Cronuts, and New Beginnings!

It's been a little quiet around these parts, huh?

Well, I can assure you that I've still been cooking and baking away in the kitchen, and also behind the computer - Jeff and I have been busy cookin' up a brandy new food blog - Queen Bee Kitchen! I'll still be posting any cakes that I make here on Decorate This!, but all new recipe content will be up on QBK.  Come on over and visit, and stay awhile ... and while you're at it, check out my latest post - cronuts, that you can make at home!

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These days, it seems like more and more people have food sensitivities and allergies (including myself). In truth, I often don’t eat many of the decadent sweets that I make – I’m sensitive to gluten and dairy (though, I often through caution to the wind, and enjoy small bites – which sometimes works out just fine, other times, not so much!). I’m starting to delve into the world of gluten-free baking, filled with a wide variety of alternative flours. The sheer number of flours alone in many gluten-free recipes can be seriously overwhelming, and I’m also very happy to find tummy-friendly recipes that I can make with what I already have in my pantry. And these cookies are seriously simple, and really, really delicious! They’re soft, super peanut buttery, and filled with texture from the oats, peanuts, and chocolate chips. I promise that you won’t miss the butter and flour one bit.

One note on the dough – it’ll seem seriously oily, particularly when you’re shaping the cookies. Don’t worry; it’ll all come together in the end!

Cream Scones

I'll admit it - I'm not a "vanilla" person. I'm the one who needs a million toppings on my ice cream. I yearn for lots of texture and crunch, and interesting flavor combinations. Given the choice, I'd take chocolate (or caramel, or berry-filled, or dressed to the nines) any day.

But sometimes, I think it's really important to enjoy something plain old "vanilla". Really, truly, enjoy it. Get back to the roots of your confection, to remember how incredible it can be all on its own, without an excessive amount of chocolate, being drenched with some succulent sauce, or studded with this and that. I refuse to say "plain", because "vanilla" should be anything but plain. Personally, I think "vanilla" is the hardest thing to do well - it needs to be exceptionally well executed in order for whatever you make to get rave reviews. So yeah, "vanilla" is a challenge.

I've been on a scone kick lately (but really, what "kick" am I not on, let's be honest). And while the scones I've been making are good, they haven't been GREAT, and we all know that perfection is the name of my game. I've tried leaving chunks of butter, grating the butter, refrigerating all ingredients, refrigerating the scones overnight, etc - and there's always been a little something not quite right. So, I decided to go "vanilla", and go back to square one. No chocolate, no strawberries, no glaze, no nothing. The simplest ingredients, only - butter, flour, salt, leaveners, cream, and creme fraiche. Cream scones.

Friends, these cream scones are really out of this world. Not plain in the least, and they fly directly in the face of dry, dense, overly-sweet, brick-like scones. They are high rising, impossibly light, and quite literally melt in your mouth delicious (really). The simple addition of coarse sanding sugar is the perfect adornment, that adds a slight crunch and a hint of extra sweetness.

Vanilla (and scone!) perfection.

Savory Sunday: Asian Chicken and Cabbage Salad

Whenever I buy a head of cabbage, it seems to last FOREVER. Seriously, it's like the vegetable that just keeps on going! I remember one particular occasion last summer - I wanted to bring cole slaw to a party, and bought both red and green cabbages. Four batches of cole slaw later ... we were cabbaged out.

This salad though, is definitely going into the regular rotation this summer (and, I'll buy cabbages just to make it)! It's packed with produce and protein - not to mention tons of fresh flavor. Perfect for a light but filling meal. I used a rotisserie chicken, but feel free to use whatever protein you like - sliced pork or shrimp, or maybe even edamame, would be delicious too.

Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Cream Cheese Icing

My friend Laura took a bite of one of these cinnamon rolls, and declared that this recipe alone could put Cinnabon out of business!

You're pretty much guaranteed to make some new friends with these poufy, soft, sweet rolls. They're filled with just the right amount of butter and cinnamon-sugar, baked to perfection, and slathered with slightly tangy vanilla cream cheese icing. Cinnamon roll perfection, as far as I'm concerned!

Lemon Curd

I am in love with this lemon curd. Super lemony (obviously), perfectly creamy, silky, and smooth. It has great body and texture, is light but rich, and not too sweet. I'd be lying if I told that I didn't eat a giant spoonful of the stuff as soon as I made my latest batch!

I use a lot of egg whites for baking (and for omelette-making), which means that I'm often left with many leftover egg yolks. I hate seeing things go to waste, and I try hard to create something out of everything. The perfect remedy for lonely egg yolks? Lemon curd! If you've never had lemon curd before - please, please make this. It'll change your life. Though the name leaves something to be desired ("curd" isn't my favorite word), this creamy, bright, custard-like treat is absolutely delicious. It is wonderful as cake or tart filling, the perfect match for cream scones, or simply stunning when eaten straight off of a spoon. Not like I'd know from personal experience or anything!

Savory Sunday: Roasted Eggplant & Herb Salad Sandwiches

First off - happy, happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there! We love you!

Love really big, bright flavor? Then this amazing veggie-loaded sandwich is for you!

