Thursday, December 31, 2009

happy new year!

It's New Year's Eve! Every year, December rolls to an end and New Year's Eve plans are the talk of the town. And then, in between hair of the dog mimosa's on New Year's day, everyone complains about how the night before didn't stack up to expectations. Sound familiar? I mean, New Year's Eve has such potential! Everything the night stands for - starting fresh, setting goals, LOTS of champagne - should make for an awesome party. But no matter how many sequin skirts or bottles of bubbly the night holds, it often ends in some kind of disappointment.

In an effort to curb the trend, I'm starting my baking resolutions early - and hoping the positivity flows into tonight :) I've had these icebox cookies on my list for a while but my freezer has been packed to the gills with no room to chill dough. So this week, while others de-cluttered apartments to welcome the new year, I de-cluttered my freezer. My dinners for the past 4 days: gardenburgers with steamed (frozen) broccoli, de-thawed bolognese sauce over pasta, and several unfulfilling Lean Cuisines. But a week of frozen meals was worth it for the space to chill these tasty shortbread cookies.

What's so great about icebox cookies is that you can freeze them -- and cut and bake as cookie cravings flare. Plus they're really pretty! I used salted pistachios and they cut the sweetness of the cranberries perfectly. Next time I'd double the recipe and make the bars of dough bigger for thicker cookies - just so there's more of them!

Happy New Year! I'm ushering it in with my best girlfriends at our favorite neighborhood bar, so I'm pretty sure NYE 2010 is gonna ROCK. Hope yours is filled with sparkles, flowing champagne, lots of laughs, and a sweet midnight kiss. Cya in the New Year!

Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. finely grated orange zest (I left this out but only because I didn't have an orange)
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup decorative sugar (I left this out, too)

Make dough:
Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries. Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap, form each piece of dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a bar, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, about 2 hours.

Slice and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment paper or wax paper and press bars into sugar, coating well. (Whoops, forgot to do this, but it didn't affect the cookies at all!)

Cut each bar crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices, rotating bar after cutting each slice to help keep square shape. Arrange cookies about 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 15-18 minutes total. Transfer cookies from parchment to racks using a slotted spatula and cool completely.

Note: Dough bars can be frozen, wrapped in plastic and then foil, for one month.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

sweet words

Sometimes things happen and there are no words to offer. Nothing but hugs and telling a friend you love her. And making her something sweet to ease the pain if only for as long as it takes to get the toffee out of her teeth.

I made Deb's coffee toffee a few weeks ago and decided now was as good a time as any to pull out the candy thermometer again. It's easy, delicious, and infinitely adaptable. For this batch I sprinkled sliced almonds on top and wrapped stacked toffee squares with colorful tissue paper and a silver bow.

If you can't find the words, whether overcome with joy or grief, I think this homemade candy will at least produce a smile.

You can find Deb's recipe here on her mouth-watering blog, SmittenKitchen.

Monday, December 28, 2009

the '09 highlights post

I'm back from a week filled with sleeping, reading, eating, present-opening, and movie-watching - all thrown into one pot and stirred until incorporated into one big Christmas blur. Everyone has been saying, "it's so hard to believe that the year is almost over" and I agree completely - how do 12 months fly by so quickly? I know "they" say the years pass faster the older you get, but for as quickly as they've been going I should be 58 instead of 28.

Given the time of year, and lots of free time between eating sessions over Christmas, I spent some time slowing down and reflecting on 2009 - and looking ahead to 2010. This year probably (hopefully?) won't stand out as "the best ever" in the grand scheme of things, but it had some really great highlights (and great meals):

Trip to Red Rock Canyon National Park, NV and Zion National Park, UT

Since my family lived abroad when I was a kid, our family trips were to places like Paris, Brussels, or Munich - so we never did the family road trips to every US national park like many of my American peers. So though my brother and I saw most of Europe and Asia's top destinations before we both turned 12 (thanks Mom and Dad!), we'd never been to places like the Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam or Niagara Falls. I checked the latter off the list during a high school New Year's Eve road trip (yep, total debauchery), but it wasn't until this year that I got to visit the other two and dig into some American culture. My friend Ben got me into rock climbing and we took a trip to Vegas to climb at Red Rock Canyon National Park. For most people (including myself) who have been to Vegas, you'd never know this incredible conservation area is just 20 minutes off the Strip - but the next time you go it's worth the trip, even if you just do the scenic drive. There's something really magical about the silence and brightly crimson cliffs of Red Rocks that makes you feel completely surrounded by nature, even though you can see the Strip from the highest point there. While we were out west, we took two day-trips: One to the western ridge of the Grand Canyon (with a Hoover Dam drive-over on the way), and another to Zion National Park in Utah. Zion was completely snow covered, which was a total departure from our shorts and t-shirt climbs at Red Rocks, and it's another one of those magnificent, very massive places that leaves you breathless.

