Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Wow, it's been a while! I wanted to get this one out for all of you participating in holiday cookie swaps. This year I added these chocolate "crackle" cookies to my holiday cookie baking. I can't get into the holiday spirit until I spend a day baking lots and lots of cookies. Each of these cookies has been a part of my daily diet lately :) Might have to do round two this weekend because I'm quickly running out! Wouldn't you much rather spend this last weekend before Christmas giving your home the aroma of cookies instead of standing in long lines at the dreadful mall?  Speaking of, I haven't even begun Christmas shopping...

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See Recipes for other cookies pictured!


Chili for the Soul

Maternity leave ended over a week ago and I'm slowly easing back into reality. I was fortunate enough to enjoy every moment of my leave with Jianna. Now I have weeknights and weekends with her :) My mom has been taking care of her during the day, which has been such a blessing. We're also still getting tons of home cooked meals from both moms :) While I love the fabulous food from the parents, I really need to get back into the kitchen, even if only once a week. The colder weather is officially here, so I thought to combat it with some hearty, homemade chili. I even kept Jianna in the kitchen with me for a little while as I spent the day cooking this simple meal. I really wonder what was going thru her little head. Everytime I looked in her direction, I was greeted with a huge smile and if I was lucky, even a squeal or giggle. These moments are so priceless.

I make a different version of this chili every Fall, and I make enough to last me throughout the cold months. I got the base recipe from my cousin, but as she conveyed to me, there really isn't a recipe for this. Just make it with your heart and soul, and there you have your recipe. She adds the secret ingredients of oranges and chocolate to the chili which really makes it unique. I'll do my best to give some general direction, but try to make it your own. Use the internet for some inspiration because you'll find that everyone has a secret ingredient. You'll find recipes that swear by beer, some w/ chocolate, others w/ chipotle peppers, etc. This time I decided, why not just use all three? Eating this on a cold night after hours of simmering in your kitchen is so comforting. Having my baby girl right next to me as I ate this heart-warming meal just felt like "home", which has taken on an entirely new meaning for me.

Chili always freezes great, so make some room in your freezer. I like to use some of the leftovers to make a "chili-mac". I really can't wait till Jianna starts eating. I hope my cooking agrees with her!

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Plum Frangipane Tart

As I was looking back at the postings on my blog, I noticed that I gravitate towards tarts, both savory and sweet. I suppose if I ever do anything professionally in the far, far future, tarts might be my niche. I recently made this plum frangipane tart after having tried it at Restaurant Eve. Neil's first question was "what's frangipane?"...and his pronunciation was quite comical. The simple answer is that it's a french almond cream "cake-like" custard most often used in tarts.

As I mentioned, I tried a version of this tart when we celebrated our anniversary at Restaurant Eve.  It was one of our first nights out without our little Jianna and I think we talked about her the ENTIRE time :)  Makes me wonder what we ever talked about before! My sister and cousins gave me a gift certificate there for my baby shower.  How cool is it to get a gift for mommy AND daddy at a baby shower instead of a gazillion bibs and onesies!?! Well, we jumped at the opportunity to use it, and indulged in the 5 course tasting menu.  For the last course, Neil picked the plum frangipane tart, and poor thing only got a bite, b/c I was devouring it.  So, I had to figure out a way to recreate it...for Neil, of course :)  I've made frangipane before, so all I had to do was top it with sliced plums.  The end result was a success, not exact, but a success nonetheless.  The only mistake I made was that I should have gotten the plums VERY ripe.  They were semi-ripe when I made this, and I didn't get as much plum flavor as I would have liked.  Anyways, this recipe is versatile.  Thanksgiving is next month.....maybe I'll make it with apples :)  I don't want to get anyone's hopes up (you know who you are), so don't quote me on this!

I had extra crust for some scrumptious mini-tarts too!

See Plum Frangipane Tart Recipe!

See Pie Crust Recipe!


