Category Archives: Food

Kitchen: Cinnamon Rolls

Making cinnamon rolls from scratch is a lot of work. Much work. For some freakish reason, I tend to enjoy these tedious baking projects. Naturally, one weekend, I decided to attempt this recipe. Now, these rolls were a big hit with the family, and they turned out beautifully, but they are definitely a once-in-a-while treat, and not just because of all the butter and sugar. They are so much work.

I used a recipe I found on Pinterest because, yes, I am one of those women who actually attempts the recipes she finds on Pinterest. They are based on the recipe used by Cinnabon, and are gooey and indulgent and comforting. They also reheat really well.



For the dough:
3/4 cup warm water
2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
4 and 1/2 – 5 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1 and 1/4 cups light brown sugar
2 and 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

For the cream cheese frosting:
2 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
pinch of vanilla powder ( or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 and 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add water, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Stir together, then let the yeast rise for about 5-10 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, and oil until well-combined. After 10 minutes, the yeast should look frothy and bubbly. At this point, pour in the buttermilk mixture, remaining sugar, and salt, and stir together for 10-15 seconds.

Pour in 2 cups of the measured flour, and stir on low speed until incorporated. Continue to pour in flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the bowl and bowl starts to look clean. Increase speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes. The dough should be slightly sticky, but not sticky enough to stick to your fingers when touched.

Transfer dough to a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm place to rise for 1-2 hours, or until dough has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch until combined.

Butter an 11×15 inch glass baking dish, then line with parchment paper, and butter again.

Once dough has risen, liberally flour a large, clean work surface. Punch down the dough to remove air bubbles, then transfer it to the work surface. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, roughly 20×30 inches wide. Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch strip on the edge of the dough farthest from you untouched. Evenly sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over the butter, then use a rolling pin to gently roll over the mixture and slightly press it into the butter.

Starting with the edge of the dough closest to you, gently roll up the dough into a tight log, sealing it with the strip of dough you left untouched. Cut off any uneven ends. Score dough every two inches, then use those marks to evenly slice your dough into rolls.

Place rolls into parchment paper lined baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm place to rise 1-2 hours, or until rolls have doubled in size and are almost touching each other. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 15-17 minutes, or until tops start to brown. Do not overbake!

While rolls are baking, prepare your frosting. In a bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat together butter and cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and lemon juice and beat until combined. Pour in powdered sugar and mix on low speed just until incorporated. Then, increase speed to high and beat for an additional 5 minutes, or until frosting turns white.

Once you remove the rolls from the oven, spread half of the frosting on top of them. This layer will melt into the rolls. Once they’ve cooled down, spread on the remaining frosting. Serve warm or reheat before serving. IMG_2660IMG_2661IMG_2665

Enjoy. Indulge.

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Kitchen: An Italian Brunch

I’ve been wanting to make this brunch for my parents for a long time. It is composed of many of my favorite things: crisp prosciutto, polenta loaded with parmegianno regiano and goat cheese, and perfectly poached eggs. It may sound intimidating, but it isn’t, trust me. The polenta took about 3 minutes, if that. You follow the package directions, then add whatever you want at the end (in this case, a couple of cheeses) The prosciutto was put on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven until it reached my desired crispiness.

The trick for me here was the poached eggs, as I’ve never made them before. It’s my favorite way to eat an egg, all softly textured with the rich, creamy yolk, but I only get them when I’m at a restaurant that will make them for me. I did what any curious cook with the internet should do: I googled and YouTubed how to make poached eggs. Some said to swirl the cooking liquid, some said it isn’t necessary. Some said add vinegar, some said it’s unnecessary.

I wound up cracking one egg at a time into a small, mesh sieve. This drains away all the loose whites that make poached eggs look raggedy. I then gently laid it into a large pan of simmering water. All I put in the water was salt, no vinegar. I then left the eggs alone, no stirring, no poking; I just kept an eye on them until all the whites had firmed up and there was no “clear” egg in the water. I surprised myself with delightful results.

Let me tell you, there are few things so decadent as a perfectly poached egg broken over a bowl of cheesy polenta. This meal stays with you for a long time.


Behold the glory of a breakfast I wish I could eat every morning:


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Cooking: Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

I cannot for the life of me remember where I found this recipe. My best guess is it is from Giada De Laurentiis, since quite a few of my recipes are derived from hers. I love these simple cookies, and they are perfect in a care package or as a pick-me-up. They are just the right amount of chocolate-y and just the right amount of chewy.



1 Cup (2 sticks) softened butter

1/4 C powdered sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 package mini chocolate chips

2 C flour

2/3 C Nutella

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and grease your cookie sheets.

Beat butter and sugar on high until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add the cinnamon and flour, then beat in the Nutella. Lastly, fold in about half the bag of mini chocolate chips.

Using a small cookie scoop or a spoon, drop 12 balls of dough at a time onto the greased cookie sheets. Bake them for 10 – 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack or wax paper to cool completely. With a small scoop, I get about 3 dozen cookies.



