Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cookie Season: Chocolate Chipotle Cookies

In honor of Claire's first Christmas, I tried a new cookie recipe that combined delicious dark chocolate with a spicy kick -- a concoction called Chocolate Chipotle Cookies that will now make it into my cookie rotation each holiday season.  I love chocolate bars with surprising spices like chili powder or ginger -- which my husband likes to add to my Christmas stocking every year -- and these cookies were a perfect fix.  I only got to make one batch of these with all the shopping and wrapping gifts I had to do last week so I'll need to make another for New Year's, or maybe just to eat during the week.  After all, we have another whole week until New Year's resolutions kick in!  Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!

Chocolate Chipotle Cookies
(Courtesy of Alison Lewis) 

8 ounces dark chocolate morsels (1 1/3 cups)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground chipotle seasoning
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Microwave chocolate on high heat for 45 seconds; stir. Reheat in 15 second intervals, stirring until melted or heat chocolate over a double-boiler, stirring until melted.

Combine, flour, cinnamon and chipotle in a medium bowl; Set aside.

Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy. Add brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in melted chocolate. Stir in flour mixture until blended. Stir in pecans.

Shape dough into 1-inch ball; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten the top of each cookie with a glass dipped in sugar.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are set. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire
racks to cool completely.

Yield: 3 dozen
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Clarendon Cook and her family

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cookie Season: Faux Baklava

Love the taste of baklava but don't want to spend hours making it?  I do!  This recipe is the perfect substitute.  I love baklava for its buttery, nutty, honey-sweetened goodness, but the thought of having to lay each phyllo-dough layer doesn't make it worthwhile to me.  I'd rather buy it (or eat the baklava my friend Megan likes to make).  Call me lazy, but long hours of baking doesn't suit me especially when I need a sugar fix!  This recipe is only a few steps and pretty foolproof.  These cookies have been a family favorite for a few years now, especially during the holidays.  Enjoy!

Faux Baklava (a.k.a. Pie Crust Cookies)
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

1 pie crust (I use a pre-made Pillsbury pie crust, although you could make your own for this recipe.)
1 cup finely chopped nuts
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 T. honey
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. lemon juice

On a lightly floured surface, spread the pie crust out and roll the dough into a 9-inch circle.  Transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet or a pizza stone.

For the filling, combine the nuts, sugar, honey, cinnamon, and lemon juice.  Spread over half of the dough circle on the cookie sheet, and then fold the other half over so that it forms a half moon shape.  Use tines of fork to seal edges and prick dough.  Brush the edges with milk.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until pastry starts to brown.  Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack.  While warm, cut into 16 to 20 wedges using a pizza cutter.  Cool completely.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cookie Season Begins: Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks

Happy December 1st!  Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Christmas is on its way.  And it is also now the official start of Cookie Season!  (At least in my home!)

Love peanut butter cookies?  My all-time favorite cookies are chocolate chip, but every once in a while I get a craving for ones made with peanut butter.  That was the case this week and I found a peanut butter cookie recipe that will take you straight to cookie heaven.  Seriously.  These are that good.  And addicting.  Perhaps one of the best reasons to like these cookies is the fact that they were still fresh and chewy the next day, and I don't think you can say that about many cookies.  (They didn't last past day two, so I don't know how long they would stay fresh.)  I daresay that if you make these for any Christmas cookie exchange this month, that you will make at least 20 new friends.  Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks
(Courtesy of Bon Appetit, March 1997)

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup old-fashioned chunky peanut butter (about 9 oz.)
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
5 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used a combination of milk chocolate and peanut butter chips.)

Mix flour, oats, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl using an electric mixer, beat peanut butter, brown sugar, butter, honey, egg and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended.  Stir dry ingredients into peanut butter mixture in 2 additions.  Stir in chopped chocolate.  Cover and refrigerate until dough is firm and no longer sticky, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter 2 or 3 large baking sheets.  With your hands, roll 1 heaping tablespoonful of dough for each cookie into 1 3/4-inch-diameter ball.  Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart.  Bake cookies until puffed, beginning to brown on top and still very soft to touch, about 12 minutes.  Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes.  Using a metal spatula, transfer cookies to rack and cool completely.  (Can be made 2 days ahead.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Coffee Cake: It's What for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner...

This is coffee cake that you can eat all day.  My husband Chris proved that to be true when I made it yesterday, even though I originally made it for breakfast.  But, the cold weather has arrived, bringing with it a need for sweets as he recently proclaimed with great enthusiasm, "Wintertime is upon us...let the excessive eating and weight gain begin!"  I guess I'm just trying to do my best to satiate his sweet tooth (and mine too).

Everyone needs a good coffee cake recipe, and this is about as good, and traditional, as they come.  Admittedly, I wished I could have just opened a coffee cake mix from a box yesterday morning since it would have been a bit quicker, but the result was definitely worth the effort!  (I mean, who has time to let butter soften before breakfast???  I ended up putting the stick of butter in the microwave for a few seconds to speed up the process.)  And yes, Chris ended up eating this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, along with some "regular" food here and there.  Hope you enjoy this as much as he did!

