Pecan Pie

Happy Holidays and happy eating!! Pecan pie is one of the easiest holiday desserts to make, yet it's also the easiest to ruin. I remember my first pecan pie...the recipe had minimal ingredients that were just mixed together and thrown into a pie crust. I thought there was no way I could ruin it. Well, it was a runny mess of goop. I ended up attempting 3 different pies into the late late night, and none turned out right! I learned from my mistakes and came up with some true tips along the way. Pecan pie requires more care and patience than what you may have read in the majority of recipes out there. I haven't ruined a single pie since, so I hope these tips posted in the recipe work out the same for you.

I made my own crust, but a store bought crust works out fine for this. Also, many swear by certain syrups for making pecan pie. I'm partial to Lyle's golden syrup, but if you can get your hands on some sugar syrup from New Orleans, go for it. If you can't find either, corn syrup is acceptable.

See Pie Crust Recipe!


Holiday Sugar Cookies

The holidays are near and that means celebrating and indulging in holiday treats. I love spending a day making loads of festive holiday cookies. I haven't always been a fan of sugar cookies in the past. Some are too buttery, too sweet, too crunchy, or too dense. My aunt, and head chef of my family gave me the recipe that I'm posting. These are hands down, the best I've ever had. They aren't overly sweet, and have a really nice soft texture. The addition of lemon zest also gives them a nice twist. The first time I made these, I didn't have any cutouts, so I used the top of my Pam spray can to cut the cookies. Neil was thoughtful enough to surprise me with some cookie cutters as a stocking stuffer that year :) I use the same base recipe to make raspberry thumbprints as well. You'll feel so warm inside making these on a cold winter day. I hope you try these to kick start your holiday indulging!

See Recipe!


Tilapia w/ Lemon Butter Caper Sauce

Here's another easy weeknight recipe for those of you that need to unwind before the holiday food frenzy starts up again. This takes no time to make at all, and you feel good eating it :) It's light, fresh, and simple. I served it with breaded zucchini and cauliflower mash. The zucchini is equally simple to make. I dip sliced zucchini in egg and then coat with a mixture of panko crumbs, parmesan, herbs, salt/pepper. Then I bake them until golden. The cauliflower mash is made by steaming cauliflower florets and then pureeing with whatever you have on hand (i.e., garlic, buttermilk, cream, sour cream, cheese, herbs, etc. )

See Recipe!


Braised Chicken with Apples

So, I guess it's back to work and life today :( I just got back late last night from spending a wonderful Thanksgiving with family in NY. The city is already gorgeous and decked out for the holiday season. Most of us spent the days following Thanksgiving walking around the city enjoying the beautiful holiday markets, spiked cider, mulled wine, and more food :) Neil spent it watching football of course. Only he would find a Hokie bar in the middle of NY city!

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, and this year was no exception. We stuffed ourselves beyond belief till the very end of the weekend. The insane amount of food we make every year just gets more and more out of hand. My family has way too many phenomenal cooks in the kitchen :) I can't even begin to list off our Thanksgiving menu without being disgusted with how much I consumed. I'm sure all of you would like to forget that as well! So, instead of posting the pies I made for Thanksgiving, I figured that a simple seasonal recipe is more suitable. It's one that's easy enough to whip up on a weeknight after work and warms the heart to keep that holiday spirit going strong.


Black & White Birthday Cake

My dad's 60th birthday just passed a few weeks ago! I can't believe how fast time flies. He turned 60 this year and I turned 30...ugh!!!! Anyways, we decided against throwing a party, b/c parties start and end before you know it. I wanted to give him something more memorable. So, my sister and I bought him a trip to Vegas! He'll be going with my mom later in the year. We still had a small celebration for his actual 60th. We went out to eat Turkish at Kazan's in Mclean, and came back to my place for some cake and a movie:) Neil spent a lot of time installing an awesome projector in our basement. Movie nights are the best down there, and it was so nice to be able to share it with my family. We don't have enough time together like that anymore :(

Here's a pic I took of them. From the left, Neil, bro in law, sis, bro, Mom, and Dad. Dad's cheesin' big time!

