Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Coal

Since I'm always looking for new holiday cookies and since my baking list is always ridiculously long, I like to find recipes that are simple or require very little time to make. When I came across this recipe for Lumps of Coal, I was in love - not only was it a quick no-bake recipe, but I could use Peppermint Joe-Joes from Trader Joe's to make them truly Christmas-y!

(And sorry for no picture, but really, they're just blackish cubes.)

Christmas Coal (with thanks to Sweet Pea's Kitchen and Pinterest)
1 package peppermint Joe-Joes (or mint Oreos)
1 bag mini marshmallows
4 Tbsp butter

Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.

In a food processor, pulse cookies until ground. My food processor is smaller, so I did this in batches. Make sure to fish out any pieces that don't get chopped up well and add them back to the processor for more time.

In a medium pot over medium heat, melt butter, then stir in marshmallows until melted. Stir in ground cookies, then press into prepared baking dish, making sure to get the mixture into all the corners. Let set at room temperature (I waited an hour or so), then cut into pieces.

I cut mine very tiny, because A) I was making a huge cookie tray and wanted people to get little bites of everything, and B) these things are RICH!. Considering how easy these are to make, I'm fairly sure that they will be going on my Christmas cookie list for years to come. :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Appetizers

What would Christmas be without some strangely thematic food?!? This year, I became totally enamored with these veggie tray Christmas trees on Pinterest, and I knew I'd have to make one happen. I made my mother volunteer for the veggie tray for our family gathering, and my father and I spent the morning before the party having fun with toothpicks and fresh produce.

I combined a number of similar ideas from Pinterest to make this tree. I should have taken a photo of the base before we started adding veggies - we used a cabbage on the bottom, an apple in the middle, and a carrot on top. Both the cabbage and the apple had the ends trimmed so they sat flat, one on top of the other, and the carrot was a nice handhold to stabilize the tree as we added the veggies. We cut about half of the carrot off at the end because it was too hard to stab the toothpicks into it.

After the base was complete, we added big pieces of broccoli and cauliflower to make up the bulk of the tree. Grape tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers made up the decorations, and baby carrots and more cucumbers were placed around the bottom of the tree like presents. We added some bits of kale here and there to fill in any holes, and the kale really gave the tree a full look. The star on top is a yellow pepper that I cut with a cookie cutter.

The tree was a huge hit at the party, although I noticed that people kept taking veggies from the back of the tree because they didn't want to ruin how it looked. I started purposefully taking my pieces from the front so others would start as well.

The best part of the day, though, was after dessert when my cousin's son came up to me and said "I want that apple!", pointing at the tree. I took apart what was left and gave him the apple. A little while later, I came back, and he was basically using the leftover parts of the tree as legos, building little men with the veggies and toothpicks, then eating each piece. I told my cousin that all snack times from here on out should involve toothpicks. :)

My cousin Emily is also on Pinterest, and leading up to Christmas, she had repinned the veggie tree AND this cool cheese tray tree. I told her what I was making, and I knew her mother had gotten some cheese, so she should make this one. This was a big hit too, and such a simple but beautiful way to present cheeses and meats!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

North Pole Cupcakes

When I started my new job at the library, I was informed that during our quarterly Friends of the Library book sale, there was also a cupcake sale. I couldn't possibly not participate. I'm not usually a cupcake baker (cookies are really more my thing), but I was willing to join in.

And thankfully, my Pinterest obsession came in handy once again! I had pinned these adorable north pole cupcakes, which I thought would be perfect for the bake sale. The original pin used striped paper straws for the pole, but I wanted to make them as edible as possible, so I opted for peppermint sticks topped with bell-shaped gum drops. The sign and string, however, couldn't be edible, but that's close enough.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Christmas Must-Bake List

Christmas cookies are a BIG thing for me. I bake a ridiculous number of cookies this time of year, and I usually end up bringing 10 or so different kinds to family functions. I try to keep a good balance between the classics (gingerbread), the things I know my family loves (rosemary shortbread), and experiments. I also end up making a few presents as well, like black cake for my dad (although my mom usually gives a few away too) or various flavored liqueurs.

My list so far (although this will be whittled down at some point):
-Rosemary Shortbread
-Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
-Almond Macaroons (for my gluten-free peeps) (or maybe peanut butter cookies?)
-Buckeyes (how have I not written about these before?)
-some kind of biscotti

And recipes that Pinterest told me I should bake:
-Rolo-stuffed sugar cookies
-Christmas-y shortbread
-Coal lumps (but with Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's)
-Santa Party Mix

And I know it's still early for baking, but usually by this time, I have all my recipes in order and I've stocked up on necessities like butter, sugar, and flour. I'm falling behind this year!! That's where you come in - give me your favorite cookie recipes! I'm always looking for more, and I'm happy to give some new things a shot.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NaBloPoMo Wrap-Up

Well, I did it. I wrote 30 blog posts in November (can't say it was truly daily, since I did back-date a few). Would I do it again? I think so. Much like NaNoWriMo, NaBloPoMo's focus is just to get you writing, not to write the BEST content for your blog. And considering it's been months since I posted ANYTHING, this is better than how it was before. I don't think I really learned anything about blogging, but I had fun.

The thing I liked best was linking my other blogs to this one. When I first started Making Islands and The Reading Mouse, I was a little better known here for food writing, so I didn't want to muddy the waters by talking about other stuff. I'm a little less hesitant to do that now, though. I'm thinking I'll do a monthly round-up of my posts on the other two blogs over here, just to keep it from being too overwhelming.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday I'm In Love... with Cuppow

A few years ago, I got REALLY into canning. I made pickles and jams and butters and processed pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. Some of the stuff I made was really good, while others were just fine (thankfully, I had no horrible disasters). A lot of it, though, just wasn't worth the effort.

