It's Not Like After the Risotto...

Let's be honest here: I do not like risotto. I can't actually remember the first time I came to this conclusion, but I do know I came into risotto with an open mind, hoping--nay, expecting--that it would taste good. And ever since then, every time I've tried risotto, I've been disappointed. To me, it tastes like rice that's been cooked with too much water, leaving it bland and mushy and sticky. It tastes like something that you cook to give a baby or someone who doesn't have teeth. It's just gross.

So I was shocked and surprised to try my future-mom-in-law's risotto over the weekend and discover that not only did I love it, I went for seconds, asked for the recipe, and made it for myself immediately after arriving home.

This sublime. It's also not really risotto--it is orzo, cooked in vegetable broth, with a little mixed-in garlic and onions. Topped off with a handful of parsley and a dash of parmesan, and it is melt-in-your-mouth delicious, knee-weakening delicious, Seinfeld-moan-inducing delicious. It is taking all my willpower right now not to burst into the kitchen and polish off the extra portion I made for tomorrow night. Must...resist...deliciousness....

What makes it taste so good? How should I know! My mother-in-law got the recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (my no-holds-barred favorite cookbook) and passed it along to me. It was cheap and simple to make and made my kitchen smell like magic. I paired it with an herb crusted roasted salmon that looked straight out of a Dean & Deluca catalogue, and a chilled glass of sweet, fruity rosé, courtesy my home-brewing coworker. It was awesome, all of it.

Here's the risotto recipe. In a few days, if I haven't--ahem--forgotten my blog again, I'll post the recipe for the herb salmon, which also was quite good, although could have been better (I went with fresh parsley, but forgot to stock up on other fresh herbs, so had to resort to dried rosemary and thyme). Cook some risotto and bask in the glory of deliciousness.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves, garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups orzo
1/4 cup parmesan cheeses
1/2 cup minced parsley
*For smaller portions, substitute 1 cup orzo and 2 cups broth

Saute onion and garlic in oil.
In separate pan, heat stock to boiling.
Add orzo to onions, stir, then add to boiling stock.
Cook covered over medium low heat, stirring every few minutes til liquid is absorbed and pasta tender (about 15 min)
Can add up to 1/2 cup more broth if needed.
Stir in cheese and parsley.

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Take Me Out To the Cupcakes

Mmmm cupcakes...

I like making/eating/decorating cupcakes. But what I really like, truly, is designing cupcakes--coming up with a unique blend of flavors and techniques that make the cupcake less a cupcake and more an experience. Witness: shotglass cupcakes, delicious in their own right, amazing because they are cupcakes hollowed out and filled with booze.

So I jumped at the opportunity again to create some unique cupcakes for the third annual Cupcake Project/Scoopalicious Ice Cream Cupcake Contest!

My little beauties (bum ba bum...)

Pretzel Cupcakes with Sour Frozen Yogurt!

I am so excited for these--they are absolutely amazing! Google tells me they are the first pretzel cupcakes of their kind, which was fun, and I made my first foray into homemade frozen yogurt, with delicious results. I started with a very sweet and buttery pretzel recipe, which I invented by blending recipes for pretzels, butter cake, and sweet rolls. Dipping the unbaked pretzels in baking soda gave them their characteristic pretzelly flavor, and a crisp crust of salt added the right flavor. To offset the saltyness and butteryness of the pretzel, I used a recipe for a tangy, smooth frozen yogurt, which provided the perfect clean contrast to the flavorful pretzel. Amazingness, indeed. And because cupcakes should have frosting of some kind, I topped the whole thing with a very thin, very sweet sugary glaze (another frosting I considered was a lemony or strawberry topping. But, I don't like fruit in desserts, and these are my cupcakes, so straightforward sugar was all I needed).

The results were terrific--even more delicious than I was hoping--and got raves from my guinea pig tester. And because for some reason I was feeling the whole summer/baseball/soft pretzel vibe (and because I am a diehard, 24-years-and-counting Yankees fan), I gave them a baseball name: Take Me Out to the Cupcake.

On to the tips and tricks
Make sure the cupcakes are cool before putting on the ice cream--you want them just warm enough to still have that rich, bready taste, but not too warm so they melt the ice cream. I made my frozen yogurt without an ice cream machine, and it turned out pretty well, if a little gloopy. To give my fro-yo the characteristic Pinkberry swirl, I stuck it inside my Wilton Dessert Decorator Pro. This thing is awesome, and I was stoked for the opportunity to use it. Dave was stoked for other reasons...

