Friday, December 31, 2010

Easy peanut butter fudge

I love a good story.  And, especially around the holidays, it seems there is no shortage of them.  For example, I have a great one about how Matt and I became engaged to be married this Christmas!... but I'll save that for later.  For now, this is the story of how the best recipe for peanut butter fudge came into my life.  Oh, and yes, I am well aware that teasing you like that is just awful :)

Year after year, at my favorite family Christmas party, the caterer plates up the most delectable fudge I've ever had.  It's the stuff of legend.  The only item on the buffet, aside from the shrimp, that needs to be replenished constantly.  And anyone who is familiar with the holiday party circuit knows that the cocktail shrimp disappear fast.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cocktails, please!

Great cocktail ideas for the upcoming New Year's Eve celebration!

Me?  I'll be at the Winter Classic, praying that it doesn't rain.  What are your New Year's plans and traditions? :)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A vacation on the interwebs

Check out my stint as a guest blogger over at a local favorite of mine EatPgh.  I was asked to write about those sinfully decadent double chocolate cookies I made this past spring.  Here is the link!  Thanks again to the fabulous rock star foodies at EatPgh for the opportunity! :)

Speaking of sinful, check back tomorrow for an out of this world treat!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Out of town!

How was everyone's Christmas?  I hope it was magnificent!  Mine's been busy and I don't see any end to that in the near future :)  I'm going to be traveling and with limited to no computer access until late Tuesday night, so you should probably use that time to step away from the computer, enjoy your loved ones, and bake up some goodies for them:

Just to name a few.  On the right side of the blog, there is a collection of recipes, so knock yourself out!  Not literally, of course.  Catch you soon!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tracking Santa!

It's Christmas Eve, folks!  The halls are decked, cookies baked, cards sent... what's left to do?  Find out where the jolly guy is, of course.

When I was much younger, my scientifically-oriented mind (thanks to an engineer for a father) constantly had me questioning the logistics of Santa's mission.  What fueled the sleigh?  Did he have to stop somewhere to refuel and feed the reindeer?  What if a reindeer fell ill?  Did Santa visit houses without chimneys?  Because Australia is a day ahead of us, does that means Santa delivers for more than one night? ... I resent any hint that I was an obnoxious or precocious child. :)  My parents and any other adult who were my audience probably disagree.

Today, kids have an awesome resource to satisfy their curiosity.  NORAD (which stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command) has created a Santa tracker.  They explain how it works -- fighter jets, how cool!

And, with that, I'm off for the weekend with my family.  I wish all of you a safe, healthy, and happy holiday.  Remember the true meaning of the occasion and have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!  :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

These are a few of my favorite things!

Happy last day of work before vacation to me and, hopefully, many of you!  My morning walk was replaced by a commute from my parents' place.  What would've normally taken at least an hour only took 45 minutes AND I scored a parking spot... right in front of my office... at a jammed meter = no quarters necessary!

It's my favorite little things like this that put a big jump in my step and start the day off just right :)  Though I'm no Oprah and can't give away boat loads of goodies (appliances, cars, croissants from Williams & Sonoma... mmm), I can share some of my favorite things at this very moment!  Especially since I've always followed my mother's rule of not shopping for myself around the holidays... but there are so many good sales!  Pshhhh...

1. Holiday cake pops by Bakerella.  By now, most of the civilized world has heard of her talents when it comes to making bite-sized cake pops in all shapes and sizes.  And there is something so charming about an individual dessert, meant just for you.  These reindeer and Santa hat numbers are too cute for words.  I'd be hesitant to eat one!

2. Christmas place settings for a formal affair of sorts.  Whether super rustic just-made-by-your-friendly-lumberjack table or classy and simple, I'm a sucker for any holiday decorations.

3. This cardigan by Kate Spade.  It just oozes fun and sparkle, perfect for this time of year!

4. Grilled cheese.  Totally random but there is something so comforting and decadent about this quick sandwich.  My tip for the best cheese combination?  Sharp cheddar and Gruyere.  To die for!

5. These ankle-tie ballet flats from J. Crew.  The traditional nude pink color is beautiful, but I like the more subtle olive green.  Come to think of it, the pink would be a sweet wedding reception shoe... comfortable for dancing all night!  But, for everyday use, even if the ribbons would be hidden under jeans, I'd know they were still there and love them even more.

One Year Ago: How to: Creaming butter and sugar

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Applesauce cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

(Forgive me.  Technical difficulties prevented me from posting what I had typed up earlier.  An abbreviated version follows.)  

When the sign-up sheet first appeared for the office holiday party, I requested first crack at it.  Every year I wait much too long to pick something and by the time I've settled on an idea ("chocolate bundt cake!  shrimp salad cups!  the best macaroni and cheese in the world!"), would you believe that someone else has already signed up for a similar dish?  The nerve of some people!  Can't they read my mind?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The universal gift + early gifts!

Who out there is still stumped about what to get a certain person on your list?  Don't worry, you've still got some time... 4 days to be exact.  The trickiest people on my list are Matt's parents.  I love them dearly, but their interests don't exactly translate well into things I can present to them at Christmas.  They are both die-hard Phillies and Jimmy Buffett fans, and tickets for a game or concert won't go on sale for months.  What to do, what to do...

Since I can't be with them Christmas morning, I really wanted to give something the entire family can enjoy, Matt, his brother and sister included.  That's 5 people to please with one gift.  Talk about a tall order!  Matt has said that Christmas day is always hectic for his family, waking around 8, opening gifts, and driving to and from multiple relatives' houses until late at night.  Attention Matt's family -- stop reading now, please :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chicken cacciatore

Happy Monday!  And another December weekend is in the books... can you believe there is only one left?  Thankfully, this one was full of holiday cheer -- a post-final exam celebration of the movie kind for Matt (and what kind of girlfriend would I be if I made him celebrate alone?), long overdue lunches with friends, a sweet Nativity play at church, and a Christmas party to make all the others jealous.  A word about that movie -- The Fighter -- it's fantastic, passionate, and unintentionally funny at times.  If Christian Bale doesn't score an Oscar for his performance in this, I'll be shocked.  You must see it!

On the drive back to the city, me and my satisfied stomach got to thinking about the variety of appetizers we sampled.  Most of what I had (save the strawberries and peanut butter fudge) was enveloped in a warm tasty sauce, an extension of the sweet and tangy meatballs or bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.  Even the baked brie with apples and honey had an ooey gooey flow to it.

There's something to be said for saucy dishes this time of year.  It's like I take pity upon my food and want it to have a cozy blanket to stay warm, too.  It's really a selfish wish, though.  You see, a warm ladle of sauce keeps my dinner piping hot so each bite can warm me from the inside out.  And I'm not just talking about some heavy cream-based sauce here (though, that has its place in my heart, too).  I'm talking about a steaming brothy tomato-based sauce flavored with onions and peppers and mushrooms... oh my!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cinnamon love knots!

