When I lived in New York, my friends Jackie and Milena hosted a potluck dinner almost every Friday night. It was our time to feast and gossip, and it was my favorite way to start the weekend. Every potluck had a theme (like “breakfast for dinner” or “English tea party”). No matter what the theme though, Jackie’s challah bread was always on the table.
To me, Jackie’s challah is pure comfort. Nothing could melt away the stresses of working and living in New York quite like that bread, and I looked forward to eating it every week. When I moved to Houston, I had to say goodbye to a city that I loved, dear friends, potluck Fridays, and Jackie’s challah.
Luckily, Jackie gave me her recipe. Unfortunately, I have to make it myself now.
I’m convinced that no one can make challah quite like Jackie, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I adapted her recipe slightly so that I could use instant yeast (versus active dry yeast–although I know she uses fresh yeast sometimes too) and I changed it so that the recipe yields one loaf instead of two.
One thing that sets Jackie’s recipe apart from other challah breads is the amount of sugar in the dough. It’s sweeter than most with a mixture of sugar, brown sugar, and honey.
You know you are getting old when you find yourself at a party that revolves around a 4,000-piece world map puzzle. It may sound a little lame, but let me tell you it was a lot of fun. What better way to spend a Wednesday night than with friends, good food, wine, and a giant puzzle?
To help out with the event, I promised the host that I would bring dessert. I had planned on making a triple chocolate cake concoction that I have had marked in one of my cookbooks for years, but when I saw the fresh figs at Whole Foods, I immediately changed my game plan.
With a basket of beautifully ripe figs and Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts book (signed by Martha by the way) at my disposal, this Fresh Fig Tart was born. I made a few minor tweaks to the book’s Strawberry and Fresh Fig Tart to accommodate my lack of strawberries and my slightly smaller tart pan, with great results.
If you had asked me how I liked living in Houston 2 years ago, I would have probably given you a list of reasons why I missed New York. From the culture to the food to my friends, and even the subway (I’m a disaster behind the wheel)—there wasn’t a thing about the city that I didn’t miss. I truly believed that it was the city to live in; and to be honest, I still think it is in many ways. However, I have been embracing Houston more and more as time passes.
Today, if you were to ask me how I like living in Houston, I would tell you about the house we bought, the great neighborhood we live in (even CNN Money thinks so), and our new Southern pace of life. I’d go on about the great cost of living and how the move has allowed us to have the time and money to travel. In the last 2 years, we’ve been to France, Australia, Peru, Japan, Taiwan, Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. And that doesn’t even cover the countless trips we have taken within the US (including our West Texas road trip, mentioned here). This is something that living in New York could not have afforded us.
So when we spent this past Labor Day weekend back in New York City (I’m getting to the Mango Frozen Yogurt part, I promise), I was singing a new tune and telling people how great Houston is. The trip did however reinforce my belief that Houston, while great, is still missing some things. And when I say “some things,” I mean a good ice cream place.
Cheap candy has long been a weakness of mine. Generally speaking, I’m pretty good about not eating processed foods, but packaged candy is one of those foods that I can’t seem to shake. It tempts me at checkout aisles, calls to me at movie theaters, and I can rarely resist it. Peanut butter egg season in particular is something that I look forward to every year.
Most years, I buy a few packages of those yellow wrapped eggs at the grocery store and Andrew and I demolish them well before Easter. This year, in an effort to be good, I didn’t buy a single package. I thought maybe I could go the year without them—that is until I saw a photo of these homemade peanut butter eggs by the Minimalist Baker on Pinterest.
Once the idea was planted, I had to try making my beloved peanut butter eggs at home. I took a less healthful approach than the Minimalist Baker, who uses dates to sweeten the eggs instead of cane sugar, simply because I didn’t have any dates on hand. I made a few tweaks to another recipe I found online and while they are not guilt-free (everything in moderation, right?), they are far superior in quality than the store-bought version.
The peanut butter centers are made with natural/organic peanut butter, butter, and sugars, and the chocolate coating consists of quality milk chocolate melted with a bit of virgin coconut oil.
Forming the eggs and dipping them in chocolate is half the fun of making these peanut butter eggs. (Obviously, the other half is eating them). The peanut buttery dough is like a stickier version of Play-Doh and the melted chocolate is so smooth and velvety, you may be tempted to sip up the leftovers.
Once completed, these indulgent little eggs have the perfect balance of sweet and salty just like the original version–except that the homemade ones taste a heck of a lot better!
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Homemade banana bread is one of those things that I can never get enough of. I love making it and almost all the bananas that enter my house get baked into a batch. There are a lot of great banana bread recipes out there, but my current favorite is this recipe from Alexandra’s Kitchen, which I like to make with half the amount of bananas.
