November 24, 2015

My favorite Thanksgiving recipes

It’s been a very, very long time since I shared with you a proper Thanksgiving menu.  Ok, so maybe I’ve never given you a proper Thanksgiving list of delicious dishes.  That’s because I’m usually not the one in charge of hosting the feast because Adrian and I join our US family Tom and Louise for a great party every year.  In return, I’m responsible for some of the appetizers, side dishes and desserts.  And I have lots to choose from.  

Since we moved to Pittsburgh almost six years ago, I’ve only hosted Thanksgiving once.  And it was a small party comprised of three people, Adrian, our good friend Claude and me – three international friends celebrating Thanksgiving (a holiday non-existent in our countries) in Pittsburgh.  But it was so worth it!  

I did not commit to making a whole bird and opted instead for this seriously tasty Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast from Barefoot Contessa.  It was a hit that I replicated over and over again for regular dinners that I wanted to tweak into something special.  So, if you’re not cooking for a small army, this recipe will definitely do the trick and satisfy your guests.  In fact, I went with two boneless and skinless turkey breasts tied up (I had the butcher truss the turkey breasts with kitchen twine) and smeared with a heady paste.  As you’ll see, it’s the same spectacular rub that I use for this other outrageously delicious Herb-Roasted Pork Loin recipe.  Don’t you just love versatility?  And by the way, you should give this pork loin dish a whirl for Christmas.  You won’t be disappointed!

Now, without further ado, here are some of my go-to recipes for the upcoming Thanksgiving feast:


Besides the store-bought wine and beer, this homemade Hot Mulled Wine is a great festive addition to the Thanksgiving menu and all throughout winter.  For something more celebratory, this bubbly Prosecco with Berry Ice Cubes is the way to go, while for a non-alcoholic option, this fizzy Ginger Tea Lemonade is a crowd-pleaser.


In terms of appetizers, I like to go with something light, to still leave room for the main course, yet fancy.  This elegant Vegetarian Bruschetta is a nice sweet and savory combination, while the Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto and Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts are guaranteed to vanish in the blink of an eye.   


Since I’m not cooking the big bird (or the stuffing), I love to add to the sides spread.  In the past, my contribution to the Thanksgiving table featured this flavorful Baked Cauliflower with Pork and Béchamel Sauce that always got me rave reviews.  I also love these rich Mashed Potatoes with Cheddar Cheese and Mixed Herbs or these flavor-packed Baked Potatoes with Garlic and Fresh Herbs, which are similar to a potato gratin without the cream and heaviness. 

Although this Cucumber Salad is without a doubt a summer recipe, it’s a refreshing addition to the Thanksgiving meal.  Good thing cucumbers are available year round. 

When it comes to vegetables, I usually opt for this smooth Creamed Corn and my grandma’s Sweet Green Peas.  

And I can never omit my favorite Cranberry-Orange Sauce.  

If you want to give a twist to your traditional dinner rolls, try these airy Popovers; they’re a brilliant alternative.   


When it comes to desserts, I feel that the possibilities are endless.  Although pumpkin pie is probably supposed to be front and center, I sometimes like a tasteful change-up and this Pumpkin Tiramisu is an epic choice.  

Additionally, who said that sweet potatoes are only supposed to be a meek side dish?  This amazing Maple Sweet Potato Cake proves how sweet potatoes can be a sublime ingredient in desserts as well. 

Years ago, I saw Giada bake this extra-special Spiced Apple-Walnut Cake for a casual family Thanksgiving dinner.  If you’re an apple lover, this glorious Apple Sharlotka might become a regular on your holiday table.  

And if you feel particularly adventurous and up for a chocolatey challenge, this stunning Chocolate Cake with Walnut Brittle is a showstopper.  

For something more tamed yet equally luxurious, try this silky Chocolate Tart.  Put some twists on your desserts this Thanksgiving; it pays off to be different!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone and Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

October 31, 2015

Salted Caramel-Filled Fudge Brownies

Truth be told, I’ve never been a great admirer of brownies.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been selfishly skimming over every brownie recipe to ever grace my path.  But then, these Salted Caramel-Filled Fudge Brownies came along.  The key word here is “salted caramel,” Adrian’s favorite.  Hence, I was mildly intrigued and hugely tempted to give them a whirl and I instantly knew my husband would truly appreciate my change of heart.  What would I have to lose after all – his sweet tooth would be fed and my curiosity satisfied when it came to brownies and especially this atypical salted caramel-sandwich-like-specimen.  

