Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cranberry Ginger Scones

Cranberry ginger scone

Well, hello, and happy Wednesday! There is someone I would like for you to meet. The newest addition to the Coppertop family arrived on November 9, and after one whole month of blissful, exhausting, amazing time together, our little Anne is ready to say hello.

1 month old Anne 

As you can imagine, things are a little different in my kitchen right now. I'm glad that I compulsively grocery-shopped in the weeks leading up to Anne's arrival, because having a stocked-to-the-gills freezer, fridge and pantry has helped me throw together a lot of quick meals. Baking is at a minimum for now, although we are starting to settle into a groove which allows me a little more freedom. I'm hoping I'll have time for at least one batch of Christmas cookies.

I feel more like myself than I ever have in my life; more fulfilled, more happy, more comfortable in my skin. I am living out my vocation. It is harder than I thought, requires more of me than I expected, and is infinitely more rewarding than I had dreamed. At times I just stare at my girl and marvel that she is mine. What a spectacular Christmas gift!

Cranberry ginger scone

Cranberry Ginger Scones

3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup buttermilk or kefir

Optional glaze:
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, ground ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Cut the butter into small pieces and use your fingers or two knives to work it into the dry ingredients, until the mixture resembles fresh bread crumbs. Add the crystallized ginger, cranberries, and buttermilk or kefir, and stir together until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly twelve times. Pat the dough into a circle about 1/2 inch thick.  For the glaze, stir together the cream and sugar in a small bowl and brush over the top. Cut the dough into 12 pie-shaped wedges and place about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake about 12 minutes, until tops are golden. Serve hot.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Crispy Kale Salad

Crispy Kale Salad

Well, apparently the baby didn't get the memo, or maybe she just doesn't have a calendar handy, but the official due date is here! I am totally unconcerned, since about 50% of pregnancies go past their "due" date, but I am getting very eager to meet this little girl, and have started doing everything that I can to encourage her! I'm trying to incorporate daily long walks and a fair amount of spicy food (even though I have to keep the Tums close).  Enter a crispy salad with a hit of Thai chile in the dressing.

Crispy Kale Salad

This past weekend, my friend Meg and I went to a tour/dyeing demonstration/mill ends sale at Lorna's Laces, a locally-owned hand-dyed yarn company. I've been falling more and more in love with knitting ever since last winter when I got inspired to knit a sweater... even though I didn't know how to knit yet. I threw myself into the deep end on that project, and ever since I have felt like nothing could possibly be beyond my reach, if I want it. That said, I've been finding immense satisfaction from smaller projects lately; finished Christmas gifts are just flying off my needles!

Crispy Kale Salad

Crispy Kale Salad

If you're new to the wonderful world of kale, try this Roasted Kale and Coconut Salad too; it will blow your mind.

1 large bunch lacinato (Tuscan) kale
2 carrots
1 large radish
1 cucumber
2 cups chopped bokchoy
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, optional

for the dressing:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
juice of two limes
1 Thai chile, seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Remove the ribs from the kale, and tear half into large pieces (about 5 inches). Arrange the pieces on a large baking sheet, coat with cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, until crispy. Cool completely.

Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife to cut the carrots, radish, and cucumber into thin wafers, and chop the remaining kale into thin strips. Place vegetables and herbs in a large bowl and prepare the dressing. Combine the brown sugar and water in a small bowl and microwave for 30-60 seconds, then stir to dissolve completely. Add remaining 4 dressing ingredients and stir to combine. Add about 2/3 of dressing to the salad and toss. Arrange salad on plates, top with crispy kale, and drizzle remaining dressing over. Serve!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cranberry-Orange Muffins

cranberry orange muffins

I'm not sure what I love most about the pre-baby maternity leave that I'm currently enjoying. Is it the fact that I can go run errands around 10am, when there is no traffic, and no line at the grocery store?  Is it the daily baking?  The freedom to see friends for two-hour lunches, and to take naps?  The couple of hours a day spent knitting and watching TV? The fact that I have energy at the end of the day to make a nice dinner and eat with my husband? I don't know, it's all been lovely. Absolutely lovely.

cranberry orange muffins

I started baking treats because I loved the idea of bringing a little edible gift to the nurses in the maternity ward at the hospital - a little bribe for quality care can't hurt, right? And then I thought, why stop there? So after I had a dozen chocolate chip cookies and eight cheesecake-marbled brownies chilling out in the freezer, I just kept going! I had a couple of past-prime bananas on the counter, so I made crackly banana bread, and stashed most of it in the freezer pre-sliced. Then some everything cookies, which I just realized I've never told you about. I will, I promise. Then on to roasted pear and chocolate chunk scones, frozen unbaked for a warm breakfast treat in December or January. I have elaborate visions of myself all calm, holding my newborn baby girl, pouring coffee and pulling freshly baked scones out of the oven for a friend who came over for breakfast. Who knows if that's anywhere close to reality, but I have high hopes. And I just made it a million times easier for myself, since the only thing I'll actually have to do is turn on the oven and put the scones in. Perfect!

