Our family was invited to share a New Year’s Eve dinner with Marco’s best friend and his parents, and I was put in charge of desserts – my favorite course!
Seeing as how it was NYE, I knew a champagne cupcake was in order, and winter is a wonderful time for pomegranate. But, in case there were guests who did not enjoy cake as much as I do, I thought a fruit and cheese coupling would do nicely. I had found a recipe that contained brie and apples in a puff pastry, and thought I’d easily duplicate it with different pairings.
Champagne cupcakes (I actually used a Prosecco, as it is sweet, dry, and inexpensive) – based on the recipe from Homemade by Holman
2 3/4 C all purpose flour (I used 2 3/4 C + 2 tbsp whole wheat cake flour)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 C unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 3/4 C caster sugar or Baker’s Sugar
3/4 C champagne
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg whites
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and prepare your muffin/cupcake pan with paper liners. Combine the champagne and vanilla together in a small bowl. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy (approx 3 minutes). Add the flour in three separate batches, alternating with the champagne mixture (ex flour mix, champagne mix, flour, etc) until combined. Set bowl aside.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites on high speed until they hold stiff peaks. Fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the batter then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Spoon batter into cups until each is about 2/3 full. Bake approximately twenty minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool about five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack until cool enough to frost.
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 cup pomegranate puree (I use Perfect Puree pomegranate concentrate)
cornstarch, as needed
Let butter sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature, then cut into cubes. Using an electric mixer, beat on high until the butter if fluffy. Add sugar, 1 cup a time, until combined. Add the puree concentrate 1 tbsp at a time, checking for your flavor preference – I wanted a lot of the tartness to come through. Because so much liquid is added to the buttercream, but I still wanted a thick frosting, I added two tablespoons of cornstarch to the frosting to help keep it thick. You can also add more sugar, if that is your preference. Cornstarch is good because it has virtually no flavor, and will not over-sweeten your frosting.
Frost your cupcakes as you wish! I used the Wilton 1M star tip and disposable bags, and made a basic cupcake swirl, then sprinkled edible decorating pearls for a little pizzazz :-)
Fruit and cheese puff pastry envelopes (makes 8) – similar recipe HERE
2 D’Anjou pears
Pear butter (Whole Foods carries many varieties)
small block of Point Reyes bleu cheese
8 whole dried black mission figs, cut in half
1/2 wheel of Rouge et Noir triple creme brie
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry (or, if you have more time, make your own!)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
Unfold 1 sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it slightly with a floured rolling pin until it’s a 10 by 10-inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. Using a pastry brush or spatula, spread a light layer of the pear butter onto each quarter of puff pastry.
Add 3 or 4 pear slices and some good sized crumbles of Point Reyes blue cheese.
Brush the border of each pastry with egg wash and fold the corners in to look like envelopes. Place the pastries on a prepared sheet pan.
Repeat process with the second sheet of puff pastry, only this time use the fig butter and sliced dry figs, and two or three small slices of brie.
Brush the tops of each with egg wash. Bake the pastries for about 24 minutes, rotating the pans once during baking, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.
Both desserts were a hit! The best part about the puff pastry envelopes is that they are easily adaptable to suit palettes. Any fruit and cheese combinations can be used – aged cheddar and apple would do nicely!
Another baby, another batch of cupcakes for the office baby luncheon!
This time, the food was mostly Italian (gnocci, pizza, lots o’ garlic), and I wanted something to go with the theme. I came up with a Cannoli cupcake! I figured if I went a little Sicilian with my offering, no one would really notice (LOL)
I did not have the time, energy, or equipment to make proper cannoli shells, so instead I substituted the shells for a cupcake base. I found THIS great cannoli cupcake recipe after a quick google search, and with just a few teensy tweaks, I produced what my husband has deemed “the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten”.
Pardon, all of these are taken with my iPhone
First, I started with my ricotta. I didn’t make my own this time, but I’m thinking I will for the next batch!
To strain, you need to wrap the cheese up in cheesecloth, set in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with a towel. Place heavy cans on top of the cheese to help it drain better. This was placed in the fridge for three hours.
While the ricotta strained in the fridge, I whipped up yellow cake cupcakes (yes I cheated with a box mix yellow cake!), and let them cool.
