Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This recipe is for Logan, because somehow during his stay we did not make a single sweet treat. How ungodly a sin is that? He requested a recipe for snickerdoodles, and this one from Martha Stewart is definitely a winner. They're dense and almost cakey. All around wonderful for sure.

They're just one of those childhood cookies that remind me of my Nana's house, especially warm and fresh from the oven. Comfort cookies for sure. I love to enjoy them with a cup of tea in the evening. Won't you join me?

adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies

makes 2 dozen

2 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups + 2 Tbs. sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. cinnamon

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture until combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Combine remaining 2 Tbs. sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1 1/2 inch balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place on greased or lined baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden.

Remove to wire racks to cool after 5 minutes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Beef Empanadas

Well, Logan came and went, and we made some delicious food and drank lots of delicious wine and ciders. Mushroom raviolis were an adventure (they turned out slightly deformed but delicious) but our masterpiece of the weekend was definitely these beef empanadas.
Not all of them were beautiful, but by the second batch we got them looking presentable. And honestly, it wouldn't have mattered if these looked horrendous, because they taste amazing. A nice golden crust filled with meat, cheese, potatoes and onions...what's not to love?

Beef Empanadas
adapted from Handle the Heat
Makes about 40 empanadas  

For the Dough:
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups butter
 5 1/2 cups flour
1 Tbs. salt
1/4 tsp. paprika

For the Filling:
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon paprika
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 pound ground beef (85-90% lean)
salt and pepper to taste 

2 small russet potatos, peeled, finely diced, and boiled (about 10-15min.)1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese (or white cheddar)

For the dough:
Heat water and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until butter has melted. Mix flour, salt, and paprika in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour a little of the warm butter mixture in and stir with fingertips to make a wet paste. Pour in remaining liquid and work the dough with your hand until you get a wet, oily dough. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

For the filling:

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onions, garlic and spices until the onion is soft, about five minutes. Add beef, season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, and cook until beef is browned. Drain off the fat. Place filling in a large bowl and when cooled, add potatoes. Mix to combine.

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a large baking pan with non-stick spray or line with parchment. Divide dough into about 40 golf-sized balls. Using a rolling pin and plenty of flour, roll out dough balls into 5″ circles. Place 3 tablespoons of filling in the center of each dough circle. Sprinkle filling lightly with cheese. Fold over and press edges firmly to seal. Crimp with the back of a fork. Place empanadas on baking sheet and bake until golden brown, 15-20 minutes.*

*Notes: these can be frozen and baked from the freezer, simply add 10-15 minutes onto baking time. To reheat empanadas, bake at 350 for 5-7 minutes until hot (don't microwave them or they will burn something fierce, I learned the hard way).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Olive Garden Breadsticks

I have an unnatural love of Olive Garden breadsticks. I mean, it borders on obsession. My only problem is, I really hate Olive Garden. They hiked up their prices and it's like $10 for their soup, salad and breadsticks deal. Want some Alfredo dipping sauce with that? Add another $10 (because seriously...you need at least two and they're now five bucks a pop). I'm too poor to pay that much for bread and bag-salad smothered in Italian dressing. The soup...not worth it in any way. I eat it because it comes with my meal.

Plus, as of late the waiters no longer ask you if you'd like more breadsticks. You have to flag them down and demand more breadsticks like a serious fatty. While I'm not above doing so, I'd much rather have endless breadsticks placed in front of me. You should assume I want another bread basket. Stop. Judging. Me. Yes I want those smothered in Alfredo sauce, are you joking me?

Then, I found this recipe. These breadsticks seriously taste like Olive Garden breadsticks. Add a little homemade Alfredo sauce or marinara and you are good to go. I have finally broke free of Olive Garden and can eat my sauce smothered breadsticks sans judgement (and budget breaking).

