Boy, did that sneak up on us! After the moving drama and attempts at settling in, I didn’t realize til this moment that our daring stab at making the Ultimate Cinnamon Bun would also be our 30th recipe. Wheww! Where did all those calories go?

Inspired by another episode of America’s Test Kitchen, Dad was enraptured with their Ultimate Cinnamon Buns described as “unapologetically large.” The pursuit of the recipe for these sinful treats proved a bit of a challenge. In the past, Dad has been able to find any of the ATK recipes he saw on TV on their web site. But this recipe, could only be located on the super secret “members only” (fork over $14.95) section of the web site. Oh yes, it’s that good that they’re lockin’ that stuff up tight! So after signing up and entering in his credit card number, then realizing he signed up for the wrong membership, emailing the company to cancel his order, locating the right web page and joining the correct membership, Dad finally retrieved the coveted recipe.

They start out this big…

…and end up this BIG!

Being that he had to pay to get this recipe, I’m sure that means that the ATK people would be more than slightly miffed if I posted it here for all to get for free, so unfortunately, to protect the innocent I cannot post the recipe we used. (But if you happen bump into me in the grocery store and we get to chatting about any sweet baked goods and I just happen to mention some ingredients and maybe a few steps and you just happen to figure it out on your own… )

But who likes to read anyway! Let’s just spend the rest of the this post staring at the pics or, as my friend Lisa puts it, trying not to lick the screen.

A guard dog hard at work.
K.C. may be blind, but the nose knows when something’s in the oven.


This week marked the christening of our very own kitchen in our new home. That’s right! No more tiny 600 square foot apartment for us. We now have over 1900 square feet to spread our junk around in. (And I’m sure if you ask our wonderful friends who helped us move, they would attest to our amazing ability to cram so much stuff into such a small apartment. Although they might use less pretty words. We love you, we thank you and we’re sorry!)

After the stress of the move was over, Matt, like he always does after big events in our life, came down with a cold. As late September brought in the chilly signs of fall, I decided we needed some warm comfort food. That morning I spent a few minutes looking up Pasta Fagioli recipes online and sent three that looked interesting over to Dad. Among them were two from allrecipes.com and one from foodnetwork.com by Giada De Laurentiis. Without hesitation, Dad’s choice was clear.

Dad: “Ooo.. Giada. Let’s do that one!”

Me: “Yeah, she’s the one from Food Network with all the teeth.” (I swear, that woman has about 87 teeth in her mouth. It’s unnatural.)

Dad: “That’s not all she’s got.”

Good Lord. Clearly my Dad is taken in easily by the eye candy.

Still sore from helping us move, Dad hobbled over to our new house and we got started on a double recipe of Pasta Fagioli. We did a few things differently than the original recipe. I wanted to use ditalini pasta instead of elbow macaroni. It’s has a little more of a traditional look based on other soups I’ve had in Italian restaurants. We also did not have a cheesecloth to make a sachet of the herbs, so Dad crushed up the rosemary as fine as he could, we used a little ground thyme and I tossed in the bay leaves loose, making sure to fish them out with a slotted spoon before serving. I also like white cannellini beans in my soup, so we got a little creative and split the ingredients, using two cans of white and two cans of red.

There was an Italian take-out place that used to sell the best Pasta Fagioli. Back before my freelance days, I spent many late nights in the office with a cup of that great soup to keep me company. There was something about the broth that was so good, sorta creamy and full of flavor, but I just couldn’t put my finger how to get it that way. This recipe may have revealed the secret. Half way through the cooking process, you remove 2 cups of the bean and broth mixture, puree it in a blender, and return it to the pot to mix with the soup. In another slight variation, we also added one can of diced tomatoes to the blender, to add a little color and a slight tomato flavor. This extra step thickened the broth just enough, somewhere between watery broth and thick chowder. I use cannellini beans when I make tomato sauce from scratch and I think I may try this blending method to see what happens.

For me, it’s rare for a recipe to come out so close to a good old memory. Your imagination always tastes better than real life. This is an automatic favorite and comfort food keeper.

Here’s our recipe with the variations we did. For the original Giada recipe, see here.

Pasta Fagioli
Based On a Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Makes about 12 servings


  • 1 tablespoon of ground thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of ground rosemary
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 6 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (About 6 cloves)
  • 11.5 cups low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth (About 96 oz.)
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes
  • 12 oz of ditalini pasta (A little less the a whole box)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan


1. Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, pancetta, and garlic and saute until the onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add the broth, beans, and herbs.

2. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves with a slotted soup.

3. Puree 2 cups of the bean mixture in a blender until smooth*. Before putting the puree back into the soup, add the dry pasta and boil with the lid on until it is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes.

