Passover Treats

One of my favorite Passover treats are Coconut Macaroons, which I'd never made before. Fortunately, I was able to find a very easy recipe and whipped up a batch to bring down to my In-Laws this weekend. They're simple and tasty and even my husband, who hates coconut, likes them:

Birthday Cake

My sister-in-law came to visit today, and, to make up for not being with her on her actual birthday last week, I baked her a cake. It's the chocolate bundt cake recipe that I've used before, but to spice things up I decorated the cake with a marscapone icing and chocolate shavings. My husband, my sister-in-law, and I all agreed that with the added shavings the end result reminded us of Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs ... except with a more sophisticated flavor and appearance. This is a cake that ANY chocolate lover would appreciate:

A Simple and Easy Recipe for Shepherd's Pie

I've been trying to conserve my energy as of late, for all this cooking, baking, and hosting has started to take it's toll. Last night, I even let my husband talk me into ordering Chinese food because I just couldn't make it to the store (my son has another tooth coming in...funny how something so little can cause so much trouble!)

Tonight, after another LOOOONG day with a teething 10-and-a-half-month-old baby, I needed a quick and healthy meal to serve my family. I checked in my fridge, and noticed that I had some potatoes in my produce bin, and realized that I hadn't made shepherd's pie in quite a while. All I needed at the store was some ground meat and mushrooms, and the rest of the ingredients I had at home. Perfect!

Shepherd's pie is a great meal to serve if you ever have left over potatoes, if you need a wholesome dinner to last a couple nights, or just something warm at the end of a cold day. This is a recipe I've come up with and it seems to work quite well. The only thing I'd change next time is probably to either add some more tomato paste, or perhaps some good quality cheese.

Here is my recipe for Shepherd's Pie:


*1 medium sized onion, chopped
*1 clove of garlic, minced
*2 sprigs of fresh thyme
*1-2 lbs. ground beef
*4-5 carrots, diced
*10 button mushrooms, sliced
*1 cup frozen peas
*1 cup vegetable or beef stock
*1 can tomato paste
*6 potatoes (I used yukon gold)
*1 stick unsalted butter
*salt and pepper to taste
*1 c. milk or cream


*Preheat oven to 375 degrees
*Peel and quarter potatoes, and place them in a large saucepan. Fill the saucepan up with water until it covers the potatoes, and add some salt to the water. Bring to a boil, and then about for about 25 minutes.
*Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter in large skillet on medium to high heat. Don't let butter burn. Add onions and garlic, and let them sweat for about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and carrots, and sprinkle with salt/pepper to taste. Cook until carrots are slightly tenders.
*Add meat and brown until no pink shoes. Add the thyme, tomato paste, peas, and stock, and simmer for about 5-10 minutes. While this is simmering, drain the potatoes, and put them back in the saucepan that you boiled them in. Mash the potatoes, add rest of butter, milk (or cream), and salt and pepper. Stir until creamy. Set aside.
*Pour meat mixture into a large, shallow casserole dish. Spread mash potatoes on top of meat and even out with spatula. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Put in oven for about 30 minutes, and bake until brown. You may need to put under broiler for a few minutes to brown the top after it's done baking. Cut and serve.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Belgian ginger-spiced cookies decorated with a white chocolate ganache and green sugar crystals, paired with a green Killian's Irish beer.

The Risotto Challenge

The signs were everywhere. First, in the new Ruth Reichl book that I've been reading (Garlic and Sapphires), then on an episode of Giada De Laurentiis' show Everyday Italian, and then on a Comcast On Demand cooking demonstration. It seemed that everywhere I looked I found recipes for all kinds of RISOTTO.

From what I've heard, a chef is only considered talented if they can successfully make risotto. After researching several recipes, I thought, "Hey it's only rice. How hard can it be?"

So I took on the Risotto Challenge and decided on roughly following the recipe that Giada provided (click here for her recipe), along with adding some baby portebella mushrooms and green peas. Based on Giada's ability to stay true to Italian cooking forms, I figured her advice is worth something. Yesterday, I went to the Fresh Cheese Market and picked up some marscarpone cheese, some REAL parmegiano regiano cheese, some carnaroli rice, and some chicken stock, and then finished shopping for my ingredients today at Shaw's. Man, just purchasing the ingredients and prepping them took some major work.

