Home for Thanksgiving...

We're both heading home to our respective families to celebrate Thanksgiving, which sadly translates into no new posts for the next six days or so. Hope that everyone has a wonderful and delicious holiday!

P.S. Alex received an acceptance today from Mt. Sinai's School of Medicine in NYC! Woot!


Cranberry and White Chocolate Blondies

Everyone meet Lara. She's sitting next me, blogvising. We love her, and not because she helped with the blondies.

My mom sent me this recipe yesterday, and it reminded me so much of Starbucks' cranberry bliss bars that they required immediate baking. The Starbucks bars were my favorite cranberry dessert bars until 20 minutes ago, when they were eclipsed by cranberry and white chocolate blondies. Lara describes the bars as festive, rich and scrumptious. Good adjectives. They tasted ridiculously good.

So here's how the baking went: we made one batch, thought it looked like not enough batter, and decided to double it. Except we only increased the size of the pan by a little, and had to bake it for a lot longer. So we can't say if the baking time is correct, but if you double it, add about 20 minutes to the original time. Bakes easy, goes down easier. Easiest with milk.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely topped

Line a 7x11 or 9x9 baking pan with tin foil, and spray with non-stick oil. Preheat to 350. Beat the butter and sugars together. Add eggs and vanilla and continue mixing. Mix in baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour. Beat in dried cranberries and white chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the pan. Sprinkle with the fresh cranberries, and press down with a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until knife comes out clean.


Warm Salad with Potatoes and Lemon Dressing

After a semester's worth of superb produce, we said our goodbyes to Penn's on-campus farmer's market this afternoon. Though the market will return once more next week before closing until spring, we will be home for Thanksgiving. We decided to plan a fully locally-produced dinner to honor the occasion, and found everything we needed for a mere $7.50! There's probably a joke to be made here about "market price," but I'm an English major ... so yeah.

We love the warm potatoes, string beans, eggs and lemony dressing that compose a salad nicoise -- but we're a bit more lukewarm about the tuna and olive business. We found some beautiful brussel sprouts at the market, and thought it would be interesting to try throwing them into the mix. Since we steamed them for a bit before pan-cooking them in a touch of smart balance and salt, they added a great buttery flavor to the dish. The whole ordeal took about 30 minutes, which was perfect for a busy weeknight (Project Runway Season 4 @ 10, please!). Definitely recommend this.

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 head lettuce (romaine, butter lettuce or frisee)
4 hardboiled eggs (we removed the yolks)
2 red potatoes
1 quart brussel sprouts
1/2 1b. string beans
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

for dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp herbs de provence (rosemary and thyme)
salt and pepper

Steam the string beans and brussel sprouts (takes about 10 minutes each). Peel the potatoes and boil them (takes about 15 minutes). Set aside string beans and potatoes. Heat olive oil, and cut the brussel sprouts in half. Cook them in the oil with a pinch of salt and pepper for about three minutes. When the potatoes are cooled, slice them. Slice the hard boiled eggs as well, and add the toppings to the lettuce. For the dressing, just wisk the ingredients together and pour over the salad.


Apple Cinnamon Swirl Muffins

Alex accuses me of turning this into a stew and muffin blog, and I'd like to publicly offer some defensive arguments:

1) He loves stew.
2) Fall demands stew for warmth.
3) Stews are cheap, healthy and perfect for college students because they freeze beautifully.
4) I have no defense for muffins. I just love them.
5) I nearly forgot, muffins are photogenic.

Moving on, or not ... muffins muffins muffins! Baking muffins is decidedly among my favorite stress-relieving activities, second maybe only to listening to Harry Potter on the iPod. The process is simple and instinctual. Liquids and solids combine, mix and bake. And because the steps are basic, there are oodles of opportunities to invent.

Tonight, we wanted to use up extra apples, so we simply chopped them up and added them to a basic cinnamon swirl muffin. It resulted in a great tartness that complimented the sweetness of the batter, and gave it a healthy, fresh taste.

