Freezer Pastitsio

I made this pasta dish back in November to prepare for Carson’s arrival.  We had so many generous people bringing us meals for the first month, then we went home for Christmas, so I hadn’t had an opportunity to make one of my freezer meals until last month.  If I had really been thinking, and if I’d bought more small baking pans, I would have divided this recipe between 2 pans so that we wouldn’t be stuck eating this huge casserole all week!  This pastitsio recipe makes an incredible amount of food.   I think it would feed at least 10 people.  Here is the link to the recipe.

I made some changes, some of which I wish I hadn’t.  Sometimes you can get away with taking liberties with a recipe, but sometimes you can’t.  It’s probably wise to make it the way it’s supposed to be made the first time.  Lesson learned.

When I consider the ingredient list and the way my house smelled while making this dish, I would have expected this to be crazy good.  But Ben and I both found it to be missing something…it was a little bland.  I left out the red wine…mistake.  It would have added some nice flavor.  I skimped on the butter and milk in the pasta mixture, but that didn’t seem to make the pasta less flavorful or too dry.  Since my pan wasn’t big enough, I couldn’t add all of the bechamel sauce…maybe that was part of the problem?  I’d also use Kalamata olives next time.

The pastitsio was good, just not the best.  I would try it again, making a half recipe and being more true to the original ingredients.  If you make a full pan and plan to freeze it, make sure to give the casserole at least a full 24 hours to thaw in the fridge.  Bake at 350 covered for about an hour, and uncovered for 30 minutes.  With a half recipe, I’d still use the long thaw time, and bake a little less.  More freezer meal updates to come!

Black Bean Soup

Photographing dinner is hard for me.  It is almost always dark, and so I almost always have to use flash or deal with the yellow lights in my kitchen.  Pictures of our dinners never look quite right.  That is my excuse for this not so great picture of the black bean soup I made with my mother-in-law.

This recipe is from Lick my Spoon who adapted it from Bon Appetit.  Looking at the Bon Appetit recipe, I think I would have chosen to use the chipotle chiles.  We did not make the cilantro lime yogurt.  Instead I topped the soup with sour cream, cheese, chopped cilantro and a lime wedge.

Canned beans are what I usually find myself using in recipes.  I’d never used dried beans before.  It always seemed too time consuming and daunting.  This recipe called for a bag of dry beans that require soaking and a long cooking time.  My mother-in-law assured me it wasn’t all that bad…and it wasn’t!  The beans had more texture and so the soup tasted much more substantial.  If you’re short on time, canned beans would be a fine short cut.  But if, like me, you’ve always been scared of dried beans I encourage you to face your fears and go for it.

This soup, while not the most attractive one, is quite good.  Paired with a green salad, this makes for a lovely light dinner.  Enjoy!


Blueberry Cream Cheese Pastries

These sweet little pastry packages are lovely.  Pre-made puff pastry makes this a dessert that requires very little hard labor in the kitchen.  Assembling these pastries is not exactly a breeze, but they are worth it.

I found this recipe hidden in Fine Cooking from August of 2010.  It is the “Letter from the Editor” section that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t seen the recipe in the index.  The other fruit pies in this edition are so beautiful, but more time consuming since you make your own dough.

For me, this was a perfect dessert for our Sunday night dinner guests.  I made them earlier in the day and stored them in the fridge until time to bake.  I stuck them in the oven when we sat down to dinner, and they were done at the perfect time to enjoy them.

