Best of NOLA!


We’ll this is embarrassing. Apparently I’ve reverted to semi-annual blog updates. It isn’t that I don’t care about my readers. I’ve been sharing plenty of anecdotes with the Chicago Foodies followers. And it isn’t that I have been hibernating this winter…as evidence from my Instagram proves.

I’ve just been busy. You know, eating out at fabulous restaurants, making homemade soups and noodles from scratch, baking outrageous German chocolate pies and even doing a little traveling, too. In December I went to New Orleans with one main item on the agenda – eat some amazing Cajun and Creole food. If you know me, you know I made it a priority to find the absolute best restaurants and bars in the area. Here were some of our favorites.

1. Bread Pudding,  Lüke

bead pudding

This John Besh spot around the corner from our hotel was our first meal in NOLA, and we weren’t disappointed. I’m a huge fan of Besh after seeing him on Top Chef this past season, so I couldn’t wait to try his restaurant. I had an amazing shrimp étouffée, and we ended the meal with a praline bread pudding. You must order bread pudding if you go to NOLA, and it won’t be hard because you’ll find it on just about every dessert menu.

2. Shrimp Po’Boy, Parasol’s

Something you should know about New Orleans is that they take their holidays very seriously. Like restaurants closed two days after Christmas seriously. I’ll be honest. This restaurant was not our first choice for lunch that day. Or our second. Or third. Basically we were stranded, hungry and I was getting pretty irritable so we had to think fast. Yelp to the rescue!

shrimp po' boyWhile the exterior of Parasol isn’t anything to brag about, the food certainly is. We waited. And waited. And waited for our po’boys. But I don’t hesitate when I say that it was worth it. When you’re in NOLA, it’s hard to go wrong with a po’boy. I opted for the firecracker shrimp – fried shrimp tossed in an addicting sauce. Don’t judge me for eating every bite until you’ve had one yourself.

3. Shrimp and Grits, Coquette

The day we ended up at Parasol, we were trying to go to Coquette. I couldn’t be happier that we decided to go back (when it was actually open) the next day. I opted for a 3 course lunch special, with shrimp and grits as the star of the meal. These were hands down the best shrimp and grits I’ve had, and the meal was one of my absolute favorites from the trip. The grits were perfectly creamy, with a great zing from the lemon. I ended the meal with mini doughnuts and ice cream. My only complaint was that I wanted to go back for dinner, and there just wasn’t time…or room in my stomach.

shrimp and grits

scallops commanders palace4. Seared Scallops, Commander’s Palace

It may be old-fashioned and it may be traditional, but there’s just no comparison to Commander’s Palace when you’re in New Orleans. Before you even book your flight, you should probably call Commander’s for a reservation – it’s that hard to get one. I’ve heard they have great cocktail specials at lunch (and a more affordable meal, I’m sure), so if I went back that’s what I would probably opt for. We decided on the full dinner. Plus, two desserts, of course.

We started with fried oysters and turtle soup, and then I ordered something that wasn’t shrimp for once. The seared scallops were perfectly cooked and served with a crunchy rice. I’m sure anything you order there will be incredible. We weren’t as blown away with the bread pudding souffle as we had hoped, so then we just had to try the pecan pie, which was gooey, fresh and delicious as expected.

bread pudding french toast5. Bread Pudding French Toast, Dante’s Kitchen

Start with bread pudding and end with it, right? This was our last meal in New Orleans, and I figured I might as well go all out. We took in the sun on the back patio and ordered a few local drinks while we waited. This was my friend Lauren’s ultimate NOLA reco, and her favorite brunch spot, so we couldn’t wait to try it out. We ordered some memorable biscuits to start, served with strawberry and apple jams. They were chewy, buttery and slightly salty. Not too far from the biscuits at Bang Bang Pie in Chicago.

Then came the french toast. I’ve had bread pudding pancakes before but never french toast. These were served with apple syrup, which added a nice fruity (healthy?) flavor to the dish. Moist, and delicious – second to only our Luke bread pudding I would say. And it was the perfect way to end our trip.

