Archives for November 2012

The Friday Five: Eggnog

By the time Thanksgiving dinner was cleared from the table last week, I was already in full on Christmas mode. Our house—including the tree—is all decorated. I’ve been to AC Moore, Michael’s and Paper Source for all kinds of crafty inspiration and I’ve been pinning cookie recipes like crazy.

Most importantly, I had my first eggnog latte of the season from Starbucks. I just found out that they can be made with low fat eggnog. I don’t remember this being an option before and I’m pretty excited about it. Even though it probably saves about 13 calories.

I know that its thick texture puts a lot of people off, although I think that’s the best part. It’s just like rich, melted vanilla ice cream. I’ve been in love with the stuff ever since I had my grandfather let me try a sip of it out of a tiny paper cup at Christmas Eve dinner one year when I was little. I haven’t ever tried to incorporate eggnog into baked goods, but something tells me that it would be awesome. And, I’m sure one of the treats below could help change your mind if you fall into the anti-eggnog camp:

1)      Cinnamon Eggnog Scones (via King Arthur Flour)

2)      Eggnog Crème Brulee (via Betty Crocker)

3)      Eggnog Truffles (via Shugary Sweets)

4)      Nutella Eggnog Cookies (via Roxana’s Home Baking)

5)      Eggnog Breakfast Pudding with Cinnamon Whipped Cream (via  Lauren’s Latest)

How do you feel about eggnog? Yay or nay? Have you ever used it for baking?

Weekend Instagrams: Thanksgiving Edition

Is it me, or is 2012 the fastest year ever? It’s hard to believe that the fall is nearly over and we are hurtling full speed ahead to Christmas and New Year’s.

That’s one of the reasons that I appreciate Thanksgiving more and more year after year.  It’s a much needed time out and a reminder to take a few moments to cherish the truly important things in life, like family, food and fun.

Of course, there’s a bit of hard work involved, too. It took me and my mom about seven hours or so to get put everything on our Thanksgiving menu together.

Obviously, I get my inability to take a normal photo from my mom.

My mom’s anxiety over cooking the perfect turkey was at an all time high this year. As usual, her fears were unfounded. The turkey and all of the trimmings were the best we’ve ever had. Of course, we say that every year, but seriously, I think we outdid ourselves this time around.

Getting ready for roasting.

Once everything was ready, it was a a help yourself affair. We aren’t overly formal.

Family gathered around the table

My dessert contribution was pumpkin pound cake. I want to eat it everyday. Note to self: Make more things with buttermilk.

You would think that Mel cooked the entire meal herself.

All that time in the kitchen does make you a little loopy.

Chester and I generally avoid the chaos of Thanksgiving Weekend shopping, in favor of getting our house ready for Christmas. Mission accomplished.

I’m hoping that the magic of Christmas will bring Hello Kitty to life so that we can be best friends.

Getting a new tree this year was the best idea ever. This one doesn’t tilt to the side!

I got a bunch of new food themed ornaments for the tree this year. This one if my favorite, obviously.

Hope your weekend was swell.

On the Road: Washington, D.C.

One of the great things about living in Philly is that you are right in the middle of some great destinations for long weekend trips. Over the weekend, Bridget attended a conference in National Harbor, MD, just outside of D.C., so it was easy enough to hop on Amtrak for a two hour trip to spend a few days hanging out with her during her free time.

National Harbor is located along the Potomac River with a few large hotels that cater to large conventions, some trendy, chain restaurants (including a Pinkberry. The chocolate hazelnut flavor is amazing!) and a mix of major retailers and small boutiques (including a Peeps store. I hate Peeps, but it was pretty fun to browse through). Although there are condo complexes around, it doesn’t seem like anyone actually lives there on a full-time basis.

Overall, the town was nice, clean, and offered beautiful views along the waterfront. But, it also feels just a bit odd. It had a manufactured feeling to it that sort of reminded us of the Truman Show and there wasn’t a ton to do. Luckily, downtown D.C. was just about 45 minutes away via a bus and Metro trip, so we spent most of our downtime there.

Usually when I go to D.C., I’m traveling for work-related reasons, so it’s generally a quick in-and-out trip. I haven’t done a whole lot of the touristy things. I was excited to indulge my inner history dork while Bridget was attending conference sessions on Friday with a tour of the Capitol Building.

