Another Successful First: Cherry Pie

I especially enjoy success baking firsts, as they necessarily end in something delicious.

Two weekends ago, we took care of our neighbors’ dog, Dottie. As a thank you, they brought back a handmade, hand painted pie plate they picked up at an arts festival they went to. It’s a pretty little plate, cream-colored glaze with blue dragonflies painted on to it, and only about half as big as a traditional pie plate.IMG_1034

So last weekend, I put it to good use and made a cherry pie with those amazing cherries I was raving about a few posts ago. It was a bit of work—making the dough, pitting the cherries, rolling out the dough—but the end product was great! I love a good cherry pie, and this was the best.  Between the pectin in the cherries and the corn starch, the pie held together perfectly, no filling oozing out into the pie dish.  And it was absolutely packed with delicious sweet cherries.  A wonderful little bite of summer.

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Okay, I’ll be honest: the dough wasn’t perfect. It was a bit more chewy than flaky, especially on the bottom.  (This was even more pronounced the second day.)  I blame myself for not reading the recipe closely enough and adding too much water, then trying to cover it up by adding some more flour and probably over-kneading the dough in the process.  Despite all that, the taste was still buttery and delicious, especially the bits along the crust.  In a store-bought crust, I always end up tossing those bits.  Without the fruity goodness of the filling, those crusts are just dry and uninteresting.  But this crust was one of the best bites–the taste of browned butter, a little crisp, mingled with the sweetness of the cherries.

And the small size of our pie dish means we can eat it, relish it, and finish it before it goes stale or before we tire of it.

(Though it would be hard to tire of something this good!)

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Here’s the recipe at Smitten Kitchen.  I used her pie dough recipe, too.  I’m sure if you actually followed what she said to do, your crust would be that much more amazing than mine. :)

Planning a Menu Around a Trip to the Farmers’ Market

We tried a new farmers’ market over the weekend.  Well, that might not be entirely fair. It was still part of the farmers’ markets that are  organized by the city (and I love that they do that!), but we tried a new location.  I would be totally sold on this new one, except that my favorite fruit vendor isn’t there. And he is worth a trip across the city–his strawberries and peaches are the best around.

But, because of a play date on Monday, I wasn’t able to get to the East Liberty farmers’ market this week, so we tried out one right in our neighborhood, and we came home with some great food! This is me, planning around all of the beautiful fresh things in our fridge.

  • Monday: Fresh pasta (from the market–two nests of tomato-basil and one nest of garden herb) with sauteed zucchini, yellow squash, and other veggies
  • Tuesday: Rotisserie chicken, sauteed zucchini, and mashed cheddar cauliflower (not just because of the cheese–the cauliflower itself is a beautiful golden color!)
  • Wednesday: Baja cod, coriander potatoes, and green beans
  • Thursday: Slow-cooker Spaghetti Bolognese (thanks, Resa!) and a salad
  • Friday: Pan-seared pork, sweet potatoes, and beet salad.

The Best Thing I Ever Made?

ice_creamLarge chunks of fresh, sweet, dark cherries–the really good ones that you can only find for about two weeks at this time of year.  Thin, crisp shavings of dark chocolate.  Luxurious, creamy texture.

No kidding, this might be the best thing I ever made.

For one thing, it was quite an impressive undertaking.  Chris and I pitted cherries the night before. I cooked them down that morning, then made a simple custard. Then I stuck that custard in an ice bath. Later, I used a double-boiler to melt chocolate. Then I stuck it all in our (brand new!) ice cream maker. It was an involved process, but each step was really necessary to creating the balance in the final product–plus, I got to feel really accomplished when I listed all the things I did to get that perfect bowl of ice cream.  So yes, the recipe took me a decent chunk of a day.

And yes, it was so very worth it.

Here’s the link to the recipe I followed:

Black Cherry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream via Sweet Pea’s Kitchen

The blog’s still here, and so am I…

I’ve been missing blogging lately, and I thought I might try to get back into it.  I’ll be modest about it (not that it was ever some grand project…), but I miss thinking critically about food, challenging myself to find new adventures, and looking for ways to describe what I’ve experienced.

