Meyer Lemon Rice Pudding: Webisode #10

My Day So Far: 5:30am wake-up from daughter looking for a lost toy in her crib, grocery shopping (Meyer lemons!), laundry, preparing for pre-school interview tomorrow(!)
Naptime Goals: Make Meyer Lemon Rice Pudding, set-up daughter's ladybug tent, catch up on thank you notes and emails.
Tonight's Meal: Leftover Chicken Scallopini, green beans with walnuts, rice pudding for dessert.
Parenting Lesson of the Day: When children get bored during errands give them a "job", like holding the box of rice while you finish the grocery shopping.

If the horticulture gods granted me one wish, I would ask for Meyer lemon trees in my backyard. Of course, for that to happen I would need to move to a place in New York City where I actually had a backyard, but that's a whole different wish. Of all fruits in the whole entire world I would like access to everyday, year round, it is Meyer lemons. Luckily, as you'll see in the video, these days I can simply walk down the street to Gourmet Garage which carries them while they are in season. Needless to say, during this time of year I am their best customer, my daughter has memorized the layout of the entire store at age two, that's how frequently we go.

It's not that regular lemons aren't perfectly good, it's just that Meyer lemons are exceptionally good. A cross between a lemon and mandarin orange, Meyer lemons have a milder, almost more lemony taste. They are tart, sure, but not quite as sour as a regular lemon. I've long been extolling the virtues of Meyer lemons, writing about a favorite recipe for Meyer Lemon Sables last year. This year I'm here with another dessert, a smooth and creamy Meyer Lemon Rice Pudding. Yes, you can make this with regular lemons if that's all you have available, but I highly recommend Meyer whenever possible. With the latter the flavor of this pudding is lighter and slightly more sweet, somewhat like eating lemonade pie without the need for whipped cream to lighten it up.

Since I only make this dessert doing the winter I like to do it during my daughter's naptime when I don't have any other cooking to do. This way I don't race through the steps, and can take time enjoy the assembly of one of our favorite winter sweet treats. As you'll see here, making this isn't complicated, it just requires careful monitoring on the stove to make sure the rice doesn't burn or bubble over. Once it is baked I let it cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge. Though, I'll be honest, it's hard to resist a few spoonfuls the second it's out of the oven; I frequently burn my mouth a teeny bit on the first few bites. Even once it's in the fridge I'll freely admit that I can be found dipping my spoon in it all day long, it's just too hard to resist. I'm afraid I've already passed this habit onto my daughter, she frequently has a few bites for a snack after nap, then a big bowl after dinner.


Before I give you the recipe, I should also mention that Meyer lemons are excellent for flavoring beverages (lemon drops!), appetizers (shrimp!), main courses (lemon risotto!) and even salads (squeeze into salad dressing!). Use them anywhere you might use a regular lemon and see if you notice the flavor difference. One of my favorite things to do is place a dollop of mascarpone cheese, Meyer lemon zest and juice, and a few cranks of black pepper into the bottom of a heatproof glass bowl then add a heap of freshly cooked linguine. I swirl the cheese mixture into the pasta and call it "Lemon Pepper Pasta." But that's a whole different post.

Meyer Lemon Rice Pudding
adapted from a recipe by my friend Barbara
3/4 c. long grain rice
2 c. whole milk
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 large eggs
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons* (About 2 T.)
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons (About 2-3 T.)
1 t. vanilla extract
*If Meyer lemons are not available, a regular lemon will suffice.

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a 2 quart casserole dish and set aside.
2. In a saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat and add the rice. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until most of the water is absorbed.
2. With the heat on, add the milk and sugar, stir it in with a wooden spoon and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. The remove from heat and stir in the cream.
3. In a separate bowl beat the eggs with a whisk, then pour the warm rice mixture into them, stirring well.
4. Finally, add in the lemon zest, juice and vanilla and give mixture one final stir to incorporate everything. The pudding will still somewhat loose at this point, but it will firm up in the oven.
5. Pour the mixture into the casserole dish and place the dish in a large pan or roasting pan. Add warm water until it reaches 1" up the side of the dish to create a warm water bath.
6. Bake for 1 hour, or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: If you want to ramp up the lemon taste even more add more zest. Or, if you'd prefer a slightly different taste add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg to play up the vanilla flavor notes.
Naptime Stopwatch: Preparing the batter takes about 20 minutes, then it's one hour of baking and a little time for cooling.
Naptime Reviews: Rice pudding is comfort food at it's finest, everyone in our family loves it. I've also served it to guests and they've given it rave reviews as well.


Steak Frites with Oven Baked Parmesan Fries

My Day So Far: Rainy morning slogging up Broadway to the library and back. I hate navigating New York City in the rain, especially pushing a stroller.
Naptime Goals: Prep potatoes and sauce for dinner, make 3 phone calls, write last of daughter's pre-school applications.
Tonight's Meal: Steak Frites: Steak with Oven Baked Parmesan Fries.
Parenting Lesson of the Day: It's true what they say about kids and ketchup - they love it!

Sunday was a dreary, rainy day and my husband and I were in the mood for a cozy dinner. In the spirit of making something hearty and satisfying on a January evening, I turned to an old favorite, Steak Frites. Eating this simple meat and potatoes meal feels like we are enjoying pub food in the comfort of our own home. It is just the thing to sustain us through a long winter's night. Plus, since my husband likes to help me cook on the weekends, he was more than happy to lend a hand in the kitchen.

