Jan 132013
 

Overnight apple-cran steel-cut oats

Let’s face it: very few of us have tons of time in the morning to cook breakfast. Sure, many of us would love to have a hot breakfast in the morning, but the reality is that when push comes to shove, what we actually would prefer to do is to slap the snooze button a few more times.

Until recently, breakfast was a huge priority. I would always cook something, usually involving left-over veggies scrambled into an egg with some home-made toast and beans. I would still love to be doing that because it’s an incredibly delicious, healthy, and filling breakfast, but with a baby in the house now it’s just not realistic. However, I’m not willing to turn to cereal because I just don’t like it and it’s not remotely filling.

To my happy surprise, I discovered that steel-cut oats and slow-cookers are totally BFFs. This is happy because I can make a week’s worth of healthy and flavorful breakfast for a total time investment of about five minutes, which is how long it takes me to measure everything out, chop up the apples, stir, and turn on the slow-cooker. I haven’t historically been a fan of this appliance, but something like this could totally change my mind.

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Dec 232012
 

Turkey pot-pie, fresh out of the oven!

The day after Thanksgiving is such a culinary conundrum. You, having just spent three days prepping and cooking food for your Thursday table, are exhausted come Friday. The last thing you want to do is slave over a stove some more. You’re covered for lunch, since you can nosh on turkey sandwiches or, perhaps, a salad composed of your favorite leftovers (which I did again this year), but what do you do when it comes time for dinner? You could indulge your inner child and just have pumpkin pie (topped with your very own bourbon whipped cream, natch), but if you’re sick of sweet stuff, may I suggest a more savory pie?

Rolling out crust for pot pie

Now, you may be rolling your eyes at me since I just acknowledged that the last thing you want to do is slave over a stove, but stick with me because I promise it’s worth it. This dish is in the classic tradition of re-inventing your leftovers into something completely different, and if you’ve already taken certain steps during your Thanksgiving prep, you’ll have shockingly little to do. For example: make two pie crusts instead of just the one that’s required for your pumpkin confection and save it in your fridge and you have a ready-made crust for your pot-pie. Use leftover turkey instead of poaching something anew. Make a couple of extra cups of stock during your Thanksgiving prep, or borrow a couple cups from the turkey stock that’s simmering away on the stove (because you are going to make soup, right?). Cheat and reach for a couple of freezer-veggies, saving you some prep. Yes, there’s a roux. Don’t let that scare you off though, as it’s the easiest roux ever. Banish from your mind the memory of stirring that roux for étouffée for a half-hour straight.

Crust cut-out

So this recipe is an example of a post-Thanksgiving success. In fact, it was so successful, that we’ve decided that it’s a new tradition for us. After all, it’s a home-made gravy chock full of deliciousness nestled under a home-made blanket of pastry goodness, and it’s a way to use your turkey without having to resort to sandwiches. What’s not to love?

And for good measure, here’s the cell-phone-photo I took of the original pot pies (as the other photos were taken from pies made later from left-over components). My Mom cut a “p”-shaped vent-hole for my Dad’s initial and was quite put out that I did boring traditional slits instead of using letters for the rest of them!

Turkey pot-pies!!!

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Dec 192012
 

Mugsy's gingerbread mini-muffins

There are quite a few food associations of mine that are inexorably linked to the holidays: beef burgundy, Danish pastries, sand-tarts (elsewhere called Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cookies), and rum cake all come to mind. These gingerbread mini-muffins are certainly make the list as well. This recipe comes to me by way of my maternal grandmother. Grandma (or Mugsy, to everyone else) had a way with baking and was damn good at it (her pie crusts remain legendary), but honestly, she was such a force of sheer kindness and goodness in this world, that her prowess with the oven has been eclipsed in my mind by the warm and gooey feelings that I remember when I think of her. The recipes that she left behind are all that serve to jog my memory in the baking-department.

So I love when I come across memories that have been written down on her recipes. It’s plain that my mom has been eating these spiced delights on or around Christmas every year since she can remember — and thus, they’ve woven their way into most of my memories as well. Sadly, it had been several years since I made them myself, but I found myself with an excellent excuse to dust off tradition and make them again this year (as holiday pot-lucks are an ideal venue for mini-muffins). And even though The Bun won’t be eating them this year, it’ll be nice to know that I started baking them again the year she joined our family.

So here’s to passing a family tradition down to the next generation: perhaps these can find your way into your own family annals too!

