Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas! -- The SECRET to No-Spread Cookies!

Alright guys, I've been neglecting you again. All the usual life stuff, you know. Plus holiday season is so nuts--I don't understand how all you food bloggers get out your Christmas/Holiday posts so EARLY! It really is insane--in a good way. I applaud you all.

Not as fancy as my cookie tin last year but this is what I've been giving
to family and friends!

So I have had no daylight in which to take pictures lately. I am too embarrassed at my fake-light photography to post much. But this morning I grabbed some cookies from my cookie plate and took a picture.

A picture of me and the boyfriend because we look GOOD
together :P

I HAVE been baking though! Just at weird hours with no daylight. Boyfriend and I spent all of Thursday and some of Friday catching up on my baking for various parties and whatnot. He even made his first ever batch of chocolate chip cookies! Hurrah!

Pretty tasty for a first try, eh?

I know this is late and you're probably NOT making Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve but on the offchance that you ARE and you're getting frustrated with bloaty cookies that spread so much--Santa should NOT look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow man--this recipe will change your LIFE. Sure, it is a pain in the butt to wait around for all of the refridgeration but TRUST ME you'll be glad you did. Never in my life have I made such lovely Christmas cookies that keep their shape!

I would also like to add that I got an off-brand sil-pat and it's my new Kitchen VIP. I save soo much on parchment paper now (though, as this recipe shows, it's still good to have some on hand) and it's just magical. No more mess on the pans! I was going to buy the fancy $40 version I'm seeing on all the blogs but the Williams Sonoma outlet was out. Another, less ritzy kitchen store had them for $10-$20. I got one of the $20 ones (which look like the expensive version) and one $10 and they both work wonderfully. A great last-minute Christmas list idea for sure!

I was overly ambitious and wanted to make Royal Icing from scratch, but an AC Moore sale on cookie decorating tubes and lack of time won me over. Definitely kind of goopy and not the best idea though. If you want a BOMB royal icing recipe head on over to my lady over at Dash and a Pinch, she made some awesome Star Wars cookies recently.

(From Bakespace)*

  • 6 cups flour 
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder 
  • 2 cups unsalted butter 
  • 2 cups superfine/baking sugar (not powdered)
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. Almond extract
  • 1 tsp. fine grain (table) salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add eggs and vanilla and mix well.

Mix dry ingredients and add gradually to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours. The best method is to flatten dough between two sheets of parchment paper and chill until firm and cold. This takes about an hour but I did it overnight.

Roll out onto countertop between parchment and sprinkle with flour. Cut into desired shapes and place onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or sil-pat.

Place cookie sheet in freezer for ten minutes. VITAL STEP.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges.

*The original recipe is for adorable bra-shaped cookies, which I used when making cookies for Rocky Horror in October, hehe.

Merry Christmas from a grumpy Santa Paws!

Finn has all the Christmas spirit of Grumpy Cat.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Request...

Over on my other blog, 20-Something Gripes, I wrote a bit in response to the tragedy in Newtown on Friday, and the resulting Facebook posts that I'm seeing.

Take a minute to read if you wish.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What I've Been Eating, NYC at Christmastime!

I'm sure you've heard me gripe about being "stuck" in Western Mass. Obviously, moving back to my home area wasn't in the plan for post-grad, but here I am. Thankfully I have a job I enjoy, a theater group that I love, wonderful friends, and a new and amazing guy... and that makes the sting of not accomplishing my geographical goals just yet a little easier to handle.

However, I am lucky that my little area of Western Mass is within driving distance to one of my favorite places: New York City. It's become somewhat of a personal tradition to visit the city when the holidays hit, because despite the enormous crowds there really is nowhere else that exhibits the beauty and spirit of the holidays as well as NYC. 

This past weekend I made the trek to the city and had a wonderful time. And, as per usual, I took pictures of every thing I consumed along the way. Except for the Sabarro in the train station in New Haven... yuck.

We arrived Friday evening, wandered around a bit, and then made our way to our weekend apartment in Astoria. Saturday we got up "bright and early"--10ish--and took the train back to Manhattan for brunch. We happened upon this Parisian cafe, Brasserie Athenee, a few blocks from Times Square and decided the prices were decent enough to check out.

