Before the Summer Slips Away {marinated tomato bruschetta}

If you made a list of everything I’ve done this summer, in order of frequency, cooking would fall lower than just about anything else.  I have not cooked anything.  ANYTHING.  A large part of this truth is because we bought a house and I immediately jumped into action, using up everything that was already in our fridge and freezer, throwing out the remains of sauces and mixes saved up (and expired anyway) over the years, and running things off to storage, or to my in-laws, where my husband and I will be residing until the next, approximately, forever.  Cooking was, for once, the last thing on my mind.

marinated tomatoes.

And the other reason I haven’t been playing in the kitchen as much is the same reason I cite every summer.  There’s not much that needs doing in the kitchen.  Take these marinated tomatoes.  Slice up some tomatoes (I recommend home grown–these were gifted to me by a friend with a garden), and let them hang out with garlic, olive oil, and basil for a few hours, and heap them onto toasted bread.  That’s “cooking” in the summer.  And nothing tastes better.

marinated tomato bruschetta.

To make a baguette’s worth of marinated tomato bruschetta, you will need:

 

  • 4 medium or 3 large heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped into bite sized pieces.
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced, plus two cloves, peeled
  • large bunch of basil, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • one baguette

Combine all ingredients except peeled garlic cloves and bread in a bowl.  Set on the counter at room temperature for 4 hours (though you could get away with less; whatever, it’s summer, it will still work).  When ready to eat, slice baguette into three-quarter-inch-thick slices.  Chop the tip off each peeled clove, and give each slice of bread a good swipe.  The oil will seep into the bread and I promise goodness will ensue.  Toast or grill your slices, and then pile high with the tomato mixture.

 

Calorie Fest 2k12 [cheesecake]

Dear readers, it’s summer break ’round these parts, and that means I’m not tied to my computer like I often am in the colder months.  I’ve been digging deep in the archives to find  some recipes worth sharing again.  These all aired in the blog’s earlier days, but I’m pretty sure the only people who were there to see them go live were CV(D), Wooden Nickels, and Cari Faye.  They are my tried and true staples, and they’ll run for a few weeks while I enjoy the good life.  I’ll check back in with you later this summer dear readers.

xoxo,

Jennie

Enough with the healthy stuff, dear readers.

I made a cheesecake.

And a good one, at that.

Yep, that’s a candle.

This cheesecake hails from December, when I made it for my husband’s/Grandma Glass of Milk’s/my aunt’s Triple Birthday Bash!  All three were born on 12/13.  Well, all three plus Taylor Swift.  But when you’re a food blogger, December is filled with holiday cookies, and January is packed with grains and greens.  When you’re a food blogger, cheesecakes made in the middle of December get relegated to the back of your iPhoto files, waiting for you to rediscover them late one chilly evening while sitting with a warm laptop on your, well, lap.

By now you’ve all given up your healthy eating resolutions, right?  We’re that far into the month, aren’t we?  Even if we’re not, let me tell you this is splurge-worthy.  Indulgent.  Luxurious.  It’s velvety smooth.  The lemon zest does that same thing to vanilla that coffee powder does to chocolate.  The cheesecake doesn’t taste like lemon, it just tastes more like vanilla.  Rich vanilla.

This is Ina’s cheesecake.  There are at least a dozen cookbooks in my library I could have turned to when my husband requested a cheesecake for his birthday, but I went with my girl, the Barefoot Contessa.  Or as Liz Lemon calls her, “That woman on the Food Network whose husband only comes home on the weekends.”  Ina is at her best when she’s making American classics (and yes, she really does turn up the volume), and this cheesecake is a shining example of such dishes.  Out of the three cakes available, this was the one that was first to go.  The one everybody had to have a piece of.

And yes, it had a giant crack in the middle, but whose cheesecake doesn’t?   When you top it with raspberry sauce (which wasn’t memorable, so maybe this sauce next time, okay?), you’ll never even know it was there.

