Wednesday, December 30, 2009


In the midst of our insane move, unpacking boxes in record time, and getting our holiday on, I turned thirty. While many people facing this milestone get teary and hysterical, make major purchases, and consume massive quantities of hard alcohol, I was pretty much unphased. E and I were at the house in RI, hanging with D and making cookies, playing Wii, and reading in our PJ's until at least 3:00. Then we visited my aunt's house, had a drink and some food, and drove to Connecticut to play Santa with my sister. We set out carrots and cookies with Nic, ate more food, drank a glass of wine, and then I went to bed. Huzzah! It was nice and calm, uneventful, and there were no tears, hysterics, or feelings of woe. I don't feel the need to go buy myself a right hand ring, or wail my sorrows over lost youth into a bottle of Jack. The most dramatic thing I did was chop off six inches of my hair (after realizing I have had the same hairstyle for ten years!). I'm actually pretty glad my twenties are over. While many of the last ten years have full of awesome, there have also been some of the most difficult, challenging, and all out shitty times, too. I'm glad to have survived them, knowing of course, that we all learn from our mistakes, but in no way feeling sad that my drunken-booty-shaking, late-night-clubbing days of yore are now behind me. Aww, who am I kidding? I still like drunken booty shaking. And belated birthday parties. Even if I do have to plan them myself :)

God, I sound like such a brat! Love you guys!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A2 Redux

While up to my eyeballs in packing paper, bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts, I've had plenty of time to ponder the past two years. Now yes, I have complained about the weather here, the distance from my family, and the amusing, if not slightly annoying, idiosyncracies of many Michiganders, but there are also plenty of things I have enjoyed about Ann Arbor. The saying is true, this place is definitely 12 square miles surrounded by reality, but you know what? It's a pretty nice little fairy tale land if you ever get a chance to visit. We've had some good times, visited some great places, and made some absolutely wonderful friends, whom we will miss dearly. Here's the breakdown of some things that made our Midwestern sojourn memorable:

- The Art Fair: Hands down the most amazing street art fair I've ever been to. It takes 3 days to see all of it, and the range of artists is just incredible. There's nothing I like more in the summer than wondering around downtown, taking advantage of street sales, checking out gorgeous art from around the country, and people watching. It puts RI art fests to shame.

- Tailgating and the Big House: As New Englanders who could not possibly care less about college football, E and I were nonplussed by the idea of living literally 2 miles from Michigan Stadium. After one visit to a tailgate, we knew we'd have to change our minds. While we never became Wolverine fans (why would we?) I can't tell you enough about how much fun we had hosting our first huge tailgate bash and going to a game. Even if you are like us and just don't get it, dropping in on a game is worth the experience. The band is fantastic and the enthusiasm of the crowd is so infectious, you may forget that Michigan is the most overrated team in Big Ten football (maybe even more overrated than Stucchi's and Zingerman's! Hahaha!).

- Conor O'Neill's, Grizzly Peaks, The Brown Jug, and Charley's: How do I love thee, beer? Let me count the ways... Actually, I can't begin to count how many beers and fun times we've had in these four bars, which quickly became our go-to spots. In reality, I don't think it had as much to do with the places themselves (although Grizzly has the best bar food, Conor's is a decent Irish pub before the kids arrive and smoke it out, and both Charley's and the Jug have ridiculously cheap prices) as it did the company. I almost peed myself on many occassions (from laughing, people, laughing!).

- The Chop House, Palio, Shalimar, Raja Rani, Prickly Pear, and eve: There are so many restaurants in this area, you could eat at a new one every night for months. There are tons we never got to, but these are all places where we had really good food. Shalimar and Raja Rani have some of the best Indian food ever, and Prickly Pear is really delicious Southwestern food. While Palio isn't the authentic Italian we snobby Rhode Islanders are used to (we can't help it being raised by The Hill!) it is the best you'll find around here. The Chop House, is your standard chop house, but thanks to some very generous peeps, we did enjoy awesome steaks and a Tiger sighting there. eve is the restauranut owned by the chef who got cut very early in last season's Top Chef (so sad!), but her restauraunt is a beautiful, intimate, little space and the food is gorgeous. Pricey, but worth it for apps and drinks at least!

- The Michigan Theater: I do love me a well preserved historical theater! This one is as beautiful as PPAC, if not as large, and the films and shows they choose are always fab. They are so dedicated to showcasing locals and indies, and it's just a really fun place to visit. Beats the sticky floors and funk of the State for local film viewing in a heartbeat!

- The Arb, Argo Pond, and the Mathei Gardens: For a small city, there are some great places within its borders for taking nice little hikes, paddling a canoe or kayak around, and generally enjoying the scenery on a warm afternoon in the nice weather. Sure, lots of the time I'm cynical and can even be called gasp! negative, but nothing warms my cold little heart like a sunny day, slow moving water, and a boat.  I just wish it was on the ocean (see, there I go again!). These are perfect places for a picnic, a stroll, and getting in touch with your tree huggin', Birk wearin', dirty hippie self.

So long Ann Arbor, and thanks for all the fish.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On the road again...

Well, I've been a little absent and a little confused, a lot busy and so very excited I can't even describe it to you. I messed up and forgot about my last giveaway. I have over 200 posts waiting in my Google reader. I have sadly failed to post about the last few "I Heart Cooking Clubs" themes even though I did actually make tiny Chocolate Egg Nog Pots du Creme for Goddess week (which were muy delicioso Nigella, thanks for the inspiration!) but never photographed them. I baked Cranberry Almond Coffee Cake Muffins, but never photographed them. I made holiday cards and chocolate bark, but never photographed any of that, either. I haven't baked this month's HBin5 bread, FOR SHAME! I've been busy people. Busy getting ready to move this little circus of mine. To NEW JERSEY!

That's right, E and I are finally headed back to our beloved east coast, so peath out Mid West and I'll smell ya later. We will be three hours from home, an hour from New York City, and, compared to our current address, we'll be right near da beach, booyyyy! (Please tell me you caught that reference!) I am so thrilled I'm feeling a little like I imagine a crack head might feel on a bender, all tingly and dopey and with my eyes bugging out. Now let me add that I am actually not a big fan of New Jersey (I admit, E and I lovingly call it the armpit of the country) and after watching Jersey Shore, we know we aren't far off. We lived in Jersey for a short time, so we aren't just being mean (ok, maybe) but really, so many of the stereotypes are true. I'm from frickin' Rho D'island and I still wouldn't tease my hair that big or ever, ever date a guido. However, if it gets me closer to home, bring on the gold chains and fake tans, Mama needs a new set of nails.

