red velvet spark cake

7.07.2019


Yes, I made up this cake name. Yes, it is perfect for any firework related holiday but really perfect for the 4th of July. Or perhaps a child's birthday? Either way, I have a lot of excess pop rocks and I'd like to find a new home for them preferably outside of my house.

The idea here is a simple sheet cake with a little bit of pizazz. The end result was a very tasty, fresh cake that took very little effort to pull together. I can imagine it being good for someone baking with kids. I was drawn to the original recipe because of the blue stripes... for which I got absolutely none of that. In the recipe's defense, I did cut back on the food coloring by about 50% but I'm not sure it would have made that big of a difference.

A few notes:
  • too much pudding // the initial recipe called for 3 boxes of instant pudding... which I dutifully made and used. It was a bit obscene. I had a pudding layer about an inch thick on top of the cake. After it had firmed up I scraped most of it off to leave just a thin layer of the white chocolate pudding on the top. In the ingredients below, I have cut it back to 2 boxes as a result.
  • whipped topping on the side // I would leave the whipped topping on the side for serving as opposed to frosting the whole cake in advance. This feels like a better approach especially if you anticipate leftovers.
  • I lined the whole pan with parchment paper. I had a vision of serving this cake on a plater and not in the original pan. The vision did not pan out :-). Just accept this cake for what it is. A nice and easy sheet cake. Just grease the pan, no parchment needed.
My pictures of this recipe are pretty much crap. I honestly didn't try that hard. I just wanted to eat that cake and not search for good angles. It is hard to find good angles on a sheet cake. Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cake mix as directed on package, adding cocoa powder, red food color and vanilla. Pour batter into greased 13x9-inch baking dish.
  2. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan.
  3. Poke large holes all over cake using the end of a wooden spoon. 
  4. After holes are made, mix milk, and blue food color in large bowl. 
  5. Add pudding mix; stir just until mixture begins to thicken. Immediately pour pudding over cake, filling the holes.
Shopping List
1 package (2-layer size) white cake mix (plus ingredients needed to bake)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 bottle (1 ounce) red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups milk
30 drops Blue food coloring
2 packages (4-serving size each) white chocolate instant pudding mix
1 container (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 package Strawberry Pop Rocks® popping candy

chocolate mud cake

 
Have you ever eaten a good, fudgy brownie ... and been like why can't this be a whole cake? If so, this is the cake for you. It is like a cake make out of just the middle fudgy part of the brownie. Not the crust not the bottom, not the edges... just the fudgy middle part. It's pretty amazing.

I saw this recipe initially on the internet. The baker posted a video of her making the cake. It was captivatingly easy ... and I love that she kept calling her grandmother her "Nan". So those are the reasons I made this cake.

This is not the best logic, but I was also trying to make a "lighter" cake than the previous ones from the summer (banana cinnamon, banana hazelnut). This cake is an absolute winner. If you invite me to your house, there is a decent chance that I'll bring this with me.

A few things about this cake:

  • perfect for a "make your own" bar type event. I ate this cake with whip cream and berries.... and then again with just peanut butter... and also with nutella. It's a wonderful blank canvas.
  • I made this cake two ways. One in a 7 inch spring form pan and then the rest of the batter in a tart tin. The tart tin was almost the best. It was thin and incredibly fudgy through out. The traditional format was still good but took more than 2x as long too bake. 
  • Incredibly easy! I am terrible at melting chocolate but this cake was so easy to make. Literally anyone can do it.
  • The last step of the traditional recipe is to dust with cocoa powder. I actually didn't like this. Next time I would dust with powdered sugar.
If you are interested in the "tart" pan option, you need to watch the bake time pretty closely. I think mine was done at about 20-25 minutes. The 7 inch spring form pan was very close to an hour. It would be hard to tell you the ingredient amounts needed to just make the tart size since I just used my leftover batter, but if you were to cut the batter to 33% that might be about right. The batter does not rise very much at all so limited concern about spillover.


Here's how it goes.

  1. Preheat oven to 320ºF. Grease and line a springform cake tin with baking paper.
  2. Sift the flour, baking and cocoa powders into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, chocolate chips, milk and vanilla extract. Stir on medium heat until melted and smooth. Allow to cool slightly.
  4. Add to the dry ingredients alongside your eggs and sugar, and whisk until you have a smooth batter.
  5. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for an hour or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool completely in the tin.
  6. To serve, remove from the tin and dust with additional cocoa powder.

Shopping List
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder, plus extra to serve
1 cup unsalted butter
9 ounces dark chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
11/2 cups castor sugar
2 eggs

lemony green bean salad

I'm going to make this quick... because green bean salad is pretty straight forward. I almost wouldn't write it up but when I was menu planning for this years 4th of July... I realized I never wrote down what I made last year. Devastating.

My formula for the 4th of July menu is always the same:
+ potato based
+ pasta based
+ bean based
+ dessert

So this is the bean dish. I try to keep the dishes to only be something that I would want to potentially eat for days. You never know what people are going to eat at a party and I hate waste. I also try to keep the ingredients affordable since we are already doing so much cooking. Out of the 4 things I made, this was one of the most affordable. Minimal number of ingredients and nothing too high class pricey.

Here's how it goes. The only real downside to this is you will get sweaty after boiling so many batches of green beans. But if you are me, you can reward yourself with an ice cream sandwich after. That makes it worth it.
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Throw in green beans for about 4 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water.
  2. Blend together lemon juice, zest, olive oil and agave nectar.
  3. Combine beans with red onion and crumbled cheese. Toss with dressing. 
Shopping List
1 pound green beans
4 ounces feta
1/4 red onion, super-thinly sliced
1/4 cup your best olive oil
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tsp honey

peperonata pasta salad

7.04.2019

I will continue to stand by the principle that I only make things I wouldn't mind eating for several days. That will be the case 1000% with this pasta salad. Turns out I didn't need to double it... one batch would have been just fine.

Thankfully, this super easy pasta salad is light enough that you don't mind. Candidly, when I first saw this recipe pop up on Food52 I thought "peperonata" was going to lead me to some sausage or pepperoni. I read the recipe several times trying to figure out what I was missing. Turns out "peperonata" is just a whole ton of peppers... and more of course, but no meat. At all. Which is fine because at a BBQ with burgers and hot dogs, we will be just fine with a meat-less option.

