Love letter #9, date night pretzels

Soft pretzels have always held a special place in my heart. I can remember when I was little and had a cookbook for kids, my dad and I made soft pretzels one weekend. We made one for every person in the house and shaped them into the initial of their first name.

On mine and Alex’s first date (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, about seven years ago), I ordered a soft pretzel with cheese and I remember Alex looking at me like, “What?! A pretzel at the movies?” I may be pretentious about most pre-made or packaged foods, but you can’t come between me and my stadium nacho cheese.

Alex and I don’t go to movies that often—he prefers to stay at home and watch (and save money!) and I hate that I have to get there 30 minutes early to ensure I have the perfect seat. Over countless weekends I’ve began to perfect our date night movie treats. Yummy popcorn and these soft pretzels with beer cheese.

Unlike cooking which has always come somewhat naturally to me, baking is hard. I don’t like it, but I do it because of how thrilled I am with the final product. Baking and cooking are just science, but baking is much more exact. But when you start to understand how each individual ingredients reacts with each other and why, it makes it seem less intimidating.

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The first time I made homemade soft pretzels and Alex and I tried them at the same time, we both just looked at each other in amazement. They tasted like soft pretzels! There are so few ingredients and the ingredients are so similar to other breads and bagels I’ve made, I didn’t understand how they could have that distinct pretzel flavor.

They’re totally decadent and a total pub treat. They’re also very easy. So few ingredients and your Kitchen-Aid does all the work. You just have to twist, boil, and bake.

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I twist the pretzels because I prefer the super fluffy inside dough. When twist them into a traditional pretzel shape, they have more of the crust, and less of the dough. You can do whatever you prefer.

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Use a fish spatula to easily drop and take them out of boiling water. 

Mustard or mustard powder is the secret ingredient in many gourmet macaroni and cheese dishes. The mustard enhances the cheese flavor and adds a little something special. You can add more mustard to this depending on your tastes.

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Grate your cheese in a food processor. You do not want pre-shredded cheese for this. It’ll never melt and the texture will be grainy. 

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Stay in next Saturday night. Grab your coziest blankets, put on your softest pajamas, blast the A/C, turn off all the nights, and settle in with these pretzels and cheese and a good movie. You’ll want to do this every weekend. Enjoy.

Soft pretzels here

Beer cheese

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 18 oz beer
  • 1 tbsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground red pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz cream cheese

 

 

 

Melt butter in large sauce pan. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic, cook for one minute. Add flour, whisk vigorously until incorporated, two minutes. Add beer, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard. Bring to a boil then simmer for four minutes. Add seasonings. On low heat, add 1/3 of all of the cheeses and whisk until incorporated. Repeat until cheese is gone. Serve warm.

Love letter #8, herbs

Growing up, I wasn’t surrounded by cooks, and that’s okay. I learned many other valuable lessons from my family that don’t involve cooking. I’ve always have known that I’ve wanted to cook and cook well, however. I remember watching old dubbed “Iron Chef” episodes or “Two Fat Ladies” and knowing that’s what I wanted to do.

When I moved out of my parent’s house and into an apartment, I wanted to cook for myself, but was slightly lost and misguided. All that Food Network watching didn’t prepare me in the way that I had hoped. I considered myself a cook. I made spaghetti and jarred sauce! Bagged Caesar salad! Mashed potatoes! Chili from a can! I look back on that time with both nostalgia and embarrassment. But that’s okay, that’s the point—you have to learn.

I remember making chicken tortilla soup and adding lots of sour cream while it was still boiling away. I was left with soup with completely curdled sour cream. And I had no idea. I happily ate it and went on my way. I’ve had my fair share of “Pinterest Meals”. That site is definitely keeping the crock-pot and cream cheese business alive. It’s very attractive to people. Throw three different types of dairy products, chicken breast, and potatoes in and you’ve got a creamy, unappetizing-looking dinner ready in six hours.

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That’s the reality of cooking though; it can be as easy or as complicated as you want. Just because those Pinterest meals are unappealing to me, doesn’t mean they aren’t meeting someone else’s dinner needs. Cooking is always a learning process.

All of that being said, the turning point for me was when I started using fresh herbs. It was such a foreign concept to me, but once I started, it made total sense and completely changed my cooking game.

Adding herbs creates flavor that no other seasonings can. They can add depth of flavor, brightness, acidity, etc. It’s very rare that I cook something without adding fresh herbs.

