My Thanksgiving Plans

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This year, Todd and I will be hosting Thanksgiving in our apartment for the first time. Well, my mom is going to be helping us a lot since we live in a two-family house and she’s right upstairs, but it’s the first time we’ll have both sets of our parents and a few family friends gathered around our table for the holiday. It’s really exciting to plan the menu and figure out the logistics of who’s going to sit where, but it’s also a lot of work trying to make sure there’s something for everyone and plan out my baking and cooking schedule. Luckily I’m off from work on Wednesday, so I’ll have an extra day to get things ready.

One great thing is that everyone is going to be contributing: Todd’s mom, Rachel, will make her famously delicious glazed corned beef; my mom will bring a ton of supremely yummy dishes, like Italian lasagna and meatballs, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, and a few other Thanksgiving classics; and Todd and I will make a few Thanksgiving-with-a-twist dishes, like coconut-sesame green beans, cranberry-fig chutney, and bruleed sweet potatoes. We’ll also be making an apple-cider turkey. And I’ll be baking too: a pecan fudge pie, a pumpkin pie, and a few mini fruit pies. My brother’s girlfriend, Megan, will be making a sugar-cookie cheesecake, which sounds so good!

I’m excited to see how the evening turns out, and to take plenty of pictures of family and food (if I don’t eat it all first).

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A Runner’s Dream

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Yesterday, for the first time in 40 years, an American woman (Shalane Flanagan) broke the finish line tape of the New York City marathon! I’d been following her career with interest, so I was especially excited to watch her succeed in what she’s called a childhood dream. Her unofficial time was 2 hours and 26 minutes—only one minute and one second faster than that of the three-time defending champion. It’s so crazy to think that had she taken a slightly slower pace, she might not be celebrating victory today. It’s something that strikes me every time I run: whenever I want to slow down, I remind myself that even a few seconds can matter, though my races are nowhere near as high stakes as the marathon was for a four-time Olympian like Shalane.

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View from the Pelham Bridge in the Bronx. #nofilter

I’d never dreamt of running a marathon. In fact, a few years ago, I couldn’t begin to contemplate completing a 10K. But somehow, the sport takes hold of you, and once it does, you find yourself pushing farther than you’d ever believed possible. And in 2018, I will race the NYC marathon, even though racing double the amount I’ve ever run before seems intimidating at best, impossible at worst. About half a year from now, I’ll start looking into which training plan Todd and I should follow (yep, he’s doing it with me; I have the best husband ever) and I’ll focus on things like pace and gear and timing and energy gels and how to run 26.2 miles without having to pee.

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A perfect postrun snack: Cocoa-topped coffee accompanied by a homemade, whole-wheat, pumpkin olive oil bread with walnuts and fresh ginger!

Until then, though, I’m going to just bask in the run: short two-mile morning jogs under the few stars I can see from my neighborhood, long runs in the Botanical Garden or to the cemetery to visit my grandma and grandpa’s headstone. My running dream is to appreciate each experience, even if it’s hard or I just want to sit on the couch and watch TV instead. This weekend, Todd and I did a run to the beach and back home, seven miles in all. We didn’t worry about how fast we were going, we just took in the scenery and walked when we needed to and ran just to enjoy the run. For me, that’s the best part. That and and the post-run coffee (accompanied by carbs & protein!) I like to have when I get back.

Easter Baking to Celebrate Spring

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Though the Christmas season is my favorite time of year, Easter takes a close second place in the holiday hierarchy because it’s filled with so much joy, from uplifting songs at church to green buds on the trees. As Christ arose from death, the world is waking up: I can hear birds chirping in the morning while I get ready for work. The weather no longer requires a coat and scarf and gloves and hat and double socks. All of that makes me want to celebrate—and how better to express my delight than with some Easter baking?

This year mom made all the dinner dishes while I tackled the desserts: brownies, a fruit & yogurt tart, a lemony cheesecake, and a banana cream pie. I spent all day in the kitchen on the Saturday before Easter, and it was wonderful! Todd helped with the baking, and together we listened to several Disney soundtracks, including my top two favorites, Moana and Pocahontas. I probably annoyed Todd with my…let’s just say overly enthusiastic…singing (to the same song three times in a row), but he barely complained. And he even decorated a super cute Easter egg for me later that night. He’s too good for me!!

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Cute egg Todd made for me: the two of us holding hands in a hot air balloon with a rabbit on it.

I considered providing all of the dessert recipes here, but then thought that might be information overload, so instead I’ll just share my thoughts on each; if anyone is interested in the recipes, let me know and I can write up a separate post for that particular one.

The brownies were the first of my four projects. I followed the “signature” recipe from Butter & Chocolate by Sheila G. Mains, the creator of the popular Brownie Brittle snack. You know that debate between cocoa powder or chocolate chips? This recipe solves it by using both—resulting in decadent, fudgy, delicious brownies. I stacked my two heart-shaped brownie cakes and slathered store-bought dark chocolate frosting over them.

