Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sweet Potato-Sage Scones with Spicy Cherry Jam

Yesterday was the first day of autumn, and, for once, Boston weather is adhering to the schedule. Seemingly overnight we swapped beach days for crisp, cool mornings, and glimpses of orange leaves are popping up all over my neighborhood. And I. Will. Take it.

I know plenty of my fellow New Englanders are still reeling from Snowmageddon '15, but we had a beautiful, long summer, and I'm tired of sweating, and of not eating pumpkins, sweet potatoes, or squash on the regular.

So let's start with breakfast! Sweet potato and sage (the one part of my herb garden that shows no sign of giving up as we enter fall) are always a sure bet to pair together, and this not-quite-sweet, not-quite-savory scone is no exception. I like to cut my dough into mini scones (these bake up to about 3 inches long), which makes them perfect for a quick snack or for breakfast, downed in sets.

Oh also, let's talk about this jam. It is a little sweet, a little tart, and ends with a little heat thanks to some cayenne pepper. And it's seriously delicious - it shines on these scones, but works just as well as part of a cheese board (brie, meet cherry jam) or even on a kicked-up PB&J. And it's also seriously easy - we're not talking an all-weekend canning experience, just a quick boil and stir to get everything mixed up.

Cook's notes: I used sweet potato as I had one to use up, but feel free to sub in canned pumpkin if you have it handy. The resulting taste will be quite similar. Along the same lines, sour cream will work just as well for the yogurt; I have used both in this recipe and tasted no difference. Fat-free Greek yogurt helps keep the calories down, if you're into that kind of thing.

And finally, I find that while cooking with pumpkin or sweet potato makes baked goods very moist and can serve as an egg replacement (as in this recipe), it also seems to necessitate a longer baking time. Keep an eye them, but you may find they need up to 5 minutes more in the oven, depending on your appliance.

Also to keep in mind: this a fabulous base recipe for scones, which I have adjusted for all sorts of flavor combinations. Without the sweet potato, add one egg to the wet ingredients, and then play around! Two of my other favorites are dried cherry/chocolate chips and lemon/fresh rosemary.

Sweet Potato-Sage Scones
Makes 16 mini scones
  • 1/2 cup Greek non-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup pureed, cooked sweet potato (1 small potato)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Spicy Cherry Jam
Yield: ~1 cup
  • 1/2 pound fresh or frozen tart cherries, pitted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Pinch salt

For scones:

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, mix baking soda into yogurt. Let sit for 5 minutes while you prep other ingredients - it will get fluffy as the baking soda activates.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives until all of the butter is pea-sized or smaller.

With a fork, mix yogurt mixture, sage, and sweet potato into the flour/butter mixture. The dough will be quite shaggy. Empty onto a floured counter and knead with your hands a few times so it comes together into a (still a bit shaggy) dough ball.

Divide dough into two discs, each roughly 5 inches in diameter by 1 inch thick. With a large knife, pizza cutter, or bench scraper, cut each disc into 8 wedges. Using the bench scraper or a spatula, transfer the wedges to a parchment or silicone-lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each scone.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until tops of scones are ever-so-slightly browned.

For jam:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and mashing cherries as they soften.

Once boiling, cook until thickened, at least 5 minutes. Depending on how much your cherries have broken down, you could use an immersion blender to smooth it out (I did).

Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a week or two.
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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cider Smash

August, man.

It sneaks up on us all, right? I'm pretty much an autumnophile, so I welcome the cooler temps and fall colors every September, but still, each August I feel like I'm scrambling to complete my summer bucket list.

So today we check off a cold cocktail over crushed ice from that list, all the while savoring whiskey and cider, fall favorites.

(And, while we're on the topic, I'm savoring anything in these amazing tumblers, a spot-on birthday present from my friend Kase!)

We picked up this bottle of Citizen Cider during a recent trip to Vermont. Their "B Cider" is sweetened with honey from bees in their apple orchards - a concoction I definitely couldn't resist.

I had Bulleit Rye on hand, but your go-to bourbon would be the perfect base for this cocktail. It's reminiscent of a classic whiskey smash (hence the name), but with fizzy apple cider replacing the mint. Really, a perfect summer-meets-fall drink.

And if you happen to have adorable bunches of champagne grapes on hand, they looked divine as a garnish and were refreshing and boozy as a post-drink dessert. (But if not, a twist of lemon in the summer or a slice of apple in the fall would be swell.)

