Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

I feel like Halloween is really sneaking up on us this year. Can you believe we’re halfway through October already?! I haven’t given a single thought to decorating, costumes, or candy (yeah right…I love candy!). I’m not going to be prepared, but Sarah W. is here with something that will at least get me into the right frame of mind: Halloween wines! Themed booze just has a way of setting the mood! Sarah, spook us into the Halloween spirit!

Greetings from the crypt. It’s getting close to Halloween, which means candy, costumes, and limited edition wines, if you are anything like me. The perfect glass of wine helps me plan my costumes, resist that candy, and hopefully tastes good, too!

Halloween has been a lot of fun my whole life. Growing up, my family lived six houses down from the town square, so there were a lot of houses packed closely together, which made for excellent trick-or-treating. My mom used to go through 20+ bags of candy, turn her light out, wait for my brother and me to get home, and then make us go through our buckets for candy we didn’t want so she could keep handing treats out to kids at our doorstep. The first year in my house, I bought 15 bags of candy and hoped it would be enough – I thought Halloween was always the way it was growing up. I barely got through seven bags, and ended up bringing the rest in for my coworkers the following Monday. Lesson learned! Having some grown-up treats helps pass the time during the lulls. That’s where the wine comes in!

I rounded up three Halloween-themed wines and put them to the test.

Some were more trick than treat, but I’d say these three are a fairly well-rounded bunch, with something for every red wine drinker. I’ve found that Halloween wines tend to most often be available as a red, since that’s, you know, blood and guts and Haloween-ish. If you’re hosting the neighborhood parents, whip up a cheese board so you have something to snack on while you’re waiting for the kids to return with your candy (that’s how that works, right?).

Apothic Dark

Apothic has been coming out with limited editionsHalloween Wine regularly now – this is a great thing. Apothic is great at blending wines – the original Apothic Red is the go-to wine for my closest friends and me when we get together for a wine night. It’s guaranteed at least half of us will bring the same bottle. Apothic Dark has a heavy, rich taste that is somehow more muted than the original. There’s a smoky undertone at the finish that is almost bitter. There’s a sweetness that is hard to pinpoint, but some kind of dark fruit flavor is involved. I was strongly reminded of a merlot when drinking this, which isn’t my favorite varietal. But it’s certainly smooth and drinkable, with any dryness coming at the end, almost after you swallow. This one won’t give you heartburn. You want to drink Dark with the middle and back of your palate – bringing this forward in your mouth makes it taste more acrid.

Rating: 3 spooky ghosts

Halloween Candy Pairing: 3 Musketeers Strawberry or Raspberry M&Ms – a fruit/chocolate combo balances this out

Rest in Peace

Halloween WineThis wine is a new one to me, and I was possibly most excited for it since red blends are my favorite. This is the most sour of the three, and although the tasting notes on the bottle mention boysenberry and raspberry jam, I didn’t find this very fruity or jammy. Maybe for a moment as this first hits your palate – there’s definitely a brightness to it that sharpens to a spice as you drink. Leather, cedar, tobacco, pepper, and black tea are also mentioned, and these are the flavors I can definitely taste. The taste of pepper and black tea is more noticeable to me in this wine; it lingers on the back of your palate. The consistency is thin, while the flavor is robust, somehow. I understand the notes on leather and cedar, even if they’re hard to explain. There are definite earthy notes, which is surprising for such an acidic wine. This one grows on you the more you drink it.

Rating: 2-1/2 black cats

Halloween Candy Pairing: Dark chocolate – a midnight Milky Way would mellow this one out

Vampire

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a red blend, Halloween Winea fact that I noticed when I got home. Vampire has a juiciness to it that is a) extremely appropriate given its name and b) very hard to describe in terms of drinking wine. Maybe it’s best to characterize the juiciness by the absence of smoke, bitterness, or sourness. Tasting notes on the bottle suggest blackberry, dark cherry, and oak. I am not hit over the head with the fruit level, but it’s tangibly there, while the oak doesn’t dry this up to an undrinkable level. This is a wine for storytelling and deep conversations. It’s mellow enough to drink a lot of without noticing how much you’re drinking, with dryness coming right as the wine hits the middle of your mouth. This is another one to taste with the middle and back of your palate. This also finishes with some slight bitterness, but not enough to be off-putting if you’re a regular red wine drinker.

Rating: 5 werewolves

Halloween Candy Pairing: Red Vines licorice

 

Is your house busy with trick-or-treaters on Halloween? What’s your favorite limited edition anything? Should they make more Halloween-themed white wines? I could only find one, and it didn’t look good to me, so I passed.

Fall Baking: Stirring Up Memories

Fall Baking: Stirring Up Memories

It’s time to start gearing up for Fall Baking and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s still too hot here to use the oven, but all the local bakeries are breaking out their fall-themed goodies and it just makes me feel better about life. In a week or two I’ll be able to use my oven in the evenings, and I think I’m going to start my fall baking with these Oatmeal Lace Cookies that Claire is about to share with us. When I showed the photo to my son, he said, “I wish we lived at Claire’s house.” Me too, buddy, me too. Not only do these cookies look and sound fabulous, but Claire has managed to capture that fall feeling in her words. Let’s all cozy up to the fire and have Claire tell us a story.