 I was stuck between wanting true breakfast food (the French Toast on French Bread looked fantastic) and somewhat lunch-ier food. I decided to compromise and get a Croque Madame. For those of you who are unaware of this fantastic sandwich, it is a French classic with ham, grueyre cheese, and a fried egg on top. This one came with perfectly cooked fries, a zesty side salad, and a spicy aioli for dipping the fries--and a few bites of croque!--into. The egg was deliciously drippy and made for a really excellent brunch. We all were more than pleased with our meal, especially my roommate who let us have bites of her decadent Mac and Cheese with Truffle Oil. Yummm!

Brunch is a useful tool in NYC, not only because it is hella trendy, but also because a late breakfast means you don't have to shell out for another meal until dinner! For us ladies on a budget, it is always a wise idea.

Next up, we waited in the TKTS line for less than an hour and haggled our way into $50 seats for Chicago. I had never seen a legit Broadway play before, and as a pseudo-thespian myself it was more than time to remedy this. The show was fantastic despite their headliner (Billy Ray Cyrus) being a bit lackluster. He just seemed kind of bored and unenthusiastic as Billy Flynn, but it was fun to see a celebrity up close regardless. The lead women were amazing and I actually enjoyed the show a lot more than the movie. During intermission I treated myself to an overpriced wine from concessions. A large wine--when have you EVER seen wine in sizes? Ridic!--was $20, but came with a souvenir travel mug, so I dealt with it. The wine was more mediocre than Billy Ray, but that's what I get for buying wine at a theater I suppose!

After the show we headed to Bryant Park for the Christmas shops. It was adorable, and when we saw the Crepe stand we knew what our post-show snack had to be!

The line was huge but totally worth it. I wish we'd had more time to try out the little food booths in the shopping area--there were so many delicious looking things!--but we only had the time and money for the crepes. While not on par with the ones I had in Paris, they were still extremely tasty and satisfying. Plus, the stand had a huuuge menu of different options, both sweet and savory. My roommate got a nutella and strawberry one, I got nutella strawberry and banana, and our friend got a s'mores. I think we waited in line longer than it actually took to inhale these things.

After looking longingly at the way-too-crowded ice rink, we decided to roam the streets and found ourselves in the adorable downtown area of Chelsea. Our goal for the evening was to find a "fancy but not TOO pricey" restaurant for dinner, and we tried to dress as fancy-casual as possible. We found it at Moran's.

A cozy Italian restaurant nestled in Chelsea, Moran's was adorably decorated for the holidays and the pricing was pretty great for NYC. I got the Lobster and Crab ravioli, my roommate got the Spinach Gnocchi, and our friend got a lovely little salad. We were all pretty pleased with our dishes, even though I could tell me ravioli was definitely more crab than lobster--oh well.

Finally, we ended the night with way. WAY. too many cocktails at Bamboo 52 back downtown. A good friend of mine from high school is the manager there, and when I said I always used spicy tuna as a barometer for how good a sushi place is, he promptly brought me a plate on the house. As you can see, I rather enjoyed it!

Then he let me take a taste of his meal for the night. I think it was similar to a philly roll, but crunchy. Also very good. The downfall was that they were offering $5 mixed drinks, and I may have overdone it a little bit. But it was definitely great to see my old friend again, and to chat with the bartender about his acting endeavors.

The cocktails were my downfall and I ended up sleeping through my friends' brunch the next morning in Eataly. This makes twice I've been to NYC without hitting up that place, so next time it'll have to be first on my list. All in all though, it was a great trip with great friends and I had a wonderful time :)

To end, let me show you how I torture the animals in my house:



Happy Holiday Season, All!

And don't forget to check out my new blog, 20-Something Gripes! Where I complain about stuff with two of my good friends from college :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Things I've Been Eating -- Brussels Sprouts Creation

So, Thanksgiving was wonderful. I totally missed the ball on getting a holiday-themed recipe up but I figured I could show you the awesomeness of my plate before we're totally in Christmas mode over here. Isn't it lovely? As I was taking pictures of pies my Stepdad leaned over my shoulder and said "guess MY food wasn't photo-worthy?" I like how my blog has become almost an inside joke at my house--"Ashley's taking pictures of her food again... Can we eat yet or are you going to take a picture of it?... Why didn't you take a picture of MY dish?" So silly. I showed him the picture of my plate and he seemed satisfied. Sadly I did not get a picture of his lovely bird, but I assure you, it did look very nice. Tasted good, too.

Cranberry sauce... delicious on next-day turkey sandwiches!

