Sunday, December 16, 2012

On My Wishlist: Christmas Edition

Why, it's the most wonderful time of the year. This year I already have everything I want and need, but in my surfing the web over the past month or so, I've come across some pretty nifty gift ideas for others.

A lot of the people in my family are super hard to shop for, including my husband. He's very low-matience, which is usually lovely, but when it comes to buying presents, it means I often resort to getting him cooking gear. Which he always wants anyway :)

What's on your wish list this season?

From Rain Collection 


From Target


10 Kitchen Gadgets under $20

From House Beautiful


From Asos

Homemade gifts to give to others:

Mexican Hot Chocolate Fudge

Body Scrub


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's that time again. The holidays. This year, Justin and I hosted Thanksgiving in our tiny flat. We brined a 13 pound turkey for three days before roasting it along with sausage-sage stuffing, green beans with candied bacon, and mashed potatoes with gravy made from homemade turkey stock. For dessert, I made a chocolate pudding pie with an almond crust {recipe below!}
Pudding. Yum.
Almond crust with mini chocolate chips. It tastes like a cookie, but is gluten-free and low fat (shhh)

Baby Jonathan (my brother's kid) indulged maybe a little too much.

Now, it's time to turn our focus onto Christmas. This December 1st, it feels nowhere near the holidays at 60 degrees. I'm wearing shorts. And a T-shirt. In winter. Something is very wrong with that.

Nevertheless, a balmy start to the season won't stop us from cranking on the holiday cheer.

I took some branches from the holly bush outside my house, plopped them into a vase, and added a candle. Here it is in daylight:

And at night:

I went to Michael's a couple weeks ago, I had a plan to make a wine cork wreath. When I was checking out, I told the woman behind the counter my idea (the procedure to do so, of course, confirmed with a Google search). She asked if I had ordered the wine corks online.

Um. No.

She asked because you might need about, oh, 200 corks to do this.

For this project, just hot-glue 150 wine corks (I guess you could order them online) to a straw wreath. Add a pretty bow. Presto. Easy enough for me to do it!

Darla, of course, is fully embracing the entire tradition.

Happy Holidays, Readers. 


Chocolate Pudding Pie with and Almond Crust

For the filling:
1 - 5.1 oz instant chocolate pudding (I used fat-free, sugar free)
Skim milk
1 container Cool Whip (I used fat-free, sugar free)
1 tsp instant coffee

For the crust:
1.5 cups almond meal (available at Trader Joe's)
3 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. For the crust: mix the melted butter and the almond meal. Mix together until moist. Add chocolate chips and mix. Press into a pie plate. Bake for 15-20 minutes or so until golden brown.
3. For the filling: measure out the proper amount of milk for the directions on the packet of pudding. Add instant coffee and dissolve. Add pudding mix and whip until firm. Add half the container of Cool Whip.
4. When the crust is cooled, pour in the pie filling. Let it set in the fridge over night. The day of your event, freeze the pie for an hour to harden. While you're eating dinner, let it defrost on the counter so it's just right.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Lobster" Mac and Cheese

Ok, so you may notice that the word lobster is in quotes above. That's because we didn't really use lobster — we used monkfish.

What's monkfish, you ask? Click here if you really want to know.

Yeah, disgusting. But it tastes really good — surprisingly like lobster. That's what they call it, anyway — the poor man's lobster. We're pretty poor, and we love us some lobster, so we gave it a shot.

Plus, it was already filleted. I actually had no idea monkfish was that terrifying until I Googled it just now.

Anyway, on to the recipe.

1 lb short pasta, like penne rigate
1 quart milk
2.5 tsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1 tbsp Soulard Grill seasoning (or your favorite seasoning)
1/2 tsp ground chipotle + more for topping
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese + more for topping
1.5 cups shredded jack cheese
1 lb monkfish

1. Make the cheese sauce: melt the butter and flour together to make a roux. Add the milk slowly, whisk together. Let this simmer until it becomes thick. Add the Soulard Grill seasoning and chipotle.
2. Turn off the heat. Add the cheeses and stir until melted.
3. Boil the pasta until done.

