Manda Cooks: Ottolenghi’s Beet Cake

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Last year, Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh published Sweet  – a collection of dessert and baked goods recipes from the celebrity chef and his pastry chef. My sister and I attended a talk and book signing at the 92nd Street Y back in October to celebrate the book launch and then I was gifted the book by a friend over the holidays (thanks Katie!) The photos in the book are so pretty that the book could almost serve as a coffee table book. I went through the whole thing page by page and decided to jump right into it the next day. Some of the recipes are a little complicated, or at the very least use interesting ingredients, but the one I tackled turned out so well that I can’t wait to get into more. I made the Beet and Ginger Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (you can see the recipe here). I love the color of beets and was obsessed with how the batter looked. I didn’t have the Fruit Fresh tablet that they recommend you add to preserve the color so the color softened during baking, but the cake did retain somewhat of a pink tint! To me, it tasted like a more sophisticated carrot cake (= so good). We had it for dessert on New Year’s Eve (with our tapas feast) and then for breakfast the next day and it hit the spot both times. Will definitely be making this again — can’t wait for beet overload in our CSA this summer!

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Manda Cooks the Book: Smitten Kitchen Every Day

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I pre-ordered this cookbook as soon as I heard about it – I’ve been a big fan of Deb’s for years (it was one of the first blogs I read daily) and I loved her first cookbook. I’ve cooked five recipes from the book so far, and have two that I especially love and have cooked multiple times. Also – the book title doesn’t lie – these really are “Every Day” recipes! I made them all on weeknights relatively quickly.

My two favorites are the first two pictures below — brussels and three cheese pasta bake (I added broccoli too) and the quick sausage, kale and crouton saute (which is unbelievably good – but I used spicy sausage instead of sweet). The other recipes I’ve tried are the roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar, spiced carrot and pepper soup with a couscous swirl and polenta-baked eggs with corn, tomato and fontina. And a few more that I want to try are sushi takeout cobb salad, pea tortellini in parmesan broth, broccoli melts, pizza beans and meatballs marsala with egg noodles an chives. I have post-it notes all over the book!

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I actually was lucky enough to go to a book signing and meet Deb! She is just as bubbly and sweet as I thought she’d be!

Manda Cooks: Tapas

One of my favorite weeks of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s — my office is closed, the hustle and bustle leading up to the holidays had died down, and it finally starts to get pretty cold in New York. I love spending a good stretch of days in my apartment, sleeping in, watching movies and opening up a bottle of red wine at 2pm (because #staycation). This year I finally went through my stack of Food & Wine and Bon Appetit magazines from the past few months – I have a binder that I fill with recipes that I rip out from magazines. Food & Wine’s September issue was all about Spain — rioja wine, tapas and jamon — which seemed like a perfect theme for New Year’s eve dinner. I made this vegetable tortilla and these meatballs.

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I studied abroad in Madrid and my senora would often make us tortilla espanola — I loved it and wrote down her recipe, but had never attempted it on my own. I loved that the F&W recipe incorporated other vegetables too — a colorful addition! The “vuelta” (flip) was intimidating, but with the help of a friend and a large cutting board it was a success. It came out looking just like the photo, which always makes me happy. The meatballs were also great — they didn’t quite taste as good as all of the work that went into them, but worth trying.

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After I returned from Spain, my brother gave me a tapas cookbook for my birthday — it’s been a while since I used it, but the fried goat cheese and caramelized onions on the cover were calling my name so I made that too.

I picked up meat, cheese and olives as well and my sister made delicata squash “doughnuts” and little lentil pancakes. In true tapas style, we prepared and brought out the dishes over the course of about an hour, and played a few rounds of What Do You Meme? in between “courses”.  Flize ano nuevo!

PS – how pretty is this saffron dissolving in water?!

