Friday, August 31, 2012

Swiss Chard Soup

My sister has a killer recipe for Swiss Chard Soup. Sadly, I've never made it because every time she sends me the recipe I lose it. Somewhere around here there's a goldmine of heirloom recipes tucked into one book jacket or another. But after searching in vain for the elusive recipe stockpile and faced with an overflowing vegetable drawer from the latest CSA delivery from Angelic Organics, I finally made up my own.
The bounty of vegetables presented the perfect opportunity to test out our new crock pot.  Ever since a batch of pulled pork cracked the insert of our old KitchenAid slow cooker for the third time, I've been on the lookout for a new, heartier model. After extensive research that mostly entailed reading reviews, I decided it was time to downgrade. Yes, downgrade. Our new Crock Pot was cheaper and a little smaller that its predecessor (6 quarts vs. 7), but the reviews on this baby look great and after one round of chard soup, I am pleased. Fingers crossed that this crock doesn't shatter on me too. I'll keep you posted on that one but so far so good.
Swiss Chard Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks, thinly sliced, and washed well
1 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch of chard, washed, and roughly chopped
4 large carrots, chopped
3 cups waxy potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Parmesan rind (I happened to have one in the freezer, but you could leave it out and add extra Parmesan on top when serving)
1 large bunch summer savory (or substitute fresh oregano), tied with twine for easy removal
Parmesan cheese for garnish

1. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add onion, garlic, and leeks and saute until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add chard to the pan and continue to cook until the chard wilts.
2. Transfer chard mixture to a 6-quart (or slightly larger) slow cooker crock. Add next 8 ingredients (through Parmesan rind, if using) and stir gently. Nestle the bunch of summer savory right on top and cover. Cook on low setting for 8-10 hours. Garnish with plenty of freshly shaved Parmesan cheese and a serve with a hunk of crusty bread.
My champion chard spinner

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Michigan Blueberry Crisp Parfaits

These three are champion pickers. They've labored over buckets of sweet tiny strawberries. They've sported scars from thorny raspberry bushes and prickly cucumbers from the garden. They've plucked peppers and tomatoes from the vine, apples from the tree, and countless leafy herbs, but for this bunch nothing beats the late summer ease of blueberry picking.

You can't go to Michigan in August without picking blueberries. In our case, thirteen pounds of blueberries. Despite Mufasa's many mumblings to the contrary, thirteen pounds would have been a perfectly reasonable amount if we hadn't been on vacation and without a way to freeze or can those succulent little blues.

As if the idyllic peninsula setting weren't enough, the berries were perfectly sweet prompting Looly to confess she felt like she was picking candy. But to say the blueberries at Buchan's Blueberry Hill were abundant would be unfair. The blueberries were literally falling off the bushes into our buckets. I picked five pounds without moving my feet. Incredible. I don't know how long the season will run but if you're anywhere near Traverse City and able, go to Buchan's. Go now.
So in addition to blueberries for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, a blueberry crisp was an absolute requirement.
But just as northern Michigan is blueberry country, it's also pie country. Really good pie. So despite all those blueberries I simply could not help myself when a buttery crumble-topped cherry pie leaped into my arms at Grand Traverse Pie Company.
Berry dessert overload was setting in when my dear friend, Rhea, offered a most brilliant suggestion: Blueberry Crisp Yogurt Parfait. Suddenly blueberry crisp is a perfectly acceptable breakfast form.
Forget scones, muffins, and pancakes. Make me a parfait.

Blueberry Crisp Yogurt Parfait

6 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1&1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
2 cups plain lowfat yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss together the berries, granulated sugar, and lemon juice.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Cut butter into small cubes, add to the flour mixture and using two knives or a pastry cutter, cut into the dry mixture until nice and crumbly.
3. Place berry mixture in the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan (or slightly larger - it's a big crisp!). Sprinkle the flour mixture over the berries. Bake 35-40 minutes until the berries are bubbling and the topping is golden brown.
4. Cool completely (or eat some with ice cream while it's warm and save the rest for breakfast).
5. Spoon 1/2 cup of yogurt into 4 bowls. Top with a generous scoop of cooled blueberry crisp.

