Strawberry Rhubarb Pie – A Fresh Summer Dessert

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie – A Fresh Summer Dessert

Claire is back and she brought Strawberry Rhubarb Pie! Claire has never let us down in regards to summer delights, and this is the perfect dessert as we transition into the hot summer months. Let’s all take advantage of the farmers’ markets and roadside stands this weekend to pick up some fresh fruit and see what treats we can come up with. In the meantime, Claire has pie to share.

A little birdie has told me that it’s dessert week at Butcher Block Co. I know for a lot of people, that might conjure images of chocolates or cakes, but my favorite desserts are all fruit-based. Baked fruit, fresh fruit, whatever, I love it. We’re coming into fruit season now, and I can tell because giant, weathered rainbow umbrellas are popping up along roadsides over tables offering the best local summer produce at the best prices. We’re not quite at stone fruit season, but I am here for the early summer offerings, like strawberries and rhubarb. I love rhubarb, but like so many of the best foods, I didn’t appreciate it in my youth. I thought it was too tart, and also, it was a weird food that no one ever heard of and it looked like weird celery. When I was a kid, my mom would make rhubarb pie, and I would eat the crust and the ice cream and leave the filling. I was an idiot with bad taste; I always ordered the chicken sandwich in restaurants, which is why I didn’t discover how good hamburgers could be until I was well into my adulthood. But I digress.

When I was a teen, my dad actually planted some rhubarb in our front yard. I watched it grow from a little puff of leaves on slender pink stems into a giant, fan-leaved monster that threatened to take over the whole garden. By that time, like all teens, I still hadn’t completely grown out of my idiocy, but at least I had better taste. I started making a mess in the kitchen trying to copy my mom and grandma’s pies. I did apples in the fall, peach in late summer, and as the spring would start to turn hot, I did my part to rescue the garden from the encroaching rhubarb-pocalypse. Of course, as an obnoxious teen, I couldn’t stick to their tried-and true recipes. Instead, I stole all the newly-ripened strawberries from the tiny patch at the side of the house and put them into a pie with the rhubarb. It turned out awesome. It was like a revelation. My family never really came around to my side – old habits die hard, I guess.

For me, strawberry rhubarb pie is my absolute number one pie pick.

I don’t make a ton of pies anymore. It’s less fun when the mess is in my own kitchen and I can’t rely on my dad to come in behind me and start doing dishes. Also, I am a grown adult person, and I can’t just go around eating pies all the time. Still, when I see those umbrellas pop up along the roadsides, I know I have to do at least one strawberry rhubarb pie to bring me back to those flour-coated summer days in the kitchen, my dad buzzing around me with a sponge and the whole house smelling like heaven. Heading home from the grocery store last weekend, I saw one of those rainbow umbrellas, and I had to stop. Fifteen minutes later, I was at the kitchen table hulling the sweetest strawberries, the whole house already smelling like heaven.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
I don’t have my grandma’s recipe on hand anymore, so for this strawberry rhubarb pie, I used Deb Perelman’s recipe from the Smitten Kitchen, which of course turned out amazing, even though I over-cooked the filling a smidge in order to get a prettier color in the crust. I really like the way the tapioca thickened the juices without affecting the flavor at all. Then I figured, as long as I was committing sacrilege by deviating from my family’s recipe for the filling, I might as well go whole hog. Mom, you may want to stop reading here.

My grandma always made the same crust Strawberry Rhubarb Pie for every pie with just flour, salt, vegetable shortening, and a little hot water to bind it all together. It’s a great workhorse crust. It doesn’t have a ton of flavor, but it’s reliable and simple to make, it works for a savory or sweet filling, and it’s what I grew up with, so it has always been my go-to. However, my mantra in the kitchen and in life is that the worst reason to do a thing is “because that’s how my parents always did it.” Plus, maybe I still have some of that obnoxious, rebellious teen in me. I decided to try my hand at an all butter crust for a change, and I am telling you, my eyes have been opened. It was flaky, rich, and as much the star of the dish as the incredible filling. After a perfect pie like this, I don’t think I could ever go back to shortening. Sorry not sorry, Grandma.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

In the spirit of dessert week, my husband and I have devoured nearly the entire glorious pie in the space of five days. I top each serving with some gently sweetened whipped cream, and I shamelessly lick the plate clean. What are you doing for dessert week? What is your quintessential summer dessert? Is it weird that I’m strongly considering making another strawberry rhubarb pie this weekend?

