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Funfetti Sugar Cookie Bars
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Funfetti Sugar Cookie Bars

I spent the weekend before my birthday last week cruising around the Finger Lakes, NY tasting wine, paring it with chocolate, devouring a brisket sandwich that I’ll never forget, and chatting away the hours with one of my good friends of 17 years; a friend I made my freshman year at college.  We lived on the same floor, became friends later in the year, wrote letters back-and-forth that first summer and then in the subsequent years after while email was still in its infancy.  I transferred schools after freshman year and went to Disney for a semester junior year.  We both graduated; Kristin moved to Maryland for grad school, I moved home and then eventually back to Connecticut for my own grad work.  And through all the years and all of the moves, we’ve kept in touch.  I say if it wasn’t for her, we wouldn’t still be friends.  I’m horrible about keeping in touch.

Funfetti Sugar Cookie Bars

I thought I would be writing this birthday dessert post about another dessert but alas and again, I’ve put off making what I really wanted to make.  That dessert really had more directly to do with Kristin than these funfetti sugar cookie bars do, and I’ll eventually make it, but these bars are still definitely relevant.  They are comfortable and simple.  They almost beg for you to have fun (the funfetti helps with this) and they are a perfect snack for a card game (hello hours of Phase 10 in the floor common room) or game night or a family bbq.  It just felt “right” to make these sugar cookie bars to celebrate my 35th last week, not only because I was exhausted from my wine weekend and I put off making anything until the following weekend, but because they felt good – very much like catching up with an old friend.

Funfetti Sugar Cookie Bars

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 3 dozen (2-inch square) bars

I have made these bars a handful of times now and always feel like they are better the second day. And because the batch makes so many bars, I've frozen part of the batch (baked but unfrosted) for a treat at another time.

Ingredients

    For the funfetti sugar cookie bars:
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • 3 tbsp sprinkles
  • For the whipped vanilla frosting:
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract (use clear vanilla extract if you want crisp white frosting)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Food coloring (gel, liquid, or paste), optional

Instructions

  1. To make the sugar cookie bars: Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a 12x17-inch rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Whisk the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla, vanilla bean seeds, and lemon zest. With the mixer off, pour the dry ingredients into the bowl along with the sprinkles. On low speed, combine the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing until they are just incorporated.
  3. Lightly press the dough into the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. The bars will still look pale with perhaps just a little browning around the edges. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to allow the bars to cool completely in the pan.
  4. To make the whipped vanilla frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), beat the butter for 8 minutes on medium speed; it will be very pale and light. Add in the sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt and mix on low for 1 minute and then on medium speed for 6 minutes; the frosting will be very light and fluffy. Blend in the food coloring, if using, until it is fully incorporated.
  5. To frost the bars: Frost the bars in the pan. With a hot knife or stainless steel bench scraper (my preference), slice the bars into your desired size. Remove them from the pan with a spatula and serve. Cover the leftovers pan with aluminum foil - this also works well for transporting the bars. Bars will keep for 2 days at room temperature.

Source

sugar cookie bars adapted from: The Repressed Pastry Chef via Annie's Eats | whipped vanilla frosting adapted from Sweetapolita

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Hot Crab Dip
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Hot Crab Dip

I don’t know what it is, but even in the middle of the summer, a hot and cheesy dip always sounds like a good plan.  It doesn’t seem to matter how much a kitchen can suffer from oven heat in July; as long as the dip is worth it, I don’t mind.  And this hot crab dip is worth it.  Actually, it’s perfect any time of the year but summer seems the right time for a crab dip, doesn’t it?

Hot Crab Dip

I pulled this dip together the night before my family’s clambake last month then popped it in the oven for about 35 minutes right before the party started.  Out came a bubbling dish of cracker-crusted cheesy crab dip, not with wisps of crab meat here and there, but hunks of lump crab in every bite.  It’s kept super creamy with the addition of cream cheese and half-and-half (so, definitely not health food) and it won’t seize up when it cools like so many cheesy dips can do – my cheese dip nemesis.  If there’s one thing I would do differently next time, it would be to make more because again, it’s another dish I was sad to see come to an end.

