Funfetti Cake

for Beth

It’s only been a few days since our Aunt Beth’s passing, so things are still raw. I find myself opening up photos of her on Facebook and just looking through them, unable to decide if that’s a normal thing to do or if I’m just torturing myself. I miss her and my heart breaks for her children and her husband, as well as her mother and her brother (my father-in-law). I feel like I can still hear her laugh, and I keep playing her voice over and over again in my head. She’s not talking about anything in particular, but I find it comforting to think about her voice. I think about her saying things she said to me so many times. “Why are you laughing? Why do you think Tyler is so funny? She laughs at everything he says!” or joking about where the next bottle of white wine was. She was such a dedicated person, not only to her immediate family but to Kramer and me and to his sister, Rachel. Whenever we saw her, she’d go on and on about how beautiful we looked, or how handsome Kramer is. She’d ask about my parents and my brothers and always wanted to know everything that was going on in our lives as well as theirs. She was so funny and the first one to be self-deprecating to push the attention off of herself and onto someone else – classic move, Beth. She was a big fan of this blog and forced people to go online to check it out, even if they didn’t give a damn about cooking and baking. At her funeral, so many people referred to me as “the cook” or “the baker”, even people that I had never met before, and they all told me about how Beth never stopped talking about my blog. I can only imagine how uninteresting someone’s niece’s blog would be to a stranger, but Beth was my champion and only wanted me to succeed. Word of mouth from Beth alone probably accounts for a big chunk of visitors that I get here every day. Thinking about how much she cared and how highly she thought of me is what makes me cry the most, even though I know she would hate that. She was a talented baker in her own right, too. She had her own cake pop business called Behr Pops and each one was more impressive than the last. We’d talk about baking and how it doesn’t matter how many times you make something, you keep eating while you cook or bake and make yourself sick, not wanting to eat the final product. I loved that I wasn’t the only one to hit the frosting a little too hard while decorating, and I especially loved that we could literally have a conversation about the best ways to eat the leftover scraps of cake from whatever project either of us were working on. She just got it. I’m going to miss that so much.

funfetti cakeTogether at Rachel’s wedding this past November.

I wanted to make cake pops or something for Beth, but I am a t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e decorator and don’t have half of the patience that she did. Honestly, I started looking up recipes and different pops that she made and just stopped. There was no way, which is just another way that Beth was amazingly talented. I still needed to get in the kitchen and distract myself, though, so I made this cake. Beth made a lot of cake pops in the shape of birthday cakes. I decided to make something bright and happy and colorful and full of sprinkles. I even used the edible glitter that I dug up in one of my many overfilled, rarely used bags of baking decorations. I think she would have loved that. When I went to the store to grab supplies for this cake, though, I couldn’t find the sprinkles in any of the aisles and I panicked. I’m probably just tired and my brain is fuzzy, but I couldn’t find them and started to have a mild panic attack because I felt like I needed to make this cake. Thankfully, one of the store’s employees helped me find them, and honestly, when he handed me two jars of sprinkles, I almost broke down crying. I’m glad for his sake that I didn’t – I’m not sure he’d know what to do with a girl sobbing over sprinkles. Obviously all went according to plan, so now I’m sitting here, covered in glitter, as I’m sure Beth often was after making countless cake pops, thinking of her and crying again as I write this, but proud of the cake and confident that Beth would be excited that I made it for her. I hope it’s the kind of cake that she would decline to eat initially, like so many moms do, but then maybe she’d sneak a piece later while inevitably cleaning up after everyone. It’s not a cake pop, but it reminds me of her and I think she’d forgive me for not being able to craft cake and white chocolate into animals, balloons or superheroes. Maybe her daughters picked up some of her skills over the years and can teach me some pop tricks some time. Either way, this is my cake for Beth – we love you and we miss you.

