N is for (Fig) Newtons

N is for Newtons

And I’m back! I apologize for my month-long hiatus, there were a few early summer trips (family cruise to the Bahamas and Seattle wedding adventure with the boyfriend) mixed in with wrapping up the school-year at work. But I am happily back in the kitchen and I bring you one of my favorite cookies to bake for the letter N, (fig) newtons!

Do you love this store-bought treat? Yes?! Then you are going to be as obsessed as I am with this homemade goodie! This recipe is brought to you from one of my favorite cookbooks, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. She elevates this childhood cookie with a thick layer of fig jammy goodness in the middle and a just as soft cookie on the outside. While this recipe is a bit time-consuming as the dough needs to rest at least an hour to set, they are well worth the effort! I make these as gifts for people all of the time and they could definitely be added into your holiday cookie rotation. They go AMAZING with a cup of coffee and SHOULD be eaten for breakfast when you make a batch. It’s the right of the baker, go ahead, you deserve it 🙂

Newtons all in a row

Ingredients

Cookie

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup of whole-wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup whole milk

Filling

  • 1 pound dried brown or black figs, about 3 1/2 cups
    • I usually find that black figs are more readily available at your local grocery store.
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, about 1 lemon

Special Equipment

  • Stand-up or hand-mixer
  • Food processor or blender
  • Rolling pin

Baking the Newtons

  • Whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  • In the large bowl of stand-up mixer, beat the butter with the white and brown sugars until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
    • A hand-mixer can be used for this as well.
  • Add the egg and continue to beat, scraping down the sides, until the mixture is fully combined and creamy.
  • On the lowest setting, slowly beat in the dry ingredients, taking care not to over mix.
  • Slowly add in the milk, starting with the smaller amount, and blend to form a soft workable dough.
    • Do not add all of the milk at once as the dough could become to moist to knead.
    • If the dough seems too dry, you can add additional milk, up to two tablespoons.
  • Once the dough has come together, put it onto the counter lined with parchment paper and knead a few times.
  • Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least one hour.
  • Thirty minutes before you are ready to pull out the dough, start to prepare the filling.
  • Cut the stems off of the figs.
    • I find that running the knife under hot water helps it to not stick as much.
  • In a medium saucepan, add the prepared figs, sugar, lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Gently stir to combine.
  • Over medium heat, simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes until the figs have softened.
  • Carefully pour the figs and juices into a food processor and blend until you have a thick, jammy mixture.
    • Depending on the size of your food processor, this may need to be done in batches. If you do not have a food processor, a blender does work, but is harder to get all of the jam out of. The recipe book also suggests allowing the figs to cool slightly and chopping them with a knife to create the filling as an alternative to the food processor.
  • Cool the jammy mixture to room temperature so that it is easy to work with your hands, but you do not want to let it cool longer than thirty minutes as it will become stiff.
  • Preheat the oven to 375F when you are ready to assemble the cookies.
  • Split the dough in half and working on a lightly flour surface, roll out to roughly a 15 inch by 6 inch rectangle that is about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Trim the edges so that they are even, you can use a pastry cutter, pizza cutter, or a knife to do this.
    • Reserve the scraps to patch up any holes.
  • Mound half of the filling in the middle of the dough, stopping 1/2 inch from the top and bottom. The filling should be about two inches wide and one inch high.
  • Carefully lift one long side of the dough and fold it over the filling. It is easier to do this using a bench scraper or wide spatula.
  • Fold the other side of the dough overlapping by about a 1/4 inch and press gently to seal. Seal each end as well by pinching the edges.
  • Now comes the tricky part, carefully and quickly lift the dough using a spatula or bench scraper and put it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roll the dough over so that the seam side is facing downward.
  • Using the dough scraps, patch any holes that might have formed when the dough was transferred to the baking sheet.
  • Repeat the above steps using the remaining dough and filling.
    • I can usually create two large cookies and one smaller one with the dough scraps and a bit of reserved filling.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes until the dough has turned a golden brown and the top has firmed.
  • Cool the cookies on a cooling rack to prevent further baking.
  • Cut the cookies while they are still warm. If you let them cool throughout you will have a hard time cutting them without the cookie cracking.
  • Slice the cookie horizontally into 1-inch bars. I find that a serrated bread knife is the best tool to use for this, but really any knife will do in a pinch. I also keep a paper towel that has been run under warm water handy to wipe off any jammy filling as I cut to prevent the knife from sticking.
  • The cookies can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container for 5 days…I find they get eaten up by cookie monsters well before then though 🙂