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Manda Cooks the Book: Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s “My Father’s Daughter”

I discovered this Let’s Cook The Book instagram via A Cup of Jo a few weeks ago and was oddly obsessed with the idea. The owner of that instagram account started it as a way to simplify her meal plan for the week, but I think it’s a great way to get to know my cookbooks! I own quite a few cookbooks, and while I do crack them open pretty often, it’s a fun way to focus on one book and really get a feel for the style.

I started off with Gwyneth Paltrow’s “My Father’s Daughter” — I already a few go-to’s from this book, so I forced myself to try two new recipes for #cookthebook week and for the third meal I went back to a favorite. The recipes in the book are simple but special, with uncomplicated ingredients and easy steps. The book will continue to be a go-to for weeknight dinners.

We made:

Fried Sole Sandwiches with Spicy Mayo and Pickles (we substituted cod from our CSA, and I made homemade pickles with this recipe)
Homemade Veggie Burgers (these were way better than expected, and made great leftovers)
Chicken Milanese with Herbs and Dried Cranberries (the topping here is the best part – use good olive oil! and don’t skimp on the cranberries)

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And in the past we’ve also made:

Kale Fried Rice
Stir Fried Chicken (<– so, so good, it tastes like Chinese take out)
Broccoli Cheddar Soup
Playwright’s Melts

Manda Cooks: Zucchini Muffins

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Zucchini has been in our CSA haul for the past few weeks straight. I’m not complaining – zucchini is surprisingly easy to work into just about any dinner dish. We’ve had pasta with zucchini, lemon and parm, zucchini and corn fritters, zucchini stir fry and zucchini quesadillas. This morning I woke up at 9, found one last lonely zucchini in my fridge (in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer, duh), and found myself with just enough time to make zucchini muffins to bring with me to a baby shower at noon. I should have made them yesterday, because zucchini bread falls into the category of fruit-based baked goods that get better with age (true of banana bread, pumpkin, bread, apple cake… day three is the best, if you can make it last that long). But morning-of zucchini bread eaten just two hours after baking is also delicious, and nobody complained. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe – she has a love affair with zucchini, so I trust her completely when it comes to this (and have added this and this to my list for obvious reasons). I’ve spelled it out again below, so that I’ll remember where I landed for next time.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

3 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter and 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 cups grated, packed zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour

Here’s what you do:

Preheat over to 350F. Whisk eggs, butter, oil, sugar and vanilla together until combined. Whisk in cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in zucchini then fold in flour until just combined. Pour into muffin tins – you can get pretty close to the top here, as these rise perfectly. I got 20 muffins in the end (only 19 made it to the baby shower because of mandatory taste testing reasons). SK says muffin baking time is 20-25 minutes, but mine were ready after 16 — keep an eye on them!

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Manda Cooks: Chives!

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I got loads of chives in my first couple CSA pick-ups this summer — one bunch still had the purple chive flowers attached, so they doubled as a bouquet on our dining table for a few days 🙂

I try my best not to waste any food — but sometimes I have to get a little creative to figure out how to get through all of the CSA produce. Three ways to deal with chive overload below!

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1) Chive Butter!

Put a stick of butter in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften, then stir in 1/2 cup of chopped chives and some sea salt. Freeze or refrigerate for later use — great for cooking (I used with eggs for breakfast) or on toast, and would be great on top of a steak!

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2) Frozen Chopped Chives!

Chop chives and place in an ice cube tray. Pour olive oil on top and freeze. Once frozen, I stored these in a ziplock in the freezer — use one at a time as needed.

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3) Chive Flower Vinegar!

Pull off the flowers and rinse well. Fill a mason jar with the flowers, then pour white vinegar on top. Store in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks then drain the flowers. The vinegar becomes a really pretty purple and will have a slight chive/onion flavor – it’s great in salad dressings.

Manda Cooks: “The Best Baked Spinach” (but actually)

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I never really considered myself a spinach fan… until last week. I often find raw spinach a little too spongy for me and cooked spinach a little too wet and droopy for me. I frequently get pounds of spinach in my CSA (multiple pounds of spinach is A LOT, for those of you who are familiar with weighing your own spinach) and would usually cook it into omelettes (despite the sogginess) or make it into a salad (despite the sponginess).

