best recipes of 2010

This has been one hell of an ass-kicking year for Jenny. I’ve watched my little girl grow from innocent baby to toddler with a huge personality. I’ve had the best times with my husband, my #1 pal, traveling, eating and causing mischief together with our daughter. I’ve seen this blog slowly grow from about 2 readers (thanks, Ma!) to well…a lot (thanks, y’all!). And I’ve cooked. Oh how I’ve cooked.

So for my last post of 2010 I leave you with my favorite recipes of the year. They’re all ones that have stuck with me for one reason or another. And I have the hips to prove it.

Before we get to the good stuff, let me say one thing from the bottom of my heart: thank you. You, the person reading this glowing screen, are the reason I continue to write RDG. I started because I had something to say, and I keep trucking because of what you have to say. I’ve found the most incredible community of readers, writers, cooks, moms, and everyone in between thanks to this little corner of the interwebs. Thank you for reading. And please keep the dialogue coming here, on Twitter or on Facebook.

Alright. Before I get all weepy, here are my top 10 recipes of the year, divided into sweets and savories.

Sweets and baked goods:

5. Honey Beer Bread A quick, simple bread made from your favorite ale.

4. Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Bittersweet Ganche The moistest, richest cupcakes you’ll ever try.

3. Greek Yogurt and Honey Pie A summery dessert with delicate flavor, akin to an incredibly light and fluffy cheesecake.

2. Compost Cookies Not my recipe mind you, but it deserved a spot on this list. Moist and chewy cookies dotted with everything but the kitchen sink. I’ve made more batches this year that I care to admit.

1. Double Chocolate Brownies Mom’s tried-and-true recipe. The most popular entry on RDG for good reason!

Savories and main dishes:

5. Sweet Potato and Onion Fries Crisp on the outside, warm and soft on the inside, these fries go with everything from burgers to wintry roasts.

4. Creamy Corn Chowder with Bacon Sweet, creamy, rich. Enough said.

3. Crowded Rice Eat your veggies and get your kids to eat them too with this green-packed version of “fried” rice.

2. Gemelli with Turkey Spinach Meatballs What began as a healthier take on Spaghettio’s morphed into a meal that graces our table monthly.

1. Mexican Lasagna Make a double batch and freeze one for a rainy day. This has been my go-to dinner this year.

And a few of my favorite recipes from others that I discovered this year:

Best Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from All Recipes

Green Chile and Chorizo Breakfast Strata originally from Bon Appetit

Pregnancy Pasta by Tyler Florence (link goes to my post about it—original can be found in his book Dinner at My Place)

Tarragon Pesto and Pear Melts originally from Sunset Magazine

Tres Leches Cake from Ree Drummond

I hope you all had a fantastic 2010 and have an even more memorable 2011. Cheers!

-RDG


gorgonzola & caramelized onion dip

It wasn’t my fault that the dip was placed in front of the crotchety old people at the party. It was happenstance, and quite funny that I was the lucky dog who got to hear their comments about it.

They didn’t know that I made it. They had no idea that I caramelized an onion and a shallot until sweet and tender, blended them with tangy gorgonzola and cool sour cream, spread it in a bowl and carried it to the party where it would eventually end up under their snide little noses. They also didn’t know that a lack of hearing aids does not mean that your surrounding company can’t hear what you say—we can hear just fine.

Curmudgeon #1: “There is entirely too much onion in this dip.”

Curmudgeon #2: “Stinky aged cheese. There is also stinky aged cheese in this dip.”

Curmudgeon #1: “It smells so pungent that it is perfuming the air around me. Just get it away. Will someone take this away?”

Curmudgeon #2: “Did the person who made this have taste buds? They obviously think that onions and cheese belong in a dip, which I do not.”

Whistle-blowing family member: “Hey you two, Jenny made this. She’s sitting right there and she can hear you.”

Curmudgeon #1: “What? I can’t hear you. Will you please take this dip away?”

I would have been mad had it not been downright hilarious. First of all, yes, there are onions and stinky aged cheese in this dip. And they belong there because I put them there. Secondly, yes, I do have taste buds. The caramelized onions are sweetly rich and blend with the salty gorgonzola into a cool, creamy dip that is perfect for pears and lovely with bread.

And lastly, to you two ninety-something curmudgeons: if you could hear anything at all you would have heard everyone else at the party raving about the dip, me included. And as per their requests, I will be making it for every family gathering from now on. And if it ends up in front of you, I’m sorry. But I’m just the kind of person who enjoys onions, stinky cheese and hearing aids. I’m a big fan of hearing aids.

-RDG

Gorgonzola & Caramelized Onion Dip

Halve the recipe if you’re not serving to a crowd: it makes a large batch.

