Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 recipes in review: the best and the overlooked

Some of the most popular recipes of 2012
I've never done a year-end recap post before, so if you're already tired of them (best movies, best books, etc.), tough nooggies.

As an added bonus, I decided to include not only the posts that you, with your page views, deemed the best (or at least most popular) posts of 2012 but also the ones that I think you overlooked.

Frankly, cooking these recipes and writing these posts is a bit like being a parent: you insist you love each one equally but, really, in the deep honesty of your heart, you have favorites.

So here they are. Did you make any of these recipes yourself this year? Or are you inspired to try one now? If so, which one?

The Ninj wants to know.

Monday, December 24, 2012


I'm sure each of you has at least one never-to-be-messed-with family holiday traditions. Mine is panettone, a light, sweet, fruit-filled Italian bread.

(Well, it used to be homemade manicotti for Christmas day dinner, but then I married someone who is not Italian and we started spending the holidays with his non-Italian family.)

So I introduced my non-Italian in-laws to panettone. I'm happy to report it has become one of their traditions now, too (or, at the very least, they're humoring me, so thanks for that -- mwah.).

As I mentioned in my last post, I like to try one big new recipe at holiday time each year. This year, I decided to try my hand at panettone, complete with homemade candied citrus peel.

It turns out, there are a LOT of varied recipes for panettone out there on the web, which can make it difficult to decide which one to try, especially when you're messing with a tradition: you don't want it to suck.

To stay on the safe side, I chose Jeff Hertzberg's and Zoe Francois' recipe, straight from the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. Even as an amateur bread baker, I have had such good luck with their recipes and instructions that I knew it would be a winner.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Candied citrus peel

Candied citrus peel
I like to try one new, big recipe for the holidays each year.

Last year, it was my mom's "fruitcake", which has been more aptly renamed the Boozy Zenith Bourbon Pecan Cake.

The year before it was Dorie Greenspan's figgy pudding.

This year, it is going to be panettone, the sweet traditional Italian bread that my family eats every year on Christmas morning. (Check back next week for the full recipe.)

Although you can make panettone with a variety of dried fruits, traditional recipes usually call for candied citron or citrus peel. Earlier this summer I had come across a recipe for candied citrus peel at Homemade Trade; it has been on my to-try list for months. Fortunately, even though it's no longer summer here in Vermont, Florida citrus is all over the local markets right now.

Clearly, there was some fate involved here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Peppermint sugar scrub

Peppermint sugar scrub
It has been a while, but I think it's time for a recipe that you can't eat.

While the holidays are a food blogger's dream -- that is, having the perfect excuse to spend all your free time baking -- it's also a great time to do a little making, too.

And, trust me, you don't have to be crafty. At all.

Case in point: this peppermint sugar scrub.

Who doesn't love to get a fun, spoil-yourself, spa-style gift for the holidays?

There really is nothing to this gift: mix the ingredients, pack it into some cute jars, wrap it with some festive ribbon and you're done. I used peppermint oil in this scrub because it seemed wintry and holiday-ish. You could certainly substitute other scents -- lavender, rosemary, whatever is your favorite -- and adjust the color accordingly.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fruit and nut chocolate bark

easy DIY fruit and nut chocolate bark

Another 2012 milestone reached: the From Scratch Club cook-along virtual book club has come to the final chapter of Alana Chernila's  The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making. And, as with so many other cookbooks, Alana saved the best for last: candy and sweet treats.

Now, I have to admit, ever since we started the book I've had my heart set on making the Twinkie recipe that is part of this chapter, way before the no-more-Twinkie shit hit the fan last month. I even added the Twinkie mold to my Amazon wish list.

Then -- ho, ho, freakin' ho -- the holidays closed in and there just wasn't quite enough time for Twinkies. (Don't fret: they'll make an appearance in 2013, although likely not until after Detox January.)

Never fear: Alana has a recipe for chocolate bark (what she calls "Easiest Chocolates") that was exactly as described (wicked easy) and definitely appropriate for the holidays.

If you can wield a knife and boil water, you can make this bark lickety-split.

I love that the flavor combinations are seemingly endless. I went with dark chocolate, dried apricots, crystallized ginger and pistachios, because that's what I like. But if you wanted to make the bark with white chocolate and peppermint, it would still work. Milk chocolate, peanuts and raisins more to your taste? Just follow the same directions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cranberry-pistachio biscotti with crystallized ginger

Cranberry-pistachio biscotti with crystallized ginger
I have now participated in my first-ever cookie swap ... and it was a virtual one!

(Although a friend recently suggested a Cocktail Swap would be way more fun. I couldn't agree more!)

I signed up this year to take part in the second annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, which was not only just a fun way to exchange cookies and recipes with other food bloggers but also a fundraiser for Cookies for Kids' Cancer.

The premise was simple: once I signed up to participate, I received the names and addresses of three other food bloggers (all new to me, which was cool). I baked each of them a dozen of the same cookies and shipped them off to be enjoyed. In turn, I received three dozen cookies from three other food bloggers (again, all new to me).

So I got a ton of cookies to enjoy and some new blogs to check out: win win.

Today is the day that everyone who participated in the Swap was asked to post his/her cookie recipe. A great idea so that, if you really dug the cookies you received, you'll be able to make them again for yourself!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Auntie Nanci's noodle kugel

Noodle kugel
Happy Hanukkah!

Embarrassingly, I know very little about the Festival of Lights, other than what I learned from Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song". But, being pretty food-focused in my life, I do know about kugel and that it is traditionally served at Hannukah.

