Strawberry Delight

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We are slowly getting settled into our new lives in the country. Things I have observed so far: it gets very dark and quiet at night, having family close by is wonderful (especially when you get sick and you have an infant to care for), I no longer have to pick up Athena’s excrement when we take her on walks because the roads are already sprinkled with horse dung, Athena is the happiest she has been ever, and we have wild turkeys in the woods behind us (that I mistook for Athena one Sunday afternoon).

It’s been a little over a week since we moved in and the reality of being back in the area we grew up in is gradually sinking in. Small town living means that I now usually recognize or run into someone I know every time I go out to run errands. It’s definitely a big change from the anonymity I grew accustomed to in Columbus. But it’s a good change. While living in a small town has its drawbacks, it also has its benefits. There are lots of friendly faces and people willing to help each other at a moment’s notice. The sense of community is strong. We are lucky to have some great folks in our lives.

Speaking of wonderful people, we had my in-laws over for dinner last weekend as a way to thank them for all the help they provided us. We made a simple dinner of barbecued chicken, red potatoes, mixed greens, and this dessert. Strawberry delight is my twist on a classic treat in this area, cherry delight. Traditionally made with cherry pie filling and cool whip, I swapped in a homemade fresh strawberry sauce and heavy whipping cream instead. The end result was a really tasty finish to a meal that was very well-received by our company. I am looking forward to many more family dinners in our new home.

Country living is going to suit us well.

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Strawberry Delight

Yield: 12 Servings

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the cream cheese filling:

  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz heavy whipping cream

For the strawberry topping:

  • 3 cups chopped strawberries
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions

1. Make the strawberry topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, water, and cornstarch. Set aside. Place the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat, gently mashing the berries with a wooden spoon, until the mixture comes to a low boil. Add in the cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil again, and cook for 1 minute longer until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Bake the crust: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the graham crack crumbs, melted butter, salt, and sugar. Gently press the crumb mixture into a 9×13 pan with your fingers until evenly distributed. Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

3. Make the filling: Place the whipping cream in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Place whipped cream in a separate bowl. Add the cream cheese to the now empty bowl of the electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until creamy and smooth. Add in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar until well-incorporated. Gently fold in the whipped cream until smooth (don’t over mix!).

4. Assemble: Spread the cream cheese mixture on top of the cooled crust and top with strawberry topping. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. This dessert keeps in the refrigerator for about 2 days.

Source: Adapted from a local cookbook; Strawberry topping adapted from Annie’s Eats 

 

Life Lately

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Twenty fourteen is off to a fast and exciting start for our family. First, our lives forever and wonderfully changed with the addition of our sweet little rump roast. We spent the first few weeks of the year in a sleep-deprived, love-drunk, terrified-first-time-parent stupor. All the while, Robert and I finalized our decision to move back to the area we grew up as Robert was presented with a great career opportunity to open a satellite office for his engineering firm. We put our house on the market and, wouldn’t you know it,  it sold within 2 weeks. We are very thankful that our house sold so quickly in the cold, snowy chill of this Ohio February; but it also solidified that this move is a reality.

I will admit that it was a very difficult decision for us to make. We’ve lived in Columbus for the past 6 years and I have grown to adore this city. My heart is full of local pride in this place where we started our careers, where we bought our first home, where we developed lifelong friendships with some amazing folks,  and where we welcomed our first child into the world. I am a sentimental sap and I can’t help but have a hard time leaving the city where we’ve lovingly planted our roots. Columbus is a thriving area with lots of culture and a strong sense of community. There are so many fun things to do and see and a good amount of delicious restaurants in which we can feast.

I’ve shed a fair amount of tears as we prepare to move on and it took me a good deal of time to embrace what our next chapter holds. It will be a big transition reintegrating into rural, small-town life. We will be closer to Robert’s family and I have some very dear friends from high school that still live in the area; and it will be very nice to reconnect with them on a regular basis. We will have more space to roam and to grow and Smith will have the opportunity to explore in the woods, get dirty, build forts, fish, and ride his bike.

