Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Barefoot Contessa on Thanksgiving

In my day job I am a magazine editor, which is how I was among the chosen to get to interview Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, about her new book, How Easy is That?. (We are giving away a copy to one lucky reader and announcing the winner tomorrow so if you haven't entered, click here.)

Anyway in addition to interviewing her for the magazine, life@home, I asked her about a food memory just our LTIR readers. Here's what she had to say about Thanksgiving.

While Ina, one of the few people to make it in the food world without professional culinary school training, makes cooking seem easy, her mother, she said, "was not an easy cook." In our interview, Ina recalled what it took to cook a turkey of yesteryear. Her mother would get up at 4 a.m. to get the turkey in on time, meticulously baste it periodically all day long, and then everyone would proclaim it was the best turkey they'd ever had when, Ina said, it was really dry as a bone. "Thanksgiving was always such a to-do."

Not any more for Ina. "I love that it's so much easier," she said, noting that she prefers her stuffing outside the bird. Her tip for a top bird? Go kosher; they're already pre-salted.

For the dinner gathering itself, smaller is better. Said Ina, "I'm big on smaller parties."

Below is her recipe for herb roasted turkey breast from her new book. But remember you could make all her recipes from this great book, if you click the link above by the end of today. Tomorrow we announce the lucky winner. Good luck and happy cooking!

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Serves 6 to 8

1 whole bone-in turkey breast (6½ to 7 pounds)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup dry white wine

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the turkey breast on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, rosemary, sage, thyme, salt, and pepper. Rub the mixture evenly all over the skin of the turkey breast. (You can also loosen the skin and smear half of the paste underneath, directly on the meat.) Pour the wine into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Roast the turkey for 1½ to 1 ¾ hours, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read meat thermometer registers 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest and meatiest area of the breast. Check the breast after an hour or so; if the skin is overbrowning, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.

When the turkey is done, remove from the oven, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and allow the turkey to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes. Slice and serve warm with the pan juices.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Ate All the Halloween Candy?

Hey Ma-

So, last weekend I had to go to Target to get a few household essentials. When I was there I somehow found myself standing in the Halloween candy aisle.

"Well, there are a few neighborhood kids who stop by the house sometimes..." I found myself thinking.

The next thing I found myself thinking was, "Well, just in case they don't stop by I should probably buy a kind I like..."

From there, I got to "And I should probably buy a variety bag so the neighborhood kids...if they DO stop by...find something they like."

And this is how I found myself alone in the car (ok, M was there, but she doesn't give me grief yet) with a 20 minute drive home ahead of me and a giant bag of candy parked in the passenger's seat.

I made it home with candy left, I really did. Somehow, though, once John and G joined my candy consumption team the rate of disappearance off.

By Wednesday this is what we had to show for ourselves:

There really are neighborhood kids so I really do think we need to have some candy come Halloween night, but right now I'm thinking that I'll have to buy it just before sunset that evening.

Did I mention that we're trying to figure out a way to dress M up and take her trick-or-treating? You know, so she TOO can be a vehicle for bringing candy into our house?

Yeah, I might have a problem.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook Giveaway!

Yes, lucky readers, hot on the heels of our Bakerella cake pop cookbook giveaway — Congrats to you, GiGi — Rachel and I are now giving away a copy of the Barefoot Contessa's brand new cookbook, How Easy Is That?

I posted about this wonderful book and gave a sneak recipe yesterday here, in case you need urging ... which I would personally find surprising since Ina Garten is incredible and if I didn't author this blog, I would be entering multiple times to try to win this book.

Anyway, we have one copy of this amazing cookbook to give away so get ready, get set, start clicking. Just leave your comment below with your email and we will pick a random winner on Monday. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Barefoot Contessa Rules

Hey Rachel: It's hard to know where to go after your post yesterday in which you basically throw down the food gauntlet with all these boasts about the food day extraordinaire you are going to have on Friday. But since it is after all in celebration of your birthday and you are married to a great cook, I will tamp down my envy (mostly) and say that I am genuinely happy you're going to have such a day of complete gourmet gluttony without having to lift a finger ... and then I'm going to post about the Barefoot Contessa, who, yes, I spoke to on my birthday... so there.

