Category Archives: Culinary Inspiration

Ingredients, techniques and cuisines

Chef Tim’s Roast Chicken with Chardonnay Sauce, Trumpet Mushroom Duxelle and Fingerling Potatoes

*in Jay-Z voice* “Tim, you did it again.  You’re a genius.”  Not too often when I’m cooking am I reminded of the fine balance between strict adherence to technique and freestyle improvisation in the kitchen.  This recipe is like a dance – you certainly want to follow the rules to coax it into perfection, but there is room for you to do your thang as well.  In essence, it’s everything I love about the kitchen.  And as I watched my husband take the first bite of the final product and nod his head knowingly that this was something of pure majesty, I loved it all the more.

In Chef Tim Ma’s interview for this site, he talks about the importance of organization in the kitchen.  As home cooks, although we don’t go all out with a true mise en place and prep kitchen work, there is something to be said for taking time to lay out all of your ingredients before you launch into the assembly of the dish.  This recipe is a great example of this fact – chopping all of your ingredients first and setting up your kitchen before turning on the stove will allow you the luxury of breezing through this one.  When you are all finished, you take a bite and marvel at the genius your tucking into without feeling as if you slaved at all.

Tim purports that this dish is an excellent use of many important kitchen techniques – I see it as a reminder of how much there is to learn in the kitchen, far beyond what we’ve learned from our families or from puttering around on our own with a bit of trial and error.  Spending the time to figure out how to properly treat ingredients is so very necessary, and though we won’t all have the honor or luxury of attending cooking school, it doesn’t mean we can’t go out of our way with a little self-directed study on proper methods and techniques.  Consider this recipe a solid lesson with Chef Tim as the instructor du jour.

Since we don’t have access to a live demonstration of this one (yet), a trickier part of the recipe is in the deboning of the chicken leg and thigh as one piece.  While you can absolutely have your butcher do this for you, it’s a lot more interesting to grab a sharp knife and try it out for yourself.  I found this old video of Paul Prudhomme doing it, and teacher that I am, I love his level of encouragement offered to newbies trying this for the first time.  Yes, you can do this, and no, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never done it before.  Now, fancy names be damned, go get yourself some roast chicken and mushroom action.

Recipe for

Roast Chicken Leg and Thigh with Chardonnay Sauce, Trumpet Mushroom Duxelle and Fingerling Potatoes

2 trumpet mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 tbs. of butter
half of a lemon, juiced
1 shallot, minced
1 oz. of slab bacon or salt pork
1/4 c. of caramelized onions

2 chicken legs and thighs, deboned
2 tbsp dry chardonnay
4 tbsp vegetable or chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
parsley, chopped

1 lb. of fingerling potatoes
duck fat (or vegetable oil if you don’t have any)
salt and pepper

Melt 2 tbs. of butter in a large pan over low heat. Add bacon or salt pork and sweat for a few minutes without giving it color.  Add shallots and sweat without giving color for a few minutes.  Add mushrooms and continue to cook over low heat, adding a pinch of salt, pepper and the lemon juice.  The mushrooms will begin to release water – once the water is completely absorbed, stop cooking.  Add caramelized onions and toss to heat.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Heat a new pan that can go into the oven over high heat with a little blended oil.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Once pan is hot, add chicken legs skin side down and cook over high heat for a minute.  Place entire pan in oven and cook until chicken registers 165°, about 10 minutes.  Take pan out, remove chicken, drain oil.  Deglaze pan with chardonnay, scraping up the brown bits.  Reduce wine by half, add stock and reduce by half again.  Turn fire off, add 2 tbs. of butter and whisk until incorporated.  Place mushroom mix in center of plate, top with chicken, add sauce around, garnish with parsley.

Fingerling Potatoes

To cook the fingerlings, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add potatoes and blanch for 3-4 minutes.  Drain and dry well.  Add about 2 inches of oil (or equivalent amount of duck fat) to a heavy bottomed sauce pan and heat until a piece of bread, when dropped into the oil, browns in 3 seconds.  Add the potatoes to the pan, being careful to stand back if the skins sputter a bit.  Allow to cook for a minute, remove and drain on paper towels and salt and pepper immediately while still hot.  If you’d like to time this all so that the potatoes are finished at the same time as the chicken, cook the potatoes as soon as the chicken goes into the oven.

