Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I've been feeling quite Holiday-ready for awhile now.
And since the weather is finally matching with the time of year - goodbye, 70 degrees, see you in May - I feel right about letting myself go...
I'm ready to get Thanksgiving-y.

Here's what we've had going on...

We cooked up a big, ruby red pot of this amazing Cranberry Ginger Chutney at my mom's a couple of weeks ago.

Auntie Alli has had some free time in her crazy schedule to bestow upon the piglets.
She visited our house and was persuaded to drop it all on the spot to read the book-gluttons a few stories.
(Like mother, like babies.)

Lit candles and fresh bread from La Brea bakery via Costco.
Although it's not as domestic and warm as baking up my very own loaf - which I do from time to time -
it's much quicker and (dare I say?) just as delicious.

And, if dimly lit nights of book browsing, fresh bread and cranberries don't get you in the festive spirit, the sight of a fierce Indian and sweet Pilgrim should do the trick.

From this Star-Crossed girl to you and yours:
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Uncle Mike's Pizza

Do you have an Uncle Mike?
I feel like almost everyone has an Uncle Mike.

My Uncle Mike is awesome.
He's Italian.
He comes from the classic tight-knit family.
They owned a few pizza joints in Florida for quite a few years and he knows how to make a good pie.

Somehow, with my cunning 'you-love-your-niece-don't-you?' ways, I convinced him to give me the top secret family pizza recipe.

My little sister and I tried to re-create some of our favorite girlhood memories of pizza night with Uncle Mike...sans Uncle Mike.

Here's how pizza night would start:
Us: Uncle Mike can we make pizza tonight...Please, please, puuuuuhhhhleeease???
(annoying, I know.)
Uncle Mike: I'm not sure I have everything we need to make it.
Us: We can go to the store. Please, please, puuuuuhhhhleeeease?!?!
U.M: I'm not sure we have the time...
Us: Yes we have time. Please, please, puuuuuhhhhleeeease?!
...and so on.
Uncle Mike finally says "yes" (which, I have a feeling he was planning on the entire time) and we proceed to make some of the best pizza and even better memories.

Flour-doused counters. The intoxicating smell of yeast. Spreading the sauce. Sprinkles of cheese.
The perfect pie emerging from the oven.

The dough.
There is a secret ingredient.
An unexpected, fun secret ingredient.
You won't guess it...

...and I'm not telling.
I'd risk some sort of Italian smack-down if I let the secret ingredient fly.
The secret is safe with me.

My Mama's hands...kneading the dough.
Those hands mean love.

Uncle Mike always says to spread the sauce in a circle.
So, in a circle we spread.

And sprinkle the cheese.
Little did we know there was a grave mistake being made at this point in the process.
The pizza screen was wet when we put the dough on it.
Do you know what that means?
It means this:

We were so excited to get this beauty out of the oven and devour.
But it was stuck, impossibly stuck, to the pizza screen.
So, we did what any other self-respecting pizza lover would do.
We picked off the pick-able pieces and munched.

And then we threw the pizza screen away.
Completely ruined my mom's screen.
(Sorry, mom...)

So we made a new plan:
Use baking sheets and make rectangular pizzas.
Not quite the circular perfection of our youth, but still good.
We laughed at what Uncle Mike would say about our blunder...

...and our resulting strange looking pizzas.

They may not be pretty.
Definitely not the beauties we helped craft when we were little girlies.
But, oh heavens, did they taste good.

We've decided that a pizza night is in order every month or two.
Thanks, Uncle Mike.
Your secret is under lock and key.
: )

photos credited to Alli.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fat & Happy

Warning: this post is all about food.
Which, admittedly, my entire blog has been about lately. I like to eat. Get over it.
But it's okay, because this is sort of the season that one can obsess over food and not seem like an absolute nut case (no pun intended).

If I were a "good" blogger - the kind that inspires people to take their dining room table and marvelously turn it into a king-sized bed with tufted headboard with only $5 and a distressed paint job or decorate their entire house with strands of hand-glittered Fruit Loops for the holidays - I would take my favorite store-bought snacks and figure out a way to whip them up in my own kitchen...
The title of this post is "Fat and Happy."
And you don't get that way by having the get-up-and-go it takes to create a new bed, string cereal around your house and make all your favorite treats from organic scratch.
No sir. No ma'am.

I buy many of my snacks and eat them out of boxes.
And I like it that way.
(Although, as you know, I do like a good homemade something for balance. A little yin to my yang.)

