Monthly Archives: July 2011

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

I’m baking.  In every sense of the word.  It’s 90 degrees outside, I live on the top floor and I have the oven on.

Crazy?  Crazy good!

I’m baking these lovely little chocolate cookies I sort of invented, which I call Mexican Hot Chocolate cookies because they contain cinnamon and chili powder. I actually got the base recipe from Joy the Baker, who is all types of amazing.  Seriously.  Check her out…right after you read this post, of course.  I started with her Whole Wheat Brown Sugar Sugar Cookie recipe about a month ago, and quickly found that, as much as love whole wheat flour, I don’t love whole wheat flour in cookies.  Not even a little bit.  (I still ate them…all of them.)

So I started tinkering, and I think this final product is close to a winner.  I’m still tinkering.  For instance, flax meal in cookies (like I just tried) is really not much better than whole wheat flour.  Keep the butter.  Also I made this last batch gluten-free, because dear old Christine is having another party and she doesn’t eat wheat.  And, of course, I added chili and cinnamon and vanilla and a bunch of other stuff because I’m a spice girl and plain chocolate cookies sounded terribly boring.

So.  Make these.  Play with them.  Play with EVERYTHING.  If you’re not feeling the spice, I also once made a White Chocolate Mocha batch, with instant coffee and white chocolate chips.  But you should definitely try these first.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies (adapted from Joy the Baker)

  • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour*
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter (I tried 6 T butter plus 5 T flax meal…it’s alright but I’d stick to the original)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

*If you’re making these gluten-free, use 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons all-purpose gluten-free flour (like Bob’s Red Mill) plus a heaping 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum.  When baking cookies, the rule is generally 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum for every cup of gluten-free flour.

First of all, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Then mix your dry ingredients in a bowl: the flour (or flour plus xanthan gum), cocoa, salt, baking powder, chili powder, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Then, in another bowl, cream together your butter and sugars (Joy’s recipe uses a mixer, but I don’t own a mixer.  Not even a hand mixer.  Improv!  It helps if the butter is well-softened.).  Add the vanilla and egg.

This is an informative picture, huh?  When it’s nice and smooth, dump in the dry ingredients and stir.  It can take a lot of muscle to incorporate these ingredients thoroughly.  You can do it.  When it’s all mixed up and lookin’ fine, add the chocolate chips.  Eat a few out of the bag, too.  Just to test them.

I found it kind of hard to incorporate the chocolate chips, actually.  They kind of didn’t want to be in the dough.  Maybe it was the flax meal.  Don’t fret if this happens, just keep folding and stirring and be aware of your chippage when you put the dough on the cookie sheet…which is the next step.  Joy’s cookies are rolled, but I’m kind of lazy and chocolate chips aren’t very rollable.  I just plunked little teaspoonfuls of dough onto a cookie sheet and patted them down with my fingers, until they were about a half inch high and an inch and a half round.  You can squeeze a lot onto one cookie sheet because they don’t really spread.

Then bake them for 10-12 minutes and you’re done!  They come out kind of crunchy on the outside, a little soft on the inside, like little biscuits.  This makes a little over two dozen cookies, at 70-75 calories apiece, depending on what your ingredients are and how many you actually get.  They’re just a little spicy, just a little sweet, and you even get a hint of salt at times.  Since they’re small and dense they travel easily…perfect for parties!

So now you know.  Make it happen.  Make it your own.  But maybe make it when it’s not 90 degrees outside.

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Good Party Guests Make Crostini

Sometimes I bring chips and salsa to a party.  Sometimes I bring really good beer that’s so hoppy only I want to drink it.  Sometimes I bring nothing at all.  Lazy!  Time to start putting some effort into being a good party guest.

My friend Christine had a housewarming party last night.  (Yeah, her again.  We hang out a lot because we’re both so cool.)   Christine is a free-spirited homemaker type too, and chips and dip wasn’t going to cut it.  Alcohol was out too, since she made vodka infusions for the party – ginger peach, cucumber mint and strawberry basil.  The cucumber was my favorite, with ginger ale…mmmm.  I bet she’s going to post about it soon on her blog Home, Made.

So, what to do?  Something simple, elegant and easy to eat: crostini with goat cheese and homemade toppings.  Specifically, grilled tomato bruschetta and red wine fig compote.  Make these, put them in mason jars with pretty ribbon, buy some chevre and Italian bread and voila: instant party apps/hostess gifts.  You will put the crudite platter to shame.  You will make the bowl of mixed nuts run and hide.  You will vanquish the store-bought cookies…well maybe not the really fluffy kind with that super sugary frosting.  Those are kind of good.  But you will definitely get invited to the next party.