Though we will be further away from some of our beloved friends and family and we will not have the access to the conveniences and luxuries of city-living, we will still be our little family of three. And, just like one of my culinary idols, Ina Garten, wrote in the beginning of one of her cookbooks: “My home is wherever Jeffrey is.” Robert and Smith are my “Jeffrey,” and wherever we are all together is what fills my heart with joy. On to the next big adventure!

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The Best Baked Brown Rice

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My friends, do you find yourself leery when you see a recipe labeled “the best” or “the only recipe you’ll ever need for…”? I, too, become leery. Too many times I have ended up disappointed with the results and cried foul on the misleading label. However, I make an exception for this brown rice.

I’ve attempted a few different methods of making brown rice and I am always left wanting something more. That is, until the fine folks at Cooks Illustrated cracked the code. And it really is quite simple. If you can boil water and preheat an oven, you can make this scrumptious and healthy side dish.  Also- I like to double this recipe to have extra rice on hand for making fried rice or to have as leftovers the next day. It’s quite tasty reheated.

It feels good to be slowly getting back into the cooking scene. Our camera is usually smoking from all of the pictures I snap of this little ham ball. :)

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Baked Brown Rice

Yield: 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice
  • 2 1/3 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Adjust the oven rack to middle position; Preheat oven to 375 degrees and make sure the oven rack is in the middle position. Spread rice in 8-inch square baking dish.

2. Place water and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil. As soon as the water starts boiling (letting it boil to long will cause evaporation and affect the ratio of water and rice), remove from heat and stir in salt. Carefully pour water over rice. Cover baking dish tightly with doubled layer of foil. Place in the oven and bake rice for 1 hour, until tender.

3. Remove baking dish from oven and uncover. Fluff rice with dinner fork, then cover dish with clean kitchen towel. Let the rice stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let rice stand 5 additional minutes. Enjoy!

Note: If doubling the recipe ,use a 9×13 inch baking dish and keep the baking time the same.

Source: A Veggie Venture, originally from the magicians at Cook’s Illustrated

Our Favorite Rump Roast

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We haven’t been doing too much cooking or baking around here lately. We’re too busy snuggling our little rump roast. Smith Robert, who was named in honor of my maternal grandmother’s maiden name, was born on New Year’s Eve at 12:29pm. He weighed a healthy 9 pounds 9 ounces and was 21.6 inches long. He is absolutely perfect. We are adjusting to our new life as a family of three and I will probably be back in the kitchen after our freezer meals run out. I can’t seem to focus on much else besides our precious little bundle these days.

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Chocolate Pecan Pie

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I’ve obtained several cookbooks and baking books since I got married 6 and a half years ago. During the days of low carb dieting in my past, I would peruse longingly through the beautiful pictures in the Barefoot Contessa’s cookbook series or Taste of Home magazines. It was cathartic in a strange, carb-obsessed way. However, now the “dark ages” without carbs are only a distant memory (bread is the meaning of life), and my culinary literature collection continues to grow.

I love all the books on my shelves, but there is only one that I have of which I want to make every single recipe. That book? Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours. Talk about sensory overload. Everything sounds, looks, and reads positively scrumptrulescent. It’s really quite overwhelming. Even better, since owning this precious classic, every recipe of Dorie’s that I have made has become an instant favorite of mine. She really knows her stuff.

The most recent recipe of hers that I have made is her chocolate pecan pie. I happened to have a leftover pie crust in my fridge a few weeks ago and the urge to bake hit me on a Sunday afternoon. This pie popped into my mind as I had been thinking of making it for awhile, and away I went. The end result was a nice spin on what I consider traditional pecan pie. The chocolate and cinnamon are a really delicious addition and this treat would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving menu (well, actually, not great for people with nut allergies so check on that first!).  It would be even better with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Printable Version

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch single pie crust
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (7 ounces) pecan halves or pieces
  • 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips because I didn’t have baking chocolate)

Directions

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a pie plate on a cookie sheet lined with parchment  paper and set aside.

2. Whisk together the corn syrup and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Carefully whisk in the butter, followed by the eggs (one at a time) until well-combined. Next, add in the cinnamon, vanilla, and salt and stir to incorporate. Tap the bowl against the counter to remove air bubbles and then mix in the chocolate and pecans.

