Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Bloody Brilliant Meal

Anyone who has talked to me for longer than ten minutes knows that I have a minor obsession with Harry Potter.

Okay, it's major.

Fine, it's a seriously major obsession.

It all started with the first movie. I wasn't much of a reader, but when I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, I knew I had to start the series. Since then, Harry Potter has become a permanent part of my life. And most recently with the release of the last movie and the creation of Pottermore, my obsession could only flourish. And flourish it has.

The relatives that received my Christmas list this year caught another glimpse of my insanity as at least half the list consisted of Harry Potter-related materials. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that I receive the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook from my aunt.

The recipes inside are fantastic. Not that I would ever think of eating some of them (Beef Casserole, Veal Pies, Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, etc), but I love to see the recipes. Then there are ones that sound ridiculous that I just have to try like the Treacle Tart (I mean, it's Harry's favorite!) which is basically a tart shell filled with corn syrup and bread crumbs. But there are also fantastic looking dishes that I've bookmarked and cannot wait to try.

My friend Melanie, who goes back to college on Monday (yick), is my frequent baking buddy and I knew that we had to try some of these recipes out before she left. Plus, she just got the last Harry Potter movie for Christmas so we had food and entertainment for the night. We chose recipes that didn't require too much time or effort, seeing as we wanted time for the movie and cooking dinner and dessert.

We decided on: Vol-au-Vents with a tomato-feta filling, Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts, Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary, and for dessert, 1-2-3 Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bonbons for Kids. And they were all delicious! I'm including the recipe for the Vol-au-Vents because I've never made anything like them and they turned out so well.

The Vol-au-Vents filling was really salty but was offset nicely by the puff pastry surrounding it (frozen puff pastry is one of my new favorite things). I usually like my brussels sprouts crispy (these were boiled and then warmed through in a skillet) but I still really enjoyed them. And, I also have an obsession with potatoes, so that couldn't go wrong. The bonbons are basically buckeyes with a crunch and they were also delightful (and very rich).

Overall, it was a fantastic-or, as Ron would say, "a bloody brilliant"-meal. And then Melanie and I cried through the entire movie. Good day.

Recipe Courtesy of the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

Vol-au-Vents with a tomato-feta filling


1 package of frozen puff pastry shells (my package had 6 shells)

8 ounces of feta in brine, sliced into small cubes
1 1/2 cups of grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2-3 tsp olive oil
2-3 tsp balsamic vinegar
3/4 tsp dried basil
pinch of salt (we suggest you leave this out, there is plenty of salt in the feta)
ground black pepper to taste


1. Bake the pastry shells according to the package instructions.
2. Stir all of the filling ingredients together.
3. Once the shells have cooled slightly, pull out the tops and some of the filling to make room for the tomato and feta.
4. Fill each shell with the tomato-feta filling and top each with the pastry top. Place back in the oven for about 7 minutes to warm the filling slightly.
5. Enjoy!


Friday, December 30, 2011

Going "Round the Bend"

Sometimes, I get a little ahead of myself. I bight off more than I can chew. I get too ambitious. And thus, I occasionally need someone to tell me-or yell at me-to stop.

When someone goes over the top in my family, we usually call it "going 'round the bend," because, well, we like to make as many West Wing references as possible in our day-to-day lives to make it seem like that world actually exists (oh, and Donna tells Josh that he's gone 'round the bend after he becomes obsessed with website dedicated to him. Do I know to much about this show?).

So, I got the "round the bend comment" two days before Christmas when I was about to start my 14th batch of cookies. It was about 10 o'clock (I had been making cookies until midnight all week) and my mom asked what I was doing next. When I casually mentioned making Jeff Mauro's sandwich cookies, she made a face. And when I say my mom made a face, I mean a face that said "Are you f---ing insane? How many cookies have you made so far? I can't even close the kitchen closet anymore! Meri, you've gone 'round the bend" (it said more, but I would need more than one post to list everything that face radiated).

I guess that meant I should stop. Yes, I reasoned with myself. I made 13 different kinds of cookies. Maybe I don't need another. Maybe I can make it later when the other cookies are gone (judging by the look of my kitchen, it will take approximately four months to devour the food gifts we've received so far over the holidays...and there are still some of my cookies left...).

I stopped making cookies.(Don't worry, I'll be sure to top this year's bounty next time.)
And here's what I made:
Flourless Chunky Monkey Chip Cookies
Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Jacques Torres Chocolate Chip Cookies (these might have been my favorites)
Chocolate Crackletops
Cinnamon-Spiced Hot Chocolate Cookies
Hazelnut Chewies
Cashew Butter Balls
Apple Cider Snickerdoodles
Czech Squares
Pistachio and White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chewy Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Sugar Cookies

My mommy made:
Walnut Puffs
Elfin Squares
Chocolate Coffee Ribbons

My sister made:
7-layer cookies
Gingerbread cookies

18 kinds total. I'm not sure if it was enough...

