: Peanut Butter Bacon Cannoli Cupcakes

What happens when you're out with a fellow dessert-loving blogger and you eat a sweet treat that just doesn't deliver? You go home and remake it, but better!

Blogger buddy Alyssa of Suitcases and Sweets and I were out trolling the Food Trust's Night Market, our favorite, and by far most gluttonous, activity together. It's blocks and blocks of diverse food truck offering a wide range of unique comforts. The scene is hopping and the demand (ahem, lines) can be intense. 

We are strategic in what we select to eat. 
We divide and conquer.
We share like siblings. 
And we critique like a nightmare.

After trolling hard-core and assessing our options, we committed to the most interesting savory foods and, as stated above, tasted, indulged, commented, considered strengths and weaknesses, and carried on.

Then came time for a sweet bite. Cupcake trucks? Meh. Alyssa bakes a mean cupcake and it wouldn't have been fair. Avante garde chocolates? Sigh. Mini key-lime pies? Sold out.

My eyes settled upon a distant chalkboard. Down at the bottom was scribbled a sugary offering of interest: bacon peanut butter cannolis. Now that was new! Bacon? Peanut Butter? In a cannoli? We were mildly concerned, maybe even a little scared, but we threw inhibition into the wind.

And it didn't deliver! The flavors were muted, the peanut butter was meek, the bacon was bland... the cannoli shell delivered, but hey, there had to be a saving grace to the thing! Sad and disappointed, we vowed to recreate those crazy flavors but better. 


These cupcakes are full of bright, bold flavors -- a moist, fluffy cannoli flavored cupcake is filled with thick chocolate bacon ganache and then topped with a creamy peanut butter cream cheese frosting. 

It's a nutty flavor combination that combines the absolute best of sweet and savory. Bacon? Peanut Butter? Cream Cheese? Chocolate? Vanilla and Almond? 

All are front and center in this delightful remake of the Night Market original. I'm so glad that Alyssa and I were able to collaborate on something new and improved! And the best part about it was the lack of food truck to sell these out of... which meant we had every last crumb for ourselves (and a few lucky friends)!

Peanut Butter Cannoli Cupcakes: makes 24
For the cake:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 cups sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup milk

For the Filling:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate morsels
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
3 strips crispy bacon, crumbled

For the Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1 strip crispy bacon for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake trays with 24 liners. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl and set aside. With an electric or standing mixer, cream the sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping after each addition. Add vanilla and almond extracts. On low speed, add the flour mixture and milk in alternating parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until smooth.

Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full with batter. Bake about 15 minutes or until golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack about 5 minutes, then remove onto the wire rack to cool completely. Meantime, make the ganache and frosting, below.

Chocolate-Bacon Ganache Filling:
Pour chocolate chips into a medium bowl. In a small pot on the stove, add the cream and butter and heat until just simmering (do not boil). Pour cream mixture over the chocolate and stir until smooth.Add the 3 strips of crumbled bacon.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting: 
With an electric mixer beat together the butter, cream cheese, and peanut butter on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Switch stand mixer to high and beat for another 2-3 minutes until fluffy.

Use an apple corer to remove the center of each cupcake, then spoon or pipe the ganache into the holes to fill. Use a piping bag to pipe the frosting onto each cupcake, then top with a small crumble of crispy bacon. Serve, or refrigerate the extras (there won't be any!).

September 8, 2013

Celebration Cake: S + P Get Engaged

I'm ecstatic for my friends Sarah and Patrick, because they've just gotten engaged! It's a cause for celebration, colorful cake, and sprinkles on top!

When Patrick tipped Sarah's friends off that he was planning to propose and wanted to gather in celebration afterward, my first question was, "what can I do to help get this shindig off the ground, please?" I couldn't have been more pleased when his initial response of "nothing" was changed a few hours later to, "actually, how about a cake? for 30?"

Celebration challenge accepted. Let's go.

