Baking Weather and Browned Butter Apple Pie

I'm so happy to welcome back Fall, mainly because everyone knows Fall is Baking Season.  To me it is not a coincidence that this time of year is when we harvest apples.  Time for apple pie.

A few years ago I went on a mission to find the very best apple pie recipe out there.  As with brownies, there are a million recipes (hence, The Brownie Project) and I needed only the very best.  Unless you're Mari or my grandmother Alice, pies aren't easy to make, so why waste time making one that's anything less than off the charts amazing?

Mari makes amazing pie crust... mine, not so much.  So please don't judge me for using a refrigerated crust.  Someday I'll hone my crust making skills, but for now, I have two children under the age of four.

I asked the internet to find me an easy to make, amazing apple pie.  My search turned up something intriguing - Browned Butter Apple Pie.  Adding butter to apple pie sounded like a great idea to me, and I liked that it called for just one crust.  This enables one package of two crusts to become two pies, which by my calculations is always better than one pie.

My friend Audrey had some of this pie when I made for one of our weekly Girls Nights, and confessed to me six months later she couldn't stop thinking about it.  Oh, Audge.

Pretty good lookin' stuff, right?

Here's what you're going to need.  It's a Pillsbury recipe, so that's probably why it calls for their pie crust.  I'm so in love with the end result I don't even mind the self-promotion.

Let's make some pie.

1/4 cup butter 
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 cups sliced peeled organic Granny Smith apples (5 medium)

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup firm butter

Heat oven to 400°F Place cookie sheet in oven to heat. In 1-quart saucepan, cook 1/4 cup butter over medium heat, stirring constantly, until melted and lightly browned. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

In large bowl, beat 1/2 cup granulated sugar and the egg with wire whisk until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 tablespoons flour and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat in cooled butter. Gently stir in apples. Pour into crust-lined pan.

In medium bowl, stir together all streusel ingredients except butter. With pastry blender or fork, cut in 1/4 cup butter until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over apples. Place pie on cookie sheet in oven.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F and cover edge of crust with strips of foil or pie crust shield (I use Grandma Alice's.  Functional and full of good-pie-making-mojo) to prevent excessive browning. Bake 40 to 50 minutes longer or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Cool 2 hours.

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Bourbon Bing Cherries

Planning ahead and waiting around are the names of my game right now.

I've been keeping the laundry done and the house clean so that when we have to leave at any moment for the hospital for baby number two, things won't be a disaster when we come home.  I've been freezing soup, buying extra pantry staples, and trying to use up perishables from the fridge.

Or at least that's my excuse for making a batch of Bourbon Bing Cherries.  Planning ahead.  They have to steep in the fridge for at least a week, and they've been in there since last Monday.

King's Hardware posted a picture of giant jars of their housemade bourbon cherries on their facebook page a few weeks back, and I just happened to have a few pounds of cherries in the fridge.  Not all of them were used for the clafoutis, so my course of action was clear...

I used Bulleit Bourbon, and needed just a little more liquid since there wasn't quite a cup left in the bottle, so I grabbed this stuff:

Catdaddy Moonshine.  It's spiced, and from what I smelled, will be a perfect addition to the mix.  I did not yet taste the liquid or the final product, but my money's on good stuff.

Bourbon Bing Cherries

1/2 lb of cherries, washed
1 c bourbon
1/4 c brown sugar
a lidded, glass jar

1.  Combine bourbon or other liquor with brown sugar in a small, heavy saucepan.  Heat slowly until hot.  Don't boil or you'll kill some of your alcohol - heaven forbid!

2.  Warm jar with hot water from tap or in dishwasher.  Cram full of cherries.

3.  Slowly pour hot alcohol over cherries.  Push cherries down so they are submerged.

4.  Steep in fridge for a minimum of one week.  Cherries will keep for up to three months.  Maybe more, but we will probably never know since they'll all be eaten well before then.

Cherries can be pitted and de-stemmed or left as is.

I can't wait to try these cherries in a Maker's Manhattan - homemade bourbon cherry definitely trumps mass-produced maraschino.  The liquid should be tasty enough to serve on the rocks, or with a bit of soda water.

Bon Maman jam jars make a cute container for these!  Did someone do you a huge favor recently?  Thank them with Bourbon Bing Cherries.  Who wouldn't love to find a jar of these on their doorstep?