P.S. My kitty likes to help me bake sometimes.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why I Love the Holidays

There are so many things about the holiday season that make it fabulous. Some of my favorites are the decorations, seeing my family from the west coast, eating an absurd amount of food, watching "A Christmas Story" for 24 hours straight, and the many twelve days of cookies lists that arrive. I mean, it's just an excuse for me to look at the food porn on various websites for hours at a time.

These beauties are a result of one such twelve-day list. They came from and as soon as I saw the title I knew they had to have a spot on the Christmas table this year. Cashew Butter Balls. Does the name not make your mouth water? It should. Otherwise, there must be something wrong with you and a trip to the doctor may be in order.

My mommy makes two cookies similar to these every year: walnut puffs and pecan sandies. They're the same idea, but hers simply have finely chopped nuts in them. For these, the cashews morph into a fine powder in the food processor and then get mixed in with the flour and other ingredients.

They are delicious, melt-in-your-mouth delicacies that are sure to run out quick. The only problem I had was dipping the balls into the powdered sugar. The recipe asks you to dip them in sugar while still warm from the oven. I think I dipped too early though because the first few completely fell apart (not that this is a bad thing--perfect excuse for a little taste test). I'd say wait at least two to three minutes before the first dip.

Otherwise, these Cashew Butter Balls are perfect! Enjoy!

Cashew Butter Balls

1¼ cups raw cashews

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

Pinch ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

2 sticks unsalted butter

⅓ cup granulated sugar

1½ cups confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the cashews on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Bake until the cashews are toasted and fragrant, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the cashews from the oven and set aside to cool completely. Once cool, place the cashews in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground cashews, flour, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

3. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the granulated sugar until lightened and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and mix until a dough just begins to form. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 300°. Using your hands, roll the chilled dough into 1-inch balls and place on a baking sheet spaced about an inch apart. Place in the oven and bake until just firm to the touch, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack and cool slightly.

5. In a medium bowl, add the confectioners' sugar; roll the warm cookies in the sugar mixture. Transfer the cookies back to the cooling rack and cool completely. Gently roll in the sugar mixture once more. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kid-Food Nostalgia

In the midst of my cookie-making (7 down!), I decided to make my friend's Christmas gift. I find that food is often the bet gift to give. It's perfect: immediate gratification, some minimal labor, and cheap (well, it is when you use your parents' kitchen).

My friend had started drooling over a pumpkin pop-tart recipe a few months ago and I figured I'd give her the real thing so that she could drool properly while in pumpkin heaven. Plus, I had been meaning to make some homemade pop tarts. I love remaking childhood favorites (I've done thin mints and samoas also).

And these did not disappoint! Super delicious all around. The dough was light and flaky and the center tasted just like the filling of a pumpkin pie. I'll definitely be trying these again with different fillings. Plus, my friend loved them. She said "I really wish that I could just have one of these every morning for the rest of my life. I wish they came in boxes so I could buy an endless stock and never run out. YUMMMMMMMMMY." So, I'll consider it a success.

(I forgot to photograph the pop tarts after being iced, which was stupid. They look even prettier with icing running of the sides--especially when they cover up the mistakes I made while making the tarts.)

Definitely try them out!

Dough recipe courtesy of
Filling and glaze recipe courtesy of

Pumpkin Pie Pop Tarts with Maple Glaze

For the Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 large egg
2 Tbs milk
1 large egg (for brushing the dough)

For the Filling:

3/4 cup pureed pumpkin
1 large egg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar

For the Maple Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar
3 tsp maple syrup
2 Tbs milk

You can make the dough by hand or in a food processor. I did it with a pastry cutter by hand. Just whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Next cut in the cold butter until it is fully distributed and there are still pea-sized pieces of butter visible. Whisk together the milk and egg and mix into the flour mixture until it forms a dough. You can knead it on a floured surface if necessary. If using a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Add cubed butter and pulse until butter is pea-sized. Then remove the dough to add in the egg and milk.

Divide the dough in half (approximately 8 1/4 ounces each), shape each half into a smooth rectangle, about 3×5 inches. You can roll this out immediately (see Warm Kitchen note below) or wrap each half in plastic and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

In a medium bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree and spices. Whisk in egg, salt and sugar and place in the fridge to rest while you roll out the dough.

On a well floured work surface, press dough into a 3×5-inch rectangle, roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thickness. The dough should be slightly larger than 9×12-inches. Trim dough with a pizza cutter, creating a perfect rectangle that is 9-inches tall and 12-inches long. Using the pizza cutter, cut each side into thirds, creating 9 squares. Place dough squares in the fridge while you roll out the second piece of dough in the same way.

Brush one set of 9 squares with beaten egg. This will act as the glue for the top layer of dough. Spoon about one tablespoon of pie filling into the center of each brushed dough square. Top with a second piece of dough and use a floured fork to crimp the sides closed. Use the fork to punch holes in the top of the pop tarts so that they release steam and don't puff up.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Let tarts rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes while the oven preheats.