I hemmed and hawed over how to best feed a crowd. I'm used to baking round layer cakes, but ultimately (after much paralysis and an emergency phone call to my resident baker friend/blogger Alyssa in the baking aisle of Walmart) decided on a 4-layer, 9 x 13 inch cake.

Later, I got to work doubling the already big recipe for fail-proof vanilla cake. When I got done with the butter and sugar creaming steps I realized there was no way I'd fit the rest of the ingredients in my standing mixer.

A 53 second crisis emerged. I looked around my kitchen, scouring for a solution. Crapppp, I always do stuff like this!

My eyes landed on my enormous lobster pot-slash-wedding registry item I thought I couldn't live without but really won't have use for until I maybe have 10 children to boil pasta for.... except for now.

When it's time to call in the big guns.

Hee hee. That standing mixer bowl looks like a dwarf. 

Okay, so after mixing the batter I divided it up into about 7 cups each in two bowls. Sarah and Patrick met at the University of Delaware, colors blue and yellow. I also wanted a way to party-up this traditional white on white bridal style cake, so boom, let's go throwback to kindergarten finger painting time and mix it up with primary colors.

Pour each bowl into a separate pan, smooth out and bang on the counter to release those pesky air bubbles. 

Then bake. 

This is the ultimate surprise party cake, because the cake itself is hiding its own party surprise. Creamy white on the outside, quiet, unassuming.... suggesting nothing but the norm inside.... Then wham! Layers of color! 

There are a bunch of pictures missing of... how burned this cake was on the very outer parts. I admit it, I'm not going to pretend I baked this flawless, picture perfect thing. Through much stress, wondering how the heck I could have burned the cake, wondering whether I would have to start again, I was ultimately able to rescue this cake. 

It involved shaving off lots of sad, completely overdone pieces. My garbage was quite full. It also involved brushing the cake with a delightful mix of vanilla, sugar, and water, which addressed my fear that the cake I saved would be somehow overdone. Which I don't think it was. It was just a weird situation where for the first time ever the outer parts of the cake got incinerated. 

Well, it wouldn't be a party without someone hitting their head on the ceiling fan while dancing on the table, would it? 

After an entire day and night in my kitchen, the time was nearing 11 PM and I hit a wall. I simply could not bring myself to color more frosting to pipe a message on top of the cake. 

For the millionth time that day, I looked around my kitchen for an escape to the corner I'd backed myself into.

I used the squared off end of a fondue skewer to carve a path of S + P into the frosting (this way, if I messed it up I could simply smooth it out and trace the initials again.) I then used a tiny spoon to carefully fill the message with colorful sprinkles. Fun!

You could use any sort of sparkly, sugar, or chocolate sprinkles for this. 

It's your party, you can do what you want to. 

After all was said and done, the cake weighed as much as a third grader.

Sarah was surprised twice in one weekend, a party was had, dessert was a hit, and love was all around.

Congrats Sarah and Patrick!

Celebration Cake: makes one 9 x 13 inch four layer cake
1, 2, 3, 4 Cake:
Note: to make two 9x13 inch panfulls, you must make this recipe twice in two batches.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
food coloring of choice

Prepare 9x13 pan with nonstick spray and dust with flour. Preheat oven to 325. In an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy, then add the sugar and continue to cream for about 8 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Add vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Color with food coloring as desired. You can either use one mix for a smaller cake and divide into two colors, or use one color for this batch. Mix well but don't beat or the batter will become tough.

Pour into prepared pan and drop several times on the counter to release air bubbles. Bake 25-30 minutes or until the center is set. Cool in the pan 10 minutes before releasing gently onto a cooling rack. Flash freeze 1 hour in the freezer once its completely cooled, as cake is easier to work with when firm.

Meanwhile prepare frosting:

Thick Buttercream Frosting: I quadrupled this recipe for my 4-layer 9 x 13 inch cake.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
3-4 cups confectioner sugar
1-2 T. pure vanilla extract
1 T. milk

Cream the butter, then turn the mixer on low add in the sugar one cup at a time. Once the sugar is all barely incorporated, add the vanilla and milk and turn the mixer on high and beat until fluffy and smooth.

