candacecooks

Eat well. You owe it to yourself.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Cookie Bars

One of my favorite things about summer is the abundance of fresh, ripe fruits and veggies. I feel like skipping through the produce isle sometimes, because everything looks colorful and like it was grown in actual sunshine, not a greenhouse. No more sad sack, lackluster tomatoes for me! (Until winter. Boo.)
In the spirit of summer, I tried to go blueberry picking with a few friends this weekend, which is the sort of thing that probably belongs in Stuff White People Like. I mean, I’m paying money to pick fruit, which is the sort of thing people normally get paid FOR. Summer sunshine has probably made me weird in the head, but I really wanted to do it. So quaint! However, I had misread the times on the website, and we arrived too late to pick any berries. Because they had an awesome little café, we ended staying for lunch, which ended up being wonderful too.
While I plan to go for Blueberry Picking Round Two soon, the visit to the café put blueberry desserts on my brain. I stocked up on several pints at the store (like a boring person), and went at it. The first attempt was a crumble of sorts with a cookie crust. It was edible, but nothing special. Then I remembered a lemon blueberry cake I made for the county fair one time as a kid. (Shout out to 4-H!) So I combined the ideas – a dense, satisfying sugar cookie crust, with a zingy blueberry cream cheese spread on top. I garnished it with a fresh cherry on each piece, pitted and cut in half, but I imagine any fresh berry would be equally as delicious. This recipe is simple, and save for cooling time, comes together in a flash.

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Blueberry Cream Cheese Cookie Bars
Cookie crust:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt

Topping:
1 block (8oz) cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups fresh blueberries
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Cherries for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×8 pan and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until combined. Press into the 8×8 pan, until the dough is about ½ inch thick and even. I ended up having about a spoonful of dough left over, but I’ve never considered extra cookie dough to be a “problem.” Bake for 14-18 minutes, until just the edges are turning brown. Cool completely – this process can be sped up in the refrigerator.
In a medium mixing bowl, whip all ingredients for the topping except the cherries (or whatever garnish you’re using) until the mixture is fluffy and tinged purple from the smashed blueberries. Spread over the cookie crust, add your chosen garnish, and chill, covered, in the fridge until serving.

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Honey Butter Biscuits

Have you ever been to Church’s Chicken? I didn’t for years, because, well, fried chicken is not something my family goes to eat for, and the bright yellow restaurants are small and a little sketchy sometimes. I mean, one of them in Kansas City got robbed by a guy with a SAMURAI SWORD. I can’t say that a fear of being robbed at sword-point was what kept me away, because that was pretty recent, but yeah, I never had been until about 3 years ago.

It was a total mistake.

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And not because of the chicken – although it’s good – but for the BISCUITS. Church’s biscuits are the best biscuits I’ve ever had, and at 99 cents for two, they’re a steal. I used to live around the corner from one for a few summers, and they are deeply entrenched in my memories of those Kansas City summers. I lived with a bunch of other interns, and we would go there fairly often for late-night meals.

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Want to hear a story about how I was a huge hypocrite one time? During on of those late-night runs, I straight up brought my change jar to pay for my meal at Church’s. (I have no shame.) A homeless man was sitting outside and asked for change, and I said I didn’t have any, even though I had a WHOLE JAR of it in my hands. AND I was currently working for a homeless shelter. Have you ever stood there with a giant jar of change in your hands and told a homeless person you didn’t have any to give them? No? You are a better person than I. Share your funniest hypocritical story in the comments to make me feel better?

So anyway, now that I’m in Springfield, MO for the majority of my time, I do not have access to Church’s and their glorious biscuits. It was a sad predicament, until I realized that there had to be a copycat recipe somewhere on the internet.

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I was right. And, considering the amount of butter in this recipe, it is dangerous knowledge. You just have to expect large amounts of butter in delicious biscuits though, it’s a trick of the trade. These are very very close to the originals. I mean, obviously, I still feel the need to get Church’s when I’m in Kansas City. But until then, this are an excellent stand-in.

