the beautiful things

things i made

{things i made} minestrone

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It is officially soup weather–chilly days somehow always creep inside and all I want to do is cozy up and keep out the cold with hearty, warming dinners. I have yet to meet a soup I didn't like, and this one's no exception. A good minestrone is incredible–lots of veggies packed in every bite, an herb-flavored broth, and a bit of pasta too–but bad, un-flavorful one is a tinny waste of calories. Luckily this one is of the first variety and exactly what a cold November night calls for.
 
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1 cup white onion, minced 
1/2 cup zucchini, chopped 
1 pound sliced mushrooms (about 6 cups)
2 russet potatoes, peeled, cubed

1 cup green beans, cut into one-inch pieces
1 cup carrots, chopped or shredded
1/2 cup celery, minced 
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 ounces sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
8 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
2 (15 ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15 ounce) cans small white beans or great northern beans, drained
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoon parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups hot water
4 cups fresh baby spinach, torn

 
2/3 cup  small shell or tube pasta, cooked
Finely shredded Romano cheese 
(or Parmesan), for serving 
 
1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Saute onion, celery, garlic, pancetta, green beans, potatoes, and zucchini for 5 minutes or until onions begin to turn translucent.
 2. Add broth to pot, plus tomatoes, beans,
mushrooms, carrot, hot water, and spices. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for 40 minutes.
3. Add spinach leaves and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until desired consistency. Serve with pasta and topped with cheese.
 

{things i made} baking with pumpkin

PicMonkey Collage

 

I love baking and cooking with pumpkin, mostly because the average person (me included until a few years ago) normally doesn't think past a traditional pumpkin pie when presented with the ingredient. I haven't touched the canned puree in ages (I use this site's step-by-step to make it fresh–it seems more complicated than it looks the results are like comparing night and day it's that good). Check out the links below to find the perfect recipe for this Halloween–and keep another in mind for Thanksgiving! 

 

{clockwise}

white chocolate chunk pumpkin cookies – recipe here

traditional pumpkin pie - here

cream cheese frosting filled pumpkin muffins - here

pumpkin cheesecake swirl brownies – here

pumpkin crumb muffins – here

 

{things i made} pain-perdu

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I love French toast–it always was one of my mom's favorites so we had it quite often as children. It's of course most worth making when a good, thick bread is involved, which is why "pain perdu" (literally, "lost bread," but referencing stale bread) always held so much appeal to me. After a good soaking in milk, vanilla, and egg (this recipe uses orange–zest and liquor–instead of any cinnamon for flavoring) and a quick fry on a griddle, the end product is a soft, custard-y center enrobed in a crispy, sweet shell. It's dessert-for-breakfast at its most hearty and indulgent, and it's phenomenally good.

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1 large brioche or challah loaf
3 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
​1 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 teaspoons salt
Oil, for pan
Confectioners' sugar, hulled strawberries, and/or syrup, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Slice the bread in 3/4-inch slices.  
2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, honey, sugar, orange liqueur, vanilla, orange zest, and salt. Pour the egg mixture into a large shallow plate and soak a few slices of bread for about 5 minutes, turning once.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Take each slice of bread from the egg mixture, and place in pan. Add more bread to the egg mixture to soak. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until browned. Place the cooked bread on a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven. Wipe out the pan with a dry paper towel, add more oil, and continue to cook the remaining bread. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and serve hot with syrup and/or fruit.

 

 

{things i made} angel food cake

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There isn't a lot to hate about angel food cake. Light, airy, and sweet, the name plays on its dreamy qualities. Science explains how the sponge cake bakes so perfectly–the eggs whites get stabilized with cream of tartar and they climb the steep pan slowly as they bake. Cool it upside down to prevent collapsing and cut with a serrated knife so as not to compress the slice, and with some freshly made whipped cream and macerated fruit the cake will be a little slice of heaven.