A few notes:

  • Peppers // When you decide to make this yourself, splurge and buy more than one color of pepper. It makes cooking so beautiful. I stopped to take a picture of the skillet it was so pretty. All the peppers contrasting with the red onion? Showstopper.
  • Ratios // I tend to feel like I always want double of whatever the extra part is in a BBQ side option. Extra sauce for the beans. Extra basil for the top. And in this case, it's extra peperonata. I put the original recipe ingredients below, but know that I did probably 2 extra peppers (+ red onion, etc) in my version.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Cut the peppers into skinny matchsticks. Cut the strips in half if they’re long.
  2. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the peppers, onion, thyme, and salt and pepper, to taste. Saute for about 6 minutes, tossing often, until the peppers and onions soften. 
  3. Add the capers and cook for another minute, then add the vinegar and remove the pan from the heat.Transfer the peperonata to a separate dish or pan. 
  4. Add 1 cup of the halved cherry tomatoes so they can marinate along with the peppers and onions. 
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. 
  6. Drain the pasta and toss with the peperonata in a large bowl. 
  7. Toss in the rest of the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella. For presentation, I like to add the basil at the end.
Shopping List
3 large sweet peppers
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 small red onion (either diced or cut into same shape as peppers)
1 tablespoon minced thyme leaves
Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes, divided
1 pound pasta
1 cup basil, torn into small pieces
5 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks

Roasted Garlic Potato Salad

I love a good potato salad. It can be so many things... extra creamy, extra savory, extra just about anything. There was this amazing potato salad we grew up with that had peas and bacon in it. I'm sure there were other things but I flipping love that stuff. It came as a side whenever you got a sandwich and I demolished that little dixie cup of deliciousness. Unfortunately, Mug Shots the restaurant no longer exists so I just have dream about it.
But - for this year's 4th of July party I created a potato salad that was pretty great. There is no real way you can screw up a roasted potato. I have a hard time resisting snacking on the slightly salty warm squares fresh out of the oven. 

There are a few things that could be said about this salad:
  • Arugula // Some people at the party requested more arugula. I can totally get that. So add more or less to make it fit for your crowd
  • Roasted potatoes // I like the potatoes a bit crispy but that is not the super traditional salad style. The potatoes tend to be softer in grocery store varieties. So do what fits you best... but just don't forget the garlic. It's amazing.
  • Sauce // Is sauce the right word? I'm not sure. Either way, you might want to double the mayo combo depending on how juicy you like your potato salad. Something to keep in mind.
Enjoy!
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Dice the potatoes and add to a bowl. 
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. 
  3. Mix and put on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake the potatoes for 40 minutes flipping twice during baking. 
  4. At the 20 minute mark, add the minced garlic to the pan and mix it around to cover the potatoes.
  5. Roast potatoes until they turn a nice golden brown. 
  6. Take out of the oven and allow to cool. 
  7. In a bowl combine 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the chopped garlic, mayonnaise, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. 
  8. Mix and pour over the cooled potatoes.
  9. Add arugula to the potatoes and serve.
Shopping List
1 pound small Potatoes (I like yukon gold)
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 1/4 teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
4 Cloves of Garlic finely chopped
4 tablespoons Mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 bag of arugula

2019 Intentions - Status Update

6.17.2019

I stumbled upon my own 2019 Intentions post last week - and realized I was dropping the ball. So with half the year almost behind us, it seemed like a good time to check-in and see how I was doing across the board.

I can say with a great degree of confidence, I am failing fabulously in every area except sleep. I'm not super upset with myself at all but cognizant I should be achieving more. It is not that hard to try a new coffee shop.

As a refresher, here were my goals:
  • 12 Books
  • 12 different restaurants/coffee shops/farmers markets
  • Health goals (good sleep, great water)
  • Continue meditation practice
  • More letters/packages in the mail

As of last Friday I had:

  • read 0 books
  • been to 1 new restaurants / coffee shops (local only. traveling doesn't count)
  • mediocre to poor water drinking
  • excellent attention to sleep
  • poor meditation practice
  • mediocre to poor letters in the mail
I have made some improvements in the last couple days. It could be better but I have already read one book. And let's be honest, knowing that I'm failing at my goals is half the battle. I can be better and these aren't impossible goals. I pretty much just have to drink water, send nice notes in the mail, and pick up some lunch to eat while I read a book. I can do this.

  • Books // I I have quickly turned this around and already read one book. I picked it up on Saturday morning and quickly crushed it while lounging on my front porch. It was a great read. Summer is really my reading season so I should be able to get half my goal accomplished in the warm beach months.
  • New shops // There is a new general store in the next town over that I'm excited to try out. If nothing else, I hear it has wonderful potato salad and that is really the key to my heart if we are being honest.
  • Meditation // Real bad here. I have even stopped going to yoga mostly so I'm very much in a meditation debt. 
  • Letters // I have put a few letters in the mail but could be better about it. Most recently I mailed a note to my 97 year old neighbor who is seriously adorable. But I have a whole pile of stamps so I could be a lot better about this.
  • Health Goals // I am vigilant about my sleep. I will leave any social occasion and turn off any tv show when it gets to my bedtime. I do think there is a chance that I might need a new mattress ... 

Quick Cinnamon Roll Caserole

... and when I say Quick, I really mean quick. This whole recipe was complete from start to finish in about 75 minutes - which is impressive considering its not just a "dump it all in" casserole. You have legit manual labor to do here.

I was in the market for a good Father's Day breakfast dish. Typically I default to a batch of Monkey Bread for just about every holiday. It's incredibly easy and customizable. Christmas time? Make the glaze with eggnog. Summer? Toss some blueberries in. But I felt like doing something a little different.

I've made quick cinnamon rolls before but nothing quite as simple and straight forward at these. I would just about guarantee you already have everything you need - except for the cream cheese in the frosting. It was rather astounding.

That being said, I don't think the flavors in this were incredibly deep. To me, it did taste like I had only spent one quick morning on it. Everyone else that consumed it loved it for one reason or another. My dad said he liked it more than monkey bread. Monkey bread is loaded up with sugar and sweetness and this was a gentler version of that.

A few notes:

  • The dough is a very quick dough. As a result, you do need frosting or glaze to amp up the appeal. 
  • The filling is very important. Do not skimp on this at all. Go heavy. I doubled what the recipe originally called for. I have no idea how they got by with it.
  • Frosting. It might seem silly but absolutely whip the frosted for 3-5 minutes. Yes, it will be fully mixed after a few seconds but the extra time really lightens it up and gives it a wonderful whipped texture. Highly recommend.
Frosting on the side? I added all the frosting before serving just to make it easy. I stand by this too because it helped people not stress about cutting a roll in half. That being said, my mom felt like I could have cut back on the frosting. So just think about your audience and go with your sugar filled gut.