The recipe below is changed slightly from the original.  The original recipe calls for creme de cassis, which I do not have on hand these days, and so I substituted almond extract with good results.  I used low fat cream cheese, and cut smaller circles to make smaller pies.  Unintentionally, I did not cut vents in my pastries.  This probably caused more of the gooey insides to leak out, but they were still delicious.  I served these with vanilla ice cream.  The crunchy sugary tops are wonderful, and the combination of blueberry and cream cheese in the center reminds me of a grown up Toaster Strudel.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Pastries


  • 2 17.3 ounce packages frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 4 ounces cream cheese (low-fat is fine) softened
  • 7 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs yolks
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 2 teaspoons cornstartch
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • powdered sugar for dusting (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, 4 tablespoons sugar, vanilla extract, and 1 egg yolk and mix until well combined.
  3. Combine the blueberries, 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, almond extract and salt and mix gently.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out individual puff pastry sheets into a 10 by 10 inch square.
  5. Using a round cutter (3 1/2 inches to 4 inches) cut out 4-6 rounds from the pastry depending on the size of your cutter.  Arrange the circles on a parchment lined baking sheet. (You will need 2 or 3 sheets)
  6. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water.  Brush the outer edges of each dough round with egg wash.
  7. Dollop about 1/2 tablespoons cream cheese mixture in the center of the round, then top with about 1 tablespoon of blueberries.
  8. Fold in half to form a half moon and pinch edges to seal.  You may use  the tines of a fork to seal as well.
  9. Lightly brush each pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with remaining sugar.  Cut a small steam vent in the top of each pastry.
  10. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
  11. Cool slightly, then remove from the baking sheet.
  12. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Aunt Susan’s Spinach (or not) Artichoke Dip

My Aunt Susan made this dip a few Christmases ago when we were visiting my mom’s side of the family in Richvale, California.  It was so delicious that I just had to get the recipe.  When she wrote it down for me I was surprised at how short the ingredient list was and how easy it was to put together.  Those are the best recipes.  Simple, easy, quick and delicious.

This dip can be made with or without the spinach.  Susan originally made this without the spinach, but I like it with.  It makes me feel like I’m being good to have the spinach in this dip.  If you use light mayo (or a mixture of plain yogurt and mayo), and low-fat mozzarella this isn’t the worst dip on the planet.  Using the spinach just adds to the flavor and adds some extra goodness.

If you decide to use spinach, you can use fresh or frozen.  I like to use fresh, but sometimes it’s not the quickest thing to do.  If you’re using frozen, thaw it completely then squeeze out as much of the moisture as possible.  To use fresh, just saute in a pan with a little olive oil and minced garlic.

You can serve it with almost anything; crackers, baguette, veggies, sourdough pieces, etc.  Just use what you like.  I like to use toasted bread for a nice contrasting crunch.  Enjoy!

Spinach (or not) Artichoke Dip


  • 1 14 ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup mayo (light, regular or half mayo half yogurt)
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach, wilted
  • 1 cup grates Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella
  • cayenne pepper to taste


  1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.
  2. Pour into a shallow baking dish (a 9-inch pie plate is perfect)
  3. Bake at 350°F for 45  minutes.
  4. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Whisk in Brooklyn

My trip here has almost come to an end, and my services as a baby helper will no longer be available to my sister as of 4pm today.  So, I babysat Maren while Lisa got her hair cut at The Beehive in Brooklyn.  By the way, she got a great cut here.  So, if you ever need a salon in Williamsburg this is a good one.

Maren and I set out on a little adventure of our own in the stroller.  She was asleep when we left, and I hoped this would be her consistent state for the next hour.  She has been so much fun to be around this past week.  Despite her cuteness, I would have much preferred her to remain peaceful and quiet until we got back to the salon.  She knows that I am not her mommy and the longer she sleeps, the longer she is unaware that mommy is not the one pushing the stroller.  She was a quiet resting baby during our outing, except for a tiny moment of unhappiness that was quickly ended thanks to a little comfort…in the form of a pacifier.

You do not have an incredible amount of freedom when you’re maneuvering a stroller through busy streets.  This lack of freedom makes the simple task of browsing a cute gift shop, clothing store or book store much more difficult.  I passed up many shops simply because they were too crowded inside, had more than two steps to the  door, or had doors that looked a little too hard for me to fit through with the stroller.  I did see this store and couldn’t resist going in.  Whisk is a kitchen store in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn and is quite adorable and fun to browse through.  There are no steps to the door, there looked to be just one other patron in the store, and there also seemed to be room to get around people (and for people to get around me).  I am so glad I went in.  Here is the link with their location and hours.

