A few days ago, I got a text from our friend, Natalia. Natalia is a dear friend of ours who has a voice like honey, is sharp as an icicle (the sharpest thing my mid-winter brain could come up with), and has a knack for coming up with great food combinations, which she photographs, as you do, and sends to her foodie friend, as you do. She also likes to say, “as you do”, as I just did. This most recent text was an image of a citrus salad, built around grapefruit from her recent trip to Arizona. She added watercress, avocado, goat cheese, a lemon vinaigrette, and spicy salted pepitas. The text was a great reminder that citrus is in season, even if my brain has a difficult time wrapping around the idea that there is anywhere on this earth that isn’t covered in several feet of snow and a blanket of clouds.
Oh be still my heart! We are in the midst of Michigan fruit season, my favorite food season of them all. Strawberries just exited the farmer’s market stage left. That is, other than in the Upper Peninsula, where the U-Pick strawberry season at Ostanek’s Strawberry Farm just started on July 4. Call 906-446-3050 to hear a detailed voice message from the owner regarding the status of strawberries – updated at 8:30 pm each day…a lovely personal touch that makes me think fondly of the U.P. Here in downstate Michigan, blueberries are in full swing and the cherries are in their last week. This recipe makes good use of cherries in a very crowd pleasing way in the form of an appetizer. It went over well at our annual potluck with friends at Portage Lake this weekend.
If you are looking for more recipes on how to use up your cherries, check out Cooking Light’s list of cherry recipes here.
Try these toasts with peaches or pears when in season. Or try them savory with salted ricotta, cherry tomatoes, and basil.
- 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
- dash of salt
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of honey
- Seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod
- About 20 cherries
- 1 plum
- 5 or 6 mint leaves, shredded finely
- 1 tsp lemon zest, optional
- Honey for serving
- Heat milk and salt on medium in a thick bottomed saucepan until it gets to a just-boiling state. Stir frequently to avoid burning the milk on the bottom of the pan. Once the milk begins to bubble slightly, remove from heat. Add lemon juice; stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
- Pour mixture into a colander lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Let drain for 5 minutes.
- If you want thicker ricotta, simply allow to drain longer. The longer you drain, the more dense it will be.
- Scrape inside of half of a vanilla bean into ricotta. Stir honey into ricotta. Set aside.
- You can make ricotta ahead. Just cover and chill up to 3 days.
- Pit cherries and slice in half. Slice plums thinly into half moons.
- Heat nonstick skillet on medium-high and add cherries and plums to pan. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the cherries and plums are caramelized slightly. Remove from heat.
- Cut baguette into 1/2 inch slices on the bias and grill or toast lightly.
- Spread 1-2 tablespoons of ricotta onto each toast.
- Top with 1 tablespoon of cherry-plum compote.
- Top with a sprinkle of shredded mint leaves and lemon zest (optional).
- Drizzle with honey and serve.
Happy New Year! I just got done filing almost a year’s worth of paperwork (ahem…I sheepishly admit that last year’s resolution to stay on top of my filing didn’t stick for more than a couple of months….sigh…what do you do?). I feel accomplished and proud for the moment. That feeling will last only briefly, until the baby cries, , my hair stays wet, the laundry that needs folding piles up at the end of the bed, and I realize that I haven’t eaten in six hours. As I stand over the counter scraping avocado out of the shell with a cracker while bouncing just so to quiet the little one, I’m sure the elation of my paperwork success will feel like a distant memory. But hey, I’ll take it while I can get it. Continue reading
Happy Labor Day Weekend! It’s been a while, folks. And I’m sorry for that. But let me explain. In the last three months we have bought a house, sold a house, become a married couple, gone to Alaska on a honeymoon, and started to tackle a lifetime of projects on the 1870 farmhouse we moved to. And through it all, my belly has grown bigger and bigger (and along with it my emotions) as we prepare for the arrival of our first little one at the beginning of November. If I tried to take on anything else, I think you could just assume I’ve gone clinically insane.
And through it all, meals must be made and eaten, day in and day out. In fact, I’ve eaten a lot more and a lot more frequently as the months of pregnancy pass. But have I been stopping to snap photos, write recipes, and post about it? Not so much. When you have to eat every couple of hours, planning for, preparing, and packing food can start to feel like a chore rather than a passion.
