Orange Cranberry Walnut Bread

I don't know about you, but I'd love a few more hours in a day this month.  Between birthdays, Christmas festivities and an anniversary thrown in there, I feel like I can't get ahead.  These events happen every year so you'd think I'd know better and start planning and shopping waaaay before December but it always manages to sneak up on me.  Then I'm scrambling to fit everything in and come January I'm ready to go into hibernation.

I take solace in the fact that I know I'm not the only one who is a little overwhelmed with all the busyness this time of year.  That's when having a few quick breads in your arsenal comes in handy.  Just in case you remember two hours before your party that you were supposed to bring a treat. Avoid a panic attack and whip this up instead. 

Orange Cranberry Walnut Bread

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 large egg
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 1/2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl combine sugar and orange zest.  Mix together with fingers to incorporate orange oils into the sugar.  In another small bowl, stir together milk, sour cream, butter, and egg; set aside.  Whisk together flour, orange zest sugar mixture, salt, and  baking powder in large bowl. Stir liquid ingredients into the dry until just moistened. Gently stir in cranberries and pecans. Do not overmix.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and smooth surface with a rubber spatula. Bake 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees; continue to bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, about 45 minutes longer. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool completely before serving, at least 1 hour.

lightly adapted from Sweet Pea's Kitchen


Rustic Thyme Bread

This loaf of bread was born out of my new found love of thyme.  I started growing it this past summer and gained a whole new appreciation for the delicious herb.  It's so easy to maintain that it practically takes care of itself.  A total win.  

The weather has been getting colder and that means soups are on the menu at least once a week in this house.  I know most people don't consider soup and sandwiches a dinner meal, but we love that here.  (Plus that means there is usually room for dessert those nights!)  I knew I was making a tomato based soup this particular evening and since thyme + tomatoes = true love, I whipped up this crusty, chewy bread and made the best grilled cheese I've ever had with it.  Of course when I smear Boursin cheese on anything it could be considered the "best ever".  That stuff is phenomenal. 

The ingredient list is short making this bread really easy to put together.  I like to bake boule shaped loaves in a dutch oven.  The crust gets all thick and chewy and perfect.  If you don't have a dutch oven or would just rather not use one, place the boule on a sheet pan or stone and bake.

Rustic Thyme Bread

20 ounces (about 4 cups) bread flour 
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 cups water, room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (can sub.dried)
shredded asiago cheese, for topping

Mix ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Knead for about 8 minutes or until dough is soft and pliable.  Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Place dough into refrigerator and let rise for at least 8 hours or overnight.  

When ready to bake remove dough from refrigerator and bring to room temperature, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Shape loaf into boule and place into bowl lined with parchment paper (this makes transfering it to dutch oven much easier).  Allow to rise until doubled, one to two hours.  

When dough has almost doubled, place dutch oven in oven and preheat at 500 degrees for at least 30 minutes (remember to remove plastic knob from lid so it doesn't melt).  When oven is preheated and dough has risen, sprinkle with asiago and carefully place dough into dutch oven, by lifting parchment paper.  Slowly place both inside.  Lower oven temperature to 450 and bake bread covered for 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until golden and temperature has reached 210 degrees.  Cool on wire rack for at least one hour before cutting.    


Bacon Cheese Dip

Sundays have become football nights.  Living in a house full of boys I knew it had to happen sooner or later.  Actually, I'm surprised it has taken this long.

 Really though, it's ok with me because what goes with football? Football food. And I am all over that.  I have been known to make a meal out of dips and appetizers and now I have an excuse to call that dinner.

I made this dip up the other night to use up some leftovers.  And because I wanted something with bacon and cheese to load up on a slice of freshly baked baguette.  Not in the least bit good for your heart, but oh so good for your soul.

Cheesy Bacon Dip

3 ounces cream cheese
3 ounces monterey jack cheese, shredded
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 ounces smoked gouda cheese, shredded
4 slices thick cut bacon, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/4- 1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan cook bacon until crispy.  Remove cooked bacon with slotted spoon and place onto paper towels to drain.

Empty leftover bacon grease from sauce pan, reserving 1 to 2 tablespoons.  Wipe out pan with paper towels and add reserved bacon grease.  Over low- medium heat cook the diced onion until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add milk to the onions in the pan and heat until steamy.  Stir in the cream cheese until smooth.  Mix the monterey jack, cheddar and gouda into the cream cheese mixture and stir frequently until completely melted.  Add more milk to thin to desired consistency.  Once heated through, stir in the bacon and serve.

