Trees are Bare

Apple Chip Cookies

Another day, another season, another fresh fruit to pick at Crooked Run Orchard.  This time I was on an apple mission, and with a good half dozen varieties to select from I knew I would be good to go.  Last year my friends and I picked around 25lbs of apples, this year the goal was to stay around 10 lbs in order to avoid apple overload.  We wound up with just over 7 and so far there have been cookies, bread, and risotto!  I also see an apple cobbler in the near future, that or apple cheesecake bars…just have to decide how motivated I want to be!  Apple Chip cookies are probably my favorite cookies ever, and they came from a happy mistake.  Every year my Mom makes her amazing Nut Clusters which involve a mixture of chocolate chips and butterscotch chip.  I attempted to make them once in college and while the result was edible it didn’t come close.  However the leftover butterscotch chips led to the creation of a new and amazing cookie: Apple Chip cookies.  They are basically the love child of a caramel apple and a sugar cookie, but without the risk of pulling out braces (not like I ever did that).  They are also extremely easy to make which is another positive when dealing with a college dorm kitchen.  So if you have some apples on the verge this recipe might be the answer!

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup unsalted margarine, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all natural applesauce (no sugar added if possible!)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp apple cider
1 cup butterscotch chips
3/4 cup apples, finely diced

1. Preheat oven to 375
2.  Mix the flour and baking soda together in a small bowl, set aside.
3.  Cream the butter with the sugars in a large mixing bowl.  Add the applesauce, salt, and cider.  Mix well. 
4.  Slowly beat in the flour mixture, blending well.
5.  Stir in the chips and apples.
6. Drop the cookies on to non-stick baking sheets with good spacing around each cookie.  Bake for 11 minutes. 

This recipe makes about 39 2in cookies.  For some reason I always wind up with three full one-dozen racks and then three random lonely cookies at the end.  One of the best things about this recipe is that since it is egg free there is nothing to stop you from licking the spoon!  There is no right or wrong apple to use for this recipe, I prefer to use really tart apples such as Golden Delicious or Pink Lady but there is nothing wrong with using a sweeter apple.  My roommate referred to these as “little tastes of heaven” and a number of my co-workers have requested more cookies…so I made another batch!


Be Our Guest

To most people the perfect way to celebrate a birthday is with a cake, a deliciously amazing birthday cake for that matter. However I like to shake things up and be a little different so for Joe’s birthday I decided to try something I always thought was well beyond my skill level: a vanilla creme brulee. I researched recipes for about a month in advance, trying to get an idea of the mechanics behind this dessert. My initial conclusions were that if I could get beyond the terrifying torch idea this wouldn’t be too hard, and since it’s Joe’s favorite dessert no matter time then now to get over that problem. The next challenge came from picking a recipe, a simple search results in dozens upon dozens of results all of which are unique and tasty sounding. I looked at recipes from The Queen of Cream Miss Paula Deen and a number of other Food Network stars, and then checked out all recipes.com to see if I could glean anything from that treasure trove. In the end I settled with a butchered version of two recipes, one from cremebrulee.com and the other from Tyler Florence. The result was a lower fat option with all the taste. The only thing I might change when I try this again would be using Vanilla Caviar which I could not find at my grocery store. I have a feeling that would have taken this dessert to the next level and really made it a special occasion treat.

4 egg yolks
2 tbsp white sugar
3/4 cups light cream
1/4 cup half and half
2/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated white sugar (for the caramelized tops)


1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add cream and vanilla, and continue to whisk until well blended. Strain into a large bowl, skimming off any foam or bubbles.
3. Divide mixture among 4 ramekins or custard cups. Place ramekins in a water bath (large pan filled with enough water to cover half of the cups) and bake until set around the edges, but still loose in the center, about 50 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and leave in the water bath until cooled. Transfer everything to the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days. When ready to serve, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over each custard and place some ice in the water bath. For best results, use a small, hand-held torch to melt sugar but a large butane torch from Lowes will also work :-D.

