Posted by: meredith | November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Greg and I didn’t go to Atlanta this year for Thanksgiving like we normally do because we were there in October for the wedding, so we decided to have a newlyweds Thanksgiving with just the two of us this year.  We were excited to use our new china and tablecloth, and I got to try out a few new dishes. Here’s a list of what we had:

Brined turkey with white wine gravy (I forgot to take a picture of the whole roasted turkey, but it looked pretty typical): we used Williams Sonoma brine mix and mostly followed this Emeril recipe, with the following differences: 1) I put some rosemary and thyme in the butter I rubbed on the outside of the turkey before baking; 2) I put onion, herbs, and apple in the cavity; 3) I started off the cooking at 425 degrees for 30 minutes with the turkey breast-down, then turned it over and cooked it at 325 for the rest of the time (till the a thermometer in the breast hit 161F). It browned nicely and the meat was very flavorful and moist. Cooking at a high temperature breast-down for a while supposedly helps the juices get into the breast meat and gets the legs cooking so they’re done at the same time as the breast meat. 4) I cut the gravy recipe in half, which was still plenty.

Sweet potato casserole: a classic – not much to say!

Green bean casserole: another classic I insisted on 🙂

Sweet corn bread pudding: we both loved this, and I’ll probably make it again next year. It was similar to cornbread stuffing, but moister.

Cranberry sauce: a variation of the recipe on the bag of cranberries but with the addition of orange zest and juice. Nice and not too sweet.

Caramel pumpkin pie with almond streusel: I was excited to try this recipe from my current favorite cookbook, but I have to say I was a little disappointed — it was good, but the combination of caramel and pumpkin sort of dampened both flavors, such that it just tasted sweet without a distinct taste. I’ll probably go with regular pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie next year. (And yes, I used a frozen pie crust this time — I already had too much to do!)

Nevertheless, it was gone by Friday night 🙂

Finally, we enjoyed some hot apple cider with rum after dessert, which was great on a cold night.



And I’m back! After a brief Daring Bakers hiatus due to wedding- and honeymoon-related activities, I decided I was ready to get going again with the October challenge.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe. You can download the recipe here. We were free to use any cookie flavor and filling combinations we wanted, as long as we made them ourselves.

First, a clarification: macarons are different from macaroons. The latter is a dense coconut cookie, while the former consists of two almond meringue cookies sandwiching a flavored filling. Macarons are becoming increasingly popular in the foodie community (French pastry chef Pierre Hermé is especially known for his wild flavors, like ketchup and wasabi), probably in part because there are infinite variations of flavor and filling combinations.

They’re also pretty advanced baking: the almonds need to be finely ground, the egg whites must not be overbeaten or underbeaten, and the batter must be folded just the right amount. How do you know if you did everything right? It’s all about the feet! The appearance of a little bubbly platform below the rounded dome of the cookie means your macaron is a success.


Piped out macarons prior to baking.

Apparently, the challenge recipe made the feet somewhat difficult to achieve. So, after reading people’s comments, I ended up going with a slight variation on this recipe from Tartelette.

I followed this recipe pretty closely, including making the pumpkin filling (it’s Halloween week, after all!). I even left my egg whites out to “age” at room temperature overnight, which supposedly helps the development of the feet. My only change was to leave out the saffron and added cinnamon and nutmeg to the filling.  The whole process is kind of a pain (fortunately I have my new KitchenAid, which beat up the egg whites in about a minute), what with the egg whites, almond sifting, and piping. I dirtied a lot of dishes, but it was worth it: the macarons had feet!


After baking. Yay, they have feet!

The tops could have been smoother–I had to use a combination of almond meal and sliced almonds chopped in the food processor, and despite a pass through the sifter, there were still some larger chunks left.


Some artistic macaron stacking. See the feet?

I had never had macarons before, so I wasn’t sure how they should taste.  The verdict? They’re pretty sweet alone, but really great with the filling, which is unsweetened. A definite success (and hopefully not beginner’s luck)!

Posted by: meredith | September 14, 2009

“Vampire bite” beet red velvet cupcakes

Tonight was the season finale of True Blood. Since it’s one of my favorite TV shows on the air right now (I’ve also read all the Sookie Stackhouse books out so far),  I decided to have a viewing party. I invited my friend Lil from lab and her boyfriend Ben, who’s also a big True Blood fan (Lil hasn’t watched many episodes but was a good sport while we all sat in rapt silence).

