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

{Cake}
  • 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

{Glaze}
  • 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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