Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gnome Cookies

I had to share with you these sweet little gnome sugar cookies made with an adorable cutter from Hammer Song Tin! I might have gotten carried away with the decorating a tinsy bit, but I hope they are a little something to brighten a dreary winter day...

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Baked Apples with Savory Pork Stuffing

I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving. The school year is flying by. Being a first year teacher has its moments to be sure, but most of the time I'm just laughing. Here are some sound bites from inside the hallowed walls of middle school:

5th grader #1: Ms. Cassidy, you look pretty today! You never wear eye makeup. Do you have a date?!
5th grader #2: Ms. Cassidy, are you dating an astronaut?
5th grader #3: Oh! Can he take us to space?

6th grader, after school: Ms. Cassidy, can I ask you a question? If you were dating a guy, would you like, get mad, and stop liking them, if they got in trouble with their parents for doing something stupid and got punished and couldn't go on their date with you? Oh, hold up. Is that Schrödinger on your wall? He invented the electron cloud, you know.

5th grader #1: Ms. Cassidy, I need help. This question doesn't make sense.
5th grader #2: Life doesn't make sense - get used to it!

Me: Sorry, class. I wrote down the wrong assignment on the board. Please erase and copy down this new homework assignment.
5th grader: Get it together, Ms. Cassidy! Did you eat your greens today?

5th grader #1: Ms. Cassidy, Ms. Cassidy! He just made fun of my ethnicity! (points to 5th grader #2)
Me: Explain to me what happened.
5th grader #1: I told him I'm Jamaican and he asked if I be bakin'!
5th grader #2: we're jammin' jammin' jammin' jammin'...

8th grader #1: Ms. Cassidy can I come after school for help today? What time will you be here until?
Me: I'll be here until about 7.
8th grader #2: Ms. Cassidy you need to get a life! You've got nice hair for a white lady - people will be your friend.

Priceless. As is this pumpkin a student gave me <3

Although my kids keep me smiling with their enthusiasm, creativity, and hilarity, I find myself falling into bad cooking habits this autumn, as personal time is eaten away by grading and lesson planning. I'm trying to be better about meal planning on the weekends and eating leftovers throughout the week.

This recipe for baked apples stuffed with pork and breadcrumbs in particular caught my eye because A) it's delicious, B) it's a potential Thanksgiving side dish, and C) it's perfect individual portions for a quick lunch or dinner with some salad (side note: D) I've been grading multiple choice physics tests).

The sweetness and acid from the apples combined with the savory and sumptuous pork, onion, and celery are a feast in one bite. The herbs are what give the stuffing its rich flavor, so make sure not to skimp on those particular ingredients. I can't wait for you to try this one. Enjoy.

Baked Apples with Savory Pork Stuffing
adapted from Canal House Cooking Vol. No. 2

yields 8 - 12 stuffed apples (depending on the apple size)


4 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 celery ribs, chopped
1 pound ground pork
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
leaves from 2-3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
sea salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
8 to 12 apples
fresh parsley for topping

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Cook pork, breaking the meat up with the back of a spoon until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Sir in the herbs and generously season with salt and pepper.  Add the breadcrumbs and toss to combine.

Cut off the top fourth of each apple. Using a small spoon, scoop out the center, removing the core, seeds, and just enough of the flesh to make a nice hollow for the stuffing. Divide the stuffing evenly between the apples, packing it into each hollow. Transfer the stuffed apples to a large baking dish. Dot each apple with a small knob of the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

Bake the apples until the flesh is tender and the stuffing is golden brown, about 1 hour. Serve each apple with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley.
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sautéed Figs with Balsamic Bourbon Glaze and Fresh Ricotta

I can't even begin to describe how amazing this is. So I won't. Just make it. Sooner rather than later.

Sautéed Figs with Balsamic Bourbon Glaze and Ricotta
adapted from Fresh Every Day by Sara Foster

yields 4 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 small fresh figs (I used Mission figs), halved lengthwise
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 shot of bourbon
fresh ricotta cheese
freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt but do not brown the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until sizzling. Place the figs, cut side down, in the butter and sauté for about 1-2 minutes, until they just begin to soften and give off juice. Sprinkle the sugar over the figs and shake the pan to distribute sugar evenly.

Add the balsamic vinegar and bourbon to the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil the liquid for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan constantly, until the liquid becomes slightly think and syrupy. Serve immediately with fresh ricotta cheese and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Enjoy.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chicken Fricassée

Winter is coming. The fall crisp in the air is beginning to dig deeper. Scarves serve a purpose rather than merely to add color to daily wear. I find myself lighting candles and sipping on cider to ease into the cold -- reminders that I'm not in Tucson anymore.

