Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sugar Cookie Re-Do

This recipe was one I posted many months ago on my old blog. I wasn't thrilled with the pictures and I thought it would be nice to show how you can make these cookies for every holiday.

Sugar Cookies
from an old family recipe

2/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons milk

The easiest way to start with these cookies is to leave the butter and eggs out on the counter for a few hours before starting. Then when you are ready to start, mix the sugar and the butter with a hand mixer or a stand mixer until it is creamy.
Then add the eggs, vanilla and orange zest and mix after each addition. Next, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, then add the dry ingredients to the large bowl and mix again.
 Once the dough is prepared, wrap the the ball in a piece of parchment or wax paper and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or over night if you want.
After the dough is chilled, sprinkle some flour on a large wood cutting board or even a clean counter. Then roll the dough out using a rolling pin also lightly dusted with flour. The dough should be about 1/4-1/3 of an inch thick. If you want the dough to produce more cookies, it should be a little thinner. Then, using any sort of cookie cutter, cut out the cookies and place them on a tray with parchment paper.

I recently got this scratchy toy with catnip in the back for Winston. I leave it in the kitchen so that he doesn't try and climb in the oven, cabinets or under the sink when I'm cooking. He's obsessed, which is nice, because then I always have company in the kitchen. However, the catnip makes him so crazy that sometimes he reaches out and grabs my feet when he's feeling feisty. As long as I'm not carrying a hot tray of cookies, it's fine, otherwise it can be a little shaky.
 Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. These took about 10 minutes. You want the bottom edges to just beginning to turn golden brown. It's best to take them out a little before you think they are done because they will continue to cook. After a few minutes, remove the cookies to a cooling rack.
 Once the cookies cool completely, you can make the frosting. Just combine all of the frosting ingredients and using a fork, (or beaters if you want) mix everything together. You can also add some food coloring to mix things up if you want.
Next, spread an even layer of frosting over the cookies and add whatever decorations you want. As you can see, I made some blue frosting and added patriotic decorations for the 4th of July.
Here's my artsy shot. Aren't they cute!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer Lemon-Vegetable Risotto

I found this recipe in the recent Cooking Light and it was fantastic. A perfect summer risotto, filled with veggies so it doesn't sit heavily in your tummy. It was also pretty easy to make and the ingredients are available in any grocery store this time of year. I was telling my mom about it last night and she squealed and said "Oooo! I saw it too and got the ingredients in the store today!". Clearly it has mass appeal. While it wasn't bf's favorite risotto of mine (as he said, it doesn't have bacon or ham), he still really liked it even though it has lemon in it. I highly suggest giving it a try.

Summer Lemon-Vegetable Risotto
from Cooking Light

  • 8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut in half
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 (8-ounce) zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 (8-ounce) yellow squash, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 4 3/4 cups organic vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
 One of the great things about this recipe is that you can do it in stages. I know that I would be getting home last tonight, so when I had 15 minutes yesterday afternoon, I prepared the veggies (yes that's my iphone in the picture, naughty me- I listen to Pandora when I cook). Anyway, I started by chopping the sugar snap peas in half and slicing the asparagus into 1-1.5 inch pieces. I then added the asparagus to the boiling water and two minutes later added the sugar snap peas. After the peas has been in for about 3 minutes and the asparagus 5 minutes, I poured them into a strainer and doused with cold water to stop the cooking.

 While the peas and asparagus were cooking, I sliced the zucchini and yellow squash (length-wise then into small pieces). I heated up a few teaspoons of olive oil, then added the squash. Turning and stirring every minute or so, I cooked the squash for about 7 minutes, or until the pieces were turning nice and golden brown. I then set the pan aside (and covered until I was ready to start cooking again).

 I had also chopped the shallots ahead of time, so when I returned home, I was able to quickly heat up the remaining olive oil and start cooking. I cooked the shallots for about 3 minutes, or until just starting to brown and tender.
 Next, I added the rice and cooked for about a minute. Then, I poured in the white wine and let the whole thing simmer until the wine was absorbed (about 45 seconds).
Then, I added a cup of chicken stock (heating up in a pan on the side) and stirred and stirred and stirred until it was almost completely absorbed. I kept adding 1/2 cup fulls after that, stirring until it was incorporated, and repeating until their was only 1/4 cup left of broth and the risotto was nice and creamy and expanded (forgot to take a picture before I added the veggies, sorry!). Just know you want the rice to be at a nice simmer and when it's done it will be tender to the bite and it looks like it's covered in cream. Once my rice reached this point, I added the veggies and cooked for a few minutes until everything was hot.

