Cooking on the Road

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They made up their minds, and they started packing.
They left before the sun came up that day.
An exit to eternal summer slacking,
But where were they going without ever knowing the way?

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I think we might be crazy.  But we’ve made up our minds to drive from here to Seattle in an RV with some really good friends, good music, and good food.  We’re bringing the coffee maker, some good quality beans and our guitars, so I think we may survive. 🙂  We have  friends who live in Seattle, and so we decided to make the trip part of the vacation.  In preparation for a few days on the road, I decided to get to baking.  No one likes to decide what to have for breakfast, so I took it upon myself to make it a no-brainer.  I consulted Annie’s Eats, of course, because that woman knows how to prepare for anything.  She has a wonderful selection of baked goods on her blog, and when I grow up, I want to be just like her.  (I may be older but that’s not the issue, here.)

I chose from her blog, the peanut butter banana oatmeal muffins,(they looked so great but I refrained from taste-testing) the chocolate cherry muffins and the bacon and cheddar scones.  We were forced to taste-test the chocolate muffins because they looked too chocolately for their own good and so what else were we going to do?  Leave it to chance?!  They can hardly be called muffins, in my opinion.  They are nearly flourless chocolate cakes, but just enough flour to make them decadent brownies.  In fact, next time I want to make brownies, I’m using this recipe.  So they might be more for snack time instead of breakfast.

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Chocolate Cherry Muffins*
(I doubled the recipe and it turned out great)

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped if desired

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 350º F. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups or grease wells.

In a small heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a small saucepan and melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until smooth and blended. Let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, sugar and vanilla until light in color and doubled in volume. Whisk in the chocolate mixture and then the flour mixture just until combined. Stir in the dried cherries. Divide the batter evenly among the wells of the prepared pan and smooth the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes.

Makes 7-8 muffins.

*didn’t adapt this at all from Annie’s Eats, except for doubling it and using half dark chocolate, half milk because that’s what I had on hand!

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The scones I prepared up until baking and just froze them raw.  Then, I will put them in that tiny RV oven and add a few minutes on to baking time and we will have an amazing breakfast heading down the road!  I can’t wait for our adventure and I can’t wait for all the amazing food we will try and the sites we’ll see and the memories we will make.  And with any luck, we’ll all still like each other when we get home.  🙂  I’ll be sure and take lots of REAL, non-iPhone pictures and have a few posts about our gastronomical adventures when I return.

Bacon Cheddar Scones*
makes 8-10

For the scones:
3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. ground black pepper (depending on your preference)
8 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled into small pieces
1 cup buttermilk (plus up to ½ cup extra, if needed)

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
2 tbsp. water

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper; mix briefly to combine.  Add the cubes of butter and mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter pieces are about the size of small peas.  (Alternatively, this can be done in a regular mixing bowl, using a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.)  Add in the grated cheese and mix just until incorporated.

Mix in the green onions, bacon, and 1 cup of the buttermilk into the flour-butter mixture.  Stir by hand just until all the ingredients are incorporated.  If the dough is too dry to come together, mix in the remaining buttermilk a tablespoon or two at a time until the dough can be formed into a ball.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and pat the dough into an 8-inch disk.  Cut with a 3″ biscuit cutter into 12 circles, place on a greased cookie sheet, wrap in plastic and freeze till ready to eat.  Before baking, remove from freezer, brush with egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

*slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats

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Greek Yogurt and Almond Butter Cheesecake

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I made this cheesecake last weekend for the 4th of July festivities.  By festivities, I mean meals.  Olive has been consuming a lot of yogurt lately (plain, full fat awesome stuff sweetened with a little bit of honey) and I did one of those “I thought we were out” mistakes and bought a huge container to come home and realize we already had a huge container.  I hate wasting and so I have been putting Greek yogurt in a lot of stuff , lately.  This morning I made yogurt and oatmeal waffles (really good, I’ll post about those, soon) and when I ran across a recipe that called for 2 cups of yogurt in a cheesecake, I knew I’d found my way to not waste!  Oh, how humble of me to eat a cheesecake in order to not waste yogurt.  It’s a hard life.