I flew to Boston on Monday to meet my mother, drove to NJ on Tuesday to find an apartment, drove back to Boston and then to Connecticut to visit my sister and my little boys, then flew back to Michigan on Thursday in time for work. I'm already packing, because it looks like we are going to be all moved in before Christmas! That means no tree, no cookie trays, no Frankenmuth. I'm lucky that my friends are throwing their Tacky Sweater party this weekend so that I can at least suck up a little holiday cheer. I haven't even bought anything to wear yet, but after last years pathetic display, I've got only one day to step it up. If I have to wrap myself in cellophane and tinsel, so be it. I'll channel Kathy Bates.

So forgive me if I take a short hiatus while I cram my entire home (which I just finished unpacking, mind you) into a big ass Uhaul and deposit it in Yankee territory (the horror!). I'll take pictures, I'll try to make something, I'll even take notes, then I will return to regale you with Tales of the Turnpike and Other Stories, once the skates are again off.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dance, Monkeys, Dance!

When Aunt Becky says jump, her monkeys don't wait to say how high. I'm not a monkey. But I do dig my dear Aunt Becky and when she wants to give me something for free, I accept, even if it means I have to answer a bunch of random questions about myself that will in no way help anyone to know my inner workings any better. I am a very dangerous woman of mystery, you know. I keep shit close to the chest. Ha.

So here you go Becky, our titillating interview, since you told the monkeys:
"I’m always telling you to shut your whore mouth. Now it’s time to open it."

1) Do you like sprinkles on your ice cream?
Only if it is black raspberry ice cream with chocolate jimmies, which is what they are called in the real world aka Rhode Island.

2) If you had to choose one word to banish from the English language, what would it be and why?
Anyone who reads my blog knows this one. Moist. An unoriginal choice, but there it is. That word makes me cringe. Second choice? Nickleback, for many, many obvious reasons.

3) If you were a flavor, what would it be?
Dark chocolate peanut butter cup.

4) What’s the most pointless annoying chore you can think of that you do on a daily/weekly basis?
I actually don't mind household chores. Not that I'm June Cleaver or anything, but I like a clean house. I don't, however, like cleaning my husband's hairs off of every surface to which they stick, which is every surface in sight. That's definitely not pointless, since I don't want to live in a monkey house, but it irritates me.

5) Of all the nicknames I’ve ever had in my life, Aunt Becky is the most widely known and probably my favorite. What’s your favorite nickname? (for yourself)
I've had lots of nicknames: Josie-anna, Banga, Sub Curls, Sgt. Josie-which is the most ironic since I ended up marrying a Sargent for real- and the latest, Jojobeans. Coined by one of the cousins, it stuck. E probably uses it the most, and it helps me identify his moods. It becomes Jojo if he wants something, Beans if he's making fun of me. I spent most of my life refusing to accept nicknames, but know I am Jojo for-eva.

6) You're stuck on a desert island with the collective works of 5 (and only five) musical artists for the rest of your life. Who are they?
You suck, Becky. I don't like limits. But if I must I'll go with Regina Spektor, the Beatles, Jeff Buckley, Dave Mathews Band, and Madonna. Yup.

7) Everything is better with bacon. True or false?
True! Try Chocolate Chip Maple Bacon cookies! Boo ya!
8 ) If I could go back in time and tell Young Aunt Becky one thing, it would be that out of chaos, order will emerge. Also: tutus go with everything. What would you tell your young self?
Curly haired girls must never cut bangs. And E is the only one who will ever really love you, so don't waste your time looking elsewhere.

Happy, Becky?  Thanks for making me do a damn questionairre even when you know blog readers hate questionairres. I still love you.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Happy December!

I now know that I will have no time at all for holiday crafting this year, what with the big changes E and I have going on! I'll be lucky if I mail out Christmas cards from a box. So today, I took advantage of my last little bit of fun time and got my Christmas craft on...

After making several garbage bag wreaths for Halloween over the past few years, I decided I wanted to make something similar for Christmas, but with different materials. There is just something so fun about the fluffy knots of those wreaths and they literally take under an hour to make once you get the hang of it.

I decided to use linen since I had a bunch on hand, but you could use any fabric, felt, or even white trash bags. You can have this entire thing done during an episode of Community, so pour yourself a glass of wine and get going!

You will need:
  • 1 12 inch wire wreath form (one with a double set of wires like I have here)
  • About 1 yard of linen or burlap fabric
  • Scissors
  • Embellishments like ribbon, feathers, beads, faux birds, berries and leaves, ornaments, little toys, etc.
  • A hot glue gun
  • Don't forget that glass of wine! You may want to avoid red is you are a slob like me, though. No need to spill on your pretty wreath!
Lay out you fabric and begin cutting or tearing it into strips that are about 1 1/2 inches wide and 8 inches long. Don't go measuring anything; just eyeball it because they don't need to be perfect! As you work with the knots the edges will fray and create the fluffiness that will fill out the wreath.

Take a strip of fabric and loop it around the inside two wires. Secure with a double knot. Continue until inside ring is full of knots. Repeat for the outside ring. Once your wreath form is full of knots, give each one a good fluff and tug to help fray and fill out the wreath.

Now comes the fun part. Embellish your wreath to your creative little hearts content by tying on ribbons and ornaments, spray it with adhesive and throw some glitter at it, or fill in the spaces with hard candies, whatever! Just secure everything with hot glue. The hot glue gun is a crafty girl's best friend, so put it to good use! I went with a green theme since the recipient of this wreath said she tends to decorate in shades of green. I tied on a vintage glass ball ornament and a few iridescent bows, and added some sparkly berries and ferns. I wanted it to be simple, but with a little bit of vintage appeal. Don't forget to tie a small loop of ribbon to the back of the wreath form so that you can hang it.