Very Best Coffee Cake
(Courtesy of Cheryl Bartel, as found in "Favorite Recipes from Quilters")


3/4 cup sugar
8 T. margarine or butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream

Streusel Filling
1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 T. margarine or butter, melted

Cream together the sugar and margarine in a mixer.  Add vanilla and eggs.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add this flour mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the sour cream.  Begin and end with the flour mixture.

In a small bowl, combine all filling ingredients and mix well.

Spread half of the batter into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan (I used an 11"x7"x1.5" pan - see adjusted baking time below if you go this route).  Sprinkle with half of the filling and repeat layers.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (I baked mine for 50 minutes using the different sized pan than the recipe called for.)

Eat your veggies!

Claire says to eat your veggies!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Easy Entertaining: Mexican Lasagna

I love, love, love, Mexican food.  But I haven't really ventured into making anything but tacos and quesadillas at home.  Now, I don't know whether Mexican lasagna really counts as true Mexican food, but in my Yankee mind, it must come close since the flavors are all there.  This is a great dish that I've made several times in several different ways -- a few times I added a can of refried beans to the layers (good but a little difficult to spread), and sometimes I don't add cilantro or the jalapenos.  The good thing about this recipe is that it's delicious and makes enough for company, a large family, or simply for seconds (and thirds).

Mexican Lasagna
(Adapted by Kelly Oliver from Robin Miller's "Quick Fix Meals")

Cooking spray
12 ounces cooked chicken, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup sour cream (regular or low-fat)
1 can black beans, drained (optional)
(NOTE: I usually use a bag of the Mexican blended shredded cheese for the cheese in this recipe, rather than using these two different kinds of cheeses.)
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (regular or low-fat), divided
1 cup shredded Cheddar (regular or low-fat), divided
½ cup mild, medium or hot salsa
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon ground chili powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas, cut into 6 wedges (I usually use about 10 tortillas.)
Salt, to taste (I like to use at least 1/4 tsp.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat an 11 by 7-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, sour cream, black beans, 3/4 cup of the Monterey Jack cheese, 3/4 cup of the Cheddar, salsa, chiles, cilantro, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Arrange half of the tortilla pieces in the bottom of prepared pan, overlapping pieces slightly to cover the surface. Top with half of the chicken mixture and smooth over with the back of a spoon to even the top. Layer remaining tortillas over top, and spoon over remaining chicken mixture. Top with remaining 1/4 cup each of Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses. 

Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 30 more minutes, until top is golden and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

To reheat, bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elegant Entree: Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic-Cranberry Sauce

I've been experimenting with some different recipes, some of which have turned out well, some of which haven't, like a Rogan Josh recipe I tried -- it was good for my first Indian food but it could've been better.  I'd rather not post so-so recipes here.  I've also been solidifying and trying to perfect some of my go-to recipes, like a Mexican Lasagna which I'll add to this blog soon.  I've been looking for a good pork tenderloin recipe and found this one that incorporates cranberries and onions.  Sounded like a perfect fall recipe to me!  And it was.  Not only is this a delicious combination of ingredients for fall, but it's an easy, elegant dish.  If you serve this for dinner, your guests will certainly be impressed.  I served this the other night for dinner with acorn squash, which I simply cut in half and steamed in the microwave for about 5-7 minutes, adding some butter when it was done.  You could also add a side of rice and/or even a nice sweet cornbread (here's my go-to cornbread recipe:  This is one dish I'm definitely making again soon.

Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic-Cranberry Sauce
(Courtesy of Bon Appétit, November 1998)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 8- to 10-ounce pork tenderloin
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (I used about 2 tsp. dried rosemary.)
1/2 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
1/3 cup canned whole berry cranberry sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper.  Sear pork on all sides, about 2 minutes.  Place skillet with pork in oven.  Roast pork until thermometer inserted into center registers 155 degrees, about 10 minutes.  (Mine took about 25 minutes to roast.)

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and rosemary; saute until onion softens, about 3 minutes.  Add broth, cranberry sauce and vinegar and whisk until cranberry sauce melts, about 2 minutes.

Transfer pork to work surface.  Scrape any juices from large skillet into cranberry mixture.  Boil until sauce has reduced enough to coat spoon thickly, about 6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Slice pork and serve with sauce.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall is the perfect time for satisfying soup

Fall is here! Despite the recent 90 degree temps we've had in the DC area, I'm definitely in the mood for fall and the cooler days ahead.  That's partly because I love fall food -- apple pies, apple cider, pumpkin bread, spice cakes...I could go on and on.  And I will.  There's much to share on this blog!

One of my favorite ways to enjoy the fall weather is by making homemade soup.  My Aunt Nancy recently gave me some leeks from her garden.  I don't use leeks very often so I had to search for a good recipe in which to use them.  I came across the Leek and Potato Soup recipe below from and was intrigued because it only used 5 ingredients.  Well, this recipe is a keeper.  It's very flavorful -- and I only had to add a few pinches of salt to get the taste just right.  I'll definitely be coming back to this recipe again.  Hope you enjoy it too!

A note about leeks: a good way to clean these onions is to dice them and put them in water for a few minutes.  Any dirt will sink to the bottom and then you can scoop up the leeks for use.

