The first time I ever heard of macaroons was as an undergraduate student at UC Irvine.  I  was reading Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, where in one scene, the main character Nora hides one of her favorite treats, macaroons,  in her pockets, concealing them from her husband.  To my chagrin, that’s the main thing I recall from that play!  Go figure.  I  have discovered however that, like Nora, I too like macaroons. So, thinking I wanted to make something with my almost full bag of coconut flakes, I looked up a recipe for these sweet, scrumptuous treats.  This recipe  is from the Allrecipes website.  It took me about 8 minutes to put the ingredients together, and another 25 minutes or so to bake.  Hmmm, somehow I’m now inspired to reread A Doll’s House.

 

Just Out of the Oven

 I’ve never made popovers before in my life but ever since my friend T showed me this recipe by David Lebovitz, I’ve had popovers on my mind.  And wouldn’t you know it, I even had a brand spanking “new” popover pan in my closet, a gift from a coworker about 7 years ago!  I was amazed at how much these puppies “popped over” the pan when I took them out of the oven.  The opening shot was actually taken about 3 minutes after I took them out so they had a chance to deflate a little.  Brush some melted butter and sugar and what you get is a sweet little treat for dessert and/or  breakfast.

 

 

 

Comfort food means braising, especially these days with the weather being so chilly, even in L.A!  Recently, I meandered into one of my favorite Mexican grocery stores on a rainy, Friday night, in search of some meat.  I picked up a two and half pound beef chuck clod roast.  This cut of beef is basically a beef shoulder roast, which,  because it’s full of tough but flavorful muscles, is wonderful for braising.  The recipe I used incorporates the lusciousness of coconut milk and the intense flavors of garlic, chili, and limes. It reminded me a lot of my mom’s beef rendang, an Indonesian dish that I ate growing up.  Didn’t I say it was comfort food?  By the way, as with most braised dishes, this tastes best made the day before, then reheating again the next day.  It’s been three days since I made it and the flavors keep getting better and better!

Beef Braised w/coconut milk (adapted from Mark Bitman)
ingredients:
4 hot dried red chillie
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoon chili powder (i left this out, didn’t have)
Juice and zest of 4 limes or 4 tablespoons rice vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
3 tablespoons canola oil (or corn oil okay, or olive)
2 and 1/2 to 3 pounds beef, cut into 1-inch cubes (or thereabouts)
4 cups coconut milk (or 2 cans plus 1 cup water)–i didn’t add the water, i forgot
2 teaspoons curry powder
salt to taste
 
directions:
1.  Put first 5 ingreds in a food processor, process until everything is minced, into a paste like consistency.
2.  Heat oil over med-high heat in a Dutch oven or large skillet that can be covered.  Add spice paste, cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant–about 2 min.  Add beef, and cook, occas. stirring, until browned and covered w/sauce.
3.  Pour in coconut milk, bring mixture to a boil, add the curry powder. Lower heat, cover, simmer, stirring only occasionally (but making sure mixture is simmering very slowly with just a few bubbles at  time breaking the surface), until meat is extremely tender–minimum of 1hour, up to 2 or 3 hours.
4.  Uncover, and cook until sauce is v.thick and carmel colored, stirring freq. so it does not brown. (i couldn’t get the sauce to thicken, so i just did this for about 15min, then turned off the stove; the next morning, the sauce had thickened)!
5.  Season to taste w/salt.  Eat over rice and enjoy!

Freshly Baked Loaves

  

 I am going through a break up.  Yeah, it’s been rough, and it’s been sad, and it even feels surreal at times.  Four years is a long time to spend with someone only to have that disappear from your life.  So I’m slowly trying to get my life back into order, doing things I enjoy.  This weekend I wanted to bake bread because for one thing, I love homemade bread!  No Atkins dieter here.  And for another thing, the day I met my ex-boyfriend, I actually was baking bread.  The dough was rising as we exchanged our first words to each other.  So maybe this is a way for me to come full circle with my relationship, to help me say goodbye.  I know the act of baking  bread makes me feel good anyways.  Also, who doesn’t love the smell of freshly baked bread in their house?  The aromas engulf me like a warm, snuggly blanket. 

(btw, I will be posting the recipe for this white bread in a few days so stay tuned). 

How about some butter with that?

It was rainy and cold in usually sunny Southern California today, so I holed up in my house and baked away.  I had so many apples in my fridge and countertop, so decided to bake my “deep dish” apple pie.  I’ve posted this one before but this time added some dried cranberries and golden raisins before baking. This was so juicy and good, especially with some french vanilla ice cream on top.

click here for original post

Upon arriving in Chicago, I was met by my friend T in her red convertible (top up, of course).  She welcomed me with a big hug and a bag of her homemade granola bars, guessing that I might be a little hungry from my flight.  She was so right!  I happily munched on these crunchy and slightly chewy bars,  full of almonds, cranberries and coconut flakes , throughout our ride back to her house.  It was hard for me to just eat one bar because these are so good. Luckily, the recipe comes from a cookbook I happen to own so I knew I’d have to make a batch up myself once I got back home.   Since I’m now back in Southern California,  here they are.   This recipe comes from Ina Garten’s Back To Basics cookbook.  I added whole almonds, dried figs, dried prunes, golden raisins and cranberries.  Get as creative as you’d like. Maybe you can even add some mini chocolate chip morsels, or throw in some macadamia nuts or cashews instead of the almonds.  And don’t forget to make a double batch!

