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Hey, remember how I used to write things here?

It might seem totally narcissistic, but I recently went back and read several of my entries and thought to myself: this is f*%ing cool. I get to remember moments of my life and whatever food or drink happened to be a part of it. I mean, honestly, even when I don’t cook (which has been few and far between over the last few months) I still pretty much base the quality of my day on how good the eating was and whether or not it was consumed on my own or with the people I’m loving-on.

I also am very much like my father in that I often times base my happiness on the “quality and quantity of my poos” on any given day. See how it all comes full circle?

So, I am once again taking a stab at this whole blogging thing- if not for a continuation of staying in touch with some people I love dearly, than just to have a recipe archive of what I’ve eaten that is worth making again. I’m proud to announce that I’m no longer the only crazy vegetarian in my family (Hi, Paul. Hi Kevin. Hi, Teresa. Welcome to the club)…so maybe someone else might benefit from the recipes I try?

Since it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, I will quickly attempt you catch you up: traveled to Hong Kong with Mom, missed Dad a whole lot after losing him over a year ago (feels like only a day has gone by, while simultaneously feeling like it’s been an eternity since I last spoke to him), played lots of great gigs, wrapped up my first year of teaching at IS 220, scored a new teaching gig for this coming school year at PS 29 in Brooklyn, had an amazing summer off with family and friends, sang at my brother’s wedding (congrats to him and Michelle…Mom somehow married us all off), currently recording my first album with my band Waiting for Jerry, witnessed the birth of my beautiful twin nieces, survived Hurricane Irene and started my Masters in Music Ed at NYU.

Sae and Tae in Hong Kong

Balloon for Steve

Waiting for Jerry at Rockwood Music Hall, New York City

Charlotte and Norah

Needless to say, it’s been awesomely busy and things feel good for the first time in a long while. Cooking up some new recipes is a goal again, but I thought I would start with an easy one that we make a lot around here. It’s great for when you’re in a pinch with no fresh produce. As long as you have garlic, salt, pepper, oil and pasta, you’re good to go. Substitute herbs at your own will.

Enjoy!

Garlic Pasta

1 lb pasta

7-8 garlic cloves, minced

salt

tsp each of sage, thyme, pasley chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

crushed red chili flakes

Cook your pasta according to the directions on the box.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and saute over medium heat until they start to look brown. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper and any herbs you wish.

Drain your pasta, reserving about 1/2 a cup of the pasta water. Add to the skillet of herbs and toss briefly over medium heat once again.

Serve.

Done.

‘Tis the season to be so incredibly busy that it takes a summons for Jury Duty to give me an opportunity to write something down here. It also takes another two weeks afterward to actually finish this post, while sitting at JFK waiting for my flight to Minnesota.

Under normal circumstances, I would have envisioned myself baking up a storm this holiday season and hopefully blogging a few recipes to share with the many people I wish I could be near right now. Instead, I found myself barely penciling in a night that my husband and I could sit by the tree and exchange gifts.

I guess it should go without saying that Christmas is like none other this year, fully equipped with bursts of sudden realizations and reminders that this is the first Christmas without Dad, a patriarch in the McCaffrey family household at Christmas. He who would adorn the wrapping paper and bows on his bald head after we had shredded open our gifts with shrieks of excitement and anticipation. The man who would eat my silly cut-out cookies on Christmas Eve, long after I had fallen asleep, leaving a note of thanks for the delicious treats (Love, Santa.) The man who drove through a blizzard to get us to the cabin, so that my fiance could propose to me, just days before Christmas.

Christmas 2007

Walking around the city at Christmas time doesn’t really drum up memories of Dad, specifically, so much as just memories all around. Christmas memories. Trees. Lights. Cold. Red. Green. Life. Happiness.

 

Christmas 2008 in Brooklyn

Dad and Baby Oliver. Christmas 2009

I was able to catch one of New York City’s old timey trains a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, they decided to run some really old subway trains to get New Yorkers feeling that nostalgia. I didn’t really need the boost there, but I took the opportunity and hopped on, only to find out it was from the 1940’s. Rickety. Smelly. Old.

Inside train.

Old, but certainly not dead. It ran perfectly and got us where we needed to be.

Honestly, I don’t know how much longer I can keep up this blog, but I can tell you one thing: in times of desperation and confusion, there is truly great comfort in food. Sometimes, we abuse that comfort and lose control. Other times, we find ourselves surrounded by some really great people, eating something delicious and sharing in new memories.

