Berry Coconut Freezer Pops

Here we are at the tail end of the school year and I can tell you that I have been learning a lot lately. Take this week for example: I learned not to skip adding the potatoes to the skillet when roasting a chicken because the oven will become a grease covered, smoky mess. Coincidentally, I also learned how to clean my oven (steam cycle!) I learned that you can only say “yes” so many times before you have to say “no” to keep your sanity in check. Also, it is much harder to say “no” after initially saying “yes”. So hard! I’m also learning how to stand, which sounds even crazier than the first two, but while at a Pilates class, the instructor reminded us all to stand equally on both feet and not to lock our knees (room for air between the joints). This is called “active standing”. Locking the knees is called “passive standing” and I realized that I stand that way all the time. No wonder my hip joints and back hurt. So yes – I am learning how to stand. Lastly, I am learning how to create meals using what I have on hand and this is the most exciting of all the lessons. School is in session!

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I started volunteering at a cooking school down the street from us and one of the classes was called “Cooking by the Seat of your Pants” by Becky Selengut. I have basically talked about this class nonstop since that night. It was was one of those aha moments. She talked about how to taste food a

nd the different ingredients needed to make balanced food, which is the most satisfying. The food made in class contained ingredients she had on hand and she didn’t use any recipes. This is my dream way to cook.

When I started out cooking a few years ago, I didn’t know how to roast a vegetable and had to Google search EVERYTHING. I didn’t know how to cook a pork chop or what tarragon tasted like. I can’t even tell you how many times the smoke alarm went off while I was cooking. So, I’ve spent the majority of my energy on learning how to cook and keeping the seasonings to salt, pepper and olive oil. I also use recipes religiously. But after listening to Becky and hearing the different ingredients needed to create all these different flavors, I realized that I had all of them sitting in my cupboards. What I don’t have is the experience to put them together in satisfying interesting ways…..yet.

Which brings me to the other thing that I learned from Becky. Curry is one of those dishes that you can make using a variety of leftover vegetables and proteins. According to Becky, coconut milk and curry paste will be your best friend on a busy Wednesday night. Well, I have a real soft spot for curry and now seem to not be able to go a week without whipping up a pot. This week I didn’t use the whole can of coconut milk (another lesson I learned – don’t skimp on the coconut milk!) but no matter – I had another concoction in mind for the remaining.

Unlike curry, popsicles are one of the foods I have made quite often. chocolate pops,  smoothie pops, vanilla pudding pops – pretty much any recipe I see. We have had blue skies and sunshine this last week and I had my first after school request for a popsicle. I basically ran into the kitchen to comply and I encourage you to do the same. The coconut milk is sweet, smooth and creamy and the berries add that tart contrast that is irresistible.

Berry Coconut Freezer Pops

This recipe is so quick and versatile! Feel free to substitute any combination of frozen or fresh berries.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups organic strawberries, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups organic blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar (plus 2 tablespoons for coconut milk if layering popsicles)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 can full fat coconut milk

Directions:

This recipe made 8 popsicles. Fill each mold half full of coconut milk and set aside. Combine berries, water, sugar and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Warm on medium-low, stirring and crushing fruit occasionally. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for a couple of minutes. I used a potato masher to really smooth out the fruit but you could keep the chunks. Pour mixture into a glass measuring cup and gently pour over the coconut milk to fill the molds the rest of the way.  Take a knife and gently swirl the two flavors together. Freeze for an hour and then add popsicle sticks. Continue freezing until firm (3-4 hours more). Enjoy!

Directions for layered popsicle:

In a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the coconut milk and stir to combine. Divide equally among the popsicle molds. Continue as above. Omit swirling with knife.

 

Spiced Yeast Cake

 

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As the season begins to change from winter to spring, I find myself wanting it to hold off a little longer. I feel like I have unfinished business to attend to before those long stalks of rhubarb beckon me. Crocuses are starting to peak out from the ground and I know it won’t be long before the city bursts into bloom. Yet, I haven’t made that turkey minestrone soup yet or the pecan sandies like I intended. This spiced yeast cake has also been on my mind these last couple months.

Parenthood is the same way right?  I feel the steady tick of the clock and I wonder if I’m ready for this season to end. I just got my feet under me. Nevertheless, I see the signs and know that we are headed into a new phase. Did we accomplish enough? The little one can tie his shoes and read chapter books. The older one can manage his school work and swim. I see them building friendships and managing their emotions. I see the signs and know that ready or not, here we come.

