Happy Holidays: Homemade Chocolate Biscotti

Whoa, it's been a crazy busy few weeks! I haven't had any time to blog and I'm really regretting that now. The holidays always end up stressing me out a lot more than they should, and I lose a lot of sleep fretting over anything and everything. This year I had the added bonus of getting sick with food poisoning, followed almost immediately by something I will call the "Almost Flu." But the great news is that I survived, so yay!

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, which is probably why I make every attempt to be extra festive. The last few years I've challenged myself with creating a batch of homemade gifts to give out. I've previously done homemade mulling spices, cranberry oatmeal chocolate chip cookie mix, and also homemade vanilla extract. This year I decided to give homemade chocolate biscotti a try, and I'm pretty happy with the outcome. I'm probably the only person in the world who doesn't drink coffee, but I do know that biscotti goes great with it, and who can say no to chocolate?? 

Here's a peek at my biscotti, and also some of my homemade gifts from Christmases past:  

2014: Chocolate Biscotti dipped in dark chocolate and walnuts

2014: Chocolate Biscotti dipped in dark chocolate and walnuts

Giftwrapping 2013

Giftwrapping 2013

Vanilla Extract 2013

Vanilla Extract 2013

2012: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Mix

2012: Cranberry Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Mix

2012: Packaging for mulling spice

2012: Packaging for mulling spice

2012: Homemade mulling spices

2012: Homemade mulling spices

Waste Not, Want Not: Homemade Stock

If you've never made your own stock before, you're missing out on something really delicious that's also really easy. After reading Food52's post on how to make vegetable stock without a recipe, I was inspired to give it a try and now it's something I do regularly. I make my own stock from leftover vegetables about once a month, and I either freeze the stock for soup or I use it for cooking during the next few weeks. It's so flavorful, and I feel great knowing that I've found a use for food that would normally be discarded. Plus, I love that it's homemade and I'm that much closer to becoming Martha Stewart. (!!!!)

If you cook a few times per week, you probably have tons of ingredients you can use in your stock. I keep a gallon-size ziploc bag in my freezer and every time I trim carrots, celery, onions and the like, I throw the ends in my freezer. When the bag is full, I know it's time to make some stock. Sometimes I have some chicken bones on hand that I put in the pot with my veggies, which I personally think adds another depth of flavor and makes it taste even more delicious. 

All you need to do is put all your frozen veggies in a large pot with salted water and let it simmer for the next 4+ hours. Take a nap, catch up on your DVR, clean your apartment. You'll know when it's ready because the vegetables will look like mush, but the broth will be bursting with flavor. At this point, you can strain and discard the mushy veggies, and then you'll be left with a pot full of homemade stock that you can use as you please. Trust me, it's worth the time!

Thanksgiving 2014 Stock: turkey breast bones, garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsley, scallions, thyme, green pepper

Thanksgiving 2014 Stock: turkey breast bones, garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsley, scallions, thyme, green pepper

Nov 2014 Stock: tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, parsley, string beans, scallions, chicken bones, thyme, broccoli, asparagus.

Nov 2014 Stock: tomatoes, carrots, onions, celery, parsley, string beans, scallions, chicken bones, thyme, broccoli, asparagus.

June 2014 Stock: Kale, tomatoes, onion, parsley, thyme, chicken bones.

June 2014 Stock: Kale, tomatoes, onion, parsley, thyme, chicken bones.

Some tips:

  • Make sure to use a healthy amount of salt. I always forget that I need an extra tablespoon or two of salt to make the broth extra tasty, or else it ends up being something more like vegetable water. 
  • In addition to my frozen vegetable trimmings, I also make sure to include a handful of garlic cloves, whatever fresh herbs I have on hand, an extra onion, and any vegetables I have in my fridge that I don't think I'll be able to cook before they go bad. 
  • According to Food52, you can use almost any combination of vegetables in your stock, but they recommend staying away from potatoes (they will turn your broth cloudy), beets (they will turn your broth pink), and rosemary (it adds a slightly bitter flavor). Everything else is fair game.

