some dreams are worth pursuing…

girl can bake and she'll bring it to a bookclub near you! Have you ever had a dream so outrageous you couldn’t even bring it up in conversation? The dream that sometimes gets you out of bed and literally moves you through your day? The kind of dream that makes the crowded subways, the cold coffee, the frigid cold, and the broken photocopier, bearable? But this is a dream, right? And you’re a pragmatic, logical person who needs to pay off credit cards bills, mortgages,and put food on your table. Sometimes dreams are just that – terrific fiction best kept close. Best kept secret.

I’ve been out of sorts lately. Stuck in the betweens. Although I’m happy with the choice I’ve made to try the live the life I want to lead (translation: dedicating time to pursue creative projects, but space for the income-generating work) and the life I’ve been dreaming of, I’m not quite there yet. The novel is slow-going (to be expected), explaining to people that consulting means something markedly different than full-time corporate employment has been exhausting, and I haven’t quite settled on what is exactly that I want to do. And this irks me because I like black and white. I like the definitive. I’m a type A project-manager who doesn’t enjoy indecision. Shifts uncomfortably in the discomfort. But I’m making myself sit in this place, and walk steadily through the unknown – how cliche this may be. What comforts me are the constants: my wonderful, supportive family & friends, my health & sobriety, a film adaptation of my memoir that’s progressing surprisingly well and rather quickly, and the kind of clarity one achieves when they finally decide to get off the proverbial hamster wheel.

Simply put, I know I can’t go back to 401ks, stability, office gossip, and corporate memos. Because since 1997 I’ve went along with the plan, wore the suits, sipped the morning coffee, lead unnecessary conference calls, but the plan wasn’t mine and it never made me happy. So the unknown, while frightening, suddenly becomes attractive. Last week I had an interview for a consulting project, and it was if we spoke two different languages when it came time to discuss a potential offer. Even though I kept saying the words “consultant,” “freelance,” and “part-time,” all this person heard was “full-time.” And when I said that I couldn’t work more than four days a week and he replied that wouldn’t we all want to work four days a week, I shook my head, angry, because this isn’t my problem. I’m not living my life for what others want, because if that were the case I’d still be at my corporate job, numb.

mouthful of yum! And then I realized I’d have to face another obstacle: people who project their issues and life choices onto you. Not fun. But my friends tell me that this is the reality, the life I’ve chosen for myself, and this is all par for the course.
So I found myself a little lost this weekend, and I returned to this two-year daydream I keep having. I keep picturing a miniature, simple baked shop with rows of muffins, cookies, baked loaves, and steaming pies. It’s a dream I return to often, and I can spend hours in this sweet place. And up until now, it’s been only that: a lovely, unrealistic dream. Because who has $100K+ to build a business? To conduct the market research, competitive analysis, real estate projections, location scouting, etc, etc, and more etc? When 50% of all new food ventures fail within the first year? And all the negatives spewed forth and I kept my dream to myself, quiet.

Until last night. Until I practically coughed it out during dinner. And my friend, a lawyer, equally pragmatic, simply said: Then why don’t you launch a store online? Start small, like an Etsy shop. See if works, then you can scale. And she said this all matter-of-factly, and something stirred. I had launched a successful (and profitable) online LLC in 1999 when everyone laughed at the idea, I created an online literary journal when everyone said that print is the only thing that mattered, so why try this? Why not at least try it? If it doesn’t work, the risk is minimal and I move on. And then dream stays that – a dream. But at least I had the guts to pursue it.

the finished result...So here’s the idea. I’d open a small store on an Etsy-type site. Offer ten organic products (which would change seasonally): chocolate chip pumpkin loaf, triple-apple pie, banana coconut loaf, the oh-snap ginger snaps, chocolate chip chunk almond cookies, raspberry rugelach, chocolate chip cookies, orange loaf, blueberry crumble, for example. I’d research eco-friendly packaging (although that would be phase two), the market, and pricing, and I’d keep it small. Play it as it lays.

