Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thirsty Thursdays: Mint Julep

Mint Julep
Mint Julep
Check out today's post on A Cocktail Life for this Kentucky Derby classic!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Baked Chocolate Hazelnut Doughnut Holes

A while back I was playing around with a little baked chocolate doughnut recipe.  It needed some tweaks but somehow other projects ended up taking priority and I put my notes away without remaking the recipe.  But a little spring cleaning turned the notes up and I was suddenly really in the mood for them.

A quick scan of my pantry and I realized I actually had all the ingredients and wouldn't have to make a special trip to the grocery store.  I just love when that happens.  I also love that this recipe is so easy, I didn't even need to break out my hand mixer.  A big whisk and a little upper arm workout and my house smelled like chocolate.  That's a really good smell.  Enjoy!


1 Egg
1/2 Cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 Teaspoon vanilla
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1/2 Cup hazelnut flour
1/2 Cup all purpose flour
1/4 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon salt

1/4 Cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
2 Tablespoons chocolate hazelnut spread
Tiny pinch of sea salt

Whisk together the egg and sugar until it lightens in color slightly.  Whisk in the vanilla, melted butter and buttermilk.

In a separate bowl, mix together the hazelnut flour, all purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet.

Spray a 24 count mini muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray and fill each cavity about 2/3 full.  Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

Make the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, milk, chocolate hazelnut spread and salt until smooth.  Drizzle over the doughnuts and serve warm or at room temperature.  Makes 2 dozen doughnut holes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Roasted Squash and Gorgonzola Phyllo Tart

I love Greek food and still remember the dish that started my interest in those flavors.  Spanakopita is the traditional Greek appetizer of spinach and feta cheese wrapped in layers of crispy phyllo dough and I loved it the moment I tasted it.  Of course, a dessert of baklava didn't hurt either.  But although I've learned to cook with those flavors and spices, I've never tried working with the dough.  Something about all those cooking shows advising great care with the delicate "leaves" made me stick with my own, much less finicky, pastry dough.

I don't know what made me decide the time had come to conquer my fear of phyllo.  Maybe I was just in the mood for spanakopita.  I decided to not worry so much about perfect shapes and unbroken sheets and take a more casual layering approach.  And I'm happy to say it was not just easier than I'd feared but just plain easy.  I made the spinach version and ate it for dinner.  And once I was more confident I started playing around with different flavors.  This butternut squash version was a total winner and it got devoured the minute the photos were taken.  Enjoy!

2 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 Cups butternut squash, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 Red onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 Cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/4 Cup walnuts, chopped
10 Sheets phyllo dough
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 Tablespoons chopped chives
Salt & pepper to taste

Toss the squash in one tablespoon of the olive oil, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in a 400 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the squash is tender and begins to develop some color.

While the squash is roasting, add the second tablespoon of oil to a pan and saute the onions on medium heat until they are lightly caramelized.

You can form the tart in a pie tin but I used two mini spring-form pans to get the tall sides.  Use some of the melted butter to lightly butter the pans.  Begin layering 5 sheets of dough into each pan, buttering each sheet.  I buttered each after I'd added it to the pan because it was easier than brushing it on the flat sheets and having them tear.  The result is less perfect but way easier.  The sheets should overhang the pans.

Combine the roasted squash, onions, cheese, walnuts and chives in a bowl and spoon half the mixture into each pan.  Fold up the edges of the dough and butter them.  Place both pans on a baking sheet and bake for 20 - 30 minutes or until the dough is a light golden brown.  Makes 2 servings.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quinoa and Feta Stuffed Baby Bell Peppers

Last week when I stopped by our local fruit cart (is this a Manhattan thing?), I saw that they had bags of colorful baby bell peppers.  They looked so good and I was tempted but I already had some holiday menus planned and knew I wouldn't have a chance to use them.  So I passed but now my head was full of potential pepper recipe ideas.  Happily, I came home the other day to a delivery from Baloian Farms containing those very same colorful baby bells.

I will be working with Baloian on a project later this month and so they were nice enough to send me two bags.  I like the big peppers just fine but there's something about the baby bells that's too cute.  So much so that I didn't really want to slice them up.  Well, if I don't want to slice them, that means I need to stuff them.  There are so many potential stuffing ideas but I had a taste for Quinoa and was in the mood for some Greek inspired flavors.  I added some chickpeas to give it more protein and I had a great lunch, side dish or even veggie dinner.  Cheers!

