Tag Archives: fruit

Hello Again

Oh, hi! You’re still here? Nice to see ya! I’ve dropped off the face of the blog in past (Remember when I was homeless for two months? Or when our house was a 24×7 construction zone?) but never like this. Three posts in the last four months? Yeesh. That’s downright unacceptable!

So! Let’s catch up. The last few months have flown by. I spent a lot of time trying to keep my eyes open past 7pm. I took a lot of naps, nursing a plummeting energy level. I’d rather not even remember the constant, nagging sour tummy, the aversion to all things cooking and food…

You guessed it – we’re having a baby! Eric and I thrilled to be expecting our own little bundle of joy in January. All things blogging are not conducive to early pregnancy what with the sight of everything except grilled cheese turning my stomach and everything. Now that I’m over that hump and the energy level is back (I’m going to clean out my closet! After that I’m going to clean YOUR closet!) I hope to get back in the swing of things here on the old blog (whose 4-year blogiversary slipped by completely unacknowledged back in May, we may need to have a belated celebration for that one!)

When I was down with turning, churning stomach one of the only things that tasted good to me was fruit. Cold, fresh, juicy fruit. Berries, oranges, apples basically sustained me for 10 weeks this spring. As soon as I felt like I could get back into the kitchen, I whipped up this fruit pizza.

What a refreshing summer treat! Straight from the fridge, this cold, creamy concoction really hit the spot. It’s easy to whip up and feeds a crowd, so it’s perfect for your summer gatherings and BBQs. I used a combo of raspberries, strawberries, kiwis and blueberries for the topping and the fruit held up surprisingly well. You could easily make this ahead of time. πŸ™‚

I combined several recipes to come up with one that suited me. For some reason, I decided I was too lazy to make my own cookie crust (I used a sugar cookie mix) but not too lazy to make my own glaze (mainly because I wanted to be able to control the added sweetness it would add). Feel free to make this as homemade or as semi-homemade as you please! πŸ˜‰ And it’s GREAT to be back!

FRUIT PIZZAΒ (Recipe Source: Pieced together from recipes at Philadelphia and All Recipes)

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

  • 1 (1lb. 1.5 oz) package sugar cookie mix

Toppings:

  • 1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 to 3 cups assorted sliced fruit

Glaze:

  • Scant1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Grease a 12-inch pizza pan. Preheat oven and prepare the cookie mix as directed on the package. Press the cookie dough into the pan, forming a lip at the edge. Bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned and set. Set aside on a wire rack to cool completely.
  2. With an electric mixer beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well combined. Spread over the cooled cookie. Arrange the fruit over the top.
  3. Make the glaze: Combine all the glaze ingredients except the orange zest in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add the orange zest. Allow to cool slightly, but do not allow to set completely. Spread over the fruit. Chill the pizza for two hours before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under cookies, fruit

Heart to Heart

I’ve never been the type to get really into Valentine’s Day. I don’t dress myself in head to toe red and pink or hand out foil-wrapped chocolate hearts to all my coworkers. It’s just another day. Another cold, wintery February day right smack dab in the middle of a busy work week. Our alarm will sound at 10 after 5 and there will be no breakfast in bed. We will both work all day. Eric will trudge home after 6 dog tired. There will be no fancy dinner. Just a couple of old marrieds, sitting on the same side of the kitchen table so they can both see the Seinfeld rerun on TV while they eat their taco casserole.

Wow. We sound lame. But honestly, it’s a special, cozy, wonderful kind of normal. After nine (NINE! What the what?!) Valentine’s Days together there may not be grand gestures and rose petals and frosty diamonds nestled in red velvet, but there is love. Pure and simple and true. The kind that only gets stronger as each year passes. Valentine’s Day is a good reminder of just how lucky I am to have my Snuggly-Wuggly-Pookie-Boo-Boo-Bear (is that gushy enough for ya?) in my life. πŸ˜‰

Did you know my heart still flutters when I hear the garage door open and see his truck pull into the driveway every evening? After all this time, my favorite moment of the day is still the moment when he walks in. I’ll never tire of seeing him smile, hearing him laugh. He says thank you when I make him dinner. He helps me empty the dishwasher without me even asking! He brings home candy I like when he’s been at Menard’s buying screws or bolts and goes to pick up the pizza when it’s raining so I don’t have to go out. He’s so thoughtful. And kind. So smart. Like seriously brilliant. And funny! So funny. He makes me laugh every single day. Even when I don’t feel like laughing. Especially then.

