Feeding Our Rump Roast: Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal

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Our not-so-little rump roast (also known as our son, Smith), recently celebrated his first birthday. As he hits more milestones and as he continues to cut those razor-sharp baby teeth, we are gradually introducing him to new foods. Now more than ever,  I am thinking about the meals that I am making for our family. I could live on bowls of cereal for dinner every night if it were my choice; but the nutrients that are going into our little whippersnapper’s body have taken precedence.

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One of my favorite go-to breakfasts is this apple cinnamon baked oatmeal. It’s full of fiber and vitamin C, and it is especially satisfying this time of year in the cold Ohio Winter months. Even better, Smith gobbles it right up. I typically make a batch on Sunday and it lasts us for the whole week.

I adjusted the original recipe that I used in the past to make this breakfast a little more nutritionally-sound. I reduced the amount of sugar and substituted applesauce in place of the butter. For the sake of my little dude, I also used whole milk since being a toddler is a glorious time in one’s life as they get to enjoy high fat dairy. Lucky Smith. :)

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Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal 

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • large eggs
  • 1/2 cup organic applesauce (unsweetened is fine, too)
  • 2 cups whole milk (low fat is fine, too)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 baking apples (I usually use Golden Delicious), peeled and diced

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 9-inch baking dish with butter. Place the diced apples in the bottom of the pan. Set aside
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the oats, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In another bowl, break up the eggs with a whisk; then whisk in the milk, vanilla, and applesauce until well-combined.
  4. Carefully add the milk mixture to the oat mixture and gently stir together until evenly mixed.
  5. Pour the oatmeal mixture into the baking dish and spread evenly. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the top is golden and the oats are set. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Source: Adapted from Once Upon a Chef

Homestead Living: Wheat Pita Bread

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While I find making food from scratch very fulfilling, there are a few items that I currently don’t have much desire to attempt on my own.  These include: cheese (maybe because we now live in an area with so many cheese houses),  yogurt (Fage Greek yogurt is my favorite), and ketchup (sorry hipster restaurants; I just am not on board yet). It’s fun and empowering to learn methods to make nourishing meals without needing to rely on so many pre-packaged and processed components; but, for me, the choice to make something from scratch has to make sense for our family’s health,  budget, time, and tastebuds.  Artisan bread, hummus, jam, pizza, granola, hot fudge sauce, and now this wheat pita bread are recipes that I believe meet all four of the aforementioned categories.

I finally got around to making this bread a few weeks ago. The dough doesn’t require any extraordinary ingredients, just a little time to allow it to rise and rest, and the baking process goes very quickly with the use of a pizza stone. I was so pleasantly surprised with how lovely these precious little pitas turned out. They were soft and fluffy and were a fabulous accompaniment to our dinner of chicken shawarma that evening. Our little rump roast gladly gobbled some up as well. That boy loves to eat.

In our quest to embrace more of a “homestead living” lifestyle, I am happy to add this recipe to our list of foods we will gladly make at home.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Wheat Pita Bread

Yield: 8 whole pitas

Ingredients

  • 2¼ tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1¼ cups warm water (105˚-115˚ F), divided
  • 1½ cups bread flour, divided
  • 1½ cups whole wheat flour, divided
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Cornmeal, for sprinkling

Directions

1. Combine the yeast, honey and ½ cup of the water in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Stir gently to combine.  Whisk in ¼ cup of the bread flour and ¼ cup of the whole wheat flour into the yeast mixture until smooth.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm and dry area until doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes.

2. Remove the plastic wrap and return the bowl to the mixer stand, fitted with the dough hook.  Add in the remaining ¾ cup of warm water, 1¼ cups bread flour, 1¼ cups whole wheat flour, olive oil and salt.  Mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat. Allow dough to rise again until doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes. Meanwhile, place an oven rack in the middle position.  Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat to 500˚ F. Lightly sprinkle 2  large baking sheets with cornmeal. Set aside.

3. Once the dough has risen, transfer to a lightly floured work surface, punch down the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces.  Form each piece into a ball.  Flatten one ball at a time into a disk, then stretch out into a 6½-7 inch circle.  Place the rounds on the baking sheets and loosely cover with clean kitchen towels.  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. The dough should puff up slightly.