I had only tasted kugel once, in college, courtesy of my part Catholic, part Jewish roommate. (This is a great denominiation combination; for example, while she was married in a traditional Catholic church ceremony, we also got to dance the Hora at the reception!). And I loved the kugel ... and remembered it after 25 years ... and then managed to remember to ask the roommate for a recipe before Hannukah arrived so I could share it with you.

My roomie shared two different kugel recipes with me: one sweeter, more of brunch casserole, made by her aunt, and one less sweet, more of a side dish, made by her grandmother. (Wheeeee! Family recipes!) I asked her which she liked better and she chose the sweeter one, telling me, "It tastes a bit like French toast."

Done and done. Mr. Ninj loves French toast.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Individual yogurt cups

Yogurt cups
I found myself in another breakfast funk this week. I need variety but I also need make-ahead simplicity, given that I am most decidedly not a morning person.

There are only so many different baked goods you can eat for breakfast before it really just seems like you do nothing but eat cake.

So I decided to try DIY yogurt. Again.

A few years ago of my friends and I got on a big yogurt-making kick because we found a recipe for overnight crockpot yogurt. While the recipe was easy, it did take a bit of time and advanced planning, so I just stopped making it after a while.

This time around, I found another recipe for "crockpot yogurt" at Punk Domestics from One Tomato, Two Tomato. The thing that intrigued me was that you don't actually make the whole deal in the crockpot; it simply winds up being used like a water-bath canner.

This I had to try.

The recipe is very simple: bring some milk to a simmer on the stove, add a little plain yogurt (as a starter, to get all the cultures going), cool it, pour it into canning jars, add the jars to the crockpot with some hot water and let it sit for a few hours.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Chocolatey peanut butter Cheerio treats

Chocolatey peanut butter Cheerio treats
With the holidays approaching, I think we're all in full cookie-making mode.

(Pffft. As if we need an excuse to make cookies.)

My cousin is even working her way through a book that showcases a different cookie for each day of December (you'll be happy to know that December 5th is NINJA DAY -- clearly an ideal day to whip up some Ninjabreadmen.)

This got me thinking: why the cookie? That is, why did the cookie become the de rigueur holiday tradition for swaps, parties, gifts and Santa snacks?

You know The Ninj: I jump at any chance to do a little food history research.

For once, Wikipedia completely let me down (shocking, I know). But not so the Cake Spy, who  asked these same questions in 2008 and did her own research via According to The Spy and The Timeline

Cakes of all shapes and sizes (including smaller items such as cookies) have been part of festive holiday rituals long before Christmas. Ancient cooks prepared sweet baked goods to mark significant occasions. Many of these recipes and ingredients (cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, almonds, dried fruits etc.) were introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages. They were highly prized and quickly incorporated into European baked goods. Christmas cookies, as we know them today, trace their roots to these Medieval European recipes. Dutch and German settlers introduced cookie cutters, decorative molds, and festive holiday decorations to America. German lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cake/cookie traditionally associated with Christmas. Sugar cookie type recipes descended from English traditions. Did you know animal crackers began as edible ornaments?

All very interesting indeed. Apparently we can blame it all on the cookie cutter.

Leave it to The Ninj to throw all that out the window and make holiday cheerio treats.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Duck prosciutto

Duck prosciutto
Cook It! 2012: We've had a year of monthly challenges (well, we took November off, understandably, because Caroline's grandmother passed) to make a pantry staple and showcase the final product in a recipe:

But now it's time for the final installment (I think) and we're going out with a bang. This month's challenge? Do something cool with meat.

Awwwwwwwwwww yeah.

Regular readers will realized just how excited I was to see this topic, as I have a tendency to add a little bacon or sausage to most dishes (even cookies and ice cream), thus dubbing myself the Meatasaurus.

I'm also obsessed with charcuterie. While you may think of mini quiches or spinach dip when
someone says "party appetizer", I think meat: proscuitto, salami, pate.

I think I might take my own life if Mr. Ninj suddenly decided to become a vegetarian. Or even said, "Let's cut back on our meat intake a little."

Good thing there's not a chance in hell this would ever happen.

So, realizing that the latest Cook It challenge would give me an opportunity to offer some homemade charcuterie at Thanksgiving, I dove right in and purchased the DIY Meatasaurus Bible, otherwise known as Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Poleyn.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Soap making

I recently took a class in soap making and wrote a little about it for Vermont Life magazine's web site. Why not have a peek?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Homemade tater tots (Secret Recipe Club)

Homemade tater tots: Don't bother to buy them frozen -- you can make them easily from leftover mashed potatoes.

Homemade tater tots from leftover mashed potatoes
Homemade tater tots
It's time once again for another reveal day for the Secret Recipe Club (SRC).

Here's how the SRC works: each month I am assigned another member's blog (a different one each month). I then pick any recipe from that blogger's site, make it and write about it here. There's also a link hop at the end of the post so that I (and you) can check out all the other participating blogs and their great recipes.

The blog I got to explore and cook from this month is Finding Joy in My Kitchen, written by the very prolific SnoWhite, who notes that her blog is all about "finding joy in cooking wholesome meals." Believe me, if you're looking for some good wintertime comfort food, you will have lots of choices from SnoWhite.

I love that Sno started her blog simply to show her mother, living far away, what she was cooking; my blog started similarly after I moved away from North Carolina. See how the SRC brings cooks together?

As Sno's site has so many great recipes (example: eight, count 'em EIGHT, different lasagna recipes!), it was definitely difficult for me to decide which one to choose. But I've recently been cooking out of The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making (as part of the From Scratch Club's virtual book club), which has me focused on making my own version of foods that we often buy pre-packaged.