Then, I hollowed out a small section of each cupcake, so I could add the filling
Next, I made a chocolate ganache
Then dipped my cupcakes and swirled in the batter
I let these sit tight while I kneaded the ricotta to make sure it was ready to mix.
Orange zest – I added 2 1/2 Tbsp instead of 2 ( i like oranges )
I used 1 1/3 C powdered sugar, instead of the 1 2/3 C recommended, because I didn’t want it to be too sweet. Cinnamon and vanilla rounded it all out with a hint of warmth and spice
Then I piped the filling into the cupcakes, used the same filling as the topping, and dropped mini chocolate chips to give it the official Cannoli look
My coworkers seemed to enjoy them, and Tim is begging me to make them again – so, I definitely consider these a success!
I set myself a goal for the week: to cook dinner every night – not just heating things up, but to actually prepare something each night.
So, how did I do?? Pretty well, I think! (All pictures taken with the iPhone)
Garbanzo beans, garlic and sundried tomatoes, pureed to create a delicious hummus. served warm with whole wheat pita bread
‘Mexican’ kale chips! Kale that I tossed with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of Trader Joe’s taco seasoning mix, then baked. Perfectly crispy yet not too crunchy
Three tablespoons of Olivier’s Tandoori Curry sauce with firm tofu that I’d seared in olive oil until it turned golden, served over Trader Joe’s Thai Jasmine rice and Trader Joe’s naan – DELICIOUS!
Mini-frittatas! Modified from a recipe in Food & Wine Magazine – instead of baking in the saute pan like the recipe suggested, I put the egg, garlic, and broccoli mixture into a muffin tin and baked them that way. I don’t eat scrambled/fried/boiled eggs (only baked into cakes and cookies, lol), so this was a Timmy specific meal. He REALLY liked these – I thought there’d be enough for his breakfast, but he ate all of them.
Same night: yogurt pops for dessert! low-fat all organic strawberry yogurt, to which i added sliced strawberries, then poured into popsicle molds and stuck in the freezer. It was a good texture, and super tasty! Marco loved it
Vegetarian enchiladas, ole! Bell peppers, onions, garlic and mushrooms inside those tasty tortillas. I made Marco a vegetarian refried bean and cheese burrito – after spreading the beans on the tortilla and adding the cheese, I pan seared it for a minute on each side to hold it together and lightly crisp the outside.
Avocado fries – modified from this recipe, which I found on Pinterest. I used whole wheat flour instead of white, and did not sprinkle with parmesan; I sprinkled the panko’d avocados with sea salt prior to placing in the oven. Served with Trader Joe’s Chickenless Mandarin Orange (just like their mandarin orange chicken, but with soy nuggets) and barley rice.
grilled cheese with white truffle oil – fontina cheese, arugula, caramelized onions and sourdough brushed with white truffle oil. I figured chips would be good, so I made more kale chips, this time with garlic and sea salt.
For Marco’s palate, I had to make concessions, so he had an aged-cheddar panini sans truffle oil.
What should I make tonight!?
P.S. Just because I HAVE to share this, these are the cupcakes I made last week for a company baby shower/bridal shower luncheon in honor of two of our employees (one having a baby and one getting married, duh). It was a Mexican themed potluck, so these were my contributions:
Margarita and Spicy Chocolate cupcakes!
Dark chocolate cake with cayenne pepper, dark chocolate buttercream, chili pepper and spicy chocolate bar for garnish
Jose Cuervo margarita mix cupcake with lime buttercream and a freshly sliced lime
Splendid in my tummy.
For Thanksgiving, we spent the day and evening with Micaela and her family. I racked my brain (and perused Pinterest) to find some good ideas for appetizers. I decided that cheese is always good. So, I made some goat cheese ‘truffles’, inspired by an appetizer i’d tried at 1313 Main, a wonderful wine bar in Downtown Napa. It’s very simple, and so tasty!
Note: all pics were snapped with my iPhone. I should’ve used my regular camera, but I hate to get food hands on it! LOL
Ingredients: Holiday grapes, Chevre cheese, pistachios (I bought pistachios, and used the tenderizer to smash ‘em good) I spread out a piece of wax paper to keep the cleanup to a minimum.