I have heard that an oven set to broil can also be used to carmelize the sugar but I’m not sure how that will work. I had originally purchased a creme brulee torch for this project however it didn’t pass the Joe test. So I used a not-so-fancy but oh-so-fun butane torch from Lowes. It worked perfectly so the only real issue because how much to brown the sugar. Turns out one of us like it just this side of brown, while the other likes it just slightly golden. Luckily with 4 ramekins we could half one way and half the other. I had one that night and one for breakfast while the birthday boy downed both of us in under 10minutes. Guess I did a good job!

Party Don’t Stop

Greek Baked Eggs

Here it is: my first group blogging activity.  this is coming to you courtesy of Addictive and Consuming and Tasty Trix and their International Incident: Eggs Party.  This was a group effort on many levels and two Birthday gifts really made this all possible.  My sister got me these amazing oven-to-dinner dishes, the kind you would use for French Oven soup but that can serve other purposes as well.  I also got a number of cook books including a really wicked one from Joey, the Marie Claire Seasonal Kitchen cookbook.  This book had two recipes for baked eggs, something I had seen before but never had.  Both of these recipes were very meat heavy so I decided to take the concept and alter it for my purposes.  The result was a tasty amazing treat that was rather easy to prepare and the perfect fuel before the 8 mile hike we had planned.

1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups baby bella mushrooms, diced
1 cup green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
3 eggs
3 tbsp Feta Cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Use some of the butter to grease two oven-to-table style ramekins.  
2. Put the remaning butter in a small frying pan and heat over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, then add the onion and peppers.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.  
3. Divide the vegetable mixture between the two ramekins.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.   Pour into the ramekins and then top with the Feta Cheese.  Bake for 15-20minutes, or until the egg is cooked all the way through.

Fast, simple, filling, and delicious! The perfect meal for weekend morning, or even a light dinner.  I’m hoping this blog party will be the first of many…I just need to make sure I note the time difference better next time!


From your toes to you head

Gnocci with Pepper Rose Sauce
Marsala Green Beans

For the most part I prefer to use my own recipes, things that I have tweaked and messed with over a period of months or years in order to get things just right.  Occasionally an occasion will occur that calls for a recipe straight from a book.  Either because no amount of tweaking can make it better than it already is or because it’s something so finicky that I’m terrified to alter it for fear of making a huge disaster.  There are very few items that follow in that second category, matzo balls are one and gnocci are the other.  I have tried MANY recipes in my attempt to make this delicious potato wonders and none of them have resulted in a success.  Either the gnocci never firms up to be shaped or it dies in the pot, which is the most common result.  Then I got THE BOOK.  The book that told me why it was my gnocci just wasn’t working, and it turned out it wasn’t me: it was the potato I was using.  What is this miracle book? Cafe Firenze by Fabio Viviani (aka from the Italian Stallion from Top Chef).  Fabio might not have won (silly Josea) but he showed himself to be a true class act and when I found out that my roommate at the time was fortunate enough to live in his hometown I began my master plan.  The dream was to travel to CA and have dinner at his amazing restaurant, however work (and politics) got in the way to I had to settle.  So instead of my first Top Chef dining experience I got his book (autographed! to me!) and a yummy headshot (also signed!).  While most of the recipes are well beyond my skill level a few things have been attempted, including his killer recipe for gnocci.  One of the best things about his cookbook is that the writing style directly reflects his speaking style, meaning that this book is written as if he is talking to you.  Nothing is written in the traditional 1. 2. 3. style…everything is written in paragraph (or run on sentence form) and his recipe for gnocci is no exception.  The very first line is “5 Medium size Russet or Kennebee Potatoes” which is followed by an EXTREMELY detailed reason why one must use those potatoes.  After explaining his reasonings he ends his very long sentence with a sort of threat involving the food-police.  That is why this book is THE BOOK and not just another cooking book.  He tells you like it is and gives reasoning behind any ingredient that might not be seen as traditional.  So without further adiou here is the most amazing gnocci recipe ever, which I prepared for the most important occasion ever: Joey’s birthday.
Ingredients: (taken directly from Cafe Firenze with some minor edits for grammer/clarity)
5 Medium size Russet or Kennebee Potatoes (don’t ask, just do)
1 tsp Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 large egg
6 oz fresh grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp salt
8 oz All Purpose Flour
1 stick of butter (melted)
1. Peel the potatoes and boil them in water until they are cooked but still firm.  Put them in a large glass bowl with the butter, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Mix well with a hand mixer (or blender) on high speed scraping the edges of the bowl frequently. 
2. Spread the mixture into a flat sheet pan refrigerate for at least 4hrs, and overnight is possible.  Remove from fridge and mix again this time while slowly adding the flour. Remove the dough from the mixture and cut into smaller pieces.  Roll these pieces into snake like shapes and then dust with flour.  Cut the snakes into 1/2 in by 1/2 in mini snakes, using a fork to firm up if desired.  Refrigerate for 30minutes.
3.  While the gnocci is in the fridge bring a large pot of water to a boil.  ADD SALT!  Slowly add the gnocci, making sure to not over crowd the pan.  The gnocci are ready when they float.  Remove immediately and add more gnocci until all are cooked.  Serve!