*Recipe from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

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M is for Moules Mariniere (aka Mussels)

M is for Mussels

We have made it halfway through the alphabet! This has been a fun project so far and I am looking forward to tackling the second half of the alphabet although the letters are going to get a bit trickier (any ideas for the letter x?!). These past few weeks have been quite busy with work and life in general so I was looking for an inexpensive, easy week night recipe for the letter M so I turned to my trusted friend the mussel. Mussels are quick to prepare, taste amazing and if you increase the recipe quantities, you can impress guests with your “fancy” cooking skills.

My favorite way to enjoy mussels is the French dish Moules Mariniere. The mussels are served in a broth of simple ingredients that compliment their flavor and can (SHOULD) be eaten with a large slice of crusted bread, the perfect vessel to enjoy the broth! Never cooked mussels before? Not a big deal! Other than cleaning them, there is not much to it as they steam in the broth after you add them and open up all on their own. In the instructions I have included a link to a detailed article on how to clean and debeard the mussels. After one shot you will become a pro and this recipe is sure to make it into your summertime meal rotation. Bon appétit!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • ½ small shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • large pinch of salt and pepper, add more to taste
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ½ cup clam juice
  • ÂĽ cup water
  • ½ pound mussels (I suggest buying these the day of to ensure freshness)
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • crusted baguette

Making the broth and mussels

  • First you need to clean your mussels. Most mussels from the store come debearded, but there may be a few pesky ones left. Fair warning, mussels are alive so if one starts to open, don’t be alarmed (I may or may not have freaked out the first time I made mussels…). Here is a detailed article on how to clean, debeard, and sort through the mussels for any that could be dead. Be brave, I know you can do it!
  • Once the mussels are prepped and ready to go, store them in a bowl over ice in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.
  • Moving onto the broth, in a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and saute the sliced leeks, shallots, bay leaf, garlic, salt and pepper for 6-7 minutes until soft, but not browned; stir occasionally.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and add the wine and lemon juice, bring to a boil and reduce the liquid until about half of it has evaporated, this takes approximately 3 minutes.
  • Add the clam juice and water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium, carefully add the mussels and cover to steam for 2 minutes.
  • Add the parsley, tomatoes, cream, cover and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes until the mussels fully open.
  • And that’s all there is to it! Simple steps to a tasty meal that MUST be served with toasted baguette to sop up all of the broth goodness!

Influenced by: Serious Eats and Spoon Fork Bacon

L is for Lasagna

L is for Lasagna

In a kitchen for one, cooking large family-style dishes seems like a daunting task. What if I don’t want to eat the same meal for five days straight? What if it doesn’t freeze well? I took on the challenge of conquering one of my favorite family-style dishes and made it into a single serving. Today we master lasagna!

The key to sizing down your favorite dishes is having properly sized cookware. If you are just going to be cooking for yourself most of the time, I suggest buying smaller pans, pots and casserole dishes. They take up less space in your kitchen, cost less money and allow you to cook smaller meals, wins all around! I chose a 3x5x2 inch ceramic dish that I use for not only making casseroles, but baking small loaves of bread as well. Most of the tools and dishes in my kitchen serve many purposes, no uni-taskers here!

Now that you are equipped with the proper tools, let’s build a lasagna! The key ingredients in a lasagna are marinara sauce, cheese, pasta, and more cheese. I added in some protein and of course basil to turn up the Italian dial on this dish. Lasagnas require little time in the kitchen and thanks to a new tip I read on Serious Eats, I now know how to make it without having to cook the pasta ahead of time; no more handling boiling hot noodles! Rather than cooking the lasagna noodles, I soaked them in warm water. This helps to soften the noodles without actually cooking them. The noodles can then be used to make the lasagna and will finish cooking while it bakes. Why can’t we just add the uncooked pasta as is? It would soak up ALL of the liquid from your sauce leaving you with a dried out brick of pasta and cheese, not quite what you were picturing for dinner I’m sure. To learn the science behind why this soaking technique works, read the Serious Eats article here. I am all about time-saving techniques and this will be one I use from now on for baked pasta dishes!

