Monday, December 6, 2010

Warm White Bean Dip

Dear readers, I lied to you.  I told you the cauliflower gratin was the best dish on my Thanksgiving plate, but that was only part of the story.  As a girl who grew up with crazy pre-dinner spreads, having a selection of cheese, nuts, crostini, and olives is way important.  And we knocked our pre-dinner munchies out of the park.

There was a dip, an epic dip, which shall henceforth be known as The Only Dip That Matters.  White beans.  Roasted Garlic.  Olive Oil.  Herbs.  Buzzed together into silky perfection, served warm, with little slices of french bread.  You may be thinking this sounds like hummus, but trust me it's not.  This warm white bean dip is hummus' sexy roommate from the big city.  Elegant, smooth, sophisticated...  Watch out, this dip might steal your boyfriend.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vegucating Robin

I'm not a regular listener of the Howard Stern show, but I have a growing girl crush on his news woman Robin Quivers.  First she ran the NYC Marathon the same year I did, and now she's doing a web-based cooking series called Vegucating Robin.  Robin has been a vegan for the last four years, but nearly set her house on fire trying to boil water.  She and chef Gavan Murphy created Vegucating Robin as a way to share her cooking journey with her fans.  Robin's sense of humor in the kitchen is infectious, and their food looks amazing.  As someone who's flirting with going fully plant-based, I can't wait to see what other recipes Chef Gavan comes up with.  For now, check out their cannelini bean concerto.  White beans and kale?  Yeah, I can get down with that.

Cauliflower Gratin

Hello!  I hope your Thanksgiving was fabulous, and that your pants are being friendly to you this week.  We had a wonderful day in the kitchen, and I could not be more thankful to my BFF and sister-from-another-mister Nicole for steering the ship.  We were triumphant in the kitchen, even if our guests did eat a bit later than we had planned (did any of you manage to get your Thanksgiving dinner on the table at the time you had planned?  If so, you're my hero). 

As my little household has transitioned to meatlessness (all the time for me, at home for John), we have a lot of conversations about satisfying food. While I could probably munch happily on brown rice and pureed soup for dinner, whether we consider a new dish a success or a failure often depends on that heft, that oomph, that weightiness that makes you feel warm and full on a cold (ok cold for Los Angeles) winter night.  Our Thanksgiving meal was the most satisfying I can remember.  Soft blistery sweet potatoes, a rich and savory stuffing, velvety mashed potatoes, and some zingy little cranberries .  Turkey who?

If Thanksgiving is my Superbowl, then it needs an MVP, and this cauliflower number is it.  If you've never made gratin before, let me offer a ringing endorsement.  Gratins have a base vegetable that cozies up with a rich bechamel or cheese sauce.  The whole thing gets topped with a crumbly savory topping and baked like a casserole.  It's winter perfection.  Potato gratins are very common, but cauliflower, sweet potato, and even parsnips are great variations.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Thanksgiving Menu!

 Photo from

Cue the Superbowl music, the theme to Rocky, or Lady Gaga (whatever gets you fired up).  Thanksgiving week is here, and for home cooks, there is no greater day than the 4th Thursday in November.  On Wednesday I'll be scooting out of the office early and heading to San Diego, where I'll be cooking all day and night with my future sister-in-law Nicole.

 Photo from

While this is a holiday steeped in tradition for many, I have to say that my favorite part of Thanksgiving cooking is discovering all of the different delicious variations that can be made on a classic set of flavors.  Obviously you have an abundance of cinnamon, pumpkin, nuts, cranberry, and turkey, but when you add in a host of herbs, veggies, and cooking techniques, the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New York!

 I know that for most people, especially in the cooking blogosphere, November means one thing: Thanksgiving.  But for this blogger, November now has another meaning.  New York.  More specifically, the New York Marathon.  This year I was one of the lucky 45,000 who took to the streets, and our weekend in the Big Apple was everything we hoped it would be.  We'll get to pumpkin and stuffing again soon, but I wanted to share some of the high points of my trip.

We rented this awesome apartment in Brooklyn, and it was great.  Not sure if I'll be spending big bucks on a Manhattan hotel room any time soon.