3. Carefully roll out the pie crust and gently mold into the pie plate. Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. While the pie is baking for the first 15 minutes, make a foils shield for the crust by cutting out the center of a 12 inch square of aluminum foil (directions here).

4. After the first 15 minutes of baking, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and place the foil shield on top of the pie crust to prevent over-browning. Bake the pie for an additional 2o minutes, or until the pie no longer jiggles when gently tapped. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a baking rack until it reaches room temperature.

SourceBaking: From My Home to Yours by: Dorie Greenspan

The Amish “Monte Cristo”

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For all the food purists out there, I want to start by saying I understand this sandwich is not a true Monte Cristo. A Monte Cristo (based on my dining history and a quick google search), is a ham/turkey and cheese sandwich that is dipped in an egg/milk batter and then pan fried like French toast and served with jam. It is a delightful combination of sweet and savory and a fabulous Sunday brunch meal.

This version has not been dipped in a batter, but it contains the other components and I thought it wouldn’t upset the food gods too much if I deemed it the Amish Monte Cristo.

What makes it Amish, you may ask? Well, all of the ingredients come from an Amish origin. Not only did I grow up in an area that has a dense population of Amish; but there is a small settlement of Amish about 20 minutes west of Columbus in Plain City. On my days off of work, I sometimes venture out west to stock up on a few items. The bread, ham, and cheese all come from an Amish Farmer’s market in Plain City. The apples are from an orchard back in my hometown; and the apple butter was made by my in-laws, who share a family tree with this unique group of people.

The good news is you don’t have to have super magical Amish ingredients to make this sandwich. Just some good (as Ina Garten would say) ham, cheese, apple butter, apples, and bread. It’s a fast and tasty way to dress up a boring ham and cheese sandwich on cold Fall nights.

Amish Monte Cristo

Directions:

1. Spread a generous amount of apple butter on 2 slices of bread

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2. Layer one slice of bread with thinly sliced apples of your choice (I used Honeycrisp)

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3. Top with ham and swiss cheese.

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4. Grill in a lightly-buttered, heated pan until the cheese is melted.

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5. Enjoy!

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Oh sweet baby Jesus- I do love Septembers. While I enjoy summertime, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with how chaotic it can get. Weddings, traveling, cookouts. It’s all wonderful stuff, but I find I always welcome the return to routine that the ninth month of the year brings. We are home more on the weekends and football Saturdays seem to make time slow down a little bit.

Another good bonus is that I have more time to bake. I made these particular  cupcakes for my friend Jess’s owl-themed baby shower that her husband’s side of the family threw her. I also made pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream, but these were my favorite of the three. The cake has a lighter texture and the addition of real vanilla bean takes the flavor up a notch. The fluffy buttercream frosting is delicious and a perfect pairing with the cake base.  I found the idea for the royal icing owl toppers from the fabulously-creative Bridget at Bake at 350. I am always amazed at the magical nature of royal icing and was very pleased with how these babies turned out. They are a much cheaper option than the cupcake-toppers available online and in craft stores.

I will definitely be saving these recipes for future vanilla baking adventures.

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Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Printer-friendly version

Yield: About 2 dozen cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cupcake Directions

1. Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisktogether the flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and egg whites.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 3 mins). Add in the vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until well incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter fully incorporated and smooth, then gradually add in the last of the dry ingredients.

5. Once ingredients are well incorporated, mix the batter for 2 minutes longer to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Using a 2 inch ice cream scoop (or large spoon), distribute the batter evenly, filling each well 2/3 full.

6. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers come out clean. Cool on wire rack. Decorate with vanilla buttercream icing as desired (recipe below).

Frosting Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks or ½ pound), softened (but not melted!) Ideal texture should be like ice cream.
  • 3-4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar, sifted***
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Frosting Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high speed for a few minutes with a mixer with the whisk attachment until light and fluffy. Turn the mixer off and gradually add in the powdered sugar (about 1 cup at a time), mixing on low speed after each addition until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and 4 tablespoons of cream and beat for 3 minutes. Store in an airtight container or ice cupcakes right away.

