Monday, December 31, 2012

2013... Let's Do This

I'm alive... it's true. No, I did not drop off the face of the planet, nor was I hospitalized for my outrageous holiday cheese consumption. The combination of pre-holiday stomach flu, client presentations, roadtripping with the tiny dog, cheese, finishing the wrapping, numerous family holiday parties, more cheese, one delayed fried turkey, more cheese, couple of computer glitches and then a sick husband left me a bit behind in the bloggin'. 

So before we talk new year let's get down to this like real internet peeps and recap 2012. Top posts of the year, according to you, my beloved and ridiculously good looking readers. So what do these favorites say about us (and society... get deep with me)?

5. Spiced Peaches -- You appreciate the importance of family recipes as oral history. Someone nominate me for Storycorps... let's get this in the Smithsonian (shout out to my fellow Morning Edition junkies). 

4. Arugula Pesto -- You are maybe a bit tired, but still want to impress people.

3. BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos -- You like drinking in your backyard and singing Stevie Nicks as much as I do.

2. Healthier Green Bean Casserole -- You're just a sucker for fried onions.

1. Pumpkin Tortilla Soup -- Pumpkin rules supreme. You've been indoctrinated completely by Starbuck's to love this squash in all forms. Own it... we're powerless to overcome them.

There's so much good stuff to come in the new year... in the kitchen and beyond. It's gonna be our year damnit, so throw on some glitter and toast with the good stuff tonight. 

And above all, THANK YOU for all of your support and readership as I took on this new endeavor in 2012. You guys make me feel so special. Hugs, tiny dog cuddles and jazz hands all around. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Saltine Sally

Ugh...I have officially been struck with some sort of stomach plague. Pardon the blogging silence, but when all you can tolerate is saltines, food writing (and photo editing especially) is cruel torture.

Hope you all are having fun getting ready for the holidays. I simply MUST get better...think of the wine and cheese I would miss!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Coffee Cake

The countdown has begun... Christmas is almost here. The company parties are done, the presents are bought and wrapped and it's just a few days until we head down to STL in the Honda family sleigh. And of course, the holiday movies.

"Grace? She died 30 years ago." 
"They want you to say the grace... the BLESSING."
"Oh... I pledge allegiance to the flag..."

Because in my book it's not Christmas until you watch Family Vacation and quote it for days afterward. But let's get back to real Graces.

My Aunt Grace's coffee cake is a great option for Christmas morning fare. It's easy enough to take on in the morning, but tasty and impressive enough for relatives and guests alike. Let's all just hope Cousin Eddie doesn't show up at your place.

Cold butter is the base of a crumbly topping and cake.

A quick buzz in the food processor makes the dry ingredients and butter come together in a crumbly mix. You'll reserve one cup for your topping.

The batter will be lumpy since you started with cold butter, but it wall make for a deliciously moist final cake. Top with the reserved crumble topping and in to the oven. Maybe open a present or two? Or maybe enjoy a mimosa or two! It's a holiday after all.

Serve warm, survey all of your lovely prezzies, remind yourself of your blessings and strategize how to politely ask for a gift receipt.

Coffee Cake
1 stick butter, cold and cut into cubes
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 and grease and flour a loaf pan. Combine dry ingredients and butter in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. (Note: You can use a pastry cutter in place of a food processor). Reserve one cup of crumble mixture.

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients with milk and egg, stirring until smooth. Pour into loaf plan and top with reserved crumble mixture.

Bake for 45-60 minutes. Test by sticking a wooden skewer in the middle of the cake, if it comes out clean the cake is done. Allow cake to rest in the pan for five minutes before removing from pan.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Chocolate Bark

Look... the reality is we all work REALLY hard and we could be better about saying Thank You. This is true of any job, but especially in the go-go-go PR world. That's why I like to give a personal treat to each of my teammates during the holidays. I can't make up for every freak out or tight deadline, but chocolate never hurt.

As a less-than-enthusiastic baker, I love chocolate bark. Start with your favorite semi-sweet and dark chocolate, melt and add toppings... that's it! And with abundance of candy and cookie balls this time of year, I love getting creative with dried fruits and nuts. Grown up treats.