Plus, it’s summer, and most of my exciting adventures necessarily happen over the summer.  I’ve been trying at least one new recipe a week, sometimes even two or three! So let’s get started, shall we?  First thing I’m going to do is just list off what we’ve been eating lately, with some links to the new things I’ve tried.  More details to follow! Stay tuned, and cook smart, cuz FoodieSuzy’s back. :)

Last week:

This week:

  • Monday: Leftovers from sesame pecan chicken strips, green bean salad, re-purposed potato-salad-turned-mashed potatoes
  • Tuesday: Bourbon-glazed salmon with polenta and roasted carrots, cauliflower, and beets
  • Wednesday: Tortellini sauteed with zucchini, squash, and red pepper
  • Thursday: Tilapia in Thai coconut sauce over rice and green beans
  • Friday: Chicken tortilla roll-ups and leftover veggies

 

Sprouts and Seeds

This is the reason I watch Good Eats.

Okay, that’s not really accurate.  I also watch it because it’s entertaining and I like learning.  So let me rephrase that: this is how watching Good Eats pays off in tasty, healthy ways.

I wanted to make beets the other night, but Chris couldn’t find any fresh beets at the grocery store.  What he did find was Brussels sprouts on the stalk, and, remembering that Alton said that’s the best time to get them, he picked them up.  And, not quite remembering how to store them and how he recommended cooking them, I went back and watched the episode to get the low-down on this little cabbage.  I then used inspiration from Alton’s show (and the recipe we made before that was so tasty) and combined it with the best preparation of Brussels sprouts that I’ve ever had, a fried sprout with bacon and balsamic glaze at Root 174.  I tried to recreate it–and while I was only partially successful in duplicating it, I did come up with a pretty tasty side dish!

Yesterday, I was feeling adventurous, so during my trip down the street to the grocery store, I picked up two pomegranates.  And then I went back and watched Alton’s episode on them to refresh my memory on how in the world I was supposed to get to the edible bits.  (They were delicious, by the way.  Every time I walked by the kitchen while they were drying on the counter, I ate another handful. And another.  And I’m looking forward to a bowlful at lunch today.)  I like feeling handy in the kitchen.  And I like feeling that, even with an infant and a minimal amount of time/flexibility to cook right now, I’ve still “got it.”

Here’s my Brussels sprouts preparation:

  1. Cut sprouts off of stalk, if necessary. Trim the end so it’s a perfect little sphere, then peel off any leaves that are brown, withered, etc. Cut in half.
  2. Put the sprouts and 1/2 to 1 cup of water in a pot (Alton recommends 1/2 for 1 pound of sprouts).  Cook over high heat so that the water boils for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain.  (This can be done ahead of time–like, during the morning when the little one is more amenable to being worn in her wrap.)
  3. When you’re ready to cook the sprouts, cut 3-6 rashers of bacon into small pieces.  Cook over medium-high heat until crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside; drain some of the drippings, leaving about 2-3 Tbsp in the pan.
  4. Return the pan to the heat.  Toss in sprouts, cooking 5-10 minutes or until the sides are browning (and, ideally, a little crisp).
  5. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss with the reserved bacon. Serve immediately.

Being Thankful: The Little Things

Thanksgiving morning found us in Pittsburgh for the first time ever, celebrating as a family of three.  (Well, a family of three humans at least.  A family of four if you count the furry one.)  But it was a sunny morning, and while the little one slept, a bit tentatively, and while Chris took a turn holding her, I started in on making my first Thanksgiving feast.  I had taken advice from my favorite Food Network celebrities and made a timeline of what needed to get done and when, and my morning was to be dedicated to chopping carrots, parsnips, squash, leeks, potatoes, and bread cubes.  And so, I tested out my new little speakers, turned on The White Album, and got to work.

