Thursday, February 25, 2010

Restaurant review: Point Brugge Cafe

What happens when you mix a standing weekly dinner "party" with a two busy schedules and a lack of groceries?  A much-needed excuse to visit one of the hidden culinary gems of the Pittsburgh area: Point Brugge Cafe.  This tiny (and I do mean tiny) restaurant is tucked away on a residential street in Point Breeze.  So tucked away that I couldn't imagine just any ordinary restaurant doing regular business, but as I heard from friends and read in reviews before we went, this place manages to fill up every day.

My food partner in crime and I had been oohing and ahhing over the menu all day, so we were anxious to get our appetizers -- macaroni gratin and Brugge frites (twice cooked fries) with basil mayonaise.  Listen carefully because what I'm about to say is of national importance: this was the best macaroni I've ever had.  (It's a good sign that the cheeses used in this are featured in a mac and cheese recipe I have saved in the recipe abyss at home.)  Even the Shark, love of Easy Mac, said it was awesome.  The portion size is great to share or as a single entree.  And the frites were so crunchy (I am very anti-soggy fries).

For a main course, Laura got the Chaud Chevre salad with chicken, which she said was a delight with the warm goat cheese.  I ordered the small portion (a pound) of mussels in the garlic white wine sauce since PB is known for their mussels.  The sauce was flavorful but light enough that it didn't overpower the mussels.  Add crusty bread for sopping up the sauce?  Perfection.

Think we'd had enough food at this point?  Heck no.  Only we would ask for the dessert menu when our entrees arrived, so, as the waiter astutely put it, we "would know how much dinner to eat in order to save room for dessert."  Right on, brother, right on.  We got the vanilla ice cream with dark Belgian chocolate sauce with a chocolate biscuit on top.  Love at first sight with the mini metal pitcher of warmed chocolate!  A simple dessert with a chocolate sauce so rich we I was scraping the pitcher for the last bit of it.  Love love love.

Two side notes: Supposedly, this place has an awesome brunch, so I'll definitely be back for round two!  Second side note, which shouldn't really be a side note since it's well-advertised, but this place has a fantastic selection of beers and wine.  We didn't partake but if you're into that sort of thing, I'd check it out immediately.

Overall, a great experience, and an even greater bill.  All of this for $44.  Seriously.  And we ate a literal ton of food, so, win win!  The only tiny complaint I'd say about this place was that it was a bit (read: couldn't feel fingers/toes at some points) cold in the restaurant, but that could've been a fluke.  The service was fantastic and the restaurant was intimate and filled with amazing sights and smells everywhere you turned.  I highly recommend Point Brugge Cafe! 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pear spice muffins

I know that most people think I'm crazy for what I'm about to say, but I love getting up early on a weekend to make a nice breakfast.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy sleeping in as much as the next person.  But there is something about starting the day being productive and using your hands to create from scratch.  And when you finally get to sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor, it's that much better and hey, look at that!  It's only 9 o'clock and you have the whole day ahead of you!  (Note: Worry not, ye late sleepers, these can be made at any time of the day.)

This was yet another recipe saved and stashed in the abyss known as my recipe folder.  It comes from Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Express.  If you aren't familiar with Nigella Lawson, she's an English food writer turned home cook/domestic goddess (her words) with an uber relaxed approach to cooking and entertaining.  No pretentious ingredients and a focus on delicious food that appeals to the general public rather than food snobs.  If you recall, I actually made her version of a breakfast granola bar a while back and was very pleased with the result.  So much so, in fact, that I now have complete faith in her recipes and even made these muffins for the first time with the intention of delivering them to a group of hungry boys.  And my blind faith was only strengthened after making these muffins.  (Nigella is officially my new food personality crush, but don't worry, Ina, you'll always be #1.)

This muffin features pears, which in my mind are sadly underappreciated and underused in this country.  They have a similar taste and texture to apples and make a perfect baking ingredient in breads, muffins, and crisps.  After looking at the recipe, I knew the combination of pears and ground ginger would make my apartment smell like a dream, so I decided to add a little cinnamon and nutmeg to kick up the warm spice element of the muffins.  What resulted was a delicious and light (no butter here) muffin with a slightly sweet and crunchy topping, perfect for breakfast, an afternoon snack with tea, or a dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  So good!