You voted and here it is!  I'm so glad that I took a chance and asked what recipe you wanted me to make and write about next.  You guys totally delivered -- thank you!  Not that I didn't want to make all three choices (because clearly I went ahead and made one anyway), but because cinnamon love knots have been on my radar forever and you motivated me to get on the ball.  F-o-r-e-v-e-r!  I first had these a few years ago at a friend's house and the conversation went a little something like this:

me: [between bites] These are amazing.  What are they?
Laura: Cinnamon love knots.  My sister made them.
me: You have to send me the recipe.
Laura: I'll get it from her and send it to you.

Fast forward at least two (probably three) years and many feeble ultimatum-like attempts later.  No joke, I may or may not have threatened to end our now 17 year friendship if that recipe didn't come into my possession quickly.  It basically became a running joke that almost every time I saw Laura that I'd ask for the recipe.  One day, out of the blue, I spotted an email in my inbox one day that mentioned "recipe" in the subject.  Could it be true!?  Like a kid on Christmas morning, I opened clicked it as quickly as I could...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I think they serve these in Heaven...

Every year around the holidays, certain treats appear in grocery stores and on dessert tables that spend the other 11 months out of the year in hibernation.  Where, exactly, I don't know, but I'd be willing to pay a lot of money to acquire such information.  Is there something, sweet or savory, that you look forward to every year?    For me, it's the magical white fudge-covered Oreo.  Sweet decadent sinful cookie.  Just look at it!

These babies are 100 calories each!  I regret looking at the nutritional information on the back of the box, and I'm sure you don't appreciate me sharing it with you.  But, still, even with that knowledge, I push it to the far corners of my memory and indulge anyway.  They are so good.  So good!  Because, if you can't enjoy and spoil yourself at the holidays, when can you?

So, because one Oreo confection isn't enough, another for you to try at home...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stocking-sized kitchenware

It's already Wednesday, nice!  And, today is going to be an abbreviated work day since our office holiday party is this afternoon -- it's a potluck lunch at the boss's house.  To some, the word "potluck" conjures up bad memories of tasteless cookies and mystery casseroles.  To the talented foodies in my office, it's a chance to show off your kitchen skills and try some new recipes!  We munch, chat, and marvel at the gorgeous decorations in the house, too.  Always so put together and cozy -- roaring fires in the fireplaces, oversized ornaments hanging from the banister, and trees trimmed to the nines.

Speaking of trees, is your Christmas tree still looking a little naked?  Or are you in need of a stocking stuff for a food enthusiast?  Check out these adorable ornaments that I spotted over the weekend.

While I'm generally against giving Christmas items as gifts for said holiday, these can totally be used year round to hang around the kitchen.  Also a great decoration for gift wrap, tied with some twine or ribbon.  And they're miniature, by golly...!

Do you stuff stockings?  If so, what goes in them?  When do you open them?

We always open stocking gifts first -- usually items like specialty candy, a new ornament, book, or stickers and art supplies when we were little young.

One Year Ago: Baking and cooking FAQ

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White chocolate peppermint bark

Snow snow snooooooow!  A few inches here in Pittsburgh and it's still coming, along with brutal winds!  I'm talking minus 2 windchill on my walk to work.  Thanks to my trusty red umbrella, I was able to shield myself from the worst of the blasts :)  A quick Google search revealed that I'm not the only umbrella-toting winter-loving red accessory-carrying person out there.

So, while it snows outside, I bake up a storm inside!  Though this hardly constitutes baking, more like melting and stirring.  Peppermint bark is a favorite around the holidays.  You'll see tins of the stuff everywhere and in all shapes and flavors.  What's the one thing they all have in common?  They are all seriously overpriced!  $18 for a small one pound tin of peppermint bark?  Get real!  Once you see how easy it is to make a batch of your own, you'll never buy the pre-made stuff again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Breakfast pizza with eggs, bacon & spinach

What a weekend!  I'm actually surprised that today is only Monday -- it was that packed!  Sometimes I like my weekends to be totally void of any activity and full of sitting, but this was no such weekend.  My sister and I were mesmerized like children at The Nutcracker yesterday.  And Matt and I tackled 90% of our Christmas shopping on Saturday (hooray!).  But, I kicked off the weekend on Friday with an old-fashioned girls only sleepover.  There was a movie, an entire package of Oreos, chatting into the wee hours of the morning, and, who could forget, a game of MASH!  Do you remember that game?!  I think my fate had me married to Jake Gyllenhaal, living in a house with our 18 children, and driving a BMW... whew!  Not so terrible, I suppose :)

The only quintessential things missing from our sleepover were sleeping bags and pizza!  (And parents picking me up in the morning, ha!)  In fact, Laura offered to buy a pizza for us but... woops!  I had just eaten pizza before I got to her place.  Not just any pizza, but a homemade breakfast pizza -- for dinner, natch:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken roulades with ham & Swiss cheese

TGIF!  It's Friday and that means a few things to me this week.  I think it's time for a list, wouldn't you agree?

1. Pizza day!  An end of the week fun to make reward meal for moi.  I bought the makings for a serious breakfast pizza to make tonight after the gym.  I've talked about pizza here before but never posted a recipe for the crust.  I'll be sharing it with you next week -- stay tuned.

2. Get psyched for Christmas shopping!  I'm making my list and checking it twice before heading to Ross Park Mall to finish buying gifts for everyone on my list.  And, gulp, Christmas cards.  Confession: I really had every intention of making cards this year, but the absence of any free time (seriously, how is it December 10th already?) made me realize I had to bite the bullet and mail store-bought cards this year.  As crushing to my soul as it is, a few friends have explained that it's not the end of the world and it's the thought that counts.  Thanks, pals :)

3. The Nutcracker!  My sister and I are getting together for a nice lunch and heading downtown to see classic Christmas ballet.  I haven't seen it since college so I'm really looking forward to it.

4. Though it's no secret, the results of Monday's poll are in and they are indisputable -- cinnamon love knots!  Man, you guys sure love your sweets... and that's why I love you so :)  Look for that recipe next week sometime as well.

5.  Devour leftovers for lunch.  Not something most people would normally be excited about, but then again, most people aren't eating chicken roulades with ham and Swiss cheese.  They are just as delicious and much easier to make than you might think...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Roasted cumin & chick pea salad

I have a confession -- I talk a big game about working out.  I do love it and feel great during and after it.  But, sometimes I'm a little... distracted.  Sure, I go through the motions of exercising and probably reap similar aerobic benefits, but I'm just not 100% into it.  Ironically, these are the workouts that go by the quickest!  Yesterday, a very sweaty hour of cardio on two machines went by in a flash, when most days anything over 15 minutes on one machine has my exercise ADD spinning out of control.

