Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Paul tries his best to be useful around the house. He is very, very good about taking the trash, helping clean the kitchen after dinner, and putting Matthew to bed. You can also find him in the basement twice each week cursing and threatening the cat while angrily changing the litter box. Riley normally supervises from a safe distance.

However, when it comes to laundry, Paul is less than helpful. First, he will wash everything together: towels, dishrags, underwear, sheets, darks, and whites. It all goes into the same load. Second, this mixed load is always washed in HOT water because this will "get the clothes the cleanest." Third, after washing, the load is immediately placed in the dryer and put on the HIGHEST setting because this way they will "dry as quickly as possible." I don't know why Paul is so concerned with speed because he almost never folds the clothes once they come out of the dryer. Instead, they will sit in the laundry basket and he will just pull what he needs from it while insisting that I not touch it because he will "fold and put everything away later." I have learned that "later" almost always means about 5-8 business days. And then once it is folded, it usually sits in piles on our bed until I tell him where everything goes because we have a super complicated clothing organizational system (heavy, heavy sarcasm).

Over the years, Paul's laundry habits have wrecked havoc on all of our wardrobes but particularly mine. He has shrunk more pants and shirts than anyone I know! We both are still traumatized by the time he shrunk my favorite pair of dress pants to the point where I had to dispose of them. Now, while he still helps with the laundry, he lives in fear of messing up my clothes and usually tries his best to line dry my sweaters, shirts and pants in order to avoid any more catastrophic shrinkage.

Earlier in the winter, Paul and I went on a shopping trip and bought a cute green sweater that has become my favorite piece of clothing this season. I wear it all the time and always receive complements when I do. The other day, Paul was pulling a batch of laundry from the dryer when he noticed a tiny green sweater. Since he always tries to line dry my clothes now, he immediately became angry with himself for missing the sweater when transferring the clothes from the washer and held it up to ensure that it had not shrunk. However, the sweater was so tiny, it would be a stretch for it to fit Riley the cat. He began to perspire and shake, thinking that he had once again ruined a favorite sweater of mine. He slowly walked into the kitchen and held the sweater up to show me: "Uhhh...Monica...this sweater...."

I took one look at it and said: "That's Emma's."

The relief that flooded over his face was hilarious. I just about died laughing. It was sweet how worked up he got over a silly sweater.

She likes to eat the laundry as we fold it. Like I have said before, she'll eat anything!

On busy weeknights, a quick and easy meal is essential to ensuring that we eat by our designated 6:30 pm dinnertime. Enter this recipe for Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella. It is so easy that Paul can make it with very little supervision.  Do not let the simplicity of this recipe fool you, this pasta dish is incredibly delicious and has already become a family favorite. The whole thing can be put together in less than 20 minutes and uses only a handful of ingredients. The longest part is waiting for the pasta water to boil.

Now, because the recipe is so simple, it is important to use good ingredients: beautifully red, juicy, and ripe tomatoes, good-quality olive oil, and fresh mozzarella if possible (although regular, shrink-wrapped mozzarella works great too!). Serve with a light green salad and this is a vegetarian meal that the whole family is sure to love. It's also a great option for the upcoming meatless Fridays during Lent!

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Mozzarella
from Cook's Illustrated

1 pound fusilli
1½ pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
3 medium scallions, sliced thin
Table salt
Ground black pepper
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes

Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook until al dente. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the tomatoes, oil, garlic, scallions, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. After draining the pasta and returning it to the pot, add the tomato mixture and mozzarella to the pasta in the pot and toss to combine. Toss for a few minutes to allow the cheese to melt. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gooey Amish Cinnamon Bread

What do you make when you are craving the gooey, warm, delicious flavor of cinnamon rolls but really do not feel like spending a couple hours waiting for them to rise and bake?

Enter this amazing quick bread. The entire recipe requires a mere five minutes of prep before being placed in the oven to bake. About 1 hour later, you will be feasting on the most glorious snack!

The afternoon I made this treat, Matthew had a couple friends over, two of the sweetest little girls we know. They were running around like mad, chasing one another and getting into all kinds of mischief. Pretty soon, all three kiddos had tuckered themselves out so much that they were all just lying in  the middle of the kitchen floor like corpses while Baby Emma crawled between them. She was utterly confused as to why they were not moving about as wildly as before. These kids needed some sugar to get their motors up and running once more.