You don’t need a reason to make a cheesecake.  Today is Sunday.  Tomorrow is Monday.  Do it.

To make cheesecake for 12, you will need:

Time.  Cheesecake is not a labor-intensive cake to make, but it takes a lot of time just hanging out in the oven.  Plan to make it the day before you need it.

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 whole extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:

  • 1 cup red jelly (not jam), such as currant, raspberry, or strawberry
  • 3 half-pints fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the crust, combine the graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter until moistened. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1-inch up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

To make the filling, cream the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, 2 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degrees F and bake for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and open the door wide. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2 to 3 hours, until completely cooled. Wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the cake from the springform pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan for serving.

To make the topping, melt the jelly in a small pan over low heat. In a bowl, toss the raspberries and the warm jelly gently until well mixed. Arrange the berries on top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Original post here.

Chicken Stock, Flavor Boost Edition [chicken stock]

Dear readers, it’s summer break ’round these parts, and that means I’m not tied to my computer like I often am in the colder months.  I’ve been digging deep in the archives to find  some recipes worth sharing again.  These all aired in the blog’s earlier days, but I’m pretty sure the only people who were there to see them go live were CV(D), Wooden Nickels, and Cari Faye.  They are my tried and true staples, and they’ll run for a few weeks while I enjoy the good life.  I’ll check back in with you later this summer dear readers.

xoxo,

Jennie

Warning:  2 chickens were harmed in the making of this post.

I’ve made chicken stock before, but never with this much flavor.  This time, I threw in more carrots, because they were about to go bad, and more cloves of garlic.  I didn’t peel or chop them, I just threw them in.  It was fun.  Also, more thyme.

And this stock turned out so much more flavorful than my last.  Why?  Were the chickens better?  Was the secret just to throw everything in the pot a la Ina, rather than slicing, dicing and browning a la Love and Olive Oil?  Maybe it was my “backyard” thyme?


I have no idea, but I’m glad it made so much.  These 9 cups are just the beginning.  The rest is in the freezer.  Can’t wait to make dinners with this.

Ummm, I didn’t really follow a recipe, I just made this by feel.  I used Ina’s recipe as a guide, but consulted with my main man Mark as well.

*Original post here

Is This Just a High Maintenance Grilled Cheese? [croque monsieur]

Dear readers, it’s summer break ’round these parts, and that means I’m not tied to my computer like I often am in the colder months.  I’ve been digging deep in the archives to find  some recipes worth sharing again.  These all aired in the blog’s earlier days, but I’m pretty sure the only people who were there to see them go live were CV(D), Wooden Nickels, and Cari Faye.  They are my tried and true staples, and they’ll run for a few weeks while I enjoy the good life.  I’ll check back in with you later this summer dear readers.

xoxo,

Jennie

Well, yes.

Because a regular grilled cheese does not leave your countered completely covered with ingredients.

Nor does it require so many dishes.

And, you guessed it, you don’t need the broiler for a regular grilled cheese.

So in that regard, croque monsieurs are high maintenance grilled cheese sandwiches.

But they’re so much more!  They’re an entire sandwich on their own.  They’re the marriage of my two favorite foods:  grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese.  Because croque monsieurs are grilled cheeses that take a bechamel bath before they hit your mouth.  For those of you not as well versed in the French language, this means that should you choose to make these sandwiches, there would be a buttery, creamy, cheesy sauce involved in your lunch.

My introduction to these savory beauties was at a local restaurant in the French countryside, after a visit here.  I know, right?  I continued to hunt these sandwiches down for the remainder of my visit, and not just because in a foreign land at the tender age of 20, my palate still bordered on discerning picky.  Also because I can’t say no to Gruyere.

And dear readers, I’m going to do that thing bloggers do sometimes where they tell you that one bite of xyz dish took them right back to that moment in that foreign land that they long to be in again.  Because one bite into this sandwich in my little DC kitchen and I was transported.  I was sitting outdoors with Wooden Nickels, my aunt and uncle, at a glass table, under an umbrella, in a little French town.  These are the real deal.