You can request a tour with access to the House and Senate galleries way in advance through your state’s Congressional office. Or, if you are like me and decide on this activity on the spur of the moment, you can book a (free) one-hour group tour that takes you through the Rotunda, National Statuary Hall and Crypt (where George Washington was supposed to be buried, had he not died before the building was completed). The architecture of the building is just astounding to see in person and it was really humbling to stand in the halls where so much of our country’s history played out and were our governmental structure and laws took shape.

Capitol Dome

I also stopped by the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I overheard one of the tour guides describe it as “the most beautiful building in Washington, D.C.” I have to agree.

I wish that I was a researcher so that I could go into some of the reading rooms, but I was still content to stand in the gorgeous main hall to view them from above and browse through some of the exhibition galleries, including a re-created version of the collection of books that Thomas Jefferson sold to the library to aid in its rebuilding, after British burned it down during the War of 1812.

On Saturday, Bridget was free all day, so we headed back into D.C. for more tourist-ing. Brunch was first on our agenda. We got off the Metro and wandered up 6th Street and stumbled upon Jaleo, a Spanish tapas restaurant. I had heard good things about it and we were sold with just a quick glance at the menu posted in the window.

We sipped mimosas while we browsed the huge menu and picked out five dishes to share. The brunch section of the menu is only lists about six dishes, but there were plenty of other options, from cheese and charcuterie plates, to soups and salads, seafood and poultry, which were perfectly suitable for the time of day of our visit.

We started off with a selection of five cheeses. Our favorites from the plate were the sweet goat cheese, paired with raisin bread and fig jam (first on the left) a strong cow’s milk cheese paired with a slightly sweet rosemary and pine nut shortbread (third from the left) and the smoky cow’s milk cheese with crunchy nut brittle (last from the left). That red, somewhat spicy cheese was definitely not our favorite. The flavor was just way too strong (to use Bridget’s analogy, it tasted like feet).

Our next dish was the warm brussel sprout salad. The sprouts were removed from their core and thinly sliced and then topped with apricots, apple and serrano ham. It was dressed very lightly with an oil and lemon mixture and was a great combination of salty/sweet and crunchy/chewy. From the brunch menu, we chose the olive oil infused pancakes which were delicious on their own, but even better when doused with honey. Our second sort of breakfast dish were the grilled pork sausages. The meat was flavorful, but pretty standard. The accompanying sauteed white beans were my favorite part of the dish. They were accompanied by a garlic aioli that imparted a rich, creamy flavor when everything was stirred together. Our final dish, the Rossejat, was the largest of our selections. This was a paella style dish, made with short bits of fried pasta and shrimp in a seafood broth. I was pleased that the garlic aioli made a second appearance in this dish as well.

I highly recommend Jaleo if you are in the DC area (there are also other locations in nearby Arlington, VA and Bethesda, MD). It would be a great place to go with a big group, not only so you can try out many of the dishes, but so that you can sit at one of the table soccer tables that have been converted into dining areas and play while you eat.

After lunch, it was off to the Newseum, which chronicles about five centuries worth of media history and journalism in all forms. Some of the highlights of the museum’s permanent exhibitions include a comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, sections of the Berlin Wall, accompanied by stories of how news and information helped topple East Germany’s closed society, and an extensive collection of historic newspapers and magazines. On the day we visited, there were also special exhibitions focusing on the role of news and media during presidential elections and the role that the news media has played in helping and hindering the FBI in its efforts to solve criminal cases over the years. Much of the content is very interactive and is delivered through documentary footage, electronic kiosks and multimedia presentations. This was one of the best museums I’ve been to in awhile, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Finally, we walked over to the White House and National Mall, to see the monuments all lit up at night.

It was great to have some quality time with Bridget and I’m really proud of the fact that we navigated both the Metro and downtown D.C. by ourselves, with only minimal hiccups. Thank goodness for Google Maps.

The Friday Five: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is next week, friends!

My mom and I have been e-mailing back and forth since the end of October to plan our menu. As always, she’s in charge of the turkey and I’ll be helping out with the lower maintenance (i.e. easier) side dishes. There are so many wonderful ingredients available to cook with this time of year, including pumpkins, cranberries and apples, and we are planning to use as many of them as possible.

Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  1. Cornbread Stuffing (via Cooking Light): We’ve picked a few recipes out that we like for the stuffing. This one seems like a good base, but we’re probably going to tweak it with a few other ingredients, like golden raisins, apple, celery and onion.
  2. Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Mushrooms (via Bell’alimento): One of our favorite sides from last year will make a repeat appearance. Bonus: it’s super easy to throw together.
  3. Orange and Honey Glazed Carrots (via Saveur): We were having trouble thinking of an option for a non-green side and then I received an email from Saveur with dozens of ideas, including this one. Honey always makes for a nice, rich glaze.
  4. Cranberry, Cherry and Walnut Chutney (via Cooking Light): I love cranberries, but I like them even more when they are combined with other ingredients. We’ll still be making plain old cranberry sauce for those of us who don’t like nuts in our food (i.e. my brother).
  5. Pumpkin Pound Cake with Buttermilk Glaze (via Cooking Light): An alternative to the pumpkin pie that none of us are really a fan of.

Not pictured: Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and my aunt’s homemade bread.

What’s going to be on your table this year?

Hello, 30

One of the silver linings of getting another year older (aside from the cake) is that it provides an excuse for getting together to celebrate with family and friends.

My birthday festivities started off on Saturday morning with brunch with Bridget, my mom and aunt, at Kanella, a BYOB specializing in cuisine from Greece and Cyprus. I can’t believe that I’ve never written about it before. I’ve been there quite a few times for dinner and brunch and its one of my favorite places in the city. The thing that appeals to me most about the food from this area of the world is that it relies on fresh ingredients and a simple presentation. Kanella gets it just right.

With the exception of one or two sweeter dishes (like crepes drizzled with carob syrup), most of the brunch options are of a more savory variety. Some of my favorite dishes are the Cyprus breakfast, which consists of sunny side up eggs, slightly salty, fried halloumi cheese, sausage and toast as well as the Shaksouka, a tomato and pepper stew topped with poached eggs. On my birthday visit, I enjoyed one of the day’s specials, a salad with just barely cooked tuna, served over a bed of greens and topped with a simple squeeze of lemon and hint of salt.

And, of course, since our visit was of a celebratory nature, Bridget and I got our drink on early in the day with mimosas.

Brunch was followed by manicures and pedicures, and then we headed home to get ready for the evening’s festivities. My mom and Chester told me over the summer that they were planning a 30th birthday party for me. While I like the idea of a surprise party, in theory, I would be absolutely mortified to show up to an event in my honor without a fabulous dress/shoes and fresh manicure/blow-out.  I agreed that they could keep the location and other details of the party under wraps, but appreciated the heads up so that I could make sure that I looked presentable.

Chester took the most circuitous route into Center City while I tried to guess while we were headed. Of course, it was impossible to, given the fact that there are a million restaurants around here. After making me nervous by pulling up to sketchiest looking restaurant in South Philly and throwing me off by making it look like we were going to University City when we pulled off the expressway at South Street, we ended up at Georgio on Pine where my family and friends were waiting.

My Vicki’s girls, Gab and Rhonda

Me and my grandfather

My mom and one of her best friends, Donna

Acting like a goof.

I was so excited to see everyone that I spent most of the time going from table to table to chat and not a whole lot of time eating. A rare occurrence.

The food I did try, however, was absolutely delicious. And, there was plenty of it. Seriously, it just kept coming out of the kitchen. There was bruschetta and calamari, a pasta plate featuring gnocchi (the best I’ve had in quite awhile), ravioli in tomato cream sauce and bucatini, a choice of one of three entrees (stuffed chicken, branzino and veal). The staff who worked our party that night could not have been nicer. This restaurant is definitely one of Philly’s hidden gems and highly recommend it.

I did make sure to sit down in time for cake, however. Chester ordered it from Whipped Baked Shop in Fishtown and made sure that it included all of my favorite things: daisies, fudgy chocolate cake and peanut butter buttercream. It was one of the best cakes I have ever had. I’m pretty excited that the top tier is still sitting in my fridge. But, probably not for much longer.

Photo stolen from Rhonda’s Facebook page. Love that the candle said “29, again.”

Checkter: The party was a smashing success. I know that the process involved sending quite a few e-mails, working late nights to take care of the little details, and spending time in the car running errands around the city. You definitely could have a future in events management (Although I’m pretty sure you aren’t the least bit interested). I can’t say thank you enough for making me feel like the most special person on the planet, not just on my birthday, but every day. I know I drive you crazy sometimes and you spoil me much, much more than I probably deserve.

