blood orange cosmopolitans

blood orange cosmos 4

My new favorite thing is to sit in my favorite chair in the living room, the one that gets the most direct sun, and read a book with my cat on my lap, while drinking something delicious. On a weekend morning, this delicious thing is coffee. On a Sunday evening, it’s a cocktail.

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I’m a latecomer to blood oranges, both in life and this season, so I’ll probably have to move on to a new cocktail soon, but while they’re in season, I’ll be enjoying these cosmos. I have nothing against oranges, I’m just not usually all that interested in them. Maybe blood oranges are sweeter and juicier than regular oranges, but I wouldn’t know, because as soon as I buy them, I mix their purple juice with cranberry juice, orange liqueur, and vodka.

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Then I add ice and give it a shake-shake-shake, strain into a glass for me and one for Dave, and plop myself down in my spot. My cat will run over to wait for me as soon as she sees me heading that direction. Then I finish up my weekend with all of my favorite things – a cozy place, a good book, a cuddly cat, and an excellent drink.

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Blood Orange Cosmopolitans (adapted from Pink Parsley)

Makes 2 cocktails

I had to reduce the orange liqueur a bit, because while I used to like the one I’m using (Pitron Citronge), lately it seems a little harsh. If you’re using Grand Marnier or another higher quality liqueur, you might prefer the higher amount. Similarly, you might want to adjust the vodka depending on the quality of the one you’re using. This Crystal Head vodka was nice and smooth.

3 ounces blood orange juice, from 2 blood oranges, strained of pulp
3 ounces unsweetened cranberry juice
2 ounces orange liqueur
5 ounces vodka

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, attach the lid and shake until the sides of the shaker are frosted. Strain liquid into 2 glasses. Serve immediately.

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mulled wine cranberry sauce

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This, finally, is the cranberry sauce I’ve been looking for – the one that is worth making not just because making cranberry sauce is fun, but because this is better than anything you could buy. And it’s no more effort than any other cranberry sauce; the only difference between this and the most basic recipe is that wine is used to simmer the cranberries instead of water, and there are a handful of warm winter spices thrown in.

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With so much wine, you might think that the sauce ends up tasting like wine, but that isn’t the case. It tastes like something much more than the in-your-face tart and sweet of regular cranberry sauce, but it isn’t particularly boozy. It’s just deeper, more complex, with a little buzz on your tongue.

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Unfortunately, with half a bottle of wine stirred into one bag of cranberries, there’s no chance of claiming that all the alcohol cooks off, so this isn’t the best cranberry sauce for kids. That’s why my friend offered to bring a can of jellied cranberry sauce for her kids when I invited them over for a big turkey feast.

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When she forgot, we figured what the heck, what harm could a few tablespoons of winey cranberries do? Not much at all, it turns out, as her son took one spoonful of sauce, noted that there was wine in it, and pushed it aside in favor of the stuffing. So maybe it’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely my new favorite.

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(turkey cranberry green chile sandwich on a crescent roll)

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Mulled Wine Cranberry Sauce (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

I pressed the sauce through a food mill right after simmering, because I like my cranberry sauce smooth.

zest from 1 orange
1½ cups red wine
½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed brown sugar
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the berries burst and the mixture thickens, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

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meyer lemon semifreddo

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I traveled to Santa Fe last month for work, and while I didn’t love the day-long meetings all week, it was worth it to eat at Santa Fe restaurants and shop at Santa Fe grocery stores. I stopped at Whole Foods before I even checked in to my hotel, picking up some healthy snacks for the week and some sushi for dinner. I got pizza the next night (pizza – good pizza! – that I didn’t make myself!), but it was back to sushi the third night. The last day, after only six hours of meetings instead of the usual eight, I drove home, but not before making stops at both Whole Foods (where I got, you guessed it, more sushi to snack on during the drive home) and Trader Joe’s.

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Whole Foods had what must have been the last Meyer lemons of the season, and I couldn’t resist buying a few, even though I already had a bag of organic regular lemons in my cart. I could not, however, decide what to make with them. Like the last time I bought Meyer lemons, well over four years ago, I wanted something that would showcase their flavor so I could figure out just how much different they are from regular lemons.

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I diluted the flavor only slightly by mixing it with heavy cream, sugar, and egg yolks to make semifreddo. And if you’re paying attention while eating this dessert, the flavor has a little extra something, even beyond the sweeter orange hint of Meyer lemons. However, if you’re distracted by the light and airy texture that comes from freezing whipped heavy cream, I won’t blame you. And this indulgent dessert with a popular but elusive ingredient is all thanks to a week of meetings; traveling for work has its advantages.

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One year ago: Barbecued Pulled Pork
Two years ago: Grilled Artichokes
Three years ago: Basic Lentil Soup
Four years ago: Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar

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Meyer Lemon Semifreddo (from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Serves 8 to 10

While the recipe indicates that you can use Meyer or regular lemons interchangeably, Meyer lemons are significantly less sour than regular lemons. I used Meyer, but if you use regular, you should probably increase the sugar.

I used a round pan instead of a loaf pan, but other than that, followed the recipe exactly.

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
1¾ cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons sugar
7 large egg yolks
½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel or regular lemon peel
¼ teaspoon salt
4 cups mixed fresh berries (such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and quartered hulled strawberries)

1. Line a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang. Sprinkle almonds evenly over the bottom of the pan. Using an electric mixer, beat the whipping cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Refrigerate the whipped cream while making the custard.

2. Whisk 1¼ cups sugar, the egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt in a large metal bowl to blend. Set the bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the yolk mixture is thick and fluffy and instant-read thermometer inserted into the mixture registers 170°F, about 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from over the simmering water. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture until cool, thick, and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes. Fold in the chilled whipped cream. Transfer the mixture to the prepared loaf pan; smooth the top. Tap the loaf pan lightly on the work surface to remove air pockets. Fold the plastic wrap overhang over top to cover. Freeze the semifreddo until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. (Semifreddo can be made 3 days ahead. Keep frozen.)

3. Gently mix the berries and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes.

4. Unfold the plastic wrap from the top of the semifreddo; invert onto a platter and remove the plastic wrap. Dip a heavy large knife into hot water; cut the semifreddo crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Transfer to plates; spoon the berries alongside and serve.

lemon pound cake

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Lemons have been added to the list of ingredients I like to buy in the Big City (which isn’t that big compared to a lot of other cities but is definitely big compared to the town I live in), along with coffee, chocolate, parmesan cheese, and cheap wine from Trader Joe’s. This is because organic lemons aren’t available in my town, and while I have nothing against lemon juice, my favorite part of the lemon by far is the zest. The problem is that lemons have a more limited shelf life than my other Big City buys and the fruit tends to get hard (or worse, soft) after a few weeks in the crisper drawer.

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Around this time is when I start going into lemon mania mode, and a lemon cake soaked with lemon syrup and drizzled with lemon glaze is a fine way to use up some of the lemon excess. In fact, I was so focused on my primary goals of using up lemons and having fun in the kitchen that I pushed another priority aside, that of making the best possible recipe. When combining loads of butter with loads of sugar, I knew it couldn’t end up too bad.

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And so, for no other reason than I think the stand mixer is more fun to use and easier to clean up, I used that instead of the food processor the original recipe calls for, but when the top of my cake came out a little flat, I started thinking that maybe I should have just followed directions. I took the cake to work without tasting it, saving myself a piece for the end of the workday. It was good I set some aside for myself, because this cake disappeared in less than half the time as some of the other treats I’ve brought in. Savoring my much-anticipated slice at the end of the day, I decided that mixer or food processor, it didn’t matter; this cake would be a success either way.

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One year ago: Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries and Pecans
Two years ago: Vodka Gimlet
Three years ago: Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Four years ago: Cinnamon Rolls

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Lemon Pound Cake (adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking via the now defunct Dinner and Dessert)

Makes one loaf

I made this with a stand mixer instead of a food process like the original recipe instructs for no reason other than I think the mixer is more fun to use and easier to clean up.

For the cake:
¾ cup (3 ounces) cake flour
¾ cup (3.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup sour cream, at room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons (7.9 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
4 large eggs, at room temperature

For the syrup:
2½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2½ tablespoons sugar

For the glaze:
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the sides and bottom of a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the paper. Sift both flours, baking powder, and baking soda together in a medium bowl. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat the sugar and zest together until fragrant. Add the butter and salt; beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. With the mixer running, add the eggs one a time. Once the eggs are in, stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, then continue beating for another 2-3 minutes. Reduce the mixture speed to low, add one-third of the flour mixture, then half of the sour cream mixture. Continue alternating additions of dry and wet ingredients, ending with the dry ingredients. Scrape the bowl and mix for another 20-30 seconds, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated.

3. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes.

4. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

5. Inver the cake onto a cooling rack set over a rimmed pan. Use a toothpick to poke holes in the top and sides of the loaf. Brush the top and sides of the loaves with the lemon syrup. Let the syrup soak into the cake and brush again. Let the cake cool completely, at least 30 minutes. (The soaked but unglazed loaf will keep, wrapped in two layers of plastic wrap and frozen, for up to 6 weeks.)

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon juice. Pour the lemon glaze over the top of the loaf and let it drip down the sides. Let the lemon glaze harden, about 15 minutes, before serving. (The glazed loaves will keep for up to 3 days, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at room temperature.)

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wine braised beef

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I don’t really consider myself a team player. I’ve never been excited about sharing or compromise (which makes me really fun to live with, as you can imagine). And yet, in the last several months, two good friends have asked me to collaborate with them on big projects.

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The first was a dinner party for twenty women. It didn’t need to be fancy or involved, except that we wanted it to be. Through a long series of emails, discussing the merits of lasagna versus baked stuffed chicken versus braised meat, we finally decided on a “deconstructed stew” theme, with glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, and beef slow-cooked in a pot of simmering wine and broth. And then just for kicks, we added pesto palmiers, cheese and crackers, mushroom farro soup, orange cream tarts, truffles, and cranberry bliss bars to the menu. Also mulled wine and flavored waters.

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Around this time, the call for proposals to present at the BlogHer Food conference was released, and Brady had asked me if I was interested in submitting a proposal with her about free photo post-processing software programs. Of course I was! Brady and I got our proposal accepted, and so we’re traveling to Seattle the second week of June to talk about editing photos, and, most importantly, doing it using free software.

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Surprisingly, to myself at least, both projects have been unqualified successes. The dinner party was great fun, to plan, to prepare, to serve, and to eat, and my friend invited me to host with her again next year, so I couldn’t have been too hard to work with! Brady and I are still in the beginning stages of planning our presentation for the BlogHer Food conference, but just the fact that our proposal was accepted is a positive sign of our ability to work together. Maybe I’m not so bad to team up with after all.

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One year ago: Toasted Almond Scones
Two years ago: Honey Wheat Cookies
Three years ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Four years ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

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Wine-Braised Beef

Serves 4-6

The goal was that the main dish be stew-like without being stew. It was going to be served on plates, so it couldn’t be too saucy, but we wanted meltingly tender chunks of beef. A cheaper cut of meat so we could serve a crowd was definitely a bonus. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s no last-minute work and it can be made in advance and actually improves with being stored overnight.

I’m a big fan of Yellowtail’s wine for recipes like this. It’s cheap but pretty good. I used a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 (3 to 3½-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce pancetta, diced into ⅛-inch cubes
1 yellow onion, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups dry red wine
1½ cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 sprig thyme
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry, season it generously with salt and pepper, and arrange the pieces, without touching, in the Dutch oven. (You may need to do this in two batches.) Cook the meat, without stirring or flipping, for 2-3 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Turn the chunks of meat and brown a second side. Transfer the meat to a plate. Discard any fat in the pan (but leave the cooked-on brown bits).

2. In the same pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until fat starts to render, 3-5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the onions start to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic; cook and stir for about one minute. Pour the wine into the pot, scraping up the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the stock, tomatoes with their juice, thyme sprig, and reserved meat back to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Once the liquid simmers, reduce the heat to low, partially cover the pot, and simmer slowly until the meat is tender, about 3 hours.

3. Mix the butter and flour in a small bowl until smooth. Remove the thyme sprig from the pot. Whisk the butter/flour paste into the sauce. Increase the heat to medium to medium-high and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is thickened. Serve, topping each portion with a sprinkling of parsley.

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grapefruit margaritas

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If 2010 was the year of the vodka gimlet, 2011 was dedicated to margaritas. It started with these, and then when grapefruits went out of season, we tried strawberry margaritas, pineapple margaritas, classic lime margaritas, and, most recently, cranberry margaritas. I love them all, but nothing holds a candle to the grapefruit version.

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It’s perfectly balanced – not too sweet, not too sour, not too strong. The light grapefruit mellows any harshness from the lime and alcohol, and the result is perfectly refreshing. As an added bonus, one grapefruit yields enough juice for four drinks – which is just the right amount to split between two people.

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One year ago: Feta and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese
Two years ago: Apple Muffins
Three years ago: Twice Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Four years ago: Maple Walnut Cupcakes

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Grapefruit Margaritas (adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Technically 4 servings, but you’ll be sad if you only get one

Of the many grapefruits I have juiced for margaritas, one grapefruit has always resulted in 4 shots of juice. Two limes will usually give two shots of juice, but not always, so it’s best to buy a third just in case.

