Category Archives: Holiday

Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts

l1050692I let a few months pass in-between posts again.  Like a lot of other people in this country, I have been trying to find healthy outlets for my anger, sadness, and disappointment in the election. I have been doing a decent amount of holiday baking.  One day, I came home from work and just decided to start looking for craft projects online. If nothing else, I figured it would be a nice distraction for me, and a way to channel my feelings into something creative.  My mom, being a very crafty lady, is very happy about this.

Mr. K and I had a pretty rough autumn with both of my grandma’s dying within one month of each other. We flew to Minnesota for both funerals, and in between those trips we moved to a new apartment.  The past few weekends have started to feel “normal” again, as we slowly return to our old weekend routines and attempt to create new ones. We moved to Harlem and we are both very excited about trying new restaurants and discovering all of the little gems that define our new neighborhood.
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I am taking advantage of living in Manhattan again. Before we moved to Astoria, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday was to go to a matinee and/or bring a book along and sit in a coffee shop and read. I did that last weekend and it felt so indulgent. It was a good reminder for me that I need to force myself out of the apartment on the weekends. Being around other people, and just being out in the world observing things, always helps my state of mind.

Word of caution:  if you make these candied nuts, you might not be able to stop eating them. They are incredibly good, with the perfect combination of smoky, salty, and sweet. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
l1050695Sugar-and-Spice Candied Nuts
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon of hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound walnut or pecan halves
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps; set aside.
2. Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add walnuts, and stir to coat evenly.
3. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet fitted with parchment paper.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars

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I got a call from my dad last Tuesday saying my grandma had become unresponsive. The nurse told my dad and his siblings that she would most likely pass in the coming days.  I asked my dad to call me as soon as she passed away. I waited for the call. It was excruciating. By the end of the day Thursday there was still no change. By then, I had become extremely anxious and wasn’t sleeping well. I needed to numb the pain and not deal with my feelings. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I started to eat and didn’t stop until Saturday night.  I ate potato chips, ice cream, pizza, chocolate and cookies. I couldn’t shove the food in fast enough to fill the hole.  I hadn’t eaten like that in years. I actually went to bed Saturday night feeling sick. My dad called Sunday morning to tell me that my grandma passed away Saturday night with several of her kids by her bedside. And just like that, the bingeing was over. Now that my grandma was gone, I could let myself feel the pain of losing her. I wanted to go for a run and process my grief while listening to music. It was the most nurturing thing I could think of to do for myself. I blared Beyonce in my earbuds and started to run, all the while thinking about my grandma’s life. It wasn’t an easy one, but I hope that she had true moments of joy and contentment.
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This recipe is an Ina Garten one that I tweaked simply because I had apricot jam in my refrigerator that I wanted to use. I love the combination of almond and apricot, especially when almond extract is involved. Of course, you can easily swap out the almond butter for peanut butter and use strawberry jam in lieu of the apricot jam if you want a straight-up classic combination. But it’s fun to try new flavors, and if you haven’t experienced the almond/apricot pairing, I encourage you to try this. Even if you’re not a seasoned baker, it’s a very approachable recipe.  It also feels a bit autumnal, which is absolutely perfect for this week.

Almond Butter and Apricot Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten

Yield:  24 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups creamy almond butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups apricot jam
2/3 cups almond slivers

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x13x2-inch cake pan. Line it with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars on medium speed until light yellow, about 2 minutes.
3. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla and almond extract, eggs, and almond butter and mix until all ingredients are combined.
4. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the almond butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
5. Spread 2/3 of the dough into the prepared cake pan and spread over the bottom with a knife or offset spatula. Spread the jam evenly over the dough. Drop small globs of the remaining dough evenly over the jam. Don’t worry if all the jam isn’t covered; it will spread in the oven.
6. Sprinkle with almond slivers and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely, and cut into squares.

