Homemade Tonic Water

Do you ever take a moment to ponder which of your possessions you would never, ever, ever want to live without? Say you’re starting from scratch (with basic necessities for day-to-day functioning already taken care of), what are the first three items on your MUST BUY ASAP list? I have a pretty good idea of what mine would be:

#1. Sewing machine. I dealt with sewing machine separation anxiety when I went off to college; it wasn’t pretty. Luckily, my mom quickly tired of the marathon sewing sessions that would happen every time I came home to visit, and thoughtfully suggested that my aunt buy me one for my birthday.

#2. Awesome knives. One serrated; one large Santoku. My days of maiming fruits and veggies with steak knives (that may or may not have been “procured” from crappy chain restaurants) are far behind me, and it’s going to stay that way.

#3. SodaStream. Part of me feels like this spot should go to a camera, or maybe a bike, but who am I kidding? I need those bubbles. Still water bores me, and I pretty much have to be on the verge of dehydration before I actually think to drink a glass. And not only does my SodaStream keep my hydrated, but it also takes care of one of my least favorite things: flat beverages.

This was my first time making tonic syrup, and I was extremely pleased with the result. Not only does it save me from pouring half-full bottles of flat tonic down the drain, it is less sweet and far tastier. In perusing tonic water recipes online, one of the things that surprised me is that most call for cinchona bark powder. Filtering powders out of liquids can be annoyingly time-consuming, and is something I’d like to avoid if at all possible. Fortunately, cinchona bark is also available in “cut” form, although it is a bit harder to come by. I wound up purchasing a 16 oz. bag from Penn Herb Company. It’s a large amount, but it’s totally worth it if you’re a big tonic drinker. And I only wound up straining the mixture twice: once through a sieve to catch the big stuff, and once more through a coffee filter to remove the small particulates. Less filtering time = more drinking time!

Homemade Tonic Water
(adapted from Jeffrey Morgenthaler)

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup of cut cinchona bark
  • 1 small lemongrass stalk
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp whole allspice berries
  • 1/4 cup of citric acid
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup of agave (or a little over 1 cup of granulated sugar)

Note: Avoid direct hand-to-bark contact as much as possible. Amidst all those large chunks are zillions of teeny tiny splinters. (Forming them into a pile with my bare hands was a big mistake!)

Combine all ingredients except the agave/sugar in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool for a bit, then pour mixture through a sieve to remove the large pieces. Run remaining mixture through a coffee filter to remove the small particulates. (You may need to stir it a little bit to keep things from backing up.)

Once you’ve finished filtering, return the mixture to the stove and place over medium heat. Add agave/sugar, and stir until combined. Remove from heat and let cool, then transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. To make your tonic syrup last even longer, add an ounce of high-proof vodka.

To make a gin and tonic, combine 3/4 oz. syrup, 1 1/2 oz. gin, and 2 oz. of seltzer over ice. Serve and enjoy!

Beet & Chèvre Ravioli Hearts

Ha! Look at these silly things. (They’re pretty adorable, aren’t they?)

Cutsey-wootsy relationship stuff—usually not my thing. Pet names? Ick. Public affection? No way.  (One of my boyfriend’s favorite ways to torment me is to try to hold my hand in public, then laugh as I uncomfortably squirm away.) But there’s just something about over-the-top food that I can’t resist! I’ve been making a delicious beet & chèvre ravioli for a couple years now. And I’ve happened upon a few posts for beet pasta in the past that involve squeezing beet juice directly into the dough. I started thinking about that pretty bright red dough recently, and a little heart-shaped cookie cutter just happened to find its way into my shopping basket a few days later. My fate was sealed. These cute ravioli were so happening.

