Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Brown Butter Pecan Chip Blondies

There are many occasions in life that call for blondies.  I'd usually consider myself an all-chocolate, always-go-for-brownies type of girl, but with the invention of these brown-buttery, pecan and chocolate flecked blondies, an exception was born.  

So.  Occasions that call for blondies.  Birthdays, naturally.  Christenings, probably.  Also bar mitzvahs.  The day you pass your drivers test.  Arbor day, for sure.  Thursdays.  

As it turns out, both Superbowl Sunday and Valentine's Day are blondie-worthy occasions.  Brown butter pecan chip blondies go well with both football-crazed crowds and romance-crazed dates.  They're a two-fer.  Friends and lovers.  Enjoy!

Brown Butter Pecan Chip Blondies
  • 1.5 stick unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.Butter and line a 8x12x2 inch baking pan with parchment paper, letting 2 inches of paper hang over the side of the dish.Butter the lining, too.
Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl
Brown the butter in a medium saucepan, using medium heat and stirring often.When it’s finished, it should be a rich golden-brown color.
While the butter is browning, mix the two sugars in a large bowl, and break up any big lumps in the brown sugar.After the butter has browned, let it cool a bit and then pour it into the bowl with the sugars and whisk the butter and sugar together until combined.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl and then add them to the butter/sugar mixture.Add the vanilla and whisk until the mixture is combined.Add the flour and mix until just incorporated.Fold in the chocolate chips and pecans and transfer the mixture to the prepared pan.
Bake for 27 minutes or until the top cracks slightly and is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist pieces clinging to it.Remove bars from pan using the parchment paper, and, once completely cool, cut them into 2-inch squares.

Makes about 20 to 25 blondies.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Help, I'm Surrounded by Talented Chefs

Dear Bashionista,

I am a horrible cook and it stops me from inviting people over. But I have so many people who have cooked for me and I want to repay the favor. What do I do? I sense that inviting people over for takeout would be . . . incredibly lame.


Sascha R.

Dear Sascha,

So what you're telling me is that you are always the dinner guest, never the chef, and this leaves you wracked with guilt.

I have good news for you! People who love to cook usually love to cook for other people - that is their entire agenda! And my guess is, if you keep getting invited back, your chef friends value your sparkling wit more than your ability to get a souffle to rise. Maybe you're an easygoing dinner companion, or maybe you're just easy on the eyes. Maybe you are the person who can be counted on to help break down tables at the end of the night, or maybe, just maybe, your inability to cook makes you an incredibly appreciative dinner guest. Trust me, there's something you're bringing to the table . . . no pun intended.

Now that being said, it makes me sad to hear that your lack of confidence in the kitchen prevents you from entertaining. There are a couple of different ways that we can tackle this. First, exactly how "horrible" a cook are you? If by horrible you mean unmotivated, uninspired, or inexperienced, you are in luck! I have created three different meal plans tailored for a new cook trying to impress his friends. Check out A Simple and Elegant Italian Feast; A Fun and Easy Mexican Feast; or Delicious and Plentiful Comfort Foods - then choose the number of courses you want to tackle and bam! Your dining karma is back in balance.

However, if by horrible you mean that the food you regularly cook is so awful that you can barely stomach it, then do your chef friends a favor and Do Not Attempt to cook for them. Instead, have them over for a small get-together after the dinner hour. They'll love the chance to socialize at a Game Night or CD Mix Swap, and you can get by with serving a nice cheese and fruit platter, veggies and dip, chips and popcorn. Better yet - distract from your lack of cooking prowess by mixing up a pitcher of your favorite cocktail.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Goldfinger Photo Gallery

For my Goldfinger Birthday Party, I cleared a space on my landing and called it the photobooth. Guests could choose to stand in front of a Union Jack (if they were more aligned with James Bond or the mods) or in front of a big hippie tapestry. They were also invited to make a selection from the prop table. I shot everyone using my Fuji Instax camera, and then the pictures went into a photo album. Guests were asked to sign and answer the question: Do you think your parents smoked weed in the '60s? Don't worry, Friends' Parents, I'll never tell.

