Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Five Favorites: The Bread Edition

I love summer. I really, truly do. Being able to spend all day every day outside is a glorious treat. With the added bonus of living so close to a beautiful beach, my kiddos and I picnic outside by the water several times during the week. Even with the fair amount of rain we have endured over the past couple months, I still feel that we have taken full advantage of being outside while the sun is shining.

However, my one major beef with summer is how freakishly hot and humid it gets - and no amount of air conditioning can fix it! I have been suffering from hot flashes all summer long (thank you hormones!) and the humidity makes me feel as if I am about to pass out at times. Thus, turning on the oven has not really been much of an option.

And unfortunately, I have been craving bread. I love to bake it, I love to eat it. Baking bread is my therapy and something that I know will be enjoyed by all members of the family - no complaints from Matthew or Paul when it comes to fresh bread of any kind!

We. Love. Bread.

(Thank goodness I also like to run!)

So, while I am sitting her with the urge to bake up a fresh loaf (and completely unable to do so because it is 80+ degrees), I thought it appropriate to share my five favorite bread recipes to make.

Photo Credit
1. Challah

Soft, slightly sweet, and deliciously rich, I have made Challah so many times I am almost certain that the number of loaves would probably circle the moon and back (I may exaggerate just a touch). But really, this is my absolute favorite bread in the world. I like to make stuffed and rolled variations of my same basic recipe (chocolate, cinnamon-sugar, and apple-cinnamon to name a few). You can also play around with the basic flavoring of Challah by adding in vanilla bean, pumpkin puree, lemon/orange zest, raisins, cranberries, or cherries. The possibilities are endless. I have posted Peter Reinhart's recipe on this blog (which is delicious) but I tend to make Smitten Kitchen's version regularly because it uses far fewer eggs.

2. Pulla

Similar to Challah, this bread is also soft and sweet but flavored with Cardamom. I find this bread irresistible because of the Cardamom - which is definitely among my favorite spices of all time. You can take this bread to a whole new level by adding an orange glaze (powdered sugar + orange zest + orange juice) and drizzling it all around the baked bread once it has finished cooling. This is always a welcomed addition at the brunch table! I posted a recipe for this back in December as part of the Tuesdays with Dorie group.

3. French Baguettes

These take a bit more time and patience than most other breads, but the end result is totally worth it. People ask me often if these are worth making at home and I always enthusiastically respond: "YES!" They taste so much better and are so darn cheap to make that you have to attempt it at least once. This is a recipe that might be a bit tedious the first time you make it, but once you have the feel for it and know what to look for in the dough, subsequent attempts are a breeze. Plus, there is something very satisfying about making your own baguettes. It makes you feel fancy. I have posted a baguette recipe here.

Photo Credit
4. Honey Butter Rolls

These are my go-to roll recipe for company (although my beloved Lion House Rolls are an extremely close second). The honey butter topping is what takes these over the top. Soft, dense, sweet, and wonderful when paired with baked ham or turkey, these always make an appearance at Thanksgiving and Christmastime. I have had a few dinner guests devour about 4 of these (and they bake up HUGE) and ignore the main course (perhaps the main course was inedible but that in no way negates the fact that these rolls are delicious!). I can't believe I have not posted this recipe yet considering the number of times I have made these! However, it can be found here - although I recommend doubling the honey butter topping.

5. Buttermilk Sandwich Bread

I try my best to bake our sandwich bread each week. During the summers, I have taken a break from this but hope to pick it up again in the Fall. While I normally oscillate between different recipes (whole wheat, oatmeal, rye, etc), this is the favorite recipe by far. Whenever we have a couple fresh loaves of this bread laying around, Paul suddenly starts to eat a whole lot of toast. Coincidence? Recipe found here.

That's it for me! Head on over to Moxie Wife to check out some less carbohydrate-heavy five favorites posts!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

White Chocolate Mango Banana Bread

We make a lot of banana bread around here. A LOT. And we normally like to experiment with different flavor combinations and add-ins in order to shake things up a bit and give plain old banana bread a bit of a makeover. I normally use my base buttermilk banana bread recipe and then branch out from there simply because I have it memorized. Last month, we baked a banana bread that was sweetened with honey and speckled with poppy seeds. That version was so delicious that Paul and I were convinced it would officially capture the title of "favorite banana bread."

Then we tried this White Chocolate and Mango Banana Bread. Holy Cow...this is amazing.

