Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dark Cocoa Cream Scones

It's been awhile since I've written a scone recipe.  But I wrote this last night in bed when I was craving a little comfort.  I had had a conversation earlier that day with a good friend about how sweet our society eats their desserts.  We both talked about how much better a sweet treat tastes if a lot of the sugar is taken away.  You can really taste the ingredients much better if you scale back on the sugar...otherwise that's all your tasting.  Sugar.

So. Much. Sugar.

And then we discussed the serious subject of chocolate- milk or dark.

Dark, duh.

Baking soothes me.  It calms me.  It balances me.  It exemplifies something I can control when things seem... out of my control.  I've been making scones for years, and love coming up with new flavors.  I could make them in my sleep.  So it was the perfect recipe to test today when I needed to guarantee success.

These are so so lovely.  I'm not generally a 'chocolate for breakfast' advocate.  (I've been known to eat leftover birthday cake for breakfast, so I won't judge you if you're a chocolate fan first thing.)  But I don't like an overly sweet thing in the morning... or ever, really.  I'm just not a sweets kinda gal.  I do, however, love me a good, balanced baked good.  And these are perfect.  They're only slightly sweet, just enough to balance out the bitter dark cocoa.  They're tender, moist, and just plain divine.

No matter what we go through in life, food always seems to be what can connect us and balance us.  Good or bad things can happen and we turn to food to provide the balance.  We need food to survive and food is what makes us think of home.  I'm so happy that I know food well enough to be the person someone can count on in moments of stress- bad or good.  But the bonus is that it helps me out too.  Baking these scones today, with the help of my dear friend who's moments away from having her third baby, helped me realize that when bad things happen, there is always something amazingly good around the corner.

Balance.

So what do you do when life hands you something bitter?

You take a little bit of sweet, a lot of love, and create a little balance.


D A R K   C O C O A   C R E A M   S C O N E S

makes 8 large scones

In the bowl of a food processor add the following dry ingredients...

2 3/4 cup all purpose (unbleached is preferred) flour
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (unsweetened, pure cocoa)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Pulse to mix it all together well.

Add to it...

1 (8 oz) brick of neufchâtel cream cheese that you've cut into 'chunks' and chilled

Blend until the cream cheese is fully mixed in and 'disappeared'

Add to it...

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter that you've diced and chilled 

Blend again until the butter pieces break down, making the dough appear somewhat sandy in texture

With the mixer on, slowly pour in (through the spout hole) roughly 1/3 cup of very cold half&half, whole milk or cream.  It's very important to do it slowly so you don't add too much.  You're done adding milk when the dough comes together in a moist ball when you squeeze it between your fingers.

(It does not need to ball up into a big dough ball in the food processor.  That means you've added too much liquid.  If that happens, you will need to add more flour by hand before cutting, and the texture and flavor will be just slightly off.)

Dump dough onto a dry, flat surface and shape into a flat disk, roughly 2 inches high.

Cut into 8 triangles, like you're slicing a pie.

Place on an un-greased cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 375.

They will be moist and soft when you remove them from the oven, but will firm up as they cool.  Do NOT overbake.

Cool on the cookie sheets and enjoy room temperature.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Curried Chicken Salad Wraps

When my husband and I lived in LA, there was this macrobiotic restaurant around the corner called M Cafe that served these Madras Tempeh Salad Wraps.  They were incredible.  Neither one of us followed a macrobiotic diet, nor were we vegan, but this was one of the best wraps I've ever had in my entire life.  It's been years since we've had one, and the other day we both found ourselves craving them.  So I set out to make a curried chicken salad wrap that I could call my own, but that would make us think of our LA days.

Lots of things were amazing about living in Los Angeles.  The biggest thing being the food.  You could get any kind of food you wanted, and the best part was... usually they would deliver.  Yeah... we got pretty spoiled in the food department from living there, and it was a huge adjustment coming back home to North Carolina.  But once I realized I was actually capable of mimicking a lot of the foods we had grown to love so much out there, on our new North Carolina budget, we didn't really miss it anymore.

And that's why I started this blog.

I feel like food is one of those things that really allows us to go back to special memories, or travel to places we've never been... you can really be transported to another place and time through your tastebuds.  And that's just plain awesome.

I'd never trade our experience living in California.  We were young, newly married, career hungry, and really just in need of some fun living.  And making these wraps definitely reminded me of those days.  But after I made them, and we got to taste my version of this old food memory, we began a new one.  My version, that we ate on a blanket in our sweet, small town, under the hot summer sun, listening to a live band play bluegrass while our children climbed the magnolia tree behind us, officially trumps the old one.




