Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Star Spangled Cookie Centerpiece

Need a simple but cute dessert/centerpiece for your 4th of July celebration? Make these red, white, and blue sugar cookies! They are so easy but look really impressive. I made mine into a cookie bouquet to use as a centerpiece, but they are just as cute without the stick. This is a great project to get the kids cooking as well!
Star Spangled Cookie Centerpiece
What you need:
1 recipe of sugar cookie dough (or you could cheat and buy sugar cookie dough)
red and blue food coloring, gel colors work better than regular food coloring.
3 star cookie cutters that fit inside one another, small, medium, and large.
candy/cookies sticks (if making cookie pops)

Divide cookie dough into three equal parts. Knead red food coloring to one piece, blue food coloring to one piece and leave the third piece plain. Add enough food coloring to make the dough a very bright red and blue. How much you need will depend on the amount of cookie dough you are coloring. Wear plastic gloves or put the dough into a small ziplock baggie to knead in the food coloring or you'll have festive colored hands as well! Yes I speak for experience...
Roll each piece of the cookie dough out to about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch thickness and refrigerate until firm. I usually pop mine in the freezer for about 30 minutes. It's easier to work with the cookie dough when it's very cold.
First cut out your largest star.
Cut the center of the large star out with the medium sized star.
Next cut out a medium sized star out and insert it into the cut out in the center of the large star.
Finally, cut out the center of the medium star with the smallest star cutter. Cut a small star out and put it in the center of the medium star.
At this point you can either bake the cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet, in a preheated 375 degree oven until just set, about 7 minutes, or before baking add lollypop sticks to make cookie pops. Bake the cookie pops at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes, as well. Allow the cookies to cool completely before picking up the cookie pops.
Place the pop stick on the backside of the cookie gently pressing it slightly into the cookie.

Take a small piece of cookie dough and cover the pop stick, pressing it gently into the cookie. Carefully turn the cookie over to bake. You have to work fast. If your dough is too warm to flip the cookie over, place the cookies into the freezer for a couple of minutes to let the cookie dough stiffen up a bit. I made all different sizes and color combos and baked them on the pop sticks.

 I wanted to create a centerpiece with the cookies so I fit a piece of flower arranging oasis into a small galvanized bucket. Then I arranged the cookie pops into the oasis and stuck a couple of festive napkins around the sides to hide the oasis. What a cute center piece for your Fourth of July table!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Strawberry Honey Butter

Last Sunday I called my dad to wish him a happy Father's Day. I couldn't help thinking that now that all five of his daughters are happily married, this may be his best Father's Day ever. Although none of us have lived at home in a long time, as long as one of us was single, Dad always got the distress calls. He can breath a sigh of relief. Now he has son-in-laws. No more calls about cars that aren't running right or flat tires or appliances that don't work, those are all someone else's problems now. No more, "Hey Dad I need you to help me move...again." This too, no longer his worry. There are countless other things, both minor and important that we'd call on dad to fix. We all still call and ask for advice from time to time, but it's no longer his sole responsibility to come to our rescue every time something goes wrong for one of us girls. Now when the washing machine runs over or the air conditioner quits working, we call our husbands. That fact alone may have made this his best Father's Day ever.

I hadn't meant for this to be a belated Father's Day post but I can't help thinking of my dad anytime I make something with strawberries. He has a long standing love affair with strawberries. In fact, when asked recently why he started a hydroponic strawberry farm, he jokingly replied, "So I can eat all the strawberries I want." I suspect there was more than a little truth in that statement.
Enjoy your freedom Dad, but don't be surprised if the phone rings!

Strawberry Honey Butter
source: Gourmet/May 1990
(Printable recipe)
1 pint strawberries, hulled
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened

In a food processor purée the strawberries and force the purée through a fine sieve into a saucepan. Add the honey and the lemon juice and boil the mixture, stirring, for 3 minutes, or until it is thickened. Let the strawberry mixture cool to room temperature. In a bowl cream together the butter and the strawberry mixture. Let the butter stand, covered, in a cool place for 1 hour to allow the flavors to develop.
This butter is delicious, especially on whole grain bagels!
Add some rick-rack and you've got a great hostess gift!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Feelin Hot Hot Hot..

