Double Chocolate Brownies with Pecans

Double Chocolate Brownies w Pecans
If it’s not clear from the title of this post, I did not make any New Year’s resolutions regarding the limiting of desserts. And if I had, I would have fallen off the wagon this weekend.

These brownies are decadent and sweet and dangerously simple to make. I’m usually a little apprehensive when it comes to baking, with all the precise measurements and accurate baking times, but I have made these twice in the last week (one batch is for a friend, I promise!) and both times they came out perfect.

Double Chocolate Brownies with Pecans

Ingredients

  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup pecans (chopped)
  • ½ semi-sweet chocolate chips

Prepare

Pre-heat oven to 350 °F. Prepare a 8″ x 13″ baking pan.

In a medium bowl, add oil, sugar and eggs. Beat to combine. In another bowl, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, stirring to combine until all ingredients are incorporated. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.

Place in oven for about 13 minutes or until brownies are starting to set, but are still uncooked. Remove from oven and quickly sprinkle chopped pecans and chocolate chips on top. Press toppings lightly into batter with a spoon.

Return to oven for about 8 additional minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the brownies comes out clean. Allow to cool before cutting.

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NYC & The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

NYC Taxi

There are few things I love more than visiting New York City during the holidays. To be honest, I love visiting New York any time of the year, but between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, with the city dressed in its holiday best, it’s even more breathtaking.

Central Park turns into a winter wonderland with millions of twinkling white lights blanketing the trees and red bows and mini wreaths adorn the horse-drawn carriages. The department store windows on Fifth Avenue are dressed for the holidays (literally!) and food carts sell roasted chestnuts on every corner. Rockefeller Center transforms into a magnificent display with trumpeting angels illuminating the path to the enormous ice-skating rink and iconic 80-foot Christmas tree below.

In short, it’s magical. And I was over the moon to take an impromptu weekend trip to Manhattan earlier this month.

Below are some of the highlights of my visit. I will share more details in the next post. Hope you enjoy!

Plaza Hotel

Plaza Hotel TreeThe gorgeous tree in the lobby of the iconic Plaza Hotel gave the entire room a soft, golden glow.

We stopped by the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel for a cocktail before dinner at Gramercy Tavern. The Palm Court is a beautiful dining space near the front of the Plaza Hotel with a domed back-lit stained glass ceiling, plush seats, and a round marble bar in the middle.

Cocktails at the Plaza Hotel

I had a glass of Seven Falls Winery Merlot and B had the House Cider Rules with Don Julio Reposado tequila, agave nectar, lemon juice, fresh apple cider, and cinnamon powder. The House Cider Rules tasted exactly like autumn in a glass. Delicious!

The Winter Village at Bryant Park

The Winter Village at Bryant Park includes a large ice-skating rink and pop up collection of 125 boutique holiday shops featuring artisans who offer everything from local foods, handmade jewelery, and decorative items throughout the holiday season.

Bryant Park Ice Skating RinkThe ice skating rink at the Winter Village at Bryant Park.

We walked by on our way to Rockefeller Center and I couldn’t resist a peek in the holiday shops. Then we took a break on a bench near the Bryant Park tree with a cup of hot chocolate and a full view of the skaters and shoppers whizzing by. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

Bryant Park TreeThe 50-foot tree at the Winter Village at Bryant Park


Holiday Window Displays on Fifth Avenue

Hands down, the department stores’ holiday window displays are one of favorite things about the holidays in New York. Anytime I am in the city between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, a walk along Fifth Avenue is a must.

One of the highlights for me this year are the Tiffany & Co. windows. Tiffany’s created various winter scenes inspired by 1950s/60s New York City, complete with moving figures and meticulously placed iconic Tiffany’s robin egg blue boxes.

Scenes include ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza, enjoying a roaring fire in a high rise with views of the Chrysler Building, and a vintage yellow taxi brimming with the spoils of a Tiffany’s shopping spree (of course). Here’s a peek at a few.

Tiffany's Holiday Window

Tiffany's Holiday Window_1

Tiffany's Holiday Window_2

Van Cleef & Arpels created its own version of winter scenes.

Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels_Castle

Bergdorf Goodman’s one-word theme for its holiday window display this year is Inspired. The retailer features a series of windows inspired by the fine arts, performing arts, and applied arts. Each window showcases a different aspect of the arts including literature, architecture, theater, painting, music, dance, sculpture and film.

