Cherry, Dark Chocolate, Cinnamon and Pecan Rugelach

Well hello again! If you haven’t already noticed by now, I’ve been away for a while. I sincerely apologize for that. Believe me, it hasn’t been by any choice of mine. The holidays have kept me quite busy.  Thanksgiving taught me that there is no limit to how much turkey I can eat. I know that it seems like I haven’t been working on the blog, but if you really think about it,  I have been working on new recipes for the blog to share with you guys. I’ve teamed up with a few companies that I’m super excited to work with and although I can’t share the recipes or all of the details right at this moment, I do want you to know that some new and exciting recipes (that I’m most proud of, mind you) are coming to the blog very soon. And by very soon I mean a couple of weeks. I’m just itching to tell you guys all about them. To let the cat out of the bag and spill the beans but unfortunately I can’t just now. I can tell you though that these recipes I’m talking about are going to blow your socks off. Blow them clear across the country. I think that justifies my absence, right? 

The other day I was video chatting with my mother—which by the way, I had no idea she even knew how to Facetime, but I gotta tell you she’s more of a pro than you and I could ever dream of being—so she proceeds to tell me that I’ve been neglecting my blog for far too long. She hasn’t gotten any email updates from me recently, and she’s worried that I’m going to lose all of my followers if I don’t post anything soon. Thanks mom. Now, I’m no cookie pro baker but I do have to inform you that I am a professional cookie eater. Don’t believe me? It’s on my resume. (It really isn’t on my resume, but how cool would that be?) Anyhow, as I was saying, my mother was throwing shade my way so I knew that I needed to get my act together.  

After that, I wanted to get into the holiday cookie-baking spirit so I decided to think outside of the box for a bit. I didn’t want to share an easy recipe of something we’ve all seen far too many times. I wanted something that was unique and perhaps maybe even new to some of you. Rugelach sort of made all the sense in the world because you can easily fill it with whatever your heart desires. These are loaded with butter, cinnamon sugar, dark chocolate, cherries and pecans. I don’t think it gets any better than this, but luckily for me, I’m not complaining about the situation. Rugelach kind of look like croissants but the doughs are completely different from one another. This one is a little more dense than pie crust, but it’s still super delicious. If you’ve never made these before or have never tried them for yourself, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve been missing out. Don’t worry, you still have time to catch up to the rest of us. I’ll even help you eat your way through. I’m willing to take one for the team. 

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Rosemary Parmesan Focaccia

The holidays are over. Long gone and a thing of the past now. It is hard to believe how fast the new year is already moving along. Especially when some of us are still thinking it is 2012. So much so that we have to practice writing out 2-0-1-3 with such diligence to get it right. Those of us who do not want to move on are quickly realizing that time does not stand still. It will leave us behind if we do not catch up. Despite all of this, January is in full swing and although our vacations are over and our lives are getting back into routine, the cold and damp weather is not letting up. We have no break from it in sight. The chilly winter air, with its low temperatures, is breezing through all around us, cutting our faces and hands like flying daggers. These days we find ourselves braving the outside world with gloves, scarves and heavy sweaters, jackets and coats. We bundle up to make our trips to work, school, the market, or to run our daily errands. Our breath, frosty and icy as we walk in haste to the warmth of the indoors, like moths to a flame.

It seems the only salvation we have from the cold outside world, is the comfort of our homes. More specifically the familiarity of our kitchens. On days when all the clouds have come out to play and the sun is off hibernating in some warm remote tropical island, the cold weather hangs around even more persistently. It holds us in a death grip and does not let go. Do you know those days? It is these moments when turning on the oven and getting in the kitchen is most useful, in more ways than one. We check our baggage and problems at the door, put on our aprons, turn on the music, and forget about everything. We are one in the moment. Cooking and baking to our heart’s content. It is not necessarily about what we are making that is important—although our stomachs will appreciate the end result—rather it is more so about the process of making something. Anything. The meticulous measurements of baking and the not-so-precise movements of cooking. They relax us and force us to live in the moment. To live in the now.