Here is something to hopefully bring more cheer to everyone I know. Merry Christmas to you all- and may you find the people in your life that mean the most to you and make many more memories, for years to come.

Apple Muffins:

adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 2 Dozen.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups coarsely shredded apples, such as Macintosh (about 1 3/4 pounds)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line mini muffin tins with paper liners; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low; mix in apples. Add flour mixture; mix, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until just combined.

Divide batter among lined cups, filling halfway; bake until tops are springy to the touch, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tins; transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Chill the frosting for 10 to 20 minutes, until it has set up enough to spread smoothly.

They say when it rains, it pours.

Much has happened since my last post, including a shiny new job and a much delayed return of my band, Waiting for Jerry to the stage. Read below for a slightly more detailed explanation of things which have come and gone, but first, I must tell you that Mac and Cheese will inevitably be the bandaid for all pain and frustration in this world. Especially when you add crimini mushrooms and an assortment of herbs.

Look! Look! http://www.30days30waysmacandcheese.com

See what I mean?

Oh, right. Shiny object. Back to the point:

It seems like so many people in my life are redirecting their focus and making huge changes in their lives. Going back to school, playing music again, creating, writing, having more babies, moving, shifting jobs…change!

Though I miss being slightly more social, I’m happy that so many creative people around me are being incredibly inspiring. It’s almost like a light bulb went on above everybody’s head, at the same time, and showed us just how miserable life is without the ability to focus on what we love.

All of the sudden, everyone I know is simply excited about the prospect of making something better for themselves, without the dream of “making it big” or surviving on their passion. We’re just doing it. Because it makes us happy. And it makes other people happy.

Win win.

So here’s some news, as well as a recipe that celebrates another inspiring person in my life, a woman who is grabbing her kimchi by the balls and sacrificing precious time to work out a way to communicate with her newly extended family (something I have a new respect for after trying to learn two Chinese words and realizing Asian languages are, I dunno… haaarrrrrdddd.)

New Job: That’s right! I left my comfy cozy job in early childhood music (that I actually loved quite a bit, aside from the weird hours and very little pay) and traded it in for an opportunity to work full time, with benefits and all kinds of security. So I traded in my folksy kids songs for some bilingual chorus music for the 6th and 7th grade students at IS 220 in Sunset Park. I wish I could tell you it was the right decision to make, but it’s much to early to really say… and honestly, much more difficult than I could ever imagine. Let’s just say this might be the toughest gig I’ll ever have and I can only hope in the end, I will be happy that I gave it a go.

Gig: The band is back and kickin’ with several new songs and a dummer to boot. Our first show back was last weekend and there are more to come. (Nov 20th, Rockwood Music Hall, 5pm)

So, without further ado, here is Dani’s Mac and Cheese. Add some hot sauce to really make it kick.

 

Mushroom Herb Mac and Cheese

Adapted from 30days30Ways


11 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 shallot, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh chives, chopped
3 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) Gruyère Cheese, shredded and divided
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) White Cheddar Cheese, shredded and divided
1 box (12 to 16 ounces) small pasta, such as elbow pasta
1 cup breadcrumbs

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish. Set a large pot of water (for the pasta) over high heat, cover and bring to a boil.

In a large skillet, melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and shallot; sauté, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms have cooked down and are browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add vinegar and cook, stirring, until the liquid has cooked off. Turn off the heat and set aside.

For the  sauce, in a medium-sized saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in flour and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Add the herbs and, still whisking, sauté for an additional 30 seconds. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the milk. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook to al dente, or 1 to 2 minutes less than the box calls for.

Once the sauce simmers, stir in 5 ounces each (about 1 cup) of the Gruyère and Cheddar Cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.

Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter with the breadcrumbs. Drain the pasta. In a large mixing bowl, toss pasta, sauce, and mushrooms. Pour into the baking dish.

Sprinkle with remaining 1 ounce each of  Gruyère and Cheddar. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the cheese. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Sometimes, life gives you a lemon–and you just have to juice it, zest it and make something delicious out of it. No matter how bad it might seem.

My husband and I have both spent the last year working towards what we thought would be the start of our careers. Then, we each got handed a dreaded lemon.

My “lemon” is the silly hiring freeze that is making it almost impossible for new teachers to land gigs- especially in the arts. So, I took my sour piece of fruit, sliced it in half and accepted a part-time job as a music teacher at three different schools in Brooklyn. Certainly not my ideal job, but the hope is this will elevate my level of experience from non-existent to, well, anything more than that. So I turned my lemon into some zucchini cakes, fingers-crossed that we can continue to buy food to make such lovely delectables in the future (did I mention it’s only part time pay?? yikes.)