 

Sea Salt Caramels

DSC_6671I had a nice, leisurely brunch with a good friend today.  It was one of those enjoyable, meandering conversations that could have easily continued for several hours.  After we parted ways, I found myself thinking of several more things I wanted to talk to my friend about––what was the name of that running app she mentioned?  Avon Barksdale is in the new Creed movie!  When can we do another double date?
DSC_6656After I returned home, I started in on my holiday baking:  melting butter, whipping meringue, and rough-chopping chocolate, all the while thinking about the incredibly rich and meaningful female friendships I’ve had over the years.  There is a beautiful passage in an Anaïs Nin book that I love:  “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  She articulates so elegantly how different friends show us a side of ourselves that we hadn’t previously tapped into.  They see our potential, and challenge us within a safe space.   By the time I started cleaning up my post-baking mess, I found myself reminiscing about my college days and all of the incredible friendships I made throughout those four years.  Those women saw something in me before I really knew who I was or how I wanted to live my life.  Through their eyes, I learned so much about myself.
DSC_6668I haven’t made caramels, or any other candy, since the day I closed my business 2 ½ years ago.  I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to make them, but it all came back to me.  My stepdad has asked me to make these for him ever since I closed my business, and he will finally get some for Christmas this year!

Sea Salt Caramels

Yield: 35-40

12 oz. sugar
12 oz. evaporated milk
5 oz. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split
10 oz. corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

1.  Line 8×8 pan with parchment paper.
2.  Combine sugar, evaporated milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean in a large pot, and cook over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, and add corn syrup.  Stir to incorporate.
3.  Insert candy thermometer and clip onto the side of pot.
4.  When temperature reaches 230 F degrees, add butter and stir until melted.  Mixture will start to thicken and darken in color.  Turn heat down to low, and stir frequently, scraping bottom of the pan every once in a while.
5.  When temperature reaches 240 F degrees, remove pot from heat, add sea salt, and stir until combined.
6.  Pour caramel into parchment-lined pan.  Using a spatula, smooth the caramel out, making sure it is distributed evenly throughout pan.  Cool completely, and cut into 1×1-inch squares.

Healthy Gingerbread Muffins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI recently learned that my cholesterol is dangerously high.  In lieu of going on medication, I decided to actively try and cut out a decent amount of sugar from my diet.  Of course, there will still be plenty of dark chocolate.  I mean, I haven’t lost my mind.  There will ALWAYS be dark chocolate in my life.  What’s more, I have a huge sweet tooth.  Therefore, dessert will always be a part of my life as well, but I needed to find some recipes that incorporate sugar substitutions.   Turns out, there is a lot out there.  For the most part, bananas and dates are the healthiest options when substituting sugar in a recipe.  Although they still contain a decent amount of sugar– like fruit– they also contain fiber, which slows down the rate at which the body absorbs the sugars from the fruit.  Therefore, I have been making A LOT of (healthier) desserts lately to try and figure out what works and what doesn’t work.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my favorite things to eat around the holidays is gingerbread-flavored anything.   I love the spices, along with the deep, complex flavor of molasses.  I had a deliciously spicy slice of gingerbread loaf last week from a bakery in Manhattan.  It inspired me to try and give gingerbread muffins a go, but with no sugar (other than the molasses, which I made an exception for).  They turned out really well.  My only complaint is that they are not quite spicy enough.  Therefore, if you really want that bite that you get from a gingersnap cookie, feel free to double the amount of ginger in this recipe.  If you are ok with a milder flavor, these will be perfect for you.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHealthy Gingerbread Muffins
Adapted from Pinch of Yum

Yield:  22 Mini-muffins

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (sub 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
11/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Candied ginger, roughly chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the molasses.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream, yogurt, milk, ginger, vanilla extract, and orange zest.
  3. Add the olive oil and molasses from step one.
  4. Add the flours, baking soda, salt, and dry spices. Stir a few times until just combined. Scoop into a mini-muffin tin and place a piece of candied ginger on top of each muffin. Bake for 10-12 minutes (if making full-size muffins, bake for 17-20 minutes) or until the tops are puffy and firm to the touch. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