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Church’s Honey Butter Biscuits 

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup butter, very cold and cut into small pieces.
2/3 cup milk
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp honey
A pinch or two of salt

Preheat oven to 450°F. Whisk together all dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cream of tartar. Using either a pastry cutter or your clean hands, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the chunks of butter are no larger than a pea. It is very important that your butter be cold for the recipe to work well and the biscuits to stay intact. It would not hurt to stick your cubed butter into the freezer for about 5 minutes to insure optimal temperature.

Make a well in the center of the mix, and pour in the milk. Stir until the dough sticks together in a cohesive ball, using your hands to knead if necessary. Roll dough into approximately 1 1/2 inch balls, and place 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Melt remaining 3 tbsp of butter in the microwave, add honey, and microwave for another 15-30 seconds. Add a pinch of salt if desired, and brush onto the biscuits. Bake at 450°F for 10-11 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the honey butter mixture on each biscuit one last time, and enjoy thoroughly.

Variation: To make garlic cheddar biscuits, omit the sugar in the dough and add 3/4 cup cheddar cheese and 1-2 cloves minced garlic. Brush melted butter without honey on the biscuits as directed above.

*This post is not sponsored by Church’s but I’d like it to be. CALL ME, CHURCH’S.

French Onion Pastry Puffs

I love when cooking transforms simple ingredients into something more than the sum of its parts. Heat is magic to me. By itself, it turns granulated sugar into caramel, butter into brown butter, (if you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing out on), bread into toast. Don’t laugh, toast is a main staple in my diet.

IMG_3051For vegetables, I’ve found this equation looks something like heat + vegetable + fat (oil or butter) + acid (vinegar, lemon juice, wine) + salt. Magic broccoli is a perfect example of this, and in this pastry, caramelized onions. Caramelizing onions brings out their inherent sweetness with none of the bite and harshness of raw onions. Paired with flaky, buttery pastry and cheese, they are perfection. I prefer savory pastries, and these hit the right balance indulgent without being rich. Also, they look like ravioli before they’ve been cooked.

IMG_3058They are dead simple to make but seem like the sort of thing one might serve as hors d’oeuvres on your yacht, or something equally fancy. I’m just making a guess here, I’m Midwestern and middle class. I’ve never even seen a yacht in real life, but invite me to yours? I’ll bring these, I promise.

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French Onion Pastry Puffs 

Adapted from Joy The Baker

Note: When buying puff pastry, look for one that has no sugar, just salt. They can usually be found by prepared pie crusts; I use Trader Joe’s. You can also make your own if you wish or can’t find them at your grocery store, but it quite a bit more work. I would use this recipe for it if I was making the pastry, omitting the sugar.

1 yellow onion, sliced into long half moons

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Pinch of granulated sugar

3 tablespoons wine (cooking or white) or broth

1 package puff pastry (Two 9×9 sheets), thawed but cold

1 egg, beaten

1/3 cup shredded cheese – Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Gouda, or Swiss

In a large saucepan, melt butter and oil over medium heat. We use both because the flavor of butter is superior, but it has a lower heat point, so it needs the oil to stabilize it. Add onions and stir to coat with butter/oil. Add salt and pinch of sugar and stir. Let cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Stir again, then turn down the heat a bit and cover with a lid. Continue stirring at 5 minute intervals for another 20 minutes, or until the onions are brown and very soft. This means they are caramelized and have reached a whole new flavor level. Take the lid off, and add wine or broth. Let the liquid cook down for about 5 more minutes. Take onions off heat.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. While the onions are cooking, prepare your puff pastry area. Roll out the pastry and cut each sheet into squares of your desired size with an un-serrated knife. I cut each sheet into 16 squares, which meant squares that were approximately 2 1/4 inch on each side. They don’t need to be super exact. You can also cut rounds if you wish, but that does mean wasting some pastry. Brush all squares with egg; this acts as glue to help the pastry stick together. Put a heaping 1/2 tsp caramelized onions and 1/2 tsp cheese on half of the squares. Use a fork to crimp the sides down – it will look quite similar to ravioli – and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 12-18 minutes, or until golden brown and puffy. They are delicious both warm and cold.

