Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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“Sticky Toffee Pudding” is kind of an odd name for what’s essentially a simple, sweet cake made of pureed dates, butter, sugar and flour, and topped with a delectable butterscotch-y sauce that you can drizzle or coat (I choose the latter). This is adapted from the Sunday Suppers Cookbook via Smitten Kitchen, and while it’s definitely resonant of Christmas and cold, snowy holidays, I find that it’s just right for a New England spring celebration, too, when it’s typically so raw and chilly. Make it for Easter Sunday in the still-snowy northern states, or just for yourself on a quiet, rainy afternoon. You won’t regret it.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

(Sweet Date Cake)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 heaping cups of pitted dates (about 12 oz.)
  • 2 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP brown sugar (dark or light)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup plus 2 TBSP brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

To serve: homemade or store-bought whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream.

DIRECTIONS

Boil your water and rough-chop the dates, placing them in a heat-safe bowl. Pour the water over the top of the dates, stir in the baking soda, and set aside (covered) for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9×13 baking pan (I used glass) then set aside.

Blend the dates and water in a blender or food processor until smooth. In another large bowl, mix together the butter and sugars; next, whisk in the eggs, then the salt. Stir in the flour, then finally, add the date puree.

Pour the batter into the buttered baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife or toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean.

You can serve as is, which we did on Christmas, or let cool for at least 15 minutes and flip onto a cooling rack then plate it for serving. I made the cake Christmas morning, let it sit out while I made the rest of supper and we opened presents, and then quickly crafted the sauce right before we served dessert.

To make the sauce, combine the butter, cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk until it thickens, about 7-10 minutes.

This is delicious at room temperature or warmed up, and it’s sweet without being cloyingly so. You can serve the sauce alongside for your guests to pour over the cake themselves, or you can coat the entire cake in the sauce and serve all together. I did it this way; I thought the sauce was the most scrumptious part and couldn’t imagine wanting anything less than to eat it as a luxurious topping on every single slice. This also makes it easier to transport!

As I said in my last post, dates are simply delicious and good for you, and while no dessert quite qualifies as health food, this one is certainly a bit unexpected and innovative. Best of luck trying it out! And happy weekend, even if you live in one of the sorry locales getting snow today and tomorrow like I do. Before you go, check out the new branding I am considering, and leave me a comment with your thoughts below! xoxo

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Holidays · Recipes

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

I still have memories of the fresh-baked bread a neighbor used to make when I was a kid. That smell wafting over the summer air when we were outside playing … mmm, I can just about taste it.  If, like me, you’ve always aspired to be the kind of person who makes homemade bread, but you lack the time, skills, fresh yeast or patience to mind rising and kneading strategies, then have I got the recipe for YOU. And just in time for St. Patty’s Day! Classic Irish Beer Bread is so simple, lends itself well to customization, and — most importantly — is delicious. With a soft buttery crust and chewy, warm center, it’s just begging to be dipped into soup or served alongside a hearty stew. This will make you feel like a master bread baker in no time.

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So the cool thing about beer bread is that the carbonation actually helps to leaven the bread, because the same yeast that makes bread rise makes beer alcoholic. Most of the alcohol will bake off while this bread is in the oven, and you’ll be left with a fluffy loaf seasoned with whatever type and flavor of beer you’ve chosen. If you use a nice IPA, as I did here, you’ll get a fantastic hoppy bite at the end. If you choose something more malty or mild, you’ll get that flavor coming through in the final product, too.

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The most mouth-watering part of this bread is the melted butter you drizzle on top before baking. Try adding more or less than what I call for, to see how you like it.

Buttery Irish Beer Bread

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 oz. (1.5 Cups) beer (can substitute non-alcoholic beer, soft drink or sparkling fruit juice, such as sparkling pear or apple cider).
  • 3 Cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 3 TSP sugar
  • 2 TBSP butter, melted

You can substitute another sweetener, such as honey, in place of sugar if you prefer. It will change the taste of the bread, but that’s what’s fun about this recipe! It’s endlessly personalize-able.


DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 350F and lightly butter a glass (or metal) loaf pan, or use non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder) and pour in the beer you’ve selected. Mix until just combined, taking care not to overdo it.

Pour the mixture into your loaf pan and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake for 45-50 minutes if using a metal pan, and 50-55 for a glass pan, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes then remove to a plate. Serve warm or cool.

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The baking powder makes for a fluffier, less dense bread, but you can omit if necessary or if you don’t have any on hand. All you really need for successful beer bread is beer, sugar and flour. From there, it’s all about tailoring to your taste.