Squash with Raisins and Thyme

DSC_5186Every winter when the colder weather moves in I become anti-social.  It’s one of those things I know will happen every year– like when you first notice the guys selling Christmas trees on the corner the weekend after Thanksgiving­– and yet I always seem to think, “I will manage better this year.”  I have been feeling so good for so long, that my reclusive behavior has crept up albeit very slowly over the last month.  It really became apparent when my husband was away on a business trip last month.  Usually when he goes away for several weeks at a time, I have a strategy in place to ward off the loneliness.  I try and fill my social calendar and make a long list of things to do to keep myself occupied.  Although I braced myself with my usual approach before his most recent trip, rather than going to a book reading or a movie, I found myself coming home after work most nights just to hunker down in front of the television to watch Jeopardy and Gilmore Girls.  Endless episodes.  But the strange thing was:  I didn’t feel lonely.  Or sad.  I was actually in pretty good spirits.  However, that was over a month ago.  Eventually, my unsociable behavior catches up with me, and coupled with the cold weather and shorter days, it usually ignites the winter blues at the very least.  Sometimes it can lead to a full-on depressive episode.

I am determined to manage my depression this winter.  That is, after all, the best anyone with this illness can do.  It’s like the required radios in North Korean homes:  they can never be turned completely off, only turned down, so as to ensure that the propaganda is heard.  I can’t get rid of my depression, but I can manage it by doing what I know works for me.  I have to force myself out of the apartment at least a few nights during the week, as well as on the weekends.  My brain needs external stimulation to counter the incessant internal messages.  And it becomes really hard to do in the winter when all I want to do after work is go home, put on my pajamas, and curl up on the couch.  The impulse is so strong– it almost feels like a biological instinct.
DSC_5188Maybe it just boils down to finding something every day to ensure a moment of quiet contentment.  My husband and I discovered a great coffee shop that opened in our neighborhood recently.  We’ve started going for afternoon coffee every Sunday to make certain that we get out of the apartment and check in with each other before the day is over.  Today we decided to also purchase our first Christmas tree.  Carrying it home, I had a big, stupid grin on my face.  Of course, I suggested we put on Christmas music while decorating the tree.  Seeing our little, lopsided tree all lit up made me very happy.

This is one of the easiest things you could possibly make.  And dare I say one of the most delicious.  I pack it up for my weekday lunches, but it could also be a vegetable side if you feel the need to have something heartier during the day.  The original recipe called for dates, but I’m not a huge date fan.  You could also substitute currants, golden raisins, or most likely any other dried fruit you are fond of.
DSC_5193Squash with Raisins and Thyme
Adapted from Bon Appétit

3 small acorn squash, scrubbed, cut into 1/2″ wedges
1/2 bunch thyme
4 garlic gloves, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup raisins
Flaky sea salt

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2.  Toss squash, thyme, garlic, olive oil, and butter in a large baking dish; season with sea salt and pepper.
3.  Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender, 40-45 minutes.  Add raisins;  toss to coat.
4.  Roast until squash are very tender and raisins plump up a bit, 12-15 minutes.
5.  Arrange squash, raisins, garlic, and thyme on a platter, spoon any oil in dish over squash, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing

DSC_5199I went home last weekend to surprise my sister for her 40th birthday.  I forgot how fun it is to surprise people.  The night before her birthday, on Halloween, I showed up at her door wearing a mask and said, “Trick or Treat!”  She immediately started jumping up and down and screamed something like, “No you did NOT!”  I don’t really know what that means, but it was fun to see her surprised.
DSC_5171I don’t make it back to Minnesota that often anymore, but when I do it’s usually a mad scramble of trying to fit in time with my divorced parents, my sister, and both of my grandmothers, among other people.   I wanted this trip to be different.  I was going back essentially to celebrate my sister, so everyone else was going to be an “If I have time” item on my list.  The morning of my sister’s birthday, my dad asked if he could take my sister and I to a little river town in Wisconsin for breakfast.  I realized after we got into the car that we had not spent time together just the three of us in many years.  I know I have a horrible memory, but I want to say that it’s been since maybe high school?   It was such a nice time, and so unexpected, that I found myself trying to really soak it all in.  After breakfast, we decided to visit the top of a nearby bluff that has beautiful scenery.  On the way there, I was overcome with a strong feeling of tranquility.  It made me so happy to know that the three of us can spend time together and truly enjoy each other’s company.  Like most families, we have had our share of rough patches.  I really wanted to turn to them and say, “I love you guys”, the way I would to a close girlfriend but I was afraid it would make things awkward.   So I didn’t.  I let the moment pass.  I hope the next time I am overcome with emotion for them I have the courage to tell them how I feel.
DSC_5204I have been meaning to buy a bundt pan for over a year.  I finally bought one a month ago, and was so excited about it that I had the crazy idea I was going to make a different type of bundt cake every week.  Well, I’ve made one so far.  And of course it was pumpkin.  There’s really no other option when the beginning of fall is in the air and the weather starts to change.  What am I going to make­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­– a zucchini cake??  PLEASE.  I increased the amount of spices from the original recipe, and also substituted a bit of brown sugar for the granulated sugar.  The only thing this recipe needs is chocolate chips.  Then it would be perfect.