Makes 4 parfaits, with plenty of crisp to spare.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to School Cupcakes

Looly started first grade yesterday. First Grade! Since Bean and Roo still have a week of summer vacation to go, the three of us made her a special treat while she was away at school.
Yes, I totally ripped this off of Pinterest. The idea is straight from FamilyFun Magazine, but we modified it a bit according to what we had on hand.

First we made egg-free, nut-free chocolate cupcakes from our trusty Divvies Cookbook.

Then we licked the beaters - one of the best benefits of egg-free baking!

While the cupcakes cooled we made a quick trip to the grocery store for chocolate covered graham crackers. Keebler Deluxe Grahams are nut-free, egg-free and the perfect size for little cupcake blackboards.
Then the real fun began. Bean and Roo used strawberry and green apple Laffy Taffy to roll tiny red and green apples with stems while I piped school-related messages in white frosting onto the chocolate covered graham crackers. Then we frosted the cupcakes in bright blue and school bus yellow.
Together we placed the blackboards and apples on the frosted cupcakes and topped them off with a tiny piped line of white chalk.
Many of you know that artistry is not my strong suit but these were well within even my shaky abilities. Looly loved her cupcakes and asked for them again next year. I said sure but warned her that next year, the math problems are going to get harder.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Vacation Salad

Just as we're about to leave town for anything longer than a weekend the panic sets in. What to do with all that produce that won't make it until we're back? This time our Angelic Organics CSA box arrived Wednesday and we were leaving for Traverse City, Michigan, (more on that in a later post) on Saturday, so it was quite a bounty!

First, I whipped up some pico de gallo but in the flurry of packing, cooking, searching for bathing suits, and back to school preparations, I never got around to taking photos. Rest assured it was suitably fresh and piquant with lots of jalepenos, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime, and even a few chopped tomatillos thrown in for good measure. We brought it along in the cooler and ate it all vacation long with chicken, over pulled pork, on eggs, and mixed with pasta.

For my next endeavor, Vacation Salad. What's Vacation Salad you ask? Why, it's anything you need it to be. That is the beauty of Vacation Salad.
To make Vacation Salad simply dump the perishable contents of your refrigerator as well as the wire basket or whatever contraption you use to store non-refrigerated vegetables onto the counter. For us that meant I was staring down exactly 4 ears or sweet corn, 8 tomatoes (that was after the pico de gallo), 2 green peppers, one red bell pepper, one banana pepper, one zucchini, one yellow squash, a white onion and two lemons. Get chopping.
Then make a splash of dressing and drizzle over the top. Mix it all up and pack it in the cooler.
The longer it sits, the better it gets. For maximum flavor, enjoy on a balcony overlooking a beautiful mist-hooded lake.
Now obviously, the allure of this salad is that you can make it out of whatever you happen to have on hand. Here's how ours went down.
Our Summer Vacation Salad

Corn kernels cut from 4 ears of sweet corn
8 tomatoes (any variety)
2 green peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 small yellow squash
1 zucchini
1 banana pepper
1 medium onion

For the dressing

1 clove garlic
1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
zest of one lemon
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

1. Place corn kernels in a large bowl. Chop all the other vegetables into 1/4-inch dice and add to the corn.
2. To make the dressing, puree the garlic and basil in a blender. Add the lemon zest and juice and pulse to combine. Slowly drizzle in olive oil through the top opening in the blender lid while continuing to pulse. Season with salt and pepper and pour over vegetables. Mix the whole concoction together and serve, or pack it up in tupperware for your own vacation, or at the very least, a leisurely picnic lunch. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Egg-free Sunbutter Cookies

Among the joys I lament Roo missing out on due to his allergies, a tray of peanut butter cookies cooling on the counter ranks near the top, right behind family vacation to Thailand.
It's not just the infatuating aroma of nutty goodness wafting through the fall leaves as he steps off the school bus or the crumbly hunger quelling first bite after swimming lessons, it's the process. I have such fond memories of hovering over a tray while my mom rolled neat balls, poised with my fork, ready to press in the telltale crisscross pattern that proclaims, stop what you're doing, there are homemade peanut butter cookies over here!
We've been using peanut butter substitutes for years on sandwiches, in sauces, on crackers, apples, and much more. To be fair we've all grown quite fond of Sunbutter as a worthy substitute. But, we've already lost eggs in our baking due to, you guessed it, Roo's allergies, and I get nervous when we start over-substituting. Up until now I've avoided making Sunbutter cookies all together for fear of their shortcomings without peanut butter or eggs.

