Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Cake Family Christmas

'Twas the morning of Christmas, when all through the house came the fragrance of breakfast
onion and bacon casserole and a boozy fruit cake made a tasty repast.
Mom's breakfast casserole. Photo by JDHH

Monday, December 26, 2011

Roquefort Date Pecan Cheese Balls

These roquefort date pecan balls are super fast and easy to make but taste like a gourmet's dream. Perfect for a dinner party or as part of a cheese platter at your New Year's Eve party these delicious little bites will became a staple in your hors d'oeuvres repertoire.

Thanks to an awesome giveaway hosted by Natasha over at 5-Star Foodie and sponsored by the folks from Ile de France I was fortunate enough to be one of the winners of a super cheese giveaway. I squealed with delight when the package arrived containing brie, roquefort, camembert, goat cheese and crackers. Poor Thom was despondent when I informed him that he was not permitted to simply scarf down all the cheese immediately but perked up a little when I promised him tasty, tasty cheese hors d'oeuvres.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting - The Foodie Days of Christmas

This tender gingerbread layer cake has just the right amount of spice. The dark, rich molasses and ginger flavors are perfectly balanced with the luscious cream cheese frosting. At this time of year is there really any such thing as too much gingerbread? Whether you're into cookies or cake, tis the season to bake!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sugar Cookie and Gingerbread Snowflakes - The Foodie Days of Christmas

Like most kids I loved cutting out sugar cookies at Christmas time and decorating them with brightly colored sprinkles. As my love for cooking and baking grew I branched out into various flavorings, such as orange and almond, and started using melted chocolate as an accent. I always made the same recipe which was passed from one Mom in our neighborhood to another and finally on to my Mom. Each year I made dozens upon dozens of cookies; no matter how many we gave away as presents there was always a heaping tray of decorated sugar cookies on Christmas Day. Eventually we had all had too much of a good thing and I stopped making sugar cookies. This year however, inspired by some beautiful snowflake cookie cutters I purchased, I decided to make roll out cookies once more.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Apple Cranberry Walnut Bread - The Foodie Days of Christmas

This is not your grandmama's fruit cake. This is a delicious, fragrant fruit bread absolutely bursting with sweet apples, tart cranberries, and rich walnuts. When I was a child, and all the way through high school, every year when Winter Break rolled around my mother and I would make several mini loaves of fruit bread to give as gifts to my teachers. This fruit bread makes a fabulous breakfast toasted in the oven and spread with cream cheese or as a perfect mid-afternoon snack sliced plain with hot tea. It's a wonderful treat to bring to friends who may be hosting you for the holidays or to serve at a holiday brunch.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fruit & Nut Chocolate Bark and Kids Christmas Bark - A Family Sunday Recipe

Chocolate bark is one of those classic Christmas treats that's easy to make, fun to decorate, and always popular with both kids and adults. When I was a child my grandmother loved Cadbury's Fruit & Nut bars. I couldn't understand why... raisins? Almonds? No, no, no! At most all you needed was krispie puffs in your chocolate bars! Now that I'm an adult I completely understand the allure of rich, roasted nuts and chewy sweet dried fruits. I just wish Grammie was still here to have some of my own homemade fruit and nut chocolate bark with me! Here are two versions sure to satisfy all generations around your holiday table.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chocolate Chip Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies - The Foodie Days of Christmas

Chocolate and peppermint go hand-in-hand with the Christmas season like stockings hung by the fire and twinkling lights on the Christmas tree. Between peppermint bark, peppermint hot cocoa, and chocolate covered peppermint cremes this flavor combination is on everyone's list of favorite holiday treats. And I love it! Smooth, rich chocolate and cool, refreshing peppermint. The combination evokes both the comforting richness of holiday foods as well as the fresh, crisp winter air. These cookies offer a great balance of tantalizing flavor to platters of gingerbread men and sugar cookie stars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DingDingDing! We Have a Winner!

Thank you so much to all the lovely folks who entered the Oh Cake and Survival By Design giveaway. The winner is: Julie from Sugarfoot Eats! Julie writes a wonderful blog laden with yummy homestyle good eats. I hope you'll check her out and follow along!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Orange-Cinnamon Candied Almonds - The Foodie Days of Christmas

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. Our neighborhood gets all decked out with garlands and lights strung across Hanover Street. Businesses hang pine-scented wreaths with festive gold and red trimmings. We always take a walk around Boston to enjoy the decorations while getting pink-cheeked with the cold. It's possible I married my husband for his incredible ability to have warm hands - even in December. I love simple pleasures amidst the craziness of the the season like a movie matinee and a bowl of clam chowder at the Union Oyster House with Thom or finding the perfect new Santa ornament for my Aunt's collection of all things Saint Nick.