I find that I cook gnocci in perfect silence which is why I made sure to give Joe his birthday gift the night before, bribery if you will to insure no distractions.  For a different take of things Fabio also gives instructions for how to fry gnocci, which I have yet to attempt.  
To go with this pillows of perfected potatoes I made a Rose sauce that is similar to one done at a local Italian restaurant.  The trick to rose sauces is adding the cream at just the right moment in order to get the perfect balance.  This recipe is not from the cookbook, or any other cookbook other than the one I am “writing,” which is nothing more than a cool notebook with Cherry Blossoms on the front. 
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 tbsp EVOO
1 small green pepper, diced
5 Roma Tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup light cream
1.  Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and cook until the onion is translucent.  Add the green pepper and cook for an additional 5 minutes.   Add the tomatoes and salt.  Cover and cook for 15minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes.  
2.  Once the gnocci have added to the pot for cooking add the cream, cook for a final 5 minutes.  Season to taste with Salt and Pepper and Serve!

For some reason my brain thought this wouldn’t be enough food, so I also made up some Marsala green beans (recipe featured a few weeks ago) in order to finish things up.  I also made a special Birthday dessert but I think this post is long enough as is so that can wait for another night.  Ciao! 

Old McDonald

Tomato Risotto
Pancetta…Prosciutto…Bacon…it’s almost impossible to go out and order an italian meal without one of these popping up.  The other week I went out to dinner with my family and not one salad at this very well known restaurant was vegetarian.  One had pancetta, another anchovies, one had prosciutto and the other beef tips.  Apparently not even salads are safe anymore from the Bacon Conspiracy aka the Pork Takeover.  Some of you are probably wondering what the big deal is, just ask for the offending meat to be removed.  The problem is that so far I’m striking out at this request, for the last few times I’ve requested my meal sans oink the oink has still arrived with the meal.  With the salad I was fortunate to be with my bacon loving sister who gladly removed the offending pork from the dish before I dug into the blue cheese and avocado delight that was awaiting me.  The other dish…let’s just say I received a nasty shock about 3/4 of the way thru my meal when I realized there was more to the amazing potato onion sauce then I thought.  *shudder*  This also brings me to one of my other rants, but I don’t think now is the time to talk about slipping customer service issues…another day perhaps!
This dish is one that I rescued from the invading forces, in the original form this with Pancetta & Tomato Risotto now it’s a nice (light) Tomato Risotta that’s just right for an end of summer dinner. 
4 cups veggie stock
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp margarine
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 onion (or 2 leeks), diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 Roma Tomatoes or 2 large Beefsteak tomatoes, diced (skinned opt.)
2 tbsp Sherry
  1. Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, reduce heat and simmer.
  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the margarine, olive oil, garlic, and onion (leeks) and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the rice and stir gently, fully covering the rice in the oil. 
  3. Pour one cup of broth into the rice and stir until full absorbed.  Add another cup of the broth along with the tomatoes.  Again stir until the broth is absorbed, making sure the risotto doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Add one more cup of broth along with the sherry.  Once absorbed taste the risotto and based on preferred texture either Serve or add more broth. 
As a final touch I served this yummy risotto with some late summer corn that we got while on the Eastern Shore and some fresh bread from the local market.  The corn added the right amount of crunch to the meal, and could have easily been cut off the cob and stirred right in to the Risotto.  

