Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies - "Levain-esque"

Levain-esque Chocolate Chip Walnut Chunk Cookies

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Many have tried, but I think it's fair to say, you can only get a chunky, walnutty, chocolatey chip Levain Bakery cookie at Levain Bakery. But, these come close -- and, if nothing else, they are delicious anyway!! Perfect for a snowy day. Hot chocolate not included. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

INGREDIENTS:

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  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • ¾ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup cake meal
  • 1¾ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups roughly chopped walnuts
  • 2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

 

 

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and both sugars. Cream until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. 

3. Add eggs. Mix until incorporated.

4. Add in cake meal, flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Mix on the lowest speed until all the flour is just incorporated. Do not over-mix.

5. Add in walnuts and chocolate chips and mix on lowest speed until just incorporated.

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6. Separate into two-inch clumps. Place no less than 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. I can fit a max of 8 cookies on mine. Do not roll into balls. Leave in loosely shape round clumps. 

7. Bake one sheet at a time in the middle row of the oven -- about 12-13 minutes. The tops should be golden and the cookies should appear cooked, but not set. Let cookies cool at least 15 minutes on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

XOXO

Brown Butter Nutella Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

BROWN BUTTER NUTELLA SEA SALT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES 

(Continuously adapted from I don't know what because I have been making them for that long)

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Ingredients:

2 1/2 Cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt

1/2 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)

1/2 cup chocolate chunks 

Nutella

Sea Salt

 

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. 

2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat whisking somewhat continuously until the butter begins to brown.  Once the butter has begun to brown and gives off a nutty aroma, remove from heat.

3. With an electric standing mixer or a hand mixer, blend butter and both sugars. Add the egg, vanilla and yogurt and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips and chunks.

4. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll into approximately 1.5 inch balls. Place two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

6. Gently make a thumb print in the center of each cookie dough ball. Scoop a small teaspoon of Nutella into each and then fold the dough from the sides back over the Nutella. (If you need to grab a little dough off the bottom to completely cover the Nutella, that's OK too.) Roll back into a ball if need be. Flatten the tops just a tad.

7. Bake for about 12-14 or just until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

Enjoy! xoxo

Best Brownies

I baked these brownies during a snow storm on the hubby's birthday. It was below zero outside, the wind was whipping against the windows, a sink overflowed from a frozen pipe, our alarm wouldn't stop beeping due to a series of power surges and finally water started shooting out of a wall by the washing machine. Mike was mad at the house, the weather and birthdays in general.

So I went into the kitchen to cheer myself up (disengage) with a glass of wine and a little snow day baking. Some of you may have seen the insta-story of the making of these brownies. The one with the soundtrack ranging from "It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want to" to "Birthday Bitch." And thank goodness for comfort food (and wine) -- particularly of the chocolate kind (sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand if you're asking) -- because these brownies soothed his stomach and soul. They are, in one word...INSANE. Easy to make, but impossible to stop eating. The entire batch was gone in a day. These are officially my new go-to brownie recipe.

Notes: I did not have espresso powder in the house and I was not leaving to get it (see frozen tundra above). While I'm sure the taste would be elevated with its inclusion, if you are missing this ingredient, no need to hold off. They were still amazing minus the espresso. 

The original recipe calls for baked and coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts. My family complains whenever I put nuts in desserts, which is just so misguided, but it was the hubby's birthday, so I decided to be nice (see freezing temperature and bursting pipes). I imagine that pecans would be truly awesome inclusions, but I will say that the mushy, chocolatey deliciousness of these pure classics was heavenly. 

The Best Brownies

(adapted slightly via Jessica Seinfeld)

Ingredients:

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1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Directions:

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Preheat oven (with oven rack in the middle) to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan (I used 9 x 9 and they were still perfection). Line with an 8-inch-wide strip of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Remove from the head and add the chocolate chips and espresso if using. Let stand for about 2 minutes, then whisk until creamy and smooth. Whisk in both sugars. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt and whisk with gusto for a solid 45 seconds, or until batter is thick and glossy and pulls away from the pan. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with more than a few moist crumbs attached (best to undertake than to overtake). Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Grab the ends of the parchment and lift the brownies onto a cutting board before slicing. 

Enjoy! xoxo

Browned butter, chocolate and toasted pecan blondies

Browned Butter, Chocolate Chunk & Toasted Pecan Blondies

 

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

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These are the most buttery, sugary and sweetest blondies I have ever tasted. If you do not have a major sweet tooth, they are not for you. In fact, if you are not a fan of eating straight butter, which I personally am, I think it would be OK to cut the butter a tad. They may be less moist, but should do just fine. You can also feel free to switch the chocolate and pecans to any other kind of mix-ins that you fancy. Place them in an air-tight tupperware and they are even better the next day. Or the day after that. I know this for a personal fact. Also delicious for breakfast. Just saying.

 

 

Ingredients:

16 tablespoons (2 stick, 4 ounces or 113 grams) butter, melted and browned
1 1/2 cup dark brown sugar                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1 cup (4 3/8 ounces or 125 grams) all-purpose flour                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1/2 cup toasted pecans                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1/4 teaspoon flakey sea salt

 

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Directions:

Butter a 9×9 pan

Melt butter in a saucepan until butter is browned but not burnt. 

Beat melted butter and sugar in a standing mixer until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

Add kosher salt salt and baking powder. Stir in flour. 

Mix in chocolate and pecans. 

Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until set in the middle.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt.

Cool on wire rack.

Enjoy! xoxo

Pumpkin Spice Choc chunk Cake(s)

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The original recipe calls for baking these decadent cakes in two loaf pans as glazed pumpkin breads. My dear friend Kerri made them often in LA sans glaze, but when I moved back to NY and began using their house as my Cali base, she confided that her husband (and our best friend...as well as Godfather of our children) has minor fits that I show up at their front door late at night fresh off a cross-country flight, let myself in (I have my keys, which is his first mistake) and then proceed to eat it all of Kerri's freshly baked pumpkin bread myself, saving him a pretty cake plate of crumbs come morning. (I also drink all of their wine, but apparently the pumpkin bread is sacred.) In fairness, it's ridiculously sweet, the pumpkin simply elevating the decadence without overpowering, and while the top becomes golden, the center is incredibly moist. While Kerri shares all of her recipes, she may have sent this one quickly so the locks aren't changed on me. 

I adapted the recipe just slightly and began baking the pumpkin bread in a large bundt pan as more of a cake. Because I behave more appropriately as a houseguest in most other situations (ie. where I don't know the alarm code) this is my go-to recipe to bring as a fall/winter treat. Not only does it go fast, but lifelong pumpkin resisters - from granddads to picky kids - become fast converts.

Knowing that we have a lot of Halloween, Thanksgiving and fall season holiday parties coming up, I decided to try out the recipe as mini-bundt cakes to wrap up and deliver as homemade treats. 

The notes below will detail the simple ways to bake the cake as two loaves, a single large bundt or as mini favors. 

Happy Fall! 

xoxo,

Nicole

 

Adapted from my dear friend Kerri who adapted it from somewhere on Pinterest ;)

*The recipe has never been in proper format and since the only steps are to dump everything in a bowl, I have left it that way.

