Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of 2011

I'm not quite sure where 2011 went, but it has sure been a delicious one!!   Looking back at 2011, I realized it has been quite a creative year and it would be fun to do my first ever best-of on Tri To Cook.  Without further ado, here are 11 highlights from 2011 :)

1.  The most viewed post was my sweet and savory Tomato Jam, and I'm certainly with y'all here.  Along with the Savory Cheesecake and Pop Tarts I made with the tomato jam, I was so excited about this I had to share it with as many people as I could!!  I can't wait until next summer to make a few more batches (apparently three wasn't enough ;))

2.  I never thought that I would like fresh wasabi, but thanks to Marx Food's Ridiculously Delicious Challenge, I got the chance to play with it...  and play I did!  I created an Asian Sundae (incorporating Asian condiments into each component) and White Chocolate Wasabi Truffles (with a crystallized ginger center).  Both surprised and delighted everyone that tried them, and I'd call that a success :)

Asian Sundae

White Chocolate Wasabi Truffles
3.  My favorite breakfast was easily Potato Pancakes w/Spinach, Smoked Salmon & Poached Eggs, recreated from a brunch at Zaftigs.  A great, healthy start to any day!

4.  Another restaurant-inspired dish was the Kaddo Pizza I made last month.  Slow roasted sugar pumpkin, spiced beef and a refreshing mint yogurt sauce, and you've got a winning dinner.  If you've never given Afghani food a try, do yourself a favor and make this pizza!

5.  One of my favorite meals was the Mushroom Crepe Cake I made this summer.  My first attempt at making crepes turned out easier than expected and the mushroom filling amazing.   This meal was special not only because of the decadent crepe cake but also for the person whom it was made it for ;)

6.  Another favorite was this summers' Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Roasted Cherries.  Everyone loved it, and I'm sure my parents wished I had made a second batch ;)  Next time I might cut the cherries in half, but the goat cheese ice cream base could be enjoyed by itself or with other fruits!

7.  My favorite grain this year has been farro, and this Farro with Roasted Tomatoes and Eggplant.  The picture surely doesn't do it justice, but it was packed with flavor and an incredible dish highlighting some of summer's finest produce.

8.  While I have never eaten chicken and waffles, I think my take on this southern classic turned out fantastic.  Potato Waffles with Poached Salmon and Lemon-Dill Sauce is a recipe that surprised me with how well it came together, and one I'll definitely go back to.  Hopefully next time I won't overcook the salmon :/

9.  I began playing with cocktails this year, and my favorite was the Strawberry Meyer Lemonade Cocktail over the 4th of July, although the Peach Sangria was a close second.  This stuff was so delicious, it's certainly worth the cheers :)

10.  One of my goals for 2011 was to complete in an Olympic distance triathlon.  Finishing the Lobsterman triathlon in just about 3 hours was quite a moment for me, and an achievement I'm definitely proud of.  Any ideas on what my goals should be for 2012?  (I'm having a hard time this year...)

11.  This year wouldn't be complete without acknowledging a big project that I undertook with my good friend Rebecca.  Together, we baked a cake and 100 cupcakes for our friends wedding reception (chronicled here and here)!  This was quite a learning experience, but a lot of fun and the empty table at the end of the night made it all worthwhile :)

There are probably 10 more I could add to the list, but then it wouldn't be the 11 Best of 2011 ;)

Here's to a tasty, healthy 2012!  What are you doing to ring in the new year?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rosemary Ginger Fizz

One cannot live on cookies alone (or can they?), so when I was planning my cookie swap, I wanted to provide a drink option...  besides water and almond milk.  A make-your-own drink sounded like fun, so I prepared some simple syrup and sugared cranberries  (perfect as they can be done ahead of time!) and let everyone serve themselves.  Sweeter, not so sweet, your choice!

Drink Station:  assembly required

I actually forgot the lemon slices at the cookie swap, but I liked the dimension it added when I went to try and take another photo the following day, so I'm including it in the recipe.