Every once in a while though, I come across a dish that just hits all the cravings just right. This dish is one of them. Juicy watermelon, tangy feta, cooling cucumber, and peppery arugula drizzled with lime, honey, and vinegar. Sounds weird, right? Trust me on this one, take hold of the last bits of summer, and enjoy this salad.
If you are looking for last minute inspiration for salads to add to your Labor Day picnics, check out Cooking Light Magazine’s List of Great Summer Salads. In addition to their own version of watermelon and cucumber salad, you’ll find 35 other beautiful, simple salads to fill your picnic table and lighten your barbecue.
Ahhhh…it’s good to be back.
- 1/3 small seedless watermelon (about 6-8 cups), cut into ½ to 1 inch cubes
- 2 small Kirby, English, or other small cucumber with tender skin
- A few handfuls of arugula
- ¼ cup of basil, rolled up and sliced into skinny shreds
- A few pinches of coarse sea salt
- Juice of one lime
- 8 ounces of feta cheese, divided
- 2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar (optional)
- 1 tsp honey (optional)
- Add cubed watermelon to a large bowl and gently mix in all ingredients through lime juice. Gently toss with half of the feta and crumble the rest on top.
- If adding white balsamic vinegar and honey, mix the two together with a fork or tiny whisk before drizzling on salad.
- Serve immediately! This salad, like many salads, do not hold up well overnight in the fridge.
Happy Mother’s Day! This year has special meaning to me, as it is the first year that I am a mother! So yes, there you have it. Just one of the many reasons I’ve been a little quiet on my blog lately. We have a LOT of amazing stuff going on. 2014 is THE year, I tell you. In the next month and a half we are buying a farm house on two and a half acres, selling our beautiful old city house, getting married, and going on a honeymoon to Alaska. The cream on top of it all was finding out I was pregnant! So yes, we are going to have a little shortcake come November.
Hi! Great news! My sweetie and I are getting hitched! Just thought I’d let you know. I feel so fortunate. Drew is a gentle, kind soul. A hard worker. A true friend. An artist. And he brought baked oatmeal into my life. What more could you ask for?
There is nothing that says fall in Michigan like a cold, juicy apple on a crisp autumn day. And (in my opinion) no better place to enjoy this special treat than right here in Michigan. Michigan apples have a flavor that is out of this world. The comparison between a store-bought apple and an apple fresh from the orchards is like comparing store-bought tomatoes to one picked off your own tomato vine. Just one bite and you are transported immediately to the gnarly tree it came from. Eating apples this time of year makes me feel so grateful for fall. Fall is one last hurrah. A punctuation mark on summer. And in Michigan, that punctuation mark isn’t any old period. It is an exclamation point.
We are fortunate to live in an area of the country that abounds with apple orchards. Just yesterday we drove up to the Sparta area, a bit north of Grand Rapids, and checked out a couple of apple orchards. It was a cloudy day with patches of rain but when we made it out to the orchards, the sun had peeked through and it lit up the landscape. Suddenly the reds on the trees were flaming, the pumpkins were bright orange orbs, the apples shone red-purple, and the rolling fields of dried corn stalks glowed golden under a deep blue sky.
My sweetie often jokes during his performances that Michigan apples are the only apples that have the all the vitamins and nutrients a body needs. If you’re eating apples from anywhere else, you’re missing out. He grew up picking apples with his whole family when the times were tough. His dad would climb to the top of the tree, his mom would handle the middle, and he and his siblings would pick up the “drops”, the apples on the ground under the tree that are used to make apple cider. True story.
When I say cider, I’m talking about the real deal. The kind that can only be found this time of year, freshly pressed, cloudy, sweet and tart. This time of year, almost any gathering you go to offers cups of hot cider for guests. It can be a special treat but I’m not the biggest fan of drinking hot beverages beyond coffee and tea. But how could I walk past those gallons of apple cider? Well…I couldn’t…so I had to figure out something to do with it.
I came across an idea for an apple cider reduction. And I am so glad I did. All it takes is a big, heavy pot and some patience. You basically just boil the cider down until it is 1/4 of the original volume. I boiled 8 cups down to 2 cups over about an hour or so.
This reduction can be used in a myriad of ways. You can make a vinaigrette with it (mix with olive oil, a splash of white balsamic vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper) or brush meat with it if you desire. And if you really want to go all out, keep boiling the cider down from 8 cups to about 1 cup and you’ll get an even sweeter reduction, just begging to be poured on ice cream.