4. Return the puree to the remaining soup in the saucepan and stir well. Season the soup with ground black pepper and red pepper flakes.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with some fresh grated Parmesan just before serving.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

After last week’s foray into bread making, a little brainstorming lead us to google in search of a pretzel recipe. Dad loves pretzels and I’m huge fan of all snacks salty, so I was really excited about this one. I was also relieved to find that after spending 4.5 hours baking Challah last week, the pretzel recipe we found was only going to take about 2.5.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll get to the highlights and so you can spend more time drooling over the pictures.

Verdict: AWESOME and so much fun! If you like warm, soft baked pretzels, I highly recommend you try this recipe. The recipe makes 12 pretzels, but we doubled it to make 24. If you’ve never done this before, I’d go with more because you’ll need the practice when it comes to rolling out and forming the pretzel shapes. The biggest challenge is boiling the formed pretzel doughs just before baking. Although only in the water for a minute each, they tend to get a little slippery when you’re trying to get them out.

We made three different kinds: Traditional kosher salt, sprinkled Parmesan cheese and a few with a dusting of cinnamon sugar. The cheese on the pretzels came out great and fused the little holes together making a pretzel roll. After they were all done, we picked the biggest ones, sliced them on the horizontal and made a couple of turkey club sandwiches for our lunch.

Only one low point: The oven temp was way to high for the cinnamon sugar pretzels and, though they smelled delicious, the sugar caramelized leaving very little flavor behind. Dad suggested that next time we try baking them plain, painting them with a thin glaze and dusting them with the cinnamon after they come out of the oven.

We will definitely make these again. As with most baked goods, they’re served best hot and fresh out of the oven, but if you have some left over, a quick nuking or short stay in the toaster will bring them back to life. I also learned the hard way to not store them in plastic bags, particularly when they’re still warm. They start to sweat in the bag and can get a little soggy.

This week, Dad decided that we should take another crack at a previously unsuccessful attempt to make Challah bread. Realizing his mistake from the last go around, hopefully, would help us avert tragedy. There’s a step in the recipe where you have to cover the bowl of dough with a towel and place in a warm place to rise. Dad has one of those fancy glass flat top stoves, complete with a warming burner, so he had placed the dough on that spot to rise. Unfortunately the spot was a little too warm and dough got a little cooked in the process. But this time we would know better and as they say,”Knowing is half the battle.” (And eating is the other and better half!)

So onward in the long journey to make Challah. The time from start to finish: 4.5 hours (with only 30 minutes of active time. Everything else is just waiting). I love how the CT Post calls this recipe an “easy” Challah. 4.5 HOURS!!! How long does the difficult Challah recipe take to make?! A week?! Or perhaps it’s simply that the harder recipe is written in the original Hebrew, thereby making the translation a little more challenging.

My friend Jena has shared with me many tales of holiday dinners with family, who apparently become insulted if you don’t eat enough. You might think that when the top button pops off your jeans that you’ve reached your limit for the evening. You’d be wrong. Way wrong. Through these stories, I have learned that the power of Jewish guilt exceeds the power of Catholic guilt mostly because the former’s flair for the dramatic. Jena accounts scenes of long dinners at two different family houses, eating a full meal at each stop, pushing away from her plate just in time to hear the cries of, “You didn’t eat anything! You didn’t like it?!” After spending over four hours with the Challah, I think I finally understand where some of that guilt comes from. If your Jewish mama is going to slave for that many hours in the kitchen, she wants to make sure that EVERYTHING gets eaten.

For Irish/German Catholics, our Challah came out pretty good. Dad and I shared a few slices with Mom when she got home from school, schmeared with just a tad of butter. For dinner, I made some Challah French Toast, something that Matt has been talking about forever. It was awesome! Definitely the best way to have french toast. Not sure I’d go through the 4.5 hour journey to make it, but next time we’re out for breakfast at the diner, I’ll keep my eye out for it.

Later that night, I sent pictures of the Challah to Jena. She seemed pretty impressed with our little experiment. “That looks great! Although, I haven’t made Challah in years. It takes forever!”

Easy Challah (Connecticut Post Newspaper)

1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water, about 110° F
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/4 oz package)
1/4 cup of honey
3 large whole eggs, divided
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon whole milk (or water)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar, water and yeast. Mix until the yeast is dissolved. Let sit until foam develops on the surface of the water, about five minutes.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the honey, two of the whole eggs, three egg yolks and the oil. Add to the yeast mixture.

3. Add the salt and flour, then using the mixer’s dough hook attachment, mix on low until combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.

4. Lightly coat a large bowl with oil, then transfer the dough into it, turning the dough once to completely coat with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

5. Transfer the dough to a dry work surface and punch down lightly to remove air that has gathered inside the dough. Reshape the dough into a ball, return to the oiled bowl, cover with towel and set back in the warm place until the dough doubles in size again, about another hour.

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray lightly with cooking spray.