The beauty of this dish is that it can be made well in advance, so you don’t have to spend an entire day dealing with roasting beets and making pasta dough, while also trying to find time to curl your hair, touch up your nails, and pick out the perfect outfit. And boys—not to exclude you—this will leave you plenty of time to buy flowers and google how to set a table. (I’d actually probably have to google that too . . .) Just make them sometime in the next few weeks, then stick them in the freezer until it’s almost dinner time! As I’m writing this I’m actually convincing myself that this is the best Valentine’s Day dinner idea ever. No need to cook all day, or bother with reservations so you can sit in a restaurant packed with other couples. This year, say it with pasta!

Beet & Chèvre Ravioli Hearts

yield: approximately 2 ½ dozen ravioli

Dough

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg yolks
  • around ⅓ to ½ cup of beet juice

Filling

  • 3 large beets (approx. 1 ½ lbs.)
  • 4 oz. of chèvre (herbed, preferably)
  • 1–2 tbsp of water
  • salt, to taste

Roast the beets:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Pierce the beets a few times, then place in a baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for approximately 1 hour, or until beets are tender. Remove from the oven and let cool, then peel.

Prepare the filling:

Ready your food processor* with the grater attachment. Chop the beets in half or thirds (whatever will fit), then grate. Switch to the chopping blade. Add a tablespoon or two of water, then pulse until everything is finely chopped.

* If you don’t have a food processor, grate the beets, then finely chop them with a sharp knife. Transfer them to a bowl, then add the water and stir.

Transfer beets to a piece of cheesecloth. (If you don’t have cheesecloth, a gold filter or fine sieve should work as well.) Squeeze the beets over a large measuring cup or bowl, until you have ⅓ to ½ a cup of juice. (The beet-filled cheesecloth actually kind of looked like a human heart by the time I was done with it, and my kitchen looked like the scene of a murder. If you’re anti-Valentine’s Day but pro-gross things, consider making these just for the sheer amusement of squeezing bright red juice out of something that’s reminiscent of an organ.) My apologies to anyone I just totally grossed out. (And a beet-stained high five to my kindred spirits.)

Transfer the remaining beet pulp to a bowl. Stir in the chèvre until evenly-distributed, then add salt to taste. Set aside.

To make the dough:

Add flour to a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the yolks and the beet juice, then stir to combine. When you can no longer mix with a fork, turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead until smooth.

Assembly:

Roll the dough out into a large, even rectangle approximately 1/16 of an inch thick. Cut the rectangle in half.

Grab about a tablespoon of filling (or whatever will work best for the size of cookie cutter you’re using) and mold it into a heart shape. Arrange filling hearts about an inch apart from each other until you’ve covered half of the dough (there should be some filling left over).

Dot a little bit of water around the edges of the filling, then place the other half of the dough rectangle on top and press to seal. Using your cookie cutter, cut out each ravioli. Pull up the dough trim from around the ravioli, knead until the smooth, then cover with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside.

Gently remove each ravioli from the counter (they may resist a little, depending on how sticky your dough is). Press around the edges with a fork to seal, then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. When you’ve finished, reroll the remaining dough and fill with the remaining filling.

If you are preparing these ahead, transfer the cookie sheet to the freezer and let sit until the ravioli have frozen, then place them in a heavy-duty ziploc bag. (If you are going to be cooking them immediately, follow the directions below.)

Note: One of the issues that I discovered while preparing these for today’s photoshoot is that the beautiful bright red color of the dough tends to leach out into boiling water. I actually decided to try steaming a second batch, just to see if they’d hold their color better. The result was a slightly brighter ravioli, but they were also a little bit chewier and not nearly as good. Then several hours after this post went live, I received some great advice from Gerry over at Gewoon Lekker Gewoon. She’d made a similar dish last year, and experienced the same disappointment of beautiful red ravioli that had turned an icky washed-out mauve color after cooking. Her solution: boil them in beet juice! If you’re going to juice the beets yourself, you will want to do so right before you’re ready to cook the ravioli (as Gerry mentions also dealing with less-vibrant juice from the day before). If you don’t have access to a juicer, getting enough beet juice for boiling is going to be a bit of a pain. I’d suggest getting as much juice as you can out of some beets, then mixing it with just enough water to cook the ravioli in. And if you don’t want to go the beet juice route at all, just keep a careful eye on them while boiling, and remove them as soon as they begin to float.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add ravioli and boil until they just begin to float. Now normally, I’d suggest pan-frying these in a little bit of butter after they’ve finished cooking, but that may also detract a little bit from the color. If you keep a close watch and only fry them for less than a minute on each side, they should be fine. If you don’t want to risk it, then just serve them as is (and maybe garnish with some parmesan or poppy seeds).

