Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup

Tuesday night was pancake night in the Confer house (oh yeah, this is a real thing for me), and I wanted to make it special.  Not because pancakes are special, but as a kind of “see, pancake dinners can be totally grown-up and fun and GOURMET, dammit” gesture for Amos.  So, the girls and I walked up to the grocery store (Hen House…how weird is that name?!) in hopes of seeing something fun to go with dinner.  I saw rhubarb right smack in the front, so of course I bought a huge bunch right away.  I love strawberry rhubarb pie, but I don’t love what pie does to my postpartum diet, so how amazing would it be if I could somehow make it a non-stress-inducing part of my life?  Well, not to brag, but I freaking DID.  Success!!!!!!

Strawberry Rhubarb Syrup

1 lb. each strawberries and rhubarb

1/3 cup each balsamic vinegar and sugar

1 tbsp ground black pepper

splash of water

  1. Prep the berries and rhubarb, trimming off ends and slicing.
  2. Combine in a bowl with the vinegar and sugar, stirring to make sure the fruit is covered.
  3. Cover bowl with a dishtowel and leave for at least 3 hours.  This could go overnight, even.
  4. Transfer to a sauce pan, add just a bit of water (a couple of tablespoons, maybe) and bring to a boil.
  5. Drop the heat to a simmer, stirring frequently, and add the pepper.
  6. Cook for a while until the syrup is as thick as you’d like.  I think I cooked it for about 15-20 minutes, mostly because I was making the pancakes.  Just keep the heat low so the syrup won’t burn.

 

 

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What We’re Eating: Tomato Cobbler

Moving to a tiny apartment requires some compromise, even for people who own as few things as we do, and for us that really meant in the kitchen.  I can deal with having all our paintings, picture frames, books (well, almost all), and DVDs in storage, but I figured we would feel the culinary loss.  Still, determined not to let it bother me too badly, I planned a weekly menu that would be normal for us:

  1. Broccoli Stew (Hazel’s request for the week, and it was delicious if I do say so)
  2. Mushroom Polenta
  3. Tuna Steak with sauteed asparagus
  4. Cauliflower and Broccoli with a cheesy bechamel sauce
  5. Tomato Cobbler
  6. Tuna Noodle Casserole (no cans! and another Hazel request)
  7. Onion Anchovy Pasta
It’s an ambitious menu for a woman whose kitchen currently looks like this.  I mean, seriously – each section of countertop is too small to fit my favorite cutting board.  INCHES, people.  I need space for my boards.  BUT I have devised a system in which I put the board across the burners and prep everything beforehand, trying not to slam the butcher’s knife down too hard because it makes a rattly noise like a robot dying and wakes up Julia, and I cannot deal with Julia while I’m mise en placing all over the place.
But we love food, people, so I can’t just toss all our fun out of the window!  Ever ambitious, I saw this gorgeous recipe for Tomato Cobbler from the talented pair at Lottie & Doof and just had to try it.  I was a bit nervous about the biscuit topping; I mean, you should read those instructions.  They’re so nonchalant, and nonchalant is NOT what I feel when I think of making biscuits.  I think of sloppy hands, tough chewy flour-tasting balls of nasty.  I’ve been so unsuccessful in the past that ducks refused my biscuits.  Those park ducks will follow you around and eat anything, but they hated my biscuits.  The biscuits here, though, turned out beautifully.  I was so delighted that I had successfully replicated their recipe!  I made a couple of very small changes:  I used Wisconsin cheddar instead of Gruyere, buttermilk instead of cream, and next time I make it I’m going to add white wine to the onions while they caramelize.  White wine + onions + tomatoes > onions + tomatoes.  It’s simple math, people.

Better Biscotti (I swear.)

I recently posted a biscotti recipe that I had modified from another recipe off a beloved blog. That recipe is for something named “Mondel Bread,” but in my kitchen it came out like biscotti. Amos and I were talking about my recent biscotti experiences, and he helped me unearth our old biscotti recipe, which we haven’t made in about a year as a result of the huge move & then pregnancy news.  This recipe yields a much drier, more traditional biscotti, whereas my previous recipe is more crumbly, like a cookie.  I actually prefer the recipe below; although the instructions are longer and may seem more complicated, they are actually not at all more difficult.  These instructions give some reasoning behind the methods in parts, and so may seem more complicated, but they are actually just more detailed.

Almond & Orange Biscotti
(Of course, flavorings & nuts are optional/changeable.)

