Friday, June 29, 2012

Cake Mix Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Remember when I told you about my 3 Ingredient Cake Mix Cookies? Well, here's how I make them a super simple, impressive-yet-kid-friendly dessert.

You will need:
1 box cake mix, flavor is up to you
2 eggs
1/3 c. canola oil
ice cream, flavor also up to you
sprinkles (optional, but highly recommended)

Mix up your cake mix cookies and let them cool completely. While they're cooling, move your ice cream from the freezer to the fridge to soften. (If you're having company over for dinner, you can have the cookies ready and the ice cream softening in the fridge while you eat dinner, then it will be nice and soft when you're ready for dessert.)

When you're ready to serve, grab a cookie scoop (I like my #40 scoop for this) and slip a scoop of ice cream between two cookies.

If you want to be extra festive, spread some sprinkles out on a plate and roll your ice cream sandwiches in them so the sprinkles coat the sides.

You can even make them ahead of time. They keep pretty well for a couple of days if individually wrapped in foil and stored in a freezer bag. (In the freezer, of course.)
Some Fun combinations to consider:
-Red Velvet cake mix with vanilla ice cream and red, white, and blue sprinkles for the 4th of July
-Lemon cake mix with strawberry ice cream
-Chocolate cake mix with mint chip ice cream
-Chocolate cake mix with cake batter ice cream
-Yellow cake mix with berry ice cream
-Lemon cake mix with pistachio ice cream (In fact, I might be making that happen today...)

Let your imagination go wild!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whole Wheat "Waffles of Insane Greatness"

"Waffles of Insane Greatness".

Isn't that a fabulous name? It sucked me in.

As I might have mentioned before, we like to have breakfast for dinner on Friday nights. We love waffles, and I'm always on the lookout for new recipes to try. And so, when I got sucked into this recipe, I was way excited. I mean, I do try to keep my expectations in check when trying new recipes, but it was so hard not to expect all sorts of awesome when something has a name like "Waffles of Insane Greatness".

And here's the thing. They were kind of insanely great. At first, we weren't that impressed. I don't know why, but our initial reaction was "well, these are yummy, but not insanely so". But as we kept eating, they took on this addictive quality. Insane greatness that kind of sneaks up on you... does that sound possible? Well, even if it doesn't sound possible, it's true.

I first heard about this recipe from Molly Wizenberg of Orangette (whom I adore, by the way). As far as I can tell, though, the original recipe is from Aretha Frankenstein's restaurant in Chatanooga, TN, featured by Food Network. I made two changes: I doubled the recipe, and I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour. They turned out so great! The original recipe calls for either whole milk or buttermilk, but when you're using whole wheat flour, I think it's important to use the buttermilk, for the sake of yummy-ness. I also love that this recipe doesn't require the separation and whipping of egg whites, yet still comes out crispy. Bonus!

Waffles of Insane Greatness
ever so slightly adapted from Food Network

1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. cornstarch
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. sugar
2 c. buttermilk
2/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and gently whisk until just combined. Let set for 30 minutes before cooking according to the directions for your waffle iron. *DO NOT USE NON-STICK SPRAY if your waffle iron is non-stick already. It will cause your waffles to be floppy.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Shell Fava Beans

Let's be up front about it -- fava beans are a pain. But a more delicious pain I have rarely encountered. I won't tell you that they're "worth all the work", because, delicious as they are, I probably wouldn't buy them if left to my own devices, but they keep popping up in my CSA basket so I thought I would show you all how I go about preparing them. Click through for the skinny!

Out of a pound of fava beans, I usually end up with about one cup of beans after removing the outer pod, which gets reduced to about 3/4 cup after you remove the shell around each individual bean.

I didn't get shots of the early steps, but they're not so hard to imagine.

First, you split open the pods and remove the beans. I like to grab the pods right near the top and pull them apart with both hands, like you would a cereal bag, but any old way will do. You'll get into a rhythm.