To make 2 croque monsiuers, you will need:

  • 4 slices French bread, the best you can find
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 T flour
  • 2/3 C milk (skim isn’t ideal, but it will do in a pinch)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 3 oz. Gruyere (I’ve mixed in Cheddar, which I always have on hand, when I don’t have the full 3 oz.)
  • small handful (less than 1/4 C) grated Parmesan
  • 3 slices ham
  • Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toast the bread lightly in toaster or toaster oven.

Melt butter over medium-low heat in small saucepan.  Stir in flour, and whisk till incorporated.  Cook, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes, to allow flour flavor to cook off.  Stir in milk, and cook mixture, stirring constantly, till it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Off heat, stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and half the Gruyere till melted.

Spread mustard on two slices of bread.  Put 1 1/2 slices ham on top of each piece.  Sprinkle half the remaining cheese over ham.  Place plain slices of bread on top.  Slather the top with cheese sauce, and sprinkle with the rest of cheese.

Bake for 5 minutes at 400, then turn on broiler and cook about 3 more minutes, until cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.

*recipe loosely adapted from Ina.

**Original post here.

One Little Word

Ali Edwards has this concept wherein you dedicate your year to one little word as a way to focus, grow, and change throughout 12 short but also long months.  I mentioned it here the other day.

Given my life’s recent history, my word could have been something introspective, and brooding, like reflect, or ponder.

BORING.

This year, I picked celebrate.

champagne
(source)

I’m working on celebrating.  Doesn’t it sound like a challenge?

It’s like when I declared 2010 the summer of cake baking and worked to bake as many cakes as possible.  It’s good to have goals.  And I’m super excited to have a goal that’s fun.

Toward the end of 2012, I spent a lot of time thinking about gratitude, and I found at least one thing to be grateful for each day.  I mean, it worked for Oprah.  And celebrate takes gratitude to the next level.  It’s one thing to be grateful and it’s another to act on that gratitude.  How am I celebrating the people I’m grateful for?  How do I celebrate my marriage?  How do I celebrate the routines that I live every.  single.  day?

I want celebrate to be the way I embrace new situations.

I want celebrate to be the way I treat people I love.

I want celebrate to be the way I treat people I don’t even know..

apple crisp

But I think the part that’s going to be the most fun is to see how this word shows up in ways I’m not expecting.  Stay tuned, dear readers.  I want to stick with this one.

I’m kicking off my year of celebrate with a very un-January, but very celebratory food.  Apple crisp.  From none other than The Barefoot Contessa.  It’s a classic.  It’s a cinch to make.  And it feeds a crowd.

To make Apple Crisp, you will need:

For the filling:

  • 3 1/2 lb. red apples, like McIntosh, peeled, cored, and cut into large chunks
  • 1 1/5 lb. tart apples, like Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into large chunks
  • grated zest of 1/2 orange
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 T freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 C sugar (If you find that to sweet, dial it down to 1/3 C, or even 1/4 C.  You know this is going to have a giant scoop of ice cream on top, anyway.)
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. grated nutmeg

For the topping:

  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar (1/2 is fine)
  • 3/4 C brown sugar (Never skimp on brown sugar.  It’s too amazing.)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 C oats
  • 1/2 lb. cold, unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and if you’re feeling truly gluttonous, butter the inside of a 9 x 17 baking dish (If you don’t have one, use something slightly bigger than a 9 x 13.  If that won’t work, use a 9 x 13, and pack things in tight.).

Place all the ingredients for the filling in the baking dish, and toss till combined.

You have two options for the topping, one in a mixer and one with your hands.  I much prefer using my hands, but when I’m crazy busy, the mixer will have to do.  To prepare in the mixer, place all topping ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on low, till butter clumps are the size of small peas.  To prepare the old fashioned way, mix all ingredients in a small bowl, using your hands to get the butter all mixed in with everything else.  You’ll know you’re finished when the butter clumps are the size of small peas.

