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?

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Are you a food processor aficionado? You should be! This versatile kitchen gadget, while large, makes short work of many tasks and will earn its keep every time you entertain. Sarah is here to share some of her favorite ways to use the food processor, along with a simple and versatile recipe for Olive Tapenade that is sure to please your palate. Alright, Sarah, get us all mixed up in this food processor world!

Greetings, entertainers. Let’s talk tech! I love kitchen gadgets, and when I was thinking around my kitchen for a favorite, one immediately sprang to mind. Not only is this gadget versatile, but it is easy to use, pretty noisy, and for me has some stress-relieving benefits.

I am, of course, speaking of none other than the food processor!

Why is a food processor so great? First, I never had one growing up, Food Processor so it went in the class of kitchen gadgets I thought of in my head as “super crazy technical and awesome” (along with the mandoline). I only ever saw them being used on cooking shows, and seeing professional chefs use them for everything made me want one pretty badly.

Fast forward a few years to when I finally put one in my own kitchen, and I’m a pretty happy camper. Do you want fresh salsa? Toss in a mango, some chiles in adobo sauce, and some fresh tomatoes. Run out of hummus halfway through the party? Never again. This thing is the king of dips, and as an added bonus, puts you in the front row to watch things being pulverized.

One of my favorite things to make with a food processor is tapenade. I usually have all the necessary ingredients in my kitchen, which mostly speaks to my love of olives (and anything salty). So let’s get down to it—how do we make this treat for your guests?

Ingredients

  • Olives. I like to use a combination of olives from the olive bar at my grocery store, but if you have a favorite, that works, too. Kalamata olives make great tapenade that turns out a pretty purple color. The key here is no pits.
  • Olive oil. Seems unnecessary, right? Wrong. Just a drizzle is absolutely necessary to getting your tapenade a smoother consistency.
  • Capers. Just a few!
  • Lemon juice. Salt loves acid. Enough said.

Food Processor

Directions

Assemble your food processor. For me, this means choosing the correct-size bowl, and determining which blade to use. I chose a smallish 4-cup bowl to keep my ingredients close together, and the standard chop blade that came with my machine. Some food processors offer doodads that julienne and add all kinds of awesome knifework to your ingredients. Olives are so small that it’s not necessary here.

Add olives! I chose a mix of dried black olives, red pepper Spanish queens, and kalamata. I used enough to almost cover the bottom of my food processor, but for a party, you’ll want closer to 2 cups.

Now capers. I used a heavy hand because I know I like the pungency. I wouldn’t use more than a teaspoon-full for guests.

I squeezed half a lemon using another favorite gadget—a citrus juicer. Pro tip—put your citrus in flat side down so that the squeeze turns the lemon inside-out.

Turn your food processor on low to blend your ingredients. I let it go about twenty seconds, or until the food stops moving around the bowl.

Once your olives are all stuck to the sides of your bowl, turn the processor off, remove the lid, and scrape the sides. Now, the magic. Add a little bit of olive oil, and turn it back on low. I’d recommend about a tablespoon, or enough to keep the pulverized bits moving around the bowl as the machine goes.

Do the check, scrape, add olive oil thing until your tapenade is the consistency you like, and then serve with pita chips or pita bread (I’m a sucker for pita bread with tapenade!). If you want to make it extra fancy, toast your pita in a pan on the stove first with a little butter.

So what are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Any that were a childhood dream realized as an adult (I know I’m a huge nerd)? Happy entertaining, hosts!

 

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

A big bowl of homemade soup is just the ticket for these cold winter months, and with this Saturday being Homemade Soup Day, now is the perfect time to share a fantastic recipe that will warm you right up! It is also most definitely slow cooker season, so we’ve got Sarah here with a souper (sorry…) easy dish to come home to on a chilly night. Warm us up, Sarah!

In the dead of winter, I know I can always warm up from the inside out with a good bowl of homemade soup (and good bread!). I live in the snowbelt and experience a wonderful phenomenon known as the lake effect, which means I can expect a foot or more of snow overnight without Mother Nature blinking an eye. It’s great when you’re in school because there are snow days, but as an adult with a job, the traffic jam that doubles my commute home means that I am looking forward to dinner being ready when I get there.

Enter the slow cooker, one of my favorite kitchen appliances. You can throw raw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a fully-cooked meal.

My favorite homemade soup this winter has been a creamy coconut milk-based Thai chicken soup.

Adapted from this recipe, this soup is tangy and a little bit spicy. It gets better as you get deeper in your bowl.