Also, pardon the photo quality today guys. I'm having iPhoto export issues and the sun refused to shine when I was cooking over the weekend.

Since you need the chocolate to harden, it's a good idea to temper it. This just means you melt 2/3 over heat and then add the rest off the heat; stirring quickly and vigorously to get it shiny. I'm admittedly only two for three on proper tempering this year. I got distracted... have you seen my dog? He's adorable.

Pour out the melted chocolate on to parchment. Draw a 9x10 square on the other side first, so that you can guide the thickness of your barks.

Then all you do is add your toppings and let it cool completely.

I like to do some lovely gift wrap too. You spend a lot of time with your co-workers, so make 'em feel special when you can.

Chocolate Bark
Makes 32 squares
1 12oz bag semisweet chocolate chips
1 12oz bag dark chocolate chips

Draw 9x10 squares on two sheets of parchment and reserve on cookie sheets. Melt two-thirds of chocolate over a double-boiler with water just simmering (not boiling). Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate, stirring quickly and vigorously.

Split chocolate between two sheets and evenly spread to fill squares. Top with toppings and allow chocolate to cool. Cut into squares and wrap in plastic wrap to maintain freshness.

*I like Ghirardelli chocolate for this

Suggested Toppings
Cranberry Apricot Ginger
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Coconut Banana Chip
2 cups banana chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut
1 cup chopped cashews

White Chocolate Cherry Walnut
*Swirl in 1/2 cup melted white chocolate
2 cups dried cherries
1 cup walnuts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gift Idea: Personalized Stationery

Mom...stop reading this unless you want to ruin your Christmas surprise.

So my mom, being a woman of class and distinction, is a frequent writer of Thank You notes. I REALLY appreciate people who do this. Paper Thank You notes and invitations are a vestige of decorum from the pre-digital age that we should never ever give up! It takes moments and means so much more than a crappy text or email.

Anywhoodle back to mother requested new Crain paper Thank You notes from Santa and I was more than happy to help him with this request. While lovely, Crain paper can be boring and my mother certainly isn't! So I crafted these lovely notes to better fit her personality.

Monograms to be classic, glitter to be "Darcy"....oooh...shiny!

A stamp, blank cards, pretty paper and envelope lining are all set for an inexpensive and personal gift. Not to mention saving elegant society with handwritten prose!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Goat Cheese Vegetable Tarts

"Merry Christmas... come to our party... bring a dish to share." We've all been there, but something about going to someone else's party zaps creativity, not to mention the chaos of Christmas shopping, crafting and baking leaving nothing but exhaustion in its cheerful path. Let puff pastry be your savior.

Whip together a quick tart with baked puff pastry, goat cheese and your favorite vegetables. Take five minutes to arrange the vegetables beautifully and people will think you took all day. Mushrooms and asparagus are my favorites, but zucchini or roasted red peppers would be lovely too.

You can prebake before the party and quickly warm when you arrive, but just be sure to ask your hosts if they have room in the oven. Don't be THAT guest.

Simply prick the surface before baking to avoid overpuffing. Also avoid overly puffed party shirts... don't be THAT guest.

You can also pre-bake the pastry a day ahead to save yourself the pre-party craziness.

Goat Cheese Vegetable Tarts
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions
1 1/2 cups goat cheese crumbles
1 bunch asparagus OR 2 cups sauteed mushrooms

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place puff pastry on parchment paper and prick surface all over with a fork. Bake pastry for 10-15 minutes or until it just begins to turn golden.

Once pastry is cooled, top with goat cheese, leaving a 1/2 inch border. Artfully arrange vegetables and sprinkle with S&P. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese begins to melt.

Recipe inspiration from the one and only Martha Stewart

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hot and Sweet Spiced Pecans

Everyone has a dish that inherently says Christmas to them. The dishes that we always make every year, the one's that get passed down from generation to generation, that no matter how many food trends pass, you can't get enough of. This is the thing I love about food the most; it's ability to transport our senses to another time -- and for me, so much more vividly than other memories.