Spread topping all over apple mixture.

Place apple crisp on a foil lined baking sheet.  You want the dish to rest on this, especially if you’ve filled a 9 x 13 baking dish, because the crisp is likely to bubble up and over the sides of the pan.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it can make for a dirty oven.  Bake for 1 hour.  Serve warm, with giant scoops of vanilla ice cream on top.

Why Christmas was Awesome

I know that for a lot of you, Christmas ends on the 26th, and you’d like nothing better than my not mentioning it again until December, 2014.

Christmas Tree

Indulge me for a second.

This Christmas was awesome and I fear that if I don’t take the time right now, fresh out of it, to record what made it so, it will be lost for the ages.

home for Christmas

It wasn’t the kind of awesome where everything was perfectly decorated or someone unwrapped a puppy.  It was the kind of awesome that you get from a nice, low-key day, where the gifts are thoughtful, and the dinner isn’t just good, it’s easy.

peppermint stacks

Two Christmases ago, my husband and I were in Chile, and last year, we went to Rome.  I loved our trips, but after two years away, I vowed that this was a year for Christmas in America.

chocolate peppermint log

We did our usual routine of Christmas Eve with my in-laws, and an early morning shoot up 95 to my hometown.

icebox buche de noel

We arrived, open presents, hung out for a little, and then, per tradition, Sous Chef Lauren arrived to start cooking dinner with me.

Christmas Dinner

But there really wasn’t much to do in that department.

penne with five cheeses

With the exception of our annual Christmas latkes (oh hey, early days of this blog), everything was either prepped in advance, or simple to throw together.

Star of David cupcakes

Well, it helped that I wasn’t responsible for the main dish.

So here is what we had.  And though we ate these foods on Christmas dinner, nothing here is Christmas specific.  This would all work brilliantly for a dinner party, or other situation where you find yourself in need of recipes for an indulgent meal.

candlelight

Thus, I bring you a simple Christmas dinner, 2013 style:

Appetizers:

Smitten Kitchen’s Latkes – These are the best, and Sous Chef Lauren’s and my traditional Christmas fare.
Advance Prep: Not really possible with these guys.  But this is the only part of the menu that requires hands on time right before serving.

Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms – I emailed Sous Chef Lauren with the parts of the menu I had cobbled together so far, and asked her to fill in the holes.  She knew that mushrooms were an integral part of this meal.  We never got as far as slicing bread to soak up the juices.  We dug right into these as-is.
Advance Prep: Get everything ready in the morning and just pop in the oven 20 minutes before you need them.

Dinner:

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak – Because I never need an excuse to ask for it for dinner.  The honey gives the meat this hint of sweetness that drives me over the edge.  This steak is the best.
Advance Prep:  Marinade this baby the night before, and hand it off to a loved one to grill for you about 20 minutes before dinner.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Penne with Five Cheeses – We had some vegetarians round our Christmas table this year, and they needed something of sustenance.  I remembered that I made this for Christmas Eve many moons ago (the power of making notes in the margins of my cookbooks) and it was darn good.  Of course, I forgot the penne back in DC and so I scrambled to make this work with the pasta we had in the pantry.  Testudo pasta for the win.
Advance Prep: Make the dish, the night before or the morning of, and bake it off when you need it.  If you’re taking it straight out of the fridge, put it in the oven while it preheats, so it warms up gradually.  If you take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature first, then you can just stick it in once the oven is preheated.  If you think of neither of those options in time, no worries, it just might need longer to bake.

Green Beans with Almonds – There’s no link for this one, dear readers.  Saute up some Trader Joe’s frozen green beans in some onions.  At the end of cooking, add a couple splashes of red wine vinegar and some toasted almonds.
Advance Prep: Get everything ready in the morning, cover, leave it on the stove.  When it’s time for dinner, uncover, and reheat over a medium to high flame.  If you do prepare the green beans in advance, hold off on adding the almonds until right before serving.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Brussels Sprouts with Bacon – Per Wooden Nickels’ request, because she heard they were the best around.
Advance Prep:  Get everything ready that morning and throw in the oven when you’re ready.