Challah Bread

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Have you ever picked out a word or theme of the year instead of doing New Year’s Resolutions? I did two years ago, and really enjoyed the flexibility of a theme as opposed to resolutions. I decided my theme for that year was going to be “saying yes,” and that mindset led to a year where I stepped up in a lot of ways and did things I never thought I would. This year, I have picked the most gigantically boring word: structure. But I think a better sense of routine and organization in my personal life will really help me live in a less stressful way. I am not a routine person at all, so this will definitely be a challenge for me. But in a good way; structuring my life and time on my own is a part of growing up.

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Because of this structure theme I have going for myself, I think the most appropriate recipe to start the new year is bread. Bread is not hard, but it takes time and sticking to a schedule. Challah bread is an old favorite of mine – I started making it in back in high school and tested lots of recipes to find the perfect one for the 4-H county fair. Yes, I was cool and invited to a lot of parties, thanks for asking. 

As a side note – I have a weird thing for traditional Jewish recipes, apparently. I think it has to do with how singularly and voraciously I read and followed Smitten Kitchen‘s recipes. Hers was the first blog I regularly read, and I can’t tell you the number of recipes I’ve made from it. I made tons of latkes for my high school graduation party, and got really into rugelach for a while. With the aforementioned challah bread obsession, I am essentially your typical Jewish grandmother, except I am 21, not Jewish, and the only Yiddish word I know is chutzpah. 

But challah bread is the recipe I come back to several times a year without fail. The process of making it has become familiar and comforting – kneading, punching down the dough, braiding. The end result is a fragrant, tender bread that begs to be torn off in chunks and eaten warm. It doesn’t need much, maybe just a bit of butter melting on top. Make it, and I promise it will become a favorite for you too.

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Challah Bread

Adapted from Joan Nathan in The New York Times

1 1/2 packets of active dry yeast (1 1/2 tbsp)

1 3/4 lukewarm water (I heat tap water in the microwave for 45 seconds)

1 tbsp + 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil

5 large eggs

1 tbsp salt, preferably kosher

8-8 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour

Poppy seeds for sprinkling (optional – I don’t use them)

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast, water, and one tablespoon of sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, or until slightly foamy. Whisk in the oil, then eggs, one at a time. Whisk in remaining sugar and salt. Add flour cup by cup, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, until it holds together enough to knead. It should be sticky but not wet, without any lumps of flour.

Turn your bread onto a well-floured surface. Coat your hands in lots of flour, and sprinkle a little on top of the dough for good measure. Knead well (about 5-8 minutes ), adding flour as  necessary until the dough is no longer sticky to the touch and forms a cohesive ball. Transfer the dough to a oiled bowl – I generally let it rest for a minute while I wash and dry the bowl I already used – and cover with saran wrap or a tea towel. Let rise for one hour in a warm place.

At an hour, punch down the dough and re-cover. Let rise for another 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out and divide in half with an un-serrated knife. Put aside the other half. If braiding, divide the remaining dough into six parts and follow these instructions, found under #4 in the recipe. If making regular loaves, grease your loaf pan and tuck the dough in them. Beat one egg and brush over loaves. This is what makes the shiny, shellac crust on challah bread. Cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush another wash of egg onto each loaf. If the egg drips onto the pan, wipe up with a paper towel to avoid burned egg bits. Sprinkle poppy seeds on top if you wish.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until golden brown and toothpicks come out clean. Eat immediately. (It’s the only way.)

Pumpkin Risotto

Some people view food as fuel only, and don’t care what they eat as long as it keeps them going. These people are content with cold cereal for dinner for days on end, or an identical lunch every day. Maybe they skip meals without even noticing, or don’t care when the sandwich they packed for lunch is (horror of horrors) soggy.