Hope this has inspired you to think twice about the food you're throwing away. Waste not, want not!

Handlettering: Making Spirits Bright

Earlier this year I developed an interest in handlettering. It's something I dabbled in every so often for more than a year, but always figured it'd end up being another discarded pastime like so many of my others: crafting, jewelry-making, crochet, the list goes on. Well, my enthusiasm for handlettering has stood the test of time so far, thereby deeming it an official hobby.

With that said, I'm so happy, proud, and excited to feature my handlettering skills front and center in my personal holiday cards this year. This was something I've been brainstorming and planning since October and it took weeks for it to finally come to fruition.  I didn't always have a lot of time to spend working on something that was -- in retrospect -- only a side project, so it was a long, arduous process. Also, because I'm a perfectionist, I had to overcome a lot of inner turmoil before I was satisfied with the final design.

The sketch itself didn't take me very long, but the digital recreation took days to complete. I fiddled with it endlessly to get it to look just the way I wanted. Once I was happy with everything, I uploaded it to moo.com and said a little prayer that nothing would go wrong. Well, I received the cards today, and I couldn't be more thrilled with how they turned out! It feels so great to know that this was something I created from scratch based on a sketch in my sketchbook and I literally brought it to life. It was no easy feat, and that's what makes it an even greater accomplishment. I'm so full of pride that it's like I just gave birth to a child. This feeling is amazing!

Original sketch on the left, finished piece on the right

Original sketch on the left, finished piece on the right

I can't wait to send these cards out! Check your mailbox because you just might be in for a special surprise from yours truly :)

Thanksgiving Travels

Wow, it's been super busy around here lately. I've done a fair amount of traveling during the last week and now I'm finally home to breathe for a moment before returning to work. 

Part I: The Ngais Do Vegas

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my family and I flew to Las Vegas for four days. This marks our third family trip to Sin City, which may seem a bit odd for a family destination, but we love it. It turned out that I wouldn't be seeing them for Thanksgiving, so it was nice to spend that time with them. So for four days straight, the Ngais did what we do best: EAT. Here's a few highlights: 

 

Mandatory stop at In-N-Out

Mandatory stop at In-N-Out

Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. I ate all the oysters and I have no regrets.

Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace. I ate all the oysters and I have no regrets.

Dinner at Bachi Burger: oxtail chili cheese fries 

Dinner at Bachi Burger: oxtail chili cheese fries 

Kimchi Burger at Bachi Burger. The best!

Kimchi Burger at Bachi Burger. The best!

Killing time at the Bellagio Conservatory while everyone hits the slots

Killing time at the Bellagio Conservatory while everyone hits the slots

Back to NY! Flying over the Rockies

Back to NY! Flying over the Rockies

While we did spend a decent amount of time eating, my family made sure to save time to gamble. I was the only one to opt out, and I'm glad I did because everyone lost money. We also saw a Cirque du Soleil show, Mystère, which was great. When I got back to NY, it was time to pack up and head out again -- this time to Hot Springs, VA.

Part II: Thanksgiving in Virginia

My boyfriend's family planned a family reunion over the Thanksgiving holiday so we traveled to Hot Springs, VA to spend a long weekend at a house on the Omni Homestead Resort. It was four days of great food, endless booze, and tons of laughter. We made do with the freezing temps and snowy weather to enjoy an outdoor hayride and explore the area. Here are some Virginia highlights: 

Jimmy pretending to be pensive for the Instagram

Jimmy pretending to be pensive for the Instagram

Warm Springs, VA

Warm Springs, VA

image.jpg
Thanskgiving Place Setting

Thanskgiving Place Setting

Thanksgiving Dinner. Wishing I had gone back for seconds!

Thanksgiving Dinner. Wishing I had gone back for seconds!