Now I'd love to say I'm going to make more of these, including one for myself, but that's a lie. Time, time, who's got the time? If you make one, I'd love to see it and live vicariously though other peoples crafting, so don't forget to send me a photo!

Monday, November 30, 2009

One more time...

Phew! I'm back from a 5 day Thanksgiving extravaganza in North Carolina and man, am I tired! 28 hours of driving, way too much food, a little too much wine, and many rounds of LCR later, and all I wanted to do today is nap! Unfortunately, 5 days worth of emails and real life responsibilities have thwarted my attempts at sleeping for 14 hours straight. Thanksgiving was so much fun, but I'm not even going to bother posting food photos or recipes since I'm sure all of you have finished eating up leftovers and have shut the book on Turkey Day until next year. Bring on the December holidays!

I'm already in the Christmas mood thanks to the Regatta in North Myrtle Beach, and lucky you guys, I can help you with your holiday shopping, too! Online Poster Printing has given me a chance to offer you another giveaway in time for the winter shopping season (that is if you didn't finish all of your shopping in the Black Friday madness, you crazy people!).

The details:
Giveaway Prize: (1) 16x20” Rolled Canvas for One Lucky Winner
Size: 16x20 rolled canvas
Shipping: FREE UPS Ground Shipping in the US
Eligibility: Limited to US Residents due to shipping costs. We will negotiate better shipping rates soon.
Giveaway ends Monday, 12/6/09

You can check out samples of the rolled canvas prints here and read reviews of their products here. These rolled canvas prints make great gifts, whether you are printing a family portrait, a favorite landscape photo, or anything else you can think of.  I'll be using mine to print a gift for my mother, but I can't say more just in case she reads this! If you'd like to win, all you need to do is:
1. Leave a comment describing what you will do with your print. Don't forget to leave an email address so that I can contact you if you win!
2. This time, I am offering you the chance to earn up to 2 extra entries, too. Just tweet or blog about this giveaway and link back to me. Then leave me an extra comment with the link to your tweet or blog entry! Winners will be chosen on Monday, December 6th and your prize claim info will come directly from the sponsor.
So get commenting if you want to knock one gift off your list! And check back soon for more giveaways and recipes, and the big spill (cause I have fricking huge news people! But I can't tell you until all of my friends and family in the real world have answered their phones :) I know they'd kill me if they heard it here first!).

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm so stuffed!

I shouldn't be surprised by that, since I just inhaled the plate of food you see here :) You'd be stuffed, too!
This month,  BakeSpace is hosting a recipe contest with Libby's. (Anytime I see a Libby's label I think of my poor cousin! Libby had to suffer years of torture thanks to their theme song, which now is stuck in my head. WTF.) We all had to create an original recipe using Libby's Pumpkin Puree, so today's belly buster is my entry. I've made so many pumpkin recipes in the past few weeks, I'm afraid I may get sick of it, but let's hope not!

Pumpkin Ricotta Baked Stuffed Shells
* serves 6

½ c.each: pumpkin puree, ricotta cheese, shredded parmesan cheese, and seasoned bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried sage
¼ tsp. thyme
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ lb. jumbo shells
2 Tbls. butter
2 Tbls. all purpose flour
1 c. milk or cream
¾ c. shredded smoked mozzarella
6-10 fresh sage leaves
1 Tbls. olive oil

Cook shells in boiling salted water until al dente (about 12 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Blend all ingredients up to nutmeg with a fork until combined. Set aside.

Melt butter over medium high heat in a small saucepan. Add flour and salt and cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbly. Add milk and stir constantly until all lumps disappear. Add smoked mozzarella (seriously, I am getting addicted to this stuff. It is so delicious alone, but it adds just the right amount of nutty, smoky flavor to other ingredients.), remove from heat, and stir until melted and smooth.

Spoon 1/3 c. of cheese sauce into the bottom of a 9x9 baking dish. Fill each shell with about a Tbls. of ricotta mixture and place into the pan. Once all shells are filled and fit snugly in pan, pour remaining sauce over the top. Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes or until sauce is bubbly.

This last step is not really necessary, but I like crispy sage! It fills the kitchen with a lovely smell, and it adds a punch of flavor. But I suppose, if you must, you can skip it. If not, then heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over high heat. Add fresh sage leaves and fry until crisp, about 4 minutes. Serve shells hot with crispy sage garnish.

I also had a bunch of sauteed spinach with mine, and it was such a good lunch! I imagine it would be a nice addition to a Thanksgiving table, especially if you have vegetarian friends coming over or relatives who for some ungodly reason don't like turkey. They are quick and can definitely be made ahead of time, stored wrapped in the fridge for a day or two, and baked just before dinner time.

Print this recipe!

We have a winner!

Congrats to Gina of Moneywise Moms for winning 50 custom cards from Digital Room! Thanks to everyone who entered, and keep coming back for more offers :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nigella's Eggplant Involtini

This week's theme for I Heart Cooking is potluck, which means of course, that we get to make anything we want! I picked up Nigella Lawson's Feast about two weeks ago and have read it through at least twice since. One thing I love about her books is how beautiful and funny they are, even if it's unintentional. I can almost hear Nigella talking  in her lilting little accent as I read, which makes it seem so natural and amusing when she describes the dishes and preparations. One of the recipes that immediately jumped out at me was her Involtini, made with eggplant and what looked like a fantastic creamy filling. I decided to make it this week, since I had most of the ingredients together already. Nigella says, "You get a decent wodge of involtini out of this." A wodge? So I only bought one eggplant (the recipe calls for two or three) but I only needed to feed 2 people, not 6. It still made enough invotini for dinner and lunch the next day. The only other changes I made were in the filling. Nigella calls for fresh mozzarella, which I imagine would have made the filling a little more wet. I used smoked mozzarella (thanks to Giada for turning me onto that!) for the filling and plain shredded mozzarella for the top since I had some and didn't feel like shredding any fresh cheese by hand. So what, I'm lazy!