So here’s how you impress the pants off everyone:

Grilled Tomato Bruschetta Topping

  • 5-6 vine tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup onion (I prefer sweet onion)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup basil, rough chopped
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

First, oil and heat your grill or grill pan.  Quarter the tomatoes and scoop out the runny seed part…I just kind of scooped whatever came out easily, don’t worry too much about totally cleaning them out.  Rough chop the onion and put these on the grill, along with the tomatoes, skin-side down.  Grill only a few minutes, until there are marks on the veggies but not until they’re becoming very soft or breaking down.  Take the tomatoes and onions off the heat and let them cool in a bowl, then dice.

Peel your garlic and roast it (toaster oven is easiest) for a few minutes until just brown.  Chop the garlic, sundried tomatoes and basil and add them to the diced tomatoes and onions.  Mix it up and add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.  I would recommend 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar and 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil; keep mixing!  When all was said and done my mixture was kind of runny, so I used a large spoon to drain off the excess liquid as I transferred the bruschetta topping to a pint-sized mason jar.  Let the finished product rest in the fridge for at least an hour before serving to get a really great flavor meld.

Okay, bruchetta topping is done.  A little salty, a little savory.  But since you’re such an awesome party guest, you’re making ANOTHER topping, a sweet one:

Fig Compote (adapted from Martha Stewart)

  • 3/4 cup chopped dried black mission figs, stems removed
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (plus a couple tablespoons if you want it sweeter)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • pinch of salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer until the mixture thickens into a sticky spread.  Martha said this would take 7-9 minutes, but it took me about 20.  I guess just stop whenever it looks like something that’d hold up on a cracker.  I waited till it was about the consistency of a lumpy jam.

Spoon the compote into a mason jar and let cool completely before sealing and refrigerating it.  It only yields a half-pint sized amount, but it’s enough for a small party since you only need a little on the crostini.  Adjust the recipe accordingly if you need more.

Then buy crackers, crostini or make your own by thinly slicing a baguette, brushing it with olive oil and broiling or grilling it until crispy.  Bring your bread, a log of plain goat cheese and your two pretty jars to the party and you’re all set!  Guests can build their own crostini so you don’t even have to assemble anything.  It seems like an ultra-fancy appetizer (compote sounds hard to make, right?), and you can play with different types of crostini for other parties.  Maybe fresh herbs, so people can make their own herbed goat cheese spread?  Or put out thin slices of peppers, olives and vegetables for people to top with.  Try fruit bruschettas and tapenades, maybe?  Fancy-pants you can play with the idea, but you will definitely not go wrong with these two mason jars of goodness.  And definitely pair with that infused vodka.  Trust.

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Portobello Spinach Pasta with Red Wine Sauce

I’m writing about food again.  I know.  I KNOW.  It’s like all I ever do anymore, right?  I even have a list of non-food things I can tell you about, like good hostess gifts and upcycled jewelry and homemade aprons…okay, that last one is still kind of food-related.  Whatevs.  It’s  my blog, and right now I’m all jazzed up about food.

The thing is, last week my friend Christine and I (you remember her, right?  Awesome Christine of Home, Made?) went to the farmer’s market in Cherry Creek.

This is a really good farmer’s market.  Tons of fresh bread and waaay too many free samples.  Why yes, of course I’ll try your $14 infused olive oil.  And that cheese.  And that gluten-free muffin.

There’s also lots of really amazing produce.  I don’t know about you, but I think it’s more important – and more responsible – to eat local even before eating organic.  Of course when you can have both that’s pretty sweet, but I’m not gonna go into a Whole Foods and feel good buying organic tomatoes from Chile.  I’m just not.  Farmer’s markets, though, that’s the real deal.

I’m getting preachy though.  The point is, among lots of other produce (hel-lo, Palisade peaches!) I wound up spending way too much money on some portobello mushrooms.  Except I don’t really know what to do with portobello mushrooms.  Do I even like portobello mushrooms?  Sometimes people grill them, right?  Sometimes people burn them on the grill.  I shouldn’t do that.