The usual suspects of kitchen gadgets adorned walls, utensil jars and shelves.  A side room contained both fun and traditional table linens, flatware, coffee and tea paraphernalia, cookbooks and serving pieces.  It is a quainter version of a Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table.

I purchased this towel for $21.99 after much internal struggle.  It was a run off between this and another towel with no trim, but some very cool graphic red birds.  This will be the towel I hang on the oven door when company is coming, but I will not be using this one to clean up any spills.  It is just too beautiful.  Ben is going to think this makes it a totally impractical item, but I will let people dry their freshly washed hands on it…so it will not be completely useless.

This was one of many different colored and sized colanders; yellow, red, orange, blue, green, pink, purple, small, medium and large.  I have been wanting a small colander like this for berries for a while now.  It doesn’t make much sense to use a large colander to wash a pint of berries.  This is the perfect sized item for that job.  Yellow colander, $14.99.

Hearty Oatmeal Cookies

After my last simple oatmeal cookie recipe, I felt this was a great contrast.  This cookie has a little bit of everything: whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, peanut butter, molasses, chocolate chips, pecans, toffee bits and coconut.  These cookies are not for wimps!  They are delicious and full of goodies.

I found the recipe on allrecipes.com and added a few other ingredients.  They are called ‘winter energy cookies’ on the site.  I left out the wheat germ and the raisins since I didn’t want to go buy anything to complete the recipe.  I used half butter and half shortening.  I was so happy to be able to add what was left in my bags of toffee, pecans and coconut.  It feels good to empty those bags and throw them away.  I hate to have those mostly empty bags taking up precious space in my cabinets!  Our kitchen in not exactly what you could call “spacious”.  I do love my kitchen though.  It requires almost no movement to move from fridge to counter to oven!  A little kitchen has its perks.

I liked these cookies quite a bit, and I think you could add or take away based on your personal preferences.  Dried cranberries and white chocolate chips with pecans and coconut might be my next trial.

Hearty Oatmeal Cookies

Adapted from allrecipes.com

  • ½  cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ¾ cup shredded coconut
  • ½ – ¾ cup toffee pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Cream the butter, shortening, sugar, molasses, and peanut butter in a large bowl. Blend in the eggs and vanilla.
  3. Mix the both flours, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, until evenly blended.
  4. Stir in the oats, chocolate chips, etc.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  5. Shape dough into balls, about golf ball size. Place on greased cookie sheets, and flatten slightly with your palm.
  6. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. When done, the tops will still be soft to the touch. Cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

Perfect Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

This is the recipe I used to make the bird cookies for my sister’s baby shower that I was unable to attend.  See here and here for the nitty gritty details of that debacle.  I have been making decorated sugar cut-out cookies since college when I took a cookie decorating class at Central Market in Austin.

Decorated sugar cookies are time consuming, but they are pretty simple once you know a few tricks and they are a lot of fun to make.  They are also very much worth the effort.  I will write more on those tricks later.  For now, you can satisfy your need for cookie decorating tips here at baking911.com.  This is a good site, although a bit hard to navigate due to the amount of ads.

Some recipes that I have tried for sugar cookies are not meant to be a cut-out sugar cookie.  For example, this cookie was delicious, but spread too much during baking to be a cut-out.  A heart would end up looking an amoeba.  No good.  “I ‘heart’ you!” is not the same as “I ‘amoeba’ you”.

The dough for a cut out cookie has to be firmer so that it can stand up to rolling, cutting and baking without losing its shape.  This usually means less butter and more flour.  You also do not want a lot of leavening because decorating a cookie that had risen too much in the oven can be tough to decorate.

