Thursday, December 29, 2011

Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Mousse - Wine Flight Pt. 4

On the morning of Christmas Eve I woke up feeling a little risque. I looked at myself in the mirror, and I said, "Laura, you're going to be a bad ass today. You're going to put sugar and water in a saucepan, and watch it turn into a beautiful brown bubbly caramel. But you know what else, you crazy rebel? You're going to do it without a candy thermometer." 
And I did.
And it turned out SO PERFECT.
And it was my first caramel, ever!
And then I put dark chocolate into it, and I ate a spoonful and died and went to heaven.
But then I didn't stop there! I added eggs and turned it into a mousse, and topped it with salt.
Are you still breathing?
I barely am.

You know those desserts you taste and they are so mind-blowingly good you fall to the floor after the first bite? If you don't know those desserts, make this mousse so you can understand what passing out over caramel and chocolate is all about. Even if you don't want to make a mousse, just make the chocolate caramel and drink it, or drizzle it over ice cream or brownies. Whatever you prefer.
It's worth it, promise!

Dark Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Seeds - Wine Flight Pt. 4

Dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds.
A dessert that gives you double the antioxidants?!
Say whaaaaa?
I know.  You're welcome!
And the best part? 
The juices from the poms go pop in your mouth.
It's a juicy chocolate little morsel!
Perfect for the holidays, and perfect for everyday.

Herb Roasted Lamb Chops with Red Wine Reduction - Wine Flight Pt. 3

Hey! Want a recipe for the most tender, most flavorful, most WOW WOW WOW WOW lamb chops in all the lands?
I'm giving it to you right now.
Happy New Year!

Herb Roasted Lamb Chops
(recipe from Epicurious)

4 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, lightly crushed
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 1 1/4-inch-thick lamb loin chops

Mix first 4 ingredients and 1 tablespoon olive oil in large bowl. Add lamb; turn to coat. Let marinate at room temperature at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Add lamb; cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer skillet to oven and roast lamb chops to desired doneness, about 10 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer lamb to platter, cover, and let rest 5 minutes.

Red Wine Reduction Sauce
(adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

1 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Place a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic to the pan and saute for 30 seconds. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and add the chopped rosemary. Cook the red wine until it is nearly evaporated, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the stock to the pan and season with 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, and reduce to a gentle boil. Reduce the stock until its volume is 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Set the sauce aside and keep warm while you prepare the lamb.

Crab Cakes & Spicy Aioli - Wine Flight Pt. 2

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Strawberry Goat Cheese Bruschetta - Wine Flight Pt. 1

also known as:
"This Will Leave You Speechless Bruschetta"
No jokes! Strawbs, goat cheese, basil, and balsamic? It's genius, really.
And aren't they such little beauts?
They were so pretty for Christmas, but would be even better in the summertime, when strawberries are in peak season here.
I understand if you can't wait.
I couldn't either. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Eve Wine Flight

My family had the BEST Christmas Eve this year.
Together my mom and I planned an amazing four course food and wine flight.
It was fun, beautiful, delicious and so enjoyable.

The details:
4 rooms/tablescapes
4 wine pairings (2 white, 2 red)
4 mini courses
  1. Strawberry & Goat Cheese Bruschetta
  2. Crab Cakes with Spicy aioli
  3. Herb Roasted Lamb Chops with Red Wine Reduction
  4. Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Mousse & Dark Chocolate Covered Pomegranate Seeds
I did all of the cooking and HAD A BLAST. It was a lot of work, but so worth it. Everything turned out perfectly!! Mom picked the wines and did all of the decorating for the four tables/rooms. She even found wine-themed napkins that had trivia questions on each one for a fun, interactive twist and printed out details describing each wine we were tasting! We spent all evening eating, tasting and having fun.
I will be posting more pictures and recipes for each course this week.
Major deliciousness. Major.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Moving Out and Moving On

On Sunday Eric and I, alone (not so happy about that aspect), moved ourselves out of our apartment, into a U-Haul, then into a storage unit.
We then had appetites like savage beasts, so treated ourselves to sandwiches and brewskies at our beloved Kiss Cafe. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Ballard for awhile.

After spending the day whining cleaning on Monday, we are officially out and feeling good about leaving our moisture-ridden, cold and smelly apartment. On to bigger and better things!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mushroom Bourguignon

It's time for serious talk.
Earlier today I was texting and I wanted to write, "bummer" but instead, completely by accident and with such ease, typed "butter".
Then I stopped in my tracks.
And I asked myself, "Butter?! Really, Laura?"
Who have I become? PAULA DEEN?!???
At first I found this worrisome.
But now I've just decided to embrace it. Yeah, I think about butter a lot. So much so that it pops out and replaces every day words in every day conversation. So what?
That's just my thing now.
And besides, being the next Queen of Down South Cooking wouldn't be so bad, would it? I'd just need to work on my twang some.

You know what else is my thing?
This mushroom bourguignon. (Did you just pretend you knew how to pronounce that word by saying it really fast, and kind of quiet, in a french accent? No? Oh. Me neither.)
Well, even though this bourguignon doesn't contain beef, it still kicks some major arse.
But anything cooked in wine does, let's be honest.
It's really comforting, too.
Eric told me after the first bite, it reminded him of something his mom used to make growing up.
I said, "my cooking has brought back memories of your childhood????!?!?!!!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

Our Friday Night


pizza and wine!

I also pulled out my journal from our trip to Guatemala a few years back. Tonight, in anticipation of our upcoming trip, we are reminiscing about countless hours of bus rides, early morning rooster calls, amazing horchata and huevos rancheros, hilariously painful horseback rides, suspension bridges and monkeys, sketchy ziplining, tree houses, volcano hiking and lava smores, waterfall and bridge jumping, bat caves and tarantulas, Mayan ruins, and much much more. 
23 more days until we create more memories like these!

guatemala 2009 - improvisation at its finest

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cranberry Apple Crisp

Round two of our epic battle of the berries, is...
..the rustic,
..the sweet,
..the tart,
..the beautiful and divine...

So remember how I told you to give yourself a gift this holiday season, and let it be the pear cranberry and gingersnap crumble?
I changed my mind.
Let it be the pear cranberry and gingersnap crumble AND this cranberry apple crisp.
You need both.
It's no big deal.
Just make them and sit in the kitchen and eat them both straight out of the oven. With ice cream. By yourself.
Or you can share, I guess.
I mean it is Christmas, after all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pear Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble

I'm excited to announce there is about to be a show-down in this here apartment.
And maaan, this is a good match-up if there ever was one!