Hi lady liberty!  Thanks for having us!

 After a 5 am wakeup, a day on airplanes, and a trek from La Guardia to Brooklyn on public transportation (all in high-heeled boots), this New York pizza was everything

 Look!  A real New York hispter!  Admire the rolled cuffs on the jeans, the man bag, and the perfectly coiffed hair.  John rolled his jeans like that for the rest of the trip.
We loved the subway!  This station had all of these cool little sculptures.

Now let's get to the good stuff...  The baked goods!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Hi there! It's Fall! Were you all aware of this? Because it sure did sneak up on me. I guess I should have had some warning considering all the pumpkin recipes that are floating around the internet. It seems like pumpkin is everywhere out there in the blogosphere! From breads, muffins and cakes, to flans, puddings and pies, to stews and curries, it's out there in all forms possible.
For my first pumpkin recipe of the season I wanted to make something I never had before. Something that was still full of pumpkin flavor but was more unique than the usual pumpkin quick breads and muffins. And if it could marry together that perfect combination of pumpkin and cream cheese, well then I would be a happy woman. So that's how these totally amazing pumpkin whoopie pies came to be.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Granola Bars

In a time when flights are cheaper than ever, when every city is flexing its culinary muscles, and when even airports have wine bars, I'm about to say something controversial.  I don't care much for travel. 

Don't get me wrong, I like nothing more than wandering through a new city, stopping for a mid-afternoon drink just because, and enjoying public transportation (yes Angelenos, other cities have trains and buses that take you all around the city for a nominal fee!  What an idea!).  But the airports.  And the luggage.  And the $4 bottles of water, the lack of power outlets, the recirculated air, and the inadequate cabin lights!  By the time I touch down on the East Coast, I'm usually wildly envious of the three year old who gets to throw a tantrum in baggage claim.

This weekend John and I headed to the Big Apple for a little race called the New York Marathon.  I have a lot to say about Chelsea Market, my love affair with Brooklyn, an epic bakery crawl, and of course, the race itself.  But before we ran around the city eating everything in sight, we had to endure 10 hours of travel.  In an effort to make the day more pleasant, less expensive, and to keep me from becoming a hypoglycemic maniac, I gave myself a little TLC in snack form.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thoughts on Meatlessness, and a Vegetable Pot Pie

On a recent flight from LA to Chicago, I found myself completely wrapped up in Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals.  It's a non-fictional account of the meat industry in the US, and in my humble opinion, an important piece of work for anyone who grocery shops and cooks.  Foer delves into the economic, environmental, and public health impact of factory farms, and encourages readers to think about the big picture behind what's in their shopping carts.

Needless to say, my fiance was more than a bit shocked when I got off the plane in Chicago, land of Italian beef, meaty deep dish pizza, and the old school steakhouse, and declared that I was considering going vegetarian.  While the last two months have been a period of transition, it's also been a time for some really fun cooking.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake

 One of my favorite things about blogging is getting to babble on about the people who make my world go 'round.  You've met Jill, PamDorien & Kenny, and obviously Allison.  So it's a pretty glaring omission that after all this, not much has been said about the guy I'll be spending forever with.  Without further delay, meet John Francis...

We met in college while working at California Pizza Kitchen.  I thought he was handsome, and he followed me around the restaurant delivering extra ranch dressing to my tables and opening bottles of wine for me.  He kissed me one Friday night after a late shift, I was smitten, and then he ignored my calls for a week.  Then he called me, and I ignored his calls.  But whatever phase of the ridiculous dating dance we found ourselves in, we'd usually end up together in the dive bar across the street from the restaurant, smooching to "Don't Stop Believin'" after eleventy six Miller Lites. 

5 years later, I still think he's handsome, although I've mastered the art of opening my own wine.  We share an obsessive love of Mad Men, Mexican food, and our dogs.  He puts up with my messes (a trail of shoes and dirty laundry follows me around our house), and I put up with his questionable taste in snack foods (atomic jalapeno Cheetos are never ok).  If he's not marathon running, playing exquisite classical guitar, or working on his dissertation, he's charming the little kids in my family, or listening intently while my dad recounts the 1981 NFC playoff game.  And get this:  he does the dishes.  All.  The.  Dishes.