Sometimes someone should shake me. I made these and maybe it's been too long since I tasted real peanut butter, but I could not tell the difference. I kid you not, these are the real deal.

Egg-Free Sunbutter Cookies
adapted from

1/2 cup sunflower butter (we use Sunbutter)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla
1 & 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the sunflower butter, both sugars, butter and vanilla. Mix well. Add flour, salt, baking powder and soda and mix again until combined. Stir in chocolate chips, if using.
2. With clean hands, roll the dough into balls, about 1/2-inch diameter. Place on a cookie sheet. Enlist your favorite child or children to gently mark each cookie with a fork in a crisscross pattern.
3. Bake 8-10 minutes until light golden brown. Allow tray to sit for a few minutes then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Grilled Cheese with Roasted Tomato Dip

The tomatoes have finally arrived! Between the bounty from Angelic Organics and the blushing vines outside our own back door, we are in tomatoes at every meal mode. Enjoy it, folks. It won't last forever. Now put down that Campbell's can and try this fresh spin on a classic kid-friendly lunch. No kids necessary. 
Grilled Cheese with Roasted Tomato Dip
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking Together by Erin Quon

For the dip
2 pints cherry tomatoes or the rough equivalent in larger tomatoes, quartered
2 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt
10 fresh basil leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil, tossing to coat, and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the skins are wrinkly and tomatoes are soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
2. Place tomatoes, salt, and basil leaves in a blender and process until nearly smooth. Pass through a sieve to remove solids, if you don't like too much texture in your tomato dip. Serve with grilled cheese sandwich triangles.
butter, anyone?
For the Sandwiches
(makes 2 sandwiches)

4 slices bread of your choice
4 slices cheese of your choice
Lots of butter, at room temperature

1. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Slather bread slices with butter on one side. Place one slice of bread buttered side down in the pan, top with 2 slices of cheese followed by second slice of bread. The butter faces out. Flip the sandwich when the first side is golden brown and delicious. Remove when both sides are lovely and golden. Repeat to make second sandwich.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Homemade Dog Cookies

It's been four years since we said goodbye to our buddy, Scout, (aka Scooter-booter, Bubba, Boo, Smunchy Munchy Pants, and many more) after a cruel but swift bout of bone cancer.
Our first baby prepared us in so many ways for the two-legged children who now race the halls where he once jingled and pranced, from his delicate constitution and frequent bellyaches, to waking us up at the crack of dawn demanding breakfast, and taking over our bed at night by poking his elbows into our backs. He and our cat, O.C., were dear friends from the beginning, and O.C. missed his best bud right up to the day he passed away this spring. 
Since O.C. died a few months ago, Roo's allergist put us on strict orders to remain pet-free for the foreseeable future. That seems particularly unfair - the kid who can't eat a cupcake at a birthday party or go out for breakfast can't have a dog either? What's next? Grass allergy? No more playing outside? It's supposed to be rhetorical. Please don't answer that.

So, missing our dear departed fur babies and filled with futile longing for a new four-legged friend (or two), imagine our delight when we were asked to dog-sit this week for our best dog pal, Cali!
Cali is every kid's dream dog. She is smart, agile, active, obedient, big enough to roughhouse but not big enough to break bones in the process. She runs a mean agility course, fetches balls and frisbees like a champ, and just in case you think she might be a little too cool for school, she also cries like a baby when there's thunder. Just like Bean.

We relished Cali's visit the best way we know how, with homemade dog treats.
Apple Chicken Oat Cookies for Dogs

2 apples, peeled and grated
1/4 cup honey
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup apple juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until well-mixed. The dough will be sticky. 
2. Roll the dough into balls (choose the size based on how big your dog is. We made medium sized treats for Cali and some tiny ones for the little dog next door). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Press each ball with the palm of your hand to flatten.You might need to dip your hands in flour since the dough is so sticky. Just do your best, dogs aren't picky about presentation.
3. Bake 30 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven, flip the cookies and continue to bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. Smaller treats will cook more quickly so keep an eye on the oven. Remove from oven when the treats are crisp and golden brown. Cool completely and share with your furriest friends. 
Cali likes them!