These windows were some of the most extravagant. Among other things, each one featured gorgeous designer clothing and incredible attention to detail.

Bergdorf Goodman_1

Bergdorf Goodman

Bergdorf Goodman_2

Bergdorf Goodman_5

Bergdorf Goodman_3

Bergdorf Goodman_4

Bergdorf Goodman_6
That’s it for now. More from my NYC trip to come soon. I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Peanut Butter Blossoms..
I love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I like both separately just fine, but together, it’s something I can’t resist. So when I saw these Peanut Butter Blossoms on a cookie advent calendar, two thoughts came to mind:

Thought #1. Those look delicious and I would like to try making them.

Thought #2. I would also like to meet the ambitious baker who has actually completed a cookie advent calendar. Obviously we would bond instantly over our mutual love of holiday baked goods and I could even help test the recipes (everyone knows calories don’t count in December). It’s a win win for both parties.

So, if you know of someone who has completed a cookie advent calendar, please share. Until then, I’ll have to settle for testing recipes on my own.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups flour (I used whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • About 35 Hershey’s Kisses

Prepare

Pre-heat oven to 375 °F. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, beat the peanut butter and butter until smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat to combine. Then add the egg and beat until completely combined. Slowly add in the flour mixture and beat until the flour has been incorporated and the dough forms.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet. Use your fingers or the back of spoon and lightly push down on each ball to flatten just a little bit and to form a small indentation for the Hershey’s Kiss.

Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven. Quickly place an unwrapped Hershey’s Kiss in the middle of each cookie and place back in the oven. Bake for 2 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before enjoying.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

This is one of my favorite fall dishes. I start looking forward to making this soup as soon as the summer ends and temperatures start to dip. It’s rich, warming, and perfect for the fall. Last year I served it at Thanksgiving dinner as the first course and it was a hit.

One of the reasons this soup is so flavorful is because the butternut squash is tossed with a spice mixture before roasting. And these spices are toasted and freshly ground for each batch of soup, which intensifies the flavor even more.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients

Spice Mixture
¼ cup fennel seeds
2 Tbs coriander seeds
2 Tbs peppercorns
2 tsp pepper flakes
2 Tbs salt
2 Tbs cinnamon

Roasted Squash
1 large butternut squash
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs Spice Mixture
½ cup chicken stock
Salt & pepper

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup celery, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
1 cinnamon stick
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ½ cups roasted squash, pureed

Prepare

Spice Mixture

Toasted Spices

In a small pan, toast the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns over medium heat. Keep a close eye and stir constantly to ensure the spices do not burn. Once the fennel seeds start to turn brown, remove from heat and allow to cool.

Put mixture in a blender or a clean coffee grinder. Add the chili flakes and process until all spices are evenly ground. Place ground mixture in a bowl and add salt and cinnamon. Mix to combine. Store or freeze in tightly closed container. This spice mixture can be used in many things. I have added to acorn squash and sweet potatoes before roasting. I think it would be great on any root vegetable.

Roasted Squash
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel the squash and cut into a 1-inch dice. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss the squash with the olive oil and then add the Spice Mixture, ensuring the squash is evenly covered with the spices. Place in oven and roast for about 45 to 1 hour, or until the squash is very tender. Allow squash to cool slightly so you can safely work with it.

Add slightly cooled squash to a blender or food processor and process. Carefully add chicken stock as needed here. The squash should be a thick puree, do not over process or use too much chicken stock.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and cinnamon stick and sauté for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the stock, bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Then add the pureed butternut squash and stir until smooth. Allow to cook on low heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Use a blender or a hand held blender to puree the soup. Place soup back on low heat to reheat. If desired, finish with heavy cream for an even creamier, silkier soup.

Serve in bowls with some mascarpone cheese, a sprig of sage, or pepitas.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.

10 Thanksgiving Desserts to Give Pumpkin Pie a Run For Its Money

Don’t get me wrong, I love pumpkin pie. A warmed slice with a little homemade whipped creamed or a scoop of vanilla ice cream is simply heavenly. And many a Thanksgiving I’ve enjoyed more than one slice with no regrets.

But there are so many other decadent, seasonal desserts that could help add the perfect finishing touch to Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not suggesting abandoning tradition and forgoing the pumpkin pie altogether (that’s just crazy talk), but I think I may be able to find a little space at the Thanksgiving table for one more dessert.  After all, this meal calls for a little indulgence, right?

