Holiday Cakes and Confections: Apple Spice Cake with Apple Cider Bourbon Glaze

Monday, November 25, 2013

This cake is sort of a combination of coffee cake, bundt, and Kerry apple cake all into one topped with a glorious frosting based with real bourbon. Flavors of the season like cinnamon, all spice, and clove permeate through the soft, moist cake. Tender apples and spiced walnuts give texture. To top it all off, a delicious and easy frosting of sugar, apple cider and bourbon to bring the cake home. This is lovely for breakfast or brunch especially if you're entertaining guests for the holidays, and just perfect in the afternoon with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Easy to make and delicious. Enjoy!
Apple Spice Cake with Apple Cider Bourbon Glaze
for the apples:
3 apples (recommend jazz or pink ladies), peeled and cored
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp bourbon
juice of 1/2 lemon (or orange)
Take the apples and slice them thinly. Place in a bowl. Add the sugar, cinnamon, bourbon, lemon juice, and flour and toss to combine. The lemon juice is going to help keep the apples from browning.
Let stand to marinade while you make the rest of the components for the cake.
for the nuts:
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
Toss the walnuts in the sugar and spice mixture. Set aside.
for the cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (can sub with ground mace)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup greek yogurt (plain! not flavored!)
2 Tbsp milk or half n half
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a bundt cake and set aside.
Place the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg in a bowl (or bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment). Whisk together to combine. With machine on or with handheld mixture, begin adding the eggs and mix until incorporated. Then add the vegetable oil, vanilla, yogurt and milk. Mix everything until well combined. The batter will be quite dense.
Take half of the batter and layer it into the cake pan.
Next, layer in the apples. You can just add them in one layer or do a decorative patter. I can't resist a pattern. :) Don't add too much of the juice left behind with the apples, but a little is ok.
Add the remainder batter on top and smooth out to cover all the apples.
Next top with the nut mixture.
Bake in oven until center is set and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cook time will depend on your oven, so go off of the toothpick test to make most sure!
Once cake is cooked all the way through, remove from oven and gently loosen the sides from the pan with a knife. Invert the cake onto a plate or serving platter, then firmly tap the top of the cake pan to (hopefully) release the cake easily from the pan.
Let cake stand to cool completely before adding the glaze. If the cake is too warm the glaze will melt right off and not set properly. You can make the cake a head of time and glaze before serving.
Apple Cider Bourbon Glaze
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 good splash bourbon
1-2 Tbsp apple cider
Whisk the ingredients together. Begin with 1 tablespoon of apple cider and see how thick the glaze is; if it's too thick and hard to spoon then add the second tablespoon of apple cider. You want the glaze to be thick enough to hold but not too thin so it runs off. If for some reason you find your glaze has gotten too thin, simply add more sugar to thicken it again.  

Autumn to Winter: Arugula with Orange, Pomegranate, and Goat Cheese

As autumn begins to draw to a close and ushers in the still beauty of winter, I begin to see new ingredients taking over at the local grocery store. Most people think of winter and the foods associated and think of heavy, meat-laden dishes, lots of baking and carbs, and the cold, dark days of winter. No need! Actually, this is an exciting time of year with bright and bold flavors like citrus, pomegranate, and sweet delicious pears. Even the greens are beginning their peak: spicy watercress and arugula are in their prime in winter, rich and delicious kales and dark greens are delicious these coming months, and cabbages can be both stewed and crisp in refreshing salads.
I picked up some pomegranates over the weekend and knew I wanted to do a salad. This simple yet bright and flavorful salad is balanced, light, and irresistibly festive. Spicy arugula creates the base. Orange segments add color and acidity while the pomegranate seeds offer a festive and bright color contrast in addition to that beautiful sweet-tartness. Simple goat cheese (chevre) adds creaminess for texture, and to top it off, some toasted pumpkin seeds. This is a fantastic side dish for a meal or a great light lunch to compliment a heavier cream-based soup. It's easy enough for a quick week night dinner and elegant enough for a holiday fete.
This recipe makes for 4 good portions. You can easily expand or contract it to suit your numbers. Enjoy it!  

Arugula with Orange, Pomegranate, and Goat Cheese
4 cups arugula
1 orange, segmented
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds*
1/4 cup fresh goat cheese (aka chevre)
2 Tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
good quality extra virgin olive oil
juice from the orange that is being segmented reserved for the vinaigrette

Make the vinaigrette first. As you're segmenting your orange, squeeze out the juice from the core left into a bowl. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil slowly to the juice and whisk together to combine. This is super easy and healthy vinaigrette you can use with a variety of dishes.

Place the arugula in a large mixing bowl. Add the orange segments and pomegranate seeds. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the vinaigrette and toss very gently to coat. Add the goat cheese on top -- use your fingers to break off small pieces. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top and serve.

Conversely you can portion out the dressed salad onto individual plates, then add the cheese and seeds for a more elegant presentation (as above).

*An excellent post on how to seed pomegranates -- with pictures! Check it out here.

If you don't like pumpkin seeds you can substitute with walnuts or pecans. If you'd rather use a fancier orange you can use clementines, tangerines would be outstanding in this dish, but a simple naval orange will do it just fine too. I like using French chevre for this kind of goat cheese -- it's brighter in flavor and super creamy.

Thanksgiving Emergencies: It's Not Ruined....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Ok...I know it can be stressful. Here are some tips and techniques to help you in case you encounter any one of these Thanksgiving Emergencies:

Thanksgiving Emergency #1: "...CRAP!!! THE TURKEY IS STILL FROZEN!!!!!!!!"

You'd be surprised how many times this happens. Myself included. Especially if this is your first time working with a turkey. You must know 2 things:
(1) The turkey comes frozen or fresh (i.e. not frozen) and
(2) If frozen, the turkey must be defrosted.

If you have a fresh turkey it's been vacuum sealed and does not need to be frozen; you can keep it in the fridge until you're ready to brine or cook it. If you bought or are planning to buy a frozen turkey, you need to start defrosting that guy about 2 days prior. The best and preferred way to defrost a turkey is in the fridge -- you basically transfer the frozen turkey into your fridge and let it thaw out there -- which takes 2-3 days depending on the size. If you managed to not do that and you're stuck now trying to prepare a frozen turkey with guests coming over in a few hours, this is what you need to do:

Fill a sink or bathtub up with cold-lukewarm water. Not ice cold water, not warm water; cold-lukewarm If you use ice cold it will take forever; if you use hot water you'll defrost it unevenly and invite bacteria. The trick here is you want the turkey to be completely submerged in the water so this is why you may need to use a bathtub or cooler. Check the water and change it as the turkey is defrosting -- you'll notice it defrosting as the water is getting less and less cold as quickly as you're changing it. If you're really in a pinch then keep the turkey in the packaging, submerge it in warmer water (not hot!), and change the water until the turkey is defrosted. The packaging should prevent the bacteria. Just make sure you cook that sucker all the way through just to make sure! And feel free, while your'e at it, to baptize it in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Remember defrost time will depend on the size of your bird! The bigger the bird, the more time it'll need!

Just leaving it out at room temperature won't defrost in time; you need to do that overnight.

Don't micro wave it; you'll end up cooking it. No, you can't defrost it in the microwave either, if it would even fit in there to begin with.

Thanksgiving Emergency #2: "...The turkey's burning!!!!"

Place aluminum foil on the areas that are burning on the turkey. Clearly your temperature is either too high or the oven temp is not accurate. Reduce the temp by 25 degrees (i.e. if you're set at 400 it's probably actually more around 425 or higher, so reduce it down to 375) and continue to cook. If you have to, cover the whole bird with aluminum foil and cook it, then remove the foil to finish browning the last 10 min of cooking.

Thanksgiving Emergency #3:  "...The mashed potatoes are soggy!!!!!"

Right. This means you didn't drain them properly like I told you to. Don't panic -- place the mashed potatoes in a pot. Place the pot on top of the stove on low flame with the lid off. Cook the potatoes stirring often. The heat will evaporate the moisture. Taste the potatoes and adjust with seasoning and butter/cream if needed.

Conversely, if you really want to be amazing and turn that frown upside down, place the mashed potatoes into a casserole dish. Sprinkle with some parmesan cheese on top (or you can use some shredded cheese). Bake in the 350 degree oven until cheese is melted and bubbly. Same principle, the heat should remove the excess moisture. Adding the cheese helps create a crust to balance out the lost of moisture.

Not perfect, but these should salvage the dish.