Involtini with Eggplant

1 large eggplant (approximately 1 lb.), sliced lengthways in slices at most 1/4 inch thick
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup shredded mozarella
For the filling:
1/2 c. crumbled feta
1/2 c. smoked mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan
1/2 c. pine nuts
1/3 c. raisins, soaked in hot water for ten minutes and drained
4 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbls. bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
Zest of one lemon
1 tsp. fresh mint, chopped
2 Tbls. fresh parsley, chopped
1 egg, beaten

First things first. You need to slice up that eggplant. The one I bought was easily the largest eggplant I've ever seen, and it was a serious bitch. Maybe if I had a giant mandolin slicer it would have been fun, but no (add that to my wishlist!). I f'd up the slices completely. Maybe 3 or 4 of them were even and the rest were a wonky mess. Ah well. Once you have your eggplant sliced, you need to brush the slices with olive oil and cook for about 4 minutes per side, until they are softened. I used my pretty little grill pan, not realizing it was only big enough for one slice at a time until it was already hot and oiled (now that just sounds wrong!). Had I realized this earlier, I would have just cooked the eggplant on the outside grill and had it over with in ten minutes! Set them aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees while you make the filling. This part is easy! Just dump everything in a bowl and toss it together. Looks yummy just as is, no? Now take a slice of eggplant, plop a dollop of filling onto one end (maybe a large tablespoon, I didn't really measure, and neither does Nigella), and roll. Place the rolled eggplant, seam at the bottom, into a 9x9 inch baking dish. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Once all of the involtini are snugly resting in the pan, pour tomato sauce over the top. Now don't go using any fancy pants pasta sauce here. You want plain and simple canned tomato sauce with nothing added to compete with the flavors in the filling! Sprinkle shredded mozzarella over the top and bake for 25 - 30 minutes. Allow the dish to rest 10 minutes before serving.

I've got to tell you, we frickin' loved this. The combination of the smoky cheese and the brightness of the lemon zest, wow. E couldn't figure out what he was eating because with every bite he'd taste something new. "Wait, are there raisins in this? And lemon? Nuts?" While this wasn't the quickest dish to make, I will absolutely make it again. I actually prepared the dish the day before and baked it just before dinner. You could certainly cook the eggplant and make the filling a few days ahead, too. In fact, I have extra filling sitting in my fridge right now! I'm thinking I'll roll it in a bit of parma ham and make a grilled cheese sandwich, yum!

p.s. I did participate in last week's theme (Man Food) but decided not to post it until I've really perfected the recipe. I had E choose a recipe from Feast and of course, he picked the T-Bone Steak with Potato Wedges and Onion Rings, which I immediately refused to make. No deep fried food in this house thank you!  Instead I thought to marry the two sides into one dish. I made baked sweet potatoes with a crusty coating made from a little bit of  French's Fried Onions and a Rib Eye. It was delicious, but the potatoes weren't quite right, so I'll post them once I work out the kinks!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cake Fail!

or How Not Following Directions Can Be a Good Thing

On my last visit home, I got to spend an afternoon with my sister Christina at her school's Health and Wellness Fair. As the school nurse, she had to give out free blood pressure readings, while I cruised around entering raffles, making fun of the hoola hoop teacher (although at 55, she had a slammin' bod, and all the moms in the room were eyeing her with hatred), and getting free massages. I didn't win anything (I don't know what I'd have done with a basket of jump ropes anyway), but I did get a recipe from the people manning the apple table from Oak Haven Farms. The recipe is supposed to be for apple brownies, and I couldn't wait to try them. I have also been trying to figure out a way to get rid of the rest of the caramel candy corn I bought for Halloween. The bag has been taunting me from a high shelf for weeks, and my strength to resist was fading. This seemed like the perfect marriage of flavors, so I started messing with the recipe.

It wasn't until the batter was in the oven that I realized that I have made these before. Way back in high school I worked at a little coffee shop called Java. It was the first and only job that actually paid me to bake. I loved it! It was there that I first learned to make chocolate meringues, scones, and what I thought were crazy muffin flavors. The owners let me make anything I wanted from a huge shelf of cook books, even if no one ever bought them (who knew Raspberry Cream Soda muffins were a bad idea?). The owner also had a family recipe for apple brownies, which I made all the time and had completely forgotten about. Once that smell filled my kitchen, though, it was like I was transported back in time.  I wish I still had that recipe, but sadly I have lost touch with them and the shop closed years and years ago!

You can see why I'd be excited about this new recipe, hoping it would turn out like the first. After about 40 minutes of baking, I checked the pan and... mush. The center was wiggle jiggle central, while the edges had just begun to crisp. Blast! I looked back at the teensy print and realized I wasn't supposed to use a 9x9 pan, but a 9x13 pan. WTF? I was soo mad at myself, but I just let it bake and bake and bake. An hour and 15 minutes later, the brownies were cooked through, and I left them to cool.

Once cooled, I ran a knife around the edges to loosen the brownie and tipped it out onto my cutting board to slice. Lo and behold, the bottom of the brownie was amass with glistening caramel, which oozed down the sides into little pools. The candy corn had sunk to the bottom (although oddly the apples had not) and melted completely to form a sticky caramel sauce. It looked just like an upside-down cake. I was irritated for a minute, but then I figured, "Whatever, it'll probably taste ok!" Oh my God, you guys, it was so good! Much better than I remembered with the addition of the caramel! The "brownie" turned out to be nothing like a brownie at all, but was more like a dense, moist cake. It was delicious served warm with a little vanilla bean ice cream, and might be a good Christmas morning treat. That's a list that's steadily growing in my head, and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet. Sheesh.

Caramel Apple Accidental Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from a recipe from Oak Haven Farms, Scotland, CT

1 cup softened butter
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 cups crisp apples (like Cortland, Red Delicious, or Fuji), peeled and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup carmael candy corn
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9x9 inch glass dish with cooking spray. Don't be stingy!
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar, beat in eggs. Add remaining ingredients except for apples and caramels, stir until just combined. Fold in apples and caramels. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 - 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and crusty and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely in the pan before running a knife around the edges and tipping out. Slice into squares and serve upside down, so caramel drips over the sides.

Print the Recipe!

Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding

After getting obsessed with Zoe and Jeff's Master Bread recipe, I decided to jump on board the baking group for their new book, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. It's based on the same principles of the original book (baking fresh bread with ease and simplicity, and no kneading!), but with many healthier alternatives. Michelle of Big Black Dog is the group's host, and you can learn all about the baking group on her blog if you are interested in joining. Once the book is released in January, we will bake our way through it. I can't wait to get my copy, which I won from a random giveawy on Michelle's blog. There is also a "secret recipe" released just for the group in November and December, so we are all getting an early start. This month's bread was Pumpkin Pie Brioche. You'll have to visit the blog to get the recipe (we are not allowed to post the recipes due to the copyright), but it's well worth it!

The other nice thing about the group is that you have lots of participants to ask for tips and opinions, which is important for a bread baking newbie like myself. I'll be honest, looking at the breads made by other members of the group made me so very jealous! They are all beautfully golden, sparkling with sugar, and perfectly photographed. My bread, well, let's just say it came out badly. It looked flat, dense, and, even though I doubled the spices as recommended by group members, it didn't have the punch of flavor I had hoped for. I decided to dress it up a little and make a bread pudding. Of course, it turns out I wasn't the only person with this idea! Michelle's bread pudding is so pretty. I made mine after dinner, but I hate taking pictures of food at night because the lighting in my kitchen is garbage, and everything looks muted and sickly. Despite that, it was delicious, and I'd definitely make it again.

Individual Pumpkin Pie Bread Puddings:

1 cup half and half
2 eggs
8 oz. pumpkin puree
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. allspice
4 slices of pumpkin pie brioche, slightly stale, cut into cubes
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Whisk together all but the last two ingedients. Fold in bread and cranberries. Spoon evenly into greased ramekins and let stand for 15 minutes. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm, topped with a drizzle of maple syrup and whipped cream.

So yeah, not the prettiest dessert I've made, but E ate the whole thing, which sometimes attests to the fact that he loves something, and sometimes is only proof that he's hungry. He is a champ when it comes to inhaling a bag of Doritos in 3 minutes, so his finishing a dish isn't always the highest compliment :)

If you want to be really impressed by this bread, your best bet is to check out the mouth watering posts by the other group members here in the Bread Braid. You'll be drooling all over your keyboard, I promise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Giveaway time again!

Hey peeps! I get to host another giveaway, this time thanks to the folks at They make high quality  greeting cards, prints, and more. You can check out reviews of their products here if you are so inclined. And since we are friends, I need to tell you that in addition to offering you guys a prize, I get a set of 50 cards myself as a thanks for hosting the giveaway. Double sweet :)

Here are the details:

Prize Offered: (50 ct.) 7 x 5" (folded to 3.5 x 5") Custom Thank You Cards with plain envelopes

Shipping: Free UPS Ground within United States

Eligibility: Limited to US Residents.

How to Enter: Just leave me a comment! Tell me what you'll do with your cards, and don't forget give me your name and email address so that I can contact you if you win.

What to do with your cards: Send thanks to your friends and loved ones, duh! Even if you haven't had a big wedding, a birthday party, or any other bash lately, it's always nice to send thank you cards. Why not send one to your best friend for being so full of awesome? To your mom for being supportive? To your significant other for taking out the trash?

This giveaway ends on November 22nd, so get to commenting! Good luck everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Happy Veteran's Day

To my Papa, a Veteran of the Korean Conflict and hands down the greatest man I've ever known. He was one of those sadly dis-appearing people who would give anything for his country and family, who respected everyone no matter what race, religion, or belief, and who gave love and support in place of anger or disapproval. We all miss you dearly!

To my Uncle Tom, a Vietnam Vet and kayaking, wood chopping, lobster boiling badass. Sure that's a funny description, but it's true! He's one of the coolest people around, and has been an essential part of keeping our family traditions going strong.

To all of you out there who fight for us, even when we criticize you, the military, and our government as a whole. Thank you for knowing there is something bigger going on out there, despite personal politics, and that we are all worth being protected, no matter what we believe in.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Anthony Bourdain at the Michigan Theatre

In case you didn't know, I love Anthony Bourdain. I read Kitchen Confidential back when I was still working in restaurants, and immediately knew that if I could ever hang out with any chef around, this was the guy. Smart, snarky, no bullshit, arrogant, and a fabulous writer, not to mention he can cook. I've been hooked on No Reservations for all seven seasons, so when I learned that Anthony Bourdain was going to be the next participant in the Michigan Theatre's Ann Arbor Conversations series, I jumped. I wasn't sure what the format of the show would be, but I didn't care; I just wanted to be there.

Decked in his typical skinny jeans and cowboy boots, Bourdain (aw heck, let's call him Tony), spoke a little nervously for almost two hours about food, TV, celebrity chefs, travel, and stupid Americans. While he started with a promise not to make any Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee jokes (while the audience moaned their disappointment), he didn't keep it. He has apparently discovered a modicum of respect for Rachael Ray after learning that she booked The New York Dolls for a music festival, but it's clear he still thinks Sandra Lee is the antichrist. The show was hilarious, interesting, and worth every minute, as long as you weren't an uptight vegan or a cousin to Alice Waters.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the night:

"Chlamydia, just because it sounds Italian, doesn't mean it's good."
"I spent 28 years working the line, hanging with cooks and talking dick dick dick dick dick."
"I like money. I'm all for selling out."
"She [Rachael Ray] sent me a fruit basket. The card said, 'Please don't shoot the puppy.'"
"Cooking is about dominance and control. Eating is about submission."

I've heard this last one a few times on the show, but unlike the other quotes I've listed, this one hits on more than my funny bone. I don't remember which episode it was when I first heard him comparing the experience of eating a meal to submitting, but I do remember how much that statement connected with me. Eating for me is about opening yourself up to whatever is coming, allowing yourself to experience it fully. That doesn't mean there aren't times when I stand over the sink, hoovering down a turkey sandwich because I'm late for work. It just means that I respect food and the people who make it enough to truly enjoy and learn about it as much as I can. I don't get people that don't like eating. Those people who eat just because they need sustenance. They don't know what they are missing!

