Remember when you were a kid and nothing in the world mattered, except for the love of your parents, Saturday morning cartoons, and a 'shotgun' system, which had you and your sister alternating turns in the front seat on the rides to and from school? (This was a big deal. I'd get the ride to school, and she'd get the ride home. These were hard and fast rules - zero negotiation. And to this very day, these rules still apply. Our. 30's.)
Those were the days when my sister and I would ride our bikes through the village in our pajamas, late into the evening. The summer evenings we'd run naked across the pier down by the beach and dive off the end with our cousins, into what seemed like a vast abyss, but probably didn't go deeper than about five feet. And they were the days we'd venture into town on our own, like adults, only to spend pocket money and be picked up by our parents, like the kids that we were.
When you were a kid, you ended the day tired from running around too much during recess, spending an afternoon splashing around in the pool and crushing seven Pixie Sticks, before realizing what you were in for.
These days, if I didn't know what was good for me, I'd probably snort a Pixie Stick, if it meant I'd be able to push past the inevitable 8:00pm shut down my brain goes through at the end of every work day.
These days, I don't sit down on the couch, unless I plan on waking up there two hours later. To be honest, I don't go home, unless I plan on staying there. Must. Keep. Running. I've been known to put on heels, line my eyes, and pre-game with a glass of wine or two, only to accidentally nod off and realize that the pre-game was actually the 4th quarter. (I swear I'm young and fun, just don't let me sit down!)
'Adulting' will take it out of you. There's a reason 'happy hour' is between 5:00 and 7:00 - after 7:00, the only thing that keeps us out, is momentum.
Admittedly, I don't do myself any favors by working a full time job and a part time job in a six day period, but I'm the happiest when I'm busy, so I don't see myself slowing down any time soon. Even with one job, I'd find a way to wear myself out - guaranteed.
As a reminder of the days when I'd head out to meet my friends at 10:00pm for a movie followed by a party, instead of 10:00am for a boozy brunch followed by a nap, I wanted to make something fun, bright and sweet. (Like me, during the first half of my day.) These days, however, bright doesn't come in the form of artificially colored boxed cereals and packets labeled 'fruit flavored'. These days, if it's 'fruit flavored,' I like it 'flavored with fruit.'
But hey, just because you've grown up, doesn't mean you can't still 'taste the rainbow.' These frozen yogurt pops are packed full of vitamins and protein, and will satisfy a craving for something a little bit sweet, as the warm days start to come. They may also give you that extra kick of energy you need to keep you out past dinner time, now that the days are getting longer.
Prep your fruits - puree the mango, kiwis, blueberries and raspberries in separate batches and divide them into 4 bowls.
If you're sweetening your yogurt, go ahead and do that before adding it to the fruits. I used coconut milk vanilla yogurt, which was already a little sweet, so there was no need - but see how you feel. A little honey ain't gonna kill ya, so if you need the extra sweet - do it! Also, it's best to chose a yogurt with some fat in it. A fat free popsicle will go a little icy in this case - doesn't have to be whole milk, if that's not your thing, but I don't recommend fat free. Your call. It's easier to layer yogurt with a thicker consistency. You won't have to freeze at all between layers, if your yogurt is thick.
Divide the yogurt among the four fruits, reserving some for the plain white layer. Mix them all thoroughly.
Start layering your yogurt into the popsicle moulds. White, yellow, green, purple and then pink. Place the lid on your mould, and insert the popsicle sticks.
Freeze them for a good couple of hours, or longer, ideally. (Mine have been freezing since last weekend, because I ran out of light and had to run to work.)
To be fair, I'd probably still dive bare-assed off the end of a pier with my sister and cousins - but only if we hit up happy hour, first.
Or, Chicken You Don't Have to be Able to See, to Cook
Among other strong family traits, my 94-year-old grandmother and I have two things in common - we're both stubborn as all hell, and we both have the visual acuity of, well, 94-year-olds.
Though my grandmother has the well-earned luxury of old age to blame for her poor eyesight, I have an overactive immune system and, depending on how you look at it, a bit of bad luck to blame for mine.
My eyesight, to some degree or other, has featured prominently throughout my life. From countless trips to the doctor, to more eyedrops than tears shed in all the Nicolas Sparks novels combined, to inter-ocular injections that rival something out of A Clockwork Orange, the two 'windows' through which I see the world have certainly been paned with fragile glass.
It's a funny thing to be young and visually impaired, particularly when that impairment cannot be corrected with a simple pair of glasses or a surgical procedure. When you're older, people expect you not to be able to see - they expect signs of aging and deterioration and they don't question them.
