Brunch in the Country {jeni’s pie-kies}

CV(D) has been talking forever about having our team over for brunch.  She lives out in the country; where you can pull up a chair and a glass of wine, and watch the sunset beneath fields as far as you can see.  The only reason we’re not there every single night is that it’s a hike from where we work. Brunch on a weekend would be an easier fit for our schedules.  We finally made it happen on a recent weekend morning.

cv(d)'s dress.

Any brunch where you can wear your wedding dress is a good brunch in my eyes.

brunch in the country plate.

We each brought a dish to share, and when it came time to dig in, we realized we had also each tried a dish we’d never made before.  We crossed our fingers and hoped everything would be edible.

three fruits.

And oh, it was.

working with dough.

cookie cut outs.

The (Not So) New Girl made an emtpy the fridge frittata with Brie, blue potatoes, peppers, and avocado (this is the kind of brunch fare that doesn’t need a recipe, but here’s something I’ve made that may give you a start in the right direction)

Ali made Breakfast Burrito Bites

CV(D) made Slow Cooker Nutella French Toast

And I made PIE-KIES, brainchild of one of my heroes, Jeni Britton Bauer.

fruit on top.

strawberry peach.

Pie-kies are a hybrid pie/cookie, and Jeni (of course) likes to serve them a la mode.  Or rather, she likes to serve her ice cream a-la cookie.  When Ali sent them to me, I knew that they were exactly what I needed to bring to brunch in the country.  They are not a brunch food, but they’re exactly the kind of thing I like making in the summer, when I have a little more time on my hands.  These require a bit of time, as you have to make the dough, chill the dough, roll out the dough, and slice up a whole bunch of fruit.  But they don’t disappoint.  The cookies are reminiscent of a flaky pie crust, and the fruit this time of year is unforgettable.  When the sugars caramelize on top and the juice start dripping out of the crevices between the cookie and topping, it’s heavenly.


My only suggestion to you, dear readers, is to make these close to when you serve them. The day of, if at all possible.  The longer they sit, covered, even in the fridge, the more the juices in the fruit start to make the cookies softer.  In that regard, these are slightly more high-maintenance than sweets I usually bake, but I promise they’re good enough to be worth the extra time and care.

To make two dozen pie-kies, you will need:

For sugar dough:
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
⅓ cup sugar
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes and chilled
2 oz. (4 tbsp) cream cheese
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tbsp very cold heavy cream

For pie topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
fruit, sliced into 1/8 inch slices (the recipe called for 3 pounds; I used a lot but not nearly that much)
1 quart ice cream (any flavor)

1. Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until dough forms.
2. Remove from food-processor bowl, divide in half, and knead each half to soften.
3. Flatten halves into disks; wrap each individually with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

For sugar dough:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray baking sheets with cooking spray.
2. Roll out 1 disk of dough about ⅛” thick.
3. Using 2½” to 3″ cookie cutters, cut out shapes and place them on the prepared baking sheets.
4.  Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the other disk.
5. Blend sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, then dip fruit slices into sugar mixture, generously coating each. (I did a little experimenting with dipping, versus sprinkling sugar liberally on top of the piekies.  I like the second method because it caused much less fruit juice to seep all over the baking pan).
6. Arrange fruit on cutouts. (Fruit will shrink during baking, so it’s OK to have slices extend slightly beyond the dough edges.)
7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden*. Remove sheets from the oven, and let pastries cool before serving.

To assemble:
1. Garnish ice cream scoop with one pie-kie.

*A note – I like to bake one tray of cookies at a time, so the steam in the oven doesn’t affect the texture of the cookies as they’re baking.  If you don’t have the time or patience to make this happen, your cookies will be fine.  If you do, they’ll be better.

June Gloom [stuffed eggplant – hippie style]

It’s entirely possible that June gloom has settled over DC instead of CA this month.  And since this blog has not ever been a place for dwelling on the gloom and doom of life, I’ll stop my whining there, and instead, leave you with a (meatless) recipe for stuffed eggplant, courtesy of The Moosewood Cookbook, out of which I’ve been cooking lately.  We ate this outside on the most beautiful evening at Chez Wooden Nickels.  Take me back!

stuffed eggplant.

stuffed eggplant.

stuffed eggplant.

stuffed eggplant.