Staying warm by the fire :)

Staying warm by the fire :)

Ready for Christmas at the Homestead Resort

Ready for Christmas at the Homestead Resort

Bundled up for a Homestead Hayride, sporting our usual faces

Bundled up for a Homestead Hayride, sporting our usual faces

Eskimo Lady

Eskimo Lady

After an entire week of being away, it feels great to be home! Happy Thanksgiving!

Easy Breakfast Solutions for the Morning Impaired

Rise and shine, kiddies! As an avid snoozer, I'm probably the furthest thing from a morning person. I relish those last moments snuggled up in bed before I have to get up and start my workday. Yup, I'm a sleepyhead at heart. 

With that said, I'm always looking for ways to optimize my morning routine so I can sleep as late as possible. I pick my outfit the night before, and I've figured out the least amount of makeup I can wear while still looking presentable. But something I really can't compromise is my breakfast. 

When I was a child, my mom always made sure that I got into the habit of eating breakfast every morning. Regardless of what I ended up with, she said it was better to have something in my stomach than nothing.  As an adult, this is one of the things that has been instilled in me and I always make sure to eat something before leaving for work. 

I've been in a bit of a breakfast rut lately and struggling to figure out what I can eat that is quick and easy. Well, I'm happy to announce that my mornings have improved tenfold after reading that you can freeze pancakes and defrost them in the microwave for breakfast. The other night I whipped up a batch of Alton Brown's pancakes and stuck them in the freezer to devour for breakfast the next few days. They were just as fluffy and warm as they were when they came off the griddle. Success! And guess what, it was that much easier to get out of bed the next day! Guess all I need is a little food motivation ;)

Happy Flapjacks

Happy Flapjacks

A great reason to get out of bed in the morning :)

A great reason to get out of bed in the morning :)

Some other quick fixes for breakfast, which can also be prepared the night before: 

  • French Toast (I like to bake mine so that the batter is more evenly cooked.)
  • Mini Frittatas (A great way to use up those extra veggies before they go bad!)
  • Make-Your-Own Instant Oatmeal (You can make whatever flavor your heart desires. Just add some liquid and pop it in the microwave for an instant hot breakfast.)

Hope this inspires you to eat your breakfast! They say it's the most important meal of the day, after all ;)

Sunday in the Kitchen: Mini Thanksgiving

Reading about Thanksgiving all over the Internet has gotten me really excited about the holiday. I've never hosted it before, but my inner Martha Stewart fantasizes about the day I put together the perfect Thanksgiving meal that I've probably slaved over for the last day and a half. 

Well, until that day comes, I can practice by cooking a small Thanksgiving meal for my boyfriend and me. I had aspirations of preparing an entire feast for us, but there's only so much that two people can eat. We settled for a 7-pound turkey breast with homemade gravy, Italian sausage and mushroom stuffing, and mashed potatoes. I also baked cornbread muffins, and cranberry muffins in lieu of dessert. 

Thanksgiving for two :)

Thanksgiving for two :)

Cranberry muffins. Highly addictive!

Cranberry muffins. Highly addictive!

I still ended up making way too much food, so it looks like I'll be eating leftovers for the rest of the week. But I'm not complaining about that ;)

Here are the recipes I used:

I've already decided that next year I'll graduate to hosting a mini Thanksgiving with friends, and I'm already excited about that. Is it too early to start planning my menu?! 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

An Exploration of Pie Crusts

Rolling out pie dough was something that used to give me a bit of anxiety. It was daunting to me because I was never fully confident that I could do it well. There was a small part of me that feared I'd mess it up and/or succumb to my frustration and just give up halfway through. 

Well, after baking six pies in the last two months, all my fears are long gone. I've found the right recipe and perfected all the right moves and I'm no longer terrified of not being able to pull it off. 

