easy

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream

Why hello there! It’s so nice to see you again!

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

First, I want to say that I hope you all had a perfectly wonderful (and delicious) Thanksgiving day. I know I did!

Second, I want to let you know that the pressure and the stress of making and testing and photographing and posting eight Thanksgiving recipes and making two actual Thanksgiving dinners (not to mention working at a kitchenware store leading up to the biggest food holiday in the US of A) was just too much for me. I promise that it was all worth it, but it actually killed me. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’ve passed away.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Despite my untimely demise, there’s no rest for the weary, and here I am again posting from the great unknown.

The holidays are fast approaching so I know that I need to get my blogging butt in gear and get baking! Being that I’m recently deceased though, I wanted to try to do something sort of easy(ish). Easy doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t also be really fun and impressive and totally delicious though!

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Thing is,
I don’t really do “easy”.

A while back I saw Martha (yes, THE Martha) on TV promoting her new entertaining cookbook and she made an icebox cake with thin, crisp homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’d never had an icebox cake, but her version sounded amazing and actually pretty simple (especially for Martha).

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

A traditional icebox cake is make with thin, store bought crisp wafer cookies sandwiched and stacked together with whipped cream. You do a layer of cookies, a layer of cream, a layer of cookies, a layer of cream, and so on and so forth until you suddenly have a round, cake shaped stack.

It doesn’t seem like this should work, but it does. You’d think that the cream would separate and wilt and the cookies would turn to mush and the whole thing would just fall apart and be weird and gross. But that’s not what happens. Magic happens.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

The crisp cookies soften as they absorb some of the liquid from the cream and so, rather than separating and wilting, the whipped cream actually thickens even more as the cookies soften up. When left for several hours (or overnight) the whole thing sort of takes on one perfect smooth, sliceable texture, just like a rich silky cake.

Like I said.
Magic.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I decided that if it was good enough for Martha, it was good enough for me.

Rather than Martha’s chocolate chips, or the traditional chocolate wafer cookies, I wanted to do something a little more “holiday-y”. To me, growing up with German grandparents, the holidays were always filled with molasses and spice. Gingerbread and gingersnaps and the like. You know.

So I thought that a gingersnap icebox cake was just the ticket to kick off the holiday baking season. Like I said before though, I don’t really do “easy”. I know I set out to do an easy dessert, but once I got inspired and excited I decided that it would be more fun to make my own gingersnaps rather than using store bought. This is totally unnecessary, but I’m a weirdo so I totally enjoyed the process. If you do want to make your own though, I’d suggest using a little extra ginger in the cookies. The spice is mellowed out a bit by the cream so a little extra will kick it back up to where you’d expect a gingersnap to be.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

To add a little extra depth and richness to the standard whipped cream I added mascarpone and a touch of maple syrup. A splash of bourbon was a nice touch too but could easily be left out if you’re serving this to the under 21 crowd.

The ginger and molasses in the gingersnaps pairs perfectly with the sweet mascarpone maple whipped cream. The combination is like a rich velvety gingerbread flavored mousse. A sprinkle of chopped crystalized ginger adds a nice touch of extra spice and lets your guests know that rather than simple chocolate, this cake is made with sugar and spice and everything nice.

This cake is seriously amazing. Like, totally unbelievable. Russell has been raving about it ever since the last bite disappeared and keeps saying how he wasn’t expecting something so simple to taste so delicious. But, again, this cake is made of magic. You might even say that it’s special powers were strong enough to bring me back to life!

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Gingersnap Icebox Cake with Maple Mascarpone Cream

Maple Mascarpone Cream Icing:
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon or rum (optional)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 oz mascarpone at room temperature
pinch of salt

At least 63 gingersnaps, for nine layers of seven cookies each
(I made my own using a double batch of smitten kitchen‘s recipe)
A tablespoon or two of finely chopped crystalized ginger, optional

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until it begins to thicken and form soft peaks. In a separate bowl, stir together the mascarpone, sugar, maple syrup, bourbon, vanilla, & salt until smooth and well combined. Transfer mascarpone mixture to bowl with thickened cream and beat on low speed until almost smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Scrape down the sides and fold to incorporate. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is thick and holds firm peaks, another 30 to 60 seconds. Do NOT overbeat or the icing will become grainy.