7. Divide the dough in two pieces. Divide each piece of dough into three equal parts. Roll each portion into 12″ strands about 1″ wide.

8. Gather three strands together at one end and pinch together, then braid the dough, by alternately crossing one strand over the other until you reach the other end. Pinch the other ends together so the braid does not unravel. Repeat process with second half of dough.

9. Carefully transfer the braided loaves to the prepared baking sheet.

10. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg and the milk or water. Using a pastry brush, coat the surface of each loaf with the egg mixture. Reserve the excess mixture in the refrigerator.

11. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for another hour or until the loaves have doubled in volume. Preheat oven to 350°.

12. Lightly brush loaves with the remaining egg mixture. Bake until the loaves have risen and are deep golden brown, about 45-50 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool before slicing.

I made this AWESOME Chocolate Eclair Cake for our family’s Labor Day picnic last weekend. Many thanks to Miss Beth for passing on the recipe. It’s so easy and so yummy, I highly reco that you stock up on the ingredients on your next shopping trip. It got rave reviews from all and produced great sadness once it was all gone.

You can find the recipe on allrecipes.com. I healthified my version a little by using low-fat cinnamon graham crackers, lite cool whip, Simply Smart’s Fat-Free milk, and reduced sugar chocolate frosting. Beth’s suggestion was key for spreading the frosting on top: Put the can of frosting in the microwave for about 40 seconds. That way, you can easily pour it out onto the cake. Just don’t forget to remove all of the aluminum foil seal before nuking.

With the leftover pieces, I decided to play around with my shooting and styling skills. I don’t have many good shots of cakes as it’s sometimes hard to make a good slice, and extricate it from it’s dish without making a mess. Remembering a tip from the food stylists I’ve worked with over the years, I carefully sliced a small square of cake, placed it on its dish and popped it in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

After removing it from the freezer, I took a thin, sharp knife and carefully trimmed each side of the cake to create smooth, clean edges. Once I could clearly see the cross section of the cake, I realized that I didn’t exactly split the pudding batter evenly between the first and second layer. No problem! I may be an amateur cook, a budding photographer and student of styling…

…but I definitely know my way around Photoshop. Ta-da! Perfectly proportioned cake! Much better.

When the instructions in this week’s souffle recipe read, “Serve immediately,” Dad followed that to the letter, spooning the fluffy finished product out of the dish so fast, that I wasn’t able to catch any still shots before cutting into it. But I got video!

Grand Marnier Souffle
from America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 6-8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons sifted cocoa powder
5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup whole milk
5 large eggs, separating out and reserving the egg whites.
1 tablespoon grated orange zest from 1 medium orange
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Adjust rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 1 1/2-quart porcelain soufflé dish with 1 tablespoon butter, making sure to coat all interior surfaces. Stir together 1/4 cup sugar and cocoa in small bowl; pour into buttered soufflé dish and shake to coat bottom and sides with thick, even coating. Tap out excess and set dish aside.

2. Whisk flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk, whisking until smooth and no lumps remain. Bring mixture to boil over high heat, whisking constantly until thickened and mixture pulls away from sides of pan, about 3 minutes. Scrape mixture into medium bowl; whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons butter until combined. Whisk in yolks until incorporated; stir in orange zest and Grand Marnier.

3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and 1 teaspoon sugar at medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frothy and no longer translucent, about 2 minutes. With mixer running, sprinkle in half remaining sugar; continue beating until whites form soft billowy peaks, about 30 seconds. With mixer still running, sprinkle in remaining sugar and beat until just combined, about 10 seconds. The whites should form soft peaks when beater is lifted, but should not appear Styrofoam-like or dry.

4. Using rubber spatula, immediately stir one-quarter of beaten whites into soufflé base to lighten until almost no white streaks remain. Scrape remaining whites into base and fold in whites with balloon whisk until mixture is just combined, gently flicking whisk after scraping up side of bowl to free any mixture caught in whisk. Gently pour mixture into prepared dish and run index finger through mixture, tracing circumference about 1/2-inch from side of dish, to help soufflé rise properly. Bake until surface of soufflé is deep brown, center jiggles slightly when shaken, and soufflé has risen 2 to 2 1/2-inches above rim of dish, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

This one was fun and surprisingly easy. The anxiety behind souffle making is that one cannot make any noise while it’s baking for fear it will collapse in on itself, deflating like a withering balloon. But this America’s Test Kitchen recipe has a secret weapon. The cream of tartar added supplies a small amount of strength to the batter. After watching this episode, Dad learned that we only needed to be as quiet as we could for the first 15 minutes of the baking time. After that, we could feel free to clatter and clang about the kitchen as much as we wanted with little fear of souffle destruction.

