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Don’t knock over the homemade pickles!

4 Sep

Have you ever been in a pickle? What about up to your elbows in pickles? What about cleaning up a mason jar of homemade pickles that you knocked over on your way out to the pool in the middle of the night and then rearranging the remaining ones so no one knew a jar was missing because you were in high school and heaven forbid  you got grounded over the pickles? Yea…didn’t think so.


July & August is pickle time at my parents’ house. Lots and lots of pickles. Straight from the victory garden. My dad grows almost everything in his garden. The cucumbers, hot peppers, garlic, dill…it goes on.

You start with nice, clean Mason jars.

Add garlic.

Hot peppers.

More spices.

Dill. And more dill.

Then pickling cucumbers.

And brine.

Seal the jar, and refrigerate for two months. In the end, it’ll be a delicious jar of dill-ness.

(I would so get invited to the collective, because I would bring pickles.)

In Pursuit. Of a Suit. And Margaritas.

30 Aug

I need a new suit. And not the interview kind. The swimsuit kind.

You see, I’m going on this trip. To Mexico. With my dad. To scuba dive.

Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Or so I thought. Until I put on my BC (the vest part of scuba gear) in my bikini and basically flashed my immediate family in our backyard.

Not. Cool.

Also not cool? Stripping off a full body covering of wet neoprene after a dive and flashing the ENTIRE DIVE BOAT. I’d like to avoid that, please and thank you.

Apparently, my “tanning” swimsuits are not, um, actually meant for swimming. (Perfect for lounging, drinking margaritas, and ensuring minimal tan lines though.)

So now I’m on the hunt for a swimsuit that has enough coverage that I don’t risk exposing myself to Jorge the dive guy, and lacks enough coverage so I can still get a tan. And…my current willingness to pay for said swimsuit is max $40 as I will ruin it with a week of saltwater, sunscreen, and Mexican sun. Easy, right? Riiiiiiiiiiight.

Given how challenging this sounds…when I thought about it this past Sunday…we decided to make frozen margaritas instead. Yum.

And by “we” I mean Big Kev and by “decided” I mean that I mentioned margaritas incessantly until one appeared.

And then we broke the blender. But that’s a story for another day.

Luckily, my margarita was already mixed. Yeah, luckily…

Big Kev’s Frozen Margarita Recipe:

  • 1 can frozen Bacardi margarita mix
  • Tequila
  • Triple sec
  • Superfine sugar
  • Key Lime juice
  • Ice

Pour the frozen Bacardi mix into a blender. Use the mix container to measure 1 can of tequila and 1/2 can of triple sec. Add both to the blender. Add in some superfine sugar and lime juice to test. Blend together with ice.

Homemade Happy Hour

25 Aug

Do you ever have those times where you just wish there was a place that served bottomless chips and salsa, alongside bottomless margaritas? It would be even better if said place had a happy hour that didn’t require you to drain your bank account.

And don’t lie…I know I’m not the only one.

So I really like doing happy hour at home, on my porch. I’ve got a sweet glider swing and the weather is amazing lately. Plus, I can have as many margaritas as I want when I’m at home.

The problem issue is, I’m a bit of a salsa and margarita snob. I haven’t ever found a grocery-store jar salsa that I really like—they are all either too chunky, too watery, or too full of artsy things like “mango” and “jicama.” And as for margaritas, I have a recipe that I like, but I’m always open to suggestions, as long as I’m not going to end a) stinking drunk or b) with heartburn.

(Personally, I can’t decide if I prefer a or b.)

Which is why this salsa is pretty much perfect for me. It’s a restaurant-style salsa, not too chunky, not too spicy, just right. It was also served with a margarita that I didn’t have to make, which clearly upped the delicious factor.

The restaurant-style salsa recipe is pretty simple. Canned whole tomatoes, some Rotel, garlic, cilantro, onion, cumin, lime, and a jalapeno. You just blend everything together in a food processor, and you’re done.