But I wanted to conduct a little informal, friendly pricing (not product) poll. How much would you pay for a homemade, organic cake loaf that serves 4-6, a dozen homemade cookies (similar to this size), and a 9inch pie? This would be the cost before S&H. Do let me know what you would honestly invest to purchase baked goods online. And I’m offering some incentives! Free books, hair products, and new perfume. Leave your comments, and I’ll award five prizes, at random, on Friday morning. Thanks in advance for your input!

Update! Congrats to the five winners: Liz, Amanda, Caryn, Nina, and Lisa W.

cook this: chocolate & orange rice pudding

Chocolate Rice Pudding This sounds mad, right? Chocolate rice pudding? However, I’ve learned to never doubt the gastronomy gods because the genius who merged chocolate and bacon (when I thought such a pairing should be outlawed) changed my life. One evening, as I was thumbing through Food Network episodes, I came upon Giada’s recipe for chocolate rice pudding. Orange zest, vanilla, satiny rice, unctuous thickened milk – how could it be wrong when it sounds so right? So I broke out the pots and measuring cups and got to work on this easy breezy recipe.

Fixing rice pudding on the stove is much like risotto. It’s not hard, you just have to want to linger in the kitchen for 30-40 minutes. It’s the constant stirring that’s the tricky part, really. However, on a snowy day like today it’s soothing, almost therapeutic, to stand over a pot fragrant with oranges, vanilla and chocolate.

Ingredients
5 cups whole milk*
2/3 cup Arborio rice
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise*
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons orange liqueur*
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Directions
In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the milk, rice, sugar, and orange zest. Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean** and add the bean to the saucepan. Bring the milk to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and discard the vanilla bean. Stir the cocoa powder and orange liqueur into the mixture. Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Spoon the rice pudding into serving bowls. Cover and refrigerate for 2 1/2 to 3 hours and up to 1 day ahead.

*Notes: Please do not use skim milk, I beg of you. The recipe serves 4-6, but I stretched it to 8, which is approx 250-300 calories/serving. I know it’s vogue to eat reduced fat everything, but you simply ruin the flavors and consistency of such a simple recipe that is based on milk. While I completely understand the need to eye the fat we consume, I’m evangelical about full-fat baking – I just eat less of it. Call it discipline, insanity, what have you – I really urge you to make this as it is, enjoy the luxury of it, and don’t eat out of the pot (although I did lick the spoon). Also, vanilla beans are extraordinarily expensive ($5 at Whole Foods. WHAT??!! Madness, I tell you.), so you can substitute for 1 tbsp of pure vanilla extract. Additionally, you can nix the alcohol. I used triple-sec as I have it in my cabinet, and even though I’m a recovering alcoholic, I added the liquor while the risotto was on the stove (before adding all the chocolate) and the alcohol does cook out. But it’s up to you. You can definitely go without.

cook this: delicious beef & sausage baked ziti

delicious beef & sausage baked ziti When you’re single and on a budget you have two problems: food is more expensive and it always goes off quickly. Buying in bulk is easy when you have a big family and storage space, however, when I make recipes I always think about dishes that are cost-conscious, can be made in advance, and reheated through the rest of the week. Otherwise that impulse kale rots and I’m scraping the freezer burn off the sale chicken with an ice-pick.

Enter my beef and sausage baked ziti. Mind you, this isn’t fancy restaurant fare. This isn’t the kind of food you want to photograph, but it’s certainly the kind of food you will want to eat. I make this frequently – switching out meat for veggies, mixing up the cheeses – and it not only lasts a week, but gets better with each re-heating.

Ingredients: Note: I use organic/local ingredients as much as possible
1 lb (16 oz) ziti or penne rigate
3/4 lb of 85% lean ground beef*
1/2 lb of sweet Italian sausage*
1/2 lb of fresh mozzarella
4 heaping tablespoons of fresh ricotta
1 jar of the tomato sauce (or click here for my homemade sauce)
3 tbsp pecorino romano cheese (for topping)
2 tea olive oil (for topping)

Directions:
In a large pot, boil the water for pasta. When the water comes to a boil, add the noodles and several tablespoons of salt. Stir the pasta to avoiding any clumping. As the pasta will cook in the oven, you want the noodles to be a touch harder than al dente (approximately 7 minutes or 3-4 minutes shy less the cooking instructions on the box).