Hot Crab Dip

Hot Crab Dip

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Enough for a big crowd

You can make this dip a day or two in advance. Just cover and refrigerate the dip before you bake it, adding 5 to 7 minutes to the baking time if the dip is baked right from the fridge.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 2 tsp dry mustard
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 12 oz (1 ½ bricks) cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 4 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 4 oz Gouda cheese, grated (about 1 ½ cups)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 16 oz lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage and broken up into smaller hunks of meat
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
  • ½ sleeve of Ritz or butter crackers, crushed into pea-sized pieces

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. You'll need a 13x9-inch or 2-quart baking dish - no need to grease it.
  2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the shallots, cayenne, Old Bay, and dry mustard, and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute, scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Stir in the half-and-half and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the cream cheese a couple ounces at a time, whisking to incorporate the cheese before adding more. Turn down the heat to low. By the handful, stir in the shredded cheddar and Gouda, again combining into the mixture before adding more. Stir in the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce and allow the whole mixture to warm through for 3 to 5 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Fold in the crab and half of the parsley (which I forgot to do).
  4. Transfer the dip to the baking dish and bake the dip for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle crushed crackers over the top. Continue to bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until the dip is hot and bubbly. If the crackers seems to brown too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top towards the end. Let the dip rest for 10 minutes before sprinkling the remaining parsley over the top and serving.

Source

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Peach Butter
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Peach Butter

I feel like I’ve been on a tear with canning this summer and I honestly don’t see an end in sight.  It really has been one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon this summer and especially because Kyle works nearly every Saturday, I don’t feel distracted or rushed to finish my canning projects.  I get to work methodically through the cooking and preserving process and then squeal with joy at that first “POP!” after the jars come out of the water bath.  And yes, I really do squeal with joy!

Peach Butter

This peach butter, much like the sweet cider apple butter I made years ago, takes a little bit longer to prepare and cook than jams or jellies do because you want it super thick and concentrated with flavor.  But when you’re preserving gorgeous summer peaches at the height of the season with the intent of slathering homemade peach butter on warm biscuits, scones, or some hearty honey wheat bread in the middle of winter, does it really matter how long it takes to cook?

Peach Butter

I know many people cook their fruit butter in a crockpot in order to take advantage of the hands-off time, but I opt to cook it on the stove top.  I like watching the transformation happen – it’s both cathartic and rewarding to me.  Less sweet than jam but with a pure peach flavor, this peach butter will knock your socks off as it did for my BFF who confessed to eating it straight from the jar I sent her this past weekend.  That’s a pretty good indication of how great this stuff is, if I do say so myself!

Peach Butter

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 8-oz jars (4 cups)

You can make this peach butter with or without a food mill. I seriously love mine but there are less expensive options out there as well and at the same time, it isn't required for this recipe. If you opt not to can this recipe, the butter will last a couple weeks in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer.

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs peaches
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Prep the peaches: If you use a food mill, skip to the next step. If you don't use a food mill, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare large bowl of ice water; set aside. Mark an "x" in the bottom of each peach and lower the peaches into the water, allowing them to cook for just 30 seconds. Transfer the peaches using a slotted spoon to the ice water and wait 1 minute. The peels should slip off; discard the peels.
  2. Cut the peaches in half, remove the pits, then quarter each half so you have 8 slices from each peach. Bring the peaches and the water to a boil in a large pot (if you blanched the peaches first, use the same one). Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once they are tender (not mushy), transfer the peaches to a food mill in batches to skin them or a food processor and puree them until smooth.
  3. Canning Prep: Wash and dry your jars, brand new lids (never reused), and rings. Check the jars for cracks or chips and discard any that are damaged. Add the lids to a small saucepan filled with an inch or two of water. Place the jars in your canning pot, set on top of a rack - not directly on the bottom of the pot - and fill the pot with enough water so that it covers the top of the jars by at least 1 inch. Cover and bring the water to a boil and keep the water boiling while you make the jam.
  4. To make the peach butter: Return the pureed peaches to the large pot and add the sugar and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil and cook for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently towards the end to prevent scorching. If the mixture starts to splatter while boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
  5. To test for doneness, the easiest way to do this is to use the "spoon test" whereas if the butter doesn't fall off the spoon when you flip it upside-down, it's done. You can also freeze a small plate and once a drop of the butter on the frozen plate doesn't leave a ring of liquid around it after a couple of minutes, you can call it done. Likewise, if you run a spoon across the bottom of the pot and it leaves a trail revealing the pot bottom between the sides of the butter after a couple seconds, it's done. I prefer the "spoon test."
  6. Towards the end of the peach butter cooking time, bring the water in the small saucepan to a simmer but don't allow it to boil. This will soften the rubber seal around the lids and help them seal better when processed.
  7. To can the peach butter: Turn the heat under the canning pot off. Remove the jars from the canning pot with your canning tongs, draining each well as you remove them. Using a clean canning funnel, ladle the butter into the jars leaving ½-inch of headspace between the top of the butter and top of the jars. Clean the rim of each of the jars with a clean, dry towel and place a hot lid (from the saucepan) onto each jar. Add the rings and tighten just to finger-tight. The jars will be hot so use a kitchen towel to hold the jars while you do this.
  8. Transfer the filled jars to the canning pot rack with the canning tongs, lower the rack, cover, and bring the pot back to a boil. Process the jars for 12 minutes. If you are above sea level, you'll want to check this site for processing times as the times vary with changes in sea level.
  9. Once the jars are finished processing, turn the heat off and remove the jars with the tongs, setting them on a clean, dry towel. Be sure to put them in a spot where you won't have to move them for 24 hours. The lids should begin to seal with a "pop" sound shortly after you remove them from the pot. After 24 hours, remove the rings and lift the jars an inch off of the counter with your fingertips around the edge of the lids to check that the lids have sealed. If any of the lids have not sealed, refrigerate or freeze the butter immediately. The processed and sealed jars will keep for at least a year in a cool, dark space.