Although you can actually buy True Blood, I thought it’d be fun to come up with our own vampire-themed snacks. So, to go along with the red wine (the drink of Dionysus) and red summer sausage that Lil & Ben brought, I made red velvet cupcakes (southern *and* blood-colored!).  Because I didn’t want to use a lot of red food-coloring, I tried a version that calls for pureed beets instead. But the batter wasn’t really red after I added the cocoa, so I ended up adding a few drops of red food-coloring anyway, which also didn’t help. So they were basically chocolate-colored, but I think the “vampire bite marks” (red-hots) on the cream-cheese frosting made up for it 🙂

Here’s the cupcake recipe I used, which makes a chocolatey, moist cupcake, and here’s the cream cheese frosting. I’m already anxious for the premiere of the third season!


Posted by: meredith | August 29, 2009

Chocolate zucchini bread with bittersweet chocolate chips


Since it’s summer, there have been a lot of zucchini breads posted on Foodgawker recently. That, combined with the zucchini getting old in my fridge and a general craving for chocolate, inspired me to make this chocolate zucchini bread.

I mostly went from this recipe. However, in an attempt to make it even healthier–in addition to grated vegetables and scanty amount of oil–I substituted yogurt for sour cream and whole wheat flour for half the white flour (it could probably be substituted entirely with little difference). I also used bittersweet chocolate chips, which gave a nice richness without being making it overly sweet. This was great for breakfast, especially paired with a big cup of coffee!

Chocolate zucchini bread with bittersweet chocolate chips

{makes 1 loaf}
Recipe adapted from Ourbestbites.

1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1 t baking soda
3 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 c sugar
1/8 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/4 c plain nonfat yogurt
1 1/2 c grated zucchini (I used 2 zucchini)
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips
turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

With a stand or hand mixer beat oil, white sugar, brown sugar, and eggs until combined and slightly fluffy, 1-2 minutes.

Add vanilla and yogurt and mix until combined.

Gently stir in the grated zucchini.

Stir  flour mixture into batter and mix just until combined.  Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake in your preheated 350 degree oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out without gloopy batter on it (but not clean or it’ll be overdone–it should still have a few crumbs stuck to it)

Posted by: meredith | July 27, 2009

Smoky lentils with swiss chard


[Ed. note: I didn’t get a chance to do the Daring Bakers challenge this month, so here’s a substitute post. Enjoy!]

My new year’s resolution this year was to lose weight. My wedding (October 3) was my self-imposed deadline, though I went about the weight loss as a lifestyle change rather than a temporary diet. I started off on Weight Watchers doing the “core plan,” which doesn’t make you count the points of everything you eat. Instead, you can eat as much as you want of certain “core foods” like vegetables, grains, fruit, lean protein, etc., and you have a weekly allowance of extra points for non-core foods.

That worked well and I stuck with it for a few months, but I didn’t want to have to count points (even extra points) forever. So I stopped counting, but continued to lose weight by eating less meat and bringing my lunch to work. I’ve also recently started running and really like it.  I’ve been trying to run 2 miles 3-4 times a week, and I’d like to work up to longer distances and maybe even do a marathon at some point.

I’m proud to say I’ve lost about 25 lbs so far (if I count from my weight right after the holidays). I’m only a few pounds away from my current goal weight, which would put my BMI in the normal range. I tried on my wedding dress, which I bought last fall, this past week when I was in Atlanta. They had had to let it out in January because it was a little too tight at the time. Now it’s way too big and needs to be taken in!

After that long digression, on to the recipe. This is the type of dish I’ve been eating since I started losing weight. I like one-pot meals that can be made ahead of time and eaten as leftovers several times. Lentils are great sources of protein, fiber, iron, and other vitamins and minerals. They definitely fill you up–no meat required. I’ve tried several different lentil recipes and this is my favorite so far. I really like the flavoring with smoked paprika, which gives a nice earthy, smoky flavor that works well with the lentils. I got my smoked paprika (called “Pimenton Ahumado“) at Andronico’s, and places like Whole Foods would probably have it as well. I also added some rainbow swiss chard this time because it was on sale at the store, but pretty much any green (kale, spinach, etc) would work.


Smoky lentils with swiss chard


1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp kosher salt
ground pepper
2 cups lentils, rinsed
6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (or one package, which is ~4 cups, plus 2 cups water)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 bunch swiss chard or other green, chopped
Plain yogurt or sour cream to garnish (optional)


Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and garlic, and cook for a minute or two until fragrant. Add salt and ground pepper (10 grinds or so) and stir, then add lentils, broth, and spices. Stir well and simmer uncovered for ~15 minutes (just to reduce the liquid a bit). Then cover and continue simmering another 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Taste and add salt if needed. Remove and discard bay leaves. Add greens to pot, stir in, and cover to allow greens to wilt for 5 more minutes. Garnish with plain yogurt or sour cream, if desired.