Cooking for me, like everyone in my family, has always been a labor of love, but even before I could cook, I was all about food. Almost every family memory I have is connected in some way to food. My friend Sophie told me a story that night about standing in a shop and tasting a piece of pastry, when she was suddenly pulled back in time to her childhood. That bite brought back a moment so vividly and palpably that she had tears in her eyes. Sometimes food can be that powerful. If you're closed off to it, you miss it, and that's just sad.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Look what I got! I know, you're so excited you could pee your pants, right? No? Well, I am! My last soup post included quite a bit of uncharacteristic whining about my disturbing lack of a dutch oven. Now I know I did lay down lots of not-so-subtle hints about birthday presents, but my birthday isn't until next month and I'm not very patient. I also don't happen to have a money tree, so I never thought I could just run out and pick up a glorious piece of cookware like this (that is the one I really wanted in my heart of hearts. It's my color!). I am partial to a dose of reality now and again. But then, then my friends, came the new World Market flyer in my mailbox! Not only were they advertising 5 quart cast iron dutch ovens for $49.99, but there was a coupon for $20 off any $50 purchase attached. Jackpot! I was in the car faster than you can say cassoulet.

I came home, washed her up, and started cooking. I've had soup on the brain for days anyway, since it's already snowed here and it's not even December. No better way to break in this baby than with a soup, which also happens to be the Test Kitchen challenge at Bakespace this month. Oh aaand, I've just joined the I Heart Cooking Club, a group of food bloggers who cook and post recipes from one chef for a 6 month period with a new theme each month. They are doing an Autumn Harvest theme this month. How convenient! Locally grown produce and a thick, hearty soup spells Autumn to me!

I started with a quick glance throught my cupboards and then went to one of my favorite ladies for inspiration, Nigella Lawson. Her food is so delicious, without any pretention or bullshit, and besides, she's gorgeous! That's why I was excited to find the I Heart Cooking club was working on cooking all Nigella, all the time. Her Lentil Soup recipe became the model for this soup. I had to make several changes due to missing ingredients, plus I added some sriracha for kick and some bacon because, well, it's bacon.

Middle Eastern Spiced Lentil Soup

6 slices of bacon, chopped
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbls. tomato paste
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. thyme
2 bay leaves
3 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. sriracha (Thai hot chili sauce)
3 cups water
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can diced tomato, drained
2 cups lentils, rinsed

In a skillet, cook bacon until browned and crisp, set aside on a paper towel to absorb grease.
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large stock pot over medium high heat. Cook onion until softened, but not browned. Add carrots, celery, and garlic and cook 10-15 minutes or until softened. Add tomato paste and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add half of bacon and all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
Aww, look how pretty this little pot is on my stove!
I think I'm falling harder for her than I did for my stand mixer!

Reduce heat to low and cook for one and a half hours. As the lentils cook your soup will get nice and thick.
Serve with reserved bacon sprinkled on top.Which I did, with a big hunk of buttered pumpernickle. Yum!

I'm also pretty proud of myself for figuring out something that for most people is probably simple, but for me has been mind boggling. A big shout out to the adorable Cassie of How to Eat a Cupcake for her help! See the nifty little printer icon below? Now you can click to print a recipe and cut it into convenient 3x5 inch recipe cards. I'm working on updating old posts to include this feature, but it's going to take me a little while, so please be patient:) If there is a certain recipe from an old post that you'd like to print, let me know and I'll make those a priority.

Now I'm off to plan my pre-Anthony Bourdain at the Michigan Theatre-show menu for tomorrow night.
I'm so excited!

Print the Recipe!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Red Queen's Tea Party

My awesome craftster book/swap club read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass last month. If you've never actually sat down and done it yourself, you really should. That's doubly true if your only experience with the story is the Disney movie, or even worse, that made for TV version featuring Whoopie Goldberg. I highly recommend the definitive edition, even with its snobby name. The notes take as long to read as the story, but it's well worth it!

I decided to send a tea party kit to one of our organizers, Jennifer, designed to fit her favorite character, the Red Queen. I realized that after the debacle at Alice's celebration dinner, it was only right that the Red Queen should make amends and host a proper tea party. I made her a set of invitations using one of the original Tenniel illustrations, mulberry paper, stamping, and flat cards from PaperSource in blossom (you'll recognize the color later!). I also made her an embellished tea tin full of tea, a little note book made of library card catalog cards for jotting down party info, a menu full of recipes for foods from the book, a jar of my Gingered Asian Pear jam (for "you can have jam yesterday, and jam to-morrow, but never jam today!"), and a batch of The Queen of Hearts' Raspberry Tarts. I hope she likes everything!

The cookies are almost too pretty to eat, but I didn't take a really pretty picture of them. I felt bad manhandling food that I am sending to someone as a gift, so the assembled cookies on a rack will have to do! These are essentially the same as the Pumpkin Maple Buttercream Sandwich Cookies, but with a different shape and filling.

The Queen of Hearts' Raspberry Tarts:
For the cookies:

Roll chilled dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a scalloped biscuit cutter. Cut small hearts from the center of half of the rounds and remove. (You can bake the hearts up and use them like little confetti cookies to decorate your plate later!)

Put the solid rounds on one cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat mat, and the heart cut-out rounds on another. The cut-out rounds bake a minute or two faster! Bake for 5-7 minutes or until just golden. Allow to cool on cookie sheets for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

For the Filling:
You can always use a store bought raspberry jam! I just happened to have made raspberry jam this summer using a bunch of berries from our farmer's market!
4 cups granulated sugar
5 pints raspberries, washed and picked over
Juice of one lime, plus 4 strips of lime peel

Place berries, lime juice, and peel in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat, mashing berries with a potato masher as they heat. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add sugar, return to a boil, and boil until mixture will form a gel , about 5 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe jars clean, seal, and process in a canner or large pot of boiling water. If you are using a pot, make sure the water covers the jars entirely and heat at a full boil for 10 - 15 minutes. Remove jars with tongs and set aside to cool.

* If you want to learn more about canning, freezing, or preserving fruits and vegetables, this is a great resource!

Assembling your cookies for eating at home:
Just spread a teaspoon of raspberry filling over the top of a round cookie and place a cut cookie on top.

Assembling your cookies for shipping:
Shipping jam filled sandwich cookies can be a little tricky. They can slip around and turn into a hot mess. I use a tiny smear of royal icing on the bottom of a cut cookie to glue it to the top of a round cookie. Then I spoon a little jam into the heart shaped hole on top. Allow them to set for an hour before packaging. You'll want to seal the cookies in an air tight container or bag to preserve their freshness and ship them priority if not over night! They'll last about 3 or 4 days before getting stale!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Operation! You're the doctor!