I then added the remaining broth, butter, salt, lemon juice, lemon peel and Parmesan. I left out the chives because I didn't have any and didn't notice any absence of flavor. I then cooked the whole thing for another minute until the cheese was melted and broth and butter incorporated. Then I served two gigantic, steaming bowls and we dove in. Super delicious!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mahogany Beef Stew with Red Wine and Hoisin Sauce

This recipe is absolutely amazing. It's not really a summer dish, but I found the recipe and couldn't resist making it right away. It's super rich and decadent, smells amazing, and isn't challenging to make. However, it does take a really long time to make. Plan to have at least 3 hours. You don't need to babysit the stew, however, so you can definitely do other things while cooking. Both bf and I loved this stew, so I would really recommend it.

Mahogany Beef Stew with Red Wine and Hoisin Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed, cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian herbs, undrained
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

I started by doing a lot of prep. I used my mini Cuisinart to chop up about 3.5 onions. I also chopped up the beef and trimmed off the fat and excess. This was no easy task and I definitely needed to wrestle with the meat. I settled into a nice rhythm towards the end and next time it will be easier. Don't worry about a little veining because the meat cooks for so long that it really melts and the meat is incredibly soft. Once the meat was ready, I heated up two tablespoons of olive oil and then cooked the meat until all sides were browned, about 10 minutes.

This next step would have been much easier with a different pot. An oval-shaped dutch oven would really do the trick. The recipes tells the cook to push the meat to the sides and cook the onions in the last two tablespoons of olive oil in the center of the pot. Because my pot is tall, but relatively narrow, this suggestion was challenging. The onions kind of mixed in with my beef, despite my best efforts. Also, the onions weren't really able to brown because of all the beef juices pooled in the center. I don't think it harmed the taste at all, but it's something worth noting.

Once the onions were soft, after about 10-15 minutes, I added one cup of wine, the tomatoes, hoisin sauce and the bay leaves. I then covered the pot and simmered the stew for 45 minutes. Next time, I would add the carrots half way through this step because they could have been a little softer.

After the stew had been simmering for 45 minutes, I added another cup of wine and the carrots and simmered for another 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, I took of the lid and turned up the heat and let the sauce thicken for about 15 minutes on high heat. Then I added the cornstarch mixture and cooked for another 8 minutes.
Finally, I served two extremely hot bowls of stew. It was delicious with a little Parmesan, salt and pepper!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings

This recipe was one that I posted several months ago on my old blog, but the formatting was all wrong and the pictures were wonky, so I decided to post it again the next time I made it (last night). It is without a doubt my bf's favorite dish that I make, bar none. Chicken and dumplings can be pretty fatty, but this recipe uses whole wheat flour, non-fat buttermilk and low sodium chicken broth, so it's a nice healthier alternative. It's the perfect comfort food and really isn't too hard to make. Only negative: we burn our tongs every freaking time because it's so hot and we can't wait to start!

Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings

  • 1 3/4 pound(s) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup(s) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon(s) canola oil, divided
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 stalk(s) celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon(s) poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) freshly ground pepper
  • 2 can(s) (14-ounce) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup(s) water
  • 1 1/2 cup(s) frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 cup(s) whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup(s) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon(s) poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 3/4 cup(s) nonfat buttermilk
To start, I (well actually my bf) cuts up the chicken into bite sized pieces. We then put the chicken in a bowl with the flour and tossed the chicken until all of the pieces were covered with flour.

While bf was cutting the chicken, I chopped up the onion, the carrots and celery sticks. Usually, I use the Cuisinart, but last night I was in the mood for chopping so I did it by hand.

Next, I heated up some vegetable oil and added the chicken (reserving the extra flour for later). I cook the chicken, stirring every few minutes, until all sides are browned. Then I put the chicken on a plate.

In the same pot, I added two more tablespoons of vegetable oil and then tossed in the veggies, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper. I cooked the veggies for about five minutes, maybe a few more depending on the size of your pot, until the vegetables are nice and tender.