Makes about 2 cups.


Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

       I'm one of those people that enjoys pumpkin treats all year long. But during the cooler months, I become border line obsessed.  So I hope you aren't too pumpkin-ed out yet cause along with this recipe, I have a few more pumpkin recipes to share in the next few weeks.

     Even if you ate a few too many pieces of pumpkin pie over the past week, you should still try these cookies.  The usual warm spices of a snickerdoodle, paired with the wonderful, yet subtle flavor of pumpkin.  Clearly a winning combination.

     Knowing that pumpkin makes a cakey cookie, I tried out a Cooks Illustrated tip and cooked the pumpkin for about 5 minutes to remove some of the moisture.  I definitely think it helped achieve a more chewy texture.  But if cake like cookies are your thing, by all means skip this step and add the pumpkin straight from the can (or the processor if you made your own puree).

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

For the cookies

1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cardamom (optional)

For the cinnamon-sugar coating

1/3 cup white sugar 
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

In a small saucepan, simmer pumpkin over medium heat until thickened, about 5 minutes (it will become shiny).  Add cinnamon and cardamom (if using) to pumpkin and cook for another minute.  Transfer pumpkin mixture to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator until cool.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (fitted with beater attachment) cream the butter until fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add sugar and cooled pumpkin mixture and continue to beat well.  Now add in the egg and vanilla,  scraping down sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat flour mixture into liquid mixture a little at a time just until incorporated.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix coating sugar ingredients in a small bowl.  Remove cookie dough from refrigerator. Use a medium cookie scoop (1 1/2 Tablespoons) or a large spoon to scoop out dough and roll into balls. Use your hands to roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar and make sure they're coated really well. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use a glass with a nice, flat bottom to dip in sugar and flatten the balls.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until slightly firm to the touch. Cool on baking sheet for one minute then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

adapted from Recipe Girl


{Holiday Treats} Caramel Corn

     I really enjoy making people's bellies happy.

      If you're like me, then one of your favorite things about cooking is sharing your good eats with those you love. And what better time of year to share than during this season of giving.  This caramel corn would be a great addition to any holiday gift basket.  Just package it up with a pretty bow and you have yourself a simple and inexpensive gift.  It would also be an awesome treat to have around at your holiday party.

       Whatever you do, do not make this when you are home alone, unless you have the ability to walk away from things that keep tasting like just one more bite.  You'll hate yourself in the morning when you're running that extra 3 miles.  Besides, you'll want someone to share that guilt deliciousness with anyway.

Caramel Corn

3.5 ounces unpopped popcorn kernels, popped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup corn syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pre heat oven to 250 degrees.  Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.  Coat a very large mixing bowl with cooking spray and add plain popped corn.

In a medium sauce pan, melt butter, water, corn syrup, sugar and salt. Simmer over medium high heat, stirring frequently until mixture reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Turn off heat and whisk in vanilla and baking soda (it will foam so be careful).  Immediately pour over popcorn.  Gently fold in caramel with a rubber spatula until popcorn is completely coated.  Transfer mixture to lined baking sheet.

Bake for one hour stirring every 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2o to 30 minutes.  Store in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

Makes about 10 cups.

adapted from Ezra Pound Cake



     Sorry for the lack of posting lately.  And this post isn't going to really be about food, but it's something I am ready to share.

      It has been almost two weeks since we made the 22 hour drive, straight through, to see my best friend one last time.  She passed away at 30 years old.  One day shy of a year from being diagnosed with metaplastic breast cancer, a very rare and aggressive form of cancer that spread throughout her body pretty quickly.  She fought with everything she had though.  The end kind of took everyone by surprise.  The doctors had warned that it could be in the next few months but it turned out to be the very next week.  

     So here we all are.  Missing her so, so, so much. My brother in law, nieces and nephew are facing their first holiday without her. No words are enough to express their sorrow.

      If you could do me one favor as your surrounded by those you love this Thanksgivng, don't miss any opportunity to tell those people just how much they mean to you.  You never know if you'll have the chance again.


Horseradish and Herb Crusted Pork Loin

     I don't know about you, but my sweet tooth could sure use a break after all of the Halloween candy.  The boys brought home way, way, way too much of it. I love our neighbors and their generosity but I think they must be in cahoots with the local dentists.  We even crossed paths with a resident walking around passing out candy.  Surely he was said dentist the neighbors were working for.