Salty feta and oil-cured olives are balanced perfectly by a bright, fresh herb salad and vinegary pickled beets and capers.  Roasted eggplant adds some heartiness, and a smear of garlic mayo gives this sandwich an extra burst of flavor that really sets it apart. To really bring this sandwich to the next level, make your own focaccia bread. Keep the focaccia toppings simple - I opted for sea salt and fresh rosemary - no need to compete with the full-flavored fillings.

Rosemary Focaccia

There's something about focaccia that always draws me in - and I'm pretty sure it's the toppings! Not to mention the wonderfully chewy, slightly crisp bread that is out of this world when enjoyed warm, fresh from the oven, or just a while later as the perfect sandwich bread.

This focaccia couldn't be easier to put together, and is ready in just a few hours. I kept the toppings simple here, since this bread was going to be be used for sandwiches that would already be packed with herbs and flavors. However, you can use this recipe as a base for all of your favorite toppings - lemons, roasted vegetables, cheese, caramelized onions...


Ahhhhhh croissants. Those delightfully buttery, flaky, golden brown pastries that when done right, are pure bliss. They should be light as a feather, shatter as you take your first bite, and be bursting with flavor. Too often, purchased croissants are too doughy, not flaky, and well, maybe even stale after sitting out for a long time. So, why not give them a go them at home?

 The process of making croissants is methodical, and requires some patience.  You must start these croissants about 2 days before you want to bake them (the process that works well for me is about 36 hours; see timeline in post). Yes, this may seem like a long time, but trust me, it's worth it. The dough requires resting time in the refrigerator not only to strengthen, but also to gain enormous amounts of flavor.

As my friends and family will tell you, I like to hammer on a small number of recipes until I get things juuuuuuuust right. And these croissants are no exception. I've been trying to make at least one laminated dough treat per week; usually my bake day is Monday morning (my lucky, lucky coworkers!). I've figured out a dough schedule that works really well for me, and allows me to have plenty of time on to do Sunday things (this schedule works well for me during the week, too, with the timeline shifted up a few hours):
  • Saturday night: mix dough, usually around 8:00pm (no more than 12 hours before I plan to get up and laminate the dough Sunday)
  • Sunday morning: Plasticize Butter & Roll I around 8am; Roll II around10:00am
  • Sunday evening: Roll II & Shape around 7:00pm; Proof until about 10:00pm (time depends on how warm/cool our house is)
  • Monday morning: Bake!
A few things to keep in mind:
  • The goal when making laminated dough is to create many, many distinct butter and dough layers.  See that lovely honeycomb looking structure above? That's what a cross-section of a croissant should look like. When placed in the oven, the water in the butter evaporates, creating steam that forces the layer to puff - into a flaky croissant! It's very important that your dough and butter block be of the same consistency, and that you press down firmly onto your dough with your rolling pin before actually rolling it out, to help maintain the layering. If during the process of rolling out your dough, you notice many large chunks of butter throughout your dough, your butter was likely too cold, and shattered. If your croissant bakes up dense and not very flaky, your butter may have been too warm and melded into the dough, or, you may have squashed your layers otherwise during rolling.
  • When rolling/shaping your dough, try to keep your edges as square as possible. It'll make your layers nice and even, and it'll be much easier to fold and manipulate your dough.
  • Have fun! Even if it takes you a few attempts to get the results you're after (it took me a few tries, too), it's pretty much guaranteed that every attempt will be delicious! The ingredients here aren't complicated; it's the technique that takes some time to hone.
I've included almost step-by-step photos below (two rolling steps are written in text, but just about everything else should be represented by a picture); really the only thing missing from Flour. I hope that you enjoy making (and eating!) these as much as I do!

Savory Sunday: Crab Salad on Croissants

Recently, I was invited to join the Sandwich Club at work - a group of 10 foodie sandwich enthusiasts, who get together every Monday to enjoy gourmet sandwiches. During every 10-week period, each person signs up to bring sandwiches twice - so we all get to try two sandwiches every week.

Crab salad on homemade croissants was my first sandwich contribution, and I must say they were seriously delicious (recipe/tutorial here). A buttery, flaky croissant is the perfect vehicle for super fresh crab salad, filled with herbs and bright flavors. I love the slight crunch that the cucumber adds, and the poppy seeds are an unexpectedly delicious addition. Start by adding the smaller amount of herbs, and adjust according to your taste (I tend to like a lot of fresh herbs). I hope that you enjoy these sandwiches as much as we did!

Sourdough Honey Wheat Hamburger Buns

I've been known to eat many a burger bunless - most of the commercially produced buns just don't seem worth it to me (I'd rather eat dessert!). Most of the time, if I'm going to indulge, whatever I'm eating better be really awesome. These homemade sourdough honey wheat buns are amazing, and are a healthy, fiber-filled compliment to any burger. The butter and honey keep the crumb soft, and the fact that they're 100% whole wheat ensures that the buns are sturdy enough to hold up to even the juiciest burger. Not to mention that they're much more flavorful than anything you'll find in the grocery store.