So when I saw Sno's recipe for homemade tater tots, I knew I'd found my match!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Black Friday turkey sandwich buns

Homemade sandwich buns, perfect for burgers or day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches.

Homemade sandwich buns for hamburgers or Thanksgiving leftovers
Sandwich buns
We still have two days to go before the big day and I'm already thinking about the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Via some Facebook chatter, I learned I'm not alone in cooking way too big a bird every year just so I can have tons of extra turkey. Nor am I the only crazy that has actually cooked an entire second Thanksgiving meal after the big day because on the main day I was a guest in someone else's house and needed to create my own carcass to make quarts of turkey stock.

Leftover obsession can become unhealthy, though. True story: a few years ago, one of my friends left her relative's Thanksgiving table starving and had to microwave a Lean Cuisine once she got home because the aforementioned relative had preemptively put "leftovers" aside before serving the meal, leaving not enough food to feed her guests.

Just so we're clear, I'm not that obsessed with leftovers. Cripes, I didn't think anyone could be that obsessed with leftovers. That's just bat-shit crazy, not obsessed.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Banana toffee bit cookies

Banana toffee bit cookies
As a food blogger, I should be posting about Thanksgiving recipes right about now.
I mean, everyone else is.

Which is exactly why I'm posting about cookies instead.

Now, don't misinterpret my meaning. I love Thanksgiving; it's my ultimate favorite holiday.  Any day that is all about eating good food, spending time with people you love and being grateful for all the crap you already have, rather than just running out to buy more crap that no one needs, is a perfect day in my book.

(True story: when we tried to eliminate the adult gift-giving on my side of the family a few years ago, my dad threw a hissy fit because, as he put it, "Christmas is all about gifts: just look at the wise men!" Sigh.)

But I swear, if I see one more picture of turkey or sweet potatoes in my news feed, I may scream.

So today I share with you a very unholiday-ish cookie recipe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Broccoli mac and cheese

Broccoli mac and cheese
I love my husband.

Marrying him was probably the single greatest decision I have or will ever make.

But his aversion to vegetables can sometimes really try the Ninj's patience.

Wait, I take that back. (Not the patience part, that still stands). He does not have an aversion to vegetables, per se: he has "texture issues."

(I know some of you are nodding in understanding here, while others are thinking he's pscyho. He's not, I swear.)

Case in point: he loathes asparagus, doesn't even like to be in the same room with it let alone see it on a plate. But when I got him to try pureed asparagus soup, he loved it. So it's the texture of asparagus that he hates.

Ditto with Brussels sprouts. And collards. And broccoli.

So when I saw a recipe for a delicious-looking (and weeknight easy) stovetop mac and cheese with broccoli (I love dishes that kill two birds with one stone: no need to make a separate vegetable!), I knew he wouldn't eat it. Dag: it would become relegated to the list of Dishes To Make When Mr. Ninj Is Out of Town.

But then I had an idea.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Apple spice drop cookies

Apple Spice Drop Cookies

I've been sampling a bunch of new (to me) cookie recipes lately, looking for a great holiday cookie to make for The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012 (stay tuned).

I decided these apple spice drop cookies didn't quite fit the bill as a holiday cookie, but that doesn't mean that they aren't excellent.

Regular readers know that, while I do quite a bit of baking and regularly share cookie and cake recipes, I prefer my sweets a little less on the sweet side.

I've always been this way. (My sister used to love sitting next to me at birthday parties because I only ate the cake part of my slice and gave the frosting to her.)

It's also how I can get away with eating cookies for breakfast. Booyah.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Red pepper pumpkin soup

Enjoy this easy recipe for red pepper pumpkin soup -- for lunch or dinner, it's a creamy sipping soup that will warm your body and spirit.

Easy red pepper pumpkin soup -- a creamy sipping soup
Red pepper pumpkin soup
Before you say, "Two soup recipes in a row?", let me point out that, here in Vermont, it is 21 degrees and has already snowed -- before election day.

So yes, soup again.

But I'm giving you a lovely, seasonal soup that is so delicious and easy it would be appropriate to serve at the Thanksgiving table, if you serve a soup course.

So you really can't complain.

(And if you do, well ... no soup for you.)

I love red pepper soup. I have a go-to red pepper soup recipe that I make quite a bit, so I almost didn't try this recipe. I worried that the addition of pumpkin and sweet potato might disqualify it as a sipping soup, which is what my red pepper soup is: a soup that is comforting as well as nourishing, a soup that you drink from a coffee mug in front of the fireplace rather than from a bowl at the kitchen table.

But, being all ninja-like, I threw caution to the wind and tried it.

I think you'll be glad I did.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Smoky corn chowder

smoky corn chowder recipe
Smoky corn chowder
I love happy accidents, don't you?

Or maybe you call it fate, karma, coincidence, being in the right place at the right time, or whatever.

It's still good stuff.

This corn chowder falls into just such a category. Here's the story.

I happened to mention on Facebook that it was my dogs' birthday (yes, they share the same one, four years apart, despite the fact that they are both rescues -- cool, no?) and that I was making them a meatloaf (yep, everyone eats well in this house). A friend messaged me and asked if it was people-appropriate and, if so, would I share the recipe. Suffice it to say that the dogs' meatloaf, while made with people-friendly ingredients, is a bit too bland for most humans, so I offered to send her my regular meatloaf recipe (which is awesome -- I'll blog about it at some point).