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Get into the cozy Christmas mood with these festive cocktails from Claire (you know how we love a seasonal drink!). Whether you are spending a quiet night in or hosting a holiday party, Claire has you covered in the cocktail department! Let’s get mixing, Claire!

This year seems to have gone by in record time, which is good, because 2016 has been a real stinker and I’m not going to miss it when it’s done. Usually in December, all I want to do is get cozy and Christmassy, but this year I’ve been having a tougher time than I normally do getting festive. Luckily, I have devised a brilliant, alcohol-fueled plan to grease my Christmas spirit wheels, and it all starts today, as I trim my tree.

A cozy Christmas cocktail is the perfect way to fire up the holiday spirit!

As a child of a mixed-religious union, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah, though with so many fun activities involved, Christmas always won out as the bigger deal of the two. Our family tradition was to spend Christmas day at our Grandma’s house, so we didn’t always have a tree in our house. Well, I am a strong believer in creating your own holiday traditions, so now that I have my own house, I always have a Christmas tree, no matter where I’ll be on Christmas day. The week after Thanksgiving, Pier and I go out to the tree lot, we pick out a tree, and then he helps me set it up so I can decorate it. Well, this year, Pier has had to work late all week so I went to the tree lot by myself. I tied the tree to my car by myself and then unloaded and stood it up by myself. I knew I was going to need some powerful holiday magic to get me through decorating by myself. What better than hot cocoa? I used to always make Mexican hot chocolate from scratch whenever I got a craving for cocoa, but I found that I actually wanted cocoa more often than I was willing to put the effort into the process. Since then, I have gotten smarter and/or lazier, and I have adapted my own recipe for an instant mix from Alton Brown’s own recipe (so you know it must be good).

Mix together one and a half to two cups of powdered sugar, one cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, two and a half cups of dry milk powder, two teaspoons of cornstarch, and one teaspoon of salt. Add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to suit your taste. I like a lot of heat in mine, so I go a little heavier on the cayenne. Just add hot water, et voilà, you’re in cocoa heaven. This mix can keep for a whole year in an air-tight container, but I doubt it will last longer than a month, especially if you prepare it the way I like it best. Put two spoonfuls of cocoa mix into your mug. Add some coffee if you have some made, or a little bit of instant espresso if you don’t. Pour in hot water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Stir until everything is dissolved, then fill the space to the top with Irish cream. Top it with marshmallows (obviously) and you are ready to get cozy while you untangle your lights!

Cozy Christmas

Cocoa is nice while I enjoy the Fireplace for Your Home on Netflix, but it can be a little rich for everyday drinking. For something equally warming, I recommend mulled cider. Mulling spices make some of the best smells on the planet, and they go great with the piney smell of the Christmas tree. This will make your home smell like a cozy Christmas cabin. To make mulled cider, just pour some good apple juice or cider into a saucepan. Add a tangerine, either pierced with cloves, or sliced. Also add a couple of whole star anise, a good tablespoon or so of allspice berries, and two or three cinnamon sticks, cracked. I like to add some ginger to my cider as well, because I like the kick. Add a little wine, if you like, and bring the whole pot to a gentle boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, and strain. If you need an extra pick-me-up, bourbon, rum or brandy will all blend beautifully with your cider.

Cozy Christmas

Of course, the Christmas season isn’t just about cuddling. December has only just started, and I already have three parties on my calendar. Hot cider works nicely at a quiet dinner party or a bonfire, but for a traditional Christmas soiree, I’d say that punch is best. It can be made in large batches, so the host doesn’t have to tend bar, and it makes a festive and stylish centerpiece. There are a lot of ways you can go with your punch, but I think it’s nice to keep it simple. For this one, simply pour a whole bottle of sparking white wine (Prosecco, Champagne, whatever!) into your punch bowl. Add a cup of cranberry juice cocktail, half a cup of vodka, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to taste. I like to freeze a bag of cranberries and throw them into the bowl, too. They help keep the punch cold, and they add a festive flair. I also recommend setting your punch bowl on top of a bowl of ice or some freezer packs wrapped in a napkin or towel to keep it chilled.

