Monday, December 26, 2011

Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing

Steak Salad with creamy horseradish dressing

If your Christmas dinner featured prime rib or beef tenderloin, you probably have some pretty rockin' leftovers.  Horseradish sauce and leftover beef were made for each other.  This salad is a way to feature that delectable combo without total over-the-top decadence.  The dressing is light and tangy - no mayonnaise, just a little bit of plain yogurt, lemon juice, and of course, horseradish.  The salad is comprised of whatever you like - for me it was baby greens, cubed white cheddar (use gorgonzola if you have some), a bit of crumbled crispy bacon, and a hard-boiled egg.  And the steak, of course. 


Creamy Horseradish Dressing

2 tablespoons plain full-fat yogurt
juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
a pinch of salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and drizzle over salad.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Spiced Apple Cider

hot spiced cider

This Christmas Eve, let's gather 'round the tree and sing carols with family and friends.  Let's pass a plate of cookies and exchange a gift or two.  Let's listen for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, and watch the snow fall quietly outside.  Let's sit in front of the fire together, hands wrapped around steaming mugs of hot and cheery cider.

spiced cider ingredients

I hope this Christmas brings comfort and joy to your home, and a renewed sense of the presence of God and light in your life.  Merry Christmas!

Hot Spiced Cider

2 quarts apple cider
2 oranges
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the oranges in long strips.  Place orange peels and whole spices in a heavy pot on the stove.  Slice oranges in half and squeeze the juice into the pot.  Pour apple cider over, cover, and place over a medium flame until cider just begins to bubble.  Remove from heat and allow to steep.  Strain and discard solids, and return to the pot over a low flame, or to a slow cooker on low.  Add a bit of bourbon or dark rum to each mug as you serve - you wouldn't want that extra kick of holiday cheer to cook off!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Chicago

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Yesterday I finally got over to the Christkindlmarket to have some gl├╝wein and wienerschnitzel for lunch.  Every December, Chicago's Daley Plaza transforms into a German American Christmas market, complete with lots of different German food, handmade gifts and ornaments.  It's always crowded with people eating sausages and drinking hot spiced wine, and nobody seems to mind the cold.  Tomorrow is the last day, so get your gl├╝wein while you still can!

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries

It's almost Christmas!  This veggie dish is a holiday table triple-threat: seasonal, healthy, and so festive!  I'm taking it to a Christmas potluck party this afternoon; if you're thinking that bringing brussels sprouts to a potluck is a bold move, you are right.  We'll see how it goes.  But these are so pretty and taste so good!  Good enough that I'm going to make them for Christmas dinner at my parents' house, too, to go alongside the ham and potatoes.  Yum!  Can't wait!

brussels sprouts and cranberries

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

2 pounds brussels sprouts, halved, woody ends trimmed
1 bag fresh cranberries, picked over for questionable ones
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Coat a rimmed baking sheet lightly with cooking spray.  Arrange the brussels sprouts in a single layer, and spray them with cooking spray.  Roast sprouts for 15 minutes, stir, add cranberries to the baking sheet, and roast 10 more minutes, until sprouts are slightly caramelized, and berries pop.  Remove from oven, cool slightly, and transfer to a bowl.  Add lemon juice and zest, ginger, and maple syrup, and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Russian Tea Cakes

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This Saturday morning, I woke to one of the most lovely things you can see the week before Christmas: a light dusting of snow falling merrily from the sky.  I promptly donned my boots, coat, and obnoxious drug store Santa hat, grabbed a ladder, and went out to the front of the building to put up a few twinkly lights.

December 2011 111

Our Christmas decorations went up a little at time this year.  After Thanksgiving, I brought up the box from the basement, and we've just been taking a few things out and putting them up around the house when we have spare moments.  The advent wreath was first.  Then a funny little snowman who counts down the days until Christmas.  We got a tree, and then a few days later, decorated it with lights.  A few days after that, we finally got around to the ornaments.  It's been really nice.

Christmas Stockings

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Russian tea cakes are my all-time favorite Christmas cookie.  The instant hit of sweetness when you bite through the outer layer of powdered sugar, the tender, crumbly cookie, the crunchy walnuts.  They are practically perfect in every way.

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Russian Tea Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons powdered sugar (plus 1 cup extra for rolling)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low until well incorporated.  Scoop a tablespoon of dough at a time, roll it into a ball between your palms.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, until cookies are just set and barely beginning to brown on the bottom edges.  Remove from oven, allow to cool 2 minutes on the pan and roll in powdered sugar while still hot.  Cool completely.