Back to the cake...I hadn't made a cake in such a long time, so this was the perfect opportunity, and I wanted to find the perfect birthday cake. I ran across this Black & White Cake on the Smitten Kitchen blog. I had so much fun making this, so I think another excuse to bake a cake is right around the corner!

The recipe calls butter cake having a dark chocolate cream filling alternated with white chocolate cream. I had to make some modifications. Half my family likes dark chocolate, and the other half only likes milk. So, I made the dark chocolate cream a little "milkier" than the recipe calls for. The cream is actually just a decadent chocolate pudding, and Neil was definitely eating it as such :) If you don't want to attempt the cake, please at least try the pudding part. We were licking it out of the bowl!! The cake turned out beautiful, and both creams were delicious. However, I wasn't that thrilled with the actual butter cake layers. It was a little dry for my taste. I'll be sticking to my normal, moister butter cake the next time I make this. Btw, I apologize for the lack of quality in the pictures. I'm a terrible photographer, and my camera is super old. The pictures just don't do the cake justice!

See Recipe!


Savory Holiday Tart

Last November, I had the most delicious savory winter tart at a Farmer's market in London on Portobello Road. It's that time of year again, and I wish I was in London right now. Not a possibility, so the next best thing is to try recreating that tart. I can't remember the exact ingredients of the tart I had in London, but I recall it having winter root vegetables and a delicious crust. Since I had Veteran's day off last week, I used the time to experiment with making this tart and a flaky crust from scratch. I was very proud of the end product, and it did take me back to that day in London. Neil was scared to try it at first when I told him that it had parsnips and turnips in it, but he ended up finishing almost half the tart! This recipe is definitely a keeper and a perfect addition to a holiday gathering. I'm trying to get my cousin go to make this recipe for our Thanksgiving this year. I would, but I've been tasked with desserts :)

See Savory Holiday Tart Recipe!
See Pate Brisee (flaky tart crust) Recipe!


Chipotle Mac & Cheese

Macaroni & cheese has always been a huge weakness of mine. I was reading the dcfoodies blog one day, and folks were posting their favorite mac & cheese recipes. Until now, I swore by my recipe consisting of a blend of brie, gruyere, fontina, and parmesan. But, I came across this one and had to try it…chipotle peppers, cheese, and pasta w/ garlic bread crumbs. I made this for Neil to take to one of his Vtech tailgates, and also for our beer can chicken night . It was devoured! Adjust the cheeses, spice level, and fat (cream vs. milk) to your own liking. I like a blend of pepper jack and sharp white cheddar. I also like to make the bread topping using panko bread crumbs versus regular. The difference in crunch factor is huge. Whatever you do, you can’t go wrong with this one.
See Recipe!


Pumpkin Cookies

It's that time of year, and I'm craving everything pumpkin. My pumpkin obsessions lasts through the winter holidays after which I’m totally pumpkin’d out…I’ll never learn the concept of “moderation”. Lately, I've been popping candy corn at work like it’s popcorn, and go home with the worst stomach ache…moderation! Anyways, since the pumpkin kick is strong for now, I planned to make pumpkin cookies last weekend. Well, to my shock, both Harris Teeter and Safeway were completely out of pumpkin puree. What’s up with that? Every year, grocery stores are completely “in your face” stocked w/ pumpkin cans. Has anyone had this issue? Well, I didn’t get my pumpkin cookie fix, so I went to William Sonoma and bought some pumpkin butter as a temporary fix. I’ll make their pumpkin bars with it. But, I’ll be baking these cookies as soon as I get my hands on some pumpkin. Luckily, I had some pictures of the cookies I made last year. These are delicious! They are very soft and almost scone like in texture, and guaranteed to satisfy the craving. Hopefully you have better luck with pumpkin!

See Recipe!


Apple Tart

It’s gotten considerably colder this last week. The air is very crisp with a different chill. I have no choice but to just start embracing it. The only way I know how is through food…thank god for that! Colder weather makes be crave food like chili, butternut squash, pumpkin, braised meats, casseroles, hearty stews, and of course apple pies! The traditional apple pie can be a little time consuming, so I prefer to make the much easier apple tart. The ingredients are incredibly simple. All you really need are apples, cinnamon, sugar, and a crust. I make my own crust, but store bought dough will work just fine if you don’t have the time. Serve it warm with ice cream…although it’s also great on its own.