Rosemary Ginger Fizz
Recipe by Shannon

for the rosemary ginger simple syrup:
1c water
1/2c evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
3 sprigs of rosemary
2" knob of ginger (or more), peeled and sliced into thick coins

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the temperature a simmer for a few minutes.  Remove from heat and let steep 10min.  Strain out the rosemary and ginger, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate.

to prepare the drink:
rosemary ginger simple syrup
lemons, cut into wedges or slices
sugared cranberries, for garnish if desired

Add seltzer to a glass with ice, then mix in your desired amount of rosemary ginger simple syrup and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Stir and taste, then adjust as you see fit.  For the wine glasses shown below, I was using ~2T simple syrup and the juice from 1 slice of lemon.

This could certainly be made alcoholic, if you're into that kind of thing ;)  Which alcohol would you pair with this?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pumpkin Blondies

First things first, let me say thank you for entering my giveaway, you all make me smile every day. chose the winner, Brandi!  Tomato jam and an appearance on the Dr. Oz show??  I don't know what more a girl could ask for ;)

I hope you haven't had too many cookies.  Because I've got two more for you, one a bit more decadent and another a healthy snack.  In the indulgent corner we've got a pumpkin blondie.  I did my best to retain a traditional blondie texture, but pumpkin is tough...  I did manage to retain the slightly crackly top!  The centers of the pan were a bit thinner (more gooey) than the outer edge (a bit cakier), but both parts were delicious in their own right ;)

Pumpkin Blondies

Pumpkin Blondies
adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield:  ~3 dozen

If you don't have an 11x15" pan, I'd suggest halving the recipe and baking it in a 9"square pan for the best results.

2c white whole wheat flour
1t baking soda
3/4t sea salt
1t cinnamon
1/8t freshly grated nutmeg
3/4t ground ginger
dash cloves
dash allspice
2 sticks butter, RT
1 1/4c dark brown sugar (not packed)
1 egg
1t vanilla extract
1c pumpkin butter (I used TJ's)
1c mini cinnamon chips
1/2c chopped toasted, skinned hazelnuts (pecans or walnuts would also be great)

Preheat oven to 350deg.  Spray an 11x15" pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, add flour, baking soda, salt and spices (cinnamon thru allspice).  Stir to combine, then add cinnamon chips and chopped nuts and toss to coat.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and brown sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well combined.  Add pumpkin butter and mix well.  Fold in dry ingredients or mix on low speed.

Pour batter into pan, then spread evenly with a spatula.  Bake for 30-40min, until the center is no longer jiggly and a toothpick comes clean.  Cool completely on a rack before cutting into your desired size blondies!

pumpkin blondies (left), pumpkin oaties (right)

In the healthy corner, we have Pumpkin Oaties, which probably fall closer to snack than cookie due to the absence of added sugar.  Don't let this deter you, they're quite tasty and a nice guilt-free treat ;)

Pumpkin Oaties w/Rosemary Pecans & Cranberries
adapted from Enlightened Cooking
Yield ~2 dozen

I used a Trader Joe's mix of Rosemary Pecans and Cranberries in these cookies, but if you don't have access to a trader joe's, I'd use a mix of dried cranberries, salted pecans, and 1t fresh chopped rosemary.

1/2c mashed very ripe banana
1c pumpkin puree
1/3c mild-flavored oil (I used a mix of extra virgin olive oil and canola)
2t vanilla extract
1 1/4t cinnamon
1/4t fine sea salt (increase if using unsalted nuts)
1/2t baking soda
2c oats
1-2c Rosemary Pecans and Cranberries (see headnote)

Preheat oven to 350deg.

Mix banana, oil, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Let sit for 15min, then add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Scoop out ~1T cookie mix and place on a cookie sheet.  Flatten a bit with your fingers or a fork and repeat with remaining mixture.  You don't have to leave too much room in between cookies, they won't spread.

Bake for ~10-12min, then let cool on the sheet.  Store in an airtight container.

I'm submitting the Pumpkin Oaties to Ricki's Wellness Weekend!

Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and all that jazz :)  Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sugared Cranberries

These might be my new favorite snack.  A little sweet, a little tart, a little juicy.   Originally made for a drink garnish, I couldn't stop grabbing these as a little sweet snack :)  These would also be gorgeous decorations for a cake or even around your home this time of year!

Sugared Cranberries
slightly adapted from gastronomy & 101 cookbooks

1c fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
1c water
1c evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
1/3c mix of sugar for rolling (I used a mix of turbinado & evaporated cane juice)

Add 1c sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan.  Heat over medium-high, and stir until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit (you don't want the cranberries to burst!).