Cider Smash
makes 1 cocktail

  • 1.5 oz Rye or bourbon whiskey
  • .75 oz Fresh lemon juice 
  • .75 oz Simple syrup
  • 1 oz Hard cider
  • Crushed ice
  • Champagne grapes (or a twist of lemon) to garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well to combine, then strain into tumblers filled with crushed ice. Top with cider, and garnish with the fruit of your choice.
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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sweet Potato + Pancetta Risotto

This is a 100% autumnal recipe, but when you're faced with a single aging sweet potato and an overflowing herb garden in the middle of July, you go with the flow. So feel free to wait until September to make this sweet and savory risotto, but I promise that your taste buds won't mind if you jump the gun like I did!

I use Alton Brown's recipe as my base for risotto; I think the key parts are sauteeing the rice with garlic and onion before adding liquid and combining the wine and broth from the beginning - this prevents all the flavor in the wine from cooking off by the time the risotto is done. And, in my experience, jasmine rice works just fine if you don't have arborio (aka when Trader Joe's has decided not to stock it that week).

So hold off for fall, or serve this up now with some seared scallops and farmers market veggies. Why wait?

Sweet Potato + Pancetta Risotto
makes 4 sides or 2 entree servings

  • 4 oz pancetta
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine white wine and 3 cups chicken broth. Heat to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and keep warm.

In a large sautee pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook pancetta, stirring occasionally until crispy. Remove with a slotted spatula and drain over paper towels; set aside.

In the same pan, heat olive oil (you may need more or less depending on how much fat was rendered from your pancetta). Add shallot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring so it doesn't burn. Add arborio rice and stir to coat with oil; sautee for 2-3 minutes.

With a ladle, add approximately 2 cups of the warm broth mixture to rice, so that rice is just covered. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add more liquid, until rice is just covered, and continue cooking and stirring. Repeat until all liquid is used - this usually takes 4 total additions of liquid. 

Meanwhile, poke holes in sweet potato and cook in microwave for 5-7 minutes, until soft. Slice in half and let sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the inside of the potato and mash it with 2 Tbsp chicken broth until smooth (I did this quickly in a glass measuring cup with an immersion blender to achieve a very smooth consistency). 

When rice has absorbed all liquid, it should be quite creamy. Add sweet potato puree, parmesan, rosemary, sage, cooked pancetta, and generous amounts of Kosher salt and pepper to taste (optional: reserve a bit of the pancetta and parmesan to use a garnish). 
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stovetop Flank Steak with Summer Veggie Hash

Not that we need an excuse to buy all the colorful produce at the summer farmers market, but here's one anyway! And for my fellow grill-less apartment dwellers, this flank steak is just almost as yummy using a trusty cast iron skillet as it would be char-grilled.

Now, I could happily eat my way through four courses of potatoes, but you really don't miss the carbs in this all-veggie hash, I promise. And since both the steak and the squash cook quickly, this meal comes together in no time for a handy weeknight dinner.

I love chimichurri, a classic South American condiment for grilled meat made with cilantro (or parsley), vinegar, and garlic. In this version, the addition of avocado makes it nearly-guacamole, but with more of a bite from the vinegar. A tasty pairing, but traditional chimichurri will always work if that's your style.

Stovetop Flank Steak with Summer Veggie Hash
makes 2 large servings

{avocado chimichurri}
1/2 ripe avocado
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (or if you're averse, use parsley)
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

{stovetop flank steak}
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb flank steak (cut in half if that helps fit it in your skillet)
Kosher salt
Black pepper

{summer veggie hash}
2 tsp olive oil
3/4 cup corn kernals, fresh or frozen
1 zucchini, quartered and sliced
1 yellow squash, quartered and sliced
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp smoked paprika

For the chimichurri:
In a food processor, combine all chimichurri ingredients and process until fairly smooth. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Chill while you prep everything else.

Generously season flank steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Press seasoning into each side and let steak chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before cooking.

In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil until it shimmers. Add flank steak and sear on each side for 3-4 minutes or until it reaches desired doneness (mine was about 1/2 inch thick and turned out medium-rare).

Remove to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil. Rest for 10 minutes while you make the ash.

In same pan, add more olive oil if necessary. Sautee red onion for 3-4 minutes until it begins to soften, scraping up any brown bits from the steak. Add corn, zucchini, yellow squash, garlic, cumin, and paprika, and stir to combine. Sautee for another 2-4 minutes, until everything is warmed through (but be careful not to overcook the squash or it will get mushy.) Remove hash to serving plates.

Un-tent steak and slice against the grain. Plate on top of the veggie hash and top with avocado chimichurri.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lemon Poppyseed + Triple Berry Hand Pies

After years of self-reflection, I can finally answer what my favorite food is.

It's not chocolate, it's not smoked salmon, it's not Honey Bunches of Oats. (But those are all worthy choices.)