What’s also so amazing about herbs is that they are so easy to grow! In an apartment or house, large garden or no garden, you can grow just about any kind you’d like. They are easy to maintain, and you never have to worry about your store being out of basil when you’re making your marinara.

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Besides Alex, caprese salads are what I love most. Last week when we were driving home from vacation, we even stopped out of our way to a waterfront restaurant so I could indulge my craving. They are quintessentially summer. Fresh, homegrown tomatoes, sweet basil, tangy balsamic, creamy mozzarella. It all comes together into a beautiful, simple, yet complex dish.

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Sometimes I like to use cherry tomatoes and swap out mozzarella for feta.

IMG_2264Adding prosciutto and a touch of olive oil makes it a complete meal and the perfect beach picnic.

My morning breakfast always consists of herbs, namely chives and dill. Lots of herbs piled high on avocado, with or without a sunny side up egg, and some sriracha to add some heat. It’s easy, comforting, and so fresh. Chives add classic yet mild onion flavor and dill is always perfect with eggs and salmon.

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I use a lot of dill in this. It may be way too much for some people. Just add it to taste. 

A great method of sunny side up egg cooking can be found here at the Serious Eats website.

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Thyme is piney, peppery, and a touch lemony. It reminds me of a milder version of rosemary. It’s perfect in sauces, in a roasted chicken, or a creamy dish. It’s the perfect addition to this Onion and Fontina Galette.

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Fontina is an Italian cheese. It’s soft, creamy, and buttery. It’s similar to mild gruyere or provolone cheese.

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Make a piecrust using this recipe of mine here.

IMG_6744Make a roux with flour and heavy cream

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IMG_6752Bake, then serve immediately, garnished with more thyme leaves.

Mint, like basil, is good in dessert or heartier meals. I love Ina’s Couscous with Pine Nuts and Mint.

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Ina’s Deconstructed Strawberry Shortcake is divine, and made even better with torn mint leaves on top. Homemade whipped cream, strawberries with liqueur, and fresh mint from the garden. There is no better dessert.

Alex’s favorite dish with herbs is simple Herbed Basmati Rice. He requests it for lunch very often! And I make it because it is simple for me, flavorful for him, and I add lots of chopped spinach to up the nutrition factor. It’s a rice dish I don’t feel guilty giving him.

The bottom line is whether you’re just starting to branch out of Pinterest-style crock-pot cooking, or have been cooking for decades, herbs will almost always improve your meal. Growing your own herbs, much like cooking, will reward you with a sense of accomplishment. You’ll save money, too. If you’re trying to up your elegance level, challenge yourself to use fresh herbs in every dinner you make this week. You’ll be convinced in no time.

Hannah’s Pinterest

Caprese salad

  • Fresh tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, sliced or pulled off
  • Fresh basil, julienned
  • Good, aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Prosciutto, optional

Chop or slice tomatoes. Toss with mozzarella and basil. Add balsamic, salt and pepper to taste.

Thyme and Fontina Galette

Link here

Avocado toast

  • Slice of sourdough
  • 1/2 avocado, mashed
  • 1 egg
  • Handful of dill, roughly chopped
  • Chives, chopped
  • Sriracha to taste
  • Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

Lightly toast the bread. Mash the avocado onto the toast. Cook the egg sunny side up and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add dill and chives. Finish with sriracha.

 

 

 

Love letter #7, cinnamon rolls

Mornings are my favorite part of any day. There’s something calming about each day beginning and the thought that anything can happen. Though mornings usually lead into normal days, the idea that each day could bring something different is what I love. Fittingly, breakfast is mine and Alex’s favorite meal. I love any kind of breakfast food, but generally during the week we have a heartier meal. Alex has full-fat Greek yogurt with granola, and I have a slice of toast with avocado, arugula, egg, and lots of dill.

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I enjoy my breakfast every day, but weekend breakfasts are what I look forward to throughout the week. I’m a pastry fiend. To me, there is something so comforting about waking up late, staying in bed, and eating a warm, sweet pastry. Alex isn’t much for sweets, but anytime I make these cinnamon rolls, he’s up earlier than normal.

The truth is, I love store-bought pastries. From farmer’s markets to vacations, my trips all revolve around them. However, buying pastries at the store does not make your house smell amazing and buying macarons doesn’t have the same feeling of accomplishment as making them. So, on weekends, I make them. These cinnamon rolls in particular are easy, you do all the steps the night before, so the morning of you can just bake them and enjoy a stress-free morning.