4. Transfer 4 pitas, 1 at a time, onto the baking surface (you can place directly on oven rack if you don’t have a stone). Bake 2-3 minutes, until puffed and pale golden.  Gently flip the pitas over using tongs and bake 1-2 minutes more.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.  Repeat with the remaining pitas.  Store in an airtight container. Pitas should stay fresh for 2-3 days.

Source: Annie’s Eats, who adapted it from Confections of a Foodie Bride, originally from Gourmet (May 2003)

 

Classic Hummus

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Phew! The holidays are over and it’s back to business. This time of year, most are looking for a break from all of the excess of December and we are no different. We are hungry for meals that will give us more bang for our buck, nutritionally, and that are delicious. Contrary to popular belief, health and taste are not mutually exclusive. Just take this recipe for hummus as an example. It’s creamy and earthy and goes really well as a dip for vegetables, as a sandwich spread, or as a base for grilled chicken. And for all of you out there who think they don’t like hummus, I challenge you to reconsider. I am a converted hummus lover. Before we found The Olive Tree, our favorite Mediterranean restaurant in Columbus, I really didn’t care for hummus. I had only tried the store-bought versions and I felt it always tasted kind of pasty; but, at the risk of sounding overly-dramatic (me? … never!), my life changed forever when I tasted the pillowy goodness made by the Greek gods at The Olive Tree. Opa!

I’ve made hummus in the past, but this is the first time I have cooked the garbanzo beans myself instead of using canned beans. Not only is this more economical, it takes hummus to the next level. And, cooking beans is not at all difficult- it just takes a little planning ahead. All you need to do is pour a 15 ounce bag of dried beans into a dutch oven, cover it with water, let it soak overnight, and then simmer for about 2 hours (or until desired tenderness) the following day while you are going about your business. I found the hummus came together really nicely when I used the still-warm beans. There is always the option to peel the skins off the beans before you process them for an even creamier texture if you have extra time on your hands, but my little rump roast was throwing my mini tartlet pans all over the kitchen and heading straight for the heirloom china cabinet in our living room with a look of pure mischief on his face while I was making the hummus, so I wisely opted out of this method.

I hope you are off you a happy and healthy 2015. Happy Sunday, everyone!

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Classic Hummus

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas, liquid reserved and set aside
  • 1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 Cup tahini
  • 7-8 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp reserved chickpea liquid (or water)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Hot sauce, optional (I love Sriracha)

Directions:

Place all the ingredients (except the Sriracha) in a food processor. Pulse until creamy and well-combined. You may need to ad more liquid depending on your desired consistency. Remove from food processor and top with hot sauce, if desired. Store covered in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Source: Oh She Glows, who adapted it from Barefoot Contessa

Baked Pumpkin French Toast

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Here we are on the brink of the holiday season and I am feeling peculiarly calm. In past years, I often end up frazzled and overwhelmed with the thoughts of the china that needs cleaned, gifts that need purchased, cards to be mailed, cookies to bake, and negotiating work and vacation time. So much so that I would basically breathe a sigh of relief when January rolled around. I really don’t like that trait about myself; the fact that I am always thinking ahead to the next step and I forget to enjoy the present. There is a quote I really love, “Wherever you are, be all there.” My goal this holiday season is to be all there. To soak it up and to actually savor the Thanksgiving turkey we’ve worked so hard to prepare, to sing along with the Christmas tunes blaring through the speakers, and to put my phone away when we’re curled up on the couch watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

One of the ways I’ve improved my ability to be more relaxed during this hectic time of year is to make dishes that can be prepared ahead of time (superb timing for a cookbook release, Ina Garten!). This baked pumpkin french toast is a perfect example and would be great for Thanksgiving weekend if you have guests staying over or it would make a fabulous addition to a Christmas morning brunch. It’s warm and comforting and really lovely served with a little drizzle of maple syrup and a tall glass of cold milk.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Here’s to focusing on the now and enjoying today.

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Baked Pumpkin French Toast

Yield: Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf stale French Bread (stale bread soaks up the liquid better than fresh)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk (I used almond milk when I made it)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces

Directions

1. Grease a 9×13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Cut the french bread into 1 inch cubes and place in the dish in an even layer. Set aside.

