Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Favorite Things

Grandma Clara’s Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

These little bites of heaven are a wonderful Fall treat! Disclaimer: These are NOT low fat, nor should they be, so please don’t try to make them good for you.  Unlike most cookies, this recipe uses zero butter. Most of my grandmother’s cookie recipes use shortening, which makes them incredibly soft and chewy…not flat and crispy like when you use all butter. This recipe makes about 48 cookies (or about 96 Clara sized cookies! She always made them bite sized) Keep in mind, the dough does not spread very far, and they are not completely flat. The dough will be sticky to work with. I recommend using a cookie baller and spraying it with Pam first. I drizzle the frosting on at the end…but they are also good without it!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Cookie Ingredients

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. baking powder
2 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup walnuts
  • Mix sugar, shortening, egg, vanilla and pumpkin together in a large standing mixer on medium speed. Once combined, add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
  • Once combined, add the raisins and walnuts
  • Drop the dough on to cookie sheets prepared with parchment paper (recommended)
  • Bake at a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. DO NOT over bake…
Frosting Ingredients
3 T. butter
4 T milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Bring the butter, milk and brown sugar to a rolling boil for 2 minutes. Let the mixture cool and sift in the powdered sugar and add the vanilla.
  • It’s easiest to place the frosting in a pastry bag and drizzle the frosting onto the cookies. It looks pretty that way as well!
Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Simple Tips

Kitchen Mistakes We’ve ALL Made…

This is a previous blog post that i’m re-purposing from my old blog…but I feel these are tips that every cook should remind themselves of…over…and over…again.

I was on the plane on my way home from a fabulous vacation in San Diego, reading my Cooking Light, when I came across an article about the most common mistakes we make in the kitchen. The article inspired me to take the top 5 out of this list of 25 mistakes and reiterate them to you…with my own tips behind them.


1) You Don’t Taste As You Go. Hello, have we not all seen Chopped? Then you’ve seen Chef Guarnaschelli ask the question “did you even taste your batter?” when a horrible tasting dish is placed before her. Please, PLEASE taste your batters, your soups, your meats, etc. before serving to your guests. It’s only fair…Trust me. You will know immediately if something is wrong. I once had a recipe from a very well known and respected cooking magazine for a chocolate layer cake. The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1 tablespoon of baking soda…yes, already this sounded wrong, but I was in no position to question the chef…one taste of the batter let me know that this was WAY too much of both ingredient…it was going to spill over in my oven! Within 5 minutes of placing it in my oven…the cake had already risen above the rim of the pan. Yep, recipes can be wrong…lesson? Taste your food. It not only gives you clues if your recipe is off…but also if your guests will be coming back…

2) READ THE WHOLE RECIPE BEFORE YOU START COOKING! Scenario: You’re preparing for a dinner party to take place that evening. You start preparing the marinade around 4 and oops…your meat was actually supposed to marinate for 24 hours and then slow cook for 4 hours. Postpone the dinner party until tomorrow night? Well, you wouldn’t have to if you just took the time to read the whole recipe before you started cooking. You never know what surprises you’ll find awaiting in the directions section of the recipe.

3) You Boiled When You Should Have Simmered… This is wrong on so many levels. Okay, so you were in a hurry to get that Beef Stew on the table…and now you are gnawing on beef jerky. You boiled your rice, and the water absorbed before the rice was done…now you’re adding water to the rice…start over, it’s ruined. If you’re making chicken soup using a whole chicken, boiling the chicken will cause the impurities to mix throughout the stock. Simmering the chicken will allow those impurities to rise to the surface, so you can skim them off. Bottom line, if your recipe says to simmer, do it, or you risk ruining perfectly good ingredients.

4) You Oversoften Butter. This kinda goes along with reading your whole recipe first, so you know what state your ingredients need to be in before you start cooking or baking. Softened butter 99.9% of the time means softened at room temp; not microwaved. Properly softened butter should yield slightly to gentle pressure. You may think this isn’t a big deal, but when it comes to baking especially, it does. It can cause cookie dough to be more like batter and create flat cookies and cause your cakes to be dense instead of fluffy.