We've gotten steak down to a science in our house. Being city dwellers we don't have a grill, so we use a stove top pan to sear the meat. Then, we slice it, finish it off with a touch of gorgonzola sauce and dinner is served. It is all very well and good, cooking the meat, but I'll be completely honest, my favorite part about this meal are the french fries.

I, for one, draw the line when it comes to deep frying at home. I have zero willpower when it comes to french fries and if I started making recipe's like Jaden's delicious version, I'm afraid I would loose all self-control, make them nightly and cause my dress size to increase exponentially. Instead, I bake my french fries. I parboil the potatoes, toss them with a little olive oil and salt, and put them in the hot oven. With this technique the edges crisp and caramelize, giving them a beautiful golden crust with a soft, piping hot center and "just fried" crunch. Toward the end of the baking I sprinkle them with a hefty dose of grated parmesan cheese - though, I should note, I've used pecorino in a pinch and it is excellent - and leave them in the oven for a five more minutes. This final touch is key, the cheese slowly melts over the potatoes, giving them a delicious saltiness with a mild nutty parmesan flavor.

Our pub-like dinner is a snap to prepare. To save myself time I cut the potatoes and prepare the cheese sauce during my daughter's afternoon naptime. This way I can start the fry-making process at the boiling step come evening. When we made this on Sunday my husband handled the steak on the stove-top grill pan while I manned the french fry station and pulled out the gorgonzola sauce I'd prepared during the day. Once the fries were in the oven I was able to leave him in the kitchen while my daughter and I played with her newest stash of molding clay. After that I pretty much neglected the fries in the oven, only getting up to turn them once, then once more to sprinkle on the parmesan. When the steak was done, we were able to plate dinner quickly and easily. While my daughter avoided the steak, she dove right in to the potatoes with a blob of ketchup (or "dip-dip") as she likes to say, on the side of her plate. She was all about the pub atmosphere on a dreary winter night, and so were we.

Simple Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
Serves 2
14 oz. Sirloin Strip Steak (or whatever cut you prefer), 1 1/2" thick
4 T. Worcestershire Sauce
Salt & Pepper

For the Sauce:
2 T. Gorgonzola, crumbled
1/3 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. sour cream
1 T. heavy cream

1. Sprinkle both sides of the steak liberally with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. Place stovetop grill pan over high heat. Sear steaks 5 minutes per side, then repeat steps to achieve criss-cross grill marks. *This will cook the steak to medium done. If you'd like your steak more well done, or more rare, adjust cooking time accordingly.* Remove steak from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Slice, drizzle with Gorgonzola Sauce (directions below) and serve.
2. For the sauce: combine Gorgonzola, mayonnaise, sour cream and heavy cream in a small bowl. Whisk together with a fork until completely combined. If the mixture is too thin add a little more cream by the teaspoonful until you reach desired consistency.

Oven Baked Parmesan French Fries
Serves 4
4 Potatoes
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T. Kosher Salt
2/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Scrub potatoes and rinse well.
2. Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1/2" wide strips. Then, rotate the potato and cut again into 1/2" strips lengthwise, separate the strips. 
3. Fill a pot with water and add the potato strips. Bring water to a boil and cook for about 10-12 minutes, or until a fork passes easily through the potatoes. Drain the potatoes well and pat dry with a paper towel. Place the strips in a bowl and toss with the olive oil and salt.
4. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and place strips on them. Drizzle with a touch more olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes, turning at least once while the fries bake. They will brown and crisp up. At the end of the baking, sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the potatoes and bake for an additional 5 minutes, until the cheese toasts and slightly melts. Serve hot.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Ideas and Variations: Parmesan cheese tastes great, but I've used Pecorino and even grated Asiago. Give the different cheeses a try to see what combination you'd like best. Also, feel free to take the spices up a notch - peppers, paprika or even italian herbs would taste fantastic.
Naptime Stopwatch: The steak takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and the fries take about 20 minutes to prepare, plus baking time.
Naptime Reviews: My daughter isn't yet converted to steak, but she loves the fries. I am happy to serve them to her, the absence of frying makes them healthier then anything we find in the grocery store or at a restaurant.


Favorite Cookbooks for 2010 & Pain D'Epice: Webisode #9

My Day So Far: Morning at the Children's Museum, mailed baby gifts to friends in DC for their new baby boy (congrats Kristina and Noah!) 
Naptime Goals: Catch up emails, blog posts and write business plan for 2010! 
Tonight's Meal: Rigatoni tossed with homemade ragu thawed from the freezer. I am baking Pain D'Epice after bedtime! 
Parenting Lesson of the Day: Kids must be taught social graces, sometimes under extreme duress.

I draw my cooking inspiration from any number of sources. Sometimes ideas come from fresh farmer's market produce or glorious food photography in magazines, and other times from the cookbooks in my kitchen. As you can see from this video, my cookbook collection is bordering on out of control, but I still buy them anyway. I find that a well written, visually appealing cookbook is invaluable. It can be a source of confidence to take risks in the kitchen, a catalog of great recipes and can serve as a reference guide for years to come.