Memorable meal: Dinner at Charlie Palmer's Aureole at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino
2010 resolution(s): Climb and camp in Yosemite, check out Joshua Tree National Park and summit Mt. Rainier. Phew.

Ski trip to Salt Lake City, UT

In February, Ben (same go-to adventure friend as above) and I took my friend Desiree up on her offer to let us crash at her lovely place in Salt Lake City for a long weekend of Utah powder skiing. I learned to ski in the Alps with my ski-savvy parents when we lived in Germany and Utah and Wyoming had long been on my list of ski destinations out west. It was great to tick one off this year, and bottom line: Utah skiing ROCKS. AND the area is just absolutely beautiful. AND (and I'm not sure if this is fact or I made this up) I feel like the mountains are just high enough so that you aren't a complete icicle by the time you get to the top of the chair lift (a big plus for me since I'm always freezing in Colorado). AND my friend Des (who is the sickest female skier I know, btw) lives there so we got to spend time with her and her equally incredible skier/fiance, Ryan.

Memorable meal: Deer Valley's famous turkey chili and a local beer for lunch on the slopes, and a bag of homemade granola at Alta for an end-of-day snack
2010 resolution: Get west this Spring to get back into my ski boots

Moving into my new place

A series of events in April led to Izzy and I moving into a new place of our own just steps from Central Park on the Upper West Side. I had been teetering on the "maybe it's time to leave NYC" line for about 9 months, but finding a gem of an apartment and deciding to stay really grounded me and helped me fall in love with New York City all over again. We New Yorkers (at least the ones I know) have sort of a love/hate relationship with the city. And the reasons we love it usually lead to the reasons we hate it (amazing restaurants = you're broke, fantastic shopping = you're broke get the picture). But my move in April swung me back into love, and I've been hanging out there ever since.

Memorable meal: Having Emily and Bennett over for my first homemade, candlelit dinner party
2010 resolution: Have more dinner parties! Even though my kitchen is in a closet, the oven works and I absolutely love entertaining

Doing my friend Sarah's eye makeup for her wedding

I've mentioned before how the past two years have included a slew of weddings - and after the 5th one they started running together in a blur of taffeta, champagne-induced dancing, and friendly "hellos" with old friends. But, I had a special moment at my friend Sarah's wedding when she called a few days before the big day and asked if I'd do her eye makeup for the ceremony. I was more flattered and thrilled by her simple request than anything else she could have asked of me. We lived in a 6-(wo)man suite in college our junior year and many (ok, most) nights out began with 6 girls crammed into a small-ish bathroom vying for tiny bits of mirror to make eyelids smokey and lips kissable. Somehow I became the suite makeup artist so I had a lot of fun playing with different colors on my friends lids. Even though it had been 6 years since the days of our 6-man suite (and probably 6 years since I'd applied makeup to anyone but myself) Sarah asked and of course I said yes. The result looked great (she loved it!) and is my precious memory of sweeping shimmering shadow across her lids before she slipped into her wedding gown just hours before "I do."

Memorable meal: Driving into the ghet-to of Cincinnati to find Skyline chili with the Johnston's
2010 resolution: Make that camping trip we've been talking about for years actually happen with Sarah and her lovely new husband, Scott

Birthday dinner at my friend Alyssa's place in Brooklyn

In this city of order-in, take-out, and delivery (especially during the holidays) it meant so much to me that my friend Alyssa invited a few girls to her home to celebrate my birthday. And I say home because her "apartment" is really a 60's-style ranch home transported to the third floor of a Williamsburg apartment building. She's made the place so inviting and was an adorable hostess, complete with apron and smiley dimples. It was a simple night - just 4 friends catching up with champagne in her living room, and then eating the delicious meal she prepared in her enormous kitchen with multiple cupboards and granite counter tops (!!) in her dining room - but the fact that these lovely ladies took the time to celebrate me during the rush of the holidays reminded me what dear friends I have in New York, and how blessed I am to have them in my life. [insert teary-happy-face, here]

