Category Archives: From The Cookbook

Condensed Milk Cookies

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One of my (many) annoying habits is my inability to leave a recipe as it is. Of the hundreds of recipes I’ve used while blogging on this site, maybe a handful have been followed to a T. Most get tweaked, if not completely overhauled, in a million ways: a bit more of this, a little less of that, this herb instead of that one, adding cheese because well, duh. Even the easiest of recipes often gets altered into something delicious (usually) but a bit more complex than it really needs to be.

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But sometimes, simple is the best solution. While trying to find a way to use up extra sweetened condensed milk last week, I found a number of recipes that kept things basic — but none, aside from the “stating the obvious” how-to’s for dulce de leche, were as easy as this.

Five-ingredient, one-bowl, two-step condensed milk cookies? You’d think I’d be doing a happy dance. But instead I wondered what it would be like to cook the condensed milk into dulce de leche, and then make cookies from that. And then add some toasted pecans, and a hefty pinch of cinnamon, and maybe some salted butter too. Or what about coating the cookies in chocolate, rather than adding chocolate chips? Or using salted butter, or ooooh browned butter … all of a sudden, these easy-as-pie soda bread cookies had turned into a multi-process adventure that would take hours to put together.

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Thankfully, a dose of much-needed reality (in the form of a busy Thursday night) forced me to stick to the original recipe on these cookies. And so I produced these buttery, almost shortbread-like condensed milk cookies: crumbly, light and pillowy soft, barely sweet and laden with chocolate chips. They’re the delicate “teatime” version of chocolate chip cookies, a daintier cousin of these loaded whole wheat beauties. And when simple is this delicious, why bother making things complicated?  Continue Reading →

Banana Icebox Cake

I made this banana icebox cake for my uncle on Father’s Day. It was part of a feast (an annual tradition) that included beer-braised brisket tacos, red cabbage slaw and esquites. The cake was fabulous and was completely demolished within 20 minutes of serving it. But amid all of the eating and the NBA Finals-watching and the Game of Thrones finale drama, I never got a chance to take a picture of any slices.

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And so, every day since June 15, I’ve debated posting this recipe. It would be a total food blogger fail, I thought, to tell rather than show how the banana “pudding” layer — made with extremely ripe bananas, sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese and copious amounts of cream (aka everything delicious) — softens the graham crackers into a cake-like consistency. Or to describe how gloriously light the layers of fresh banana and whipped cream were, rather than adding a picture. Or even to omit a photo of all the forks and plates after the carnage, a sign of how quickly and thoroughly this cake was devoured.

My b.

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I’m sorry that I don’t have any pictures of this banana icebox cake once it’s served, but I’m going to share the recipe anyway because I’d be even sorrier if the rest of the world never got to try this life-changing dessert.

What is an icebox cake anyway? It’s a layered dessert, traditionally made with wafers or graham crackers and either whipped cream or pudding, which is then refrigerated overnight. The cake originated during World War I, back when a fridge was called an “icebox,” hence the name. They’re perfect for picnics or barbecues (like say, a Fourth of July one?) because you have to make them ahead of time, so that’s one less thing to worry about when having a bunch of people over. And needless to say, they’re so delicious, so refreshing and cool, that they’re the perfect end to any summer day.

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(I know these pictures suck, sorry!) Continue Reading →

Roasted Pork and Peach Salad

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When writing about this roasted pork and peach salad, I struggled to figure out what to say. My sister, master wordsmith that she is, suggested, “I like pork. I like salad. I like pork salad.” (A. Let’s be glad she doesn’t write for a living. B. Clearly she’s never been paid by the word.)*

But sometimes dinner is as simple as “I like these ingredients. I have these ingredients. I have 30 minutes in which to cook before I settle into a Pretty Little Liars marathon.” (Or is that last one just me?) This salad was borne out of my discovery, mid-fridge cleanout, that I had a few peaches hiding in the back of the crisper. While I could have just thrown them in my afternoon yogurt, I needed something for dinner … and one quick Whole Foods run later, BAM. Dinner done.

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As it turns out, I got lucky. This random “need dinner now” moment happened to be a salad that I’ll be making all summer long. The balsamic-garlic-herb marinade/dressing is simple but packed with flavor, punching up the roasted vegetables and pork. I kind of love peaches in savory dishes, and they add a nice sweet-tart tang to the salad.

If you’re grilling, you could also make this salad into skewers, cutting the vegetables accordingly — just toss everything with the dressing, then thread them on skewers and grill for 5-8 minutes, until the pork is cooked through. (You could also cook the remaining dressing on medium-low heat until it reduces, creating a balsamic-garlic dipping sauce. But only if you invite me over.)

However you make this, you should. Because even if dinner is sometimes as simple as “I like pork. I like salad,” that doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious.

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*In case you thought I crafted these blog posts at a grand, beautiful, sun-drenched desk (in a library, where I have many leather-bound books), I wrote this post on a bus to Maryland with my sister looking over my shoulder the entire way. We also spent a good portion of the ride dancing in our seats to the ’90s classic song “How Bizarre.” This is why I’m not allowed in public.

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  • White Bean Roasted Red Pepper Dip + Picnic Tips

    One of my favorite summer activities is lazing outdoors in the afternoon sun. And even though most of the time, that means a small patch of grass in an overcrowded Central Park, I’m convinced that there’s no better way to spend a Saturday (Sundays are at their best when there’s football on TV, but that’s a story for another season).