Pear Spice Muffins
(adapted from Nigella Lawson)
-makes 12 muffins

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of ground nutmeg
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon honey
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups (about 2 medium) peeled and chopped pears, about 1/4" dice

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners (festive snowmen were today's pick).

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, 1/2 of the brown sugar, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, oil, honey and eggs together and then fold this wet mixture into the dry ingredients until evenly incorporated (resist the urge to overmix!).  Fold in the pears and divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.  Don't worry if they're a bit full -- they will bake up to give the muffins beautiful crown tops.

Sprinkle each muffin cup with 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar.  Bake in oven for 20 minutes.  Remove pan to a cooling rack for 15 minutes.  Pop muffins out of pan and let cool in their papers on the rack.

Serve warm alone or with a little butter (because when did butter ever not improve something?).  Nigella even suggests serving these with some sharp cheddar cheese.  Go for it!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Grilled peanut butter & banana sandwich

Ahh, so that's what the sun looks like!  As quickly as it appeared this weekend, it's going to disappear.  I think I saw every citizen of Pittsburgh out on runs, walks, or just wandering aimlessly and squinting in the direction of the sky in disbelief.  "Sun!  Old friend!"  But that's supposed to change today with the onset of a "wintry mix."  Listen, I love snow, but this dreaded "wintry mix" of which the meteorologists speak is not something I want to hear. "Wintry mix" is evil meteorologist code for "wet changing snow-like precipitation that isn't pretty in the least."  Just tell me it's rain already, don't get me excited for snow.  Thanks.

So, knowing that a mix was headed this way, I tried to get out of my apartment as much as possible -- did some outdoor shopping, made a muffin delivery (see tomorrow's post), and you know, celebrated the nice weather in the best way possible -- a movie.  But really, it was an evening flick, and a phenomenal one at that.  An Education. Do yourself a favor and go see it. Honestly, I wouldn't have even known about it had it not been for my friends' keen interest in all things entertainment (go you guys!).  

A nice Sunday night movie, but man, was my stomach growling when it was finished.  I headed home to a) get into sweatpants, b) make a quick dinner, and c) watch some glorious USA-Canada Olympic hockey.  But what to make... Ever have a time when you're so hungry but nothing quite sounds like it will satisfy you?  Then it hit me!   All I could think of was something I'd see Paula Deen make this week.  Sweet mother of all things good and delicious -- a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich dusted with cinnamon sugar.  [wipes drool off keyboard] Apparently it was a favorite of Elvis in his day, too.  Say what you will about that woman (she is sweet but a total nutter, to borrow the term from a dear friend), but she knows how to make comfort food better than anyone.

Something about this sandwich makes you feel like a kid again, but then you remember you're an adult and if you want peanut butter, banana and sugar for dinner, well then go right ahead!  It would make a great snack or even breakfast, too.

Grilled Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich
-makes one unbelievably delicious sandwich... selfishly serving 1

1 medium banana, sliced into 1/2" rounds
Peanut butter of your choice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Heat a skillet over low heat.  In a shallow plate, whisk together cinnamon and sugar; set aside.  Meanwhile, spread peanut butter on one side of two pieces of bread (don't be stingy, as the peanut butter will hold the banana in the sandwich).  Place sliced bananas on one peanut-buttered piece -- really pack them together.  

Sandwich pieces of bread together, butter one side of exposed bread and place that side of the sandwich down into the skillet.  Butter the exposed side of the sandwich carefully while the other cooks.  Flip when cooking side reaches the golden brown level you want (some like it darker, some lighter) and cook on remaining side.

Remove sandwich from pan and immediately place in sugar, flipping and dusting both sides with cinnamon sugar until evenly coated.  Cut in half, serve, and enjoy the crunch of the cinnamon sugary outside with the molten peanut butter and banana inside.  Oh, and try not to be too shocked when your plate looks this clean:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Double chocolate cookies

I realize this recipe is coming two days late for some of you, who gave up chocolate for Lent.  To you, I offer up my most sincere apologies and the suggestion to bookmark this recipe and save it for, oh, Easter afternoon perhaps.  And a few tasty alternatives:

-No chocolate?  Try ice cream sandwiches, upgraded Rice Krispie treats, or my favorite oatmeal raisin cookie.

-No sugary cereals or breakfast treats?  Try a quiche or healthy homemade granola.

-No meat?  For a satisfying lunch or dinner, try portobello lasagna and sweet potato lentil stew.