So, how did I make it through this time?  I will say it wasn't the sports radio and talk about my beloved Penguins being the hottest team in the league right now.  And it certainly wasn't the top 40 hits, though Rihanna might as well be the soundtrack to my gym life.  (Love it, can't stop dancing to it even in my office!)  Anyway, it was because I was thinking about dinner.  Leftovers, to boot!  Shocking?  Not if this were what you were picturing -- roasted cumin and chickpea salad.  YUM!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nutella kiss cookies

This past Sunday, I experienced one of Pittsburgh's greatest wonders -- the annual Joy of Cookies tour.  Oh yes, dear readers, it's exactly what you think it is!  For a few days, businesses in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville each feature a different cookie, handing out samples and the accompanying recipe to holiday shoppers.  This little walking tour encompasses one of my favorite hobbies: snacking while shopping.  I think I can speak for my friends when I say that we had so much fun!  Strolling, nibbling on cookies, and catching up with the newly-engaged (!) and just-back-from-the-honeymoon (!) as a few flurries fell from the sky -- hello, a perfect December afternoon!

But, such a confectionary adventure reacquainted me with one of my cardinal dessert rules: Just because it's pretty, doesn't mean it tastes good.  A prime example of this is the smooth fondant that covers many cakes now.  If you haven't tasted it, let me do you a favor and tell you that it tastes like Play-Doh smells -- awful.  The cakes are gorgeous, sure, but even the bakers of them instruct eaters to discard the smooth stuff.  Give me a rustically iced cake any day over a seamless tower of cake layers.  But this theory of mine isn't limited to cakes...

Monday, December 6, 2010

You pick what I make next!

In the spirit giving this holiday season, I want to provide recipes that YOU want to make!   So, I've narrowed it down to three things I'd like to make next, perfect for holiday (or anytime) treat:

1. Peppermint bark -- white & dark chocolate swirled with crushed candy canes and peppermint flavor... makes for sweet snacking and gifts when wrapped in a glassine bag with a festive ribbon.  Warning: disappears quickly!

2. Meringue cookies -- light as air cookies... think the baked version of a soft meringue pie topping.  Can be fancied with dye, flavorings, or add-ins (nuts, chocolate chips, etc.).  These melt in your mouth, making it hard to stop at just one.

3. Cinnamon love knots -- sweet yeasted rolls perfect for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.  They're topped with melted butter and dipped in cinnamon sugar... absolutely to die for!

You can only pick one.  All you've got to do is leave a comment with your vote by Tuesday (tomorrow), December 7th at 11:59PM (Eastern standard time, sorry West coast folks!).  Thanks, friends! :)  Have a delightful Monday!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Homemade chicken noodle soup

'Tis the season... to look like a homeless person or bulky bag lady walking to work!  Gone are the days when I can wear flip flops and skirts without a jacket, or even expect to get by wearing my normal dress pants and a pea coat.  My layers go something like this: normal top and cardigan, puffy vest, ski jacket with scarf and hood up on top; dress pants, fleece sweatpants, and occasionally boots on the bottom.  Hardly respectable but thank goodness I can sneak into my office early, close my door, and make myself presentable.  Fetching, no?  All this talk about bundling up makes me think of the movie A Christmas Story.

So, as the temperatures drop and my legs move faster walking home at night, I find myself bursting in the door, huffing, puffing and numb from top to bottom... and craving, "must have"-ing soup.  It all makes sense now -- this is exactly what the Campbell's soup commercial has been proclaiming all of these years!  A big bowl of warmth and nutrition is just what I need to chase away the cold and warm my fingers and toes. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don't fall off the (exercise) wagon!

For how packed the gym was last night, you would think swimsuits and spring break are just around the corner! Maybe they should look outside... or let me tag along on whatever tropical holiday getaway they have planned?  Pretty please? :)

Anyway, I can easily recognize the regulars at my gym, so the sporadic fitness center patrons stick out like a sore thumb.  It's safe to assume those folks are the ones that cause huge waits for cardio machines the first week of the semester, especially after January 1 (resolution gym goers).  You know, looking for a quick fix and then a few days or weeks into a routine, lose interest or think they can stop once they've reached their goal.

I want to grab each newbie by the shoulders and say, "Don't lose heart!  It's way more fun that you think!  Just remember a few easy tips and you'll never get bored."  Especially during this season of making merry and eating and dining your way from party to party, here is how you can stay on the wagon and fit into that snazzy cocktail dress (or, for the gentleman, that classy vest) through the new year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Molasses crinkle cookies

This morning I woke up to not just one, but both tell-tale signs to me that the holiday season is here: snow and freshly baked cookies!

Add in that a calendar page has been flipped and we're into December (whoh!) and my apartment is now fully decorated for Christmas... talk about the best day ever!  Waking up to all of this has put an extra jump in my step, though I think have to tone it down around the commuters in the office, who had it a little rougher today  :)  Usually we don't get snow this early, but this is already the second of the season.  The 24 hours and counting of rain has turned to light snow here in western PA.  [jumps up and down]  Yes!

Snow, check!  Cookies... yes, let's talk about cookies.  While I was baking last night and thinking about what to write, I considered beginning with a tangent about holiday baking: how it's this particular time of year that home cooks (myself included) dust off the cookie sheets and stock up on butter and sugar for a solid month of cookie baking.  But, seriously, who am I trying to fool?  Not even the heat of summer can deter me from whipping up a batch of cookies, or two.  So, I'll just say that I bake more often come December and share this recipe so that you can get in the habit of it, too.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas tree time!

You see, with two kids, my parents had to figure out a systematic way of deciding who gets to top the tree every year.  Since there are four letters in my name, I got the evenly-numbered years, while J-e-n-n-y (5) got the oddly-numbered years.  Did your family have any sort of rotating order for topping trees or lighting menorahs?

Oh, and someone got into the box of ornaments while we were busy faking a tree-topping photo shoot.  I think Stella is partial to the Snoopy decorations...

After the Christmas explosion at my parents' house, I brought my haul of decorations back to Pittsburgh and put up the tree and lights last night.  I had to stop myself because it was already past my bedtime, but tonight's when the real tree-trimming party will occur.  Here's my to-do list for a cozy evening inside when it's raining and dismal outside:
  • Hang ornaments
  • Place other holiday decorations around apartment
  • Make chicken noodle soup
  • Bake cookies
  • Watch something holly and jolly on TV... there are many choices: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on CBS at 8:00; How the Grinch Stole Christmas on ABC at 8:00; followed by Shrek the Halls, also on ABC at 8:30... but, what about Glee?!  Decisions, decisions.
Two new recipes to look forward to this week!  Have a good one! :)

When do you put up your holiday decorations?  Before Thanksgiving or after?  Later in December?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Homemade green bean casserole

Happy Monday after Thanksgiving!  Did everyone survive without suffering any charred turkeys, family quarrels, and shopping crowd-induced trampling?  Ha ha, I sure hope so! :)  This super extended weekend was just the way I like it to kick off the holiday season -- bustling!