 

PUMPKIN SPICE CAKE(S)

Ingredients:

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1 (15 ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree

1 cup vegetable oil

3 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks (milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips will work just fine)

 

Instructions:

Grease with butter 2 (9 X 5 inch) loaf pans OR one standard size bundt pan OR approximately 24 small bundts on a sheet (I prefer never to use cooking spray, but especially with this recipe). Place rack at center of oven and pre-heat at 350 degrees.

Add each of the ingredients (excluding chocolate) to the bowl of a standing mixer. Beat at low speed until well blended, but take care not to overdo it. Fold in chocolate chunks. Pour batter evenly into the loaf pans, bundt mold or mini bundts (*For mini-bundts, you do not need to fill the batter to the top as the cakes will rise slightly). 

Bake according to times below. When the wooden pick comes out clean, remove the pan(s) from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Do give in to temptation and turn the pans over to release the cakes until they have completely cooled. They will fall apart (I know from experience). 

 

*Bake Time:

Regardless of the pan, bake until the tops are golden and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remember, every oven is a little bit different and this is one of those recipes that may require a little extra time in either direction, especially since bundt pans can vary, so stay vigilant with that wooden pick. 

-2 LOAF PANS - The original recipe calls for 55 minutes. Kerri and I agree that we begin checking at this point, but we find that it typically takes about 1 hr and 5 min.

-STANDARD BUNDT PAN - The Barnhouse oven can be a bit slower, so I begin checking on this at about 1 hr 5 min, it typically takes another 5 to 10 (1 hr 10-15 minutes) for that pick to come out clean.

-MINI BUNDTS - My sheet has 24 cavities that are about 3 inches wide. It takes between 25 - 30 min for that pick to come out clean.

 

Insta Playlist

"Supersonic" - J.J. Fad

"Gangsta's Paradise" - Coolio

"Valerie" - Amy Winehouse

"Hold it Now, Hit It" - Beastie Boys

"Nightmare on My Street" - DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince

"Doo Wop (That Thing)"- Lauryn Hill

"Halo" - Beyonce

 

 

 

Shop Fall Entertaining

I love the creativity and even artistry that can come from designing a chic and welcoming tablescape. Some holidays I stick to a color scheme and at other times its a mash-up of pattern and hues. But even when I try to establish a particular theme, I am ultimately drawn to mixing things up, matching rustic with ultra-modern and quirky with classics. The thrill of collecting is the fantasy of future meals in the making.

Here are a few of my favorites as of late for preparing dishes and setting the mood. XOXO 

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Everyone has guilty pleasures. Mine range from a higher-brow perusing of the Sunday Styles with a cup of hazelnut coffee on a leisurely weekend morning to snuggling Lola on the couch on a night home alone, while watching HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” alongside a glass (or three) of wine and sour patch kids, simultaneously “pinning” decor and desserts to my hearts content. My frozen yogurt covered in chocolate sprinkles and gummy candies is probably more habit than the occasional guilty pleasure at this point, as putting off work deadlines to crawl into bed early with a pile of freshly delivered shelter magazines is a luxurious procrastination worth the consequences. I won’t get into tuna sandwiches stuffed with potato chips, but when it comes to drink, I’m a happy gal with a decidedly low-brow frozen margarita, no salt, right out of the whirly machine.

For the nine years we lived in LA, despite an early job there as the Style Writer for Los Angeles Magazine, designating me in the know of foodie trends and dining destinations, my guilty pleasure was an economical ice cream sandwich shop delineated by long lines of wallet-over-weight conscious college students near the campus of UCLA in Westwood Village. You will not find de rigueur gourmand flavors here, like bacon infused avocado with sea salt on a farm to table cone. At Diddy Reese one can simply choose any two basic, freshly baked cookies with a “premium” scoop of good ‘ol fashioned ice cream in the middle - for $2. Because the price has gone up. While plenty of artisanal ice cream locales have opened in Los Angeles, many of which I am all to fond of (Salt and Straw!), the simplicity of this standby is what makes it so good. 

When we first moved to LA, we also lived in this neighborhood along “the corridor,” the city’s main strip of high-rise apartments, a housing model which you can find in few other places in Los Angeles. We were coming from my beloved New York City and, despite moving to Los Angeles with and for Mike, I was still lonely and confused about my bright, new, palm-tree filled world. I saw that short crop of Wilshire Boulevard and figured, “tall, over-crowded buildings and no space — that’s the place for me!” I had no friends, a freelance writing career telecomuting with New York, and not even a car (by choice) to remove me from my new life in Los Angeles that I was clearly refusing to accept. But location, location, location! I could walk to Diddy Reese and eat my feelings. And that I did. Often. When we moved to Brentwood, happy and settled at this point with my own mode of transportation, I still went halfsies after a late night out and then, years later, insisted I was standing on that long line for the kids.

My go-to has — and always will be — two chocolate chip cookies with strawberry cheesecake chunk ice cream. I can’t quite figure out the psychology, but I flew back to New York from our trip to Spain and Portugal craving them. Perhaps eating one’s weight in savory manchego, huevos and chorizo induces a need for something on the sweeter side and traveling can make you long for a taste of home. 

Since I’ll have to wait a few weeks to discreetly get my fix in LA, I went on a mad search for a Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream recipe that I could pair with my brown butter chocolate chip cookies. I should have known I’d finally find the ice cream on What’s Gaby Cooking. So here it is - my homage to one of my many, but delicious, guilty pleasures. 

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

(Here below with STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE ICE CREAM adapted (only slightly) from What's Gaby Cooking)

 

BROWN BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

(Continuously adapted from I don't know what because I have been making them for that long)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 Cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon plain greek yogurt

1/2 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or milk chocolate)

1/2 cup chocolate chunks 

 

1. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside. 

2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat whisking somewhat continuously until the butter begins to brown.  Once the butter has begun to brown and gives off a nutty aroma, remove from heat.

3. With an electric standing mixer or a hand mixer, blend butter and both sugars. Add the egg, vanilla and yogurt and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips and chunks.

4. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll into approximately 1.5 inch balls. Place two inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten the tops just a tad.

6. Bake for about 12-14 or just until the edges begin to turn golden. The center should not appear browned, as we want the cookies to remain nice and soft for the ice cream sandwiches. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

 

 

STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE ICE CREAM 

via What's Gaby Cooking

For the strawberries:

For the strawberries:

1 cup fresh strawberries

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2-3 tablespoons water

 

For the cheesecake ice cream base:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup heavy cream 

1 cup sour cream (*Note: I used Nonfat Greek Yogurt...to make this diet ice cream. Ahem)

2/3 cup light brown sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

For the strawberries:

For the cheesecake ice cream base:

1. In a saucepan heat all ingredients over low heat. Stir frequently until it boils. Reduce for a minute or two and remove from the heat. Transfer to a shallow container, mash berries with a fork or spoon and refrigerate.

2. In a bowl, beat cream cheese, heavy cream, sour cream and sugar just until smooth. Add zest, vanilla and salt. Combine, transfer to a container with a lid, or bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until very cold, 6 to 8 hours or overnight.