Anyway Ina Garten in person — at at least in phone person — was as nice as I imagined her to be. Just down to earth and friendly, just like her recipes in her many fabulous cookbooks. I have her new cookbook, How Easy is That? (and if you want to hear some exciting news about getting your very own copy, be sure to tune in tomorrow, readers), and tried a few of the recipes over the weekend.

They were both fantastic. Here's the roasted nuts recipe, that is absolutely killer and I guarantee will earn you kudos any time you make them. The mix of rosemary and chipotle is just brilliant. Enjoy!

Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts
Serves 8-10 (or maybe a lot less if you become as addicted as Peter and I did)

vegetable oil
3 cups whole roasted unsalted cashews (14 ounces)
2 cups whole walnut halves (7 ounces)
2 cups whole pecan halves (7ounces)
1/2 cup whole almonds (3 ounces)
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons ground chipotle powder
4 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
kosher salt to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Brush a sheet pan generously with vegetable oil. Combine all the nutes, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, maple syrup, brown sugar, organige juice and chipotle powder on the sheet pan. Toss to coat the nuts evenly. Add 2 tablespoons of rosemary and 2 teaspoons of salt and toss again.

Spread the nuts in one layer. Roast for 25 minutes, stirring twice with a large metal spatula until they are glazed and golden brown. Remove from teh oven and spring with 2 more teaspoons salt and the remaining 2 tablespoons of rosemary. Toss well and set aside at room temperature, stirring periodically to prevent sticking as they cool. (This is important to do. Otherwise, they will stick. Trust me.) Taste for seasoning. Serve warm or completely cool and store in airtight containers at room temperature (assuming there is any left over).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Day After World Pasta Day, or My Birthday in Food

Hey Ma- made pasta sauce from scratch? After this post? I'm just were pretty close to life AK when you wrote that. I shouldn't bust on you, though, and instead should welcome you back to the land of homemade pasta sauce. It's a really nice place to hang out.

So, I know I told you that I made chicken pot pie from scratch this weekend. I did and I have a whole blog post about it coming your way. I was going to share it with you today (lets just say this was an epic evening in the kitchen...I took a photo--no wait, THREE photos--of the mess I made...and yes, there were three photos taken because that's how many it took to really encompass the aftermath), but then my birthday happened yesterday and it was so freaking filled with food that I had to tell you about it.

So, first, M got the go ahead to start eating real foods. We bought her baby oatmeal, mixed it with a ton of breast milk, and John and G and I sat down with her on the floor and let her have her first go with non-liquid food (thanks to my auntie Kaja--who blogged here for giving M her first spoon!). You saw what she did when allowed to gnaw/suck on a plum...she was BESIDE herself this evening with cereal. G took a video and I'll try to get it up here soon so you can see it.

Speaking of G, he and I had lunch together today which was really, really, really special. It's been so nice having him here and I'm beyond touched that he chose to stay through my birthday before heading onto his next adventure. It's been years since I was with any of you guys on my birthday, a fact that I kept remembering while he and I ate.

The creme de la creme, though (I think I didn't write that right...), is my birthday present from John. As we speak my homemade birthday apple pie is in the oven (it's so tall I don't know how he fit it in there) and he's making burgers and artichokes (my request...I understand Dad made you the same thing for your birthday? OH--and that he GAVE YOU A COOKING LESSON?!? Obviously you're forbidden from using anything you learn on the blog...that would be like cheating...just kidding, that sounds super fun) for dinner. My present from him, though, is insanely awesome.

What? You can't read that? It says:
Hello my dear!
It is your birthday! And I'm gonna feed you!
Three meals!
This Friday!