Pears and cranberries and crumble heaven  
Apples and cranberries and crisp magic

Are you as excited as I am?
You should be, dang it!

First up...
Pear, cranberry and gingersnap crumble. Oozes holidays, right? It's beautiful and perfect in every way.
I mean that. It's perfectly balanced, down to the sweetness from the pears, the tartness from the cranberries, the spices from the gingersnaps, and the textures from the crumble.
Are you looking to give yourself a gift this Christmas?
Let it be this crumble.
Trust me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Spicy Kale Lasagna

For dinner last night, I wanted to incorporate an ingredient I rarely use in the kitchen, and something that Eric may have never even tried before (I was right - he thought kale was arugula). After browsing through some saved recipes, I decided on spicy kale lasagna.
So I told Eric: I'm fixing a spicy kale lasagna for dinner. Keep an open mind!
He replied: That sounds delicious.
I said: You're such a champ.
He said: It's easy to be with your cooking.
Not that I ever doubted him for one second, but holy moly this one's a real KEEPER, folks. We're talkin' flattery to the max!

Seriously though, we both absolutely LOVED this dish. It's so so good. Eric wanted to eat like 3/4 of the pan, but I told him we needed leftovers so we could have it again tonight.
If you love kale, and you're looking for a little spicy zippiness in your life, make this dish and do a little dance!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Salted Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Double Chocolate.
Peanut Butter.
Course Salt.

Enough said?
Enough said. (Make them and see for yourself!)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

My mom told me back in the day, coconut macaroons were all the rage. I'm not sure when back in the day was, but I'm guessing it was when big hair and big glasses were all the rage, too. Mom pulled those off amazingly well. I have pictures to prove it.
Coconut macaroons used to be my dad's all time favorite cookie, so my mom would make them for him every so often. Being the huge coconut fan that I am, too, when mom pulled up this new recipe, we knew we were going to incorporate these into our holiday baking.
These cookies are several things. 1. so stinkin' easy to make. 2. insanely scrumptious. 3. dangerously addicting.  
No, seriously. Try to eat just one. Doesn't work.

Confession: Mom and I gave most of these away as gifts, keeping less than one dozen for her and my dad and me and Eric. Since I knew they were dad's favs, I told her I'd just take two home. I left their house and ate both in my car before I even got on the freeway. Oopsies...
sorry, Eric.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli

My favorite thing right now is cooking with fresh herbs. Especially rosemary and thyme.
This italian soup is simmered with numerous sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme and it makes all the difference in the world. The flavors that were able to develop in the broth are seriously delicious.
Add some veggies, some beans, a little bit of pasta and you have yourself a pretty yummy and hearty meal!
Oh, and this soup wouldn't be complete without some baked rosemary potato bread.
Is that a rosemary overload? Nah.

Ps. I'm dying. I haven't made any dessert lately and it's truly killing me. SOOO...I've picked out FOUR recipes I'm going to be trying out in the next few weeks. Stayed tuned for some serious yum action. It's happening.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Date Day/Night

Eric has been working a ton the past month or so, trying to come up with as much money as possible before our big trip. Consequently, I've only been seeing him for a few hours in the evening, before we go to bed.
BUT yesterday, Eric only worked for a few hours in the morning, and was home by 12:15pm, so we got to spend the day together! We had such a great day, too.
I didn't do any cooking, but I just wanted to write about our fun day and how much we love/are going to miss Ballard.
When Eric got home, we walked down to our beloved Kiss Cafe for a coffee and appetizer date. We had (too much) coffee and split a breakfast quesadilla, so we could try one of the owner's homemade hot sauce. Delish!
Afterward, we walked around Ballard and ended up perusing our favorite music spots, Sonic Boom and Bop Street Records. We picked up FOUR new used CDs: two blues, a hip-hop of sorts, and the Crazy Heart soundtrack. Back to the apartment we went to have a listen and a glass of wine.
THEN we walked down to this amazing Indian restaurant on Market Ave for dinner and then drove downtown to the movies to see Moneyball (we had free movie tickets!).
Is that not the best date day and night ever?
Yes. It was.
The coffee, the music, the wine, the food, the movie, AND the company was all perfect.

About 10 days left until we completely pack this place up and leave...
but I'm keeping my fingers crossed we'll find our way back to Ballard some day.

Holiday Party Favs: Pulled Pork and Prosciutto Wrapped Roasted Asparagus

Every year my mom hosts a holiday party at the house for all of her managers/employees. This year I was there to help her through every step of the way. Let me tell you what, hosting a party is HARD WORK. We were cooking and cleaning and prepping all. day. long. It is fun though, when everything comes together and is beautifully presented and you get loads of compliments on the food!
This year we had two big hits.
Over Thanksgiving, we were mulling over food ideas for the party, and thought about buying a spiral ham and turkey and some mini buns and having people make little sandwiches for something a little more hearty. Then I had the (brilliant, if I do say so myself) idea of making the pork carnitas recipe from the Pantry again, but adding a barbeque sauce after it's done to create (quasi) pulled pork for sandwiches.
Seriously, it was amazing. People were raving. People are still raving.
If I didn't convince you in the previous entry that this is the best pork recipe ever, I darn well better be convincing you now.
I'll admit, I was a little nervous at first, because it's not quite the same consistency. After I added the BBQ sauce, it appeared to get mushy, but then I thought we could throw it in the crock pot set on low and that way it would hopefully brown up a bit, or char a little on the edges. It did just that AND the flavored deepened even more. SO fab.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Broiled Rosemary Salmon & Roasted Winter Vegetables

I'm going crazy over a couple of things.
First, (and don't poke fun) is The Eagles - Please Come Home For Christmas playing on my speakers right now. SO GOOD! There are just a few Christmas tunes that really get me in the spirit, ya know? Like this one, and pretty much any redition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Especially Kenny G's.
The Eagles and Kenny G. Who AM I?

The second thing I'm crazy for right now are these two recipes I'm posting. YUM. YUM. YUM. in all caps doesn't do it enough justice.
The simplicity. The flavors. The fresh herbs. The health.
The FLAVORS. The FRESH HERBS. They are there. And they are speaking volumes to me.
Let them speak volumes to you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Okay..where did November go?
Does anyone know?