Photo Williams Sonoma
I get so excited to pick out gifts for friends and family. I'd love to be a personal shopper, actually. Over the last few lean years I've had to cut back on gift giving; More and more of my gifts are homemade... a scarf crocheted for Dad, sweet and spicy pecans for friends, or a handmade ornament for Mom. But I still have so much fun trying to find the perfect, special gift for loved ones. I love wrapping presents; picking out paper, ribbons and tags that will make the package as thoughtfully presented as the gift was planned.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cookielove - Fleur de Sel Caramel Cookies

I have loved caramels since I was an itty-bitty child. Rich, luscious, sweet, creamy caramel. Heavenly! The first time I tasted sea salt caramels I knew the little girl in me was all grown up. I have been a salted caramel devotee ever since. It was only natural then, when this month's #lovebloghop theme of cookies was announced, that I began thinking about how to create a salted caramel cookie.

Fleur de sel literally translates as "flower of salt." It is a hand-harvested French sea salt with a high mineral content that is often slightly grey in color. If you do not have, or cannot find, fleur de sel you can substitute any fine sea salt instead. These cookies do have a lot of steps, but the end result is oh so worth it. Fortunately for my waistline these cookies can be frozen and baked off just a few at a time. If you've never made caramel before I suggest checking out this great tutorial by David Lebovitz before getting started.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chocolate-Pumpkin Trifle with Spiced Cream

Easy yet elegant, this combination of two of my favorite cakes - chocolate and pumpkin - is a perfect pairing of two classic flavors which combine to develop a sophisticated and nuanced holiday dessert. Those who have never had chocolate and pumpkin together are often delightfully surprised at how delicious the two are combined. Accented with a sprinkling of Grand Marnier and layered with ginger and cinnamon spiced cream this is not only a beautiful dessert, but a very popular one perfect for the crowd at your next holiday party.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sweet Potato Muffins - Two Incredible Versions

These sweet potato muffins are a serious game changer. Dense, rich, fragrant, and oh so incredibly flavorful! They are absolutely perfect when you have guests in for the holidays and are sure to become a family favorite as they are quickly becoming at our house!

I first had these muffins during our Spanish Tapas Night a few weeks ago. My friend Jon, who is an incredibly talented Boston based DJ by night and a creative printer and designer by day (he gifted us with the most beautiful wedding invitations last year - really, my photos don't do his work justice), is also a great cook who is especially gifted when it comes to Southern food. I would love to show you the adorable mini muffins Jon made for dessert - but unfortunately they were gobbled down before any photos were taken. I may, ahem, have had a hand in the aforementioned gobbling.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pumpkin Cake with Cranberry Gelee

This dense pumpkin cake combines the best of regular cake and pumpkin pie to create a moist, creamy consistency with a texture reminiscent of cheesecake or fudge. The cranberry gelée adds both a tart edge and a glossy, vibrant color to the cake. The optional toasted chopped pecans send this cake over the top with a rich, buttery flavor and a crunchy texture. This showstopper is deceptively simple to prepare and guaranteed to disappear quickly around your holiday table.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Roasted Parsnips with Cranberries and Orange

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of my favorite time of year for holidays. Not only is it the lead-up to my favorite holiday of all - Christmas (be sure to enter my holiday giveaway) - but it boasts some of the best seasonal cooking of the year. Thanksgiving is one time of year in particular when tried and true family recipes come out in full force. Americans plumb the depths of our collective holiday consciousness to recall favorite side dishes, desserts, and traditions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Enjoy a Mixed Metaphor - It's a Fab SBD Giveaway!

CLOSED - The food blogging community is full of smart, sassy, and irreverent writers as well as inspiring, creative and skilled cooks. I am so grateful for the warm welcome you've given me into your ranks! We all know how tough it is to balance multiple projects, deadlines, and responsibilities but your comments and friendship make it all worth it and then some.

As a special thank-you to all of you out there in Cake Land I've teamed up with Survival by Design creator Jenn Adler, the sassiest lady of them all, to offer you this fab giveaway.  Jenn is a huge inspiration to me and apparently I returned the favor by inspiring Jenn to cook!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sampling Spanish Cheese & Scott's Emergency Sangria

What's a person to do when they are asked to attend a potluck and they don't know how to cook or simply don't have time? Most of us when we fall short on time or inclination tend to go to the nearest liquor store and bring a bottle of wine. In my world there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! But you know what would go great with that wine? Some cheese. Awww... yeah... cheese, baby! You know you love it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chorizo Paella

Now that I'm back from a whirlwind trip to Miami for a dear friend's wedding I am able to devote a little more time to the amazing Spanish night my friends and I shared earlier this month. The catalyst for this entire event was my friend Nahir's confession that one of the two dishes she can make with confidence is paella.