Zucchini Tart

On July 14, 2010, I was blessed with a healthy baby girl. Jianna has brought pure love and joy to our home and I can't even imagine how I was living a life without her. Everyday now is an adventure.  She definitely keeps me on my toes! Taking care of her has been quite a learning process and once I finally think I've got the hang of it, she throws me for a loop. I have a feeling this will continue well into her adulthood :)

My culinary activities have been almost non existent for now. I have to admit, that's the one thing I really do miss. I thought that once on maternity leave, I'd have loads of time to make food, but I was in for a reality check! Between the infinite feedings, poops, and crying, sometimes I barely have time to take a shower. Thank god I have both my mom and mom in law to make delicious meals for us. But, all is not lost...I have been able to sneak in a few treats here and there :) Neil took some time off as well, so I took advantage of one of those days and made this zucchini galatte and a sausage/mushroom "risotto" for dinner. I actually felt like "me" again. The zucchini galatte is straight from smittenkitchen.com. The only additions I made were to add honey roasted cherry tomatoes and the zest of one lemon to the filling. I absolutely love the recipe. The great thing was that I could make different components of it throughout the day, so I wasn't stuck in the kitchen for a long period of time, allowing me to tend to Jianna as needed.

As I get closer to a routine and better adjusted to my role as a mom, I hope to update this blog more regularly. I'll be sure to post the sausage/mushroom "risotto" pictured here soon too. It was my first time making a risotto with Israeli couscous (which is so much faster) and I'm definitely going to do it more often. I also have a backlog of recipes that I need to post from when I was pregnant!

I can't believe I'm already 5 weeks into my maternity leave :( Jianna's changing constantly, and I love seeing what she has in store for me next. She already has quite a personality and has us wrapped around her tiny little finger. I'm simply in love. I posted a couple professional photos below that we took when she was only about 2 weeks old!



Avocado Salad

This is probably my last post for a little while.  The doctors decided that my little one is making her debut next week.  The 9 months have treated me wonderfully and I can only hope to be as lucky for D-day!

I wanted to leave you with something easy, summery, colorful, refreshing, and cool to the tongue..much needed with the extreme summer heat this year!  I served this alongside barbecue jerk chicken and it complimented the spicy dish beautifully.  This is yet another recipe that's entirely customizable to your tastes.  I swapped out parsley for cilantro.  You can also swap out lemon for lime.  Use chickpeas or fava beans instead of black beans.  Throw in some ripe, chopped mango for even more vibrant color and a touch of sweet.  Just make it yours!

I'll try not to be gone too long. Hopefully, my peanut gives me the luxury to continue my cooking/baking passion in due time.  The bumbo seat will sure come in handy on my kitchen counter :)  And soon enough, if she's willing, I'll have my very own sous chef, as I was for my mom :)

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Mushroom Tart

I made this savory mushroom tart a while ago and never got around to posting it. Tarts, savory and sweet make the top of my list of dishes I enjoy making and eating.  They can be made in advance, travel really well, look oh so gourmet, and somehow always taste better the next day.  This tart consists mainly of mushrooms, cheese, herbs, and custard in a buttery, flaky pie crust.  I go light on the custard part, so I call it a tart versus a quiche.  The crust is my staple pie crust I use for every savory tart.  This definitely isn't a quick one and making your own crust always takes some practice, but kitchen challenges are meant to be fun!  Posting these pictures is tempting me to make it again real soon.  I don't think it's in the cards given that D-day is only 3 weeks out, and quite possibly less!  Maybe during maternity leave if my peanut cooperates :)

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Sausage, Tomato, & Bell Pepper Pasta