A few notes here:
  • This recipe will make 9 or 10 regular size burger buns, but you can easily make different sized buns if you like. For sliders, I'd probably divide the dough into 18-20 pieces.
  • In the instructions below, you'll see one of my favorite steaming methods, but feel free to use another method if you like. 
  • I topped my buns with wheat bran and sesame seeds - feel free to get creative here! Love sunflower seeds? Go for it! "Everything" topping - poppy seeds, sesame seeds, coarse salt, dried garlic, and dried onion? Yes, please!
Need some great burger ideas? Check out my Guacamole Burgers, and Spanakopita Turkey Burgers.

Please check out Tartine Bread Experiment or the Wild Yeast Blog for more information on building/maintaining a sourdough starter, folds/turns, etc.

DIY Kitchen Staples: Crème Fraîche

I think fermentation is pretty darn cool. The fact that you can combine simple ingredients, and some time later be rewarded with delicious results never ceases to fascinate me. Flour + water = amazing sourdough bread leavner? Awesome. Sweet brewed tea + a SCOBY = kombucha? Delicious. Heavy cream + buttermilk = crème fraîche that you'd normally pay big bucks for at the grocery store? Amazing!

I love baking with crème fraîche, and had no idea just how easy it is to make at home until recently. You simply combine heavy cream and buttermilk, and let it sit out at room temperature until thick and creamy. That's all she wrote, folks. Please use pasteurized heavy cream for this recipe - not ultra pasteurized or sterilized - and make sure that the heavy cream doesn't have additives.

Know what else is super cool? Once you've made your first batch, you can keep on making more crème fraîche, without buttermilk. I usually add about 2 tablespoons crème fraîche to 1 cup heavy cream, stir, and again, let sit for 12-24 hours until thick. And, what could be better than an endless supply of wonderful crème fraîche??

Savory Sunday: Spanakopita Turkey Burgers

Jeff and I love, love these burgers, and speaking for myself, this just might be my favorite turkey burger. They are super juicy, and absolutely packed full of flavor. Feel free to experiment with toppings and condiments - we usually enjoy ours with some thinly sliced red onion, ketchup and mustard - but they are also delicious with tzatziki sauce.

Vanilla-Cinnamon Granola with Pecans & Cherries

Here is another of my favorite base granola recipes, this time, sweetened with honey.  You might look at this recipe and be like, dry milk powder? Really? And believe me, I was initially a bit skeptical too. Turns out that it adds quite a bit of flavor to the granola, and acts as a binder in the recipe, so you end up with giant granola clusters (or, whatever size clusters make you happy).  I love the pecan-cherry combination, but feel free to use any dried fruit that you like!

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies

This past week was tragic and absolutely surreal here in Boston. From the horrific events that took place on Marathon Monday (read about my experience as a spectator, and Jeff's as a runner) to the intense manhunt on Friday, and all of the sadness and anticipation in between - it was a week truly like none other. We are the lucky ones, who were able to leave the marathon finish line physically unscathed. Our thoughts are constantly with those who weren't so lucky - those who lost their lives, or were severely injured. With the families that need to press on without a loved one. If you are so inclined, please consider making a donation to The One Fund, or to the recovery funds of the severely injured.

We are doing our best to "get back to normal", and we're looking forward to a far less exhausting week.  And fortunately, this also means - back to baking :) And what better to soothe your soul than the best brownies, ever?

In my personal opinion, chocolate and peanut butter is a match made in heaven. Seriously. I'm pretty sure that I could live on just that combination alone! This delightful marriage of flavors is highlighted perfectly in these truly decadent brownies.

These brownies bake up nice and thick, are perfectly moist and chewy - not too cakey, not too fudgy - and are filled with chocolate and peanut butter goodness. The swirl looks gorgeous too - I think anything swirled gets extra ooohs and ahhs. Another plus - the brownie base and filling are super easy to prepare (you probably already have all of these ingredients, too!), and require only a few bowls.


Monday, April 15th 2013, began with static blaring from our alarm clock at 4:40am, apparently much too early for the radio station we usually have it set to to be on air. It was finally here, after much anticipation - Marathon Monday! Jeff leaped into the shower, I finished packing up our belongings, and we headed out the door, right on time at 5:15am.

I dropped him off at the corner of Ring Road and Huntington Avenue, wished him the best of luck and told him just how proud I was of him, and with one last big hug, he was off to join the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team to catch the bus to the start of the race in Hopkington. I drove away reflecting on the days and months behind us, filled with fundraising activities, Jeff's long training runs in the snow, the injuries, the anticipation. To the previous days - the crowds of people in the Hynes Convention Center, excitedly collecting race bags and much coveted race bibs, the rows of fitness apparel and Boston Marathon branded gear, the line that seemed to be hundreds of people deep, waiting for the arrival of Shalaine Flanagan and Kara Goucher.

To the emotional and moving Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge pasta party the evening before, where an audience to the tune of 1400+ gathered to honor the runners, the friends, family, and supporters who raise much needed funds to benefit the Claudia Adams Barr Program at Dana-Farber. It was also a time to think of and honor the researchers and doctors who do critical work at Dana-Farber, and the cancer patients, along with their loved ones, in need of care. The hallways were lined with "stars" of remembrance and honor, and large photographs of Patient Partner participants - children with cancer diagnoses, who are paired up with DFMC runners. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, as the excellent speakers talked about everything from training, to the astounding fundraising efforts of the runners, to the heart-wrenching stories of loved ones that succumbed to cancer. It was so apparent why the DFMC team is so incredibly important. Jeff was running the marathon with the team, in honor of his grandfather, who passed away several years ago from prostate cancer. He was honored at the dinner as a fundraising "Pacesetter", one of a small percentage of runners on the team who had raised over $8000. The generosity of our friends and family continues to amaze me.

Back to Marathon Day: Jeff's parents (Howard and Alison) and I had a big day planned. We were hoping to see Jeff run by twice - once near the 17 mile marker, and again at the corner of Hereford and Boylston, the last turn on the course, less than a mile from the finish. We started the day by baking up perfect croissants that Howard and I had started a few days earlier - seriously, they were perfect. Fueled up, we set out for the Green Line, that would take us near the 17 mile marker in Newton. As expected, the train station and the train were packed. But, unlike some other days, people didn't really seem to mind. The mood was light, and people were buzzing with excitement about the race. People were laughing and smiling, sharing stories with strangers, and were carrying elaborate signs to catch the attention of their runners, pom-poms (we were carrying three!), and more. We heard a story from a really nice man, while waiting for the train - he recalled going to watch the race with his wife and two small children, years ago, before the age of cell phones. His wife squeezed onto a crowded train, and before he and his children could follow, the door snapped shut. He signaled to her to get off the train at Park Street - that they'd meet her there, and caught the next train. Well, that train didn't stop at Park Street! With no way to get in touch, the family remained separated all day, until they met back at the car at around 4pm (and oh, by the way, his wife had drained the car battery by using the car phone without the car turned on). He recalled this story with a smile - this series of events was absolutely distressing at the time, but is now looked back on as pretty darn comical.

After a long trek, we arrived in Newton, with time to spare. I got a picture of Jeff from my mom, who was able to see him and give him a quick hug around mile 13 in Wellesley. Based on his pace, we'd see him in just about 30 minutes, give or take a few! The roaring, cheering crowd was infectious. Music playing, cow bells ringing, people cheering for ALL of the amazing runners. We were able to find a spot to stand right near the barrier, and waited. And finally - there he was!  Smiling, and looking pretty fresh for someone who had 17 miles behind him, he gave me a quick kiss, and we tried to be fast taking pictures. Back on his way, we hurried to get back on the T. On the walk to the train, there were many booths set up - some offering snacks and cheering devices, another with people asking for signatures to support Newtown, CT. And despite their presence, and all of the sadness and shock that we all felt about the shooting tragedy, I didn't notice anyone stopping, including us. Newtown seems to be on my mind a lot, and has been since that fateful December day, but we were on the move, and to be honest, we had other things on our minds.

The line to get on the train was very long, but moved faster than any of us expected. At that point, we weren't expecting to make it into town in time to see Jeff make that final turn, but, we were still hoping. And again, luck was on our side - we made it to the Hynes Convention Center stop, made our way through the crowds, and found a spot right on the corner with about 15 minutes to spare. Somehow, we were able to pick out Jeff as he turned the corner, and he saw us! Waving, and still smiling, Jeff looked great. Those months of training and hardship obviously had paid off, and he was less than a mile from finishing the iconic, celebrated Boston Marathon. Howard, Alison, and I all had tears of joy and pride streaming down our faces. Jeff was about to cross the finish line!

We started up Boylston Street, toward the finish line. I had a brief thought that maybe it might be nice to get closer to the finish to watch, or perhaps we should wait on the corner of Boylston and Ring to wait for Jeff. But, it was highly unlikely that we'd actually see him cross the finish line, and we had no idea where he'd be exiting the race, so we decided to stick to our original plan, to meet him at the Copley Marriott. We made our way there, smiling, talking happily about the day, and at 2:23pm, I got a text message telling me that Jeff had finished the race, in an amazing 3:37. Wooohooo!

The three of us, along with many others, waited in the hotel lobby. Our nerves had calmed enough to allow us to eat lunch. We looked at the photos that we'd taken, and wondered when Jeff would arrive. At one point, we decided to move closer to the entrance, where we had a better view of the door - we couldn't imagine it'd be much longer until Jeff walked in. My phone was abuzz with text messages, as it had been all day - word of friends finishing the race, my mom telling me how proud she was of Jeff, asking if we'd seen him yet. But, for some reason, cell service seemed to be spotty. I tried calling Jeff, hoping that he'd picked up his race bag with his phone in it, and could tell me where he was, and the call wouldn't go through. My texts weren't going through. A young man ran into the lobby, saw that I was on my phone, and frantically asked if I had service. He showed me his iPhone screen stuck on the initial "Calling" message that appears before calls connect. Mine looked like that too, when I was trying to call Jeff. I was a bit confused by his worry, and told him that well, my phone wasn't working reliably either. He ran to the concierge desk, and I looked down at my phone again. It was about 2:52pm, and had just received a text from my mom stating, "They are saying that there are explosions at the finish line are you ok". What?? I thought briefly about not saying anything to Howard and Alison - it had been a long, emotionally and physically draining day, and I didn't want to raise alarm unnecessarily. But as the ambulances started to roar by, sirens wailing, we all knew that something was very, very wrong.

