Friday, February 28, 2014

Recipe | The PERFECT Peanut Butter Cookie

Oh my goodness! These cookies are amazing!  Really, truly, incredibly, delicious.  I'm always a bit hesitant to over-hype a recipe because I get a bit more excited about food than the average person, but in the case of these cookies, I feel confident that even my excessive expletives don't do them justice.  Yeah, that good.  If you like peanut butter anything, then they are worth a try.  And since next week is supposed to bring record freezing temperatures, again, what else is there to do but hang out by a warm oven and bake.  Once spring arrives it is going to be salads. everyday. every meal. To make up for all the sweets consumption around here.  But till then....

The recipe comes from my friend, Heather, who made them for a bake sale last year and  mentioned they were her husband's favorite.  I took one bite and was in cookie heaven.  I have looked for other recipes in my usual sources - Ina, epicurious, Martha, and a few trusted baking blogs, but none really seemed to knock it out of the park like this recipe.  Maybe it is the addition of the fresh ground, roasted peanuts, or the generous quantity of brown sugar, who knows, but they are spot on.  Just enough crispiness around the edges, but chewy in the the middle.  Loads of texture, a nice balance of salty and sweet. These cookies can do no wrong.

^^ use Extra Crunch Jiff, I have not found an all-natural crunchy PB that tastes even close ^^
^^allow at  least 2.5 inch spacing between cookies. they spread when baking^^

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies
(adapted from: The Best Recipe Cookbook, Cooks Illustrated)

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 lb (2 sticks) salted butter
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup Extra Crunch Jiff Peanut Butter, at room temp
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup roasted, salted, peanuts (I used lightly salted), ground in food processor to resemble bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350, place rack in middle. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour through salt, set aside.

Beat butter and sugars in an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment for 5 minutes.  Beat in peanut butter, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, until fully incorporated.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add dry ingredients until just combined.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to finish mixing, making sure it is all combined, then fold in ground peanuts.

Working with generous 2 TBS at a time, roll dough, with your hands, into balls and place on parchment lined baking sheet. (careful to space cookies 2.5 inches apart) Add criss-cross pattern on top using the tines of a fork.  Bake cookies for 10-14 minutes.  Mine took 13 minutes, to just turn edges golden.  (I allowed my cookies to sit in cold garage for about 15 minutes before baking.  This is not necessary but might be why they took a bit longer to cook.)  They will not look completely cooked when you take them out of the oven.  Remove from oven and let cookies set on pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day | Dinner Party Menu + Recipes | My Favorite Valentine

I hope that you got the chance to spread (and feel) a little extra love on Friday!  The boys had their school parties on Thursday, which was nice, because it freed up my Friday afternoon to prepare a special dinner for them, without feeling like I also had to wrap up classroom Valentines.  Speaking of which, each year I feel inspired to do something a little extra cute, and each year when the day comes, I kind of regret taking it on.  Anyone else with me?  All the sugary treats that come home that day, all the little cards and plastic knick-knacks that get tossed in the trash two days later.   The kids do NOT care how adorably packaged their treats are, or if they were homemade, or if all their food items for the day come in the shape of hearts.  I think somewhere between the good intention of wanting to make the day special for our children and the bombardment of creative ideas on the Internet, we might have forgotten what is really most important to them - our time and attention.  So with that in mind, I'll be skipping the extra class treats next year, just doing a simple, fun card (nothing that requires fancy printing, hot glue, or multiple trips to the craft store or etsy shops).  I will reserve the baking and fancy packaging for my family and a few special friends.  There, I've said it, so hold me to it. :) And I'm giving you permission to do the same.  Because as much as I enjoy doing it, anything that requires baking and wrapping up 40 packages of treats, starts to feel a little too much like an assembly line for me and less of a joyful endeavor.  Now, all this to say, I adore Valentine's Day, don't be confused.  There are few things as sweet as all the little kiddos walking into school with their empty, artfully decorated boxes at the start of the day and returning home with them full of tiny cards.  I absolutely love it.  When I picked up Charlie from nursery school on Friday we went out for pizza together and sat at the counter reading each and every card with all the little scribbled names.  His favorites were those that came with Transformer tattoos.  Then we watched a gaggle of birds lunch on a bag of popcorn from the movie theater next door and we made up all sorts of stories about them having their own little Valentine's Day party.  It was a good day.

Friday, I spent the afternoon making a dinner that included favorites from each of my Valentines.  It is a great dinner party menu even if you aren't dining with children.  Rosemary & Garlic Rack of Lamb, Herbed Stuffed Tomatoes, Mashed Potatoes and Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert.  I didn't take any food prep pictures because I wanted to just enjoy my time alone in the kitchen and prep without stopping to take photos. (First the class treat and now the pictures, maybe I'm just getting lazy. Ha!)