And with that I present to you one of the easiest desserts I’ve made, roasted apples with vanilla bean ice cream, walnuts, and a cider reduction sauce. For this, choose apples that will hold their shape in the oven. I chose Cortland apples but Fuji, Jonathon, or Honey Crisp are all good choices.
This dessert is so simple yet such a delicious way to enjoy the season’s best offerings. If you are looking for other apple recipes, head over to Cooking Light–they have dozens of apple recipes, with some of the best here. The apple upside-down cake looks amazing.
I’m planning to use some leftover roasted apples to make apple muffins with cream cheese frosting. This recipe looks like a good place to start my brainstorming!
But for now, here is my simply delicious roasted apple recipe.
Roasted Apples with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Apple Cider Sauce; Serves 4
- 4 medium apples, cored and sliced into wedges
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp cane sugar
- 2 cups good quality vanilla bean ice cream
- 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- 4 tablespoons apple cider sauce (see below on how to make!)
- Make the apple cider sauce ahead of time (see below).
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°. Spread the apple slices onto a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until soft but still maintaining their shape. Go too far and you’ll have apple sauce wedges (which would still taste good so no worries!).
- Scoop apple wedges into four bowls. Add 1/2 cup scoops of ice cream to the top, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon walnuts, and drizzle 1 tablespoon cider sauce on top of it all. Dig in!
Apple Cider Reduction Sauce
- 8 cups (1/2 gallon jug) fresh-pressed apple cider
- Make the cider sauce ahead of time (you can make this up to a month ahead!). Pour apple cider into a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low to simmer for at least an hour and up to two hours until the apple cider is reduced from 8 cups to 2. You can keep this sauce in the fridge for a month and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- To make the sauce even more condense, you can boil it down further until you have about 1 cup left from the original 8 cups.
- You’ll use just a bit for this recipe and can store the rest to use in a variety of dishes.
Ah…it’s autumn in Michigan. My favorite time of year. The air is crisp, everyone begins cramming in the last of outdoor fun, the incredible aroma of Michigan apples fills the farmer’s market, and pears spill out over the patio from the pear tree in the corner of our yard.
I was never a fan of pears when I was a kid. As time has gone on and my tastebuds have matured, I’ve come to accept pears in my life. I’m not saying I’ve outright embraced them but they have a toe in the door nowadays, and that’s saying a lot for me.
What brought about this change? The pear tree in my back yard. When hundreds of pears began to fall that first fall after I bought my house, I was determined to learn to love them. I felt so lucky to have a fruit-bearing tree at my house in the heart of the city.
I really enjoy the pear tree’s beautiful white blossoms in the spring and eagerly anticipate the fruit ripening in the fall. I particularly enjoy them with some aged white cheddar cheese on a fruit and cheese platter. Last year I enjoyed a pear crisp with cardamom. This year I decided to update that, bringing in my favorite fall fruit, the apple, along with some dried cranberries, to create a truly fall dessert.
There is nothing I enjoy more than a crisp baking in the oven as the leaves are painted red and down vests, sweaters, scarves, and fashion boots appear in place of shorts and sundresses. Crisps are easy and make the best of the season’s fruits. Cut up some fruits, pop this in the oven, and enjoy steaming up the windows of your kitchen for the first time this year.
4 tablespoons butter + some for greasing the pan
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup unbleached flour
pinch of salt
1.5 lbs pears, cored and sliced
1.5 lbs apples, cored and sliced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Heat the oven to 400°. Grease an 8 or 9″ pan with a little bit of butter. Cream the butter, oil and sugar together, using a mixer or fork. Stir in the nuts, seeds, lemon juice, oats, flour, and salt, until combined and crumbly. You can make the topping ahead of time, if you like.
Put the pears, apples, and cranberries in the prepared dish, sprinkle with cardamom, and toss to coat. Crumble the topping over all. Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is starting to brown, 30-40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you have it!