And lo and behold, when Chris and the slightly-fussy little one came in to check on me, and she heard the music and got into the warm sunniness of the kitchen, she settled down, alert but listening contentedly.  So we put her in her little chair and we did what we do best–we got to cooking together.  Eventually, she was done with the chair and ready to be held, so she and I danced around the kitchen, humming along to the Beatles and keeping Chris company while he finished up the chopping.

Later, the house would be filled with the smells of a home–the warm spices of the pumpkin pie, the rich herbiness of the turkey.  And even later than that, our table was full of delicious food.  The new recipes and preparations we tried were all winners.  The turkey was moist and flavorful, the stuffing was indeed sweet and savory, and all of the herbs in all of the dishes played off of each other wonderfully.

We had a beautiful morning, and I’m thankful for that warm moment in the kitchen, a glimmer of perfection.  I’m thankful for my beautiful little family, and for the wonderful food we shared together.  I’m thankful that we made the time to cook together again, and I can’t wait for the time when the little one will be able to join in–snapping green beans, stirring cookie dough, learning her way around the kitchen, and generally being a part of how much her mommy and daddy love creating and experiencing good food together.  I’m thankful for the day’s unseasonable sunshine and warm weather, our walk around the neighborhood, and (finally!) getting to dive in to the last of the beers we brought back from our honeymoon.  I’m thankful for the friends and family who called, texted, and were thinking of us, those who enriched the holiday and our lives.  I’m thankful for today, and I can’t wait for the tomorrows to come.

Our menu:
Herb-roasted turkey breast
Sweet and savory stuffing with root vegetables
Mashed potatoes
Asparagus
Gravy
Cranberry sauce
Pumpkin pie
Gueuze (Belgian lambic beer)

A whole bunch of new recipes with a very autumnal theme

Call me lazy.  Or just really busy.  But I’m going to mush my five (yes–five!) new recipes we’ve tried in the past three weeks or so into one gargantuan post.  But each individual review will be fairly short.  I’ve been slacking on my camera duties when we’re done cooking, and for most of them, I followed the recipe exactly, so there’s not going to be too much to say.  Ready for my delicious fall spread?

The first thing we made, and this was a while ago, was this Chicken and Vegetable Lasagna.  I won’t lie–this was time consuming.  It wasn’t hard, but there was a fair amount of chopping and cooking even before we could put the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes.  That being said, it was delicious!  It was rich and creamy and chickeny, very different from a traditional lasagna and a little bit heavier.  The vegetables were great–I was generous with the amounts that I used, and I might even use a bit more next time.  The one definite change we would make is either cooking the chicken whole and then shredding it, or maybe even just using a rotisserie chicken.  The pieces we cut to saute were too large, which made it a bit difficult to eat.  Shredding into smaller pieces would be the way to go.  Another plus to this dish?  It makes a lot, so there were lots of leftovers–and it reheated well for another dinner or for a hearty lunch.

Next up was these Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.  I needed something to bring to a departmental work day at school.  Last year I made pumpkin hummus and it was a huge hit, so I felt like there was some pressure to deliver something good!  (I could have brought the hummus again, but how predictable would that be?)  I found these cookies and thought they looked like a nice fall treat, and they definitely were!  They stayed nice and soft, and there was a hint of pumpkin without it being overwhelming.  I liked the tartness of the cranberry and the sweetness of the white chocolate; Chris said he thought they’d be better with dark chocolate.  I think that could certainly work…but he also just isn’t a huge fan of white chocolate.  Oh, and as a side note, this recipe makes a lot of cookies!  I probably ended up with 3 dozen respectably-sized cookies.  I’m glad I didn’t decide to double it!

Next on our list of culinary adventures was this Chicken Noodle Soup.  We have a bunch of homemade chicken stock in the freezer, but for some reason, I’m waiting for the “perfect” opportunity to use it.  So, I thought I would try to recipe for chicken soup and see if it still provided a flavorful enough base, even with just simmering for an hour.  And the answer?  I added a little bit of Penzey’s chicken soup base to ramp up the flavor, but with that extra boost, it absolutely did!  This soup was fantastic.  Flavorful and filling, stuffed with tender meat and fresh vegetables and lots of noodles.  Comfort food at its best.