cranberry orange muffins

I've also been doing what I can to prepare for life after baby. There's only so much you can read about childbirth, breastfeeding, and newborn care before the words start swimming before your eyes and you worry about how you're ever going to remember it all, so yesterday I headed over to the library and picked up some fiction. I've also been thinking about how isolated new moms (actually, moms in general) can become in our culture, and seeking out ways to prevent myself from feeling that way all winter long. There used to be so much community for raising babies; women banded together and all pitched in where they could. In a city this size, I know that feelings of isolation are easy to come by, but with so many people so close, there's really no reason for that. Enter the "village" of the 21st century, I've already found 2 or 3 promising communities of women with small kids who I'm really excited to connect with. They host playdates and book clubs, meet for coffee and walks, and from what I can tell, generally support each other.  I look forward to meeting some new friends.

cranberry orange muffins

I love it when fresh cranberries reappear at the supermarket; it feels like the holiday season has arrived! Here are some other ways I love to use them:

Roasted Cranberry-Apple Sauce
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

Cranberry Orange Muffins

adapted from the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1 pound bag fresh whole cranberries, rinsed and picked over for mushy ones
zest of 1 orange
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray two standard muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the yogurt and dry ingredients in 3 alternating additions, ending with yogurt, mixing on low until combined. Use a spatula to fold in cranberries, orange zest, and pecans. Scoop generous amounts of batter into each muffin cup (you have to really fill them for them to get that rounded, puffy muffin top). Sprinkle the tops with a bit of sugar, if desired, and bake about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for a minute or two, and then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Yield: about 18-20 standard-size muffins, or half as many jumbo muffins, or a mix of the two (I got 12 standard and 4 jumbo from my batch).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pumpkin Bread with Maple-Walnut Streusel

pumpkin bread

Nesting is funny. It seems to take different forms for different people. A friend of mine dusted all the baseboards in their house. Deb from Smitten Kitchen made brownies. My mom decided it was high time she move an entire giant pile of firewood from one side of the garage to the other. So far, I have been knitting up a storm, getting a jump on Christmas gifts (WHAT?! You think I should wait until I have a tiny human who depends on me for her every need to start making and buying gifts?), finishing up the painting projects in our new condo (apparently I can't imagine bringing my baby home to a bedroom without a purple accent wall), and listening to Christmas music (I know, I know). I've also noticed that every time I go to the grocery store, I wander around looking for things to stock up on, you know, in case this is the last time I ever get to go to the grocery store.

I had thought that I would be extremely annoyed to have the presidential election coincide with the end of my pregnancy, but it turns out it's a pretty entertaining race (did you see the debate last night? I thought they were going to start throwing punches!), and it's not too shabby to have them tell me on the news every morning exactly how many more days there are until my due date, which is one day after the election. I plan on voting unless I am in labor - luckily I only have to walk (waddle?) half a block to my polling place.

This recipe is oh-so-similar to the one I posted last year, but with enough of a difference that I wanted to post it here anyway. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Bread with Maple-Walnut Streusel

1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

For the streusel:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup brown sugar
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour two standard loaf pans.  Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In another bowl, stir together butter, sugar, eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, dates and walnuts.  Add to dry ingredients and fold together, taking care not to over mix.  Divide evenly between loaf pans. Toss the streusel ingredients together in a small bowl with a fork and sprinkle evenly over both loaves. Bake 50-65 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

Yield: two loaves

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Potato Leek Soup

potato leek soup

It is a magical day today! 10.11.12! I'm not sure why these days feel so exciting to me - I suspect it is because we made 6.7.08 our wedding day, so the sequential dates feel important and fun and full of promise. We are also having the most beautiful fall weather imaginable; blue skies that could only be possible in October, spectacular sunrises, eye-popping color on the trees, and cool, crisp temperatures. It is an absolutely LOVELY time of year.  I hope you are enjoying it as well!

We haven't turned the heat on in our home yet this year, and I think my husband is suffering.  Here's a snippet of conversation from earlier this week:

Him: How are you doing, temperature-wise?
Me: Great! I'm very comfortable.
Him: Oh ok. That's good then.
Me: Why, are you cold?
Him: Well, it's 65 degrees in here.

