Wherein One Half of Cork and Spoon Moves – to Texas

D.C. to Texas- cookbooks

Earlier this year, right around my birthday Tom forwarded me Buzzfeed’s 101 Reasons You Should Live in Texas at Least Once in Your Life. We had been considering a future move to Texas, Tom’s home state, about 2 or 3 years down the road, and he was using it to help convince me of how much I’d love Texas. Don’t tell Tom, but I think he was right.

I’ve been in Austin, Texas for just over 3 weeks and I can’t find anything to complain about – not even the 100+ temps. Due to some changes at Tom’s job and me getting the first job in Texas I applied for – our plans fastforwarded about 24 months and I started with a great tech startup at the beginning of September. The job is incredibly challenging and will, if I succeed, do amazing things for my career. Plus our new rental is pretty amazing – so much space! Rosie doesn’t have to hide out in cabinets any more, but can stand proud on the counter.

D.C. to Texas - my kitchen aide has a home

While I haven’t had a chance to really start exploring all of Austin yet, I have spent some time getting to know my neighborhood and what it has to offer. Like the Torchy’s Tacos less than half a mile from my house. Austin is a city that lives on breakfast tacos and I am looking forward to trying every single one, but in the meantime, any excuse to walk Abby and get migas tacos works for me.

D.C. to Texas- Torchy's Tacos

I have also rediscovered the joy of the famous Trudy’s Mexican martini; found delicious gourmet burgers right up the road at HopDoddy; and enjoyed a glass of wine with chips & queso while watching Guardians of the Galaxy at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (they deliver more glasses of wine directly to you while the movie plays, its kind of amazing).

All of that pales in comparison to what may be my favorite store ever: Make it Sweet. This store has an entire wall of cookie cutters and more flavored extracts than I knew existed. But best of all I walked in the first thing I saw was an entire wall of bulk sprinkles. When Ruth comes to visit- forget the bats, we’re going to the baking store.

D.C. to Texas-Make it Sweet

As exciting and amazing as everything has been, it has been pretty taxing and stressful. I packed and moved our house in 3 weeks, while still working, and then moved Abby and myself to Texas a full 3 weeks before Tom. His amazing mother and sister drove in from out of town to help me unpack and keep me company a few weekends ago, but it has still be a little hard to get out and meet new people. That has been the hardest part, especially when all you want to do is come home from work and talk about the new job. But Tom comes in from D.C. tonight! He’s almost home! So, in typical Emilie fashion, I baked him something.

D.C. to Texas-cookies

Using my favorite rolled sugar cookie recipe from All Recipes, I created about 2 dozen Texas state shaped cookies that I decorated like – what else – the state flag. It was really nice just spending the day baking in the big new kitchen, and I can’t wait to spend more time in there.

Did I mention they still have hatch chilies in some grocery stores? Yea, Texas is going to be good for me – and hopefully good for you guys too.

“You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas” ~ Davy Crockett

 

Jalapeño Simple Syrup

jalepeno simple syrup straining 2Not too long ago, my psychologist suggested I try channeling my anger to punch through my Great Wall of China sized writer’s block.  All our other attempts had failed and since dealing with anger has never been a strength of mine, I thought, “Sure, why not?” I’ll take the challenge.  So she pulled out a pad of paper and pen and we started a free flow of recipe ideas that could embody “anger”.

Now here is what I have learned about anger in the year since I started therapy: it’s a secondary emotion.  Anger never exists alone. It is sparked by another emotion.  After hearing this, I challenged my psychologist with, “Well, what about the dumb @$$ that nearly drives me into a concrete barrier on 95 that I give the finger to?” Hahaha, got you there! Wrong. “Ruth, why would you be angry at that person?” Uuummm, because he could have killed or hurt me and others?  It was fear that sparked my anger. Darn it. Doc: 1. Ruth: 0.

So back to channeling my anger…

By the end of the session I had settled on using “spice” to represent anger since I had run out of new “red” ingredients.  We also decided that the recipe would be for a cocktail. After all, it’s been ages since we’ve brought you all something fun for happy hour, right?