Here's how it goes:


  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in flour, salt, and oil. Beat until smooth. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll to 1/4 or 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Heat oven to 350°F (or 325°F in a convection) and dish with bakers spray or butter.
  5. In a small bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and cinnamon with a fork.
  6. Spread brown sugar and spice mixture over dough making sure it covers entire surface.
  7. Starting at either end of the dough roll it up like a log. I tend to go with the longer edge, but either is fine. It'll just affect the size of the roll at the end.
  8. Cut the log into even pieces and place in dish so that layers of the roll is visible.
  9. Bake for 25-35 minutes. 
  10. While the rolls are baking in the oven, make your frosting. Add cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar, and vanilla in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment.
  11. Mix on low to just combine. Once ingredients are all incorporated turn mixer on high and leave it for 3-4 minutes. Frosting should be light and fluffy.
  12. When rolls are done baking allow them to cool for up to five minutes before frosting.

Shopping List
dough
1 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
3 3/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons olive oil

filling
5 tbsp. butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. McCormick® Cinnamon

frosting
4 oz cream cheese, softened
5 tbsp butter, softened
2 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract

banana hazelnut cake

6.11.2019

Well, this is my second cake. The frosting didn't come out quite as beautiful as the first one last week - but it tastes pretty delicious and I'm good with that. On Friday, I googled "spring cakes" and landed on this website called "The Cake Blog". So many good options. I'm actually a little tempted to try and do one cake a week - or other similar-ish dessert.

I still had a couple of bananas leftover so this is a banana cake again - but it is different. There is a little less banana in the actual cake and the frosting has nutella in it. Amazing right? I'm not totally invested this whole cake baking process quite yet, so when the recipe also called for "homemade chocolate ganache" .... I just drizzled chocolate syrup on the cake and called it a day. I don't feel bad about it.

The funny part about this cake baking is that I really have never thought of myself as someone who "likes" cake. I'll choose a cookie or a tart or a shortcake or a biscuit before I'd ever choose cake. But, when you make it yourself the affection grows a bit more. That being said, I need to start giving this cake away more aggressively because it is not healthy to eat cake this much. I already have a lot of other troublesome things I like to eat regularly and cannot add cake to the list. Dunkin Donuts coffee rolls are a new favorite. It's like a glazed donut and a cinnamon roll had a delicious baby. So good.

Either way, the reviews on this cake were really solid. My cousin Molly liked it more than the prior banana cake. After eating it my dad said to me "I thought you said this cake didn't come out great?" To clarify that last point, I think the cake itself was great. A little bit sweeter and lighter than Cake #1 but the frosting definitely lacked a better consistency. I should have added more butter probably.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour round pans.
  2. Mash ripe bananas in a small bowl with a fork and set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well combined. Set aside.
  4. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add sugar and beat on med-high until pale and fluffy (2-3 minutes). It truly is worth it to beat for the extra time. The consistency on the butter and sugar changes and you'll see a difference.
  5. With the mixer on low, add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla extract.
  6. With the mixer on low, add in half of the dry ingredients.
  7. Mix in the sour cream.
  8. Add in the remaining dry ingredients and mashed bananas. Mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until golden – about 22-25 minutes for the 6-7 inch recommended size. 
Assembly
  1. In between layers of cake, you can drizzle chocolate syrup. I think it helped to keep the cake extra moist - but what do I know?
Shopping List
3 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain sour cream 

For the Frosting1/2 - 3/4 Cups Butter Softened
4ish Cups Powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
3-5 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream

cinnamon banana muffins

6.08.2019

Feel free to file these under "fastest muffin making". 

I've been slowly working through a batch of very ripe bananas. It would be easiest to just eat them or put them in a smoothie - but oddly that feels like more work that baking with them. Last week I made this DELICIOUS banana cake that was so very very good. This weekend, I whipped up these cinnamon banana muffins very quickly on Saturday morning. 

The muffins are a home run. They are so light and delicious - but would be very boring without the sugary topping. Yes, it would be healthier but also sad. It takes minimal seconds to melt the butter and dip them so don't scrimp on it. It just will not be worth it.

I still have 2 bananas left so I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them. Only time will tell.

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. In medium bowl, combine the sugar, oil, eggs and stir with wire whisk. Add in bananas and vanilla, whisk until combined.
  3. Add in flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon and stir together until just combined.
  4. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Each muffin cup will be almost to the top. About 3/4 full.
  5. Bake 17 to 21 minutes. Remove muffins from pan to a cooling rack.
  6. For the cinnamon & sugar topping : Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Put melted butter in a separate small bowl. Dip muffin tops into melted butter and then into cinnamon-sugar. Serve warm or let cool completely.
Shopping List
banana bread muffins2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 large eggs
2 mashed bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

topping3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

banana cinnamon cake

6.01.2019

Ah banana bread. So delicious and wonderful ... and you secretly think you are making a healthy decision because of the bananas. I had/have a pile of very ripe bananas from when my baby brother stayed with me a week or so ago. It would have been very easy to just whip those bad boys into some bread, but I decided to stretch myself a bit more... and make this banana cake.

Making a cake is not incredibly challenging - but I think making it look good is. Or at least for me that is the case. Since I am but one person, I opted to make a much smaller cake than the recipe called for. I used an adorable 7 inch springform pan and cut the recipe by a third. One human does not need a giant cake for themselves, but an adorable 7 inch cake? Sure.

The upside to working from home is that I was able to do this all at some point during the work day. I made the batter in the morning, baked the layers during lunch, and frosted in the late afternoon. Candidly, I really wanted to use blueberries with this cake but did not feel like going to the store. Blueberries and banana are just a traditional home run, but raspberries and banana meant I never had to leave the house.

Truthfully, I have no idea why this cake turned out so well (at least from my perspective). I am historically known to be a terrible cake decorator in the family. But in this case I was just patient and channeling my strong inner spirit. Earlier in the day I had been very up front with someone who was gaslighting me and perhaps was still riding the "honesty" high of that event. Either way, this cake is my masterpiece.

Long live the 7 inch cake rounds. I hope to make more of them this summer.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cake pan with baking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, sour cream and canola oil until combined.
  4. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined. Add the mashed bananas.
  5. Gradually beat in the dry ingredients a little at a time until combined.
  6. Divide the batter between the 3 cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely.
Frosting
  1. In a large bowl beat butter and vanilla until light and fluff. 
  2. Add in powdered sugar a little at a time. 
  3. Stir in whipping cream as needed to reach you desired consistency.
Shopping List
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
3/4 Cup Butter Softened
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract
3/4 Cup Sour Cream
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
3 Eggs
1 Egg White
2 1/2 Cups Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Cup Mashed Bananas About 3 Large Ripe Bananas

For the Frosting
1/2 - 3/4 Cups Butter Softened
4ish Cups Powdered Sugar
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
3-5 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream

what I planted

Gardening season is a wonderful thing. It's the time of year when I'm legit filthy and with limited cares in the world. My mind is a tangle of tomato plant arrangements and drip irrigation plans. I think about whether the peppers would like to be near the dahlia plants and whether it is worth it to grow kale again.