Not really a post, just a morale boost for those of you, like me, living with this summer's crazy unbelievably high temps. Here are a couple of reasons I love this time of the year...grilling and fresh produce. A caprese salad and grilled eggplant drizzled with balsamic almost makes up for 110 degree heat indexes...almost.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sweet Pea Tendril Salad

Our local farmers markets are packed of wonderful produce this time of the year. This week I bought sweet corn, super sweet orange cherry tomatoes, peppers, beets, cantaloupe, and peaches. I can't help it. When I get to the farmers market I just go a little crazy and want to buy some of everything. This week I also found pea tendrils, also called pea shoots, from one of our local farmers. Pea tendrils are the are the young leaves and shoots of the pea plant. If you've never tried pea tendrils, they are delicious. I think they taste like fresh peas crossed with spinach. You can use them in  much the same way as you would use spinach. They can be sauteed, tossed into pasta, or eaten raw in a salad.
I used the pea tendrils and several of my farmers market purchases, along with some grilled shrimp I had leftover from the night before, to make this delicious salad. I used only pea tendrils for this salad but if you like, you could also mix the pea tendrils with other salad greens.

Sweet Pea Tendril Salad with Grilled Shrimp and Corn
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side salad
(printable recipe)
For the salad:
2 cups tender sweet pea tendrils or a mixture of lettuces and pea tendrils
A handful of fresh cherry tomatoes, I used tiny sweet orange tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the corn:
2-3 ears of fresh sweet corn cut from the cob
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. curry powder (optional)
freshly ground black pepper

Remove the husks and the silk from the corn and cut the kernels off as close to the cob as possible without cutting into the cob. Melt the butter in a large, heavy saute pan. Add the corn, salt, pepper and curry powder, if using. Saute uncovered on medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the corn is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

Lemon Vinaigrette
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
Gently stir the ingredients together, do not emulsify.
I used this recipe for Margarita Grilled Shrimp. I made the shrimp the night before and had it leftover. I put them on the salad cold but they would be great right off the grill on top of this salad. (If don't want to go to the trouble of grilling the shrimp, you could substitute steamed shrimp.)

Place pea tendrils in a serving bowl or divide onto individual plates. Add the tomatoes and sauteed corn and grilled shrimp and drizzle the lemon vinaigrette over the salad.
Shop at the farmers market! You not only support your local growers but you also get to eat some really tasty food.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making do

As a reader of this blog, you only see the things I post. You know the things that turn out great, taste wonderful, in short, the Martha Stewart perfect life. I'll let you in on a little secret, not everything is perfect in my world. Shocking, right? Here's a glimpse into the, less than Martha, part of my life.  
I have plenty of cool kitchen gadgets/equipment but there are many times I don't have the special equipment needed to make a recipe. So when that happens I  just try to make do and make it work!
I know, they make racks hang your fresh pasta on to dry but I don't have a fancy schmancy pasta drying rack. This is how we dry our fresh pasta!

Yup, a rolling pin between two chairs. Hey it works, and that's just how we roll. ( I couldn't resist...) The best part of this contraption is there's no extra piece of equipment to store when I'm not using it.  I love using things I already have, for other purposes. How do you make do in your kitchen? I'd love to hear your ideas/suggestions!!!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Chocolate Banana Bread

Move over plain ole banana bread, you've been replaced! Traditional banana bread is good enough but if you're a chocolate lover like me I'm sure you'll agree, chocolate makes everything better! In this case, I think chocolate makes it much better.

Most of the time when I bake with bananas it's to use up ones that have gotten overly ripe and started turning black. Not so, this time. When I came across this recipe from Savory Sweet Life, I intentionally bought overripe bananas just so I could make this banana bread. I was not disappointed. It reminded me of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream, but in bread form.  Moist, chocolaty, not too sweet, this bread will have you hoping you've let your bananas get overripe!

Although it's completely unnecessary, I highly suggest serving this bread topped with a large dollop of Nutella.

Chocolate Banana Bread
source: Alice, Savory Sweet Life June 18, 2009 (adapted)
(printable recipe)
1 stick of salted butter, softened to room temp.
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 large ripened bananas, mashed
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. espresso powder
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbl. cocoa powder
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x5 loaf pan, or 2 mini pans with non-stick baking spray. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir in egg, mashed bananas, sour cream, espresso powder, and vanilla until well blended. Add baking soda, cocoa, and flour. Mix just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using). 
Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes – 1 hr for the 9x5 loaf pan or 35 to 40 minutes for the mini loaf pans. Insert a tooth pick into the center of the loaf and check to see if it comes out clean.
Remove from heat and allow bread to cool for 10 minutes. Invert the loaf pans onto a cooling rack. Great served warm, topped with Nutella.
On second thought, I feel the Nutella is a totally necessary part of this bread!