To my family and friends: Thank you for making it a little bit easier for me to say goodbye to my 20s. Extra hugs and thanks to those of you who had to travel in order to spend the weekend with me, including Chester’s parents, Bill and Bing, who flew in from Chicago, and Bridget and Bill who drove in from Boston. And, to those of you who braved the crazy traffic and drove around looking for parking on a busy Saturday night in Philly, thanks for not turning around and going home.

One of my favorite gifts is the box of advice and memories that you all contributed to. Some of my favorite bits include:

Always double bow.” –Mom

“Never, never, never try to fix anything in the house. Always remember that you are your mother’s daughter. Fixing anything is a bad idea” –Aunt

“Always remember where you came from and who really matters to you, always forgive and forget, and sometimes just forget. –Joe, one of my mom’s best friends

“Make sure that you save room for dessert. And soup.” –Dave Bruno

“Drinking helps” –Darin Pfeifer

And, as for memories that I couldn’t forget, even if I tried:

“Remember when you got your legs stuck under Nunnie’s fence while playing on the slip and slide.” – Yes, Bridge, I do. I told my mom that the scars running up and down my legs were the result of my press-on nails. She totally bought it (not).

“The Russian Tea Room, NYC. Suzie, Maryann, Bridget and Lauren for lunch. $85 each. Bridget and Lauren wouldn’t eat.”–This was on the occasion of Bridget’s 12th birthday. Our palates were not yet that adventurous.

“Getting held up by the police at your bachelorette party.” –  Ciana, please tell Julius once again, that I’m sorry about his car. I know it’s been two years, but I don’t think I’ve done quite enough apologizing for that incident, yet.

I’m looking forward to everything that’s in store for the the next decade—and beyond. With all of the wonderful people I have in my life, I know that everything that is to come is sure to be kick ass.

The Friday Five: Birthday Cake!

When my BFF and I were little, we spent quite a bit of time sitting on the front steps, making grand plans for our grown up lives.

We always seemed to focus on what it would be like when we were 30. It seemed so old. But, luckily, it also seemed sooooooo far away.

The time flew. And, all of a sudden, here I am on the final day of my 20s.

I have most of the things that I thought I would have back in the day, like:

A driver’s license (which I had to take five times, because I was a terrible parallel parker. Still am.). And, a car.

And, a husband.

And, good friends.

And, my own house.

And, another living thing that depends on me (Yes, she’s just a cat. And, yes, Chester is also part of the reason she’s still alive. But, I like to think that I’m helping).

I get to go where I want, buy what I want and stay up late (which for me, is about 10:00 p.m. I really live it up).

Oh. And, I have a job.

And, bills.

And, stress.

Those parts are not so fun. But, for the most part, I’m pretty darn lucky.

All that to say: I suppose that I am actually a grown-up.

Even though I still feel like I’m 11 on most days. Is that going to change automatically tomorrow?

Even if it does, I’m looking forward to a celebratory weekend with family and friends, in which I plan to indulge in as much birthday cake as humanly possible. Because that’s always acceptable. No matter how old you get.

These are a few that I wouldn’t mind seeing lit up with an alarming number of candles this year:

  1. Yellow Cake with Fudge Icing (via Saveur): This is by far my favorite birthday cake combination. I used to request it every year and my mom, the self-proclaimed Boxed Cake Queen, always delivered.
  2. Triple Chocolate Cake (via Pellman Foods): This cake has made an appearence at several of my birthday celebrations and can be purchased at Beiler’s Bakery, one of the Amish-run stands at the Reading Terminal Market. Creamy, fudgy icing surrounds four layers of rich chocolate cake. The whole thing is topped off with a ridiculous amount of chocolate curls.
  3. Lemon Cake (via Martha Stewart): As far as cake flavors go, I tend to stick to standard chocolate and vanilla, but would consider departing from the norm for lemon cake.
  4. Funfetti Cake (via the Kitchn): Funfetti still makes me feel like a kid, no matter how old I get.
  5. Pink Ombre Swirl Cake (via Glorious Treats): This is just the most beautiful cake ever!

What’s your favorite birthday treat?