In the string of emails that ensued, my friend mentioned that she was making a corn chowder for dinner. I thought that sounded lovely so, in the spirit of recipe swapping, I asked if she would send the chowder recipe to me. She did and included her adaptations as well.

Although corn season has passed for another year (we miss you already!), I fortunately had some shucked frozen kernels in the freezer (store-bought frozen corn would work just as well, too), so I decided to give the chowder a whirl.

(And the fact that the recipe called for a bunch of bacon of course didn't hurt.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Banana breakfast hummus (Secret Recipe Club)

banana breakfast hummus
Banana Breakfast Hummus
It's time for another installment of the  Secret Recipe Club (SRC).

Here's how the SRC works: each month I am assigned another member's blog (a different one each month). I then pick any recipe from that blogger's site, make it and write about it here. There's also a link hop at the end of the post so that I (and you) can check out all the other participating blogs and their great recipes.

I joined this group a few months ago and it's been really fun, giving me an opportunity to check out a lot of blogs that normally wouldn't appear on my radar.

My assigned blog this month -- The Mommy Bowl -- is a great example of that.

You see, Deanna of The Mommy Bowl cooks a whole lot of gluten-free, dairy-free and often vegan dishes.

(Yes, if you know The Ninj, you are laughing hysterically at this point, because you know I like to throw bacon and cheese into nearly everything and have more than once referred to myself as The Meatasaurus.)

But come, come, I am nothing if not flexible. And I do like to try new things.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Savory olive bread

savory olive bread
Savory olive bread
It's funny that this bread ended up as the star of its own post.

You see, it began its life -- well, its life in The Ninj's kitchen, anyway -- as an afterthought, just a little somethin'-somethin' to go with a corn chowder recipe I was testing (stay tuned).

And yet, as wonderful as the chowder was (still stay tuned), the bread really deserved some solo props.

I needed a side for the chowder that would suffice as both bread (because I wanted it) and a vegetable or salad (because I needed it). That's a tall order, I know. But I was willing to stretch the truth a little if I found something even close.

Browsing through my Pinterest food boards, I came across a recipe I had pinned a while ago for a quick bread loaded with greens: perfect.

Then I read the recipe.

It involved a whole lot of onion carmelization before you could even start thinking about the bread batter. That wouldn't work, as I needed a quick bread, not a stand-around-and-carmelize-till-the-cows-come-home bread.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Homemade ranch dressing (and Brussels sprout slaw)

Brussels sprout slaw with buttermilk ranch dressing
As a food blogger, I'm finding that it keeps my job interesting to interact (virtually) with other cooks and bloggers; it helps me see what kinds of recipes and techniques are trending and exposes me to ingredients or dishes that are outside of my regular repertoire.

To that end, I've been participating in Grow It Cook It Can It's Cook It 2012 challenge, as well as the monthly Secret Recipe Club. My latest venture has been to join the From Scratch Club's virtual book club, in which club members not only read and discuss but also cook from Alana Chernila's Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making.

This book is cleverly divided into chapters based on supermarket aisles: dairy, cereals and snacks, canned items, condiments, soups, baking needs, frozen foods, pasta, breads and crackers, drinks and candy and sweets. Each chapter includes a few recipes for making your own version of things normally found in those aisles. Every two weeks, the FSC book clubbers read two chapters and are encouraged to test out one of the recipes (member's choice).

For the last "meeting", I made nutella toaster pastries: seriously good. I even made them again, substituting a savory filling of ricotta and parmesan cheese mixed with pesto: perhaps even better!

The focus of the book club's second "meeting" is canning and condiments. Since I have done a boatload of canning and preserving, I decided to focus on condiments.

I was pretty darned excited to find an easy recipe for buttermilk ranch salad dressing.

For the most part, I've moved away from bottled salad dressings and simply make my own. However, I've never been able to part with bottled ranch dressing (organic, at least, to avoid the HFCS).

Until now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Crockpot turkey chili with butternut squash & apples ... and best-evah cornbread!

Easy crockpot turkey chili with black beans, butternut squash and apples -- plus the best-evah cornbread muffins!

Easy slow cooker turkey chili with butternut squash and apples
Turkey chili and cornbread
Cold, rainy days just scream out for a big pot of chili.

What makes that pot of chili even better is when it's cooked in a crockpot all day long so you can go off and do other things.


Speaking of winners, I made this chili a few years ago for an employee chili cookoff when I was working at a large security software firm (they called it the "Super Bowl of Chili" -- yeah, that's what passed for funny and clever to software developers). I did not win (so I guess the "speaking of winners" segue was a bit misleading -- sorry) but believe me when I tell you that I taught that group of geeks a thing or two about food presentation.

I like this chili recipe because it is loaded with veggies and the rest of the ingredients lean a bit to the lighter side; it has plenty of spice and flavor without promising to give you heartburn ... or worse.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dried watermelon slices

how to make dried watermelon slices
Dried watermelon slices
It's challenge time again!

I hope you've been following along these past nine months. If not, here's how it works: Caroline over at Grow It Cook It Can It challenges us to make a pantry staple each month and then showcase the final product and how we used it in a recipe, if appropriate. So far, we have already tackled pasta, bread, butter, cheese, lactofermented veg, jam and canned fruit and pickling.

This month's challenge was to dry fruit.

This is right up my alley as I am the proud owner of an Excalibur food dehydrator -- what I like to call the Ferrari of dehydrators.

You don't have to own a dehydrator to dry fruits, veggies, meats and more; you can dry most of those things in the oven at very low temps (if your oven will go that low) for a very long time. But, if you're paying through the nose per gallon for propane to fire your oven as I do, a dehydrator may make a lot more sense ... and cents (the Excalibur folks claim it costs about as much to burn a light bulb as it does to run the dehydrator).

