Monday, December 23, 2013

Anise Mocha, A Christmas Coffee

My Christmas list this year includes the following items:
1) Max singing and dancing to," I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"
2) The Christmas tree to remain decorated for just one day
3) And lastly, find at least one other use for my anise oil. This poor, lonely oil just sits and sits, hoping in vain to be the one pulled out of the dark cupboard and get some fresh air when the cupboard door is opened.

Number one has happened and was obviously the highlight of my entire year. My entire life. I can die a happy woman now.

Number 3 is right here. A creamy, chocolaty anise coffee, made with Gevalia coffee. The anise oil was so pleasantly surprised to be the one chosen to be taken from the cupboard. I should note that I liked the drink both with and without the addition of cinnamon and clove, so do whatever strikes your fancy!

I've gotten two out of my three items on my wishlist. Seeing as the pig and puff cats see the Christmas tree as their own personal toy, batting off ornaments and proudly bringing them up to the bedroom during the night to show off their hunting skills, I fear this one will never happen. But that's okay. Two out of three ain't bad.

And if like the rest of us, you could use a little help for the holidays, Kraft is here to help! Save up to $20 with coupons on participating Kraft products at Target. So you definitely want to print out the Gevalia coupon when you make this drink! 

Gevalia House Blend Coffee
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (optional)
Brewed Gevalia House Blend Coffee
1 cup heavy cream
1/3-1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
scant 1/4 teaspoon anise oil

If you are feeling fancy, add the cinnamon and cloves to the coffee grounds before brewing. If not, just brew the coffee to your desired strength. I like 1/2 cup of coarsely ground coffee in my french press.

Mix the heavy cream and chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl/cup. Heat gently, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate has melted into the cream. Stir in the anise oil. Fill a mug halfway with the coffee then top off with the chocolate anise mixture. Use an aerolatte or immersion blender on the coffee drink to get it foamy.


From shopping for gifts to planning family dinners, it’s hard to keep up with all your holiday to-do’s. This year, Kraft is helping out with great weeknight meals and entertaining ideas to make the season a little bit easier. Plus, Kraft is offering up to $20 in coupons, redeemable exclusively at Target, to make food shopping easier and to help you have a happy holiday season.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Kraft. The opinions and text are all mine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Crackers, or a Thin Mint Copycat Recipe

I feel as though I should be ashamed of this post.  Four ingredients, and one is Ritz crackers.

It works.  Oh it works.  In starting out as a short cut version of the adored thin mint cookie, that wonderful chocolate mint cookie sold by adorable girl scouts, it manages to surpass it.  The buttery flakiness of the cracker is so utterly satisfying to crunch and coats your mouth with that delicious fatty taste, and then your tongue hits those flakes of salt and becomes smitten by the unexpected encounter with a new flavor.  The chocolate peppermint combination is always so refreshing, and the candy cane topping on these gives your teeth something to savor, to linger over. We are unable to resist making these each  and every year.

I suppose one could make their own butter Ritz-like crackers.  But that is for a more ambitious person than me.  I'm not convinced it would be worthwhile to do so.  The Ritz crackers are perfect.  So I embrace its ease, though I do make a panicked phone call to my mom right as I'm going to make them and demand to know if I need to use peppermint or mint oil in these.  So finally, finally, I wrote it down.  I'm quite sure my mom appreciates my foresight this year.

These are just so incredibly easy, with only a bit of assembly necessary.  The kind of assembly where you put on a ridiculously awesome cheesy holiday movie like Love, Actually, plug in all the holiday lights, sit down with your chocolaty project, and revel in the cheesy glory of it all.  No shame necessary.

Need more Christmas treats?  Click here for a cookie slideshow from Cooking Light - so much festive deliciousness!

2 cups dark chocolate melting wafers
1/2 teaspoon - 3/4 teaspoon peppermint oil
25 Ritz crackers
peppermint chips or crushed candy cane, for sprinkling

Line a baking sheet or two with wax paper.  Melt the chocolate wafers (I used the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds), and stir in the peppermint oil.  Coat each cracker entirely with chocolate, and place on the wax paper.  Sprinkle peppermint chips or crushed candy cane on top.  Repeat for each cracker. Once the chocolate has hardened, consume copiously!

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter "Deliciously Simple" and Country Crock "Simply Delicious," A Review

It can be a lonely existence for butter, hanging out alone amongst the eggs, and milks, and cheeses.  Part of the group, but yet, so very very different.  So alone.  And especially these days, as sticks of butter are quickly being placed in the refrigerator, and almost immediately, taken back out of the refrigerator and turned into various holiday treats, leaving no time for mingling. And nothing to top our toasts.

Luckily, Unilever took pity on our single sticks of butter and sent some friends, some family to keep it company.  Unilever has two new spreads - I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Deliciously Simple and Country Crock Simply Delicious.  These two spreads use simple ingredients like yogurt, canola oil, and salt.


During our tasting, Max and I sampled the spreads, and as a control, we had a beloved butter out to compare along side...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lettuce Corn Leek Gratin

The English language has some truly horrendous sounding words.  Take for instance, the word "hoist," "or its stunningly appalling relative, "moist." Say those words aloud.  Does one not now feel as though dirt has accumulated on the skin and then drowned in layer of cooking oil?  It is self-evident that the combination of o-i-s-t is awful. Simply awful.

Other dreadful words include:

On the other hand, there are words that are absolutely glorious to say.  Like "gratin."  Gratin is a wonderful word to say.  It sounds so primal, so earthy.  I adore the way that "gr" sound is pushed from your mouth, as though you are blowing a bubble of happiness into the air.  Maybe that is exactly what it is.  Happiness, if one transforms the sonic expression into a dish to be devoured.

I must confess, I'm still not quite sure what exactly a gratin is. I think it is cheesy and goes in the oven?  If so, then this is a gratin.  If indeed that is not the requirement for being a gratin, then lets just use the word because I like it.

For this gratin, I took a head of lettuce, chopped up the leaves, added sliced leeks and frozen corn, and covered them in a cheesy, creamy sauce spiked with just a bit of horseradish and Dijon mustard.  Panko breadcrumbs seasoned with lemon zest litter the top.  A dish that tastes as good as it sounds.

1 head butter lettuce, chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 leek, , washed and sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2-2 cups grated cheddar
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
kosher salt
freshly ground black

1/2-1 cup panko
1 teaspoon lemon zest
sprinkle kosher salt

Heat oven to 375.  In large baking dish (I used my dutch oven), place chopped lettuce, corn, leek, garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle salt and pepper.  In a large bowl, whisk together cream, broth, cheddar, horseradish, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.  Pour the cheesy, creamy liquid over the lettuce mixture.  Sprinkle top with panko and use microplane to grate lemon zest over top.