DSC_5208Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing
Adapted from Gourmet

Cake
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing bundt pan
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15 oz. can)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs

Icing
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons well-shaken buttermilk
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Special equipment:  a 10-inch nonstick bundt pan

1.  Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter bundt pan generously, then dust with flour, knocking out excess.
2.  Whisk together flour (2 1/4 cups), baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt in a bowl.
3.  Whisk together pumpkin, 3/4 cup buttermilk, and vanilla in another bowl.
4.  Beat butter (1 1/2 sticks), brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, then add eggs and beat 1 minute.
5.  Reduce speed to low and add flour and pumpkin mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is just smooth.
6.  Spoon batter into pan, smoothing top, then bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.
7.  Cool cake in pan on a rack 15 minutes, then invert rack over cake and re-invert cake onto rack.  Cool 10 minutes more.
8.  While cake is cooling, whisk together buttermilk and confectioners sugar until smooth.  Drizzle icing over warm cake, then cool cake completely.  Icing will harden slightly.

 

Coconut-Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Caramel

DSC_5113Like most people this week, I was shocked and saddened to hear about the suicide of Robin Williams.  As horrible as it feels to lose such a creative genius, I do hope that it creates greater awareness about the dark hole of depression.  It affects so many people and yet there is still a huge lack of understanding about this disease.  I recently heard someone say, “The next time someone tells you to shake off your depression by going outside and getting some fresh air, you should respond by saying, ‘Oh right, like how cancer patients can shake off their cancer.”  I think depression (and addiction) is hard for many Americans to accept as a disease.  It flies in the face of our cultural norms.  We are supposed to be a self-sufficient group, able to overcome anything.  But severe depression can level you.  And no one is exempt from developing depression at some point in his or her life.  Others will battle it their entire lives.   So let’s talk about it.  Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t exist or that it’s not that big of a deal.  It matters.
DSC_5068DSC_5079It feels like there has been an onslaught of bad news this summer.  I’m not sure if media companies are just becoming more and more desperate to report anything that will get us to click on their story links, or if the world really is becoming a horrific place.  I used to think that it was my responsibility to read/listen to the news everyday so as to stay informed.  And I’m not too proud to admit that I think I became a bit righteous about it.  I would judge other people who weren’t as informed as myself.  But I’ve since come to realize that it bears no fruit if I’m not trying to create a change in the world with the information that I consume.  All it really does is depress the hell out of me.  I’m starting to scale back on my news consumption.  I think it has helped my outlook.  Instead, I’m spending more time learning about things I’m curious about.  I read my first Paul Theroux book, I listened to a podcast about the Space Race, and I watched a YouTube video on how to freehand embroider.
DSC_5083DSC_5093I love Bobby Flay’s recipes, even if they always involve 5 or 6 steps and require a decent amount of time.  I’ve heard he has a bit of a reputation of being an asshole, but that doesn’t stop me from continuing to make his recipes and buy his cookbooks.  When I had my chocolate company, he actually purchased several gift boxes from me one holiday season to give to business associates.  I was over the moon.  Like his other recipes, this one does not disappoint, but it does involve several steps.  I have been eating blackberries like water this summer, so this was a fun way to do something different with them other than to eat them with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
DSC_5109Coconut-Buttermilk Pie with Blackberry Caramel
Adapted from Food & Wine

Serves: 8

Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. buttermilk

Filling
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure coconut extract
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of salt

Blackberry Caramel
2 cups blackberries (8 oz.), halved
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
2 tsp. blackberry liqueur
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Toasted sweetened shredded coconut, for garnish