So here, is a list of some of my favorite snacky items in honor of the Holidays.
(By no means is this a comprehensive list...I could go on for days. See post title.)

First, I must start with the King of all wintery treats.
The Starbucks Peppermint Mocha.
(and his gorgeous sisters.)

yum. yum. and yum.

Best Hummus on the planet.
Besides My Sister's Hummus, of course, but we're talking store-bought goodies right now,
none of this homemade mumbo-jumbo.
Instant, bought-it-at-the-store-and-can't-wait-to-get-home-to-crack-open-the-crinkley-packaging gratification.
Trader Joe's Cilantro and Jalapeno Hummus.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe's.
Also from TJ's.
Best Christmas treat.

Okay, this one has some assembly required. Don't hate me.
S.Pellegrino sparkling water and a splash of fruit juice.
Icy. Refreshing. Sparkly.
(Mostly) healthy.
I've been loving mine with pineapple, cranberry or pomegranate juice.

This next one I found at this grocery store.
(Sorry to all the grocery snobs...I shop here a lot with the comforting thought that TJ's is owned by the same company so it can't be all that bad.)
Priano brand Pizzelle.
Pizzelle is this super-thin Italian waffle type cookie (flavored in vanilla or anise) that is crispy and lovely and completely satisfying with a gooey layer of
slathered on top.

I'm a sweet-lover.
I come by it honestly; both of my grandmas can put away their fair share of Dairy Queen (or "DQ" as she has affectionately dubbed it) or cherry-topped cheesecake like no other.
But...a girl's gotta get her sodium in somewhere.
Look no further than Costco's Rice Crackers w/ Nuts.
Holy Asian-Party-in-Your-Mouth.
So, so good.

And, lest you think I'm a disgusting, processed food consuming glutton, I will tell you that I have been devouring perfectly ripe pears in droves...or bushels...or whatever large quantities pears come in.

Although I makes jokes about being fat and happy...I really am not all that fat.
My pre-occupation with food is nicely balanced by the raging metabolism only a nursing mom (and adolescent boys) can boast.
So, I'm living it up while I've got the chance.

Thinking that it might not be all that terrible to forsake nursing school for a full-time occupation as a wet nurse.
Do people even use wet nurses anymore?
I kid...I kid...
sort of


I have an addiction to newborns. It's true.

This could prove to be tricky to navigate...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Love...

  • the excitement in Evie's voice as she proclaims, of her own accord and not by any promise of mine, "Mama is going to teach me to play the piano." And I will...because how can I turn that down?
  • this blog. Absolute eye candy inspiration from fashion (mostly fashion) to baking to decorating. In another life I kinda wanna be her.
  • the dog sprawled at my feet, sawing logs.
  • the quietness of my house on Tuesdays - the day the big piglets spend at preschool.
  • this post by Cherry. Be sure to scroll down to her cosy table-setting at the bottom of the post.
  • this hat, crocheted by a friend from high school. And this hat. And...well, her entire adorable etsy shop.
  • online Christmas shopping. Here and here, here and, of course, here
  • the transformation of my basement from ugly storage/laundry/playroom/total and utter disgrace to bright, cheery homeschool central. It's a slow process - as all Star-Crossed projects tend to be - but I will share the fruits of our labor via photos as soon as it is presentable.
  • the prospect of my birthday on the horizon.
  • Thanksgiving looming (in the way only a sweet holiday can). Late nights spent laughing and eating with far-away family, while the little ones are snug in their beds just up the staircase. I can't think of a joy more satisfying.
  • this homeschool room. Yeah, I'm totally taking notes. Although I have no hopes that my room will be as perfectly pulled off as this one.
  • the sound of all three children laughing at the same time. Like, side-splitting, tears running down their faces, belly laughing. It totally sounds like munchkinland when you hear them getting carried away in the next room. I half expect to walk in on them mingling with the Lollipop Guild and Glinda the Good Witch when they start in on the giggling. This has to be my number one happiness at this point in life; hearing the munchkinland laugh.
  • the feeling that this might just be my most favorite holiday season to date. I just have a good mojo going about Thanksgiving/Christmas 2010.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woolen Mittens

It's Saturday.

I think the family is heaving a collective sigh of relief.
It was a busy week - evidenced by my lack of blogging and the foreboding scratchy throat/sinus headache combo I've got going on.

Today is a day of comforting movies.
(My raindrops on roses.)

