Every time I’ve ever gotten it together enough to write a post for the Communal Pantry, I get to thinking about how I wish SOMEONE would write a blog post that was in some way speaking to the millions of people out there who aren’t working with a fabulous kitchen.  I go to take pictures of my food, and try to capture an angle that won’t showcase my amazing Formica countertops, or the ugly backsplash that sits behind it.  Or maybe try to cover up the fact that my cabinets are old ugly painted ones from oh say, 1960.  Maybe I realize that the dishes haven’t been done, meaning, since I don’t have a dishwasher, that I haven’t put my hands in the sink and done the dishes, so they’re just sitting there.  
Okay, so SOMEONE is writing to this.   I’ll be that someone.  My kitchen is kind of a wreck.  The other constraint that I work with in my regular life, is a very tight budget.  So, I work hard at trying to make it all work, my tight kitchen and my tight budget. 
So here, this is what MY kitchen actually looks like on the average day
I want it to be clear that I'm not complaining!  Actually, my kitchen is what some might love to have.  Nothing is more than a couple steps from anything else, we have a nice butcher block countertop island, pushed up against one wall/window that we had custom made for us by a local friend.  My sink (where all those dishes somehow get done) has a nice enough view of some trees, and since we added a few cabinets to our kitchen, we almost have enough cabinet space (no real pantry to speak of though).  If we were a childless couple, I might even venture to say that it’s perfect.  But you see, the childless couple that bought this house (I was 5 months pregnant with little Doyle #1) didn’t think they’d need a large kitchen.   All I’m saying really though, is that all of us who go out into the blogosphere, showing off our deliciousness, aren’t coming to you from a showcase kitchen, and, so, you too can be amazing in your kitchen.  

Some things I have splurged on, for my kitchen, making my life loads easier, have been the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, a Vitamix, a really nice Dutch oven and good knives.  That’s the extent of my fancy though.  Everything else I use is either handmedowns, or things I registered for when we got married, before I actually cooked.  I recommend you not register for a wedding until you cook 50 meals.  Or maybe just register for a honeymoon or something…anyone want some of the stuff I registered for and will never use? 

Anyhow, this whole thought process came to me today, when I was trying to figure out what it was I wanted to make for dinner, and all I really really wanted was to order Indian food.  Ugh…that tight budget rears its ugly head and says “NO”, and now I’m craving some Naan!  Great.  Well, guess I better figure out how to make Naan.   And, since I don’t want to leave you without something to eat, here we go!  

2-3/4c hot water (about 110 degrees F)
1-1/2T yeast
2T sugar
2t salt
1/4c extra-virgin olive oil
6-1/2c unbleached all-purpose flour

For Serving: 
4 T Unsalted Butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
fine sea salt
  1. To the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the hot water, yeast, and sugar. Stir and let sit 5 minutes. Add salt and olive oil. Turn the mixer on low speed and gradually add the flour until completely incorporated. Dough will be elastic, yet sticky and loose.
  2. Transfer dough to a large (5qt or larger) bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Dough will expand substantially.
  3. Once dough has risen, refrigerate for 1-2 hours before makingnaan for easier handling.
  4. Combine butter and garlic in a small bowl then melt.
  5. Flour your work surface. Portion dough into balls, about the size of a tennis ball. Roll out the balls into circles about 8 inches wide (naan do not have to be perfectly circular, they're meant to be rustic). If stacking the rolled dough, separate them with waxed paper.
  6. Heat a cast iron skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Coat the pan lightly with olive oil (you may need to add more later). Place one dough round into hot pan. The naan will begin to puff up. Gently brush the top side of the naan with the olive oil/garlic/cilantro mixture. Cook until golden brown, then flip (about 2-3 minutes). Brush the other side with the oil mixture. When browned on both sides and cooked through, remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with fine sea salt. Repeat with remaining naan.
  7. Serve naan warm with curry.

