Cream of Mushroom Soup

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I’m back! After the whirlwind that was the holidays, I sort of put food on the back burner (pun intended). We’ve had a lot of fun things going on after we rang in the New Year and most recently spent a skiing weekend in Maryland with friends. Unfortunately, Robert got sick with the flu and we had to cut the trip short (insert PSA for flu shots here). The poor guy is currently parked on the couch and on the mend. To help make things a little better for him, I decided to make a cream of mushroom soup. A lot of the recipes I found called for a variety of mushrooms, but I felt like keeping things basic and went with only the crimini. The extra addition of sage and thyme give the soup a delicious depth and it’s a perfect meal for a cold, snowy day.

I’ve experimented with making my own versions of cream soups and what I have learned is that, if you are using an immersion blender to puree the soup, always do so before adding in the cream/milk part. Otherwise you’ll end up with a frothy liquid that resembles a bad latte; unless you like mushroom lattes, in which case- blend away.

Happy Monday, everyone!

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I also included a few snapshots from our skiing weekend before the plague hit.

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Cream of Mushroom Soup

Printable version

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1lb crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup lowfat milk
  • Olive oil

Directions

1. Heat about 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add in the mushrooms and onions and sauté until softened and the onions are translucent. Add in the garlic and sauté for about a minute longer.

2. Add in the seasonings and stir. Carefully pour in the chicken broth, scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure nothing sticks. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add in the cream and milk and heat until hot. Serve immediately.

Source: Adapted from Use Real Butter

Soft Sugar Cookies

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My mom has a Christmas scrapbook that she has been updating for the past 25+ Christmases. Every year she puts it out on my parents’ coffee table and I love to peruse through it. There are lots of pictures of my siblings and me, bleary-eyed and full of excitement at the anticipation of Santa’s arrival. When I see those snapshots frozen in time, I can still remember how we felt at those very moments. The holidays bring about such strong memories and the old soul in me loves to recount the stories.

When my sister and I got married, my mom gave us a similar scrapbook for each of us to fill out as we start our traditions with our own families. We only have a few pages filled out, and I am looking forward to seeing what will fill future pages of our scrapbook. I have a feeling these soft sugar cookies may be a recurring guest.

These cookies are a new to me, even though the recipe has been circulating around food blogs for several months. They are the type of cookie that becomes a family favorite and, in my opinion, the ideal treat to leave out for Santa. The cookies are perfectly soft without being too delicate and the vanilla flavor really shines through. I’ve made these cookies several times now and I know I will be making them in Christmas future.

Merry Christmas! May all your days be merry and bright.

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Soft Sugar Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Ingredients:
For the cookies

  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoon) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 7-8 tablespoon milk
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

Directions

1. Make the dough ahead of time: beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla and mix until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture, just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the dough is evenly mixed. Chill the dough for a hour.

3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use a 2 inch ice cream scoop, roll into a ball, and flatten the ball slightly and place on the baking sheets. Space the cookies at least 2 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. Be careful not to overbake – they should barely browned on the bottom. Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. To make the icing, place the sifted confectioner’s sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, vanilla, and milk and mix until smooth. Add more milk as needed. Use desired food coloring to make the icing extra festive. Frost cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles.

Source: Annie’s Eats, originally from Hostess with the Mostess

Gingerbread Graham Crackers & Gingerbread Houses

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I made a few adjustments to my favorite graham cracker recipe to make it more festive for the Christmas goodies I sent out this year. Instead of honey, I used molasses and I added in grounder ginger and cloves for a little extra spice. The result was a crispy and a little bit crunchy cookie that I will be definitely be making again.

These gingerbread graham crackers are great with coffee or they would be even more wonderful as the base for holiday-inspired s’mores- perhaps with peppermint marshmallows or Andes mints or a peppermint patty? Oh man… already brainstorming for next year! Another bonus- they’re sturdy enough to be sent in the mail and they also freeze well.

Now- onto the next topic…

Two of my favorite girlfriends and I got together to decorate gingerbread houses a few weekends ago; because, as you can see, we are wild and crazy twenty-somethings living life in the fast lane.  Jess invited Chelsea and me over to live it up and we had a fabulous afternoon listening to Christmas music and overdosing on sugary candy while we created our masterpieces.

Jess so graciously made the gingerbread framework for us. She’s an expert gingerbread builder… and a hard-core icing piper (if that’s a word?).