Paella is a regional Spanish dish from Valencia along the Mediterranean coast. The name comes from the Catalan word for pan (derived from Latin) and may be made with meat (paella Valenciana), seafood (paella de marisco), or both (paella mixta). Originally a rustic country dish paella was commonly made with ingredients on hand - generally chicken, rabbit, snails, and vegetables. Along the coast, of course, shellfish and fish dominated in the dish.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Orange and Red Onion Salad with Olives

This colorful and refreshing orange salad was one of the biggest hits at our Spanish themed dinner. Made by my sweet friend Ann she was initially hesitant about the combination of onion and oranges. She needn't have worried - nearly all the dinner guests asked for the recipe!

Oranges have been cultivated since time immemorial. Native to China and southeast Asia, oranges were brought to Europe through ancient trade routes via Persia and have been grown there since at least the time of the ancient Romans. Seville oranges have been cultivated in Spain (in the city which gave that variety its name) since the 12th century and were brought to Florida by the Spanish in the 15th century. Another common Spanish orange variety is the Valencia orange which was brought to the US in the 19th century. Today oranges are a common fruit the world over. In the US citrus fruits are often considered to be a sweet treat over the winter at which time we tend to eat a lot of Navel oranges, which are in peak production from January-March, making this salad an excellent addition to your winter menus.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bleu Cheese Crusted Stuffed Roast Loin of Pork - with Photo Instructions

Spanish tapas are small plates or snacks traditionally served in wine bars. The most commonly repeated bit of history is that they originated in the form of a small slice of bread placed over a glass of sherry to keep fruit flies from going in for a drink. Since the word tapas comes from the verb tapar meaning "to cover" this rather makes sense. Over time either diners or bar owners started putting slices of salty Spanish ham on top of the bread. The ham appeased the diners hunger, but also made them thirsty for more sherry! As with most gastronomic efforts the results only got more elaborate as time went on eventually resulting in the creative and delectable dishes we see today. Some classic tapas include olives, Manchego cheese, Serrano ham, chorizo, anchovies, and Spanish style tortillas (omelets usually containing sliced potatoes and other ingredients).

Going to tapas restaurants with friends is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening. The sangria and conversation flow easily as we sample one delicious small plate after another. My good friend Jon and I have spent many a happy evening together at Solea or CuchiCuchi, two local tapas restaurants. When my friend Nahir informed me that she could make a good paella we came up with the idea for a Spanish themed cooking night.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Squashlove Blog Hop: Delicata Squash and Apple Sausage Pie

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing
Oh wasn't that a tasty dish to set before the king? 

Back in October I made a squash dish that didn't work out quite the way I hoped. Fortunately it sparked the idea for another dish featuring delicata squash and other seasonal flavors. Once I found out November's #lovebloghop would feature squash I knew I had to include this recipe in the hop. It's a great mix of savory flavors with a touch of sweetness from the apple and sausage.

A tasty dish for the king (or queen!) of the kitchen

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cauliflower Leek Soup - A Winter Chill Chaser

As the days grow shorter and the colder weather begins to seep through the windows and into my bones I make pot after pot of soup. This luscious cauliflower and leek soup is one of my favorites. Possessing a milder onion flavor than either white or yellow onions leeks are one of my favorite aromatics as they don't overpower the other flavors in this soup.

As a child I only ate Mom's chicken soup, tomato soup (with a grilled cheese... mmmm), and New England clam chowder. I don't recall the first time I had potato-leek soup but I do remember how magical I thought it was. After tasting that creamy, smooth, luscious soup pureed vegetable soups became some of my favorites. I distinctly recall one afternoon living in Bologna when the Mercato delle Erbe, the city's central produce market, was simply overflowing with leeks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Spiced Lentil and Roasted Squash Detox

Lentils make for a delicious, versatile dish that is super easy to prepare, is a good source of plant-based protein, low in calories, and perfect for detoxing from too much Halloween candy. The acorn squash also has plenty of fiber and is a good source of vitamin C and potassium (great for balancing out too many peanut butter cups). So when you're stuffing millions of tiny candy wrappers in the trash, or just want a healthy meatless dinner, reach for this recipe - it's one of my favorites.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Tricks & Treats - a Chocolate-Orange Cake Story