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1 cup flour with ​2 ​-​1/2 tablespoons cornstarch​, ​sifted after measuring
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 cups egg whites (fro
about 9-10 large eggs), room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 

1. Clean your mixing bowl, beaters, and utensils thoroughly. Preheat oven to 350° F. 
2. Spin sugar in a food processor for 60 seconds, or until finely ground b
ut not powdered. Add half of the sugar to the flour, and set the other half aside.
3. Sift together the flour, half of the sugar, and salt at least 2-3 times to ensure it is evenly mixed.
4. Begin whipping egg whites at medium speed. Once they become frothy, add the cream of tartar and increase the speed of mixer to high.
5. Once the egg whites start to look fluffy and white, sprinkle in the reserved sugar two tablespoons at a time while mixing. When all of the sugar is added, the meringue should look glossy and billowy. Continue to whip until medium peaks form. In the last couple minutes of whipping, add extract.
6. Sift about third of the flour mixture over the top of the meringue, and fold gently with a flexible rubber spatula so as not to deflate the meringue. Once the flour is just barely incorporated, stop folding. Repeat two more times with the remaining flour, folding until just barely incorporated.
7. Gently pour batter into ungreased angel food or tube pan. Gently twist the pan back and forth to settle the batter to ensure that the batter contacts the sides of the pan. Do not drop the pan against the counter.
8. Bake on the middle-lower rack for about 35 minutes, or until the top is evenly golden brown. Do not open the oven door during the first 30 minutes of baking, as it may deflate the cake.
9. Once done, immediately invert the entire pan over a bottle (some pans come with metal feet and can be flipped on the counter). Let the cake cool completely while suspended.
10. Once cool, use a thin knife to cut around the edges of the pan. Remove the cake from the sides of the pan, then cut underneath to separate it from the bottom/tube part. Slice the cake with a serrated knife, and serve as is or with fruit and whipped cream.

 

{things i made} double chocolate banana cookies

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I love a crispy, sugary chocolate chip cookie as much as anyone–ok, probably more–but I know they're a "sometimes" food and are best reserved as treats and not causal snacks. It's good to know a few lighter recipes to keep things less indulgent when the time calls for it. These simple little chocolate-ly bites have no added sugar, oil or butter–you can thank the ripe bananas for that–but are super tasty nonetheless.

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1 cup ripe bananas, mashed (from about 2 bananas)
2 tablespoons almond butter
3 1/2 teaspoons cacao powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

​1. ​Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
​2. To bananas add almond butter, cacao powder, vanilla, baking soda and salt and mix to combine.  Add flour to bowl and stir until well mixed.  Add chocolate chips.
​3. ​Using a cookie scoop, place even mounds (about 12) on prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes or until cookies are slightly golden on tops and bottom.

 

{things i made} glazed chocolate layer cake

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This has unintentionally become birthday week here–not that I'm complaining!–so I decided to share my cake from this year. I've been baking birthday cakes (with my sister's help) for everyone in my family for a while now, and though some have become tried-and-true hits, for my own cake each year I usually avoid repeating a recipe. I also throw my usual low-fat, low-sugar tendencies out the window. Case in point: this cake is enrobed in a rich ganache, layered with a luscious cream filling, and scented with an orange-flavored liquor. Decadent? Sure. Tasty? You have no idea. I promise it's a lot easier to assemble than it looks–as long as you beat each egg addition for the described time, it comes together perfectly and in a snap.

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1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons oil

2 large eggs, separated
2 cups mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon orange zest
pinch of salt

4-6 tablespoons Grand Marnier

8 oz (about 1⅓ cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy whipping cream

 

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. Coat four round baking pans with oil. Line with parchment paper and coat with more oil. Dust with flour, tapping out excess. In a bowl, whisk together flour and salt.

2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer beat eggs, yolks, and sugar on medium-high, 2 minutes; increase speed to high and beat until pale and thick, 5 minutes. Sift flour mixture over egg mixture; with a large rubber spatula, fold until almost blended. Pour oil down side of bowl, folding to combine. Divide batter between pans; smooth with a table knife. Immediately transfer pans to oven and bake until cakes are golden brown and springy when pressed, about 6 to 7 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Let cool completely.