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Next up was the fruit tart: the puff pastry exterior only required thawing and baking, and I topped the cooked dough with a mixture of Siggi’s plain and Chobani vanilla yogurt. Then I layered on some fruit and drizzled honey over it, and voila! Done! So easy it only took two sentences to explain. Plus it was relatively healthy, and the tart flavors of the yogurt helped balance out the sweetness of the other three desserts.

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The cheesecake required a bit more effort: I had to first make the lemon curd glaze and leave it to cool in the fridge for four hours. While it cooled, I made the cheesecake itself, using a copycat recipe of the Cheesecake Factory’s vanilla bean cheesecake. I refuse to go through the effort of a water bath (plus I don’t like how soft it can leave the cheesecake), so mine cracked a bit, but since I planned to cover it anyway, I didn’t worry too much. Once it cooled, I topped it with the lemon glaze and fresh blueberries. Oh, and a carrot cake Hershey’s kiss to represent Jesus on the cross haha.

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The banana cream pie took the most work, but it was also most worth it. I’d never made this particular dessert before, and it was a bit of a learning curve when it came to whisking the custard to just the right consistency. I layered the banana-vanilla custard with fresh bananas in a crust made of crushed pretzels, peanuts, and peanut butter, with a bittersweet chocolate bottom. Then I made a super easy whipped topping and finished it off with a garnish of chocolate shavings. I was really proud of the finished pie, and I was glad to hear on Easter that everyone liked it!

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What did you make for Easter? What’s your favorite part of the holiday?

 

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

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With sleet clattering down outside and aboveground subway service suspended, I found myself stuck at home during yesterday’s blizzard. School, of course, had already been canceled, so Todd was home too, and I wanted to bake us something yummy, something perfect for a cozy snow day. I decided that something would be Irish soda bread, considering this Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve never tried to make it before so I was a little worried, but then I found a really simple recipe on The Kitchen (one of my go-to websites for food facts and ideas). And though there are a few things I might do differently next time (include a little more sugar; add more raisins), I’m still really pleased with the result! It had a mild sweetness and a moist yet still kind of crumbly texture, which I enjoyed cold with a mug of hot coffee and then toasted this morning with butter and jam.

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Because I didn’t have buttermilk and could barely get up my driveway without slipping on ice, let alone travel to the store, I had to DIY the process by adding two tablespoons of lemon juice to two cups of regular whole milk and letting it sit for 30 minutes to thicken. Another way to do this is with vinegar, as my fellow blogger over at Happiness in Jars did yesterday when she, too, baked an Irish soda bread! And now for the recipe, slightly adapted from the one I found on The Kitchn:

Ingredients
~Oil or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing
~4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
~3.5 cups all-purpose flour
~1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
~2 Tbsp. sugar
~2 tsp. baking powder
~1 tsp. baking soda
~1 tsp. salt
~2 cups buttermilk
~1 cup raisins (I  used a mixture of regular and golden)
~2 Tbsp. heavy cream, for brushing

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Preparation
~Make sure oven rack is in the middle position, then preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with oil or nonstick cooking spray.
~In a large bowl or the bowl a stand mixer, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
~Add butter cubes and use your hands to squish them with dry ingredients until mixed and no large clumps remain.
~Add buttermilk and raisins and either use a spatula or a stand mixer’s dough hook to combine. When wet and sticky, remove dough from bowl, plop onto prepared baking sheet, and shape into a slightly flattened ball about 7 to 8 inches in diameter.
~Using a sharp knife, score a large X into the top of the loaf from end to end, about a half-inch deep. Brush top of loaf with heavy cream.
~Bake until golden on top and the center of the X has lost its wetness, about 45 to 50 minutes. Around the 30-minute mark, check to make sure bread isn’t too brown; if it is, tent with foil and continue baking until done.
~Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving. Store, wrapped, at room temperature for up to three days.

Nutritional information: approximately 85 calories per ounce.

 

Blogger Secret Santa

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This year I had the chance to participate in a really awesome blogger Secret Santa exchange, hosted by the women behind Classy Cathleen and Living the Gray Life. I couldn’t wait for my Secret Santa gift to arrive, and when it did, I was so happy with what I received from Kristine, a college student who posts great advice and tidbits about her life at My Little Box of Tricks. Thank you, Kristine!!

I opened the box to see this really pretty and sweet card (the tissue paper was much neater; this was after I tried to re-create it, following my tearing open the box and rummaging through it):

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She got me sour candy! Yum! So excited I had to take a picture with it even though it was morning and I looked like a sleepy mess 🙂

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Along with the candy, I received some cookie cutters (perfect!) and a really gorgeous journal with pages that shine on the sides:

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I even used the cookie cutters today when baking my grandma’s Hungarian honey cookies!