Then, I began cooking. My husband commented after we watched a risotto demonstration on the OnDemand channel that making risotto seemed like it required some muscle, and I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "No worries. It'll be a snap." Yet, I must give credit where it's due, and say for the records, "HONEY, YOU WERE RIGHT." While making risotto isn't rocket science, it does require that you stand, hovering over the sauce pan, stirring the rice as it absorbs the stock and making sure it doesn't become too gummy or too hard. By the time I was finished shopping, prepping the ingredients, and cooking the risotto, I was exhausted. But it was worth it, for the final product was just as I imagined it would taste: creamy, nutty, and pure goodness.

In addition to the risotto, I also poached fillets of salmon in some white wine, lemon juice, water, fresh thyme, and chopped shallots. I must admit that the timing of the salmon and the risotto took some figuring out. As I was flipping back and forth to the two different recipes I was using, I even started to sweat a little...Yet the flavor of the salmon and the risotto complimented each other beautifully, and the meal turned into a very romantic gesture to my husband.

Here are some pics of our beautiful meal:

Apple Cinnamon Scones

I invited a friend for breakfast this morning and felt like making something warm, cinnamon-ny, and a little different than the standard muffin or apple/banana bread that I would normally make. I've watching Ina Garten, on several occasions, make scones and thought this would be the perfect thing. I checked the two Ina Garten cookbooks I had for scone recipes, and while they looked delicious, they weren't exactly the cinnamon treat I was craving. So, as usual, I combined a few different recipes, and came up with the following recipe (I also want to send a big kudos to my husband for all the pictures you've been seeing lately. He's been experimenting with his digital camera and different light sources, and I must say he's doing a FABULOUS job. Thanks honey!):

Apple Cinnamon Scones


* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/4 cup white sugar
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 cup butter, chilled
* 1 apple - peeled, cored and chopped
* 1 tsp. lemon juice
* 1/2 cup milk (I used 1/4 cup 2% milk and 1/4 cup half and half)
* 2 tablespoons milk
* 2 tablespoons white sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put chopped apple in small bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice, set aside. Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in butter or margarine until crumbly with a pastry mixer. Add chopped apple and milk. Stir to form a soft dough.
2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently 8 to 10 times. Roll dough to 3/4" thickness and cut dough into 3 x 3 squares, and then cut these squares into triangles. Place triangles of dough on parchment covered baking sheet. Brush tops with milk, and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
3. Bake for 15 minutes, or until browned and risen. Serve warm.

Checkerboard Cookies

Today, we hosted two of my husband's college friends for a mid-afternoon play date (they have a 6-month-old daughter). They came from a small town in New Hamphire, and I felt like making a tasty, yet visually-pleasing treat in their honor. I searched all sorts of web sites and wasn't satisfied with any recipes...until I came across and found a picture and recipe for Checkerboard Cookies. After reading the list of ingredients and reviews, I felt confident that I could make them before our guests arrived. I have to admit that my husband had to explain the logistics of building the shape of the dough so that the cookies appear in a checkerboard pattern. Finally, I had in straight in my head and they were much easier to make then you would think.

For the recipe, go to Checkerboard Cookie Recipe

Magic Bread...It Works Wonders!

In dealing with my pregnancy and my mother going through treatments of chemotherapy, we both had stories to share about our "irregularities" if you know what I mean...In fact, my mother has coined the term: CHEMO CLOG. Fortunately, one of my dearest friends gave me a recipe a long time ago for a bran bread that is magical. I figured that it was time to pass this recipe on to my loyal readers, since it has been requested by many and passed down from friend to friend:



1 3/4 Cup Bran Cereal (We find Nature's Path works the best for texture, but any bran cereal will do just fine)
1 3/4 Cup Buttermilk
2 Eggs
2 to 2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/2 Cup Raisins
3/4 Cup Brown Sugar


1) Mix Cereal, Baking Soda, and Buttermilk in a large bowl
2) Allow to stand until liquid is absorbed
3) Add remaining ingredients and stir well
4) Preheat oven to 350
5) Grease pan well (butter) and fill Loaf Pan 2/3 full
6) Bake for about an hour and 10 minutes, or when a cake tester comes out clean

A Review of the Last Few Days....

