Monthly Archives: October 2014

HAPPY THANKSGIVING + Leftover Recipes!

The 10 days of Thanksgiving recipes might be over but there are two things left to say:


2. Check back tomorrow for my five best Thanksgiving leftover recipes. Because there’s nothing better than having Thanksgiving dinner all over again… just shoved between two pieces of bread.

Earning My Stripes: Argyle Sugar Cookies

I think I’ve got a problem. For the third or fourth time, I’ve taken on a substantial dessert project for a friend. A project that takes me a good solid week to accomplish. But that’s NOT the problem; the “problem” is that I really, really love it and wish I could do it all the time. I realized I get a sick amount of satisfaction and joy from sitting at my dining room table (my kitchen is just way too small) and rolling out dough, shaping cookies, setting up cooling racks and then — for HOURS — piping layers of elaborate decorations on cookie after cookie after cookie. I can spend as much time happily doing that as my husband can watching football for days at a time. It’s kind of sick, but I guess we’ve all got our thing.

My latest “project”…

…Argyle sugar cookies with a fondant initial for a friend’s baby shower
So what was the project this time? Custom-designed sugar cookies for a circus-themed baby shower. Specifically, I made 30 rectangular sugar cookies piped with a dual blue argyle pattern to match the baby shower invitation. Oh, and I also created 30 white fondant “E’s” (the baby’s name is Ethan), brushed them with luster dust (basically sparkle powder you mix with vodka and paint on the fondant), piped a white border and added white sanding sugar to each. Yeah, so that also goes on each cookie. Like I said, I think I have a problem…
Fondant “E’s” – The baby’s name is Ethan
If you have a “problem” similar to mine — basically, an insane love for baking and arts & crafts — here are the cookie and icing recipes plus step-by-step instructions and photos. Note that I’ve left out photos of mixing, rolling and cutting out the dough and have gone straight to the decorations. If you’d like to see the dough prep photos, check out my earlier sugar cookie project post here. Enjoy!
Sugar Cookies
  • 25 ounces (3 cups, 1 ounce) pastry flour or all-purpose flour
  • 11 ounces (1 cup, 3 ounces) sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound (equivalent of four sticks) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon vanilla (I prefer Madagascar vanilla paste)
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
Royal Icing
Yields approximately 2 1/2 cups
  • 16 ounces powdered sugar, sifted at least once
  • 2-3 large egg whites (I used pasteurized egg whites in a carton, which is safer for pregnant women and children)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
To make the sugar cookies: Add all dry ingredients into a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on LOW until combined. If you put it on a higher setting, you’ll end up wearing the dry ingredients. With mixer running on low, add in the cold butter pieces a few at a time until a crumbly, wet dough starts to form. You may to increase to speed as the dough thickens. Make sure you do not let it come together into a ball of dough, as you still have to add the cream cheese and vanilla paste. With the mixer still running, add the vanilla paste and cream cheese and mix on low until dough forms large clumps. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead lightly to finish. Break the dough into four equal portions and rap in plastic (13-14 oz. each). Chill for at least an hour, then roll out until the dough is 3/8”-1/4” thick. Cut or shape as desired. Re-roll scraps only once. Freeze shapes before baking and do NOT thaw before putting them in the oven. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat (nonstick) liner, add the frozen shapes and bake until the edges are a light golden brown and the center feels just set.
Important note about the dough: Since the dough is make primarily of butter, it softens very, very quickly. If you need it to harden a bit before working with it, I roll out the dough between two wax sheets of paper . That way, if it gets too soft, I can throw it back into the freezer for a few moments and then bring it back out. That way none of the dough sticks to your counter top or cutting board, either!
To make the royal icing: Put sifted powdered sugar and cream of tartar into the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. (I found you can also do this in a large bowl with a stainless steel whisk). Start the mixer running and begin streaming in one egg white at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together and resembles the consistency of toothpaste. I find that’s about the equivalent of 2 egg whites. Add a third egg white if you’re going for looser, runnier icing. If icing is too thick, as a tiny bit more egg white — a little bit goes a LONG way — until the proper consistency is achieved. If the icing is too thin, add a little more sifted powdered sugar until you get the consistency you’re after. Store the icing in an airtight container, with a damp paper towel pressed to the surface of the icing. Wrap in plastic wrap twice. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. Keeps about 3-4 days.
Okay, now for the fun stuff! When I first thought to decorate the cookies in an argyle pattern, I knew I needed three shades of royal icing: sky blue and royal blue for the outlines and the argyle fillers, and white for the top decoration layer. Then came the issue of creating an argyle template for myself, because just like geometry in high school argyle can be tough to execute consistently; especially on 30 cookies. So I immediately made a template using a piece of wax paper and a ruler, creating a transparent argyle template that I could use as a guideline when piping each cookie. I then put each cookie on the template and made sure the lines matched up. Check out the template below:
Using a tiny bit of concentrated gel food coloring, I made three colors of royal icing: white, sky blue and royal blue

My wax paper argyle template – look carefully and you can see my pencil work

See how the icing lines on the cookie match the lines on the template?
After baking the dough I noticed that the cookies had changed their shape a bit, so I used a sharp knife to carefully cut off excess dough and shape the cookies into perfect rectangles. I then transferred the cookies to a cooling rack. When they were completely cool, I start piping. First, an outline on each cookie, followed by the argyle details. I let them both dry completely so when I flooded in the colors they wouldn’t bleed into each other.

