Urban Cooking

Screw Swiss Miss: Simply Delicious DIY Hot Cocoa


Winter made a few tentative appearances before settling in for good in a pre-Thanksgiving whirlwind of slushy snow. Ugh. One of my favorite ways to fend off the winter chill is with a steamy mug of homemade hot chocolate. I have to hand it to the marketing departments of Swiss Miss and their ilk – the ubiquitous hot chocolate mixes of the world have made us forget just how easy it is to make this stuff from scratch! Here’s my easy-peasy recipe, though you’ll want to adjust the sugar/cocoa/milk ratio to taste. Kiss your Swiss Miss goodbye!


1 heaping teaspoon pure, unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
1 non-heaping teaspoon sugar (I like the extra depth that brown sugar adds, but use whatever sweetener you fancy)
2 tablespoons half-and-half
8-ish oz (1 coffee mug’s worth) milk


1. Combine cocoa powder, sugar, and half and half in bottom of empty coffee mug. Don’t worry about mixing it well – that’ll be much easier once you heat it up.
2. Microwave mixture for 30 seconds or until it starts to steam a little.
3. Whisk/stir to form a smooth slurry.
4. Add milk, microwave 1-2 minutes until desired temperature is reached, then give it a final stir as needed.

Et voila! It’s divine straight out of the microwave, or you can add whipped cream, marshmallows, or use an immersion/stick blender to whip it up into a nice froth. Enjoy!


My Top 3 Holiday Recipes for 2014

Holiday season is here! Every year, I like to share my top 3 holiday entertaining recipes with my readers. Here are this year’s picks!


Pumpkin Cheesecake: A delicious alternative to the traditional pumpkin pie, it’s easy to turn this dessert into a showstopper by topping it with a caramel swirl or drizzle. (In my photo above, I mixed a little cream cheese, sour cream, half n half, and sugar together to create a creamy layer that I spread over top of the cake after it had cooled. Then I swirled in the caramel.) Instead of graham crackers, I like to use Biscoff cookies or gingersnaps for the crust. Some people like to add chopped pecans too. No matter the crust variation you choose, this one’s always a holiday favorite! http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/deluxe-pumpkin-cheesecake


Caramelized Pecans: This is a super-simple treat that can be used a ton of ways. Keep out bowls of the crunchy, salty-sweet nuts as a snack. Chop them up and add them to cookie dough, sprinkle them over salads, top sweet potatoes with them, or use them in the aforementioned cheesecake crust – the ways to use this treat are endless, as are the variations. Add spices like cinnamon or cayenne to kick things up a notch, and throw in a little extra flaky sea salt to bring out the salty-sweet contrast.  http://www.ourbestbites.com/2008/08/how-to-caramelize-nuts/

Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Maple Vinaigrette: One of the few ways to get me to eat my green veggies is to roast them till they get a little crispy, then toss them in this super simple vinaigrette. Mix 1 part apple cider vinegar with 3 parts maple syrup, then toss with freshly-roasted brussels sprouts. (This also works well with roasted broccoli). Divine!


Family Favorite Bonus: Cream Corn Like No Other

Because this recipe is always a huge hit with my family, I had to share it again this year. This recipe is perfect as written. Don’t worry that you’re making too much – it will get devoured. On the off chance that there are leftovers, it reheats wonderfully. Add some freshly chopped rosemary, thyme, and/or freshly grated nutmeg for a gourmet twist. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/cream-corn-like-no-other/

Happy Holidays everyone!


Impossibly Crisp Homemade Pizza

And hot off the heels of my “Farewell, Food Writing” announcement, here’s your proof that I will never stop talking about food (I know you were worried!). This, my friends, is my latest homemade obsession! I snagged the secret making to these unbelievably thin, crispy, and EASY pizzas off of David Lebovitz’s Facebook feed. In addition to being super tasty, they take approximately 8 minutes to make. I kid you not. I’m hoping to post a tutorial soon, but meanwhile, let me know if you want more info!

via Instagram

First Look: The New Trader Joe’s at 14th & U

The brand new Trader Joe’s at 14th and U Street opened last weekend, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! I have to say, I really couldn’t visualize a TJ’s – complete with underground parking – going in at that intersection, but they’ve really pulled it off beautifully. The aisles are MUCH roomier than the Foggy Bottom TJ’s, the wine section is quite substantial, and the cashiers are super-speedy (in typical TJ’s fashion.)  Also, the decor pays homage to U Street’s musical history through some great murals and decorative touches – keep an eye out for them in the photos below. I saw all of my favorite TJ’s goodies and sections, including the sample section (which was featuring some super tasty meatballs on my visit.) Currently, they’re open 7 days a week from 9am-10pm, but I’m told they’re discussing the possibility of opening at 8am. Makes sense to me – I’m sure plenty of folks in the area would appreciate being able to hop in there before going to work.

Take a look inside!
Click here to see listings near the new Trader Joe’s at 14th and U.

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Click here to see listings near the new Trader Joe’s at 14th and U.

My Top 3 Thanksgiving Recipes and #1 Tip

So this is my first foray into home cooking on this blog; after all, this is a real estate + urban lifestyle blog. But hey, home cooking is definitely a part of the urban lifestyle, especially as the population of DC grows increasingly food-savvy.  And those who know me personally are surprised that it’s taken me this long to broach the subject, as my love of cooking and baking is pretty much tattooed across my forehead. What better occasion to use for Urban Living’s home-cooking debut than Thanksgiving? If you’re not doing the cooking, it’s very likely that you will be sitting down to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor. So here are my 3 favorite Thanksgiving recipes (I’ve made them every year for at least the last 5, and have always gotten raves) and my number 1 tip for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re not doing the cooking, might I suggest passing this info along to whoever is? 😉

Cream Corn Like No Other  – This recipe is perfect as written. Don’t worry that you’re making too much – it will get devoured. On the off chance that there are leftovers, it reheats wonderfully. Add some freshly chopped rosemary, thyme, and/or freshly grated nutmeg for a gourmet twist.

Cream corn


Gourmet Sweet Potato Classic (aka Sweet Potato Casserole) – Screw the marshmallows. This streusel topping is seriously where it’s it. The recipe is almost perfect as written, but needs one tiny tweak: be sure to toast the pecans separately before adding to the topping. They’re much crunchier and tastier that way.



Maple-Apple Roast Turkey & Gravy  – if you’re a fan of sweet + savory combinations, this recipe yields the most delicious gravy ever. Of course, the better-quality butter, cider, and syrup you use, the more wonderful this will be. Forget Aunt Jemima – spring for the real stuff. Grab fresh cider at a nearby farmer’s market if you can, and use a European butter like Plugra or Kerrygold.



And my #1, must-not-be-ignored, can’t-be-beat tip for a tasty Thanksgiving dinner: BRINE that baby!! I’ve had ’em deep-fried, basted, compound-buttered, and more, but the brined turkey is still the winner by a long shot. And I love how easy it is to play with a brine. As long as you don’t mess with the salt/water ratio or the brining time, you can add or substitute whatever other flavorings you like: herbs, vinegars, ciders/juices, etc. Here are a couple of great brine recipes to start with:

Pioneer Woman’s Favorite Turkey Brine
Alton Brown’s Roast Turkey Recipe (Includes Brine Recipe)
(Check out his handy brining instructional video here.)

Whether you decide to eat out, eat in, cook up a giant gobble-y mess, or make some sushi, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!