I'm such a nut for Halloween. I love everything about it, and usually spend tons of time getting ready. This year we did pretty minimal decorating, so the majority of my time could be spent making E's Halloween costume. Now, those of you who know my husband may know that he has worn some pretty embarrassing things on Halloween's past. He was once a huge, fuzzy, mascot-style Pink Panther, which was really impressive even if he was dressed head to toe in Pepto Bismol fur. He was also a cute little mouse one year, which he claims I made him do. Not true. Yes, I provided the makeup and mouse ears, but it wasn't my idea and I didn't even go out that night. Besides, he's the one who got hit on by every lady at the bar, calling him "adorable." He complains about it still, but personally, I think he loves the attention.

I didn't take much to convince him to let me dress him up this year, thanks to the support of a couple of our friends. Once the girls exclaimed that it was an awesome idea, he totally caved. Thus, I present you with the Operation Game Guy. While it did take a while to make, it was relatively easy. It was also completely worth the effort to see this puppy in motion: nose flashing, buzzers zapping, and dogs chasing tiny body parts around for hours. E was a big hit, and I think it's pretty obvious that he's very comfortable being party guy. (p.s. You can vote for us in's costume contest here starting November 6th!)

We also spent Halloween day carving our not-so-original pumpkins. I think everyone and their mother has done a vomiting pumpkin and a baby being eaten by a monster pumpkin. Depite that, I needed help with all of the scraping, and the only way to get E to lend a hand was to let him make something gross. They ended up looking great, and I kept hearing "Whoa!" and "Awesome" through the door as trick or treaters came up the steps. It was always the dads. What is it with guys?

My last little Halloween project was the cupcakes for the party. I've been dying to make them since I bought Martha Stewart's new cupcake book. I used her recipe for Devil's Food Cake and used a basic vanilla butter cream for the frosting. The mummy eyes are mini chocolate chips, and all of the monster bits are marshmallows, gel icing, gumballs, and caramel candy corn (which, by the way, is the greatest candy ever! I must figure out what to do with the rest of that bag!). I love this cake recipe, and will definitely make it agin. The cupcakes were so moist (God, I hate that word!) and chocolatey, and the recipe makes a huge batch! There are so many other recipes that I can't wait to try in the book. I keep flipping through it and marking pages, waiting for someone to invite me to another party. Maybe I should just have my own and serve nothing but cupcakes. Maybe everyone would love it, maybe everyone would get sick, who knows. I've been to a desserts only party before and it blew, but I think I could do it better. Anyone wanna come over for a sugar rush?

Print the Recipe!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dear Rachael Ray,

As a long time supporter and fan and a weekly viewer of your talk show, I must admit to being ashamed and disappointed while watching today's segment on "Body Parts That Age You." For a woman who promotes health and well being, particularly for women and their families, I don't understand how you could feature and promote such ideas on your program. Woman today are already obsessed with weight, overwrought with concerns about their breasts, love handles, and backsides, and now we need to worry about our earlobes (at 1500 dollars a pop, no less!)? Once I heard Dr. Drew Ordon say that he feels bad for women with cankles, I shut the TV off. I had had enough. I just can't bear to listen to comments that perpetuate the idea that women are never beautiful enough, skinny enough, or perfect enough for our society. It's not surprising to hear these words emerge from the mouth of a man who makes his living off of this idea, but it was certainly a surprise to see it on your show. Maybe this segment seemed like a useful one for women concerned with aging, but in reality it was just the same old stereotypes being plastered across the screen in "before and after" photos. I think even the audience knew it, as their applause was scattered and seemed forced. While women everywhere can appreciate fashion tips, makeup ideas, and new haircuts displayed in your fun makeovers, this just goes too far.

While I will certainly continue to think of your website as a good place to find quick recipes, I will no longer be watching your talk show. Your viewers deserve better content than this.


* Note: For a moment there I was tempted to sign this letter with "Love and Best Dishes" but I'm too aggravated to be snarky! We'll see if I get any response to this email!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Perfection, my ass

I am such a sucker.

I'm also a bit of a girly girl. I love pink, fluffy slippers, bath and body products, and sparkles. I can't ever buy enough scented lotion, and I spend too long getting ready on date nights. However, I've always considered myself to have a pretty good grasp on reality when it comes to what I really NEED to have. I'll shop sales and only buy when I'm running out of something, except for two very glaring exceptions. Mascara and lip-gloss. Very few people in the world have ever seen me without mascara and lip-gloss, and it is essentially my one true goal in life to prevent that number from growing. Therefore, I keep secret stashes of these products in every conceivable hiding place: pockets, glove compartments, drawers, the toolbox. I do have my favorite, go-to brands and shades to which I will always stay true. But on occasion, some glossy new ad or gimmick will tempt me, and I fall into Freak Fad Frenzy.

This is what happened to me when I discovered the emergence of the new vibrating mascaras. I first spotted the Lancome vibrating mascara (sexily dubbed Oscillation) in a magazine this summer. I got giddy. I had to have one. But I didn't want to pay 34 bucks for it, so I waited until there was a cheaper version sold at CVS. Happily, a few weeks later I discovered Pulse Perfection™ by Define-A-Lash® Vibrating Mascara. See all of those trademarks? It's patented technology people! It must be good! The packaging promised that this product would give me the 7 elements of amazing lashes. Now my lashes are naturally light and not super thick, so that sounded good to me. I waited until I had used up my other mascara to try it, and this was the week. Bring on the perfection!

It was only when I was standing before the mirror yesterday, wand in hand, that I realized I was now about to angle a piece of hard plastic covered in tiny, vibrating spikes, into to my eye. Maybe I hadn't thought this through. But I wasn't about to cave that easily. I followed the detailed instructions on the packaging and waited to see my glorious lashes emerge...