Cream of wheat, thick with butter, sugar, a splash of vanilla warming our insides.
(Crisp apple strudels.)

Little bodies snug in their cotton jammies, burrowed under quilts.
(Warm woolen mittens.)

A pot steaming with chicken noodle soup.
(Bright copper kettles.)

A melee of arms and legs tangled on the couch at story time.
(Cream colored ponies.)

Nursing an endless mug of hot tea.
(Brown paper packages.)

If it weren't a strange, balmy 55 degrees out I would have a fire lit cozily in the hearth.
Except...I don't have a hearth.
No matter. I doesn't do to think about the dog bites and bee stings on a day like today.

Today we will be homebodies.
How will your Saturday be spent?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Just so you know...

Nigella has a chocolate chip cookie recipe in her new book.

I made them.

She should have read my blog first.
That's all I'm going to say about that.

The November Kitchen

The month makes me think of a simmering stove in a glowing, twilight kitchen.
November should be lived in the kitchen.

I gave my exposed shelving an overhaul yesterday.
Perhaps in anticipation of this season of kitchen-dwelling.
Perhaps because they were starting to get really messy and neglected looking.
Whatever the cause, I am glad to have done it.
It makes me ready to set up camp in the hub of the home.

I'm a white and blue kind of person.
No matter the season, I am drawn to the crisp whites and fresh blues that tell of the clouds and sky.
I can add a touch of seasonal color here and there...
but blue and white are my palette.
The colors speak to me.
They invite me.

So, this November, we shall gather in my humble little kitchen.
And, though it is not perfect, we will create gorgeous food that nourishes the body and comforts the soul.

We will sip hot cocoa made with milk and topped with freshly whipped cream.
We will use the french press - beacuse it causes us to slow down.

We will browse beloved cook books and taste new dishes.
We will savor the warmth of an oven alive with sweet-smelling things.

We will light the strands of white lights and let them glow through the night
in the case of a wandering body, groggy from bed, searching for a mug of milk to help sleep come.

We will make the kitchen our home this month.
...and next month.
And probably January after that...
And we will revel in our hibernation.

Minestrone soup + Rosemary olive oil bread.
Sunday supper.

Easy Minestrone Soup

1 lb. ground beef, browned
1 large can stewed tomatoes, chopped
1 can chickpeas (or any other bean)
any small pasta
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen corn (or 1 can)
3 carrots, chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 dash (or 2...or 3) red pepper flakes
oregano to taste
salt and pepper to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
pesto and fresh grated parmesan for garnish (optional)

Put all ingredients (except pasta, pesto and cheese) into a 6 qt. slow-cooker and cook until warmed through. Add pasta to cook the last 20 minutes. Dish into bowls and top with a dallop of basil pesto and grated parmesan. Serve with crusty bread.

Soup like this is really, very forgiving. So whatever you feel like putting into the pot will probably taste like a little bit of heaven. As long as you keep true to the spirit of the soup. Think Italian vegetable soup and you should be okay with whatever you add. Its the perfect thing to make on a November day with whatever you have in your cupboards. My recipe above is just a suggestion.

If, by some stroke of chance, you find us outside of the kitchen this November, we are probably cozied up on the couch doing something like this...
This book, Circle of Seasons is one of our favorites. Read my review here.

To find more of my recipes I have posted, visit my 'Recipes' tab.
And, by all means, spend a little time in your kitchen this November.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Nigella Kitchen

Nigella's new book is out.

We all know how I feel about Nigella and her Food Network show.
So when I heard that she was in my city for her book tour I was so there.
In the past year I've tried to attend book signings by some of my favorite authors (her and her) and for one reason or another - sickness, the babysitter backing out - I haven't been able to go.
Not this time, folks! I was going to make the Nigella appearance.

Evie waits in line for the book signing.

My little cook-in-training came with me.
She was so excited to meet "Ungella."
: )

Nigella, in all her Domestic Goddess glory.
 She was totally gorgeous.
Looked just like on TV.
Although, I'm not sure what else she would look like. 
I guess it was just comforting for her to be the exact same woman she is on the screen.

Evie and I might have been a little star-struck.
In our quick moment of time with her we got to hear what funny names her nieces and nephews call her and how cute she thought Miss Evie was.

I've been absolutely delighted with the bits I've read of her new book. 
She has such a way with words and her book reflects that. 
One of the only cook books I've come across that reads like literature instead of a dry account of ingredients and measurements.