I love how these pictures turned out! And it definitely helped that the costumes people showed up in were so rad. Adorable mod dresses, dramatic flowing hippie gowns, men looking sharp - it was a visual banquet. I wore a borrowed dress with a skirt so short it was almost criminal - can't do that every day!

Here's a little photo gallery:

First, some mod ladies for you to feast your eyes on:

How would you like your cocktail, Mr. Bond?

With the right pistol, anyone can be a Bond villain.

Katie's working the bowler hat.
Mad Men inspired me to pick up some candy cigarettes as props.

Kristen, 8 months pregnant, pulls off a nice Betty Draper here.

We had our fair share of Bond villains . . .

. . . and some 007s

Some people channelled the Mad Men vibe . . .

. . . and others came with their hippie freak flags flying:
We had one Beatnik . . .

. . . and one cast member of the Lawrence Welk show.

Even Dick Nixon showed up!

Everyone else had fun with props:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Goldfinger Playlist

Putting together nine hours of music for the Goldfinger party took a long time - and I loved every minute of it. Here I've taken these great finds and distilled them into one special hour. This is not your oldies station's mix CD! We've got sassy ladies and torch songs. We've got some classic Bond themes and rock, rhythm and blues. Here's the link to download it on iTunes.

This mix is perfect for the latter hours of a party - great for close talking in shadowy nooks, for making eyes at someone as you reach for the same slice of piping-hot baked brie, and for cutting a rug in your stylish mod clothes.

Here's the track list:

1. Botch-A-Me/Rosemary Clooney
2. Danke Schoen/Wayne Newton
3. I Wanna Be Loved/Dinah Washington & Teddy Stewart Orchestra
4. Blue Skies/Ella Fitzgerald, Harry "Sweets" Edison & Paul Weston Orchestra
5. 7 Heures du matin/Jacqueline Taleb
6. Dr. No theme/John Barry
7. Caravan (Instrumental)/Gordon Jenkins
8. Goldfinger/Shirley Bassey
9. You Only Live Twice/The Postmarks
10. I Put a Spell on You/Screamin' Jay Hawkins
11. 1969/The Stooges
12. Helter Skelter/The Beatles
13. 19th Nervous Breakdown/The Rolling Stones
14. We Don't Know/The Attack
15. Dirty Water/The Standells
16. Stroll On/The Yardbirds
17. Here Comes My Baby/The Tremeloes
18. I'm the Face/The High Numbers
19. A Well-Respected Man/The Kinks
20. Different Drum/Stone Poneys

Spicy Cauliflower and Kale Chips

Cara McAvoy, sous chef at San Francisco's Chiaroscuro is here to help you learn to love your vegetables:

The New Year is a time when outrageous resolutions are made and sadly, food and drink are often at the top of the list of things to go. This does not need to be so! Eat more of the fruits and veggies that are good for you, and enjoy the hell out of your small indulgences. Savor a single glass of wine. And when it's time to entertain guests, whip up the following healthy and savory recipes:

Spicy Sauteed Cauliflower
1 head of cauliflower
1 clove garlic (optional)
olive oil
salt & pepper
chili flakes
freshly grated parmesean cheese (optional)

Cauliflower has a lot of flavor and all you need to do to bring it out is get a little color on it in a saute pan.
1. Cut cauliflower in half and cut out the hard core.
2. Slice each floret into slices about 1/8 inch wide.
3. If you want a little garlic flavor, rub the outside of each floret with the garlic clove before you slice it
4. Heat oil over medium heat (just enough out to generously coat the bottom of the pan).
5. Add cauliflower, season with salt and pepper and cook about 3 minutes per side or until nice and brown, turning to avoid burning.
6. Right before it's done, sprinkle with chili flakes - let the chili flakes open up their flavor in the oil but do not let them burn.
7. Sprinkle with parmesean or pecorino cheese and serve

Kale Chips

My friends and I are crazy about kale chips. They have to be the healthiest thing on earth that comes in chip form. And they're a snap to make!

