Thursday, June 25, 2009


Finally, proof that I can do something other than bake! I find it challenging to post meals because of the time it takes to get a nice picture. And since I have had kids, I insist on my food being really hot when I go to eat it. Probably because I have eaten so many cold meals after trying to make everyone else happy!

This recipe, really more of a throw together for me, is one of my summer favorites. It is especially helpful when you have more squash than you know what to do with in your garden. We don't have any ready in our garden yet, but I picked some up at the grocery store last weekend and had an extra tomato that needed to be used up. Its incredible easy to throw together and really packed with flavor if you are using fresh vegetables. I normally chop up about two zuchini, two yellow squash, two tomatoes, an onion, and a couple of cloves of garlic. I sautee everything in a little olive oil and then season it with a little salt, some fresh ground pepper, and a handful of chopped basil. I know the traditional version is supposed to have peppers in it as well, but I prefer to leave them out.

The "stew" is great as is, but sometimes I will heat up a chicken sausage to eat with it. I absolutely love the sausages from Trader Joe's- one of my favorites is the sun dried tomato variety. Then all you need is a nice piece of crusty bread and you are ready to go!

Sometimes I think ratatouille is a bit underrated- it is really delicious, healthy, and super easy to prepare. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pecan Crescents

A couple weeks ago, my husband's aunt asked me to make what I think are pecan puffs or Mexican wedding cookies in a crescent shape for her daughter's baby shower. At first I thought she was talking about miniature pecan tarts (I've heard them called tassies before), but then she kept talking about how they are in the shape of a crescent. A light bulb went on and my suspicions were confirmed when she said they were covered in powdered sugar.

I had made them before a long time ago- I think I was actually in middle school or high school at the time. We had a Mexican cookbook and I was curious what Mexican wedding cookies were, so I made them for Christmas.

I wanted to make them over the weekend and knew I wasn't going to see my parents, so I found another recipe in a cookie cookbook I have barely used (I really have to start using more of my cookbooks!). It called for hazelnuts but I thought pecans could easily be substituted. It said to grind them so they could fit through a strainer, which is making them a little finer then I recall having done before, but it suited me fine because I have yet to purchase a food processor and my only option was to use my Magic Bullet. It saved me quite a bit of chopping!

The recipe is super simple and turned out great. The cookies are really delicate tasting and almost melt in your mouth. I kind of like them for the fact that they are not super sweet and have a nice buttery flavor. My three year old loved them without the powdered sugar on top, but her eyes got really big when I started to sprinkle the powdered sugar over them. She had split the first cookie with me, and she ate all her lunch, so I let her taste some of the finished product too...

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

1/2 Cups Flour
1 Cup Butter
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 T Water
1 t Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Pecans
Confectioners Sugar for Dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift the flour and salt into a small bowl.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in the water and vanilla. Gently stir in the flour until just combined and then mix in the ground nuts.

Shape about a tablespoonful of dough into a crescent and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a light golden brown.

Remove from the baking sheet and let cool completely. Dust with confectioners sugar.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Butterscotch Cashew Bars

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe was chosen by Pamela of Cookies with Boys. I think I gained about three pounds just reading the recipe let alone eating it- two sticks of butter, a bag of butterscotch chips, 3/4 cup of corn syrup... but are they ever delicious.

The recipe is pretty straightforward and easy to make. Just a shortbread crust made with brown sugar that is topped off with butterscotch caramel and cashews. Of course, when I was making them, I was simultaneously making ice cream and helping my three year old pour the ingredients into the mixer, so my first batch I ended up with 1 1/4 cups of flour in the crust instead of 2 1/2. It was pretty much ice cream topping in a baking dish so off to the trash it went. In hindsight, maybe I should have saved it for the ice cream!

The second batch turned out great. I sprinkled chocolate chips on half of the bars before throwing them into the oven for the last five minutes. I also cut the bars while they were still warm instead of waiting until they had cooled. I think it actually ended up being a little easier that way and I didn't have to struggle to get them out of the pan. My husband loved them and told me they were a definite do over but couldn't decide whether he liked the chocolate or the plain better. Of course my daughter loved them...

