Friday, January 29, 2010

Simple Suppers

Rachel here: Oh, we all know those days. You know, the ones where you come home and you sort of realize that your day isn't actually over yet because there's still dinner to figure out. As a city-dweller, this often leads to take-out or delivery in my house. Sometimes, though, even that seems like more effort than I can handle, what with the plentitude of options and then the inevitable waiting. On these nights, there is a staple in my house: the quesadilla. There are always (and I do mean always) tortillas in my freezer and cheese in the fridge. Throw in whatever random vegetable and meat bits we have leftover and a hearty dinner is mere minutes away (particularly if you have made a batch of black beans earlier in the week...see Wednesday's post). After a long day, I can't think of anything better.

flour tortillas (I prefer corn and John prefers flour, which is what I ended up using for these)
grated cheese (I used a bit of jack and a bit of cheddar)
chicken, chopped into uniform bite-sized piece
medium tomato
avocado (I recognize that avocados and tomatoes aren't in season everywhere, so substitute with a good local alternative)
salt and pepper

Cook chicken in large pan, seasoning to your preference with salt, pepper and cayenne. Prepare tortillas by lining one half with a bit of cheese before dividing chicken up amongst them and covering with cheese (Amounts for tortillas, cheese and chicken will vary depending on how many you're looking to feed. I used one large tortilla per person and divided about 3/4 lb. of chicken between them). Place these tortilla pockets back into pan you cooked chicken in (one-dirty-dish cooking is part of the beauty of this easy dinner option!). Flip after a few minutes, once underside is nicely browned and cheese has started melting. Serve when everything is hot and gooey, garnishing with diced tomato and avocado on top and serving with lime wedges on the side. Of course, various hot sauces and sour cream should be waiting on the table to optimal enjoyment. Yum!

Janet here: Rachel has the best idea here for a simple supper you can throw together in minutes. I wish I had thought of it but I didn't so there it is. Anyway my main way of making supper easy these days is cooking ahead. Shepherd's Pie is my go-to comfort dinner in the winter months, and it's a crowdpleaser so it's doubly satisfying. I make this shepherd's pie using ground turkey because I don't eat red meat. I also use taco seasoning as my secret seasoning ingredient. In other words, it's tacos with mashed potatoes, making it a win-win for feel-good meals. Here's how I do it.

Shepherd's Pie


1 pound ground turkey
1 package taco seasoning
1 1/2 cups corn (I use frozen)
dried onion flakes to taste (this is the way I get onions into things for picky eaters)
4 Russet potatoes
1 stick butter
3/4 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Brown the turkey in a little oil. Add the taco seasoning and follow directions for regular tacos. Add in the corn. After it's done, place in the bottom of a casserole baking dish.
While the meat mixture is cooking, cut up some potatoes (skins on is my preference), cook in boiling water until tender. Then drain, put back into the pot with a stick of butter. Mash up the potatoes, add salt and pepper to taste, maybe a little chicken broth with the sour cream to make them as smooth as you like. Sometimes I add grated cheese as well if I'm feeling really decadent.
Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes until it's bubbling slightly.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food for Thought Thursdays

Janet here: We're going to devote Thursdays to food memories. Sometimes it will be me, sometimes it will be Rachel, sometimes it will be both of us. I kicked it off last week with the post about my mother and her cookbooks. You can read it here.

As Rachel and I were texting back and forth about what today's post might feature, we got all nostalgic about times when we ate things we weren't supposed to that somehow made the moment all special. I recalled a weekend when Rachel and her two brothers, S and G, were younger. My husband was away for some reason (probably involving hiking long distances) and I decided we would get a bunch of videos (that would be back in the days of tapes, not DVDs), stay in our pajamas and watch TV AS LONG AS WE WANTED TO. Each child got to pick a movie and we spread out a blanket on the family room floor and ate all kinds of unhealthy junk food and didn't worry about a specific meal. It was anything goes, and it feel so delicious. We were in our own little cocoon from the world. No work, no school, no daycare, no silly rules about getting dressed at a certain time or eating certain kinds of foods. I only remember one of the movies, Little Women with Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and Susan Sarandon. But my kids, Rachel in particular, started calling me Marmy from time to time after that, and the name has always instantly recalled that moment for me and filled my heart with love and the happiness of that special time. It's amazing how the small things always make the biggest difference.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Savvy Sides

Rachel here: So, first, thank you John (my partner) for dutifully holding the bowl of beans in various relations to the overhead light in the kitchen. You were very patient while I attempted to find decent lighting, which I know was difficult because I got caught up doing my homework and started dinner way too late and so by picture time you could hear both of our stomachs screaming "Feed me!". You are a good man for many reasons, this being just one of them.

So, evidently we eat a lot of beans in my house. I hadn't realized this until we started this blog, but after making my second bean-based dish in two weeks, it seems undeniable. We are still transitioning into our new place (oh, it's so nice to cook here!) so when my mom and I decided to do a side dish for this post I immediately decided to make black beans.

Black beans (and beans in general) are wonderful for so many reasons. Firstly, they're quite good for you. You really can't go wrong by incorporating beans into your diet if you don't already eat them regularly. Secondly, they're versatile. With slight variations you can pair beans with just about anything (even ice cream...if you haven't tried red bean ice cream, DO because it's super yummy) and then, if you have leftovers, play around with those beans and pair them with something completely different. And lastly, beans are wonderful because you can buy them dried in bulk and store them in your cupboard and pull them out whenever you are at a loss for what to cook (Personally, I have half a shelf in my *new walk-in pantry* filled with various glass jars filled with various dried beans and labeled for quick access). Rice and beans? That's the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions in my book. But anyway, I digress a bit.

As I mentioned above, beans are quite versatile. One of the approaches I take to making beans sometimes is to use up partial things in my fridge. In this light, the recipe I am posting below is just a suggestion for how to approach black beans. You can use it as a taste guideline and experiment from there. For instance, though I didn't this time, a bit of citrus juice can be quite nice in beans, as can chopped peppers etc. It all depends on what sort of flavor you're going for (mine have a bit of kick to them). Anyway, what do you do with your beans?

