tastes of summer

Some foods just go together. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, creamed butter and sugar, garlic and caramelized onions… for me, I'm addicted to raspberry and lemon. So when I saw these bars last year, I knew I had to make them. A little less than a year later and I finally made the recipe. 

Tangy, vibrant, subtly sweet with a rich, buttery crust. These raspberry lemonade bars are the perfect summer dessert. They're a little bit more dense than your typical lemon bar which makes them even more baker friendly! Easy to cut and they have a GORGEOUS vibrant color. Dust them with powdered sugar if you want but I actually like them better without. Also, DO NOT BAKE THESE IN A METAL DISH. Metal and citrus don't' mix well… it gives it a weird metallic-y flavor, no good. 

Looking for something to make on The 4th of July? These are the perfect backyard party treat to bring! See my improv suggestions below to make it even more patriotic for the 4th!

raspberry lemonade bars
adapted from sophistimom


for the crust:
9 T. (1 stick + 1 T.) butter
¼ c. sugar
1 c. flour
1 t. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

for the filling:
12 oz (heaping 2 c.) frozen raspberries thawed
¾ c. sugar
c. lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
2 T. lemon zest (3 lemons worth)
3 egg whites
1 egg
c. flour
pinch of salt

powdered sugar for dusting on top

Preheat oven to 350º F. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper so you can easily lift the bars out once they've cooled. If you don't have an 8x8 that's ok. I did this in a smaller rectangular pan too and they turned out just fine. You may have to adjust the baking times depending on the size.

To make the crust:
Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer, then add in vanilla. Add flour until just incorporated. Dump dough in baking pan and press with your hands until it evenly covers the bottom of the dish. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until slightly golden brown. 

To make the filling:
If you, like me didn't have enough time for the raspberries to thaw on their own, place in microwave for 1 minute to soften them up. Then put in a fine mesh sieve and press the berries through (this removes the seeds) into a large bowl. If you don't mind seeds, you can add them in whole. Or if you don't have a sieve, you can blend them up in a food processor or blender. Add sugar, egg whites, egg, lemon juice + zest, flour, and salt to the bowl and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into the crust (don't worry, it's a very loose mixture, it will thicken) and bake for 25 - 30 minutes depending on your oven and the sized baking dish you use. 

Let cool to room temperature and then place in the refrigerator for 4 hours (or until they've cooled completely). You can place them in the freezer if you need them sooner but refrigerator is best. If you let them cool overnight, they're even better! 

improv style:
i prefer my bars with a good amount of tartness. if you have a sweet tooth, consider increasing up to 1½ c. sugar.

there's TONS of possibilities to change this recipe up! strawberry lemonade bars anyone?! you could make this a fun 4th of july treat by doing blueberry lemon and strawberry lemon bars (red, white - crust, and blue!). i'm going to show you how i improv'd these bars tomorrow but here are some combinations to consider:

• cherry lime
• blackberry lime (coming in tomorrow's post)
• strawberry orange (use less sugar)
• grapefruit bars
• blueberry lemon
• strawberry lemon


green machine

I had one of those work weeks where I didn't have a second to breathe, let alone grab lunch. After 4 days in a row of catered pizza for lunch, pizza for dinner and the occasional greasy chinese takeout I was feeling sluggish and run down.

There was a time when I did 80-90 hour work weeks and it was just fine. I'm now officially old because that 82 hour work week KILLED me. Saturday morning on my way to the office I walked past a restaurant called Protein Bar - their tagline stated "We do healthy healthier". Feeling run down from the long hours and pizza, I went in for some breakfast. I ended up getting a "green juice" - my body craving something fresh. This juice was composed of spinach, kale, lime, cilantro and pineapple. I was nervous and excited all at the same time. I'd heard great things about green smoothies and juices but quite honestly I considered it food for health crazed people, not for people like me, who worship butter and salt.

Call me a health nut but this juice changed me. It might have been because I was delusional and overworked but it was exactly what I needed. I felt energy for the first time in days and it made me feel good from the inside out (if that even makes sense). I was hooked after my first one. 