I am a huge mango lover. I craved mangoes while pregnant with Matthew and would eagerly wait for them to go on sale at the store and then promptly buy out the entire stock. When I spied this banana bread recipe and saw that it incorporated mangoes and white chocolate (gah!), I was pretty sure we would love it.

And love it we did. Super moist, super delicious, wonderfully sweet. Paul took one bite and declared: "This is so good!"

Matthew insisted that I share this picture of his latest coloring page. He has been really
intense about coloring lately and was particularly proud of this picture he colored of Diesel.
And a closeup of the Diesel picture. He's getting better!
We had company over for a meal and I sliced this thickly and arranged it on a platter for our guests to munch on. A little while later, I spied Matthew sitting at the table devouring slice after slice after slice. I think he liked it.

I am totally guilty of buying about 5 pounds of bananas with the full knowledge that we will not be able to eat them all before they turn speckled brown. Oh darn. I'll just have to make another loaf of this stuff.

White Chocolate Mango Banana Bread
adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 and 1/2 cups mashed very ripe banana (about 3-4 bananas)
1/3 cup plain yogurt (greek yogurt works well)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup white chocolate chips, roughly chopped
1 cup finely diced mango
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon until blended and thick. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, and vanilla. Continue beating until blended.

Make a well in the center of the flour ingredients and pour the banana mixture in. Using a spatula, slowly fold everything together until just combined, being careful not to over-mix. Add the toasted coconut, white chocolate pieces, and diced mangoes and gently fold everything into the batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake for 60-65 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached. Be careful not to over-bake!

Cool 15 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan and cool completely on the wire rack. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep stored in the fridge. We enjoyed this best on the 3rd day - delicious!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Five Favorites: Mainly Food

Time for another edition of Five Favorites. Our list for this week features mainly food items that we have been enjoying lately during this lazy, hazy summer days!

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1. Panera's Cherry Limeade

I received a gift on my Panera card for a free frozen drink of my choice. This summer, Panera introduced their new Frozen Cherry Limeade beverage and we decided to try that. Paul was in heaven. It reminded him of a Daiquiri and he slurped this baby up in about 3 minutes flat (why he can never savor something is beyond me). Hearing that Panera is sponsoring Happy Hour with half priced smoothies and drinks from 2-4pm Monday through Friday, he cannot wait to go back and get another one of these. A perfect summer drink.

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2. SO Delicious Coconut Creamer

While at the grocery store last week, I found a coupon for SO Delicious coffee creamer stuck in the refrigerator case of the organic section. Since the coupon would qualify to double for a total savings of $1.50, I decided to give this product a whirl (I had been eyeing it for quite some time). It is DELICIOUS. My new favorite coffee creamer. A little bit goes a long way, which is awesome for me since I like my morning drug cup of Joe sweet and normally feel compelled to dump in the entire bottle of creamer to mask the bitter taste of our coffee grounds. I bought the French Vanilla version this time around but plan to try the other varieties next time. Delicious!

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3. Puzzles

The lone item on this list that is NOT food related, I simply could not leave our beloved puzzles out. All summer long, Matthew has been building puzzles. It all began with a dinosaur puzzle that my Mom gifted him when Baby Emma was born and he has been obsessed with puzzles ever since. His favorite activity to do by himself or with either Paul or I is to patiently put one together. Paul pretty much cannot handle puzzles that contain more than 20 large pieces (too much frustration for him), so it is normally Matthew and I patiently putting together puzzles of all shapes and sizes. Matthew is impressively stubborn about sticking around until every last piece is in place. Even puzzles waaay outside his skill level captivate him. We're going to be working through a 500 piece puzzle together and I'm sure that I will feel like quitting before he does!

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4. Summer Corn

I have to say it again: the corn harvest this year is beautiful! Sweet, crunchy, and extremely versatile in so many great recipes! I have been bookmarking so many recipes with corn that there is no way I will be able to make them all before the summer is through! Maybe you should try some of these for me? This Corn Pizza sounds insanely delicious. Corn risotto? Stop it. Grilled corn with Cheddar Quinoa? Unreal. These Chilaquiles? AHH! Or for the pasta lovers, this dish would be an awesome show-stopping entree to serve for company. Invite me over if you should make any of these.