A Little of This, a Little of That Black Beans
serves 6-8 as a side

2 c. dried black beans, sorted and rinsed and soaked in water that has boiled (covered by an inch or so) for an hour and then drained
1/2 T. oregano
3 bay leaves
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
chili powder

In a large pot, combine your 2 c. of prepared black beans (see ingredient instructions) with 5 cups of liquid (I used a combination of water and leftover beef stock from the French Onion soup I made last weekend). Add all ingredients, including cayenne and chili powder to taste. Simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half until beans are tender and ready to eat. Serve!

Janet here: I just discovered shallots this past year and I am now trying to make up for all those lost decades. So when we decided to do a side dish, I knew mine had to include shallots. The photo really says it all: this dish is only nominally about the string beans; it's really about the shallots with the string beans as a very decided after note.

Anyway, for years I VERY WRONGLY assumed shallots were really just onions so really how important were they to a specific recipe? (I also didn't really think the kind of onion mattered. Clearly I became a wiser woman once I hit 50.) What I was completely oblivious to is their incredibly subtle, slightly sweet taste, and the realization that of course using a shallot will make a recipe entirely different than if you just chop up a yellow onion. So without further ado, my simple side that takes just minutes to whip up.

String Beans with Shallots
(although it's really the other way around)
serves 3-4


olive oil to taste
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound string beans, washed, ends cut off
3-4 shallots, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

stir fry the string beans and shallots, turning frequently, until the shallots are translucent and the string beans are just cooked. Salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry

Rachel and Janet here: So, for this week's installment of BTMUH we are featuring Tartelette, a blog by Helene Dujardin with photographs that literally make our mouths water. In addition to being an experienced pastry chef (which is how she earned the nickname "Tartelette" amongst her family), Dujardin is also a food stylist and photographer (amongst other talents) which helps explain why literally every picture on her blog looks good enough to eat. Click on the link and get ready to ooh and ahh.

While she certainly focuses on sugar (and, evidently, so do we when it comes to BTMUH), her blog also includes a handful of absolutely scrumptious looking savory recipes, including one for Bacon, Onion and Parsley Tartelettes that neither of us can get out of our heads. Clearly we are going to have to attempt this one sometime in the near future.

Beyond being beautiful and French and phenomenally talented, one of the things that drew us into Dujardin's blog was her manner of writing, both excited and vulnerable in turns and always ringing through with a certain sincerity for her subject (be it her husband or cakes). We aspire to be focused on the smaller moments in our days, to recognize and savor the little experiences that are so easy to breeze past. Dujardin does the same and we hope you enjoy joining her in her pauses..and her fabulously photographed world.

P.S.: For those of you following Bakerella, too, we just discovered that we're both featuring Tartelette this week. We had no idea!

Cookie Craze

Janet here: A cake can sit on my counter for a month and I can walk by it untempted. Put homemade cookies on the same counter, and I suddenly find reasons to walk into that room and oops, a cookie is in my mouth before you can say "chocolate chips." Simply put, homemade cookies are my downfall.

They're also my go-to activity for pick-me-ups. Rainy, disgustingly gross day? Bake a batch of cookies. Feeling as if the family is a little at odds? Bake a batch of cookies. Blizzard outside and the house is feeling cozy? Bake a batch of cookies. As far as I am concerned there is little that a batch of homemade cookies can't fix.

When Rachel and I discussed baking cookies for this week's blog, we decided to make a cookie we'd never made before. I decided I would NOT make something with chocolate, despite every fiber in my body suggesting otherwise. (A day without chocolate is, in my opinion, a day wasted.) I also went to a cookbook I've never used. I bought Mrs. Fields' Cookie cookbook after I worked in a mall selling clothes. I had just gone back to work and we didn't have enough money for childcare so I sold clothes three days a week so I could spend the fourth day working on my freelance writing career. It was a mindless gig with some fun women, made all the better by my daily visit to the Mrs. Fields shop for a warm cookie. While not chocolate, I will say these cookies are pretty damn tasty. What's your go-to baking activity when you're feeling down? Let us know ... while enjoying a homemade cookie of course.

Creamy Lemon Macadamia Cookies
makes 2 1/2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
2 teaspoons lemon extract
1 1/2 cups (7 oz.) whole macadamia nuts


Heat oven to 300 degrees
In a medium bowl combine flour, soda and salt. Mix well with wire whisk and set aside.
In a large bowl, blend the sugars well with an electric mixer at medium spped. Add the butter and cream cheese and mix to form a smooth paste. Add the egg and lemon extract and beat at medium speed until fully combined. Add the flour mixture and macadamia nuts. Mix until combined. Do not overmix.
Drop onto the cookie sheets. Bake 18-20 minutes. Immediately transfer to a cool flat surface. Try not to eat six in a row.

Rachel here: So, for my attempt at a cookie I had never baked before, I went with something embarrassingly simple: sugar cookies. The shame is in no way connected to baking something simple (simple can be so wonderfully perfect), but rather that when I finished baking these cookies I realized that, in fact, I HAD tried to make these cookies before and, as was the case with this time, I am yet to turn out sugar cookies that are just right. Argh! The first time I used this recipe was a few years back during a holiday baking crunch when I was looking for a quick cookie recipe to bulk up my cookie reserve. Instead of vanilla I threw in blue food coloring. OOPS! The cookies came out too thin and umm...too blue. This time, I opted to try to the lime zest variation (since I'm pregnant and this has left me craving any and everything citrus). Again, though, my cookies came out too thin. I am officially at a loss. Has anybody else had this problem with sugar cookies? If you have, I would desperately love to hear from you with any tips for avoiding this problem in the future. Anyway, though a bit on the thin side, I have dutifully sampled and would still recommend this recipe (taken from my culinary bff, The Best Recipe), particularly if you plan on decorating your cookies (because then their thinness might work to your advantage in that you'll have more room for your frosting artistry). Anyway, seriously, leave feedback if you've encountered my sugar cookie dilemma or with any insights into avoiding it on my next attempt. In the meantime, enjoy!

