Cranberry Raspberry Pavlovas

Now that the holidays are long gone, I have no excuse but to jump back into work and start making (aka eating) a bunch of new recipes. All for you, of course, because that’s the type of person that I am. I’m willing to sacrifice everything by stuffing my face, day in and day out, just so that you can have something to look at. Something new to try out in the kitchen and something to look forward to. With the new year, comes a promise to post more because I know I’ve been slacking, somewhat. But believe me it’s all for good reasons and exciting new prospects—both in my personal and professional life. I think that this year should be all about breaking out of our comfort zones in the kitchen and trying out new recipes and techniques. Let’s stop being scared of certain dishes or ingredients and just dive into a new us. That new us being fearless cooks and bakers because this year, we’re going to be the best cooks and bakers we can be.  This year, we’re going to wow our friends, family and loved ones with dishes that aren’t only delicious but look incredible as well. This year, is going to be a great year because we’re going to make it a great year.

It was difficult for me to think of the first post for the new year. Well, if I’m being completely honest, it was hard for me to jump back into work altogether. My brain was still on holiday mode and the yearning to continue doing nothing at all. Bowling, museums, movies, drives through the coast for Friday morning hikes, spontaneous homemade meals and lounging around on the couch watching movies with that special someone, makes it somewhat difficult to want to do anything else. Am I right, ladies and gentlemen? It wasn’t until I actually got back to working that I realized how much I missed it. “Welcome back, Jonathan,” I told myself. To which, I of course responded, “Thank you! It’s good to be back.”Sometimes I have conversations with myself because I’m weird like that, but we’ve already established that, haven’t we? Don’t judge.

Anyhow, enough about that. So here we are, the first post of January 2014. A dessert post at that, because I know how much you all love dessert posts. I wanted to share one of my favorite desserts with you but with a winter twist because although it might not seem like it’s winter here in Los Angeles (80+ degrees and all), I know for a fact that it feels like winter has taken over all around the midwest and east coast. It’s not a winter dessert in that it’s warm and comforting but more so about the ingredients we’re using. If you’ve ever had a fear of separating eggs and whipping the whites to make meringue, well then you’re in luck because this recipe is all about that. Let’s take a step towards that 2014 resolution we were talking about earlier. It’s time to get over that fear and conquer it like no one’s business. Like we’ve been conquering fears all our lives, and to a certain degree I guess we have been. We do it every day, even when we don’t think we are. It’s the way of life. Just like it’s the way of life for me to eat a dozen pavlovas and not feel any guilt whatsoever. Come on, let’s make some pavlovas together and then we’ll eat them all because that’s the way life wants it to be.

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Pumpkin Cranberry Scones

As autumn continues we find ourselves needing more inspiration in the kitchen. We are easily bored by the doldrum ideas that consume us during this time of year. The same baked goods we make on a daily basis. Each week. Each month. Throughout the year we find ourselves getting into a rut. One that we cannot seem to get out of until the arrival of the holidays. We end up growing tired of the boring recipes we make on a regular basis. And why shouldn’t we? After all we are creatures of habit and when something we make is good, we end up making it all the time until we get bored of it. Until those around us get bored of it. We need something different. Something new. Perhaps it is the spirit of the holidays that make us become so adventurous in the kitchen. The fact that our loved ones will all come together, and we want to impress them with our culinary skills. We look out to find new recipes that are a little bit fancier than what we are accustomed to. Recipes that are little more impressive and labor intensive. Yet we go into the unknown waters, so to speak, with caution and hesitation. We begin to question our skills as if not knowing what we are capable of. Yet we tread on with persistence because the idea of failing is much more inviting than the idea of not trying at all. Cooking and baking disasters are not things we should be ashamed of. Rather they should be looked upon as learning experiences. Situations that help us grow as cooks.

With the holidays fast approaching, we spend most of our time preparing for the big celebration. The grand dinner on the last Thursday of November. All of our attention goes to preparing the main event. We make a blueprint and plan out what we have to do and at what time we have to do it. Some of us are lucky, or perhaps just smarter, and we realize that we do not have to cook it all ourselves. So we divvy up the roles and assign different dishes to different friends and family. While everyone is so consumed on the turkey, the sides, the gravy and cranberry sauce, and the desserts some things are forgotten. Some things are left out. We become so invested in planning out the perfect meal and have become experts in mapping out the cooking and prepping times that go into it all, that one thing is neglected. The big day finally arrives and you begin your preparations before the sun even comes out. As the morning progresses and everyone starts waking up, you realize that you do not have time to make breakfast. That was one part of the day you did not plan out. The last thing you want to do, at this point, is go out and brave the supermarkets with all the other last minute and forgot-something shoppers. You do not want to deal with that madness or with the cranky cashiers who would much rather be home with their family and friends, enjoying the day relaxing instead of working.

