A Year in the Making: Springtime Sugar Cookie Nests

Sugar Cookie Nests

Sugar Cookie Nests

Last year I saw some really, really cute cookies on Pinterest. They were little thumbprint cookies, topped with chocolate and decorated with tiny chocolate eggs. I had every hope of actually making them. But then life happened and my motivation for fiddling around with tiny cookies flew right out the window.

Luckily this year was less chaotic and I actually managed a few sweet spring-time experiments like homemade Peeps and — finally — these little sugar cookie nests. And I have to say they were adorable enough (and tasty enough!) to be worth the wait.

While there are TONS of cookie nest recipes around, I really liked the simplicity of this one — no mini muffin pan necessary, just a basic sugar cookie recipe and some imagination. I contemplated using coconut flakes as the grass, but in the end I went with melted dark chocolate, green jimmies and mini chocolate eggs.

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The Ups and Downs of Homemade Peeps

Homemade Easter Peeps

When I was younger, I always wanted to like Peeps — they were so cute and colorful and looked so festive it was hard not to want to bite their little heads off. But even as a kid, I’d get halfway through the pack and lose interest. They just weren’t as delicious as their bright candy colors made them seem. (They were still better than Cadbury Eggs, with their creamy yolks that still give me the creeps, but a far cry from my favorite Easter candy, mini-Whopper Robin Eggs.)

And yet, this year I became obsessed with making my own. After all — homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store-bought ones, so it would seem that homemade Peeps would follow the same logic.

I did some recipe and technique research before I began, which led me to trying out Alton Brown’s recipe for marshmallows. Normally I am a big proponent of Martha Stewart’s recipe, but it seemed like as good a time as any to try something new. (Personally I still find Martha’s recipe to be fluffier and sweeter, but feel free to use whatever recipe you like best.)

If you are a newbie at marshmallow making, make sure you have a candy thermometer that is calibrated and that actually works (mine broke and I ended up having to test for the soft ball stage using a cup of water. Effective but not very fun). Also prepare yourself for the mess, especially if you try to color part of your mixture like I did. Imagine yourself in a stringy web of sugar — it gets everywhere!

And in hindsight, dying the marshmallows was pretty silly. The sugar covers them anyways, I was just experimenting.

Pink and White Marshmallows

Pink and White Marshmallows. They look unassuming but managed to put up quite a fight.

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Inverting the Gratin

Upside Down Potato Onion Tart

When in doubt about what to cook for large family gatherings, I’ve found that anything combining cheese and potatoes is sure to be a hit. My favorite crowd-pleasing side dishes include twice-baked potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes and creamy potatoes au gratin, all made with copious amounts of cheesy goodness.

Keeping that in mind, I decided to make this gorgeous-looking upside down potato onion tart to go with last Sunday’s Easter ham. That decision was a difficult one as I had never made the recipe before and cooking something for a group of people without a trial run is a little unusual for me. I’m a firm believer in trying recipes out before subjecting people to them!

But this recipe looked fairly simple to make and just reading the ingredient list gave me confidence: potatoes, onions, cheese, butter, herbs. With such humble and tasty ingredients, how could it not turn out delicious?

Happily, it was everything I wanted it to be — the potato layers were sandwiched between caramelized onions and sharp pecorino, making this a truly decadent dish. The edges (my favorite part) were crisp and cheesy and the center was creamy and luxurious. Surprisingly though, for all that flavor, the recipe used only a bit of butter and didn’t even call for cream!

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The perfect spring-time salad and cooking for catharsis

Spring Asparagus Panzanella

Spring Asparagus Panzanella Salad with Radishes, Eggs and Pecorino

Two weeks ago my Easter plans were pretty loose — mainly revolving around the couch, a cat on my lap and maybe some bubbly in my hand. But things can change quickly. My grandfather, who was six months from his 98th birthday, suddenly became very ill and passed away last Thursday. Now I rarely get overly personal in these posts and I certainly don’t intend this one to get weepy, but I will say it’s been a very difficult week.

Luckily, I live close enough to my grandparents that I visited them as often as I could. And so after I heard the news, I packed up a bag and headed north to see my family. Many family members had made the pilgrimage, first to visit with him, and then to help plan the memorial. This was how I ended up cooking Easter dinner for nine last Sunday.

It was actually the perfect way to spend the day. For me cooking is a peaceful endeavor and it was nice not only to have a distraction but also a sense of purpose. And being surrounded by family as everyone traded stories about my grandfather (and discussed how people get famous from YouTube videos) was undoubtedly the best place to be.

Losing people you love is always hard. It was especially devastating for me to say good bye to the man who taught me to play cribbage, made me learn to use the brakes on my bike (long story!) and walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. But we honor these people with stories, recalling their memories to help continue their legacies.

To lighten things up, I’m going to tell you one of the more amusing stories being passed around over the weekend:

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If the Easter Bunny goes missing… blame me!

Rabbit Pot Pie at Local 360, Seattle, WA

Rabbit Pot Pie at Local 360, Seattle, WA

It’s hard to believe that Easter is looming in the very near future. But considering my work days have been filled with inquiries for lamb, ham and rabbits, it must be true. By the way, if the Easter Bunny doesn’t make an appearance on Sunday, he’s most likely being dished up at a restaurant in Portland or Seattle — and he’s probably delicious!

Anyways, in true procrastinator fashion, I made these adorable candy-filled nests last year…but by the time I got around to downloading and editing the photos, Easter had long since gone. The nests turned out so cute that I still wanted to share them, even if they had to wait almost 12 months for their time to shine.

Chocolate Easter Nests

Chocolate Easter Nests: Melted dark chocolate, crunchy chow mein noodles and, of course, mini Cadbury eggs!

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Update: The USPS makes like a bunny, delivers Easter eggs…

Success — my brother let me know the eggs arrived safely!

So let it be known that even though postal workers may think you’re crazy (or, let’s face it, annoying) you can mail eggs, no box required!