December 25, 2010

Cream Cheese Cookies

How much cooking have you guys done this week? And does anyone else feel like, no matter how many parties you go to and baskets you give away, the ridiculous amount of dangerously delicious things in the house keeps multiplying? Some kind of Christmas miracle.

My cooking adventures have run the gamut this week from the consistent annual successes to... well, garlicky, stinky disasters. My favorite "no-duh" lesson of the week: don't mess with a recipe the very first time you make something you've never tried before. I made a pate for my sister. Now, I personally have never had pate, but it seemed like something that should probably have bacon and garlic. Rather than a delicious spread, it turned into the kind of thing that you only took the lid off of in order to weaponize it. That's strong stuff.

Bacon. Garlic. I still don't understand how this went wrong.

The baking portion of the week was as wildly successful as usual, except that I had to do way more of it than normal. For example, this is how I usually bake cookies with the fam:

Notice the pasta. This is my job, and I much prefer it that way.

It's not that I don't like to bake. Cakes are the kind of adventure I can get behind, and I make a mean loaf of beer bread. Cookies, however, are another story. Too much sticky scooping, and I never seem to have enough pans for optimum efficiency. 

BUT, Mom and the twin abandoned me with bowls and bowls of dough and smudged, torn pages of recipes this year, so the baking fell to me. The recipe that is obviously the most tattered and worn is for cream cheese cookies, and for good reason. We like to play around with new recipes now and then, but these are an annual must-have.

For me, Christmas tastes like cream cheese cookies. These guys are so iconic of Sawyer-family Christmas that I struggled with the decision to share them. But a Betty Crocker recipe doesn't easily qualify as a secret family recipe, so I decided not to be crazy, instead.

Must be the goodness of the season getting to me.

December 22, 2010


In a continuation of the "things to give away in jars for Christmas" theme, I give you manjar:

Ah, manjar. AKA dulce de leche or, if that's still to Spanish for you, really thick, extra amazing caramel.
Super popular in Chile, a good friend once made a list of 101 things to do with manjar. To give you an idea of our life-altering (and waist-altering) obsession: in Chile, manjar is mostly sold in bags, and in all our classy-gringo glory, we have been known to pass the bag around for unsanitary suckling. Y'know, like grown-ups do. I won't recreate the entire list here; but here are a few thoughts to help with your initiation:

- Warm it up and drizzle it over vanilla ice cream
- Slather it on some crackers or nilla wafers
- Eat it off a spoon
- Eat it off a buddy
- Whip it into a latte or just some steamed milk
- Spread it on crepes for dessert
- Alternatively, on pancakes for a decadent breakfast

Now that I'm sure you're intrigued, I"ll let you in on my favorite secret of manjar: there's only one ingredient.

Walmart brand optional.

It's so simple it seems silly to type it out as a recipe, but here goes:

Recipe from: my buddy Earl
1-4 cans sweetened condensed milk

Put cans in a deep pot and cover with water. Bring to a simmer. Simmer for two hours, making sure the cans stay fully covered with water the entire time. Remove from heat and leave cans in the water as it cools. Let cans cool completely before opening.

December 8, 2010

Creamy Tomato and Roasted Garlic Soup

We haven't exactly been getting winter weather down here in New Orleans yet, but the cool evenings coupled with our home's charming lack of insulation has me longing for anything hot and slurpable (hey, if Sarah Palin can make up the word of the year, I can describe my cravings however I damn well please!). I've been sipping on broth, tea, cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate, and when I'm cold but not really wanting anything, plain old hot water. Weird, I know, but I can't quite justify a mug of hot cocoa every time I get thirsty.

The boys actually discovered this soup, after Erik scoffed at an online list of the best winter soups (or something like that). He doesn't generally consider soup to be food, since it's mostly water, but he did end up with a list of four or five off the list that I could make for dinner. Aw, thanks babe.

But, he hit the mark on this one. The garlic flavor is very present, but not sharp or overwhelming, since we roasted it beforehand. Fresh roasted tomatoes lend just a touch of sweetness to the pot, and I added a bit of milk and well-cooked potato to the original recipe for creaminess. I also replaced half the veggie stock with a tomato/chicken stock I found in the Hispanic section at the grocery for added tomato-y goodness (I highly recommend checking out the international aisle at the grocery store. You'll find some neat treasures, and a lot of things you already buy are cheaper in that aisle for some reason). And of course, a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan never hurts.