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tspn. baking powder
1/2 tspn. salt
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling cookies
1 large egg (Just as an aside, I recently read that extra large eggs are painful for chickens to lay and so, beyond the fact that most recipes call for a large egg, this cemented my commitment to not buying extra large eggs. Though an animal eater, I am one with a conscience.)
2 tspn. vanilla extract
2+ tspn. lime zest

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with racks on the lower and upper-middle levels. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. Cream butter and 1 c. of sugar until fluffy. Scrape down sides (if using an electric mixer) and add egg, 1 tspn. lime zest and vanilla. Mix until combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined.
Combine remaining 1/4 c. of sugar with remaining 1 tspn. of lime zest. In your food processor, process until sugar turns green and zest is evenly distributed. No food processor? Bummer. I would try a fork to combine these ingredients, again aiming for green sugar. Roll 1 1/2 inch balls in the sugar mixture and place on baking sheet.
Butter the bottom of a drinking glass with a flat bottom that is roughly 2 inches across. Dip in leftover sugar before pressing down on each ball of dough until about 1/2 inch thick and 1 3/4 inches across. Dip glass into sugar as needed (every few cookies).
Bake, reversing positions after 5 or 6 minutes (about half-way through cooking). When edges are pale golden (after about 10-11 minutes) remove from oven and cool on tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to complete cooling.

Friday, January 22, 2010

And the Potato Leek Soup Pic..

The HTML dybuk seems to have been tamed....this is the soup for the recipe below.


The French Onion Pic...

Thanks for baring with us! This photo accompanies the French Onion soup recipe below...

Soup-er Suppers

First an apology. We're having trouble loading our post so I'm trying it without the pictures to see if that works. Hopefully we'll get this resolved soon. In the meantime, use your imagination.

Janet here: Part of what I want from a meal in winter is comfort. The weather is generally dreary and when I come in the door after work, I want warmth — literally and figuratively. I want a fire roaring in the fireplace and I want to create a warm feeling for my family by the food I cook. It's a tall order I know but if I can make it happen even one day a week, I'm happy.

For me, soup figures large in this elusive formula. I'm not sure why really. It's not as if I grew up on homemade soups. But for some reason slurping on soup just makes me feel cozy, and potato leek soup makes me feel coziest of all. Here's hoping it makes you feel the same with the people you love. I plan to serve mine on a busy night this week when both my husband and I have to go out again after work to various functions. I will probably add grilled cheese on some good bread and maybe if I'm feeling really ambitious, a salad. It's a hearty meal for a cold winter's night, which is what every night is like here in the Northeast where I live until, oh, April ... if we're lucky.

Potato and Leek Soup
serves 4-5

2 tablespoons butter
3 medium leeks, well cleaned and diced--not the green part
1 yellow onion, sliced
4 large Russet potatoes, cubed (I leave the skin on because that's where a lot of the nutrients and fiber are but you can skin if you prefer)
32 oz. vegetable broth (yes you can make your own but I'm a working mother so I use Trader Joe's hearty organic vegetable broth. If you make your own, you are an instant cooking goddess in my book.)
milk (amount to be determined by how soupy you like your soup)
salt, pepper and chives to taste

Melt the butter and saute the leeks and onion until translucent in a large pot. Once done, add the potato cubes and the vegetable broth. Simmer until the potatoes are done. Let cool and then throw into the blender. You'll have to do it in bunches because it won't all fit. Then add some milk to get it to the consistency you like (add a little at a time so you don't overdo it and end up with milk soup) and voila! Fabulous hearty soup. Try adding some chives and grated cheese on top right before serving.

Rachel here: So, I want to go have dinner at my mom's house because potato leek soup is one of the better things in life, I think. When she told me she was making it I decided to try to make a soup that got me just as excited. And so, for the first time ever, I made french onion soup. It seemed so warm and sweet and tangy when I thought of it. Plus, I had seen a recipe in Real Simple magazine a few months back and the picture that accompanied the recipe made my mouth water every time I turned to that page. The end product, while totally satisfactory, was a soup that both my partner and I felt was missing a certain something. We're not sure what it is, but we both felt that this recipe was a little too basic tasting. We suspect the issue could be with the store-bought broth (since we are definitely make-your-own-stock people...alas, the move...and, as an aside, if you save those chicken bones from my mom's chicken salad she posted the other day you're on your way to making your own delicious reserve of chicken stock!) It was, however, a vehicle for toasted bread with cheese and so, dutifully, we each devoured our bowls. Anyway, if you have your own french onion soup recipe that you think hits the nail on the head, or if you've tried this one and have similar sentiments about it, I'd love to hear from you!

serves 4

3 T. unsalted butter
2 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1/2 c. dry white wine (somewhere I saw a recipe that called for cognac...anybody ever tried this?)
1 c. low-sodium beef broth
4 1/2 inch-thick slices of country bread, cut to fit across serving bowls
1 c. grated Swiss cheese
1/2 T. fresh thyme

Heat the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions, 2/3 tspn. salt and a dash of fresh pepper. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 10-15 minutes). Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the onions are golden brown. This will take a while (at least 30-40 minutes) and you should stir the onions occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot when you do to get the fullest possible flavor.

Add the wine and cook until slightly reduced (about 2 minutes). Next, add the broth and 3 c. of water and bring this to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the broiler. Broil the bread until each side is golden brown (1-2 minutes or so per side). Remove, sprinkle with cheese, and place back in broiler to melt.

Pour soup into bowls, top with bread and add a sprinkle of thyme. You will be warm and toasty in a no time.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Mother's Love

Janet here: We figured we'd take a break from a recipe today and share with you the essay that got this blog going. I wrote it after my mother died.

A Life Told in Recipes

Some people leave behind diaries or journals as their memoirs when they die. My mother left her cookbooks.

I didn’t realize this at first, of course. A friend helped me clear out my mother’s apartment after her death. She showed me the cookbooks and said, “Don’t look at these now but hold on to them. You’re going to want them. Trust me.”