Cozy Christmas

Whatever you’re drinking this holiday season, I hope you are with people who love you, or at least a cat that doesn’t mind sharing the room with you. Happy holidays to you and yours.

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

Stress less this Thanksgiving with some great tips from Claire. My mom and brothers do pretty much everything for Thanksgiving in my family, so I couldn’t really stress less even if I tried. For those of you who take a more active role, keep these tips in mind to help yourself get through the day. Tell us what to do, Claire!

The world hasn’t ended quite yet, which means that Thanksgiving is still going to be just next week, if you can believe it. If you’re like me, you have been so worried about an uncertain future that you have all but forgotten about the upcoming holiday. In my case, that says a lot, because the holidays where I get to cook for people are kind of my favorite. In such a time, I think we can all use a little bit of help pulling together a successful Thanksgiving party.

After a week of hand-wringing, this is what I’ve come up with to help us all stress less.

  1. Put away the Halloween decorations that are still sitting around on your front porch. I know you’ve been distracted this week, but the skeleton is sending the wrong message to your guests, who are expecting your home to be a safe space. The corn stalks and decorative pumpkins can stay because they are generically autumnal and more harvest-oriented than the rubber rats and giant spider.
  1. Speaking of decorative pumpkins, now is the time to pick up some additional seasonal gourds. The few remaining pumpkin patches might even have some on sale. They make great centerpieces and look lovely and festive artfully arranged in a bowl on the front hall table. If you are making centerpieces for your table, though, keep them on the smaller side. You want to leave lots of space on the table for dishes, and you also don’t want to block anyone’s view across the table.

stress less

  1. Pick up the tablecloth from the dry-cleaners. Remember when you dropped it off there like 3 months ago? The cleaners don’t charge storage fees, but maybe they should.
  1. Invite friends and people you love. We can’t all be with our families at the holidays, and maybe we don’t all want to be. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, why not cast a net for friends who don’t have a nearby or welcoming family? This year especially, many people will be looking for something for which to be thankful, and a warm and welcoming table is a good start.
  1. Make mulled cider. If you start it in the morning, your house will smell like heaven all day. Aside from that, if you are preparing a Thanksgiving feast, you have a long day on your feet ahead of you. You definitely want to stay sober until you sit down at the table. Sipping on cider will help you stress less; it is satisfying and warming, but not alcoholic enough to incapacitate you before dinner starts.
  1. Pick out all of your serving dishes ahead of time. Make sure you haven’t accidentally double-booked your purple ceramic casserole dish like last year and then you don’t know what you’re going to serve the stuffing in. Hypothetically speaking, obviously.

Stress less

  1. You are going to be hecka busy with that bird and that gravy and that stuffing and those beans and potatoes. Allow yourself to stress less by finding a couple of people who are willing to wash dishes as you go , tend bar, and make an emergency last-minute run to the grocery store (don’t act like you’re not going to need one).
  1. You’re not kidding anyone with that green salad. No one will have room left on their plates for vegetables that haven’t been cooked in bacon fat or cream of mushroom soup, and you’re probably going to need the roughage the next day, so you might as well save yourself the time on Thursday.
  1. Empty out your fridge this weekend so you don’t have to sort through it after work on Tuesday to make room. Order a fresh bird today so you aren’t stuck next Thursday morning with a frozen bird that will never thaw in time. Figure out what you can make ahead of time, and get it done early.
  1. If you’re attending as a guest, ask your host what you can bring or do to help. If they don’t give you any direction, just bring a bottle of wine and start doing dishes. If you are bringing a side dish, also bring something attractive to serve it in.

I think a small amount of stress is pretty normal for hosting any kind of social gathering, but hosting this event should be fun. My way to stress less is to micro-manage and juggle the entire meal by myself, but maybe yours is to have a pot-luck! The worst reason to do a thing is because that’s the way your parents did it, so make your own traditions! And hold your loved ones close. Despite global warming, this is going to be a cold winter. Happy Thanksgiving.

