Tuesday, November 9, 2010

easy-peasy pie

Its seems as though I've gone through a distinct Pie Baking Stage in my pregnancy, whereby I put on my Big Girl panties, conquered my culinary fears and made my very own butter pie crust dough -or pate brisee, if you're feelin' fancy- from scratch. Not a big deal to some but, I had cleared a major kitchen hurdle with great success and I was proud. And you know what? It wasn't all that hard to make-- it just required a bit of patience (another post for another day).

Its always good to have a fantastic dessert recipe for those occasions when you are short on patience, though, and this is mine. My Nana's Swedish apple pie. All the sumptuous slow-baked flavor of a more traditional pie with the minimal effort of a crisp. The best part? Its crustless. That's right- no pastry cutters, rolling pins or dough-chilling required. It only takes an hour to get from apple peelin' to pullin' that golden delicious creation from the oven. Perfect for upcoming family holiday gatherings where you might not have the time, patience or sanity to make one of those tasty-but-time-consuming-double-crusted jobs.

Swedish Apple Pie

Serves: 6 - 8 (or 1 - 2 very hungry pregnant women)


For the filling--
  • 3 - 5 apples (or enough to fill 2/3 of your pie plate), peeled and sliced*
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
For the topping--
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

*Using a mixture of different types of apples is always a good idea to get a balance of flavor and texture in any apple pie. Tart and crisp + sweet and soft = awesome pie, every time.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss the apple slices with the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice, and spread into an ungreased 8-inch baking dish or pie plate. If you're really in a pinch and don't have any fresh lemons hanging around, a splash of orange juice works just as well.

Mix all the topping ingredients together until well combined but, still crumbly (it should stick together when you pinch it). Crumble the topping evenly over the apples and pat down lightly (but not too much-- the crust has a better texture when not smoothed down, in my humble opinion). 

Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden and the juices are a-bubblin'. Best served warm with a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream. 

Possibly not as pretty as a rolled dough pie but, certainly just as delicious. x   

Friday, October 22, 2010

lacking inspiration

I've been feeling rather uninspired lately. The pregnancy hormones have a funny way of causing my creative ambition to wax and wane at will, in no discernible or predictable pattern. One week I couldn't stop baking pies, and the next week I'm feeling rather 'meh' towards creative projects in general. Hmph. Normally I'd just flip through a favorite magazine or put a few pretty blooms (like these late-summer zinnias I snipped a few weeks ago) around to perk myself up but, they're just not cutting it.

There are a few places 'round the interwebs that I love to check out when I'm in an uninspired funk such as this, and I thought I'd share 2 of my favorites with you on this lovely Friday.

Geninne's Art Blog. I've mentioned Geninne here before but, her blog is so creative and vibrant that it is worth mentioning again. She always posts such amazing photos - whether they're of her most recent painting endeavor, glimpses of her beautiful home or her astoundingly gorgeous Mexican surroundings. And if her blog gets you in a creative mood, she's got all sorts of tutorials and patterns to get you started.

A Creative Mint. Leslie never ceases to inspire me with her beautifully photographed vignettes. She creates various scenes around color themes and uses all sorts of materials to convey them - from flowers to fabric to magazine clippings to ceramics and beyond. Just lovely stuff. She also shares some really helpful tips on floral arranging using inexpensive flowers and vessels you may already have (which is wonderful for clueless people like myself). 

Are there any places that you go to for creative inspiration? Do share! x 


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

savoring summer: simple bruschetta

The last of our summer garden's cherry tomatoes. Sigh.

As much as I love fall, I'm having a hard time letting go of summer this year (maybe because I spent a good portion of it feeling overly nauseated and generally dead-to-the-world?). But alas, the leaves are changing, the air is crisp and my mom has already made half a dozen apple pies-- fall is officially upon us. So, its time to savor those last few seasonal veggies out of the garden.

These being the last few home-grown tomatoes - and gorgeous, perfectly ripe ones at that - I wanted to use them in a dish where their delicate flavor would be front and center. A humble, rustic bruschetta instantly came to mind. Simply dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and lightly seasoned with garlic and basil, it was the perfect way to honor these last little beauties.


Simple Bruschetta

{I never use exact measurements when making bruschetta so, adjust the amounts and ingredients to your liking.}

  • pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 small clove of garlic, finely minced
  • good olive oil, for drizzling
  • balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
  • pinch of dried basil OR 1-2 small fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
  • loaf of crusty bread (I used an asiago demi loaf this time around but any French or Italian loaf will do-- use what you have on hand)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice bread into ~1/2 inch rounds and arrange on a cookie sheet. Drizzle or brush lightly with olive oil and toast in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the edges are golden.

Meanwhile, dress the tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic, garlic and basil to taste in a small bowl, and toss to combine. Spoon tomato mixture over the toasts and enjoy.

A simple bruschetta like this makes a perfect no-fuss appetizer any time of year but, I love it even more as a light, healthy, I'm-sick-of-sandwiches lunch. x

Friday, September 17, 2010


I call myself a guerilla crafter-- but not because of some political statement I'm trying to make through cardstock and hot glue. It takes a lot to motivate me to craft these days so, when I come across a project I deem worthy of my time, I strike aggressively and seemingly out of nowhere. And so it was with this cutey-patootie yarn octopus.

I came across this gem in the August issue of Martha Stewart Living and *knew* this was the project to bring me out of my crafting coma. The materials were easy enough - cotton yarn, scissors and a styrofoam ball, plus a little thread for the eyes. The instructions were simple, too. And with our little bundle on the way this winter, I thought this would be a lovely homemade token of Mama's love.

I'm happy with the way he turned out, though I think he could use a few touch ups and an accessory-- a bow tie perhaps? We shall see. You can find the step-by-step instructions for this little guy right here.

Have a great weekend! x 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

summer on a stick

It was an absolutely gorgeous Labor Day weekend for us here in the Northeast US! And what better way to celebrate the long weekend than with a delicious grilled lunch, eaten outdoors and shared with family? Especially if the said meal combines all your summer favorites, and comes on a stick. Because everything is better on a stick (hot dogs, apples, ice cream-- think about it...).

Succulent shrimp, smokey sausage, creamy red potatoes and sweet local corn, married by a super-simple-but-super-delicious garlic herb butter, come together in these skewers of summer awesomeness and the flavors are just amazing. This is the stuff I'll be dreaming about during the dreary, snowy months of winter. Not that I'm thinking about winter yet.

Summer Shrimp Skewers
with Garlic Herb Butter

{Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens}

Serves 4

  • 12-15 fresh or frozen medium shrimp
  • 2 ears of fresh sweet corn
  • 1/2 pound baby red potatoes
  • 1/2 pound kielbasa (or other smoked sausage), cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 green onions, cut into 2-3 inch sections
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • garlic herb butter*, for serving

1. If you're using frozen shrimp, thaw, then remove shells and devein. Remove the husks and silks from the corn, and cut cobs into ~1 inch pieces. [Note: if you're using wooden skewers, the corn may be difficult -if not impossible- to skewer without almost stabbing yourself and/or snapping the skewer. If you don't have metal skewers, I would suggest breaking each ear in half and grilling them beside the skewers to save yourself the trouble.] Soak wooden skewers for at least 20-30 minutes.

2. Cook the potatoes, covered, in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Add the corn, and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly.

3. Thread your shrimp, sausage, potatoes, onions and corn (if you can manage it) among five or six 10-inch skewers. 

4. In a small bowl, combine some olive oil (more or less 1/4 of a cup) with salt and pepper to taste, and add any additional seasonings that float your boat. I used some garlic powder and a bit of paprika but you could use Old Bay, Italian seasoning, your favorite grilling rub, whatever you like. Brush the seasoned oil over the skewers (and corn, if grilling separately).

5. Grill skewers over medium-high heat for about 8 to 10 minutes or until your shrimp are bright pink and opaque, turning about half way through. Serve immediately with garlic herb butter, and lemon wedges if desired.

*Garlic Herb Butter

Melt approximately 1/4 cup butter with 1-2 minced garlic cloves over low heat. Allow the garlic-y goodness to permeate the melted butter for about 10 minutes, and add some fresh chopped herbs -like parsley straight out of the garden- right before removing from heat.

Dunk or drizzle your grilled skewers into the savory garlic butter, pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade and enjoy the rest of summer's bounty. x  

Monday, August 30, 2010

she lives! + Italian comfort cravings

Its certainly been a while, hasn't it? 3 months since my last post?!? Yeeesh.

The truth is, from the end of May to early August I'd been battling some pretty debilitating morning sickness. Happy and exciting news, yes, but not so much for my foodie appetite. I subsisted on crackers, popsicles and flat soda for weeks on end, and spent many many hours kneeling in front of my toilet in gory reunions with the aforementioned foods. I could NOT bare to eat, cook, smell, touch, shop for, look at, write about or even think about food. Needless to say, this did not make for interesting blog material.