No they won't. Why? Cuz you just made an appetizer. Set all the overcooked vegetables aside. Take a large pot and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a whole chopped onion, some carrot and celery (if it's one of the overcooked veg I don't care; add another fresh one again here for the saute) and some salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until softened. Add some garlic -- about 2-3 cloves -- and a bay leaf. Add all of the overcooked veg right on top and stir to combine. Next, add 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth. You should have a stockpile of this stuff in your pantry for Thanksgiving. If you don't because you didn't listen to me, add 3 cups of cold water, a can of tomatoes (or fresh chopped tomatoes), and a tablespoon of chicken seasoning like Lawry's or something equivalent. If you've got bouillon even better! Use that! Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat and cook until flavors meld, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust with seasonings. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Let it cool down just a bit. Add some cream to make it creamy and velvety. Render some bacon pieces, then set aside. Serve the soup ladled in pretty bowls or even in shot glasses with some of the crispy bacon on top. If you're veg then do some grated parmesan cheese. Serve it in shot glasses on a silver tray with champagne to your guests as a chic appetizer or as a soup course.

Thanksgiving Emergency #5:  "My gravy turned out way too thick! Damn you corn starch!" 

Easy -- add more liquid and cook it longer. If you used cornstarch especially (or flour) to thicken it, heat and cook duration decreases thickening power. Add some more chicken stock or white wine and cook it longer -- up to 10 minute if you have to. You'll notice the thickness will relax considerably.

Thanksgiving Emergency #6:  "Too much salt! I've produced a diabetic nightmare!"

Ok, salt is a tricky one. Depending on what was oversalted and how badly, it can be salvageable while others just are not edible. If you oversalted the outside of the turkey then simply serve it without the skin. The meat should still be fine because it's so thick. If you salted a soup then add more water to balance it out. It may ruin the consistency you were going for, but that's better than the overly salty taste. If you oversalted a vegetable dish, this is harder to salvage. You may have to turn the dish into an entirely new dish where that dish become an ingredient; ease back on salting the rest of the new dish. Hopefully you didn't use salt for your dessert instead of sugar; if you did it's over and you're serving sundaes for dessert.

Thanksgiving Emergency #7:  "...The stuffing is mushy and sad..."

Easy. Reset your oven to broil. Brush the top of the stuff with some olive oil and set it under the broiler for a few minutes. Top will crisp right up something fancy!

Thanksgiving Emergency #8:  "...I ran out of brown sugar and so did the effing store!"

Ok. Brown sugar is simply a combination of white granulated sugar with molasses. Light brown sugar is less molasses and dark brown sugar is more molasses. If your recipe requires brown sugar, simply use a combination of white granulated sugar and liquid molasses. A good ratio is 1 cup white granulated sugar and 2 Tbsp molasses = 1 cup brown sugar

Thanksgiving Emergency #9: " in the hell am I suppose to thicken this?!" 

Ok, if you're working on gravy you can use cornstarch (follow directions on the container), or a "quick roux" -- take 1 Tbsp soft butter and mix it with 1 Tbsp all purpose flour, then add this slowly in pieces to the gravy, whisking it in. Conversely you can also use quick cooking tapioca!

If you're working on something like a pie filling, and it's already baked. For example, you made apple pie and the apples are cooked and tender but the instead of being glazey it's super thin and watery. This is practically impossible to thicken. So I suggest just serving it differently like a cobbler or crisp instead (think messy and delicious with lots and lots of ice cream!) and if you need that texture, add some melted caramel.

Thanksgiving Emergency #10: "...They stole all the fresh herbs at the store! I HATE THESE PEOPLE!"

No biggie. Use dried. Some fresh herbs are more potent fresh (like rosemary) while others are more potent dried (think thyme). A fantastic blend of dried herbs that's naturally thanksgiving, seasonal, and fancy pants impressive is herbs de provence. You can use that for your turkey, veg, soups, anything really!

Thanksgiving Emergency #11: "I shit you not, I have no rolling pin...but decided to make pie anyway. Please help me." 

Ok, use a wine bottle. Preferably an empty one because it's easier to use. You can also use a thinner glass vase -- basically something smooth that's roughly the shape of a wine bottle or rolling pin. If you're really in the weeds and can't find anything, you're gonna have to roll up those sleeves and use your hands. Push the dough out as evenly as possible and as thinly as you can with your hands and fingers. To get a smooth texture on the top if you need to, take the clean, flat bottom of a saute pan and press it into the top of the dough. This will help you thin it out and make it smooth too. Then invest in a rolling pin -- they're not that expensive and you can use them against burglars.

Thanksgiving Emergency #12:  "Someone stole my potato masher and I'm now staring at a pot of boiled potatoes with a blank stare..."

Super easy.

Drain the potatoes first. If you still want mashed potatoes, you can do one of two things: use a handheld mixer or standing mixer to whip up the drained potatoes. Add butter, etc. to make as you would have normally. You can also use a fork. If you have kids, make them do it. Just as good as using a masher!

Thanksgiving Emergency #13: "I ran out of milk....AND cream...FML..."

All right, don't panic. You don't need cream or milk for anything really. I mean, if you're making rice pudding you're screwed. But for more Thanksgiving dishes you don't "need" it. For mashed potatoes, simply up the butter and use a handheld mixer or standing mixer and whip the everloving shit out of it. Add an absurd amount of butter. Ab-surd. This is typical French style mashed potatoes. You can also use buttermilk, sour cream, and even plain yogurt in a pinch!

If you don't have sour cream or whatever, you can take the potatoes and serve them boiled this year instead. Add a bunch of butter and top with some chopped parsely. It's an Eastern European Thanksgiving this year, kids!

If you're doing a casserole or some other dish that requires it, I can just forgo it probably. It will be drier but probably healthier too.

If you're serving coffee....use some vanilla ice cream for a treat/dessert! It's very continental!

Thanksgiving Emergency #14: "My cream soup is broken and curdled and looks disgusting! I am a culinary failure and need to be voted off the island..." 

Blend it with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Your'e back on the island!

Thanksgiving Emergency #15:  "I have no turkey baster -- I thought that was used for artificial insemination." 

Right,'s not. It's used to baste a turkey or other roast meat. Don't panic -- use a spoon and be careful!

Thanksgiving Emergency #16: "...The power went out!!! OMFG!!!!!!...." 

It can happen. November can be notorious for bad weather. Well, power outage can be a bit tricky. Depending on what you've got, you can continue to cook most of your dinner in the gas stove or gas stove top. If you've got electric you're a bit more SOL. I recommend providing snacks and seeing if power goes back on. If not, I recommend aborting mission and retreating to restaurant. If that's not an option, get out all of the wine bottles you own, mixed nuts, fruit, cheese, salami, raw veg crudite, fancy crackers, fresh bread, and hopefully you've already baked those pies! Light a bunch of candles and have at it!

If it's not raining you can also throw almost everything onto the grill. Cut the turkey into pieces (like chicken). Brush with olive oil, add seasonings, and throw on the grill. For veg -- you can roast them on a baking sheet on the grill if you have the room. If you don't, try to grill them gently directly. If you're doing potatoes or sweet potatoes/yams -- boil them first if you can and then on the grill. Green beans, asparagus, corn -- all directly on the grill. Bread -- slice and brush with olive oil, right on the grill. You can even bake a pie on the grill -- cover with aluminum foil and bake on low heat.

Thanksgiving Emergency #17:  "..."I dropped the turkey.....omg I dropped the turkey....I DROPPED THE EFFING TURKEY!!!!!!!!!!!"

1. Stay calm.

2. Did anyone see this happen? If not, you're golden. Take the turkey and with a nice well dampened cloth, clean the part that dropped on the floor. Even if it's already fully cooked. Even if it's coated in whatever you coated it in. If you have to, rinse that part off. But a good, well dampened cloth or paper towel should do the trick just fine without having to baptize the bird. Again.

3. If someone saw, then scream "Hot potato!" Pick it up casually. Dust it off then look the person who saw it happen straight in the eye, and with your most intimidating voice, say, "If you utter a syllable of this, I will serve you this piece...right here" and point to the part that fell on the floor. With the hair still sticking on it. Brush it off. put your shoulders back, and you serve that bird!

Thanksgiving Emergency #18: "More people?!?!?! That's why it's called an RSVP!!!!!!!"