2. Make the streusel: stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Scatter the butter over the flour mixture and use your (clean) hands to combine until it looks like oatmeal flakes. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

3. Assemble the french toast: Place the milk, pumpkin, eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and whisk together until well-combined. Carefully pour this mixture over the bread. If the bread pieces aren’t fully submerged or they start to float, you can gently press them down with your fingertips. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. When you are ready to make the french toast, remove the casserole dish from the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While the oven preheats, sprinkle the streusel topping on top of the bread chunks. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the french toast is puffed up and golden brown. Remove from oven and serve with maple syrup. Enjoy!

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

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It’s a caramel apple with a kick, folks. Except the “kick” is cooked off in the process and is present to simply add a little bit of extra dimension to the standard Autumn confection. I made these bad boys for a friend’s baby shower over the summer. The theme was “The Giving Tree” and it only seemed fitting. This treat is much more appropriate now that apple season is in full swing.

As always, making caramel can be finicky and I often get myself all flustered and nervous in the process that I almost undoubtedly ruin the first batch. That’s exactly what happened in this case. I should have calibrated my candy thermometer before I started, but I didn’t, and I thought it would be wise to let it go just a touch past the 245 degree mark; just in case. I’m not really sure why I thought that was a good idea; but I had morphed into a semi-panicked, self-doubting lass as the process neared its end. I had the same feelings of unease as I did while I was watching the final scenes of Argo. Clearly, I have a bit of a warped perspective on caramel-making. It was no surprise when the caramel started to cool that it had reached the hard-ball stage and could easily be used as a make-shift weapon. So those ingredients went down the drain and I started again. I got it together, and the end product was much better.

I’m hoping to make these again soon. With a renewed sense of confidence in my back pocket.

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A few pictures from the shower I co-hosted with my lovely friends, Jess and Chelsea. 

Chelsea constructed this adorable tree

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Jess made most of the delicious, apple-themed food

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Chelsea’s cheese “branches” and chocolate pretzel “bark”

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I made apple cupcakes (vanilla buttercream)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made apple cupcakes (vanilla bean with vanilla buttercream)

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The beautiful new mama

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And, of course, the apple of my eye. My boy.

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HAPPY OCTOBER!

Vanilla Bourbon Caramel Apples

Ingredients

8 medium-sized apples (I used Gala)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup bourbon
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 wooden craft or popsicle sticks

Directions

1. Remove stems from apples and push the popsicle stick inside each. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan (bigger is better to avoid overflow), stir together the sugar, cream, bourbon, corn syrup, butter, and salt. Cook over medium high heat , stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Attach a candy thermometer to the side and cook without stirring until temperature reaches 245 degrees F (about 20-25vminutes). Do not leave the caramel because it can heat very quickly towards the end of the process.

3. Once it reaches 245 degrees, remove from heat. Carefully stir in vanilla (it will bubble violently). Dip apples immediately, sprinkle with toppings (if desired) and place on wax paper. Let sit in the fridge until firm, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container or wrap in cellophane to keep them fresh for a few days.

Source: Slightly adapted from How Sweet It Is

Caramelized Onion and Spinach Egg Casserole

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Sometimes, if I am lucky, my workday schedule works out well enough that I am able to eat lunch and catch up on documentation at a Panera Bread in the next county over. I’ve been there enough times now that I have noticed that there is an elderly couple that eats there on a regular basis. Being as I work with many members of the geriatric population, I know that not all old people are “cute” as I have heard many people say. In fact, there are a lot of really not-so-nice individuals in this age group just as there are in every other age range. However, this aformentioned couple is absolutely adorable. The husband dotes on his wife, they share their food, and they swap sections of the newspaper with each other. The employees call them by their first name and pay extra special attention to this couple. Whenever the staff are giving out free samples, they always start with these two. An observation I have duly noted, by the way.

Their love for each other is so endearing, I can barely stand it. The last time they were there when I was, I found myself daydreaming of Robert and me starting this tradition when we retire. Finding a cute little cafe to go to, where we can eat a couple times a week; and there will be nothing else on our schedule for the day. Though retirement is a long (LONG) way off, I hope that if this dream is realized, we will be enjoying dishes similar to this caramelized onion and spinach egg casserole. In my opinion, it’s the perfect dining option for a leisurely brunch. Caramelized onion, spinach, crusty artisan bread, and sharp swiss cheese make for a fabulous and hearty meal.