The great news is that I'm finally into my second trimester, and food is my friend again! I can watch the Phantom Gourmet and flip through Everyday Food without running to the bathroom! I can eat and drink things besides ginger ale! Hallelujah! I've spent the past few weeks catching up on all my fave foodie blogs, maggies and shows, and it has been so nice. I've missed you guys! 

 I've been craving Italian food like its nobody's business and so, I thought I'd come back from the dead and share this fave recipe with ya'll. Baked ziti isn't a dish that would normally come to mind as a typical end-of-summer meal but, its definitely something to keep in mind for the cooler nights that are becoming more common as we ease into fall.

Baked Ziti

{Recipe adapted from Food Network Kitchens}

Serves: 6 - 8

  • 1 pound dried tubular pasta (ziti, penne, rigatoni, etc.)
  • 3 1/2 cups quick tomato sauce* (recipe follows)
  • 1 pound fresh or shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cook pasta as directed until al dente, drain.

3. Toss the cooked pasta with the tomato sauce, a handful of shredded or cubed mozzarella, half the Parmesan and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to an oiled 9 x 13 inch baking dish, and cover with the remaining mozzarella (thinly sliced if fresh) and Parmesan cheeses. Bake until lightly browned and hot, about 20 - 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

*Quick Tomato Sauce

Yields: about 5 cups


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 pound sweet or spicy Italian sausages, casings removed and crumbled

  • 1/4 of a medium onion, diced

  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped

  • 3 1/2 cups (one 28 oz. can) whole, peeled canned tomatoes in puree, roughly chopped

  • sprig of fresh thyme

  • sprig of fresh basil

  • salt & pepper
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until just beginning to brown, then add the onion and garlic, and continue to cook until sausage is browned and onions are soft. Add the tomatoes and herbs, and bring mixture to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Discard the herb sprigs, season with salt and pepper to taste. If not using immediately, sauce keeps covered for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.

Feel free to customize this recipe to your liking. I've used chicken sausages, ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey), dried herbs, and homemade marinara sauce in different variations and they're all great. You could also add sauteed veggies, sliced meatball, or even some red pepper flakes for a bit of a kick-- the possibilities are endless. The sauce is probably the best quick recipe I've come across in all my recipe searches, and its delicious over freshly cooked pasta if you just can't wait (oh, do I know that feeling!). This is an easy-peasy recipe and impossible to screw up, my friends.

Ah, it feels good to be back in Blogland :o)

Friday, May 21, 2010

bottom's up: Mexicola

A loooooong crazy week it has been, and I am ever so relieved that Friday has finally come! I have a fantastic weekend of music and mayhem ahead of me, so what better way to kick off this awesome weekend than with a fitting cocktail? I present to you the simpliest alcoholic beverage I've ever made: Mexicola.

I'm not a big drinker so, I never have a ton of spirits or mixers on hand when I'm in the mood for a drink-- and this is the perfect solution for such situations. A little tequila, a lime, some ice and a bottle of your favorite cola is all you need. 2 minutes later, you're ready for your own personal Happy Hour. Great by itself, with your favorite chips 'n dip, or accompanying grilled summer feasts. Naturally fitting for pre-gaming concerts, too.


{recipe from the Cocktail Bible}

Serves: 1

  • 2 measures white tequila (I used about 1/2 a shot glass full)
  • 1 measure freshly-squeezed lime juice (from roughly 1/2 a lime)
  • cola of your choice
  • lime slice, to garnish (optional)
Fill half a tall chilled glass with ice. Pour the tequila and lime juice over ice, top off with cola. Stir gently and garnish with lime slice if desired.

Staying dry tonight? Leave out the tequila for a refreshing mocktail. Also feel free to swap the lime for lemon, for an equally delicious but slightly unexpected drink.

Have a GREAT weekend! x

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

viva terra summer lust

I am generally not one for [non-Etsy] wish lists of Things-that-I-want-but-don't-need from online retailers. Viva Terra has been the one exception for me, as I've been pining for their beautiful eco-conscious wares for several years now. Some of their products are a little on the pricey side... which is exactly why you wait for sales like these to pounce on long sought-after items. Because if its eco-friendly AND on sale, it is completely justifiable. Right. ;)

Here are a handful of things I've been lusting over. Bright or beachy, all of them are geared for summertime, and make me long for the picnics and barbecues that celebrate the season.



I can't get over that ingenious stacked lunch box. Not only is it practical but, its totally adorable and available in *both* of my favorite colors! It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine!

