Tuesday, December 30, 2014

For a truly hype night, bring on the Onion Dip

New Year's Eve is one of those nights that is supposed to be a really big deal, full of champagne and fancy parties and being dressed up and fabulous.   Friends will make clever toasts, everyone in the ballroom will laugh a lot, and there is an off chance that your best friend will show up and propose.

In reality, I find it's a night that rarely lives up to the hype*. Restaurants jack up prices. Bars are slammed with desperately eager fun-seekers. The amateur drunks hit the roads. Hundreds of thousands of crazy people deliberately stand around freezing their collective asses off to watch the clock strike twelve with strangers.

I don't get it.

My kind of New Years Eve involves very little hype. I've had wonderful celebrations that ended at 9:30 pm so our toddlers could turn in, cozy nights at a local bistro with my husband, evenings with cracked crab and vintage wine in a friend's home, pajama parties with my cousin and my sister listening to Casey Kasem counting down the biggest hits of the year, and a memorable turn-of-the-millennium getaway where all but one of the guests came down with the plague at the same time. It was a like a bad British farce, with vomiting, and we still talk about it to this day with some degree of fondness.

Truly, you don't need a glittering disco ball falling from the sky or a big band in tuxedos to usher in the new year. Just grab your friends, open a good bottle of booze, share a great meal, then curl up on the couch or play a rousing game of Celebrity. Toast each other, reflect a bit, vow to be better, and kiss someone you love as the night grows quiet.

Of course, if you still need it to feel like a big, hyped up party, kick the evening off with a bowl of chips and this killer onion dip.

Homemade three onion dip | Cheesy Pennies

All the truly hype parties come with onion dip.

Three Onion Dip on a Chip | Cheesy Pennies

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A holiday gift recipe that will not usually cause recipients to explode

You all remember the scene in Monty Python's Meaning of Life where the fat guy is offered a "wafer thin mint"?

I'm nearly there myself, thanks to the holiday baking frenzy around here*.

That said, if I were to have an after dinner mint, I'd want it to be one of these.

Homemade buttercream mints | Cheesy Pennies

It'd be totally worth it.

Another thing that is totally worth it?  The 12-week Serial podcast.  Gripping doesn't even begin to describe it.  If you missed the story of Hae Min and Adnan, give it a listen.  And if you were as addicted as I was, you'll appreciate the brilliance of the SNL holiday spin even more.

Here's to inexplicable Christmas magic, great stories, and scrumptious little buttercream mints.

Homemade buttercream mints II | Cheesy Pennies

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Score one for the Internet. And Starbucks, too, I guess.

December is the month where my talent for self sabotage truly shines.  If, for example, I were serious about this 50x50 business, would I sign up for not one, but two food blogger cookie swaps?

In theory, no. I would not.
In real life, of course I did.
In fact, I am on a cookie roll this month, but more on that another time.

Cranberry Bliss Blondies | Cheesy Pennies
Cranberry Bliss Blondies - Internet Cookie Swap

For my third year participating in the Great Food Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I was inspired by my late-to-the-party addiction to Starbucks.  Once a person who thoroughly disdained the place, I'm now drawn there daily like a moth to a flame for their decaf Passion Iced Tea, one of the few alternatives to the ocean of ice water I have to drink.  In the well-lit glass case of caloric treats paraded in front of me while I wait, like an idiot, to pay $4 for gourmet, hand-shaken pink-colored ice water, the seasonal "Cranberry Bliss Bar" calls to me.  The glistening garnet-colored cranberries.  The lush, creamy-looking frosting.  That base of buttery goodness.  Naturally, I set myself a little personal challenge to figure out how to make them at home.*  I googled for a recipe, found a great one by Recipe Girl, and went to town.

Reading over the ingredient list, I was dubious.  I'm not generally a fan of white chocolate - way too sweet for my taste. I upped the salt and cinnamon, added the optional orange zest, and hoped for the best.

Cranberry Bliss Blondie | Cheesy Pennies

When I took my first bite, I understood, at last, what all the fuss was about.  Yes, they are sweet, but in a really Christmas-y, good way.  The bars are moist and a little chewy, and the tang of the cream cheese frosting and the cranberries seals the deal.

I exercised every ounce of self restraint I had, wrapped up (most of) these little bars of bliss, and sent them out into the world.

The second cookie swap was organized by Food Bloggers Los Angeles, a group of extremely talented folks here in town.  We meet in person, toast to the season, take a zillion photos and eat ourselves silly.  This time around, I decided to try recipes from a new, highly rated baking cookbook for my contribution.  Non-Internet swap, non-Internet source, right?

Well, the recipes SUCKED.  A pound of butter and tons of sugar later I had a houseful of crappy cookies and it was 2 a.m.  Seriously irritated (as in NOT BLISSFUL!), I made a riff on my tried and true Butterscotch Blondies** and got a few hours of sleep.

The blondies were utterly delicious when I tasted them in the morning, but I was so sleep deprived that I drove myself and my adorable snowman platter all the way to the other side of town...

