the beautiful things

things i made

{things i made} zucchini-banana bread

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Sometimes you just want a cookie–or at least sometimes I do. But there are plenty of times I crave something a little less sweet with more chew and a better chance of filling me up. Enter muffins and fruit breads. They are perfect for a quick breakfast or midmorning snack (or later in the day too, of course). Loading them up with sugars and fats undoes a lot of their selling points, which is why this recipe is great:​ the sugar can be substituted for maple syrup or ommitted entirely, the white flour can be replaced with whole wheat, and the applesauce can be doubled instead of using oil. Why all that flexibilty? The small amount of banana goes a long way for moisture and sweetness, as do the raisins. 

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1/3 to ​1/2​ a​ cup​ m​ashed​, very ripe banana (from​ about 1 large)​
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup oil
​1​/​2​ cup sugar (or 3 tablespoons maple syrup for a less sweet bread)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup grated zucchini​ (from about one medium)​, squeezed and drained of so​e of its liquid ​
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
​2​ teaspoon​s​ cinnamon
1
/​2​ teaspoon allspice
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1​/​2​ teaspoon salt
​3​/​4​ cup chopped walnuts
​3​/​4​ cup raisins

 
​1. ​Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease an 8×4 
​loaf​ pan.
​ ​In a mixing bowl, mash banana until smooth. Add applesauce, canola oil, sugar, and vanilla. Mix in 
zucchini.
​2. ​Sift together 1 cup of flour, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda and salt. Add the walnuts, raisins and final 1/2 cup of flour, and mix just until no visible flour is left.
​3. Transfer batter to the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick or knife. If it needs more time, reduce heat to 325 F and bake an additional 10 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Slice and serve, with butter if preferred. ​

 

{things i made} baba au rhum

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I love choosing pastries from bakeries because of all the variety–seriously, I could stand in front of all the pretty choices for a long time consuming them visually. I have to be honest, baba never really caught my eye (they were always a favorite of my dad, which made them a perfect treat for Father's Day this year). I now realize I was missing out. The cake itself (which was invented in the seventeenth century) is what is so unique here:​ it is done with yeast, resulting in a texture that is perfect for soaking up a subltely aromatic rum surup and light pastry cream.

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​½ cup milk
3 tsp yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
2 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt​​ ​
1/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest

​​​c​herries, for garnish​
r​um​ s​yrup, recipe follows
Italian​ p​astry​ c​ream, recipe follows
 

1.​ Oil and flour a muffin tin or mini bundt pan and set aside. ​Warm milk in a small saucepan, then​ ​remove from heat and set aside.​
2. ​In ​a ​bowl, combine yeast and ½ cup of flour. ​Stir in the warm milk​ and ​l​et​ mixture​ r​est to rise,​ about 15 minutes. ​
3. ​Add eggs one at a time.​ ​Add remaining flour, sugar, and salt​ followed by t​he​ oil and zests​. ​ ​Let​ dough ​rest for 10 minutes.​
4. Meanwhile, ​preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Dive dough into six pieces and ​place in the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. ​ ​Let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes (the dough should reach the top of the molds).
​5. ​ Bake for​ 15-​2​0 minutes,​ ​or until the babas ​are ​​​golden brown.​ ​Remove from​ the​ oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. ​​ ​
6. To make the syrup: add​ 1.5 cups of w​ater​, ​3/4 cups of s​ugar​, ​the zest of one lemon, ​and 1​ teaspoon ​vanilla​ extract​​ ​to a medium saucepan.​ ​Bring to a boil, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. ​​​Remove from heat and cool for about 20 minutes. ​Stir in​ 1/3 cup​ rum.
7​. ​Set​ a​ wire rack over a sheet pan. ​Using a toothpick, poke holes all over the tops of babas. Pour the syrup over the cakes​ in batches​ and let sit until the liquid is absorbed, about​ 1​5 minutes.
8. To make the]cream: in a small saucepan, heat​ ​one cup of milk and​ 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.​ ​Bring to a boil then remove from heat. ​ ​In a​ bowl, ​whisk ​six​ egg yolks ​with​ ​3/4 cup ​sugar.​ ​Add​ 1/4 cup​ flour,​ a pinch of ​salt, and​ 2 cups​ milk.​ ​Whisk until ​there are no lumps. ​Pour the warm milk into the eggs, whisking continuously.​ Return mixture back to saucepan and place over a medium heat​.​ Cook for about​ 1​5 minutes, stirring continuously until custard​starts to ​thicken. ​ Refrigerate and allow to cool​ completely.​
9. Using a spoon, hollow out the centers of each baba. ​​Fill with the c​hilled cream​ and​ top with a cherry.​ ​Cover and refrigerate​ ​until​ ready to serve.