About a month ago, we were out in The Plains, VA on our way home from our friend's family farm. Neil got hungry so we stopped off at this cute little market/restaurant for a quick dinner. Forlano's Market is a deli, butcher, and bakery with a focus on locally raised meats, produce, and cheese. I found it to be an adorable local gem that attracts a big local crowd. It seemed like everyone knew each other, and the vibe was pure fun and relaxation. Customers were lingering there for hours, sipping on wine, eating fabulous food, and simply catching up. The food is super fresh and the menu changes very often. They also have some great wines, which unfortunately I couldn't have :( While there, I had a delicious, simple sausage and pepper linguine. The fennel sausage was house made and absolutely incredible. We noticed customers buying sausage links to take home with them, so we followed suit. I've stored it in the freezer since then, and this past wkd, I decided that I better cook it soon before my peanut arrives and takes up all my time. No idea if I succeeded in recreating the dish, but I can guarantee that this concoction I ended up with is still delish!

Along with the pasta, I had a pizza craving, so we grilled a homemade pizza with roasted peppers, onions, and fresh mozzarella. If you haven't read my grilled pizza post from a year ago, it's an absolute must do this summer season!

Pizza and Pasta...doesn't get better than thatOk, maybe Pizza, Pasta and Wine :)...I'm almost there!!

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Hash Brown Crusted Quiche

I know I've been super lazy lately with keeping my blog up to date. I promise I've been cooking and baking! I just hate the writing part, and now I have a huge backlog of items to post on the blog. So, back in the 2nd trimester of my pregnancy, when I had spurts of random energy, I made this brunch for my cousins visiting from NY. It was also the first time we got to use our new kitchen table, and it worked out beautifully. Everyone fit comfortably for a change, and while we are by no means "civilized", it was still much nicer than having people hover over a small space, elbowing each other to get food :) I believe that with the new table, people even passed items to each other. Brunch was a hit and it was a wonderful way to break in the table and start to a gorgeous Spring day.
One of the items I made are these hashbrown crusted quiches. I got the idea from food network, but made my own variation for the quiche fillings. While I love all things "homemade", If you're making several brunch items, a "from scratch" crust isn't always practical. Using this hashbrown crust is a major time saver and so delicious. Who doesn't like a crispy potato crust? Quiche 1 was made with roasted red peppers, spinach, caramelized onions, mushrooms, chives and montery jack cheddar. Quiche 2 was made with chorizo, roasted red pepper, scallions, and a fun cilantro/jalapeno pesto to dollop on top. Have fun with this one and try your own variation. A simple asparagus and leek quiche would be a perfect compliment to the potato crust.
I'm now on week 35, and luckily still feeling great...not too much longer to go!
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"Pearl Pasta" with Mushrooms

I've only had "pearl pasta" at DC's Central restaurant. They make a creamy mushroom pearl pasta "risotto" that's just divine. But, what I loved most about the dish is the tiny little pearls. It looked so unique, elegant, and had a wonderful bite...very different from any other pasta I've ever had. Ever since then, I've been keeping an eye out for this cute pasta, with no luck. Recently, I came across a box of "Israeli Couscous" at Trader Joes that appeared to look very similar. I was thrilled to discover that it's exactly what I was looking for! It definitely tastes more like a pasta than couscous, but call it whatever you want. Neil calls it "addictive", and I think that's the best description. Israeli couscous will be yet another staple in my home.
I didn't make Central's version of it because I wanted something more summery and light. So, I made it with cremini/shitake mushrooms, lemon, dill, thyme, and chives. It's delicious, refreshing, and light. And unlike "risotto", it doesn't need to be served right away. This tastes fantastic at room temperature, so I suggest you take this dish to a friend's bbq this summer. That's what I made it for. Oh, and this also fits my "need for ease" right now :) I'm going to try the "risotto" version of it soon.