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Buttered pan with almonds.
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This is the sponge before adding the rest of the cake ingredients.
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The cake is fully risen when it is 1/2 inch or so under the rim.

Spiced Yeast Cake

About a year ago I read an article about the long tradition of yeast cakes. Prior to 1843 when baking powder came around to give us our lift, yeast was used instead. I’m intrigued by the depth of a cake that uses yeast instead of baking powder or baking soda. This cake is a cross between cinnamon raisin bread and spiced coffee cake. It makes you want to slow down and curl up with a cup of tea. The recipe below is adapted from an old recipe for Election Cake, which is the American version of a yeast cake. If you are interested, read this article by Greg Patent to learn more about this old American tradition. I’d say we could all use a little cake right now, so go ahead and give this one a try and tell me what you think.

Ingredients
Sponge:
3 1/3 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Cake:
1/3 cup sliced almonds
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup orange juice
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Icing:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice (or as much as needed to get desired consistency)

Instructions
Sponge:
Warm milk in a small saucepan over medium until the milk is warm (around 110 degrees). Pour into a large bowl. Whisk in the remaining sponge ingredients and using a hand mixer, mix for 2 minutes on a medium speed. The sponge will thicken up. Cover and set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
Cake:
In a small bowl combine orange juice, raisons and dried cranberries. Microwave for 45 seconds and set aside.
Generously butter a 10-inch bundt pan. Sprinkle almonds over pan and gently press into the pan in a single layer. Set aside.
In a medium bowl whisk flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.
Add butter and sugar to the bowl of your mixer and cream until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed and incorporate eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla extract. Add the sponge mixture and mix until well combined. Spoon in flour mixture in three additions. Mix on low after each addition to fully combine. The batter will be smooth and thick. Mix in dried fruit with their juices.
Using a spatula, distribute the batter evenly around pan and smooth top. Cover and let rise for a couple hours on a draft free counter. Resist the urge to rush this part. You can also stick this in the refrigerator and let it rise slowly over night and bake in the morning. The batter should fill about half the pan before rising.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Place oven rack in center of oven.
After the cake has risen, place pan on a baking sheet (in case of overflow) and bake 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cakes comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let cool on a wire cooling rack for 30 minutes.  Remove from pan and let cool completely. Whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice in a small bowl and spoon over cooled cake. Serve at room temperature.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Can emailing yourself links to recipes be considered a hobby? If so then I am an enthusiast. There is something magical about making a recipe for the first time. My heart beats a little faster and my mind narrows to a point of intense focus.  When I saw an online cookbook club, I knew it would be the perfect fit. A new cookbook every month? New recipe challenges? Count me in. The cookbook club is hosted by Deborah Balint (@rainydaybites) and this month’s cookbook is Diana Henry’s new book “Simple“. The recipe we were to make is the Bitter Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream. Being that February is basically the month of chocolate, I was excited to give it a try. Like the cookbook’s name, this cake is simple. Melt, whip, whisk and bake.

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The original recipe calls for an 8 inch springform cake pan, but since I don’t own one of those, I used an 8×3 pan and lined it with parchment on the bottom and sides. I was surprised when the recipe said to bake for 35 minutes. Usually recipes give a 5-10 minute range with some indication of what to look for when done. Nonetheless, the timing seemed perfect and I did appreciate the simplicity of the instructions. The result is a silky, smooth and deeply flavored cake.

img_1610This cake was perfect for Valentine’s Day : simple, classic and perfectly decadent.  I hope you give it a try!

Bitter Flourless Chocolate Cake with Coffee Cream

Take your time with the details of this cake. Buy the best chocolate and cream you can afford. Let your egg whites come to room temperature and stop mixing when your egg whites look like this. I have changed the wording a bit but the recipe is from “Simple” by Diana Henry.

Cake

  • 13 oz unsalted butter, cubed
  • 11 1/2 oz dark chocolate, 70% is the best (I used Theo’s)
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar (I whirled granulated in my food processor instead of buying)
  • 5 large eggs, separated and brought to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup almond flour

Cream

  • 1 1/4 cup heavy cream (I use non homogenized because I think it tastes better)
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Optional add-ins: I was kind enough to share this cake with the kiddos, so I only used half of this amount and kept the other half plain.