Trees are Bare

Linguine with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Good morning! We are now firmly in September and I’m trying to remember all the good things that come with this month, such as being able to go on a 9 mile hike and not suffering a heat stroke.  We were also able to bring our puppy with us, which made things very interesting and fun.  She is now completely pooped out and seems to only have energy to eat, drink, and wag her tail.  Watching her on the trail was great, her tail was going a mile a minute the entire time.  After spending a day on the trails the last thing I wanted to do was cook some crazy elaborate dinner but food was needed.  Which is when I resort to modifying something to a “Rachel Ray style” if you will.  This is one such recipe, and at some point I’m sure I’ll also do the long version of this.

6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 1/4 cup roasted red pepper soup – I used Wegmanns Organic but this is up to you!
12oz can chopped tomatoes (no salt added if possible)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tbsp dried chile flakes
1 lb linguine, cooked al dente

1. Heat the olive oil in pan over medium heat and cook the garlic for 7-10 minutes, until golden.  Pour the garlic and olive oil into a food processor.  Add the chile flakes and puree.  
2.  Pour the garlic mixture into a medium size pot and add the roasted red pepper soup.  Heat for 5 minutes over medium heat.  Add the tomatoes, turn heat to low, and cook for 15minutes.  Season to taste! 
3.  Once the pasta has finished cooked drain it and mix well with the sauce.  Feel free to top with some freshly grated Parmesan Cheese and Enjoy!

Nothing like a simple (lazy) dinner that can be done under 30minutes, perfect for a hectic weekday or weekend night.


Little Drop of Rain

Blackberry Breakfast Bar

Oh September you are here again.  In so many ways you are my favorite month and in so many other ways you are my least favorite.  September means birthday, always a good thing, and it also means that the killer heat is almost over.  However September also means that traffic is about to get hellacious again and that winter is just around the corner.  I HATE traffic, I LOATH traffic, I DESPISE traffic.  Every summer people flee the city, and the traffic drops down to a much more tolerable level.  My 13 mile commute will take 30minutes, which is still insane but it’s doable.  However school is now in session so everyone has returned from their various vacation homes, and they are once again clogging the roads.  This means that my commute is now closer to an hour…NOT fun!  The cure for traffic insanity?  A nice yummy breakfast 🙂  As mentioned before, I am not a breakfast person.  Breakfast would subtract about 30minutes of much needed sleep from my schedule, and that’s just not advisable.  However I’m a big fan of breakfasts that either cook themselves (hello bread machine) and breakfasts that can be done the night before and then heated up right before heading out.  This recipe is an example of the latter, and it’s delicious!

For Dough:
1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
2 tbsp cold water
1 tsp salt
For Filling:1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 cups blackberries (or raspberries, or blueberries, or a mix of any of these)

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Using a large bowl dump in flour, sugar, butter and salt. Mix until dough starts to come together and slowly add water until dough is just moist.
3. Press half of the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 pan Set aside the remaining dough.
 Bake the dough for 10 minutes then let cool for 10 minutes.
4. In a new bowl mix the applesauce, sugar, and flour together. Slowly fold in the blackberries. Pour the blackberry mixture over the baked crust and spread evenly.
5. Sprinkle the reserved dough on top of the blackberry mixture and bake for 50-60 minutes.

The other downside of September?  The end of blackberry season.  However September does have an upside to counter that: the start of APPLE season!  Which means it’s time for apple pie, apple chip cookies, smoke apple risotto, and other delicious recipes that will keep the doctor away