Lots of ♥ 🙂

Pumpkin & Sage Ravioli

I finally did it. I put pumpkin in something that isn’t a cookie. Or a muffin. Or a cinnamon roll. It’s taken over a year, but can you blame me? With so many other dinner-friendly varieties of squash out there, the adorable little pumpkin begs to be lovingly cradled from the store all the way to the kitchen, then turned into delectable treats. (I refuse to believe that I’m the only person who carefully searches the pumpkin pile until I’m sure I’ve found the cutest one, then proudly parades it around the store.)

This was my second attempt at a savory pumpkin dish. The first, sadly, was not a success. I made pumpkin gnudi that were more like boiled pumpkin paste blobs than pasta. (As I started to make the dough, it quickly became apparent to me that my pumpkin purée was too watery. I attempted to compensate by adding more egg, cheese, and flour, but it did not do the trick.) Luckily, I did not give up on pumpkin for dinner! And these ravioli were far better. I have since seen a few pumpkin gnocchi/gnudi dishes kicking around the gawkerverse, so I will definitely be giving that one a try again. (I will not be outdone!) 😉

Pumpkin & Sage Ravioli

yield: approx. 4 doz.

Note: I kind of threw this dish together on a whim, so my measurements below are approximations. Please feel free to adjust ingredients as you see fit. Also, if your pumpkin purée seems a bit watery, cook off some of the water in a pan over medium-low heat.

  • 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese
  • 2 oz. of goat cheese
  • 3 tbsp of fresh sage, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp of fresh/coarsely ground black pepper (if using finely ground pepper, start with 1/2 a tsp and adjust to taste)
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 batches of egg pasta dough

Mix all of the filling ingredients together, reserving ⅓ of the sage for garnish.

On a floured surface, roll one batch of pasta dough out into a large rectangle, until it is thin, but not in danger of tearing (around 1/16 of an inch thick). Drop tablespoons of filling over the surface of the dough, leaving about an inch between.

Roll the second batch of dough out into another rectangle, doing your best to replicate the size/shape of the first. Using a pastry brush (or your fingers), rub a little bit of water on the surface of the first dough between the filling, to ensure a proper seal. Carefully place the second rectangle of dough on top, and press all around to close. Cut ravioli with a knife or pasta wheel. To make sure they’re extra sealed (and extra cute), press all around the edges with a fork.

Note: If you still have some filling and a bit of dough leftover after trimming off the edges, knead the dough back together, and roll out again. Use a biscuit cutter (or any other round sharpish thing) to cut out as many circles as you can. Spoon filling into the center, brush water around the edges, then fold over and seal. (That’s why the little guys in my pictures look like halfmoons, rather than squares.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook until they begin to float (this should only take a few minutes). As usual, I’m advocating the pan-frying of the ravioli after they’ve finished cooking. Add a tablespoon or two of butter to a pan, then add the ravioli and leftover sage and fry over medium heat, until golden brown on each side. Garnish with a little more sage if you like, and maybe some freshly-grated parm.

(Any leftover, uncooked ravioli can be frozen in a heavy-duty ziploc bag.)