Source

source: adapted from Smitten Kitchen

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Scalloped Tomatoes with Charred Corn and Blue Cheese
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Scalloped Tomatoes with Charred Corn and Blue Cheese

It’s been a few years since I fell in love with scalloped tomatoes and I thought this summer it was time for an upgrade.  A recharge, if you will.  Believe me though, this scalloped tomatoes recipe in its original form is truly outstanding and it’s one I’ll continue to make over and over.  But with summer corn in full swing now and my ever-growing love for blue cheese (see here, here, aaaand here), I decided to add a little of both to the original recipe.

Scalloped Tomatoes with Charred Corn and Blue Cheese

And the outcome, while a bit different flavor-wise, was just as homey and satisfying as the original.  There’s a bit of a punch from the blue cheese and smokiness from the corn, both of which I totally loved.  It’s a great vegetarian meal on its own or served on the side of grilled bbq chicken, roast chicken, burgers, or pork chops, or even under a fried or poached egg (excellent breakfast leftovers, let me tell you!).  And since I’ve got a couple weeks until my garden tomatoes ripen, I’m already planning ahead to make this again, right from the garden.  Ah, summer lovin’…

Scalloped Tomatoes with Charred Corn and Blue Cheese

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: about 6 main course servings

Go with a mild blue cheese for this dish. I used Gorgonzola dolce, a soft Italian blue cheese, but regular Gorgonzola or Maytag would be great here. If your cherry tomatoes were as monstrous as mine were, consider cutting them in half first - uncut, mine were just a bit too big and didn't release as much juice as I normally like in this dish.

Ingredients

  • 2 ears corn, husked
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups (1/2-inch diced) crusty bread
  • 2 lbs fresh tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces or halved cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 oz mild blue cheese, crumbled or roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Grill the corn over a medium-high heat grill until it starts to char on all sides, about 7-8 minutes. Let the corn cool for a couple minutes then slice the kernels off the cob.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large (12 inch) saute pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir to coat with the oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are evenly browned. If the pan starts to smoke, swirl the additional tablespoon of olive oil into the pan.
  4. Meanwhile, combine the corn, tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. When the bread cubes are done, add the corn-tomato mixture and continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a 2 quart baking dish. Dot the top with the blue cheese then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. If the top starts to brown too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the dish. Serve hot or warm.

Source

source: adapted from this scalloped tomatoes recipe

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Blueberry Jam
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Blueberry Jam

For years I dreamed about wandering out into our yard on a steamy mid-summer weekend morning to pluck enough blueberries from blueberry bushes dripping in berries to stuff into a pie crust and turn out dessert from our yard.  It was one of my biggest wants in our last house but because we knew we would be moving eventually – which turned into 5 years – and our house was slated for demolition (thank you, State of CT and Oxford-Waterbury Airport), we held off on planting blueberry bushes.