Royal blue outline first…

… then the argyle pattern.

Once the royal icing was dry, I flooded one section of argyle with a thinner version of the royal blue icing.

Then I followed by flooding the remaining diamonds with the sky blue icing.

Once the royal and sky blue icings had dried completely, I used a stiff white royal icing to pipe the decorative top lines. I think they look pretty good!

Then I delicately took the fondant “E’s” and glued it onto each cookie with royal icing.

The finished product! Only 29 more to go…

The Big Mac: A Fast Food Icon Deconstructed the Slow Food Way

I just stumbled across Local Lemons, a fantastic food blog by Allison Arevalo, Brooklyn-native-turned-Berkeley-produce-lover. She recently started a column called Fast Food Slow, which I find so fascinating, it’s almost embarrassing. Essentially, she takes fast food icons – think Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets and Stuffed Crust Pepperoni Pizza – deconstructs the ingredients and then reconstructs them in her own fabulous gourmet, organic way. Hence, Fast Food Slow. Here’s her post about making Big Macs. The photos themselves are enough to make you drool, then sprint into your kitchen to make them yourself. At least that’s what I’m going to do when we get back home. Seriously. I.CANNOT.WAIT.

Big Mac: Make Your Own, Have a Party

Big Mac Recipe

Has it been that long?

Twelve years ago. The last time I stepped foot into a McDonald’s. At least I think – it’s not like it was momentous enough to recall dates and times. But surely my oreo/ramen/milkshake regimen of freshman year included a nugget or two from Mickey D’s. Probably some fries too slopped in gooey ketchup.

I’m kind of scared of fast food now. I think I have a right to be. I mean, they put beef in french fries. Seriously.Beef, in French fries. But Big Macs at home, with fresh, local organic ingredients – that’s a cow of a different color. And what could be better than having a party and sharing them with friends?

This is not a light bulb that suddenly turned on in my head. I would love to take credit for the ingenious Big Mac Attack party, but it came from friends Shawn and Jeremy, while we shared a big pot of my slow-cooked Bolognese.

big mac photo

The allure of the infamous Big Mac lies in the special sauce. That creamy, tangy, oddly hued sauce slathered between two hunks of meat, with lettuce, pickles and American cheese.

To mimic the sauce, I made an olive oil aioli and combined it with homemade French dressing and organic shallots from La Tercera Farms. My thinly sliced pickles were fromHappy Girl Farms, and the ground chuck was Niman Ranch. The cheese was a difficult match, but mild cheddar proved to be a shoo-in for American, and Clover’s organic was a perfect match. I admit, I did not make the buns, though they were locally baked and I painted on the sesame seeds with an egg wash.

homemade aioli

Hosting a Big Mac party is substantially easier than a traditional dinner party. Set out the shredded lettuce, sliced pickles, special sauce, buns and ketchup, and let your guests build their own Big Macs. Use a mandolin to slice up some fries, and roast them at 500F instead of frying. Put out a salad too for some balance (try spinach, apples, toasted walnuts, goat cheese, homemade vinaigrette). Serve with cold Belgian beer.

hamburger buns

The best part? You are 100% sure there is no beef in your fries. At least you should be…

Homemade Big Macs
Serves 8

  • 2 pounds Niman Ranch ground chuck or other high-quality beef. (Or, go all the way and grind your own meat. Try using Brisket.)
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 3 fresh pickles, sliced thin
  • 8 hamburger buns
  • 5 ounces organic mild cheddar, sliced thin

big mac

Special Sauce:

  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil, divided into 3/4 cup and 1/2 cup portions
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar, separated
  • 1/2 cup organic ketchup (Happy Girl, if you can find it)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Seat salt
  • 1 tablespoon Paprika

Homemade Aioli
In a large bowl, beat together egg yolk, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Take a kitchen towel roll it into the shape of an “O.” Place your bowl on top of the towel – this will prevent it from moving around when whisking the aioli. While whisking, add a few drops of olive oil. Keep whisking, and add a few more drops. And a few more. When your sauce begins to thicken, add olive oil in a very slow stream, whisking constantly. Your arm should hurt at this point. When all of the olive oil is incorporated, taste for salt, and add last teaspoon of lemon juice.

French Dressing
In a separate bowl, whisk together ketchup, sugar, minced shallots, 1 tablespoon sweet relish, 1 tablespoon vinegar, paprika and a pinch of salt. Whisk in ½ cup of olive oil in a slow stream.

French Dressing

Slowly add the French dressing to the aioli. Stir to combine, and taste as you add the dressing – you may need not all of it. I had about 2 tablespoons of the French dressing left over. Garnish with a pinch of paprika on top.