How will you use your Bourbon Bings??  Thank you gifts or hoard for self?

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Bing Cherry Clafoutis

Oh my holy hell.

That is exactly what I said when I pulled this clafoutis out of the oven and the absolutely decadent, buttery smell rushed out of the oven straight into my face.

I had my first taste of clafoutis at a cooking class taught by Chef Peter Birk, who was with Ray's Boathouse at the time.  His recipe (adapted from Pierre Raboul's recipe) called for concord grapes, but he substituted bing cherries.  Cherries, I'm told, are the traditional fruit for clafoutis, and fortunately here in the Northwest we have some of the finest cherries available.

I will never make clafoutis with grapes after having it with cherries.  In addition to not having to peel grapes, cherry and almond go together so effortlessly.  This simple and straightforward cake is a perfect showcase for the combination.

Get yourself some of these lovely little local jewels before they're gone again, and make some clafoutis.  It's a great dessert to serve company (just make sure you've made enough), and can easily be made gluten free by opting for the hazelnut substitution over cookie crumbs.  

My grandmother's cherry pitter.  I really recommend getting one of these if you're going to pit cherries even once a year. Not only does it make removing the pits easy, but you can actually aim and fire the pit a pretty good distance with the thing, just slightly more refined than spitting them.  Leaving the pits in your cherries for clafoutis actually produces a more concentrated flavor as the cherries bake, and this is the traditional way to make it.  

Bing Cherry Clafoutis

Adapted by Chef Peter Birk from Pierre Raboul

8 T unsalted butter, softened
1 lb bing cherries, washed and pitted
1 c confectioner's sugar, plus 1 T
1 3/4 c almond flour or finely ground almonds
2 T cookie crumbs or chopped hazelnuts
pinch salt
2 eggs
1/4 c heavy cream

1.  Oven to 350.  Grease a 9" cake pan with the butter wrapper.

2.  In an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter.  Add 1 cup confectioner's sugar and beat til incorporated.  Beat in almond flour, cookie crumbs or nuts, and salt.

3.  In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and cream.  Gradually add to butter mixture while mixing on medium speed.  Beat until just smooth.

4.  Transfer batter to prepared cake pan.  Spoon cherries and any accumulated juices over batter.  Sift remaining tablespoon of sugar over cake.

5.  Bake until golden and firm in center, 50 minutes.  Let cool before serving.

The cherries sink and almost disappear during baking.

Fresh out of the oven.

The three of us ate half of it immediately, and the other half was excellent for breakfast the next morning.  Someone who shall remain nameless might or might not have a bit for a midnight snack, too.

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The Brownie Project: Round Two

The next contender in the Brownie Project is Gold Medal Flour's Fudge Brownies recipe from their children's cookbook, Alpha-Bakery.  A lot of people swear by Gold Medal cookbooks, so I figured this would be a good one to try.  Natalie got the book for her birthday, along with a bunch of other cute baking things, and she was happy to offer it up for testing.

She was also really glad we were making brownies again.

This recipe turned out to be quite interesting.  It's a one-pot (yes, pot!) recipe, in which the bakers melt chocolate chips and add ingredients to the pot after it's off the heat.  Many of the steps are very easy for children to assist.  And, for God's sake, they got the pan size right!

Slightly suspect, however, is their recommendation to cut an 8x8 sized pan of brownies into twenty.  Twenty?  How about eight?  Twelve at the absolute most.  

Also, the recipe calls for a 6 oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I have never, ever seen a 6 oz bag.  And then the recipe also calls for another cup of chips (not another 6 oz package?) to be sprinkled over the top.  Why the change up in units?  Is it something to do with the melting part?  I honestly don't know, do any of you?


F is for Fudge Brownies

1/4 c of margarine or butter (naturally, we used butter)
1 package (6 oz) of chocolate chips (um.  Eyeball half of your 12 oz bag)
3/4 c of sugar
2/3 c Gold Medal all purpose flour
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 c chopped nuts, if you like (we didn't)
1/2 c chocolate chips, if you like (we did)

1.  Heat the oven to 350.

2. Grease the bottom only of an 8x8x2 square pan with shortening (we used butter since we had the buttery wrapper already in hand)

3.  Heat butter and 1 package chocolate chips (that's a 6 oz package, folks!) in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted; remove from heat.  Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts and 1/2 c chocolate chips real hard (technical term there) with a wooden spoon until smooth.