Thanks Pamela for picking such an awesome recipe- I haven't seen my husband that excited about something I baked for a while, so I know its something to hold onto! If you would like the recipe, check it out on Pamela's blog.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Banana Bread

I had a couple of ripe bananas that had to be used in the next day or two, and I think my eight month old was getting a little tired of eating them, so I decided to make banana bread last night. This recipe is an old family favorite. I'm not really sure where it came from- I think it is from one of my mom's friends. I don't normally make it because my dad seems to bake up a batch once or twice a month and always gives a small loaf to my sister and me. But its fishing season for him, so he's not around as much right now.

I pretty much follow the recipe as is, except I normally reduce the sugar by about 1/4 cup. I also like to throw a handful of nuts into one of the loaves since I like nuts in my baked goods, but no one else in my house does.

Banana Bread

1/2 Cup Butter or Margarine
1 1/2 Cups Sugar (I use 1 1/4 Cups)
2 Eggs
2 Cups Flour
1/4 t Baking Powder
3/4 t Baking Soda
1 t Salt
1 Cup Mashed Bananas
1/4 Cup Buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour two loaf pans.

Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time blending well after each egg. Add the dry ingredients, then the banana and buttermilk (I add about a third of the dry ingredients, then the bananas, the next third of the dry ingredients, the buttermilk, and finally the last third of the dry ingredients). Add chopped nuts if desired.

Pour into prepared loaf pans and bake for approximately 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Toasted Almonds

This week's recipe for Sweet Melissa Sunday's was actually chosen by the entire group. After a vote, it was decided we were going to make the chocolate chip cookies with toasted almonds. This may sound a little odd, but I was actually kind of glad everyone chose to go with this recipe because I still had chocolate bunnies from Easter I did not know what to do with. I was busy studying for an exam around Easter and my mom was trying to help me out so she went out for me to pick up candy for my daughter. She wasn't quite sure what I wanted to get, so she took the safe route and bought three different chocolate bunnies and a chocolate duck so I could choose which one I wanted. I guess she figured grandmas get to go home at the end of the night so she wouldn't be the one to have to send a three year old on a sugar high to bed! Joking aside, she really helped me out a lot, but I had a ton of leftover chocolate. It was really good homemade candy so off to the chopping block the bunny went...

I have to tell you how much I love this recipe. There is a reason why my sister is the cookie baker and I am the pie baker in my family- for some reason, my cookies just don't turn out right. My perrenial problem with chocolate chip cookies is they are always flat. I have tried experimenting with butter versus margerine, white sugar versus brown sugar, and refrigerating the cookie dough. All I end up with is flat cookies that fall apart. But they came out perfect this time! Finally! It will definitely be my go to recipe in the future.

I really liked the toasted almonds in the cookies as well. I am a huge fan of almonds, but if I were making for a big crowd, I may substitute in walnuts or pecans as they seem to have a more universal appeal. I also worry about almonds being more of a choking hazard for my older daughter.

The recipe does call to chill the dough twice before baking it, so bear that in mind if you want need to make the recipe quickly. The first time, you chill the dough in a bowl and the second time you shape the chilled dough into a log, wrap in plastic, and then chill again. The dough can be a little difficult to scrape out of the bowl when chilled, but Melissa of Lulu the Baker suggested scooping the dough out of the bowl and wrapping in plastic before the first chill which I will definitely be doing next time. I wasn't sure if we were going to eat all two dozen of the cookies this week, and freshly baked cookies definitely taste beter, so I froze one of the "logs" of cookie dough. That way next time we want cookies, all I have to do is defrost it for a few minutes, slice, and bake.

Thanks to all who voted for the chocolate chip cookies! It was getting harder and harder to come up with excuses for my daughter why she couldn't start another chocolate bunny! You can check out the recipe on the Sweet Melissa Sundays page.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

I think rhubarb is one of those things that you love or hate. I happen to be one of the few people I know other than my dad that loves it. My husband's parents have a couple rhubarb plants at the back of their property and every year my father-in-law asks me if I want to take some. In the past, I have not had the time to make anything with it. But now that things have settled down here a bit, I made a point of cutting some stems the other evening and found a recipe for strawberry rhubarb jam in my new Ball Canning book.

