strawberry dream supreme

I have a bad habit of buying beautiful fresh berries and then being so excited about it that I want to savor them. So I eat one or two a day and before I know it I'm left with a pile of moldy berries. This happens more often than I would like to admit. I could eat a whole pint of raspberries, blackberries or strawberries while standing at the counter... I LOVE them. Every time I try to control my urge to gobble them up, I end up crying a little bit inside when I open up the fridge to find they've gone blue and fuzzy. This time I was determined not to let that happen! 

The grocery store had some gorgeous strawberries the other day and I couldn't resist. I decided to put those babies to work at one of my favorite meals... BRUNCH! In true improv kitchen style I looked in my fridge and worked with what I had. Mascarpone, lemons, strawberries, eggs, half a loaf of challah bread leftover from a bread pudding I had made... stuffed french toast it is! HOLY MOLY was this AH-mazing!

This dish sounds complicated and fancy but it couldn't be farther from the truth! I was surprised how quickly it all came together. When you're trying to be good and not eat out, I definitely recommend this for brunch. It tastes better than most breakfast places and only took 20 minutes to make! 

Strawberry + Mascarpone Stuffed Challah French Toast
yields 5 - 6 servings

1 loaf challah bread cut into 2" slices
1 pint fresh strawberries

6 oz mascarpone cheese
1 t. vanilla extract
3 t. lemon juice (about a half of a lemon squeezed) + zest of whole lemon
3 T. powdered sugar

4 eggs
1 c. milk
1 t. vanilla extract

butter or cooking spray for the pan

In a bowl, mix together mascarpone, vanilla, lemon juice + zest, and sugar. I used an electric mixer to make sure everything was really smooth and creamy. Place the mixture into a ziplock bag and set aside. Slice your strawberries any way you like and place in a bowl. If the berries are a little tart, you can add a little sugar over the top and macerate them (the sugar breaks down the berries a bit and creates nice juices). 

Next, slice your challah into 2" thick slices. Very carefully, slice a 3" cut into the side of your bread. I do mine at the bottom of the loaf because it's most stable there. This will allow you to place the filling into the slices of bread. Before you do that though, get your dipping batter ready. Combine eggs, milk, and vanilla extract in a shallow bowl and beat together. 

Now you're ready to assemble! Cut a hole in the tip of you ziplock bag so you can squeeze the filling into your bread. I stick my finger into the hole and gently make the space a little bigger so I can maximize my filling. If a little oozes out, don't worry. Everything will turn out fine. Once you've filled up your slices, dip your bread into the egg/milk mixture and griddle* those babies up! You can use any cooking method you prefer. I don't have a griddle pan so I just use 2 sauté pans with a little butter in the bottom of the dish. Cook over medium heat for about 2 - 3 minutes per side. Top with fresh sliced strawberries and any extra cheese mixture if you have it. 

*If while you're cooking your french toast the sauce seems to be gushing out, just use a knife to scrape off the excess so it doesn't burn in the pan. You will still have filling on the inside, don't worry! Plus you can always use the extra mixture to place on top of the finished product! Just make sure you're not pressing your french toast with the flat end of the spatula... you want to keep as much of that sauce in there, that's the good stuff!

improv style:
you can use any soft cheese berry combination you like... think raspberry goat cheese with orange zest, or blackberry cream cheese with lime zest... just keep the portions the same. you could even do banana with nutella... mix the nutella with some mascarpone and orange zest for a creamier filling... you really can't go wrong here! you can also substitute fresh berries for frozen if they're out of season or too expensive. if you do use frozen make sure you thaw them and drain before using so it doesn't make your french toast soggy!


happy fathers day, daddy!

For the past few years my sisters and I started a new tradition for Fathers Day. Instead of going to a movie or making him breakfast, we go on a hike through the Pacific Northwest. One of the most beautiful places on earth if you ask me! It's breathtaking, good exercise, and a chance to get away from TV, internet, and life's distractions. Plus it's great family time where we all get to make fun of how ridiculously out of shape we are!