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5. Biscoff Spread

I am not a huge fan of Biscoff cookies. Like most people, I have only had them while flying across the country. Airplanes make me feel very, very ill mainly from a combination of a sensitive stomach, claustrophobia, and the intermingling smells of coffee, plastic, and newspaper while soaring 30,000+ feet above the ground. When we added Matthew to our family and took him on flights with us, the combination of apple juice and crumbled biscoff cookies that the flight attendant kept feeding him to keep him quiet has been added to the list of foods that are my sworn enemies (along with Braunschweiger, Limburger cheese, grape jelly, bologna, guava, Doritos, and tofu). That being said, I love this Biscoff spread. It does not make any sense, I know. But this is delicious slathered on a sandwich as a substitute for peanut butter (even though peanut butter still holds my heart!) or eaten straight with sliced apples and bananas.

Head on over to Camp Patton who is hosting the Five Favorites linkup for this week!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Beer Bread with Salami and Asiago

In late May, I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a dear friend from my undergraduate years at Notre Dame. Her wedding was picture-perfect: beautiful bride, handsome groom, loving family and friends, delicious food, and amazing music. Paul and I enjoyed ourselves very much especially because Matthew was off on a play-date for the entire day, leaving us alone with our absurdly chill baby. It was lovely to have some time to ourselves to reconnect and celebrate in the joy of our friend's wedding (I love marriage!).

A few random pictures of our children, the outward sign of the love Paul and I share in our marriage. Beautiful smiles all around!

During the time between the ceremony and the reception, we chose to visit a Cleveland landmark that I have longed to see for quite some time: the West Side Market. Ensconced in a beautiful, historic building, the West Side Market houses an eclectic variety of vendors selling everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables, fresh-cut flowers, homemade jams, artisan breads, handmade sausages, fresh-made pastas, butchered meats, a myriad of different cheeses, decadent desserts, and made-to-order ethnic foods. My mind was spinning at the huge variety of items to peruse, sample, and lust over. Paul and I sampled some smoked salmon from one of the seafood counters, artisan rye bread from a European bread vendor, several varieties of flavored popcorn, German sausage, and Austrian mustard. We could have attacked more but had to restrain ourselves since we were going to enjoy dinner at the reception in just a few short hours.

The best item we sampled, far and away, was some beer bread from one of the bread vendors. They had it out for sampling and we enjoyed it so much that we ended up buying a loaf. It was a basic beer bread recipe lightly flavored with garlic and onion and stuffed with salami and asiago cheese. It was amazing. Now, Paul and I make beer bread quite often during the winter months as an accompaniment to chili, but ours is a plain, slightly sweet variety. I have never had a savory beer bread and this version knocked me off my feet. One of the reasons we bought a loaf was so we could try to replicate it at home.

And this is as close as we could get! Using the same basic beer bread recipe as before, we reduced the sugar and add garlic, onion, salami, cheese, and a healthy dose of pepper. The main difference we could detect from the West Side Market's bread was in the type of salami they used. Obviously it would be really difficult to get a close match since there are so many different varieties of salami available. However, this was gloriously close to what we tasted in Cleveland, especially after some resting time in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld together. I most definitely recommend not trying it fresh out of the oven, but rather letting it cool to room temperature before wrapping it tight and letting it hang out in the fridge for 1-2 days. This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Beer Bread with Salami and Asiago
adapted from Cooking Light

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
13.5 oz all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
1 (12 oz) bottle of beer (we used Sierra Nevada Kellerweis)
3 oz finely chopped salami
2 tablespoons melted butter, divided

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion to pan; cook 10 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in pepper and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.

Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife (I always weigh my flour). Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Make a well in the center of the mixture. Add onion mixture, cheese, and beer to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Spoon batter into a lightly buttered 9x5" loaf pan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon butter over batter. Bake for 35 minutes then drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon butter over batter. Bake an additional 25 minutes or until the bread is deep golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Begin checking after 15 minutes. Mine was done much sooner! Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack before removing from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Wrap in plastic and store in the fridge. We enjoyed this best after the flavors had time to meld in the fridge. Enjoy!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tiramisu Cake

Last month, we had the pleasure of hosting several members of Paul's family for a week. Since they live on the other side of the country, we do not get to spend nearly as much time with them as we would like so it was a treat to have them visit! We tried our best to make our lovely town beautiful, lively, and appealing but unfortunately the dang weather did not cooperate for almost the entire visit. It was nothing but gray skies and almost constant rain which pretty much forced us to eliminate all the outdoor activities we had planned for the week.

I did not take nearly as many pictures as I would have liked. I think there were perhaps 15 or so on my camera.

Uncle Peter scaring my youngest and boring my eldest.

