Tag Archives: baking

toasty whole grain granola with dried cherries + dark chocolate

I am just settling in this afternoon, back from a week-long vacation on Lake Burton, in north Georgia. And by vacation, I mean family reunion. Contrary to what most might assume, the break away from work was refreshing, no family feuds ensued, and the scenery was breathtaking. Any worries we had on the trip were quelled, once we turned the key to our front door: the houseplants didn’t die, the cats made it alright, and the garden surprisingly flourished.

I am taking a short break to write this post, before we deal with the “unknowns” in the refrigerator. I am thinking that a lot of what is still hanging out in the fridge will go straight into the compost. I don’t feel bad about that. The unused food will soon be recycled into soil for our garden’s vegetables and herbs. Even though the trip was relaxing, I am still in vacation mode and want to set up our workweek right. In addition to preparing a versatile quinoa salad for the week, we are also assembling one of our favorite kitchen staples: granola. This particular version, however, definitely carries a theme of indulgence and decadence. Vacations have got to be stretched out as long as possible, right!?

I have been making riffs on granola for years. It is a nutritious and versatile treat that can be made quickly and can utilize scraps and leftovers from your baking cabinet. I tend to make versions that incorporate remnants of oats from a baking experiment, nuts and seeds from a spring hike, and dried fruit that just isn’t tasting quite good enough by itself. I just toss them all with a bit of oil and add some sugar and bake until crisp and golden. Sounds easy, right? It is. Here is a basic granola recipe that I use for everyday breakfasts and snacks, along with a couple of delicious variations.


toasty whole grain granola with dried cherries + dark chocolate


  • 2 cups oats
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped coarsely
  • 1/8 cup golden flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped coarsely
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • sea salt or cracked pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 an 8-ounce dark chocolate bar, roughly chopped {you can snack on the other half, while making the granola. You’re welcome. I like to use anything by Ritual Chocolate, made here in Denver. You’re double welcome.}
  • good handful of dried cherries, to taste
  • pinch of cinnamon, optional
  • dash of vanilla extract, optional {you can guess that I use Oh, Lady Cakes’ vanilla extract …why wouldn’t you, unless it’s sold out?}

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Toss all ingredients, minus the chocolate and dried cherries, in a large bowl, making sure to coat evenly with the oil and maple syrup.
  3. Spread the oat and nut mixture onto a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. You should smell the toasty, cozy aroma of roasted nuts. Be sure not to over-bake. Burnt granola is not the best kind of granola.
  4. Once baked to perfection, set aside and let cool.
  5. Toss cooled granola into a bowl and add dried cherries and dark chocolate. Pour mixture into a large Mason jar or anything with a tight lid. You’ll want to keep this fresh and out of the way of humidity.
  6. Serve by itself or along with some skyr {Icelandic yogurt} or Greek yogurt. You can add fresh fruit, if you don’t have dried fruit on hand. This recipe yields one large, quart-sized Mason jar, plus 1 1/4 cup extra.

I have been seriously enjoying the cherry season this year. My recent brandied cherries turned out perfectly, and I have pitted and dried some more, just to capture their essence of summer. To dry your own cherries, you can either easily dehydrate them in the oven or in a food dehydrator. This is the one that I use most frequently.

I am officially off to clean out the refrigerator and finish up the granola project. I have some leftover, week-old sangria that held up quite nicely, while we were away. I just might have to pour myself a glass and sit out in the backyard. Speaking of sangria, you can read my most recent post at the Kitchn, featuring the best red wines for summer sangria, here. Pour yourself some and make your shopping list for granola. Or simply scour your cabinets and make a “kitchen sink” version of your own! Cheers!

3 recipes for lilac blossoms

 

I love how circumstances pop up and give you the opportunity to react. You can take in the good aspect of a scenario, let go of the bad, and create something beautiful. Or you can mope, waste your energy worrying, and miss out on the chance for innovation. It requires a choice and some action. I talk about the weather a lot here on this blog, but it is a very important component to our garden, our kitchen happenings, and the joy we share in our house. The recent snowstorm had me hustling: draping outdoor seedlings with pots, blankets, and plastic sheeting; dragging in the potted plants; setting up an indoor tomato seedling station; and harvesting ready-to-pick herbs, as fast as I could.