The end of November and rapid coming of December means Eric and I go into over drive to get things done before our trip, and before we move out in 20 days. (But let's be honest, I'm SUPER planner, so we are WAY ahead of schedule. And that's the way it should be.)
This morning was filled with walking around Ballard running errands, which included paying our LAST rent for this apartment.
Leaving this apartment will be bittersweet. But mostly sweet.
We've thought about leaving this apartment for a loong time now.. with it's microscopic kitchen with absolutely NO counter space and had a VERY infuriating ant INVASION, a bathroom that literally just consists of a toilet, standing sink and shower, a bedroom that now has water stains all over the walls and a ceiling that looks like it might come crashing in at any given moment. Why would we want to leave?
Oh did I mention the mold problem? Funny story. We love mold..
Our first few months of living here, we couldn't afford a bed, so we slept on an air mattress. One day I lifted up the blankets and sheets to find our air mattress was completely covered in black mold. Yes, that was our life and a fun day.
But I must say, our apartment has come a long way since then. We've managed and definitely made it bearable. And if anything, we've come away with lots of funny, great stories to look back on from our very first place together. You live and you learn, right?
In between our day of trying to cross things off our never ending pre-travel list, we walked down to Ballard's adorable old theater and saw The Muppets. As big Jason Segel fans, it was a must-see. It was SUPER cute and had lots of funny parts - even for adults.
Before the movie, I whipped me and Eric up a Mediterranean orzo salad.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Southwest-Style Stuffed Peppers

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
I certainly did.
And guess what? This year, I didn't even have to unbutton my pants or roll around on the floor in pain from eating too much!
That's right, self control people. I gots it.
But after a week of rich food and dessert, I am now in health(ier) food mode. Eric and I are feeling the aftermath.
So THIS week we're going to bring in lots of veggies and fruit. Mostly vegetarian meals, but some seafood, too.
I know I've already posted a stuffed pepper recipe, but recently I've been brainstorming ways I can change up the flavors and make it vegetarian.
Keeping the flavorful spanish rice as the base, I thought about adding beans, corn, jalapenos and cilantro to make it Southwest/Tex-Mex style. It turned out as wonderful as I imagined! And I can't wait to use the leftover stuffing for another meal later this week!

Laura's Southwest-Style Stuffed Peppers
Serves about 4

4 Red Bell Peppers, tops removed and seeded
1 box Near East Spanish Rice
1 can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 jalapeno, minced (or green chiles for a milder flavor - or both!)
1 can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can organic chili or pinto beans, drained
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet yellow corn (do not used canned)
2-3 tbsp cilantro
Salt, pepper, chili powder/cayenne/red pepper flakes (whatever you're into) to taste
Hot sauce, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare spanish rice as directed.
Boil prepared peppers in large pot on rapid boil for 10-15 minutes, or until soft.
In a large skillet add olive oil over medium heat.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Raw Salted "Caramel" Apple Dip

We've been indulging a lot in this here Ballard apartment lately.
It's not my fault I love butter and cream cheese and dessert and carbs. It's not.
Hey, at least when we do indulge, it's almost always home cooking done without the use of processed foods and unnatural ingredients.
This week, I've decided to try to prepare some healthier dinner/snacks/desserts for me and Eric. Last night, I started with that amazing pasta dish I posted and today I tried something entirely new for me.
The lovely Sarah from My New Roots, posts endless unique and healthy recipes for diets of all kinds, including vegan, gluten-free, and raw food. Seeing as it's fall and Washington is currently experiencing an apple explosion, it only seemed fitting that I recreate her Raw Salted Caramel Apple Dip.
I love caramel and caramel apples, especially this time of year. Unfortunately, caramel doesn't love me back. Or my belly and thighs, for that matter. Rude.
BUT Sarah's caramel isn't really caramel at all. It's made with dates and almond butter, which are two things that tend to be much nicer to your belly, butt and thighs.
If you have a deep and true hankering for caramel, then maybe this isn't for you. But if you're looking for a dip that deliciously mimicks the flavor then this is perfect for you and for apples and bananas and probably carrots and celery, too! Give it a try, it's really great!

Raw Salted Caramel Apple Dip
(Adapted from My New Roots)

2 cups pitted Medjool dates
¼ cup raw almond butter
4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. sea salt (or more to taste)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
soaking water as needed

1. Soak dates for at least 4 hours in water.
2. Drain dates, reserving the soak water.
3. Add dates to a food processor along with all other ingredients, except for soaking water. Blend on high until dates are smooth. Add soaking water, 1 tablespoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached (for a sauce to pour or drizzle, add more water).
4. Store in an airtight glass container in the fridge for up to a week.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spinach Linguine with Artichokes and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

You guys, this pasta is so light, healthy and flavorful, it features so many of my favorite ingredients, AND it's vegetarian!
I'm in love. Eric's in love.
We're all in love.

Today was the perfect fall day. No rain, but blustery so the beautifully colored leaves were blowing off the trees and around the streets. Eric and I were bundled up with hats and scarves and coffees, and spent the day wandering around Ballard and Fremont's Sunday markets and boutiques/shops on each main strip.
This fresh pasta dish was a great way to end a lovely day of walking and shopping. So easy and definitely delicious!

Spinach Linguine with Artichokes and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
(Inspired by Whole Food Market Recipes, Serves 2-4)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (12 oz.) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and halved
2-3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 8oz. package dried spinach linguine, cooked until tender, drained (1/4 cup pasta water reserved)
1/2-3/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to directions.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add artichokes, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and cook for about 1-2 minutes. Add wine and simmer until just thickened. Stir in reserved 1/4 cup pasta water, sun-dried tomatoes and thyme then add cooked pasta, salt and pepper and toss well. Transfer pasta to bowls, garnish with cheese and serve.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

French Onion Soup

Soup season is officially here! Well, for me, soup season is every season, but I do love associating it with the coolers temperatures of fall and winter. (And next week, Seattle has SNOW in its forecast!) So how amazing does it sound snuggling up inside with a bowl of hot soup and a blanket on the couch? Pretty darn good.
I love soup so much. No seriously, so much.
Can I make a weird confession?
In high school, I went through a (probably unhealthy) soup obsession. In the morning before school, I would skip breakfast and go straight to lunch when I woke up. Yes, soup for breakfast. At 6:30AM. So what?
Okay, I know, that's a little really strange, but that tells you my love for soup is real.