1 bunch kale
olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2.With a small pairing knife, cut the leaves of kale off the stem.
3. Arrange kale on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil (use your hands to rub the leaves and make sure the leaves are all covered in oil!)
4. Season with salt and pepper
5. Throw em' in the oven for 10-20 minutes. The timing all depends on the water content of the kale, just keep an eye on it and check every five minutes, when the leaves are dried out....they are ready!! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Delicious and Plentiful Comfort Foods

[This is part 3 in a series. For a Fun and Easy Mexican Feast, click here. For a Simple and Elegant Italian Feast, click here.]

Dear Bashionista,

Back in November, my friends and I had a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. And by "pre-Thanksgiving" I mean basically an entire Thanksgiving dinner. It was a great time, but conisdering all the dishes that were made, there was a massive amount of preparation and then a ton of clean-up. I would love to do it again, but with a simpler meal. Could you help me come up with some ideas for meals that are simple, not too expensive and could feed anywhere from 7-12 people?

Mike K.

Dear Mike,

This is such a good question, that I have turned it into a mini-series. Today's final installment: Comfort Foods.

In recent editions, I took you through menu plans that would use a minimum of dishes. This one may require a bit more clean-up, but the recipes are all simple and delicious - and they're easy to double, triple, or quadruple to feed a crowd. Here we go!

Appetizer to Feed an Army: Nonna's Clam Dip
Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 25-30 minutes.
What you'll need: A cutting board and a sharp knife; a can opener; oven-safe baking dish; something to stir with; your clenched fist pounding the crackers to smithereens OR a food processor; a lemon juicer OR your bare hands juicing a lemon.

This dip has been a family tradition at our house since, oh, the 1940's, when somebody read the recipe on the back of a Ritz crackers box, and made a few Italian suggestions. The consistency is more like bread pudding than what you're probably thinking of. It is deeply satisfying, and a snap to make.

Soup Course: Molly's Turkey Corn Chili
Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 15 minutes.
What you'll need: A cutting board and a sharp knife; garlic press; can opener; wooden spoon, cheese grater.

You'll be chopping vegetables, opening cans, and grating some cheese while you let things simmer. It's a simple recipe and a great way to fill people up if you've got some big eaters coming. You can always make this in bulk and freeze what you don't end up eating.

Main Course: Molly's Pasta with Tomatoes, Arugula & Pine Nuts
Prep time: 25 minutes, including the time it takes to boil water
What you'll need: A cutting board and a sharp knife; pasta pot, collander.

This pasta dish is more elegant than opening up a jar of sauce, but almost as simple! Your guests will love it. Don't feel like springing for expensive parmesan? Grated mozzarella makes a great substitution.

Dessert: Cara's Cheddar Apple Tartlets & Boozy Apple Cider
Prep time: about 30 minutes to make the apple tartlet filling; another 30 minutes to bake the tartlets. You can use those same 30 minutes to let the cider steep and mix up some cinnamon butter.
What you'll need: baking sheet; saute pan; cider pot; sharp knife and cutting board; nerves of steel to unpop a roll of crescent dough

The filling will take a little bit of effort, but assembling the tarts could not be easier. They will look bangin' coming out of the oven, and the hot buttered rum cider will knock people out!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Throw Down: Goldfinger

This past weekend, I threw myself a Goldfinger birthday party. For the past few years I've been renting out a venue - for parties like Flashdance Electric Boogaloo and Summer of Sam. My challenge this year: to take my ordinary apartment and make it feel every bit as cool as a rented venue, and to transport people to the 1960s - a world of mods and rockers, hippies and Mad Men, the Beatles and the Stones.
Click here for a playlist of great '60s tunes, and click here for a photo gallery of costume ideas. Now read on to take a little trip to my Goldfinger apartment.