Fresh from the pain of my mother’s death, I did as I was told and packed the cookbooks in a box in the attic. A couple of years ago, I remembered the cookbooks and pulled them out. I was amazed by what I found.

On the first page of one cookbook, its green cover torn off long ago, was this message, written in the familiar red ink of my mother’s favorite fountain pen: “Please do not destroy enjoyed many years Mom.” I gasped. It was as if my mother had suddenly entered the room.

I eagerly flipped through the pages. Called The Forum Quorum and created as a school fundraiser, the recipes name the local contributor with a quick note, like this one for Chutney Cheese Canape from Mrs. Ralph Hansmann: “This recipe is requested each time it is served. So festive looking!” The cookbook is a window into a time period, an era in which canned vegetables were the norm and “exotic” herbs were spices like curry horseradish.

The book is also a window into my family. My mother’s worn edition has her own personal jottings. Some are just simple red checks next to dishes she tried like the Hot Crabmeat Cocktail Dip or the Stuffed Gouda or Edam Cheese, whose note says “Easy to do, but looks as if it took hours.” Others, like Chipped Beef, I can remember being served. Snappy Tomato Aspic was one of the few recipes where she added her own commentary: “Good.” (For the record, my sister and I were not as enthralled.)

My mother was more prolific in her other cooking mainstay, McCall’s Cook Book, a large blue tome that was THE cookbook of its day. Inside the front cover she wrote in her large loopy handwriting, “I have had this cook [sic] from the day I was married 1953. Really enjoy [sic] many many receipts. Mom 1990.”
This, too, is a book well worn from the joy of cooking. The cover binding is missing. Bits of paper mark pages throughout. Grease stains decorate various pages. A yellowed grocery list from the Village Grocery dates the era of its primary use: my mother had 19 items, including lettuce, turnips, potatoes and cheese, home delivered for $8.20.

My mother’s jottings begin with the opening pages, where she listed the page numbers of favorite recipes. Shrimp Casserole is on page 218. Shrimp Newberg is on 616.

But it is the notes that really intrigued me. With each one I learned more about a woman who, really, was mostly a mystery to me. Next to the recipe for Horseradish Meatballs, for instance, is, “I love horseradish. Good with pasta and sauce,” while the recipe for Ragout of Lamb has two asterisks and the message, “I love lamb.” I had no idea.

The Old Fashioned Bread Pudding was apparently a favorite of my father’s: “Bob loved this.” Lima Beans with Sour Cream were another favorite of his, although not mine or my sister’s: “Good. Bob and I loved this dish. Not J&K.” Another comment made me smile. My father, who is also dead, was a terrific baker, in particular pies. My mother knew better than to compete, a decision made patently clear in her comment for Dutch Apple Pie. “Daddy made his own. I (and this one word was underlined three times) tried this one time…” The recipe for Almond Chiffon Roll, meanwhile, records my mother’s first culinary failure. “My first flop,” she wrote. “1953 I remember so well.”

While satisfying on some level, the cookbooks at first left me wistful and sad, wishing for more. What happened with the Almond Chiffon Roll? Why does she like horseradish? I felt sad and not a little irritated. How typical of my mother to withhold, to tease me with just a little bit of information and leave the rest unsaid.
And then I had an epiphany. True, my mother, who was an alcoholic most of my life, hadn’t given me the information I wanted in the way I wanted it. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t reaching out in her own way. She, too, treasured her family and showed her love through her cooking. The foods she chose, the efforts she put into meals, were her way of saying “I love you.” And now, through her cookbooks, she is feeding me again, and I feel full.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Salad for Lunch

Rachel here: Ok, so after your delicious breakfast of muffins, why not do a little bit of cooking ahead over the weekend to give yourself an equally special lunch? I don't know about you, but lunch is sometimes the only pause in my day where I can regroup and touch base with myself. For this reason, I usually try to bring myself something that I both enjoy and provides a good amount of fuel for the second half of my day. In this regard, I am looking for a good balance of protein, carbs and good fat to tide me over until dinner. Anyway, this week I head back to school and so I wanted to come up with something that would brighten my spirits and give me some energy mid-day, but that would also be easy to bring along with me. Hence, we're doing lunch salads for this post.

So, before I give you this recipe, I should confess that I strayed ever so slightly from the recipe in a way that I would not advise (although only for aesthetic purposes). The recipe advises that you cook each type of bean separately. In a moment of moving-induced hubris/laziness, I opted to throw all of my dried beans in one pot. The end result is that all of my beans got mashed except the biggest ones (pinto in my case). It tastes completely fine (the partner even had seconds last night), but when I make this dish for company (which I most certainly will because it is such a fabulous blend of flavors) I will take the time to cook each bean to perfection in its own little pot. Anyway, here's the recipe from Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli with Alice Waters.

Salad of String Beans, Shell Beans, and Tomatoes
serves 6

3 c. fresh shell beans (the more variety you use, the more colorful your salad will be)
4 oz. mixed string beans
2 small red tomatoes, diced (the official recipe calls for you to peel the tomatoes, too, but I didn't and I can't see why you would in this scenario)
1 large yellow tomato, diced (again with the call for peeling that I, again, opted out of)
3 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
8 salt-packed anchovy filets, soaked, squeezed dry, cut in half lengthwise and tossed in 2 tspn. olive oil

For the dressing:
1 small red onion (4 oz.), finely diced
3 T. red wine vinegar
1/4 tspn. salt
1/8 tspn. freshly ground pepper
1 small clove garlic
4 salt-packed anchovy filets, soaked and squeezed dry
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Prepare the vinaigrette in a small bowl. First, combine the onion and the vinegar. Add salt and let it dissolve before adding the pepper. Pound the garlic and anchovies into a paste in a mortar and then add to the rest of the dressing ingredients. Add in olive oil. Set aside until after the rest of the salad is finished.

Cook each type of shell bean in its own pot with 1 quart of water and 1 tspn. of salt. When tender, remove from heat. Combine all of the shell beans in one container and leave enough cooking water in just to cover the beans. Place in refrigerator until cooled.