That evening I was sipping on some watermelon “soda” and craving more lime jalepeno simple syrup straining 3only to find out I had used the last of my stash.  As I substitute, I reached for a lemon.  Then, as I was squeezing the fresh lemon juice into my drink it hit me…lemon and lime…watermelon margarita!! A spicy watermelon margarita that is.  I had a pint of jalapeños from the  farmer’s market that would do the trick.  I immediately texted Emilie my idea who sent me her virtual thumbs up.

My first try, in which I muddled the peppers,  failed horribly to capture the spice of the jalapeño.  Their watery flavor (think bell pepper) also turned the drink flat. Ok, anger, I thought, turn the heat up already! And I literally had to…I went for the simple syrup route. It was exactly what my margarita needed.

We all know that anger can be quite a destructive force. That’s why so many of us are afraid to confront it. The trick is to deal with it constructively and carefully so you don’t end up burned. It might sting a little, like this simple syrup, but at the end of the tunnel something good is waiting for you.

Anger and action

Don’t forget to stay tuned…the margarita is coming next week!

 Jalapeño Simple Syrup

Ingredients
  • 2 medium green jalapeño peppers
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
Directions
  • Slice jalapeños into rounds. For maximum heat, do not remove the seeds.  To reduce heat remove half to all of the seeds.jalepeno simple syrup slicing
  • Over medium high heat, combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan.jalepeno simple syrup combining
  • Bring mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  • Once syrup comes to a boil, remove from heat.  Allow the  jalapeños to steep for about 30 minutes.jalepeno simple syrup simmering
  • Strain syrup , discarding jalapeños.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.jalepeno simple syrup straining 1

Watermelon Agua Fresca, or More Simply, Watermelon Juice

watermelon water 2Those that know me know that saying I love color is an understatement. I am all about color (For the record, my favorite is orange).  Give me bold, bright, and daring hues! For that reason, I’m not too upset about summer sticking around just a little longer. My summer wardrobe is vibrantly more colorful than my fall and winter, especially in the shoe department.  As much as I love my leather riding boots, I will be sad to put away my stop light yellow, watermelon pink, lime green, and neon orange stilettos and peep toes.

And don’t get me started on my running gear.  I have three half H Half Mi 7 Smlmarathons lined up between now and next spring. Training starts on the 15th and all I have to look forward to over the fall and winter are black leggings, black leggings, and oh, more black leggings. You think my work shoes sounds crazy, you should see what I run in during the summer months! Oh wait, running in the summer is crazy enough, huh? I totally agree. That’s why when Sue asked me to sign up for some summer races, I told her she was una chica loca!

She kept pressing me, though. “C’mooooonn, chiiiica! Just a 5K?” To which I responded rhetorically, “Do you know how hot and humid it’s GloStick Group - smudgegoing to be out there?!” Then she found an evening run…with glow sticks…that benefited a cancer charity.  I caved.  Silly me also thought, what’s 3.1 miles after running 13.2? Well, in the heat…3.1 miles feels like a spring half marathon. That’s where this delicious, hydrating (and pretty!) watermelon juice comes in. (BTW how many drinks this pretty are actually good for you??)

Like many of you, there is always watermelon in my house during the summer.  It’s one of the few foods I can handle on hot days. Then, during our family vacation I came across a blurb in Fitness Magazine’s  June issue about watermelon water.  Apparently it’s been fashionable this summer, but this was the first time I had heard of it. Watermelon, water? Sounds tasty to me!

Apparently it’s great for muscle recovery after a hard workout, not just re-hydration,  too! Watermelon has an amino acid, L-citruline (also watermelon water 4found in onions and garlic), that improves oxygen delivery to your muscles.  A study conducted by the Technical University of Cartagena in Spain further explained that L-citrulline does this by helping remove lactic acid (the stuff that causes your soreness) at a faster than normal rate, hence a quicker recovery period.  Did I mention what a pretty pink this watermelon juice makes?