Definitely related: Matthew does not know how to take a normal picture either.
Rainy days = intense games of cribbage between twins.

Uncle Steven securing his status as "favorite uncle" by letting Matthew play Angry Birds on his phone.
My sweet sister-in-law MaryRose was more than happy to entertain Emma for me. Any chance she could, she would hold, rock, or play with her. She was more than happy to pick out fresh outfits for her each day and enjoyed dressing her up for me! My baby girl was so happy to get so much attention! And they made quite the pair. Emma has many of the same dimples as MaryRose. They run in the family!

Do you see a family resemblance? Emma so very much enjoyed spending time with her Aunt MaryRose.
When I was able to lure MaryRose away from sweet little Emma, I asked her if there was anything she would like to bake with me. After carefully perusing through a few of my cookbooks, she settled upon a Tiramisu Cake, since the coffee and chocolate combination is one of her favorites! We decided to bake it in honor of Paul receiving his PE license (because you gotta be celebrating something when you put a layer cake together!).

We spent one evening baking up the cake layers. MaryRose was an absolute pro at handling the stand mixer and measuring all the ingredients. After the layers had baked, we let them cool and then I wrapped them tightly to place them in the freezer (as I do with all my cake layers because it makes trimming them so much easier). And that's as far as we got...

The whole family spontaneously decided to take a trip to a water park resort for the remainder of the visit. It was a fun little detour and the entire family enjoyed splashing around in the wave pools, play structures, slides, and many, many water raft and tube rides. I even took baby Emma down the lazy river several times and that crazy baby seemed to enjoy it even after being drenched by a waterfall (despite my best efforts to paddle away from it). Unfortunately, this little detour meant that MaryRose and I were unable to finish the cake. However, I promised her that I would.

I had the opportunity a couple weeks later when we were invited to a 4th of July BBQ. I was asked to bring the dessert and it seemed like a perfect time to finish making that tiramisu cake. The cake was a breeze to put together. Start to finish, it took me less than an hour to assemble the cake and return it to the fridge to chill.

Everyone at the BBQ seemed to enjoy it, although we all agreed wholeheartedly that the cake definitely needed more soaking syrup to really give the cake that soft, almost wet texture of the ladyfingers in traditional tiramisu. Next time I make this, I will definitely be doubling the syrup (and encourage you to do the same should you make this cake!). I personally thought the mascarpone frosting and filling was heavenly and could have eaten that all by myself (and would have had my milk allergy not kept my desire in check!).

Oh, and decorating the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans is an absolute must. Good call, MaryRose!

Tiramisu Cake
from Baking from My Home to Yours

For the cake layers:
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

For the espresso extract:
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons boiling water

For the espresso syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (I used Kahlua!)

For the filling and frosting:
1 8-ounce container mascarpone
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (Again, Kahlua!)
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Chocolate-covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)
Cocoa powder, for dusting

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make the Cake:
Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.

To Make the Extract:
Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.

To Make the Syrup:
Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.

To Make the Filling and Frosting:
Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth.

Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.

To Assemble the Cake:
If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.

For the frosting, whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. If the frosting looks as if it might be a little too soft to spread over the cake, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or so. Refrigerate the cake too.

With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top. If you want to decorate the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans, press them into the filling, making concentric circles of beans or just putting some beans in the center of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day) before serving – the elements need time to meld.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

TWD: Summer Vegetable Tart

This is definitely not the prettiest dish I have ever made. But boy was it tasty!

If you can get past the fact the unappetizing, brownish appearance and just trust me when I say that this tart was a fantastic addition to our Sunday brunch menu. Paul gobbled up a huge portion of it and once again declared it a "keeper." We have been saying that about a lot of the recipes from Baking with Julia, I know...but the hits just keep on coming! I loved how easy this was to prepare - I had this on the table within 20 minutes of pulling the phyllo dough out of the fridge (although I was very sloppy when arranging the phyllo in the pie pan because I was trying to get the thing on the table quickly).

As there were no red bell peppers at our Farmer's Market, I chose to use yellow instead. I also went with my favorite creamy feta cheese instead of goat cheese simply because Paul has a major problem with goat cheese. He first tried it on our honeymoon when we stopped at this little cafe for lunch. One of the sandwiches on the menu caught his eye simply because it had arugula listed as one of the components. Being a huge fan of arugula, Paul promptly folded his menu back up and ordered the sandwich. There are so many things are wrong with this scenario.

1) Who orders a sandwich based just on the type of lettuce included?