Parboil your string beans. Cook each type separately if there is significant variation in size; if not you can throw them in one pot together. Remove from water with a slotted spoon once they are tender but still holding their crunch. Place on a plate to cool (cooked string beans are like sponges so definitely do not leave them in water as they will turn to mush) and put in refrigerator.

Once all of your beans are cooled, drain off all water and combine beans in one bowl. Season the tomatoes with 2 T. of the vinaigrette and 1 T. of the parsley. Add salt, pepper and vinegar to taste (beans can handle a strong vinaigrette!). Pour the rest of the dressing over the beans, garnish with the remaining parsley. Arrange the tomatoes over the beans. Pour any remaining juices over everything and add anchovy strips to the top.

In the picture above you will see my alternate approach to serving this salad. I kept the string and shell beans separate, as well as the tomatoes and anchovies so I can assemble the salad in portions as I want to eat it. Pretty easy to make and you have a delicious and very healthy lunch for the week! I plan on bringing a piece of crusty bread along with me to soak up the dressing this week.

Janet here: The first time I made this recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Parties!was for a crowd of colleagues who were at my house for a brainstorming retreat about what we wanted to do next with our publications during the next year. Everyone loved this salad, and the ideas we came up with innovative and interesting. Was it the food? Who can say for sure, but I personally believe food can have that kind of impact on what happens. I mean, how many magical dinner parties can you remember where the food was sub-standard? I can't think of a one. Take it for what it's worth. This much is certain: You won't go wrong with this one.

Chinese Chicken Salad
serves 12 (but you can easily halve so you don't have to wait for a throng to make this tasty dish)

8 split chicken breasts (bone in, skin on)
good olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus, ends removed, cut into thirds diagonally
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeed
4 scallions (White and green parts, sliced diagonally)
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds toasted (Toast by placing on dry saute pan and cooking over medium heat for five minutes or until browned)

for the Dressing
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin (hard to do I know) and shred the chicken in large, bite-size pieces.

Blanch the asparagus in a pot of boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes until crisp yet tender. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain. Cut the peppers into strips about the size of the asparagus pieces. Combine the shredded chicken, asparagus and peppers in a large bowl.

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blogs That Make Us Hungry

Rachel here: So, with two weeks of blogging under our belts, we've decided it's time to up the ante a bit and shoot for 5 posts a week. Our first weekly addition to this little blog of ours is going to be titled "Blogs That Make Us Hungry" and will be posted every Tuesday. This will be a space in which we share with you, our dear readers, blogs that are, if you will, whetting our appetites. To kick this segment off, we are featuring Bakerella.

I want Bakerella (her real name isn't listed on her website which, frankly, I think is's like she has a super hero baking alter ego!) to be my best friend. Partly this is because I want to go to her house and eat everything she makes. The other reason, though, is that I really admire people with unbridled enthusiasm for what they do and, as you'll see when you check out her website, this woman has a deep and inspired passion for sugar. Everything she makes is clearly approached with a great deal of thought and her execution is awe-inspiring. Plus, her tee-shirts are just plain awesome. Anyway, in case it isn't clear yet, I have a serious blog/baking/friend crush on Bakerella and I think you will, too (assuming you like sugar...which, for your sake, I hope you do).

Janet here: And if being a sweets fan to beat the band isn't enough, Bakerella is also the maker of the cake pop.I mean, seriously, have you ever seen anything so cute? Who wouldn't want to pop one (or six) of these in their mouths?

I don't know if she sells them, but she should. While I love to bake, there is no way I have the patience or artistic ability to pull one of these off. Grandparents would be eternally grateful to be able to send these once a month to their favorite grandchild. You can get the recipe for the snowman right here. She also makes, and generously gives directions for, a slew of others to celebrate just about every holiday you can imagine. Click here to see her magic.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Muffin Ma'am

Janet here: We're kicking off this week's blogs with, appropriately, a breakfast item. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, why not make it something just a little special? I've been eating yogurt — usually Dannon's coffee flavor, although Stoneyfield's organic non-fat yogurt has been a staple since I did Weight Watchers — for decades. My husband and son S, meanwhile, are cereal eaters. All kinds of boring, don't you think? And that's the joy of muffins. Bake up a batch on the weekend, and you have instantly made breakfast a cheerier meal for the rest of the week.

Muffins' ability to bring cheer hit home with me last year after my mother-in-law died. My father-in-law was understandably bereft losing his help and soul mate after 56 years of marriage. She was also a good cook so the loss was a double whammy for a man who enjoys a good meal. So I started making these muffins. I made them week after week after week — so regularly, in fact, that he started calling me the Muffin Queen. We all got just a bit tired of them, but he didn't and so I kept baking, bringing just a bit of sunshine to a life that was all shades of gray.

This particular recipe is from one of my favorite culinary ladies, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa. I have five of her cookbooks and I refer to them all the time. (Indeed there will be another recipe of hers featured later this week; stay tuned.) This one for triple berry muffins is from The Barefoot Contessa at Home. I amended it to just use blueberries and raspberries; I'm pretty sure Ina would approve. I also make my muffins in large tins rather than the regular size. Why scrimp when muffins are so special?

Triple Berry Muffins

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (the ingredient that really gives these pizazz I think)
1 1/4 cups milk
2 extra large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1/2 cup diced fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups sugar


Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with liners.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in large bowl. (FYI, I don't sift. Ever.)Stir with your hand to make sure ingredients are combined. In another bowl combine milk, eggs and butter. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients into the well and stir until just combined. There will be some lumps; don't overmix the batter. Add the fruit and sugar and combine gently.
Use a 2 1/4 ice cream scoop to spoon the batter into the liners. Bake 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the tops are brown.

Rachel here: So, my partner and I are in the process of moving. We have the good fortune of having two apartments this month and, with that luck, the accompanying difficulty of remembering what is where at any given moment. Seriously, the only thing I own whose location I am positive of these days is my bed. Anyway, needless to say, this created some escapades this morning.