Ah....the last minute guest. Or guests. Everyone gets them. Some people totally ignorant of what it takes to prepare a big holiday meal tend to being like 10 people with them. And usually these people come empty handed. I mean, you could eat least bring a pie or bottle of liquor with you. But this does not help you. You already bought and are preparing food for 8. Now you have 12. No worries.

All you have to do is amp up the appetizers. You know how you go t a restaurant or someone's house and eat so many nuts or potato chips or whatever crap before the food arrives and then you're stuffed you can't eat the real food? Simply apply that technique here. Load up on the potato chips, nuts, olives, cheese, cured meats...frozen eggrolls...whatever the hell you have. Serve them fast and up front. Get everyone stuffed. Then proceed with the dinner you already have. Just portion it out smaller.

In a pinch if you need a quick snack, make some spiced nuts. This is quick and savory and goes with cocktails:

  • nuts -- cashews, walnuts, pecans, peanuts -- whatever you have or want to use
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • black pepper
  • pinch of brown sugar
Throw the nuts in a shallow saute pan. Heat on low heat until warmed through and begin to be fragrant. Add a little butter or olive oil (like a teaspoon) and toss to coat the nuts. Add the seasonings and make sure the nuts are evenly coated. Serve. 

Thanksgiving Emergency #19:  "I forgot....the turkey bag of giblets...inside...the turkey..."

Ok, this happens. Stop crying. Chances are you started to smell something funky burning. It's the plastic bag holding the giblets. Remove it and continue to cook the bird. You're fine. 

If you missed this part and finished the whole turkey with the bag of giblets still inside, then remove it (or as much of it as you can) and try not to eat around where the plastic is melted if it's melted into the turkey. The rest of it should be fine. 

If the turkey smells horrid because of the plastic or the giblets, grate a shitload of lemon, orange, lime -- any kind of citrus zest and stuff it all together with cut up quarters of the citrus inside the cavity. Then, take more citrus and decorate around the turkey with some leftover herbs or leaves or salad -- something green -- so it looks like you did this all on purpose. Also, garlic masks the smell of most things as well. Take some fresh garlic and smash a bunch of cloves. Smash it up into a paste. This releases as much of the essential oil which is where the strong garlic fragrance comes from. Stuff that into the cavity. 

And don't eat the giblets or give it to the dogs! 

Thanksgiving Emergency #20: "...the pie filling isn't's raw and mushy and not good!" 

Ok, you can do a few things. First, if the crust is done but the middle isn't, simply wrap the sides of the pie that are done with aluminum foil and return to oven so middle can finish cooking. 

If something went catagorically wrong with the pie, the middle is just not set properly or it's too mushy and otherwise cannot be served as a pie, serve it as a parfait instead. Intentionally break up pieces of pie crust and all and layer into serving dishes. Top with some whipped cream, then layer of crushed pie, then more whipped cream, and top it with something that would make sense with the pie like sprinkling of cinnamon or crushed pecans or something. Tell everyone you were bored with basic pies and wanted to score points for presentation. You can also use ice cream instead of the whipped cream if you like. 

All right! Hope these help and gave you a laugh! Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thanksgiving Prep: Get Your Turkey On! And Don't Stress About It!


I love Thanksgiving. Well, let me qualify that: I love what Thanksgiving should be about. Regardless of the historical inaccuracies and Christmas-Up-Your-Ass-ness around it, it's actually a great holiday and great idea. Although I think we should be thankful more than one day a year, I love it because it's a chance to take a break during the chaotic holidays and enjoy the wonderfulness of the fall season. And what better way to do so than with FOOD?!

Sadly Thanksgiving (as other holidays) have also grown into an uber-competitive, money-draining stressball of an affair that has most people cooking dinner freaked out, stressed out, and otherwise not looking forward to it. I was one of those people. I've cried in the kitchen when butternut squash burned, I've had a full on panic attack realizing the turkey was not done all the way through and everything else was ready and people were starving, and I yes...I've even broken a plate in complete and total frustration. But, I've also learned that it's not worth it to bet that upset, and I've developed some tricks and techniques to help me get through not only Thanksgiving proper, but the entire week and weekend before and after it! Allow me to share my top five tips for a successful, fun, and easy Thanksgiving so you can enjoy the holiday too.  

1. It's All About Organization
Just like most things in life, events are only as good as they are organized. The more you plan out ahead of time and account for while you have time, the less stressful it will be when you're in the thick of it. You've got a few weeks before the big day. Sit down for a quiet moment and simply jot down on a paper or type out in an email to yourself everything you need to get done for Thanksgiving -- every single thing -- starting on Thanksgiving Day, then work yourself backwards and forwards. Especially if you have kids getting off at different times than you're used to, people coming in from out of town, or any other big details you don't want to miss or distract you, put it all together in one, cohesive schedule. Here's an example:

Tuesday Evening: 
-dance class 5 pm
-brine turkey
-pick up _____ from airport at _____ flight #____ airline____

Wednesday Morning: 
-kids to school
-clean fancy china and stemware
-set table
-HALF DAY: pick up at 12:30! 

Wednesday Afternoon: 
-pick up liquor
-prep veg for stuffing
-make pie crusts

The problem with people getting overwhelmed I feel with the cooking marathon of Thanksgiving (or Christmas for that matter) is they don't account for the small details that can seriously screw up your time. Like traveling to airports, cleaning houses, appointments. Simply put, you can't do two things at once, so don't double book yourself between the cooking aspect of Thanksgiving and the rest of life. Write every single thing down, from what you have to clean in your house down to each vegetable you need to chop into a very detailed schedule you can save on your phone or print out and keep in your house where you'll see it often to double check yourself that you're not missing something or getting surprised. This has helped me immensely, and I highly recommend it if you've got a lot going on Thanksgiving week.

If you have help, then you can allocate responsibilities. For example, if your partner can help out with anything, then code yourselves on your list. Like, I'll highlight my responsibilities pink and my husband's blue and print out two versions of the schedule -- one near the desk and one downstairs by the fridge -- this way everyone sees it and can double check what they have to do. If you have kids old enough, get them involved!

Is it a little OCD? Yes. Is it a pain in the ass to put together? Yes. Will you thank me after you make one and see how smoothly it goes? You will. Just make a schedule as detailed or not as you need it for your holiday and go to it frequently.

2. Have A Back-up Plan in the Freezer
Ok, so Thanksgiving Emergency #3 is "What if I screw up the dinner?!" Look, it's happened. Turkeys get burned or are underdone, vegetables burn, pies don't set right, explosions happen, power can go out, the dog can eat the entire bowl of mashed potatoes when you were distracted with the turkey, kids can knock over the turkey onto the dirty can be chaotic, and shit can happen. So, here's my two part plan:

(1) Don't panic -- it's just food and not worth it. Yes I know you were super excited to serve the turkey and you worked days on it (I know....believe me, I understand this), and I feel your pain but it's just food and if it's not edible, it's over. Don't think about it. Instead, I want you to have a shot of whisky immediately, throw the ruined food to the dogs (or in the trash) so you're not staring at it and getting upset still, and move into action with step 2:

(2) Take out one of your Emergency Back-Up Foods -- because you're smart and talented and everyone loves something with filo dough or pastry. Then, go have another shot of whisky or a big ass glass of wine. Put your feet up while it's cooking in the oven, and relax with the mixed nuts.

You can make these foods ahead of time or buy them from the store or Williams Sonoma has a fantastic selection of ready-made, freezer foods that are special enough to serve for any holiday or party. You can serve anything from a fantastic cheese plate with cured meats to full on freezer meals to pastry bites or spanikopita or finger foods. The idea here is have a few dishes or items that can stay in the freezer or you have on hand in the pantry or fridge that in a pinch, you can take out and serve quickly or throw in the oven to bake. Here are some ideas:

  • stuffed mushrooms
  • assorted pastry appetizers 
  • latkes 
  • a few good cheeses, nuts, fresh sliced fruit 
  • dried cured meats like salami 
  • pasta or risotto 
  • olives 
  • smoked salmon 
  • piggies in a blanket (yes, I'm serious) or cocktail weenies
If something gets messed up, you can still salvage it. For example, if the turkey gets ruined some how or is not fit to serve, however you most likely have sweet potatoes or yams or some sort of squash being served with the dinner. Take the sweet potatoes or squash and roast it, boil some spaghetti. Toss the cooked spaghetti with the roasted sweet potatoes, add some rendered bacon, some garlic, and a shitload of parmesan cheese and it's actually a fantastic main course meal. 