After your pasta has been prepped and the sausage cooked, it is just a quick layering game and off into the oven your lasagna goes! Swap out the sausage for another cooked protein or feel free to add in other veggies like zucchini, spinach, or roasted red peppers. When adding additional ingredients, be aware of the size of the dish you are using as you do not want to get to the second layer and realize you have run out of space.

There you have it! A beloved Italian family-style dish sized down for just you 🙂 What are you favorite ingredients to layer in a lasagna? Is there a casserole you would like to see sized down for a single serving? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comment section below!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
  • 2-3 lasagna noodles
  • 1 spicy Italian sausage (removed from casing)
  • 4-5 large basil leaves, torn into large pieces
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
  • Special equipment: small casserole dish measuring 3x5x2 inches; if using a larger dish, increase the ingredient quantities exponentially (if dish is twice as large, double the ingredients, etc.)

Building the Lasagna

  • Preheat your oven to 375F.
  • Place the lasagna noodles in a shallow dish with warm water for 10 minutes, changing out the water after five minutes.
  • Drain the water and pat the noodles dry.
    • This process of pre-soaking the pasta helps to soften the noodles, but allows you to easily handle them and helps prevent overcooking them.
  • While the pasta is soaking, cook the Italian sausage over medium-high heat in a small pan breaking it into small pieces while it cooks for 5-7 minutes until browned throughout.
  • Remove the cooked sausage from the pan and place on paper towels to absorb some of the excess grease.
  • Cut the lasagna noodles into pieces that fit the dish, you will need enough to make three pasta layers.
  • Add a few spoonfuls of sauce into bottom of pan to prevent the pasta from sticking.
  • Place one layer of noodles, a few spoonfuls of sauce, half of the sausage, half of the  basil leaves, half of the ricotta cheese, and top with another few spoonfuls of sauce.
  • Repeat the step above one more time to create two layers of filling.
  • Top the second layer of filling with a third layer of lasagna noodles, the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
  • Place casserole dish on a raised edge sheet pan, just in case the sauce bubbles over, and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Allow lasagna to cool for 5 minutes before digging in!

K is for Ketchup

K is for Ketchup

We have made it to the letter which holds a special place in my heart as two of my initials begin with it, the letter K! Breaking out of my comfort zone, I decided to take a leap of faith and make something that I have never attempted before, ketchup. You may be saying to yourself, “um Krystal, judging from the picture above, something went awry in your recipe because it came out orangish-brown.” Worry not readers, this is no ordinary ketchup…it is peach-pineapple ketchup!

Contrary to what you might think, ketchup has not always been that bright red dip made from tomatoes for your french fries. It is believed to have originated in China and was a pickled and fish-based sauce with some fruit, far from what we are familiar with today. For a quick ketchup history lesson for all you food nerds out there like me, I suggest reading this short article by Chef Sang Yoon, the chef/owner of Father’s Office, to follow the journey of ketchup to its popular form that we enjoy today.

Okay caught up on the origin story of ketchup? Great, let’s make our own! Much like the jam we made a few weeks ago, the stove and oven do most of the work here so no need to shy away from trying this recipe. The product of your minimal effort is a sweet tangy ketchup that will go great with poultry or pork. Since I made ketchup, I felt I just HAD to make a burger, another first for me I must admit! Turkey burgers must be cooked all the way through so to prevent the drying out of the meat, I found a great recipe that adds shredded zucchini and therefore much needed moisture. This is a great way to sneak in some extra veggies as you can’t taste the zucchini and the only reason you know it is there is because A) you added it and B) there is some green in your burger, not quite the familiar state of your everyday burger, but tasty nonetheless.

So what are you waiting for? Join the fruit ketchup adventure and leave that red stuff for the drive thru!

For the Ketchup (adapted from http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-masterclass-rec1-20110805-story.html)