The Friday Five: Halloween Leftovers

When we made our trip to the supermarket to stock up on supplies in preparation for the hurricane, Chester brought along a coupon for Halloween candy. Although I love a bargain, I refused to use it. We rarely get trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood and I knew that being trapped in the house for two days with three bags of candy would not end well for my waistline.

While out running errands during lunch on Halloween, I started to feel bad. If a little kid did in fact knock on my door that evening all I would have had to distribute would be Wint-o-Green Lifesavers or pennies. I didn’t want to be one of those people. You know you had them on the block where you grew up, too.

So, I grabbed a bag of Reese’s pumpkins, just in case.

Of course, zero trick-or-treaters came.

And, yesterday, Chester came home with quite the assortment of half-priced candy from CVS, including a nice variety pack of Reese’s cups, Hershey Bars, Kit-Kats and Almond Joys. He knows me so well.

So, now I’ve got leftover Halloween candy. And, I’m sure you do, too.

Fortunately, candy can always be incorporated into a variety of other treats. Halloween usually results in a pretty random assortment. Although some of these recipes suggest specific types of candy, they would all still work if you just threw together whatever you happen to have on hand:

  1. Candy Bark (via Bon Appetit)
  2. Candy Jar Ice Cream (via Everyday with Rachael Ray)
  3. Shortbread Candy Bars (via Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food)
  4. Leftover Halloween Candy Bundt Cake (via The Food Librarian)
  5. Halloween Candy Snack Mix (via Babble)

Personally, I’m glad that Halloween is out of the way so that we can move on to the “good” holidays. Bring on all things Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Hurricane Sandy swept through the East Coast on Monday and Tuesday and I’m relieved to say that–at least in my little corner of South Philly–we came through relatively unscathed.

I know that folks in the surrounding areas, including the Philadelphia suburbs, the Jersey Shore and New York were not so lucky. Seeing the photos and news footage of all of the devastation is heart-wrenching. I hope that those who were affected will be able to recover some sense of normalcy in the coming days and weeks and begin the process of rebuilding.

At my house, the lights flickered a few times, but they stayed on. We got a bit of water in our basement, but that’s par for the course with even the most minor of rainstorms. All of the trees on our street are still standing. I feel pretty lucky.

And, I’m not going to lie. I kind of enjoyed my Hurrication.

I flipped back and forth between constant news coverage and the Food Network (I also discovered that Chester never programmed the Hallmark Channel into our cable menu. I was wondering where The Golden Girls had gone!). I finished making a photo book to document our trip to France last year. I spent quality time with my Nook, catching up on magazines and this month’s book club selection (Escape, which I highly recommend. It’s so crazy that I have to keep reminding myself it’s actually a true story). I played with the cat, although I think that she was annoyed that I was disrupting her sleep schedule. I drank way too many cups of coffee.

Best of all, I made these pumpkin cookies. Which are actually less like cookies and more like little mini cakes.* The soft, slightly spicy cookies are complemented by a sweet cinnamon cream cheese frosting. They pair extremely well with a fresh cup of coffee and are just the thing to warm you up on a cold and rainy fall day.

Soft Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

From: The Baker Chick

Makes about 3 dozen

What you will need

For the cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I didn’t have cloves, so I substituted the same amount of   pumpkin pie spice. Perfect).
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
2-3 cups powdered sugar (2 ½ cups was about the right sweetness for my taste).
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

What to do

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine first seven ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and white sugar.
  3. Add pumpkin, egg, and vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy.
  4. Add dry ingredients gradually and beat until combined.
  5. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls. The dough will be pretty soft. I used a medium sized cookie scoop to make them a pretty uniform size. Just scrap the scoop against the side of the bowl to round it off before dropping on the sheet.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. While the cookies cooling, make the icing: cream butter and cream cheese together in bowl of electric mixer. Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until thick and creamy; Add vanilla and cinnamon.
  8. When cookies are cooled, spread frosting on top with an offset spatula.

*These cookies actually remind me of these Archway cookies that my grandmother used to buy for me any my brother when we were young. They were a soft, vanilla flavored cookie with a thin layer of white frosting and red and green sprinkles. They were oval shaped and I want to say they were called Frosted Fingers. Sadly, I haven’t seen them in years. Does anyone else remember them or know where I can find them? I’ll be your friend forever if you do!