I should also note, he was an excellent helper, hardly batting an eye when I told him I wanted to take fancy pictures. "With props!" So I pulled out my beloved old-school Yankees gear and my little plastic Yankees cap and set about taking fancy food pictures. It did not go well.

And so my career as a food stylist ends not with a bang, but with a t-shirt covered in fro-yo.

4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup white sugar
1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, and butter.
Add in yeast mixture. Mix and form into a dough. If the mixture is dry, add one or two tablespoons of water. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in hot water.
When risen, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. Once all of the dough is all shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution and place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, until browned.

*Adapted from AllRecipes

3 cups plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla until the sugar is dissolved
Freeze in a large, shallow container for one hour
Whisk until all the ice crystals are broken up, refreeze
Repeat freezing and mixing for 4-6 hours, or until it's reached desired texture

2 cups confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons milk
1 tablespoon honey
vanilla extract (optional)

Blend all ingredients together

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Rumors of My Blogging Demise Have Been Greatly Exagerated

Hello everyone out there in Internet land!

Yes, I am still alive, and yes, I am still eating (although I seem to increasingly be falling on the dual crutches of homemade pizza and nutmeg roast chicken. mmmm....). Life, travel, and work having sapped nearly all my creative energy, I've mostly been spending my dinner times eating as fast as possible (mac n cheese may or may not have featured prominently). And while this solitary foray back into the blogging world may not be a sign of things to come (check back in around December), it's at least fun to cook delicious food and then write about it for an audience of my peers and/or future in-laws (hi guys!).

And what could rouse me from blogging silence? Nothing other than a cupcake and a contest.

I'm a big fan of the Cupcake Project, Stef's imaginative, novel cupcake blog, wherein she combines unusual ingredients with delicious cupcakey results (when she was preggars she made pickles and ice cream cupcakes, which supposedly were amazing. Not being pregnant, or liking pickles, I wouldn't know). Last year, for the second year, she teamed up with the folks at ice cream blog Scoopalicious to hold an ice cream cupcake contest. I entered my chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream cupcakes and won a wonderful bread dough. And while winning was exciting, I was more thrilled to experiment with ever new and unusual cuppycakes (I tried smores cupcakes and fried ice cream before settling on the peanut butter ones).

When this year's contest rolled around, with the grand prize of an ice cream maker, I knew I had to bring it.

Bring. It.

So, for the past few weeks I've been brainstorming, trying out new recipes, experimenting. I have finally settled on my final recipe/concoction, and let me tell you, I am excited. Really. Really. Excited. As soon as I come home tonight I plan to whip up the little beauties and feed them to my roomies/fiance. Can't wait. Hopefully, if I don't get sidetracked by tomorrow's Yankees game or the wedding we're going to on Sunday, I should have the next post up, wherein I detail the whole cupcake experience, within a day or two.

Check back soooon!

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GET LOST (cookies)!!!!

Ok, so, did you all just watch that? Yeah, awesome. Even more awesome than a Lost season premiere? Cookies based on a Lost season premiere. I had tentative plans to go a Lost party tonight and offered to bake some cookies, and while the party plans didn't quite work out, I still decided to make me some geeky fandom cookies. Enjoy (after the jump)!

The doctor says "Eat your cookies!"

Time travel bunny rabbits!

These were a pain and a half to make (which is why I only focused in on one: the Orchid)

I tried to go for terrifying, but they sort of just look like sleepy polar bears...

Vincent! How is that dog still alive? Who knows!

Claire with baby Aaron
(my roommate ate the first baby Aaron because she thought I was baking extra cookie dough)

Locke. The bald head made him so easy to make. I coulda done a baker's dozen

Sawyer, in an extremely masculine mint-green shirt

Jin and Sun, together, where they belong

Hugo cookie. I didn't even know he'd be wearing a big red shirt tonight!

Richard and Miles. Notice Richard's copious eyeliner

Cookie Kate with frosting freckles!

I tried to give Sayid little frosting handcuffs, but just didn't work out

Ilana. Does anyone really know who this person even is?
Whatever, she is now a cookie.

The whole gang!