My favorite season is fall. That might be an odd choice for a California girl, given the lack of seasonal change here, but it’s really just a holdover from growing up in Michigan. It’s not just because it means that my favorite holidays are around the corner. There’s something about autumn that just carries in the air in Michigan, and that feeling just gets infused in everything. When I first made the move out here, it was early spring. It was beautiful, and I spent the summer at the beach, so I barely missed my home state. By the time October rolled around, though, it was still beautiful and sunny and warm outside, and intense homesickness started to set in. I missed the crisp, cool air and the changing leaves. I missed wearing cute sweaters, and drinking fresh apple cider from the orchard up the road. I missed the fall.

One day that first California fall, I was walking home from work, lost in thought about apple pie and hay rides and colorful gourds. I was starting to feel a little bit overwhelmed by the thought that I might never see a real autumn again. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a gust of cool wind picked up behind me, and I heard the sound of dry leaves skittering across the pavement. The wind blew in a little spiral around me, sending my hair flying, and a shiver went through my body. It was like Mother Nature had seen me struggling, and sent me a hug. That sound, that breeze, just transported me back to autumnal Michigan, and I understood just how closely my memories are bound to my senses.

I decided that day that just because it was still 88 degrees outside didn’t mean that I couldn’t throw myself headlong into my favorite season inside. I went home and started my fall baking, and I made my own autumn.

Since then, I have never looked back. When my friends back home start posting pictures of themselves in hats and sweaters, and I feel that pang of jealousy, I just close the curtains to block out my next-door-neighbor’s palm trees, and I throw myself into reviving those autumnal memories. I have started on my Christmas knitting, so I can have the touch of wool on my hands. I’ve been planning out my Halloween costume, and giggling at the prospect of frightening my neighbors’ children. And, of course, I’ve broken out my fall baking supplies, to surround myself in sweet, autumnal aromas.

I’ve decided to start my fall baking slowly and simply this year, so I’m making an oatmeal lace cookie with a chocolate ginger drizzle. The golden color and crispy snap of a lace cookie is a delicious analogy for dry leaves, and the crystallized ginger on top gives these rich treats the perfect, autumnal kick. Of course, the best way to really enjoy a thing like this is to share it with loved ones, so I’ve also decided to get into the gift-giving season early this year. I’m packaging these up in cellophane and seasonal ribbons to give to my California friends. Maybe we’ll even share them over mulled cider.

Oatmeal Lace Cookies with Chocolate Ginger Drizzle

Ingredients:Fall Baking

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 2¼ cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 2¼ cups rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 ounces dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced

Preheat your oven to 375º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set them aside. Heat the butter and brown sugar in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden or silicon spoon, until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in oats, flour, salt, egg, and vanilla.

Drop teaspoons-sized mounds of cookie batter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each cookie to allow them to spread. Do not give in to the temptation to make bigger mounds or to put more than six or eight on a sheet, or your cookies will all run together, and you won’t get those nice, crispy edges. Bake for 5 -7 minutes, watching closely to prevent them from over-baking. The cookies should be golden brown, with dark edges. Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for about a minute before you move them onto racks to finish cooling.

Fall Baking

When all of the cookies have completely cooled, lay them out onto sheets of parchment paper. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Transfer the melted chocolate to a resealable plastic bag and snip the very tip off of one of the bottom corners to make a hole. Holding the bag about 5 inches above the cookies, drizzle the chocolate back and forth in a zigzag until the cookies are covered to your preference. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle the ginger over the cookies, and then allow them to set for a couple of hours.

Fall Baking

Any cookies that you don’t give away to friends should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot, but they’re so tasty, I doubt they’ll stick around for very long. Some of the ginger that doesn’t get stuck on a chocolate line will obviously fall off of the cookies, but I scoop those bits up and put them in the container with the cookies because the more ginger aromatics, the better. I want to open that Tupperware and feel transported! And then I want to just eat those ginger bits!

Fall Baking

Do you love fall baking? What seasonal traditions get you the most excited? What costume should I wear for Halloween?

Printer friendly recipe: Fall Baking – Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Friends Luncheon – Feeding Friendships One Dish at a Time

Friends Luncheon – Feeding Friendships One Dish at a Time

Leading up to my visit to Claire’s, I was so excited for all the delicious food, but I had no idea our little friends luncheon was going to be so grand! Working on a fabulous meal together was the perfect way to catch up with out-of-town friends. I can’t wait for our next get-together! If you are thinking of planning a friends luncheon of your own, read on for some fabulous recipes and tips from Claire.

At this point, I think my love for hosting has been fairly well established, so for me, nothing beats having friends over for a weekend stay. I enjoy all parts of the process, from the planning stages up. I gleefully plot out a menu and a rough list of possible activities, carefully tailoring each visit to my guests’ particular tastes, and being sure to plan for several hours of doing nothing at all in order to establish a truly vacation-y vibe. Also, depending on the previous night’s activities, sometimes sitting around doing nothing is exactly what we need.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of hosting several friends at once. Andrew and Meredith drove down from San Jose, and Candi made the trek up from Phoenix with her 9-year-old son. I made the long haul to several grocery stores.

