November 24, 2008

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

Every year the holidays seem to really sneak up on me, as it seems they do for most people. We spend so much time prepping for these big and exciting days that we don't really spend the time savoring how sweet this time of year really is. I applaud the many people who try and simplify their holidays a bit and concentrate on more important things than having the perfect gift or tree. That being said, certain "obligations" of the holidays are not to be taken lightly and are deserving of our efforts, regardless of what kind of stressed out tizzy they spin us into. In my opinion, one of these is the simple act of handing out baked goods to our friends, family and other important people (hairdresser, doorman, dog-walker, etc.).

My mom is the biggest champion of using baked goods to show her love and appreciation for people. When I went to college, she would send a huge care package at least once a month (sometimes multiple times a month!), filled with all kinds of goodies and usually decorations for whatever holiday was coming up (even if it was just flag day). This continued, without fail, all 4 years I was in school. Needless to say, my sorority house and roommates will forever be indebted to her. She now not only sends these lovely packages to both my little brother and sister at their respective schools, but she also sends packages to my husband at work. You can imagine the spectacle that goes down when a huge trading desk filled with hungry men ravage one of these packages. My mom is known as a saint around their office and was positively bombarded at our wedding when she met most of them for the first time.

I guess some of this must have rubbed off on me, because I love to give baked goods out to people around the holidays. It's amazing the kind of reaction you get when some realizes that you didn't just run to Bloomies and buy them some prepackaged cookies or candy, but actually put in the effort to make something from scratch.

I've been hanging on to this recipe since last December when I didn't get a chance to make it. These bars are very simple to make, and if you cut them up into a few bite-size pieces, it yields about 2 dozen. At first I was really thrown by the idea of toasting the flour in a skillet to make the crust, but it gave it a nutty flavor and worked well in the end. The filling tastes just like pumpkin pie with a slight tang from the cream cheese. And the pecan crumble topping adds just that bit of crunch that is missing since the crust is pretty soft. The icing on this recipe is that it is slightly healthier since Cooking Light parred down on some of the fat and calories. Which just means you can eat more, right?

Although the original recipe called for these to be eaten at room temperature, they are much much better chilled and eaten straight out of the fridge, accompanied by a big helping of whipped cream. Since I like these best cold, I might not hand them out like cookies, but I rather think they would make a great hostess gift, so that the host can throw them in the fridge and save them for later.

I'm going to send this over to Susan at Food Blogga, who has started a collection of Christmas cookies. Be sure to go to this site for lots of great ideas!

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 teaspoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
Cooking spray

1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 8-ounce package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large egg

1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons water
  • Preheat oven to 350℉.
  • For crust, heat flour in a nonstick skillet over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until light brown.
  • Place flour in a bowl to the side to cool completely.
  • In a food processor, combined the cooled flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt.
  • Pulse until mixture is combined, then add butter. Pulse until mixture has a fine meal texture.
  • Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Take 1 1/2 cups of flour mixture and evenly pat into bottom of the baking dish.
  • Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is lightly browned.
  • Meanwhile, for filling, spread the canned pumpkin out in a layer between paper towels to remove some of the moisture. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  • Place sugar, dark brown sugar and cream cheeses into a bowl.
  • Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes or until mixture is smooth.
  • Add pumpkin, egg substitute, cinnamon, vanilla extract, allspice and egg to mixture.
  • Beat until smooth.
  • Spread mixture evenly into baked crust.
  • For the topping, combine the remaining flour mixture and pecans and sprinkle with water.
  • Mix topping together and crumble over the filling.
  • Bake for 40 minutes or until filling is firmly set.
  • Cool completely in pan placed on a wire rack.
  • Refrigerate until chilled, then cut into desired size pieces and serve.

November 21, 2008

Meatballs and Mushrooms over Egg Noodles

Just a quick post today to pass along the recipe to this hearty dish that would be great for the chilly weather. It has meatballs, mushrooms and thick egg noodles, all smothered in a gravy-like sauce. If there is such a thing as "man food," this is it. It's really quick and easy as well, which is always a plus in my book. My mom picked the recipe up while shopping at the grocery store, and I've been making it for a few years now. My only advice is to not overcook the sauce or else it will get too thick, instead of the rich sauce that you want. 