     So other than candy, my boys totally love pork.  They are definitely meat and potato kind of guys.  This poses a challenge for me though because pork can be a tricky thing to prepare.  Either it's too bland or becomes dried out.  Not this roast.  It was juicy and so full of flavor.  And as an added bonus it was a cinch to put together.  The only bad part- there were no leftovers.

Horseradish and Herb Crusted Pork Loin

1 (2 pound) pork loin, patted really dry
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained so that it is only solids
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside. Combine mustard and garlic in a small bowl then rub mixture over the entire pork loin and season with salt and pepper.  In another small bowl, combine the drained horseradish, panko,Parmesan, butter and thyme until well blended. Pack mixture firmly onto the loin. Drizzle top with olive oil.  Place onto the prepared baking sheet and roast until the internal temperature registers 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 40-45 minutes.

Adapted from Picture Perfect Meals


Cinnamon Apple Cake

     A few weeks ago, we took the boys to an orchard and picked some apples.  By some, I mean a few half bushels. I think our total was around 70 pounds.  I know! What in the world do you do with 70 pounds of apples?  You make things like applesauce, apple pie, and you definitely make this cake.  At least 3 times.  Over the course of 2 weeks.  And then your husband asks you when you are going to make it again.  It's that good. 

     I flagged this recipe as soon as I saw it over on Pinch of Yum (go check it out!) since I was trying to find anything to do with all these apples. A delicious decision to have made.  I topped it with a brown sugar icing, but the cake is so moist you don't need to add a thing.  Butter and sugar are just my "things" so I went with it. 

     Oh, and if you can leave it alone until the day after you make it, it's even better.  But that will probably take super powers.  So go ahead and have a bite, while it's still warm.

Cinnamon Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Icing

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup oil (I used canola)
1 egg
2 apples, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350.  In a medium size bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.  Mix thoroughly and set aside.  Whisk together buttermilk, oil, egg and sugar in a separate bowl.  Add liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.  Stir in apples.  Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Cool until just warm before frosting. 

Brown Sugar Icing

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar

Melt butter over medium low heat in a small saucepan.  Add the brown sugar and whisk together.  Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Allow mixture to cool to room temperature and stir in milk.  Beat in powdered sugar to desired consistency.  Spread over slightly warm cake. 

Cake adapted from Pinch of Yum


Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

     My little brother and I are almost 4 1/2 years apart in age.  When we were kids, I remember wishing two things about him.  One, that he was a girl. And two, that we were closer in age.  Many years later I realize that I was fortunate for having both those things.  I would not have the insight into this all boy world I'm living in today if he were a girl.  Cause let's face it.  Boys are scary.  They do things girls couldn't even imagine doing.  I at least had the advantage of watching one in action before trying to raise my own. I am also thankful I was old enough to create long lasting memories of him as a child.  I can see the mischievous twinkle in my own little boy's eyes that I once saw in his and know where this is headed.

And no, it probably isn't anywhere good.

   Not all my memories of him are the toil and trouble kind though.  I distinctly remember how a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread would make his day. Especially the loaf we would get from a nearby Amish family's store.  It was always topped in a simple vanilla glaze. This loaf comes pretty close to that one.  At least I think so...  I don't remember the bread itself as much as I remember how much he loved it.  If only he lived a few hundred miles closer, I would make it for him to see how it measured up.

     But if memories of your little brother (or sister, for that matter) don't evoke the warm and fuzzies then go bake this bread and let it do that for you. 

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

For the dough:
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup raisins, rinsed and patted dry
3 1/4-3 3/4 cups (16 1/4 to 18 3/4 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

For the filling:
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
milk for brushing

For the glaze:
1 large egg
2 teaspoons milk

To make the dough, heat milk and butter in a small saucepan  or in the microwave until the butter melts.  Cool until warm (about 110 degrees).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add warm water and sprinkle with the yeast. On low speed, mix in sugar and eggs. Add salt, milk mixture, and 2 cups of flour. Mix on medium speed until blended, about 1 minute. Switch to the dough hook and add 1 1/4 cups more flour and knead at medium-low speed for 10 minutes or until dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl. After 8 minutes of kneading add the raisins and continue to knead.  Add flour sparingly if the dough sticks to the side of the bowl, until the dough is smooth and comes away from sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough onto a work surface. If the dough is sticky, knead up to a 1/2 cup more flour to form a smooth, elastic, soft dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. After the rise, punch down lightly.  Turn the dough out onto and unfloured surface making sure not to fold the dough while doing so.  Let rest for 10 minutes to allow gluten to relax.