This is the no-bake type of cheesecake I grew up eating.  I love the kind you bake and there’s a place for that (that place is anywhere) but for these super hot summer days, a lighter, fluffier, doesn’t-heat-up-your-kitchen dessert is the way to go.  And using those strawberries I almost ALWAYS let rot on my counter is a plus, too!  For the topping, I chopped up almost-bad strawberries, a few blueberries and mixed them up with a bit of honey and let it sit out while I made the cheesecake.  By the time everything was ready, the topping was perfect.

The addition of almond butter adds such a wonderful flavor.  I think if I make this again, I’d try using peanut butter, just to see what it would be like!  The original blogger of this recipe said that it was “healthy” and could be eaten for breakfast because it has yogurt and granola in the crust.  I think that’s a marvelous way to feel like taking a nap at about 10:30, so I wouldn’t recommend it (this is based on experience).  Just because something has granola and yogurt doesn’t make it healthy.  This is perhaps lighter than most cheesecakes, but it also has cream cheese and whipping cream, so you do the math.  Or don’t do math.  Just enjoy dessert and stop thinking about whether it’s healthy or not. Of course you shouldn’t eat it every day.  If you want to, then sure, obsess over calories.  If you only eat stuff like this on weekends, then by all means, go for the gold.

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This little hand loved every bite.

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Greek Yogurt and Almond Butter Cheesecake*

For the Granola:
1 cup rolled or old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup finely shredded coconut
1/4 cup chopped cashews
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp coconut oil (or butter would work fine – just make sure it’s soft and at room temp)
1/4 cup honey

Crust:
1 1/2 cups granola you just made
4 whole grain honey graham crackers
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
3/4 cup + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup almond butter
2 cups plain greek yogurt – full fat, y’all
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, coconut, and nuts. In a measuring cup or separate bowl, whisk together the salt, coconut oil, and honey. Pour this mixture over the oats, and stir to completely coat the ingredients. Spread the mixture into an even layer on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Flip granola around with a spatula every 3-4 minutes to prevent burning and to get an even golden-brown crisp. After baking, set granola aside to cool.

Once the granola is cool to the touch, combine the granola and graham crackers in a food processor. Puree for 60-90 seconds, until a very fine and crumb-like texture. Pour in melted butter, and stir to combine evenly. Next, spread the crust mixture into the bottom of an 9-in round springform pan. Press down to compact into an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 3-4 minutes. (Do not let it burn!) Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, add the cream cheese and 3/4 of a cup of sugar to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the cheese and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond butter, and beat until incorporated. Then, remove the bowl from the mixer, and fold in the Greek yogurt with a spatula. (Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl!)

In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cheesecake filling. Finally, pour the filling into the cooled granola crust, and spread into an even layer with a spatula. Cover with foil or plastic wrap, and freeze overnight.

To serve, run a paring knife around the edges of the cheesecake to loosen the sides from the pan. Then, unlatch the springform pan. Transfer the cheesecake to a cake stand or serving platter and garnish with fresh fruit.

*adapted from the adorable Mangoes and Palm Trees blog

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Soft-Boiled Egg

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Poached Egg

Grits, Polenta, Cornmeal – whatever you call it and however you prepare it, it can take on many forms and flavors.  To us, slow-cooked grits is about as comfy as comfort food gets.  When done right, grits can be amazing.  Too often, people associate grits with the translucent, gel-like, flavorless substance they encounter at cheap breakfast houses the world over.  I often say that if you don’t like a particular food, you might have just had a bad version. I was this way with grits, apple pie, turnips, pork chops, just to name a few.  When I had a GOOD bowl of cheesy, smooth grits, I was hooked.  When I had an apple pie that was distinctly apple and had a good, buttery crust and wasn’t watery, I understood the appeal.  Sometimes you just have to give a dish a few tries before putting it in the “dislike” category.

This recipe for grits is one of my favorites, so far.  This basic, creamy grit recipe stays the same – just the toppings change.  This makes it one of the easiest weeknight meals to prepare because the grits cook for about an hour, which you inadvertently stir while you’re doing other things.  Then, when it’s time for dinner, you just spoon out helpings, add toppings of choice, and dig in.  I honestly think that it’s a healthy meal, too, because the grits are cooked with chicken stock and you don’t even have to add cheese for amazing depth of flavor, if you use good grits.  I use Lamb’s stone ground grits, (you can find these at United) and they are amazing.  Just a little seasoning and they are perfect.  So, the indulgence level is up to you with this beautiful, blank canvas!