I've been making green smoothies almost every morning for the past 2.5 months now. I've had some that were ok and most that were fantastic. I've joined the "health crazed" people while maintaining my love of butter and salt. It's all about balance, right?! I love the beautiful green smoothies I have for breakfast. They're vibrant and so perfect for Summer. They don't taste like gross veggies, they actually have a subtle sweetness (which can be adjusted based on preference). I've learned the secret to a good green smoothie thanks to my friend Natalie from college - unsweetened vanilla almond milk. I tried this stuff back on the detox and HATED it. It was gelatinous and just plain gross in my cereal. If you, like me had a bad first experience with almond milk, please give it a second chance. I did and it completely transforms this smoothie! 

A few things about green drinks… I had a hard time deciding between blending and juicing. Ultimately, I went with smoothies so I could get all the fiber and nutrients from the fruits and veggies. Once I decided on smoothies, I had to pick a blender. Lots of friends recommended a Blendtec or Vitamix but if you, like me don't have $500+ to shell out for a blender, you'll go a more reasonable rout. I did a lot of research and finally ended up choosing a kitchen aid 5-speed blender. This sucker cuts through kale and apples like nobody's business. There's never any chunks in my smoothie and I'm very satisfied with my purchase. Plus they sell it at Macy's and there's always some sort of sale or discount you can apply to it. For $180 full retail, it's much more cost effective than the high end blenders. Hopefully one day I'll own a fancy blender but until then, my kitchen aid works just fine. 

On to actual smoothie making… there's a million variations and things you can add to make a great smoothie. I've recently discovered chia seeds (again, thanks to my friend). They're flavorless and honestly, I don't notice them in my smoothie because they get pulverized - BUT, they're full of OMEGA 3 and antioxidants so I toss some in with my smoothie and I feel better knowing I'm getting some extra nutrients. I know they probably sound scary, but they're really not. If you're not down with going extra healthy (I don't blame you), you can leave them out no problem. I've added in some Emergen-C when I was feeling on the verge of sickness and that worked nicely too. TONS of improv suggestions below, just wanted to share some disclaimers before you read the recipe and went running for the hills when you saw chia seeds. Can't find them at your grocery store? You can get them on amazon, I use this brand. Seriously, don't be scared by them, they're secret health.

green smoothie
yields about 24 oz (one large smoothie or 2 small ones)

2 handfuls of spinach (about 2 cups slightly packed)
1 handful of kale leaves (i usually do dinosaur kale)
1½ c. unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 T. chia seeds
1 c. frozen pineapple chunks

Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour and enjoy… it's that easy! This isn't rocket science, just dump and pour and adjust to your taste! 

improv suggestions:
any combination from the various categories will work, use your favorites! also, if you're new to green smoothies, start with spinach as it's the most mild. Avoid greens that don't have nutritional value like iceberg and romaine. if your fruits aren't frozen, add about 5-6 ice cubes to the mix. 

greens (about 3 c.): 
spinach, kale (any variety), arugula, collard greens, mixed spring greens*, ½ an avocado

*you want a green that has a lot of nutritional value so skip the iceberg and stick to the darker leafier greens

frozen or fresh fruits (about 1 - 2 c):
pineapple, apple (with peel, it gets blended up), raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, bananas, orange, lime, lemon, peaches, kiwis (2), plums

liquid base (about 1 - 2 c):
milk, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, goat milk, rice milk, brewed iced tea (black, green, herbal), water, yogurt, orange juice, lemonade, grapefruit juice, iced coffee, carrot juice, apple juice, cranberry juice

extras (about 1 - 3 T.):
peanut butter, almond butter, unsweetened cocoa powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, chia seeds, flax oil, protein powder, powdered vitamin packs, emergen-c or airborne, oatmeal

a little sweeter, please (to taste):
stevia sweetener (i like truvia), honey, agave nectar, sugar, molases, any artificial sweetener of your preference

Matt's favorite green smoothie (more brownish, but still):
1 frozen banana
3 c. spinach
1½ c. soy
1 giant spoon of peanut butter
1 T. chia seeds
1 T. espresso powder
1 packet truvia or a big squirt of honey

what's your favorite combination?! 


feliz dia de las madres!