Leek and Potato Soup
(Courtesy of Bon Appétit, May 1996)

3 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thinly sliced (about 4 1/2 cups)
2 large russet potatoes (about 18 ounces total), peeled, diced
4 1/2 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat with butter. Cover saucepan; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover and cook until potatoes begin to soften but do not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4 1/2 cups stock. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in processor until smooth. (I used an immersion blender which did the same thing and it was much easier to do.) Return to saucepan. Thin with additional stock if soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Bring soup to simmer. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with chives and serve.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Now for some real fruit bars

I'm back to blogging about sweets, but with good reason.  This Apricot Oat Bar recipe from Giada De Laurentiis is fantastic!  I recently saw it on her Food Network program, "Giada at Home," and thought it looked good.  But I know enough about TV production to know that looks aren't always what they seem.  However, I'm happy to report these bars are the real deal.  I'm typically not impressed with homemade fruit bar recipes since many turn out to be dry.  Not these.  They are moist and chewy, thanks in part to the apricot preserves (and probably the butter).  Word of caution: they're highly addictive.

On a separate note, my baby is 3 months old today and my blog is now officially 1 year old (as of the 18th)!  It's going to be a fun second year of blogging, especially when Claire gets to start eating baby food!  You can be sure I'll blog all about that experience.

Apricot Oat Bars
(Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis)

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 (13-ounce) jar apricot jam or preserves (about 1 1/4 cups)
8 dried apricots, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/3 cup)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 packed cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (regular salt works just fine here)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13 by 2-inch metal baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with vegetable oil cooking spray and set aside.

Filling: In a small bowl, mix together the jam and the apricots. Set aside.

Crust: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Stir in the oats and walnuts. Add the butter, egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated.

Using a fork or clean fingers, lightly press half of the crust mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a spatula, spread the filling over the crust leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the pan. Cover the filling with the remaining crust mixture and gently press to flatten. Bake until light golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 1 hour. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

The finished product: Apricot Oat Bars

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal: Salmon with Sweet-N-Hot Mustard Glaze

One of my favorite weeknight meals is salmon since it's usually a quick dish to prepare and it's healthy and delicious.  I'm always on the lookout for good ways to prepare it -- often I'll just bake it with some salt, pepper, and olive oil and then top it with pesto after it comes out of the oven.  This makes for an elegant dish that's very suitable for company, by the way.  (My favorite store-bought pesto is Bear Pond Farm, found at Whole Foods in the refrigerated section.  It's really fresh and delicious.)  Sometimes I'll top salmon with a nice chili rub.  But I think I've found my favorite salmon dish yet -- a sweet and hot mustard glazed salmon.  I love the mustard taste that blends so well with honey and a touch of heat.  This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Roasted Salmon with Sweet-N-Hot Mustard Glaze
(Courtesy of Robin Miller, "Quick Fix Meals")

Note: Since I usually make dinner for two adults, I cut this recipe in half and used one decent-sized salmon fillet.

3 1/2 lb. salmon fillets, skin on and pinbones removed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup honey
2 T. water
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. hot mustard powder (I substituted 1 tsp. of hot sauce for this ingredient and added 1 tsp. of regular mustard powder and it was delicious.)
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 T. chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Either coat a baking dish with cooking spray or cover a broiling pan with aluminum foil and lightly coat it with cooking spray.  Place salmon on the dish or the pan and lightly season the fillet with salt and pepper.

Stir together the Dijon mustard, honey, water, lemon juice, hot mustard powder, and garlic powder.  Reserve half of this sauce for later.  Take the other half and spread on the salmon.

Bake the salmon for 15-20 minutes.

Stir the fresh dill into the reserved sauce.  When the salmon is done baking, top the salmon with the remaining sauce.

As you can see from the picture above, I added two side dishes -- stir-fried zucchini and garlic-butter noodles, both of which were delicious with the salmon.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Exciting Food News for Clarendon

There are two very exciting pieces of news for the Clarendon neighborhood today.

First of all, Trader Joe's might become my new neighbor!  Yep, there's a really good chance that this fantastic food retailer will move in across the street very soon.  Arlington Now has the story:

The next piece of good news is that Bakeshop ( will now open at 8:00 am to serve coffee and cupcakes, along with other treats such as croissants, pound cake, and bagels.  This definitely spells trouble for my diet but it's totally worth it.  Here's my previous review of Bakeshop, as if you need any more convincing to pay a visit soon:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Some Like it Hot

If you read my blog, you'll notice that many of my posts are for sweets.  That's a "problem" that just cannot be helped.  But since I'm trying to be more health-conscious in my own eating life, I've found some wonderful recipes over the last few months that I need to share here that will hopefully inspire your eating life as well.  Another recent "problem" is that these delicious meals have made it on and off my dinner table so fast that it's hard to capture a photo.  After all, when you've got a baby, you learn to eat quickly.  Here's one of my favorite recipes (sans photo) that is delicious, simple to make, creates a beautiful presentation, and adds a nice spicy kick to your meal.  Hope you enjoy!

