Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cherry Pie... with issues.

My mom always paints stuff on the top of fruit pies with food coloring. 
Except the tops of her pies don't have fault lines...

The Cherry Festival starts this weekend!  Eeeep!

Wait... you've never heard of the Cherry Festival?  Let me fill you in!

It always takes place the first full week of July in Traverse City, Michigan.  Did you know that Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world?  Michigan produces 70-75% of the tart cherries grown in the United States, and most of those are grown in the counties surrounding Traverse City.  The Cherry Festival is a week-long celebration of cherries, including parades (a Cherry Queen is crowned), cherry pit-spitting contests, cherry pie-eating contests, concerts and more.  For people who live in Traverse City, it renders our tiny hometown nearly useless for a week, as 500,000 people descend and cause unbelievable traffic.  But it's fun!

In honor of the Cherry Festival, and because they had fresh Michigan tart cherries at the farmer's market last week, I decided to bake a pie.  I've never baked one with fresh cherries before, because the pies that my mom makes from frozen Michigan Montmorency cherries (which I told you about when I made Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake Bars) are flipping amazing, and I never felt the need.  After having pitted what felt like a million cherries the other night, I don't think I'll ever do that again, at least not for a pie.  Or not until I get a cherry pitter.

My hand, stained bright red with cherry juice.

Did I mention that my mom makes utterly amazing pies?  Seriously.  At Thanksgiving, we have three.  Pumpkin (obviously), and pecan for my dad, who's from Memphis, and then cherry.  Because... they live in Traverse City and it's my mom's favorite.  You really can't blame her.  One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is actually the piece of cherry pie I get to have for breakfast the next day.

I pitted each one of these with a knife!  It took forever!

I had some trouble with this pie.  The crust just wouldn't stay together!  I rolled it out, and everything seemed to be going well.  Then I tried to get it off the counter and into the pie plate, and... it fell apart.  Not like one little tear, or a rip down the middle that's easily fixed.  Like, fell apart into a million crumbly pieces.  So that I had to pick up each tiny piece, put it in the plate, and try to smash it into the other pieces to get a pie crust that was resonably intact.  Thankfully, I had a little bit better luck with the top crust - you can't exactly patch-as-you-go on top of the fruit, now can you?  I was more than a little frustrated.  Then I almost burned it.  But it's still cherry pie, and it still tasted ridiculously good.  That said, I still won't give you the recipe, because it is woefully incomplete, and only escaped becoming a total trainwreck because, well... it was still made with butter, sugar, and fresh fruit.  And that can only get so bad.

What is your hometown famous for? 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Apricot-Pecan Oatmeal

I am a morning person.  Really, truly, down to my toes.  I love mornings.

Summer mornings that start around 5 am, even.  I love 'em.  They make me want to wake up earlier so that I can soak them in.

I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that if I'm going to work out, it's going to have to be in the morning.  Working out at night is bad for me.  It wakes me up so that I end up staying up later than I should.  It takes up time that would otherwise be used for cooking and eating and hanging out with my husband.  That is not something I can handle.  Getting up a little earlier?  Now that's something I can wrap my mind around.

This morning, my alarm woke me up at 5:15.  I checked my phone and found a really sweet text from my sister-in-law, who is working at a summer camp in Texas (yowza) right now, and had finally gotten the chance to try on her b-day presents.  That was enough to make me smile and not get back in bed (thanks C!).  I laced up my running shoes and headed out into the cool blue morning.  I haven't been running lately, and I tend to get wicked shin splints, so I had decided to take it easy - a little walking, some stretching, more walking to a park nearby, a 1/2 mile run around the track there, and a walk back home.  It was so refreshing, and felt like giving a gift to myself. 

As I walked along the tree-lined boulevard, looking at the cloudless summer-blue sky, and listening to Audrey Assad, I felt so close to God.  It's always been that way with me - God shows up in blue skies, in thunderstorms, in the Rocky Mountains, or Lake Michigan; in a bouquet of fresh peonies or a thousand-color sunset.  And those are the times when prayer feels the most natural, the most genuine to me.  Because I feel like those moments of great natural beauty were created just for me, out of God's love for me.  And I feel so blessed, and so thankful that I got out of bed to receive that gift.

After a shower, I got down to breakfast.  I cut some apricots in half, dipped them in raw sugar, and broiled them until they were soft and caramelized.  Meanwhile, I toasted some pecans, and made some oatmeal.  I cut 3 of the apricot halves into bite-size pieces, chopped the pecans, and stirred everything into the oatmeal with a little more brown sugar and a little drizzle of cream.  I didn't have enough time to give my breakfast the attention it deserved (so tomorrow I'll get up at 5 instead of 5:15), but it was delicious.  I wolfed it down, grabbed my keys, kissed my husband, and ran out the door to work.  It's great to feel like you've already accomplished so much before you've even gone to work!  I look forward to further honing my morning routine.

Do you have a morning routine?  When do you exercise?

Apricot-Pecan Oatmeal

What can't you put in oatmeal?  I've been experimenting with different combinations, and this one is a winner.  The apricots are sweet-tart and juicy, with a burnt-sugar crust on them.  The pecans add the perfect amount of crunch.  You may think that this sounds a little labor-intensive for a weekday morning, but if you roast the apricots the night before (and eat some for dessert), it comes together in a snap!  If you haven't pre-roasted them, do it anyway - you only get to live this day once, and this day deserves a delicious breakfast.