So, summer, as long as you’re sticking around, let the colors and watermelon juice keep on coming!

watermelon water 1

 

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Ingredients
  • 4 cups watermelon, cubedwatermelon water cubes
Directions
  1. Pour cubed watermelon into a blender and puree.
  2. Place a mesh sieve or a cheesecloth lined colander  over a large bowl and pour watermelon puree through the sieve/colander.watermelon water straining
  3. With a flat spatula, gently push the watermelon solids to help squeeze out more watermelon juice
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, once or twice more if desired.
  5. Discard watermelon solids and pour juice into a pitcher. Refrigerate to chill.watermelon water straining 2
  6. Watermelon juice will separate. When ready to drink, shake or stir before serving.

Bonus Recipe: Watermelon “Soda”

My favorite way to drink watermelon juice like this: Over crushed ice, fill half to 3/4 a glass with watermelon juice. Top off with sparkling mineral or soda water (preferably lime  or other citrus flavored).  Squeeze in some fresh lime juice and serve. So refreshing!

 P.S. Stay tuned for the watermelon margarita I’ll be sharing in the near future!

~Ruth

Tomatillo Watermelon and Cherry Tomato Salad

tomatillo watermelon salad 1As I said to my friends yesterday, “End of summer my patootie!” Seriously.  On the last day of August, after weeks of pretty delightful weather, the temperature soared to 90 by 10 A.M. By the way, I am not taking into account the humidity and how hot it got later on.  Needless to say, my Sunday morning run went pretty miserably.  Happily, earlier that morning I had visited the farmers market and waiting for me at home was a big ol’, thirst quenching watermelon.

Wishing I had a pool to jump into, but settling for a glass of cold water instead, I started thinking about what to do with my watermelon as I tomatillo watermelon salad 6allowed my body to cool down.  Of course I did not want to repeat something my friends or I had already done, but I also wanted something that could serve as a last minute dish for a Labor Day picnic or barbecue (I, myself, am I poor planning procrastinator).  That’s when my eyes landed on the cardboard container of tomatillos. Hmmmmm.

Now I had originally planned enchiladas verde for my tomatillos. However, as I peeled back the papery husk of one fruit I remembered one of the market vendors last year telling me they were like green tomatoes, only not has hard. Pondering the fruit in my hand, I thought of how pretty the green and pink would look together. First things first, though.  Would I like the taste of a raw tomatillo?

Cutting myself a little wedge, my first bite met a firm, pleasantly textured flesh…followed by quite a tartness!  Thought not as pucker inducing as a tomatillo watermelon salad 4lemon it was still pretty acidic. I don’t think I’ll ever eat a raw tomatillo on its own again, but its sour crunch was just the thing to juxtapose my sweet, melt in your mouth watermelon.

Now that I had my stars, I decided to add some beautiful little cherry tomatoes, which had a flavor and texture right in the middle of the tomatillos and watermelon. To round out the flavors, I drizzled on some of the honey mint syrup I use for my mint-juleps (I also used it last year on the watermelon wedges I brought over to Emilie and Tom’s for the 4th of July).  For the final flourish, I cut some fresh mint leaves from my garden and sprinkled it over the vibrantly colored salad.  Then I placed the salad in the fridge and went to clean my post-run self up.

With the afternoon sun shifted to the front of the house, for lunch I tomatillo watermelon salad 5parked myself on the now shaded back deck. Though still warm, a gentle breeze (a hint of the coming storm) helped keep things pleasant enough to enjoy myself outside.  It was time to dig in! I took a tooth pick and speared me some salad.

Ooohh, yeeessss…crisp, cool deliciousness.  I had tamed the tomatillo.  Though still sharp, its contrast livened up the watermelon. In return, the watermelon and mint helped mellow out the tartness of the tomatillo. I love it when a plan comes together, don’t you?