Monday, May 10, 2010

week night pasta for one

Cooking for one can be tricky. On nights when J is working late and I'm left to dine solo for the evening, I generally turn to something quick, easy, and inexpensive... which, normally leaves very little option for healthy or imaginitive (mac & cheese, anyone?) Last week, I found myself in this position but -with some leftovers, 2 store-bought ingredients, and a little creativity- I had a simple, tasty vegetarian dinner for one that didn't come out of a box. And it was still done in 20 minutes. Amazing, right? I thought so, too.

We tried chicken Milanese with arugula salad earlier last week with great results but, had some leftover greens and red onion... which made me think of this Real Simple dish I had stuffed in my recipe files ages ago. I also had that too-much-for-one-but-not-enough-for-two portion of gemelli leftover from a pasta salad of weeks passed; some handy chicken broth to sub for the wine and -$5 at Super Wal*Mart later- a small soft wedge of Brie and a carton of earthy creminis. It was meant to be.

I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it but, this was the first time I had *ever* cooked mushrooms or tried Brie cheese, and only the second time preparing arugula! I was rewarded for stepping out of my food comfort zone, though. The savory sauteed creminis and onions, peppery arugula and tangy Brie tossed with perfectly al dente gemelli was a delicious alternative to my stand-by boxed Annie's (I still love you though, Bernie!)

Gemelli with Brie, Arugula & Mushrooms

{adapted from Real Simple}

Serves: 1


  • 1 heaping cup of dry gemelli, or other shaped pasta (penne, rotini, farfalle, ziti, etc.)
  • 1/4 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-3 button or cremini, or 1 portobello mushroom, stems removed and caps cut into bite-sized wedges
  • 1/4 of a small red onion, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth (or dry white wine)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 ounce of Brie, cut into small pieces
  • handful of fresh arugula, torn into bite-sized pieces
1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. *Remember* to reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and red onion, and cook 2-3 minutes tossing occassionally, until the mushrooms begin to release their juices. Add the broth (or wine), season with salt and pepper, and cook until the mushrooms begin to brown and the liquid reduces, about 5-6 minutes.

3. Mix the Brie pieces with the warm pasta so that they start to melt. Pour the reserved cooking liquid over the Brie to facilitate melting, and toss together until the cheese is completely melted and the pasta is coated (if your Brie is being stubborn, place the pot over a still-warm or low heat burner, mixing constantly, until it is fully melted). Stir in the sauteed mushroom-onion mixture. Add the fresh arugula, toss and serve.

Cooking for the fam? Check out the original recipe (serves 4).

Just a little FYI for you first-time fungus cooks like myself: button, cremini and portobello mushrooms are all the exact SAME species of mushroom, they're just picked at different points in their development. All are lovely and suited for this dish, though the smaller varieties (button and cremini) are the easiest to chop into perfectly bite-sized slices.

Do you have a favorite just-for-one recipe in your arsenal?

Share it with me in the comments! x 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

at long last: sweet spring bounty

While it has -technically- been spring here in New England for the last month and a half, we have finally started experiencing that warm, sunny weather in more recent weeks... which means, we're just now getting a taste of all that wonderful spring produce that many of you in warmer climates have been enjoying for the past month. I was pleasantly surprised to find artichokes! and asparagus! and rhubarb! as I shopped for groceries last weekend, and it was a welcome sight. To celebrate, I made good use of some of this late spring bounty (and a strawberry sale!) with a nostalgic sweet spring salad.

Strawberries with spinach? Yes. An odd combination, I know. I remember trying this salad for the first time as a tween and being utterly horrified at first... and utterly wowed at the fact that leafy greens and juicy fruit make such a wonderful pair. The sweet poppy dressing marries these two ingredients so nicely, and really makes this a stand-out salad. It makes a fresh and interesting side dish for any warm-weather meal, and can hold its own as a light-but-delicious lunch.

Strawberry-Spinach Salad
with Sweet Poppy Dressing

{adapted from AllRecipes}

Serves: 4


For the salad:
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach, rinsed, dried & torn into bite-size pieces (I just used baby spinach)
  • 1 quart of fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped or slivered
For the dressing:
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 2 strips of cooked bacon, crumbled/finely chopped (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until combined. Cover and chill for one hour.

2. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, strawberries and toasted almonds. Drizzle dressing over salad, and toss to coat. (It was recommended in the original recipe that the dressed salad be chilled for 10 minutes before serving but, I found this step unneccessary... and kinda gross.)

I'm thinking that adding some grilled chicken - perhaps glazed with a bit of that fantastic poppy dressing - would make an amazing summertime dinner with this salad. Further experimentation is needed. x

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

mmt ingredient challenge

In my favorite online community, I've helped launch a monthly creative challenge of sorts, just for fun and 'cause I'm into nerdy things like that. Last weekend, I was finally able to complete my Cooking Ingredient Challenge and I'd thought I share my entry here.