  • 1 pound of peaches (about 3 peaches, don’t be afraid to use those scales in the grocery store, that is what they are there for!)
  • ÂĽ pound of pineapple (I used a short-cut here and bought the pre-sliced pineapple to help minimize the portion and cut-down on the prep time)
  • 7 ½ tablespoons white sugar
  • ÂĽ  cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • Âľ teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
  • Âľ teaspoon ginger powder
  • ÂĽ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ÂĽ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Prep your fruit. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pit; this was the trickiest process of the whole recipe and it helps to have ripe peaches. Cut the pineapple into 1-inch pieces; if you bought pre-sliced pineapple you might be able to skip this step!
  3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the peaches cut side down. Bake for twenty minutes.
    1. I suggest using a baking tray with raised edges just in case the juices run during the baking process. Trust me you do not want to clean that mess out of your oven.
  4. After the peaches have baked, repeat the process with the pineapple, once again lining a baking tray with parchment paper and baking for 20 minutes.
  5. Allow the fruit to cool so that it is easy to handle and then peel the peach skin.
  6. Puree the peach and pineapple in a food processor or blender until smooth.
  7. In a medium saucepan, whisk the white sugar, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar over low heat until the sugars have dissolved completely, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  8. Whisk in the mustard powder, onion powder, ginger powder, ground nutmeg and cayenne pepper until combined.
  9. Add the pureed fruit and whisk to combine (at this point in the recipe, you should be a master at whisking!).
  10. Cook the ketchup for 25 minutes uncovered over low heat, whisking occasionally.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in the salt.
  12. Allow the mixture to cool completely before enjoying.
    1. I suggest making this recipe in the morning or a day ahead of when you plan on using it to allow for the appropriate cooling time.

For the Burger (adapted from http://www.skinnytaste.com/turkey-burgers-with-zucchini/)

  • ½ pound ground turkey
  • 2 ½ ounces shredded zucchini (about half of a medium zucchini)
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 1 ½ tablespoons bread crumbs
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • olive oil for coating the pan
  • brioche bun
  • ½ cup arugula
  • tomato slices
  1. Squeeze the moisture out of the zucchini and then place between two layers of paper towels and press to further reduce the liquid.
  2. Combine the zucchini, ground turkey, grated garlic, bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
  3. Divide the mixture into two equal portions and form into ½-inch thick patties.
    1. You can also divide the mixture into four equal portions for small sliders.
  4. Cook the patties on the stove on a greased skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat for about 16 minutes, flipping the patties every 4 minutes to allow for even cooking. Your burger is cooked when there is no longer any pink as turkey must be enjoyed fully cooked, no medium rare for this burger.
  5. Spread your homemade ketchup on both sides of the bun and top your burger with your favorite fixings. For a turkey burger, I like to add arugula and tomato 🙂
  6. This recipe makes enough for two burgers so you have lunch or dinner for the next night, bonus meal!

J is for Jam

J is for Jam

Berry season is upon us which means stores are abundantly stocked with overflowing containers of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, you name it! I enjoy berries as much as the next person, but in a kitchen of one, I sometimes struggle eating up all that berry goodness before they begin to spoil. A quick solution to prolong the life of your berries is to make some jam! This recipe comes together using only three ingredients and is a great addition to your morning toast or biscuits (step aside butter, there’s a new sheriff in town).

Jam Progression

Add all of the ingredients to a saucepan and watch the miracle of science as your whole blueberries slowly start to reduce into a nice thick jammy syrup. Refrigerate for a few hours and you’ve got yourself some homemade jam! While the jam was doing its thing on the stove, I baked up some easy drop biscuits to enjoy with the jam once it had cooled. I am all about multi-tasking in the kitchen and try to plan the cooking order of items so that there is the least amount of time spent in the kitchen. This does require mapping out the recipes and their cook times, but these extra steps help ensure that all items finish around the same time so you can enjoy them all together at once.

Since the sugar component in this recipe is honey, the honey flavor shines through nicely, complimenting the berries and what better an addition than honey to your biscuits or toast as well. I hope you enjoy this sweet breakfast treat!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of blueberries
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest

Making the Jam

  • Wash, dry and inspect your blueberries, carefully removing any stems.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer jam to an 8 ounce jar and refrigerate for at least four hours before enjoying.

Jam recipe courtesy of Crafts a la mode

Bonus recipe: Easy Drop Biscuits by Crunchy Creamy Sweet

I is for (Coconut) Ice Cream!

Coconut Ice Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! I could not wait for the letter “I” because that meant another excuse to make ice cream! While about half of this recipe’s ingredients contain the word coconut, the flavor is quite balanced and not at all overpowering, although can you really have too much coconut? I suggest setting aside two hours total to make this ice cream, but don’t worry it is well worth the investment.

If you have read ahead through the steps you may have noticed that this ice cream recipe involves cooking the mixture prior to freezing. While this may sound counter productive, it actually helps chemically bind the ingredients which is what gives the ice cream its creaminess texture and helps prevent iciness. To help further prevent ice crystals from developing on the top layer of the ice cream, I lightly press a trimmed piece of parchment paper on the top of the ice cream once it is in the container for the freezer (a handy trick I picked up from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home).