He says he’s pretty much the luckiest guy ever to have me around but I say *I’m* the lucky one. How he puts up with all this crazy, I’ll never know. Maybe Valentine’s Day is just another day, but it’s another day in a pretty fantastic life together.

Eric was out of town this past weekend seeing his family so I decided to surprise him with some lovey-dovey cookies upon his return. These deep, dark chocolate hearts layered with sweet and succulent cherry preserves just scream “come on baby light my fire.” πŸ˜‰ Deb at Smitten Kitchen calls theseΒ  Brownie Roll-Out Cookies which is a spot on description. They’re tender and sweet and surprisingly chocolately and fudgey-flavored. Chocolate cookies can be kind of flat and boring, in my opinion, but these hold their own. I munched on an insane number of the tiny hearts I cut out of the center of these to make the windows. They are the perfect all purpose chocolate cookie – sandwich them with a layer of peanut butter cream, dip them in white chocolate and sprinkle with colored sugar, top ’em with a generous smear of buttercream. You cannot go wrong. When stuffed with preserves and dusted with powdered sugar, they are a Valentine’s Day treat worthy of someone special.

I went back and forth debating whether to use strawberry or cherry preserves here. I knew both would compliment the chocolate cookies well, but I wanted these to be special. Let’s face it, strawberry is sweet and innocent. Cherry is…so much more. Dark and passionate, cherries leave their mark. Strawberry is for your crush. Cherry is for your true love.

CHOCOLATE CHERRY HEARTS (Cookie recipe from: Smitten Kitchen)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted salted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used dutch-process)
  • 1 12-oz jar cherry preserves
  • Powdered sugar for dusting

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa to the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until fully combined and fluffy. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating until incorporated after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap tightly. Refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin and roll out the the dough to a quarter inch thickness. Cut the dough into hearts using a medium size cookie cutter. Using a smaller heart cutter, cut a second heart out of the center of half the cookies. Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. Separate the solid cookies from the ones with the heart cutout. Dust the cutout cookies with powdered sugar. Spread a thin layer of preserves* on the flat side of a solid heart and top with a sugared cutout heart. Makes about 2 dozen sandwich cookies.

*Note: You may want to nuke the preserves for 10 to 15 seconds to loosen it a bit for easier spreading.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under chocolate, cookies, fruit

Daily Doldrums

As much as I love my kitchen, let’s be honest, it’s kind of boring in there. And standing in front of the counter peeling, dicing, chopping and what not tends to feel a lot like work. Sure the sharing and eating part is fun, but the prep can be tedious if you’re not in the mood. And the dreaded clean up! Ugh. Sometimes I don’t make an item not because it’s time consuming, not because I have to stand there and chop, but simply because I don’t want to clean up the mess I’m about to make. I hate the clean up part!

Cooking and baking is a lot of fun, but I often find I need a little help to make it…more fun.

Multitasking. It’s what I do.

There’s music, of course. I always have my laptop nearby so putting my entire iTunes library on shuffle is always an option. Sometimes a Christmas song plays in it’s entirety in the heat of summer because I’ve got raw chicken goop all over my hands and can’t switch it. It happens. What can ya do? Sometimes I wrinkled up my nose and think, why the heck is that on here? I don’t even like that song! I’ve got two thousand tracks, a stinker or two is bound to sneak in there. Sometimes I skip the iTunes all together and go for one of my highly embarrassing Pandora stations. (Ahem. Glee Cast. Cough, cough. NKOTB. Throat clear.) Two things: 1. The music from Rent will never go out of style. 2. I still know every single word to The Right Stuff. You do too. πŸ˜‰

When my awful, off-key singing gets so bad even I can’t stand it anymore, listening to other people talk is a nice distraction. Nothing makes a mundane kitchen task (dishes, anyone?) go faster than an episode or two of This American Life. Joy and Tracy keep me company once a week. Even audiobooks have found their way into the kitchen! I’ve only recently discovered books on CD, because, apparently, I was absent from real-life for the majority of the 1990s. My library has a great selection, likely because no one listens to books on CDs anymore. πŸ˜‰