It all started when relatives arrived on Wednesday afternoon from Illinois and Maryland for the Kemp tradition of baking homemade pizzas (8 of them!) the night before Thanksgiving.  Don't ask me how why we fill our stomachs with fluffy carby goodness on the eve of the biggest eating holiday of the year, but we do.  And it's delicious.  And tradition!  My ultimate favorite this year was topped with mushrooms and bacon... mmmm, I'm drooling just thinking about it now.  You must try it!

The turkey day feast was picturesque, including the best bird my mom has ever cooked (not that they aren't all good, this year's was just in a league of its own).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Headed out shopping today?  Take your armor...

And check out deals at Black Friday online.  May the force be with you!  Personally, I love to check out the Neiman Marcus fantasy gifts every year.  Not that I'll be enjoying any of them in the near future, but it's fun to look.  Window shopping at its finest!  Check out the stunning Chihuly glass pool installation.  I was lucky enough to see the Chihuly exhibit when it was in Pittsburgh at Phipps Conservatory last year... just breathtaking.

What are my plans for today?  I'll be driving my parents crazy with my Christmas elf decorating routine :)  Enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend!  Catch ya Monday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day." -Robert Caspar Lintner

What a true statement -- be thankful every day!  I know I'm a little early on this, but there will be no blogging tomorrow in honor of spending as much quality time as I can with family :) So, please accept my early wishes to you for a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!  And know that I am so thankful for YOU and your many clicks and comments and general support!


What's the one Thanksgiving food that you can't live without?  As delicious as turkey is, it's never the boss of my dinner plate.  For me, it's totally green bean casserole.  Can't get enough of that stuff.  And I'm in charge of it this year, so if all goes well, I'll be sharing the recipe with you next week!  Fingers crossed!

Monday, November 22, 2010

20 Recipes for every part of your Thanksgiving weekend

Another beautiful weekend and here we are, Monday of Thanksgiving week!  I can hardly wait to head home and see my family.  I'm not yet responsible for a full day's worth of special food, but I have managed to persuade my mom to help with a few things.  Whether you're the mastermind of the entire turkey-centric operation or just helping a bit here and there, I've got a few things you should definitely add to your Thursday menu.  Many can be prepared ahead of time, not one will break the bank, and all will keep your guests happy, satisfied, and thankful for such an amazing host.

Appetizers -- No need for over the top items here that require utensils.  Just something little, perfect for grazing and chatting because, at least in our family, we have people traveling from all over the place and nothing says welcome quite like some healthy snacks when dinner is still a few hours away.

  • Sweet & sour dipping sauce -- serve with fruit, crackers, pretzels
  • Cheese, crackers, veggies and dip.  Why reinvent the wheel when it works?

Sides -- While I love the classics (green bean casserole, mashed potatoes), sometimes it's nice to spice things up a bit.  These are especially appealing because they can either be made ahead or require little to no prep.  And, I think it's nice to have a substantial dish like mac and cheese for any picky eaters (little ones... or grown ones who just love cheese).

Crowd-pleasing pies and almost pies -- Because what would a Thanksgiving meal be without some pie?  Every year, the Kemp family manages to have at least three kinds, sometimes four: apple, cherry, pumpkin, and pecan.  Not only are pies show-stopping (who even needs a centerpiece with a gorgeous golden treat like that?), they can be made the day or two before and stored at room temperature, saving you precious refrigerator space.  Slice and serve with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for a sweet ending.  Don't fancy crust or are just short on time?  A crisp is a perfect alternative -- the same flavors but a shorter process.

Other desserts -- While it pains me to admit this, not everyone is as crazy about pies as I am.  In fact, two of my very best friends wrinkle their faces in disgust when the p-word is mentioned.  It's a good thing, then, that I love all sorts of desserts.  Please allow me to share some of my favorites with you that will dazzle your guests, regardless of their after dinner preferences:

Breakfasts -- As much as I consider eating both a talent and a hobby, the day after Thanksgiving I tend to feel like a wayward Macy's parade float.  I want something to nibble with a cup of tea that requires no extensive prep or thinking, and I'm sure you do, too, after a busy day in the kitchen yesterday.  Whether you're saying farewell to guests or braving the shopping crowds, a quick already-made treat will keep your energy up and maximize leisure time.  Wrap some of these in parchment paper or plastic wrap and make a to-go box for loved ones on a schedule.  They'll thank you when they can skip the convenience store junk in favor of homemade deliciousness.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wizards and a self-made zombie

It seems like I was just walking out of a theater... oh wait, I was... about 5 hours ago.  Yep, I'm proud to admit that I joined friends at a midnight showing of some big movie last night this morning.  No spoilers, but the movie was awesome! and true to the books, win win.  (Totally worth the exhaustion and teensy bit of nausea I'm experiencing right now due to 3 hours of sleep.)

I love seeing movies in theaters and say that I don't do it often enough.  Even though the movie was a late one, that didn't stop me from satisfying my sweet tooth.  (Then again, what really could stop me from doing that?)  I was curious about snacking history and movies, so I did a little research...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cranberry & white chocolate biscotti

There's something terribly unfortunate about the stigma that surrounds certain foods.  That they are only for holidays or fancy occasions.  Or meant to be carved in a very specific way.  Or only to be served with coffee.  Who are the people saying such things?  Are they in my kitchen preparing and spoon-feeding me said food?  [looks around]  I don't see anyone.  Well, except for that fork gnome.  Because that can be the only logical explanation after 5 salad forks have gone missing.  You can ignore him as I have for the last two and a half years.

Anyway, one such food that I've always felt carried an air of grandeur with it is biscotti.  Biscotti, translated from Italian, means twice baked.  So, it's not in the name.  And it's a rather easy cookie to make and bake, so no laborious process worthy of praise.  Then riddle me this -- why do people seem to treat it like something only to be enjoyed by royalty or others with an outstretched pinky finger?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Classic meatballs

Nothing puts a smile on my face quite like the sight of a fully stocked freezer.  (Okay, Penguins victories, anything pumpkin, a certain someone, time with family and friends... so, a few other things.)  But, with one quick glance, I know that I have a few round meals at my fingertips, ready with the addition of heat.  Yep, you guessed it, it's that time of year -- the big freeze!  No snow outside (yet), but the time of year when I start cooking and baking in slightly larger than normal quantities.

I can't tell you how nice it is to not have to scale down a recipe and work from original instructions.  I usually reserve enough for that night's dinner and the next day's lunch.  Since I don't want to eat [large quantity item] for three meals daily for the next week, I pop extras into the freezer.  You'd be amazed how many things you can freeze for later reheating: lasagna, enchiladas, sauces, soup, baked casseroles (mac and cheese, meatloaf), even cookies, baked or unbaked.  Perfect for weeknight meals when, surprise surprise, I'm ravenous after my daily workout.