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in memoriam

We lost one of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing this weekend. It doesn’t feel right to post a recipe and try to half-heartedly tie it in with a tragedy, so I won’t. But I’m at a loss for what to do or how to help, and all I can do is use this as an outlet to share some photos and talk a bit about what a wonderful person Beth Behr was.


Charred Leek & Tomatillo Chili

eat your greens

Part two of my New Orleans trip: the swamp! Kramer and his friends went on a swamp tour when they were visiting a few weeks earlier, so I booked a trip for us on the same tour. It was super fun and not nearly as creepy as I thought it would be. We floated through the water, going fast at times and at other times barely moving as we passed homes or hunting cottages. Some of the houses were beautiful and looked like something you’d see on a decorating websites, other had fallen into disrepair and seemed as if they were minutes away from falling into the river altogether. Our guide explained that since it was so difficult to build these places in the swamp to begin with, when someone died or their family didn’t want to keep up with the property, the place would simply be abandoned, left to decay and sink into the water. It was obviously super cool to see and maybe the only “creepy” part of the tour. The best part was, of course, seeing wild pigs! They were so cute, especially when they were munching on the marshmallows and white bread that our guide threw out to them. There were even little wild piglets with funny ears and wobbly legs. It. Was. Awesome. We could have sat there all day, but we had gators to find. We only saw one, unfortunately, peeking its eyes out through a marsh, but that was enough for me, to be honest. The swamp itself was beautiful and green and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. If you’re ever in New Orleans, I highly recommend Honey Island Swamp Tours – it was a blast.

charred leek and tomatillo chiliI couldn’t tell if this house was abandoned or not.

I figured since this was a green chili and I’d be sharing photos of the green swamp, this recipe would be perfect to post today. I love chili and no matter how many times I make it, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of eating a big bowl. I make it for lunches all the time because it’s generally so easy to make a big pot to eat throughout the week. I had all of these ingredients on hand and had planned to make something completely different with them, but the day got the better of me and I decided to do something easier. I still blackened the leeks and tomatillos, though, because I figured it would add a depth of flavor and make my chili taste like I had spent a lot more time on it than I actually had. So, I charred, peeled, pureed and cooked, and with the help of a little beer, pork, beef and seasoning, I had a deliciously spicy chili on my hands. Top it with cheese, sour cream, scallions or whatever else you prefer – it’s the same green chili you’ve grown to love with what I suppose could be called a farmer’s market twist (I guess I do live in Brooklyn).

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Spring Pea Dip

with mint & lemon

I’m back! It’s hard to get back into the swing of things after vacation, so I’m here, a week or so later, still clinging to NOLA just a bit. I went with two friends for a long weekend and had a phenomenal time. I had never been to New Orleans before, but I’m hoping I’ll get to go back at some point because there’s still so much to do. On the first day alone, we relaxed by the pool, ate insanely good seafood at Peche, wandered into a beautiful old bookstore (where I bought a cookbook, of course), sipped frozen daiquiris, walked up and down Bourbon Street, ate alcoholic gummies at Tiki Tolteca, and watched more than one parade as they made their way across town. Then we finished the night with a Kirin at Latitude 29 because I’m still not over Japan. Not bad, right? Day two meant big ass sandwiches at Cochon Butcher for breakfast, iced coffee and a swamp tour (more on that later). Sigh. And now I’m here, procrastinating getting ready for work. On the couch. In muggy New York with no pool and no frozen drinks to lift my spirits. Life truly is a cruel mistress.

spring pea dipNOLA with Jess & Jeena.

Obviously vacation wouldn’t be vacation if it lasted forever and I suppose I’m fine with that. It’s spring (or is it summer?) so let’s make something fresh, shall we? I still love the Clean Slate cookbook and this spring pea dip is no exception. Use fresh peas when they’re in season, but they weren’t quite there yet when I made this, so I used frozen. Combine them with bright lemon, fresh mint and earthy tahini, then dip your heart out. With crudités or pita chips or something. Parties and picnics always have some kind of dip – French onion, queso, guacamole, etc. This pea dip is a refreshing change of pace (although I still want lots of guac) and friends will definitely want to know more about it, especially your vegetable-averse ones who find themselves going back for a second or third bite to discover that, much to their surprise, vegetables CAN be good.