Once that's done, set some water on to boil in a small saucepan. Just enough to cover the beans will do, but don't put the beans in the water just yet.

When the water is boiling, toss in the beans and cook for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath to shock the beans after cooking. I use my sieve set into my 4 cup liquid measure filled with ice water. After 3 minutes, scoop the beans into the ice bath. (I use a slotted spoon.) Toss them around a bit to be sure that all the beans get cooled off.

Now comes the fun part.
Use your thumbnail to dig into the bottom of the bean, being careful not to pierce the bean itself (though I often do end up snagging it just a little). Like so:

Then gently squeeze the top of the bean so it slides out of the shell and into your waiting bowl. Here's a little demonstration:

Now you're all set to enjoy your beans. I like mine sauteed with a little butter, salt and pepper, maybe some herbs if I'm in the mood. They're great as a side on their own, or they taste delicious in a pasta primavera or quinoa salad.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

I do not know what it is about ranch dressing and kids. Kids + vegetables + ranch dressing = yes, please! My brother and I would put it on absolutely everything. I remember, most notably, that it always found its way onto our plates alongside Sunday pot roast. (I'm sure Mom meant it for the salad, but when ranch is offered, you can't control where it goes from there.)

Mom used to make it at home using the easy peasy packet from the condiment aisle, but I always thought it paled in comparison to the ah-mazing stuff from the bottle. (The buttermilk kind was my favorite!) Isn't that wrong? Homemade stuff is supposed to be better. Period.

And this, this is SO much better than the packet, and SO much better than the bottle, and you can make it your own in a myriad ways, which is something I love. I also love that it used up my surplus of garden herbs, which needed a haircut.

This recipe hails from the Pioneer Woman, so you know it's perfect. (How does she DO that?) In true pioneer spirit, you really should pour it over a giant wedge of iceberg lettuce, but, as my brother and I can attest, it's good on anything. Anything.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

1 c. mayonnaise (I used Best Foods/Hellmann's Light)
1/2 c. sour cream (again, I used light)
1/4 to 1/2 c. buttermilk
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed into a paste (I used 2)
1/4 c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
dash cayenne pepper (more if you like it hot -- and I hear some like it hot)
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4. tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Stir all ingredients together gently, tasting and adjusting seasonings as desired. If you like a thicker dressing, use the lesser amount of buttermilk. If you like it thinner, use the greater amount of buttermilk, adding Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Some variations on the ranch theme:
- Add 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, if you like cheese
- Add an extra 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
- Mix in two slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
- For extra heat, add a dash or two of hot sauce and up the cayenne to 1/8 tsp.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

French Lentil Salad a la Orangette

I read about this one years ago when I was first getting into reading food blogs. Naturally, I gravitated toward Molly, of Orangette, who is a blog goddess. I filed it away for later. For a variety of reasons, I had not eaten lentils much until recently, but now that I have given them a chance we eat them a lot, and this is my current favorite preparation. It's the type of thing I want to eat outside on a summer evening with crusty bread, some juicy grapes, and a bottle of ice cold Perrier. In Paris. (A girl can dream, right?)

As with the Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans I shared yesterday, this is great warm, at room temperature, or cold. I love it cold the next day, shared with my little bambino, Bryce. That's right, my baby loves it! He practically squeals for more!

This recipe generously serves 2 as an entree, and 4 as a side. I say that because, though it may look like a paltry amount, it is so filling that you only need a small portion to feel full. And yet, it's so light and delightful. I really can't praise it highly enough.

Delicious? Check. Simple? Check. Healthy? Check. It's got it all.

French Lentil Salad
from Orangette

1 c. dry French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 c. water
1  bay leaf
{If you're lucky enough to have a Trader Joes around, you can skip these ingredients and the accompanying instructions in favor of the pre-cooked steamed lentils from the produce section (near the prepared salads)}
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
5 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Crunchy sea salt, for serving
2 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian parsley, for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring the lentils, water, and bay leaf to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/4 tsp. salt, and then simmer, covered, for another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but not falling apart.

