French Onion Soup

I’m posting a recipe for soup in an effort to bring on warmer weather. You see, it seems inevitable that whenever I get ahead of myself, I end up putting my foot in my mouth. I was tempted to “think spring” and write about asparagus, but I know it would backfire and we would end up with snow in May. Kind of similar to the time I was talking to some of my friends that have babies younger than Smith and I told them that infant sleeping gets better. “Smith was sleeping through the night by six months; the waking up in the middle of the night will be over before you know it,” I told them with a sense of relief and achievement. What a foolish, foolish mother I was.

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It turns out there is a wee little thing called sleep regression that tends to pop up when the little ones hit new motor milestones. The sleeping gets better, but then it takes a wild turn and you find yourself sprawled out on the floor of your baby’s room with your hand wedged inside his crib at 3:30am. It’s a humbling time. As a result, I’m embracing the cold with this French onion soup to coax the number on the thermometer upward.

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French onion soup combines two of the world’s most glorious ingredients, melted cheese and caramelized onions, to make a special  lunch or a great main dish for dinner time. It warms the stomach and the soul.

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French Onion Soup

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 onions, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 heaping tablespoons flour
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • Loaf of artisan bread (or whichever bread you prefer)
  • 1/2 lb sharp swiss cheese, shredded

Directions

1. Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and sauté until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

2. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme.

3. Sprinkle the onions with the flour and stir to ensure the onions are well-coated. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn’t burn, and cook for 10 minutes .

4. Add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

5. When you’re ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the swiss cheese and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Ladle the soup in bowls and add the toasted bread slices to the top. Serve immediately.

Source: Tyler Florence 

Homestead Living: Amish Sandwich Bread

IMG_5550 I almost titled this post, “White Amish Bread” and realized that didn’t really sound right. Kind of like when I said my brother earned his “small pilot’s license” or my parents looked at a house where the kitchen was described as a “big wife-loving kitchen.” It’s all in the word combinations, folks, so Amish Sandwich Bread it is. IMG_5539 The Amish community is well-known for growing, canning/preserving, and making the vast majority of their own food. Though they too have evolved with the times and rely more on processed and pre-packaged ingredients, from-scratch cooking and baking is nothing new in their book. The new movement that is striking the rest of our nation, is old hat for them, and the idea of homestead-living is probably something they would find humorous.

IMG_5615 (Smith and his cousins) I’ve been wanting to find a good recipe for sandwich bread for several months now. After trying a few different versions, I found this one and it’s one that our family has been enjoying for the past few weeks. This bread is very easy to make, it yields 2 loaves, and it’s delicious. It is soft, slightly sweet, and is sturdy enough to hold sandwich fixings.  I attempted to improve the nutritional value by swapping in whole wheat pastry flour in place of some of the all-purpose, but the texture was just not as good. Whole wheat sandwich bread is my next quest. IMG_5541 Have a great weekend, everyone. Amish Sandwich Bread  Yield: 2 standard loaves Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 cup warm milk (110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water to form an egg wash (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together milk, water, sugar,  and yeast. Cover and allow the yeast to activate and foam for about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in salt and oil into the yeast mixture.
  3. Using an electric mixer with a dough hook, slowly add flour one cup at a time mixing well after each addition. Mix for about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Place dough in a well-greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a lightly warmed place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Punch down the dough and divide into two equal pieces. Shape into loaves and place in 2 greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 30 mins or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash before baking. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from pans and with a pastry brush, lightly brush melted butter immediately after. Allow to cool completely.

Source: Barely adapted from Bakerette

Smith’s Puppy Pawty

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The little rump roast I am always writing about is a full blown toddler these days. He’s walk-running, trying to ride Athena like a miniature pony, throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, and making us laugh on a daily basis. We had a first birthday party for him last month and, boy, did we have fun. Our immediate families and close friends joined us for a little shindig that involved lunch, cake and ice cream, and opening gifts.

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To highlight the adorable relationship between Smith and our dog, Athena, I decided on a puppy theme for the gathering. I kept decorations pretty low key by making some garland with cardstock and colored baker’s twine. My mother-in-law printed pictures of our rump roast and Athena together to display throughout our house.

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I didn’t get any pictures of the non-desserts, but the menu included:

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While this PAWTY was definitely a celebration of our ham ball’s birth, it was also a celebration for the birth of new parents, new aunts and uncles, new cousins, and new grandparents and great grandparents. This past year was definitely not all sunshine and lollipops, but it was an absolutely life-changing and incredibly amazing time that we will not soon forget. It’s difficult to put into words how it feels to be given the gift of motherhood. When I sit and think about the love I feel for my son, I can only describe it as a physical symptom of a combination of butterflies in my stomach and chest tightness. As I type that out, I realize It doesn’t sound pleasant-perhaps it may even sound like I need to find a cardiologist- but it’s a good thing. A wonderful thing. Happy birthday, my sweet boy.

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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