This is what a sugar high looks like on a 10-month-old. She was racing up those stairs faster than I could snap a picture!

I told the kids to get up, brush themselves off, and muster up their best manners. We were going to have a tea party. I made a batch of chai tea on the stovetop and then served it in our china tea cups. I sliced up this bread and served it on a fancy platter. The Beatles' album A Hard Day's Night was playing in the background for mood music (tea time is a British tradition after all) and we all sat down to enjoy some goofy conversation and a wonderful snack.

The kids really like the chai tea...but the true star of our little tea party was the bread. They gobbled it right up - not a crumb was left!

Not too long after the conclusion of our tea party, the sugar hit their systems and they all took off running around as before. I guess that's the one downside to this recipe: it has some adverse effects on the little people. At least I know they will sleep well tonight!

This bread makes a great addition at the breakfast or brunch table. The scent of cinnamon and sugar as it bakes will make your kitchen smell divine! Certainly better than any Yankee Candle.

Gooey Amish Cinnamon Bread
adapted from Little B Cooks

Note: If you want the bread to be super gooey, slice it while still warm. The cinnamon sugar filling will set up and firm up as the bread cools. It's delicious either way, but you will be able to get some cleaner looking slices if you wait for the bread to cool completely. With the aroma of cinnamon and sugar in the air, waiting to eat this is super hard to do!

1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment.  In a large bowl, cream together the egg, vanilla, butter and the brown sugar until smooth. Add the buttermilk, flour, and baking soda and stir until just combined.  In a separate small bowl, mix together the 1/3 cup of white sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
Pour 1/2 of the batter the loaf pans.  Sprinkle 3/4 of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter then add the remaining batter.  Sprinkle the last of cinnamon mixture over top of the batter, then swirl with a knife.  Bake for 45-50 min. or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.   Cool in pan for 20 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack (if you can wait that long!).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Texas Roadhouse Rolls with Cinnamon Honey Butter

It's no secret that Paul likes steak.

Whenever he gets his choice of where to eat out, whether we are celebrating a promotion, birthday, or anniversary, his first choice is always a steakhouse. His favorite of all the ubiquitous steakhouse chains is probably Texas Roadhouse. He loves being able to choose the cut of steak he wants prepared from their meat counter at the front of the restaurant. He also loves the bags of peanuts everywhere and the fact that you can toss the empty shells onto the floor without anyone batting an eye. And he thinks they do a pretty good job of cooking up some yummy food at a decent price.

I'm not too sold on the place. It has some high points. I like the baked sweet potatoes and country hoedown atmosphere. It's pretty loud so I don't have to worry about my children bothering anyone. And who doesn't want to eat their dinner while the smiling face of Willie Nelson stares down at you from every wall in the joint?

However, the best part about Texas Roadhouse is the dinner rolls. They come to your table HOT and fluffy with a side of delicious cinnamon butter. Our family usually devours so many of these rolls that we end up taking most of our dinner home. They are that good.

There are many, many copycat recipes for those dinner rolls floating around the internet. I finally decided to give one of them a try. After making this recipe, I have to say the flavor is pretty spot-on. The Cinnamon Honey Butter takes everything over the top - do not skip it. These rolls are an irresistible treat and can be served with just about any meal - nobody will complain!

Now that I have this recipe in my arsenal, I don't see any reason to go back to Texas Roadhouse. Sorry Paul. If it helps, we can cook a nice steak dinner at home and we'll be sure to have these rolls served alongside. We can play some Willie Nelson on our stereo and it'll be just like we're eating out. I'll even place a large bowl of peanuts in the center of the table and let you chuck the shells onto the floor.

But after dinner, you're sweeping.

Texas Roadhouse Rolls with Cinnamon Honey Butter
from Handle the Heat

For the bread:
 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and divided
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the butter:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the Rolls:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, stir the yeast, water, milk, sugar, 2 tablespoons of the butter, egg, and salt until well combined. Gradually add the flour and knead on medium-low speed until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn off the mixer and let the dough rest for 3-5 minutes. Continue to knead the dough on medium-low speed for another 5 minutes, or until the dough is soft and smooth. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead for a few seconds on the countertop. If it still seems a bit sticky, add a little more flour, about a tablespoon at a time. Shape the dough into a tight ball.
Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes.

Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the rolls for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the baked rolls with the remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter. Serve hot with the cinnamon butter.

For the cinnamon butter:
 In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 30 seconds, or until pale in color. Add the powdered sugar, honey, and cinnamon and beat until well combined, light, and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately or store, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days. Be sure to bring to room temperature before serving.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Life Lately

It's been a busy past couple of days and I feel as if I am having more and more trouble keeping up with this little blog. My excuse? I have about 1 hour where the kids are not crawling all over me.

One hour. I love my children endlessly, but sometimes I need some space.

That one magical hour usually begins at 9:00 PM and I feel almost giddy thinking about how I should possibly spend it. Reading? Praying? Watching a non-cartoon movie? Eating a meal? Taking a shower? Sitting and just enjoying the quiet? However, despite all my wild plans, by then the husband is usually feeling a bit needy and requires me to lend my ear to his work frustrations while I simultaneously re-inflate his ego with one of my inspirational pep talks. And then I'm too exhausted to do anything else.

The hours between 10:00 PM and 6:30 AM are spent sleeping, although even those few precious hours of restful bliss have been disturbed lately by my eldest shining his Buzz Lightyear flashlight into my face at 5:00 AM just to tell me "I wake up, Mommy!" I need to figure out how to get that kid to sleep in longer.

Both kids love to "help" unload the dishwasher. I imagine their passion for
this activity will end the moment they are actually capable of doing chores.
Anyway, enough of my complaining. Here are some highlights of some happenings and general musings from the past week:

1. Last weekend, we traveled down to Columbus, OH to visit my sister, brother, and sister-in-law. My sister Catherine is getting married next January and finally had a weekend off work to shop for a wedding dress. She had all of her bridemaids plus Mom, Sophie, and Baby Emma come along to help find the perfect dress. Although our lovely bride-to-be was definitely overwhelmed by the large selection of dresses and the mass chaos inside the store (there must have been about 100 frenzied brides and their posses crammed into that small space), she swiftly found the perfect dress on the third try. There were plenty of tears of joy as she exclaimed: "Well! I look pretty good!" It was easier than any of us thought it would be.

2. After finding the bride's dress, we set about to select a gown for the bridesmaids. We tried on one gown of Catherine's choice and all loved it. Done! Then we went out for margaritas to celebrate.

3. Baby Emma was truly taken by all the glitz and glamor of the bridal salon. She wanted to touch everything sparkly, lacy, and fluffy. I'm already a bit worried. She seems to love to shop!

4. After spending some time with Catherine, I headed over to the home of my brother Michael and sister-in-law Maria. Paul and Matthew were already there as they had been spending the afternoon with Michael and Maria while the rest of us were out shopping. Michael and Maria made us a delicious Pad Thai for dinner followed by a fantastic strawberry pie for dessert. Then they asked Paul and I to be the godparents of their new little baby due at the end of March and we could not feel more honored!

5. Speaking of babies, all of our children seemed to get along so well together. It made me so happy to see the little cousins playing together as I was never close to my cousins while growing up. At one point, all three kiddos were jumping on a mattress together and it was the funniest sight!

The three amigos: Cousin Michael, Matthew and Emma. They played so well together!

6. When we arrived back in Erie, Baby Emma decided it was time to climb the stairs for the first time. Now it is her favorite activity. Fantastic.

7. I am realizing that I am going to have to stop calling Baby Emma a baby pretty soon. She is heading quickly towards toddlerhood. She needs to slow down!!!! I'm not ready!

8. Emma is also eating way more food than Matthew. She would be eating all day if we let her. She's got a pretty non-discriminating palate. I caught her eating crayons the other day (and enjoying them!).

9. Paul and I had a great night out for Valentine's Day. After polishing off a delicious dinner of sushi and wine, Paul suggested that we go see a movie. We headed over to the theater but saw that the only movie playing before 10:00 PM was the LEGO movie. That certainly explained the legions of children running all around the lobby. We went to the grocery store instead to pick up a few things we needed (like coffee and antacids because we are 80) and then headed home. We are lame.