While the lentils simmer, warm 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the shallot, carrots, celery, garlic, thyme, and 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 7 to 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons vinegar, mustard, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, and whisk to emulsify. (Or do as I do, and stick all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake, shake, shake!)

When the lentils are ready, drain them in a colander or sieve, and discard the bay leaf. Dump them into the skillet with the vegetables, and add the vinaigrette. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until heated through. Stir in the remaining 1/2 tsp. vinegar, and serve warm, or set in the fridge to chill. When ready to eat, garnish with with crunchy salt and chopped parsley.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans

Oh, Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans, what can I say about you?

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

I'm not much of a poet, so I should stop right there, but being that today is the official first day of summer, I thought you needed this salad. Because it is tailor-made for summer.

When it's hot out, I like a light, vegetarian meal, and this fits the bill nicely. But if you like some meat with your potatoes, this would go very well as an accompaniment to burgers or brats.

Grab a big ole pot, and fill it with some delicious, waxy-skinned potatoes and enough water to just cover. Get it boiling, and let it go for a bit. While that's working, whip up a batch of Spinach and Avocado Pesto. When your potatoes are a couple minutes from being done, toss in some green beans. Then, when the potatoes are tender, drain the whole kit & caboodle, and toss it with the pesto.

Serve it warm, or chill it. Either way, it's lovely. If you really wanted to, bacon is hardly ever a bad idea, and would be a great complement to this dish. Just sprinkle some on top!

 You can use any pesto you like, but I strongly recommend the avocado pesto, because it's my favorite, it's delicious, and because the avocado gives it this lovely creaminess, so it has a bit of a mayo effect, minus the possibility of food poisoning when things the weather heats up.

One caveat, though, remember if you use the avocado pesto that the top layer will probably oxidize as it chills or sits out. If you keep it covered with plastic wrap, you should be able to stir it up to reveal the beautiful, vibrant green from underneath. What can I say, it's a necessary evil when one partakes of avocado goodness.

Seriously, this salad makes me want to throw a pool party. Anyone have a pool I can have borrow?

Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans

1 lb. potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces (I like red or yukon gold for potato salad -- waxy and less starchy)
1 lb. green beans (not too thin), cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 recipe Spinach and Avocado Pesto or 1 1/2 c. (give or take) prepared pesto of your choice
salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes in large pot and fill with enough water to just barely cover. Bring to a boil, and cook until fork tender. Drain. Meanwhile, prepare green beans and steam until also fork tender. (I have a steamer  basket that fits atop my big pot, so I use the steam from my potatoes to cook the beans at the same time. You could easily use the microwave if you don't have a similar set-up available., or add them to the boiling potatoes in the last few minutes.)

Combine with pesto in a large bowl and serve immediately, or refrigerate for an hour or two. Taste and adjust seasoning. Can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature -- great for picnics or potlucks!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Penne with Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter

I love asparagus season. It's the time of year when you can find whisper thin stems at deliciously low prices -- just one of the perks of enjoying things while in season. My favorite way to eat it is to toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast it in the oven. Just like that, it's the perfect side, but this pasta dish takes it to the next level. At first, it may seem a bit complicated, but it comes together very quickly.

Yes, you have to reduce balsamic vinegar, but it's easy as a wink, just BTB RTS (bring to boil, reduce to simmer), in the words of Anne Burrell. The first time I made this, I over-reduced the vinegar, resulting in a super-sticky viscous muck that didn't incorporated easily with the pasta at the end. So learn from my mistakes and stop before it gets to that point. It should move like pancake syrup and flow easily around the pan.

This is going to be a new favorite, and will probably make in into regular rotation in your menu. It has for us!

If asparagus isn't in season, you can easily substitute broccoli, roasted in the same manner. Holy Hannah, my mouth is watering!