 

{things i made} baked falafel

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One of the first times I tried falafel, it was through take-out. The whole thing was a greasy mess, soggy and reeking of used oil. Still buried somewhere in there was a flavor and texture that I knew had potential. I tired the dish again at few sit-down restaurants and was soon hooked–the fritters were seriously addictive. Since I always find even well-made fried foods a little too indulgent, I love lightening a recipe by switching to baking if I can. Enter these little appetizers–crunchy and tasty but light.

 

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2 cups chickpeas
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons all-purpose, whole wheat, or chickpea flour
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to grease the baking sheet
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, leaves finely chopped
tahini sauce, for serving

1. Add garlic to the bowl of a food processor, run to chop. Then, add onion, and run to chop again.
2. Rinse chickpeas, drain well, and place in the food processor with the flour, olive oil, salt, and spices. Process in pulses, stirring regularly, until you get an even consistency
3. Fold in the parsley with a spatula. Cover and refrigerate mixture for at least 1 hour, or until the next day.
4. Preheat the oven to 375°F and oil a rimmed baking sheet. Shape the falafel mixture into balls the size of a large walnut (about 40), and place them on the sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping halfway through, until golden.
5. For sauce, combine 1/4 cup sesame paste, 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Serve with tahini sauce, crudités, and pita bread, making sandwiches if desired. 

 

{things i made} lemon blueberry layer cake

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Everything about this cake is wow: the colors, the flavors, the textures, the presentation. My sister and I dreamed it up together, imagining a dense vanilla cake, studded with fresh fruit, brightened with lots of lemon and topped with a sweet frosting. If it seems complicated, I can assure you that it is not–the ingredients do all the hard work. Perfect for spring, even m​ore perfect for smm​er, I can‘t believe that m​y new favorite dessert doens‘​t contain (dark) chocolate.

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​3​ ​3​/​4​ cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
6 eggs
3 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
zest and juice of 3 medium lemons
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or non-thawed frozen, tossed in 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup white chocolate, broken into pieces
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch salt 
 

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Grease the paper and the sides of the pan well.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar and eggs together until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add flour, milk, oil, lemon zest, lemon, baking powder, and vanilla and beat for another minute, just until the batter is smooth and creamy (do not over-beat).

3. Fold the floured blueberries into the batter. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out clean.

4. For the frosting: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate and oil.  Remove from heat and stir in honey, vanilla and salt. Place frosting in freezer for about 25 minutes to chill and thicken. Remove from freezer and whip with a hand blender until thick and fluffy.

5. Loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a thin knife, then turn out onto a rack and peel off the paper. Let cool completely before covering with frosting.

 

{things i made} peanut butter swirl cookies

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Sisters–mine is the best (really, she is). We agree on almost everything (seriously, we do). But I j​ust can't seem to match her enthusiasm for peanut butter-based desserts. Sure I'll eat them–I've yet to meet a dessert I can sucessfully say no to–but on my own I'd never give any peanut buttery recipe a try. These little cookies are delicious–I love the idea of combining two similar but different doughs. They're fun to make an even more fun to pop into your mouth, which is a lot coming from me (I kid).

