Friday, November 28, 2008

My Family Tradition

As I mentioned on my my other blog I started my own family tradition, and I thought I would share the joy of it with all of you. When I was in high school, my mom and I used to cook together a lot in our little apartment. And around Thanksgiving one year, my mom decided to put a layer of sweetened cream cheese on the bottom of our pumpkin pie, and that was the best pumpkin pie I have ever had! I can't remember where she got the idea, but I loved it. Isn't everything better with cream cheese? So I think it was for a friend's bridal shower when I invented this apple and pear crostata. I peeled and thinly sliced a granny smith apple and a bosc pear, lined them up in a pretty way on top of cream cheese mixed with brown sugar and cinnamon. And then just a couple of years ago, my sister asked me to make it for Thanksgiving with her in-laws, but suggested adding some cranberries to it to make it more "festive". I thought I would give it a try and have never looked back. It's such a nice unique yet somewhat familiar taste that I can't go without during the holidays now. See, Lisa, you are totally always my inspiration. Anyway, here is the recipe.

Holiday Crostata
1 pie crust (I always used store-bought ones. Saves on time and they are great)

for the cranberry mixture:
2-1/2 C fresh cranberries
3/4 C granulated white sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 C water
1/4 t salt

for the cream cheese mixture:
1 8 oz package of neufchâtel cheese (or cream cheese, of course), at room temperature
3 T brown sugar
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/2 t cinnamon

1 granny smith apple, peeled and sliced very thin
1 bosc pear, peeled and sliced very thin

2 T granulated white sugar
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t salt

2 T butter, diced small
  1. for the cranberry layer: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar, water and salt until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add cranberries and stir constantly until cranberries all pop and the sauce thickens, about 10~15 minutes. Take off heat and let cool at least 30 minutes.
  2. for the cream cheese layer: Using a hand mixer, mix together the neufchâtel cheese, brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Place the oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat oven to 375°.
  4. Place the pie crust in the pie plate and using your knuckle, press it in to the edge. Spread the cream cheese on the bottom of the pie crust. Place 3/4 C of the sauce on top of the cream cheese. (save the rest for your dinner. Sorry, I haven't figured out how to make the right amount) Place the apples in a slightly overlapping circle, starting from the outside. Place the pears in the same pattern, with the skinny part pointing to the middle. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of pears and a little on top of the pie crust. Dot with butter. Bake for 45~50 minutes, until the sugar is caramalized and pie crust is slightly browned. Let cool and serve:)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Winter Feast

I think during the cold Winter months, there is nothing more comforting than a hot bowl of hearty soup. I found this recipe for Lentil Soup and have been meaning to learn how to use lentils in my cooking, so I thought I'd give it a try. I was expecting a simple, decent soup, but I was so pleasantly surprised with how yummy it was! And it was even better on day 2, so it's the perfect meal for us since I always make double for dinner so we can have lunches. I made a batch of my Aunt Carolyn's famous dinner rolls, and it was the perfect Sunday dinner/leftovers.

Lentil Soup
serves 4~5
3 strips bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/4 inch half moons
3 garlic cloves, grated
2 T tomato paste
1-1/2 C lentils, picked over and rinsed
2~3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 t dried
3-1/2 C low-sodium chicken broth (or 2 14.5 oz cans)
2 T red-wine vinegar
salt and fresh ground pepper

parmesan cheese to serve.
  1. In a large pot with a tight fitting lid or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8~10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 T fat.
  2. Add the onion and carrots; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 1 minutes.
  3. Add the lentils, thyme, broth, and 2 C water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover; cook until the lentils are tender, 30~45 minutes. If the soup becomes too thick during cooking, add up to 1 cup more water.
  4. Stir in the vinegar, 1-1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper, or to taste. Serve soup with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pizza can be healthy?

Blake always says that he could have pizza everyday and he would be a happy man. I, on the other hand, need a break from it once in a while. So last night I said I was making pizza and he was practically jumping for joy. I decided since I don't have a pizza stone yet, and I'm sick of trying to balance the pizza on the bottom of a cookie sheet, I would make deep dish pizza. And since deep dish pizza has such a bad reputation (well, pizzas in genenral) of being junk food, I thought I would try to prove everyone wrong. Yes, deep dish pizza has a lot of bread per serving, so you can't eat a whole pizza if you're trying to watch your weight. But I made my own dough, so I know what goes in it, my own sauce, which has little oil in it, and I used Italian turkey sausage, green bell peppers, sliced black olives, broccoli, and 2% milk hormone-free kraft brand mozzarella cheese. I sprayed a round cake pan with canola oil spray, and formed the dough into it, some sauce, some cheese, lots of toppings, 450° oven, 12 minutes. Perfect deep dish pizza. Not greasy. Not bad, right? And it was TASTY! So I'm really enjoying my leftovers right now.

Snack Time!