When you're younger, they make brilliant suggestions, like "why don't you get glasses?" (...thanks) and say things like "how many fingers am I holding up?" Don't get me wrong, I have a sense of humor about the whole thing, and I manage just fine out in a world filled with particularly good looking people, automatically 'face-tuned' by blurry eyesight and softened lines, but sometimes it takes everything I have not to raise my one finger to their two.
Things like driving, finding a friend at a bar, finding anything at the supermarket and functioning in the workforce, aren't givens. You quietly learn to adapt, so that no one knows there's anything wrong. You never give anyone a reason to question your ability, because you know you are far more capable than anyone will ever give you the opportunity to prove, if they know going in that something they don't quite understand, is wrong.
This past week, as a result of too much stress, failing medication and general run-down-ness, my eyes decided to shut down. The message was clear - slow down. And slow down I did. (I also Malcolm McDowell'ed it at the doctor's office, and as a result, I keep wanting to say 'you should see the other guy',' when people awkwardly stare just a little too long at the slowly-impoving mess that is my left eye.)
In times like this, I think of my grandmother - of our matching hot water bottles, enlarged print, audiobooks and tendency to hold things right up to our faces when trying to read the (probably-not-so) fine print. I also think of the one chicken dish I taught her how to make, because it is so terribly simple, one could basically make it blindfolded, which sometimes, in my case (and all the time, in hers), it really feels like we do.
This dish is uncomplicated and really delicious. The chicken is moist, tender and succulent. I love it served up with roasted veggies and a mash, but it's also wonderful when pulled from the bone and tossed with pasta. It renders a lot of juice from both the chicken and the tomatoes, and thereby creates a wonderful sauce of its own.
(I know, it looks like seven, but are olive oil, salt and pepper really ingredients?)
Set your oven to 350*F.
To begin with, pat your chicken dry. Doing this ensures that the skin becomes crispy and golden. (No one likes roasted chicken with flaccid, pink skin, am I right?)
Season the chicken liberally ,on both sides, with salt, pepper and the chili flakes, and place the pieces in a lightly oiled baking dish. Pick a dish into which the chicken will fit snugly.
Scatter the tomatoes around the chicken, and into all the little nooks and crannies. Leave them whole and pack them densely.
Add your herb of choice. I tear it lightly and wedge it in between all the tomatoes. There is no real method to this - it's simple, rustic and shouldn't take you more than 10 minutes to prepare, so don't worry about perfection.
Scatter the garlic cloves in and around, and finally drizzle the dish with a good glug of olive oil. You are welcome to season the tomatoes, too, although I find they pick up the salt and pepper from the chicken as it cooks.
Bake in the oven for approximately an hour and a half, basting the chicken now and then. Slow cooking your dish makes it moist, tender and super flavorful.
This dish is a staple in both my kitchen and my grandmother's, and neither of us can see what the hell we're doing, so it's safe to say that it's pretty damn foolproof. Whether you're blurry eyed or bleary eyed, this one's good to have in your back pocket on days when your sense of humor is tested and everyone looks like a film star.
Now about those glasses...I'm gonna look into that!
For Sundays That Carry The Weight Of The Week On Their Shoulders
When your days end with a sweet paste of moistened powdered sugar packed into your cuticles and splotchy stains of pastel food coloring inching up your forearms, sweets are usually the last things you crave. When dusty flour finds its way into places you could have sworn had been covered with layers of clothing and chocolate is discovered behind your ear in the bath, five days in a row, your weekends are usually spent avoiding a kitchen, at all costs. Particularly the sweeter side of a kitchen.
Well, I can tell you that whipped cream flecked my forehead for a good hour on Monday, rainbow sprinkles found their way into my shoes on Tuesday, I accidentally sat in frosting on Wednesday, Thursday, cake batter splotched my jeans and on Friday buttercream, in every shade of the rainbow, cloyed my palate as a result of too much quality control.
And while Saturday was decidedly savory, today, on the seventh day of a very sweet week (one of many sweet weeks spent in the world of deserts meant to surprise and delight as many millions as possible) I found myself craving the sweeter offerings of brunch fare. Pancakes, to be precise.
But, honestly, I couldn't bring myself to pour yet another measure of sugar into a bowl, or to sift bleached, stark white flour into a milky batter. Not after a full week of it. This morning, I needed naturally sweet. I needed sweet that would tint my glasses rose, to match my still-stained, candied fingertips.