3. Place the mixture in your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer´s directions.

4. Transfer to a freezer-proof container, add strawberry mixture, swirl a few times, cover and freeze until solid.

Slutty Brownies

As many of you can probably see from Instagram, I bake these so-called "Slutty Brownies" often - and many of you have asked for the recipe. Composed of a layer of cookie dough, a layer of Oreos and a layer of fudge brownies, these bars came into my life via the genius of What's Gaby Cooking.

Tomorrow is my mom's birthday and Sweetlips & The Bean wanted to cook their grandma a treat. So, this felt like the appropriate time to post that "Slutty Brownie" recipe for you - while baking them with two five-year-olds...for their grandma. I do at least call them "Oreo Cookie Brownies" when working with my underage sous chefs. 

As the name suggests, the sweet flavor overload is unbelievably decadent. I recently brought them to a friend, who happily ate them straight up until there were none left.  I like to cut mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream because balance is very important to me. You understand. 

 

Here's the baking playlist from tonight's insta-stories:

Playlist

"I Ran" - Flock of Seagulls

"Big Pimpin'" - Jay-Z

"In Da Club" i.e."Go Shorty, It's Your Birthday - 50 Cent (*Did not recall the lyrics being so inappropriate for children. #Momfail)

"When I'm Sixty-Four" - The Beatles 

"Reach Out I'll Be There" - Four Tops

 

Wishing everyone a very happy July 4th weekend filled with tons of Fireworks (wink, wink - see "Slutty Brownies"), food that is so good it deserves to be shared (thank you What's Gaby Cooking!) and a very happy birthday to "Dama Doan," a grandma who inspires a little humor and mischief.

Here's that wild recipe, along with Gaby's "Very Important FAQ's"...Enjoy! xoxo

 

SLUTTY BROWNIES

Recipe courtesy of What's Gaby Cooking

VERY IMPORTANT FAQ’s:

  • This is the pan I bake these in – it’s a 9×9 square pan from Amazon and it’s the best. It’s a non-stick square pan – which is what you need. A glass pan or a pan of another size won’t yield the same results as the photos here. (*Up Chic's Creek Note - It's true. I have this pan and it's perfection.)
  • Cool the brownies once they come out of the oven for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving if you want perfect square pieces.
  • You can use any kind of Oreos you want – double stuffed, regular, flavored, birthday cake, red velvet etc
  • IF you use a box mix for the brownie layer, you won’t want to use the entire batter as it yields more than my homemade brownie recipe. You just want to have enough brownie recipe to cover the oreos on the top layer. 

INGREDIENTS

For the Brownie layer:

  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour

For the Oreo layer:

  • 1 package of Oreo (regular stuffed or double stuffed)

For the Cookie Dough layer:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (at room temp)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

For the Brownie Layer:

1. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the sugar and cocoa powder once the butter is melted. Whisk to combine and remove from heat. Add the salt, vanilla and eggs and continuously whisk until the eggs are combined. Add the flour and continue to mix. Set batter aside. 

For the Cookie Dough Layer:

 2. Cream together the butter and sugars in a mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla, making sure to      scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder and mix on low until everything is incorporated. Fold in the chocolate chips. Set dough aside. 

Assembly:

3. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Line the bottom of a 9x9 baking pan with tin foil and then spray the tin foil with a layer of baking spray.

5. Layer the cookie dough on the bottom of a 9x9 baking pan, pressing down to form the bottom of the slutty brownies.

6. Layer as many oreos that will fit on top of the cookie dough. No need to overlap. One single layer will do.

7. Pour the brownie batter on top of the oreo layer and make sure it's evenly layers on top. 

8. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test with a knife to see if the center is done. If the knife comes out clean, let the brownies rest for at least 2 hours before serving. If the knife comes out with batter still on it, allow the brownies to bake about 5 minutes more. Slice and serve.

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

This week is Sweetlips & The Bean’s Reading and Writing Picnic at school, where they get to show off all that they have learned in kindergarten. I am so grateful for these two little boys who are profoundly proud of their accomplishments and are excited to share them with us. But Momma’s also an emotional wreck. 

My babies are growing up and I’m having difficulty accepting the bittersweet reality. I’ve been looking back on all of the milestones, flipping through old pictures and tearing up at “family famous” videos, wondering where the time went. We just brought these 5 pound 4 ounce brothers home from the hospital. Graduating kindergarten is almost unfathomable. I used to read to my infants with our nightly book propped against my knees so I could hold both of my boys close. I didn’t realize then how soon they would be reading to me. It feels like someone hit the fast forward button and all I want to do is press pause.

Someone recently pointed out that I am a sentimental and nostalgic person. There is no denying that — my company is named after my grandparents and I write personal essays. I deeply appreciate the special people, places and occasions of my life. But simply treasuring moments and memories while moving forward, I can now see, must eclipse the pull of living in the past. The latter is not good for any of us. So, I’m working really hard to live in the present, embrace change and cherish the journey. But all of this reflection is for me to grapple with so those boys may feel free to thrive. The idea of the teeny weeny man cups they now wear for lacrosse does, for example, amuse me (and them) immensely. So, that’s a start. 

Childrens' achievements deserve to be celebrated and the kiddos know that my starting point is often in the kitchen. In full disclosure, I used to tell them that kissing their momma was the final ingredient of every recipe we made together because, “We bake with love.” You only have a small window for these things. The boys have been begging me for weeks to make them Rice Krispie Treats, but as they are also one of my favorite indulgences, I have been avoiding it for self preservation. Crosby, understanding his mother all too well, has already guessed what I’ll be surprising them with for their picnic snack. Dessert might be a weakness, but there is no denying that so are my boys. 

_________

Many of you may already know this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, as it has gained a cult following. But for those of you that don’t, it’s the best Rice Krispie Treat recipe out there. It includes sea salt, making its dominance a fact. The brown butter ups the ante of this classic crowd pleaser for a Father’s Day soiree, a summer BBQ or simply celebrating life…so I’m passing it on. Enjoy! xoxo

 

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats 

via Smitten Kitchen

 

 Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

Ingredients:

4 ounces (113 grams) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan

1 10-ounce (285-gram) bag marshmallows

Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

6 cups (160 grams) crispy rice cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

 

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I liked to use a piece of waxed or parchment paper that I’ve sprayed with oil to press it firmly and evenly into the edges and corners (**note from Up Chic’s Creek: This works like a charm!), though a silicon spatula works almost as well.

Let cool, cut into squares.

S 'mores Cookie Bars

A chic outdoor fireplace is yet another dream component of my fantasy Barnhouse renovation. But, while an attainable stone fire ring does inspire (and remind us of camp), I'm both fairly tempted and also prohibitively hesitant to build one on our lawn. 

Now that we're headed into summer, Sweetlips & The Bean have been begging to make s'mores, something that they took for granted under even the winter stars in Southern California.  The dreamy outdoor fireplace is another coping mechanism in my compulsion to live each summer to its fullest now that I am required to recognize the other seasons. At least I can say this one's for the kids.