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The key to a good gingerbread house, and a good sugar coma, is a wide variety of candy.

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Chelsea and her home. Chelsea is supermodel beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, my favorite carpool buddy/navigator and she recently acquired the ability to fix a kitchen sink. This girl’s a jack of all trades. I’m so lucky to have her in my life.

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Jessica: she’s outgoing,  gorgeous, fun-loving, adventurous, a hardworking go-getter, and my Broadway musical mentor. As you can see, she’s also a fabulous hostess and baker/chef. A wonderful friend, indeed.

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How sweet it is to be friends with these women. They truly enrich my life and I am so very thankful for them.

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Gingerbread Graham Crackers

Printable version

 

Yield: About 2 dozen graham crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat graham flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon/3 tablespoons sugar), for sprinkling (if desired)

Directions

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy- about 2 minutes. Slowly add in the molasses and mix until combined.

2. Whisk together the flours, soda, salt, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead together into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 5 days.

3. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. Make the cinnamon sugar in a small bowl.

4. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a lightly-floured until about 1/8 inch thick. Use your prefered cookie cutter shape to cut out the cookies. Place them on the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart, and poke with a fork. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for 3 months.

Source: Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

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You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Christmas cookie baking is in full swing. Woohoo! I spent a good amount of this last weekend in a kitchen whirlwind and these chocolate chunk espresso cookies were one of the first items that popped out of the oven.

While they aren’t a traditional Christmas cookie, they are definitely something to celebrate. The flavor of chocolate (as the Barefoot Contessa will tell us) is amplified with two flavors: vanilla and coffee; and these cookies have both. The coffee flavor comes from espresso powder, which can usually be found in the coffee section of most grocery stores (I used Megdalia D’oro).

These bad boys are rich, dense, and go fabulously with a chilled glass of milk. Leave them under the tree on Christmas eve and Santa will surely lick the plate clean.

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Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
  • 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a small bowl mix together the espresso powder and vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the egg and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla/espresso mix and beat until well-combined.

4. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt) in a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until just combined. Gradually fold in the chocolate pieces.

5. Drop the dough in even spoonfuls (I used a 1.5 inch ice cream scoop) onto the cookie sheets and flatten slightly with your hand. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are just set. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack before transferring to parchment paper to cool completely.

6. Store in an airtight container for 1 week or freeze for 3 months.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart

Lemon Curd Cupcakes

This recipe isn’t a new one for me. I’ve made it as my sister’s birthday cake here and here. This time, though, there needed to be a cupcake version. One of my favorite co-workers recently celebrated a birthday and I needed a more portable version to take out.  She, like my sister, is also a serious lemon lover and I knew these would be perfect for her. Indeed, she loved them.

I’ve discovered the key to a tasty lemon dessert is, not at all surprisingly, the use of fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. There is no substitute. Bottled lemon juice just doesn’t deliver the same bold punch.

If you’re looking to turn your favorite cake batter into cupcakes, it usually works. You just need to adjust the baking time to 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

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And to pack an even bigger lemon explosion, I filled the cupcakes with homemade lemon curd

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Cut out a cone in the top of the cupcakes with a paring knife

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Place a spoonful of lemon curd in the hollowed out portion of the cupcake

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Top with the reserved cone-shaped piece of cake and frost as desired

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Homemade Lemon Curd

I’ve grown to love the peace and solitude of the mornings. Now that we’ve put up our Christmas decorations, I especially look forward to getting up before the sun rises, drinking my coffee, and sitting under the glow of the lights from our tree. The mornings keep getting colder and the low temperatures seem to magnify my affection for these moments.

On the weekends, I obviously have more time to cherish these times and I like to savor something special for breakfast besides my standard cereal or oatmeal to celebrate the freedom from the daily grind. This lemon curd fits into that category.  It helps cultivate my ongoing daydream of sitting in a French cafe with Ina Garten and her friends (and maybe even Jeffrey is there too,  on leave from Yale) and we’re sipping espressos and planning our day. Ahhh…. I live a wild life.

But seriously, this lemon curd is delightfully tart and sweet and a little bit goes a long way. It goes very well with plain Greek yogurt or as a tasty addition to pancakes. It’s also a delicious in baked goods and I actually used the majority of this batch to make lemon curd cupcakes for a friend’s birthday (recipe coming next week!).

Enjoy your weekend, my friends. And don’t forget to take a few extra minutes to relax and sip your cup of coffee, with or without Ina on your mind.