To make the filling, mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl.  Press the dough into a 8 by 6 inch rectangle with the short side facing you.  Roll the dough into a 18 by 8 inch rectangle.  Brush the dough liberally with milk.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar mixture making sure to leave a 1/2 inch border on the far side.  Start with the side closest to you and roll up the dough, pinching the dough gently to make it is tightly sealed.  Pinch the seams closed when finished rolling, including each end.  

Place the loaf, seam side down into a prepared 9 by 5 inch loaf pan.  Press lightly to flatten.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until dough is 1 inch above the top of the pan, about 1 1/2 hours.  As the dough nears the top of the pan, adjust over rack to center position and preheat to 350 degrees.  

To make the glaze, whisk egg and milk together in a small bowl.  Gently brush the loaf with egg mixture when fully risen.  

Bake the loaf until it is golden brown and the temperature is 185 to 190 degrees.  Cool on a wire rack until room temperature, at least 45 minutes.  

Adapted from Baking Illustrated


Blueberry Buckle

I love my boys.  They are a constant source of entertainment.

And, a constant source of frustration.

My oldest man child says he likes blueberries.  But not in scones.  No, not in pancakes either (WHAT???).  Or even fresh for that matter. 

Muffins?  That's a different story.  Loves them.  How do blueberries differ in muffins than from in scones or pancakes you ask?  Yeah, I can't figure that out either.  Frustrating. 

I knew I could win him over with this buckle though.  It's basically a giant muffin. Covered in a thick streusel topping and bursting with berries in every bite.  There is nothing to not love about this.  And love it he did.

Blueberry Buckle

For the Streusel
1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz) packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, softened

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the flour, both sugar, cinnamon and salt on low to combine and break up any brown sugar lumps.  With the mixer still on low, add the butter and beat until it is completely incorporated into the dry ingredients, about 2-3 minutes - the mixture will resemble wet sand.  Transfer the streusel to another bowl and set aside.

For the cake
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (4 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 cups fresh blueberries (about 20 oz)

Preheat oven to 350 F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.  Line the bottom of a 9-inch round pan with a round of parchment, then spray the parchment and the pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together then set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, salt and lemon zest at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the eggs, on at a time, beating well after each addition.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, beating until just about incorporated.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish stirring - the batter will be very thick.  Gently fold in the blueberries.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan; spread in an even layer.  To top with the streusel - pick up a handful of streusel and squeeze to form a clump.  Break this large clump into smaller pieces and sprinkle over the batter.  Continue until you've used all of the streusel.  Bake for about 55 minutes, or until the streusel is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Transfer pan to a wire rack and cool for 15-20 minutes.  Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake then invert it onto the rack.  Remove the parchment then turn the cake streusel side up and let cool on the wire rack.

 Adapted from Tracy's Culinary Adventure
Originally from Cooks Illustrated 


Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

I am so happy that fall is finally here. Although with the 90 degree temperature today, it feels like I must have only been dreaming of the cooler weather that we had just a few days ago.  I'm not ready to say goodbye to all the fresh vegetables I'm still bringing in from the garden, but I am ready for the temperatures to be at least below 80.  It is October after all.

The start of comfort food season.

Like a steaming bowl of soup.  With a warm loaf of bread.  Smothered in some honey butter.

Yep, I could eat that everyday during these colder months.

This chicken and gnocchi soup fits the bill for me.  Creamy and full of flavor.  Just as good, if not better than the version it is recreated from. 

It's always fun for me to create dishes we've had at a restaurant here at home.  I'm easily amused, what can I say.

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

1 cup chicken, cooked and shredded
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 quart half and half
1 (14 oz) can of chicken broth
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup carrots, finely shredded
1 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup spinach, coarsely chopped (if using frozen, be sure to drain thoroughly)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound potato gnocchi, cooked

Freshly grated parmesan

Saute the onion, celery and carrots in the butter and olive oil over medium heat until the onion becomes translucent. Add the minced garlic, thyme and parsley and cook for about 30 seconds.  Add the flour and make a roux. Let the butter and flour mixture cook for a minute before adding 1 quart of half and half.  Once the mixture thickens, add the chicken broth. Allow mixture to heat up and thicken again. Then add the chicken, cooked gnocchi, spinach  and simmer until soup is heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Top with freshly grated parmesan before serving.  