When I was living in Spain, I was in soup heaven. My host mother was not only an amazing cook, but she loved to make soups/stews that were to die for! Amongst all of the students studying abroad, a popular topic of conversation seemed to be what everyone's host families cooked for them. I remember when Eric and I were getting to know each other one night we were talking about the food we had been eating, and I told him how over the moon I was that my host mom made us spectacular soups, almost every day. And I'll never forget this, he told me, "I don't really like soup."
My heart sank. I died a little right then, and as I was reassessing our relationship I knew I had two choices.
1. I could end it right then and there.
2. I could eventually try to teach him how to love and appreciate soup.
All things considered, I opted for number two and since that day I've made it a mission to get Eric to LOVE soup. Yes, even the "brothy" kind (as he puts it).
So far, my track record has been exceptional. We can't think of a soup I've made that he didn't enjoy. Chilis, lentil soups, tortilla soup, baked potato soup, etc..he's liked them all!
When I was flipping through my new Mastering the Art of French Cooking book and I saw Julia Child's french onion soup recipe, I knew I had to make it, but wondered how Eric would feel about a soup, that was brothy, and had (essentially) one ingredient.
Folks, he felt pretty darn great about it. He loved it, in fact, and ate every last drop in his bowl. Let's take this time to give it up for me.
I'm really liking where this is going...MORE SOUP coming up!

Soupe à l’Oignon, or French Onion Soup
(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt, plus additional to taste
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts (8 cups) beef or other brown stock (Porcini or mushroom stock are a robust vegetarian substitution)
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cognac or brandy (optional, but I used Courvoisier)

1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 to 2 cups (to taste) grated Swiss or a mixture of Swiss and Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter or olive oil
12 to 16 1-inch thick rounds French bread, toasted until hard

*The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes the perfect brew.*

Melt the butter and oil together in the bottom of a 4- to 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over moderately low heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to real low and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, uncover the pot, raise the heat to moderate and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook onions, stirring frequently, for 30 to 40 minutes until they have turned an even, deep golden brown. DON'T cheat on this step; this is what builds that deep rich flavor base that will carry the rest of the soup.

After the onions are fully caramelized, sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the wine in full, then stock, a little at a time, stirring between additions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 more minutes, skimming if needed. Correct seasonings if needed. Stir in the cognac or brandy.
Set aside, uncovered until needed. Then reheat to the simmer.

For garnish:
Preheat oven to 325. Arrange six ovenproof soup bowls or crocks on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Bring the soup back to a boil and divide among six bowls. To each bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon grated raw onion and a tablespoon of grated cheese. Stir to combine. Dab your croutons with a tiny bit of butter and float a few on top of your soup bowls, attempting to cover it. Mound grated cheese on top of it; how much you use will be up to you. Bake soups on tray for 20 minutes, then preheat broiler. Finish for a minute or two under the broiler to brown the top lightly. Grab pot holders, and serve immediately.

**Sorry, I don't have a picture of my delicous french onion soup. I realized it's very hard to make this soup look pretty. But I'm sure you can imagine the beautiful caramelized onions, the toasted french bread with ooey gooey cheese melted all over the top and when you take a bite a long string of cheese attaches itself to your chin and you struggle to get it off, but you actually just don't really mind so you go on eating. Got it in your head now? Good.

Also, here's what a traditional lunch looked like at my house in Spain. Oh yeah you know, only 8 plates of food and a loaf of french bread for two people, no big deal. We got this. Every day.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala

When I'm not thinking about becoming a successful pastry chef and opening up an ADORABLE bakery, I think about opening up a cute, homey little cafe/diner where I would serve delicious comfort food all day every day. People would leave with full bellies and smiles on their faces as they've been flooded with nostalgia of their childhoods. (I said I like to dream BIG, remember?)
Seriously though, nobody can resist comfort food. I know this for a fact.
I'd like to see you try to say no to a steaming hot plate of homemade mac n cheese in your face, or chicken pot pie, or green bean casserole. Don't kid yourself, you can't do it.
If, someday, this diner of mine springs up, I know what my first menu item would be. Chicken and mushroom marsala and homemade garlic mashed potatoes. And maybe I would throw a veggie in that mix too, just for good measure. (We had it with steamed asparagus)
This dish is classic, it's comforting, and its insanely delicious. The flavors that are achieved in just a short 20-30 minutes are to die for. This is a meal that is meant to be savored.

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala
(Inspired/Adapted from recipes from Epicurious & Emeril)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in halves and pounded thin
1/4 cup flour
About teaspoon each of:
salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, dried thyme, dried oregano, and cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 onion, sliced thin
3/4 pound white button mushrooms, sliced thin
3/4 cup Marsala
1 cup chicken broth, low sodium
cornstarch for thickening
minced fresh parsley for garnish

On a plate combine the flour and seasonings and stir to combine thoroughly. Quickly dredge the chicken breast halves in the seasoned flour mixture, shaking to remove any excess flour.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and cook the chicken breasts until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter to the pan and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are golden brown around the edges and have given off their liquid. Add the Marsala wine and bring to a boil, scraping to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has reduced by half, add the chicken stock and cook until the sauce has thickened slightly. If sauce does not thicken to likening, add a cornstarch/chicken stock mixture to increase thickness.
Lower the heat to medium and return the chicken breasts to the pan and continue to cook until they are cooked through and the sauce has thickened, about 5 to 6 minutes. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, add salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pumpkin-Orange Cheesecake

After spending the first few hours of my Saturday morning reading alone on the couch(not complaining), I got a call from my mom wondering what I was up to. After quickly realizing I didn't want to spend the day couped up alone in my apartment, my mom and I decided to use the weekend to cook and bake together (pretty much my favorite kind of weekend). Thirty minutes later, I was off to Arlington.
A few weeks ago, my dad found a cheesecake recipe in the new Sunset magazine. Once he read the words 'salted caramel' he HAD to have it, and has been desperate for my mom and I to make it ever since. I'm pretty sure I saw drool on the pages when he handed us the recipe. (It happens to the best of us).
When we got home from the grocery store, after getting everything we needed for the weekend, I suggested that we have a glass of wine while we bake. My mom simply replied, "Well, YEAH. You think Julia never drank wine while SHE baked? Come on! You've heard her voice in some of those videos!"
..insert mine and mom's imitations of Julia's voice here...
Alright, so I've come to a few conclusions. Either Julia never really drank while she baked OR she holds a glass of wine much better than we I do.
We had a few mishaps. No big deal.
So I may have forgot to set the cream cheese and eggs at room temperature before we got everything started. That's okay. We just put everything on pause for thirty minutes or so and drank more wine.
So I almost forgot to add the pumpkin to our pumpkin cheesecake. Meh. I caught it just in time! (Mom told me no more wine til' dinner.)
So my mom wrapped the baking pan in foil far before she was supposed to. Didn't matter!
Because our cheesecake turned out beautiful and perfect and beautiful!
Tis' the season! The decadent holiday baking has commenced!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Taqueria Mexicana

I've never been more serious in my life. If you don't already live in Seattle, you need to move here NOW so you can take a cooking class at the Pantry at Delancey and learn how to cook a meal like the one I just made tonight. This place is that amazing. The food is that good.