Oh, you can't read this either? It's the inside of my card and IT'S A MENU. This Friday I will be eating (you should probably get a bucket to collect drool in before reading any further...):

Breakfast: Homemade sausage, roasted potatoes, 2 eggs over medium with a toasted baguette
Lunch: Pate on baguette with gherkins and small salad
Dinner: Appetizer- greek cheese with pears
Soup: pumpkin
Main- roasted duck breast with caramelized figs and port wine demi glaze
Dessert- chocolate pot du creme

Yeah, it's going to be awesome. Clearly, the moral of the story is that no one should call me Friday because I will be eating aaaaaaallllllll day long. I'm a lucky lady.

Alright, off to my dinner now. Wish you were here. I love you.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Pasta for All

Today is World Pasta Day, and we were asked if we wanted to join in the celebration by posting about pasta today. This was a task we were pretty happy to do because pasta is one of our favorite things to eat.

Not only is it one of the most versatile foods, but really can you make an easier dinner? Stir fry some vegetables in olive oil, add some toasted pine nuts, a little grated Parmesan cheese and you're good to go. Don't want vegetables? No problem. Switch them out for your favorite meat, add some crushed tomatoes, some basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and voila. Instant dinner.

The sauce here is something I whipped up for this post. I have to confess, I haven't made tomato sauce from scratch in, um, years. I used to do it regularly in the late summer when tomatoes were in abundance and then freeze it for the winter. It was so wonderful to pull fresh sauce out in the middle of winter. But that was BK (Before Kids).

Fast forward to now, AK. (I'm pretty sure you can figure that out). This sauce is inspired by bolognese sauce but is really pretty much whatever I felt like throwing in the pot. And it was mighty fine.

If you want to find out more about World Pasta Day, click here...and then go cook up some sauce to go with whatever pasta you like. Enjoy!

Red Sauce With Turkey Sausage

4-5 turkey sausages (or chicken or whatever you like), sliced
olive oil
red pepper flakes to taste
basil and oregano to taste
about 1/4 cup red wine
about 1/4 cup heavy cream
Parmesan cheese to taste


Saute the sausage until lightly browned. Add the crushed tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients except the cream. Simmer lightly, tasting to see what else you might want to add. Then lower the heat and add the cream shortly before serving.

While the sauce is simmering, cook up the pasta of your choice.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Homemade French Onion Dip, Ooh La La!

Hey Rachel
When I was a kid, cocktail parties were the main neighborhood entertainment. Lots of martinis and manhattans and hors d'oeuvres and women in swanky cocktail dresses and men in jackets and ties. Think Mad Men and you've pretty much got the idea.

As an adult now, I look back on those in marvel. Why was dinner never served? And if dinner was never served, how did those people ever make it home after consuming all that hard alcohol? (Wine and beer were never on the booze menu, at least not where I grew up.) I guess the fact that these were neighborhood bashes and everyone walked there made it okay.

Anyway, I loved coming down to the kitchen the next morning and eating the leftovers. My particular favorite was the onion dip, which seemed incredibly exotic and which I would eat right off my finger. Imagine my surprise as a college kid when I was organizing my first parties (decidedly more plebian believe me) and learned that this magical dip that I assumed my mother slaved over was actually just some soup mix and sour cream! Who knew!

Once I was an official adult, serving something that only involved a pre-made mix and some sour cream seemed a little like cheating so I basically stopped the onion dip and carrots deal. But I'm not going to lie: I missed it. So I was pretty excited to discover this dip in Skinny Dips by Diane Morgan. I amended it so it's not low-fat because really if you're going to have something with sour cream and cream cheese, my theory is go for it 100 percent. Anyway, I hardily recommend this to one and all. Add a little Herb Alpert, a manhattan, and you'll be doing the bossa nova before you know it.