Bake until top is golden brown and the casserole is bubbly and cheese is melted - about 30-45 minutes.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Spinach Mandarin Pasta Salad with 5-spice Honey Dressing, a Recovery Pasta Salad

After an unexpected bout of food poisoning (I suppose there isn't an expected one.  If so, perhaps one should reconsider his or her life choices), I could feel the utter depletion of vitamins and nutrients in my body. Everything in my being - from my eyeballs to my skin to hair, felt washed out, gray, the complete opposite of vibrancy and vigor.

The soft, muffled cries for help from my bloodstream became hard to ignore.  As energy was still a bit lagging, a salad, with its inherent brightness and variety as well as its ease of preparation, seemed the best way to go about addressing the lack of vital nutrients. Here is a pasta salad with spinach, mandarin, some absolutely stunning Romanesco cauliflower, and some other goodies, topped with a gingery 5-spice honey dressing.

Though the offending food also contained pasta (pasta primavera actually, ala Seinfeld), that apparently did not deter me from using it in my salad.  Sometimes the very thing that leads to our downfall can be the same thing that leads to recovery.

For more great pasta salad ideas, click here.  Cooking Light has put together a slideshow of 25 pasta salad recipes - how can one not love the infinite possibilities that this dish has to offer?

For the salad:
1/2 of a large red onion, thinly sliced
lemon wedge
drizzle of olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups mandarin orange segments
5 cups cooked pasta (I used shells, but use whatever floats your boat)
1 cup chopped Romanesco cauliflower (feel free to substitute regular cauliflower, the Romanesco is just so beautiful!)
2 scallions, chopped
3 small carrots, chopped
1/4 cup chopped jicama
1/4 cup sunflower seeds

For the dressing:
1/3 cup canola
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons honey
lots of black pepper
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon 5-spice powder

For the dressing: Whisk all the ingredients together.

For the pasta salad: In a small bowl, drizzle the onion slices with a bit of lemon juice, a bit of olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Mix the red onion with the spinach, mandarin orange, pasta, cauliflower, scallions, carrots, jicama, and sunflower seeds.  Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle dressing over the salad, and use tongs to toss together.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Chocolate Coated Dried Apricots with Toasted Nuts

When faced with an insect inside the home, my first instinct is to kill it.  Murder it.  Cease its existence.  It is, perhaps, a macabre way of handling the situation.  But I just want the thing out of my life.

So it was definitely strange when I saw the bee at the kitchen window and didn't have the urge to kill it. I instead wanted to save it.  An especially strange response, when one considers its ability to sting.  Maybe I've read too many articles about the declining bee populations, maybe my heart went out to this struggling little creature, maybe I was just hoping to bring back some good karma in the form of honey - who knows.  But I surprised myself with this anti-bloodthirsty side of me.

I opened the window, hoping the bee would somehow make its way out.  It did not.  So I waited for it to calm down a bit, let it climb on a scallion, placed it in a cup, and got the bee outside.

And I continue to surprise myself in other ways.  I've been vehemently anti-dried-fruit for so long.  Yet, here I am happily eating them.  Though, it is hard to resist anything when coated with chocolate and almonds.  Life is full of surprises.  A fact that became quite clear to the spider I smashed with my child's play baseball bat.

1/2 pound dried apricots
6 ounces semisweet or dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup toasted almonds and/or hazelnuts and/or sunflower seeds
fleur de sel

Melt the chocolate with the coconut oil in a double boiler or very carefully in a microwave.  If using a microwave, heat it in 30-second intervals, and stir.  Once the chocolate has melted, add in the almond extract.  Dip a dried apricot in the chocolate mixture, then into a bowl of toasted nuts. Place on a baking sheet covered with wax paper. Sprinkle the coated apricot with a bit of fleur de sel. Repeat for each apricot. I keep these in the fridge once coated.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Crunchy Breakfast Bowl with Cereal, Seeds, Almonds, Ginger, and Fruit

Hot cereal and grains get all the attention. Yes, it is fall/winter in some places, so it is cold. But hot cereal is the thing that everyone plays with. Adds to. Personalizes. Loves.

But cereal eaten cold can also shine. I suppose I should confess that this is a rather recent revelation, as I've been giving it the cold shoulder (I'm hilarious) for awhile and eschewing it for everything else under the sun. It isn't clear how I fell out of love, but it happened.

Perhaps by relying on it for an absurd amount of years as my one and only breakfast. Perhaps by not realizing that one can add more than the occasional banana to the stuff.

But I have rekindled an appreciation, finding cool milk a creamy delicious vehicle for delivering crunchy morning time sustenance. But instead of taking it at face value, I'm adding stuff to it. Lots of stuff. To make a breakfast bowl.

Sliced strawberries and mandarin oranges are sprinkled with ginger and either 5-spice powder or cardamom. Poppy seeds and sunflower seeds are thrown in the mix, along with some chopped almonds. A drizzle of honey, unsweetened cereal, and milk brings everything together. What's not to love?

handful of sliced strawberries
mandarin orange, segmented
sprinkling of freshly grated ginger
5 spice powder or cardamom
sprinkling of poppy seeds
about a tablespoon of sunflower seeds
about 2 tablespoons chopped almonds
drizzle of honey
1/2 cup - 1 cup unsweetened cereal (I used puffed brown rice cereal)

In a bowl, mix together the berries, mandarin orange, and grated ginger. Sprinkle just a bit of 5-spice powder or cardamom. Add the poppy and sunflower seeds, almonds, and drizzle of honey. Add in the cereal and milk and you are good to go.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Green Mountain Iced Lattes

Upon having a bad dream of some sort, I will promptly wake Seth up and demand that he make me feel better. I tell him my bad dream, he tells me everything is actually okay which, sounds perfunctory, but is surprisingly comforting, and then we all go back to sleep. In my defense, once morning comes, he has no recollection that he had been awakened.

Seth, in contrast, will not wake me up after a bad dream. He refuses. He says that he prefers to let me sleep. 

So to continue along the same selfish path that I have carved for myself, I will drink these Green Mountain Iced Lattes. All by myself.

No matter the way in which I have tried to disguise coffee or espresso with various combinations of sugar, fat, and flavorings, Seth's extremely precise taste receptors ferret out that deliciously bitter coffee part and and subsequently becomes utterly horrified by being in its presence. Not just horrified, but offended.
I, however, have been cultivating a love for coffee and espresso since the first day of college, a rebellious act after growing up in a tea-drinking household. I live on the edge.

These Green Mountain Iced Lattes come in two flavors - vanilla and mocha, and will soon, if not already, found at most major retailers. They are made with real milk, cream, and 100% Arabica beans.

By the way, click here and you can get $1 off coupon at to taste these for yourselves!  It tastes so good to be selfish.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Whitewave Foods, makers of Green Mountain Coffee®. The opinions and text are all mine.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Maple Balsamic Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Now is the time when we take stock of our lives and reflect upon the parts that bring us joy, bring us comfort, enrich our lives - in other words, those things for which we are grateful.

I, for one, am extremely grateful for the existence of whipped cream.