Ingredients (makes 12 muffins):
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup skim milk
7 tbsp smart balance
1/4 tsp vanilla
3 apples, chopped
2 tsp ground cinnamon (for the cinnamon sugar)
6 tbsp granulated sugar (for the cinnamon sugar)

Preheat the oven to 375, and fill a muffin pan with muffin cups. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and superfine sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, milk, smart balance and vanilla. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix in the apples. Spoon batter into each muffin cup until it is about 1/4 filled, then add a layer of cinnamon sugar and repeat twice. Using a toothpick or tip of a sharp knife, swirl the mixture in each up to achieve the swirl effect. Bake for 18-20 minutes, let cool and serve.

Couscous Something, and other reasons to send us Email

Weeknight staple: Assorted vegetables with protein in sauce over starch. For example, tonight we made zucchini, peppers and onions with chicken in curry sauce over couscous. But we could have used shrimp or tofu or or broccoli or marinara sauce, etc. Get it?

Our dish tasted pretty okay, I wouldn't necessarily do the it exactly the same way again, but we weren't exactly going for spectacular. If you use this recipe, maybe use chicken broth to cook the couscous, and also maybe thicken the sauce for the stir-fry with cream or maybe just a touch of flour and more seasoning. If anyone comes up with a brilliant modification, let us know...

Which brings me to to our exciting announcement: We have Email! The address is twofatals@gmail.com, so now you can direct all of your "Dear Two Fat Als" and other fan mail that way. Woot.

Ingredients (serves 2 generously):
1 cup couscous
4 chicken cutlets
1 zucchini
1 onion
1 bell pepper
2 tsp curry (or 1 tsp each cumin and coriander)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the couscous as per instructed. While it is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pan and begin to cook the chicken. After about three minutes, add the onions, and when they have begun to brown, add the zucchini and peppers. Add the water and spices, and cook the entire mixture until the vegetables are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Top the couscous with the mixture, and serve.



Before this week, my most recent attempt at challah was in pre-school, when I stood in line with 10 other kids for the chance to brush a stroke of egg yolk over the ready-to-bake loaf. But having graduated ourselves from the school of kneadless bread, Alex and I felt determined Saturday morning to try something more challenging and hopefully more rewarding. We chose challah, a Jewish sabbath bread, because it was the only recipe that didn't require a trip to the grocery store.

Now I just said that baking challah is more challenging than baking kneadless bread which is true, but that doesn't mean that the recipe is actually difficult -- it's not. The recipe calls for hours of waiting, so while the entire process takes a while, the actual work time is minimal. And each ounce of effort put into creating a challah will be rewarded x10 when you see how beautifully the dough rises into a golden loaf. We each gave a little yelp of joy when we first peeked into the oven.

Soft, sweet and eggy, challah begs to be lathered in honey, reborn into french toast, and pulled from the loaf in handfuls for mindless snacking.

5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
3 eggs, plus 1 yolk
1 1/3 cups milk, warmed slightly
butter or non-stick spray for greasing a pan

Mix flour, yeast and salt together. Add honey, eggs and milk to the mixture, and knead together. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, using additional flour if necessary. Form the dough into a ball, and let it sit in a covered, greased bowl for at least 1 1/2 hours to rise. When you are ready to prepare the dough for baking, divide it into three pieces, and role each piece out into a long rope, about 15 inches. Braid the pieces, pinching the dough together at each end. Preheat the oven to 375, and let the dough sit while the oven heats. Before putting the dough in the oven, brush egg yolk over it. Bake for about 40-50 minutes, until golden.


Turkey Chili

The squirrels here have taken a noteworthy turn for the insane. One nearly ran into my leg this morning, nut in cheek. Oddly, I've noticed that Alex and I have begun to exhibit similarly frantic behavior. Saturday morning we left the house for a walk, and we accidentally returned with enough food for a 15-person dinner, plus leftovers to freeze for the winter. It's in the air.

The recipe for turkey chili is not a recipe. It's a method, learned by Alex from the source himself, which means you should let the recipe be more of a guidebook than an instruction manual. It's tradition to make it in the late fall, and it's hot enough to warm the soul as well as the body. It's perfect for both curling up with a bowl, and for serving with beer and guacamole to your favorite people, which makes it truly the most versatile and wonderful dish in our repertoire.