Creative Reuse – Furniture Projects

Creative Reuse – Furniture Projects

It’s that time of year again, when I like to raise awareness of America Recycles Day and share the small part I play to make the earth a better place to live. Last year I introduced you to “upcycling” and highlighted the creative reuse furniture projects my son, Ben, completed. This year, I am happy to say the entire family has been busy in the workshop repurposing and upcycling furniture and more. So this blog is sort of a Creative Reuse – Part II.

The spirit of upcycling is to not waste that which has, or could have, useful life. It focuses on reusing or repurposing materials and has the overall environmental benefit of reducing your carbon footprint.  It so happens that bulk trash pickup in my neighborhood falls in October.  And as I walk my dog around the neighborhood I find valuable treasures in other people’s junk piles…items that definitely still have a useful life.  So just last week we picked up an old BBQ grill and restored it with some elbow grease, paint and a few replacement parts and it works like new!  We also found a huge tree stump that will soon become the base for a new coffee table! We will save that for another blog, but my blog today focuses more on restoring items we already had around the house.

We honor America Recycles Day, November 15th, with a blog featuring our latest creative reuse projects.

Creative Reuse – 100 year old Door transformed into a Shabby/Chic Headboard

Creative Reuse Headboard

The feature project is the upcycling of this old door found at a scrap yard. Ben knew immediately upon seeing it that this would become the headboard for his girlfriend’s new bed. It started with removing the old hardware and scraping and sanding off all of the old paint. The porcelain door knob was a gem, so he cleaned and polished it like new. He then created his own “stain” by soaking steel wool in vinegar for a few days. The longer the steel wool soaks, the darker the stain becomes. He applied the stain and then put a matte polyurethane finish over it. He padded the headboard by cutting plywood to fit the panels in the door, covering them with batting and a soft flannel material, and gluing them to the door headboard.

Creative Reuse – Furniture from the past Reimagined with Chalk Paint

Creative Reuse Furniture 3
My husband inherited his baby dresser years ago, which is now over 50 years old.  In its day it had a beautiful walnut veneer but over the years it lost its appeal and was relegated to a closet to be used for storage.  But now that my eldest son is moving into his own home, we had the perfect opportunity to do what all empty nesters do…turn his bedroom into a guest bedroom!  So out of the closet came the baby dresser, and with a coat of lovely red chalk paint, this forgotten dresser has now become the focal point of the guest room!

Earlier this year we went to the local “Junk in the Trunk” vintage market and discovered a 100 year old desk top which happened to be missing its legs. It had no useful purpose, as is, so we purchased unfinished legs and again used our red chalk paint to upcycle this unwanted piece of furniture into a beautiful desk to match the dresser.

Our final project was repurposing an old file cabinet.  Straight out of the 80’s, this file cabinet was golden oak in color and definitely did not “fit” in my antique gray furnished office.  It was in the garage collecting dust when I had an epiphany that it would be a great nightstand for our new guest room.  I love red, so yep, red it is.  The guest room is done in charcoal gray and black so the red accent pieces are not as overpowering as you might think.

Creative Reuse – Recycling old blogs for America Recycles Day

Finally, I thought, why not “recycle” our blog from a couple years ago, in the true spirit of America Recycles Day.  Read more helpful tips on how you can “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Every Day”.

Look around your house.  What do you have that could be repurposed or upcycled into something useful and beautiful? Creative reuse is good for the earth and good for your soul.

California Wine Harvest Celebration

California Wine Harvest Celebration

As if the beautiful weather, colorful trees, and pumpkin recipes weren’t enough to make us love Fall, it is also wine harvest season! Claire gets in on the wine harvest celebration every year, and she’s here to tell us all about it. Grab a glass and join us as Claire takes us on a little wine tasting!

It can be difficult to remember sometimes that nearly everything on our tables comes from a farm somewhere. Most of us buy our groceries from supermarkets, far away from their farms of origin. In a post-agrarian culture like ours which mercifully makes hamburgers possible, but which disconnects us from the rhythm of growing seasons, we can sometimes forget that autumn is also the harvest season. The symbolic cornucopia that graces our Thanksgiving greeting cards has lost its significance for most of us, but for those few who still tend the field or the flock, this is one of the busiest times of year. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry, and though we are the country’s leading producer of fruits and vegetables, I am personally most fond of the vineyards.