IMPORTANT: Drain and rinse the pasta. That's right, rinse. You'll never hear me say that again, but rinsing pasta for mac and cheese makes the sauce not gummy or too thick and starchy, which is something about homemade mac and cheese I don't like.
4. Mix the sauce with the pasta. Transfer to a baking dish, top with additional cheeses and chipotle, then bake at 375 for 20 minutes until bubbly.
5. Bake the monkfish in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or so until you can flake it with a fork. Top the baked mac and cheese with the fish. Bacon optional.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Butternut Squash Lasagna with Sausage, Mushrooms and Broccoli Rabe

I'm something of a lasagna freak. I love trying new things with it — Mexican lasagna with tomatoes, black beans, and cheddar; artichoke lasagna with bĂ©chamel; classic bolognese lasagna — you name it.

This was probably the best we've ever made.

The sauce is a silky butternut squash puree. The homemade lasagna noodles are layered with spicy Italian chicken sausage, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, broccoli rabe and ricotta cheese.

This is a very complex recipe — something for lazy Sundays or Saturday. Really, though, nothing in the world is better to me than spending my days off investing in an hours-long meal that will cook in the oven for an hour or so. No kidding.

Take the time to make this for a special occasion. You will not be disappointed.

For the butternut squash sauce:
1 medium butternut squash
1-1.5 cups chicken broth
Salt & Pepper
1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil

For the sausage & mushroom filling:
1 lb spicy Italian chicken sausage
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 tsp each: bacon fat, butter, olive oil
~1 lb shiitake mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch thyme
Pinch red pepper flakes
Pinch salt & pepper
Optional but strongly encouraged: 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, 1.5 cups chicken broth

For the cheese mixture:
1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped
1 container whole-milk ricotta cheese
Pinch red pepper flakes
Pinch salt

Homemade pasta sheets (or you can buy them - about a pound. We made the whole wheat version.)

Pecorino Romano cheese

Preparation (Written by Justin)

1. Chop half of a yellow onion and cook on medium heat in a combo of bacon fat, butter, and olive oil (or just one of the above). Add about a pound of sliced shiitake mushrooms, a couple cloves of chopped garlic, thyme, and crushed red pepper. Season well with salt and pepper and cook for another 7-8 mins. 

2. This next part is optional, but makes a BIG difference: we took about a cup of dried shiitake and rehydrated them in hot chicken stock and let them sit in it for about 20 mins then blend until smooth. Add this mixture to the mushrooms and cook until the liquid is almost completely reduced; it should look like gravy.

3. SautĂ© a pound of spicy italian chicken sausage or whatever ever ground meat and add it the mushroom sauce.

4. Next, blanch chopped broccoli rabe in salted boiling water for about 10 mins. Drain, rinse under cold water and squeeze out all the extra water. Add this to ricotta cheese. Add salt and crushed red pepper.

5. For the butternut squash sauce, cut a squash in half longitudinally, douse with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast skin-side up for about 45 mins at 375 degrees. Once cooled, blend the squash with chicken stock and garlic oil until smooth.

6. Make the pasta (or buy some); if the pasta is fresh, blanch it for 2 minutes in boiling water. If dried, cook them until they're al-dente. 

7. Time to assemble: Add a layer of butternut squash sauce to the bottom of the pan. Layer on the pasta.  Add the ricotta-broccoli rabe mixture, then the sausage-mushroom mixture, then a layer of Pecorino Romano cheese. Then add another layer of squash sauce, pasta, ricotta, mushroom-sausage sauce, 
Pecorino. Repeat until you run out of ingredients.

8. Bake at 375 for about an hour. Let it rest for 10 minutes (if you can wait that long!)


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Good Morning: Soulard Coffee Garden

Yesterday (Saturday) Justin and I went to the Soulard Coffee Garden for breakfast. 

This is easily the best cappuccino in St. Louis. Very strong, rich, with a foam so thick on top that you could probably balance a quarter on it.

Even though the eggs benedict is the house speciality (and coincidentally, one of our favorite breakfast foods), we both ended up getting the eggs and hash, which was a home fry hash with corned beef, poached eggs and tarragon hollandaise. Almost like eggs benedict, but so very much more.

I will never make hollandaise without tarragon again. Consider me converted.

The hash came with a superfluous side of fruit. I guess just to make you feel OK about eating this for breakfast (when really, do you need to justify it?)

A good morning to us.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Spinach-Mushroom Puffs

As you all know, I'm a sucker for easy make-ahead appetizers. This one is no exception.

Last weekend I catered a 60th wedding anniversary for some extended family. There were about 35 people in attendance, and all of them big eaters. I had to make enough food for about 50.