What would our pies do without the stuff?  Our brownies?  Our ice cream sundaes?  Our chocolate mousses?  Our mugs of hot chocolate?  They would be naked, that's what.  They would no longer have their cool, light and airy accompaniment to contrast against.

To show my thankfulness for this edible delight, and to ensure that Thanksgiving desserts would be appropriately dressed, I made a whipped cream with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and cinnamon.  An edible expression of my gratitude.

1 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a small bowl, stir together vinegar, maple syrup, and cinnamon.  Add cream to bowl of a stand mixer. Using whisk attachment, whip for 30 seconds, then pour in the vinegar mixture.  Whip until stiff peaks form. Serve with whatever dessert you want!  Or just eat it straight up like Max does.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Baked Artichokes with Mandarin Orange, Juniper Berries, Clove, and Whole Grain Mustard

As Max's birthday approaches, I can't help but marvel at his smartness.  Not the, "Wow, my child is way ahead of his developmental milestones," kind of smart.  Oh no.  The kind that knows exactly how to make me angry, repeatedly does it, then watches me get mad and laughs.  That kind.  The kind that I thought didn't happen until the teenage years.  I was so terribly wrong.

This is where your mind goes when making an artichoke.  The prepping gives one ample time to get lost in thoughts.  Between the trimming of leaves, the halving, and the rubbing with lemon juice, and removing of choke, there is little else to do but get immersed in one's own head.  That, and making sure you do not injure yourself with a sharp object.

Then while these bake, one has time to move on to a different set of thoughts.  Happier ones, like amusement at getting Max to say the word artichoke.  ...Then refusing to actually try one (someone has yet to internalize the message of Green Eggs and Ham, despite the frequent readings).

These baked artichokes are made with delicious Maille Whole Grain Dijon Mustard, ground juniper berries and bay leaf, and scented with mandarin orange.  Max may be smart enough to know how to make me mad, but he isn't smart enough to try the artichoke.  He'll figure it out one day.

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon Maille Whole Grain Dijon Mustard
2 teaspoons ground juniper berries
pinch clove
1 bay leaf, ground
1 sprig thyme
1 tablespoon mandarin orange juice
1 teaspoon mandarin zest
kosher salt
2 artichokes
lemons, for prep

Heat oven to 425.

In a small pot, over low heat, melt the butter, and stir in the mustard, juniper berries, clove, ground bay leaf, thyme leaves, juice and zest, and a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Once melted, remove from heat.

Using kitchen shears, trim off pointy tips of artichoke leaves. Using a large, sharp knife, cut off the end of each stem. Carefully remove any small leaves attached directly to the stem. Wash artichokes thoroughly under cold water to clean them off, and dry with paper towel.

For this part, you will want to do one artichoke at a time. Take your big sharp knife, coat it with lemon juice from one of your lemon wedges, turn an artichoke upside down, so the stem is sticking up and slice it straight down in half. Immediately rub down all cut surfaces with lemon wedges to prevent discoloration. Take a serrated spoon, or regular spoon, and coat it with lemon juice. Scoop out the fuzzy choke in the center, as well as the inner, purple leaves. Make sure you get all of the fuzzy part out, and liberally rub down the top of the heart with lemon to prevent discoloration. I also try to cut any remaining prickly points off of the inner curled leaves to prevent poking the eater. Repeat for other halves.

Place the artichoke in tin foil with 1/4 of the butter mixture spooned over it, taking care to fill up the cavity left from the removal of the fuzzy choke.  Wrap it cut-side up, and place on a baking sheet.  Repeat for remaining halves.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until heart and leaves are tender.

NOTE: We did not receive financial compensation for this post. We received the Maille mustard for review purposes. The opinions are completely our own.  The mustard is absolutely wonderful.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cranberry Thyme Butter

Cranberries somehow manage to be, paradoxically, both enchanting and mysterious, as well as incredibly unromantic.

On one hand, they are like something from a fairy tale, at least a fairy tale involving fruit.  A fruit that is so gorgeous and ruby-red and jewel-like that it is, if you are the crafty sort of person, strung together to form garland.

And they grow in places called bogs, which sounds mystical and far-away.  Most of us have encountered strawberries or blueberries or blackberries growing in the wild.  One cannot say the same for a cranberry. I think.  I could, perhaps, be projecting, taking my own life experiences and assuming others have had the same.  Maybe everyone else lives near cranberries bogs.

But their elusiveness, while making the berry seem almost unreal, is the same quality that leads to a fruit that one must obtain from an emblazoned package instead of squirreling away into your basket at a farmer's market.  And while I cannot help but be enamored by the joyful ruby spheres, I'm a bit disappointed when biting into one uncooked.  It lures you in with its royal facade, then gives you nothing but sourness.  Max can attest to this duplicity, as he could not help but rip open a package of cranberries as soon as we arrived home from the grocery store, and then was summarily greeted by the overwhelming note of sour. And not even a juicy note.  Just a stiff bite of tart.  Needless to say, he was not pleased.

Luckily, cooking them tames their tart nature and turns them into something luscious.  Here I cooked them down with some sugar, honey, lemon juice and zest, and leaves of thyme.  After the mixture cools, it is beaten with some unsalted butter to make a cranberry butter.  A butter with some sweetness (but not cloying), with hints of thyme and lemon.  A butter that takes on that ruby color from the cranberries. A butter that, I'd like to think, is both enchanting and romantic.

I've been spreading this butter on everything.  Toast, muffins, buttermilk rolls, pumpkin rolls.  It makes tons, so it is good for serving a crowd.  For more cranberry recipes, see this video from Cooking Light - lots of great ideas for using them this holiday season!

12 ounce bag cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
generous pinch kosher salt

In a medium-sized pot, add cranberries, sugar, honey, water, lemon juice and zest, and thyme leaves.  Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The mixture will look like reduced, thick cranberry sauce.  Take off heat and let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the unsalted butter, salt, and the cranberry mixture until combined. Refrigerate.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Radish and Fennel Apple Salad Bites with Anchovy Spread

A few months ago, Seth, Max and I gallivanted around the USS Midway Museum, a naval aircraft carrier cum naval/maritime museum.  A place stuffed with helicopters and airplanes.  And it is near an actual airport so planes can be seen departing and arriving.  And being on a boat, one can also see more boats bobbing in the sea.  Basically, it is a wonderland of transportation.

Max enjoyed it.  He did.  His favorite part, however, was not a helicopter or an airplane or anything that can you move you from point a to point b.

It was the garbage cans.  He was really excited about them.  Granted, they were some nice garbage cans, all big and blue and helpfully separated into recycling and garbage sections.  But still, a receptacle for waste.

Just like my offspring, I too can miss the point.

This month's Creative Cooking Crew Challenge, hosted by Joan of Foodalogue, is to make some sort of appetizer, hors d'oeuvre, or amuse bouche for a Thanksgiving party.  Once the roundup goes live on November 21st, I will post the link here.

