Mexican pho

When one of your very best friends comes home from Maryland, you drop everything to make her whatever sounds good. And when she comes home in the fall, what sounds good is soup. And Mexican.
I wanted something simple to pair with this, and came across my pho recipe from last winter – clean flavors, fun toppings. And thinking Mexican made me think tortilla soup. Ta done – Mexican pho was born! This would be equally good with a quesadilla side, or even just queso and chips.
Mexican Pho
Simple and satisfying, it’s like the LBD of Mexican food – dress it up any way you want!
You’ll need:
  • 8 c chicken broth – low sodium
  • 2 c chicken (rotisserie leftover roasted chicken works – you can also add 2-3 raw chicken breasts and shred before serving)
  • 2 carrots – diced
  • 1 large onion – diced
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Additional lime wedges, minced cilantro, avocado, queso fresco, tortilla strips and jalapeño slices – to serve
Get cooking: 
  1. Place all ingredients (chicken broth through pepper) in a slow cooker and stir to combine.
  2. Heat on low for 4 hours, or high for 8 (you can cut the time down if your chicken is already cooked.)
  3. Serve with lime wedges and garnish with plenty of minced cilantro and jalapeño slices.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcakes with salted caramel cream cheese frosting

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to me to celebrate the people in my life, thus my obsession with birthdays. My awesome boss and friend, Kristi, is the cupcake queen – they’re her favorite. Since her birthday kicks off pumpkin spice latte season (I think you call it fall?), I thought these were a perfect fit.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
The pecans were a nice garnish, and you could totally add them (crushed) to the batter.

I used the Starbucks VIA packets instead of espresso powder (because that’s what I had), and the coffee flavor DEFINITELY came through. Feel free to back down for a more mild flavor. I also love a ton of spice in my pumpkin stuff, so again, use what suits your taste. These are a little on the dense side for cupcakes, but still had a really nice crumb, and were fairly easy to throw together. (Minus spraying powdered sugar all over my kitchen. Tips on how NOT to do that below.) The cupcake itself wasn’t overly sweet (the coffee helped) and my frosting wasn’t either. I prefer that, so I was really happy with how these turned out.

Pumpkin spice latte cupcake with salted caramel cream cheese frosting
Aren’t they pretty? Not professional grade, but salted caramel drizzle makes everything better.

 

The cupcake recipe is very lightly adapted from Annie’s Eats and the frosting is my own madwoman mishmash.

You’ll need

Cupcakes

  • 2 2/3 c all-purpose flour
  • 3 T espresso powder
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 c canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T vanilla

Frosting

  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 c cream
  • 1/3 c salted caramel sauce + extra for drizzling (this is my favorite recipe)
  • 1/4 c softened butter

Get cooking

Cupcakes

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a cupcake pan with liners. (These are moist. Not the time to scrimp on liners.)
  2. Whisk dry ingredients (minus sugars) in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Beat pumpkin, sugars, vanilla and oil on medium speed, then add the eggs, one at a time.
  4. Add the flour mixture, mixing on low just until it comes together. (Try not to overmix.)
  5. Use a standard scoop or measuring cup to fill liners 3/4 full and bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean, or with a few small crumbs.
  6. Cool 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely.

Frosting 

  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
  2. Add all ingredients except powdered sugar – start whipping on medium speed.
  3. After 1-2 minutes, add the powdered sugar, slowly, continuing to whip. (Seriously, you will be like me and want to dump it all in at once. This is a bad idea. Powdered sugar is HARD to clean when it goes everywhere. Ahem. I’ve heard, anyway.)
  4. Chill 20-30 minutes.
  5. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes, and drizzle with salted caramel sauce.

