Silver linings…

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Once upon a time, there was a girl that really didn’t know how to cook.  She met a boy, who did and decided she wanted to try to impress him, with her cooking prowess. She failed, miserably.

Read on…

As a kid, I learned how to “feed” myself & my little brother, out of necessity basically.  My Mom was a nurse and would often works nights and long shifts.  We did a lot of fending for ourselves.  Mac & Cheese was a staple, as was Chicken Noodle & Tomato soup.  And scrambled eggs.  I remember the day my Mom bought us a electric griddle and I learned how to make really super cheesy grilled cheese sandwiches.  I was even able to make Sloppy Joes in that thing!  And Hamburgers…that I sometimes covered with the Chicken Noodle soup.  Don’t knock it until you try it! Yeah, I know, very gourmet. To this day however, nothing says comfort to me, than a big bowl of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Oh and I could make perfect Chocolate Chip cookies!  At least they were perfect to me.  And they are still one of my favorite things to make! ❤

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Fast forward a decade or so and I met my future husband.  He grew up around many fantastic family cooks, spending weekends with his grandparents cooking & gardening. His food career began at the ripe age of 15 working in the kitchen of a neighborhood restaurant, just about an hour outside of Philadelphia.  One day, a couple of years after we had been dating, I decided I wanted to make something really special for dinner.  By now my cooking skills had improved slightly. I could make pasta, rice, potatoes… you know all the good cheap carbs a busy young girl could whip up, quick & easy.  I loved me anything you could make from a box, as well.  You know the ones, Pasta Roni, Rice-a-Roni, and yes…even Hamburger Helper.  How did I ever survive those days! 🙂

I don’t even know where I found this recipe, but it just sounded so “gourmet” and delicious.  I wanted to prove to myself, that I could make something really great.  Maybe I was also trying to win his permanent affection.  Good thing I didn’t place too much stock on that first “gourmet” meal.  It didn’t end well…the dinner, that is.

Vegetable Cannelloni

The recipe was called “Vegetable Stuffed Cannelloni with a Sherry Cream Sauce”… or something like that.  I did find a recipe on Epicurious that was very similar.  The original recipe was destroyed…on purpose…after the failed meal.  You can see that recipe here.

Veggies, before, for stuffingHomemade RicottaVeggies, after, for stuffingVeg Cann4

I went shopping for ingredients, some of which I had never bought before (eggplant, zucchini) and then spent hours (or at least it felt that way) chopping, cooking and prepping the meal.  Carefully stuffed the pasta…poured that insanely delicious cream sauce over the whole bit and popped it into the oven.  I had some leftover sauce in a pan on the stove, that I saved in case I needed more once it was done baking.  Once the timer on the oven went off, I carefully removed that bubbling, incredible smelling masterpiece and placed it on the stove top…on the burner that was keeping that leftover sauce warm.

Those of you that have been through this kind of nightmare before, you probably know exactly where I am going…  Within seconds, the entire glass baking dish, containing that masterpiece I had spent most of the day toiling over, exploded into tiny shards of glass, all over my stovetop, counters and kitchen floor.  I was both shocked & scared and didn’t know what to do, other than fall to ground and proceed to cry like a three year old.  Apparently, you aren’t supposed to put any glass baking dishes on direct heat sources.  It was insane.  There wasn’t even one spoonful we could salvage, for just a bite to see how it tasted! 😦

My sweet future husband just crouched down next to me, telling me it was okay, that I meant well and it was just an accident.  I was devastated.  I didn’t cook anything “gourmet” for quite some time after that.

Cookbook Cover

Fast forward to about a month ago, I saw a post on Instagram from Dana Cowin, the Editor of Food & Wine magazine, promoting her new cookbook, “Mastering My Mistakes In The Kitchen”.  She was asking for people to share their biggest kitchen fail and of course, I had to share this story.  I have thought about that dish many times since, and have learned to become a much better cook…not to mention, learning that very hard lesson, that you should not EVER put a glass baking on anything hot or cold!

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A day or so later, I see a notification that I won a copy of her new cookbook!  My sad story has a silver lining!  As I sat there, excited for my luck, I thought “Shawn, you should find that recipe and make it again!”  And, this time, make it with Homemade Ricotta cheese…if you haven’t made that yet, DO IT!  SO creamy & insanely delicious!

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My hubby is returning from another fabulous work trip, this time to Brazil, so I thought I would make this for his welcome home meal.  I am also excited to start cooking from Dana Cowin’s new cookbook.  I plan to try the recipe for Sweet Potato, Coconut + Five Spice Gratin and the Chili of Forgiveness.  Oh and the Halibut with Red Coconut Curry. And the Pimento-Cheese Grits…and possibly the Pear + Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake.  Oh my! ❤

This was a fun post…reminicing about my food journey!  I’ve come along way!  Do you have a similar kitchen failure story?  I would love to hear about it!

Until next time, Cheers! ~Shawn

 

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Birthday Brûlée!

Birthday Brûlée

So the hubby’s birthday rolled around again this year…we have a week of celebrations in February, with my husband beginning the fun, my daughter in the middle and then Valentine’s Day.

Last year I made him this Coconut Custard Pie, so this year I was hoping to make him this Boston Cream Pie but time was not on my side, so I made a family favorite, Creme Brûlée!  It’s way easier than you think, trust me and you don’t have to have any fancy equipment, including the torch.

I followed a different recipe this time, Alton Brown’s recipe from the Food Network which was pretty good.  It’s interesting though, reading through the comments, as many people suggested the dish needed longer to cook.  I followed those suggestions and went a bit longer than he said.  You can carefully test the brûlées to be sure they are cooked through with your finger.  See directions below for what I mean…

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 The really, really important thing to keep in mind, when making Cream Brûlée is to use fresh whole Vanilla Bean, not just extract.  It’s a little more expensive, but it’s totally worth it!  Seriously, the bean is where it’s at!  Above are a couple of pictures of how to get those little jewels out of the bean itself…split the bean down the middle, use the back of a knife to scrape out the goodness!  Oh and don’t throw those beans out!!! Break them into little pieces and put them in your sugar caddy…your morning coffee will thank you! 🙂

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The recipe calls for cooking the heavy cream with the vanilla bean, but you want to really watch this step…do not let it boil, at all.  Remove it from the heat as soon as you see it started to stir a bit in the pan and then watch that it doesn’t get a “film” on the top while it cools slightly, stirring every so often.

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Look at this bright & sunny egg yolk!  I love how, in the dead of Winter, you can make something in the kitchen that actually helps to brighten your mood!

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Here’s the whole mixture in the ramekins waiting to head to the oven.  I bought these ramekins at Target in the Dollar Spot years ago and we use them for everything.  You might be thinking you don’t want to purchase yet another dish, but trust me…this size ramekin can be used for pudding, candies, taco bar night, crafty supplies…etc. etc.!  If you can’t find any at the store, use any tall (but not huge) bowl that can go into the oven.  Be very careful when placing the pan into the oven that you don’t slosh the hot water into the ramekins…not saying I ever did that…lol! 😉

So, when you want to test the Brûlée to see that it is done, dip your finger into a bit of butter or water, (this will help your finger to not stick to the top of the Brûlée) and touch the top of the Brûlée.  It should bounce back and be slightly firm.  Pop these little beauties into the fridge to chill out for a couple of hours or even a day if needed.