Fresh French Onion Dip

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sweet onions, diced small
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely snipped fresh chives


Saute the onions, salt and pepper in the oil over medium heat. Stir frequently until they're a nice golden color but not too brown. Should take you about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, white wine vinegar and cream cheese. Add the onions and chives. Taste. Adjust seasonings. I think this is better if it's made ahead several hours at least to give the seasonings time to, um, season. Take it out of the fridge about 45 minutes before you'll be serving.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bakerella Does Cheesecake, Too

If you haven't joined the Bakerella cake pop cookbook giveaway frenzy, you still have a few days. Just click here and leave your name and reason for wanting the book and we'll announce the winner on Monday.

In the meantime, I am going to lure you with Bakerella's baking wonderfulness with this photo of her fabulous chocolate cheesecake bars. I may not be able to make a perfect cake pop, but I can make cheesecake and these things were sinfully good.

You can get the recipe here. Make them. Now. You know you want them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cookie Discontent

Hi Rachel: I've got a confession to make. When I saw your chocolate chip cookies last week, I had a little freak-out moment: They looked better than mine. This, of course, is not the way the world order is supposed to go. The mother is supposed to be the superior cook until she dies; then the daughter can become better at something. Didn't you get this memo?

While my cookies are pretty damn good, yours, which you posted about here, look lumpier and thicker while mine have been a little flat lately, as this photo attests.

Don't get me wrong. Mine are more than edible (added cranberries this time, which was a nice contrast to the dark chocolate). But they're not lumpy and thick the way they once were. It's that "once were" part that's so annoying. Am I losing my chocolate chip cookie grip? Is this the first sign of the beginning of the end?

I suspect the flatness is because I've gotten kind of lazy and microwave my butter to soften it rather than really plan ahead and let it soften naturally. But still, it's bugging me and I just want you to know that while you're busy going to school and taking care of M and becoming a new mother and all that, I am plotting my cookie revenge. (Any readers who want to offer me advice should feel free to weigh in. We all know you want me to win.) Some day, when you least expect it, there will be a chocolate chip cookie post and I will be the cookie queen again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Bakerella Cake Pop Cookbook Giveaway!

Regular readers know Rachel and I are fans of Bakerella, the Cake Pop Queen. We first wrote about her as a Blogs That Make Us Hungry feature here and last week, I publicly embarrassed myself chronicling my own cake pop flop here.

But my failure as a cake pop star should not be taken as the norm. If you love Bakerella and desperately want to learn how to make cake pops in your very own home, this could be your lucky week. Just leave a comment with your email about why you want to make cake pops and we'll choose one lucky winner to receive Cake Pops, Tips, Tricks and Recipes for More than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats from Chronicle Books. My own inadequacies aside, the book is filled with helpful directions and pictures to ensure that you are a cake pop star and the envy of all you see. Let the giveaway begin!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ma!

Hey Ma,

Happy birthday. In the name of keeping things food-related, here's a little something to fill you up. It's not cake, but I'm thinking you'll enjoy it anyway (pardon the stupid commentary).

Did I mention that I love you? Because I do...beyond measure.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Appetizer Anyone?

Rachel: It's Friday and that has me thinking weekend, which often means getting together with friends. Your dad and I are blessed with more good friends than I ever imagined I would have, and getting together regularly with them for dinner, drinks, games and laughs is one of my absolute favorite weekend activities.

Anyway, I really recommend this date and walnut cheese ball once you and John get to the point where you can think about actually cooking dinner for anyone besides yourselves and sitting down to a table and eating it with both hands. (Your post yesterday flooded me with memories. I remember so well trying to juggle getting food to my mouth with you or G or S squirming in my arms. The part I really hated was asking your father to cut something up for me; it just seemed so childish and here I was being a mother. But I digress.) This can be made ahead, which I try to do as much as possible when having people over so I can actually enjoy the company I want to be with, and it's delicious. This recipe is from Skinny Dips by Diane Morgan, a cookbook that I highly recommend for people who want tasty dips with fewer calories.

Hope you, John and M have a good weekend.