As you may surmise from the briefest glance at this blog, I am not one of those people.

I love food in an all-caps sort of way. I love to eat. I love to go out to eat. I love to cook, especially with friends. I love farmer’s markets. I love food that is fresh and flavorful and makes me feel nourished. Not that I’m picky – I worked at a children’s camp run out of homeless shelter that had an exceedingly tight budget for two summers. One day we had tacos, but instead of hamburger meat or chicken, it was pizza-grade Italian sausage. So yes, I will eat nearly anything. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere – for example, mine is strict on bugs, no matter how the strongly the U.N. recommends it. 

But that feeling of nourishment, of food satisfying a need deeper than that for fuel, often comes to me through the process of cooking. There is something about setting aside time to prepare a meal, of getting absorbed in the process of making food that is calming, almost sacred. Cooking, as opposed to baking, is dynamic and absorbing. With baking, you mix some stuff up and hope it comes out of the oven edible. Cooking takes attention to detail, creativity, and knowledge of the the way ingredients interact and change with heat and time.

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This is what I love about making risotto. It a process that forces me to take time, to slow down. Focus is a practice, and cooking risotto helps me focus, helps me organize my thoughts and breathe. It is endlessly adaptable – I’ve made it with mushrooms and bacon and red pepper and chicken and broccoli (not all at the same time). Today, to celebrate that it finally feels like fall, I made it with pumpkin. It’s a much more subtle pumpkin flavor than I expected, which makes it suitable for those who haven’t gotten the pumpkin bug that runs so rampant in the fall. I ate for lunch today with with toast and a spinach salad simply dressed with balsamic, olive oil, and salt. It was perfect.

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Pumpkin Risotto

Adapted from Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table

Serves 6

3 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small yellow onion, chopped

Salt & Pepper to taste

1/4 tsp nutmeg

2 cups white rice, preferably Arborio

1 cup dry white wine

7-8 cups broth of your choice

1 cup canned pureed pumpkin (Be careful not to get pumpkin pie mix!)

1 tbsp chopped Italian parsley (optional)

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

In a medium saucepan, heat your broth. Keep warm on low throughout the process.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for 10-20 seconds, or until sizzling. Add the onions, and cook for 5-7 minutes until soft and slightly browned. Add about 1 tsp salt, a few shakes of pepper, and the nutmeg. Add the dry rice, and stir until coated with the olive oil. Continue stirring for 3-4 minutes, until the rice is warmed and has a slight nutty smell. Add the wine. All the alcohol will cook out; however, you can choose to use another cup of broth for this step if you wish. Add the pumpkin and continue stirring. Turn down the heat to medium-low, so that the risotto never boils. Instead, it should have a few bubbles that pop up across the surface. I like to think of them as sinkholes. It should look something like this throughout the entire process: (Forgive the poor image quality)

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Begin adding the broth half cup by half cup over the course of 30-40 minutes, keeping it looking something like the picture above and stirring after each addition. Add salt and pepper as you go – how much you use will depend on how salty your broth is. If it tastes a bit bland at first, salt will brighten the flavor significantly.

The risotto is done when the rice is plump and without a hard center. Add the parsley and parmesan, and stir until thoroughly mixed. Serve with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Smashed Chickpea Salad

I love beans.

Seriously, I think they are a majorly underrated food. They are dirt cheap, protein and fiber rich, and, made in the right way, delicious. People who think beans are boring clearly haven’t tried this edamame salad. It’s so good. Go make it right now, I’ll wait.

And now that you’re back, I’ll tell about an even simpler recipe with beans that has been one of my favorite for a long, long time. I don’t know why I’ve never put this up before, I apologize.

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This Smashed Chickpea salad is almost a deconstructed hummus, which should be enough to get you to make this recipe right there. I’m really serious about hummus; it would probably make an appearance in my last meal. But Smashed Chickpea salad? This stuff is a solid contender. It’s not much to look at, but the way the flavors meld, especially if you let it sit overnight in the fridge, makes this recipe more than the sum of its rather humble parts.

