strawberries with balsamic vinegar

So we’ve been away for a little while.  Two months, to be exact.  Tending to other things.  Our hearts, our souls, our peace-of-mind, our new (to us) cottage in Northern Michigan where we’ll happily watch the weather in the desert on our smartphones and say, “Oh, how good it is to be here in Northern Michigan.”

With two months of projects, including a white picket fence, I’ve been otherwise occupied with gardening, and beach walks and campfires.  The simple pleasures of life.  With that said, and with summer berries in abundance, I bring you another simple pleasure.  Some of the best and most simple pleasures of summer: strawberries and balsamic.  And vanilla ice cream.  Moomers, of course.

This is so easy to make and is so incredibly delicious, you’ll never want to put anything else on your vanilla ice cream, again.  Guaranteed.  Enjoy!!

berries©zouptonuts

brownsugar©zouptonuts

balsamic@zouptonuts

 

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar (recipe courtesy Traverse Magazine, June 2012)

 Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 pints strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1/8 cup light brown sugar
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring vinegar, granulated sugar and lemon juice to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Simmer until syrup is reduced by half. Cool.
  3. Toss berries and brown sugar in a bowl.
  4. Pour vinegar syrup over berries, add fresh black pepper to taste.
  5. Serve over vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.

vanilla©zouptonuts

sauced©zouptonuts

 

***Cook’s Notes:  Use the very best balsamic vinegar you can afford…which is true no matter what you’re making.

Advertisements

baked blueberry clafoutis

Since our decision to kick cable t.v., to the curb, there’s a lot less television-watching in our house.  We’re down to NetFlix and about 25 channels, twelve of which are in Spanish and of no use to anybody.  The other twelve or so are home shopping (still not useful), local affiliates (mainstream programming not my taste), and PBS.  So, I’m watching a lot of PBS.  And, hey, I’m a member, so no guilt trips, please.

One of the shows we see…well, I see pretty regularly as my partner-in-crime is snoozing away on the other half of the couch, is a great gardening show called Growing a Greener World.  One of the best things about it is the cooking segment at the end of each show.  Chef Nathan Lyon (Tweet him @chefnathanlyon – he even tweets back), always seems to be cooking up something fresh and easy-to-prepare with nutritious ingredients you don’t have to hunt down at a specialty store.  It’s nothing over-the-top.  Just healthy, simple fare you can throw together for a weeknight meal for your family, and always a little unique to impress your guests.  I don’t own his cookbook, but I’m definitely going to get it given the rave reviews I’ve gotten with his recipes, so far.

This one was from an episode we watched last night.  Again, I watched, hubby dozed.  I’d made a traditional cherry clafoutis at my mom’s one summer a number of years ago.  It was delicious.  How could it not be delicious?  It’s full of eggs and a tiny bit of sugar and fresh fruit.  And, it’s fun to say!  What I discovered after baking this one; blueberry, is the French are particular about their clafoutis.  It’s apparently only a clafoutis if it’s cherry.  If you bastardize it, as the French would undoubtedly claim, by baking it with blueberries, or any other fruit, it’s considered a flaugnarde – not nearly as fun to say, but equally yummy.  They’re not too sweet, since there’s really not much sugar compared to other desserts, and have a wonderful texture – more like a custardy-tart, since you use a minimal amount of flour to bind all the egg and creamy loveliness together.  The texture is creamy, a very thick custard, and melts in your mouth.  The berries hold their shape nicely, so there’s good texture in the fruit, as well.  Call it what you will: clafoutis or flaugnarde, it’s good eats!

Serve it warm, dusted with powdered sugar or a little heavy cream.  Personally, I found it just as delicious served cold.  Personal preference.  Enjoy!

