Posted on July 3, 2014
We eat strawberries nearly every day of the year in our house because Beany and I can’t get enough of them, but summer strawberries are by far the best of the bunch. They are amazingly juicy, amazingly sweet and amazingly not $5 a quart right now. So strike while those fields are hot!
In honor of this grand strawberry season, here are five of my favorite strawberry-filled desserts, perfect for your Fourth of July cookout.
Happy Fourth of July, pals!
Posted on June 28, 2014
Days start at about 5 in the morning here, and from then until bedtime, it feels pretty nonstop. There’s breakfast to make, a toddler to entertain, a baby to change and a puppy to feed — all before 7 a.m. I know this isn’t unusual for parents with young kids. Or any kids for that matter. I spend the day racing the clock, juggling nap time and work time, proofing a magazine while bouncing a baby on my knee. It’s amazingly wonderful in so many ways, though I’d be lying if I said I don’t have those moments when I wonder how on earth I’ll make it to bedtime. A life spent with small children by its very nature is always a bit out of control, and no matter how organized and enthusiastic I try to be, things usually hit the fan somewhere between 5 and 7 p.m. It’s an inevitable scramble, and it can certainly wear you down. But then there’s always that time at the end of the day, when I’m snuggling Beany on the couch or rocking Bear in my arms, when I think to myself, “I could live in the moment forever.”
Long days, short years. That’s what they say, isn’t it? I’m learning more and more, with every new morning I wake up as a mom, how important it is to grasp the simple moments when I can. Kids are only little for so long. You know this. I know this. But you know what? They don’t know this. At least not in the same way we do. So it’s our job to help them make the most of this time and make the most of being little, when the world is big and everything is new and picking a strawberry straight from the ground makes them prouder than their tiny bodies can even express. So this summer, despite any busyness from home, work or life in a big city, we’re going to try our best at keeping things simple. Because it turns out that the simple memories, the simple adventures and the simple recipes are the ones we keep coming back to.
Angel Food Cake
Adapted just slightly from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Hesser, p. 742)
• 1 cup cake flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 1/4 cups sugar
• 10 large egg whites
• pinch of salt
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and salt until the mixture is foamy. Add the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar a few tablespoons at a time, and continue beating until the mixture holds soft peaks. Fold in half the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Then fold in the remaining dry ingredients. Fold in the vanilla.
Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven, and invert it immediately, either on the feet of the pan (if the pan has feet) or resting on an empty bottle. Let the cake cool completely.
Once the cake is cool, run a long thin knife around the sides to loosen the edges, and invert the cake onto a plate. Serve with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.
Posted on May 5, 2014
I always forget how much I love spring until it comes back again. The weather here has been amazing lately, and we’ve been soaking up some serious outside time (hence my frequent sneezes and ridiculously itchy eyes. Oh, allergies, you rascals!). I’m convinced that few things are better for a kid — particularly a high-energy toddler — than time spent outdoors, where they can jump, climb and run around as fast as their little legs can carry them. Beany could run laps around the apartment all day and still not end up with the same kind of happy exhaustion she gets from an hour or two outside. It must be the fresh air. Or the sunshine. Whatever it is, you can’t bottle it. But it’s there for the taking.
Early Sunday morning, we packed up the kids and walked to one of our favorite bakeries nearby for something delicious to ring in the day. This place has the best lattes in town, which is a happy thing for the coffee drinkers in our bunch, and Beany gets a kick out of picking something yummy from behind the glass counter. I do, too. After all, what’s a latte without something sweet to go with it, right?
So lattes and lemon donut muffins in hand, we headed back home, where we opened all the windows and let the springtime breeze roll in. I don’t know if it was the walk, the fresh air, the sunshine or the muffins, but it was a really great morning.
If one could, in fact, bottle sunshine and fresh air and general outside loveliness, it would come in the form of a lemon donut muffin. So although the rest of the week is never as easy breezy as our weekends, I thought I’d try my hand at recreating a piece of our magical morning to last us until Saturday comes around again. Oh, happy day, it was a success! Bright, rich and the perfect blend of sweet and zing, these lemon donut muffins will erase the Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday) woes and remind you that blue skies are ahead. The calendar might say Monday, but we’re still feeling very Sunday here.