Despite the chaos you see on my shelves, all the cookbooks are there for a reason. Each one contains a combination of recipes, tips and photography that create a unique vibe I find useful and inspiring. Lately there has been a particular group of cookbooks that I've been referring to an awful lot and I want to share them with you today. These are my current tried-and-true's, the ones I thumb through so often I can almost recite their entire table of contents.

In the spirit of celebrating one of my newest favorite cookbook series, Canal House Cooking (click link to get your own subscription), this week I baked a Pain D'Epice, or French Spice Bread. As the author of this recipe, Melissa Hamilton, noted, the spices were lost in translation when she received the recipe from her mother, but no matter since it is plenty tasty. I love this bread, it's natural sweetness come from honey and marmalade, and the brown sugar gives it a gorgeous burnished deep brown hue. We like to eat it toasted for breakfast, but I've also caught myself slicing bits off for tea and dessert. A lot of times I do my baking after my daughter goes to bed and here you will see me doing just that (including an unfortunate shot of me in my pj's the following morning). The bread bakes for just about an hour and then I am able to let it cool overnight so it is ready the next day.


Naptime Chef's Favorite Cookbook for 2010:
 1) Canal House Cooking, Vol. 1 and 2, by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer: The first two installments in a cookbook subscription series, these books are inviting and inspiring. Written for the home cook, their recipes range from classic main courses to trendy cocktails, all written with a calm simplicity that proves inspired gourmet cuisine can indeed be accomplished by home cooks everywhere.

2) In Season: Cooking with Fruits and Vegetables by Sarah Raven: A visual masterpiece, this British export is my newest favorite source for seasonal cooking with fruits and vegetables. Organized by season, each section showcases colorful photographs and accessible recipes that will inspire everyone to rethink their everyday vegetable and fruit menus.

3) Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan: Equal parts reference guide and recipe source, this book will be on my shelf forever. With decadent sweets that span the gamut from breakfast buns to decadent layer cakes, the information covered here includes everything from ingredient ideas to freezing tips.

4) Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros: When it comes to fitting great food into family life, Tessa is in-the-know. A mother of two, accomplished chef and resident of Tuscany, Tessa utilizes all of the sources to inspire her recipes. Scattered throughout are memories of her children, doodles and photographs showcasing a happy family enjoying extraordinary food.

5) A16: Food + Wine: by Nate Appleman with Kate Leahy: Not often can you make restaurant quality food at home, but with this cookbook you can. I had the pleasure of eating at A16 last September in San Francisco and I still remember almost every bite. Thank goodness for this book, even if you've never been to the restaurant, now you can enjoy their food in the comfort of your own kitchen.

6) Unforgettable Desserts by Dede Wilson: Beware, this book will make you drool. I figured out, the hard way, not to look through this book when you are trying to cut back on sweets. Dede's inviting recipes, luscious photography and simple flavors will make you drop everything and run for your spatula. Well-balanced and easy to understand, these recipes could be served anywhere from family occasions to chic black tie dinners.

7) Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations by MSKCC and Florence Fabricant: Menus and tips on how to entertain like a hostess with the mostess, this book is your go-to guide. Photographs provide inspiration for table settings, while menus by occasion will fit almost every entertaining need.

8) How to Eat by Nigella Lawson: A classic on my bookshelf, Nigella is the embodiment of the busy mum enjoying her time in the kitchen. I re-read the introduction to this book at least once a month, and always enjoy any of the classic recipes she writes.

Pain D'Epice or French Spice Bread 
adapted from Canal Housing Cooking Vol. 2 by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer
3 c. flour
2/3 c. dark brown sugar, pushed through a sieve to get out the lumps
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 c. orange marmalade
1/3 c. honey
2 t. baking soda
1 c. whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 325. Butter a 10x5 loaf pan and dust it with flour. Set aside.
2. In large bowl put the flour, brown sugar and baking powder. Whisk it together so that it is completely incorporated.
3. In a separate bowl, measure in the marmalade and honey. Dissolve the baking soda in milk and stir it into the marmalade and honey mixture. 
4. Working slowly, stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until batter is well mixed.
5. Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted comes out clean.


Tomato Soup Florentine

My Day So Far: Unpacked from Cooperstown trip - no more traveling for a while! Grocery shopping, romp at the playground - it's warmed up just enough to play outdoors (hurray!)
Naptime Goals: Make a yummy pot of Tomato Soup Florentine to eat for the next two nights. Catch up on laundry and mail (ack - Christmas shopping bills have arrived!!)
Tonight's Meal: Tomato Soup Florentine, grilled cheeses on the panini maker.
Parenting Lesson of the Day: Mr. Potato-Head is easily one of the best toys ever invented.

I am beat after our whirlwind trip to Cooperstown last week. Between driving to Cooperstown, Syracuse, and back to New York City, I am ready to hang up my driving gloves for a little bit. Upon returning Sunday I was in the mood for bowl of comforting, healthy Tomato Soup Florentine. A restorative and nourishing meal, it was just the thing to welcome us home after a hectic week on the road.

There are many recipes tomato soup available and this happens to be my favorite. My mother first made it for me years ago and I was instantly hooked. At the time she served it I had just returned from college after a particularly rigorous fall semester. Perhaps it was the special feeling of comfort it imparted, but I have associated this soup with all good, warm feelings ever since.