I heard about the Pantry at Delancey before it was even open, through Molly Wizenberg's blog, Orangette. Her and her husband started up the beloved pizza restaurant, Delancey, here in Ballard and a few years later her husband and two friends founded the Pantry at Delancey! This place is an incredible community kitchen that offers a WIDE array of cooking classes, family style dinners, and catering. Upon entering their facility, you walk up a path surrounded by beautiful gardens growing produce they use daily. The Pantry at Delancey places a strong emphasis on where and how they get their foods, offering only the best and most trusted resources. Since opening in July, their classes and family dinners are known to sell out the same day they are posted. So far though, I have been lucky enough to attend a cooking class AND a family style dinner: Taqueria Mexicana and Down South Dinner.
This place truly has it going on. I would be in total heaven if I could learn under the two main gals that run that place...maybe someday. A girl can dream, right?

One of my best friends and myself attended the Taqueria Mexicana cooking class. Let me tell you, it EXCEEDED our expectations by a mile. We were truly blown away. In one night we learned how to make flour and corn tortillas, pork carnitas, queso fresco, tomatillo salsa, and two different versions of guacamole. Not only did we receive step-by-step and hands-on instruction, we got to FEAST on the fruits of our labor AND take home recipes for everything! On top of all the mouth-watering foods I already named, they put out corn tortilla chips, homemade cabbage slaw and radishes for our tacos, Dos Equis beer and homemade horchata for dessert! Is your jaw to the floor? It should be!
The food was mind-blowingly good, and the pork carnitas stole the show. That pork was so tender it literally melted in your mouth.
My friend and I were so unbelievably full at the end, I'm pretty sure we had to unbutton our pants on the way home. Worth it? UM YES!

Ever since that night, I have been telling everyone about the class and about how amazing the food was and I've been dying to recreate that night at home. The true test is if you can do what they taught you ALONE, in YOUR own kitchen! So yesterday I had the day off and I decided to dedicate the day to this meal.
On my menu:
Corn Tortillas
Pork Carnitas
Tomatillo Salsa
Corn Chips (not homemade)

Everything turned out perfectly. The pork was melt in your mouth, fork tender and so flavorful. The tomatillo salsa was so fresh (tomatillo salsas and chile verde are my absolute favs)! The corn tortillas were so fun to roll out and tasted authentic and homemade. And the guacamole delicious as always. This meal was SUCH a success, I'm so proud! (Recipes coming soon)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween Weekend and What I'm Reading

Eric and I left Seattle late Friday night and drove down to Portland for an extended weekend trip to visit my brother and friends.
We had known since August that we would be making the trip South over Halloween weekend and thought we had pretty set plans. But last minute, our itinerary changed. We never planned on driving down Friday night. But it's a good thing we did.
You always hear stories about people being in the wrong place at the wrong time; but not as many the other way around. Last Friday night, and the weekend in general, Eric and I were in the right place, at the right time. It wasn't the weekend we had expected, but I left feeling like we made an important impact in someone's life who means the world to me, and that's all that matters.

A Portland trip would be incomplete if I didn't make it to Powell's Bookstore. In anticipation for my upcoming trip, I got a few travel books that I'm so excited about:
Travelers' Tales: Food : True Stories of Life on the Road.
"Many people will tell you that they travel, in large part, to eat, to break bread with strangers and leave the table with friends, and to discover the world through the medium of cuisine. This special edition in the Travelers' Tales series collects stories that further the proposition that humanity is revealed through cuisine just as surely as it is through any other art or social activity."
Is this book not absolutely perfect for me? I love it so far! The stories are so heartwarming and uplifting and the book is littered with amazing quotes, which I adore.
"As the belly fills, so fills the heart." One of my favs.

The other book I picked up is called The Kindness of Strangers. I always get a bit anxious about crime and danger before I travel, so I thought it would help me if I read a book like this. "A timely collection of 26 inspiring tales, The Kindness of Strangers explores the unexpected human connections that so often transfigure and transform the experience of travel, and celebrates the gift of kindess around the world."

I can only hope that throughout our travels, Eric and I make amazing connections with the people of Ecuador and Peru, and others we meet from around the world. I so hope we recieve numerous opportunities to eat and break bread with others and leave the table with friends.

P.S. Eric won the Pumpkin Carving Contest at Kiss Cafe!! The Thursday night before we left for Portland, Eric and I took pumpkins down to Kiss for their annual carving contest, dinner and beers. The place was filled to the brim with people carving - it was so festive and so much fun! Everyone kept commenting on Eric's unique pumpkin and he said he had a good feeling he might win it. Sure enough, upon returning on Monday, we found out he took it home! They spoiled him too - he won a tshirt, a sweatshirt, any beer of his choice (he picked a $16 beer...) and they are sending his personal beer glass in to get a pumpkin engraved in it. I'm so jealous.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Risotto: Two Ways

Due to my recent confusion/uncertainty/insecurities/what-have-yous about my current job situation and my future job situation, I have been trying to read some inspiring or uplifting literature.
My friend Natasha recommended The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, to me last week when we got together for dinner and conversation. I quickly checked it out at the library and finished it in two days.
In his last few months of life, Pausch, a Professor at Carnegie Mellon, offers some amazing wisdom and inspiration. While his whole "lecture" speaks to me at great depths, a few sections are screaming at me right now, more than others.
Chapter 28: Dream Big. "Give yourself permission to dream."
Chapter 51: No Job Is Beneath You. "No job should be beneath us. And if you can't (or won't) start at the bottom (like sort mail), where is the proof that you can do anything?"
Chapter 53: Never Give Up. He writes, "If you want something badly enough, never give up (and take a boost when offered). Brick walls are there for a reason. And once you get over them - even if someone has practically had to throw you over - it can be helpful to others to tell them how you did it." Never give up. Seems simple enough.
Chapter 55: All You Have to Do Is Ask. "Sometimes, all you have to do is ask, and it can lead to all your dreams coming true. Ask those questions. Just ask them. More often than you'd suspect, the answer you'll get is, "Sure.""
In the coming months, especially after I get back from my South America trip, I'm going to take many of Pausch's words of wisdom and advice into action and just dive in. There's no other way.

In other food-related news, I made risotto twice this week. Risotto gets me thinking about another important life lesson, "Patience is a virtue."
If you don't have patience, you can just go ahead and dismiss the following recipes. BUT if you do have even just a little, you'll come out with two ooey gooey, creamy, flavorful dishes. And let's be honest, who can resist ooey gooey? No one.