If you have a pear tree as I do, you have hundreds of pears and are surely looking for ideas on what to use them in. Here are some recipes from Cooking Light to try if you fancy something different than my pear crisp recipe below:
Pear Muffins: http://www.cookinglight.com/food/quick-healthy/healthy-muffin-recipes-00412000070942/page22.html
Pear-Cranberry Pie with Oatmeal Streusel:
‘He looked at his watch, astonished how the months had fallen out of it.” –The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
This summer has flown by in a happy, hectic whirl. Amidst the excitement and busy-ness, there have been a few constants. Warm, heavy evenings interrupted only by the crack of the bat and the roar of a crowd while listening to the Detroit Tigers on the radio. Letting the dog out, then in, then out again. The slow summer rhythm of the neighborhood, with neighbors spilling out on porches and long, spontaneous chats while walking the pup. Drew’s wet waders slung over the white pipe railing of the back porch to dry, oozing tales of trout or simple tales of a good wade down a stream (“That’s why they call it fishing, not catching,” he reminds me). The communion of friends sharing meals and stories under the twinkle fairy lights on our back patio. Saturday mornings bumping into friends and talking with our farmers at the market. The sweetness of a good night kiss shared. Cold oatmeal for breakfast.
We have eaten cold oatmeal nearly every morning over the last four months. And yet, each day I wake up looking forward to it in its many variations. Soon the warm months will have moved on and we’ll be switching back to oatmeal in other forms, oat bran, cooked rolled oats, baked oats, oatmeal griddle cakes.
Cold oats can, and have, been enjoyed in our household in every which way. On a Saturday morning in summertime, in a patch of sunlight on the back stoop, glasses still on, hair wild, eyelids heavy, one hand thumbing through a cooking magazine. On a Tuesday morning, racing to get out the door to work, spoon in one hand, blow dryer in the other. At the desk at work, typing with one hand, eating a greatly anticipated breakfast with the other. At the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula at a campground, coffee bubbling in the percolator on the camp stove, a morning fire in the fire pit, reading the What’s U.P.? paper, a hodgepodge of odd news and Upper Peninsula real estate. On a Sunday, listening to our BBC radio drama, The Archers, and drinking our pour-over coffees.
Cold oatmeal (aka Muesli) has been a constant in these moments over the warm spring and summer months. It has been both a breakfast made for the simplicity and the quickness of it, and a breakfast made for the enjoyment of it. Some of the best meals are the simplest and this is an excellent example.
Because oatmeal is such a constant in my life, it has become the unsung hero of my mornings. I have not thought to post about cold oats until this post came about, opting to write about more savory, later-in-the-day meals instead. But how could I not share this beloved meal with you?
Cold oatmeal can be made in a huge variety of ways, whatever suits your tastes or pantry at the moment. The formula I usually follow is oats, almond milk, dried fruit, nuts, maple syrup. Occasionally if the fruit is good I’ll stir in some fresh peaches, blueberries, raspberries, figs, or plums but usually I enjoy dried fruit, soaked in the oat mixture over night.
One of the best things about this breakfast is that it is a huge time saver. The night before, you simply put old-fashioned rolled oats into a jar or bowl, cover with just under twice as much plant-based or animal-based milk, any additions you want, and place back in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you don’t need to lift a finger (or turn on the stove if the day is a hot one) to enjoy a filling and satisfying breakfast. Convinced? Follow the easiest-recipe-in-the-world below and you’ll be singing its praises too.
Cold Oats With Dried Fruit and Nuts
- 1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
- 1 and 3/4 cup almond milk, soy milk, or cow’s milk
- 3-4 dates, chopped
- 2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup, optional (some folks are happy with the sweetness of the fruit without additional sweetener)
- Mix all ingredients into a jar or bowl.
- Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
- Grab a spoon, stumble to the fridge, grab cold oats, and dig in.
- Substitute raisins, cranberries, dried plums, dried cherries, or any other favorite dried fruit.
- Add fresh fruits when in season. Blueberries, peaches, nectarines, prune plums, raspberries, blackberries…all are good options.
- Cook up some apples with cinnamon and stir into the mix.
- Substitute yogurt for some or all of the milk.
- Experiment with raw pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, or any other nuts you love.
Happy spring, everyone! Spring has finally arrived here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spring is my favorite season. It is a time of renewal, fresh starts, and an emergence of life and beauty long-forgotten and buried under layers of snow. This winter was a particularly long one so this spring is unfolding as the most beautiful I can recall. To wake up hearing birdsong is an incredible thing but it is even more incredible to walk outside and be surrounded by green grass, flowering cherry, pear, and magnolia trees, tulips, daffodils, myrtle and phlox. My favorites are the tulips surrounding my house and scattered in vases throughout my house.