2) When his order arrived, Paul balked at the fact that it was in fact a vegetarian entree, something that would not have been such a surprise had he read the menu description a little more closely.

3) The sandwich was piled high with chevre, which was meant to be the true highlight of the sandwich, and Paul had always voiced a distaste for goat milk. He took one bite of that sandwich and no amount of peppery arugula could cover up the gamy taste of the goat cheese. The cheese the chef had chosen was particularly pungent - taking a bite of it made you feel as if the goat was sitting at the table enjoying lunch with us. Very, very strong. We actually had to ask the server to remove the offending sandwich so we could continue to breathing without inhaling the smell from the cheese. Paul still shudders when thinking about it.

So, in order to avoid bringing up memories of that disastrous lunch, feta was used in my tart.

There is not much more to say about this tart except that it was absolutely delicious! I did not think the phyllo added a lot to the actual tart, but I appreciated it being there in lieu of a heavier pie or tart crust. We will definitely be making this again with a different variety of vegetables - I could see some sauteed zucchini and summer squash working marvelously! Head on over to the Tuesdays with Dorie site to see how the other members fared!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ugga Mugga! (with a side of Peach Kuchen)

Every once in a while, my child presents me with a riddle that sometimes takes months to solve. Matthew has always been a bit of a parrot and usually picks up the most random words and phrases. When he first started talking, he kept referring to "Aum da beara!" He would say it over and over again and seemed very upset that we had no idea what he was talking about. He would say it in the car while pointing out the window or while playing with his construction trucks at home. Paul and I would sit together and wrack our brains trying to think of what he could possibly be trying to say! Finally, one day we picked him up from the YMCA childcare after a Saturday morning workout and he showed us the picture of Bob the Builder he had been coloring: "Aum da beara!" And suddenly a lightbulb went off. He had been saying "Bob the Builder" all along, especially when we were passing a construction sites where the trucks and the men with their yellow hard hats were in plain sight or while playing with his construction trucks at home. We never ever watch Bob the Builder, but Matthew had seen it at the Y while playing and it stuck in his head.

For the last several weeks, Matthew has presented a new mystery for us to solve. Every night as we tuck him into bed, he will give both of us a hug and kiss and then rub his forehead against ours while saying: "Ugga Mugga, Mommy! Ugga Mugga, Daddy! Ugga Mugga, Baby Emma!"

What the heck was this new little bedtime ritual he had established? And where did he learn this "Ugga Mugga" business? We had no idea. But it was kind of cute and unique, so we have just been going with it.

Today, I sat down to watch an episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, a cartoon knock-off of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that centers around a re-vamped version of Daniel Striped Tiger, a character from the Neighborhood of Make Believe. The show is fun, cute, sweet, and teaches kids basic lessons about sharing and getting along with one another. I think it is extremely well done and Matthew loves it. I was barely paying attention to what was going on (I am currently re-reading David McCullough's John Adams and use every opportunity to knock out a few more chapters) but suddenly I heard the words "ugga mugga." Apparently, that is what Daniel Tiger and his parents say to one another while giving Eskimo kisses. A quick internet search later revealed that on the original Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, in the Neighborhood of Make Believe Daniel Striped Tiger would affectionately rub noses with Lady Aberlin and say "ugga mugga!" This unique little show of affection was carried over into the new cartoon spinoff. Ah-HA! Mystery solved!

Notice how Matthew's shoes are on the wrong feet with the thong shoved between the wrong toes?

I think our family has officially adopted the "ugga mugga" as part of our bedtime routine. It's sweet and cute and I love that Matthew immediately picked that up and chose to make it his own special way of showing love. I'm just so thankful to know that it came from a reputable source and not some of the super lame children's shows he's seen at the YMCA like Bubble Guppies (we have a serious shortage of creativity in this country) or BoohBah (what ARE those things? Mutated marshmallows?!)

I had to give Paul one big Ugga Mugga myself after he made this delicious Peach Kuchen for dinner the other night. Yes. We had dessert for dinner. See, we had planned on grilling a delicious feast but suddenly these super-scary dark clouds rolled in and dumped enough rain on us to send the entire county into a state of emergency due to flash flooding. I was still pretty set on making Paul grill in the rain, but once I noticed gigantic bolts of lightening immediately followed by booming thunder, I figured it probably was not safe having him stand in the little 2-inch deep puddle of water that had collected about his beloved Weber. But Paul still wanted to make dinner - and since he is dieting and craving everything he should not be eating - he made us a Peach Kuchen. And oh my...was it delicious!