A guy like that comes along once in a lifetime, so his birthday dessert matters.  While I've never seen him turn his nose at any of my baked creations, John Francis is a chocolate-peanut butter man.  And since he's watched me make countless birthday cakes, I knew I wanted to mix it up and surprise him with something special.  Enter the ice cream cake...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

White Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

It is so good to be back beautiful readers!  Last week Allison shared a gorgeous post with all the delicious summer food she's been eating.  I thought about doing something similar, but then I remembered that my meals from the last few weeks consist of frozen pizzas, prepackaged salads,and Thai takeout.  Not exactly the stuff that culinary dreams are made of.  John has spent the last 3 1/2 weeks working in Chicago, and what I've learned is that I don't cook well without an audience.  When it's just me, a giant bowl of chips and salsa and a glass of red wine does the trick.       

The good news is that John is back on California soil, and I found a new frosting I'm crazy about.  I'm feeling like myself again, and really excited to bring you a great cupcake.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hamburger Buns

Hey there! My goodness but its been a while since I've been around these parts. I've missed writing and sharing and all that other blogging goodness, but it seems that summer has a way of sweeping you up in its arms and not letting go. What is it about the days of summer? At moments they appear stretched out as long as the eye can see, but then in a blink of that same eye they're gone.

I had such a fun, busy, relaxed yet productive summer that I am bummed not to have shared more of it with you all. Much of the summer has, of course, revolved around food. There have been BBQ's, Fair's where I consumed my yearly quota of fried food, lots of hummus and falafel at this gem, and even a trip to the Reno Rib Fest where I embarrassingly managed to not consume a single rib, but did stuff my face with an embarrassing amount of pulled pork.

Much of my food experience has revolved around summer produce as I have become a bit obsessed with canning over the past few months, and as such, most of my free time has been spent preserving those fleeting fruits and vegetables of summer. It has been an extremely fun and rewarding hobby that has made me appreciate the food that we cook for ourselves even more. If you will indulge me, I hope to share some of that canning joy (and some of the trials and tribulations as well) with you soon.

In the meantime, I'd like to share with you some of my favorite produce of the summer season, and a few of the things I've been making with them, along with a Hamburger Bun recipe that changed all future hamburger experiences for me.
Being a very food oriented person, I tend to associate the changing season with the foods that go along with them. I particularly experience this association with fresh produce. As soon as a fruit or vegetable comes in to season it triggers a changing of the guard for me. I love the way that pumpkins scream fall, that the taste of fresh peas make me feel like it's spring, and that there's nothing else like a ripe heirloom tomato that's picked at the height of the hottest time of year. And those strawberries above, eaten at their peak of ripeness in May, tasted like the promise of summer. With every weekly trip to the Farmer's Market comes a sense of excitement of what newly ripened item may have blossomed in the short time between my last visit. Here's where some of that excitement led me this past summer:

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Napa Town & Country Fair Part 2

Well folks, it's a tad belated but today I bring you Part 2 of our epic Napa Fair experience.  But first, a programming note.  You've probably noticed that it's been a while since we've posted a new recipe.  I wish I had something new to share with you every day, or at least every week, but I also think it's important to keep it real.  And the reality is that all of our cooking and baking that we post here takes place in our day to day lives, and my life right now is taking a lot out of me.  I think even the most passionate cooks can relate to those days (or weeks or months) when the best thing you can do for yourself is heat up a frozen pizza and pour yourself a big glass of two-buck Chuck.  So I hope you forgive and bear with us, and I promise that we will have lots of great recipes in the future.

For now, please enjoy these baked goods that someone else created!  Today's photos come to you from the Home Arts Exhibition at the Napa Fair.  These were all made by amateurs like us and judged by some really sweet looking old ladies in matching yellow shirts. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Napa Town & Country Fair Part 1

When I was a kid, the Napa fair was the highlight of my summer.  My sister and I would get a week-long pass and wristbands for unlimited rides.  We'd wait outside the gates before they opened, and then spend hours running from the giant slide to the tilt-a-whirl, taking breaks for curly fries and sno cones.  Today I have a weak inner ear and an aversion to crowds, but I was dead set on making a night at the fair happen.