Wine

I grew up in a family of alcohol-appreciators, especially when it came to wine.

My parents aren’t exactly snobs, but they’re not too far off. Wine I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco with my parents once when I was a kid, and they took us up the Sonoma Valley to taste at Ravenswood and Gundlach Bundschu. I was too young to drink, but I still remember the trip quite clearly. Fast forward something like 20 years, and naturally, the first time my mom came out to visit my home in California, my then-boyfriend and I took her wine tasting. At her request, we visited the Sextant Wines tasting room. An hour later, my boyfriend and I were slightly tipsy, packing up a case of wine and signing our first wine club membership. Being a wine club member affords us some privileges, like discounts on bottles and free tastings, and best of all, discounted tickets to winery events. We joined Sextant in the spring. That fall, we got married at city hall and we celebrated with our closest friends at the annual Sextant lobster boil. Since then, Pier and I have gone to the event for our anniversary dinner every year.

Every October, right in the middle of harvest, the hard working crew at Sextant changes pace for one week. They clean up their working area and turn it into a beautiful outdoor escape, lit with café lights and surrounded by working wine barrels. They invite their members to join in their harvest celebration with fresh lobster and prawns, and they open bottle after bottle of their fall releases to pour for us. We look forward to this event every year, and it never disappoints. I absolutely love lobster, but I love lobster and Chardonnay even more. And I love lobster and Cabernet Sauvignon the most!

We are indeed privileged to be so close to the Wine vineyards here and to have access to the incredible wines that are coming out of this region, but the world is getting smaller and smaller every day. Only 40 years ago, the rest of the world scoffed at the idea of Californians becoming vintners, but now the Sonoma and Napa Valleys are some of the most respected wine regions in the world. What I’m getting at here is that quality wines can come from anywhere, and anyone; even those of us who stock our wine racks at the supermarket can have access to really excellent bottles of wine at nearly any price point. There are hundreds of tasting guides out there, and though I am an enthusiastic drinker of wine, I don’t flatter myself that I can offer any fresh insights that the experts may have missed. All I need to know is that my meal is merrier with a bottle of wine on the table. So what do you look for in a bottle of wine?

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

Now that it’s starting to cool down a bit in the evenings, we can turn our thoughts to soup. There is nothing quite like a nice, cozy meal to bring family together, and Claire is here to share a recipe from her sister for comforting White Bean Soup. This is the perfect recipe to ease us into soup season. Grab a spoon and come along for story time and soup with Claire!

I have two sisters and I love them like crazy. Like a lot of siblings, we fought a lot when we were kids, but as we got older and less obnoxious, we became much closer. Though we all live far apart now, we speak on the phone often and try to get together as frequently as we can manage with our busy schedules. One of the side effects of our relatively infrequent face-to-face interaction, though, is that my older sister and I came to realize that we probably didn’t know each other as well as we thought we did. In an effort to remedy that, we have been trying to spend as much time together as possible so we can become reacquainted. Over the summer, I got to spend my vacation week at the lake with her, but by the end of my trip, I still wanted more one-on-one time. I found a relatively inexpensive flight to Denver and I planned a long weekend for some more quality time with my big sis, and, let’s be honest here, a break from the California heat.

We managed to pack three parties, three meals out, and several hours of crafting time in just Friday and Saturday, so when Sunday rolled around, we agreed that we needed a day to just sit around. We sat and knit Christmas stockings and chatted. We vented about family frustrations and work. We made plans for this Christmas and next summer, and then when we got hungry, we made plans for dinner. Unlike in California, in Colorado, the weather is actually starting to cool to boots and jean jackets temperatures, so I requested one of my all-time favorites from my sister’s dinner recipe arsenal: white bean soup.

This white bean soup is perfect because it is hearty and filling, but not heavy.

It’s easy to cook, so it fits with a lazy afternoon, and the addition of a simple green salad and some bread or crackers turns it into a good, square meal.