Chef Tim’s Pan Fried Pork and Chive Potstickers

I have to apologize to my husband right off the bat, but I’ve been having a (not so secret) love affair with dumplings for pretty much my whole life. When people tell me about how much they themselves love dumplings, in the back of my head, I’m always saying “Nope. Nowhere close to as much as me.” I occasionally even question whether I love them more than Andrea Nguyen who wrote the beloved book “Asian Dumplings“…maybe we’re tied.  From my early memories of eating fat, pleated jiao zi at the Hsian Foong in Arlington, VA, to scraping together pennies to buy the potstickers (like crack) from Ollie’s Noodle Shop while in college, to polishing off plate after plate of crystal chive and shrimp dumplings at dim sum, I look upon the modest dumpling as the penultimate perfect food.

When I asked my friend Tim Ma, chef and owner of Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, VA, to do an interview for the site, I was most looking forward to him proffering a mind-blowingly good recipe to share.  When I saw his potsticker recipe, I straight up cheesed – what luck to have access to a recipe that was passed on to him through his family.  And I’d get to eat the results.  The beauty of this recipe is in the simplicity – garlic chives and sesame oil do all of the heavy lifting seasoning the ground pork.  And as Tim explains, the wrappers are an art form – practicing rolling the wrappers yourself is well worth the effort and far better than you could get from most restaurants.  This is the kind of cooking that is rooted in love – you make these dumplings for people that you care for, and hopefully have them join you in the effort. Dumpling party, anyone? I promise I’ll consider sharing one or two.

Learn more about Chef Tim and check out another one of his fabulous recipes by clicking here.

Pan Fried Pork  and Chive Potstickers

1 c. of cold water
3 c. of all purpose flour

2 lbs. of lean ground pork
1 bunch of chinese chives, chopped
1 tsp. of dried shrimp (optional) soaked in 2 tsp. of water or shaoxing wine
4 tsp. of salt (or 3 1/2 tsp. if you use the dried shrimp)
3 tbs. of sesame oil
corn starch (if needed)

Begin by making the dough. Combine water and flour and mix until all flour is just incorporated. Let dough rest for 10 minutes. Next, make the filling. Mix the pork, chives, dried shrimp, salt and sesame oil.

You’re now ready to start making your wrappers and filling the dumplings. Roll out the dough into long sushi roll and cut into small round 1 inch pieces. Use a small rolling pin to flatten it into a wrapper about 3 inches wide.  You are looking for wrappers about the same thickness as gyoza, so when rolling out your own dough, it’s pretty thin.  It’s really an art – you make small balls about 1-inch in diameter, then smash down with your hand.  Roll the pin around the edges until you get your thin wrapper, leaving it a little thicker in the middle and thinner on the edges.

Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface on the kitchen counter. Place each wrapper on the floured surface with the floured side facing up. Put 1 heaping tsp of the filling in the center of each wrapper. Wet your finger in the cup of water and wet all around the outer edge of the wrappers. Close it by folding it up and pressing two wetted sides together. Set it down on a flat surface and make the bottom flat.

After about 20 to 30 finished dumplings, you can set a non-stick flat bottom skillet on the stove. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in it and place the dumplings all around the skillet. Add two cups of cold water, and then put a lid on the skillet. Turn the temperature to high.
When the water is dry, turn the fire to low. Take out the dumplings when they are golden brown and crispy at the bottom.

Serve with dipping sauce (recipe below). If you like things hot, you can make a spicier dipping sauce out of hot chili paste, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Potsticker Dipping Sauce

3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c. of soy sauce
1/3 c. of rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. of  salt
1/2 tbs. of sugar
1/2 tbs. of sesame oil

Mix all ingredients well and serve. Sauce will keep in the refrigerator if you don’t use it all.

