spinach sun dried tomato risotto

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Risotto is one of my favorite foods ever and we have it a lot, so I was a little shocked when I realized this blog has only one risotto recipe. Plus, it wasn’t even legit (we totally faked it and broke some unspoken rules, like whoa). But that risotto was really good, if not thoroughly italian (so it’s okay).

However, I have decided to up my game and give you guys a real risotto recipe this time. It was a good decision. I’m actually proud of myself because I improvised this recipe with the guidelines of another. Spinach  and tomatoes are a classic combo and they work really nicely  together here.

Check it out! A Honey Blossom has an instagram page and it’s super fun. (here’s the link)

Spinach and Sun Dried Tomato Risotto

adapted from the kitchen

note: I used sun dried tomatoes packed in oil but you can also use the dry variety. If you use the oil packed variety, save some of the tomatoey oil to drizzle on the risotto as you serve it. You can also just drizzle on a little olive oil for a similar affect.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion

2 cloves garlic

2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup of white wine

6 cups chicken stock

4 cups loosely packed spinach, chopped roughlyy

4 oz sun dried tomatoes (about 10) (see note)

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

In a large pot, warm the stock over medium heat. Heat a large dutch oven or high sided sauté pan and add the oil. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until it is softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the rice and stir until every grain is coated in fat (you may need to add a little more butter or oil). Toast for 2-3 minutes until the edges of each grain begin to look translucent. Add the white wine and simmer until the wine has reduced and the pan is nearly dry (it won’t take long), scraping the bottom of the pot to deglaze. Add a ladle of stock and stir until the rice has absorbed all of the stock. Continue adding stock and stirring until all of the stock is gone and the rice is tender. Add the sun dried tomatoes and spinach and cook until the spinach just wilts. Stir in the butter and parmesan. Serve with extra parmesan and olive/sun dried tomato oil.

my blog’s first birthday! (+tiramisu layer cake)

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a birthday cupcake, complete with candles

It is hard to believe, but I have had this blog for an entire year. That’s 365 days, people. In that time, I shared 41 recipes with you.

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I have learned a tremendous amount in this past year. If you look back into the archives and find my very first post, you will see how much my photography has improved. If you actually read that first post (I just went back and read it, and oh boy, does it make me cringe!), you will hopefully agree that my food writing has improved. I have even gotten better at cooking as a result of this blog. Take, for instance, that yesterday I handled a raw chicken while a year ago I was grossed out by touching raw meat. Or to think that in one of my first posts, I described my struggles with whipping egg whites! Now I could probably do that in my sleep.

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This tiramisu cake is actually a great metaphor for this blog. Tiramisu is supposed to be an adult thing; it has alcohol in it, and normally, teenagers don’t have tastes for coffee and fancy italian cheeses. And yet, here I am, enjoying a slice of tiramisu cake. Food Blogging is something that is almost always left to adults, and yet, here I am.image

I was a great year.

Here’s to another great one!

As Julia would say, Bon Appetit!

tiramisu layer cake

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Notes: I made this cake without the alcohol, but I will write the recipe including the alcohol (there isn’t that much). My expresso syrup is darker than yours will be because I added a little chocolate to it, which I am leaving out here because I didn’t think it added much. This cake is delicious and amazingly vanilla scented, but be careful not to over bake it because no one likes dry cake. And the mascarpone cream . . .  don’t even get me started on that!

Cake layers:

2 cups (255 g) cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (200 g) sugar

3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup buttermilk

Espresso extract:

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

2 tablespoons boiling water

Espresso syrup

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon Kahlua, brandy, or amaretto

Mascarpone cream:

1 8 oz container mascarpone

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy

1 cup cold heavy cream

2 1/2 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9 inch cake pans and then line the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until it is creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between additions, and then add the yolk. Mix in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture alternatively with the buttermilk, adding the flour in three additions and the buttermilk in two. Mix until all the ingredients are just combined. Divide evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth out the batter.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through until the cakes are golden and springy and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove the cakes from their pans, peel off the parchment, and let cool to room temperature right side up.

For the espresso extract:

Stir together the espresso powder and water until well blended. Set aside.

To make the espresso syrup:

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar and water and bring just to a boil. Take off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy. Set aside.

To make the mascarpone cream:

In a medium bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the cream until it holds firm peaks. Stir 1/4 of the cream into the mascarpone, and then fold in the rest gently.