Sorry for the lame picture of the finished dish. We were so eager to dive in I barely got this one! Hope everyone has a nice pre-turkey day weekend. I plan to get some holiday shopping done before the hysterical last-minute shoppers take over the stores. Pray for sales! :)

Meatballs and Mushrooms over Egg Noodles

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon of garlic salt
8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms (I used cremini, but like the baby portabellas best)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 14-ounce can beef broth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 sour cream
1 pound frozen fully cooked meatballs (I used turkey meatballs. Mine were really large, so I let them thaw in the fridge before cooking).
8 ounces wide egg noodles
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
  • Put water on to boil for egg noodles.
  • Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat, then add butter and garlic salt.
  • Add mushrooms to pan and cook for 5 minutes, or until browned.
  • Stir flour into mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often.
  • Whisk in broth, Worcestershire and sour cream, and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, add in meatballs, cover and continue boiling for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • While broth is boiling, add egg noodles to boiling pot of water and cook for 9-10 minutes.
  • When noodles are cooked, drain and place to the side.
  • Combine cornstarch and water and bled well.
  • Pour cornstarch mixture in with the meatballs and stir until the sauce is thickened.
  • Serve meatballs and sauce over top egg noodles.

November 18, 2008

Tuscan Ribolita with Tomato Garlic Bread

Everybody pull out your slow cookers yet again, I have a heck of a soup for you to try. It's hearty and warm and will give your house the most mouth watering smell. Forget lilac, I want a ribolita candle. It's also very quick to throw together and is fairly healthy considering it is totally meat-free and has lots of veggies and beans (you know how the song goes...).

I made this the other day when the hubby and L had another one of their little jam sessions, and  we all thought it was completely soul satisfying and perfectly flavored. The hubby even said that it was better than the soup he gets for lunch most days at Hale and Hearty. Considering these are on just about every corner of NYC, my culinary ego is feeling a little puffed today. :) This is the first recipe I've made from this cookbook, so I will definitely be going back for more.

I normally serve a soup up with some kind of sandwich or salad, as I usually don't find soups satisfying enough on their own. Every meal needs something to literally bite into, not just sip, in my opinion. But the bread cubes in the ribolita really do the trick and make it hearty enough in its own right. Nevertheless, I made up some toasted bread and rubbed it with tomato and garlic to serve alongside. For something so simple, it sure tasted good and the tomatoey bread was a great compliment to the soup.

Tuscan Ribolita

1/4 cup olive oil, plus some for drizzling
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
6 cups canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch kale or savoy cabbage, coarsely chopped
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
Salt and pepper
3 cups day-old crusty bread
Parmesan cheese shavings (optional)
  • Warm olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan.
  • Add onions and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened.
  • Stir in tomato paste and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  • Add broth to the pan and bring to a boil.
  • Remove from heat once the liquid begins to boil.
  • Place beans, kale, carrots, celery, and thyme in slow cooker.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  • Add in the broth.
  • Cook in slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.
  • Stir bread into soup about 10 minutes before serving.
  • Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
  • Optionally, each serving can be drizzled with olive oil and parmesan shavings.

Tomato Garlic Bread

Slices of crusty bread (I used ciabatta)
Garlic cloves, peeled
Tomatoes, halved
Coarse Salt
  • Lay the slices of bread over a grill pan for a few minutes on each side until they are toasted and have nice markings.
  • Rub each piece of toast with a garlic clove then the cut side of the tomato half.
  • Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and follow with a sprinkle of salt.

November 13, 2008

Do you like Pina Coladas?

Continuing on with my theme of total winter avoidance, I made these adorable little pina colada madeleine cookies that I had seen Ingrid Hoffmann make way back this summer. I know they are totally out of place considering we are having cold and rainy weather here in NYC, but I just couldn't resist the temptation when I stumbled back over the recipe the other day. They are a great compliment to the micheladas, which I am still hooked on, and were totally delicious.

They really do taste like pina coladas, with a combo of coconut, pineapple and, of course, rum. They are light and not overly sweet, and I think would be perfect with a hot cup of chai tea (or a beer, whatever floats your boat). The rum is the real star and gives the cookies a rich flavor. I had to make a few alterations to the recipe since my ghetto supermarket didn't have pineapple cake mix - I used regular yellow cake mix, then added a cup of canned diced pineapple. I also sprinkled the tops with a dusting of powdered sugar (fancy, I know).