Since the 2018 garden, I moved houses and then subsequently built the very same garden structure that I was used to. Often times the size felt too big but it was more work to make it smaller, and so why not just fill it with plants?

I spent several weeks constructing the structure because I'm incredibly stubborn and don't accept help very well. But, after last weekend we are good to go! I am back to my old habits of just standing in front of the garden, staring off into space, and rearranging tomato cages with my mind. Part of me wonders if any of my neighbors enjoy watching this show happen.

Either way, this year is probably 80% the same as years prior but I've trimmed back on the things that I just didn't use very well. Here is what I'm planting this year:

  • 11 tomato varieties
  • snap peas
  • green egg squash
  • patio baby eggplant
  • peppers
  • kale
So, a far cry from prior years when I also did beans, onions, carrots, radishes, and cucumbers. I just wasn't able to consume all of that ... and so I trimmed back variety and was able to spread things out a little more. The tomato plants have more room to breath and love life.
I'm not quite confident in the tomato varieties this year to be honest. Last year was the best year I've ever done. If I didn't love experimenting with new varieties so much, I would have just completely repeated it. But unfortunately I do and so only 3 tomatoes are carryover from 2018: black truffle, 4th of July, and big rainbow.
For posterity sake, here are some previous garden plans: 2018, 2017, and 2016.

southwestern slow roast

5.11.2019

So candidly this original recipe called for short ribs... but I'm on a budget. Short ribs feel like an expensive cut of meat. Now, I'll be honest if I was having a special guest over for dinner I might pull the trigger on a trip to Whole Foods for short ribs - but I'm less likely to buy them (or find them for that matter) from my local grocery store. While I was in the grocery store I did a quick google for substitute options and came up with beef chuck. I selected a cut style that wouldn't feel like beef stew and feel pretty great about it.

For a recipe like this, they can often all blend together. Like how can you always put celery, tomato and onion in a pot and it not taste the same? The answer in this case is tequila, chili powder, and beer. The end result of this definitely has a spicier kick to it. I'm a pretty gentle soul when it comes to spicy / hot seasoning but I could handle this. It feels very on brand for a Cinco de Mayo meal.

I served my meal over cauliflower rice to keep it nice and light. It was also the absolute easiest option. Other great ideas? Cauliflower puree, rice, grits, mashed potatoes... Pretty much anything would be good.

Here's how it goes.

  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Heat the oil in a large stockpot or dutch oven. Season the ribs with salt and 1 tsp. pepper, then cook in batches – being careful not to crowd the pan – until browned on all sides (3 to 4 minutes per side). Transfer the ribs to a platter and repeat with the remaining ribs. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the pan.
  3. Add the onions and celery to the pan. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, until the vegetable are soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add bay leaf, garlic, jalapeno, and chili powder. Cook for 1 minute.
  4. Deglaze the pot with tequila, stirring to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Cook for 1 minute, or until reduced to about 2 Tbs.
  5. Add all the ribs back into the pot. Pour the tomatoes and beer and 1 cup water over the ribs. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover, and put the pot in the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally, until they are fork tender, about 3 hours.
  6. Transfer the ribs to a serving platter or dish. Let the sauce and solids sit in the pot for a few minutes to cool and with a shallow spoon, skim off as much of the fat as possible from the surface. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the lime juice. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Shopping List
48-ounce beef short ribs
olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 clove garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1/4 cup tequila
1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz)
1 cup light beer
1/2 lime, juiced
Fresh cilantro, chopped

margarita macarons

5.10.2019

To continue on the Cinco de Mayo party.... I also made a margarita macaron. I figured if I was buying tequila, I might as well use it for two things instead of just one. As a result, we have these beautiful babes on a plate. 

It's been awhile since I made macarons. It always feels so arduous and rife with concern about the precision that is required. Macarons can so easily go wrong seemingly. You look like a lunatic examining the almond flour after sifting it. Turning the egg whites upside down to see if they are stiff enough. Whacking the pan on the counter so the cookies develop "feet". But it is all worth it when you take that first bite of a macaron.

A few notes:
- coconut v almond extract. I intended to do coconut but grabbed the wrong bottle from the cabinet. I truly think either is fine but the coconut will give you a much more distinct flavor. I wouldn't use vanilla, that's the only thing.
- filling. In the past I've done a couple varieties but I believe buttercream is the most ideal. It creates a bit of a heftier filling that is more visually appealing. 
- Cooking time. I had two sheet pans of macarons and slightly undercooked the first one. They turned out okay but the bottoms were a little soft. It's definitely a hard game because you see the shell developing a slightly brown color that you want to avoid. You can probably improve this with different placement in the oven.

Also for reference, here are the other macaroon recipes I've tried: raspberry with coconut filling, standard, and these award winning Christmas cookie variety.
  1. Set your oven to 375 F
  2. Combine your almond flour and powdered sugar in a flour sifter and sift until you have a nice, pretty pile. 
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat your egg whites with an electric mixer until nice and foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar until they develop stiff, glossy peaks. I added my sugar in 1 tablespoon at a time. If you think your egg whites are stiff enough, they probably aren't. Keep going. One blog I read said you should be able to flip your bowl upside down ... I make enough of mess in the kitchen without doing this step, but you get the idea.
  4. Add coconut extract and mix gently. If the mixture gets a little less stiff, just toss that mixer on again for a jiffy.
  5. After the meringue is stiff and glossy, you essentially get to mix it all up again - but none of that "folding in the egg whites" business. This is straight mixing folks. Add about half of the flour/sugar mixture and stir with your spatula until mixed. Then, add the rest and stir again.
  6. This is now a "crucial" part in the macaron process.... you need to stir until the mixture is even and smooth. A smooth mixer makes for good meringues and that is what this is all about folks. What you do is spread the batter against the sides of the bowl, then flip it back into the middle, and repeat. And repeat. And repeat times 15 or so times. Just like the flour sifting process, I thought this would be all phony and silly and not worth it, I was wrong. You can see the difference in the batter. Add in food coloring until you get the shade of green you'd like.
  7. Fill your "pastry" bag with the batter and squeeze it out gently into small circles on your parchment lined baking sheet. Note: the batter will settle a bit so, don't worry too too much about having a "tip" in the middle of your circle. Just try and keep your circles in similar small sized circles - about 1.5-2 inches.
  8. After you have filled you pan with little circles, whack the sheet against the counter several times. According to the post I read, "This will set the pied or little pastry lip at the base of the cookie (an essential for an authentic macaron)." Now, set the tray aside for 30 minutes to dry. You'll know they are dry when you tap the surface of the circle and it does not stick to your finger.
  9. Place in the oven for about 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, turn the sheet so that the front-facing macarons are now towards the back of the oven for an even bake. If after 14 minutes, they are still super-soft, reduce heat to 325°, cover in aluminum foil and bake for 2 more minutes. Watch them carefully.
  10. When the macarons are done baking, take them out of the oven and let sit until cool. When they are cool, they'll pop right off the parchment but they won't before then.
  11. Fill a new pastry bag with the filling and create about 1/2 inch dot on one macaron cookie, then sandwich another on top. Be careful not to squeeze the filling out on the sides.
  12. That's it. Now eat them... and store them in the fridge.
Making the Filling
  1. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, cream butter on high speed until light and smooth (about 5 minutes).
  2. Reduce the speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until fully incorporated.
  3. Add lime juice, zest, tequila and salt and mix on high speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes).
Shopping List2/3 cup almond meal/flour
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar.
3 egg whites
5 tablespoons of white, granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond or coconut extract
green food coloring

Filling
1/2 cup softened butter
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp lime juice
1 Tbsp tequila
1-2 tsp lime zest

Coconut-Lime Pork Tacos

Yikes, it's been a small lifetime since I last popped in here.