A few other things I can’t forget to mention. We saw a ton of great live music in between all of the eating we did. We hit up Frenchman Street (highly recommended) and bounced from place to place to see some reggae music and some traditional tunes. We decided to skip Preservation Hall (and the hour long wait in the rain) and went down the street to Fritzel’s instead. Don’t miss it. live music at Fritzel's

You probably can’t believe I went through all of my favorites without talking about beignets at Cafe Du Monde. Well, here it is. Cafe Du Monde wasn’t my favorite, but it is a solid breakfast prior to checking out the French Quarter. The beignets are not complex. Still, they are warm, powdered sugary and delicious when dipped in your Cafe Au Lait.


Best Things I Ate This Summer


Since I haven’t updated my blog for a full season (oops) and it’s now past Labor Day, I figured it was about time to recap on all of the delicious things I ate, cooked and baked this summer. Looking back at my pictures, it was a pretty impressive list, with way too much grilled fish, avocado and more ice cream than I could fit in my stomach at times, which is saying a lot. Contrary to what these pictures display, I did eat many meals other than dessert…sometimes.

Root Beer Float

1. 4th of July Root Beer Float

It’s hard to think back to the 4th of July, but it was actually the start of summer weather-wise. I went to Galena, Illinois, and we found the most amazing little root beer float bar. It was basically like a regular bar with a few beers on tap, only these were root beers. Top with fresh vanilla ice cream, and I was in heaven. Needless to say I dripped all over myself like a child.





2. Watermelon, Feta & Mint Salad

Watermelon Feta SaladI have to say, I’m rather proud of this entire meal, and the watermelon feta salad was the pièce de résistance. It’s the perfect summery side dish. Crisp, refreshing watermelon mingling with salty feta, all tied together by the mint. When you can pick it fresh from a garden, it’s double the fresh (double the fun). Oh, there’s also some guacamole hiding in the corner there. Because how can you go a week in the summer without some guac?? Don’t get me started.







Big Gay Ice Cream3. Big Gay Ice Cream/Original Rainbow Cone

I had to include some ice cream on the list, and I felt bad not including the Original Rainbow Cone because it’s something I look forward to every summer, and it never disappoints. It’s the perfect combination of flavors, scooped separately, and it’s such a commodity since I can only usually get it at The Taste of Chicago (the only reason for going, aside from the people watching). This year I may have had a scoop at Lollapalooza also…worth it.

In case you’re drooling over the ice cream pictured, let me explain. Every time I’m in New York, I always want to try out Big Gay Ice Cream – an ice cream truck that now has a brick and mortar store. They’re known for soft serve with awesome toppings, and some ridiculous names to boot. We were coincidentally having dinner next door to BGI, so I absolutely had to try it, despite the semi-ridiculous line. I ordered American Globs, which is naturally vanilla soft serve dipped in chocolate and pretzels. Was there caramel? I don’t even know because I inhaled that thing so fast there was no looking back.




4. Rugelach

I wrote a little recap on Chicago Foodies of my time in Israel that only brushed on the incredible market we visited in Jerusalem. While my Aunt Eunice’s rugelach are out of this world and I look forward to eating them any chance I get, these were unlike anything I’d ever tasted. They’re almost like a croissant in the form of a cookie; the flaky dough enveloped the chocolate in each layer. Oh, and they were hot out of the oven.



soba noodle salad


5. Sesame Soba Noodle Salad (with Pickled Red Onions)

Buckwheat noodles + snow peas + grilled peppers + sautéed kale + pickled red onions + sesame seeds + a whole lot of lime and cilantro = amazing summer meal. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I pickled my own red onions. I have no life. Actually, it takes like half an hour with this easy recipe. If you don’t have time for pickling, you can use fresh red onion or lightly sauté it. Recipe coming soon…I promise for real this time.





Until next season…or until I stop baking and actually pick up my computer to write.

Leftover Cookies


Leftover CookiesTrue confession: I’m a hoarder.

Okay, I’m not a hoarder in the true sense of the word. I have no problem getting rid of the ordinary stuff (although I can’t say the same for my mom who still has every notebook I’ve ever owned since the 1st grade). It’s baking ingredients I always seem to accumulate.

My cabinets are full of peppermint baking bark, chocolate covered toffee, Thin Mints, milk chocolate chips, cocoa nibs, M&Ms and every type of sugar there is. The problem is, I only have a handful left of many of these ingredients. It’s not enough to make more s’mores bars or blondies, but it’s too much to throw away.

Enter the leftover cookie.