Penne with Roasted Asparagus & Balsamic Butter
adapted from Food & Wine

1 lb. asparagus (thin stalks work best with the penne)
1 Tbsp. olive oil 
2 tsp. salt 
1/2 tsp. black pepper 
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar 
1/2 tsp. brown sugar 
1 lb. penne 
1/2 c. (1 stick)  butter, cut into pieces 
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Heat the oven to 400°. Snap the tough ends off the asparagus and discard them. Cut the spears into 1-inch pieces. Put the asparagus on a baking sheet and toss with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer until about 1/4 c. remains. Stir in the brown sugar, butter, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.

Cook the penne in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just done, about 13 minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the vinegar mixture, asparagus, Parmesan, and the remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Variation: When asparagus is not in season, cut 1 lb. of broccoli into small spears for roasting. Toss them with 2 Tbsp. oil and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Best Ever Classic Carrot Cake

June is carrot cake month in honor of my mother-in-law, whose birthday falls at the end of the month. Carrot cake is her favorite, and I love making this recipe for her. But June is full of birthdays in our family: Yesterday was my best friend's birthday, tomorrow is the birthday of my sister-in-law, and my aunt and father-in-law were both born near the end of the month.

June also brings the birthday of my baby boy, Bryce! We celebrated on Friday, and I couldn't think of a better way to introduce him to cake than by way of this carrot cake. I mean, there are veggies in it so it's healthy for babies, right? Yes? No? Okay, fine.

He loved it, as you might imagine. Stuffed his little face.

You know what he didn't like? Party hats. I put one on him in the morning with the intention of snapping a picture for Instagram and it sparked an instant conniption fit lasting nigh unto an hour. Later in the afternoon, I tried again, thinking that he had just been too grumpy in the morning. But NO. He hates party hats! And it's not just wearing them he hates. He hates their very presence. I tried putting it on my head and he screamed all the louder. Then I set them on the table -- no dice. He would not be appeased until they were completely out of sight.
Happy? Birthday

I did not see that one coming. I'm still a little mystified by it, actually...

Where was I?

Oh yes. Carrot Cake.

In this case, I wanted to make him a little smash cake, and have enough left over to make a layer cake for the hubby and me. So I baked it in a sheet pan and cut it into pieces.

Little teddy bear smash cake for the babe.

I did his smash cake by using cookie cutters to cut the cake into the shape of a bear, then layered it like a normal cake. I then cut the remaining cake into 4 large rectangles, and then layered them into the perfect size layer cake for two. (Just me and hubby, since the baby had his own.)

Layer cake for us!

Ready for the recipe? Here you go, friend!

Best Ever Classic Carrot Cake

2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. oil
4 eggs, beaten
3 c. peeled, finely grated carrot

Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, spices, and salt. Add remaining ingredients and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Spread in greased baking pan of your choice (1, 9x13" pan; 2, 8" round or square pans, or 1 sheet pan). Bake at 350ยบ for 30-35 minutes for 9x13" pan or 8" pans, 20-25 minutes for a sheet pan, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely, then frost with Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting

Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Not So Humble Pie

16 oz. cream cheese (2 pkgs.)
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste, and it might have been closer to 1 Tbsp.)
1 c. cream, well chilled

Mix together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until well combined and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold cream into cream cheese mixture until well combined.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes with Bananas and Whipped Cream

My major in college was Human Development and Family Studies, which means that I have devoted a lot of time studying theories of how children best develop. I have always wanted to be a mom, and I felt as I studied that I was learning valuable things to help me along my way as a mother, as well as train me for the career path of my choice.

I think if they were to do a study on the matter, they would probably find that the most deflated first-time parents are those who have studied human development -- we have so much guilt when we find that, despite our theoretical knowledge, we are just like everybody else: in survival mode and doing whatever we can to figure things out.

Today is my first baby's first birthday! He brings such light to my life! I love seeing the world through new eyes as he discovers something "new" that I take for granted. Being his mother has stretched and changed me, and, for better or worse, has shown me what I'm made of. And while today is about my little man, it's also about me and my husband and celebrating the survival and thrival (yes, I know I made up a word just then -- stay with me) of our little family through this first challenging year of parenthood.