I borrowed a recipe from the blog Alaska From Scratch!  And mine came out quite a bit thicker than the naan I've had in restaurants.  So, my advice, is to use a bit less sugar if you'd like,roll them out quite thin and once you're done making the naan, wrap them up in some tin foil, then drive them around the block, return home and serve (more authentically like take out that way)  I served them with a kitchen sink bean soup, which I'll share some other day!  

 
 
As a mostly stay at home mom in a family who owns a business, I'm always trying to do delicious and easy on a budget, and this is one of those dinners that fits into all categories.  A super simple Alfredo Sauce, and chopped vegetable salad! 
An alfredo sauce is the easiest thing ever.  A couple cups of heavy cream, warmed in a saucepan over medium heat, add a stick of butter, whisk until the butter melts, and finally a cup of fresh grated parm.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and then allow it to reduce to desired consistency.  I had roasted a pack of chicken earlier in the week, and have been using it up, so at the end, I threw some of it sliced up, into the sauce.  

The salad, just some chopped roma tomatoes, cucumbers from our CSA and a yellow pepper.  Tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette.  Danny and Annie added feta cheese to theirs, but I felt like I had enough dairy with my dinner, so I abstained.  

Dinner doesn't have to be hard! 
 
 
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Ice cream making has become a new favorite thing of mine.  My experiences making ice cream as a child were always involving those old hand crank machine at camp. Our counselors would pre freeze ice in  recycled paper quart milk containers (way to reuse!) and the campers would sit around freezing our hands and potentially breaking a toe by smashing ice onto the concrete stairs leading to the mess hall.   The flavors: vanilla, chocolate…peanut butter maybe??  The taste…uh, left something to be desired.  


Banana ice cream was completely off my radar until I was an adult.  It may have been too wild a flavor for my hometown ice cream parlors, or perhaps I determined it was somehow too healthy.  Much healthier of course, than its pink and unnatural counterpart, bubblegum ice cream.  

Banana has become one of my favorite flavors.  It pairs perfectly with chocolate (Hello!!  Chocolate covered banana!) and so when I found this recipe in Martha Stewart Living, for Banana Caramel ice cream, I had to try it. 
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I wasn’t sure about the caramel paired with the banana, but they go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  Amazing.  


Ingredients:

4 large egg yolks

1 2/3 cups sugar, divided

1 2/3 cups whole milk

1 2/3 cups plus ½ cups heavy cream, divided

3-4 very overripe bananas, mashed

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt, divided

¼ cup water

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

½ stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1.     Vigorously whisk together egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale yellow and slightly fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring milk and 2/3 cup cream to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Remove from heat, and gradually whisk into egg mixture.  Pour mixture into pan, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, 1 minute.  Reduce heat to medium, and cook until thick enough to coat the spatula, about 1 minute (do not let boil).  Pour custard into a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice water, and let cool, stirring occasionally.  Puree bananas witht half the custard in a blender until smooth, and transfer to bowl with remaining custard.  Stir in vanilla, ¼ teasoppon salt, and 1 cup cream until combined, and pour through a fine sieve into another bowl.  Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours but preferably overnight. 

2.     Place water, corn syrup, and remaining sugar in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally (do not stir).  Raise heat to high, and continue to cook in same manner until mixture turns deep amber ( I find this “deep” to be relative, the first time I tried this recipe, what I thought was deep was burnt, so be careful) about 6 minutes more.  Remove from heat, and slowly pour in remaining cream  add remaining salt, and simmer caramel 1 minute  place pan in a bowl of ice water, and let cool until warm but not hot.  Remove from ice bath and whisk in butter a few pieces at a time, until fully incorporated.

3.     Place a 5 by 10 inch loaf pan (I didn’t have this size, so I used a regular loaf pan) in freezer at least 10 minutes.  Freeze custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Spread one-third of ice cream in pan, and drizzle with one third of caramel (it should be fluid but just barely warm; reheat if necessary).  Swirl caramel into ice cdream with a wooden skewer.  Repeat 2 more times until all the ice cream and caramel have been used.  Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours. 