Originally, I had sweeping plans to turn root vegetables, root vegetables, and yet more root vegetables into a pre-feast appetizer.

Then it occurred to me that there were two big problems with this -1) while not difficult, the plan was time consuming.  something in short supply on and around Thanksgiving  2) Thanksgiving dinner has an abundance of root vegetables.  maybe the appetizer should be something different, a contrast to the time consuming, heavy meal that lies ahead.

Luckily, I realized this just in time - that the nibbles for a Thanksgiving party should be fresh and light, and something that doesn't take away precious energy from the main event.

Here I made radish circles then topped them with an anchovy spread, a fennel, apple, tarragon salad, and then a pecan piece.  Fun little bites that don't miss the point. Unlike the offspring.

For the anchovy spread:
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
4 ounces cold cream cheese
3 tablespoons sour cream

For the fennel apple salad:
1 fennel bulb, sliced on mandolin
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
1 small granny smith apple, peeled, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons fresh grapefruit juice
2 teaspoons fresh mandarin orange juice
kosher salt and pepper, to taste

For the bites:
1 bunch radishes, radishes sliced into circles
pecan piece, for each bite

To make the anchovy spread:  Beat the anchovy paste, cream cheese, and sour cream in the base of a stand mixer until combined.

To make the salad:  Mix the fennel, tarragon leaves, grated apple, and grated ginger.  Drizzle with the citrus juices.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the bites: Spread anchovy mixture on radish slice.  Arrange salad on it, then top with a pecan piece.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hearty Buttermilk Scones with Orange, Star Anise, Chocolate Chips and Coffee Glaze

In NW, Zadie Smith tells us, "Some days have a depressing thematic coherence."  This was one of my recent Saturdays.  Nothing horrible happened.  It was just one of those days in which a couple of irritating events happen and add up to a day that somehow manages to be more annoying than the sum of its parts.

1) I somehow got it into my head that Seth wasn't going into work that day. But indeed he was.

2) One minute my grocery list is in my hand. Next, the wind is carrying it away, intending to take it to the bottom of a hill.  I made the quick decision, that yes, I do need that list more than the bottom of the hill does, because I totally forget everything that I need.  So I dove for it, scraping my knee in the process and ripping a hole in the knee of my pants.

3) Just a few minutes after that, I heard one of those annoying bell sounds from a bicyclist.  She wanted to get ahead of me and Max on the sidewalk.  I, perhaps immaturely, rolled my eyes at this request (being that she should have been in the bike lane), but I did move.   I guess she saw my eye rolling and then proceeded to yell at me, telling me that it was, "unbelievable", and that she was "just" being polite.

 I was most definitely taken aback. Then confused.  What exactly was the polite part of this interaction?  That she used a bell to warn me that she wanted to get ahead of me instead of ramming down Max and me?

4) After returning home, I was able to formulate much better responses to the mean bike lady than the one I had come up with ("bike lane," and pointing at the bike lane next to me).  Then I was mad at myself for not thinking of it on the spot...  Yes, I'm George Costanza...

It became clear that I really needed to change the feel of the day.  So I threw together some scones - scones full of buttermilk, whole wheat flour for some heft and a bit of a nutty taste, scented with mandarin orange and star anise.  And of course chocolate chips are involved.  A pot of tea was made to go along with them.  And indeed, it was just the thing to put an end to the thematic coherence of the day.  That, and a giant hug from Seth once he returned home.  Thematic coherence is overrated.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon mandarin orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons coffee
1 teaspoon mandarin orange juice
1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/4 cup chocolate chips

1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons coffee
1 tablespoon milk

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk flours, baking powder, sugar, salt, zest, and star anise in bowl. Use a fork or pastry blender to fold in the butter chunks. The mixture should resemble a coarse crumble. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, coffee, and the fresh orange juice. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquid into the center. Stir the mixture until a dough forms, adding more liquid or flour as necessary. Place dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a circle about 1 inch thick, then run a knife through the dough to make 8 wedges. Alternatively, you can cut out small circles from the dough. Place on baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, until it has cooked through and the top is golden brown. To make the glaze, whisk powdered sugar, coffee, and milk until the mixture has come together. Let cool, then brush with glaze.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pan Fried Tofu with Green Apple Slices, Scallions, and a Soy Sesame Dressing

I find myself not only rebelling against societal norms and pressures, but also those I set myself.  Sometimes, I am indeed my own worst enemy.

One of the ways I find myself dealing with those feelings is by doing something random.  Something different. Something that breaks up the monotony that can settle into the crevices of every day life.

Feeling constricted by the confines of the schedule I personally have laid out?  Throw it all out the window and declare it book day, my self-declared roving holiday celebrating books.

Too much stuff to get done and not enough time to get it done?  That would be the perfect time to start learning the 1920's Charleston.

Making too many staid purchases like cat food and paper towels?  Make sure that the dish brush is a whimsical pink elephant.

And after telling myself that I'm just not into tofu, I found myself throwing a package into the grocery cart.

Here I pan fried slices of tofu, drizzled them with a soy-sesame-apple sauce, and then served with scallions, sesame seeds and slices of granny smith apple.

Rebelling against yourself can lead to a surprisingly delicious dinner.  Being your own worst enemy can bring you full circle into being your greatest ally.

Need some more ideas for tofu?  Cooking Light has you covered with this recipe slide show!

For the soy sesame sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 minced garlic cloves
1 teaspoon grated ginger on microplane
1 teaspoon chile oil
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon sesame paste
1 tablespoon grated apple
stir together

For the tofu:
1 package extra firm tofu
canola oil
roasted sesame seeds
chopped scallions
granny smith slices

To make the soy sesame sauce:  place everything in a bowl and whisk.

To make the tofu: Take the tofu out of the package and blot with a paper towel to remove the moisture.  Slice the tofu into slices about 1/2-inch thick. Heat canola oil in a saute pan (I used my trusty cast iron) over high heat.  Add tofu slices.  Brown one side, then flip and finish browning the other side.  Remove from pan, serve with the soy sesame sauce, some slices of apple, and a generous sprinkling of green onions and sesame seeds.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Spiced Apple Cider: The Bed of Beverages

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

    -From How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Poetry seemed like the best, most effective way to illustrate the immensity of my love.  My love for bed.  

The place that provides refuge from the storms.  Our very own private boat to get us through the oceans of life. The place where snuggling is not only tolerated, but encouraged.  The place that welcomes Seth and me, a pig cat a puff cat, and occasionally a Maxwell into its fold.  The place brimming with warm comforters.  Or, at least my side of the bed has multiple comforters... 

I suppose my love for bed developed during college.  The years when Seth and I lived in Philadelphia.  The bedroom had the one air conditioner.  The sweltering summers became somewhat tolerable if one stayed in the bedroom.  Thus began our marathon TV watching from bed, Chinese takeout eaten in bed, fort building on the bed.  Incidentally, it was also the place that felt safe from the roaches and mice that also enjoyed living in the apartment.  Seth eventually started calling me bedbug because of my growing affection for this piece of furniture.