Here are the details.

Rosemary & Garlic Rack of Lamb
2 racks of lamb, trimmed and cut into individual chops
5 gloves of garlic
2.5 tsp of chopped, fresh rosemary
3 TBS olive oil
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh, ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, until garlic is finely chopped.  Lay the chops in a single layer on a large,  foil lined, rimmed, sheet pan  Spread marinade over each side of the chops. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-5 hours.

Preheat broiler, broil chops 4-5 inches from heat source, until desired temperature.  (anywhere form 3-4 minutes per side to 10 minutes per side, depending on how hot your broiler is and how cooked you want them.  The first time you make this recipe, start checking after 3 minutes.  The second side usually requires less cooking time.  We like ours a bit charred and no longer pink.  They are even better made on the grill!  But this time of year the broiler does just fine!

*A word about this recipe...this is one of my children's favorite meals.  It is almost always on someone's birthday dinner wish list.  Before we had children, it was one of my go to dinner party recipes too because it is so easy and looks so pretty presented on a plate.

Right now Trader Joe's has racks of lamb from New Zealand (which is the very best, according to my Mum) at a decent price!!

Herbed Stuffed Tomatoes
(this is a very flexible recipe. I've never actually measured the ingredients, so add more or less of what you like and switch up the fresh herbs too, except parsley is a must.  Taste the filling before you add it to the tomatoes to adjust the seasoning or herbs.)

4 tomatoes, with the core and seeds removed
3 cups of fresh breadcrumbs (I like to use a 2 day old, rustic Italian bread with the crusts removed.  Just cube bread and pulse it in the food processor till you get coarse crumbs.  If you are using fresh bread, it is best to toast the bread crumbs lightly in a dry pan.  If bread is a day or two old, that is not necessary.)
1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
1 TBS chopped fresh Thyme
2 TBS chopped fresh basil
1/4 - 1/2 cup coarsely ground Parmesan cheese (also in food processor)
3 TBS olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 325.
Place tomatoes in a small baking dish.  Combine bread crumbs, herbs, olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Stuff filling in each tomato and drizzle the tops with additional olive oil.  Bake at 325 for about 45-60 minutes, till tops are golden brown.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coffee Liqueur, link to recipe is here.
This was one of the first desserts I made over and over again in the early years of our marriage.  We came to call it "Slice of Heaven Cake." It is especially amazing served with coffee ice cream and fresh whipped cream.  And it can easily be made a day in advance.

Lastly, I had to share the sweet, little Valentine that Andrew gave to Jimmy and I.  It was my favorite, videos beat cards any day...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Decorating Inspiration | Slipcovers + Seat Skirts for Dining Room Chairs

I have a list of decorating/home updating projects for 2014.  Some are carry-overs from 2013 (downstairs powder room, new family room sofa), others have been on the list since we moved in  (Andrew's BR, Jimmy's office).  When it comes to decorating, I need to feel inspired and motivated (oh yeah, and money too), so sometimes my intended plans get pushed back or my style changes ever so slightly and it makes me reconsider my original ideas.  When you know you are going to be living in your home for a long while there is less of a rush.  I like to enjoy the process, not feel pressured to make decisions or purchases until I'm sure.  So while I have more pressing decorating needs, I continue to  tweak rooms that I thought were more finished, if anything in the home is ever really finished.

My dining room is a great example.  I loved it when I posted it here after working with Holly to freshen it up.  But with time the red check valance started to feel too heavy, so I exchanged it for lighter linen drapes.  Next was the table, I found a beautiful antique harvest table at auction (when I was looking for something else) and jumped on it. Last fall I replaced the toile pillows with a luscious gray velvet with pretty pleated trim.  I still love the toile but I was craving a more neutral and un-fussy palette in the dining room.  While I love beautiful fabrics and patterns (they are my weakness and more often than not, make a space) the one room that they can be tricky in is the dining room, especially if you use the room daily like we do.  Busy patterns on drapes or upholstery can limit the options for napkins and tablecloths, even flower arrangements, and the room can feel too busy very quickly (with mine there is also a lot of art and blue and white transferware competing for attention).  The most recent change were the chairs.  The black Windsor reproductions were 16 years old and in need of some repair.  Before we decided to fix them, I started looking at some other options.  I came across 4 antique chairs on Craigslist that were calling my name.  I put in an offer and it was promptly rejected.  I waited another 6 weeks and noticed they were still there, so I made my original offer again and it was accepted!  When it's meant to be, it will be.  Patience is key to building a home or room that evolves over time.  So hard sometimes, though!!
^^wonderful patina, a very pretty shape to the back, and those claw feet in the front! ^^