And there are many entry-level models that won't cost you an arm and a leg, either, if you want a low-cost way to give dehydrating a try.

There's great variety in what you can whip up with the dehydrator, some of which I've even posted about on this blog:

But to stay on topic, our challenge this month was to dry fruit. I thought about some of the usual yummy suspects -- apricots, peaches, apples -- but then I remembered something.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Green tomato cake

Green tomato cake
I don't know about your neck of the woods, but here in Vermont, it's definitely fall.

I enjoy the change of season and the feeling of turning inward that it brings. While my wardrobe moves from t-shirts and flipflops to fuzzy sweaters and boots, my mind changes gears from gardening to loading up the bird feeders, reading by the fire and pots of chili and soup.

But when I put the garden to bed, there are always unripened tomatoes. Sadly, they never got their chance to shine and be the star of some salad, sandwich or jam. It seems a shame to just get rid of them, doesn't it?

So I don't. I let them have their moment in the sun, so to speak.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Maple ginger cookies

Two sweet recipes in one week: y'all are so lucky, I swear.

My posting options were mac and cheese, chicken stew or these wicked awesome cookies. Here's what I considered when choosing:
  • It's a Friday before a long weekend (for some -- happy thanksgiving to our Canadian friends)
  • The mac and cheese photos sucked
  • The chicken stew involves prunes
So cookies it is!

No big story behind these cookies. I was just perusing some neglected cookbooks last week (I feel a little guilty if I ignore some of them for too long -- am I the only one?). I focused on my copy of Cooking With Shelburne Farms because, with its focus on seasonal Vermont foods, I figured I'd find something awesomely appropriate for fall (and more photogenic than the strata).

Aaaaaaaand I was not disappointed.

The authors called these cookies gingersnaps but I don't think that's really accurate: they're soft and not nearly as spicy as gingersnaps.

Regardless, they are wicked.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Nutella toaster pastries

Nutella toaster pastries
Regular readers will know that I've had some fun taking on cooking challenges this year.

For example, I've been cooking along each month with Grow It Cook It Can It's Cook It 2012 challenge, in which each month we're challenged to create a pantry staple and then use it in a recipe.

Additionally, I recently joined the Secret Recipe Club, which means I get to pick and cook a recipe from another blogger each month.

So when the From Scratch Club announced that its revamped virtual book club would be not only reading and discussing but also cooking from Alana Chernila's Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making, I knew I was up for it.

This book is cleverly divided into chapters based on supermarket aisles: dairy, cereals and snacks, canned items, condiments, soups, baking needs, frozen foods, pasta, breads and crackers, drinks and candy and sweets. Each chapter includes a few recipes for making your own version of things normally found in those aisles. Every two weeks, the FSC book clubbers read two chapters and are encouraged to test out one of the recipes (member's choice).

This is the first "meeting", so we are focusing on dairy and cereal and snacks.

For me, I found quite a few of the same (or similar) recipes that we've been tackling in the Cook It 2012 challenge in these first chapters (ricotta cheese, butter and buttermilk) or that I've already made on my own (cereal bars).

But I haven't made toaster pastries.

(Which I guess we can't call pop tarts without some kind of trademark infringement, right?)

And certainly not Nutella-filled toaster pastries!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Quinoa burgers

Quinoa burgers with tomato jam
Have you noticed how quinoa is freakin' everywhere lately?

It's the new new thing.

And apparently rightly so, given the recent bruhaha over arsenic levels in rice. Not to mention all the research that tells us a diet without a lot of white rice and pasta might help us all to be a little less ... well ... how shall we say ... fluffy?

So bring on the quinoa!

I like quinoa because it's not too grainy or health-food-storish, like bulgur (oy, I tried to like bulgur because Bittman says I should, but I just can't deal with it). I can almost pretend quinoa is pasta.


I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical when I tried this recipe for quinoa "burgers." My experience has been that grain-based veggie patties tend to fall apart when you try to flip them in a frying pan. Which is why, frankly, I didn't even buy burger buns when I made these; I just figured I'd call them "fritters" or "hash" and be done with it.

But --- ha cha cha! -- wouldn't you know it? They stayed in one piece! A real patty!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sweet potato bisque (Secret Recipe Club)

Sweet potato bisque with homemade seasoned croutons -- a perfect (and easy) soup for fall.

Sweet potato bisque with homemade seasoned croutons
Sweet potato bisque

It's time for another recipe from the Secret Recipe Club (SRC)!

Here's how the SRC works: each month I am assigned another member's blog (a different one each month). I then pick any recipe from that blogger's site, make it and write about it here. There's also a link hop at the end of the post so that I (and you) can check out all the other participating blogs.

I think fate intervened in my assignment this month. Imagine my delight when I headed over to Fran's Favs and found that I was to pick a recipe from a self-described "Italian foodie." That makes two of us!

It's always hard to pick just one recipe from an archive as big as Fran's but, with fall coming on, I gravitated toward the soups and one in particular caught my eye: sweet potato bisque.

Unlike Fran, whose folks were both great cooks (her dad even co-owned a restaurant, lucky girl!), I didn't grow up in a "we-love-to-cook" household -- more of a "we-need-to-cook-to-survive" household, with occasional lapses for holidays (that's when the big Italian recipes came out of hiding) or my dad's specialty: homemade pizza.  All of this means that, after only really learning to cook in my late 20s,  I came very, very late to the homemade soup party.