Yield: about 3 dozen cookies

Note: In an airtight container, these keep well for at least a week.  They have never lasted that long in our house.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pomegranate Goat Cheese Salad

pomegranate goat cheese salad

In between facefuls of Christmas cookies, I've been trying really hard to eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies this month.  It leaves me feeling strong and fresh and healthy.  And while this certainly isn't news, I am always amazed by the steadiness of my energy level and mood when I'm well-rested and well-fed.  This week, when I'm working all day and singing most evenings, that steady energy is vital.

behold mighty pomegranate

Pomegranates are so very strange to look at, and not that easy to eat; it's easy to see why the ancient Greeks called them "fruit of the dead."  You can eat them for their powerful antioxidants, their juicy crunch, their fabulous taste, or simply because while you're eating, you can close your eyes and pretend to be the mythical Proserpina, kidnapped and doomed to spend half of each year as Queen of the Underworld.  Now that's cool.

Proserpina (Persephone)

Pomegranate Goat Cheese Salad

This salad would be a perfect addition to a Christmas dinner, with its festive red and green.  It's also a fantastic lunch during a long day of Christmas baking.  The recipe makes enough for lunch for one, but is easily expanded to serve a crowd.

2 cups baby greens
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
a handful of whole hazelnuts
1 ounce soft goat cheese

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper

Place the hazelnuts in a small skillet over medium heat and toast until fragrant, tossing periodically, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Place greens in a salad bowl, and arrange pomegranate seeds, goat cheese on top.  Roughly chop the hazelnuts and toss them in.  Whisk together olive oil and lemon juice and drizzle over salad.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

My Google calendar looks sort of like a game of Tetris, played by someone who really knows how to play, like my mother-in-law.  (Really, you should see her play - it's unbelievable.)  It feels like it, too.  As soon as I fit something in, something else comes floating down from the top of the screen.  

Another party?!
Are you starting to feel like this, too?  Are you feeling the inevitable stress of the season?  Let's take a tiny step back.  In the midst of frantic shopping, wrapping, mailing, partying, caroling, and decorating, let's just take a moment to pause and enjoy.  Let's bake gingerbread, just for fun.

Here's some good news: this gingerbread has to bake for more than an hour.  And then it has to cool.  So put it together, pop it in the oven, and check some other things off your list while your house fills with the smell of spicy sweet gingerbread.  When it's cooled, put on your favorite Christmas music, make yourself a cup of tea, sit in front of your tree, and enjoy a slice.  It is dense, moist and spicy.  It's got molasses, honey, caramelized pears and pecans, and three kinds of ginger.  And hopefully it's just the thing to scare your inner Grinch away, so that you can really enjoy this wonderful time of year!

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread 1

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread
Adapted from

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3/4 honey
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup milk (2%)
1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger root
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger

3 firm ripe pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped pecan halves
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, water, molasses, honey, and brown sugar.  Place the pan over low heat, and stir frequently until butter is melted and ingredients are well combined.  Remove from heat, and pour mixture in a bowl to cool.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy skillet over high heat.  Add pears, and cook about 3 minutes, until beginning to caramelize.  Stir in pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and cook a couple more minutes, until pears are soft but still retain their shape.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly coat the inside of a nonstick Bundt pan with cooking spray, and pour pear mixture into the bottom, spreading evenly.  Add eggs to cooled molasses-butter mixture, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add milk and stir to combine.  Fold in dry ingredients, and don't let the lumps get you down - they'll take care of themselves.  Stir in fresh and crystallized gingers, and pour batter gently over the pears in the pan.  Place cake pan on a cookie sheet and bake 75-90 minutes, until top of cake springs back when lightly touched, and cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool 15 minutes in the pan, and then gently invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.  This is pretty tricky, since the cake pan is still hot.  I put the rack upside-down over the cake pan, and then used a kitchen towel to flip it over.  It would be nice to have a friend help you with this, but you can totally do it on your own.

The cake keeps well in the fridge.  Allow it to come back to room temperature before serving, to get the full moisture and texture back.  15 seconds per slice in the microwave works well, too, if you don't have hours and hours to wait (aka if you want to eat it for breakfast).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Beef Empanadas (aka Cowboy Pockets)

Bacon Date Empanadas

This morning when I walked out the door, there was snow on the ground!!!  We've had a couple of flurries so far, but nothing that stuck.  I love the first snow that sticks!  It makes me want food that sticks... to my ribs, that is.