I was so excited that our tulips lasted so long this spring, unlike last year. And when our lilacs started to bloom a couple of days ago, I was beyond elated. Until the weather forecast. Temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and snow accumulations of up to ten inches were promised over Mother’s Day weekend. I pouted, put in an exercise DVD, pounded some coffee, and rolled up my sleeves. I was determined to capture the freshness spring, despite Mother Nature’s wintry rebellion.

Along with taking photographs of the spring garden, I clipped a few bunches of lilac blossoms, so that we could savor their aroma over the next few days. While perusing the posts on Punk Domestics, I came across a lovely post on lilac blossom scones. I immediately got up from the computer and clipped about 15 more bunches. My mind was racing with ideas to use and preserve these beautiful spring flowers.


Lilac Simple Syrup


  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup lilac flowers, stems and green parts removed
  • 5-8 blueberries, for color

I started my lilac obsession this afternoon, by making some lilac simple syrup. I wasn’t quite sure how I would use this, but I definitely knew a cocktail was in order! Like other simple syrups, combine the water and sugar over medium heat on the stove. Heat until dissolved. Add the lilac flowers and simmer for 10 minutes. If you want a brightly hued syrup like mine, add about five blueberries. The color will pop and add a great dimension to your cocktails. Remove from heat, drain through a chinois or sieve, bottle, and store in the refrigerator.


The Lilac Haze


Combine ingredients, along with ice, in a shaker tin. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with either a lemon twist or a few lilac flowers, if you have some. This cocktail is vibrant, acidic, and floral. Similar to the Bee’s Knees cocktail, it is lemony and honeyed in its flavor profile. Perfect for spring sipping.

Mother’s Day at the restaurant was crazy, as expected. The books were stacked with well over 500 reservations, and guests were already lining up to be seated before our 4:00 opening time. I sneaked in phone calls to my mom, my two aunts, and my stepmother, before I suited up and started my evening. I am so grateful for the examples of strong, loving, determined, and creative women in my family. I took a moment to reflect on their roles in my life and mine in theirs, and then I continued my nine-hour, non-stop shift. The night went smoothly, despite the record-setting numbers, and I ended the evening with a delicious glass of Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009. I am so happy we added this bubbly to our by-the-glass list; I think this may become my favorite, frequently visited sparkling rosé over the next few months.

So, back to the lilac scones. I saw a post on these scones on Kitchen Vignettes. I have cooked with lavender and have used nasturtium in my salads and have sprinkled sugared violas onto my cupcakes. I have never used lilac for culinary purposes, however, until today. Inspired by my cocktail creation, I tweaked this scone recipe, added vanilla and toasted almonds, and paired the scones with my dandelion marmalade, which I affectionately call, “marmalion.” I will write a post on that recipe in a few days. It is an exceptional way to deliciously deal with those pesky dandelion flowers in your yard.


Lilac Blossom Almond Scones


  • 3 cups flour, all-purpose
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken well
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup toasted, chopped almonds
  • 1 cup lilac flowers

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk the ingredients together. Cut the chilled butter into small cubes and toss into the dry mixture. Using your fingers and hands, work the butter into the flour mixture, until pea-sized lumps of butter are present. I really got a finger workout here. My dexterity for my piano-playing has increased, for sure!

Add the buttermilk, vanilla extract, almonds, and lilac blossoms. Fold together in the bowl. I kneaded the dough by hand, making sure to not over-work. Gather and roll the dough into a ball. Lightly flour the ball of dough and flatten it out, by hand, into a 1/2 inch thick disk. Cut the dough into triangles and place onto a greased baking sheet. Lightly dust with raw sugar. I greased my sheet with butter. Bake 12 to 16 minutes, until desired level of toastiness.

I served my scones, straight from the oven, alongside some of my recently crafted dandelion marmalade. It was a flower feast! It was a perfect pairing: the nutty, floral scones matched perfectly with the tart, orange and dandelion marmalade. I ate two and thought about having another. If you try making these recipes, let me know how they turn out! I know they are a little off the wall and “out there,” but I was so happy that I was able to capture the essence of our garden and enjoy it in a culinary interpretation.