For a get-together like this one, I like to keep the fare simple, but impressive. I planned the weekend menu around dishes that wouldn’t take too many ingredients, and that wouldn’t clash with each other on my cooking surfaces. My guests rolled in late Friday evening, so I threw together a basic cheese board with fresh bread, and we sat around it munching while we caught up. Saturday morning, I made buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, and since we had such a heavy breakfast, we decided to make our next meal a late luncheon.

For the next several hours, we sat around laughing and digesting, and remembering why we all had so much love for each other, while planning out our friends luncheon.

I settled on making a roasted pork tenderloin, because it can be easily sliced into small servings, and it’s a fairly simple cooking process. We also had a trio of artichokes, another cheese board (because there’s no such thing as too much cheese), and one of my favorite crowd-pleaser recipes, tomato pie. For a dinner party, I usually like to have everything basically ready by the time my guests arrive. In a sleepover scenario like this, though, it’s much more fun when everyone hangs around the kitchen and helps, so I planned around each of my friends’ kitchen strengths. Andrew quickly got to mixing cocktails while I pulled ingredients out of the fridge. Candi, who, incidentally, is a fire wizard, went out to the patio to get the grill going while I started prep on the artichokes. Mer tested the cocktails and cheeses for quality control.

Friends Luncheon

For the artichokes, I squeezed a couple of lemons into a big pot of boiling water and dropped them in, then threw in the halved artichokes. After about 15 minutes, I checked them to make sure they were done, and then gave them to Candi. She slathered them in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt, and pepper, and finished them on the grill to char up the edges a bit. We put them on a platter with bowls of butter and mayo for dipping.

Our friends luncheon was coming together nicely, but surveying our progress, I realized that we were missing a key ingredient: dessert! Luckily, I had just bought a giant box of strawberries, so I put Candi to work hulling those while I threw together a shortcake. My recipe of choice comes from my grandma’s copy of Cross Creek Cookery, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and it is pure perfection.

While the shortcake cooled and the oven was still hot, Andrew took a break from mixing cocktails to work on the pork tenderloin. He put together a mixture of dried herbs and spices from my pantry, rubbed down the tenderloin, and threw it in a hot skillet. After he got a good sear on all sides, he put the skillet into the 450° oven and let it roast for about 18 minutes. Then he covered the pan in foil to let the meat rest while we prepped the tomato pie.

At this point, our friends Jess and Ian showed up. My husband and Ian loaded Candi’s son into the car and headed out to play some disc golf, and not a moment too soon, because Andrew’s cocktails were starting to catch up with us. Our 90’s hip hop dance party heated up while we waited for timers to ring.

When the tomato pie finally came out of the oven, we were ready to get to the grub. We put everything out buffet style, set out plates and silverware, and sat around the table inhaling the fruits of all our hard work. In our case, the tomato pie was maybe a little darker around the edges and the pork just a little more done than planned. That’s just what happens when you ignore the kitchen timer because you’re in the middle of a dance-off. Anyway, the best foods are flavored with laugh-attacks.

Friends Luncheon

Tomato Pie

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 8 oz Gruyere cheese, sliced or shredded
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped

Preheat your oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to desired size; I like to fit mine to a stoneware baking tray, but any cookie sheet or pizza stone will work. Bake the pastry for about 15 minutes, until it is golden brown, but not quite done. Spread the mustard evenly over the pastry, then layer on the cheese, basil, and tomatoes. Pop back into the oven and bake until the cheese is melty and the tomatoes are cooked, about 10 more minutes.

Friends Luncheon

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 quart strawberries
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • Half pint of heavy whipping cream
  • Dash of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Butter a round cake pan and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400°. Mix the first five ingredients together and sift. Cut the butter into pieces and quickly work it into the flour mixture with your fingers. Add the egg, and then milk. Mix quickly and turn the dough into the cake pan and pat it into shape with the flat of your hand. Bake the shortcake for 20 minutes and then turn it onto a cooling rack.

Set aside a few of the largest strawberries to top the finished cake, and cut the rest into pieces. An hour before you’re ready to eat, add the brown sugar. Let the berries sit in the bowl for about an hour in a warm place, stirring occasionally to make sure they are macerating evenly. Cut the shortcake into two layers and butter each cut side. Pour the cream, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a tall bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. To assemble, stack the cake layers together with strawberries and juice between and on top. Top with whipped cream and decorate with reserved berries.