Here are a few of my favorite dessert options for Thanksgiving, or any cozy, winter meal for that matter.

 Frozen Pumpkin Mousse with Walnut-Toffee Crunch by Bon Appétit

Credit: Bon Appétit

Credit: Bon Appétit

Sweet Potato Cake by Saveur

Credit: Saveur

Credit: Saveur

Butternut Squash Glazed Tart by Food & Wine

Credit: Food & Wine

Credit: Food & Wine

Salted Caramel Apple-Pear Tart by Fine Cooking

Credit:

Credit: Fine Cooking


Sweet Potato Souffle
by Martha Stewart

Sweet Potato Souffle

Credit: Martha Stewart

Pecan Fig Bourbon Cake by Gourmet

Fig Bourbon Cake

Credit: Gourmet

Cranberry Shortbread by Bon Appétit

Cranberry Shortbread

Credit: Bon Appétit

Bourbon-Pecan Pie by Food & Wine

Credit: Food & Wine

Credit: Food & Wine

Persimmon Cake with Crème Fraîche and Maple Pecans by Fine Cooking

Credit: Fine Cooking

Credit: Fine Cooking

Pumpkin Pecan Gingersnap Ice Cream by Saveur

Credit: Saveur

Credit: Saveur

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

After what seemed like a brief Indian summer, the weather has turned its attention to fall. The air is cool, the breeze is brisk, and swirling leaves fall off trees and crunch underfoot.  Scarves and boots have made their seasonal debut and Thanksgiving is just two weeks away.

One of my favorite fall activities is baking. I’m pretty sure that one of the best things in the world is the aroma that fills your home when you’re baking. And the cinnamon spiked scent from this spiced pumpkin bread is irresistible (say that five times fast).

Given this weekend’s forecast and something called the bomb cyclone, this bread will be best enjoyed with some warm chai while curled up on the couch with your thickest socks, coziest blanket, and a great book (or Netflix).

Pumpkin Spice Bread.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • ⅓ cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 °F and prepare your baking pan. I used two 8” x 4” loaf pans that I sprayed with cooking spray.

Place milk in a small saucepan on low heat. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and, using the unsharpened side of a knife, carefully scrape the seeds from the inside. Place the seeds and the scraped vanilla bean into the milk and stir. Keep the heat on low while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, stirring occasionally. This will allow the vanilla to infuse the milk. Allow milk to cool before using.

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and all of the dry spices (salt cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves) in a bowl.

In another bowl, beat the butter until it is creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat to incorporate. Then add the eggs, one at a time, ensuring each egg is incorporated thoroughly. Beat in the pumpkin puree.

Next, add in the dry flour and spices to the pumpkin mixture in three additions, alternating with the cooled vanilla-infused milk.

Pour batter into your prepared pan(s), spreading evenly, and bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow bread to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from pans.

Cranberry Quinoa Pilaf with Toasted Almonds

Cranberry Quinoa

It’s November and the holiday season is quickly approaching. Try as I might, there’s no denying it. I saw my first holiday ad on TV last week and my local Whole Foods is already decked out with twinkling snowflakes amidst the fair trade coffee and organic triple-milled soap.

Anyway, around this time of year I love to make dishes like this cranberry quinoa pilaf. It’s simple to make, ready in less than 30 minutes, and calls for ingredients I usually have in my pantry.

Also, it tastes amazing. I love the contrasting flavors and textures. It’s savory but has a hint of sweetness from the dried cranberries. The quinoa is plump and hearty and the toasted almonds add the perfect amount of crunch. It’s a great option for a meatless entrée or an accompanying side dish

Cranberry Quinoa Pilaf with Toasted Almonds

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup almonds, sliced or slivered

Cranberry Quinoa.

Prepare

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Rinse and drain quinoa. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a medium pan. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes or until onions are soft. Add the quinoa and allow it to toast for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and allow quinoa to simmer for about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, spread the almonds in an even layer on an ungreased baking tray and toast in the oven for about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly. You will know when they are done when there is a nice nutty smell coming from your oven.

Add the cranberries to the quinoa. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes or until the stock is completely absorbed. Mix in the toasted almonds and fluff quinoa with a fork before serving.