4.  Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.  Spread in pan with a rubber scraper.

5.  Bake until the center is set, about 30 minutes.  Let brownies cool completely, then cut into 1 3/4 x 1 1/2 inch brownies.  Makes 20 brownies.

We decided to pre-mix our "remaining ingredients" before adding them to the melted chocolate chips, mainly so that Natalie could have the fun of dumping and stirring at a safe distance from the gas stove.
We also decided to sprinkle the "1/2 c chocolate chips" over the top of the batter once it was in the pan.

OFFICIAL VERDICT: F is for Fudge Brownies from Gold Medal Flour's Alpha-Bakery cookbook

3 out of 5

One pot (but we added a bowl), very easy to involve children.  But - too sweet (no really!) and not nearly chocolatey enough.  They are almost like blondies.  Even the extra chocolate chips on top didn't correct the lack of chocolate in the batter.  Consistency was fudgy and good, and the thickness was right.

Next up:  Disgustingly Rich Brownies from our friend Abby Taylor's favorite childhood cookbook.

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The Brownie Project: Round One

A few weeks ago, we got a real hankering for brownies at Ellie Bluebell's House.  Okay, maybe it was just me wanting them, but once I mentioned the idea of making some brownies to Natalie, she wanted them really bad, too.

I started looking for a recipe.  We just happened to have grabbed a book at the library on our last visit, Sesame Street B is for Baking: 50 Yummy Dishes to Make Together.  Sure enough, there was a brownie recipe in it.  "Elmo's Best Brownies In The West" sounded very promising.  Elmo wouldn't lie to us about his brownies being the best, would he?

So Natalie donned the darling apron she got for her birthday, and we got down to business.  The recipe was easy and pretty straightforward.  You can see much of it in this picture.  However, it will not be reprinted here because I was so frustrated with the results the book went straight back to the library before I realized I needed the recipe for blog purposes.  I can get a little rash when it comes to food, and especially when it comes to baked goods.

We had a great time mixing and measuring and we substituted the recipe's olive oil for applesauce, which made me worry they would be too sweet.  Alas, I needn't have worried.

My first clue that this recipe was going to disappoint was the pan size recommended: 9x13.  I could tell by looking at the quantity of ingredients that it was going to yield sadly flat, thin brownies.  Is there anything sadder than a flat brownie?  Maybe it's just me, but I like mine nearly cubic.  Think Rubic's Cube in size and stature.  Fat, tall and gooey, please!

But I went with the recipe's recommendation, just to test it.  After they baked, Natalie and I sat down and each had one.  She seemed quite happy, but other than the fact that we had just baked together without destroying the kitchen or each other, I was not pleased.  They were not very sweet (despite the applesauce substitution) and quite cakey (probably because of the applesauce substitution).

Pan size is wrong.  Did Elmo even test this recipe before the book came out?


But - if you like your brownies cakey, thin, and not very sweet, by all means try dumb old Elmo's recipe.  Get the book from the library in case you hate it.  If you end up with the copy we had you can see the comments I angrily added to the recipe with my fine-point Sharpie.  I expect to have my library card revoked any day now.

With all the brownie recipes out there in the world, I thought, 'what's the best one?'  Since everyone likes their brownies a bit different, you can't just go by star ratings on allrecipes.  No.  For us to find our very favorite brownie recipe in the whole world, we were going to have to make lots and lots and lots of brownies.

And thus, the Brownie Project was born.  Natalie and I decided we'd make a different recipe each week, to find our favorite.  We promise not to make any further substitutions so as to preserve the integrity of each recipe.  (But if I come across olive oil in any other recipes I might have to make an exception.  Seriously, olive oil?  Hork)

Stay tuned, and we'll soldier on bravely until we find the one that is best!  Best to us, anyway.  If you have a favorite you'd like to submit for the Project, please share it!

ROUND ONE OFFICIAL VERDICT: Elmo's Best Brownies in the West from Sesame Street B is for Baking

1 out of 5

Sadly thin and cakey.  Not sweet enough.  High marks from a motivational aspect, however, because they were so bad that this project was created.  Elmo, we would appreciate if you actually tested your recipes before you put out a book.