Belize Beef on Spiced Potatoes
(Courtesy of the National Beef Cook-Off® 2001)

1 lb. ground beef
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained - divided
1 1/2 tsp. jarred minced garlic
1 tsp. Caribbean jerk seasoning
2 large unpeeled baking potatoes, such as russets (8 to 10 ounces each)
Salt, pepper and Caribbean jerk seasoning

1/2 cup plain yogurt
3/4 tsp. jarred minced garlic
1/2 tsp. Caribbean jerk seasoning
1 T. diced tomatoes (from the main jar listed above)

Brown ground beef in large nonstick skillet over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until beef is not pink, breaking up into small crumbles. Pour off drippings. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the tomatoes. Add remaining tomatoes, 1 ½ teaspoons garlic and 1 teaspoon jerk seasoning to beef; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover skillet; continue simmering 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile cut potatoes lengthwise into ¼-inch thick slices; pierce in several places with a fork. Dip in cold water; sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and jerk seasoning. Place in single layer on nonstick baking pan. Broil 3 to 6 inches from heat 10 to 12 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, turning once.

Combine topping ingredients and reserved 1 tablespoon tomatoes in small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Spoon beef mixture over potatoes. Serve with topping.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Healthy Chocolate Fix

Cherry-Almond-Chocolate Clusters
Photo credit: Chris Oliver

One can never say enough good things about chocolate...better yet, one can never eat enough chocolate.  But with most chocolate comes lots of fat and calories from other sugar-infused ingredients like ice cream, toffee, or caramel.  When I stumbled onto this recipe from Ellie Krieger, I knew I had found something that could give me a chocolate fix without being too unhealthy.  Of course, healthy and chocolate are two words that I usually don't put together.  Thankfully, these clusters withstood my taste-testing and I'm happy to report that these were definitely satisfying.

Another good discovery about these chocolates: they travel well.  I made a batch for my brother on his birthday and these chocolates made it all the way from Virginia to California without melting (via overnight shipping).  Now you can make your friends and family some yummy treats for the upcoming holidays if they can last long enough!

Cherry-Almond-Chocolate Clusters
(Courtesy of Ellie Krieger, "So Easy")


1 cup whole roasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cherries
6 oz. dark or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips so I didn't have to chop them.)


Chop both the almonds and cherries coarsely, put them into a bowl and toss together.  Set aside.

Cover a baking sheet with wax paper.  You'll need this later.

Now for the good part.  Melt half of the chocolate (3 oz.) in the top of a double broiler over water that is only slightly simmering and over the lowest possible heat.  Stir your chocolate frequently.  Don't let the water touch the top pan.  If you're like me and don't have a double broiler, you can put some water in the bottom of any pot and the set a glass dish over the simmering water to melt the chocolate.  It works well.

Once the chocolate is melted, remove the double broiler (or pot) from the heat and then stir in the rest of the chocolate (3 oz.) until it is all melted together.  Take off the top pan with the chocolate in it and set it aside.  Replace the simmering water in the bottom pan with warm tap water so that the chocolate remains at the correct temperature while you make the clusters.  Put the pan with the chocolate back on top.

Now, stir the almonds and cherries into the chocolate, making sure everything gets covered by that wonderful chocolate.  Grab your wax paper lined baking sheet.  You're going to make tablespoon-sized clusters and put them onto the baking sheet at least 1 inch apart.  Once you're done, put them into your refrigerator for about 20 minutes so they can cool and set.  (Here's where cleaning up your kitchen becomes rather fun.  After all, who wants any chocolate on your spoon to go to waste?)

After that, they are ready to enjoy!  You can store and serve them at room temperature.  I found that mine needed to set for a few hours more, but they can still be enjoyed after being refrigerated.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blueberries for Breakfast

Blueberry Coffee Cake
(Photo Credit: Chris Oliver)

I've really been enjoying summer produce and blueberries have been in abundance of late (which means that prices are better than normal too).  I was craving something yummy baked with blueberries and came across this wonderful recipe from Whole Foods.  Turns out I had all the ingredients I needed to make it (the stars were aligned that day), and voila!  Some of the ingredients (the whole wheat pastry flour and nonfat yogurt to be exact) make it a little healthier than it otherwise would be, so this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Blueberry Coffee Cake
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)

Nonstick cooking spray
2 tablespoons plus 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, divided
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup nonfat plain yogurt or blueberry yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups fresh or frozen, thawed and drained blueberries, divided
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray; set aside. Put 2 tablespoons of the whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon and cardamom in a medium bowl and mix together with a fork or your fingers until well combined and mixture is in large clumps; set streusel aside.

Put remaining 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, vanilla and eggs then pour into bowl with dry ingredients and stir until combined. Gently fold in 1 cup of the blueberries.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and sprinkle reserved streusel over the top. Scatter remaining 1 cup blueberries over the streusel then top with almonds and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center cake comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Once cooled, loosen edges of cake and transfer to a plate. Cut into slices and serve.

Per serving (about 3oz/81g-wt.): 150 calories (40 from fat), 4g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 40mg cholesterol, 210mg sodium, 23g total carbohydrate (3g dietary fiber, 9g sugar), 5g protein

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cheers to Summer!

Berry Parfaits
(Photo Credit: Chris Oliver)

Summer is about eating light and, for me, enjoying all the fresh fruits that go along with the season. Here's one way that Chris and I have been enjoying strawberries, blueberries and blackberries for breakfast - in a delightful Berry Parfait!  It's super easy and quite a treat first thing in the morning.  Plus, if you're having company, this is sure to impress.