Let's get to the highlight of this little entry -- the meatballs!

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Beer me" that pumpkin butter, please!

Finally... a rejuvenating weekend!  Not that the last two weren't exciting and full of adventures, but this one featured the perfect balance of work and play without any travel at all.  Some shopping, dining, walking, chatting over a beloved salted caramel hot chocolate, and a healthy dose of lounging with two real sleep in mornings.  As much as I live for Thursday night TV, I missed it in favor of a movie, so it was nice to have something good to watch this weekend at my leisure.  How good were the shows this week?  Outsourced is growing on me, and 30 Rock and Community were hilarious as usual.  The Office has totally rebounded from last season's slightly lackluster year, in my opinion.   Not to give anything away if you're still behind, but some hilarious stills.  "Beer me, Jim."

As for the rest of the weekend?

Well, even better when you factor in back to back Penguins games... that they won!  A two game winning streak and the resurgence of both Fleury and Malkin?  I'll take it!  Add in some quiet time on Sunday night with heavenly smelling candles and comfy sweatpants, and this girl is very happy.  (Though, admittedly, now a little nostalgic for that setup.)

And last, but certainly not least, I'm super ecstatic about the quaint but mind-blowingly delicious breakfast I had yesterday, courtesy of the newest addition to my pantry -- pecan pumpkin butter!  The Williams and Sonoma store in Ross Park Mall was giving out samples of recipes made with the pumpkin butter, and you know I wasn't going to be denied.  After all, pumpkin seems to be my Kryptonite these days.

What exactly is pumpkin butter?  Simply put, it's pumpkin pie in a jar.  Cooked and pureed pumpkin mixed with sugar and spices.  The result is a slightly sweet spiced pumpkin spread with the consistency of, duh, butter.  Room temperature butter, to clarify :)  I had some on toast before church yesterday.  Uh, where has this been all my life?  Probably exactly where I got it but was too distracted to notice before Saturday.  Shame, shame on me.

You've just gotta try this stuff (it would make a great hostess gift or stocking stuffer, too).  I have great plans for my new pumpkin butter.  It could be served with morning yogurt, mixed with oatmeal or vanilla ice cream, or even tossed with some pasta or gnocchi.  To make a memorable snack, try mixing one jar of the butter with a block of softened cream cheese and some crumbled bacon and chopped green onions.  To die for!  Or there's always the stand-by of a spoonful right out of the jar after a hardcore gym session :)

One Year Ago: A baker's best friend

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cheese ravioli with apples & walnuts

Remember the little trip to a country farm when I bought a bag of apples the size of my torso?  I finished them off last week,  but I'm just now getting around to writing about it.  It's been a busy few weeks, and I've been trying to devote equal attention to all that pumpkin.  You'd never know it, but fall fruits and vegetables can be quite jealous of each other.  So much delicious produce, so little stomach space! 

Another item needing my attention is the awful excuse for hockey courtesy of my beloved Penguins.  Like I was saying yesterday, if there were a hockey equivalent of a cat lady, I'm quickly approaching it.  Nothing like sitting in your apartment alone, no lights on, curled up on the couch in sweats with a blanket and only a cowbell sitting in your lap.  And the grumbling that eventually evolved into yelling.  Yikes.  I'm starting to frighten myself just a bit.

Back to the source of this post's excitement, because it's sure as heck not hockey...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin bread

If 10-year-old me could've traveled into the future and met the 26-year-old version of herself, the younger one would've been in for quite a few surprises.

First, she didn't grow up to be roughly five feet and seven inches tall, like her pediatrician promised based on her parents' heights.  Luckily, only two or so years were wasted developing useless basketball talents :)  Second, "Katharine Kemp" cannot be found among past winners engraved on the women's Wimbledon trophy.  Drat.  Third, my once board-straight light blond hair morphed, sometime during puberty, into a super curly light brown mop.

Together, those are some pretty big differences for a little (and big) kid to grasp, mostly because two were appearance-changing.  But none of them would've startled 10-year-old me quite like this last one -- 2010 Katy loves pumpkinPumpkin soup.  Pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin seedsPumpkin pie oatmeal (oh yes, the obsession only grows stronger).  Pumpkin brownies.  You get the idea.  All things pumpkin.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Breakfast apple granola crisp

 [enjoyed with a slice of pumpkin bread... coming later this week]

Hey, weekend!  It's me, Katy, calling -- please come back!  Somehow, even with an extra hour due to daylight savings time, the past two days seemed to fly by so quickly that I could barely get a glimpse of them.  But oh, it was a good one, very busy.  I went home and had a nice little day trip to Ohio (and some snow flurries!) with my mom and sister on Saturday.  Walking, talking, shopping, eating... you know the drill.

Scored some homemade spinach basil garlic pasta and tomato jam (as delicious as it sounds), and an adorable wooden penguin Christmas decoration.  The highlight?  Lunch at Popeye's where we all ordered signature one-bite sundaes for dessert.  You know how I love all things mini, ahem

So, Saturday was a blast, and Sunday was hectic but productive.  I was so amped about getting an extra hour of sleep and somehow sleep was the last thing on my list this weekend.  What did you do with the extra hour this weekend?  It was one of those weekends that my mood and well-being desperately depended on energizing meals.  Because, as I'm sure you know, there is nothing worse than being on a trip to a new place and hitting a wall... that 3 o'clock in the afternoon "I can't possibly walk to another store or try on another sweater" feeling.  That "I just want to sit down" plea.  When the only time you find yourself actually sitting is to eat.

Anyway, because we left so early on Saturday, I didn't get a chance for a big breakfast.  Basically, I was kicking myself for making such an awesome breakfast crisp on Thursday night and then abandoning it for the weekend.  Luckily, I did enjoy some for a late dessert on Thursday night and a big bowl for Friday's breakfast.  (Worry not, for this didn't go to waste.  Matt took the liberty of enjoying it this weekend while I was away.  What a sweet guy, huh?)

This dish is straight up apple crisp adapted for breakfast time.  And, as a bonus, it used up the last of the apples from the originally 10 pound stash.  It's easy and hearty and makes for a perfect wake-up treat if you're having overnight guests.

The apples are spiced just like they would be in any sweet apple dessert and softened in the oven for devouring later.  The granola topping, well, is just brilliant.  Packed with flavors -- shredded coconut, chopped almonds and walnuts, oats, all tossed with maple syrup -- it bakes into a crunchy and chewy topping.  Talk about energy, folks.

So much better than cereal and those wimpy pre-packaged sad excuses for breakfast bars.  Make this on a weekend and enjoy breakfast for the week.  Your weekday morning routine won't know what hit it!

But, hey, don't let me dissuade you from enjoying this if there isn't a jam-packed day in your future.  It's so cozy and delicious that it'd be a perfect preface to curling up on the couch for a weekend vacant of any plans at all.