For those of you who did not forego chocolate for 40 days, I present to you the chocolate cousin of this cookie.  The chocolate chocolate cookie is oversized, chewy, and bursting with flavor.  The chocolate flavor of the cookie comes from a combination of melted milk chocolate and cocoa powder.  My number one professional taster, who is a not a fan of chocolate (self-professed), actually said it tasted like chocolate ice cream and he even wanted another one.  Gasp!  And then, of course, there are the chunks of milk chocolate stirred into the dough at the end.  And the cookie is so thin and chewy.  The key with this cookie is that it uses milk chocolate, a sweeter chocolate, instead of just straight unsweetened cocoa powder or super dark chocolate.

Really want a chocolate fix?  Try adding some white chocolate chips to the batter along with the milk chocolate chunks.  Or, to really put this over the top, melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler (or microwave) and put the melted chocolate into a resealable sandwich bag, snip off the corner, and drizzle chocolate stripes over finished cookies.  Oh my gosh... can I make the cookies again, please?  Okay, fine, you want the recipe.  I get it.


Double Chocolate Cookies
(from here)
-makes roughly 3 dozen large cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (8 oz.) good milk chocolate, 4 oz. chopped to melt, 4 oz. cut into 1/4 inch chunks
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, and set aside.  Melt 4 ounces of chopped chocolate and butter in a glass bowl in the microwave (30 seconds at a time, stir, repeat).  Let cool slightly.

In large bowl of an electric mixer, put melted chocolate/butter mixture, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix on medium speed until combined.  Add half of the cocoa flour mixture, mix on low, add remaining flour mixture, and mix until just combined.  With spatula, stir in chocolate chunks.

Using an ice cream scoop or two spoons, drop 1 1/2" balls of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart (these cookies spread!).  Bake until cookies are flat and the surfaces begin to crack, about 15 minutes.  Don't worry, the cookies will still be soft.  Let the cookies cool on the parchment paper on wire racks.  They can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Oh, and when you eat this cookie, it's mandatory that you stop whatever you are doing, close your eyes, and enjoy that cookie like it's the last you'll ever eat.  Until you get up, go to the kitchen, and get another, of course.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olive oil bread

Last week during my snow-cation from work, I was loving all of the time I got to bake (and do exercise videos, of course).  But after 4 days of it, I was starting to run out of the necessities: butter, all-purpose flour, vanilla, etc.  Scouring my cookbooks and folders of loose recipes, I found something that I could make without any substitutions: olive oil bread.  Ingredients: water, dry yeast, bread flour (somehow I had this but no regular flour, hm), salt, olive oil, and cornmeal.  Easy easy easy.  But if there is one area of baking with which I haven't had much experience, it's bread-making without a doubt.  Something that's so readily available in a million different varieties at your neighborhood grocery store... would it be worth it?

Answer is yes, heck yes.  I'd read that once you taste homemade bread, you'll never want to buy bread again.  That, my friends, is a true story.  The thin crust on the outside of the loaf was so flaky and the tiniest bit crunchy.  The inside was fluffy and light and flavorful and good enough to just eat plain, though butter only improved the already-sublime experience.  Oh, and good luck cutting neat slices of it forever.  I started out that way but by the second day, I was just tearing off pieces of the bread to munch every time I passed it.  Yum.  And, with this being so easy (most of the time is spent letting the dough rise/rest), why not make it every week?

Olive oil bread
(adapted from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
-makes one 12-inch round loaf
**Time from start to cooling loaf of goodness: approximately 3.5 hours**

2 cups water, room temperature
4 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl and plastic wrap
1 tablespoon salt
Cornmeal, for dusting

In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve yeast in water until dissolved.  Add flour and olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are incorporated.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, between 1 hour and 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Add the salt and mix to combine on low speed.  Raise the speed to medium, and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl (see below) but is still sticky, about 3 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead it for 1 minute, then transfer to a large lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Do not throw away the oiled plastic wrap!  Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Fold in the following order: fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down (like a tri-fold letter), and the right and left sides over, tapping the dough after each fold to release excess flour, and pressing down to seal (see below).  Flip the dough seam side down on the work surface, and cover with oiled plastic wrap to let dough rest for 15 minutes.