3. To make filling, in a large bowl stir together egg yolks, mascarpone, sugar, cocoa, orange zest, and pinch of salt. In another large bowl, using an electric mixer beat egg whites and pinch of salt until soft peaks form. With a large rubber spatula, fold one-third whites into mascarpone mixture; fold in remainder.

4. Invert cakes and gently peel off parchment.  Place one cake layer, golden side up, on a platter; brush with Grand Marnier and spread with 1 cup filling. Repeat with remaining cake, brandy, and filling, ending with a layer of brandy-brushed cake. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

5. To make chocolate ganache, bring cream to a simmer on the stove, stirring occasionally. Just as small bubbles form, remove from heat and poor over chocolate chips, swirling the bowl to cover. Place lid on chocolate chips and let sit unmix​ed​ for 5 minutes. Remove lid and whisk, starting in the center and working outward until smooth. Let sit uncovered at room temperature (70˚F) for 15 minutes (note: the longer ganache sits, the thicker it becomes). Place cake on a wire rack over a rimmed platter or baking sheet. Pour ganache over top of cake and spread so it drips down sides. Finish by spreading evenly. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour (or up to 2 days).

 

{things i made} cream-cheese frosting-filled pumpkin muffins

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Happy Fall! While I'm super sad to see summer go, I'm just as excited for autumn. I'm celebrating the start of my favorite season with this amazingly tasty recipe for pumpkin muffins. They're moist–seriously, they have the mouth-feel of a cake–and are absolutely bursting with spice-infused flavor (I throw my own version of pumpkin pie spice in anything that can support it). I adore desserts with pumpkin as the main ingredient so this is easily my new favorite any-time-of-the-day-treat. The cream-cheese frosting isn't overpowering but rather a "something special" that makes the muffins feel ever-so-slightly decadent. 

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​3 cups pum
pkin puree

3/4 granulated sugar

4 egg
​s + 1 egg white​
 
9 oz olive oil
 
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4  + 1/3 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1.5 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
 
2.5 tsp cinnamon

3/4 tsp cloves 

3/
​4​ tsp
 ​nutmeg 
 
​2 ​tsp
​ ​
​allspice
1 tsp ginger

12 oz
​​
 
raisins 

Cream cheese ​frosting, see below​

 

​1. ​Preheat oven to 325 degrees. 
In 
a large 
bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla.
 
2. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, 
​and spices​
 over the wet mixture. 
Whisk together until just blended. 
Add raisins and fold until blended.
 
​3. Fill two greased 12-cup muffin trays evenly with batter. Bake for 25 minutes
​ (c​heck with a toothpick
​ for done-ness)
Allow muffins to cool for
​at least 30 minutes.
 
​4. For cream cheese filling: 
​soften 
​4 ounces low
​-​fat cream cheese 
​and mix with 4 ounces strained Greek yogurt. Stir in ​1 teaspoon vanilla
​ and​ about 
​a 1/
​4​ cup of powdered sugar
 (t​
aste
​-​test
​ and adjust as necessary). ​ Punch a small but deep hole into the center of each muffin and pipe 
or spoon ​frosting into the center
 and ​finish with a small rosette
​ or peak​.

{things i made} cheese manicotti

 

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I love manicotti. For all their heavy Italian ingredients–it's seriously cheese and egg overload–they're incredibly light and tender. My mother always made them from scratch and only on special occasions, I tradition I reinstated one year for a milestone wedding anniversary "surprise" for my parents. It's one of the first recipes (if not the first) that I undertook on my own, digging out her old card while they weren't home and faking confidence the entire time. This one's been scaled way up–it's for guests or freezing–but can easily be dividing down for one or two trays. And remember: it was simple enough for a teenage me with zero cooking experience to complete to rave reviews.