I came across this recipe and was ashamed I hadn’t thought of the idea myself. I have a ridiculous amount of random baking ingredients, yet I’m always buying new ones every time I go to the store. Some girls have a shoe or purse problem. I have a chocolate problem.

Deal with it.

Leftover Cookies
Makes about 12 cookies
Recipe adapted from Food52

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla


  • 1/4-1/2 cup broken salted pretzels
  • 1/8 cup Rice Krispies cereal
  • 2 graham crackers, crumbled
  • 6 crushed double stuffed Oreo cookies
  1. cookie doughCream together butter and sugars. Once combined, mix in egg and vanilla.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking, powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet. Don’t overmix.
  4. Carefully add in your mix-ins until they are evenly distributed.
  5. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. This is so crucial! Then, remove the dough, roll into evenly sized balls and refrigerate for 10 more minutes. You can refrigerate overnight, too. If you do this, be sure to form the dough balls ahead of time or you’ll have to let the dough sit on the counter to soften.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees F on two prepared cookie sheets. Be sure not to overbake, or the bottoms will burn.

Feel free to add whichever mix-ins you like…oatmeal, caramel, crushed candy, potato chips. The options are endless! Next time I’m trying chocolate covered pretzels, marshmallows, dried cherries and toffee bits. The only problem is I’ll have to buy chocolate covered pretzels. And then, I just might have some leftover…

That Moment When…


fresh fish…your 4 hour layover turns into 8 hours in the Boston airport.

…jet lag knocks you off your feet (and into an unfortunately small room with bunk beds).

…you step into that European bakery and remember why you came back.

…your mom eats her ice cream while wearing gloves (inside).

…you wander into an incredible market with some of the freshest fish you’ve ever seen.

…paella is as common as pizza back home.

…you realize your dad is super easy to find in a crowd. And that is awesome.

Park Guell…the concierge recommends a restaurant that’s actually amazing.

…a chocolate museum is the highlight of your day.

…a breathtaking view makes you take 100 pictures.

…you share a bottle of wine for lunch. And a nap, too.

…you realize your parents don’t know how to take iPhone pictures. Like at all. Fingers in every frame.

bakery…after passing the same jaw-dropping bakery three times, you finally go in. And you wish you’d gone in every time you passed it.

…”breading out” becomes a phrase.

…a double-decker tour bus becomes genius rather than touristy.

…you find out your brother has turned into an adult. An adult who lives in a smelly dorm room, yet an adult nonetheless.

Sometimes when you go to Spain with your family, you have these moments. And they’re not ones you’ll easily forget – especially if you have the pictures to prove it.

Ginger Snaps


Sorry to disappoint you, but there are no cookie recipes in this post. I was trying to think of a name for a blog post on things I’m currently obsessing over, and could there be a more perfect name? I don’t think so. I’ll try to keep this a regular feature since tend to have a lot of obsessions, both food and non-food related. Oh, and this is inspired by one of my favorite blogs, How Sweet It Is, and the Tuesday Things. posts that make me laugh, force me to reread Thought Catalog articles and generally make me very hungry.

1. I’m currently making a Google spreadsheet of restaurants I want to go to when I’m in Barcelona in a few weeks to visit my brother. It’s pretty intense. There are like 5 columns. And maybe some color coding. If you have any suggestions comment and I will see if they are worthy enough for me to visit.

2. You know how you might read like two or three blogs regularly since you’re a normal, sane person? I just counted the blogs on my Google reader and I have…umm, 14. That isn’t even including Smitten Kitchen since you can only subscribe via email. It’s beginning to be a problem. But a really good one because I always have a few recipes each day to drool over/tweet/add to my Pinterest to plan to cook.

In case you’re super bored, they are: Joy the Baker, Spoon Fork Bacon,  Happy Yolks, 101 Cookbooks, A Cozy Kitchen, Cookies and Cups, Alexandra’s Kitchen, Annie Eats, Savory Sweet Life, Oh Ladycakes, Ezra Pound Cake, Table for Two, The Pastry Affair and How Sweet It Is.

Out of control.

3. I reorganized my Pinterest boards and I have an entire board for sandwich cookies. #necessary.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins4. These Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins with Streusel were pretty much as good as they look. I left out the nuts from the topping and they were still really, really good. If we’re being honest, they’re basically cupcakes that are acceptable to eat for breakfast. Jim Gaffigan knows the real deal about desserts. 