This kuchen would most assuredly work well with pears, plums, nectarines, and thinly sliced apples, although I think the peaches are the way to go!

Fresh Peach Kuchen

1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup milk (or cream if you are Paul)
3-4 peaches, blanched/shocked to remove skins and sliced fruit
1/2 cup brown sugar (Paul reduced this by about half)
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a medium sized bowl cream butter and sugar. Then beat in eggs, followed by the vanilla. In a separate bowl combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture with milk.  Mix well.  Scrape into a greased 9-inch springform pan.

Arrange the fruit on top, gently press into batter.  Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Place pan on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes or until top is browned and toothpick comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in pan then run a knife around edge of pan and remove sides. Cool on wire rack. Serve with coffee and/or ice cream.

Friday, July 12, 2013

7 Quick Takes: Aches and Pains

Coffee on the beach. A favorite activity for Matthew and I.
This is my first time linking up with Jen and all the other fantastic bloggers for 7 Quick Takes Fridays!

1. I have been slowly getting my running groove back post-pregnancy. It has been a bit of a process since all my ligaments, tendons, and muscles were so messed up. After each run, I had a different ache to deal with. The scariest one was feeling as if my hamstrings were about to snap. Thankfully, that one did not last long and disappeared after a little rest and regular stretching.

2. Still on the topic of running, my lovely hubby has begun is own running regimen. This makes me so happy since I have been trying to get him to run with me for years. Unfortunately, he has very flat feet. Seriously, his arches are nonexistent - ducks have more defined arches. As a result, he has been having some trouble finding a stride that is comfortable and has been complaining of pretty nasty shin pain from having his feet slap against the pavement.

3. Since we both have fairly worn out running shoes, we have been blaming all our aches and pains on insufficient footwear. We decided to head out to buy a couple pairs of shoes that would fit our feet well and maybe give Paul a little bit of an arch. We headed up to a specialty shoe store that has a Certified Pedorthist on staff, hoping they could recommend an appropriate pair of shoes for the two of us. After spending a lot of time telling Paul that he was basically going to paralyze himself unless he bought their specialty orthotics and recommended pair of New Balance shoes (she kept stressing the added bonus that New Balance is still 100% Made in America!). She also told me that I should be running with a stiffer shoe even though I have always preferred a fairly flexible running shoe. Well, we both were dumb and totally bought into her sales pitch and walked out with over $250.00 worth of merchandise. "These shoes better be the best darn shoes we've ever worn for that price," Paul whispered as we walked out of the store.

4. Four days later, we returned the shoes. We were really lame about the whole thing and tried to sneak into the store without being noticed by the Pedorthist who had sold the shoes to us in the first place. We chose to return them because Paul and I both thought they were way too stiff and super uncomfortable. The shoes also really tried to get us to smack the pavement with our heels rather than the balls of our feet, making us feel an unbearable pain in our hips. We are definitely going to keep using Asics since we like their flexibility and cushioning. While I would love to support a product that is made 100% in America, the quality has to match the super high price tag.

5. Enough about running. As some of you may know, my son Matthew has a little monkey puppet that he has carried around since he was 11 months old. He never sleeps without it, takes it everywhere with him, and has given it so much love that the eyes have been rubbed completely away. Yesterday, Matthew received a friend for his monkey - a little plush version of Curious George. Now the three of them are inseparable. Matthew is so happy that his monkey has a friend - and it was the best $5 donation to charity I've ever made (Kohls Cares for Kids has the Curious George stuffed animals and books available for $5 and 100% of the proceeds to go charity!).

He wanted the monkeys to watch him eat breakfast. Kind of creepy if you ask me.
He does NOT want me to take the tag off. Maybe he shares his mother's
compulsive nature for returning items?
6. My baby girl is super fat. In a good way. Matthew was always pretty thin so it feels great that Emma is blowing up like a balloon. Her new nickname, thanks to Matthew, is "chunky monkey".

"Chunky Monkey" awaiting her bath!
7. Paul and I are taking a trip to celebrate our 5 year anniversary! We booked the trip just a few days ago and then sat there planning out all the things we wanted to do. We are both so excited. Of course, we will be taking the baby with us so we will have to be attentive to her needs during the trip, but it is rather fitting because our children are outwards signs of our love for God and one another. That doesn't mean we will be taking our 3-year-old with us. He will have much more fun hanging out with his grandparents, aunts, and uncles while we are away.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Peachy Pork Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Do most parents take great pleasure in messing with their kids?