10. Matthew has been really into listening to books on CD. He loves reading along with the narrator and turning the page when prompted. However, our library has a very limited selection of books available in this format. This means that we have been checking the same books out over and over again. Don't get me wrong, Kelsey Grammer does a fantastic job reading The Cat in the Hat but listening to it about 200 times over is really pushing it.

11. You know it's been a long winter when 38 degrees feels tropical. Oh summer, come quickly!

12. I have been addicted to parsnips as of late. Luckily, the rest of the family seems to love them as well. We've been chowing down on roasted parsnips, pan-seared parsnips with carrots, parsnip soup, and parsnip puree. I can't get enough!

13. My kids are addicted to popcorn. They both love to watch the air popper do its thing and then battle it out to see who can stuff more fistfuls of popped kernels into their mouths. Baby Emma usually wins. This is probably unsurprising considering what I wrote about Ms. Roly-Poly in #8.

14. I've been really enjoying watching the Winter Olympics during my aforementioned one hour without the kids. I did happen to turn the television on while we were eating lunch the other day and there was some event going on where women were skiing around and then pausing temporarily to shoot at things. It was bizarre. I didn't really understand it. But apparently I am alone in my confusion. I mentioned seeing this event to Paul and he replied with unabashed disbelief: "You've never heard of biathlon?! It's really, really cool!" Which basically means that I am very uncool. I think I'm just going to stick to watching uncool (aka normal) events like alpine skiing and figure skating in the future.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Friday, February 14, 2014

Lemon-Blueberry Scones

Happy Valentine's Day!

Today, in addition to being an international day devoted to love, flowers, and chocolate, also marks the 9-year-anniversary of when Paul and I became a couple. Nine years seems like such a large amount of time. We have been a twosome for a third of my life now! However, it seems like just yesterday that Paul shyly showed up at my dorm room with a bouquet of roses and a poem.

He was so nervous. He barely said a word. And he was giving me a really creepy, closed-mouth smile. I also noticed that he was trying to open his mouth as little as possible when he spoke. The reason for this odd behavior became very clear when I noticed a glint of silver between his lips. For some reason, Paul was wearing his retainer. I had never seen him with his retainer before nor was I aware that he even had one! I was very confused as to why he had chosen to wear his retainer to come bring me a Valentine's Day gift. I figured that perhaps he thought it was dressy - an additional piece of décor to add a bit of glitz and glamor to his outfit - like a pair of cufflinks or a tie clip.

Turns out, Paul had been so nervous while getting ready to head over to my dorm, that he had accidentally put his retainer in after brushing his teeth since that is his normal nighttime routine. He did not realize it was in until he was already at my dorm and had nowhere to stash it. The poor guy was so embarrassed by it. I thought it was cute.

In the end, Paul handed me the flowers. I told him they were lovely. Than he gave me a card with this carefully written poem in it:
Happy Valentines,
Monica, so fine!
Who's so very kind,
and on my mind,
most all the time.
I'd give a dime,
for your thoughts,
'cuz to me - they mean lots!
Oh Monica, will you be mine?
My Valentine?
Obviously, Robert Frost never held a candle to Paul's poetic mastery.

Anyway, I read it and then we talked and laughed for a bit. Then he headed back to his dorm.

He instant messaged me the minute he got back to his dorm: "So...we're going out now right?"
I replied: "I think so."
He replied back: "Good. Have a good night!"

There you have it. Romance at its finest. And the rest is history.

Tonight, Paul and I will be going out sans kids to enjoy a little wine, some reminiscing, and a lot of Asian food. However, this morning we had a special candlelit Valentine's Day breakfast with the kiddos before Paul headed into work. We made a large cheese omelet, some heart-shaped toast, hot coffee, and warm blueberry scones fresh from the oven. Even the littlest member of the family was a big fan of the scones.

This scone recipe is amazing. It is so easy, so buttery, and so good. My favorite scones are blueberry lemon but you could easily substitute any type of berry for the blueberries. If you're a fan of white chocolate, the addition of about 1/2 cup diced along with blueberries or raspberries make a scrumptious addition. The awesome thing about scones? They are great to serve for company or on special occasions because the batter can be made, shaped, and popped in the freezer before baking. Then, all you have to do is slide them in the oven on the morning you want to serve them and you'll have some freshly baked scones with no hassle!