If you screwed up the side dishes it's really no big deal -- take out a freezer food to supplement if you really need to, or simply turn the dinner into Thanksgiving Make-Your-Own Gourmet Sandwich! 

The point is, although it's not what you planned to do or what you were looking forward to do, don't sell yourself short. Think on the fly and change it up. It doesn't "have" to look or be served exactly as you envisioned it. I understand your disappointment, but think of it as a Top Chef challenge instead. Vegetables and ingredients can be used in a variety of ways; turn a main course into a side dish, turn a vegetable for a side into a main course pasta, make a risotto in 30 min to go with the turkey if the dog ate the mashed potatoes, or do a salad with dried cranberries, stilton, and pecans instead for a low-carb version, AND ADD BACON TO ANYTHING TO SALVAGE IT (this includes desserts sometimes!). 

If you make or invest in the freezer foods think of them as insurance. If you use them then fine, if you don't then save them for an easy dinner or serve them up at Christmas!  

3. Booze, Booze, BOOZE 
Ok honestly? The best part of any holiday the booze. Make sure you have a shitload of wine and spirits and any goof up with the food will be instantly mitigated by offering good drink. Booze goes with everything: soups, salads, foods, side dishes, desserts. No one complains about the booze. Don't have bad booze or even worse, no booze, because then you are screwed and I cannot help you. Have some wine, some vodka and rum to make easy mixed drinks. some cranberry juice and apple cider for something festive, CHAMPAGNE is always chic, a good bottle of whiskey or bourbon, and BEER. Everyone drinks it. Have some sparkling cider and fruit juices for kids and non-drinkers. Serve it in fancy glasses to make it special. If your food is a fail then your drinks will be a success!

4.  Work Ahead 
Do as much as you can in advance:

  • Do your laundry day in advance -- you don't have time to fold and wash before Thanksgiving and it sucks to do it the day after! 
  • Clean your house head to toe 2-3 days in advance; this way you just have to do a quicker touch up the night before or morning of instead of a huge house over-haul. 
  • Plan out your outfit the day or night before so you're not freaking out in your closet as your spouse is answering the door downstairs. Do your hair too. And by the way, buns are very chic and "in" right now too so don't stress about it. Everyone looks great in black and with a nice red lip or smoky eye. 
  • Take a tour of your pantry a week or even two before to make sure you have flour and sugar and brown sugar and nuts and condensed milk and chicken broth and everything non-perishable you need for your dishes. 
  • Take a look and clean your machines -- check your standing mixer, your blender, your crockpot or whatever you use. Make sure your potato ricer is still working. Are your knives sharp enough? Remember when you broke the whisk? Ya, go buy one now not the morning of thanksgiving. Take an inventory to make sure you have all the equipment you need, and that it's clean and in working order. Do this a week or more in advance so you have time to buy whatever you need. 
  • Order or purchase your turkey in advance. Make sure you take it out to defrost in time!  
  • Make a shopping list for your ingredients and shop a couple of days in advance. Go organic, go fresh, go green -- it tastes better. 
  • Make your pastry crusts the day before and keep in fridge. 
  • Brine your turkey a day or two in advance. It'll taste better and give you less to do. 
  • Set your table the day before! Everything -- down to the floral arrangements! Not only is it one less major thing for you to do the day of, every time you pass it you'll feel accomplished and it will make you at peace and excited to see something pretty as you enter the disaster that is your kitchen. 
  • Make sure your kids have shit to do so they're not bother you -- maybe pick up a new Christmas video, record some cartoons, get them some holiday workbooks or coloring books -- make sure they're preoccupied so they're not in your grill. 
  • Prep your veggies the day before. Keep everything grouped together. For a stuffing recipe, I'll chop up all the veg to be sauteed into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap, then place that in a bigger bowl that has the cubed bread in it. I'll label it "STUFFING" so I can work fast the next day and not search for ingredients. 
  • Have your husband work on the damn playlist a few days or week BEFORE thanksgiving. Heads up guys -- the morning of Thanksgiving is not the time to download the Frank Sinatra version of whatever song you heard on the radio. The correct day was last Thursday. 

You get the point. Do as much and whatever you can in advance. This will greatly decrease your stress level and keep you on point with the day of Thanksgiving.

5.  Remember No One Remembers The Small Details
 Let me let you in on a little secret...
No one gives a shit in the end about the food or even the drinks; they care about how much fun they had. Crying over the turkey, spilled cream, threatening to give the dog away for eating the mashed potatoes...that's what people will remember that year for Thanksgiving. Instead, focus on the vibe -- cool, calm, go with the flow. If something doesn't taste that great, offer another glass of wine instead. If the pie looks like shit but tastes good, laugh about how fugly it is and eat that sucker. Does the house still smell of burnt stuffing? Fry up some bacon and everyone will be salivating. Remember that these holidays are not about how perfectly crafted your Thanksgiving themed table place cards are, or how good the turkey is, or whatever. It's about getting together, having fun, and enjoying each other while we've still got one another. Don't get caught up in the details. And if something does go wrong, learn from it and fix it next year. And remember: you always have Christmas! ;)

Brownie Sundae Birthday Cupcakes

Thursday, November 7, 2013

These sort of came about completely accidentally. I love those kinds of recipes the most I think! Little Boy wanted cupcakes as well for his Star Wars party -- chocolate to be exact. Fine, easy enough. When it came time to do a frosting, to my horror I realized I completely ran out of butter and had too much to do still to leave the house with all 3 kids in tow, to get butter. So, staring at my wide-open fridge and freezer, my eyes zeroed in on the ice cream. "BRILLIANT!" I thought to myself. Instead of more frosting, I'll incorporate the ice cream and cake element into one, cohesive dessert!

Thankfully Little Boy was not only willing to do the cupcakes this way, he completely embraced the idea and came up with the brilliant idea to add sprinkles like a sundae. Done and done.

I baked off a test batch of the cupcakes and they turned out amazing. Adding the chocolate chips gives pockets of melted goodness. Using a healthy dose of good quality cocoa powder made the cupcakes taste exactly like brownies. This couldn't be more perfect. Now we inadvertently made a brownie a la mode dessert. And they looked freaking adorable with the sprinkles.

Thankfully I had a plethora of sprinkles already saved up from prior dishes and purchases in my baking drawer. I did a combination of chocolate sprinkles with blue crystal sprinkles that made a perfect color match up to the Star Wars themed paper wrappers. Also, mixing the two kinds of sprinkles gave the dessert wonderful texture! The soft regular sprinkles mixed with the crunchier crystal versions were really a great effect. I also had left over these awesome silver star sprinkles. They just went perfectly with the theme. You can find all of these items at your local baking or Michael's stores! They even have gold star versions!!

Add a candle on top if you like! I found these cool color-burning flame candles at the party store. They burn the flame the color of the candle. I don't know...they looked futuristic and light saber-y to me.

You'll love how easy these are to make. And if you have any older kids they can help in the assemble line with the ice cream and toppings before serving. You'll make this recipe over and over again, using different ice cream flavors and colors to suit your party's color palate! File this one away for sure!

Brownie Sundae Birthday Cupcakes
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature (quite soft)
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup good Dutch process cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup milk chocolate chips
vanilla ice cream
sprinkles (optional)
cherry (optional)
birthday candles (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with papers. Using melted butter or plain vegetable (or canola, or safflower, etc.) oil, brush the top of the baking tin. As the cupcakes bake, they will fluff up and over and this will help prevent them from sticking to the pan!

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and the color turns a pale yellow. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate the egg in before adding the next one. Having the eggs at room temperature help this process go faster as well as allowing the egg to mix in better.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Sifting the ingredients will make a fluffier, more evenly consistent cupcake. Set aside.

Combine the milk and vanilla in a separate container -- I use one of those classic pyrex glass measuring cups.

With the mixer on low, begin adding the flour mixture to the batter. Then, add some of the milk mixture. Then more flour, then milk, then end with the flour mixture. Go slowly and occasionally scrape down the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated into the batter.

Fold in the chocolate chips using a spatula. Scoop out the batter into the cupcake tins and fill about 2/3 of the way full. I'm asking you to fill them more than usual because they will fluff up and over the tin, creating a lip. I personally want this effect because it helps keep the scoop of ice cream on top better; it creates a sort of secure plate on which to set. If you'd rather have traditional cupcakes, then fill the tins about halfway full as normal.

Bake in oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 13-15 minutes. The cook time will depend on your oven's strength, so start checking them about 10 minutes in! When done, remove and run a knife around the edges of the top of the cupcakes if you filled them to puff over. Pop the cupcakes out of the pan and let stand to fully cool on a rack.