1.  In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt,  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining.  Drizzle the buttermilk on top and pulse until the dough just comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather up any crumbs and pat the dough into a disk.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.
2.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick.  Ease the dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate.  Trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch, fold it under itself and crimp the dough decoratively.  Refrigerate the crust until firm, about 30 minutes.
3.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until barely set.  Remove the parchment paper and pie weights.  Cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the crust is lightly browned.  Let cool on a rack.  Leave the foil strips on the crust rim.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
4.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until pale.  Add the buttermilk, butter, coconut milk, flour, vanilla seeds and both extracts and whisk until smooth, then stir in the shredded coconut.
5.  Set the pie plate on a baking sheet.  Pour in the custard and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until set around the edge but slightly jiggly in the center.  Transfer to a rack and let the pie cool completely.
6.  In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of blackberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of water.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to burst.  Transfer the berries and any juices to a blender and puree until nearly smooth.  Transfer the puree to the saucepan and let cool slightly, then whisk in the cream, blackberry liqueur, vanilla and salt.
7.  In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water.  Cook over moderate heat, swirling the pan and brushing down the side with a wet pastry brush, until the sugar dissolves.  Cook undisturbed until an amber caramel forms, about 7 minutes.  Add the blackberry cream and simmer, whisking, until the caramel is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes.  Let cool slightly, then stir in the remaining 1 cup of blackberries; let cool to room temperature.  Garnish the pie with toasted coconut, cut into wedges and serve with the blackberry caramel.

Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

DSC_4914I went to Nashville last weekend with my mom and sister to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday.  We had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry Friday night, and I almost didn’t make it due to my original morning flight being canceled.  It was a testament to my determination of not letting things rattle me during the course of the weekend.  I spent the duration of Friday morning on the phone with Delta trying to get on an earlier flight than the 6:30 p.m. flight they rescheduled me for.  I was told to call back every 30-60 minutes and see if any seats had opened up on flights leaving throughout the day.   I succeeded and got on a 1:45 p.m. direct flight.  I immediately took a deep breath and gave myself an internal high-five for not stressing out about it all morning.  Instead, I chose to do everything I could to get myself to Nashville in time for the Opry.

Nashville is an incredible city, and the Opry specifically felt like a mystical place.  I grew up watching Grand Ole Opry shows on television, and I think anything that appeared larger than life to you as a kid always carries some fascination as an adult.  Restless Heart was the first act to perform.  They sang two of their popular hits from the 80’s, and I was immediately transported back to the house we lived in when I was 7 years old.  Although I don’t have a lot of pleasant memories from my childhood, hearing these old songs (particularly with my mom and sister sitting next to me) gave me the warm fuzzies.  It was one of those scenarios where you make a memory within a memory.  Do you know what I mean?  Experiencing the Opry with my mom and sister will always be memorable to me because of the feelings that it stirred up from previous memories.
DSC_4894If you’ve ever been to Nashville you will know that I am not exaggerating when I say that it might just be one of the best food cities in the entire country.  I was prepared to eat some good BBQ, but I was not prepared to be hit over the head with deliciousness at every turn.  I prepared a spreadsheet of recommended restaurants before we left.  I wasn’t messing around.  We went to Jack’s for brisket, mac and cheese, and coleslaw.  I don’t think I left a drop of food on my plate.  The following day we went to Swett’s, which is basically a cafeteria-style restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  Their fried chicken is TO DIE FOR.  I could have easily eaten an entire bucket of chicken, but I wanted to save room for the peach cobbler.  When in Rome, people.  Because of the gluttony that ensued over the course of the weekend I wasn’t too hungry for our last meal Sunday night, but I knew that I wanted something local.  My mom and I decided to split a pulled pork sandwich, which is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches (along with a Cubano).  I’ve never had a pulled pork sandwich where you could actually taste the smokiness in the meat.  I think I moaned with every bite I took.
DSC_4897I love rosemary.  It’s hands-down my favorite herb.  I have yet to pair it with something that doesn’t taste incredible.  Savory cookies are becoming popular here in NYC, and I’ve tried a few over this past year.  They aren’t my favorite thing, but I did try a lemon rosemary sugar cookie a few months ago that was so good I made a mental note to try and find a similar recipe to make for my blog.  I think shortbread is the perfect foil for almost any flavor due the buttery richness of the cookie.  I found a lemon shortbread recipe as well as a rosemary shortbread recipe, so I decided to combine them into one recipe and see how it turned out.   Perfection.  The lemon brightens up the richness of the cookie while the rosemary gives it that nice earthy, herbaciousness that rounds out the overall flavor.  They are the perfect summer cookie to pair with your afternoon coffee or tea.
DSC_4907Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cornstarch
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cube
1 egg white
sugar

