Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rhubarb Pudding Cakes

For the past month, I've been apartment hunting, searching high and low for a little place I can call my own. It's been eye opening, to say the least. I think I could write a dictionary for apartment hunters, helping them decipher what words like cozy and comfortable really mean in the Brooklyn apartment world.

If nothing else, the process has taught me about what I really value. It's not the bathroom. I couldn't care less if there's a bathtub or shower stall. It's not the windows. It doesn't really matter to me where they look out, as long as they're there. Hardwood floors? Tiles? Carpeting? Who cares?

What I'm after is the kitchen. I need a kitchen with an oven as close to normal size as possible. I want a space with a real refrigerator, though that's been harder to find than I initially thought. And I want cabinets. As many as I can get.

I need space for my bundt cake pans, my muffin tins and my cake carrier.

And I need room for the 10 brand-new ramekins I purchased for this dinner party.

Not that I'll ever be able to have 10 people over for dinner in my new place (I'm hoping I'll be able to have 4 over), but I still don't want to part with them.

During the dinner, they were home to these delicious rhubarb pudding cakes. I caught the rhubarb near the end of the season, but I still found some beautiful bright pink stalks. The rhubarb simmered up with some sugar and cornstarch to form a delightful chunky sauce.

The ramekins were layered: rhubarb sauce, cake batter and more rhubarb sauce.

They baked up beautifully, with the rhubarb sauce infusing into the cake batter and keeping it extra moist. Served warm, with homemade strawberry sour cream ice cream on top, these cakes were just delicious.

And, since we each had our own individual cakes, we got to eat as much as we wanted. 

So, I think the ramekins will stay. I can always bring them with me to dinner at a friends.

Be sure to visit my original post to learn all about the McCormick Gourmet Dinner Party Chain Feast I participated in and to see the entire menu!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Almond-Plum Everyday Cake

I had cake for breakfast.

Two days in a row.

It's a healthy cake of sorts. Only one-half cup brown sugar in the whole cake. Four large plums. Almond flour. I left off the ice cream--that was for dessert the night before.

(Ignore the cup and then some of butter.)

I am a girl who loves baked goods for breakfast. When I was out with my aunt and cousin today, we bonded over how important it was to have a little bit of something baked with our coffee in the morning. I think it runs in my family.

I generally have more everyday baked goods. Muffins are a given, as is toast with almond butter. I'll make a big batch of waffles or pancakes and freeze them, reheating a few in the morning for breakfast. Pre-made, they become easy go-to breakfasts.

This almond-plum cake could be considered an everyday cake. It comes together in minutes, you mix it with your hands, and then throw it in the oven. It's delicious plain or topped with vanilla ice cream. You'll probably have almost all the ingredients for this on hand, and you can swap other fruits in based on what's in season. 

We could also call it a thank you for being amazing friends cake.

Whatever name you give it, have a slice for breakfast. I think it might be good luck. Three fabulous things happened after I had a slice that I'll be sharing with you soon!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Broccoli Rabe, Feta and Olive Calzones

I worked at a health food store in high school, mostly 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. shifts. I'd go straight from school to cross country practice, run for an hour, and then throw my normal clothes back on and drive to work.

By the time I got there, I'd be starving. But because my shift was so short, I'd only get a 15 minute dinner break.

So, I'd usually choose an Amy's Pocket Sandwich. They were one of the cheapest meal-like products in the store, which fit my limited budget perfectly. They microwaved up in 2 minutes, so I could stick them in the microwave when my break started and still have a whopping 13 minutes left to eat. And they were pretty tasty.

But lately, I've really been making an effort not to eat prepackaged food. If I want something, I've decided I should make it myself.

Or buy it while I'm out to eat. A girl has to be reasonable.

These calzones are an attempt at that. I made six lunch or dinner-sized calzones, stuffed with a filling of broccoli rabe, feta and olives. I baked them up in a half whole wheat crust, cooled them completely and froze them.

They're my own frozen dinners, except I know exactly what's in them and how they were made. With the heat here, they'll be perfect for those days when I just can't bring myself to turn on the oven.

What would you stuff your calzones with?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

McCormick Gourmet Dinner Party Chain Feast

Some people dream about winning their ideal beach getaway, being transported to white sand beaches and spending hours relaxing while enjoying drinks with tiny umbrellas.

I dream about throwing fabulous dinner parties, spending countless hours planning a cohesive menu, shopping for the freshest ingredients and sitting down with friends at the end of a long day of cooking to enjoy the feast.

After seeing the fantastic dinner party Joanne put together for her family, I decided to enter McCormick's Gourmet Dinner Party Chain Contest for my own opportunity to host the dinner party of my dreams. I sat down at the computer, crafted my 50 words or less describing my ideal theme (a farmers' market feast), and hit enter.

Two weeks later, I got an email from McCormick informing me I had been selected as a winner (Remember, I'm a pretty lucky person)!

Thanks to McCormick I had the resources I needed to bring my dream dinner party to life. The boxes started coming in. A spice rack featuring 16 of McCormick's Gourmet Collection Spices. A handy tote bag (perfect for farmers' market excursions), stuffed with spoons, a mortar and pestle, cookbooks and more. An American Express card to buy groceries. A $100 gift card to buy wine (wine!) from Lot 18. And then a half case of wine in the mail about a week later.