I found a recipe for an olive pesto on this beautiful blog, and with the poached egg, she had me sold.  Only, I didn’t poach mine, I did a pretty fool-proof method of soft boiling the eggs, letting them cool, and then carefully peeling them.  Not so fresh eggs work best with this method.  I will post my own pesto recipe on this blog, soon, as I’ve made it quite frequently and it’s one of those things, like guacamole, that you should just know how to do and do well.  And by “well” I mean, keep it pure and simple!

Cheesy Grits with Poached Egg and Olive Pesto

Cheesy Grits with Olive Pesto and a Soft Boiled Egg*

For the Polenta:
2 cups stone ground grits (do NOT use instant grits)
8 cups water/chicken stock (I did half and half)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, or any other hard cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Get the water and/or chicken stock boiling on the stove.  Gradually whisk in the grits, careful to break up all the clumps.  Lower the water to a simmer and stir, occasionally, for about an hour.  You can test to see if they need more cooking by tasting a bit for crunchiness.  Shouldn’t be too crunchy – think of it like cooking rice.  Stir in the cheese till it melts and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Cover and set the burner on low and get on with your toppings.

For the Pesto:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup green olives, coarsely chopped
1 cup fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh oregano or marjoram (I discovered they are wickedly similar)
1/4 cup fresh thyme, coarsely chopped

Put all this stuff in a blender, food processor, or tall cup with an immersion blender and pulse till chunky and well combined.

For the Eggs:
1 egg per person, room temp (To make them room temp quickly, simply put them in lukewarm water for about 10 minutes)
a big ol’ pot of water
tablespoon of white vinegar
salt

Get a big pot boiling with water and salt it and add the vinegar.  Carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Remove from the water and let them sit in lukewarm water till cool enough to handle.  Veeeerrrrrry carefully peel the eggs and set aside.

Assemble!

Spoon grits into each bowl (they may need to be stirred a bit from sitting there.  They form a skin, but it’s okay, it stirs back up just great) and top with a poached egg, a spoon of pesto and extra pepper.

*adapted from thekitchn.com

Brown Butter Almond Brittle Ice Cream

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I promise you that this is the best ice cream you will ever make at home.  We stumbled on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home a couple years ago and I believe the first recipes I made from this book were the Kona Stout  and the Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk for Matt’s company picnic.  Both flavors got such rave reviews, that when I went to buy this book for my friend, Anna’s birthday, a week later, Barnes and Noble told us that they’d recently sold the rest of their copies – all to Matt’s co-workers, it turned out 🙂  I think the way Jeni makes ice cream is a revelation.  She combines a bit of cornstarch into the base and then adds just one and a half ounces of cream cheese per quart recipe, and the texture and consistency turns out amazing.  Perfectly creamy, freezes well, and her flavors are never too sweet – always a perfect balance.  The recipes in this book range from really unique (gouda and vodka plumped cranberries) to traditional (vanilla bean) to genius (sweet potato with torched marshmallows – gotta try this one, next).

Summer time is the perfect time to buy this book and try out a new recipe at each and every opportunity you get.  Our little ice cream maker will get a work out during these hot months to come!  But we have faith that it feels it is finally getting to do what it was created to do, thanks to Jeni’s Splendid ice creams and our not-so-splendid hundred degree days!

This week, I made three flavors out of this book:  Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Roasted Pistachio and Bourbon Butter Pecan.  All amazing.  The Almond Brittle was the most requested at our church get-together last night, and the most consumed (although I adore the pistachio), so I’ve written out the recipe for you here today.  It calls for almost a pound of butter.  ACTUALLY you only use a tablespoon of that pound of butter.  The solids that settle to the bottom of the pan after you brown butter is what gets mixed into the base and it creates a divinely nutty, roasted flavor in the ice cream base.  Yet another way brown butter makes the world a better place.