Berry Parfaits
(Courtesy of Kelly Oliver)

Vanilla yogurt
Granola (Use store bought or make your own using this recipe:

Note: There's no magic formula for this recipe.  If you don't have blackberries on hand, then just use whatever berries you have.  If you want to buy your granola at the store rather than making it, that's fine. You could also opt for a different flavor of yogurt.  Experiment and enjoy!

Grab a few pretty wine glasses and start layering each ingredient, starting with the yogurt, followed by the berries, and then the granola.  Create at least two layers.  Enjoy!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fabulous Food Friday: Pittsburgh's Strip District

I recently recommended some restaurants in Pittsburgh to a friend who was going to visit my hometown, and thought I'd share a few with you.  All of these restaurants are located or have locations in Pittsburgh's famous Strip District, which houses many authentic Italian food markets, Mexican and Asian grocery stores, restaurants, and shops that sell spices, coffee, chocolates, and cookware, among other things.  (The name doesn't stand for anything lewd...for a brief history, see:

Given that it's such a foodie paradise, Chris and I always make it a point to stop here on bustling Saturdays when we visit my parents to pick up marinara sauces, biscotti, nut rolls and other delicious things.  If we were able to easily transport refrigerated food back to Arlington with us, I would make it a point to buy some fresh fish at Wholey's fish market and some of the fresh produce at any number of stores.  Saturdays are busy (a great time to visit) and the air is filled with the smells of street vendors making Chinese food or grilled chicken skewers and markets giving away samples of their pepperoni rolls, luring in casual shoppers like me.  We always have fun exploring this area and seem to find something new to bring home every time we visit.

On to the restaurants...please feel free to let me know if you have any other great suggestions in da 'Burgh:

Great Italian food for lunch or dinner.  I love their pasta trio of the day.

Primanti Brothers
If you’ve never tried their sandwiches topped with French fries and coleslaw, and I even know some Pittsburghers who haven't, you must stop here.  It's a classic Pittsburgh tradition. - various locations around town

Known for their lobster roll, I particularly enjoy their fried fish sandwiches.

Fantastic breakfast place with amazing crepe style hotcakes that will melt in your mouth. – various locations around town

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Bun is Done

The bun is done!  As I mentioned before, I was expecting my first baby in June.  This child decided to make a fashionably late, but a very welcome and much-anticipated, appearance.  Chris and I welcomed Claire Elise Oliver into our family on June 23, 2010, at 7:01 pm and she weighed 6 lbs., 10 oz.  Now almost two weeks later, Claire is thriving, I'm both exhausted and ecstatic as a first-time mom, and Chris is enjoying his new role as daddy and Claire's personal photographer.  (Speaking of photography, thanks to Chris for the new profile pic and to his mom, Linda, for the fantastic Cooking in Clarendon apron.)

Claire's arrival also marks 9 months from when this Cooking in Clarendon blog was birthed, though it wasn't planned that way.  Though to me, it's a joyful reminder of how my passions of family and food are intertwined and I'm grateful for both.

More recipes and other posts to follow in the coming days...I leave you with this:

The next Clarendon Cook?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal: Pepper Pasta

I love being able to throw together a delicious meal with things that I have on with special ingredients that I don't have in the pantry drive me nuts, especially when I'm hungry.  This dish was born out of that frustration (or inspiration, if you will).  It's a flexible dish, meaning that if you don't have a green pepper on hand, then omit it.  Just use one red pepper.  Or you can use a jar of roasted red peppers instead.  Or you might want to add some more pepperoni (sometimes I do).  I think I've perfected it now, but if you try it and find something else to add that makes it even better, please let me know!

Pepper Pasta
(Courtesy of Kelly Oliver)

Olive oil
1/2 t. fennel, crushed
1 red pepper, chopped into medium pieces
1 green pepper, chopped into medium pieces
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped into small pieces
1 can diced tomatoes
20-25 thin slices of pepperoni (I use a pre-sliced brand), cut in halves
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 t. basil
1/2 t. oregano
pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
fun-shaped pasta (fusilli, farfalle, penne, rotini, etc.), about a half a box
parmesan cheese, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.  At the same time in a separate pot, heat 2 T. olive oil, adding crushed fennel.  Heat 1-2 minutes.  Add onion, red and green peppers, and saute 5-7 minutes or until softened.  (You may need to add more olive oil for sauteing the vegetables.)

Add diced tomatoes, pepperoni, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, pepper and salt.  Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes.

Stir cooked pasta into the sauce, mixing well.  (If you prefer having a saucier version, you might want to add another half of a can of diced tomatoes.)

Serve and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Eggstra Special Breakfast

One of my favorite ways to eat eggs as a child was when my mom added egg noodles to the scrambled eggs.  I'm not sure why but it was certainly always a treat!  I got to see my mom the other week when Chris and I visited Pittsburgh and somehow this dish came up in conversation.  So, of course, I went to the store this week and bought some egg noodles.  And yes, it was as good as I remembered.  Even better, Chris enjoyed this too!

Thanks, Mom, for passing along such a wonderful recipe and thanks for being such a great Mom!  I owe my love of cooking to you.

I have a lot of fun food finds from Pittsburgh that I'll share over the coming weeks.  Stay tuned.