Cake assembly: Once my two sheet cakes were frozen, I sliced the tops horizontally to make them flat (its ok if they aren't perfect, I simply stack up thinner sides with thicker sides of the next layer when stacking and it all events out), and stacked the cakes on top of each other and trimmed the sides so the sizes matched.

I then carefully sliced horizontally through the center of each cake to produce 4 separate layers: two yellow, two blue.

I added a dollop of frosting to the bottom of my cake base, then placed my thickest layer, a yellow one, on the bottom. I smoothed out about 1.5 cups of frosting on this layer, then put a blue layer on top, repeating this process until I ended with a blue layer on top. I then coated the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting, the crumb layer, and set in the fridge to stiffen.

A couple hours later, I frosted the entire cake again to ensure a smooth and level outside with no crumbs. I decorated it and put it back in the fridge until ready to eat!

September 6, 2013

Cheesiest Cottage Cheese Baked Rigatoni

Oh, hi there. Have you noticed the weather cooling down?
Each day this week a breezy, cool evening sinks into a downright chilly night, which blooms into a crisp, sunny morning.
I have to put my sweater on to walk the dog. It's delicious.

I get excited in my bones for the change of the seasons. I'm sure you do, too.
And I get all giddy at the thought of piping-hot comfort food dinners. Like this one.
Don't call it low-fat, that's a term that makes me say, "boo, no flavor." It's got the hiss of that word "insipid." Call it lusciously sensible. There's no sacrifices here, and due to pureeing the cottage cheese into a ricotta-like texture, you don't even have to mention that you used the cheese that comes with a bland, bad rap and usually gets a boost from an odd pairing with pineapple.
Nope, let's just not mention it. Except for putting it smack in the recipe's title.

Your ooey, gooey secret's safe with me.

Cheesiest Cottage Cheese Baked Rigatoniserves 6-8

First, prepare the sauce. Of course, you can always use a quality jarred:
Sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add 1/2 a largely diced red onion. Saute until slightly golden, 5-6 minutes, then add 6 cloves minced garlic and stir. Push onions and garlic to the sides to make a clearing in the middle of the pan, and add a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. Caramelize the paste a minute, then add 1 t. dried basil, 1/2 t. dried oregano, 2 t. kosher salt, and 1 t. dried red pepper flakes. Stir, then add 1/4 cup red wine, 2 t. white sugar, and 1 28-oz. can Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes w/basil. Simmer 1 hour on low, stirring occasionally. Add up to 1/4 cup pasta water after cooking to thin it out a little bit, and season with salt + pepper to taste.

Then, boil 1 lb. rigatoni to very al-dente, about 4 minutes less than the suggested time on the bag. Drain. Meanwhile, prepare the cottage cheese "ricotta":

Cottage Cheese Ricotta: Food process together 1 16-oz container lowfat cottage cheese, 2 large eggs, a pinch nutmeg, generous pinches of dried basil, salt, pepper, and 3 T. grated parmesan cheese.

Shred: 1/2 lb mozarella cheese and 1/2 lb fontina cheese
Have some torn fresh basil on hand, too!

Once you've got all of the above on hand, coat an 8X8 inch baking dish with oil. Add a few scoops of red sauce to bottom of dish and spread. Add 1/3 of the pasta, 1/3 white sauce, and 1/3 shredded cheese. Repeat this, ending with a last layer of white sauce topped with shredded cheese and fresh basil. Spray top generously with cooking spray and bake 375 degrees covered with non-stick coated tin foil, then uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Enjoy!

August 12, 2013

Pearl Couscous with Mint, Basil, and Gigantes

This recipe is for everyone with an abundance of summer herbs. Please, please don't let your beautiful basil or mint overheat in the sun or go to seed -- chop those beauties and toss them into this light, fragrant pasta.