What a lovely new memory we now have.




And one hell of a damn good sandwich.


c u r r i e d    c h i c k e n   s a l a d   w r a p s  

makes 4 large wraps


c u r r y   d r e s s i n g 



In a large bowl, combine the following... (this can be done in advance)
2 TB mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used fat free and really enjoy the tang it brings to the dressing)
1 TB dijon mustard
2 TB honey
3 tsp yellow curry powder (I have my own recipe HERE)
1 lime, zested
1/2 lime, juiced
fat pinch kosher salt


c u r r i e d   c h i c k e n   s a l a d



To the bowl, add the following ingredients...
1 whole chicken breast, cooked and shredded (I used a store-bought rotisserie chicken because I had one, and they're generally smaller than if you were to buy the boneless skinless breasts at the grocery store.  It was roughly 2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken)
1/2 small apple, diced
1 small celery stalk, from the heart-including leaves
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup roasted, lightly salted cashews, chopped

Stir to coat everything in the dressing.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Other wrap components include...




1 large onion, caramelized (thinly slice and cook on medium heat with salt and a pinch of sugar until they become golden brown and soft- cool before using)
1 carrot, thinly sliced into matchsticks
1/4 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup cooked farro (or brown rice, barley, any grain of that nature would work)
4 small lettuce leaves- romaine, iceburg, butter... any sturdy lettuce works just fine
fresh cilantro
4 burrito sized whole grain tortillas/wraps


Build your wraps by first moistening your tortillas with a little water on both sides to make them extra pliable...




Spoon 1/4 of the chicken salad onto the bottom 1/3 of your wrap
Sprinkle on 1/4 of the farro
Top with lettuce leaves
Then a layer of 1/4 of the onions
Create a carrot row along the side (1/4 of them)
Topped with a pepper row (1/4)
Then place cilantro leaves over everything

Roll as you would a burrito...tucking in the sides as you go.




Slice in half and enjoy.





Saturday, August 15, 2015

Gnocchi e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli.  It means Pasta with Beans in Italian.  It's a meatless, peasant dish that I grew up eating as a kid.  It's made in a lot of different ways... sometimes in a thick tomato sauce, sometimes just tomato paste, and sometimes no tomato at all.  The herbs can be oregano and basil, or rosemary and sage... it can be thick like a stew or thin like a soup.  I grew up eating the thick, tomato version flavored with rosemary and sage using penne and canned beans.  And it was delicious.  And I make that a lot now for my family, but I wanted to do something different this time...

I was driving home from the gym the other morning, planning our dinner for the night.  And it had been awhile since I'd been to the store, so I knew we would be having a pantry-based meal.  I also had the day off with my son and was in the mood to cook all day and create something homey.  So my brain went directly to Pasta e Fagioli...something I can literally make without opening the fridge if I was really desperate.  I started thinking what pasta I had on hand to use, and then thought, hmm... I wonder what it would be like if I used gnocchi instead.

And here we are.  I made this whole meal by scratch, and it took the better part of a day... because I wanted it to.  I could have rushed, I could have used canned beans or packaged gnocchi, but I wanted a project with my boy.

And I got one.


g n o c c h i


makes 68...approximately ;-)

Bake or microwave* 3 lbs of russet (baking) potatoes.  This, for me, was 9 small-medium sized potatoes (I buy mine in the bags so they're smaller than if you were to buy them bulk)

Allow them to cool enough to handle (or cook the potatoes ahead of time, cool completely and refrigerate for later), then peel them.

Push each naked potato through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl.




Add...
1/2-1 cup of flour (Start with the 1/2 cup and add more as needed.  If you want to make gnocchi gluten free- I recommend using rice flour and NOT potato flour.  The potato flour will cause these to mush up in the soup.  Trust me, I tried.)
2 large eggs
1 (packed) cup of Parmigiano Reggiano.  The real stuff (this is a 4.5 ounce wedge including the rind.  Save the rind for the soup later!)
a good amount of freshly grated nutmeg




Mix with a fork, adding flour if necessary, until a stuff dough forms.




Now, here's where I go rogue.  I love tradition but I do NOT love taking steps that I feel unnecessary.  If I can find a short cut that doesn't compromise the end result of something, then I take it.  I do NOT separate the gnocchi dough into pieces and roll the pieces into logs and slice the logs into small pieces and shape the pieces into dumplings and indent them with a fork.

Here's what I do instead...




I just pinch off pieces in the size I want, shape them in my hands and fingers, and run the back of a fork over them to create the ridges.




Look at my focused little helper.  My 7 year old son and I sat and rolled gnocchi, side by side, for an entire hour.  It was incredible  I highly recommend it.