When a recipe calls for warm milk or water for your yeast to be added, that’s generally between 110-115 degrees F.

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Make sure the melted/softened butter is not too hot when you add it, you don’t want that temperature to affect the yeast.

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The best place to leave your dough to rise is in your oven with the light on. The oven light helps bring the oven to around 70 degrees. Cover with a damp towel. It usually takes about an hour for dough to double in size.

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Your counters are your best tools with this. Just make sure they are very clean. Flour them and roll the dough out. Be careful when using a knife to not scratch the surface when you’re slicing.

IMG_6101Make sure there is plenty of flour on your surface, so when you roll the dough it doesn’t stick.

Add butter and cinnamon sugar mixture all around the dough and up to the borders. It needs to be completely covered.

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Roll it up carefully, going back and forth like you are playing the piano from one end to the other.

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You can use a knife or dental floss to cut through the dough. If you use a knife, which I did, just make sure it is very sharp.

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After being in the fridge over night.

If the rolls start to get too brown before the insides are cooked, add aluminum foil to the top. I generally do this with five minutes left to spare.

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Add the icing when the rolls are just out of the oven, so it melts and flows into the crevices.

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Weekends are a big deal at our house because we do nothing–and that is what makes them special. Stay in bed on Sunday with your french pressed coffee, these cinnamon rolls, and a good book. Push Monday out of your mind for a little while longer. Enjoy.

Hannah’s Cinnamon Rolls

Dough

  •             4 cups flour
  •             1 tbsp active dry yeast
  •             1 cup warm milk
  •             2 eggs
  •             1 stick butter, melted
  •             1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  •             ¼ tsp salt

Icing

  •             2 oz cream cheese
  •             ¼ cup heaving whipping cream
  •             1 ¼ cups powdered sugar
  •             1 tbsp vanilla

Cinnamon filling

  •             1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  •             3 tbsp plus 1 tsp cinnamon
  •             1/3 stick melted butter

Add yeast to milk. Let proof for five minutes. Combine all dough ingredients together and mix with wooden spoon or spatula. Don’t over mix. Allow to rise until a little over double in size, an hour.

Mix all cinnamon filling ingredients together and set aside.

Beat icing ingredients together. Add powdered sugar in slowly. Add more or less heavy whipping cream depending on desired consistency. Refrigerate overnight, take out of fridge 30 minutes before icing.

Once risen, roll out dough onto floured surface. Roll out into rectangle-ish shape. Brush on butter with pastry brush, then spread filling over entire surface. Roll up into a cylinder, cut into 9-12 rolls. Add to a greased casserole dish. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in fridge over night.

Take rolls out in morning an hour before cooking to rise. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20 minutes. Add aluminum foil on top 15 minutes through to prevent over-browning. Spread icing on immediately after coming out of the oven.

 

 

 

Love letter #5, lots of loaves

I have to admit, unlike my past and future posts, this letter is not inspired by Alex. It’s inspired from my time when I was in high school working at Starbucks with some of my best friends. Though at the time I hated working evenings and weekends (who wouldn’t?), I can look back on that time fondly. This post is an homage to them and that time of my life.

Though not baked in-house, there is something so nostalgic to me about the various pastries that Starbucks sells. Almost a decade later and every time I walk into a café it reminds me of high school. The smell of the coffee, the roar of the blenders, and the rhythmic noise of the iced teas being shaken flood me with memories.

My tastes have matured as I’ve gotten older, so I don’t order the pastries or sweets from Starbucks anymore. However, I do enjoy baking the pastries I used to love so much at home. My favorites in particular were the loaves—lemon, banana walnut, and pumpkin. Anytime I make any of these breads I am reminded of that first job and sneaking a pastry to eat on my break.

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Adding parchment paper to the loaf pan is an easy way to get your bread out when it’s finished. 
These recipes fall into the “quick-bread” category. There’s no rising, the steps are simple, and the end result is relatively foolproof.

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It’s very important for all your ingredients to be room temperature.

You can use a hand mixer, but the butter and sugar needs to be creamed together, so it is slightly tedious.

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Always zest your lemons before you juice them.
Most glazes are simply powdered sugar with some type of liquid or butter, or both. In this case, it’s with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Like I’ve said in prior posts, always use freshly squeezed lemon juice. You already need the zest, don’t skimp and use the store-bought juice.

