Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Guess what I'm making right now?

Summer fruits, warm weather, and new kitchen toys can only mean one thing:

I'm making ice cream for the first time! Peach ice cream, to be specific. (Thanks, Amy, for the recipe!). The mixture is in mixer (try saying that five times fast) right now for another 20 minutes, and then we will let it chill for a few hours before tasting. I'm already drooling. Is it 9:00 yet?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Corn Summer Salad

As another curly-haired person once said, "What a long strange trip it's been." (OK, we have more differences than similarities, but that doesn't stop me from making the connection.)

Clearly, I haven't visited the blog in quite some time (though I hope you have!). If I were to tell you it's because it's been the busiest two months of my entire life, you'd think I was exaggerating. I'd think I was exaggerating. I may actually be exaggerating. But let me just gloss over the highlights (LW--this is when you skip to the bottom!).

May 11: Birthday weekend! Nationals game and Mother's Day family fun.

May 17-18: Connecticut for wedding #1: the Piccrillo's!

May 26: MM and I made it official, and we tied the knot for wedding #2! Professional pictures come next weekend, and oh, I cannot wait!

May 27-June 1: Maroma Beach, Mexico for honeymoon. Picture below was our first day, and the overcast skies gave us the perfect excuse to rest up after wedding craziness. Talk about deep sleep. The rest of the week was sunny and heavenly. Something about white sand and clear water that really make life seem beautiful. Unlimited food and bev's may have helped with that, too...

June 4-5: Dallas, Texas. Not pictured because, well, I never left the airport grounds.

June 5-6: Atlanta, Georgia. Not pictured because, well, I got stuck at the airport and had to stay overnight.

June 6-9: Asheville, North Carolina for wedding #3: the Parrott's! I managed to snap only one picture the entire extended weekend, and that was of a certain GPC and I drinking wine out of mustachio'd glasses. Suffice it to say, it was a beautiful weekend.

June 12-14: Keystone, Colorado for a work conference. Could that state be any more beautiful?

June 21-23: Queechee, Vermont for wedding #4: the Boisvert's! This gorge was one of the prettiest sights in the area. I see now why they call VT the "Green Mountain State". Also, I see why people never want to leave here. Coffee, ice cream, beer...oh my!

Showing off the beautiful trunk I snagged at one of the local Vermont antique stores for a steal. I'm not sure yet where I'm going to put it, but it's such a good looking ol' thing that I'm convinced it will give character wherever it winds up!

June 25-26: Miami Beach for work (and for a little sunbathing along the way). If all work trips were like this, I'd be a much bigger fan of work travel!

Which now brings us to July - can you believe it? As celebratory as it was, I'm relieved wedding-stravaganza-2013 has come to a close, and travel is slowing waaaaay down. Which means more time for cooking! 

It feels unfair to even call this a "recipe" because it is SO simple and SO straightforward and SO gosh-darn-stinkin'-addictive. It's a refreshing side or dip for a summer meal, and it's a crowd-pleaser that could not be easier to throw together on your way out the door to your next cookout. We are heading to West Virginia this evening for a week of sun and R&R (can you believe, after all this travel, we're ready for a vacation!). 

This salad was great at last night's July 4th cookout (thank you, A's!), and it's going to make a second appearance in WV this weekend.

Happy belated July 4th!

Corn Summer Salad/Dip
16oz Frozen corn (or 2-3 cups of kernels off the cob)
1/2 large red onion, diced
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
1 can black beans, rinsed
2 avocados, diced
1/4 cup cilantro
Juice from 2-3 limes
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together and let sit for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Or just go ahead and dig shame in that!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Chocolate-hazelnut Macaroon Torte

When I set out to put up 27 posts, I didn't think it was such a lofty goal. Here I am, 5 days short of another birthday, and I am writing up lucky #27 by the skin of my teeth.