Although I haven't posted anything these last few days, I still have been busy in the kitchen. Actually, aside from the spicy black soup and roasted vegetable dish I've made for dinner this week, I've done quite a bit of baking.

Here is detailed list and description of the baked goods I've made this week. If anyone wants a more specific recipe for any of these items, let me know:

1) Espresso Biscuits:

This "biscuit" was an attempt to make something for my Nanny to have with her daily coffee. I found the recipe in the Martha Stewart cookbook (which I had to return on Wednesday) and thought they were easy enough to make. A came across a couple of niches...1) I didn't have any espresso, so instead I just added a tablespoon of extremely strong coffee that I had. I don't think it made any difference. 2)Visually and texture-wise, the cookies did not come out as I expected. They came out looking like cow patties and weren't exactly appealing to look I sprinkled them with powered sugar and that seemed to help a little. As far as texture is concerned, I thought they would come out crunchy like a biscotti but they were a little chalky. My husband pointed out that if you dip them in coffee, as you were expected to do with these kinds of biscuits, they will turn soft and more satisfying on the tongue. I tried it with my coffee the next day and he was right! Still, I wasn't sure if these were something my Nanny would like, so I didn't send it.

2) Rugelach:

These traditionally Jewish cookies make appearances at many milestone events such as bar-mitzvahs, Shabbat dinners, and even funerals. The dough is made with cream cheese, butter, sugar, vanilla, and flour, and the filling can consist of anything from fruit preserves, brown sugar, chocolate, etc. I guess it's a form of strudel or cinnamon roll. I figured that these cookies were more of something my Nanny would I made two batches of rugelach, one with apricot jam and cinnamon/sugar mix, and another with grape jam and cinnamon/sugar mix. I think she'll like these!

Here is a photo (courtesy of of what rugelach looks like (unfortunately I don't have a picture of mine, I mailed them off to my Nanny yesterday):

3) Corn Bread:

Last night, I was craving my spicy black bean soup, yet felt like that alone would not be enough for dinner. So I thought...What would make a tasty side dish for a bean soup? CORN BREAD. I did a little research for a quick and easy corn bread and found the perfect one on the food network. Click here for the recipe: CORN BREAD I would definitely recommend adding this to your recipe collections but it's a great thing to make for any soup and casserole.

Update: Here are some pictures I managed to take of the Espresso Biscuits and Corn Bread (when I finally found some time):

Delicious Date Bars

One of our favorite places to eat in the Burlington area is Chef's Corners, a cute and inviting french café that makes the most incredible desserts, as well as salads and sandwiches. It is a tradition that after we finish our meal, my husband and I share a dessert, and more often than not, we chose their date bar. While a date bar does contain sugar, its use of fruit and oats puts this dessert into a healthier category, especially when other options include such things as cheesecake, tarts, crème brulee, canolis, etc. So in addition to being tasty, this "health" factor weighs into our post-meal decision. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing...Either way, it's delicious.

After I made the strawberry bars last week, it reminded me of the date bars we eat at Chef's Corners. Then, I went to and saw that she made Classic Date bars using a recipe from Epicurious, and I thought it was a sign for me to bake this scrumptious treat. And so I made them, and was quite satisfied with the result. One thing that I loved about this recipe was the cinnamon, for it definitely stood out in the flavor of the oat crust...and in my opinion, you can never go wrong with cinnamon.

P.S. For those of you who are wondering, I changed the style of my blog around. I wanted a more "simple but elegant look." I hope you like it.