To assemble the cake:

If your cake layers have crowned, gently even them with a serrated knife. Set one cake layer right set up on a cake plate lined with strips of wax paper. Using a pastry brush or small spoon, soak the cake layer with about a third of the espresso syrup. Spread some of the mascarpone cream over the layer (about 1 1/4 cups) and sprinkle the chocolate over the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak it with another third of the syrup. Place this layer soaked side down on top of the other layer. Then, soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.

For the frosting, whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the rest of the mascarpone filling. Taste as you go so you add just the right amount for your taste. If the frosting looks too soft to spread on the cake, refrigerate it for 15 minutes (refrigerate the cake, too).

Spread the frosting over the sides of the cake and over the top. Smooth it as best you can. Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours or up to 1 day before serving.

Before serving, dust the cake with cocoa. I cut the outline of a star out of waxed paper and then soften cocoa powder over it. Once the wax paper was removed, there was a cocoa star.

red kidney bean curry with homemade naan

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Chili is one of the most standard recipes out there. It’s beans, tomatoes, meat, and chili powder, stewed together for a while, and then topped with a dollop of sour cream and eaten on a cold winter night. However, it also happens to be one of the most deviated recipes in the books, and boy, do people have strong opinions about chili. Some are meat and tomato purists, while others will allow a few beans to sneak into their chili. Chili also differs on how it is spiced and how aggressively it is spiced. Some like a little burn, some (myself included) hate spicy things, and others just get interpretive with their spices.

Take, for instance, a chili made by someone else that I tried recently. It contained a ton of fatty Jimmy Dean sausage which should have made it seem oily, but instead just made it rich and delicious. It contained no chili power, or any other spices for that matter. Instead it was aggressively seasoned with thyme. Who would have thought to put thyme in their chili? I don’t know. It was good, and very different from my mother’s version (tomatoes, lots of beans, a little venison sausage, some chili powder), but it made me a little queasy after all that fatty meat.

If you have read my about me page, you would know (but might have forgotten) that I am not the hugest fan of meat. I saw this recipe in Smitten Kitchen‘s archives and I thought it would be a interesting new stew-y recipe (bonus points for being vegetarian). When I made it, my mother called it the Indian Chili. Oh well. I guess we’ll have to go with it.

red kidney bean curry

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This curry is an amazing vegetarian main dish that is new and different, but also super comforting and delicious. Especially if you serve it with homemade naan.

1/3 cup olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced (up to 1/4 cup if you like it spicy)

3 small cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon ground ginger

pinch of cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)

14 oz can diced tomatoes

2 15 oz cans kidney beans, undrained

Heat oil in a dutch oven. Add the ginger, onion, and garlic and let it cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes, salt, and spices and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the kidney beans and a cup of water. Bring it back to a simmer and then let it cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Eat with naan and a scoop of yogurt.

easy homemade naan 

adapted from Half Baked Harvest

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup hot water

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

3/4 cup warm milk

1 cup greek yogurt

melted butter, for cooking

In a medium bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Add the yeast and stir until it is dissolved. Let the mixture sit until the yeast starts to foam. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. When the yeast is foaming, whisk in the warm milk and yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the middle of the dry ingredients and slowly stir together until there are no longer any floury patches. However, be careful not to knead the dough excessively.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for an hour (I warm up my oven a bit and set it in there).  It won’t rise that much, and that it okay.

Divide the dough into 8 equal shaped pieces and roll them out into 6-8 inch circles, no thinner than 1/4 inch. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat. Brush with melted butter on both sides. Add a round of dough to the hot skillet, cover, and cook for 1 minute. The naan will puff up and have lots of bubbles. Flip the naan and cook 1-2 minutes on the other side until large toasted spots form. Keep the naan warm in a 200 degree oven.

french onion soup

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Guys, I have an onion problem. Well, I suppose it is not actually a problem, because it involves butter and onions, but it is a dilemma. The first part you should know about my onion dilemma is that whenever a recipe says to sauté an onion in a tablespoon of olive oil at the beginning of a recipe, I always use a generous pat of butter. Not because I can detect a taste difference in the end product, but because of the smell that begins to fill the kitchen while I prep the rest of the ingredients for the recipe. I know you have your doubts, but onions cooking gently in butter smell amazing.

Now, there is a second part to my onion dilemma and that is when the smell of buttery onions fills the air, I lose my self control and eat half of the onions. Which sounds gross, but trust me, if you had a skillet full of buttery, soft, sweet onions, you would be going for the fork, too. And because I eat all my onions, then only a couple actually end up in the dish. Which is sad.

