Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grandma and Grandpa's Breakfast Potatoes

This weekend I found myself in the kitchen of all kitchens, the birthplace of comfort food.  Mecca to many a home cook who strives to show love through the meals they make.  I spent the weekend in Grandma and Grandpa's kitchen.

 1984...  Too young to cook.
Where do I even begin?  Do I start with the mixer that's four generations old?  Or the monkey bread that may lead to an angry phone call from my grandpa's cardiologist?  Or the 100 mile round trip journey into the next state for a fried chicken dinner that sealed the deal on elastic waistbands for the rest of my weekend?

Let's start with these people.  Louis and Lois Crowe.  Next year they will have been married sixty years.  Every evening before bed, she takes his breakfast order.  And every morning, she wakes up and does the crossword puzzle in the Joplin Globe.  When Grandpa wakes up, he sits at the kitchen table drinking black coffee and watching CSPAN while she fixes the breakfast he ordered the night before.  And Grandpa's not the only one with breakfast privileges.  When I woke up on my first morning at their house, I walked into the kitchen to see the best looking breakfast potatoes I'd ever laid sleepy jet-lagged eyes on.  I happily scarfed them down on the first morning, but on the second day, I thought it would be best if I shared the recipe with you.  Thanks, Grandma, for letting me follow you around the kitchen snapping pictures while you made me breakfast.  Now if I'm ever hit with Midwest nostalgia, one of you faithful readers can whip up a batch for me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Raspberry Rhubarb Cobbler

This past weekend my boyfriend and I took a spontaneous and completely relaxing trip to Lake Tahoe. Activities included: handling live crabs, reading numerous celebrity magazines, falling knee deep in snow, sleeping in, and stuffing ourselves with comfort food. Now that's my kind of vacation.

And the weather couldn't have been more gorgeous. Bright and sunny, with just barely a hint of chill in the air. There were still plenty of piles of freshly fallen snow, that made me reconsider my recent complaints about winter weather. Because there really is something so spectacularly beautiful about fresh snow.
Especially when you combine it with summer-like weather. What a kick it was to walk through a mile of snow to reach a sunny, sandy beach that could have been warm enough to sunbathe. It's enough to make you want to stay awhile.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Asparagus Salad

I am ready for winter to be over. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of winter weather, which in Northern California means rain, but I am more than ready for that rain to go away. I feel bad saying that, because I know that the rain has been much needed, but I can't help it, I'm ready for spring. And after living in a house with no heat all winter, I'm most of all ready to be warm again.

Last week it felt like we had skipped spring altogether and had fast forwarded in to summer. The days were verging on hot, the sky was clear blue and I began to feel re-energized by the sun. Yet here I am a week later, looking out the window at a gentle sheet of rain falling down. But I don't want to continue to complain about the rain, so instead I'm going to pretend it's spring outside. One of the ways I'll do that is by enjoying some asparagus, a springtime vegetable, in this salad. The fresh and bright flavors of the salad will help me realize that spring is (hopefully) just around the corner.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wedding Cake!

Remember Kenny and Dorien?  Well today I can introduce them as husband and wife.  So meet them again!  This is Kenny's wife Dorien.  This is Dorien's husband Kenny.  Their wedding was beautiful in a thousand ways, from the scenery to the music to the vows that turned me into a teary sniffling toddler.
I made their cake.  And it was an honor.  I could babble on and on about the process and the baking and the white-knuckled drive to Pala, but instead, I'll just say this.  I would do it again a thousand times over.  And I am eternally grateful to the 200 guests who demolished the cake.  You made me feel like a million bucks, so thanks for that.

Lots o' pictures after the jump.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Light and Luscious Lemon Curd

When it comes to having dessert, I want to splurge on something really tasty. It doesn't always have to be decadent and rich, but it definitely has to be delicious. Whether it's a bite of a sinful chocolate cake, a spoonful of vanilla pudding, or a bowl of perfectly ripe fruit, ultimately it has to taste good. Which is why I'm a little skeptical when it comes to "low-fat" desserts, because more often than not they always seem to disappoint in the taste department.

I love the idea of taking a dessert and lightening it up, and don't get me wrong, there are recipes out there that you would be hard pressed to tell are low fat. But when it comes to cake, if I'm going to splurge and have a piece, I want it to be worth it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guinness Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

I live in Los Angeles, steps from a massive film and television studio, so please forgive this analogy in advance.  I want to talk about stunt casting.  Stunt casting is the phenomenon in which a big star will play a small role in a movie or television show.  Examples include Britney Spears' guest spot on How I Met Your Mother, or Taylor Swift's role in Valentine's Day.  All too often, the guest star catches your eye, but then doesn't really bring anything to the party.  In the worst case scenario, said star becomes a distraction, and their extraneous role takes away from the show or movie's intended storyline.