Poor guy. When they say you've got a bun in the oven, you tend to focus on the "bun" part, and not so much on the "oven." Let me tell you, I am an oven. I try to make up for the lack of heat by roasting chickens and making soup! We'll be warm from the inside out.

potato leek soup 1

Potato Leek Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups

4 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks, rinsed well and thinly sliced
4 potatoes, diced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 rib celery, diced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, until slightly softened.  Add potatoes, carrots, and celery and saute about 5 more minutes. Season with thyme, and add the stock or water. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat to medium-low.  Continue simmering about 45 minutes, until potatoes and carrots are tender.  Puree about half the soup in a blender and return to the pot. Add the milk, stir, and heat through. Taste the soup and add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts with Brown Butter Glaze

pumpkin donuts

A couple of Saturdays ago, we found ourselves facing a crisp fall day that had absolutely nothing planned in it! Days like these have been pretty much nonexistent in our lives lately, so I decided this would be the perfect day to find an orchard and go apple-picking! The problem with wanting to do such a quintessential fall activity is, if you happen to live in the middle of a big city, you might have to drive a couple of hours each way to get your u-pick fix. Unfortunately, we still haven't completely recovered from our travel marathon month of August (we drove over 2,000 miles), so we decided to strip the experience down to bare bones: fresh apples, of course, and (almost) more importantly, warm doughnuts.

just glazed pumpkin donuts

For this recipe, you will need a special doughnut pan. You can usually snag one in the kitchen section of TJ Maxx, or you can order one online. Alternatively, you could definitely bake these in muffin tins (or mini muffin tins!), but then... they wouldn't be doughnuts, now would they? And let's just be real, please: a baked doughnut would never beat a fried one in a contest, but it's a lot less hassle (and a lot less blatantly indulgent).

Happy fall!!

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts
adapted from

makes 6

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons milk
1/4-1/2 teaspoon mace (or a little more nutmeg)
1/2 cup pecan halves (optional)

Coat a doughnut pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk to combine.

Scoop the batter into a large freezer bag, snip off a corner of the bag, and pipe the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 13-16 minutes, until donuts spring back when lightly touched.  Cool in the pan for 3 minutes, and then turn onto a rack to cool completely.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling constantly to keep from burning, until it turns golden and smells toasty and amazing. Add the butter to a small bowl with the powdered sugar, mace or nutmeg, and milk, and whisk together, adding more milk if necessary to achieve the right consistency. Toast the pecan halves in a dry skillet over medium heat, tossing frequently, until fragrant. Chop roughly.

When the doughnuts are completely cooled, dip each one into the glaze, allowing it to drip off, and sprinkle toasted pecans on top. Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday!

I have one very important thing to share with you today, and several small, unimportant things. Read on. :-)

1. Rough Draft Farmstead Fundraiser

A couple of years ago, I worked for several months at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, where I met Hannah (holding flowers in the photo above). That was around the time when I first started learning about honeybees (and how amazing they are), and Hannah fueled my interest! It was her dream to become a beekeeper someday. Shortly before I left, Hannah moved to Kentucky to work and live on Bugtussle Farm, where she met her husband Jesse. They decided to start their own farm last year, and have been chronicling their adventures on their blog. They had a hiccup and ended up having to start over, and right now they are trying to raise some money with which to build a little off-the-grid cabin. Please head to their site to learn more about them (they are very inspiring!), and most importantly, head to their fundraising page and make a small (or large!) donation to their building project! They have such a reasonable budget, and such honorable life goals - they are people worth supporting. Support them and spread the word to others who might also be interested! Thank you!

2. Pumpkin Spice on a Budget

Do you look forward to the coming of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks? I love them. But at like $3.50 for a tall, that is not something I can do more than once or twice. Enter the new Pumpkin Spice VIA packets. I have not been a fan of the VIA packets in other situations, preferring my coffee to be brewed from freshly ground beans in a French press, but this is an exception. One of these packets + 8 ounces of hot milk = pumpkin spice latte at home. For a fraction of the price. And it's delicious! Put a little whipped cream on top, and a little nutmeg, and you are golden.

3. Um, my shoes don't fit.

I've heard this might be a permanent pregnancy-induced change. I am not a fan.

4. Just Add Spinach!

I posted this recipe for stuffed shells last September. Last night, I made it again, but with the addition of a small box of (extremely well-drained) frozen spinach to the cheese filling. It was delicious. I encourage you to try it - it really bumps up the nutritional profile of that meal.