As of right now, it's looking like this upcoming weekend is wide open without any plans at all.  And, I think (fingers crossed) I will be able to wake up whenever my body is good and ready... without the aid of an alarm clock.  I can't even tell you the last time I did that.  But, you know, if you aren't so lucky and do indeed have plans, this dish is packed full of energy for all of the busy bees in the world.  Just don't expect me to join you this time :)

Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp
(with a few changes, from Smitten Kitchen)

A few notes: This reheats later marvelously.  Just scoop out a serving and microwave for a minute or two until toasty.  Also, the original recipe called for honey where I used maple syrup -- if you don't have real maple syrup (the fake stuff won't cut it), use honey.  I just wanted a deeper flavor that the maple could provide.  Finally, use whatever nuts you have, whether one kind or a mix.  Chopped pecans would work nicely, too.

3 pounds of apples (I used a pie mix of slightly sweet and firm, but use whatever you like), peeled, cored, and cut into medium chunks
2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick (8 Tablespoons = 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened will do)

Preheat oven to 400F.  In a large bowl, toss apple chunks with lemon juice, sugar, 1/4 cup flour, cinnamon and a pinch of salt until apples are well-coated.  Pour into a 9x13-inch baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the maple syrup.  Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, oats, almonds and walnuts, coconut and another pinch of salt, until clumps form.  Sprinkle oat mixture evenly over the apple mixture.  Cover dish with aluminum foil.

Bake in the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the apples are bubbly.  If the granola begins to brown too soon, cover the baking dish carefully with foil and return to oven for remaining time.

Serve warm immediately or allow to cool completely.  Store, covered with plastic wrap, in fridge for up to 5 days.  Eat straight out of the fridge, perhaps topped with some morning yogurt, or warm it up for a cozier breakfast.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Orange & balsamic chicken

Friday... already!?  This week flew right by me.  Make no mistake -- I'm not complainin', just sayin'.  I'm usually looking forward to and planning every last detail of my days, so when the weekend sneaks up like this, well, it's a pleasant surprise.  Katy - 0, Father Time - 1.  Dare I say it was almost a surprise Friday phenomenon :)  How was your week?

I had grand plans for the truckload of apples I brought home from Trax.  Really!  The first being the so simple and amazingly delicious frittata, which would make a fantastic brunch or lunch dish for the weekend.  The second was going to be this stuffed pork loin.  And then I read the directions and comments more closely.  Other cooks warning that the stuffing wasn't quite right and the meat was dry.  Lots of prep and a minimum of 90 minutes in the oven.  That meant that I'd be sitting down to eat dinner around 8:00, at the earliest, and that wasn't kosher with just-got-home-from-the-gym-ravenous me.  In that 2 hours, I can safely bet that I'd have ingested at least 2 granola bars, some Halloween Oreos with milk, and maybe a bowl of cereal.  The result?  No longer hungry.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spicy chipotle & sweet roasted pumpkin seeds

Halt!  Don't take one more step toward that trash can/compost pile.  Put down those pumpkin seeds, for they are like diamonds in the rough.  (Aladdin reference, anyone?)

Sure, just scooped from the pumpkin cavity the seeds are slimy and mixed with orange fibrous strands.  But, after a quick washing and drying, they are prime for dressing to eventually enjoy as a tasty treat.  I was thinking that I should do a post of various uses for pumpkin seeds, once separated from their original home, but someone beat me to it.  Who am I to go to the effort step on someone's toes who has done a magnificent job of putting together a slideshow? :)

My favorite use for pumpkin seeds, as mentioned in the slideshow, is to roast and toast 'em for a snack.  This is the second year that I've roasted pumpkin seeds, and if you've never done it, you've got to jump on this wagon!  Last year's adventure was in the early days of the blog, so it was skipped.  I made two flavors -- sweet and spicy (brown sugar and cayenne pepper) and chipotle.  I sampled a few, but Matt and his roommates devoured the rest of them.

With only one pumpkin this year, Matt requested the chipotle variety.  Roasting pumpkin seeds is easy and makes a great snack that lasts.  If you want another use for them, try including them in this hearty granola recipe, sans seasoning.  But, I really urge you to try roasting them.  The crunch of these babies is loud and proud!!  Experiment with the seasonings a bit and even sample them before adding to the bag.  Both recipes are found below... enjoy!

One year ago: The Little Blender That Could

Spicy Chipotle Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
-makes 1 cup

A few notes: Only one -- make sure that the pumpkin seeds are super dry.  After rinsing, I spread them out in one layer on a paper towel to dry overnight and the next day.  

1 cup pumpkin seeds, rinsed and dried (at least overnight)
Olive oil
A few dashes of hot sauce (optional, to your liking)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325F.  Line a baking sheet with foil (for easy clean-up later) and set aside.

Pour a 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil and hot sauce to a resealable plastic bag.  Add pumpkin seeds, seal, and shake to coat seeds evenly.  In a small bowl, combine spices.  Add spices to bag, reseal, and shake to coat.

Place seasoned seeds on lined pan and bake for 20 minutes.  Toss on pan, and bake a few more minutes until seeds just begin to turn golden.  Cool and store in a sealed container for up to 2 weeks.

Sweet Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

-makes 1 cup

Olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Directions are the same as those for the chipotle recipe.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Apple & white cheddar frittata

Happy Tuesday and election day, friends!  I can't believe it's November already.  In fact, I was in denial yesterday, the first day of November, writing "10/10" on papers at work.  Woops.  Brain fart.

But, you'd never know it was November, anyway, because Christmas decorations are out in full force!  I know I sound like an old lady saying this, but doesn't it seem like stores put out holiday items earlier and earlier?  I spotted some in Target the week BEFORE Halloween!  What the what?!  Why does fall get skipped and ignored?  Though I'll admit that winter is my favorite season, I do love fall for mainly two reasons: 1) photographic opportunities, and 2) edible possibilities due to the harvest.  Obviously!

Remember the field trip that prompted me to purchase 10 pounds of apples?  We had such a great day, and I was so excited to have that bag of fruit.  But now, folks, it's time to see what this little cook can do with a half peck of fall's greatest in her kitchen.  I'm really glad I forced myself to do a little homework and jot down a few recipes that showcased apples before the drive out into the country.  If I hadn't, I'd either be a) eating apples with every meal, or b) making seventy-plus trips to the grocery store this week to pick up supplemental ingredients to use up the apples.  At least that mile walk to and from the grocery store is good exercise, right?