Memorable (homemade) meal: Roasted salmon, cheesy potato gratin, fresh haricot verts and an I-want-thirds-but-will-be-a-good-house-guest-and-stick-t0-seconds apple tort (with candles!!)
2010 resolution: Get off the island more often to see my Brooklyn girls
[ed. note: photo isn't Alyssa's house - just a photo I have of us all together]

I guess it was a pretty good year after all :) Good travel, great friends, fab apartment - I'm challenging myself to top it in 2010. And based on the crowds forming around my Rockefeller Center office, 2010 is just around the corner.

I'd love to hear about your favorite 2009 moments/trips/events! Let me know why you're grateful for the past year (or why you can't wait for 2010 to arrive!).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

personal plug

In case you ever wanted to know more about this "20-something NYC girl with a baking sensibility," here's something fun to check out. I was interviewed by Torrey from My Upper West (thanks Torrey!) about my favorite NYC neighborhood, and you can find the my answers (and glamour shot) here. Totally unrelated to food or baking or messing around in my tiny UWS kitchen, but it was still really fun to be featured.

Now off to pick up ingredients for chestnut cheesecake and cranberry pistachio icebox cookies. Hooray for the holidays and elastic waistbands!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

big hope

So, like many of you I'm home again for the last of 2009's winter holidays. A shocking on-time departure out of snow-covered JFK yesterday landed me in Pittsburgh where they're already having a White Christmas - and it's lovely and perfect and I've been warm and fuzzy since I got here. Christmas vacation always begins with my birthday on the 20th, and even though I've alluded to it here and here, I didn't feel there was much to celebrate this year. 28 is pretty low key - not even any rental car perks or privileges to make it special. So, since year 27 had its share of tough times, I was pretty much just looking forward to the clean slate that comes with any birthday.

And then... my Mom scored Steelers tickets for the game on my birthday! It's ridiculous that I hadn't been to Heinz Field and even though we've lost the last 5 games (don' I was thrilled to go. My Mom even lent me her treasured Hines Ward #86 jersey to wear over my 6 layers of down and fleece, and I got my face painted at the stadium before we took our nose-bleed, you-need-a-mountain-goat-to-get-there seats. But, I was really excited to be at the stadium, with my Mom, cheering on our team, on my birthday.

And then... it was the 4th quarter with 2 minutes left in the game, and Green Bay was up by 6pts. Now, I don't pretend to be a sports-fanatic. In fact, I don't even understand all of the downs, per se. But I did grow up in the Steel City and I do love my team. So despite the fact that I was there, at the stadium, watching the game in real time, with my Mom, on my birthday, I started getting real grouchy. Like, I wanted to kick those Green Bay fans in our section back to Wisconsin where they came from. Or, maybe I wanted to punch the girl who yelled "that's right, show 'em how to play football!" right in her green and yellow painted face.

But I didn't (cause I was raised to be a lady) and as the clock counted down, the more miserable I became. Why did our Superbowl-winning team have to suck so much this year? Why couldn't Big Ben just throw the ball instead of getting sacked all the time? Why was it so freaking cold that I was losing feeling in my fingers and toes? And why did all this happen on my birthday?

And then... Big Ben found Mike Wallace in the end zone with no time left on the clock, and Jeff Reed kicked the extra point for the win. And you know what? That's what hope is all about, my friends. It's about putting positive energy towards something that might not have the best outcome. It's about believing in yourself and not giving up on your dreams. And tonight it was about winning a game for a city that needed it.

So I'm taking a hint from my black and gold friends (and potential lovers, Heath Miller will you marry me?) and getting psyched for 28. Because there's no reason not to be hopeful that this could be the best year yet - and I think a pulled-out-at-the-last-second win is a good way to start.