2014-04-242

2014-04-243

square©zouptonuts

Baked Blueberry Clafoutis

Recipe Courtesy: Nathan Lyon, Growing A Greener World, Episode 116

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 Tbsp granulated sugar, separated
  • 5 whole eggs, large
  • 1 cup half and half, or whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tsp)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pint blueberries (12 oz)
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting, optional

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F
  2. In a medium, oven safe, non-stick sauté pan, combine the butter with 2 Tbsp granulated sugar and place over medium heat. (Be careful not to let butter brown).
  3. Meanwhile whisk the eggs plus the remaining 2 Tbsp sugar on high speed until tripled in volume and pale yellow in color (about 5 minutes). Then, by hand, gradually whisk in the half and half or milk, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt, and flour until just incorporated. It should look light and foamy at this point.
  4. Pour this mixture into the hot pan, top with the blueberries, then transfer into the oven. Bake for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on top, and the Clafoutis has puffed up.
  5. Remove from the oven, and turn out onto a cutting board. Slice, and serve with the optional powdered sugar.

DSC_1698

DSC_1701

DSC_1705

***Baker’s Notes:  Don’t try to skimp too much on the calories with low-fat or skim milk.  Your end product will be watery and unsatisfying.  At the very least, I’d say 2% milk, but whole milk or half and half are truly best.  I used the full pint of berries and, even though I love blueberries, I thought it was a lot of berries.  I might experiment with 8 ounces next time.  Mine baked for 24 minutes and I actually spun it under the broiler for a few minutes to give the top a more golden appearance.

cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese

Just before Christmas, one of the moms from our 3rd grade class hosted a gingerbread house decorating party for some of her daughter’s friends.  We happened to be on the guest list and had a blast.  Not only was it fun because the kids had a ball decorating their houses with all sorts of edible sweeties, but she had a spread of real food (and beverages) for those of us who don’t find Skittles and Everlasting Gob-Stoppers nearly as interesting as we used to.

One of the appetizers she served was a goat cheese roll smothered in the most delicious cranberry sauce ever.  I begged her for the recipe.  She said, “I got it at Costco.”

Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m not a fan of Costco for a litany of reasons, and I had successfully avoided becoming a Costco member for a long, long, long time.  But then we got a dog.  And dog food is a lot cheaper at Costco.  Also, apparently I can buy Fage yogurt and 12-grain bread at a deep discount.  Not to mention, gas is 30 cents a gallon less expensive, and when you’re fueling with premium gasoline that’s a big deal.  So, now we’re Costco members.  Yippee!!

But I’m not buying prepared appetizers at Costco!  No matter how yummy they are!!

This recipe was easy enough to find and easy to put together.  On top of that, I’d put it up against the mass-produced Costco version (admittedly delicious) any day.  It was wonderful.  The cranberry sauce is tangy and lemony, yet with the warmth and savoriness of cinnamon.  It was one of my favorite appetizers on New Year’s Day.  I think it would also work as a Super Bowl party appetizer – the cranberries are pretty festive, but we’re not so far removed from the holidays that you couldn’t pull it off on game day.  Enjoy!

Cranberry-Cinnamon Goat Cheese (recipe courtesy Mission Food)

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 11 oz. log goat cheese
  • Crackers, for serving

Directions:

  1. Add cranberries, sugar, water, orange zest, and cinnamon to saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, stirring occasionally for about 8 to 10 minutes. The cranberries will pop, the mixture will foam and subside, and the sauce will thicken as the cranberries break down.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  3. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Spread about 1/2 cup of the cranberry mixture onto the plastic wrap, a little longer and wider than the goat cheese log. Lay the goat cheese log on top of the cranberry sauce and spread more sauce over the top and sides of the goat cheese (much like frosting a cake). There should be about 1/4-inch thick layer of cranberry sauce over all the sides of the goat cheese.
  4. Wrap the plastic wrap around the cranberry-coated goat cheese log and refrigerate.
  5. Remove the goat cheese from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow the cheese to slightly soften and become easier to spread. Remove plastic wrap before serving!

DSC_1826

DSC_1832

white bean dip with rosemary and sage

Well, hello there,  2014!!!  By my calculations, I’m only about two weeks late to the party, but, hey…life has a way of being lived sometimes and I have to admit there’s been little time for cooking AND photographing.  Just cooking, lately, and Brownie meetings to supervise, and piano lessons to patiently sit through, and puppy obedience classes to attend.  Also, believe it or not, it gets dark really early this time of year in the desert.  By 5:30, if I haven’t cooked, plated, and photographed, there’s just not enough natural light.