1/2 cup old-fashioned (not quick-cook) oats
1/4 cup pecan halves
1-2 apricots
2 T raw (turbinado) sugar for dipping, plus more to sweeten oatmeal, if desired
1 T heavy cream (or milk or half-and-half)

Preheat your oven's broiler.  Cut apricots in half, dip the cut side in raw sugar, and line them up on a pan.  Broil for 3-6 minutes, until they are bubbling and browned on top.  Meanwhile, toast the pecans until fragrant in a dry saute pan over medium heat.  Cook the oatmeal in 1 cup of water for 3-5 minutes.  Combine everything, drizzle with cream, and eat.  Preferably with a cup of great coffee and a little extra time for sitting to enjoy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Honeyed Rhubarb Cobbler

A beekeeper holding a full frame of honeybees

The Slow Food Chicago Summer Solstice Potluck at the Chicago Honey Co-op on Friday night was so much fun!  Usually potlucks are a sad amalgam of mayonnaise-based salads and jello molds dotted with canned fruit... not this one!  As you would expect from an event attended by people who are interested in Slow Food, the dishes people brought were fantastic!  I had some really amazing sun-dried tomato empanadas, something with quinoa and mole, a salad with grilled peaches, almonds and goat cheese that my friend brought, wild salmon, artisan breads, and some really amazing desserts!  I brought a honeyed (thanks, bees!) rhubarb cobbler that was gone before I could even take a picture of it!  Whoops! 

Not only does the Honey Co-op have a ton of hives, produce completely chemical-free honey, raise queen bees locally (normally beekeepers have to order queens from other areas with longer summers), and offer beekeeping classes; they also have a small urban farm growing on the same property!  We walked around through the beds, looking at some really gorgeous plants.  A man named Banks who was busily weeding and pulling up some spring onions showed us around a little bit, pointing out plants we weren't familiar with and telling us about all the gardens he works on.  He lives closeby, he told us, and started gardening because he retired too early, and needed something to do to keep him busy.  He filled our hands with bunches of onions and told us to come back in a few weeks for some tomatoes.  As we drove home, my hands smelling sweetly of damp earth and onions, I felt so happy to have found slow food, urban farming and gardening, the Chicago Honey Co-op, and Banks.

Rainbow Chard
Spring onions, fresh from the ground!
(And wine in a paper cup.  Happy Summer!)
Honeyed Rhubarb Cobbler
adapted from Ree's recipe

Because I made this to take to a bee farm potluck, I thought it only fitting that I add honey to it.  I used orange-blossom honey, for its strong, flowery flavor.  Any honey would work, but this was phenomenal.  If you can get your hands on orange-blossom, DO IT.

4 cups chopped rhubarb
1-½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoons almond extract (optional)
2 T orange-blossom honey

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cups vegetable shortening or lard
¼ cups butter
½ cup whole milk
1 whole egg
more honey for drizzling, and raw sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine rhubarb, sugar, salt, almond extract, lemon juice and honey in a large bowl and set aside.  In another large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.  Add softened butter and shortening and work in with your fingers (or a pastry cutter or two knives).  In a small bowl (or Pyrex liquid measuring cup), whisk together the milk and egg.  Pour milk and egg into the flour mixture and mix together with a fork until just moistened.  Place the rhubarb mixture into a shallow, buttered baking dish, and plop small pieces of dough on top of the fruit.  Drizzle generously (I mean it - really go for it) with honey, and sprinkle with raw sugar for a little extra crunch.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden brown, and serve warm.  With ice cream or whipped cream, or with nothing at all (if you happen to be taking it to a potluck, like me).

Friday, June 24, 2011

Quick Takes!

I haven't participated in these before, but I've been reading others' for a while, and I have a bunch of random things to say today, so it seems like a perfect time to start!


We're going out of town (again) this weekend.  Not anywhere fancy, just Indiana.  But we get to see a bunch of different friends.  On Saturday, we're going to a wedding.  I really love going to weddings.  Watching people exchange vows and rings takes me right back to my wedding day and really makes me want to squeeze my hubby.  Which I then get to do on the dance floor!  Whee!  And then on Sunday, we're headed a couple towns over to Indianapolis to see Sarah and celebrate my goddaughter's half-birthday!  So exciting.


Last night I made two dinners.  I wanted salad, and the Coppertop Guy doesn't eat salads (yet).  So I baked him a frozen chicken breast, and sauteed some sliced potatoes, and blanched asparagus, and then for me: baby arugula and cherry tomato salad with a warm bacon dressing.  Deeeeeelicious.  And then we polished off the rest of the chocolate pudding pie.  It was awesome.


Update on the garden: The plants have been in their containers less than a week, and we already have progress!  I spotted 7 or 8 tiny jalapeno buds, and blossoms on one tomato plant!  It made me so happy, I squealed.  MY BABIES ARE GROWING!  I am amazed by how little I know, and how much there is to learn about growing even the few that I'm attempting to grow right now.  Like, for instance, what is a good organic fertilizer?  (Answer for now: fish emulsion.  EW.  I'm trying to get over it.)  Another question: how the heck do you stake or cage a tomato plant?  And when do you need to do it?  They are just babies right now, but should I wait until they need stakes to put them in?  Or do I stake them early so that the vines can grow on the stakes?  I actually don't know the answers to any of these questions yet.  Anyone have ideas?


I took a Pilates class on Tuesday night.  I've taken lots of different yoga classes, but never Pilates.  It's very different!  And my abs are still sore!  I also checked out a couple of workout DVDs from the public library: Skinny Bitch Boot Camp and Skinny Bitch Booty Bounce.  Omg.  Don't judge me.


Tonight we're going to Slow Food Chicago's Sweet Summer Solstice Potluck Supper at the Chicago Honey Co-op!  There are so many things to be excited about, I can hardly contain myself.  The Chicago Honey Co-op is "an urban apiary dedicated to beekeeping training and sustainable agriculture."  As a person who someday hopes to call herself a beekeeper, I am really looking forward to seeing it!  A certain man who lives in my apartment is a little more apprehensive.  I was telling him all about it at lunch today.  Here's how the conversation went:

Him, dripping with sarcasm: "Oh, sure, that sounds like a great neighborhood.  I've heard a lot of good things about that area." 

Me: "It's a farm!  There's a farm there!"

Him: "No there's not!  There's an abandoned Sears warehouse filled with bees!  Why are you taking me to a horror movie?!"


Anyway, I'm making a rhubarb cobbler to take with us, and I'm looking forward to seeing some people I know, and to meeting some new friends!  And learning more about the bees!!!!  (I love bees.  Did you know that?)