It’s very important to let the loaf cool almost completely before you add the glaze. You want the glaze to stick to the top, not slide completely down the sides.

Make sure your bananas are very ripe. Often times this means buying bananas and waiting for them to turn brown. If you go to the grocery store the day you are planning on making the bread, you may find yourself with non-ripe bananas.

Bananas both flavor the bread and sweeten it, and the walnuts add a satisfying crunch.

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Sifting ensures no lumps in the batter and that the dry ingredients are mixed well together.
Pumpkin loaf is a favorite fall treat of mine. I like to make it in the summer to remind myself that autumn is not so far away.

I like to use purée real pumpkin when they are in season. When they are not, canned works just fine.

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“Pumpkin spice” generally refers to a blend of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and all-spice.

The flavor is much better from freshly ground nutmeg than what you would find in the spice aisle.

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Lemon loaf

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Banana walnut bread

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Pumpkin loaf
There are some pastries that are just better bought at a bakery or pastry store. But these loaves are not one of them. They are simple, fresh, and taste better homemade. I love lemon loaf in the summer because of the bright, citrus notes. Pumpkin loaf in the fall because of those traditional flavors. And banana nut loaf in the winter, warmed with butter. I love seasonal dishes, but pastries especially. There’s something magical about seasonal pastries, making them yourself, and letting those you care about reminisce about old times while sharing a cup of coffee or glass of wine. I hope this inspires you to bake a nostalgic treat.

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A slice of cold lemon loaf with a sweet glaze is the perfect summertime treat. Pair with strawberries, a glass of rosé, and eat it outside on a warm evening after dinner.

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A slice of warm banana nut bread with a pat of butter and a black cup of coffee is a perfect way to start your weekend.

When it comes to baking, I like to use classic recipes. Why change what is already perfect? The spice ratio on the pumpkin loaf I did change slightly. I like a spicier bread, so I add more nutmeg and ginger, and a touch less brown sugar.

Lemon loaf

Banana walnut bread

Pumpkin loaf

Love letter #4, tex-mex

Besides the fresh produce and herbs that are available at Farmer’s Markets this time of year, I am not fond of summer. I love snow and the crispness of the later months of the year. That being said, a Tex-Mex inspired meal can make even winter girls appreciate the season.

My favorite part of Tex-Mex is the freshness. Tomatoes, onions, cilantro, avocados, limes…everything is so gorgeous and full of flavor. There’s so many ingredients that add a “wow” factor. In addition to that, the gorgeous deep red, purple, and green colors of the fresh produce make me question just why I don’t do a southwestern inspired meal more often.

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This meal was a large one for the two of us, but sometimes that’s just what you need. A little bit of everything, not a lot of one thing. Good for the soul. A folded burrito, black bean soup, fresh roasted tomatillo salsa, guacamole, and chicken tacos with sautéed onions and peppers make a meal that is both inspired and practical. It’s comfortable. We all know and love the warm flavors of cumin, the spiciness of chili powder, the bite of of a jalapeño, but making almost everything from scratch ups the elegant factor. This isn’t a fast food restaurant, this is your home and a meal you made that you are providing for your loved ones.

Traditional “taco” seasoning that you buy at the store is just ingredients that you already have in your spice drawer. Cumin, chili powder, red pepper powder, garlic powder, salt, and onion flakes. The benefit of making your own spice mixes at home is that you control what go into them. I prefer much spicier than what is store-bought, so I can add extra chili and red pepper powder. Like pre-shredded cheese, spice mixes also come with extra add-ins to prevent clumping. Making your own at home doesn’t need any unnecessary products.

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I never buy pre-shredded cheese. It doesn’t taste as good. Use a food processor to shred your cheese using the shred blade, and save your arm strength from grating.

Onions are my favorite food. They are so versatile. I used them in each dish I made today. From sautéing peppers with onions, to soup, to guacamole, to salsa verde, to the garnish for tacos, or in my burrito wrap. Nothing can replace the flavor of an onion.

My black bean soup starts with a traditional mirepoix–carrots, celery, and onion. After that I add garlic, black beans, chicken stock, some white wine, cumin, chili powder, and salt. It’s simple, but absolutely divine. Add a lime wedge, avocado, sour cream, and some cilantro to top it all off. Use an immersion blender to blend 1/3 of the soup to add a creamy texture.