From here you can wrap the gnocchi on a platter and refrigerate until you're ready to cook them, or cook them right away.  Traditionally you're boiling gnocchi in salted water, just like pasta, until they float, and then draining them to be used in whatever dish you plan on.  For this soup, I dropped them into the simmering soup when it was finished, right before serving.

And now onto the soup...


G N O C C H I    E    F A G I O L I 


serves 8-10

(What I perhaps love the most about this picture is that I know my son rolled those gnocchi in that bowl up there.  His little hands shaped each and every one of those beautifully craggy dumplings. And they're perfect.)

Get your beans started first.
In a large stockpot, add...
1 pound white beans (I like Great Northern beans)
3 bay leaves
the ends of the onion you're using to chop for the soup (yes you can use a new onion, or none at all, but it does lend great flavor to the beans and I like using all of everything if I can)

Cover with water- twice as much water as beans.

Bring to a boil.  Boil, vigorously for 3 minutes.  Cover.  Turn off the heat.  Allow to sit for 2 hours.

*Optional but recommended extra step if you have the time- In another large stockpot, bring to a simmer 2 quarts chicken stock** (8 cups)- either homemade or good quality storebought and add in your reserved parmesan cheese rind.  Allow this to simmer, covered, for as long as you're preparing the meal for extra flavor in your soup.  If you don't take this step, you'll simply add the rind in when you add the stock to begin your soup later on.

While your beans are cooking, start your soup by sautéing the following veggies in a large skillet
(or large stockpot if you didn't take the extra step above) on medium-high heat with a little olive oil...
3 large carrots, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 large onion, diced




Season well with kosher salt

Once your veggies start to soften a bit, add in...
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sprig of rosemary 
1 bay leaf

Stir and once you smell the herbs and garlic, deglaze the pan with about 1/2 cup dry, white wine.  Stir to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Simmer for a minute or so.

If you're making this in the stockpot now and haven't infused your chicken stock with parmesan, then now add in 2 quarts of chicken stock.  OR add this white wine/veggie mix to your stock pot with the hot stock and cheese rind.

Add in your beans.  They should be al dente right now and will continue to cook in the soup pot.

Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for at least an hour or as long as it takes for the beans to soften to your liking and the soup to taste incredible.

When you're ready to serve, drop in your gnocchi, one by one...




Only drop as many gnocchi as you know you'll be needing at this moment, do not store leftovers with gnocchi in the soup- they will mush and swell.

Serve warm and garnish with chopped parsley.

Store any unused gnocchi in a large freezer bag, not touching one another.

(*note- I do not recommend boiling your potatoes for gnocchi.  If you do, they soak up too much flour and become too gummy and dense.  If you bake them, less flour is needed and they remain light and fluffy and perfect.)

(**other note- You can make this vegetarian and use the bean broth (cooking liquid) instead of the chicken broth and omit the cheese rind.  However, using the bean broth will cause some tummy noise.  But I assume if you're vegetarian, you're already privy to tummy noise.)


Stay tuned for what I did with the remaining half of my gnocchi... It's pretty killer.


...

Thanks for reading, y'all.  Have a good one!  XOXO

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Plum Pico

What do you do when you go to make your pico de gallo for your Brazilian steak night and realize you're out of garden tomatoes?  Well.  You can either go out and get some more tomatoes OR improvise.

Clearly, I improvised.  (Do you know me but at all?)

I had a couple more plums leftover from when I made the Plum Pizza and Plum Pie.  They had been hiding in my fridge and poor things were forgotten about.  So my brain wheels started spinning and I had some fun.

In a normal pico (sometimes called salsa fresca) you'd find diced, raw tomatoes, onions, usually chilies of some kind, cilantro, salt and lime juice.  It's basically a fresh, uncooked 'salsa'.  We make it a lot in the summer and all the time when we have this one particular steak meal.  And I was gonna make the plum pico the same exact way as the traditional tomato kind, but turns out... I was also out of cilantro.  So... I decided to go a different herbal route and OH MY GOODNESS was it good.

I kept everything else fairly the same but used fresh parsley and basil instead of cilantro, and it was so so good.  The plums have a wonderful tartness that is usually hard to detect when you're using it in sweet dishes, so it was a perfect topper for the rich and savory, salty steak.

I would make this even for a twist on chips and salsa for a party.  I'm so incredibly pleased with how it turned out.

Also?  How cute is Plum Pico?

Adorbs.

P L U M   P I C O
makes roughly 1 cup

In a medium bowl, combine the following...