The whole dish is ready in minutes, with the couscous taking less than ten as it simmers away in broth. Chop the herbs while the pasta plumps, then stir in veggies and beans, salt to taste, and sprinkle with some feta cheese if it's on hand.

Since I used frozen corn and peas, this dish is largely a pantry and herb garden creation. Perfect for busy weeknights when flavor can't be sacrificed for time and relaxation.

Ingredients: (serves 2)
1 T. olive oil
1/2 large Spanish onion, largely diced
2 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegetarian)
3/4 cup pearl couscous
red wine dressing (recipe follows)
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
1 can gigante beans, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup basil, chopped
1/3 cup mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

red wine vinegar dressing: 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 2 T. fresh lemon juice, 1 T. honey, 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 cup olive oil whisked together)

Bring a large saucepan to heat over medium low, then add the olive oil to coat. Add the chopped onions and cover, stirring a couple of times, until turning just golden. Pour in the chicken broth and couscous and cover, turning up the heat to bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally. When the couscous is tender but still firm to the bite add the red wine dressing and stir. Add in the frozen corn, peas, and beans and heat through. Stir in the basil and mint and salt and pepper to taste. Add feta cheese on top if desired and serve warm or room temperature.

July 13, 2013

Chinese Takeout Takeover: Beef & Broccoli

After returning from a week vacation in Maine that was filled with binges on bags of Cape Cod potato chips, late night ice-cream sandwiches, giant lobster rolls dripping in butter, "taste testing" beer variety packs, and multiple rounds of BBQs, I returned determined to get back to healthy. Don't get me wrong, my vacation indulgences were exactly what I wanted, but the swollen feeling I noticed coming over me at about day 5 was not exactly what I wanted.

Wait, what? I can't eat a diet solely of fat, sugar, and carbs?

If only....

I threw back the last bag of chips on the return drive home, bought myself a McDonald's ice cream cone outside of Philly, and vowed to get back to healthy for the week ahead. Bye bye vacation, hello balanced diet.

I'm surprised I wasn't shaky from the withdrawal, but I started off my week focusing on protein and produce without sacrificing flavor or fun. That's how we fell in love with this beef and broccoli dinner we ate three times this week.

Thinly sliced soy-sauce marinated beef, tossed with loads of broccoli and peppers and combined with light and scrumptious tofu noodles was a trick to our tastebuds. It was a takeout takeover.

Ok, so we might have had a beer with it, and a bit of chocolate for dessert afterward, but with dinner this good it simply felt like we were still on vacation.

And that's exactly how every day should be.

Chinese Beef & Broccoli: serves 4
canola oil for the pan
1.5 lb Thinly sliced steak, marinated 30 min. in 2 T. soy sauce
1 green pepper, cut into 1" dice
1 lb. frozen broccoli, thawed
1 t. grated ginger
1 bag of tofu "linguini"*
sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional
1 cup broth
6 T. oyster sauce
6 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. garlic powder
2 t. sesame chili oil
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. cornstarch

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add enough oil to coat, and sear the beef strips in batches quickly, giving each piece enough room to sit and brown before turning over with tongs (this ensures the meat does not steam, but instead browns). Add oil between each batch. Remove beef strips immediately after they are browned on each side, as they will finish cooking through once added back into the stir fry. Cover and keep warm.

Add more oil to the pan and then sear the peppers. Meanwhile, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Clear a hole in the center of the pan then add more oil and the grated ginger. Bloom in the oil 30 seconds, then stir. Add the sauce, bring to a boil, reduce 5 minutes until thickened. Add the tofu noodles and the broccoli and heat through, then stir the meat back in.

Serve topped with sesame seeds.

* Tofu pasta is sold in the refrigerated section of Whole Foods stores.