The third part of my onion dilemma is part I find most distressing, and, quite frankly, dilemmaesque (oh yes, I did just invent that word. Don’t question it). Chopping onions makes my cry, guys. Like, so bad that whenever I chop onions, I only get through 1/2 an onion before I have to “take a tissue break.” Which is pretty much pathetic. And the onion goggles are just not happening.

As a result of the third part of my dilemma, it took me a while to chop the six onions I needed for this recipe. But I assure you, it was completely worth it, because French Onion Soup is all the greatness of normal butter softened onions times 10.

And that, my friends, is worth plenty of tears.

french onion soup 

recipe adapted from simply recipes

If you caramelize the onions ahead (maybe on the weekend?), this dish turns into an easy weeknight meal. All you have to do it add the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Caramelized onions can also be frozen.

6 large onions

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

pinch of sugar

2 cloves of garlic, minced

8 cups beef stock, chicken stock, or a combination of the two (I used 5 cups of really good homemade beef stock and 3 cups of chicken stock)

1/2 cup of dry white wine or cooking sherry

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

salt and pepper

8 slices of french bread

1 1/2 cups grated gruyere or parmesan

Make the soup:

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil, and once the butter melts, add the onions. Sauté the onions for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the sugar. Continue to sauté the onions until they are a deep brown and have caramelized, 20 to 30 minutes longer.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock, wine or sherry, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover the soup and simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Discard the bay leaf.

While it is simmering, make the toasts:

In a 350 degree oven, toast the bread on a baking sheet for about 5 minutes. Top with the cheese and put back into the oven until the cheese is melted, about 3 minutes.

Serve the soup ladled into bowls with a round of bread floating on top.

my favorite chocolate chip cookies

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Most chocolate chip cookie recipes are very similar. They start with creaming butter and sugar, you add eggs and vanilla, and then you add flour and chocolate chips. This method gets the job done, and the resulting cookies can be pretty good. But there are a few important techniques (mainly, creaming butter and sugar), and it is easy to go wrong.

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In early December, I saw this write up on Chocolate Chip Cookies and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The recipe was so different from standard chocolate chip cookie recipes and there was so much precision in the article that it was perfect for a control freak like me. The only issue was that the recipe was pretty complicated and used three! bowls! and! one! saucepan! Also, all the precision was starting to stress me out. Every detail was so important. It was as if one little thing, like the temperature of my dough before it went into the oven wasn’t spot on, the resulting sub par cookies would make me some sort of cookie baker fail.

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However, I still wanted all the amazing attributes those cookies boasted. I mean, hello, browned butter and vanilla toffee flavors? Also: amazing chewy centers and crisp edges.

Of course, Cook’s Illustrated came to the rescue. The chocolate chip cookie recipe in their new The Science of Good Cooking Cookbook (which I got for Christmas) is very similar to the recipe from Serious Eats except the folks from America’s Test Kitchen did it with a lot less mess and stress (oh yes, I did just rhyme). Both recipes brown the butter, but Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t make you wait for it to cool. Both beat the sugar and eggs together, but Cook’s Illustrated’s method requires less beating. Also, the recipe from Serious Eats requires you to rest your dough in the fridge overnight. Who wants to wait for cookies? No one (ain’t nobody got time for dat!) (Oh my god I did not just type that).

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These cookies are super chewy and hard to over bake (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be attentive, though!). They have richness and an extra dimension from the browned butter, and extra brown sugar and vanilla make for an amazing vanilla toffee flavor. Basically, these cookies kick the standard recipe’s butt.

my favorite chocolate chip cookies

Recipe adapted from The Science of Good Cooking by Cook’s Illustrated.

These cookies are great with a little sea salt sprinkled on top. Depending on your audience, you may or may not want to include it.

1 3/4 (8 3/4 oz) cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons (1 stick plus 6 tablespoons) unsalted butter

3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 1/4 (7 1/2 oz) cups semisweet chocolate chips

Sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.

In a large, light colored skillet, melt 10 tablespoons of the butter. Continue to cook until solids in the butter turn dark golden brown and it smells nutty and fragrant. Pour the butter into a large bowl, add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, and stir until all of the butter melts.

Add the sugars, salt, and vanilla to the butter and whisk together until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk. Whisk vigorously for 30 seconds until well combined and no sugar lumps remain. Let the mixture rest for 3 minutes and then whisk for 30 more seconds. Repeat this process twice, until the mixture is thick, aerated, and shiny. Fold in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips until combined and then give the dough on last stir to ensure no flour streaks remain.