Blueberry Jam

And after spending more than a year in this house, planning where I would plant those bushes, we finally dug three holes and planted the 2-foot baby bushes I painstakingly picked out at the nursery this spring.  We did soil tests and bought special fertilizer, trying to ensure those plants would grow.  If they didn’t produce in the first year, I was ok with that, just as long as we didn’t kill them once in the ground; everything I had read stated not to expect a first-year crop.

Then there were flowers!  Tons of tiny, gorgeous flowers!  Within a month of so, we had loads of tiny green berries that would eventually yield a great and unexpected first-year crop.  By July 4th, they had just started to turn and I figured that by the end of the month, there would be pie.  I. Was. Stoked.

Blueberry Jam

And then… And then… And then the deer found the blueberry bushes.  As I dragged the hose across the dewy grass to water my babies early one morning before work (my least favorite outdoor chore, btw), I knew something was wrong immediately.  The bushes didn’t look quite as “bushy”.  As I got closer, I could see that all of the berries on the top 2/3 of all 3 bushes had been eaten.  Not like a bird or a squirrel would eat something, but the leaves and branches and all were chewed off – my hosta plants nearby had also been decimated so I knew it was the deer.  I had become too complacent with the fact that no animal had touched the bushes until then and decided that perhaps we could get by without having to cover the bushes.  Silly me.  We live in the middle of the freaking woods.  What was I thinking?!  Needless to say, I was crushed.  I about cried.  All that dreaming, gone in just a couple of days.

Blueberry Jam

But there’s always next year, right?  So this summer, I stocked up on a few pints of as-local-as-I-could-find blueberries and jammed my way through a recent Saturday afternoon.  This activity has become one of my favorite things to do in the summer and this blueberry jam is the epitome of a homemade summer jam.  It’s a teeny bit earthy with the addition of a little cinnamon and nutmeg and not overly sweet like some jams can be (what the heck is up with a near 1:1 ratio of cups of fruit to sugar??).  I’m in love how this jam turned out and I’ve been eating it in every way possible, including mixing it into plain Greek yogurt, which has quickly become my favorite new breakfast.  Keep your fingers crossed that this jam will be made with my own blueberries next summer!

Blueberry Jam

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: about 5 pint jars or 10 8-oz jars

Ingredients

  • 8 dry pints fresh blueberries
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Dash of ground nutmeg
  • 6 oz liquid pectin (2 packets)

Instructions

  1. Prep the berries: Wash, dry, and pick the blueberries over for stems. In a large bowl, mash the berries a few cups at a time and transfer the mashed berries to a large heavy duty pot before adding more berries to mash.
  2. Canning Prep: Wash and dry your jars, brand new lids (never reused), and rings. Check the jars for cracks or chips and discard any that are damaged. Add the lids to a small saucepan filled with an inch or two of water. Place the jars in your canning pot, set on top of a rack - not directly on the bottom of the pot - and fill the pot with enough water so that it covers the top of the jars by at least 1 inch. Cover and bring the water to a boil and keep the water boiling while you make the jam.
  3. To make the blueberry jam: Mix the sugar into the blueberries and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the lemon zest, juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Boil the berries for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid allowing the jam to burn. Once the jam has thickened and looks shiny, stir in the pectin. Allow the mixture to boil for an additional 5 minutes.
  4. While the jam cooks, bring the water in the small saucepan to a simmer but don't allow it to boil. This will soften the rubber seal around the lids and help them seal better when processed.
  5. To can the jam: Turn the heat under the canning pot off. Remove the jars from the canning pot with your canning tongs, draining each well as you remove them. Using a clean canning funnel, ladle the jam into the jars leaving ½-inch of headspace between the top of the jam and top of the jars. Clean the rim of each of the jars with a clean, dry towel and place a hot lid (from the saucepan) onto each jar. Add the rings and tighten just to finger-tight. The jars will be hot so use a kitchen towel to hold the jars while you do this.
  6. Transfer the filled jars to the canning pot rack with the canning tongs, lower the rack, cover, and bring the pot back to a boil. Process the jars for 10 minutes. If you are above sea level, you'll want to check this site for processing times as the times vary with changes in sea level.
  7. Once the jars are finished processing, turn the heat off and remove the jars with the tongs, setting them on a clean, dry towel. Be sure to put them in a spot where you won't have to move them for 24 hours. The lids should begin to seal with a "pop" sound shortly after you remove them from the pot. After 24 hours, remove the rings and lift the jars an inch off of the counter with your fingertips around the edge of the lids to check that the lids have sealed. If any of the lids have not sealed, refrigerate or freeze the jam immediately. The processed and sealed jars will keep for at least a year in a cool, dark space.