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Brown Butter Almond Brittle Ice Cream*
makes about 1 quart

for the base:
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1.5 oz (3 tbs) softened cream cheese
1/8 tsp fine sea salt (I use kosher)
3/4 lb unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbs light corn syrup

1 cup crushed Almond Brittle (recipe below)

Mix about 2 tbs of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.  Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a large bowl until smooth.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a 4 quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil and let bubble until the foam starts to subside and the butter is a rich dark brown (not black!).  Remove from the heat and let stand until the butter solids settle to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes.

Pour the clear butter oil into a storage container (once it solidifies you can use it as you normally would for cooking so it’s not a waste!) As you get closer to the butter solids in the bottom of the pan, use a teaspoon to remove as much liquid butter as you can.  You should have about 1 tablespoon of brown butter solids and a little bit of melted fat in the bottom of the pan (it’s impossible to remove all the fat).

Add the remaining milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup to the butter solids, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry (you’ll need to stir it up again as it will settle and solidify some).  Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium high heat and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula or whisk, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese mixture until smooth.  Pour the mixture into a 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath.  Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister of your ice cream maker and spin until thick and creamy.  Pack the ice cream into a storage container, folding in the chopped almond brittle as you go.  Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface of the ice cream (this is important to avoid freezer burn and maintain a good consistency) and seal with an airtight lid.  Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Almond Brittle*
makes about 2 cups

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Generously oil a large baking sheet.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt in a 4 quart saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Insert a candy thermometer in the pan, add the butter, and bring back to a boil, then cook until the mixture reaches 300F.  Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the almonds and then the baking soda, working quickly but combining them thoroughly.

Pour the mixture out onto the oiled baking sheet, spreading it to a 1/4 inch thick layer.  Allow to cool completely before smashing to bits. 🙂

*recipes taken nearly word for word from Jeni’s book.

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Caramelized Onion Dip

pan fried onion dip

Every summer, certain things tend to become a trend.  We nearly always have an official corn dish, a certain way we assemble a burger from the grill, a particular drink we make over and over, or a particular ice cream flavor we bring to parties. It’s so much fun looking forward to the hot summer months by way of what we’ll be cooking.  It really helps utilize what’s in season (think: guacamole, caprese salad from REAL tomatoes and backyard basil, etc) and this summer, I think I’ve found the official dip/spread!

This dip would be amazing as a burger spread, a dip for tortilla chips, crackers, etc.  A wonderful topping for baked potatoes, a dip for fries – the options are endless.  I’ve always been a fan of the tubs of French Onion dip in the grocery stores, but this homemade version blows any of the store bought options out of the water.  It has a sweet smokiness from the caramelized onions, a super creaminess from the addition of the cream cheese and my addition, a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, really makes the flavors come alive and gives it a bite that cuts through all the richness.  It’s perfect.  I also decided to spin all the ingredients in my food processor a few times because I liked the idea of the onions being finely chopped instead of left in long slivers.  I think for me, it’s a more pleasing texture as a dip.

However you decide to make it, just promise me you’ll try this one at your next BBQ.

onion dip

 

Caramelized Onion Dip*
makes about 2 cups

2 large yellow onions
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tbs red wine vinegar (really, any vinegar you have on hand will do just fine!)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (we use Hellman’s original)

Cut up the onions into very thin slices.  Place in a large skillet with the butter, vegetable oil, salt and cayenne and let it cook over medium low heat until the onions turn golden, and caramelize, about 30 minutes.  You really want to err on the side of TOO caramelized instead of not enough.  The flavors get so intense as the onions break down.  Let the onions cool and set aside.

Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, cream cheese, sour cream and mayo to your food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Then add the onions and pulse until fully incorporated.  If you don’t have a food processor, just dice your onions before you cook them, and then take all the ingredients to a bowl or mixer and mix until smooth.

Adjust the seasonings and serve with…anything!

*recipe adapted from this site, who took the recipe from The Barefoot Contessa cookbook.