And, you know, it's not like we threw the brownies away.  They were eaten.  We do not waste food at Ellie Bluebell's House.

Next up: Fudge Brownies from Gold Medal Flour's Alpha Bakery Children's Cookbook.


Edamame Fried Rice and Teriyaki Sauce

I hate to waste food.  Hate it.  My tendency to remake leftovers into "new" dishes wears on my husband a bit, since not all of my creations are good ones.  He also distrusts leftovers in general - I've heard stories about when he was a child and they'd eat the same giant pot of something for days on end.

I can understand where his mom was coming from with the cooking in bulk, but I also see his point.  You gotta mix things up.

Every now and then I make something from leftovers that is different enough from the original thing that it can't even be classified as leftovers.  Fried rice falls into this category, and it's a great dish to serve alongside baked tofu or teriyaki salmon to round out a meal.  With the edamame it can even stand on its own as a one dish meal.

Edamame Fried Rice

1 T coconut oil
2 cups leftover cooked rice
2 T soy sauce, tamari, or Dr Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids
2 T teriyaki sauce (optional, recipe follows)
1/2 c chopped carrots
1/4 c frozen peas
1/4 c shelled edamame
2 eggs
3 green onions, sliced

In a large heavy skillet, heat coconut oil over medium high heat.  Add rice, soy sauce, and teriyaki sauce.  Cook about 5 minutes, until rice is no longer chunky and absorbs some of the soy sauce/teriyaki sauce.

Stir in carrots, peas, and edamame, cook another 5 minutes.

Push rice and veggies to the sides of the skillet, leaving a round hole in the center.  Add a bit of coconut oil to the hole, allow to heat.  Pour in gently beaten eggs and cook without stirring for 2 minutes.  Scramble eggs gently within hole.  After eggs have mostly set (about 2 minutes), stir rice and eggs all together.

Stir in green onions, and serve.

This teriyaki sauce recipe was shown to me in college by my friend Jasmine.  It's so simple, and a good recipe to have in your toolkit since bottled teriyaki sauce is so expensive.  You can simmer lots of other things in it to give it different flavors: minced garlic, red pepper flakes, minced fresh ginger.

It makes a great marinade and sauce for the baked tofu shown above, and is absolutely fabulous on grilled pineapple.

Basic Teriyaki Sauce

1 part soy sauce
1 part sugar (1 c of each is about the minimum to use)

Combine in small sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir well.  Simmer until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.  Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

Thank you Jasmine!

What's Cooking: 5.20 - 5.26

Miracles are happening.  Above is this week's menu.  As in the current menu.

Monday - linguine with clam sauce.  Make yourself some!  Served with apple blue cheese salad and broccoli.  Two veggies - bam.

Tuesday - brisket sandwiches from the giant slab of meat that was smoked this weekend.  Fries and salad.

Wednesday - edamame fried rice, baked tofu, and sesame ginger salad.

Thursday - dinner out.  Subway, to be exact.  I have been addicted to their Veggie Patty on a salad for years.  It looks like dog food but it's tasty and vegetarian.  

Friday - pizza party, with salad and raspberry hot fudge sundaes.  I came across Santa Cruz Organic Raspberry Chocolate Sauce at Grocery Outlet and am so glad I got it... we've been loving it on coconut sorbet with fresh raspberries!

Saturday - camping.

Sunday - ribollita (vegetable stew, "reboiled" in Italian), garlic toasts.  Hoping to post about the soup soon.

Let's see if I can keep up this current momentum with posting the weekly menus.  Stay tuned!

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An Easy Classic: Linguine With White Clam Sauce

When I first came across this recipe several years ago, I was skeptical about it.  Could homemade clam sauce from canned clams really be good, or was this one of those recipes that tries and fails to recreate at home something that is delicious only in restaurants?  But the lure of a different (meaning not tomato based or heavy cream) pasta dish that incorporated seafood, a protein our whole family eats, was too much for me.  

I broke down and made it, and it was so delectable I immediately added the recipe to my cookbook and the dish to our dinner rotation. 

It's easy, classic, flavorful, and has few ingredients, all of which are easy to keep on hand.  Except the wine.  Wine never lasts long around here, once opened.  But we actually had some leftover Chardonnay-Viognier in the fridge this week.  

This recipe claims to serve four, but I'd double it if you have a family of four or more solid eaters.