5. Restaurant Week starts on Friday. I’m not physically (although very mentally) prepared for this. February is more like Restaurant Month for me. I have reservations to go to NAHA, The Bristol, Pump Room, RPM, Girl & The Goat…the list goes on.

6. I’m aware that this isn’t at all food related, but Downton Abbey. OMG. Obsessed. It’s too good. I’m becoming anti-social because all I want to do is sit in my bed and watch episodes online. Mary and Matthew! Anna and Mr. Bates! I’m embarrassed but I’m not. At least it’s not The Bachelor…Oh, wait. I watch that, too.

7. Also in February is this. Who orders Savannah Smiles? My mom did.

Easy Nutella Cookies Are Easier Than You Think


Easy Nutella CookiesIt’s time for an intervention.

That’s what I’ve been told recently, at least. I bake so much that my hands constantly smell like butter. I have a cupcake carrier large enough to hold a medium-sized animal (it was a gift, at least). When I go to the grocery store, I’m constantly stocking up on brown sugar and dark chocolate just in case inspiration strikes. And I Instagram. Like, a lot. So much that my friends tell me I either need to open a bakery soon or slow down before my apartment turns into a real life Candy Land. While I wouldn’t mind having some Gumdrop Mountains in my kitchen, I do like to have an actual life in my spare time.

So, I found these cookies. I had to bake something for a Bachelor viewing party (don’t judge), and I didn’t have much time. Sean needed me. While we all know how much I love me some late-night baking, sometimes I have other things to do. Like being the editor for this awesome site called Chicago Foodies and posting some of my ridiculous original recipes there. If you don’t subscribe to our updates, we probably aren’t friends.

Anyways, I came across this Nutella cookie recipe and figured it would be perfect for a last-minute dessert. It only has five ingredients. What?! No baking soda, or spices, or even butter. Cookies without butter?! It’s madness. But somehow, it works. I hate to admit it, but this Ambitious Kitchen chick is really genius. She has some other cookies that sound okay too, like Nutella Stuffed Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt and Browned Butter Snickerdoodle Cookies. Browning butter makes everything taste amazing in case you didn’t know this already.

Make these cookies. Follow my one ridiculous sounding rule. Do not eat them straight out of the oven. This isn’t one of those lies your mom told you when you were little to prevent you from eating raw cookie dough. This is real. The cookies have to set and will completely fall apart if you don’t allow them to very thoroughly cool. Their texture is one of the best things about them, so don’t compromise it.

Easy Salted Brownie Nutella Cookies
Recipe from Ambitious Kitchen

Makes 1 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 2 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup + tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Sea salt
  • THAT’s IT!!!

Combine all ingredients with your mixer (omit the salt). Put your dough in the freezer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough from freezer, and roll into 12 evenly sized balls. The mixture will be very crumbly, not unlike sand. It doesn’t look like cookie dough or anything similarly delicious, but it will be okay, trust me. Space them evenly on two cookie sheets, and press in a pinch of sea salt to top of each cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the middle looks set.

The sides of the cookies might look a little thinned or burnt. You can fix that with a spatula as soon as you take the cookies out of the oven. Allow to cool thoroughly before removing from the cookie sheet. Refrigerate and serve cold or at room temperature.

These cookies don’t have a true Nutella flavor, so if that’s what you’re looking for you might want to just grab a spoon and go to town on the jar instead. They’re almost like brownie cookies. The salt is out of this world, and it makes these cookies incredibly addictive.

Eat one of these and try to stop. Then you might be the one who needs an intervention.

Ginger Spice Pumpkin Thumbprint Cookies & The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap


box of cookiesDesserts pretty much make the holidays for me. I know that sounds lame, but as a Jew and a foodie, there isn’t a ton to look forward to. We don’t have a big Christmas dinner or cookies for Santa, and there is no sipping eggnog by the tree. For me, the reason I love the holidays is the food. Eating lakes with friends, Chinese food with family and baking an insane amount of dessert for my coworkers.