Yes, I know this is a cooking blog, but hear me out.  When I saw this recipe for milk chocolate and Guinness ice cream, I assumed that the dark hearty stout was being stunt casted just for shock value.  Like, "look at me, putting beer in my ice cream, how edgy am I?".  Despite my skepticism, I forged ahead, since it's St. Patty's week and I wanted to bring you a dessert that didn't taste like Bailey's.  Here's my verdict:  if the Guinness in this ice cream is indeed an example of stunt casting, then it's like Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder: understated, well-integrated, and downright impressive.  The Guinness blends seamlessly, adding a depth to the milk chocolate, and creating a silky smooth texture.  Still not convinced?  It tastes like a Wendy's frosty.  I think I've said enough... Let's make it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I believe that Colcannon is a great way to enjoy cabbage, whether you're a fan of it or not. Because what could be better than folding the vegetable into buttery, rich and creamy mashed potatoes? So if you’re looking for a potato dish to enjoy on St. Patrick’s Day, or really on any day of the week, look no further.

Irish Brown Bread

For the past few years when St. Patrick’s Day comes around, I have tried my hand at cooking the traditional Irish-American meal. Corned beef and cabbage, Colcannon, plenty of Guinness, and of course, Irish Soda Bread. But soda bread and I have had a cantankerous relationship, and I’m beginning to think that it’s not all my fault. I have tried over a dozen different recipes (including four this year), and the same problem always seems to occur. The bread is delicious if eaten soon after it’s cooked, but left to sit for any amount of time and it becomes dense and dry.

Part of the problem is in the name of the bread itself. Soda bread gets its name from the fact that it uses baking soda as a leavener instead of yeast. This makes the bread very simple to prepare, no waiting or kneading is necessary, but if overmixed it can become thick and heavy. Without the yeast there is not as much lift and lightness to the crumb.

After throwing away yet another batch of soda bread, I decided that this year, I needed to go in a slightly different direction. So I went looking for Irish Brown Bread recipes instead. The first brown bread recipe I tried was pretty decent, but after a half day it was already becoming too dry for my liking. Then I stumbled on a recipe that used yogurt instead of the traditional buttermilk as the liquid in the recipe. I knew that this recipe was probably anything but traditional Irish (even though it was in the title of the recipe), but I was desperate to find a bread that I could actually enjoy.
And enjoy I did. The yogurt helped keep this bread nice and moist, yet it is still a thick and hearty bread. And it appears to be passing the day-old test, which means it won’t be seeing garbage can action any time soon.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Freezer Snapshot

This is what my freezer looks like right now.  My friends' wedding is 5 days away, and so far all is going well!  You're looking at double chocolate cake, everyone's favorite carrot cake, red velvet cupcakes, and some coconut cupcakes that I had never tried before, but blew my mind.  My reinforcement (i.e. Mom) is driving down on Wednesday, so hopefully I'll have some more fun photos to share throughout the week!  Hope you had a sweet weekend as well!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Irish Cheddar and Stout Fondue

There are two things you should know about me.  One is that I love cooking for holidays, no matter how obscure or irrelevant to my personal culture.  The second is that the smell of slow-roasted corned beef and boiled cabbage makes me want to vomit into my hand.  While I've endured many a traditional St. Patty's day meal, I was thrilled to find a recipe that's festive and delicious, with ingredients I was excited to prepare.  This fondue combines some of my favorite vegetables with a rich cheesy sauce that features delicious Irish cheddar and a splash of dark Irish stout.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

I don’t think I fully understood that my family was Irish until we took a trip to Ireland when I was 18. I don't think I even realized that our last name Hackett was Irish, until we came upon a castle in the Ireland countryside with the same name. It was on that trip that I started thinking about heritage, tradition and my family namesake. It was also on that trip that I had my first taste of Guinness, and it was love at first sip. Unlike anything I had ever tasted; dark and rich, yet smoother than expected. After a pint of it, I felt full, like I had just eaten a large meal. And being underage for drinking back home, it made the whole experience seem slightly illicit. It was not until years later however, that I had my first Irish Car Bomb; which let’s just say was love at first chug.

If you are unfamiliar with what an Irish Car Bomb is; I will do my best to describe it. First, Guinness is poured about ¾ of the way into a pint glass. Then a shot glass filled with half whiskey, half Bailey’s Irish cream is dropped in to the pint glass and the mixture must be chugged quickly. If not drank quickly, it can start to curdle; not the most pleasant drink experience.
Something about the way all three ingredients combine creates a wonderful tasting mixture that I would best describe as a beer milkshake. This beer milkshake was love at first chug for my father as well. I will forever remember my college graduation dinner as the time we went to Cheesecake Factory and my Dad insisted on ordering an Irish Car Bomb, even though it was not on the menu. He had to order each ingredient separately, assemble the drink himself, and after spending a ridiculous $18 later he was happy. So happy that he ended up ordering two of them.