I thought I had been cooking, but I guess I've just been eating a lot of basic things. Basic isn't bad but it's always nice to get a little adventurous. I'm always prone to be adventurous on a theme day. When I realized that Cinco de Mayo was sneaking up on me last week, I found a few things that would be fun to try.

Initially I was just googling "tequila" on my favorite recipe sites. I found one of my all-time favorite meals tequila fish. That was a good one. In the end, I landed on these pork tacos from Food52. They won me over with their leftovers appeal ... and the fact it was only going to take about 20 minutes of cooking. Not everything calls for a marathon chopping and stirring session.

These tacos could not have come together more easily. I was really intrigued by the different use of coconut milk as well. I'll have to keep that in mind going forward. The recipe overview indicated that this would take about 15-20 minutes and that was right on par. 

A few notes:
- original recipe // just called for slices of avocado on top of each taco. This is absolutely the easiest route to go - but! next time I might actually make a quick avocado crema or guacamole instead. It would just elevate the tacos a tiny bit and perhaps be easiest in the long run.

- taco tortillas // I found the smaller restaurant size tortillas at the local grocery store and really loved them. It was the perfect sizing. You could eat 3 or 4 of those little babes and still feel great about yourself. I opted for flour because that is what makes me happiest.

- Lime // The whole meal is great but just don't forget the limes. The little squeeze of juice is awesome.

- Leftovers // I proceeded to eat the meat as leftovers for about 3 days. It went wonderful with so many things included on top of naan like a pizza topping. I ran out of tortillas ... and it was quite great. Added mozzarella cheese and was not disappointed.
  1. In a large skillet, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and a large pinch of salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until they’ve softened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Push the onion and garlic to one side of the pan, and add the cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, and cayenne. Let sizzle in the pan until they’re toasted and fragrant, about 1 minute, then stir well until the onions and garlic are evenly coated with the spices.
  2. Add the ground pork to the pan. Cook over medium-high heat, breaking up any large chunks of pork and stirring occasionally, until the pork is just cooked through. Season with salt to taste. Remove any excess fat from the pan.
  3. Add the coconut milk; simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened, then stir in the black beans, pineapple juice and 1 tablespoon lime juice and cook for an additional minute or two. Taste and add more lime juice if needed. Adjust the seasoning to taste. You can serve right away, or cover the pan and let the pork gently simmer over low heat.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, divide the ground pork equally among lightly warmed flour tortillas. Serve with lots of avocado and other toppings of your choice.
Shopping List
1 pound ground pork
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pinch Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 pinch Cayenne pepper, to taste
2/3 cups coconut milk
3 tablespoons pineapple juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, from 1 lime
1 15 ounce can cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
tortillas, for serving
1 1 large avocado, diced
cilantro for topping

irish creme scones

3.25.2019

I stumbled across this scone recipe when I was doing some St. Patrick's day recipe searching. I was targeting a biscuit to go with our Guinness Stew... and this little gem of a scone popped up. The facts are obvious that I cannot bypass a scone recipe. I just merely needed a reason to make the scones.

Earlier this week my brother-in-law helped me with a house project and it felt like an appropriate thank you... along with a bottle of Jameson. I managed to whip out this batch of scones in the time it takes to preheat the oven. The recipe ends up being almost a half batch of what I would normally make but it was a good experiment.

Notes:
  • Yield // only 8 smaller sized scones. If you want anymore than that, you should double the batch for sure.
  • Milk // I had leftover buttermilk from my holiday recipes so I obviously used that instead. There is absolutely no downside to using buttermilk in scones... or any heavy, fattier milk really. 
  • Glaze // Since the alcohol does not cook off, the glaze is literally pure sugar and booze. Yes, it is about a shot glass worth but maybe keep that in mind when you are serving to people that are either children or do not drink.
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt, 1 1/2 cups flour and sugar. Add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or fork until pea-size pieces form. Add the milk, irish cream and mix with a fork until a shaggy dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead until dough begins to form a ball, approximately 3 - 4 times.
  3. Gently pat dough into a 1-inch-thick circle. Using a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out scones. Combine the scraps and repeat, patting out and cutting to make 8 scones. Transfer baking sheet lined with parchment and brush with the egg. Sprinkle the tops with the sugar.
  4. Bake the scones until golden brown, 12-15 minutes. 
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the Irish cream and sugar until smooth. Drizzle the mixture over the room temperature scones.
Shopping List
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons chilled salted butter cut into cubes
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream
1 large egg beaten to blend
1 tablespoon Sugar (topping)
Glaze
1 tablespoon Bailey's Irish Cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar

Guiness Stout Cake

I thought this cake seemed like a great idea from the name. A Guiness cake? perfect for our family St. Patrick's Day dinner. Plus, I had 5 Guiness in the house and this called for 1 and the stew I made needed 4. I am a big fan of finishing things off. It's why I can't open a box of Goldfish or bag of bbq chips. There is no stopping me once I start.

This cake got pretty rave reviews. I did immediately ask everyone if the frosting looked like the top of pint of beer ... like the instructions told me to. I do not believe I was artistically successful, but the cake tasted good. The consistency skews more dense than light, but that goes with the cream cheese frosting nicely. My brother-in-law made an oreo mint pie as well. The actual best combination was his mint with my chocolate. True home run.

I would absolutely make this cake again another time. It comes together incredibly easily and quickly. You probably have all the ingredients already except the Guiness... unless you are my grandfather in which case you most likely always have it. Lastly, I can also testify that it tastes great as a breakfast food. I ate it in bed on Monday morning while watching the news. I'm not clear on the real difference between chocolate cake, scones, and muffins... and I truly do not care.