Make sure you buy good, quality tomatoes, as these are the base for the salsa. Look for whole Roma tomatoes, or, San Marzano tomatoes taste amazing when you really want to splurge.  And yes, not all canned tomatoes are the same.

As for the margarita, I have no idea on the exact ratio of ingredients, but I do know its tequila, gran marnier, lime juice, and simple syrup. These are cp-bf’s specialty, so I just leave the mixing and magic to him.

Plus, the salsa makes a big enough batch that I was able to fill up three smaller mason jars with it, and still have some leftover. Which was perfect, as I had a housewarming party to go to last weekend. Yet another great easy and inexpensive DIY present.

Restaurant-Style Salsa:

  • 1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes in juice
  • 2 cans (10 oz. each) Rotel tomatoes and green chiles
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 whole jalapeno, quartered and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 cup cilantro
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

Combine all the ingredients in a 12-cup food processor. Squeeze in the lime juice. Pulse the ingredients until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust seasonings as needed.

You do need to use a larger food processor, as this makes a decent-sized batch. If you don’t have a 12-cup processor, you could pulse the ingredients in batches and then combine together in a large bowl.

If you want your salsa to be less spicy, remove the seeds and veins from the jalapeno before using.

(and in the spirit of honesty, I first saw this recipe on Pioneer Woman.)

Eggs Benedict, aka Eggs Delicious

24 Aug

A few weekends ago I went to visit one of my biz school girlfriends in her hometown of Chagrin Falls, OH. Jessica and I are both into anything delicious, which usually means anytime we see each other its guaranteed to be a food bender. With intermittent fancy drinks mixed in.

This past visit was no different. High points included homemade crab cakes with sirracha mayo, waffles topped with peaches and fresh maple syrup, mimosas, margaritas, and eggs benedict.

Did I mention the eggs benedict?

Quite possibly my favorite breakfast dish. Of. All. Time.

You start by making some hollandaise.

And maple-glazed canadian bacon.

Then poach your eggs.

(This looks grosser than it really is.)

Layer it all on an english muffin.

And enjoy.

Just try not to think about how you are having carbs loaded with bacon topped with a poached egg topped with buttery egg sauce. You can always go running tomorrow.

Don’t even bother asking me for the recipe…because I will openly admit I did not contribute a single thing to the construction of this meal. Hey, I can’t cook all the time, right?

Many thanks to the lovely Johnson family for a great weekend and some amazing eggs benny.

A brunch without mimosas…

14 Aug

Is just a really lame breakfast.

You could say the same for brunch without champagne.

Just a really late breakfast.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Love: Chocolate Chip Cookies

9 Jul

I have a huge soft spot in my heart for chocolate chip cookies. My mom baked them almost every week when I was growing up…and almost very week my sister and I were plotting new ways to steal cookie dough from the bowl when she wasn’t looking. (Hint: it is very easy when the oven is in a different room from the kitchen…)

For a while, I was using the Toll House recipe, but then my friends at America’s Test Kitchen did a chocolate chip cookie recipe test, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

It’s almost the same as Toll House (which ATK based their recipe on) but has a few differences. Namely, more brown sugar then white sugar, one egg and one egg yolk instead of two whole eggs, and you are supposed to brown the butter. (Being that I have zero patience am leaving on a business trip today at five, I just went for melting the butter.)

Another reason why I love ATK is that this recipe also included a baking chip taste-test (Ghiradelli 60% Cacao won), tips on how to measure flour (apparently “by weight” is the preferred method, ugh idonthavetimeforthis), and reinforced what I always say about baking things one pan at a time (yes, I do love being right).

The recipe said it made 16 cookies, and I ended up with around 21 cookies of deliciousness. I highly suggest reading the ATK article on how they came to this recipe, baking more than 700 cookies in the process.

Got milk?