German Flag Layer Cake

I spent two weeks in Germany just over a decade ago. (Let’s pause for a moment so I can get over how old that sentence made me feel.) I had been to Europe the year before with a group from my high school, which was kind of a blur—an awesome, fun-filled blur—due to the amount of standard sight-seeing we had to cram in after some travel delays (which involved a night spent in Newark airport, a missed connection in London, and a severely jet-lagged me browsing through duty free shops like a zombie). To this day, the best $2 I have ever spent was on a shower in the London-Heathrow airport. But traveling to Germany on my own to visit friends who lived there was a completely different, uninsulated experience that allowed me to take in much more of what was going on around me. Why is all of this water fizzy? What is this delicious chocolate spread you eat for breakfast? How can something called “grey bread” be so good? Why does this beer go down like water? To this day, it baffles me when someone gives a hefeweizen the “yick” face and says it tastes like bananas. Whatever, man, more banana beer for me.

Earlier this year, one of my friends from Germany came over for a visit. To celebrate, my friend Adam threw a party, and I made soft pretzels and this cake. I really want to be able to say that I came up with the idea for this cake on my own, but it was actually my boyfriend. As soon as he said, “how about a cake that looks like the German flag?” I thought, “oh my god, yellow, red velvet, and chocolate cake—how did I not think of that?!” Throughout the party, whenever people complimented me on the cake, I begrudgingly gave credit where credit was due. When I made it this time, I even managed to completely forget that it wasn’t my idea, until my boyfriend smugly sweetly asked if I would be giving him credit for it. Gah!

So here it is again, just in time for the end of Oktoberfest! I really wanted to get beer in the cake itself, but then I ended up making the whole process way too complex and just had to go back to basics. So this is just your standard yellow cake, red velvet cake, and chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting. I would instead suggest drinking beer while you make and eat the cake. It’s better that way anyhow. 🙂

German Flag Layer Cake

Note: Since dividing cake recipes into thirds is way too complicated and imprecise, I just cut the recipes for standard size cakes in half. You can either cut the layers down as you see fit, or just make a very big cake.

All three layers of this cake bake at 350°. Grease three 8-inch round baking pans and set aside. Instructions for each layer of cake are as follows.

Yellow Cake
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • ¾ cup of sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ⅓ cup of milk
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • yellow food coloring

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla. Alternate between adding the milk and the flour mixture until just combined.

Pour batter into your pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Red Velvet Cake
(adapted from Bakerella)

  • 1 ¼ cups of flour
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup of oil
  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 ½ tsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • red food coloring

Lightly stir the egg, then whisk in the rest of the liquid ingredients (oil, milk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring).

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and mix until well-combined.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Cake
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • ½ cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ⅓ cups of flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup of butter (1 stick), softened
  • 1 ⅛ cups of sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ tsp vanilla extract

Pour boiling water over cocoa powder and set aside to cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, then mix in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla. Alternately add the cocoa and the flour mixtures until just combined.

Pour batter into pan and bake for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Frosting
(adapted from Allrecipes)

  • 6 cups of confectionery sugar
  • 1 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) of butter, softened
  • 10 tbsp evaporated milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together sugar and cocoa powder and set aside.

Cream butter in a large bowl, the alternately mix in the evaporated milk and the cocoa mixture, then add in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.

Assembly

After all of your layers have cooled, begin assembling your cake. Keep in mind that the bottom and middle layer will compress slightly from the weight of everything on top of them, so you might want to cut the chocolate layer down to be a little smaller. (For an in-depth demonstration on how to build a layer cake, see Whisk Kid’s posts on assembly and frosting. Or check out the Good Eats episode The Icing Man Commeth.)

Once you’ve got your cake all together, cut yourself a slice and pour yourself a big ol’ beer. Prost!

Roasted Tomatoes

When I was young, tomatoes were up towards the top of my Most Hated Foods list. My mother once paid me $20 to eat a slice of one (a slice). I did it, but I definitely did not enjoy it. But then I grew up, and I developed those “mature taste buds” that everyone was telling me I’d have eventually. And I realized that tomatoes are quite delicious.

OK, confession: I still have a bit of a neurosis when it comes to tomatoes. See, I’m not sure I believe that any of our taste buds “mature” (in the strictly biological sense), as much as I think we all give in to trying things we’d shunned in our younger years, to avoid being that person. And so, I had to deconstruct my childhood enemy The Tomato and figure out what exactly it is that I don’t like about it. The answer: those gross, slimy, seed-ridden guts. Ick. And I’m glad I figured it out, because now I can enjoy things like these roasted tomatoes!