I think the thought of making any kind of preserves can be a little overwhelming for some people, but its actually fairly easy. I think the most important things are accurate measurements and timing. Its also important to make sure everything is sterilized, but with dishwashers, its much easier. My dad said they used to have to boil the jars when he was growing up, but now we just throw them in the dishwasher on the sani rinse cycle.

I wasn't sure how this recipe was going to turn out since it was the first time I made it. The flavor is primarily strawberry. In fact, you probably wouldn't even know there was rhubard in it unless someone told you. It just has a little extra zip to it (which could be from the lemon juice as well). My dad really liked it as did my mom, who is among those that don't generally like rhubarb. I chopped everything pretty well, so most of it cooked down without lending the stringy/slimy texture that is common to cooked rhubarb. I think this helped my mom out as I much of her dislike of it is related to the texture.

Here is the recipe if you would like to try it!

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
from the Ball Canning Book

2 Cups Mashed Strawberries
2 Cups Choppen Rhubarb
1 Package Sure Jell Powder
4 T Lemon Juice
5 1/2 Cups Sugar

In a large stock pot, stir together all the ingredients except the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Once at a boil add all the sugar at once (you will need to measure out the sugar before you begin). Bring the mixture back to a full boil stirring constantly. Once at a full boil, continue to cook for one minute stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Skim off any foam from the jam and ladle into prepared jars leaving one quarter inch head space. Wipe the rim of the jelly jar clean, top with lid, and screw on ring. Process filled jars in a hot water bath for ten minutes (make sure water is at a boil and the water covers the jars an inch beyond the top of the jar). Let cool. As they cool, you should hear the lids pop as the seal is created.

A couple notes...

  • Jars should be sterilized before they are filled.

  • Canning lids should be sterilized in a pot of simmering water before they are used.

  • The canning lid will make a popping sound when the seal has been created. In addition, you can check to see if the seal has been created by pressing on the canning lid after it has cooled. If the center of the lid clicks when you press down on it, it has not sealed (its similar to jarred food you would buy in the store. If the safety seal has been broken, it won't make the popping sound when you open it).

  • It is important to bring the jam to a full rolling boil once you add the sugar. You should not be able to stir down the bubbles.

  • Use a larger pot than what you think you will need. The mixture boils up a lot in the pot and there is nothing worse than having to clean up jelly/jam from your stove if it boils over!

You can find more detailed information about canning at

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Things to Come...

Among my favorite things to do in life are cooking, gardening, and taking pictures. So naturally, this is one of my favorite times of year. Everything is in bloom and gardens begin to show the first sign of things to come as the weather grows warmer. As I walked around my yard this afternoon, I was taken by the true beauty of everything around me.

A Pea Blossom

When I was growing up, my dad had a huge garden in our back yard with every kind of vegetable you can grow in New Jersey soil. We also had peaches, apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, and raspberries. I can remember sitting in the middle of a cucumber patch, picking a cucumber, and eating it right there on the spot (I still love cucumbers to this day). I find that having kids of your own makes you a little nostalgic of your childhood. So now that we have two little ones of our own, my husband and I set off to create our own garden this year.

Our First Snow Peas!

Its not quite the same magnitude of the garden I grew up with, but I think it will suit our family of four quite fine. We began planting our tomato and pepper seeds back in February, so to finally see the blossoms emerge on the plants brings a real sense of satisfaction. We're also watching the broccoli, lettuce, beans, cucumbers, peas, and corn grow bigger every day. I think its a great opportunity for our children to actually see where our food comes from to gain a better appreciation for it.

The First Sign of Tomatoes

Lettuce Ready to Be Picked

We also planted quite a few strawberry plants this year as well as some blueberry bushes, two apple trees and a peach tree. I think there are about 50 strawberry plants. I did not realize how much each plant yields until my father-in-law told me a well tended plant produces a quart of strawberries every year. That's a lot of strawberry shortcake!

