My aunt and uncle used to have three chocolate Labs named "Mo", "Las", and "Ses" and every time I hear the word, I think of those precious puppies. So cute. Well, this last weekend I worked on Christmas-ifying the house and while doing so, made Chocolate Gingerbread Bars. All in all, a success, but definitely a specific taste and seasonal one. The boyfriend went for a long morning bike ride on the mountain and while he was away, I scrambled to cozy up the house. I put on some Nat King Cole, cleaned like a banshee, strung christmas lights around all the windows, hung a wreath on the door, and filled the place with that holiday spice smell from hot-out-of-the-oven bars. For myself and the fun of decorating, and a little to ta-da! my hungry, exhausted boyfriend when he walks through the door. "Ah honey, you baked." (What movie?)
I personally loved the bars but they are definitely quite ginger-y (so heads up, non-lovers). The chocolate chips and powdered sugar top were nice sweet counters to the heavy spiciness of the cake.
I've only baked with molasses a few times before and usually gingerbread men during Christmas, but didn't realize until now that I liked spice in my desserts as much as I do. Memory-conjuring smells are usually spices for me like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, etc but this taste works much the same. Tastes like Christmas.
The recipe includes sour cream which really makes it moist. The bars just melt and stick to the roof of your mouth. In a great but got milk? sorta way.
I'm always happy to throw chocolate chips into any recipe. Amazing when hot and gooey, but also nice hidden chunks of surprise when bitten into cold.
There's also cocoa powder in the mix and dusted in the pan. A great balance of chocolate and ginger actually. Spiced brownies is the best description.
Bars such as these are so easy to make—this recipe was totally quick and painless. I love the aesthetic of bars too, cutting them up and dusting them, maybe arranging in a festive box as a gift. Not sure how they'd pass with the kids but would be a nice treat for a holiday party or baking exchange.
You'll definitely need milk with these. Deliciously chewy and rich, yet you won't be able to eat more than one.
A couple months ago, I was looking around a little flower boutique when the displays between the vases caught my eye. Beautiful handcrafted vintage images on wood stood and hung delicately from the walls with silk ribbon. I absolutely fell in love, looked up the company and discovered the talented Marta E. Peters of Moonlight & Roses. I spent hours looking through her collection of wall art and greeting cards, vowing to buy up at next paycheck. Then, ho ho, I was at my mother's just last week when I found the woman already owns, like, ten pieces! And I had been so proud of my find...
My mother has already amassed an assortment of M & R collectibles: a free-standing wooden angel, a triptych of angels, and a hanging wall art postcard of Santa Claus. So gorgeous, and so not fair.
The Christmas art is wonderfully whimsical and romantic but after scouring her entire site, I can't choose a favorite. I'm in love with it all. I've been looking for vintage art of Alice in Wonderland like this for years, I'm partial to any beautiful image of this city, love the elegance of Victorian portraits and the memories brought back by scenes of the seaside. Just makes me swoon.
These pieces inspire me to actually do something with the boxes of old greeting cards and postcards I've been pack-ratting over the years. Craft projects just like these! I want to glitter and string them with ribbon, maybe even encase them in glass. Ooh the possibilities! For now, I'll just have to drool over my mother's and call dibs on my inheritance. Blast.
Every Sunday night is a feast at our place. The boyfriend and I eat a late breakfast, have a light mid-day snack, cook up a storm, and then enjoy a long, savored, early evening dinner. It's our day of utter slothness where we just laze around and watch movies in front of the fire. We tend to make big, labor-intensive meals for our Sunday feasts since we have the full day and can do it together, where during the week it's lucky if the meal's hot and eaten before 8pm. We also go for comfort food: stews, lasagna, pot roast, chicken pot pie, etc. The boyfriend is British so his idea of comfort food is a bit different from mine (meatloaf is to him what haggis is to me) but our tastes are very similar and usually balance each other out quite well. When I suggested Shepherd's Pie for dinner last night, he was quick to concur and then show me how it's done. I didn't argue.
Shepherd's Pie is traditionally made with lamb but has also been done with ground beef (actually that's the American adaptation) and is also sometimes called "Cottage Pie". It's a minced meat pie with a mashed potatoe crust. We added cheddar cheese to the top which is not typical but oh so good.
The vegetables used can vary but we used carrots, onions, and peas. I mentioned some recipes that include corn in the mix to which I got an indignant "I've never heard of corn in Shepherd's Pie". Right you are.
When my boyfriend's mum makes Shepherd's Pie, she browns the meat on the stove and then broils it for a couple minutes in the oven. It dries out a little and then when combined with the other ingredients, soaks up all the flavors and juices. You don't have to worry about the meat and vegetables being too dry because of the added beef stock, and the meat has that wonderful crispy but chewy texture.
You can mash the potatoes any way you want and then glop them on top of the pie. You can mix them with cheese for the topping or just layer it as we did. We mashed the potatoes manually and then in the Kitchen Aid for an ultra-smooth and creamy consistency. It was a genius idea (and not mine sadly).