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375F. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl, or brown the butter in a skillet. Add both sugars, salt, salt and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Add in egg and egg yolk, stirring for about 30 seconds. Let the mixture stand for three minutes, and then whisk again for 30 seconds. Repeat this process two more times. (This gives the sugar time to dissolve into the butter, giving your cookies a nice caramel taste.) Stir together the flour and baking soda, and mix into the butter mixture until just combined. Mix in the chocolate chips.

Scoop dough onto parchment paper lined baking sheets, about 2-3 tablespoons per scoop. Bake at 375F or until cookies are golden brown and puffy. Cool completely on wire racks.

Friday Finds: Cookbooks I Love

29 Jun

Given that I’m a kitchen-cooking-appliance-tool-food junkie, I’m often asked questions about which is the best pasta maker (it depends on whether you want electric or a hand crank), what type of butter I buy (always purchase unsalted, you can always add salt in later), and what are people going to give me at my wedding, since I already own every kitchen gadget known to man (there is this green paper stuff called “cash,” as my mom says, it’s just as good as money).

But my favorite questions are always around what recipes I like and what cookbooks I own. Now, some people are all snobby and of the “I don’t cook from a recipe” persuasion, but they can go kick rocks. Cookbooks are great because the recipes have ALREADY BEEN TESTED and therefore there is less chance of YOUR FOOD SUCKING. Plus, a recipe is a great starting point and you can always change and spice it up however you like.

Here are five of my favorites. Open any one of these at my house and you’ll find the pages filled with notes, fingerprints, and turned corners marking whats really good.

  1. Dinosaur Bar-B-QueAlthough Dino has been spreading to posh areas like NYC, the restaurant was born and bred in Upstate NY. Their cookbook is filled with amazing recipes for sauces and spice rubs, plus the phenomenal dishes they are known for. My loves are the ginger green bean salad and the mac & cheese.
  2. The Glorious Pasta of ItalyIf I cooked from this book every day, my food life would be amazing. Sauces, pastas, casseroles, raviolis, italian grilling…just love this book. I suggest checking out the smoked mozz and eggplant twist on traditional baked ziti.
  3. The Joy of Cooking: If you don’t own this book, go buy it. Or, scour a good garage sale and you can probably find a copy. Mine cost me $1.00 at a church yard sale. JOC is a kitchen staple—each section gives you the basics of what you need to know on any topic, from baking to broiling to tin foil. My favorite recipe is the mac & cheese. (Yes, I might be slightly obsessed with anything that involves pasta and cheese…)
  4. The Big Book of Cupcakes: Betty Crocker really ups her game with this book. It has hundreds of creative recipe ideas for every possible occasion and holiday. Plus, it’s full of recipes hacks, each recipe has instructions on how to make it from scratch or how to doctor up a box of cake mix for the same effect. I’m partial to the peanut butter cupcakes.
  5. Everything Tastes Better with Bacon: I don’t think this book needs much more of an explanation. Every delicious recipe involves bacon, with recipes for breakfast foods, sauces, side dishes, main courses and desserts. (Yes, bacon desserts.) You can find this cookbook in my kitchen, my mom’s kitchen, my sister’s kitchen, my friends’ kitchens…it’s just that good. I love the bacon-vodka sauce and the bacon-spinach-parmesan mashed potatoes.

Happy Friday and happy weekend cooking!

What are you favorite recipes or cookbooks?

Banana Maple Chocolate-Chip Pancake Muffins

12 Jun

For all those times you want a pancake in travel-friendly form. Or for when you can’t decide between a muffin or a pancake.

Just make a pancake muffin.

Like this.

You don’t even need a mixer.

Just combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and give them a good whisk to fluff them a bit.

And mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. With the mashed bananas.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet.

And mix in some chocolate chips, just to ensure maximum deliciousness.

Divide, bake, and conquer.

