Friday, December 31, 2010


It will be a few more days before I really get back to writing, but I wanted to take a moment to wish you a fresh and happy start to your New Year.

Over the break, I read cookbooks like they were juicy novels and tore countless pages out of magazines. So many new ideas for simple, healthful meals to share with you! I cannot wait. After we've had our fill of sledding, movies, good books and my children return to school, I'll get back into a writing rhythm.

In the meantime, for those who may be asked to bring an appetizer to a gathering this winter weekend, I gave that pesto torta a whirl on Christmas and it was delish. I highly recommend it for a crowd (though the leftovers are fabulous too spread on hearty bread). To make it look less Christmas-y you could substitute a kalamata olive paste for one of the two layers, making it purple/green or red/purple, your choice.

Simple (and totally decadent) Baked Brie

And as you cozy up inside with friends and family, you can not go wrong with a simple round of triple creme brie sliced horizontally and filled with caramelized onion confit (which I found in the gourmet section of our market) + blueberry jam + topped with some pistachios and baked at 350 until it melts into a gooey, decadent appetizer.

May your year ahead be filled with balance, dear friends, fresh air, simple healthful meals with your family...

a little adventure, and plenty of laughter.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


School vacation has officially begun, so I am unplugging for at least a week too. I cannot wait to experience Christmas through my children's eyes, still so full of wonder. I'll listen to my older child shamelessly belt Christmas carols (when he thinks no one is listening) and I hope to see the sheer joy in my little one's eyes as he takes his first sledding run of the season.

Feel free to subscribe to posts (right there on the right hand column) if you want to be in the loop when I get back to writing. I have fabulous new recipes lined up and am excited to do some reading over break for even more ideas of healthful, quick meals, as well as more balance and happiness in the year ahead, which I'll share.

Before I sign off, I wanted to pass this thoughtful quote along (via my parents' beloved yoga teacher Ryan, and then my mom), which I think will make all of us smile and appreciate our friends and family even more as we enter the Christmas season...

"Satisfaction is less a matter of getting what you want than wanting what you have."
- Tsongkhapa

I hope that all of you have a truly wonderful and relaxing Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Baking on a Budget: The holiday project I filmed for Walmart

I get these Happiness Project quotes emailed to me each morning, which when combined with the Zen-y thought printed on my morning Yogi tea bag, usually get my day off to a good start. (Liz, maybe these nuggets are why I am able to stay sane this week, ha!) Anyway, today's quote was:

"The man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest."— Henry David Thoreau

which fits nicely with this morning's post. We all know tis better to give than to receive, but what do you do when your list is long and your wallet is thin? Instead of giving less, why not figure out a recipe that will thrill the recipients but is also reasonable. You may remember that last month, I was hired by Walmart* to come up with a homemade holiday gift idea that was under $5. I normally shop for ingredients at my local market, or Trader Joe's and Whole Foods so this was a fun challenge: to peruse their holiday offerings, think about some of my go-to recipes, and meld the two together. I ended up making my wildly popular cinnamon-chocolate brownies with chocolate ganache, which a month later is not what I ended up making for our teachers (since they had already gotten to enjoy a test run on these treats back in November!). But this is a fabulous recipe (no matter what time of year) to whip up if you have a cookie exchange, holiday party, or need for a reasonably priced hostess or holiday gift!! Here's that video, which is currently showing on Yahoo Shine:

*as in paid, which was nice! (But rest assured, I'll only take on paid gigs if they truly fit with what I am sharing with you all, and I'll always tell you.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What I found in the freezer (to save the day)...

We are laying low again today in hopes that staying home will snuff out my little one's sniffle once and for all. Had I known at the beginning of the week that I would not have any "alone" time, and that all pre-holiday errands would be nullified, I might have been a little bit more organized about what I'd tackle around the house. Instead, each day has sort of been a surprise gift of calm. I don't mean for that to sound all tutti fruity, but it really has been a restful week. (I'm trying really hard to be positive folks). The fire is lit, my little one is still in footie jammies, I am making myself "special holiday" coffee by spiking my (not-very-good) homemade brew with a hearty splash of egg nog and dinner is covered. Now that is a beautiful thing. With the exception of lots of cookies, our fridge and pantry are pretty darn bare since I haven't gone to the market all week. However, I came across a perfectly-sized dish of pumpkin cannelloni in the freezer, which we'll have for dinner tonight. And, there were two more family-sized portions I'd tucked away that marathon cannelloni making day before Thanksgiving, and I am pretty sure I just made my neighbors' day handing those off so their Christmas Eve dinners are now covered too.