The right entertainment can get me totally psyched up to be in the kitchen even when I normally wouldn’t feel like it. I have great admiration for those who get up on a weekend morning and head straight into the kitchen to whip up a delicious breakfast. I am not one of those people. Weekend mornings are for eating cereal and lounging. I like to putz around on the interwebs for hours in my pajamas. Eric sits and watches guys on ESPN yell about football. Very little, if anything, gets done before 11:00 a.m. Then we grumble our way through our chores until well into the afternoon, cursing ourselves for not getting a move on a little quicker in the morning. It’s kind of a ritual.

I had an audiobook on loan from the library that I really wanted to finish before it was due back, so I decided to finish it up this morning while I whipped up some fresh baked donuts. What a great start to the day. There was nothing but relaxation, chuckles (it wasn’t a very serious book*) and good eats, everything a Sunday morning should be and more. Maybe this making breakfast thing isn’t so bad after all.

*It was Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. πŸ˜‰ Judy Blume, I will love you always and forever. I don’t care if it has been exactly 17 years since I was 12. That is all.

These little treats were like a burst of fresh, fruity sunshine on a winter’s morning. (Although…what winter, right? Heh. I’m not complaining! Also don’t want to jinx it so I best just shut up about it.) I just adore winter citrus and when paired with frozen berries, you can almost feel the sand between your toes. I’ve had my eye on these Blueberry Donuts with Orange Glaze ever since Nicole posted them (please, please check her out! Her blog is seriously OUTSTANDING! She posts such a great variety healthified dishes, I find myself bookmarking something from her blog at least once a week. She rocks!) and I’m kicking myself for not getting around to making them sooner. I thought the little chocolate donuts were king, but these may bump those from the top spot. They are soft, delicately orange flavored and bursting with berry goodness. The glaze is a great sweet contrast to the tart berries, everything works together in perfect harmony. I scarfed two in about 3.7 seconds. Then later I had another. Say goodbye to the daily kitchen doldrums and make these quick!

BAKED BLUEBERRY DONUTS WITH ORANGE GLAZE (Recipe Source: As seen at Prevention RD)

INGREDIENTS:

For the donuts:

  • 2 cups cake flour (or 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup cornstarch)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce (I used canola oil – the applesauce I had in the fridge had gone fuzzy. Ewwww!)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries (no need to thaw!)

For the orange glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice + more to thin out, if desired
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and whisk together. Add the orange zest and mix it in.
  3. Add the buttermilk, eggs, applesauce or oil and vanilla extract. Gently mix until just combined, do not over-mix. Fold in blueberries
  4. Lightly grease a donut pan with non-stick spray. Spoon the batter into each cup, filling about half way. Bake 8-9 minutes or until the donuts spring back when lightly touched.
  5. To make the glaze, combine powdered sugar, milk, orange juice and vanilla in a bowl. Add additional orange juice or milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  6. Let the donuts cool in the pan for about 4 minutes. Then remove from pan to a wire rack to cool completely
  7. Dip one side of each doughnut in the glaze. Place on the wire rack and let the excess drip away. Allow the glaze to dry and serve immediately. Yield: about 21 doughnuts.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under breakfast, fruit

Crazy Hot Dog People

I remember being quite nervous as my now husband, then boyfriend, and I got ready to head up to the Chicago area from Champaign so he could meet my parents for the very first time. That’s never an easy situation. Would everyone get along? How many long awkward pauses would there be? Would baby pictures make an appearance? Home videos of me singing the Super Bowl Shuffle in all my three-year-old glory?

I actually had no doubt in my mind that the meeting would go swimmingly. He was a fine upstanding young man on the straight and narrow path to success. My parents were about easy going as they come. Even so, I felt the need to warn my adoring boyfriend of one small detail before we embarked down the road to meeting the parents.

Thing was, I wasn’t sure how to bring it up. It was so….stupid. I knew he had to be ready for it, but I wasn’t quite sure how to tell him about it without sounding like a total nutcase. We’d only been dating a couple months at that point – not long enough to completely come to terms with the other’s particular brand of crazy. This could have been a total game changer.

