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 May 29, 2014
When we lived in Missouri, Jared and I had a beast of a grill that took up about a third of the deck space at the back of our small apartment. It sat largely unused for a good five months of the year, but once the weather warmed up enough for Jared to remove his snow gear, we put the grill to use at least three or four times a week (though I do recall a few winter grilling sessions that required the use of gloves). When we moved to North Carolina though, our new place had one of those “no grilling within 10 feet of the premises” rules, so there was no sense in moving a behemoth hunk of stainless steel 920 miles across the country just to let it sit. We left it behind, the poor thing. I guess every grill has its day.
Summer is certainly the season for grilling, but we’re now living in our second no-grills-allowed apartment and have had to get a little creative to satisfy summer cravings without becoming wild tong-wielding rule-breakers. We finally bought a cast-iron skillet last weekend to try our hands at cooking steak inside, and I’d say it gave our memories of grilled steaks a run for their money (minus the three fire alarms and frantic fanning of lingering smoke, of course). For this barbecue chicken salad though, we fired up the ol’ panini press as a grilling substitute. And you know what? Not only does it taste pretty great, but it’s also amazingly fast. It’s not quite like the real deal, but it gets the job done with the bonus of adding those dandy grill marks.
The rest of this salad comes together super easily, and it’s one of those great recipes that’s really more of a loose guideline than a hard blueprint. Add what you love, skip what you don’t love, throw it all in a bowl, and you’re done. Aside from grilling (see also: panini-ing) the chicken, it’s low maintenance and cooking free. Now go forth, and chop!
Chopped Barbecue Chicken Salad
• 6 to 8 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
• 12 ounces to 1 pound grilled chicken, cut into small bite-sized pieces
• 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 ½ cups corn (cooked, straight from the cob or however you like it)
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced
• ¼ to ½ cup diced red onion
• grated cheese for sprinkling (cheddar always goes well with barbecue)
• ranch dressing (here’s a homemade version we like)
• barbecue sauce
* Other fun additions: hard-boiled eggs, avocados, crumbled bacon, olives, tortilla strips
Put all of the ingredients except the cheese, dressing and barbecue sauce into a large bowl, and give the salad a good toss. Top individual salads with a bit of grated cheese and an even drizzle of ranch and barbecue sauce. Enjoy!
I’m a big fan of making things that we can get two meals out of, and this salad keeps really well for a few days in the refrigerator as long as you leave the dressing and barbecue sauce off until the day you eat it. And when it says it serves four, that’s a healthy dose of salad, like for a whole meal, so it could definitely be stretched further if you serve it alongside some good bread or something else to help fill the tummies. It’s a new favorite for us and definitely in the weekly rotation for these warm-weather days.
What’s your favorite throw-it-together meal? Any other creative non-grill-owning grillers out there? What’s on the menu now that the weather is getting warm?
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 17, 2014
I think it’s safe to say that we’re officially in the thick of a true Boston winter. There’s snow on the ground. Snow on the rooftops. Snow in piles. Snow on the way. It’s icy and slushy and downright cold. But you know what? It’s pretty glorious. Sure, native Bostonians and more experienced East Coast residents are still meeting our winter enthusiasm with mild shock and a lot of, “Just wait until mid-March, and you won’t love it so much,” but for now our family is definitely enjoying this long-lasting winter wonderland. If it’s going to be cold, it might as well be snowy. And we have plenty of both.
Cold weather does call for comfort food though, the kind that warms you up from the inside out and makes you feel good and cozy on a truly blustery day. You can certainly go the soups and stews route, but for me, nothing says comfort like pasta. So pasta we shall have! And this pasta we have had, in fact — weekly at least — for a solid month. Maybe that’s why we’re still loving all this snow.
Fettuccine with Garlic Cream Sauce and Sautéed Tomatoes
Adapted from The Kitchy Kitchen
• 16 ounces fettuccine
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• kosher salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• ½ cup cream
• 2 teaspoon lemon zest
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté just until golden, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper. Lower heat, and sauté, tossing occasionally, until tomatoes are soft, another 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how hot you keep the pan.
In the meantime, cook the fettuccine to al dente, according to package instructions. When the pasta is nearly finished cooking (and the tomatoes are soft), add the cream to the pan with the tomatoes, give everything a good stir and heat the sauce until it’s almost simmering. Add the lemon zest and thyme, and stir to combine.
Pour the hot garlic cream sauce over the pasta, and toss to coat. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
How are you staying warm and cozy this winter season? Good food? Good friends? A good vacation void of snow and ice? Do tell!
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!