Texts and phone calls begin pouring in from friends and family, near and far, who had heard the news, and wanted to be sure we were ok. Some of my responses went through, others didn't. Ambulances continued to scream by. People were buzzing around, crying, trying to make phone calls, asking around to see if anyone knew what happened. We heard "explosions", "bombs", "finish line". Another text made it to my phone from my mom, "Explosions were near the viewing stands and some people are really hurt". What the hell?! That's right near the finish line! I went up to the third floor, where DFMC had set up a recovery zone for the team, to see if by chance Jeff was up there, and we just didn't see him come in. I was directed up to the fourth floor, where signs were posted with all of the runners names. The names of runners who had checked into the recovery zone were highlighted. Jeff's name was not. I raced back downstairs, trying not to panic.

I felt absolutely sick. I had never experienced anything like this in my entire life. As the minutes rolled by, with no word from Jeff, I was having a hard time containing my fear. In my heart, I couldn't imagine that Jeff was anywhere near the area when the bombs went off - he had finished before 2:30pm, and we'd heard the explosions happened sometime around 2:50pm. He should have been out of there, right? He couldn't, wouldn't have gone back to cheer for a teammate, or to look for us, right? What about our other friends who were running - Kristin? Carey? John? Jordan? Jennifer? Emily? Members of the DFMC team? I tried calling Jeff again - right to voicemail.  Ambulances lined the street right outside. People were running around, hugging, crying, sharing words of support. My mind began to go crazy. I thought of Jeff smiling and waving to us at the corner of Hereford and Boylston - would that be the last time I saw my husband alive, or in one piece? The thought was unfathomable, sickening, heartbreaking...I have no words.

Finally, over an hour after he'd finished, I got a text from Jeff, "You ok?" In that moment, I knew he was alright. Thank god. He was upstairs in the hotel changing into clean clothes, and he'd be downstairs soon. Finally, finally, he came down the escalator. The three of us rushed to greet him, crying. We all embraced, so thankful that we were reunited and unharmed - not to mention incredibly proud of Jeff's accomplishment. But, we still had little idea about what was going on outside. Were there more bombs? How would we get home? It seemed like there was no where to go, and we decided to hang tight for a while at the hotel. We went up to the fourth floor, found some seats, and we all sat down for the first time all day.

Jeff and I traveled down a floor to get some water, and all of a sudden we hear shouts - "Clear the mall!" "There are bombs in the mall!" Naturally, everyone started to panic. Pushing, racing, shouting. We tried to stay as collected as we could, went back upstairs to collect Howard and Alison, and tried to figure out what to do. There were police and security personnel everywhere, and finally we got the word that clearing the mall was just a precaution. Ugh. At that point, after being herded like terrified cattle here and there, we decided that we needed to get out of there. All non-hotel guests were being asked to leave, anyways, and we soon found ourselves on the street. We figured our best bet was to get on the Orange Line (other lines had been shut down), and see if we could hitch a ride from the train stop near our house. Poor Jeff, trying to move as fast as he could on sore, tired legs - we made it to the Orange Line, and made it home with the help of our amazing upstairs neighbors. We were finally home, at almost 7pm, intact, but exhausted, shaken, worried, upset.


A few days have past now, and Jeff and I (along with many, many others), are still reeling. This is the kind of thing that happens in other places, not here. And to be there? Incomprehensible. Why did this happen? Who is responsible? I feel sad, angry, worried, heartbroken - angry at the few people who turned this joyful day into a tragic, horrific one, sad and worried for the injured, heartbroken over the people who lost their lives in this senseless act of violence, sad and angry for the almost 5000 prepared runners who weren't able to finish the race that day. I know that I will never understand the motives behind this. And I know that it's going to take some time for all of us to heal, and I feel sad that things will never be quite the same. One small decision, or a slower race time, could have changed everything in our lives. Terrifying.

The Boston Marathon has been part of my life since I can remember - I grew up just miles from the 13.1 mile marker, and can only recall a few years that I wasn't able to go watch and cheer. I've always thought of this iconic race with joy and happiness - how amazing and strong the runners are, how fantastic it is to see spectators happy and banding together to support the runners and each other. And I know that this race will continue to be amazing. But, again, I'm sad that things will never be quite the same.

A few personal take-aways that I have at the moment...

  • Life is short, and you can't take anything for granted. Get out there, and make the absolute most of it. Have no regrets.
  • At the end of the day, friends and family are all that we have. Make time, today, to make that phone call that you've been putting off. Don't forget to tell those special to you that you love them. Take the time out of your busy schedule to really connect.
  • Bad things happen to good people, all the time. And while terrifying and life-changing, we can't allow these things to define our lives. We all need to go on living - we can't be afraid.
  • Though the actions of few can be awful, the response of the many to disaster is unbelievably amazing. From the people who put themselves in harms way to assist others that day, to the outpouring of love and support from people near and far - the vast majority of us are very, very good, and are very powerful when we band together. In a selfish, busy world, we all need to remember that we're a big team.

My blog will remain quiet for the rest of this week, as I focus my energy on my loved ones. And I know that this blog is usually filled with sugar, so thank you for allowing me to share such personal thoughts. I don't really have words to close out this long post, other than to say, with tears rolling down my face - we'll all be ok, eventually.