Dust a large wooden peel (I just used a large cutting board) with cornmeal -- be liberal, here!  Set aside.  Transfer dough to a clean work surface.  If dough is sticky, dust surface with flour.  To shape the dough, tightly tuck the edges under to form a nice smooth ball.  Transfer the dough round to the peel and drape with the oiled plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest until it's slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, place a baking stone on the bottom oven rack and preheat the oven to 450F.  When dough is ready, using a very sharp knife, make four slashes (forming a square) on top of the bread.  Slide the loaf onto the stone (one swift movement is best, don't be a wimp here).

Bake until the crust is darn golden brown, about 35-40 minutes.  With oven-mitted hands, remove crusty beautiful loaf of goodness to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine blondies

Okay, first things first.  How awesome was The Office last night?  I won't spoil it for those of you who depend on your DVR, but ahh!  Finally!!!

Now, a super quick and easy sweet treat to make for friends, family, or you and yourself this weekend: Valentine blondies!

**Note: Let them cool completely and THEN cut.  I waited about, oh, 5 minutes because Thursday night TV was about to begin, and I wanted a snack.  The blondies, however, were not ready to be cut (they were still hot) and the force from the knife caused the M&Ms to crack and the chocolate inside the candies was still mushy... it wasn't a pretty sight, so this is as far as we go.  However, they were absolutely dee-lih-shuss.  Oh my word.  In conclusion, you might think that I learned a valuable lesson about patience -- wrong!  I was basically rewarded for my inability to follow instructions and wait.  You, however, have learned that I have the patience of a 4 year old child.  Did I get that right?

Have a wonderful weekend... get out and stock back up on groceries and, goodness, good luck trying to find a gallon of milk anywhere!  Oh, and happy love day!

Valentine Blondies
(adapted from a recipe in Everyday Food)
-makes 16 2x2 inch squares

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon salt
Festive M&Ms, chocolate chips, Kissables, or candy of your choice

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter and sugars until smoothe. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Add flour and salt and stir with spatula until just moistened. Transfer batter to 8 inch square pan and smooth top. Arrange candies in rows or whatever pattern your little heart desires.

Bake until top of cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, roughly 45 to 50 minutes. Set pan to cool completely on wire rack. Cut into 16 equal squares and serve to the hungry loves of your life. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, if they manage to last that long.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A letter

Dear University of Pittsburgh,

Please announce, within the next 10 minutes or so if possible, the status of the school and offices for tomorrow.  (The answer I'm looking for is "closed" by the way.)  I'm trying to decide whether to make baguettes or olive oil bread this afternoon, but I just noticed the baguettes need 12-16 hours for rising and that would put me squarely into the wee hours of tomorrow morning... I wouldn't mind being up crafting bread at that hour, but I doubt I would be very productive at work.

Thanks a million.

Love, Katy

**Update: I decided on olive oil bread.  More details to come.**

Baked apple pie oatmeal

(For those of you keeping track, today is snow day #3.  I'm going to make myself leave my apartment at some point, I swear... after a digital cable workout, perhaps baking, and surely some quality sitting.)

And that, my friends, is why I love snow days.  There is nothing better I can think of than sleeping in on a snow day (when you know the night before you don't have to go to work the next day so the alarm is off) and getting up to make a delicious breakfast around, say, 10 instead of 7.  Especially one that tastes like dessert.  Actually, it would make an equally delicious dessert poured over a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream... I'm sensing a repeat of this recipe later this week.

All of the ingredients are things most people would have on a regular basis.  Maybe not the apple juice at all times, but it's common enough to find anywhere.  And the finished product?  How could I not love something that makes my apartment smell so darn good and tastes like the most all-American dessert in the history of desserts?  Exactly.  (Hey, you pie-hating friends of mine, I think you would even like this!)

Look at it!  Regarding consistency, it's like a thick oatmeal and is best eaten with a spoon.  If you'd like something stiffer, decrease the amount of water added.  This recipe can also be easily multiplied if there are more mouths to feed (what a perfect breakfast this would be for guests!), but be sure to increase the dish size.  You don't want the mixture to be too thick (more than 1.5 inches) or the top won't get that slight crust.  For two servings, I used a 9 x 6 inch glass dish.