That left me with tons of Ball jars laying around. I mean, I use them for all sorts of stuff, but how many Ball jars does a girl need?

Now that I've found the Cuppow, apparently I need them ALL again. This magic piece of plastic turns a glass jar into an adult sippy cup that can handle hot or cold with no problem. My favorite part is that the cup can then go into the dishwasher!!! Try doing that with a fancy coffee thermos!

That being said, canning jars aren't the easiest thing to carry around. My pint jars don't quite fit into the cupholders in my car (which may or may not have resulted in me destroying my garage door opener - it was already pretty damaged before that), and the jars still need some kind of sleeve when they're hot, or they'll burn your hands. I think I need to start knitting jar sweaters...

Photo borrowed from the Cuppow website because I'm too lazy to take a picture of my own.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dirt Candy: A Cookbook

A cookbook that's a graphic novel! A graphic novel that's a cookbook! Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?!

I'd heard of Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant in New York City, before, but I'd never given it much thought. I'd heard that chef Amanda Cohen had a cookbook out, but what chef doesn't? But then I SAW the Dirt Candy cookbook and I was in love.

Part graphic novel story about life in a professional kitchen, part cooking technique builder, and part typical cookbook with recipes, this book is 100% readable. I don't often sit down and read a cookbook cover to cover, but it's quite possible to do with this one. It's filled with humorous asides and helpful tips, not to mention some mouth-watering foods (some simple and some crazy complicated). There's not much else to say about this book than to tell you to pick up a copy and leaf through it - I'm sure you'll be hooked, just like I was.

As an added bonus, Amanda Cohen will be in Medford this weekend, talking about restaurant life and how to cook vegetables RIGHT. The event is presented by the Friends of Medford Public Library and the Tufts Culinary Society (why didn't we have that group when I was at Tufts?!) and will be held on 12/1 from 3-5pm at Sophia Gordon Hall (15 Talbot Ave) on the Tufts campus. You know I'd be there if I didn't have to work, so someone needs to go and report back to me, ok?

Full Disclosure note: I was given a copy of the cookbook for free by the publisher, but the opinions are all mine.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Reading Mouse: Days of Blood and Starlight

It's hard to review a book sequel without spoiling the first book, so I don't even try. But I stayed in bed all day reading, so that should tell you how good Days of Blood and Starlight is.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Reading Mouse: Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is utterly unlike any book I've read this year. If everyone in my family hadn't already read it, they'd be getting copies for Christmas.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Corn & Co, Burlington

I can't quite remember how I heard about Corn & Co a few months ago, but from the moment that I did, I was super excited. Popcorn is one of my favorite snacks, and flavored popcorn? Even better! And then I learned that they would be opening in the Burlington Mall, not too far from my house - what more could I ask for?

I've chatted with the owners a few times online since then. They've sent me samples of flavors, and I bugged them about when exactly they'd be opening. Every sample I received was AWESOME, but it left me wanting more! Finally, they told me that they'd be opening up on Black Friday. Ugh. No way I was going to the mall then.

But since I have mondays off and everyone was busy buying goods online and not in stores, I managed to make my way into the mall. Corn & Co has set up shop upstairs in the food court wing, where the newsstand used to be (for those of you who are as intimate with the Burlington Mall as I am. Yes, I was a bit of a mall rat in my day.).

When the corn is popping, you can smell Corn & Co from a ways away. The store is still a little bare right now, but they're clearly on their way to getting all set up for the holiday season. Flavors are listed on signs throughout the store, as well as in bowls behind the counter (above). There are pre-packaged flavors if you just want to grab and go, or you can get one of three sizes (small comes with one flavor, medium with two, and large with up to four). Feel free to ask for samples, because they clearly want you to find the flavor that you love.

Case in point: I am a savory girl when it comes to popcorn. I sampled the Corn & Co cheese, and it was AWESOME! Seriously, all-caps awesome. In fact, writing about it, I want more right now. But I was intrigued by the mixes they have on their menu also. I asked for a sample of the caramel apple (green apple and caramel mix, natch) and was equally blown away. Caramel is caramel, fine, but the green apple? Tart and sweet like the real thing. Mix them together and I am one happy girl. I bought some of this one and it was gone in no time.

I would much prefer to grab a snack of popcorn at the mall than a greasy pretzel. I am quite happy that Corn & Co is in town now. And I can only start to imagine the gift-giving opportunities here...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday I'm in Love... with BetterOats oatmeal

I am NOT an oatmeal kind of person. In fact, it usually grosses me out with it's disgusting texture. But somehow I found myself drawn to the hot cereal aisle, and the packaging of BetterOats lured me in. And considering they were only $1.50 for 5 servings (once I tried and loved them, I went back for more, only to find them on sale for $1!), I decided I wouldn't be breaking the bank to try them out.

First off, I love the packaging. Tall and thin boxes filled with tall and thin bags (which double as the water measurement system), decorated with bright colors - they're easy to spot on the shelf. Plus, the top front of the box pops off, making it easy to see how many are in the box and easy to line up a whole bunch of boxes at once.

And the taste? Well, I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't like it. The pomegranate was my favorite - tart and sweet, especially when I added fresh pomegranate arils on top - until I tried the cinnamon plum spiced. It's SO GOOD - fruity with just a hint of floral, well spiced but not overpowering, and just plain tasty! I guess I can't say I'm not an oatmeal kind of person any more.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

There are many things I'm thankful for this year, only one of which is the fact that people are actually reading this thing!

Enjoy your food coma!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Acorns

How beautiful are these?! My Pinterest obsession is doing me well and giving me plenty of things to blog about. I was given the Thanksgiving assignment of dessert and opted for the caramel nut bars I first made last year. Only after this decision did I find these adorable acorns and decide that I HAD to make them. Luckily, these are easy to throw together and only takes a few ingredients

Everyone I've shown them to absolutely loves them. Taste-wise, the chocolate-to-cookie ratio was off (at least for me), but they're so cute, that really doesn't matter.