I was in Peru this year for Mother's day and had the best of intentions to get this post out while abroad and, well, that didn't happen. For this I apologize. BUT… this recipe is good, so good I must share it with you almost a week late. And I'll be sharing some recipes inspired by Peru too... I just need time to play in the kitchen, so get excited!

Every year for Mothers Day we make my mom the same brunch. About 18 years ago I stumbled upon a cookbook in my mom's collection. I was searching for a special recipe I could make my mom for breakfast. It just so happens that on the cover of the Pampered Chef book she had, a Mother's day recipe was featured (I was so original and creative back then). Baked apple french toast sounded right up my mom's alley - she loves french things. 

So I set out and got all the groceries, sides, fruits, etc… and planned my Mother's day breakfast in bed. I got the recipe all ready and in the oven. I started making my bacon (extra crispy), cutting my fresh fruit, fresh pot of coffee brewing, and assembled a beautiful tray to present my mom with. The recipe said bake 35 minutes so when I pulled it out and it looked soft and jiggly, I freaked out. 5 more minutes I thought, then it will be ready. This continued every 5 minutes for about 30 more minutes. My mom was getting ancy and kept asking me if I needed help. "NO, I'm fine". 20 minutes later, I finally I burst into tears upstairs and told my mom I wasn't sure why the dish wouldn't cook and will she PLEASE come help me. 

As most mother's do, she gently calmed me down and lovingly went to check out the problem. "It looks done to me" she replied. "Really?! but it's not golden and brown". She then explained to me the difference of baked french toast and griddled french toast. I was so relieved. To this day I don't know how I managed not to completely burn the dish considering I cooked it 25 minutes too long. Needless to say, this is a very forgiving recipe.

It's soft and chewy with slightly firm, caramelized apple bits on top. It's got a hint of cinnamon but not so much that the apples don't shine on their own. The custard softens up the bread but the crust gives you a bit of slightly crunchy chew. It's a simple and tasty brunch food. 

It's become sort of a tradition in our house to make this dish every year. It's funny too, because as an adult, I realize my mom isn't a big breakfast person. She likes to eat HOURS after she wakes up. In fact, she prefers to eat about 1½ pots of coffee in. And I'm the same way (minus the coffee - i do tea). But as a child, to me, being woken up with breakfast in bed seemed like the ultimate way to be pampered. So that was my mission.

Thanks ma for being an understanding, loving, compassionate, hardworking, dedicated and the most bad ass role model a girl could ask for. I don't know what I would do without you. I love you.

baked apple french toast
adapted from the pampered chef cook book
yields 12 servings

1 large loaf of french bread
8 eggs
3 c. milk
¾ c. sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
4 granny smith apples
1 t. cinnamon
2 T. butter

Preheat oven to 400º F. Spray a 9x13" glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray (or butter it). Cut your bread into 1½"  slices and layer in your baking dish.

In a medium sized bowl, combine your eggs, milk, and ¼ c. sugar and mix. Set aside. Peel, core and slice your apples. I like mine on the thinner side but go as thick or thin as you like. An apple slicer peeler corer is VERY helpful, but not necessary. If you don't have one, just do it the old fashioned way with a knife. 

Place the sliced apples over the bread and gently pour the egg mixture on top. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ½ c. sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and stir to combine. Sprinkle on top of the apples and finish with a dot of butter on each slice. Bake for 40-45 minutes until egg mixture is absorbed and firmed up, and the apples have browned a bit. 

I use the apple peels to garnish (just set in a bowl with water and a little lemon juice to prevent it from browning). You could also top with fresh berries. I like mine plain but some good ole maple syrup or caramel sauce would be great with these too. 

improv style:
this recipe can be made mostly in advance. if you pre-slice your bread and keep your egg mixture separate, you can assemble the dish in the morning - only having to slice apples day-of. You can cut the recipe in half and bake it in a smaller dish.

don't have granny smith apples? you could use gala or any baking apple. golden delicious or red apples will be too grainy/soft for the dish but anything else will probably work. 

you can use any kind of bread you prefer. if it's thinner pre-sliced bread consider using less of the egg mixture. challah, whole wheat baguette, or brioche would be fantastic. also, a day or two old is better because it will absorb more of the liquid without turning to mush. 

i'm not a big cinnamon fan so i used half in this recipe. if you love it, add more. a touch of nutmeg or allspice would be a nice addition. perhaps a little lemon zest would be nice too. 

add as much or as little sugar as you like. i'm not a big fan of overly sweet breakfast so i keep it to a minimum. 


cinco de mayo: a love story

My parents met at a Cinco de Mayo party 20 some years ago. My Aunt's neighbor knew a great guy and it just so happened that her sister in law was a fabulous single woman. She brought a blueberry pie that he couldn't get enough of, it was love at first bite...