Dessert:

Skinnytaste’s Cranberry Bliss Bars – Cutting a 9 x 13 pan’s worth of bars in little triangles leaves you with more bars than you know what to do with.  So despite gifting these to my morning Starbucks team, I had plenty left for our Christmas table.
Advance Prep:  Make these a couple days in advance, wrap well with foil or plastic wrap, refrigerate, and place on the table when the time is right.

Star of David Cupcakes with the leftover chocolate frosting from this cake – Santa brought me these in my stocking last year, and Christmas seemed as good a time as any to break them out.  The box did come with frosting mix, but I had whipped up my father-in law’s birthday cake/Christmas Eve dessert that same night, and my husband suggested I use the remnants of the bowl for these as well.
Advance Prep:  Make these a couple days in advance, wrap well with foil or plastic wrap, refrigerate, and place on the table when the time is right.

Joy the Baker’s Chocolate Peppermint Icebox Yule Log Cake – And then I found out that Grandma Glass of Milk made an icebox cake right before my parents’ wedding.  And all was well.  It’s worth noting that the peppermint whipped cream that goes into the making of this cake is absolutely heavenly, and you will still have a bit left after stacking everything together, so I’d suggest having hot chocolate at the ready.
Advance Prep:  Joy’s cake needs some time in the freezer before it’s served.  This one is a must-make in advance, at least 24 hours before serving.  Then it needs 20 minutes out of the freezer before you’re ready to slice into it.  The perfect pause between dinner and dessert.

What’s that Green Thing?

Growing up, we had a book with that title.  I don’t remember it well, nor is Google giving me any help, but I do remember the page where the younger sister pokes at something green on her plate, while her (no doubt bossy) older sister blathers on about it being some healthy vegetable or another.

brussels sprouts

I actually wasn’t terrible about eating vegetables when I was a kid.  I loved broccoli, green beans, and cooked carrots.  But I have vivid memories of Wooden Nickels trying to get us to eat steamed brussels sprouts.  Blech!  I wouldn’t go near them.

And then, a couple years back, those little green things I wouldn’t touch so many years ago were everywhere.  They popped up on food blogs around Thanksgiving time, and haven’t gone away since.  Were they always a Thanksgiving food, and I just didn’t notice because we never ate them on that holiday?  Are they a more recent foodie trend?  Are they here to stay?

brussels sprouts

When I caught on that people love them roasted, and with bacon, I started rethinking my point of view.  These brussels sprouts were deep in color, and caramelized round the edges.  I love food that’s deep in color and caramelized round the edges.  I love anything roasted.  I love bacon so much it hurts.  Do I love brussels sprouts?

I think I do.

Especially, and this is where we all gasp in shock, Ina’s brussels sprouts.  The difference between her recipe and the one I had been using till now is 1 T of balsamic vinegar.  That’s all it took to take brussels sprouts from something I felt noble eating on my own, to something I felt like shouting from the mountaintop that is this little old blog.

To make roasted brussels sprouts, you will need:

  • Several handfuls of brussels sprouts, washed and cut in half.  Ina taught me to leave those single leaves that flake off.  They crisp up as they cook and add to the finished product.
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 4 oz. bacon, 1-inch diced (Ina actually calls for pancetta which would be so much better, but who keeps that on hand?)
  • 1 T syrupy balsamic vinegar (Really good balsamic vinegar is syrupy.  Balsamic vinegar that you boil to half it’s size is syrupy.  Balsamic vinegar that we peons buy is not syrupy but will work just fine.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the brussels sprouts on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.  Drizzle with olive oil and top with salt and pepper.  Spread bacon pieces all over the baking sheet.  Give everything a good toss so it’s combined.  Roast for 35 minutes, stopping to toss things again halfway through.

When the brussels sprouts are fresh out of the oven, drizzle them with the balsamic vinegar, and serve immediately.