They're very simple to make and would be a cute craft to make with kids. Melt a little bit of chocolate and use it to stick unwrapped Hershey's Kisses to Nutter Butter bites. Once the chocolate has hardened, tip the cookies on their side and stick Hershey's mini chips (they look like tiny Kisses) on with a little more melted chocolate. Let that set up a little longer before serving or packing away.

This is my second entry for the Holiday Pin It and Do It Challenge, from this pin.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Reading Mouse: A Long Long Sleep

I love reading retellings of fairy tales. Read about how much I loved A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan over on The Reading Mouse.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cauliflower Not-Pizza

I saw this recipe floating around the interwebs over the summer, and I was automatically intrigued. Pizza crust made out of cauliflower and cheese?! Is that even possible?

Well, not entirely. Calling it pizza is a real stretch. Calling it a delicious cauliflower treat - sure, let's run with that instead.

I can see this being a perfect way to get kids (or *cough* reluctant adults) to eat their veggies. I personally love cauliflower, but I know lots of people who aren't big fans. Top it with enough cheese, though, and they're sure to at least try it. Add that much cheese and you start losing some of the health benefits, though, don't you?

Since I already enjoy cauliflower, I don't think I'll take the time to be making this again. I could just melt some cheese over regular cauliflower for a similar taste.

Cauliflower Not-Pizza (inspired by Mom, What's For Dinner?)
1 small head of cauliflower, steamed and riced
1 cup shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1 egg
1 tsp pasta sprinkle (or dried basil and oregano)

Preheat oven to 450°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the riced cauliflower, 1/2 cup mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, and dried herbs. Stir together until the mixture is uniform. Put the mixture onto the lined pan and gently press into a rectangle. Press as thinly as possible - this will help it crisp up.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until it starts to brown. Remove from oven and gently invert onto another piece of parchment paper (so the bottom is now the top and can brown). Top with the remaining cheese and bake until cheese is melty and golden. Serve immediately.

This is my first entry for the Holiday Pin It and Do It Challenge, from this pin.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Charcoal Guido's, Waltham

Although I don't usually review (let alone even try) a restaurant the week that it opens, I'll make an exception for the newest pizza place in Waltham, Charcoal Guido's. After stopping in with some friends last night for dinner, I am happy to say that the restaurant is a happy addition to the Moody Street restaurant scene.

We started with a couple of appetizers - arancini and lamb skewers. The arancini were crispy on the outside and had a wonderfully rich flavor. Not at all gummy or dense. The lamb was really fantastic - tender and flavorful, with a very nice spicy sauce on the side. All appetizers are $8, and there are definitely more I want to try.

We then split a couple of pizzas: the Prosciutto and the Salsiccia. The Prosciutto was long and thin and topped with perfectly dressed arugula, parmesan shavings, and thinly-sliced prosiutto. The Salsiccia was a more standard round pizza, topped with tomato sauce, ricotta, and high-quality sausage. Each pizza could serve one (without appetizers); two was perfect for three people. A fourth friend really wanted the Diavola pizza, but the rest of us didn't, so she ate half and took the rest home.

The crust was very good as well, although there are still a few kinks to work out. The Salsiccia pizza was a bit limp under all of it's toppings (a little less ricotta would probably help). The Prosciutto was paper-thin in the middle, with chunky edges on the side - I loved the crispness of the center, but the ends were a bit too doughy by comparison. And because they were cooked in a wood oven, there were some burned spots - to be expected, but still a few too many.

If you really want a drink with your pizza, Charcoal Guido's has a full liquor license, although their cocktail menu is a little uninspired. You might want to take a cue from our evening, though, and head across the street to The Gaff for a good (cheap and tasty) drink.

Service wasn't fantastic, nor was it awful. Given some time, I'm sure Charcoal Guido's will work out its issues and be a solid place to eat in Waltham.

 Charcoal Guido's  on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Pin It and Do It Challenge

Like I said, I'm a little obsessed with Pinterest right now. I've already done a bunch of things from my boards, but just like NaBloPoMo is getting me back into blogging, I'm joining a challenge to start doing more of the things I've pinned.

Between now and the end of December, I'm committing to completing 8 (or more) pins through Trish's Pin It and Do It Challenge. While I'm betting they'll mostly be recipes, I'm sure I'll get some crafts in through my other blog as well. I'll be keeping track of the pins I've done on this board.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday I'm in Love... with Bantam Cider

How have I not written about Bantam yet?! (Oh, right, it was that whole not writing for months thing.) Anyway, I'm a HUGE hard cider fan, and although I don't drink beer, I can be happy that the whole craft beer movement has given rise to more and interesting ciders. Bantam, especially, is at the top of my list for great craft ciders.

Bantam, created by two wonderful women in Cambridge, is the real deal. It's not some overly sweet mess (I'm looking at you, Woodchuck!), and it doesn't have an overly yeasty taste (draught Magners - although the bottled stuff is good!). The flavor of Wunderkind, their first offering, is just the right level of sweet, and yes, it really does taste like apples, but not like you're just drinking regular apple cider. Oh, and the bubbles! It's almost like drinking champagne!

Bantam has another cider coming out soon, a still cider named La Grande. I'm not wild about still ciders, especially since the lovely bubbles are one of the best parts of Wunderkind, but I trust the Bantam ladies to make a good product. (They will also apparently have a seasonal cider with Tart Cherries only at the Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest. I'm hoping someone can smuggle me out a sample.)