An Interview with Chef Tim Ma of Maple Ave Restaurant

I met Tim Ma a good while back through work friends, knowing him only as the brilliant engineer that loved good music and going out around DC like the rest of the crew.  When my buddy Kevin mentioned to me that Tim was moving up to NYC to attend culinary school, I was surprised.  “Tim likes to cook?” “Are you kidding? That kid is always cooking.  He’s serious in the kitchen.”  How was it that, as a fellow food dork, I didn’t know this sooner?  As Tim progressed from the French Culinary Institute to time in the kitchen with David Chang (!) to his own award-winning restaurant, Maple Ave, in Vienna, Virginia, I got to live vicariously through his culinary exploits.  I asked Tim if I could interview him for my site because he is the perfect reminder of how in this very short life, if we refuse to take the simplest path and choose to pursue what truly makes us happy (and in his case, what he’s brilliantly gifted at doing), we can make modern miracles out of seemingly nothing.  Plus, Tim is fucking great.  But you’ll understand once you read all about him.

Tim generously offered two incredible recipes for you to prepare for yourselves, and I hope that for any of you guys that don’t live in the DC Metro area and can’t eat at his restaurant, that you cook both tonight.  I mean it.  And if you CAN go to his place, get in your car and go eat there now.  It’s very very necessary.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a chef and restauranteur.
I spent many years a professional student at Georgia Tech, then Johns Hopkins.  After some time working for a couple of government contractors, I decided to throw all the money I spent (and still owe) to learn engineering so that I could spend more money learning how to cook.  My parents owned a restaurant back in the day but shut it down after losing the head chef (and also because of some drunk douche bag who ran his truck through the front of the restaurant).   My uncle, now residing in Chantilly, also ran a restaurant in suburban New York – he ran it for many years and now is retired living off all the money he made in a single decade of his life.  So it is sort of in my blood. In attempting to learn the lessons through my elders’ adventures, I decided if I were to open a restaurant, I would not be leaving it up to some head chef whether my restaurant would live or die.  And I didn’t want to half-ass it assuming that I could cook professionally without some proper instruction. Cooking is not just knowing good food – it’s knowing good fundamentals so that you can cook anything, and learning the discipline that it takes to do this professionally, day-in and day-out.I realized I was not a young spring chicken anymore, so I wasn’t going to battle it out with rich punk kids at CIA.  FCI (The French Culinary Institute in NYC) was a natural fit for me.  Short program and great instructors that taught you what you needed to know and introduced you to who you needed to know.  I had the great support of Joey (Editor: Tim’s fiancée and partner at Maple Ave Restaurant), so much that she quit her job and moved to NYC with me, supported me through FCI and the intensity of NYC.  I got my introduction to David Chang, earned an externship at Momofuku Ko,  learned a ton in my short time there, and then we moved to an island to gather our thoughts and map out our route to where we are today.What is your earliest memory in the kitchen?
My grandfather who would make Chinese bread every morning of his life.  A master of it, he loved it, not for anything else but his own satisfaction.  Imagine having that kind of commitment to something as simple as flour, yeast, and water. And not for fame or money, but only because that is what he found enjoyment in.

How would you describe your cooking style in three adjectives?
Schizophrenic, classic, fun

How has cooking professionally changed the way you approach the kitchen and ingredients?
I never knew the plight that farmers go through for sheer survival.  How they truly have to live day-to-day, and how the term farm-fresh has been so skewed that we have to differentiate between farm-fresh and “other”.  Doesn’t all food come from a farm?

I’ve learned that 99.9% of small-business restaurants survive on the slimmest of margins, and the difference between shutting down and success is less than 10%.  I’ve learned the difference between a good night and a bad night at a restaurant all lies in the preparation and organization of your line, your staff, and surprisingly, your customers.  Service is a delicate orchestra and if someone or something is out of tune, the entire performance is f’ed.  I’ve learned that your food is only as good as the raw material, and it’s not just a saying.  Customers may not be able to tell the difference between Polyface chicken and Tysons chicken, but they know the difference between a good chicken sandwich and a bad one. They may not know why, but they know.

What food trends or ingredients do you currently have a crush on?
Pop-up restaurants. It’s exciting for the staff and for the customers, but the menu has to be something different.  I just can’t move Maple Ave to a temporary spot and cook the same menu and expect people to enjoy it in the same way they enjoy it here.

As for ingredients, I like discovering ingredients that I have never used before, I’m still new to this game, so there are a lot of ingredients.  Galangal, salsify, stinging nettles, to name a few, have been used for years, but I am just now discovering.  I grew up on rice and whatever was on sale at the supermarket.  There aren’t typically a lot of sales on stinging nettles at the supermarket.