Tomato and Sausage Risotto
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Martha Stewart Everyday)

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground hot Italian sausage
1 small onion, finely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed (or garlic powder)
1 teaspoon (or so) oregano
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 bunch baby spinach, washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 2-3 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter
(This risotto is remniscent of pasta/pizza with its flavors, but much more magical. I promise.)

In a small saucepan, combine tomatoes (with their juice), 2 cups broth, and 1 cup water. Bring just to a simmer; keep warm over low heat. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add sausage, onion, garlic, and seasonings. Cook, breaking up sausage with a spoon, until sausage is browned and onion has softened.

Add rice; cook, stirring until well coated, then add wine; cook, stirring until absorbed.

Add about 2 cups hot tomato mixture to rice; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until absorbed. Continue adding tomato mixture, 1 cup at a time, waiting for one cup to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring occasionally, until rice is creamy and tender (you may not have to use all the liquid). This step took me about 45+ minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in spinach, Parmesan, and butter. Serve immediately (risotto will thicken as it cools).

Sun-dried Tomato Risotto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed (or garlic powder)
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 bunch baby spinach, washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 2-3 cups)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup goat cheese
1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
*Next time I would add: seasoned chicken breast and asparagus.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups broth, and 1 cup water. Bring just to a simmer; keep warm over low heat. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion has softened.
Add rice; cook, stirring until well coated, then add wine; cook, stirring until absorbed.

Add about 1 cup hot broth to rice; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until absorbed. Continue adding broth, 1 cup at a time, waiting for one cup to be absorbed before adding the next, stirring occasionally, until rice is creamy and tender.

Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, (chicken and cooked asparagus)Parmesan and goat cheese, and butter. Serve immediately!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Herb Crusted Chicken with Feta Sauce

I know, it appears like all Eric and I eat is dessert and/or baked goods.
This is mostly true.
But SOMETIMES, just sometimes, I try to be a little healthier and mix it up a tad.

I love the flavors of Greek food. The lamb, the falafel, the tzatziki sauce, the tomatoes and cucumber and onion, the hummus. I love it all!
And while ordering a gyro or a greek plate out is incredibly tasty, it is also laden with SO many calories (whether we choose to believe this or not).
I didn't make homemade gyros or anything. BUT I did make a dinner that is somewhat Greek-inspired, chock full of flavor AND super fresh. The best part is, it's quite healthy!
I served the chicken over a bed of vegetable orzo. Greek-style green beans (recipe below) and chopped tomatoes and cucumbers also accompanied the meal. Delish!

Herb-Crusted Chicken with Feta Sauce
(Cooking Light recipe)
2/3 cup whole wheat panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
4 (6 oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 teaspoons EVOO
6 tablespoons Feta Sauce

Feta Sauce
1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
4 teaspoons EVOO
1 package reduced-fat feta cheese, crumbled (I used tomato & basil seasoned feta)
pinch of black pepper

To make chicken: Combine panko and Italian seasoning in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in panko mixture.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes or until browned. Turn chicken over; reduce heat to medium, and cook another 5 minutes, or until done. Place 1 chicken breast on plate and spoon Feta Sauce over each serving!

To make sauce: Grate rind and squeeze lemon to measure 1/2 teaspoon and 2 tablespoons(rind, juice). Combine rind, juice, mint, oil, and pepper in small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add cheese, stirring with a whisk.

Greek-Style Green Beans
(adapted from Cooking Light recipe)
12 oz. fresh green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup shallots, sliced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon EVOO
pinch black pepper

Cook beans for a few minutes in boiling pot of water over high heat. Plunge beans into ice water, then drain. Place beans in skillet over medium heat with olive oil, shallots, and garlic and sautee until shallots are translucent and beans start to become tender. Place in large bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Banana Cream Pie + 3 Years

Today is a special day.
Today marks exactly three years since mine and Eric's love story first began(And let me tell you, it's one for the books).
Three years, people. We're kind of a big deal now.
So I feel like today is the perfect day to document how Eric and I met, since I love the story oh-so-much, and the many reasons why I love and appreciate him. Sorry in advance for the mushy gushy sappiness, but sometimes, you just gotta do it.

It was fate. It really was!
It tooks weeks, maybe even months, for me to decide that I would be studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I knew Spain was the country from the get-go, but Granada took some time to figure out. I thought for sure it was going to be Sevilla, I was set on it even, but then a professor of mine announced to the class one day while talking about studying abroard, that if we were choosing to go to Spain, DON'T go to Sevilla. My heart was broken. I didn't have to listen to her, but I did. She said it had become "Americanized" and that if our goal was to learn and practice speaking Spanish, it wouldn't happen there. After much discussion and thought, I decided on Granada.
Eric's selection process was purely random. Granada, Spain. Boom. Done.

So a girl attending school in Bellingham, Washington and a guy going to school in Irvine, California end up choosing the same country, the same city and the same program. (Like I said, it was fate.)

Eric was there a month before me for a summer program, and then shortly after my group arrived in September, our program had the opportunity to take a weeklong excursion to Morocco. We were both lucky enough to be able to go, and this is where it first began.
We were "camping" out in the Sahara Desert, and the Berbers had cooked us food and were providing us entertainment in a big tent one night. There was music and dancing and laughing. I was sitting at a table, not feeling well, but watching some of my friends dance. I noticed Eric right away. He picked up one of the little Berber boys and had him on his shoulders and was dancing around with him. The boy absolutely loved it (and I thought it was pretty adorable, too). Eric and I kept stealing glances at each other. I felt an instant connection. (I think/hope he did too.)

We spent the next few months getting to know each other through coffee dates, dinners, walks around Granada, nights out drinking and dancing, so many tapas, and excursions around Spain. I always tell everyone being in Spain was the best three months of my life so far, and Eric had a lot to do with that. At the end of our time there, we decided to give a long distance relationship a try.
And three years later, here we are.
I never expected to meet my perfect match in Spain. But love creeps up on you when you least expect it.

I'm SO lucky! Why? Because....
-He let's me call him ridiculous things like, 'bubs' and 'nunners' and 'booj'. (Don't even ask)
-He rubs my head until I fall asleep when I have migraines.
-He is ALWAYS positive and reassuring when I am being a negative nancy.
-He loves my cooking and baking.
-He watches the Food Network with me.
-He tells me I'm beautiful even when I feel at my worst.
-He tells me I'm beautiful when he knows I put a little extra effort to look cute.
-He protects me when I'm scared.
-He believes in me when I don't believe in myself.
-He pushes me to challenge myself and helps me to be a better me.
-He lets me pinch his boobies almost everyday, even though he hates it.
-He loves being weird and silly with me and loves that I'M weird and silly.
-and so on and so on...

