spring brunch

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did you have a good easter/passover/pagan spring celebration?

good. me too.

i ate too much, but it was glorious. i can't wait to show you the bunny cake. next week!

in the meantime. i offer you this delightful brunch menu.

first, start with mimosas. this might seem self-evident, but it bears repeating. start with mimosas. add a splash of st. germaine if you're feeling fancy.

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we may have started on the mimosas BEFORE the photographing. mmmmm.

second, serve a strata or  savory bread pudding that requires a night in the fridge to get good and settled. (is there a difference between a strata and a bread pudding? is is just all stuffing? gah.) why on earth would you want to wake up early to actually cook something? sanity requires that any party that begins before 3 pm on a sunday be as make-ahead as possible.

this dish is aptly named the "don't hold the anything" bread pudding. it was created for those among us who agonize over the sweet and savory options on the brunch menu. stuffed with sage, sausage and cream cheese, it is an eggy custardy delight of a savory bread pudding, with a sweet sugary crackly crust. let's get a close up.

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douse it in some real maple syrup and you won't be able to stop yourself from seconds.

or thirds.

you did start with the mimosas after all.

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third, don't forget the carbs. these blueberry beauties will hit the spot. never have i made muffins that so looked like the perfect crumb-laden berry-studded image in my brain.

plus? super yummy. brown butter. a tender crumb. sweet enough without being cloying. and lots, LOTS of exploding blueberry goodness. tis the season friends, tis the season.

i am a crazy lady and broke my own rule of baking the morning of to get these on the table because the somm was concerned there wasn't something sweet on the menu. (i mean, wha? challenge ACCEPTED.) 

but my guess is that you can make the batter and stir the blueberries in the morning of, and have them in the oven in just a few minutes.

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the scones? even easier. those can be premade, frozen and reheated with no one the wiser. squeeze a lemon into a bowl of powdered sugar, and you can even give them a quick sweet tart glaze.

i used this recipe because i wanted a nice, light scone to balance the richness of the bread pudding and (turns out) the sweetness of the muffins.

think of these as the dowager countess of scones. traditional in their flaky texture, they are not disguised slices of cake. the flavor is complex, but restrained. i added a strong hit of fresh and candied ginger for spice, and lemon zest for some tart. a little sugar for balance. but they will not send you into a food coma.

plus, you could probably eat them with white gloves. win!

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four, end with fruit salad. this is a purely defensive move on my own part, as i need a bowl of something relatively safe and healthful to pick at while we stretch brunch out, sitting, chatting, sipping mimosas and holding onto every lazy, sunny spring sunday moment.

ahh.

plus, this is the last of citrus season. show off your bad-ass knife skills by supreming the heck out of a bunch of oranges (ooo!  maybe i'll post a how-to for this). i've been on a cara cara kick for their beautiful pink color, but the humble naval oranges lately have been delightfully, drippingly sweet and seductive.

add berries, a squeeze of lemon juice, maybe some mint and sugar. a splash of grand marnier if you're looking to step it up a notch. done.

and yes, that was totally a somm sighting. he stuck around even though things got pretty real in the condo: we were visited by munchkins.

you'll be happy to know manchego survived the encounter. that poor cat has no idea what's in his future.

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Spring Brunch Link Love

Don't Hold the Anything Breakfast Bread Pudding from Food52: I've made this recipe twice now and it is pretty-much no fail. The recipe calls for maple sugar on top, but turbinado sugar worked really well for me.

Browned Butter Blueberry Muffins from Shutterbean: This is also from the Joy the Baker cookbook, which is on my wish list. Just putting that out there, internet gift fairies.

Ginger Lemon Scones from Smitten Kitchen: I may never be able to produce my own recipes because I seem to have a complete adversion to measuring anything. But I think I added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger and a few tablespoons of chopped crystallized ginger.  And the zest of a lemon.  It worked out.

pretzel dogs

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when i saw these bad boys on joy the baker, they solved an immediate problem. what to bring to a superbowl party hosted by a foodie couple that requested witty treats?

witty these are not, but they are the perfect homage to new york street food. soft, warm pretzels with just the right amount of chew. salty, savory, you-know-they-aren't-good-for-you goodness of a hot dog.