Here's what I made for the party:

Fruit plate with my mom's famous marshmallow dip
Veggie platter with balsamic dip
3 lbs Fried gnocchi (a la Nigella Lawson) with pesto
Crab toasts (triple batch)
10 lbs pork and beef tenderloin
Wonton tacos (double batch)
Smoked salmon platter
Mushroom puffs (double batch)

The mushroom puffs, while great on their own, showed some serious potential. This recipe makes a lot of puffs, but the point is that you freeze them and eat them 4 or 5 at a time. Trust me, you'll want a lot of these babies.

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

1 package frozen puff pastry sheets
1 8-oz can mushrooms, drained
1 8-oz can spinach (or 1 package thawed frozen spinach), drained
1 8-oz package cream cheese (can be light)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
Black pepper

1. Mix together the cream cheese, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan, mushrooms and spinach (make sure they're dry!).

2. Thaw the puff pastry overnight in the fridge or for a couple hours on the counter. When it's pliable, roll it out with some flour so that it's almost doubled in size.
3.  Cut the puff pastry in half lengthwise. Dollop the cheese mixture onto the puff pastry and spread it in an even layer across the sheet.

4. Paint the edges of the pastry with a beaten egg. Fold the pastry over lengthwise, across the mixture, and seal the edges with a fork.

5. Brush more egg on top of the pastry and sprinkle with pepper. Cut the pastry log in half, then in half again. From there, you can cut the quarters into thirds or halves, depending on how big you want the puffs (I opted for thirds, and that will make quite a few puffs).

6. Freeze the puffs until you're ready to use them. Bake them at 425 for 20 minutes or until toasty.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Venetian Artichoke Pesto

A lot of my food inspiration comes from the places I've been — namely, Italy. Spending four glorious months there changed my life intellectually, spiritually, and of course, gastronomically.

Early on in our study abroad experience, Justin and I made the trip to Venice. You can't go to Italy for a length of time and not see Venice. It's hauntingly beautiful, full of strange and wonderful nooks and crannies and crooked cobbled streets. The canals are beautiful, of course, but what struck us the most was the fog that settled over the ancient port town like a veil.

Yep, we fed the pigeons. They are terrifyingly unafraid of humans.

One of the single best things I ate in Italy was an artichoke pesto penne that we had in the old Jewish ghetto in Venice.

This was a close second to an otherworldly eggplant parmesan that I had a tiny waterside restaurant called Timon — but I'm still trying to figure out that recipe. So you'll have to make do with artichoke pesto. For now.

This recipe is the closest I could get to the pasta I had in Venice. Smooth, creamy, and somehow still bright and light. The best thing is, this recipe is super duper easy — no peeling or trimming artichokes. Yup, we're using the canned version.

1 can artichoke hearts, drained
zest & juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3-4 tsp water
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2-1 cup chicken broth
1 lb pasta (penne, rigatoni, whatever you like!)

1. Drain the artichokes. Put all the ingredients EXCEPT the chicken broth and pasta into a blender, and give it a whir until smooth. If you need to thin it out a little, add a little bit of water in intervals until it blends.
2. Boil pasta in heavily salted water. Drain. Toss with pesto. Thin out the pasta/pesto combination with a little bit of chicken broth, until it's the consistency you like.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Make Your Own Flavored Vinegar

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law Ginny and I went to a Dierbergs cooking class with the St. Louis Herb Society. Nothing in the world can beat having a bunch of food experts cook for you while you sip on a champagne spritzer.

They made a lot of delicious food, including crab cakes, focaccia, herbed chicken en papillote —but one thing that stuck in my mind was their custom-flavored vinegars. Tarragon, blueberry, chive … any and all fruits and herbs you can think of are possible.

It's a bit of an investment up front — it takes 6-8 weeks for the vinegar to steep. But the preparation takes only minutes, and when it's ready, it's fantastic. Think of it as a good holiday present to give away.

I made a mix of basil, tarragon, thyme and lemon.

1 bottle white wine vinegar
1 glass jar (no exposure to metal, though)
Flavorings: herbs, citrus zest, fruit (blueberries,
raspberries, strawberries, any kind of berry).