1.  Blend first 6 ingredients in food processor.  Add butter; pulse until moist clumps form.
2.  Gather dough into ball.  Wrap with plastic wrap and form into a log.
3.  Chill dough in refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.
4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
5.  Cut 1/4″-sized discs from log and place on baking sheet.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush each cookie with a slightly beaten egg white.  Sprinkle with sugar.
6.  Bake cookies until light golden, about 17-20 minutes.
7.  Cool pan on rack for 5 minutes.  Carefully remove cookies onto rack with a spatula.  Cool completely.

Bacon Bark

DSC_4386I love Sunday mornings.  About 12 years ago, I started a habit where I would get up early on Sundays, go to the gym, and then as a reward, go to a local coffee shop for a pastry and The New York Times.  This simple weekly routine would give me boundless pleasure.  I looked forward to it all week.  Part of it was getting up before the rest of the city was awake.  There are very few moments when NYC is quiet, but early Sunday morning is one of those times.  And I savored every minute.  I actually enjoyed my workouts on Sunday mornings because I knew I was getting a reward afterwards.  Often times, I would bring my favorite donuts (cake donuts or bust!) in a Ziploc bag and settle in at a table with steaming hot coffee and the Sunday paper.  I would take my time reading it from cover to cover (except the unnecessary Sports Section) over the course of two hours.
DSC_4367But somewhere along the way, I stopped doing this thing that brought me so much delight.  Shortly after moving in with my husband things started to change.  He really enjoys staying in on Sunday mornings, so I thought it would be nice to stay in with him.  I had fantasies of us reading the paper together while curled up on the couch with our pastries in hand.  But Mr. K isn’t a big pastry guy.  He prefers a savory breakfast on the weekends.  And he isn’t really into reading the paper from cover to cover.  He mainly enjoys the Automobiles section, to which I say booooooo.  Eventually, the television would be turned on while I was reading the paper, and I would try not to feel disappointed.  It took me a few years to realize that I no longer enjoyed my Sunday mornings.  By trying to incorporate my husband into my routine, I was giving up something that brought me joy.
DSC_4374Of course, all it took was for me to simply communicate all of this to him.  He thought it was a no-brainer:  Why don’t I go back to the routine that I love so much?  Mr. K said his feelings would not be hurt in the least bit.  In fact, he said he really enjoyed getting work done on Sunday mornings, so this would be a win-win for both of us.   I sheepishly agreed that this was indeed a very simple issue to resolve.  If only I had spoken up sooner!  But the good news, readers?  The good news is that I am back to my old routine and loving every peaceful minute of it.  I’ve even discovered an adorable Maltese (Maltese!) bakery in my Queens neighborhood that has incredible pastries, so no need to smuggle in donuts anymore.
DSC_4370Since Valentine’s Day is officially on the horizon, I figured I should do something with one of my favorite foods:  chocolate!  One of my favorite chocolate bars right now is Mo’s Bacon Bar made by Vosges.  The pairing of crisp bacon and smoked salt with the dark chocolate is incredibly delicious.  (f you have a hard time finding smoked salt in your area, you can find it on Amazon.)  I have a hard time eating one square at a time when it’s in my apartment.  And then I thought, why spend $7 on a bar when I could easily make this at home?  So I did!  It’s as easy as making any other bark.  After tempering your chocolate (which is the trickiest part), you simply mix in the crispy bacon and smoked salt.  Voila!  You just saved $7.  Place the bark into cellophane bags, tie with red ribbon, and give one to your Valentine.