November 24, 2010

Meyer Lemon Curd

'Tis the season for holiday parties! Don't worry, this is not a Christmas recipe. I do not believe in starting any kind of official Christmas preparation until the day after Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving much too much to steal any of its attention (as you might imagine, Christmas ads that now begin in AUGUST drive me a little insane).

However, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a month-long whirlwind of activity for most of us, much of which involves (if we're popular enough) kind invitations into our friends' homes. No one likes to be the lump who shows up empty-handed, and I've heard rumors of hosts who prefer not to receive a bottle of wine from every guest. I'm still not sure I believe them, but it's best to be prepared.

Seriously, though, it's always nice to bring something you made yourself, and a jar of this lemon curd is perfect for a pseudo-last-minute hostess gift. It's thoughtful and delicious, and it doesn't take up much space (let's be honest, who has spare room in the fridge between Thanksgiving and New Year?). And what better way to thank your hard-working host, who has probably spent the last few days scrubbing, cooking, and promptly re-scrubbing, than a hassle-free breakfast treat the morning after the shindig? And if you don't tell them it took less than 15 minutes, I won't either. Unless I forgot to bring something, in which case all bets are off.

Pictured: not a good hostess gift.
Even for someone who "doesn't want" wine.

Since I'm hosting Thanksgiving myself, I actually don't have to part with my jar. I just happened to come home from the farmer's market last weekend with a bag of plump, sweet-smelling Meyer lemons that were begging to be turned into something lovely and delicious. The kitchen smelled divine as soon as I cut into the first one, and the final product is pretty fantastic. Pale yellow and not too sweet, it's a buttery, rich spread that I can't wait to slather on a biscuit for breakfast tomorrow (although so far, I have very much enjoyed eating it straight from the jar with a spoon). Somewhere between a creamy jelly and a tart custard, I plan on enjoying it both for dessert and breakfast. This hostess gift pulls double-duty. And of course, you can't really go wrong throwing in a nice cabernet for good measure.

November 15, 2010

Crispy, Exciting Spaghetti Squash

I have two memories of spaghetti squash:

1) When we were kids, we had it for dinner on the deck one summer. As a longtime spaghetti lover, I was skeptical. Really guys? Some weird vegetable instead of pasta? Sounds a lot like the time Dad tried to trick me into eating anchovies. It was delicious, though. Crispy, a little crunchy, and a lot exciting.

2) My sophomore year at Ohio State, in my first kitchen that wasn't Mom's, I tried to recreate the magic. It was the first year that I made any real attempts at cooking, and I was confident that it would be fantastic. The internet told me to microwave it. I don't remember what seasonings were involved, but I do remember that it was mushy, bland, and disappointing.

Not the most glamorous vegetable, is it?

Fast forward to the present. I'm reaching for a butternut squash, and I lock eyes with a box of spaghetti squash. I decide that I'm up to the challenge. A few things have changed since I was nineteen. For one, it's been years since I could say, "I'm a teenager, I'm invincible" (Do you guys feel old sometimes?). But more importantly, I've done a few more things in the kitchen, and I no longer consider pasta with boiled broccoli and jarred sauce to be my signature dish (that's embarrassing to remember). I do still get much of my cooking advice from the internet, but I know to read the comments for helpful tips such as, "This is gross. Don't eat it."

I had to fake confidence when I got home, because the boy is around the food-maturity level of my skeptical childhood self (Vegetables? Weird. Will you make me regular spaghetti?). "It'll be great," I told him. "Crispy and crunchy and exciting. You'll love it." He didn't look confident leaving the kitchen, but to be fair, I do sometimes trick him like my dad used to trick me (mostly I add vegetables in unexpected places. I had to stop adding them underneath cheese layers; he said it was much too sneaky).

The verdict? Savory and flavorful, just a touch crispy. Even the boy was pleased. The texture is perfect, and the parmesan and garlic somehow magic a lone vegetable into something rich and satisfying. It's delightful on its own, but I like to serve it with spaghetti sauce cooked with onion, sauteed just long enough to mellow the flavor but with a little crunch and bite left in it. I've been enjoying big bowls of this with a big hunk of bread for dinner periodically for the past couple weeks, and I figured right before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to pass it on.

November 6, 2010

Birthday Cake with Chocolate-Cinnamon Whipped Frosting

How do you tell that you're looking at a grown-up cake? The recipe specifically requests that the bourbon you choose be at least 80 proof.

That's a cake'll put hair on your chest.