Scrambled Eggs with Noodles
(Courtesy of Jean Walmsley, adapted by Kelly Oliver)

Serves: 2 hungry people

1 T. butter
1/4 cup diced onions
5 eggs
1/4 cup milk (I used skim.)
Garlic salt, to taste (I used roughly 1/4 t.)
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
Dried parsley (I used roughly 1/2 t.)
1/4 cup shredded cheese like cheddar, monterey jack, etc.
1/4 to 1/2 cup egg noodles, cooked according to package directions

Heat frying pan to medium-low.  Melt the butter, and then add the onions, stirring occasionally and cooking about 5-7 minutes or until softened and translucent.  Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a bowl.  Add and stir in the milk, garlic salt, pepper, parsley and cheese.  Add egg mixture to the pan and stir regularly, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.  Carefully stir in noodles when the eggs are about halfway cooked.  Finish scrambling the eggs until done.  Serve and enjoy!

Note: You can always make scrambled eggs your way and just add the egg noodles.  The recipe above is completely adaptable.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peanutty Goodness

Not sure if this really counts as an official pregnancy craving but ever since Easter brought about my favorite Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in plenty, I've been enjoying a lot of desserts with peanut butter.  So I started looking up some recipes on to see what I could bake using peanut butter, and found the one I'm including below, although there were many tempting options.  Of course, if the trend continues, you'll be sure to see some more peanut butter recipes on this blog very soon.  The peanut butter cookies I made really turned out well...they were light, peanut buttery, and had just the right amount of sweetness.  Even a few days later, their consistency stayed the same, which I can't say about many cookie recipes I've tried.  Enjoy!

Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies
(Courtesy of Bon Appétit, January 1998 issue)

3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned style or freshly ground)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter, peanut butter and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Beat in both sugars. Scrape down sides of bowl. Stir half of dry ingredients into mixture. Add eggs 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition. Mix in remaining dry ingredients.

For each cookie, roll 1 heaping tablespoonful of dough into 1 3/4-inch-diameter ball. Arrange dough balls 2 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using back of fork, flatten dough balls and form crosshatch design on tops. Bake cookies until dry on top and golden brown on bottom, about 14 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Using metal spatula, transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

This recipe can be found at

Friday, April 9, 2010

Easy Entertaining: Baked Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

It's funny how food moods change with the seasons.  Given how warm it's been (unusually warm for Washington, DC as well), I've been wanting lighter, fresher meals.  So when my family came for a visit over Easter weekend, I knew I wanted to make a shrimp dish.  I found the perfect one - Baked Lemon-Garlic Shrimp.  The taste was light and fresh, and it was definitely healthy.  I baked it in one big casserole dish and then served it over cous-cous.  Perfect!  This is a good dish for company since it's easy to assemble and it's healthy.  Your guests will thank you.

Baked Lemon-Garlic Shrimp
(Courtesy of  The Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook)

1 1/4 pounds large shrimp
1 bunch (10-12 ounces) fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive or vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. chopped fresh parsley
1 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 t. lemon-pepper seasoning salt
Parsley sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Shell and devein shrimp.

In bowl, combine spinach, tomatoes, 1 T. olive oil, and 1/2 t. salt.  Toss to coat.  Place spinach mixture in four 1-1/2 cup shallow casseroles. (I didn't have individual casserole dishes, so I just used one large casserole dish, which worked just fine.)

In the same bowl, combine shrimp, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, lemon-pepper seasoning salt, 1 T. olive oil, and 1/2 t. salt; toss shrimp to coat.  Arrange shrimp mixture over spinach mixture.

Bake 12-15 minutes, until shrimp are opaque throughout.  If you're using individual casserole dishes, the recipe recommends that you serve this dish by placing each casserole on plate and garnishing with parsley sprigs.  (I served the shrimp over cous-cous.)

Note:  This recipe makes 4 main-dish servings (it allows plenty for seconds or leftovers).  Each serving is about 205 calories, 26g protein, 6g carbohydrates, 8g total fat (1g saturated), 219 mg cholesterol, 865 mg sodium.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cute Little Appetizers for Baby Showers

It seems that many of my friends are having a baby these days, as is the Clarendon Cook, whose bun will be finished baking come mid-June. :)  That has given us ladies ample opportunity to host baby showers, which in many ways are much more fun than wedding showers given all the "oohs" and "aahs" from the guests as the moms-to-be open cute little baby clothes, cute little books and various cute little things that will ensure the baby becomes successful at an early age.  But even more fun is being a hostess for one of these events (for me at least) because it's a great opportunity to make cute little appetizers and desserts which I may not normally get to make.

A few of us from my church hosted an afternoon baby shower for our friend Carrie on Valentine's Day.  We opted for appetizers and desserts because it was Valentine's Day, after all, and we figured that most people would want to eat light because of dinner plans with their Valentines that evening.  I'm including some of those recipes below (be sure to scroll all the way down the page).  While I can't promise that these recipes will make the baby smart and successful (though that's certainly possible), it appears that they may have the power to coerce the baby to make his or her appearance sooner rather than later. It was only two days after Carrie's shower that her cute little baby daughter, Helena, came into the world (though only a few weeks early).  I suspect it was all the sugar that enticed her...