 

This is pretty much the perfect use for all of those smaller tomatoes you’ve got hanging around that you have no other use for. It seemed like my roma tomato plant turned into a monster overnight. And as I was driving several different stakes into the soil and tying up the endless branches laden with oddly-small tomatoes, I was saying to myself, “dude, what are you going to do with all these things?” They’re too small for sandwiches. I’m feeling too lazy for sauce. Oh wait, cut them in half and throw them in the oven? Yes.

 

FYI: Roasted tomatoes = stupid good. With all of the garlic and basil I added, they taste like little bite-size bits of the most delicious tomato sauce. I had plans to use them on a pizza, and I had to hide them behind a bunch of other, annoying-to-move things in the fridge to keep myself from snacking incessantly. I can’t wait to get back to my freakish tomato plant in Vermont and make some more!

Roasted Tomatoes

  • lots of small tomatoes (I used roma/grape tomatoes, though anything small would probably work)
  • garlic, minced
  • basil, minced
  • olive oil
  • salt

Preheat your oven to 250°. Cut your tomatoes in half. De-seed them if you’re crazy (err . . . “particular”) like me.

Place tomatoes in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. You could also throw in the basil and garlic at this point and toss to evenly distribute those, but I wanted to make sure that I got every little bit of garlic and basil inside of the tomatoes. To do this, I arranged the tomatoes, cut-side up, on a baking sheet. I then pushed them all together to make sure nothing could fall between, sprinkled the basil and garlic over them, rearranged them to be evenly-spaced, and put the sheet in the oven.

Bake for about an hour and a half or more (depending on how large/small your tomatoes are, and how “roasted” you want them to be). I prefer mine to be closer to sundried tomatoes. They were quite small, and I took them out after an hour and a half. Just check them after about an hour. When they look perfect to you, take them out. Eat them on anything! Pasta, pizza, with cheese and crackers, by themselves . . . whatever you like! They will make most anything taste even better. 🙂

Poached Eggs, Avocado, & Smoked Salmon on English Muffins

A couple years ago, I was addicted to sliced avocado on buttered whole wheat toast. I think I ate it for breakfast almost every day for several months straight. Then one Sunday, I decided that it would be the perfect cure for a particularly bothersome hangover I was nursing. I made it. I devoured it. I felt even worse. And so ended the reign of avocado toast in my world of breakfast.

Then last week, I found saw this post on Framed Cooks.  Mmmmm. I felt the avocado hunger returning. Since then, all I’ve been able to think about is avocado + egg + smoked salmon.  I even made my boyfriend a smoked salmon and scallion omelette topped with avocado . . . for dinner. Today, I made myself this delightful little number for breakfast. And I endured a grumbling tummy and a lukewarm (but still delicious) end result so that I could show it to all of you!

Poached Eggs, Avocado, & Smoked Salmon on English Muffins

  • 2 large eggs
  • half of an avocado
  • smoked salmon
  • cheese, sliced (I used jarlsberg, though I drool thinking about how deliciously decadent this would have been with brie)
  • an english muffin
  • vinegar (for poaching the eggs)

Remove avocado from its skin and mash it in a small bowl. Add a small squeeze of lemon, if you have one handy (I did not).

Toast the english muffin and top it with cheese, avocado, and smoked salmon.

To poach the eggs:
Begin heating water in a pan over high heat. You want your water to be no more than a couple inches deep (otherwise your egg whites will feather out and separate when you drop the egg into the water). Crack each egg into a separate bowl. When the water is nearing a boil, add 1–2 tbsps of vinegar to the pan (I used white vinegar this time, but I’ve used apple cider vinegar in the past as well). The vinegar will help hold the egg together, as it makes the whites congeal more rapidly. Once the water and vinegar reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer. Gently slip the eggs into the water, doing your best to do so in one fell swoop (to keep the egg as “together” as possible), then turn off heat entirely. (Some people leave it on simmer for the entire time, but this is what works for me.) Using a spoon, nudge the whites back towards the egg. Cover the pan and let eggs sit for 4 minutes. (I removed the lid after 3 minutes to gently nudge the yolk, to make sure it was still a little soft.) When the yolk is cooked to your liking, gently remove them from the water with a slotted spoon.