I topped this ice cream with more shredded coconut and thinly sliced almonds and might try a drizzle of chocolate fudge next round to emulate an Almond Joy 🙂

What are your favorite ice creams to make at home? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below!

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks (save the egg whites to make omelets, waste not in this kitchen!)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup light coconut milk (this will most likely be found in a can in the baking section)
  • 14 ounce can of coconut cream

Making Your Ice Cream

  • In a large bowl, prep the ice bath by adding ice and cold water, set aside.
  • In a large metal or glass bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until thoroughly combined and fluffy.
  • In a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium heat, add the shredded coconut. Stir the coconut occasionally until it begins to brown, about 3-4 minutes.
    • Make sure to not let the coconut burn as it will completely change the flavor of your ice cream.
  • Carefully add the half and half, heavy cream, coconut milk and coconut cream to the saucepan and bring to a simmer; remove the pan from heat right before it starts to boil.
    • I recommend adding all of these ingredients to one large measuring cup so as to easily add them all at once to the pan.
  • While whisking the egg and sugar mixture, slowly whisk in a 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture. Continue adding the milk mixture in 1/2 cup increments, whisking the entire time, to slowly incorporate the ingredients and prevent the eggs from scrambling.
  • Once all of the milk mixture has been added, pour the now formed ice cream mixture back into the saucepan.
  • Cook the mixture over medium-low heat while stirring with a wooden spoon constantly until it starts to thicken, about five minutes. The ice cream base will be thick enough when it coats the back of a metal spoon.
    • As with before, make sure to not let it boil.
  • Pour the ice cream mixture into a medium bowl and place this over the prepared ice bath. Stir occasionally to evenly distribute it as it cools. After about 20 minutes over the ice bath, put the ice cream mixture into the refrigerator for one hour to cool thoroughly.
  • After the ice cream mixture as cooled, add it to your ice cream maker and freeze per the machines instructions.
  • Once the ice cream has frozen, transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze for about four hours before enjoying!

Recipe courtesy of Self Proclaimed Foodie

H is for Hobo Packets

H is for Hobo Packets

While Summer is fast approaching and I am not ready for the heat, I am definitely ready for the flavors the season brings. Simple dishes whose flavors are heightened with the help of the barbecue char…mmmm…yes please! Summer does not have to be all about the backyard barbecue though, another classic dish is the shrimp boil. Usually prepared for a large group of people, a shrimp boil consists of three main ingredients: shrimp (given, it’s in the title people), red potatoes, and corn. Throw in some spices and a squeeze of lemon and you have a dish that no one can refuse! Reeling it back in though, in my kitchen for one, I decided to take a spin-off of this dish and prepare it as a Hobo Packet instead (phew, we made it back to the letter H).

Hobo packets are a great way to put together dinner with minimal prep, few dishes, and a short cook time, the trifecta of cooking for yourself has been achieved! Toss all of your ingredients in some olive oil and seasonings, fasten them into a makeshift pouch constructed from foil, and let the oven take it from there. You can easily change-up the veggies for what is in season or omit the protein and serve over a bed of rice. Cook a few packets at a time for leftovers the next day or a last-minute guest. This recipe is quite versatile which is why it makes a great staple in your weekly meal rotation.

Enjoy the last bits of Spring while feasting on this Summer inspired dish!

Ingredients

  • 6 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (some grocery stores offer shrimp already prepped in this manner, but if you are unable to find that, here is a simple tutorial on how to devein shrimp)
  • 1 ear of corn split in half
  • 2 small red potatoes, each cut into sixths
  • ÂĽ teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley (garnish)
  • Lemon quarter (garnish)
  • 2 sheets of foil (1 ft x 1 ft)

Prepping the Packet

  • Preheat oven to 425F.
  • In a bowl, gently toss the shrimp, corn, and potatoes with olive oil and seasonings.
  • Place ingredients in a single layer on one sheet of foil and add the crushed garlic clove to the center.
  • Place the second sheet of foil on top and fold each side so as to create an enclosed packet.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Carefully open the packet as steam will escape (steam burns are the worst!).
  • Garnish with parsley and a squeeze of lemon if desired.