As with all things, alcohol quality matters. I’ve used Cointreau, Gran Marnier, Gran Gala, Controy (which can only be purchased in Mexico), and Patron Citronge in these, all with good results. I’ve never used a bargain triple sec. For tequila, I tend to buy whatever is on sale in the $20-25 range.

2 shots lime juice
4 shots grapefruit juice
3 shots orange liqueur
3 shots tequila

In a pitcher or 4-cup measuring cup, mix all of the ingredients. Pour over crushed ice in individual glasses; serve immediately.

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mushroom farro soup

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What a difference a few drops of vinegar make. I sat down to eat my soup and couldn’t shake the thought that it was missing something. It seemed like enough salt, but I thought maybe if I dribbled in some umami-y soy sauce, that would do the trick. On the way to the cabinet, I saw the bottle of sherry vinegar that I’d put on the counter to add to the soup and forgotten about it. It turns out, that’s exactly what the soup needed.

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It isn’t that the soup is so bad without it, not by any means. With a flavor base of browned onions and carrots, then garlic and tomato paste, and finally a pile of sliced fresh mushrooms, there’s plenty of sweet and meat flavors (although no actual meat). A pinch of truffle salt didn’t hurt matters either, and porcini mushrooms along with their rehydrating broth take the mushroominess up another notch.

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Farro gives the soup substance, and altogether it adds up to a dark, deeply flavored soup that is, nonetheless, missing something. A spoonful of sherry (or red wine) vinegar adds a touch of brightness that balances the rich flavors of the mushrooms. And then the soup is just right.

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One year ago: Red Pepper Risotto
Two years ago: Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream
Three years ago: Sausage Apple Hash

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Mushroom Farro Soup (adapted from The New York Times via Smitten Kitchen)

4 servings

I added a stalk of celery too, because I had some in the fridge. I wouldn’t buy it just for this recipe though.

Feel free to substitute barley or wheat berries for the farro, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking time for different grains.

The photos of the final soup are of leftovers. Overnight, the farro soaks up some of the broth, making a thicker soup with softer grains. The soup is wonderful fresh, but I might even prefer it leftover.

¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onions, diced fine
1 medium carrot, diced fine (or 1 carrot and 1 stalk of celery)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced ⅛-inch thick
¼ cup sherry
2 cups broth (I prefer chicken)
½ cup farro, rinsed
Salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

1. Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with ½ cup water; cover the bowl with plastic wrap, use a paring knife to make about 5 holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Set aside for 10 minutes to let the mushrooms soften. Use a fork to lift the softened mushrooms out of the liquid. Mince the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a coffee filter to remove grit, reserving the strained liquid. (This is the official method; I never do it this way, I just let the grit settle to the bottom of the liquid and leave the bit of gritty liquid behind when I use the liquid later in the recipe.)

2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just start to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the fresh mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until they release their liquid, 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms just begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the sherry; scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the broth, farro, minced porcini, the liquid leftover from soaking the mushrooms, 2 teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 40 minutes, until the farro is tender. (The soup can be stored at this point for up to 5 days. Heat on the stove over medium heat just before serving.) Stir in the sherry vinegar. Add more salt and pepper if necessary; serve.

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cranberry apple brandy

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When I was simmering sugar syrup, smashing fruit, and measuring alcohol for these cocktails, my mom made the excellent point that opening a bottle of wine is a heck of a lot easier. And while I appreciate how wine compliments food and how beer signals relaxation, I love cocktails too. Cocktails are special. They mean fun and celebration. You can’t help but be happy when enjoying a cocktail with friends and family. And that’s why they’re worth the trouble.

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This one takes more work than the citrus squeezing, liquor measuring, and syrup simmering of my favorite vodka gimlets and magaritas, as apples need to be sliced, then crushed along with cranberries before the liquor and syrup are stirred in – and that’s in addition to the squeezing, measuring, and mixing of citrus, liquor, and syrup, respectively.

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It’s a strong drink, undoubtedly, as it is mostly brandy.  But it has all of the ingredients in a good apple dessert – sugar, a touch of citrus to brighten the flavors, cranberries in case you needed another reminder that it’s the end of fall and the beginning of winter.  Fortunately, that’s just the time for celebrations worthy of the trouble involved with mixing up a seasonal cocktail.