It was Erik's birthday yesterday, and a long-standing tradition in our relationship is that I make him a birthday cake and also ruin it in some comically ridiculous way. Some examples: Forgetting to add the egg (delicious, but crumbly and impossible to frost), buttercream frosting so thick that it literally held the cake shape after you ate the cake out from under it (that cake was also delicious, though), and a layer cake held together with chopsticks (again, delicious but ugly).

Traditions aside, I managed to avoid disasters this time around. The cake was pretty tasty, rich and dense, although I think it needed more chocolate to balance out the kick of bourbon. It was easy to make and perfectly moist, so I would definitely make it again, just tweaking the flavor profile a bit. The flavors really mellow after a couple days. I made it a day early, but it takes two for everything to come together. The only changes I made were halving the recipe (12 servings seems a bit much for two people) and adding a few dashes of cinnamon, so I'm just going to send you to the original recipe, in case you're interested:
Gourmet 1999 Chocolate Mud Cake.

So the cake was a little disappointing on the birthday, but delicious the day after. It's a two-day kind of cake. The frosting, though, was beyond amazing right from the get-go. Around 5 o'clock on Friday, I was trying to figure out why I was so damn hungry, and I realized that I had accidentally had nothing but frosting for lunch. I also had a little stomachache, which made a lot more sense after this realization.

Light and fluffy, this frosting is almost as easy to make as plain whipped cream, although it does dirty one more bowl. Erik loves homemade whipped cream enough that he's been known to tell strangers about it, but frosting a cake with whipped cream seems like a soggy, puddly mess waiting to happen . I'm pretty sure I can't make Erik clean up my messes on his birthday, so that was out. Folding in a package of whipped cream cheese solved the dilemma: The frosting is airy and delightful, but it's sturdy enough to stick to the cake. Also, it sat out on the counter for a couple hours without melting. I'm aware that that's not sanitary, but I have to go to class even on birthdays.

For normal whipped cream situations, I usually prefer a barely-sweet vanilla version, sometimes with just a hint of spices. But for a chocolate booze cake, some more flavor seemed in order. After checking in on the birthday boy's flavor preference, we ended up with a vanilla-cinnamon-chocolate frosting. It. Is. Phenomenal. It also made about three times as much as I needed, and it is taking every ounce of restraint that I have to not go at it with a spoon. Fortunately for my waistline, my graduate stipend won't allow me to buy all new jeans, so it's been safe in the fridge so far.

You know I licked these, though.

October 29, 2010

Herblicious Pizza Dough

Who doesn't love pizza night? A couple years ago, we discovered that it's way more fun- not to mention cheap and healthful- to make pizzas at home than to order in. It started out more as an assembly than actual cooking: we bought fresh dough and toppings at Trader Joe's, and could have dinner on the table in 15 minutes. Brilliant. Pizza night quickly became my favorite night. 

But. Trader Joe's broke my heart when they discontinued the Whole-Wheat Garlic Herb crust last year, and we've been making due with sad substitutes ever since. How could I go back to just plain crust after being spoiled for so long?

Turns out, pizza dough really takes very little active prep time to pull together, and zero ingredients that aren't normally already in my kitchen. You do have to plan ahead to give it time to rise, but  it really only takes about 15 minutes of actual attention. Also, it helps to have a boy on hand to clean up the kitchen afterwards.

I'm a huge proponent of the I-cook-you-clean rule.

Cleanup aside, though, this recipe's a cinch. Not counting seasoning (which you can adjust based on what's in your kitchen right this very minute), you're looking at four ingredients. 

This, plus flour and water

Side not: The purple in that herb dish is actually basil. According to the man at the farmer's market, most people use it just as a garnish. And it is lovely: deep, dark purple with green-tipped leaves. However, I live with boys. So at my house, food is usually being consumed before the plate has a chance to touch a single surface. Not a lot of time for garnishing, so I cook with my purple basil.

Combined with a liberal dose of dill, a dash of garlic, and some freshly snipped rosemary, and you end up with a  rich, savory crust that doesn't need a a ton of toppings. I don't know if you're like me, but my tendency is to go a little nuts with the veggies on top. I'm talking roasted garlic, artichoke hearts, back olives, mushrooms and spinach kind of nuts. I'm trying to learn to be more restrained. Keeping the toppings in check leaves you with a pizza that just more                  pizza-y somehow.

October 21, 2010

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

Ah, bright and sunny southern California. Erik and I spent the weekend visiting the fam in San Diego, which was... well, it was gloomy and grey all weekend. SO, the apple-picking fell through, but there was plenty of beer and delicious food to make up for it. Most of it fried and cheesy, just how vacation food should be.