Here's how it goes.
  1. Grease a 9-in. springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat beer and butter until butter is melted. Remove from the heat; whisk in sugar and cocoa until blended. 
  3. Combine the eggs, sour cream and vanilla; whisk into beer mixture. 
  4. Combine flour and baking soda; whisk into beer mixture until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  5. Bake at 350° for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Remove sides of pan.
  6. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and cream; beat until smooth (do not over-beat). Remove cake from the pan and place on a platter or cake stand. Ice top of cake so that it resembles a frothy pint of beer. 
Shopping List
1 cup Guinness
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup baking cocoa
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

TOPPING:
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream 

Guinness beef stew

3.18.2019

The name of this recipe might lead you to believe there is Guinness in it. And boy is there ever. Normally when a recipe calls for liquor or beer, it's just a part of the ingredient list. But there is more beer in this stew than there is beef stock!

There is a whole lot of chopping in this recipe. I doubled the batch because (1) I love leftover and (2) we were having family over for the big day. That meant I was chopping: 2 lbs beef, 8 carrots, 8 celery, 2 onions, nearly 2 lb mushrooms, and 6 garlic. But it was totally worth it. After a couple hours simmering on the stove, this was a wonderfully tender and flavorful stew.

One of the worst parts about coming to my house for dinner is that as soon as you finish eating, I make you critique the meal. It's a real joy. But how am I supposed to improve and make amazing things if I don't know how you feel about the mushrooms?

So here was some of the feedback. But since I wouldn't expect anyone else to make a double batch of beef stew, my notes will be inline with the single batch:
  • More onion // Agreed. I would probably go up to 3 onions in the next batch.
  • Less mushroom // Agreed. The original recipe called for a full pound of mushrooms. I would probably cut this back to 1/2 pound if you just slice the mushrooms. If you chop them more finely, then I would go up to 3/4 pound. 
  • Pepper // My dad loves pepper. I still don't have any in my house. There is no good reason for this - but yeah, I'll put it on the grocery list.
  • More beef // I think I ended up using 20% more than originally called for in the recipe. This was mostly fine until we got to leftovers. There wasn't any beef left. I think the next time I would probably go for 1.5 lbs of beef and perhaps reduce the size of the chunks as well to spread it further.
Here's how it goes.
  1. Brown the beef: Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef in batches to brown. Remove from the pot and set aside on a plate.
  2. Sauté onion, garlic and celery: Put the Dutch oven back over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and celery and sauté until tender and lightly colored, about 5 minutes.
  3. Reduce the beer: Stir the tomato paste into the onion mix in the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Pour in the Guinness - careful, it will foam. Add the minced sun-dried tomatoes and simmer over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced by half, about 5-10 minutes.
  4. Add remaining ingredients and cook: Add the potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and beef stock to the Dutch oven. Add the meat back in and stir well. Add the bay leaf. Firmly cover the Dutch oven with its lid and let simmer until the meat is tender. I didn't keep track of time super well but it was between 2 and 3 hours. 
  5. Rest? I read in the original recipe that giving the stew some time to rest will make the beef more tender. So I cooked for Give the stew some time to rest before serving. I prefer to let it cool almost completely, then reheating it to serve. But even a 10 minute rest will make the beef a lot more tender vs eating straight out of the oven.
NOTES
To make this in an electric slow cooker, follow the recipe until step 4. Transfer the beer reduction, meat, vegetables and stock to a 6 quart slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

Shopping List
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound beef chuck cubed
2 medium onions cut into slim wedges
3 cloves garlic smashed
4 large celery stalks sliced diagonally
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 12-oz bottles Guinness beer
4 large sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil drained and very finely minced
1/2 pound small-medium floury potatoes peeled and roughly cubed
1/2 pound small-medium waxy potatoes roughly cubed
4 medium carrots cubed and sliced diagonally
3/4 pound brown button mushrooms, sliced
2 cups beef stock
1 bay leaf optional
Salt and pepper to taste

corn chowder

3.11.2019

It's been awhile since I've made a soup. At one point it felt like it was the only thing I whipped up in my kitchen. There are 45 soup recipes on this website but, they started to all feel like the same thing. Chop carrots. Chop onion. Chop celery. It has been enough time that this soup felt like a refreshing change - also it is totally different. This was my first ever chowder.
I'm not a big clam chowder fan - but I do love a corn chowder. This soup came together very easily although it was far more chopping than I've done in recent months. The flavors are obvious and by no means bland. I'm a salty person but the cajun inspired flavors here help to reduce my desire to add salt. Feels like a good win for my next blood test.

A few notes:
  • Corn // Corn is out of season right now in the Northeast. While the grocery store had corn on the cob, it felt wrong to buy it. I will absolutely make this recipe again when corn is in abundance. There is something very appealing about seeing the chunks of corn stuck together after you've cut them off the cob.
  • Potatoes // I didn't peel my potatoes. Why add an extra step when you don't need to? I didn't notice any impact in my soup.
  • Vegan // The original recipe called for vegetable broth and I substituted chicken since it is was I had on hand. If you want to stay vegan, you can with just one easy switch.
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Chop one of the red potatoes in half and carefully place into the pot. Allow potato to cook until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add 1 cup of frozen corn to the pot with about 5 minutes left.
  2. While the potato is cooking, saute the rest of the vegetables. Add the coconut oil to a large pot, along with the other diced potato, chopped onion, garlic, carrots, celery, bell pepper, sea salt, Cajun seasoning, paprika, and cumin. Heat to medium-high and saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. 
  3. Place half of the kernels in a blender, along with the cooked potato. Add the coconut milk and water (or broth) to the blender, and blend until completely smooth. This may take two or three rounds of blending.
  4. Add the remaining corn kernels to the pot with the sauteed vegetables, and pour the blended corn/potato (chowder) mixture into the pot. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until potato has softened, about 10 to 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and taste chowder. Add sea salt and Cajun seasoning as desired. 
Shopping List
4 ears corn shucked (or 2.5 - 3 cups frozen)
2 large red potatoes peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
1 large white onion
5 cloves large garlic minced
3 large carrots peeled and chopped
3 large stalks celery chopped
1 large red bell pepper cored and chopped
1-½ teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2/3 cup canned coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth

very delicious blueberry cake

3.10.2019

Ok - this picture doesn't exactly look like a success story. Where are all the blueberries? In the bottom of the loaf. Not the best. But, I'll do better next time.

Blueberry distribution aside ... this cake is incredibly delicious. That might have something to do with the amount of sugar and butter or just magic. The original recipe called for a bundt cake but I wanted to stretch my work a little further - so I opted for two loaf pans. Also, the bundt cake was going to take like 90 minutes to cook... and I didn't start this until 9 pm.

There really isn't a whole lot to say about this except that it tastes wonderful and you'll enjoy it. I made this along with a batch of pan monkey bread for an event my dad was hosting. Although monkey bread is delicious, this blueberry loaf was dominated within an hour.

