Sunday, December 30, 2012

Parsnip, Fennel and Tarragon Soup with Squash and Apple Turkey Cheddar Sandwiches

We used to have this designated area in our living room, originally called "the reading nook."  It was a futon mattress covered with pillows and surrounded by books.  This eventually got phased out to make space for the nugget boy. But that reading nook actually had very important second function, which became our more commonly used term for the space.  It was called "the mope hole."  The mope hole was a fun place for - you guessed it! - moping.  Mad or sad or stressed about something?  Just go to the mope hole and hug a pillow!  Snuggling into a makeshift fort of books and pillows is a surefire way to lift a dark mood.  After a good mope, the sun shines brighter, the birds chirp more beautifully, the grass is greener, the sky bluer, I'm sure you get the cliched picture.  But alas, I am a woman without a mope hole.  So instead, I look to delicious food to eradicate a foul mood.  A warm bowl of parsnip, fennel and tarragon soup served with a grilled turkey, apple, and squash sandwich, all melty with cheddar, was just the thing to help me recently on a cold, (relatively) dark day.

6 peeled parsnips, cut in half lengthwise
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced on mandolin
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt, to taste
white pepper, to taste
1/3 cup tarragon leaves
2-3 tablespoons of juice from Meyer lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup ricotta
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 cups chicken stock
deli turkey slices
slices of good quality cheddar
a roasted slice of acorn squash
slices of Granny Smith apple
good quality Dijon mustard
slices of whole wheat bread
1 tablespoon canola oil

Heat oven to 400.  Place parsnips and fennel in baking dish.  Cover with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until tender and brown.  Remove from baking dish and place in a pot.  Add tarragon, lemon zest, lemon juice, ricotta, whipping cream, and chicken stock.  Blend everything together with an immersion blender (or pour into a blender or food processor), and puree until smooth.  Gently heat the soup until hot.  To assemble the sandwiches, place the turkey, cheddar, squash, and apple slices between the slices of bread, and smear one piece of bread with the mustard.  Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and place the sandwich(s) in it.  Bronze one side of the sandwich, then flip over to bronze the other side.  Serve the soup with the turkey sandwiches, and feel your mood, hopefully, become a happy one.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chocolate and Olive Oil Crostini

A setting or rising sun is one of those sights that we, as a species, love to behold.  So colorful and and epic and majestic, it inspires a sense of wonder and awe.  Unless you are a certain two year old.  The sun is totally old news, apparently, for him.  A sunset, though, is exciting for one and only one reason - it is a harbinger of the moon!  Our little guy is quite taken with the moon, and has a deep love for just sitting outside and gazing up excitedly at it.  Moon watching, actually, can begin as early as 3 or 4 pm. That's when we start to think the moon is out.  So we have to go outside and check if it can be seen.  As expected, it usually is not visible at that time.  So we keep checking again and again and again.  And eventually, that wonderful moon of ours does indeed make an appearance (though I'm not sure how he will take the news that the moon goes through a "new moon" phase).  And when that happens, he scoots some chairs out to the deck and demands a moon watching companion. If Max was running the show, one would do nothing but moon watch from 4 pm until bedtime.  But, as you can imagine, that leaves no time to do things like, I don't know, make dinner.  So compromises are made.  Full on moon watching begins after dinner once the dishes have been cleaned up.  We go to the deck, bundle up, sit on on the chairs that Max so helpfully brought outside, and eat a snack while gazing up at the moon. These crostini with a chocolate and olive oil drizzle, mint leaves, coconut flakes, and vanilla salt make for a fun moon watching snack.  Packed onto a tray and taken outside, it is a delicious companion to celestial observations. And of course, it can be eaten indoors as well.

3.5 ounces good quality chocolate ( I used a Lindt 70% cacao bar)
1/4  cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 baguette, sliced
vanilla salt
white pepper
1/3 cup chopped mint leaves
1/3 cup coconut flakes

Heat oven to 375.  Place the baguette slices on a baking sheet (I used a Silpat to line mine).  Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a bowl, and brush the oil on each slice.  Sprinkle a bit of vanilla salt and pepper on each.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden-brown.

Place the chocolate bar (chopped) and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small microwaveable bowl. Carefully melt the chocolate and olive oil together (about 30 seconds).  Stir the mixture.