Then, I added the reserved flour and stirred until it was incorporated into the vegetables. I then added the broth, water and the peas and brought the whole thing to a boil (I forgot to photograph this step, oops!).

While the liquid was coming up to a boil, I made the dumplings. In a separate bowl, combine the white flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt and poultry seasoning (you can just whisk it together). Then add the buttermilk and mix until the dry ingredients absorb the buttermilk. You want the dough to be sticky and wet. Turn down the heat to low so the liquid is gently simmering, then, using a tablespoon measuring spoon, drop balls of the dough into the broth. I have found that it's easiest to just use your fingers to plop the balls of dough into the soup. It's certainly not glamorous, but sometimes you just have to get your fingers dirty. As you can see, you want the dumplings to be spread out on top of the stew. Don't push them under the liquid, once you are done, just put the top on the pot and simmer undisturbed for about 15 minutes.

After you let the dumplings cook, they will be nice and brown and fluffy. Spoon 3 or so dumplings and lots of stew into a bowl and enjoy, just be careful to let it cool!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Since I am plugging through the very last days of my work contract, I figured it was time to get a library card at my local library. Two months loom before me with nothing to do but pack, read, cook, bake and explore the remaining to-do's on my Washington, D.C. list. This book was one of my first check outs during my inaugural library visit and it couldn't have been more splendid. From the very first page, I was totally enamored with the amazing characters. The main character in particular, Major Pettigrew, had me totally besotted in an old-fashioned, grandpa sort of way. He is exactly how I imagine a proper, curmudgeonly English gentleman of an era gone by to be. In fact, I think society today could benefit from a healthy dose of Major Pettigrew's morals, standards, etiquette and behavior.

If anyone has read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, this story reminded me so much of that wonderful novel. Despite grief and sadness lingering in the shadows of lives of the main characters, there is hope, love and the potential for happiness. It is a charming story and ultimately has a happy ending, although all of the pieces don't tie up in a neat, tidy, sparkly little bow. If they did, I would be insulted and it would feel ingenuous.

I don't really want to get into the details of the plot, as I would probably give something important away, all I can say is this is a story about people finding love, happiness and their place in the world late in life and in the most shocking of places.

Please read this book, you won't regret it!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards

About a month ago, the most wonderful thing happened. I got a call from my bf and he said "I'm in the Borders browsing, they are going out of business, come browse with me!" If that isn't straight out of my dream book, I don't know what is. Anyway, I, of course, proceeded to buy way too many books. The fiction section was mostly picked over, but there were still some great history non-fictions left. In fact, because everything was so dramatically on sale, I was able to really branch out and try some different historical genres. This book was one of my finds. Being from California (and since I'm going back), I wanted to know more about one of the most famous events/trends. Although the book was more focused on the Civil War than I expected (I clearly stopping reading the title after the Gold Rush part), I really enjoyed it! It's not super long (under 300 pages of writing), has lots of great portraits and is fairly small in size, so it's a quick read. But the writing is colorful, dramatic and it is written like one long story, so it's a very pleasant experience.

I learned a great deal about the politicians that dominated the scene in California and Washington at the time, as well as their intrigues, duels, passions and failures. Seriously, these characters make politicians look like the most dull, unanimated sissies (yes, even Rep. Weiner's got nothing on these guys). I was also really surprised that California was dominated by so many pro-slavery southern men prior to the Civil War. Granted, I guess I don't really expect 4th grade history books to go deeply into the racism and less-than-pleasant path of the state. The book also talks a lot about the anti-slavery contigent in the state and how their actions and political positions were driven from a desire to preserve jobs for miners and other poor white settlers, rather than a humanitarian concern.

While corruption still exists today, it's amazing to see how rampant and public the process was in the 1840's, 1850's and 1860's. The concept of corruption was totally different and the right to hand out offices as a part of the spoils of victory was a given. As a result, men were fighting for a great deal more than just one office in the elections, producing some pretty shady maneuvers, and thus, some really interesting reading material.

While I certainly wouldn't call the book a beach-read, it was fun to read and definitely something I'd recommend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pan Fried BBQ Chicken

This recipe is actually my bf's brainchild. He originally created the chicken when I was out of town and he was feeling creative. The other night we were planning to make Penn Yan Chicken (will post recipe later), but we were out of eggs and I frankly wasn't really in the mood, so we whipped out this stuff instead.