Makes 2 dozen

Strawberry cheesecake tartlets

The older you get, the more people seem to dread, despise and passionately deny their birthdays. A marker of one year passed, one year older, one year closer to no more years. Which, from that perspective, is passionately depressing. But to me, birthdays are just that – days of birth. Without that day, there would be no you in the world, in the lives of people who couldn’t fathom that reality, who can’t imagine passing each day in their lives without you. It not about getting older – it’s about every person deserving a day to be celebrated.
Strawberry Cheesecake tarts
Handheld, perfect for passing, adored by crowds, these Strawberry Cheesecake tarts say “happy any day.”
Obviously, I celebrate with food, and treating people wth treats. While fruit and dessert and I have had a … rocky … past (chocolate is my homeboy, yo), I have a whole backlog of things in the “not dessert for me but for a fruit-dessert-loving someone else.” This recipe was in that file – grown-up pop tarts, easy enough to make in the morning, perfect for a summer work birthday. Unfortunately, I sent David to the store and he thought puff pastry sheets and shells were the same. So, a little improv and here we are. (Also, this improv was WAY easier.)
Strawberry cheesecake tart
Delicious strawberry cheesecake leftovers, in their glory.
You’ll need:
  • 2 c strawberries (1 lb. container)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 boxes puff pastry shells (12 total)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 t vanilla
Get cooking:
  1. Bake shells according to package directions.
  2. While they’re baking, slice your strawberries (thinly) and mix with 1 T sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip your cream on high (stand or hand mixer) until you start to see peaks.
  4. Add cream cheese, honey and vanilla – whip until well mixed. It will be a pudding like consistency. Taste for sweetness – I like a little bite, so feel free to add more honey or sugar.
  5. Once your pastry is done, let it cool and Hollow out around the tops with a paring knife. That should leave you with a little well for the cream and berries. If your well isn’t deep enough, go ahead and dig in a little (gently) with your fingers and pull out a few more pastry layers.
  6. Drain strawberries with a colander.
  7. Fill each pastry with cream. You will have some left over, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Top with strawberries. (You can get fancy here and do a pattern – I was going for speed and didn’t.)
  8. With the leftovers – spread leftover cream in the bottom of a 1.5-quart dish (or really anything about the size of an 8×8 pan.) Top with strawberries, then with the pastry tops. Not as cute of a presentation, but I hate to waste those tasty tops!
  9. The actual tarts serve 12, the rest probably an additional 4-8 (serving vs spoonful.)

Recipe adapted from: http://www.jacquelynclark.com/2015/04/09/strawberry-vanilla-cream-hand-pies/

Vegan, gluten-free brownie ice cream sundae

So, I think it’s pretty clear from the rest of my posts that I am neither vegan nor gluten-free. However, I consider these types of cooking a challenge – because everything IS better with butter, let’s be real – and I like a challenge. Plus, I feel like I should have recipes in my back pocket for when I’m entertaining someone with different dietary needs. Or, for when I have too many regular brownies and need to pull myself together.

This actually came together randomly – Dixi was over for a pizza and movie night, and I happened to have the brownies on hand already. I was going to pull them out, realized I had coconut milk in the fridge and bananas in the freezer, and thought “sundaes!” Because what goes better with horror movies and hot tubs?

Vegan Brownie Sundae
It’s not the same as a banana split, but this vegan brownie sundae is a great treat for a hot summer day. Or any day, really.

A note about this overall: it’s obviously not as sweet as an actual sundae would be. That may or may not be your speed, but don’t go in expecting a replica – this is not a substitute, it’s more like a riff. I have a lot of other notes below in the ingredients and the instructions – don’t let that scare you. As long as you have a food processor/blender, everything in this recipe is fairly simple.