I love the bright citrus notes in fresh Tex-Mex. Add lime juice, lime zest, orange juice, orange zest, and beer to your shredded chicken with Anaheim peppers.

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Garnish with onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.

My favorite salsa is salsa verde, or tomatillo salsa. Broiling the ingredients before pureeing them together gives them a charred, yet slightly sweet flavor. Of course, your food processor is your best friend for this recipe.

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For guacamole, I like it simple. Avocado, red onion, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Use a fork to keep a chunkier texture.

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Though unusual for Alex and I, we both agree that our favorite part of this meal was the more processed one of all of them (!!). A burrito wrap with both jarred cheese sauce and taco sauce. Not something I tend to keep at home, I did have to go out of my way at the grocery store to pick up some of these items.

Start with your favorite cheese sauce and let it act as a glue between the tostada and burrito. IMG_5207

Next, add your beans and meat. Then your favorite hot sauce. With the recipe we like the Taco Bell brand. IMG_5214

Add your extra toppings.

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Then fold as if it were a galette. IMG_5219IMG_5221

Fry in pan then enjoy.

I’m always craving grapefruit in the summertime, so a grapefruit spiked seltzer water hit the spot. Though there is much added heat in all of the dishes, the addition of cilantro, lime juice, and avocado keeps you cool for the summer. We’ll be eating these dishes over the next couple of days and they are just as good reheated as they are from when they are first served.

I hope this post inspires those winter girls who prefer a chill over the heat. By bringing together the warm flavors of the various spices I used, it’s comfortable, it’s simple and fresh, and it’s inviting. Make this for your boyfriend, your children, or your friends, and they’ll know you love them without so many words.

Taco Seasoning

  • 2 tsps chili powder
  • 2 tsps cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsps garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion flakes
  • 1 tsp red pepper powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Mix well.

Shredded chicken for tacos

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 limes, juice and zest
  • 1/2 orange, juice and zest
  • 1/2 can light beer
  • 3 Anaheim peppers
  • Taco Seasoning
  • 3 tbsp refined avocado oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rub spice mix over chicken breasts until thoroughly seasoned. Brush avocado oil on breasts. Cook for 30 minutes or until chicken registers 150 degrees on a meat thermometer. Let cool. Shred chicken with fork, hands, or a food processor.

Heat oil in sauté pan over medium high heat. Add peppers. Cook until tender. Add chicken, lime juice and zest, orange juice and zest, and beer. Add more seasoning to taste. Let simmer over low heat.

Black bean soup

  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cans of black beans
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • Cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Heat olive oil in medium dutch oven. Fry spices. Add carrots, celery, onion, and bell pepper and sauté  until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and stir for one minute, until fragrant. Add drained black beans, chicken broth, and wine. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Take off heat and with an immersion blender blend about 1/3 of soup. Simmer another ten minutes. Serve with lime wedge, cilantro, sour cream, and avocado.

Guacamole

  • 3 avocados
  • 1/3 red onion, diced finely
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mash with fork.

Salsa verde

  • 4 tomatillos
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 jalepeños
  • 1 serrano chile
  • 1 Anaheim pepper
  • 3 garlic gloves
  • Bunch of cilantro
  • Salt

Add all ingredients except cilantro to a sheet pan. Broil each side for 5 minutes, until charred. Add all ingredients to food processor. Season to taste.

Burrito wraps

Each individual wrap contains:

  • 1 large flour tortilla
  • 1 tostada
  • Nacho cheese
  • Refried beans
  • Taco seasoned ground beef
  • Hot sauce
  • Shredded lettuce
  • White onion, diced
  • Shredded cheese

See above pictures.

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Love Letter #2, vegetable quiche

What is it about breakfast for dinner that is so special? Maybe it’s because in the morning we are rushing to get out the door and don’t think twice about what we are eating. Or, maybe, it’s because for some reason it takes us back to our childhood. How many of us growing up had pancakes for dinner on a rare occasion? It was such a special treat. When you have breakfast for dinner you can sit down and enjoy those traditional flavors without needing to be somewhere in twenty minutes. It’s a laid back Sunday around here and to go with the theme of relaxation, I decided to do quiche for dinner. With this love letter, we can pretend like it’s the weekend just a little longer.

Besides pastries, my favorite traditional breakfast dish is quiche. Quiche is so versatile, you can put almost anything into them. Baked with an all-butter pie crust, my vegetable quiche is a letter that Alex requests often.