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Berry Buttermilk Cake

I'm nearing the "home stretch" of my pregnancy and as many of you have noticed, my cooking/baking has slowed down quite a bit...although eating hasn't :) Most everything I make now has to be fast and easy. This cake definitely fits the bill. You don't need to have any baking ability whatsoever for this one, yet your guests will see you as quite the expert. This is my go to cake whenever I have a last minute guest or making an elaborate dinner which requires a super quick dessert. And it definitely doesn't look or taste "quick". It's incredibly light and moist with the perfect sweetness and tartness from the berries. Look at how pretty this will look on your kitchen table for the sunny, warm months ahead! And you have the satisfaction of it coming freshly baked from your oven in the same time it would take you to go out and buy one. It's best served as soon as it's cooled to take advantage of the sugary crisp topping. The cake stands on it's own, but serving it with freshly whipped cream or ice cream is how I like it. Make it with whatever berries look good that day. You're really missing out if you don't try this one!


Balsamic Onion Salad

I've never been a salad person, but to balance out my increased consumption of pepperoni pizza, I've been trying to incorporate it into my diet for my little peanut. This is not at all easy for me given that my idea of a salad has always been potato or macaroni salad :) So, obviously not any salad will do. Luckily the traditional salad that I usually dodge can be easily reinvented into exotic goodness.
The word "salad" doesn't do this yummy dish justice. Loaded with balsamic onions, figs, nuts, and cheese, not only is it healthy, but it's absolutely delicious. Customize this to your own liking by switching out different types of nuts, cheese, fruit, etc. Adding some roasted chicken or even sliced steak makes this into a fabulous meal as well. I'm still not a "salad person", but I've come a long way :)

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Anytime we have Italian food at home which is quite often, I always make homemade focaccia. I love making my own breads, and this one is my favorite one. It's so worth the effort and far better than any store bought focaccia. It's pretty much identical to making pizza dough, consisting of the basics: high gluten flour, yeast, water, olive oil, and salt. The main difference is that it's baked in a super thick layer, and you make multiple dimples/indentations in the dough to create "rustic" look. Don't spend time trying to make it look pretty...the messier it looks, the better! Also, it usually doesn't have all the toppings a pizza would. In it's simplest form, a brush of olive oil along with a sprinkle of herbs and kosher salt is all you need. But, add away as you wish. You don't have to worry about over-topping this since it's thick enough to sustain any toppings. Pictured, I have one with tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and another with balsamic caramelized onions, parmesan, and gruyere. If Neil would give goat cheese a chance, I'd make one with roasted cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil. Oh well....

I'm 26 weeks now and counting. Still no major cravings, although swedish fish have been appearing on my kitchen counter lately :)


Pad Thai

This is your basic pad thai technique that everyone should have if they ever attempt to make this at home. My cousin has been bugging me to post the recipe, and honestly I never got around to it, b/c I was being too lazy about writing it up. It's more so a technique than a recipe. If you follow it, I guarantee you'll be happy with the results. Plus, you'll feel so much better eating this knowing exactly what went in, versus your local takeout Thai. Customize the ingredients to make your own personal pad thai. I loathe bean sprouts, so I keep them out of mine :) The key to pad thai is using a wok, not over crowding your wok, and working very quickly. The biggest mistake people make with pad thai is trying to make a gazillion servings worth at one time. You'll just end up w/ a big mush of unflavorful noodles. I know it's annoying, but the best results are achieved by cooking only 2-4 servings at a time. So, I agree this is probably not the best dish to entertain with, but it's great for a night home w/ a few friends.

On a completely different topic, I know I've been a little slow with my updates lately. But, I have a decent excuse! Turns out that back in October, '09 when my kitchen oven crapped out on me, my "God-given" oven was pre-heating, and now I'm 5 1/2 months along with a baby girl on the way in July :) I was completely lethargic the first trimester, so my cooking slowed down, but, the 2nd trimester has been wonderful to me so far. Oh, and I haven't had any food aversions or weird cravings. Well, Neil thinks my nightly strawberry milk craving is a little bizarre and that it looks like I'm chugging Pepto Besmol. I guess it is weird, considering I haven't drank that stuff since I was 5 years old! I also crave a lot of pepperoni pizza, burgers, and meatballs (hence my recent meatball post). So far I've been blessed, and things are moving along beautifully. I don't know about the future life of this blog, as I prepare for the life of our 'peanut', but, I'll try my best!