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There are so many ways to make this your own. A few ideas:

  • Instead of beer, use a cup of water and a 1/2 cup of salsa. Add in a dash of chili powder and a half cup of sharp cheddar cheese and bake as usual.
  • Add some mustard to the bread mix before baking, or serve the finished bread with a good grainy mustard.
  • Pick a blueberry beer and fold in fresh or frozen berries of your choice.
  • Use sparkling apple cider instead of beer, and add in a palm full of chopped nuts (such as pecans or walnuts), a half cup of chopped apple and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Try the special flavors of a micro brew or go light with a wheat beer; conversely, try a stout like Guinness and see how drastically it changes the tone and texture.

IMG_0078I hope you try this and enjoy it. Let me know how it comes out! And Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, when everyone gets to be Irish. 🍀

 

 

dessert · Holidays · Recipes

Cinnamon Roll Apple Cake

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I’ve never been a big Valentine’s Day person, and Mark definitely isn’t into it. We went through the motions while we were dating, and I famously mailed him almost $100 worth of candy when we were in college and seeing each other long distance — only to discover he really doesn’t have a sweet tooth! Let’s just say I didn’t have much extra money back then, and nowadays it seems silly to buy gifts so soon after Christmas when what we really crave is more quality time together (and to stay on track with our college savings / home improvement goals!)  So, now we focus on having a festive time with Georgia, and my crafty side loves making valentines for her classmates and baking up some special treats for us to share as a family. I first made this dessert for a family party Thanksgiving weekend, and it travels well and feeds kids and adults alike. It’s very friendly for toddler/preschool aged assistants to help you with, too! Tiara not required but helpful.

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Cinnamon Apple Roll Cake

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packs of cinnamon roll dough with icing
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 granny smith apples, diced
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • Optional: Vanilla ice cream, for serving

DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 375.

Cut the cinnamon roll dough into three even strips, then cut those strips into three pieces, making nine total per cinnamon roll. Set aside the icing.

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Set aside.

In a pan over medium heat, combine the butter, apples, and brown sugar, cooking until the sugar starts to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the cinnamon roll dough pieces evenly in a 9×9 baking tray. Pour the egg mixture on top, followed by the apples. Drizzle the reserved icing on top.

Bake for 25–30 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with ice cream!

Our whole family has been battling the flu for a couple weeks now, and BOY am I sick of being sick. I haven’t been able to taste or smell anything for days and my head is so congested that my ears have been ringing non-stop. Is anyone else facing this where you live?? I can’t for the life of me figure out where we picked this up (maybe the plane?) but it just won’t go away, and it’s excruciating to write about food when I have no appetite or taste buds! In any case, I hope all of you are healthier than us, and staying warm if you’re in the path of today’s Nor’Easter. It’s just picking up where we live and definitely looks like a day to cuddle up on the couch with a movie and some treats. Happy Snow Day and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!

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Books · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: Cookbooks

If there’s one thing even experienced cooks never mind receiving, it’s a new book about food. From cookbooks to travel writing, novels, and memoirs about eating, there’s always something new to whet the appetite of any foodie bookworm. Here are a few new cookbooks that I’ve got my eye on this year, plus some trusty favorites that would make great gifting for anyone on your list who is just starting out in a new home, new marriage, or with newly-acquired cooking skills. There are 3 DAYS LEFT for free two-day shipping with Amazon, so get shopping for those last-minute presents!

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Best of the New Cookbooks, clockwise from top left:

Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites: A Cookbook // Molly on the Range // The Flavor Bible // Cooking for Jeffrey // Small Victories // Damn Delicious // Thug Kitchen 101 // The Sprinkles Baking Book

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There were so many great cookbook releases this year, it’s hard to pick just one or two. All of these eight books appeal to different tastes, and all came out within the last two months, so they’re unlikely to be part of anyone’s collection yet — and all can be shipped before Christmas.

If you aren’t as concerned about getting something brand new and would rather help a budding cook or recent college grad in your family build their collection of go-to recipes, here are my selections — the tried and true, dog-eared favorites I turn to over and over, and still find something new to try.

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The Silver Spoon and the Silver Spoon For Children

This was the first cookbook my mother got me when I got out of school, and for good reason. Not only does it specialize in Italian cooking, which is what I know best, but it is indexed by ingredient, so a novice cook can flip to something like “parsnips” or “rutabaga” and figure out how to prepare it. The children’s version I received as a baby shower gift from my sister-in-law, and it’s equally wonderful — perfect for a first-time parent, or someone with a baby just starting to eat solids, or a toddler just starting to ask you if they can help in the kitchen!

Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

A classic for a reason, this is an encyclopedic look at one of the world’s best cuisines. With over 500 recipes, you will turn to it time and time again. Make a festive gift basket with this and her fascinating memoir, My Life in France, plus a nice bottle of wine.

Vegan with a Vengeance

Isa Chandra Moskowitz knows her stuff. Got a new vegan in the family, or just want to build some non-animal-protein foods into your regular rotation? This is the accessible, easy place to start, and the new 10-year-anniversary edition is even more beautifully laid out than the original. Looking for the fastest of the fast weeknight fare? Isa’s got you covered there, too, with Isa Does It, a digestible book of 30-minute meals with sumptuous photography to boot. No weird or expensive ingredients to be found in either one.

The Can’t Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld

I got this when it first came out in 2013, because — even though I’m a seasoned cook — I knew that with a new baby in our family, we’d be needing to expand our repertoire of uncomplicated meals as well as help Mark gain the skills to do some cooking while I was busy nursing. It got us through that bumpy time and is now a solid favorite that I turn to time and again to get out of a rut.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime

Made for busy families, this book is filled with supper recipes, freezer meals and other ideas that will quickly make their way onto your list of regulars. If you love her blog, this puts many of the favorites all in one place. And her writing style is such a kick, it’s like reading notes from a friend.

The Moosewood Cookbook

Timeless! A best seller since its publication in 1974, this is the most simple, delightful, hand-illustrated earthy little book of plant-based eating. Everything is comforting, no-frills and filling. If you’re looking to make more healthy, seasonal food, this is a great place to start.

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Good luck finishing up your shopping everyone! I’ll be sharing my Christmas menu soon! Need ideas now? Check out what we made last year.

 

Christmas · Holidays · Tips and Tricks

Gift Guide: Cooks & Kitchens

Still looking for some inspiration for the food-loving friends and family on your shopping list? Fret not, there’s still eight days to get Amazon Prime shipping to your doorstep by Christmas, and I’ve got tons of great ideas lined up for you.

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Clockwise from top left: Hedley & Bennett American-Made Apron // Geo Porcelain Travel Mug // Epica Immersion Blender // Instant Pot Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker // Tea For One by CB2 // Splatter Enamelware Kitchen Utensils // Milk Street Magazine & Cooking School // Counter-Top Bacon Grease Keeper

A good apron is a must have, and these are the go-to brand for serious cooks right now. Made in the USA in several colors and extra durable, they will last a lifetime. I also can never seem to own enough stylish vessels for coffee and tea at home and on the go, so these are my picks for nice looking drinkware this winter! If you haven’t yet tried the Instant Pot, it’s like a slow cooker minus the “slow” and can be a very strategic gift for a new parent or someone who just got a promotion and is crunched for time! Ditto for the new Milk Street Magazine by Christopher Kimball, formerly of America’s Test Kitchen. He’s branched out on his own with a new venture meant to rethink home cooking; the new magazine is all about simple ingredients and fresh takes on familiar classics, with a blend of culinary science thrown in, and I’m already hooked. If you’re near Boston, there’s also the option of getting a gift card to their new cooking school in Downtown Crossing. An immersion blender is the workforce of any kitchen, making soups, sauces and stews a breeze, as well as an inexpensive yet thoughtful present. And who wouldn’t love a better way to save bacon grease instead of wasting it? Finally, these speckled spoons are sure to be a hit as a host/hostess gift at your New Year’s Eve celebration. So get gifting!

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If you’re looking to make more of an investment, no avid chef would turn down an opportunity to own a Vitamix blender (here’s the one I have, available in black or red), a versatile Le Creuset enameled cast iron Dutch oven or frying pan, or a Nespresso Coffee and Espresso Maker (with milk frother!) which seems to be one of this year’s hot gifts for home cooks. There also seem to be VERY good deals on KitchenAid stand mixers this holiday season, and I personally think you can’t go wrong there!

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Happy Shopping! I hope you’ve been less naughty than nice this year, or Georgia will tell Santa to skip your chimney come Christmas Eve … and she’s got an in with the big guy 😉

 

 

 

 

 

Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Vanilla Pudding Fruit Salad

Happy Friday! With holiday deadlines looming and the calendar filled up with parties and potlucks, I know we’re all starting to get a little frazzled and maybe a little pudgy around the middle from all the indulgent festivities. Fruit salad to the rescue! This recipe is great because it has a touch of extra flavor compared to just tossing strawberries, bananas and melon into a big bowl like you do for a summer cookout when all the ingredients are fresh. In the winter, we often don’t have that luxury, so this brings in some canned fruit varieties with a taste of sweetness that will compliment any holiday buffet. Best of all, you can throw it together 12 hours or 12 minutes before you need to be somewhere, offering a bit of flexibility that’s so appreciated this time of year.