8 Baby bell peppers
1/2 Cup quinoa
3/4 Cup water
2 Tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 Onion, peeled and diced
1 Clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 Cup chickpeas (canned is fine)
1 Cup corn kernels
1/2 Cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tablespoons parsley
1/2 Teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

Slice the tops off the peppers and empty out the seeds and veins.  Retain the tops.  Place the peppers in a baking dish that will support them (I used a standard loaf pan here).

Rinse the quinoa and add to a pot along with the 3/4 cup of water.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 12 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 5 minutes.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the parsley.

While the quinoa is cooking, add the second tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan or skillet along with the onion.  Saute on medium heat until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic, chickpeas and corn.  Continue to cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the onion mixture to the quinoa and fold in 3/4 of the cheese and the oregano.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add as much of the mixture into each pepper as it will hold and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.  Replace the pepper tops, loosely, and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the peppers are tender and have a bit of color.  Makes approximately 4 servings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Strawberries and Cream Trifles

Have you found that, with the arrival of spring, you crave lighter fruit based desserts instead of rich chocolate and peanut butter type treats?  Yeah, me neither.  I crave them both!  But when I was out walking Hadley the other day, I passed our local fruit cart man and was lured in by the sweet smell of fresh strawberries and had to have them.

Strawberries always call out for whipped cream but that would turn a lighter dessert into a very calorie dense one.  So I played around with using thick Greek style yogurt as a base and pumping up the flavor with a little sugar, vanilla and whipped topping.  It's definitely tangier than whipped cream thanks to the yogurt.  But that's actually a great thing with the berries.  Enjoy!

18 oz. Greek style yogurt (approx.)
1/4 Cup sugar or more to taste
1 Teaspoon vanilla
4 oz. Prepared whipped topping (like Cool Whip)
1 lb. Strawberries, hulled and sliced
4 Slices angel food, sponge or pound cake

Add the sugar and vanilla to the yogurt and whisk until combined.  Fold in the whipped topping and stir in the strawberries.  This is best made the day before and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator.  The strawberries will bleed their juice into the yogurt and give a great flavor.

Cut up your favorite cake into cubes and layer cake and yogurt mixture in a serving dish.  Makes 4 - 6 servings.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Passover!

Tonight is the eve of Passover and the time when Jewish families gather for a Seder.  Ours will be a simple one this year with a small group of family and friends.  As with most holidays, it's a time for people to come together and bond over some delicious traditional food.  The matzo ball soup is always the highlight at my table but below are some of the Passover foods I've prepared in the past.  Enjoy and have a happy holiday, whichever you're celebrating.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Falling in Waffle Love at Wafels and Dinges

New York and food trucks definitely go together.  Hot dog carts and salty pretzels are long time staples but these days the array of sweet and savory food truck offerings is amazing.  When the Wafels and Dinges truck came on the scene I noticed on their Twitter feed that one of the trucks spent Sundays parked about ten blocks from my apartment.  That was just far enough away to resist regular temptation but close enough to maybe go check them out sometime.

But before I even had the chance to plan a visit, they decided to make the temptation more irresistible.  While I was out walking the dog on a lovely Sunday afternoon, I caught the aroma of waffles.  The smell lures you in and forces you to come face to face with a big yellow truck.  Festooned with waffle themed decorations and humorous sayings it's manned by two friendly and quick-moving guys in red aprons.  There's a line.  There's always a line.  And as you stand there, you watch the folks who are picking up their orders and you catch the smell of hot waffles as they walk past and you can hardly wait.

I'm not typically a huge lover of waffles.  They're good but I don't crave them.  Or rather, I didn't used to crave them.  But that damn yellow truck has ruined my resolve.  I ordered 'de throwdown.'  The waffle, served with warm spekuloos (cookie butter) spread that beat Bobby Flay in a challenge.  I didn't see that particular episode so I don't know what Bobby Flay made for the throwdown.  But, after tasting this, who cares what he made, really.

I picked up my waffle and got an up close and personal smell experience.  Then I took a bite of the crispy dough and the warm, oozing spekuloos spread in the cracks and I was in very serious waffle love.  I may need a support group of some kind.  So, if you should happen to see this big yellow truck wafting waffle smells at you, I suggest you turn and run away.  I, personally, have plans to lock myself in my apartment every Sunday until they relocate.  Preferably to another city.  Help...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Tao of Tahini...with Roasted Beets

Both of my European parents spent a few years living in Israel before they met.  And both fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine.  Years later when they married and moved to New York to raise a family, they retained their love for the food.  Tahini is a staple of Israeli menus and it was frequently on our table when I was growing up.  I loved it then and now.  Beets also made appearances thanks to my mother's Russian heritage but I admit I didn't develop a taste for them until I grew up.  What I don't recall is ever seeing them paired back then.