Rich Chocolate Cupcakes
(Courtesy of the Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 1/3 cups milk
2 t. vanilla
2 cups sugar
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
4 large eggs
fluffy white frosting (I used store-bought.)
red and blue food coloring (or whatever color you want the icing to be)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line thirty-six 2 1/2-inch muffin pan cups with fluted paper liners.

In medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In measuring cup, mix milk and vanilla.

In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat sugar and margarine until blended.  Increase speed to high; beat about 2 minutes, until creamy.  Reduce speed to medium-low; add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat until batter is smooth, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

Pour batter into prepared cups, filling each cup about three-fourths full.  (Bake only as many cupcakes as 1 rack in center of oven can hold.)  Bake 25 minutes, or until toothpick in centers comes out almost clean.  Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.  Remove from pans; cool completely on racks.  Repeat with remaining batter.

Once cupcakes are cooled, you can ice them.  Since I used store-bought white icing, I added a few drops of red food coloring to the icing until I got the desired shade of pink, and the same with the blue food coloring until I got the blue shade of icing that I wanted.  Keep in mind that it doesn't take much food coloring, so add a few drops and then stir, adding more if you need them.

To ice them, I used two different decorating bags with tips and layered the icing on...feel free to be creative with the type of tip you use...that's part of the fun of decorating cupcakes!  I made half pink and the other half blue.  I also found some clear food glitter and sprinkled them on these cupcakes as well to give them an extra sparkle.

Cucumber Dill Tartlets
(Courtesy of Kelly Oliver, adapted from Oxmoor House's Little Book of Holiday Appetizers)

I doubled this recipe in order to have enough filling:

1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened (if doubling, use the whole block)
3 T. frozen minced chives (fresh works well too)
3 T. sour cream
1/2 t. dried dillweed
1/4 t. garlic salt (may need more to suit your taste)
1/8 t. ground white pepper
2 packages of frozen small phyllo dough tartlet shells (or something similar that you can fill)
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced
Fresh dillweed

Beat cream cheese at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread cream cheese mixture in phyllo dough tartlet shells. Top with 1 cucumber slice and and a sprig of fresh dillweed.  Freshness note: These are better eaten closer to the time they're filled.

Stuffed Tomatoes
(Courtesy of Paula Lively, Ariel Lively's MIL)

1 lb. bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled (equates to about 3/4 jar of Hormel real bacon bits)
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
2 T. chopped fresh parsley (Ariel used cilantro for the ones pictured above.)
2 T. grated Parmesan
1/2 cup mayonnaise
24 cherry tomatoes (equates to about two mesh bags of the vine-ripened cherry tomatoes)

Remove stems from tomatoes and rinse them.  Place tomatoes stem-side down to cutting board.  Cut thin slice off top of each tomato (opposite end of stem side).  With small melon scoop or sharp grapefruit spoon, carefully hollow out tomato, leaving shell.  Invert tomatoes on paper towels to drain for several hours.

In a bowl, combine bacon, onions, parsley, Parmesan and mayonnaise.  Stir until well-blended. Refrigerate for several hours to let flavors blend, then fill the tomatoes with the bacon mixture.

Tip:  Ariel saved the tomato tops and guts into a plastic bag and froze them to use for soups, etc., that call for tomatoes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quick Weeknight Meal: Shrimp and Pancetta on Polenta

Always on the search for an easy, yet tasty, dinner recipe, I came across this shrimp dish that looked like it was a quick, weeknight meal.  It was.  Tried it last night, and it took me roughly 30 minutes from the beginning to when we sat down to eat.  It was refreshing too because I have been making heavier, comfort-food type meals over the last few months.  The weather has finally started to warm up (60 degrees yesterday), and it was nice to have a filling, yet lighter, meal.

Shrimp and Pancetta on Polenta
(Courtesy of Ruth Cousineau, Gourmet, November 2009)

1/2 cup instant polenta (you could also use cous-cous instead)
1/4 pound pancetta, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t. hot red pepper flakes
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes in their juice
1 lb. large raw shrimp, cleaned
1 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley

Make polenta according to package instructions.

Cook pancetta, garlic, and red pepper flakes in 2 T. olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until garlic is pale golden, 2-3 minutes.  (I used my trusty red Le Creuset Dutch oven...the pancetta creates a lot of splatter.)

Add tomatoes (with their juice) and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 6-8 minutes.  Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Spoon polenta into shallow bowls and top with shrimp mixture.  Drizzle with remaining 1 T. olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.

Note on the tomatoes: Upon the recommendation of my Aunt Nancy, I picked up some Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes with basil and garlic at Whole Foods for this recipe.  She raves about their tomato sauces so I thought I'd give these a try.  Since they are fire-roasted, they definitely added a really nice element to this dish, though any diced tomatoes will work here.  If you're curious about Muir Glen, here's the website:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fabulous Food Friday: Bakeshop

Let there be cake!  Cupcakes, to be specific.  I'm giving a special shout-out to my new neighbor, Bakeshop.  The cupcakes are truly amazing, though they have other sweet temptations on hand like a variety of cookies and oatmeal cream pies.  My husband Chris surprised me on Valentine's Day with two different kinds - red velvet and apple cupcakes.  The icing was so light and fluffy and the cakes were moist.  We've also tried the variety in the picture above - chocolate peanut butter, vanilla and chocolate - all were so fantastic that I will probably never need to bake again.  The cupcake craze is still in full swing and if you haven't tried this place yet, you must add it to your list.  For a leisurely afternoon in Clarendon, go to American Flatbread (see my previous review), walk a few doors down to Bakeshop for dessert, and buy a box of chocolates at Artisan Chocolates next door for the way home.  (I'll review Artisan soon but don't let that stop you from going there in the meantime.  Best chocolates around!)