So this year, I decided to get in on the holiday spirit on my own, and when I came across The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I knew I had to participate. Here’s the fun part: each food blogger participant bakes 3 dozen cookies and ships them to 3 other bloggers they are paired with, also receiving 3 dozen different cookies back. Here’s the amazing part: each blogger donates $4 to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and OXO matches the donation dollar for dollar. As it turns out, getting 3 dozen cookies in adorable Christmas boxes in the mail is also pretty amazing.

The easy part was done. Next came the real decision: what type of cookies to make. It’s pretty apparent from my blog that I’m not one to do anything traditional when it comes to food. I needed something seasonal and not too complicated. I also needed a cookie that could hold up for a few days in the mail. As much as I love to fill things with cream cheese frosting, that was out.

Then it came to me. Gingersnaps! I am a ginger myself, and I love all things flavored with ginger. My fantasy football team even goes by the same name. Somehow, I had never made  a single gingersnap cookie. You can only imagine how much that has changed since I got my hands on some molasses a few weeks ago – the single ingredient standing between me and a lifetime full of gingersnaps.

The recipe I ended up developing wasn’t technically a gingersnap because they really have no snap like the traditional cookie. They turned out with a deliciously chewy interior. And even though they turned out much flatter than a traditional thumbprint cookie, I think they still held the pumpkin filling pretty well. If you want to leave out the filling, I’m sure they would still be (almost) just as delicious.

ginger spice cookiesGinger Spice Pumpkin Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 3 dozen (exactly!)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 stick butter
  • Turbinado sugar (for rolling the cookies in)

Pumpkin Filling:

  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tbsp butter, softened
  1. Cream together butter for dough and sugars in a stand mixer or with your hand mixer.
  2. Then, add in your molasses and egg.
  3. In a separate bowl combine your flour, spices, salt and baking soda.
  4. Gradually add in wet ingredients to dry until well-incorporated.
  5. Refrigerate dough for at least an hour.
  6. Meanwhile, make your filling. Mix together the pumpkin and powdered sugar.
  7. Cream in your butter to the mixture, and then add in your spice.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  9. Roll out dough into small, evenly sized balls.
  10. Then, roll each in turbinado sugar until covered all around.
  11. Push down in the top of the ball with your thumb, creating a small well for the filling. Carefully fill the hole with the pumpkin mixture.
  12. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned and thoroughly cooked in the center.

Cool, and then enjoy!

boxesThe three lucky bloggers who received my cookies were Leila of Belly., Rachel of La Pêche Fraîche and Hannah of FleurDeLicious. I mean, I hope they thought they were lucky. I packed a dozen into each of these adorable boxes, and then in a sugar-induced haze attempted to mail them via USPS priority mail. Like many twenty-somethings, I become very frazzled when I step inside a post office and didn’t know how to handle the flat-rate box/bubble wrap/packing tape situation. So I really just threw them in there and hoped for the best.

I spent all of my money, integrity and patience at the post office, and I wasn’t so sure if the experience would be worth it in the end. But once I saw that first box at my doorstep, I realized how wrong I had been. Getting a package in the mail is one of the greatest feelings. It’s like the feeling you have when you get junk email in your inbox, but the complete opposite. Check out what I got in the mail.

ginger bread man




Chai-Spice Gingerbread Men from Rachel of Passing Daisies

These were actually addicting. Soft on the inside and a great crunch on the outside from the sugar. I ate six basically in one sitting and then I had to remove them from my apartment. It was a dangerous business.



chocolate cherry cookies



Double Chocolate Cherry Cookies from Emilie of Scarborough Food Fair

I was absolutely obsessed with the box that these cookies came in. Like so adorable I almost didn’t want to open it. But then I did. I also loved doing this swap because I found some amazing new blogs to read! I loved the mac ‘n cheese bites she made recently.




crinkle cookies



Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from Courtney Fos

Last but not least were these chocolate crinkle cookies. They looked just like Christmas! They were also in an adorable looking box that I completely tore open. Courtney shares such inspiring stories on her blog about her family, and I loved reading her weekly menus.






I loved participating in this cookie swap, and not only for the cookies I received. It was great hearing from the bloggers around the country who got boxes of my cookies. And most of all, it’s going to be great finding out how much money OXO is donating this year. I think I have a few weeks off before my holiday baking starts, and my biggest goal is to not eat 3 dozen cookies by then. Is that called a diet?