My quiche uses onions, bell peppers, and zucchini. Any vegetable will work in a quiche, such as broccoli, spinach, or asparagus. I find though that having some kind of squash (whether it’s zucchini, eggplant, or butternut) gives a needed hearty texture to the tenderness of the baked eggs. There needs to be some kind of vegetable to offset the creaminess of the dish. With red peppers and squash, there is a pleasant added crunch. Combine that with lots of grated parmesan reggiano, and it’s a meal fit for any time of the day.

 

Making pie crust can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. The key to pie crust is making sure everything is chilled and to be conscious of the time. I put both the ice water and diced butter in the freezer for five minutes to get it nice and cold. I also put the bowl of my food processor in the fridge, just to help with temperature control. Once you get the hang of this crust, you’ll make it every time you need a pie crust. Forget Pillsbury. It freezes well, so I like to make two batches at a time and save one for another meal.

 

While I love using Ina’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe, I tend to prefer an all-butter crust. It makes for a flaky and golden final product. Using a food processor is a fast way to get the desired consistency. I prefer this over a handheld pastry cutter. It’s faster and works just as well. Can’t beat that.

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An easy way to transfer the dough into the pie pan is by rolling it almost halfway onto the rolling pin, then laying it over the pan.

 

While I love decorative pie crusts, a simple border you make with your fork is perfect for quiche. Once the dough is in the pan, put it in the fridge to chill.

Before you start the cooking process, it’s always a good idea to have all your ingredients out, chopped, and measured. This makes everything go much smoother and you don’t have to worry about chopping an onion while making sure something on the stove doesn’t burn.

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I slice the onions paper thin so that they cook fast, and a small dice to the red and orange bell peppers. Put them in a sauté pan with olive oil over medium high heat until they start to brown. Add zucchini then garlic. Almost always you should add garlic last. It burns easily and turns bitter. Just cook until fragrant–that’s how you know it’s ready.

 

Whisk the eggs, parmesan, and half and half together. Add a liberal amount of salt and pepper. Add in fresh dill, chives, and parsley.

 

Recipes that aren’t improved by fresh herbs are few and far between. They add a freshness to food that can’t be imitated. Even desserts taste better with fresh basil or mint! In the summertime, I like to grow my fresh herbs outside in small pots, but during the winter you can take them inside and store in a sunny place. Thankfully herbs are very easy to grow and maintain.

Once slightly cooled, you can add the onion, pepper, and zucchini mixture into the egg mixture. It needs to be somewhat cool so that the heat from the vegetables doesn’t scramble the eggs. You definitely don’t want that!

Add the quiche ingredients to your pie crust. Place onto a baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for one hour. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it. Serve with in-season heirloom tomatoes and spinach.

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For lunch the next day with caprese salad and avocado

Quiche is perfect for so many occasions–birthdays, bridal or baby showers, brunch, etc. But I like it best when it’s for dinner. It’s perfect with a grapefruit vodka cocktail and fresh fruit. Having this for dinner on Sunday evening helps ease you into your work week. It’s elegant comfort to the max.

Vegetable Quiche

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 1 1/2 zucchinis, chopped and quartered
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 7 eggs
  • 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan reggiano
  • 1 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté peppers and onions with olive oil over medium high heat until almost browned. Add zucchini and cook for two minutes, add garlic and cook for one minute. Whisk eggs, half and half, parmesan, and fresh herbs together. Once cooled, and vegetable mixture and season with salt and pepper. Add to pie crust. Put pie crust onto baking sheet and cook for one hour at 400 degrees. Let set for ten minutes before serving.

All Butter Pie Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 stick of cold butter, diced
  • 5 tbsp ice water
  • 1/8 tsp salt

Add flour and salt to food processor. Pulse once. Add cold butter and process until butter is the size of peas. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time. Note: you may need more or less water depending on the flour, humidity levels, etc. After the right amount of water is added, dough will form after five seconds or so. Shape dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Roll dough out and use rolling pin to drape over pie pan. Cut off extra dough and use a fork to go around the sides.

 

Love Letter #1, meatballs

I have been inspired by Ina Garten since her show “Barefoot Contessa” premiered almost 15 years ago. For the better part of two decades, I continually look to her when it comes to both recipes and lifestyle. The way she speaks to her audience and the stories behind the things that she does showcases her ability to connect to people in a real and engaging way.

