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.