Lemon-Blueberry Scones
from Cook's Illustrated

Note: To make ahead, place the shaped scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet and immediately place in the freezer. Once frozen solid, wrap the sheet with the scones in plastic wrap. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, remove the plastic wrap from the scones, brush the scones with the butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup full-fat sour cream
16 tablespoons butter, frozen whole (note that only 10 tablespoons will be used in the recipe)
1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Make sure the sticks of butter are frozen solid before proceeding.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Score and remove half of wrapper from each stick of frozen butter. Grate unwrapped ends on large holes of box grater (you should grate total of 8 tablespoons). Place grated butter in freezer until needed. Melt 2 tablespoons of remaining ungrated butter and set aside. Save remaining 6 tablespoons butter for another use. Place blueberries in freezer until needed.

Whisk together milk and sour cream in medium bowl; refrigerate until needed. Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest in medium bowl. Add frozen butter to flour mixture and toss with fingers until thoroughly coated.
Add milk mixture to flour mixture. Fold with spatula until just combined. Transfer dough to a liberally floured work surface. Dust surface of dough with flour; with floured hands, knead dough 6 to 8 times, until it just holds together in ragged ball, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking.
Roll dough into approximate 12-inch square. Following illustrations, fold dough into thirds like a business letter, using bench scraper or metal spatula to release dough if it sticks to countertop. Lift short ends of dough and fold into thirds again to form approximate 4-inch square. Transfer dough to plate lightly dusted with flour and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes.
Transfer dough to floured work surface and roll into approximate 12-inch square again. Sprinkle blueberries evenly over surface of dough, then press down so they are slightly embedded in dough. Using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, loosen dough from work surface. Roll dough, pressing to form tight log. Lay seam-side down and press log into 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using sharp, floured knife, cut rectangle crosswise into 4 equal rectangles. Cut each rectangle diagonally to form 2 triangles and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.
Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake until tops and bottoms are golden brown, about 18-25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

TWD: Onion Bialys

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenge was a recipe for Onion Bialys. After baking these, I am still uncertain what a bialy should taste like. I'm positive my onion bialys do not resemble traditional bialys at all since they are supposed to feature a depression in the center and mine seemed to only rise higher despite my attempts to keep it from doing so by stabbing it viciously multiple times with a fork. However, I do know that in all their imperfection, these little onion-and-poppyseed-studded-bread-things were so incredibly delicious.

Now to answer my own question as to what defines a bialy versus a bagel versus your average bread roll, I did a little research before writing this post. Alas, my attempts to learn more about the bialys came up short. More sources cited the same, basic information: bialys are of Polish in origin and are chewy, yeast rolls that are normally flavored with a variety of savory ingredients before being baked. They normally feature a depression in the middle (unlike mine) that is filled with a mixture of cooked onion, poppy seeds, and/or garlic. Unlike bagels, they are not boiled prior to baking.They are also traditionally eaten within 5 hours of baking. Pretty much all the same information in my cookbook. I'm glad I wasted some precious naptime researching the origin of bialys.

The dough for the bialy begins with a simple starter that hangs out for a bit and allows the yeast to develop a little flavor before proceeding with the remainder of the recipe. The dough comes together easily and quickly. When it came time for shaping, I found the dough fun to work with - I loved the feel of it. However, as mentioned above, I tried my best to get the depression in the center of my bialys to stay put and they looked lovely when I put them into the oven. However, after about 10 minutes of baking, I noticed that the centers had risen to an extraordinary height as if to mock me for my vain attempts to keep them subdued.

We ate these for dinner and lunch the next day. For dinner, cut them in half, slathered each half with a generous portion of vegetable cream cheese and then layered on thinly sliced tomato, red onion, and smoked salmon. Amazing. Paul is a smoked salmon lover and he was in heaven during the entire meal. For lunch the next day, we made some awesome veggie sandwiches with more veggie cream cheese, a sprinkling of roasted sunflower seeds, shredded carrots, onion, tomato, and cucumber. Also fantastic.