Makes 4-6 meal-size servings.

Variation: I made this once with pre-cooked italian turkey sausage and it worked well. The sausage (either removed from casing and crumbled or just sliced) can be added with the onions and carrots.

Posted by: meredith | June 27, 2009

June Daring Bakers Challenge: Bakewell tart


The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.  Check out their blogs for a discussion of the history behind the “tart…er…pudding” and the recipe.

Basically, the tart consists of a sweet pastry crust filled with a layer of jam and topped with frangipane. Frangipane is an almond flavored filling that, when baked, has a consistency somewhere between sponge cake and custard.  For the challenge, we had to make the crust and frangipane ourselves, but making the jam was optional.

Because I didn’t have a lot of time for the challenge this month,  I just used a storebought blueberry lemon ginger jam for the filling.


I chose it because I wanted a tangy filling to balance out the sweetness of the frangipane, but this jam was still a bit too sweet. Next time I think I’d use something like lemon curd, or else make my own jam with little or no sugar.


Everything came together pretty quickly, which was nice because I made the tart at 6pm on a Wednesday night, and I had plans to go out at 9pm 🙂


I was pretty happy with how the tart turned out overall–everyone in my lab seemed to enjoy it, and it was gone by the end of lab meeting. In the words of my labmate, Lil, “You baked your bakewell very well. It was a well-baked bakewell.”


When we decided to throw a baby shower for Rachel, a post-doc in my lab, I immediately knew I wanted to bake something. Since she’s having a girl, I also knew I wanted it to be pink. So when I found this recipe for pink lady cake on my favorite cooking blog, I knew it would be perfect.


The cake itself is pink due to the pureed strawberries in the batter (plus a drop of red food coloring–I would add a few more drops next time, as it still wasn’t as pink as I was expecting). I was tempted to dye the frosting pink too, but I decided to restrain myself 🙂

Instead, I just wrote “It’s a girl” in pink gel icing and decorated it with fresh strawberries (though I used frozen strawberries in the batter, as suggested in the recipe).


Rachel and her husband Jay cutting the cake.


Overall, I was happy with how the cake turned out, though my amateurish decoration inspired me to look into cake decorating classes 🙂  As you can see, it only had two layers–I made 2/3 of the recipe because I only have two cake pans, and the original recipe calls for three. I also added a layer of strawberry rhubarb jam in the middle, in addition to the frosting, and that worked out nicely.

Of course, being a perfectionist, I did think cake was a little dry, probably due to a slight overbaking. I think next time I’d split the layers to make a total of four, and make more frosting (which was really great). Regardless, the cake was devoured pretty quickly, and I think everyone enjoyed it. Stay tuned for the June Daring Bakers challenge!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.  I’m not sure what makes the cheesecake infamous, but it was a good base recipe for elaboration.  I decided to replicate a really great dessert I’ve had several times at Cafe Rouge: goat cheese cheesecake.


The goat cheese is subtle, but detectable enough to make it interesting. I used a 2:1 ratio of cream cheese to goat cheese, which worked out well, and the red wine poached rhubarb gave a nice acidity to counter the creaminess of the cheesecake.


I do have one admission to make–I knew I wanted to make mini cheesecakes (a huge cheesecake for two people, one of whom is ostensibly on a diet, is not the best idea), and so when I saw the cute mini graham cracker crusts at the store, I couldn’t resist. Hopefully no one will hold that against me (and I’ve included the crust recipe below anyway) 🙂


Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake:

This is the base recipe for the challenge. I cut it in half for my six mini-cheesecakes, using 5 oz of goat cheese and 8 oz of cream cheese for my variation.

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too – baker’s choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done – this can be hard to judge, but you’re looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don’t want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won’t crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Recipe for red wine poached rhubarb (This recipe was good, but next time I would cook the rhubarb less–it ended up pretty mushy. Also, I removed the rhubarb after 10 minutes and reduced the syrup to ~1/2 cup before combining them again and refrigerating.)