^^When we are having a party, I love how they will mix with the ladderbacks and slipcovered Parson chair.  Our table seats 8, a little cozy, but I do adore a full table!^^

The chair seats were covered in a heavy, outdated, turquoise fabric.  I removed this immediately (grrr, there were so many staple and nails, it was a tedious task) and replaced it with a natural linen I had on hand.  My plan is to have slips made for the seats in an oatmeal linen.  Eventually, I will probably recover the attached seats again (I only used a few staples and NO nails, so it will be a snap!) in something a little more interesting, maybe a stripe or check or toile (like this one that Holly introduced me to for something else and I didn't use it, but I still think about it!!) for those occasions that I want something a little more fun. (What was I saying earlier about limiting pattern in the dining room?  A girl full of contradictions.  Welcome to my madness.  Beware of taking my advice! Ha. :)) As for the slips, here is some inspiration.

^^ I'd only cover the seat, not the back, but I like the tailored look of these with the corner pleats^^

^^ so simple with dainty banding and buttons ^^

^^ I keep coming back to these, love them ^^

^^How many times have I posted this DR on my blog?! These slips are a favorite too^^

^^ this chair shape most closely resembles ours, I love the idea of box pleats and banding too^^

^^ ignore the bed, but check out chair on the left, I love the mass of pleats^^

Stay tuned... I keep changing my mind, but I will settle on something soon.. I'd like this room to be finished.  Ha ha.  Just kidding, tweak, tweak, tweak, that's the name of the game....

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Recipe | Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies with a Secret Ingredient

Just in case sugar cookies are on your to-do list over the next week, I wanted to share a new (to me) recipe for cut-out cookies that I think taste extra special.  I mentioned a few posts back that I had started using a new cookie recipe even though I had one I really liked and trusted.  The "if it ain't broke, why fix it" mentality clearly doesn't apply to my cooking + baking,  I'm a perpetual recipe tinkerer and tweaker, it's what keeps things interesting and helps me to feel creative in the kitchen.  The new recipe is from Williams-Sonoma, I came across it via pinterest back in the fall.  I was curious to see what the addition of cardamon did to the overall taste of a cut-out cookie.  I love how an unexpected ingredient can make a huge difference in a recipe, as it does in this case.  I've made them now about 5 times, you can't taste cardamon in the cookie, but you can taste that there is something special.  They even taste good un-iced.  So, are they better than my other recipe? Maybe.  If you are a sugar cookie lover, you'll have to try and compare for yourself.  I've got one child that still prefers the old recipe and another that votes this one as his favorite "of all time".

today's snow day was spent decorating cookies. again. see a snow day theme in our home?!

Recipe | Cardamon Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
(Source: Williams Sonoma)

For the cookies:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

To make the cookies, in a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom; set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix until just combined. 

Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or as long as overnight. 

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets parchment paper. 
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 2 inches apart, and bake until just golden around the edges, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes, then remove the cookies from the pans and let cool completely. 

Makes 10 to 20 cookies, depending on cutter size.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Recipe | Party Food | Warm Caramelized Onion Dip with Bacon + Gruyere

I have exactly 15 minutes before I need to be in the car and on my way to pick up Charlie from nursery school.  Can I churn out a post that fast?  Let's see...  February is always a month that I'm very short on time to blog (though I've got a ton of posts running through my head!).  There are lots of activities with my boys and little time for Mama.   That's ok, it's what I do.  :)

On Sunday, I made this dip and had several requests for the recipe, so I'm sharing it here.  I think (though not 100% sure) that the original source is Southern Living.  I modified the recipe a smidgen and it turned out to be exceptionally addictive, perfect football watching food.

Warm Caramelized Onion Dip with Bacon + Gruyere
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 large yellow onions, halved and sliced thinly
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 sea salt
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh minced thyme
4 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
3/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400.   (Dip can also be made in advance and cooked later)
Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet over med-high heat (do no use a non stick pan).  Add onions, sugar and salt and soften till they turn just a golden.  Reduce heat to med low and cook an additional 15-20 minutes until then onions turn a deep golden brown.  Stir in vinegar, scrapping up brown bits on bottom of skillet to deglaze the pan.  Cook, stirring often, until vinegar is reduced by half.  Stir in thyme.

Combine cheese, sour cream, mayo and pepper in a medium bowl.  Add cooked onions and crumbled bacon, stir to combine and transfer to a 2 cup baking dish. (Cover and refrigerate at this stage if baking it later.)

Bake 20 minutes, until the mixture bubbles and top is slightly golden.

Serve with toasted baguette slices or chips.

Done.  Fasted blog post ever.  Have a great Tuesday!!!  xo