Apple cider is the bed of beverages.  Here, apple juice is boosted with cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, and star anise.  Clementine juice and peel and ginger boost the flavor.  Serving it with pomegranate arils gives a pop of color.  So warm and comforting, a quaffable private boat.  He may start needing to call me ciderbug...

25.4 fl oz Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider *
2 cinnamon sticks
juice and peel from half a clementine
4 slices from a knob of ginger
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 star anise
pomegranate arils, for serving

*note:  The cider loses the bubbles when heated, but I like the nice clean apple flavor of this juice.  Feel free to use another apple juice!

Put in everything in a medium pot over medium low heat.  It will take about 15-20 minutes to get nice and warm and fragrant.  Once heated, ladle into mugs and serve with a spoonful of pomegranate arils - They add a pop of color, taste great, and are fun to eat with a spoon!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bison Sliders with Maple Balsamic Aioli, Browned Mushrooms, and King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls ®

Once upon a time, in a not so far away land (right here), there lived a woman named Jenn.  This Jenn was not micromanaged by a Maxwell, and not beholden to a tiny tyrant.  A pretty adorable tyrant (one of the sources of this miniature person's power, the other stemming from his marvelous ability to throw a tantrum), but a tyrant nonetheless.

This Jenn had the ability, the freedom, to use a fork instead of a spoon, whenever she pleased!  If she felt the urge to draw, which was well, admittedly seldom, she did not have to draw only what the small tyrant told her to draw.   She could draw all the things she wanted without argument.  She did not have to hug a toy bus if she didn't want to.  She did not have to explain to this tyrant why she was the one feeding the cats and not Seth.

Obviously, there was a regime change.

And like all political leaders, Max is always on the lookout for acquiring more power.  He somehow managed to get all seven adults who were congregating at my grandmother's house corralled in her basement.  Like cattle.  All there to be of a source of entertainment as well as an audience to/for the tiny tyrant. 

Loyalty to the little master means a promotion to his second-in-command.  The person who helps him use the toilet.  The person who hands him a tissue.  These are the honors one can earn, if they are lucky and faithful.

But one area in which I refuse to cede power to the offspring is in the kitchen.  He can file a request, but that is as far as it goes.

And in that kitchen, the one free of tyranny, I made bison sliders.  Small patties of meat, flavored with Herbes de Provence and melted with shaved Parmesan, topped with browned cremini mushrooms scented with a bit of thyme, as well as an aioli mixed with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup.  Butter lettuce for a bit of green, a bit of crunch. and finally, crucially, King's Hawaiian Sweet Roll ® holds the entire thing together... a sweet, soft, utterly delicious King's Hawaiian Sweet Roll ®.  As an aside, I seriously just eat these rolls right from the package, nothing added, a treat that not only makes me happy, but makes Max and our puff cat happy as well.

These sliders were free of the influence of tiny tot hands.  Free of his micromanaging and quite frankly, bossy ways.  These were a creation born under the hand of liberty.

For the maple balsamic aioli:
1/2 cup mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt, to taste

For the browned mushrooms:
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 sprig of thyme leaves
pinch kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
splash Worcestershire sauce

For the bison sliders:
16 ounces bison meat
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground dried mushrooms
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
Parmesan cheese, shaved
King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls ®
butter lettuce

To make the maple balsamic aioli: Stir all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

To make the mushrooms: Melt the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Once the butter has melted and the bubbles in the mixture have started to subside, add the mushrooms and thyme leaves . Stir continuously, allowing the mushrooms to absorb the butter and oil mixture. After a few minutes, the mushrooms will brown. Sprinkle salt and pepper, and add a splash of Worcestershire sauce.

To make the bison patties: In a large bowl, mix together the bison, ground dried mushrooms, Herbes de Provence, Greek yogurt, salt, and pepper. Form the mixture into small patties. I get about 10-12  patties from the mixture.

To make the burgers: Heat canola oil over high heat in a cast iron skillet. Add the patties. Brown one side (about 3 minutes or so). Flip the burgers over and add a Parmesan cheese slice to each. Keep the heat on high to brown the bottoms. Cover skillet with a baking sheet or lid and turn the heat to low to finish cooking the bison and to melt the cheese. Once the burgers are fully cooked and the cheese has melted, remove from pan.

To assemble the sliders: Place butter lettuce and a cooked bison patty on each King's Hawaiian Sweet Roll ®. Top with some mushrooms and the aioli.

Great holiday recipes start with KING’S HAWAIIAN® Dinner Rolls! Vote for your favorite KING’S HAWAIIAN recipe here for a chance to win one of three $500 gift cards! Sweepstakes Rules. I'd love it if you would vote for these sliders!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of King's Hawaiian®. The opinions and text are all mine.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Seared Shrimp with Cilantro Honey Dip

Some people are described as loving misery.  Enjoying, relishing the sensation of rolling around in the muck of unhappiness.

I suspect that this is how some would describe me.  But I'm not sure that is quite right.

I don't love being miserable.  I just truly love to complain.  To analyze things to death.  I'm not mad or unhappy or upset (usually) while engaging in these activities.  These are just some of the entries on my life list of, "things that make Jenn happy," like chapstick...  or wearing polka dots...  or eggnog

It still catches me off guard, however; though at this point, it really shouldn't, when someone is under the impression that I am unhappy.  Especially when that person is your husband.  We recently were out for lunch, trying out a new place.  I suppose, without realizing it, I was being critical of the food we had ordered.  Seth apologized to me for bringing me to a place that would make me so miserable.  I was so confused - I wasn't miserable at all!  I mean, yes, it would have been better if the food was better, but, it was a way of whittling away the time, of engaging my brain.  It was useful information to have - whether or not this restaurant was actually good.  Now i just know to not go back.  Which again, is useful information to have at your disposal.

And also on my list of things that make Jenn happy, dipping of course.  In this case, some nice seared shrimp dipped into a cilantro and honey sauce, a sauce with just a bit of heat from the fresh ginger and sweetness from the green apple.  I don't relish the thought of unhappiness, but I always relish a good dip.

For the dip:
1 bunch cilantro
1/4 cup basil
1/4 cup Granny Smith apple, peeled
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sesame paste
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 inch piece of peeled ginger

For the shrimp:
1 pound shrimp, defrosted and deveined, shells removed
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil, for frying

To make the dip:  Put everything in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it all comes together like a pesto.  Serve with the shrimp.

To make the shrimp:  Heat a bit of canola oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat.  Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper, then place in pan.  Once side is pink with some browned parts, flip and finish cooking the other side.  The whole process is pretty quick!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Baby Greens and Pear Bowl with Za'atar, Yogurt, and Fried Egg

"Be a tennis ball, not an egg."