The secret is in the maple syrup. I always add in a bit extra than the recipe calls for. Just make sure you are using pure maple syrup—not the imitation kind that comes in a squeeze bottle with a smiling lady on it. Even better if you have a friend who makes their own. Liquid gold people. Pure and amazing.

Banana Maple Chocolate-Chip Pancake Muffin Recipe:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted unsalted butter
  • 2-3 ripe mashed bananas
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk briefly to combine ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, eggs, maple syrup, and melted butter together until well combined. (If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute regular milk mixed with white vinegar in a 1 cup milk to 1 tablespoon white vinegar ratio.) Mix the mashed bananas into the buttermilk-egg mixture. Slowly fold in the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined. Mix in the chocolate chips. Using a large cookie scoop, divide among 24 muffin cups and bake at 350F for 20 minutes, or until done.

Hazelnut Chocolate Brownies, the Old-Fashioned Way

5 Jun

And by old-fashioned way, I mean “from scratch.” Not from a box or from Wegmans. And, contrary to what everyone may say or think, a box of brownie mix is not equivalent to chocolate-filled brownies made with white sugar and butter. But it’s just the same ingredients, pre-mixed.

Erroneous. It’s not the same. It’s not like these.

White sugar and butter, people. It’s amazing.

Start by melting two sticks of butter. Yes, two. This is where it’s super handy to have a glass bowl for your mixer. Add in the sugar, vanilla and then the eggs. Butter + sugar + vanilla + eggs = yellow goodness.

Next, add in the chocolate.

Then flour, salt and baking powder.

Yum.

As if this mix didn’t look good enough, I decided to be especially gluttonous delicious and top the brownies with a hazelnut spread before baking. It helps to have a friend who works for a peanut butter company…who gives you things like hazelnut chocolate spread. Mix up with butter and confectioner’s sugar, and you’re good to go.

Serious chocolate goodness. And way better than anything out of the box.

Hazelnut-Topped Brownie Recipe

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the topping:
  • 1 cup hazelnut spread
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Heat the oven to 350F. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl. Add in the sugar, and stir until well-dissolved. Mix in the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the cocoa and mix until the ingredients are throughly combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly add to the chocolate mixture, until just blended. Pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan.

To make the topping, melt the butter and then mix in the hazelnut spread. Add in the vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Evenly spread pour over the brownies and swirl a knife through the batter/topping to combine slightly.

Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes.

Pitcher-Perfect Margaritas

17 May

Do you ever have those moments where you just crave a good margarita? And not the kind that comes out of a giant bucket and guarantees you heartburn and a terrible hangover and not one of those watered down ones from TGIFridays…and no, I don’t need 37 pieces of flair either.

Just a good margarita. One like this.

I had one of these moments last night. It was awesome.

And because I am a firm believer that everyone needs a good margo recipe (especially now that it’s outdoor & day-drinking season), I’m willing to share.

CakeryPapery’s Pitcher Perfect Margaritas:

  • 1 part tequila
  • 1 part triple sec
  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part sour mix
  • Splash of lime juice

Mix everything together and pour over ice. It’s really that simple.

If you are like my Aunt Marie and are thinking stop watering down my booze with all this ice you can shake with ice and serve it up too. Or refrigerate beforehand and then you don’t need ice. Or if you like it frozen, blend with ice and then serve. Or add strawberry puree to make strawberry margaritas. These are great for day-drinking parties because you can whip up a pitcher and then just pour over ice when your guests arrive. The possibilities are endless. Word to the wise—drink these someplace where you can walk home.

How did I get so good at margaritas? Let’s just say…I have lots of practice making (let’s be honest—drinking) margaritas. And it helps to have a good margarita spot where you can chat up the bartender and learn some tricks.

And it doesn’t hurt to get a fancy pitcher and glasses to serve them in. It makes them look impressive. Mine are from Crate and Barrel. Love Crate and Barrel. I’m on the hunt for an antique martini pitcher, but until then, this one will do.

Cheers!