This recipe is definitely a keeper! If you're looking for an easier alternative to the traditional bagel, this recipe will fill that need. And I highly recommend serving it with the smoked salmon. Paul has already asked when we are going to make these again.


Onion Bialys
adapted ever-so-slightly from Baking with Julia

For the sponge:
2 1/4 cups warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup minced yellow onion
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups flour

For the Topping and the Dough:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup minced onion
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
The sponge (from above)
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups (approximately) flour

Pour 1/4 cup of the water into a small bowl and add the yeast along with a pinch of the sugar. Whisk to combine. Allow the mixture to rest until the yeast dissolves and turns creamy, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until softened. Scrape the onions and melted butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the remaining 2 cups of water, the sugar, and the black pepper. Check to make sure that the ingredients in the mixing bowl are no warmer than 110 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the creamy yeast to the mixing bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour in a steady stream, mixing until the flour is incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula and remove the bowl from the mixer. Cover with plastic wrap and let the sponge rise at room temperature for 1 1/4 hours.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions and poppy seeds until the onions are soft. Season with pepper and let cool.

When the sponge is fully risen, return the bowl to the mixer. On low speed, beat in the salt and as much flour as needed to make a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and knead for 3-5 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead briskly until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled mixing bowl, turning once to coat. Cover tightly with plastic and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and dust lightly with cornmeal. Set aside.

Divide the risen dough in half and keep one half covered while working with the other. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the others covered, shape the dough into a round and flatten the center to create a thick 1/2-inch-wide rim. Prick the center of the bialy with the tines of a fork and transfer to the cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Cover with a towel while you shape the other 5 bialys.

Prick the center of each bialy again. Spoon a little of the onion-poppy seed filling into the center of each bialy and prick again to flatten.

Put 4 ice cubes in a 1-pint measuring cup and add 1/4 cup cold water. Put the bialys into the oven and immediately toss the ice cubes and water onto the oven floor. Immediately close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake the bialys for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 450 degrees and bake for 5 minutes more. Transfer to a rack to cool. Return the oven to 500 degrees.

While the first batch of bialys are baking, cut and shape the remaining bialys. Shape, prick, fill, and bake as directed above. Let the bialys cool completely before eating and enjoying!

Friday, February 7, 2014

What a Four-Year-Old Buys From the Dollar Store

For his birthday, Matthew's Great-Grandmother sent him a precious little card with a crisp 10-dollar bill tucked inside. In her letter, she instructed Paul and I to take Matthew to a Dollar Store so he could buy a ton of little gifts for himself with the money. Yesterday, I did just that.

On the way to the store, Matthew began an exciting discussion about Cinderella since he had just seen the movie at a friend's house.

Matthew: "Cinderella had to do all the work. All the work in the whole house. Poor Cinderelly!"
Me: "But she had some friends, right?"
Matthew: "Yes. She had a big mouse and a small mouse."
Me: "And then there was Lucifer, right?"
Matthew: "The black cat. The mean black cat. And Cinderella wear a princess dress and see the prince dancing."
Me: "What happened after Cinderella danced with the prince? What did she lose?"
Matthew: "She lost her pants."
Me: "Uhh...try again."
Matthew: *After a bit of thought* "Her slipper."
Me: "There you go."

Matthew was so very excited to have his own money to spend. He could hardly believe how much loot he could buy with his cash - 10 whole items! He felt like a rich little man!

He took about 100 laps around the entire store, carefully observing and making a few mental notes here and there in an attempt to make the most informed decision for his investment. I was getting a little irritated with how long he was taking to choose a single item because the aisles at the dollar store are quite narrow and we seemed to pick a very popular day for dollar store shopping because it was so crowded. However, after about 20 minutes of careful observation, Matthew stopped in front of the "puzzle section" and selected four puzzles to take home: a Buzz Lightyear, Lightening McQueen, Mr. Potato Head, and a Spider-man puzzle. What can I say? He loves his puzzles.

Then he picked out a pinwheel. Just because.

Next, he selected some refill bubbles for his bubble machine. A very wise decision considering he has already blown (pun intended) through all the bubble solution his little machine came with.