 
 
So you’re thinking about opening a restaurant?  Maybe you thought it would be a fun thing to do.  Maybe you are an excellent home chef, and want to share it with the world.  Maybe you watched one too many episodes of some food network show, making it look easy, and thought “Hey, I could do that”

Well, maybe you can, but here are some things you ought to know before you seriously consider getting into your own operation. 

1.     Money!  Danny is quite fond of letting people know that the top reason restaurants fail is due to lack of capital.   Things always, always cost more than you think they will.  Even with perfect planning, you will run into roadblocks, and then once you open for business, you are working with a product that spoils if not used.   You are also not always in control of how long things take.  There are a lot of city officials that normally have to sign off on this or that, and you aren’t in charge of how long that takes.  So be prepared to have the money to be able to wait it out.  In our own situation, we had to wait, and wait and wait for permits, and licenses.  We paid rent on our location for over a year before we were able to open for business.  We saved thousands of dollars by acting as our own general contractor, but still needed the capital to be able to take the extra time needed to be able to do so.   Then, once you open your doors, you have wait to be busy and start creating cash flow.  This is where most people get caught up.  They have enough money to make it to a grand opening, but the following months aren’t necessarily busy, and you still have to make your very expensive payroll. 

2.     Owner presence.  Please do not think that you can open a restaurant one day, and the next day the hostess and a waiter can take over managing the front of house with a cook and a dishwasher.  Even hiring a manager to run the restaurant isn’t as valuable as the owner making this their full time job, at least to start.   You care the most about the success of your business.  Anyone else is there to work, and go home.  Customers really appreciate the owner being in the building.  It sends a great message, that you stand behind your product, and you are working hard to put it out there.  Your employees will also appreciate your presence. You are accessible to them for anything they might need.  I have worked in a lot of restaurants, and the ones where the owners worked side by side with the staff, were always run so much more efficiently.  In addition, the owner’s opinion never fell on deaf ears in those places.  When you aren’t present, you run the risk of being insignificant to those who work for you, missing holes in your operation where you are losing money, being unable to retain unhappy customers should you have any. 

3.     I can’t tell you how many times we run into people who have never worked in a restaurant, who think it’s something they’d like to do.  Eating in a restaurant is really fun.  Working in a restaurant is hard.  We always suggest that someone who wants to open a restaurant, work in one first.  There is a different language that is spoken in the kitchen that should be learned; terms, timing, techniques.   My guess is that most people that plan to cook in their restaurant, have worked a professional line before, but if you haven’t…take the time, and apprentice under a chef before you spend thousands of dollars in an attempt to share what you think is your fabulous cooking with the world.  Your fabulous cooking, might not be so fabulous when you have to cook for 100 people within 4 hours on a Friday night, you should learn how to do that.   If you plan to hire it out, and just be the Host with the Most…again, it’s a skill.  Learn it before investing money in it.   Does the sound of bussing tables at your local diner sound revolting to you?  If it does, you might not want to open a restaurant.  Owning a restaurant is a dirty blue collar job.

4.     Do you like going away or having a day off?  You do?  Then maybe this isn’t for you.   We have owned our restaurant for 4 years, and in that time my husband has taken an average of 14 days off in the entire year.  I mean 14 days out of the 365…so yeah, 7 days a week.  We LOVE having ownership over our career, and as my husband calls it, a mini dictatorship all his own, but right now that means we are in the trenches, not really going anywhere, living for our restaurant.  In some years, we suppose we’ll have more freedom…but there’s no guarantee that’s the case.  If you are a serious workaholic, this is the career for you. 