Have fun with these - drizzle the chocolate and olive oil on the crostini, or use it as a dip.  Sprinkle more vanilla salt on top, if desired. Or throw on some mint leaves and/or coconut flakes.  Whatever floats your boat!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies with Fruity, Nutty, Chocolaty Flair

I am beginning to think the only holiday traditions we have are intending to do festive activities and not following through.  For instance, this year we were going to carve pumpkins for Halloween, like we did last year.  Didn't actually happen.  It got pushed back and back until it would have been December 1 and we would have been the weird people with a jack o lantern out on the porch in December instead of glittery Christmas decorations. For Hanukkah, we plan to make latkes at least one of the nights.  This year we managed to make some before Hanukkah started.  But not during.  Even though we swore to ourselves we would.  Quite frankly, there didn't seem to be any reason not to make these again. We were looking forward to them! We actually completely failed to celebrate this holiday. Candles were bought for the menorrah and never even lit.  And now on to Christmas, we still have a few days, but it is looking increasingly likely that the gingerbread houses will not indeed be assembled and decorated.  Perhaps we crack under holiday pressures? At some point these things sound super fun but once they are upgraded to the category of tradition they also bring a sense of obligation, a yoke we refuse to wear?  Lazy? Busy? Perhaps we prefer to go with the flow, and see what new fun things each season brings? I have no idea.  But there is actually one tradition - ok, I'm not using that word anymore - one activity that always happens this time of year... one that, without fail, actually happens.  The cookies are always baked.  The exact list of cookies changes each time.  There are a few stalwarts, lending their years of experience to the annual cookie brigade.  But it is the addition of new cookies that adds excitement and a sense of whimsy to the mix.  These particular cookies are actually a hybrid between the new and old- a former heavy hitter recipe from my mom that got a bit of a chocolate makeover.  So here are some shortbread thumbprint cookies filled with either apricot or orange spread.  Or a raspberry, for funsies. Drizzled with a chocolate and almond ganache. Toasted almond slices optional.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1/3-1/2 cup apricot or orange spread
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup toasted almond slices, optional

Using electric mixer, cream butter and sugar.  Add in extract.  Slowly stir in the flour.  The mixture will look sandy at first, but the dough should come together, just keep the mixer going.  Feel free to add just a touch of milk if it doesn't seem to come together.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Form into 1-inch balls.  Use the handle of a wooden spoon to press an indentation into the ball.  Fill with either the apricot spread or place a raspberry in there.  Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.  Cool for a minute on the tray then move to a cooling rack.  Combine chocolate chips and cream in a microwaveable bowl.  Carefully microwave for 30 seconds, or until the mixture is melted.  Stir in the almond extract.  Drizzle chocolate mixture over cookies.  Add toasted almond slices to each cookie, if desired.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Parmesan and Asiago Frico Squares with Fennel and Orange Salad

Party food is just so fun - dips, miniature, bite size morsels served on toothpicks, communal foods in general.  Party food makes me happy.  But the parties themselves stress me out.  Or, more precisely, the people at the parties stress me out.  Sometimes my evening is spent feigning interest in riveting topics like the virtues of cloth diapering.  Other times it might be spent wondering how to respond when someone snidely remarks "What? you haven't read anything from David Foster Wallace?" No, I'm sorry, I have not.  He is on my ever-expanding to read list, incidentally.  But I feel that there is no reason to be so mean about this current lacunae.  Ugh, and my hyper analytical brain starts trying to read something more into everything said to me or trying to appear as some very fuzzy, very blurry simulacrum of an "Interesting Person" (not that I really am).  And after a few hours of this, my brain and nerves are all exhausted and then bed sounds like the most amazing place ever created in the entire world.  I guess it's no secret that I'm an introvert :-P  But the food, that never fails to pick me up, helping me get through these strained hours and making it all worth it.  Here are some Parmesan and Asiago frico squares topped with fennel salad and a bit of orange.  Some party food to calm those party nerves.  And a glass of wine never hurt.

For the frico squares:
1 cup Parmesan
1 cup Asiago
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the fennel salad:
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced with a mandoline
1/4 cup thinly chopped Romaine lettuce
1/4 cup arugula
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
1 orange, supremed

Heat oven to 350.  Place the cheeses, flour, and black pepper in a medium bowl and mix all together.  Place mixture on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet.  Pat the mixture onto the sheet as thin as possible.  It won't cover the entire sheet, probably about 2/3 of it.  Then bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture smells cheesy, is bubbly, and has become golden.  Take out of the oven, and once the frico has cooled, cut into squares.

Place fennel, Romaine, arugula, and parsley in a bowl.  Drizzle grapefruit juice over the mixture.  Place a bit of salad on each frico square and top with a chunk of orange.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pomegranate Banana Dip, Sugar and Spiced Tortilla Chips, and Red Laser App

Today we're reviewing a free app called RedLaser, and pairing this review with another type of app... chips and dip!  When I saw this opportunity through Daily Buzz Moms to use a list making and shopping app for the iPhone (the app also works on the Android and Windows Phone), I thought, maybe, just maybe, now I will become a person living in the year 2012 (almost 2013-where does the time go!).  So I seized the day and all that carpe diem jazz.  I decided to just take the plunge into this new era of life.  One filled with order and ease and apps, to make everything in your life run smoothly.  A whole new Jenn...  To read the full review, hop over to our brand spanking new Review Blog page!  It is an interesting app, and worth a read.

