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Summer’s Best: Fresh Tomato Sauce

July 6, 2012
Tomato, to-mah-toe, let's call the whole thing off . . .

These tomatoes are naked!

We made this tomato sauce before this blog was even born, back when we just sent each other recipes all the time and went “oooh, let’s make that one.  And a scone, to save for later.”

This sauce freezes beautifully – I think I froze my portions in ice cube trays and took out a cube or two at a time.   In the middle of December, it tasted like summer in my apartment, which was no small feat in Connecticut.  Of course, it didn’t taste like this summer, the summer of brutal heat and derecho-caused electricity problems (we survived mostly unscathed).

Anyway, I made it again and, this time, I cheated and used my immersion blender to make it extra smooth.  Honestly, I like very smooth tomato sauce, so I figured it was worth it, but if you’re a purist, you won’t want to go that route.  I don’t know for sure, but it’s a distinct possibility that Em’s a purist on this one.  The fact that I can’t remember for sure is reason number 8,672 that I’m overjoyed I get to go up to Connecticut and cook with Em later this month!

Finally, a note on the color – you’ll only get perfect red tomato sauce if you start with perfect, bright red tomatoes.  But not all ripe, tasty tomatoes are as red as the apple the evil queen gave Snow White.  If your sauce is more orange than red, it will still be delicious.

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Fourth of July White Chocolate Bark

July 2, 2012

I have a confession to make.  I’ve started becoming a Pinterest person.  At first, I thought you could only keep track of all that stuff if you were on it all the time, because things get posted so quickly, and that doesn’t mesh well with the billable hour.  But then I realized that things get reposted and reposted and reposted, so if you go on it once every day or two, you’re bound to catch at least the most popular stuff.

Anyway, I saw this recipe for Fourth of July white chocolate bark on Pinterest and knew I had to try it and take my own spin on it.  You know I love holiday bark.  It’s got white chocolate, which means my husband will love it – he likes white chocolate, I like dark chocolate, he likes pasta, I like rice (okay, I like pasta too), I like black beans, he likes – huh, I don’t know what the opposite of black beans would be, but I bet he likes it.

You start with a base of melted white chocolate, and then you can use any red, white, and blue stuff you have on hand to accent this bark.  Whatever suits you and/or your loved ones’ tastes.

For example, I switched out the plain M&Ms for peanut butter M&Ms, because those are my husband’s favorite.  And, after being together for two and a half years and married for almost one, I’m starting to like them a lot too.  (Peanut M&Ms still take the cake, in my book).

I also threw in some candy-coated sunflower seeds, which I found at the candy store in the mall near us.  And I used some of the red, white, and blue non-pareils and star sprinkles that I bought last year.  I always like proving that something I bought for one holiday or color scheme will indeed get used again.

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Coconut Cream Pie With Brandy-Infused Whipped Cream Topping

June 29, 2012

After our dinner guests left on Saturday, we watched some TV special about the White House on one of the History Channel’s extra channels.  The special featured a White House pastry chef who had worked in the White House for I don’t know how long, but it was a few decades.  He was quite a character, and we loved every minute that he was on screen, but my favorite part was when he talked about the healing power of pastry.  He knew when various presidents and First Family members were feeling particularly blue based on their food choices, and he relished the opportunity to provide some small comfort.  When the Lewinsky scandal was at its height, he said he made lots of mocha cakes for Hillary Clinton because they were her favorite.

Although I don’t exactly have the kinds of problems that face world leaders or their spouses – thank heavens – I had a pretty rough week at work, culminating in such a late Friday night at the office that the office cleaning staff knocked on my door and asked if they could take my trash because they had to leave.  Luckily, I made this pie on Saturday, and it was a soothing experience both to make the pie – because cooking is therapeutic for me – and to eat it.  In fact, I ate it for breakfast on Sunday.

I don’t like to toot my own horn or anything, but this is one of the best things I’ve ever made.  I don’t think that’s tooting my own horn, actually, because for the most part, I just followed the recipe.  If I hadn’t been a Maida Heatter devotee before this, I would be one now.  Not only do her recipes produce reliably delicious results, but she situates all of her recipes in some sort of context, be it the backyard parties of Floridians or the weddings in Georgia.  It makes me feel like I’m cooking a family recipe that just happens to be from another family, kind of like when I cook Em’s family recipes.  Her cookbooks are so much fun to read that I sometimes forget I’m reading a cookbook, which can be dangerous for my productivity when I’m “just dusting the cookbook shelf, I swear.”

I did make one or two tweaks just for fun.   My main tweak was adding a splash of brandy to the whipped cream topping because my grandfather has taught me the fundamental truth that any baked good tastes better with a splash of brandy (or bourbon).  I’ve never regretted adding it.  Anything that might otherwise be just absurdly sweet tastes a tad more complex with the addition of brandy.  And anything that’s just perfect as it is tastes even more perfect if you add some brandy, but that’s just my opinion and I am biased toward what my own taste buds prefer.  The brandy is certainly optional, as is the vodka in the crust (which does not affect taste but makes the crust a little bit flakier).