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food really is the best part of sports, isn't it?

plus, i've been wanting to get into the pretzel bread game.

while it is completely ridiculous, the somm and i are more or less regulars at an amazing las vegas restaurant.

if we don't live in the same city, our favorite restaurant might as well be somewhere else anyway, right? we're just doing our best to prove proximity is overrated.

right? actually, not. not for husbands, and definitely not for pretzel rolls.

that restaurant has the best pretzel rolls i've ever eaten, hands down. i tried to recreate them, but failed. failed hard.

then we went to oktoberfest in munich. i ate my body weight in the bretzels the lovely madchen sold from their charming wicker-baskets wearing their dirndls.

there may also have been beer. take this as your subsitute gratuitous manchego shot. man, we love our fuzzy little mascots. also, i may have been too (tipsy?) busy eating pretzels to actually take a photo of them.

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but munich? way further than either my husband or my vegas pretzel rolls.

back to the kitchen!

here's the thing about pretzels. the dough starts out nice and easy like a basic brioche or other buttery bread dough.

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looks like play-doh, right?

finished up with a nice coat of butter, chunky salt and fresh cracked black pepper. and into the oven!

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the magic of the pretzel – like the bagel – is the boil. in highly acidic water.

victory for these little suckers came from dumping an entire box of baking soda into the boiling water.

this is how you get the dark, chewy crust.

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these were so good and so easy, i'm doubling down on the pretzel challenge. these were great – seriously, amazing sports-watching food, or even breakfast food if you're so inclined, and you know who i'm talking about - but they aren't the pure pretzel i've been craving.

plus, i recently sleuthed out that the real professionals use food-grade lye to boil their pretzels.

i'm going to say that again. lye.

you know, the stuff half-pint and pa used to make SOAP in the little house on the prairie books?

i know we live in an internet age, but i feel like there is a line you cross when you start ordering such products online. friends, it is a line i have now crossed. get ready. pretzel rolls are coming soon!

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and if you need to borrow some food-grade lye to bake along with me . . . i'm pretty sure i now have a lifetime supply.

Find the pretzel dog recipe and really super easy to follow instructions here.

pistachio honey ice cream with dark chocolate

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this is the fancy-pants dessert i made to go with the lamb tagine from the other week.

the cake was pretty good.  it was an olive oil cake.

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i spent at least fifteen minutes in the olive oil section at the whole foods, reading the back of olive oil bottles. trying to decide how crazy i really am.  am i $20 for a 10 ounce bottle crazy?  turns out, i'm $15 for a 16.9 ounce bottle crazy.  which is still pretty crazy. but the bottle promised "fresh herbal aroma and delicate fruity flavor."

i needed herbal. i needed fruity. it needed to go with my candied cara cara orange slices.

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its a lot of cake for an ice cream post, of this i am aware. the cake just ended up being so much prettier than it was yummy.

the ice cream, though? out of this world.

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salted, roasted pistachios. not actually moroccan. persian. close enough?

does it count if i know persia is iran? only a slight cultural competence fail.

and does it really matter where they came from when they are so tasty when roasted and slightly salted, so fantastically lime green?

i ended up having to buy unshelled pistachios because that was what target stocks and i'd hit my shopping limit for the day, but maybe we can just say it was because unshelled nuts are supposed to be fresher. it took awhile to get them out of their pacman shells, standing at the kitchen counter, but it had its rewards. by the end, my fingers were wrinkled from the salt, like after a day a the beach, only mostly because i couldn't stop a downward spiral of nut-cracking, finger-licking, and hand-washing. the container yielded the half cup needed for the ice cream and garnish, but just barely. snacking may have also occurred.

let me now impress you with my mad photography skills.