Toffee Almond Cherry Blondies | Cheesy Pennies
Toffee Almond Cherry Blondies - Non Internet Cookie Swap 

Without the address for the party.  Or any way to get it, because it wasn't, of course, on the Internet.

Fortunately, I found both a great sandwich place and a Starbucks, so the outing was not a total bust.   There were plenty of regular, non-blogging hungry people*** to share the treats with, too.  I missed the company and what were surely some incredible cookies, but my mailbox was soon flooded with sweets from Rebecca of The Displaced Housewife, Denise of Alma's Days, and Jessica of A Happy Food Dance, so all was well.

Clearly, the win here goes to the Internet, with the improvised middle-of-the-night Blondies getting the assist.  Both of these, by the way, are so good they will be making an appearance in the Dessert Room this weekend.

Cranberry Bliss Blondies | Cheesy Pennies

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Go easy


Thanksgiving, in all its oven-hogging, prep-for-days, button-busting glory, is over. You did, or didn't, shop yourself silly for 72 hours straight. The pile of emails waiting for you when you got back to work is (barely) manageable again. Yes, Christmas is coming, but not just yet.


You can think about that later. Now is the time be with a friend who found cancer in her body. Now is the time to clasp her lightly about the shoulders, because there are tubes in her chest where her breasts used to be. Now is the time to imagine how much fear she has carried alone.

They got it, she says, with hope and a little awe at the odds of it having been found at all.  Her mouth twists and she holds her thick black hair in her hands. It is not over yet. 

You breathe, together.
Then you both breathe a little more easily and begin to talk again while you eat.

Warm Lentil Salad with Feta | Cheesy Pennies

Now is the time, the perfect time, for a gentle lentil salad and some peace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank you note

It's tomorrow, gang.  Thanksgiving.

I have no idea if your house is in an uproar, or if you are relaxing on a beach somewhere.  Are you waiting excitedly at the airport for your kid to come home?  Or are you standing in line at the supermarket with a cart full of potatoes and apples and string beans?  Perhaps the in-laws are driving you mad, or you have the wine all picked out to bring to a gathering of friends far from home. Maybe you are at the gym, frantically trying to burn calories ahead of time, or looking helplessly at tail lights on the freeway as you head out of town.

Maybe you are standing on a street corner in Missouri, weeping.  And praying for families everywhere who will have trouble finding ways to be grateful.

Source:  The Atlantic

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I'm thankful for you.

I am in my sister's kitchen.  The fridge is bursting, but we have a plan*. It involves tried-and-true mac n' cheese, award-winning apple pie, and a total experiment in grilled, flattened turkey.  There will be sausage stuffing and mashed potatoes and challah in case that goes terribly wrong.  Even if everything goes awry, it won't matter in the great scheme of things.

We spent the afternoon yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, watching leaves drift down as shots rang out in salute to a newly fallen soldier joining so many others there.

 Then the sun went down and the sky was so stunningly on fire we just sat in the car, gaping**.

Two days ago, my daughter and I had a giggling fit in the National Gallery, and ninjas brought us popcorn in recliners. My niece and husband have started this year's Lego project.

My son is here...giant and loud and perfect.

Soon, we will hold hands over our full plates and take turns awkwardly trying to express aloud the feelings of profound gratitude that fill our hearts.  I will likely not mention the sunset, the giggles, the comfort of my husband's warm feet against my cold ones in the night, my sister's indulgent spoiling of all of us, my niece's shrieks of laughter, or the way my son felt when I hugged him.

I will probably just say, "I'm thankful for my family" and squeeze the hand I'm holding a little tighter.

Here are a few ideas for leftovers you can thank me for later:

For the turkey: Diane's Turkey Enchiladas
For the stuffing and mashed potatoes: Thanksgiving Eggs

And, for the cranberry sauce:  Shortbread Jam Tart

Intriguing, but untested:  Mashed Potato Waffles from Serious Eats and Crispy Stuffing Cakes with Eggs from iamafoodblog.

Virtual thank you's are fine on these, folks. No hand squeezing required.

* It is a ridiculous plan, involving two complete Thanksgiving dinners within 24 hours and hijacking her neighbor's refrigerator. Don't ask.
** There was traffic on the beltway, so we kind of had to slow down anyway. No photo can do this sunset justice, as my stricken daughter wailed at us repeatedly from the back seat.  She was bereft not to be able to blow her Instagram followers away.  Speaking of Instragram, you can follow me there now.  Although, according to my daughter, I'm doing it wrong.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The power of the parental lie

When I was little, like maybe 7 or 8 years old, my parents went away on vacation.

To Hawaii.
Without us.

My sister and I were very confused.  Our family always went places together.  This was beyond mystifying. We pestered them with questions.

Where is Hawaii?  
How are you going to get there? 
How long are you going to be gone?

And most importantly,

Why can't we go, too?

Our parents patiently answered every one.

Hawaii is in the middle of the ocean, on the other side of California.
We are going on an airplane.
Seven days.

And then they told the world's greatest whopper.