Ingredients (serves 10):
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 bell peppers, chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, chopped
1 large cans chopped tomatoes (the 29 oz. ones)
1 15 oz. can tomato puree
1 large cans black beans
1 large cans red kidney beans
1 large cans pinto beans
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp oregano
6 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
cheese and cilantro for garnish

Saute onions and garlic in 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pot for 5 minutes, then add the peppers. Meanwhile, saute turkey in 3 tbsp olive oil in a large pan. Add the turkey to the onion mix, then add the tomatoes, beans and seasoning. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Garnish and serve.


Homemade Drinking Chocolate

Just pretend this isn't weird: If reincarnation exists, I was Maya. Maybe Inca. And if my computer background (Chichen Itza) doesn't prove it, my passion for drinking chocolate absolutely does. Alex is practically South American Indian in this life, so he shares the love.

Drinking chocolate is like hot chocolate, but thicker, richer, and often spiced or flavored. Since tonight marked our first attempt to create it ourselves, we decided to go classic. We swirled bitter dark chocolate and sugar into steaming milk, and topped it with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. All together now: Sigh.

2 cups milk
3 oz. bitter chocolate, chopped, plus a bit extra for shavings
1/3 cup sugar, or more to taste
whipped cream

Heat the milk on low heat over a stove. When it’s sufficiently hot, add the chopped chocolate, and stir it into the milk. Stir in the sugar, and remove from heat. Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Mexican Lime Soup

Here is a recipe that's been in my family ever since Bon Appetit first published it in 1997. It's soup that people who don't cook soup can cook, and that people who don't like soup will like slash love.

This dish is healthy and fresh -- perfect for a cool night when you are looking for something to warm you, but not stuff you to oblivion. Besides, everyone loves toppings, and they absolutely make this meal.

We'd cooked it before, but we were still surprised at how easy it was. Really, all you do is heat chicken, pour chicken stock and lime juice over it, and let it cook. (Quick brag: We made homemade stock for the first time from the chicken we roasted two nights ago!) Also, if you prepare the toppings while waiting for the soup to cook, everything should be ready to serve in about 30 minutes.

Here is the recipe from Epicurious. We give it a guarantee, so if you try it and hate it, we owe you 3 beers.


Stuffed Eggplant

While preparing dinner tonight, we found out that a friend was accepted into medical school! We convinced her come over, and a boring eggplant dinner immediately became a celebratory feast -- complete with a bottle of wine and a simple spaghetti dish that we threw together in 10 minutes. We always feel guilty skimping on carbohydrates when there are guests to feed.

Stuffed vegetables generally mean heaps of cheese and breadcrumbs, but we thought we could do a healthier version with a fresher taste. My mom sometimes bakes eggplant innards with just cheese and tomato sauce, and we figured we'd add some peppers, onions and mushrooms too. Fueled by this idea and a kiss of guidance from recipes on the interwebs, we created our very own stuffed eggplant. For a pasta side, we simply mixed some cheese, mushrooms and peppers into the sauce and tossed it over spaghetti.

2 eggplants
1 pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
2 cups cheese (we used a part-skim mixture of mozzarella and asiago)
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven 350. Slice the eggplants in half, and scoop out the insides, leaving about 1/2 inch around the rim. Place the eggplant shells in the oven for 10 minutes. In the meantime, chop the remaining eggplant into small pieces. Cook the eggplant, peppers, mushrooms and onion in the oil for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, and mix the vegetables with the tomato sauce and almost all of the cheese. Scoop this mixture into the eggplant shells, and top with the remaining cheese. Bake the stuffed eggplants again for about 15 minutes.


Italian Cookies

Oh my god, we accidentally made over 100 cookies tonight. The recipe belongs our friend Dave's mom, who apparently makes cookies in batches of 100s. He fed them to us once, and they are AMAZING amazing. We've been begging for the recipe for weeks, and this morning I received the following email:

Hey Alanna, I've got my mom on the line, and she is running to the kitchen at top speed to get the recipe. It's hand-written on paper that's probably older than me (note the use of the word "oleo," before they knew to call it margarine). I'll type up the transcript best I can, then add some of my mother's finer secrets, as indicated by the asterisks.