June 23, 2013

Bacon Cheddar Deviled Eggs

 Deviled eggs are making a comeback! I adore eggs in every form, but deviled eggs are a special indulgence due to their extra-rich, creamy filling. For these deviled eggs I stole a note from twice-baked potatoes... that is, take the filling out, whip it together with extra fat (mayo for this, butter for potatoes)... and more fats like cheese and bacon... and then put it back in. This is how the ordinary becomes amazing!

I made these eggs for our book club picnic. We read David Sedaris's "Me Talk Pretty One Day," which is a hilarious compilation of short stories. Since the stories are brief, we made our bites brief, too.

From sliders, to mini pies, to cute little bunches of veggies tied up with a sprig of parseley, all of our menu items were small.

These eggs might be bite sized, but they're certainly not small on flavor! Don't underestimate just how luscious these cheddar-bacon filled deviled eggs are, and plan to make a few for each person you're serving to.

After all, I've never been friends with anyone who would say no to something with bacon and cheese... And since my book club ladies are some of the best, these eggs flew right off the plate and into our laughing, happy, story-telling mouths.

Bacon Cheddar Deviled Eggs: makes 24
1 dozen hard-boiled eggs (directions below)
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp
1/4 of a medium white onion
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/8 teaspoon paprika, plus more for sprinkling
salt to taste

Directions: To hard boil the eggs, place the eggs in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Turn off and remove from the heat and allow to stand 12 minutes. Drain the eggs and shake in the pan to lightly crack the shells (this allows the cold water to get under the shells and aids with peeling). Fill the pan with cold running water for 2 minutes. Peel all of the eggs and set aside.

Cut each egg in half and gently remove the yolk with a small spoon. Add the white onion, mayo, and sharp cheddar to the food processor and process for a minute. Add the paprika and yolks and process until very smooth. Salt to taste. Crumble 3 bacon slices and stir into the yolk filling. Use a frosting piping bag to pipe the bacon cheddar filling back into each egg half. Crumble or slice the last bacon piece into 24 small pieces. Add a small bacon piece to the top of each egg mixture and gently sprinkle with the remaining paprika.

Chill. Can be made 4 hours ahead.

June 4, 2013

Fried Brown Rice with Tofu

That tofu in the fridge was creeping toward its "use by date." It was in stiff competition with the remaining BBQ leftovers from Memorial Day -- packages of hot dogs, hamburgers, buns, all begging to be cooked and eaten -- along with leftover pizza and pastas from a night out to dinner where Matt and I managed to grossly over-order, as if we might never eat again.

There simply weren't enough dinner-times in the week to give all those items a rightful spot in the repertoire! Sorry burgers and dogs, you're getting re-located to the freezer for use another day. Pizza, you'll get taken for lunch until you're done. As for dinner, it's tofu's time to shine.

It has been a while since we had Chinese food so I decided on fried rice. It's a one dish meal that seemed simple to make while satisfying major cravings for takeout. Add in tons of healthy veggies and protein packed tofu, and it was a dinner winner.

I think you'll really enjoy  my version, which uses the more toothsome and nutty brown rice instead of traditional white. Brown rice also has more nutrients, so it's a better bang for your meal buck. The coating on this fried rice is a bit more robust, too, with the use of dark soy sauce.

Needless to say, I made heaps of it with the intention of creating (yet more) leftovers.... and we ended up with barely any! That empty fry pan speaks volumes!

Fried Brown Rice with Tofu: serves 4-6
3 cups uncooked brown rice, rinsed thoroughly
vegetable oil (keep the bottle handy)
1 package extra-firm tofu, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons regular reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 eggs + 1 tablespoon water, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon Sriracha, divided
1 white onion, cut into large dice
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 bag of frozen mixed Chinese vegetables
2 cups frozen peas
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Mirin
2 tablespoons hoisin
1 tablespoon (plus more to taste) sesame oil
salt to taste

Cook the brown rice according to the package directions. I used a rice cooker, but a pot works just as well. Once the rice is just-cooked and chewy in texture, spread out on a baking sheet to cool and dry out slightly.