5.     Finally, how well do you know your market?  So you have money, you like working in a restaurant, you want to work every day and you have a great idea for a restaurant!  Are you in the right town for it.  Get a good grip on what’s already in the area you want to open in, what kind of demand there is, if there is money to be spent there, etc.  You might want to consult with a Small Business Administration counselor, or another local resource that offers business counseling  Here in Ithaca we have several local banks that offer great courses and seminars to help young businesses be successful.  Utilize those services, and find out what you need to make it work.  
Oh, and just so you know...we have aged in these four years.  Here, you can see for yourself what four years of restaurant ownership can do to you.
Granted, we've also had two kids, AND we are in fact four years older.  So there's that.  Either way, stay tuned for more restaurant chatter from your Upstate connection. 
 
 
Every year about this time Girl Scout cookies have begun rearing their ugly heads into our New Years Resolution diets, and with them comes my husband Danny's complete and utter disgust with what we in Upstate NY pass off as a Samoa...the Caramel Delight.  

He is completely convinced, and who am I to argue really, that the two cookies are completely different.  Of course the New Jersey Samoa is superior to the Upstate Caramel Delight.  Me, I've never really noticed a difference. It's just a shortbread cookie covered with some caramel, coconut and chocolate...but man, don't get Danny started.  He'll let you know what's up.  It's true, the two cookies are produced in two different facilities, so I suppose they could be using different recipes...but I'm skeptical.  

Either way, we never buy Caramel Delights, we only buy Samoas, when we have a Jersey connection.  So, I thought I would finally try my hand at making them myself, and see if I could even come half way close to the O-G.  

This is, by far, the most finicky cookie I have ever made.  None of it is hard, or complicated, it just takes all day because it is imperative to let them cool, set or dry between each step.  So...I don't highly recommend these for the baker with either small children, or pets...or a life.  Just kidding, they're worth a shot, and if your children are a bit older they are an excellent rainy day project!  

They are delicious.  They taste, not so much like the original.  They look an awful lot like the original, as you can clearly see, but my discovery is that there is something fancy and all processed about the real Samoa, that I just did not fully re-create in my adventure in girl scout cookie-ing.   


Homemade Samoa Cookies
Shortbread Cookie Doughadapted from Bakers Royale
makes 36 cookies
Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp whole milk


Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture.  Add milk and mix until dough has formed.

Divide the dough into two disks.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prepare parchment lined sheet trays. (Of coures, I never use parchment..I have crazy well seasoned pans..so if you do too, it's safe to skip the paper in my opinion)  

Roll out chilled dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out circles using a floured 2 1/2 inch cutter.  Punch out an inner with a smaller cutter of your choice. 

Lay the cookie cutouts on the parchment lined sheet trays and bake for 12-15 minutes until firm and lightly golden.  Let rest on sheet tray until cool to the touch and then transfer to cooling racks.

Caramel
Ingredients
1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
3 cups sweetened dried shredded coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Spread coconut into a thin and even layer on prepared sheet tray.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Rotate pan and stir coconut.  Continue to bake at 5 minute intervals, rotating the pan and stirring the coconut until golden in color.  Once toasted, let cool to room temperature.

In a medium sauce pan, add sugar.  Cook over medium high heat until sugar begins to melt.  Once sugar begins in liquefy, reduce heat to medium or medium-low.  Do not over agitate the sugar, but swirl the pan once in a while to make sure sugar melts evenly.  Continue to melt the sugar until liquid is amber brown and aromatic.

Add butter to sauce pan. Whisk until all the butter has melted. 

Remove sauce pan from heat and slowly add the heavy cream.  Continue to whisk until cream and sugar mixture are homogeneous.  Be careful, once you add the cream, the sugar mixture will bubble and rise quite a bit.  Be sure the sauce pan is away from heat before you add the cream. 


Continue to whisk until caramel is thick and smooth.  Let cool until slightly warm to the touch.  Reserve about 1/4-1/3 cup of the caramel in a separate bowl.  Then add the salt and toasted coconut.  Fold into the coconut until thoroughly distributed.

Dipping Chocolate
Ingredients

10 oz dark chocolate, chopped


Set up a double boiler, or fashion your own.  I use a stainless steel bowl set on top of a saucepan filled with water, then melt the chocolate in the bowl over medium heat.  