I decided to just put it out there. He could either go with it and laugh about it, or stop returning my calls. Either way…

I just turned to him and blurt it out. “Eric, I need to tell you something before we go!”

I watched his expression change. His eyes dropped sideways, his finger drumming nervously on the side of his thigh. I can only imagine what he thought was about to come out of my mouth next. Her parents are closet cat hoarders. Her dad cuts off the fingers of St. Louis Cardinals fans. They live in a van down by the river.

“Eric,” I said slowly, calm and cool, “when we get to my house someone in my family may ask you…” I stopped, unsure of how to continue.

“Ask me…” he prompted.

It came up fast, words clawing at my throat, tumbling out my mouth. There was no turning back now. Out with it, out with it!

“Someone in my family may ask you if you put ketchup on your hot dogs!”

He looked at me for a second, confused and surprised by just how silly I sounded. He lasted about 2.7 seconds before busting into a fit of laughter.

When he finally stopped laughing long enough to tell me, no, he doesn’t put ketchup on a hot dog, I knew we were a match made in heaven. I had gotten that out of the way, I was ready to bring my boyfriend home to meet my family and he was going to charm the ever-loving pants off them. Sans ketchup.

Ketchup on a hot dog is a touchy subject in Chicago. It’s just not done. The 10 and under set gets a free pass but everyone else gets the side-eye if ketchup gets anywhere near that dog and it’s bun. With Eric not being from around those parts, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he wasn’t about be banished for eternity for his hot dogs sins.

I, however, may be banished for mine after sharing this hot dog concoction I whipped up (Sorry, family). Now, there’s no ketchup, but there’s also no piccalilli relish, no sport peppers or pickle spears. No sprinkling of celery salt, no tomatoes or tangy raw onions. There is a poppy seed bun, because, well, come on. That’s a given. πŸ˜‰ But other than that, I took everything I know about a hot dog like a good Chicago(area)in should and tossed it right out the window.

Forgive me, for I have sinned.

This sweet, savory, tangy dog is smothered in shredded white cheddar and dijon mustard and then topped with a delectable topping of leeks and apples braised in cider and bourbon. The combination is out of this world delicious. It’s meaty, it’s juicy, it’s cheesy and it’s got a nice kick from the dijon. The leek and apple mixture includes caraway seeds (totally under used and under appreciated little seed, by the way. I happen to love it) so it gives the entire thing a definite sauerkraut feel, but without that whole acquired taste thing. I just loved the combination of flavors here and I think you will too. Totally classed up tailgate food. All the components can easily be made ahead and reheated. I promise no one will miss the ketchup (pssshh…sinners.) πŸ˜‰

Now, in case you were wondering if someone in my family did actually ask my husband if he put ketchup on his hot dog within the time frame of their very first meeting the answer is….YES! After a few hours of lovely conversation, my very dear mother did in fact ask Eric that very question, just like I told him they would.

See. Told ya so. πŸ™‚

CHEDDAR DOGS WITH CIDER-BRAISED LEEKS AND APPLES (Recipe Source: Bon Appetit, July 2009 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 2 cups (generous) thinly sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 1-1/4 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 6 grilled hot dog buns (Hey! I made my own! Recipe coming at ya in the next post!)
  • Dijon mustard (Side note: I’ve become quite the fan of Boetje’s since moving to the QC and that’s what I used here. Made right here in Rock Island for more than 100 years! A true local favorite.)
  • 6 grilled all-beef hot dogs
  • 2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1/2 cup packed)

DIRECTIONS:

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and apple and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the mixture is tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add caraway seed and allspice; then season with coarse salt and pepper. Add cider and bourbon and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until most of liquid is cooked away, about 16 minutes.

Spread buns with mustard, then top with grilled hot dogs. Sprinkle with cheese and top generously with leek and apple mixture. Makes 6 dogs

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under beef, fruit, sausage

We Gotta Get Out of this Place

One would think with all the food making and sugar baking and what not that goes on around here, I would be the kind of person that really loved the grocery store.

Yes. A lazy afternoon wandering the aisles, admiring the colors, the textures, the tastes. It’s so inspiring. It’s so relaxing. It’s foodie heaven, right?

No. No no no. Wrong.