The best part about having honed in my technique is that now I can really focus on being creative with the top crust. I was never brave enough to try anything other than the standard solid top crust with slits to let out steam, but I also never realized how versatile it can be. You can crimp it, weave it, cut out shapes, braid it -- the possibilities are endless. I've seen some great photos around the Internet that's really inspired me to try something new every time. The results always turn out great! Here's just a few of what I've done so far:

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Chicken Noodle Soup: It's Cold Season

I rarely get sick, but this weekend I woke up with a case of the sniffles. I usually take every precaution to stay in good health, particularly during flu season. Hand sanitizer is one of my closest allies, but I know it was the rainy, cold weather on Halloween night that did me in this time. Well as soon as I kick this cold, I'll be visiting my doctor to get my annual flu shot. It's about that time again!

NY has finally gotten a dose of that fall weather we've all been anticipating, so what better reason to make a big pot of chicken noodle soup? Even better, I had all the ingredients on hand so I didn't even have to run to the grocery store. I started the soup in the afternoon and left it on the stove to simmer while I took a quick nap. By dinnertime, I awoke to the comforting aromas of homemade chicken noodle soup.

Here's the recipe I used, and a photo of the finished product. It was delicious, and a perfectly easy dinner on a Sunday night!

Chicken Noodle Soup to warm the soul

Chicken Noodle Soup to warm the soul

No Butter, No Problem

It's a baker's worst nightmare. You're down to your last stick of butter, and you have a hankering to bake (and consequently eat) something delicious. Surely whatever you want to bake requires anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 full sticks of butter. What do you do??

I've gotten into the habit of buying my butter in bulk when it's on sale at the grocery store (1 pound--or four sticks--of butter for $2! It's a steal compared to the full price at $5!). Every time it's on sale I'll buy a pack or two and just throw it in my freezer to defrost the next time I want to bake. Sadly, I've reached the end of my supply, and have been trying to stretch my butter until the next $2 sale. I'm hoping this will be coming any week now that the holidays approaching, but in the meantime I've found some great no-butter recipes and general butter substitutes. 

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Oh, Hai Pumpkin Pie

Having run out of apples in my fridge, I've finally made the transition from apple pie to pumpkin pie. I will openly admit that I've never liked pumpkin-flavored things--I distinctly remember tasting pumpkin pie once when I was a kid and absolutely hating it. To this day there is something about the mushy texture that throws me off.

Nevertheless, none of this stops me from baking up a storm, and over the last year or so I've found and perfected a great pumpkin pie recipe. Every fall I will bake it two or three times just to give it away to friends and family. :) Now, the recipe I use takes a lot longer to make than any other one I've tried in the past, but my mom swears it's the best pumpkin pie she's ever had. I think the secret is pre-cooking the pumpkin filling until it's reduced and the flavor is ultra-concentrated. This isn't really something you can whip together in an hour, but judging from the compliments I get, it's totally worth the time it takes. If you want to go the extra mile, then this is a definite crowd pleaser!

So without further ado, here's my first--but not last--pumpkin pie of the season! This one is headed straight to my mom since she has been bugging me about making pumpkin pie since last fall!

 

One slice down, only seven more to go!

One slice down, only seven more to go!

Birds, Bubbles, and Two Broads

If you know me, then you probably know that I love fried chicken and champagne. So naturally, when my friend Callie heard about Birds & Bubbles, a new restaurant featuring two of my favorite things in life, she forwarded the article to me. We immediately made a girls' date to try the LES spot. I'd never thought to pair fried chicken and champagne together, but if two things are delicious on their own then they must be doubly delicious when together. :)

The restaurant is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. It's a downstairs location on a nondescript street on the cusp of Chinatown, and it's also surrounded by a bunch of vacant stores. But once you step inside, you'll appreciate the newly renovated and minimally decorated atmosphere. It's a narrow space and there is a bar at the front which allows patrons to mingle and nibble if they please. Past the bar there is another room in the back of the restaurant, which is equally narrow but looks to sit about 20 people. Even further past this room is the outdoor seating, which is a more spacious courtyard/patio area and probably fits about 30. 