But once I armed myself with an immersion blender, there was no holding me back. Now I'm practically the Soup Nazi himself: mushroom, cream of asparagus, peanut, stracciatella, pumpkin, turnip, cauliflower ... the list goes on.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tomato jam

Tomato jam
Nature is fickle indeed.

Especially in the garden.

Last year, I had greens that just wouldn't quit: kale, collards, bok choy, mustard greens, chard -- I was practically overwhelmed. But tomatoes and cucumbers? They either fizzled out or were attacked by bugs and blight early in the season.

This year? My bok choy succumbed before I got even one leaf, the Giant Fordhook chard never made it past 8 inches and the deer ate my kale (and the chard, but they seemed to prefer the kale this year, the little bastards). But tomatoes and cucumbers? I had to give away bag after bag of cucumbers, because one can only make so many freakin' pickles.

And I've put up or used up tons and tons of tomatoes.

So far, I have made tomato sauce, slow-roasted tomatoes and marinated dehydrated tomatoes, as well as frozen countless bags of tiny, perfect Sun Golds, which will reappear in ragus and bisques throughout the winter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Soft molasses cookies

Soft molasses cookies
I've made the transition to fall -- even though I've still got tomatoes and green beans aplenty in the garden.

I love fall, especially fall in New England, and all the season-changing promise it brings with it: beautiful foliage, crisp apples, cool days, even cooler nights and, of course, cider.

There's something about having just one cool, crisp day -- a day in which a jacket is not optional when you go outside -- that instantly puts summer away for me and makes me focus on fall.

My taste buds seem to change instantly as well. I'm no longer craving tomato salads and lobster rolls; instead, I'm thinking about how many ways I can cram spicy sausage and kale into a casserole or hearty pasta dish.

And that's just on the savory side. When fall arrives, I say move over soft lemon cookies, we need something spicier.

Like soft molasses cookies!

These cookies are quintessentially "cookies" to me. I mean, I think if I had to pick a cookie to define cookies in a visual dictionary or to explain what a cookie is to someone from another planet, I'd pick these. The way they look, the way they taste -- simple and classic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fauxsotto: an original recipe

It's not that often that I can say I'm sharing a fully original recipe with you.

I'm creative in the kitchen -- just not quite that creative. Yet.

But today, this one is all mine. And I'm really excited to share it with you because it meets my highest recipe criteria: wicked easy and wicked good.

Like many people, I love risotto but rarely ever make it because I can't be bothered with all that standing around and stirring. (I do have one baked risotto recipe up my sleeve that works like a dream -- it's on my to-do list to share with you, if I manage to get some photos of it the next time I make it.)

But I didn't set out to create my own risotto recipe or anything. I just reserve it as an order-in-a-restaurant-where-someone-gets-paid-to-stir treat.

But then I stumbled across a taste combination that got me thinking about making and easy risotto.

(Or fauxsotto, which I'm sure you figured out by now.)

It started innocently enough with a conversation with my sister-in-law, who was telling me about a bed-and-breakfast she stayed in in which the proprietors had created a Japanese inn-style ambience, including a traditional breakfast of raw eggs cracked into hot rice and mixed with some soy sauce. (According to Google, this is called tamago kake gohan in Japanese.) Using the same principle as spaghetti carbonara, the hot rice cooks the egg and gives it a nice creamy consistency.

Since I love a savory breakfast more than a sweet one, this really piqued my interest.

So one morning I gave it a try.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How to make all kinds of pickles (or, the Pickling Ninjipedia)

Pickled golden beets
I'm taking a little bit of a different approach to my entry this month for Grow It Cook It Can It's Cook It! 2012 challenge. (If you've been playing along at home, you know that we have already tackled pasta, bread, butter, cheese, lactofermented veg, jam and canned fruit -- wow, that's a lot, isn't it?!)

You see, the challenge for this month is to make pickles.

If you are a regular reader of The Ninj, you know this is like saying, "This month's challenge is to breath."

I'm a pickle junkie and feel I have already given you more than your fair share of pickle musings this year. So I didn't want to subject everyone to simply one more post on how to make pickles.

Therefore, perhaps cheatingly, for the Challenge, I'm giving you a sampling post: that is, I'm summarizing my pickling escapades all in one place. Let's call it the Ninjipedia of pickling.

(Oh man, I supah like that one!)

Pickles, pickles, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lemon zucchini cookies

Lemon zucchini cookies
Today, all my friends are posting pictures of their kids' first day back to school, my dogs have nearly stopped their seemingly constant shedding and I had to wear my Ugg slippers to sit out on the porch this morning.

I guess it's official.

Summer is over.

Although not quite over in the garden, I'm happy to report. Knock on wood, my tomatoes have been spared both bugs and blight this year and are producing almost more than I can eat or freeze, the green beans continue to proliferate, I'm giving away bags of cucumbers on a near-daily basis and the kale is plentiful.

So let's have one last huzzah for summer veg, shall we?

And what typifies summer veg better than the ubiquitous zucchini?

And who better than The Ninj to put it in a cookie?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Paglia e fieno (straw and hay) pasta

Paglia e fieno (straw and hay) pasta
Sometimes I come across recipes in very unusual ways.

Which I totally love, because, to me, it is extra evidence of the whole small world, six degrees of separation phenomenon.

I don't think it's all just coincidence.

For example, straw and hay pasta. Yeah, sounds really appetizing, right? "Let's eat some straw and hay!" So you can believe me when I say that I was not googling "straw and hay for dinner" or anything even close to that when I stumbled upon this.

(I may have a new barn but as of yet no animals that require straw or hay: that's not how El Jefe and The Ninjette roll.)