I love to cook. I love to gather ingredients and manipulate them into something tasty and tempting. But I loathe (and I mean loathe) the grocery store. Eric always wondered why I come home from the store in a sour mood until he lived on his own earlier this year before I arrived in our new location and he had to shop for himself for the first time since college. He got it. Quickly.

The grocery store is crowded and annoying. It’s full of maniacs wielding giant metal baskets on wobbly wheels. It brings out the worst in people. I nearly got my arm ripped off reaching into a freezer bin full of sale-priced baby back ribs earlier this summer. Relax, folks. Okay. It’s ribs.

The grocery store. The words taste bitter on my tongue when I announce to Eric that’s where I’m headed. It is one of my least favorite chores. I end up stranded behind someone waiting 10 minutes for another car to pull out of a parking space so they can take it. I will inevitably pick the wrong the checkout line. After I empty my cart it’s pretty much guaranteed the register will spontaneously combust and I’ll be left waiting just a little bit longer.

The grocery store. I almost can’t deal with it. Here’s the top 5 reasons why…

5. Chatty Cathy Cashiers – I’m not anti-social. I swear. A friendly “Hi, how are you?” is always appreciated when approaching the counter. I can smile and be cordial with the best of them. But when the cashier is so busy asking every customer about their weekend plans that she forgets to scan, I can’t help but get antsy. Every single additional second I have to spend in that place, especially when I’m so close to escaping…oh boy. Is my eye twitching? Just. Might. Lose. It.

4. The Lonely Drifter – This person walks directly down the center of cereal aisle, stops, then zigs and zags all over the place. Oblivious. May or may not be dragging two carts.

3. Failure to Yield the Right-of-Way – When you’re driving your car, you don’t come to an intersection and just blow on through without even looking to see if anyone is coming. Same rules should apply at the store. Nothing quite like getting run down by someone who plows out of an aisle with their cart like that their pants are on fire. An excuse me would be nice, it’s hard to see around those corners after all. People should try it. It’s the conversational equivalent to the rear view mirror courtesy wave. It’s always appreciated.

2. The Stop and Chat – Do people in big cities get the pleasure of the stop and chat at the store, or is this a small town thing exclusively? Let me set the scene for you. Two friends descending down an aisle approach each other from opposite directions, after a jovial hello, maybe a hug, they proceed to stop and have a deep, meaningful conversation – all while completely blocking the thoroughfare.

“How’s Bob doing?”

“Oh, he’s great. He just got a promotion at work – Head of Collating and Stapling.”

“Oh, that’s fantastic!”

“We think he’ll be supervising the Three Hole Punch Operators by the end of the year. How’s your mom?”

“Oh, pretty good. You know she fell off the roof again….”

There’s no getting around that. This is important stuff and it can’t wait. Sometimes even an excuse me doesn’t quite do it. Drives me batty.

1. The Big Empty Space – More so than any of the assorted grocery characters you meet along the way, nothing irritates me more than approaching an item I’m after only to find the shelf completely void of what I need. I make a list, people. I plan my meals! When I can’t get an item I need, it throws a giant wrench in my entire week. When it’s a funky or specialty ingredient, something I’ve never bought before, that’s different. But when there’s no pure almond extract, or red onions, or caffeine free diet….Ugh. You know that defeated feeling that just pours over you when you can’t find what you need? It makes me want to cry.

Yeah, yeah. Just stop at another store and look there, right? Well, I don’t WANT to stop at another store. I’m already AT the store. I can’t go through all these headaches again at another store. I just can’t. *Quiet sobs.*

This here’s a dish that’s a snap to prepare. Like let’s say, it’s Saturday morning and you’re in a sour-puss mode because you just came from the grocery store and the absolute last thing you want to do is make lunch. You can be on your way to sweet yet savory, melty, gooey, crunchy, comforting bliss in about ten minutes.

This grilled goat cheese and strawberry quesadilla is inspired by this lovely sandwich with the same ingredients I first saw over on Josie’s blog Pink Parsley. I had been putting off going to the grocery store and didn’t have any bread around. But I was hungry had everything else plus whole wheat tortillas. Turns out, the tortilla was a perfect substitute!

