Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thirsty Thursdays: Gin and Cucumber Smash

Gin and Cucumber Smash
Check out today's post on A Cocktail Life for this refreshing drink.

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!

Friday, March 28, 2014

French Onion Spaghetti Pie

Spaghetti pie is typically a pasta baked in tomato sauce and cheese.  It sounds good and has been on my to-do list forever now.  But when I saw this French onion version in Good Housekeeping, my head turned.  Sauteed onions in the pasta?  My mom used to do that with egg noodles and I loved it.  Gruyere cheese?  One of my absolute favorites!  White wine sauce?  How gourmet!  This had to be made ASAP.

And so it was made and made again and I've tweaked it to my taste.  My recipe also scales down the quantity since I'm not feeding a large crowd.  Even so, I ended up with a generous amount and a new favorite to add to my dinner roster.  Enjoy!

(Adapted from Good Housekeeping)
1 Tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 Red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 Cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 Cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 Cup milk
1/4 Cup white wine
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 lb. Spaghetti
Salt & pepper to taste

Add the oil and sliced onions to a large skillet and saute on medium low heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent.  Add the thyme and garlic and continue cooking for a couple of minutes until the garlic has softened but not browned.  Add the tablespoon of butter and the white wine.  Cook for a few minutes until the sauce has reduced by about half.

While the onions are sauteing, cook the pasta in boiling salted water as per package directions.  Drain and return to the pot.  Fold in the onion mixture.

In a bowl, combine half the shredded cheese along with the breadcrumbs and melted butter.  Stir to combine and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, other half of the cheese, salt and pepper.  Mix into the spaghetti and onion mixture.  Pour into a 9" pie or casserole dish and top with the breadcrumb mixture.  Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the eggs are set.  Makes 4 generous servings.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chocolate and Peanut Butter Crumb Parfaits

Today, 30 of my fellow food bloggers and I are celebrating the most amazing made-up holiday you've never heard of.  Yes, we have declared it Chocolate and Peanut Butter Day because such a thing needs to exist.  Our little movement is hosted by Carla of Chocolate Moosey and Miriam of Overtime Cook and sponsored by some amazing companies.  Follow #chocPBday on social media and our Pinterest board for lots of amazing recipe ideas.  And be sure to enter the raffle where 3 winners will receive prizes from OXO, King Arthur Flour or Peanut Butter & Co.

So, then came the question of what to make for the occasion.  I love all recipes that include chocolate and peanut butter but, deep down, I really just want to eat them as they are.  And so I knew that they needed to be distinct layers of chocolate mousse and peanut butter mousse with a layer of something in between.  Graham cracker crust or crumbled cookies would be fine but I wanted special.  Crumb cake crumbs without the cake would be special.  And chocolate crumbs would be extra special.  And this is, after all, an extra special day.  Enjoy!


Peanut Butter Mousse:
2 oz. Cream cheese
2 oz. Prepared whipped topping
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 Cup peanut butter
Pinch of sea salt
1 Teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate Mousse:
1/2 Cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 Cup milk
1 oz. Cream cheese
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 oz. Prepared whipped topping

Chocolate Crumbs:
1/3 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 Stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 Cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Make the chocolate crumbs by combining the sugar, cocoa powder, flour and salt in a bowl.  Stir in the melted butter and mix together.  Using your fingers, crumble the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Stir and return to the oven for 10 additional minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.  Note that the crumbs will be soft at first but will harden as they cool.

While the crumbs are baking, make the peanut butter mousse by whisking together the cream cheese, whipped topping, sugar, peanut butter, vanilla and salt.

Make the chocolate mousse by placing the chips in a bowl along with a tablespoon of the milk and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir and return to the microwave for an additional few seconds if needed.  Stir in the remaining milk and set aside to cool slightly.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and whipped topping.  Fold in the chocolate mixture and combine until smooth.

To assemble the parfaits, place a heaping tablespoon of crumbs at the bottom of a dessert glass, add two tablespoons of the peanut butter mousse, another layer of crumbs and two tablespoons of the chocolate mousse.  Repeat the layers and finish with a topping of the chocolate crumbs.  Makes approximately 4 servings.

Check out what my fellow bloggers have made and don't forget to enter the giveaway below:

A huge thank you to our sponsors! Be sure to follow them on social media:
King Arthur Flour: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram
Peanut Butter & Co: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest| Instagram | YouTube

  • Three lucky winners will win one of the following:

Prize Pack #1: OXO Baking Tool Set: One 3-in-1 Egg Separator, One Bent Icing Knife, One Brownie Spatula, One Cake Tester, One Cookie Spatula, One Cupcake Icing Knife, One Cupcake Corer, One Egg Beater, One Stainless Steel Measuring Cups, One Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons, One Medium Cookie Scoop

Prize Pack #2: King Arthur Flour ingredients: One bag of all-purpose flour, one package of Guittard bittersweet chocolate disks, and one bottle of  pure vanilla extract

Prize Pack #3: Peanut Butter and Co. package including: one Dark Chocolate Dreams 6-pack, One Variety 6-pack, and One 31 Days of Dark Chocolate Dreams cookbook

  • This giveaway is open to US residents only and will be picked from random draw. Giveaway ends Monday March 31 at 11:59 PM. The winners will be notified via email and have 24 hours to respond. If not, the prize is forfeited and another winner will be chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway