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Midweek Musings

March 13, 2013

It’s been fairly quiet in my kitchen the past week or two.  We were away last weekend visiting visiting my Mom where we enjoyed a delicious and comforting baked ziti.  It made me wonder why I don’t make baked ziti more often.  We are also in the middle of some work around our house which takes up a surprising amount of time, even though we aren’t doing the work.  Who knew making decisions and choosing fixtures etc. could be so time consuming?

Some musings for the week:


I’m on Instagram and loving it!  I’m a slow adopter when it comes to new technology so many of you are probably old pros with Instagram already.  Anyways, it’s so fun to peruse pictures and see the world through neat filters.  Follow me @hannahsctkitchen.

Whole Foods announced this week it will start labeling all foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its stores by 2018.  This is a big win for those of us want to know what we’re consuming and don’t entirely trust Big Food that GMOs are harmless.  If it’s labeled organic you can be sure it doesn’t contain GMOs but going forward, we’ll be able to choose whether we are consuming GMOs when shopping at Whole Foods. I already do most of my food shopping at Whole Foods but this will certainly keep me a loyal customer.  Read more here.

Speaking of grocery stores, one of the things I miss about living in New York City is Fresh Direct, the online grocery store. The selection and quality were great, I loved the ease of going online to place an order, perusing the specialty produce and puttering about at home while waiting for my groceries to arrive. Fresh Direct has expanded into the suburbs but not to my town. I contacted them last week to see if there are plans for further expansion but no luck so far. Conrad was amused by this and commented that I currently go to four different grocery stores, an independent market, a butcher and a fish market…he couldn’t help but wonder why, with seven great food markets already in my arsenal, I wanted another one. What can I say? I love to grocery shop!

One of my goals for 2013 was to consume more whole grains and experiment with the different varieties now readily available.  Quinoa and farro are regulars in my diet now and this weekend I am excited to try barley risotto.  If it’s a winner, be on the lookout for the recipe.

Lastly, I gave up sweets for Lent and it is torture!!  I’ve done this many times with no problems – the first week is rough but after that I don’t crave sweets and go on my merry way for the rest of Lent.  This year I am struggling and the overwhelming presence of girl scout cookies in my office is not making it easier.  Needless to say, I am counting down the days until Easter (18) and can’t wait to make some yummy springtime sweets!


Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut

March 6, 2013


Oatmeal cookies are some of my favorites.  My Mom made oatmeal raisin cookies for me and my brother when we were kids and they were always one of our favorite treats.  I like to justify eating cookies with oatmeal by saying they are healthy because of the oats.  Right?

I’m also a big fan of cranberries so these cookies are a nice twist on the traditional oatmeal raisin cookie.  The recipe is from a great new cookbook from the owner of the SoNo Baking Company in nearby Norwalk, Connecticut.  The Seasonal Baker is full of wonderful recipes for the home baker using seasonal ingredients throughout the year.  There are plenty of summer fruit recipes, warm and spicy baked goods for the cooler months and delicious recipes for anytime of year.  Not to mention the photographs are beautiful!

I made these cookies a few weeks ago to welcome some new neighbors to our street.  It’s always nice to introduce yourself to new neighbors and let them know you’re available for recommendations or referrals if need be.  Something homemade – cookies, muffins or granola – accompanied by a note with your name and contact info is a very warm welcome.


Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies with Coconut
adapted from The Seasonal Baker
yields about 24 cookies

1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup sweetened flake coconut
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp real vanilla extract

Set rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Boil one cup of water and place dried cranberries in a heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling water over the cranberries and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, combine the cranberries, oats and coconut. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides once or twice. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Scrape down the bowl again.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Gently fold in the oat and cranberry mixture with a rubber spatula.

Using a 2-tablespoon scoop, drop the dough about 2″ apart on the prepared pans. Press down gently on the dough to flatten slightly.

Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until the edges are golden brown and the centers are still slightly soft, 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate the pan after 8 or 9 minutes to ensure even baking.

Let cookies cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spinach and Cheese Strata

March 2, 2013


I love brunch. I’m not a morning person and I’m not usually hungry when I first wake up, especially on weekends, so brunch is perfect. It has delicious breakfast fare – with lots of choices – but at a respectable hour. I don’t enjoy brunch as often now that we live in the ‘burbs but brunch was a big deal when I lived in New York. People would wait for hours to get a table at some of the hot brunch spots. There is something relaxed and enjoyable about brunch, especially for people who are used to rushing around. The table is filled with cups of coffee, mimosas, side orders and entrees. Everyone is waking up, recounting the previous night’s escapades, easing into the day and not worrying about the errands or chores that need to be done later. Brunch menus have something for everyone: gooey egg dishes, decadent french toast, savory salads, light and fluffy pancakes, and more yummy egg dishes. I love hearing what everyone orders because people are usually a sweet brunch person or a savory brunch person. I usually go for eggs of some sort but I also have a sweet tooth so it’s nice to have something sweet on the side.

The best thing about making brunch at home is I get to have a little bit of everything I like! Hosting brunch is a fun way to entertain and catch up with friends without the pressure of a dinner party. One of my go-to brunch dishes is a strata. My sister-in-law first introduced me to stratas and I was immediately hooked. It’a a baked egg and bread dish you prepare the day before, let it sit in the fridge overnight for the egg to soak into the bread, then you pop it in the oven before your guests arrive. The options are almost endless: you can use your favorite type of cheese, whatever veggies you have in the fridge or freezer and can add bacon or sausage if you really want to gild the lily. I’m not sure when I started making this spinach and cheese strata but it’s been one of my favorite brunch dishes ever since. It’s delicious anytime of year and the leftovers are great paired with a salad for lunch or dinner.

My favorite brunch at home always includes this strata, a sweet coffee cake or muffin (or a coffee cake muffin) and a fruit platter. Add a pot of coffee and mimosas and you’ve got yourself a simple, satisfying and delicious brunch. Now all you need is friends to enjoy it with.

Are you a sweet or savory kind of brunch person?


Spinach and Cheese Strata
adapted from Gourmet, via Smitten Kitchen
serves 8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
one large yellow onion, finely chopped
1, 10 oz package chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess liquid
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups Italian bread cut into 1″ cubes
2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese, about 6 oz
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 3/4 cups milk
9 eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Melt butter in a large saute pan oven medium heat. Saute onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and the nutmeg and cook for one more minute. Stir in spinach, breaking up, and remove from heat.

Butter a 3-quart ceramic baking dish. Add one third of the bread cubes to the baking dish, top with one third of the onion/spinach mixture and one third of each cheese. Repeat layering with remaining bread, onion/spinach and cheese.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Pour evenly over the strata. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate at least overnight and up to a day.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Take strata out of fridge and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Bake strata, uncovered, in center of oven until puffed, golden and cooked through, about 45 to 55 minutes.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette

February 24, 2013


If there’s a beet salad on the menu at a restaurant, it’s likely I will order it. There’s something so appealing about the rich color and earthly flavor of beets, paired with a creamy goat cheese and tangy vinaigrette. My favorite quick and easy way to have beets at home is buying pre-roasted Love Beets at the market. I throw them into an arugula salad on a weeknight and have a delicious and elegant salad to enjoy.

I’m all for making life easier but I also believe that if I can make it quite easily at home, why not enjoy something homemade? I’ve had mixed success roasting beets at home in the past. Sometimes they cook unevenly or take significantly longer than expected so I’ve been hesitant to roast my own for awhile. I’m a big fan of Ina Garten and her recipes have never lead me astray so I wanted to try the Balsamic Roasted Beet Salad in her new cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. On a recent trip to a winter farmers market, I found a beautiful assortment of beets and decided to give her method a try. I bought red, golden and ciogga beets. I just love the assortment of colors, especially the ciogga beets that look like candy canes when you cut into them raw.

Packing each beet individually in foil was a great success. Perhaps I was crowding too many into foil packets in the past, but I’ve now roasted beets two times using this method and both times they cooked evenly and in about an hour. Quickly marinating them in a vinaigrette gives them a tangy finish that makes them stand out in a salad. This would be a great salad for entertaining – you can roast the beets early in the day and marinate them in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve the salad. Simply toss the greens with vinaigrette, spoon the beautiful beets onto the lettuce and crumble some goat cheese over the top. A pinch of salt and a quick grind of fresh black pepper completes the salad.

Isn’t this one beautiful salad?



Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette
serves 6-8
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof

8 medium beets, a mix of red, Golden and ciogga if you can find them, greens removed and scrubbed
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (white balsamic and sherry vinegar are also good)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp dijon mustard
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 oz greens such as red and green lettuce, arugula or mesclun mix
4 oz soft goat cheese, such as Vermont Creamery chevre (it’s my favorite and readily available at the supermarket)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Wrap each beet individually in aluminum foil, tightly sealing the edges. Place on a rimmed baking sheet with some space around each beet packet. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until beets are tender. Test by inserting a knife into a beet. Unwrap the beets and set aside for 10 minutes or until beets are still warm but cool enough to handle. Peel beets using a paring knife. If you are using different colored beets, keep them separate so the colors don’t bleed.

While the beets are cooling, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together vinegar, oil, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Once you’ve peeled the beets and they are still warm, cut into small wedges and place into a mixing bowl. If you are using different colored beets, use a separate bowl for each color to prevent bleeding. Toss the warm beets with several tablespoons of vinaigrette so they absorb the vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

In a large bowl, toss salad greens with vinaigrette. You can either serve the salad on a large platter or individual plates. Either way, place greens at the bottom of serving vessel and arrange the beets on top. Crumble goat cheese over the beets and drizzle with more vinaigrette, if desired. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

A Weekend Away & Winter Musings

February 2, 2013



This weekend I am out of my kitchen, enjoying a few days skiing in beautiful Deer Valley, Utah. I’ve been thinking about my blog and ways to post more reguarly despite my hectic schedule and I realized there’s no reason I can’t share inspiration I find on the internet as well as other random musings. You don’t expect me to always be holed up in my kitchen, do you?

1. Winter Cold Cure. Like many Americans, I have been suffering from a bit of a cold the last week or two. I came across Moxie’s Cold Cure-all in a recent issue of Bon Appetit and it sounded like the perfect remedy for a sore throat and stuffy nose. I love the kick of cayenne and the heat from the fresh ginger. In the morning, when I’m rushing around to get out of the house and catch my train, I don’t have the time or patience for fresh ginger so I make my cheaters version which is just as good.

So here’s my quick cold cure-all recipe: Bring water to a boil in your kettle (hint: it will boil faster if you just boil enough for your cup of tea). Squeeze all the juice from half a lemon into your travel mug. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper and 1/8 to 1/4 tsp ground ginger. Squeeze honey into the cup and count to 8 (this is a very precise measurement). If you have echinacea extract, add one eye dropper full, otherwise omit. Add boiling water and stir with a fork or knife. Carefully taste and add more honey or ginger, to taste. Secure lid on travel mug, rush out of the house and enjoy a sweet, tart, spicy beverage on your commute to work!

2. Superbowl Sunday. This weekend is Superbowl Sunday. It’s been a few years since I even watched the Superbowl. Last year we were on a flight to India, the year before we were in California catching up with friends and I probably won’t watch it this year either. This reveals two important things about me: I’m not a football fan and apparently I go on a trip in early February every year.

When most people think of the Superbowl they think of chicken wings, the halftime show, commercials, nachos and football. Not me. I think of flat tires. Several years ago, when Conrad and I were dating, we were driving to his apartment where I was going to make football fare and we were going to watch the Superbowl. As we were driving along the FDR Drive in Manhattan, we got a flat tire. If you’ve ever traveled along the FDR Drive, you know that a) it is very narrow highway with no shoulder, b) people drive like maniacs, especially taxis, c) it’s not surprising one would get a flat tire because there are large chunks of pavement missing from the road every 10 feet. Luckily, we were near an entrance so there was a very small shoulder and we made our way over. A tow truck appeared and was the only company authorized to tow from the FDR but he left us on a small side street on the upper east side. Being 5pm on Superbowl Sunday, finding another tow company was a Herculean task. The details are a little fuzzy now, but I made my way to Conrad’s apartment and made real french onion dip, he walked in the door a few hours later having left his car in a veterinarian’s parking lot (seriously). So, Superbowl Sunday makes me think of flat tires.

On Sunday we’re having dinner at my favorite restaurant in Deer Valley, J&G Grill where I’ll have a Ginger Margarita and toast to the Superbowl and flat tires.

If you are enjoying the Superbowl at home, I suggest making Mexican Layer Dip and also enjoying a margarita. Cheers!

3. Homemade almond milk. I made spiced almond banana milk this last weekend and have one word: YUM!

Easy Paella

January 25, 2013


This was one of the last meals I made in 2012 and wow! I’ve wanted to make a simple version of paella for awhile but haven’t gotten around to it. I knew I wanted to use shrimp and chorizo, which is such a delicious combination, but keep it fairly easy. Flipping through some of my cookbooks, I found a Barefoot Contessa recipe for easy lobster paella. She uses lobster and kielbasa but I figured I’d loosely follow her recipe, substituting shrimp and chorizo. The whole dish took about 45 minutes to make, was a one pot meal, and was packed with flavor. This was one of those instances where I was making dinner, hoping it would be delicious and the final result really impressed me. Don’t you love it when that happens?