In a large skillet add the meat seasoned with salt & pepper. Break up the sausage & beef until it browns (approximately 8-10 minutes). I tend to drain a little bit of the excess fat, however, I’ll leave this up to your discretion. Once the beef browns, add the tomato sauce and simmer on low for 4-5 minutes. After, add the beef to a buttered lasagna/roasting pan.

Once the pasta has cooked, drain and add to the meat mixture. Top with sliced mozzarella & ricotta cheeses, olive oil, and pecorino romano cheese. Bake the ziti covered with aluminum foil (this is very important!!) for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and cook uncovered for remaining 15-20 minutes.

*Notes: Feel free to use any combination of meat: chuck, veal, pork, turkey (although if you are using turkey, I would recommend mixing it with a fattier meat like beef or pork so the dish doesn’t taste dry). If you want to go meatless, you can easily substitute with eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and carrots. Also, same concept with the cheese. I sometimes mix goat cheese with ricotta, and it’s equally delicious. When in season, I add a handful of chopped basil leaves.

the day I fell in love with a root vegetable…

The Day I Fell in Love with a Root Vegetable Meet the Sunchoke (otherwise known as The Jerusalem Artichoke). They’re ugly little things, true, but goddamn are they good. They can be found in the root vegetable bin in the produce section, and they look like a cross between a potato and a ginger root. Visiting a friend’s house for dinner the other night she made these as a salad accouterment, and I couldn’t believe something that resembled a potato on its bad day could taste so. very. good. And be so healthy (Jerusalem artichokes are high in iron, potassium and contain 10-12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper)!

There are many ways to fix the choke, however, this is what I’ve been doing over the past few days: 2-3 small chokes cut at 1/4 inch slice, sauteed on a pan with scant olive oil, butter, salt & pepper for 8-10 minutes (until cooked and light brown). Toss a bed of greens (frisse, arugula, and spinach are recommended). Dressing: dice up 2-3 cloves of garlic, toast slivered blanched almonds in a pan, add both to a food processor whilst adding olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss dressing into salad. Divine.

Recommended Recipes:
Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin: An Unusually Delicious Dish
Sunchoke Gratin adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Jerusalem Artichoke Pickles
Sunchoke Soup with Pumpkin Seeds
Fennel, Sunchoke, and Apple Salad
Shaved Sunchoke Salad with Parmesan and Arugula
Smoked Brook Trout with Sunchoke Purée and Cippolini Onion

have a little magic in your home!

yum! I knew it was kismet sophomore year, 1994, when Liz brought back a tin of magic bars winter break. These are the simplest of cookies with the sweetest of traditions, and the always remind me of Martyrs Hall, Miss Liz, and the feeling of home from warm ovens. Yesterday, after we declared that we very well might burst, I gingerly reached for yet another bar and tried to hide my squeals of delight as Liz’s sister packed some for the train ride home!

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3 1/2 ounces coconut flakes
3 ounces butterscotch chips (optional)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. (325 F. for glass dish.) In 13×9-inch baking pan, melt butter in oven. Sprinkle crumbs over butter; pour condensed milk evenly over crumbs. Top evenly with remaining ingredients; press down firmly. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool thoroughly before cutting. Store loosely covered at room temperature.
Makes 24 bars.

the pie is in the oven!

the finished result... Thanksgiving is upon us, foodie people, and I’m tickled to break out the bowls, pie dish, my spice carousel, and yes, OH YES, my old-timey apple peeler. Tomorrow my father and I are celebrating the holiday with an old friend, in Connecticut. And while she whips my favorite Portuguese stuffing, arugula pecan salad, I’m practically bringing a wheel barrel of baked goods. Along with the chocolate chip pumpkin loaves, I will be rolling in with my triple apple pie. Although the recipe comes courtesy of Ina Garten, I’ve made some minor adjustments to make it mine.