So that’s why I had to write another food post: I came up with this amazing recipe for my portobello mushrooms and I’m so proud of myself that I had to let you know.  It’s not just pride, though; you’ll really like this recipe.  I want you to try it, and I want you to love it like I do.  Go to your local farmer’s market and get the things to make it:

Portobello Spinach Pasta with Red Wine Sauce

  • 6 oz. whole grain farfalle pasta (or spaghettini…or whatever)
  • 8 oz. medium portobellos
  • 1/2 onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tomato
  • 3 oz. baby spinach
  • 1-2 tbsp.  fresh sage
  • 1 c red wine
  • 1-2 tbsp. flour
  • 1/2 c grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

First things first: salt your water and boil your pasta to your liking, about 10-12 minutes.  Start prepping your other ingredients as the water comes to a boil.  Clean the mushrooms by wiping them gently with a paper towel, then remove the stems and scrape out the gills with a spoon.  Slice these, slice the onion, and chop the garlic.

Saute the garlic and onion in a large skillet until just turning tender, then add the mushrooms.  Continue sauteeing until the mushrooms begin to soften (a few minutes).  In the meantime, whisk together the red wine and flour in a bowl.  I left the amount of flour as a variable, but I think I used about a tablespoon and a half; just enough to help the sauce thicken in the pan.

When your mushroom start to break down, add the red wine mixture to the pan and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring frequently.

After a few minutes the sauce should be less winey and more…well…saucy.  Add the diced tomato, baby spinach and chopped sage, and stir these in until the spinach begins to wilt and the tomatoes just barely start to break down.  Now’s when you can add some salt and pepper too, if you want.

Oh!  And don’t forget about your pasta!  When it’s done to your liking, drain the water without rinsing and return the pasta to the pot.  Then, when your veggies are cooked but not desecrated, add them to the warm pasta along with about a half cup of grated parmesan and stir it all up into a big dish of melty goodness.

Then…you’re done!  Serve it up with some red wine and a garnish of parm and sage – it makes about three servings.  If you have guests you might want to add some bread or a simple green salad, but if you’re like me you don’t have to be so fancy.  It’s delicious on its own, super savory with the red wine and mushroom flavors but complimented by the brightness of the sage and tomato and the salty parmesan.  Perfect.  Impressive.  I’m allowed to be proud, right?  You’ll be proud of yourself, too!

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Pizza Party

I talk a lot about hosting dinner parties.  I talk about the theme, and the menu, and the accompanying cocktails, and the party games we can play.  I talk about it a lot, but…I have yet to host a dinner party.  Although last night my friend and I made pizzas!  Does that count?  We even invited a third friend over to eat said pizzas, and this friend brought wine.  That’s a dinner party, right?

This friend was Christine, who has a wicked awesome blog called Home, Made.  You should read it.  The title was my idea.  Christine and I are a lot alike, except she’s a better photographer than I am.  That’s her there, stabbing at some spinach in an attempt to make it cooperate with the blender.

I know I’m writing a lot about food and cooking and baking, and  I might have to change the name of this blog to The Indie Foodie, but I really have to tell you about these pizzas.  They were darn good.  It’s also a really fancy-but-secretly-easy dish for a causal night with friends (like, say, a dinner party?).  Here’s what you need to do to create a pizza:

1. Either buy ready-made crusts, ready-made dough, or, if you’re really ambitious/crazy/a show-off, make your own.  Make three or four individual pizzas so you can try a lot of stuff.

2. Then buy cheese – fresh mozzarella is the general go-to, but gorgonzola, feta and parmesan are lovely accompaniments.

3. Decide what kind of sauce you want to use.  Tomato sauce is nice, but don’t forget about pesto, white sauce or good old-fashioned olive oil.

4. Invent toppings.  Be creative.  Most things are delicious on an edible carb plate, so don’t be afraid to experiment.  I once put cranberries on a pizza.  True story.

Here’s what we made:

Pizza number one was a pretty straightforward margherita pizza:

  • sliced tomatoes
  • basil
  • mozzarella

The second one was an invention of our own, a sort of mediterranean green pizza:

  • basil pesto mixed with chopped and drained spinach
  • mozzarella
  • chopped garlic
  • feta
  • artichoke hearts

And, finally, the third pizza was based off my favorite pie at City, O City, La Michelle:

  • fig sauce
  • mozzarella
  • basil
  • capers
  • sundried tomatoes

Yeah, fig sauce on a pizza.  That’s a thing.