It is nearing 2:00 in the morning, as I write this post. Somehow, I am not tired. I have less than three days, until I leave for France. I am not as prepared, as I would like to be, but I am seriously excited for the trip! Closing with some photos from the garden over the past five days, I wish you a wonderful week. Hug your mom {if she is here with you – if not, think on the positive memories you have shared together}, be grateful for the strong women in your life, appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Trust me, the beauty is there, even in the midst of clamor, destruction, unrest, or darkness. If you can’t do any of this, make yourself a lilac cocktail. You simply can’t go wrong there!

Cheers!

bourbon maple pecan pie | paired with vin santo

Yes, I am still defiantly avoiding a juice cleanse or a green smoothie marathon, almost two weeks into the new year.  And I do not apologize if this pecan pie recipe tempts you past your threshold and sends you back to your pre-2014 indulgent self.  You will honestly thank me, if this happens.  Pecan pie is a dessert staple, a baking “rite of passage” in my family, that always makes an appearance at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at my house.  In fact, the recipe I swore by for years was found on page 392 of the Cotton Country Collection, from the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana.  This past holiday season, I decided to stray away from the corn syrup that is almost always a primary ingredient in this sweet, southern standby, and opt for sweetening with maple syrup and brown sugar, instead.  I am officially converted.

Not shown: I also added a small dollop of Talenti’s Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato, and it really set off the flavors in the pie.

Ingredients:

  • dough for a 9″ pie {this is the one I use}
  • 2 cups pecans
  • 1/2 cup grade B maple syrup {yes, B is better}
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla {The Real Deal is my standing fave}
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place your chilled dough onto a lightly floured piece of wax paper.  Flatten into a disc and cover with another piece of wax paper.  Roll the dough evenly in each direction, until the dough will fit nicely into a 9″ pie pan.  Crimp the edges to your liking.  I spied some beautifully designed pie crusts here.  Chill your pie dough in the refrigerator, while you are assembling the filling.
  3. Chop the pecans and spread onto a baking sheet.  Toast pecans, until they become aromatic, for about five minutes, watching vigilantly, for they tend to scorch quickly.
  4. Remove pecans, set aside, and turn the oven up to 375 degrees.
  5. In a medium saucepan, combine syrup and butter on medium heat, until melted and incorporated.  Do not let the mixture boil.
  6. While the butter is melting, beat eggs in a mixing bowl.  Add brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla, flour, and salt.  Whisk this mixture into the maple syrup and butter mixture.
  7. Bring to a slow, bubbling simmer and stir for five minutes.
  8. Remove saucepan from heat and add chopped pecans.
  9. Blind bake your pie crust for five minutes and then pour pecan filling into the pie crust.
  10. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is no longer in a liquid state, but still remains “jiggly.”

Tip:  Bake your pie a day before serving it.  On day two, the texture is perfect, the filling has integrated, and the pie holds together better.  The trick is not sneaking a slice during the waiting period!

You can definitely enjoy this pecan pie alone or alongside a bourbon on the rocks; however, if you can score some Vin Santo {translated, “holy wine”}, an Italian dessert wine, you just might experience the most perfectly paired ensemble.  Sigh.  And if you have not yet discovered the luxury and deliciousness of dessert wines, this may very well be a great place to start!  Need a good breakdown on sweet wines?  Read this brilliantly simple guide or skim over this one.

Castellare, S. Niccolo, Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, DOC, 2005

Breaking it down:  Castellare is the producer; “S. Niccolo″ is the name of the bottle; Malvasia and Trebbiano are the grapes; Vin Santo is the style; Chianti Classico is the region within Italy; and 2005 is the year the grapes were picked.  This sultry, amber-hued dessert wine is made from grapes that are harvested, dried in a ventilated room, and then fermented in small oak barrels.  The wine is aged five years in barrel and another six months in bottle.