My husband didn’t even get a lemon, poor guy. He got a pathetic, tiny lime. I guess someone got confused and handed it over and told him it was yellow when it was in fact green and really just so unexpected. See, he was all geared up to open his very own wine shop in Brooklyn and at the last minute, it all fell through. Everything he has worked so hard to accomplish and was looking forward to: gone. (bureaucratic BS if you ask me)

So, he took his lime, juiced the hell out of it and made this black bean spread- and really showed his amazing ability to bounce back by getting a job at one of the best wine shops in the city: Chamber Street Wines. He’s pretty amazing… and definitely climbing the NYC wine-geek ladder quickly. I’m super proud of him.

In celebration of these new jobs, we ate and drank, recipes below. Congratulations, baby. Here’s to a lifetime of making mountains out of our molehills. 

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Zucchini Cakes

from BGSK

1 medium zucchini, grated

2 scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon butter

Combine the zucchini, scallions, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Toss to combine. Add the egg, lemon juice, and zest and stir until well mixed.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large cast iron skillet. Once the butter is melted and the oil is fairly hot, drop in the zucchini mixture in tablespoonfuls, making sure not to crowd the pan (about 5 at a time). Cook for about 1 minute on each side until browned and semi-firm. Remove to a paper towel to drain and repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture, adding more oil as necessary.

NOTE: this can be done a day in advance. Simply reheat the cakes in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.

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Black Bean Spread

We stored this spread in a Tupperware container in the refrigerator for about a week and used it on pretty much everything: quesadillas, lunch sandwiches, eggs, etc. It served us very well!

2 cups cooked black beans (I used canned black beans, rinsed and drained well)

1/2 cup olive oil

Juice of two small or one large lime

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tspn garlic powder

Salt, pepper to taste

In a food processor, add the beans and pulse until well chopped up. Turn food processor on to run continuously and slowly drizzle in olive oil. Add spices and lime juice and blend well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Process until the spread is smooth, about two minutes.

Last weekend was a rip-roaring good time, starting with a whole buncha Midwesterners descending from the sky and landing on the isle of Manhattan. Several of them (my most immediate of family members) stayed in Brooklyn, since it’s obviously much ( so much) better than any other place in this city. The visit was mostly based around the nuptials of my cousin Kevin to his brand, spankin’ new wife, Teresa, but we managed to have some fun of our own as well.

In celebration of their arrival, my husband and I spent a good chunk of time cooking up a bunch of recipes from this here blog to share with them. Unfortunately, our guests were two people down due to vertigo (nope, not the Hitchcock classic…for realsies this time) and we were forced to fill their spots with some fellow Park Slopians in order to prevent food wastage. (Plus, we really like these people.) We definitely missed my brother and his girlfriend who were stuck back in Minneapolis, sorting out his shaky shakes. Next time, guys! (And you’ll get your very own blog post about whatever I end up *cooking for you!)

Nom Nom Nom

The menu was perfectly paired with all kinds of wine and fun. We decided to keep things somewhat simple by serving up a baguette and ciabatta alongside several signature salads. Everything was made ahead of time, which made serving less stressful (and no ovens!)

Smashed Chickpea Sandwiches

Black Bean Confetti Salad

Aunt Stella’s Czechoslovakian Potato Salad

White Bean Roasted Red Pepper Dip

We also pulled out some new dishes to share: White Bean Tomato Salad and Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Blueberry and Raspberry Sauce. You can find both recipes below.

Love my family. Love my friends. Love Park Slope.

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White Bean Tomato Salad

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

8 oz fresh mozzarella, cubes

1 lb roma tomatoes, diced into about ½ inch cubes (try to get seeds/water out)

1 15-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed

Handful of slivered basil

¼ cup olive oil

3-4 tbsp red wine vinegar

Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine tomatoes, beans, olive oil, basil and vinegar together in a bowl. Add mozzerella and salt/pepper to your liking. Serve with crusty bread or on its own.

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Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

3 cups heavy cream, or 2 cups heavy cream and 1 cup whole milk

¾ cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour 1 cup of the cream into a medium saucepan and add the sugar and salt. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the saucepan and add the pod to the pot. Warm over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining 1 cup cream and the milk) and the vanilla extract.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. When ready to churn, remove the vanilla bean and then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Blueberry and Raspberry Sauce

2 cups fresh blueberries

¼ cups sugar

2 Tbsp water

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup fresh raspberries

Combine blueberries, sugar, water and cinnamon stick in heavy medium sauce pan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Then, increase heat and bring mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 3 minutes.