I've missed a few fathers days in the past but this year feels different. I don't have the "I'm in the middle of school and 2000 miles away" excuse. Just the "I live in a new state that isn't remotely close to home" excuse. So while I can't be in Seattle for Fathers Day this year, I can still share my love and appreciation for my Dad with this recipe. It's his favorite cookie, I call them Fully loaded cookies. Because that's what they are, FULLY LOADED. 

This cookie couldn't have more ingredients packed in if you tried. Ok, it could probably have a few more but at some point enough is enough, right?! This recipe is my mom's. I'm not sure where she got it from but it is the perfect cookie, chewy with a little crunch on the outside but not so crunchy that its hard to eat or hurts your mouth. They stay moist for DAYS which is a bonus in my book! They even freeze well! 

When I was living alone I would make a batch, eat about 6 and then freeze the rest. I'd take them out one at a time... sometimes I couldn't wait for them to defrost and you know what, they're amazing frozen too! Now I make these cookies and Matt gobbles them up so fast I could barley get pictures of them! My favorite thing about this cookie is that every one is different. Some have mostly chocolate, others have a lot of nuts. Even when you stir the batter thoroughly you still end up with a slightly different cookie. 

A side note to all you nut haters, I usually live in the "no-nuts" camp too but there's something different about these cookies. They're so addictive! I hope you enjoy them as much as my Dad does!

Fully Loaded Cookies
yields 2 dozen medium sized cookies

1 c. melted butter (yes, melted)
¾ c. brown sugar
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 ¼ c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 c. dark chocolate chips
2 c. milk chocolate chips
2 c. white chocolate chips
1 c. macadamia nuts
1 c. slightly chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325º. In a medium to large mixing bowl add melted butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla... combine well. In a smaller mixing bowl combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Add dry mixture into wet mixture. Stir in the chips and nuts. 

Drop dough on a cookie sheet. Make sure to leave some room for spreading... they do get a little larger when they cook. Bake at 325º for *15 - 18 minutes. 

* Whenever I bake, halfway through the cooking time I rotate the pans and flip them around to ensure 100% even baking. It's my secret to perfectly baked cookies!

improv style:
a lot of people think that you have to follow the recipe EXACTLY in baking... and you do, to an extent. As long as you keep the ratios the same (ie: 2 c. chocolate chips = 2. c substituted dry ingredient) you'll be fine. this can be expensive to make if you're like me and use good quality chocolate and macadamia nuts. holy cow are those nuts expensive! you can easily substitute any of the chocolate or nuts for other ingredients. white chocolate, dried cherry, pistachio would be fantastic. Or butterscotch, chocolate chip with dried apricots and almonds. You can take your favorite ingredients and substitute the chips. Just make sure that you have the same ingredient amount as listed in the recipe (7 cups).  


kitchen bloopers

Everyone at some point in time has had something go wrong in the kitchen... wether it's mistaking salt for sugar, burning the crap out of ____ , having the lid of a spice bottle pop off and DUMPING way more of an ingredient into the pot; we've all been there. 

In my family we have more than a hand full of these stories. The time the turkey was still frozen at Thanksgiving and we ended up eating dinner at 10:30. The time the ham gravy was way too salty (in a family of salt ADDICTS). Burning the garlic bread EVERY time for about a 2 year stretch. The time I used 2 TBSP of salt instead of tsp's in my chocolate chip cookies... the list goes on.

My best food blooper was when I was learning how to cook spaghetti sauce a.k.a. bolognese/marinara (mine is a bit of a combination between the two). I had cooked the sauce with my mom for years, but I had never made it from scratch on my own. The last time my mom and I cooked the sauce together I had her give me exact instructions so I could do it on my own the next time around. About a week later I decided I would surprise my parents and cook dinner for them. 