The challenge posed was basically to create a dish or a meal using ingredients from a list of 10 items-- the more included, the better. I ended up using 8 out of the 10 given ingredients in an unexpected Saturday lunch and I'm pretty happy with the results. The "fries" are definitely keepers-- crispy and flavorful without being overly indulgent. I was worried that they'd be limp and flavorless but, I didn't miss the deep fryer at all

Anyway, here 'tis! (With challenge ingredients in bold.)

 Turkey-Avocado Club Wrap
with Sweet Potato "Fries"

For the wrap:


  • medium-sized flour tortillas
  • sliced roast turkey breast
  • sliced swiss cheese
  • lettuce
  • tomato, sliced
  • avocado, sliced, with a squeeze of lime
  • 1-2 slices of cooked bacon
  • mayonnaise, or condiment of your choice
Self explanatory but, just for good measure: spread a bit of whatever condiment you're using in the middle of the tortilla; layer the sliced turkey, swiss, lettuce, tomato, avocado and bacon as you see fit; tuck in the outer edges of the tortilla and roll up your wrap. Slice in half to serve.

Feel free to add in or substitute anything else that strikes your fancy-- some red onion, pickles, chipotle mayo, honey mustard, sliced ham, roast beef or tuna salad would be awesome in this, too.

 For the fries:

{recipe from Body+Soul}

  • 2 sweet potatoes, skin on, scrubbed and cut into 4-inch sticks, about 1/2 inch thick
  • vegetable oil
  • 3 large egg whites
  • Mediterranean spice (oregano & thyme, salt, garlic powder)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with racks in the upper and middle positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and rub with oil.

2. Put sweet potatoes in a microwave-safe container, cover, and microwave 2 minutes. Stir gently, cover, and microwave 1 to 2 minutes more until pieces are pliable. Let rest 5 minutes covered.

3. In a large bowl, whisk egg whites until frothy, add spice mix, and whisk to blend. Working in batches, toss the sweet-potato pieces in the seasoned egg whites, letting the excess liquid drip back into the bowl. Place in a single layer on prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 minutes, then flip pieces over with a spatula. Rotate baking sheets from front to back and from one rack to the other. Bake until dark golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

You'll have to excuse the odd photo-- I just wanted to snap a quick pic so I could dig in! And now I'm craving those sweet potato fries again... x

Thursday, April 22, 2010

holy matrimony

Its hard for me to believe but, my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary this week. And what a year it has been! I wanted to celebrate with a homemade dinner reminiscent of our fabulous Jamaican honeymoon: juicy roasted jerk chicken with ubiquitous rice and peas (Jamaica's version of beans 'n rice). Simple enough, right?

I sought out traditional Jamaican recipes.
I researched exotic ingredients and cooking methods.
I spent 2 days prepping-- chopping, grinding, marinating, soaking.
I followed the directions to a T.
And the resulting meal was AWFUL.

Looking back, I was naive to think that I could recreate the flavor of chicken that has been cooked in a specialized jerk pit and smoked to perfection by pimento wood, in my crappy electric stove. Its just not the same. There was something off about my jerk paste as well-- I suspect too much allspice, and no garlic or ginger (neither were in the recipe I used but, seemed to pop up in other jerk recipes I saw). As for the rice, I have no idea what the hell happened. The beans were under-cooked, the rice was over-cooked and the spice level rendered any salvageable morsels completely inedible. I pride myself on being a decent cook and this flavor fail was a major source of shame to me.

My saving grace was a simple fruit salad I found in my search for Jamaican recipes, called matrimony. (I mean, what better dessert could there be to celebrate the anniversary of our marriage than a dish called matrimony?) Traditionally this is made with oranges and star apple - a fruit native to Jamaica and next to impossible to find this far north - so this recipe substitutes a combo of pear and apple. The fruit is simply dressed and seasoned with just a pinch of nutmeg-- a light, lovely post-dinner treat. Or, in our case, dinner.


{recipe from Sky Juice and Flying Fish: Traditional Caribbean Cooking}

Serves: 6

  • 1 ripe pear, peeled, cored & diced
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored & diced
  • 2 oranges, supremed
  • 1/4 cup condensed milk
  • grated nutmeg, to taste
  • (I also added a pinch of cinnamon, too)
1. Place the diced pear and apple in a medium bowl, add orange sections and mix. Sweeten with condensed milk and nutmeg, and toss to combine.