 

Champagne Mangoes and a Glorious Mango Curd

mango curd macaron dish

When we were in Mexico City last year with our friends, Cali and Alex, we were introduced to the ultimate mango.  Small, lemon yellow and sweeter than a peach.  Cali showed us that there was a specific mango fork that you need to peel it properly, and then she went on to show the proper way to peel and dice up these golden nuggets of wonder. She is my unofficial mango-expert.  I will forever associate her with this wonderful fruit and every time I peel one, I always think, “Is this how Cali would do it?”   I had never experienced a mango like the ones in Mexico, before, and when we got back home, I was on the look out.  I was so excited to see one that looked very similar at the grocery store called Champagne mangoes, and the next time Cali came over, I had her confirm its validity.  We had a winner!  So now, whenever I see that they are in abundance at the store, I get a half dozen.  The last time I did, I let them go too long before eating them, and faced the fear of letting them go bad.

So, I decided that I wanted to make a mango curd.  I looked up a recipe and it called for 15 ounces of mango and that’s exactly how much I had.  The recipe turned out so well, I filled macarons with it and also filled citrus cupcakes with the curd and topped them in coconut cream cheese frosting.  Epic win for the cupcakes, epic fail on the macarons.  The macarons tasted great, but the cookie itself didn’t turn out very well.  They all went hollow!  I have made macaron cookies before and the best I can describe them is that they are the croissant of cookies.  Every batch is different, every recipe is different and their success depends on so many factors, it’s a little maddening. The quality of the ingredients, the humidity in your kitchen, the exact temp of your oven, etc, etc, etc.  I surprised myself and didn’t FREAK OUT when the first batch of cookies EXPLODED, the second batch was pretty perfect, and the third batch baked like the first.  A true testament to how baking is a fickle beast.  They at least looked pretty:

mango curd macarons

The cupcakes, on the other hand, were a no-brainer.  I took a basic yellow cake recipe and added in Fiori di Sicilia, then made a cream cheese frosting, added a bit of coconut extract and topped each with toasted coconut after filling the cupcakes with the mango curd.  Such a wonderful combination, that I wanted to share those recipes with you, today, but mainly, this mango curd is the winner.  A week later, I still had some in a jar so they were put on some buttermilk pancakes this morning with fresh blueberries and slices of Champagne mangoes, of course.

mango curd cupcakes

mango cupcakes

Champagne Mango Curd*

Makes 1 to 1.5 cups

15-ounces ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (It took 5 Champagne mangoes)
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Puree mango, sugar, lime juice and salt in processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard solids in sieve.

Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

*taken from Smitten Kitchen, who took it from Bon Appetit

Citrus Cupcakes*

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, or 1/2 tsp orange extract + 1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 12-16 muffin tins, or just line with cupcake liners and spray those with non-stick spray.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat well, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating until combined. Add milk and extracts and beat until just combined.
Divide batter among cups; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely before filling.

*adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Coconut Frosting*

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
5 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp coconut extract

1/2 cup coconut, toasted, for topping cupcakes

Beat together butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium. Add confectioner’s sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add salt, milk, and vanilla, coconut extract and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. If not using immediately, cover surface of frosting with plastic wrap. Frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week. Before using, bring to room temperature, then beat on low speed until smooth.

*adapted from Martha Stewart Living

To Assemble:

I used the large tip from my piping bag to cut out the centers of my cupcakes and I really went pretty much to the bottom of each cupcake with the cut.  The curd is pretty runny out of the piping bag, so I had to hold it up in the air between fillings.  I inserted the tip of the piping bag and slowly squeezed until the sides of the cupcake bulged a bit.  I like filling.  Then, I just smoothed the frosting on top of each cupcake and sprinkled with toasted coconut.

mango cupcake with coconut frosting

Creamy Rice with Peas and Asparagus

pea asparagus rice

There is a beautiful quarterly cookbook/magazine called Canal House cooking.  It is founded by two friends who meet together every day to talk about what they had for dinner the night before, and then they get cooking.  They decided to start writing down their recipes and what resulted was this beautiful magazine book.  I like to try recipes out that are in season, and so I am currently going through their Spring issue.  And even though there aren’t a  lot of fresh peas in our produce bins, I know that they are currently in season somewhere out there in lands where it rains, so I felt this was still an appropriate recipe for an overcast May day.  Asparagus is also in season, so I added some chopped up that I had roasted a few nights before and it was a really excellent addition.  Canal House calls this dish Risi E Bisi  (rice and peas) and it’s just that simple.