On Thanksgiving


I had quite a bit of writer’s block while trying to start this post. It isn’t because I don’t have anything to say about Thanksgiving. And it isn’t because I have a different favorite holiday. It’s because this one day means so much to me that it’s hard to put it into words.

Growing up, I always looked forward to Thanksgiving because in my family it was a holiday of such tradition. Both sides of my family got together at my parents’ house for one very long meal filled with what felt like unlimited appetizers, an impressive spread for the meal and then a dessert course to make any restaurant menu shudder with jealousy. My mom would fold the napkins at each place setting accordion style  (see picture) weeks before the big day. We generally used plastic plates and got our food buffet style, but the fancy napkins were always key. She wouldn’t fold them that way for any other holiday because – for whatever reason – that specific folding style was special for Thanksgiving.

My grandma would carefully carve the turkey before guests arrived so it was easier for serving. Aunt Sheryl would make her famous stuffing (and slip me an extra-large piece wrapped in foil to save since she knew I loved it so much). Aunt Caryn made her classic green bean casserole. And my other grandma, mentioned in #2 of this post, would bring a giant fruit tray.

I have memories of cutting off hunks of warm brie in puff pastry, oozing out of the shell with jam, and devouring it with greasy fingers. My cousins and I were drunk on sparkling apple cider – or maybe it was the excessive food that made us a little loopy. We’d pile our plates high, eat as much as possible and then retire to my room for our traditional Thanksgiving showing of the movie we watched every year (I will not name it since I’m embarrassed it received a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes). Swearing we would never eat again, we’d laugh at the terrible movie, which has some really famous actors in it by the way. And then we’d hear a call for dessert and go running downstairs as fast as our turkey-laden bodies could carry us.

Today, it isn’t so different. But then again, it really is. I can expect the baked brie, among other appetizers. Sheryl still makes her stuffing, and Caryn does the green bean casserole. Of course my grandma brings the fruit tray, and we still watch that terrible movie (on VHS, no less). And the fancy folded napkins will forever be a staple – that picture was taken just last weekend. But my other grandma passed away a few months ago, so there isn’t anyone to carve the turkey. Or tell me that something I made is too spicy. Or ask for a “tiny piece of everything” from our giant dessert table.

It isn’t going to be the same this year. And part of me feels like she would’ve been okay with that. I’ve sort of started to take over Thanksgiving as my holiday. Each year, I’ve taken on more and more dishes, and my family has given me more freedom to make what I want. At first, my mom was nervous to try anything non-traditional because she thought the picky eaters wouldn’t eat anything. As it turns out, my family is more adventurous than we give them credit for. The spinach artichoke dip will forever be a staple appetizer now, and the brussel sprouts I made last year are being repeated this year. I’m also contributing mushroom and caramelized onion appetizer bites, orange cranberry sauce, creamed spinach and parsnips, a vegetarian mediterranean salad, a raspberry & lemon curd tart and a dark chocolate & salted caramel pie.

As I was chopping onions, roasting vegetables and stirring my lemon curd, I couldn’t help but think what my grandma would’ve thought of everything I was cooking. She was definitely a traditional woman, yet she always told stories of creating new recipes (mock cheese cake…still not sure what that one is) and being adventurous in the kitchen. I know that I get that trait from her. Most of the recipes I’m making this year are new, and I love trying out different dishes on my family each year. I thought Beverly would have particularly liked the salted caramel pie. She was pretty salty herself, although she did have a soft spot for sweets. I haven’t bit into the pie yet, and I’m already getting the feeling I’ll need to share this recipe.

Dark Chocolate & Salted Caramel Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
Adapted from Food & Wine

  • About 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (should be 1 1/2 sleeves of crackers)
  • 8 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • Two 14 oz. cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 8 oz. dark chocolate
  • Kosher salt or fleur de sel
  • Optional: 2 cups heavy cream and 2 tbsp confectioners sugar