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I definitely want to do the blogger Secret Santa again next year, and maybe some of you can join, too. And now…onto Christmas gifts!

Recipe: Apple-Walnut Quick Bread

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I’ve made quick breads in so many variations: mostly banana, but also blueberry and cherry oat. This time, armed with two bags of apples from our annual visit to an upstate orchard, I decided on apple-walnut bread with a coffee cake streusel topping; I used Ovenly’s salted apple bread recipe as a guide, with several tweaks to make it a little sweeter, softer, and nuttier. As a bonus, this recipe makes a ton of extra streusel, and you can store the leftovers in the freezer to use in other baking projects.

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Ingredients for streusel
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-3 Tbsp. sugar
-2 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
-2 tsp. cinnamon
-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (melted)

Ingredients for bread
-1/2  cup unsalted butter (melted) plus extra (softened) for greasing the loaf pan
-3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. whole milk
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/4 cup light brown sugar
-2 large eggs, at room temperature
-1/4 cup maple syrup
-1/4 cup canola oil
-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
-1 cup rolled oats
-1 Tbsp. cinnamon
-1 tsp. baking soda
-1 tsp. baking powder
-1 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. allspice
-1/4 tsp. cloves
-1/4 tsp. nutmeg
-1 cup chopped walnuts
-1.5 cups peeled, cored, and cubed apples
-Streusel topping

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Preparation

  1. Prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, and cinnamon. Add the melted butter and use your hands to mix until clumps begin to form. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with softened butter.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, sugar, eggs, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, and melted butter until well blended.
  4. In a separate large bowl, combine both flours, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.
  5. Using a spatula, add the dry ingredients to the wet ones until just combined. Fold in walnuts and apples until evenly distributed through the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and top with streusel. (Any leftover streusel can be stored in the freezer for up to one month.)
  7. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 to 55 minutes.

Recipe: Coffee Cheesecake

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A few weeks ago I really wanted to make a coffee cheesecake, but every recipe I came across called for coffee liquor, which I didn’t want to use. Finally I stumbled across a recipe from the blog Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt, made a few changes to it based on what I had available in my apartment, and got a super-creamy cheesecake with a light coffee flavor (because I used cold brew instead of instant coffee; for more of a coffee flavor in your cheesecake, use instant coffee as recommended in the original recipe), with a chocolate ganache layer and also topped with ganache, coffee whipped cream, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. It looks like a lot of steps, but I promise it’s not actually that hard and it’s totally worth it!

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Ingredients
For the crust:
~15 honey graham crackers, crushed
~1.25 cups mini oreo cookies, crushed
~1 stick unsalted butter, softened
~2 Tbsp. sugar

For the ganache:
~1.5 cups heavy cream
~20 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
~1/4 cup cold brew coffee

For the coffee whipped cream:
~1 cup heavy cream
~2 Tbsp. instant coffee
~2 tsp. cold water
~1/4 cup powdered sugar

For the cheesecake filling:
~3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
~1 cup granulated sugar
~3 large eggs
~1/2 cup sour cream
~1/2 cup thick vanilla yogurt (I used the New York-based brand Siggi’s, which is actually an Icelandic skyr, but any type of Greek yogurt should work fine as well.)
~1 Tbsp. vanilla bean paste
~1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold brew coffee

~Chocolate-covered coffee beans or nuts for decorating

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Preparation
For the crust:
~Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
~Combine ingredients in a blender and pulse until combined. (I like to leave some large graham cracker chunks in my crust, but it’s up to you how chunky you want it to be.)
~Press into a 9-inch cake pan. (The crust will only cover the bottom of the pan, so if you like your crust to run up the sides, I suggest doubling the amount that you make.)
~Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and let cool.

For the ganache:
~While crust is baking, start on the ganache: Bring cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.
~Remove from heat and add chocolate and cold brew, whisking constantly until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth.
~Pour 2 cups ganache into cooled crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache at room temperature for decorating.

For the coffee whipped cream:
~In a medium bowl, beat heavy cream until small peaks form.
~In a small bowl, stir together instant coffee and water; pour that mixture into heavy cream.
~Add powdered sugar and beat until thick and fluffy.

For the cheesecake filling:
~In a large bowl, mix cream cheese and sugar until fluffy.
~Beat in eggs one at a time.
~Stir in sour cream and yogurt and mix well.
~Transfer 1/4 of the filling mixture to a smaller bowl. Add vanilla bean paste to it.
~In original large bowl, add cold brew coffee and stir well.
~Pour 1/2 of coffee-infused filling into crust, then add 1/2 of vanilla filling, swirling with a knife to mix. Repeat with remaining coffee and vanilla filling. Bake cheesecake until golden but still slightly jiggly in the center, about 1 hour, then let cool.
~When cheesecake has cooled slightly, use a spatula to spread a layer of ganache over the top. Decorate with espresso cream and coffee beans or nuts.