Sentimental moments aside, two more reasons I am partial to this recipe is because a) it can be assembled with pantry basics and b) it doesn't contain any cream. Like most people, I enjoy a good creamy soup from time to time, but in this case there is no need for it. Due to the slow and steady cooking method, the pureed onion, garlic and herbs blend beautifully with the chicken broth and tomatoes to form a full-bodied soup that lacks for nothing in the flavor department.

Like most great soups, this one is perfect for making during my daughter's afternoon naptime. In fact, the flavor actually improves over time so I recommend making this a few hours, to a few days, before you want to eat it. When it comes to meal time we like to break out the panini maker and whip up some yummy grilled cheeses for dunking in our bowls. (Since paninis can't be made ahead of time I usually hand my daughter her new Mr. Potato-Head and she is happily occupied for the few minutes it takes to grill the sandwich!) If you don't feel like sandwiches, this soup is also delicious on it's own with a side of cheese toast and a green salad. 

Tomato Soup Florentine
Makes 8 cups
1/2 c. onion, finely chopped
3 T. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 c. white wine
28 oz. whole tomatoes with juice
2 c. chicken broth
2 T. dried basil or 1/4 c. fresh basil leaves, torn
2 T. sugar
2 T. balsamic vinegar
5 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and dried OR 5 oz. fresh spinach leaves

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and stir until soft. About 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and pepper flakes, cook for 1 minute.
2. Carefully pour in white wine, simmer until almost completely evaporated. Pour in the cans of tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth and basil. Increase heat to medium-high and bring soup to a boil for 1 minute. Then, reduce heat and simmer soup for 10 minutes.
3. Working carefully, puree soup with a hand blender until completely smooth. Or, scoop it into a blender and puree until smooth. When all of the soup is completed return it to the pot and bring it to a simmer.
4. Allow soup to simmer for a few minutes, then stir in the sugar and vinegar. Stir in spinach and allow to wilt. Serve hot with a garnish of cheese.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props and Tips: Need to drain the water from your thawed spinach? Put it in a potato ricer and squeeze until excess water is drained! This soup freezes well, simply put it in a sealed container until you want to eat it.
Naptime Stopwatch: It takes me about 40 minutes to prepare this soup and it makes 9 (nine!) cups.
Naptime Reviews: I've learned to tone down the red pepper when my daughter will be eating it - otherwise we will love it!


Cooking on "Bridge Street", WSYR-Syracuse NY

Thank you for tuning in to "Bridge Street" on Channel 9-WSYR, Syracuse. For those of you who didn't see the show yet, I've posted a clip below! 

First, click here to Sign up for my free weekly newsletter,"Naptime News."

Best Ever Shrimp Scampi
Serves 4
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 t. freshly parsley, cleaned and chopped
1 1/2 t. dried basil
1 t. dried oregano
1 1/2 t. Kosher Salt
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. dry white wine
1 lb. linguine or any long strand pasta
32 shrimp, pre-cooked (figure about 8 shrimp per person)

1. Preheat oven to 450.  In a shallow baking dish arrange the shrimp tails up, so that they are evenly lined up and nestled in. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan over medium flame heat the olive oil. Press the garlic cloves through a garlic press and simmer gently in the olive oil until softened and fragrant. About 1 minute.
3. Then, add the butter, chopped parsley, basil, oregano, salt, lemon juice and white wine. Allow butter to melt and cook sauce for 3 minutes over medium flame.
4. Pour some of the sauce over the shrimp until all the shrimp are well coated and the bottom of the pan is totally coated. Place pan in the oven and cook for 5 minutes.

*If preparing ahead place the shrimp with butter sauce in the fridge and cover with plastic. When ready to cook, remove plastic and place pan in the oven and cook for 8-9 minutes. Butter sauce can also be placed in the fridge in a covered container and rewarmed prior to serving.*

5. Meanwhile, while shrimp are in the oven, boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, place it in a bowl pasta bowl and toss with remaining butter sauce. Once shrimp are cooked arrange them on top of individual portions of pasta and serve hot!

Amazing Caramel Swirl Brownies
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 eggs
2 c. sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
2 T. cocoa powder
1 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. chocolate chips, tossed with 1 t. flour

For Caramel Swirl:
25 soft caramels, unwrapped
4 T. heavy whipping cream

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Melt butter and chocolate together. I use the microwave, heating it in short intervals so the butter doesn't explode. Mix together until fully combined. Cool slightly.
3. Beat together eggs, vanilla, sugar and cocoa powder in a mixer until combined. Add chocolate mixer, beat until just combined.
4. Finally, add flour, baking powder and salt to the chocolate mixture and mix until the batter is totally incorporated. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the bottom of the bowl to make sure it all comes together. Stir in the chocolate chips witha  wooden spoon. Pour batter into butter 13x9 baking pan.
5. Melt caramel and cream together on the stovetop until completely combined. Drop mixture by the teaspoonful on top of batter and gently ''swirl" it in with a knife. Don't overmix.
6. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until knife inserted in the batter comes out clean.


Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes: My Top 10 List

My Day So Far: Driving up to Cooperstown for tomorrow's appearance on "Bridge Street." Crazy excited (and nervous!)
Naptime Goals: Arrive in Cooperstown, bake brownies for tomorrow's show, make sure I have all ingredients prepared.
Tonight's Meal: Mom's cooking tonight, I am too nervous about tomorrow to cook!
Parenting Lesson of the Day: Kiddo + 3 hour solo parent car ride = not fun.

I have never met anyone who doesn't like chocolate chip cookies. In fact, I would find it downright strange if someone told me they didn't like a classic buttery cookie studded with warm, oozy chocolate chips. I mean, who could ever turn down such taste perfection? When it comes to baked goods, the standard chocolate chip cookie is a true classic. I theorize that it is almost the perfect sweet - pleasant to chew and taste, with perfectly proportioned flavors of butter, sugar, vanilla and chocolate. It is the childhood treat that never loses appeal.

I've baked so many chocolate chip cookies over the years that I've become a bit of a connoisseur. If you don't believe me, just ask my friends. I bake them by the dozens on a weekly basis, dolling them out in ziploc baggies any chance I get. My standard operating procedure is to make the dough during naptime, let it rest in the fridge throughout the afternoon, then bake them after my daughter goes to sleep. Then, I save half of what I bake for my family and give the rest away. This means we all enjoy fresh cookies, plus it necessitates that I replenish our supply every few days. Sure, I bake other kinds of cookies as well, but chocolate chip remains the ultimate standby. These are the ones I bake more than any other.

I've probably tried at least four dozen different chocolate chip cookie recipes since I started baking as a teenager. Over time I've weeded out most of them, only retaining a small, but well-edited, selection of those worthy of repeat performances. The recipes I like most each have subtle nuances, creating cookies with their own unique flavor and textures. In turn, each cookie is well-suited for a variety of serving purposes. One recipe I've found is particularly good for ice-cream sandwiches, another is great for children, and a third is perfect for serving during afternoon tea.

After years of careful taste-testing I am excited to share my personal favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes with you. I will write a quick disclaimer here, too: I know I haven't, by any means, tried all recipes out there. But, in my opinion, these are the best of the best I've baked to date. After you read this list, if you have a favorite recipe you think should be listed here, let me know and I'll give it a go!

The Naptime Chef's favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes:
1. Dorie Greenspan's My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies: Soft, sweet and slightly cakey, these are my favorite hands down. The flavor notes of vanilla and chocolate are perfectly balanced, while the texture is slightly soft, but not crumbly. Part of their success is due to Dorie's specific instructions for adding the ingredients - follow them carefully. These cookies stand up well when vanilla ice-cream is sandwiched between them, and are also great served on their own to adults and children alike.

2. The New York Times' Chocolate Chip Cookie by Jacques Torres: A slightly more involved recipe, I've made this with both the complicated flours, and basic all-purpose flour. Both versions have been successful and delicious. I love how the chopped chocolate creates layers and ridges in the cookie, allowing the chocolate to melt and permeate every crumb. A particularly decadent cookie, these are great for impressing friends and guests.

3. Cook's Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies: Being a devotee of browned butter, it is only natural that I would turn to this recipe. Initially skeptical, I've come to love the deeper flavor the browned butter gives the cookie, creating rich almost caramel-like notes that contrast nicely with the chocolate. Don't bake these with children unless they are old enough to use the stove.

4. Martha Stewart's Thin and Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies: Not surprisingly, Martha has enough varieties of Chocolate Chip Cookies to make my head spin. And, I've tried every single one. The unusually large amount of butter causes these cookies to thin out and crisp while baking, making them somewhat brittle from the start. I love the slightly delicate texture and rich buttery taste, they are perfect for grown-up afternoon tea.

5. Barefoot Contessa's Chocolate Chunk Cookies: Never one to shy away from excess, Ina shows us how it's done by passing up wimpy chips and adding impressive chocolate chunks to her cookies. These cookies are bold in flavor, size and texture. I find them particularly great for summer ice-cream sundaes and for serving to kids. Adults love them, too, though they are so gigantic you only need to eat one!

6. Neiman-Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies with Blended Oatmeal: An old favorite, I stumbled upon this recipe in a fluke email and didn't look back. I never add raisins or walnuts to my cookies, but I love the addition of oatmeal. In this case, the blended oatmeal creates a wonderful, subtle texture and nutty flavor that is unusually satisfying.

7. Martha Stewart's Alexis' Favorite Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies: Vastly different from the delicate Thin and Crisp variety, these cookies are frisbee-style cakey cookies similar to those found in coffeehouses around the country. I love the deeper flavor they get from the larger than usual amount of brown sugar. I'll admit, when we are feeling indulgent I whip up a batch of these and dip one, piece by piece, in a tall glass of milk. They also hold up well when traveling because they are so large and sturdy.

8. Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies: It is rare that you can recreate a packaged product from scratch at home, but with this recipe you can. Kathleen's well-balanced chocolate chip cookies are generated by this very same recipe. So, either buy them in the store or make them at home - your choice! An all-around great cookie, I like to sprinkle a little extra salt on top and take them to summer picnics.

9. Scharffen Berger's House Recipe: Leave it to the chocolate experts to come up with one heck of a decadent cookie. More sophisticated then most, these cookies call for a variety of Scharffen Berger chocolate (a brand which I highly endorse), creating a multi-layered chocolate flavor. I recommend using the bittersweet chocolate chips and serving these with coffee to adults.