Bacon Bark

1.4 oz dark chocolate (about 2 cups; bittersweet or semi-sweet is fine)
4 pieces hickory smoked bacon
1/2 tsp. course smoked salt (I use Alderwood smoked salt)

Place parchment paper into a 9×13″ baking pan.

1.  Fry bacon over medium-high heat until extra crispy (around 7-8 minutes).
2.  Place bacon on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Cool completely.
3.  Finely chop bacon and set aside.
4.  Roughly chop dark chocolate and set aside 1/3 of chocolate.
5.  Place 2/3 of chocolate in double-boiler over medium-low heat.  Stir frequently until chocolate is completely melted.
6.  Remove from heat.  Add remaining 1/3 of chocolate and stir continuously until all of the chocolate has melted.
7.  Test temperature of chocolate with your finger.  Chocolate should feel neutral (not warm).  If chocolate is still warm, continue stirring until chocolate feels neutral in temperate.
8.  Stir in chopped bacon and smoked salt.  Pour into parchment-lined baking pan and spread out evenly.
9.  Place pan in refrigerator for approximately 1 hour.  Bark should be completely set.
10.  Grab the parchment paper and pull bark out of pan.  Using a sharp knife, cut bark into bite-sized pieces.

Homemade Nutella

DSC_4451Mr. K and I have been trying to conceive for almost a year now.  Anyone who has struggled with this knows that it can be an emotional rollercoaster.  At our highest point, we were ecstatic with the news that I was officially pregnant (I miscarried six weeks later), and our lowest point was my 3-day hospitalization from a procedure that went horribly wrong.  And there have been many numb days in between.  When we first started trying, we were extremely confident that it wouldn’t take us long to become pregnant.  I’m sure that’s what everyone thinks in the beginning.  And although we remain cautiously optimistic (my husband likes using that phrase), we have had many discussions about what our lives might look like if we aren’t successful:  We’ll travel more!  We can move to another country!  We’ll get a dog!  Or a cat!  And yet.
DSC_4415And yet I can’t help but wonder about everything we will miss out on if it turns out we can’t have kids.  I know, I know, there are pros and cons to both lifestyles.  And part of me is still scared to death to have children.  I have read so many articles about parents being less happy than childless couples, marriages being strained due to kids, and financial stress due to all of the added expenses of raising a child.  And yet.  You can’t fight biology.  I want to have a child.  I was listening to a Slate podcast on parenting last week (iTunes started downloading this podcast onto my computer a few weeks ago and I didn’t question it) and one of the hosts was talking about her nightly routine.  She stated that between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. it was complete chaos in her house.  Dinner has to be made, homework has to be supervised, baths have to be given, stories have to be read, and then bedtime arrives.  As stressful as all of it sounded, I found myself wanting that chaos in my life.  I thought to myself, “What are all of us childless adults doing with our time?”  It all just seemed so pointless without kids in the picture.  Ok, maybe not pointless.  But I definitely have days when it all feels meaningless.  There’s just something about living for another human being that sounds so freeing.  You can’t be stuck in your head all day long when you have a child to take care of.  As Louis C.K. once said, “There’s no time for depression when you have kids.”  Ok, there must be a little time.
DSC_4419Why have I never made homemade Nutella before?  It’s sooooo easy, dear readers!  I have loved Nutella ever since first discovering it while studying abroad in England.  I think I’ve eaten my weight in banana-Nutella crepes over the years.  But guess what?  This version is EVEN BETTER.  Without additives and chemicals masking the flavor, the milk chocolate and hazelnuts are much more intense.  And it doesn’t have that waxy residue that the store-bought stuff has.  With Valentine’s Day coming up, this would make a nice homemade gift.  Your Valentine will be forever grateful.
DSC_4432Homemade Nutella
Adapted from The Splendid Table

1 cup hazelnuts
12 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2.  Spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they’ve browned a little and the skins are blistered a little.
3.  Wrap them in a kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove as much loose skin as possible. Let cool completely.
4.  Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over gently simmering water.  Stir until smooth.  Let cool completely.
5.  In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until they form a paste.  Add the oil, sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and continue processing until the mixture is as smooth as possible.
6.  Add the melted chocolate and blend well.
7.  Place into airtight container.  Mixture will keep at room temperature for 2 weeks.