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup

  • 1 ½ lb. chicken (3 frozen chicken breasts)
  • 1 bunch cilantro (or 1 squeeze from herbs in a tube)
  • 1 heaping tsp ginger
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 TBS red curry paste
  • 5 TBS fish sauce
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS peanut butter
  • 4 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 TBS sriracha

Instructions on this one are pretty simple: Load up your slow cooker, turn it on low, and go about your day. I turn it up to high for a bit when I get home from work. I doubt it does anything, but it FEELS hotter. When you are ready for dinner, remove the chicken breasts and cut them up (lazy girl shortcut). This is great served over rice, but I love a brothy soup (as evidenced by my midnight whiskey chicken soup obsession). The combination of peanut butter, red curry paste, and fish sauce will keep you dipping your spoon until you’ve eaten a bowl or more. So good it sneaks up on you.

Homemade Soup

My favorite serving suggestion with Thai chicken soup is thick, crusty bread spread thick with good butter. A diced red pepper wouldn’t go amiss in this concoction, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at tossing in baby corn or plain frozen sweetcorn.

What are your favorite deep winter recipes? What is the best side to serve with homemade soup? Do you like your soup piping hot or more lukewarm? I am in camp “hot enough to burn my mouth,” just like my mother, and I will never learn.

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.

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day should happen at least once a week, in my opinion. But if I got my way, we’d all be getting paid to eat sandwiches and play with puppies and kitties  and the economy would collapse…so maybe we should leave Sandwich Day alone. I am always happy to have a new idea in my sandwich arsenal, though, which is why I am particularly thrilled with Sarah today. Not only does this sandwich look 100% phenomenal, I never knew about cilantro in a tube, and I think my life may be forever altered in the best possible way. I hope you feel the same about this creation. Sarah, if you would be so kind, show us the way to sandwich perfection.

Happy National Sandwich Day, folks! I am a big fan of putting things between bread as a meal, as well as the season of FALL, and so when I discovered that National Sandwich Day happens to be in November, I knew we had to cook up a hearty fall sandwich to celebrate.

I have always been enamored with “weird” foods. This may have begun when my dad brought home a coconut from the grocery store when my brother and I were little kids. We cracked it open with a hammer and chisel, I think, and while none of us really cared for what we found inside, I retained the fascination with food that required a little bit of work to get to the good stuff. Shellfish, avocados, mangoes, and pomegranates are huge favorites of mine, possibly for this very reason.

Not many things speak “fall” to me more than pomegranate—we’ll leave the turkey and cranberry to Thanksgiving (which is SO SOON, you guys!).

Today we will be making a Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Chicken Sandwich with Smoked Gouda, Anjou Pear, and Cilantro Aioli.

Ingredients:

  • Good loaf of bread
  • Cooked chicken (you know my favorite shortcut is a rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup pomegranate seeds (about 2/3 of a pomegranate)
  • Sriracha
  • Ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Mayonnaise
  • Smoked Gouda
  • 1 Anjou pear

Let’s get started! The first step is to open your pomegranate. After googling this lazily (I believe my search keyword was “open pomegranate”) and clicking on the very first video, I found an acceptable method which only requires a bowl of cold water and a knife. The idea is to score the pomegranate along its sections (I followed the splits in the top of the fruit with my knife), break it open with your hands, and proceed to pull the seeds apart from the casing in the water. The dense seeds sink to the bottom, while the vaguely pool noodle-like outer skin floats. This science checks out. It took the longest for me to break the thing open, but start to finish I think I had all the seeds out in about ten minutes.

sandwich

Once you have your pomegranate seeds, chuck them in a small pot with ½ cup of balsamic vinegar. I let mine come to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. You basically want to cook the vinegar until it thickens and loses its bite. I can’t leave things be, so I added a squeeze of Sriracha and a squeeze of ginger (herbs in a tube are the BEST shortcut) to amp up the tart pomegranate and sweet balsamic flavors.

While the glaze was thickening, I cut up my pear into thin slices, sliced my Gouda, cut two thick slices of what my grocery store told me is “Tuscany bread,” and broke down my chicken into vaguely bite-sized pieces. Now would also be an excellent time to toast your bread and cheese, if you want a toasted sandwich. The pear adds some crunch, but not quite as much as I wanted. I think next time I make these, I’ll definitely go toasty.

Once your glaze is making thick bubbles and doesn’t have a watery consistency (taste it, too—the vinegar “bite” should be mostly eliminated), throw it (pomegranate seeds and all) into the container with your chicken and coat well.