Photo from
Back when it was so hot that I could hardly move (and by that I mean the entire summer), I saw this recipe (and the photo above... so lovely) for black raspberry ice cream. I just happened to be setting up a baby registry at the time, and I thought... well, the baby would eat ice cream if I made it... And so I half-jokingly put the KitchenAid ice cream attachment, and this book that I've been drooling over for months, on the registry (that is one of the beautiful things about registering on Amazon). At the beginning of August, my sweet sister bought me... the cookbook. Which was great, except that now I had hot weather, awesome ice cream recipes... and no ice cream maker. This week, that all changed. Some dear friends of ours (who we got to see briefly over Labor Day weekend) sent us the ice cream maker! I could not care less that summer is over. We are going to have ice cream all winter. Flavors I can't wait to try: pumpkin, apple pie, and ginger, which I had in Maine last fall and haven't been able to find since. I. Am. So. Excited.

6. Smitten Kitchen Book Tour

Deb is coming to Chicago (well, the burbs at least) on Monday, November 19. The estimated due date for the baby is November 7. I can imagine myself going with a week-old baby, and I can imagine myself going if I'm still pregnant. I just hope I'm not in labor that day, ok? Ok, baby girl? Can we make a deal? I want to go have Deb sign my Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Please arrange your travel plans accordingly. 

7. Make this salad, while the tomatoes are still at the farmers' market.

Trust me.

Have a great weekend, and go see Grace for more quick takes!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New Series: Fresh and Frugal!

fresh and frugal

It's back to school time! We can all stand to learn a little something new, and this fall I would like to introduce a new series in the Coppertop Kitchen called Fresh and Frugal. The purpose of these posts is to share practical ways to make it easy to eat well on a budget. Eating well can be thought of from a lot of different angles, from good health and nutrition, to mindfulness about the environment, to supporting local economies. We should be able to accomplish all of this without sacrificing pleasure or breaking the bank, and that is what these posts will aim to explore. Let me know if there's a specific food or topic you'd like me to talk about!

You may have heard a story in the news over the past couple of days regarding a study that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, regarding the nutritional differences between organic and conventional produce. Headlines in many major news outlets said things like, "Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You," (NPR) and "Organic Food Adds No Vitamins For Extra Cost" (Bloomberg Business Week). These headlines made me laugh a little to myself, and when I read the articles I was surprised that anyone would be duped into thinking they contained anything that might be thought of as "news." Most conscious consumers of organic food would tell you they were never under the impression that there were more vitamins in something just because it bears the "organic" label. And mostly, that's not the point. Organic farming practices are vastly better for the environment, using methods of fertilization and pest control that actually improve the quality of the soil, rather than dumping chemicals which run off into water sources and kill beneficial insects and bacteria. There's also the matter of pesticide residue, the effects of which we still don't know (and I'm sorry, but a two-year study is not quite long enough to convince me).

For me, "organic" is not the most important descriptor of good food. For one thing, organic certification is expensive, and many small farms that employ organic farming practices simply can't afford it. "Local" is much more important to me. I like being able to support my local economy by buying peaches from the same farmer week after week. It makes me feel connected. And get this! The produce I buy at my local farmers' market is probably more nutritious because it was more likely to have been picked when ripe, and didn't have to travel for days over thousands of miles to get to me. Something that was living on a tree yesterday and is in my belly today gives me more vitamins than something that was living on a tree a week ago, and was picked before it was ripe so that it could more easily be shipped without damage.

Other adjectives that get me excited:
  • Free-Range: Meat and eggs from free-range chickens are higher in beta carotene, protein, and hello, flavor. Be careful about this label, though, and buy from a producer you know if you can. Free-range technically means that the birds have access to the outdoors, not necessarily that they go out there and get exercise and peck in the grass.
  • Grass-Fed: Beef from cows that grazed on grass for all of most of their lives is leaner, higher in omega-3 fatty acids, and less likely to have been serially treated with antibiotics. It tastes different, and because it's leaner it cooks differently, but it is delicious. Dairy from pastured cows is better, too! Healthier cows produce healthier foods for us, and since cows aren't naturally adapted to eat grain (which is fed to them because it's cheaper), it makes them sick, which makes them need antibiotics. Sad cows. This is another example, though, of where the "organic" label can lead you astray. Organic milk likely just comes from cows that were fed organic grain, not allowed to graze on pasture. Read the labels!
  • Wild, Line-Caught, Pole-Caught: There's fishing and then there's fishing. Farmed salmon is fed (you guessed it) grain. Because its diet is less varied and nutritious, the meat from it is less nutritious. (For more about that, read this post.) Pole- or line-caught refers to the method of catching fish; catching fish with nets is much less sustainable, and causes all kinds of problems. The Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes handy pocket guides to help you choose sustainable seafood.
Adjectives I couldn't care less about:
  • All-Natural: Oh, this one is a doozy. All this means is that nothing in it is blatantly artificial. It is not an FDA-regulated label, so pretty much anyone can put it on pretty much anything. 
  • Low-fat, Non-fat, Fat-free: Get with the program, people. Fat is good for you. Your body needs it. Stop buying into the outdated idea that fat causes Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc. The low-fat craze did absolutely nothing to curb the spread of these lifestyle diseases. Plus, whoever said that fat = flavor was right on the money.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of factors that go into each food decision we make. I try to do the best I can while considering budget, sustainability, and nutrition, and I try to be sensible. Above all, I don't beat myself up if once in a while I buy conventionally-grown strawberries or a double cheeseburger at Mickey D's. It's all about balance and moderation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peach Cobbler