Savory Sunday: Spinach, Prosciutto, Pear Pizza on Honey Whole Wheat Crust

I just love the bright, fresh flavors in this pizza. A hearty, whole wheat crust, topped with creamy goat cheese, is the perfect platform for spinach, lightly dressed with lemon, fresh thyme, olive oil, and black pepper, succulent, sweet pears, and salty prosciutto. The crust takes just over an hour to make, and it's pretty flavorful for a crust that comes together so quickly. It's a fairly bready, substantial crust, that turns this pizza into a meal, without it being a heavy, cheesy pizza affair.

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sometimes, you just need a cookie. A classic chocolate chip cookie, to be precise, that's perfect in every way. Caramelized, crisp edges give way to a soft, chewy, flavorful middle, that's filled with chocolate chips. Oh, and a touch of divine sea salt in most bites. Total cookie bliss.

Saturday afternoon, my dad called me to chat. We talked for a while about our respective weeks, and made some plans for Sunday. The end of our conversation went a little something like this..."Hey, would you mind making me some cookies?" "What kind?" I reply. "Chocolate chip, of course!" "You got it, padre." And the next day, I set out to make the very best chocolate chip cookies.

This is my absolute favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and is everything that I described above. Now, you can bake these cookies up right after mixing, but the dough really benefits from sitting in the fridge for up to 72 hours before baking - the flavor intensifies, and really elevates this cookie above the rest. I know it's hard to imagine waiting a day or more, when what you really want is a cookie right NOW, but...whip up a batch, and put some unbaked dough in the freezer. You'll be fully prepared for your next cookie craving!

Sourdough Whole Wheat English Muffins

I get a lot of satisfaction from making things at home that you'd generally just buy at the store. For instance, these sourdough whole wheat English muffins. I grew up eating plenty of Thomas' English muffins, and sure, they're good, but they don't stand a chance next to this homemade version!

These English muffins are filled with nooks and crannies, have tons of flavor, and make the best breakfast sandwiches. They're on the hearty side, as they're about 30% whole wheat. Please check out Tartine Bread Experiment or the Wild Yeast Blog for more information on building/maintaining a sourdough starter.

Savory Sunday: Turkey Chili with Hominy

Well spring has sprung here in Boston, but ... it's still pretty chilly. If it's still a little colder than you'd like wherever you are, this turkey chili will certainly warm you up! This is a variation on a recipe that Jeff's former roommate used to make back when they lived in Santa Monica, CA. It's an easy, hearty chili, that's full of flavor. For those who have never had hominy, this chili is sure to make you a fan.

Roasting peppers is super easy, and is a great way to add some smoky flavor to your dishes. If you have a gas range, you can roast the peppers directly over an open flame; alternatively, roast the peppers under the broiler, until they are blistered and blackened all over. Immediately place the peppers in a plastic bag, and seal. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove from the bag, and peel off the skin - it should be very easy to remove. And there you have it - roasted peppers!

Chocolate Ripple Coffee Cake

This is one seriously impressive coffee cake. It bakes up super tall, the streusel topping is gorgeous, and cut slices reveal a cinnamon-chocolate-pecan swirl that runs throughout the ultra-moist, buttery cake. Is your mouth watering yet??

There are quite a few steps here, but this cake is honestly very easy to put together. I baked one up this past weekend for Easter brunch, and it was a big hit - I hope you enjoy it as much as my family did!

Oink! It's a Pig Birthday Cake!

Today is Laura's birthday, and she wanted a pig cake to celebrate. So, that's precisely what she received - plus a few miniature fondant pig friends! Cake was chocolate with vanilla buttercream filling, enrobed with perfectly pig pink fondant. I simply absolutely adore this cake - I loved giving these guys some personality in their facial expressions!

Happy, happy birthday, Laura!

Savory Sunday: Guacamole Burgers

I love a great burger, and I have to say - I'm pretty picky about my meat. Quality matters a lot to me, and whenever possible, I like to know that the meat I'm eating is sourced locally, and that the animals were treated well. I had planned on making these burgers earlier in the week, but the avocados were rock hard at the grocery store, so alas, I had to wait. And, I'm sure glad I was forced to wait, because it gave me the opportunity to stop by the butcher shop that I had just learned about, that's only half a mile away from my house. The place is immaculate, and features local, pastured raised meat. I think I've found my butcher!

If you love guacamole, you'll adore these burgers. I like to season my burgers simply - either using Montreal Steak Seasoning, or just kosher salt and freshly ground pepper - and then add lots of toppings. Guacamole can be customized to your tastes; the ingredients listed below will show you what I was in the mood for, but avocado, lime juice, and salt & pepper alone is delicious. And depending on how much guacamole you like on your burgers, you just might end up with some leftover to enjoy with your favorite tortilla chips.

Chocolate Babka with Cinnamon Streusel

If you're looking for that special something to impress your friends or family (perhaps for Easter brunch?), this, my friends, is it. Decadent brioche-like dough is loaded to the brim with chocolate and cinnamon, twisted, and then topped with a delicious cinnamon streusel.

I'll admit - this recipe is a bit over the top, with over four sticks of butter, a whopping 36 ounces of chocolate, and you'll need to commit to fairly intensive process to pull these gorgeous loaves out of the oven. But I assure, you, it's well worth it. I'll also note that I like a lot of streusel topping; feel free to halve if you prefer less.