No, after 20+ years of gobbling down all of the above, I've finally put my finger on just what it is that will always top my list:

Bread filled with stuff.

Okay, yes, it's a broad "favorite," but I'll defend it. Perogies, potstickers, dumplings, chicken and cheese wrapped in puff pastry (my perennial childhood request), anything wrapped in puff pastry, cheese danishes, etc. etc. etc., all of which are some of the best foods on the planet, and which bring us to: hand pies.

Poppyseed and turbinado, ready for their close-up.

I'm also a firm believer that hand pies are the new cupcake - or at least I pray they are. I will take flaky layers of pastry enveloping gooey, tart fruit any day over dried-out cake and cloyingly sweet frosting.

So, who's up for a pie? These hand-held treats are perfect as a pop-tart upgrade for breakfast or warmed up with ice cream for dessert. And if you have a sweeter tooth than mine, a little powdered sugar icing would be lovely drizzled over the top!

Lemon Poppyseed + Triple Berry Hand Pies
makes 8-10 handheld pies
Recipe adapted from Baker by Nature

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp cold plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

  • 2 cups mixed berries (I used blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries), fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla

  • 1 large egg
  • Turbinado sugar

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Using two forks or a pastry blender, cut in butter until it's about pea-sized.

With a spatula, mix in Greek yogurt, poppy seeds, and lemon zest. Dough will be shaggy.

Dump dough onto a floured counter and knead a couples times until it comes together. You can add a tablespoon of yogurt or flour if it's much too dry or wet to handle.

With a floured rolling pin, roll into a rectangle approximately 12" long. Fold into thirds (like a letter), then turn the other way and roll it out again. Fold into thirds again, roll out, and then fold into thirds one last time. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine all ingredients (berries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and vanilla) in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring and mashing berries with a wooden spoon, until the berries have partially broken down and the filling has thickened, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature (filling will continue to thicken as it cools).

Preheat oven to 425F.

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to 1/8" thick into a rectangle. With a pizza slicer or sharp knife, trim edges, then cut into 16 small rectangles (mine were about 2"x3").

Drop a tablespoon of berry filling onto the middle of 8 of the rectangles. Cut a vent in the remaining 8 - I made an X with a knife, but you could also use a small cookie cutter to make a cute shape.

Combine beaten egg with a tablespoon of water; brush some of this egg wash around the exposed edges of the filled rectangles. Top each one with a pastry you cut a vent out of, then use a fork to seal the edges.

(I was able to make 10 total filled pies - I rolled out the scraps I cut to even the edges and cut four more rectangles from them.)

Brush sealed pies with the remaining egg wash, then top with a bit of turbinado sugar.

Transfer pies to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until beginning to brown. (I baked mine in 2 batches to avoid over-crowding.)

Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve slightly warm or save for later! They really are delicious hot or cold.
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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fig, Lemon & Oat Muffins

With the arrival of (a very welcome) summer, finding the time to bake little whosits and whatsits to snack on becomes harder. When temperatures rise, who wants to sweat in front of a hot oven, when we could be sipping iced coffees out on the balcony? I begin to save baking for "occasions" - birthday cakes are a necessity, but morning muffins for two start to seem like a winter extravagance.

Not to wish ourselves back into The Winter from Hell, but a girl can start to miss a warm muffin and hot cup of coffee under a soft blanket. Luckily (silver lining here), June has brought drizzle, wind, and sub-50 degree temps, aka the perfect excuse to bake my breakfast and grab the French press.

On this particular morning, I was searching for a way to use up a carton of dried mission figs. I considered a coffee cake or loaf, but I was far too impatient for something that would take over 40 minutes to bake. So, of course, muffins! And what would balance the sweet, sticky figs but fresh lemon zest?

So off I went, chopping my figs and zesting my lemons, when I eyed my (gigantic) tupperware of homemade almond granola. Why couldn't the granola get in on this? It made the perfect crunchy topping! (If you happen to have some granola on hand, use it as is! But I've modified the recipe below assuming you don't, by quickly mixing together some almonds, oats, and brown sugar.)

Here's to a couple more chilly mornings to enjoy a freshly baked breakfast.

Fig, Lemon & Oat Muffins
makes 12 muffins
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, combine eggs, yogurt, oil, milk, and lemon zest. With a spatula or wooden spoon, mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chopped figs.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full with batter.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter, brown sugar, almonds, and oats. Sprinkle oat mixture evenly over muffin batter.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until just starting to brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pistachio-Chocolate Dipped Shortbread

I love sprinkles (exhibits A, B, and see my blog header); I love bright and colorful desserts (same references).