**Note: This makes one deep dish 9 1/2″ pie. For a regular crust, just decrease the amount of crust you’re making.

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pour your sweetened condensed milk into a 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle with about 1/2 tsp of the salt. Cover tightly with foil.
  2. Put that baking dish into a 9×13, and fill about 1/2 full with warm water, or until it is as high as your milk goes. FYI, there are other ways to make dulce de leche. Check them out here > 
  3. Bake until the milk has thickened, which will take 2-2 1/2 hours. Every 20 minutes, stir and carefully add more water to the bath. It might get a little lumpy, but that’s okay.
  4. When it is done – and it will thicken more upon standing – remove from oven and turn oven down to 350 degrees.
  5. Crush your graham crackers in a food processor for a uniform consistency. Add in your sugar and vanilla. Press down onto pie pan so that crust is evenly distributed.
  6. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  7. In a double boiler, melt your chocolate until smooth. Pour evenly onto the pie crust. Let sit, and then refrigerate to cool.
  8. If you want to top with whipped cream, just whip together your cream and sugar until light and fluffy.
  9. Once your pie has cooled, pour in your caramel. Note that if you refrigerate it, it will set. You can microwave for a few minutes to make it more fluid.
  10. Top with a bit of the salt, and spread with whipped cream if you want. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

This Thanksgiving, we’re drinking wine instead of cider, enjoying my aunt’s homemade bread and skipping the store-bought appetizers at my request. I don’t know who will be carving the turkey; I know there will be one. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll be camped out at the dessert table waiting for some salted caramel pie.

My Favorite Kind Of Sandwich


It’s no secret that I’m into ice cream. When anyone asks me what my favorite food is, mint chocolate chip ice cream is the obvious answer. My obsession knows no boundaries. I’ve trudged through snow in Madison to get a scoop of orange custard chocolate chip, hands frozen and teeth chattering. It’s always worth it.

Lucky for me, my roommate shares a similar affinity for mint ice cream. Coincidentally, she and I also both like Whole Foods cranberry tuna, baked eggplant pasta, bangin’ bartha, Lou Malnati’s…this is a long list, so I’ll stop there. So when her birthday rolled around a few weeks ago, I knew what I had to make for her. I’ve had my eye on Smitten Kitchen’s ice cream sandwich recipe for some time, and her birthday was just the occasion for it.

This is a classic sandwich cookie recipe, so you can really use any flavor ice cream. Mint chocolate chip just happens to be the best, so I would recommend that. It’s more of a crunchy cookie rather than a traditional soft one, but it definitely does the job. I used Trader Joe’s mint chocolate chip and dipped the finished sandwiches in crushed Oreos. Just the right finishing touch.

Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 2/3 cups (335 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup  unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift cocoa powder into a bowl with the flour. It is always very lumpy and hard to mix in, so I would recommend this step.
  2. Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (you can use a hand mixer if that’s all you have), cream together the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until fluffy. Add in the egg yolks.
  3. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour in, and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Put your bowl of dough in the freezer for about 15 minutes, until it is easier to handle.
  5. Roll out your dough into a square onto a lightly floured surface. You want it to be very thin, just about 1/4″ thick.
  6. Using a paring knife, cut a square around the edges of the dough. Cut that in half and, depending on how much your dough was rolled out, cut those halves in half again. Since this is a sandwich, you want to make these pretty small, so err on the smaller side. Make sure as you’re cutting these they are evenly sized so that the sandwiches have pairs.
  7. Using a knife, chopstick or similar object, poke holes into the cookies like a traditional ice cream sandwich.
  8. Bake for about 18 minutes. Cookies will be firm to the touch. Allow to cool thoroughly before making any sandwiches.
  9. Get out your gallon of ice cream. You shouldn’t have to let it sit at all. Put one scoop of ice cream in between Saran wrap, molding it into a flat, square shape. Very carefully put the ice cream in between two of the cookies, individually wrap and freeze immediately. You may need to break while you’re making these to put the ice cream back into the freezer so it doesn’t melt.

The ice cream sandwiches didn’t hold a birthday candle very well, but I think that was okay anyways. I made them a bit to large, so slivers have been slowly disappearing from them. It’s kind of like a never-ending birthday in our freezer – which is fine with me any time of year.

How to Be a Good Baker in 5 Easy Steps


These were a disaster. Not a surprise considering I forgot the butter and then burnt them. My co-workers still managed to eat basically the entire pan.

I figured it was about time to attempt to answer the age-old question, “Just what makes a good baker?” I’m technically no authority, and I’m certainly not perfect myself. On top of that, I’ve been having a bit of a rough patch when it comes to baking. I’ve come to realize that we all make mistakes. Mine just come in a 9X13 pan. Burning cookies and altogether forgetting ingredients was just the start of it.