These were the confusing words written on a sign.  A sign located in Pennsylvania. A sign that was seen while riding in a vehicle with my mom and my child.  And most importantly, most unfortunately - my sister.

For as long as I can remember, my sister has considered me to be an egg. It has never been quite clear to me why this is so.

I can't believe I need to point this out, but I am not an egg. I do not have a shell and/or a yolk.  I'm fairly certain I have a brain.  I think therefore I am, and all that.  Also in my favor of not being an egg, I can use my vocal cords to speak and communicate.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that an egg can't do all of that.
Upon reading the sign, my sister displayed some sympathy for me, and told me that it was okay to be an egg, it was okay to be me.  I thanked her for her concern, as I was experiencing an unusual mixture of emotions - 1) amusement by the extremely roundabout way the sign owner tried to convey his/her wisdom 2) apathy, as it has absolutely nothing to do with me, because I am not an egg 3) indignation, as it should be perfectly okay to be an egg, 4) horror at the thought that I have perhaps conceded the egg point to my sister.

Upon arrival to our destination, I called Seth and told him about the sign we had passed in our travels.  His response was "Oh, bounce, not break, well in that regard you may be a bit egg-like." I thanked him for his faith in me, as well as for hopping on board my sister's egg train.

Now we are here with a lunch bowl.  One filled with baby greens (I used baby kale)and pears, and a bit of scallions and parsley for some flavor, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  And sunflower seeds.  And a dab of Greek yogurt and zaatar.  And of course, most importantly, a fried egg.  I broke that egg into a hot frying pan, cooked it with some salt, pepper, and smoked paprika,  placed that broken and fried egg in the bowl as well, then topped it with a sprinkling of chopped mint leaves.  An egg may break not bounce, but it sure is delicious.

2 cups baby greens
1/4 cup diced pear
1 tablespoon scallions
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon roasted sunflower seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
pinch kosher salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon za'atar
1 fried egg, sprinkled with a pinch of salt, smoked paprika, and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon mint leaves, chopped

Toss baby greens, pear, scallions, parsley, and seeds in a bowl.  Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkle just a touch of salt and pepper.  Add a dollop of Greek yogurt and sprinkle with za'atar.  Top with the fried egg sprinkled with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.  Finish with chopped mint leaves.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Crab Vodka Salsa

Were someone to ask me what animal I would be, which, as an aside, I can't actually imagine someone asking me, but I guess if I were to ask myself what animal I'd be, I'd have to say "hyena."  Hyenas are quite clever.  Scavenging for scraps, but possessing the ability to hunt when needed.  They only exert the energy to hunt when it is actually necessary.

I too, can hunt.  If by hunt, you mean obtain food from a market, bring it home, and turn it into dinner.  But just because I possess this ability, it doesn't mean I need to expend the energy all the time.  Rather I can circle around my offspring's meal, and retrieve the leftovers after he has finished. Having a child who makes a lot of requests for certain foods, but doesn't actually go through the whole part of eating it,  means this is an effective food gathering strategy for me. Sometimes I have been known to scavenge while he is still eating, like taking the remains of a cookie after he has placed it down on the table and has turned his head.

However, like the hyena, I too can occasionally put a damper on my scavenging ways and move on to some actual cooking.  Like this salsa.
This month's Creative Cooking Crew challenge, hosted by Laz of Lazaro Cooks, is "cooking with spirits." Check back here at the end of the month - I'll post a link to the roundup of all the CCC dishes for the month!  Roundup is live, click here to see all the amazing creations!

We chose to go with vodka, giving this crab-filled salsa a bit of a kick as it slides down your throat.  Gypsy and jalapeno peppers, garlic, cilantro, red onion fill each bite with vegetal goodness, while using smoked sea salt and smoked paprika leaves a little something behind to linger on your taste buds.  The kind of food that is worth giving up my hyena ways and becoming human again.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
half a large onion, diced
5 gypsy peppers, divided, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 ounces lump crab meat
smoked sea salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
minced jalapeno, optional
tortilla chips, for serving

In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium low heat.  Add celery, onion, and three of the gypsy peppers. Once the vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes, add the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook for a minute, until garlic is fragrant, but not burned.  Add the crushed tomatoes.  In a bowl, stir together the crab meat, a hearty pinch of smoked salt, smoked paprika, and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.  Add the crab to salsa.  Stir.  Add the vodka.  Turn heat to medium high.  Once the vodka has cooked down (it will leave a spiciness in your throat but no longer screams VODKA), about 8-10 minutes, let the mixture cool down a bit and add lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper, as well as the remaining gypsy peppers, red onion, and cilantro.  If you want more heat in the salsa, add some minced jalapeno.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Persimmon and Grapefruit Yogurt Parfaits with Gingersnap and Pecan Crumbles

We look forward to, anticipate, build up some upcoming experiences.  Daydreaming about what it will be like. Crystal clear pictures of the amazingness form in our heads.

Which, are then, of course, subsequently crushed.  Shattered.  Destroyed when reality sets in.

I was terribly excited to go to the East Coast.  To visit friends and family.  But mostly to experience the fall weather that they supposedly have out there.  Visions of sweater wearing while galloping through piles of fallen leaves danced in my head.  Hay rides with toasty plaid blanket after blanket piled on top of me.  Warm cinnamon-spiced apple cider consumed while plucking bushels of apples right from trees.  Tromps through pumpkin patches with my tall boots.  It would be a perfect autumn week.  A super cliched autumn week.

Until I arrived in Pennsylvania and became aware that the weather was hot.  Like hot.  Like maybe I hadn't actually left the state of California hot.  Like wow, I'm glad I packed sandals hot.  Like take the small child to the park in the morning and want to go back home within 5 minutes because the sun is so hot.  Clearly, this wasn't what I had been hoping for.

Sometimes, though, life hands us exactly what we had been envisioning.  I wanted to stick a spoon into something creamy, something sweet, something fruity, something with a little bit of zing to it.  This parfait has all of that.  Persimmons and grapefruits mixed together.  Creamy Greek yogurt flavored with vanilla and orange.  Topped with crushed gingersnaps and chopped toasted pecans.  Each spoonful so satisfying, so unique with its own proportion of fruit to yogurt to gingersnap topping, that I would immediately look forward to the next.  And this time, I wasn't disappointed.

Need more information about persimmons, a most wonderful fruit?  Here is a useful article from Cooking Light!

1 cup chopped persimmon
1/2 cup segmented grapefruit
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup crushed gingersnaps
2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted pecans

In a small bowl, gently toss the persimmon and grapefruit.  In another bowl, stir Greek yogurt, vanilla, honey, orange juice, and orange zest.  In another bowl, mix the finely chopped pecans and crushed gingersnaps.

To serve, layer the fruit mixture and then the yogurt mixture, then top with the gingersnap mixture.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Malt Syrup Blondies with Chocolate Chips

I've always found it difficult to truly be in the moment. To live in the now.  I'm either stuck behind in my thoughts or I have already moved on to something new and shiny.