Place each egg on top of your english muffin halves. Add salt and pepper to taste, then dig in!

Tiny Pull-apart Breads

Alright boys and girls, feast your eyes on the cutest little bread EVER. It reminds me of a doughy little sea creature! And as if being adorable wasn’t enough, these little guys had to go and be all sorts of crazy delicious too.

I stumbled upon a recipe for pull-apart bread many years ago, and was instantly obsessed. I’ve never been too keen on bread with other ingredients mixed right into the dough. But isolated layers of yumminess sandwiched between slices of bread that I can easily peel away from each other and stuff in my face? Sold! The recipe that I was following back then involved dividing the dough into somewhere between 8–12 pieces, shaping it into discs, and adding the filling between each one. Having so few layers didn’t exactly deliver the tastiness I was hoping for. It was more like eating a big chunk of bread with a hint of something yummy on it. And so, I abandoned the recipe after a few attempts and forgot about pull-apart bread. Then a couple months ago, I stumbled upon this recipe from Joy the Baker. As soon as I saw the first picture, my eyes lit up. How…HOW did she get all those layers?! I immediately scrolled down to discover one big sheet of rolled out dough, topped with filling and then sliced and stacked. Genius. Obsession reinstated.

The great thing about this bread is it’s unbelievably versatile. You can use whatever dough recipe you like, and you can fill it with whatever you like. I chose a basic bread recipe and went with roasted garlic, fresh herbs, and cheese as the filling. I also had a yet-unused mini bread pan that I decided would be perfect for these. (The idea of a bunch of different hands grabbing at a loaf of bread kind of grosses me out. Also, tiny treats are more fun!) If you don’t have a mini bread pan, you can use a muffin tin. Or you can always go with a normal loaf pan. It will be scrumptious, no matter what!

Pull-Apart Bread with Herbs, Cheese, and Roasted Garlic

yield: 1 loaf / 8 mini loaves / 12 muffins

Bread

  • 3 cups of flour (I used half bread flour and half all-purpose flour)
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1 packet of yeast (2¼ tsp.)
  • ⅓ cup of sugar
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 bulb of roasted garlic
  • ¾ cup of fresh herbs (I used basil, dill, rosemary, parsley, and sage)
  • ¾ cup of cheese (I used ½ cup cheddar and ¼ cup parmesan, and a little bit of goat cheese)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted (to brush on dough before adding the filling)

Combine warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and set aside for a few minutes (until foamy). Add butter and salt to the yeast mixture, then sift in flour 1 cup at a time, until dough forms. Turn out on a floured surface and knead for 8–10 minutes, until dough is smooth. Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with saran wrap or a damp towel, and set in a warm area for about an hour, or until doubled.

While dough is rising, roast your garlic. Preheat the oven to 400°. Chop the top of the bulb off (just enough to expose all of the cloves). Rub with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until garlic is soft. Remove from the oven and let cool, then squeeze out all of the cloves.

Punch down dough and turn out on a well-floured surface. Knead a few times, and then let it rest for 5 minutes. In the meantime, dice herbs and garlic, grate cheese, and melt the butter. Roll dough out into a large rectangle, somewhere between ¼ and ⅛ of an inch thick. Brush butter over the entire surface of the dough, then cover evenly with the filling.

Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into squares. Use your best judgment for size, depending on the type of pan you are using (my squares were approximately 2″ x 2″, or just high enough to peak over the top of the tin, pre-second rise). Stack slices and place in a greased tin/pan. Cover and let rise for another 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Bake: mini loaves for 20–25 minutes / muffin tin loaves for 15–18 minutes / 1 full loaf for 30–35 minutes (or until tops begin to turn golden brown). Remove from the oven and let them cool in the pan for half an hour, then have at ‘em!