Olive Garden Breadsticks
adapted from Full Bellies, Happy Kids

 For Breadsticks:
1 1/2 cups warm water (between 110 - 120 degrees F)
1 package active dry yeast
2 Tbs. sugar
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For Brushing:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. table salt

In a liquid measuring cup, dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for ten minutes (mixture should be very frothy).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and salt. Pour yeast mixture and melted butter into the flour mixture. Mix with a paddle attachment until combined. Knead for a few minutes, just until smooth.

Divide dough into 16 portions and roll into the shape of breadsticks. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Meanwhile, melt butter with garlic powder and salt in a small saucepan for brushing.

Bake breadsticks at 400 for 6 minutes. Brush with butter mixture and return to the oven for an additional 6-8 minutes, until golden brown. Brush with remaining butter. Serve warm.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins

These have long been my favorite muffin. I spent my early college years searching for a good blueberry muffin recipe, and quite frankly I think I found the best. These blueberry coffee cake muffins are amazing. They have a sweet, slightly cake-like base and are studded with plenty of blueberries. They are wonderful fresh, but I love them the next day when the tops are slightly moist and chewy like the giant Costco muffins my mom used to get. Delish, for reals.

The recipe makes 18 muffins, which is great for sharing with friends and family. I always make these muffins when people come to stay. Speaking of which, Logan, my wonderful food loving best friend since 6th grade should be on his way to Nevada right about now. I'm not quite sure what kind of amazing food we'll be making, but I promise I will be sharing our kitchen adventures. I'm thinking some homemade Olive Garden breadsticks and fresh mushroom raviolis may be in order. Perhaps some brownies...or cupcakes...the possibilities are endless. I am excited. We'll break out the cookbooks when he gets here.

But in the meantime, start your day off with one (or two, or three) of these bad boys.

Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins
 adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)

 Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. On low speed, add the eggs, on at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla, sour cream and milk.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gradually mix into creamed mixture just until combined. Toss blueberries with 1 tsp. flour to coat. Fold blueberries into batter with a spatula.

Fill 18 lined muffin cups with batter. Bakefor 25-30 minutes, until tops of muffins are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Skillet Pastitsio

This, quite frankly, is comfort food at its finest.

 I've been on a bit of a dessert craze lately, so I figured it was time to bring back some savory dinner food on the blog. And since I've spent so much time on dessert, I made sure I came back to dinner with a bang. Enter this delicious, creamy, meaty pasta dish of the gods.

I'm a sucker for high calorie pasta dishes. I eat them like they're going out of style. And if I had to choose only one to eat for the rest of my life, this would probably be it. I fall in love with it all over again, every time I make it. It's creamy, lightly spiced, hearty and all around delicious.

Skillet Pastitsio
adapted from Cooking for Two 2010 (Cooks Illustrated)

8 oz. ground beef
1 small onion, minced
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 lb. macaroni (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 tsp. cornstarch
3/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 475

In a non-stick 12" oven-safe skillet, cook the ground beef over medium heat until no longer pink, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer meat to a bowl and set aside. 

Return skillet to the heat and add onion, cinnamon and nutmeg, and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano, cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, water, 1/4 cup cream and salt, then return the beef to the skillet. Increase heat to high and simmer vigorously, stirring often, until pasta is tender 9-12 minutes.

Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup cream and cornstarch together in a small bowl, then stir into skillet and continue to simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in 1/4 cup cheese; season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the top. Bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

It's starting to feel like fall around here. 
The leaves on our tree are starting to change colors. 
The days have been cool and overcast. 

So clearly it is time to start fall baking. And what better place to start than with these chewy molasses cookies from Martha Stewart's cookie cookbook. They have that fantastic gingersnap taste but have crisp edges and a chewy interior. They are marvelous. Enjoy them with a cup of tea or coffee and they somehow get even better...but dunk them in a glass of milk, and I'm in heaven. Seriously.

If it's a chilly, gray day where you are try some of these simple cookies to warm up your day.