Ahhh, excuses, excuses, excuses.  Enough of that, on to the bean dip.

I made this for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2012.  It was a huge hit with our guests and, even though it was just going to be the three of us this year (one of whom wouldn’t touch the stuff with a ten foot pole), I decided to do it again for our New Year’s Day feast.  We already had too much food, but this dip is so good (and gets better with each passing day), I was happy to have the leftovers for some post-celebration snacking.  It’s low in fat, high in flavor (lots of garlic goodness), and a good source of protein and fiber from the beans.  It’s also really fast and easy to assemble.  Put it together the day before you plan to serve it for maximum flavor mingling!  (I hear there’s a big football game in the not-too-distant future).  Serve with the crackers or crudités of your choice.  Enjoy!!

White Bean Dip with Rosemary and Sage (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, Aug 2007)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
  • Fresh sage sprig (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Serve with pita wedges crackers, fresh veggies. Garnish with sage sprig, if desired.

DSC_1829

DSC_1823

java spice bread

So….clearly I’m in the throes of some sort of fall spice preoccupation.  But it’s fall.  Fall doesn’t last that long around these parts, and neither does winter.  And that means I have to strike while the iron is hot, or, in this case, cool and overcast.  Which it had been for the last couple of days.  Rain.  Low clouds.  More rain.  Flooded washes.  Fall’s full weight.  And I’m loving every minute of it; the inspiration to bake on a cool, gray Friday afternoon.

This recipe is delicious.  I opted to eliminate the pecans simply because I didn’t have any in my pantry and didn’t feel like going out for one item.  The bread is warm and spicy and aromatic.  It would make a wonderful addition to a breakfast or brunch buffet on Christmas morning.  I know I didn’t care for the raisins in my previous recipe, but they worked beautifully in this one, giving an added burst of sweetness.  This one comes highly recommended.  Seethe Baker’s Notes, below, for further suggestions in prepping this lovely bread.  Enjoy!

2013-11-22

2013-11-221

DSC_1154

Java Spice Bread (recipe courtesy Grand Temptations:  Recipes from the Junior League of Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c raisins
  • 1 3/4 c + 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 c + 2 Tbsp light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3/4 c honey
  • 1/8 c (= 2 Tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 c strong black coffee, cold
  • 1/2 c pecans, chopped (optional)

Directions:

  1. Combine the raisins with water to cover in a small microwaveable bowl.  Microwave on High for 3 minutes; drain.  Remove the raisins to a paper towel and let stand until cool.  Place the raisins in a small bowl, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp flour and toss to coat.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Combine 1 3/4 cups flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  3. Combine eggs, honey, butter, and coffee in a bowl and mix well.  Fold in to dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.  Stir in raisins and pecans (optional).
  4. Pour batter into greased and floured 9-inch loaf pan.  Bake for 55 minutes.
  5. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Store, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 1 week.  The loaves also freeze well.

DSC_1175

DSC_1178

***Baker’s Notes:  Use really strong coffee.  If your average daily brew tends to be on the mild side, brew an extra strong cup for this recipe to give your bread a nice coffee undertone.  Also, the original recipe instructed to bake for 1 hour, cool in the pan for 15 minutes.  That was way too long.  I adapted to 55 minutes in the oven, but I think you might even want to check it at 50 minutes to ensure maximum moistness.  This bread would make excellent hostess or teacher gifts.  Bake in mini loaf pans and wrap in pretty Christmas cellophane bags.  Re-calculate baking time for the mini loaves.

homemade chocolate buttercream frosting

I’m a pretty low-key when it comes to birthday celebrations.  I like to keep it simple.  Party of three, please:  Me + Husband + Kiddo.  It’s all good that way.  They took me to dinner, bought me a couple of gifts, and we ate cake; the cake they baked and of which I was tasked with frosting.