Another good way to start is with some insanely delicious chocolate chip cookies. I never thought I'd be able to re-create the perfection from Levain Bakery on the UWS in NYC but... these are pretty darn close. A friend's husband even went so far as to say the batch I gave them were "the best chocolate chip cookies he's ever had." But I can most certainly not take the credit - it all goes to Emily from Sugar Plum Visions of Sweets. Thank you so much for the best chocolate chip cookie recipe I've ever tried. It's a little "involved" to be a standard whip-it-together-in-10-minutes go-to, but they're definitely the best. You can find the recipe and mouth-watering photos here.

Oh, and this is just the beginning. There are 4 days until Christmas and that means 4 days of holiday cookies, a belated birthday cake, and Christmas Eve dinner on tap to share. Hope you had a Merry Merry weekend :)

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Hooray! Baking Therapy has a new look! And I am super grateful for the team effort it took to create the fabulous new header. Cause I freakin' love it :)

Many thanks to my friend Ben who is brilliant behind the lens and captured exactly what I had pictured in my head. You can find more of his work here.

And thank you to my friend Julie for her lovely design work. You can find her on Twitter @JulieGeer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

winter wishes

I've always looked forward to winter. Because my birthday is in December and two of the biggest holidays of the year fall within the coldest season, I've always welcomed the chill while friends cursed at fallen leaves and pulled scarves from storage bins.

But even though winter has always meant family and home and presents (lots of presents!), there are a few things I hate about it. Like, really hate.

The short list, so far this year:
1. Socks of any kind
2. Chapped lips in the morning because the steam heat in my apartment is so dry
3. That the sun goes down at, like, 4pm
4. Fewer evening runs in the park because it's empty and dark
5. The bone-chilling cold that's gonna be here awhile

But like any list, there's a counterpart. There are lots of reasons to love New York and all things winter, and here are some of my favorites:
1. Puffy down coats and infinity scarves
2. Bobbi Brown Hydrating Face Cream and Kiehl's lip balm #1
3. Snowy ski trips to Vermont with hot cocoa and chili bowls
4. Snuggling deep into my duvet on chilly mornings
5. Brussels sprouts on restaurant menus and holiday sweets in every bakery window

If you haven't caught on yet, I'm kinda really into #5 on the love-list. I love winter veggies but my favorite get-in-my-mouth treat this month is chocolate bark. Sea-salted, espresso-flavored, nut-flecked. The only thing that tops it on my must-make list are this month's Christmas cookies. So when I opened the December issue of Bon Appetit and saw Chocolate Peppermint Bark COOKIES, omg I had to have them. Right. Now.

They won't keep you warm or your skin hydrated, but they are delicious and were a hit at my book club tonight. Because they're embarrassingly easy to make, here's a great holiday gift recipe that's festive and will satisfy even the most die-hard cookie fanatic (like me).

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
Bon Appetit

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg yolk
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used a little over 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips)
1/2 cup finely chopped red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies or candy canes
2 oz high-quality white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom of pan with long strip of parchment paper, leaving overhang on both short sides of pan. Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just to blend.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into prepared baking pan, spacing evenly. Using moistened fingertips, press dough to form an even layer over bottom of pan. Pierce dough all over with fork.

Bake cookie base until light golden brown and slightly puffed and edges begin to come away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes. Place pan on rack; immediately sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over. Let stand until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Using small spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate over top of cookie in thin even layer. Immediately sprinkle chopped peppermint over.

Stir white chocolate in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Using fork, drizzle white chocolate all over cookies. Chill until white chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Using paper overhang as aid, lift cookie from pan and transfer to work surface. Using large knife, cut cookie into irregular pieces and serve.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

tiny tots with their eyes all aglow

First I have to apologize for being so MIA the past week. The regular excuses for this time of year apply: holiday parties, cookie baking, Christmas shopping, and more holiday parties. Somehow after Thanksgiving the days rush by and suddenly there are three weeks until Christmas to pack in parties, work events, end-of-year birthdays, ice skatings, gift wrappings, tree trimmings, cookie exchanges and everything else holiday you can think of. Oh, and still work a full day. But it's the holidays, and that's what you do during the holidays. You push and push until you fly home, collapse into the arms of family and friends, sit by a fire, and forget about your Blackberry for a few days. And you live for it all year.