After combining the meat and vegetables we added a cup or two of beef broth and then seasoned with thyme, salt, and pepper. We then sealed it with the mashed potatoes and a sprinkle of white cheddar cheese.
You can add the cheese in the last 10 minutes or in the beginning, if you prefer that baked, chewy cheese layer like on lasagna. I think it's the best part and is not the same without it.
My sister and her boyfriend joined us for our Sunday night feast and brought along wine and a movie. We all curled up on the couch with our steaming plates of Shepherd's Pie and goblets of Zinfandel. My sister is as much about coziness and comfort as me so I'm pretty sure it was a winner.
Is it December already? Does that mean I can make a Christmas list? Great! Because while out shopping for others, there were a few adorable items that caught my eye:
(photo courtesy of The New York Times Store)
I am dying for this cookbook. I can't justify getting it for myself so please Santa!
(photo courtesy of Toast)
It's about time to order some firewood and I think this french-made wicker basket might be needed.
(photo courtesy of Anthropologie)
I have yet to own a butter dish and when I saw this at Anthropologie in white, I thought it was perfectly simple and feminine.
(photo courtesy of Anthropologie)
I'm more of a Mary Poppins-esque bag owner but this one has me resolved to change that.
(photo courtesy of Amazon)
I'm ashamed to say I never visited the Rose Bakery while in Paris but plan to make up for it with this collection of Parisian culinary beauté. I flipped through the book for two minutes in the store and almost fainted.
I was assigned dessert duty this year for Thanksgiving but another guest volunteered the pumpkin and pecan pies so I went with something new and different. I was really close to making a rich, chocolatey dessert but since that would have only satisfied one person (me), I thought it'd be selfish. Cheesecake is always successful across the board so I added some zing and made it Key Lime. It was a recipe I've never tried and was somewhat worryingly complicated but turned out great. So great that there were whole pies left over but only cheesecake crumbs. Oops.
This recipe packs a punch—I think I squeezed and grated limes for an hour. It's a good sign, in my opinion, when a recipe asks for a lot of lime (or just citrus in general). It was definitely tart but creamy and smooth.
Stirring the custard often while allowing it to thicken is important because of the egg. Getting it to the perfect consistency can be tricky but doesn't take too long. It needs to cool completely before going in the pan otherwise it will melt the other layers.
This cheesecake is inspired by Sara Lee's version and features a sour cream top. It's actually four layers: graham cracker, custard, filling, and sour cream. The first three layers are baked in the oven set inside a large baking pan filled with hot water. It's crucial to wrap the cheesecake pan with a couple layers of aluminum foil to prevent any water getting in. Once baked, sour cream is spooned on top and baked again for about 10 minutes. I let it cool completely then set in the fridge overnight.
Everyone tried to save room for dessert but it was such a huge meal! I've never been a big fan of pecan pie but the pumpkin was amazing. So perfectly smooth and spiced with a beautiful design. I always have to taste the entire assortment or it's a night wasted.
I would recommend keeping the cheesecake chilled until serving or it will sweat. I think the layers came out well but I do wish I had baked the crust a bit longer. Ovens vary so I would suggest eyeing it until it's golden and set. It's everyone's favorite part anyway.
Hi! How was everyone's holiday? I just got back from a whirlwind weekend of events including Thanksgiving, my cousin's wedding, and 700 miles of driving. I'm exhausted! But everything was smooth and so much fun. I wanted to post Thanksgiving photos last week but it wasn't humanly possible so here is a quick recap in photos. Hope you all had a wonderful Turkey Day!
My parents hosted almost 30 people at their home—family, friends, and newcomers. The preparation was insanity but for me, the most fun.
My dad set up a full bar on the patio complete with a batch of Blue Hawaiians (no idea). But of course for my family, it was all about the Sidecars.
We had a full rectangular table and two round tables taking up the entire dining room. We use gigantic plates we call "troughs" that hold embarrassing amounts of food. And the party crackers are always a place setting staple.
Another staple: the cheeseball. I used to hate it as a kid but now I'm all over it. Green olives, sundried tomatoes, cheese, rolled in walnuts—yum!
This was one of two turkeys (my dad and uncle always compete to make the best one) but I can't remember which. They were both delicious though I wish I had been more relaxed to sit and savor it all.
The food was incredible and the company even better. The holiday went too fast! Now it's on to Christmas countdown...
My mother has been crafting decoupage boxes since she was a little girl, giving them away as gifts upon gifts or just keeping for storing craft accessories and knick knacks. I have always wanted to sit down and have her teach me the ways of elegant decoupaging, and with our holiday cookie baking tradition about to start, thought they'd make festive two-in-one gifts for a few special recipients. We spent the last three days covered in glue and glitter (everywhere I went: "Do you know you have glitter on your face?") and now that I've made two and seen the amount of time and patience they require, I'm very tempted to keep them for myself because I doubt anyone will know the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them. Along with delicious cookies, I will have left a bit of my soul in each box.