What are your favorite foods to prepare on your day off?
Frosted mini-wheats and vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s hard shell.

Who inspires you in the kitchen?
My staff, especially my sous-chef, Nyi Nyi Myint. He has been in this game for a long time and he comes to work every day like it’s his first. He treats the restaurant as if it were his own, and his take on food comes from angles you would never see. I find myself saying “Who the hell would combine those two things?” quite a lot, but very often it works.

What technique or skill do you believe is most important for home cooks to acquire or improve upon?
Plating. It’s amazing how much the way food looks determines how food tastes.  Also, not everything needs to be well done, but everything needs to be prepared fresh and eaten quickly.  Chinese people say that you gotta eat it while its hot or it loses the “essence of the wok.”  I don’t use a wok (well not all the time), but you get the idea.  Stop taking pictures of the food – it’s getting cold. Start eating.

Describe your most favorite meal.
Daddy’s potstickers – the textures of a crunchy bottom, chewy shell, juicy middle (and it should be juicy, not soup dumpling juicy, but there should be some juices) are simply amazing.  The bottom should be just nearly burnt to give it some bitterness, seasoned well, and dipped into a slightly sweet and sour dipping sauce.  Spicy if that’s your thing.

What is your favorite comfort food?
Daddy’s potstickers.  And hot pot when I am sick.

What is the one food or dish that you wish people would never eat again?
McDonald’s cheeseburgers – that’s not meat, people.  But I eat them all the time. It’s like crack – you know it’s gonna kill you, but you still hit up the corner and get your fix.

What is your creative process in crafting new recipes and dishes?
I would like to say I have a calculated process where I map out a dish, then cook it over and over and continue to refine it until it has all the flavor profiles and complexities of the perfect dish, then present it my team of chefs and we discuss it for many hours, then do a test run of blind tastings to see what the general public says.  But the honest truth is we will cook something for family meal at the restaurant, and if we think it’s that good, we will cook a version of it that night as a special.  Or someone will mention something they are craving, and we will try our rendition of that dish even though we may have never cooked it before.  Or I over-ordered pork belly for the week, but I’m not returning it because it’s my fault and not the farmers, so we design a couple dishes to move the product.  More so, menu items are designed because it’s something I wanted to eat, and to justify cooking it for me to eat, I have to cook some to sell as well.

What is your favorite food destination and why?
New York City, because the city revolves around food (and money), and even the pizza in Penn Station is delicious.


Hungry for some of Tim’s cooking? Visit him at Maple Ave Restaurant in Vienna, Virginia. Or, try out his recipes for Potstickers, Roast Chicken or Caramelized Onions here on this site.

Spring Has Sprung Feast

I’m definitely a sucker for cooking out of emotion – when the long winter subsides and the earth can’t help but start blooming, why wouldn’t I cook with the brightest ingredients celebrating the season.  This feast was an impromptu Mother’s Day din din, but really, it could be a weekend supper or an early evening al fresco celebration.  It’s light enough to evoke the feelings of spring, but comforting enough to feel like a big ol’ hug and a pair of pajama jeans.  The best part about this particular menu is that is it can be prepared without too much work – just a whole lot of puttering around the kitchen with no real urgency at all.  In fact, it’s rather simple to delegate tasks to folks for this one, so feel free to make use of idle hands in getting this feast to the table sooner.  Regardless of what you do, know that you’ll have 6-8 happy feasters tucking into a meal replete with all of the spring bites they could possibly handle – sweet, crisp, salty, tart, bubbly and above all, wondrous.  Let the feast begin!


Feast of the Seven Boars

Cannot even begin to tell you how much I adore this menu.  Yes, it is a challenge and yes, you’ll probably want a couple of hands to help with the staging, prep and cooking.  But it’s well worth the effort in that it is no less than glorious.

The concept of the Feast of the Seven Boars was born as both a riff off of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and an excuse to pay homage to one of my favorite proteins, wild boar.  Without all of the religious undertones, our feast was focused on the loving and careful preparation of an ingredient so worthy of a spotlight.  While both beef and poultry are offered as myriad unique cuts and varieties (you’ve got your kobe, your poussin and your capon at the grocery store down the street), pork is offered as a bland, flavorless option with both the fat and the taste bred out in one fell swoop.  As far as I’m concerned, “the other white meat” campaign is a form of sacrilege.  It’s no wonder that so many Americans eschew the idea of eating pork, what with the options in front of them so horribly tasteless.

