sprinkle cookies

if you grew up in or near a big city with access to “old school” bakeries like i did, maybe you share my obsession with the addictive sugary, buttery sprinkle cookies that all those bakeries seem to sell. i’ve never been able to find a recipe that comes close to the right texture, sweetness factor, and abundance of sprinkles that is forever etched in my memory, so i decided to try and write one. after doing some research, and calling some bakeries, shortening seemed to be the elusive ingredient for these little beauties. since i’m not a huge fan of the mouthfeel that shortening creates, i tried a combination of shortening and butter. i also have no idea how those bakeries get their sprinkles to stick to the cookies since theirs seem to be pressed from a cookie gun, so i sliced my dough and pressed each cookie in a plate of sprinkles. it worked great and was super easy. i hope these cookies bring back some memories for you like they did for me. there’s no school like the old school!

sprinkle cookies (makes 3 dozen)

1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
rainbow sprinkles for decorating
in a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside. in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy. add the egg and vanilla and mix until combined. add the flour mixture and mix until no flour is visible, don’t over-mix. dump out the dough onto a piece of parchment or wax paper and form into a log. roll up the parchment and freeze the dough for 1 hour.
preheat oven to 325 degrees.
unwrap the dough and slice into round cookies about 1/8 of an inch thick. press each cookie into sprinkles and place on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch apart. bake on the very top rack of your oven for 8-11 minutes until the bottoms are very lightly browned. cool on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling. store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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lemon layer cake

For Friend’s birthdays I almost always offer to make the cake. For my friend trish’s latest milestone I was more than pleased to have the baking task because I have been working on a yellow cake recipe forever and was eager to try out a variation…lemon! In my world, if it’s not chocolate, it better be lemon. I’m a bit of a junkie for the bright yellow fruit. by adding the juice and zest of one lemon to my yellow cake recipe, this moist cake was transformed into a lemon lover’s dream. i then upped the lemon love by spreading lemon curd between the layers. lemon frosting would have been a mistake here…way too much lemon, so i added a touch of yellow food coloring to my buttercream/cream cheese frosting just to drive home the lemon story.
you now have my yellow cake and signature frosting recipes which are wonderful on their own, but act as a blank canvas for countless variations! maybe now, you too will be the designated baker among your friends and learn to say “happy birthday” with a signature cake of your own.

best yellow cake ever! (lemon variation)

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
variation: the zest and juice of 1 lemon and lemon curd for layers
(i make my own lemon curd but there are wonderful lemon curds available in stores so you can save yourself a step)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
butter and flour 2 -9″ or 3- 8”cake pans. In a bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. in another bowl whisk together oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until the sugar is dissolved, around 2 minutes. Add the eggs and whisk until well incorporated. add the lemon juice and zest and whisk until blended. add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined. pour batter (batter is very thin so don’t worry) into prepared pans and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and continue to cool completely.
my buttercream/cream cheese frosting

1 stick of butter, softened
1- 8oz package of cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
variation: yellow food coloring to make it a light pastel yellow

add all ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixture and mix on med-high until light and fluffy, around 5 mintues.

spread lemon curd between each cake layer and refrigerate until nice and firm. frost the cake with the buttercream/cream cheese frosting and refrigerate again until firmly set, around 1 hour. (i place 3 wooden skewers in the center of the cake to keep the layers from sliding while the frosting sets. i also sprinkle the top of the cake with decorating sugar for a little sparkle.)

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skinny creamed spinach

I have it bad! The sun is finally shining, the birds are singing, and my patio is screaming out for a BBQ. SPRING FEVER! My usual cravings for soup and roast chicken have moved aside for everything green. I’ve been experimenting with spinach dishes as of late, and I came up with a healthier version of a steakhouse classic, creamed spinach. culinary school is quickly becoming a faint memory but I took a cue from something I learned there and used it in this recipe…demi-glace! Demi-glace is a super concentrated reduction of stock and can be used in all sorts of sauces and sautes to pump up flavor and make things taste wonderfully rich. If you can’t get your hands on good demi-glace you can use liquid bullion much to the same effect. You will need a good amount of fresh spinach for this recipe but the good news is it’s quite affordable and great for you. Happy spring!

Skinny creamed spinach (makes 2 servings)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chicken demi-glace or liquid bullion (this will also act as the salt for this recipe)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh if you can)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and dried
2 tablespoons lite mascarpone or cream cheese

in a large saute pan over medium heat, saute the onion in olive oil until soft and translucent. add the garlic and demi-glace and saute for another minute. add the spinach and cook until the spinach has wilted and all the liquid has been reduced, about 5 minutes. add the nutmeg, pepper and mascarpone and cook until the mascarpone has melted and the spinach is nice and creamy. plate and enjoy!

this spinach dish makes an excellent side for steak, chicken or fish, but you can also use it as a topping for pizza or tossed in your favorite pasta! super quick and good for you, the possibilities are endless. eat your greens!