The email goes on. The best part about these cookies is the texture, which is soft and melty, thanks to the ricotta. Second to the texture, however, is the fact that you decorate them with sprinkles. And did we mention that they taste amazing? Like warm vanilla sugar deliciousness.

We modified the recipe to make the cookies slightly healthier, and I'm posting our version here. Honestly, we couldn't tell the difference. So yeah, over 100 cookies, and they may be gone by tomorrow.

Ingredients (makes about 100 cookies):
1 stick butter, melted
1/4 lb. smart balance, melted
3 eggs
4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 lb. fat-free ricotta cheese (except Dave's mom uses slightly more, so we did too)
1/4 lb. smart balance
3 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp skim milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar together in a small bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the ricotta and vanilla, and mix everything together. Spoon the cookie dough onto baking sheets, making each cookie only about the size of a quarter and keeping at least an inch or two apart because they spread out. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until brown on the bottom (they will still be fairly white on top). To make the icing, add the melted smart balance to the powdered sugar and mix. Mix in the vanilla and milk. When the cookies are cool, ice them and top with sprinkles. Dave says extra points for bakers who decorate in the colors of the Italian flag.

Oven-Roasted Chicken

Chatting with my friend Danielle before class today, I mentioned that I planned to roast a chicken for dinner tonight. Her eyes widened: "But isn't that hard?," she asked.

Actually, nope. Roasting a chicken is cheaper and often easier than dealing with parts. We love this recipe; our moms (and yours) have been making it for years. Simple and classic, this is absolutely something to try for dinner this week. Just to note, though, if you haven't cooked a whole chicken before, be aware that extra parts are stored inside of the chicken. The first time I prepared one alone, I screamed and almost dropped the entire bird when I stuck my hand inside and found gizzards. Oops.

4-5 lb. chicken
3 medium-sized onions, cut into chunky pieces
4 carrots, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 lbs. small red potatoes, quartered
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp thyme
3 tbsp rosemary
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Wash and pat dry the chicken. Remove its insides, if they are there. Place it in a roasting pan. In a bowl, combine the vegetables and pour the olive oil over them. Add half of the rosemary and thyme, and mix it over the vegetables. Rub the rest of the rosemary and time over the chicken and beneath its skin. Do the same with the garlic. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over it, and place the lemon itself in the cavity of the chicken. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken, and then add the vegetables around the chicken in the roasting pan. Cook the chicken for about 2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut into it.


Vanilla and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Please don't shoot, but we don't really understand the cupcake craze. They're cute, yes, and there's the portion control factor, but we still don't think they merit the obsessive blogging and photographing and selling for $6 each, etc. Perusing the cookbook section of Penn's bookstore yesterday, we found like 5 books on cupcake decorating alone.

Muffins, however, are the underrated, modest back-up singers to the attention-mongering cupcake divas. Though they are frequently just as sweet and much tastier than cupcakes, they're not showing off about it. They're also healthier, and more versatile -- there's a whole galaxy of savory and fruity muffin-making that doesn't involve buttercream frosting or German chocolate anything (note: we are not opposed to buttercream or German chocolate generally, just in cupcake excess).

So I guess now would be a good time to disclose after making fun of all of the cupcake books at the bookstore yesterday, we purchased a muffin one. It's called Muffins Galore, and I love it. We decided to start with a simple recipe for chocolate chip muffins to bring for breakfast for our team members participating in Philadelphia's Race for Hope this morning, which raises money for the Brain Tumor Society. I've eaten two already today, and they are perfectly spongy with a great vanilla flavor. Completely simple and so yummers.

Ingredients (makes 12 muffins):
2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 cup milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk (skim works)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400. Line your muffin pan with paper muffin cups. Mix the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl, add the butter and rub it into the mixture. Stir in sugar and chocolate chips. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk and vanilla, then pour this mixture over the dry one. Mix until combined, and spoon batter into the muffin cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, until well-risen and golden. Cool for about 10 minutes, and serve.