But sometimes what I really crave is a simple, buttery, slightly salty hunk of shortbread.  This was one of those times. And since I was feeling all rustic and earthy, I didn't even reach for rainbows or sprinkles; instead, I opted for some semisweet chocolate and roasted pistachios.

The salted, roasted pistachios really bring out the salty-sweetness in the cookie, but you can really experiment with toppings here. Of course sprinkles are welcome, but what about orange zest? Or crushed toffee? Or (fast forward to Christmas) bits of candy cane?

Okay, I'm spiraling. Time to go calm down with a cup of tea and a slab of shortbread to dunk in it.

Pistachio-Chocolate Dipped Shortbread
makes 24 (3") cookies

  • 1 1/2 sticks salted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 Tbsp shortening
  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted pistachios, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and combine.

Sift flour and salt into butter mixture. Mix on low speed until dough comes together (at first there will be a lot of excess flour and dough will seem crumbly - keep mixing for 20 seconds or so and it will start to form a ball).

Dump dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Cover, form into disc, and chill for 20-30 minutes.

Roll dough out between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper to a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Trim sides to make an even rectangle, then use a knife or pizza wheel to cut into 3"x1" cookies. Using a metal spatula or bench scraper, transfer to an ungreased sheet pan.

Chill cut cookies, on pan, in freezer for 10 minutes. This helps them keep their shape while baking.

Bake at 350F for 9-11 minutes, until bottom edges are barely browning. Allow to cool on pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

On 50% power, microwave chocolate and shortening in 30 seconds bursts, stirring thoroughly between each heating, until melted and smooth. (I did this in a 1 cup mason jar to make dunking easier.)

Dunk each cooled cookie about a third of the way into the melted chocolate, scrape excess off bottom of cookie on edge of jar, and place on parchment paper. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios. (I dunked then sprinkled about 5 at a time to make sure the chocolate was still wet).

Let set at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Store cookies in an air-tight container at room temperature.
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Friday, May 15, 2015

Birthday Lemon Sugar Cookies

Who doesn't love a stack of freshly baked cookies on their birthday? (Or any day?)

These are an easy, fast, and yummy cookie to whip up for any occasion - but make sure to have rainbow sprinkles on hand if it's someone's birthday!

My sister Sophie loves lemony desserts (I'm in total agreement with her). Last weekend I had a few hours before hopping on a train to Rhode Island to see her on her birthday and I wanted to make a sweet lemony treat to mark the occasion. All of my go-to lemon desserts (lemon bars, lemon chiffon pie, lemon white chocolate fudge) took too long to prep, bake, or set; plus, I wasn't confident of their staying power on a train ride.

So, Google to the rescue, where I found this quick and easy recipe for glazed lemon sugar cookies. I upped the lemon flavor a bit by adding lemon extract to the cookie dough, and by making the glaze with lemon juice instead of water.

These cookies are delightful left naked, but the lemon glaze and sprinkles make them tarter and cheerier!

A few notes:

  • If you are wary of a tart flavor, leave the extract out, as in the original recipe.
  • These cookies spread - a lot! I imagine if you freeze the dough balls first they would spread a bit less, but I was short on time. Don't worry, they are still a delicious, if thin, cookie.
  • Because they spread, make sure to leave plenty of space - at least 2 inches - between dough balls on the cookie sheet.

Birthday or not, I bet you can find an excuse to make these this weekend!

Birthday Lemon Sugar Cookies
makes 24 cookies
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla 
  • 1/4 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest 
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice 
  • 1.5 cups all purpose flour 
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda 
  • 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar for rolling 

  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Rainbow nonpareils (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and a little fluffy. Add vanilla, lemon extract, egg, lemon zest, and lemon juice, beating until combined.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mixing just until combined. Refrigerate dough for ~15 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a cookie scoop (I used a #100 scoop), scoop 1" dough balls onto the baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Coat each ball in the powdered sugar, then roll with your hands to make the sugar stick and create a more even ball.

If you have time, freeze dough for 15 minutes or so; this will keep the cookies a bit thicker by preventing them from spreading too quickly.

Bake cookies at 350F for 10-11 minutes, until they do not appear wet on top. Let cool completely on a wire rack before glazing.

Whisk lemon juice and powdered sugar together in a bowl. Add more liquid or sugar to reach a thick, but drizzle-able consistency.

Using a piping bag or zip-loc with the corner cut off, drizzle glaze over cookies, working a few at a time so you can quickly add sprinkles if you choose. (I like to make the glaze as thick as possible so it hardens quickly.)
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lemon-Thyme Mascarpone Dip

Summertime is for cold drinks, lounging outside, watching baseball, and lots of other things, but not for turning your stove on to make a snack.