Date and Blue Cheese Walnut Ball

8 ounces low-fat cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup crumbled blue cheese at room temperature
1 tablespoon reduced fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons minced dates
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted walnuts

Mix together the cream cheese, blue cheese and buttermilk on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the dates, shallots, lemon zest, salt and pepper and beat until well combined

Transfer the cheese mixture to a large sheet of plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Wrap the ball in the wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Toast the walnuts in the oven at 350 for about 5 minutes. Let cool. On a plate mix the walnuts and parsley. Remove the cheese ball from the fridge. With the wrap still on, form into a ball. Unwrap the cheese mixture and roll it gently in the nut mixture until all the sides are covered. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dinner with Both Hands

Hey Ma-

So sorry that G devours vegetables at my house. S also eats rice when he's in our vicinity. I'm thinking that perhaps we can credit the bay breeze instead of my sister status or cooking prowess.

Yeah, I'm feeling confident that it's not my cooking prowess. Particularly these days when I churn out a pretty consistent rotation of sausage and beans, quesadillas and beans, stir-fry...and delivery pizzas. I'm not knocking these dishes (way to be bean-centric though, no?), just acknowledging that they hardly amount to recipes and that it's been a while since I've cooked in a way that's exciting to me. I am, you know, just getting back into baking. Having a baby seems to mean baby steps back into the kitchen as I've known it.

Right now, in a rare moment, I am eating WHILE I blog. Sure this means I'm not being a particularly present eater, but most importantly it means that I AM EATING WITH TWO HANDS.

This is so rare.

So, so, so rare.

John is an amazing partner. We take turns tending to M's needs while we eat. But the reality of it is that neither one of us eats with two hands for a whole meal with much regularity. In fact, absent grandparental visits and this one night a few months back when she was asleep during dinner, John and I have not eaten a single meal at home in which we were free to employ both of our hands for the duration. I wouldn't call this depressing, since it is simply the byproduct of the arrival of our incredibly wonderful baby, but I do want to mark this moment, to appreciate it for what it is: a dinner for me in which I am my only concern.


And, on that note, while I love the blog, I'm off to finish eating, to relish the two-handedness of this meal.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Not Fair

Rachel: I'm so glad my cake pop flop inspired you to do some baking, although I have to admit I was looking forward to hearing about G eating a VEGETABLE stir-fry, especially since the stir-fry apparently included KALE. I mean how unfair is that? This is the child who for years hid one of the two tiny florets of broccoli I would give him. The only vegetables he ate, besides potatoes, until he was about 8 was what served as "vegetables" in cans of Dinty Moore beef stew.

Of course G did establish early on that he would try vegetables other people besides me cooked. I remember the summer he came home from Camp Nyack and Michele mentioned in passing that G ate edamame. Edamame????? Really???? Are you kidding me???? That would have been a big fat, "No" if I had tried to serve that up, no matter how much salt I put on it.

I got past taking it personally (mostly), but I wonder how you will feel when M decides she's absolutely not putting something you worked hard on creating past her lips. As the Nana, I, of course, will never make her eat anything she doesn't want, and she will always get dessert. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Who Wants Vegetables When There're Cookies in the House...

Hey Ma-

I think I was supposed to write about how I served G eggplant and other--as he put it, "funky"--vegetables for dinner the other night (recipe here) and he gobbled them down (ok, maybe he didn't gobble...but he certainly ate 'em). I'm too delighted, though, by your cake pop adventure not to relay to you all the baking I did this weekend.

First of all, my hat's off to you for even endeavoring cake pops. They're the kind of thing that I look at and immediately decide requires more patience than I'd ever be able to muster. My only lament is that I wasn't there to eat all of your rejects because, you know, I like to support you in your times of need.