In the meantime, I thought we might indulge our campy craving with something s'more-like minus the two five-year-olds wielding marshmallow torches. So I went down the Pinterest rabbit hole (a favorite late night pastime after I've read the entire internet before attempting sleep) on a quest for gooey graham cracker inspiration.

The cookie bar recipe I surfaced with is included below...and had the boys begging for s'more. I mean, come on - I had to. 

___________

As you may notice from GC's insta stories, I usually listen to music while I cook and my tastes are eclectic and vary with mood. I've been receiving quite a few comments about my range of choices - so,  from now on, I'll be including the playlist with the recipes.  Here's tonight's "Bake What Your Momma Gave Ya'" (which was also ironically today's gym mix):   

Big Pimpin' - Jay Z

Drunk in Love - Beyonce

Bernadette - The Four Tops

Scenario - A Tribe Called Quest

Hook - Blues Traveler   (Whatever, I'm the DJ)

___________

 

S'mores Cookie Bars

(Recipe via Pinterest @melskitchencafe  or www.melskitchencafe.com)

**Personal Notes: While I left this recipe exactly as I found it, here are a few adjustments I'd make the next batch around.

**Next time I'd go easier on the fluff. A little goes a very long way. I also spread it instead of dolloped, as I was trying to insta-story one-handed while I baked.  Dollop, as the recipe instructs, and have someone else video. 

**My s'more bars needed an extra ten - twelve minutes to bake, which lately I'm thinking may be another symptom of the Barnhouse, as the oven is quite vintage and not in a good way. La Cornue has been dutifully added to the fantasy renovation.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups marshmallow topping, like Marshmallow Fluff or Creme (regular or mini marshmallows will not work)
  • 2 cups milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9X13-inch pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the 2 short sides. Grease the foil with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until well combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until combined. Divide the dough in half. Press half into the bottom of the prepared pan until the dough is evenly flattened. Dollop the marshmallow topping on top of the cookie base and gently spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.

Scatter the remaining dough over the top in clumps. Don’t worry about completely covering the top, the marshmallow and chocolate chips should peek through. Bake the bars until golden brown, about 30-32 minutes. Cool completely. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil overhangs. Cut into bars and serve.

spring Cookbook Roundup

Among my many collections - heart-shaped rocks, vintage table linens, scraps of bubblewrap (they can be reused, people!) and flower vases in the shape of heads — my accumulation of cookbooks may reign supreme. Curling up with a morning coffee and a scrumptious food tome of recipes and fare can be deeply satisfying, especially when the dishes are accompanied by the stories or anecdotes that inspired them. When I read a cookbook, to me it is no different than a novel. I start from the beginning and become absorbed within the story of someone’s kitchen, never missing a chef’s note or an ingredient. It’s a ritual that is part curiosity and part comfort that can only be found through the nurturing solace of food. 

I prefer to cook unfussy dishes that are more soul soothing than snap worthy, but when it comes to my cookbook obsession, how often I will put the pages to use when I am at the stove is of no matter, as I do not treasure them for their utility alone. Some books in my collection have added only a single recipe to my repertoire and others are dotted with dozens of sticky flags, the pages splashed with syrupy evidence from the preparations of countless celebrations. I cherish cookbooks mostly for the joyous opportunities that they represent — homemade gestures of love, sharing a table, coming together, celebrating life.  

While planning the menu for a large family dinner at my home, I recently came across an old cookbook that my grandmother had given to me shortly after I graduated college. Covered in the same pink and violet floral wallpaper that decorated her kitchen, as all of “Loni’s” cookbooks were, her 1965 second printing of “The Blessings of Food and Flowers,” had originally been compiled as a synagogue fundraiser, the mid-century heirloom describing itself as, “The most prized recipes of members of the Sisterhood.” 

The plastic spiral binding disintegrated long ago, but it is still easy to get lost within the volume’s pages, the dishes and entertaining tips a window into a bygone era. The options are neither fancy nor complex, like beef stroganov and “Tanta Betty’s Chicken in the Pot.” Offerings like cottage cheese jello salad are no longer de rigueur and others, like deviled tongue, should probably be left to the archives. When it came to grocery lists, sherry was clearly essential to a well-stocked pantry. Proper recipe format was abandoned for what presumably appeared on the handwritten recipe cards of inherited tradition or were dictated like familiar instructions recited from friend to friend over a rotary phone.  “Have fish dealer roll sole around salmon,” begins Mrs. Bases’ recipe titled “Sole and Salmon Rolls.”  Some of the notes are cinematic in the Mad Men era images they now evoke. Mrs. Louis A. Jaskow’s recipe for “College Punch” consists of three types of fruit juice, four cups of sugar and eight bottles of wine. It serves 100. I would like to have been invited to one of Mrs. Jaskow’s parties.

The potato puffs that I baked in homage were ultimately less inspiring than the evening I spent immersed in the kitchens of women I will never know, but I went to bed that night with an unusual sense of calm, imagining that our current volatile world was momentarily replaced for a simpler time, at least within my home. Both cooking and the written word can have that effect. 

________________

 

The fantasy renovation plans for the Barn House (more on that another time) include a kitchen library, complete with floor to ceiling shelves dedicated to the food alters that are currently stacked around my home, an antique ladder to add some culinary drama and a cozy reading nook to soothe my soul. Below are my most recent additions to those shelves — one made me laugh, two made me cry, all gave me a sweet escape. Try them. You’ll like them. 

Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West Village

A couple of years ago, inspired by one of those last warm New York nights of summer, Mike and I decided to take the boys for scooter rides and a family dinner date downtown. We were in the area of Jack’s Wife Freda, a West Village restaurant whose accolades we were eager to affirm, but figured a last minute seating request on a Friday night with two toddlers in tow was unlikely to be met with the same enthusiasm. But, as I now know is customary, we were warmly greeted amongst a patient gathering of patrons, our server quick with crayons for the kids and a glass of wine for their momma. Having lived on both coasts in cities that can sometimes be more scene than substance, this is just a warm and happy place. Mike and I still reminisce about that magical New York night with our boys, which was highlighted by our time at their neighborhood table. The food is, as it’s regulars testify, delicious, but their welcoming approach truly elevates the experience.

Owners Maya and Dean Jankelowitz’ new Jacks Wife Freda cookbook begins with an introduction that is as much biography as it is culinary, offering a glimpse into the flavors of their childhoods in Israel and South Africa through the homemade dishes of their families, including Dean’s grandparents for whom the restaurant is named. It probably says a lot about someone’s emotional capacity if a cookbook can move them to tears, but I too have a business that is named after my beloved grandparents whose love inspired me, and so I found myself getting choked up at the preparation of Dean's family's Friday night feasts. I am an untethered happy crier, but I presume that most readers will have the fortitude to indulge in chef Julia Jaksic’s trademark grain bowls and zucchini chips without drama. Although, the savory croque madame could make any sane person emotional. I waited patiently to inaugurate the grill this season with chicken kebabs and Peri Peri sauce, while I anticipate the Bloody Marys and mint lemonade becoming hallmarks of our summer. And just as the recipe for smoked paprika egg salad is my lunch dream come true, the prospect of warmer nights promises we’ll also be scooting back for dinner real soon. 