To make this soup, you will need:

  • 2 cans Great Northern Beans, drained
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 bacon slices, chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

White Bean Soup

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon and onion and cook until bacon fat is rendered, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add beans, chicken stock, thyme, and rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Since we are using canned beans instead of dried, there is no need to cook the beans, but simmering time will allow the flavors to deepen.

Next, blend the soup until it is smooth. If you have an immersion blender, you can achieve this step right in the pot. If not, you can use a blender or food processor to puree the soup in batches.

When the soup has reached a smooth, consistent texture, stir in the cream. Season with salt and fresh pepper and serve.

White Bean Soup

Soup is easy, but relationships are hard. They take work and dedication and willingness to be open and listen, but they reward us with a sense of kinship and emotional fulfillment. By the end of my trip to Denver, I felt like my sister and I had both revealed new facets of ourselves. I think I know her better now than I did before, and I hope she feels the same about me. Also, I hope this white bean soup tastes as good when I make it at home as it always does at her house.

Printer-friendly recipe: White Bean Soup

Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation cooking is something I typically manage to avoid, as most of my vacations consist of visiting friends or staying in a hotel. I do like to cook, but I’ll be honest, there is nothing quite like having Claire cater your meals for a few days while you relax (don’t worry, sometimes I help)! This week, Claire is here to share some of her family’s traditions, along with some fabulous food. This is how you do vacation cooking! Take it away, Claire!

One of the tragedies of adulthood is the end of summer vacation. For most of us, the summer months carry on nearly identical to their colder counterparts, except perhaps that a higher percentage of the day is spent casting desperate looks out the window, accompanied by discontented sighs. Or maybe that’s just me? I think I probably spend more time than most on nostalgia, but it’s easy to cast my mind back and envy my younger self her idyllic mid-western summer breaks. As a kid in Michigan, I spent the whole summer in the water. Whether it was the dinky little pond at the far end of my subdivision, or the beautiful clear waters of Long Lake in Traverse City, my summer days were defined by the presence of water.

These days, the mid-west is still rich in water Vacation Cooking , but in California where I live, climate change and careless over-use of water has led to crisis-level drought, and the small lakes that used to exist near me have dried up completely, leaving only muddy pits and a rusted out car to mark where they used to be. The dryness of my adult existence has only exacerbated my need to indulge in memories of long days spent paddling around the lake in goggles and a snorkel, digging up clams and crayfish and interesting rocks. Eventually, I get to a point where day-dreaming isn’t enough, and I count up my vacation hours and trade them in for one precious week with my sisters in our family home on the lake.

In past summers, my parents have always been there at the lake house taking charge of our vacations. My mom did nearly all of the vacation cooking, and my dad arranged all our activities around the best times of day to be out on his catamaran. This year, they were too busy yachting down the eastern seaboard to join us, so the role of head chef fell to my sisters and me, and I must say, we rose to the occasion.

Vacation cooking presents an interesting set of complications, especially when you’re with a large group.

What are all the dietary restrictions to consider? Who is doing the grocery run? Who is doing the inevitable second grocery run when we realize that we’ve forgotten something crucial? What pots and pans are available in the vacation house? And most importantly, what can be easily made in a large enough quantity to feed 13 people without forcing some unfortunate soul to spend all day in the kitchen?

For my turn in the kitchen, I decided to make carnitas tacos. Anything that can be set up build-your-own style is a good idea in a group, and Mexican food is easy to make gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Plus, there is something so summery about tacos, especially when they are topped with salsa verde and fresh cilantro. When I cook carnitas, I always use the Serious Eats no-waste recipe. Prep is quick and easy and I can walk away for 3 hours while it cooks, float around on the lake on a gigantic unicorn until my skin starts to crisp, then head back to the kitchen, whip up the salsa verde in about 15 minutes, and bing bang boom, dinner is served. I made this for the family last year, and it was such a huge hit, we ran out of meat. This year I added two additional pounds of pork, and we still ran out. I’m telling you, this recipe is a winner.