In this unexpected dish the goat cheese, strawberries and basil combine into this halleluiah chorus of simple flavors that totally satisfies. It’s another one of those combinations that leaves you scratching your head wondering why it’s so good. It just is. It’s fresh and creamy and warm and sweet. It’s a little bit main course, a little bit dessert, and all wonderful. The original recipe calls for red pepper jelly which I couldn’t find (Ha ha. OF COURSE!) so I subbed this really yummy local raspberry jalapeno jam I bought at the farmer’s market. The jam’s subtle sweetness blends well with the strawberries and the little kick of spice a the end is tamed by cheese. It’s great for a quick lunch or a fun twist on a meatless dinner.

You can’t be in a bad mood and eat this, it’s impossible – even if you’ve been held up at the store by an epic Stop and Chat. πŸ˜‰

STRAWBERRY GOAT CHEESE QUESADILLA (Recipe source: Adapted from Pink Parsley, originally from Southern Living, March 2011)

*Note:* I didn’t measure any of the ingredients here – just layered ’em up until it looked right. When I make a quesadilla for myself, I’m a one tortilla girl. You may like to use two so it’s a bit bigger, that’s cool. Whatever you fancy works just fine.

INGREDIENTS:

  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Raspberry jalapeno jam, red pepper jelly, or your favorite spread
  • Crumbled goat cheese
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced.
  • Butter or olive oil

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the outdoor grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Spread a thin layer of jam or jelly on tortillas. Add goat cheese, then top with a layer of sliced strawberries. Sprinkle basil over the strawberries. Either fold the tortilla into a half moon or top with a second whole tortilla. Butter each side of quesadilla (or brush with olive oil) and grill until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Let sit for a minute before slicing into wedges. Serves as many or as few as you want it to, yo!

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under fruit, vegetarian

Girlfriends

In the beginning, it’s all silly secrets and popsicle stained lips. There’s messy french braids and colorful, knotted friendship bracelets threaded up both wrists. Muffled late night sleepover giggles, jungles of monkey bars, and mile after mile peddled on shiny pink bikes. There’s an arm to link after getting off the school bus. There’s adventure in your own backyard. There’s nothing quite like a best friend.

Then you’re too old for the monkey bars, french braids are so elementary school and your shiny pink bike gets traded for a rusty hand-me-down car. There’s that first taste of freedom – sweet like strawberry lip gloss and chocolate milkshakes and 3:00 Friday afternoon sunshine. There’s notebook paper scribbled with purple pen confessions and shoved through the slats of a locker, a smile and a wave across a crowded hallway, a familiar face in gym class. Mix tapes and CD swaps and shared movie theater popcorn. There’s boys. The ones you’re crushing and the ones you’re cursing. Guy friends and more-than-friends-guy friends and I-wish-he-were-more-than-a-friend guy friends. There’s the last dance on prom night, memories scrawled in the margins of yearbooks, and tassels brushing against teary cheeks on graduation day. Promises are made. With some, they break quickly and quietly, fading as fast as tail lights out of the school parking lot. And yet with others, they stand strong and firm, weathering the storm of the next four years and beyond.

Then you’re starting over. There’s nerves and homesickness and worries stacked up sky high. An 8×10 cement block of a room and shower shoes and roommate squabbles. But there’s a couple girls from your floor in your Tuesday morning lecture and there’s a common thread sewn over dorm dining hall chicken fingers. All of sudden, there’s study partners and piling onto a bunk to watch Dawson’s Creek in fuzzy slippers and greasy pizza way past midnight. There’s someone’s purse strap to grab when threading through a crowd, someone to rescue you from the guy that’s all hands, to tell you you’ve had enough, to hold your hair back. There’s kissing and telling – some of the time. And then there’s a pint of ice cream and shoulder when he stops calling. There’s a bond over bombed exams, a connection over pre-bar cocktails, and a promise to be there, forever, no matter what, without saying a word. For some reason, it’s easier to keep.

The miles between you grow and the time between phone calls and visits widens. But there’s a quick text to brighten a birthday and a lunch date when you’re both home over the holidays. Cheeks flush with rose and bliss as “he’s the one” is confessed over coffee. There’s the glint of brand new diamond in the the sun. White satin and ivory lace and pretty pastel chiffon. There’s trying desperately to hold it together as she floats down the aisle because your heart is so full of happiness. From new jobs to first places to milestones big and small, you’re together, even when you’re miles apart.