When I was younger the first thing I remember making for Christmas dinner was a Boston Bibb Lettuce Salad with Hot and Sweet Spiced Pecans, bleu cheese and a dressing that came from children's cookbook. It started with my mom letting me put lettuce on the plate and shake the dressing, but as I grew, I learned how to do the other parts. The pecans were always the most daunting and complex part of the culinary endeavor, but as a adult, they're really quite simple.

Ahh...we grow up so fast.

Sugar, cumin and red pepper flake give these pecans a sweet start and a hot finish.

I would strongly suggest using cast iron for this recipe, or at very least a heavy bottomed pan. With hot oil and sugar, don't even think of messing with the non-stick stuff. I'm lucky enough to have my Grammie's old cast iron skillets -- complete with 50+ years of seasoning.

Toasted and sticky, awaiting a spicy bath.

A quick toss in the spices and you're all set. Enjoy on a salad or all alone. They're also a great holiday goodie to share with friends.

Hot and Sweet Spiced Pecans
2 cups halved pecans
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake

Over medium heat, warm peanut oil in a cast iron skillet or heavy bottomed pan. Stir in 2 tablespoons sugar and continue stirring until sugar melts and turns a light brown. Add pecans to pan stirring for 1-2 minutes, until pecans begin to toast and are evenly coated with melted sugar.

In a large bowl, combine remaining sugar, salt, red pepper flake and cumin. Toss pecans in spice mixture until evenly coated. Remove pecans to a cookie sheet lined with parchment.

Serve once pecans have cooled and sugar has hardened.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Sparkler Pom-Pom Aluminum Christmas Tree

I'll admit it... I'm usually not that into Christmas decorations. This seems like some sort of cardinal blogging sin, I know. Don't get me wrong,  I've always loved a good outdoor lights display a la Clark Griswold, but around here, I was a little "meh" about the situation. Maybe its because I had roommates with decorations in the past or that my mother covers her house in enough glitter to decorate two drag bars. Whatever the reason may be, a few years ago, I literally found myself with not a single piece of holiday flair. 

It all changes this year... because of this baby: The Sparkler Pom-Pom Aluminum Christmas Tree (say that in the voice of Ralphie for the full effect).

After my Grandmother's passing earlier this year, my Dad came across this vintage gem from the genuine 1960s. Tacky and fully committed to sparkle-motion -- he knew I had to have it! I mean, can we talk about the individual fronds? I'm sure they're some sort of chemical hazard, but I LOVE them. 

And perfectly sized for a one bedroom apartment.

Came complete with the original packaging and everything. How charming.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Herbed Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Cheese plate, glass of wine, cocktail meatball, back to the cheese plate, more wine, bite of cookie, keep the wine coming, another meatball, okay just a splash more of the Cabernet... ooh, there's a cheese plate at this party? Welcome to my week. Five nights of holiday parties in a row... here we go Christmas.

File this one under "my life is hard" ridiculousness, but in all seriousness, this kind of partying can wreak havoc on one's waist line and liver. So a little planning ahead on Sunday is providing a fresh, vegetable-forward soup to help balance out sugar, fat and alcohol. Won't make up for the lavish indulgences, but at least it will make me feel slightly less gluttonous.

Apples lend a tartness to complement the sugar-y sweet squash, with fresh herbs as punctuation.

Use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove that pesky skin from the squash. No matter if you hack and knick it a bit, the forthcoming puree will mask a multitude of peeling sins.

Saute to soften, then in with the herbs and broth; simmer to tender town.

An immersion blender would be fantastic here. In other "my life is hard" news, I don't have one of those, so a food processor or blender will work just as well.

Pureed perfect. Be sure you're stocked up on Gatorade and saltine crackers... this week's going to be a doozy.

Herbed Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
1 butternut squash, peeled and roughly chopped
3 small apples, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Over medium heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add onions to butter and oil and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add butternut squash and apples, cooking until the outer edges begin to soften. Add vegetable stock, herbs, S&P and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until squash is fork tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree squash mixture with an immersion blender or in two batches in a food processor or blender. Season to taste and thin with extra stock, if needed.

Serve hot.