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

makes about 3 dozen

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for rolling
2 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Beat together butter and sugars on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in molasses and oil. 

Whisk together dry ingredients. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add flour mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour (or up to 24) until firm. 
Preheat oven to 325. Shape dough* into 1 inch balls and roll in additional sugar. Place 3 inches apart on a silicon lined baking sheet. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until edges are set but centers are still firm. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

*If dough becomes too soft to handle during this process, put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before forming cookies.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lemon Meringue Pie

Oh Lemon Meringue Pie...

What can I say? It's one of my favorite pies. 

I think it's tied at the top with pumpkin.
Apple comes in second.
Blackberry, a close third. 

But hey, that's just me. 

For a long time I wasn't a huge fan of lemon meringue pie. I never really had one that blew me away. But now that I know the joy of a good lemon meringue...I could eat it day and night. 
(often I do...dessert one night, breakfast the next...don't judge me.)

It involves a lot of dishes, but it's definitely worthwhile. The buttery flaky crust filled with sweet tangy lemon curd and topped with a light marshmallow-y meringue...it's perfection. The one pictured above wasn't quite lemony enough for me, I have since doubled the curd, and it is fantastic.

Seriously, if you've never been thrilled with lemon meringue pie, try this one on for size. I'll bet you can't resist it.

Lemon Meringue Pie
a Gemma Louise original recipe

1 baked pie crust

For the lemon curd:
2 cups sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. lemon zest
12 large egg yolks
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed

For the meringue:
6 egg whites
1 cup sugar

For the curd, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, zest and egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a bowl of simmering water to create a bain-marie. Heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture thickens considerably. It should coat the back of a spoon and a trail should stick when you run your finger through the coating. (about 172 degrees F)

Remove curd from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes. Add the cubed butter and whisk until completely incorporated. Pour filling into the pre-baked pie crust.

For the meringue, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks start to form. Add sugar gradually and beat until glossy peaks form. Spread meringue over lemon curd, making sure to "attach" meringue to the pie crust so it doesn't separate after baking.

Bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, until the meringue is golden. Serve chilled.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blue Ribbon Blackberry Pie

I have been dying to share this recipe with you. The Cazadero blackberries stored in my freezer from the early August picking have been calling my name forever. But I knew I had to wait. The Labor Day Lumberjack Barbeque would soon be upon us, and I had a feeling this pie would be a blue ribbon winner.

And you know what? It was.
I am now the reigning champion pie baker of the Old Cazadero BBQ.
It didn't just win the berry pie competition, it won best over-all.
I even beat my grandma's pie.
Oh yeah, it was that good.

It flew off the dessert table before I ever got a chance to try it.
 Someone even paid $2 to eat the leftover crumbs and berry juice.
Flaky golden crust, a perfect filling, the best berry of all time. 
It's a winner in my book.

Blackberry Pie
adapted from Cooks Illustrated but mostly my own creation

6 c. blackberries, divided (fresh or frozen is fine)*
1 granny smith apple, peeled and large grated
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbs. instant tapioca
1 large egg beaten with 1 tsp. water
2 Tbs. butter or margarine, cut into small pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 with a baking sheet on the middle rack. Roll out the bottom portion of pie dough and place in a 9-10" pie pan. 

Place 3 c. berries in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce down to 1 1/4 c. about 12-15 minutes. 

Place grated apple in a towel and wring dry. In a large bowl, combine apple, cooked and uncooked berries, lemon zest and juice, sugar, tapioca and a pinch of salt. Transfer mixture to unbaked pie crust. 

Scatter butter over filling, top with the other portion of rolled pie dough. Pinch edges to seal. Brush with egg wash. Cut slits in the top of the pie crust to vent. Foil edges to prevent burning.

Place on the heated baking sheet and bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue to bake 30-40 minutes, until juices bubble and the crust is a deep golden brown.

*This recipe works for any variety of berries. I originally tried it with blueberries, and it is delicious.

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