Here are some of my favorite "freeze some for later" meals. To reheat any of these, simply put the frozen dish into the oven as you are preheating it (to slowly bring it up to the same temp and avoid cracking the dish), then cook the meal for twice as long. So, for example, the cannelloni will now go straight from the freezer into the oven as it's heating up to 350, then I'll leave it in for 1 hour, or until warmed through and top is turning golden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's a bird, it's a's SUPERMOM (armed with a variety of sprinkles)

I am done baking. For the year. Seriously. For those of you who might still be whipping up some holiday treats, don't forget to read last year's post on letting the little ones help, but keeping it sane. Then put on your Supermom cape and have fun!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Homemade Teacher (or Hostess) Gift Ideas

My kitchen was the center of activity this morning. Not that it isn't every morning...and afternoon...and evening. But this morning our kitchen table was taken over assembling holiday gifts for my little one's preschool teachers. Last year, we made large jars of bean soup mix. This year, both of my boys wanted to make bookmarks for their teachers. Now, I love a homemade bookmark as much as the next parent...but that's because it was made by my kid. While they treat them like their own 9am-noon, I have to assume (achem) that a laminated bookmark of my child's drawing and photo isn't really what every teacher is dreaming of at Christmastime. And so, we came up with "an afternoon of reading by the fire" gift that incorporated the kid's handmade bookmarks, and a few more things. Since both kids are currently digging this very same thing, both were excited to give this "reading by the fire" gift to their teachers.

The gift is made up of a packet of hot cocoa + a Barnes & Noble gift certificate so they can pick out a new book + the homemade bookmark (which we laminated at Kinko's) + a bag of homemade cookies. Hopefully it'll be a hit!

Here are some other teacher & hostess gift ideas for those of you looking to make your presents this holiday season:

Eating Well magazine had a fabulous homemade whole grain garlic mustard recipe that looked simple. That's Eating Well's photo above, but I can't wait to whip up a batch of this to give as hostess gifts this winter.

Then there was that delicious looking homemade vanilla recipe I told you all about from Food in Jars (as seen in a photo from the Food in Jars site).

The bean soup mixes we made last year graced many a snowy gathering. Here's that recipe. If you're thinking of going this route, you might also like to check out Eating Well's recipe for a soup mix gift, plus they have a link to various tags you can put on homemade gifts, including a tag for their Southwestern Bean & Barley Soup.

Another idea that I know is well received is giving your teacher or hostess a "night off" by making a homemade meal that they can simply heat up on a busy night. Here are a few of my favorite recipes that can be made ahead, and doubled or tripled (or more!) depending upon how many teacher gifts you are making. Each of these meals reheats beautifully: Lasagna, Polenta and Soy Chorizo Lasagna (vegetarian), Enchiladas (you can make them with chicken, turkey, beef, or vegetarian), or our ever-popular Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Cream Sauce. How excited would you be if someone unexpectedly gave you a night off of cooking!

Holiday Baking: Biscotti with Dried Cranberries and Pistachios

Last night, after tucking the boys in, I baked the edible portion of this year's preschool teacher gifts. While I am a fan of assemble and then let do its' cooking/simmering thing, a few of my go-to recipes are worth having to be a little attentive during the preparation. One would be my Farro-Butternut Squash Risotto. The other would be these homemade Biscotti with Dried Cranberries and Pistachios. This is a recipe passed on by my mom, who according to the faxed xerox copy which looks like it has made the rounds, originally came from someone named Carolyn Thacker. Not one to necessarily go right for the biscotti on a cookie tray, this recipe made me a biscotti convert, and fan. The cranberries make them a tad bit chewy and the orange and pitachio flavors compliment the cranberries perfectly. Enjoy!