This was such a fun experience.
I might have a new addiction to book signings.
I might...

The inscription on the inside of my copy:
For Ashley and Evie
with love,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies - Recipe of the Month

I wouldn't consider myself a kitchen braggart.
I'm a step-above-mediocre cook.
Meaning I like to browse a good cookbook and then throw some of the most basic recipes together.
I like easy meals with lots of flavor.
If it gets too French (ie: words I can't pronounce) or if silly gadgets are involved I'm out.
Although, I do like to Barefoot Contessa it up every once in awhile.
(So, so fun to use 'Barefoot Contessa' as a should try it...)

But, I despise a dinner from a box.
No fakey potatoes au gratin with powder "sauce" or cheesy broccoli rice with crusty bits of broccoli.
(That's not to say it never happens. I keep some of that junk on hand if I'm having a particularly desperate day.)

So, while I'm no Julia Child (I heard she disdained Italian cooking because it was too haphazard and not calculated enough! La di dah!) we do like to eat well at our house.

Anyway...where was I going with this?
Oh, yes.
I'm not a braggart in the kitchen.
I admit: I'm average.

But what is not average - what I have perfected throughout my (short) years in the kitchen - is my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.
I know, right? Everyone knows how to make a chocolate chip cookie.
Even if you can't boil an egg, you can probably make a chocolate chip cookie.

Listen, if you try this recipe and think I'm completely out of line in saying these are the best Chocolate Chip Cookies you've ever made and that I'm a Genius Chocolate Chip Cookie maker, you can blame my dad.
Yep. Blame the Reverend.
He has been requesting and then proclaiming the perfection of my Chocolate Chip Cookies since I was 15.
He has inflated my head in a terrible way.
And, so, if they's all his fault.
(But they don't suck. I promise.)

This is a basic recipe.
No fancy, I-can't-believe-she-puts-that-in-there! ingredients.
Straightforward, Toll House style recipe, just tweaked and teased a bit to make it truly exceptional.

The magic is in the ingredients.
Do exactly what I tell you.
Because, as is true with all baking, the correct temperature, amounts and order of additions is vital when it comes to these cookies.
The texture will be all wrong if you don't do as I say.
(So what? I'm having a power trip. Let me.)

First up, a note about the chocolate, vanilla and butter:
Use good chocolate chips.
I prefer Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips.
Please do not use milk chocolate chips. Gross.

Use good vanilla extract.
Do not use the crap that says 'imitation vanilla.'
Stay away from that.
It's phony. And nasty.
(And we are using more vanilla in this recipe than is traditionally called for, so make it the good stuff.)

Use salted butter.
S A L T E D.
I know, in baking you are supposed to use unsalted butter so you can monitor the amount of butter you are adding to your recipe.
Nonsense, here.
This, I feel, is the key to making your chocolate chip cookies a cut above the rest.
The extra salt in there...coupled with the sweet of the good chocolate.

Another note about butter:
It is supposed to be room temperature.
That means you must leave it sitting out for a few hours so it gets truly soft and room temp all the way through. If it isn't soft enough, it wont blend with the other ingredients.
If you forget to set your butter out (which I've done many times) and just decide to nuke it you will have a different texture in your cookies.
Truly room temp. butter produces light, soft, fluffy cookies. Like the ones in my picture at the bottom.
Butter that has been put in the microwave and has been softened to that oozing point, or beyond, produces flat, chewy, brown cookies.
I prefer the fluffy cookies. But if you like the more dense ones, microwave your butter until it starts to ooze.

See? This is intense; this whole 'perfect cookie' thing.
Maybe I missed my calling as a pastry chef.

And now, without further ado, the recipe.

Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) good semi-sweet chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli)

Preheat your oven to 375.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. (Please do this step. The consistency is effected by whether you beat after each egg or not.)
Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.
Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes.

Oh my heavens. The most perfect cookie.

If you're a nut-lover, you may put 1 cup of walnuts in your cookies when you add the chocolate chips. I love nuts but, for some reason, I like the purity of the cookie without nuts. Crunch distracts me from the goodness of the cookie.

And that's it!
Not the most impressive recipe in my folders, but probably the best.
If you make these, you have to tell me how they turned out.
If you loved them as much as my daddy does.
: )

Monday, November 1, 2010

You Know You Want It...

Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

My top secret recipe...
going public.

The November Recipe of the Month coming soon.

Get your favorite mug icy cold and brimming with 2 percent...
this is going to be a good one.