I served this for a get together with some dear friends about a month ago and it was very well-received. Robert was a little hesitant because of the spinach, but I know he will come around before I make this again. At least, he better get on board in time for all of the glorious lunch dates I have planned for us in about 35 years.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Make it extra special by whipping up this casserole.

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Caramelized Onion and Spinach Egg Casserole 

Yield: 8-12 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 cups 1-inch cubed day-old bread (I used leftover Artisan Bread)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced (lengthwise)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
  • 12 oz fresh spinach, cleaned well
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 10 large eggs
  • 8 oz (about 2 cups) sharp Swiss cheese, grated and divided
  • 2 oz (about 1 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter and oil. Add in the onions, sugar, thyme, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Allow mixture to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a golden brown (about 30 minutes). Add the spinach to the pan over the onions and cover the pan. Cook for 2 minutes and then start mixing the spinach into the onions with tongs. Cover the pan and cook for another minute; continuing to stir until spinach has wilted into the onion mixture. You may have to gradually add in the spinach, depending on the size of your pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. While the vegetables cool,  add the cream and milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the mustard, eggs, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well-beaten. Stir in 1 ½ cups of the Swiss and ¾ cup of the Parmesan cheeses.
  3. Spread the cubes of bread in a greased, 9x13in baking dish. Top the bread with the onion-spinach mixture. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the bread and onion-spinach mixture, making sure to cover all of the bread. Scatter the remaining cheese over the top. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.
  4. When you are ready to make the casserole, remove the casserole from the refrigerator to allow the dish to warm up while the oven preheats. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Place the dish on a baking sheet. Bake until the casserole gets puffy and is golden brown, about 65-75 minutes. Allow the casserole to stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Source: Barely adapted from Smells Like Home 

S’mores Cupcakes

 

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I made these cupcakes for my beloved childhood friend, Jamie, last week. She turned the big 2-8 and I wanted to make her something special. S’mores are such a ubiquitous summer treat and they always bring back such happy memories. I often think back to those hot and balmy Ohio summer sleepovers spent with Jamie and our close group of girlfriends. The crickets chirping and fireflies lighting up the night sky. It sounds like a cheesy country song, but we had a lot of fun. We’d laugh into the early hours of the morning and talk about the boys we had crushes on and who was the hottest member of The Backstreet Boys (I was always fond of Kevin.) There also may or may not be “lost” footage of our homemade music videos somewhere in the stratosphere. This was the time period when I was under the delusion that I was a good dancer. My signature move was the shoulder shrug.

I remember wondering, back then, how life would be when we all “grew up.” Fast forward almost 2 decades and here we are. Some are married, some have children, and all seem to be doing very well in their respective careers. I still try to keep in touch with most of the group (social media can be productive), but I am closest with Jamie. She is such an exceptional person. I often marvel at her ability to make friends with anyone as well as her intellectual mind and hilarious wit. Whenever I have the pleasure of getting together with Jamie, I always leave feeling enriched and re-fueled. Some friendships withstand, and even strengthen, with the test of time. I am lucky to say that is the case for Jamie and me.

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Celebrate this summer and make these portable campfire treats today!

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S’mores Cupcakes

Yield: 2 dozen standard cupcakes

Ingredients

For the Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 5 1/3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the Cupcakes:

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Marshmallow Frosting:

  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

1. Make the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place cupcake liners in 2 standard cupcake pans. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter until mixture is combined. Scoop a heaping tablespoon into each cupcake liner and gently press down to pack the crust. Bake for 5 minutes and allow to cool on cooling racks while you make the cupcake batter. Keep the oven on.

2. Make the cupcakes: In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, then add the eggs one at a time until well combined (scraping down the sides as necessary). Add in the vanilla and mix well.

In another medium-sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, buttermilk, and coffee. Next, in a third bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt). With the mixer on low, add the buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately in thirds, beginning with the buttermilk and ending with the flour. Be careful not to over mix the batter- mix until just combined.

Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners that are filled with the graham cracker crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely.