Source

source: adapted from Food in Jars via Use Real Butter

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Roasted Tomato, Whipped Herb Feta, and Bacon Sandwiches
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Roasted Tomato, Whipped Herb Feta, and Bacon Sandwiches

Now is right around the time of the summer when Kyle starts asking for things like pasta with meat sauce, lasagna, and meatloaf (sad photo warning) – all delicious, but hearty fall and winter meals.  I’m sorta with him but really, I’m not ready to give up summer foods yet.  Our garden has yet to yield anywhere near our expectations what with late-season tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini just starting to emerge but I’ve been hitting up the farm stand for local tomatoes that fill the void for now.  And my favorite way to use them this summer (so far) is to roast them.  I then add the delicate roasted tomato slices to a crusty roll with a spread of whipped herb feta, thick-sliced grilled bacon, and some fresh basil and call dinner: done!  Seriously, this sandwich has rocked my world these past couple of weeks and there’s no end in sight once our garden tomatoes ripen.  (Hurry please!)

Roasted Tomato, Whipped Herb Feta, and Bacon Sandwiches

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 sandwiches

Timing Tip: With some good planning, this can be a really quick meal. While the oven preheats, slice the tomatoes, and make the whipped feta (it takes less than 5 minutes to make!). Cook the bacon at the same time the tomatoes are roasting. If you want to bake the bacon, add the slices to a second parchment-lined baking sheet and bake it at the same time and temperature as the tomatoes, just for maybe 5 to 7 minutes longer. Grilling it is a great option too - it only takes 5 minutes with no messy clean-up!

Ingredients

  • 1 large tomato
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sub rolls (or whatever you call them where you live)
  • ¼ cup whipped herb feta
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked crisp and drained
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, julienned if they are large

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the tomato into ¼-inch thick (approximately) slices and lay them out on the parchment paper. Drizzle just a little olive oil over the tomatoes and sprinkle with pepper; no salt needed here because of the salty feta and bacon. Roast the tomatoes for 15 to 20 minutes until they are soft and just starting to brown. Cool on the pan for just a couple of minutes.
  2. Slice the rolls lengthwise and divide the feta between the rolls, spreading it out on the bottom half. I grilled the rolls first with just a drizzle of olive oil on the top - not required but so good. Add a layer of the tomatoes, then the bacon, and finally the basil over the top of each sandwich. Serve while the tomatoes are still warm. Add a small salad, grilled corn, some fruit, or chips to the side to round out the meal.

Source

source: Smells Like Home original

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A New England-style Clambake
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Brett's Clambake July 2013

In spite of the fact that I live in a New England coastal state, I don’t eat nearly enough lobster as I would like.  I feel like it should be a summer staple.  And I’ve come to the conclusion that I really just need to live in Maine, that’s all that’s to it.  I want to be able to drive (although walk would be preferable) to the lobster pound in the mornings and pick up fresh-off-the-boat lobster for dinner.  I’m tired of wondering how long the lobster I buy here has been out of the water, how safely it has been stored in transit to the store, and why I feel like we’re getting ripped off for lobsters fished off local shores when the price is so much cheaper in Maine.  But I digress.  I got my lobster this summer in the form of a New England-style clambake…that happened on Long Island.  Ha!

Brett's Grad Party July 2013 - clambake dinner

We had a party at my parents’ house a couple weeks ago to celebrate my brother getting his GED.  To put it mildly, he had a rough go in high school, lost his way for a while, and found his way out.  I am just so proud of him for taking this next step in his life and working his butt off to pass this test – a test I probably couldn’t pass, now 17 years out of high school!  And since he is a seafood lover like no other (one of his favorite things to do is fish for his dinner!), we thought a clambake would be right up his alley.

Clambake invitation

If you’re not familiar with what a clambake is, let me explain.  For those of you in the South, it’s sort of like a seafood boil but the food is steamed on top of wet seaweed over a fire.

Brett's Clambake July 2013 clambake pics

You’ve got New England clam chowder and steamer clams to start off the meal and then lobster, clams, mussels, potatoes, sausage, onions, and corn all steamed together and served up family-style dumped in the center of a newspaper-lined table or buffet-style.  It’s homey, rustic, and just plain awesome.