A big plus is that the recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies! So you should have tons to share. My husband took a slew to work and everyone there seemed to love them. This is not saying much since those guys would eat just about anything - no offense. :)

Although the large output is awesome it does pose a problem since I don't know many people equipped with 4 madeleine pans. I only had one, so only 12 of my cookies turned out in the pretty little shapes. The rest I just dabbed onto a cookie sheet, which Ingrid said was perfectly acceptable, and baked them up. These tasted the same but had spread out so much (the batter is pretty liquidy) and were so thin they broke the moment you picked them up. So I would suggest waiting it out and using your madeleine pan for the whole bunch. Either way, all 4 dozen of these beauties were gobbled up in less than 24 hours, which makes them a winner in my book! I'm definitely going to make these again next summer for a BBQ or picnic.

Now that I've gotten some of these recipes out of the way, I do promise to stop ignoring the weather and will post some seasonally appropriate food soon!! Stay tuned for another slow-cooker winner!!

Please visit the link below for the recipe:

November 11, 2008

I am SO not ready for winter

Everyone seems to be all for the colder turn in weather but me. I am a Floridian living in NYC, and weather below 70 does nothing short of entice me to hibernate. I am not a fan of lots of layers, and am determined to keep my flip flops on until my toes fall off from frostbite (anyone who knows a Floridian, can verify that we wear flip flops year round, regardless of weather conditions).

Luckily, me and the hubby were able to escape the cold for a few days this past weekend when we attended a wedding in the Bahamas. It was warm, albeit overcast thanks to an encroaching hurricane. None the less, it was a great break to lay by the beach and remember the warm days of summer that now seem so far away.

While we were on the first leg of our honeymoon in Mexico, we discovered this AMAZING drink. It's so ridiculously simple, but I guarantee that after a sip you will be feeling like you are on your own little tropical island, even if it is snowing outside. So, I've decided to veto winter and drink these for the next few chilly months to remind us of warm, sunny days spent pool side.

Crank-up the heat, slip into a sarong, pump the Bob Marley, and take a sip. Even though I'm an Ole Miss alum, these trump a hotty toddy any day. Cheers!!

Micheladas (makes 2)

3 limes
2 Mexican beers (preferably Corona)
soy sauce (optional)
Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • Juice all 3 limes into a cup.
  • Rub the rim of the glasses with one of the leftover lime wedges.
  • Sprinkle a handful of salt onto a plate, and roll each glass rim into the salt (totally optional, or could only do part of the rim).
  • Divide the lime juice up between the 2 glasses.
  • Optionally - add a few drops of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce for a different version. This one has a spicier taste and would be great as a brunch time drink instead of a bloody mary (the hubby likes this type better, while I like just the lime juice).
  • Fill the glasses with beer.

November 4, 2008

Different Take

I would first like to give a major congrats to all finishers of the NYC Marathon this past weekend. Especially to Kara Goucher - the first US woman to stand on that podium in 14 years!! The weather was great, albeit chilly, and it looked like everyone had an amazing time. I always find it funny that in a city with so many different events, that this particular one seems to really touch so many people. It's obvious to see the many it inspires by the tremendous increase in the number of runners in Central Park for the weeks following. It's kinda like new year's resolution goers at the gym who eventually die off by mid-February. For someone who has loved to run for over a decade now, I am thrilled to see our sport getting some much needed attention and attracting many more participants. 

Among the many reasons to run, probably my favorite is the fact that it gives you an "eat-all-the-pasta-you-want" pass the days surrounding a really tough workout. In case you haven't noticed, I take full advantage of this and dine on pasta probably more than any other food category. It's just too good! I would take a huge plate of noodles over a cut of meat any day.

So yesterday, feeling inspired by the hard work of others, I decided to make this unique take on a traditional carbonara. The sauce is a thick basil aioli, which really imparts a powerful basil flavor and a bit of a tang to the dish. It is very rich and decadent tasting, and the recipe makes more than you use for the pasta, so it could be used as a dip for veggies or something similar for the next few days (it has raw egg in it so you have to be careful). The asparagus also adds a nice pop of color and different texture. Best of all, if you have a food processor it takes no time to put together.

On another note, I want to say good-luck to us all as today is a very important one here in the US. Whoever wins the election will face some of the most challenging conditions (economic and otherwise) this country has ever faced. It has gone beyond a history making election and I believe will be a major turning point for our nation (good or bad). I know I'm glued to the tv!

Please visit the link below for the recipe: