Happy Birthday Katherine!

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While most of you are probably busy wrapping (or buying) last minute presents, I have a special place in my heart for Christmas Eve for several different reasons. Not only is it my parents’ anniversary (27th this year!) but it’s also my friend Katherine’s birthday!

Happy Birthday Katherine! I hope it’s the best yet xo

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For her early birthday this year, I made Katherine these strawberry cheesecake cupcakes. Her favorites are strawberry and cream cheese frosting (as coincidentally are mine) so these were the perfect surprise birthday treats!

And if you know Katherine, you will know she is THE sparkle, glitter, sequin queen. So in lieu of topping them with strawberries or graham cracker crumbs, I sprinkled some edible silver glitter and colored sugars on top. They were incredibly delicious and fun!

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{cheesecake + cupcake: best of both worlds}

I adapted the proportions of this recipe quite a bit as it made way too much graham cracker crumbs and cream cheese frosting. The recipe below is how I would suggest the cupcakes should be made– this is now one of my favorite cupcake recipes!

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes
adapted from Joylicious

  • 2 sleeves of graham cracker crumbs (about 18 whole crackers)
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sour cream/Greek yogurt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped (and more for garnish)
  • Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe below

(1)  Preheat oven to 350° F and line 20-22 muffin tins with cupcake liners. 
(2)  Mix graham cracker crumbs with butter using a food processor.  Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of the crushed graham cracker into the bottom of each prepared muffin tin.  Press down using a ¼ measuring cup and bake for 3-5 minutes or until slightly browned.  Remove immediately from oven and set aside to cool.
(3)  In a medium bowl beat the egg whites until stiff, glossy peaks appear, about 3-4 minutes, be careful not to overbeat. Set aside.
(4)  In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
(5)  In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy and then add the vanilla.
(6)  Next, add half the flour mixture and incorporated on low speed until it’s almost all incorporated.
(7)  Then mix in the sour cream/yogurt. Add the remaining flour and mix until just blended. Don’t over mix.
(8)  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter until combined, do not over mix the egg whites or the cake will fall flat. Add remaining egg whites and fold in the chopped strawberries.
(9)  Fill each muffin tin almost to the top and bake for about 20-22 minutes depending on your oven. You can test to see if they are done by sticking a toothpick through the center and seeing if it comes out clean.
 

Cream Cheese Frosting 

  • 1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

(1)  In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth.
(2)  Add the sugar slowly in small batches, beating on low speed until incorporated. Once all sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and mix until light and fluffy.
(3)  When ready to serve, spread icing on cupcakes or use a pastry bag with a star tip. Garnish with freshly cut strawberries and graham cracker crumbs and serve.

Makes about 20-22 cupcakes

butternut squash soup

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Ok, so I’m pretty obsessed with this butternut squash soup. In the past month or so, I’ve made three full batches. For myself. But when the weather’s as dreary as it’s been these days, soup really is the best comfort food. I eat it by the bowlful or if it’s super gloomy outside, with some grilled cheese sandwiches (dill havarti on pumpernickel, it’s the best).

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Use the best, freshest ingredients and you can’t go wrong. The soup does require some prep work and chopping but it’s well worth it. I freeze half the batch so that it’s always there whenever my butternut soup craving hits. Mmm… I love winter!

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Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 (32-ounce) container vegetable or chicken broth
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup half and half, optional

(1) Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, melt the olive oil and butter. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until translucent.
(2) Add the chopped apples, butternut squash, and garlic. Saute for another 10 minutes until the squash begins to slightly soften.
(3) Pour in the broth then add fresh thyme leaves (discard the stems) and cayenne pepper. Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender. Remove from heat.
(4) Puree the soup, in batches in a blender until smooth. Be very careful when pureeing the hot mixture to start blending slowly and let the steam vent.
(5) Return to Dutch oven and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring back to a simmer and stir in the half and half for a richer consistency (I usually find it doesn’t need it though).
 

Makes 8 servings

pumpkin mousse parfaits

hello November!

So far November in New York has been, to put it kindly… a bitch. First, we welcomed the month with Hurricane Sandy aka Frankenstorm and then Athena the Nor’easter brought an onslaught of our first snow this year. I don’t mean it lightly when I say I feel incredibly grateful and lucky to have been safe and warm.

To anyone who still needs a warm place to stay or electricity or pumpkin parfaits… this is for you.

This dessert requires no baking and is super easy to put together. I was skeptical about the pumpkin-orange mousse but I think my final verdict is… I like it? I only added 1 teaspoon of orange zest instead of 2 and that was plenty. Next time, I may reduce the whipped cream to 1 cup as well for a more intense pumpkin-y flavor.

I think this is perfect for the Thanksgiving holidays. It’s a nice variation on pumpkin pie and feels deceptively light (despite the copious amounts of heavy cream. I’m so evil.). I took these adorable parfaits to my friend Emily’s party and they were quite popular. Make sure not to make them too big as these little things are richer than they appear.

{my favorite part}

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{cute tiger ginger cookies}

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{parfait assembly line}

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Pumpkin Mousse Parfaits
adapted from Barefoot Contessa

  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 packet (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 1 (15-ounce can) pumpkin (not pie filling)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups cold heavy cream
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Sweetened whipped cream (recipe followed)
  • ½ cup crumbled ginger cookies

1)    Place the water in a heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for 10 minutes for the gelatin to soften.
2)    In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg yolks, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
3)    Set the bowl of gelatin over a small pot of simmering water and cook until the gelatin is clear. Immediately whisk the hot gelatin mixture into the pumpkin mixture.
4)    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.
5)    To assemble, spoon some of the pumpkin mixture into parfait glasses, add a layer of whipped cream, then some chopped cookies. Repeat, ending with a third layer of pumpkin.
6)    Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. To serve, decorate with whipped cream and some more crumbles of ginger cookies.

Sweetened whipped cream

  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  • ½ tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1)    In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla until firm peaks form. Use to layer and decorate the parfaits.

Makes 8-10 servings

childhood… with sprinkles!

Rice krispies treats are my childhood. And if they weren’t a part of yours, then I am sorry. Not a snarky kind of sorry but a truly, deeply, hold-you-close-to-my-bosom-as-you-weep sorry because that, my friends, is a travesty. I hope these make up for your lack of a childhood. I really hope they do… (ok that was a little snarky)

As a little girl, I loved helping my mom make rice krispies– hovering over the stove to stir the marshmallows and hoping she wouldn’t scrape all the leftover bits from the pot. If it’s physically possible, I think my love for them has only grown with age. And now that I am one year older and wiser I thought I would make this sophisticated version of my favorite childhood treat.

{ooey gooey goodness}

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What makes these ‘grown up’ is the addition of browned butter and a sprinkling of sea salt, but I still wanted to inject my inner child hence the healthy dose of sprinkles and heart shape cutout (use any fun shape you please).

Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats
adapted from smittenkitchen

  • 4 ounces (¼ pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
  • 1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
  • Heaping ¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)
  • sprinkles of your choice

(1) Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) a 13 x 9-inch pan.
(2) In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.
(3) As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat on low and stir in the marshmallows. Melt until the marshmallows are smooth.
(4) Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I like to non-stick spray my (very clean) hands and press firmly and evenly into the edges and corners, although a silicon spatula works almost as well.
(5) Decorate with sprinkles and a pinch or two more of sea salt on top. Let cool, cut into squares or shapes and get ready to make new friends.
 

Makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

Anyone CAN cook…

So admit it… you had no idea what ratatouille was until Pixar introduced us to that adorable movie about it. At least, I didn’t. I have a particular soft spot for the film as I first saw it with my little brother Ben on one of our ritual sibling date nights (back when he still thought I was cool). Afterwards, we went to Red Robin (his pick) and I paid… hmph, now that he’s taller than I am, it’s time for payback.