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Apple Rhubarb Braided Strudel

with almond glaze

First: please vote for me in the 2015 Saveur Food Blog Awards! Tomorrow is the last day to vote and I will cry tears of joy if I win. TEARS. I’m nominated in the Most Delicious Food category and I’m option #2. I know that you have to register to vote, but I really appreciate the extra effort that goes into doing so and if I win you’ll see even bigger and better things to come! So. On with it. I never went too into detail on the ~Tot Dog~ crawl some friends and I did a couple of weekends ago. Get it? Hot dogs + tater tots = tot dog. We are quite the wordsmiths, I know. My friend Donny started doing these food and photography crawls last month, when we went around to Roberta’s, for a small bite of breakfast (I had toast, Kramer had a bagel), Dunwell Doughnuts (I got a doughnut and munched on it throughout the day like some kind of actual hiker), The Commodore (where I took it easy and got a cocktail, but then had a bite of Donny’s hash browns), Torst (Kramer and I split the Sunday lunch of short ribs, farro and carrots) and, finally, Dirck the Norseman, where we all had a beer. It was a really fun day filled with food, sun and plenty of photos, so when Donny mentioned he’d like to do a hot dog crawl, I was all ears! Then Molly chimed in and, due to her love of tater tots, insisted we include those, which of course we were more than happy to oblige. Thus, our Tot Dog Crawl was born. We hit up The Kent Ale house first, for chili cheese tots, as well as Dough doughnuts that were generously provided by one of our comrades, and salty licorice, which was…interesting, to say the least (sorry, Hannah). Next, we walked to Crif Dogs, where the real gluttony began. We had cheesy tots, regular tots, spicy redneck dogs, Chihuahua dogs, and my personal favorite: a bacon wrapped hot dog with peanut butter, pickles and potato chips. It was awesome – just trust me. After washing everything down with a beer, we walked over to The Grand National, where more tots were consumed, along with pineapple mojitos, beers and hot dogs with charred pineapple and avocado. We may or may not have also had Jell-O shots, played bingo and spent some quality time in the photobooth. Then, as if we hadn’t already exhausted ourselves, we went next door to my favorite bar, Burnside, for some shared fried cheese curds, shuffleboard and one last drink. My body was NOT pleased the next day, I assure you. But it was worth it. Next month: wings! I trust that our leader, Donny, will concoct another gut busting day of fun for the month of May. Speaking of Donny, I just want to point out that he photographed the Big Gay Ice Cream cookbook and you should all definitely pick up a copy ASAP!

apple rhubarb braided strudelCheesy tater tots from Crif Dogs.

This may not be your most traditional strudel, and it may not even be what people generally think of when they think of strudel, but it’s definitely what I think of when I think of strudel, so strudel it shall be. It was my friend Danny’s birthday this past week and I wanted to make something awesome to bring to his party. I was going to go with just the classic apple variety, but last minute I threw some rhubarb in there for a seasonal touch. This dough is absolutely lovely and comes to you from Food52 (of course), by way of Flourishing Foodie and Dorie Greenspan. I’m definitely going to try making it into a pie next. I was just so pleased with how smooth the end product was and how easy it was to work with. It wasn’t sticky or fussy. I just let it chill for a bit, rolled it, rerolled it, rerolled it again, folded, folded, folded and boom! The perfect dough with which to make my strudel. I wanted the filling to be nice and thick, alongside the sweet apple and rhubarb combo, so I added a bit of extra flour to make that happen. This is most definitely one of the prettiest, crowd pleasing things that I’ve made. I did make two of these, like a crazy person, so Danny mentioned bringing the leftovers into his office so that he didn’t consume it all himself. Good call, Danny. The wonderfully golden crust, the sweet apples, slightly tart rhubarb and aromatic almond glaze will draw you back for seconds of this strudel, I promise. And don’t be scared of yeast and dough – this is probably one of the easiest, most forgiving yeasted recipes I’ve made, and I’m most certainly going to go back to it again and again.