Remove tarts from the fridge and place in the oven to bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

While the tarts bake, whisk together ingredients for the glaze and set aside.

Let baked tarts rest on a cooling rack to cool completely before glazing. Best served within 2 days.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like...A Cookie Covered Kitchen

Hey there! Meri here, now fully immersed into the holiday/baking season. Before I came home, I spent hours of procrastination time on various cooking blogs (Sam can attest to this), looking for some new recipes to try out this year. So, in addition to our family's classic cookie recipes that return each year, I've added 15 new recipes to the mix. We'll see if I make it through them all.

I made these cookies first because we just happened to have all of the ingredients in the house (we made a trip to Wegmans later that day to stock up, of course). And, I have to say that I made a good choice with these guys. I'm constantly on the search for the ultimate oatmeal cookie, and these are going to the top of the list along with some other choice recipes.

But, these Brown-Butter Oatmeal Cookies aren't your typical oatmeal raisin cookie. When I first tried one I was kind of surprised by the taste. They have a great depth of flavor that develops throughout each bite. They are slightly crispy on the outside, but warm and gooey on the inside, and the yellow raisins give it an extra little bite (along with a splash of color). Basically, these are super-delicious and definitely deserve a spot on any cookie tray.


Recipe courtesy of

Brown Butter Oatmeal Cookies


2 cups rolled oats
¼ cup water
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup turbinato sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
2/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup currents


In a large bowl toss the oats with the water, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the whole wheat pastry flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, then whisk in the salt.

Place the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is lightly brown and fragrant. The butter will start to pop and make really scary noises--don't worry! This is supposed to happen. In fact, when the popping is just about over, that means that the butter is done browning. This should take a few minutes. Pour the butter over the oats, stir in the sugars, egg, and vanilla. Gently fold in the flour mixture. When the flour is almost entirely incorporated, add the pecans, golden raisins, and currents. Continue to fold until everything is well combined.

Refrigerate dough for two hours, or overnight which is even better if you have the time. (The dough gets very firm when cool, so it is easier to portion out the cookies before they are refrigerated. If you do this, put the balls of dough on a parchment lined dish, before wrapping with plastic wrap, just so the cooled dough does not stick to your dish.)

Preheat oven to 350º F., and line sheet pans with parchment paper. Scoop dough by 2 rounded tablespoons, and place 6-8 to a pan. Press cookies down gently to form little disks. If the cookies are breaking at the edges, smush them together a bit so that they hold their form, otherwise they may break apart a little while baking. Bake for 14 to 18 minutes, until golden brown.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An Introduction to Our Quirky (or crazy, depending on your opinion)

So, before you delve deeper into our blog, you may want to consider what you are getting into. For, as you can see in the pictures, we are prone to somewhat bizarre antics involving seemingly inanimate objects. But to us, these non-living beings have a personality (hence, we have named practically every one of our belongings-my teapot's name is Timmy).
To explain the fiasco occurring in the photos, we'll start at the beginning. Tonight was holiday dinner night in our dining hall. There was roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and gingerbread cookies. Knowing we would want second and third dessert later tonight, we stealthily hid some away in our jackets before we left. Unfortunately, Sam's little gingerbread man ("Gingy") didn't make it back so easily. He lost both of his legs and needed surgery fast! Luckily, Sam was able to do an emergency procedure using the Betty Crocker chocolate icing that is always in our fridge in case of such emergencies (and in case we need a spoonful of sugar).

Being the excellent surgeon that she is, Sam mended Gingy in no time and he was ready for consumption just a half an hour later . Mission accomplished.
Yes. We are weird. Get ready.

P.S. Sam is not as drunk as she appears in the picture. We practice safe doctoring in this dorm room.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Our first post!

Hi everybody!

It's Sam and Meri here with our new blog about stuff we like!

I'm Meri and I love food. Possibly a little too much. But that's okay because it means you get to read about food! I will be writing about my various food adventures involving cooking and possibly just my trips to Wegmans (these supermarket experiences might be more prominent than you think). That's basically all for now. I'm tired of writing so I'm going to hand it off to my favorite roommate--Sam!

I'm Sam, and I have two aspects of my life that go hand-in-hand: I suffer from a debilitating illness known as POTS, and I love television. Luckily, POTS allows me to get a lot of television-watching done, which leads me to have many fascinating thoughts on the subject. In this blog, I'll be talking a little about POTS and what it means for my life, but I'll mostly be sharing my thoughts on television and the entertainment business.

We'll try and connect our posts now and then, so that you're cooking comfort food recommended by Meri while watching a warm and fuzzy movie recommended by Sam. We hope you enjoy POTS and pans!

P.S. Meri is on the left and Sam is on the right in the photo