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Crowd Pleasing

Well now this is just embarrassing.  Another chocolate post?  Have I no shame?  I looked at my Recipes page and about one third of the dessert recipes up there involve chocolate.  This from a woman who doesn’t crave chocolate.

My excuse?  Chocolate is a crowd pleaser.  If you show up at a dinner party with a cheesecake or a blueberry pie, there’s a chance someone in the crowd doesn’t like cheesecake or has a “thing” about blueberries (for the record, these people mystify me).

But bring something chocolate, and people will swoon.  And, in my book, if you go through the effort of making dessert, you want people to swoon.  So, like a guy to his favorite t-shirt, I come back to chocolate again and again.

I baked these cookies over Memorial Day to accompany an ice cream sundae bar my mom put together.  They are the perfect sidekick: small enough that no one will feel guilty grabbing one to go with a sundae, yet so addictive that people will ending going back for more.

Technically, these are cookies, but they almost have the consistency of a brownie: slightly cakey, rich and bursting with chocolate flavor.  In other words, crowd pleasers par excellence.

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So Fresh, So Clean

It is somewhat ironic that today I am posting a vegetarian recipe, since I started working for a meat and poultry vendor at the farmers’ market last weekend.  How’s that for timing?

Answer: pretty bad.  But I’ve been trying to cook meatless meals one or two nights a week, and when I do cook with meat, I want it to be fresh, flavorful and ethically raised.  Hence, why I’m working for EcoFriendly Foods a few weekends a month; all of their animals are raised humanely on small family farms in the Shenandoah Valley.

When it comes to meatless meals, though, I need a dish that can compete — something that doesn’t make me feel like, “Ugh, it’s vegetarian night again” and wish I were grilling sausages instead.  That’s where this pasta comes in.

It’s another Lidia Bastianich recipe, which in her book is paired with a type of homemade pasta called strangozzi.  I did not have time to make fresh pasta, so I just used pappardelle — a somewhat random choice, but it’s what I had on hand, and it worked.

The almond sauce is basically a pesto — basil, a little mint, some garlic, toasted almonds and olive oil.  You whir it together in a food processor and add it to the cooked pasta with some Swiss chard you’ve sauteed in olive oil with garlic and pepperocino.

Now, I’m pretty fussy about mint.  For me, it can go either way.  But in this dish it totally works.  You can barely taste it — basil is still the predominate flavor — but it adds a bright, fresh element to the sauce.  And the toasted almonds add a richness that stamps out any notion this meal is some sort of sacrifice.  In fact, there are times I crave the light, fresh taste of this dish more than anything else. Continue Reading »

A Question

Okay, question time.  The most-viewed post on this site is my blog about tapioca, and I’m trying to figure out why.  I’m not saying it’s the link people click on most on my Recipes page; I’m saying “tapioca” is the most-Googled/searched for term that leads viewers to this site.  What is it about tapioca?  Why do so many people seem to do a search for it every single day?  I’m asking you, readers.  Help me out.

Thank you.  That is all.

Peace Offering

Well, it’s official: I am the worst.  I make all these promises (“I’ll be better about blogging!” “I’m back!” “I won’t be a total lame-ass anymore!”), and then I break them pretty much immediately.  It’s no wonder my readership on this blog has plummeted.

To my five remaining readers: I am really, really sorry.

I was going to post a recipe for sweet pea crostini, or the multigrain muffins I made recently, but no.  I could not post a semi-healthy recipe as a peace offering.  Unacceptable.  Peace offerings should involve sugar.  And cream.  And chocolate.

So instead, I offer you this chocolate-hazelnut cake: a moist chocolate cake filled with a milk chocolate/hazelnut cream and coated in a bittersweet chocolate glaze.

Let the groveling commence.

I’m not going to make outlandish claims for this cake, but it will win you new friends, elicit marriage proposals and bring about world peace.  Just sayin’.

In fact, it was such a hit at my friend’s dinner party that several guests demoted their prevailing “all-time favorite” desserts and moved this cake into the top spot.  Whoa.

So, if you think you could forgive me and my slack blogging, I was hoping — maybe — we could kiss and make up.  What do you think?  Not sure?  Why don’t you give this cake a try, and maybe then you’ll give me a second chance.  Continue Reading »

My Favorite Granola

Well, here I go again, promising to update this site more regularly and then waiting more than a week to add a new post.  Sigh.  Baby steps, right?