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Szechuan Green Beans

numbingly good

This weekend went by way too fast and I’m still in denial that it’s Monday. Friday night was spent in New Rochelle, visiting Kramer’s family, which was nice because we hadn’t seen his grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousin in a while. We had Italian and chatted for a few hours, ate way too many desserts, then Kramer and I made the trek back down into Brooklyn. Two Grand Central trips in one day. I felt like such a commuter. On Saturday, I did a lot of baking while Kramer worked on homework for what must have been eight hours straight, then we headed out to our friend’s birthday party, which is why I did all of the baking: apple and rhubarb strudel and peanut butter brownies. The recipes will be posted here soon enough, obviously. We stayed out a little too late and slept in until almost 10:30 on Sunday morning – an unheard of occurrence in our house – then got ourselves together for brunch in Long Island City, followed by a few margaritas and episodes of Lip Sync Battle before it was time to call it a night, catch up on Last Man on Earth and go to sleep. The hardest decisions I make on Sunday nights are to go to sleep and not force myself to stay awake to watch Mad Men, but that’s fine because then we have something to look forward to on Monday or Tuesday. My life revolves around TV. I’m fine with that.

szechuan green beansWeekending: brownie batter, poached scrambled eggs (from the new Food52 cookbook) and making some strudel dough.

I’ve made these Szechuan green beans a few times now and always to rave reviews. I generally don’t care for green beans – I find them to be boring otherwise, but when paired with sesame oil, ginger, garlic and tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns, they’re hard to resist. This is my favorite method to use on green beans because it preserves the crunchy green bean texture that I love so much, while still blackening some other parts of varied texture alongside the punch of flavor from all of the spices and sauces. You don’t need to spend much time on these, either – the whole dish will come together in 25 minutes, making it perfect to pair with something like a simple steak or pork chops. I even brought these to a “friendsgiving” get together and a few people actually asked for the recipe, which delighted me because I was a little afraid people would find them too spicy. Not the case, apparently – I guess you just need to serve these to the right crowd. Szechuan peppercorns are an essential ingredient in this dish, though, so don’t just add extra chile oil. The peppercorns add a wonderfully numbing sensation that you won’t get with anything else – you’ll be simultaneously feeling your mouth burn just a bit while still wanting to go back for bite after bite. Trust me on this and don’t be scared.

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Rosemary Lemonade Julep

sip into summer

The Kentucky Derby is next week – I’m not necessarily someone who goes all out for it, but I do enjoy a good julep and a reason to day drink and eat wings or whatever happens to be put in front of me on a sunny Saturday afternoon. So, when Maker’s Mark asked if I wanted a free bottle of bourbon with which to concoct some new version of the classic Southern cocktail, I said “Hell yeah! Where’s the booze?” Then a few days later, I had a bottle, a julep cup and a few days to recipe test. I was going to make mint lemonade, but then I went to my usually fully stocked bodega and found that they didn’t have any mint. The rosemary looked nice and healthy, so I went with that instead. I feel like this ended up being a blessing in disguise. I’ve made mint juleps before, in the traditional manner, so why not try something new? I squeeze some lemons, infused some simple syrup with rosemary, mixed everything together with bourbon, crushed some ice in my blender (why hadn’t I been doing this all along?) and boom! Julep. The one thing I did this time around that I hadn’t before was sprinkle the top with a little powdered sugar. It looked super pretty and made the rosemary garnish look like a pine tree in the middle of winter – cute, right? This is a truly refreshing cocktail that I promise is easier to make than it may seem, and while the julep cup definitely makes you feel like a classy Southern belle, you can use any ol’ glass if you’re mixing these up for a crowd. Side note: I’m also entering these into the Maker’s Mark #JulepOff contest for a chance to win a trip to Kentucky (yeehaw), so if you wouldn’t mind repinning this recipe with the #JulepOff hashtag, that’d be just great. Thanks, ya’ll. Too much? Yeah, probably too much. Please forgive me.

rosemary lemonade julepI just love the bottle.