Because of my love of Ina, it is fitting that my first post will feature a recipe of hers. Tweaked only slightly, this is one of Alex’s favorite letters: Spicy turkey meatballs with arugula parmesan salad. You can find the recipe here or in her cookbook “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?”.

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Chopping everything before you start cooking helps you stay organized.
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Adding chopped parsley to the meatballs gives them some freshness and a pop of color.
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Your hands are your best utensils.

Meatballs can seem intimidating to many home cooks. Do I roast them? Sear then roast? Sear and cook in marinara? What option is the best? The truth is, I still haven’t figured it out. I have tested so many methods of meatball cooking, and I haven’t found one to be particularly better than the last. There are benefits depending on each technique. Searing give them gives them that crusty, wonderful crunch on the outside, but roasting allows for a more even cooking process, and more reliable finished result.

With this recipe, the meatballs are roasted. Ina recommends using your favorite jarred sauce to pair with the meatballs. While good in a pinch, Alex loves my marinara, so I rarely buy store bought sauce. My recipe is simple and full of flavor and cooks while the meatballs are roasting. The meatballs are made from ground turkey and sweet Italian sausage. The sausage gives the dish the traditional flavors one expects, but the turkey lightens it up. Pairing the meatballs with a crisp and lemony arugula salad with a tangy vinaigrette and crusty bread on the side makes this a classic go-to dinner. Open a bottle of a fruity, spicy zinfandel to complete the meal.

Because turkey is so lean, the sausage and soaked fresh breadcrumbs add much needed moisture to the finished product. You can use packaged breadcrumbs in this recipe in place of bread, but they will still need to soak in milk.

My sauce is both onion and garlic heavy, but you can reduce the amounts of either if you prefer a less flavor-forward sauce.

Adding in a parmesan rind gives depth of flavor to the sauce. Tomatoes and parmesan give you the umami (savory) richness that make a sauce memorable. I only use real parmesan reggiano that is imported from Italy and it makes a noticeable difference. Quality ingredients produce a quality product.

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Knowing how to make basic vinaigrettes is essential to a home cook. You’ll need vinegar and oil plus whichever add-ons you prefer. The typical ratio is 3-1, three parts oil to one part vinegar. I like a tangier dressing, so mine uses more vinegar than most. My basic vinaigrette consists of Dijon mustard, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and honey for sweetness. It works well for most greens, especially arugula, which is what I used for this salad.

Arugula is best described as both peppery and lemony. It’s a refreshing green that has been very en vogue the last two years. It makes for a wonderful topping on pizza, wilted in pasta, or by itself as a crisp salad. It’s a favorite green of mine and I always have some handy.

Radicchio adds a bitter bite to the salad, which is a nice juxtaposition to the salty creaminess of the parmesan.

Always season your greens with salt and pepper.

Once finished, you’ll notice some of the cheese has seeped out of the meatballs during the cooking process. This is normal. Just discard. Add the sauce to your meatballs in a large serving bowl.

Drinking the same wine you cook your sauce with is ideal. However, since it was 90 degrees out, I chose a crisp sauvignon blanc instead.

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This was an easy and fairly quick way of putting an elegant dinner on the table during the week. When you can add some special touches during the week, it makes the weekend seem not so far away.

Ina’s Spicy Turkey Meatballs

Hannah’s Marinara

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed
  • 1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cups dry white wine (I like sauvignon blanc…It seems odd to use white in a red sauce, but it’s more common than you think.)
  • 1 1/2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, diced
  • ½ cup loosely packed julienned basil leaves, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 parmesan reggiano rind

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat

Sautee the onions for 5-7 minutes until translucent but not browned

Add garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and tomato paste, cook for 1 minute until fragrant

Add tomatoes and wine

Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, with the lid partially on

Add salt and pepper

Add parmesan rind

Let simmer for at least 20 minutes, until reduced to desired thickness

Take off heat and add parsley and basil

Serve with pasta, meatballs, or crusty bread. Add parmesan and fresh basil to taste.

Tangy balsamic vinaigrette

  • 1 tbsp good Dijon mustard, such as Grey Poupon
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice*
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • Salt and pepper

Whisk ingredients together in a bowl or measuring cup. Use immediately if adding garlic. If you omit garlic, store in fridge for 3-4 days. The olive oil will solidify, so take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before you use it.

*Ina is right, there is no substitution for freshly squeezed lemon juice. If you don’t have lemons or only have the pre-squeezed juice from the grocery store, just omit.