Seriously, get your hands on a bottle of this stuff - you can thank me later. You'd be the hero of Thanksgiving if you showed up with a bottle or three. And if you want to give it a try, there are Bantam tastings quite frequently - just keep an eye on their website!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

b.good - Avocado and Orange Salad

All fast food places make salads, but not many make salads that are worth eating. Even fewer make seasonal salads that rival much finer dining establishments. b.good, somehow, manages to do just that season after season.

Enter this fall's offering at b.good - the Avocado and Orange salad. I'm not usually a big fan of oranges in my salad, but the other ingredients (including avocado, pistachios, and goat cheese) were enough to sway me into ordering. And besides a few pithy bits that I cut around, the oranges actually tied things together very nicely! I loved the combo of creamy goat cheese, crunchy nuts, sweet fruit, and unctuous avocado, all served over bibb lettuce and radicchio.

And the dressing! Dear god, that stuff was good! Minty and creamy and yet quite light, I'm pretty sure I could drink this stuff. I want all my salads to be topped with this from now on.

Seriously, go grab one of these salads from b.good before they're gone for the season. (Although if it is, I really like the southwest chicken salad as well, served year-round.) And don't forget to join their family and get free stuff!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reading Mouse: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

We can agree that usually the book is better than the movie. But what if it's about even? That's how I felt about The Perks of Being a Wallflower - read about it on The Reading Mouse.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making Islands: Mother May I Go and Swim

I made this embroidery for my mother over the summer. Check it out at Making Islands.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Geeky Cookie Cutters

Cake? Meh. Pie? Tasty, but unnecessary. Cookies? Lifeblood.

As evidenced by the multitude of cookie recipes on this site, I LOVE baking cookies of all kinds. Although I never find roll-out cookies the tastiest of the clan, I love what they're capable of in terms of decoration. I have bags of cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes, but my favorite are always the geeky cookie cutters.

I have Portal cookie cutters (above), Star Wars cookie cutters, and my beloved ABC Gingerbread men (which I have even turned into zombies).  There are more that I want to buy: the Labcutter set, GingerDead Men, zombie, the Pac Man set.

But in reality, if you want to get really geeky, you've got to go to Etsy. There's My Little Pony, Hunger Games, Bacon and Eggs, and a latte cup, not to mention the countless makers who will create cookie cutters to your specifications.

Do you have favorite geeky or unusual cookie cutters? I want to hear about them!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pizza Crisps

Today was one of those days when I don't eat enough early enough, and by the time I actually get around to eating, I'm so hungry that I'll eat whatever's in sight, good or bad. I argued with myself for pretty much the entire drive home from work about stopping for take-out. I managed to make it home without picking up something, but I was SO hungry by then that I couldn't even wait to make the recipe I had planned (cauliflower-crust pizza). 

But pizza was on the brain. I had pinned a tasty-looking snack on Pinterest for pizza crisps, made with wonton wrappers, and there just happened to be a whole package of wonton wrappers sitting in my fridge. Hallelujah!

Think of these as pizza nachos. They're crispy and cheesy and just what I needed. You can add whatever toppings you like (I had a few with crumbled bacon, my favorite pizza topping), but I would avoid tomato sauce, which will just make the wontons soggy. Go for real tomato pieces if you want that flavor.

Pizza Crisps (from Wendy See Wendy Do)
6 wonton wrappers
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
your favorite Italian seasoning mix
additional toppings (pepperoni, veggies, etc)

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with foil. Lay wonton wrappers on sheet and spray lightly with cooking spray. Top with cheese, a sprinkle of seasoning mix, and any other toppings you'd like. Bake for about 10 minutes, until edges are browned and cheese is melty.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Reading Mouse: Meanwhile

Do you want to know about the most epic graphic novel ever, which just happens to start with the question chocolate or vanilla? Then read about Meanwhile by Jason Shiga over at The Reading Mouse.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday I'm In Love... with Mint Chocolate Polar Seltzer

I have recently cut all soda out of my life, and while I'm not missing the actual soda, I am missing the bubbles. And although I've been a big fan of seltzer for a while, I've really fallen back on it as of late.

Polar Seltzer is by far my favorite seltzer, aided by the fact that they're local and they come up with awesome seasonal flavors. During this past summer, I guzzled their ginger lemonade flavor by the bottle.

Now that their winter flavors are out, I have something new to obsess over - mint chocolate seltzer! I've had chocolate seltzer from other companies before, and it was gross and fake-tasting. This, however, is not like that at all. I was quite surprised at how refreshing this seltzer is. The flavor is light and not at all cloying. It even can take the place of dessert if you just want a little bit of sweet after a meal.  In fact, I have already started stockpiling this flavor for when it disappears in a few months.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Voltage Coffee, Kendall Square

I have been wanting to visit Voltage Coffee in Kendall Square since they opened. I simply can't say no to a well-made cup of coffee, and everything I've heard about Voltage told me that they make one damn good cup of coffee.

So finally, finding myself near Kendall on a rainy morning, I finally stopped in for a leisurely breakfast and some time to read. The space was clean and bright (even despite the gray outside), and there was plenty of seating. I ordered a latte and a muffin and took a seat by the windows.

The wait for my coffee was longer than in other coffee shops, but then, other coffee shops aren't making lattes like this. I first ordered a Paper Plane (cardamom, rose water, honey), which I adored. I would have liked the rose flavor to be stronger, but I know most people don't like it as much as I do. If you've never tried cardamom in your coffee (even just in brewed coffee), give it a shot - it's way tastier than the cinnamon that many people put in their morning cup. 

To eat, I ordered a plum muffin with crumble topping. There had to be a whole plum in there, chopped into little bits. Although the muffin didn't have much structural integrity thanks to all that fruit, the flavor and texture was impressive. I especially liked the textural difference between the soft cake and the crispiness crumble.