All of your talking about baking, though, left me feeling a little bit inspired. Did I bake anything new? Nope. I did, however, churn out banana bread (it was only pretty good because--in a truly rare moment--we were out of yogurt...the key ingredient, evidently, after the bananas) AND chocolate chip cookies (really, this recipe is just perfect...G can testify on my behalf if you have doubts). In a fun twist, M and I did it together. She's become such an alert little person and she's really interested in what we're doing in the kitchen these days. The only problem arose when she wanted to put a cookie in her mouth. Soon! But not yet...

Anyway, I know I can't go on and on about M and not let you see her, so here you go:

(In case anyone's paying attention, yes she's wearing a Yankees tee from her Pamp and, yes, John felt the need to represent the Phillies by standing in the background lest anyone believe M's allegiances lie with New York...)

She's grown that belly all by herself without a single cookie or slice of banana bread (ok, I've eaten my fair share, but still)! Go, M, go! Someday all three of us can bake together and that will be really, really nice.

Alright, off to school. I love you.


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Cake Pop Fiasco

Rachel: As promised, I took on the Bakerella cake pop phenomenon this past weekend and it was pretty much a disaster. But let me start at the beginning.

As I noted in Friday's post, I am a Bakerella fan and was thrilled to get a copy of her new book, Cake Pops. Now, finally, I could recreate her wondrous confections right in my very own kitchen. I, too, would become a cake pop star.

I wisely didn't start with the jack o' lantern cake pops. I figured I'd hone my skill creating some basic cake balls and then take it up a notch with the actual cake pops.

As you can see, the cake balls went fairly well. Emboldened by this success, I forged ahead on the cake pop path. I noticed that I only rolled about 30 cake balls when the recipe said it would make 48, but I figured how much of a problem could that be? The answer became readily clear with my very first cake pop — or should I say cake plop.

As you can see from the cake pop sitting in the icing rather than on my stick, this is one case where size does matter. If your cake pop is too big, it becomes too heavy when the icing is on it and it falls off the stick. It wasn't long before I had my own little cake pop graveyard going.

Undaunted, I persevered. Overall, my icing was too thick so I added some canola oil as Bakerella suggests; it worked okay but not great. Where her lovely photos show her gracefully swirling her little cake pops in lovely candy coating, I was glopping mine on and trying like hell to keep them on the stick. (Next time I'm definitely getting those little crystals she recommends for thinning the candy coating.)

My next challenge came with drawing the faces. I had bought some food coloring pens. In a word, they sucked. Although my cake pops were anything but smooth, I think I could have pulled off their mutant shapes a bit with better faces. Instead after a fair bit of swearing at the pens, I gave up after three. The photo shows why this was a smart move on my part.

Maybe I should just stick with cake balls.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bakerella's Surprise

The weekend is coming and I am home with lots of time so I've decided to dedicate a fair amount of time to cooking, specifically baking. I've long wanted to enter Bakerella world — Rachel and I have a shared obsession with Bakerella, the originator of the amazing cake pops. We love her blog and regularly worship there, so I thought this would be the perfect time to try to make one of her fabulous cake pops. We have some friends whose children have a birthday this weekend, so what better gift for them than cake pops? I mean, just look at these cute jack 'o lanterns from her book?

I've had a copy of Bakerella's new book, Cake Pops, from Chronicle Books on hand for a few weeks but have been waiting for exactly the right moment to open and learn the secret of these marvelous little sweets. Tonight, after a ridiculously stressful week of work, I decided to treat myself and open the book to see how the magic happens so I could get any ingredients I need to make the cake pops.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

The foundation of cake pops is ... box cake mix. And the frosting is ... ready-made.

I have to admit my jaw dropped.

To be fair to Bakerella, who is clearly a talented lady, she clearly says all over her blog that she uses box cake mix. But I just always got so tied up in the visuals of her clever little cake pops and goodies that I actually never noticed it before. So while I have nothing against using box cake mix, I just assumed everything was from scratch (I know, I know, I know what they say; if you assume, it makes an ass out of u and me) so this box cake mix thing just ... surprised me.