It's hard to live right across the street from this place but I suppose someone has to do it.

1025 N. Fillmore St., Suite G (Clarendon)
Arlington, VA  22201
(571) 970-6460

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Too Good to Be True" Cocoa Brownies

Stuck inside?  I have been the last few days due to the crazy snow we've been getting here in DC.  It's hard to run to the grocery store, especially when they are practically out of supplies as well!  So when I had a hankering for brownies the other night, I checked my pantry and realized that I didn't have a box o' brownies on hand to bake.  So I quickly flipped through my beautiful Good Housekeeping cookbook and came across a recipe for Cocoa Brownies, and amazingly, I had just enough ingredients!  Turns out these were really good too.  Hope you'll try them too, whether you're snowed in or sitting in sunshine.

Oh, and if you're wondering why there isn't a picture, they just didn't last that long!

Cocoa Brownies
(Courtesy of The Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook)

1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (4 ounces), optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 9"x9" pan (metal or glass).  In a 3-quart saucepan, melt margarine over medium heat.  Remove from heat; stir in sugar.  With a wooden spoon, stir in eggs, one at a time, and vanilla until well blended.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and next three ingredients; stir flour mixture into saucepan until blended.  If using, stir in walnuts.

Spread the batter evenly in pan.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fabulous Food Friday: American Flatbread

The snow is falling and everyone in the DC area is hunkered down, bracing for the anticipated 20-30 inches.  Everyone has gone to the store, leaving shelves empty.  Except me.  Stores were too crowded last night!

I could bake a lot of sweets but I don't have too much "real" food at my fingertips.  If you're like me, or if you find yourself needing to get outside, here's one of my favorite neighborhood places - American Flatbread - that you should try.  Besides that it's directly across the street from where I live (how convenient!), it has amazing flatbread (a.k.a. pizza).  They use organic ingredients, and bake their flatbread in a "primitive wood-fired earthen oven."  It's a cozy place.  My favorite flatbread so far is their pepperoni and peppers, but the others are good too.  Stop in this weekend (since they will be open) or when the snow melts - you won't be disappointed!

American Flatbread (Clarendon)
1025 N. Fillmore St.
Arlington, VA  22201
(703) 243-9465

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Sweet Treat...Peppermint Caramels

Happy February 1st!  Now we're even closer to the Super Bowl, Valentine's Day, and President's Day (a day off!).  If you're looking for a sweet treat this month for parties or for your Valentine, you should try this recipe.

I've never ventured into making candy before, although I have been thinking about it for a few months.  In preparation, I bought my first candy thermometer.  This recipe, versions of which are common in Sweden, was really easy.  The caramel turned out to be fairly soft and chewy, and the peppermint added a wonderful surprising flavor.  I made these recently for my husband Chris' birthday party, and they were enjoyed.

Polkagriskola (Peppermint Caramels)
(Courtesy of Saveur, December 2009)

4 oz. hard peppermint candies
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup superfine sugar
6 T. golden syrup or dark corn syrup
3 T. honey
7 T. unsalted butter

Put peppermint candies into a plastic bag and crush them coarsely with the flat side of a meat mallet.  Using a large sieve, sift candy pieces, discarding powder; set candy pieces aside.

Line the bottom of an 8"x8" baking pan with parchment paper; grease parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Heat cream, sugar, syrup, and honey in a 6"-diameter 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat; stir until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.  Bring to a boil and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan; cook, without stirring, until the mixture reaches 250 degrees F, about 45 minutes.  Remove pan from the heat and add butter.  Using a wooden spoon, stir until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Pour sugar mixture onto prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with peppermint candy pieces, pressing them lightly into toffee with the back of the spatula.  Let cool completely; cut into (roughly) 64 squares to serve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lovely Lentil Soup

It's been a busy few weeks filled with lots of traveling, and I'm happy to be able to return home to do some of my own cooking.  January's wintry weather has really gotten me craving soup, and I found a great recipe for Lentil Soup.  I've been trying to figure out ways to use lentils, and this is a pretty good place to start.  This recipe uses real bacon to flavor the soup, and I laughed at myself as I bought a package because I realized that I had never bought real bacon before!  I've always bought turkey bacon.  Let's just say that I'm definitely a fan of real bacon.  On to the recipe...

Lentil Soup
(Courtesy of Everyday Food/Martha Stewart Living)

3 strips bacon (3 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch half moons
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 T. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
1/2 t. dried thyme
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth (3 1/2 cups)
1 T. red-wine vinegar
Course salt and fresh ground pepper


In a Dutch oven (or other 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid), cook the bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour off all but 1 T. of the fat.

Add the onion and carrots; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the lentils, thyme, broth and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover; cook until the lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. If the soup becomes too thick during cooking, add up to 1 cup more water.

Stir in the vinegar, 1 1/2 t. salt and 1//4 t. pepper.  Serve soup immediately.