The good thing about dreary, drizzly weekends is that they give you a foolproof excuse for a lazy Sunday morning brunch (essential after a long Saturday night). The snuggly-sweater weather and my cousin's adorable kitchen were the perfect opportunity to try out a quintessential fall breakfast recipe I've been sitting on (not literally): pumpkin pancakes.

No adventures this time around, though, as canned pumpkin is much more readily available in San Diego than in Leesiana. This recipe is quick and easy, ideal for feeding a hungry (hungover) crowd.

Screw you, real pumpkins.

Nope, no adventures, just a hearty, perfectly sweet breakfast, best eaten with friends and family
(Mostly because pancakes don't keep well, so I didn't feel the urge to hide them for later. Other things I prefer to cook alone, so I can ration it out and stash some just for me! See last week's recipe for an example).

Made with whole-wheat flour, these guys are like a normal pancake's outgoing older brother: less light and fluffy, more substantial and bursting with flavor. They're not too heavy, though, and the autumn spices still let the pumpkin shine through. I'm a firm believer that you can tell how delicious something will be by how close everyone stays to the kitchen, and my crowd was parked right in front of the stove. Apparently no one was disappointed, because these things disappeared almost as quickly as they could be flipped from the pan to the plates.

October 11, 2010

Cheesy Onion and Potato Tart

Picture this: I'm at the library to pick up a cookbook written by a local author. The librarian (who has some kind of vaguely British accent, which always makes someone's opinions seem more legit) tells me that she didn't find much she could use from that book, and she recommends this one, instead:

It doesn't have any pictures, so I would normally pass it right by. I guess I'm still a picture book kind of girl.
BUT, if there's one thing librarians know, it's books. So I take it home, look it over, and fall in love a little. It has fairly simple recipes that are chock full of seasonal produce and beautifully-written, appetizing descriptions. Plus, it's based on Italian recipes, so almost every recipe, from breakfast to dessert, involves some kind of cheese. That's my kind of cooking.

I tweaked the onion tart recipe a bit to make it reminiscent of a Spanish tortilla, with the addition of thinly sliced red potatoes. Be careful to keep the heat pretty low as you sauté the onions and potatoes: you want them soft, but not browned or crispy. If they do crisp, though, don't worry. It will still be delicious, just in a different way.

With a touch of sweetness from the onion and the bright flavor of fresh basil, this tart is ooey-gooey comfort food served warm, but it's just as delicious room temperature the next morning. It's substantial and filling but not too heavy, and the richness of the cheeses nudges it into the realm of decadence. Seriously, this is really good stuff. Like, have a piece for dinner, another for breakfast, and hide another to save for lunch good. 

My ricotta involved goats.
Yours doesn't have to.

It's busy-weeknight easy, too. The ingredients come together in a flash, and then you're free to (fill in your chores of choice) while it hangs out in the oven for an hour.

October 4, 2010

Pumpkin Butter and Sweet Potato Wedges

We're finally having a bit of fall weather here. Fall means so many exciting things! Jeans and jackets and not feeling like an obese, asthmatic 90-year-old when I run!

It also means a whole new lineup of delicious ingredients are appropriate. I love berries and tomatoes, but I am ready for a change. I had a couple friends over and went a little nuts with the fall-themed cooking this weekend. I made last week's soup again (sans okra. Erik rebelled against "the weird wheels."). I also fell in love with a butternut squash at the farmer's market, and I got it back home before I realized I didn't know what to do with it.

After consulting the Internet and The Flavor Bible (which is amazing, by the way), I made a baked butternut squash dessert with a layer of crunchy, almost-burned brown sugar on top. Add a dollop of cinnamon-vanilla whipped cream, and you have the perfect fall dessert. Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a rush cooking, so I didn't measure anything or take any pictures. I promise to make it again and get it on here!

Butternut is the most metal of the squashes.

I didn't forget you, though: I was hoping the jelly lady at the market would have apple butter. No such luck, but she did have pumpkin butter. I tried it. It was amazing. I had to have it in my life. It was also six dollars, and I had exactly four left in my wallet.

September 27, 2010

Vegetable and Rice Soup

I kicked off this weekend's adventures with a trip to the farmer's market. I've been meaning to go for weeks now. I finally saw Food Inc. this week, and apparently that was all the motivation I needed. Great film, by the way, as are the books by both authors featured. Full disclosure, though: I did eat a bowl of Smacks during the movie. Apparently, it was convincing enough to get me up at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, but not enough to keep me from eating things with 40+ ingredients.