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso dissolved in equal amounts boiling water (you could also use part of a shot of espresso if so desired. I would just let it cool slightly before using)
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Fill a small pan with water and bring it to a simmer. Prepare your cake pan by covering with parchment on the bottom, as well as the sides (or use a springform pan). Here is a link if you need a visual guide. Put butter, sugar and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set on top of pan with simmering water. I like to use my Kitchenaid metal mixing bowl for this since the sides are high, I don’t have to worry about water accidentally getting into the pan. Melt the mixture together and stir with a heatproof spatula. Once melted, let mixture cool for a few minutes (original recipe states 4 minutes) and then add the egg yolks one at a time. Incorporating each before adding the next.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to form medium firm peaks. Stir almond flour into chocolate mixture and add half of the egg white mixture as well. Once this is incorporated, fold in the rest of the egg whites. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35 minutes. Cool completely. If using the regular cake pan, place a cutting board on top of the pan and hold tightly in place and then flip it over so that the cake comes out. Repeat so that the cake is face up. If using the springform pan, release the sides by unsnapping them and remove.

To make the cream use a hand mixer to whip the heavy cream. Add the powdered sugar and continue to mix until the cream is airy and holds a bit of shape. Incorporate bourbon and espresso and serve on top of the cake.

This cake is best at room temp and can be made ahead. It holds up well for a few days. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Marriage, Fear, and Cheesecake

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My husband and I had our 14th wedding anniversary in October and I found myself a bit surprised by it. Not because I still feel (or look!) like I’m in my 20s or that the years have whirled past so quickly, but because of the love we still share. I’m surprised that after all he’s seen of me – the meltdowns, the post baby body, the way I leave hair ties everywhere – that I am still loved. I really can’t explain it. Shouldn’t I have been traded in for a newer model? Yet, I find myself so thankful for all the little ways that love manifests itself in our daily lives. Love that pulls me in and comforts, protects, listens, and cares.

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Still, fear lurks around the corner. Fear that the love will dwindle. Fear that who I am and who he is someday won’t fit together as snugly as it does today. This fear can hinder me and make me more closed off, to communicate less clearly and honestly. Every time I give in to the fear, I feel distant, almost like a self fulfilling prophecy. Then, I realize that this is a battle of the mind and heart. Love takes courage and honesty. I think this is when I truly feel the deep, soul fulfilling love in our marriage, when I am accepted and loved through the hard conversations. So, I thought it was time to face another fear: cheesecake. Water baths, jiggly filling, cracks, and funny springform pans. It all made me want to run and hide.

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Batter before adding the eggs.

Now, most people I’m sure can just ignore cheesecake and move on to something a bit more comfortable, but my husband is not a huge dessert fan (gasp!) but the one cake that he does love is cheesecake. He requests it for every birthday. He’s a bit of a purist, and believes such add ins as pumpkin or chocolate over power cheesecakes delicate flavor, and I tend to agree. We stick to New York Cheesecake with its creamy and delicate texture and bit of crunch from the graham cracker crust. One year I decided to go for it and guess what? It was a disaster! Burnt and eggy, and just all wrong, we ate what we could and then decided to always buy one forever and always.

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Batter after adding the eggs.

But you know how sometimes as much as you fear another failure, you just have to give it another whirl? Well, that’s how I felt about cheesecake. I just couldn’t let it go.

I bought all the ingredients, read articles, found a new recipe and even borrowed a pan from a friend. I was all set to go. Yet, I sat. For weeks. I really didn’t want to fail. Fear had me again. Finally, I decided it was now or never, so I jumped in.  You know what? It was the best cheesecake we had ever eaten! Not a failure! Success! I was stunned. Not a crack or a chalky custard. Smooth, creamy, and flavored just right. Fear did not prevail and that birthday cake will now come from my kitchen.

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Into the oven! This picture was taken right before adding the boiling water to the roasting pan.

Ready to try your hand at it? Cheesecake success is just around the corner.

xoxo,

Rachel

Graham Cracker Crust:

This graham cracker crust recipe is slightly adapted from Deb Perelman. I love how tall the crust is and that she measures in ounces (huzzah!). My only change was that I followed Dorie Greenspan’s directions and pre-baked the crust.

  • 8 ounces graham crackers, ground fine in a food processor
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick or 4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions:

Line the bottom of a 9 inch round springform pan with a double layer of heavy aluminum foil. Butter the bottom and sides of pan and place pan on a baking sheet. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt. Pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir together until ingredients are well combined. Press the graham crust onto the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Do your best to make the crust even in thickness and press down firmly. Move the pan to the refrigerator to chill. Once chilled bake for 10-12 minutes. The crust will be slightly darker when finished. Cool on a cooling rack while you make the filling.

Cheesecake Filling:

I followed Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Creamy Cheesecake and slightly adapted it by adding orange and lemon zest. I loved the light citrus flavor that came through the cheesecake.