I had a silent celebration the moment I spotted wild boar in the online store for Marx Foods – thoughts of what to do with 17 pounds of wild boar shoulder roast in all its rosy glory was blissful.   Rather than give in to the giddiness, I got to work crafting a series of recipes that would make good use of the meat.  Given that it holds up to cooking, I decided to go with braises, roasts and ground preparations to showcase the tender, meltingly gorgeous meat.

Many of the recipes were born of my time spent in Orvieto, a champion of a city in terms of featuring wild boar in the best of preparations.  Recipes were slightly tweaked to make room for the boar, like my Post-Thanksgiving Stuffed Mushrooms with boar in lieu of sausage, and boar instead of pork in the bolognese and meatballs.  We bolstered the meat feast with seasonal veggies like miner’s lettuce, stinging nettles and fiddlehead ferns.  We also had some help from the experts, to include Eric Ripert’s Cinghiale Dolce Forte and Ciao Bella’s Straciatella Gelato.  We rounded out the meal with a bottle of chilled limoncello, bowled over by the fact that boar was such a special treat rather than a shop standard.  Oh, well.  Someday.  But until then, consider gathering a group of hungry foodie friends, some wild boar and a few days of sheer dedication for one of the most glorious pay offs in terms of feasts.  Mangia!


Casual Easter Menu

For many, Easter (and the end of Lent) means lamb, but in our family Easter always meant ham.  Mom was usually on the task of prepping the ham with cloves and halved oranges, and Dad was in charge of carving – whomever was circling around the kitchen during carving time was lucky enough to get a small bite before the ham made it to the table.  Now that my sister and I are grown, it’s usually my parents pug and puggle that vie for a bite of ham.

As soon as I learned to make a bechamel, a task learned from my mom and her homemade mac and cheese recipe, I became enamored with the ways in which butter, flour and milk could be coaxed into a luscious sauce.  One of my favorite uses of my tinkering with bechamel was a recipe for potatoes au gratin.  Tender potatoes layered with a velvety cheese sauce were baked in my parent’s Le Creuset dutch oven until tender.  The dish became the perfect accompaniment to the ham and thus, an Easter favorite.

I’ve rounded out the menu with some tastes of spring that require little to no effort.  Frozen lima beans and mint become a silken puree for crostini.  Spinach, eggs and bacon are dressed in a tart buttermilk dressing.  Tender asparagus spears are dressed with a bright and zippy gremolata.  Finish the meal with the simplest, most gorgeous lemon curd muffins – they are way impressive in terms of looks and people will be hard-pressed to believe how easy they were to construct.  Whether you celebrate Easter, the bunny, the onset of spring or just a tasty slice of ham, this feast is comforting on all levels.


Italian Wedding Soup

Just as ancient tales are easily bungled by funky translations (like Charles Perrault’s original story Cinderella, with confusion over a slipper of glass [verre], squirrel fur [vair] or even iron [fer]…a hot mess that Cinderella was), so too do recipes often have translation mix ups.  Although Italian Wedding Soup, a popular dish in this country, hints at origins surrounding Tuscan weddings, the actual name of the soup is minestra mariata or “married soup” – a reference to the melange of greens, broth, meat and cheese.  An apropos name, given that all of the flavors in this soup blend together into something akin to a warm hug.  I’m all about that marriage, if I do say so myself.

Traditional versions of the soup involve a slow simmering stock that can include soup bones (prosciutto to be super authentic) and a variety of greens and broccoli.  I love this soup with pastina, or little pasta pearls that puff up in the broth, but this version, as inspired by the cracked-out craziness of the Canadian show “Bitchin’ Kitchen” uses cheese tortellini.  If you don’t have tortellini, you can swap it out for ditalini (short pasta tubes) or any mini pasta you’d like.  You call the shots – this is your wedding and I don’t want you getting all bridezilla on me.

