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.