Assembly

1.  Once shortbread cookies are cool, dip one side into reserved caramel sauce.  Then spread about 1-1 1/2 teaspoons of coconut caramel mixture on top of cookie.  Dipping the cookie first into the reserved caramel sauce helps the coconut mixture to adhere to the cookie.  Let cool on rack.

2.  Dip the bottoms of the cookies into the melted chocolate.  Let cool on rack upside down (coconut mixture side down) until chocolate has hardened and set.

3.  Once chocolate is set, turn cookie right side up.  Transfer remaining dipping chocolate into a small parchment bag or piping bag.  Cut a small tip and drizzle chocolate over the tops of the cookies.  Let cookies sit out until drizzled chocolate has set and then enjoy!

4.  Keep cookies in an airtight container for up to three days.



Recipe adapted from The Little Epicurean


 
 
During an afternoon of Pinteresting, I stumbled upon a recipe for some S'more bar cookies.  I was immediately in love and wanted to drop everything and make them on the spot.  Looking over the recipe I found though, the ingredients were, hmm....shall we say, not wowing me?  So I spun it just enough to make what I think is a more perfect S'more cookie! 

First, you must make the marshmallow fluff.  This is the easiest thing to do, well, excepting for having to sift the sugar (worst kitchen task ever, sifting...must be a better way, right?)  

Gather: 
3 Egg Whites at room temp.
2 cups of Light Corn Syrup (if you are concerned about HFCS, this is different.  It's not processed in the same way, and is truly more like just sugar) 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 cups of Powdered Sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract

Eggs, Corn Syrup and Salt in your mixer for five minutes on high, or until it's super fluffed and twice the volume you started with.
Now add that blasted sifted powdered sugar, and the vanilla....and voila, FLUFF!  
You will have waaaaay too much for this recipe, so uh...yeah I hope you like fluff.  Or you could be smart, and halve the recipe.  
(Side note, you definitely want to perform the sifting task with half painted nails, and a sifter that still has the tag on.  Works way better than way) 

Now that you've made your own fluff, and you're feeling good because the cookies you are making your children are almost totally home made.  Move on to the cookies.  
You need:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla 
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (approximately 7 full graham crackers)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 or 3 super-sized (5 oz.) Dark Chocolate Bars
1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme/fluff (you made this, you're proud of yourself) 


Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and sugars in the mixer beaten til fluffy, then add your egg and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk your dry ingredients together, and then slowly add them to the mixer and mix until combined.  When your dough has come together, split it in two.
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I am using a 9x9 square pan, but you can use a bit smaller if you prefer a thicker bar.   Take one half of the dough and press it into the bottom of the pan

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Now, add your bars of chocolate.  I am using Hershey's Special Dark for this batch (well, except for where I ran out over there on the right, and then I used Green and Blacks..so those ones are the "fancy" ones) Normally I would use a higher quality dark chocolate, but wanted to see how these would be, before making such an investment ;) 

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The fun part, the fluff, add to the top and spread.  Gooey looking.  Yum

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Finally, the other layer of cookie.  You can't spread and press the dough onto the top like you did the bottom, so put the dough in a plastic bag and roll it out to the size of the gallon bag, which was just a tad larger than the 9x9 pan.  Then I cut one side of the bag off, and then laid the crust on top.  It wasn't perfect, but we are just eating these anyway! 
 

Finally, you'll bake these at 350, for 30-35 minutes! 

Okay, now you make them.  Go amaze your tastebuds! 
 
 
 I’ve got pizza on the brain.  Apparently last week was some kind of national pizza week, and then yesterday my daughter’s preschool class field tripped to a pizza joint to see how it’s made.  Well, Annie should already know how it’s made, considering I make pizza pretty often at home. 