Ingredients
4 pounds apples, peeled, quartered, and cored*
1 lemon, zested
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 teaspoon to sprinkle on top*
1/4 cup all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
<a href="Perfect Pie Crust
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

the pie is in the oven, people. Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut each apple quarter in thirds crosswise and combine in a bowl with the zests, juices, 1/2 cup sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Roll out half the pie dough and drape it over a 9- or 10-inch pie pan to extend about 1/2-inch over the rim. Don’t stretch the dough; if it’s too small, just put it back on the board and re-roll it.

Fill the pie with the apple mixture. Brush the edge of the bottom pie crust with the egg wash so the top crust will adhere. Top with the second crust and trim the edges to about 1-inch over the rim. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and crimp the 2 together with your fingers or a fork. Brush the entire top crust with the egg wash, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and cut 4 or 5 slits.

Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until the crust is browned and the juices begin to bubble out. Serve warm.

*Notes: While Ina prefers to use only Granny Smith apples, I offer instead that you use a combination of three apples: Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith – the variation gives the pie a wonderful tart/sweet flavor. I tend to find Granny Smith pies too tart and uninteresting. Additionally, I use cane sugar rather than granulated. Cane sugar has made a significant difference in my baking yielding a deeper, sweeter taste (not overly sweet as that may sound, but a richer flavor). My flour is always unbleached.

the perfect slice of pizza…on the upper east side?!

slice: the perfect food Imagine for a moment the perfect pizza. A thin, flaky crust. Piping hot mozzarella cheese and savory toppings like sausage, homemade basil pesto, creamy mushrooms. Now imagine this pizza is healthy. You heard right – a pizza that’s actually good for you.

Featured on the Food Network’s show, “Recipe for Success,” in 2006, twenty-something owner, Miki, a self-diagnosed lactose intolerant, couldn’t find delicious, guilt-free pizza that could be eaten anywhere. Seeking to make the ultimate American comfort food with the freshest, organic ingredients while giving customers the option to substitute traditional cheeses for rice/soy, coupled with an entrepreneur spirit – Slice: The Perfect Food was born.

slice: the perfect food It’s cozy space in Manhattan’s Upper East Side is clean, minimalist in decor and you’re greeted with soothing, indie music and spoken word. The tasty menu is penned on a chalkboard and the options are enough to make your mouth water, no doubt. I sampled the “Novice” – sundried tomatoes, pesto, organic mozzarella on an unbleached, herbed crust. That was just the beginning of my meal. And then I moved on to a simple slice with crushed sausage. What I loved best about the pizza was its crust. You won’t find the doughy sort here – more like a thin, flaky crust that only serves as a vehicle for the fresh toppings. Fresh, wholesome salads, homemade, gluten-free and chocolately desserts, I left without the heartburn from all the grease and oil that is the staple of traditional pizza joints that clutter the city streets. And although the slices are on the pricey side ($4), the portions are fair and the outcome incredibly delicious. Who knew healthy could taste so darn good?

Slices and pies range from “Dunce” to “Genius,” becoming more expensive as you get educated – $4 a slice/$20 a pie. Toppings are additional.

So, if you’ve got late-night cravings (they deliver!) or you just want to sample some tasty, healthy pizza, Slice is the perfect spot.

the comeback kid: the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf

the comeback kid: the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf returns The chocolate chip pumpkin loaf has changed lives, I kid you not. My recipe and subsequent variations were adopted by a local coffee and cookie shop, it united coworkers who couldn’t bear to be in the same room with one another, and it’s a constant source of…well…yumminess. I debuted the recipe and my tinkering last year, and I think it’s time for a comeback. I baked this last night and instead of three loaves, I filled the two 9X5 inch pans and baked the loaves for 1.5hrs. However, either (2 or 3 pans) will suffice. I just wanted that overstuffed, over the top look of the loaf.

This week, get ready for my FAMOUS apple pie. I should have the recipe up latest Wednesday.