I'm into easy, quick, and oven-free appetizers (exhibit A), and this one fits the bill.

This dip is creamy but light, flavorful, and bright with fresh lemon and thyme. It pairs well with veggies and crackers, but my favorite vehicle to get it into my mouth has to be these Raisin Rosemary Crisps from Trader Joe's. (They are sweet and salty and uber-crunchy.)

Plus, this dip takes about 3 minutes to whip together, leaving you with more time to savor an ice-cold cocktail on the balcony.

Lemon-Thyme Mascarpone Dip

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (about half of a lemon's worth)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (about 3 three-inch sprigs)

Mix all ingredients together with a small spatula or spoon. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. That's it! This is ready to eat immediately, but the flavors also develop well when made-ahead and left to sit in the fridge.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cherry Gin Slings

While making last week's Cherry Almond Coffee Cake, I found myself staring at about a cup of cherry juice, formerly home to a big beautiful jar of morello cherries. My brain was saying "just pour it down the drain," but the little angel with a cherry-lined halo on my shoulder whispering "Are you kidding?! Make cherry syrup!" won out.

I simply simmered the juice (it came slightly sweetened) in a saucepan over medium heat until it thickened, about 10 minutes, and then let it cool in a mason jar. If you have fresh cherries, you could chop up a cup of them, add a little water and sugar, and cook them down, straining out the solids at the end.

And I'm glad. So far I've made these cocktails and drizzled the syrup over buttery pancakes, and I have more in the fridge awaiting its fate. No regrets.

Now, I would never order a cherry cocktail at a bar, because it would be sure to include some sort of Kirsch or Maraschino liqueur, which I truly can't stand. (I can barely tolerate the uber-elegant Luxardo cherry in my Manhattans as they're soaked in the stuff.) But have no fear, fellow maraschino-haters, as this syrup gives just enough tartness and sweetness to evoke yummy memories of cherry pie.

(That being said, if you're into Kirsch, splash some in!)

You could also easily make this fruity, refreshing sling with grenadine in place of the homemade syrup (assuming you listened to your brain and threw away the cherry juice).

Cherry Gin Slings
makes 2 cocktails
  • 4 oz gin
  • 1.5 oz tart cherry syrup
  • 1.5 oz triple sec or cointreau
  • 2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Ice
  • Club soda
  • Mint (to garnish)
Combine gin, syrup, triple sec, lime juice, and bitters in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake to combine; strain into ice-filled glasses. 

Top with 3oz of club soda in each glass. Garnish with a couple mint leaves per glass.

{Tart Cherry Syrup}

In a small saucepan over medium heat, simmer 1 cup reserved juice from a 21oz can or 24oz jar of tart cherries until slightly thickened. Pour into a glass jar and cool to reserve temperature; store in the refrigerator.
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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cherry Almond Coffee Cake

I love cherry pie.

Here in New England, where blueberry pie is king, you don't encounter it all that often, so I am generally forced to make it at home or hold out for my Midwestern holiday visits (where we bully my dad into making it for us, even though he doesn't particularly like it).

Once summer is here and cherries are in season (and God-willing, Whole Foods hosts their $1/lb cherry day), I'll be sure to post a beautiful recipe with fresh cherries.

Until then, however, I am happily tempted by the big pretty jar of Morello sour cherries at Trader Joe's. I couldn't pass them up this weekend, and decided to make a batch of Cherry Pie Bars.

Now, these are not what I would call Cherry Pie Bars. I scanned many recipes and eventually landed on this one as a base, although I subbed in my own cherry mixture for the canned cherry pie filling and cut down the sugar. Still, what I ended up with, though beautiful, cakey, and sweet, wasn't much like cherry pie.

What it was like was a moist coffee cake, full of almond flavor and dotted with tart cherries.

And that's not so bad.

So, I may still be on the hunt for a great cherry pie bar (I think a crumble topping may be the ticket), but in the meantime I can have this gorgeous coffee cake for breakfast or dessert.

Cherry Almond Coffee Cake
makes 12-15 servings
recipe adapted from The Recipe Critic

{Cherry Filling}
  • 1 24oz jar Morello cherries, drained, but reserve liquid*
  • 1/4 cup reserved cherry liquid
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp corn starch
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp milk or cream

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9"x13" pan with aluminum foil and grease with butter or cooking spray.

For filling: whisk corn starch into reserved cherry liquid until smooth. Combine all filling ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.

In a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and light. Add eggs, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients in 3 batches, mixing until incorporated.