This Chicken Fricassée recipe caught my eye last month in Martha Stewart Living. It's all of the familiarity of chicken noodle soup, just a little fancier (and French-er) and without with starch. The mirepoix and herbs given this dish wonderful flavor, while the mushrooms, wine, and chicken add the earth and girth to the meal.

With only about an hour of combined prep and cook time, Chicken Fricassée can easily be a weeknight meal. I'll be eating it for the rest of the week to be sure.

Chicken Fricassée
adapted from Martha Stewart

yields 4 servings

2 lbs of chicken pieces
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced (1 cup)
3 carrots, diced (1 cup)
4 celery stalk, diced (1 cup)
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dry white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 to 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Season chicken on both sides with 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Preheat a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add butter and the oil to pot. When butter melts and foam subsides, add half the chicken, skin side down, in a single layer; do not crowd pot. (If butter begins to blacken, lower heat.) Fry chicken, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes total, and transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Reduce heat to medium, and add mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) to pot, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Saute mirepoix, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown in places, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms darken, become glossy, and begin to release liquid, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in flour, and cook until flour is absorbed by vegetables and is no longer visible, about 1 minute.

Add wine to pot, and bring to a boil, stirring until liquid just thickens, about 45 seconds. Add broth, and stir.

Place chicken, skin side up, in a single layer on vegetables; pour juices that have accumulated on plate into pot. Add the thyme and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover partially. Cook until internal temperature of thickest part of chicken registers 165 degrees, about 30 minutes. Transfer chicken to a clean plate. Simmer liquid, uncovered, until reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Discard herbs.

To make the liaison (sauce thickener), whisk together egg yolks and cream in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, pour 1/2 cup cooking liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time, into liaison to temper it. Stir tempered liaison into pot.

Return chicken to pot. Add tarragon and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, stir gently to combine, and serve. Enjoy.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Banana Bread & Hurricane Sandy

Today the DC area shut down for Hurricane Sandy. The TV stations are streaming continuous coverage of winds, waves, and water-bottle-less ailses at the grocery stores. Ironically, it was supposed to be "Pajama Day" at school today. Ms. Cassidy still wore her pajamas all day, just not in the classroom.

Have I told you that I have the best roommates? I have the best roommates. Look what we cooked up for lunch today. Moroccan stew, kale chips, and banana bread. Delish!

I eat so much better on hurricane days. Some of us already have cabin fever only after one day of Sandra Dee and are dancing around the apartment to the soundtrack of Grease. You heard it here first: "There are going to be a lot of babies born in 9 months." My favorite Sandy memes so far are:

Also, a good tip: have an apartment warming party two days before you are confined to the indoors for days on end. You will... stay warm... if the power goes out:

Our party had a costume option. I went as Jess from New Girl. I'm glad we got a little Halloween spirit in before the Frankenstorm.

The day off was a great opportunity to get some baking done, something that has become increasingly less frequent since becoming a teacher. I had bananas that I forgot to eat last week so banana bread seemed like a good choice.

Cozy spices of cinnamon and nutmeg along with a hint of vanilla satisfy your fall cravings. A cup of yogurt adds some tang (I used orange and ginger yogurt) and moisture to this otherwise hearty, yet cakey bread. I hope you enjoy and stay dry!

Banana Bread

yields one large loaf or multiple mini loaves

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup yogurt
3 bananas, mashed or pureed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare loaf pan(s) by greasing with butter and dusting with flour. In a large bowl, beat the butter until blended. Add the yogurt, bananas, eggs, and vanilla and beat until evenly combined. Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for one hour before serving.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pumpkin Muffins & The Waterford Fair

Last weekend I went to the Waterford Fair in Waterford, Virginia. This quintessential colonial town turns into an artisanal crafts market for three days every year. Tents and barns filled with pottery, gourd art, jewelry, rugs, paintings, kettle corn, caramel, cookie cutters, flowers, wines, and ornaments are scattered about this picturesque setting. It recalls the beauty of a simpler time.

Just like the Waterford Fair, pumpkin muffins are perfect for a fall day. Browned butter, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon make these muffins taste like a slice of pumpkin pie that's socially acceptable to eat for breakfast. After a few minutes in the oven your house will smell like autumn. A wonderful way to enjoy this treat is with a healthy slathering of apple butter, but if you don't have any, no worries... these flavorful and moist muffins will satisfy the warmth needed from that first fall chill. Enjoy.

Pumpkin Muffins
adapted from Martha Stewart

yields 16 muffins 

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325 F. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until butter turns golden brown. Skim foam from top, and remove from heat. Pour into a bowl to stop the cooking, leaving any burned sediment behind and let cool.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. In another bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, both sugars, eggs, and brown-butter mixture. Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
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