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You can eat it straight from the bowl with a fork – I’ve been known to do that a time or two – or you can heap it on crackers, stir in some quinoa or your other favorite grain, or roll it in a pita. My favorite way to eat it is as an open faced sandwich, bread lightly toasted, and salad piled way too high.  You need this recipe in your arsenal for those busy days when you don’t have time to spare for cooking but you’re tired of frozen pizza. (I didn’t think that was possible either, but I seem to have hit that point.) It’s fast and filling without being too unhealthy, and it’s budget friendly. Also, vegan! Gluten free! Lactose free! With more friends than ever finding out they have food sensitivities, I am becoming a fan of recipes that include everyone, without making those who don’t have allergies feel deprived. This one certainly fits the bill. Image

Smashed Chickpea Salad 

Serves 2-3

1 can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lemon

1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tbsp finely diced red onion

1 tsp finely diced Italian parsley (optional)

Combine the chickpeas with in a bowl with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Smash with a fork until there are almost no whole beans. A larger bowl, especially with a flat bottom, will make it easier to get the chickpeas smashed well. Add red onion and parsley, and stir to combine. Serve how you see fit.

Cardamom Bread (Pulla)

One of my favorite places in Kansas City is City Market. It is the best way to spend a Saturday morning – I love wandering around the aisles of fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers, munching on pistachio baklava. The large throngs of people milling about and the street musicians playing for tips make it a busy, happy kind of noisy.

I have some items I always get, like a new flavor of loose-leaf tea for my father, a major tea addict. The hummus the Al-Habashi Mart sells is magically a thousand times more delicious than normal store bought hummus, and their fresh baked pita bread is just warm enough to make the plastic bags sweat slightly.

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One of my favorite stands is the bulk spices booth. A cheerful but take-no-shit man runs it (Seriously, someone tried to bag their own spices while we were there, and he yelled at them and threw their spices on the ground.) and it has some beautiful, unique spices for very reasonable prices. One of these is cardamom – I had considered buying it before to make this very cardamom bread, but in the grocery store, a small jar was a whopping $13. At this spice booth? Three dollars for a generous scoop. Not bad for what Wikipedia calls “the third most expensive spice in the world by weight.”

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So, Monday night, I made (finally!) made cardamom bread, and it was delicious. It is pillowy soft, dense in the best way. The cardamom is not overwhelming, but more of a perfume, permeating the bread. The sugar lends a sweet crunch, nestling in the crevices of the braid. It was perfect still warm from the oven, with a slick of butter melting on it, or cold with steaming coffee the next morning. I imagine it would make for some fantastic French toast or bread pudding, if you can make it last that long. Invite me over if you do.

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Cardamom Bread

Adapted from Saveur

Makes two loaves

1 ⅓ cups milk, heated to 115°

⅔ cup sugar

3-4 tsp. ground cardamom

2 ¼-oz. packages active dry yeast

3 eggs, lightly beaten

6 ½ cups flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes, at room temperature

1 tbsp. heavy cream

1 egg yolk

Coarse sugar

In a large mixing bowl, stir together milk, sugar, 2 or 3 teaspoons cardamom (depending on how strong of a cardamom flavor you would like) and yeast. Let sit 10 minutes until slightly foamy.

Stir in eggs, then salt and flour, one cup at a time. When the dough begins to hold together enough to knead, transfer to a flat surface knead the dough until no longer sticky and holds together in a smooth round, adding flour as needed. Begin kneading in butter, chunk by chunk, again adding flour as needed. When the butter is fully incorporated, return to a clean, greased bowl and let rise, covered, for an hour until doubled in size.

