Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cranberry & Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Have you heard the $250 chocolate chip cookie story? Its sort of a baking urban legend:

A woman goes shopping at Neiman Marcus and eats lunch in their cafe. She has a cookie for dessert and its the best chocolate chip cookie that she's ever had. She asks the waitress for the recipe, and her waitress informs her that the recipe is highly guarded, but is available for purchase. The woman asks how much, and the waitress says "Two Fifty" the woman happily purchases the recipe, but when she gets home sees that she was charged two hundred and fifty dollars. She calls Neiman's but they won't give her the refund since she has already seen their secret recipe. The woman is livid at being ripped off and so sends an email to everyone that she knows with the recipe, and asks them to forward it to everyone they know so no one pays for the recipe again.
I heard the story for the first time last year when a co-worker brought in these cookies. It turns out that its actually not true. Neiman's debunked the myth by posting the recipe on their website. Their recipe however, is completely different from the recipe that's passed around in the email. These are some of the best "non traditional" chocolate chip cookies that I've ever had. The recipe uses ground oats and I think this causes the cookies to spread less, making a thicker, chewier cookie. I added in dried cranberries to make the cookies more festive since I was baking them for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I've never been good at eggs. My omelettes don't turn out light and fluffy, they are overcooked on the bottom, and undercooked on the top. I can't flip them. So whats the solution? Frittata! I had a ton of eggs that needed to be used up, and other odds and ends in the fridge that were on their last legs so I made an impromptu breakfast, that was supposed to be an omelette but ended a Frittata. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Recipe Review: easy to make at home chicken lettuce wraps that taste as good as at a restaurant! Great as an appetizer, can be served with rice, or soup to make a full entree.

I freaking love the lettuce wraps that they make at PF Chang's. I used to work in a mall that had a PF Chang's and would order the chicken lettuce wraps for lunch all the time. There's just something about the cold crunchy lettuce wrapped around the chicken mix. This is probably also why I like my burgers from In-n-Out "protein style" (wrapped in lettuce instead of on a bun. Its a little messy, but delicious!) In general I haven't had much luck cooking Asian food, and usually go the take out route (side note/rant: there is no good Chinese food in San Diego. None. Amazing sushi but, Its been over 3 years and I've yet to find Chinese that's anything close to the quality they have back in New York) but this looked easy enough so I went for it

Thai Curried Pumpkin Soup

Recipe Review: Creamy Pumpkin soup with Thai spices. Great mixing of flavors make a smooth velvety soup.

Oh come on, by now you must know that I can't resist a pumpkin recipe. I was making Chicken Lettuce Wraps and wanted to make a soup to go with them. I just got a new immersion blender for my birthday and was itching to try it. Plus this seemed like a pretty simple soup that I could whip up on a weeknight.

I highly recommend the cuisinart smartstick hand blender it worked great, and comes with a mini chopper and whisk attachment. If you don't have an immersion blender go get this one from crate and barrell!

My grocery store didn't specifically have Thai chilies or even "Red Chilies" like the recipe called for so I went with red jalapenos, and a Serrano pepper. (I like Serrano's because they give that after burn) I used olive oil for sauteing the garlic and shallots, but added in a few drops of sesame oil because I had it. I also just used canned pumpkin, and it turned out fine. Trader Joe's sells Organic Pumpkin Puree which has great flavor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Recipe Review: Hearty Mexican soup that is a full meal in a bowl- Thumbs up all around, spices can be adjusted to make the soup mild or hot

I needed something to make that was a departure from heavy traditional Thanksgiving food. Also I needed something quick to throw together on a work night. This soup is incredibly easy to make (the only cooking skills needed are the ability to chop up an onion, and open cans) and it tastes really good without having any "heavy" ingredients.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Recipe Review: Great Twist on traditional Pecan Pie, filling is simple and easy to make, attempt pie crust at your own risk.

Typically my sister is the baker of the family. Sure I can whip up some great Chocolate Chip Cookies, and I'm a master of the boxed cake mix (Funfetti anyone??) but she is great at making baked goods from scratch. While its not my forte, over the past few years I have cautiously been dabbling in making pies, and have gotten pretty competent at it. At first glance a pie crust recipe looks really easy. Only 4 ingredients go into it, flour, fat, salt and water, but the techniques that go into combining these elements are essential to creating a light flaky pie crust. There's lots of debate between butter and shortening crusts- shortening makes a flakier crust, but butter makes a more flavorful crust. I do a mix of half of each, but there is also butter flavored Crisco out there which would be a good option as well.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roasted Vegetables & Pineapple Stuffing

I like vegetables. Lots. Yummmm. Thanksgiving dishes tend to be pretty carb-y and starchy so I wanted to make sure we had some veggies to munch on too. Also I could do all my prep ahead of time, which was very essential this thanksgiving. I doubled this and made this for both of the thanksgiving's that I attended so I got two times to try different spices to come up with the right combo to blog about!

