Author Archives: Emilie

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Halloween is almost upon us, spooky, fun , awesome Halloween. When you are a kid it is second only to Christmas – your chance to be someone or something else for one night, limited only by your parents ability to say no to you. I remember the year my mom made me an amazing pink poodle skirt. I wore a white turtle neck, little white socks with lace tops, and my hair was in a curly pony tail with a pink bandanna. I was rocking it – absolutely rocking it. Add to that the pillow case filled with free candy, the chance to go out on a school night (at least every couple of years). Halloween was awesome as a kid.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Jack O' Lanterns

As an adult, though, the act of celebrating Halloween is no longer about dressing up and being someone else – not for me at least. I have no desire to be around people who dress like “sexy” pizza slices (seriously, how is that even a thing!?!?) and don’t know how to hold their drink. Now, I love Halloween because it is the night I watch Hocus Pocus and hand out treats to the new generation of super heroes, witches, ghosts, and princesses. I love seeing all of the incredibly creative costumes and excited children.

I also love decorating for Halloween, especially carving jack-o-lanterns. In addition to creating awesome displays for my front porch, a night of pumpkin carving gives me one of the best fall snacks a person can hope for – roasted pumpkin seeds, aka pepitas. Spicy, salty, or sweet – I can eat pumpkin seeds (hull and all) by the handful, so it is a good thing they are easy to make. Tom makes the best pepitas using butter, olive oil, and seasonings, so I make him do all of the work. You can follow his simple steps to make your own this Halloween.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 2

How To Roast Perfect Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe based on 1 cup of raw pumpkin seeds

1)     Clean your fresh pumpkin seeds until they are completely clean of all pumpkin guts. Place the seeds in a large bowl and cover with cool tap water and agitate the water to help clean the seeds, picking off large piece of pumpkin meat as you go. Strain using a colander and repeat at least once more.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Clean the seeds 1 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - clean the seeds 2 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - clean the seeds 3

2)     Once the seeds are meticulously cleaned boil the seeds in well salted water. Bring a large sauce pan of salted water to a roiling boil, add the cleaned pumpkin seeds, and cook for 2  minutes. We use approximately 1 quart of water and ½ tablespoon of salt per cup of pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - boil the seeds

3)     Drain and dry pumpkin seeds. Drain pumpkin seeds using a large colander, tossing a couple of times to shake of excess water. Spread seeds out on a clean flour sack or tea towel and pat dry.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - dry the seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - dry the seeds 2

4)    Season and oil  the pumpkin seeds. Place dried seeds in a bowl and drizzle with a mixture of 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil (per 1 cup of pepitas).  Mix the seeds well with the oil, ensuring all seeds are well coated.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - butter the seeds 1

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - butter the seeds 2

Spread the seeds out on a rimmed cookie sheet and season as desired. We used onion and garlic powder, fresh pepper, and seasoned salt.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - season the seeds 2
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - season the seeds 1

5)    Bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes. Stir seeds about half way through the cooking time. Seeds are done when the outer hull is crunchy and easy to bite through.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - stir the seeds

6)     Eat! Or cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. They are good right out of the tupperware, but we like to pop them in the oven for 2 minutes at 350ºF to warm them up.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 1

Wine Tasting in Fredericksburg

For most of my life, Fredericksburg has had only one meaning – a city in Virginia, known for its proximity to great vineyards and rich history, where I attended college, and met the best friend and blogging partner a woman could ask for. So it wasn’t surprising when, a two weekends ago, Tom surprised by telling me we were going to Fredericksburg on Saturday. Turns out that Texas has its own Fredericksburg, about an hour and a half west of Austin. 

Fredericksburg, Tx Library

The Fredericksburg, Tx library, also the former courthouse.

Fredericksburg, Tx Library plaque

We arrived in Fredericksburg early, around 11am. and found parking at the Visitor Center off of Lincoln Street, behind the National Pacific War Museum. Main Street is lined with dozens and dozens of shops including gourmet food stores, antique shops, clothing stores, and more.  It was Oktoberfest weekend, so it was pretty busy, and more than once we left a shop quickly, tired of fighting the crowd inside. Despite that, I was able to find a great necklace – very similar to something I’d been lusting after for months – at a quarter of the price!  I’m still pretty proud of that.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 2

In addition to great people watching and shopping Fredericksburg, Tx, is ideally situated for a day of wine tasting. It is surrounded by vineyards, with about half a dozen on U.S. Route 290 between Austin and Fredericksburg alone. Several of those vineyards have opened tasting rooms in store fronts on Main Street in Fredericksburg, making it even easier to experience several great Texas wineries while exploring the city. The first tasting room Tom and I stopped in was also my favorite, so much so that I went back to buy a few bottles of wine at the end of our trip.

The Grape Creek Vineyards tasting room is on the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets, and is one of 2 satellite tasting rooms the vineyard manages, in addition to their vineyard tasting room. As it was one of our first stops, we were able to beat the crowds, so it was quiet and easy to chat with Debbie, behind the tasting counter. For $12 you can select 6 of 14 wines to taste, although Debbie kindly let me taste one extra wine – making my total tasting 7 wines.

2012 Cabernet Trois: As the name hints, this medium-bodied wine combines 3 Cabernet grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Ruby Cabernet – resulting in  a rich nose of leather and cedar wood. It is a smooth wine with notes of ripe cherries and warm fall spices. I loved this wine and can’t wait to sip while sitting by the fire on a cold winters night (Austin has those? Right??Please tell me they do…).