Recipe for

Italian Wedding Soup

1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef
1 lb. of pork
1 small hoagie roll
1/2 c. of parsley leaves
1 egg
1/4 c. of parmesan
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper
1 clove of garlic, very finely minced
pinch of oregano

8 c. of chicken stock
baby spinach
cheese tortellini or ditalini

In a food processor, grind up the hoagie roll, parsley leaves and garlic.  Toss into a standing mixer or mixing bowl and blend with the beef, pork, egg, parmasean, salt, pepper and oregano.  Roll into very small meatballs, about 1/2 of a tablespoon of filling at a time.  Set aside.

In a pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil.  Add the meatballs and let simmer away in the soup for at least 20 minutes.  Grab another pot, fill with water and bring to a boil.  Salt the water and chuck in the cheese tortellini or ditalini pasta, cooking according to the package directions.  Drain.

To assemble the bowl of soup, add a handful of baby spinach and 1/2 c. of pasta to a large soup bowl.  Ladel over the broth and meatballs, top with some cracked pepper and parmasean cheese.

Simple Gingerbread Cookies

Not gonna lie, I wholeheartedly think Sandra Lee is a hot mess.  Most of her recipes strip the fun out of cooking, replacing fresh ingredients and unique spices with prepackaged, frozen ingredients, all for the sake of saving time.  Which I believe is reserved for getting drunk, based on the heavy emphasis on “cocktail time” in each and every one of her episodes.  A group of us were watching her show Semi Homemade (aka Semi Disgusting) like a horror film – a friend turned to us all and said that she couldn’t get over how batshit crazy she seemed.  Watching her show is like a car accident in slow-motion – from recipes for Kwanzaa cake to jello shots (Um, we need a recipe for jello shots? How old are we?), Food Network Humor has a wide array of just the recipes and techniques that make me groan every time I see her trying to teach people how to cook.

So with all of the vitriole above, and my straight up disgust with Sandra Lee, maybe I need to put down the haterade for a second in that her gingerbread recipe is damn good.  I found the recipe in passing while getting together my list of Christmas goodies to bake, and to my horror, the one that seemed like some majesty was hers.  With a few tweaks made by my expert baker of a sister, this recipe absolutely goes into the pantheon of keepers for all time.  Given that there’s no shame in my game, I do have to give her (or, more likely, whatever peon employee of Food Network Test Kitchen who wrote the recipe) credit where credit is due.  But I can’t forgive all transgressions as your Espresso Martini featured on the Today Show was like a cloyingly sweet White Russian in a martini glass.  Plus, the chapter about you in Anthony Bourdain’s “Medium Raw” is truly cringeworthy.  I guess I’ll just focus on the gingerbread and pretend to forget about your many other transgressions in the kitchen.  And I’m Sandra Lee doesn’t care about any of us haters out there as she cashes those fat checks from her media empire and kicks back with myriad vodka tipples in the Governor’s mansion.

Enough of the negativity – Lexi and I had a hell of a time decorating with the help of some strange Swedish animal shapes from IKEA cookie cutters and some well-placed decorative candy.  We warmed Starburst with our hands and rolled it out like fondant to cut into ribbons and bows.  We sliced red and green fruit roll ups into strips and pressed them together to make a Christmas striped sheet for cutting into scarves, sweaters and top hats.  We used cinnamon candy dots to make necklaces and eyes.  And rather than making royal icing from scratch, we used the prepackaged muffin glaze in a squeezable tube (found in the baking aisle at the supermarket) to stick on the decorations.  I’m sure Sandra Lee would approve.

Recipe for

Simple Gingerbread Cookies

1 package of dry sugar cookie mix
1 egg
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tbs of crystalized ginger, finely ground in a coffee grinder or pulverized in a food processor
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 tbs. of maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. of almond extract

In a standing mixer, blend the mix, egg, flour, butter, pumpkin pie spice, ground ginger, crystalized ginger, molasses, maple syrup, vanilla extract and almond extract.  Once a dough forms, remove from the bowl, wrap with plastic and chill for about an hour.  If you chill for longer than an hour, make sure to remove from the fridge about 15 minutes before you want to roll out the dough.  Flour a board and rolling pin and roll out the dough to around 1/4 of an inch thick.  Cut cookies with cookie cutters and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Bake in a 350° oven for 7 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack and let cool.  Decorate as you see fit and store in a tupperware to keep soft and chewy.