While the rice is cooking, prepare your tofu by cutting it into 16 equal cubes and pressing to dry. In a small bowl, mix the low-sodium soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of Sriracha. Toss the tofu in this mixture and set aside to absorb.

While your rice is cooling, in a very large skillet or a wok, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat. Add the eggs and cook as a flat omelet for 2 minutes, then break up into pieces. Remove from skillet into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the skillet to medium-high again. Add about 1/4 cup oil, or enough to generously coat the pan. Add the tofu and allow to cook until browning and crisping on the sides, stirring only every few minutes. Add the onions halfway through and allow to cook until golden and soft. Add the garlic and stir one minute. Remove tofu and onions to the bowl with the eggs.

Heat another 1/4 cup oil in the skillet and now add the rice, frozen vegetables, peas. Stir often, allowing the rice to crisp and the vegetables to heat through. Whisk together the dark soy sauce, Mirin, hoisin, sesame oil, and remaining Sriracha. Pour over the rice and stir to coat, salting to taste, as well.

Add the tofu, onions, and eggs back in and stir to combine well and heat through before serving.

May 22, 2013

Chocolate, Nut & Fruit Oatmeal-Coconut Cookies

These cookies are soft, chewy, and very, very addicting. It's like trail mix exploded into an oatmeal cookie... with a toasty hint of coconut that takes everything over the top.

My mom visited Philly for a belated Mother's Day weekend. I had planned a picnic in Rittenhouse Square Park and the menu included fresh baguettes, a variety of meats, cheeses,and spreads, fresh and dried fruits, people-watching, and for dessert: mom's favorite flavors. Mom adores coconut, oatmeal, chocolate, cranberries, and almonds. I knew they could all roll into one cookie, so that's exactly what we baked.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn't on our side so we had to have our picnic indoors. But we did get to sneak a bunch of these giant treats fresh out of the oven as an appetizer, and then indulge again for dessert.... and snack later... and a little for breakfast the next morning.

Hey! Cookies are versatile, and with ingredients this hearty and delicious, I say it's fair game for putting a smile on at any time of the day.

P.S. - This is another great recipe for playing with flavors... how about pecans instead of almonds? dried cherries or hunks of apricots instead of dried cranberries? chopped dark chocolate with sea salt subbed for the chocolate chips? go wild!

Chocolate, Nut & Fruit Oatmeal Coconut Cookies: makes about 14-16 large cookies
1 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted and cooled
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup flour
1 1/8 cups old-fashioned oats
heaping 3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toast almonds on a baking sheet, stirring and watching carefully, and cool. 

Beat together the butter and both sugars at high speed until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until just blended, then beat in the vanilla, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the flour and mix at low speed until just blended. Stir in the oats, coconut, almonds, cranberries and chocolate (do not over-stir). On parchment paper or non-stick baking mat on a cookie sheet, scoop about 1/4 cup mounds of cookie and gently roll into a ball. Press down lightly to form a flattened circle about 1/2 inch thick on the sheet. Continue this, placing cookies about 2 inches apart. 

Bake for 12-15 minutes total, rotating the pans on each rack and from front to back half-way through. Remove cookies and cool 10 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer on a wire rack to cool completely. Serve or store in an airtight container. 

April 14, 2013

Cranberry-Peach Crumble Tart with Shortbread Crust

Feast your eyes.

Yep, that's one tasty tart! This tart is perfection: Shortbread cookie crust on the bottom, gooey pie filling in the middle, then topped with a crisp brown-sugar cinnamon oat crumb topping. Stop the madness! Stop the goodness!

The idea for this tart was actually born out of my laziness. My mother asked me to bake dessert to feed a crowd on Easter. The added challenge was that I would be traveling with whatever I baked... by train from Philly to Connecticut with my dog and luggage for a week-long trip to Puerto Rico afterward. 

I needed to bake something big and crowd pleasing, easy (I'd be baking on a weeknight), but that would also be solid enough to travel well. A huge cake and pies were out of the question. Dessert bars fit the bill but they didn't seem fancy enough for Easter dessert. It dawned on me: why not make a dessert-bar type of dessert, but in a big, beautiful tart form?