Next, he led me to the snack aisle because he was "very hungry" and wanted to "find something to eat with my teeth." He picked out a package of strawberry fig newtons "for my little sister" since Emma was getting a bit fussy. He's been very understanding of her crankiness lately, telling everyone we meet that Emma is "growing she teeth." He also chose a package of Monsters Inc. gummy snacks and some Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies for himself even though we had just made some cookies at home. More for Baby Emma, I guess.

Our little cookie monster. She would be eating 24/7 if we let her!

Finally, we wandered over to the display of ceramic pieces and figurines. Matthew was thrilled to find a cute little piggy bank for the "money I find on the floor of the store." Seriously, he has an eye for loose change. Whenever I am out shopping with him, he normally finds no less than $1.00 in change as we walk around the store. I usually find his treasure in his pockets while washing his laundry. He's paid for my parking downtown multiple times.

I left the dollar store with a very happy little child. It was a lot of fun taking him there and I loved seeing his concentration as he chose each item. But now, gosh darn it, we have a million puzzles scattered around, a little crawler who likes to eat puzzle pieces, a cat who likes to bat puzzle pieces under the furniture, and a little boy who gets very upset if a single piece goes missing. It's going to be a fun week!

"This puzzle piece looks so delicious!"

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie with Parmesan Biscuit Crumble

Don't even try to talk to me about the Super Bowl.

We had everything ready to cheer those Broncos on to victory (or at least to a spectacularly competitive finish): the food, the drinks, the party atmosphere. We even taught Matthew a couple of football cheers and he was all set for "the orange guys" to win or at least score a few touchdowns. Then that safety happened on the first offensive play of the game. And it only got worse from there.

I'm still drowning my sorrows. It was a rough night and the next morning both Paul and I felt terribly out of sorts. Imagine how the entire Bronco's team must have felt (and my poor Peyton!!).

Needless to say, we were all in desperate need of a little comfort. What is more comforting than a chicken pot pie?

This recipe for Chicken Pot Pie gets rid of the tedious preparation of a pastry dough by instead making a biscuit crumble for the topping. The biscuit crumble is ingenious: lightly peppery and flavored with Parmesan cheese. I probably could have eaten that all by myself and been very, very content. The filling is a breeze to make especially if you have leftover chicken, which we did. I always double up on the vegetable portion because that's the way I roll. You could definitely make this fully vegetarian by adding in some potatoes, extra mushrooms, and maybe some steamed broccoli or asparagus. Any way you slice it, the sauce that coats your fillings of choice is deceptively simplistic yet luxurious and indulgent in taste. I attribute the amazing taste to the addition of tomato paste and soy sauce to the mushrooms - it really beefs up their flavor and adds a mysteriously delicious element to the final product.

This recipe also works well with leftover turkey. We served it with a side of roasted broccoli. Divine.

This meal was dedicated to the Broncos. Despite what happened at the Super Bowl, you guys still had a fantastic season.

Chicken Pot Pie with Parmesan Biscuit Crumble Topping
adapted from Cook's Illustrated September/October 2010

For the Filling:
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs (or 1 1/2 pounds leftover chicken or turkey meat!)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine  
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices 
2 small celery ribs, chopped fine   
1 pound baby bella mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps wiped clean and sliced thin
1 teaspoon soy sauce 
1 teaspoon tomato paste  
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup 2% milk
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley) 
3/4 cup frozen baby peas
For the Parmesan Biscuit Crumble:
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (do not substitute milk or half & half)
For the Chicken:
If you do not have leftover chicken to use, poach the breasts in the chicken broth. Bring chicken and broth to simmer in covered Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook until chicken is just done, about 8-12 minutes. Transfer cooked chicken to large bowl. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer into liquid measuring cup and reserve. Do not wash Dutch oven. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
To Make the Topping:
Combine flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in large bowl. Sprinkle butter pieces over top of flour. Using fingers, rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Stir in Parmesan. Add cream and stir until just combined. Crumble mixture into irregularly shaped pieces ranging from 1/2 to ¾ inch each onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and starting to brown, 10 to 13 minutes. Set aside.
To Make the Filling:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in now-empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrots, celery, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. While vegetables are cooking, shred chicken into small bite-size pieces. Transfer cooked vegetables to bowl with chicken and set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil in empty Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir in soy sauce and tomato paste. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated, mushrooms are well browned, and dark fond begins to form on surface of pan, about 5 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to bowl with chicken and vegetables. Set aside.
Heat butter in empty Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in reserved chicken broth and milk. Bring to simmer, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, then continue to simmer until sauce fully thickens, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and 2 tablespoons parsley.
 Stir chicken-vegetable mixture and peas into sauce. Pour mixture into 13 by 9-inch baking dish or casserole dish of similar size. Scatter crumble topping evenly over filling. Bake on rimmed baking sheet until filling is bubbling and topping is well browned, 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon parsley and serve.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Super-Duper Stromboli