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Spaghetti & Meatballs

This recipe doesn't make many appearances in my house, so it's a real treat for us. I rarely make these meatballs because, besides the tomato sauce and protein, this isn't exactly a "healthy" meal. Sure, you can make them healthy by using leaner meats like ground turkey, but what's the fun in that? I don't like substitutes, and have always been one to just stick with the real thing. These traditional meatballs were a blast to make. Sitting down to eat this comfort filled meal transported me to an italian home complete with "grandma's meatballs"...even though I made the meatballs :) You must try these meatballs. If you follow the directions, you are guaranteed the most fabulous, tender, mouth watering meatball. The secret lies in not overmixing or overpacking your meat. Also, I added milk-soaked bread to make them extra moist. I didn't add too many spices/herbs to the meatball mixture itself, because I wanted the natural flavors of the meat to shine, but play around with it as you wish. However, I can't stress enough, be very gentle with the meat. Overworking it will result in tough/dry meatballs. These freeze well too. I froze them and Neil ate very well during our massive snowstorms, chowing down on hearty meatball subs. I told him to make the most of them now because it'll be another year before he sees these again :)

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Chocolate Chocolate Cake

So after all my complaining of seeing no snow in No. Va for the last few years, we get slammed! This most recent snowstorm brought down two trees in my backyard, and Neil measured about 25 inches on our deck! But we got really lucky, because several people we know were out of power for the weekend, which is horrible. Despite our cabin fever, I must admit that the snow was a pleasant experience for us. Our neighborhood looked absolutely gorgeous, and being stuck inside with fully functional power, heat, water, and food was a blessing. That said, I won't run my mouth anymore, and I'm finally ready for an end to winter snow. However, mother nature has other ideas and we have more snow headed our way on Tuesday that could be an additional 10-20 inches!!!

Going back to the wkd storm...Neil even got us out of our neighborhood to make it to our friend's superbowl party on Sunday. The "party" turned out to be only 4 people, but hey, I was just happy to be out and about. We bought groceries early last week, so I had everything I needed to make this decadent cake. My last cake was strawberry, so I wanted to make chocolate this time...ALL chocolate. Hands down, my favorite chocolate cake recipe is an adaptation of Hershey's. This recipe yields the most incredible chocolate flavor with a wonderful moist, fluffy texture. To ice it, I found a luscious chocolate buttercream that has a unique taste due to the secret addition of ovaltine. I know it sounds weird, especially for me, because my memory of ovaltine is my mom forcing it down my throat and me refusing it. I hated anything deemed "healthy" when I was little. But don't knock this creamy, dreamy perfection till you've tried it! It's definitely the only chocolate buttercream recipe I'll use from now on, and the sole reason I have ovaltine in my pantry. I also threw in some homemade chocolate pastry cream and mini chocolate chips to fill/ice the cake. Is that enough chocolate in a cake? I thought it was sinfully perfect :)
At least I have leftovers to dig into as we anticipate the next big snow!


Brazilian Fish Stew

It's snowing outside as I write this, and I'm craving something warm and hearty. This stew is calling to me. I've never been into the typical beef or chicken stews. They never hit the spot for me. But, I'm always satisfied by this exotic, deceivingly rich, flavorful stew, this time of year. Actually, Neil introduced me to this stew years ago. He slaved away all day to make this for me for my birthday. This was the only time he cooked for me where I didn't help at all :) In fact I left the house for the day. I was a little nervous on what to expect, especially since I'm a little overly critical of food (SAYS HE), but I was blown away. The stew base is a puree of coconut milk and pungent flavors of fresh peppers and herbs. Don't be scared off by the number of ingredients. The only reason it took Neil so long is because he didn't have the proper tools. It's really fast if you use an immersion blender, and if you don't have one yet, buy it! They are really affordable on amazon.com. This handy tool has made cooking so much faster for me, so much so, that this stew can even be made on a weeknight. This tastes even better the next day. I usually make a huge potful so I can warm my tummy all week long :) I like serving it over creamy polenta, but traditionally, it's served with rice. Hope those in VA are enjoying the snow!