Have a relaxing “last day” of summer.  Happy Labor Day!

tomatillo watermelon salad 2

 

~Ruth

 Tomatillo Watermelon and Cherry Tomato Salad

 Ingredients

tomatillo watermelon salad ingredients

  • Tomatillo(s), sliced into thin wedges
  • Watermelon, diced medium to small
  • Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Mint leaves, chiffonade
  • Honey mint syrup*
Directions

1. In a bowl, add tomatillos, watermelon, and cherry tomatoes in the following portions: 1:2:1.

2. Add honey mint syrup and mint as desired. The amount used will depend on your tastes as well as the size of the salad you are making. (See Note).tomatillo watermelon salad mixing

3. Toss ingredients and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for about an hour to allow the flavors to blend.

4. When ready to serve, toss one more time to re-distribute the watermelon juices.

*Honey mint syrup

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup wildflower honey
  • 4-6 large mint leaves, hand torn
Directions

1. Heat water in a microwave safe bowl. Approximately 1 minute on high.

2. Add honey to hot water and stir until dissolved into a simple syrup.Blueberry Honey Mint Julep Dissolving Honey

3. Muddle torn mint leaves in the honey simple syrup. Let mint steep at east 8-10 minutes. When finished steeping, strain mint leaves from the syrup.Blueberry Honey Mint Julep Muddle Mint

 

Note:
I made 1 cup of salad. My ingredients came out as follows:
1/4 cup tomatillos
2/4 cup watermelon
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon mint
1 tablespoon honey mint syrup

 

Garlic Naan and a Duo of Dips

Many of summer’s best moments include sharing food and laughs with good friends. Whether I am attending a backyard BBQ or picnicking in the park with friends, these moments never fail to make me happy. If I had to pick a favorite place to share sunshine and food with friends though, it would be a winery. Wine makes everything better (obviously) and the bucolic scenery and atmosphere are prefect for unwinding. Share a couple bottles of wine;  indulge in plates of breads, cheese, and crudités; and chat with friends. It really is the perfect day.

As someone who loves to cook and try new recipes, these types of events are extra fun because they give me the chance to try new recipes designed for sharing. So, when Ellen invited me along for a trip to Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn in Delaplane, VA, I immediately said yes and began planning my contribution to the picnic. After some debate, I finally decided on a couple of unique dips and homemade garlic naan.

Naan and 2 Dips- naan with yogurt and lentil dips 2The dips, both based on recipes from Food & Wine, were simple to make – especially the yogurt-mint dip which was a simple as stirring 3 ingredients together – and could easily be served with pita if you aren’t up for making naan.

Really though, you should make the naan! It is more labor intensive than the dips, but it simple and hard to mess up. It is a great recipe for someone who wants to start working with yeast breads but is a bit nervous about the whole process. Tom and I fell in love with the naan, and could have easily eaten every piece if I wasn’t saving it for the picnic.

Naan and 2 Dips- naan with yogurt and lentil dips

Garlic Naan
Adapted from Daydream Kitchen’s Garlic Naan

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
¼ cup white sugar
3 tbs. milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. salt
4 cups bread flour
2 tbs. garlic, minced
⅓ cup butter, melted

1)    In a large bowl combine warm water (approximately 105ºF to 110ºF) with about a teaspoon of your sugar – just eyeball it here- until sugar is fully dissolved. Sprinkle yeast packet over warm water and let stand 10 minutes, until frothy. This is the time I used to mince the garlic.

Naan and 2 Dips-making naan step 1

2)     Stir in remaining sugar, milk, egg, salt, and 1 cup of flour. Once this is all fully combined, add the remaining 3 cups of flour.

Naan and 2 Dips-making naan step 2

3)    Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Begin adding in minced garlic about half way through this process. I added the garlic in 3 different portions to help ensure it made its way throughout the entire dough ball. Dough is read when it is smooth and garlic is pretty evenly distributed.

4)    Place dough in a well oiled bowl, and loosely cover with saran wrap (I spray the saran wrap to avoid the dough sticking to it) and a dry kitchen towel. Let dough rise until it is about double in size. This took about an hour outside on a 95ºF day.

Naan and 2 Dips-let the dough rise 1 Naan and 2 Dips-let the dough rise 2

5)     Punch down dough and pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into rough balls (no need for perfection here), and place on an oiled baking sheet. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Naan and 2 Dips- naan dough balls 2

6)     Preheat a large cast iron pan or grill over high heat.