  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 4 oz gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1/2 c olive oil mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Dice the onion and the shallot. Add to pan, stirring often and gradually reducing heat to medium, about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.

Blend caramelized onion and shallot with gorgonzola, sour cream and mayonnaise in a food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Serve with pears or apples and bread for dipping.

a holly jolly (quizzical) christmas

It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and I’m having a teeny crisis of conscience. The presents are all wrapped, the family is here and Bing Crosby is cued up on the stereo. But I’m feeling a little bah humbug and confused about these traditions we wander through each December. Somehow an old Greek gift-giving saint and the birth of Jesus Christ have mashed up into a holiday where credit cards are king, we tell elaborate lies to children, and family drama causes us to hit the eggnog a little too hard. How did this happen? Not a clue. But the Christmas we celebrate in 2010 likely bears so little resemblance to the days of Sinterklaas that it doesn’t really matter anymore. So what does matter? What has Christmas come to symbolize today? And how do you interpret the meaning of a religious holiday when you’re not a person of faith?

I grew up in a moderately religious family: Grandma a devout Catholic, aunts and uncles of various (or no) faiths, a Christian mother and a who-knows father. We were drug to church until our teens, forced through confirmation classes (I often skipped mine to visit the curious smoke shops that dotted the surrounding University district—sorry Ma), and then given a choice: join the church, or be free from our Sunday obligations. You can guess what my brother and I chose.

Since I left faith by the wayside, I wish I could say that the meaning of Christmas has changed for me. But I don’t think I ever really learned its significance in the first place. Coming from a Swedish family, we celebrated Christmas the traditional way with a big pow-wow on Christmas Eve. I’m sure some took it devoutly, but growing up I don’t remember religion factoring into Christmas at all. We were given gifts (lots of them), ate a huge dinner and dessert (lots of it), sidestepped family dramas (lots of them), and were generally spoiled by a holiday we didn’t know or care to know the meaning of. It was bliss. Toy-filled, fat and happy bliss.

Not that I believe there’s anything wrong with the way I grew up celebrating the holiday. I have the fondest memories of those two days in December, and I would like my daughter to have the same. So this Christmas, seeing as how she is now old enough to understand, I chose to induct Lucy into the Christmas myth. She posed for a picture with Santa, will leave cookies out for him this evening, and will tear open gifts from him (and us) in the morning. Despite all of my misgivings about celebrating something I can’t quite grasp the meaning of, I still enjoy this time of year immensely. It can be downright magical for children. For adults, it’s a great time to catch up with family and friends. For cooks, it’s a fabulous excuse to whip up your naughtiest treats.

A part of me wants to just stop questioning and enjoy the damn holidays already. But when my daughter (and child #2, soon to come) reaches the age where she wonders why Christmas happens—who exactly Santa Claus is, why we bring a tree inside the house, why Aunt Millie gets so sloshed on mead—I won’t know what to say. I think any excuse to celebrate is a good one. But with a tradition as huge and widespread as Christmas, I can’t help but ask myself: why? How did it morph into what it is today? How do we let our kids indulge and enjoy without getting spoiled? And when your personal meaning of Christmas is not about God or Jesus or an old Greek saint, what is the meaning? When you’re not religious, how do you explain the holiday that just “is”?

I suppose that the meaning of Christmas lies in whatever traditions you practice. For our family, that meaning lies in good company, great food, and thoughtful gifts to each other and to charities. There may not be any deep-seated beliefs or practices underlying our traditions, but for now I have to just be okay with that. I’ll still enjoy decorating every cookie, stuffing every stocking and wrapping every gift. I’ll enjoy Christmas for what it is: a fabulous excuse to eat, drink and be merry. When Lucy asks me why we celebrate Christmas, I have not a clue what I’ll say. I suppose I could reply, “because it’s tradition.” And that would be the truth.

What are your Christmas traditions? And what does the holiday mean to you? Chime in below, and have a very happy holiday, however you celebrate the season.

Xoxo

-RDG

dark cocoa cookies with mini peanut butter cups

First off, these cookies owe someone an apology. They arrived at the party in an unassuming way, on a paper plate draped in tinfoil. But somewhere between being placed on the buffet and a half hour later, they had disappeared. No, they weren’t sneaking out for a christmas smoke or being cornered by too-much-perfume-Millie in the hallway. They had simply jumped off the plate right into people’s mouths.

I say that an apology is due because the other desserts on that pretty table never even stood a chance. It was an unfair fight from the start. The other contenders had such promise, too: chocolate brownies and peppermint nanaimo bars. But word must have spread, fingers were pointed, and every last dark cocoa cookie with mini peanut butter cups was gone.