10. Chocolate Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies from Park Avenue Potluck: Great cookies with playful flavors, I love how these caramelize when baking. The generous dose of cinnamon gives them a warm comforting taste and aroma, making them perfect for baking at home with children and munching on a cold winter day. They are also excellent for taking into school or the office - colleagues always love the unusual flavor twist.

Dorie Greenspan's Chocolate Chip Cookies (my favorite recipe of all-time!)
from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t. Kosher salt
3/4 t. baking soda
2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. light brown sugar, packed 
2 t. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
12 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and soda. Give it a stir with a whisk and set aside.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter for 1 minute. Then, add both the sugars and beat for at least 2 more minutes, until mixture is completely smooth. Beat in vanilla extract, then scrape down sides. Next, add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.
4. With mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing well after each addition. Once the final portion is incorporated turn off mixer. Stir in the chocolate chips with a wooden spoon.
*At this point dough can be wrapped in plastic and set in the fridge for up to 48 hours. Or, wrap the dough in plastic and an outer layer of aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months.*
5. Drop cookie dough by the teaspoonful on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat, bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire rack and eat while still warm!

Naptime Notes:
- There is no need for Naptime Notes today. These cookies are beyond fabulous and you should just follow the recipe to experience them for yourself!


V8 V-Fusion Review and Sweepstakes!

Come over to my Product Review Page and check out my latest review for V8 V-Fusion Drinks, and a chance to win big!

Poached Salmon with Leeks: Webisode #8

My Day So Far: Unpack from trip to Martha's Vineyard, morning jaunt to Children's Museum, errands, errands, errands!
Naptime Goals: Prepare for cooking segment on live TV (so nervous!) on WSYR Syracuse on Friday.
Tonight's Meal: Poached Salmon with Leeks. I don't have time to naptime chef today, but can pull together this delicious light meal in a snap.
Parenting Lesson of the Day: The toys that make the most annoying noises are always the child's favorite!

Sometimes people ask me if I spend 2 hours cooking every single day. No! Of course not! Sure, my daughter typically naps for that amount of time, but, as I've said before, naptime is my free time when I strive to get a lot of stuff done, including enjoying some time in the kitchen. Most of the time it works out that I can make a great casserole that will last for a couple of nights, or a large amount of sauce for pasta, with leftovers to freeze for later. But other times I don't have time to cook at all during naptime. Instead, I have to make dinner a few minutes before it needs to be served, which is when I turn to very specific arsenal of recipes at my disposal.

This week is book-ended by two very important trips for me. We just returned from celebrating a belated Christmas with my in-law's, and Thursday I am driving upstate to prepare for a live (!) TV show on Friday morning. (Don't get me started on my nerves, I haven't been able to eat for 2 days already). Once Saturday morning comes I'll be free as a bird, but until then I am running around like a madcap mommy, rushing my daughter to her classes, prepping during naptime and squeezing in the laundry whenever possible.

This recipe for Poached Salmon with Leeks was given to me by my mother-in-law when my husband and I first started dating. She served it one evening during a visit and I was instantly smitten. I love the mildly sweet taste of the tender leeks and how they mix with the chicken broth to soften the flavor of the salmon. Best of all, this is a light, healthy dinner that can be pulled together in a matter of minutes. Don't get me wrong, it's not one of these formulaic solution dinners I hate, there is plenty of inspiration and thought here. This is just simply an wonderful meal made with quality ingredients. I promise, I will never preach to you any time frame in which you pull it together.

Just yesterday I made this in the early evening while my daughter was playing in the other room with our neighbor. As the ear-grating songs of mechanical singing bears screeched away on repeat, I dedicated a few minutes to the kitchen. I had just enough time to let the leeks soften and salmon poach, with a few moments between to check on the kid's handiwork in the other room. (On a side note, can anyone explain the appeal to me of annoying singing animals and why children love them so much?) Dinner was prepared in a short amount of time and everyone adored it. And, believe it or not, my husband managed to capture it all on video, so here you go! Enjoy!

Poached Salmon with Leeks: Webisode #8 from Kelsey Banfield on Vimeo.

Poached Salmon with Leeks
1 T. butter
4 c. chopped leeks, well rinsed (!)
1 c. chicken broth
12 oz. salmon, cut into two strips 
Serves 2 (recipe doubles or triples easily)

1. Trim the roots and leaves from the leeks, leaving the soft white stem. Chop the stem into sections and place in a colander over the sink, or in a bowl of water. Rinse the leeks very thoroughly, these are notoriously grainy vegetables and you don't want the dirt to end up in your food, and pat dry.
2. In a straight edge saute pan with a lid over medium heat add the butter and allow to melt. Then add the leeks and saute until tender. About 8 minutes.
3. Once the leeks are tender pour in the chicken broth until it just covers the leeks. If you need a little more broth then the 1 cup called for, add a little more bit by bit. Then, add the salmon steaks on top, making sure they are separated a little. If there is skin on the salmon, place the skin side up so that the fish is resting directly on the leeks.
4. Turn up the heat so that the broth is simmering. Place the lid on the pan and cook the salmon for 8 minutes. After that, check to make sure the steaks are cooked through. If not, continue cooking for 1-2 more minutes.
5. Divide the leeks between two plates. Serve one salmon steak on top of each bed of leeks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: This definitely goes in the category of meals that can be made in a short amount of time and taste delicious. I've never tried it, but I bet this would work with other kinds of fish as well, if you don't like salmon.
Naptime Stopwatch: I made this in 20 minutes from start to finish.
Naptime Reviews: My husband grew up eating this and claims my version was better than he ever tasted at home. I hardly believe it since his mother is such a good cook - but I'll take the credit anyway! My daughter? This was not such a hit, we haven't had much luck with salmon yet.


Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies

My Day So Far: Morning dentist visit (me), Museum of Natural History to see Live Butterfly exhibit (me, daughter, friends), noodle soup lunch to combat frigid temps!
Naptime Goals: Make Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies for in-law's. Pack for weekend trip to Martha's Vineyard.
Tonight's Meal: Thai take-out. We are leaving at the crack of dawn and I am not cooking tonight!
Parenting Lesson of the Day: Caffeine and toddlers don't mix.

These cookies have been a favorite of mine for the past couple of years and I've been wanting to write about them for a while. They might ring a bell for some of you because in November they achieved a previously unknown level of fame when, to my surprise, they won the chocolate cookie contest on food52. After seeing the entries of chocolatey deliciousness from the likes of Food Blogga, TasteFood and Savour-Fare, I figured my little cookies would have a slim-to-none chance of being recognized. However, lo and behold, much to my amazement, they were.

Excited by this unexpected showcase, my friends, family and fans took a look at the site, watched the video of Amanda and Merrill engaging in a chocolate cookie baking race (yes, it actually happened), and voted for them. Then, after their trip to food52, everyone sent me personal emails requesting that I bring them a batch the next time I visited.

No problem, I thought, after agreeing to the first few requests, it would be nice to share these with friends. But the emails never stopped. Not for One. Whole. Month. At one point I considered breaking all agreements and hosting a massive cookie buffet at my place instead, but my conscious got the better of me. If everyone took the time to vote, then making them their own batch was the least I could do. (FYI, I seriously have about 25 more batches to make before my obligations are fulfilled.)

People have told me what they like most about these cookies is how the espresso powder enhances the richness of the chocolate. However, not to worry, the intensity of it is kept in check by the addition of semisweet chocolate chips. These create warm pockets of a lighter chocolate flavor, balancing out the cookies' overall taste and texture.

Most of the time I keep these out of my daughter's reach because I whip up the dough during her naptime, and bake them after she's asleep at night. However, despite my best efforts, she has gotten hold of them a few times and had the time of her life. If you've ever seen a toddler on a caffeine high you'll know what I mean when I say that, after eating these cookies, my child morphed into the Tasmanian Devil from that old Bugs Bunny cartoon. For your own safety, I recommend keeping these far out of reach of children, and slapping a parent safety warning on the container for good measure.
I am sorry it took so long to give you this recipe but, in a way, I'm glad I waited. We all need a little extra chocolate in January and this is the perfect time to share these cookies. They are just the thing to perk you up on a cold winter day. In fact, if you are like me, you might even sneak a few bites first thing in the morning. It is never too early for chocolate or espresso, and these are just the things to get you going.

Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 c. light brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. Kosher salt
2 T. instant espresso powder
12 oz. (1 bag) semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat and set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Then, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. In a separate bowl mix together dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, soda, salt and espresso powder. Give them a quick stir with a whisk to combine.
4. With the mixer on low slowly add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until all combined, scraping down the sides as needed. Do not overbeat. Mix in chocolate chips using a wooden spoon.
5. Drop by rounded teaspoonful onto cookie sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and serve.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Variation Ideas: Thanks to the awesome readers at food52 I've learned of a few variations to this recipe. Some people have been making them with cocoa nibs (yum!) and others have used chocolate chunks instead of chocolate chips (double-yum!)
Naptime Stopwatch: Like most cookie doughs this takes about 5 minutes to put together. I like to let it rest for a couple of hours in the fridge before baking it if possible. But, they can be baked right away if you are in a time crunch.
Naptime Reviews: Most children find this recipe too strong for their palate, but keep them out of reach just in case, otherwise the kids might be up all night! Adults love them.


Creamy Artichoke Lasagna: Webisode #7

My Day So Far: Post-holiday catch up: thank you notes, bill paying, grocery shopping (!), brunch with daughter at local bagel shop.
Naptime Goals: Make Artichoke Lasagna, take down Christmas decorations, catch up on after vacation pile o' mail.
Tonight's Meal: Artichoke Lasagna - we'll have it for tomorrow night, too!
Parenting Lesson of the Day: Parents who say they never bribe their children are lying.

January 2nd is one of my least favorite days of the year. It indicates the end of the holiday season, the beginning of yet another cold northeastern winter, and requires that I snap out of holiday mode and get back to the daily grind. In short, on this particular day I find that there is very little to look forward to and lots of work to be done.