To make stuffed eggplant, hippie style, for 6, you will need:

  • 3 medium eggplants
  • 1/2 lb. chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 C cottage cheese
  • 1 C cooked brown rice (from 1/2 C uncooked)
  • 1 C grated cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • a few drops Tabasco (I used cayenne)
  • 1/4 C toasted sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 C freshly chopped parsley
  • butter for saute – about 3 T (I used olive oil)
  • paprika

Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise.  Use soup spoons and/or grapefruit spoons to scoop out the insides, right down to 1/4 inch of skin.

Chop the eggplant innards into 1/2 inch bits, and saute it with the onions, garlic, mushrooms, salt and pepper until onions are clear and eggplant soft.

Combine everything and season it according to your nature.  Stuff the shells generously and with love.  Dust with paprika, and bake uncovered on buttered tray.

Bake in preheated, 350 degree oven, for 35-40 minutes (if eggplants look dry, cover with foil).


The Thinnest Pancakes [swedish pancakes]

It’s funny because when Jesse lent me Amy Thielen’s beautiful book, she suggested a whole bunch of recipes, and I flagged those and more.

short stack swedish pancakes.

And then I remembered that my calendar explodes during the first two weeks of June, and any attempt I make at meal planning is usually shot to pieces about 3 hours into the week.

swedish pancakes.

So the next thing I made from The New Midwestern Table is not at all what I thought, and yet, such a pleasant surprise.  When I woke up on Saturday, with no plans till the afternoon, I took one look at my husband and cried, “Pancakes!”  He was just as excited as I, so I rushed downstairs and got to whisking.

swedish pancakes.

These pancakes are thinner than any I’ve made before, and I’m so glad I whipped them up.  They take a half hour to rest before they hit the skillet, and for the first time in my (storied) pancake-making history, I waited.  As I’d never made the pancakes before, I couldn’t tell you if it made a lick of difference, but I’m glad I did.  It makes me feel like a patient person to wait in the kitchen, and a patient person is rarely anything anyone would associate with my name.

To make Johnson Family Swedish Pancakes for 4-6 people, you will need:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 C whole milk (I used 2%)
  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 2 T melted, salted butter, more for pan

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together until smooth.  In another bowl, sift the flour, sugar, and salt together.  Sift the flour mixture into the egg mixture, whisking to combine.  Whisk in the butter until smooth.  Let the batter sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Heat an electric skillet or a large cast-iron griddle over medium-high heat.  Brush the surface with butter.  Pour 5-inch-diameter pancakes, using about 3 tablespoons batter for each.  Cook until dark golden brown on the underside, 1 to 2 minutes.  Flip, and cook for another minute.  Stack the pancakes as they come off the skillet, and repeat, buttering the skillet every third batch.

(Truth be told, I kept these warm in a 200 degree oven.  Because I don’t have a large griddle, and the thin batter means the pancakes cook almost instantly, I couldn’t get enough of these cooked and on a plate before it was time to flip them and ladle out the next cupful of batter.)

On Beauty [pounded cheese]

This weekend was beautiful, which reminded me that life is beautiful, which is (part of the reason) why I made pounded cheese.

pounded cheese.

The other part of the reason is that The (Not So) New Girl found me a secret foodie brain twin named Jesse, and we’re pretty much BFFs who have never met.  She was kind enough to let me borrow her new fave cookbook, which she didn’t know I had been checking out online anyway.  Even more kind was that she made a note of recipes I should try.  Within a half hour of receiving this little surprise, I had flagged Jesse’s recipes, and a whole bunch more.

the new midwestern table.

I knew the only acceptable starting place in terms of my plan of attack on this book was pounded cheese.  We enjoyed this outside, on the deck, on the most glorious Saturday evening that ever existed.  It was gone in no time at all.

To make Old-Fashioned Pounded Cheese with Walnuts and Port Syrup for 6, you will need:

  • 1/2 C port wine
  • 1 T (packed) light brown sugar
  • 7 oz. aged cheddar cheese (3 years old or more), at room temperature
  • 6 T (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cool but not cold
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 C walnut halves, toasted

To make the port syrup, combine the port and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Simmer gently until reduced to a syrup, which will take a few minutes.  You’re looking for the consistency of maple syrup.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Break the cheddar cheese into chunks and drop them into a food processor fitted with steel blade.  Process until pureed.  Add the butter, mustard, black pepper, and cayenne, and process, stopping often to scrape down the sides, until whipped and smooth.

Transfer the cheese to a shallow dish, break up the walnut halves, and drop them on top, and drizzle with port syrup.

Serve with crackers, or small pieces of (sourdough) toast.