Traditionally, you can decoupage with any type of scrap paper: newspapers, magazines, wrapping paper, photos, stickers, etc. We used mostly wrapping paper (for images of Santa, holly, snow, etc), post cards (used/recycled as well as vintage booklets from a local stationery store) and then these really old sheets of flower cut-outs from god knows where. My mother was given them as a child and are still beautiful even though brittle and yellowing. I hardly wanted to touch them because she shrieked in agony every time I raised the scissors. We used these old-fashioned cards and stickers which you can find at stationery or book stores; the specifically decoupage cut-outs are carried at most craft stores like Michaels or Ben Franklin.
We scooped up a stack of tin boxes on sale at The Container Store for a dollar a piece but you can use any type of cardboard or plastic box too. Shoe boxes are always excellent but I was really excited about these tin ones because they'll last longer and are visibly prettier beneath the paper. I start at the center by gluing down a 4" x 6" post card and work my way out. I found a perfect already-decorated vintage card that my cousin gave me with a gift last Christmas and features soft tones of blues and reds. The center image is important in that the smaller images encircling it should pattern its colors.
I like to place big, bold images in the corners of the lid to draw the eye, filling in the spaces between with overlapping smaller ones. When cutting out the images, it's best to follow their natural shapes rather than making blunt circles or squares around them. I did most of the arranging as I went instead of laying it all out and then gluing but it might be wise to play around with the pieces first for a rough idea.
My second box had a fun image of Santa at the center, with bold greens and reds but balanced nicely with lighter hues of whites and pinks. I like using images with white parts (like clouds, snow, flowers, etc) because these are the parts that, once everything is down and outlined with glue and glitter, shimmer and sparkle brilliantly in the light.
The sides of the box are not as high maintenance as the lid but still require some strategy. I follow the same ratio of big, bold images to smaller ones but with some random fun items thrown in. I also try to wrap the paper continuously around the corners but leave a little room at the top so the box can close without later crunching paper and glitter.
The part of gluing and glittering is completely optional: many decoupagers, at this point, cover the whole thing with varnish and they're done. My mother's process is so masterful and elegant, and doesn't include varnish but rather ultra-fine translucent glitter and clear-drying glue. (She mentioned that she has added a layer of clear varnish in the past but it ends up muting the colors and shimmer.) We start with the sides and trace along the top edge of paper with glue. We then pick out the lightest areas and highlight those bits depending on their shapes (i.e. Santa's white beard and hat, the tips of a rose, or snow). We then use an iridescent clear .035 glitter flake (which my mother emphasizes as a more-than-glitter glitter because regular glitter will dry to look like sugar) and sprinkle along the whole surface, with something below to catch the extra glitter (it's expensive so best to salvage and re-use). We give the area a quick bump of the hand to force the glitter in and shake off to dry.
The glittering of the lid follows like the sides except I like to outline around the frame of the center card as well as within it. This is actually very important as the center should be the focus and appropriately accentuated. Once the glue completely dries, you'll be able to see how all the colors and textures sparkle together.
I am not a cranberry authority in any shape or form but I know come Turkey Day, there better be a good relish or chutney on the table. This year, my parents are hosting about 30 guests at their home and I've been assigned dessert duty. Fine by me but I also wanted to bring something I've never made before, and something people will surely eat. You can never have too much cranberry sauce (for those anti-gravy folks) going around, so I thought a variation of a Thanksgiving staple would be the best bet.
A quick look at the food blog landscape as of late tells me I'm not the only one celebrating the wonderful season of the cranberry—foodies are bringing out their best: breads, scones, crumbles and compotes. I'm dying to make some cranberry muffins or scones soon but I'm really excited about this relish recipe, as it's a tart version that uses lots of lemon. There's also pomegranate juice adding some sour notes as well, helping everything come together for a nice dollop of kick on your slice of turkey.
I've only tried the smallest little taste of this because it's already Ziploc bagged and thrown in the freezer but it was enough to make my eyes twitch and lips pucker. Okay, I'm making it sound extreme but I'm so confident that it will contrast perfectly with all twelve other piles of food on your plate (or is that just me?).
I doubled my recipe in anticipation of a huge group and as a result, ended up grating lemon peel for almost an hour. As a further result, I accidentally grated off a piece of my thumb in surge of impatience. I then gashed another finger on a butcher knife hidden in the sink while doing dishes an hour later. Not pretty. All in the name of those bless-ed berries.
I didn't do a great job documenting the juice, lemon, or sugar but they're in there, I swear. You're supposed to remove the hot berries once they start popping and exploding, but I gave it another couple minutes because I like less chunky cranberry sauce. I might be the only one but when they pop in my mouth, it just sends chills down my spine.
I didn't have fresh parsley but put in a few tablespoons of flakes. You can also adjust the sugar quantity to taste to fine-tune the tartness. Traditional cranberry sauce is quite sweet and there's always one every Thanksgiving, so this relish makes a nice addition to the usual suspects. My mother is a huge lemon lover so I can assume it will have at least one loyal follower. "Bite the weenie, Riz." "With relish."