2. Let chill for at least one hour before serving. Serve chilled.

Thankfully, our meal turn-out was not reflective of our marriage and we were able to laugh off my disastrous attempt at authentic Jamaican cooking. Looks like we have yet another good reason to go back. x 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

the cookie cure

Like I mentioned last week, I've been feeling a bit blue lately-- and what better cure for the blues than a batch of fresh-baked cookies? Not just any cookies, though. I needed something a little different... but still comforting and somewhat familiar. And thus, my Cure-All macadamia white chocolate chip cashew butter cookies were born.

I am in *love* with this flavor combination. My husband --who has a habit of dipping pieces of chocolate into peanut butter as a snack (weirdo)-- surprised me one day with a square of white chocolate dipped into some precious, coveted cashew butter. I'm not crazy about white chocolate but, it was so creamy and delicious that I had to make something with those two ingredients. And you just can't go wrong with cookies. EVER.

After experimenting with a few recipes, the best and final version is actually a modified JOC recipe for classic peanut butter cookies. Despite the difference in texture between traditional PB and cashew butter (the latter, like most natural nut butters, is more runny), the cookies still have the familiar crisp edges and rich gooey insides-- exactly what I was going for. The addition of white chocolate bits and roasted macadamia nuts sweetens the deal and gives these little beauties the perfect touch of crunch.

Cure-All Cookies

{adapted from JOC, 2006}

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup cashew butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup white chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup roasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease or line 2 cookie sheets. Whisk the flour and baking soda together in a small bowl, and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together until well blended. Add in the egg, cashew butter and vanilla, and beat to combine. Stir in the flour mixture until blended. Gently fold in the white chocolate chips and chopped nuts.

3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and arrange about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Flatten dough with your fingers, a flat-bottomed glass, or a fork (don't skip this step or the cookies won't bake properly). Bake 1 sheet at a time, 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are golden brown. Allow cookies to set up on the sheet for a minute before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

If you're not into cashews, substitute classic peanut, creamy almond or rich hazelnut butters. Also, feel free to swap out the white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts for semi-sweet chocolate bits, toasted cashews, slivered almonds, or whatever else you're craving-- go nuts :-)  

Friday, April 16, 2010

april showers...

The weekend is almost here! Yay!

Its due to rain 'round here all weekend long which, is kind of a bummer-- but all those pretty new blooms need waterin', right? I'm going to make the best of being indoors and get some long-postponed scrapbooking done. How 'bout you?

I'll leave you with some delicate spring blooms from my mom's garden: lovely lavender hyacinths and sweet violas. Because pretty fleurs make the rain worth enduring :-)

Until Monday! x

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

so fresh, so clean

I had a bomb dropped on me last week, friends.
Come June 1st: I'm being laid off. A pretty stale piece of news but --in this uncertain economy-- not all that uncommon, I'm afraid. At least I've got this place and some lovely spring weather to keep me occupied during my limbo. That's my best attempt at a silver lining for now, anyway.

Since I've been a little down in the dumps, I've abandoned my kitchen almost entirely. I have been doing quite a bit of cleaning, though. I'm no neat freak but, sometimes giving the abode a good clean is a great de-stressor and makes me feel accomplished-- how about you?

 As I cleaned, I successfully tested some DIY linen water that I'd been dying to make since I'd seen it in last summer's issue of GreenCraft. I think this would be a quick and useful project for those of you in the midst of spring cleaning.

Linen water is a great way to keep your home smelling fresh-- without any harsh chemicals or over-bearing scents. More importantly, you can make your own with simple ingredients and recycle a used spray bottle in the process. Its great for spritzing anywhere that could use a bit of freshening: bed sheets, blankets, curtains, gym bags, upholstered furniture, carpet & rugs, pet areas, laundry hampers or even in your car. Just be sure that the components of the linen water won't alter or damage your fabric before using.

DIY Linen Water

{from GreenCraft Magazine, Summer 2009}

  • 2 1/2 cups mineral water
  • 5 ml. essential oil of your choice
  • 1/8 cup vodka
  • a used spray bottle, washed and dried
  • printable labels (optional)
1. Combine the vodka and essential oil.

2. Add mineral water to the vodka-oil mixture, and pour into a clean spray bottle.

3. Spritz at will!

I recommend citrus fruits for your essential oil (lemon, orange, grapefruit, etc.) because they exude a freshness that I just love but, if there is another scent you'd prefer, go for it.

Also, I made some labels for mine on printer-friendly sticker sheets. Creature Comforts has a variety of cute *free* options right here, for personal use only please.

