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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Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

Meringue in the wild!

Like many new projects I tackle on a whim, these peppermint meringues were found on Pinterest. They were just too pretty too pass up and I happened to have egg whites left over from making ice cream for Thanksgiving (we made a goat cheese ice cream and a straight up old-fashioned vanilla — both were awesome!). I decided it was a perfect time to use them up and cross a cookie off my holiday “must bake” list.

Meringues are super easy to make and I can totally, absolutely appreciate a cookie that you can let bake for two hours and not have to think about. In fact, the only things you have to worry about with meringues are having any fat in the egg whites when you whip them (bad news) or over/under whipping them. Happily, I avoided both of those issues and my cookies turned out pretty darn adorable.

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

I like to do different sizes so people can have “just a nibble.”

Peppermint Meringue Cookies

It’s like a meringue mountain range!

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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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Freezing Cold with a Chance of Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soup with Ham

Split Pea Soup with Ham

As a kid, one of my favorite books was “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” For some reason I didn’t own a copy but a friend of mine did, and every time I would visit her house I would spend a good portion of time pouring over the pages. The illustrations were the best part — the one image I remember most vividly was where people dining in a roofless restaurant ran around catching hot dogs as they “rained” down from the sky.

Another part that has been stuck in my head since childhood was the rolling in of a split pea fog. I don’t recall ever eating split pea soup until much later in life — maybe even after high school or college — but I was always curious about it after reading that book. When I did finally try it (hesitantly I might add because the color is not so visually appealing) I was surprised at how tasty it was. Those little chunks of smokey salty ham with creamy pureed peas made for a wholly satisfying bowl of soup.

Ever since that initial tasting, I occasionally get a craving for split pea soup and it seems like I cook up a pot each winter around this time. It could be because post-Christmas is the only time I happen to have a ham bone laying around, or it could just be the fact that it is usually freezing cold outside and I get an urge for something warming.

Both of those things were true last weekend. Thankfully there is still no snow here in Portland, but the viciously cold wind is making my bike commute pure torture. Getting to sit down to a piping hot bowl of this goodness for lunch almost makes up for it. At the very least, its warmth helps thaw me out — from my head to my toes.

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A bone from a Nueskes spiral-sliced ham made this broth fantastically smokey

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Why I’ll Always Love Biscotti

DSC_0062Somehow biscotti manages to avoid many of the problems that plague regular cookies. When you go to a coffee shop first thing in the morning and pick out a huge chocolate chip cookie for breakfast, you may get a side-eye from the cashier. But a biscotti with your cup of morning joe just seems to make sense. They often have nuts in them (a healthy fat) or contain some sort of dried fruits (a good source of fiber). Why, at that rate, a biscotti is just one step away from a granola bar, which is totally acceptable to eat for the “most important” meal of the day.

But it’s not just in the morning that biscotti dodges the stigma of its sugary brethren. It’s also at the end of a meal when you are so stuffed that you can’t even contemplate looking at a dessert menu. You order a shot of espresso or a small glass of Vin Santo instead but when it comes accompanied by an innocent looking biscotti, you eat it without a second thought. It’s not really a cookie, it’s merely an enhancement for your beverage.

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