Brett's Grad Party July 2013 - clambake

But considering neither my mom nor I had ever done a party like this before, we hired the Long Island Chowda Co. to cater our clambake.  It was a brilliant idea.

Brett's Grad Party July 2013 - Brett in his glory

We took care of appetizers and dessert, and we were able to enjoy someone else cooking (and cleaning up!) an outstanding meal for us.  The caterers brought all of the food to the house, fresh, and cooked it as we all stood around and marveled at what they were doing.  From start to finish, watching this clambake happen and then feasting on the outcome was such a fun way to throw a party!

Brett's Grad Party July 2013 - Brett & Jean

To say the least, I should have been fasting all day and probably the day after to accommodate for the makings of this party:

Appetizers:
Watermelon slices
Cheesy hot crab dip (recipe coming soon)
Dill pickle dip
Baked onion-cheese dip my mom made
Baked stuffed clams my older brother brought (I need to figure out that recipe!)
Shrimp cocktail
Smoked oyster-cream cheese dip my mom’s friend made

Starters:
Steamer clams (aka soft-shell or Ipswich clams) with drawn butter
New England clam chowder

Main course:
Lobster (1 ½ lbs each/per person) with drawn butter
Prince Edward Island mussels
Clams (local)
Mashed red potatoes with onion and chorizo (all steamed with the seafood)
Local corn
Coleslaw
(We also had a steak option for the carnivores.)

Dessert:
Half-sheet cake
Ice cream sundae bar with hot fudge, vanilla bean caramel sauce, peanut butter sauce, fresh whipped cream, sprinkles, and nuts

Lobster Pinata

As is evident by some of these pictures of Brett and the happenings during the lobster piñata festivities, I’m positive my brother had a great time.  Brett’s girlfriend, Jean, picked up a lobster piñata and filled it with all kinds of peanut butter candy (my brother’s favorite).  I’m sure she was a sight to behold trying to wrangle that thing on the train to come out from the city for the weekend but he absolutely loved it.  Except that now he owes my mom a new broom – casualties of the piñata.

All in all my family, and most importantly, my brother had a blast at our first clambake celebrating his great achievement.  Congrats again, Brett!!

Notes:
Invitations: custom designed by the lovely Krista of Wicked Crafty Designs
Lobster piñata: available at various party supply stores, including web-based stores
Caterers: Long Island Chowda Co.

Roasted Strawberry Milkshakes
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Roasted Strawberry Milkshakes

I mentioned a few weeks back that grilling bacon was a revolutionary cooking technique for me to add to my kitchen repertoire.  Well, roasting strawberries is exactly on the same level of amazingness as grilling bacon is.  It seems almost sinful to take perfectly ripe summer strawberries and to stuff them in a hot oven but guys, I feel no guilt when I do it.  When I made those roasted strawberry, dark chocolate, and brie grilled cheese sandwiches earlier this year, I knew roasting summer strawberries would be even better.  And I was right.

Roasted Strawberry Milkshakes

I roasted probably close to 4 quarts a couple weeks ago and used them in various ways, including these milkshakes.  Roasted strawberry milkshakes?  Hells to the yes!  They are slightly more time-intensive than your regular milkshake due to roasting and cooling the strawberries, but my goodness, they are so so sooo worth it.  Of course, the strawberries can be roasted in advance and chilled for a few days so as to quicken time-to-dessert after dinner.  This is definitely my preference for how to do things.  And if you don’t feel like [or just plain don't] make your own vanilla ice cream, store-bought ice cream will work fine.  Or…there’s always Talenti Tahitian vanilla bean gelato which, from personal experience, is like making a milkshake from heaven.  When a pint of Talenti costs less than the quart of milk I need buy to make the ice cream – on sale for $2.50 a couple weeks ago – you can bet your butt I’m going with the Talenti.  Anyway, the great thing about these shakes and roasting strawberries in general is that you don’t need summer strawberries – the process of roasting strawberries makes even the most mediocre berries quite amazing so even in the middle of winter (like for Valentine’s Day!), these shakes would be outstanding.