This is an excellent dish for little ones.  The comfort of soft rice and cheese and the addition of greens and a dab of butter makes this dish all-inclusive. For smaller, toothless ones, this would be so simple to pulse a few times with an immersion blender!  Olive still doesn’t like asparagus, but I think I’ve only given it to her 5 times.  I’m going to try at least 15 more times before I determine that she does not, in fact, love asparagus.  I challenge any  mom out there to do the same!  Case in point: I had nearly determined that Olive didn’t like peas until I hadn’t given them to her for a week or so, and then tried again and she gobbled them up.  I realized that familiarity equals good for a child.  So if you make a wide variety of vegetables simply familiar to a child, the enthusiasm will soon follow.  I believe this with all my heart, even on days where Olive spits out anything green.  One day she won’t, and I’ll be glad I didn’t let her under-developed, under-exposed palate determine her food preferences!

green rice

Creamy Rice with Peas and Asparagus
serves 6

2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 tbs butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups fresh peas (you could also use frozen, as I did and it turned out great)
salt
6 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups arborio rice, or other short grain rice.  I didn’t have any on hand, so I used plain long grain white and it was just fine.
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
pepper to taste
1 bunch asparagus, roasted at 400 with olive oil, salt and pepper until tender

Heat the olive oil and 2 tbs of the butter together in a heavy medium pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until soft and golden, 5-10 minutes.  Add the peas and season with salt.  Cook for a minute or two, then add 1 cup of the hot stock.

Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer the peas until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the rice and 4 cups of the remaining hot stock. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil.  Cook the rice, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and moisten the rice and peas (if needed and too thick) with the remaining cup of stock (I didn’t do this step – my rice didn’t absorb as much as arborio would have) Stir in the remaining 2 tbs of butter and half of the cheese.  Fold in the chopped, roasted asparagus if you want.  Season with salt and pepper and serve sprinkled with remaining cheese.

The Ultimate Meatball and Taking Food to a Friend

meatball and marinara

We’ve been on the receiving end of food donations twice in our life and both times, we were touched by others’ thoughtfulness, great recipes and the comfort that was passed to us through the dishes they made.  It takes a bit of humbling to bring food to someone who can’t cook for themselves, or simply don’t want to or don’t have the time.  You worry if they’ll like what you made.  You worry if they will critique the preparation or that you brought store-bought cookies instead of homemade.  If I could only convince you that anything you bring is wonderful and welcome, I would.  If they can’t eat it right away or they have duplicates, they can freeze what you brought!  To worry too much about what to bring, or to worry the recipient about what you brought, shifts the focus off the deserving and on to you.  Keep the focus where it belongs, ask if they have any requests or food allergies, and get cooking!  Homemade is always nice, but I will admit, I did not turn away store-bought cookies, chocolate or coffee! 🙂

My wonderful, life-long friend, Summer, had her second baby almost two weeks ago.  A beautiful, darling girl!  I immediately began to think of what I would bring for Summer and Phil to eat.  Summer is my food buddy.  I trust her cooking as much as my own.  Her sense of taste is far beyond most people, almost to a fault.  We used to live together in college, and I think one of our first food-bonding moments was throwing chicken patties off the balcony of our apartment because they were just so disgusting.  They were pre-cooked, breaded chicken patties and they tasted like…gray.  Or sweat.  It wasn’t good.  We both were actually offended.  How could you screw up a breaded piece of chicken, and worse, sell it to poor college students?! In our act of defiance against badly cooked food, we became unofficial food critics in our own right.  We were each other’s taste-testers. A favorite game throughout our friendship is Guess the Ingredient! in which we excitedly wait while the other tastes and see if they guess right.  I love that no matter what time of day, I can text Summer a description of something I made or want to make, and she will react with an appropriate amount of shock, enthusiasm and awe.

We joke that Summer always says her FAVORITE thing in the ENTIRE world is whatever I last cooked for her.  True to the accusation, I asked if she had any requests for what I could bring for them, and she requested the last meal I made for her, which was the BEST meatball recipe I’ve ever run across.  It’s tough to get a meatball right.  They can be too dry or too mealy or rubbery from being over cooked, or simply too greasy.  This recipe is perfect.  And even more perfect, it came to me via fashion designer, Michael Kors in his appearance on Martha Stewart Living.  So they’re both delicious AND fashionable.  Win-win.