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Yield: 4 trays ​

12 large eggs
6 cups water
3 cups flour 
1.5 teaspoons salt 

4 lb (6 cups) fresh ricotta
4 large eggs
2.5 oz (1.5 cups) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb mozzarella, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces

tomato sauce, as needed (about 3 cups per tray)

1. Crack eggs, beat, and add water. Sift in flour and salt, then stir batter until just combined. Force through a mesh sieve into another bowl to remove lumps. 
2. Lightly brush an 8-inch nonstick skillet with oil and heat until hot. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting and rotating to coat and reducing heat if crêpe sets too quickly. Cook until underside is just set and lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then flip and cook other side for the same amount of time. Invert crêpe onto a clean towel to cool completely. Repeat for remaining crêpes, brushing skillet with oil as needed and stacking crêpes in piles.
3. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Stir together ricotta, eggs,
Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, salt, and pepper. Spread about two cups of tomato sauce on the bottom of baking dish or trays.
4. Arrange 1
crêpe, browned side up, on a work surface, then spread about 1/4 cup filling in a line across center and top with a mozzarella strip. Fold in sides to enclose filling, leaving ends open, and transfer, seam side down, to baking dish. Fill remaining crêpes in the same manner, arranging snugly in one layer. Spread about one cup sauce over manicotti. Repeat for remaining trays.
5. Tightly cover trays with foil and bake until sauce is bubbling and filling is hot, about 25 minutes. Serve any remaining sauce on the side and grated cheese. 

 

{things i made} key lime pie

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I thought I'd send summer off in style so I decided to make a sunshine-y dessert before the season officially changed. I always loved key-lime pie–my first memory of tasting it is in Florida and since it's one of the state's most famous desserts, I'd like to think it's accurate. It's unique and tasty in a completely uncomplicated way. In fact the acid in the juice "cooks" the egg yolks in the filling, making the custard practically fool-proof. There's a lot of debate as to how to topping the finished product: it's pictured here with a meringue but would be equally tasty with whipped cream. When it comes to desserts, I don't believe in compromise: just choose to try somthing else the next time you make the recipe!

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1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs, crushed from about 9 crackers
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons oil

2 large egg whites
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled lime juice (if using bottled, Manhattan brand reccommended)
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
zest of 2 limes

3/4 cup chilled whipping cream 
OR
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 teaspoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and oil until combined well, then press mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate. Bake crust in the of middle of the oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat the two egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. In a larger mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Add the lime juice, vanilla, salt, and zest and whisk until combined. Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the mixture then add the remaining egg whites and fold until just evenly combined.

3. Gently spread the mixture in the pre-baked crust and bake until just set in the center, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. For whipped cream topping: just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream. Or, make a meringue: In another bowl with an electric mixer beat egg whites with cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until they hold soft peaks. Beat in sugar in a slow stream, beating until meringue just holds stiff peaks. Spread meringue on top, covering filling completely, sealing it to the edges of the crust. Draw meringue up into peaks of your choosing and bake in middle of oven until just golden, about 15 minutes.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. The pie can be baked and stored, covered, in the refrigerator, up to 3 days, without the topping. 

 

{things i made} crust-less zucchini pie

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I love making–and eating–quiches (check out some past variations here). But to be honest, mixing, rolling, and fitting a crust to house the custard-y filling is not only time-consuming but heavier to eat. I love crust-less recipes because the name is a bit of a misnomer: the eggs and flour in the mixture create a light crust for you while the pie bakes. This one's simple to assemble–I used a food processor to shred both the onion and zucchini and was sure to drain both very well. The fresh herbs and touches of cheese (cheddar and parmesan) are incredibly tasty but the overall effect is light and airy.

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2 cups shredded zucchini (after squeezed of liquid)
1 large onion, finely chopped 
1/3 cup fresh parsley, 
chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup cheddar cheese, shredded
3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, 
grated
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp olive oil (plus extra to grease dish)
3 large eggs, beaten
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp salt
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste

​1. ​Shred zucchini and squeeze to remove extra liquid. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a baking dish with oil.

2. Combine zucchini, onions, parsley, basil and cheddar cheese in a bowl.

3. Add

 

 flour and baking powder to a medium bowl. Add milk, olive oil, beaten eggs, cayenne pepper, onion powder, salt and pepper to it and blend well. Combine with zucchini mixture and pour it into prepared dish.4. Top with Parmesan cheese and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

 

 



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