I stuck around long enough that I wanted another drink, so I ordered a Beyond The Sea (homemade caramel and salt). Starbucks' salted caramel has nothing on this one. The caramel flavor wasn't overly sweet, and the salt (big, flaky crystals sprinkled on top) added a pop on the tongue whenever I encountered one. This was one damn sophisticated drink.

It's places like Voltage that make me miss spending time in Boston/Cambridge as much as I used to. You can bet that, if I lived or worked nearby, I would be in this coffee shop ALL the time. And while their drinks aren't cheap, right now they're offering a card worth 12 drinks for $28 - all in all, a pretty good deal. I'm not sure how long they'll be offering these cards, but if you're nearby, you'd be smart to grab one while you can.

Voltage Coffee & Art on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back to Pinterest

When Pinterest first popped up, I jumped on the bandwagon like everyone else. I enjoyed it for a while, but I wasn't using it in a way that I found helpful. I deleted my account and never looked back.

Until, of course, the week before Halloween this year. I was informed that a friend who is planning her wedding had joined, and all of her bridesmaids were adding to her wedding board. I rejoined to follow the progress, but before long (like, within minutes), I was obsessed with everything Halloween that the internet had to share. And now? I have boards for recipes, boards for holidays, boards for work, boards for travel, boards for crafts, and boards for laughs. I'm obsessed again, and I don't see it waning as quickly as last time.

Are you on Pinterest? Really, I'm only asking so I can steal all your pins :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Cherry Pie for All!

What's more American than apple pie? For me, it's cherry pie :)

Happy election day, everyone!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Bon Chon = Meat Candy

You've been to Bon Chon, right? No?? You've at least heard about the crazy-addictive fried chicken there, right? I HATE chicken wings, but I will happily eat them at Bon Chon. They are crispy and moist and delicious and everything fried chicken should be.

But my favorite thing at Bon Chon is not the wings or the drumsticks, but the chicken strips. I know that people are pretty firmly divided between white and dark meat, and that dark meat people won't even touch the strips at Bon Chon. But they're missing out. These are no chicken tenders you'd find anywhere else. These are, truly, meat candy, especially if you opt for the soy glaze instead of the spicy. They're sweet and crunchy, and the chicken is so thin, it's almost like a tender jerky.

I went with a bunch of friends for dinner tonight, and we gorged ourselves silly on chicken and other delicious things for about $20 each. I had really forgotten just how good Bon Chon could be. I haven't actually eaten there in a year and a half - it was the last restaurant I ate at with my brother before he died. Ann and I took him on a Friday night, so of course there was an insane wait. He thus dubbed the meal "forever chicken" because that's how long it took to get food. For a while, I thought that there was no way I could ever eat at the restaurant again. Tonight, when the waitress showed us to our seats (much quicker - thanks, Monday night!), I wasn't entirely surprised to see our group headed for the exact table where we had sat with Ron. In fact, Ann and I took the exact same seats at the table, and the one right next to me, where I introduced Ron to forever chicken, was empty.

So if you go, order some forever chicken meat candy. I did, and it made me quite happy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Reading Mouse - Rage Reading

Do you rage read? I rage read, and I don't fully know why.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Making Islands - Muppet Time!

As promised, I'm writing on my other blogs as well, but I'll be cross-posting them here to keep all NaBloPoMo posts in one place.

Wanna know about the muppet I made with my friends? Check out my post on Making Islands.

Friday, November 2, 2012

ATXBOS Swap 2012

This post is far overdue, but again, thanks to NaBloPoMo, I have a reason to sit down and finally write this post!

Just like last year, the Boston and Austin food bloggers staged a food swap, pairing up folks from each city. I sent Sarah from Land of Abe a box full of my favorite goodies (although after I packed it, I thought of twice as many things I had wanted to include). For full details on what I sent, check out her post (including an adorable picture of her daughter!). One thing I had to include: hand-picked honeycrisp apples! They're my favorite kind of apple, and Sarah, who spent some time up in New England, had mentioned that she loved apples. Of course, it helped that apple picking always gives you more apples than you can really eat, so I was happy to share.

I told Sarah I was going to be away at the beginning of October, so she waited a bit to send her package. When I had already been home for a week, though, and it hadn't arrived, I got a sinking feeling.

And then I got the weirdest phone call ever, late in the evening on a Friday. "Hello? I'm calling from the USPS center in Boston. I have a package for you here. It's in the drying vent right now."

"The what?"

"The drying vent. Something in it broke and everything is all wet. You need to come down here, near South Station, and pick it up."

My response was, I think, mostly stupified. I'm sorry, you're calling ME on a Friday night and telling me I have to drive downtown for something YOU broke? Eventually, they called back and said they dried off what they could and would send it along.

A few days later, Sarah's box, wrapped in multiple plastic bags, finally arrived. Inside, I found a bag of Hatch green chile tortilla chips, Queen Bee Caramel and Sea Salt marshmallows, peach preserves from Fredericksburg Farms, and Bar-B-Que sauce from Salt Lick(!). I dug into the tortilla chips right away - they were mildly spicy with just a little bit of sweetness. It's a good thing they don't sell those here in Boston, because I'm pretty sure I would buy them all the time :) The marshmallows were light and fluffy, with little veins of caramel throughout. I'm saving the preserves and sauce for later - especially the sauce for when we can grill outside again. I'm sad that I didn't get to see the other things Sarah sent along, but I'm very happy with the things that did make it :)

(Uh-oh. Just found out that Food Should Taste Good, which makes the sweet potato tortilla chips I sent to Sarah, also makes Hatch Chile chips. They're also located in the town next to where I work. This could be my downfall.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaBloPoMo-ing My Way to Writing

NaBloPoMo November 2012

It's not March anymore, is it. I can give excuse after excuse why this blog hasn't been updated in months, but let's just chalk it up to procrastination and move on, shall we?