Our next endeavor was one that took a little more effort on our parts.  We kept putting it off because our weeknights have been late and hectic, and who wants to eat dinner at 8:30 on a school night?  On a Friday, though?  That’s apparently okay.  So on Friday we undertook this Pumpkin Risotto.  The recipe calls for scallops and candied pancetta (which I’m sure would be delightful), but we opted for a roasted pork tenderloin, something we could season, throw in the oven, and not worry about while we busied ourselves with the risotto.  The risotto was wonderfully creamy and delightfully pumpkin-y, and I really liked it with the pork.  There are two adjustments I would make to the recipe, if you’re thinking of trying it.  First, we were lazy and opted not to blend up the pumpkin puree and butter–and we couldn’t tell the difference.  As long as you melt the butter in a little at a time and make sure it’s mixed up really well, I don’t think the blending is necessary.  Save yourself the extra dishes!  Second, make sure you taste the risotto for doneness before adding the pumpkin puree and the final ingredients.  We didn’t do this–we should have known better–and we ended up with slightly al dente rice.  It probably could have used another ladleful of broth.

The final fall recipe I’ve got to share with you is for your weekend mornings, something to munch while you curl up with a warm beverage of your choice.  Check out these Pumpkin gingerbread biscotti.  (If you’re fall-crazy like I apparently am this year, one large can of pumpkin should see you through the oatmeal cookies, the risotto, and a double batch of the biscotti.)  I made them yesterday as a splurge to myself–besides, I had all of the necessary ingredients, so I considered it something like fate.  I was initially a bit concerned about all the spices, but the cookie’s flavor isn’t too heavily spiced at all.  And the smell as they’re cooking?  Amazing.  (Chris came in from walking the dog and pronounced that it smelled like home.)  I think I skimped a little on the first cooking time, and so my cookies could be a little firmer.  Another change I made that might have thrown the texture a bit was chopping the walnuts and adding them right to the batter, along with a dollop of extra pumpkin because the batter was so dry, I couldn’t get all of the flour incorporated.  I was going to mix in white chocolate chips, too, but I forgot, so I “iced” them with white chocolate after they cooled.  They don’t look as pretty as the picture on the website, but they’re still really tasty.

*Phew!* So, that’s my fall rundown.  For now, at least.  I hope if you’re looking for something with an autumnal twist that you can find something here that you’d like to try!

Fall! And new recipes!

Fall is officially upon us, the air is cool, the leaves are changing, and I’m in the mood for heartier dishes using some of those great fall flavors.  We’ve tried three new recipes lately (and we’re trying a fourth tonight), so I’ve got some good blogging fodder for the moment.  Only some of these come with pictures, though, so I’ll start with a simple recap.

The first of our new fall adventures was a Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese from the Two Peas and Their Pod blog.  I’ve had this recipe pinned for months, but it was finally getting to the time of year when I wanted to give it a try.  I won’t repost her recipe here, because this time around, I followed her directions as closely as possible.  I’ll just add some of my own commentary.

This dish was really good.  The squash made it super-creamy and silky in texture without bringing an overbearing squash flavor.  (It felt a little bit tricky, sneaking all that squash in there.  It reminded me of my college roomie who would have to disguise veggies–for herself!–in order to eat enough of them.)  I did want more cheese, however.  Chris and I agreed on what we might change next time–we would add about another 1/2 cup of cheese to each of the layers, and we would mix in 1 or 2 cups of cheese to the squash mixture before adding the macaroni in.  That would really make this incredible.  As it was, the slightly crunchy, cheesy bits along the top and sides were just the best.  And it actually reheated really nicely over medium high heat in a frying pan, with a little bit of milk and plenty of extra cheese sprinkled in.  Once we added more cheese, it had the creamy texture of Velveeta mac and cheese, which is one of our guilty pleasures.  And any time I can get that texture with a vegetable instead of processed cheese product, it’s a good thing!