Friends Luncheon

Printer friendly recipes: Friends Luncheon Recipes

Summer Fun – Remembering the Good Times

Summer Fun – Remembering the Good Times

Oh, Summer… I know I complain about you a lot, but I’m trying to remember the days when I looked forward to seeing you. See, I used to not notice the heat here; I was a clueless kid with a pool and a bunch of siblings. The lazy summer days of my childhood were filled with swimming, running through sprinklers, neighborhood-wide games of Darkness Hide and Seek (my polls tell me this is not an actual thing, so for those who didn’t grow up with me, this is just Hide and Seek, but outside at night), and playing Super Mario Brothers until our eyes bled. My sister was the only one of us kids who had a domestic streak, so she would bring us out trays of microwaved burritos that we would eat in the pool. The theory was that if you ate it in the pool, you didn’t have to wait 30 minutes to start swimming again. Ah, childhood…

My favorite summer game was called “Popsicle.” In Popsicle, which is a night-time game, everyone was a popsicle and we all hung out in the front yard running around, wrestling, etc. There was a large blanket spread out in the middle of the yard, and if a car drove by, all the popsicles had to run to get under the blanket so the headlights wouldn’t “melt” us. If you got melted, you were out; if you got under the blanket but the car didn’t turn down our street, you were out. I don’t know how often we actually played Popsicle, but it feels like it was every summer night for years and years of my childhood. I perfectly remember the big, itchy yellow blanket we hid under, with its excessive pilling and vague campfire scent. It’s funny the things we hold onto from childhood.

The reason I’ve been trying to recall happy summer memories is that I’ve got my son here with me all summer, and he’s decided he doesn’t want to go to day camp this year, so he really is here with me. What is he going to remember from this summer? He somehow managed to not get that normal kid quality of being able to ignore the heat, so he doesn’t play outside much during the day; it’s like he inherited my adult intolerance of heat without the bonus 13 years of blissful ignorance. He probably won’t ever have to experience the pain of playing Lava Monster and falling into actual lava (aka the asphalt during the Arizona summer), so that’s a bonus. I just don’t want him to think back to his childhood summers and only remember video games and cartoons.

It has occurred to me that I might just be overthinking this; there isSummer a very real possibility that my summers growing up were nowhere near as fun-filled as I remember them. What if we only ever played Popsicle once and it was just SO FUN that I’ve let that memory cover up the boring days? Maybe all my son will carry with him are the memories of staying up late for days on end to finish all eight of the Harry Potter DVDs. Or maybe he’ll store up enough fun memories on our trip to visit Claire (of Key Lime Pie fame) next month that he’ll look back fondly on this summer as one of the best ever; five days of beaches and Redwoods and amazing food will definitely help me forget this awful heat, so I’m hopeful my kid will hang onto the good stuff, too.

What are your favorite summer memories from childhood? Do you remember the boring days or just the fun ones? I want to hear all about the games you made up as a kid!

Key Lime Pie – The Perfect Summer Dessert

Key Lime Pie – The Perfect Summer Dessert

Key lime pie is one of my favorite desserts ever, yet I have never made one! My dear friend and food idol, Claire Hoenke, has been talking lately about how good her key lime pie is, so I decided I needed some and picked one up from the store on my way to a Memorial Day BBQ. Big mistake. Big. Huge. The flavor was just okay, but the pie itself was tiny! Who brings a 7″ pie to a BBQ? (I do, obviously.) I had to wait until everyone else had left so I could split it with my parents. There’s not a whole lot worse than disappointing pie, so I hereby vow to never again get my key lime pie fix from a grocery store. Thankfully Claire was around to send me pictures of her gorgeous practice pies to further solidify my resolve. She also made me cry with this post, and because of that, I will never forsake key lime pie again. Claire has inspired me to make a real key lime pie for Father’s Day. Let’s see if she can inspire you, too! Take it away, Claire!

I grew up in west Michigan. There, the summers are short and intense, and the winters are long, and also intense, and they don’t usually let up until June. Luckily for us, my mother’s family all lived in Miami, so every spring, we would pack up and head down there to defrost early.

For our spring trips down, we would make my Nana’s house our home base, and spend the entire vacation bouncing between there and our various favorite swimming holes. Between the beach and my uncle’s pool, though, we ate. We ate Cuban sandwiches from street vendors, black beans and rice and fried sweet plantains from local restaurants, and the mother of all custardy desserts, key lime pie, from every place we could get our hands on it.

That flavor, the tart sweetness of a key lime pie, has stayed with me, and Nana made a fantastic key lime pie. For me, no other food so perfectly embodies not only my memories of Miami, but also of my Nana in particular.

Nana, my mother’s mother, was the most fabulousC 009 ROXY woman I have ever known. Though she lived the majority of her life in Miami, she hailed from New York, and she always maintained her New York accent and sensibilities. In a home movie my mom found of my Nana showing off their first lawn in upstate New York, she pushes a lawn mower around the yard in a mink coat and high heels, a wide grin across her face. Though she was older when I knew her, she still led an active and busy life. She was always glad to see us, but I suspect that she was just as glad to see us go so she could get back to it. She was sassy, brash, and hip. She was the kind of woman I wish I could be.

Claire and NanaShe passed suddenly from heart failure not long after her 80th birthday, and when I remember her, it hits me like that first bite of a slice of key lime pie. I close my eyes against it at first – the sour, biting taste that inevitably brings tears. But then I let the sweetness of her love wash over me, and I revel in my memory of her. She led a rich, complex life, and maybe it seems reductive of me to remember her with dessert, but I find it comforting to put my love for her into a rich, complex pie like this.

My Nana was not exactly known for her culinary prowess, but this dessert is so simple to make, even she was able to master it. I like a sweet Italian meringue topping to balance the tart filling, but you can also top the pie with whipped cream, if that is your preference. Or, you could go whole hog and do both!