It's Super Bowl Sunday and like most of the rest of the country, we are planning on pigging out while watching some good football and really dumb commercials. I'm ready to see Peyton and the Broncos kick some Seahawk butt.

Speaking of Peyton, after reading this post, Paul reiterated that we will never, ever name one of our children after Peyton Manning. However, as a consolation, he graciously allowed me to name my new laptop Peyton. So, this blog post is being typed up on my brand spanking-new laptop "Peyton" the Lenovo.

On the menu for tonight are some buffalo wings made by Paul with a recipe courtesy of my brother Raymond. Both of these guys are super passionate about their chicken wings. In fact, they plan to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Buffalo Wings -  the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY - sometime in the next couple months. Some people choose to make their pilgrimages to shrines, cathedrals, or other consecrated places; my husband and brother choose a sticky, smoky bar that serves greasy wings. To each his own.

We are also having hummus with carrot sticks, broccoli, and pita bread. I know the kids will at least eat the vegetables and bread even if Paul won't touch it. I have to serve something semi-healthy with all the grease we will likely be consuming today.

My contribution to this gluttonous feast will be Stromboli. I wanted to make something a little different than pizza but along those same lines so that Matthew will be sure to enjoy it. Plus, we are planning on having dinner "buffet-style" in our family room while watching the game, so I wanted to try to serve something that was a bit more finger friendly. We settled on Stromboli because it has all the elements of pizza, only the fillings (minus the sauce)are rolled into the dough. After baking, the Stromboli is sliced, held more or less like a sandwich, and served with pizza sauce on the side for dipping. Hopefully there will be minimal mess associated with this meal. Check back with me tomorrow to see if the carpets were ruined by spilled pizza sauce and greasy fingers (I'm sure you will all be on the edge of your seats waiting for that update).

Stromboli really should not be made with any fillings that are too incredibly greasy or else the seam on the roll will burst and all the grease will spill out (always an appetizing sight). My favorite filling for Stromboli is a combination of cured Italian meats: capicola, salami, pepperoni, and ham. I usually microwave the pepperoni, layered between paper towels, for about 30 seconds on high just to remove some of the grease before adding it to the Stromboli. Add some thinly sliced mozzarella and a bit of Parmesan, and roll up the pizza dough, seal the seam, and place on a cookie sheet ready for baking. The awesome thing about Stromboli is that it can be rolled, covered tightly with plastic, and refrigerated for a couple hours before baking, making it an ideal make-ahead item for a party! I like to serve it alongside my favorite pizza sauce and I've included the recipe for that below. It is truly delish and better than anything you can get out of a jar.

Yield: Two Rolls

1 full recipe pizza dough
1 full recipe pizza sauce
3 cups shredded Mozzarella
1 cup finely shredded Parmesan
1/4 lb. Genoa Salami
1/4 lb. Capicola or other Italian Hot Ham
1/2 lb. Smoked Deli Ham
1/2 lb. Pepperoni

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Divide the pizza dough in half on a lightly floured work surface.

Working with one half at a time, roll into a 10x12" rectangle. Sprinkle half of the cheeses evenly over the rectangle, leaving a 1/2" border. Layer half of the meats over the cheese. Use a pastry brush to carefully coat the border with a bit of water, then roll the cylinder up as tightly as you can, tucking in the edges and pressing the seams firmly to seal. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, seam side down. Lightly brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of extra Parmesan, if desired. Repeat with second piece of dough.

If not baking immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready.

Otherwise, slash a couple slits with a very sharp knife into the top of your stromboli and immediately slide it in the oven. Bake in the 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until browned. Remove and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with warm pizza sauce for dipping.