Monday, November 1, 2010

How to: Make stuffed burgers

How was your Halloween?  Hopefully you've made it to today, all saints day.  I had a busy weekend playing woodswoman... gotta love Dad's giant mechanical toys!  Though all of that hard work outside and inside was rewarded with heaping piles of candy, cinnamon rolls, and home-cooked meals.  My parents and I experimented with pulled pork for the first time; not only was it super easy, but incredibly delicious... I will definitely be making this in the coming weeks, as it seems like a perfect belly-filling warm winter meal :)

I wanted to share with you a meal that I made last week.  It hardly constitutes a recipe, but more a technique than anything else.  Stuffed burgers!  I've seen exotic versions made on Food Network challenges and enjoyed the thought of it.  I even had a plan to finish the mozzarella cheese and chopped sun-dried tomatoes left from the lasagna roll-ups and stew... no waste here.

But, actually making stuffed burgers myself?  This type-A girl would go crazy if the burgers weren't uniform.  That's where a completely ordinary household item came to the rescue: the lid of the peanut butter jar!

I first spotted the technique over at IowaGirlEats this summer and thought, welp, that's just brilliant.  Let me break it down for you.

How to Make Stuffed Burgers

1. Select ingredients.  As Dwight has learned from Michael, K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Not that you're stupid, that's just the saying :)  Don't try to stuff the burgers with too much, or they'll burst while cooking.  I went with two simple ingredients:

2. I bought 1.25 pounds of beef for this particular adventure.  Split into 5 quarter-pound portions.

3. Line a lid of your choice (the lids for the peanut butter and Miracle Whip are ideal size) with a large piece of plastic wrap, for easy clean-up.

4. Divide one quarter pound portion of beef in half, and press one half into the plastic-lined lid, making a tiny well in the middle for the stuffing.

5. Fill meat well (now there is a phrase I've never used before) with 1 heaping tablespoon of filling (i.e. cheese, pepperoni, chopped mushrooms).

6. Pat out remaining half of ground beef to a rough circle and cover filling, pushing together edges to seal burger.

7. Repeat with remaining meat and filling ingredients.  Discard plastic wrap when finished.

8. Grill (or cook, stovetop) until meat is browned to your liking.  Salt and pepper meat while cooking, generously.

9. Serve with toasted buns and, my choice for that evening, baked sweet potato fries.  Look at that gooey filling!

With what would you fill your burgers?   I'm sensing this simplified method for making stuffed burgers has created a monster...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting

Happy Friday and happy almost Halloween!  A few months ago, a good friend requested a red velvet cake for his mid-October birthday.  I happily agreed and began the typical research, seeking out the best  recipe for this classic cake that I could find.

But, October turned out to be a pretty busy month with Pitt games, out of town visitors, family weekends, and weddings of the fall variety.  So, Nick's birthday came and went, much too quietly for anyone's taste.  He didn't seem to mind, but I knew he really wanted that cake, and I was determined to let him have said cake before October was behind us.  And then he went and got engaged to his longtime lady love.  Two reasons to celebrate and just one cake.  That's a lot of pressure, folks :)

Find a recipe is exactly what I did.  Not just any recipe, but one that ran in The New York Times.  That's right, the big guns.  But, while the search was successful, a tragedy reminiscent of childhood took place.  Every single flippin' recipe for red velvet cake involved heaping amounts of red food coloring.  That couldn't be right... could it?  Red food dye would mean that the color isn't natural, and the masses fawn over this cake's magical red properties (and frosting, but we'll get to that).  Apparently, the color of red velvet cake isn't simply the natural consequence of the acidic vinegar and buttermilk with the cocoa.  It's helped along with a literal ton of red food dye added to the batter!   It was a serious blow to my soul discovering this culinary lie.  Pretty similar to "The Easter bunny isn't real!" and "Santa Claus doesn't exist!"  Oh, how I remember it like it was yesterday...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Scallops & chorizo

If yesterday had a theme, it'd be F-R-E-S-H!  I took a mid-week hiatus from work so Matt and I could head to a local farm and orchard for some good ol' fashioned apple and pumpkin pickin'.  After Tuesday's monsoons, I was a little worried we'd be mucking around in a swampy muddy mess.  Well... surprise, surprise, there was no reason to worry.  The skies were beautiful and the air was crisp and fresh!

We were totally overwhelmed by the size of the farm and market setup.  Last year's farm trip was to a much smaller operation, so we took a few minutes to just wander around with our mouths hanging open.  We sampled some fresh wines from a local vineyard.  They were out of the apple spice wine that we really wanted to try, but the strawberry one was phenom!  One bottle of that to go, please!  Carrying said wine, we tried to blend in with a group of kindergarten kids and catch an educational talk by the resident apiarist (aka beekeeper).  Yep, the case at which the beekeeper is pointing is full of live bees!  Talk about fresh honey, honey :)

The night before our little adventure, I spent an hour picking out apple recipes so I could justify toting home a bundle of apples, fresh from the orchard.  Check out the 10 pound bag (a mix of Jonagold and Roma) I toted home... all for $8!!  That's $0.80/lb, compared to $2.00/lb at the grocery store.

And yes, of course, there were obligatory pictures after the great pumpkin selection.  Even though Matt is accustomed to watching me "interview" my fruit at the grocery store, I don't think anything could've prepared him for how picky I am when it comes to my pumpkins.  Come on, this only happens once a year!  It's perfectly acceptable for someone to pine for hours over the right Christmas tree (pun intended), so why shouldn't pumpkins receive the same respect and treatment?  I found a small pumpkin and then the tiniest little one you've ever seen.  It was the centerpiece during last night's dinner.

It was such a nice day that I just walked around some more, enjoying the sun and breeze.  We had lunch at Trax (chicken salad and an apple fritter for me, yum!) and headed to the outlets for a quick little trip.  Sweater for her and new winter jacket for him.  We didn't spend too long there, since I can tell when a guy has reached his limit when it comes to shopping.  Thankfully, a demonstration in the Bose store distracted him enough for me to try on a few things.  Ha!  Do you have a strategy for shopping with a guy, if you must?

Speaking of fresh, dinner last night was off the hook.  So easy, perfect for a walk-in-the-door-I'm-starving-so-let's-start-cookin'-now meal.  Scallops were on sale at the store this week, so I scored a pound of those and some fresh Mexican chorizo sausage.  Literally threw them together with some lemon juice (the most fresh!) and paired with a quick side salad for a meal bursting with flavor.  No one would ever guess this took less than 10 minutes to make.  And, if someone did, I doubt he/she'd care because it's just so darn delicious.  The tender scallops with the spicy sausage.  Should've.bought.more!

Scallops and Chorizo
-makes 4 servings

A few notes: What kind of scallop you use is up to you.  The smaller bay scallops were on sale, so I picked those, but the larger sea scallops would work equally as well.

1 pound scallops
6 ounces Mexican chorizo sausage, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
Juice of half a lemon
4 Tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, or 2 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes (optional)

In a heavy-bottomed skillet (a cast-iron skillet is great, if you have one) over preheated over medium-high, dry fry (add no oil) the sausage, about 2 minutes on each side, until crisped.