Key Lime PieKey Lime Pie

The Crust

  • 10 or 11 graham crackers
  • 7 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs, either with a food processor or a plastic freezer bag and rolling pin. Mix the dry ingredients together, and then add the butter and stir until it is evenly distributed. Dump the whole thing into a 9″ pie plate and press it down against the bottom and sides. You can use a measuring cup for this, but I like to finish with my hands because it’s easier to feel where the crust seems uneven that way. Pop the crust into the oven and bake it for about 6 minutes, and then set it on a rack to cool while you make the pie filling.

Key Lime Pie

The Filling

  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • ¾ cup key lime juice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Start with your limes. Theoretically, you can use Persian limes for this pie. It’s true that they are an easy shortcut, but they do not produce the same results. For the famously bright, punchy flavor, key lime juice is an absolute must. While bottled key lime juice is available in some places, it’s generally been concentrated and preserved, and it does not taste as good as the fresh stuff. I let my key limes ripen until they start to turn a bit yellow for the best flavor, and I use a Persian lime for a more fragrant zest. My advice is to juice the limes over a fine mesh sieve to avoid going back to pick out the seeds and pulp.

In a medium bowl, gently beat the egg yolks and the lime zest until the yolks are pale and thick. Add in the sweetened condensed milk and beat until the mixture is pale and thick again, about 3 more minutes. Pour the lime juice into the mixture and whisk until it is evenly combined, and then set the bowl aside.

In a separate bowl, and with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they start to foam up, and then add in the cream of tartar. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Key Lime Pie

In a small saucepan, stir the sugar and water together over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup starts to bubble. Continue to heat until the syrup reaches soft ball stage, around 236°F, and then immediately remove it from heat. With the beaters going on their slowest speed, carefully add the syrup to the egg whites in a slow, thin stream until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up and beat on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool and the mixture is glossy and smooth.

Add about a cup of the meringue mixture to the pie filling and gently fold it in. Pour the filling into your crust and bake it in your 350°F oven for 15 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and spread the rest of the meringue over the top. I like to use a spatula to create a design with peaks in the meringue for extra crunchy bits. Return the pie to the oven for another 5 minutes, and then turn on the broiler to brown the meringue for about 30 seconds to a minute. Once it starts to brown, it goes quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on it, or it will burn!

Key Lime Pie

Cool the pie for at least half an hour, and then pop it into the refrigerator for 4 hours before serving. In my experience, this pie tastes best when it’s served on Nana’s fancy plates.

Key Lime Pie

Printer friendly recipe: Key Lime Pie

Mother’s Day Brunch – Stuffed French Toast

Mother’s Day Brunch – Stuffed French Toast

Happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing moms out there! I hope your refrigerators are covered in macaroni art and your kids bring you breakfast in bed! Well, that might be a little strange if you have adult children, so we asked Sarah Weber to update the tradition to something a bit more grown up. Stuffed French Toast can be made ahead and is sure to please Mom and the rest of your guests for a delightful Mother’s Day Brunch. Sarah, tell us how to get stuffed!

Ah, Mother’s Day. I love celebrating my mom, grandma, and mother-in-law, but figuring out something to do and finding a proper gift is getting harder every year.

Is it just me, or as we get older, are more and more problems easily solved with brunch? While panicking about what to do to honor the various mothers in my life this year, I remembered something.

As a kid, my family used to go to the fancy country club where my parents held their wedding reception to have a big fancy brunch with my grandparents. Little did I know that years later, I’d hold my own wedding reception in the same hall. My mom would share stories about working there when she was younger – folding napkins into elaborate designs; bringing home fancy leftovers for my dad; learning to use silverware from the outside in; making a “b” and “d” with your hands to remind yourself which bread plate and drinks were yours (this is still one of my favorite tricks to use at a crowded table). I would watch my blue collar-raised dad put his napkin in his lap before eating, and feel an odd kind of pride in him. My brother and I would raid the desserts table with my grandfather, returning to the table laden with chocolate pudding in glass cups and carrot cake and lemon pie on tiny cream china plates. My grandma would just about burst from beaming like a proud mother duck. She loves having family together. We’d stop at the garden center on the way home to pick new hanging baskets for my mom and grandmother to hang from their porches for the summer.

It’s been years since we’ve been to that brunch, but it was a very strong family tradition growing up. There was always French toast, with lots of maple syrup. Being something of a maple connoisseur, I figured I could work with that memory to make my own brunch. But to fancy it up a little, let’s try stuffed French toast. And let’s make it easy by making it the night before and baking it the day of. We know I love shortcuts!

Two quick discussions:

Bread – Brioche is a wonderful, lovely soft bread to use for this recipe. It soaks up the egg nicely and doesn’t fall apart when you cut into your finished product. Look for a bread that isn’t too dense – a loaf of Italian will do wonderfully, while sourdough isn’t going to absorb your egg mixture as well.