2 plums, diced- ripe but not mushy (You want some firmness to them so they hold their shape.  I used black plums because it's what I had but dragon plums would also work.)
~1/4 cup minced, raw onion
small handful each of fresh parsley and basil leaves, minced
juice of 1 lime
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Mix well and taste.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.  You want it fresh, light, a little tart and salty, and naturally sweet.

Serve with chips

...OR over a perfectly cooked steak with garlicky black beans and roasted, sweet plantains.




Thanks for reading!  Have a killer day... XOXO

Monday, August 10, 2015

More Shoe Porn. And I get by with a little help from my friend...

When I spotted these shoes at Buffalo Exchange last week, I could not WAIT to get home and style them.  But damnit, I got stuck.  I could NOT figure it out.  I knew what I wanted (this) but couldn't make it work.  I get like that sometimes- fixated on one thing and can't get past it.

So I texted my girlfriend and within seconds she hits me back with...

"What about with a knee length pencil skirt?  
But dressed down with a wife beater and lots of gold necklaces.  
Keep the rest of the accessories to a min."

Lightbulb.

So I just adapted what she sent me to work with what I had in my closet.  (Pencil skirts aren't really my thing.  They tend to shrink me.)  But she's incredible.  She knows exactly how to find that missing piece in all my puzzles.  And frankly, without her, a lot of times I'd be walkin' around lookin' a damn mess.

And now... onto the goods.

These shoes!!



Ugh.  Don't you just love them?!  What's not to love?  They're green.  And gold.  And high.  And have tassels.  I mean...

They cost me $16 (by Shoe Dazzle from Buffalo Exchange).  And even though they're a half size too big, I had to possess them.  And that I did.

I (we) styled them with a casual, sheer white tank that I picked up from the Target clearance rack awhile back ($5) and a black mini that also hails from Target ($10).  I wear this tank with cut off shorts, to the beach... it's one of my go-to casual tops.  But I LOVE the idea of it being used in a nicer outfit.  And the skirt is just a really nice, classic black mini.  It has some stretch to it, it's not too too short...

(Pausing for my girlfriend to disagree...)




This bag comes from H&M last year.  I have it in beige too, and it is the perfect all purpose bag.  Lots of pockets, big enough for all my crap, cute... It was on clearance - $8.  I could easily have chosen a clutch for this outfit, but that would have fancied it up too much.  The big bag keeps it all balanced.




This outfit screamed ponytail to me.  Simple, casual, slightly messy pony.




Can we talk about these shoes some more?  What I love about this outfit is that you SEE them.  They're not hiding or blending in with anything else colorful or loud... they really shine.  It's black, white, gold... and green.  Simple, yet so much fun.




Plus, I feel like I'm defying the odds in them... breaking the rules, if you will.  Because normally a shoe that comes up to the ankle on a short leg makes that leg appear even shorter.  And I don't need that mess.  Buuuut because of the vertical gold line down the foot, it actually lengthens... so I'm winning!




It was important to the outfit to keep the other details fairly minimal.  Any more bling and the shoes would be tacky instead of a standout accessory.




So accessory-wise we stayed gold, and fairly simple.  I love the look of layered long necklaces on a casual tank, so I chose this gold/white fringe beaded necklace that I picked up from Buffalo Exchange ($8) and paired it with a longer one I got from H&M ($12).

The gold cuff comes from a local boutique when I was on vacation ($7) and the ring came from Charming Charlie last year...in their discount basket at the register for $5.

The earrings are hard to see, but that's kinda the point- they need to be minimal.  They're small, gold leaves and they come from FiFi's Fine Resale- $6.

And the aviators come from Buffalo Exchange as well- $12.




Sometimes I get stuck on one track.  Mentally, I often find it hard to switch focus once I've set my mind to one thing.  And I'm also just not the best at asking for help.  But it's pretty damn fantastic when you have people in your life who get you.  They really and truly GET you.  And you can pick up the phone and ask a simple question, and without hesitation they come back with the perfect answer.

Whether it be about life, love, loss...

OR the look of the day.




XOXO

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Inside Out and some budino

I often find myself wishing I didn't care so much.  Wishing I didn't feel so much.  I care and feel so much it hurts sometimes.  I care about things great and small.  I feel things good and bad.  It's constant.  My insides creek and moan from all the oscillation.

I care about and feel for you and I don't even know you.

And sometimes it hurts.

It hurts when someone says something mean or does something cruel.  When I see people act without care or thought, I hurt.  I feel it deep inside.  I can't shrug it off.  It stays within me for longer than I'd like.

So yeah- I wonder if I should change.  I do wish I could turn off my feelings and not care so much.