It must be Halloween because I began my morning being tricked. In my sleepy stupor I could have sworn I heard my husband walking through water. Snuggling myself further under the glorious down comforter to fight off consciousness, much the way I protected myself from the monsters in the shadows as a child I couldn't help but think, "please. For the love of all that is good and right in the world... please... please... don't let the storage room be flooded."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Would Julia Do? A Plum Tart Story

Autumn tends to mean the end of most stone fruits, but it's when Italian plums are at their best. Also known as prune plums, Italian plums are less juicy than the black plums we see in the markets over the summer. They have a rather tart flavor that develops into a pleasing sweetness when cooked. Although I have a few favorite recipes using Italian plums I wanted something different from my usual, but with a couple of girlfriends coming over for tea I knew I wanted it to be elegant and appealing to the crowd. Enter Julia.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dark Chocolate Marshmallow Cream Cups

Remember last week when I discovered two ways for not making marshmallows? Thank goodness I finally figured it out and was able to make some amazing marshmallow treats! Being the frugal cook I am I can't bear to let anything go to waste so I saved the marshmallow cream figuring no recipe is a failure if you can find a way to turn it into something glorious and new. Let me tell you, these candies are pretty glorious.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cloak, Dagger, and Meatballs - A Family Sunday Recipe

On Facebook the other day a good friend of mine posted a request for family friendly healthy dinner ideas. As a half-dozen ideas popped in my head I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by these two thoughts:
  1. She works long hours with a long commute (i.e. little time at home)
  2. She has an elementary-school age child (would he eat what I eat?) 
So I started thinking more strategically... what takes relatively little time to make, is healthy enough to satisfy adults and tasty enough to satisfy kids? The answer was clear. Big, flashing neon sign clear.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lessons in Love and Lobster Stock

I grew up with a Mom who makes the best chicken soup in the world. This chicken soup chases away the winter chill and cures colds. It provokes a happy dance when I find a container tucked away in the freezer and whatever else I might have had planned for dinner goes out the window. A couple of winters ago I caught a nasty cold and was just miserable. With bleary eyes and a Cathy Moriarty voice, ensconced in a tissue empire on the couch, I begged my husband to call my Mom and ask her for the recipe for her soup. He rolled his eyes but he dutifully called her and he tried to re-create it, but he ended up doing things just a bit too much his own way. A few days later when I was feeling better, I phoned Mom and said, "well, he really loves me to go to all that trouble; but between you and me, Mom, it just wasn't the same." With hot buttered toast made with fresh bread from Parziale's,  I'm pretty sure this soup could inspire world peace. You just cannot be mad when you have a mouthful of that rich, golden broth. It's all because Mom makes her own chicken stock.
Mom & Grammie; 1970s

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lobster Rolls

It's been rather warm in New England lately. In fact, there are some moments when it still feels like early September when the last few days of summer enveloped us in a haze of salty, beachy memories. With Halloween upon us, however, I had given up the ghost of summer and was prepared to wait until next June before allowing myself to anticipate it's heady grasp once more. Imagine my surprise then, when my mother stopped by to drop off a few things she picked up for us while shopping in Maine... lobsters!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Acorn Bowls - Just add Stuffing

One of my favorite things about autumn is all of the great winter squash that becomes available. My local markets recently had locally grown delicata, butternut, pumpkin, hubbard, spaghetti squash, buttercup, and one of my favorites: acorn squash.

One of the things I like best about acorn squash is its size - it's just right for two people, or one person plus leftovers. Since my husband works nights I might as well live alone when it comes to dinner! The shape of this squash is also perfect for stuffing with the filling of your choice since it becomes it's own little bowl. No need to make a trip to [insert name of your favorite trendy home goods store here] for a ceramic bowl in the shape of a pumpkin (cute tho' they are)!
Here is an easy stuffed squash recipe that makes the most out of the season's bounty:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Think Pink! Marshmallows for Liz

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. From fundraising walks to pink ribbons on cars to TV movies you will see pink everywhere this month in honor of promoting education, early intervention, and treatment of this disease that will afflict 1 in 8 women in the US over the course of their lifetime. One in eight. Think about how many women you know. Now think about how many will be affected by this disease - as well as the ripple effect of the impact of this disease on their friends and families. We can all name at least one woman who has faced and fought breast cancer. I can name seven such courageous women, but today I'd like to tell you about just one - my dear friend Liz. Liz has graciously agreed to share her story here on Oh Cake in the hopes that you will be encouraged to take action, get yourself checked, or encourage your wife, sister, daughter, and friends to get checked.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Throwback Thursday - Tuna Noodle Casserole