The wild parties are over. The days of crashing on the couch without washing off your makeup are long gone. Conversations revolve around swapping recipes, which pre-natal vitamins you’re taking and how husbands just don’t see dirt the same way we do. And then there’s afternoon showers of pink and blue, pictures of the nursery, and a chuckle over swollen ankles. There’s ten little fingers and ten peanuty toes and perfectly puckered rosebud lips. There’s a dear friend holding her beautiful baby girl and motherhood looks stunning on her.

And with tiny pink hats and precious coos, the circle of girlfriends starts over again.

*****

My very dear friend from college welcomed a beautiful baby girl a couple weeks back. Welcome to the world, Baby W! So glad you could join us! She is newborn bundled perfection. I’m not just saying that because her mom is one of my besties, this is a gorgeous child. πŸ™‚ I knew I had to bring the new mom and dad sustenance to get help get them through those long days and even longer nights of caring for a baby.Β  Cheesy pastas for the freezer weren’t doing it for me. Creamy casseroles aren’t really her style. There was cookie dough, but that’s not a meal and if I could provide something that offered a bit of nutritional value that would be ideal…

My brain immediately went to my latest obsession…steel cut oats.

Perfect. A basket full of goodies to make an easy, nutritious, and delicious bowl of overnight steel cut oats. It’s super filling, a great vehicle for all kinds of healthy fruits, seeds and nuts and tastes great first thing in the morning all the way to the middle of the night. It’s the perfect new mom energy food. Plus, if the oatmeal just isn’t in the cards one day, the basket contains two-thirds of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a bit of trail mix to munch on. πŸ™‚ That works too!

In the basket I put a bag of Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats, a jar of all-natural, unsweetened applesauce, a bag of dried cherries, a bag of fruit and nut mix, a jar of no sugar added strawberry fruit spread, creamy peanut butter and a cute little honey bear. I also made up a couple cards with some ideas for what to mix in to the oatmeal. Some used the items in the basket, some used other items like canned pumpkin, chocolate chips and fresh fruit. The recipe for the overnight oat mixture was attached with a ribbon to the outside – Up All Night Oats. πŸ™‚

Since discovering this super easy oatmeal technique from Jessica over at The Novice Chef, I just can’t get enough of the stuff. Normally, steel cut oats would take a good half hour to cook on the stovetop. Who has time for that in morning? Definitely not a new mom! And definitely not me either. All you have to do is mix the oatmeal with a bit of unsweetened applesauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and milk the night before, cover it and pop in the fridge. In the morning, pour the mixture into a saucepan, simmer on the stove for five minutes and EAT! Anything you like can be mixed in – my favorite is a bit of crunchy peanut butter, sliced banana and a drizzle of honey for sweetness.

Now, steel cut oats do have a heartier and chewier texture than regular oatmeal, so head’s up there. Personally, I prefer it that way as I tend to be turned off by the pale, mushy texture of instant oatmeal. If you’re looking for a hearty, nutritious, keeps-you-full-until-lunch breakfast, give this a try! Be sure to share it with your girlfriends too, they’ll want to know about this. πŸ˜‰

OVERNIGHT STEEL CUT OATS (Recipe adapted from: The Novice Chef, originally adapted from Good Life Eats)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 ounces all-natural applesauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cups fat free milk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine oats, brown sugar, applesauce, cinnamon and salt in a non-metal bowl. Stir in milk and cover and chill for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
  2. Transfer oatmeal mixture to a medium saucepan. Heat just to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until oatmeal is done, adding additional milk if desired and stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove oatmeal from heat and add your desired mix-ins. Spoon into bowls. Serve with additional milk, if desired. Makes 2 servings.
ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Kitchen Therapy

Somewhere in the middle of a nearly deserted interstate highway in rural southern Indiana, I thought I lost my driver’s license. It was intense, purse-clawing panic. You know, the kind where you empty every pocket, unzip every zipper again and again, pick your way through all the old receipts, even the ones with wads of used gum in them. Nowhere to be found.

Curse words. You better believe they were flying. Everywhere.

I could almost see the scene play out in my head – stepping up to the beer cart at a minor league baseball game in Lexington, Kentucky, tossing my out-of-place, out-of-state ID down onto the counter wet with foam poured off plastic cups, fiddling with money, fussing with change, and walking away hands full of frosty beverages but NOT important things like that silly little plastic card.