You can make the cupcakes a day in advance of your party. Just cover until ready to use. You can keep the refrigerated or at room temperature; just make sure they are fully cooled down and wrapped well with plastic wrap!

When ready to serve, simply scoop out your desired ice cream right on top and add sprinkles. Serve immediately!

Grilled Asian Salmon with Avocado Cucumber Salad

Monday, November 4, 2013

I realize there are about a thousand ways to do salmon, but I think this is one of the best. A super easy marinade of Asian-inspired flavors seasons the delicate salmon without overpowering it. I can't stand it when a marinade completely overtakes the protein or vegetable it's supposed to enhance, not bulldozer over. Next, my trick for a perfectly grilled salmon. It's quick and easy enough to pull off for a weeknight meal, and will be your new favorite way of making salmon. To top it off, a super tasty and healthy side dish of creamy avocado and crispy cucumber tossed with cilantro, lots of fresh lime juice, and sesame. This recipe was a huge hit for the whole house, kid and adult alike.

I bought the salmon as a whole filet. Usually for two adults and 3 smaller kids 1/2 - 3/4 of a side of salmon suits us perfectly. You can buy as much or as little as you like for the salmon. If you prefer to work with smaller portions on the grill, go ahead and do that; you don't need to have one long filet as pictured. The marinade will stay the same; you'll just probably have more left over if you make less salmon. That's all. But this recipe easily serves 4 people.

Grilled Asian Salmon with Avocado Cucumber Salad
for the salmon and marinade:
1 long fillet of salmon (or smaller portions -- however you'd like to cook it)
3 Tbsp soy sauce or soy sauce substitute (I use a coconut amino sauce due to my soy allergy)
1 tsp wasabi powder (or prepared wasabi paste if you have it; if using the paste use a little less!)
1 tsp dried Chinese mustard (you can sub with Dijon if you have to)
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp brown sugar (light or dark is fine)
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp fresh ginger
safflower oil or other neutral oil (vegetable, canola, peanut -- a lighter oil; i.e. not olive)
avocado cucumber salad -- recipe follows
Take the salmon and using the back end (i.e. not sharp side) of your knife, run it against the flesh gently and the skin to remove any scales. Run the fish under cold water and pat very, very dry. Set aside.
To make the marinade:
Whisk the soy sauce, wasabi powder, mustard powder, vinegar, zest and juice of the lime, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Take the garlic and ginger and mince the two together. Every few chops, drag the flat side of your knife, scraping down and pressing the garlic and ginger pieces into the board to help break it down even further. Continue to chop and scrape to create a garlic-ginger-paste. If you have  mortar you can use that too. Add the garlic and ginger to the mixture and mix to combine. Let stand at least 10 minutes for flavors to meld.
Gently brush both sides of the salmon with the oil. You want a good covering to help prevent sticking, but you don't want to drench it in oil either. Brush about half of the marinade on the top portion of the salmon (don't bother with the skin) and let stand to marinade. While marinating, preheat your grill to high.
The trick to a good salmon on the grill is searing on high heat then lowering the heat almost completely so it can cook through nicely. When you're ready to grill, place your salmon first flesh-side down onto the grill. Don't move it, don't flip it, don't touch it -- grill until the fish releases itself from the grate with a gentle nudge from a spatula. Turn the salmon over onto the skin side, reduce the heat as much as possible to low (if using charcoal, move the salmon to the colder part of the grill) and cover with lid.

Cook until the salmon is cooked through but still very slightly rare in the middle. The cook time will depend on the size and thickness of your salmon, so gage doneness by firmness of the fish (the softer it feels, the rarer it is; the firmer it feels, the more done it is) rather than by time. This filet took about 13 minutes total cook time. While the salmon is cooking, baste it with more of the marinade occasionally. You might have some left over.

When done, remove from the grill and let stand a few minutes before serving.

Avocado Cucumber Salad
1 large ripe, Haas avocado
1 small cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 jalapeno (seeds included for spicy; seeds removed for less), chopped small
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp olive oil
toasted sesame seeds for topping (optional)

Cut the avocado and cucumber in roughly the same size pieces. Combine with the jalapeno and cilantro, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the lime juice, sesame and olive oils (sesame gives taste; olive gives texture) and mix very gently to combine. Be careful not to break up the pieces of avocado. Top with a sprinkling of the sesame seeds.

To serve, I do a portion of salmon and the salad right on top. I love the color contrast and the juxtaposition of the warm salmon with the cold salad.

Candy Corn Vodka!!!!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Looking for a last minute Halloween cocktail? Make this super easy and yummy Candy Corn Vodka courtesy of one of my dearest friends (and talented bar person)!! It's not too late to squeeze it in for your festivities tonight!

Here's a quick post for you...

Candy Corn Vodka
2 cups candy corn candies
1 bottle of vodka

special equipment: coffee filter or very fine sieve; pitcher or container

Pour the vodka into a saucepan large enough to hold all of it. Heat on medium-low heat until just about to come to a simmer. Be careful here -- we're heating the vodka to make the infusion process faster; if you let the vodka go to boil you're going to boil off all the alcohol and end up with syrup! When teeny tiny bubbles begin to form around the outer edge of the pot -- that's when you know it's ready. Turn off heat immediately and set aside.

Pour the candy corn into a large heat-proof container. A gallon container, very thick pitcher works well...something you usually use to make iced tea or lemonade is fine. Pour the warmed vodka right on top of the candy and give it a quick stir. Let it stand for a few hours. You'll notice the color will change into a super bright, perfect Halloween orange.

Take your serving container or pitcher and place the filter or sieve on top. Slowly pour the infused vodka mixture through the filter/sieve. This will catch any pieces of candy corn. If you like, you can reserve the candy corn to people on the side. Refrigerate the strained final product until well chilled. Use it to make mixed drinks or serve it as a shot as is!

Happy Halloween!!!!

Kitchen Basics: Freezing Fresh Herbs!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Have you ever bought a bunch of parsley or dill, needing it for a tiny component of a dish, and end up sticking the bunch in the back of your fridge only to find it a week or two later old, yellow, and possibly oozing some peculiar yellow substance? Do you get pissed at spending the $2 for a bunch of scallions or parsley, and you can't get through the bunch fast enough so you end up throwing most of it away later? No more! 

Now that we're in the full force of autumn with winter on its heels before we know it, most of us have to say good bye to fresh herbs growing in our garden. And prices tend to hike up at the local markets for fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, even chives. Have no fear! A trick I use that's stupidly easy can make those expensive herbs and garden growers last for the rest of the year and well into next spring! All you need is a glass jar or well sealed plastic tupperware and a freezer. Yes, it's that stupidly easy. 

Freezing fresh herbs keeps them quite fresh. Perfect? No -- it's never better than fresh herbs just picked from the garden. But we'll take what we can get. Growing up my grandma would take tons of parsley growing in the yard and finely chop it, place it in a glass jar (like a mason jar) and keep it in the freezer. Any time she needed parsley for a dish or a finisher she just took it right out. Cilantro and dill also freeze quite well. 

I take the parsley and usually give it a rough chop right off the stem, then freeze it. If I need some finer chopped I'll take a portion out from the freezer that I need and go ahead and chop. My grandma used to have parsley (which we used quite often) both in whole leaf form and very finely chopped formed frozen separately.

Dill is pretty straightforward; I give it a rough chop as well and then freeze.

Cilantro I keep whole leaf as much as possible. Lovage also freezes exceptionally well. I don't bother freezing fresh thyme, lavender, or oregano because their dried form work perfectly in dishes as much as their fresh versions do. Chives and scallions can also freeze well -- I give each a fine chop and add right to the freezer! Basil doesn't seem to freeze very well -- it gets brown and unappetizing. This one you're just gonna have to buy fresh at the store.

Hope this little kitchen tip helps extend the life of some of your herbs! And eases up your pockets! Happy cooking!

Kid Tested, Toddler Approved: Tomato Noodle Soup

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Out of all three kiddos, #3 is definitely the pickiest. Add to that teething and basically food time is a nightmare. Seems like the only thing I can get her to eat is either Mediterranean in flavor or a soup of some kind. If it's a Mediterranean style soup, I get a small high-five...

On a night of desperation I opened a can of one of those tomato alphabet/character pasta soups. I thought surely she'll eat this. Nope -- hated. it. So did the other three. There goes $4 down the drain for organic crappy soup. Extremely irritated, the next day I made my own version. It was far more successful and gave me the rare small high-five.