Now, I've made two-ingredient banana pancakes before (look 'em up - so good!), but today I wanted something with a little more substance. A pancake that was light and fluffy, but packed full of protein and flavor. I mean, if you're opting for pancakes over eggs, you need to kick 'em up a notch.
These babies are healthy, delicious and they'll keep you going, even when all you want to do is bury yourself in the generic cushions of your IKEA couch and binge watch every happy ending Netflix has to offer. (You can still do that - no judgement - just fill up on these first.)
Mash your bananas to the consistency of baby food, then whisk in the eggs and coconut milk until well combined.
Add the almond flour, rice flour and baking powder and whisk until incorporated. Finally stir in the extracts and salt.
Grease a pan set over low-medium heat with coconut oil (or butter) and spoon about 2 tablespoonfuls of batter per pancake, onto the pan.
Since these are gluten-free and have a lot of moisture from the bananas in them, they will take a little longer to cook, so keep the heat relatively low and cook them for about 2 minutes per side, until golden. Just like regular pancakes, they are ready to flip when little air bubbles pop on the surface.
I heated up some wild blueberries with a little honey in a pan and poured them over-top.
After a week that had me willingly take a needle full of vitamins to the gluteous medius and a bath (or two) in sugar-syrupy water, these pancakes still hit a spot I didn't know I'd want to hit again, any time soon. Bananas, right?
Because after a Certain Age, the flavor packet Just Doesn't FlY
You know you're a grown up when making ramen at home means getting out the pots and pans, as opposed to tearing open a flavor packet and sheepishly turning on the microwave. (At least you think you're a grown up. The reality is, you're probably still sucking down a bowl of this rich, pork-y goodness around 2:00am, after a late night out that may or may not have involved some paint-peeling karaoke and unnaturally bright cocktails, somewhere in the depths of Little Tokyo. Just me? Man, I hope not.
If the only ramen you've ever had came in a yellow and orange plastic packet with a side of roommates, shower shoes and questionable judgement, it's time to put down the Maruchan and experience the real deal.
The good stuff is unctuous and murky. It's packed full of salty and rich pork fat and often lent an unmistakable umami by fermented miso paste and the silkiness that only a runny egg yolk can produce. It's heaving with yellow-tinted, alkaline wheat noodles that hold up firmly in the broth and have a distinct chew that can't be beat. Topped with everything from pork belly and bok choy to soft-boiled eggs and seaweed, a bowl of ramen is a veritable blank canvas made vibrant by the call of your cravings. Ramen is what you want when you've had a soul-sucking week, a big night out or too many kale salads in a row.
Have I made ramen the hard way? Yes. I have roasted bones and slow cooked pork and spent the better part of three days cooking one dish. Was it worth it? Yes. Is that going to happen any time soon? No. With three jobs and the dream of some semblance of a social life, I'm not sure that slow-cooking pork solo in my kitchen with a glass of wine for three days, is a responsible use of my time.
While you'll never find me ripping open something with the words 'chicken flavor' stamped across it, I do recognize that there's a happy medium to be found. Homemade, but made quickly.
Makes about 4 servings
Place your mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with a cup of boiling water. Let them reconstitute.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium heat and add the pork. With the back of a wooden spoon, break up the pork and cook it until it is no longer pink - about 3 minutes, then add half the sliced scallions and season it with salt and pepper. (Remember, miso is a bit salty, so keep that in mind when adding salt here.) Cook for a further minute.
Add the miso paste to the pork and mix to combine. Then, add the broth, soy sauce and Sriracha. Strain the mushrooms from the water, and pour the mushroom infused water into the soup, reserving the mushrooms as a topping. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, add the bok choy.
While the soup is simmering, cook your noodles according to the instructions on the packet and soft boil your eggs. (For a perfect soft boiled egg, I gently submerge mine into moderately boiling water and cook them for 6 minutes, then dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking, before I peel them.)
Divide the noodles among your bowls, and add the broth with the pork and bok choy. Top your ramen with the mushrooms, grated carrots, remaining scallions, and halved, soft-boiled eggs. If you're feeling spicy, throw on a little more Sriracha.
This shouldn't take you more than about half an hour to make, once you get the hang of it. That leaves you with plenty of time to rehearse your karaoke game plan, so that next time you're better prepared.
As for the ungodly hour at which you choose to consume this delicious creation, well that depends entirely on how grown-up you're really feeling.
*Miso paste can be found in Asian supermarkets and in the refrigerated portion of the international section of Whole Foods.