In an effort to get back on the blogging bandwagon, I am joining NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). Since I have two other (equally neglected) blogs as well, I will be writing on one each day, but will be posting links to the others here as well (so for my family members who only know this blog, you'll soon see my opinions on books and crafts as well). I have done NaNoWriMo multiple times before (yes, two completed novels in draft form, both pretty damn terrible), but I figured this would be the perfect way to breathe new life into this blog.

As a quick catch-up (and introduction to any new readers I might gain), I am a bookslinger (what, I love me some Stephen King!), both at a local indie bookstore and now as a teen librarian (!!). I can (and do) talk books all day. Over the past few months, I have also gotten to go on some incredible vacations - London with my brother and his kids, and Italy with my parents for the trip of a lifetime - but I will probably post more on those (well, Italy, where we ate ALL the good food) later.

I guess I'll leave it at that for now, but if there's anything you want to hear from me this month, just leave me a comment - after all, I'll have 29 more posts to fill before the month is up ;)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

April Eats

I don't normally post about upcoming events (because there are plenty of sites that do, and do you really need to hear about them yet again from me?) but some of my favorite Boston food events are coming up, and you really should be there for them.

Taste of the Nation Boston
This is THE greatest food event in the city, hands down. Held at the Hynes Convention Center, it's table after table of little bites from some of the best restaurants in the area, as well as wines and cocktails. In fact, it's easy to get full before you've tried everything, but it's still worth giving it a go. It seems a little perverse to raise money for Share Our Strength, dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America, by eating copious amounts of food, but that takes away the sting of the $95 ticket price (I'd recommend going for the $150 VIP ticket, though - you get in an hour earlier, and you have access to the VIP room with additional treats and comfy seating, plus giving a little more to SOS will help balance out all the eating). This year, the event will be held on April 19th, from 6pm (VIP tickets)/7pm (regular tickets) until 9:30. Now through March 30th, use the code "restweek20" for a 20% discount on the ticket here (so you really have no excuse not to splurge on the VIP ticket). (Want more info? See my 2009 and 2010 recaps!)

Chocolate Madness
A food sampling event that is all about CHOCOLATE! What's not to love? Some of the area's top bakers and chocolatiers try to wow the crowd with their confections. You'll leave wanting a slice of pizza to take the edge off the sugar rush, but man, is that sugar rush worth it. The event is sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, and this year's event will take place on April 24th from 7:30pm to 9pm at the Cyclorama in the South End. Buy your tickets here. (Want more info? See my 2010 recap!)

PAX East
No, I know this isn't a food event. PAX is a huge gamer convention, now in it's third year in Boston (PAX Prime is held in Seattle in the fall). This is the first year, however, that I have joined the Cookie Brigade. The Cookie Brigade is one of the many groups which raise money for Child's Play, an awesome charity that brings toys and games to kids in hospitals. They bake cookies of all kinds and give them to fellow PAXers in exchange for donations (you don't have to donate for a cookie, but most people at least scrounge up some change). Post-PAX, I should have at least one new recipe to post here (and that will give me a reason to bore you with all my PAX stories as well). (I was first introduced to potato chip cookies through the Cookie Brigade. Make them, they're amazing!) (Also, see photos from PAX 2010 here. Apparently I didn't take photos last year?)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day for Ron

Pi Day (or March 14th for the 3.14 in Pi) never meant much to me. In school, I had a number of math teachers who tried to make it fun, but math was never my favorite class.

My brother Ron, however, loved it. At his last job, he had instituted Pi Day festivities, sending out invites months ahead and rallying everyone to join in on a silly mid-week celebration. In fact, he loved anything quirky or odd or just plain stupid like Pi Day. That's just the kind of guy he was.

Ron passed away suddenly last year, and pretty much nothing has been right since. He was one of my best friends, and I think he was finally starting to see me as an adult and not his stupid kid sister. He was the one who was constantly finding things to share with me - YouTube videos, new TV shows, weird catchphrases - and this past year has been awkward trying to find and enjoy these things on my own. I've been left with a lot of sad memories, which I know he would have hated.

Pi Day, though. That's a thing he loved for no real reason other than it was quirky. It's something I can be damned sure I'm going to celebrate for the rest of my life because it made him happy. And if pie can't fix things, even just for a little while, then I don't know what else can.

Because I'd much rather remember Ron on a day like today, for reasons like pie.

Bacon Chocolate Cream Pie
1 1/2 cups crushed Oreos (about 15 cookies broken in a food processor)
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 pint heavy cream
1 Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 package chocolate pudding, prepared as directed
5 pieces candied bacon, chopped

Mix together crushed oreos and butter until all the crumbs are moist. Gently pat into the bottom and sides of a pie dish. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a mixer, whip heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form. Don't overwhip the cream. Gently fold half the whipped cream into the pudding and pour into the prepared pie dish. Top with the remaining whipped cream and decorate with the chopped bacon. Chill before serving.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Jarlsberg Monkey Bread

Can you believe that there are people out there who haven't yet tried monkey bread?! (Unless, of course, you are one of those people. Then I guess you don't know what you're missing.) When I told my friends that I had been invited to create a dish with Jarlsberg Dip for their 29 Ways to Leap into Jarlsberg Dip promotion and giveaway and that my dish would be monkey bread, I got more than one blank stare in return. 

First, they were confused by Jarlsberg Dip (as was I, before I made this dish). It's a creamy concoction featuring the wonderfully nutty and subtle Jarlsberg cheese. It's just starting to pop up in stores. I used the dip plus regular Jarlsberg cheese in my dish.

And then, more horrifyingly, they were confused by the term "monkey bread." They wanted to know why it was called that, and I couldn't give them a clear answer. (The Internets didn't help me here, either.) Once I put this bad boy in the oven and they started to smell it as it baked, though, they didn't care about the name anymore.