Phew. Mission accomplished, but juuuuuust barely. Then again, that's the point of setting a goal, right? If it was easy, you would have no reason to set out to accomplish it! Birthday 28 is on Saturday, and I've already got some ideas percolating. [Note: I had to remove outlandish trips and fun gifts to myself from the list, even though I still think it's great validation for any and all of the above].

This month's post-less weekends have been consumed with milemarkers, trips, mud, and visits. Trip to Denver came first--here's the view from the hike in Chattaqua State Park:

After that came the Tough Mudder. Very fun, but not doing another one of those again!

Then, Chicago for an MM+SB trip. Highlight of the trip: the riverboat architecture tour. Partly because it's incredibly interesting and informative, partly because it's a pretty way to see the city, and HUGELY because I realized mid-cruise that it was the same type of boat that's featured in My Best Friend's Wedding. If you know me at all, you get why I'm excited. Sigh.

Milestone time: Dad G gets to play way more golf because he's now a free man. Congrats! (Also, not pictured because I didn't want to be the creepy person sharing photos of teenagers without their permission: my amazingly smart cousin, Miriam, and the rest of her high school Constitution Team won FIRST place at their national competition in DC last week. Huge accomplishment! And yes, they do put us all to shame with civic and constitutional knowledge. Not to mention poise. Sure, won't mention it).

Most importantly, after last month's post, I know you were dying to see the "after" shot of the night table makeover (LP-thanks for the reminder!). I'm pre-tty dang impressed with myself, thankyouverymuch.

Finally, the good stuff!! The chocolate-hazelnut macaroon torte! I was SO excited to try this recipe. Being gluten-free is just a bonus, but a cookout at the A's (thanks for hosting such a fun night!) was the perfect excuse to bust this recipe out. It's definitely time-consuming, but it looks beautiful when it's done. Turns out, you wouldn't know that from the DOZENS of terrible pictures I took. Maybe "take a photography class" needs to moonlight on my "28 when 28" list.

In the spirit of honesty, I honestly don't know how to describe this torte. I had SUCH high expectations for it, that I think I was a little let down. I expected it to be a little less "hazelnutty", and a little more "nutella-y". My error? Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, and nobody thought it tasted gluten-free (always a win!). It's an impressive and sophisticated dessert, and I certainly recommend it, but know that you're not getting a super-sweet dessert. In fact, some of you may just prefer it that way!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Macaroon Torte
Followed religiously from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 12-16, depending on your cutting skills

Cooking spray greasing parchment rounds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, then skinned as much as possible*
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate filling
6 ounces (1 cup chips) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon instant coffee  (optional)

Whipped frosting and filling
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy or whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Frangelico or another hazelnut liqueur or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract**

A semi- or bittersweet chocolate bar for shaving (optional)

Position oven racks in the top and lower thirds of oven and heat oven to 325°F. Outline four 8-inch circles on individual pieces of parchment paper. Turn each sheet of parchment over so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon, place parchment paper on large baking sheets, and very lightly coat each piece of parchment cooking spray. Wipe down the circles after spraying so that just a light coating of spray remains.

Toast the hazelnuts until they are lightly browned and fragrant. If yours come with the skins on, roll the hazelnuts in a dishtowel to remove as many of the casings as you can.

Place toasted hazelnuts, 1 cup sugar and salt in a food processor and blend until finely ground. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large, dry bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract, then slowly add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 1/3 increments (it was difficult to do this without losing some of the volume of the egg whites!). Spread 1/4 of macaroon batter evenly within each circle, filling completely.

Bake macaroon layers until golden and dry to the touch — this took 23 minutes in my oven. Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack. You can speed this along by placing them for five minutes each in your freezer.

Chocolate filling
While meringues cool, heat half of chocolate, water, and coffee (if using--which I highly recommend) in a small heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. Off the heat, stir in second half of chocolate chunks until melted, which should also cool the mixture to lukewarm. Spread chocolate evenly over tops of meringue rounds; it will be just a thin slick on each. Cool until chocolate is set, a process that could take a few hours at room temperature or, again, could be hastened along by resting each disc in your freezer for five minutes, or until firm.