I grabbed all the herbs, garlic, cans of tomato, and pasta I needed to make the dish. I browned my ground beef like a champ, barley shed a tear when I chopped my onion, I was so proud of myself. I dumped in my spices and then added my cans of tomato. I even found an open bottle of red wine and added a few glugs remembering that my mom told me it added great flavor to the sauce. How many 12 year olds cook with wine?! This girl did! When my parents walked in the door I was elated to tell them I had cooked dinner for them. 

We finally sat down to the table and I served my family the meal I had prepared. Spaghetti and sauce, garlic bread, and salad. As my parents took their first few bites they both looked at each other with a strange smile. My mom inquired what I had used to create such a fabulous sauce. So I went through the ingredients... garlic, onion, italian seasoning, oregano, basil, taragon, onion powder, garlic powder, wait?! TARAGON? YES, I put taragon in my spaghetti sauce. I didn't know herbs. I just knew there were A LOT of dried green spices that went into the pot. My dad got a good chuckle and said "Ah yes, taragon in spaghetti sauce", or something of that sort. To this day it is still my biggest kitchen blooper and one I will never live down. 

You can't take cooking too seriously. Accidents happen, we make mistakes. Don't get defeated when you mess up a recipe. It is NOT the end of the world! Even the most famous chefs have stories like these. It's how we learn and grow as cooks. 

I'm sharing this recipe with you as a request from my good friend Chris. Spaghetti sauce is one of the easiest things to make and it freezes really well. It's SO much better than any jarred sauce and it only gets better the longer it sits. I think it hits its peak of tastiness at 2-3 days leftover.I hope you enjoy my tarragon-free spaghetti sauce!

This ain't no Prego Spaghetti Sauce
adapted from my mom's recipe
yields about 10-12 hearty servings

1lb ground beef (I use 90/10)
1 yellow onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
4 garlic cloves

½ T. italian seasoning
2 T. oregano
1 t. basil
1. t onion powder
1 t. garlic powder
2 bay leaves
1 T. brown sugar (or ¼ port wine)

1 c. red wine (cab sauv or chianti are my favs)
1 - 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 - 15 oz can diced tomato's
1 - 6 oz can tomato paste

olive oil
salt + pepper to taste

In a large sauce pot put enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Once hot, crumble ground beef and let it brown. If your pot isn't very large, you can brown your beef in 2 batches. If you put too much meat in the pan, it will steam and turn grey. This isn't the end of the world... but the browning process will add more flavor so be patient and cook it in batches if need be!

Once beef is cooked, add in your onions and carrots. Cook them down until the onions are translucent and soft. Next add in your garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add in dried herbs and give the mixture a good stir. Next pour in your red wine. This will steam and bubble up, don't worry. It's releasing all of the tasty brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Next add in your cans of tomato and let the mixture simmer for at least 30 minutes. One pot spaghetti sauce! You can make this 1-3 days in advance. The sauce only gets better with age!

improv style:
if you like your sauce on the thinner side, you can add chicken stock or water to thin it to your desired consistency. vegetarian? use a good veggie stock to thin the sauce and add extra flavor when replacing the beef. you can play with your ground meat mixture too... some people like to use ground italian sausage, pork or turkey to lighten it up. if you don't have olive oil, no big deal. you can use canola oil, vegetable oil, or pam if you really want. i like using olive oil because it's italian! i find that adding a little brown sugar or port wine really gives great depth of flavor to the sauce. for me using red wine is a must but you can leave it out if you're not a fan or a big drinker. onions are another one of those musts for me... it adds SO MUCH subtle flavor to the sauce. if you hate onions you can leave them out or try mincing them in a food processor so you get the caramelized flavor without the chunks. if you see the carrots and think i'm crazy, i feel you. the first time i saw carrots in my sauce i thought my roommate had lost her mind. it ended up being SO good. which is why i've added them to my sauce. fresh herbs are always a great addition to sauce... just know that the flavor of fresh herbs are MUCH more mild than dried.