It felt like Christmas in June.

I started planning immediately, within minutes of getting the email from McCormick informing me of my win. I'm not sure if they anticipated the weeks of enjoyment I would get out of pouring over blogs, visiting the farmers' markets to see what was fresh and local and even creating my own Pinterest board with some of my favorite ideas.

I wanted the food to be fresh and seasonal, to create a menu based on what was available that day in the New York City farmers' markets.  Nearly every ingredient we served up was sourced locally, from the coarse cornmeal in the polenta rounds to the scallops and goat cheese. And I wanted each course to feature a different McCormick Gourmet Collection spice, so I could really showcase the range of flavors the spices offer.

Remember those really great friends I ate dinner with last weekend? While I'm the "let's all serve ourselves straight out of the pan" type, they've got a sophistication to them that I admire. They helped me curate the perfect, cohesive menu that stretched me out of my comfort zone.

Those same friends came with me to shop at the farmers' market that morning so we could source as many ingredients locally as possible. Then they came over to my apartment, on a 90 degree day, where the oven was turned up to 500 degrees, to help capture my cooking on camera. And they agreed to host the meal, so our guests wouldn't be subjected to the stiffing heat and lack of ventilation in my kitchen.

I know, I'm lucky.

Our dinner lasted for hours, nine of us around one big table, sharing food and wine, laughter and stories.

We made it through three flights of pinot noirs, paired with the different courses.

 We played cards for hours.

We strengthened friendships. 

And we ate very, very well. Here's a peek at our tasting menu, with recipes to come (I didn't want to overwhelm this post with too many of them).

McCormick's Tasting Menu
Chickpea Spread on Homemade Sesame Seed Crackers with Radish and Parsley: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Smoked Paprika and McCormick Gourmet Collection Toasted Sesame Seeds
Polenta Bruschetta with Shrimp, Cherry Tomatoes and Spinach Pesto: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Crushed Rosemary
Rhubarb Cocktail: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Saigon Cinnamon 

Summer Salad with Cucumber, Cherry Tomato, Snap Peas and Lemon Basil: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Tuscan Seasoning Blend

Warm Golden Beet Salad with Beet Greens, Goat Cheese, Almonds and Arugula: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Ancho Chile Pepper

Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with a Sweet Corn Puree and Chopped Tomatoes and Basil: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Chipotle Chile Pepper
Homemade Ciabatta Bread with Herbed Butter: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Thyme Leaves

Rhubarb Pudding Cakes with Homemade Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream: featuring McCormick Gourmet Collection Saigon Cinnamon

Here's to many more dinner parties! Cheers!

Photos courtesy of Megan Milnes and Jeff Taylor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Dill Pasta Salad with Feta, Olives and Caramelized Onions

There's something beautiful about the passage of time.

When I moved to Brooklyn five years ago, I felt alone, despite living in one of the most crowded cities in the country. Even though two of my dearest friends had also moved to the city, I saw strangers everywhere I went.

Sure, there were people to have a drink with after work. People to meet at the free movies over the summer.

But true friends, those take longer to make. Friends where it doesn't really matter where you are or what you're doing, as long as you're doing it together.

Five years into my time here, I feel surrounded by people I love and confident the time it takes to make friends is always worth the investment.

I feel lucky to have friends who call me when they end up in the emergency room and friends I can call when I'm too sick to leave my apartment.

I spent the past week with two of those friends, tucked away in a little cabin in the woods away from email, Facebook, Hulu and Pinterest.

Without them, I wouldn't know about this incredible pasta salad. We had it at least three times, and I loved it enough to make it again immediately when I returned home. With the fresh dill I picked up from the most delightful farm stand.

The pasta feels remarkably light and fresh. It's covered with chopped dill. The kalamata olives and feta add a nice saltiness, and the caramelized onions contribute just the right bit of sweetness to the dish.

Last night, I served this pasta to two more of those friends. We brought the dinner to a local bar--picnic style--because it was too hot to even think about eating in my poorly ventilated kitchen.

It was delicious.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

S'mores Bars

It's summer. Growing up, summer meant lots of bonfires. We'd sit around the fire pit for hours, whether we were out camping with the family or in a friend's backyard.

We'd have hot dogs and hobo dinners, those classic meals wrapped in tin foil and filled with any veggies or meats we had on hand. We'd have to sit close to the fire to cook. We'd get hot and impatient. Sometimes we'd eat our food lukewarm (we were lucky it was generally pre-cooked), but nice smoky flavor from the fire still made it's way into each of our dishes.

With dinner done, we'd move on to my favorite course. Dessert.

It was almost always s'mores.

Gooey. Loaded with chocolate. Stuffed with two marshmallows (for good measure) that were golden and puffed. Layered in between graham crackers.


Living in the city really limits my access to authentic s'mores, cooked over the fire and enjoyed outdoors.

I miss them. I can't help it.

So I decided to bring s'mores inside, in handy bar form, so I could enjoy them more often. They're not quite the same, they've got all the same flavors as that classic outdoor s'more, and they are much, much less messy. And, I added in bittersweet chocolate. Plus a brownie layer for good measure.

Take one bite, and I promise, you'll want s'more.