INGREDIENTS
3 cups white sugar (I will be using cane sugar)
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil (I’m going to research a substitute for this. Will keep you all posted)
2/3 cup water
4 eggs (I will be using large room temperature eggs)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I will be using unbleached)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (I will use dark chocolate chips)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) (I’m a purist. I’m not a fan of walnuts in my bread, so I’ll be nixing)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour three 1 pound size coffee cans, or three 9×5 inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin, oil, water, and eggs. Beat until smooth. Blend in flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Fill cans 1/2 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 1 hour, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool on wire racks before removing from cans or pans.

eat this: banana bread

banana bread: the unveiling! I adore autumn in New York. Fall is quite possibly my favorite season: the days darken, nubby wool sweaters are fluffed and worn, the terracotta leaves crunch underfoot. And of course, of course! autumn ushers in the cozy oven and the smells of seasoned apples, pumpkins and banana nut breads. Over the next few weeks I’ll be baking a storm. I’ll be bringing back old favorites like the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf (with some new twists!), the ginger cookies, chocolate pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin muffins, and more delish treats to come. This morning, I decided to whip up a mainstay – Martha Stewart’s banana bread. This recipe is easy-breezy and took less than a 1/2 hr to prep. Enjoy!

Martha Stewart’s Banana Bread – from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook

Baking Banana Bread Ingredients: Please note that I use all local/organic ingredients because this is how I roll.
3 cups all-purpose flour*
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar**
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups ripe mashed banana (about 3 medium)
1 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and finely chopped***
1/2 cups buttermilk
Nonstick cooking spray

*I use unbleached flour
**I use cane sugar
***Nuts are optional. I loathe nuts in bread, so I nixed the nuts. But I invite you to chop up some pecans and use them as a topping!

Baking Banana Bread: the batter Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat two 9×5 inch loaf pans with cooking spray; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and vegetable oil on medium-low speed until combined. Beat in the flour mixture. Add the vanilla, banana, coconut, nuts, and buttermilk, and beat just to combine.
3. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, 60 to 65 minutes.
4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and let cool completely. Bread can be kept at room temperature, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months.

baking banana bread: rotating the loaves My Notes: The batter will be lumpy! Don’t freak out. Remember, you’re mixing to just combine. However, I always fold after I mix just to ensure that all ingredients are evenly incorporated (especially if you’re using a stand mixer, like me). Over-mixing is deadly when it comes to cake loaves – the dry, gluten bread taste ensues, and no one wants that for banana bread. Seriously. Also, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature as varying temperatures will affect how quickly the cake will cook and will make for a tougher, uneven taste. Typically, I take out all my fridge ingredients (eggs, milk) and leave them out 30-45min before I hit the stand mixer running.

my cupcake adventures: santa monica edition

Vanilla Bean Cupcake at Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica Let’s be honest – aren’t you just dying over the crafted frosting with the lone pink dot on top? This vanilla bean cupcake was exquisite on the plate (don’t this sprinkles remind you of mini diamonds?), but a touch disappointing to the palate. While the frosting was lovely and the cupcake base was divine, it could have been a smidgen better, I think. This was snapped at Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica. The decor was decidedly sweet, elegant and a little bit of a throw-back to the posh bake shops of the 50s. I quite enjoyed their ingenious selection of cupcake fare, however, my frosting was a little lacking.

Yummy Cupcakes in Santa Monica Will you get a look at that swirl? This red velvet variation with cream cheese frosting snapped at the venerable Yummy Cupcakes was infinitely more pleasing. The red velvet was moist and slightly chocolately and the frosting was light and mildly sweet. My new friend Kathryn was kind enough to take me a on a mini tour of cupcake eateries in Santa Monica yesterday. Although I love both, after a long conversation with my bff this morning (always the under the cover chats), I relayed that I (and I say this trying my best not to sound smug) can make better. Perhaps there is a little baked shoppe in my future?!

what we talk about when we talk about tacos

The Best Mexican Food Ever Can we talk about how much amazing food we had? So, straight up. This is real Mexican. This is the read deal. No lard. Fresh ingredients. Homemade recipes, this place is all about old school. I almost sobbed eating the hard tacos (and then got violently ill when I sampled the guacamole, knowing full well that I am allergic to guacamole). Forget the fancy decor of the swank eateries, this joint is all about down-home Mexican fare. We went to Tacos Por Favor .