5) You don’t let the pan get hot enough before adding the food… If you don’t hear the sizzle…it’s not hot enough. Not allowing your pan to heat to the correct temperature will cause your food to stick to the pan. You need that sear in order to create the perfect crust on meats, fish and poultry, which can only be accomplished if your pan is hot enough. Also, only add the oil to the pan when it’s hot enough, otherwise it will get too hot and smoke up your house. I don’t know about you…but i’m not a huge fan of hearing our fire alarm speak to me saying, “fire, fire.” with an obnoxious loud beep…

Cooking Light, March 2010

Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Favorite Things

Risotto is Nothing to be Afraid Of…

Risotto seems to be one of those dishes that people are terrified of making…they are worried the texture will be off, the flavor will be bland or the whole dish will stick together into one gooey mess. In my opinion, risottos are one of the easiest, most flavorful and satisfying dishes you can make…and they are pretty quick as well! You can literally put anything you want into your risottos…mushrooms if you’re a mushroom lover, veggies, seafood, meat, literally open your cupboard and your fridge…the options are endless. There is one recipe that I have been making for a couple years and everyone I serve it to raves about it. It’s from Cooking Light (but certainly doesn’t taste like it…) It’s really simple too…I promise. it has these wonderful little pockets of melted cheese that are to die for. Yes, there is a technique to making a good textured risotto, but it’s not rocket science…and no, you don’t have to read Cook’s Illustrated to master it. Simply follow the recipe word for word…and you’ll be good to go!

Sage Risotto with Fresh Mozzarella and Prosciutto
-Cooking Light


  • 2  (14-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth. I always keep a little more available in case you need to alter the texture.
  • 1  tablespoon  butter
  • 1  cup  finely chopped leek (for leek preparation, see How to Prepare Leeks
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4  cups  Arborio rice
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  cup  dry white wine
  • 1 1/2  to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1  cup  (4 ounces) finely chopped fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2  ounces  prosciutto, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • Sage sprigs (optional)


  • Prepare your broth: Bring broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan (do not boil). Keep warm over low heat.
  • Melt butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.
  • Add leek and garlic; cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Stir in wine; cook 2 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.

That’s the easy part…now here’s where there is a little margin for error…but as long as you’ve kept your broth warm and continue to stir the rice while adding the liquid in small amounts…it will turn out perfectly.

  • Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next (about 20 minutes total).
  • Stir in chopped sage, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in mozzarella. Spoon 1 cup risotto into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with about 1 1/2 tablespoons prosciutto. Sprinkle with black pepper. Garnish with sage sprigs, if desired.


Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Elements of Interest, Simple Tips

Simple Tip: Bananas

My co-worker Cindy is a wealth of information. She sent me a whole list of interesting facts and suggestions to help you out at home and in the kitchen. Today’s simple tip is about Bananas.

I left a banana at my desk at work for over a week and came back today to find this banana STILL in edible condition. However, the banana bunch that it came from has gone completely rotten at home! Apparently, if you separate the bananas from each other, they will last longer. Bananas ripen themselves by emitting ethylene, so by separating them, the other bananas aren’t prematurely ripening the others. Yes, they may look cuter sitting on our counter in a bunch, but separate them and they will be useful for days after they would normally be.

Elements of Home

Easy DIY Kitchen Decor

I’m always looking for simple ways to decorate my kitchen. I like to change up the decor occasionally, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money doing it…or any at all if possible. This idea cost me $0 because I had everything I needed scattered around our house. I love Cooks Illustrated, and besides the amazing recipes and cooking tips inside the magazine, it’s also a beautifully illustrated magazine. On every issue’s back cover, there are various works of art of foods, veggies, cheeses, etc. They make perfect framed kitchen pictures.

Here is what you need:

1) A couple issues of Cooks Illustrated

2) 8×10 picture frames that hang on the wall


  • Remove the back covers of the issues you choose. Trim off the colored border, as it will not fit inside an 8×10 frame. If you want to keep the colored border, choose a larger frame.
  • Insert your chosen covers into the frames, and voila! Instant kitchen decor.

Tip: For frames with the hanging loop attached to the back of the frame, getting the nail centered on the wall can be tricky, especially when you’re trying to line up two frames next to each other.  My trick is to dab a little lipstick on the loop and hover the frame over the wall until you find the correct placement. Simply touch the back of the frame to the wall, and remove. You will be left with a little dot so you know exactly where to place the nail!