I'm a little tired of asparagus.  Am I even allowed to say that?  I feel like it was only a couple of weeks ago that I was whining, "When is the asparagus going to be here?"  And now I go to the market, expecting it to be gone, and it's still there, staring at me, like, "Well?  Are you really going to let me sit here?  If you don't eat me this week, you won't have good asparagus until next May.  Are you willing to wait that long?" 

I'm ready to say yes.  I'm asparagus-ed out.  Sorry.


Rhubarb, on the other hand, I could keep eating until it came out of my ears.  AND!  They had cherries at the market yesterday!  WHAT?!  I was amazed.  Normally, you don't get Michigan cherries until the middle to end of July!  Sometimes for the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City (the Cherry Capital of the world, don't cha know), they have to ship in cherries from Washington!  Shhhhhhh.  Anyway, Michigan tart cherry pie is on the menu for next week.


Many thanks to my awesome friend Meg the Grand for suggesting the charmingly retro disposable camera as a solution to my phone-only photo predicament.  You're the best! 

Have a great weekend, everyone!  And head over to Hallie's page for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Homemade Mozzarella Sticks!

The Coppertop Guy loves a good mozzarella stick.  I like them, too.  I mean, let's be real: who doesn't like a breaded and fried piece of cheese, dipped in hot marinara sauce?  It's not healthy, it's not fancy, but that does not mean it's not delicious.

Up until now, we had only experienced them at restaurants either as a means of avoiding starvation while waiting for burgers to come out, or as a worthy accompaniment to drinks with friends.  Then one day, I was looking at my melty, cheesy snack, and I thought, how hard could this possibly be?  It looks like a piece of string cheese that is breaded and fried!  And that, my friends, is exactly what it is.

First, assemble your breading station.  Here's mine:

Necessary items: 2 eggs, beaten, 1 cup Italian bread crumbs, a tray of string cheese sticks that have been cut in half, and an episode of Friends that you are watching on your computer.  How do you unwind after a long day? 

Double-dip those suckers so they have a nice, crispy crust on them.  Egg, crumbs, egg, crumbs.  Then stick them in the freezer for an hour or two (or a day or two if you want to make them ahead), so that the breading really sticks to the cheese.

Out of the freezer, and into a frying pan of very hot vegetable oil!  You could certainly deep-fry these, but I was only making an appetizer portion for two people, and that just felt like a waste of oil.  Plus, I don't have a deep fryer.  Watch out, they might pop a little.  I'll admit it, I screamed at a particularly loud and scary oil pop.

Mmmmmmmm sizzle.

There you have it!  Now go forth and make your own!

Mozzarella Sticks

1 package string cheese (not low fat; my package had 12 sticks in it)
2 eggs
1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
vegetable oil, about 1/2 inch deep

Cut each piece of string cheese in half, and lay them out on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Place the eggs in a bowl and beat them until smooth.  Place the bread crumbs in a separate bowl.  Dip each piece of cheese into the egg, then the bread crumbs, and place it back on the baking sheet.  After they have all been breaded, repeat the process to add an extra layer to each piece of cheese.  Place the baking sheet into the freezer for an hour or two (or up to two days).  Heat the oil in a frying pan until it is shimmering and very hot, and then carefully add the mozzarella sticks, frying in batches, about a minute on each side, until golden brown and delicious-looking.  Serve with hot marinara sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Those long rambling talks...

From time to time, my dad and I will get on the phone and talk and talk and talk and before I know it, it's been an hour or even two and one of us realizes it's probably kind of late and we are tired and need to go to bed.  I really love those rambling talks.  More often, it's just a quick hello while I'm walking to or from the train, or on my way to the store, or on my lunch break.  I treasure the long talks.  We talk about everything.  Last night, while we talked, I finished up the chocolate pudding pie I had started when I got home from work.  FYI: if you ever start whipping cream in the KitchenAid, and then walk away so that the noise doesn't drive your dad bonkers on the phone, and it whips a little too long, you can add a little more cream, stir it up, and whip it again to save it.  Just don't walk away again.  If your dad is like mine, he will wait patiently while you watch for the cream to get perfectly whippy. 

After I finished putting the whipped cream on the pie, I roasted some vegetables to take for lunch at work, and he told me funny stories from when he lived in Greenwich Village in the seventies.  I walked out on the deck and watched a summer thunderstorm roll in, all dark purply clouds and distant thunder.  I was in and out, talking, writing down some of the funnier things Dad said.  The storm broke like a water balloon over the city, and of course that's when I realized that I wanted to put fresh basil in my roasted veggies.  Grabbed some scissors and walked out in the rain for my first harvest of the season!  One lovely sprig of fresh basil (ah the joys of buying plants instead of seeds), snipped, chopped, and tossed in!

I wish my dad were here to have a piece of pie at my kitchen table.

Brown Rice and Roasted Vegetables

I made this specifically for take-to-work lunches.  I didn't plan ahead for it, I just used things I had on hand.  I would like to do something similar to this each week, so that I can save money on lunch, and also so that I can dictate what I eat, instead of trying to rely on restaurants every day.  You could do this about a million different ways, and you could incorporate leftovers if you happened to have some.  Grill the vegetables, use different beans, change the seasonings, use quinoa, wheatberries, or kamut instead of rice.

2 cups cooked brown rice
3 carrots, peeled and halved or quartered, depending on how big they are
2 yellow summer squash, quartered
1 onion, cut in 8 pieces
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed
3 cloves garlic, smashed
olive oil
lemon juice
salt and pepper
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
about 1/4 cup fresh basil

Put all the veggies (not the basil) in a bowl, and dress with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper.  Toss to coat.  Lay them out in a single layer onto a foil-lined (unless you like scraping up burned bits) baking sheet.  Roast for 20 minutes in a 450 degree oven, until starting to char, and barely softened.  Return to the bowl, and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.  Chop them all into small, uniform pieces.  I think mine were about 1/2-inch little cubes.  Combine with brown rice, beans, and basil, taste, and add a little more olive oil and lemon juice, and salt if it needs it. 