It’s time consuming, but you have to cover the grapes with the Chevre cheese. I used a spoon to apply the initial bit, then rolled them around to make them even.
epic, tasty win.
For my 2nd appetizer, I found a pretty treat on Pinterest.
Ingredients: Water crackers, brie, cranberries, sugar, maple syrup (I used Grade A amber), and honey (mint was used for garnish, I forgot it whoops) Follow the recipe as given HERE, but I used honey instead of chutney
stirring the fresh cranberries with the warmed maple syrup
After sitting overnight in the fridge, I sugared them, and let them dry for an hour.
so tasty on their own, BTW.
Assembled as follows: cracker, brie, drizzle of honey, 3-4 cranberries.
Finito, and I might have eaten like 5 of these. Whuuut.
What delectables made it to your Thanksgiving table? Any treats you want to make for the December holidays?
For our anniversary, I decided to go low-key and make dinner at home. I had a lot of fun preparing this meal! I went with the basics: pizza and salad.
The salad: Strawberries, tangerines, almonds, and baby spinach tossed in a homemade champagne vinaigrette that I seriously made up as I was doing it. Luckily, it was perfect!
1 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp champagne (we were drinking a bottle of 2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Noir!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
Stir ingredients together, and toss with salad. Delicious!!
This was my first time using the Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat pizza dough, which comes in individual bags in the refrigerated section. You let it rest on a lightly floured surface for 20 minutes, then roll out to desired shape/size. Add a smidgen of EVOO to your rolling pin (or your fingers, if you decide to hand-shape); it adds a smooth flavor to the dough.
Instead of using a sauce, I covered the dough in sun-dried tomatoes that had been soaked in olive oil:
Then, add baby arugula (remove stems first).
Final flavor: crumbled gorgonzola!
I rolled in the sides of the dough to create more of a crusty-edge, but this isn’t necessary.
You can bake or grill this pizza; we opted for the oven. After 10 minutes at 450 degrees, we had a perfect homemade pizza!
Let me tell you: I loved this pizza. I can’t wait to make more. I might try making my own dough,but we’ll see if I can handle it. For now, the TJ dough is fab!
1. In the story of my life the actor who would play me would be I want to say Zooey Deschanel, because I love her and think she is just the cutest! Another option would be Anne Hathaway – or Ginnifer Goodwin! Whomever can play a slightly geeky bookworm with a love of fashion; OR I could just play myself-I do a GREAT impression: “Personally, I think The Golden Bowl is Henry James’ best work. Ooh, aren’t these leopard print heels the cutest? Hey, Tim, where’s my lucky Star Wars shirt?”. Yeah.
I know I do not look like these ladies, but a girl can dream!
2. If I could change one thing about the world it would be the lack of respect for other’s religious beliefs; the world suffers from the widespread inability to practice a religion without preaching hatred of another’s (ex. – the Israelis and Palestinians).
3. Yesterday I took a lovely walk with Marco, bought him some spoons to start his first “solid” food (rice cereal), and read much (even though I had a migraine). I REALLY need to be diligent about wearing my glasses.
4. My favorite comfort food is anything with cheese. No, seriously. I LOVE CHEESE. cheese and crackers. Cheese and bread. Cheese and fruit. CHEESE BY ITSELF! All delicious. Favorite varieties: Laura Chenel Chevre (made in Sonoma!), Triple Cream Baby Brie, English Cheddar (Trader Joe’s has an amazing one with caramelized onions in it), Gorgonzola (blue cheeses in general, really: I also love Cambozola, Point Reyes blue, Stilton, Roquefort…). A lot of people are really put off by blue cheeses, because technically, it’s cow or goat’s milk that has MOLD in it. BUT IT’S FREAKING GOOD! Hey, it’s just pencillin - tasty and an antibiotic to boot!
5. My new favorite blog find is I just started following Kami at Kamika Krafts a few weeks ago, and am enjoying her blog posts! She’s starting up an Etsy shop too, so be sure to check her out!
6. If I could meet any blog friend (who I haven’t met yet) in real life, I’d choose to meet I don’t know! I’d love to meet all of my blog friends! I always enjoy reading Lauren’s posts, and my recent giveaway winner Hello Miss Chelsea (Chelsea) would be fun to sip cocktails with! Brown Eyed Belle (Julie) just seems like a sweetie pie, and of course who doesn’t want to meet Jessica of What I Wore?! I’d love it if she’d come curate my closet for me.