Whipped Frosting/Filling
Beat cream with sugar and liqueur or vanilla in a bowl with cleaned beaters until it holds stiff peaks.

Gently peel the parchment off the back of each macaroon round. Arrange your first disc on your cake serving plate. Spread 1/3 cup whipped cream over it. Repeat with second and third macaroon rounds, then top with final round. Don't worry if they don't line up perfectly - there's plenty of leftover frosting to cover those uniquities up. Frost top and side of torte with whipped cream. 

To up the "impressive" factor, use a vegetable peeler to scrape away curls from a chocolate bar for decoration. Serve immediately, or up to 2 days later (your texture may change, the longer the torte sits, particularly in a humid environment).

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Chocolatiest of Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

With the spring holidays behind us and a total of three trips between two people in one week (did you catch that math?) ahead of us, last week was the best kind of "gimme" week you can ask for. So when I got home last night after a long run to a fresh, hot dinner, there was no other way I could answer the ensuing request for cookies than, "What kind?"

Saved recipes, trusty go-to blogs, and cookbooks left me feeling uninspired. All I wanted was a cookie that packed a wallop of flavor without requiring hours of work to prepare. And of course, they MUST be chewy. This is a house rule, and far be it from me to be the bad guy who broke it.

I hemmed and hawed, and I decided to do what any baked-good lover would do: create my own. Anything chocolate in the house got added in. Leftover quarter cup of M&M's? In you go! A little less than two cups of chocolate chips (question of the week: where did the rest of the bag go?). Added! A little coffee to bring out the chocolate taste? Done and done!

Notably, we were so close to being out of nearly every single baking ingredient that I had to make a few improvisations. Namely, with the butter. I was planning on using 1 cup of butter, only to see that we were the proud owners of only .75 cups of butter. How does that happen? In a last ditch effort, I added in margarine. Things were looking good until I moved a little further along and the dough looked too dry. In goes another 1/4 cup of margarine. There was no noticeable difference in taste or texture, so let's consider it a success!

These turned out ooey and gooey and incredibly rich (or was it that I was already full from testing the dough along the way?). To note - the texture of these cookies turned crumbly after just a few days, so my recommendation is to eat them quickly! Despite this, MM went so far as to say that these are the "best recipe I've ever made."

With Chicago (MM) and Florida (me) behind us, last trip of the whirlwind week starts today. Denver, here I come!

The Chocolatiest of Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 30 large cookies

3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup margarine
2 cups sugar (this could be reduced)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 (heaping) teaspoon ground coffee
2 cups flour
2 cups chocolate chips
1/4 cup M&M's

Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together the butter, margarine, and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, and set the mixture aside. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, and then fold in the chocolate chips and the M&M's (or whatever other chocolatey goodness you have hanging around your kitchen!).

Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are set. Allow cookies to cool before eating. Serve with milk or coffee. And bring some by my home to share!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to make soup less spicy

I like to make soup "grandma-style." You know, a pinch of this, a smidge of that, and a few handfuls of those until things look just right. Tasting as you go, you get to create your masterpiece in the most scientific of ways possible.

Normally, this method serves me pretty well. Seasonings build up, enhancing over time and deepening as the soup simmers.

Yesterday was a whole different story. I started with the normal layer of aromatics -- onions, garlic, and herbs slowly cooking up to a flavorful base for the soup. I knew I wanted a spicier soup, so I went ahead and ground some red pepper flakes and cayenne into this mix, along with oregano, parsley, and garlic powder (as though the eight cloves I minced weren't enough!).

After adding my other ingredients, I tasted the broth. To my dismay, it tasted flat. Not a problem, I thought. I'll just zip it up with a few more cracks of red pepper, and a little salt and pepper to boot. Looking good, right?

Half an hour of simmering, and I was ready to test the soup. First taste? More like first choke. WOW. I felt that in the back of my throat, in my nostrils, in a sweaty upper get the picture.