Slightly adapted from CopyKat Recipes


Eggplant Parmesan

This year we decided to plant a garden.  We managed to fill the tiny plot with quite a few plants. With a lot of blood, sweat and tears, it has been pretty productive.  I didn't realize gardening was such hard work.  It requires a lot of attention but I found I really enjoyed taking care of something that didn't talk... or bark... or meow back. 

This little globe is actually an eggplant variety called Purple Flame.  I haven't really eaten much eggplant, let alone cooked with it but it was pretty and we thought we liked it, so we put in the garden. As it turns out we do enjoy eggplant, and this recipe was a real winner.  I especially liked it because there was no actual frying involved.  Everything is baked in the oven which means it's healthier and less messy!  This is kind of a labor intensive meal for a busy week night (which of course is when I decided to try it out) so I skipped baking it in a casserole and just plated the eggplant then topped it with sauce and cheese.  Either way you can't go wrong with this dish.

Eggplant Parmesan

For the eggplant:
1 lb. globe eggplant, cut crosswise into ¼-inch thick rounds
1½ tsp. kosher salt
6 oz. high-quality white bread, torn into chunks (if you'd rather use 3 cups of bread crumbs that should be fine)
1½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, about ¾ cup
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. pepper, divided
¾ cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
3 tbsp. vegetable oil

For the tomato sauce:
1½ (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and ground black pepper
4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
½ oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)
Fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish

To prepare the eggplant, toss the eggplant slices with the kosher salt in a large bowl until combined.  Transfer the salted eggplant to a colander and set the colander over the now empty bowl.  Let stand until the eggplant releases at least 1 tablespoon liquid, 30-45 minutes.  Spread the eggplant slices on a triple thickness of paper towels; cover with another triple thickness of paper towels.  Press firmly on each slice to remove as much liquid as possible.  Wipe off any excess salt.
While the eggplant is draining, place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 425˚ F.  Pulse the bread in a food processor to fine crumbs (about 15 1-second pulses).  You should have about 3 cups. (Skip this step if opting to use bread crumbs.) Transfer the crumbs to a pie plate and mix in the cheese, salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; set aside.  Wipe out the bowl of the food processor.
Combine the flour and ¾ teaspoon pepper in a large zipper lock plastic bag; shake to combine.  Beat the eggs in a second pie plate.  Place about half of the eggplant slices in the bag with the flour; seal and shake to coat.  Remove the slices, shaking off the excess flour.  Dip in the eggs, letting the excess run off.  Coat evenly with the bread crumb mixture.  Set the breaded slices on a wire rack.  Repeat with the remaining eggplant until all the slices are breaded.
Remove the preheated baking sheet from the oven.  Add the vegetable oil to the sheet and tilt to coat evenly.  Place the breaded eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake until the eggplant is well browned and crisp, 25- 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 10 minutes and flipping the slices after 20 minutes.  Do not turn off the oven after the slices are baked.

While the eggplant is baking, prepare the tomato sauce.  Process about half of the diced tomatoes in the food processor until almost smooth, about 5 seconds.  Heat the olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and the garlic is light golden, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the processed tomatoes and the remaining diced tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened at reduced, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

(This is the step I skipped.)
To assemble the dish, spread ½ cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish.  Layer in half of the eggplant slices, overlapping the slices to fit.  Spread with another ½ cup of the sauce.  Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella.  Layer in the remaining eggplant and dot with the remaining sauce, leaving the majority of the eggplant exposed so it will remain crisp. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and the remaining mozzarella.  Bake until bubbling and the cheese is browned, 13-15 minutes.  Cool 10 minutes, scatter the basil over the top, and serve.

Adapted from: The New Best Recipe (one of my favorite cookbooks)


Parmesan Italian Herb Focaccia

Mmm, focaccia.  It sounds kind of fancy and might even seem a little daunting to attempt at home.  But rest assured it's pretty simple if you have a little patience, because like all breads this takes a few hours from start to finish. Most of that time is spent waiting for it to rise though so go finish those projects around the house you have been putting off while it does it's thing.  It does require a little more fore thought than a regular loaf of bread since it begins with a starter you prepare the night before.  Definitely not a step you want to skip though since this will be when most of the flavor develops.  Focaccia is like a blank canvas.  Try it as written or go dream up your own toppings and add ins.  It's deliciously crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  We had this with chicken gnocchi soup (recipe coming soon!) and it was the perfect accompaniment.