Peach Cobbler 1

It seems that every region has their produce pride on during the summer - the best, most flavorful (fill in the blank) can only be found in MY hometown. The only (apples, cherries, peaches) worth eating are from MY state, MY region. I kind of love it! It feels old-timey and sweet that people so fiercely defend their perfect fruits and veggies. The South Carolina peach! The Washington apple! The Maine blueberry! The Traverse City cherry! It puts me in mind of state fairs and blue ribbon heirloom tomatoes, and I like that.

Peach Cobbler 3

I have had the good fortune of tasting peaches from the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest this summer, due to summer travel and generous, peach-toting friends. I must say that every peach is a poem in itself, and I usually just stuff my face full of as many as possible, not pausing to criticize. Juice dripping all over my hands and face, I am happy. And because they're so insanely delicious totally naked, I tend to do as little as possible when cooking with them. Such is the case with this cobbler: a touch of sugar and cornstarch, a simple drop biscuit on top, a bit of loosely whipped cream, and I am in peach heaven.

Peach Cobbler 2

Peach Cobbler

about 4 pounds fresh peaches, pitted and sliced into 1/4- to 1/2-inch wedges
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss peaches, sugar, and cornstarch together in a 9x13 baking dish, and bake for 10 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the topping. Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles fresh bread crumbs. Pour the boiling water in, and working quickly with a wooden spoon, stir together until it forms a soft dough. Scatter pieces of dough over the hot peaches, sprinkle the top with more sugar, and bake until golden and bubbling, about 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Strawberry Hibiscus Granita

strawberry hibiscus granita 2

It has been so. HOT. Unrelenting! Go outside to water the plants and come in sweating hot. 80 degrees at 7 in the morning hot. The subway station feels like the bowels of hell kind of hot.

Ice for dessert! Perfect.

I know I'm a little late to the strawberry game, but even if you can't find local strawberries anymore, you should still be able to make a rather respectable granita out of berries from the supermarket. Or improvise! Blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries - even sweet cherries - would make a fantastic substitute.

strawberry hibiscus granita

Strawberry Hibiscus Granita

adapted from Bon Appetit

4 hibiscus tea bags (I used Tazo Passion)
1 pound strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/2 cup agave nectar
juice of one lime

Steep the tea bags in 1.5 cups boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove tea bags and chill tea until cold, about an hour. Blend strawberries in a blender until pureed, add chilled tea, agave nectar, and lime juice, and whirl for another second in the blender until just combined. Pour strawberry mixture into a 9x13x2 pan and place carefully in the freezer. Freeze for 2 hours, until a hard top layer forms, and then scrape and smash with a fork to loosen the ice crystals. Freeze another 30 minutes and scrape again, repeating every 30 minutes for about 2 more hours, until fluffy and frozen through. Divide among bowls and serve.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Toasted Oat + Brown Butter Banana Muffins

Toasted Oat Banana Muffins

I feel a little bad to be giving you this recipe right now. I feel bad because if you're living anywhere near where I'm living, you're in the middle of a relentless heat wave and you think that baking (or really doing anything but sitting in the air conditioning or swimming in a pool) sounds like an absolutely awful idea. And I feel bad because no matter how hot it is, when you hear the words "toasted oat and brown butter banana muffins with pecans," if you're like me, you will preheat the oven. C'est la vie.

My suggestion? Make them early in the morning when it's only like 80 degrees instead of 100. Then after they cool, freeze them, and you can have home-baked treats for days. Of course, if you'd rather not bake muffins, here are some things you might consider adding to your holiday menu this week: Heat Wave Salad, Grilled Chard Salad, or Blueberry Tart!

Toasted Oat Banana Muffins

My parents are coming down from Michigan to celebrate America's birthday with us this week, and I have five lovely days in a row off of work. Bring on the pool time! Here's what we've got planned: fireworks on the beach, grilled flank steak, a trip to the Daley Plaza farmers' market (there will be 6 hands that can hold bags of local produce - how will I keep myself from over-buying?!), grilled shrimp and jicama salad, strawberry-hibiscus granita, an outdoor concert and picnic dinner in Grant Park, corn on the cob, and banana pudding. Most of all, we will enjoy each others' company while drinking cold things and moving as little as possible.