Apple Pie Oatmeal
-serves 2

1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2/3 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup apple juice
2/3 cup water
Dash of cinnamon
Splash of pure vanilla extract
Dash of ground nutmeg
3 teaspoons brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375F.  In a small bowl, microwave chopped apple for 1 minute.  Mix together apples and rest of ingredients in a 9 x 6 inch glass dish.  Smooth with spatula.  Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.  Enjoy the tummy-warming goodness and get back into bed, if desired :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Second snow day here since Pitt is officially closed.  The only downside to this snow that I can see is that I am beginning to run out of baking supplies and only have limited access to the grocery store.  Sure, I have enough real food, but flour?  And butter?  Eeek.  Anyway, on with it.

The smell of cinnamon filled my apartment on Sunday.  Cinnamon.  Loads and loads of cinnamon.  Is there a more heart-warming smell on the planet?  I think not.  These cookies were made for cold, snowed-in days, when you don't want to open your door or window unless it's an absolute emergency... like taking pictures of the outside blizzard.  Anyway, growing up I know I've had these cookies many times, but never got the big fuss.  "So what?  It's just a snickerdoodle.  There's not even chocolate in it?"  Oh, young Katy, there were so many things you needed to learn.  One being an appreciation for all things cinnamon.  Maybe it's just a more mature taste, who knows.  Sidebar -- try a dash of cinnamon on top of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  In looooooooooooove.

Before I made these classic cookies, I wanted to know just where the funny name "snickerdoodle" originated.  According to Wikipedia, "The Joy of Cooking claims that snickerdoodles are probably German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word Schneckennudeln, which means "snail dumpling." A different author suggests that the word "snicker" comes from the Dutch word snekrad, or the German word Schnecke, which both describe a snail-like shape. Yet another theory suggests that the name comes from a New England tradition of fanciful, whimsical cookie names. There is also a series of tall tales about a hero named "Snickerdoodle" from the early 1900s which may be related to the name of the cookie."  I took seven years of German and somehow this cookie legend eluded me?  What the heck.

One trademark of these cookies is the presence of cream of tartar.  The slight acidity of this salt (yes, cream of tartar is a salt), when combined with baking soda, helps to lighten and raise the cookie dough, producing a cracked appearance and chewy texture.  In my search for the right recipe, I saw some that used half butter and half vegetable shortening and others that used all butter.  Shortening produces a slightly crisper cookie, while butter creates a chewy and spread out cookie.  Based on how chewy mine came out, I'm glad I didn't use all butter.  Just a heads up.

(from Martha Stewart)

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400F with racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter, shortening, and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy -- about 3 minutes.  Add eggs, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed, and mix until combined.  Add flour mixture and beat on low until combined.  In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon.

Using a small ice cream scoop or spoons, form walnut sized-balls of dough, round and roll in cinnamon mixture.  Place on cookie sheet, keeping a healthy space between each ball of dough, as these spread during baking. With two prepared sheets of dough in the oven, one on the top rack and one on the bottom, bake 5 minutes, rotate position of sheets (top to bottom, bottom to top) and bake another 5 minutes until cookies are cracking and center is set.  Don't wait for them to brown or look dry -- they will firm up as they cool.

Remove sheets to a cooling rack for 5 minutes before removing cookies from sheets to rack to cool completely.  Store up to a week in a sealed container.  Serve with milk for the most all-over sensory-warming cookie experience of the winter :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blizzard recap

Whew!  Before I say anything else, I want to say that I hope everyone is safe, warm, and with power and food.  That being said, I love love love all this snow.  The city is beautiful and, provided that you don't need to be anywhere, this was a perfect weekend to be a homebody and a lover of the outdoors all at the same time. It also helps that my boss sent out an email late last night telling us to stay home today.  Woo!  First snow day in 7 years :)

Friday I got in a good gym workout before heading home to hunker down for the storm -- one of those times I was very thankful I live within walking distance of my office.  Did some reading and organizing and made my new most favorite salad for dinner: sliced poached chicken breast, baby spinach and romaine lettuce, fresh mushrooms, dried cherries, a bit of shaved Parmesan cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette.  I guess I'm loving that sweet and salty combination lately, but man was it satisfying.

I woke up on Saturday thinking I was going to make a trip down to the Waterfront, but since I wasn't willing to do the journey on foot, I was stuck in Oakland.  Thanks to free workouts on digital cable, I got in two workouts: pilates and yoga.  Train wreck of a hockey game aside, my walk in the snow later was awesome.  It was very apocalyptic outside: no cars, people just walking in the streets, all of the normal city sounds muffled... and so so beautiful.