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One year ago: Cranberry Apple Galette
Two years ago: Carne Adovada
Three years ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

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The Normandy
(from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser)

Serves 1

9 cranberries
2 thin slices green apple
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces Calvados or other good-quality apple brandy

Combine 6 cranberries, 1 apple slice, the brown sugar, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and muddle (crush with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon). Add the simple syrup, Calvados, and a few ice cubes, cover, and shake well. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with the remaining 3 cranberries and apple slice.

steel cut oatmeal with maple sauteed apples

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On a holiday, who wants cold cereal and milk for breakfast? No, something special is in order for the morning of Thanksgiving, but with a day of feasting ahead, it’s nice to get a somewhat healthy start. And with a day of cooking ahead, breakfast can’t be too complicated.

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Steel-cut oatmeal fits the bill perfectly. Because steel-cut oats take the better part of an hour to cook, you’re probably saving it for weekends already. The oatmeal itself is healthy, but the caramelized apples make it a treat without overdoing the decadence first thing in the morning.

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Steel-cut oatmeal isn’t mushy like oatmeal made from rolled oats is. The larger chunks of groats never completely soften, so it’s almost like eating tapioca pudding for breakfast – if tapioca pudding was packed full of fiber. It tastes nutty and slightly sweet on its own, especially after being toasted, but slices of browned apples make this oatmeal just right for a holiday – without being so decadent that it can’t be enjoyed any weekend.

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One year ago: Shredded Beef Tacos
Two years ago: Pumpkin Mushroom Soup
Three years ago: Decorated Sugar Cookies

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Steel-Cut Oatmeal (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
¼ teaspoon table salt

1. Bring the water and milk to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until just beginning to foam; add the oats and toast, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until golden and fragrant with a butterscotch-like aroma, 1½ to 2 minutes.

2. Stir the toasted oats into the simmering liquid, reduce the heat to medium-low; simmer gently, until the mixture thickens and resembles gravy, about 20 minutes. Add the salt and stir lightly with the spoon handle. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon handle, until the oats absorb almost all of the liquid and the oatmeal is thick and creamy, with a pudding-like consistency, about 7 to 10 minutes. Off the heat, let the oatmeal stand uncovered for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with maple sautéed apples.

Maple Sautéed Apples (slightly adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter
3 large firm apples (about 1½ pounds), peeled, cored, cut into ½-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon plus ½ cup pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the apples and 1 tablespoon maple syrup; sauté until the apples are tender, about 5 minutes. Mix in the remaining ½ cup maple syrup and cinnamon; simmer until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.

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beef short ribs braised in tomato sauce

When my sister visits with her young kids, I like to make a dish on the first night that’s particularly kid-friendly. While they aren’t picky eaters, they love pizza and spaghetti and hot dogs as much as any other kid. But if I’m cooking, the food has to be Bridget-friendly too. In other words, it has to be fun to cook.

I’ve wanted to perfect a recipe like this for a long time. I had in mind something that wasn’t just tomato sauce with meat added. I wanted the meat to shine, and I wanted the sauce itself to taste distinctly meaty.

To get the intensity I was hoping for, I pulled out every umami trick I know. Beef, obviously, and all the tomatoes don’t hurt. Dried porcini mushrooms, tomato paste (added with the aromatics and browned slightly), and pancetta added layers of meaty flavor.

This is my favorite type of recipe to make. Ingredients are added incrementally, food gets browned and delicious, and all the while, I get to stir and inhale the aroma, stir and inhale. It gets better after the sauce has simmered for hours, and then it becomes stir and taste, stir and taste. Even better is enjoying the meal with pasta, freshly baked bread, salad, a bottle of red wine, and two rambunctious kids and their parents.

One year ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Two years ago: Chopped Salad
Three years ago: Banana Cream Pie

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Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 (3-4 pounds total) beef short ribs
salt
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup wine (red or white, just something that isn’t too sweet or oaky)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice

1. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any dirt clinging to them. Cover them with ½ cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Use a fork to lift the mushrooms from the liquid; mince the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

2. Season the beef ribs with salt. Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pot is tilted. Add the beef ribs and cook, for 2-3 minutes per side, until richly browned on all sides. Remove the ribs from the pot. Lower the heat to medium and add the pancetta to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to the plate with the short ribs. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot. Add the onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned on the edges, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, mushrooms, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine; scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, beef ribs, pancetta, mushroom soaking liquid (being careful to leave any dirt behind) and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium-low, and simmer for another hour, until the beef is tender.

3. Transfer the ribs to a plate; shred the meat. Meanwhile, if the sauce is too thin, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. Stir the meat back into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary, and serve over pasta or polenta.