Ingredients
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
¾ c. slivered almonds
2 tbsp. minced orange zest
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. almond extract
¼ tsp. salt
2 c. flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together.
3. In a bowl large enough for all the ingredients, break & whisk the two eggs together with the sugar until the mixture is pale yellow.
4. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract, orange zest, and slivered almonds to the egg mixture and stir once or twice with a spatula.
5. Working in batches, pour enough of the flour mixture to cover the surface of the egg mixture. Use a spatula and fold in the flour using as few strokes as possible. Add more flour and fold until all the flour has been integrated. Folding is performed by using a spatula to scoop from either the side or the middle of the mixture and lifting and “folding” (basically moving the spatula laterally and then flipping it over to drop the mixture) onto another part of the mixture. Rotate the bowl each fold.
6. Split the batter in half and place the two rough balls onto a non-stick baking sheet (such as a silicone baking mat or parchment paper set in a half sheet pan). With your hands, form the batter into two loaves of approximately 10-in. (25 cm) by 2 in. (5 cm) each. Wetting your hands just a bit may help with molding the loaves since the batter will be fairly sticky.
7. Bake the loaves at 350°F (175°C) for 40 minutes (rotating the pan once after twenty minutes). The loaves should have just started to crack. Don’t wait for big cracks or you might overcook the biscotti.
8. After some cooling, move a loaf to a cutting board and cut diagonally into 3/8-in. (1 cm) thick pieces. Do the same to the other loaf. The interior of each biscotti should still be just a little moist (while the exterior is nice and hard). The crust of the loaf will probably be quite hard, so use a large serrated knife such as a bread knife for this job.
9. Place the biscotti with a cut side facing up on a half sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes. Remove the pan and flip all the biscotti over so the other cut side is now facing up. Bake for another 7 minutes. Set all the pieces on a wire rack to cool making sure that none of the biscotti are touching each other. If the biscotti are placed too close together, they could get a little soft or soggy as they cool.

Cinnamon Vanilla Biscotti

This recipe is so easy that I can’t stop making it!  The recipe is modified from this one at one of my favorite blogs, Lottie & Doof.  I have a batch in the oven right now 🙂

Cinnamon Vanilla Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar (I like sucanat sugar)

Sprinkle of salt

1 cup oil

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 pound pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

 

In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add sugar, cinnamon, oil and vanilla and beat well. Add flour, salt, baking powder and nuts if you have them and combine until a smooth dough forms. Cover bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours. Shape dough into 3 or 4 logs and place on large baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake each log at 350° F for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lower oven temperature to 300°F. Cool until you are able to handle, slice into 3/4-1-inch slices. Return slices to cookie sheet and toast in oven for 20 minutes.


 

Recipe! Seared Chicken with Lemon & Basil Pasta

Dudes, I was feeling FANCY today.  Amos took Hazel to work with him, which meant I had a little SPRING BREAK 'tude going on (which has apparently morphed into a 'dorkitude,' but y'all just bear with me here).  I just puttered around Huntsville a bit, going to Target for some Little Swimmers and a Starbucks coffee (oh, how I missed thee), then up to Earth Fare, where I got a delicious salad and some organic, happy-raised chicken legs for tonight!  The afternoon I spent with my feet up, knitting and watching "The L-Word" until my hair appointment.  I met a fantastic stylist who will undoubtably be my regular forever.  I love her.  I love my hair right now.  

After picking up Hazel and Amos, I cooked dinner while they had a little fun at Lowe's.  Amos and Hazel both went crazy over it, hence, the recipe entry.  This dinner took about an hour, but that was mostly because of the time the chicken needed to cook.  I have made the pasta alone in about 20 minutes.  It's simple but amazingly flavorful.  Thanks to my friend Leah in New York who gave me the idea for the lemon basil pasta; it's a family recipe for her.
Seared Chicken with Lemon & Basil Pasta
Ingredients
2 chicken legs, or some cut with the bone & skin still there
box of pasta
some basil
2 lemons
onions
mushrooms
some olive oil and wine
  1. Set an oven-safe skillet over high heat on the stovetop & preheat your oven to about 350 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry your chicken.  Rub a little olive oil on the meat.
  3. Put that chicken in the pan, skin side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  
  4. Enjoy the sizzling.
  5. Wait until the bottom is seared nicely, then flip the meat over, add more salt and pepper, and let that side sear also.
  6. Stick a thermometer into the fattest part of the meant and transfer the whole pan into the oven.
  7. While waiting for the chicken to reach 180 or so degrees, zest the lemons (but don't cut them yet) and chiffonade the basil.  
  8. When the chicken gets to something like 160 degrees, start your pasta water boiling.
  9. Cook the pasta according to the amount you're making and the type of noodle.
  10. When the chicken's done, take the pan out of the oven and set the meat on a plate to rest.
  11. See all that brown awesomeness still in the pan?  YUM.  Put that pan over high heat!
  12. Cut the lemons in half, then squeeze the juice into the pan.  
  13. Add the zest, mushrooms, onions, a little wine if you got it, some olive oil, and about a cup or so of the pasta water.  
  14. Let the liquid come to a boil then start whisking to get all the meaty crunchies off the pan.
  15. When the liquid has reduced to your liking, throw some whole-wheat flour on top and whisk!!  Quick fast like lightening!!!
  16. When your sauce has thickened, which should only take a couple of seconds, add the sauce to your cooked & drained pasta.  
  17. BOOM!  The meal is done!  