7)     Roll one dough ball out into a thin circle, about an eight of an inch thick. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with melted butter and flip. Cook another 2 to 4 minutes, until light brown. Continue the process with all of the dough.

8)     If you somehow manage to still have some left, store in an airtight bag or container. It should last 3 or 4 days.

Mint Garlic Dip
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups plain Greek yogurt
½ cup finely chopped mint leaves
3-4 large garlic cloves, finely minced
salt & pepper

1)     In a medium sized container with a lid, stir together the yogurt, chopped mince, and minced garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour (flavors will mingle and intensify the longer the dip rests), serve cold with naan or pita.

Naan and 2 Dips- mix the yogurt mint garlic dip

Spicy Lentil Dip
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups brown lentils
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large shallots, cut into large chunks
1 quart vegetable broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

1)     In a large sauce pan, combine vegetable broth, carrot, and shallot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the lentils, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until most of the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender. It took me about half an hour.

Naan and 2 Dips-lentil dip step 1 Naan and 2 Dips-lentil dip step 1.5

2)     Using a food processor or blender, puree lentils and vegetables (and any leftover liquid). I found this easier to do in 2 batches, and I had to add little more liquid (just less than a ¼ cup) to get it to the right consistency. Set the puree aside.

Naan and 2 Dips- lentil dip step 2

3)     In the original sauce pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the spices to the melted butter and cook for 1-2 minutes. The spices can go from perfect to burned in the blink of an eye, so watch them carefully. Add the pureed lentils and cook for another few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Naan and 2 Dips-lentil dip spices Naan and 2 Dips- lentil dip 3 and a half

4)     Serve warm or room temperature with naan or pita chips.

 

Meatless Monday: Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables

I think we can all admit that Pinterest is a pretty fabulous tool for bookmarking recipes, knitting patterns, outfit inspirations, and pictures of things that just make me smile (I will neither confirm nor deny that I have an entire board dedicated to pictures of turtles). Yet, for all the fun I have pinning a plethora of ideas and inspirations to my boards, I recently realized that I rarely do anything with them. For example, I only attempted a handful of the 150 recipes I’ve taken the time to save (notable favorites being the Brie Baked Artichokes, Roasted Squash Soup, and Matzoh Chocolate Cherry Crunch). Wanting to try something new in the kitchen and knowing I had a wealth of ideas at pinning fingertips, I turned to Pinterest to find my next meal.

I was immediately drawn to a gnocchi dish I had pinned to my recipe board several months ago. The Garlic & Kale Baked Gnocchi dish from A Beautiful Mess looks amazing, but the more I thought about it, the dish felt too heavy for the 98 degree day. By that point, I was set on the idea of gnocchi for dinner, and came up with this gnocchi dish with fresh summer vegetables, light tangy goat cheese, and herbs fresh from my garden.

Gnocci with summer veggies -final plate 2

Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables
serves 4

1 16-ounce package fresh gnocchi
1½ tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 medium zucchini
⅔ cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
1½ tablespoons fresh thyme
salt & pepper
juice of half a lemon
2-4 ounces crumbled goat cheese

1.     Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While it boils, halve the zucchinis lengthwise, and cut into slices approximately ¼-inch thick. Once the water has come to a boil, cook gnocchi according to package directions.

Gnocci with summer veggies - ingredients2.     Melt the butter in a heavy large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat. Add the minced garlic to the pan and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant.

3.      Increase heat to medium-high and add zucchini in a single layer in the pan (or as close to a single layer as you can get). Let cook for 1 minute before adding corn and fresh thyme. Sauté veggies until they begin to brown slightly.

Gnocci with summer veggies - saute the veggies

4.    Add cooked and drained gnocchi to the pan, stir well to mix. Squeeze the lemon over the mixture, stir, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.

5.     Remove the pan from heat and stir in crumbed goat cheese. I used about 2-ounces of cheese, but you should adjust as you see fit.