Frosting my own birthday cake is not offensive to me in the least.   Being asked to do so insures I don’t have to eat store-bought frosting, and I get to play with butter and sugar and cocoa.  What’s not to like about that?.

This recipe is a staple…tried and true.  Everyone has these stock items in their pantry and they go together in less time than it would take to run to the grocery store for one of those gritty, over-priced, pre-packaged frosting containers.  The quantity easily frosts a 9 x 13 sheet cake, or 24 cupcakes.  For a round layer cake, I might bump up the ingredients a bit to allow for frosting between layers.  Enjoy!

2013-10-28

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tbsp butter, softened
  • 2 2/3 c confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 c cocoa, unsweetened
  • 1/3 cup milk (I use 1%)
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  1. Place butter in a bowl and beat until creamy.
  2. Add sugar and cocoa, mixing well.
  3. Stir in milk in portions, stirring each time.
  4. Add vanilla.
  5. Spread on cooled cake or other items needing frosting.
  6. Lick the bowl.

DSC_0936

pan-seared steak with red wine-cherry sauce

I’m a huge fan of the sweet cherry – being a native Michigander, and all.  My husband, a native Ohioan, believes Michiganders are willing to put cherries in anything; pies, bread, wine, soda, sausage, you name it.  And, on that count, he’s right.  Frankly, I think it’s just a jealousy thing.  He’s from Ohio who managed to marry a girl from Michigan.  Ohio has….um, well, no cherries.  Their state tree breeds a poisonous nut, for Pete’s sake.  Yeah, it’s totally jealousy.  Not to mention, Michigan is full of peninsulas and Ohio is pretty square.  Not a peninsula to be found.  Hence, I dubbed this syndrome “Peninsula Envy.”  He thinks I’m being funny.  Denial is the first sign.

If you’re married to a Michigan girl who grew up spitting cherry pits into the sand on the front porch of the family cottage, and cherries start to show themselves in grocery stores (sadly, not Michigan cherries) round about Father’s Day, it’s a good bet you’re getting something for dinner with cherries in it.  Fortuitously, the July issue of Cooking Light arrived at the house late last week.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  Cooking Light is one of my all-time favorite cooking magazines.  Everything I’ve cooked from the magazine has been consistently good.  This issue certainly doesn’t disappoint – it’s full of amazing looking dishes, and even gave a shout out to Traverse City, Michigan, home to the Cherry Festival, on The Hungry Traveler 2013 top 10 list of delicious food excursions across America.

The red wine cherry sauce was quite good, especially infused with the star anise.  I had to make two alterations; one discussed below and the other being obvious from the photo.  The recipe called for beef tenderloin steaks, but I sent the man to the store and he came home with filets.  Cooking time quickly adjusted and they came out pink and perfect!  I served the steaks with garlicky almond green beans (poo poo’ed by the kiddo…too much garlic, apparently), which were delicious, and the man of the day gave the meal two thumbs up.  A perfect manly meal for a perfectly wonderful dad.  Enjoy!!

Seared Steaks with Red Wine-Cherry Sauce (recipe courtesy Cooking Light, July 2013)

Ingredients:

  • 4 (4-ounce) beef tenderloin steaks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 cup sweet cherries (such as Bing), pitted and halved
  • 1 star anise
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine (Merlot or Pinot noir)
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 425°.

2.   Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sprinkle steaks evenly with salt and pepper. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add steaks; cook 4 minutes. Turn steaks over; bake at 425° for 5 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Remove steaks from pan.

3. Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 2 minutes or until just tender, stirring frequently. Add cherries and star anise; cook 1 minute. Add wine, bring to a boil, and cook 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Discard star anise. Stir in butter. Spoon sauce over steaks.

platedfilets©zouptonuts

Cook’s Notes:  I couldn’t get whole star anise in the bulk spice section at my local organic grocer, so I ended up with anise seed, instead.  Very fragrant, but supposedly not as flavorful.  Because it was anise seed, I didn’t add it with the cherries.  Instead, I bound the anise seed in cheese cloth and let it steep in the wine for about 30 minutes ahead of cooking.  The wine really picked up the anise flavor and it definitely flavored the sauce.