After the movie though, I started seeing ratatouille everywhere! A classic Mediterranean dish, ratatouille is not only flavorful but really healthy (vegan) and easy to make. I love all the vegetables that go into it: eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. A simple dish like this does indeed prove that it’s true, ‘Anyone CAN cook!’ (baking, however, is still strictly for the pros).

{veggie bellybuttons}

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{bell pepper confetti}

This dish also tastes great both hot and at room temperature (even cold) which makes for nice leftovers or packed lunch. My version is the traditional rustic dish, but to see the ‘movie’ version look at this cute take on Smitten Kitchen. I may have to make it with my brother next time I’m home.

Ratatouille

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium eggplant, medium diced with skin on
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 zucchini squash, diced
  • 1 yellow squash, diced
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

(1)  Set a large 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.
(2)  Add the eggplant, thyme, and rosemary to the pan. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes.
(3)  Add the diced bell pepper, zucchini, squash and garlic. Drizzle over another tablespoon of olive oil and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
(4)  Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper, to taste (about 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper for me), and cook for a final 5 minutes.
(5) Stir well to blend and serve over a bed of cooked couscous or quinoa, either hot or at room temperature.
 

Note: Make sure your pan is large enough. I may or may not have had to divide my ratatouille halfway through cooking because my pan was overcrowded (ok, I definitely did). You want the vegetables to lightly sauté, not steam.

Makes 6 servings

key lime pie

While I consider myself a Nashville girl, deep deep down inside I’m actually from Miami. Yep, that was the first place my parents lived when they moved to the States and where I was born and raised until I was two. Palm trees, Cuban music, art deco… and I remember none of it. One of the few things that I like to think does link me to Miami however is my love of key lime pie.

Tart, creamy, with a graham cracker crust– it’s the perfect summer treat. Oddly enough I have never made key lime pie myself which is inexcusable as it’s surprisingly easy to make. Don’t take any shortcuts though. Make your own crust, squeeze fresh limes, whip the sweetened cream. You’ll thank me. As did my coworkers.

 

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kale chips

Is there any better chip than a kale chip…

Besides a potato chip. Or a tortilla chip. Pita chip, poker chip… oh, chocolate chip! So well yah maybe kale chips don’t exactly scream mm YUM, yes please! but they’re actually quite tasty, crispy snacks. If you like roasted nori sheets (which I love) then you’ll probably like these. They really are a nice go-to fix when you’re in the mood for a salty snack. In fact, not to brag, but they were quite the success at the Fourth of July party I went to last night… just spreading the gospel of kale chips everywhere I go. Like a vegan Jesus. Again, not bragging.

Not to mention they’re so much healthier than most other snacks that go crunch (I’m lookin’ at YOU, salt & pepper kettle chips!). Packed with beta carotene, vitamin C and K, calcium, and definitely the trendiest green right now.

So indulgence wise, there really is no better chip than a kale chip.

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strawberries and cream overnight oatmeal

I love oatmeal. Apple cinnamon, maple brown sugar, blueberry… and my love of oatmeal extends to other forms such as in this and this. But when the weather gets sweltering outside, sometimes the last thing I want for breakfast is a hot bowl of oatmeal. That’s why overnight oatmeal is perfect. There’s no cooking involved and it’s eaten cold. I’ve had my family try these to mixed responses (I think it’s a temperature thing) but I absolutely love them. MmMmm more oats for me!

It also incorporates one of my new favorite ingredients: chia seeds. Yes, chia seeds as in those used for Chia Pets. But it turns out that these seeds are incredibly good for you. They’re full of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and calcium. And since they absorb lots of water, they help you feel fuller. Fantastic, right? I’ve been sprinkling them on top of everything from pasta to stirfry to ice cream! I buy mine from the bulk section in Whole Foods but you should be able to find them in most health food stores. Ch-ch-ch-check ’em out.

 

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