Buttermilk Biscuits

I checked the weather and planned ahead this past weekend. They were calling for a slow, steady cold rain on Sunday, so I knew I'd be in need for some comfort. Comfort came in the form of homemade buttermilk biscuits, gravy, and bacon for breakfast. I bought the few ingredients I needed on Friday after work. Starting the day off with these lifted my spirits and kept them going all day long. And to top it off, I was blessed with the most gorgeous sunny day on this holiday Monday :) These biscuits are unbelievably easy and fast to make, so try making them for your rainy day! Turn them into a dinner biscuit by adding cheddar and chives to the recipe.

I had a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit which I dipped in country gravy. Talk about comfort!! Neil stuck w/ the original biscuit n' gravy :) Btw, making a country gravy is essentially a simple bechamel recipe that you can find anywhere. The only difference is that the base roux is made with meat drippings (in this case, bacon) and flour, instead of butter and flour.

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Pink Lady Cake

Happy New Year! I can't believe the holidays are over and we're back to reality so soon. Jan/Feb/March are the hardest months for me b/c it's frigid cold without the holiday spirit. I'm just counting down the days till Spring! We did have a wonderful holiday season though. Christmas in San Fran was a treat. My sister in law made some delicious Indian food from scratch. I was sure to get all the recipes, so look out for that in 2010.

After ringing in the New Year at Zaytinya, we celebrated my mom's bday on New Years Day. Luckily it was a holiday, and I got to spend the day baking a fabulous cake. I haven't baked a cake in a while, so to ease back into it, I made a simple strawberry cake with none of the fancy, laborious fillers that I normally do. This cake just personifies "fun", and it's made for a lady, having been coined the "Pink Lady" cake. The name of the cake hooked me, and strawberries in the cake batter sealed the deal. This cake makes you want to have a slumber party with your girlfriends, dance to Madonna, and of course stuff your face with cake. No, I did not entertain that, but the daydream was ever present. But, no worries, the boys enjoyed the pink as well. I found the recipe on the Smittenkitchen blog (which is becoming my favorite food blog out there). The recipe originates from the Sky High cook book, and when you look at this cake you'll see that it really is "sky high". In fact I had to take it to my parents without a cover. My cake top was too small, and even my largest cake box couldn't fit it. So, if you plan to travel with this cake, prepare your compartment ahead of time. I did make some alterations to the recipe as noted below. Feel free to follow my changes, or just stick with the original. Happy eating in 2010 :)

- I used 2 cups strawberries (versus 1 1/2 cup).
- I thawed the strawberries before I pureed them. The frozen strawberries will solidify you softened butter.
- I followed the cream cheese frosting recipe but then folded in 1 1/2 cup of freshly whipped heavy cream. Only reason for this, is that my mom likes a "lighter" tasting frosting, although this obviously add more fat :)
- The recipe calls to mix 8 egg whites just to blend. I did this with 4 of the egg whites. With the remaining 4, I whipped them to somewhat stiff peaks, and gently folded them into the batter at the end. I did this for a fluffier cake.
- The cake itself is not very sweet, but the frosting is. If you are eating the cake alone, add about 1/2 cup more sugar.
- I added about 4-5 drops of red food coloring (versus 2) to the batter. It's suppose to be pink!!
- I used frozen strawberries, which is what the recipe calls for. If you use fresh, and they aren't very sweet, do compensate with additional sugar. I recommend sticking with the frozen for consistency.

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