The plan was to spend the day at the new apartment, unpacking what we could and generally getting things going in the new space. So, after our coffee this morning, I dutifully packed up my cookbook, butter, a spatula, and other muffin making necessities, checking items off of the list I'd developed in my head. No sooner had I preheated the oven (oh, and what an oven it's an O'Keefe and Merrit a la photo number 6) then I realized I had brought no measuring spoons NOR did I have a single spoon in the house, I had fewer muffin/cupcake paper wrappers than I needed AND I had neglected to bring the paddle to my KitchenAid mixer. Grrr...

My partner was adamant I could still pull these muffins off. This optimism irritated me until I decided that, if not, it would at least make a good story and, most likely, a pretty yummy mess. And so, instead of creaming my butter and sugar into a wonderfully fluffy goo, I threw them in my Cuisinart (which, of course, I only had the sharp metal blade with me for) and turned them (along with the eggs, banana and yogurt...which I also didn't bring enough of) into an unpromising liquid. At this point I had strayed so far from the recipe's orders that I was convinced there was no way in hell these muffins wouldn't come out like little boulders. Instead, in some freak incident I'm sure (because if not following the rules always works this well than my entire world will be turned upside down), my muffins came out just fine. WEIRD. OK, they're not wonderful, but they are completely edible and definitely still better than their store-bought counterparts. Could they be fluffier? Absolutely. Will they all be eaten? Without a doubt.

The moral of my story is, I suppose, twofold: First, just because your partner thinks something can still work out doesn't mean he is trying to ruin your life with his optimism or that your general propensity toward skepticism need be re-evaluated; second, evidently muffins (and baking in general?!?) might not be the finicky princesses I had figured they were beforehand. Anyway, follow this recipe from The Best Recipe (I added some strawberries to the banana walnut variation) or just mix all of these ingredients together and cross your fingers. Either way, I'm pretty sure your breakfast tomorrow morning will be a little bit brighter.

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tspn. baking soda
1/2 tspn. salt (*Note: I always lean towards the generous side with salt during baking. I swear it brings out flavors.)
1/2 tspn. nutmeg
10 T. unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. plain low-fat yogurt
1 c. light brown sugar
1 1/2 c. finely diced banana
1/2 c. strawberries
3/4 c. walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in middle position. Whisk flour, baking powder, soda, salt and nutmeg in bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one. Add half of dry ingredients and incorporate. Beat in 1/3 of the yogurt. Continue alternating dries and yogurt until everything is incorporated. Fold in bananas, strawberries and walnuts.

Now, according to the official recipe you should scoop your batter into greased muffin tins. I used little cupcake paper wrappers, though, to cut down on clean-up (on account of the move). While the sides don't get quite as well cooked, I personally feel like there's nothing wrong with this approach. If I were making them for an event I wouldn't use the paper wrappers, but when it's just for home, the time I save on clean-up is worth the compromise to me! Anyway, enjoy!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Variations on a Theme: A Chicken in Every Pot

Rachel here: For our final installment of variations on a theme this week we figured we should offer up an entree to assure you that we don't actually only eat appetizers and desserts (although neither one of us would be opposed). Since there are very few meat items that we both eat, we settled on chicken as the jumping off point. In my house, chicken is a staple of sorts, a go-to dinner ingredient due to its quick and easy-to-cook nature. My partner works and goes to school, I go to school (like it's my job...we are talking a majorly type A personality here) and often by the time we are both home and the rest of our lives have been dealt with, we crave something warm and filling with minimal effort (with effort for us translating also into number of dishes generated since we don't currently have a dishwasher...but, as I've said before, more on that later) and so, with regularity, we find ourselves staring at plates with chicken on them. Earlier in our relationship when all we wanted was to feast on dreamy stares across the table at each other our chicken was often similar: pounded, cut, marinated, cooked and served on top of salad. There was and is nothing wrong with this approach. These days, though, our chicken (oh, and our relationship) takes a little more effort to hold our interest. The recipe I've chosen to share below is an easy one with just that little extra pizazz to liven the dinner table up and leave us both feeling a little warmer and fuzzier after a long hard day.

Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Breasts
serves 4 (half a stuffed breast per person)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1.5 oz. goat cheese
1 tspn. unsalted butter
3/4 tspn. minced chives
1/2 tspn. minced parsley leaves
1/8 tspn. minced thyme
1/8 tspn. lemon juice
1/8 tspn. minced garlic
salt and pepper
1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 egg
1 tspn. water
vegetable oil
1 1/4 T. paprika
1 T. garlic powder
1/2 T. onion powder
1/2 T. cayenne
1/2 T. oregano
1/2 T. dried thyme

Preheat your over to 350 degrees. Lay the chicken flat on your cutting board and, about 1/3 of the way down the thicker side of each breast, cut a deep pocket horizontally into the center of the meat, roughly 3/4 of the way down the side. Be very careful not to cut all the way through.
In a small bowl mash together the goat cheese, butter, chives, parsley, fresh thyme, lemon juice and garlic, adding salt and pepper to taste. Divide this cheese mixture between the pockets you cut into your chicken breasts and then press the edges of the meat to seal the mixture in. Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl (large enough to lay your chicken breasts flat in it), combine flour and all of the ingredients from the list above that follow the vegetable oil (paprika through dried thyme), adding 1 T. of salt and pepper each. In a second bowl of comparable size beat the egg and water together.
Lightly dust the chicken on both sides with the flour mixture, dip it in the egg and water mixture (shaking to remove excess), and then place the chicken in the flour mixture a second time. Shake off excess.
In an oven-proof skillet (if you don't have a cast iron skillet, you can buy them at your local hardware store for less than $20...I highly recommend owning one if you don't and have found that searing is never easier than in cast iron), heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and sear until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Place the skillet in your pre-heated oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 7-10 minutes.