This year the start of the month proved to be no different on the work front, the only problem I had was figuring out where to begin. After a fun-filled ten days in Cooperstown I'd all but forgotten about my responsibilities here in New York. Upon returning we were faced with towering stacks of unpaid bills, a rather dusty apartment and bunches of stale-looking Christmas decorations. I have to say, the whole scene was rather forlorn, a feeling only furthered by a glance at the sad empty shelves in our fridge. Christmas baking was over and New Year's entertaining complete, leaving me with two yogurts, a stick of butter and one small bag of fingerling potatoes. With no hope of utilizing these ingredients to assemble any kind of ad-hoc dinner, I quickly decided to commence my chores with the inevitable post-holiday large scale grocery shopping.

I am not above bribery when I need my daughter to be on her best behavior at the grocery store. There are plenty of occasions, like the one just this week, when I happily hand her a box of chocolate milk and cruise the aisles enjoying a kind of peace only brought on by typically verboten treats. In this instance her enjoyment of chocolate milk and pretzels allowed me to gather the ingredients for a week's worth of meals including one of our favorite's, Artichoke Lasagna.

Since I needed to buy myself some free time during naptime the following day for baking I decided to make this dish because it will last for at least two dinners. We also happen to love this particular lasagna because it showcases one of the best vegetables on the planet (according to me, at least) - artichokes! I first tasted it when my friend Barbara made it for me a few years ago. I was instantly smitten with it's simple creamy white sauce, hint of salty parmesan, and buttery artichokes layered between thin noodles.

Barbara explained her variation was inspired by the Marcella Hazan recipe of the same name. However, Hazan's recipe calls for endless sheets of homemade pasta, hand-trimmed artichokes and many many layers. While we both love the idea of these handmade ingredients, we generally agree that neither of us have the time to conquer all of these steps in the midst of busy family life. Instead we've developed a recipe that mimics the flavor of Hazan's with simpler instructions for assembly.

I could write forever and ever about this deliciously simple lasagna, but I've made a video instead. I hope you enjoy it and see just how easy it is to make during the day or evening. I guarantee your family will love it. Happy New Year!

Creamy Artichoke Lasagna
a recipe developed by Barbara and Kelsey, inspired by Marcella Hazan
2 T. butter
18 oz. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and cut into bite size pieces
8 T. butter
8 T. all-purpose flour
4 c. whole milk
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 c. freshly grated parmesan
1 box no-boil Lasagna noodles (at least 12 noodles)

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly butter a 9x13 deep baking dish and set aside.
2. In a saute pan over medium heat melt 2 T. butter and add the bite size artichoke hearts. Saute the artichoke hearts in the butter for about 4 minutes until they are tender and the butter is all absorbed. Turn off heat.
3. In a deep saucepan melt the 8 T. butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter is totally melted add the flour and whisk constantly for 4-5 minutes to make sure the flour is cooked. Be sure to keep whisking so that the butter and flour don't burn. Then, slowly whisk in the milk, continually whisking to make sure the butter/flour mixture gets evenly incorporated. Keep stirring the white sauce over medium heat until it thickens. About 5 minutes. Then, add a few pinches of Kosher salt and freshly ground black better to taste. Once the sauce as thickened to the consistency of a thin pudding, remove from heat.
4. Begin assembling the lasagna by spreading a thin layer of white sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then line up four noodles on top of it, it's alright if the noodles overlap slightly. Cover the noodles with another layer of white sauce. Then, top it with half of the saute artichoke hearts. Scatter 1/2 c. of the parmesan over the artichokes and top with a second layer of noodles. Repeat layering with the sauce, artichokes and parmesan cheese. Top with a third layer of noodles. At this point, cover the remaining sauce and cover the top noodles completely. Then scatter a pinch or two of parmesan top if any remains.
5. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the sauce is bubble and lightly golden on top.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Ideas: This lasagna is great to make-ahead and bake later in the day. As you see here, I bake it in the afternoon and re-heat it in the evening. You could also assemble the lasagna up to a day ahead and bake it right before dinner time. Either way, it won't go bad sitting in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap.
Naptime Stopwatch: Assembling this takes about 35 minutes. The payoffs are enormous - taking the time to make this lasagna means you have dinner for two nights!
Naptime Reviews: My daughter isn't too keen on the artichoke hearts yet, but loves the noodles with white sauce. My husband and I love this for dinner, especially paired with a bright green salad.


Naptime News, my free newsletter!

Just a quick reminder, in case you didn't notice on the right sidebar my weekly newsletter, Naptime News, will debut this month. It takes about 2 seconds to subscribe, simply click on the link below or enter your name in the box on the right and you are all set!

(Note: All lists are kept private and confidential, I do not sell information.)

The Naptime Chef on Television

Happy New Year! I am pleased to kick off 2010 by sharing my first television segment!  This piece was originally produced by the exceptional Don Shipman and Megan Koskovich of WKTV Utica-Rome. So far it has been shown on several affiliates around the country including the stations listed below. I hope you all had a chance to see it, and, if it didn't air in your town, enjoy watching it here!

Here is the recipe for Butternut Ginger Soup with Apple Cider

WKTV, Utica-Rome, NY
WNYT, Albany, NY
KSHB, Kansas City, MO
KVLY11, Fargo, ND
Turnto10, Providence RI/New Bedford MA
WSAZ, Charleston, WVa
NBC15, Madison, WI
KCRA, Sacremento, CA
WNDU, South Bend, IN
KSBY, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, CA
WXii12, Winston-Salem, NC
WISTV, Columbia, SC