Place cranberries in a bowl or tupperware and poor slightly warm simple syrup over the cranberries.  Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 4hrs).

In the morning, prepare the sugar for rolling the cranberries by adding it to a shallow dish (I added a little at a time to prevent clumping, however I'm not sure this was completely necessary.  Get out a cookie sheet to dry the cranberries on, and then go ahead and drain your cranberries (you can reserve the simple syrup for another use...  say cranberry cocktails?).  Roll drained cranberries in sugar mixture, a few at a time, and then place on the cookie sheet to dry.  Repeat, until you've rolled all of the cranberries.  It should take ~1hr or so for them to dry.

Have you ever tried sugared cranberries before?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cookie Swap v.3

It's that time again--  time for my annual cookie swap!  As in years past, I invited fellow Boston bloggers over to my apartment to enjoy a couple of savory snacks and swap some delicious cookies.  I'll save the savory stuff for later, as there's still time to add these gems to your holiday baking list :)

photo by Cara

To get the party started, I made Pumpkin Blondies (on the left) and Pumpkin Oaties w/Rosemary Pecans & Cranberries (on the right).  It took a couple of tries to get my blondies to have my desired texture, but I think these came out pretty well.  Both recipes to come soon ;)

photo by Cara

Next up we have Cara's Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies (on the right) and Cinnamon Coffee Pecan Cookies (on the left).  Both vegan and free of refined sugars, these are a great option for any GF friends you might have!

photo by Cara

Bridget brought along her mom's Butterscotch Brownies, aka blondies from Betty Crocker ;)  They had exactly the texture I was going for with my pumpkin version, so I'd say Betty Bridget's got it right!

photo by Cara

Elizabeth made some Nutella Oatmeal Cream Pies.  I used to love those little packaged oatmeal cream pies when I was a kid, but these blew my memory of those out of the water!

photo by Cara

Christmas came early when Joanne arrived at my door to hang out for the afternoon :)  She brought along some Rainbow Cookies that are so much better than any I've ever had on an Italian cookie plate!

photo by Cara

Spiced Caramel Pecan Bars were Kerstin's contribution to the swap.  The name says it all here, and loving all things caramel I was definitely a fan!

photo by Bridget

Although Lauren couldn't stay for the swap, she dropped off some Better than Crack Brownies to contribute.  We all missed you Lauren!  And while we debated whether or not the name was accurate (none of us have ever tried crack), we figured they were delicious enough to let the name stand :)

Lizzy kicked up the traditional chocolate chip cookie by creating two variations- one with Andes Mints (on the left) and Hot Chocolate Cookies (on the right).  No need to choose, take one of each ;)

photo by Cara

Melissa made Chocolate Mint Cookies, highlighting a combo that we all apparently love as it showed up in three different cookies!

Photo by Cara

Rounding out the swap were Ranjani's Caramel Pecan Cranberry Bars.  Sweet and just a little bit tart, I bet these would be pretty popular on a cookie plate.

Back Row:  Myself, Joanne, Kerstin, Ranjani, Elizabeth; Front Row:  Bridget, Lizzy, Cara

But wait!  There's more!

This year, I teamed up with Allison at King Arthur Flour to bring a little holiday cheer to the Best Cookie!  I'm already a huge fan of King Arthur's top-quality flours, but did you know that they have a Baking Hotline where you can reach experts to help with your baking???  I should've called them about my pumpkin blondies ;)  Connect with KAF on Facebook, too!

photos from KAF

While I think everyone at the swap this year was a winner, leaving with boxes full of cookies, the Best Cookie will win Peppermint Crunch, a set of Luster Sugars and Fiori di Sicilia to play with.  Thanks Allison!

To help decide the Best Cookie at our swap, cast your vote by Saturday Dec 17th, noon EST.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gift Ideas & a Giveaway

How is it already December?  I feel like this year has flown by, and low and behold it's that time of year when we think about things to do for loved ones.  I thought I'd throw out some ideas in case you're still in search of that perfect gift!


For the home cook:
Cookbooks (Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams and Blue Chair Jam might be at the top of my list!)
Fun food products (specialty ingredients like vanilla beans or heirloom beans, or a Molecular Gastronomy kit)
Kitchen Toys (a Vitamix, a Kitchen Aid or the ice cream or pasta maker attachment, even a gel mat!)
Basics (silpats, beater blades and microplanes are great bets)
The Kitch'n also has some great ideas for pairing cookbooks with a kitchen gadget!