Asparagus & Lemon Quinoa Risotto

Well it seems that March, like February, has just flown by. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve been wondering when it’s actually going to begin to feel like spring in the northeast! We had a few 40° days in the beginning of the month, abruptly followed by an appalling amount of snow.

And after a lot of shoveling, a few more warm days, and a lot more cold days, the snow has finally begun to disappear. Luckily, those few spring-like days in early March put me in the mood to start my seedlings. (Quite a feat for me, queen of procrastination that I am.) So even though it has been crummy and cold outside, I’ve had little bits of spring sprouting and growing in my kitchen.

Look at them—my babies!

Speaking of seeds, did you know that quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain? I discovered quinoa about six years ago, when I randomly bought a box of it in the organic aisle of the grocery store. And after reading the back of the box while I was waiting for it to cook, I learned what a wonderful, highly-nutritious complete protein it is! I also learned how to pronounce it (bonus).

My favorite, lazy way to make quinoa is to throw in some peas and soy sauce. But this time, I was curious how it would work as a risotto. The answer: quite well! The only thing that could have made this dish better is some shrimp. My boyfriend thought it was a little too lemony (although I didn’t mind it). If you don’t love lemon, you might want to use the zest of only half a lemon, and leave the juice out all together. But if you add shrimp, use it all!

Asparagus & Lemon Quinoa Risotto

4½ cups of stock (chicken or vegetable)
1½ cups of quinoa
1 bunch of asparagus, chopped
1 lemon (zest & juice)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp of butter
¼ cup of parmesan cheese, grated
¼ dry white wine

Forgive my image-heavy post . . .

I was testing out my new flash on these in-process photos.

Soak quinoa in a bowl of water for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, bring stock to a boil in a large pot (you’ll want to use a pot that has a well-fitting lid). Keep the lid on the pot when you aren’t actually transferring things in and out of the pot, to keep evaporation to a minimum.

Once the stock begins to boil, add asparagus. Boil for 5–7 minutes, then transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Place in the fridge or an ice bath. Bring the stock down to barely a simmer and cover.

While asparagus cooks, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a large, shallow pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for 3 minutes. Drain quinoa and add to the pan. Saute for about a minute, then lower heat slightly. Using a ladle (or something similar), ladle in just enough stock to cover the quinoa. Let simmer until all of the liquid is absorbed, then ladle in the same amount of stock. Continue until the liquid is gone, and the quinoa is fully cooked (when the white germ ring becomes visible around the outside). If you’re running low on liquid and your quinoa isn’t fully cooked, just add some water to your stock pot, bring it to a simmer, and then continue with that.

As the last of your liquid is being absorbed, add in asparagus and white wine. Once the liquid is gone, remove from heat and stir in butter, lemon juice and zest, and parmesan cheese.

Sidenote: One of my favorite things to do with leftover risotto is to use it in a frittata (with hot sauce and maple syrup). I haven’t tried it with quinoa, but I don’t foresee it being bad!

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

Where did February go? What did I do? Apparently, I made coffee cake—that was a good idea. I joyfully stomped around in the giant puddles brought about by enormous mounds of snow melting in near-60° weather. I slipped and fell on my butt in front of the fire department the following day, when the melted snow turned to sheets of ice on a 12° morning. Not cool, Nature. Not cool. (And can you believe that not one strapping young fireman came running out to save me? Come on!) And what else? Oh, that’s right—I WORKED. Like crazy. For those who don’t know, here’s a quick insight into my job: I work from home doing book composition for a NY-based company. And even though I know this is the time of year when things begin to get hectic, it always seems to take me by surprise. On the plus side, my mild case of insanity has done wonders for my metabolism. I’ve been seriously over-using my stress-combating technique of stuffing cheese and crackers into my face while intermittently growling at my computer, and yet I’m losing weight. How? Who cares! Bring me more cheese!