And, if you’d like some other pizza ideas, a couple I make at home are:

The go-to for vegetarians, classic veggie pizza:

  • red sauce or tomatoes and olive oil
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • peppers
  • black olives
  • artichoke hearts
  • garlic
  • dried oregano

A sort-of-similar Greek pizza:

  • red sauce
  • mozzarella
  • feta
  • sundried tomatoes
  • red peppers
  • kalamata olives
  • artichoke hearts

I could go on and on, but I bet you have some ideas of your own.  You want to put broccoli on your pizza?  Do it.  Nectarines or pineapple?  I bet that’d pair well with basil and spicy peppers.  Sausage?  Well don’t do that, I’m a vegetarian.

Before you start going crazy, though, here are some basic tips for making pizza:

1. If you’re using tomatoes as a base, cut out the centers/scoop out the juice and seeds before you put it on the pizza, otherwise you’ll end up with a soggy crust.  Yuck.

2. Same thing goes for spinach or other leafy greens: drain it first, or put down some cheese to protect your dough.

3. Toppings that cook/burn quickly should go under the cheese – I’m thinking basil, sundried tomatoes and olives.  Things that need to cook a lot – onions, garlic – should go on top. (See in that picture up there?  I didn’t put the sundried tomatoes under the cheese.  Mistake!)

4. If you’re spreading your own dough (i.e., not using ready-made), put a thin layer of cornmeal on the bottom of the pan under the dough.  It allows heat to circulate underneath to cook the bottom through, and adds a good texture when you eat it.

5. Broil.  Brown bubbly cheese it the best.  Keep an eye on the pie and hit the broiler for the last five minutes.

6. Use kitchen shears to cut the crust if your pizza cutter can’t make it.

Are you inspired yet?  All you need now are some good friends, a green salad and a couple bottles of wine.  Also maybe something sweet for dessert.  That’s never a bad idea.  Invite some people over to help you craft pies and you have yourself a dinner party!

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WWII Molasses Spice Cookies

Okay, I know I said I was going to have lots of different stuff on this blog.  Stuff like how to make adorable home decor and tips for hunting through thrift stores and general sure-to-be-awesome advice.  And I promise, I will.  I’ll mix it up.  The things is…lately I’ve been on a huge baking kick.  Maybe it’s the unusually rainy weather we’ve been having here in Colorado, or maybe it’s the fact that my friend Christine just bought me the wicked cool gluten/dairy/sugar-free cookbook from Babycakes, but all I’ve wanted to do lately is produce lots and lots of cookies.  So for now you’re getting more recipes.

I’m gonna bust into that Babycakes book very soon here, since I’m planning a gluten-free trial run, but at the moment I’ve been completely enamored of the 1963 Betty Crocker Cooky Book.  I sort of love romanticizing eras I never experienced, and this book is a nostalgic record of mid-century life.  It’s full of strange Nordic recipes, almost everything contains shortening, the color pictures are wholly unappealing, and there are helpful gems like “Many homemakers double the recipe…” and “We suggest starting early so that you can be free to take part in all the activities of the holiday.”  Because, you know, us ladies know our place.

This book really is a winner. It contains the sugar cookie recipe I am totally famous for (I mean…in my limited circles), which I will be posting about shortly.  It also contains a recipe for a World War Two-era molasses cookie, and notes the recipe was meant to save on sugar and butter during rationing periods.  Charming, right?  As long as you didn’t actually have to live through it.  I decided to revive this recipe, and can I say: Betty got it right.  These cookies are soft and have just the right amount of sweet and spice.  Trust me on this one.  Do up your victory curls and try it.

Molasses Spice “Jumbles”

  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening (I used butter)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves
  • 1/2 cup cold water

Heat oven to 375 and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cream shortening (butter) and sugar thoroughly, then stir in molasses.

Mix the dry ingredients (the book also advises, “Don’t be alarmed at the amount of baking soda; it makes the cooky more tender.”).  Blend the dry mixture into the creamed mixture alternately with water.

Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of dough about two inches apart on the cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes.

The book says this recipe makes about four dozen cookies; I halved the recipe (and can I say, it is all types of weird making cookies with only TWO AND A HALF TABLESPOONS of butter) and I got 22 cookies, which came out to 75 calories each.  They’re slightly chewy just out of the oven and sooo perfect for rainy weather.  You will not be disappointed.

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DIY: Jewelry Display Board

I kind of have a thing for scarves.  Maybe it’s because I’m always cold, but I own a heck of a lot of them.  I also have a thing for jackets, which, FYI, are the very best things to buy at thrift stores: even when used they rarely stretch or shrink, and they’re usually a really good bargain since they’re expensive when new.  But I digress.