Once I got over the shock (clearly I'm a cooking snob since I just assumed everyone of her talent would do everything from scratch), I got kind of excited. The creation of these cake pops is going to be tough enough for someone like me who is, um, artistically challenged. I don't have to add tons of baking-from-scratch time to my agitata. I can just toss together the cake mix and spend all my time on the artsy part.

Stay tuned. Monday's post will show the fruits of my labors, no matter how ridiculous they look.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What's in the Bag?

Hey Ma-

This is just a little post. It's a bedtime post, really, after a busy day. My kitties are flanking me and I'm full from a dinner prepared by John and a gin and tonic (yum!) offered by G. M is sound asleep (it happened incredibly easily tonight...too easily? time will tell...) and I'm sitting in the dining room. What I have to share with you today is grapes. They are the littlest and sweetest grapes I've ever tasted and they came in the most pleasing little brown bag. I'd walked by the row of paper bags at the grocery store for weeks without peering into them. John and M came with me last time, though, and John bothered to look inside.


One of the things I love most about John is that he's always looking, that he's rarely moving so quickly or on such automatic pilot that he doesn't notice. This time the byproduct is the gift of perfect little purple grapes, but this is only one of many tiny, ordinary--extraordinary!--things John has brought to my life.

Anyway, I'm off to bed. I love you and I hope that there's been a pretty little surprise in your days recently like the paper bag of grapes John brought into mine.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Toasty Dinners

It's getting cooler now in New England, Rachel, so Dad and I have had a fire both of the last two nights and have started something that I think just might become a tradition: eating dinner by a roaring fire in the fireplace. When you kids were home, I was semi-obsessed with making sure we had sit-down dinners. Between my general guilt about working and reading some study that said children who didn't eat at least X-number of family meals a week were destined to become juvenile delinquents and psychopaths, I really tried to make sure we had at least 3 meals as a group around the kitchen table each week.

Even when Dad wasn't going to be home for dinner and you all needed to eat earlier for whatever reason, I tried to be present at the table, instituting fun rules like no reading at the table and having each person say something about their day. Depending on your age, this was met with enthusiasm or rolled eyes if not downright surliness. But I persevered.

I know you're not living in fireplace country at the moment, but I highly recommend this down the road. The fire has added warmth beyond the heat it literally throws. In a house that seems larger than necessary with just the two of us, it makes, as fires do, everything seem just a titch cozier. {Titch, by the way, is one of my new favorite words and I'm pretty sure I just made it up.) One night I lit candles as well. We talked over our days and caught up. For just a little while it was just the two of us, and that was just right.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

HoMeMade Honey Ginger GrahaM Crackers

Hey Ma,

Ok, so that soup you posted yesterday looks seriously delicious. I'm going to have to make it very soon, particularly if this cold weather we've had for the last couple of days sticks around any longer (you never know what October will bring here in the Bay Area). Thanks for giving me the recipe. I like having your recipes to cook from (and from other people I love). It's such a nice way to feel connected to someone.

Anyway, this weekend something really exciting happened: I baked for the first time since M was born. I love baking, like love love love love it. I find it incredibly relaxing and gratifying. Following a recipe requires just enough attention to keep my brain from spiraling away from me, but not so much attention that I can't get some really good thinking done while my hands work. I've been wanting to bake--longing, really--but what with the general chaos of our lives these days a window simply hadn't presented itself.

John and M went out to run errands for a few hours the other morning and G was still asleep. I decided doing something I really wanted with this time was more important than doing homework, which is what I--no joke--do with every second I have to myself these days (ok, I shower, too). I needed to fuel myself a bit and so I poured a cup of coffee, put on Loretta Lynn and busted out my cookbooks.


I decided I would try to make something I'd never made before--never even had a homemade version of before, in fact. As I perused my copy of "The Craft of Baking" by Karen DeMasco and Mindy Fox I stumbled across a recipe for homemade graham crackers. I checked the fridge and pantry and, having the ingredients (ok, having the ingredients needed if I halved the recipe...close enough), immediately set about baking.