First, I started the artichokes. Usually, I just put a few inches of water in the bottom of the pot, bring to a boil, and cook/steam the artichokes for about 30-40 minutes. My tried and true method for telling if they are done is super complicated :). First, grab a pair of tongs or some sort of pinching device. Then grab a leaf towards the inside of the artichoke and pull. If the leaf slips out really easily, it's done. If not, put the top back on and continue cooking. See? Super hard. Another artichoke tip: when picking out artichokes, the best way to tell if they are good is to look at how many leaves there are and how tightly bound they are. You want the leaves to really hug the center.

To flavor the chicken, we put the tenders (about 2 breasts worth) into a plastic baggy. We then put a few spoonfuls of flour into the bag and several pinches of poultry rub. Our store bought rub would be pretty easy to recreate. It had rosemary, salt, garlic powder or salt, poultry seasoning, pepper and I think some cumin. (These were the only ingredients I was able to deduce from smelling the container, it didn't list the ingredients). We then shook the bag until all of the chicken pieces were covered and let it sit for about a half an hour.

To cook the chicken, we heated up a little vegetable oil and added the chicken. We cooked both sides for a few minutes until the pieces looked just about done.
When the chicken was pretty much cooked through, we added a little bbq sauce on both sides and let each side cook for a minute or two to seal in the sauce. The sauce developed a nice crunchy outside, almost like a bbq skin.
The final product! It was a super easy, healthy and delicious dinner.
Oh and I also made little red potatoes, but they took too long because I seriously underestimated the time it would take to bring the water to a boil. As a result, they were our second course.

I hope you enjoyed this post! If you want to see more recipes like this one, head over to my new blog at

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

This is another book that was recommended by my step-sister to my mom and then to me (sensing a pattern?). When I first read the inside cover I was immediately skeptical. Allegra Goodman was called the Jane Austen of this generation. As a huge Austen fan, I do not take comparisons lightly. After reading the book, I'm not sure I'm totally on board with the ties to Austen, but I loved the book. Another night spent reading way too late and getting way too little sleep. 

As with any book that compares to Austen, there was of course a healthy dose of romance. The really nice thing about this story is that it isn't about cookie cutter romances. Not all of the relationships ended the way I expected and the characters certainly weren't perfect. The side material (the jobs and interests of the characters, as well as the public affairs that provided the background to the story) were refreshingly complex and sophisticated. Technology, antique books, cooking and religion all made an appearance. There was no "dumbing down" of the material and I really appreciated the role 9/11 played in the story. My adolescence was absolutely shaped by the events of 9/11, so I think Goodman's honest portrayal of the shock and impacted of the day really rang true for me.

The locations in the story were also perfectly chosen. As a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, I LOVED Goodman's description of Berkeley. It was quirky, whimsical, absurd, and could not have been more accurate. I also thought it was fantastic that the locations (Berkeley and Cambridge, MA) were a physical manifestation of the two main characters. The locations really emphasized the differences in personalities between the two sisters (another aspect of the story I was able to relate to- my sister and I are as different as two girls could possibly be).

I can't say enough good things about this story and would really encourage you to read it!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

My step-sister was the first in the family to read this book. She then recommended it to my mom, who read it, loved it, gave it to my grandmother, who loved it, and recommended it to me. I had tried to transfer it to my kindle from my mom's, but it didn't work because we aren't on the same account (by the way, I mention my kindle occasionally. I think it's great for traveling, but absolutely never use it at home, I simply love the feel of books way too much). Then I put it on my to-borrow from the library list, but never really made it there.

Anyway, I went to visit my grandparents in May and as I was going to bed Friday night, I saw the book on the bookshelf. I thought to myself, "I'll just read a few chapters before I go to bed and ask Nonny if I can borrow it in the morning". I don't know why I continue to believe that I can just read a few books of a fiction book and go to bed when experience clearly suggests otherwise. Sure, if it's a dry non-fiction, a few chapters and I'm read to go to sleep. But anything remotely interesting and I'm hooked. So at 3:00 AM, I closed the book after finishing it and finally went to sleep. Since I sped through it and couldn't put it down despite actually being really tired, I shouldn't have to say that this story was excellent.