 

Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

  From that special night at Jack's Wife Freda (@garlandcollection)

From that special night at Jack's Wife Freda (@garlandcollection)

Like many home cooks, when in doubt, I turn to Ina. From “my” signature mac n’ cheese to “my” trademark brussel sprouts, the foundation of many of the dishes in my rotation are found within the pages of her Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks. Even last night’s craving for a sweet butternut squash sans sugar was scrumptiously resolved with a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper and maple syrup via a frequent culinary Google search, “Ina Garten recipe for (fill in the blank).” Sometimes I follow the direction to the 1/2 tsp of salt and other times it is a method of preparation or squeeze of lemon that I borrow to inspire when my own creation is just missing something. 

In her latest book Cooking for Jeffrey, Garten fills her devotees in on the relationship that has fortified her recipes and career. A culinary valentine, Garten writes about her husband Jeffrey’s early belief in her and his encouragement to follow her passion. Knowing firsthand what it feels like to be buoyed by a husband’s unwavering confidence and support, her words reminded me to count my blessings…and also to keep cooking for him. In full disclosure, I once again cried from a cookbook without even a chopped onion to blame, but true love is a trigger point for me.

The book’s skillet-roasted lemon chicken and tsimmes have both made their way to our table and the pumpkin flan will no doubt have a Thanksgiving debut.

With considerably less success, seeing that I almost poisoned Mike on my first attempt, I too began cooking as a young college graduate wishing to care for the person I loved, and I can count Ina Garten’s many books as guidance on my road to competence in the kitchen. Her recipes are usually simple in approach, but also flavorful and foolproof. But as I plan to attempt the chocolate creme brulee shared in her latest pages, operating a kitchen blow torch does give me pause. I hope that if he is running for the fire extinguisher, Mike once again remembers that it was made with love. 

 

Food Swings: 125 + Recipes to Enjoy Your Life of Virtue & Vice

In order to curb my compulsion for carbs and brisket, I try to avoid meat and pasta during the week so that on weekends I can blissfully eat like I’m on death row. If health was not an issue, I’d enjoy a steak dinner every night with an appetizer of bolognese and I’d only scoop out a bagel if I could stuff it with pasta. But that sort of gluttony is apparently frowned upon. 

Food Swings, Jessica Seinfeld’s latest cookbook is separated into “Virtues” and “Vice,” offering meal choices ranging from healthful to downright indulgent, depending on your mood or, in my case, day of the week. I wonder what it is says about someone when a cookbook makes them feel understood. 

Nightly family dinners with our two boys feature wholesome ingredients and a variety of flavors and dishes, so cookbooks that include hearty vegetarian options, like Food Swings’ eggplant cauliflower meatballs and “Deceptively Delicious Tacos,”  keep my whole family feeling satisfied with a single dish. Plus, those “almost vegan” tacos call for sour cream, which albeit accidentally, I once literally drank through a straw. I typically switch it out for greek yogurt, which tastes less like sadness than you’d expect, but if Jessica Seinfeld proposes the real deal in a virtuous recipe, I am obligated to follow direction.

As for vices, I spent the better part of an evening planning my Saturday morning cookoff, flipping back and forth between the cinnamon buns and the strawberry shortcake. The sweet and sticky ribs were obviously a given. Chocolate-popcorn-almond-clusters were a hit with the boys during a family movie night screening of “The Money Pit” (I want them to be cultured foodies) and strawberry buckle muffins are now officially in the repetoire. 

The bottom line…As many of you know, I am constantly encouraging people to just cook if you want to cook! Don’t say you can’t because it’s not your thing. It’s not that deep! You don’t have to be a professional cook, the best cook or even a good cook. Just start somewhere. Follow solid recipes for those staple dishes that make people happy and you’ll learn. Have fun. Enjoy the process.  

While there are plenty of recipes in Food Swings for those who already wow guests with their culinary creations (see key lime pie), this is also the perfect cookbook for easing yourself into the enjoyment of finding your happy place in the kitchen, no matter if you are hoping to nurture a family or nourish yourself. Seinfeld’s friend to friend style will give you a comfortable start. Basically, she keeps it real. Plus, she writes about her granny and you can imagine how I feel about that. Many of the recipes, like chicken parmesan and meatballs marinara, are personal takes on traditional dishes that may not be groundbreaking in menu, but are savory signatures for adding to your new epicurean resume. Then you can make me the pasta carbonara. Also the chocolate banana pudding. And the lasagna. But only if it’s the weekend.

Smart Cookie

(From the archives)

smart cookie

“You will have a successful year in business,” read one friend.

“Your magnetic personality will take you far,” read another.

Assuming that mine would be much of the same, I popped a piece of my fortune cookie in my mouth and nonchalantly prepared to recite my tiny prophecy, which I would discreetly stow in my wallet as tangible validation if it positively applied in even the most arbitrary way to anything that was questionable in my life.

Anticipating a manufactured cliché, but hoping for one that I could at least inject with implied significance to project onto Mike during the car ride home, I pulled out the ubiquitous rectangular paper and found this weighty fortune:

“WORK ON IMPROVING YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE”

Fortune cookies are supposed to reveal factory-packaged slivers of hope or at least the punch line to a dirty joke. But while my friends received words of encouragement and gratuitous praise, I literally unraveled judgment. And did the person that prepared this bold-typed condemnation even recognize the irony that it was baked inside of a cookie?

If I wasn’t five months pregnant with twins and hadn’t arrived at the restaurant to see my dinner companions in huddled whispers with the host, discussing what I later learned was their concern that I would not be able to fit in the booth, this would have seemed less comical. The well-meaning waiter had even asked if I would like something spicy to help induce labor, assuming that at this girth I had to be well past my due date.

At this point I could still get my knee-high boots over my calves and my trademark bangles were still firmly on my wrists. I did not yet know that within a month or two I would no longer be able to push the bracelets over the bear paws that soon passed for my hands or that even Birkenstocks would become a distant memory. I was literally barefoot and pregnant. By the end of my pregnancy, the small tattoo of a delicate, fluttering monarch butterfly that I had emblazoned on my right hip in high school to coyly peak out over my low-slung, vintage bell-bottoms took on the countenance of an angry pterodactyl.

But after many years of heartache in my inability to conceive, I was simply too overcome with bliss and gratitude to indulge vanity or signs. It’s true – love is blind. Plus, I could no longer see the tattoo anyway.

The boys spent the first week with me in the hospital covered in my salty tears. I thought my heart would burst with the love that I felt for them.

But as the months wore on and my love for Sweetlips and The Bean grew, so ultimately did my fear. It wasn’t until they were on the outside and I was on my own that I had any perception of the physical toll that both the years leading up to and the pregnancy itself had taken. Five months after I gave birth, a flight of stairs left me unreasonably winded and my stomach muscles were so weak that I could not sit up in bed without using my arms to pull myself. Not to mention the fact that I had amassed an enviable wardrobe over the years from keen collecting and editorial swag and if I continued to rely on maternity leggings, my sartorial classics would sadly soon be archived.