The soup is extremely simple and can be made with a few base ingredients. I added white beans because they are soft and easier for her little teeth to eat, and gives protein. I chopped the carrots super small. Adding both flavor and color, it's a great way to sneak in some veg if you've got a picky eater. Canned diced tomatoes together with juices as well as 1/2 can of tomato sauce to give that thicker consistency gave the irresistible red color. Some basil for fragrance and flavor, and finally super thin noodles complete the dish. If I had alphabet noodles I would have made it using those. The idea here is to use a fun pasta -- anything will due -- that's small and fun and most importantly easy for the kids to eat. If you really are up for it, it's a great soup to get them to help you to make as well! Enjoy it!

Tomato Noodle Soup
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped very small
1 celery stalk, ends trimmed and chopped very small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small (or 1/2 large) bay leaf
1 (12 oz) canned diced tomatoes -- recommend San Marzano tomatoes (they're the best!)
4 oz tomato sauce
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 (12 oz) can white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed with cold water
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn by hand
about 1/2 cup - 3/4 cup pasta for noodles; (i.e. alphabet, skinny noodles, ditalini, etc.) to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook over medium-low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir often because the dice is small; you don't want the veggies to burn! Add the garlic and bay leaf and cook another minute. Add the canned diced tomatoes together with juices directly from the can right into the pot. Add the tomato sauce as well, stir to combine. Add the broth and stir to combine. Bring soup to a boil. Add the basil leaves and white beans, mix to combine. Cover with lid, reduce heat down to let soup simmer (rather than boil) and cook for another 20 minutes or so. You want the beans to be nice and tender.

Taste the soup and adjust with seasoning to taste. If the tomatoes you used were a little tart, you can add a pinch of white granulated sugar to help balance out flavors if you like. But if you used San Marzanos, sugar is almost never necessary.

Once the soup is to your liking with seasoning, bring the soup back up to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta. Stir. Cover with lid and cook according to pasta directions -- using very thin noodles like I used will take under 5 minutes; thicker pasta like alphabets or ditalini will take more like 8 or even 10 minutes. Taste the soup and when the pasta is al dente, the beans are tender, and the seasonings are good, the soup is ready.

I serve it pretty warm with oyster crackers or Goldfish crackers on the side for the kids to drop in and "fish" out with their spoon. Crusty bread is also a great option.

This soup is fantastic the next day as well, so make a big batch with leftovers for the next day!

White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Parmesan and Truffle

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The weather has been horrid in Seattle lately. Record rains and dipping temperature have already ushered in the first snow of the season in the local mountains. Driving by the local farms dotted with specks of perfect orange pumpkins, cold wet rain, and snow-capped mountains off in the distance immediately sends me into the kitchen to make soups. Today I went for a old standby I've gotten away from for a while. And like an old friend, it was lovely reconnecting...

I'm obsessed with this combination: white beans, rosemary, parmesan cheese, truffles. I make a variation of this combo as a dip, a crostini, a salad, and as a soup. The simplicity of the ingredients is what makes this recipe (and the other versions) so successful. Truly, it is imperative you select only the best -- good quality beans, fresh rosemary, imported parmesan cheese (I'm talking about the kind that breaks off so easily when you try to grate it), and truffles. If you don't have real truffles no problem; use the truffle oil (I confess, I do!).

I love everything about this soup. The texture is silky, the color palate is so soothing, the hints of rosemary and truffle add an irresistible earthiness to the hearty white beans. I like adding a small drizzle of excellent olive oil right before serving for a luxurious and fragrant finish. This recipe comes from humble beginnings -- prepares very easily with readily available ingredients -- but finishes and serves so elegantly. It's hearty without being heavy, effortlessly elegant, and at the end of the day does what we want from every soup: comforts and keeps you warm.

You can certainly make the soup in advance. In fact, I recommend it. As the soup sits, the flavors develop even more. This soup is fantastic the next day, making it a perfect appetizer or main course to serve for a dinner party or lunch that can be prepare well ahead of time. It reheats beautifully on a gentle heat. To serve I'll sometimes float a crouton on top, or just serve with warmed crusty French bread.  It's heaven.

This recipe makes 4 appetizer portions. You can easily expand it to suite a larger crowd. Enjoy it and stay warm out there!

White Bean and Rosemary Soup with Parmesan and Truffle
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped small
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small bay leaf
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
1 (12 oz) can white beans (aka cannellini)
4 cups chicken broth (recommend: Swanson's)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
truffle oil
grated parmesan cheese

Special equipment: blender, food processor, handheld immersion blender to puree the soup

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onions and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook onions until well softened and just beginning to caramelize, on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary and cook an additional minute until garlic is fragrant. Add the beans (together with the bean juices in the can) and mix to combine. Stir in the broth. Bring soup to a boil, then cover with lid and turn heat down to medium-low. Cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, for flavors to develop.

Taste soup and adjust seasoning to taste.

Remove the bay leaf and if using an immersion blender, puree the soup directly in the pot. If using a blender or food processor, wait until the soup cools down to room temperature, then puree the soup in batches. (If you puree the soup piping hot in a blender or processor be advised you'll have to do it in very small batches. Remember that heat has volume, so if you're not careful and put too much hot soup in, you can blow the top off and make a huge hot mess all over yourself and kitchen. This is why it's best to just let it cool down and then work with it!)

You want a nice smooth consistency. Once everything is pureed and you've adjusted with seasonings, add a very small drop of the truffle oil -- about 1/4 tsp's worth -- but you can add less if you find the taste too strong. I prefer to add the truffle oil while the soup is hot; the temperature helps to really bring out the truffle flavor instantly. Mix the truffle right into the soup. You want a balance here -- enough to taste it but not so much as it overpowers.

If serving immediately, ladle soup out into portions and top with a good sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Add a small drizzle of good olive oil right on top if you like. Serve hot.

Make Ahead Tip:
You can make this soup a full day in advance. Do everything including the pureeing up until the point of adding the truffle. Bring the soup to a boil, then once hot, add the truffle and serve as suggested.

Emergency Matzo Ball Soup

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Little Girl came home yesterday sick. Sore throat so bad she could barely talk, I knew I had to do something to get her back into shape. Enter my Emergency Matzo Ball Soup....

A quicker version of my traditional recipe from scratch, this version utilizes the ingredients I always have on hand in the fridge and pantry starting in fall and going through winter and spring when colds and flus are more rampant in our house. I highly suggest you do the same. Not only can you make this super healthy and healing soup, these ingredients are bases for a whole slew of different dishes you can make. A  more detailed blog later, but for this post in my Cold Busting Arsenal I have:

  • chicken (breast, thighs) I keep in the freezer
  • carrots
  • celery
  • onions
  • dried herbs including bay leaves, thyme, herbs de provence, etc.
  • lots and lots of ready-made boxes of broth (chicken, vegetable, beef)
  • matzo ball mix
  • noodles or small/thin pasta I can throw into soups and stews
Having these items stock piled in my pantry enabled me to whip up this soup in less than an hour and half for Little Girl. She came home looking like crap, and by the afternoon was already talking again and feeling much, much better. No special effort or fancy techniques required; you need these base ingredients, a good knife, your favorite soup pot to cook in, and a sturdy spoon. Recovery is well underway!

PS This soup tastes even better the next day!

Emergency Matzo Ball Soup
2 chicken breasts (or thigh, etc)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large white onion, peeled and chopped
1 large celery stalk, ends trimmed and chopped
1 large bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 - 1 tsp dried thyme (to taste)
8 cups chicken broth (recommend: Swanson's brand); (there are 4 cups of broth per box of broth)
1/2 cup matzo meal to make matzo balls
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp water
1 egg

Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a large pot. Brown the chicken on both sides until golden brown. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.

In the same pot now, add the chopped carrots, onion, and celery. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the bay leaf and garlic and continue to cook another minute. Add the thyme and mix to combine. Slowly add the broth, making sure to scrape up the "brown bits" that formed on the bottom of the pot and sides -- they add flavor to the soup. While the soup is coming to a boil, shred the chicken or chop it into bite-sized pieces, then add it back into the soup. Don't worry if the chicken maybe isn't done all the way through; it will be fully cooked in the broth.