Brined Beer Can Chicken w/ Aji Verde Sauce

Columbus Day weekend was one of the most gorgeous weekends ever. It was sunny and in the high 70s throughout. Neil and I decided to take advantage of the weather and grill out. Lately, we’ve been super obsessed with roasted chicken. This craze started with the roasted chicken at Palena Café in DC, which hands down is the best I’ve ever had. We’ve been on a big chicken kick this past summer…frequenting Peruvian places for their delicious chickens, and ordering roasted chicken any time it appears on a menu. So, it was settled…we decided to make a chicken.

Before I go any further, let me point out that Neil prepped and cooked this chicken. For once, I was his “little helper”. I could get use to this :)

After taking advice from various food blogs, we decided to brine our chicken overnight and then use the “beer can” method to grill it. Brining is a whole new exciting world. I never knew that this was the key to juicy chicken. But, be careful not to overbrine your meat or it may result in a “rubbery” and salty chicken. I’d say 12 hours max is good. At a minimum, brine consists of water and salt. Marinating chicken in this mixture before you cook adds incredible flavor and tenderness. The subtle saltiness literally goes all the way to the bone of the chicken. Now to the beer can part. Honestly, I don’t know why this method works so well to cook chicken, but we’re sold. Apparently, when you sit your chicken’s “butt” on top of the open beer can, and cook, it causes the liquid to boil and infuse the chicken with wonderful flavor. It looks absolutely ridiculous, but I can’t argue, because our chicken was phenomenal…juicy, tender, flavorful, and succulent!

So, the steps are pretty easy…
1. Brine your chicken overnight or at least 8 hours
2. Rub it with your favorite dry rub
3. Cook (grill, oven, or roaster) your chicken as it sits on top of an open beer can. The grilling part can be tricky, and is explained by Neil in the recipe.

We also rubbed our chicken with roasted garlic butter before applying the dry rub. We didn’t think this was necessary in the end because it made it difficult for the dry rub to adhere to the chicken. We’re gonna nix the butter next time.

As I mentioned previously, we’ve been frequenting a lot of Peruvian chicken joints lately, and love the “aji verde” sauce that comes with their chicken. We found a recipe that comes pretty close to the sauce without the need for authentic, inaccessible ingredients. So, we served the chicken with the pseudo aji sauce, chipotle mac & cheese, red skin mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus. This was the perfect outdoor feast to take advantage of the perfect weather!

See Brined Beer Can Chicken Recipe!
See Aji Verde Sauce Recipe!


Chicken Marsala

Dinner is by far my favorite part of the day. More than half my daily thoughts revolve around “what’s for dinner?” No joke! I can’t remember when I last went without dinner…I don’t think I ever have actually. I’m guaranteed to have a rude awakening once a baby is in the picture!! But, for now, it’s my time to unwind and nothing helps me unwind more than ending a day with delicious, comforting food. Marsala has been one of my go to meals when I’m out of creative ideas for an evening dinner. I’d like to be able to whip up something new and exciting during the work week, but it’s just not practical. I’ve called upon this Marsala recipe to save the day many times, and it never fails me. It’s a warm, comforting dinner that’s ideal for the colder months to come. It’s also the perfect remedy to lift my spirits and put aside my daily frustrations.

See Recipe!


Creme Brulee

Crème brulee (French for “burnt sugar”) is one of my favorite desserts. Before I started baking, I thought that this was a dessert only reserved for restaurants and I could never attempt it home. I was completely wrong, as I discovered that it’s so much easier than any cake or mousse that I’ve ever made. In fact, it was so easy that at one point I was making this every weekend. That’s the excited little kid in me, and I’ve settled down now.

This dessert consists of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hard caramel. The caramel is created by burning the sugar with a blow torch. The custard is traditionally flavored with vanilla, but you can enhance it with other flavors. Sometimes I add grand marnier and orange zest. Pistachio paste gives a very unique flavor too. Or try infusing it with tea or coffee!

The only tricky part of crème brulee is testing for doneness. You want a perfect creamy and silky consistency without it being runny. The best test for doneness is the “jiggle” test. As the custards cook, reach into the oven and gently shake one with tongs or an oven mitt. It’s perfect when the edges are set but the inner custard jiggles slightly. You want to be careful not to cook them past this point or you will end up with a pasty consistency.