Elements of Home

Master Suite Renovation Day 1

The time has finally arrived. It’s about time that B and I get going on our master bedroom on the second floor, and get it all ready before we get crazy busy with our upcoming wedding! We have wonderful new bedding, and we need somewhere to put it! It just didn’t feel right to put the new bedding in our current bedroom…We wanted to save it for our brand new room. We chose it for what would be our newly renovated master suite upstairs. B’s been so busy with work and traveling, that my wonderfully generous parents offered to come over and patch, paint and take down the most hideous light fixtures you have ever seen…seriously. What are people thinking when they buy this stuff?? I really can’t imagine anyone going into a store and picking out the wall sconces upstairs and saying to themselves, wow these are really pretty…because they are SO ugly…i’d rather have plates over the wires than these light fixutres.

My wonderful parents came over early today and the first task was to pick out the paint color…what we needed to do was match it to the current quilt and shams I have on my registry. I have already received the shams, so we had something to match it to…but it was of course, more difficult than we thought. Learning from past mistakes…we decided spending the seven bucks on the Benjamin Moore paint samples was well worth the money…and it was. We flipped through the paint sample book in search for the perfect blue. Not too blue, not too green, with a little gray. There is nothing I love more than that 2 pound paint sample book…it’s like a 64 color box of crayons when you’re 5 (or 27)…every color possible…in order. Perfect.

So the search for the perfect Pottery Barn blue begins. We brought home the first color sample, Harbor Haze…that we swore was going to be perfect. Wrong. It was robin’s egg blue. A second color…Wedgewood Blue…Turquoise. wrong again. So we decided, the color needed to be between to the previous colors so we just chose one and went with it…we’ll see what happens tomorrow…Today was painting all the trim, the closets, the doors, windows and baseboards…tomorrow? We’ll see if Woodlawn Blue is the winner…Thanks mom and dad for all your amazing work today! Before and after photos coming soon!

The Painter's Best Friend
Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Favorite Things

Smoky Corn Chowder on 95 Degree Day…Good Idea…

I’m not quite sure what I was thinking…it was 95 degrees outside and for some reason, I wanted to make a soup for dinner. Maybe it’s because it’s easy and filling…but then I probably should have served inside the air conditioned house as opposed to the steamy front porch. Anyway…Here’s the recipe. It’s delightful. I served it with a warm (again, bad idea) baguette and herb goat cheese spread. The smoked paprika is what really makes this corn chowder fantastic…I recommend buying it if you don’t have it, it will soon become one of your favorite spices to use. For a little twist to this recipe, add some shredded chicken breast.

Recipe: Real Simple Cookbook (with a couple tiny additional notes/changes)


  • 8 ounces sliced bacon
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (I used red pepper flakes…works just fine)
  • 2 10-ounce packages frozen corn
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup half and half or whole milk
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced


  1. Cook the bacon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  2. Spoon off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings. (I found there wasn’t much more than this in the pan anyway) Return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, paprika, and red pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the corn, broth, and half-and-half and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Using an immersion blender, puree the corn mixture in the pot. Or, transfer half the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to the pot and stir in ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the soup among bowls and top with the scallions and chopped bacon.
Elements of Food, Elements of Home

Tortellini with Veggies and Shallots

B and I are really working on using up ingredients that are sitting in our fridge, freezer or cupboards before making another shopping trip…this is a difficult task especially for one person who loves takeout, and the other who loves cooking new recipes. Well, every night can’t be gourmet, so we gave it a go. What was in our freezer? Frozen tortellini, frozen veggies, shallots on the counter, a lemon in the fridge and fresh Parmesan. I recalled that I had a recipe for something similar in my Real Simple cookbook…and I did! I made a couple changes, but it’s essentially the same, and incredibly fast, easy and delicious!


1 bag of frozen cheese ravioli or totellini

1/4 cup reserved cooking water from pasta

1/2 bag of frozen veggies (mixed, peas, whatever you like!)

3 Tablespoons of butter

2 Shallots thinly sliced

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/4 cup grated Parmesan (my addition…I can’t have pasta, even cheese pasta without fresh cheese…)

Salt and Pepper


Bring a pot of water to a boil and add salt to the water. Add the frozen (or fresh) pasta until cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water and drain the pasta. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the shallots. Cook until soft, about 3 minutes.

Add the frozen veggies, cooking water, lemon zest, 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper to the skillet. Cook partially covered until veggies are heated through, about 3 minutes.

Add the strained pasta to the skillet with the veggie mixture. Add 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan and stir until combined. Divide among bowls and enjoy!