Last week, however, I decided to face the spongy and the soggy head on and solve the problem…AKA go to Smitten Kitchen’s “spinach” section and let her solve the problem for me. At the bottom of the recipe list was “The Best Baked Spinach” – oh really? Yes, really. This spinach dish blew my mind. It was so good that I made it twice last week, and can’t wait to make it again. I used Trader Joe’s Cheddar/Gruyere blend instead of Swiss and don’t think that extra tablespoon of “indulgent” butter is needed (I didn’t use it the first time, but added it the second time and didn’t find it necessary). Otherwise this recipe is perfect. Bring on the pounds of spinach, CSA!

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Manda Cooks: Chicken Pot Pie

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Chicken pot pie might just my favorite comfort food. When the February issue of Food & Wine arrived at my door with chicken pot pie on the cover, I quickly added it to my to-do list. I ended up using a different crust recipe, because I didn’t feel like hunting down schmaltz (aka “rendered chicken fat”… um no thanks). I also used just a pound of skin-on, bone-in chicken, and substituted chicken breast for the second pound – was less work and still delicious. The finished product was so good right out of the oven and made perfect leftovers for lunch and dinner the next day.

Pie recipe here and Crust recipe here!

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also, side note, the pie crust recipe also makes perfect “blankets” for pigs in a blanket… just saying 😉

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New Year, Same Me

2016 wasn’t quite as bad for me as all the memes made it out to be, but I’m happy to move on. Not that a change in year means moving on from the challenges of 2016… but sometimes it’s nice to be forced to refresh a bit 🙂

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My resolutions last year were to (1) actually blog more, (2) volunteer, and (3) learn how to cook meat. Obviously I failed miserably at (1), so we can add that to the list again. I didn’t do a great job at (2) either, but did volunteer with my family at a shelter in Philly on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve Eve and really enjoyed it — going to add (2) to the list again as well. I think I actually did a good job at (3) – woohoo, go me! I tackled a few different meatballs and made brisket twice. Still some room for improvement here, but I’ll consider it a (mild) success.

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So it’s a New Year, but I’m pretty much going to be the same me with similar goals. Fitness and nutrition goals aren’t really my jam (see below) so looking forward to 2017, I resolve to: (1) actually really blog more, (2) volunteer, (3) work with a dog trainer for Moose, (4) bring my coffee, breakfast, and lunch to work more often [rather than buying it] and (5) learn how to better manage my various anxieties [#toopersonal?!] I also want to continue to cook a lot, and am toying with the idea of cooking my way through this nacho cookbook I bought myself…

My office is closed between Christmas and New Years and I always enjoy the stay-cation. This year, Brett and I got to spend time with all of our parents, four of our eight collective siblings, and lots of friends. We took a trip to the Guggenheim with our toddler nieces, attended an amazing Christmas Eve mass in Philly (with musical guest Kathy Sledge!), lit the menorah *almost* every night (7/8!), ate at a great new (for us) restaurant – Xixa – in Williamsburg, ate at my favorite old (for me) restaurant – Pisticci, and made a quick visit to Columbia’s campus to see the lights — one of my favorite winter traditions. We spent New Year’s Eve playing Scrabble and making pizza. On New Year’s Day, I made Croque Madames (yum) and a Cacio e Pepe Cake (really yum). We slept a lot, ate a lot, and drank a lot of wine. It was lovely. But now, back to work tomorrow and onto 2017!

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Manda Cooks: Rugelach

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Rugelach are my favorite cookie. I made them last year and couldn’t find the recipe for the life of me. So, when in doubt, use Smitten Kitchen’s. They turned out perfectly. When made correctly (::wink::), rugelach have everything you need in a cookie — dough that’s buttery and a little salty, cinnamon and sugar inside AND out, sticky and sweet jam, crunchy nuts and, of course, chocolate. And somehow they work just as well for breakfast as they do for dessert! It’s a miracle, really.

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