keeping cool in the kitchen

Pecan Ham RollsI wish I could tell you it's been too hot for real cooking and that I've been making salads and cold appetizers like this to avoid heating up the kitchen, but the truth is that I was cooking up a storm last Saturday. Besides maybe going to the beach, it was way too hot to enjoy the outdoors. Well, it was too hot for me, so I stayed indoors with the A/C cranked up and had some fun. At least this dish was a cool one. The recipe for these pecan-cream cheese stuffed ham rolls comes from Pig: King of the Southern Table by James Villas, one of my favorite books.pecansFortunately I had some pecans in the house left over from a batch of Homesick Texan's chocolate-pecan chewies I'd made recently.filling for Pecan Ham RollsThe recipe feels like a cheat because it's yummy but so easy. You mix up the pecans with room temperature cream cheese, a bit of heavy cream (just to moisten things up), and cayenne. Then you chop up two slices of the ham that you're going to use in the next step and mix that in. I have to imagine the variations on this are nearly limitless. You could go more or less spicy, or maybe a little sweeter. Perhaps sliced turkey instead of ham. Walnuts would work well. I wonder about capers or chopped olives?Pecan Ham RollsThe mixture gets spread on slices of ham. There's no need to worry about making it pretty for this step...Pecan Ham Rollsbecause once you roll them up, they look pretty much perfect no matter what you do. Finally you chill them for an hour or two to firm up the filling and to make them a little easier to slice before serving with tooth picks. A great make-ahead dish. I bet they'd be nice with deviled eggs on the side.

can I be a cool foodie again?

5-layer barsLast night I lost my street cred. I was baking these heavenly 5-layer bars from a cookbook I'm really excited about. I can't say much yet because the book won't be out until this Fall, but it's in partnership with an incredible charity called Cookies for Kids Cancer. And, well, it's one of the perks of my job that I get to try out the recipes early. I got a little distracted though, and next thing I knew it was after 11pm and these bars were just coming out of the oven. They're made with sweetened condensed milk, and that stuff gets molten hot. So I tweeted this. Mental note -- never say it's too late for snacking on Twitter. The confused replies started rolling in. First Bianca, next Irvin, and then JM. They did not approve.5-layer barsI swear I'm a hardcore foodie.  When I go to San Francisco I'm known to eat two Mexican tortas on 24th Street for breakfast. I've usually got no less than eight kinds of chocolate and morsels in the house for baking. I travel to the last stop on the A train and then keep walking to get the best roti in NYC. And I'll eat a cookie while it's still burning hot from the oven, just for the fun of it. But there was no way to cut a square of these bars while they were still hot! I joked about how I'd have to eat them with a spoon at this stage, which of course Maris said she would be up for. Shut down... again! By this time I was already in bed, with the pan of decadent bars sitting on the stovetop, slowly cooling as intended, and the damage was done. How do I un-tarnish my reputation now? Will awesome-r foodies ever forgive me?P.S. The bars sliced up beautifully in the morning. Remember to ask me about this book in the Fall, because it's going to be a great one.

mystery bars

Black Bottom Praline BarsAfter years of blogging about fun stuff, trips, favorite food events and restaurants, baking, and the latest cookbook I've edited, recently I decided to try something different. Once again I have to credit Shauna for the inspiration to put a little more of myself out there. I wasn't expecting the amazing response I've gotten, but I sure am happy about it. Some of you posted comments. A bunch more of you emailed me, including both people I only know through the web and long-time friends. A few of you even reached out by phone and in person. My thanks go out to all of you. It's so special when someone relates to my experience through memories of their own, sometimes even painful ones. And that's where this post comes in, a forgotten memory. I baked these bars back in December, but when I looked at the photo, I had no idea where the recipe was from. A blog? A cookbook? They sure look tasty!Black Bottom Praline BarsThank goodness for the photos of the individual bars. Clearly there are two layers there, so that narrowed down my search quite a bit. No big surprise, I eventually found the recipe in the amazing Alice Medrich book I'm always blogging about -- Black Bottom Pecan Praline Bars. There's a very dense brownie layer and then a sugary-pecan layer on top. I love that combination of textures which you just can't get from a single-layer bar. So thanks again, everyone. It's time to make some new memories.

super easy pecan bites

Sticky Pecan BitesSome foods bring back distant memories. Some foods bring back more recent ones, like these do for me. A lazy day, snow outside, watching a sweet movie together with loved ones. Looking at this photo makes me wish I could wind back time. But if you're anything like me, you love the idea of making sticky buns, but whipping up a batch of anything made with a yeast-based dough on a Sunday morning is pretty daunting, if not impossible. That's why these pecan sticky bites from Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy are such a revelation. "Bites" is the right word -- these are tiny.Sticky Pecan BitesBut take a close look -- they're rolled up just like a real sticky bun. You make a quick dough (no yeast here) and roll it out flat. Then you top the dough with a sugar-cinnamon mixture and roll everything into a log. You cut the log into slices and add the rolls to mini cupcake tins with pecans on the bottom. They puff up beautifully. Then eat while still warm. It will be love at first bite.