Scoop about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, placed 2 inches apart. Bake, rotating halfway through, until the cookies are puffy and golden on the edges, 8 to 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack. If you would like to sprinkle the cookies with a little salt, do it right after you take them out of the oven.

bright lemon vinaigrette

As hard as it is for me to believe, if you offered me another cookie right now, I would probably decline. Ditto with the pie. Right now, as much as I love baking, I am really not drawn to sugar and butter. In the kitchen, green is gold. And based on what I’ve been seeing around the internet lately, many other bloggers agree.

This lemon vinaigrette tastes like pure, lemony freshness. As much as I love the Honey Mustard dressing on this salad that has become my usual go-to, this fresh vinaigrette is what I am really craving on my salads now.

Unlike other salad dressings (Ranch, I’m looking at you!), this simple lemon one doesn’t mask the flavors of the vegetables you put it on. Instead, it perks them up. It is light and freshly lemony and the perfect addition to your next salad.

This isn’t a creative, revolutionary, or new idea. It’s just a reminder that fresh flavors are beautiful, and we don’t need to meddle with them too much.

Bright Lemon Vinaigrette

Recipe adapted from The Science of Good Cooking by Cook’s Illustrated (A Christmas present, and one of my new favorites)

Makes enough vinaigrette to dress one large salad generously.

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 small lemon)

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon salt

pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper until the mixture is well combined and no more mayo lumps remain. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The vinaigrette should thicken slightly and there shouldn’t be any pools of oil on the surface.

Store the vinaigrette in the fridge for up to two weeks.

big cluster cherry, almond, and chocolate granola

I have been eating homemade granola for almost my whole life, and therefore it has gotten pretty old. My mother makes granola in enormous batches (she uses 3 big canisters of oats) and it is pretty tasty but mostly it’s just lightly sweetened toasted oats with some nuts and fruit.

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Granola transformed when I made the granola in the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It was crunchy, clustery, just a pinch sweet, and had a hint of salt to balance out everything (also, fruit other than raisins. But that’s beside the point). The only bad thing about Deb’s recipe is that it uses a 1/2 cup of maple syrup, and my mom didn’t like me using up all our maple syrup since it’s kind of expensive. So, I decided to put my own spin on Deb’s recipe. I replaced the maple syrup with honey, reduced the cinnamon, replaced the walnuts with almonds, and added chocolate chips.

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I was originally going to just post this as a basic granola recipe that you could customize for yourself just like I did, but when I tasted it with this combo of almonds, cherries, and chocolate, it was too good not to share as is. The granola itself is crunchy and just a tiny bit sweet, and the cherries add a nice tartness that contrasts with the sweetness of the chocolate. When the granola comes out of the oven, it doesn’t seem like it will form the clusters, but it will harden once it cools and you literally have to break it up otherwise it will be one big sheet of granola.

This granola is delicious sprinkled over yogurt or just eaten out of hand for a snack. Enjoy!

Big Cluster Chocolate, Almond, and Cherry Granola

Recipe adapted from the ever awesome Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

In the recipe, I tell you to add the chocolate before the granola cools so it will melt into the clusters. I didn’t do this for the pictures (silly me!), so don’t be alarmed with your clusters have chocolate chunks, unlike mine.

Even though I think the combination of chocolate, dried cherries, and almond is pretty amazing, you can change up the dried fruit or nuts to customize the recipe to your tastes. You can also omit the chocolate and just increase the dried fruit by a 1/2 cup.

Lastly, I saw a recipe on Iowa Girl Eats and she added 1/4 cup of rinsed, uncooked quinoa to her granola per every cup of oats. I thought it was a great idea for how to add a bit more protein and crunch to your granola and plan on trying it next time. I may not add a full 3/4 cup, maybe just start out with 1/2 cup. Anyway, just an idea. :)

3 cups of rolled oats

1 cup of unsweetened, flaked coconut

1 cup sliced or whole almonds (I used sliced because they form clusters more easily)

1/4 cup wheat germ (you can toast it if you want but I am too lazy)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup honey

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large egg white

1 cup dried cherries

3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, coconut, almonds, wheat germ, olive oil, salt, honey, and ground cinnamon. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy and then stir into the oat mixture. Spread into a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and bake, rotating halfway through, until the granola is evenly browned and it feels dry to the touch. Sprinkle the chocolate over the granola and then allow to cool completely on a rack. Break up the granola into  clusters and sprinkle in the dried cherries. The granola keeps in an airtight container for 2 weeks and even longer in the freezer.