One afternoon, when the boys were six months, I laid down for a quick rest while they napped. And as my mind wandered, I began to think about all of their tiny accomplishments – the first time Bean smiled. The determination that Sweetlips exuded as he rocked back and forth until he willed himself to roll over. No matter how clichéd, no one can prepare you for the awe you feel in the miracles that are your children.

And then I thought about the milestones to come. The first time we would take them to the beach or teach them to ride bikes. Their first day of kindergarten and the painful, but proud day when we would drop them off at college. As I imagined my tiny little men one day getting married, I began to weep. I decided then and there that I needed to do whatever was in my power to be there.

The next day, I rejoined the gym, met a trainer who has truly given me strength and then literally began running for my life.

While only a time machine will bring my postpartum stomach and boobs back to their pre-baby state, a man recently shouted at me, “You are the hottest piece of meat on the street!”

I was in a dark and desolate alley, running to catch a train out of Penn Station in the hopes of making it home in time to put my now eighteen-month-old babes to sleep, and this kind man who had just been talking to a garbage can clearly did not have all of his faculties. For all I know he was so inebriated that he was mistaking me for actual sidewalk vendor street meat, but once you are insulted by a fortune cookie you feign ignorance for flattery. Exactly one year had passed since my pledge and I was so elated from the unsolicited, if not in fact delusional, catcall that I shouted, “Thank you!”…. Three times.

From the day that I became pregnant with Sweetlips and The Bean, regardless of life’s many challenges, I have woken up each morning feeling eternally grateful for my unexpected good fortune.

And those words of wisdom that I unwrapped during what seems like a lifetime ago? This week I was amused to find them sitting snuggly in my wallet right where they belonged.

_____________

In the spirit of a healthy lifestyle (and because I don't know how to make fortune cookies), here is my all time favorite cookie recipe:

OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

(POSSIBLY STUFFED WITH NUTELLA & MAYBE SPRINKLED WITH SEA SALT)

*Note: I adapted this cookie recipe from haphazard instructions passed along in an old email chain more than a decade ago and I’ve been baking them ever since. I tried to put them into proper format for you here. They should be golden on the outside and soft and scrumptious on the inside. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

2.5 Cups Oatmeal

1 Cup Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Brown Sugar

3 Eggs

1 Teaspoon Vanilla

2 Cups Flour

2 Cups Flour

1/2 Teaspoon Salt

1 Teaspoon Baking Powder

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

12 Ounces Chocolate Chips

*Nutella (optional)

*Sea Salt (optional)

 

Blend oatmeal in a blender or food processor to a fine powder. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Cream the butter and both sugars. Add all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips to the bowl and mix using a standing or handheld mixer (or serious elbow grease). The “batter” will not appear wet, but somewhat grainy — it should still stick together when you roll it into a ball. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Roll into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. (*Optional Nutella: Press a thumb into the center of each cookie ball. Fill thumbprint with a small teaspoon of Nutella. Press the cookie dough back over the nutella covering the nutella completely and reshape into balls if necessary.) Bake for approximately 15 minutes.

*Optional: Sprinkle with seas salt right when they come out of the oven.

Enjoy!

Chocolate Truffles

I feel a bit dishonest calling the act of making these truffles baking. I'm not even sure that the directions below constitute a recipe. That being said, they are gluttonously delicious and once you get the hang of creating a professional appearing chocolate shell, you will receive gratuitous credit for your abilities...particularly if you present them in fancy little foil wrappers. Don't feel guilty. They may be shamefully easy, but they really taste (and look!) that good.

 

Ingredients:

36 Oreos (not Double Stuffed)

1 8oz package cream cheese (room temperature)

12 oz chocolate chips

Coconut Oil or Vegetable Oil optional

 

 

Line a baking sheet with wax paper and set aside. 

Place Oreos in a food processor and pulse to fine crumbs. Add the cream cheese and pulse until combined and smooth. Remove bowl from processor.

Scoop out about 1 Tbsp of the mixture at a time and roll into 1 inch balls. Place each on the prepared baking sheet. Once all of the mixture has been rolled into balls, place the baking sheet in the refrigerator while preparing the chocolate topping. 

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler making sure not to allow the water to touch the top pot. Mixing continuously will help keep the chocolate from overheating and becoming clumpy or burning.  Note: I like to add a spoonful of coconut oil to keep the chocolate smooth for dipping. This will give the truffles a hint of coconut flavor, which - if you like coconut - is delicious. Alternatively, I add a dash (1 tsp) of vegetable oil to keep the chocolate smooth. 

Remove the truffles from the fridge and, using a small spoon, dip them one at a time into the melted chocolate and then return each to the prepared baking sheet. (I sometimes use a second spoon to pour the melted chocolate over the truffle. The dipping takes a bit of practice for that professional look, but you'll get the hang of it.)

Once all of the truffles have been dipped, return the baking sheet to the refrigerator so they may set.

I like to place the finished truffles in mini foil wrappers for added effect.

Impress and Enjoy!

 

Summer Smoothie

While most newlyweds arrive to their hotel room on their wedding night to a bed strewn with rose petals, mine was romantically scattered with Skittles. Don’t get me wrong, my morning workouts are my lifeline, but when it comes to food, I live like I’m on death row. Truthfully, if they covered our nuptial bed in a heart made out of bacon strips, I would not have felt slighted, but rather satisfied.

In recent years, my sister-in-law has been on a crusade to save me from myself. She’s one of those healthy people with radiant skin, shiny hair, and bright eyes that uses the word “juice” as a verb. As in, “Do you want to juice with me?”

“Is ‘juice’ code for Peanut M&M’s? Then no.”

Aunt Jo Jo, as Sweetlips and The Bean call her, has now made a career out of promoting this healthy lifestyle and I’m becoming her cause célèbre. But I’ve attempted to curb my eating habits before.

You see, as a designer and style editor, I am supposed to be known for being chic, stylish, and sophisticated, not salivating over a meatball sub. So, a few years ago, after so many fashion events watching women put up a manicured hand with a polite, “No thank you,” to the waiter passing out fried cheese balls, while I poshly stood by, tearing satayed chicken off a stick with my teeth, it started to dawn on me that my habits could use an overhaul.

After hearing my plight, a friend suggested I take a go at a new epicurean fad. 

Apparently, with good proteins at its core, it would leave me feeling energized, fit, and ready to hit the gym. The only catch was that I had to trade in sugars and sweets for a yogurt-based smoothie, which I would need to make myself. I am never opposed to smoothies since they are basically one tequila shot away from a frozen margarita. How hard could this be?

Everything started out fine. Since I could enjoy many of my favorite foods, like olive oil, cheese, and even the occasional sausage link, I didn’t feel like I was giving anything up. Besides, I was becoming quite adept at a variety of blended drinks and figured if the whole magazine and design thing didn’t work out I could always franchise a Jamba Juice.

About two weeks into my culinary adventure, I decided to make a romantic dinner for my husband. He is particularly fond of my marinated salmon recipe that calls for a spoonful of sour cream, which in moderation, happened to be an allowed condiment in my new healthy lifestyle. I sent Hubby an email, letting him know that I would be cooking dinner that night and went about my cupcakeless day.