Spread 3 cups of batter into prepared pan. Top with cherry mixture and spread into an even layer. Using a cookie scoop, top the cherries with the remaining batter (I got about 20 scoops out of it).

Bake in pre-heated oven for 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with only a crumb or two. Cool completely on a wire rack (if need be, speed this up in the refrigerator).

Combine all glaze ingredients and pour into a zip-loc or piping bag. Snip corner of bag and drizzle over cooled coffee cake. Let glaze set for ~15 minutes, then slice into servings.

* I couldn't stand to throw away the rest of the reserved cherry liquid, so I cooked it down into a concentrated syrup. Stay tuned to see what came of that!
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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

PB+J Larabars

Years ago, a couple months after my first niece was born, I visited my sister in Wisconsin to meet the baby. Of course it was a wonderful visit: my first in-person experience as an auntie and a crash course on how babies work (turns out they pee a LOT). However, I quickly realized that while the baby got to eat constantly (hence the urinating), the adults in the household seemed to be subsiding on a limited diet of espresso. 

This was somewhat of a struggle for me (I didn't even drink coffee then!) until, luckily, I discovered a box of Cherrie Pie Larabars. If you haven't encountered a Larabar before, they are very simple snack bars made primarily of dates, with dried fruits, nuts, and sometimes chocolate mixed in to vary the flavor and texture. Packed with fiber from the fruits and protein from the nuts, they make for a great breakfast on the go, pre- or post-workout snack, or meal replacement when your day is controlled by an infant.

The beauty of the Larabar is its simplicity (only 3-5 ingredients for most flavors), so why pay $1-$2 per bar when you can make them at home for a fraction of that? Start with dates (they provide natural sweetness and bind everything together) and go from there, depending on your tastes. 

You will need a food processor for this (or a very high-powered blender) to incorporate everything together. I start with 8 ounces of dates and add between 1-2 cups of nuts and dried fruit to create my mix (here we use figs and peanuts for a PB&J version). Everything gets dumped into the food processor bowl and processed until it comes together. You may need to stop a few times to prod the mixture around; it should look uniform and stick together when you pinch it.

There's a lot of forgiveness in forming the bars. In fact, you could skip this all together and use a scoop to just make date balls. I like to press my mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper. If you plan on cutting into bars, as I have, it helps to freeze the loaf for 30 minutes or so to make slicing easier.

Okay, so wrapping them in pieces of parchment paper and securing them with washi tape is a bit of a pain in the ass, but you need something to keep them from sticking together. Plastic wrap would work fine too.

Store them in an airtight container in the fridge (if you like them firmer) or in the pantry at room temperature. Everything here has a pretty long shelf-life; I've kept them in the fridge for months.

Experiment with whatever nuts and fruits strike your fancy; if there's a particular Larabar you like, check out the ingredients and try to replicate!

Peanut Butter + Jelly Larabars
makes 12-16 bars, depending on size

  • 8 ounces medjool dates, pitted (about 10-12 dates)
  • 8 ounces dried mission figs* (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup roasted peanuts (I used unsalted)
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt** 

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a standard S-shaped blade. Process until all ingredients are pureed together; depending on your preference you can leave small bits of nuts for crunch or process further to work them in. The mixture should hold together when pinched.

Line a loaf pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil; dump mixture into pan. Using your hands or a flat-bottomed measuring cup, press mixture firmly into the pan and create an even top. (In place of this step, you can simply use a cookie scoop to make date balls - a bite-sized snack!)

Place pan in freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. 

Lift parchment paper out of pan, place on cutting board, and slice into bars with a sharp knife. 

Wrap individual bars in plastic wrap or parchment paper; store in a zip-loc bag or airtight container.

*The brand-name PB&J Larabars use cherries (which I love), but I had dried figs on hand. The end result tasted just like a peanut butter and jelly, and IMO, better than the Lara version.

**Don't omit the salt! You'll want to reduce this amount if you're using salted peanuts, but the saltiness really gives it that "peanut butter" taste.

My other favorite combinations to add in with the dates include cherry-cashew (1 cup of dried cherries, 1/2 cup of roasted cashews) and cherry-chocolate-peanut (1 cup of dried cherries, 1/2 cup of peanuts, 1/3 cup of dark chocolate chips).

Any other favorite flavors out there? 
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Spring Blush

I am loving these warmer-weather blog posts. They're making me forget how damp and frigid Marathon Monday was earlier this week and reminding me it's all part of the master plan (April showers and all that).

So after posting some summery food and springtime decor, a sparkling cocktail was in order.