Linguine With White Clam Sauce

Serves 3 or so

1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 c butter 
2 cans minced or chopped clams, drained.  Reserve 2/3 c of the liquid
1/4 c white wine
1/4 t pepper
1 T chopped parsley
1 t sea salt
8 oz linguine or thin spaghetti
1/3 c freshly grated parmesan or pecorino-romano 

Leftover wine.  I hardly even know myself anymore.

Anyway, saute garlic in butter in a large skillet until golden.

Add clam juice, wine, pepper, and salt.  Simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly reduced.

Add half of the freshly grated parmesan or pecorino-romano, stir.  I use a Zyliss Rotary Grater and do it right over the pan.  Do you have one of these?  It might seem like a really specific and therefore frivolous kitchen gadget, but it's not.  You need one.  If I can't convince you, then the fact that every server at Olive Garden is equipped with one should do it.  Because Olive Garden is the undeniable leading authority on authentic Italian pasta.

In all seriousness, freshly grated cheese from a high quality wedge is much tastier than pre-grated "parmesan" that comes in a tub, or - gasp! - a shaker can (and more economical, in the tub's case).

I have strong feelings about cheese, and good kitchen gadgets for cheese (here's my other must-have grater.  Yes, you need two graters, at least).  Okay, back to the Linguine.

Add clams, stir till hot, and then add drained linguine directly to the skillet.  Toss.  Let it cook for 2 or 3 minutes.  The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce a bit.  Sprinkle on the parsley.

Serve immediately, adding the remaining parmesan to the top.  Or just put your favorite kitchen gadget on the table and let everyone have the fun of giving the Zyliss a few turns.

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What's Cooking: 5.13.12 - 5.19.12

I will admit it: in the last month or so, our weekly menus have been less than post-worthy (where there was even a menu at all).  Not that there's anything wrong with takeout, frozen pizza, and everyone-fend-for-themselves-style leftovers.  But it's not the way to eat healthy (ahem, pizza) or save money (ahem, takeout).

I finally got back on the meal planning last week, and it was because I needed to: Casey's dad stayed with us.  I don't think he'd mind my saying that the man likes to eat, so I knew I needed to plan ahead or it'd be Red Mill every night (again, doesn't sound so bad, actually...)

Monday - pesto pasta with salmon (this was a doctored up leftovers dish that turned out really well!  If I can recreate it, I'll post about it), broccoli

Tuesday - Casey made tacos while I went to a meeting

Wednesday - spaghetti.  Again, Casey cooked while I had a meeting

Thursday - my father in law arrives: let the meat cooking begin.  Crockpot chicken enchiladas and black bean enchiladas, avocado slaw, spicy black beans

Friday - typo on the board pictured above for which I received much flak: 'steelhead' should read 'salmon'.  A "springer," apparently, to be exact.  In any case, I served it with rice and broccoli, and I also made a Browned Butter Apple Pie.  Even though I've made it many times, this didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped, but we ate it anyway.

Saturday - the guys smoked a brisket.  I made baked beans and salad.

Sunday - Casey's "pub" burgers were on the menu, but we had a Bad Meat Incident (I was agape when my father in law took a bite of the raw meat to determine if it was bad!  He thought it was fine but we overruled him on lack of judgment alone) and ended up going to... where else?  Red Mill Burgers instead!

Why hello there, Babe's Onion Rings.

What are your favorite dishes to make when you have houseguests?

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Salad Days

Some days you just need a salad.  In our case, that day was Monday.  We had grilled all weekend, thanks to the gorgeous sunshine that finally warmed our corner of the country, and the family had eaten a lot of heavy meats (exception: me, of course, but I always welcome a Salad Day).

This particular salad is great for spring and summer because you still get to grill!  The salad-shunning man in your life will be happy to know this.  No BBQ?  Middle of winter?  I will admit to not wanting to deal with the massive propane monster on our deck, so I used a cast iron grill pan on the stove for the shrimp skewers this time.

And it's easy.  The worst part, as in any recipe involving shrimp, is cleaning the little buggers.  It's almost enough to make me swear off shrimp forever.  If you have already sworn them off, it'd be great with baked tofu, too.