Lemon Donut Muffins
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• zest from 1 lemon
• 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ¼ cup milk
• ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
• 6 tablespoons salted butter, melted
• ½ cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a muffin pan with butter (you’ll need 9 spots buttered and ready to go). In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the unsalted butter and ½ cup sugar until creamy. Add the egg and lemon zest, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and lemon juice, and beat until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk and cream. Slowly add the flour and milk/cream mixtures to the standing mixer, alternating between the two and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined.
Fill the greased muffin tins about 2/3 full, and bake until the donut muffins are barely golden around the edges, about 20 to 22 minutes (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean). Remove the muffins from the tins right away using a butter knife to loosen the edges.
Working as quickly as you can, dip the tops and sides of each muffin into the melted salted butter, and then roll them in sugar.
Posted on May 1, 2014
Anyone who lives with a 2-year-old knows that they are incredibly adept at rattling off every last detail they know about any little thing at any given moment of the day. This makes for wonderful bedtime distractions:
“Mama, wait! Water! Bunny! Books! My wall! An elephant! It’s dark! More water! Please, Mama! Dada? Dada!”
Lunchtime works this way, too:
Upon seeing her sandwich cut in a snazzy new fashion:
“Yay! Triangles! I like my triangles! Apples? Yay, apples! Oh no! A napkin! Red, blue, orange, yellow, whiiiiiite!”
And then, there’s the grocery store. Oh, the grocery store:
“Mama! Dada, look! Apples! Orange! Eggs? Eggs! Cheese! Yo[gurt]! Nana? Nana! Nana! Nanaaaaaa!”
That’s how we end up leaving with bananas every time. It’s not that we make it a habit of giving into every toddler whim (there are plenty of sugar-filled grocery store requests that go unanswered), but when she’s excited about the produce aisle, we generally try to encourage it. Of course, 2-year-olds are also notoriously picky eaters, so no matter how enthusiastic she is about those bananas at the store, it’s anyone’s guess whether that elation translates to home. Half the time, she devours them faster than we can keep up. The other half of the time, she eats one the first day and then leaves the rest to freckle and brown. That means that half the time, asking for bananas at the store means banana baked goods at home. Wait a minute! Maybe she does know what she’s doing!
I typically make banana tea muffins with overripe bananas because they aren’t super sweet, but these chocolate banana muffins were a fun and delicious replacement. I don’t know why I don’t combine chocolate and bananas more often. It’s amazing! You don’t have to sprinkle the flakey sea salt on top if it’s not your thing, but that salty sweet top is probably my favorite part of the whole dessert. Beany was a fan, too:
“Cocoa nana? Yay! Mmm! I like cocoa nana! Nana! Nana! Good girl, Ella.” (Toddler thought streams are not always linear.)
Chocolate Banana Muffins
Adapted from Fork, Knife, Swoon
• 3 ripe bananas, mashed
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1 large egg
• ¼ cup canola oil
• 1/3 cup milk (I used 1%)
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips (bittersweet or semisweet)
• 1 tablespoon flakey sea salt, for sprinkling (I used Maldon.)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and line 12 muffins cups with paper liners.
In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to whisk together the mashed bananas, vanilla and egg until the mixture is completely combined. Add the oil and milk, and whisk to combine. Add the sugars, and whisk again.
Then use a spatula to stir in the cocoa powder, and mix until the cocoa is completely incorporated. Stir in the salt and baking soda, and then gently fold in the flour. Mix until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffins cups (cups will be about ¾ full). Sprinkle the tops with the chocolate chips, and then sprinkle on the flakey sea salt.
Bake the muffins for 14 to 17 minutes, until the muffin tops look set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan as soon as you’re able, and let them cool on a baking rack.
Does anyone else have any good uses for all of those overripe bananas? Or stories of toddler shenanigans? I’d love to hear about it!
Posted on April 20, 2014
Happy Easter! This post is popping up a little later than planned, but I suppose that’s life with a newborn and a toddler in the house. And a puppy. Yep, that puppy is wild, too.