Makes about 4 lunchtime servings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lemon-Fennel Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Conserve

It took me a few hours to figure out what to do with my huge haul of strawberries from the market last week.  First I thought I would make strawberry shortcake.  Simple, allowing the strawberries to show off.  Then I considered this strawberry summer cake.  Then this strawberry upside-down cake with cardamom.  I couldn't decide!  I agonized!  I searched!  I read recipe after recipe trying to find something that would be worthy of these first summer strawberries.  I had settled on a strawberry-rhubarb crumble - the perfect way, I thought, to highlight the short period of time in which both are available!

Then, at the last minute, I didn't.  I decided to make an unrelated cake, and top it with a simple conserve of strawberries and rhubarb.  And I was right.  I will surely be making some cakes, pies, and crumbles with the strawberries to come, but for now, this was exactly what I wanted.  Plus, a bonus!  There's leftover conserve in the fridge, ready to be spooned directly into my mouth when I need a shockingly delicious reminder that it's finally, officially summer!  Happy summer, everyone!

Lemon-Fennel Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Conserve

The combination of ground pine nuts, yogurt, and olive oil gives this cake an almost pudding-like texture.  It is not too sweet, and is very delicious toasted the next morning for breakfast.

For the cake:
1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup ground pine nuts
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease an 8-inch standard loaf pan, and line with parchment so that the edges are folded over the sides like this (this makes the cake SO EASY to get out of the pan - it's like a little hammock you can use to lift it onto a cooling rack!). 

Sift together the flour, pine nuts, baking soda, fennel seeds and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine sugar, eggs, and lemon zest.  Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Fold in the olive oil.  Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan, and bake for 50-55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Serve with strawberry-rhubarb conserve and a little dollop of plain whole-milk yogurt.

For the conserve:
2 cups hulled and halved super-ripe strawberries
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
zest of 1 lemon, in strips

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened and bubbling, but not so long that the fruit loses all of its shape.  Remove the lemon zest strips, cool and serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Spoils of Spring

We've been running around like little chickens with our heads cut off for the past few days.  Remember that list of goals I had last week?  I accomplished most of them, and some other ones!  We bought a couch and a TV stand.  We painted the living room.  We bought some decorative wall thingies.  Our backyard container garden is off to a great start (check out the details over on the Coppertop Garden page).  We managed to get our apartment tidy enough to show to CTG's parents, and then I cooked dinner for them!


Yes.  That's how awesome I am.

One of the best things about fresh local produce in the summer is how little you have to do to prepare it.  Many things are fantastic just as they come from the market - give me a ripe tomato, sliced on a plate, and I call it lunch.  Drizzle it with olive oil, and serve with fresh mozzarella and basil, and I die a happy woman.  I've made several happy meals out of a bunch of asparagus: steamed and dipped in some leftover egg salad dressing, ribboned on top of a pizza, blanched and stirred into leftover curry, fried in olive oil instead of potatoes alongside a juicy burger.

And then there's this little pasta dish I made for my in-laws on Friday night.  The one I waited three days to make, after finding the fresh peas!  I'm glad I gave it some time to solidify in my head, though.  It was worth the wait.

Spoils of Spring Pasta (Peas, Asparagus, and Mint)

16 oz. long, flat pasta (I used linguine, but I think fresh tagliatelle would be amazing)
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch spring onions, white parts sliced into thin rings
2 bunches fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups shelled fresh peas (or frozen peas), blanched
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, sliced into thin strips
6 oz. fresh goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Boil a large pot of water, salt it, and cook the pasta until 1-2 minutes from done.  Drain, reserving a cup and a half of the starchy pasta water.  Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a wide, deep pan, and add the onions and garlic.  Saute for 2-3 minutes, until soft.  Add peas and asparagus, stir, and add about a cup of pasta water.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until the asparagus is bright green, and then add the pasta.  I had to transfer it to the big pasta pot at this point so that I could toss it together.  Toss over low heat until the pasta has absorbed most of the sauce, adding more pasta water if it gets too thick.  Remove from heat and toss in the mint and half of the goat cheese.  Taste, and adjust seasonings.  Transfer to a large bowl, and crumble the other half of the goat cheese on top.  Garnish with sliced mint or whole mint leaves, if desired.  Serve with green salad and warm bread (I made a rosemary focaccia).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The sweet perfume of strawberries and peonies

I had no idea what kind of a treat I was in for when I set off for the farmers market during lunch today.

First of all, the first stall I walked by had tomatoes!  My eyes popped out of my head, and I almost bought them, but then I felt a little distrustful.  Why are there already tomatoes?  That doesn't seem right... So I picked one up and smelled it; nothing.  No smell at all.  I'll pass until there are piles of tomatoes whose smell makes me swoon, thank you very much.

And then... be still my heart... I saw the strawberries.

Row upon row up bright red, juicy berries with perfume so strong I just stood there for a minute, soaking it in.  And then I bought 3 pints, drunk with fresh seasonal fruit happiness.  They're all ripe, and I need to use them up, but I think I'm up for the challenge.  I will probably eat one whole pint sitting at my desk this afternoon, although I'll have to be a little sneaky to pull that off.  Another pint will be dedicated to a dessert for my in-laws tomorrow night (get ready for a feast, guys!), and the other will probably go on top of pancakes or in muffins on Saturday morning. 

I feel like I've been waiting my whole life to eat these strawberries.  Well, at least a month.

Do you understand the difference between sad, out-of-season supermarket strawberries, and fresh, local, peak-of-season strawberries?  I mean really, do you?  They are so different that I can hardly believe they go by the same name.  I may write a sonnet about these Michigan strawberries.  I really may.

What else is in season right now, you ask?  WHAT ISN'T?!  I had been so frustrated by the absence of peas, and here I find out I was just too early!  Silly old freezing cold spring!  English peas and sugar snaps are here!  Sugar snaps that make you understand why they put the word "sugar" in the name.  Baby lettuce, onions, garlic.  Baby beets, lots of herbs.  Rhubarb, still.  I got two more bunches.  I was worried that I wouldn't be able to make it all the way to next spring, and I think this is the last of it.  I think I've got through 10 bunches of rhubarb.  I'm a little proud of that fact.  Asparagus, still.  Summer squash and zucchini! 