For the (tri)athlete:
Trigger Point Therapy (the Grid >> traditional foam rollers)
Whoohagear (I'm eye-ing the Tri Hearts Hoodie, I Made a Promise and I Tri Tees)
Race Registration
Snazzy Apparel (SOAS race kit anyone?)
Gear (a GPS, tri bag, sneakers, bike, wetsuit, or fuelbelt are solid options!)

What's at the top of your list?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say it might involved some tomato jam?!  In that case, this giveaway is for you :)  I've put together a few goodies to celebrate the holiday season, as I'm grateful for all of my readers!

The loot:
Homemade Sweet & Spicy Tomato Jam
Peppermint Pig (from back home, for good luck!)
Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste
Reusable bags
Garlic Zoom XL

To enter: leave a comment telling me what's on your list this year.  For an extra entry,  like Tri to Cook on Facebook, and leave a separate comment telling me you've done so.   Hurry, you have until Friday, Dec 16th, 12pm EST!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

If you are looking for a unique gift to bring to a party this holiday season, look no further.  This loaf is what you've been searching for!  Don't be afraid to bring this for your host(ess), they can just pop it in the freezer to enjoy later if there's already too much food!

The olive oil is front and center here, so be sure to use one with good flavor.  And if you're someone who doesn't care for rosemary, feel free to reduce the amount or mix it up.  I bet thyme, sage, or even lavender would create lovely versions.

Don't be scared by the olive oil and rosemary.  There's just enough chocolate here to bring you back to the sweet side of things :)  When served warm, the smallest bits of shaved chocolate melt into the loaf... it's pretty delicious!

Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
adapted from 101 cookbooks
Serves 8-12

I used a 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan, but you should feel free to use whatever you like, just adjust the baking time accordingly.

1c AP flour
1/2c white whole wheat flour
1/2c semolina flour
2t baking powder
1/2t kosher salt
3/4c evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
3oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3lg eggs
4.5oz olive oil (I used TJ's Spanish Extra Virgin)
1/2c greek yogurt (I used 2%)
1/4c almond milk
1 1/2T freshly chopped rosemary

Preheat oven to 350deg.

Sift together flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.  Add sugar and chocolate and mix well.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs.  Add oil, yogurt, milk and rosemary and whisk until ingredients are well combined.  Add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients and gently mix until just combined.  Pour into a loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Bake for 55-65min, until the cake is nicely browned and a skewer comes clean.  Cool on a rack and serve, warm or room temperature.  Store any extras wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

What do you bring along to a party?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fregola Pudding

Fregola Sarda.  No, not fraggle rock.  Fregola is a toasted Sardinian pasta similar to couscous.  Made from durum wheat and toasted, fregola is a coarsely textured, nutty pasta.   I recently received a sample of fregola from Marx Foods for a challenge... to make dessert!

Along with the fregola, we got samples of star anise, vanilla beans and saffron.  I chose the saffron and got to work, creating a pudding with persian flavors.  With hints of rosewater, coconut and saffron, this fregola pudding was delightful.  I loved the contrast of textures between the chewy fregola and crunchy pistachios.

Fregola Pudding
Recipe by Shannon
Serves 2

1 can light coconut milk
2c unsweetened almond milk
1/2c fregola sarda (or your favorite grain)
1/2c evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
2T rosewater
scant 1/2t saffron
chopped pistachios, for garnish

Combine all ingredients (except pistachios) in a medium pot, crushing the saffron between your fingers as you add it to the pot.  Heat over medium heat until the milk begins to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 30-45min, until most of the milk is absorbed and fregola tender.   Serve warm or RT, topped with chopped pistachios.

Have you ever tried fregola?

Disclaimer:  The fregola and saffron used in the creation of this recipe were free samples provided by Marx Foods.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Butternut Thyme Bars

I promised another use for my Butternut Coconut Jam, and here it is.  To find the recipe, head over to Beantown Baker for my guest post :)  While you're there, take a peek at some of Jen's awesome creations (cannoli cupcakes anyone?), she's quite the talented baker!

Click here for the recipe!
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