I can't emphasize enough how important it is to stockpile images to use for your decorating scheme - my calendars for the past two years were chosen with this party in mind. I have a Mad Men wall calendar and a 60's fashion wall calendar that I mined for great images. I also cannot say enough good things about the Taschen line of weekly calendars. I have last year's Pin-Ups calendar by Gil Elvgren, and this year's Fashion of the 20th Century calendar. Not only do they have an eye for choosing arresting images, the pictures are printed back to back - which means that you can rip them out and your actual calendar entries will remain intact. I also recommend Buckaroo's Mercantile in Central Square, Cambridge for all your '50s and '60s shopping splurges. I got out of there with a '60s go-go postcard and some candy cigarettes, but the temptation to redecorate my entire house was strong!

Lanterns made of soda bottles
hang around the bar.
 In order the display the different crazes of the '60s, I divided my apartment into different areas devoted to each. Guests walked up the stairs to the third floor and enjoyed a series of gorgeous ladies in '60s fashions. I cleared everything off my landing and set up a photo shoot area - British flag on one side for the Bond afficionados, and a large hippie tapestry on the other.

My living room was completely transformed by first removing every stick of furniture, and then by hanging things with fishing wire. To the left of the door, I set up a full bar. Behind the bar were stills from Mad Men, and fashion ads from the 60's. The bar area was deliniated by a string of candle lanterns - these were bought at the JP Lantern Parade which happens in my neighborhood every October, but they can be replicated by cutting the top off a clear, 3-Liter bottle of soda, covering the outside in tissue paper, and lighting a candle inside. (Please note - it needs to be a 3-Liter, not a 2-Liter. Also, votive candles will NOT work. You want to use taper candles so they'll cast the right glow, and they'll need to be no more than 4" long. Shabbat candles - or plumbers candles - are the right size). Then punch 2 small holes and attach a segment of wire to the lantern as a handle. Et voila!

Immediately in front of the door was a table of props which people could grab before their photo shoots outside - more on that in our photo gallery article.

Beyond the prop table, I set up a hookah tent, which resembled a flying carpet. Using only a few nails, a few ceiling hooks, fishing line, six paper clips and four yards of gauzy red fabric I created an area where people could relax, smoke the hookah, and watch 60's movies like JFK, Goldfinger, and The Doors on mute. Underneath the tent I lined the floor with a large plush blanket and some floor pillows, and set a table with lava lamps and my hookah.

I cleared out my dining room furniture and moved in an old tv - which showed movies like West Side Story, Across the Universe, and Hair - and the large sofa from my living room. Most importantly, I (and my lovely assistants) lined the entire room in aluminum foil. It took a total of 5 hours to turn the room into what I referred to as "Andy Warhol's Factory." This was our dance floor.

The kitchen became the hippie area. I hung another hippie tapestry and a poster that comes with 3D glasses. Then I moved in the rest of my living room furniture.

I even decorated my bathroom - I went with a Beach Blanket Bingo theme. Shannon Daly gifted me a surfer shower curtain, and I found a box of Hawaiian leis in my office which I strung up around the room. I hung pictures of pin-up girls on the beach. And one of my all-time favorite finds was a Playboy from 1965. The cover story? Bond Girls. What a goldmine!

Party Feng Shui

It's taken me a long time, but I've finally created a masterpiece of party flow. For one thing, I set up four different food stations throughout the house to keep people on the hunt for their next snack. Secondly, I knew I was taking a big risk by creating space for a kitchen party. So often people cram themselves into the kitchen and the rest of the house feels a bit lonely. I knew that the only way I could invite people to hang out there was if I was completely finished with the cooking before guests arrived. Done! What I didn't anticipate is that people don't like to hover over people on sofas. While the couches saw a lot of action, most people didn't stay long if there wasn't a seat available. It was a great hangout space, but it didn't detract one bit from the rest of the party. Success!

The Menu

As I said, I had four different food stations throughout the house. On the bar table I served honey-roasted peanuts, clam dip, and Swedish meatballs in the slow-cooker. In the hookah tent, I served hummus & carrot sticks and brownies with sprayable frosting. In the Factory dance area we ate baked brie, pigs in blankets, and my roommate's gluten-free spanokopita. Finally in the kitchen I laid out Doritos (which were invented in the '60s), Joanie's award-winning mac & cheese, and I would have made Susan's peanut butter popcorn, but we were all stuffed!