(Full disclosure - the noodles in the photograph are spaghetti noodles, because if I don't make a shopping list, I basically can't function properly.)
For the Girls Who Weren't Afraid To Shake Cocktails late into the Night and Feed 150 without knowing how
When I think of the perfect evening of cocktails, wine and company, I automatically think cheese and charcuterie. What could possibly be better than an assortment of cured, salty meats and creamy, crumbly (preferably stinky) cheeses? Well, I'll tell you what - a friend who comes bearing Campari and the better part of 10 years worth of memories.
The delightfully bitter notes of this bright, orange-tinted spirit, cut through the fatty richness of really good cheese and complement the sweet comfort that only exists after years of digging through the trenches with someone.
Many moons ago, two girls met at a restaurant that was only just opening. No, they were not there to dine, they were there to work. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, one spent her days toiling away in the kitchen, shucking her very first oysters on nights when everyone seemed to want oysters, and pulling desserts out of thin air for customers who were actually paying, and not family members who were biologically obligated to enjoy everything she made. The other, found herself behind the bar, just barely old enough to order what she was making, and serving up classics with a confidence that could only have been born out of a sheer will to succeed. As the tickets poured in, salads were plated, cocktails were shaken (salty, fat tears were most certainly shed) and two young but ambitious blondes pushed through the unfamiliar madness, even when restaurant life bordered on the ridiculous.
We had absolutely no idea what we were doing, but we certainly weren't prepared to let anyone else know that.
Over the years, we've kept each other's spirits lifted, both in the form of cocktails and comfort food, and have continued to recognize in each other a drive that pushes forward, regardless of how often we find ourselves feeling completely and utterly out of our depths.
We realize that we've come far since those days. Just last week, I found myself on set, melting cheese with an industrial heat gun for the perfect 'melt shot', while I could practically hear the clinking of ice from my dear friend shaking things up in the land of liquid fun. And though we find ourselves miles apart most of the time, every now and again, we manage to pair cocktails and food around the same table.
One such time, was yesterday - yesterday, we came together over a silly amount of cheese, meat and Campari. (Although, let's be honest, can you ever really have too much cheese, meat and Campari? Umm, no - no, you can't.)
She stirred, infused, measured and mixed while I curled, sliced, plated and paired. She balanced sweet, bitter, syrupy and bubbly, I married salty, creamy, briny and crumbly, and what we were left with....was enough goodness for a healthy party of 10! (Why make a cheese board for two, when a cheese board for 10 looks so much better? Am I right?)
It was perfect.
Knowing that Campari was making its way to my kitchen, I had to bring my 'A game'.
For the perfect cheese and charcuterie plate, it's all about balance. I bought a variety of cheeses, from mild to sharp and hard to soft, and found a beautiful balance between goat, cow and sheep's milks.
When it came to the meats, I wanted salty, peppery and fatty in equal measure, A toothsome, chewy salami and a soft, delicate prosciutto were musts, along with anything else I could get my hands on.
Marcona almonds, tossed in olive oil, sea salt and rosemary made their way into all the nooks and crannies between the star players, along with dried fruit, vibrantly green Castelvetrano olives (my absolute favorite!), and fruit-and-nut-studded crackers.
I also love adding a big, speckled kale flower (sometimes referred to as a cabbage flower) into the mix, just for good measure.
I mean, does a weekend get any better than that?
It does if you add a cocktail, or two! Ladies and gentlemen, break out the Campari!
Cara Cara Sbagliato
Effervescent and refreshing with the perfect balance of sweet and bitter, this cocktail is a beautiful start to an evening.
In a tall glass with ice combine Campari, sweet vermouth and orange juice. Stir to mix.
Top with Prosecco to fill the glass and garnish with a slice or two of orange.
Sweet strawberries pair wonderfully with bitter orange notes and a fragrant juniper background - ideal with a rich triple cream and briny olives.
In a rocks glass with ice, combine Campari, gin and sweet vermouth and stir.to mix.
Garnish with strawberries and a generous orange twist.
I cherish my bold, talented and tenacious girlfriends with all my heart - we need each other, because we are our own worst critics,. We constantly find ourselves questioning how we got where we are, and whether we really can hack it, the way everyone seems to think we can. We need sounding boards that remind us of how capable we are and how far we've come.
Preferably, those sounding boards make a mean cocktail and pair it with cheese...a lot of cheese.
*Cara Cara is a type of orange we love - if you can't find it, by all means substitute with what you can.