When the days are super cold and ridiculously long and I’m forced to layer up in sweater after sweater, even in my own home, I like to get in the kitchen and make something that takes a while to prepare. A recipe that requires the oven to be on for a long period of time. Any excuse to get more heat throughout the house. Sure, I can easily turn on the heater and call it a day, but when I do that there isn’t a delicious treat waiting for me at the end. At least when I turn on the oven to make something, I will get to enjoy a tasty dish along with the benefit of warming myself up. There is also something magical about taking all the time to make something special like homemade bread. The countless resting and rising time, crossing your fingers and holding your breath that you woke up the yeast properly and hoping against hope that the dough doubled in size in less amount of time indicated. The feeling heightens when you realize you have done everything right and the raw dough itself looks and smells just as tasty as if it were baked. Then you are forced to bake it and wait even longer. As it cooks you suddenly forget about all the anguish and grief the constant kneading and resting and rising has caused you because your nose picks up on the wafting smell of fresh baking bread. Throw rosemary and parmesan into the mix and suddenly the pleasurable aromatic smells coming from the oven are even more irresistible. Even more tempting. What cold air? You forget all about the chilly winter and even stop worrying about getting warm because all your attention seems to be focused on the timer, and you are calculating how long it will take for the bread to cool so you can slice it up and enjoy the fruits of your labor. That ladies and gentleman, is the benefit of winter time baking and cooking.

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Lemon Bars

We are so often told that if life hands us lemons we must make lemonade. I agree with the saying. Lemonade is actually very delicious on a hot summer’s day, loaded with ice, perhaps with a few raspberries thrown in and drunk through a straw while we lounge and someone fans us and feeds us grapes. It hits the spot and allows us to cool down. It helps us fight the blazing summer heat. But what do we do with those unwanted lemons—that life has so graciously thrown at us—during the winter? When it is extremely cold and we do not want icy cold lemonade, what are we supposed to do with the lemons then? I do not think the people who made up the saying thought this one through completely. They cannot expect us to make cold lemonade when it is freezing outside. It’s not like we get to decide when life throws us these metaphorical lemons.

Well I’m here to change things. I say that when life hands us lemons during a cold winter’s day we slap life in the face, get in the kitchen, turn on the oven, and bake up a slew of lemon bars. We are writing our own saying and making up new traditions. Let’s pass this advice along and get the saying on t-shirts and mugs and what not. We will build it up and become famous in our own right. Lemon bars are actually just as easy to make as lemonade, and they both have one thing in common—other than their tasty deliciousness—the hardest step of each is squeezing lemons. So if you can handle a squish squish here and a squish squish there, then you are already halfway there. You are golden. You have this whole making of lemon bars in the bag.

What is it about the holidays that makes bars so appealing? Not just lemon bars, but bars in general, as a whole. Perhaps people make and eat them on a regular basis throughout the year, and I do not know about it. Maybe I’m just finding this all out now, and I am late in arriving to the bar making party. I however, do not get a craving for them until December. Maybe Thanksgiving, but that would be pushing it. Which means that everyone must think the same way I do right? Perhaps it’s because they are so reminiscent of pie, with their delicious crust at the bottom and everyone knows pie is the holiday dessert of choice. Perhaps it’s because they are so easily giftable (Look at me, I’m making up words here)? Or maybe it’s even because they are ridiculously easy to make and even easier to eat, just grab and go. Either way, whatever the reason might be, bars are fun to make during the holidays. I will even go on record to state that they taste better during the holidays. It’s a proven fact. You can quote me on that. Jonathan said that bars taste better during the holidays. Now I know what you must thinking, “How can you state this as a fact?” But never you worry, I have conducted various, intricate, and precisely planned out research to back up my statement. It mostly involved me eating large amounts of bars. It was very tasty research to say the least. So you heard it here first, folks. When life hands you lemons during the holidays, ditch the lemonade and make yourself lemon bars. It’s a new thing. It will catch on in no time.