In another small bowl, whisk together the matzo  meal, vegetable oil, water, egg, and a pinch of salt if desired until well combined. The consistency will be like thick, wet sand. Place in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes take the matzo ball mixture out and begin scooping out about a heaping teaspoon's worth and using damp hands, form the mixture into a ball. Drop the ball into the boiling soup, and proceed to make more matzo balls. After you form each ball place it directly into the soup. Make sure they're not sticking together in the soup, then reduce heat down to medium and cover the soup to finish cooking. Cook for about 30-40 minutes. You'll notice the matzo balls have puffed up and the vegetables are nice and tender.

Taste and adjust with seasonings as desired. Remember, the soup will get saltier as it stays. So if you're making this soup in advance of something keep that in mind; the matzo balls will flavor and salt the soup the longer they stay in. If you taste it the next day and it's too salty, add some plain water to balance it out.

If you'd rather not bother with the matzo balls you can instead add some noodles or pasta -- flat egg noodles, super thin spaghettini broke into tiny pieces, or small shaped pasta like mini shells or ditalini work perfectly in this soup as well.

Enjoy and feel better!

Pumpkin Pie Scones with Molasses Icing's fall, it's colder out, Starbucks has put their crap out and frankly I've never been a fan of their scones; I think they taste like cardboard. Yet, I always buy them, hoping maybe this time it'll taste better. But it doesn't. Then I get frustrated, and I swear off eating another scone again. Which is a shame because I heart scones. Of every shape and size, savory or sweet. But the pumpkin scone I've had so many bad versions of, I just can't...I can't...

A friend of mine posted on Facebook she made a pumpkin scone recipe, but expressed frustration with the result: "not spicy enough...I didn't have cake flour...the icing was off." It was just what I needed to get me out of my pumpkin scone funk. I happened to have a can of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and went to work on this gloomy, chilly Seattle Wednesday to give my friend (and you) the pumpkin scone recipe we all deserve to enjoy this season.

I'm pleased with the results.

There are different kinds of scones -- some flakier, more like biscuits while others are puffier and more cake-like in consistency. I think both are great, depending on what ingredients you're working with and what the ultimate goal is for serving them. These came out more cake-like; the pumpkin puree is automatically going to yield a puffier product whether you're making pie, scones, cake, bread, or cookies. They are super moist and packed with the spices of the season (cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger, and nutmeg) but without overpowering the delicate sweet pumpkin flavor. The glaze as per my friend's request is flavored with molasses, perfectly complementing the scones both in color and flavor.

I used my secret ingredient for fall baking: crystalized ginger.

Many recipes call for ginger powder or ground ginger; I thoroughly useless spice in my opinion. It completely tastes flat, has zero umpf power that we all know and love of real ginger. The closest you can get to fresh ginger is crystalized ginger -- almost just as powerful, for baking in particular it's even better if you want to include some kind of texture. I often like to surprise people with my baked foods substituting out sprinkles or chips with other ingredients that give the same texture. Here, I used finely chopped crystalized ginger for both amazing flavor and a little surprise of texture in the scone. I think it works. If you hate it, take it out and use 1/2 tsp of freshly grated ginger instead. Throw out the damn powder version. While you're at it, throw out the dried basil and parsley too please. But back to scones...

My scones came out tasting like pumpkin pie but having the consistency of scones, hence my name for them. These are very easy to make and are just delicious with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Just perfect. You can serve them as an afternoon snack or perfect for a brunch or breakfast. Cut them into smaller portions (make 16) and package them up in clear plastic bags with a pretty autumn colored ribbon, add some nice earthy herbal tea and cute mug or tea cup for a lovely gift. These are great for bake sales and parties too! I think I'll make these again come Thanksgiving!

This recipe yields 8 larger sized scones; you can cut them smaller if you like for more adorable bite-sized versions. If you need more don't double the recipe; instead keep making more batches so there's consistency and quality control.

Pumpkin Pie Scones
1/2 cup unseasoned (i.e. plain) pumpkin puree*
1/4 cup half n half (can use milk or heavy cream)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground nutmeg or mace
1 tsp ground clove
1 Tbsp finely chopped crystalized ginger (or to taste; I like the smell and taste of ginger)
1/2 cup (usually 1 stick) cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk together the pumpkin, half n half, brown sugar, vanilla and egg in a bowl until just combined. You want a nice, smooth consistency. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg/mace, clove, and ginger in the bowl of a standing mixer (or conversely, a very large mixing bow). Stir with whisk or fork to get everything lightly combined. Set aside.

Take the butter and cut it into the flour mixer. If using a standing mixer, simply add the butter and turn on the mixer to speed 2 and mix until butter has been worked into the flour mixture and is the size of larger peas. If doing by hand, use a pastry cutter or fork and manually work the butter into the flour. You want the result to be little pieces of butter coated by the flour mixture; again the size of the butter about the size of peas. Why? These pieces will melt into the rest of the dough during baking, creating flaky and buttery goodness.

Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and mix until a dough is formed. The dough will be wetter and a little stickier than say a biscuit dough, but considerably firmer than a cake batter.

Add a little flour on a working surface and turn the dough out onto it, then sprinkle a little more flour on top of the dough. Using your hands, work the dough to come together into a nice disk shape about 3/4 of an inch thick. It doesn't have to be perfect, but do try to get as good of a circle or disk shape as you can to make cutting triangles for you later easier!

Cover the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to get cold. Don't skip this step! It will make better scones, allowing the butter to melt properly!

Take the dough out and using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into 8 equal triangles as you would a pizza. Take each triangle and place on the baking sheet. Brush lightly with a little milk or cream, or egg wash if desired, and place in oven. Bake at 425 for about 15 minutes. The scones will puff up nicely, and the tops will just begin to turn golden. The bottoms will be golden brown. They are ready when you can tap on the top and it sounds hollow; if you can't tap on the top it's not done yet.

Let stand to cool completely before adding the icing. The icing will melt and run off of the scones if they are even a little warm.

Serve with your favorite tea of coffee!

*At the store be careful -- they sell pumpkin puree that is plain (the ingredient it literally just pumpkin) and "seasoned" or "flavored" pumpkin -- this version has spices added to it in the hopes of making your pumpkin pie preparations easier. Please use the plain version and go with my recommended measurements of the spices; it will taste much better.  

Molasses Icing
1 cup powdered sugar (no need to sift it first)
1 Tbsp unsulfured molasses
splash of cream or half n half (or milk) -- that's about a tablespoon's worth

Whisk the ingredients all together until smooth and well combined. The more sugar you add the thicker it will be; for thinner consistency add more milk. If you add too much of one or the other it's ok....keep working against the other until you get the consistency you like. But the above measurements should work well enough.

Take the completely cooled scones and using a spoon, take the icing and drag it back and forth over the top of the scone. Hold the spoon about 6 inches high from the top of the scone for a nice effortless effect. Conversely, you can transfer the icing to a plastic or pastry bag and do it that way. But I do like the organic, homemade feel of freehanding it with a spoon.

May The Force Be With You...A Star Wars Party In The Style of Darth Vader

Monday, October 14, 2013

Five. He's turning five already. I remember five months old, five teeth, giving a high five. But this...I can't take this. Too fast, too soon. Ah, but I digress...

To commemorate this amazing milestone, Little Boy asked for a Star Wars themed party this year. Specifically, an emphasis on Darth Vader in particular. I admit, at first I was skeptical. He hadn't had that much exposure to the franchise, so I assumed the theme would change and change again for the course of the months. But it did not. Rather, it grew stronger like...wait for it...The Force. September rolls around and I'm in full on Star Wars Party prep mode.

I'll be totally honest with you. I know nothing of Star Wars, let alone the intricate plot lines, familial dealings, or frankly what a "death star" even is. I know Yoda is a tiny adorable green guy who speaks funny who looks like my grandma, there's a princess who's kind of bitchy with a spectacularly bad hair style, and it involves Harrison Ford. So for this party I had to do a bit of research. That was in part a bad idea, because there's a shitload of Star Wars stuff out there and I got super overwhelmed. After an initial panic, I got down to business, focused on the theme and colors, and went from there. The result? tell me...

First off the color and overall theme I wanted to go for obviously Darth Vader as the dominate theme and bolster with a more modern Star Wars take. I wanted space elements, the future, and bright colors. I anchored myself largely on the main key notes in the franchise: light sabers (ya, worked that theme to death, man), Darth Vader himself (both in colors as well as physical appearance), and mixed it all in with kid-friendly foods requested by the birthday boy.