At an hour, punch down, then re-cover and let rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375˚, and transfer to a flat surface. Divide in half; set aside one half. Divide remaining dough into thirds, and roll into long ropes. (About 16”) Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pinch the one side of the ends together. Braid a simple braid, as you would with hair. If you wish, you can leave it straight, or wrap it around to make a circle. Repeat with other half of dough. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

In a small cup, beat egg yolk, heavy cream, and 1 tsp cardamom. Brush mixture over the loaf, and sprinkle coarse sugar on top. Bake loaves separately for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Eat immediately. (Okay, maybe wait a few minutes to avoid burns.) 

Creamy Mushroom Soup

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Here’s the deal, guys: it is spring break and it’s snowing and I’m upset. Because the only times the words snow and spring break should be in the same sentence is when the word mountains, or possibly skiing, is there too.

Clearly, the only way to comfort myself was to make soup.

But I have another reason to make soup. See, I started reading Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking and so far, I’ve learned that I am doing everything wrong. For starters, I’ve been chopping onions wrong. I have burning eyes and the tears running down my cheeks to prove it. You need to leave the root attached while you chop. Also, I’ve been sautéing all wrong. Did you know that when you’re using butter to sauté, you need to add a bit of oil to stabilize it so it will reach a proper heat without burning? Of course you did, you’ve probably read Julia Child already.

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I needed to put this new knowledge to use. And, while there is a recipe for Cream of Mushroom Soup in the book, it looked….complicated. Whisking in egg yolks? Making your own stock? Sorry, Jules, not ready for that yet. Then, I remembered a recipe I’d pinned a while back for mushroom soup that looked simple, quick, and good. This is more my style, I thought. I made a quick trip to the grocery store to get a buttload of mushrooms. And at that grocery store, I discovered my own hypocrisy when it comes to vegetables.

You know how in the produce section, right next to the bagged lettuce, there are little containers of already chopped onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc? I’ve always looked at those and judged people who bought them as exceedingly lazy. I mean, really, who’s life is so busy that you can’t take the time to chop an onion? No one’s. But there, under those fluorescent grocery lights, I became one of those people. See, the price for a container of the whole mushrooms or a container of the sliced mushrooms was the exact same, and, to my estimation, you can fit more in the box when sliced. At first, it was all about value, I promise! But then I got home, and realized just how long it would have taken to slice five cups of mushrooms. (Have I mentioned how lacking my knife skills are? And reading Julia Child has thrown this into even sharper relief; apparently some people can slice 3 lb. of mushrooms in five minutes. I am not one of those people.)

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Five cups of mushrooms is no joke. Look at this! Anyway, I roughly chopped them into slightly smaller pieces and went on my merry, sautéing, way. No one was the wiser. (Except you, reading this post. Shh, don’t tell.)

I guess, after all this chatter, I should probably say something about what the soup is like, yes? First of all, I want to be clear that it does not in any way resemble the gloppy canned cream of mushroom soup you put in green bean casserole. Gross, no. This soup? It is a flavorful, creamy, warm-you-up kind of soup. The fresh thyme adds a herby, complex fragrance, the mushrooms and onions give you something to chew on, and the heavy cream makes the broth worthy of sopping up with a piece of bread. It is the perfect remedy to an unexpected, unwelcome snow day.

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Creamy Mushroom Soup

Adapted from Season With Spice

5 cups fresh mushrooms – cleaned and chopped (I used a mix of white button and baby portabella)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

6-8 cloves garlic, minced

1 small yellow onion, sliced

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme

5 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 1/2 tbsp flour dissolved in 2 1/2 tbsp water

Salt to taste

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup milk (skim milk is fine)

Heat the oil and butter on medium heat in a large skillet. You can also use the saucepan that you plan to put in the soup in for this step, but I used the skillet to give the mushrooms and onion more space to sauté properly. (Another thing J. Child taught me!) When hot, add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms and onions are soft and browned, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a large saucepan and add the stock. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Mix the flour and water together, and then stir into the soup. Add salt to taste. Stir in the cream and milk, and bring to a slow boil again. Serve immediately.