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For the vanilla dough:
2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-natural chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey 
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the chocolate dough:
2 cups white flour minus 2 TBS
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-natural peanut butter, chunky
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey 
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a baking sheet. Mix wet ingredients, including peanut butter, for each dough separately. In another bowl, toss together dry ingredients. Gently add dry to wet, careful not to over-mix. Chill dough for at least 1 hour. 
2. Roll half of each dough into a log. Press the two logs of peanut butter and chocolate dough together and gently twist. Repeat with remaining halves of dough. Break off tablespoon-sized pieces of dough. Roll into balls and place on cookie sheets. 
3. Bake for 10-13 minutes, carefully avoiding over-browning.

 

{things i made} carrot cake cookies

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These cookies are quite a treat. Texturally they're amazing and unique, with the chewiness of a cookie, the heartiness of a muffin and the frosting of a full-on carrot cake. You can add in all walnuts or all raisins (or both, in the ratio of 1 to 3/4 of a cup, with the higher amount going to your favorite of the two). I first made them last month for Easter, but they work well for spring and will transition nicely to fall with their spicy cinnamon and nutmeg.
 

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2 cups shredded carrots (about 6 carrots)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract​
1 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt

 
1. Preheat oven to 350° and cover baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine carrots and 3 tablespoons brown sugar in a bowl; toss to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes, discarding any liquid that drains.

2. Add oil, zest, vanilla extract, and egg; stir with a whisk until well combined.

3. Combine flour, remaining brown sugar, cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and baking soda in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add carrot mixture and wet mixture; stir until just combined.

4. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets for a total of 28 cookies (14 per baking sheet); gently pat dough down to form 2-inch circles. Bake at 350° for 11 minutes or until set. Remove pans from oven; let stand 3 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.

5. Combine cream cheese, vanilla extract, and salt in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed 3 minutes or until fluffy. Add powdered sugar; beat until well combined (do not overbeat). Spread about 1 tablespoon icing on flat side of a cookie; top with another cookie, flat side down. Repeat the procedure with remaining cookies and filling.

{things i made} manicotti

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Manicotti–ricotta, parmesan, egg, and mozzarella filled-crepes–are are indulgently delicious. Like elongated ravioli or lasagna, they're rich and creamy and pair wonderfully with homemade tomato sauce. I associate the baked filled-pasta with my first foray into cooking: I was in high school, my parents were celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary, and I wanted to make something special for them as a surprise. I fished out my mother's grandmother's recipe from our recipe box and ignored the voice in my head that warned I might mess up. That batch turned out perfectly–and I was so excited I knew I'd keep experimenting more.

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​6 large eggs
3 cups water
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt 

2 lb fresh ricotta (3 cups)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup finely grated
Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup chopped parsley 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon black pepper 
1/2 lb mozzarella 

tomato sauce, for tray and topping

 

1. Break up eggs in bowl and stir in water. Add flour and salt, then stir batter until just combined. Force through a mesh sieve into another bowl to remove all lumps.

2. Lightly brush an 8-inch nonstick skillet with oil and heat over moderate heat until hot. Ladle about 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting and rotating skillet to coat bottom, reducing heat slightly if crêpe sets too quickly. Cook until underside is just set and lightly browned, about 30 seconds, then flip and cook its reverse 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. Cut mozzarella lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks.

4. Spread 2 cups sauce in baking dish. Arrange 1 crêpe, browned side up, on a work surface, then place about 2 tablespoons of 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 1 cup sauce over manicotti. Tightly cover with foil and bake until sauce is bubbling and filling is hot, about 30 minutes. Serve with remaining sauce on the side. 

 

{things i made} german potato salad

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Though it's not my intention, during the winter months I never get around to organizing meals with barbecued meat at their center. But as soon as the weather gets warmer I remember how much I love grilled dinners and all the side dishes that accompany them. This potato salad is nothing like a mayonnaise-based one (check out my recipe for that here), but I'd find it hard to choose a favorite between the two. German potato salad is sweet, salty, tangy, and smoky–a blend of contrasts that always has my table-mates reaching for more.