Biscotti with Dried Cranberries and Pistachios

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries
4 Tablespoons (1/2 a stick) of butter, chilled and chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange extract (optional)
1 1/2 cups shelled pistachios
2 eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse.
  3. Add the dried cranberries. Pulse a few times until they are chopped.
  4. Add the butter and vanilla. Process until the whole mixture looks like a coarse meal.
  5. Add the pistachios and egg. Pulse 10 times to blend. Scrape down sides. Pulse another five to ten times to blend.
  6. On a lightly floured counter, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 8" log.
  7. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet and flatten to 2" wide with your hand. Bake 25 minutes.
  8. After the first baking, transfer the logs to a cutting board and using a sharp knife and quick single motion, cut on the diagonal into 1/2" slices. Return the biscotti to the baking sheet and bake 4 minutes on one side, then flip them and bake them 4-5 minutes on the second side. Remove from oven when they turn golden brown.
  9. Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely.
Biscotti may be stored in an airtight container for 4-5 days, or frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Here is the recipe in photos, in case this is your first time baking biscotti:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse.

Add the dried cranberries. Pulse a few times until they are chopped.

Add the butter and vanilla.

Process until the whole mixture looks like a coarse meal.

Add the pistachios and egg.

Pulse 10 times to blend. Scrape down sides. Pulse another five to ten times to blend.

On a lightly floured counter, divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into an 8" log. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet and flatten to 2" wide with your hand. Bake 25 minutes.

After the first baking, transfer the logs to a cutting board and using a sharp knife and quick single motion, cut on the diagonal into 1/2" slices.

Return the biscotti to the baking sheet and bake 4 minutes on one side, then flip them and bake them 4-5 minutes on the second side. Remove from oven when they turn golden brown.

Transfer to cooling racks and cool completely. Biscotti may be stored in an airtight container for 4-5 days, or frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Easy Appetizer Idea: Pesto Torta

Today I did something totally decadent. In between loads of laundry, I lit a fire and addressed my Christmas cards and weeded through my "to do" pile in the warmth of our living room. Once those two things were done I sheepishly grabbed a stack of magazines from my bedside table (that dated back to the last 6 months), and trotted back in to the fire. I can safely say that today might be one of the only weekdays I have spent in our living room, and I might make a happy habit of it. Had my little one not been home with a cold, I might have been out zipping from town to town on pre-holiday errands. Being forced to stay home ended up being wonderful.

Anyway, one of the magazines I perused had that photo above from an advertisement for California Sun Dry products. The photo caught my eye because it reminded me of an appetizer my mom always made. I tore their recipe for "Sun-Dried Tomato Holiday Torte" out and then went searching for my mom's recipe since the whole idea of rolling cream cheese out sounded a bit messy, though their presentation is nice. The Sun-Dried-Pesto Torta recipe on Epicurious seemed to come close to what I remembered since my mom always made it in a bowl. Still, I can't imagine my mom whipping butter and cream cheese together so here's my take on this holiday appetizer that I look forward to whipping up next week:

Pesto-Sundried Tomato-Goat Cheese Torta

1 tub of basil pesto, drained of excess oil
1 jar sun-dried tomato pesto, drained of excess oil
2 bricks of cream cheese, room temperature
small log of goat cheese (about 8 oz), room temperature
1 tube of sun-dried tomato paste (they carry
Amore brand at our local market), to decorate
Toasted pine nuts, to decorate
Baguette slices or crackers

Make sure the basil pesto and sun-dried tomato pesto are well drained of excess oil. To do this, I'll leave them in two fine mesh sieves over the sink for an hour or so, while I am doing other things.

For the cream cheese-goat cheese mixture: using a hand mixer, beat the two bricks of cream cheese and the goat cheese until fluffy. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble: line a 6-cup (or so) bowl or souffle dish with plastic wrap, extending plastic over sides. Spread a 1" layer of the cream cheese-goat cheese mixture evenly over bottom of prepared dish. Top with a 1/2" layer of the basil pesto, then another inch of the cream cheese-goat cheese mixture, then a 1/2" layer of the sun-dried tomato pesto. Repeat layering between the cream cheese-goat cheese mixture, and remaining pestos, ending with a layer of the cream cheese-goat cheese mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

When ready to serve, invert torta onto platter. Peel off plastic. Garnish with a squiggle design of sun-dried tomato paste and sprinkles of pine nuts (good part of party prep for the kids to do). Serve with baguette slices or crackers.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A day of baking in pictures

Tomorrow my little one brings a special birthday snack to preschool. As you can imagine, I have been thinking of the possibilities for a while now. He really isn't too concerned-- or interested for that matter-- as long as it's sweet. With no "rules" in place, we can go wild. I've been pondering all sorts of holiday-themed treats, but really, he was more interested in his Legos than talking about treat ideas. Then last night, he mentioned that he wanted cut-out gingerbread cookies. Super, I'm thinking. I just happen to have a cookie exchange the same day we're bringing "birthday snack". So, I'll bake a giant double or triple batch, and let him go wild with decorating the ones for his classmates.