The other day while I was making Chritsmas cards and presents I made myself a happy salad. Baby arugula, baby romaine leaves, campari tomatoea, pecorino romano cheese, sliced almonds, salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil. Served with homemade whole wheat flaxseed bread. It was a good snack that got me back in the mood to work hard.

Have you done something happy for your tummy today?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Recently I opened up my very own etsy shop! I'm really excited about it, but a little nervous. I've never run a business before! I decided to do this because I bought from a girl a couple of months ago, who makes the cutest plate. We actually sort of became friends. She is a stay-at-home mom of 2 girls (and her oldest is Ella, if you can believe it) and she had always dreamed of opening up a studio for her ceramics, a coffee shop, or a flower shop. Other than the ceramics, I was exactly the same way in high school! Well, I loved the atmosphere of a coffee shop, though I probably would have made it a hot chocolate shop or something like that;) Anyway, she was telling me how great it is for her to be able to have a creative outlet during nap time. So finally the other night I decided to try it out myself. So I started inventing new recipes, and posting old successes. This is one recipe that I am IN LOVE WITH! I wasn't going to share it on the blog because why would anyone buy it if they can make it themselves, right? But then I thought, why withhold this information from my beloved friends and family? I don't want you all to pay me for cookies! And I figured, nobody is going to take the time to shell, roast, peel, and grind their own hazelnuts. So I'm pretty much safe. But if you want to, please by all means go ahead. It is SO worth it!

Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache Cookies
Makes about 12~13 sandwiches
For the Cookie:
2/3 C toasted ground hazelnuts*
1/3 C cocoa powder
1-3/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 t koser salt
2/3 C sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
  2. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla, cocoa, and hazelnuts and combine. Add salt and flour in small increments until fully combined.
  3. Scoop by the rounded tablespoon and flatten to about 1 inch in diameter. Bake at 325° for 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
for the ganache filling:
2 oz chopped (60% or more) dark baking chocolate
1 T nutella
  1. In the top of a double boiler, melt the nutella and dark chocolate until melted. Make sure the water underneath isn't boiling, just simmering.
  2. Place about 1 t of chocolate on the bottom of a completely cooled cookie, and place another one on top (so that only the tops f 2 cokies show). Let cool completely.
*Buy shell-on hazelnuts (or if you can find shelled ones, use those!), crack them open and roast them in a 350° oven for 7 or so minutes. Until the centers are light brown and very fragrant. Let them cool and rub the skins off with your fingers. It won't all come off, so don't be discouraged. Place in a food processor and pulse until coarse and let it run until very fine.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another Take

I was watching Rachael Ray and she made a "spaghetti alla carbonara frittata". Now I'm not a huge fan of her ideas when she starts mixing genres and such, but this one reminded me so much of a pizza I loved in high school from pizza shmizza that had spaghetti on it, so I thought I'd give this idea a try. But I don't think I'll call it spaghetti alla cabonara frittata because it doesn't really taste like carbonara at all. I don't want to take away from the perfect goodness of that dish. But it was good and really easy and nice and cheesy! You can't go wrong with eggs, bacon, and cheese, right?

Pasta breakfast frittata
serves 6
4 strips bacon, cut small and cooked until almost crispy
1/4 lb spaghetti
1/2 onion, sliced thin
olive or vegetable oil
1/4 C grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 C grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
6 eggs
1/2 C ricotta cheese (optional)
1/4 C milk
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Turn on the broiler.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until just short of al dente. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile in a medium oven-proof oven, add about 1 T oil and sauté onions with a little salt and pepper until soft and slightly golden.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese (if using), eggs, milk, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Once onions are golden, add the speghetti to the pan and cook until golden and slightly crispy. Add bacon, and if necessary, a little more olive oil to coat the pasta. Pour in the egg mixture and pull in the sides once in a while, leaving the pasta and bacon evenly distributed throughout.
  5. Once the eggs seem mostly set on the bottom, top with cheeses and place under the broiler for 5~7 minutes, or until eggs are set and cheese is browned and bubbly.
  6. Pull out of the oven (using an oven mitt!) and let cool for 10~15 minutes before carefully releasing the frittata from the pan. Place on a cutting board and cut into 6 wedges. Serve warm.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween-ey cookies

I saw these sugar cookies on Martha Stewart's website and thought they were so cute. I don't even like candy corn so I don't know what got into me. And instead of making her sugar cookies, I just borrowed the candy corn in the middle idea, and made my shortbread cookies again. You press the candy corn in the center right as you pull them out of the oven. This time I made chocolate ones and vanilla ones. For the vanilla ones you use 1/4 C more flour and obviously don't add the cocoa powder. I added orange food coloring to my vanilla ones and in an attempt to keep them from turning neon orange, I didn't add enough and they didn't turn out very orange. Oh well. Still tasted great!