    Given my proximity to CP, I spend a good amount of time there. And after years of honing my “picnic technique,” I’ve come to realize that following a few guidelines makes for a much smoother affair, one that features max relaxation and fewer last-second grocery store runs:

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    1) Bring finger foods: Chips and dip, cheese and crackers, berries or cut-up fruit, cookies (bar or otherwise) — nothing that’s fussy or needs to be plated. The odds that someone will remember to bring plates is quite low, and you’re really SOL if you’re banking on there being silver plasticware.

    2) Avoid items that require refrigeration: Again, simplicity is the name of the game. Chicken salad is great, but if you’re planning to sit in the sun for a few hours, you either have to scarf down the chicken salad quickly or risk it spoiling. Same thing goes for desserts that require refrigeration to stay firm — these key lime pie bars are delicious, but they’d be a puddle of key lime pie goop if they sat in the sun for too long.

    3) Have a variety of treats: People will want to munch on different things while chatting. Make sure there’s something salty and something sweet, and try to coordinate with friends ahead of time so that you don’t end up with 6 bags of tortilla chips and no chocolate chip cookies.

    My go-to’s are always: one bag of either tortilla chips and guac or pita chips and dip, 2 types of cheese and 1 box of crackers, grapes or berries + 1 box of pre-cut tropical fruit (pineapple, watermelon, etc.) and 1 box of cookies or brownies. Depending on how much time I have, I’ll make the dip or the sweets at home — otherwise, Whole Foods brand it is.

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    4) Use your friends: Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring things. You can either assign them a category (sweets, cheese, fruit, vegetables), or just let them decide what they’ll contribute and then plan around that. Asking friends to bring utensils, napkins or cups is always fair game too.

    5) Drinks: A few bottles of water are always a must. From there you can get creative. Chilled white wine, sangria or punch is always a great idea, though you should check the laws surrounding public drinking in your area first. Soda, juice or iced tea are also good options.

    6) Utensils: Somehow, this always seems to be the thing that people overlook. Regardless of whether you’ve assigned the “utensils” category to a friend or are bringing them yourself, you will inevitably need: 1 24-pack of mixed cutlery (yes, you need knives — for cutting cheese), napkins, small paper plates and cups. I bought a set of reusable plastic cups a long time ago and they’re definitely worth it if you picnic frequently — they’re way better for the environment and cheaper than buying Solo cups every 2 weeks. (I also may or may not use them every day, along with a few Yankees “souvenir” cups … we keep it real classy in my apartment.) Ikea also sells cheap reusable plasticware, if you live near one.

    7) Something to sit on: Not strictly a must-have, but having a blanket to sit on makes the picnic experience much more enjoyable. You could buy a designated “picnic blanket,” but in the past I’ve used fleece blankets, spare bed linens, tablecloths and even throws instead. Currently, I use a HeatSheet from an old race (foil side up), which has the added bonus of being so shiny that it’s a beacon for whoever is meeting me in the park.

    Finally, it can never hurt to throw a deck of cards or a small game (I’ve gotten really into this one) into your picnic bag … though depending on how crowded your park is, people-watching is always a fail-proof way to pass the time.

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    If you want to get extra creative and cook something nice for your picnic, I’ve got a list of my favorite transportable recipes over here. This roasted red pepper dip inspired that list way back in 2010, when I blogged about it initially. Since then, I’ve made it a few times for myself, but hadn’t updated the original (picture-less) post. Until now.

    Bask in the glow of this orangey-red beauty. Enjoy its velvety white bean base, enriched by the tangy combo of cream cheese and feta. Enjoy the way it pairs with pita chips or carrot sticks or baguette or flatbread. Eat it fast, before your friends do — I promise it won’t last long. Continue Reading →

    Summer Lentil Salad

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    It’s only natural that as the temperature increases, so too does my desire for salad. Leafy green versions are a staple for lunch, but at dinnertime, I want something with a bit more heft — filling enough to keep me full all night and power me through my workout the next morning.

    Though grains are a great way to bulk up a salad (whether you use quinoa, farro, barley, or even rice), I’ve gotten really into lentils recently. They’re legumes (like peas, beans and peanuts), and are a great source of protein, fiber, iron and other nutrients. Plus, dried lentils are super cheap and can sit in your pantry forever, or at least until you decide to throw them into a salad.

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    There are a wide variety of lentils: yellow, green, black, red, orange. They’re a staple of Indian cuisine, and our pantry was full of them — a rainbow of little beads all packed in glass jars on the shelf. I use humble brown ones here, since they’re the easiest to find (Goya sells a 1-pound bag for $1.50). I undercooked them a little, so that they retained a bit of their bite and didn’t become mushy in the salad.

    While they did their thing on the stove, I threw a big batch of summer vegetables on a baking sheet. Corn is just starting to make its way into markets, and I love (love love) charred little niblets of corn. A few cherry tomatoes, slices of red onion, a bell pepper — everything softens and caramelizes just a touch in the heat of the oven. Cubes of smoked gouda add a bit of meaty creaminess to round out the meal.

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    You could double or triple this recipe for a potluck or picnic, and it’s great for work lunches. It’s also great on a blah Monday night with a cold glass of Pinot Greeg and a Jon Snow-heavy episode of Game of Thrones. (I’ll let you guess how many times I’ve watched that video today. May or may not be upwards of 1,938.) Continue Reading →

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