One of Our First Strawberries

There is nothing like cooking with fresh ingredients and I am really looking forward to sharing our experience with everyone over the summer. Now I'm just going to have to find a cookbook with 101 different ways to use tomatoes!

Blueberries Ready to Ripen

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bear's Peach Cobbler (well almost)...

So I was really looking forward to the recipe for Sweet Melissa Sunday's this week. Bear's Peach Cobbler was chosen by Andrea of the Nummy Kitchen. To me, there is nothing that says summer more than peaches, and with the recent turn in weather here, I was really looking forward to a peach dessert. However, there were a couple things I failed to take into consideration when preparing for the recipe this week. Mainly, its not quite peach season and the peaches from California we are getting in our grocery stores on the east coast are not quite ripe when we buy them. The peaches were not going to ripen overnight, so I decided to make a cherry cobbler instead.
Unlike most of the Sweet Melissa bakers, I have an overabundance of pie cherries in my freezer right now. I picked a ton of them last year and did not have many opportunities to use them as I had my second daughter in October of last year. Much of my baking was put on hold for a while and I never got around to making the cherry jam I had planned on making.
I basically followed the recipe exactly as written with the exception of adding a little almond extract to the cherry mixture. The only problem I had was the dough for the cobbler topping was a little sticky which made it somewhat challenging to cut out. I had originally intended on using a heart shaped cookie cutter, but after half the hearts sticking and stretching, I just decided to pat the dough down to a half inch and spread it evenly over the entire fruit mixture. I think next time I make the recipe I will chill the dough a little before trying to cut it out. Time was not on my side when I was making it as I squeezed it in between a baby shower and dinner at my parents, so I had to make the best of what I had.
Though not as cute as it would have been with the heart shaped cut outs, the cobbler was really delicious. I brought it to my parent's house for dinner and served it with vanilla ice cream. I forgot my camera at home and my dad really, really liked it so I left the last serving for him, so I do not have any pictures to post this week... Maybe next time when I have a little more time and some fresh peaches to work with! Of course, as I am leaving my parent's house, I was telling my sister what happened with the recipe and she told me she has ripe peaches at her house and was not sure if she was going to be able to eat all of them! I guess that is just how it works out sometimes!
Thanks Andrea for the wonderful recipe! When the peaches are ready to pick in a month or so, I will definitely give the recipe another go. You can find the recipe for Bear's Peach Cobbler at Nummy Kitchen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

After the Wedding...

Well, after months of planning, my brother-in-law finally got married this weekend and everything was really beautiful! As his fiance's family is from Brazil, her parents came in early in the week, so there was an entire week of festivities to attend. A lot of fun, but it takes a lot out of you. We kind of wound things down on Saturday morning with a brunch at our house. I am not quite sure what I was thinking having brunch at our house after being up so late the night before, but I was able to make most everything ahead of time so the last minute prep was not too bad.

I have pretty much been baking a little every day for the past two weeks in preparation and wound up making four different kinds of scones (blueberry, lemon, orange cranberry pistachio, and cinnamon apple), a blueberry crumb cake, caramel apple turnovers with sweet ricotta filling, and the cherry almond granola used in granola breakfast cookies (the latter two being recipes I missed from SMS earlier on). I was a little nervous about the brunch as my brother-in-law and his one groomsmen are the sous chef and head chef at a resort in Breckenridge, CO. But everything turned out really great and I got rave reviews of everything (I later found out his fiance's parents own a bakery back in Brazil as well- yikes!).

It was a lot of fun baking for the brunch and I am glad I had an opportunity to catch up on some of the recipes I missed from Sweet Melissa Sunday's. Now if only I could catch up on some sleep! I will definitely be making the turnovers again as everyone really seemed to enjoy them. I made the apple as the recipe called for, but made a few with cherries as well. I still have about two gallon bags of sour cherries I picked last summer, so I am looking for interesting ways to use them. I think I may make some cherry jam if they are not gone before the new crop comes in...

Hopefully, I will get to make the bee stings I missed this week sometime in the near future. I was flipping through the Sweet Melissa Baking Book and my three year old saw the picture and was really excited about them. She pointed and said "I think I will really like those." They look like a good Sunday breakfast...

Questions or Comments?

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