On an 8″ cake board, cake stand, or serving plate, arrange a layer of cookies into tight a circle. You’ll want one cookie in the center with a ring of cookies surrounding it with as little space between them as possible. With the size of the cookies I used I could fit 7 cookies per layer. Place about 3/4 to a cup of icing over the first layer of cookies and smooth it out with a small offset icing spatula. Spread the icing almost to the outer edge of the cookies, leaving just a small edge of cookies showing. Arrange another layer of cookies, alternating the layers so they appear staggered above one another. Repeat another layer of icing and then another layer of cookies, again and again until you have as many layers as you desire or until you run out of icing or cookies. Finish the top of the cake with a final layer of icing. My cake was 9 layers tall.

If you have a cookie or two left over, crumble it over the top and sprinkle with crystalized ginger if desired.

Transfer cake to refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours (or overnight) before serving. 

kale cobb salad

So this is kind of a weird and personal post and it feels strange to be writing this, but lately I’ve been feeling kind of…

Off.

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

My energy levels have been in the toilet and I’ve just felt run down and kind of crumby most of the time. Even blogging, which has always felt like an escape from the stresses and monotony of my life, has begun to feel like a chore.

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

After months of denial, I’ve finally had to admit to myself that my weight is probably a major factor in how cruddy I’ve been feeling lately.

I’ve always been a little on the thick side, and haven’t been “beach ready” since I was probably 7 years old. Over the past few years though, I’ve packed on a little extra padding and recently it’s felt…

Uncomfortable.

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

When Russell and I first met we were both much slimmer than we are now, though again, far from svelte. When we first started dating I used every trick in the book to woo him, and as you can probably imagine, most of the tricks in my book are food related. Once we moved in with each other and realized we were together for good, we just got comfortable and didn’t really notice as we gained a pound here and another there.

Shortly after we married I started this blog. Especially in the beginning, a lot of the dishes I was making were old family recipes that are near and dear to my heart, but also tend to be pretty heavy. These are dishes that are fine for special occasions, but I was making (and consuming) them much more often than I probably should have been.

As much as I love to cook, my true love has always been baking, so in addition to the heavy family recipes I also started baking even more than I used to. For whatever reason, I also really enjoy photographing the sweets and treats more than the savory dishes, so that was just one more contributing factor in the sudden explosion of cakes and pies and cookies pumping out of my oven. And then, of course, there are the bundts…

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, not everything I post here is rich, heavy, and unhealthy. I actually think I have done a decent job of coming up with some pretty fun and creative (and delicious) healthy recipes every once in a while, but those recipes tend to be few and far between. That’s also not to say that I’m only eating the food that I post here on the (web) pages of Brooklyn Homemaker. Day to day, I think Russell and I do a pretty good job of trying to eat healthy “whole” foods and plenty of vegetables, but the less exciting recipes in my repertoire (or his) don’t ever show up here.

We really just need to focus on portion control, moderation, and keeping active. I don’t think it’s realistic to think I’ll ever look like an Olympic swimmer or track and field star, but I’m no spring chicken and I definitely need to start considering my health if I want to stick around for a good long time.

For the past week (I know, a whole week, woopty-freaking-doo) I’ve been eating healthy, avoiding carbs where I can, and trying to break myself of the habit of looking for something sweet after dinner every night. Fighting the sugar addiction has been especially hard for me but I’ve been strong so far. I’ve also been walking home from work every day (about a two and a half miles) and I’m in the process of looking for a gym that doesn’t cost a million dollars and isn’t totally disgusting.

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

Aaaaanyway…

I’m not writing all this to say that I’m going to stop blogging, or to say that I’m suddenly turning Brooklyn Homemaker into a health food and fitness blog, espousing the health benefits of an all-bean-sprout diet. I’m just writing this to let you know that I’m going to try, just try, to focus a bit more on healthy dishes and a bit less on baking and sweets and the heavy hearty food I was brought up eating.

Honestly, I’m probably writing this more for myself than for you. I think I might be writing this as a way to hold myself accountable for my health. If I write it here, for all the world to see and read, I have to stick with it or I’ll look like a real dummy. A real overweight dummy.