Grape Creek Vineyard, 3

2012 Mosaic: This was the last wine I tasted, but my second favorite after the Cabernet Trois.  It is rich full-bodied Bordeaux-style wine that would pair beautifully with a steak and Gorgonzola sauce. It smelled like chocolate and cherries with a light grassy undertone and had tasting notes of dark chocolate, cloves, and ripe berries.

2013 Viognier: This was the only white wine I tried from Grape Creek Vineyard, and I’m glad I did. A 97 point Double Gold winning wine at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition, this is a crisp dry wine with balanced acidity that would pair well with a light cream pasta like shrimp scampi. It has a lovely floral nose and tastes of honeyed peaches with a bright lemon finish.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 1

2012 Rendezvous: This wine, with a sweet floral nose, is a combination of Mourvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, and white Viognier wines in the Rhone Valley style. It was a soft, dry wine with plum and cherry flavors that would pair well with a slightly acidic tomato sauce.

2012 Cabernet/Syrah: I had not originally chosen this wine as one of my six, but my tasting guide, Debbie, insisted I give it a try. Like the Viognier, the Cabernet/Syrah did very well at the San Francisco International Wine Competition where it placed best in class for Cabernet/Syrah blends and also received a double gold medal. It’s complicated wine rich with flavors of plums and pepper.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 7

2012 Petite Syrah: This wine, with its nose of blueberries and cinnamon, is a jammy rustic wine that would pair well with lamb and rosemary roasted potatoes.

2012 Bellissimo:  This blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is a Tuscan style wine with warm vanilla notes, oak, and ripe cherries.

Grape Creek Vineyard, 6

October, as we all know is Virginia Wine Month, but it is also Texas Wine Month, so if you get a chance, be sure to get out and give it a try!

 

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts

“Everything is bigger in Texas.”

Including my new digs here in Austin. For the same price I was paying for a 400 sq. ft. 1-bedroom apartment in D.C., I am now renting a 3-bedroom duplex with a backyard and a garage. We have so much space, I am going to get a craft room – and Tom agreed to it!  It is all pretty fabulous and I am in love with our new place.

Living in Texas - Living Room Living in Texas - Dining Room

Moving from a tiny galley style kitchen with maybe 2 square feet of counter space to my new spacious kitchen (with a dishwasher!) is the best part of the new house. Precious counter space that once belonged to an ever present stack of drying dishes has been given to my KitchenAide mixer. Now it is always close at hand and easy to use in a moments notice. Recipes that involve half a dozen bowls are no longer daunting because those dishes just go into the dishwasher – no more hours of cleaning. I am having a bit of trouble re-learning how to use an electric stove and I may have burned a few batches of bacon, but I’ll figure it out soon enough, I just have to keep practicing.

Living in Texas - Kitchen

After finally unpacking my cooking supplies, I decided to celebrate my new kitchen by getting my hands dirty making my first from scratch meal. No more frozen pizza for me! My first dish in the new kitchen needed to be something fun, not too difficult (I was tired after all that unpacking), and hearty (to fuel a long night of organizing my walk-in closet). By combining Hungarian noodles and cabbage with Italian pasta carbonara, I came up with this fabulous dish of noodles, shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon, and poached eggs. A rustic, satisfying pasta carbonara with veggies thrown in for good measure.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts v 3

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts
2-4 servings

4 cups shredded brussel sprouts (see Recipe Notes)
½ pound uncooked pasta (see Recipe Notes)
1 large shallot, minced
salt and fresh ground pepper
¼ pound of medium thickness bacon
4 eggs
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼  shredded Parmesan cheese + more for serving

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - prep the veggies

1)      Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil for the pasta. Once at a roiling boil, cook pasta according to package directions. Also place a large, wide pan or pot with about 3 inches of water on medium-low to bring it to a simmer (I like to use my large soup pot).

2)     In a large heavy bottomed skillet fry bacon to desired crispness and remove to a paper towel lined plate. Pour off some of the bacon grease, leaving about 1-2 tablespoons in the pan. Make sure you save the extra bacon grease in case you need a bit more.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - fry the bacon

3)     Add minced shallot to pan and cook for 1 minute. Add shredded brussels sprouts and toss to coat in the bacon grease. Sauté brussels sprouts for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they do not burn, but not so frequently that they don’t brown in places.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - saute Brussels sprouts

4)     At this point your poaching water should be simmering, add about 4 teaspoons of white wine vinegar to the water and, using your preferred method (like the one described here) poach your four eggs. I use 2 eggs per dish for the 2 servings, if you are making 4 smaller servings, you may want to poach more eggs, or just serve one egg each serving.

5)     Remove brussels sprouts from direct heat and add drained, cooked pasta, tossing to coat. Here is where you may want to dribble on a bit more bacon grease. Sprinkle with about ¼ cup of Parmesan and toss to incorporate.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - add drained pasta 1 Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - add drained pasta 2

6)     To serve, spoon pasta-brussels sprouts mixture on a plate, top with a few slices of the cooked bacon, crumbled, sprinkle with extra cheese, and top with your poached eggs. Ta-Da!

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts v 1

Recipe Notes
Shredded Brussels Sprouts sound much harder than they really are – for me the real trick is buying the largest sprouts you can find. The website Almost Practical has a great step-by-step tutorial, with pictures on how prep them. If you want a bit of guidance before you get started, check it out.

Traditional carbonara is made with spaghetti or bucattini, but with the addition of the brussels sprouts, I didn’t think these would work as well. I ended up  using campanella pasta, so that the Brussles sprout shreds could easily wrap around the pasta and be better incorporated. Really, any shorter sturdier pasta like farfella or radiatori should work here.

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

 

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