Although this loaf is great with or without a glaze, I definitely recommend whipping one up. I made mine extra thick with only buttermilk and powdered sugar. The wonderful thing about these simple glazes is that you can adjust them so easily. Too thick? More liquid. Too thin? More powdered sugar.
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Grease your chosen pan or pans and dust with flour.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Turn the mixer on low and slowly add the flour and buttermilk, alternating each, until all incorporated. Finally beat in the lemon zest before turning the mixer off. Use a spoon the stir in half the blueberries.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the remaining blueberries over the top. 
  4. Bake for 45-60 mins [2 loaf pans] or 60-80 minutes [1 pan], until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 
  5. Allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before flipping out onto a cooling rack. 
  6. For the glaze, whisk the buttermilk and powdered sugar in a small bowl. Drizzle the glaze over the cake.
Shopping List
For the Blueberry Cake:1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all purpose Gold Medal Flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
Zest of 2 lemons
1 pound fresh blueberries

For the Buttermilk Glaze:3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 cup powdered sugar

Sausage and Fennel Ragu With Gnocchi Alla Romano

3.04.2019

I believe this dinner falls perfectly into the Sunday Dinner category. I was in the market for a multi-step meal to spend a little extra time on. While this is definitely multi-step it is quite straightforward. The most challenging part was finding semolina flour.

I have been consciously trying to eat more vegetables and less red meat in my diet - although this meal does not reflect that. But given that each day I'm shoving two clementines in my face and perhaps some healthy grains, I'm feeling like progress is happening. Although this original recipe calls for hot italian sausage, you could substitute ground turkey but would just really need to compensate with other spices. The meal is really not spicy but just has a great meaty flavor without turning into a chili. It sometimes feels like anything with meat is two steps from being a chili.

A few other notes:
  • I'm not sure I agree that the "toppers" should be called gnocchi. Even my mom was like "oh really? I thought gnocchi was different". It feels like gnocchi and a polenta had a baby. They are quite good though. Very light, good flavor. 
  • Serving size / The recipe says this serves 6-8 people. It absolutely does not. It serves 4-5, maybe 6 if someone isn't hungry. I invited 4 people over for dinner and am thankful that 2 did not come. 
  • Extra Gnocchi // I had a whole lot of extra gnocchi that I never got to stamp out and put on the dish. that being said, it would have been nice to have them as extras on the side. If you make this dish, I would just cut out all the gnocchi rounds and then toast them up on a cooking sheet in the oven. Easy peasy.
  • Tomatoes // I'm not a huge fan of cooking with whole tomatoes. I don't enjoy breaking them down with a spoon like everyone tells you to. Next time I would probably go with a different variety like maybe diced tomatoes. I like the heft and structure the whole tomatoes gives you but they were just an obstacle.
Here's how it goes.

GNOCCHI
  1. Spray a 9 by 13 inch pan with cooking spray, line with parchment paper, then spray again.
  2. In a 6 quart heavy bottomed saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. Slowly whisk in semolina flour, then add salt. Whisk thoroughly to be sure that no lumps form. Cook, stirring constantly until, the mixture begins to pull away from the side of the pan, about 10 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons of the butter the parmesan cheese and stir until well incorporated and the butter has melted. Whisk in the egg yolks off heat, stirring until combined.
  3. Pour the semolina into the pan and spread into an even layer with an offset spatula. Cover and chill for at least two hours.
  4. Once firm, cut into 2 inch circles using a biscuit cutter or a sturdy kitchen glass. Set aside while you make the ragu.
RAGU
  1. To make the ragu, preheat the oven to 450˚F. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the sausage and cook, crumbling with the back of a fork, until it is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked sausage to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Remove and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet and set over medium heat. Add onion and fennel and cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables start to break down and turn golden brown. Season to taste with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
  3. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat all of the vegetables. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Let the tomato paste cook for about 2 minutes, then deglaze the pan with chicken stock (or wine if you prefer), scraping up any brown bits that had formed on the bottom. 
  4. Let the stock cook until reduced by half, then add the Peeled Plum Tomatoes. Break the tomatoes up with the back of a spoon or a fork and cook until the mixture reaches a simmer. Add the reserved sausage back in, stirring to combine. Remove from heat and top with the Gnocchi alla Romano.
  5. Melt the remaining butter and brush the tops of the gnocchi with it. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, then place in the oven (on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips) and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.
Shopping List
GNOCCHI
6 cups whole milk
2 cups semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, divided
2 egg, yolks
1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for sprinkling
Cooking spray, as needed

RAGU
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 lb hot italian sausage meat
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
kosher salt and black pepper, To Taste
crushed red pepper flakes, To Taste
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (28 ounce) can Peeled Plum Tomatoes

brown butter miso mac and cheese

2.22.2019

One of my intentions of 2019 is to waste less food... so what does that mean for right now? I'm putting miso in just about everything. I purchased the miso for the miso banana bread and now I'm intending to use every last drop of it.

I had all the ingredients for this dish for nearly a week but just never quite got the drive to make it. I had the same feeling the last time I made mac and cheese from scratch. It feels like a lot. Make the pasta. Make the roux. Melt the cheese. But it is not. It's very easy. I was eating incredible homemade mac and cheese before I knew it.

Candidly, I skipped the whole crunchy panko topping step too. I was so hungry and once I tasted the cheese sauce there was no stopping me. That being said, this would be unstoppable if you could make it through to the end. Crunchy mac and cheese topping can cure everything.

A few things:
  • Pick your pasta // You might as well pick something that is fun - but also that grabs the cheese a bit. I was at Trader Joes and they had Gigli - which is hard to describe but a little extra special. Nothing the matter with rotini, macaroni, or rigatoni.... but it cost about 50 cents more and was 200% more fun.
  • Cheese // Original recipe suggests a blend of cheddar, Pecorino, and Gruyère. While I was at Trader Joe's over the weekend, they had a cheddar + gruyere blend on the shelf. I'm all about keeping things easy so I went for this one. Added bonus? It cut the recipe cost in half. Buying one cheese versus two.
  • Brown the butter // This was an unintended bonus. I hadn't planned for this but browned butter adds such a great flavor - especially when combined with the miso.
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Add your pasta and cook until a minute or two shy of al dente (do not cook it all the way to al dente!). Drain (don't rinse) and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, heat the butter until it melts. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly to break up any clumps, for a minute or two.
  4. Whisk in the warm milk and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. This can happen very fast.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 cups of the cheese and miso paste.
  6. Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to coat.
  7. Pour the pasta into a greased baking dish and sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and the panko.
  8. Bake the pasta for about 25 minutes. The pasta should be bubbling and the breadcrumbs should be browned.
  9. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, and serve.
Shopping List (serves 4 hungry people, 6 non-hungry people)
8 ounces dried pasta
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, warmed slightly
2 1/4 cups shredded cheese (I like a mix of cheddar, Pecorino, and Gruyère), divided
1/4 cup sweet white miso paste, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

miso banana bread

2.21.2019

I'm not really a banana person but I do love banana bread. It's like a sneaky, potentially healthy breakfast dessert. I saw a reference a couple weeks ago to miso banana bread. A miso banana bread feels like a lifetime of difference from the other variations like: nutella, peanut butter, chocolate, or just straight up banana bread.