And peonies, which are my favorite flower.  I love all the shades of pink, the romantic mille-feuille petals, and the fragrance is out of this world.  I bought two bouquets for myself, and as I carried them around the market, I just kept sticking my nose deep within the blooms, and breathing, breathing, breathing... It felt decadent, euphoric, like floating. 

On a side note, did you know that the City of Chicago has planted some edibles in the big downtown planters in the Loop?  I saw it with my own eyes today!  Rainbow chard and tomatoes, smack dab in the middle of the city, instead of miles and miles of impatiens!  Wahoo!  Go Chicago!  Also, I am proud to say that I must be growing as a gardener, because I could identify the tomatoes without looking at the tag!  Go me!

I so wish that I could go home right now and play with all this produce.  But for now, I will be content to sit at my desk surrounded the sweet perfume of strawberries and peonies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Meghan's Soulmate Chocolate Cake

I had lunch with my sweet friend Meghan today!  She is not often able to get out of her office for a full hour during lunch time, so it was a rare treat to get to meet up with her.  We celebrated by meeting at Siam Rice for bowls of delicious, happy-making, hot Thai curry.  Which is especially perfect because it is once again cool, cloudy, and rainy here in the Windy City, and we need something to warm up our bellies and put a smile on our faces!

Speaking of putting smiles on people's faces, let's talk about a life-changing cake.

I know I keep talking about Molly and her book and her blog, but there is good reason for that.  I love her writing, and I love her recipes.  So I'll just keep talking about her, ok?  Anyway, since I read about her "Winning-Hearts-And-Minds" cake, I have been dreaming about it.  Dark chocolate, mouthwatering dreams.  This cake almost brings me to tears because it is everything a chocolate cake should be.

(I just remembered this wonderfully hilarious cake vs. pie post I read over at Hyperbole and a Half the other day, and I would just like to say that this cake is absolutely NOTHING like that yucky-looking store-bought birthday cake she's talking about.  And this cake kicks pie's little butt.  Just sayin'.)

After eating this cake for dessert last night (and then again for breakfast this morning shhhhhh), I decided I needed to bring Meghan some so that she could share in my ultimate cake joy.  Why I decided that a plastic sandwich bag was the way to transport it is beyond me.  I have perfectly respectable tupperware containers just waiting to be recruited for jobs like this.  But no, I stuck some cake in a plastic bag, threw it in my purse, and went on my merry way.  To the train, to work, to lunch.  Then I took the plastic bag out of my purse, and it looked like something I had forgotten to throw away after taking a dog out.  No lie.  BUT!  That does not affect the way it tastes.  After Meghan took it back to her desk and ate some, she said to me, via gchat, AND I QUOTE:

"I didn't even know about it, but i think i've been dreaming of this cake my entire life.
We're soulmates.
Well...until i finish devouring it."

So I will name this cake...

Meghan's Soulmate Chocolate Love Cake
(aka Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake)
adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

Some little notes about this: I used Equal Exchange Organic 65% Dark Chocolate from Ecuador, and it was amazing.  I hadn't used European-style butter before, but oh my gosh.  It is so much softer and more luxurious than other butter.  A couple minutes out of the fridge, it has a texture almost similar to Brie, which convinced me of its higher fat content.  It melts like nobody's business.  I love it.

7 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 3/4 sticks European-style butter, in smallish pieces
1 cup + 2 T granulated sugar
5 eggs
1 T unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an 8-inch cake pan, fit a round of parchment paper in the bottom, and butter the parchment.  Place the chocolate and butter in a medium bowl.  Microwave in 30-second increments, and stir until smooth (or melt over a double-boiler).  Add sugar, stir to combine, and let cool for a couple minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, stirring until incorporated after each addition.  Stir in the flour.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  Lick the bowl and spoon clean while it's baking.  Don't listen when your husband makes fun of you and tells you you've already had your piece of cake.  Cake will look barely set in the center when it's done (Molly says to check every 2 minutes starting at 20).  Cool for 15 minutes in the pan on a cooling rack.  Place a piece of foil over the cake, and turn it onto a plate (not the serving plate).  Put the serving plate upside down on top of that, and being very careful not to crush the cake, flip it back over.  Remove the top plate and foil, and cool completely before eating.  Or if you're like us, cool until you can't take it any longer, and then revel in the fudgy goodness.  Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Chicken and Rice, But Good.

Remember the dinner I had dreamed for last night?  Pasta, peas, asparagus, cream, mint?  I was on my way to making it.  I was!  I bought cream and mint!  I was sure I had some form of long, flat pasta at home.  I eagerly told the Coppertop Guy of my delicious dinner plans, and he replied, like a normal, red-blooded American man,

"What about the meat?  I DEMAND MEAT FOR DINNER!"

Just kidding.  What he really said was, "Would you please, beautiful wife of mine, pretty please put some chicken in the pasta as well?"

Well, it was somewhere in between those two, anyway.

So we picked up some chicken thighs.  I was grumbling about how the chicken was going to ruin my whole idea of this meal, and then I opened up the cupboard and realized there was not fettuccine or linguine or tagliatelle in there.  None at all.  So I scrapped the pasta plan and hatched a brand-new, chicken-centered one.  I put together some of my mom's pilaf, and whipped up what turned out to be a pretty awesome dinner.  And now the chicken is all gone again, and tonight I will make a fresh attempt to convince my hubby that pasta with veggies, cheese, and cream is a perfectly filling meal, even without the chicken.

And then I made the world's greatest chocolate cake, which I will tell you about later.  For now, I will just say this: I don't think I've licked a bowl and spoon that thoroughly since I was eight years old.

(I took a picture of this dinner with my phone, but it is quite un-appetizing.  You'll have to imagine it.  Or make it yourself.)

Chicken and Rice, But Good

1 package chicken thighs (there were 5 thighs in my package, probably about 1.5 pounds)
2 T flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 T olive oil
2 T vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3/4 cup dry white wine (or leftover Prosecco, like me!)
1 T butter
1 cup chicken stock (or more, if needed)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
drizzle of cream (maybe... 2 tablespoons?)