Rye whiskey is lightened up with lemon and berries, and the whole thing comes to life with a little fizz. The raspberries give it a beautiful pink tint (hence the blush), but blackberries would look and taste great, too.

If you were feeling extra boozey (there's a place for that), you could use prosecco in place of the club soda. Why not?

Spring Blush
makes 1 cocktail
  • 2oz Rye whiskey (I used Bulleit)
  • 1/2 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup
  • 5 raspberries
  • Club soda
  • Ice

Combine whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and 3 raspberries in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake to combine and strain into a glass with ice. Top off with club soda (~2 ounces) and garnish with remaining berries.
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Mossy Spring Wreath

Could it be... Spring?

After 108+ (record) inches of snow this winter, highs in the 30s and sleet last week, things are finally looking up.

Truth be told, I might have had my winter wreath up well into March, so I accept a bit of responsibility for all that.

Anyway, with the arrival of spring weather this week, it finally felt like the time for some greenery.

I used this example as a guideline, except I didn't use any spray adhesive (I wanted everything to be removable to reuse the wreath form). I also had some faux flowering branches lying around (who doesn't?) which I pruned and stuck in for a little floral splash.

And now, a little note about moss! You can buy preserved moss on Amazon or at a craft store like Michaels. I bought mine online and thus didn't quite understand how much volume 16 ounces of moss would be. The good news: I might create a side-project blog solely dedicated to moss experiments. Moss cupcakes? Let's find out!

Jk. But if you have any ideas for moss-centered projects, hit me up!

As beautiful as it looked in natural light, here it is in its true habitat: the dim hallway door.

Mosssy Spring Wreath

What you'll need:

- Grapevine Wreath Form*
- Preserved Spanish Moss (green)
- Preserved Spanish Moss (natural)
- Faux flowering branches (I trimmed blooms from a branch of faux tiny white flowers and a branch of faux purple thistle - found on the cheap at Michaels and Pier 1)
- Twine

Basically, just tear of clumps of moss and push into the grapevine wreath. It's not a terribly exact science, although I do admit to using a crochet hook a few times to pull the moss where I wanted it. I used just a few clumps of the natural moss, but I think it would look good with a little more, or maybe a couple shades of green.

I threaded in pieces of the faux florals (each about 2-3 inches) in various spots.

To finish it off, I wrapped the whole wreath in twine - partly decorative, but partly to help hold all the moss in, as I wasn't using adhesive. If you aren't concerned with re-using your wreath form at any point, try out adhesive (although my instinct is it might start to get a bit messy, with moss stuck to everything).

* I have two wreath forms - this grapevine wreath and a straw wreath form, both 16 inches. I create my wreaths using pins so everything can be removed and reused - life is temporary, right?
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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Crispy Cod Fish Taco Bowls

I love fish and don't need a way to dress it up or disguise it, but some people (or some people's significant others) aren't as easily convinced. This is the perfect dinner for the most fish-wary people in your life. Because, come on, who doesn't like fish tacos?

First off, use cod or another mild, white fish. Cod is a great vehicle for your favorite flavors without being overly "fishy."

Second, make it deliciously crispy (but not greasy!) with some sriracha mayo and panko breadcrumbs.

Third, top it off with all of your favorite Baja accoutrements. (Bajaccoutrements?)

You can serve this over white or brown rice, cauliflower "rice," polenta (this gives it a warm and hearty tamale-feel), or in good old-fashioned corn tortillas. This time I made them over brown rice with some lime juice and cilantro mixed in, but all of the above variations are tasty.

Crispy Cod Fish Taco Bowls
makes 2 servings

{Crispy Cod}

2 six ounce filets of cod, or whitefish of your choosing
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons mayo
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sriracha sauce
Salt and pepper

{Mango Cilantro Salsa}

1 mango, diced
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons red onion, chopped

{Pickled Red Cabbage}

1/4 head red cabbage, sliced thin (I used a mandolin)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

{Yogurt-Sriracha Sauce}

1/4 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
1 tsp sriracha sauce
1 tsp fresh lime juice

1 scallion, chopped, to garnish
1/2 avocado, sliced, to garnish

First, get your cabbage to pickling.

Whisk together vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl; then add sliced red cabbage and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator while you prep your other ingredients. It should marinate for at least 45 minutes.

(If you're cooking rice as a base, start it now!)

For the mango salsa and sriracha yogurt sauce, just combine all ingredients for each and set aside until fish is ready.

For the cod:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Whisk together sriracha and mayo.

Season the fish filets with salt and pepper, then spread half of the mayo mixture over each filet.

Spread breadcrumbs on a shallow plate; press each filet, mayo-side down, into the breadcrumbs to make them adhere.