Wouldn't that be grand?  Not caring.  Not letting people get to you.  Not feeling those things that make you hurt on the inside.  The things that make you think about things unpolished, unset.  I look at people who seem to not care about things and find myself envious.  How wonderful must that be- to just float about and not get bogged down with feelings.  What a simple life that would be.  Everything would just be fine, and good, and easy.

And doesn't that sound lovely.

But here's the thing about the bad.  It comes with the good.  Life has to have balance.  You have to earn those good moments because you struggled through the bad ones.  They aren't just given to you for free.

And if they are, something is about to break.

Feeling sadness or anxiety or uneasiness is all part of the ride, because you're also allowed to feel joy, and pride, and love.  And there is no greater feeling than that of love.  Real, true, intense love.

So at the end of the day I don't think I want to change. Because I would rather be someone who cares about something, than that person who can't feel.  The ironic part of it all, is often I'm caring for that very person -

The one who doesn't know how.

You see, I now know that I care and feel so deeply about so many things because I have so much love inside of me.  And sometimes that love needs a place to escape.  And that escape route is often down a dark path.

For the sake of balance.

So if feeling some sadness is the price I have to pay to have so much love inside of me-

Then I'll take it.

...

There is no better way to shake that familiar feeling of uneasiness, the internal worry about things that shouldn't matter, than spending time with my babies.  I'll find myself stressing about something and all I have to do is unplug for a minute, look up and see these two shiny, beautiful creatures that give me more love than I could ever wish for.  They love me no matter what I do and sometimes I need them to shake me out of my insides.

So yesterday we spent the day in the yard, playing in the sprinkler, drawing chalk figures on the driveway.  And we laid in the sun and talked, laughed, lived.  Then we came in and created a recipe together, bathing suits still on, until daddy walked in the door and made it even sweeter.

And it was perfect.





C O C O N U T   B R O W N   S U G A R   B U D I N O   
w/   S T R A W B E R R I E S

serves 4

What ta heck is a budino?  It's an Italian dessert, like a pudding or custard.  It can be thickened with eggs/egg yolks or cornstarch, or both.  I chose to make our version entirely vegan by using coconut milk instead of heavy cream and thickening only with cornstarch.  I tend to go the healthier route when I'm cooking with my kids.  I like them to get lessons on deliciously and deceivingly healthy food whenever possible.

And this recipe is amazing.  The almost syrupy, round sweetness of the coconut really pairs well with the fresh, tart sweetness that the strawberries have.  It's the perfect simple summer dessert and just a bit healthier than the average pudding ;-)

(Note- change out the fruit to make something completely different!  Stone fruit, figs... even candied citrus in the winter would be lovely!)

-RECIPE-

In a medium, dry saucepan (no heat) whisk together the following...

3 TB cornstarch 
1/3 cup light brown sugar 
Fat pinch kosher salt

Make sure all lumps are out before you add your liquid. 

Slowly start to whisk in the contents of 1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk, with the heat on medium. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking in between each addition to prevent the cornstarch from clumping. 

Once all the milk has been added, keep whisking until it begins to bubble. It will thicken as it bubbles. Once it comes to a complete boil, it's as thick as it will get and you're done. 

It should also coat the back of a spoon when it's ready. This takes about 7 minutes.




Remove from the heat and add in a couple splashes of vanilla extract

Quickly spoon into your serving dishes before it sets.  I chose to use various short water/whiskey glasses.




Cover with plastic wrap (touching the top of the pudding with the plastic to prevent 'pudding skin' from forming).  

Refrigerate for at least an hour until cooled and set. 

Garnish with fresh, chopped strawberries

Top with whipped coconut cream if desired (recipe below).  Or if you're not dairy phobic, some straight up normal whipped cream!

Eat.  Love.  Repeat. 




XOXO
...

Whipped Coconut Cream

1 day before you want to make this, place 1 (13.5 ounce) can of full fat coconut milk in the fridge.  Unopened, not shaken.  Place your mixing bowl and whisk/beater in the fridge as well.

The next day, remove from the fridge.  Open the can and scoop out the top, hardened white coconut cream, leaving the water/liquid in the can (keep this for something else...smoothie? cocktail? coconut rice?)

Whip using the chilled whisk/beater until fluffy.  It only takes about 30 seconds - 1 minute.

Flavor with a splash of vanilla extract if wanted.  I don't find it necessary to sweeten it for this recipe but adding some powdered sugar for other purposes is welcomed if desired.

Chill again and serve straight from the fridge.  It softens very quickly as it comes up to room temp.

Either spoon on, or pipe with a piping bag if you're feelin' fancy.

Keeps in the fridge, covered for about a week!