In my last post I mentioned having a tough time getting into the spirit (and thanks for all of the supportive comments!), but after this past weekend not even Scrooge himself could deny that Christmas is all around. Yesterday, myself and a few hundred friends dressed as Santa Claus descended on NYC with the force of Kriss Kringle and Saint Nicholas combined. It was Santacon NYC 2009 and for those of you who don't know, what ensued was a Santa convention/parade/bar crawl through the outer boroughs and into Manhattan that involved copious amounts of... merry-making. It was a full day, but the absolute highlight came while fueling up at Starbucks on West 86th Street before trekking to the Park Slope meeting point. Dressed in full Santa suits and appropriate gender-defining accessories (Lady Gaga-esque fake eyelashes for me and a full white beard for my friend Matt), we were approached by a 4-year girl as we waited in line for our caffeine fix. She tugged on my Santa coat and asked in the sweetest Cindy Lou Who voice, "Do you know Santa?"

I think my heart almost exploded a la the Grinch as Matt and I answered that yes, we knew Santa and that we were his New York City helpers since he was at the North Pole getting ready for the big day. I bent down as her Mom pointed out my elf-eyelashes and the little girl was so adorable that I literally wanted to scoop her up and put her in my pocket. Instead, we put the Amber Alert on hold, wished her a Merry Christmas and headed out to Brooklyn to get freak nasty with the other Santa's. And. It. Was. Awesome. Santa at the Brooklyn Museum. Santa kick ball in Prospect Park. Santa Christmas carols on the subway. Santa's on Wall Street. Jews for Santa. It was the most fun I've had in a long time (and you bet I felt the after-effects of the fun this morning).

So in celebration of Santa's magic, here's a great Christmas cookie recipe my friend Emily and I made as part of our bake-fest last week. I've always called them "Russian Tea Cakes" (no clue why) and my brother and I used to leave them out for Santa with a glass of cold milk before bed on Christmas Eve. I've also heard "Mexican Wedding Cakes" and "Snowballs," so take your pick. But whatever you call them, they're a delicious version of shortbread that's light, delicate and melt-in-your-mouth good.

These turned out perfectly per the recipe, but I'd love to try them with different "add-ins" like sliced almonds and dried apricots or dark chocolate and cherries (the possibilities are endless). Oh, and the dough is REALLY YUMMY. Not that I tried it. Or ate half of it while waiting for the other half to bake.

Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes
Bon Appetit

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar, plus more for coating
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. salt
1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios (about 4 oz.), chopped
1 cup dried tart cherries
3 1/3 cup sifted cake flour (I used all purpose)
1 2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter 3 large heavy baking sheets (we just used parchment paper). Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups butter and 1 cup powdered sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cherries. Using spatula, stir in all flour (do not overmix dough).

Shape dough by generous tablespoonfuls into football shaped ovals (Emily used two spoons to shape them into footballs and it worked beautifully). Place on prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until bottoms just begin to color, about 16 minutes. Cool cookies on sheets 10 minutes before coating.

Pour generous amounts of powdered sugar into medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turning to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper. Repeat to coat cookies with sugar again; cool completely. Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

marshmallow dreams

This weekend marked the first real winter holiday weekend in New York. Following the much anticipated Rockefeller Center tree-lighting, the city erupts in holiday cheer. Holiday markets pop up in Union Square and Columbus Circle, Christmas tree dealers are on every other street corner and the scent of fresh-cut pine lingers all over the Upper West Side. Starbucks' red holiday cups warm chilly hands, snowflake lights go up on Columbus, and tourists swarm midtown hoping for glimpses of Rockettes, 5th Avenue windows, and the skating rink at Bryant Park. It's always my absolute favorite season in the city - we even had our first snowfall this weekend.

But even after a full afternoon/evening of Christmas cookie baking with my friend Emily on Saturday (more on that next post) and a festive holiday party tonight, I'm not there. And I'm haaaating that. I've done all the right things: I set up a Manhattan apartment-sized tree, put lights in my windows, hung my stocking from the mantle and bought holiday cards to mail to everyone I know. I downloaded The Hotel Cafe "Winter Songs" album and watched "Love Actually" and "White Christmas." I even planned the menu for a holiday party I'm hosting this week (all homemade and complete with favors!) but not even impending party hosting has me dreaming of sugarplums and candy canes quite yet.