I'm going to share the recipe as I slightly modified it with you. The only warning I'll give is that you definitely want to roll your dough for these as thinly as you dare. I think Dad would really enjoy these (they're not super sweet at all) and, based on the fact that they disappeared from the counter within a day, I'm guessing just about anybody else would, too. I can't wait to make them for M when she's a little older (you'll notice I punched mine with Ms in her honor). I have high hopes of making my own marshmallows and chocolate sometime, too, and preparing entirely homemade s'mores. If you're lucky, we'll be living close enough for you to stop by when I finally get around to this project.

Anyway, I love you. Back to the books for me.


you can double this recipe
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
1/4 c. whole-wheat flour
1/4+1/8 tspn. kosher salt (I'm sure there's a better way to articulate that measurement, but it's evading me right now)
1/4 tspn. baking soda
1/4 tspn. cinnamon
4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/8 c. packed light brown sugar (dark brown probably would've been better, but we didn't have it)
1/8 c. granulated ginger sugar (this was sugar I had leftover from making Dad candied ginger)
1/8 c. orange flower honey

In a bowl, mix well the all-prupose flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. In your electric mixer (oh wait--you don't have one) fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and honey. Mix until well combined. In two additions, add the dry ingredients, letting the first addition fully incorporate before adding the second.

Flatten the dough into a rectangular shape, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and place in the fridge until chilled, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days (supposedly you can freeze the dough, too, for up to a month).

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a cookie sheet (I have a silpat, but parchment paper would work I'm sure). On a lightly floured surface, unwrap your dough and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough into rectangles the size that you desire (mine are roughly 2"x4") and use a spatula to transfer them to your baking sheet. You can reroll your dough scraps once to cut out more cookies. Using a fork, pierce each rectangle (I did two Ms and a line across the middle so the grahams would break in half nicely).

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Simple Soup Supper

Hey Rachel

You're crazy busy with school, new momhood, etc. so here's an easy recipe you can make ahead on the weekend and then just slurp up for at least two dinners later in the week. Just add some bread and cheese and/or salad, and you're good to go. Microwave here you come!

Shrimp Corn Chowder
serves 4 or so

1 pound shrimp, tails off and deveined
about 1 1/2 cups corn, I used frozen but canned or fresh obviously works
about 32 ounces vegetable broth (or chicken obviously)
1 medium zucchini, cut in half and then cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste
chili powder to taste

After you've taken care of the shrimp, put a little olive oil in a frying pan with the garlic, shrimp, zucchini, peppers and seasonings. Saute until the shrimp is just done, ie. don't overcook.

Place all of this in a large pot, add the broth (might be more or less than the amount above; it depends on how soupy or stewy you want this to be). Heat and serve.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Breakfast Treats

Hey Rachel

Your post about going out for breakfast as a treat to yourself certainly rang true with me. For some reason eating breakfast out is more special to me than eating dinner at a restaurant (although don't get me wrong, I enjoy that as well). I think part of the reason is because I love breakfast food — omelets, , bacon, pancakes, bacon, eggs Benedict, waffles, bacon (oh oops did I say that already?) — but I NEVER make anything like that for myself for breakfast. Ever. And I hardly ever partake of those goodies even when I make them for other people in my very own kitchen.

What is up with THAT?

Not only that but, as you very well know, I have eaten the very same breakfast for just about every day of my adult life: Dannon coffee yogurt and granola. As a committed Weight Watcher, I now only allow myself coffee yogurt a few times a week and instead eat Stonyfield organic non-fat yogurt with granola the other mornings.

While having habits isn't a bad thing per se, I suspect that a counselor might smile a bit and nod her head knowingly if I told her this little scenario and ask something like, "Why don't you allow yourself to eat something you enjoy and that, by the way, is good for you?"

Or something like that.

Food for thought....