**Fill a jar with sliced strawberries and pour over Campari, to cover. Refrigerate overnight, or longer if you like, for a beautifully infused flavor.
It's what Lazy Saturdays and Sundays are Made for
Two things were certain when I was a child - if dad did the grocery shopping instead of mom, cream-filled and chocolate-covered eclairs would mysteriously appear in the refrigerator, and if we were home on a Saturday evening, we were having roast chicken for dinner. More specifically, we were having 'chicken, chips and peas, please!' This tradition of a weekly bird roast, was one that began in my mother's childhood, and was continued as a welcome constant in the ever-evolving, frustratingly unpredictable and hormonally charged day-to-day of my sister and I, whose lives would regularly turn on a teenage dime.
Our mother made a lot of deliciously complicated dishes while we were growing up - she had a love of new challenges, being inspired and slaving over creative dishes for a small, but captive, audience of three. Dinner was always homemade, interesting and, above all else, yummy. Dinner was also always enjoyed together, around the table. (For anyone who has teenagers, or remembers what they were like as a teenager, you know how much of a feat that is, and that it's more enjoyable at some times than others!)
If you were lucky enough to dine in my mother's kitchen, weekdays were inventive, unpredictable and full of experimentation.
Saturdays, however, were not.
On Saturdays, after a week of dealing with moods, carpool and 'all things Tess and Alexandra', mom put on her 'comfy pants', poured herself a glass of wine, popped a chicken in the oven and served it up with peas and potato chips. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in a family where junk food was not on the menu and lunch boxes were devoid of anything made by a Debbie, little or otherwise, chips were a legitimate side dish on Saturdays. (They were, of course, the fancy, skin-on, kettle-cooked variety, because there were standards to be upheld.) And I'm telling you now, if I ever opened a restaurant, that trio would be on the menu. It was, quite simply, the best, because it was exactly that - simple.
To this day, it is still one of my favorite family meals, and it is one I look forward to serving to my own one day.
These days, when I roast a chicken, I start by essentially steaming it. By roasting it covered for the first hour, all the moisture remains where you want it, and the flavors of garlic, white wine, thyme and lemon truly permeate the meat. Also, when you create an elevated bed for the bird to rest on, it doesn't spend an hour and a half boiling in liquid, which means crispy skin all around - yes, please!
Optional: New or fingerling potatoes
Set the oven to 375*F.
Grease a roasting pan with butter or oil.
Peel your onion, slice off the root end and the opposite end, and slice it in half. so that you have two fat discs of onion for the chicken to lie on top of. Then, slice the pointy ends off of two lemons, and slice them in half, so that you have four fat discs of lemon, as well.
Place the onion and lemon discs in the center of the roasting pan, to create a raised bed for the chicken to lie on.
Pat the chicken dry, and be sure to remove any giblets from the cavity. Lightly oil the chicken with olive oil, then season both the inside and outside with a generous amount of salt and pepper. (Remember to season both sides of the chicken.) Pull the leaves off of two thyme sprigs and scatter them onto the chicken.
Stuff the cavity with the remaining thyme (about 10 sprigs) and the remaining lemon, sliced in half.
Scatter the smashed garlic cloves around the chicken, and, as an option, spread your potatoes around the chicken, in the pan.
Drizzle the potatoes with a little olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.
Finally, add the wine to the pan.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and seal the edges, then roast the chicken, covered, for an hour.
Remove the chicken from the oven, pull off the foil and baste the bird with some of the pan drippings. Increase the oven temperature to 450*F.
Roast the chicken, uncovered for a further 35 minutes, until browned and cooked through.
Serve it with the potatoes and white wine drippings from the pan.
Chips and peas are optional, but I'm telling you, it's pretty magical. Comfy pants, however, are not - comfy pants are a prerequisite.
*Note: If you can find a brined chicken, by all means, buy it! The meat is packed with flavor, and the end result is far juicer. Trader Joe's sells brined, organic chickens, if you're not sure where to find them, you can brine your own. It's really simple!
Comfort Food You Can Feel Comfortable With
When all the Holiday lights are turned off and the frantic hustle and bustle dies down, our chilly and dimly lit evenings could use something delicious to keep us satiated and satisfied. Believe it or not, during this health-crazed start to the year, pizza may be the answer. Cauliflower pizza, that is.
January, perhaps more than any other month of the year, calls for comfort food. While October through December seem to have the market cornered on all things rich and indulgent, given the onslaught of Holiday cheer, cold, gray and quiet January could use a little help. A month rich with resolutions, restrictions and post-Holiday-regret, needs a healthy dose of feel-good food.