We're going to go by ourselves first, to make sure Hawaii is fun for kids.

Well, that makes total sense, we agreed contentedly. As children who'd been subjected to many adult-oriented Washington dinner parties and boring work events, we knew all about stuff that was no fun for kids. Mom and Dad were doing us a favor by leaving us behind.  We cheerfully waved good-bye and waited for their report.

A week later, they returned home, literally glowing with happiness.  It turns out that when they landed in Hawaii, beautiful ladies gave them wreaths of flowers.  The beach was right in front of their hotel, they gushed.  The water was as warm as a bathtub, with little colorful fish swimming and swirling around their toes.  There were hula dancers and drinks with umbrellas and a swimming pool with a huge curvy water slide. They ate pineapple every single morning and it was spectacularly delicious.

We stared at them in awe.

Then, they opened up the luggage, and gave each of us a giant lei made entirely of candy bars.

Awe turned to skeptical disbelief*.

Hawaii seems like A LOT of fun for kids.

Our suspicions were well founded. My parents never did take us there**. But when I finally got to go as a grown up, one of the best things about the trip was indeed having pineapple for breakfast every single morning.

It is spectacularly delicious.

Fresh Pineapple with Mint and Tajin | Cheesy Pennies

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Care Packages

I don't know about you, but when I was in college, there was nothing more exciting than seeing a flash of pink peeking through the little window in your PO box.

The slip that meant: YOU HAVE A PACKAGE.

It meant a brown paper box with Mom's neat handwriting on it and stamps clustered in the corner was waiting for you behind the counter.  It would be filled with homemade treats, a clever note, a forgotten special something.  The goodies would be shared, of course, but the feeling of being unexpectedly touched by home was a magically selfish thrill.  Everyone else at the post office would look on enviously, waiting for their own miracle package slip to appear*.

Of course, that was a long time ago.  Before Amazon Prime and drone deliveries.  Before FedEx. Before email and Skype and the Internet.  Before parents and kids could text and talk with unlimited minutes any old time they wanted to.  Times have seriously changed.

I'm all for convenience and online everything, but when this company sent a brochure touting their "automated care package delivery service",  my heart broke just a little.

Then I shredded the damn flyer and started baking.  No kid of mine was going to get a pre-made box of corporate crap.  He was going to get a good, old fashioned, Mom-turned-on-the-oven-and-then-went-to-the-actual-post-office-so-I-could-get-a pink-slip-in-the-mailbox** kind of day.

I sent his favorite chocolate chip cookies*** and waited for the grateful call.
Instead, he posted this tweet.

Upstaged by my daughter's two second strike of the pen.  Hrumph.

Then I sent deep dark chocolate brownies****

Deep dark chocolate brownies | Cheesy Pennies

I got this text:

Not exactly gushing.

I sent brown butter cookie brittle with mini chocolate chips*****

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle | Cheesy Pennies


But when I sent this pre-packaged corporate crap for Halloween?

Assorted Halloween Candy | Cheesy Pennies

I get this:

Too bad, kid.  These are on the way.******

Halloween Candy Oatmeal Cookies | Cheesy Pennies

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spontaneous Pumpkin Cream Cheese Hand Pies

The plan was to make soup and salad for dinner tonight.  Then I went to Trader Joe's and this happened*.

No. Wait.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Hand Pie | Cheesy Pennies

Hand Pies. I meant Hand Pies happened.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sausage and Kale...for Days!

-- From UrbanDictionary.

I'm not normally a "for days" kind of person, especially when it comes to food*.  But once I stumbled onto this combination?

Sausage and Quick Braised Kale | Cheesy Pennies

I was hooked.

It's this crazy, easy mix of spicy, hearty sausage and quickly braised kale.  I literally eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  With eggs, rice, pasta, soup or just in a bowl for a snack.  It's scarily healthy, since you use lean turkey sausage and cook out nearly all of the fat.  Then there's kale, the perfect slightly bitter foil for the salty warm sausage.  Kale is ridiculously good for you of course, but you'll forget all that once it soaks up the lemon juice and all those spices and becomes tender and delicious and perfect.

Yep. I got killer meals FOR DAYS, people!

Sausage and Kale with Brown Rice | Cheesy Pennies

Of course, it may last that long because my husband won't touch the stuff**.

Dad wants to eat the lawn | Cheesy Pennies

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Little Mouse and the Medium Sized Loaf of Pumpkin Bread

Many of my kids' favorite bedtime picture books featured adorable furry mice.


With all the changes around here, I'm feeling quite nostalgic for those simple cuddly times, so today's blog post will also feature a story with an adorable furry mouse.

Nibble, nibble little mouse.
On all the stuff outside my house.

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Bread | Cheesy Pennies
But if you touch this pumpkin bread

I'll feed you to this monster head.

The End.

Too dark? Not bleak enough for today's jaded three year olds?
I can't decide.  At least not without therapy.

I do know that this moist, sweet and spicy pumpkin bread is just right for everyone.  

Sugar and Spice Pumpkin Bread Sliced | Cheesy Pennies