Upstate NY is known for many wonderful things.  Pizza is not one of them.  Bad pizza should be a crime, same goes for bad cookies, by the way.  Something that looks so delicious, with oozy gooey cheesy goodness, should just not taste bad.  In Upstate NY, it’s just too often the case.  The crust is a little too thick, the sauce a little too sweet, it’s just not right.  I suppose I would have never been the wiser had I not experienced good NYC pizza as a kid, visiting my Aunt who lived there for years, and subsequently having New Jersey Pizza via my New Jersey husband.  I suppose I would have stayed blissfully happy with what passes for pizza up here.    
               
Instead, I do my best to provide a great home made alternative.  Nothing is going to beat some of the pizza you find in NYC.  Their ovens are wicked hot, their stones are well seasoned, they have some guy who flips dough in his sleep and probably sauce recipes handed down through the ages.   BUT, I try. 
The first trick to great home made pizza is the stone.  You must have a good pizza stone.  Now that I have one, I use it for all kinds of baking projects.  Breads, and sometimes even cookies.  It’s a very versatile kitchen piece, and it doesn’t take up any room since I just leave it in the oven full time.  


Then there is planning.  Most of the time, pizza is the last minute I-don’t-feel-like-making-dinner-let’s-call-for-pizza dinner, but when you want good home made pizza you have prepare a day in advance.  I actually really like it because it splits the work and the day you make the pizza it’s faster than calling it up.  

The process begins with chilling your flour.   Your 4 ½ Cups of flour in a bowl and into the fridge, or freezer.  I just throw it in the fridge while I’m getting breakfast ready in the morning.   I just use all purpose flour, you can use bread flour or high gluten flour too which will have better spring and holds together better with handling.  The all purpose flour will have a softer chew, but will be more prone to tearing in handling.  (It has to do with the protein in the flour, more protein, harder flour) 

When you have sufficiently chilled your flour you can make your dough


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You need: 
4 ½ cups Flour (chilled) 
1 ¾ teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Instant Yeast
¼ cup Olive Oil
1 ¾ cup ice water
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

You really cannot use regular yeast, don’t bother.  I have made pizza after pizza with regular yeast, it’s not as good.  It’s bad pizza. Crime.

Stir together your dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (I think you can do this by hand…I have never tried, and I imagine it’s quite a workout, so if you want to burn some calories before consuming this pizza, go for it!).  Then stir in the oil and cold water until it’s all mixed together to a blob.  Now switch to the dough hook attachment and keep it mixing for another 5-7 minutes.  You want to have a smooth sticky dough.  Err…I hate when people say smooth sticky dough.  Really, it’s tacky…so it’s not sticking to your fingers, but it has a little tack.  Should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom. 
Now you can take it out, and split it up into 6 parts.  You can do less parts, resulting in larger pizzas, but it’s harder to toss/form the dough when it’s larger, so I always go with 6.  You’ll roll each part into a little ball and place on an oiled cookie sheet, or hotel pan, wrap up in saran wrap (or if you happen to keep ziplocs large enough to put your pan in).  You want to completely wrap the pan, so that air isn’t getting in.  Now you put it in the fridge and leave it until the next day.  
Now, go make something else for dinner.  Beef stew, that butternut squash of Marlo’s…seriously good, I made it last night.  Mmm.mmm… 

Okay, so 24 hours later, or thereabout.  You take your dough out to warm up a bit on a well floured surface.  Mine is my kitchen counter.  Give it around two hours.  During this time you can make some sauce.  Oh yeah…sauce.  If you have a favorite sauce that is suitable for you, use it.  Sometimes I’m really lazy, and I just use the smooth marinara that Wegman’s makes, but if I’m in the mood to have real sauce I’ll make it. 
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28 ounce can of diced tomatoes undrained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3-4 cloves of garlic finely minced 
Salt and pepper to taste

Now that your dough has rested, you preheat your oven as high as it will go.  Most normal ovens will only go up to 550, if yours goes higher, crank it up.  The commercial pizza ovens are running at 800 to 1000 degrees.  Sprinkle some cornmeal or semolina onto a pizza peel (I don’t actually have one, so I use a cookie sheet).  Now remove rings, and flour your hands, and you’re ready to toss some dough. 
I find it easiest to just gently let the dough hang from my knuckles until it starts to turn into a sort of circle and then continue to form it by holding onto the edges and rotating in a circular motion.  But if you are interested in teaching yourself to really toss dough, go for it!  