In case any of you are still on the lookout for an Easter-ready dessert (or a feels-like-spring dessert for that matter), look no further. This lemon ginger bundt cake comes together in a snap and tastes as happy as it sounds. I love that it uses crystallized ginger instead of ground. Have you cooked or baked much with it? It’s pretty fun, delicious stuff. Zingy and bright and just what spring is supposed to taste like. I’m currently in search of new gingery recipes so I can use up the rest of it.
In other news, Beany went to her very first Easter egg hunt yesterday and had a pretty great time. Fortunately, she didn’t realize all the sugar that came hidden inside those eggs until the very end of the hunt, so we managed to escape without her getting too incredibly sugar filled. Of course, now in her zeal for jellybeans and chocolate, she’s requesting eggs by the dozen.
Hope your Easter is a good one, too!
Lemon Ginger Bundt Cake
Adapted just slightly from Martha Stewart
• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
• 6 large eggs
• 1 cup sour cream
• powered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 12-cup bundt pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, lemon zest, ginger, baking soda and salt.
Beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Blend in the lemon juice and vanilla.
With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Blend until just incorporated. Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Posted on February 5, 2014
We’re knee-deep in snow here in Boston today (or full-body deep as far as our chilly little poodle is concerned), and I’m happy to report that we’re finally getting a taste of the East Coast winters we’ve heard so much about since moving here last summer. Woo hoo! There are few things I love more than a seriously snowy morning. Well, that and baked goods. Today, pals, we have both. Did I already say woo hoo?
I’ve become a big fan of brownies in recent years, largely because, though there’s plenty of debate over corners vs. middles, fudgy vs. cakey, etc., most everyone seems to appreciate a good brownie in one form or another. I definitely lean more toward the super chewy and arguably overcooked variety, and Jared leans more soft and fudgy, so we waver back and forth between which recipe is our favorite at any given time. It’s nice when we find a happy medium, though, and this brownie, with its fudgy flavor (ironically from using cocoa instead of melted baker’s chocolate) and chewy bite, is pretty fair middle ground.
I like cutting these guys into tiny, nearly bite-sized pieces because that’s really all you need. Oh, and don’t forget to top them with the flakey sea salt! It’s so simple but so necessary. Jared and I both agree that it’s a must for any brownie-baking we do from here on out.
Cocoa Brownies with Sea Salt
Adapted just slightly from Genius Recipes, Food52.com
tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 ¼ cup sugar
• ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 2 cold eggs
• ½ cup all-purpose flour
• flakey sea salt (Maldon is my favorite)
Place your oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat it to 325 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang on the sides.
Place the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl or medium saucepan, and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is well combined and hot to the touch. Remove the bowl from the skillet, and set it aside until the mixture is warm, not hot.
Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon, then add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny and well blended, add the flour, and stir until you can’t see it any longer. Then beat the batter vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick in the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 25 to 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool completely.
Lift up the ends of the parchment, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut them into 25 squares. (I popped my brownies into the refrigerator for a few minutes before cutting them, which helps of you’re hoping for cleaner lines.)
Happy snow day!
Posted on January 24, 2014
Anyone who’s a parent will probably tell you that, despite all of the times and all of the ways that they feel they’re falling a bit shy of the mark, there are at least a few parenting-related things that they feel pretty good about. It’s been true for us. Yes, we cave to demands for extra bedtime snuggles, use disposable diapers and Beany watches more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse than a doctor might recommend, but when it comes to her diet and nutrition, we’ve tried to stay pretty up and up with good-for-you eats and made-from-scratch desserts. Not always, but most of the time. And it’s worked out pretty well so far.
After two years of eating this way, not only does Beany seem to have pretty good taste for a toddler, but she’s also developed a rather discerning palate when it comes to baked goods. This has translated into outright refusal of nearly any prepackaged or non-homemade sweet. We’re talking birthday cake at parties, snacks at the grocery store, even Oreos. She’d happily eat ginger spice cookies, banana muffins or brownies as the day is long, but hand her something that you didn’t bake yourself, and somehow her toddler super senses kick in, and she instinctively turns up her nose. This was true for a long, long time. But then, we went to Grammy’s house.