At about 7 pm, I began setting the table and pulling things out of the fridge to prepare for my little lovefest, celebrating the healthy new me.

“Hmm…That’s odd,” I thought to myself, noticing that the sour cream container was ¾’s empty. “I just bought a brand new thing of sour cream this morning. I didn’t think that we had any in the fridge.”

I figured that since I had just bought a fresh container I might as well use it, and began to move things around the shelves, trying to find the new one.

“Where the heck did I put that thing?,” I wondered, hoping that I hadn’t left a container of sour cream to congeal on the backseat of my car all day. Just as I was about to go check, I grabbed something unexpectedly heavy in the refrigerator. Removing the fat-free yogurt container, I fearfully checked the seal.

“You must be kidding me,” I now said to myself out loud, almost too mortified to be in the same room as myself. “No way. It can’t be,” I shouted, now ransacking the fridge, hoping that I would find another half empty container of yogurt in there. 

Not a chance. In my heart of hearts I knew that I had also been out of yogurt that morning. I had gone to the store and bought a fresh container of sour cream and a fresh container of yogurt so that I could have my smoothie at snack time and use a tablespoon of sour cream marinade at dinner.

Oh, say it ain’t so. But it was. That afternoon, I drank a thirst quenching … mouthwatering … lip smacking … sour cream smoothie! And I liked it. I liked it a lot. When I had gotten what I could from the straw, I had pressed the glass to my face and, spinning it, tried to lap up the excess cream with my tongue like a dog with a peanut butter jar. I had even thought to myself it was the best smoothie I ever made.

The worst part was that I am such a junkie I didn’t even notice the difference. And it wasn’t like this was just a spoonful either, it was the main ingredient. I drank eight ounces of sour cream. Why so much? Because I had been guzzling double the recommended portion, not realizing until weeks later when my clothes were getting considerably tighter that the smoothie recipes were for two servings.

I should have known that I was doomed from the start.  I was literally subconsciously drawn to the sour cream like an addict going through lard withdrawal. It was as though my stomach and brain were giving me some sort of intervention. “This is who you are,” they were shouting. “Be comfortable in your clogged arteries!”

I realized that in my attempt to be someone I’m not, my plan backfired, leaving me no more healthy or sophisticated, but self-loathing and licking the remains of 40 grams of fat from my lips.

So, I went back to my regular diet of black coffee and Sour Patch Kids, having seen the error of my psychologically damaging healthful ways. The fact of the matter is that I’m happy with who I am – a designer-clad persona that’s a tad out of my league, but hoping to ride on a whole lot of character.  I’ll drink to that.

________________

“SUMMER SMOOTHIE” with Strawberries and Banana

(adapted from The Abs Diet by David Zinczenko)

Despite my earlier mishap, I still make this smoothie all the time when I want something refreshing and sweet (again, minus the sour cream) and it was one of my go-to’s when I was pregnant with Sweetlips and The Bean. It’s called the “Summer Smoothie,” but I think it’s an energizing and tasty breakfast or midday snack all year round.

***(Alternatively, I now make a quick, non-dairy version of this by simply popping a single banana, a handful of frozen strawberries and coconut water to taste in the blender).

 

And don’t forget…This one serves 2!

Ingredients:

2/3 cup frozen strawberries

1 banana

4 ounces low-fat vanilla yogurt

3/4 cup 1% milk

2 teaspoons vanilla whey powder (Optional)

3 ice cubes, crushed

 

Blend all ingredients until smooth. Yum!

 

 

White Bean Soup

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

(from The Archives - originally published November 11, 2016)

When times are tough, you’ll often find me in the kitchen. And no, not just eating my feelings, although my emergency candy stash does not consume itself. But when I’m truly untethered — at a loss for understanding, for strength, for comfort and for direction — my initial instict after the first waves of emotion ebb, is to grab my cookbooks, rummage through my cabinets for available ingredients and fervently and purposefully cook.

  A favorite image from a couple of years ago, cooking with Sweetlips & The Bean. Lola is under the table waiting for them to drop nibbles. (Instagram: @garlandcollection)

A favorite image from a couple of years ago, cooking with Sweetlips & The Bean. Lola is under the table waiting for them to drop nibbles. (Instagram: @garlandcollection)

It busies my hands and steadies my body that otherwise wants to keep moving but to nowhere and to no end, while the monotous chopping and meticulous recipe following mechanically sorts the madness in my head into a rhythmic order. The primal need to care for and nourish those I love is a way for me to find that center and sharing a meal or a moment with friends and family grounds me and pulls me home.

Cooking a pot pie does not solve the worlds’ problems, but sometimes the cut onions camouflage my tears for my children who expect me to be their compass and the quiet clarity bestowed by the simple concentration of baking cookies…flour…sugar…salt…allows the path forward to come into focus. The coming together that homecooked food inspires — that human connection — refuels and reheartens the detemination to forge ahead tomorrow.

Over the years, I have used this space as a way to connect with all of you and I have very much wanted to get back at it. This felt like a good time to start. You will probably be seeing a lot of favorite recipes again from me in the coming days and I hope that you will try them and take a moment with those you love. For a bit of levity, you may scroll down for more — some hits…and some of my, ahem, misses. If you have a dessert that brings your family and friends together or a souffle that soothes your soul, I would be thrilled for you to also share it here. Everyone is welcome at the table.

Sending LOVE from me and Lola…

I have shared this one before, but it’s one of my all time favorites for a reason:

Adapted from the wonderful The Family Dinner cookbook by Laurie David. A very special cookbook that offers recipes, anecdotes and ways to bring the family together at the table. The book’s gorgeous photographs are by my talented and dear friend Maryellen Baker. I’ve added a few personal *notes on how I’ve used this recipe at my own stove. Enjoy!

 

WHITE BEAN AND TINY PASTA SOUP

by Kirstin Uhrenholdt

8 ounces tiny pasta, like orzo, tiny shells or small macaroni

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped (optional)

1 medium onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 15-ounce cans cannellini or great northern beans, drained (or 5 cups home-cooked beans)

6 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh

Rind of a piece of Parmesan cheese (optional, but very tasty)

1 sprig fresh rosemary

Salt and pepper to taste

*Grated Parmesan (my own addition)

*Kale (my own addition)

Optional Garnishes

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Slices of rustic bread, brushed with olive oil and toasted

Chopped parsley 

TO MAKE 6-8 SERVINGS

In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

Heat up your soup pot and drizzle in enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Sauté the pancetta with the onion until golden. Add the garlic, celery, and carrots and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer under a lid for at least half an hour. (This soup is happy to sit and simmer quietly on your stove for an hour, although you might need to add a little broth.)

Remove the rosemary and Parmesan rind. Puree a cup or two of the soup in your blender. Even easier, stick a hand immersion blender into the soup for a quick moment, just until it thickens a bit. *I spoon a few cups of the soup into a large bowl and use the immersion blender there. This way I don’t over-blend and annihilate all of those hearty white beans.