Uncover and cook until berries look tender and saucy. This will take about another 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and gently stiry in raspberries. Chill until serving. (Can be made up to two days ahead of time.)

*sorry, Paul. No meat. Big feet.

Wedding Bells.

No, not mine. Blueberries and Peaches!

Apparently, they get along really nicely- and what better time to make this beautiful salad than at both fruit’s peak season. Be a matchmaker.

Speaking of hitting it off: I’m finding new ways to get along with new people. I’ve made a pact with myself to get back in touch with people that I’ve fallen away from and to try my darndest to meet new people along the way. The past 6 months (already) has taught me a lot about friendships and relationships and I’m truly longing for some more really good ones. Don’t get me wrong: a few lovely people have stuck by me through the worst time of my life and if I could put them in a machine and clone them, I would do it. I could sell these clones for millions, because nobody can beat their incredible devoutness to me. They are the blueberry to my peach and I couldn’t love them more.

No recipe needed. Chop the peaches, throw them in a bowl, add blueberries. I now pronounce you happy you did it.

Um, excuse me? Where did Summer go? I mean, seriously! Just one minute ago it was… and now it’s.. holy crap!

This happens every. single. year.

The funny thing is that I kind of hate summer, especially in New York City. Don’t get me wrong, it has it’s perks (concerts in the park, ice cream, long walks, ice cream, drinking on the terrace, garden seating at restaurants… ice cream) but the intense heat and humidity mixed with seemingly never-ending concrete makes this particular season (in this particular city, especially) almost unbearable.

It also makes turning the oven on seem like a distant memory.

Summertime is the best time to scour the markets for deliciously ripe fruits and vegetables, which makes for the perfect time to throw together amaaazing salads. I’ve been dying to share this recipe, because it is seriously the most amazing salad I have ever made.

Seriously.

This comes from the food bloggers over at Big Girls, Small Kitchen, fellow NYC foodies that cook up a storm whenever they can find the time…plus, they are extremely vegetarian-friendly to boot! This recipe does require you to turn the oven on, but only for 10 minutes and I swear you will you thank me for making you do it afterwards.  (Two words: cornbread croutons.)

Cornbread croutons, perfect addition to any salad.

I have made this delicious salad on many occasions and I’m pretty sure I’ve finally tweaked it to exactly the way my taste buds prefer. Try it. Tweak it. Love it. You won’t regret taking the time to make this bad boy, I promise!

Colorful Summertime Salad (with a kick!)

adapted from BGSK

3-4 cups fresh greens

1/2 cup corn (frozen is fine, just defrost)

2 scallions, light green parts only, chopped

1-2 avocados, depending on how much you dig ‘em

1 each of red, yellow and orange pepper, sliced thin like matchsticks

3-4 slices jalepeño from a can, diced

1/2 tomato, diced, or 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup fresh cilantro, diced

3 thick slices of store-bought cornbread (I used

¼ cup jalepeño jack cheese, shredded

Tomato-cilantro dressing (see below)

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First start by making the cilantro dressing:

Tomato Cilantro Dressing

1/3 cup fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped

1 small clove garlic, minced

juice from 1/2 a lemon

dash cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 tablespoon agave nectar of 1 tablespoon sugar dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1/2 cup canned tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

1 tablespoon olive oil

In a blender or mini food processor, combine the cilantro, salt, scallions, lemon juice, cayenne, and yogurt. Blend until smooth, adding 3-4 tablespoons of water as needed. Put in the sweetener and the tomatoes, and continue to blend until very smooth (the mixture will turn a balsamic-vinaigrette-type brown). With the motor going, slowly add the olive oil. Taste for salt. Keep covered in the refrigerator until serving.

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Next up, cornbread!

Slice the cornbread into 1-inch squares. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and toast the bread chunks for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and place back into the oven until melted. Remove and set aside.

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Final Step: ASSEMBLY!

Cut the avocados into large chunks and toss carefully with a few spoonfuls of the dressing to prevent browning.

Arrange the greens in a bowl with the corn, scallions, avocado, pepper, jalepeño, tomato, and cilantro artfully arranged on top. Add the warm or room-temperature croutons. Sprinkle with the dressing and toss just before serving.

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