7. My favorite breakfast food is BELGIAN WAFFLES! I love them with strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Ooh and french toast with a pat of orange butter. MMMM.
Thanks to Lauren at The Little Things We Do for this post…
1. If I could choose my last meal it would be Mixed greens with strawberries, feta and a light vinaigrette, then a wood-fired pizza with caramelized onions, arugula, gorgonzola, and figs. A glass of Schramsberg Blanc de Noir (maybe two glasses, ha ha). Banana gratin with vanilla ice cream.
2. My favorite person to share a meal with is Timothy Dickson
3. The best meal I’ve ever had was the 15-course Vegetable Tasting menu from The French Laundry. It was meant to be 9 courses, but they sent out extra because it was our wedding anniversary (and I worked for the company).
4. The one food that makes me feel instantly better when I’m having a bad day is desserts in general will always help! Fruit flavor cupcakes!
5. My absolute specialty in the kitchen is chicken enchiladas and desserts. I make wicked lemon dark-chocolate truffles.
6. The city that has the best food is a toss-up between the Napa Valley and Rome. I loved everything we ate in Rome.
7. My favorite healthy snack is fruit! I loooove fruit.
8. In my opinion the nationality which has the best food is ITALIAN! I love French food, but I could eat Italian food every day.
9. If I could learn to cook anything in the world (and be really good at it!) I’d choose bread. It’s a very difficult skill to learn; even professionals can screw it up.
10. The most outrageous dessert I’ve ever had was I don’t think I’ve had anything too crazy; the best dessert was definitely from The French Laundry – drageed macadamia nuts, donuts and a coffee mousse.
One of my favorite fruits is the lovely, the delicious, the incredible AVOCADO. I could eat them every single day. I love them naked, but on a sandwich? OMG. Guacamole? HOLY GUACAMOLE. I bow down before this almighty fruit.
Last night, Tim and I were trying to figure out what to make for dinner (his idea at this point: Annie’s Organic Shells and Cheese). Luckily, I remembered we had 3 avocados and some cherry tomatoes, so I decided to make what we call our “Guaca-Pasta” dish. We had a version of this at the Calistoga Inn, one of our favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley. I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit at home, and though I’ve never written down measurements, I think I can approximate it for you:
The Dickson’s Guaca-Pasta (serves 2)
2 Hass avocados, sliced
2 1/2 cups cooked pasta (I prefer Barilla Whole Grain spaghetti for this recipe, but a thick fettucini would work equally as well; however, I wouldn’t recommend going any thinner than a regular spaghetti noodle)
approx. 1 cup cherry tomatoes, in quarters
2 tbsp cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil (don’t be fooled by oils that say “100% pure olive oil” - it’s not the same thing!!)
1 tbsp I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! (substitute unsalted butter, if preferred)
approx. 2 tbsp freshly shaved Parmesan Reggiano – add more as desired
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Stir all ingredients together in medium-size bowl, serve, and enjoy!
I’m sorry I don’t have a picture! We ate everything before I realized I should post the recipe. Whoops.
I have 1 avocado left, and it’s lunchtime! Break out the spoons!
This past Saturday was Belle’s 1st birthday, and to celebrate, Adrienne and Justin had a bunch of friends and family over. I can’t believe Belle is already one year old! I remember driving to the hospital after I got the text from Adrienne that she was being prepped for her C-section; I was so excited to see her!
Adrienne asked me to make a pasta salad to help feed all the people coming over to visit. I love pasta salads, so I was happy to oblige. It went over pretty well, so I figured I should post the recipe here:
4 Tbsp chopped walnuts
12 oz uncooked farfalle pasta
4 Tbsp fresh minced chives
4 C baby arugula, stems removed
2 C grape tomatoes, cut in half
5 Tbsp crumbled gorgonzola
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper
Toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, shaking the skillet often. Remove from skillet and put aside.
Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot, add a few pinches of salt if desired. Add pasta and cook until noodles are tender (about 12 minutes). Remove 4 tablespoons of the pasta water BEFORE draining pasta and set aside for dressing. Drain pasta and place in a large bowl. Immediately add arugula and stir well; cover for 5 minutes, or until arugula is limp. Add chives and tomatoes.
In a salad cruet or large cup, stir vinegar, oil and pasta water together. Add salt and pepper. Pour over the pasta salad and toss well. Sprinkle the cheese over pasta and mix.
This recipe yields about 12 servings, with each serving at about 3/4 cup.
I’ve also substituted pine nuts for the walnuts and basil for the arugula; it makes a good pesto flavor with the pasta. Feta might also be a good cheese with this, if you don’t like gorgonzola.
I hope that everyone enjoyed their Valentine/President’s holiday! Now for the recap of my weekend.
On Friday night we drove into San Francisco and checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Inn at the Opera, which is literally steps to the Opera house. Tim and I were both very hungry, so we walked to The Crepe House on Gough Street. Mmmm! I had a Greek salad, and Tim ordered a chorizo scramble. For dessert, I had a crepe with strawberries, brown sugar, and whipped cream. Tim decided on a crepe with bananas, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream. It was so delicious, and cheap! On the way back to the hotel, we ended up stopping at Citizen Cake and grabbing a few AWESOME treats: a ginger-molasses cookie and a lemon sandwich cookie.
Saturday morning we woke up early and had a quick (free) breakfast in the hotel. The Cal Academy of Sciences opened at 9:30am, and we got there a few minutes before opening, so we could avoid some huge crowds. Tim and I have been looking forward to visiting for a long time! My favorite part of the visit was the Planetarium show, but the rainforest exhibit was pretty neat too.
We had a delicious lunch in the museum cafeteria (no lie!) of cheese quesadillas, salad and pork tacos (Tim’s choice). Afterwards, we finished up the visit and headed out into Golden Gate Park. Tim and I both love the Japanese Tea Gardens, but we’d never visited together. It was such a beautiful day (no fog!), and perfect weather for walking around.
After a lovely cup of Jasmine tea and some fortune cookies at the tea house, Tim wanted to walk around the Botanical Garden. We’re starting to figure out a plan for our backyard, and it gave us a few good ideas. Tim is especially keen on the idea of bamboo all around the fenceline; easier than building a taller fence, prettier than plain bushes, and it grows fairly quickly.
After 5 hours of walking around, I was feeling tired so we went back to the hotel for a nap before dinner. I’d made reservations at Cafe Altano; it was within walking distance, had good reviews on Yelp and the menu looked tasty. The pricing is very reasonable; after wine (one glass for me, two for Tim), salads, entrees, dessert AND tip, we only spent $80. I would definitely recommend it! We stopped in again at Citizen Cake (the cookies were just too good!) and this time we got a ginger sandwich cookie, a vanilla cupcake and their version of a Payday, which is Tim’s favorite candy bar. Once again, everything was delicious!
I didn’t get a very good night’s sleep, because my darn belly refused to sit comfortably (even with pillows) so the next morning we stayed in bed until 9. We had brunch reservations at Absinthe Brasserie at 1:30pm, so I just had some fruit and an english muffin for breakfast. We checked out at noon, and walked towards Hayes Street. With time to kill, Tim thought we should stop and grab some coffee at Arlequin. They had a lovely garden to sit in and relax, so we took advantage of the sunshine.
Absinthe was PACKED! I was so glad that we made reservations. Since we were at a place called Absinthe, Tim decided to try the actual liquor. It smelled like crap liquorice. He seemed to like it! I ordered a yummy lemonade made with lemon juice, ginger, cranberry juice and sparkling water. For my meal, I had a fantastic grilled vegetable sandwich with tons of cheese, and Tim had biscuits, gravy and grits (such a guy platter!). Of course, we had to order the french fries too.
Dessert was an oddity: Kabosu Lime mousse. The mousse was rolled in an elderflower gelee and seated on a green tea cake. It was unlike anything I’ve had before, but it tasted good. I would love to go back to Absinthe the next time we’re in the city.
It was such an amazing weekend with Tim, and a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I was happy to get home though, and sleep in my own comfy bed. And, of course, I missed my babies!
Here’s a gallery of pictures from our adventures:
Click on the image to see the full size.