Now it’s aioli time! Guys, aiolis are the easiest things to make. You know the fancy, creamy dipping sauces you get in some restaurants. “Sriracha garlic aioli” is usually mayonnaise with a squeeze of Sriracha and some roasted garlic (this is over-simplifying things—but not much!). Let’s make a fancy-sounding super tasty cilantro aioli with—wait for it—two ingredients. I took a small container, added a squeeze of mayonnaise and about a teaspoon and a half of cilantro from a tube (I love fresh herbs, but this stuff packs a lot of flavor and doesn’t go bad quickly) and mixed it together. Congratulations, you’ve made a fancy, restaurant-quality dipping sauce. Spread it on your bread!

sandwich

So the steps of sandwich-building today are going to go: aioli Sandwich and pear on one piece of bread, Gouda and chicken on the other, then quickly slap them together. I apply some pressure to kind of hold this guy together, and cut it in half to make this less unwieldy to eat. The Gouda brings creaminess, the chicken has a nice sweet flavor thanks to the glaze, the occasional pomegranate seed gives you some tartness, while the pears are a bit crisp, and the aioli adds a bit of salt.

This is a heavy, but well-balanced sandwich, in my opinion. Perfect to welcome fall and get ready for sweaters and blankets and bonfires and raking leaves in the crisp air.

What are your favorite fall flavors? Would you toast this sandwich (I should have toasted this sandwich)? What kinds of aiolis are you inspired to make this season? I think I want to try something with figs…

 

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

Baked Apples – The Taste of Autumn

Baked Apples – The Taste of Autumn

My only encounters with baked apples have been on camping trips, when we would wrap stuffed apples in foil and throw them in the fire. While delicious, they were quite messy…and there was no ice cream, so really what’s the point? I like Claire’s approach better, as it involves staying indoors and using real plates. And these baked apples just look SO GOOD! They are the perfect way to ease into Fall baking. Let’s get to it. Claire, usher us into Autumn with your spectacular baked apples!

Well, it’s eighty-three degrees in the shade today, and California is still on fire, but I am ninety-three percent sure that I felt a cool, cool, autumn breeze last week, so I am already gearing up for fall. I am packing up my summer wardrobe, planning my Halloween costume, and breaking out the knitting needles for sweater season. Just joking; this is California. I just wear all dresses all year. I also plan my Halloween costume and knit year-round, obviously. I’m not joking about the breeze, though. I have lived here long enough to know that one cool week means nothing, except that we’re about to have another month of dry, relentless heat. In fact, in my experience, the first week of October has a habit of being the most unbearably hot week all year. All that aside, I am ready for fall, whether Mother Nature likes it or not.

Across our great nation, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks are ushering in the autumn with pumpkin spice everything, but for my money, the most supreme fall fruit is still the apple. Whether pressed into cider or baked into pie, the combination of apple and cinnamon is distinctly, undeniably autumnal. Now, my grandmother taught me well and I make a damn good pie crust. Still, sometimes I find myself in a bit of a time crunch and have to turn out something delicious and impressive in a third the time of a pie. In a case like that, I will choose to forego the rolling and chilling and latticework and egg wash and skip right to the bake.

This very hot autumn, my go-to dessert is baked apples and vanilla ice cream.

  • 4 large Honeycrisp or other good baking apples
  • 1/3 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped very fine

Preheat your oven to 375°. Using a sharp paring knife and a spoon, hollow out the cores of the apples, leaving just enough at the bottom to form a basin. In a medium bowl, mix together the rest of your ingredients. Fill each apple to the top with the spice mixture and place them in a baking dish. Pour half a cup of water into the bottom of the baking dish and bake for one hour until the apples are soft.

Baked Apples

Let the baked apples cool slightly. With a slotted spoon, gently lift each one into its own bowl or plate and top it with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream. These evoke all the comforting warmth of an apple pie without the fuss of the crust, and, as a bonus, they will make your home smell like heaven. For as simple as these treats are to make, they really make a stunning dessert, and a quintessentially autumnal crowd-pleaser.

Baked Apples

Oktoberfest Food – Beer Cheese Recipe

Oktoberfest Food – Beer Cheese Recipe

I am always ready for some delicious Oktoberfest food and beer! It’s too bad Oktoberfest doesn’t last all year. But if you’ve got a simple and delicious recipe, you can have Oktoberfest at home any time you want! Claire is here to share just such a recipe, and I can’t wait to try it. Cheese us, Claire!

Oktoberfest is just around the corner, and though I’ll be far away from the Bavarian tents, I am still on the edge of my American seat to partake of this year’s batch of Oktoberfest food and beer offerings. The official Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest beer festival in the world, and is in its 186th year! And what better way to get into the spirit of the fest than a party? I’ve been invited to just such a party this year by a very close friend, and unlike Labor Day BBQs with strangers, a German beer festival with friends is something I can fully get behind. This one is going to be potluck style, and this friend actually lived in Germany for a couple of years, so I worry that any Oktoberfest food I bring to the table will be judged pretty carefully. With this in mind, I spent a good couple of days combing over the German foods I could think up off the top of my head trying to decide what to make.