As classic as casseroles are in American cooking they are unusual and exotic fare for me. The only remotely casserole-type dish we ever ate growing up was lasagna. As a child I was mesmerized when I went to friends' houses and saw creamy concoctions stuffed with noodles and vegetables. If there was a crispy bread crumb topping I assumed I had died and gone to heaven (don't even get me started on my best friend's nana's noodle kugel... a sweet casserole? Hello!). My mother's cooking was (and still is) excellent but decidedly not the typical American diet I saw at my friends houses. Mom was taught how to cook by her own European born and raised mother, as well as heavily influenced by the fabulous New York City restaurants she frequented BC (Before Children). As an adult I appreciate the techniques, flavors and experiences my mother's cooking exposed me to; but as a child I craved the creamy casseroles I saw my friends' mothers preparing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Difference Between Good and Good Enough

Recipe creation. That wonderful alchemy between raw ingredient and creativity. Many of us who create original recipes have a small group of recipe testers who will painstakingly follow our recipes to the letter and report back with useful critiques. I am personally blessed with one particular friend who reports back with taste, technique and writing critiques. (I just got lucky that my best friend is a researcher and editor by training and trade as well as enthusiastic home cook).
Whenever I feel daunted by a recipe I am working on I remember something my mother said to me during a particularly challenging period early on in my culinary career: [t]he main thing to focus on is your creativity and the style in which you express that. You are an artist. ~ JRH - My Mom 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cinderella Goes to the Farm... and Turns a Pumpkin into Soup!

It's that time of year when cooks everywhere run to the orchards, the farmers markets, and the farm stands to fill their baskets with apples, pears, and pumpkins (and cider, cider doughnuts, and my favorite: a caramel apple rolled in chopped peanuts). In the last month I've been to five different farms for all of the above mentioned items. (Except for that caramel apple... I always get one at Honey Pot Hill Farms; but I haven't been there yet this autumn).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Orange-Fig Teacake with Caramel Glaze

This post could easily be titled the evolution of a recipe...

As evidenced by this post I love tea time. Whether it's a simple tea and toast towards the end of the workday or a full-on afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and elegant cakes in my favorite A-line frock, I love tea. My favorite is probably a Devonshire tea (also known as a cream tea) which features scones with jam and clotted cream. While searching through my current collection of jams I came across an old favorite: Dalmatia Orange Fig spread. I have no idea how many jars of this I've gone through over the years. I used to use this jam so often in savory dishes that one of my friends started remarking, "ah yes, the famous orange-fig combo!" Although I love it, I started focusing on other flavors. But seeing the distinctive jar got me thinking; with fig season in the Northeast drawing to a close and orange season just getting started, I decided to create a teacake based on these two fantastic fruits.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Adventures in Vegan Cooking with Jenn Adler

Several months ago my brother's good friend Jenn requested some assistance in learning to cook vegan meals. And I... completely dropped the ball and left her hanging! Well, until yesterday that is when Jenn and I experienced our first session of Adventures in Vegan Cooking!

"I'm not a vegetarian, but I play one on TV..."

er... at home. I am a vehemently equal-opportunity cook and eater. If it sounds tasty, I will try to make it. If I like it, I will eat it. For a lot of home cooks I have spoken to however, there seems to be a certain mystique around vegans or at least the belief that it's challenging to prepare a completely meat & dairy-free meal. I'm not an expert on the subject by any means, but really, when was the last time someone slapped a piece of meat on a plate and said, "yup - that's it. Just the meat." No, we all incorporate fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes into our cooking repertoire to have a variety of flavors, textures, colors and nutrients in our diets. Due to the high cost of most meats, and the fact that I really like vegetables and legumes, many of my meals at home tend toward the vegetarian (not vegan - I generally use dairy/eggs at home). These days most everyone has a friend or family member who is vegetarian or vegan. Instead of causing conflict, these culinary differences should provide an opportunity to expand our horizons beyond our own standard fare.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pear Teacake with Marzipan Streusel

Everyone has childhood memories of family traditions - whether it is a special holiday tradition, a favorite family recipe, or an annual trip. In my family, one thing I could always count on was that at around 3:30 every afternoon, no matter what else was going on, my grandmother would stop what she was doing and have tea.