Pat chicken dry.  Over medium-high flame, heat a large pan with a tight-fitting lid, and add the oils.  Combine flour, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a small bowl and dredge chicken pieces through it.  Place chicken in preheated pan and sear on both sides, until lightly browned, 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove chicken to a plate, and add the onion to the pan.  Turn the heat down to medium, and saute the onion for a couple minutes, then add the wine and deglaze the pan.  Cook the wine until it is reduced by at least half; the onions will be brown and soft, and the wine will be thick.  Add the butter and chicken stock and stir to combine.  Replace the chicken in the pan, sprinkle with dried thyme, and cover.  Turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked all the way through.  Remove chicken to plate at tent with foil.  Thin sauce slightly with chicken stock, remove from heat and add cream.  Adjust seasonings, and serve over pilaf.

My Mom's Pilaf

My sister and I used to think it was so funny that our pilaf had "worms" in it.  The "worms" are really just spaghetti noodles that are broken into 1-inch pieces and then browned in butter before you add the rice and chicken stock.  They are fun and delicious.

2 T butter
A handful of spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces
1 cup white rice
2 cups chicken stock
salt to taste

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the uncooked spaghetti noodles, and saute until quite brown.  Add the rice and toss to coat with butter.  Add the chicken stock, stir, and bring to a boil, cover, turn the flame to low and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dill Pickle

There is a tiny, remarkably well-stocked community-owned grocery store/food co-op about 2 blocks from our apartment.  It's called the Dill Pickle, which I absolutely love.  We went in there last night after a couple hours of couch browsing, and I couldn't believe my eyes; they are the ONLY food retailer I've seen in Chicago, farmers markets included, that have fresh peas in the pods available!  I bought a whole pound, and tonight we will be having _________________ with fresh peas!  Any suggestions?  I was thinking maybe fettuccine with asparagus, peas, parmesan, and a little cream?  And mint!  Yeah...  that sounds amazing.  I'm doing that. 

The Pickle (as we fondly refer to it) also carries organic and/or locally sourced produce, local meats and dairy, artisan breads, bulk dried herbs, beans, rice, etc, coffee, tea... basically everything we use.  I'm really excited to become a part of their community - the girls who were working last night are members of the co-op who used to volunteer, and who now work there part-time.  They obviously love it there.  I'm usually really chatty with people about the food I'm buying, and the cashiers usually tolerate it, but the girl who was helping me actually engaged me in a conversation!  We talked for a little bit about what our plans were for the European-style butter they carry.  I'm such a nerd, but it makes me feel so good when I find fellow nerds out there. 

It's also right across the street from our local public library.  I'm in heaven over here!

Monday, June 13, 2011

So much to do...

Since I've spent the last 5 days traveling to a family reunion in Ohio, and since my camera fell out of my pocket and broke while I was riding a roller coaster on Thursday (I have it, but it's pretty busted up, missing some pieces, and won't turn on), I haven't been cooking and I have no photos to share.  So I will share a list with you of things that are making me happy and inspired these days:

  • The series of photo posts called "Notes on Italy" by Brian at The Blue Hour, starting with this one.
  • Asparagus, still.
  • This book that I just finished, and this one that I just started.
  • These three books that are on their way to me from Amazon, and this one that is waiting to be picked up at the library.
  • Planning my garden, and dreaming about the ripe juicy tomatoes I'll be eating next month.
  • The heirloom bean sampler and cookbook from Rancho Gordo that is headed my way via UPS.
  • I can't wait to try this recipe, for trail mix bars,
  • And this one for chocolate cake, which I already told you about,
  • and these two summery drinks!
This week my goals are to finish unpacking the apartment, get all the living room furniture we need (couch, chairs, TV stand), and get my garden planted.  The garden planning is giving me butterflies!  I hope it all works out, but I am definitely nervous.  It's a good, hopeful kind of nervousness, though.  It's just that it feels like a big leap from a few healthy houseplants to a few healthy edible outdoor plants.  OK, actually, when I put it like that, it doesn't seem so big at all.  I just have to narrow down exactly which plants I want so that I don't end up with more than I can handle. 

*deep breaths*

I took this with my phone as we were driving through Indiana on our way home.  I love summer sunsets.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Leather and Lace

I like traditions.  Like the traditional symbols for wedding anniversaries.  So far, we've stuck to the themes; it's fun, because it gives us some parameters for choosing gifts, and lets us get creative.  The first anniversary is paper, and we bought plane tickets and went to New Orleans for a long weekend.  Second is cotton, so we bought new sheets and towels (romantic, right?).  Third is leather.  Leather?  What the heck do you get that's leather?  Chaps?  I was at a loss for a while, but then the Coppertop Guy just got a new job, for which I thought he needed a nice leather work bag.  I'm super excited for next year, when the symbol is BOOKS!  YAY!

We went out for an absolutely lovely dinner last night - got all dressed up and everything.  CTG had made reservations at Takashi, a Bucktown restaurant that specializes in French-American fare with Japanese influences.  What a great pick!  There were so many things on the menu to choose from, including homemade tofu, soft shell crab, and pork belly.  I chose the roasted wasabi crusted new york strip steak, with fricassee of brussel sprouts, turnips, and radish, and a slice of potato cake.  "Crusted" makes you think there would be something crunchy or crispy about this, but it was not at all.  The steak was tender and juicy, and the sharpness of the wasabi was mellowed by a miso-soy glaze that was over the entire thing (and that I had to stop myself from licking off the plate when I was done).  The vegetables were unbelievable, soaked in butter, sweet, juicy, delightful.  The potato cake was out of this world!  Golden and crispy on the outside, super creamy on the inside, with a kick of black pepper that nearly sent me into orbit.  I will be doing as many kitchen experiments as it takes to recreate that at home.