The original recipe calls for a whole quart of mashed bananas, but I cut it down to 2 cups. My version proves that less can be more. By adding fewer bananas, the resulting banana bread is lighter both in color and texture. The bread is golden and almost cake-like instead of being the dark and dense treat that I normally associate with banana bread.
I usually bake this banana bread in mini-loaf pans (you can get 5 mini-loaves from this recipe), but I wanted to try making parchment paper muffin liners so I made this batch into muffins instead. The DIY liners (instructions are included below) turned out so charming that I don’t think I’ll ever want to use store-bought ones again. The muffins are also perfectly portioned, so if you are anything like me, it will keep you from polishing off a whole batch of banana bread in one sitting.
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I can’t believe that my last blog post was back in November. How time flies! I had big plans to bake and share a whole host of Christmas recipes in December and healthy recipes in January, but none of that happened.
Shortly after my last post in November, Andrew and I bought our first house—an old 1920s bungalow so cute and charming that it was truly love at first sight. Between the move, visiting family over Christmas, working on the house, and a couple of weekend getaways, my time in the kitchen has been limited. It also hasn’t helped that my usual obsession with making food has been overtaken by my instinct to nest.
Thanks to a lot of good old-fashioned elbow grease and what is hopefully an artful eye, the place is coming together quite nicely. Even with tools and paint cans scattered about, belongings without a place yet, and tentative plans for bathroom and kitchen renovations, the house feels like a home now and my little family feels settled.
With things calming down, I’m finally getting back into the kitchen and back into a baking routine. To Andrew’s delight, so far all I’ve wanted to bake are cookies and brownies.
This brownie pie is basically a batch of classic brownies baked in a pie plate. The recipe is simple, but it may take a second batch to nail down the baking time in your oven. Under-bake the brownies and you’ll get an amazing fudgy mess. Over-bake the brownies and they will remind you more of chocolate cake. Somewhere in the middle are the perfect brownies and a chocolate lover’s dream come true.
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Thanksgiving is almost here and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve got cranberry sauce, cornbread, and a pie to make today. Then tomorrow, the real cooking marathon begins. Luckily, my parents are getting into town early tomorrow morning, so I’ll have my mom here to lend a helping hand.
Thanksgiving for me growing up was always a large potluck affair with lots of people and lots of dishes. I miss those days, but I have to say that I have really enjoyed the smaller Thanksgivings of my adult life. Having the opportunity to cook Thanksgiving over the last 5 years or so has definitely made me a better and more experienced cook.
I think the hardest part about cooking Thanksgiving now is just figuring out what to make. There are too many options and too many good recipes. I had originally planned to make this Apple Cranberry Crisp as part of our Thanksgiving feast, but decided not to after all. So I made the crisp yesterday instead as a pre-Thanksgiving treat.
Last Thanksgiving, I prepared a nice dinner for four. It was just my parents, Andrew, and I, and it was really wonderful (pictured above). I remember feeling a little stressed leading up to the day, as it was my first time hosting Thanksgiving for my parents, but everything went fine. The food was delicious, the table looked beautiful, and the four of us had a fun evening.
This year, we are planning on another Thanksgiving for four and I’m excited to be cooking for my parents again. Right now, I’m getting together my plans for our Thanksgiving feast. I’m making some lists, looking at recipes, and trying to get a game plan together. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one doing this, so I thought I would share a round up of Thanksgiving recipes and tips that may help you with your planning too.
Not tired of pumpkins desserts yet? Neither am I. I have more pumpkin-y treats on my “to make” list than humanly possible to make and eat in a season. That won’t stop me from trying to get down the list, though. With a little fresh pumpkin puree at my disposal, I decided to tackle a pumpkin bundt cake. This cake is a wonderful fall dessert that also gave me an excuse to break out a pan that rarely sees the light of day.
After finding my bundt pan in the depths of my kitchen cabinets, I asked myself why I don’t bake with it more often. It’s a gorgeous pan that yields just as gorgeous results. The edges are sharp and modern, and I love how it makes anything you bake in it look like a super sized French crueler doughnut.
Classic fall spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg flavor the cake. For topping the cake, I initially planned on making a cream cheese glaze (like the one I did for this cake), but I decided on a dusting of powdered sugar instead so that none of the pretty edges of the cake would be compromised.
Instead of overindulging in store-bought candy this year (Reese’s and Snickers are my weaknesses), I made a batch of these Chocolate Covered Almond Pralines to satisfy my sweet tooth. This is a Halloween treat for grown ups to say the least. Almonds coated in caramelized sugar, covered in chocolate, and dusted with cocoa powder are ridiculously good.
This is the type of treat that you would normally find in a nice chocolate shop, but I’m happy to report that they are easy to make at home. If we had trick-or-treating in our building, I would be tempted to hand out bags of these almonds to accompanying adults. Likewise, wrapping these up for holiday gift giving wouldn’t be a bad idea either.