Flavor wise, I wanted rich and satisfying (this is dessert, after all), but nothing too heavy after our large holiday meal (decadent chocolate desserts just didn't seem right for the occasion). I wanted a fruit-filled-something that would highlight the bright flavors of Spring. A bar-type tart with fruit filling. This warranted a shortbread crust and crumble topping. Done and done!

It worked out perfectly, was loved by all, and I would definitely make it again in a heartbeat. It would be fun to play around with fruit fillings -- apple, cherry, blueberry.... Mmmmm! For a more traditional fruit-bar dessert, you could even pour in preserves/jam as the fruit filling. Sheesh, this post is making my mouth water!

Cranberry-Peach Crumble Tart with Shortbread Crust: makes two 9" round tarts
You will need two 9" springform pans

First, make and bake your shortbread crust:
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray springform pans with non-stick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender, fork or your fingertips, blend the diced butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly. Pat half of the crumbs into the bottom of each springform pan, pressing firmly. Bake in the oven about 15 minutes or until lightly golden, then cool before filling.

Meanwhile, make your fruit filling:
4 cans Light Peaches (in water or light juice)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 T. honey
1/4 cup cornstarch

Drain the cans of peaches, reserving one can's worth of juice. Dice the peaches into large pieces. Add the juice of one can to a saucepan and add the sugar and cornstarch and stir. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, two minutes or until thickened. Add the peaches, cranberries, and honey. Stir to combine. Once it is thick (adding the fruit may have created additional water), turn off heat.

Then.... assemble that delicious oat topping:
1 cup flour
1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup cold butter, diced

Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add in the butter and use your hands to create a crumble. Set aside.

Pour half of the fruit filling onto each of the shortbread crusts and spread evenly to the sides. Top each crumble with half of the oat topping. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Cool completely before serving with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream!

March 25, 2013

Warm Harvest Fruit & Nut Wild-Rice Salad

This wild-rice salad is warm, hearty, and full of protein and nutrition. It's a one-bowl, one pan meal that's ready in mere minutes. I love healthy but sumptuous dishes like this, where you can serve yourself a giant, heaping bowl and scoop up every last bite without regret. It's food at its best, doing what it should do -- fill you and energize you.

I adore this dish because it's a great mixture of flavors and textures. It's got sweet and chewy dried cranberries, the earthy crunch from toasted pecans, hunks of soft and juicy chicken, crisp asparagus, and nutty, wonderfully toothsome wild rice. Plus the zing of chopped mint on top, balanced with the creaminess of feta cheese, is far far better than finding the prize in box of cereal for dinner.

Use your favorite vinaigrette dressing or make your own. Play with goat cheese versus feta, maybe toss in some chopped dried apricots with the cranberries, or use slivered almonds for your crunch factor. Omit the chicken for a great vegetarian dish. 

Like I always say, the kitchen is for playing and personalizing... Don't take it too seriously. After a long day at work, it's time to find delight in dinnertime.

Warm Harvest Fruit & Nut Wild-Rice Salad: serves two generously
1 T. olive oil
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed (optional)
1 cup wild rice
4 cups water
1/4 cup dried cranberries
12 spears frozen asparagus, defrosted and cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 t. Chinese 5 Spice
2 T. creamy vinaigrette dressing of choice
salt & pepper to taste

1/3 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
1/4 cup toasted pecan pieces

1 t. chopped mint leaves

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, preheat olive oil. Add the chicken breast and cook 4-5 minutes or until just cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside. Add the wild rice and stir 1 minute to toast, then pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover to cook as directed, about 40 minutes. 20 minutes in, add the dried cranberries. When the rice is barely done cooking, add the asparagus, onion, diced chicken and stir to heat through. Add the five spice and dressing, then salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cheese, then divide into two bowls. Top with pecans and mint leaves and serve warm.

March 10, 2013

Homemade Soft Pretzels

I might not believe someone if they told me these soft-baked pretzels were super easy to make. I might think, Who makes soft-baked pretzels unless they have an inordinate amount of time on their hands? 

I'd probably be super skeptical of the whole thing, though very interested. But since I made these soft, chewy, salty pretzels myself for our German-inspired book club menu, I can vouch first-hand that they are in fact simple, streamlined, and quite easy -- so, listen up beginner cooks!

For all the writing and talking I do, it's surprising that I'm actually a "show, don't tell" type of learner. I'd rather see what I'm getting into before diving into the task, so I'll do the same for you here. You'll see how easy it really is to make these soft-baked pretzels. The only thing I can't share with you first-hand is the scrumptious and warm end result!

So gather all your ingredients....

Test that water temperature to be about 115 degrees....
I've killed yeast too many times for that!

Add the water, sugar, and kosher salt in the mixing bowl and stir to combine, then pour the yeast on top. 

Add the flour and butter and let the dough hook do its work. 
Put away you ingredients in the meantime. Hum a tune. Wipe your counter.

When that dough is nice and smooth, take it out of the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking spray, return it to the bowl and cover it to let it rise in a warm place.

Get ready for the fun part!!

Divide that dough up into 16 pieces, then roll each piece out into a rope and cross each end over each other to make cute little pretzel bows. 

Guess what? It doesn't matter if they're not perfect. Or if they're pretzel nuggets, rolls, or rods instead.

I put mine on a baking sheet and froze since I wouldn't be baking them until a couple days later. Once they were frozen on the sheet I piled them all into a plastic freezer bag, but you can just skip that step and put them straight onto an oiled baking sheet instead. 

Preheat your oven to 450.... Get your egg wash ready and your Kosher salt on the side....

Pour 2/3 cup baking soda into 10 cups of boiling water. Check out that crazy foam!!

Drop those pretzel babies into the bath one at a time! All right, I admit my impatience made me do it two at a time.

Once they float to the top, rescue them back onto the baking sheet.

Once they're all out of the bath and back on the baking sheet, work your egg wash magic and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 15-18 minutes or until deep golden, or looks like the picture below....

Cool on racks for 5 minutes before gorging on them while they're still hot!

See, you can do it, too! It's well worth the effort (pretend it was very involved and arduous, and you'll impress your friends and family to no end).

Maybe you'd like some spicy brown mustard with that? Cheese dip? Pants with an elastic waistband?
I'd recommend being prepared with all of the above.

Homemade Soft-Pretzels: makes about 16 palm-sized knots.
1.5 cups water, warmed to about 115 degrees
1 T. sugar
2 t. kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4.5 cups all-purpose flour
2 oz. butter, melted
Vegetable oil spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk, beaten
extra kosher salt

Combine water, sugar, and kosher salt in the bowl of a standing mixer with dough hook attached. Stir to combine, then add the yeast on top and allow to foam, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and butter and mix on low speed until well combined.

Change to medium speed and knead until smooth and pulling away from sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Add more flour, 1 T. at a time, if the dough seems too sticky. 

Remove the dough from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking spray, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly spray with cooking spray. 

Bring 10 cups water to a rolling boil. In the meantime, divide the dough into 16 pieces and roll into a long rope. Hold each end of the rope and cross them over each other to create a pretzel knot. Press the center of the knot to adhere dough and ensure it keeps its shape in the boiling water. Place on the baking sheet, and repeat until all 16 are created. 

Pour 2/3 cup baking soda into the boiling water, then add the pretzels 1-2 at a time. Remove from the water after 30 seconds or it rises to the top. Return to the baking sheet. Brush each pretzel with egg wash and sprinkle generously with salt.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, turning to evenly brown if necessary. Cool 5 minutes on a wire rack, then enjoy! Best eaten immediately, but if you must store them do so in a brown paper bag. 


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