One of My Specialties: Cold Sesame Noodles

My family and I were invited to lunch at a friend's house today, and we were asked to bring a fun side dish to the paninis they were making in their new panini-maker. Hoping that I could put together something from whatever was in my pantry or fridge (a goal I often shoot for now that I have a 10-month old son), I made a variation of a specialty dish that I often bring to potlucks or BBQs: my cold sesame noodles. This dish is a wonderfully light yet tasty twist on an Asian favorite, especially during the summertime. But today, even in the midst of four-foot snowbanks outside our house, I thought it would serve as a great compliment to the delicious turkey and ham paninis that my friends so graciously made for us.

Many have asked me for the recipe, so ladies and gentleman, I will now divulge this top secret information to my loyal readers. Enjoy!

Jen's Cold Sesame Noodles


1 Box of any type of pasta (I usually use linguini noodles, but today I used mostaccioli)
3 chopping carrots
6 green onions, both white and green parts
1 tablespoon sesames
3 cloves garlic, chooped
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sesame oil, plus 1 tablespoon for roasting garlic and sesame seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Pepper to taste


Prepare pasta in boiling water and drain under cold water when finished until noodles are cool (don't forget to add salt to water when making pasta). While pasta is cooking, cut carrots and green onions. Set aside. Heat up 1 tablespoon of sesame oil on medium high heat in a pan and add garlic and sesame seeds. Cook until golden brown side aside. Mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, vegetable oil, and pepper. Put pasta in a large mixing bowl, stir in garlic and sesame seed mix, and add carrots and green onions. Stir in dressing and mix well. Marinate in fridge for 1-2 hours, or until pasta has absorbed the dressing. Mix the noodles a few times while marinating. Voila!

New and Improved Pizza

Tonight, I made a couple of my homemade pizzas, but decided to do things a little differently with my sauce. I added some more spices such as fresh curley parsley, fresh basil, oregano and crushed red pepper. I also did not add a cup of water as I normally do, so the sauce was thicker than usual. And the results were TASTY. For toppings, I added two of our favorites, olives and mushrooms, as well as some more fresh basil. And, as a suggested by a dear friend, I used WHOLE MILK mozzerella and provelone cheese and boy did this add flavor!

Here is a photo of the end result, which I shall call: PIZZA Á LA JEN

A Nod to Ruth Reichl

I just finished reading Tender at the Bone: Growing Up At The Table by Ruth Reichl, an autobiography about Reichl and how she became a world-renowned food critic and writer. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written story about Reichl's awkward childhood, manic depressive mother (who would knowingly serve spoiled food to guests), and her passion for food. Throughout the book, she includes recipes that parallel certain stories in her life, and these dishes help capture the reason why Reichl became such a "gourmande," which is french for "someone who loves food."

As a nod to Ruth Reichl, I made Beef Bourguignon, a recipe that she referred to at the end of her book. This hardy meat dish consists of a wine-based sauce, flavored with bacon, garlic, thyme, parsley, salt/pepper, and beef broth. In addition, the dish harbors mushrooms, pearl onions, and carrots that soke up the delicious flavor of the sauce. Mmmm...good.

I also made Potatoes Anna, a simple potato dish that looks somewhat like a cake with a spiral pattern of browned potatoes. First sauteed on the stove in vegetable oil, butter, salt, and pepper for about 10 minutes, the potatoes are then baked for another 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. When finished, you flip the cake onto a plate, so what was on the bottom is now on top. The end result is a perfect partner for the beef bourguignon, is pretty to look at, and serves as a tasty side dish for all potato lovers.

Beef Bourguignon

Potatoes Anna

Note: I just received a request for the Potatoes Anna receipe. Here it is:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice about 4-5 medium sized potatoes as thinly as possible (do not soak them in water--the starch is needed to brown the potatoes). In a medium sized sauce pan with an oven-safe handle, heat about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons of butter (do not let butter brown). Take pan off heat and begin your first layer of potatoes in a spiral pattern, then repeat again with another layer yet this layer doesn't have to follow any pattern. Add salt, pepper, and dot with butter. Then do another two layers and repeat with salt/pepper and butter until it reaches top of pan. Put pan back on heat for 10-15 minutes, and then put pan in oven for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender (Test with a skewer). Occasionally press down with spatula. Take pan out of oven, and flip onto a plate, so the first layer you made is now on top and should be crispy and brown. Add more salt as needed.