If you can't find Newman's Own Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing, first: I suggest you search longer and harder because it is completely delicious.  If you still can't find it, you can make up your own marinade/dressing with 1/2 cup Kraft Catalina dressing, 1 T sesame oil, 1 t ginger (diced fresh is better), 1/2 t garlic powder (again, minced fresh is better but a little harder), and a good splash of rice wine vinegar.

Mandarin and Almond Shrimp Salad

16 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined 
1 c sesame ginger dressing
1 head romaine, cut up
1 15 oz can mandarin oranges, drained
1/2 c sliced red pepper
1/2 c sugar snap peas
1/3 cup almonds
1/2 c cucumber, sliced

Soak skewers in water if using bamboo.  Skewer shrimp and marinate in 1/3 c sesame ginger dressing for 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator.

Remove shrimp, discard dressing.

Heat grill on medium-high.  Grill shrimp 4-5 minutes each side, turning once.

Toss lettuce with 1/3 c dressing.   Arrange salad, veggies, and almonds on individual plates, and lay shrimp skewer across each one.

Drizzle shrimp with remaining 1/3 c dressing.

And your colorful dinner's done!  Embrace the Salad Days... even if you're no longer in your salad days.


Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Broccoli

Any recipe that uses up something that would otherwise be compost has my heart, and these Peanut Noodles make use of the stems of broccoli.  I don't know if its my store or what, but I usually end up with a good 3-4" extra inches of stem, even after leaving an inch or two attached to the dark green tops as a steamed side dish.  The original recipe called for cucumber cut into matchsticks, but I think the broccoli adds better crunch and also more fiber and nutrients.  

So don't throw those out: save your broccoli stems for Peanut Noodles!  (Another option for broccoli stems is to chop, freeze, and save them for a batch of Crockpot Lentil Soup)

Children love this dish, but it's sophisticated and tasty enough to satisfy the whole family.  Pass the green onions and cilantro at the table if your little ones are wary of "green stuff."

On the right in this photo is my baked tofu.  I use baked tofu for this recipe since it holds together better than tofu right out of the package, and is tastier since it's got built in flavor.

Baked Tofu

1 14 oz package organic tofu in water
1/4 c soy sauce or Dr Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids
1/8 t red chile flakes
1 t sugar

Oven to 350.  Drain tofu and cut into 8 slices.  Lay these on several layers of paper towels, cover with several more layers of towels.  Press.  Spray a baking dish with cooking spray, arrange tofu in dish.  Stir together remaining ingredients and spoon half of it over top of tofu slices (it's okay if it runs off).  Bake for 20 min.  Turn slices over, spoon other half of marinade over the tofu, and bake another 20 minutes.

Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Broccoli

8 oz spaghetti or fettucine
3/4 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c peanut butter (old fashioned is best)
3 T sugar
1/4 t red chile flakes (omit if your little ones are sensitive to spice)
3 T soy sauce (or Dr Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids)
8 oz baked tofu
1 c broccoli stems, cut into matchsticks
1/3 c chopped peanuts
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 c cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions.  With 2 minutes left on the time, add broccoli to pot.  Drain and set aside.  Heat broth, garlic, sugar, chiles, peanut butter, and soy sauce in pasta pot until boiling.  Turn off heat.  Add pasta and broccoli, toss.  Fold in tofu cubes.  Top each serving with chopped peanuts.  Pass cilantro and green onions at the table.

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Coconut Pecan Banana Bread

It seems impossible for me not to tweak a recipe these days.  I set out to make plain, old, delicious Chocolate Chip Banana Bread this afternoon, I swear I did.  Tried-n-true, everyone-loves-it banana bread.  Nothing fancy.

Then I came to 'vegetable oil' in the ingredients list, and I went straight for the coconut oil.  I just can't resist coconut in any form, and they say coconut oil is healthier and makes you more beautiful to boot.  Sign me up.

From there I found a bit of shredded, unsweetened coconut in the pantry, and also unearthed a small bottle of coconut flavoring in the spice cabinet.  There were pecans, too, and it seemed the banana bread's fate was sealed: Chocolate Chip gave way to Coconut Pecan Banana Bread.

I wasn't sure if it was going to taste great, but for coconut, I will risk much.

When I pulled the first two loaves out of the oven an hour or so later, they smelled amazing.  I waited a whole 25 seconds before loosening the loaf and turning it out on to the counter, exercising much restraint.  I snapped some quick pictures and then grabbed the knife - the moment of truth.