Simple Syrup, 3 Ways: Or, The Best Lemonade Ever

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Last week was Daylight Savings, and the fact that world isn’t dark anymore after dinner makes me so outrageously happy. We had unusually good weather in Missouri; the world feels like sunshine and warm breezes and spring, even though spring isn’t official until Wednesday. And spring? I propose that we all celebrate this Wednesday with a tall, cold glass of your chosen flavor of this lemonade.

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The trick for delicious, fruity lemonade is simple syrup. Simple syrup is no secret – it’s used in many cocktails and drinks. But where it gets interesting is when you add your own twist to it. For today, I made three variations: raspberry + mint, strawberry + basil, and blueberry + lime.

I mixed them with some plain, pulpy lemonade, and made what I think is the prettiest lemonade I’ve ever seen. I’m a sucker for bright colors, which probably has something to do with it. I had a hard time deciding which one was my favorite, and there was no consensus among my family members either. I think this means you can’t go wrong.

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The process for all of them is the same – boil, strain, chill, mix. A fine mesh sieve is going to be your best bet, but I’m at my grandparents and used their colander. There’s a few more seeds and berry bits than there would be otherwise, but I’m okay with that.

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I used frozen fruit. You can use fresh, of course, but I think the way frozen fruit thaws and becomes soft lends itself well to infusing the syrup. I also kind of smooshed them (technical cooking term, learned it from Julia Child) (Just kidding) with a spoon as they cooked to release more juices.

This is the basic recipe that makes a half cup of syrup, but if you’d like to make more, just remember a one to one ratio of sugar, water, and fruit, and herbs to taste. The flavor of the herbs was very subtle in the amount listed; add more if you’d like a stronger flavor. If you’re making your own lemonade, dial back the sugar to account for the sweetness of the simple syrup.

Simple Syrup:

½ cup water

½ cup sugar

Put ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let cool.

…..that’s it. It’s called simple for a reason. Now, for some variations!

Raspberry + Mint:

½ cup raspberries

6 mint leaves, torn into quarters

Strawberry + Basil:

½ cup strawberries

6 basil leaves, torn into quarters

Blueberry + Lime

½ cup blueberries

2 limes

Juice the limes. Add water until it make a half cup, and use in place of the normal ½ cup water.

Mix to taste with your favorite lemonade or tea. Enjoy on your porch swing/deck/patio while thinking about spring-ish things, like….flowers. Okay, you don’t have to actually think about flowers.

What Candace Ate

Sometimes I make a meal, and it’s not noteworthy enough to make a whole post about it, but it’s a good meal nonetheless and I want to share it with you. This is a round up of five meals I have eaten recently and wholeheartedly enjoyed. These are simple and sometimes use more store-bought, readymade things than the recipes I usually post. Rachael Ray built an empire on 30 minute meals, but let’s beat that. Let’s do fifteen or less. (Okay, you may have to make the rice beforehand to make it fifteen minutes or less. But otherwise, you’re golden!)

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Fake Chipotle: In a medium saucepan, heat a can of black beans, a can of corn, two minced cloves of garlic, chopped red onion, and salt. Spoon over rice, squeeze a lime and sprinkle cheddar cheese over it all, and and garnish with cilantro.

Made this salsa, minus the jalapeno, and I think I’m addicted. SO GOOD.

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Orville Redenbacher’s Naturals Lime +  Salt popcorn and scrambled eggs with cheese.

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Peanut butter toast and coffee with cream  in bed on a lazy weekend morning with Sherlock. Click here for the aftermath.

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This is one of my favorite quick and easy meals. A can of tomato basil soup + brown rice + toasted sunflower seeds for garnish and crunch.

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Grilled cheese, grown-up style: fresh mozzarella, garlic salt, avocado smashed and spread on top. Served with a broiled portabella mushroom with a pat of butter, salt, and dried rosemary, and a lemon squeezed over post-broiling. I’d go for fresh rosemary next time, or skip it entirely.

What have you been eating and enjoying lately? What’s your favorite quick meal?