Before this weekend, I hadn't been in years.  While I was certain that it would still have that summer magic I grew up loving, John and Allison were slightly more dubious.  Think about the first time you went to Disneyland as an adult.  When I went in college, everything was a little smaller, a little more crowded, and a little more wooden than I remembered.  When we drove down one of Napa's main streets on Friday and saw a few lonely ferris wheel cars sticking out above a two-story building, I started to get a little nervous.

I had been hyping up the fair to John for weeks, and I badgered Allison and her boyfriend Nick into joining us.  Luckily, the night exceeded our lowered expectations, and we had a blast.  Let's start with the really good stuff, the fried food.

Corn dogs...  You had me at hello.  I never eat corn dogs because they render me powerless.  Had I not been in public and under the expectation that I would behave like a normal human, I may have inhaled 5 to 6 corn dogs.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

BFF Jill Threw Us a Party!

 It's a good day today. It's Thursday, which is almost the weekend.  My amazing and talented fiance has restored the wifi in our house, so you will be hearing a lot more from me.  Tonight I'm putting on my pleather and eyelashes and going to see Lady Gaga in concert, and tomorrow, we're driving up to Napa for what promises to be an excellent weekend. Mary + Allison + the Napa Town and Country Fair... I don't know if you know what happens when  the two of us are surrounded by fried food, livestock and plastic cups of wine, but I guarantee it will be a good time.

But before we get to this weekend's festivities, I want to recap a backyard party that was one of the highlights of the summer.  And to recap this party, I need to talk about BFF Jill.

If we're being technical, BFF Jill is John's niece's mom. If we're being real, she's his sister, and soon to be mine.  Jill and I have known each other since John and I started dating, but our friendship has really come into its own over the last two or three years. We started volunteering at Planned Parenthood events together, rallied around some of the same political causes in the 2008 election, and discovered that we both have jobs that allow for frequent email communication, so that we can keep eachother apprised of important things in our lives like what blogs are good today, and what we had for lunch.

Jill has exceptional strength, honesty, and depth. She's even-keeled, which I guess you have to be when you have a 14-year old daughter. My life plan is that when I have my own pre-teen someday, I will put drop her off on Jill's porch. Four years later, Jill will return her to me and she will have a college acceptance letter and a good head on her shoulders. Sounds pretty win-win to me.

Jill is getting married next June. In fact, she and her fiance will tie the knot exactly 6 weeks before John and I do. I think plenty of women would have a teensy bit of resentment toward a close friend crowding their wedding date, but Jill never batted an eye. Instead, she and her fiance offered to throw us a party. Go open your dictionary and look up "gracious"... Yep, there she is. And I know what you're thinking...  "Mary, you already had an engagement party."  And that's true, but with our two huge families living on opposite ends of the state, two parties was just the most practical way to make sure that everyone got to celebrate.

I know you can't really plan these things, but I think every engaged girl needs a bride friend.  Maybe we could make a girl-buddy pairing website... When I'm excited and I want to talk about the merits of chiavari vs. folding chairs, Jill will listen, not because she's been there, but because she's there right now.  In 10 short months, Jill will walk down the aisle in a dress that I just saw for the first time this weekend (!), I will cry buckets and melt into a heap of happy goo. In the meantime, check out what she did for us...  All photo credits go to my lovely neighbor Dorien.  Go say hello to her at her blog, the Women's Debauchery Auxiliary!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Marble Birthday Cake


Last  night, we celebrated the birthday of Pam, one of my very best friends.   Before I tell you about her cake, I want to tell you about why I adore her.  Pam and I met when we lived in the same dorm in our freshman year at UCLA.  She was a bad ass New Yorker with a tattoo and an attitude.  I was gawky and insecure, blushing when a stranger talked to me.  But we had the same razor-shag blonde haircut, she was always nice to me, and we became unlikely pals.  After freshman year, Pam moved into the best apartment in Westwood.  All of our friends took turns living in the second bedroom, and I spent a summer there.  Pam had every episode of Friends on her computer, and she always let me borrow her fancy ceramic flat iron.  It didn't hurt that she had a hunky neighbor who was literally an Abercrombie and Fitch model.  Yum...  I digress.