Mom or I would put on the kettle, brew a pot of tea, set a pitcher of milk and the sugar bowl on the table. Three teacups and saucers. Three spoons. And then... Grammie would say, "how about a little something?" You see for Grammie there was tea at breakfast, a cup of tea around 10am, a cup with lunch, a cup after dinner and maybe a cup as a pick-me-up during the day. But tea time in the afternoon was different, special. The table would be set, a whole pot would be brewed instead of a single mug, china cups would come out... and there would be "a little something."

"A little something" was often a simple slice of cinnamon raisin toast with cream cheese but sometimes it was apple pie or leftover cake from a birthday or holiday. Sometime in my early teens my Mom and I started making this incredible plum teacake (the pears come later). It was incredibly dense and rich, not overly sweet. The plums stayed juicy and plump on the top while creating a thin sliver of a delectably moist layer right underneath them. A hint of cinnamon and this cake was perfection with a hot cup of tea. Over the years I've tweaked it to make it better and better.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stuffed Risotto Cakes

There is nothing more satisfying to a frugal cook than making a new meal out of leftover ingredients. While preparing the grilled eggplant involtini last night I knew I had more than enough for two meals, but we don't tend to enjoy eating the exact same thing two days in row. This is when I put on my crown as Queen of Leftovers and get to work.

Indulge me first, if you will, in a little trip down memory lane... it's important for this recipe.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Grilled Eggplant Involtini

I always do my grocery shopping by first reading the circular. I check out what is on sale, I think about what I have on hand, and I let the two macerate with a splash of creative thinking before writing out my shopping list. As much as I like being spontaneous, the fact is we're on a budget and I loathe (loathe) seeing food go to waste. I always try to use up ingredients on hand first and only purchase what we need. Fridays we tend to try to make a nice dinner together since Thom works Sunday through Thursday nights leaving us only two nights per week to have dinner together. The weather in Boston is still pretty warm, we have loads of basil on the patio and this week, locally grown eggplant is on sale.

As I started thinking about what to make with eggplant I immediately gravitated towards eggplant Parmigiano. But... living in the North End it's a staple on most restaurant menus and I wanted something a little lighter. I thought back to a recipe I learned for stuffed zucchini blossoms and decided to try my hand at a hybrid between the two. The result became this recipe for grilled eggplant involtini. Note - this recipe is meant for two. In addition to the involtini make 4 servings of a basic risotto. Save the extra filling, extra risotto, and extra vegetables to make risotto cakes with sauteed vegetables the next day. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Greek Cooking Night featuring Nahir's Lamb Burgers

My dear friend Nahir claims she cannot cook. She loves food and can wax poetic about a new restaurant or a favorite culinary experience. In my experience, people who appreciate the time, labor and love that goes into good food tend to be good cooks themselves. They can't help it - even if they haven't learned technique or are nervous cooks they respect the food and the process of cooking. Upon being pressed on this point one evening over wine she finally conceded she can make two dishes: lamb burgers and paella. I was surprised that someone who purports to lack culinary talent would name those particular dishes so of course I immediately did what any good foodie friend would do and invited her to come over and host a dinner party at my apartment.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Orange-Walnut Baklava

Sweet, rich, flaky, buttery... this is how we often think of baklava. If it's a treasured family recipe, or made by a particularly good shop, it has a melt-in-your-mouth quality that makes us yearn for more. The richness of the nuts, the warmth of the spices, the sweetness of honey and the flaky, buttery phyllo dough - it's hardly a surprise that this dessert has remained alluringly popular across generations and cultures.
In the US we think of baklava as a Greek dessert; but the history of this treasure is a little more complex.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Individual Baked Apple Crisp

Every New Englander knows that autumn is for apple picking. However, when you live in the city and have a crazy schedule, instead of having the bounty of the season in your pantry awaiting your special alchemy to turn bright and juicy apples into luscious, buttery pies you might just have two lonely little apples wondering what their fate will be. Not enough for a whole pie and not the best apples for straight eating... what to do?

Baked apples!

Since Thom was roasting a chicken last night I asked him if he would also make us baked apples for dessert. After some poking around a couple of cookbooks and online recipes, he adapted this recipe from Sunny Anderson on the Food Network to make these individual baked apple crisps:
 For his adaptation, Thom used Zestar apples and he omitted the jam and lemon juice from the original recipe (although I'd probably leave in the lemon juice). He also added minced candied ginger and dried cranberries to the topping.