That tree was so weighed down by snow that the normal 8+ feet clearance over the sidewalk was down to about 3 1/2 feet.

Sunday it was time to bake, but I had to limit myself since I was down to only two sticks of butter.  (Yes, two is as low as it gets here.  I go through about four pounds of butter every month or so.  Two is bare bones, people.)  Blueberry muffins and after an exhilarating yet disappointing hockey game later, I took my first crack (no pun intended) at the classic snickerdoodle cookie.  Look for that tomorrow!

How did you spend your snowy weekend?  Napping?  Watching movies?  Sledding?  And, DC area people, how much snow did you actually get?  I'd love to hear!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Salted browned butter Rice Krispie treats

As promised, here is the other component of this week's Wednesday night dinner: dessert!  I knew the lasagna would be the star (and a rather rich one at that), so I wanted a dessert that was sweet but a little lighter than say, a chocolate cake.  Rice Krispie treats are awesome, and everyone likes them, but I'm sure most people wouldn't say they qualify as a dessert for a mini dinner party.  I beg to differ.  These treats are the cool and smooth James Bond to the sweet and traditional Nancy Drew.  (Alright, a bit off, but just keep reading.)

My crush on Smitten Kitchen knows no bounds, and Deb certainly isn't kidding when she says that these are "the best thing to happen to Rice Krispies Treats since Mildred Day of the home economics department at the Kellogg Company thought to apply marshmallows and melted butter to the puffed rice cereal in 1928."  You are so right, my friend!  By browning it, the butter takes on a deeper, nuttier flavor (and gorgeous amber color). Combined with a lil bit o' sea salt for the salty sweet combination... mmmmm!  Seriously, do not be ashamed to serve these for dessert after a fancy dinner.  Your guests will welcome the simple yet updated throwback dessert :)

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats
(from SmittenKitchen)

A quick note: An 8x8 inch pan will yield 16 two-inch thick treats.  A 9x13 inch pan will yield 24 one-inch thin treats.  Use the latter for a big group, but not for just prolonging the disappearance of these.  You know you'll eat a second one of the smaller ones, which defeats the purpose of making smaller treats.  Don't shake your head at me...

1 stick unsalted butter
1 10-ounce package of marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt (regular salt will work, too)

Coat 8 inch square pan with nonstick spray or butter.  In a large pot over the stove, melt butter over medium-low heat until it melts.  Stir often while scraping the bottom of the pot, and watch the butter foam and begin to darken in color from yellow to golden to brown.  Seriously, don't walk away from this or it will probably go from browned to burned before you know it.

It'll smell a bit nutty -- take it off the heat ASAP and stir in the marshmallows immediately.  The hot butter will melt the marshmallows with lots of stirring.  If they need a little extra heat, turn the burner on low but only as needed.  Remove from stove and stir salt and cereal into the marshmallow mixture. Pour mixture into greased pan quickly.

This is my favorite part: Lightly coat your clean hands with nonstick spray and use your clean yet greased hands to spread and smooth the treats into the pan.  Sure, you could use waxed or parchment paper, but where is the fun in that?

Let cool/firm, cut and enjoy the entire tray in one sitting!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Portobello mushroom lasagna

Since one of my friends moved to Pittsburgh, we've alternated weeks making dinner for the other.  I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to cook for more than one (it's so nice!).  Naturally, I have piles of recipes saved for future dinners, and two of those recipes were begging, just begging, me to give them a try: portobello mushroom lasagna and salted brown butter Rice Krispie treats.  The first I'll write about today, the second will be featured tomorrow... mostly because the first is a bit lengthy.

A few words about this lasagna.  It is amazing and rich and so all-over-body-warming.  One thing it is not, however, is low calorie: whole milk, butter, cheese, pasta.  But honestly, who even cares.  If you are concerned about those things, I wouldn't encourage you to continue reading :)  This lasagna is perfect for a cold winter night with a simple romaine and spinach salad on the side.  Think cream of mushroom soup -- not the canned kind, but the homemade kind with tons and tons of mushrooms -- between noodles and parmesan cheese.  The prep took a little longer than expected but, as Laura put it, "Who cares, I have nowhere to be and this is freakin' awesome."  Well said, pal.

Lots of pots and pans required for this one.  This was only the second time in two years that I really wished I had a dishwasher... really, really wished.  And here is the final product, a bit blurry because we were hungry and the words "screw it, I can't wait any longer to eat this" may or may not have come out of my mouth.  You'll understand once you try it.