So I tried anything I could thing of. Here's what I added: 1/4 cup of heavy cream (I couldn't bring myself to add more than that once I looked at the nutrition info!), 1 cup of water, 2 cups of mushrooms, and 2.5 cups of baby spinach. The after picture:

The result was a spicy, but tolerable soup. I was still sweating profusely by the time I was done my bowl, but I did get an added bonus of extra vegetables in every spicy bite!

Lessons learned:
1. Easy on the spice. If it burns a hole in your mouth, just think what it will do to your stomach.
2. Cream helps mitigate the spice.
3. Extra veggies and other fillers can distribute the spice around a greater volume of food.
4. There may be something valid about measuring cups.

On a completely separate note, I am trying my hand at fixing up furniture! Here's our old (and I do mean old) nighttable before.

After sanding:

Final pictures to come soon! Have a good Tuesday, everybody!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Roasted Pear and Chocolate Scones

I am writing this for public record: any time I ever grumble about losing an hour of sleep during Daylight Savings transition, please remind me of how gloriously happy I am for it be 7pm and not yet dark.

Seriously, friends, this might just be what heaven is like. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but I do find myself sitting here with a steaming mug of cocoa by my side, a home that smells like baked goods and clean laundry, and a good-lookin' man a few feet away. So really, "heavenly" isn't too far off. 

MM, did I embarass you? Don't worry-I'll make sure he's gone before you get home! ;)

Instead of writing a 15-page essay on all the fun happenings of the past month little while since I last posted, we'll let the pictures do the talking!

First up, the obligatory cooking shot of MM on Valentine's Day:

Jennie and I found this gem on an antiquing trip to Ellicott City. Don't worry, Gillian, we have one for you and one for Jennie, too.

We celebrated my grandparents' 72nd wedding anniversary. You read that right: SEVENTY-TWO ever-lovin' years. No matter how you slice it, that's a loooooong time!

I went to Southern California to test-drive cars for work (check out the snazzy set up we had to measure
0-60 mph!)

This was one of the cars we tested. I hate to use the word "disappointing", but, well....disappointing!

Especially in comparison to these babies (no, I wasn't allowed to drive them. I wasn't allowed to even sit in them!)

Luckily, I got a hike in while I was there. LA would be very pretty if it weren't for all the people!

Our cake topper for the wedding showed up - cute isn't it?

I had the best bachelorette party ever. Thanks for coming to hang and planning such a wonderful weekend, ladies! [If you're wondering why I put up a fuzzy picture, it's because it's the only one of the 10 of us that is remotely acceptable to share with the world!]

MM and I took a cooking class - now we know how to make things "en papaillote!"

Wedding invites came and left!

We went to the Maryland-UNC basketball game. (I'm proud to report that the right team won.)

And, finally, Nora came to visit!

In honor of our *many* moments cooking together in Seattle, we decided to make ourselves brunch. Since we couldn't pick between recipes, we decided to make both. Smart thinking, eh? The scones turned out AWESOME (with that amount of butter, how could they not?). I am not exaggerating when I say "we gobbled these up." Nora, I miss you already! *cough - MOVE TO DC - cough*

Roasted Pear and Chocolate Scones
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 6 scones

3 firmish pears (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated or coarse for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt plus additional for egg wash
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or chips)
2 large eggs, 1 for dough, 1 for glaze

Heat oven to 375°F. Peel and core pears. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange pear chunks on parchment and roast until they feel dry to the touch and look a little browned underneath, about 20 minutes. Slide parchment paper with pear chunks onto a cooling rack (or onto a plate in the fridge or freezer to speed this up) and cool to lukewarm. Leave oven on. Line baking sheet with another piece of parchment.

Whisk flour, baking powder, 1/4 cup sugar and salt together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Toss in cooled pear chunks, bits of butter, heavy cream and 1 egg. With the paddle attachment, mix the dough on low speed until it just comes together. Don’t overmix. Add the chocolate and mix for 5 seconds more.