There was pretty much no talking after I pulled this out of the oven (unless you count the mumbles asking for the plate to be passed around the table again). I still don't think I've adequately answered their questions about the term monkey bread...

One note: When I made this, I only sprinkled some of the grated Jarlsberg in the bottom of the pan. When it came time to eat, the extra-cheesy bits were my favorite, and I was sad that I hadn't incorporated more into the final dish. Below I have amended my recipe to include more grated cheese, which would make your monkey bread look a little different than mine.

Jarlsberg Monkey Bread
4 Tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 lbs pizza dough (I used store-bought)
1 package Jarlsberg Dip
3-4 ounces Jarlsberg cheese, grated

In a small pan, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add garlic and heat until garlic begins to brown. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Brush interior of a bundt pan with garlic butter and set aside.

Divide dough into even pieces about the size of a golf ball. Flatten each ball and place a small dollop of Jarlsberg Dip in the center. Pinch together the edges of the dough around the dip to seal closed. Brush with melted butter and roll in grated cheese before positioning in the prepared bundt pan. Repeat with remaining dough. Once all the dough has been used, cover the pan and let rest on the counter for 30-60 minutes.

While the monkey bread is resting, preheat the oven to 400°. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the top is nicely golden. The monkey bread will rise a lot in the oven. Cool slightly before inverting onto a plate. Serve hot!

Jarlsberg wants you to Leap into Jarlsberg Dip too by sharing how you would use Jarlsberg Dip. The winner of the giveaway will win a tailgate tote stocked with Jarlsberg Lite Cheese, new Jarlsberg Cheese Dip, Snofrisk (a Norwegian style cream cheese), crispbreads, honey cremes, and honey vinegar. More details are available on their website.

Full Disclosure note: I was compensated for my time and groceries by Jarlsberg, but my opinions are all mine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fried Olive Salad Toppers

Like I said, olives are delicious and make me happy. I couldn't choose just one January Kitchen PLAY recipe featuring Lindsay Olives, so I tried a second one for kicks. Because what's not to love about CHEESE-STUFFED FRIED OLIVES?! Dear god, they're wonderful.

I followed Fake Ginger's recipe, subbing in feta for roquefort and adding a small oregano leaf with the cheese. I ate a few of these straight out of the fryer and of course loved them, but they needed something. I grabbed some arugula from the fridge and tossed it lightly with a little lemon vinaigrette (basically just 1 part lemon juice, 2 parts olive oil), then perched a few olives on top. What a perfect match! The bitter greens stood up to the saltiness of the olives, the tender leaves contrasted with the crispiness of the fried bits, and the unctuous of the olive oil and the olives tied everything together. So while these make a very tasty amuse bouche as Fake Ginger intended, I loved them far more as delicious little croutons on my salad.

Cheese-Stuffed Olives
1 can Lindsay black olives, drained and patted dry
2 ounces feta
handful small oregano leaves
1 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
about 2 cups canola or vegetable oil, for frying

Stuff each olive with a piece of feta and an oregano leaf. (If the cheese is very crumbly, just stuff in as much as you can.)

Heat oil in a tall-sided pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, work a few olives at a time: roll in flour, dip in egg, then coat with panko before adding to the hot oil. Cook until golden on one side, then flip and cook until golden. Cool on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the olives. Salt lightly before serving.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Olive and Goat Cheese Pasta Salad

I know what you're thinking - that's not a photo of pasta salad. You're right, because when I started cooking, I wasn't aiming for pasta salad. If you can't have some flexibility in the kitchen, you're in trouble.

While going through January's recipes over at Kitchen PLAY sponsored by Lindsay Olives, I wanted to cook just about all of them. I'm a big olive fan, so they all looked good to me. And since I'm also a fan of anything wrapped in puff pastry, I opted to try the olive and goat cheese turnovers from Chez Us. Don't her photos of the turnovers look amazing?!

And yes, I did make the turnovers. I loved them - pillowy bites of salty olives and tangy goat cheese. I subbed in some red onion for the shallots, because that's what I had. I loved these and the sophistication they would bring to any dinner party. In fact, I might have to bring them to the next family gathering, as I know my family loves cheese wrapped in dough as much as I do.

But I had some filling leftover (I only used one box of puff pastry instead of two), and I wasn't going to let it go to waste. I was going to just spread it on crackers, but I didn't have any. But there was pasta! I boiled up a little bit of whole wheat pasta and tossed it with the cheese mixture and a little bit of the pasta water.

Oh my, what a wonderful pasta sauce this makes! I ate some warm and enjoyed it, but when I ate some cooled, I enjoyed it even more. This would be a perfect picnic dish (I mean, our weather has been so bizarrely warm that us New Englanders could even have a picnic right now), or even great for lunch at work.

Olive and Goat Cheese Pasta Salad inspired by Chez Us

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, minced
1 can Lindsay green olives, drained and minced
1 can Lindsay black olives, drained and minced
zest of 1 lemon
handful of fresh oregano, minced
black pepper
10 ounces goat cheese
1 box small pasta (like rotini)

In a medium pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Add olives and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add lemon zest, oregano, and black pepper to taste. Let cool slightly, then stir in goat cheese until well combined.

Cook pasta according to box. Mix the pasta and the cheese mixture until well combined. Add a little of the pasta water if the cheese is too clumpy. Refrigerate before serving.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vampire Slayer Dip

I hate yogurt. Like, really hate it. I know that this, along with my dislike of pilaf and paklava, makes me a bad Armenian, but I can't help it. It's just gross.

But sometimes (like after taking antibiotics), yogurt is a must. I can stand the stuff as long as it doesn't taste like yogurt, and usually a strong dose of garlic (like in tzatziki) will do it. I had already made one batch of tzatziki, though, so I needed another way to incorporate garlic and yogurt. How about two heads of garlic and two onions? If that couldn't stop the yogurt flavor, nothing could.