I knew I wanted to use butternut squash and Brussels sprouts as my base vegetables, and decided to throw in baby carrots, onions, cauliflower, and parsnips. (Mostly I just wanted to be fancy and say that I used parsnips in a recipe) What exactly is a parsnip? Wikipedia tells us that:
The parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most carrots and have a sweeter flavor, especially when cooked.
(I may allegedly be including this because when I was at the grocery store I thought I was purchasing turnips but they turned out to be parsnips)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Recipe Review: Tried and True best Pumpkin Cheesecake you will ever eat. Go make this right now.

For the past few years I've been making pumpkin cheesecake for Halloween/Thanksgiving. (Basically I'll make a pumpkin recipe whenever I can get away with it. I hate how society forces us to only eat pumpkin in the fall. I've been stockpiling canned pumpkin this year so I can use it whenever. Take that seasons!) In general everyone loves cheesecake, and whenever it gets cut into and people realize that its a pumpkin cheesecake, they flip. Its actually pretty easy to make, and can be made up to a week in advance.

mine looked just like this- minus the pecans on top- I swear, I was just in a hurry and didn't get to take pictures

The recipe that I use is from Joy of Baking its very detailed and walks you though all the steps along the way. (The degree of details might make it look a little overwhelming at first, but trust me its not)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Drunken Candied Sweet Potatoes

Quick Recipe Review: Easy to make, melt in your mouth decadent sweet potatoes with kick (kick provided by Jack Daniels) 

I'm still recovering from thanksgiving, and I have a whole lot of recipes to type up here. I'm going to try to make the effort to get them all posted this week, unfortunately I don't have photos for each dish, but I'll post what I've got. Starting off with Drunken Candied Sweet Potatoes.

Kevin had been subtly hinting saying that he wanted to have sweet potatoes for a few days before Thanksgiving. Each time I would say "Well should we make them?" "No no, we've got enough stuff to make already" The last straw was when we went to the grocery store Thanksgiving morning and there were some sweet potatoes improperly labeled as yam's and on sale for 50 cents a pound. (Check out this post for sweet potato/yam identity theft information) As soon as we got home and started cooking, Kevin mentioned the sweet potatoes and how good they were, again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving from Starting to Simmer!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends this year. I did potluck at Kevin's house and am going to a late Thanksgiving celebration on Saturday. Everything turned out really really well, and I have tons of photos to go though and lots to recipes to type up and will try to post them over the next week! 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fancy Pants Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cupcakes

It was one of my friend's birthday's this weekend and her boyfriend decided at the last minute to surprize her by inviting everyone out to celebrate with them. He texted me and asked if I could pick up a cake, since bringing the cake himself would have ruined the surprize. I said sure and asked him what kind of cake she likes- Thinking I'd get a response like "chocolate with chocolate frosting, or yellow cake with white frosting" This is an exact quote of his reply text:
"Got the low down. Double layered chocolate cake, strawberry center with whip cream topping. NOT the regular butter cream"
Ummmm. Really??

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweet Potato Pot Roast

Quick Review: The pot roast turned out incredibly tender, and I really liked using a crock pot for easy prep. I used a little too much wine so cut that down a little when I wrote up the recipie and next time will put the veggies in half way though cooking

Its fall and much cooler in the evenings in San Diego. Whenever this happens it makes me crave hearty comfort food. Kevin must have been on the same page as me when he brought up that he loves pot roast and brisket. I have never made a pot roast (it's actually quite possible that I've never even eaten it) and then didn't even know what a brisket was. (Turns out its a cut of meat, usually cooked slowly at a low temperature) After much googling I decided that I wanted to make the pot roast in my crock pot. I had used the crock pot to make pulled pork this summer (it was soooo yummy. I should make that again soon) but never done a whole dish, with meat and veggies in the crock pot.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Stuffed Peppers

Per Uncle C's request I've included a review of this recipe at the beginning
This recipe is for healthy stuffed bell peppers made with lots of veggies, ground turkey, and brown rice
Kevin's Review: "this is delicious" 

Lately I've been big into pre-making and freezing things. I'll do this with spaghetti sauce, chili, chicken stew, pesto sauce, etc, but really hadn't tried freezing an entire entree before. A few other blogs and websites said that stuffed peppers freeze well, so decided to try it. I got the recipe for these peppers from my friend Amber who is an excellent cook.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Turkey Chili with White Beans

Last weekend my friend had a party at her house for the Chargers game and held a "Chili Cook off". There were 8 different varieties of chili to try and it was a lot of fun! Unfortunately due to a impromptu trip to Vegas and a wedding the night before I didn't have time to cook chili myself and felt a little left out so I decided to do it this week. I mashed up recipes from Epicurious and Cooking Light and this is what happened...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Happy Halloween from Starting to Simmer!