It tasted fabulous - banana'y, a little coconutty, and a lot delicious, with a bit of added crunch from the toasted coconut on top.

Let's bake.

Coconut Pecan Banana Bread

1 c coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 t vanilla
1 t coconut extract
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon
4 mashed bananas
3/4 c chopped pecans
1/2 c shredded, unsweetened coconut

Oven to 325.  Grease loaf pans (makes 2 9" loaves or 4 5" mini loaves).

Beat oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and coconut extract.  In another bowl, combine flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Add to the oil mixture, and just combine.  Fold in the mashed bananas, coconut (reserving a bit for sprinkling on top of the loaves), and pecans.

Pour into prepared pans, filling 2/3 of the way.  Bake 50 minutes for mini loaves, 1 hour for regular loaves, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Keep in mind, though, that they will continue to cook just a bit in the pans after you take them out of the oven.  Don't overbake - there should be a slight sheen to the very center of the loaf which will disappear as it cools.

This will be so tasty for Easter morning brunch... if they last that long.  I haven't tried it yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a smear of Nutella on this would be absolutely amazing.  Comment below if you try it!

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When Winter Lingers

The rain has just kept coming here, which shouldn't be surprising given that 'here' is Seattle, Washington. But it's been excessive and lengthy this winter even by our soggy, Gore-tex'ed standards.  What else can a girl do but invite over a bunch of girlfriends for comfort food, wine, and reality TV?

My friends are a delightfully diverse bunch.  They are moms, newlyweds, and single gals.  We are tall, short, and medium, Korean and Irish.  Our dietary needs run the gamut from those who will eat anything someone else makes for them to vegetarians and even one dairy-free, gluten-free girl.  What in the world do you make for this crowd?

You make them a baked potato bar, with vegetarian chili and all the traditional baked potato toppings on the side: shredded Tillamook cheddar (the only cheddar in my book), diced green onions, sour cream, dairy-free sour cream, diced bacon, salsa, sliced olives, and steamed broccoli.  Everyone stays on their diet, and most importantly, we all feel warmed, comforted, and well-fed.

Already thinking of my next meal, I baked up all the potatoes I had, with the hope that the girls would leave a few untouched and I'd get to make potato soup.  I got my wish, and then found this recipe in an old, funky cookbook which also magically included many of the toppings I had leftover as well.  Soup kismet.

Baked Potato Soup

6 large organic Yukon Gold potatoes, baked
1/2 c butter
3 T flour
3 c milk (fat free works just fine)
3/4 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
2 oz real bacon bits
4 oz sour cream (don't use fat free)
shredded cheddar cheese
diced green onions

Melt butter in large, heavy pot.  Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Whisk in milk, and continue to stir until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Cut potatoes into bite sized pieces (include the skins only if you are using organic potatoes.  If not, discard the skin) and add to pot with salt, pepper, and bacon. Cook 5 or 10 minutes, then use a potato masher to smooth out the potato chunks a bit.  Stir in sour cream and add more milk if needed to get the consistency you want.  Top with lots of cheese and diced green onions.

I left the cheese out of the main soup and instead added it as a topping since I wanted to freeze some of this soup - it'll be the perfect thing to take to one of our many friends who have recently had babies - but feel free to stir some in with the sour cream to incorporate it into the soup.

Don't forget to put more cheese on top, no matter what, and let the comfort roll over you as the rain hits the roof.

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Guinness Cupcakes With Bourbon Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Oh, Guinness.  How I miss you these days!  Your smooth, chocolaty, coffee-y richness is so complex, and yet, so light.  There is truly no one like you in the entire world of beverages.  Guinness has long been my favorite night cap, and when comfort is needed, Guinness and fish and chips has always been there for me.  It really does "cure what ails ya."

Maybe, just maybe, you have one lonely Guinness left over in your fridge from St Patrick's Day.  If so, you need to do better next time, my friend.  But for now, crack it open and use it to make a batch of these lovely treats!

You might have noticed I'm doing a bit of baking these days, and St Patrick's Day was no exception.  Pin this for next year, because you are going to want to make these moist, not-too-sweet cupcakes for your celebration.  I have it on good authority that they go perfectly with Bailey's and coffee, or there's always the obvious pairing... a nice, frothy pint of stout.