Roasted Strawberry Milkshakes

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: 2 large servings

Ingredients

    For the roasted strawberries:
  • 2 quarts fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced in half lengthwise
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • For the milkshakes:
  • 1 pint (2 cups) vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
  • All of the roasted strawberries and their juice
  • Up to 1 cup milk

Instructions

  1. To roast the strawberries: Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay out the berries, pour the sugar over them, and toss until the berries are coated with sugar. Roast for about 30 minutes, until the berries are softened and have released their juice. Allow them to cool to room temperature on the pan then transfer the strawberries and the juice to an airtight container and chill thoroughly (about 30 minutes).
  2. To make the milkshakes: Add the ice cream, strawberries and juice, and some of the milk to a blender. Process until smooth, adding more milk to thin out the mixture to your desired shake consistency; add less milk for a spoonable dessert or more milk if you want to sip the shakes through a straw. Transfer the shake mixture to glasses and serve immediately.

Source

source: adapted from Not Without Salt

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Whipped Herb Feta
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Whipped Herb Feta

It was only just maybe three or four years ago that I realized the awesomeness that is feta cheese and I haven’t looked back since.  For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this cheese in its own salty and briny way could potentially trump sharp cheddar as my favorite cheese.  It’s just so versatile, in a way that cheddar really can’t be.  And whipping it in a food processor with some fresh herbs just exemplifies this point.  Add the whipped herb feta to a sandwich, spread it on crackers or grilled bruschetta, use it as a base for a white pizza, dip your veggies in it, swirl it around some hot soup…the possibilities are numerous.  And delicious!

Whipped Herb Feta

Total Time: 1 minute

Yield: about 1 cup

Feel free to play around with the herbs you use in this whipped feta; dill would also be amazing. If you use dried herbs, cut the amounts to ¼ teaspoon each as dried herbs have more concentrated flavors than fresh ones do.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz feta cheese, patted dry
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Crumble the feta into the bowl of a food processor. Process for 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the herbs and a few cranks of black pepper. Process for another 15 seconds or until the cheese is smooth and almost fluffy. Transfer the cheese to a bowl and mix it with a spatula to ensure the herbs are well distributed.

Source

source: Smells Like Home original

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Sausage Burgers with Garlicky Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto
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Sausage Burgers with Garlicky Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Every once in a while, I find myself getting into some pretty annoying food ruts.  In spite of the menus that I almost obsessively create each week, sometimes I just feel so uninspired when it comes time to make dinner.  This was not the case, however, when the night rolled around to make these sausage burgers.  In fact, I dreamed about this meal from the moment I pinned the recipe.

Sausage Burgers with Garlicky Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

A simple Italian-seasoned sausage patty topped with melted sharp provolone cheese, some quickly sautéed garlicky spinach, and a layer of sun-dried tomato pesto make up the components of these gourmet burgers and not only were they simple to throw together on a busy weeknight, but they basically blew away any of the burgers we’ve eaten so far this summer.  Well, except for these burgers – but now they’re both definitely tied for first on my list.  Choosing a favorite burger shouldn’t be this difficult!

Sausage Burgers with Garlicky Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Sausage Burgers with Garlicky Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 burgers

Ingredients

  • 1 lb sweet or hot Italian pork sausage
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 oz fresh baby spinach
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 oz sharp provolone, shredded
  • Sun-dried tomato pesto
  • 4 burger buns

Instructions

  1. Preheat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Form the sausage into 4 patties; set aside. (If you have sausage links, remove the casings from the sausages and form the loose pork into 4 patties; set aside.)
  2. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cover the pan. After a couple of minutes, stir up the spinach with tongs in order to wilt the uncooked spinach; recover the pan. Repeat this every couple of minutes until all of the spinach is just wilted and before it starts to get watery. Stir in the garlic and a few cranks of black pepper and let it cook with the spinach for 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and transfer the spinach to a shallow bowl, uncovered, to let cool slightly.
  3. Grill the sausage patties for 4 to 5 minutes per side. During the last 2 minutes, divide the cheese between the burgers and close the grill to allow the cheese to melt. Transfer the burgers to a plate and tent with foil to let them rest for a couple of minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, with a dry paper, press the spinach to remove some of the water. Spread some pesto on the bottom half of the buns. Top each with a burger then divide the spinach between the burgers and finish with the tops of the buns.