While pizza certainly checks the 'comfort food box', I bet you didn't think it could make it onto the 'healthy' list, as well. But you see, when you substitute a traditional pizza crust for its cauliflower alternerative, you're ticking more boxes than you may have thought possible.
As opposed to a standard, white-flour pizza crust, which really offers very little nutritional value (albeit delicious), a cauliflower crust is low in carbohydrates and packed full of all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants this cruciferous vegetable has to offer. In fact, one serving of cauliflower contains over 75% of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C, not to mention lots of good fiber to aid in digestion. Pizza's starting to sound like a really good idea, right?
While many cauliflower crusts claim to be a healthy alternative to 'the real deal', they also seem to be packed full of more cheese than most standard delivery pizzas wear on top. Sure, they're gluten free, but 'healthy' may be a bit of a stretch.
This simple rendition goes easy on the cheese, without sacrificing flavor, and makes for a meal you'll feel really good about.
Just because it's January, doesn't mean you need to sip every meal through a straw - you can have your pizza, and eat it, too.
For the pizza crust:
For the toppings:
Set your oven to 400*F.
In a food processor, process the cauliflower into an even crumb. Once it looks a bit like quinoa and has a fine, granular texture, turn the machine off. Alternatively, you can use a hand-grater, if you don't own a food processor.
In a large bowl, combine the processed cauliflower, almond meal and cheese, and mix well. At this point, season it to taste with salt and pepper - remember, there's a fair amount of salt in the cheese, so season gradually.
Once you're happy with the level of seasoning, add in your eggs and mix well to combine.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the cake ring in the center of it. Now, scoop the cauliflower mixture into the ring and pat it out evenly. Try to give yourself a bit of a raised edge around the outside, by gently pushing the mixture ever-so-slightly up the sides of the ring. This will ensure that the egg stays on the pizza when you add it later.
Using a paper towel, blot any excess moisture from the pizza crust by pressing into it gently. Cauliflower contains a lot of water, and you want to get rid of some of it, before you bake it.
Remove the ring and bake the crust until golden around the edges, about 30 minutes.
While the crust bakes, add the olive oil to a pan, over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté for one minute, then add the tomatoes and sauté until blistered and soft, about 5 minutes longer. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper.
Top the baked crust with the cooked tomatoes and the remaining 2 tablspoons of cheese, then crack the egg into the center of the pizza.
Set the oven to broil and bake the pizza for a further 6 minutes or so, until the egg white is set, but the yolk is still runny.
Finally, top the pizza with the arugula, and drizzle it with a finishing touch of olive oil.
*Real Pecorino cheese is made from sheep's milk, which I find easier to digest than cow's milk. If lactose isn't a problem for you, you can by all means substitute Parmesan cheese here.
Because after the Holidays Die Down, you need little Moments of indulgence to look forward to
As I slowly emerge from the foggy-headed and bleary-eyed stupor that is the emotional hangover induced by the conclusion of 'the Holidays' and the jet-lag brought on by a nine hour time change, it dawns on me that we have made the leap into January and the beginnings of a new year. A year full of hope, possibilities, and second chances (or third, fourth and fifth chances, in some cases), is upon us, and the much anticipated, annual 'reset' that somehow makes January 1st rich with a brand of optimism that the end of the previous year could no longer sustain, has begun.
But let's be real, just for a second. All that well-meaning #newyearnewyou, #freshstart and #lookout2017 aside, the middle through the end of January can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. And by a bit, I mean the whole damn amusment park - all six flags.
Though Thanksgiving and Christmas have us stressed out, running around and sneaking whiskey into coffee cups for those moments when family discussions turn from pies to politics (just me? I think not), the stress they induce is eclipsed by an undeniably welcome feeling of anticipation and excitement. No matter what you celebrate, the end of the year gives you something concrete to look forward to, and a finish line to cross.
And yes, the first few days of January find our hearts aflutter with excitement and determination, but come about the 5th of the month, those feelings are often followed by a thundering anti-climax, at which point we realize that the cold was only made warm by the glittering of twinkling ligths and the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby on the radio. (Actually, if I'm honest, for me, Christmas has always played to the tune of Wham's 'Last Christmas', and probably always will. Sorry, Bing.)
January can be a little bleak - especially when you've spent the last few months enjoying some of the best food the year has to offer, only to be met with a feeling of guilt about having eaten it and an abrupt (and decidedly liquid) shift toward all things 'detox.'