To my Bryce: You are something to celebrate, really and truly! Your Momma loves you more than tongue can tell!

For this auspicious occasion, I present these pancakes! The only thing missing is some sprinkles. (Why, oh why do I always think of these things after I've already shot the photos?! [shakes fist at sky])

These are heavenly; fluffy pancakes, rich chocolate, creamy bananas, and light clouds of cream. Definitely a splurge in every sense. Make these for the birthday girl or boy in your life, or just for yourself. I bet you've earned it.

Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Bananas and Whipped Cream

1 3/4 c. flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 c. buttermilk (plus more if your batter is a little too thick)
3 Tbsp. oil (I use canola)
mini chocolate chips

1 c. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar (more or less, depending on your tastes)
splash of vanilla

2 bananas, sliced
chocolate syrup (optional but highly recommended)

Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. In another bowl, combine egg, buttermilk, and oil. Add to dry ingredients, stirring only until just moistened. The batter will be lumpy, and that's a good thing. If the batter is quite thick, go ahead and stir in a little more buttermilk, say 1/4 c. or so. Set this aside for a few minutes while your griddle heats over medium  heat.

Once griddle is nice and hot, pour batter on in 1/4 c. mounds (I like to use my muffin scoop for this) and cook on first side until edges begin to dry and bubbles burst on the top of the pancake. This is when you add your chocolate chips. Sprinkle them over each pancake just before you flip it. Be as heavy handed (or not) as you like -- it's your party.

Cook on the other side 1 or 2 minutes more, or until golden. Remove from griddle and place on a warm plate covered loosely with foil (I make a little tent with my foil; crease it down the middle and overturn it on top of your plate).

While you're keeping an eye on your pancakes, whip up your cream. Pour 1 c. of cream into a large, deep bowl. Grab a whisk, and mix in a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar and a drizzle of vanilla. Give it a taste and add more sugar, if you like. When it's sweetened to your satisfaction, whip it to stiff peaks. Set aside until your pancakes are ready.

Once your pancakes are cooked, make each person a short stack, starting with the birthday girl or boy, of course. Layer pancakes with a smearing of whipped cream and some banana slices, topping each stack generously with more whipped cream and bananas, and a squeeze of chocolate syrup. And learn from my mistakes, don't forget the sprinkles! A few more chocolate chips never hurt either.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wishlist: Chez Panisse Fruit and Chez Panisse Vegetables

Next week I will pick up the first baskets from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and I can hardly contain my excitement!

I'm also a little nervous about the effect it will have on my menu planning each week, since I won't know what to expect in the basket, but that's a challenge I'm very much looking forward to conquering.

At least part of that challenge will also be preparation of produce I usually don't make use of. There will probably be a good many things that I haven't ever used before, that I don't particularly like, or that I am entirely unfamiliar with! Along the way, I plan to make use of Chez Panisse Fruit, and Chez Panisse Vegetables, two wonderful books by Alice Waters.

Chez Panisse is a restaurant based in Berkeley, CA. Alice Waters is the executive chef and owner of the restaurant, and she has made it wildly famous through her use of locally- and sustainably-sourced  ingredients, embracing the freshness of produce directly from the garden. She is also the founder of Slow Food International. I've never been to her restaurant, but I'll tell you something -- this lady knows produce.

If you flip through the pages of these books, you will find not only beautiful illustrations and delicious recipes, but also incredibly helpful tips for selecting and cooking fresh garden fruits and veggies. It's true inspiration for the bounty of summer.

Summer is such a wonderful time of year! A time to live in the moment. To feast. And to lay things by for the winter months. This summer, I hope to make good use of the abundance of produce coming my way, and try my hand at some canning.With help from Alice, I feel confident that nothing will go to waste, and that's a nice feeling.

If you want to get involved in a CSA near you, (or find out what that means, if you're unfamiliar) check out Local Harvest.