Mom's simple yet gorgeous apple pie

Thanksgiving at my house is generally entirely done by my stepdad. He begins the night before and wakes up at the crack of dawn to get dinner ready. I was happy to have my own kitchen to create my contributions to the table: whiskey cranberry sauce, brussels sprouts with caramelized onions and bacon (recipe at bottom of post!), and a pumpkin cheesecake.

Terrible picture of my pumpkin cheesecake.
I also made maple whipped cream for the top.
Brussels Sprouts! Scroll to the bottom of this post for the recipe!

In the weeks since, I've been cooking less and eating out more. Not the smartest decision with holiday shopping time looming ahead, I know. However, one such occasion was definitely worth it: My mom's birthday!

We went to Chandler's Restaurant at the Yankee Candle Flagship Store. Sadly, I was in the middle of my cold and feeling pretty gross, but from what I could taste the food was excellent. Plus, it was on a Wednesday which is apparently their "Wine Down Wednesday" where select bottles are half off. I don't think I've EVER gotten such a lovely wine at such a lovely restaurant for only $12! My mom and I share a love of good wine, so this was an awesome coincidence. Wine helps colds, right?

For dinner I got the Grilled Salmon, despite my longing glances at the duck, because I read that salmon is good for getting over a cold. My mom got a lobster roll and clam chowder. I stole a couple of bites of lobster and could tell it wasn't the frozen stuff you often get when you order a lobster roll off-season. This was fresh, meaty chunks of delicious lobster. Really fantastic. It was a lovely dinner and I cannot wait to go back--either for another Mother-Daughter dinner or a fancy date with the boyfriend :)

 This past Saturday I realized that I had the entire day off, and it would be the last day off for a while, so I asked Cory (aka The Boyfriend) if he'd like to take a day trip somewhere. Since I always hear him talk fondly of the years he lived in Salem, I suggested we head East so he could show me his old stomping grounds. When we woke up to snow in Western Mass I was a little concerned, but I bundled up and we trekked across the state to this historic city.

I thought their sign was hilarious.

First stop was the Lobster Shanty, the place he used to work. It is an adorable little bar and restaurant nestled in a cluster of shops off the main road. I was seriously tempted by the $10 lobster special, but since it was early in the day and I didn't want lobster juice all over myself for the rest of the day I opted for the fried shrimp basket. The shrimp tasted fresh--you could tell the fried shrimp was assembled in the kitchen and not pre-made frozen stuff. The fries were excellent as well. Cory swears that The Shanty has the best burger he's ever had, and that's what he ordered. I got a hot cocoa with schnapps from the bar and Cory got the signature Dark and Stormy.

<3 Snow falling, hearts falling, it's all good :)

 I loved meeting his friends and seeing where he used to work. Salem is such a cool little town, and it's nice to see it when it's not flooded with tourists for the Halloween season. However, I do hope to make it back for Halloween next year, because I'm sure they have the spirit of the season! After Salem we made the drive to the Wrenthem outlets and I gushed over EVERYTHING in the Williams Sonoma outlet and got some supplies for Christmas Cookie baking. Then we went to Olive Garden for dinner, because Cory had never been. And, as we all do at OG, we both filled up on breadsticks and salad and had to take most of our dinner home. Oops!

In other news, did I mention I got the role of Alice in my theater group's production of Alice in Wonderland? I am so very excited :) Anyone in Western Mass should check it out when it goes up in February!

Anyways, here's your recipe: my Thanksgiving Day contribution and the only green thing that was on my plate, Brussels Sprouts! These were a serious hit with those brave enough to try it, and I'm sure you can win over some non-believers with this awesome dish. A great side dish, a great main course, it's really delicious.

Thanksgiving Brussels Sprouts
1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
, bigger sprouts sliced in half, smaller sprouts whole
1 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste,

1 medium onion
, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
5 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, diced
1/4 cup golden raisins

Heat one tablespoon olive oil and the butter in a medium sized skillet, use to caramelize onions. Once caramelized, remove onions from pan and set aside.

Cook bacon in same skillet until crispy. Set aside. Use the chicken broth to deglaze the pan and bring to medium-high heat. Add brussels sprouts and cook until tender and the liquid is reduced.

Stir in vinegar, raisins, bacon, and caramelized onions. Serve warm.

 And let's just end with this adorable picture of my cat and my roommate's dog, shall we?

Finn and Baxter, Frenemies Forever <3