Since tonight is Halloween, I totally understand if making these brownies for this celebration is a challenge.  But they can easily be whipped up for Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other non-celebratory occasion that comes to mind.  In fact, they’re the perfect midweek sweet treat if you’re to ask me! 


These Salted Caramel-Filled Fudge Brownies are crackly on top, fudgy and soft with the right amount of toasty crunch inside, and gooey and blissfully sticky when your teeth hit the sandwiched caramel in the middle.  They will melt on your tongue and leave a trail of sweet and salty goodness behind.  To be honest, chemistry was never my forte but I find it rather fascinating how this deep amber liquid springs to life in about twenty minutes.  Not to mention the way it acts as the glue that keeps together the two buttery chocolate brownies.  However, I won’t hold it against you if you decide to forgo the salted caramel and just enjoy these fudgy brownies on their own.  

These sweet treats are a take on the popular caramel-filled brownies that you may find at Bad Brownie in London.  Good thing I don’t have to fly all the way across the pond for a bite, although I’d love to give them a try someday soon.  Until then, these brownies are definitely a feast!  Enjoy and Happy Halloween! 

Salted Caramel-Filled Fudge Brownies
Adapted from Food & Wine (June 2015)

Makes: 10-12 brownies


·         1 ¼ cups sugar
·         3 Tablespoons water
·         ¾ cup heavy cream
·         4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
·         1 ½ teaspoons flaky sea salt

·         2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
·         10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
·         1 ½ cups sugar
·         ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
·         2 teaspoons vanilla extract
·         ½ teaspoon kosher salt
·         3 large eggs, chilled
·         1 cup all-purpose flour
·         ½ cup roasted pistachios (optional)

Instructions for the caramel:

In a medium saucepan, cook the sugar with the water over moderate heat, swirling the pan frequently, until a dark amber caramel forms, about 18-20 minutes.  Slowly drizzle in the cream, then whisk in the butter and sea salt.  Transfer the caramel to a small bowl and refrigerate until thickened, about 2 hours. 

Instructions for the brownies:

Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Lightly butter a 9-by-13 inch metal baking pan. 

Melt the 2 sticks of butter in a heatproof medium bowl set over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water.  Add the chopped chocolate, the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt and stir until smooth.  Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the eggs one at a time.  Whisk well after each one.  Add the flour and stir until just incorporated.  If you are using the roasted pistachios, this is the time to gently fold them in.  

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake the brownies for 35-40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.  Check the brownies after 35 minutes.  Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool completely.  

Invert the brownies onto a cutting board and cut in half to form 2 rectangles.  Spread the chilled caramel over 1 rectangle, then top with the other rectangle.  Cut into 10-12 bars and serve immediately. 

Note:  The caramel can be refrigerated for 2 weeks.  The brownies can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

September 30, 2015

Salmon Baked in Foil and four years of blogging

The past four years have gone by in a breeze.  So what better way to celebrate the four year milestone of this little blog than with a breezy recipe?  Thank you to all my friends out there who make this journey fun, exciting and worthwhile, who try my recipes and who read my mostly incoherent ramblings.  I couldn’t have done it without you!  Thank you all so much!! 

Recently, it would seem that I’ve been avoiding complicated recipes like the bubonic plague.  Well, maybe I’m being a tad harsh; I wasn’t so adamant at dodging any elaborate recipes per se, I just happened to be really absorbed in this phase of lazy cooking, the less cooking involved the better.  Or you can say that I’ve been basking in the realm of easy, clean and few-ingredient dishes.  

And this Salmon Baked in Foil recipe is right up that alley.  Not to mention that this is a dish Adrian and I have been feasting on more times than I care to count this summer and we’re still not tired of it.  Every time I was mulling over what to whip up for dinner, a tiny voice was growling in my head: salmon, salmon, salmon.  Besides, it’s the first year that I’m celebrating my blog’s anniversary with a non-plum related recipe.  That says a lot!    

In a nutshell, this Salmon Baked in Foil is an unpretentious and easy dish with a nice gourmet edge to it; it’s simple, superb and mess-free.  The fish is perfectly cooked and the wrapping produces a lip-smacking blend of flavorful juices and aromas.  The only downside to it – it’ll be hard if not downright impossible to order salmon in a restaurant once you’ve tried this recipe.  Pair it with this lovely Creamed Corn or this Fluffy Basmati Rice and you’ve got yourself a sinfully delicious meal!  Enjoy!   