Source

source: adapted from Food & Wine

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Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam
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Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam

I don’t know about you guys, but one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning (aside from making pancakes) is to get up at the ass-crack and go for fresh pastries.  There is an authentic French bakery in the next town over from us that opens super early and has croissants that rival those in France.  My memories of those croissants from years ago are still good enough to compare to my local croissants.  You never forget a French croissant.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam

Anyway, when I learned how to eat croissants from the experts themselves back in 1989 – and apparently, there’s a “right” and a “wrong” way – I was taught that you don’t slice them; that you just slathering on whatever it was you were slathering on top of the pastry.  Jam, Nutella…you get the picture.  And it kind of makes sense because have you ever tried to cut a perfectly flaky croissant?  Disaster.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam

So I felt like I committed a mortal sin when I sliced open a perfectly good croissant for breakfast one morning recently in order to slather on some of this strawberry vanilla bean jam.  But the jam itself was just insane and I really didn’t want to be…dainty with it.  I doubled the surface area of that croissant onto which to slather the jam, poured myself a cup of hot coffee and mmm’d my way through breakfast.  I know really good strawberries are still available throughout the summer so take advantage while they are still around and make this strawberry jam.  You can can it or freeze it but either way, you need it.  Croissants or not.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Jam

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: about 5 8-oz jars

Canning this jam is actually really easy and I've outlined the instructions below. If you prefer, however, you can freeze the jam in a freezer-safe container instead. Frozen jam will keep for a few months.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts fresh strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped (about 8 cups)
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons

Instructions

  1. Prep the strawberries: Add the strawberries, sugar, and vanilla bean seeds and pod halves to a large, heavy-bottomed non-reactive pot (at least 7 quarts). Stir everything together and let the strawberries macerate for 30 minutes. Place a small plate in the freezer.
  2. Canning Prep: Wash and dry your jars, brand new lids (never reused), and rings. Check the jars for cracks or chips and discard any that are damaged. Add the lids to a small saucepan filled with an inch or two of water. Place the jars in your canning pot, set on top of a rack - not directly on the bottom of the pot - and fill the pot with enough water so that it covers the top of the jars by at least 1 inch. Cover and bring the water to a boil and keep the water boiling while you make the jam.
  3. To make the strawberry vanilla bean jam: Stir the lemon zest and juice into the strawberries. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Begin skimming off the foam with a large stainless steel spoon while the berries cook (discard the foam). If you want to puree the jam, now is the time. Remove the bean pod halves. Either use an immersion blender directly in the pot or transfer half of the strawberries to a blender or food processor (work in batches if necessary) and carefully puree the hot mixture. Continue to boil the mixture until it thickens, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently towards the end to prevent scorching. Skim off more of the foam that may appear while the jam cooks down.
  4. While the jam cooks, bring the water in the small saucepan to a simmer but don't allow it to boil. This will soften the rubber seal around the lids and help them seal better when processed.
  5. Around the 30 minute mark, dot a small amount of the jam onto the frozen plate and return the plate to the freezer for 1 minute. Remove the plate and gently press the jam. If it holds up and wrinkles a little with your touch, it is ready. If it is still loose or runny, continue to cook the jam until it reaches the proper consistency. To help determine if it is finished, the temperature of the jam should be about 220° F.
  6. To can the jam: Turn the heat under the canning pot off. Remove the jars from the canning pot with your canning tongs, draining each well as you remove them. Using a clean canning funnel, ladle the jam into the jars leaving ½-inch of headspace between the top of the jam and top of the jars. Clean the rim of each of the jars with a clean, dry towel and place a hot lid (from the saucepan) onto each jar. Add the rings and tighten just to finger-tight. The jars will be hot so use a kitchen towel to hold the jars while you do this.
  7. Transfer the filled jars to the canning pot rack with the canning tongs, lower the rack, cover, and bring the pot back to a boil. Process the jars for 10 minutes. If you are above sea level, you'll want to check this site for processing times as the times vary with changes in sea level.
  8. Once the jars are finished processing, turn the heat off and remove the jars with the tongs, setting them on a clean, dry towel. Be sure to put them in a spot where you won't have to move them for 24 hours. The lids should begin to seal with a "pop" sound shortly after you remove them from the pot. After 24 hours, remove the rings and lift the jars an inch off of the counter with your fingertips around the edge of the lids to check that the lids have sealed. If any of the lids have not sealed, refrigerate or freeze the jam immediately. The processed and sealed jars will keep for at least a year in a cool, dark space.

Source

source: adapted from Martha Stewart and Food in Jars via Use Real Butter

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