Eight years later, we have the kind of friendship that only exists with someone who's seen you through the ridiculousness of your early 20's.  The party nights, spray tans, random boys and vacations, along with the hard stuff, fighting, breakups, and messes.  She's the first one to take you to a four-star dinner on your birthday, or let you borrow her coziest sweats during a marathon session of So You Think You Can Dance.  She has a sick shoe collection, and she'll tell you if have something in your teeth, and she'll tell you when you look beautiful.  And her kitchen is always stocked with cheese, crackers, and a chilled bottle of chard.  Friends like that don't come along every day. 

Pam wears a lot of black and white, so I thought a marble cake would be a clever choice.  Marble cake has an amazing "easy to fancy ratio".  I just made that term up, maybe I'll put it in my Food Network tape.  Anyway, instead of making two different batters, you make a vanilla batter, then take out a small amount and mix in some cocoa powder.  Then spoon the batters into the pan in a checkerboard pattern, and swirl away with a butter knife.  Look how fancy you are!

When I want a cake to look really pretty, I cover it in fondant.  Fondant is a lot like pie dough in that many of us are afraid of it (as an aside, are we just afraid of using rolling pins?  Someone research this.).  I'm no pro at this.  My fondant cakes are usually lumpy, with some cracks, fingerprints, and weirdness.  But it's the effort that counts, and people are always impressed when they see a gorgeous fondant-covered cake.  It really helps to cover the surface with powdered sugar or cornstarch, and use a bench scraper to make sure that it doesn't stick.

I am artistically challenged, so rather than try to pipe a decoration, I used a damask stencil to cut out pieces of black fondant.  With just a bit of water, the decorative pieces easily stick to the cake.  I did this during The Bachelorette finale.  I liked Roberto from day 1, I hope that he and Ali make it and live happily ever after.

A "happy birthday" in buttercream, and you're done!  Happy birthday Pammy!

A few notes on the cake and the subsequent birthday party:

My favorite fondant- Pettinice rolled fondant in ivory
Black food coloring- Americolor soft gel paste in Super Black
Birthday dinner- Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica Canyon (a splurge that's worth every penny)
Cocktails- Copa d'Oro in Santa Monica.  Choose a fruit/herb/booze combo, and their mixologists will make you something amazing!
Pam's favorite wine- Rombauer Chardonnay
Accessory of the night- Silly Bandz

Marble Cake
From Martha Stewart Weddings
Makes 3 8" rounds

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pans
3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), plus more for dusting
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk, room temperature
2/3 cup heavy cream, room temperature
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup instant espresso powder, for mocha layers

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter pans and line with parchment paper. Butter lining; dust with flour, tapping out excess. Set aside. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

Combine milk and cream in a small bowl; set aside. Cream butter and sugar on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time; mix well after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture and beginning and ending with flour.

Combine cocoa and the boiling water in a medium bowl; for mocha cake, add espresso powder. Stir in 2 cups cake batter.

Fill prepared pans with spoonfuls of vanilla and chocolate batter to form a checkerboard pattern. Run the tip of a paring knife or a wooden skewer through batter in a figure-eight motion to make swirls. Bake until tops are golden, and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cakes cool completely in pans on wire racks.  Flip the layers out of the pans, and chill them in the freezer for 30 minutes (until the outside is hard).

Quick Vanilla Buttercream
by Gale Gand
Note:  I owe Gale Gand my first born for this recipe.  This is the only buttercream recipe you will ever need.  It is aaaahhhmazing.

6 cups confectioners' sugar
2 cups butter
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 4 tablespoons whipping cream

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency. 

To assemble:
Remove cake layers from the freezer.  If they are rounded in the center, use a serrated bread knife to cut the round top off the layer (you want the flattest surface possible)  Place parchment strips around the base of the cake to keep your cake plate clean.  Frost the flat surface of the first layer, then place the second layer on top.  Slice the top off the next layer, ice, and repeat.  Cover the whole cake in buttercream using an offset spatula, and decorate as you wish.

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