I have a lot of scarves, even though I truthfully only wear a few of them on any regular basis.  I also have a pretty good amount of jewelry, mostly in necklace and earring form.  I don’t know about you, but those little jewelry boxes and necklace racks just don’t cut it for me, so I needed to figure out a new way to store all that stuff.  The solution: functional art. Leave it on display!

The main method of display is this really easy cork jewelry display board:

So, how-to?  First, for the hanging items (necklaces and hangable earrings) I used a plain corkboard from Target and some thumbtacks and nice cup hooks from the home improvement section.  I stuck the hooks in randomly at varying heights by pushing them into the cork then screwing them through.  I then grouped necklaces by style and length, and stuck thumbtacks in the bare spots for some earrings.  I also added a couple old postcards and a handful of pretty brooches and hair clips to make it interesting.  You could even buy a fancy-pants corkboard or paint the frame if the brown isn’t doing it for you.  My friend Christine also had the awesome idea of using drawer pulls as necklace pegs…looks like it might be time for me to upgrade my own board!

You can hang it up on your wall if you want, but I chose to leave mine on the dresser top along with all my other jewelry. My inspiration for just scattering things across my dresser – artfully, of course – was those old vanity tables from like the 1940’s.  You know the kind: spindly legs, tri-fold mirror, drawers on each side.  I imagine the tops strewn with ornate hair combs and tortoiseshell brushes and red lipstick and black-and-white photographs.  Very glamorous.

Anyway, for the items I couldn’t put on the corkboard, I collected a few small, pretty containers: thrift store finds, an old craft box, a tea tin, a metal votive holder.  Really anything will do, as long as you like how it looks.  I used these for bracelets, rings, more earrings and other miscellaneous pieces that needed homes.  I also left some items out, like an old perfume bottle and a few antique brooches, to give it that real old-school feel.

And then, of course, the scarves.  I used two plain coat hooks from a hardware store and hung them all by my dresser, but a towel rack would also work really well.  Get creative!  The point is, it’s okay to leave things out in the open.  If you like to look at pretty things on your body, why not look at pretty things in your room, too?

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No-Fail Quinoa Salad

Alright folks, here we go: my first recipe.  Grilled vegetable and quinoa salad.  You really can’t go wrong with this one.  It’s super easy to make, wicked healthy, it makes like a billion storable servings (perfect for those of us who live alone), and it can be eaten hot or cold.  Oh, and if you happen to be vegetarian it’s great because quinoa is a grain that’s also a complete protein.  I think.  Maybe it’s a pulse.  I don’t actually know the difference between grains and pulses…or legumes.  But it’s definitely a complete protein!

You can put pretty much whatever you want in this, but this is the recipe I use.  There’s not a whole lot of extra sauce or seasoning added, so you really get the beautiful flavors of the veggies.  These measurements are of course discretionary as well, but mine makes 4-5 servings.

Grilled Vegetable and Quinoa Salad

  • 1 1/2 cups white quinoa
  • 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth or water
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 5 or 6 crimini mushrooms
  • 1 cup (or so) sliced carrots
  • 1 zucchini or yellow squash
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups baby spinach
  • olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin and cayenne to taste

First start by boiling the vegetable broth or water in a large pot.  When it comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low, add the quinoa, and simmer covered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, rough chop your veggies (I like mine in about 1-inch pieces).  Heat oil to taste in a large skillet or grill pan and add the onions and red peppers.  After a few minutes add the mushrooms and garlic, and when everything starts to soften add the carrots and squash.  I like to roast my carrots in my toaster oven beforehand so they’re just tender, since they take longer to cook.

When the veggies begin to brown and soften, add the tomatoes and spinach and continue cooking till they just break down.  I like my veggies a little al dente to retain flavor and I hate overcooked tomatoes, but you’ll have to work out your preferred timing yourself.

When the veggies are done to your liking, your quinoa should also be done.  Take everything off the heat and dump those vegetables in the quinoa pot.  Add salt and pepper to taste, plus a generous drizzle of olive oil.  I also like to add some cumin and cayenne pepper, but really you have free range here.  Stir stir stir it up and serve.  Put the rest in airtight containers when mostly cooled.

There you have it folks: dinner for the next five days, high in fiber, protein and nutrients.  Genius.  Easy.  Delicious.  Enjoy.

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