Crème brulee can be made in advance, but you shouldn’t caramelize the sugar until you are ready to serve. I’d say 30 minutes max…any longer and the hardened sugar will start softening. The contrast between the hard, bitter sugar and creamy, sweet custard defines this dessert. Serve it with a glass of moscato for the perfect compliment.

See Recipe!


Spicy Chicken Wings

So, now that summer’s over, football season is taking over our lives! I dread this time of year. Everything in Neil’s schedule revolves around football. We both went to Virginia Tech, and he’s had Hokie season tickets ever since 1999, which means random wknd trips to Blacksburg, VA. Fantasy football leagues also cut into his time…so much research, you’d think he was writing a paper. But, more importantly, he was born and raised in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers are his first love. I suppose I’m a close second. Personally, I think Steelers fans are probably the most insane of the bunch. Have you noticed that any sporting event you go to, be it baseball, hockey, etc, you’ll spot a random Joe wearing a Steeler’s jersey? Anyways, this is an obsession that I’ll never really understand, so I’ve just learned to accept it. In fact, I have to root for the Steeler’s too, b/c the crappy mood he’s in after a loss is annoying as hell. At least he doesn’t have season tickets to the Steelers!! He’s been on the waiting list for 15 years now….he even put me on the waiting list! But, year after a year, just another rejection letter :) Better luck next year!

The only thing I like about football season is the FOOD! Wings, pizza, burgers, nachos, brats etc…I absolutely love game food! And I absolutely love these spicy sriracha wings, invented by chef Michael Symon. You might remember him from The Next Iron Chef. His recipe is absolutely phenomenal. The main ingredient is the spicy chili-garlic sriracha sauce which you will find on any table in your local Asian restaurant. His unique take on chicken wings packs a lot of heat, tang, and sweetness all in one. Anyone we serve this to has raved about the sauce. This is a must try for a tailgate or on game night. We’re totally hooked!

See Recipe!


Goat Cheese Tart with Basil/Chive Crust

If I haven’t mentioned it enough already on this blog, let me reiterate that goat cheese is my absolute favorite cheese! I love the tang and depth of the cheese. Some are obviously stronger in flavor than others. Neil won’t go near it, so I’ve had to stop making any goat cheese dishes for us. I made this goat cheese tart for a friend’s party. You have to like goat cheese in order to enjoy this tart. I absolutely loved it and could have devoured the whole thing myself. Neil on the other hand almost had a gag reflex after trying it. I seriously think that it’s psychological with him, and little by little I’ll make him a goat cheese lover too. Anyways, paired with a crisp arugula salad, and a glass of wine, this tart makes for a wonderful dinner. If you are one of the “haters”, then try using a different cheese in this tart, because the basil /chive crust is great!

Btw, I found an interesting little tidbit about goat cheese on-line that I wasn’t aware of:

“Goat cheese is less calorie dense then cheeses made from milk from cows or sheep. Fats in goat's milk and cheese are easier to process in the digestive system, therefore some individuals who can not have other milk products, might be able to have goat's milk and cheese”

As if I needed a reason :)

See Recipe!


Fruit Bavarian Cake

Fruit Bavarian was probably my favorite cake growing up, and seems to be a favorite amongst many households. It seemed to be at every party that my parents took me to. Now it’s the cake I make when requested a dessert for a summer party. It’s a very light tasting cake consisting of sponge cake, bavarian cream, fresh fruit, and a whipped topping. Yes, I’m painfully aware that summer is officially over, but I couldn’t help it. My mind is still on summer, and I’m trying to enjoy every last bit of warm weather. Btw, it's still pretty hot out. And I think you can still snag some berries to decorate this cake. I posted a couple pictures of different times I made the cake…just slight variations on the décor.

Traditionally this cake is made with a somewhat labor intensive bavarian cream filling. It requires a crème anglaise base and a lot of patience. Lately I’ve been cheating and just make a pastry cream that I lighten with whipped cream….very close to the original! I’m including the recipe for the lightened pastry cream, as this has been my method in place of bavarian cream. Let me know if you’d like the bavarian cream recipe as well, and I’ll send it your way!

See Recipe!