After you’ve got a semblance of a circle, you can add toppings.   Notice your dough is pretty thin here and the more toppings you add, the harder it is to get it off your “peel”  and in the end, less is more with this pizza.  So you can go easy on the sauce and cheese.  

Now you can carefully slide the pizza off your peel on to your already heated (because it’s already in the oven) pizza stone.  5-7 minutes, or less if your oven is  hotter than 550, and you’re ready to eat pizza.  
I have a system, of toss dough, top dough, bake, toss another dough and top while first pizza bakes, take pizza out and place on cutting board, place second dough in the oven, eat first pizza….and on and on.  So no one really ends up “sitting down to dinner” on pizza night.  But it’s fun and it’s the best pizza I’ve had in Upstate NY.   Enjoy!

 
 
I suppose it's only fitting, that since Danny and I met working in our favorite Mexican restaurant, that we would eat Mexican at least once, more like twice a week.  So when Kate said "Guac Off" we were certainly game.  But of course now what to do with our huge bowl of guacamole?  

I suppose we could have just eaten the deliciousness with some chips, or maybe just spoon it in before the 1 year old got her elbow in it.  Instead, we'll just make dinner around it.

First, let's make some tortillas.  If you've never made your own tortillas, you are missing out.  Both flour and corn tortillas, are by far, better than anything you can buy in the store.  They are super easy to make as well (at least the flour are, corn are slightly trickier).  
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You'll need a rolling surface and a rolling pin, or a tortilla press, and a cast iron pan to make this work easily. 

Then, just: 
3 Cup Flour
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 Cup Shortening 
1 Cup Warm Water

Mix together the Flour and Salt, and then cut in the shortening.  Once The Shortening is fairly well cut in, mix the water in.  Mix that with a fork until it comes together, and then keep working it with your hands until you have a soft pliable dough.  Cover it with a towel and leave it to rest for 20 minutes or so.  
After it has rested, separate the dough into 12 parts, and roll them up into little balls.
At this point I usually heat my pan, a low to medium heat, and no oil.
Using a well Floured Surface, take a dough ball, and press it into your surface so you have a disk..then just start rolling it out.   As you can see from my photo...they are not very round.  So if you have a tortilla press, I recommend using that instead.  


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After you have rolled one out, place it in your pan and you can move on to rolling another one.  You want to give each tortilla about 15 seconds on each in the pan...you'll actually see it turn the whitish color that you expect.  If you like them softer, less time...a little more toasty, more time.  

Now that those are done,  a quick protein to throw in the tortillas, with the guacmole!  Easy enough.  Having roasted and shredded 3 pounds of chicken over the weekend (a huge time saver by the way), I can just throw some of that shredded chicken into a pan with some seasonings and call it done! 
2 Cups of shredded chicken (or black beans, or cooked ground beef, whatever you like) 
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
1 Clove of garlic minced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Chili Powder
1/4 Cup Chicken Broth
Simply sautee the garlic in the olive oil for about a minute, then toss all the seasonings in.  Continue to sauté for just another minute, and then throw the chicken and the chicken broth in, just long enough to warm it up!  
Serve with the tortillas, and whatever fixings you might like.  Enjoy! 

 
 
A friend of mine, who is a crazy baker and a "Martha" in one, has always served this delicious chocolate dessert, that to me had always seemed something that must be unattainable for the home chef.   It's always such an eye opener to me to discover that the recipe for something so delicious, is easy to do and quick.  I was a little afraid that my friend wouldn't share her recipe with me, it's easy to feel possessive over something so delicious.  But in true pantry fashion, she shared with me her secret.  "It's just something out of Real Simple" she said.   Off to google I went, and there is was.  The super delicious amazing Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache torte



I will be bringing this dessert to the New Year's Eve, Tea and Strumpet party that I'm attending tomorrow night, and I'm excited to share this with all my friends, and I'm excited to be posting it on the pantry because it's too delicious not to be made in households all over!  