So, before the school bus pulls up this morning, we've cracked the eggs, poured the molasses...

we've beaten and stirred...

and I have 5 big balls of gingerbread dough chilling in the fridge until after school when we'll busy ourselves with rolling, cutting and baking. The only glitch? On the way to school my little one says, "Mommy? Maybe I like gingerbread but maybe my friends at school don't. Let's not make gingerbread. Let's make pink cookies, since pink is my favorite color!"

Long on butter, flour and sugar this time of year, I humor him and get a batch of sugar cookie dough made when we get home. "Shall we still cut them into shapes?" I ask excitedly, picturing all of the little faces oohing and aahing at the culinary masterpiece we'll bring in tomorrow morning. "No, round is fine mommy, just so long as they are pink, since that is my favorite color."

Knowing full well that my son's (current) favorite color is pink, I just happened to have picked up some India Tree sugars one day on a whim. I am golden. He looks at the cookies approvingly when they come out of the oven, then excitedly goes on to tell me that what would be really special as a birthday snack are the chocolate chip cookies that are regular. Regular? "Yeah, like the ones with the recipe on the bag like other mom's make," my older son tells me, clearly in cahoots with my little one. Really?

Not one to pass up a culinary challenge, even if it is their bedtime, the three of us whip up a batch of Tollhouse cookies. By. The. Book. No wheat flour, no oats, no messing around. Plain chocolate chip cookies. As they cooled on the rack and we went up for bedtime stories, my older son told my younger son, "you're really lucky you're bringing in such a special snack". "I know," I could hear my little one answering and you could tell from his voice that he was just beaming. Worth the extra flour, sugar, butter, eggs and effort this one special day of the year in his young life.

Now I know a few of my friends reading this are wondering whether I am bringing pink sugar cookies to the party tomorrow. Trust me, at that point in the night I had totally run out of steam to roll, cut, bake, decorate. So, I checked our butter and chocolate supply and instead whipped up a double batch of my cinnamon-chocolate brownies with chocolate ganache that are super simple and always a crowd pleaser. If any of my neighbors are reading this would like a ball of my gingerbread dough, just holler. We'll bake and decorate one or two balls this weekend, but we have a few more to share!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

comfort in a bowl: simple homemade soup

I caught a cold. It was bound to happen. Apparently I hadn't gotten the memo that there is no "Supermom Award", and so I was burning the candle at both ends and wham-o. Down for the count. Now that I am back up and looking at my to-do list with a more critical eye (what really needs to happen this week and what can be put off til next week...or 2011) I want to share the recipe for the soup I think did the trick:

Simple Homemade Turkey Soup
(makes plenty...enough until you're feeling well)

Carrots, chopped
Celery, chopped
Onion, chopped
Turkey (which I had leftover from Thanksgiving, shredded and frozen)*
2 32-oz containers organic veggie broth
6 cubes Dorot frozen garlic**
6 cubes Dorot frozen cilantro**
salt & pepper to taste
(frozen peas, optional)
(al dente pasta, optional)

Saute the carrots, celery onion in a bit of olive oil. Add the turkey (frozen or thawed, doesn't matter... you'll just have to cook the soup a bit longer if it's frozen) and the broth. Bring to a simmer. Pop in a couple of frozen garlic and cilantro cubes. Simmer for about a half hour or until your kitchen smells amazing and your mood starts to brighten. (Can also be frozen so you have it on hand the next time you get run down. Though, really, you should have learned your lesson this go round.)

* can always substitute a rotisserie chicken if you ate all of your turkey
** I buy this at Trader Joe's...perfect if you need fresh herbs in a pinch (or if you're feeling tired and just want to make soup fast)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

channeling my inner giada today...