3. Make the marshmallow frosting:  Place the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a bowl set over a pan of a few inches of simmering water. Warm the mixture, whisking constantly, until it reaches 160° F with a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and move the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Begin mixing at low speed and slowly move to medium-high speed until stiff and shiny peaks form. Mix in the vanilla until well-incorporated.  Place the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a closed star tip and decorate as desired. Toast with a kitchen torch and top with chocolate, if desired.

Source: Cupcakes from Ina Garten, Frosting and Graham Cracker Crust from Annie’s Eats

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peach & Blueberry Crumb Coffeecake

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You know those quizzes that are all over social media right now. The “What kind of dog are you?” or “Which state should you live in?” quizzes. I am a sucker for those. Because they are all very accurate and not at all a colossal waste of time. Plus, I truly need to know which character I am on House of Cards (I’m Christina Ghallager and Robert is, slightly disturbingly, Frank Underwood in case you are wondering).

Anyways, there seems to always be some question that asks about your ideal vacation or day off. I always go for the option that includes staying in, curling up on the couch, and/or a quaint brunch with friends. Oh, man. If there is ever a brunch option, I choose it no matter what the other options are. I’ve made that promise to myself and won’t go back on my word.

Brunch is just fabulous, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a great excuse to eat cake for breakfast and it be okay. That’s why I served this coffeecake at a brunch I hosted this past weekend for some of my most beloved girlfriends from high school.  It seemed like the natural thing to do. The peaches and blueberries are in full bloom around here and I just so happened to stumble upon this recipe last week. The cake has a great crumb to it and the cinnamon streusel topping doesn’t overpower the slightly tart chunks of fruit speckled throughout. I wrapped the leftovers in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and put it in the freezer. I just had a piece for breakfast this morning and I am happy to report the integrity of the taste was not negatively impacted.

I will definitely be making another batch of this breakfast “bread” for future brunches, even if those brunches are a party of one. :)

Peach & Blueberry Crumb Cake

Ingredients

For the Topping:

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 8 pieces

For the Cake:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dry
  • 2 cups peeled and chopped fresh peaches (about 3 medium peaches)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch cake pan and line with a circle of parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Make the Topping: Whisk together the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt in an electric mixer on low speed until well combined, Add the butter and mix on low speed until no large hunks of butter remain and the mixture is uniform and looks like flakes of oatmeal. Place in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Make the Cake: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, powder, and salt.  Set aside. Cream together the butter, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix until combined. Next, add in the eggs, one at a time;  scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. The mixture will appear curdled at this point. Reduce the mixer speed to low, then gradually add the flour mixture and beat until the mixture is just combined, about 20 seconds. Use a spatula to finish mixing the batter, making sure to scrape any flour off the bottom of the bowl. Lastly, carefully fold blueberries and peaches into the batter with a spatula until evenly incorporated.

4. Assemble & Bake the Cake: Pour the batter into the cake pan and gently smooth the top with a spatula. Take the topping and squeeze a handful to pack it together and then sprinkle it over the cake. Repeat with the remaining topping until the batter is covered. Place in the oven and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs. Place on a cooling rack and allow cake to cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan.

Source: Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Cook’s Illustrated

Homemade Peeps: Version 2.0

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To celebrate this beautiful Easter weekend, I attempted to make homemade peeps again. My first attempt was last spring. Visions of beautiful, sparkling marshmallow treats danced in my head. I had seen several versions on Pinterest and I knew it was destined to be a hit. I was so young and naive.  As you can see in the picture below, the magical peeps I had envisioned ended up looking like it belonged perfectly on a Pinterest Fail blog with the caption, “Nailed It.”

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Not only did the marshmallow I piped on parchment paper turn into a pastel and turd-like blob, the said blobs stuck to the parchment paper even after cooling and there was no salvaging this mess. I was a bird with a  broken wing.

When spring rolled around again this year, I came down with peep fever; and I decided it was time to try again. This time I stuck with a homemade marshmallow recipe I had used before. To prevent the little devils from sticking, I lightly sprayed the parchment paper with cooking spray. Though my homemade version featured a very diverse array of imperfect peep shapes and looks (morbidly obese, two-headed, evil eyes), I was much happier with this year’s version.

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I will definitely be making these bad boys again next year, hopefully with my little sous chef by my side.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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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