What I was googling was Vermont food blog, to see how many, if any, other folks like me are out there. (In case you're curious, nearly none, but that's not really what this post is about. It's about straw and hay, right?)

As is the way of search engine optimization, I got some interesting results (SEO is clearly very ninja-like -- can't be explained or totally comprehended by mere mortals, ha ha ha). One that piqued my interest was a restaurant review from the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).

(See what I mean about SEO? Completely bizarro.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Blueberry-peach cobbler with sugar cookie crust

blueberry peach cobbler with sugar cookie crust
Blueberry-peach cobbler with sugar cookie crust
So this is kinda fun: this post represents my first time participating in the Secret Recipe Club.

Here's how it works: each month I am assigned another member's blog (a different one each month). I then pick any recipe from that blogger's site, make it and write about it here. There's also a link hop at the end of the post so that I (and you) can check out all the other participating blogs.

Neat idea, right? I'm excited to see who got the Ninj and what s/he decided to make!

This month I got to check out the offerings from Jenn at A Cook's Quest. She has lots of great recipes, especially if you are cooking on a budget. But of course I knew which recipe I'd choose when I came across her sugar cookie crust for fruit cobbler.

Or cobblah, if you're a New Englandah.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tomato-peach chutney

Tomato-peach chutney
Just a quick recipe today that you might want to try this weekend, given that it is high season for both tomatoes and peaches.
Hurry, though -- peaches are ending and tomatoes are kicking into high gear, so it's like we're in that little egg-shaped intersection of a Venn diagram, or what we all now seem to refer to as a "perfect storm." But I think that's a little dark and negative when we're talking amazing summer fruit and veg.

Or maybe "Perfect Storm Chutney" is just the right name for it!

I made this chutney (remember, it's not a compote if there are veggies and vinegar in it) to go with some lovely little pork patties -- a bit like a miniburger but bunless. It was a perfect combination. But I can also see this pairing really nicely with grilled chicken.

Or how about spreading it like a jam on summer harvest zucchini bread?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bloody Mary tomato salad

Bloody Mary tomato salad
I wish I had some great story behind this salad.

But I don't.

It's just a salad that I happen to think is pretty bloody fantastic (Heh heh, see my little joke there? I'm hilarious. Really, I am.).

Currently I'm fortunate enough to be drowning in tomatoes from my garden. This is never a bad thing for a gardener. After three consecutive years of no tomato harvest due to bugs and blight, I'm happy as a clam.

So there are a lot of tomato salads being consumed in Ninjaville, which means I have to keep looking for fresh new ideas.

I've been making this salad as an accompaniment to steaks and burgers since I found the recipe last summer. As with its namesake, the olives give it an oomph of briney goodness that is just tangy enough to complement the sweet tomatoes. And it is simple enough to prepare that you can whip it up while your steaks are grilling.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cream cheese muffins: a recipe

Cream cheese muffins on waffles with strawberry-lemon marmalade
A few weeks ago, we had some houseguests who were on the Atkins Diet -- and wanted to stay on it while visiting.

Hmmmmm. No bread? No fun baked goods?  

No freakin' pasta?

Besides the fact that this seems like torture to the Ninj (I have started calling it the Nazi Diet), it also presented me with some entertaining challenges. Big hearty pasta dishes and muffins or quick breads are staples for me when we have guests.

So I had to think outside of the box.

Or just ask my Facebook followers for recipe ideas, which is of course much easier.

And they didn't let me down!

To be fair, these aren't really muffins per se. But "baked cheese cup" doesn't seem quite right either, although likely more accurate.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cherries in wine: a recipe

Cherries in wine
It's challenge time again!

For those of you who have been playing along at home (or at least watching me do so), you know that I'm referring to Grow It Cook It Can It's Cook It! 2012 challenge. We've made and shared so many awesome staples and recipes so far: pasta, bread, butter, cheese, lactofermented veg (pickles), jam and now fruit canned in light syrup.

I can hear you laughing now: only for the Ninj would wine constitute "light syrup."

But I swear, Caroline gave us permission to booze up our fruit, so it counts!

This has been a crazy busy month for me so, although I had visions of jar after jar of peaches and apricots lining my basement shelves, I wound up only having time to do a small batch of cherries before I missed not only the posting deadline but also all the good summer fruit entirely.

But this recipe, from Eugenia Bone's Well-Preserved, looked very versatile -- how many other preserved foods can you use on both beef tenderloin and ice cream in the same meal?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ninja cookies -- happy 2nd birthday!

Ninja cookies!
It's hard for me to believe but today is the two year anniversary / birthday of this blog.

Does that make it a blogiversary?

And, oddly, not only is it the two-year anniversary and but also I have written 222 posts. Seems like I should play the lottery today, right?

After two years, I can say that I'm proud of what I've accomplished with this little blog:
  • My photography skills have gone from non-existent to pretty good
  • I have cooked and eaten a ton of new dishes, learning cool new techniques along the way, and rarely made the same thing twice
  • I have gained enough confidence to know instinctively how to tweak recipes, even on the first try
  • I'm beginning to have enough confidence to create my own dishes
  • I've "met" an awful lot of really nice people here.
So thanks for reading me, for laughing out loud and letting me know you're out there ... and that I'm not just chatting absentmindedly with myself in a very public way.


As far as the cookies go -- really, would you have expected anything else but ninjas?

There's nothing difficult here, just some plain sugar cookies topped with pre-rolled fondant cutouts. Only after I made them did I realize I could have saved myself some time by using Girl Scout Thin Mints.