Tahini is a paste made of ground up sesame seeds and is high in protein and healthy unsaturated fat.  My parents loved serving it thick, as a dip for pita bread.  But these days I also enjoy using a more thinned out version as a sauce or dressing and it's amazing on grilled chicken and roasted vegetables.  Yes, even on those dreaded childhood beets.  I actually love beets now and roast them almost weekly.  The savory taste of the tahini goes so well with the natural sweetness of the beets.

You can find prepared tahini sauce in large markets, usually near the hummus.  But making your own is so much better and very easy.  The sesame paste can usually be found in the international foods aisle and you can make as much sauce as you need and store the rest of the paste in the fridge for next time.  Enjoy!

2 Red beets
2 Golden beets
1 Tablespoon chopped chives or scallions
2 Tablespoons prepared tahini sauce (recipe follows)

Lemon Tahini Sauce:
1/4 Cup sesame paste
1/4 Cup water
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 Teaspoon garlic powder
2 Cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
Salt & pepper to taste

Wrap the beets in aluminum foil, place the packet on a baking sheet to catch drips and roast in a 400 degree oven for approximately one hour.  The beets should be able to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife.  Allow them to cool before peeling and slicing into bite size chunks.

To make the sauce, combine the tahini paste and water until smooth.  Don't worry if it seems grainy.  Keep whisking or stirring and it will smooth out.  (Note that when you open a jar of the paste, you will notice that a layer of the seed oil is floating on top.  I stir the contents with a spoon until it's a bit more blended before scooping out the amount I need.)  Add the lemon juice, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  If you like a bit of heat, add a few red pepper flakes.  Fold in the crushed garlic.

You can use the sauce right away but I find its much better if it has a chance to sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour and preferably overnight.  The garlic will perfume the sauce without adding the bite of minced garlic.  The sauce will also thicken and will be the perfect consistency to use as a dip.  If you want a more pourable dressing, simply thin it out with a little water.  Pour over the roasted beets or any other roasted veggie.

Check out these other uses for tahini:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Bread

Chocolate hazelnut spread is a close second to peanut butter in my favorite treats category.  So, when the nice folks at Bob's Red Mill sent me a bag of their hazelnut flour to experiment with, my mind immediately conjured up thoughts of that spread.  And I wondered, if I used it to bake a sweet bread and included chocolate chips, would the flavor resemble the spread at all.

The answer, it turned out, was overwhelmingly, yes!  The gooey chocolate chips, partially melted into the hazelnut dough tasted exactly like chocolate hazelnut spread in baked form.  The aroma while it was baking was so enticing and I loved the tiny bit of "tooth" from the ground hazelnuts.  So good!  And although I glazed the bread, it was really just fine without it.  Just dust the top with a bit of powdered sugar, pour yourself a tall glass of milk and enjoy!


1 Egg
1 Cup sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 Cup buttermilk
1 Teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 Cups all purpose flour
1/2 Cup hazelnut flour
1 Teaspoon baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/2 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Cup chocolate chips plus a few extra for sprinkling on top

1/4 Cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
1 Tablespoon chocolate hazelnut spread
Tiny pinch of sea salt

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and egg using a hand or stand mixer.  Add the butter and beat until smooth.  Beat in the vanilla and buttermilk.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the wet until all the flour is incorporated and then fold in the chocolate chips.  Butter and flour a loaf pan (add parchment paper for easy removal) and pour in the batter.  Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 - 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Allow to cool slightly before removing from the pan.

Make the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, milk, chocolate hazelnut spread and salt until smooth.  Drizzle over the bread and top with some chocolate chips before serving.  Makes approximately 10 servings.

Note:  Although I received the bag of hazelnut meal as a gift, I was not otherwise compensated and under no obligation to write about it or use it in a recipe.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cauliflower and Gruyere Gratin

Today I am bringing you yet another of my many, many cauliflower recipes because I seriously never get tired of cauliflower.  It's actually hard to get tired of it just because it is so versatile and can be made to taste so many different ways.  Every time I try a new method of preparing it, I think it is my favorite.  At least for a while, until my next new favorite way.  So, today, this is my new favorite way!