Now that I think about it, you could even dress this project up as part of a gift basket for a thoughtful housewarming gift or maybe a simple Mother's Day present. Give the gift of freshness :-)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

pastry the lazy way

As I mentioned on Friday, my husband's grandmother, MD, visited with us over the weekend. She is by FAR the coolest grandma I've ever met (we took her to get her nose pierced for Christmas last year if that's any indication) and I treasure having her around since losing both of my grandmothers years ago. Well, I wanted to shower her with all kinds of homemade goodies from my kitchen - including a show-stopping chocolate-glazed Napoleon - when she was up north. Despite all my planning and preparations, I didn't end up cooking a damn thing during her visit. I didn't even toast my own bagel.
We didn't have much time to spend with her so, we opted for pizza, beer and munchies instead of the spring feast I had planned. As much as I love cooking (especially for those I adore) I'm glad that I let go of my plans. The time that I would have been chopping, boiling, sauteing, and baking was spent laughing, joking, shopping, and catching up with her. Initially, I was a little disappointed that we wouldn't be having a proper dinner but, it was definitely time well spent. And you know what? Taking a little break from cooking was kinda nice. (There, I said it. Now don't tell my husband.)
Come Sunday though, I was itchin' to get back in the kitchen. And since I already had all the ingredients, I decided to make that chocolate-glazed Napoleon in honor of MD. I took a few short-cuts to expedite the process and it was still a project-- but the results were well worth it. My quick 'n dirty Napoleon doesn't even compare to Martha's exquisitely assembled pastry - in fact, my rushed assembly mixed with crappy lighting makes this treat look rather sloppy - but don't be fooled. It was a-freakin-mazing. One bite oozing with pastry cream, and I'm sure you'd agree.

Lazy Lady's Chocolate-glazed Napoleon

{adapted from Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2003}

Serves: 4 - 6

  • 1 package frozen pre-made puff pastry dough, thawed
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
  • 1/4 ounce white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • few drops of vegetable oil
  • pastry cream* (recipe follows)
1. Thaw both sheets of pastry dough as directed. Once thawed, you may flour a work surface and roll the dough out a bit if you like OR if you're a Lazy Lady like me, you can just cut each sheet of pastry in half (the resulting pastry will be thicker but, just as good). Take 3 of those 4 strips and lay them side by side on a large baking sheet (you'll have one strip of pastry leftover; wrap it, stick it back in the fridge and make some turnovers or empanadas with it later). Prick the dough all over with a fork, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

2. Preheat your oven to 425 F. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the strips are puffed and golden all over, about 14 minutes. Set another clean baking sheet directly on top of the pastry strips and bake for another 6 minutes or so, until the pastry is cooked through and browned. Remove the second baking sheet and bake for an additional 4 minutes. Cool strips on a wire rack before trimming the edges of each piece. (Martha says to trim them to 4.5" x 12" but, so long as the pastry strips are uniform in size, it really doesn't matter.)

3. To make the chocolate glaze: bring the heavy cream just to a boil in a small saucepan. Put the chopped semisweet chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot cream over it; whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is combined. Whisk in the corn syrup. Set aside. (Martha says to strain the glaze through a fine mesh sieve but I didn't bother with it and my glaze was fine. Oh, Martha and your frivolous steps...)

4. Place the chopped white chocolate and a drop or two of vegetable oil in a small resealable plastic bag. Microwave on high for 25 - 30 second intervals until the chocolate is melted-- you'll have to squish some of the chunks with your fingers to make sure it melts completely. Set aside.

5. Take the flattest strip of pastry and coat one side entirely in the chocolate glaze. Take your baggie of melted white chocolate, snip the corner of it with a pair of scissors and use your faux pastry bag to pipe thin lines across the width of the glazed pastry strip, a little less than an inch apart. If you like, you can create the distinctive flourish design by dragging a tooth pick, skewer or tip of a knife lengthwise through the white chocolate stripes in alternating directions. Or you can skip this step completely and just go with the chocolate glaze. Your call.

6. Assemble your Napoleon: start with one strip of unglazed pastry, top with half of the pastry cream and spread evenly over the strip leaving a slight border all around. Top with the second unglazed pastry strip and repeat with the remaining cream. Top with the glazed strip of pastry. Chill for about 30 minutes if you can stand it (we couldn't!). Use a long serrated knife to cut into 4 to 6 pieces - the cream will undoubtedly ooze out but it won't matter. Serve & enjoy!

*Pastry Cream
(makes about 4 cups)

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Ready an ice bath and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the cornstarch, flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt, and stir to mix. In another medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Add the flour mixture into the egg mixture and whisk to combine.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine milk and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

3. Transfer mixture to a clean saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly until the mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes.