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Cooking: Pear Crostada

This rustic tart looks gorgeous, but is so simple to make! I used Guy Fieri’s recipe (except I used granulated sugar instead of turbinado because what middle class citizen buys a special kind of sugar for one recipe?) As far as the pears go, Bosc pears are my favorite. This dessert is a crowd pleaser at dinner parties.

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WORTH IT. (serve with vanilla ice cream)

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Cooking: Foccacia

This was one of my favorite things to snack on while living in Italy. This bread is rustic, hearty, and flavorful. If it seems labor intensive, be assured it is not nearly as labor intensive as most homemade breads.


1 1/2 C warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1 tsp granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

3 3/4 C all-purpose flour

5 TB extra-virgin olive oil

Desired toppings: Kosher or sea salt, dried oregano, dried rosemary, red pepper flakes, drained olives (chopped), drained sun-dried tomatoes (chopped), etc.


In a large bowl, combine 1/2 C warm water, yeast and sugar; stir to dissolve. Let stand about 5 minutes. Add remaining 1 C warm water, 2 TB oil, salt, and flour, then stir to combine. Turn dough onto floured surface & knead about 7 minutes (kneading feels like it takes forever, but this step is so important and does make a difference in your foccacia’s texture!). Dough should be soft; do not add more flour. Shape dough into a ball; place in a greased, large bowl, turning dough once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap (I also through a dish towel over that) and let stand in warm place for 1 hour.

Dough should be doubled in volume! Then, and this is my favorite part, punch that dough right in the center. Lightly oil a 15.5″ by 10.5″ (inches) jelly roll pan. Pat dough into the pan, then cover again and let the dough rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

With fingertips, make deep indentations about 1 inch apart over the entire surface of the dough, almost to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle with remaining 3 TB olive oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let it rise in warm place for 45 minutes. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Then, add your desired toppings! I always do salt, dried rosemary, and sometimes dried oregano, because that method is extremely popular with my guinea pigs, it’s how I ate foccacia in Italy, and why mess with a great thing?



Bake foccacia on lowest oven rack until the bottom is crusty and top is lightly browned, about 18 minutes. Transfer foccacia to a wire rack to cool, but not completely. Then grab a glass of wine and enjoy this bit of comforting fabulousness.


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Cooking: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

I made these luscious little gems a while ago, and they were very popular. You should try making them because they are delicious, easy, and friendly to all ages. I picked up the recipe here. I wrapped a bunch of them individually in plastic wrap, nestled them in a box of tissue paper, and they shipped really well to a couple of my favorite undergrads. Whoopie pies are versatile and also great for holidays.



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Cooking: Pumpkin Spice Donuts

This was a Pinterest win for me. My family has always loved donuts. I remember as a little kid, eating donuts on Saturday mornings while watching cartoons. Unfortunately, donuts have a different effect on your body when you’re an adult. However, the kitchenware industry has been kind, and a donut baking sheet has been invented! You can bake donuts and spare the hip disaster that results from deep frying!

I found a recipe for Baked Pumpkin Spice Donuts via Pinterest, and mom & I tried it out one Saturday morning with fantastic results. My little addition is not to glaze the donuts until you are actually eating them, as the glaze will soak into the donuts overnight and make them wet and soggy. It was a definite success, though.

Ingredients for the Donuts:

2 C. flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp ground cloves, 1/2 C. brown sugar, 1 C. pumpkin puree, 2 eggs, 2 TB milk, 1/4 C. softened butter, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a donut pan with cooking spray. If you don’t have a donut pan and don’t wish to buy one, you can use a greased cookie sheet. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves together until well combined.

In another large bowl, cream together with a mixer the brown sugar, butter, and pumpkin. Add in the milk, eggs, and vanilla, then mix well. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Place the mixture in a gallon ziplock bag or in a large piping bag with a large tip. If you don’t have a donut pan, I would refrigerate the dough for an hour so it will hold it’s shape better on a cookie sheet. Cut off a small corner of the ziplock and pipe out your donuts!

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and let the donuts rest for 5 minutes before placing them on a cooling rack to cool completely.

Ingredients for the Glaze:

1 1/2 C of powdered/confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 tsp maple or vanilla extract, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp maple syrup (optional), 2 TB milk

Combine the ingredients together. Place wax paper under the cooling rack. Dip the top of the cooled donuts in the glaze, the return them to the cooling rack to set.

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Cooking: Butternut Risotto

This is one of those recipes that results in the flavors of autumn. It is a “comfort food” in our home, and one of my parents’ favorite things I cook. Here is what you need:

Two cups of diced butternut squash: you will need an ice pack for your wrist after chopping up a butternut squash, unless you have an extremely sharp knife or, perhaps, an axe. I toss my squash in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it in the oven for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees. You don’t have to do this, but I like how the flavors become concentrated and the sugars are caramelized.

You also need the following: 4 cups of chicken stock/broth, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 4 or more (I always use more) of pancetta or bacon (the real, good stuff, not the thin, pre-cooked stuff), 2 medium shallots, minced, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1-1/2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice, 2 teaspoons of sage, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiana Reggiano, olive oil, salt and pepper. Put the chicken broth and wine in a pot and begin warming it. You want it to be hot when as you add it to the risotto, but not boiling. I like to squeeze the juice of a lemon into mine as well.