You could also make the pie much more easily with a Pillsbury or other premade crust, but a homemade crust says, “I use my time in a perhaps frivolous but definitely tasty manner” better than anything.

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Cucumber and Cheese Bites – A Fast & Easy Appetizer in Less Than Ten Minutes

June 27, 2012

We had some people over for dinner on Saturday, and I wanted to serve a few easy appetizers to keep them sated while my husband and I finished the main course.

Boursin cheese was on sale, so I thought I’d try these little cucumber bites filled with a Boursin-based filling.  However, recognizing that Boursin is rarely on sale at my grocery store and is not budget-friendly when it’s not on sale, I also tried making a filling with the more budget-friendly and more frequently on-sale Laughing Cow blue cheese.  It worked very well, and I think you could use any Laughing Cow or similar flavored cheese that you like.  The one down side of Laughing Cow cheese is that you have to unwrap each individual wedge, but that doesn’t take all that much time.

My favorite thing about this recipe, besides the fact that it has cheese, is that it takes very little time and yet looks like something you’d eat at a catered party.  The cuteness to prep time ratio is very high.  Always a plus.

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Eggplant Caviar (aka Yummy Eggplant Dip)

June 25, 2012

Sometimes the tastiest dishes are incredibly simple.  They start with one key ingredient, and the few things you add serve only to highlight the deliciousness of that ingredient.

This is one of those dishes.  If it weren’t, that would be one heck of a mean-spirited, tease of an intro.

This dip doesn’t taste like anything else you might make for a party.  It doesn’t taste like a creamy bean or cheese dip.  It doesn’t taste like hummus.  It certainly doesn’t taste anything like salsa.  It tastes like eggplant, obviously, but what struck me about it was that it tasted so fresh – a “vegetable dip” that tastes like vegetables, but in a good, crowd-pleasing way.  As delicious as it was in December, I can’t wait to try it on a hot summer day when I need some refreshment.

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A Seersucker Wedding and Bowtie Sugar Cookies

June 21, 2012

This weekend, we went to the beautiful, Southern-style wedding of one of my husband’s closest friends, who’s basically one of those truly good guys that you’re grateful your husband is friends with and never mind your husband hanging out with (in fact, I wish we all lived closer to each other).  My husband and I are lucky in that we both really like each other’s friends – this makes that whole being married and going to events together thing significantly easier.

The groom is a big bowtie fan, and I’d actually meant to make him bowtie cookies for his birthday last fall, but work got away from me, so I figured that I’d make up for it by sending my husband down to the bachelor party with a box full of bowtie cookies.  There’s something extra fun to me about finding a cookie cutter that suits a person’s personality – probably because one year, I think for Christmas, my mom got us all cookie cutters that matched our personality.  Mine was a foot, because I *hate* shoes and walk around barefoot as much as possible when home.

These were very fun to decorate, after I figured out how to make the frosting for some of the cookies turn navy, anyway.  I took art for four years in high school, you’d think I’d know how to make different colors, but sometimes I get lawyer-brain and forget things.

One thing I realized early on in the baking process was that bowties are fragile.  Well, bowtie cookies are fragile, all because of that narrow point in the middle.  In order to curb the cookie breakage I was experiencing, I started rolling the cookies much thicker than I usually roll cookies.  That mostly solved the problem.

I made some of the bowtie cookies seersucker because the groom and all of the groomsmen were wearing seersuckers.  (I love how my husband looks in a seersucker suit, so I was excited when I found this out.)

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Parmesan Cream Crackers (Going to Heaven with Five Ingredients, Three of them Dairy)

June 20, 2012

The two of us sometimes disagree about what cheeses are best.  If Amanda is picking a cheese recipe, you can bet goat cheese or pecorino will be involved, whereas Emily is responsible for most instances of feta in our shared menus. A mutual awesome friend is allergic to a protein in cow’s milk, so when she’s sharing a meal with us, anything goes as long as it’s made from non-cow’s milk.

The one thing we don’t disagree on, ever, is that cheese is delicious, and recipes incorporating cheese are good candidates for our Smitten Kitchen cooking extravaganza menus.

These crackers are addictive.  As a result, it’s pretty handy that you can make and cut a whole batch, flash-freeze the unbaked crackers on a cookie sheet, and then store the unbaked crackers in plastic bags or tupperware and bake a few at a time.  If you don’t bake all of them at once, you can’t eat them all at once.

Based on Deb’s suggestion that Romano would work well, too, we tried them with both Parmesan and Romano.  However, the Parmesan crackers turned out much better.  That may have just been a difference in how well the cheese was ground, as I think we may have had to hand-grind the Romano, whereas we purchased the more finely grated Parmesan cheese already grated.

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