4. Transfer mixture to a large heat-proof bowl. Whisk in the butter and vanilla, and set the bowl in the ice bath, stirring occasionally until chilled (about 10 minutes). Cover finished pastry cream with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to use (no more than a day, or else it may become thin and runny).

 Luscious vanilla cream, sandwiched in between layers of flakey pastry and glazed in chocolate: a decadent take on this classic French treat and worth every bit of effort. x

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday at last!

The weekend is here, hooray! Though it won't be quite as spring-y here as this pretty daffodil in my mom's window might lead you to believe. Six days into the season and its snowing as I type. Ah, New England.

In any event, I'll be hosting my husband's grandmother for the weekend. I can't wait to see her, she is such a hoot! She's also a big fan of my limited culinary skills so, I'm whipping up a spring feast in her honor: gemelli with basil, lemon and parmesan, seared local sea scallops with a little lemon butter and a chocolate-glazed Napoleon for dessert. 

We always treat her with similar Napoleons from a fantastic French bakery called Mon Delice when we visit her in Florida (if you're ever near New Smyrna Beach, definitely check it out! You won't be sorry!). I can't wait to surprise her with a homemade version of her favorite pastry. The perfect excuse to emerge from my Baking Ban :-)

Have a good one & I'll see you next week!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

MS baking printables

Martha, Martha, Martha.
I know there are wide-ranging opinions on the reigning Queen of Domestic Goddesses and personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that some of her projects are completely and utterly frivolous. I mean, did you see all those glitter crafts?! There's even a whole section devoted exclusively to using the "herpes of crafting". I know she's trying to promote her new glitter line but, who wants to paint a portrait of their cat in glitter? Seriously?

Fortunately, Martha and her amazing team of crafty mavens are also responsible for some truly fantastic recipes (check out the Light General Tso's chicken under 'recipe recommendations' ovah there yonder ----> ), brilliant ideas and helpful tidbits, like these *free* baking printables.

In addition to being super cute, these printables pull their weight around the kitchen, making those pesky measurement conversions and search for baking temperatures a snap. You can print out and laminate them for safe keeping in your recipe stash, or convert them into refrigerator magnets for a reference that's easily accessible. The perfect cheat sheets for manic bakers like myself.

You can find instructions and downloadable templates here:

*pie chart

*cook's helpers (there are 3: measuring equivalents, pan substitutions & candy-making temperatures)

I feel my self-imposed Baking Ban may have to be lifted sooner rather than later. x

{images: Martha Stewart}

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

second chance smoothies

I'll be completely honest with you: up until a few days ago, I was NOT a smoothie person. The few that I had tried never impressed me and the thought of replacing a precious meal with blended anything was less than appetizing. The addition of yogurt into smoothies, popular though it may be, really did not appeal to me either as I am not big on dairy (or really, dairy is not big on me).

I recently came to find out via Joy of Cooking that -traditionally- smoothies don't include dairy products at all! (Oh, snap!) They're actually made with fruit flesh and juice, and are thickened with frozen fruits, creamy bananas or ice (rather than yogurt, milk or ice cream). In fact, dairy-based blended drinks aren't smoothies at all-- they're technically milkshakes. I'd been so mislead by popular juice bars and chain coffee shops that I claimed to dislike something that I had really never tried. For shame!

And so, I gave smoothies a second chance. My husband (also a former Smoothie Hater) and I had a lot of fun last weekend making our own personalized concoctions with frozen peaches, strawberries, and blueberries, and some sweet-tart lemonade. I can't believe I'd held out for so long, 'cause this was YUM. As in, good enough to replace your current breakfast kind of yum. Or even, good enough to replace that snack cake you've been eyeing kind of yum.

Consider this my PSA for *real* Smoothies.

Old School Smoothies

Total time: 5 minutes, if that
Serves: 1
  • 1 heaping cup of frozen fruit (I used 3/4 cup strawberries with 1/4 cup peaches, and 3/4 cup blueberries with 1/4 cup strawberries)
  • 1 cup of chilled lemonade (or other juice)
Add frozen fruit pieces and lemonade into a blender, and blend until smooth.
Notes: The more fruit you add, the thicker your smoothie will be. I made a thicker version and a juicier version; though I prefer thick, both were delicious. Also, the blueberries tend to be more watery than other frozen fruits and the skins look chunky when blended -- but they're still a great tasting addition to any smoothie.
Don't restrict yourself to this recipe! Have fun mixing and matching your favorite fruits, juices, and add-ins like a drizzle of honey, a scoop of sorbet or a shot of rum. There's a smoothie for any time or anyone... even picky, fruit-loathing husbands. x