Har har har.

The brand of creativity in the kitchen changes when the temperature drops, from "What am I going to do with all this fresh produce?" to "What else can you do with meat and potatoes?"  It's dark by the time I get home (actually, by the time I leave my office at 4:30), and I'm just not motivated to do little grocery shops as often as I am in the summer.  The past couple of nights, I've just started pulling things out of my fridge and freezer, and seeing what comes of it.  Leftover soup, crackers and cheese?  Perfect.  Leftover roast chicken + leftover quinoa + frozen peas and green beans + carrots, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce + an egg = Chicken Fried Quinoa.  Genius.

Last night, I was staring at this giant tub of dates that's in the fridge.  I got them at Costco a couple of weeks ago, as a challenge to myself.  It's like Iron Chef - the secret ingredient is... DATES!

Have you ever had bacon-wrapped dates?  They are amazing.  There's nothing else to them!  Wrap bacon around a date.  Bake it.  How about Larabars?  Are you shocked that there's nothing else in most of them besides dates and nuts?  They taste like candy!

To tell you the truth, I've never had a traditional empanada.  Apparently they have olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs in the filling.  That didn't sound particularly appetizing to me, so this recipe is my take.

Beef Empanadas

Beef Empanadas (aka Cowboy Pockets)

For the dough:

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup butter, cold and cut into smallish pieces OR frozen and grated using a food processor
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Sift together flours and salt.  If using cold (not frozen) butter, blend it into the flour using a pastry blender or your fingers, until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, with some pea-sized pieces remaining.  If using frozen, grated butter, simply stir into the flour (it's like magic).  Using a fork, stir in eggs, water and vinegar just until the dough forms a shaggy mass and holds somewhat together.  Add a few more drops of water if needed.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a couple of times to form a cohesive ball.  Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a flat rectangle.  Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (not too lean! I used 85% lean)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
10 dates, chopped

In a large heavy skillet, saute bacon until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Do not discard bacon fat.  Add onion and carrot to drippings, and saute until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add beef, breaking it up as it browns with the back of a wooden spoon.  Season with salt, pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and thyme, and cook until evenly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato sauce and dates, stir to combine, and cook until liquid is reduced but still moist, about 5 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, and stir in reserved bacon.  Transfer to a plate and allow to cool slightly.

To make the empanadas:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove dough from the refrigerator one half at a time.  Cut each half into 6 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter.  Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling into the center of the circle.  Moisten the edges with a little bit of water, and fold over to form a semi-circle.  Crimp edges with a fork.  Brush tops lightly with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a splash of water) and score with a sharp knife.  Continue with remaining dough and filling.  Bake about 25 minutes, until golden.  Allow to cool slightly.  Serve with sour cream.

Note: to make ahead (or eat later), prepare empanadas (do not bake), and then freeze on baking sheets.  Remove and bake as needed!  Homemade hot pockets!

Yield: 1 dozen empanadas

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Anise-Almond Biscotti

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I learned a lot of things about myself when I spent a month in Italy in college.
  • I don't like to make grammatical mistakes, even in other languages.
  • I like Italian coffee bars. Espresso or cappuccino, a biscotto or cornetto. A real cup, and a few seconds to enjoy.  No 20-ounce sugar-free, non-fat, super duper caramel latte, no giant mediocre muffin, none of this to-go nonsense.
  • I can live without peanut butter.
  • I love-love-love the flavor of anise. It started with my first sip of Sambuca, and I haven't been able to stay away since.
The word "biscotti" is the plural of "biscotto," which literally means "twice-cooked." You bake them once in a flat, oblong loaf, and then you slice them and bake them again!

biscotti loaves


These flavor of these cookies is subtle and sophisticated.  They make a fantastic gift, because they are fancy and impressive, and they keep well without becoming stale.

Give some away in cute little tins, but save a few for breakfast!

Anise-Almond Biscotti
adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
1.5 cups roasted unsalted almonds
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon anise extract
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon anise seedes
Turbinado (raw) sugar for decorating the top

Preheat oven to 375.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment and set aside.  On a different rimmed baking sheet, arrange the almonds in a single layer.  Place in the oven and toast until golden and fragrant, about 6-8 minutes.  Cool completely.  Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt, and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add anise extract and beat to combine.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add flour mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in almonds and anise seeds.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead to form a cohesive ball.  Make sure the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.  My dough was very sticky, so make sure to have extra flour handy for your hands.  Divide dough in half, and shape each half into an oblong loaf, about 18 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.  Don't worry too much if these loaves look smooth and pretty - it doesn't matter after you cut them up.  Transfer carefully to parchment-lined baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time, until the loaves are golden and firm.  Transfer parchment and loaves to a wire rack and cool 20 minutes.  Decrease oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Using a serrated knife, slice loaves on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices.  Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet, and arrange slices cut-side up.  Bake about 30 minutes, and let cool completely on the rack.