It's historically accurate and does a really wonderful job of moving back and forth between the 1940's and present day characters in Paris, France. While certainly not the happiest of stories (it deals with a little-known round up of Jews in Paris under the Vichy regime), it does do a wonderful job of incorporating hope, the importance of our past and our ancestry, and remembering those who came before us. Also, there has been a lot of literature published about various experiences during the Holocaust (and for very good reason), but this story sheds light on story that has widely been forgotten. It avoids cliches and expresses emotions in a fresh, non-phony sort of way. I've read some remarkable books lately and this story certainly belongs in that category.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Review: Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

This was a book my mom loaded onto my Kindle, which she gave to me last year for my graduation. Since I just finished it in early May, clearly I dragged my feet on this one. I guess I was sort of in a non-fiction rut, but not that I opened the can of fiction beans, I can't stop! Seriously, I have two more fiction books to post about after this one that I sped through. 

Sacred Hearts was fabulous. As a lover of historical fiction, there isn't much that surprises me in the genre anymore. But this story was definitely out of the ordinary, the characters weren't the usual royals or courtiers, and the time period was definitely unexpected. The story is based in an Italian covenant, Sainta Caterina during the Renaissance. Although the story is predominantly about women, the characters are incredibly complex, fascinating and it makes the story multi-dimensional. The story also incorporates amazing knowledge about plants, medicine, music and antique books.

As most historical fictions do, Sacred Hearts has a certain element of romance running through the plot, but it isn't overwhelming or fake. In fact, the ending actually surprised me, but in a really good way. One note however, if you are against Catholicism or religion, this might not be the book for you as it does incorporate many of the psalms, prayers and thoughts of the nuns- which are inherently religious. I would never consider myself a religious person and I really enjoyed the story, so I think it's not really a problem.

Enjoy! If you do read it, let me know how it goes!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Welcome to My New Blog Home!

As I discussed a while back, I was having quite a few difficulties with my old blog host. There were constant spacing issues which I couldn't resolve and I was going to be facing photograph storage limitations soon. I have nothing against Wordpress, I know it works great for some people. I just find blogspot works better for my needs and wants. Also, while cooking is still a large priority and interest, it simply isn't my only focus. I wanted to include some of my other passions and make blog friends in many aspects of the blog community. I hope you will all continue to follow my explorations and endeavors here!

This site is still very much a work in progress. As you will see, below are many of my recipes from my old site. I am in the process of bringing my old recipes onto this site, so that past creativity isn't lost!

Thank you for the support! I hope you will let me know what you think of my new blog home. Please feel free to leave any comments, suggestions, criticisms, qualms, or questions!

P.S.- Sir Winston C. Churchill will of course be joining me, along with a new helper to be fully introduced once I move to California!

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Sugared Walnuts

This recipe just seemed like fall to me, so I was game to try it. It was super tasty and not as heavy as a lot of other risotto recipes. I also thought that it was really complex with lots of flavors and textures. Here is the link to the recipe:

First, I chopped up the walnuts and preheated the oven to 400 degrees.

Then I laid out the walnuts on a small tray and baked them for about five minutes.

After the walnuts baked, I mixed them with brown sugar and pepper.

Then I poured the melted butter over the mix and set the bowl aside. 

While the walnuts were baking, I chopped up the squash. 

I then tossed the squash with olive oil, laid out the squash on the pan.I then baked the squash for about 15 minutes. 

While the squash was baking, I combined the chicken stock and water and brought the mix to a simmer.

Next, I chopped the turkey bacon. The recipe calls for pancetta, but I rarely actually buy pancetta and I usually just use bacon. 

I cooked the bacon for about five minutes and then added the onions and cooked for a few more minutes.

At about this point, the squash was done, so I took it out of the oven, mixed with the garlic and set aside.

Then I returned to the stove. I added the risotto to the skillet and cooked for a few minutes. Then I added lemon juice. The recipe called for chardonnay, but I didn't have any in the house and I didn't want to buy more because I don't drink wine and I didn't want it to go bad.

After the lemon juice had mostly been absorbed, I started adding the chicken broth mix a half-cup at a time.

I stirred the risotto constantly until each half-cup of broth was mostly absorbed. It took about 20 minutes until the risotto was nice and creamy. Then I added the thyme, lemon zest and squash to the risotto.

After reheating the squash, I poured the contents of the skillet into a big bowl. I sprinkled the walnuts and the parmesan cheese over the risotto. 

Finally, I mixed in the nuts and the cheese and served. It was delicious!