Fold the cooked pasta into the soup. (If you have little kids, perhaps you should save a bit of pasta and use it as garnish, to assure them that there is something they like in the soup.)  *The soup is so hearty that I actually leave all of the pasta on the side. This way, my husband and I can enjoy the soup on its own and our kids can “make their own soup” by adding it in.

Taste for salt and pepper.

*Notes:

*I also add a bit of grated parmesan to taste as well at the end. And, while it’s to part of the original recipe, I like to add a bit of kale at the end as well.

* I leave the following out, but these are optional garnishes in the original: On the rim of each soup bowl, balance a slice of toast, ladle the soup on top, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and a shower of Parmesan and parsley.

YUM!

Bake Watcha' Momma Gave Ya' + Bolognese

(From the archives)

About a decade ago, I decided that it would be a heartfelt gesture to cook Mike, my then boyfriend, a delicious meal of yummy comfort food. I was in a kitchen of our very own, there was a saucepan in hand, and I was wearing an apron. Having the necessary equipment and dressing the part was half the battle, I decided. So what if I had recently asked my mother “At what temperature do you boil water?”

“Nic, you cannot screw up chili,” my mom assured me through the phone as I began combing over her instructions, which I had transcribed word for word. (i.e. 1. Mush up meat 2. Throw stuff in pot, 3. Brown meat, etc.)

“Mike is going to be so happy when he sees what I have done for him,” I told her, smiling at the thought of my boyfriend entering the apartment with delicious smells wafting through the air.

“I’ll bet,” she said, and then whispered to my dad that she hoped Mike knew the number for Poison Control.

I began gathering together all of the necessary tools – saucepan, large spoon, Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection”, and a glass of wine – and then got down to business.

I mixed together the chopped meat, beans, chili powder, and tomatoes. After what seemed like more time than necessary, the chili just didn’t seem to be taking on the consistency that I had anticipated. The pan looked like it was filled with brown sludge.

I decided that I, being new at this, would have to put aside my pride, and ask my mother when my delicious home cooked chili would actually begin to look like delicious home cooked chili. I reluctantly dialed the parents, daintily took another sip of chardonnay and after further inquiry confirmed that we do indeed have a fire extinguisher. My dad then passed the phone to my instructor, who asked, “What now?”

“I think that you missed a step in the instructions,” I said indignantly, as I looked at my very first recipe card, which had been perfectly decorated and placed in my new, vintage recipe box.

“That’s not possible,” my mother (a.ka. Ms. Perfect) replied. “This isn’t complicated enough to ‘miss a step’,” she added, clearly implying that I was the one missing a step.

“Well, mother, this just doesn’t look like chili.” Boy, I’m asking my grandmother for a recipe next time I thought, and peered into the bubbling brown liquid.

“What does it look like?,” my mom asked.

“Uh, use your imagination,” I answered.

“Ugh. Well, did you brown the meat?,” Mom asked.

“No, I bought green meat, Mom. Of course the meat is brown. I might not cook that often, but my shopping skills have been finely honed.”

“No, did you brown the meat?,” she shrieked.

“What are you talking about?,” I yelled with exasperation and took a large swig from the wine bottle, which I believe should be on the “Tools You Will Need” list in every recipe. “I just said…”

Still cackling, my mom got off the phone to call my grandmother and tell her about my latest misadventure.

“Ha, ha, ha – brown the meat,” I mimicked to myself, spooning a bit of the brown stuff. I felt like Amelia Bedelia. You know, Amelia would be playing baseball and they would tell her to run home and she would actually run to her home.

I was now slamming cabinets, swigging wine, throwing extra beans in the pan in order to thicken the stuff. So, while I was planning to stunningly and seductively serve my boyfriend a bowl of home cooked love, I was tear-stained, drunk, and mumbling curses, while stirring poop. I had even taken off my sexy shoes in order to stamp around the kitchen in fits of Martha-less malaise.

I heard a door slam and a huff of work-related exasperation and I knew that my equally miserable counterpart had arrived home.

“I made you dinner,” I sang into the living room when my boyfriend had plopped into a chair in order to be with his remote.

“You did?,” he said, not attempting to veil his surprise.

“Well, I sort of misunderstood one part of the recipe, but it should be fine,” I lied. “Anyway, don’t you think it’s sweet of me to make you comfort food?,” I asked, batting my eyelashes and waiting for a peck on the cheek as he entered the kitchen. As it turns out, I was dead wrong about two things that night.

“What is that?,” he asked scrunching his nose in disgust.

“Chili to cheer you up,” I chirped, attempting to hold back another rush of tears.

“Where is the meat? Why is it liquid?,” he asked. Apparently, serving your boyfriend food that can pass for sewage does not make him happy, no matter that it was a gesture of love.

 Then, he did the unthinkable. He picked up the sauce spoon, my sauce spoon, and began giving me instructions. No one, especially a man, tells me I’m wrong – and one that can’t cook either! He thought he was miserable at work – I’ll show him miserable!

“Forget it!” I said, now actually crying for affect. Boy was he gonna pay. My mom wouldn’t think I was stupid now.

“I’m going to eat the chili!,” he replied. “I don’t like to waste.” He was going to be a martyr. Eating the food would prove that he puts himself in jeopardy for my inadequacies, including recycling. If I learned one thing from the women in my family, it’s the affectation of martyrdom – and eating bad chili ain’t it.

“I’m ordering Vietnamese,” I yelled dramatically, grabbing for the phone. This had become a battle of wills. No one gets to play the martyr but me. I spent my evening slaving over a hot stove for the man I loved, and the prima donna was going to force me to order him take-out? He was going to eat his words and the chili too.

“I’m eating the chili,” he called out, force-feeding spoonfuls of muck into his mouth, silently pleading that I wouldn’t place the order. He knew that with one delivery from Saigon Grill, I could hold this over his head forever. Just the site of a Julia Child’s rerun ten years from now would be enough of a reminder that I had ammunition. “Remember the night I put my heart and soul into a home-cooked meal for you and you ate Number 78 Bun Xao Chicken instead?”

Through trial and error, I learned two things that evening. The obvious lesson on browning meat was the first test towards competence in the kitchen, but didn’t compare to the greater message. The real coup was realizing that I already was a domestic goddess. I managed to spin a bowl of crappy chili, which was intended to take my boyfriend’s mind off of a bad day, into a symbol of my own sacrifice, hard work, and time, coupled with his obvious lack of appreciation for my continued selflessness. 

 At that moment, I knew I was going to make a great wife.

_____________

It's been many years since that first attempt at bolognese. Since then, I've worked out a few of the original kinks, like not giving Mike food poisoning. Now that I've had quite a bit of practice, Ina Garten's recipe for Bolognese is my Sunday night favorite. Ironically, she calls it "Weeknight Bolognese," but I think it's worth serving any day of the week. 

Here it is...Just don't forget to brown the meat. Wink, wink. 

 

INA GARTEN'S RECIPE FOR "WEEKNIGHT BOLOGNESE"

From the Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?, 2010

 

Ingredients:

2 Tbsps good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta

1 lb lean ground sirloin

4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)

1 Tbsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 1/4 cups dried red wine divided

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferable San Marzano

2 Tbsp tomato paste

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 lb dried pasta

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

 

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.

While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.