Chocolate Toffee Matzo Crunch

Passover began last night, and thus begins a week of abstaining from many foods, included leavened foods, for many. This is one of my absolute favorite ways to dress up matzo, and let me warn you - it's very easy to prepare, and seriously addictive.

I believe that the only potentially problematic ingredient here for Passover is the vanilla extract; feel free to omit, or find a brand that is acceptable for use during Passover.

Savory Sunday: Spicy Thai Chicken Pizza

Do you like CPK's Thai Chicken Pizza? If so, hold onto your baking stones people, have I got the make-at-home-version for you (that I personally think is better than the original). This pizza is loaded with flavor and lots of texture and crunch!

My bread making habit has also encouraged many batches of homemade pizza dough...which means many pizzas! This is one of my personal favorites. You start with pizza dough of your choice. Top the stretched dough with spicy peanut sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, scallions, sliced red bell pepper, and peanutty chicken. Bake it up. And then, add some crunch and color - bean sprouts, shredded carrots, chopped roasted peanuts, and cilantro. Mouth-wateringly good. Keep in mind here that the topping amounts that I list are just guidelines - want more cheese? Go for it. Fewer scallions? Reduce away.

Though it's impossible to get your home oven up to the normal working temperature of the wood fired pizza ovens at your favorite pizza joint, it is possible to bake up wonderfully crisp, amazing pizzas at home with just a few tools. A large baking stone is a must, and a pizza peel is a really nice addition to your toolbox if you have the space for it (it makes it MUCH easier to load a pizza, or bread, etc into a very hot oven).

Marshmallow Bunnies & Eggs

This is my version of Peeps, customized for Easter! Making homemade marshmallows is easier than you may think - it's as simple as dissolving gelatin, boiling sugar, and whipping the two together until you end up with fluffy, white marshmallow!

These can be easily customized by using cookie cutters of your choice - I chose small egg and bunny cookie cutters - and can be made in any color you heart desires. Yield will vary, depending on the size of your cutters; with the cutters I chose (bunny is ~3" long; egg is ~2" tall), I ended up with 8 bunnies and 8 eggs. I'd love to see these in my Easter basket this year; how about you?

Cupcake Topper Tutorial

These One Fish, Two Fish cupcake toppers were really fun and easy to make, and today I'm going to show you how! These toppers are two sided; meaning that there are scallop punches on both sides of the stick. I think the toppers look more finished this way (guests at your party won't be able to see the glue that holds them together), and if you want to get really fancy, you could put your printed images on both sides. I made 2.25" toppers, but you can adjust the size as you like. Miniature toppers on mini cupcakes would be awfully cute!

If you are designing the images yourself for your circles, make sure you make the circles slightly smaller than your circle punch. You may want to do a few test prints to ensure the images look the way you want them to, before you print up the whole batch.

Baking Essentials: Tools of the Trade

Along with the right ingredients, having the right kitchen tools on hand is essential to your success in the kitchen. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of tools that I use on a regular basis; please keep in mind that you certainly do not need to have all of these things in order to make beautiful baked things. I also tend to not buy highly specialized items that only have one use in my kitchen - my ramekins double as bakeware and small bowls; a saucepan + metal mixing bowl makes an excellent double boiler, etc.

Savory Sunday: Beef Potpies with Cheddar-Stout Crust

My love for the kitchen extends far past the sugar and chocolate, to the savory side of things, and I'm delighted to welcome you to the first of many Savory Sundays, here at Decorate This! As you may have noticed over the past few weeks, Decorate This! has received quite the facelift, and with a new look comes a new direction. I will certainly still be sharing my latest cake creations, but I will also be sharing more of my favorite recipes - sweet and savory- and tutorials to help you on your own kitchen adventure. And as always, I'd love to hear from you! Let me know if there's something that you like to see here, or things you'd like to see more of.

Today's savory recipe is perfect for early spring, particularly St. Patrick's Day! These pot pies are cozy and comforting, filled with tender beef, stout beer, and flavorful veggies. We paired our pies with a crisp arugula salad - delicious!

Maple Granola with Walnuts and Cranberries

During the week, it's usually somewhat of a race for my husband and I to wake up, take the dog out, get dressed, and get out of the house to make it to work.  If you're like me, I wake up HUNGRY, and we all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so - breakfast is something we never, ever skip, even on our most rushed mornings.

One of our absolute favorite quick breakfasts is homemade granola with fruit (usually berries - we can't wait for them to come back in season!) and either soy milk or yogurt. It's super fast to put together, healthy, and filling enough to get us mid-morning snack time (yep, I'm one of those eat six times a day people).

Making granola at home is really easy, and extremely versatile. Once you have a base recipe that you like, you can swap out the "add-ins" - nuts, dried fruit, and spices - as you please. Don't have walnuts hanging around? Use almonds instead! Don't like dried cranberries? Chopped dried apricots make a perfect substitution!