Homemade Granola Bars ( adapted from  Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

2 cups old-fashioned oats

1 cup sliced almonds (I used whole almonds)

1 cup shredded coconut, loosely packed (I left this out because I couldn’t find this at the grocery store but I recommend adding it)

1/2 cup toasted wheat germ

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup honey

1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup dried, chopped figs

1/2 cup dried, chopped prunes

1/2 cup golden raisins

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Butter an 8×12 inch baking dish and line with parchment paper.

Toss the oatmeal, almonds, and coconut (if using) together on a sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.  Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and stir in the wheat germ.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place the butter, honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook and stir for a minute, then pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture.  Add the dried fruits and stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  Wet your fingers and lightly press the mixture evenly into the pan.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly brown.  Cool for at least 2-3 hours before cutting into squares.  Serve at room temperature. Enjoy and share some with your lucky friends!

The Cast of Characters

What do you do with a box of brownie mix, a bag of pretzels, and some peanut butter?  How about baking peanut butter pretzel brownies?  That’s exactly what we did this weekend, an idea  originated by my friend T.  At first we were just going to use the brownie mix and maybe add some pecans but T had a light bulb moment and thought of combining crushed pretzels with crunchy peanut butter and using this as the base for the brownie mix.  The verdict? Deliciously ooey-gooey, rich and chewy with a very delectable crunchiness to it.  I loved the contrasting salty and sweet flavors.  This was definitely a big thumbs up.  Good job, T!

Directions:
Crush about 2 cups of mini pretzels in a food processor until you get coarse pretzel crumbs, do not worry about getting them very fine at all
Pour these crumbs into a bowl and mix in several tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter (or smooth if you want). Stir together until you get a consistency where the crumbs and the peanut butter are sticking to each other enough that you can place this on the bottom of a square 8X8 cookie pan, forming a crust.
Follow the directions for the brownie mix and make sure to add some chopped up nuts if you’d like. (Btw, we used the brownie truffle baking mix from Trader Joe’s and found this to be pretty amazing. I couldn’t believe these brownies came from a box)!
Pour the brownie batter on top of the pretzel-peanut butter crust, apply the batter as evenly as possible.
Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for about 35 minutes (best to check your brownies after 25minutes with a toothpick and gauge its readiness from there. Do not overbake)

   

The "Lou"

  

During my recent visit to the Windy City, my friend T and I had lunch at the world famous Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria.  Oh my goodness, was this pretty darn, outrageously good! We ordered “The Lou” deep dish style, which consisted of fresh spinach, mushrooms, and roma tomatoes covered with a blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese. Also had some of their specialty sausage added for some additional oomph and to crank up the delicious factor just a bit.  Coming from Los Angeles where, may I dare say Pizza Hut is one of my goto pizza hangouts, this visit to Lou Malanati’s was a definite treat.  Even my friend T, a self-proclaimed pizza snob, ranks LM high on her list of Chicago pizza joints.  And if you aren’t so fortunate to take a trip to Chicago yourself, Lou Malnati’s also ships their pizzas to anywhere in the U.S.A.  Now how culinarily cool is that?  

  

"How about a nice, thick slice?"

Lou Malnati’s has various locations in Illinois but we ate at the branch in Evanston.  

1850 Sherman Ave  

Evanston, IL

The inspiration for these cupcakes came from a carton of egg nog that I’ve had in my fridge since New Year’s Eve.  Oh, don’t worry, it doesn’t expire til February but given that we aren’t big eggnog drinkers,  i wanted to make sure that this carton of EG does not go to waste.  So, I thought of adding a bit of eggnog to a basic cupcake recipe from Marion Cunningham’s Fannie Farmer Baking Book.  I also chopped up some Granny Smith apples, added this to the batter, and finished it off with a  little zing of Meyer Rum.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was quite pleased with how my Apple Eggnog Rum Cupcakes turned out. So moist with a subtle hint of eggnog , and juicy apples in every bite.  I doused a bit of powdered sugar for a little extra oomph.  Not bad, eh?

AER Cupcakes–makes 12 cupcakes

ingredients:

6 tablespoons butter, melted

2 large eggs

1/4 cup low fat eggnog

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup AP flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 medium size Granny Smith apples–peeled and chopped into little pieces

1 tablespoon Meyer Rum

powdered sugar (optional)

directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a muffin pan or line them with cupcake liners

2.  Combine the melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and eggnog in a large mixing bowl and beat well.

3.  Sift the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt together and then add the flour mixture into the liquid mixture.  Beat until the batter is smooth and thoroughly combined.  Fold in the apples and then add the rum; give a good stir or two.

4.  Spoon into the prepared cupcake pan and bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 2 minutes, then turn them onto cooling racks to cool completely.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar if you wish!

 

When I made these almond bars for the first time, I was a little disappointed.  I was expecting something on the chewy and gooey end of the spectrum,  more like a brownie or a blondie.   Instead, these bars came out a little on the drier, more crumbly side.  My boyfriend  commented that they reminded him of a biscotti.  Interestingly, like biscotti, this recipe is also of Italian origin, and also like the biscotti, these bars are a perfect accompaniment to a big mug of hot coffee or tea.  The lovely almond flavor intensified after a day or two,  and the dense, crumbly texture grew on me .  Yes, I ended up loving these so much that I practically ate them every morning for breakfast, and then made a second batch just a couple days ago.  The best part of this recipe is how easy they are to make.  Take my word for it or give it a try yourself.  You will grow to love these.

Click HERE for recipe

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