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arroz con pollo

The inspiration experiment really worked for me! My culinary artist has emerged as well as the sun here in our gloomy city! Coincidence? Maybe, but I’m going to pretend my new attitude has something to do with it. Here is that recipe I promised you…

Arroz con pollo (makes 2 servings)

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 pieces of dark meat chicken, legs and/or thighs with the skin on
Salt and pepper
1 small Spanish onion, diced
2 red peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons turmeric
Healthy Pinch of saffron threads
1 cup rice (short grain white rice, arborio, or carnaroli all work well)
2 cups chicken stock

Wash and dry all your chicken pieces and season them well with salt and pepper. In a large non-stick skillet heat the olive oil and brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken to a plate and in the same skillet over medium heat sauté the onions until softened, around five minutes. Add the peppers, garlic, salt & pepper (to taste) and turmeric and sauté for a few more minutes. Add the rice and make sure to get it all coated with the olive oil and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the saffron to the chicken stock and then pour the stock over the rice and vegetables. Add the chicken back to the skillet and bring everything up to a gentle bubble. Turn the heat down to medium low and cover your skillet with foil or a tight fitting lid. Simmer the rice and chicken for 20 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve!

You can have this dinner on the table in about 30 minutes, so it’s perfect for a weeknight and you only have to wash one pan! I think it tastes even better the next day so I always save a little for lunch. This recipe is super easy to double or triple and fairly inexpensive so go ahead and throw that weeknight dinner party! I hope the sun has found you as well!

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kitchen inspiration

Inspiration is sometimes hard to come by in this gray and drizzly place. After staring at all the ingredients in my fridge and eating takeout twice this week (horror of horrors!) I decided to jump start my culinary creativity in a very structured way. I took a cue from my own kitchen design. When we first moved into this house, I created this wall of open shelving for all my oils, vinegars and spices to keep myself constantly inspired. I figured all I would have to do is stare at all my ingredients and, voila!, instant blast of creativity. And it works most of the time, but this dreary winter is taking it’s toll and I’m finding it ever harder to get dinner on the table.

I set aside an hour while little Oscar was deep into art projects to chop, dice, mince and slice every last vegetable in my refrigerator. I realize this sounds a tad extreme but it really worked! With most of the “heavy lifting” already done, dinners this week have been a breeze. One of my family’s favorites is arroz con pollo (spanish for chicken with rice) and with all my peppers, onions, garlic and herbs all chopped up for me, putting it all together was a snap! I’ll share that recipe with you later in the week.
Take a lesson from my attack of OCD this week and dice yourself up some inspiration. The culinary artist inside you is dying to get out!

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angel food for the devil in you

it’s official… i’m in a funk. it might just be a case of the winter blahs or the fact that me and the husband are in desperate need of a little vacation, but i’m blue.  i’m not much for wallowing in a bad mood for too long and delicious food usually brings me back to my happy, albeit synical self, so i better get cooking! i have a roast chicken all ready to go into the oven for dinner tonight and, after going through my recent food photos, i realized that i have yet to share my orange chocolate angel food cake with you all. angel food cake usually bores me to tears and doesn’t do much to satisfy my extra-large sweet tooth, but while i was on my month long health kick, i developed a recipe that i think you’ll like. chocolate and orange together is one of my favorite taste combos and it really does something to heighten this guilt-free dessert without adding a bunch of guilty ingredients. if you don’t have an angel food cake pan you can use a regular tube pan and hang it upside down on a wine bottle to cool the cake. angel food cakes need to cool, suspended upside down so they won’t fall like a souffle. let’s get happy and bake a cake!

chocolate orange angel food cake with orange glaze

1 1/2 cups egg whites, room temperature (about 10 eggs)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
the zest of one orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
6 oz dark chocolate, chopped fine

for the glaze:
juice from two oranges
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
(whisk together and set aside)

preheat oven to 325 degrees.
in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar on high until soft peaks form. with the mixer still running, slowly add the sugar, and then the orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and salt and continue beating until stiff peaks form. off the mixer, sift the flour right over the stiff egg white mixture and gently fold in with a spatula. add the chopped chocolate and gently fold in. pour into an ungreased tube pan and bake for around 40 minutes.
turn the pan upside down on a rack and let the cake cool completely. run a knife along the sides of the pan and remove the cake. put on a plate and pour the glaze over the cooled cake. let the glaze dry a bit and then serve.

i’m starting to feel a little sunnier already. this light and airy cake is the perfect ending to any winter meal. the bits of chocolate and orange take boring old angel food in a much more exciting direction in my opinion. happy baking everyone!

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winter pear salad

I’m pretty sure we all think of summer as the season for awesome salads, but in the heart of winter, there are just as many “in-season” fruits and vegetables to toss together and chase those cold weather blues away. This “lettuceless” salad uses celery (very under-used in my opinion) for crunch and Asian pears at the height of their flavor. It’s so sweet and indulgent you might even be able to skip dessert!

Asian pear and celery with balsamic vinaigrette (serves 2)

1 Asian pear, sliced thin
1 celery rib, sliced thin on an angle
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Parmesan shavings, shaved with a vegetable peeler

Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Toss together with the pear and celery and let sit at room temperature for about an hour. Plate the salad and shave the Parmesan on top.
This winter salad is wonderful paired with a creamy soup or pasta. The sweet vinegar bite cuts through the fatty richness of winter dishes and gives your salad spinner a little rest until the spring thaw.

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