These hardships made me realize just what it takes to be a truly good baker. Some of this list is a matter of opinion. And some of it is not. I’ve always thought that taste is not necessarily subjective. I mean, who wouldn’t like one of these?

1. An ability (and willingness) to follow directions

This is absolutely one of the main fundamentals of baking, and anyone who tells you different is completely lying to you. I would never do that, even for the last scoop of Baskin Robbins mint chocolate chip ice cream. Just leaving out a teaspoon of an ingredient can break your recipe. Salt, baking powder, baking soda – these are all crucial ingredients that you absolutely cannot leave out or mis-measure. As it happens, I am extremely bad at following written directions, and it causes me so many problems in the kitchen. However, that leads me to #2…

2. Creativity

A wise man once said, if you know how to bake one thing well, you’re golden. While this is actually sort of true (especially if you’re a guy), that doesn’t make you a good baker. Let’s take my grandma for example (don’t worry, she doesn’t know how to use the internet so it’s okay). She makes some killer homemade brownies. They’re chocolatey, just fudgy enough and have at least an inch of powdered sugar on top. She makes them so well, yet she has tricked us all into thinking she’s a serious baker. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her bake anything else in my life. Yet she’s just so cute that it really doesn’t matter. I, on the other hand, do not have such a luxury. I’ve put chocolate covered potato chips in cookies and baked brownies with a pretzel crust. Some of it has worked…and some of it really hasn’t. But you need to dare to try.

3. Keeping calm and…substituting

In a perfect world, you have all the ingredients you need at all times. You’re always fully stocked with plenty of flour, spices, eggs, brown sugar and (seriously don’t forget the) butter. I hate to break it to you, but this world is not a perfect place. The other day in the middle of making doughnuts I realized I had NO OIL. In case you weren’t aware of how frying works, oil is fairly necessary. I had to force myself to remove my apron, change into workout clothes and head over to my gym simply because I couldn’t face the shame of going to CVS yet again that day for baking ingredients.

Most of the time I find myself using orange juice for milk in my pancakes, sweetening with maple syrup or honey instead of brown sugar and using whatever fruit I have on hand. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. One time I legitmately cried because I messed up my pancakes (twice). Hunger can do that to you. But other times you find a fix that works better than the original recipe.

4. A Baker’s Intuition

I’m pretty sure there is a term called “Mother’s Intuition”, and it may or may not be diaper-related. I’m slightly unclear. Well, Baker’s Intuition is more or less the same. Sometimes you just get the feeling that something is wrong. You feel like you left out an ingredient…or it actually looks like you may have. This happens to me all the time. I look at my batter and think, “Last time I made this it was much creamier. Did I do something wrong?” I often finish my recipe without a second thought, and only when I put my pan in the oven do I realize that the butter I was supposed to add in is sitting in the microwave.

It’s a sad day when you ruin an entire batch of something by forgetting one simple step. Double check your recipe, and even if you are making substitutions be sure that your proportions are still right. When I made my doughnuts I thought that the batter was far too running and then realized I left out an entire cup of flour. Look at what you’re making and taste before it hits the oven.

5. Learn the Basics

To be not just a good baker, but a great baker, you have to learn some of the basics, or really the secrets, of the trade. Here are a few of mine:

  • If your cookies keep burning around the edges, that’s because your butter isn’t cold enough. I swear by freezing my dough for at least 30 minutes before baking.
  • No matter what the recipe says, always spray or butter your pan. Unless you own a Silpat baking mat (which you should), and in that case never spray your pan because it will damage the silicone.
  • That cake might seem pretty much cooled, but you’ll realize that it isn’t as soon as you start to frost it. Seriously cool that thing before even attempting to frost it or you’ll have one hot mess. I’d even say to briefly freeze it to prevent any crumbs from getting mixed into the frosting.
  • Listen to Ina Garten because she’s basically always right. When you have that many gay men fawning over you, I will believe everything you say, too.
  • Make your cookies the same size if they are on the same pan, or some will burn and others will be undercooked.
  • Cupcake wrappers are always a good idea.
  • Buy good quality chocolate. It makes a tremendous difference in whatever you make.
  • You will not get salmonella from eating raw cookie dough. Ignore what your mom said. Just do it.