Fruit – You can use any combination of fruit your heart desires. I’ve made this with canned peaches, ricotta, and cinnamon; fresh strawberries, ricotta mixed with cream cheese, and the fruit glaze you put on cheesecake; even pie filling. Some other suggested combos: fresh blueberries slightly macerated with sugar and a touch of Merlot and mascarpone; apple pie filling with extra cinnamon and ricotta; mixed berries glazed with simple syrup and rum with ricotta. There are really no wrong answers here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf bread (unsliced)
  • 1-2 cans fruit filling or fresh fruit, in bite sized pieces
  • 12 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 6-8 eggs
  • Splash of milk
  • Pinch cinnamon/nutmeg, or spices of your choice
  • Maple syrup

Start by slicing your bread pretty thinly and uniformly. Grease a 13×9 pan and line the bottom of the pan evenly with bread. This can lead to some creative cuts in your slicing.

Spread about half of your ricotta cheese evenly over bread. We’re going to cover this up, so it doesn’t need to be perfect!

Top your ricotta with fruit.

Repeat with more bread, ricotta, and fruit. Top with a layer of bread.

Mother's Day

Mix your eggs with a splash of milk and your spices. Pour evenly over bread.

Cover and pop this into the refrigerator overnight. This lets your eggs really soak into the bread. Remove from the fridge 30-45 minutes before you plan to bake this. When you’re ready, heat your oven to about 400 degrees and bake for a minimum of 45 minutes. You can cover with foil for the first half of your cooking time to keep the top from getting too brown.

Slice and serve with a drizzle of maple syrup on top. Adding some bacon and a Bloody Mary is an awfully good idea.

Do you have any Mother’s Day traditions? How are you planning to honor the moms in your life this year? What’s your favorite brunch food?

Printer friendly recipe: Stuffed French Toast

Wood: An Environmentally-Friendly Choice

Wood: An Environmentally-Friendly Choice

While we always have wood on our minds here at Butcher Block Co., this week we are honoring North American Hardwood trees, as we celebrate both Earth Day and Arbor Day. Because our business revolves around wood, it is important for us to be conscious of the environmental impact this industry has, and to be careful that the manufacturers we support are good stewards of the Earth.

Did you know that most U.S. Hardwood forests are found in the eastern half of the United States? U.S. Hardwood inventory has increased each of the past five decades, and annual new hardwood tree growth exceeds harvest by a margin of two to one!hardwood map 300

We at ButcherBlockCo are proud to sell butcher block products from John Boos, a recognized leader for their responsible “green” manufacturing processes.

John Boos only buys wood from suppliers who are members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) that focuses on replenishing forests through reforestation. Individual trees are selected for harvest, encouraging forests to renew and regenerate themselves naturally. And none of the wood used in the manufacturing of butcher block products goes to waste. The short leftover pieces of wood are used to make end-grain boards, and pieces not long enough to repurpose are ground into sawdust that they burn to generate steam for their kilns used to dry the wood. The extra sawdust is also recycled as livestock bedding for local farms.

Twitter Manufacturers Environmentally friendly

Not only are butcher blocks sturdy and beautiful, they’re made of wood…a natural material that’s renewable, sustainable, recyclable, and biodegradable!

  • Durable – Wood furniture lasts for years and years.
  • Renewable – You can cut them down and replant ones in their place.
  • Sustainable – More are planted than are harvested.
  • Recyclable – You can reuse it or repurpose it pretty easily.
  • Biodegradable – Wood is an organic material that will break down naturally.

John Boos has active recycling programs in place with 95% of all wood scrap and sawdust being recycled.

While it may at first seem counterintuitive to consider wood an environmentally-friendly choice, when grown and harvested responsibly, it actually makes a positive impact. We’ve only got one Earth, and we’re set on doing our part to keep its resources abundant. We hope you feel confident choosing butcher block for your home!

 

Breakfast with Spring Produce

Breakfast with Spring Produce

Breakfast is the greatest creation of humanity.  Because I amBreakfast a grownup (ha!), I can have breakfast whenever I want. I can also take a road trip to visit my amazing friend, Claire Hoenke, who just so happens to be the Goddess of All Things Breakfast. The first time I visited Claire, she made the world’s best biscuits and gravy, and I may have proposed marriage. The last time I stayed at Claire’s, I had driven up as a surprise for her birthday (planned by her husband, who is obviously the luckiest man alive), so she didn’t have any special ingredients stocked away to spoil me with.  Somehow Claire managed to whip up an absolutely delightful breakfast feast without waking me up.  I finally stirred when the scent of bacon, potatoes, sautéed veggies, and perfectly fried eggs became so overpowering my brain decided that maybe I could be a morning person. What I am trying to convey to you is that Claire is the best hostess and also the best at breakfast, so you should listen to everything she says. I am so excited that she is sharing some of her delightful self with us today. I think I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll pass the mic to Claire now.

I love cooking for my friends. Welcoming people to my table gives me a sense of fulfillment like nothing else does.

While I adore hosting dinner parties, anyone who has ever spent the night at my house knows that breakfast is where I really shine.

And why not? What could be better than waking up to the smell of fresh bread and a hot griddle? Starting my morning with a hearty meal is the best way to guarantee a good day. For me, nothing beats bacon and eggs with buttermilk biscuits, or waffles with pools of butter and syrup… until spring rolls around. When the ground starts to warm and the first plants of the growing season start popping up, my appetite shifts and I crave something different.