Posted by: meredith | March 22, 2009

Irish car bomb cupcakes


I made these cupcakes for our Superbowl party–a Guinness chocolate cupcake topped with Bailey’s frosting sounded like a perfect dessert for a group of (mostly) guys watching football.  But I thought I’d save the post for closer to St. Patrick’s day, so of course I’m now late 🙂

I’m sure no one minds, though, because people love cupcakes year-round.  The original recipe from Smitten Kitchen (now dubbed “chocolate whiskey and beer cupcakes” due to some controversy on that blog about the name) actually called for a filling of chocolate ganache mixed with whiskey–the cocktail, the “Irish car bomb”, consists of Guinness, Bailey’s irish cream, and whiskey. But I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle of whiskey to make this, and I thought the filling might make it too rich.  I actually wish I had done it, though, because the cake part wasn’t very sweet on its own, so I think the addition of the filling would have made it just right.  They were good anyway (the topping is a just shaved chocolate for decoration), but maybe I’ll try them again with the filling–especially since I have a whole bottle of Bailey’s left over!


Posted by: meredith | March 9, 2009



Occasionally I like to embrace the Jewish part of my heritage (on my mom’s side), albeit usually in food form — bagels, lox, pastrami sandwiches, etc. So when I found out that last Friday/Saturday was Purim, I decided to make Hamantaschen. These triangular cookies supposedly resemble either the hat or ears (depending on who you ask) of Haman, the villain of the Purim story. They usually consist of a shortbread or sugar cookie-like dough filled with jam or poppyseed filling.  The dough I used leans more toward shortbread, but I really enjoyed it because it stayed moist and slightly tender.

I decided to do the traditional poppyseed filling (my fiancé Greg’s favorite)  along with a few cherry jam-filled ones. The poppyseed filling was tricky–most recipes call for grinding the poppyseeds using a coffee grinder, then cooking them in milk and sugar. But since I don’t have a coffee grinder,  I found a recipe that supposedly didn’t really require grinding. Instead, you boil the seeds once and let them sit in hot water for an hour, then drain that water and cook them in the aforementioned milk and sugar. Then, at the end, you puree them in the food processor to get more of a paste. Maybe I have a crappy food processor, but it didn’t seem to do much of anything to the seeds except spray them all over the lid. Still, even without that final puree, the filling turned out fine — the flavor was great, though it did stick a little in your teeth.   As for the cherry filling, the jam I used ended up boiling out of most of the cookies. I think the key is moisture content — the poppyseed filling is relatively dry and so stayed put. I’ve read that pie filling is better, so maybe I’ll try that next time.

p.s. I’ve been remiss in posting — it’s been over a month (since I didn’t do the Feb. Daring Bakers challenge)! To make up for it, check back soon for Irish car bomb cupcakes!


Gil Marks’ Cookie Dough Hamantaschen

1/2 cup + 3 Tbs butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 Tbs orange juice, or sweet red wine, or a water/lemon juice combo [I used 2 T lemon juice and 1 T water]
1 tsp vanilla extract or grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
About 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
About 1 1/2 cups filling — poppyseed, jam, pie filling, etc.

Beat the butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy (5-10 min). Beat in egg. Blend in juice (or wine, or water), vanilla (or zest), and salt. Stir in flour.
Wrap dough in a plastic wrap and chill until firm, 1 hour minimum. At this point, it can be fridged for days or frozen for months. Let stand at room temperature for several minutes, until workable but not soft.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
For easy handling, divide the dough into 4 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece 1/8″ thick. Using a 3 inch glass (ish), cut out rounds. Reroll the scraps.
Place 1 tsp of filling in the center of each round. Pinch the bottom side of the dough round together over the filling. Fold down the top flap and pinch the two other sides together to form a triangle, leaving some filling exposed in the center. Hamantaschen can be prepared ahead to this point and frozen for several months. Defrost before baking.
Place the Hamantaschen 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 13 minutes. Let cool completely.

Makes about 30-40 small cookies.

Poppyseed filling
Adapted from How To Bake by Nick Malgieri
Yield: 1 1/2 cups [I halved this and had enough to fill 3/4 of my cookies — the rest I filled with jam]

1 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Place the poppy seeds in a saucepan and cover them with three cups of water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover the pan, and allow the seeds to soak for an hour.

Drain all the water off the soaked seeds and add the pareve milk, sugar, and butter. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring occasionally, and cook until the mixture becomes fairly thick and you can easily see the bottom of the pan while stirring (this took about 30 minutes for me). Allow mixture to cool.

Puree the filling in a blender or food processor, making sure that most of the seeds are reduced to a paste (as I said above, this didn’t really happen for me).  Right at the end, add the raisins and cinnamon and pulse until the raisins are finely chopped. Filling can be stored in refrigerator for several days or freezer for several months.

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