Enjoy your 4th of July! And stay cool, dudes.

Toasted Oat Banana Muffins

Toasted Oat + Brown Butter Banana Muffins

Makes 6 large muffins, 12 standard-size muffins, or one standard 8x4 loaf pan.

6 ounces (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 medium bananas, mashed
1 cup toasted pecan halves, chopped (reserve one half per muffin to decorate the top)
3/4 cup toasted old-fashioned rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, swirling regularly. The butter will start to sputter and pop. This is good news. Keep swirling the skillet periodically so that the butter browns evenly. When it starts to smell toasty and looks barely brown, pour it into a bowl and set aside to cool. Be very careful - it goes from delightfully brown to burned very quickly.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, yogurt, and mashed bananas, and set aside. In a medium skillet, toast the pecan halves over medium-low heat until they are fragrant, about 5-10 minutes, tossing regularly. In the same skillet, toast the oats until fragrant, about 2 minutes, tossing regularly.  Add the chopped pecans and oats to the flour mixture.

When the butter has cooled, add it to the banana-egg mixture, and whisk to incorporate. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until all the flour is moistened - be careful not to overmix.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, slightly smooth the tops, and place one whole pecan half in the center of each muffin. Bake for 25-30 minutes (for large muffins), until a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly (about 10 minutes) in the pan, remove, and serve warm with butter or cream cheese.

Estimated cooking times for different pans: standard muffins: 20-25 minutes, standard loaf: 45-60 minutes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Pregnancy Edition!

In case you didn't read yesterday's post carefully enough, that's right! I'm pregnant! And so today, 7 random things that I've wanted to say over the past few months, but haven't been able to lest I prematurely spill the beans! Go see Jen for more quick takes!

- 1 -

There is no sweeter sound to a pregnant lady's ears than to hear someone say, "You look great." No matter how excited I am to be sharing my body with this little person I'm growing, there are times when I just look in the mirror and can't muster a happy thought about what I look like. To hear someone else tell me I look nice really makes my day. (Side note: I don't know how people go back to wearing regular pants, after having worn maternity pants. I'm just saying.)

- 2 -

You can eat soft cheese all you WANT! I am really not good at following rules if I don't understand the reasoning behind them, and since there are some things you're supposed to avoid while pregnant (and I will not take your word for it), I decided to read the fine print. Fact: soft cheese is fine, as long as it's made with pasteurized milk. Do you know how hard it is to even find soft cheese that's made with raw milk? Almost impossible. So indulge in that bacon and bleu cheese burger, or the goat cheese salad, or crackers with Brie, or whatever it is that you're craving. It's perfectly safe. Sushi? Still no. Deli meat? Only if you heat it up to steaming beforehand. All of this is to avoid exposure to Listeria, a bacteria that is easily fought off by adult immune systems, but is a threat to a growing fetus.

- 3 -

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Another thing you can have? Coffee. When I was so tired that I could barely make it through the morning without taking a nap under my desk, my morning coffee was an absolute life-saver. The last thing you need when you're more exhausted than you've ever been, and nauseated on top of that, is to have a caffeine-withdrawal migraine. Of course, if you drink coffee all day long, you should probably cut back. But a cup in the morning is perfectly fine and poses no risk to the baby.

- 4 -

Fried egg

It's possible that crackers will not be the best relief for morning sickness. In my first trimester, I had to eat about every 30 minutes to keep nausea at bay, but anything carby or sweet made me feel sicker. No crackers or bread or other things you think you should eat when you're nauseated. Nope, this baby of mine wanted scrambled eggs, cheese, and chicken. Weird, I know. As soon as the constant queasiness went away (Hallelujah!), I started balancing my diet back out again. Lots of fruit, veggies, whole milk dairy (I'm planning to dedicate a whole post to why later), and fatty fish, like salmon. And tons and tons of water.

- 5 -

Prenatal yoga is amazing. I went to my first class last week, and plan to try to take a class once a week until the baby comes. I took one regular yoga class a few weeks ago, and there were a fair number of poses I couldn't comfortably do, so I enjoy a class that's geared toward pregnant women. It also helps keep me in a calm mental space, so that when people start bombarding me with their well-meaning advice and compulsive labor and delivery war stories, I can just let it roll right off.