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for this ice cream, the pistachios get pulverized. they add just a hint of texture to the ice cream. i subbed the sugar and corn syrup out of the ice cream for an orange blossom honey (see! fancy pants!) and not just because i forgot to buy corn syrup.

it worked out. the flavors were both nicely earthy. the honey added a deep sweetness. the pistachios were just a bit salty. kind of like a peanut butter honey sandwich.

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another great ice cream tip from jeni's cookbook was employed – melting chocolate to add as a mix-in. you pour the chocolate into the ice cream maker near the end, when the ice cream is pretty well set up, but slowly, ever so slowly. it freezes on contact into tiny little shards – what jeni calls freckles – of chocolate that melt on your tongue.

if you are less patient, and ready to be done getting melted chocolate all over your ice cream making station (aka the bathroom counter because the door can be closed and that thing is LOUD), pour the chocolate fast and it will clump into larger bits that are fun too. and still less likely to break a tooth than chopped, frozen chocolate.

more amazing photography. isn't that ice cream just . . . totally devoid of focus? and the cake, so sparkling clear?

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i really did think i was going to share the cake recipe. it was good – honest! light, with an interesting crumb from semolina flour. but it's drenched in orange cardamom syrup. turns out, i much prefer orange cardamom syrup in prosecco, not cake.

plus, then i tried the ice cream. wow. you should make this.

Pistachio Honey Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate

Adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

  • 1/2 cup shelled, roasted lightly salted pistachios
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 1/2 oz (or 3 tbsp) softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 – 3 oz dark chocolate, chopped

If your pistachios aren't roasted, toast them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes until fragrant and brown.  Let them cool for just a minute, then throw them in the food processor and pulse until they form a paste.

Mix 2 tbsp of milk with cornstarch in a small bowl.  Whisk cream cheese, pistachio paste, and salt in a medium bowl.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Bring the remaining milk, cream, sugar and honey to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch mixture.  Bring back to a boil and stir until the mixture slightly thickens.

Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into cream cheese mixture until smooth. Pour into a gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge in ice bath until chilled, about half an hour.

Pour ice cream base into ice cream maker and start churning.

Melt dark chocolate in the microwave (carefully, in small time segments, stirring between) or in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water (poor woman's double boiler).

When the ice cream looks nearly done – maybe 20 minutes in, slowly, slowly pour chocolate into the mixture. It should freeze as it hits the ice cream.

When ice cream is done, try not to eat it all. Pack into a storage container and freeze until firm. 

lamb tagine with preserved lemons & figs

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dinner parties are SERIOUS BUSINESS in manchego's kitchen. they really, truly, are the time for both my and the somm's type a personalities to shine. slash terrorize our friends and loved ones. the sum of what we (or is that just me!) want to do always exceeds what is reasonable . . . or even feasible.

water spots on the glasses? the horror!

fewer than 6 to 7 homemade dishes? i must be slacking!

i kid you not. slider night featured two types of burgers, homemade buns and mayonnaise. i only didn't make the ketchup, because why mess with heinz? one year, i lovingly recreated the entire gourmet tomato feast. the bruschetta alone had about five subrecipes.

the food - i hope – is generally good. but, i've come to realize that while i'm having fun, this is not always relaxing for our (many) guests. i am frantic, wild-eyed in the kitchen, which is mostly a sea of dirty dishes. the somm tries to get everyone inebriated so they can't tell dinner's half an hour behind schedule. friends hover at the kitchen's periphery asking if they can help, but fearing to come too close.

but i think i've broken the streak. the solution? take a full week off work before said dinner party!

just kidding. sort of.

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said time off did give me time to put together some lovely flower arrangements. to get the shopping and some of the ingredient prep out of the way. and to sufficiently ruminate about the flavor of homemade ice cream (you see, i'm not completely cured . . . but that recipe is for next time).

but mostly, i think this dinner party was much calmer thanks to the make ahead lamb tagine.

a tagine is a stew/braise with moroccan flavors and spices. this one is loaded up with lamb!