Guinness Cupcakes With Bourbon Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from The Repressed Pastry Chef

4 oz unsalted butter
1 1/2 c dark brown sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 1/8 c flour
1/4 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
7 oz Guinness
1/3 c dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Ellie Bluebell's Kitchen Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar

Preheat oven to 350.  Use butter wrapper to grease a standard sized 12-muffin tin as well as a mini muffin tin (optional).  In stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together, then add in eggs.  Sift flour, baking powder and soda into a separate bowl.  Measure Guinness in a liquid measuring cup and stir in cocoa powder.  Add half the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar, then half the chocolate mixture, etc, and combine.

Pour batter into muffin tin, filling nearly full.  I made 12 regular cupcakes and six minis.  Bake for 20 minutes for regular sized.  Add the minis after 5 minutes have elapsed (if making minis).

For frosting, stir cream cheese with fork in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sugar, stir to combine.  Spread onto cooled cupcakes.  Try to share.

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The Fisherman and the Pescetarian

Presenting our first guest blogger, and it's none other than my husband, Casey!  He is the reason we have frequently have freshly caught salmon, steelhead, crab, and many other ocean creatures on our table.  I came home from working to find this meal on the table, hot and ready to eat.  I'm thankful for him for many reasons, but his fishing skill is one of the biggies.

A fisherman and a pescetarian: match made in heaven (or the Pacific Northwest)!

I'll let him tell you about the amazing treats he made with his latest catch: steelhead.

A nice 7-12lb steelhead can feed our family of 3 for a few nights, maybe even a week if we go sparingly (though that is never really the case).  We have to get a little creative on presenting new dishes that Natalie will continue to enjoy.  Enter that perennial favorite, crispy, crunchy fish and chips.  But isn't steelhead too oily?  Doesn't the flavor overwhelm?  After tasting these Steelhead Nugget, your answers will be no and no.

I didn't use a recipe, just plain lucked out I suppose.  Plus I've had my share of good and bad fish and chips in my day to give me a general concept and basic understanding of how to get started.  Call it intuition (or hunger), but I think that I tried a few tricks that helped to create the perfect Nugget.  I truly believe the milk/brown sugar/salt and pepper marinade is the key to these not coming out oily.  It helps the fry mixture to adhere, and the panko crumbs add the perfect texture. 

Fresh Steelhead or Salmon Nuggets

1 lb fresh salmon or steelhead
1/2 c milk (I used fat free actually)
salt & pepper
1 T brown sugar
1 egg
Fry Batter (I used a pre-made Old Bay version, save yourself time & energy by using a tried and true)
1/2 c panko bread crumbs
Canola oil for frying

Start by removing the salmon/steelhead fillet from the skin and removing the pin bones.  Cut into 1 1/2-2 inch cubes and place in a Ziploc bag and add milk, brown sugar, a good pinch of high quality sea salt, and pepper.  Squeeze the air out of the bag and place into the refrigerator for 30 mins. and while you prepare the "station".  Place the dry fry batter mixture into a shallow bowl.  In another dish, beat the egg.  Add a splash of milk to the egg and mix, add salt and pepper to taste.  In the last dish place panko bread crumbs. 

Get your oil nice and hot (look for a sheen to appear on the surface) in a deep, heavy pan.  Cover a plate with a paper towels for cooked fish to drain.  Take your pieces of fish and dredge them in the fry mixture.  Once they are coated evenly, shake off excess and transfer to eggwash, and then roll them well in the panko crumbs until completely covered.  

Carefully lower the fish into the hot oil to fry, being careful not to overcrowd.  After about 3-4 minutes (they will be golden brown on the bottom) flip over, and finish until the other side is the same color (about another 3-4 minutes).  Transfer to the paper towel covered plate to drip.  

That's it.  Easy.  Delicious.

Crack open an ice cold brew, Alaskan Amber would be an excellent choice, plate with some fries and set out the condiments.  

Give it a try!  Make them for children, or impress your friends.  And the next time the kids want chicken nuggets, think about all of the beneficial omega 3's you will get from eating freshly caught salmon or steelhead. If you don't have a fisherman, you can get fresh caught in any of the fish markets or farmer's markets.  

Everyone at our house loved Steelhead Nuggets... just look at that clean plate and smile.

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