Now, Arborio is a delightfully fat & starchy rice that makes the risotto hearty. I also use it for rice puddings.

You will also need a really good, dry white wine. Please use something you would drink, people. You need to stay hydrated while you cook this marathon dish. I use my all-time favorite dry white wine, Orvieto Classico:

You’ll want to cook up your pancetta in a little olive oil until it’s awesomely crispy, then let it drain on paper towels:

Cook up your shallots until softened and add the garlic. Throw in the Arborio & squash and stir it together for about a minute, getting the rice all coated and toasted. Add one cup of the chicken stock & wine-y goodness. Stir continually, and sing softly to your risotto, if you so desire. Enjoying some of that wine will help with this.

This is the long part: continue to add the broth mixture, a ladle-full at a time. Stir continually until each ladle-full is almost completely absorbed before adding another ladle. Slowly, the rice will begin to give up its starches and your risotto will thicken and become wonderful. Near the end, the risotto should be creamy, but still “toothsome”, so you actually have some bite to it, and it isn’t just mush:

At the end, crumble the pancetta and add the sage into the risotto. Mix in the cheese and remove the pot from the heat.

Plate it up! Serve it with a nice salad and warm bread and the rest of that wine, if there is any left. If you want some nice color contrast, throw some parsley on top of it, but I don’t like green plants in my risotto, so I leave it out. Enjoy the comforting goodness!

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Tasting: DeBrand’s Fine Chocolates

We are beyond blessed in my hometown to have one of the greatest chocolatiers in the world (seriously – their products are shipped all over the world). DeBrand’s Fine Chocolates is a family-owned, gourmet chocolate company that whips up decadent creations and sends them out in gorgeous packaging. Walking into a DeBrand’s shop is like walking into a chocolate gift box: impeccably decorated, all of the gold and shades of chocolate enhance the divine smells of chocolates emanating from the massive glass display case. These chocolate treats melt slowly and are so incredibly smooth and complex, you feel as though you’ve spent a fortune and it was worth every penny.

DeBrand’s just celebrated its 25th birthday, and they allowed all of us chocophiles to celebrate with them by offering 25% off of almost all of their merchandise. When I went to indulge, I picked up a mocha truffle for mom (her favorite), a coconut truffle for dad (his favorite) and a Sweet Heat bar (which is the most complex and sophisticated chocolate bar I’ve ever eaten) and the most incredible sea salt caramels I’ve enjoyed anywhere for myself. The only chocolates I had yet to try was DeBrand’s Faces of the World collection. I picked up a box of those, then we sat down with glasses of sparkling water (for palate cleansing) and commenced with a chocolate tasting…

The Tahini: Seasoned Tahini and sesame seeds with dark, milk, and white chocolates (DeBrand’s description). Now, sesame seeds with chocolate may sound bizarre to the less adventurous, but they give a nutty depth to the chocolate that is really rich. This ended up being my dad’s favorite of the collection.

The Ginger: Asian ginger blended with white chocolate (DeBrand’s description). I have never had ginger with chocolate in any form. While it was an acquired taste for all three of us, I loved how unique the flavor combination was, and this chocolate is incredibly smooth.

The Caliente: Chili powder, cinnamon and cumin blended with milk chocolate (DeBrand’s description). These same components are in my beloved Sweet Heat MyBar, which I mentioned above. The smell alone of this one is divine: cinnamon and chocolate make a beautiful marriage. This does not taste like chili peppers, if that is your concern. Rather, heat permeates the back of your throat as you swallow and you are left with warm chocolate comfort.

The Hazel: Hazelnut paste & chopped hazelnuts with white, milk and dark chocolates (DeBrand’s description). This is the one for you Nutella lovers, but this is gourmet Nutella. It even tastes more expensive, and does not have that sugary texture. This one is ridiculously smooth and melts slowly on your tongue, which is just a lovely way to enjoy The Hazel.

The Java: dark chocolate with crushed Ethiopian coffee beans (DeBrand’s description). This was mom’s favorite, which came as no surprise since her favorite DeBrand’s treat is the mocha truffle. This is the one for coffee lovers, and all three of us loved this one, too. Coffee is one of those things that beautifully compliments chocolate, and this one is strong and rich.

Now, if you haven’t already, go to the DeBrand’s website, and at least enjoy the visual decadence and descriptions. And, thank you so much, DeBrand’s, for all of the incredibly wonderful things you give our community.

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Camera: Wedding Bread

My cousin gets married today. A tradition among the Macedonians is the wedding bread dance. My Baba put great care into making Samantha’s wedding bread from scratch, and I was fortunate enough to photograph the baking session:

Weighing out the dough…

Rolling out the ropes…

The ropes are braided…

Then nestled in a round pan, and set to rise…

The risen bread is brushed with egg-wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

And now: everybody dance! This will give you some idea of what the experience is:

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