- 6 -

The book Baby Bargains is a great resource to help you wade through all the many, many brands and styles and types of things people will tell you you absolutely must have in order to safely and adequately raise your baby. It's part guidance from a close friend who's been where you're going, part deluxe all-inclusive Consumer Reports. A huge help as we were starting to put together our registry.

- 7 -

Here's what I looked like at 17 weeks :)

17 weeks!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Radish Pickles

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I always buy radishes in the spring. They're so colorful, peeking out from rows and rows of baby greens and asparagus at the market. Especially these Easter egg ones - a purple vegetable will always have a special place in my heart. But here's what happens. I get excited when I see them. I buy them and take them home. They sit in the fridge, lonely and sad, until they get all wrinkly and semi-soft, and then... I throw them away.

That is crazy talk.

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Thing is, until I thought of this idea, I did not know what to do with a whole bunch of radishes. A single solitary radish thinly sliced and mixed with salad greens? That I can handle. A whole bunch? What do I look like, some kind of radish fiend? I can't handle that much radish action. For how cute and pastel-colored they are, those suckers are spicy and assertive!

Speaking of things that are cute and pastel-colored, but can be spicy and assertive... we are expecting a little baby girl! She should make her big debut in November, and we can't wait to meet her. In the past couple of days, I've been thinking about what a weighty responsibility it is to teach a girl how to be a woman. There's just so much I want to make sure she knows, so much that I hope for her life.

I want to teach her that she should only laugh when boys are actually being funny, not just because they're being boys. I want her to be healthy and happy in her own skin. I want her to have a soaring imagination and a fabulous sense of humor. And I want her to know how to take a vegetable she doesn't really love and turn it into pink pickles!

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This is my new favorite thing to do with radishes. I've tried cooking them, and it wasn't bad. It's just that, ok, what gives a radish its inherent radish-ness? It's crispy and spicy. If you cook it, it's soft and not spicy. It's not horrible, it just doesn't really remind me of a radish anymore. These pickles take radishes to the next level - they don't have the same raw bite, but they're still crispy and a little spicy.

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Radish Pickles

Substitute these any place a normal pickle would go. One delicious option: piled on buttered toast, and sparingly salted. Actually, taste first to see if they need salt, since the brine is already pretty salty.

1 bunch radishes, any variety, washed and sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed peppercorns

Pack the sliced radishes and the garlic into a pint Mason jar. In a medium saucepan, combine water, vinegar, salt and sugar over medium heat and stir until dissolved. Add the peppercorns and pour the brine over the radishes. Screw the lid on tightly and allow to come to room temperature. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Voila pickles!

Can be kept in the refrigerator up to a month.

Yield: one pint.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Cream of Asparagus Soup

**NOTE: I have fixed the thing that was making it impossible to pin photos to Pinterest, thanks to this helpful post. If you have a blog and you've been having the same issue, I hope that helps! If you don't have a blog but you like to pin my posts and recipes, thank you! I love it when you share!!

For my blogday, I asked people to suggest things they'd like to see on the blog. My good friend Cassie asked for some asparagus soup, and since this hot weather is about to send the asparagus packing, it's now or never! I had never had asparagus soup before, and I have to say this is not my favorite preparation of this vegetable. Upon first taste I thought maybe I hadn't seasoned it well, or maybe it was too much stock and not enough vegetable, but after letting it rest a day in the fridge it turns out it was actually a pretty nice soup. It's just very, very subtle. And since asparagus has such a short season, I'd rather just barely saute it and toss with pasta, or shave it and pile it on a pizza, or steam it and dip it in a creamy sauce. But! If a velvety, subtly-flavored light green soup sounds like just the thing for you, give this a try!


Cream of Asparagus Soup

I've seen several recommendations from other sources that if you puree asparagus, you should strain it to remove any lingering tough or woody pieces, but I found it to be an unnecessary step. My soup was plenty smooth without straining. Follow your heart, though, and make sure to trim your asparagus well. Peeling the hard edges might also help with especially woody asparagus.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch spring onions, or 1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch lengths
4 cups water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute about 3-5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add asparagus and toss together. Season with salt and pepper, add the water or stock, and simmer until the asparagus can be easily smashed against the side of the pot with a spoon, about 10-15 minutes (more or less depending on how thick your asparagus is). Puree in batches in a blender, and then return to the pot over low heat. Stir in the butter and cream, taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve warm or cold.

Yield: about 4-6 servings

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Slow-Roasted Wild Salmon

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I've been reading Nina Planck's Real Food: What to Eat and Why a little before bed each night for the past couple of weeks. It's making me feel really good about making food decisions that are extremely, ridiculously pleasant. Like whole, pastured, non-homogenized (when I can find it) dairy, which tastes so, so much better than its non- or low-fat counterparts. Or grass-fed beef, which is naturally lean, tastes amazing, and is chock-full of healthy cholesterol. Or pastured eggs, with their bright orange, protein- and omega-3-rich yolks.