Photo: John Kernick

I thought I'd share my recipe for Pumpkin Cupcakes that I got from Real Simple last year. It literally is real simple. Here we go...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pesto Baked Chicken with Asparagus

I had half a jar of pesto sauce leftover from making some pasta salad a while back and was trying to figure out a way to use it other than just dumping it on pasta. (I had previously used the pesto to make a really yummy pesto and spinach pasta salad that I found on the food network website. It was a total hit at a bbq and I had to throw together a quick second batch when people gobbled up the first one.) Some quick googling led me to the idea of brushing the pesto onto chicken. Sounded simple and yummy enough! I decided to fancy it up but stuffing the chicken with asparagus and mozzarella, and made some sauteed spinach on the side.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beef Ragu (aka Meat Sauce)

It was cool and rainy here for a change and I had the day off from work so I decided to make homemade meat sauce. (I fancied up the name to beef ragu for the title) 

Side note- yes it gets cold and cloudy and rainy here in San Diego. I know the California tourism ad's would lead you to think differently but its not true. When you live in a place for long enough your body adjusts to its climate (This is scientifically documented) So yes when the temperature is below 65 degrees it feels cold to me!

The recipe needs to simmer for 3 hours minimum, but it occurred to me that you could probably cook it in a slow cooker if you weren't able to wait around while it cooks down.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I love Rick Bayless


I just wanted to say how much I love Rick Bayless. He was on Top Chef Masters a few years back and I was completely inspired by his authentic Mexican cooking. Last year for my Birthday I got his Mexican Everyday Cookbook and I have LOVED everything that I've ever made from it. I suggest you go get this right now. I absolutely love Mexican but I usually tend or order things that are full of cheese and rice and not so healthy. Kevin and i have been trying to be healthier (on top of the fact that he is a crazy person who HATES cheese. Its weird. I know.) So I browsed through the cook book and I ended up making some beef fajitas with whole wheat tortillas (ok sooo i purchased the tortillas, I'm not that talented) With Rick's Mexican red rice, (substituted brown rice instead of white as the base and it turned out great) as well as some black beans that I doctored up using a couple of various bean recipes in the book. Voila healthy, cheese-less Mexican dinner!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spaghetti Squash

This week I made Spaghetti Squash for the first time. It was really easy to make and did end up looking a lot like Spaghetti (when you cut the squash apart you can't tell at all and I was SURE that I would find some way to turn it into mush instead of strands) Lots of websites advocated using the squash in place of Spaghetti (which I tried out) but I really didn't like that. My favortie way to eat it was just baked with little brown sugar and butter, or with some salt and pepper when it was first roasted.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup Fiasco

I was so excited. I love pumpkin and had been researching pumpkin soups to try out. I found a few variations on pumpkin and black bean soup and decided to give it a try last night. Everything was going really well, and the soup had been simmering for about half an hour, I adjusted seasonings and it was tasting gooooodd and I was really excited to have some. The last step in the recipe that I was loosely working off was to add sherry vinegar. Earlier in the recipe it had called for actual Sherry which I didn't have and didn't feel like buying so I just tossed in some red wine instead. The soup already tasted good, but since I had omitted the earlier Sherry and had bought sherry vinegar I figured I should add it- right??? The sherry vinegar was completely overpowering. I ended up diluting the soup with more vegetable stock which helped some but it was no where near as good as before I added the vinegar. It was incredibly disappointing. I'll make it again the original way.... When I'm done eating this large vat good but not great soup. (If you live in the San Diego area and would like some good but not great black bean and pumpkin soup please let me know. I've got a lot. )

This is how to make the better version of the soup (please do not be temped to add Sherry of any sort)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

True Blood Cake

I'm a big fan of True Blood on HBO. For the season finale I made a red velvet cake with strawberry and raspberry filling, and did a little creative cake frosting (I've been getting into cake decorating this year) The results looked great and were delicious!

Welcome to Starting to Simmer

In short- I'm learning to cook. I love to eat food, and I love making it. I grew up in upstate New York and learned the basics in my family's kitchen. It really wasn't until I moved to San Diego a few years ago that I really started to be more adventurous and try cooking new things. I'm now regularly attempting new dishes and decided to document the process.