Lemon Curd Muffins

These suckers are stupid easy to make, which is up my alley as you know that I am no baker.  One of my greatest failures in the kitchen, and a dish that lives on in infamy, were the Wolfgang Puck Lemon Bars I attempted to make many years ago.  My grandmother had brought us a bounty of grapefruit-sized lemons from her garden, and I knew I had to do something other than a million citron pressés with the mess of citrus.  Why not lemon bars?  Wolfgang Puck is kinda awesome – this must be a good recipe.  Ugh, they were so bad – too tart, not entirely set, just awful.  I don’t blame Wolfgang so much as myself for not being able to pull things off.  Worst of all, I kept on making my sister eat them so that we could get rid of them.  To this day, she is terrified of the words “lemon bar” – I take the blame.

Fast forward to this Christmas and I myself was stuck with a bumper crop of lemons from my tree in the back yard.  I found a recipe for Lemon Shortbread Bars on Chow that featured an ever so easy lemon curd with no precooking or tempering of the eggs and lemon.  Just mix, bake and go.  I planned to tackle the recipe with my sister, but after a marathon of baking and decorating gingerbread, it was time to keep things simple.  Using sugar cookie dough out of the Pillsbury tube, I pressed out mini tarts into a muffin pan and topped them with the lemon curd.  A short bake later, and we were all treated to chewy, lemony goodness with a snowy topping of powdered sugar.  I didn’t even have to get my sister to eat them – she just went to town on a truly good thing.  Here’s to the little victories in life, to include my ability to actually bake something awesome.


Recipe for

Lemon Curd Muffins

1 tube of pillsbury sugar cookie dough
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
3 tbs. of flour
pinch of salt
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a muffin tin with large cups (mine has 6) with cooking spray, preferably the kind for baking with flour mixed in.  Cut the sugar cookie dough into 6 chunks and press each chunk in the bottom of the muffin tins, slightly raising the sides to form a mini tart. Place tarts in the stove and bake dough for 12 minutes.

In a mixer or a large bowl with an egg beater, beat together the sugar, eggs, lemon juice, flour and salt.  Take the dough out of the oven and prick with a fork to release the air from the dough.  Pour the lemon curd over the dough and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes in the oven.  Let the muffins rest for a few minutes and then remove to a plate.  Using a sifter, sprinkle powdered sugar over the muffins.  Serve warm or cold.

Sausage, Pumpkin and Kale Stuffing

This recipe is decidedly a hack – upon researching recipes for Thanksgiving, I came across a stuffing that looked to be a welcomed alternative to my tried and true Classic Stuffing.  Given that this year’s celebration was a pot luck extravaganza, why not two stuffings instead of one?  Truthfully, I wanted to do a third Oyster Dressing like the ones we used to have at my paternal grandmother’s house every year, but not enough people were into oysters, so I skipped it.

The original recipe from Food Network Kitchens is good, but I lost the leeks and butternut squash for caramelized red onions and canned pumpkin – MUCH easier, which is really what you are going for at Thanksgiving.  The result was moist, flavorful and complex – a nice accompaniment to turkey and gravy, if I might say so myself.  Give this one a try if you are looking to make a new tradition or two – how can you form a tradition if you don’t try something out for the first time, right? Right?!?

Recipe for

Sausage, Pumpkin and Kale Stuffing

2 round loaves of foccacia (onion or herb)
1 stick of butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 can of pumpkin
1 can of chicken stock (or 2 cups of homemade stock)
1  red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of butter
1 lb. of sweet italian sausage
1 bunch of kale
1 tsp. of whole fennel seeds
1 tsp. of rubbed sage
1 tsp. of white pepper
shredded pecorino romano

Cube foccacia and spread on a cookie sheet.  Bake in a 350° oven until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the eggs.  Add the white pepper, sage, fennel seeds, pumpkin and chicken stock and mix until incorporated.  Set aside.

In a skillet, brown the sausage and remove with a slotted spoon.  Add the olive oil and sauté the kale until wilted.  Remove with a slotted spoon and add to sausage.  Add the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium low.  Let the onions sweat it out in the pan until dark brown and soft, about 10 minutes.

In a huge bowl, add the foccacia cubes, sausage and kale, and caramelized onions.  Toss to combine and then pour in the pumpkin mixture.  Turn out into a greased 13x9x2 casserole and bake in a 375° oven until puffy and golden on top, about 35-45 minutes.