Remove the chorizo to a bowl and fry the scallops in the chorizo oil remaining in the pan for about 1 minute on each side.  Return the chorizo to the pan, add the lemon juice, and let bubble for a few seconds before transferring to a serving plate and sprinkling with parsley.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy 1st birthday to me!

Hey, guess what?  It's been one year since a bout with boredom resulted in the creation of this little blog!  Can you believe it?  I can't!

 Some of my favorite posts:

And, last but certainly not least, one of my very favorite things -- the readers!  You!  I can't express how thankful I am for you and your interest, input, and general support for my little project.  Looking back at old posts, I realize how much I've grown and how much more there is to learn.  Somewhere along the way I decided to share more of my personal life with you, and I hope that's okay and not nauseating :)  I just felt that the kitchen is as much a part of my life as my family, friends, and day to day adventures, so why not share all of it.

As always, I love hearing from you -- requests, questions, recipe or craft recommendations, and even simple greetings.  Without you, this would be in vain.  So, a not nearly big enough but will have to suffice THANK YOU to you!

I'm taking the day off from work to have a fall day with Matt.  We're heading to a local farm for apples, pumpkins, lunch, and maybe a side trip to the outlets... if I can bribe him with enough apple cider to make retail therapy sound appealing :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beef & butternut squash stew

Oh, hello there!  I don't know about your zip code, but it looks like it's about to rain buckets here in Pittsburgh this morning.  While rain may bum out some people and be a reason (and a good one, at times) to mope around, I think it feels refreshing after the gorgeous weekend we had.  Temperatures in the low 70s, sunny, and perfect for a three hour foliage walk through the park dotted with a Razzy date with B.  In case you're wondering, I went with pumpkin and cheesecake flavors swirled together.  To die for!

But, the sun has gone, and the clouds are here.  Late October cool rains are perfect for cozy foods.  You know, the kind that makes you want to literally hug your knees to your chest and pull a steaming bowl of something close to you.  This is exactly what happened last week when I wrapped my hands around a cup of this stew.

There is a saying that suggests making lemonade when God hands you lemons.  I'd like to submit a revision -- when your friend gives you an unwanted (due to excess) butternut squash from her latest CSA pick-up, you make stew!  (Thank you, L!)  Because, I'll be honest, I don't know how motivated I would've been to buy butternut squash on my own.  Especially in light of my latest pumpkin obsession.  So, having a butternut squash fall right into my lap was a blessing in disguise.

Pumpkin, acorn, and butternut are all good examples of winter squash.  Pumpkin is clearly the prom king of the group, but this year I'm noticing more and more recipes utilizing the other squash representatives.  A quick search for butternut squash uses and you'll discover, much like I did, that risotto seems to be the current favorite.  Since I wanted something a little more substantial that could pass for a whole meal, I kept looking and stumbled upon a simple stew that sounded much too good to ignore.

This stew is meaty and satisfying to even a lumberjack's appetite, or so I'm told.  The squash and beef both become so tender, absorbing the flavors of the onions, wine, and sun-dried tomatoes.  That last ingredient raised an eyebrow at first and had me wondering what on earth it was doing in a beef and squash stew... that is, until I sampled it.  The sun-dried tomatoes and sweet and chewy and add a gorgeous color to the finished product.  And goodness, please promise you won't forget to serve this with a petite baguette of crusty bread.  Those juices pack such a flavor punch that it'd be a crime to toss them.  Just look at that stew and tell me you aren't hungry, smitten, and/or maybe wishing a tiny wish for a sprinkling of snow.  What?  Too much?  Just me?  Eh, you'll get there eventually.  Or else you'll move to the south. :)

Beef and Butternut Squash Stew
(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)
-serves 6

A few notes: Regarding the cut of beef, pick whatever looks good or is inexpensive at the time.  Slow cooking beef will keep it tender, so even tougher cuts of meat will do well.  When trimming and cutting the squash, I suggest cutting it in half, so you have the long skinny part and bulb portion separated, which makes peeling and chopping much easier.  This soup also reheats wonderfully for lunch and dinner over the next few days, up to 4 sealed and kept in the fridge.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 pounds beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup Marsala (or other red) wine
1 pound butternut squash, trimmed, seeded, and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
4 cups beef broth
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Crusty bread, for serving

In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, rosemary, and thyme and saute until the onions are tender, about 2 minutes.  Toss the beef cubes in salt, pepper, and flour.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the beef to the pot.  Cook until the beef is browned and golden around the edges, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine.  Using a wooden spoon, gently stir up all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add the butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes and stir to combine.  Add enough beef broth to just cover the beef and squash.  Bring the stew to a boil over high heat, then reduce the hear to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Season the stew with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Serve with crusty bread for a (for the females) soul-warming and (for the males) hearty and satisfying dinner.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Baked pumpkin pie oatmeal

Happy Friday!  Why so happy?  Well, for one, it's Friday and this week has flown by me!  Second, the Penguins prevailed in overtime last night against the Nashville Predators.  Included in that win was a goal so ridiculous that the parties involved, Crosby and Malkin, were laughing on the bench, most likely a little impressed by what they just did (and rightfully so!).  But, the real reason is probably because I had my most favorite breakfast ever today (and two other days this week, ahem) -- baked pumpkin pie oatmeal.  That's right.  Don't refresh your web browser.  Pumpkin pie for breakfast.  It can be done!

Let's get right to business, here.  It's no secret that I love dessert.  I love it so much that I've turned a few typical desserts into slightly more nutritious versions that can pass for breakfast: My first attempt at crepes.  Last week's apple and peanut butter tart -- protein AND fruit!  And, a product of last winter's snowpacalypse -- apple pie oatmeal.  But with fall here, I've been hankering for anything pumpkin.  Pumpkin fro-yo at Razzy Fresh.  Pumpkin cookies at tailgates.  Pumpkin bread at work.  You get the idea.  In fact, it's a little shameful to see how the mission: pumpkin has consumed my life... welp, over it that quickly :)

Here's how you, too, can have pie for breakfast and get a step closer to turning into a pumpkin yourself:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Portobello mushroom lasagna roll-ups

Today is Wednesday.  Today I vow to go to the gym.  And I've found that if I proclaim it here, I stay true to my word.  Because Monday and yesterday, well, I was a bit lazy.  I don't really have a good excuse for why I headed straight home after work both days, other than I simply wasn't in the mood to jump around and sweat.  And, somewhere in my head, I reasoned that it was better to have a day of quality rest than a half-hearted workout.  Right?  Instead, I was in the mood to do absolutely nothing... well, save for eating pizza, watching hockey, and baking cookies.  Things requiring minimal effort and yielding maximum pleasure.  So, today, I vow to write about a recipe that did require effort (when I made it days ago) but was soooooo worth it.  Writing about it means that I'm indirectly being productive, right?