Paul seems to relish pushing Matthew's buttons more than most. Sometimes it is amusing. Other times, especially when I am left consoling a very distraught Matthew after Paul has pushed his teasing a little too far, it is not so funny.

I know this story centers around Matthew, but lately he has been making the most ghoulish
faces when the camera is pointed at him, so pictures of the cute little sister will have to suffice!

On Sunday night, Paul and I were exhausted from a day full of blueberry picking and outdoor play with Matthew and Emma. Paul took Matthew upstairs to read him a story and tuck him into bed while I gently rocked Emma to sleep. Finding ourselves finally alone in a quiet house, we decided to enjoy a glass of wine on the deck as the sun slowly set. While we were sitting there sipping our wine, we noticed the light to Matthew's bedroom suddenly snap on. This could mean only one thing: he was happily playing with his train set instead of sleeping. Paul decided to take a little plastic basketball and throw it against Matthew's window in an attempt to catch his attention. After a couple misses (accuracy is not Paul's forte), the ball finally smacked against the window pane.

No response from Matthew.

Paul threw the ball again and managed to smack the window once more.

Still nothing.

Once more, the ball was thrown against the window.

Suddenly, the distinct wailing of a frightened child could be heard from within the room.

"Now you've done it Paul! You've scared him to death!" I said while smacking the-Father-of-the-Year's shoulder.

Paul ran inside to intercept a very frightened Matthew who had bolted out of his bedroom, into the hallway, and down the stairs. "I scared of the bug! The bug on the window! The BIG BUG!" he sobbed into his Daddy's arms, unaware that he was in fact hugging his tormentor.

Matthew was pretty inconsolable, so to add to the other high marks for fatherly excellence he had earned in the past ten minutes, Paul handed Matthew his wine glass: "Have a sip of juice, buddy!"


"What? It'll relax him. Help him get to sleep."

In fact, it did take quite a bit of convincing to explain to Matthew that "the bug" was in fact only a basketball. We had to demonstrate what had happened over and over until he finally smiled and understood. Even still, after I had re-tucked him into bed, he whispered: "I scared of the bee, Mommy. I scream, Mommy."

Geez Paul, I hope you did not give our kid a complex!

In other news, we are continuing to overindulge in the bounty of produce the warm summer months continue to offer. I have been absolutely obsessed with the sweet corn around here. So beautiful and delicious straight off the cob! Not to mention the fresh-picked peaches, blueberries, and nectarines have been amazing this year. Last year, the crops were kind of disappointing so we have been taking full advantage of their juicy goodness this year! This of course means that we have been eating lots and LOTS of salad. At least I'll use the fresh produce as my main excuse ... not wanting to turn on the oven when it's 90 degrees outside might be the more honest explanation. Anyway, we had some pork in the freezer to use up so we quickly seasoned and cooked it up in a skillet and then threw it on top of some mixed greens tossed with fresh peaches, crumbled feta, and a light balsamic vinaigrette. Done! And it was delicious. It's no secret that pairing fruit with pork helps bring out the sweet notes in the meat and I have to say that peaches pair much better with pork than the traditionally-used apples.

Peachy Pork Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Nistler Family Original

For the Pork:
2-3 center cut pork chops, bone-in, about 3/4-inch thick
Salt and Pepper
Couple large pinches of sugar

For the Balsamic Vinaigrette:
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated red onion
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Ground Pepper to Taste
3/4 cup canola oil

For the Salad:
5 cups Mixed Salad Greens
Thinly sliced red onion
Fresh sliced, ripe peaches
Crumbled Feta Cheese

First, make the vinaigrette. Throw everything except the oil into a blender and mix together. With the blender running on low speed, stream in the oil and let mix until slightly thick and emulsified. Refrigerate for up to two weeks. This will make enough for about a week's worth of salad.

Pat pork dry with paper towels. Rub each chop with a tiny bit of oil and season both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle one side of pork with sugar (try to avoid the bone!). Turn a stove burner to medium heat.