*To make a few hours early, simply leave cheese at room temperature.  To make a day ahead, prepare, stopping short of garnishing with nuts and sryup.  Put cheese in fridge, and the day you want to serve, let come to room temperature before garnishing.

Where Do You Shop? [golden lemon chicken]

Does anyone else shop regularly at more than one grocery store?  More than two?  What about five?

golden lemon olive chicken with couscous.

Here’s my list:

  • The Giant near work – It’s a chain grocery store.  It has everything.
  • The Safeway near my house – It’s small, but it sells booze!  Bonus, it’s walkable.
  • The Safeway near my nail salon, CVS, and a frozen yogurt place I don’t even like that much but in which I always stop anyway – It’s more convenient sometimes when I’m out running other errands.
  • The Whole Foods near work – It’s good for a quick trip in and out.
  • The other Whole Foods near work – It’s good for random ingredients and food you can’t get anywhere else.
  • The Trader Joes where I HATE PARKING SO MUCH – It’s Trader Joe’s.
  • The Trader Joes near my parents’ house in Pennsylvania where there is ample parking – It’s also Trader Joe’s.  With easier parking!
  • Wagshals – It’s the place where I know the butcher, and can get great cuts of meat.  Also truffle butter.
  • The neighborhood farmers’ market – Because who doesn’t dream of just getting everything at the farmers’ market?

Does that seem a little excessive to anyone else?  I can’t think of a single store I’d scrap, though.  Each brings something important to the table, quite literally.

golden lemon olive chicken with couscous.

I made golden lemon-olive chicken the other night for no reason at all except that when I searched make-ahead meals, this was one of the first, non-casserole stops on the internet (please note–I have absolutely nothing against casseroles). That’s a risky move, especially considering I have gobs of cookbooks and meticulously-curated Pinterest boards at my disposal.  But I felt like I’d seen all those before, and I wanted something different.  I was preparing food for company and I had zero desire to do any work the day they were coming.  So I prepped everything the day before, and simply cranked up the stove to reheat everything when my guests arrived.

Golden lemon-olive chicken (which I served sans olives when I realized that the store in which I shopped, Wagshals, didn’t have the right kind, plus I was serving dinner to someone who isn’t supposed to be eating a lot of salt anyway) blew me away.  It’s close enough to our usual fare to satisfy us, but enough of a departure that it felt like an exciting night.

To make golden lemon chicken, you will need:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 medium onions peeled, each cut into 6 wedges, root end intact
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 5 T butter
  • 4 Meyer lemons or organic lemons, 2 sliced, 1 zested and juiced, plus 1 juiced (I used regular lemons)
  • 1 generous pinch saffron (if you’re fancy and you keep saffron around–I don’t)
  • 3 T all purpose flour
  • 1 quart (4 C) chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. shredded chicken (Get some bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, cover them with salt and pepper and schmear about a tablespoon of olive oil on them.  Bake them in a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes, until juices run clear.  Set aside to cool and shred.)
Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bay leaves and garlic and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes, then cover the pan and sweat the onions for3 to 4 minutes more.Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter in a medium-high sided skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Slice 2 lemons and gently brown the slices, in 2 batches. As they brown, add them to the pan with the onions. Add 3 more tablespoons butter to the pan and let it melt, then add saffron threads and the zest of l lemon to the melted butter and stir for 1 minute. Whisk in the flour, cook for a minute more, then whisk in 2 1/2 cups of the chicken stock. Season the sauce with turmeric, cumin and cinnamon and let thicken for a couple of minutes. Stir in the juice of remaining 2 lemons and reduce the heat to low. Add the chicken and sauce to the onions and gently stir to combine. Cool and store for a make-ahead meal or, cover the pan to warm the chicken through and combine flavors.

On Healthy Eating [avocado chocolate chip cookies]

The (Not So) New Girl and I had a go at being ladies who lunch the other day.  Fresh off a long weekend, yet with nothing in my fridge, we assembled quite the meal for ourselves.  And the best part was that after a full meal, I wasn’t guilty in the slightest.  The (Not So) New Girl is my healthy friend, after all.

crock pot balsamic pulled pork

I roasted up some broccoli, she provided Skinnytaste’s Crock Pot balsamic pulled pork, and we made cookies for dessert.