The only tricky part of working with cooked cauliflower is that it tends to hold a lot of water so it's important to dry it thoroughly.  Even so, I haven't been completely happy with my attempts at making it into a gratin.  It still comes out delicious so my experiments still became tasty dinners.  But I hadn't shared the perfect method with you all because I hadn't found it.  This recipe, though, does a great job of removing the water.  By mashing the cooked cauliflower and binding it with cheese, it held firm in the baking process.  As I dug my spoon into that lovely cheesy crust for the first time and took a taste, I instantly fell in love with my new "favorite way."  Enjoy!

1 Head of cauliflower (approx. 1 lb.) cut into florets
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Onion, peeled and diced
1 Clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 Teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
4 Tablespoons cream cheese
2/3 Cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
Salt & pepper to taste

Boil or steam the cauliflower florets for about 15 minutes or until they are tender.  Drain well and let them sit in the colander for a few minutes so that more water drips out.  Add them to a bowl with the cream cheese and coarsely mash together.  The mixture does not need to be smooth.  Add half the grated cheese and season with salt and pepper.

While the cauliflower is cooking, add the olive oil and onion to a pan and saute on medium heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and thyme and continue cooking for one more minute.  Remove from the heat and add to the mashed cauliflower mixture.  Pour into a baking dish and top with the remaining half of the cheese.  Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.  Makes approximately 4 servings.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad and the Art of Parties

This past week, the New York Times Sunday Magazine ran a lighthearted article that looked into the typical refrigerator contents of a few chefs and it made me consider what's always in mine.  Eggs, butter, yogurt, milk and cheese are the constant and, interestingly, was for them as well.  Although the article didn't glance into their pantries, I would hope it included chickpeas.  The NYT asked the chefs if they could pull together a meal for an unexpected guest and most said yes with those ingredients.  I could, too, and while chickpeas would probably form the base, the cheese would elevate it and that holds true whether I have a surprise dinner guest or invited party guests.

My staple, always there, cheese is feta.  I love the salty tang it adds to salads, veggies, pasta or just bread.  My local market carries PrĂ©sident® cheeses and their crumbled feta is the one I always throw into my shopping basket.  But, when I'm planning a party, I also include the block style.

Having a cheese platter with a variety of hard cheese choices and crackers is great but I also like to showcase how one flavor can be used in multiple ways.  My favorite use of the block style is to cut it into cubes and marinate it with olive oil and herbs.  Oregano and feta were meant to be together but a few sprigs of thyme thrown in also add a good lemony note.  Keep in mind that fresh oregano is very strong and somewhat bitter.  If you want a milder flavor, use the dried kind.  Let the cheese marinate in a covered jar in the fridge overnight and then bring it to room temperature before the party.

I make my own pita chips for parties because they're a little sturdier...and really delicious.  Simply buy your favorite pita or flatbread, slice into 8 equal triangles, lay them on a baking sheet with a spritz of olive oil and a touch of sea salt and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Then, dip away!

And speaking of dips, I took at look at the President Cheese website for recipe ideas and found a nice variety of ideas for each of their products.  Not surprisingly, the feta cheese section included a chickpea salad recipe.  I actually took it as inspiration to create my own but I also bookmarked a bunch of ideas to try.  Definitely well worth a look.  My chickpea salad uses Mediterranean flavors and plenty of my favorite crumbled feta.  And, served with my homemade pita chips, it's always a crowd favorite.  Enjoy!

1 Can (approx. 15 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 Cup cherry tomatoes roasted in 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 Red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 Cup President Crumbled Plain Feta
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1/4 Teaspoon dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

Slice the tomatoes in half and coat them in the olive oil.  Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes while you assemble the rest of the salad.

In a large serving bowl, combine the chickpeas, roasted tomatoes, red onion, garlic and parsley.  Make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, mayonnaise and oregano and pour it over the chickpea mixture.  Season with salt and pepper and toss in the crumbled feta cheese.

Brought to you by President Cheese. Visit for a chance to win $50.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Month in Review - March 2014

Last month when I did my recap, I complained bitterly about the cold weather.  Note that me complaining about cold weather is a running theme in my life.  I remember saying something about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb.  Sadly, it's frozen lamb.  We're also getting a little drenched in rain these days but I noticed that its causing the tulip bulbs to start popping up.  So there is hope....

In the meantime, there is cooking.  Lots of tasty and healthy recipes were created last month along with a couple of sweet indulgences and, of course, a cocktail or two...or four.  So let's take a look back at March while we try to get this lamb thawed out.  Enjoy!