They say a way to a man's heart is through food. Well, I've already won Eric's heart, but I still like to win him over again and again and again through my cooking and especially, baking.
Awhile ago, I asked Eric what his all-time favorite dessert was. After a little thinking, banana cream pie was the verdict. So for this special day, I wanted to make him a completely homemade banana cream pie. No pre-made pie crust, no vanilla pudding packets, no Cool Whip....we're talking 100% homemade, because he deserves the very best.

Happy Anniversary, Eric.
I hope you love your pie today (it was made with so much love!)
Thank you for being an amazing man and making me feel like the luckiest girl in the world.
Te quiero para siempre.

Banana Cream Pie
(Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Custard:
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar, pressed through a sieve
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
3 ripe but firm bananas
1 9-inch single crust made with Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough
fully baked and cooled

For the Topping:
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sour cream

Dorie's Pie Crust:
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts (I halved the recipe since I only needed one)

3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
12 ounces cold butter, cut into pieces
6 to 8 tablespoons, ice water

To make crust:
Add flour, sugar and salt to the food processor bowl attachment on your Cuisinart Stand Mixer. Pulse for 1 to 2 seconds to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients. Pulse, in one-second intervals, 8 to 10 times until it forms a sandy texture, with some pieces being about the size of a pea.
Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture. Pulse until it forms a rough ball (add additional water if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time). Turn dough onto a counter or cutting board. Divide and form each half into a disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight (be sure to take out a few minutes beforehand so it will be easier to roll out).

To Make the Custard: Bring the milk to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well blended and thick. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about ¼ cup of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle – then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking constantly (make sure to get into the edge of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes before removing from the heat. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the custard is smooth and silky. You can either press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the custard until cold or, if you want to cool the custard quickly – as I always do – put the bowl into a large bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and stir occasionally until the custard is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes. (If it’s more convenient, you can refrigerate the custard, tightly covered,for up to 3 days.)

When you are ready to assemble the pie, peel the bananas and cut them on a shallow diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices. Whisk the cold custard vigorously to loosen it, and spread about one quarter of it over the bottom of the piecrust – it will be a thin layer. Top with half of the banana slices. Repeat, adding a thin layer of pastry cream and the remaining bananas, then smooth the rest of the pastry cream over the last layer bananas.

To Make the Topping: Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until the cream holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently fold in the sour cream.

To Finish: Spoon the whipped cream over the filling and spread it evenly to the edges of the custard. Serve, or refrigerate until needed.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Travel South America 2012

After years of hoping and wishing and saving money and talking and planning, I'm so excited to announce that Eric and I FINALLY bought our plane tickets to South America!
We will be going here:

Source: via Laura on Pinterest

...and seeing things like this:

Source: via Laura on Pinterest

...and this:

Source: via Laura on Pinterest

I CANNOT WAIT! It's going to be the most beautiful trip of my life.
Eric and I will be cheersing tonight to pisco sours, high altitudes, cuy and ceviche, the Amazon Rainforest, and many many adventures to come!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I love making homemade bread. Something about the smells and the warmth are so cozy on a fall day.
Breadmaking is known to be difficult, so every time I succeed, I feel accomplished and get complete satisfaction out of it.
Plus, kneading dough is fun and feels pretty radical. I love squishing and punching and twisting it in my hands.
Today I got called off work. It was rainy and chilly outside, and I had nothing but time on my hands. This equates the perfect breadmaking day.
While I was waiting the two hours for my dough to rise, I snuggled in a blanket, caught up on all my girly shows Eric won't watch with me (Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl don't appeal to him, really?) and did some reading.
I love days off. And homemade bread. Did I already mention that?

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
Nonstick cooking spray or butter (to prevent the bread from sticking to the bowl and pan)

Mix the yeast according to the directions on the packet.
Add melted butter, milk, sugar and salt to the yeast mixture and stir. Add two cups of flour. Start stirring, and then add the flour about 1/4 cup at a time every minute or so.Keep stirring and adding flour until the dough is still slightly sticky, but it doesn’t stick to your hands in any significant way.

Lightly cover counter or tabletop in flour where you will knead the dough. Knead for about ten minutes. To knead, take the dough, punch it flat, then fold it back up into a ball again, and repeat several times. You can also squeeze and twist it.

After ten minutes, shape it into a ball and place ball of dough into presprayed or buttered bowl. Cover bowl with cloth and place it somewhere fairly warm for an hour (I turned on the heater and set it in front of the vent).

After an hour, your dough should be roughly double in size. Punch the dough down, then lay it out on the floured area and spread it out into a rectangle shape, with one side being roughly the length of the bread pan and the other side being about a bread pan and a half long. Then roll it up and tuck the ends in underneath. Cover with cloth again and let sit warm place for one more hour.

Then, place loaf in sprayed bread pan and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Apple Cheddar Scones

Not a whole lot makes sense in life right now.
I've been feeling a little lost and confused when it comes to my future.
Those are really scary words. My future.
I have ideas, and maybe even some really big dreams, but I don't know how to make them happen.
And then there's always the money factor.
I'm already in debt.
How do I make big dreams happen when I'm in the hole?
I don't know. I don't know. I just don't know.

BUT what I do know is that these apple cheddar scones I made are of epic porportions and completely scream fall. Maybe life isn't making sense right now, but these scones def are.
When I found the recipe, I knew I had to make them that night. After work I went to the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients that I didn't have at home. I got apples and cheese and a fancy schmancy 4-pack of Eric's favorite beer and that's it. Scones and fancy beer for dinner makes sense. Eric understood (that's why I love him).

Apple and Cheddar Scones
(taken from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 6 generous scones

2 firm tart apples (I used granny smith)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons for sprinkling
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt plus additional for egg wash
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes plus additional for baking sheet if not lining it with parchment
1/2 cup sharp (white) cheddar, shredded (I used Tillamook's Vintage Extra Sharp White Cheddar)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs

Position a rack at the center of oven and preheat oven to 375 °F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Peel and core apples, then cut them into one-sixteenths. Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them until they take on a little color and feel dry to the touch, about 20 minutes. They will be about half-baked. Let them cool completely. (You can speed this up in the fridge, as I did.) Leave oven on.

Sift or whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together. Set aside. Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, along with cooled apple chunks, cheese, cream and one egg. Sprinkle flour mixture over the top and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Do not overmix.