Elements of Food, Elements of Home


“You know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?” Ratatouille

No, this is not an entire post about a cute little movie about a rat who becomes a renowned chef in Paris…although, it is absolutely one of my most favorite movies. Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s a cartoon, it’s amazing. This post is, however, about the actual dish, Ratatouille. I have played with the idea of making it over and over, but every time I look at the Julia Child recipe, I resort  to something much simpler. Well, little did I know my soon to be husband is quite the french cook…less than 3 months away from our wedding I  proclaimed that we need to eat healthy from now on, no excuses. Let’s just say this was the week after Easter and I was still feeling full. Let’s also just say cream sauces, potatoes, desserts and pounds of ham are not in my bridal diet. I wanted nothing more than a carrot stick for dinner that night. Well, my wonderful fiance walked in the door a half hour later with a bag full of fresh veggies from the co-op. I’ve never seen so many beautiful colors in one shopping bag, and he said, we’re having Ratatouille for dinner tonight. I looked shocked and amazed that he was willing to take on this incredibly detailed, time consuming recipe…but he had a plan to skip all the fussy steps and get down to the core of the dish, which is a bunch of fresh veggies, steamed and sauteed in olive oil, salt and pepper, placed on top of couscous. Delightful. It was so easy and quick, and one of the most beautiful dishes I had ever seen on my stove top. Not to mention…incredibly healthy. We enjoyed it so much we decided to make Ratatouille a weekly staple.


1 Eggplant, 3 Zucchinis, 2 Fresh Tomatoes, 1-2 Yellow Peppers, Onion, Fresh Garlic Cloves, Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper, Plain Cous Cous


Chop all of the veggies into chunks and place them in a cast iron braiser, i’m a snob for my Le Creuset Braiser…if you buy one of their pieces, it’s this one.  (or a frying pan you can cover) and turn the stove on medium heat. Stir all veggies with 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper. Let veggies steam for 10-12 minutes, then remove the cover and stir. Let veggies cook until tender. Prepare Cous Cous according to directiongs (this takes 5 minutes) and top Cous Cous with the Ratatouille.

There are so many variations of Ratatouille, some call for perfectly sliced and arranged veggies in a traditional oval french baking dish, some go from oven to stove, some take 30 minutes, some require 2 hours or more. Top it with fresh shredded cheese, or finish it with a dollop of creme fraiche, Some versions are pretty, some versions…not so much…but they all taste wonderful. You can eat it plain, on top of pasta or Cous Cous. You can also sop up the remaining veggie juice with a chunk of french bread. Enjoy whichever culinary route you choose!

Elements of Food, Elements of Home, Favorite Things

Birthday Cupcakes for B

I have a very picky fiance when it comes to desserts…there are very few types of cake that he will happily eat…So every year for his birthday, I make carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, his one and only favorite. I have tried several recipes…and rarely do any of the match up to his beloved carrot cake from Isles Deli, but I have this thing about all things homemade, so I kept trying…and I found a recipe that is pretty close and they turned out pretty cute as well…oh and I did I mention he hates frosting? Except for this cream cheese frosting which is heaven… All I have to say is thank goodness for my Cuisinart food processor which made grating three cups of carrots a breeeeeeeze…..Recipe with my additional comments and photos below. Happy birthday B 🙂

Carrot Cake Cupcakes


  • 2.5 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups grated carrots…see tip below for quick grating
  • 1 cup raisins (regular or golden)
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

For the Cream Cheese Frosting…

  • 1 pound (2, 8 ounce) packages of cream cheese (room temp)
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter (room temp)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (Please don’t use imitation…)
  • 1 pound powdered sugar


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a standing mixer, combine sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla together using the paddle attachment of the mixer. Crack your eggs into a bowl (to ensure they are ok…no shells, etc) and then add them to the bowl while the mixer is running. In another bowl combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed or “stir”, slowly add the dry ingredients. Add the grated carrots, raisins, and walnuts and mix until combined.

Tip for grating carrots: Use the grating attachment of your food processor…it makes a tedious task incredibly easy.

Prepare your muffin pans with foil liners. I like these because they are pretty 🙂 Fill each cup 3/4 full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 8-10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 and continue baking for 15 minutes. Use a toothpick or cake tester to make sure they are done…toothpick should come out clean.

When the cupcakes are cool, it’s time to frost. I like to frost the cupcakes Ashley style by using a pastry bag filled with frosting with a large circular piping tip. Start by squeezing down on the edge of the cupcake and swirl it a circular direction until the top is covered like a tent.


Carrot Cake Cupcakes