Monday, January 11, 2010


This weekend I had a potluck brunch to go to and as usual I decided to try something new. I'd had strata in restaurants and decided to make it myself. Strata is basically bread pudding but savory, not sweet. It's also a lot like quiche, but without the crust and with bread in it. Whatever it's like, it's really good, you can put whatever you want in it, and it's not that hard to make. I used this spinach strata recipe and I added tomatoes too. At one point (actually many points) I thought I'd ruined it, but it's hard to ruin and came out great! You're supposed to put the stuff in the pan in layers, but after the first layer my pan was pretty full. Too much stuff! So I made two pans, but then when I went to pour in the liquid, it didn't even cover one of the pans. Not enough liquid! I figured I'd just see what happened, and it actually was fine. I do think the custard to stuff ratio was kind of high - I'd probably pack more stuff in next time so it was more dense. But it really didn't matter and I'm eating the second pan for lunches this week - anything goes, with strata!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Egg Nog Bars

As you may or may not know, I love egg nog. So when I saw these egg nog nanaimo bars (yeah, weird name) I pretty much had to make them. The recipe is fairly involved so I was worried they wouldn't be worth it, but let me tell you - they are! These are reeeealllly good! And the two main layers really aren't that hard, though they do have a fair number of ingredients in there. Mine actually do look great, a lot like the picture, but I couldn't resist reposting this shot with their cute little faces and egg nog glasses. The bottom layer is chocolatey graham cracker stuff, and the middle layer is puddingy egg nog stuff - both buttery goodness. Then on top there is a layer of white chocolate. That part was pretty tricky. Melted chocolate doesn't quite seem liquidy enough to pour, you see. So I melted it and sort of painted it on awkwardly with a spatula. It hardens so fast so it's easy to make a mess. It was a bit frustrating, but in the end it still looked fine and tasted great. So - success! The only worry is that I can't make them again until next egg nog season.

Orange Lamb

Chocolate & Zucchini is a food blog I've had on my radar for a long time but never actually made anything from it. Sometimes I feel like a lot of things on there are more complicated than I'm looking for. But the other day I had time, and LZ wanted lamb, and this one looked pretty good. It's basically lamb and oranges, with a buttery citrus sauce with spices like cardamom and cinnamon, and then candied orange peels on top. I was excited about trying the candied orange peels, but in the end they mostly got left on the side of the plate. It was really delicious though, between the fact that lamb is always tasty, and the yummy spices - thumbs up! It took some work but I'd definitely make it again - could be a good one for a dinner party since we even had leftovers. I would say mine did look fairly similar to the photo, but my photos can never compare so I posted hers.

My Baking Misdaventures

Hello bloggers! I haven't posted in awhile and thought I'd update you all on my cooking adventures.

First I made florentine lace cookies; these are fancy cookies you often see in bakeries. They are very impressive to bring as hostess gifts, but I must warn you. They are a huge pain in the ass! First you have to make the cookie part. I learned from trial and error that you must spoon the dough onto the cookie sheet in dollops no bigger than a quarter. Or else all of the cookies will spread together to make one giant cookie! I literally used every cookie sheet in the house, because you have to leave so much room on each sheet for the cookies to bake. The cookies are thin and if you bake them too long they will just crumble as you try to remove them. I had two whole pans of them that I could not use. After making the cookies, I made the chocolate filling with amaretto (always take a shot for good luck.). I then had to match each cookie half with another that is roughly the same size and put the filling in the middle. They came out great, but I vowed not to make them again for a few years. After that ringing endorsement, let me know if you want the recipe.

Also for dinner the other night, I decided to make biscuits. I am not a baker, so proceeded with caution. Brianna who comes from a long line of bakers was always nervous about making them, and has never really attempted.

So it was crazy that I, the person who has trouble with a cake mix was going to give this a whirl. After I made my dough, I proudly exclaimed, "Look what I did."

They came out great except that they are they thickness of English muffins. I think I rolled out the dough too thinly and maybe our baking soda has gone defunct. They tasted exactly like biscuits though, so I though that was a step in the right direction. You can find the recipe at the Joy of Baking Website.

And for my third and final act, I am attempting to make bread from scratch. Eeek! Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything) discovered this technique from a bakery in NYC. Literally take yeast, water, salt, and flour, let it rise for many hours, pop it in the oven and voila. Check out the YouTube video of it. See how easy he made it look? I've made the dough which is VERY wet and doest not all resemble a ball. It kind of shakes like jello. I've already used several extra cups of flour but it's still not quite right. I am going to hope for the best. Right now it's rising for the second time, and that we will bake it and see how it turns out. Will keep you posted!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rugelach (not to be confused with Arugula)

My mom didn't want me to make gingerbread cookies this year for Christmas.

"I don't want something with frosting. I want something with nuts," she said.

Luckily, I was reading recipes of holiday cookies on the New York Times website and found these little beautiful Jewish cookies called Rugelach. (I pronounce them "Ru-Geh-Laa" which sounds pretty much like "Arugula," which is not a cookie). For some reason, I remember my mom buying them at some bakery when I was little. There was a raisin kind and a fruity kind, but i liked both a lot. And, they had nuts. Perfect.

"So instead of making Christmas're making Jewish cookies?" My dad asked once I explained the change in plan.

"Ask mom," I said. "I think Christmas is still on."

The two kinds we made are Apricot and Raisin and Raspberry and Dried Cranberry

Adapted from the New York Times website. (See link above)

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese (I used a block of Philly's)
1 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup (firmly packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup golden raisins (ok, we used regular raisins and were fine, and used craisens for the raspberry version)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup apricot preserves (or use raspberry preserves)
1/4 liquid cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make the dough:
In a mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter until blended. Beat in the sugar and vanilla extract. On low speed, beat in the flour and the optional salt until incorporated.
Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it together to form a ball.
Divide the dough into 4 portions and cover each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or

Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts and stir with a spatula or fork until well mixed.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to sit on the counter for about 15 minutes or until it is malleable enough to roll.
Place 2 oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Using a floured rolling pin, on a lightly floured board, roll out each dough portion, one at a time, into a 9-inch circle to a 1/8-inch thickness, rotating the dough often to be sure that it isn't sticking.
A great method that keeps additional flour to a minimum is to roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap, well floured on the bottom. Flip it over, remove the bottom sheet of plastic wrap, and dust off any excess flour. Using the back of a tablespoon, spread the dough evenly with 2 tablespoons of the preserves. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the filling over the preserves. Press the filling firmly and evenly over the dough. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough circle into 12 triangles or pieces of "pie."
Use a thin knife, if necessary, to loosen the triangles from the board.
Starting at the wide end, roll up the triangle and bend the ends around to form a slight crescent shape.
Place the rugelach, point underneath, about 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

(optional) For the topping, brush the rugelach with milk. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle the rugelach with it.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

(optional) For even baking, rotate the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking period.