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i am not sure if this photo adequately captures the insane amount of lamb that was browned and on it's way to melt in your mouth deliciousness a good 30 hours before go time.

my tagine is also loaded up with chickpeas for a one-two protein punch. lamb is such a rich, strong flavor, i thought the chickpeas helped lighten and mellow it out. tagines are easily made vegetarian if that's your thing – think mostly chickpeas with more veggies or even potatoes.

meet the supporting cast:

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plus some dried figs. apricots would also work. or prunes? go for it.

this was my first time cooking with preserved lemons, and they added such wonderful pops of tangy, salty flavor. olives are often added to tagines for similar effect, and you know i love me some olives, but i thought the lemons were surprising and perfect.

stews are great dinner party food – or cook once on sunday for the week food – because the flavor just gets better over time. and it reduces the running-around-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off effect it has on hostesses.

the one hitch was that since i wasn't cooking like crazy, i maybe had a cocktail too many to remember we'd planned to give salad it's own whole course to itself. 

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the tagine survived a warming period in the oven just fine, and with a salad like that who wouldn't mind the wait? perfect pink cara cara oranges on a bed of arugula with feta and olives. it hit all the right notes – sweet, savory, salty, and bitter. i stole the idea from this recipe . . . the dressing was fantastic.

i also roasted a big mess of root vegetables, but they all turned fushia from the beets. not photogenic. not that parsnips are particularly photogenic to begin with, as they resemble bulbous albino carrots. anyway, they and the cumin vinaigrette tasted sweet and smoky and divine, inspiration here.

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Garnished with some bright cilantro over a bed of couscous, and you've got yourself a hearty, filling and completely satisfying winter dinner.

Lamb Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Figs

Adapted from Epicurious - Serves 8

Note: Ras-el-hanout is a blend of spices that is often used in Moroccan cooking. It means "top of the shelf" and usually represented a blend of the best spices offered by a spice shop. Like Indian curry, there are many different ways to blend. You can buy it in specialty shops, or put together your own blend from relatively common ingredients like cinnamon, ginger, cumin and turmeric. Here's one blend - feel free to tinker with the proportions based on flavors you like or what you have in your kitchen. 

  • 4 lbs lamb shoulder, in 1 inch dice
  • 1 to 1.5 large onions diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tbsp Ras-el-Hanout
  • 1.5 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juices
  • 2 – 3 cups low-salt chicken stock
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (I feel I should get credit for not making these from dried)
  • 1/2 cup dried figs, quartered
  • 1 preserved lemon, rind only, diced

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven or other large (not-nonstick) skillet with lid. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper and brown in batches. Lamb should sizzle at it hits the oil, but only take a few minutes to brown. Each batch should only be one layer of lamb in the pot to allow each piece to brown and develop the fond – the brown sticky bits on the bottom of the pot that'll add amazing caramelized meat flavor to the dish. Keep adding oil as you need to to keep the fond and meet from burning instead of browning. Transfer all browned lamb to a bowl, set aside.

Add more oil if needed and saute onion until soft and golden, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic, spices and ginger and saute for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and lamb with any juices at the bottom of the bowl and bring to a boil. Add about 2 1/2 cups of chicken stock and bring back to a boil. 

Allow to simmer until the lamb is falling apart, about 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more chicken broth if it reduces down to a thicker stew than you'd like. Add the chickpeas and simmer for about 15 minutes, then add the figs and preserved lemons and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Tagine can be served now over couscous with a sprinkle of cilantro – but it might be even better the next day!

momma’s kitchen

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i’ve been traveling.  traveling places where other people do the dishes for you.

aren’t parents glorious?

we drank a lot of wine.  a lot.  (evidence above)

we went to a baby shower.  i tried to ignore my thumping womb and focus on the champagne and nibbles.

it was like the real martha stewart had catered.

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out of control pretty.  want more?

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oh, california. who lives like this?  this home is a funky, arty wonderland of found objects.

my momma’s garden is pretty rock star too, though.  they have fountains and roses and herbs.  the other week, she made ice cream using passion fruit and macadamia nuts from her front yard.

how do you have passion fruit growing in your FRONT YARD for, like, a decade and not know?

oh, yeah, because you’ve been too focused on the glorious bounty from your tangerine, lemon and avocado trees.

california.  some day, my friend, some day.

in the meantime, i visit.  and make messes.