You look around in your pantry and in the refrigerator and you cannot seem to think of anything. Mornings are usually brought to us by breads like coffee cake, bagels, english muffins, and scones. You go through all the different possible situations in your head. Just when cereal begins to look like your best bet, you think of an idea. Scones. Sure, you can make them. Scones are easy to put together. You have time for that. Look at your perfectly planned out schedule. You have time. You grab a few ingredients from the fridge and some from the pantry. Of course it is Thanksgiving morning and you do not want anything ordinary. You are still looking to impress. Still adventurous. Two ingredients stand out to you like beacons of light. Pumpkin and cranberries. Thankfully you stocked up on both for the big event. You mix the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and other autumnal spices, and combine the wet. Toss in the cranberries and mix in the pumpkin, stirring until just combined. Quickly and efficiently you put together the dough and shape it. You proceed to cut it into scone-like triangles, and bake them for about 20 minutes until the house is filled with the warmth smell of fall. Coffee peculating. Marveling at yourself for whipping up breakfast in a cinch, you cannot help but wonder, how you would have made Julia Child proud. Heck, you would even have made Martha Stewart proud with the cranberry and pumpkin addition. Okay that’s enough self-apprecition, you still have a long list of to-do’s to get done. So get back to work.

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Cranberry Date Pecan Bars

Crisp. Windy. Cold. You walk around the city, in the chilly breeze. Teeth chattering. Nose running. Anxiously looking for any sign of relief from the blizzard that is outside. You start to speed up your pace, with no destination in mind, hoping that this sudden spurge of fast movement will get you warmer, you walk and walk.  Your mind is traveling at a hundred miles a minute and you can’t seem to concentrate on the rest of your day or the tasks that lie ahead. You need a break from the freezing temperatures.  Perhaps a hot cocoa, and a tasty treat from a cozy and warm coffee shop is just what the doctor ordered. You look around for any friendly coffee shop, cafe or bistro. Suddenly you spot it, the coziest of coziest coffee shops. A small ma’ and pa’ shop, typically found in movies. Your heart jumps and your feet seem to travel faster than the rest of your body, which can’t catch up. You reach for the freezing handle and give it a pull. It wont budge. You keep pulling with all your might, but nothing. You desperately curse the air and the cold. Then out of the corner of your eye, you notice the tiny sign on the door, “Push.” You laugh to yourself and quickly look around to see if anyone has noticed your silly mistake. You give it a gentle push, as if you knew all along, and are instantly taken aback by the warmth and aroma of all things heavenly inside. You walk in.

You look at the board and scan it rather intently, although you are already fully aware of what you’re going to order. You wait in line as a little old lady gives the cashier the “exact” change in pennies, nickels and dimes. The next customer is asking what’s in everything, and you can’t seem to get there fast enough. Finally your turn arrives and you ask for their large, boat-sized, hot cocoa. “Whip cream?” the barista asks you with the friendliest of smiles. “Sure, why not?” you respond. Looking at the case full of home-made goodies, you ask what is good. “You have to try our cranberry pecan date bars! They’re the customer favorite.” You contemplate this choice to yourself. Now you’re the one holding up the line. But who cares? You think, “Hmmm, cranberry pecan date bars. Huh? Interesting.” You make up your mind on the spot, and yell out, “Okay, I’ll give it a try!” Just then you realize that you’re screaming for no reason in particular. He hands you your bar and you grab your hot cocoa, douse it with cinnamon and find a comfy couch by the fire. You take a sip of your cocoa, and it hits the spot. Warming up the rest of your body, instantly. You take a moment and stare at the bar, inspecting it. You take your first bite. Suddenly, your whole world is spinning, you wonder just what’s in this bar of yours. Of course, nothing other than dates, pecans and cranberries. You finish the whole thing, and don’t even realize you have. You get up and order another, he already had one waiting for you. “Happens all the time.” You smile, and sit back down. This time enjoying and savoring every bite, not wanting it to finish.

You bundle up and brave the cold air once again, only this time you don’t realize just how cold it is. You walk and walk, yourself back home, not fully conscious. You get to your house, although you have no idea how you just got there, what streets you turned on or if you’ve followed any of the pedestrian signals. For the rest of the day, and week for that matter, you can’t seem to get those delicious bars out of your mind. You crave them in your sleep, dreaming about their deliciousness. Finally, you come to the realization that the only way you can continue to live your life, is to make them yourself. Hope fills your body with the sense of excitement. But you think aloud, “Where do I begin? I don’t even know how to make them!” Well look no further, my worried friend, because I’m here to help you. Put your faith in uncle Jon, because he’s got your back.

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