(Yeah, like anyone just has those hanging around more than four minutes after they enter the house.)

I'd give you the cookie recipe but sometimes ninjas just need to be a little stealthy.

'Cause that's how ninjas roll.

Ever feel as if you're being watched?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dilly beans: a recipe

Make quick and easy dilly beans right in the refrigerator -- no canning skills required!

Easy refrigerator dilly beans -- no canning required
Dilly beans
Being able to write this post makes me very happy.


Because this year was my first time planting beans in the garden ... and they grew, without any bug or disease drama.

And they didn't just grow; they grew well and prolifically -- prolifically enough for me to start searching around for new and different (to me) ways to use and preserve green beans.

I know I've had gardening success when I bring my harvest into the house and Mr. Ninj says, "They look just like the ones you buy in the grocery store!"

(I'm also pretty proud of the fact that my bean trellis is actually a repurposed garden arbor that had to be removed to make way for the new barn. I love re-using and recycling!)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Peach and bean pasta: a recipe

Peach and bean pasta with grilled chicken
It's peach season -- and I couldn't be happier.

I've been eating and cooking with them almost as fast as I've been slicing them up and freezing them using my new handheld vacuum sealer. (If you freeze much, you need one of these things. NEED.)

As everyone else does, I love all the sweet and desserty possibilities of peaches: crumbles, tarts, muffins, jams, galettes, smoothies ... the list is seemingly endless.

But I also learned a few years ago that peaches are amazing when grilled and paired with cheese at dinnertime.

They get all warm and practically melty, just perfect in a nice salad or next to a gorgeous grilled piece of beef.

Or chicken, in this case. With blue cheese.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Summer harvest zucchini bread: a recipe

Summer harvest zucchini bread
Harvest time in the garden is the most rewarding time of the year.

But it can also be the time when you realize your planning and planting mistakes and, hopefully, learn some lessons.

This year's lesson learned?

Two people cannot eat this much zucchini.

(Especially when one of the aforementioned two people has never met a vegetable he liked.)

Yes, folks, it's zucchini overload time here in Ninjaville, as I'm sure it is where you live as well. You know this time well: large quantities of the stuff start showing up in the break room at work, with little "Help Yourself!" signs.

Don't get me wrong, I love zucchini -- heck, that's why I planted it. (Way too much of it, apparently, but that's a "lesson learned" now, water under the bridge. )

So, if you have indeed helped yourself to someone else's zucchini bounty or have found yourself overwhelmed by the prolific courgette, I have a completely wicked way for you to make it useful.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nicoise toasts: a recipe

Nicoise toasts
I'm excited to be sharing this recipe with you ... finally.

You see, I thought I had lost my entire photo library two weeks ago.

For the average citizen, this would be tragic -- losing all those captured memories, once-in-lifetime shots, images of loved ones.

But for a food blogger? Ay yi yi!

As I have mentioned before, what you see here is what we eat. I don't create advanced posts and save them up and I certainly don't make special recipes only for the blog. Simply, I take photos of the food we eat about two seconds before we eat it. And, given how many awesome things there are to create and eat in the world, I find myself heeding Amanda Hesser's recent advice and rarely making the same dish twice.

(Except for salted oatmeal cookies. I'll continue to beat that dead horse over and over and over.)

So, if I lost the photos of what we've eaten, I'd have to try to recreate not only the recipes but also all the photos. You probably would have noticed a few week hiatus on the blog and heard me wailing all the way from wherever it is you live.

Luckily, data recovery software works and we're back in business here in Ninjaville.

Which leads us back to these nicoise toasts.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sweet and spicy slaw: a recipe

Sweet and spicy slaw
Yesterday I posted a whole bunch of recipe suggestions for how to use up all the cabbage that shows up in your CSA box.

I rediscovered cabbage a few years ago by using it raw. I did the same with kale and it really opened up new possibilities (try using a leaf of raw kale on your turkey sandwich instead of lettuce -- awesome crunch and better flavor).

But, to empathize better with my readers (since I pretty much am my own CSA this year), I decided to try out a new slaw recipe. And they had already requested that it not be an Asian-style slaw (apparently a lot of recipes sites think that's all you can do with Napa cabbage).

The inspiration recipe was for a honey-mustard dressing but I thought it would be better with a little more kick, a little less predictable taste.

Zowee. Much better!

Monday, July 23, 2012

CSA Share Ninja Rescue: cabbage

Cabbage conundrum.

At least, that's what I'm hearing from you. You want new and interesting things to with cabbage.

And, specifically, no more recipes for Asian-style slaw!

If, like me, you grew up on stewed red cabbage, you, too, may immediately think, "Eeew ... cabbage!" But never fear: as with pork chops, once you figure out there are alternatives to the way it was prepared in the 1970s, you'll become a fan.

Note: some of these recipes aren't chilly and summery, but they definitely are seasonal, given the cabbagey emphasis.

And I couldn't entirely ignore slaw, as it is one of the finest vehicles for raw cabbage, but I promise this one isn't Asian.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Blueberry-peach muffins: a recipe

Blueberry-peach muffins
There truly is nothing like fresh summer fruit in season, is there?

The berries, the stone fruits, the melons -- they are all so sweet, so delicious and so plentiful.

I try to freeze and preserve as much of that summery goodness as I can to enjoy throughout the winter, but it's just not quite the same as eating the real deal in real time, is it?

And this year, we're eating plump blueberries from our very own bushes!

Last year (our first on the farmette), the blueberry bushes did not seem to be big producers and what they did produce was quickly eaten by the birds.

But we got a little craftier this year.