As you can see in the photo above, I usually serve this chicken with a simple salad. It makes a hearty and nutritious dinner that tastes like way more effort than it takes. I whisk together a little oil and vinegar to make a simple salad dressing, add some local seasonal veggies (or, this time of year, some mandarin oranges) and serve the chicken and salad together. The meal is a bit of a staple in my house. Though I have yet to branch out beyond this version, I imagine you could stuff the chicken with any number of delicious cheese-based combinations. Any ideas? Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Janet here: Okay so my daughter decided to show me up making something that looks gorgeous on the plate for this meat staple. A little annoying, but while we are doing this blog together, the underlying theme is obviously Who is the Better Cook? It's a competition I don't intend to lose. Anyway, I'm in a cook-ahead mode of life for a variety of reasons, so this chicken stew satisfied that need and also my need to make something with chicken. I didn't actually follow a recipe but rather made this up after looking over some other recipes. In other words, there's lots of room for experimentation. Instead of tomatoes, for instance, why not try a white sauce to hold it all together? You could also make it more like a chili by using more southwestern spices, like chili powder, red pepper flakes, that kind of thing. The point is don't be afraid to branch out.

Chicken Stew
serves 4-5

1 yellow onion, diced
3-4 potatoes, cubed into bite-size pieces, skin on (I hardly ever remove the skin even when I make mashed potatoes; lots of vitamins there)
1 to 1 1/2 cups diced carrots
2 skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-size pieces
1 16 ounce can diced tomatoes
spices to taste: salt, pepper, thyme, oregano, basil

Saute the onion, potatoes, carrots and chicken in a large pot with the spices. Once they're nicely sauteed, add the tomatoes. Adjust spices to taste.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Variations on a Theme: Brownie Bake-Off

Rachel here: There is a book in my kitchen that I turn to in times of need. It is the first cookbook I ever bought and, all of these years later (ok, I'll be honest, all of these five years later...yes, I'm a youngin') it remains my steadfast kitchen companion (besides my partner, but more on him another time). It is the cookbook whose recipes I will try for the first time and bring the end result to a party untasted (I live in the Bay Area or, the Land of Food, and so this is no small statement, particularly since my partner and a disproportionate number of our friends make their livings in kitchens); the cookbook that has literally never let me down (although it has not always blown my mind). Anyway, when we decided to do this great brownie bake-off of ours, I didn't hesitate before pulling this book from its trusty place near my stove. In fact, I didn't even look at another recipe. And now, a drumroll please, for The Best Recipe (compiled by the editors of Cook's Illustrated) and their basic brownie recipe. With a scrumptiously fudgy center and perfectly crisp top, I promise you won't be disappointed.

8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2/3 c. cake flour
1/2 tspn. baking powder
1/4 tspn. salt
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tspn. vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped nuts (the recipe says these are optional, but barring an allergy I wholeheartedly disagree and I usually use toasted walnuts)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. In a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter until smooth. Set aside to cool.
Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl. Set aside.
Whisk sugar into cooled chocolate mixture. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Fold in flour mixture and nuts until just combined.
Pour batter into a greased 8-inch metal baking dish (or, in a pinch, you can use a 9-inch metal pie plate) and place in oven. After 20 minutes, insert a toothpick into the center. When it comes out with a few crumbs on it, the brownies are done. Place on wire rack to cool. To preserve moistness, only cut when ready to eat if possible.

Pour yourself a glass of milk and enjoy!

Janet here: So the brownie gauntlet was obviously thrown when Rachel decided — without telling me! — to use that damn Best Recipe cookbook that she knows I don't own. Seems a little devious don't you think? Well, I turned to a different kind of "best", the Beat This Cookbook by Ann Hodgman, a cookbook whose subhead proclaims it provides "the very best recipe" for everything from apple pie and brownies to crab cakes and guacamole. Pretty gutsy, don't you think? I have no idea if this is the "best" brownie recipe but I was intrigued so here it is. I will also say that I was dubious about actually following this recipe to a T; I mean is it really necessary to mix the sugar, eggs and pinch of salt for a full 15 minutes? I decided, though, for the sake of experimentation to do exactly what Ann said, and I am happy to report these are very very very creamy brownies. If you like cakier brownies, you won't like these, but if you like your brownies almost custardy inside, this recipe could be exactly what the doctor ordered.


1 cup sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature (I actually did this for the firs time; tip: soak them in lukewarm water for 1/2 hour to take the chill off if you don't plan ahead)
pinch of salt (I use kosher as much as possible)
5 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
3 ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch pan.

In a large bowl beat sugar, eggs and salt for 15 minutes. If you have to use a hand mixer (as I do since I don't own a stand-up mixer, she suggests having a book to pass the time). Meanwhile, melt the semisweet and unsweetened chocolates and butter in a double boiler over a very low flame. When the chocolate concoction is 3/4 melted, take it off the flame and stir until smooth. Cool to lukewarm (don't rush this!) and fold gently into the sugar-egg mixture. Fold in flour, vanilla and finally the chips.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes if you like your brownies custardy or 30 if you like them drier. I did 25 and got a nice mix between the two.

Let us know what you think? Which one did you prefer? Do you have a favorite brownie recipe?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Variations on a Theme: Spinach Appetizers

Janet Here: We decided to see what each of us would come up with for an appetizer featuring spinach to kick off this week's blogging. I happen to be a spinach fan but only use frozen spinach — I just can't deal with all that cleaning. Anyway, I decided to go for my tried-and-true artichoke dip and add some spinach. It's that whole theory that if you add spinach, this appetizer is actually good for you. (It's a myth I know, but work with me here.)

My artichoke recipe comes from Tony Clark's New Blueberry Hill Cookbook, a cookbook I bought after spending a weekend cross country skiing and eating gourmet food at Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, Vermont. If you've never been there, I highly recommend checking it out; the skiing/hiking is great, the bed and breakfast homey and casual, and the food is unbelievable. (They keep a jar filled with fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies that are so good it's hard not to eat one every hour.) Anyway, here's Tony's basic recipe with my spinach and cream cheese addition. You can make it either way and then just listen to the rave reviews. It's a seriously easy recipe that takes minutes.

Baked Artichoke Dip (with Spinach)

1 16-ounce can of artichoke hears in water, drained
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, blend the artichokes, mayonnaise, and cheese. (Or if you're like me and don't have a food processor, dice up your artichoke the best you can and figure no one will care.) Put in a shallow serving dish and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it's heated through. Voila!