CTG ordered chicken in a clay pot, served with haricots verts, mushrooms, eggplant, and yuzu juice.  I think eggplant has got to be one of the most incredible vegetables out there.  Every time I have it in a restaurant, the preparation has transformed it into something almost unrecognizable!  Think how different ratatouille is from baba ghanoush.  This eggplant, roasted in the clay pot with the yuzu juice, was so soft that I could barely get it from his plate to my mouth without it dissolving through my fork.  Then in my mouth, it melted with a burst of sweetness, almost like a cooked banana.  Incredible.

I was not blown away by my dessert.  Valhrona chocolate macadamia nut cake.  Sounds amazing, right?  Well, truth be told, I had been thinking for a few days (ever since I read about it in that book) about Molly's Winning Hearts and Minds cake.  Here are the ingredients: 7 oz. dark chocolate, 7 oz. butter, 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 5 eggs, 1 tablespoon flour.  That is the cake I had in mind when I ordered this cake, and what came out was one of those fancy-schmancy big white plates with three artfully arranged teeny tiny squares of dense chocolate... I hesitate to call it cake, because it was almost like a piece of candy.  Like fudge.  But not as melty.  It tasted pretty good, but I've gotta make that 5-ingredient chocolate cake as soon as possible.

Lovers forever, face to face
My city or mountains
Stay with me stay
I need you to love me
I need you today
Give to me your leather
Take from me my lace
(Stevie Nicks)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cowboy Spaghetti

I would like to talk to you for just a moment about Rachael Ray.

I know there are people out there who can't stand her, and also people whose entire kitchens are filled with bright orange cookware.  I land somewhere in the middle.  She may not be my very favorite Food Network personality (that title is reserved for Ina Garten and her "good vanilla"), but she's also not my least favorite (Sandra Lee; what a poser).  I think she's kinda cute, with her gravelly voice and big smile, her EVOO, and the balancing act she performs when she tries to get all the ingredients for an entire meal from the fridge/cupboard to the counter in one trip.  I have two of her cookbooks, of which my standout favorite is "Express Lane Meals."  I frequently recommend this book to friends of mine who are interested in learning to cook for themselves, but who have no idea where to start.  She explains the basics of a well-stocked pantry, and how to take a recipe and spin it into several different versions.  And, you guessed it, all the meals take 30 minutes (or less) to prepare.

It may not be the fanciest or the healthiest cookbook, but it gets dinner on the table, and it helped me to master some basic skills in the kitchen.  Like the ability to look at what I have and turn it into a meal that is, 9 times out of 10, pretty darn good.  Or how to multitask so that every part of dinner gets done at the same time, and in as little time as possible.   I have to say, I like it.

I also really, really like bacon.  Anyway...

One thing I have learned in my three years (exactly!  happy anniversary to me!) of marriage is that my husband is like any other discerning customer in a restaurant (in this case, it's Chez Coppertop), in that the names of dishes matter a great deal to him.  And he is a little bit picky.  For instance, he will not eat salads.  At all.  Ever.  (We may get over this at some point, but for now, we are at an impasse.)  Once I made a salad that only had things in it that he liked (green beans, asparagus, red pepper, dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs), but I made the mistake of calling it a salad, and he didn't touch it.  I feel pretty certain that if I had said, "Here are some vegetables," he would have eaten it.  Ah well.  My mistake. 

So when I found a recipe called "Cowboy Spaghetti" in my Rachael Ray cookbook, I knew we had to give it a try.  Spaghetti, ground beef, Worcerstershire sauce (I have to sound out the spelling of that word to be able to type it - holy cow), bacon, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, garlic and (shhhh) onions.  It also calls for hot sauce, which is awesome (and I have used before), but we were all out, and it's just as good without it.

This is what we had for our first dinner in the new apartment: Cowboy Spaghetti and Prosecco in our fancy wedding flutes, out on the deck (where else?).  It was perfect.

Cowboy Spaghetti
adapted from Rachael Ray's Express Lane Meals

1/2 pound spaghetti
1 T olive oil
2 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped (or a few good shakes of garlic powder)
Ground black pepper
1 tsp. hot sauce (optional)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 14-oz can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Boil a big pot of water, salt it, and cook the spaghetti al dente.  Heat a deep skillet over medium heat.  Add the olive oil and bacon, cook until it is crispy, and remove to a paper-towel-lined plate.  Drain some of the fat if necessary, leaving just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.  Add the ground beef and brown for 3-4 minutes, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon.  Stir in the onions and garlic.  Season with salt, pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce, if using.  Add tomatoes and about 1/2 cup starchy pasta water, stir, and cook 5-6 minutes.  Add cooked pasta, along with more pasta water if the sauce looks really thick.  Toss to combine, and serve in shallow pasta bowls, topped with cheese and bacon.

Serves 2.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fried Eggs on Toast

That visible sizzle on the edges?  That's butter.

This weekend was all about getting acquainted with my new apartment, especially the kitchen, deck, and back yard.  I am a little bit in love with this new place.  It has so much character, and it already feels homey, even though we don't have a couch and the living room and second bedroom are filled with boxes.  It takes three keys to get in, because there are three doors in the front.  We have a private entryway, which I know I will appreciate in a whole new way in the winter when our gigantic, ugly boots are caked with salt and snow and need a separate place to live.  It's OK, boots.  You can live in the entryway. 

Not surprisingly, my favorite place in the apartment is the kitchen.  It's in the back, and it is huge.  There was an abandoned kitchen table in the basement that we were told we could have, and it fits right in the middle.  Above the cupboards are these airy gallery spaces that are lit with little spotlights.  There's a back door that opens onto a deck, which I can't wait to decorate with lanterns and lights.  Every single meal that I have eaten at home since we moved in has been out on the deck.  Then there's a little yard that gets tons of sun.  All day on Saturday, as I was setting up the kitchen, I kept peeping out the door to note where the sun was shining, and I can say with near-certainty that tomatoes will be very, very happy back there.  (Here I pause to daydream about juicy, fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes...)

The first meals I'm cooking in this kitchen have a weightiness about them.  They feel like an audition, like a first date.  Sunday morning, I woke up and walked into the kitchen, where my shiny sink smiled brightly at me, and I thought about what to make for breakfast.  Muffins, I thought.  I had a muffin last week with oatmeal, carrots, and raisins, and I wanted to try to recreate it.  Then I remembered I ran out of raisins before we moved.  Also, I was pretty hungry, and not feeling ready to use the oven.  That feels like a second or third date kind of meal.  So I settled on a simple stovetop breakfast: Fried Eggs on Toast. 