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Homemade Pumpkin Purée

Now that Autumn has arrived you’ll find pumpkin in almost anything. No matter where you turn or what crevice you crawl into, this squash seems to creep its way into every recipe during this time of year. It could be because pumpkin is so delicious a flavor that we have to eat it everyday. It could also be because pumpkins are grown during this season and are all over the super markets. No matter what the reason might be, one fact is clear; October and November infect us with pumpkin fever. We find ourselves thinking outside the box and coming up with some delicious, out of the ordinary, recipes that fulfill our craving for this autumnal fruit. From simple baked goods ranging from breads to pies to cinnamon rolls and even cookies, there does not seem to be an end to our pumpkin madness. It is even finding its way into our dinners with such dishes as pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin soup.

As avid fans go crazy and whip up unique pumpkin concoctions, by the day, they often turn to easy-to-find canned pumpkin. Sure it’s there for your convenience because you think that it’s super complicated to make your own pumpkin purée. Well, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. This is not true. Pumpkin purée is probably the easiest thing ever. Canned pumpkin is a convenience in that you just open the can and use it. But what goes inside that purée? Think about that for a second. Okay, that’s enough. We’re not there when they are making it. We do not know what sorts of preservatives they add to it. Why not make your own pumpkin purée?Knowing that all you are going to be adding is nothing but 100% pure pumpkin.

I, myself, am not immune to the pumpkin hysteria that is Autumn. I too find any excuse to cook and bake with this orange squash in any way I can. As a matter of fact I am dedicating the entire month of November to the Great Pumpkin. Every recipe featured in November will center around this homemade pumpkin purée. Why? Because it is autumn and in autumn we cook with pumpkins. It’s a new law. Also because Thanksgiving is in November and when I think of Thanksgiving, all I think of is pumpkin for some reason. So to christen Pumpkin month I have decided to create a quick mini how-to post on homemade pumpkin purée. Sure it’s still October and I still have October recipes to post, but I’m preparing you in advance to get you ready. Keep this in the back of your mind. Hold it on the back burner as reference for when we get to November. It will come in handy. Soon. It will be your savior.

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New York Black and White Cookies

New York City is a city that everyone must experience at least once in their life. The bustling feel of it is like energy that feeds into your soul, mind, and body. The cabs racing by honking at anything and everyone, suddenly stopping and braking making you feel as though you are aboard a ride at an amusement park. This amusement park, also has seas of tourists but with native New Yorkers sprinkled in, all in a rush to get somewhere important.

The tall skyscrapers rising above and beyond your head, shielding the sun from hitting the concrete pavement. Smoke billowing from down below, underground, where hundreds of thousands of people also travel in unison with those above. Running in and out of subways that take them from point A to point B in a matter of minutes, and then back again. That feeling of constantly needing to move is something that is very prevalent in New York. Women do it in high heels, dressed to impress, while men do it in suits or hip and trendy style. Everyone is always rushing down the streets, running late to a meeting, or appointment. There is a buzz that lingers all throughout the day, the chatter of people all around as they walk and walk and walk. People jumping in and out of taxis. People crossing the streets when signals tell them not to. People on cell phones speaking to loved ones or clients or assistants. Horns honking at all times. Traffic stopped bumper to bumper. Amidst all that chaos, you somehow miraculously feel cool, calm, and collected. You feel at peace with the city and those around you, which is weird, because if it was any other place, you would not think so. But somehow the bustling city life, intertwined with a few out of place trees here and there, and of course the mass greenery that is central park, makes you feel one with nature and society all in one. The untouched stretch of land that expands over 51 blocks is a cacophony of color. One you cannot find anywhere else, especially in Autumn.

Even though the days might seem hectic and the concrete jungle might appear like it will swallow you whole if you do not move about fast enough, as soon as the sun sets and the orange and crimson glow spreads among the city, you cannot help but feel a sense of happiness. That calming sereneness of the setting sun and the cooling air allows you to slow down. It demands it. The evening takes over and you are forced to leave work behind. Night life is actually prevalent in New York. Not like in LA where on weekdays, everything closes early. LA is a faux New York. New York continues to growl, even after hours. That glow is still present even then, only this time, the glow comes from something else. It emits from the lights, billboards, and signs that illuminate the streets. People are no longer rushing around, but rather they are looking forward to dinner dates, evenings at the theater, gatherings with friends at their favorite hang out spot. They are taking their time.