Given the extreme turnaround, it's easy to find oneself feeling equal parts hopeful and deflated.
So, particularly during these introductory weeks, it's important to recognize that just because Starbucks has gone back to its very ordinary white cup, devoid of snowflakes, hearts and cheer, doesn't mean you aren't allowed to find moments for indulgence and comfort, in everything from your cup of coffee to your choice of breakfast foods.
No, it's not Christmas, it's Tuesday. Sure, you may well have started your day with a juice promising eternal life and complete detoxification, but you can still end it with a cookie and a cocktail, without all being lost.
The tree may be down, the ornaments may be stowed, but the opportunity for atmosphere, merriment and enjoyment wasn't put away when Bing dropped the mic.
Light some candles, pour yourself a glass of wine, revisit less seasonally specific gems by Wham, and make yourself these chewy, lemon-y almond cookies. No, not because it's a Holiday tradition - just because you want a cookie. (And don't worry, they're gluten and dairy-free, so it's basically like having a juice, anyway.)
Set your oven to 350*F.
Combine the almond flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and mix well.
Add the agave, lemon zest and vanilla extract, and mix until a homogenous dough forms.
Using your fingers, pinch off bits of dough, about a tablespoon each, and roll them into balls between your palms.
Place the balls unto a lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a glass, or the like, gently press the cookies into discs. Don't push too hard, as the cookies will split. Once you see that the edges start to splay a little, you're good. Mine were just over a 1/4-of-an-inch thick.
Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until they're a very pale, golden color, then let them cool completely.
For the glaze, I combined about 1/2 a cup of powdered sugar with about a tablespoon of lemon juice, and mixed them well with a fork. You want a consistency that spreads, but doesn't run off the cookie. Start with a teaspoon of liquid and work your way up, until you're happy with it.
Spoon the glaze onto the cookies, sprinkle them with a little more zest, if you're feeling fancy, and let the glaze set.
These cookies are great right away, but if you keep them in an airtight container overnight, they take on this amazing, super chewy, consistency - almonst like baked marzipan.
Now sit back and enjoy - November and December can't possibly have the monopoly on treating yourself...and January can't be all about fiber. #theresalwaysfebruary
Listen up, ladies and gentlemen, because we're talking melty, dark chocolate, buttery, rich panettone and just a kiss of sweet, aromatic bourbon, baked in a custard and served warm, drizzled with more chocolate. Do I have your attention? (Personally, I'm riveted!)
I have always been a bread pudding kind of girl. It's one of those desserts that I just can not pass up. Even when I really, really have no interest in something sweet at the end of a meal out, I'll order it, if it's being offered. 'Yes, I'm totally stuffed, but by all means, please bring a big bowl of bread soaked in an egg mixture and bathed in some sort of vanilla cream sauce - I'll find room.' (Everyone knows there's an extra pocket inside, specifically designed for dessert - biology 101, y'all.)
Of course there are good bread puddings and there are bad bread puddings. Too little custard and too much bread, results in a pudding that's dry and heavy. Using a bread that's too dense, results in a pudding that's stodgy and feels, well, a lot like a brick plummeting straight through dinner, to the bottom of your stomach.
But a good bread pudding...well, a good bread pudding is pretty much bliss. Day-old bread, that's airy and light, is transformed into comfort on a spoon - transporting you straight back to childhood. The flavor of toasty, nutty butter, caramelized sugar and vanilla-y custard soaks deeply into every crevice, and the light, eggy base puffs what once was bread, into pillows of moist, mouthwatering dessert. (Sometimes I think the line between Harlequin romance novels and food writing, is very fine, indeed.)
With the intent to make a blissfully good bread pudding, I picked up a dark chocolate chip panettone, the other day. (Trader Joes has one, and it's yummy!) In case you're not familiar, panettone is a sweet Italian bread, that is both eggy and buttery, and is traditionally made around Christmas. It is often studded with raisins or candied orange zest, but can sometimes be found laced with dark chocolate chips. Its airy texture makes it perfect for a lighter rendition of bread pudding, and when left to dry out for a day or two, it serves as the ideal sponge for a rich and decadent custard.
If you can't find a panettone with chocolate already in it, simply add about 1/2 a cup of dark chocolate chips to your soaking bread.
Cut your panettone into 1-inch cubes, add them to a large bowl and mix in 2 tbsp of sugar and the melted butter. Give it a good toss and then set it aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the eggs and remaining cup of sugar, and whisk with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy - about 3 minutes.