Speaking of the South, thanks everyone for your New Orleans recommendations. I’m so excited to go and I’ve noted everyone’s suggestions. Now I just need to prep for my trip. I need a big hat or something, I think. What else do fancy people in New Orleans wear? I’m also interested in going on a swamp tour to see gators, as well as going on a haunted cemetery tour to hopefully scare the beejeezus out of myself. And that’s just the start of Summer Vacation Syd 2015. We’re headed to Asbury Park for the 4th of July with a group of friends, then Baltimore to see my brother in August, followed by a trip to Virginia Beach with Kramer’s family. That’s not to mention the numerous trips I plan on taking to Rockaway Beach for frozen sangria, sun and sand. While I am sort of dreading the hot, humid summers that NYC has to offer, and I do hate worrying about getting into a bikini and all that, I do love the beach. I think it just takes a dip or two in the water for you to stop stressing out about your ~summer bod~ and just let yourself enjoy the weather. Or at least that is what I will continue to tell myself while I try and fail to get to the gym and eat salads for lunch every day. I think the solution is just to get one of those bathing suits that Liz Lemon wears on 30 Rock – the one she said that she saw Dame Judi Dench’s mother wearing in US Weekly. Sounds comfy.

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Matcha Marble Cake

chocolate + green tea

Matcha! If you don’t know what matcha is, allow me to explain, because it’s awesome. To put it simply, matcha is finely ground green tea that is made from shade grown tea leaves. This means that it takes a bit longer to grow the tea, resulting in a more refined taste and, in turn, final product. Matcha is taken very seriously in Japan, and the flavor can be found everywhere from mochi treats (a rice cake dessert) to ice cream to even noodles! I recently had green tea noodles at Mission Chinese, for example, and they were freaking delicious. Either way, if you’ve never had a matcha latte, do yourself a favor and head to Farm to People, use the code CoW25 and get 25% off your order of matcha. When I first got my tin of the good stuff, I wasn’t really sure how to use it. I started with making myself a matcha latte to get inspired. It was delicious and surprisingly easy to do at home, though of course I don’t have a foamer and there’s nothing like the real frothy lattes you can get in a shop. The next day, I perused a few blogs for more inspiration, specifically Molly’s because she is the Matcha Queen, then got to work. Sadly, that work was a total waste of time! Figures. I tried making matcha scones and they failed miserably. They tasted sort of okay, but they were less scones and more ugly brownish-greenish blobs with little pieces of marshmallow in them, because I thought that would work. The whole pan went into the trash, along with two hours of my life. Oh well – you can’t be good at everything, right? Or at least that’s what I told myself as I scraped the last bits of burned marshmallow and green tea crumbs off of my baking sheet.

matcha marble cakePhotobooths and jello shots with Donny, Molly, Hannah and Talia.

Never give up, though! There is always a light at the end of your matcha tunnel. I decided to stick with something a bit easier than scones, but I wanted my final result to be GREEN, because that is way more fun. Why not marble cake? It fit all of my criteria: it’s easy, it can be made after work, and it would allow me to color something bright green. Perfect. I was sort of worried that the cake would be bitter from the tea (like the scones were, ahem) but I think the balance was just right alongside the chocolate and vanilla. This is something simple you can whip up to get you started on your matcha obsession, but it’s still approachable enough to not scare people away when you explain that it’s a cake made with green tea. My coworkers seemed to enjoy it well enough, so if their discerning palates thought it was good, I think that you will, too.

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