Please don’t be too harsh if I end up failing…
Pretty please?

I’m not really sure how I’m going to go about all this going forward either. I’d really like to tell myself (and you) that I’m going to post super flavorful & creative healthy dishes all the time, and the baked goods and heavy dishes will be the ones to show up only every once in a while. Realistically though, I know I just love to bake, so maybe my “cheat day” recipes will end up showing up here just as often as my “don’t be such a fatty” recipes. I really don’t want to call this a “diet” (ugh). I just want to do what I can to teach myself how to cook, and eat, and blog, a little differently; in a way that will make me feel better and that I can stick to for years to come.
I guess only time will tell. Wish me luck!

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

Okay, so let’s finally talk about this salad. I know that a cobb salad is not really the healthiest salad in the world. I promise that I know that adding bacon and blue cheese and eggs to a salad makes it less healthy than if I were to just munch on a bowl of lettuce with lemon juice.

BUT!!!
I’ve made some changes to the classic cobb recipe to try to healthy it up a little bit.

First of all, kale is like the king of all health foods right? It’s packed with vitamins and minerals and fiber and good stuff, and packs a lot more healthy punch than romaine does for sure.
Second, even though I kept the bacon and blue cheese (because it wouldn’t be a cobb without them) I did reduce the proportions of the bad ingredients vs the good ingredients. If you wanted to, you could leave them out, but I do think that they’re worth keeping around for flavor and contrast and to make the salad feel like a truly satisfying meal.
Third, while I did keep the crumbled blue cheese, I opted for an easy homemade balsamic vinaigrette rather than blue cheese dressing to gussy up my fancy pants dark green kale leaves.
Aaand, fourth and finally, I added some sunflower seeds for texture and crunch, and because I love sunflower seeds in a salad okay?

While this version of a cobb is healthier than one you might find in a restaurant, it doesn’t taste at all like “health food” and that’s definitely what I was going for! Here’s to our health!

kale cobb salad with balsamic vinaigrette | Brooklyn Homemaker

Kale Cobb Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Salt & Pepper to taste

Salad:
1 skinless boneless chicken breast
2 to 3 strips thick cut bacon
1/2 avocado, cut into bite sized cubes
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese
2 boiled eggs, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 to 4 cups chopped kale leaves

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl or a small jar with a watertight lid. Whisk or shake dressing together until well combined and emulsified. Refrigerate until salad is ready to toss.

Season chicken breast with salt and pepper and sear or grill until cooked through. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing thin or cubing.
Cook bacon over medium to medium high heat until fat is rendered and bacon is brown and crisp. Immediately remove to a paper towel to absorb some of the fat. Once cool, crumble bacon.

Assemble all salad ingredients, including the chicken and bacon, in a large bowl. Pour dressing over the top of salad and toss together using large tongs or salad servers.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe

So according to the name up at the top of the page, I do most of my cooking, baking, home improvement projects, and general homemaking in a little known town called Brooklyn.

You’ve heard of it maybe?

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m not sure how familiar most of you are with the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but the area where I live is called Bushwick. Bushwick is pretty much as far north as you can get before accidentally crossing over into Queens, and by subway it’s only a few stops away from it’s bigger, wealthier, more popular sister neighborhood Williamsburg.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I first moved to Brooklyn in 2007, Williamsburg was still a growing artist community and Bushwick was an industrial no mans land that hadn’t yet been invaded by more than a handful of hipsters. In those days Williamsburg was still (almost) affordable, and was still home to art galleries, dive bars and record stores, but a good friend of mine had a place in Bushwick and let me crash until I got on my feet, so I landed in Bushwick and never left.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the years since, Williamsburg has become a playland for the rich and famous and one of New York’s biggest tourist destinations. Thanks to rising rents forcing young people further out, Bushwick was recently named one of the hippest neighborhoods in the world by Vogue Magazine. In 2007 Bushwick was a very different place. It was one of the most affordable neighborhoods in Brooklyn, which I why I stuck around, but it was also dirty and dangerous and filled with just as many junkies as it was rats.
We’ve gone from dead rats and pepper spray to baby strollers and art galleries. Abandoned buildings and needle exchanges to luxury condos and organic food co-ops.