And somehow over the years, the Irish Car Bomb has become a Hackett family tradition. I guess you could call it our signature drink. At least a few times throughout the year, on holidays, birthdays and special occasions, we inevitably will have a round of car bombs. I know this may make us seem like a family with a drinking problem, but I swear it’s just our Irish roots, or something like that. Here we are at Christmas, chugging away. Classy, right?Classy or not, I loved the idea of turning this drink in to a dessert for St. Patrick’s Day. I had seen several interpretations of it on the Internet, typically a Guinness chocolate cupcake with some sort of Irish Cream or Whiskey frosting. But I loved the idea I saw on Smitten Kitchen, which was to fill the cupcakes with a whiskey chocolate ganache, and then top with an Irish Cream frosting.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

Ok, ok, so I realize it’s not really “pumpkin season,” that time between Halloween and Thanksgiving where pumpkins are prominent in many a patch, front porch, and recipe. During the rest of the year they are not to be seen or heard from until fall comes round again. Unless you’re like me, and you have several leftover cans of the stuff staring at you woefully from your kitchen cupboard, begging to be used in one form or another.

I had many ambitious goals for pumpkin recipes this past fall. There was going to be pumpkin breads, cheesecake, and cookies, along with several new recipes for the classic pie. Unfortunately, time caught up with me and I think I just barely got around to baking up some pumpkin muffins, and these pumpkin pancakes. Hence the extra cans of pumpkin hanging out in my kitchen.And so, with a few sad, lonely cans still staring at me from the cupboard, I decided that March is a perfectly acceptable month to eat some pumpkin. Especially when it’s a Saturday morning and I’ve got a pancake craving something fierce.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Everyone's Favorite Carrot Cake

 I am of the belief that every home cook should have a signature dish.  Like Allison's apple spice cake, your signature is the dish you can turn to when you're feeling less than spectacular, a dish that comes out perfect every time.  This carrot cake is my mom's signature.  And everyone loses their shit over it.  It's a perfect mix of cinnamon, carrot, sweetness, nuttiness, and a tart cream cheese frosting sends it right over the edge.  I've eaten it a bajillion times, and I truly believe I could pick it out of a blindfolded lineup.  And in my humble home baker's opinion, it's the only carrot cake recipe you'll ever need. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What I'm Doing in March

Meet Kenny and Dorien!  They're our neighbors on our Culver City hippie duplex compound, where we all live in peace and harmony.
Even our dogs are harmonious!
Dorien and Kenny are talented.  And generous.  And warm.  And hilarious.  So they've made the very wise choice to live happily ever after.
Gorgeous photo by the very talented Avi Rothman!

I adore weddings, but this one will forever hold a unique place in my heart.   Because...  Drumroll...  I'm making the wedding cake!!!  That's right!  A cake to be served at a real wedding!  Watch out Martha Stewart.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Apple Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce

It seems like I have a never-ending supply of recipes. With every new magazine and cookbook I receive, with every cooking blog and website I visit, there are what seem like thousands of new dishes that look delicious and I can’t wait to make. So I rip out pages from the magazines, tag the books, and bookmark all those great creations I see online. I think I’ve compiled a list of so many recipes that I wouldn’t be able to make all of them in this lifetime. And the number of cake recipes is extremely plentiful. There’s just something about them that I can’t say no to.

However, for all of these cake creations that I hold on to, and for all of the cakes that I do bake, the number of recipes that I actually keep in my list of “favorite recipes” is relatively short. A handful at most. Because I only keep the ones that are really good.
And when I say good, what I really mean is amazing. Because there will always be the next new recipe out there to try that’s just good, but only once in a while will one come along that’s amazing. One that’s worth being willing to make again. This cake, is in the amazing category. It is hands down, one of my absolute favorite cakes.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Warm Winter Vegetable Salad

I must admit, winter is not my favorite season when it comes to fresh vegetables. I miss summer, where all the produce seems to smell and taste so much fresher, and is crying out to picked and eaten as-is. Winter veggies require a little more time and patience. They need to be slow roasted, until they become tender and caramelized, making them much richer in flavor and texture.

And so, roasting becomes my go-to preparation for vegetables in the winter time. It's great for almost anything, squashes, brussel sprouts, and any root vegetable all get even tastier when roasted in the oven. I especially love sweet potatoes and acorn squash. Tossed with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and then cooked in the oven, they are absolutely delicious. But after a while, I'm looking for new ways to roast and not get bored.
Which is why I loved this Warm Winter-Vegetable Salad recipe. The technique is the same, but simply adding in some toasted nuts, a sprinkling of cheese, and a light yet flavorful vinaigrette made it seem like something I had never eaten before.
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