On a very well floured counter, pat out dough into a 6-inch round. Cut into 6 generous wedges and transfer to baking sheet at least two inches apart. Whisk remaining egg in a small dish with 1 teaspoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush each scone with egg wash and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Bake scones until firm and golden, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack. Enjoy!

*Recipe #2*
To go with the scones, we also made these romaine pesto and egg-stuffed tomatoes. We tried to kill two birds with one stone and bake the tomatoes at the same time as the scones (despite recipes calling for two different baking temperatures), and it may have been a mistake! The tomatoes turned out tasty, but the texture was off. I'm going to need to try these easy-to-make 'maters again before I give a full verdict!


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Garlicky lentil soup with sausage and spinach

The saying is "better late than never," right? Yep, I thought so. In that case, Happy 2013 friends! I'm sure that you have checking the blog longingly waiting for an update, shedding a soft tear when no such update has come. 

Um, what? You haven't? Well...shoot.

As seems to have been the trend in 2012, this year kicked off to a whirlwind start! A trip to Philly to send Kelly off to Norway, a visit from Gillian to DC, purchasing our very first house, condo, home*, doing many a home improvement project on said home (it is amazing how a coat of paint and some new kitchen appliances can transform a place), a bridal shower, a move into the homey-home, and a trip to Kansas.

*[For those of you with a keen eye for timeline and a curious mind, you are very correct in that it was not planned for us to buy a home right now! Thankfully, our nosy trolling on real estate websites and a lucky find led us to a place we would have been silly to pass up. So here's to biting the bullet and welcoming a mortgage into our lives...wait, it feels a lot like rent. Hmmm....]

Thank you to everyone who made the beginning of this year such a good one - your visit/help/gift/presence/hospitality/humor/love/refusal-to-let-me-wear-an-ugly-dress are appreciated more than you know!

A few photos to help you experience the same magical January I did:

Philadelphia Brewery sendoff - Norway is lucky to have you, Kelly!

Gillian visits DC! (One of these photos may or may not be photoshopped...Christmas card 2013, anyone?)

First paint color change in the new home - red (and  background yellow) GONE! Updated pix to come soon.

The two best moms in the world - and now I get to claim them both!

Brotherly love meets Kansas

You can't take these two anywhere (to be fair, MM was cold because I was wearing his coat. Shhh)

 After a LONG trip back from Kansas on Sunday night (weather + delays + geography = 11+ hour from point A to homebase), Mike and I were craving something healthy and hearty to get back into non-vacation eating. This particular soup, vetted by TWO of my favorite food bloggers, seemed right up that alley, and it really does satisfy all of your winter cravings. You feel warm, full, and ready to take on the cold! I would potentially reduce the amount of olive oil used, but the garlic oil really does add that special component to the soup and you'll be disappointed if you skip that addition!

Garlicky lentil soup with sausage and spinach
Recipe adapted from Amateur Gourmet by way of Smitten Kitchen
Serves 6

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 large links of hot Italian sausage, casings removed (original recipe calls for sweet sausage, but I loved the spicy effect of the hot sausage)
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced or diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons or diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in recipe)
Kosher salt
A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned spinach leaves or other winter green
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (enough to coat bottom of pot) in a large pot on medium heat. When hot, add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it starts to brown, about five minutes. Add the onion, celery, carrots, first two garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and if you like your soup spicy, a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook with the sausage until the vegetables soften a bit, another 5 minutes. Add the lentils, bay leaves, tomatoes, water (6 cups is, conveniently, 2 empty 28-ounce cans, so you can get any tomato pulp you missed), more salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook until the lentils are tender, about 40 minutes. (It might be necessary to add more water if the soup gets too thick, though we preferred ours on the thick side.)

When the lentils are cooked, add the spinach and cook until the leaves are tender, just a few minutes more. Discard the bay leaves.

To finish, divide soup among bowls, then add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium until the garlic softens and hisses. Drizzle this over soup bowls, and top with fresh Romano, passing more at the table. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge.