New Year’s Day Brunch

There are a number of things I miss about living in Manhattan. High up on that list is brunch.

Brunch is served here in Boston, but it’s just not the same.  New Yorkers really know how to brunch.  In New York, brunch is not a meal eaten between breakfast and lunch, but in place of both.  Meaning that nobody in New York eats brunch at 10:00am.  I don’t even think restaurants open for brunch that early.  Brunch reservations are hardest to come by around 1:00pm, once the city has awoken and everyone has had time to make themselves presentable.  Which is another thing I love about brunch in the city.  It’s an occasion to be seen.  Here in Boston, I throw on sweat pants and stumble down the street for pancakes.  In New York, I wouldn’t have dreamed of brunching without blow drying my hair and smearing on lip gloss.  There’s something about drinking cocktails with your eggs that makes you feel like you should wear make-up, and since no New York brunch menu is complete without a cocktail, mascera is a must.

In the spirit of the New York brunch, I give you a few ideas to choose from for your New Year’s Day festivities.  Sleep in, pour plenty of Champagne, and treat yourself to a decadent meal before those New Year’s Resolutions sink in.

New England Noodle Kugel

cranberry nrunch kugel

Noodle kugel makes for a wonderful brunch dish.  Serve with a salad of orange and grapefruit wedges

Blueberry Cornmeal Waffles

blueberry cornmeal waffles

Go ahead and use frozen blueberries in place of fresh.  No need to thaw before adding them to the waffle batter.


mexican breakfast

I top my chilaquilles with a fried egg, but tossing some shredded chicken in the pan when you add the tortillas to the bubbling salsa would be even more authentic. Of course, you could always go for both!

Peach Oat Muffins

healthy peach muffins

I love these moist and chewy muffins with a liberal schmear of strawberry jam.  Something about the peach and strawberry combo does it for me! Frozen peaches work great in this recipe.

Italian Chicken Sausage Hash and Eggs

hash and eggs

Crisp, hearty sausage hash is fantastic for feeding a crowd.  I love this version with Italian sausage, but for extra kick you could substitute fresh Mexican chorizo instead, and garnish with a bit of chopped cilantro.

Apples ‘N Honey Pancakes

brunch pancakes

Pretty apple slices, sweet honey drizzle, what more could you want? Oh yeah… a glass of Champagne.

Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm  Comments (14)  
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Last Minute Cookies: Chocolate Palmiers

chocolate palmiers

If, between dashing through the snow and decking the halls, you haven’t had a whole lot of time left over for baking, you’re not alone. 

Actually, we got barely a dusting of snow, and my halls are pretty bare, but even so our oven hasn’t gotten much of a workout this holiday season.  I could tell you that I have been especially busy at work, or that I’ve been making the Christmas party rounds.  But the truth is so much more embarrassing. 

It’s Sex and the City. A show I haven’t thought about in a decade, and now have on DVD, and it’s addictive. 

So, yeah, I have been sitting on the couch, watching bad ’90s fashion, instead of making you cookies.  And now it’s almost Christmas, and the lack of sugar simply will not do.  I may be a newbie at this whole Christmas thing, but I know enough to realize that you can’t have Christmas without goodies.  Thankfully, I also know that it takes all of about 15 minutes to make these flaky little treats.

taza chocolate of sommerville MA

Ina Garten’s fabulously simple recipe for palmiers, those flaky elephant ear cookies, could only be improved with the magic of chocolate. The key here is to use fabulous chocolate.  I went with a few ounces of Taza’s Salt and Pepper Chocolate Mexicano. Yep.  Salt and pepper chocolate.  Amazing. Kind of gravely, a little strange, but amazing.  I discovered it at the Taza factory store and I’m addicted.  I’ve been adding it to everything from oatmeal cookies to chili con carne, to these pretty palmiers.  Actually, the chocolate makes the palmiers slightly less pretty, and a bit more messy.  But they are oh-so tasty!

elephant ear cookies

Chocolate Palmiers

adapted from Ina Garten

1 cup  sugar

pinch of kosher salt

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted

3 oz good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the sugar and kosher salt. Spread half of the sugar mixture on a flat surface. Unfold the sheet of puff pastry onto the sugar and pour the rest of the sugar mixture on top, spreading it evenly on the puff pastry. Roll the dough until it’s about 13 by 13-inches. Sprinkle the top evenly with the chocolate and press the chocolate lightly into the dough. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle. Then fold like closing a book to have six layers. Carefully slice the dough into 1/2-inch slices and place the slices on two parchment lined baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 6 minutes until caramelized on the bottom, then turn over and bake another 5 minutes, until caramelized on the other side. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.


Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm  Comments (8)  
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Candied Cranberries Revisited

sugared cranberries

I’m still new to this whole Christmas thing, which makes me a bit like a kid in a candy store.  I’m not alone, I think, in those who inherit Christmas by marriage.  After decades of watching through the windows as neighbors decorate trees and rip open mountains of gifts, it’s hard to contain the enthusiasm when we finally get a piece of the pie. There is just so much of it.  It’s all encompassing. Cookies to make, stockings to stuff, gifts to wrap, trees to decorate, cartoons to watch, cards to read, carols to sing… and it goes on.

My mother-in-law has Christmas down to a science.  On the Friday after Thanksgiving the snowmen and nutcrackers march out of the closet.  The Christmas mugs appear, full of cocoa.  The carols find their way into the CD player, and the tree bursts out of the living room floor, complete with star on top.  Cookies and fudge explode from the kitchen in a month-long stream, and wrapping paper tumbles down from the attic, ready to embrace gift after gift after gift.

It’s taken a while, but I’m getting the hang of it.  I’ve learned the merits of the dollar store for stocking stuffers, and even have an annual Christmas outfit, complete with a beautiful bright green silk blouse.   And while my in-laws certainly produce enough Christmas treats for all of us, I’ve even started to bring Christmas into my very own kitchen.

christmas cranberries

I discovered candied cranberries last year too late for Christmas.  I made them to cheer myself out of the post-holiday blues, and they were lovely.   Check out that original post here. The original recipe was so simple, just cranberries, sugar, and water.  Simple, easy, and even a bit healthier than all those cookies and chocolates.

But this year I took these festive little treats a step further, adding orange blossom water to delicately flavor the sweet confection.  As you bite through the crispy sugared outer shell and the tart berry bursts in your mouth, the perfume of orange flowers fills your head. Exotic and a bit mysterious, orange blossom water works beautifully to elevate the humble holiday cranberry.   I bought a bottle of orange blossom water at a local Middle Eastern store, and have been finding ways to sneak it into everything (it is fantastic in rice pudding). I believe, though, that brands differ in strength and concentration.  So while a couple teaspoons worked perfectly for me, I would urge you to play with the amount of orange blossom water to your taste.

These berries would be fantastic packaged in little jars as holiday hostess gifts.  Or put out a little bowl to snack on and they will be gone in minutes.  I’ve been loving them over waffles and even as a decadent addition to my morning oatmeal.  We’ve always gobbled them up rather quickly, but just in case you manage to save some, know that they don’t last for much more than a week before getting quite soggy. And this should be obvious, but another word to the wise… don’t use those cranberries that have been languishing in the fridge since Thanksgiving.  You might be able to get away with an old package of berries for cranberry sauce, but not for candied cranberries.

recipe for candied cranberries

Orange Blossom Candied Cranberries

1 cup water

2 teaspoons orange blossom water

2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided

1 cup fresh cranberries

Bring the water, orange blossom water, and one cup of sugar to a boil in a small saucepan.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and then remove from the heat.  Let cool 10 minutes and then add the cranberries and cool completely.  Transfer the cranberries and sugar-water to an airtight container and let sit at room temperature at least 6 hours or overnight. Spread the remaining sugar on a plate.  By the small handful, shake excess liquid from the cranberries and then roll them in the sugar.  Place the rolled berries on a baking sheet to dry.  Repeat with all the berries and then allow to dry for at least an hour.

Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 8:21 am  Comments (23)  
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The Question of Meatballs

Sicilian meatball

My Sicilian friend Katia first introduced me to this easy method of cooking meatballs.  I stood in her kitchen watching her form and drop meatballs into simmering sauce, and wondered if perhaps it was an Italian secret.  But after interrogating the wait staff at a variety of North End Italian restaurants, I found that the majority go for frying, touting the browned edges as flavor boosters.  But I must admit, these meatballs, simmered in wonderfully flavorful sauce, impart their flavor and become meltingly tender, unlike their fried counterparts.   I then thought that maybe this simmer method was specifically Sicilian, but in chatting with a colleague at work, discovered that his Sicilian wife bakes her meatballs. A mystery.

When it’s so cold outside that my eyes tear up as soon as I leave house, all I want is warm comforting food.  Hearty food. But given the abundance of holiday treats and frequency of holiday parties this month, I’m trying my best to eat lightly in between the festivities.  So healthy comfort food is the name of the game in December. And of course, with all those parties to attend, and cookies to bake, this is not the time of year for lengthy dinner recipes.

Which brings me back to these meatballs.  Is there anything better than a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs?  But ground lean turkey and egg whites make these lighter.  And if you choose, whole wheat spaghetti is a great alternative for a bit more fiber.  But what I love most about these meatballs is how they are cooked.  Simply form the meatballs and drop them into the simmering sauce, no need for added fat.  

How do you cook meatballs? Bake? Fry? Simmer?

If you have never tried the simmer method, I urge you to give it a shot.  Tender meatballs, extra flavorful sauce, and no added fat from frying.  I found this particular recipe in an old issue of Bon Appetit Magazine.  I love the use of pesto to flavor the meatballs.  You can use store-bought pesto or homemade, whichever you prefer.  And good quality store-bought chunky tomato pasta sauce is just fine here.  The meatballs will flavor the sauce itself anyway. But I like my quick-fix tomato sauce, so I have included that recipe for you below as well.

pasta with meatballs

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 6

4 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce  (store-bought or ee recipe below)

1 pound ground turkey

1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

1/3 cup pesto (store-bought or homemade) 

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound spaghetti

Bring the sauce to a simmer in a large pot. Mix together the turkey, breadcrumbs, pesto, egg whites, and salt. Form into 11/2 inch meatballs. Drop the meatballs gently into the sauce. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Serve the meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti.

Quick Fix Chunky Tomato Pasta Sauce

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/3 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 26 oz package of Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine

1 cup water

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried parsley

salt and pepper

In a large pot, saute the garlic and onion in oil over medium low until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, and water along with the herbs, and simmer on low 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm  Comments (24)  
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Easy Hanukkah Doughnuts

hanukkah doughnut

Hanukkah is a week-long fried food fest.  All that oil and celebrating, you just have to go with it and wear elastic-waist pants.  Or big fuzzy sweater dresses and tights, which has become my new uniform as holiday eating sets in. 

hanukkah jelly filled doughnut

Who could possibly resist sufganiyot (Hanukkah jelly doughnuts)? They might be worth the elastic waist.  Puffy fried pastry filled with sweet jam and dusted with powdered sugar.  Is it any wonder I got up an hour early yesterday morning to make them?  I’m usually a breakfast-on-the run kind of girl.  I sleep as late as possible, run out the door, and scarf down a yogurt at my desk.  But I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed getting up early, watching the sun come up, frying doughnuts, and savoring the crisp hot pastry with a cup of tea.

puff pastry doughnutThese doughnuts are really best eaten warm, and frankly aren’t very good the next day.  Traditional sufganiyot last a bit longer, but short cuts have their price, and the delicate store-bought puff pastry here doesn’t stand up well to the test of time.  But it does enable sufganiyot in 30 minutes or less.  No joke, bed to blissful doughnut in under half an hour.  Store bought puff pastry is not just a time-saver, it also makes for light, airy, and flakey doughnuts. And good (I mean really good) jam adds just enough sweetness.  Doughnuts are often too sweet, but puff pastry, which has no extra sugar, keeps these sufganiyot from being too cloying.  And if you’re going for something a bit less traditional, you might try filling the doughnuts with Nutella instead of jam.

Quick Hanukkah Doughnuts

Vegetable oil, for frying

1 sheet store-bought puff pastry

Flour for dusting

¼ cup jam

¼ cup confectioners sugar

 Heat the oil for deep-frying in a heavy pan over medium heat until is registers at least 360 degrees on a candy or deep fry thermometer. If the oil is not hot enough the doughnuts will be oil-filled and soggy. Roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface to a 35 by 15 inch rectangle.  Cut into four long strips.  On two of the strips dollop spoonfuls of jam, leaving an inch between each.  Top with the remaining dough strips and presto seal around each spoonful of jam. Use a round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut out the doughnuts.  Fry the doughnuts in batches until browned on both sides.  Drain on paper towels, cool slightly, and dust with powdered sugar.


Published in: on December 4, 2010 at 1:01 pm  Comments (20)  
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Double Ginger Ice Box Cake

Ok, ok, I know,  today is the first night of Hanukkah.  And I’m writing about ice box cake, which is decidedly not a Hanukkah food. But to be fair, I made it yesterday.  And I worked late tonight.  So I meant to have latkes for dinner and tell you all about them, but I didn’t.  Not yet.  However, if you have a hankering for potato pancakes, check out last year’s Hanukkah latkes here.

I promise to be back with latkes and doughnuts before Hanukkah is over, but for now, ice box cake.  Have you ever had ice box cake?  It’s probably more of a summer dessert, great for hot days when you don’t want to turn on the oven.  But ease and speed are welcome anytime of the year. And the gingersnaps and bits of candied ginger do add a bit of holiday flare to this ice box cake. 

In any case, after Thanksgiving’s forray into chemical-laden retro treats, I seem to be addicted.  This is not a recipe for purists. Gotta love Cool Whip!  But the creamy layers combined with the chewy ginger make for a much more sophisticated texture experience than you’d think you could get from cookies and Cool Whip. The key here is to use really thin cookies to get multiple creamy layers.  I like Anna’s Ginger Thins but any thin crispy gingersnap will do. 

gingersnap ice box cake

Double Ginger Ice Box Cake

Serves 6

6 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces Cool Whip

1/8 cup chopped candied ginger

5 ounces thin ginger cookies

Beat the cream cheese until fluffy.  Beat in the Cool Whip and then stir in the candied ginger.  Line a loaf pan with foil.  Spread the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of the cream.  Top with a single layer of cookies, broken up to fit as needed.  Repeat with more layers of cream and cookies, ending with a layer of cream.  Freeze for two to three hours (ice box cake is usually refrigerated for at least 6 hours, but freezing is so much faster).  Slice and serve.

Published in: on December 1, 2010 at 8:14 pm  Comments (13)  
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