Healthy cookies!

avocado chocolate chip cookies

These have avocado instead of butter and honey instead of sugar.  They’re bursting with nutritional benefits.  We may have felt the need to up the chocolate chip count to balance out all those healthful substitutions we made.  I regret nothing.

avocado chocolate chip cookies 2

These cookies are….weird!  They don’t taste junky.  But they don’t taste awful.  Did you ever make box mix brownies, swapping out the oil for applesauce?  They’re like that.  A different texture.  When I want dessert, nothing hits the spot like a buttery cookie with gooey chocolate chips in each bite.  But when I need something sweet, and don’t have any calories to waste, I like knowing I have this trick up my sleeve.

To make a dozen avocado chocolate chip cookies, you will need:

  • 100 g (about 3/4 C) avocado flesh, from a very ripe avocado
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 C dark cocoa powder
  • 50 g. dark chocolate chunks (roughly 1/4 C, but I wouldn’t tell if you upped that to 1/3 C)
  • 1 T water
  • `1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Using a fork, mash avocado and honey together.  Add egg and beat till combined.  Mix in cocoa powder and chocolate chunks.  In another small bowl, dissolve baking soda in water.   Add to mixture.  Once we got things all stirred at this point, the batter looked too runny to become cookies–it had the texture of brownie batter.  So we added about 1/4 C gluten free flour to thicken things up.  Bake 8-10 minutes.

Nanaimo Bars

Simply: I have not stopped thinking about Nanaimo Bars since I made them for Thanksgiving.  There are still a couple, sitting in my fridge right now, and they’re calling me.  Nanaimo Bars are my siren song.

nanaimo bars

More complicated-ly:

Nanaimo Bars and I have a history dating back to 2010, when the Daring Bakers (remember them?) took them on.  It was right around the time Vancouver hosted the Olympics, and I learned all about this local specialty by visiting various blogs around the Internet.  As the years passed, Nanaimo Bars kept popping up on my radar, but baking bars has never been my baking specialty, and baking bars with three layers seemed like entirely too much work.


And then last April I went to Vancouver, and made it my personal mission to, if nothing else, eat a Nanaimo Bar.

vancouver nanaimo

I was not disappointed, nor could I live in a world where this was the only Nanaimo Bar to ever cross my lips.  Thus, when left in charge of providing dessert, for what Wooden Nickels referred to as “ThanksChileanGiving,” I put Nanaimo Bars on the menu.  Sure, a Canadian dish isn’t the most obvious choice for an American holiday, but Vancouver holds a special place in my in-laws’ hearts.  As soon as I placed these on our table, both mother and father in-law knew exactly what I had done.

I had gifted my little family-in-law with a layer of coconut and chocolate graham cracker crumbs, a layer of custard-flavored frosting, and a layer of chocolate ganache.  Three layers of decadence.

I’m so glad I did it too.

These were not nearly as challenging as I had made them out to be, which happens in my baking endeavors more often than I’d care to admit.

To make 16 Nanaimo Bars, you will need:

For the graham cracker layer:

½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten (Sorry if you’re weird about raw egg.  Buy organic and conquer your fear!)
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds (optional, and I left them out)
1 cup coconut

For the custard layer:

½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

For the ganache layer:

4, 1 oz. squares semi-sweet chocolate (I used 4 oz. Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I am having a love affair with those chips.  I like them more than Scharffenberger.)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken (I didn’t do that.  Don’t tell.  I melted the ingredients in a saucepan, let them cool a little, then added the beaten egg.  It didn’t scramble, so I win).  Remove from heat.  Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts (if using).  Press firmly into an ungreased 8″ x 8″ pan.

Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well.  Beat until light.  Spread over bottom layer.

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat.  Cool.  Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Supposed Tos

The other day, Carly wrote beautifully about the Supposed Tos.  I loved her post, and the idea of doing what appeals to you, not what you feel you are Supposed To do.  Amen, Carly.

Dear readers, you are Supposed To make Rice Krispie treats with Rice Krispies.

Right, I mean, it’s in the name.

But if the spirit moves you, you could make them with any cereal.



fruity pebbles

Holy yum!

Queen Cupcake and I have a big trip (for a big birthday) here planned soon.  And until that day comes, you can find me in my kitchen, enjoying these.

fruity pebbles

I can feel the sugar coating my teeth with each bite.

To make a 9 x 13 pan-ful, you will need:

  • 3 T butter
  • 1, 10 oz. bag marshmallows
  • 6 C Fruity Pebbles cereal

Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan, or spray with cooking spray.