1. Roughly chop the flavorings and put into the jar. Pour the vinegar over it.

2. Let it steep in a cool, dark, dry place for 6-8 weeks. I kept mine in a shoe box in our guest bedroom.

3. Strain the vinegar and store back into the seal-proof container.

Great to make salad dressings, bread dipping sauces (mix with olive oil and Parmesan cheese), marinades, and anywhere else you would use vinegar.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Quinoa Crab Cakes

My husband is a genius. Sometimes I can come up with some good recipes, but if you want to know the truth, Justin really is the creative soul in the kitchen. Just look at this:

Yeah, what the heck? I've never heard of quinoa crab cakes, but this is just the sort of thing that Justin will come up with out of thin air. He paired it with the most delicious side salad in the world.

I know, I know, I'm bragging. Sorry.

1 can lump crab meat
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock
bay leaf
3 garlic cloves

1 red pepper, chopped fine
1 purple onion, chopped fine
3 cloves minced garlic

1 egg
1 lemon (juice and zest)
1 tbsp mayo
1/2 cup panko

For the salad:
mixed greens
goat cheese crumbles
toasted walnuts
cherry tomatoes
3 tbsp Tuscan herb oil
2 tbsp Strawberry balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2-3 tsp honey

1. Boil the quinoa in the chicken broth with the bay leaf and 3 cloves of whole garlic. Salt the chicken broth with a teaspoon or so to season the quinoa as it cooks.  Cook as indicated on the packaging.
2. Saute the red pepper, onion, and minced garlic in some olive oil until soft. Let it cool and then combine with the cooked quinoa.
3. In the cooled quinoa mixture, add the crab meat, egg, lemon zest and juice, mayo, and panko. Add enough panko until the mixture is moist but not overly wet and sticky.
4. Heat some oil in a pan. Form the crab-quinoa mixture into patties, then saute in the oil until golden brown on each side.
5. For the salad: combine the Tuscan herb oil (basically garlic-herb infused oil; you can make your own if you can't find it in stores), strawberry balsamic (available at Di Olivas oil store), mustard and honey. Adjust the flavors until it's sweet enough for you. Toss the other ingredients together, dress the greens with the dressing, and serve with the warm, crispy quinoa crab cakes.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grilled Cheese and Tomato-Meatball Soup

It's slowly getting more fall-ish here in St. Louis. Not fast enough for me, but enough for me to start bustin' out the autumn recipes. This recipe kicks that off, and to top it off, it's a contest winner.

Well, it hasn't won yet. But it will.


To tell the truth, I'm terrible at winning things. I feel like I'm generally winning in life, but so far as prizes and money and fame go, I'm sub-par. Just looking at recipes on Pinterest in all their creativity and magical ways to use canned crescent rolls makes me feel like a rookie.

Maybe this will change that.

The contest is the 5th annual Dei Fratelli Ripened Recipe Contest, and the prize winners get free products for a year.

Free tomatoes for a year.

So much I could do! Marinara! Chili! Stew! Soup! Enchiladas!

OK, I'm going to stop now. Enter the contest if you think you can beat me, but don't enter it if you know you can beat me :-) 

By the way, the soup was delicious. But you already knew that.

Here's the breakdown:

For the soup:
1 28-oz can Dei Fratelli crushed tomatoes
28 oz chicken broth (just pour broth into
 the empty tomato can to measure)
1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp both salt + pepper

For the meatballs:
1.5 lb ground turkey
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 egg

For the grilled cheese:
White cheddar
Optional: spinach, mustard, ham, avocado, etc.


1. For the soup: Saute the onion and garlic in some olive oil. Add the tomatoes, broth, lemon, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Let this simmer for 20 minutes. 
2. Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender and mix until smooth.

It kinds of feels like I should be boiling a pot of spaghetti right about now, but the ooey gooey cheese sandwich is making me hold off.

3. For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix all the ingredients into a bowl and stir until just combined.

3. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray generously with non-stick spray. I made golf ball-sized meatballs (is that right? I dunno, I'm not an athlete).

These meatballs are pretty sticky, but that's OK because they're turkey and you need the extra moisture to ensure they don't dry out. Just get them roughly spherical and bake. No need for precision here.

Bake for 20 minutes. Throw them into the soup to continue cooking on simmer for another 10 minutes.

4. For the grilled cheese: I just so happen to have a panini press, but it's not needed really. If you use a griddle, use a griddle. If you use a frying pan, use a frying pan. Your way of making grilled cheese is the right way. The more cheese, the better. White cheddar, fontina, or mozzarella work well here.

Fingers crossed, readers. I'll keep you posted.


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