Vacation Cooking

The next night, we did brats and burgers with sweet corn and salad, all essential summer crowd pleasers. Anything that can be thrown on the grill and served up directly is a good pick for a large group. Another night, my younger sister made meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Meatloaf isn’t exactly a quick meal to execute, but it is a family tradition, and works well for a crowd because it can be made ahead of time, and it can be easily scaled up or down as the group requires. In our family, we go huge with the meatloaf, and then we make sure there is lots of good bread for leftovers sandwiches.

Vacation Cooking

Speaking of leftovers, since we only stay in the house for week, we try very hard not to over-buy groceries, so on our last night we had a big salad to use up the remaining produce, and we served it with whatever we could scrounge out of the fridge on the side. I ate every meal on the patio overlooking the lake, surrounded by my favorite people, with my bathing suit under my dress and the sun setting in the background.

Vacation Cooking

A week at the lake is never enough, but I live for adding more lake memories to my nostalgia bank, so I take what I can get.

 

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

There’s still a little time left for some summer fun! We’ve been compiling recipes and ideas for a few years now, and we figure it’s the perfect time to share the summer fun with you.

Adult or kid (or kid at heart!), there’s something for everyone in this summer fun roundup!

First and foremost, get a batch of Boozy Poptails in the freezer right away. These adults-only frozen pops will surely get you through the last few weeks of summer!

Poptails Done

If that booze gets you feeling nostalgic, come share your childhood summer fun memories with us here.

Doing any camping this summer? Or attending a bonfire? Sarah’s fire pies are a definite must!

Campfire Pies summer fun

Another fun way to eat outdoors is having a build-your-own kabob party! Everyone gets exactly what they want all grilled to perfection!

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, Claire’s grilled salad brings the best of summer onto your plate.

Grilled Salad

Or if the heat is just too unbearable, stick with something delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Ceviche tacos make for the perfect dish on a hot day – no grill required!

The very best way to finish off summer is with the most refreshingly delicious dessert: homemade mint ice cream. Can you think of anything better? I sure can’t!

Mint Ice Cream

What are your go-to meals and activities for summer fun? Share with us!

 

 

Pick Your Favorite Dessert Recipes From Our Dessert Cart!

Pick Your Favorite Dessert Recipes From Our Dessert Cart!

We have featured many amazing dessert recipes over the years, so in honor of Dessert Week at Butcher Block Co., we’re compiling some of our favorites in this Dessert Cart! From super simple to fancy, campfire-friendly to refreshingly cool, we’ve got you covered.

So gather ’round our dessert cart, sample whatever looks tasty, and leave with a few new favorite dessert recipes to try at home!

First up is from one of our most popular posts, which is understandable because it is AMAZING (I even made it myself last Father’s Day, and it turned out perfectly!). Claire’s Key Lime Pie is the stuff dreams are made of..just look at this!

Key Lime Pie

If you’re looking for something a little less labor intensive, this Icebox Cake is one of the easiest dessert recipes you can put together, and it turns out stunningly beautiful. No one will suspect the simplicity of this recipe!

Dessert Recipes

Speaking of easy, how about an ice cream recipe with only two base ingredients that doesn’t require an ice cream maker?! Alicia’s Easy Homemade Ice Cream fits the bill and will quickly become a summer staple in your family.

Homemade Ice Cream

Did that ice cream pique your interest? Looking for something a little more challenging? There is nothing that will cool you down in the summer better than mint ice cream. Claire’s Homemade Mint Ice Cream might take a little more skill in the kitchen, but it is well worth the extra effort. Refreshing mint and a buttery texture will make this one of your new favorite dessert recipes!

Mint Ice Cream Now, if you want to get out of the kitchen this summer, Sarah comes to the rescue with delicious and fun Campfire Pies! Your filling options are endless, so everyone in the family can customize their dessert to their own tastes.

Dessert recipes

What are your favorite dessert recipes? Are you inspired to try something new this summer?

Mother’s Day Brunch – Croque-Madame in Honor of Mom

Mother’s Day Brunch – Croque-Madame in Honor of Mom

My lovely brothers are hosting a Mother’s Day brunch this Sunday for all of the moms in our close-knit family.  As one of the moms being honored at this Mother’s Day Brunch, I will be requesting that my brothers  follow Claire’s advice here by making something cheesy and savory and definitely topped with an egg. Claire not only provides us with another delicious breakfast/brunch recipe, she is also determined to make us all a little weepy with a beautiful dedication to her mom. I haven’t met Lynn, but if Claire is any indication, her mother has done a darn good job. Claire, I’ll hand this off to you now. Make us cry, but then please make us feel better with fantastic food!