I've only bought miso paste one other time in my life and it turns out I never wrote up the recipe. I think it was something like a miso carrot soup if my memory serves me. I know very little about buying miso paste except that there are different colors. The original recipe called for white paste, but Whole Foods was out of that... so red paste it is. For what it's worth here are the differences according to kitchn.com:
  • White Miso: This miso is made from soybeans that have been fermented with a large percentage of rice. The miso has a definite sweet taste. It’s best used in condiments like mayo or salad dressings, or in light sauces.
  • Red Miso: This is also typically made from soybeans fermented with barley or other grains, though with a higher percentage of soybeans and/or a longer fermentation period. The deep umami flavor of red miso can overwhelm mild dishes, but is perfect for hearty soups, braises, and glazes.
Based on that, hindsight might have been to wait for white miso paste to be available.... but too late because I already baked the bread. It is so different - and great. It is hard to describe the difference in flavor but it is rich and the opposite of a sugary quick bread.

As of now I've made this recipe twice. First time? The original recipe called for just one big loaf - which I did.  It requires such a long cooking time that the top gets a little bit more toasted than I'd like. Candidly, I found a few spots in the bread that could have been cooked longer too. Second time? Split the batch into two smaller pans. Total win. The cooking time is about half (50 mins or so) and completely cooked through.
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-by-5-inch metal loaf pan. In a bowl, using 
a fork, mash 4 of the bananas until chunky. In another bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter, sugar and miso at medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. At low speed, slowly add the buttermilk, then beat in 
the eggs 1 at a time until incorporated. Beat in the mashed bananas; the batter will look curdled. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Scrape into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 
90 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool on a rack for 30 minutes before turning out to cool completely.
Shopping List
4 medium overripe bananas
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup white miso
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs

chorizo and potato stew

2.10.2019

I'm always in the market for a new soup that doesn't feel like something I've made before. Soup is incredibly versatile... but sometimes it does feel like all the recipes are the same. Well, this one is different. Very different.

I came across this recipe from Bon Appetit in early January but finally got around to making it. What took so long you ask? Buying chorizo. I was attracted to this soup because it just seemed hearty and flavorful and totally different. It is absolutely all of those things - and more. 

I absolutely love it when I've just finished making something... go to take a taste of it... and and subsequently knocked off my socks. Is that an expression? But when I put the spoon in the broth, I was blown away by the rich, salty flavor. It made immediate sense why the original recipe suggested including sour cream. It's a phenomenal neutralizer and refreshing.

Let it be known that the two keys to this recipe are: (1) chorizo and (2) paprika. 
  • I first used chorizo in a soup back in 2012 by accident. It was a very happy accident and what really drew me to this recipe initially. Finding chorizo was not super challenging but it was more expensive than I wanted to pay. So much so that I half'd the recipe just to cut down on costs. I am just one person, so it's fine. But yes, you absolutely need chorizo for this. No substitutes.
  • Paprika. I've only ever used paprika in small amounts. Recipes normally call for a "pinch" of it but this recipe calls for 1/3 cup! Here are all the other times I've used paprika, just a friendly fyi.
  • Bonus? I crisped up the potato skins leftover from peeling the potato. It was a really wonderful touch and super easy. 

  1. Cook bacon in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the pot when the bacon is beginning to brown but not yet crisp. Approx 5–7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.
  2. Add onions to same pot and cook, stirring often, until golden and softened, 8–10 minutes. Then add garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. 
  3. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until slightly darkened in color, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Return bacon to pot and then add potatoes, chorizo, mushrooms, broth, paprika, and cayenne. Bring the pot to a boil and then turn the heat down to just a simmer. 
  5. Let the stew simmer for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Soup is done when potatoes are tender.
  6. Divide stew among bowls and top with sour cream, dill, and a few grinds of pepper.
Shopping List
6 bacon slices, chopped
2 medium sweet onions, finely sliced
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2½ lb. russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¾" pieces
2 lb. smoked Spanish chorizo, cut into rounds, halved into half-moons
1 lb. button mushrooms, cut into ½"-thick wedges
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
⅓ cup hot smoked Spanish paprika
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream
2 cups torn dill

funfetti scones

It was my mom's birthday last week and that obviously necessitated a fresh batch of scones. As a family, we default to funfetti on a regular basis. It seemed only natural to make some funfetti scones.

Do you want to know the trick to funfetti? There is none. It's literally just sprinkles in whatever you were already making. A little disappointing right? But that does make it very accessible and easy for people to try. The only thing to take note of is that you don't want to stir too much after adding the sprinkles because it can sometimes make the color bleed. The point of funfetti is not to make tie dye cake, it's to see the funfetti.

I have two methods for making scones. Dairy free with coconut milk or frozen grated butter. I went with this vegan, dairy free scone version for a couple reasons. It is the fastest and the easiest. But, the frozen butter scones are absolutely the best. You can't beat the layers that result from the frozen butter and the folded dough. Next time, I'll try the funfetti scones that way.
  1. Whisk together sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. 
  2. Combine coconut milk and coconut extract; drizzle over flour mixture and fold in just once or twice - then add in the sprinkles. Combine all ingredients until flour is incorporated and a shaggy dough forms. 
  3. Divide dough in half and turn out on a lightly floured board. Use lightly floured hands to pat each half into a 6-inch circle. Cut each circle into 6 wedges and gently pull apart. Use a spatula to gently (again) place scones on the baking sheet.
  4. Chill baking sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes while preheating oven to 425°F. 
  5. Brush scones with coconut milk and bake for 16 minutes. Cook until tops are set, edges are beginning to turn golden.
  6. Let scones cool / rest for about 5 minutes before drizzling with glaze. For the glaze, whisk together powdered sugar and milk in a small bowl. Drizzle glaze over scones and sprinkle with sugar. 

Shopping List (based on this original recipe)
Scones 
1/2 cup sugar 
1 tsp lime zest 
3 cups flour 
1 Tbsp baking powder 
1 tsp salt 
1 can full fat coconut milk (1 1/2 cups)
1/8 tsp pure coconut extract 
1/2 cup sprinkles


Glaze 

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted 
2 Tbsp full fat coconut milk 
decorating sugar
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