The instructions in the recipe calls for using a tart pan with a removable bottom, which I don't own, so I just used a regular spring form pan.  Also, the recipe, like many, calls for using a food processor.  I have to say that making a cookie crust without something resembling a food processor is tough.  I have a stick blender with something like a food processor attachment.  It's not the same.  For me, it's yet another reminder that in cooking, half the battle is having the right equipment.  
There it is!  I will add more hazelnuts and some sea salt to the top before serving!  It is so very delicious, and so simple.  It's fast too, so if you're still trying to think of something to bring to a celebration this holiday, this is the it!
Ingredients 
3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups crushed chocolate wafer cookies (from about 30 cookies)
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Directions
  1. Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the hazelnuts on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, 10 to 12 minutes. Rub the warm nuts in a clean dish towel to remove the skins (discard the skins).
  2. In a food processor, finely grind ½ cup of the hazelnuts. Add the crushed cookies and butter and pulse until moistened. Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch removable-bottom fluted tart pan.
  3. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until dry, 10 to 12 minutes (if the crust puffs up during baking, gently press it down with the back of a spoon). Let cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate until smooth. Pour into the cooled tart shell. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.
  5. Chop the remaining ¼ cup nuts and sprinkle on the tart.
  6. Sprinkle with the salt just before serving. For the easiest slicing, use a thin, sharp knife, wiping it clean and running it under hot water between slices.


 
 
Yup, this is the story of how I turned fudge into oatmeal raisin cookies.  Doesn't sound too appealing huh?  Well, just stay tuned.  

A few days ago, Nikki posted this fabulous recipe of peppermint fudge, that she would deliver to her children's teachers.   It looked fabulous, and easy too...so I decided i would follow suit.  I proceeded to follow her directions exactly, and ended up with a wonderful batch of peppermint fudge.  Just delicious!   Here's where things start to go wrong.  

I thought to myself "Self, you need a few more batches of yummy fudge to give to neighbors, and the mailman...but you don't want to make all peppermint.  Let's be creative"  So apparently, at this point I have declared myself an expert fudge maker, who can throw caution to the wind and prepare some great batches of fudge to hand out to all the people I love.  So I set about to make a peanut butter fudge.   

Enter Danny, my husband:  "Hey...you know what you should do?  Make two layers of fudge, and then put that peanut butter ice cream topping in the middle"   

Oh, okay.  Yeah, let's do that!
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So, I do everything, sort of the same way as the original fudge...but it's not really coming together the same.  But I proceed anyway.  Well, you might have guessed...this fudge didn't really turn out.  It was just a big melty soft pan of chocolate with a layer of peanut butter in the middle.  Which, in and of itself, not so bad.  


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I post to Facebook, looking for some ideas of what to do with this failed fudge...since it's not bad really...just needs to be repurposed.  I got answers up the wazoo!  "Eat it with a spoon", "Put it on ice cream", "fill cupcakes with it", "Make brownies"  on, and on.  

Once again, I decided that I was a fudge master.  I ignored every single GOOD idea that was posted to my Facebook, and tried to turn failed fudge into fudge again.  I put in back in the pan, and heated it up...subsequently putting a layer of burned chocolate on my favorite saucepan, but when it looked like it was basically done, I poured it into the pan to form the fudge.   It didn't smell all that great...a little burned, but maybe??   Doesn't matter, I never got a chance to taste it because when I left the kitchen to let it cool, the dog propped up on the counter and ate  a hole in the middle of it.  (The dog, is fine, someday I'll tell the story of the dog eating chocolate the night before my wedding...) 

The fudge, or FLUDGE, is in the trash now.  And I decided that I would make a few batches of my Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, which are delicious, and thoroughly tested! 

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies 

Ingredients: 

1  cup pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the pecans on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix just until combined.

Using a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.