  • 32 oz Original Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/4 + 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp citrus zest (I used orange and lemon)

Directions:

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and fill a tea pot or a pan with water and bring to a boil on the stove. In the bowl of the mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese until light and creamy, about 4 minutes on level 4 on a KitchenAid mixer. Keep the mixer running and add the sugar, salt, and vanilla and mix for another 4 minutes on medium speed. Lower the speed and mix the eggs in one at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Scrape after each additional egg. Once all the eggs have been added, increase the speed to medium and beat for another 30 seconds. Reduce the speed again and mix in sour cream and whipping cream until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Mix in citrus zest and scrape to make sure the batter is uniform in consistency. Pour batter into springform pan and level out with a spatula.

Place the springform pan inside a large roasting pan and place in oven. Now slowly pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, being careful to not get any water inside the springform pan. The water should reach about half way up the sides of the pan. Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself!

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the cheesecake has a bit of a jiggle to it. The top may be slightly brown and may rise or have a few cracks. This is ok. Now turn off the oven and prop open the door and let the cheesecake rest for another hour.

Take the roasting pan out of the oven and gently lift up the springform pan and remove the foil. Be careful, hot water may be lurking in the foil. Put the springform pan on a cooling rack to completely cool. Once cool, refrigerate over night.

The next day, run a small spatula around the sides of the pan to make sure the crust is not attached to the pan and gently remove the sides of the springform. Serve and enjoy! Refrigerate any leftovers covered in plastic wrap or foil (or both!) I found that my cheesecake was creamy and wonderful for 2 days and then by the 3rd (yes we ate cheesecake 3 days in a row!) it had become a bit chalky and the crust was a little too soft.

 

 

 

 

Cut Out Cookies with Cinnamon Brown Butter Icing

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October has come and gone and I finally feel like we are solidly into the school routine. It feels good to know that I can get the lunches packed in 5 minutes flat and to have all the September butterflies dissipate. I feel so thankful for the new friendships we have all made and felt like celebrating with a batch of cookies. This fall, I thought I would switch up my usual roll out sugar cookie recipe and warm them up for fall.

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I added some whole wheat flour and brown sugar for a bit of a deeper flavor. I found the icing recipe while scouring the library for cookbooks. I came across one called Vintage Cakes and saw this Brown Butter Icing. I decided to add a hint of cinnamon (sugar and spice and everything nice right?) to add a little kick. Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

xoxo,

Rachel

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Browned butte with the milk solids at the bottom of the bowl.

Roll Out Sugar Cookies

Makes about 36 cookies

Adapted from Allrecipes.com. This is a half batch, but I find that it makes more than enough. If you want to double the recipe, you can always freeze the unused dough or if you decide to bake the whole double batch, you will want to double the icing recipe. The key to these cookies is keeping the dough cold and not overworking it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Whisk flours, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Add flour and mix until combined. This dough is very soft so chilling it is very important. I chilled mine overnight but you could chill in the refrigerator for a couple hours as well.

Once chilled, preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly dust counter with granulated sugar (or flour). I used mostly sugar and it gives the dough a nice sparkle but since the dough is delicate, a little flour doesn’t hurt. Working in small batches, gently roll out dough to an even thickness of 1/8 – 1/4 inch. Keep the dough that is not being rolled out in the refrigerator. Cut out dough using floured cookie cutters and put on ungreased baking sheet. Once the sheet is filled, place back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until dough is firm again and then bake in over for 6-8 minutes. The bottom of the cookie should be golden but the top should still be pale. Cool cookies on a wire wrack. Repeat until all dough has been used.

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Cinnamon Brown Butter Icing

Adapted from “Vintage Cakes”. Makes enough to frost the above recipe. I used a pastry bag and tips to decorate but a spoon to swirl some on top would be just as great.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup whole milk or heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of fine sea salt

Directions:

Sift powdered sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In a small light bottomed pot, cut butter into tablespoons and melt on medium. Swirl occasionally to help the butter melt evenly. The butter will foam and turn golden, continue to cook until butter is dark and nutty smelling but without burning. It moves quickly so keep an eye on it. If you pour all the browned butter into the powdered sugar, the finished frosting will have browned butter flecks in it which was fine with me, but if you want a cleaner look, carefully pour off the butter and leave the milk solids behind. Pour browned butter into the powdered sugar and then add vanilla, milk or cream, and salt. Using a whisk or a hand mixer, mix until well combined. Add cinnamon to taste. The frosting will set as it sits. Once cool, pipe onto cookies or spread with a spoon. Enjoy!