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All the Carbs

In today's world of fad diets, white bread has become a huge luxury for many of us trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I grew up eating it, loving it, and subsequently vowing never to switch to the atrocity that is whole wheat. Well, it turns out that diabetes runs in my family, and in addition to that it would behoove me to make some smart decisions about what I put in my body. Thus, I made the long-dreaded switch to buying whole wheat bread, and believe it or not, I have actually grown quite fond of it over the years. 

Recently, my boyfriend came home with SIX loaves of white bread that he needed to use for a photo shoot -- that's just about 120 slices of bread, if you want to do the math. Well, it turns out that he only used two loaves for his shoot, so now we've got 80 slices of white bread chilling in our kitchen.

The White Bread Challenge Begins

The White Bread Challenge Begins

Firstly, I am totally eating this bread since my love of all carbs is a known fact. Secondly, I cannot bring myself to waste perfectly good food, so I've  managed to turn this into the ultimate challenge of what to do with all this white bread. And here we begin...

Over the course of 3 weeks, I've made: three batches of french toast; one small batch of bread stuffing (Thanksgiving came early this year!); and lately I've resorted to eating eggs over toast every morning for breakfast. We are down to 1 1/2 loaves, and you don't even know the struggle. I am running out of ideas for what to make with this white bread. Also, my boyfriend has basically stopped eating it so I'm left to complete this challenge solo. Wish me luck!

'Tis the Season for Apple Pie...

Do you smell that in the air? Yup, it's apple season. I look forward to apple picking every year, and it's become a fall tradition for my boyfriend and me. When we were upstate last weekend, we came back with more than 10 pounds of freshly picked apples! I immediately went into baker mode, and just this week I baked two apple pies. I've always had a soft spot for apple pie, and my college roommate and current BFF loves to remind me of the time I went through a phase where I ate apple pie a la mode for a week straight. (YOLO, right?) So, these pies won't last long...

 

 

Over the years I have perfected my pie crust technique. In the past I've had trouble rolling out the dough but I'm glad to say that it's finally become "easy as pie" for me. Lately I've been using this recipe, which is all butter and no shortening. It comes out perfectly flaky and with a delicious buttery flavor. I have to swat my boyfriend away from sneaking extra crust, so I know it must be a true winner! Speaking of crust, I successfully executed my first lattice crust. After watching a quick Youtube video, I realized it's so much easier than I ever thought! I love that lattice crusts look so much more elegant, and they truly are a part of the quintessential homemade apple pie. 

My first lattice crust! So proud!

My first lattice crust! So proud!

We STILL have apples left over so I will probably bake one more pie and then devour the rest of the apples as they are. There is nothing like an apple picked right from the tree. When I buy them at the market, I tend to favor Fuji apples for their crispness and light but sweet flavor, but I will eat any apple that is freshly picked. I love the crispy crunch that they all have right after you pick them. Hopefully I can get back upstate to pick more apples before the season is over :)

Greetings!

Hi friends, family, strangers, and Internet stalkers! This is my first official blog entry, and I have to admit that I never thought I'd be a blogger, but I suppose it can't hurt to give it a shot. I'm new to the game but I look forward to updating this thing with my current projects, photographs, culinary adventures, and other tidbits of inspiration. :)

On that note, NY is having some fabulous summer weather to kick off the fall season. Last weekend my boyfriend and I spent some time upstate in Hudson Valley visiting Mohonk Mountain House, where I had my first rock scrambling experience. I go to the gym regularly and consider myself to be in fairly good shape, but this was a lot more physically intense than I expected. Also, it was completely terrifying as I have a fear of heights. In the end I'm glad I did it. The views were amazing and reaching the top was a huge accomplishment for me.

SkyTop Tower

SkyTop Tower

At the tippy top of SkyTop via the Labyrinth Trail

At the tippy top of SkyTop via the Labyrinth Trail

The view that made everything worth it

The view that made everything worth it

On the way up. Selfies are always appropriate ;)

On the way up. Selfies are always appropriate ;)

Thanks for tuning in and I hope you'll be back for more!