Source: Cupcakes- slightly adapted from My Baking Addiction; Frosting- Savory Sweet Life; Owl Royal Icing Cupcake Toppers- Bake at 350

Turkey Meatloaf

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I give myself a big fat “F” for my ability to keep up with my food blog this summer. While I love to bake and cook, I have admittedly not been interested in doing either the past few months. In fact, up until recently, I’ve been eating a pretty bland and boring array of foods. My appetite has changed a bit; but for a good reason- Robert and I are expecting our first child this Winter! We couldn’t be more thrilled to meet our little guy and I am so grateful to be well into the second trimester and getting back into the groove of life. My morning sickness has thankfully subsided (I really empathize for those women who have to endure that symptom throughout pregnancy) and my energy is great.

I am trying to cherish this time of growing a human life and not try to look too far ahead, but I can’t help but think of the person our little “Meebs” will become. What will he look like? What kind of personality will he have and what will his interests be? You know, important things like what will be his favorite cookie?

 I am taking advantage of my energy spurt and hoping to get back on the blogging bandwagon.

Turkey Meatloaf

Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 2 pounds ground turkey breast
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 by 13 inch baking sheet/jelly roll pan with tin foil. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the oats and milk. Thinly slice 1/4 of the onion and set aside. Finely chop the remaining onion. In a large bowl combine the turkey, oat mixture, chopped onion, bell pepper, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Mix just until well combined.

Transfer the mixture to baking sheet and shape into a loaf about 5 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches high. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatloaf and sprinkle with the sliced onions. Bake for about 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees.F.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to15 minutes before slicing.

Source: Ellie Krieger

Olive Oil Dipping Sauce

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You know those moments where all seems right in the world? Where you are overwhelmed with feelings of contentment and you try to take a mental snapshot so you can refer back to it when some days are less than great? I recently experienced that. I was driving home on back roads after spending the day with my mother. It was a gorgeous day and the temperature was just right for cruising with the windows down. I had my IPod on shuffle when a song from Sam Cooke came on. Sam Cooke was one of my grandmother’s favorite singers, or so I think- she seemed to listen to his music a lot. I know most of his greatest hits and the melody that was coming out of my speakers sent me back to endless summers spent vacationing with family in Ontario, Canada. I remembered the sensation of my bare feet in the evening grass, the sound of crickets chirping throughout the night, and the smell of bacon in my grandmother’s kitchen around dinner time (my favorite time).

Of course, there was a dull ache in my stomach from the sadness of missing my grandparents; but I also had a overriding feeling of thankfulness for my wonderful childhood experiences and excitement of the memories that are still waiting to be made. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a nearly perfect blip in time.

On an unrelated note- this recipe for olive oil dipping sauce served with fresh artisan bread is a great starter for summer meals on the back porch. Fresh or dried herbs can be used and I prefer to quadruple the herb mixture and save it for use on several occasions. It’s easy and delicious.

Happy Monday, everyone!

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Olive Oil Dipping Sauce

Printable Version

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or according to your taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. Stir together the dry spices in a small bowl. Mix in the garlic until it’s dispersed evenly.

2. Place herb mixture on a small plate. Pour olive oil over herb mixture and serve with fresh artisan bread.

Source: My Baking Addiction

A Gender Reveal Cake

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A little over a month ago, I had the honor of making a gender reveal cake for a lovely fellow physical therapist and her husband. I was so excited. In case you haven’t heard of this type of cake before, the expecting couple has the ultrasound tech write down the gender of baby during the “big” ultrasound. The tech then puts the secret information into an envelope and the couple gives it to a baker, who then either bakes a pink or blue cake and/or fills the cake with pink or blue icing.

The beautiful momma-to-be requested a white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and a coconut garnish. I used my favorite white cake and buttercream recipe to make it all happen. I then tinted the icing that would fill the cake with the top secret dye color, which by the way ended up all over my hands. I had to scrub and scrub to clean everything off- for a few minutes I thought I’d need to wear gloves when I delivered the cake. Crisis averted. Whew!

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It was so much fun doing this type of cake. The anticipation of the couple cutting in and finding out whether they would be having a son or daughter had me on edge.

Oh and by the way…

here’s what I filled the cake with…

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It’s a GIRL! Congratulations you two. She will be one lucky baby.