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Aug 292012
 

A whole, plated savory bruschetta tart

When it comes to cooking, sticking within limits can be so boring. If you’re ever in the mood to pull out a stop or two and make something the likes of which you’ve never had before, this savory tart is an excellent choice.

I first came across this recipe in a book that we received as a wedding gift. I can’t recall what first possessed me to try it; perhaps it was the description (it used to be served at the author’s Napa Valley restaurant) or the ease with which this could be fit into a dinner-party menu. Either way, I’m extraordinarily glad that I tried it: while I don’t make it terribly often, it’s been firmly set in my repertoire ever since. So much so that for my last birthday (my 30th), I decided not to go to a restaurant and to make this for dinner instead.

Savory bruschetta tart

So don’t be intimidated by the eggplant (this recipe introduced me to the veg), the method (my first-ever dip into deep-frying), or the unusual presentation: this is a dish whose bright, fresh flavors are welcome at any occasion!

Savory bruschetta tart

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Oct 262008
 

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008
 

Espresso. Brandy. Ladyfingers. Chocolate. Marscapone.

When you look at that list you may find yourself wondering, “What possibly could go wrong?”

And if you answered an enthusiastic “Nothing!” you would be so, so wrong. I sure as hell hope you didn’t bet the farm on that one.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

Tiramisu, at its best, is light yet rich, warm-tasting with brandy notes, with espresso to offset the sweetness, and because everything is better with chocolate, a liberal dusting of some Scharffen Berger. However, when executed improperly, it’s flat tasting, bitter, and soggy. Trust me, you don’t want soggy tiramisu.

It’s one of those dishes where everything has to go right. Because of that, I won’t order it in restaurants anymore, not even the one that Cory took me to for dessert on my birthday, because they screw it up and frankly, mine is a hell of a lot better (sorry Cory, I know you meant well!).

Luckily, if you have a good recipe, like the one I’m about to share with you, you can’t go wrong. Too many recipes for tiramisu are too vague and include verbiage like “stir a couple of times” or “heat until lukewarm” and that sort of imprecision, while maybe appearing a little less intimidating to the novice cook, is a recipe for disaster. For soggy, flaccid, bitter disaster. And you know I would never do that to you.

Yummy, perfect tiramisu
Nikon D50

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Jan 242008
 

There is something about baking a pastry – a real, from-scratch, layered bit of flaky dough – that makes you feel like a total badass.

Let’s face it, pastries have a pretty formidable reputation. They’re certainly not in the “if you can boil water you can handle this” category. I’ve always had a huge soft spot for croissants, but there is another indulgence – the humble Danish pastry – that has a special, sentimental significance to me.

If there was ever a recipe for me to cut my pastry chef teeth on, this one had to be it.

Follow the yellow butter road
Nikon D50

See, this is another recipe that is near and dear to my heart. Like beef burgundy, my family has been eating these delicacies around holidays since I can remember. Perhaps even more significant, my Mom has been eating them ever since she can remember. When she was a kid, her next-door neighbor (the eponymous Mrs. B) would bring them over each Christmas Eve so that their family could chow down on them the next day. Before my parents’ wedding, my Mom had a kitchen shower where the guests brought treasured recipes to give to her. Mrs. B brought this.

Dough coiled and ready to rise
Nikon D50

So when, as I mentioned earlier, Cory and I were in the midst of forging our own traditions, these little gems were so in. I made my very first batch sans supervision this last Christmas (my previous foray being the year before when my Mom was visiting for Thanksgiving) and on the morning of Cory and I ate like royalty, feasting on the light, fluffy, and delicate (both in flavor and texture) yumminess.

Pastries glazed, baked, and cooled
Nikon D50

I will warn that this is not the easiest recipe I’ve ever posted. In fact, if you lack the proper patience it’s probably actually the hardest I’ve shared thus far. So with that in mind, use a light hand when folding the dough – you don’t want to tear it. If it happens, don’t hesitate to pinch the dough closed and put the dough in the fridge since it will start oozing butter. So take your time, enjoy being a real-life badass pastry chef, and enjoy the end result even more!

A pastry close up
Nikon D50

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Jan 142008
 

Every year since I can remember, my family has eaten beef burgundy on Christmas Eve. The warm wine and beef flavors, served atop noodles, the meat perfectly tender… this is the food that memories are made of. Which is good, because it means that the substantial effort required to put this meal on the table is worth it. I mean, come on, this is a dish three days in the making – you know it has to be good. This recipe is like the poster child of the slow food movement.