If I hadn’t found a rent stabilized apartment a few years back I probably couldn’t even afford to live here anymore.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Bushwick has always been a neighborhood in transition, since the very beginning. Originally a farming community, in the 1800s Bushwick grew into a beer brewing hub filled with German immigrants, their breweries, and their huge mansions lining Bushwick Avenue. Prohibition eventually shuddered most of the breweries though, and by the 1950s Bushwick had become one of New York’s largest Italian neighborhoods.
Big changes came again as post war white families flocked to the suburbs and were replaced largely by Puerto Ricans immigrants and African Americans. According to US Census records, in just one decade Bushwick’s caucasian population dropped from over 90% in 1960 to less than 40% in 1970.

Thanks to the energy crisis of the 1970s and the closures of most of Bushwick’s industry, the neighborhood was quickly overrun with crime, drugs, abandoned buildings, and urban decay. Bushwick was one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by riots and looting during the New York blackout of 1977, forcing even more businesses out of the area. Things didn’t improve any during the 1980s and 90s, but by the late 2000s things finally started to turn around as Williamsburg artists flocked in to take advantage of the neighborhood’s low rents and large loft spaces. I’ve been here for about 8 years and I’ve seen things change so quickly and completely it makes my head spin. I can’t even begin to imagine what this neighborhood will look like in another 10 years.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

One of the easiest places to visualize all this transition first hand is Graham Avenue. Cultures literally clash as streets signs on Graham Ave declare “Avenue of Puerto Rico” south of Metropolitan Ave, but suddenly change to “Via Vespucci” north on up to the BQE. Avenue of Puerto Rico is populated with cheap clothing stores, Iglesias, and Puerto Rican beauty supply shops; but cross Metropolitan Ave and it feels like a whole different neighborhood dotted with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, and wine shops.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Russell recently heard about an old Italian butcher shop on the Via Vespucci side of Graham Ave called, appropriately enough, The Pork Store. He paid them a visit on his day off and brought home some of the best Italian sausage I’ve ever tasted, along with a gorgeous bag of imported Orecchiette. I knew I wanted to make something amazing to put his Bushwick bounty to good use, but knew I had to keep it simple enough to let these superior ingredients shine.

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

All I needed was a big bunch of broccoli rabe, sometimes called rapini, and a bit of nice dry white wine. Broccoli rabe has a grassy bitterness that stands up really well to the unctuous richness of sausage and cream. White wine adds just a touch of sweetness to counteract the bitterness of the rapini, and al dente Orecchiette is nice and thick and adds great texture and happens to be the perfect bite size. A bit of cream gives the reduced white wine a bit of saucy body, and a handful of salty grated parmesan cheese brings everything together.

If you don’t have access to a local Italian butcher shop, just get the freshest and best Italian sausage you can find. If you can’t find orecchiette, any bite sized thick cut pasta, something like penne or bow ties, will do just fine.

This dish is simple, delicious, and perfectly satisfying. The best part though, is how quickly and easily it comes together if you start cooking at the same time you bring the pasta water to a boil. Everything else should be done just in time to drain the pasta and all you have to do is toss it all together and dig in!

orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe | Brooklyn Homemaker

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb mild italian sausage, casings removed
1 lb broccoli rabe
1 lb orecchiette pasta
1 cup white wine
1 /2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste, if needed

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on one burner while you prepare the rest of the meal on another.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté onion until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and break up with a spatula or spoon as it cooks. Once the sausage is fully cooked, add half of the white wine and reduce until almost completely dry. Once reduced add the remaining wine and reduce until almost dry again.

Remove thick woody stems from broccoli rabe and discard. Roughly chop or tear the leaves and heads into large bite sized pieces.

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Meanwhile, add heavy cream and broccoli rabe to the sausage and onion mixture and cook until dark green and wilted through, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add about a half cup ladle of pasta water and reduce for about 5 minutes more. Taste and see if seasoning needs to be adjusted. (I didn’t need to add any salt because my sausage was salty enough for the whole dish.) Drain cooked orecchiette and combine with sausage and broccoli rabe mixture. Add grated parmesan and toss toss toss until well combined.

Serve with an additional shaving of parmesan if desired.