Pumpkin Pie Blintzes

The Blintz: It's not just the word I mistakenly use when talking about that thing in football where all the people run the same way at once, or something. No, the Blintz is the mothership of Jewish cooking. According to wikipedia, it comes from the Yiddish word "blintse," which comes from "blin," which comes from the Old Slavic word "mlin," meaning "to mill." We don't really understand the connection between milling and stuffing pancakes with ricotta, but we've learned not to question when cheese is involved.

As we recently discovered, however, this isn't 19th century Russia. Who knew, right? So instead of the classic Blintz recipe, we decided to try a modernized version of our own invention. We created a Pumpkin Pie-like filling for autumn using basically whatever we found in the cabinets. For the crepes, we used the Bittman recipe that we posted about earlier. Though we were super nervous, we were pretty pleased with the results -- not too sweet, so you could definitely do them for brunch as well, and warmly comforting and tasty. Obviously, we'll post the recipe for what we did, and I definitely recommend it, however there may be plenty of other ways to do this as well. We just kept throwing stuff in until it tasted good (hence, the measurements are liberal estimates), and you should do the same.

Ingredients (makes about 20 blintzes):
15 oz. canned pumpkin (1 can)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp cinnamon, plus extra for topping
2 tbsp nutmeg
4 tbsp butter (half a stick), melted
powdered sugar, for topping

Make the crepes in advance, and set them aside (Note: Instead of regular sized-crepes, these should be about 6 inches in diameter). We recommend stacking them with paper towels in between so that they don't stick together. Preheat the oven 350. To make the filling, combine all of the other ingredients in a large bowl, and user a mixer on medium speed to whip them up until fluffy. Spoon about 2 tbsp of filling onto each crepe, and roll them up. Place them in a very lightly greased baking pan, and bake them for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and serve warm.

Bloggers Meet-Up, and other excuses for Onion and Pepper Toasts with Blue Cheese

It happened -- the night we'd been anticipating for almost two whole weeks: Philly food bloggers united.

At 6:50 p.m., we packed up our toast points and pumpkin-pie blintzes, hailed a cab, and made the 10-block trek down Chestnut Street. We were extremely nervous; I quizzed Alex on the names of expected guests and their respective blogs during the ride, and we eavesdropped outside the apartment door for a long minute before knocking. Hearing only some chatter and laughing -- no screams or other indications of ax-murdering -- we entered into a warm apartment with a bunch of mostly twenty-somethings sitting around drinking wine and munching on homecookings. Despite the initial awkardness of introductions (so... what's your blog?), we quickly started loving it. And as we expected, the food tasted insanely fine. These were our kinds of peoples. Check out their sites by clicking the links from our blogroll, to your right.

Being two people, we brought two dishes: an appetizer and a dessert (will post next!). We'd made the appetizer once before, but it originated in Alex's family as a Christmas dish. It's very simple, but for some reason we just think it tastes really good. These are easy to make en masse, and great to set out at cocktail parties as well.

3 onions, sliced into thin strips
2 peppers, sliced into thin strips
1 baguette
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp olive oil
4 oz. blue cheese
1 bunch of scallions, finely sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the baguette into thin toasts, about 1/4 inch thick, and spread them out on a baking sheet. Toast them in the oven until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes. In a large pan, Cook the peppers and onions in the olive oil over medium heat, sprinkling them with the sugar and salt and pepper. Remove them from the heat after about 15 minutes, when onions have begun to brown and the peppers have softened. Scoop spoonfuls of the onion and pepper mixture onto the toasts, and top with a small piece of blue cheese (maybe about the size of a fingernail) and some pieces of scallion. If you want, you can throw the toasts back in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese, or just serve.


Lemon Cole Slaw with Chicken

We love this recipe, and we're amazed that it has gone this long without appearing on the blog. It involves no real cooking -- only chopping and mixing. The result is so addictive. You are supposed to let it sit for an hour before eating, but we kept grabbing forkfuls in the meantime. Additionally, throwing some chicken on top creates an extremely healthy, refreshing dinner salad. This is not a creamy coleslaw at all, it's very lemony and sweet and light.

The recipe is from Epicurious, and you can find it here. As for the chicken, we used Alex's roommate's new lean George Forman grill, which, hilariously, worked great. You could also just cook it in a pan with a bit of oil, salt, and pepper.