 

Jefferson Vineyards

This year I celebrated Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer Jefferson Winery-welcome sign(already!?) about 120 miles southwest of D.C. in Charlottesville, Virginia. Early Friday afternoon Tom and I left D.C. to meet Tom’s parents for a
weekend of history and wine. We arrived at the hotel about an hour before Tom’s parents and decided to head downtown and stroll the Pedestrian Mall. We stopped at a place called Citizen Burger Bar for drinks and snacks, and, while we didn’t eat dinner here, the menu looked amazing. The bartender let it slip that the restuarant will be expanding to Northern Virginia and D.C. in the next year, and I’m excited to check it out.

Copyright © Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Sadly, none of my pictures of the Monticello home turned out, but this one from the Monticello.org website is lovely. Copyright © Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Saturday we got up early and headed to Monticello to wander the grounds and tour the house.  I had been to Monticello once before in grade school and was excited to see many new exhibits at the home. I think my favorite though was the recreated kitchen below the house, which opened to the public in 2004.  Did you know Jefferson was one of the first to install a French-style stew stove in his home and used a wine dumbwaiter to deliver wine from the cellar to his dining room? Pretty advance stuff for the time period.

The stew stove at Monticello kept the cooks from having to stand over open fires when preparing meals

The stew stove at Monticello kept the cooks from having to stand over open fires when preparing meals.

After we finished up the tour of Monticello and a quick lunch at the historic Jefferson Winery-History SignMichie Tavern, Tom’s dad and I were ready to do a little wine tasting. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we stayed close to and chose Jefferson Vineyards, about 3 miles from Monticello.   I had heard good things about the vineyard and its wines, rumors which were only confirmed by the rows of medals hanging over the checkout area. The winery has 2 tasting rooms, the main room and a second room for weekend overflow located in a separate building across the courtyard.  The vineyard has only one tasting option – 10 wines for $10. We paid for tastings at the register, where we also got our glasses. I was excited to find a spot for the 3 of us (Tom’s mom didn’t taste with us) in the main tasting room, with its wall of wine bottles.

Jefferson Winery-wall of wine2

Jefferson Winery-getting ready

The tasting consisted of 5 whites, 1 rosé, and 4 reds. The winery specializes in dry wines, including a rare dry Riesling with only 1% residual sugar and light oaking. It remained refreshing and light instead of heavy and syrupy. I also enjoyed their Meritage blend made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Fran, Petit Verdot, and Merlot, which are each aged individually for 4 years, then blended together and aged for 1 more year.  Other favorites on the list were the Viognier, Petit Verdot, and the semit-dry Vin Blanc. Although I can’t find anything really bad to say about any of their wines and ended up walking away with 6 bottles after the tasting.

Jefferson Winery_tasting notes

 

After our tasting, we spent a little time relaxing in the shade on the Jefferson Vineyard deck, admiring the picnic area, and taking in the beautiful scenery. Jefferson vineyard is a lovely vineyard with great bottles for those who enjoy drier wines. I’m looking forward to going back with Ruth later in the summer for a girls’ weekend.

Jefferson Winery-deck off of tasting area1

Tom and his parents relaxing on the deck outside the tasting room.

Jefferson Winery-picnic area

Jefferson Vineyards picnic area, complete with umbrella festooned tables and plenty of space for a blanket or 2.

Jefferson Winery-view from the picnic area

One of the views from the picnic area.

Perfect Chocolatey Rich Brownies

Growing up, my mom always kept a box of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker brownie mix in our pantry. If we were craving something sweet on a Friday movie night, or any night really, one of my sisters or I would pull out the box, follow the directions on the back, and an hour later we’d be enjoying gooey chocolate goodness. These mixes came in a pretty amazing array of flavors and varieties and were super simple for a pre-teen to whip up on her own. They are a large part of what inspired me to love baking and cooking.