Homemade Lemon Curd

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (7 oz) fresh lemon juice, from roughly 8 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 9 tablespoons (4.5 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

1. Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl.  Set aside.

2. Pour the lemon juice through sieve to ensure there are no seeds or pith remaining. Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a medium, heat-resistant bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (also known as a double boiler). Stir occasionally until the sugar fully dissolves.

3. Take the lemon juice mixture off the simmering water, but don’t turn off the stove or remove the pot. While whisking the eggs, slowly add in about 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the egg mixture at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. If you add the eggs all at once, you will end up with chunks of scrambled eggs. Not cool.

4. Next, put the bowl with the egg and lemon juice mixture back onto the double boiler. Whisk continually, for about 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken. You’ll know it’s done when the curd coats the back a spoon and doesn’t slide right off.

5. Remove the curd from the heat and add in the butter. Whisk until smooth and no lumps of butter remains. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd and over the bowl so that a film doesn’t form on top of the curd while cooling. Place in the fridge for an hour to allow to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator.

Source: This very informative video from The BALSAMS Grand Resort Hotel (skip to 0:30 to avoid the intro)

Thanksgiving Recap

This past Thanksgiving weekend, Robert and I invited our immediate families to our house for a celebratory feast. I was much more organized and less frazzled this year and we had a glorious time. I’ve discovered one of the best things about holidays is the anticipation. The shopping and food preparation, the getting spare rooms ready and the house cleaned, the getting out of work early- it all adds to the excitement. We had a total of twelve people for the meal and everything went off without much fuss. The only snafu manifested in the mashed potatoes as I made them Wednesday night and they somehow turned sour by the next morning. There was no need to stress, though, because my superhero mother-in-law swooped in to save the day (along with Robert and my dad, who valiantly peeled potatoes).

Although I wanted to scale things back this year, it didn’t happen (as my sister so lovingly pointed out). Oh well- I guess sometimes the best way to show thankfulness is by consuming extreme amounts of carbs.

Our menu included:

Dinner

Dessert

And here are a few snapshots from the weekend…

Early morning bird prepping. You know, manly stuff

Someday I’m hoping to have a real dining room :)

Superstar in-laws

And, I just couldn’t go without including lots of Jack pictures…

And just like that, Thanksgiving is over and we are running full speed ahead into the Christmas season. I hope you had a chance to reflect on the good things in your life!

Homemade Larabars (No Bake Granola Bars)

Thanksgiving week is upon us. We’re busy preparing our house for guests and getting things ready for the big feast this Thursday. Some of the first items I made were easy breakfast foods for people to enjoy while they are staying at our house. It’s always chaotic in the kitchen on Thanksgiving day and as the day goes on and it gets nearer and nearer to dinner, certain unnamed relatives (ahem… my brother and sister) tend to gravitate towards the kitchen for samples of what’s to come. While I love my siblings dearly, I think it would be better for everyone if they can have food early on in the day to keep them away from the war zone.  As a result I made banana bread, pumpkin bread, and these incredibly easy homemade Larabars for everyone to enjoy.

They’re made with very few ingredients and are especially wonderful because they are a no-bake treat that is customizable and comes together in a flash. The main binding ingredient are Medjool dates, which can be found in the produce section at the grocery store. The sticky and sweet fruit acts as the glue and then it’s easy to basically throw whatever else you want into the bars- dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, peanut butter, oatmeal. The choice is up to!

Besides being an easy breakfast, these bars are also great pre-workout snacks to fuel you through a good calorie burn before you sit down to a big plate of food this Thursday. :)

Homemade Lara Bars

Yield: 10-12 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pecans (or other nut)
  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely copped
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries (or other dried fruit)

Directions

1. Place the pecans, oats, chocolate chips, and coconut in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Pour into a large bowl and set aside.

2. Place the dates and cherries in the food processor and pulse until a sticky ball forms. Add the date mixture to the nut/oat mixture and mix with your hands until uniformly mixed.

3. Pour the mixture onto parchment or wax paper and form into rectangle. Wrap up the dough and place it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow it to harden. Cut into bars and enjoy! Wrap individually in parchment or wax paper if desired. Store in the fridge.

Inspired by 100 Days of Real Food

Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables & Cooking with Jess

How is that for a long title?