BreakfastAround this time of the year I find myself flashing back to spring in my childhood home, huddled with my friends in my parents’ vegetable garden. As kids, my sisters and I spent all spring and summer in the back yard, and when we got hungry, we would head for the garden. I can remember the feel of the cold dirt under my bare feet, the smell of the mint, and the sweet crunch of the sugar snap peas between my teeth. There is nothing like fresh veggies right off the stem. Alas, as an adult who seems to have inherited none of her parents’ magical green thumbs, the best I can do is head to the farmers’ market with a basket on my arm.

Waking up the morning after a particularly successful trip to the market, the piles of fresh green things always call to me from my fridge. “Cook me! I’m healthy and tasty and sweet! I’m some kind of crazy gift from the earth!” and I am not one to ignore the food voices in my head. This recipe is perfect because it can be made to order. Whatever fresh produce is at the local market this week is what belongs in this dish, and it’s that kind of simplicity that appeals to the barefoot kid in me. This time, I am using:

  • Half a bunch of asparagus, cutBreakfast on a diagonal into 1” pieces
  • White and pale green parts of 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • A small fistful of watercress
  • ¼ cup of basil, torn into ½” bits
  • ¼ cup mint, torn into ½” bits

Depending on where you call home, you might be lucky enough to find fresh fava beans, ramps, or spring onions at your market, and those would be perfect in this dish. Spring peas are also well worth the work of shelling, and fresh escarole would take this dish to a whole new level.

In addition to your produce, you will need:

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 2 or 3 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
  • 4 eggs
  • Good, crusty bread

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauté pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, turn the heat down to medium-low and toss in the asparagus and leeks. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 minutes, until the asparagus just starts to get tender. Add the scallions and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Add the mint and basil and cook until the asparagus is very tender. Add the watercress and toss until it’s just slightly wilted. Season with some kosher salt and divide the greens into four bowls.Breakfast

Meanwhile, bring about two inches of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to bring the water down to a simmer and add the vinegar. Crack an egg into a small bowl, and then gently slide the egg into the water. Once the white is opaque, repeat the process with the next egg, and so on. Poach the eggs for about 3 minutes each until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny.

Breakfast

Using a slotted spoon, transfer each egg as it finishes onto a bowl of greens. Drizzle each serving with olive oil and some grated or crumbled cheese. Serve with slices of bread and soak in the goodness!

Breakfast

Wait; it gets better…

BreakfastAre you still breathing? Want to meet me at Claire’s for breakfast? If you’re not up for the trip, print off the recipe and give it a go at home using goodies from your own garden or local market!

Printer friendly recipe:  Poached Eggs with Spring Veggies

Feeding Friendships – Festivals and Peanut Butter Maple Fudge

Feeding Friendships – Festivals and Peanut Butter Maple Fudge

Spring is the perfect time to feed your friendships; the weather is starting to cooperate and towns are waking up from the long, cold winter! Now that it is starting to warm up, festival season is kicking into gear, bringing with it a sense of community and friendship to cities and towns across the country. This week, Sarah Weber is back to share memories of her favorite town festival along with a recipe using a local commodity that is sure to score you some friendship points!

I grew up in Chardon, a small town 35 miles east of Cleveland. I don’t know if it’s a huge thing in places other than the Midwest, but spring is festival season around these parts. Smaller than a county fair, with the same terrifyingly-quickly-assembled rides and street food vendors, these festivals usually celebrate a main commodity of the community with several tents, parades, exhibits, and contests to show off that commodity’s products. Not only do these festivals foster a sense of community, they are a great place to feed friendships.

Chardon is host to the oldest maple festival in the country, and having attended since I was a small child living six houses down from the town square, I can tell you it’s big fun. It’s counted as a point of pride that so many maple trees thrive in the community, and every March brings “Tappin’ Sunday,” a ceremonial tapping of a sugar maple on the square with a golden tap. Ubiquitous sap buckets hang from trees all over for the better part of a month, and a small building on the square known as the Sugar Shack starts throwing large clouds of white steam on Sundays as they prepare to serve up super unique maple stirs.

Friendship

This is maple syrup heated to a magic temperature (about 250°), then poured into a little cardboard bowl. You’re handed what looks like a tongue depressor and told to stir. This is where I learned patience as a child and where many friendships blossomed. You stir the thick syrup until slowly it turns into creamy maple candy, which you scrape out and eat with your stir stick as your spoon.

Needless to say, maple is one of my favorite flavors. Maple icing on eclairs, maple barbeque sauce, maple beer (yup), maple cocktails, real maple syrup on waffles. These are some of my favorite little pleasures in life when it comes to my taste buds. One of these favorite indulgences? Maple fudge. With just four ingredients, you can make a great nutty, maple treat that disappears as if by magic from whatever gathering you bring it to. And what better way to feed your friendships than to offer gifts of delicious fudge?

To prep, line a dish or pan with foil, and spray the foil with cooking spray. I used an 8×8 pan here, and thickness of your finished fudge will depend entirely on pan size. One batch comfortably fills an 8×8 pan. If you want thinner pieces, size up.