Now, the recipe says, to pull out your custards twenty minutes before you want to caramelize them.  I actually like my custard to be a little cold still, afterwards, so I don’t follow that step.  When you are ready to torch them, top (as the recipe dictates) with sugar, and evenly distribute.  Here’s my fun little video using my handy kitchen torch.  Video credit to my youngest 🙂

Fun, right?  I love the smell of burnt sugar!  If you don’t have a torch, you can always use the broiler option on your oven.  Raise the rack to the highest setting that will allow you to put the ramekins on a cookie sheet directly under it.  Watch them and turn the pan as needed.  You are trying to caramelize the sugar on the top, so that it creates a shell that when cracked, reveals the creamy goodness underneath!

Hope you’ll try this and let me know your thoughts or share a picture with me on my Facebook page!

Until next time, Happy Valentine’s Day!

OXOX, Shawn

Perfect Pumpkin Bars~

Pumpkin Bars

~Pumpkin Bars~

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of Sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can of Pumpkin
  • 1 cup of oil
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon of Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of baking powder

  • 3 ounces of cream cheese
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1 (+/-) tablespoon of milk
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional but delicious)
  • (also optional, you can decorate the top of the bars with candy corn!)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 16” pan. Mix together all wet ingredients. Slowly add in dry ingredients until batter is smooth. Pour into prepared pan, bake for at least 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. While bars are baking, mix together the cream cheese, butter and sugar. Slowly add the powdered sugar until mixture is the consistency you want! Once bars have cooled good, spread the frosting over and enjoy!

Happy Fall Y’all! 🙂  Shawn

S’mores Brownies~

S'mores Brownies

What’s more synonymous with Summer than S’mores? It’s the simplest of things really; marshmallows…chocolate…graham crackers all gooed up together!  My kids would eat them everyday, if I let them 🙂  so they were super excited when I told them I was making these!

The bottom is a basic graham cracker crust, that you bake brownies on top of.  Now, I can see this going many different ways…chocolate chips in your brownie batter…caramel somewhere…but today, I am making it per the recipe, which I found on the Food Network website.  (Note: this recipe shows you how to make the Brownies from scratch, but if you have a favorite “shortcut” for your brownies, that should be ok)

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S’mores Brownies:

For the Crust:   6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted ~ 1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers ~ 2 tablespoons sugar ~ pinch of salt

For the Brownies:   8 tablespoons unsalted butter ~ 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, chopped ~ 1 cup packed light brown sugar ~ 3/4 cup white sugar ~ 1 1/2 teaspoon fine salt ~ 4 large, cold eggs ~ 1 cup all-purpose flour

Topping:   4 cups large marshmallows

Begin by preheating your oven to 325 degrees.  Line a 8 x 8 inch (square) baking pan with foil so it hangs over the edges by about an inch.

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Crust:  Lightly butter the foil, (including up the sides) with some of the melted butter, using a pastry brush if you have one, or fingers work great too!  Mix together the crushed graham cracker crumbs, sugar, pinch of salt and melted butter.  Attempt NOT to eat this immediately. 🙂  Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan, and place in the preheated oven.  Bake about 20 minutes, or at least golden brown all over.  (more so than when you started…as the crumbs are already golden brown!)

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Brownie:  Place butter and chocolate in a medium microwave safe bowl and melt on 75% power for two minutes.  Stir and repeat, until melted.  You can also make yourself a double boiler and melt the chocolate that way.  Continue by stirring together the brown and white sugars and vanilla into the melted chocolate.  Add the salt…then the eggs and beat vigorously to make a thick and glossy batter.  Add the flour and stir until just incorporated.  Pour batter over the graham cracker crust and bake until top is crispy and a toothpick, inserted in the middle, comes out mostly clean.  Will be approximately 40-45 minutes total.  Place brownie pan on a surface that won’t burn.

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Move your oven rack up to the highest level, that will keep the Brownies a safe distance from the burners (six inches is good) and preheat the broiler to the low setting.  Line the marshmallows across the top of the brownies, in a fashion you like best.  Place the pan under the broiler and DO NOT LEAVE.  Keep a constant eye on those little babies, and rotate the pan as you like, for even browning.  After about two minutes, or as browned as you like them, remove from oven and let cool on a rack, gently removing brownies from pan by lifting up using the foil liner.  Pull the foil liner down from the marshmallow, to keep from sticking as it cools.  Once cool, cut & enjoy!

fireSee you soon!