Parmesan Italian Herb Focaccia

1/2 cup cool water
1/16 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast (I did 2 large pinches)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup luke warm water
2 cup bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon italian herb blend
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese


To make the starter 
Mix the water and 1/16 teaspoon yeast, then add the flour, stirring till the flour is incorporated.
The starter will be paste-like; it won’t form a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 14 hours.

To make the dough
Mix the dough ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.  Switch to dough hook and knead to make a soft, smooth dough, about 7 minutes.  

Transfer the dough to a well-oiled medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.

Gently deflate the dough, recover, and let rise for another hour. At the end of this time, the dough should have risen to double its original volume.

Lightly grease an 18″ x 13″ baking sheet with a rim (or two 9″ x 13″ pans) with non-stick vegetable oil spray. Drizzle olive oil atop the spray; the spray keeps the bread from sticking, while the olive oil gives the bottom crust great crunch and flavor.

If you’re using the baking sheet, gently pull and shape the dough into a rough rectangle, and pat it into the pan. As soon as it begins to fight you and shrink back, stop patting. If you’re using two 9″ x 13″ pans, divide the dough in half, shape each half into a rough rectangle, and pat one piece into each pan. When the pieces start to shrink back, stop patting. Wait 15 minutes; pat the dough farther towards the edges of the pan(s). Repeat once more, if necessary, till the dough is close to covering the bottom of the pan(s).  Cover the pan, and allow the dough to rise till it’s very puffy, almost billowy. This will take about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Gently dimple the dough at irregular intervals with your fingers, pressing down firmly, but not abruptly; you don’t want to deflate it too much.

Spritz heavily with warm water, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle with herbs, black pepper, and the kosher salt.

Bake the focaccia for about 10 minutes. Reverse the pan(s) in the oven, sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the focaccia, and bake until light golden brown, about another 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and immediately slide it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour


Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread

We go through bananas like mad in this house so it's a rare occasion when banana baked goods make an appearance around here.  Big D won't touch them but RiGuy will eat them anytime, in any state of ripeness.  RePeet will too, so long as it's one without a sticker.  Oh AND you remove the stem part, but not the peel before you hand it to him.  But other than that... he's not picky about his bananas (he really isn't picky when it comes to food, just, um, particular. yeah let's go with that).  In fact, I had to sneak a few from the bunch as soon as I brought them home and hide them so they could meet their banana bread destiny in peace. It was so worth the sneakiness.  We're talking best banana bread I ever made here.  Even the banana hater devoured at least a quarter of this loaf. I think the addition of cream cheese really sets this recipe above the rest in my book.  It gave it the perfect texture. And it's even better the next day, if it manages to last that long.  So the next time you hide have some over ripe bananas sitting around make this!

Cream Cheese Banana Nut Bread

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cups mashed banana (about 2 medium)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pecans


Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg, banana, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt ingredients; gradually add to butter/banana mixture and stir just until blended. Fold in nuts.  Spoon batter into a greased and floured 8- x 4-inch loaf pan.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and sides pull away from pan, shielding with aluminum foil last 15 minutes to prevent browning, if necessary. Cool bread in pan on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool 30 minutes on wire racks before slicing.

Adapted from: Southern Living


Pumpkin Spice Latte Ice Cream

In honor of one of my favorite seasons, Pumpkin Spice Latte season, I thought I would post an ice cream recipe I created last week when I just couldn't wait one minute longer to have something pumpkin-y, spicy and latte-y.  It was about 300 degrees outside though so a hot cup of anything was not going to happen.  I just took my usual basic ice cream recipe, crossed it with David Lebovitz's pumpkin ice cream recipe and added a few spices.  It was heavenly and enough to tie me over until today when the drink finally hit the stores nationwide.

Pumpkin Spice Latte Ice Cream

2 C. heavy cream
1 C. whole milk
3/4 C. pumpkin puree
1/2 C. sugar
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. espresso powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk

Mix together both sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt in a small bowl.  In a large saucepan, combine heavy cream, whole milk and pumpkin puree over medium heat.  Add the sugar mixture to the saucepan and whisk together until smooth.  Continue to cook over medium heat until bubbly and thickened, about 10 minutes.  In another small bowl, whisk the egg yolk.  Slowly add about a half cup of hot cream mixture and whisk constantly.  Pour the now warm egg back into the saucepan and heat to 170 degrees.  Transfer ice cream base to another bowl and chill at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.  Freeze according to ice cream manufactures instructions.