For fairly obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about moms and motherhood these past couple of weeks. Not everyone has a mom, and not everyone who has a mom has a good mom. Reflecting on that fact makes me feel, above all, grateful that my mother, while human and flawed like anyone else, has been good and caring and supportive of me for my whole life. She put up with me and believed in me, even during my most chaotic years, which admittedly lasted far longer than they should have. She cried for me. She cheered for me. She went gray for me. Through everything, I have always known that if I needed her, she would not hesitate to be at my side, whatever the cost. She is a good mom.

Mother's Day Brunch

If anyone deserves to retire in style, my mom does, and damn it, she is doing it. This summer, she and my dad are selling the home I grew up in, and they are moving onto the boat they have spent the last 10 years restoring. They will spend the foreseeable future sailing around this gorgeous planet of ours, seeing all the things they didn’t get to see while they were busy being attentive and fiscally responsible parents. This morning, it occurred to me that once they set sail, it will be the first time in my life that my mom is going to be ACTUALLY unavailable to me, despite the fact that I moved over two thousand miles away from her eight years ago. It’s a new feeling, and one I’m having a hard time processing. It’s making me miss my mommy.

Mother's Day Brunch

So, in honor of my mom and my feelings, I am throwing a Mother’s Day brunch in her honor. Even though she’s too far away to join me at my table today, I know she’s well represented here. She taught me to appreciate a well-appointed place setting, and so I am setting the table with the linens I remember eating off of in her house, and serving the meal on her mother’s gold plates. She taught me to never scrimp where it mattered, so I am using the best ingredients I can find. And she taught me how to make Hollandaise, and it is finicky and temperamental, so I’m skipping it this year. Besides, eggs Benedict is played out.

I want something as unexpected and decadent as my mom for this Mother’s Day brunch, so I am going with croque-madame, which I am predicting will be the next big brunch staple.

Croque-Madame

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 slices of the best quality deli ham
  • 8 slices of good bread
  • 4 fresh eggs
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Start by making your béchamel. In a 1 ½ quart heavy saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk, cooking the roux until it is golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and bring it just to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, nutmeg, and half of the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Remove the pan from heat and cover it while you assemble the sandwiches.

Preheat the broiler with a rack in the top third of the oven. Prep a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Lay the slices of bread out, spreading a spoonful of béchamel on four of them and topping with the remaining shredded cheese. On the other four slices, spread the mustard and top each with two slices of the ham. Flip the ham side onto the cheese side and heat about a tablespoon of the remaining butter on a skillet or griddle.

Mother's Day Brunch

When the griddle is hot, carefully grill each sandwich on both sides until they are golden brown and the cheese is melted. Move the sandwiches onto the prepared baking sheet and top each one with about 1/3 cup of the béchamel. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is bubbling, then turn off the broiler and move the pan to the lower third of the oven to keep warm.

Mother's Day Brunch

Add the remaining butter to the skillet and fry the eggs sunny-side-up, until whites are just set and yolks are still runny. Top each sandwich with an egg and serve. I put the remaining sauce in a little pitcher so we could add more as we saw fit, and I went a little crazy with the pepper grinder. Making that first cut, and seeing the yolk and steam release from inside the sandwich, I knew my mom would be proud. She taught me to revere a good sauce and a runny egg, so I know she would have loved this Mother’s Day brunch meal as much as I did. I also knew that she would be the first one to like the picture I would post to Facebook later.

Mother's Day Brunch

Mama, I know you’re reading, because you are my biggest fan and you never miss one of my posts. As you literally embark upon your next adventure, I know that you will continue to live as richly as you have so far. Even though you’ll be out of my reach, I will be thinking of you often. I hope it makes you feel as good as it makes me feel to know that you have imbued me with all of your vim and vigor and your incredible power to set an inviting table and top it with a damn good meal. I love you.

Mother's Day Brunch Table Printer-friendly recipe: Croque-Madame