Since it was just the two of us, we cut the recipe ingredients in half, but I doubt the original intended 6-8 servings would really serve that many people. Cutting the recipe was just enough for me and Dad. The flavor is very light and the slightly browned crust holds the orange flavor of the zest and liquor very well. It’s just enough sweetness. It’s consistency reminded me that of bread pudding or a mushier quiche.

The preparation is definitely the hardest part. Measurements and consistency of liquid ingredients have to be just right for everything to work out. Although I don’t doubt this would be a crowd pleaser, it’s probably too stressful to prepare fresh while your guests are waiting in the other room patiently with their coffee. Dad found another recipe for Chocolate Souffles from ATK that we’ll have to try. That batter can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer until ready to bake and serve.

A couple of weeks ago, on one of those nights where neither of us felt like cooking, Matt and I went down the street to one of our favorite neighborhood Italian joints, Vazzy’s. As soon as we walked in the door, we were greeted by the most wonderful garlic aroma wafting through the entire dining room. While I usually have a hard time deciding what I want to eat, I knew right away that I wanted something with garlic sauce.

When dining out, I try to order things that I wouldn’t often cook myself. I usually steer away from pasta because I can make it at home anytime and most restaurants tend to go a little overboard on the serving sizes. It’s still hard to believe that there are chefs out there thinking that it’s okay for the average human to eat what seems like an entire box of pasta in one sitting. And that’s before you add the heavy Alfredo cream sauce. I’m sure we’re catering to the senior citizen crowd, who is so psyched over their $10.95 meal that will feed them dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow! (“It’s like you’re paying for two meals in one. It’s a great deal!) I’m talking to you, Log Cabin. If I want volume and savings, I’ll go to Costco. Thanks.

(Where did that rant come from?)

Anyway, on this particular night, I veered from my no pasta rule in order to find something with garlic sauce on it when my eyes landed happily upon Vazzy’s Pasta Mali. My choice of chicken or sausage over penne with sun-dried peppers and a garlic white wine sauce. I opted for the sausage and skipped the peppers. This has easily become my new favorite pasta. The smell of the garlic is only outdone by it’s amazing flavor. The sauce was creamy but translucent. Thick enough to coat the pasta, and not so thin that it would run directly through the food. I very nearly ate the whole thing which made me grateful that the portion looked more like only half a box then a whole one.

I reasoned it was okay to break my no pasta rule because I don’t know how to make garlic white wine sauce and would probably never make it on the spur of the moment. Suddenly, the perfect candidate for the following week’s test kitchen had presented itself. Dad and I have always enjoyed the trials and errors of cooking that I was pretty sure, we could figure this one out.

After a few quick searches, we started out with this basic recipe, knowing that we could leave room for tweaking. The recipe was pretty easy, but what it lacked a thicker consistency that would better coat pasta. Made as is, this mixture would probably run straight through anything you poured it on, leaving a pool of liquid on the bottom and all the good stuff floating on the top.

Garlic & White Wine Sauce
(Served with broccoli over medium shells)
Made four large servings

12 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 can (14 oz) of low sodium chicken broth
6 oz. of dry white wine or cooking wine
8 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 stick of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
16 oz. box of medium shells
1 (12oz) package of frozen broccoli
Salt & pepper to season
Splash of lemon juice
Sprinkle of parsley

1. Heat the saucepan on medium low, and coat the bottom with the oil.

2. Add garlic cloves and cook until softened. Do not let the garlic brown or burn.

3. Add the white wine and chicken stock to the pan. Cover sauce pan and let simmer for ten minutes.

4. At the same time, prepare shells, or desired pasta, per package directions. When cooked, drain and set aside. In the same pot, add the broccoli, along with a little butter, salt and pepper and cook on medium high, until warmed through. Add the pasta back into the pot. Toss all to combine and reduce heat to low to keep everything warm.

5. When the sauce is done simmering, remove from pan to a bowl or measuring pitcher. In the same sauce pan, create a roux by combining 1/2 a stick of butter with the flour. Stir until a paste forms. Slowly add the sauce liquid back into the pan, stirring as you add to avoid any lumps from forming.

6. Bring all to a boil. Keep stirring until sauce thickens. Turn off heat but leave pan on warm burner. Add pasta and broccoli to the sauce pan and combine all so everything is evenly coated with sauce. Splash with lemon juice and sprinkle with dried parsley or with 1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley.

The Verdict:
For our first go around, I thought it was pretty good. It’s amazing! You’d think that the intensity of 12 cloves of garlic would surely knock you out, but the flavor was in fact fairly mild. I think the trick with learning to make sauces is realizing that so much of the liquid reduces while it’s cooking that you never get as much as you started out with. Our sauce did a nice job of thinly coating all the pasta and broccoli, but I would have definitely have preferred more sauce or less pasta.

Sure it was no Vazzy’s, but we are still learning and it’s always good to have a benchmark to work towards.

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