Slow Roasted Salmon

Then there's wild salmon, the chapter I'm currently reading. I'm beginning to believe that wild salmon is the answer to all modern health issues. People who eat salmon once a week are at a decreased risk of heart attack, stroke, heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides in the blood. Omega-3s help to regulate blood sugar and suppress insulin resistance. It's been well-documented and publicized that DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in high concentrations in salmon, is vital for fetal and infant development, but why? Our brains are made of about 60% fat, and the most important type of fat is - you guessed it - DHA! DHA consumption has been linked to higher IQ and brain function, and to a decreased risk of neural and spinal birth defects.

Ever heard of pregnancy brain? I'm starting to wonder how much of that little-understood, anecdotal symptom of pregnancy could be solved by a couple more servings of fish each week. Developing babies take the nutrients they need from their mothers, whether or not said mothers are conscious of the nutrients they consume. Since our bodies don't produce DHA, but store a lot of it in our brains, maybe those little fetuses are taking mom's brain in order to make their own! If you're pregnant and feeling strangely forgetful, or you'd like to reduce your risk of cardiovascular health issues and type-2 diabetes, make some salmon for dinner tonight!

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Slow Roasted Salmon

adapted from Bon Appetit

Seek out wild salmon when you're shopping. Farmed salmon is higher in mercury, less sustainable, and much lower in omega-3s. It's also fed dye so that it looks like salmon. The flavor and texture of wild salmon are vastly superior.

2 six-ounce center-cut fillets wild salmon
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
assorted fresh herbs, about a cup total (I used thyme, basil, and parsley - dill or rosemary would be great!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat the bottom of a baking sheet with a couple tablespoons of the oil, and arrange the herbs in two piles, about the size of the salmon fillets. Lay the salmon skin-side down over the herbs, drizzle with another tablespoon oil, and season lightly with kosher salt. Bake about 25 minutes, until the salmon is just tender - a knife will slide easily into the flesh. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serving suggestions: A bed of arugula and a chopped up tomato with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt and pepper was perfect alongside this salmon when it came out of the oven. It would also be great with sauteed new potatoes and asparagus. I have a piece leftover in my fridge, and I plan to make a sandwich out of it on ciabatta, with lemon-dill-caper mayo and more arugula. Delicious!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rhubarb Syrup

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Rhubarb is back, and this syrup is a delightful way to start off the season. The lime really complements the strong tangy rhubarb flavor, and the rosewater is so subtle as to be more of a scent than a flavor. Absolutely lovely.

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If you're thinking that it's a lot of sugar, remember two things: this is rhubarb we're talking about, and we're trying to make a syrup. A lot of sugar is necessary. Here are some of my favorite ways to use this springy syrup!

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Rhubarb Italian Soda!

Rhubarb Italian Soda

Drizzled over yogurt and cereal in the morning...

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AND used in place of maple syrup on buckwheat pancakes. Genius!

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Rhubarb Syrup

from 101 cookbooks

1 pound rhubarb, chopped
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from one lime)
scant 2 teaspoons rosewater (more or less to taste)

Combine rhubarb and sugar in a medium saucepan and let rest for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the water and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook the rhubarb about 15-20 minutes, until it begins to break down. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, return to the saucepan, add the lime juice, and continue to cook until reduced and thickened quite a bit, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

When cool, add the rosewater a teaspoon at a time, being careful not to add too much - it's a very strong flavor, and you only want a whisper, not a scream. Store in a jar in the refrigerator - mine stayed good for about 2 weeks.

Yield: one pint jar.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bacon and Brie Sandwich

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You know what? There's not always time to roast a chicken. There's not always planning ahead. Sometimes you just want something to put in your face so that you can sit on the couch and watch another episode of Friday Night Lights. You get home, you're ravenous, and you have to make some magic happen with whatever's in the fridge. A well-stocked fridge helps a lot with this.

A bacon and brie sandwich to the rescue! With some spinach, because vegetables should be a part of dinner. Mustard and pickles for some pizzazz. And we're off!

Warm up a pan and cook a couple slices of bacon. Crack some black pepper on the top while they're cooking.

Toast the bread. Sourdough is delicious.

Spread one side with Dijon mustard, and put some slices of Brie on the other side. The warm toast will start to melt the Brie. We like that.

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Veggies for responsible adults! Spinach and bread-and-butter pickles. Unexpected and awesome.

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The piece de resistance... PEPPER BACON.

Bacon and Brie Sandwich

A dinner fit for a queen.

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