So, if you’re looking for a good fall recipe with a hidden veggie punch and a rich and creamy texture, give this mac and cheese a try.  I’m looking forward to trying it out again soon!

Preserving the End of Summer

Sorry about the long writing hiatus, folks.  Of course I’d pause the blogging over the summer, only to pick back up during the school year when I have things to grade and prepping to do and all that other great stuff, right?  As such, (and as life is soon going to get much crazier than ever), these posts will certainly be infrequent, but I recently ran into something too good to not share.

Throughout the summer, our tomato plants had been dragging.  I saw the green fruits, but they weren’t doing anything.  Then, all of a sudden, about two weeks ago, we had an overabundance of tomatoes.  But of course, by that point in time, summer was dragging to a close, I was back in school, and I was out of the summery eat-all-the-tomatoes-I-can mood.  I didn’t know what to do with them.  So, I found this lovely way to preserve all that great flavor for another day!

Check out how I did it, courtesy of from Gina at SkinnyTaste.com: Oven Roasted Tomatoes.

We made a small batch and had it with pasta, and we liked it so much that we made another, larger batch and froze it for later.  I’m hoping I might possibly be able to squeeze one more batch out of my tomato plants before they give up for the fall.  There were two adjustments (especially the second time around) I made to the original recipe that I thought helped.  I found it difficult to get the tomatoes off of my baking dish if they were flesh-side down; it worked better for me if they were skin-side down.  I may have sacrificed a bit of flavor that way, but I had more tomato to work with.  Second, I don’t know how she was able to keep her tomatoes in the oven for 30 minutes!  After 15 minutes the first time around, I set off the smoke alarm.  The second batch was much larger, but it still only took about 20 minutes total–I turned the pan halfway through.  I’d set the timer for 10 minutes and check on them before assuming they’ll take the full half hour.

If you’ve got leftover tomatoes, or your local farmers’ market has some stragglers left, this is such a delicious way to capture that summer flavor.  Absolutely worth checking out.  I can’t wait to do this again next year–it’s just that good! :)

 

In Which Pinterest Makes Me the Star of the Picnic

Okay, so that’s more than a slight exaggeration.  But still.  The end of the school year was defined by Pinterest recipes for my gatherings, and both of them were a pretty big hit!

First up, this orzo salad.  I made this for our faculty picnic, and it was wonderful.  I was inspired to “pin it” and then try it because Giant Eagle makes this wonderful orzo salad that I can’t pass up any time I see it, and this recipe looked a lot like it.  It tasted similar–perhaps even better–and I will absolutely be making it again.  It was a great picnic contribution, and the leftovers worked really well as a side dish, too.  I used kalamata olives instead of green, but otherwise, all ingredients were the same.  Actually…that’s not entirely true.  I doubled the amount of dressing, partly because recipes never seem to dress things quite enough for me, partly because I had a grand orzo mishap.  The first batch of orzo that I made went mostly down the drain–literally–because it slipped right through the holes in my pasta strainer.  Not one of my shining moments.  Luckily, I had bought a second package of orzo, but neither package was the amount called for in the recipe, so I just guesstimated.  Still turned out pretty tasty, though!

The second and final dish for today is these cheesecake cookies.  I brought these to a post-graduation gathering at a friend’s house, and they were pretty decadently delicious.  We used both cherry pie filling in some and blueberry in the others; the cherry was definitely my favorite.  And, amazingly, they really do taste just like little mini cheesecakes!  They were rather difficult to transport, and slightly difficult to eat, because they were fairly soft, though apparently they should be stored in the refrigerator, which has the added benefit of firming them up a bit, too–that’s an important note for next time.  They were rather time-consuming, but so tasty!

Pinterest, you may be my  new (dangerous but oh-so-creative) cooking buddy.