Back to my market trip: I managed to resist the temptation of the crazy juices, donuts, bagels, and homemade pastries (are we sure that organic cream puffs aren't good for me? Really sure?) and mostly stick to my list. I made it back to my car loaded down with fresh eggs, tons of herbs that I will try my hardest not to kill, plenty of delicious things to dip in hummus, and grass-fed beef.

In celebration of delicious things, lunch was maybe the most amazing poached egg I've ever had, soaked up by a crusty piece of bread and topped with fresh rosemary. Dinner was the first burger I've had in a couple years (I think), on a flaky roll and topped with orange-dyed cheese that comes individually wrapped and somehow melts before any contact with heat. Things like this find their way home when you live with boys. The beef, though, was delicious.

I had planned to share my favorite recipe for pizza dough, but the vegetables and densely seeded homemade bread I came home with were just begging to become a pot of soup (with, um, bread. Which does not go in the soup.).
How could this not turn out well?
You see the garlic, right?

This soup is my go-to guy for any number of occasions: when it's cold out, when I accidentally buy way more vegetables that we'll normally eat, when I realize that the boy hasn't eaten anything green in a week. I've been making it for so long that it was weird to go back and look at the original recipe. No oregano? That's sometimes the only spice I add! What do you mean a small zucchini, I usually add two! I actually made this soup with beet greens instead of spinach once and ended up with a bright purple concoction. It was delicious, but I couldn't convince anyone else to try it. I think there's still some of that batch in my freezer.

September 20, 2010

Orange-Vanilla Spiced Applesauce

I  hate that everything you buy at the grocery has tons of sugar added. Drives me nuts. It means I have to wash the sugar coating off dried cranberries before I use them, and it leads me to do things like stand in a crowded condiment aisle, muttering angrily to myself about how I guess I'll have to learn to make my OWN damn ketchup.

This is misleading

And this no-sugar added nonsense is no better. Calorie free marshmallow topping? Not natural. Full disclosure: I eat dessert every single day. Sometimes I literally eat dessert for dinner (seems efficient, no?). I cook with things like cream, butter, and chocolate, and I shamelessly lick beaters without even scraping them first. But. I do not like for my desserts to masquerade as health food. It's confusing, and it creeps me out. Similarly, no matter how hard woman's  magazines insist that it's true, apple slices do not quell cravings for chocolate ice cream . Let's just accept that dessert and health foods are two separate things (frozen bananas are a different story, but we'll come back to that another day).

Can we be friends? Maybe without Katie bitching about it?

August 29, 2010

I Got Jealous

I'm going to be honest about the origins of this blog: I got jealous. I have so many talented friends (case in point) that make beautiful, practical, and/or delicious things, AND they have pretty blogs to boot!

Well, despite my impressive lack of artistic talent, I do make some pretty tasty things on a fairly regular basis. Plus, I'm literate. That helps.

And the title? I've lived in eight different places in the past six years, including a mess of apartments, a couple different countries of the Spanish-speaking variety, and my wonderful parents' house in between most of the bigger transitions. Not only have I cooked in a lot of places, I've picked up tricks and influences from a lot of people and places. Secret family recipes. Spices I'd never tasted (merken, anyone?). Wonderful things I'd never heard of, but surely now couldn't live without (mmmmmm manjar).

Scrambling from place to place, you learn what you can live without: a blender, hot water from the tap, a drip coffeemaker, that bag of some weird grain that I found at Whole Foods and never used. You learn what's worth packing (and unpacking, probably repacking) for the umpteenth time: my favorite knife, a couple great pans, my tiny milk frother (which is still hiding somewhere since the latest move...), stemless wine glasses.

NEW IKEA Milk Foamer Coffee Frother Cappuccino Cordless
Have you seen me?

And the current kitchen? Here in steamy N'awlins, where the booze runs freely and the seafood is officially safe to eat already. I have a dishwasher, and I will not lack inspiration in this crazy, delicious town. I'm officially out of excuses to not cook.
Oh, wait, does grad school count as an excuse?

I won't bore you with the of the details of my life (although the boyfriend loves it when I tell him every, single thing I've eaten in a given day); I'll try to stick to the details of my kitchen. This isn't xanga, after all. Check in later this week (after I've found my damn camera charger) to see what I've cooked up!

Does anyone even remember xanga?