You’ll need:

“Brownies:” (barely adapted from this Food 52 recipe)

  • c chopped pecans (even better if they’re toasted)
  • c pitted dates (seriously, spend the money and buy the pre-pitted ones. Pitting them yourself is horrible – you’re forced to realize exactly how much they look like cockroaches. And it’s sticky and messy – not worth it, I promise.)
  • 2 T coconut oil (I omitted this originally, and you can, but it helps give a more ‘fudgy’ texture.)
  • 1/3 c nut butter (I used peanut butter – but honestly, you’re basically making pecan butter out of the pecans, so you could just throw in extra of those, if you like.)
  • 1/4 c unsweetened shredded coconut (You will have to go to a health food store or order this online. You can sub in sweetened if you like, but the unsweetened is nice on a lot of other things.)
  • 1 t vanilla (I know this may sound a little snobby, but good, quality, real vanilla is SUPER important in this recipe. You’re not cooking anything, so you really need the ingredients to be the best you can afford.)
  • 2+ T unsweetened cocoa powder (See quality note above. Also, I probably added more like 3. The dates are pretty sweet, so if you like a little bitter in your sweets, don’t be afraid to up this a bit.)
  • 1 T maple syrup (this is to taste – you may want as much as double.)
  • Dash of salt

“Ice cream:”

4 frozen bananas (Peel, chop and place in freezer bag for at least 4 hours – these take a lot longer to freeze if you leave them whole. Also, don’t do what I did and leave the skins on, it’s a pain.)

“Whipped cream:”

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated at least 2 hours
  • 1 T vanilla
  • Sweetener to taste (I didn’t think it needed any, but you may want to add maple syrup or a little sugar.)

Get cooking:

Brownies

  1. Pulse pecans in a food processor until smooth, like peanut butter. Add dates and pulse to mix.
  2. Add other ingredients and mix until smooth. Taste to make sure the sweetness level is where you want it.
  3. Line an 8×8 pan with wax or parchment, press mixture into pan until flat (ish – it doesn’t have to be perfect.)
  4. Freeze for 30 minutes-1 hour.
  5. Slice and serve! They keep well for about a week in the fridge or the freezer, separated by wax paper.

Ice cream

  1. Add bananas to food processor or blender. Pulse until broken up, then blend until smooth.
  2. (It’s really important to do this right before you make the sundaes – once the bananas melt, they go from ice cream consistency to banana mush.)

Whipped cream

  1. Scoop solid part of coconut milk off the top of the can. Beat with vanilla and sweetener until smooth.
  2. Layer it up like your favorite sundae and go to town! You may want to break the brownies up over top of the banana, instead of serving underneath.

Gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad

Most people consider Memorial Day weekend the kickoff of summer fun – I consider it the kickoff of summer food. Sadly, many weekend BBQs are the same thing: floppy hot dogs, crushed potato chips, runny baked beans, pasta/potato salad slathered in mayo…blech. I hate it all. But no one wants to go to a BBQ empty-handed, or leave with an empty stomach – so go with this gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad, and no one will leave with an empty stomach.

This dish is an awesome addition to any table – using gnocchi in place of traditional pasta makes it a great pasta/potato salad hybrid, and all the veggies bring a light and refreshing feel to something that’s usually a heavy-handed gut bomb. Plus, using pesto as a dressing means it can sit out for longer than your average salad. Not that it will last that long. (It did not, in fact, last long at all – hence the only photo being in the creation stage.)

 

Gnocchi pasta salad
It’s pasta salad. And potato salad. And pesto. And delicious.

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound packaged gnocchi, cooked
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or ½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 seedless cucumber, diced
  • Parmesan cheese, shaved with vegetable peeler

Get cooking:

Combine ingredients in large bowl, toss to coat with pesto. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Chocolate cheesecake stuffed strawberries

There are times when show stopping dessert take hours of prep and baking and cooling and decorating – and then, there’s this. Three ingredients. Three steps. Super-fancy dessert. I mean, look at these – don’t you want them rightnowplease?

Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries
Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries are the perfect wine club – I mean book club – dessert. Or appetizer. Or snack in general.

I made these when I needed a fast book club dessert. I had a menu of about 5 million things (not really, but it was extensive) and I wanted a dessert that fit our ‘obsession’ theme. While carving out the strawberries takes a hot minute, this dessert comes together fairly quickly and easily. But it looks incredibly fancy, because it’s mini and stuffed. It’s light and refreshing but still satisfies the chocolate craving. And if you need to up your class factor, do what I did – and serve these as an appetizer. Hey, fruit and cheese is an appetizer, right?