Posted on January 15, 2014
Well, we’ve made it through the season of sweets, and now my blog reader and Pinterest feed are filled with fancy salads, whole grains and about seven gazillion paleo recipes. I suppose January is the time for all of that. It’s out with the, “Eat what you want because it’s Christmastime, y’all!” and in with the “No really, honey, I think you’ll like quinoa.”
We’re doing our own version of the get-back-on-track bandwagon, but then again, I’ve always been an advocate of making healthy choices for meals if it means I can reward myself with a healthy dose of dessert. I say a salad for lunch is a pretty fair tradeoff for a stack of cookies come evening.
So today, it’s a cookie recipe for you: peanut butter and chocolate chip biscuits. Consider it your reward for two good weeks of healthy eats. You can always have oatmeal tomorrow morning.
Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Biscuits
Adapted just slightly from Winter on the Farm (Matthew Evans, p. 209)
• ¾ cup light brown sugar
• 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 300 grams creamy peanut butter
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Then add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well combined. Beat in the peanut butter, salt and baking soda until well combined.
Slowly add the flour to the mixture, and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls, and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press the balls down with the tines of a fork until they’re about ½ inch thick, then bake for 10-14 minutes, until the cookies are tan but not dark.
Makes about 40 cookies
Posted on October 10, 2013
The first time I ate monkey bread was for breakfast at a school friend’s sleepover when I was 12 years old. I remember watching, fascinated, as her mom cut Pillsbury Grands biscuits into six pieces each, rolled the dough into balls and then dunked them into a bath of butter and cinnamon sugar before layering them freely in a bundt pan. Forget the fact that it was premade dough, or that the bath of butter was actually a bath of margarine, or that I was much more of a pancakes-with-syrup-on-the-side kind of girl than a connoisseur of overly sweet morning concoctions; I convinced myself, while watching the magic unfold, that this would indeed be the greatest breakfast of my young life.
Many moons later, and I honestly can’t remember how that monkey bread tasted. What I do remember, however, is crowding around a small kitchen island, a half dozen sleepy-eyed girls in mismatched pajamas and socks, happily pulling off balls of bread, one by one, until our tummies were content and our sugar spots filled. As much as I love baking for flavor, the recipes I savor the most, especially as our Beany grows older and more interested in the happenings of the kitchen, are the ones that bring with them an experience. Monkey bread, when eaten correctly, is an experience in itself. And if it tastes great, too? Well, then you really can’t go wrong.
Adapted slightly from arielleclementine, Food52.com
packet active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees)
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 cup whole milk
• ¼ cup molasses
• 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus ¼ cup, if needed
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 2 rounded teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 rounded tablespoon ground cinnamon
• ½ rounded teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• 1 stick salted butter, melted
• 1 cup packed light brown sugar
Quickly stir together yeast, the teaspoon of sugar and warm water in a small bowl. Set it aside for about 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes nice and foamy. In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons butter, milk and molasses in a small saucepan, just until the butter is melted. Set it aside for a minute or two to cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Attach the dough hook, and turn the mixer on low. Slowly add the molasses mixture, followed by the yeast mixture. Keep mixing until the dough comes together, about 7 minutes or until smooth. (This is pretty sticky dough compared to other breads — it will stick to the bottom of the bowl — but add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time, if it seems too wet.)
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for another minute to form a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot to rise until it’s doubled in size, about 1 to 1.5 hours.
Butter the bundt pan generously with 2 tablespoons softened butter. Put the melted stick of butter in one small bowl and the brown sugar in another.
When the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch square. Cut the dough into 64 pieces, and roll the pieces into balls. One by one, dip the balls in butter, roll in brown sugar and place them in the bundt pan (distributing them as evenly as possible).
Cover the bundt pan with plastic wrap, place it in a warm spot and allow the dough to rise for another hour. (Although I didn’t try it, reviews of this recipe suggest that you can put the dough in the refrigerator at this point — overnight if you wish — and bake it later. Just make sure to allow an hour for the dough to come to room temperature and finish rising before you bake it.) Once the balls have risen, they should be puffy and about an inch below the top of the pan.
Bake the monkey bread for 30 to 35 minutes in a 350-degree F oven, until the top is golden brown. Cool the cake in the pan for just 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cake stand and cool for another 5 to 10 minutes. Then gather the family, and enjoy! This monkey bread really does taste best when it’s warm from the oven, so don’t wait!
I love how this recipe turned out, and though the process can be a bit time-consuming with all of the hands-on rolling and individual dipping, the bread itself actually comes together fairly easily. It tastes wonderfully gingerbready, and the gooey, carmely outer layer really takes it over the top. And just think how great it would be to stand around the kitchen counter with your nearest and dearest while you pull the bread apart and enjoy that surge of sugary goodness! I already have plans to bring it back for Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Get ready, little sister! You’re helping me with all the rolling and dipping!