Here is one of my favorite base recipes, from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It's just right, when it comes to sweetness, and makes big clusters, thanks to the egg whites - and let's be honest, who doesn't enjoy a huge cluster of granola? I've made a few modifications to the original recipe to bump up the flavor a bit, and added another egg white to ensure that I always end up with clusters.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

One last note - don't chop your nuts too small. Yes, you want nuts in most bites, but if you chop them too small, you may end up with burnt nuts before the granola is completely done.  And no one wants that!

Baking Essentials: A Well Stocked Pantry

The last thing you want is to start on a baking project, only to discover part of the way in that you're missing a key ingredient or two!  Developing excellent organizational skills will help you immensely in the kitchen, and part of this is ensuring that you have all of the required ingredients available, in the necessary quantity.

Here's a list of ingredients that I generally always have on hand, which allows me to bake on a whim without having to make a trip to the grocery store - at least most of the time!

Cinnamon Raisin Baked French Toast

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been baking a lot of bread recently - sourdough, brioche, babka, challah, and many more. Cinnamon raisin bread is high up on my list of favorite breads, and is even better when drenched in milk, eggs, and spices, and baked up golden brown.

This baked french toast couldn't be easier to prepare, and is the perfect option for busy breakfasts when standing over your oven, frying up individual orders of French toast isn't practical.  It is sure to be a hit at your next brunch!

One Fish, Two Fish Cupcakes

A few weeks ago, I created these adorable One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish themed cupcakes for Bekki's baby shower.  Seems like just yesterday that I was making Bekki & Matt's wedding cake!  Guests enjoyed chocolate or vanilla cupcakes, both topped with vanilla buttercream.  And how cute are the paper toppers! Check out my Cupcake Topper Tutorial to learn how to make your own.

I'm also happy to announce that Bekki & Matt welcomed their daughter Mia into the world, just last week!  Congratulations!!!

Monkey Baby Shower Cake

My friend Amy's sister is having a baby in April, and I was delighted to be able to make her baby shower cake!  The design was based off of the invitation that Amy created for the shower - how cute are those monkeys??  Both tiers were chocolate - top tier was filled with cappuccino cream, and the bottom tier was filled with vanilla buttercream and fresh strawberries.

Congratulations, Sandy and Brian!  The happiest wishes for the new bundle of joy that will soon enter your lives.

Bouchon Bakery's Better Nutters

I've been on a bit of a cookbook-buying kick lately (thank you, Amazon Prime, I don't know what I'd do without you!!).

My friend Laura had a baking day a few weeks ago, and the week prior, we poured over a few different books over lunch when we were trying to painstakingly narrow down the large list of things we wanted to make.  The stack of books included the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, which Laura had recently purchased.  And, with a quick look through the book, it went on my short list of books to buy.  The book itself impressive - it's huge! - and is filled with gorgeous photographs and personal stories from the authors.

The cover of the book features "Better Nutters" - peanut butter oatmeal cookies filled with peanut butter buttercream - and I've been dying to make them.  And this weekend, I finally had the opportunity.  The dough is a bit of a pain to work with - it gets very sticky, very quickly when rolling it out - and it requires refrigeration prior to rolling out AND freezing prior to baking.  Finicky, yes.  But, the extra effort was well worth it, and all of the steps can be spread out over days to make things a bit easier.  I weighed all of my ingredients (just do your best for the non-whole number gram amounts).

Branching Out - Sourdough

And now for something a little bit different...some lovely homemade sourdough loaves!  A month or so ago, on a snowy, frigid day, I decided to bake a loaf of bread - a crusty country loaf, from the Flour cookbook (the Flour cookbook is fabulous - I've made probably about a dozen or so things from it, and everything has come out really, really well).  A conversation about said loaf of bread with my husband turned into how it might just be really fun to make a weekly gourmet grilled cheese - he'd pick the fillings, and I'd select and bake the bread.  We had our first grilled cheese on homemade bread the very next day.

I sent my friend Sasha a few pictures of my country bread loaves - he's a really amazing bread baker - and he said: "welcome to the obsession!".  And obsession it has become!  The idea of turning a few simple ingredients - water, flour, salt, and yeast - into beautiful loaves of bread is completely fascinating and magical to me.  The once a week loaf has turned into several loaves a week, of different varieties.  Over the past few weeks, I've made several challahs, chocolate babkas, brioche, country loaves, multigrain loaves, and several sourdoughs.  And while the commercially yeasted loaves are wonderful and delicious, baking sourdough has become a new love of mine.  It's certainly an investment (not really money wise, more time, effort, and the willingness to learn) and the learning curve can be a bit steep - you must care for your precious sourdough starter(s), the process of mixing, fermenting, proofing, baking can take quite a bit of time (sometimes, in a measure of days), and there are many things that can make your bread turn out not so great.  But, the rewards can be really, really great!

Nicole's Baby Shower

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of creating this adorable baby animal cake for Nicole's baby shower.  Nicole and Jon have a baby girl due to arrive in April -  seems like just yesterday that I was making their wedding cake!

The top tier was chocolate, bottom tier was white velvet, and both tiers were filled with vanilla buttercream.  My husband helped out with quite a bit of the fondant work - I feel very lucky to have such a detail oriented, artistic guy, who actually enjoys making cakes!

Congratulations, Nicole and Jon!  The happiest wishes for the new bundle of joy that will soon enter your lives.