Of course, all that garlic can also stop vampires. So this dip will not only help your stomach feel better, it will also save you from an untimely death due to vampire bites. You can thank me later.

Vampire Slayer Dip
1 large (or 2 small) head of garlic
1 sweet onion
1 yellow onion
olive oil
2 cups Greek yogurt
handful of parsley
juice of 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 400°. Remove loose papery layers from garlic head and cut off the top 1/4 inch. Place garlic in the middle of a sheet of tin foil. Top with a little bit of olive oil, wrap tightly in foil, and bake for 30-45 minutes (until cloves are soft). Let cool, then squeeze garlic cloves out of their papery shells.

Slice onions very thin. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, then add onions. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are a deep amber color. Onions may need a little more olive oil as they cook. Cool before using.

Add cooled garlic and onions to a medium bowl, reserving about 1/4 of the onions for later. Add yogurt, then blend (either in a blender or with an immersion blender) until smooth. Add remaining onions and a handful of parsley leaves and blend lightly so there are still pieces visible. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste, and stir to combine. Make sure everyone eats at least a little bit so you don't knock anyone out with your breath.

Monday, January 9, 2012

From Austin to Boston and Back Again

I love getting gifts in the mail. I mean, who doesn't? So when the Boston Food Bloggers and the Austin Food Blogger Alliance teamed up before the holidays for a little cross-city swapping, you know I was in for the ride.

I went to Austin a few years ago for a conference, and while I didn't get to see an awful lot of the city, I loved what I did see. I ate more barbecue than I thought possible at The Salt Lick, spent a fair amount of time browsing in Austin Books & Comics, somehow managed to go to both Cornucopia (for awesome popcorn) and Walton's Fancy and Bakery (for baked goods) about once a day, and bought some crazy things at the City-Wide Garage Sale that now adorn my rooms. I couldn't help but wonder what magical items I would get from Texas.

But first, I had to package up my goodies! I shopped around for some of my absolute favorite local items, like Sweet Sloops from Harbor Sweets, a few different varieties of Q's Nuts, and Little Lad's Herbal Popcorn (the herbs are dill and nutritional yeast). I also added some local honey (which I bought on tap from Follow the Honey), some olive oil from Central Bottle, some chocolate-covered cranberries, and some homemade chocolate peppermint cookies that I had made for the Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Of course, like just about everyone else in the ATXBOS swap, I included a copy of Edible Boston, and I also threw in a farmers' market shopping list pad. I tried to get the package out the door as early as possible because I knew the Christmas season would be so hectic.

 Not long after, I received a box in the mail from my swap partner, Kristina of Girl Gone Grits. It was a good sign, I think, that she had used a tequila box to send everything to me :) Inside, I found a wealth of Austin goodies: two kinds of meat rubs (Fiesta Brand and Gordon's), Texas Texas Salsa (the first kind Kristina tried after moving to Austin), Pie Society Crimps (tasty little bites of pie with nutella), RoundRock Honey, Texas Pasta in spinach and basil (which I'm saving for a really cold night), pickled blueberreis by Confituras (who knew you could pickle blueberries?!), Fig Honey Habanero jam from A Texas Twist, Pumpkin Ginger jam (made by Kristina herself!), a few copies of Edible Austin and a few other Austin periodicals, and (shhhh, don't tell!) a little nip of Republic tequila and homemade (!) limoncello. So many good things in one place! I'm looking forward to having little tastes of Austin to keep me warm throughout the winter.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Caramel Nut Bars

Have you ever looked at a recipe and known - just KNOWN - that you'd love it? I like to think that I feel that way often, but in reality, after executing the recipe (maybe not to the T, but pretty damn close), I'm disappointed. I was prepared for that to be the way with the Butterscotch Blondie Bars with Peanut-Pretzel Caramel (they really couldn't have come up with a shorter name?) in the December 2011 Bon Appetit. I added them to my list of holiday baking, making sure I had plenty of cookies that were guaranteed to be tasty, and I set to baking.

And holy CRAP, these things are good! They're a nice mix of sweet and salty (but not too salty), crunchy and chewy, love and more love. I changed the recipe a little bit (by adding almonds), and I would change it further to include more pretzels (I have done so in the recipe below). 2011 apparently was the year I became confident making caramel, and this was the perfect way to end the year on that account.

As far as serving goes, I ended cutting these up into tiny pieces because it's so rich. I originally cut 36 or 40 bars from the 13x9 pan, and I doubt I could have eaten one in a go. Cutting them up even further made them last throughout the holiday, as well.

Caramel Nut Bars (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Blondie bar
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang so you can pull the bars out easily later. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Heat butter in a medium pan over medium heat, stirring until browned bits form at the bottom of the pan, about 7-8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer). Add brown sugar and beat until combined and the mixture looks like wet sand. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan - it will puff as it bakes, so don't worry if you think you're spreading it too thin.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and edges pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool completely before moving on to the topping.

Caramel Nut Topping
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 cups roasted peanuts (or a mix of peanuts and almonds)
2 cups salted pretzels, coarsely crushed

In a large saucepan, stir together sugar and water over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil without stirring (seriously, hands off!) until caramel is a deep amber (or caramel, if you will). This always takes longer than I think it should, but I'd rather it take a long time than burn the caramel right off the bat. Add honey and return to a boil, stirring, for about a minute. Add butter and stir until melted. Add cream and whisk until smooth (maybe wear a pot holder because this will steam and bubble A LOT). Add nuts and pretzels and mix until everything is covered in caramel. Pour over cookie and press down evenly. Chill until cool, then remove from pan and cut into bite-size pieces. Store in the fridge but bring to room temperature before serving.