Rachel here: So, though my mother believes that life can be filled with joy and yet somehow devoid of meat (although she does occasionally eat chicken and fish...tune in Wednesday for more on that), I fiercely disagree. And so, for my take on the spinach appetizer challenge, I decided to include prosciutto. My idea spawned from frequent visits to the sushi place up the street from my house (Kansai at 4345 Telegraph in Oakland, CA in case anybody's in the area and looking for very reasonably priced and yummy sushi) that serves this appetizer of, for lack of a better way to describe it, spinach logs with peanut sauce. I wasn't feeling particularly peanut-y at the time, though, and so I decided to take the spinach logs and go in a different direction. What I ended up with was spinach mixed with roasted sliced almonds, shallots and brie wrapped in prosciutto. They are less cumbersome than they look and function quite well as a finger food. When I made them the recipe yielded 12 prosciutto-wrapped spinach rolls, though you could certainly make them smaller to get more bang for your buck. Anyway, it's the first time I've made this recipe, so feedback is extra welcome (particularly since my mother won't even touch this one due to its delicious cured meat component).

Prosciutto-wrapped Spinach Rolls

20 very thin slices of prosciutto di Parma
brie (approximately 2 oz.)
sliced almonds (approximately 3/4 c.)
one shallot, minced (approximately 2 generous T.)
spinach (approximately 1/3 lb.)
2 T. butter
Salt and pepper

Blanch, drain and chop the spinach, making sure to set 24 whole leaves aside (de-stemmed). Set aside. Roast almond slices. In a non-stick skillet (this is key because spinach is very inclined towards sticking), melt butter and add chopped spinach. Season with salt and pepper and add a hearty squeeze of lemon. Add shallot. After a minute or so (once the shallot has had a chance to start cooking), begin adding the almonds to taste. When you have arrived at a balance that satisfies your palate (as I mentioned in a previous baking post, cooking is pretty experimental for me), remove ingredients from heat and immediately place in a mixing bowl. Add about half of the brie, stirring until completely melted and blended.

Take one of the whole spinach leaves you reserved earlier and place a heaping spoonful of the spinach mixture on top of it. Add an additional dab of brie before placing a second whole spinach leaf on top. Carefully separate a piece of your prosciutto and wrap the entire thing up, making sure to cover the ends so the insides don't ooze out (the whole spinach leaves should help ensure everything is contained on the top and the bottom). When done, serve immediately with a wedge of lemon. If preparing ahead, I recommend warming these in the oven for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mookie Madness

Rachel here: So, I have to start by saying that my mother bakes cookies entirely incorrectly. I am a fastidious follower of rules and, generally, this holds true as well when it comes to baking. Cooking is one thing, an arena in which I will sample and experiment until I find the right flavor combination. Baking, however, is an entirely different beast and one in which I adamantly adhere to precise measurements and steps in the name of producing perfectly textured and flavored food. Having worked in a restaurant for the last several years, my understanding of cooking as experimental and baking as a precise art has only been reinforced time and again. mother bakes a mean mookie. In case you didn't figure this out for yourself from the photo, a mookie is a cookie baked in a muffin tin, this one with a peanut butter cup in the center. I have never made them for myself, preferring to indulge in mookie eating contests with G and S when I'm visiting, but when I do I can assure you I will follow my cookie recipe precisely (as opposed to my mother's preferred version of throwing in a little salt, a little baking soda or what have you) and, sadly, I doubt that my mookies will be nearly as good. Anyway, I'll let my mom take it from here since she's the mookie master.

Janet here: I cannot claim to be the inventor of mookies. That honor belongs to a former colleague of my husband. However, the name mookie is a Reynolds original. You take a cookie and a muffin and you get...a mookie. Cuffin just didn't cut it obviously. Anyway the mookies here are traditional Toll House chocolate chip cookies. You make the cookies (aside here: I actually just mix all these ingredients into a bowl together, not separately as the recipe calls for, and come up with a general chocolate chip cookie dough...unlike Rachel) and then instead of putting them on a cookie sheet, you put them in a muffin baking tin and stuff a peanut butter cup in the middle and voila! Mookie!
I have also made these with Reese's Peanut Butter Chip Chocolate Cookies with a peanut butter cup in the middle. Delicious!
The possibilities for mookies are endless I think and I plan to explore lots of possibilities down the road....What do you think might be some good combinations?

The Cheesecake Bars Verdict

Rachel here: So, since I'm at my mother's house I will not be making my own version of the cheesecake bars (although, as somebody who has been seriously craving cheesecake I do have big plans to consume my fair share of them before returning to California...a feat since G and S are each nearly a foot taller than me). I did, however, want to chime in on the recipe to say that these bars are super yummy. Last night I put a little squeeze of lemon on one and it was divine, with the creaminess balanced with a burst of tartness. Anyway, they seem easy enough to make and I am here to confirm that when it comes to consuming them the only difficulty is pacing yourself.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cream Cheese Anyone?

Janet here: I'm going solo today because Rachel is out bonding with her brothers. She's only home for a short visit so their time together is premium. Anyway, G and S are both lads with voracious appetites and since they're on break — one from college and one from high school — there's been some serious requesting for specialty goodies, even though the holiday baked goods are still fairly abundant. As a fan of baking, it's hard to say no, so while they're out, I agreed to make Philadelphia Cream Cheese's Cheesecake Bars. They're not cheesecake, but they'll do in a pinch and they're much faster to make. If you want a cheesecake fix without the hassle, these are the way to go. I'm always looking for cheesecake substitutes so if any of you have some to share, bring 'em on! Here's the recipe.

Philly 3-Step Cheesecake Bars
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes

3 8 oz packages Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter melted (they say you can use margarine too but I say what is the point?)

Mix crumbs, butter and 3 tablespoons sugar. Press into 13 X 9 inch baking pan

Mix cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, and mix until blended.

Pour batter over crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the center is almost set. Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Cut into bars. Makes 24.

Line pan with foil for easy removal of bars.