Season your chopped meat with salt, pepper and olive oil and separate into 8 patties. Cook them on the grill for a few minutes per side, adding the cheese at the last minute so it melts.
(disclaimer: I did not cook the burgers on the grill. Why? I turned the gas on, switched the on the ignitor, and my grill caught on fire. I screamed like the girl that I am while Alejandro sprayed it down with the extinguisher. Time for a new grill. I cooked them in a cast iron skillet on the stove.)

Assemble the burger

lettuce on bun

Start with the bottom bun, add special sauce, shredded romaine, a cheesy burger and a couple of pickles. Stop here or add the second layer… Take the bottom of a second bun and slice it down the middle. This thin piece will be your middle section. Add it to the burger, and again top with special sauce, lettuce and pickles.

double burger

Another note, I did not eat the double patty Big Mac, nor did I serve it like that at the party. It’s just too big. Though it looked nice in pictures.

San Diego: An Avocado Lover’s Paradise

I’ve been traveling the past week, touching down in Chicago and Dallas for my corporate gig. It’s been a long, albeit great week that hasn’t leave a lot of time for blogging. This afternoon, however, that all changed as Bryan and I touched down at a much less remote destination — San Diego’s L’Auberge Del Mar hotel — in anticipation of a much different type of gig: an avocado lover’s extravaganza.

A Hipstamatic View of L’Auberge Del Mar’s Barside Terrace*

Why are we here? Just over a month ago I received an invitation by the California Avocado Commission to partake in a fabulous weekend dedicated to the leathery fruit. Guests would stay at the beachside, boutique L’Auberge Del Mar hotel and enjoy tours of local avocado groves, processing plants (satisfying the curiosity of those — like myself — who have ever pondered how avocados go from grove to grocery), and experience avocado-centric meals prepared by renowned chefs Paul McCabe (Kitchen 1540), Trey Foshee (George’s at the Cove), and Evan Cruz (Pacifica Del Mar).

Awaiting this evening’s festivities…

Considering Bryan and I are two of the world’s biggest avocado fans — heck, we’re even avocado ice cream aficionados — it was a pleasure to accept the invitation. Which brings us to, well, now. We’ve spent the afternoon sipping on frosty, local Stone IPA and snacking on a goat cheese and prosciutto thin-crust pizza on L’Auberge’s terrace, patiently awaiting the weekend’s kick-off event: a multi-course meal prepared by Kitchen 1540’s Executive Chef Paul McCabe. We’re very much looking forward to meeting our hosts, fellow foodies and enjoying the weekend festivities as a whole. Expect live updates and photos from the front lines… But in the meantime, here’s a shot of our pizza to tide you over!

Kitchen 1540’s Prosciutto Pizza

*Excuse the poor photo quality; they were taken on my iPhone.

Candy Bar Cupcake #1: Mint Patty Cakes

What’s your favorite candy bar? Snickers? Butterfinger? Almond Joy? Nestle Crunch?

What if you could turn your favorite candy bar into a cupcake, with nearly identical flavors and amazing eye appeal? Well, that’s exactly what the Food Network has done in its monthly issue of Food Network Magazine, on newsstands now.

I wasn’t privy to the candy bar cupcake phenomenon until yesterday when Bryan and I were visiting our friends, Brianne and Geoff. Brianne had the latest issue of Food Network magazine and was showing me these incredibly adorable cupcakes, made to resemble the flavors of some of America’s favorite candy bars. She was planning to make Snickers cupcakes last night and while I haven’t heard or seen how it turned out, I’m smitten by the candy bar cupcake idea.

So much so that I’m going to share some of these Food Network photos and recipes with you. Love York Peppermint Patties? Check out these bad boys below. Recipes for Snickers, Butterfinger, Reese’s Peanut Butter, Nestle Crunch and Almond Joy cupcakes coming soon.
Mint Patty Cake photo courtesy of

For the Cupcakes:
3 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
11/4 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Topping:
1 1-pound box confectioners’ sugar
(about 4 cups)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup vegetable shortening or
cocoa butter, softened
2 teaspoons peppermint extract

For the Glaze:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate,
finely chopped
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Make the cupcakes: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Put the butter, cocoa powder and 3/4 cup water in a medium microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave until the butter melts, about 2 minutes. Whisk to combine, then whisk in the brown sugar.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the warm cocoa mixture. In another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla; stir into the batter until just combined but don’t overmix.

Divide the batter among the prepared cups, filling each about three-quarters of the way. Bake until the cupcakes spring back when touched, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in the pans 10 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Make the topping: Beat the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, shortening and peppermint extract with a mixer until a tight paste forms. Gather into a ball, place between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to 1/4 inch thick (microwave 15 seconds to soften, if necessary). Use a 21/2-inch round cutter or juice glass to cut into disks; reroll the scraps. Place a peppermint disk on top of each cupcake.

Make the glaze: Put the chocolate, corn syrup, butter and 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on 50 percent power until the chocolate melts, about 2 minutes. Whisk to combine, then cool slightly. Spread the glaze over the peppermint topping, leaving some peppermint exposed. Refrigerate until set, at least 20 minutes. Serve cold.