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Healthy Lunch

Now that we are mostly settled in, Amos and I (mainly me, since I'm at home with Hazel right now) are working on getting her back into the daily routines we've set her whole life.  A major area for scheduling involves food.  We've been packing, moving, on the road, or on the go for weeks now, and Hazel's been exposed to a wider variety of weird food situations than ever before.  She's done very well, but I can see already a few areas of concern where she's been acting up; for example, at my mom's house, she wants to eat ALL the time except at mealtimes.  We don't allow constant snacking, but in the wake of all the upset moving caused, she's been trying to do these things she knows aren't allowed.  Today was really the first day she and I had a 'normal' lunch together.  I've decided to include the recipe/mention of it here for two reasons:  everyone is always surprised at how well she eats, in regards to both her table manners and the variety of food she likes, and also I have a lot of people ask me about how we make her food in particular, but also how we make it fit into our lifestyle.  Amos and I work on eating healthy, real food, so while we do have some food vices (cheeseburger Doritos, anyone?), we generally have a nice, varied diet.  I'm eager to get back to it, actually!  I like routines too – wonder where Hazel gets it from??  ;)

Today's lunch took about 20 minutes top to bottom, and that included prepping all the vegetables.  Normally I have onions and carrots chopped and stored in the fridge, but like I said we're not back into our normal routines just yet.  
Black Beans & Vegetables
1 can black beans, rinsed
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped 
~2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 c. chopped green beans
All of this was sauteed in some olive oil.  Yeah, that's all I did!  This was Hazel's version of lunch, with the green beans chopped up smaller.  For myself, I also added boiled green beans on top and about 1.5 tbsp of these organic TVP bacon bits we brought from Tom's.  The rest of the green beans from the bunch I bought were also boiled, and I put them in the fridge for tonight's dinner.  Splitting up food in that way, preparing ahead, makes healthy cooking (or any cooking that doesn't come from a box) quite a bit easier!  :)

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Cooking with MAMA!

Sometimes I cook, did you know?  Sometimes it's good, most often it's weird, but I have definitely made something the whole family will enjoy here (well, my family, I think).  I love a good muffin – this you should know up front.  Not a cupcakey muffin, but a hearty, healthy muffin that does not taste like the bottom of my rollerskates.  This recipe came about a few weeks ago, when I decided to make cinnamon pumpkin muffins for Hazel and I, only to have almost none of the major ingredients.  Improvisation ensued, and a few weeks of (delicious) testing later, I give you Lemon Blueberry Muffins!

 
I love these things.  Their texture is more like a really good loaf of bread than a cake, and I have tried to make them as healthy as possible while still being sweet.  I have made them a couple of different ways, like putting in more berries, different berries or jam, and as long as you keep the basics (flour, eggs) the same, I think you can safely experiment with flavors.  Here's the recipe – I am too proud NOT to share, I'll admit it!  Cooking is the most prominent thing I enjoy that doesn't come naturally, so when I do make something that I really like I just have to share.  :)

Lemon Blueberry Muffins

 

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 c. wheat or oat bran
  • 4 tbsp. toasted wheat germ
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • grated nutmeg to taste
  • pinch salt

 

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 c. milk (buttermilk is nice too)
  • 1 c. blueberries (if frozen, defrost for 45 seconds)
  • 1 c. applesauce
  • 4 tbsp. blueberry jam (no sugar added is best)
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • zest of one lemon, if desired

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and coat your muffin pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a rather large bowl.
  3. Toss the blueberries in there and coat them with the dry ingredients.
  4. Put the jam in a separate bowl (big enough for all the wet ingredients) and mash it with a fork.
  5. Add the egg, breaking the yolk as if for scrambled eggs, and mix with the jam.
  6. Add the rest of the wet ingredients (except the blueberries, which are in the flour already) and stir to combine.
  7. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ones in the larger bowl.
  8. Stir, but be careful not to over-mix the batter, or the muffins will turn out tough and gross. Believe me on this.
  9. Spoon them out into the pan, with the batter just coming to the top of the muffin cups. 
  10. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.

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