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat.  Add marshmallows and stir, constantly, until completely melted.  Remove saucepan from heat and stir in cereal.  Press into prepared pan with wax paper, or rubber spatula.  Let cool to room temperature, cut into squares (the sharper the knife, the better), and serve.

* A note: When you take this giant saucepan with melted butter and marshmallows, and when you stir 6 C of neon colored cereal into the mix, you will gasp at the pot you have to clean.  You will wonder whether or not you will ever spend a night not trying to get the last of the goop off the pot.  But I promise, with hot water, and approximately 5 minutes of soak time (less than the time it takes for your treats to cool), the pan will be good as new.

7 Years!

I think it’s silly that we only celebrate anniversaries with our signifs.

summer shandy cupcake

About 7 years ago, I met CV(D).

About 6 years and 11 months ago, we determined that had we met earlier in life, we would have hated each other.

About 6 years and 9 months ago, we realized we couldn’t live without each other.

About 6 years ago, we figured out that margaritas and chips would get us through the year we were having.

About 5 years ago, we started working closer than we ever had before.

About 4 years and 10 months ago, she predicted that my husband would propose to me before Thanksgiving was over.  She was right.

About 4 years ago, she couldn’t stop talking about a boy, and I knew there was something different about this one.  I was right.

About 3 years ago, we developed an ability to finish each others’ sentences.

About 2 years ago, we started spending as much time together as was humanly possible.

About 1 year ago, we stopped saying goodbye, and started saying, “Never leave me.”

And about 1 month ago, we had a Starbucks date where I stopped and wondered if I could figure out the exact moment she became one of my best friends.

summer shandy cupcakes 2

Happy birthday, Mrs. CV(D), I made you my favorite cupcakes I’ve ever made in my life. Here’s to our 8th year of love!

To make 24 Summer Shandy cupcakes, you will need:

For the cupcakes:

  • 3/4 C unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 2 1/2 C flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • lemon zest from half a lemon
  • 1 C summer shandy beer
  • 1/4 C milk

For the frosting:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • lemon zest from other half of lemon
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 4 C powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.

For the cupcakes, beat butter and sugar in mixer till light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape bowl as necessary.  Add vanilla and lemon zest and mix till incorporated.  In smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  In small bowl or measuring cup, mix milk and beer.  Add flour alternately with beer mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full with batter and bake 18 minutes.

To make frosting, beat butter and cream cheese till smooth.  Add lemon zest and lemon juice and beat till smooth.  Slowly beat in sugar until well combined.  I tend to kick up the speed at this point and see if I can whip things smooth in about a minute.

Wait till cupcakes are completely cool to frost them, then share with friends.

Accidental Dinners

summer plate

The other day we hosted my in laws for lunch.  And my sister in law brought this, the most glorious tomato salad I’ve ever had.  Well, the most glorious tomato salad that isn’t Caprese salad.  But you know what?  Variety is the spice of life, and that salad was no exception.  Thank you, sister-in-law + Jamie Oliver.

You do need a schmancy broken leaf Turkish oregano to make it, but with a couple clicks, it can be on the way from Penzey’s.  Booyah!

Jamie says it works with regular oregano too, but this darn broken leaf stuff was amazing enough that I’m not leaving it to chance.

In a rush to clean out the pantry before our trip, I cooked up risotto for dinner, planning to stir in whatever was nearby to complete the meal, and leave the fridge barren.  My husband got this version.

Our fridge wasn’t quite as bounteous a place as I thought, so, left without any more arugula or prosciutto, I grabbed the dregs and got lucky.

tomato and proscuitto risotto

We had two pieces of speck (they were out of prosciutto at the store that day) and a smattering of teeny tomatoes from lunch.  I stirred those into mine.

Speck has a smokier flavor than prosciutto, that plays beautifully against the bright oregano and red wine vinaigrette clinging to the tomatoes.

Holy sweet lord.

This is not a combination of flavors I would have tried had it not been left to fate, but fate was smiling on me that night, and I got lucky.

To make speck and tomato risotto for 4 you will need:

  • 1 recipe risotto (Use any recipe here, and leave the mix-ins out.  Or put the mix-ins in if they float your boat.)
  • 6 pieces speck
  • leftover mothership tomato salad

Make risotto and scoop out into 4 bowls.  Tear speck and distribute evenly in each bowl.  Stir in tomatoes.  The dressing is welcome here, as it adds to the overall flavor of the dish, so leave no drop un-poured.  I didn’t even top this with Parmesan and I didn’t even care.