This spring has been one of change and fresh starts for me. I have been so busy lately and am working really hard to find time to blog about all of the dishes I have been making. For every five dishes I make, one makes it to the blog. One of these days I’ll take a blogging vacation, plop myself in a beautiful locale, and catch up on my posts….! Luckily, the things that are keeping me busy outside of my busy work schedule are all positive things. Moving the sweetie into my house has been a huge change and learning experience for me. Turns out, I got used to living alone but I am looking forward to getting un-used to it and love the new comforts of home that he brings. I just bought my first pair of waders and am going to learn how to fly fish on our drive out to Colorado next week! On the food side, lately I have been making many more connections with the local food community and I am loving every minute of it. Over the last few months I have created a Back to Basics series for the Grand Rapids Cooking School and Uptown Kitchen, have begun a Meatless Monday feature on Dr. Mary MD’s blog, was invited to participate in a Green Market Expo, and starting this week, will begin contributing a “Spotlight on Produce” series for the Uptown Kitchen blog and for The Rapidian, our hyper-local Grand Rapids news and culture source. Each week I will shop at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market and feature a recipe about one of the in-season vegetables or fruits sold by our local farmers. Very exciting stuff!
And now…for the BIG NEWS.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, on Friday I received the most exciting email. Cooking Light invited me to become one of their bloggers for the Cooking Light Bloggers Connection. Let’s just say, I was so excited that I squealed when I read the email. And I am so thrilled that this hobby of mine has been noticed by one of my favorite publications and will be shared with a wider audience moving forward! I will be adding a Cooking Light Blogger badge to my site and a couple of times a month, will be letting you all know about a recipe or featured article on the Cooking Light website. I have been a subscriber to Cooking Light for about ten years and have really enjoyed seeing them grow and become the fresh and exciting publication they are today so am really excited to share some of their recipes and features with you moving forward. Cooking Light may also ask me to provide tips and articles to them for publication on their website (which would be SO COOL). My profile will be added to the Cooking Light Bloggers Connection page in the next week or so and I’ll share that when it becomes live.
To celebrate this exciting news, I baked a cake. But first I have to tell you about another form of spring renewal. My handy guy spent a couple of days restoring two cast iron skillets to their original glory (everything deserves a second chance, he said). One was rusty and long lost in the basement. The other was caked with years and years of build-up and was getting bumpy and flaky. He devised an experiment, using electrolysis to remove the build up then expertly blued then cured them. For a couple of days it looked like we were up to no good in the back yard, with a battery charger hooked to a metal plate submerged in a large rubber tub. I’ll share the details with you all soon and there is even a video of this awesome process that I’ll share some other time. The skillets turned out beautifully and work better than any other pans I own. We are a 4 cast-iron skillet and 2 cast-iron dutch oven household now, with another on the way.
Okay…did I lose you when I started talking about the science of restoring cast iron? Back to the food.
I have been coming up with any excuse to use these skillets lately. Growing up, we made cornbread in our skillets about once a week and I’ve never made it any other way since. With that memory in mind, and wanting to celebrate cast iron and change, I set about making a sweeter cake with blackberries, blueberries, and almonds.
Both blackberries and blueberries are out of season so I used frozen blueberries and bought some organic blackberries from the grocery store. In honor of Cooking Light, I made this cake using a couple of my tricks to reduce fat: apple sauce and sour cream. This cake came together in minutes, filled the house with amazingly delightful scents, and turned out dense, moist, and just sweet enough to feel decadent. As it turns out, it tastes even better eaten as a snack in the middle of an afternoon of fly fishing (or so I am told).
I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Thanks for your support and for being wonderful friends and followers.
Berry Almond Skillet Cake
Makes 8 generous servings
- 1 1/8 cup of all purpose, unbleached flour
- 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup of almond meal
- 2 teaspoons of aluminum-free baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1/2 cup of low-fat buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 tablespoon of butter to oil the skillet
- 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
- 1 5 oz container of blackberries
- 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds
- Preheat your oven to 350°. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, almond meal, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
- In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: buttermilk, eggs, lemon juice, melted butter, sour cream, apple sauce, and almond extract.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to a 10-inch cast iron skillet and place on a burner at medium heat until the butter is melted and the pan is hot. Swirl the butter to coat the skillet, then pour in the batter.
- Scatter berries and sliced almonds on top and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or at room temperature with your morning coffee for an extra-special treat.