"Uh, why do I look like a large, furry spider is napping on my eyelid?" Because this crap doesn't work. It's ridiculous. I looked like I had a solid clumps of lashes, like one of those old napping baby dolls whose lids flap up into their heads when you pick them up. It took me almost five minutes of slow separating with my lash comb, followed by wiping all of the excess on a tissue, and more combing. There was so much mascara on that wand that even Tammy Faye would have cringed. Sadly, I had to go to work, so I had to do it again on the other eye or risk not matching and looking like an even bigger wacko. It usually takes me a total of ten minutes to do all of my makeup, but it took me longer than that just to put on this mascara. At the end of the day, my eyes started to itch. I looked in the mirror and realized it was because the mascara was flaking off and nesting inside my lower eyelids, where it created the appearance of smudgy, dark liner and also an increasing amount of discomfort. I'll admit that the liner effect, while entirely accidental, looked kind of sultry, but I'm not into all that pain in the name of fashion bullshite. I couldn't wait to get home and either wash my face or tear my eyes out.

The good news is CVS has a great beauty returns policy, so this shit is going back to the store. When someone invents injectable lipgloss, remind me of this experience.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


The lovely and crafty Claire sent me a set of cute cookie cutters in fall shapes recently and I couldn't wait to use them! I decided to use the maple leaves to make these sandwich cookies. I've made these raspberry sandwich cookies for Christmas the past two years, and loved the dough so much I had to try something new with it. I swapped the mascarpone for cream cheese since it was all I had in the fridge, and it worked just as well! The batch went to the office with E and was gone in minutes. Honestly, I know the same would be true if I sent in some grocery store donuts, so I'm not all that flattered by his coworkers' tastes. I tried one, though, and they were pretty f'in good! So yeah, that's why E got to take them to work. I have a dress to get into next weekend!

Pumpkin Maple Buttercream Sandwich Cookies:

For Dough:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
dash of salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat butter on medium speed for 30 seconds until pale and fluffy. Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla, egg, and cream cheese, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in as much flour as possible using your mixer, 1/2 cup at a time. Fold in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Divide your dough in half. *If you want to, you may wrap in plastic wrap and chill for an hour or two, but it's not necessary. This dough is easy to work with! You can also freeze it for up to two months.
On a lightly floured surface, roll half of dough to a 1/8 inch thickness and cut into shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper for 5-6 minutes or until edges just start to brown. *Keep an eye on them as they will burn quickly! Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.

For Frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
1 lb. confectioner's sugar

Beat pumpkin and butter until well combined. Add cinnamon, ginger, salt, vanilla, and maple syrup and beat until combined. While your mixer is running at medium speed, add sugar 1/2 cup at a time. You may not need the entire pound, so taste it and see! Also, don't worry if the frosting looks a little grainy as you start adding sugar. It will become nice and fluffy!

I used about a teaspoon if frosting to sandwich cookies together, then used a little melted chocolate to pipe on veins for the leaves. You can use more frosting, but it will squeeze out when you bite into the cookies! However, if sweet and messy is your thing, then go for it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Slow Going...

What is it about the fall that makes me instantly turn into sloth girl? The colder weather is certainly a part of it (35 degrees here when I woke up! Aah!), but I think it is also the smells, the colors, and obviously, the food. I like to cook things slowly in the fall, since I'm happy to let my oven warm up the entire house now, unlike summer when the grill is the only heat I'll allow! My slow cooker is out of the cabinet and becomes pretty much a counter fixture the second September rolls around. It's my saving grace now that I work lots of evenings.

This weekend I had lots of cooking time on my hands since E and I were laying around pretty depressed about the impending doom that was creeping up on the Red Sox (not a word Bobbins! I'll come over there!). The only thing to do once fate was clinched and the series was not was to eat lots of comfort food. To me that can mean lots of things: spaghetti and meat balls, homemade mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, tuna noodle casserole. This week it meant my version of onion soup for lunch and my mom's banana bread with huge cups of tea all late afternoon. Nothing better to soothe the slow ache of a season gone down the tubes.

How to make my Potato Onion Soup:

4 cups yellow onion, sliced thin
2 medium red potatoes, sliced in half then sliced very thin (use a mandoline or a food processor for this!)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup red wine
3 Tbls. tomato paste
6 cups chicken stock
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 Tbls. olive oil

If you have a dutch oven for this soup, you're money. I don't have one, and it is the bane of my existence. (Maybe one day a fairy godmother, or my husband, will get one for me? Hint hint!) If you are sadly devoid of a dutch oven, use a big pot; it'll be ok.

Heat olive oil in the pot over medium low heat. Add onion and cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Yes, I said 45 minutes. Your onions need to get super soft and turn a dark golden color before you add anything else or you won't get the right flavor. See those? That is 30 minutes in, and they may look soft and yummy, but they are not ready! Keep going until you see this caramel color. Please ignore that I forgot to take a picture before adding the potatoes! But really, that's how dark your onions need to be! Once you get them to that point, stir in garlic, red wine, tomato paste, bay leaf and potatoes. Let that simmer for about 5 minutes before pouring in your stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 35 - 45 minutes, until your potatoes are fork tender. Season with salt and pepper, remove bay leaf, and serve.

We ate ours with little Blue Cheese Crescent Rolls and lots of sorrow. It was delicious and did make me feel a little better. The entire house smelled of onions, which I love, but E doesn't, so I baked a banana bread to cut the odor. I don't like most banana breads, and I will never buy it in a bakery or coffee shop because it is always too dry. I know everyone says it, but my mother's recipe is the best! It is so moist, and it will stay that way for days as long as you wrap the bread tightly in foil. This is perfect with a little butter or cream cheese and a big cup of tea! Plus, you can have a loaf in the oven in literally 10 minutes.

Suzy's Banana Bread:

3 very ripe bananas (ultra ripe, brown skinned, and soft)
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Blend banana, egg, oil, and sugar with a hand mixer until well combined. Beat in flour, salt, and baking soda. Fold in nuts and pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Eat it 'til it's gone!

Although this is one of my favorite comfort foods, we have to be real here. Is it good for you? No, but neither is binge drinking and how many of us did that this past month (err, weekend? yesterday?)? If you really want to lighten it up a little you can use 1/2 a cup of white flour mixed with 1 cup of whole wheat flour, and replace 1/3 of the cup of sugar with Splenda. It won't hurt your final product, but I haven't gone further than that. I don't want to mess too much with perfection! Off to eat my second slice of the day; maybe I should fit in a workout!