So here it is: I’m sorry. And my cookies are sorry. But they won’t apologize for being unabashedly rich and chocolatey with a peanut butter cup center. They were just born that way.

-RDG

Dark Cocoa Cookies with Mini Peanut Butter Cups

If you can’t find mini peanut butter cups, any candy topping will do (a hunk of peppermint bark, perhaps?). Regular cocoa powder may be substituted for dark, although the flavor of the cookies will be less rich. Yield: 5 dozen 2″ cookies.

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • mini peanut butter cups, for topping

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars until smooth and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla at low speed and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Turn the mixer on medium-high and set a timer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl until evenly blended. Add the flour mixture a third at a time, mixing well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Cover dough and chill at least 1 hour in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 375F. Roll 1 tablespoon of dough between your palms to create a smooth ball. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or Silpat. Bake in batches of 12 for 7 minutes (cookies may still look slightly doughy in the center, and this is ok). Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Place 3 mini peanut butter cups in the center of each cookie and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

favorite books of 2010

We all have our own ways we unwind, relax and call it a day. For some it’s Dexter and Mad Men, for others it’s a glass of wine, and for many it’s chocolate. I’m guilty of all of those (well, the wine when I’m not knocked up) as well as one more: page-turners. Every night as I crawl into bed with a book and let the words carry me into another place and off to sleep.

My husband and I share a library of e-books on our respective Kindles. I’ve gotten him into reading emotional novels and he’s gotten me hooked on sci-fi thrillers. It’s a weird mix, but it works for me. Below are a few of my favorite reads from the past year, with no accounting for taste, subject matter or literary merit. The books are varied, but what they have in common is that they’ve kept my interest night after night, page after page.

If you’re looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer or a great book to enjoy over the holidays, read on my friends. Lucy also shared some of her favorites of the year if you need a book for a wee one on your list. And I’d love to hear your favorite books of the year in the comments section!

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Vampires take over the world and pods of survivors roam the land in hopes of survival. Heard it before? Not like this you haven’t. The intricate tapestry of the plot (I won’t give anything away) combined with Cronin’s expert storytelling make for the definition of a page-turner.

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

In a bleak future the world has been reduced to twelve colonies controlled by a central capitol. To keep their subjects in check, two children from each colony are annually sacrificed to The Hunger Games, a fight to the death in an elaborate arena full of natural disasters, genetically engineered predators, and twenty three other contestants trying to kill you. Yes, it’s young adult lit, but Katniss Everdeen is no Bella Swan—she’s tough, smart, and will do anything to get out of the games alive.

The Strain and The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Guillermo del Toro (of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage, among other films) teams up with author Chuck Hogan to pen these thrillers, the first two of a trilogy. A plane lands at JFK and immediately goes dead on the runway—no lights, no radio transmission from the cockpit, no cell phone calls from passengers. The CDC is sent in to pry open the plane. Turns out they should have left it closed. Don’t read alone at night.

The Help by Kathryn Sockett

If you haven’t heard of The Help you’ve been living in a cave. It’s been a consistent bestseller for good reason: the interweaving stories of African-American maids and the southern women that employ them are at times heartbreaking, at times uplifting, and at times downright hilarious. The movie is coming out soon, but give this a read first. Cross my heart you won’t be disappointed.

The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stewart

Balthazar is a Beefeater, his wife a worker at the London Underground’s lost property office. Struggling to deal with the death of their son, their life inside the creepy, cold walls of the Tower of London borders on whimsical fantasy while remaining grounded in the heavy emotions of loss.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

A deceased English aunt leaves her flat to her American nieces. The girls hop across the pond, move in, and soon learn that they have an unexpected and ethereal house guest. From Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Lucy’s favorite books of 2010

The little gal has a list of her favorites too. These are the greatest hits of toddler lit around our house.

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

There aren’t a ton of words, and often the best stories that come out of these pages are the ones you make up yourself. I think Lucy loves it because she’s like the gorilla: sneaky, persistent, and a kleptomaniac.

Kisses by Barney Saltzberg

An interactive book that gets you lots of smooches. What could be better?

Dr. Seuss’s ABC

Full of wonderful sounds and the quirky characters that only Mr. Seuss can provide.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The one and only. A classic we read at least once a day.

Because of You by B.G. Hennessey

Pretty watercolor illustrations and a great message: the world is a better place because your child is in it.

My Fuzzy Friends by Tad Hills

Each animal has a fuzzy spot and asks you to pet, scratch or pat them. Cute and fun.

Anything written by Sandra Boynton

I love the silliness of Ms. Boynton’s writing, and there’s something small to learn in each book (counting, animal sounds, opposites) . We own many of these and Lucy never gets tired of them.

Whew. There’s my list. What have been your favorite books of the year, for you or for your kiddos?

-RDG