When I was a kid, I figured the reason I loved Christmas so much was due entirely to the fact that it was the bonus holiday during my birthday month. My brother and I would count down the days on our advent calendars and when the mouse stopped at December 20th it was like Christmas came early. The celebration 5 days later was just an extension of my birthday filled with more gifts, stockings, and a Honeybaked Ham.

However, since life no longer revolves around my Santa list, I've thought a lot about what makes Christmas so special. It's not so much the gingerbread men and cinnamon stick candles and mistletoe and fires in the fireplace and mulled cider and twinkle lights and pine needles in the carpet and hot chocolate and ice skating and cold nights and warm quilts. Christmas is a feeling - in one word, Christmas is cozy. It's all of the things above wrapped up in a blanket and snuggled warm and breathed in. And not much can top it.

But for whatever reason, in the midst of holiday parties, temperatures dropping and holiday cards arriving daily, I'm just not feeling it. And I'm desperate for the coziness to begin. So the baking will continue this week as I go down my list of must-make Christmas cookies in an attempt to pull in some Christmas. I'll keep ya posted (literally).

In the meantime, here's a recipe I made for tonight's holiday party that's insanely easy to throw together and a total crowd pleaser despite its simplicity. Since eating S'Mores is pretty much one of my most favorite things to do of all time (Cut to: Every summer from '01-'03 roasting marshmallows at Camp Seafarer on sticks above our charcoal grill. Cut to: Summer 2004 roasting marshmallows on kebab skewers above the grill on the porch of my beach house during a torrential downpour. Cut to: Summer 2009 roasting marshmallows on chopsticks above my gas burners for National S'Mores Day), it was my delight when a colleague made "Indoor S'Mores" for our office Halloween party.

I could hardly stop stuffing my face long enough to ask her between bites for the recipe but I'm glad I did. With little more than an hour before the party started today I decided to whip up a batch as an extra sweet.

Let me put it this way - there weren't any left at the end of the night. Gooey and chewy and milk chocolatey and YUM. The Indoor S'More is the new Rice Crispy Treat.

Outside of the kitchen, if you have any suggestions for cranking up that holiday feeling, send them my way. I'm on a mission to warm my heart with Christmas cozy.

Indoor S'Mores
Courtesy of one of the Business Office gals

8 cups Golden Grahams cereal (one 13 oz box)
1 1/2 cups Nestle Toll House milk chocolate chips
6 cups miniature marshmallows (one 10 oz bag)
5 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/4 cup light corn syrup

Butter a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan.

Melt 5 cups marshmallows (save 1 cup for later), chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla.

Pour cereal into a large bowl. Pour mashmallow mixture over cereal, stir until evenly coated. Stir in remaining marshmallows.

Press mixture into pan with buttered back of spoon. Cool until as firm as you'd like (I put the pan in the fridge for 25 minutes and they cut perfectly). Cut into 24 bars. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

play money

Each winter as the holidays near it becomes abundantly clear to that in the wake of the year's promotions and raises I'm left with very little "money." "Money" is the stuff that you can spend on Frye equestrian boots, Marc Jacobs handbags, dinner at The River Cafe, KitchenAid standing mixers and every attachment there is (yes, even the sausage one), haircuts at Frederic Fekkai, gold charms from Helen Ficalora, oh - and holiday presents for your family and friends. The rest of the greenstuff (rent, electric, cable, food, dog walks... baking supplies) doesn't even last long enough to be earn the name "money" before it jumps out of my wallet faster than Edward Cullen with a werewolf on his tail. So I don't count that.

When I first moved to New York City, I made $32,000, had a roommate, $0 debt, didn't know who Rebecca Minkoff was and thought at $5 a pop my beloved Starbucks grande vanilla latte's were luxury. An addict herself (and knowing I couldn't afford it), my Mom enabled my frothy addiction with Starbucks gift cards tucked inside every Hallmark holiday card you can imagine.

Three jobs, a handful of raises, and several pricey handbags later, I live alone, am in debt, and would rather endure swine flu than pay another bill. Ok, ok, I'm hardly walking the line between streets and shelter, but things in this closet-kitchen apartment are just as tight as most Manhattanites I know. It's a financial strain that friends "back home" who are buying wedding gowns, houses, cars, dogs, and onesies can't understand - and I don't blame them. Manhattan living is only justifiable to those of us out of our minds enough to live here.