My first thought was fresh pretzels, but honestly, even if I cheated with a bread machine for the kneading process, who really has the time to deal with the dough rise and the baking soda bath and everything else? But thinking of pretzels led me right to beer cheese. Pretzels and cheese is one of my favorite snacks, and if the cheese is good enough, I think we can excuse some store-bought pretzels. After a quick Google, I found a few recipes for Obatzda and headed to Trader Joe’s with a short list. I was also lucky enough while I was there to find some tiny Bavarian-style bratwurst, along with some apparently very traditional pumpernickel pretzels, if the cartoon German on the front of the bag is anything to go by.

This recipe is as simple as it is delicious. To make it, you will need:

  • 1 pound of Camembert, rind mostly removed
  • 3 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 ounces of butter
  • 1teaspoon of paprika
  • Half of a small onion, minced or grated
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Up to 3 oz German Weizenbock or Hefeweizen
  • Chives for garnish

Let the cheese and butter come to room temperature. With a potato masher or a hand mixer, work the brie until it forms a pretty consistent blob. Add in the cream cheese, butter, onions, and paprika. Gradually add the beer until the mixture is your desired flavor and consistency. If you like a drier cheese spread, you can leave the beer out entirely, though you’ll certainly want to chill that beer and drink it heartily while you eat delicious cheese spread on pretzels or potatoes or maybe even slathered all over a traditional Bavarian bratwurst. I scooped my Obatzda into a little wooden bowl, garnished it with some chives from my front yard, and surrounded it with pretzels and celery (for color, mostly… no one is going to actually choose celery over pretzels, obviously). I am fully ready to drop this platter on a long table with some sausages, sauerkraut, and other Oktoberfest food, and raise a glass of liquid gold to friends and ‘fest!

Oktoberfest food

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

It’s been a while since I blogged a recipe to our readers. Thankfully we have Claire and Sarah to do most of the food blogs for us, because they LOVE to cook.  I, however, really don’t love cooking or baking. I’m not sure why. Maybe because as a kid about 12 years old, it was my job to make dinner! We were given a day of the week, and it was our responsibility to plan and prepare the meal for the family. My divorced mom had 5 kids living at home at the time (seven kids total), so it was a very smart, strategic move on her part. While I was proud of what I learned to make…lasagna, meatloaf, spaghetti…I always felt like it was a chore. But luckily, I married a guy who is simply fabulous in the kitchen! He does nearly all of the cooking, AND he has taught me how to simplify recipes, and to enjoy the process as much as the end result. So once again, he has helped me come up with a recipe idea for our Butcher Block Co. Blog!

For our walnut-themed week, I’m making easy, delicious Walnut Banana Bread! It’s timed perfectly for you foodies out there, because Saturday is also National Banana Lovers Day!

So what makes this recipe easy?  Buy Trader Joe’s boxed Banana Bread Mix and a bag of Walnut halves.

What makes this recipe unique?  Roast the walnuts, use frozen bananas, add vanilla, orange and almond extract, and add chocolate chips (of course)!

For those of you who know what you’re doing in the kitchen, you can probably stop reading now and go make this walnut banana bread.  For the rest of you, there are a few helpful tips and adjustments to the recipe that are required to pull this off successfully, so read on…

Ingredients

walnut banana bread ingredients

  • Trader Joe’s Banana Bread Mix
  • Walnut Halves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • * 1/4 cup water (not the 3/4 cup noted on the box)
  • *1/4 tsp orange extract
  • *1/4 tsp almond extract
  • *1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 * frozen bananas (in the peel works best)
  • * = adjustments to the recipe

Directions

walnuts Slightly roast the walnut halves in a dry fry pan on medium to high heat.  Walnuts are done when they just begin to darken slightly AND you get a waft of nutty, earthy smell off of them.  This should take no more than 10 minutes.  Do not let them burn.  Roasting will take the bitterness out of the walnut. Then chop them to the desired size. I used my handy John Boos Herb Board and Mezzaluna Knife for this. Yah!

Follow the directions on the banana bread box.  Whisk wet ingredients together then add the dry mix to the wet and blend with a spoon until just mixed.

Now for the frozen bananas.  Living in Arizona, I find that bananas turn really fast, so we have a freezer full of brown bananas at all times.  Just toss them in the freezer, peels and all, and they are always on hand for baking and making shakes! So now, grab your frozen bananas and defrost them in the microwave just until soft.  Squeeze the banana out of the peel into a bowl and mash them slightly with a fork.  Add them to the mixture. mix walnut banana bread

Add chocolate chips and your chopped, roasted walnuts and fold together. Pour into lightly greased bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for *50 minutes (instead of the recommended 40 minutes).

Cool.  Slice.  Eat.  Repeat.

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

Final walnut banana bread

Printer-friendly recipe:Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

 

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!