  • On the eyes  –  brilliant amber, with rich, golden tones.
  • On the nose  –  toasted pecans, dried apricot, dates, golden raisin, browned butter, toffee, and spice cake.
  • On the palate  –  golden raisin, spice cake, buttery caramel, balanced sweetness and acidity, with a toasty, long finish, hinting at bitter black walnuts.
  • On the table  –  perfect accompaniment to shortbread, oatmeal raisin cookies, fruit tarts, and nutty pies.
  • On the shelf  –  around $25.
  • On the ears  –  I couldn’t resist pairing this duo with a track from the Avett Brothers.  “Kick Drum Heart” from their album, “I and Love and You,” highlights my excitement for this bourbon + maple + pecan pie.  The words are incredibly sweet and touching.

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Sunday was an exceptionally productive day, as far as home improvements go.  I know that I am overdue on posting an update on our kitchen remodel, but we are waiting for the back splash tile and the cabinet hardware to arrive.  Soon, I promise!  That afternoon, we hauled out the table saw and finished making cuts for our hallway door frames and an oak shelf to provide a perch for some of our houseplants.  They’ve been living in a cluttered stack, under the front windows, and are ready for a better home.  Finishing that project this morning!  Closing with photos from Sunday afternoon…

Bitter and windy, despite the sun’s warm rays.

Steve getting ready for finishing the shelf.

Our houseplants’ current home: no room to stretch out or thrive. Problem solved very soon and very cheaply! I see a post in the making…

Our little Ash cat, getting used to her cat carrier, so that an upcoming trip to the vet will be a little less scary.

apple pie for one + tips for a perfect crust

Happy beginnings of the holiday season!  It is also the season for pie-baking, one of my favorite things to do.  Personally, there are times when I want to bake an entire pie and either share it with some friends or devour most of it myself.  There are other times, however, I just want to have one slice and then be rid of any further temptation to go back for seconds…or thirds.  Enter the “apple pie for one.”  Lately, I am beyond obsessed with all things miniature.  Aside from these apple pies being downright adorable, they are the perfect size for a decadent one-time session….

One of my favorite dessert spots in town, D Bar Desserts, specializes in baking chocolate chip cookies to order.  They are hot, fresh, delicious, and made especially for you.  They simply keep cookie dough at the ready.  I have been doing the same thing with pie dough, thanks to their inspirational idea.  I’ll make a batch of dough, divide it into small portions, and either refrigerate or freeze the rest.  I can quickly toss together an apple pie, a peach hand pie, or even a mini breakfast quiche at any time!  So convenient.

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peach sage galettes | paired with bellinis

…because summer is such a hard habit to break!

Fare thee well, summer, but just before I officially express my sorrow, concerning your all too soon departure, I think I will sit and savor the lingering ripe peaches you’ve recently sent my way.  You’d better cue the music.  I picked up about ten last-of-the-season peaches from the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago.  They were harvested a little early and tasted a bit under-ripe, but with a little bubbles-inspired creativity on a chilly afternoon, some magic happened.  And I know it has been a while since I last posted, but I’ve got some pretty good excuses for my absence…

Proudly grown by Ela Family Farms, these peaches hail from Hotchkiss, Colorado.  The almost ripe peaches actually gave the galette a firmer texture, a blessing in disguise.  Riding Colorado’s proverbial fall mood swing, along with our trending weather patterns, I have found myself vacillating between wearing sandals and thumbing fashion magazines for riding boots.  Making sangria and dreaming of pumpkin spice lattes.  Sunning on the back porch and selecting yarn for my next chunky scarf.   Our garden has also been in what I’ll call an “indecisive panic mode” for about two weeks now.  An early fall frost sent our red, ripe tomatoes directly off the vine and into the Vitamix, but our late plantings of radishes, arugula, and parsley are still thriving.  This particular recipe bridges the gap between that slow, lazy sweetness of summer and invites the cozy, spiced warmth of fall.

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What exactly is a galette?  It is basically a free-form tart or pie.  Widely used in French cooking, galettes provide a rustic, crisp crust and are much less pretentious than a formal tart.  Don’t fret that you won’t be able to bake this simple, rustic galette because peach season has ended.  Substitute fresh peaches with other stone-fruits, pears, apples, or berries that are in season right now.  Galettes can also be prepared sweet or savory; I am going to tinker around with a chanterelle and caramelized onion version this week, since I happen to have some leftover mushrooms from my recent trip to Oregon.

Peach Sage Galette

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 4 to 5 yellow peaches, pitted, and sliced [slightly under-ripe, if possible]
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract
  • 1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped, fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons raw sugar
  • lemon zest for garnish [optional}

Ingredients for the crust {yields two crusts}:

  • 2 cups  flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, cold and cubed
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cold milk
  • 1 egg, beaten, for brushing the crust
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar, for garnish

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the pitted, sliced peaches, lemon juice, vanilla extract, sage, and raw sugar.  Set aside.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt.
  4. Pour into a food processor.
  5. Add the cubed butter and “pulse” the processor, until 1/4″ sized lumps of butter are visible.
  6. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk.  Add to the flour mixture and pulse just until incorporated.
  7. Remove dough from the processor and form into a ball.  Divide into two balls; this recipe yields two crusts.  Bonus!
  8. Store in refrigerator until needed, or you may safely freeze the other ball of pie crust until your next project.
  9. When ready to roll out the dough, set out a large sheet of waxed or parchment paper and lightly flour the surface.  I like to roll my dough on floured paper because I have more control, when lifting it onto the baking sheet.
  10. Set the ball of dough on the floured paper.  Roll and press the dough to form about a 12-inch circle.  You can always alter the size or quantity of these galettes.  Do not over-knead.
  11. Using your hand or a flat spatula, slide under the waxed paper and lift.
  12. Flip the dough-side down onto a floured, rimmed baking sheet.  Carefully lift the wax paper off the rolled-out dough.
  13. Spoon the peach filling onto the center of the dough and carefully fold the outer edges of the dough, overlapping along the way.  Garnish with lemon zest.
  14. Brush the exposed dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle raw sugar over the crust.
  15. Place  in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is browned.  I actually took a propane torch and caramelized the exposed fruit and browned the crust a little further.
  16. Let cool for at least ten minutes and garnish with some vanilla bean ice cream.

Notes:  You may make the crust ahead of time and keep refrigerated.  This particular dough recipe yields two crusts – one for now and one to freeze for later.  I use this versatile dough recipe for my pies and for quiches.  The frozen crust will keep in the freezer up to two months, if stored properly.  If you feel a little lazy or are short on time, a store-bought 9-inch pie crust will substitute nicely.

Yes, as a household, we are still awaiting the delivery of our counter tops.  Until our kitchen renovation is completed, we continue to employ our outdoor grill, the bathtub, and the camping stove as functional appliance substitutes.  In fact, I made this peach galette entirely on the back porch, baking it in our outdoor Weber grill; however, I have adapted this recipe for those of you, who have an actual ovens in your kitchens!  Goes to show that with some Pollyanna-inspired ingenuity, good things can happen.

Always seeking out a cocktail or wine pairing opportunity, I actually found the inspiration for a simple cocktail, while rummaging in my refrigerator door.  Prosecco and peaches are a classic combination:  bellinis are comprised simply of peach purée and a healthy dose of the aforementioned sparkling wine from Italy.  How to make this refreshing, bubbly treat?  Take one pitted peach and blend it until smooth.  Don’t even bother peeling it.  Depending upon the peach’s ripeness, add a little agave nectar or a squeeze of lemon to balance the acidity.  Spoon a dollop of the purée into a martini glass or Champagne flute and slowly top with dry bubbly, like Mionetto Prosecco.  I garnished my bellini with a freshly picked pineapple sage leaf.  Gently squeeze the sage leaf in your hands to further release the aroma.

I am closing with some snapshots of the garden before last weekend’s freeze.  In one afternoon, the previous months of bounty aside, we harvested almost 200 tomatoes, 6 acorn squashes, over 100 peppers, 50 tomatillos, along with one amazing cantaloupe, a head of red cabbage, one giant Blue Hubbard squash, and too many herbs to dry at once.  I am gearing up to make some green tomato chutney this afternoon, before heading in for work.  And after enjoying two consecutive days off, I can say that I feel fully rested and ready to tackle almost anything.  Over the past three weeks, I have either been studying for my level two sommelier certification exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers, creating and crafting juice “mocktails” for a farm dinner, or stomping grapes and making wine for a week in Oregon.  More on those adventures soon.  So ready for a slower paced fall.  Way too ready for another peach bellini!