Right this way to deck and yard paradise!

This is the ultimate simple meal, and with a big cup of fresh coffee, it was exactly what I wanted on Sunday morning, to take out on the deck and eat while reading A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg. Molly writes the blog Orangette, which is one of my favorites.  I love the way she writes.  She is a fellow food-loving redhead, and as I read I feel that she is a kindred spirit.   Like this quote, from the chapter "Summer of Change":

"At the end of the day, when I was exhausted and fed up and unsure of everything, food was a certainty.  It was what I thought about, what I cared about, what I wrote about, what got me out of bed in the morning.  (I mean that.  I get up for the sole purpose of eating breakfast.  I don't know why else you would.)"

Me either.

My Dad got me that mug for Christmas.  He rocks.

Fried Eggs on Toast

As many eggs and slices of toast as there are people.
Butter, salt, and pepper.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the butter (just shy of a tablespoon per egg, don't be stingy), tilting the pan to melt and distribute.  Crack an egg and place it gently in the pan, so the white doesn't spread out too much.  Repeat with remaining eggs.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Depending on how well-done you like your eggs, fry for 1-2 minutes per side.  I like them over medium on toast, because the yolk is still a little runny, but not so runny that it makes a mess (and you don't get to eat it unless you want to lick the plate).  Put each egg on a slice of toast, and serve with apple slices, strong coffee, and a good book.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bye-bye, pyramid!

Yesterday, the First Lady unveiled this new image, along with a detailed new set of guidelines and suggestions for healthy eating and nutrition.  I'm not that excited that this is what $2 million in research and marketing looks like, but it's a step in the right direction.

Remember the old food guide pyramid that was released in 1992? 

There are so many, many things wrong with this picture.  For instance, grain is represented as much, much more important than fruits and vegetables.  Not great, but simple.

It was replaced by this ridiculously confusing and complicated pyramid in 2005:

What a mess!  The way it's set up is somewhat misleading, placing too much emphasis on grains again.  If you go to the trouble of clicking on each section and reading the recommended daily amounts of each of these groups, here's what you find:

We need more dairy products than vegetables?  Really?

MyPlate is better.  It gives a great emphasis on fruits and vegetables, which is fantastic.  The "protein" section is a little confusing, since whole grains and vegetables also provide protein, but I get it - it leaves it up to you to choose meat, beans, tofu... whatever.  This is definitely an improvement.  I guess I am just generally annoyed by the weight we place on government recommendations like these.  Take, for example, the low-fat craze.  Following a recommendation to reduce fat intake, people started eating drastically more carbohydrates and sugar, which contributed to widespread obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes.  Also, there has been some concern that the people who come up with the guidelines are not immune to the influence of big food lobbies.

It seems like every study that comes out shows some proof that eating this or avoiding that will make or break your health, nutrition, and weight.  The question is: why do we keep trusting these studies?  They have proven time and time again that nutrition is an inexact science. 

Let's keep it simple.  Let's follow rules and guidelines that have been passed down through tradition and arrived at by common sense rather than nutrition science.  Let's eat a whole lot more plants.  Instead of coming up with complex graphics to explain food, let's teach kids where their food comes from, what's in season, and how to cook!  Our diet and exercise should bring us joy and pleasure, not anxiety and pain.  Let's let go of all the science and have a little bit more fun. 

What do you think about the new graphic and guidelines?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Aunt Shelley's 4-Layer Dessert

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake and Four-Layer Dessert!

This week has been a lot of things.  Fun, exhausting, mildly stressful.  Full to the brim with family, food, and laughter.  In the last seven days, I have:
  • flown in three airplanes,
  • met my little sister's new beau,
  • attended my cousin's wedding,
  • babysat my other cousin's kids (including one who had an epic toddler meltdown, poor thing),
  • soaked up some sun by the pool,
  • spent about 10 hours in the car with my family,
  • packed and moved to a new apartment,
  • witnessed the arrival (finally!) of summer in Chicago, and
  • caught a very nasty cold
Having a cold when it finally gets warm is... well, let's just say I don't appreciate the irony.

Me and Mamma, the bathing beauties!

Being with my family was fantastic.  Many of my extended family members are in the military, so with all their moving, the times when we can all get together have been few and far between (and lately, mostly involving weddings).  There are at least 5 of us who have the same voice, which makes things pretty hilarious.  My cousin and I were standing in the kitchen at one point, and she called out, "Daddy?", and my Daddy answered.  Happens all the time.  And it's even harder on the phone.  It's a blast.  Especially now that people have started having babies!  My aunt has 7 grandbabies already, and another one on the way!  Unbelievable.  My mom has... no grandbabies.  Yet.  Sorry, Mamma!  I'll get right on that!  ;)

My Aunt Shelley with one of her grandbabies.  And my grandbaby-less Mamma.
Needless to say, I haven't been cooking much.  My kitchen is in boxes!  But I still wanted to share a recipe with you, so here it is: Aunt Shelley's Four-Layer Dessert.  Let me say first that this recipe is in no way representative of my aunt's amazing culinary capabilities.  Sometime, I will have to share a recipe that does her justice.  But it's nice to have a really easy dessert up your sleeve, and sometimes you just need some Cool Whip in your life.  Can I get an amen? 

Aunt Shelley's Four-Layer Dessert

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 8-oz package cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 8-oz container Cool Whip
2 4½-oz containers chocolate or butterscotch pudding mix
3 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350.  Combine flour, butter, and walnuts and press into bottom of a 9x13 baking pan.  Bake for 25 minutes, and cool completely.  Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until fluffy, and fold in 2 cups Cool Whip.  Spread over cooled crust.  Beat pudding and milk until thick, and spread over cream cheese layer.  Top with remaining Cool Whip.  Chill.  Can be made up to 1 day ahead.

Congratulations to a beautiful couple!