Chocolatey Brownies - finished 2

In spite of this long and lovely history with the humble brownie, I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had not made a batch of brownies from scratch until just a few weeks ago. How can that be?! Especially when you consider the broad, and somewhat random, list of things I have baked from scratch: scones, challah bread, over a dozen cookie types, cupcakes (and more cupcakes), quick breads, and more. Realizing it was finally time to take the plunge, I diligently researched brownie recipes, and found out that there are a lot of “best brownie” recipes out there. I mean A LOT. Which is why I was thrilled to come across the Brown Eyed Baker’s list of top 10 brownie recipes. At the very top of her list was the famous Baked Brownie filled with 11 ounces of dark chocolate and half a cup of butter, it was clear I needed to try the Brown Eyed Baker’s version of the recipe immediately. What a smart decision that was! They are amazing! Be warned, it a large batch of brownies, so you might need to share them (or freeze them), but its worth it.

Already a brownie aficionado and looking to branch out some, be sure to check out the top 10 list! I think these salted caramel brownies are next on my list!

The “Baked” Brownie
adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tblsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 oz dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

1)     Preheat the oven to 350º F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9×13-inch glass or light-colored baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper.

Chocolatey brownies - line the baking pan

2)     In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together.

3)     Melt the butter in a large bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, and then stir in the espresso powder. Once the espresso powder is almost completely dissolved, add the chopped chocolate to the bowl. Stir frequently until the chocolate is completely melted.

Chocolatey Brownies_melt butter with coffee Chocolatey Brownie - melt the chocolate 1 Chocolatey Brownie - melt the chocolate 2

4)     Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Stir until smooth and completely combined. At this point you can remove the bowl from the pan, although I did not.

Chocolatey Brownies - add sugars

4)     Add 3 eggs to the chocolate mixture and stir into the mixture. Add the remaining eggs and stir until fully combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Be careful not to over mix the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.

Chocolatey brownies - add eggs

5)     Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. And fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

chocolatey brownies-mix in flour

6)     Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan 180º halfway through the baking time. Brownies are done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with only a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

Chocolatey Brownies - pour the batter

7)      Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve. Store at room temperature in an airtight container or wrap with plastic wrap for up to 3 days.

Chocolate Brownies - cut the brownies Chocolatey Brownies- finished 1

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad

Is it safe? Can it be true? Spring, is that you?

It is gorgeous out this week. Sunny, warm (not unbearably hot), with flowers blooming, and the first whiff of cut grass in the air. Oh spring, you have come with all your glory and I beg you to stay a couple of weeks – a month or 2 even! Don’t let summer overwhelm you with her oppressive heavy humidity.

Every year when spring rolls around I loudly declare that this – THIS – is my favorite season of all. I may also say the same thing come autumn, but that’s just lust for cooler temps and desperation speak, spring is the one I truly love. And this year has been especially wonderful because I have the space to actually celebrate spring with a little gardening of my own.

Fresh spinach and arugula anyone?

Come spring I find myself craving the ease and portability of a simple chicken salad or tuna salad. Delicious over lettuce and veggies for a light lunch after working in the yard, great with crackers as a low-mess shareable dish on a picnic, and a perfect portable pita pocket* sandwich enjoyed outside during your lunch break. This recipe makes a lot of food and would be really wonderful at an outdoor potluck or BBQ (maybe this Memorial Day weekend even!), but even with just Tom and I eating it, it’s stayed good for over a week, and was great to have on hand for last minute lunches for both of us. The dill brings a great light freshness to the salad that is complimented well by the sour bite of the apple, which also adds a satisfying crunch along with the celery.

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad 1

*We definitely need more alliteration in our lives.

Dill & Green Apple Chicken Salad
4 chicken breasts
1½ dry white wine
Poaching liquid aromatics (1 large clove, 3-4 cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves)
4  stalks of celery
2 large shallots
1 x-large green apple
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
juice of 2 large lemons
¾ chopped dill
salt & pepper

1)     Combine white wine, bay leaves, 1 shallot cut in half, and 3-4 crushed garlic cloves with enough water to cover all 4 chicken breasts. Bring water to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the chicken breasts you are using. Remove from poaching liquid and let cool completely.

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - cooking the chicken

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - poach chicken

2)    Once cool dice the chicken in cubes about a quarter inch in size and place in a large bowl.