They were fantastic! The apples were soft and melting while the topping was crispy on the outside and soft and slightly chewy underneath. Not only was this vastly less time consuming than an entire apple crisp, it was also a great way to control the portion sizes! I ate mine warmed up and plain, but Thom put maple syrup on his. I think it might be time to do some apple picking after all!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lahore Comes to Boston: Masi Tanvir's Pulao and Gobi

My mother's friend Tanvir is a fantastic cook. Dinner at her house is filled with fragrant meats, delicately spiced, fluffy basmati rice with crispy fried onions and vegetables heated with ginger and chilies. She has been abroad for many months and we have all missed her energetic spirit, sense of humor, friendship and yes, her excellent food. And so it came to be that last Saturday when we were enjoying dinner together that Masi and I agreed to document an evening of her cooking.
Masi's spice collection: a partial selection

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Prezza: Restaurant Review

Thom and I pass by Prezza all the time. We sometimes stop, read the menu posted outside, chat for a minute about different items, declare we're going to "go here at one point" and then continue on our way. There is just so much to choose from in this neighborhood - and we often prefer to cook together at home - that actually making it into a new restaurant (instead of an old favorite) can be a challenge.

On Friday, September 16th, along with Mom and her friend Mike (writer of Wine Tripping), the challenge was accepted.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Food for the Soul

Most of us recognize that a special meal shared with family and friends tastes better than the same meal eaten alone. Some of us have friends with whom we can happily explore a new restaurant, share recipes together, ask for cooking advice or friends on whom we test-run our new recipes. If we're really lucky we also have a friend with whom we can cook (as opposed to other friends who, although they are good cooks, we simply don't mesh well in the same kitchen).

I am incredibly fortunate to have several wonderful friends who share my love of food and cooking. But one in particular is quite simply, the platonic love of my life - my dear friend, Gaby.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Think Outside the (Brownie) Box

"I bet you never use box mixes" is a refrain I often hear from friends, sheepishly excusing their visits to the Betty Crocker or Dunkin' Hines side of town.

Who are they kidding? I know there are people out there who would rather die than eat anything that isn't a 100% locally-sourced-organic-from-scratch-lit-the fire-by rubbing-two-sticks-together brownie. To me these individuals are not foodies; they are simply snobs. I'm not suggesting we stop making baked goods from scratch - far from it - but let's not beat ourselves or each other up over brownies. There is a time and a place to think inside the box. Let me be clear - I definitely prefer fresh food over processed. I also think much of our mass produced food is damaging to our ecosystem and our health. To my mind overly processed food and fast food is a waste of time, money and our waistlines. But I also think it is equally important to pick our battles. When you read the ingredient list in a box of brownie mix, for example, and see all the same items you were going to add yourself (flour, sugar, cocoa, salt) it's time to ask ourselves whether that box mix is truly Satan's spawn or the Angel of Convenience.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In my Grandmother's Kitchen

"If you know how to cook, you can cook anywhere." ~ Elsie R. Rice

Aside from her childhood home outside Liverpool, England my grandmother lived in small rented apartments her entire life. She had little storage space and even less counter space. She began her married life in a small apartment in the Bronx and was exceedingly proud of the fact that she put dinner on the table for her husband, young son and often friends of her husband every night through the Great Depression. She did it again during WWII for her now teenage son and young daughter while her husband was overseas.

SlowFood's $5 Meal Challenge

This weekend SlowFood USA held a $5 Meal Challenge. Most of our meals are on a rather constrained budget so this seemed like a cakewalk to me. Since Thom was headed to a concert with his buddies I arranged to spend the afternoon with Mom and Masi. With the weather being so cold, Mom and I decided it was a perfect time for one of our favorite budget comfort foods: Chicken & Dumplings.

We all have memories embedded in the kitchen, or in our favorite foods, whether we are cooks or not. My grandmother was the queen of chicken & dumplings and Mom carries her torch well. Some of my happiest memories are eating the meals my mother and grandmother prepared together when I was a child. My mother's good friend Tanvir, whom my brother and I call Masi (Auntie), is an extremely accomplished cook as well. There is nothing like a dinner at Masi's house with her from-scratch Pakistani cooking. In fact, her food is so good we routinely invite ourselves over. We can't help ourselves - her cauliflower with mustard seed and fried onions are so good you come begging for more.

Tonight, however, was an evening channeled straight from the memory banks of my grandmother's repertoire. Her recipe not only produces a delicious meal, it consists of simple ingredients prepared in a straightforward manner.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cardamom-Ginger Peach Cobbler

Late summer is perfect for peaches in New England. With the peaches purchased earlier this week from Cider Hill Farm I decided to make a cobbler. We all have our way of cooking; some people wing it completely, some follow a tried and true recipe to the letter. I usually work somewhere in the middle by reading up on the experiences and recipes of others and then incorporating my own experiences and flavor palate. This particular recipe is still a work in progress but as I write there are some fantastic scents coming from my oven. Here is the process in pictures:

"Is this still good?"