But, after a year of hearing how those my age are living in various parts of the country (laundry machines! dining room tables! dishwashers!) I've decided the time has come to stop living New York City "beyond my means" as Suze Orman would say.

The first step is admitting I have a problem - and cutting back on the latte's to only what my coveted gift cards can provide. With that comes removing another favorite Starbucks treat - their chewy ginger molasses cookie. It's a rare splurge, but at $2.50/each it's a line item that's been nixed from the new budget.

So, after a few weeks of drip coffee sans-cookie, I found a recipe and had to give it a shot. Ummm... I could walk into my corner Starbucks with a batch of these right now and make a solid $100 under the Starbucks cookie guise - they're THAT GOOD! They've got crunchy outer rims and soft centers just like the 'bucks, and totally satiated my gingery craving. And they're PRETTY! Perfect to box up with a ribbon for spiced holiday gifts.

I won't stop my monthly trips to the mailbox with fingers crossed for the Hallmark logo, but at least I can happily re-create the $2.50 snack in my very own kitchen-closet while firming my financial future.

Molasses Crinkles

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (at room temperature)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup molasses (not robust or black strap)
About 1/3 cup sanding sugar

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves and salt in a bowl until combined.

Beat together shortening, butter, and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add egg and molasses, beating until combined. Reduce speed to low, then mix in flour mixture until combined.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 375 F.

Roll 1 heaping teaspoon of dough into a 1-inch ball with wet hands, then dip 1 end of ball in sanding sugar. Make more cookies in the same manner, arranging them, sugared side up, 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until undersides are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes total, then cool on sheets. Transfer to racks to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

sweet holiday

I used to haaaate Thanksgiving when I was a kid. It was all food and football and lounging and there was nothing for a kid to do but watch the adults wear a path in the carpet from the kitchen to the couch. Luckily for my sanity (not my waistline), I grew up to discover what Thanksgiving is really about. It's not about the stuffing or the football - it's about family, free-time, and guiltless eating, three things that average adults don't get enough of. And now that I'm nearly 28 living a city girl's life, those three things are like pieces of heaven.

In the midst of that busy city girl life, it sometimes takes being surrounded by blessings to realize the ones you're missing. My grandmother passed away from leukemia last spring, and even though we rarely spent Thanksgiving together, I missed her in the kitchen this past week.

Among other things, she was a High School Home Economics teacher when my Mom was growing up and what stuck out in memory this week was her hands. Her small hands were always getting into something... shelling shrimp at the beach house, working in her award winning flower garden, or putting stray hairs into place before church on Sunday. She was an incredibly strong woman, and superstitious as it might sound I'm convinced she's still around - and am hoping she's finding some pride in my late-discovered baking passion.

I had 5 heavenly days at home last week and I made a Thanksgiving dessert as a nod to my grandmother's southern roots. I rounded up some Georgia pecans (pronounced P-CANS) that my Mom picked up last time she was down south and set to making our entire house smell like a maple sugar factory. It worked. This pie is DELICIOUS. I cooled it completely and it cut into pretty wedges. The pecans were toasted and the sugary filling was amazing.

I miss my grandmother a lot, and cancer really sucks (I know that is a ridiculous understatement, but nothing can describe the horror of it). So, here's giving thanks to the beautiful woman who taught me not only how to bread a catfish, but how to be confident in myself - and find the strength to truly miss her. And of course, many thanks for my incredible friends and family, near and far, who make my life worth living every day (and graciously accept the baked goods I force upon them on a semi-regular basis).

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday filled with family and good food :)

Maple Pecan Pie
Bon Appetit

3/4 cup pure maple sugar
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Pie crust (like this one)

3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Stir syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and butter melts. Increase heat and boil 1 minute. Cool to lukewarm, about 45 minutes.

Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 F. Roll out crust dough on lightly floured surface to 13-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch diameter glass pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1 inch. Fold edge under, forming high-standing rim; crimp decoratively. Freeze until firm, about 20 minutes.

Whisk eggs, vanilla and salt in 4-cup measuring cup to blend. Gradually whisk maple syrup mixture into egg mixture. Stir in pecan halves.

Pour filling into crust. Bake pie until filling is slightly puffed around edges and center is set, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack. Cut pie into wedges and serve.
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