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i also make crostini.  toasty bread + ricotta + squash + lemon & herbs = winning.

just don’t over toast your bread (ahem, i mean burn it to a sad black crisp) unless you have the worlds best momma to run to the store to buy you more.

what?  me?  spoiled?  whatever do you mean.

back to the crostini and how i earn my keep.  i took some shortcuts.  it worked out.  you should make this.  it is pretty foolproof.

the irish pasta-maker?  he took no short cuts.

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100 percent homemade, hand-cranked spaghetti.  who lives like this?  amazing.

he even has his own kitchen mascot.

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don’t be fooled by how sweet she looks at rest.  this happy beast considers herself a lapdog.

mom kept up her own with some tasty french 75s.  neat trick i learned – with a spill-proof container, equal parts sugar and water and elbow grease, you can make simple syrup without adding yet another dirty saucepan to the growing pile in the sink.

see?  totes considerate of others.

anyway, that woman makes a mean cocktail.  luckily, i think it’s genetic.

we finished up with another winner of a simple, foolproof recipe.  banana tartes tatin.  (julia child rolls over in her grave.)

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find a pan.  smear the bottom with butter.  sprinkle with brown sugar.  layer banana slices.  top with thawed puff pastry.  bake.

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it’s great with vanilla ice cream.  better when eaten with your loving family.

Squash & Ricotta Crostini

Adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 1 baguette
  • 2 cups butternut or acorn squash, in cubes
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 1 lemon – zest & juice
  • Salt & pepper
  • Herbs, chopped (recommended: basil, sage, thyme, tarragon or a mix)

Ghetto Hilary Version: Slice your squash in half.  Remove seeds.  Cover flesh end in plastic wrap.  Microwave until soft.  Start with 5 minutes in the microwave, then add time until done.  Let cool unless you are like me and just burn your finders all over the place.  Scoop flesh out into a saute pan – warmed with warm olive oil.  Mash it together.  Saute a couple of minutes with brown sugar and a dash of salt.

Normal Version: Peel and chop squash into 1/2 inch cubes.  Toss with oil, salt, and brown sugar and roast at 400 degrees until brown and caramelized, about 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta with lemon zest, just a squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Slice the baguette.  Toast under broiler, both sides.  Takes just a few minutes per side.  Don’t ignore it, don’t be like me.

Ghetto Hilary Version:  If you have the mashed squash, spread some of that on the baguette, top with a dollop of ricotta, then chopped herbs.

Normal Version: If you have adorable cubed, roasted squash, start with a smear of cheese, then squash then herbs.

Why does the order matter?  I don’t know.  I’m OCD.  Do what you like.  🙂

 

Banana Tartes Tatin

From Epicurious.com 

  • 4 bananas
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened
  • 8 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 sheet puff pastry

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice bananas on the diagonal.  Smear butter on the bottom of a 8×8 pan (or use 4 ramekins!).  Sprinkle with brown sugar.  Add banana slices, slightly overlapping.  Top with puff pastry.  Bake about 20-25 minutes until golden brown and bubbly at the edges.

Note: The traditional tartes tatin is made with apples.  You caramelize them on the stove with butter and sugar, then top with pastry and finish in the oven.  I think the oven-only version works because bananas are already so soft and sweet.  But I bet some fruit would also work with this oven-only approach – raspberries, strawberries, mango – so explore!  It is SO SO SO easy.  If you’re ready for the skillet version, I’ve made one with tomatoes (admittedly in the middle of amazing tomato season) that was so good and different as a dessert – sweet but acidy and completely surprising and elegant.

honey bourbon & peach bbq chicken

peach bourbon chicken tableset

what do you do when someone offers to come to your house on a sunday evening and bake you a chocolate pie?

make them this chicken in return.  it's like saying i love you, in tangy, sweet poultry form.