Tip number two is to use crunchy peanut butter if you want nuts in your finished fudge. It’s actually a pretty genius move (if I do say so myself) because the peanuts are already cut to a small size, and aren’t dense enough to sink to the bottom of your batter/fudge/icing/whatever you’re peanut buttering. One of my favorite shortcuts.

Ingredients

Friendship

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/8-1/4 cup maple syrup

Combine sugar and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir occasionally until the mixture starts to boil. I used a thin rubber spatula so the sugar mixture wouldn’t stick when it came time for clean-up.

Once you’re boiling, stir constantly for 3 minutes.

FriendshipRemove your saucepan from the heat, turn off your burner, and add your peanut butter and maple syrup. Stir until the peanut butter is fully incorporated and you have a uniformly-colored creamy mixture. I didn’t measure my maple syrup — eyeballing it, I probably added close to ¼ cup in two good-sized pours straight from the bottle.

Friendship

Pour your fudge into your lined pan and pop it in the fridge. You can cut it into squares or slices in approximately 2 hours. I like squares about an inch all around as a bite-sized treat. Wrap individual pieces in wax paper and add to friendship baskets or tins. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Friendship

Is your area also a festival town? Have you had friendships grow from these fun community gatherings? Have you ever had a maple stir? If you’re in the Northeast Ohio area April 23-26, make your way to Chardon and I might see you there!

Printer friendly recipe: Peanut Butter Maple Fudge

Butcher Block: Unexpected Beauty for Your Whole Home

Butcher Block: Unexpected Beauty for Your Whole Home

Butcher Block is an expected material for cutting boards, island tops, and chopping blocks, but did you know it’s good for so much more? I have the extreme pleasure of working on our custom projects daily, and let me tell you, some of my favorites have started with a customer saying, “This idea is going to sound a little crazy, but…” But nothing! Let’s do it! Besides the amazing kitchen makeovers we’ve done, we also do quite a few non-conventional projects like bathrooms, garages, and even closets. One time I even got to help design a shuffle board table!

Butcher Block makes for an extremely versatile, durable, and beautiful surface for just about any room in the house!

We’ll ease our way out of the kitchen with this gorgeous handcrafted bar one of our talented customers built. He made everything by hand except the butcher block top, which is 12 feet of beautiful Maple.

Butcher Block

Kitchens are, of course, the most common projects I work on, but gaining speed in second place is the home office. You could have a beautifully warm desktop custom made to your specifications to create the perfect workspace. We can even drill the holes for cables and wires to keep your work area sleek and uncluttered. The John Boos Varnique semi-gloss finish creates the perfect surface for an office; it’s polished-looking without being glaringly shiny, holds up well to daily tasks, and cleans up like a breeze. The desktops for the office pictured below are custom Walnut Edge Grain from John Boos & Co. The shape of the top was perfectly and precisely designed to accommodate the computer station, and Boos even custom cut a piece to be used as a leg. It turned out beautifully and is still just as attractive more than two years later.

Butcher Block

We work with quite a few restaurants as well, providing work tables for the kitchen and dining tables for the guests. We have some crossover with the work tables for residential customers, but the John Boos dining tops have really gained in popularity for household use. They are beautiful, durable, and affordable, making them the perfect solution for just about anyone! While there are the traditional restaurant-style black metal bases available, most of our customers are looking to add a custom top to a preexisting base, whether it’s something they found at a flea market, or the legs from the antique dining table passed down by Grandma. These unique dining tops are available in Maple, Cherry, and Walnut.

Butcher Block

Stepping out of the living space, we find ourselves in the garage. You may be wondering what on earth a butcher block would be doing out in a garage, but this is actually quite common. We’ve done some gorgeous Walnut tops to outfit a collector’s garage, Commercial style Maple to accommodate the everyday workbench, and Industrial Maple for those who really get down to business! No matter the purpose, butcher block can add unexpected character and warmth to this often forgotten room. Here you see one customer’s (almost finished!) laundry center in their garage. The sleek Varnique finish makes for an excellent folding and sorting station!

Butcher Block

To a lesser degree, we have also outfitted bathrooms and closets. Can you imagine having a huge walk-in closet with an island for accessories right in the middle? Now picture a gleaming Cherry block atop that island…ahhh, heaven! Something like that would have never occurred to me if I hadn’t had a customer ask for just that. Add a gorgeous Roman Ogee edge, and you’ve got swank to the nth degree! One of my favorite bathroom projects was for a man who was re-figuring the room for his new wife. He had a custom Walnut top made with a curved edge (like a half moon) to expand on the vanity space so she had room for her perfumes, makeup, and hair toys without getting bogged down with “boy stuff” (his words). Because he designed and installed it himself, it was a lovely personal touch and I consider his wife a very lucky lady.

The downside to all of this design fun is that I don’t always get to see the finished product. We LOVE when our customers send photos of their projects so that we can ogle and share. There’s a lot of inspiration out there, and we want to spread it around! So, if you’re planning a butcher block project, take pictures along the way and when you’re done and send them on over to us. You may even end up featured on our blog!