I *needed* that card. Two reasons.

1. I was on my way from Lexington to Chicago (with no stop at home) where I was to attend a bachelorette party for one of my best gals the next evening. If there’s one thing you need to party at Rush and Division, besides excellent defense against handsy drunks and a fistful of cash, it’s ID to prove you’re old enough to be there. If I didn’t have my license, I was going to miss all the fun!

2. It was my old license, from my old state, with my old address on it. Do you realize it would be dang near impossible to get a new license, in my new state, with my new address on it without that old one?

Hi, I’m Screwed!

I demanded my husband pull over on the side of the road so I could trade my purse-clawing (that was getting me nowhere, *obviously*) for luggage-clawing. It had to be in my suitcase. And I would stand there and litter the side of that highway with my dirty underwear until I found it.

Imagine my relief when I reached into the back pocket of the jeans I’d been wearing the previous night and pulled out what I was looking for. I almost dropped to my knees. Thank everything that is holy and more. I had the damn thing all along, it was just wasn’t where it belonged.

After that – oh, and the vacation, the rich and decadent food, the beds that weren’t my own, the staying up too late, the partying with my friends, the drinking too much, the trying to maneuver a cooler down the aisle of a Metra train which is much tougher and more exhausting than one might think – I needed a little bit of kitchen therapy. A little R&R for this road weary traveler.

So I gathered my mixing bowls and ingredients, stood with silent purpose alone in my sanctuary, the quiet interrupted only by tiny bursts of sound. The click of the oven while it preheats, the crack of an egg on the counter top, the swish of a knife through a ripe summer berry.

Ahhh. Perfect peace. Recovery. Me time.

Until that got boring. Then I turned up the tunes and belted out a few choice numbers while I used my whisk as a microphone, which is way better than a hairbrush, thankyouverymuch. Only then did I know I’m officially back in my element. Home.

Eric and I have had a very busy couple weeks here as of late. Traveling and celebrating and sightseeing and eating and drinking and what not. When we finally arrived home, I was craving something fresh and homemade but I didn’t want to spend *too* much time making it. A little time was okay. I just really wanted to get to the catching up my DVR and eating it part. Enter this Strawberry Summer Cake.

This is one of those simple, in the oven in 10 kind of recipes. My favorite kind! An entire pound of fresh, summer strawberries are nestled on top of a golden, buttery yellow cake and the entire thing is topped with a generous sprinkling sugar. The berries melt into the batter while the cake bakes, creating juicy, pudding-like pockets of goodness, all while the sugar caramelizes and forms an irresistible crunchy crust on top. Served with a generous dollop of fresh whipped cream, the contrasting textures in this cake make for a extraordinary dessert with almost no effort. It’s the perfect end to a big neighborhood cookout, a day at the lake, or just an ordinary weeknight dinner. If you’re a strawberry lover, you’ll love this.

Deb mentions she thought the original recipe for the cake may have been a tad on the sweet side. Since I’m one who believes there is such as thing as too sweet (gasp!), I went ahead and knocked back the sugar. I measured out the full 1 cup for the cake portion as directed but then took 2 tablespoons out of that 1 cup to set aside for the topping. So in the end, I had 1 cup of sugar total for the entire recipe, not 1 cup plus two tablespoons. Make sense? Great! Okay, time for dessert!

STRAWBERRY SUMMER CAKE (Recipe Source: Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Martha Stewart)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pie plate
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350Β°F. Butter a 10-inch pie plate, a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate, or a 9- or 10-in springform pan.Β 
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Measure 1 cup sugar and then remove 2 tablespoons of sugar from the measured cup to set aside for topping. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 cup (minus the 2 tablespoons) sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Lower the mixer speed and gradually add dry ingredients, mixing until just smooth and fully combined.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as close together and in as close to a single layer as possible (there will be some overlap). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.
  4. Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325Β°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with whipped cream. Store cake, loosely covered at room temperature, for up to 2 days. Serves 8 to 10.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Honey Teriyaki Chicken Skewers with Scallion Brown Rice
Two Years Ago: Raspberry Peach Mini-Loaves
Three Years Ago: Peach Ice Cream

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Filed under cakes, desserts, fruit