I also tried using frozen shrimp for the first time. We usually buy uncooked shrimp from the fish store but I read somewhere that the raw shrimp you get from the market is most often frozen shrimp they thaw on-site so you are better off buying frozen shrimp and thawing it yourself. I figured I’d give it a shot and I have to say I might be a convert to frozen shrimp. I wanted to get 16-20 count shrimp but was only able to find 30-40 count. It was slightly smaller than I wanted but worked just fine.

This recipe serves four but you could easily double it for a crowd and serve a Spanish themed dinner. If you do all the chopping and prep beforehand, there’s only 5-10 minutes of hands on cooking, so this would be a good dinner party dish. Yum!

The colors in this dish are so bright and cheery, it’s definitely an antidote to the winter blues. Given the temperature the last few weeks, I think we can all agree that something colorful, warm and flavorful is the perfect meal.


Easy Paella
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home
serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
one medium yellow onion, chopped
2/3 to 3/4 lb chorizo, casings removed (I used 2 large links and it was about 2/3 lb)
one red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips
3-4 cloved garlic, minced
1 cup white basmati rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 ounce Pernod
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish (optional)
lemon wedges, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven or saute pan. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chorizo and cook, breaking up, for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 more minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the rice, chicken stock, saffron, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and put in the oven. After 15 minutes, remove the pot and stir gently. Arrange the shrimp on top of the rice, replace the cover (the original recipe calls for leaving the cover off which I forgot to do and the dish was still delicious.  Remove or replace, it’s up to you), and return to the oven for 10-15 more minutes, until the shrimp is pink and the rice fully cooked.

Return the pan to the stove over medium heat.  Add the Pernod and cook for 1 minute, stirring a few times, until the liquor is absorbed into the rice.  Turn off the heat and sprinkle the peas over the top of the paella.  Cover and allow to steam for 5-10 minutes, until the peas are warm.  Fluff the paella a few times to incorporate the peas and sprinkle with the parsley, if using.  Serve hot, garnished with lemon wedges (I completely forgot about this and the dish didn’t suffer. If you remember, I’m sure it’s a great addition, but don’t worry if you forget and don’t go buying a bunch of parsley just for this.)

Reflections for a New Year

January 4, 2013

Belated Happy New Year!

I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions.  Hastily made resolutions seem like short-term goals meant to be broken – things to do the first few weeks of the year then fall back into our old ways. That said, it’s always good to have some goals to motivate and inspire you throughout the year. Forget wanting to lose five pounds and going to the gym three times a week…what are things I wanted to accomplish this past year but didn’t get to? How can I build on successes of the last year? What can I do to make life easier and simpler for myself?

I’d love to share with you a few of my small but manageable goals for the year that relate to cooking and my blog:

Improve my photography skills. Photographs are a big part of a food blog and I have lots to learn about food photography. I need to practice more often and get to know my camera better. My biggest challenge in this area is with natural light. For best results, food should be photographed during the day in natural light. Unfortunately, the reality of my life is that it is dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home (at least at this time of year). Getting up early to cook and take photographs of food isn’t really an option when my alarm goes off at 5:30 each morning…my blog is a hobby and I’m sorry to say that sleep trumps blogging when it comes to the early morning hours! I’m not quite ready to invest in an external flash for my DSLR camera but I can experiment with dimmed lights and other ways to optimize photographs using what I have. On weekends and once the days get longer, I need to spend more time photographing in natural light conditions.

Use my cast iron skillet more often. Talk about a simple and attainable goal! I have a beautiful cast iron skillet that is perfect for searing, roasting and baking. There’s no reason I can’t incorporate it into my cooking more often. Ditto the adorable mini cast iron skillets we have.

Eat more whole grains. I have farro, bulgur and quinoa in the pantry. I already have them so why not use them in place of white rice or couscous?

Practice with my piping bag and tips. When decorating my gingerbread house, I realized my piping skills are pretty rusty. My goal is to bake sugar cookies for some of the holidays throughout the year and decorate them using my piping bag. I won’t get better without practice and who doesn’t like a yummy (and beautiful) sugar cookie?

What are your cooking goals for 2013?

Thanks to all my readers for the encouragement and support throughout the year. I’m so thankful you’ve made my little corner of the internet a part of your life. It always makes my day when someone says “I’ve been reading your blog and I love it!” Thanks for keeping me going and I look forward to a new year together!