Then add in the milk, cream, salt and vanilla. Mix that well. Finally, add the bourbon and mix until fully incorporated.
Pour the custard over the bread, mix it gently to combine everything, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill it in the refrigerator for as little as 2 hours or up to overnight.
Heat your oven to 325*F. Butter an 8-inch round, 2-inch high cake pan liberally, and pour the bread and custard mixture into it. Pat everything down gently, to make sure you have an even bread pudding, and bake it for about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes. You want the pudding to be slightly springy to the touch and golden brown, but you don't want to see any liquid remaining.
Let the pudding cool slightly in the pan, about 10 minutes and then flip it out. Drizzle it with melted dark chocolate and sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Be sure to serve it warm - and hey, if you wanted to throw some vanilla ice cream on top, I wouldn't call you crazy.
Yes, it's dessert, but it's full of eggs, milk and bread, so it's technically breakfast, too! Christmas morning, anyone? You know a day spent in pj's with your entire family and all the chaos...umm, I mean joy - all the joy that brings, could use a few tablespoons of bourbon at the start of it. (Perhaps followed by the middle and end of it, too!)
Because no one likes Getting their hand Caught in a goopey cookie Jar
So, the other night, in an effort to slow the passing of December and spend an evening actually indulging in 'the holiday season' as opposed to just stressing over it, a couple of girlfriends and I decided to drink wine and frost cookies. (Oh, and take down heaping bowls of homemade spaghetti and slowly simmered meatballs - because when you give a group of girls wine, comfort food and dessert that's basically a craft project, being faced with a season of relentless traffic, overspending and too many hors d'oeuvres on a stick, seems somehow managable.)
Along with white, red, rosé and bubbles (yes, we covered our bases), we had an assortment of sprinkles, silver dragees, sanding sugars and sparkles, with which to decorate a big batch of festively-shapped butter cookies. I mean, Martha Stewart eat your heart out! The only things missing were matching pj's and monogrammed stockings hung by the fire with care. (More like hung by the fire-escape with Command strips - but, hey, renter's semantics.)
As a contribution to the edible 'craft table', my sweet friend brought with her a tube of mysteriously sparkly and vibrantly green decorating gel. As stated on the packaging, this eye-catching, sugary paste was intended to jazz up everything from cakes to cookies, and with its super spreadable consistency, it seemed like a simple way to tackle the intricacies of giving a cookie snowman its hat or a star its sparkle.
What the packaging failed to mention, was that this goopey green gel never hardens - not ever! A fact we came to realize, three snowmen and a star later. Yes, it sparkles. Yes, it's unnaturally attention grabbing. And yes, it will end up all over the inside of your cookie jar, treat bag or purse, several hours after applying it. It's one hell of a sweet mess, no matter how you spread it.
Fortunately, I had made us a batch of trusty royal icing as well.
Royal icing is pretty much the only way to go, when decorating cookies. As the mortar to your gingerbread bricks, and the glue to your cookie's adornments, it's the only way to ensure a secure, hard dry on treats you want to stack, build, box and give away. It's the icing we used when I was a kid, on all our gingerbread houses, and it's the icing I use today when throwing back wine and innaporopriately enhancing gingerbread men and women, once the pasta's worn off and the bubbles set in.
It's also what will save you from sending your girlfriend home with a to-go bag she'll have to think twice about sticking her hand into in the morning.
Optional: Food coloring
With a hand mixer or stand mixer, whisk the egg white into stiff peaks. (Stiff, but not totally dried out.)
Add in the powdered sugar, and whisk until it's totally combined. Then, whisk in between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp of lemon juice or vanilla extract. I used lemon juice, but you can use whichever flavor you prefer. (Peppermint extract would be good too!) You want the consistency to be sticky and pipable, but not runny. Add just enough liquid, so that you can pipe it through the tip of a piping bag, in a steady stream. Don't worry, if it becomes too runny, you can always add more sugar.
At this point you can add a little food coloring, if you want to brighten things up. I'm a bit classic when it comes to cookie decorating, so I leave it white and let the sprinkles and dragees do the rest.
Add the icing to a piping bag and decorate your heart out - it will fully set in about an hour, but add your decorations quickly, while it's still super tacky.
Now gather some friends, libations and a big bowl of something yummy, turn on the Christmas music and get your cookie on!
You can get back to worrying about estimated shipping costs, finding parking, getting to the store before everyone else does and holiday travel, tomorrow.