I will preface this post by asking you not to be a moron. Don't eat something just because I said its probably okay. Use your best judgment and accept the consequences. I am not responsible if you get sick. I do not prepare your food or clean out your fridge. Personal responsibility, dude. Learn it. Love it. Live it. 

I grew up in a frugal household. You didn't throw out an unopened container of yogurt just because the expiration date had come and gone. You did the sniff test. Same thing with milk and anything else with a sell-by date. Green spots were cut off cheese and brown spots were cut out of fruits and vegetables. Leftovers were served for lunch or reinvented into a completely new meal the next night. (Later, my expertise in this area earned me the moniker "Queen of Leftovers"). It comes as no surprise then that about twice a month I'll receive a call, text or email from someone asking, "is this still good?"

The short answer to that question is generally yes. If it's not obvious to you by either its appearance or smell that an item has gone bad then it is generally still safe to eat.  But let's go beyond that a bit into the longer answers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day at the Farm

A good friend introduced me to Cider Hill Farm this week. On one of the hottest days we've had since August we made the 40+ mile drive out of the city to this herbaceous oasis just outside downtown Amesbury, MA.

The view up to the orchard
I expected an apple picking and cider operation plus a little farmstand. Cider Hill Farm is so much more - a fantastic fresh bakery, the ubiquitous Stonewall Kitchens products* amongst Cider Hill's own jams and honeys, refrigerated goods as well as fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm. The first thing you notice, as with most autumn farms in New England, is the heaping display of pumpkins marking the entryway. Once inside the store the display continues with tiny white and yellow gourds.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cakes on Parade

In my quest to develop the ultimate chocolate cake recipe I have been fortunate enough to create, and therefore eat, many amazing cakes. Here are just a few of my more memorable attempts...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Facciamo la pasta!

Living in the North End I am constantly asked, "what's your favorite restaurant?" I know people would love to hear a succinct answer but the fact is it depends on what I'm eating. I go to Maria's Pastry for cannoli and rainbow cookies; but if it's after 7pm and Maria's is closed (or I want some torrone with my cannoli) I go to Modern Pastry. If I want tiramisu I go to Villa Francesca. I also go to Villa Francesca for the house salad which is truly the most life changing house salad in town. For wine I go to The Wine Bottega (helloooo Friday night wine tastings!) If I want pizza and I'm alone I go to Ernesto's. If I'm with a friend Il Panino Express. And if I'm with out-of-towners Pizzeria Regina.

But if I want pasta, I stay home.


Thank You, Boston

I love my city. I love my country and I love my state but I especially love my city. I know that my husband and I are incredibly fortunate to live in the North End, the oldest neighborhood in Boston. With each step down these narrow, dirty and overly inhabited streets I see history unfurl before me like a well-loved quilt patched with moments from before my time.

I'm not a flag-waving-love-it-or-leave-it-you-pinko-punk kind of patriot but I love my city. I know that I could never do the job it takes to protect our little corner of the world and I marvel at the fact that I ended up married to a man who not only works a tough evening-nighttime schedule but does so in one of the most thankless civilian jobs available in our city. I am still amazed at the fact that he goes to work every day happy to work in a job that exposes him to the worst kind of folks and some great folks who happen to be at their worst or experiencing their worst moments.

These last few weeks surrounding the anniversary of September 11th have been tough on all Americans and many in the 90 other nations who lost citizens in the heinous crimes perpetrated that day. My eyes well up even writing these words.

What could I do? What could I possibly say to anyone about how it feels to remember, to reflect, to hope for better? What could I do to let those few and brave men and women who get up every day to keep my corner of my beloved city safe and beautiful know that I appreciate them?

It sounds trite. It sounds silly. But I could make cookies.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Masa - Upscale Southwest in the South End

I took advantage of the cool September evening last night to venture out of my beloved North End neighborhood to walk to the equally food-centric South End where I met up with Mom and Maya for dinner at Masa.

I had never been to Masa and didn't really know anything about it. I was pleasantly surprised to find an unassuming space with a shabby-chic vibe complimented by simple wrought iron decor. The bar and lounge area was pretty well filled for early evening on a Thursday but I was thrilled with the extra row of seating in front of wide open windows. Who doesn't love a little people watching in the South End while waiting for their friends to arrive?

New Look, Same Great Taste

Welcome to my new home on blogger!  My former blog detailing my life as a culinary student was no longer productive for my current incarnation as a domestic goddess. I hope you brought your appetite for fresh new Cake!