One day after lunch, Grammy pulled out a “special cookie” from deep inside the pantry. It was a Fig Newton. “I doubt she’ll eat it,” I told my mom when she asked if Beany could have one. “But she can try it. We’ll see what she does.”
Beany looked at the cookie skeptically, took a teeny tiny nibble from the top and then proceeded to eat the entire thing. In three bites! Mouthful of cookie and face covered in crumbs, she smiled the smile of a kid who finally understood the joys of processed sweets. If 2-year-olds have vices, Beany had found hers, wrapped in a square of fig and pastry.
It’s hard to deny your child something that you know brings them so much joy, and I dare say that our girl looked nearly euphoric every time she had a Fig Newton during that three-week vacation. Upon returning home, however, before I let myself succumb to the call of the prepackaged grocery store cookies, I vowed to give the homemade version a try, just to see if I could win back Beany’s sensibilities. If you have a Fig Newton-lover in your house, and you’re willing to put in the extra time and effort that the homemade route demands, this recipe is spot on. Steaming the cookies as soon as they’re done baking gives them that unmistakable Fig Newton texture, and the flavor is just like the original but amplified a bit with extra orange zest and vanilla.
Thankfully, after a sideways glance or two, Beany was willing to try them last night, and though her response wasn’t overwhelmingly this-is-so-amazing the first day, by day two she heartily approved. Of course, I haven’t offered her the packaged vs. homemade challenge, with the two options side by side. Honestly, I’m too scared of the results.
Homemade Fig Newtons
Recipe from petitbleu, Food52.com
For the pastry:
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 2/3 cups brown sugar
• 1 large egg
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• zest of one orange
For the filling:
• 1 pound dried figs, cut into small pieces
• ½ cup water
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, and set aside. Then beat the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla and orange zest, and beat until well combined.
Using a spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well blended. (The dough will be super soft.) Spoon the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a disc, and refrigerate it overnight.
In the meantime, make the fig filling by combining the figs and water in a medium saucepan. Bring the water to a boil, put on the lid, and allow the water to boil until the figs have absorbed it. (If the figs are still not soft, add a bit more water and allow it to simmer a bit longer.)
Transfer the figs to a food processor, and pulse them until the mixture is completely smooth. Allow the filling to cool.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place a large piece of parchment on your work surface, and flour it liberally. Divide the chilled dough into four pieces. Place one piece of dough on the parchment, and return the others to the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
Shape the piece of dough into a rectangle by squaring it on the work surface, and then roll the dough, into a long rectangle, about 4 inches wide by 12 inches long. Make sure you keep lifting the dough and flouring the parchment. The super soft dough will stick easily if you don’t keep checking it.
Place the fig filling into a pastry bag or a large Ziploc bag with one corner cut off. Pipe the filling in a 1-inch strip down the center of the dough rectangle. (To help flatten out the filling a bit, dip your fingertips in water and gently press down on the filling.) Fold one side of the dough over the filling, then the other. Press down on the seam to close it. Then flip the cookie roll over, seam-side down. Transfer it carefully to a baking sheet, and refrigerate while you repeat this step with the other three pieces of dough. (Per Jared’s super smart suggestion, I used the metal ruler I already had out to measure my dough rectangle as a base to transfer the cookie rolls. It’s 12 inches long, so it worked like a charm.)
Once all four cookie rolls are assembled and on the parchment-lined baking sheet, bake them for 16 to 22 minutes, or until the dough is no longer tacky and begins to brown around the edges.
While the cookie rolls are still warm, cut them into 2-inch cookies. (If necessary, wipe your knife off every so often between cuts; the figgy mixture is pretty sticky.) Immediately place the cookies in a single layer inside a large Ziploc bag or airtight container with the lid on or bag sealed. It sounds weird, but steaming the cookies is what gives them that soft Fig Newton texture. Cool the cookies completely, and then eat and be merry!
Makes about 30 cookies
Have you ever tried homemade versions of your favorite boxed treats? Cookies? Cakes? How about Pop-Tarts? I’d love to hear about it!