Generously flour your counter top and place the scone dough on top of it. Sprinkle with flour. Use a rolling pin to gently roll (or use your hands to pat) the dough into a 1 1/4-inch thick, 6-inch circle. Cut circle into 6 wedges. Transfer them to a baking sheet that has either been buttered or lined with a fresh sheet of parchment paper. Leave at least 2 inches between each scone.

Beat remaining egg in a small bowl with a pinch of salt. Brush the scones with egg wash and sprinkle them with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake until firm and golden, about 30 minutes. With a spatula, lift them to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Baked Figs & Goat Cheese

Goat cheese. goat cheese. goat cheese. goat cheese.
I'm going on a goat cheese binge starting now. Who wouldn't want to do this?
I can't believe I just now thought of it.

Figs. figs. figs. figs.
What are figs? I have no idea, really, but don't they look neat?
And I've never used them so I decided I need to explore.
I remembered a little blurb I saw in a magazine a month or two ago about fig and goat cheese combo being super-mega YUM, so that's all I needed to know.

Playing around with a few ideas and recipes, I ended up with a beautiful and elegant, deliciously rich, appetizer and/or dessert that delivers a variety of tastes and textures. I honestly believe it is a masterpiece, if I do say so myself.
This recipe is so simple, but guaranteed to have your friends/family/guests 'oohing' and 'aahing'.

Baked Figs & Goat Cheese (with Honey Balsamic)

1 pint ripe black figs, halved
1 tablespoon (or so) honey
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Goat cheese (I used creamy chevre)
Walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Whisk together honey and balsamic until evenly combined, then set aside.

Cut each fig in half and brush each half with the honey balsamic. Top with crumbled goat cheese and walnut pieces. Drizzle honey balsamic over goat cheese mixture.

Bake in the oven for 5-8 minutes, until figs are warmed through and cheese starts to soften/melt. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Linguine with Clams

Every year growing up, my parents would take our family on a vacation. We've been to fun places all over the United States and Canada, from Disney World to Whistler. I could probably write a pretty hilarious memoir about all of the ridiculous adventures we've had on family vacations and trips.
ANYWAY, a beautiful, relaxing and more local trip we've taken a few times, and my parents still enjoy taking, is to the Oregon Coast. Quaint cities like Newport Beach and Lincoln City (our faves) are sprinkled with little hole-in-the-wall fish n' chips and clam chowder joints. Dad and I both have a mutual love and tremendous appreciation for these two seaside "delicacies," so we made it our mission to track down the best of both!
We definitely tried more greasy, overly thick, beer-battered fish than I'd like to admit..and humorously enough, I think we've ultimately decided we like my dad's own cornmeal battered fish recipe the best! However, we did try several unique clam chowder recipes that would be hard to replicate! I think the Oregon Coast can boast some of the best clam chowder. My arteries are RE-clogging just thinking about this.
We also tasted some perfect steamed clams (in white wine, butter, and garlic - the necessities) while on the Coast, which my mom has been reproducing ever since! Lucky me! One night at the apartment I wanted to take mom's steamed clam recipe and transform it into a dinner entree (vs an appetizer). Served with toasted garlic ciabatta bread, this linguine with clams was light, filling, and so zesty/garlicky/yummy.

Mario Batali’s Linguine with Clams
serves 2

1.5 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 pound linguine
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I might try butter next time)
4-5 cloves garlic, 2 thinly sliced, 2-3 pressed
1 pound clams, scrubbed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 (14-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, juice reserved and tomatoes coarsely chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

In large pot over moderately high heat, combine 8 quarts of water to boil and salt. Bring to boil, then add linguine and cook to 1 minute short of al dente according to package directions (pasta should still be quite firm).
Meanwhile, in large sauté pan over moderately high heat, heat 3 tablespoons extra- olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and sauté until just golden, about 30seconds. Add clams and half the red pepper flakes and sauté 1 minute. Add wine, tomatoes and juice, and 1/4 cup parsley and simmer, uncovered, just until clams open, 7 to 8 minutes.
Drain linguine and add to pan. Simmer, tossing occasionally, until linguine is just tender, about 1 minute. Add remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and red pepper flakes, tossing to coat. Transfer to serving dish and serve immediately.

Apple Crisp

I have a sad, but serious confession.
I'm demented and have major issues. Major.
It all started when I was just a little kid. In school when teachers would ask my parents something important they should know about their daughter, the answer was always the same: "Ms. Teacher, Laura's a freak." Okay okay, they referred to me as a "perfectionist," but they/I know what I really am.
In elementary school, I would pull serious almost all-nighters working on art projects and pop-up books and "ME" posters. I would rewrite my papers if my handwriting looked ugly. Coloring and cutting and drawing and pasting....hours and hours of precision, people. What ten year old cares if their cutting looks too jagged?
As the years went on, these issues translated into my hobbies and sports and everthing I did and tried. And now, I hate to admit, I'm even a whack job in the KITCHEN. Stand next to me as I'm chopping or dicing or julienning anything, and I promise you'll want to grab the knife out of my hand and stab me with it. BUT I bet you will never see more evenly and beautifully diced produce!
You know how most recipes have a prep time? Yeah, those don't apply to me. I have to add like an extra hour.
So how does this relate to my glorious apple crisp? I had to PEEL and CORE and CUT SIX BIG APPLES! Normally I can deal with my time-consuming ways, but whoa, even this was too much for me. Don't they make apple peeling machines? I need one stat.
At least I can say all my time and hard work was worth it, because I made another epic warm, cozy fall dessert.
I'm going to go eat it all now (then I'll be weird AND fat). Kbye!

Apple Crisp
(recipe taken from Joy the Baker)

5 to 6 medium-size granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices. (About 7.5 cups)
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1.5 tsp cinnamon

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, well-softened
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
1/3 cup quick oats

Preheat the oven to 350. Generously grease an 8×8 baking pan with butter.

Place a layer of apple slices in the bottom of the pan and dust with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Continue layering apples and dusting with cinnamon/sugar until done. Toss the apple mixture until evenly coated in cinnamon sugar. The apples should be just about to the top of the pan (they will cook down).

For the topping, place the flour, brown sugar, nuts, cinnamon and oats in a large bowl and stir well with a wooden spoon. Work the butter into the mixture with your fingertips until evenly distributed. Take one full handful of the topping and toss it into the sugared apple mixture. Spread the rest of the topping evenly over the apples. (I usually end up with a dough-like topping that I just lay on top of the apples).

Bake the crisp in the dish on a baking sheet on the center oven rack until the topping is crunchy and the apples are bubbling, 55-60 minutes.

Serve hot!

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