Place chops sugar side down in a cold skillet, pressing them down firmly with your hands. Place skillet onto burner and let chops cook until lightly browned, about 4-9 minutes. The chops should be sizzling after 2 minutes. Flip chops, turn heat down to low, cover skillet and let cook for 3-6 minutes or until the chops are 140 degrees in the center. Remove chops to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss salad greens, onion, and peaches with vinaigrette to taste. Arrange on a platter, topping with more sliced peaches, Thinly slice the rested pork and arrange on top of the salad. Sprinkle with feta, a generous sprinkling of cracked black pepper and serve!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

It has been an annual tradition for our family to head to the surrounding farmland to pick strawberries. Strawberry season is so very short-lived and the size and sweetness of the fruit has been different each year due to the variable weather patterns. Last year, the fruit was definitely smaller and a bit on the tart side. However, this season the berries were big, boldly red, juicy, and very sweet. Just the perfect berry for enjoying on top of yogurt, ice cream, shortcake, or in a cobbler.

Shortly before we headed out to pick some strawberries. She did not stay this happy for long!

Matthew was so very excited to go strawberry picking. In the previous years, he was less than helpful. Obviously, he was quite young and normally cranky since we chose to go early in the morning to beat the heat. Last year, he just stayed sitting in one of the rows eating fresh berries (and a few leaves) while Paul and I tried to gather as many berries as we could before the inevitable toddler meltdown could begin. This year, I think Matthew picked more berries than I did. You see, Emma was not too impressed with the strawberry fields and hated it when I would kneel down to pick some berries. This meant that all I could do was pretty much just stand there and supervise while Paul and Matthew took on the brunt of the labor. At first, Matthew kept picking the obviously under-ripe tiny, green berries (the ones that look so incredibly unappealing that I have no idea why he was willingly choosing to pick those over the other gorgeously ripe ones!). However, once we told him that he could only put berries that were "red like James" into his basket, he instantly began picking only the biggest and best berries. If you are familiar with Thomas the Train and Matthew's utter obsession with it, you will completely understand why this explanation made sense to him!

Introducing Emma to strawberries. She was not impressed.

My hard working husband. Isn't he cute?

After we had filled out baskets, we took an obligatory photo with the kiddos and our spoils before heading home. As you can see, my children love taking pictures with me. And Emma looks oh-so-happy to be heading home!

Come on Matthew! Can you try not to look tortured in every single picture?
Obviously, it's asking too much to take a picture with my first born.
Picking strawberries is simply exhausting for such a tiny baby.
The absolute best part about berry season? All those scrumptious things you can do with berries. My favorite way to enjoy them is straight-up, hands down. However, the next best way would have to be in a cobbler or crisp. Paul and I are both obsessed with rhubarb and think whoever first decided to pair rhubarb with strawberries should be recognized as a culinary hero. Rhubarb is pretty ubiquitous around here but surprisingly most people here do not like cooking with it. I have met a lot of people who think it is poisonous despite my attempts to explain that only the leaves of the rhubarb plant have toxic properties. No matter...we have benefited from this because a friend of ours uprooted his rhubarb plant so we could start growing our own rhubarb in the backyard. Win Win!

Anyway, given our obsession with the whole rhubarb and strawberry combo, it only seemed fitting that the first dessert we would make with our strawberry harvest would be a Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler. Now, Paul is also on a self-imposed diet to try to lose the extra 15 pounds of sympathy weight he gained during my pregnancy. He has been extra motivated by the fact that I have lost all my pregnancy weight, leaving him with no excuse but to get back in shape (personally, I think he is as cute as ever!). I feel a slight twinge of guilt because I'm pretty sure my baking certainly does not help him stay slim and trim so I decided to make a lighter version of strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. And served it for breakfast after Mass on Sunday. Dessert for breakfast is something we shamelessly do quite often!

I'm pretty sure I do not need to expound upon the merits of such a dessert - you all know it's good! Sweet strawberry and rhubarb filling topped with slightly sweet, cornmeal biscuits served hot and bubbling from the oven. Is there a better summer dessert? Even though this version is quite a bit lighter than traditional cobbler, it was still rich, filling, and satisfying. Enjoy!

Lighter Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

For the Filling:
1 quart fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
10 ounces rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the Biscuit Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour (about 5 ounces - yes, I like to weigh my flour)
3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk, well shaken
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Stir together all the filling ingredients and pour into a deep-dish pie plate or 8-inch square pyrex pan. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the fruit releases its liquid and is hot and bubbling around the edges (about 20-30 minutes).

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla.

When the filling is ready, stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined. There should be no remaining pockets of flour. Remove the cobbler filling from the oven and stir. Pinch off 8 equal pieces of the biscuit dough and gently arrange on top of the hot filling, spacing about 1/2-inch apart.

Return the cobbler to the oven and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is hot and bubbling once more. Cool the cobbler on the wire rack for 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy with ice cream!