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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Manda Cooks: Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce

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When Friendsgiving rolls around, I always sign up for Cranberry Sauce because it’s so easy to make and use. This year I made Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce – it was tangy and sweet, with a little smokey kick from the bourbon. It was more interesting than a traditional Cranberry Sauce, but still paired perfectly with everything on the menu. I also put it on top of crackers with brie for an easy appetizer.

You’ll Need:

1 bag cranberries, rinsed and picked through
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
Juice and zest from 1 orange
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon bourbon

Combine everything in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, until most of liquid is absorbed and cranberries have popped.

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Manda Cooks: Summer CSA & Lettuce Overload

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This is my and Brett’s third summer as members of a CSA. Every week we get a load of vegetables, and every other week we get a dozen eggs, a pound of ground beef and a block of cheddar. Our veggies have varied week by week, and I’ve learned a lot about the sub-seasons of summer — tomatoes and corn (the definition of summer produce in my mind) weren’t even part of our weekly delivery until two weeks ago! The tricky part about a CSA is that you don’t really know what to expect each week, but if you’re up to the challenge of figuring out a) what kholrabi is and b) how to eat it, it’s pretty fun. Toward the beginning of summer, the weekly challenge was finding ways to eat all of the lettuce. I’m talking like 4…5…6 heads of lettuce in a single week. In the first few weeks I would spend 30 minutes washing lettuce, and then I’d have to figure out how to use it all. Eventually salads for 6 meals straight gets boring, so we had to get creative…the obvious solution was to use lettuce as a vehicle for other food, specifically salty and spicy ground beef, cucumbers, carrots, peanuts and rice (because #carbs). The result, Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps, were so good we’ve made them three times this summer. (Secret tip: they go quite well with scallion pancakes too….)

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Manda Cooks: Brown Butter Bars

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I have a weak spot for brown butter. Like a really, really weak spot. I saw these on Smitten Kitchen’s instagram a month ago and thought about them pretty much non-stop until I made them. I doubled the recipe because I just had a feeling it was the right move. And it was, because they were so good that I still can’t stop thinking about them. According to the Union Square Farmer’s Market, cherries are “done.” (okay, then) so I substituted blueberries and blackberries. No complaints there. So, if you have a (dozen) stick(s) of butter lying around, brown that sh*t and make these. You’re welcome.

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Manda Cooks: Corn Chowder

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New York held onto summer as long as it could, with weather still in the 80s last week. At first it was nice, but now that it’s October (!) I’m happy it’s finally sweater weather. I’m not one for hot soup in the summer and it’s hard to find fresh corn in the winter, so I give myself a pretty short window of time in which to make this soup, but last week was it! There’s finally a chill in the air, and fresh corn is still available, even if it doesn’t quite compare to peak-of-summer corn. Most recipes say you can use fresh or frozen corn, but fresh will give the soup a bit of crunch, even in leftovers a few days later. I worked off of Ina’s recipe with a few shortcuts and tweaks, outlined below. This is pretty quick to throw together, and keeps for a few days in the fridge…so get to it!

Corn Chowder!

Here’s what you need:
3-4 cups baby potatoes, scrubbed and cut into small chunks
4 ears fresh corn, cut off the cob
1 small bell pepper, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
4 strips bacon
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup cheddar cheese
chives
salt, pepper, olive oil, and water

Here’s what you do:
Cut the bacon into small pieces — it was easiest for me to use food scissors here. Throw them in a pot with the onions, salt, pepper and some olive oil. Cook on low/medium for about 10-12 minutes, until onions are translucent and bacon is cooked through. Add potatoes, corn, pepper and chicken stock to the pot and turn heat up slightly. Add 2-3 cups water, depending on how soupy you want it to be. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Stir in cheddar cheese, then serve with chopped chives on top.

Manda Cooks: Homemade Caesar Salad

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I’m usually not a huge fan of Caesar salad – to me, they’re usually sort of bland and generic and something I never glance twice at on a menu. But when they’re good, they’re REALLY good, like the Caesar at Sant Ambroeus. And usually it’s all about great dressing, because it’s hard to play too much with lettuce, hard boiled egg, and croutons. So I decided to make real, homemade Caesar dressing (using Bon Appetit’s recipe), complete with anchovies and raw egg — ick! But also, YUM, because it ended up being delicious. I made croutons using an olive breadstick from Bread’s Bakery, and added tomatoes and chicken for a little extra oomph and.. ta-da! Perfect Caesar salad!

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Manda Cooks: Chocolate Chips Two Ways

Sharing two recent favorite cookies today, in case you are on the hunt for something sweet for your sweetheart (or just for yourself!) Each of these is a big step above your standard chocolate chip, but serves a different purpose.

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The Brown Butter Chocolate Chip cookies are like a more sophisticated and richer version of standard chocolate chips. They’re still classic, but much more interesting. And, don’t worry, you can still eat about four in a sitting – they’re not too rich for that. I highly recommend dark chocolate chips, walnuts or pecans and a sprinkle of sea salt. When I made these last, we had them with black-cherry soda/whiskey drinks – really good pairing (because you can’t go wrong with either). These are also sort of impressive cookies – they have a much deeper flavor than standard chocolate chips, so they make you seem like a super fancy shmancy baker.

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The Copy Cat Levains are a whole ‘nother animal. I wouldn’t describe these as sophisticated or interesting, but they’re hella good. Do you even know what Levain is? It’s a bakery on the Upper West Side that has THE BEST giant cookies. These babies came pretty close to the real things – dense but fluffy and chewy on the inside without being too cakey. I brought them into work and people basically flipped out – they’re probably the new crowd-favorite.

I feel like if the Cookies were people, you’d go wine tasting with the Brown Butters and watch Teen Mom with the Levains. Does that make sense? Good. Now go make them. Brown Butter Recipe & Levain Copy Cat Recipe.