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These measurements are just what I used, and are approximate. You can adjust based on what you have on hand, what you like or dislike, and what’s in season. You will have extra pudding mix and therefore liquid left over, so if you need to feed a bigger crowd, just add in some more non-liquidy fruits like chopped strawberries, different color grapes, blackberries, and so on.

Vanilla Pudding Fruit Salad

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 can sliced peaches in their own juice
  • 1 large can pineapple chunks
  • Half of a 1-pound bag of grapes, any color
  • 1 large banana, sliced
  • half a pint of blueberries
  • 1 clementine or other citrus fruit, peeled and separated into wedges
  • 1 packet of dry vanilla pudding mix (I used new JELL-O Simply Good)

DIRECTIONS

Drain the canned fruit, saving the liquid and setting aside.

Combine all the canned and fresh fruit in a large bowl.

In another bowl, add the packet of dry pudding mix to the liquid from the two cans of fruit, and stir until well combined and thickened. It won’t set, but it will develop a gel-like consistency.

Add the pudding mixture to the bowl of fruit, using your eye to judge how much you want to your taste.

Chill and serve!

Can be made the night before and refrigerated, covered. Squeeze some citrus over it or add the bananas in at the last minute if you plan to make ahead so they don’t brown.

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Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy this preview of our Christmas card, created with TDM Photography and Minted 🙂

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Now through Dec. 12, enjoy 15% off all gifts and holiday card orders over $150 with code SENDCARDS at minted.com!

Christmas · Holidays · kid-friendly · Recipes

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

Happy Cyber Monday! I’m pretty much done with my holiday shopping already, so today is more like Treat YoSelf Monday in my book — I’ve got my eye on a Beauty Blender and a new work bag that is way not in the budget this year (especially since we just had to buy a new car last month). Hard to resist when the sales are this good. I hope you all had a restful, relaxing Thanksgiving. We sure did! Eating out, while not something I’d want to do every year, was extremely stress-free, and I loved not having to wash a million dishes at the end of the night. The place we went was excellent, and it was so nice getting to talk, sip a cocktail, then enjoy a movie back at home while lounging on the couch together. I did a little Black Friday shopping from the comfort of my bed before I even got up the next morning, and then spent the weekend getting our Christmas decorations out! I’ll be sharing a 2016 gift guide later this week, but for now please enjoy this easy-peasy version of vegetarian stuffed shells that is comforting, savory, and just the right thing to throw together in those frazzled weeks between Thanksgiving and Hanukkah/Christmas when your brain just doesn’t have the capacity to cook anything complicated. Adding a salad to this — even a pre-made, store-bought salad — or some simple roasted veggies would complete the meal nutritionally and make your taste buds happy.

Pumpkin Stuffed Shells

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package pasta shells (the jumbo kind with 24 shells per container)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 TBSP chopped fresh sage
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the garlic cream sauce

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup flour (I used whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream (or half n’ half)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 35o and spray (or butter) a 9×13 glass baking dish.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, not mushy or overdone. Drain well and transfer to a paper towel laid out on the counter to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, ricotta, parmesan, egg, sage and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

To make the cream sauce, melt butter in a skillet over medium and add the garlic, then cook, stirring, until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Whisk in the flour gradually until lightly browned, about a minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring continuously, until well mixed. Stir in the light cream and cheese until thickened, another couple of minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread some of the cream sauce into the bottom of the buttered baking dish, enough to coat the bottom. Stuff the cooled shells with the pumpkin-ricotta mixture and nestle into the baking dish, then drizzle the remaining cream sauce over the top. Garnish with some sage if desired.

Bake 25 or until lightly browned and bubbling. Serve warm.

Adapted from Damn Delicious.

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Ready to start shopping and don’t want to miss the best sales today?

Check out my previous guides: Gifts for Toddlers (especially awesome for two and three year olds), Gifts for Babies (great for infants through 18 months), Gifts for the Guys, and eco-friendly gift ideas for that brand new baby in your life (like my special little niece!) Last but not least, in honor of #MakersMonday (which is today), here’s a post featuring Locally-Made Gifts.  

If you’re in Boston, don’t forget to swing by the grand opening of Eataly tomorrow. I’ll be there, ready to stock up on Lavazza, Fig Burrata, imported Olive Oil and Brunello. I might actually explode from excitement while shopping! Ping me if you want to meet up or plan to be there yourself. Doors open at 4 p.m. in the Prudential, off Boylston.

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another sneak peak from our holiday photos. Have a great week 🙂