And usually it is the latter.

This isn't a case of missing things completely out of season, like wanting Christmas in July.  Which is also a problem I have.  I pine for eggnog in July.  What I'm referring to is a slight rushing ahead rather than enjoying what is in front of me.

Once autumn comes around, I'm in full-on Thanksgiving/Christmas mode. Christmas decorating starts at the beginning of November. September and October exist purely for Thanksgiving meal planning.  I can't actually enjoy the weeks and months for what they are. Once spring greens litter the markets, I'm already dreaming about the berries and the peaches that lay head.

These blondies, baked with a smattering of chocolate chips, are adapted from Cooking Light.  They have the magical ability to bring me back to the moment.  Instead of using butterscotch chips, I decided to throw in some malt syrup. I was most pleasantly surprised by the results.  Instead of turning out like a cookie, the malt syrup gives them an almost sticky gingerbread feel.  But they aren't gingerbread. They lack the denseness, thickness, the spicy sumptuousness of gingerbread.  There will be a day to enjoy that.  But not yet.  These are a treat for the now.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
2 tablespoons half and half
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350.  Spray an 8 x 8 pan with cooking spray or fit parchment paper to pan.  Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl.  My barley malt syrup was super thick from being refrigerated, so I placed the malt syrup, half and half, and butter that had yet to be melted in a microwaveable bowl and microwaved carefully in 15 second intervals until the butter had melted and the mixture could be stirred.  If the malt syrup is runny, whisk with the half and half and melted butter.  Pour the microwaved mixture into a mixing bowl, along with the brown sugar, canola oil, vanilla, and eggs.  Beat for 2 minutes.  Stir in the flour mixture until just combined, and then stir in the chocolate chips. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hot Crab Dip with Chives, Scallion, and Horseradish

I am pretty sure you can never trust a toddler. Or at least the toddler that lives here.
Recent examples of his lack of trustworthiness include:

1) Created a book titled, "Eat Green Eggs and Ham Book."  Said book includes only pictures of butterflies, cars, a bicycle, a moon, and a caterpillar that were clipped from magazines.  No eggs.  No ham.

2) Insisted that he did not poo. Evidence suggested otherwise. Actually, evidence was actually quite clear on this.

3) Claimed to want to eat crab.  I had talked up eating crab in a dip.  He seemed super excited by the prospect.  Not surprisingly, he wanted no part in this once made.

But I did...  Creamy dip filled with green onions and chives and crab meat and horseradish.  Simple but so luxuriously delicious.  And much more trustworthy than the toddler.

6 ounces lump crab meat, sprinkled with a bit of Old Bay seasoning
about 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup snipped chives
1/4 cup mayo
1/4 cup sour cream
4-5 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
baguette, crackers, or whatever you want for serving
snipped chives, for serving

Heat oven to 400. Mix everything together.  Bake in ovenproof dish for 15-20 minutes until bubbly. Serve with baguette or crackers.  Sprinkle chives on top.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chicken and Bacon Chopped Salad with Avocado Garlic Jalapeno Dressing

Like an earworm playing the bars of a song over and over, ideas too get stuck in your head, repeating themselves until you are either driven mad or you are finally forced to act upon them.

Like when you get it in your head that you need some sneakers. And not the kind that are useful for athletics. But the Keds kind, emblazoned proudly with stars. Basically, shoes that a seven year old would wear. These will complete your life.

Or when your best friend starts going on about doughnuts and how it is really sad that there aren't Dunkin Donuts near you, or any other doughnut establishment for that matter. I should note that there was a delicious one in town. Then it closed and my doughnut supply dried up. And after this conversation with your best friend you absolutely cannot stop thinking about doughnuts and so you find yourself in line at the grocery store with a dozen donuts from the bakery section and you know in your heart of hearts that these will not actually be good but you physically are unable to force yourself to put the box down.

And so it is with this chopped salad. Or... I suppose it is a chopped salad.  I'm actually quite unsure on what exactly makes something a chopped salad, but I must have heard the term and it just burrowed into my thoughts until I couldn't stand it any more. I decided to interpret the chopped salad as a salad with some heft, not leafy greens with a vinaigrette.  A substantial and filling salad.  A salad full of romaine lettuce and chicken and bacon and hard boiled eggs with an avocado and garlic buttermilk dressing.  And now I'm unable to get the salad out of my thoughts.

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
handful cherry tomatoes
sliced purple or red bell pepper
1 avocado, peeled and pitted, diced
4 cooked bacon strips, crumbled
1/2 pound of cooked chicken breast, sliced *
3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
3 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup julienned jicama

For the dressing:
2 small avocados, peeled and pitted
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon lime zest
juice from 2 small limes
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno
salt and pepper, to taste

To cook the chicken, I sprinkled both sides of the chicken with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.  Place in cast iron skillet with cooking oil (I actually used the bacon fat) and put flame on high. Add the chicken pieces.  Brown one side then flip.

In a big bowl, toss together romaine, tomatoes, bell pepper slices, avocado, bacon, chicken, eggs, celery and jicama.

For the dressing: Place all ingredients in a bowl and blend with an immersion blender until creamy.

Pour desired amount of dressing over the salad and toss to coat.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pulled Pork Ramen with Jalapeno Paste and Sauteed Mushrooms

Sometimes a trait or characteristic that seemed fixed and essential to defining ourselves can turn out to be not so unchanging after all.

I am the structured one in this relationship. I like having plans. If I'm going to sit and play notes on the keyboard, I absolutely positively need sheet music in front me. Without sheet music in front of me, there is nothing for me to do. If I'm playing with Max, I don't truly play, but instead declare it the time to count buttons in Spanish or the time to research flightless birds.

Seth, in contrast, eschews the structure, the structure to which I cling, and gravitates towards free play. He actually can play with Max in the way that play is actually meant to be done with a small child. When he sits in front of the keyboard, he explores all while rejecting my idea of playing a song from a book.

But when it comes to the kitchen, our characteristic structured/free play aspects reverse. He thrives under the guidance of instruction, while I feel constricted.

So Seth was skeptical about my free form, admittedly time-consuming kitchen play that led to this ramen. He did not think it would be something edible. but indeed it was, an umami filled bowl of deliciousness.  One full of pulled pork and a garlicky jalapeno paste and sauteed mushrooms and soft-boiled eggs.  One that can bridge the divide between the structuralists and free form players, even when that divide is within ourselves.

For the mushrooms:
8 ounces, sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
splash soy sauce
freshly ground pepper

For the jalapeno paste:
400 degrees
4 jalapenos, halved
5 garlic cloves
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger

For the pulled pork:
4 lb pork shoulder
black pepper
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon ground dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ume plum vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 bottle porter beer (I like using Deschutes Black Butte)

For the broth:
1 large onion, quartered
2 scallions
2 celery stalks
handful baby carrots
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon cloves
cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon miso
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke

soft boiled eggs - Cooking Light has good instructions for this (1 for each bowl)
16 ounces fresh ramen noodles
chopped scallions

To make the mushrooms: Melt the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Once the butter has melted and the bubbles in the mixture have started to subside, add the chopped mushrooms. Stir continuously, allowing the mushrooms to absorb the butter and oil mixture. After a few minutes, the mushrooms will brown. Drizzle with the soy sauce and sprinkle freshly ground black pepper.