This cookie recipe was perfect for my bird cookies.  The cutter I used is quite large, which can be troublesome when transferring a cut-out piece of dough to the cookie sheet, but this dough was so sturdy!  I got the recipe from Joy of Baking.  This site has a lot of delicious sounding recipes with the majority including pictures, which, in my opinion is very nice. I look at the site quite a bit but I haven’t tried many of the recipes.  I plan to try more things from now on.  Let me know if you try something delicious from the site.

I have made some lovely cookies in my time, but these birds are not the best.  They are just OK.  I used mini chocolate chips for the eye.    My mistakes include:

  1. Frosting them at 10pm
  2. Using old gel colors (resulting in the neon hues)
  3. Thinking no one would see them

Give yourself some time to decorate your cookies and make sure to let them set before trying to add more detail or transporting them.  I also make extra cookies to practice with so that I can see what’s going to look great and what isn’t.

I usually like to outline my cookies first, then fill them with glaze.  But I didn’t have the time with the birds which is why the one above is spitting up purple.  Keep up with my blog for the secrets!  I always use a glaze of powdered sugar, water or milk, corn syrup and almond extract.  I also am committed to Wilton gel colors.  They provide a vibrant color, so be careful!  Pink can become PINK too quickly!

These cookies are what I aspire to create some day.  Aren’t they beautiful?  I really love the natural colors and details.  The eggs are adorable.  You can get all the details about these cookies here and about Eleni’s in New York who made them here.  My neon pink birds will do for now!  At least mine tasted good.  That is one of the most important things isn’t it?

Cut Out Sugar Cookies
  • 3 1/2 cups (460 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon (4 grams)baking powder
  • 1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated whitesugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. For Sugar Cookies:  In a separate bowl whisk together the flour,salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough.
  3. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Remove one half of the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch (1 cm). (Keep turning the dough as you roll, making sure the dough does not stick to the counter.)  Cut out desired shapes using a lightly floured cookie cutter
  6. and transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheet. Place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to chill the dough which prevents the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking.  Note: If you are not going to frost the baked cookies, you may want to sprinkle the unbaked cookies with crystal or sparkling sugar.
  7. Bake cookies for about 10 minutes (depending on size) or until they are brown around the edges. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling before frosting.

Ginger Dog

I have a food related post in the works.  In the meantime, I must post this of my dog.  She is a mutt.  We have no idea what exactly she’s made of.  All I know for sure is that she has quite a bit of neurotic crazy in her.

Our pristine white front lawn was ruined by her excrement this morning…dogs will be, and must be, dogs.

Merry Christmas and Some Monks

This has absolutely nothing to do with food, but my dad sent it to me, and I think it’s worthy of sharing on this lovely Christmas morning.  The Messiah is something my family would listen to, and even sing along with, every Christmas.  I know that seems a bit hokey, but how can you not sing along with Handel’s Messiah?  It’s an incredible work, I love it, and it speaks the true meaning of what we celebrate this time of year.  Hope y’all have a very merry Christmas!

Mamma’s Rice Pudding

Some foods will always remind me of my childhood and of family.  Among these are my Grandma June’s pecan pie, my mom’s chicken velvet soup, dutch babies, bar-b-cups, spritz cookies, Swedish rye bread at Sundbeck Christmas, Swedish pancakes, and the Rystrom family’s rice pudding.  Of course there are plenty more now that I begin brainstorming, but I’ll focus on this one today.

ricepudding7I asked my mom where this recipe originated but she doesn’t really know.  Her mom made it when she was young, and I plan to make it for my kids…whenever they choose arrive.

My mom grew up in Richvale, California.  Her dad, better known as Gramps, is a rice grower in Northern California, and so they ate a lot of rice growing up.  My mom met my dad in college and he brought her to the great state of Texas.  Thanks to my sweet Californian mother, I don’t have too much of a Texas accent, and I ate of lot of perfectly cooked rice as a kid.