The secret ingredient to these meatballs is the water.  Smooshing all these ingredients together, especially with the water, is not for the faint of heart.  My mother would die a thousand deaths before making this recipe.  She has a thing with texture.  However, I like playing with my food, so it’s rather enjoyable for me.  The meat mixture is very delicate, so be gentle as you turn them while cooking.  I usually use two spatulas to help me turn them without smashing them apart.  Getting a good crust on each side is key.  Then, there will still be a slight crust, even after they’ve stewed in the sauce for a while.  Oh, and serving this with spaghetti is up to you. It’s not tradition – the Italians eat their meatballs in a bowl with crusty bread.  But, the recipe makes enough sauce that even after we finish up the meatballs, I have plenty of sauce left to toss with noodles the next day.  Olive absolutely adores these.  She ate two, 3 inch meatballs by herself before slowing down.  They are so soft, you could easily smash it up for a little one.  And they get better the next day!

meatball

Frankie’s Meatballs in Rao’s Marinara Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 cups water, room temperature
  • 1 cup olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine beef and pork using your hands. Mince 1/2 clove garlic and add to meat mixture along with the eggs, cheese, and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Continue mixing with your hand until well combined. Add bread crumbs and mix well. Add water, 1 cup at a time, and continue mixing until mixture is quite moist.
  2. Shape mixture into 2 1/2-to-3-inch balls. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Smash remaining clove of garlic with the back of a knife and add to skillet. Cook until lightly browned and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and discard. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet. Cook until browned and cooked through, turning, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
  3. Meanwhile, bring marinara sauce to a boil in a large nonreactive saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and add meatball. Let meatballs cook in sauce about 20 minutes; serve immediately with pasta, if desired.

Rao’s Marinara Sauce
Makes 7 cups

  • Four 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes with basil, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 leaves fresh basil, torn (optional)
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  1. Remove tomatoes from can and place in a large bowl, reserving juices. Crush tomatoes using your hands; remove and discard the hard core from stem end, and any skin and tough membrane; set aside. (Wear an apron and keep your hand submerged as you crush.  This is messy business, but kind of therapeutic  .)
  2. Place oil in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, and cook until soft and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juices; season with salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.
  3. Stir in basil, if using, oregano, and season with pepper; continue cooking 1 minute more. Remove from heat and serve.

*Recipes taken directly from Martha Stewart Living.  They can not be improved upon.

frankie's meatsauce

Cooking from a Food Memory

Chicken Brian

The first time I went down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to meet Matt in person, we ate this dish together with his family at a restaurant called Carrabba’s.  (We met via instant messenger, after a dear friend of mine, who was talking to both of us at the same time said, “Here, you guys talk to each other, you’re telling me about the same band” (Jurassic 5) and after talking that day, we talked every day, increasing in hours logged (we had only land lines way back in 2003 and ran through multiple calling cards each week.)  6 months later we were engaged, and a year after that, we got married.  We’ve been eating good meals together ever since. Aww)

Matt ordered the Chicken Bryan and we both marveled at the melty goat cheese and sun dried tomato mix that was tangy and sweet.  A revelation!  Since that day, I’ve tried to recreate it multiple times, but I never can quite replicate it.  (Not enough butter?)

This week, I tried again and I’m slowly getting closer.  It’s such a good dish, and as I look at their online menu, it says they drizzle a basil lemon butter sauce on top.  Ah.  That might help. Will try again next time!  I happily used up the rest of my goat cheese and even made a mini portion on a bread and butter China plate for Olive, just so she’d feel fancy, too.  (I think it worked, as she made some of the chicken into a hat near the end of the meal.)