Salmon Baked in Foil
Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis

Makes: 2 main-course servings


·         1 medium tomato, chopped, or ½ (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice, drained
·         1 shallot, chopped (if you’re not very picky, half of a small yellow onion will work just fine, too)
·         2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
·         1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice (from about half a lemon)
·         ½ teaspoon dried oregano
·         ½ teaspoon dried thyme
·         ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a bit more for salmon
·         ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus a bit more for salmon
·         2 salmon fillets (about 5 ounces each)
·         Parchment paper or aluminum foil


Preheat the oven to 400° F.  In a small bowl, stir the tomatoes, shallot, 2 Tablespoons of oil, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  

Place each salmon fillet, skin side up in the center of each of two large sheets of parchment paper (or aluminum foil).  Spoon 1 teaspoon of oil over the skin of each salmon fillet.  Turn the fillets over and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Spoon the tomato mixture over the salmon fillets.  Fold the sides of the parchment paper over the fish and tomato mixture, covering completely, and seal the packets closed by twisting the ends.  Place the foil packets on a large, heavy baking sheet.  (The salmon packets can be prepared up to this point 6 hours ahead.  Refrigerate until ready to bake.)

Bake until the salmon is just cooked through, about 23-25 minutes.  Using a large metal spatula, transfer the foil packets to plates and serve.  (You may want to unwrap and plate the fish in the kitchen before serving.)   

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)

August 25, 2015

Oatmeal with Blueberries and Toasted Pistachios

I’ve been quite lazy recently, especially when it comes to breakfast.  Hence, I’ve been experimenting and toying with various recipes, all of which did not involve much cooking but packed lots of flavor.  Yep...this summer, I’ve been munching on easy, clean, fast breakfast and sweet concoctions.  And this Oatmeal with Blueberries and Toasted Pistachios is no exception.

This recipe will take you only fifteen minutes to whip up, just slightly longer than this other morning favorite of mine, but I assure you it’s well worth it.  I love the warm and creamy oatmeal that gets soaked in a sweet and tangy homemade-like jam of bright blueberries, and is topped with roasted pistachios, while the cinnamon-sugar adds a spicy and crunchy finishing touch.  The whole combination is deeply colorful, toothsome and way more satisfying than its individual parts might suggest.  It will keep you sated for hours. 

I also love the versatility of this recipe.  You can vary it and customize it to your liking.  No blueberries?  No problem.  Use blackberries or raspberries, or a mix, or frozen berries.  Something tells me that even plums would work wonders.  Substitute pistachios with sliced almonds or walnuts.  And if you’re an almond milk fanatic, even better, use that instead of whole milk; its nutty flavor pairs really well with the oatmeal and brings that protein boost to your bowl.  You don’t fancy the creaminess, boil the oatmeal in water; no biggie.  I’m telling you, you won’t get bored easily with this dish.  Enjoy! 

Oatmeal with Blueberries and Toasted Pistachios
By Simply Romanesco inspired by Food & Wine (June 2015) and Giada’s Feel Good Food by Giada De Laurentiis

Makes: 2 servings


·         2 Tablespoon pistachios, unsalted and roasted (sliced toasted almonds or chopped walnuts also work well)
·         1 cup whole milk (unsweetened almond milk will work wonders too)
·         Pinch of kosher salt
·         ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
·         ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
·         2 heaped Tablespoons sugar
·         ½ teaspoon cinnamon
·         1 cup blueberries (or a mix of berries)


In a small bowl, combine the sugar and the cinnamon and mix well.

If you can’t find roasted and unsalted pistachios at the grocery store, lightly toast them in a dry small skillet over medium-low heat, tossing often, until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Transfer them to a plate.  

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, the pinch of salt and vanilla extract to a boil over medium heat.  Add the oats and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until thickened, about 6-8 minutes.  I like my oatmeal creamier, so I take it off the heat after about 6 minutes.  Spoon the oatmeal into two bowls or jars or glasses.

In the same saucepan, add the blueberries and sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon of the cinnamon-sugar.  Heat up the blueberries over medium-low heat until juicy and soft and some of them burst, about 5-7 minutes.

Spoon the berry sauce over the oatmeal, top with pistachios, and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)