Cheers, Shawn

National Corn Fritters Day~

Welcome to MN sign

Greetings food-lovin’ friends!

It’s late-July…did you notice? I don’t know about you, but this summer has been flying by! Between a busy Real Estate market (know someone needing my help?) and trying to squeeze in fun with the family, it’s been a master juggling act! I think we are fairing pretty well, having just come off of two short but fun camping trips; one with the kids and the other without! Yes, I know, awesome! We hardly ever go anywhere without them; they are always so much fun to be with, that it’s hard for us to leave them behind.

Interstate Park MN

Our first camping trip, with the kids, was to Interstate State Park, in the quaint little town of Taylors Falls, Minnesota. It’s just a short drive from where we live, so we go there often just to hike. Our campsite was riverside, as the park resides along the St. Croix River. We didn’t have the greatest view though, compared to some of the other sites next to us. But that was okay, as all of our hiking allowed us plenty of river views.  One of the fun things about Taylors Falls, are the daily boat tours! (pictured above)

The following week, the hubby and I went up to Wild River State Park. Again, nestled along the St. Croix River, this gem of a state park was just what we needed! Quiet, remote, with lots of hiking opportunities! Oh and another awesome benefit to no kids…we got to eat what WE wanted! Yep, we definitely pigged out.

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In addition to this steak, mushrooms, onions & herbs, corn and potato packet meal, we had stuffed french toast…and the best meal (at least to me) was the Carpet Picnic! I can’t remember if I’ve ever talked to you about our Carpet Picnic’s…in fact, that might be a fun thing to blog about! Basically we roast up some Roma tomatoes, caramelize a sweet onion-sliced very thin, roast a big head of garlic, buy a good salami, a loaf of crusty french bread (ciabbata works great too) and cheese…usually it’s Brie or Camembert when at home, warmed in the oven so it’s gooey. But this time we splurged and got a Triple Cream Brie and a creamy Blue, neither needing warming so they were good choices for camping. We also sautéed some Kale from our garden and instead of the roasted garlic, we bought some fermented black garlic from Trader Joes. It was SO good!

Camping Carpet Picnic

Anyway, the hubby is back at work and I am back trying to get into a routine that works for the rest of the summer. One of the things I miss, is this blog! I miss writing and talking about food with you! So, I’ve challenged myself to blog one recipe, each week, for the rest of 2014! Help hold me accountable, if you go without seeing something from me each week, going forward!  I have all the recipes picked out, from my overflowing collection of things I’ve been wanting to make.  That should make it easier…hopefully!

Food Fest 365

This weeks recipe was found in a great little book I picked up at a garage sale earlier this summer, called Food Fest 365!  July 16th is National Corn Fritters Day and with the sweet corn season underway here in Minnesota, I thought this would be a fantastic recipe to share! One note though, the recipe calls for canned corn, so I substituted fresh, roasted then cooled corn, as you’ll see in the directions.

Corn Fritters

Sweet Corn Fritters with creamy Basil-Lime dipping sauce:

Oil for pan-frying
2 eggs
salt, pepper & seasonings*
fresh herbs**
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
sea salt (for sprinkling on fritters once cooked)
2 cups of fresh roasted corn, removed from the cob (don’t forget to juice it!)

Basil-Lime Dipping Sauce

Basil-Lime Dipping Sauce:

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons of milk
zest & juice of a half of a lime
Basil, chiffonade
seasonings of your choice (I used Cajun!)

Mix all ingredients together until smooth and chill until ready to use.  (use any leftover dip on sandwiches or as a dressing for your next salad!)