Restaurants are even more crowded in the late night, filled with all sorts of different people. New Yorkers, get a bad rap for being rude and blunt. But the thing is, when you are among the natives in a restaurant, standing next to them waiting for a table, seated beside them scanning the menu, laughing and talking to them as you each wait for your food to arrive, drinks in hand, you will see that they are not rude or blunt at all. Sure you will encounter one or two who are in fact rude and blunt, but those people are everywhere. They do not only hail from New York. No, they are next to you in your small town. They are the employees in your local supermarket back at home. They are the distant relatives you grew up seeing on holidays and special occasions. They are all around you.

New Yorkers are just as warm as those locals in any other state, city, and town. Warm like a coffee shop or small bakery down on 1st and East 87th street. Home of the best New York treat; black and white cookies, that of which are a must in this extraordinary city. A combination of vanilla and chocolate, you get the best of both worlds. See, in New York you do not have to decide on one or the other, they have made the choice easier for you. They have created a cookie where you do not have to choose, rather, the only decisions you have to make are which side to eat first, the chocolate or the vanilla, and whether or not you should eat another on your walk back home? This Manhattan snack will change your life. Eating it will only confuse you, but in a good way. You will think to yourself, “Am I eating a cookie, or a small handheld cake?” This cake cookie, will make you happy. It will make you jump for joy. Yes because of the moistness. Yes because of the taste. But mostly because once you try it, you will be excited that they are made so big. More to eat. A cookie with substance, the way all cookies should be. Have no worries, for you do not have to travel to New York City to get these cookies. You do not have to maneuver around all the people, you do not have to deal with the traffic and subways. All you have to do is follow these pictures and recipe and you can bring a little New York to you.

We start by making the cookie batter.

This is probably the easiest batter ever.

Here’s what you need.

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Peanut Butter Caramel Brownies

You finish dinner one night and you begin to crave something sweet. A dessert of some sort. Sure, you’ve just finished a nice supper. One that would make even Julia Child proud. But you need something small and chocolatey to finish it off right. As you search your pantry you look around and see nothing that piques your interest. No goodies hiding away. Nothing that is ready. No treats calling out your name. No cookies, cakes, or pie. How do you even continue? Where do you go from here? You grab a few ingredients here and there. All the usual suspects are gathered around in the matter of minutes; flour, sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Some not so usual guests are also invited to the party. Peanut butter and bittersweet  and unsweetened chocolate are thrown into the mix. In staring at all your ingredients, intently and without blinking, the idea comes to you like a speeding bullet. Why hadn’t you thought of making this before? It’s so easy.

There’s a popular saying out there that instructs us to make brownies when life hands us chocolate. Did I get that right? I’m sure I’ve read that countless of times on mugs, t-shirts and aprons. Someone once told me something around those lines however-If I recall correctly-it was something about lemons and lemonade. I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention or listening. I dozed off, but I know I must’ve heard them wrong. I’m sure they meant chocolate. When I don’t like or agree with something that someone has said to me, I find it rather therapeutic to replace it with chocolate. Try it, it works every time. But that’s beside the point. I digress. The truth of the matter is when life does hand you chocolate, there is only one option-well maybe a few in the form of cakes and cookies-but for the sake of this post, let’s just say there is only one option. That option is to make brownies. Everyone likes brownies. They make people happy. Have you ever given  anyone a box of brownies and seen them react so incredibly insane over them? Has your little box of chocolate treats ever affected someone so much, they had to stop everything and do a happy dance and sing? No? Well, I have. It’s a weekly occurrence with me. “Thank you for my delicious brownies. They made my day,” people tell me. “They were so tasty that I’m going to name my next child after you! If I have one. If I don’t, then I’ll change the name of the one I already have,” I’m always told. If you see any little tots named Jonathan or Jon out there, now you know why.

What can I say? These peanut butter caramel brownies have that affect on people. I guess, it is my responsibility to state that disclaimer. To inform people of their magical powers. To warn future makers and eaters: Devouring these brownies will make you have babies and name them after me. Don’t say you’ve never been warned.

We start by making the caramel. Which happens to be a peanut butter caramel.

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