The beef begins its long slow marinate
Nikon D50

Even though this year was the first that I’d ever enjoyed this meal on Christmas itself (it was our tradition to eat this on the Eve), this is the single dish that I associate the most with warm and cozy family dinners around the holidays. We often spent Christmas with extended family, but Christmas Eve was a smaller affair, and beef burgundy, with its warm and sensuous flavor, was the perfect dish for a more intimate setting.

Deliciousness is served
Nikon D50

Now that I’m all grown up, having married and struck out on my own, I find that I’m in a fun situation: I get to make my own traditions with Cory now. Not surprisingly, beef burgundy made the cut. We enjoyed our first Christmas as husband and wife huddled over a bowl (or two), eating the food that will tie the years of our lives together.

Every family deserves a beef burgundy of their own.

For the backpacker’s version of this recipe, scroll all the way to the bottom: it’s posted at the end of the traditional version of the recipe.

I don't want to wait another year to eat this again!
Nikon D50

Click for the recipe →

Jun 232007
 

Irish steel-cut oats

I’ve always been a breakfast person. Not really in the way that many other Americans are, where they like lots of bagels and cereals and other really unhealthy and non-nutritious foods, but more in the way that I like to get something healthy in my tummy that will stick with me until my mid-morning snack. This is sufficiently different, versatile, receptive to substitutions, and, of course, yummy, to meet all of my needs. They do take longer to cook than their gloppy rolled cousin, so I cook a week’s worth at a time and reheat as I need it. Nowadays it’s impossible to open my fridge without finding a massive batch of these oats, just waiting for their turn to be consumed.

And just look at them! It’s easy to see why!

Oatmeal with pomegranate seeds

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Jun 022007
 
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Until I made this dessert at home, I had never had panna cotta in the United States.

I hadn’t even heard of this indulgent dish until a couple of months ago, when I met someone in Korea who had actually taught at the Culinary Institute of America. I haven’t met many people who are bigger foodies than me, but he definitely qualified. A few of us were looking for a restaurant in Seoul for dinner and we decided to pop into an Italian place, and my chef comrade ordered it for dessert, served with a perfect raspberry sauce on top. “Not too shabby,” I thought, but didn’t think too much of it again until Cory’s and my honeymoon.

After our day trip into Siena, we returned to Florence intent on finding a classic Tuscan dinner. We looked through our guidebooks and found a place or two that looked promising on paper but were totally uninspiring when viewed in person. So we started to wander the streets, looking for those wonderful Italian hole-in-the-walls that you hear about from all your friends who were lucky enough to go to Italy when they were still in college.

All of a sudden we passed by a Il Latini, a restaurant that looked very cozy and the menu was actually entirely in Italian, which I took to be a good sign that this place was authentic. It was about 7:05 and the place didn’t open until 7:30, so we decided to wait, queuing up like, well, normal civilized people would. About ten minutes later a man walked up and asked if anyone there spoke English, and almost all of us answered that we did. “This is the third time this week that my wife and I have been here, and trust me, the wait is worth it.” Cory and I grinned at each other at this, and the man continued, “I know you all think that you’re lined up like rational, courteous people, but trust me, when it gets closer to opening all the locals are going to start massing around the door. Lines will mean nothing!”

Well, you know what they say, when in Rome….

So we gaggle up, and before long the man is proven correct when these people start amassing around us, trying to get in ahead of us even though we’ve been waiting twenty-five minutes. ‘Oh hell no!’ I thought to myself. “If anyone tries to get around you, throw ’em an elbow!” was Cory’s husbandly advice. And throw an elbow I did!

We managed to get in at the first seating and were seated at a table with another couple. The huge bottle of house wine was already on the table, and the food starting coming almost immediately. We never saw a menu, but everything they brought was superb: insalata caprese, pate on crostini, and tabbouleh made with barley for antipasti, Tuscan tomato and bread soup for me and gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes for Cory for primi, roast beef for me and roasted lamb for him for secondi, and then a delicious dessert wine, biscotti, espresso, (something delicious that I can’t remember), and, of course, panna cotta with a velvety chocolate sauce for dolci. It was an amazing meal (quoth Cory: “my brain pretty much shut down so that the only thing working was the taste buds”) and an unforgettable dining experience in my favorite city.

It was also, of course, a wonderful reminder of a dessert that is fast becoming a favorite.

Vanilla bean panna cotta

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