Pomegranate Banana Dip

8 ounces cold mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 small, ripe banana
3 tablespoons pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
pinch salt
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (arils), plus more for serving

Place mascarpone and sugar in bowl of electric mixer and beat on medium speed. Mix in remaining ingredients.  Sprinkle top with additional pomegranate seeds.  Serve with Sugar and Spiced Tortilla Chips and fruit (I like it with apples).

Sugar and Spiced Tortilla Chips

4 tortillas, each cut into 8 equal size wedges
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
pinch salt

Place tortilla wedges in bowl, toss with oil, cinnamon, sugar, clove, salt.  Use tongs to distribute oil and seasonings as evenly as possible on the tortilla wedges.  Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes, until crispy.  Serve with dip.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Orange and Anise Cookies

I love all the nuances and quirks of people.  They can be so strange and fascinating.  For instance, take Seth and me.  We love pajamas.  Love them.  Nothing makes us happier than being all cozy and comfy at home.  But when we eat, we rarely use paper plates and paper napkins.  We get out the place mats and plates and utensils and cloth napkins, even when we get takeout Chinese or pizza.  And we eat like this while wearing pajamas.

There are many things that Seth doesn't eat that I enjoy.  I love fruit and fruity desserts.  Seth doesn't. And it is a bit random what I actually find worth making for myself (and Max) and what I don't think is worth it.  Like cheesecake - I won't make it.  Even though I adore it and used to have my mom make me some for birthday cakes growing up.  But banana bread is a yes.  Desserts with peanut butter are generally a no (Seth hates peanut butter in sweets).  But I make apple pie at least once a year.  These cookies are also a yes.  Seth doesn't particularly love anise, but Christmas isn't Christmas without these cookies for me.  They are adapted from my dad's mother's famous recipe.  They are like anisey, orangey little cakes with a cream cheese frosting.  And I crave these every year.  So while peanut butter blossom cookies won't make the cut on the holiday cookie list - these are always at the top.

For the cookies:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup whole milk or buttermilk
2 teaspoons anise extract
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

For the icing:
8 ounces cold cream cheese
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons anise extract
1 tablespoon orange juice
pinch salt
pinch allspice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cookies:
In a medium bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder, allspice, orange zest.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and egg yolk, and beat until incorporated.  Add milk, anise, and orange juice into the butter mixture.  Slowly stir in flour mixture.  Once the flour has been incorporated, refrigerate the dough for a few hours or overnight.  Bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes.  Once cool they have cooled, frost with the cream cheese icing.

For the icing:
Beat cream cheese, butter, and sugar in mixer.  Add in remaining ingredients and beat gently until a spreadable icing remains.  Feel free to add more sugar if the icing is too liquidy, or to add more liquid if it is too stiff.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Prosciutto and Papaya Skewers with Basil and Raspberry

I find it fascinating that a miniature stick of wood can make something instantly party-fancy.  Yes, party-fancy is a term.  Or it will be.  I'm sure of it.  2013 is a blank canvas at the moment.  I can color it however i want!

If you just threw some basil, prosciutto, papaya, and raspberries in a bowl, it would basically be a salad. And my heart would break just a tiny bit.  Salad, in theory, tends to make me sad.  Though in practice I do actually enjoy them...

But stick the same ingredients on  toothpick - and yes, I can get excited about that. The miniature stick of wood turns the salad into such cute and festive party appetizers, I become smitten instantly.  The toothpick - Oh, it's magic!

basil leaf
prosciutto, torn into chunks
papaya - cut into chunks

Place one of each on a toothpick.  I liked doing them in the following order - basil, prosciutto, papaya then raspberry.  Serve and eat!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Bus Cake, with Eggnog and Chocolate Chip Batter

Yep, it is indeed a bus-shaped cake.  You totally know that your life isn't complete until you've experienced the bus cake.  When most of us are out and about, buses are just another mode of transportation peppering the landscape. But to a certain 34 inch tall toddler, this mode of transportation is the most amazing thing ever.  Ever.  One never knew how much joy was to be had by a bus sighting until now.  His enthusiasm for this marvel of human innovation is so infectious, both Seth and I even find ourselves becoming genuinely excited when we spot a passing bus.  And a corresponding twinge of sadness when said bus moves out of sight.  Countless minutes have been spent doing Google image searches of buses, taking time to admire each and every bus on the page.  He is a delightful bus companion, radiating toddler glee while riding in this most favored vehicle, and every few minutes exclaiming "bus," as though I would have forgotten that we were on a bus.  Since it was his birthday last week, we decided to tackle a bus-shaped cake.  I made the icing and cake, and Seth assembled it into its bus form.  We originally wanted a double-decker London style bus, but we belatedly realized that much more cake would be needed.  Oh well... he recognized it immediately, exclaiming, "BUS!" and dove right in, so mission accomplished.  With the eggnog and chocolate chip batter and buttercream frosting, it was pretty tasty as well.