Roasted Corn

First step for this recipe is to roast your corn. (Ideally, this would be done on the grill, but you could also boil or steam them in the microwave) Take the first layer of husks off your corn and remove the tassel from the top. Place on a medium high grill and roast for about a half hour, turning every ten minutes or so, a quarter turn each time. Your corn will be done when, you can smell it & when the husks have dried and turned brown to black in color. Let the corn cool until you can easily touch it.

Then, using a sharp knife, place the cob on the cutting board, vertically. Remove the kernels from the cob, starting at one, sliding away from you towards the cutting board. Once you’ve removed the kernels, flip the knife over, using the back of it and “juice” the cob. Trust me, you don’t want any of that fresh corn to go to waste! Set your corn kernels and juice aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine your eggs, salt, pepper and seasonings. Then sift in your flour (sifting it in, helps it incorporate better, so you don’t have chunks of flour floating about) and then add your corn and fresh herbs. Let the batter sit while you heat your oil.

Set a plate, lined with a paper towel, next to your frying pan.

Fritters be a fryin

In a large skillet pan, add oil 1/4” deep and heat to medium-high. You are ready to start cooking once the oil begins to smoke. Using a large spoon, CAREFULLY drop a spoonful of the batter into the pan, continuing until you have four or so fritters, with plenty of room for the oil to get around each one. You are going to cook these for about two minutes on each side, but carefully check them, as you may want them lighter in color. *PLEASE NOTE that you are frying wet ingredients in very hot oil, and with corn, you can have flying missiles of hot oil, so if you have some sort of metal screen or vendable lid, I would use it. I went it to flip mine the first time out and got splattered in about five different places from my face to my belly 😦

Fantastic Fritters!

Once you’ve cooked both sides of the fritters, remove to your lined plate and sprinkle immediately with sea salt (or plain salt if you have only that).  Serve with your Basil-Lime dipping sauce and enjoy! ❤

Panaroma of St. Croix River

I’ll be working on my next blog post soon, S’mores Brownies, so stay tuned for more deliciousness soon!

Let me know if you make these Sweet Corn Fritters, and what you think of them!

xoxo Shawn

 

 

Summer Favorites…

Blossums

Hello lovelies!  I’ve missed you!  I have been busy with Real Estate and with the end of the school year, which for some reason, is always nuts.  Is it that way at your house?  It’s the last week of school here, and for one kid, it’s all play…the other kid, all tests!

Hammock time

After the Winter that we had, Spring finally arrived with brilliant blue skies & delicate blossoms everywhere!  Things heated up quick, making the need for Summer to arrive, stronger than ever!  I actually love having the kids home in the Summer.  I know alot of parents dread the break, but for me, I enjoy it, because I get to spend more time, especially time not rushed, with my kids.  Hanging out on the hammock, going to the beach & the park…hiking, biking, camping and just slowing things down.

Gets me thinking about all the things I love about Summer!

Fresh Herbs

Fresh Herbs and the Garden springing to life!

Summer Salads

Summer salads of all kinds…my favs…fresh Caprese…Roasted Beet salad with Goat Cheese, fresh Chives & a Balsamic syrup (Trader Joe’s-get yourself some quick!).

Cool Drinks 1

Mojitos & Margarita’s of many flavors…Sangria, Pisco Lemonade (with fresh Basil!), Sun Tea…and cold, crisp Wine on hot days!

Harvest

Garden harvesting!

Grilled anything

Grilled anything! (yes, that’s Watermelon…try it!)

Zucchini

Zucchini everything!

Sweet Corn

And probably every Minnesotan’s favorite…SWEET CORN!

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Oh and more cold drinks… 🙂

warm sun

What are some of your favorite Summer delights?

So here’s to hoping the week will go by fast, the Sun will stay out and you’ll get lots of your version of “hammock time” in soon! I am going to try and add more posts over the Summer to my “Summer of Salads” and “Summer Sippers” series, so stay tuned for that!  Until then, ❤ ~Shawn