As a side, I made the creamed spinach and basil recipe from a few weeks ago, and put a scoop inside squares of puff pastry, baked it, and although they didn’t stay together in the neat little pouches I folded, they were still amazingly good and a perfect side for this dish.

spinach puffs 2

Chicken with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Basil
serves 4 to 6

1 lb chicken tenderloins
Salt and pepper
4 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced in half
8-12 basil leaves
1 shallot, diced small (1/4 cup – you can use an onion if that’s what you have on hand)
1/4 cup white wine or chicken stock
4 oz goat cheese

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season each side with kosher salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil (go two tablespoons at a time) over medium heat until shimmering and cook the chicken strips in batches, not over crowding the pan, or they won’t get a good sear.  Chicken strips don’t take long to cook, maybe 1-2 minutes per side. Let the strips sit on a plate, covered in foil to keep warm until ready to plate.  In your empty skillet, add the diced shallot and saute until golden.  Then, add in a splash of wine or chicken stock, scraping up the browned chicken bits and then add a tablespoon of butter to make a pan sauce.  Set your sauce off the burner so it won’t continue to reduce.

Put your chopped sun dried tomatoes in a saucepan with a quarter cup of water and let it simmer to re-hydrate a bit.  Assemble the chicken, two strips per plate, with a sprinkling of sun dried tomatoes, a basil leaf or two, and a slice of goat cheese.  Place the plates under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Drizzle your reserved sauce over the cheese and serve!

Pasta Carbonara – tried and true recipes

pasta carbonara bowl

I’m going back to some basics this week.  I’ve exhausted myself on trying something new nearly every single day for two months.  Time for some repeats!  I have made some form of pasta carbonara on a regular basis since Matt and I were first married, 8 years ago.  Carbonara is one of those dishes that you can nearly always make, even when you don’t think you have anything in the fridge for dinner.  (Hello, Monday dilemma)  Nearly everyone has some form of pasta on hand. Carbonara is traditionally made with spaghetti, but it can really be just fine with any kind of dried pasta you have on hand.  Also – most people have bacon either in the fridge or freezer.  The sauce for this dish comes from cheese and egg yolks – that’s it!  And if you’re wanting something extra tossed in, try frozen peas or corn or lima beans – any kind of random bag of frozen veg you have in the freezer that has been labeled “too little for a side dish, too much to throw away”

I love the comfort of this dish – I love the simplicity and I love that in about 25 minutes, I can have a dish on the table that makes everyone feel good.  The little darlin’ loved it, too.

pasta carbonara for lunch

carbonara

pasta carbonara

Good for little fingers is any kind of smaller pasta such as rigatoni, fusilli, macaroni, or these cute little corkscrew shapes (which I think are just un-trimmed macaroni)  really – whatever you think your toddler can grab or stab with a fork – go for it!

carbonara bowl

Pasta Carbonara
serves 2.5 (two big people and one little person) or 4 as a side dish

8 ounces dried pasta, cooked al dente (maybe cook a little longer for the baby if they don’t have more than 8 teeth, like mine)
4 strips of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 small onion, diced small
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup frozen peas (or other vegetable of your choice)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks

1. Salt your pasta water.  I usually put about 1/4 cup of salt into a large pot of water (at least a half gallon of water.)  EEEEEEEK, SALT!  Here’s the thing: it flavors your pasta.  You don’t have to salt the dish upon completion because you salted along the way.  Just enough salt gets absorbed into the pasta and it’s perfect.  The noodles could be eaten on their own.  Try it next time.  And if you’re still worried, just look at how much sodium is in the powdered cheese on your blue box mac and cheese.

2. Bring the water to a rolling boil and cook the pasta till al dente, or a little over for the little mouths that will be eating.  Reserve a cup of pasta water and then drain your pasta, rinse and set aside.

3. Cook the bacon strips in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy.  Reserve on a paper towel and drain all but a tablespoon of the oil from the pan.  Toss in your onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until translucent.  Add in your frozen vegetables and pasta and a splash of the pasta water and stir until combined.

4. Remove the pan from the burner and while stirring constantly, add the egg yolks and cheese.  Stir stir stir stir as to not get scrambled eggs.  The heat from the pasta will cook your yolks and they will combine with the cheese to make a sauce.  If the pasta looks a bit too dry, add more of your reserved water and stir to combine.  Pasta water is starchy and salty and PERFECT for making a pasta sauce.

5. Fold in the bacon, garnish with more cheese, if desired, and serve with a crusty piece of buttered bread.

6. And a glass of Malbec for the big people.

Enjoy!