But you should be excited about today’s recipe because it’s easy, healthy and so, so good.  It’s become my favorite granola recipe, and I try to bake a batch every few weeks.  The recipe began as the “Quick Omega-3 Granola” I ripped from a Bon Appetit magazine a year or two ago, but over the years I’ve tweaked it here and there, and now I think it’s even better than the original.

I love granola sprinkled on yogurt or eaten right out of my hand, but my #1 favorite way to eat this granola is sprinkled on vanilla ice cream.  I know, I know — that sort of defeats the purpose, right?  Well, the way I see it, I’m just making dessert a little healthier.  Because I’m eating dessert, healthy or not, so it might as well have a little fiber, right?  Right.

I like to make a big batch and keep a small tin in the cupboard and the rest in a large Ziploc bag in the freezer, which prevents the nuts from going rancid and — horror of horrors — the granola from getting soggy.  Every time I reach the bottom of the tin, I refill it with a little more from the freezer.  Works like a charm.

Homemade granola also makes a great host/hostess gift when you’re tired of bringing wine or feel like bringing something a little different.  It’s the kind of thing your hosts will tuck away for later, only to email you as soon as you get home to say they’ve already eaten half the bag.  With granola this delicious, who could blame them?

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Crushing on Lidia

There’s no easy way to put this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: I have a massive crush on Lidia Bastianich.

Yes, she is 63 years old. Yes, her show on PBS lacks the glossy finesse of shows on the Food Network. And no, she isn’t afraid of cheese or butter. But I love her approach to cooking, and her latest cookbook is full of so many easy, approachable recipes that I’ve barely touched another cookbook since I bought it.

The opening to each chapter of the book reads like a memoir with a dash of cultural history.  This pasta recipe, for example, comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy, and we learn at the beginning of the chapter that it was here that Lidia met the so-called “madman of cheese,” who makes the best pecorino and ricotta she’s ever eaten.  Her voice is so conversational and passionate that I eat up her narrative just as fast as I eat up her food.

Not all of the recipes are simple.  There’s the Ligurian “Cima” (veal breast stuffed with eggs and vegetables) and all sorts of homemade pastas.  But then there are recipes like this one — Farro Pasta with Arugula and Ricotta — that take minimal effort and yield delicious results.

The key to this dish — and many of the recipes in her book — is using top-notch ingredients: fresh ricotta, good olive oil and tender arugula, the latter of which seems to be all over the farmers’ market these days.  Another important ingredient is the farro pasta, a favorite in the Abruzzo region, which you can find at some Whole Foods markets and online (I used whole-grain VitaSpelt spaghetti, which is similar to farro pasta).

The dish is so simple — it requires almost no cooking — and yet the results are wonderful.  The nutty farro, creamy ricotta, peppery arugula, and salty pecorino come together in what ends up being a filling and nutritious country-style meal.  I bet if you make this, you’ll end up having a crush on Lidia too.

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With Reservations

Yeah, yeah, I know: another rhubarb recipe.  Yawn.

No!  Wrong attitude!  Rhubarb’s season is brief, and we’re running out of time.  We only have a few more weeks to find new and interesting ways to put this stuff to use.

And, as part of this blog’s resurrection from the grave, I’m trying to feature more local, seasonal ingredients wherever possible, which I hope will give all of you ideas on how to use your farmers’ market spoils.  (And, happily, chocolate and vanilla are always in season, so fear not: there will be plenty of non-fruit-and-veggie recipes on offer too.)

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this strawberry rhubarb tart without some reservations.  Wait, you say, a strawberry rhubarb tart with a crisp topping? That sounds awesome. Well, it was…almost.

Everyone who tried the tart loved it (and, admittedly, it tastes delicious — sweet and tart and…well…like spring), but in my mind, the recipe wasn’t perfect.  Here’s the problem: Rhubarb and strawberries give off a lot of juice when cooked, and if your tart crust shrinks even a teensy bit, the juices bubble up over the sides and leave you with a soggy, flabby crust.  Bleh.

In my case, only one side of the crust shrank, so one side ended up soggy while the other was flaky and tender.  So it wasn’t a total disaster, but it wasn’t perfect.

My recommendation?  Try it with this crust, which never shrinks on me.  It’s sweeter than the one called for in the original recipe, but I think it will yield a better tart.

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