This past weekend, Jess and Greg came over for dinner and what seems like forever since Jess and I last got together for a “Cooking with Jess” segment. What can I say, we are busy folks. But, then again, who isn’t this time of year?

As always, Jess and I had a lovely time together and the food was equally wonderful. It’s not always easy to get together and sometimes it feels like there just isn’t enough time in the day, but I’m always glad when we make it happen.

The menu consisted of mostly fall-inspired foods (with the exception of Jess’s tasty strawberry daiquiri shortcakes for dessert). In addition to the scrumptious dessert, we had classic pot roast, pumpkin soup, and wheat berry salad with roasted root vegetables. I had been eyeying the wheat berry salad recipe as a possible Thanksgiving side dish for a few weeks; and, after gentle coaxing from my Aunt Khaki, decided to include it on our holiday menu.

I could think of no better occasion to give the recipe a test run than cooking with my like-minded culinary friend, Jess.

Wheat berries, also known as Farro (as Khaki so lovingly educated me), are pine nut-sized Italian whole grains that are- in my opinion-a delicious hybrid between rice and pasta. It was somewhat tricky for me to find Farro as my usual grocery store didn’t carry it. I ended up getting it at Giant Eagle in the international section after nearly giving up hope. It tastes great cold or warm and it is even better in this salad with roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, pine nuts, and goat cheese. Although it’s not exactly traditional, I am looking forward to adding this to the table next Thursday.

Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables

Yield 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups wheat berries (farro)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup  dried cranberries or cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2-3 ounces goat cheese, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly grease with spray oil. Set aside.

2. Place 2 quarts water in a medium pot. Add in about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Add in the bay leaves and wheat berries. Cook until chewy and tender, about 40 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, place the chopped vegetables on the foil-lined baking sheet. Toss lightly with 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

4. When the wheat berries are done cooking, drain well and place in a large bowl. Add in the olive oil,cranberries, pine nuts, goat cheese, and roasted vegetables. Stir gently to combine (the goat cheese will melt into delicious creaminess). Serve hot or cold.

Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

Food Memory Friday: Mom’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese

You know, there are some recipes that only one’s (insert your choice) grandmother, mother, father, aunt can make the best. For me, my Mom’s mac ‘n’ cheese is one of those recipes. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles with this version of a classic dish. It’s not gourmet in any way- no truffle oil, expensive cheeses, or exotic spices. In fact, I was disappointed when my mom told me she got the recipe from the back of a pasta box when she was first learning to cook as a young mother and wife. I had been imagining this grandiose tale of a secret family recipe that had been passed down through generations, dating back to the American revolution. In my mind, famous generals and First Ladies were involved in the preservation of this treasured jewel. It seemed (and still seems) more special than a tiny blip next to the nutrition facts on the back of box. And, in reality, it is.

My Mom made this mac ‘n’ cheese on several occasions while I was growing up.  I grew so fond of it that I requested she make when it was her turn to host the team dinner for my high school volleyball and basketball teams. My teammates grew to love it as well. It was a constant, a comfort if you will. So much a comfort, that whenever I take a meal to someone nowadays, my Mom’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe always comes to the forefront of my mind. It’s so much more than just another baked pasta dinner. It’s something I make with love out of respect for the love my Mom put into making it. Even though the recipe doesn’t originate with my great great great grandmother, my Mom made it special because of the memories she created with us. As cheesy (pun intended) as it may sound, taking a bite of this mac ‘n’ cheese evokes such happiness. My mom is a very exceptional and unique woman. She isn’t a typical mother. She isn’t overly sentimental or “touchy/feely,” but my Mom has an uncanny ability to light up a room and make people smile. That’s what I think of when I get to sit down and enjoy her simple macaroni ‘n’ cheese- the fun, the jokes, and the belly-aching laughter. I hope I can be the same example for my future kids.

I love you, Mom.

Mom’s Macaroni ‘n’ Cheese

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 12oz box elbow macaroni, cooked until al dente
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups low fat milk
  • 1 pound American cheese, cubed

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10 inch round baking dish with oil and set aside.

2. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter. Add in the flour and whisk until smooth and slightly thickened. Carefully add in the milk, salt and pepper. Allow the milk to heat to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and add in the cheese. Stir until the cheese melts. Remove from heat and add in the cooked pasta. Stir until combined (mixture will appear soupy).

3. Pour the macaroni ‘n’ cheese into the baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, uncovered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Source: My Mom, originally from Creamette