Portobello Mushroom Lasagna
(adapted from Ina Garten)
-the recipe says serves 6, but I counted 12 portions

Kosher salt
3/4 pound lasagna noodles (I used all of a 16 oz. package)
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 cups whole milk
8 + 4 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds portobello mushrooms (without the stems), cleaned and cut into 1/4" slices
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F.  Fill a large pot with water, a tablespoon of olive oil, and 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil.  Add lasagna noodles and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain and set aside.

For the white sauce, bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Set aside. Melt 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in a large saucepan.  Add the flour and cook for 1 minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture all at once. Add 1 tablespoon salt, the pepper, and nutmeg, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring first with the wooden spoon and then with a whisk, for 3 to 5 minutes, until thick.  (It will get really thick.  Think milkshake consistency.)  Set aside off the heat.

Heat 2 Tbsp of oil and 2 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet.  When the butter has melted, add half of the mushrooms, sprinkle with a little salt, and toss to coat evenly with oil and butter.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking, until mushrooms are tender and have released some of their juices.  Pour mushrooms and juice into a bowl and repeat steps with the other half of the mushrooms.

For lasagna assembly, I used a 9 x 13" glass dish and just adjusted the noodles accordingly.  You should have about 4 cups of the white sauce at this point.  Pour 3/4 cup (original instructions didn't have this, but I added it because it's important) of the white sauce and spread into the bottom of the baking dish.  Arrange a layer of noodles (keep in mind you'll need 4 noodle layers) on top of sauce.  Spread another 3/4 cup of sauce over the noodles and arrange 1/3 of the mushrooms on the sauce.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over mushrooms.  Repeat this order two more times: noodles, sauce, mushrooms, cheese.  Arrange the last of the noodles and spread the remaining sauce around and finish with cheese.

Bake in over for 45 minutes.  Remove dish to cooling rack and let it rest for 15 minutes.  I know it'll be difficult, but trust me, you need to wait and let the lasagna cool and firm up just a bit.  Serve, enjoy, and rest assured that your stomach has never been happier than at this moment :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Overnight oats

No no, I'm not referring to some all-night French toast and quiche marathon.  I'm talking about overnight oats.

I honestly can't remember where I read about them first, but a quick Google search will show you how popular this dish has become.  For a breakfast that takes the least amount of prep imaginable, it's a pretty square meal: old-fashioned oats (complex carbohydrates... the good kind!), nonfat yogurt (good bacteria and protein), banana (tons of vitamins and fiber), and almonds (protein, vitamins and minerals, and the good kind of fats, like you'd find in olive oil).

And it's so satisfying!  To you skeptics, who really love your staple bowl of cereal, take it from me.  I love cereal.  But this is much more nutritionally complete (and faster, can you believe it?) and you can still eat it out of a bowl with a spoon.

**Any variation of this will work.  Have fun with it.  Want to use pineapple yogurt instead of vanilla?  Sure!  Strawberries or blueberries in place of the banana?  No problem!  Walnuts rather than almonds?  Go for it!**

Overnight Oats
1/2 cup or one serving size container of vanilla yogurt
1/3 cup oats (I had old-fashioned, but any kind will do)
1 banana, sliced
handful of sliced almonds

In a cereal size bowl, stir together yogurt and oats.  Arrange banana slices on top of the yogurt mixture and sprinkle with almonds.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and make a tight seal.  Refrigerate overnight and enjoy in the morning.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sour cream pancakes

Sour cream isn't a regular in my refrigerator, but this weekend I was handsomely rewarded for having some on hand.  First, the oh so bendy sugar cookies.  And then, the most satisfying pancakes I've had to date.

For some reason, I'm more of an egg person in the morning.  Usually pancakes are too fluffy and filling for me that early, and I like to save the sweet tooth takeover for at least the PM hours.  But when I saw these pancakes over at Smitten Kitchen that were advertised as being not too sweet and not too fluffy, but light enough and easy to throw together... how could I resist?  I made a pancake date with myself (no joke) for Saturday morning.  I'd get up early, make myself some delicious pancakes and have the kind of productive day that would make even Martha Stewart jealous.


Maybe I didn't wake up until almost ten.  And maybe my bed was so warm that I didn't even want to get out of it.  And maybe I didn't even make my bed... for the first time in months. And maybe I didn't even shower until dinnertime.  But there was no negotiating with these pancakes.  They were just as delicious and energizing for a day of sitting, napping, and watching movies.  Maybe even better :)

Edna Mae's Sour Cream Pancakes... with Katy's Blueberries!
(seen here, apparently from here)
-makes about eight 5-inch pancakes

7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/ 2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream 2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Frozen (or fresh) blueberries, thawed [optional]
Maple syrup

Heat griddle or skillet over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes before cooking pancakes for even heating.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Add sour cream and mix together gently, until just incorporated -- it will be lumpy.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla.  Add eggs to sour cream mixture and gently combine.  Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small bowl in the microwave and, using a pastry brush, brush entire cooking surface with butter.  Pour pancakes onto griddle in 1/4 cup increments.  If using blueberries, place them in the batter once it's on the griddle -- much easier this way.

Cook for about 2-3 minutes on the first side or until little bubbles appear on the surface.  Using a spatula, quickly scoop and flip the pancake to the other side.  (Don't worry if blueberries or a little batter jumps ship -- just use the spatula to reunite it with its mother pancake.)  Cooking time for the other side will be less, about a minute or two.  Remove from griddle and serve with a pool of syrup, like so:

Note: I normally don't use THAT much syrup, but I was trying to get a sweet picture of the syrup pouring and didn't do a very good job and poured too quickly.  Oh well, I just used the syrup for the other pancakes.  And hey, I'd even eat these plain.  The mild sweetness of the batter with the tangy/tart combination of the blueberries and sour cream... oooooh goodness!  Out of this world!  I'll never eat that dreaded pancake mix again.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Giant chewy sugar cookies

Happy February!  What a great weekend -- lots of friends, family, and cooking, and I now have digital cable (welcome to 2006, Katy).  The real awesomeness of this last part is the plethora of free workout videos available, which means I can switch up my routines when working out while baking :)  I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous.  But trust me, do it sometime and try and tell me it hasn't changed your life.  Ha!

In keeping with one my resolutions for this year (to start making/testing my way through the giant folder of recipes I have saved), I pulled out this one for the ultimate chewy sugar cookie.  If you recall, I have a favorite recipe for firmer cut-out sugar cookies, but I've been looking for a chewy counterpart... and one that is a bit less time-consuming with the parchment paper, rolling, chilling, more parchment paper, more rolling, and more chilling.  This recipe is so easy!  (I'm talking to you, dear friend in a tiny NYC apartment who wanted an easy and chewy sugar cookie with as little prep as possible!)  And the results are so good, I bet you'll never again dream of those awful flavorless fluffy and over-iced excuses for sugar cookies from the grocery store. 

Look at those cookies!  And, truth be told, they are even bigger than they look here, but I didn't want to get my hand too close to the very hot cookie sheet.  In all honesty, they are probably the size of a softball.  And sooooooo chewy.  I tried to take a picture of me bending (yes, bending, not breaking) a cookie in my hand later that night but I was too busy chewing and rejoicing to get a clear picture.  Woops.  Just make them for yourselves and see :) 

Giant Chewy Sugar Cookies
(from Martha Stewart online)
-makes 18 "giant" or probably 24 regular sized cookies

2 cups all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350F with racks in upper third and lower third of oven.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda and powder.  Set aside.

In large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  Add egg and vanilla, mix well until combined.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add half of the flour mixture, mixing until incorporated.  Add sour cream, mix, and finally the other half of the flour mixture.  Mix until contents are smooth.

Using spoons (or an ice cream scooper), scoop mounds of dough just bigger than the size of golf balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 3-4 inches apart.  (I fit 6 on a quarter cookie sheet, as seen below and wouldn't recommend any more.  They grow!)  **If you'd like smaller cookies, by all means, go for it.  Just watch the baking time because 15 minutes will probably be enough.** Sprinkle lightly with sugar or a pretty colored sanding sugar if you like.  

Bake cookies 10 minutes, rotate sheets (top goes to bottom, bottom to top, and turning sheets as well) until edges of cookies are just firm and tops are barely beginning to brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Using spatula, transfer cookies to cooling rack.  Store in a sealed container for up to a week.  If they fall prey to the overly dry air in your place, put a piece of bread in with the cookies and after a few hours, the cookies will be extra chewy again.  The bread?  Not so much.