I'm having a little mommy zen moment-- or rather, I am enjoying 10 minutes of downtime and some Parmesan pea dip from today's shoot-- before I launch into the nightly homework + dinner + bath triple header with my children. Today the guys from DBG filmed five more videos, which I know will please those of you who have been asking for more after watching the protein pancake and enchilada ones. We got all five recipes cooked from scratch and filmed in record time, just going to show that you absolutely can have fabulous meals in a snap. Stay tuned for the videos!

Wait a minute, is the crew making fun of my "wink" in the video graphics as they give the farro-butternut squash risotto a test run?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

homemade vanilla gift idea

How is this for a neat-- and very, very simple-- homemade gift idea? I've been reading this "Food In Jars" blog all summer, thinking maybe I'd dip my pinky toe into canning (which didn't happen, but the enormous pot I bought came in handy when I made those 26 batches of pumpkin cannelloni). But this recipe is so simple! Wouldn't it be such a treat to get a little jar of this homemade vanilla?

(p.s. that's Food in Jar's beautiful photo above, not mine)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the batch I am baking this week...

I am getting ready to channel my inner Giada on Thursday and film all day, but before I focus on that I want to whip up a great batch of cookies for my book club gathering tomorrow evening. While I'd love to get a jump start on cut-out gingerbread and sugar cookies, I think I'll leave the extra rolling & cutting step for a lazy weekend morning. Instead, I'll make a batch of those Molasses Crinkles I dream about January-November...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quick & Easy Bouillabaisse

I'm done with turkey. Tonight I wanted to make something that was the opposite. In a matter of minutes, I made the base for Bouillabaisse, then when my husband got home I tossed the fish & shellfish in so we could sit down to a relaxed dinner with his parents. He asked what the secret ingredient was this might have been this aioli? Everyone got a dollop tonight because we can't just go from decadence to healthy in one fell swoop this week...

Bouillabaisse (a.k.a. Hearty Fish Stew)
Makes 8 servings
(can always half or quarter this recipe)
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
6 stalks of celery, chopped
zest of 1 orange
1 bottle white wine
32 oz can crushed tomatoes
32 oz diced tomatoes
3-4 lbs fish & shellfish*
aioli (optional)
crusty bread + stinky cheese (optional)

* tonight I used a combination of shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, and halibut

In a large stock pot, saute the onions, garlic, fennel and celery in a bit of olive oil. Add orange zest and white wine and boil until wine is reduced by about half. Add fresh thyme and parsley and contents of both cans of tomatoes-- chopped and crushed (not drained). Let simmer for about 15 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste. At this point, you can turn the heat off and just let the pot sit covered until a few minutes before you are ready to eat...

When ready to eat, bring the contents of the pot back up to a heavy simmer and add the fish & shellfish. Let cook for about 8 minutes, or until fish is cooked through and shells have opened. (Discard any mussels or clams that do not open).

Ladle a few chunks of fish and a few scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels into each bowl, with some of the aromatic broth. My husband is convinced that the dollop of aioli made this out of this world tonight. Perfect served with some a crusty bread for dipping.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane's Pumpkin Bread (a.k.a. The Best Pumpkin Bread Ever)

One of my friends mentioned that the day after Thanksgiving is the day she goes from pumpkin to peppermint. I did notice a proliferation of Christmas lights as we drove home from dinner last night. Still, I'm not giving up on pumpkin just yet...particularly because my friend, Jane, shared her recipe for (the best) pumpkin bread (ever). So simple and worth sharing. (If you have already moved on to peppermint, just bookmark this for next fall.)

Jane's Pumpkin Bread
(which is really an adaptation of Vern Bertagna's recipe via a '95 Bon Appetit and then epicurious, but since I got the recipe from Jane, it will forever be known as "Jane's Pumpkin Bread" to me)
Makes 2 full-size loaves or 5 mini loaves

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 cups (or 1 16-ounce can) solid pack pumpkin
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves*
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg*
* OR 3 teaspoons of "pumpkin pie spice" if you have that kicking around your spice drawer
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Turbinado sugar (to sprinkle on top, optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans (if they aren't non-stick). Beat sugar and oil in large bowl. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Add the flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg (or the pumpkin pie spice if you're going that route), baking soda, salt and baking powder. Stir until combined. Divide batter equally between baking pans. Sprinkle with Turbinado or other coarse sugar before baking (optional). Bake about 1 hour, or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool. These loaves freeze beautifully.

(No silly, I do not sift the dry ingredients in a separate bowl...)