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Happy Moanday: Blogging Because I Lost My Voice!

Hello friends, and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwazy Kwanza, Tip-Top Tet, and solemn and dignified Ramadan.*

I am blogging in my bathroom and slippers, Planet Earth playing on the tube behind me (I'm learning about the importance of grass!), a cuppa tea at my side because, after almost a year of steadfast healthiness, I've finally been felled by the cold that savaged its way through my family this holiday season (at least, unlike my brother, I am not heading to China today, a country whose motto is "If you threaten us we will detain you." Have fun in that Chinese prison, brother).

I've just finished hour 11 of feverish, coughing sleep, and now I'm trying consciousness (hooray!) and waiting for Dave to come home so he can heat up the won-ton soup in my fridge (toooo acheeeey to mooooove...). We were supposed to go to Shake Shack tonight with friends, celebrating me and Dave being in the same city, but it is looking more like Boo-Hoo Flu Soup with Tina Fey (on Dvd! Because Dave got 30 Rock Season 1! Totally faked you out, huh?.)

Also pause this post because LIONS ARE TAKING DOWN A FULL-GROWN ELEPHANT!!! And isn't nature cool? Ok, post back on.

So I am sick and not feeling good and another nap seems to be in my very near future, but (obligatory cooking news!) I got lots of fun cooking stuff from Santa, et al! My mom got me a set of ramekins (so I can try again to make Cheryl's amazing molten cake), little cake tins that make mini three-tiered cakes, a new silicone pastry brush, and ONE HUNDRED COOKIE CUTTERS!!! They are awesome and my friends and family will be so fat(ter) soon. My brother got me an aMAzing pastry decorator that is a triumph of usability and design, and Dave's mom sent me Julie and Julia on DVD. One of my friends from high school almost got me a recipe book, choosing instead to go with a heating pad (she is a good friend, and I wish I had that heating pad now instead of leaving it at my parents' house). I was surprised that everyone thought I was such a foodie until my brother was like, "Um, don't you have a food blog or something?" Oh right.

Well, I am back to feeling like I want to guzzle cough medicine, curl up under my new Snuggie, and let David Attenborough's smooth narration lull me gently to sleep. Here is an oldie but a goodie to keep you all in fighting mode: my Boo-Hoo Flu Soup, which Dave says should be on the cover of any (non-existent) cookbook I publish.

1 large potato
1/2 chicken breast
1 can Campbell's condensed chicken broth
8-10 baby carrots
thin egg noodles
1/2 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 tablespoon thyme
1/2 tablespoon tarragon
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
Coffee filter and needle and thread (for bouquet garni)

Add 1 can water to condensed chicken broth and set to boil in a pot
Cut chicken into very small pieces--no bigger than a dime
Cut carrots (coins not spears)
Peel and dice potato
Add chicken, carrots, and potato to broth, boil and reduce to simmer
Make a bouquet garni: fill coffee filter with rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and garlic; pull ends together and secure with thread
Add bouquet garni to broth
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes
Add about 1 cup of egg noodles to broth, cook for 4-5 minutes
Remove from heat, let cool briefly, and serve, seasoned with pepper and salt to taste

*Krusty the Clown, American comedian and entertainer, 1989?- Read more!

Booze-Free Bourbon Chicken

Oh, what panacea of earthly hunger is the mall food court. The malls in my area being too strip-y (it is New Jersey, after all) or fancy (you could never call it Short Hills Mall) for food courts, I really first discovered them in college, when I hopped the Wave to the Cambridgeside Galleria. There I spent many happy lunches among cheap Indian food, glistening pretzels, barrels of bright and beautiful sherbet, and, of course, free samples. I like free samples, even though I am aware that they are mini food traps, designed to lure you in with one bite, so that the tiny chocolate-chip-studded bite from Mrs. Fields eventually morphs into an $8.99 "chocolate deluxe" cookie monster. Still, free food=good deal.

Usually I am shameless about free samples (there is a cheese shop in Cambridge Dave refuses to enter with me), and I rarely end up buying what's offered, but a few weeks ago I fell head over heels for a sticky, sweetish, deliciously fattening and flavorful morsel--bourbon chicken.