A few months after they first met, my dad invited her over to his apartment for a dinner party. As a food lover, my mom was VERY impressed with his cooking + hosting skills. He made Kay's Green Enchiladas. My mom thought she hit the jackpot, a handsome, caring, and compassionate man who could also cook. Little did she know he only had 4 dishes up his sleeve - hot dogs, buttered noodles, god's eye (don't ask), and kay's enchiladas. 

Until a year ago, I didn't know who Kay was, and to be honest, I didn't really care. I was just thankful for her fabulous recipe. I recently found out that she was a co-worker of my Aunt's. While I've never met Kay, I'm sure glad my aunt did!

You might take one look at this recipe and go running for the hills. Don't get me wrong, it's not complicated, It's just.... well, untraditional. It has cream cheese and parmesan cheese in it. Seriously, Kay might just be a genius. These enchiladas will change your thought on what an enchilada should be. They have a fairly traditional green tomatillo sauce that's accented with green chilies and some cilantro. But the combination of the shredded chicken with sharp red onion bits and cool, slightly tangy cream cheese make the filling to die for. Wrapped in a flour, YES flour tortilla and then smothered with that delightful green chile tomatillo sauce. All sprinkled with parmesan cheese that gives it a nice crunchy golden top make these enchiladas perfection. Give it a try and I guarantee you'll start questioning why everyone doesn't make enchiladas with cream cheese and parmesan. 

kays green enchiladas
adapted from kay, my aunt's co-worker
yields 8 - 10 enchiladas depending on how generous you are with the filling


for the filling:
4 large or 6 small chicken breasts shredded
8 oz cream cheese
½ c. heavy cream or half n half
¾ c. finely chopped red onion
8 - 10 flour tortillas

for the sauce: 
1 small can chopped green chilies
1 - 12 oz can tomatillo, drained
2 T. fresh cilantro
¼ c. chicken stock
1 c. greek yogurt
½ c. heavy cream
1 egg
salt + pepper to taste

to top:
¼ c.  parmesan cheese
dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt

Preheat oven to 350º F. Warm tortillas in the oven for 10 minutes or microwave for 15 seconds until warm. While tortillas are in the oven, put all of your sauce ingredients into the food processor or blender and blend until combined. Set aside and assemble your filling. 

In a  medium bowl, combine shredded chicken, red onion, cream cheese, and greek yogurt. Stir until combined. Fill tortilla with the chicken mixture, fold over both sides and roll (or however you prefer your enchiladas).  Put into a 9x11 pan, roll and repeat. When you've assembled all of your tortillas, poor sauce over the top, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until bubbly and hot through.

Serve with your favorite toppings, I like a dollop of greek yogurt or sour cream and some chopped fresh cilantro. 

improv style:
you can use any kind of chicken you like - thighs, breasts, rotisserie, canned (although fresh is always better if you have it). i'm sure shredded pork would be delish too! 

don't have greek yogurt? you can substitute plain non-fat yogurt, sour cream, heavy cream or half and half. the original recipe called for heavy cream and half and half but i actually like the tang and texture the yogurt gives to it. if you can't find canned tomatillos, i've found that salsa verde will do in a pinch. sometimes if i'm feeling crazy i'll add in some frozen corn or black beans. you cold make these completely vegetarian by leaving out the chicken and bumping up the beans and veggies. if you're not a fan of onions, you can leave them out OR try cooking them in a pan first so they caramelize a bit. this will get rid of their sharpness but you'll still get the great depth of flavor. 

you can use corn tortillas if you like but i prefer the chewy flour tortillas. plus they're much easier to work with since corn tend to be more rigid and break. traditional enchiladas call for you to fry the tortillas first but i find this to be an unnecessary step that adds more fat and calories so i skip it all together.