To make the jalapeno paste: Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place jalapeno halves and garlic cloves in a small baking dish. Drizzle olive oil, and sprinkle a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.  Roast for 15 minutes, until jalapenos have browned.  Once roasted, place in food processor and add two tablespoons of olive oil and the grated ginger.  Pulse until a paste forms, adding more olive oil if needed.

To make the pulled pork: Rub the pork shoulder with freshly ground black pepper, miso, and the ground mushrooms.  Place in crockpot.  Pour mirin, vinegars, sesame oil, liquid smoke, brown sugar, soy sauce, and beer over it.  Set crockpot on high and cook for 5-6 hours, until the pork falls off the bone and is cooked through.

To make the pulled pork broth: Remove the pork from its cooking liquid.  Wrap peppercorns, clove, cinnamon, and star anise in cheese cloth.  Add onion, scallions, celery, carrots, cheesecloth with the spices, soy sauce, miso, vinegar, and liquid smoke to the pork cooking liquid.  Cook in crockpot for 2-3 hours on low.  Strain.

For the ramen bowls: Cook noodles according to package directions.  To serve, place some noodles, pulled pork, and soft boiled egg in a bowl and ladle broth over.  Sprinkle chopped scallions and place a bit of jalapeno paste on top.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Dessert Tartine with Sauteed Cardamom and Rose Pear Slices and Toasted Hazelnuts

What follows is a rundown of things I am embarrassed about. I have a nagging suspicion that I've done this before, so this is most definitely not a final list, as I am prone to both feeling embarrassment easily and also have a knack for getting myself into situations in which embarrassment is the only available possibility.

Item # 1 - buying seasonal decor items from drug stores and grocery stores. I feel as though I should be ashamed of my penchant for wandering into the seasonal decor aisle, finding everything 50% off, then stocking up on festive candles and glassware. I have even cultivated an appreciation for this pastime in Max, as he has just recently picked out his very own ugly owl-shaped pumpkin decoration during our last excursion.

Item #2 - eating dinner at an establishment named Buster's because we were too lazy too walk just a little bit further to a more respectable dining location. A place that would, in all likelihood, have offered up better choices than "extremely sweet chicken dish" and "extremely gross cioppino"

Item #3 - not being able to tell left from right without doing that trick of looking to see which hand makes the "L" shape when extending the pointer finger and thumb.

Item #4 - the amount of times I just pile and slather ingredients on bread, eat it, and declare it a recipe

I suppose I find bread to be such a fun canvas to work with - so delicious yet subtle, perfect for exploring flavor combinations. Here I sauteed sliced red pears in butter, brown sugar, rose and cardamom. Cream cheese and pomegranate juice were mixed together, and then spread on crusty bread. The bread was then topped with the pears and finished with some toasted hazelnuts. A most delicious way to rid oneself of embarrassment.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 sliced pears (I used Starkrimson, as they were just so beautiful)
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground dried rose
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
pinch kosher salt
4 ounces cold cream cheese
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1/4 cup chopped hazlenuts, toasted
slices of warm, crusty bread

For the pears:
Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat.  Add the pears, then sprinkle the sugar, rose, cardamom, and salt over the slices.  Let the pears become warm and soft, about 6 minutes.  Take off heat.

For the cream cheese mixture:
Beat the cream cheese and pomegranate juice with mixer until combined.

For assembling:
Spread cream cheese on a slice of bread.  Layer on pears, then sprinkle hazelnuts on top.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mushroom and Rosemary Goat Cheese Sandwich with Red Onion

Repetition is a funny thing. Practice makes perfect, and all that.

It truly does help you learn. Including things you didn't even want to learn. 

Like, for instance, dinosaurs.  I am now able to recite a dinosaur name that starts with A all the way through the alphabet to the letter Z.  I'm also pretty good now at telling you whether that dinosaur was a carnivore or an herbivore.  Give me a few more weeks, and I will be able to tell you whether that dinosaur lived during the Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous period, and on what continent.  All extremely boring facts that I never cared to learn.  All extremely boring facts that are taking up precious brain resources, leaving fewer brain cells to deal with the important life stuff.

And all learned because we read this book at least two times a day.  Two times a day, this book is recited. Two times a day, I say the name of the dinosaur, some facts about it, its preference for consuming meat or leaves, and the time in which it lived and the place.

My second grade self would be proud of all the dinosaur knowledge I've finally acquired. 

But repetition is also funny in its inconsistency. 

Goat cheese is apparently an acquired taste. But acquired how?  

In my case, it was not a gradual repetitive attempt to embrace it. Repeated attempts at eating it did not actually lead to enjoyment.

It was a sudden and random realization, a realization that did not occur in the vicinity of goat cheese, that now - now would be a good time to try it again. Now will be the time that I like it.

And so that instinct was right. I'm obsessed. Though, arguably, the reason could have been that I picked up a better tasting brand of the stuff this time.  Apparently, however, the little guy already somehow acquired the ability to enjoy the stuff, shoveling it in his mouth after his first bite.

To celebrate this new-found appreciation, a sandwich was made.  A sandwich stuffed with browned mushrooms scented with rosemary and balsamic vinegar, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, kale leaves, and slices of red onion.  A sandwich that warrants repeating.

And to learn more about one of our very favorite ingredients, an ingredient that wasn't an acquired taste, but easily and readily embraced from the outset - the mushroom - click here.  Cooking Light has compiled a super informative article about our edible friend, including storage and selection tips and some fun trivia!

For the mushroom and rosemary mixture:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 of red onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

For the sandwiches:
sour dough bread
goat cheese
grated parmesan cheese
handful baby kale
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedge
sliced red onions
mushroom mixture
canola oil, for skillet

To make the mushroom mixture: Melt the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Once the butter has melted and the bubbles in the mixture have started to subside, add the sliced mushrooms, rosemary, and onion slices. Stir continuously, allowing the mushrooms to absorb the butter and oil mixture and the onion to soften. After a few minutes, the mushrooms will brown.  Turn heat down to low and add the garlic, pinch kosher salt and pepper.  Once fragrant (about a minute), remove from heat and add vinegar.

To make the sandwich: Assemble sandwich by spreading a layer of goat cheese on a slice of bread. Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese.  Add a handful of baby kale leaves.  Sprinkle the leaves with just a bit of kosher salt, pepper, and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice.  Add a layer of sliced red onions, then the mushroom mixture.  Add the other slice of bread.  Heat oil in skillet on medium-high heat.  Bronze the sandwich on one side, then flip over to get that brown color on the other side.  
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