Okay, enough about non-cookie-related topics. Oh wait, I’m sorry, just one more thing that happened in February. My very sweet boyfriend gave me a half dozen of these delicious and adorable chocolate-covered long-stem strawberries for Valentine’s Day.

Look at them—all dressed up!

Alright, now I’m done. On to the cookies that inspired a redesign of my blog (which was definitely overdue). I’ve had this Brown Eyed Baker recipe bookmarked for over a year now. On the day I finally decided to make it, I did so because I was craving brownies, but in a smaller, less dense form. Brownies I could eat two or three of without feeling like a big piggy. With a nice espresso kick too. And these things totally hit the spot. (I made them a little bit smaller than the ones on BEB, because I really wanted to be able to eat several of them in one sitting!)

Chocolate Espresso Cookies
(adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

yield: around 3 dozen cookies

  • 2⅔ cups (around 16 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 1⅓ cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup of all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon espresso
  • 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat over to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler, stirring occasionally, until a smooth mixture forms. While chocolate and butter are melting, combine eggs, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl and set aside.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and espresso. Beat chocolate and butter into the egg mixture until well combined. Gradually beat in flour, baking powder, and espresso until a smooth batter forms. Stir in chocolate chips.

(Note: Your batter should be rather runny [like brownie batter]. If you’d like to firm it up a little, just stick it in the fridge for half an hour or so.)

Drop tablespoons of batter on to your parchment paper–lined cookie sheet. Give them a little space, because they will spread out a bit. Bake for 8–10 minutes, or until they’re firm on the outside.

Pan-Fried Gnudi with Brown Butter & Mushrooms

So sorry! I’ve been wallowing in post-holiday laziness. But I’m back, and I’m ready to show you how to make something tasty!

For a long time, I had no idea what to do with leftover ricotta cheese. I would buy a container, use a few spoonfuls of it on a pizza, then pull it out of the fridge several months later and recoil in horror at the scary pink color it had turned. Recently, I decided I needed to correct this problem. With a mostly-full container in the fridge, I set out find a recipe that required a large amount of ricotta. And that is when I discovered gnudi. If you like gnocchi but have little-to-no patience, gnudi is for you. Instead of peeling, chopping, boiling, and mashing potatoes and then waiting for them to cool before you actually get to the pasta-making part, you just mix together ricotta, flour, parmesan, and a couple other things. In less than 10 minutes, you have pasta dough. Just roll it out, cut it up, and throw it in a pot of boiling water. You could stop there, but pan-frying makes them even better. Aside from the deliciousness that brown butter will impart onto anything it touches, the frying gives the gnudi a nice, crisp outer texture. I think mushrooms compliment the pasta wonderfully, but feel free to add whatever you want—they’re versatile!

Pan-Fried Gnudi with Brown Butter & Mushrooms
(adapted from Gourmet via Epicurious)

yield: 4 servings

  • 2 cups (16 oz.) of ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups of freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup (1 stick) of butter
  • 12 oz. of white or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Combine ricotta, parmesan, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Add flour and stir until a wet dough forms.

At this point, I like to put the bowl of dough in the fridge for 15–20 minutes. I find that cold dough is less sticky, and therefore easier to work with. In the meantime, slice mushrooms and saute in a little bit of butter, until mushrooms just begin to brown and soften. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove dough from fridge. Grab a fistful of dough and place on a well-floured surface. Roll out to form 1-inch thick ropes, then cut into pieces.

Place a large pot of water on the stove over high heat. While you wait for it to boil, roll out and cut up the rest of the gnudi. Once the water is boiling, add in half of the pasta. While they cook, brown half of the butter in a pan. When the gnudi are puffy (this will take around 4 minutes) transfer them to the pan with a slotted spoon.

Fry gnudi until browned, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate or large bowl. Repeat process with the second half of the pasta. Once the second batch is browned, add the first batch and the mushrooms to the pan, and stir until evenly warmed. Remove from heat and serve!