adapted from
cooking light pound cake

3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup egg nog
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 pound unsalted butter
3 cups confectioners sugar, whisked
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
red food coloring

1/2 pound unsalted butter
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
black food coloring

4 mini chocolate frosted donuts
2 yellow chicklets for the front lights
2 red chicklets for the tailights

For the icings:  Beat butter in electric mixer.  Add in sugar.  Mix in cream, extracts, salt, and red food coloring.  Set aside, and repeat process for the black icing.

For the cake:  Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.  In another bowl, stir eggnog and buttermilk together.  In mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add in eggs one by one, being sure to mix well after each one.  Mix in vanilla extract.  Turn mixer to lowest setting, and alternate between adding flour and the buttermilk/eggnog mixture into the mixing bowl.  Once the flour and buttermilk mixtures have been incorporated, place batter in two greased 9x5 loaf pans and bake at 350 for about 50 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes then remove to cool on wire rack.

For the assembly:  Once the cakes have cooled, cut into rectangles by slicing off any ends and curved parts, you want nice rectangles to work with.  Spread red icing on one and stack the other on top.  Place donuts where they will eventually fit as wheels, and tracing around them, cut out chunks of the cake to make wheel wells.  We didn't think of this until after making the cake, which is why the wheels stick way out on the sides.  Spread red icing all over.  Spread the grey-black for windows.  Pipe grey-black around the windows using a a pastry bag or ziplock bag with a corner cut off.  Paint the donuts with the grey-black frosting, and use toothpicks to keep the wheels in place.  Add the yellow Chicklets to the front of the bus and the red ones to the back.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Latkes with Clarified Butter, Cotija Cheese and Truffled Ketchup

We have almost reached that time of year.  The one where I put notations on the calendar to highlight the days of Hanukkah, and put a star on the day or days on which we intend to make latkes.  Then, all too often, end up hurtling though the entire holiday, forgetting to look at the calendar, and failing to celebrate even just one of the nights. Possibly that time of the year we end up ordering pizza on the night we were supposed to do the latkes.  Not this year.  We like the idea of celebrating Hanukkah, even if we completely fail at celebrating any of the other Jewish holidays.  I think doing one holiday makes us feel like we are keeping up tradition just a teeny tiny bit, even if it's not technically a major holiday.  However, we're not exactly traditionalists, so we find latkes a fun opportunity to try new flavor combinations we may never have thought of.  Seth got the idea for these after eating french fries with cotija cheese and clarified butter from a gourmet food truck.  They were so amazing, he thought we should put those flavors into latkes and serve them with truffled ketchup.  I'm pretty sure no phone calls will be made to a local pizza place this Hanukkah.  

1 pound unsalted butter
2 pounds russet potatoes
1 medium onion
1 small bunch scallions, chopped
1 egg, beaten
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
cotija cheese, crumbled
scallions, chopped
fleur de sel
ketchup (preferably Heinz), for serving
white truffle oil, for serving

To clarify the butter, chop the sticks up and place in a medium pot over low heat.  Melt the butter.  After a few minutes, you will start to see foam covering the top.  Once that stops bubbling up, take off heat and use a spoon to skim off the top layer of foam.  Set a piece of cheesecloth over a mesh strainer and place over a heat-proof container.  Pour the butter through the cheesecloth and strainer into the container.  

Peel the potatoes, keeping the peeled potatoes in cold water.  Once they're all done, grate the potatoes and the onion into a medium bowl.  Once all grated, begin squeezing the water out of the shredded potatoes and onion and transferring them to a new bowl.  Left behind should be some water and, underneath, some separated potato starch.  Take out the starch and mix it back in with the grated potatoes and onion.  Add in the chopped scallions, beaten egg, and generous pinches of salt and pepper.  Mix everything together.  Form thin patties with the mixture (the thinner, the crispier), and cook in a skillet (preferably cast-iron) over medium-high heat in the clarified butter. Once one side has browned (about 3 minutes) flip and cook the other side.  As they finish, remove and place on paper towel.  Just before serving, sprinkle each latke with a liberal amount of cotija cheese and scallions.  Finish with a pinch of fleur de sel.  In a small bowl, mix just a bit of white truffle oil with the ketchup (about a 1/4 teaspoon oil per 2-3 tablespoons of ketchup).  Serve the truffled ketchup with the latkes.

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