Bourbon chicken is what you would get if Chinese food and Southern food exploded together. It is rich and tangy, completely coated with a sweet, dark glaze. Although the name suggests otherwise, there's no bourbon in it (at least not the recipe I use), making it safe to feed to infants and recovering alcoholics alike (what do people who can't drink do when confronted with vodka sauce? or beer-battered chicken? or chicken marseilles? hmm...). I found this recipe online, and the delicious result, simple ingredients, and no-fuss directions make it a keeper in my (recipe) book. I served it over white rice, Uncle-Ben-style since I don't have a rice cooker. Still good.

chicken thigh and leg meat, cut into bite-size pieces
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup apple juice
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce

Heat oil in a large skillet.
Add chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned.
Remove chicken.
Add remaining ingredients, heating over medium
Heat until well mixed and dissolved.
Add chicken and bring to a hard boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Serve over hot rice Read more!

Anti-Vampire Food, or Twihard with a Vengeance*: Lemon Alioli Sauce

Discovering a food in a restaurant that I love and crave for is a wonderful and terrible experience. Wonderful, because eating food that's so good that I fantasize about it more than my fiance (sorry puppy) is nothing less than a gift. Terrible because I don't live in that restaurant and/or can't visit regularly and/or am too poor to subsist solely on my ideal meal.

Occasionally, for foods that truly capture my heart, I will try to recreate them at home. Sometimes this turns out wonderfully, like the shrimp ravioli in tomato veloute sauce (adapted from a lobster crepe I had at Basso 56), sometimes terribly, like my desperate imitation of Border's sublime pastelitos, about which no more should be said. Every now and then, though, I'll skip the hard work and simply ask for the recipe, which is precisely what I did for Iron Hill Brewery's distinctive and flavorful sweet potato fry sauces.

Generally when it comes to my s.p.f.'s (woah! I just got that!), I stick to ketchup, tried and true. A few weeks ago, though, Dave and I visited his home town and got some lunch with his (and my) dear friend, Chris, at the Iron Hill Brewery. The fries were on the menu and I pounced, but when they arrived I was surprised to find that rather than ketchup, they were surrounded by three bowls of different sauces: a spicey, liquidy lime; a smooth and sweet vanilla; and a lemony, creamy garlic. Although I leaned more towards the vanilla and garlic, all three nestled in the hearts of my tastebuds (weird mental image), and on our next visit to Dave's home I lobbied, successfully, for a repeat visit to Iron Hill.

Since I am shy when it comes to those things, I asked Chris (a studying doctor and future McDreamy) to charm the waitress into getting me the recipes. "It'll be my Christmas present!" I said, and he replied with the kind of look that said "Was I going to get you a Christmas present?" Chris prevailed, of course, and our waitress returned with all three recipes, plus their technique for making the fries, written out on a little piece of paper. I was grateful until I realized the recipes were for restaurant-sized portions (seriously, one called for a *gallon* of mayo). Luckily, I remembered my grade-school proportions equations (one of the few forms of math I use on a regular basis), and managed to reduce the recipes to human size.

This weekend I tackled the easiest, the lemon alioli sauce. Alioli, which basically means "more garlic than you can safely ingest," is one of my favorite sauces, being a garlic-phile, but this one added the sharp tang of lemon with a little extra bite of paprika. It was easy, cheap, and turned out exactly like I remembered, earning it the seal of approval. Plus, it required roasted garlic, which is absolutely heavenly to make.

I paired the sauce with some fries and a nice piece of salmon, but I could see it working well thrown over some pasta or tossed in a salad. The only problem was my unfortunate blender failed to adequately chop up the garlic slices, so I had little chunks floating around, but it was still good. Plus it repels vampires! Hooray!

dash paprika
4 1/2 tbsp mayo
3 1/2 tsp lemon juice
3 1/2 tsp roasted garlic puree
3 1/2 tsp minced garlic

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor

To make roasted garlic:
Cut off the tips of the garlic cloves while still keeping them in the head (see image)
Place on tin foil and coat with olive oil
Roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes

*Against my better judgment, I did read Twilight. For those of you who haven't read it, let me sum it up here: "I'm so awkward! Who's that gorgeous guy? He's a vampire! And god-like in his beauty! But I love him! Because he's perfect! He loves me! Wow I'm lucky! Oh no evil vampire, ok, he's dead. I want to be a vampire!" Fin. (I hope I don't get mowed down by 800 tweens in "Team Edward" tshirts for this...)

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