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8 slices bacon
2 quarts cooked potatoes, diced
3 tablespoons flour
1 small onion, chopped
2/3 cup vinegar
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon powdered dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped 

1. Fry (or bake) bacon until crisp. Remove from pan, drain, and crumble. 
2. Heat olive oil in pan as needed. Add flour and onion, stirring until soft.
3
. Add vinegar, water, sugar, salt and spices and cook until mixture thickens.
4. Pour hot mixture over
 potatoes. Stir in parsley and crumbled bacon, mixing carefully to prevent mashing the potatoes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve warm.

{things i made} tiramisu

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Tiramisu is a strange dessert–but I mean that in a good way. I guess it's the Italian equivalent of a trifle–a cake-like base soaked in a liqueur-flavored liquid and layered with cream–but it's more pervasively found on restaurant menus and a whole lot more fancy when finished (this will impress your guests, seriously). It doesn't have a long history–most sources agree it was invented in the Veneto in the 1960s. It's rich for sure, but also light enough that you can enjoy a sizable piece for a satisfying indulgence. 

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14 to 17 ounces marscapone cheese 
1 60-count package of savoiardi cookies (or homemade)
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 pint (2 
cups) heavy cream
4 cups of espresso, mixed with one shot of rum
chocolate for 
grating
cocoa powder for dusting

1. In large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until they are white and foamy. Then slowly add marscapone cheese and mix until incorporated.
2. In a separate smaller bowl beat the heavy cream until peaks form and fold into the marscapone-egg mixture
3. In another small bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and slowly fold them into the cream mixture
4. Briefly dip the bottom half of each cookie into the espresso rum mixture allowing the liquid to absorb only slightly. Place each cookie dipped-side down along the bottom of a tray or spring-form pan.
5. Once the entire bottom of the pan is covered with cookies cover with a layer of marscapone a cream. Repeat with another layer of cookies finished with a layer of cream. Refrigerate for at least three hours or preferably overnight to allow the flavors to blend and the cookies to soften.
6. Before serving only,
 dust the top of the cream with cocoa powder and/or finely grated chocolate. Finish with more cookies if desired. 

{things i made} fig moon cookies

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These cookies are so addictive and hearty in a grab-and-go kind of way that they should be allowed to count for breakfast (sure they're full of sugar, but there's fruit packed in there too). All kidding aside, they're an amazing little treat. I love that they're sweet and savory, which comes from an interesting combination of ground nuts, figs, orange, and raisins. The cookies are texturally interesting as well: sticky and chewy on the inside, crunchy and dry on the outside. Make sure you get some kind of course sugar to sprinkle on top (I use organic cane sugar)–it adds a finishing touch that's both pretty and tasty.

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5 cups flour 
3 tsp baking powder
1.5
tsp salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1.5 cups olive oil
4 eggs
2
tsp vanilla 

1 large orange
10 ounce(s) dried Mission figs, stems removed (about 2 cups)
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup honey
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Coarse sugar crystals

 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To make dough, sift together dry ingredients. Combine sugar and oil; add eggs and vanilla, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture all at once and beat well. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, from orange, grate 1/2 teaspoon peel and squeeze 3 tablespoons juice. In food processor, combine zest and juice, figs, walnuts, raisins, honey, and cinnamon. Pulse until fig mixture is coarsely blended. Set aside.

3. Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Remove top sheet. With 2 1/2-inch scalloped round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible. Wrap and refrigerate trimmings to reroll later.

4. With spatula if needed, carefully place cookies, 1 inch apart, on ungreased cookie sheet. Spoon a teaspoon of fig filling onto center of each cookie. Fold each cookie in half over filling. Brush top with egg. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Repeat with remaining dough, fig filling, and egg. Bake cookies 12 to 15 minutes or until tops are golden-brown. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. 

 




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