Yield: about 4 dozen

Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Dear Santa...

What's on your Christmas wish list this year?  A fancy electronic doo-dad?  A designer handbag?  Before the whole month of December sweeps by in a giant wave of parties and wrapping paper and baked goods, I wanted to give you some great gift ideas for your foodie friends, no matter what your budget!  Click on the pictures to be redirected to to view details and order these items!

An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is a perfect gift, especially as we are entering into stew and braise season.  These pots are equally at home on the stove, in the oven, and on a holiday table.  Le Creuset is the most popular and well-known brand, and they come in beautiful colors, but it comes with a designer price tag.  I use a 5.5-quart Martha Stewart Collection pot that I got as a wedding present more than three years ago, and I absolutely love it.  I looked around online, and apparently they've stopped making that particular one, but as long as the pot is enameled cast iron, I'd say go for a deal.  The 5.5-quart size is a great all-purpose soup-stew-braising-baking pot, and I use mine all the time.  It heats really evenly, so you can get a perfect sear on meats without scorching.  I've even used it to make pudding.  Check at your local TJ Maxx, Marshall's, or HomeGoods to find discounts on the Le Creuset brand.


Oh Kitchen Aid, oh Kitchen Aid, how lovely are your features...  This thing is amazing.  It kneads dough, whips cream and egg whites (meringue, how I love thee), and creams butter in the flashiest of flashes.  If you already have a Kitchen Aid, I've heard great things about the ice cream maker attachment.  (I have heard equally lackluster things about the pasta machine attachment, but to be fair, I have never tried either one.)

                                       3.                                                  4.
A couple of different thermometers for you to consider.  On the left is a simple one that hangs from one of the shelves in your oven, and tells you the actual temperature inside!  The temperature gauge on an oven can have a 10- to 15-degree swing, and do you really want to risk that when you're baking?  I didn't think so.  The little one on the right is great for roasting meats - stick the probe in, set the digital part on the counter, and close the door.  No more opening the door and letting all the heat escape while you poke the meat (and release the juices!).  You can even set an alarm that goes off when the inside of the meat reaches the desired temperature.  Done and done.


A Microplane grater/zester.  I finally bought myself one, and used it for the first time last night.  Oh. My. Gosh. I can't tell you how many times I have accidentally grated my knuckles while trying to zest a lemon or grate some fresh ginger.  If only I had known sooner that for ten measly dollars, my fingers could be saved... This thing is a miracle.  Get it.


Tongs!  Another amazingly useful tool.  Before I had these, I didn't know I needed them.  Now, I find myself reaching for them all the time.  My favorite use for them: tossing hot pasta in a homemade sauce.


This past weekend, I was rolling out the dough to make the butter horns (our homemade crescent rolls), and I was getting flour all over my black shirt (BLACK?!  What was I thinking?).  And then I remembered that old-timey stroke of genius, that item of clothing that has been worn by generations of women, but somehow forgotten by ours, THE APRON.  I have one, but I don't wear it, because it's indecent.  It's me as Venus.  It's...  funny and scandalous.  So it's basically like I don't have one.  But!  I want one and I love the ones they have at Anthropologie.  They're are whimsical and sweet.

Visit Jen for more quick takes!  Have a great weekend, friends!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Look what we made!

Post-Thanksgiving ritual: grapefruit and green tea for breakfast, and the advent wreath!

I think I'm addicted to yarn crafts.  I just finished my first sweater (!) during the drive up to Michigan and back this weekend, and my sister and I have established a new holiday tradition - the post-Thanksgiving Christmas craft project!

Knitting with double-pointed needles is ca-razy.  Believe it.
For our first annual post-Thanksgiving Christmas craft project, we made crocheted wreaths!  So easy and fun - they only took about an hour or so to make.  Since all the women in my family tend to not be able to sit still, crafting is a great way for us to get in some quality time.  It allows our hands to be doing something while we focus attention on each other.

Here's what we needed.  Not a lot, eh?

And here's what we got:

We're silly.  Want to make your own?  Oh my goodknits!  You can!