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - dice the chicken

3)     Next chop up your celery, shallots, and green apple in a size well matched with the diced chicken. Toss chicken and chopped veggies/apple together.

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - prep the veggies

4)     In a large measuring cup or medium sized bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, chopped dill, and salt & pepper to taste. Add to the chicken mixture, stirring well to coat. Cover and let rest overnight to really let the flavors meld.

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - chop the dill
Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - dressing
Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad - mix the ingredients

5)     Eat. Eat as a sandwich. Eat on crackers (Tom’s preferred method). Eat on top of spinach. Or, like me, eat it right out of the bowl… sooooo good!

Dill and Green Apple Chicken Salad 2

Baked Cod with Tomatoes & Thyme

I was looking over my calendar the other day, and realized that I have an uncharacteristically busy summer ahead of me. Tom and I will be hosting his parents for about a week at the end of May, we have vacation with my mom  and sisters’ families in Tennessee later in the summer, a weekend trip to NYC to meet up with my grad school friend Audra, a potential trip out west to help my friend Gill pack for her upcoming move, and a trip up to Minnesota in August to celebrate my dad’s retirement. All that plus the fun weekend things I want to do around here, like going to cheer on Ruth while she run’s her marathon on Sunday (Go Ruth! Go!!) and a planned  lavender picking and wine tasting Saturday in June. Somewhere in there, I should probably do the laundry too…

Baked Cod and Tomatoes 3

With so much going on, my nights at home alone while Tom is working are perfect for checking things off my to do list. Whether I am sitting on the couch completing work projects, using the time to finally  hang the curtains in the guest room, or taking Abby for a long quiet walk through Capitol Hill neighbors, these nights are a critical part of maintaining what little sanity I have left. Sadly, with so much going on, I haven’t had much time to spend leisurely cooking and experimenting after work. Instead, I find myself making a lot of  foil packet fish with a steamed veggie side. The recipes tend to be simple, boring even: fish+oil+garlic+lemon+herbs=dinner. This recipe, though, reminded me that a little creativity in the kitchen doesn’t need to take all day. It was delicious, easy, and perfect with the roasted asparagus I threw in the oven a few minutes before the fish was done.

Baked Cod and Tomatoes 2

As the fish and tomatoes cook, they release juices and begin to poach the fish in the broth. For this reason, I do not recommend parchment paper and remind you to make sure that your foil packet is sealed nice and tight! The recipe is designed for one, but could very easily be multiplied for a larger group and cooked together in a small pan or casserole dish.

Baked Cod with Tomatoes and Thyme
1 fillet Atlantic cod
9 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tsp olive oil
1.5 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
½ tbsp chopped fresh thyme

1)      Whisk together olive oil, soy sauce, and red wine vinegar. Whisk in thyme, garlic, and pepper. Toss the halved tomatoes in the marinade and set aside.

Baked Cod and Tomatoes-marinate the tomatoes

2)      Lay out a piece of aluminum foil large enough to form a pouch around your fish fillet and tomatoes, carefully fold up the edged of the foil to form a bowl, you don’t need to fold up much, but this will prevent the marinade from running straight off the foil. Lightly brush the center of the foil with olive oil to prevent the fish from sticking.

3)     If using frozen fish, make sure it is fully thawed and use a clean floursack towel or paper towels to pat the extra moisture from the fillet. Lay in the center of the tin foil.

Baked Cod and Tomatoes- Cod

4)     Moving quickly, pour the marinated tomatoes and sauce over the fish. Pull up the sides of the foil and form a pouch, place on a cookie sheet and let rest for 10 minutes.

Baked Cod and Tomatoes-pour the marinated tomatoes over the cod

5)     Bake on a rimmed cookie sheet (to catch in leaking liquid) in an oven preheated to 375ºF for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

Baked Cod and Tomatoes- put the foil packet in the oven

6)     When the fish is cooked through, carefully open the foil package, as steam is likely to escape. Lift fish from pouch and place on your plate, smother with the cooked tomatoes (I remove them from the pouch with a slotted spoon, letting some of the extra liquid drip back into the pouch).

Baked Cod and Tomatoes 1