Melt butter in an oven-proof skillet. Lay both cod filets, breadcrumb-side down, into hot butter. Sear for 2-3 minutes until a crust has formed and the breadcrumbs have browned. Carefully flip filets over.

**Depending on the size and thickness of your filets, you can finish cooking them either on the burner or in the oven. My filets were very thin (1cm) so I just cooked for another 5 minutes in the skillet over medium heat.**

For filets 1 inch or thicker, transfer skillet into pre-heated oven and finish cooking for 7-10 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Plate fish, crispy side up, on your bed of choice: rice, polenta, tortillas, or just a romaine salad. Top with mango salsa, pickled cabbage, sliced avocado, and the sriracha yogurt sauce. Garnish with chopped scallion, and an extra squeeze of lime if you're feeling citrusy.
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Antipasto Skewers

This is one of my favorite go-to appetizers. Who doesn't love apps (and zerts)? These skewers are great to bring to a party, whip up for company, or (in this case) kick off a birthday dinner for two.

To make the cut for my aforementioned go-to appetizer list, there are some rules. Apps gotta be*:

1. Room temperature and prepared without the oven or stovetop. This means I can prep them whenever, they won't take up precious burners (occupied by dinner), and they can sit out for guests to pick at.

2. Versatile/adaptable with ingredients that are currently in my fridge or pantry. Related, but not its own bullet point: adaptable to be vegetarian. 

3. Packaged into a bite/single serving.

4. Pretty.

5. Pretty easy.

So these skewers can be made hours ahead of time, are customizable to use up stuff you have on hand, are adorably skewered for easy eating, and are ridiculously easy to make/assemble. (And spoiler: if you don't use meat, they're vegetarian!)

* I almost added [6. Travel well] but I don't necessarily need all my food to be transported. More for me! But these are easy to transport, just hold the glaze until serving.

Antipasto Skewers
makes 12-15 skewers

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes (the little heirloom ones add nice color!)
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1/4 cup green olives, pitted
4 oz ciliegine mozzarella balls (the tiny cute ones - or cubed fresh mozzarella)
4 oz manchego, cubed (or any hard cheese you like)
15 leaves fresh basil
5 slices prosciutto, torn in half
5 slices salami, torn or cut in half
(again, feel free to use any cured meat you like - or no meat)
Balsamic glaze**

Using long toothpicks or bamboo skewers (pictured), alternate skewering tomatoes, olives, cheeses, basil leaves folded in halves or quarters, and prosciutto and salami pieces folded in half.

Plate skewers on serving platter and just before serving, drizzle with balsamic glaze.

**One of my favorite semi-homemade shortcuts is Trader Joe's Balsamic Glaze. You can easily make your own by reducing balsamic vinegar until syrupy in texture, but the TJ's version is delicious and cheaper than the actual vinegar would cost to make it.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Chocolate-Covered Easter Grahams

Don't feel like turning on the oven this weekend for a sweet holiday dessert?

No oven, no problems, lots of sprinkles.

If you haven't had a chocolate-covered graham cracker in a while, please make these. Chocolate + graham is deceptively satisfying. Looking for a Passover treat? Sub in matzo for the graham crackers! (Don't worry - most sprinkles are Kosher!)

{If you don't have melting chocolate easily available, feel free to use whatever chocolate you have on hand. I like to add about a teaspoon of shortening to 12 oz of chocolate chips when melting, which helps it stay smooth and glossy. Alternatively, you can temper chocolate to get the nice finish and snap melting chocolate will provide. But who's got time for that? Not me.}

Chocolate-Covered Easter Grahams

20 graham crackers, broken into fourths
24 oz melting chocolate (I used 12oz each of Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers and White Melting Wafers) ** See note above **
Sprinkles (optional, but come on. P.s. - how cute are the Easter egg sprinkles above? Wilton comes through again.)

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper for your work space.

Melt 12oz of chocolate in a 2 cup glass measuring cup: on 50% power, microwave for 30 seconds, stir, repeat until smooth.

Using a fork, dunk a graham cracker quarter into melted chocolate; place on parchment-lined sheet pan.

**Edited to clarify**
1. drop a graham into the chocolate.
2. using a fork, flip it over so it's completely covered.
3. lift the graham out with the fork underneath.
4. tap excess chocolate over bowl; it will drain fairly well through fork tines.
5. scoot graham onto parchment, off of fork.

Coat 4 or 5 at a time, then cover with sprinkles of your choice while chocolate is still soft.

Repeat with remaining grahams, re-heating chocolate as necessary. Then melt remaining half of chocolate and repeat!

Happy Easter & Passover!
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