this is not a fancy recipe.

peach bourbon chicken cast

it was created by the pioneer woman.  let me tell you, she knows her comfort food.

want to play with the camera?

check out the peach jam!

peach bourbon chicken preserves

whoa, wait!  there's that honey bourbon!  betcha thought we were done with that bad boy! 

peach bourbon chicken jd

this recipe got us close, but there is still a good inch or so left in the bottle. 

and don't let it's honey sweetness fool you.  this is a gateway drug to more serious whiskey.  it is possible a bottle of makers mark has made it to my place of work.  it is certain that i was not responsible.  but it is possible that i have partaken.

goes great with diet ginger ale.  and a caramel apple lollipop.  as you cry silently at your desk.

wait, too serious?  back to the food!  focus!

this recipe is essentially a braise.  oh man, get ready.  fall is here for reals and i'm going to be braising so much meat you won't be able to keep up.  how else can i be sure my favorite short rib recipe is really my favorite?!?!

but today, we are cooking the bock bock.  that's chicken for those of you who don't speak paige.

peach bourbon chicken chix

chicken thighs are great for braises.  they're virtually indestructible – have you ever had a dry chicken thigh?  just ask spilled milk.  i browned up some bone-in, skin-on for some juicy goodness.  and then boneless skinless because i'm lazy and would like to not gain 10 lbs every weekend.  plus my yogi is uncomfortable with meat-looking meat. 

let it hang out in the oven with all that good bbq sauce, peach jam, and bourbon until it falls apart.  serve with smashed potatoes, and maybe some green beans for good measure. 

this sauce is crazy addictive.  you'll want more than seconds because it just hits every note right – sweet, savory, with just a hit of the bourbon.  just use a bbq sauce that has a bite – you want to balance out the jam.  and if you choose a good jam, it'll be a little chunky.  it's a substantial sauce, let me tell you.

peach bourbon chicken upclose

bonus?  it goes great with chocolate pie.  thanks larkin!

Peach-Whiskey Barbeque Chicken

All I did was swap out the bourbon for honey bourbon, so you should just check out Pioneer Woman's recipe posting.  She'll walk you right through the recipe, but it's easy as pie.  Promise.

 

double batch of coworker charm cookies

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so, i started a new job last week. same building, same agency, new boss, new office (windows!  a door!).  definitely a step in the right direction.

one challenge?  their IT seems to be stuck in 1995.  no youtube.  no flickr.  facebook?  you be dreaming.  taxpayers, your bureaucrats are resigned to focusing on their actual work. 

sort of.

anyway.  it might make things a little slower in my blogland, since i usually get home with just about enough energy to cook, but always enough to cook + blog.  me = lazy.  moving on.

anyone who bakes should be smart enough to bake for coworkers.  the old cookie charm offensive, that's what i like to call it.  make friends.  lull people into a false sense of security with chocolate chips.  be that girl, the one who's office is great for gossip because you never know when there'll be a banana bread.  

or, these: 

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i decided, pick a tried-and-true recipe, and went with a double batch!  ha ha!  cleaned me out of: butter, eggs, vanilla, flour and nearly sugar.  whew.  it takes a lot of butter for these bad boys.

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four sticks.  turning brown.  it takes a while to brown a pound of butter, let me tell you. 

i also needed some coconut.  toasty.

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my kitchenaid was up to the task.  although it got a little dicey there.

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thank goodness mom, er, i mean "santa" put that cute cookie scoop in my stocking last year!

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don't they kind of look like cookie pac-men?  is that just me?  or are they pac-man ghosts? 

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in any event, they turned out perfect.  thanks joy the baker!  and hey, new coworkers: i'm gonna be emailing you needing stuff.  like, needing stuff yesterday.  please remember the deliciousness of my baked goods and help me help you. 

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Browned Butter, Toasted Coconut, Chocolate Chip Cookies

Visit Joy the Baker for her recipe and just double it.  Or not.  Double makes a lot of cookies!  Hope you have hungry coworkers!