You’ll need:

  • 1 package strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Get cooking:

  1. When you hull the strawberries, use your pairing knife to carve out the entire middle of the strawberry. It’s tedious at first, but gets easier once you get the hang of it.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and spread until well combined and fluffy.
  3. Add mixture to piping tool (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.) Fill strawberries and serve. Look at you, so fancy!

Pear brown butter tart

The weather upturn this week has been – knock on wood – a welcome relief to a winter that stopped and started and stretched on. In the beginning, I greet the snow with a kid-like joy, but in the middle…that’s the sweet spot where I certainly don’t want to go play outside, but I’m not usually not sad to be snowed-in, either. Except the snowing in always seems to come at the worst time, when you have plans months in the making with dear friends. What to do but turn a bad day better with baked goods?

This tart is sure to make any day better, any time of year – light enough for a summer dessert but warm enough to drive away any kind of snow storm, it really is a versatile piece. (She says, like it’s a jacket or scarf.) It’s beautiful enough to be fancy, rustic enough to look homemade and light enough to not weigh you down. (You always want two pieces anyway, right? Me too.)

I used Japanese pears (aka, apple pears), you could use either or a mixture of both fruits. You can glaze it with any kind of preserves you like. You can use your grandmother’s famous pie dough, though I have to tell you, this one is hand down the best I’ve found. It’s delicious right out of the oven, so hot you toss it from hand to hand as your fingers sizzle. It’s amazing cold, out of the refrigerator, standing with the door open in anticipation and then continuing to stand as you eat it right out of the bag. Room temperature, still delightful, as you finish the rest of your baking and go back for ‘just a half piece.’ If you reheat it, make sure you do so in the oven – the texture of the crisp crust as it cracks like ice next to the velvety fruit is the best part. You don’t want to lose it.

Pear brown butter tart
This is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever made – like pear pie but better.

You’ll need:

Pie dough (adapted gratefully from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used white whole wheat – you need more liquid, but it still worked well)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter, frozen
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt (I used 0% plain and again, huge fan – but mine was closer to the 3/4 cup. Start lower – you can always add in.)

Tart (adapted from this Food 52 recipe)

  • recipe pie dough (or puff pastry)
  • 3-4 apples or pears (I used Japanese pears, which are like a hybrid) 
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • egg yolk
  • 1 T milk or yogurt
  • 3 T pear preserves 

Get cooking:

Dough

  1. Option 1: cut butter into 1/2 inch dice, and add ingredients to a food processor. Pulse until dough just comes together.
  2. Option two: mix flour salt, sugar and yogurt in a bowl. Grate in frozen butter with a cheese grater. Mix until just combined.
  3. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Tart

  1. If your dough is refrigerated more than the time above,  let it rest at room temp 15-20 minutes.
  2. Heat oven to 450 degrees and put a pizza stone or sheet pan in the oven to warm up.
  3. Melt your butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, 3-4 minutes, until it starts to turns brown (it will spit and sputter and smell amazing.) Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla.
  4. Cut a piece of parchment paper in about a 10-inch square.
  5. Take your dough and roll out to a 12-ish inch circle. (The ends fold over, it’s supposed to look rustic.) Roll dough onto your rolling pin and transfer to your parchment.
  6. If you want to be very pretty, slice your pears thinly from opposite side, working your way towards the core. If you don’t care (and I didn’t), core your pears and thinly slice.
  7. Place your pears in a circular fashion on the tart, leaving a 2-inch border for the crust. Brush your pears with the brown butter mixture. Fold the outer dough in, all the way around. This doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s ok if it looks goofy – this is homemade, not a Fench bakery after all. The less time you spedn futzing, the more time you have to eat.
  8. Whisk milk and egg together and brush over the dough border.
  9. Slide your tart (using the parchment) onto your hot pan. Bake until golden brown, 20 – 25 minutes.
  10. Warm up the preserves and brush onto the cooked pears. Serve warm.