I kept the colors mainly black which was personally very awesome for me (I love black) and accented with bright red (Vader's saber color) and mixed in some shimmering silvers, golds, bright neon greens (the "good" sabers) and cool "universe blues" (think midnight blue, laser light blue). I made the birthday sign myself, using simply black and bright red cardstock paper I cut myself and glittery silver sticker letters. Both can be found at Michael's craft stores. I hung the banner using silver floral twine -- I wanted to do an effect like the letters were suspending in space (ha -- there's that theme!) but didn't have time to really work the wire out to achieve the proper affect. Next time.

Tables were rented and of course black chairs to match the theme. Black disposable table cloths from the party store makes for kid-friendly spills and super easy clean up. Instead of using the plates, napkins and cups all with the image of Vader or Star Wars, I chose to do black plastic plates and keep the napkins and cups with the Vader theme. I think this works much better because it doesn't overly crowd the tables with the theme; it looks much sleeker and I think gives a nicer effect. Each table had a collection of balloons -- again, red, black and contrasted with silver stars.  Added nice height and decoration.

I think the best part of the tables though were the silver star confetti! This was totally a last minute decision I'm glad I made. They added a perfect color contrast to all the black on the tables without being overpowering. They were festive, brought in that outer space element again, and added a feeling of celebration that really, really worked.

On the food table I had the food and drinks. I kept the desserts inside this time because we had an unseasonably hot day today and didn't want the cake or ice cream to melt! Among the food included:

Vegetables with "Thomas" (aka hummus) as requested by the birthday boy
Sandwiches from local Jimmy John's
Cinnamon Rolls
Guacamole with Chips
Rice Crispy Treats
Teddy Graham Crackers
Freeze Pops
and two kinds of punch
Of course everything couldn't be called by their boring earth names; I crafted some very simple food cards using silver glitter cardstock with gold letter stickers. The food table also had a fabulous sign made quite easily using this subtly sparkly black scrapbook paper that had the perfect effect of outer space combined with neon "space" type font sticker letters. All I found at Michael's in the scrapbook section. 

Given the space theme I wanted to go very sleek, modern and simple. It was kind of refreshing to be totally honest not to worry about lace or glitter or perfectly punched holes for pretty ribbons. Everything was about straightforward, clear communications and bright colors to contrast with the black. It was a lot of fun working with that palate actually. I tried to look to bright colors both in the décor and the food wherever I could, also doing a cheeky take on the Star Wars theme.
For drinks I wanted to use the beverage dispensers. I kept it really simple. I wish I could have used a more modern vessel like maybe a modern wine decanter for a better look, but I figured this was easier for kids. If you're doing this for adults then I'd say definitely go for the modern wine decanters!
We decided on Yoda Soda and Vaderade for the drinks. The Yoda Soda was green Hawaiian Punch I combined with some Mountain Dew. I did a 75-25 ratio punch - soda because I didn't want the kids to be too coked out on the sugar and caffeine. The punch gave a fantastic neon green base color and the Mountain Dew gave a delightful fizz for taste.

I also used these straws I bought from Ikea months ago -- they were the perfect shade of neon red, purple, green, and black that matched the palate perfectly. I think I spent less than $5 on a huge back of straws. I placed them in a simple glass container along with the themed Vader cups.

The Vaderade was a Cool Aid I made using the premix powder form (the just-add-water). Very simple, and it created the perfect shade of Darth Vader red. I didn't want to do Hawaiian Punch again, so I went this route. You could use most any red colored drink for this. I did really love how the hue came out however. It popped as did the Yoda Soda against the black and dark blues of the table.

The light saber theme was recurring throughout the party. I thought it was pretty smart to include them on the table quite easily in the form of freeze pops. Naturally the shape of light sabers, they have fantastic bright colors and gave a great focal point to the table. Needless to say, the kids loved them as well. I saw other parties that did light sabers in the form of dipped pretzels; great idea but this is far less work and on our hot day they were a huge hit to help keep the kids running around hydrated too!

I was stressing out about what kind of serving platters or vessels to use for this. I didn't want to necessarily invest $500 in modern platters, so instead I used more affordable glass flower vases. They ended up working perfectly. The round bowl-shaped ones reminded me of the helmets they wore when driving the space flying thingies (I told you, I'm really bad with the movies) and the other simple, slightly tapered vases looked like modular-type. I don't know, they really fit in I think in their simplicity of shape and color.


To play on the theme, we did Rolos titled Hans Rolos, cocoa-crispy treats I formed into balls (not that creative, but it worked) to be Death Stars, and teddy grahams for Ewok Cookies. The pretzels -- you can correctly assume the saber shape once again. I thought it'd be gratuitous to write another card for them.

The littler kids I found liked the ewok cookies. The Death Stars worked but in retrospect I wish I used some colored sprinkles or maybe even pieces of broken up pretzels mixed in to somehow make it more special. I recommend that if you try this for your party. The Hans Rolos were of course a hit with the kids.

Yes....this totally happened...

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

I used store-bought cinnamon rolls (the ones in the canister) and to make them smaller, I unrolled them, cut them in half, then rolled each half so instead of 6 larger cinnamon rolls I had 12 per container. This made the bite-sized portions way easier for everyone to eat. You can also just buy some cinnamon rolls from the bakery; I know Whole Foods sells a container with even smaller bite-sized versions that would also work.

The randomly requested Vegetables with Hummus:

Finally, I'd like to present on the food table, the Piece de Resistance:

Ya, that just happened too.

Make your own guacamole or use store-bought and shape the guac freehand into a yoda head. It was not that hard at all. I swear you can do it. Then for the eyeballs I did two dollops of sour cream that I smoothed out with the back of a spoon into eye-shapes. Two slices of olives completed the eyes. For the mouth I simply took a black olive and sliced thin slices I then placed in pieces for the mouth. Because we were doing Darth Vader, I used red tortilla chips. The whole dish sat on a simple black plastic platter I bought from the party store.

For desserts the birthday boy wanted cake as well as cupcakes. And he wanted me to make both. Thankfully he likes my red velvet cake (coincidentally the only cake recipe I can do well) so we did a traditional red velvet inside. He wanted chocolate frosting and black fondant with stars.

After my first birthday cake making experience back for Little Girl's Sleeping Beauty themed party which was a DISASTER of epic proportions, I swore I'd never make another birthday cake again. But how could I say no? Thankfully he didn't want anything terribly complicated or tall or intricate, so I felt confident I could pull it off.

I did my red velvet cake recipe (post coming soon!) and a simple chocolate buttercream frosting. I used store-bought Wilton brand fondant for the outside in black (SO EASY) and then cut out stars using cookie cutters with white fondant. I printed out a star wars font and created the letters freehand using the font to help me. And I totally cheated and used a plastic Vader figurine to finish off the décor, and I'm totally fine with that.

The cupcakes were chocolate with ice cream in place of frosting and sprinkles (post coming soon!).

The activities included a bounce house and Darth Vader piñata which was unceremoniously broken on the second hit by the birthday boy, who was first in line to try his hand at it. My planned activity that was supposed to take at least 15 minutes was over in less than 30 seconds. At least it was him who broke it though!

And finally, no Darth Vader party is complete without a special appearance by Vader himself:

Oh this poor guy didn't stand a chance. The kids' party gifts were light sabers (in addition to whatever they accumulated via piñata). They chose Sith or Jedi sabers (and I had some purple/pink ones as well) and they just completely accosted poor Vader.

He taught them some lessons and games, including how to use the Force...

How to run away from a shitload of kids armed with batons...

 And various other games. The kids had a blast, and Darth Vader was an amazingly resilient good sport about the whole thing.

Thankfully we had a nice flat backyard and beautiful day to partake in all the space mayhem. Seriously though, I have no idea how Darth Vader survived.

The birthday boy and other kids were exhausted. I think I was partially forgiven by the parents for cracking their kids out on sugar and candy throughout the party, given how much energy they got out between the bounce house and running around playing with Darth Vader. I know the birthday boy himself really had a blast.

learning some jedi fighting skillz

a lesson in using the Force

The party was so much fun. I ended up loving the theme. I highly recommend a Star Wars themed party if you're wondering what to do. You can completely tailor it to a certain character, or even add more girly or boy elements depending on the celebrant. This would be fun to do as an adult party too one of these years! And I probably would still rent the bounce house even for adults as well.

Everyone was exhausted at the end. A sign that the party was a success. I think this picture says it all:

So in the immortal words of I Forget Who Actually Said It, "May the with you!"