December 30, 2012


I frequently get completely totally utterly overwhelmed by all of the choices that live in the pages of my cookbook collection.

And every time that happens, I complain to my mom about it. And every time I complain, she offers up the same piece of advice: "Why don't you pick one book and just cook out of that for a while?"

It's a suggestion I've honestly never been all that enticed by. For starters, that would bring on a whole new challenge--picking the one cookbook I'd follow for a week, a month, a season. And also, there aren't many cookbooks I own that have the right balance of taste appeal and practicality to keep me content for an extended period of time.

Enter The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.

Now, I can actually imagine cooking out of one cookbook for a while. I'm actually doing it already, despite a pile of new books sitting waiting. I finally like my mom's advice! (Finally like her advice on this front, that is. I often like her other advice. :))

Let's back up a second though so that I can come clean on my relationship with The Smitten Kitchen. I had made a few Smitten Kitchen recipes before the book came out. I checked in on her blog once in a while, was moderately interested in her recipes, mentally hated the blue countertops she shot all of her recipes on, and then forgot about her for a couple of months.

But then this Spring, that Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake happened. And just like that, she had captured my attention.

So, I was intrigued when I heard she had a book coming out. But I also skeptical. Most of the recipes of hers I had made were adaptations of other peoples' recipes. Adaptations of Ina. Adaptations of the Homesick Texan. So, I wondered what she would bring to the table on her own.

Let's just say I have been shocked. Let's say I was very, very wrong in this instance for being a food snob. Let's just say that I should admit defeat and hang my head in shame. For, I almost missed out on the greatness that is this book.

I have been cooking out of it ever since I got it a few weeks ago. And 5 out of the 6 recipes I have made I have *loved.* The sixth recipe was very good. I didn't love it, but I'm guessing I'll make it again. It was good.

Here is what I've made:

Almond Date Breakfast Bars: Those around me who I talk food with know that as of late, I'm obsessed with nutritionally dense (but still delicious) bars. These were addicting. I had no trouble polishing off the pan myself in a week. Dried dates, oats, wheat germ, almonds, almond butter, cinnamon, orange zest, honey. Delicious.

Honey and Harissa Farro Salad: Now that I'm home full-time with Lola, I'm always on the lookout for lunch ideas. This salad was delicious and nutritious, full of sweet roasted carrots and parsnips, nutty farro, a sweet and spicy harissa vinaigrette, and salty feta.

Broccoli Rabe Panini with Mozzarella: We've had this twice. It's shockingly delicious and super comforting. An incredibly easy weeknight meal.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette: This was so wonderful. My second favorite recipe in the book so far. Not the healthiest in the book for dinner, with a copious amount of butter in the pastry dough. But delicious. Hearty. Rustic but elegant. A perfect dish when feeding a vegetarian.

Sesame-Spiced Turkey Meatballs and Smashed Chickpea Salad: This was the one recipe I didn't *love.* But to be fair, I was missing a few of the ingredients, and I overcooked my meatballs because I was multi-tasking. Still good, but not my favorite.

So, what was my favorite, you ask?

Tonight's Mustard Milanese with Arugula Fennel Salad. Okay, Zach loves chicken. I do not. Or, I did not until I had this tonight. This is delicious chicken. It's perfect chicken. Thin cutlets are pan-fried after being dredged in flour, dunked in a mustard-y mixture, and patted down with panko. Then, the chicken is topped with a zippy and rich arugula and fennel salad. It's appropriately seasoned at each step, and the recipe contains little tidbits that make the dish sing, such as suggesting that you drizzle a little of the leftover vinaigrette over the warm chicken before you top it with the salad. I had two helpings. Of chicken. That never happens.

And just like that, I have a bunch of new sure-bet recipes to add to the arsenal.

I love that the recipes in the book rely heavily on things already in my pantry. It feels different in that way than my other cookbooks. But not in a boring way. In a smart, inventive way.

And I'm also excited about the two tips I've already learned from this book. Tips that should have been in any of my other 100+ cookbooks (shame on them).

1. Deb (the woman behind The Smitten Kitchen is Deb Perelman in case you didn't catch on) seems to have cracked the code on roasting vegetables. Like she described in the book, I also fell victim to my veggies sticking to my baking sheets despite liberal amounts of olive oil. The answer? Smear a slick of olive oil on the sheet first, then throw on the veggies. Season them. Put in oven. It's that simple. And it totally works. I'm still scratching my head on that one. Why it doesn't work to toss the veggies in oil and then put on sheet, I don't know.

2. If you're breading chicken, put it in the fridge for an hour after you've dredged, soaked, coated. She says it helps the coating stick. And judging by what we had tonight, she's totally right.

So smart, that Deb.

I am in love with this book.

December 10, 2012

The Perfect Christmas Cookie

We had a holiday day yesterday at our house. Since Zach celebrates Hanukkah, and I celebrate Christmas, I was feeling the need to create a bridge between the two. A common ground. A day for both of us (and Lola, of course).

So, as part of our little family holiday extravaganza yesterday, I decided everyone in the household would get to pick a cookie for me to make. Lola included. Because three kinds of cookies is better than two kinds of cookies, right?

And since Lola can't really pick herself this year, I picked for her. 

And as it turns out, I think I picked the perfect holiday cookie for Lola's special cookie. 

Cardamom-Orange Sugar Cookie Squirrels.

Why were these chosen as Lola's cookie? Well, we know the girl loves songs about birds. "Little Bird, Little Bird," "Three Birds," "Blackbird." If the song has a bird in it, she'll light up when it's playing. So, I've decided if she loves songs about birds, she must love real birds too. Or bird-shaped cookies, at least.

So, my original plan was to make sugar cookie bird cut-outs in honor of her. But with the snowstorm yesterday, I didn't make it to the store to get a bird cookie cutter. So, I rummaged around through what I already had and found a cute squirrel. And since her nursery is woodland themed, boom.

Why were these the perfect holiday cookie? Because they are classic. But different.

Every year when it comes time to make holiday cookies, I crave the usual suspects but am intrigued by all sorts of new recipes (is this sounding somewhat similar to my last post?). This recipe achieved both. Sugar cookies are a holiday cookie staple. The cardamom and orange made them feel special--and taste amazing.

I love these cookies. They'll become one of our regulars. I think I'll have to make them every year for Lola and tell her the story of how they became her cookie. 

I hope she actually likes them one day... :)

Cardamom-Orange Sugar Cookies
Adapted very slightly from December 2009 issue of Bon Appetit

2 1/2 c flour
1 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 c plus 2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
Sanding sugar, to decorate

Whisk dry ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

Using mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter until creamy. Slowly add the sugar; beat until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Mix in orange zest and vanilla. Beat in egg. Add flour in 3 parts. Mix until just blended. 

Refrigerate dough for 1 hour until cool enough to be formed into balls.

Form dough into two balls. Refrigerate overnight. (I found that this dough needed to be very cool to work with easily).

Preheat oven to 350.

Roll out each ball of dough on well-floured surface until 1/8 inch thick. Cut out using cookie cutters.

Place on greased baking sheet, leaving room in between for spreading. Decorate with sanding sugar.

Bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.