Plans this weekend?

Grab some friends and family, chase that last sunset, crack open some wine.


Definitely, make this. Pork Ragu, pork shoulder, tomatoes, fennel, oregano and a little heat. Throw it over pasta, over grilled bread, oh heck, just eat it out of the pan.  Once you assemble the dish, you just slip it into the oven for the afternoon. It is a dinner party, just waiting to happen.

Pork Shoulder Ragu
adapted from Dinner a Love Story

3-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil
1, 14 ounce can of whole plum tomatoes
1, 10 ounce can of tomato puree
1 1/2 cups of red wine
5 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 sprigs of fresh oregano
2 large bay leaves
A small handful of fennel seeds slightly crushed
1/2-1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven to 325.
In a large dutch oven heat the olive oil. Liberally season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Sear the pork on all sides, about 10 minutes total time. Remove the pork and to the hot pan add the onions and saute until light brown in color and soft. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.
Add the whole tomatoes slightly crushing them with the back of a spoon. Add the tomato puree, red wine, and herbs. I like to push the sprigs of thyme and oregano, and the bay leaves off to the sides to make it easier to remove before serving.
Return the pork to the pan and turn to coat in the cooking liquid. The liquid should come 1/3 up the side of the pork. Add water, stock, or more wine if needed.
Cover the pan and slip it into the preheated oven. Cook for 4 hours or until the pork is very tender and shreds easily with a fork.
Remove the pan from the oven and using 2 forks pull the pork apart into large chunks and shreds. Season with salt and pepper and serve.


Summer's End

“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.”
―Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

I am never prepared for the end of summer. The return to school, work, organized days, and good habits. Let's face it, we all go a little feral over the summer months. Shower? A swim in the lake is a fine substitute. Dinner? Popsicles and popcorn work. Laundry? Dare to be an outfit repeater I say.

This summer we settled into this empty nest thing. We chased sunsets, read books, and one of us was known to yell "Get it" a time or two while watching Olympic events. I know it is not true but I think that if I hold my breath, cross my fingers, and only watch through one eye Michael Phelps will be assured another Gold Medal. It is a heavy burden but I will do it for you, Michael every time.


Sunset from Samish Overlook

This was also the summer of smoothies in all sorts of forms. Bowls, with toppings, layered; if you could Pin it I tried it. Yesterday I stumbled on one that just might make this back to school routine a little easier. It is easy to customize for you or your family. Choose your own nut butter, liquid, add coffee if you want. Frozen bananas and oats make it thick and creamy, the dates add a great caramel note. It is a winner around here.


Monkey on a Date (serves 2)
3 frozen bananas cut into 1-inch pieces
5 dates, pitted. Please don't forget to pit them. It is annoying to squish through your half blended smoothie to retrieve them. 
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 big scoop of the nut butter of your choice. Use as much or as little as you want. I think I used 3 tablespoons.
1 cup of either milk, almond milk, coconut milk, whatever you choose.
Optional: a shot of espresso or 1/2 cup cold coffee. Really.

Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until very smooth. It takes a bit of time so be patient. I love this with the espresso or coffee, sort of like a one-stop breakfast.

Blood Orange Tart

I am infatuated with Blood Oranges.
My daughter is looking over my shoulder nodding Yep.

So pretty.

I first fell for them when we were living in Tunisia. Here, they are a bright spot in the bleak days of winter when the rain and overcast skies threaten to linger past their welcome.
Now I sort of hoard them when I see them. I juice them and freeze the juice and the zest. 
No idea what I am going to do with my stash but it makes me happy knowing it is there.

A few weeks ago I offered a "Dessert a Month" at a fundraising auction. My friend Missy bought my offering and we agreed my first dessert would be for Easter. So, I made Blood Orange Bars with Brown Butter Crust

I halved the recipe and made it into a tart.


This rich buttery shortbread crust was filled with a gorgeous Blood Orange Curd. The curd was beautiful in color, very smooth (okay it was luscious,) and showed off that delicious berry-orange flavor the oranges are known for. 

See what I mean

All finished.

Blood Orange Bars with Brown Butter Crust
adapted from White on Rice Couple

A few notes. This recipe is meant to be made in a 9" x 13" or 1/4 sheet pan. I made half of this recipe and used a 4" x 14" tart pan. Even so I had PLENTY of crust and curd leftover and made an additional 12 tarts in a mini muffin tin. I also found my oranges to be on the too sweet side and lacking acid, taste your juice. I added the juice of two lemons to balance the flavor.

Crust:
2 Cups unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Blood Orange Curd:
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 eggs beaten
4 egg yolks beaten
zest of 6 Blood Oranges
2 1/2 cups of Blood Orange juice (taste your juice!)
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2" pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 Grease pan and set aside.

Crust: Put butter in a saucepan to melt over medium low heat. Cook the butter until it begins to smell nutty and toasty and turns amber in color. This is not the time to go check Facebook. You'll burn your butter. I'm sure your mom would have something to say about that.
Once brown, remove the butter from the heat and stir in the sugar. Blend until the sugar is nearly dissolved. In a mixing bowl combine the flour and salt. Stir in the butter mixture until well blended then press into the prepared pan working the dough up the sides of the pan and evenly across the bottom. Neaten up those edges....presentation is important.

Bake the crust for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile...
Make the curd: Set a medium saucepan filled with water over medium high heat and bring to a gentle boil.
In a mixing bowl that can set over the simmering water, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs, zest and juice. Set the bowl over the saucepan, you do not want the water to touch the bottom of your mixing bowl.
Cook the curd stirring frequently until it begins to thicken. Remove the mixing bowl from the simmering water and stir in the butter a few small pieces at a time until it is all incorporated. Strain the curd through a fine mesh strainer.

Pour the curd into the crust as soon as it comes out of the oven. Return the pan to the oven and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until the filling has thickened and looks slightly set.
Cool completely then refrigerate at least 4 hours, but overnight is best.
Serve chilled.


3.14


A pie on Pi Day for my math loving guy. Two pies in one blog post.


Banoffee Pie
Adapted from Epicurious

Make the toffee/Dulce de Leche the day before or morning of when making this pie. I refrigerated the toffee overnight and would recommend letting it come to room temperature prior to spreading in pie crust. Let's just say the crust in the above photo was not the first crust made that day...

2 cans of sweetened condensed milk.
9 inch pie crust baked according to directions and cooled
3 large bananas
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
grated chocolate for garnish, optional

Toffee:
Using the 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk follow these instructions to make Dulce de Leche.
Allow to cool completely. You can use store bought Dulce if, you know, you're a cheater.

Once cooled spread evenly in pre-baked pie crust. Slice bananas and distribute evenly over Dulce de Leche.

Beat cream, brown sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form. Pile over top of bananas. Garnish with grated chocolate and refrigerate until ready to serve.

I make stabilized whipped cream so that it doesn't deflate while waiting for the pie to be served. If you are interested in doing the same, follow these instructions.


The picture isn't great but the dish is delicious!

Pi Day Pot Pie

Black Pepper Pastry:
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter very cold, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse cracked black pepper
3-5 tablespoons ice water

Filling:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cooked and cut into bite sized pieces
1 medium onion diced
4 carrots peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups frozen peas
5 tablespoons of butter
5 tablespoons of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Preheat oven to 375.

Pastry:
In a large mixing bowl combine flour, butter, salt and pepper. Toss together then cut butter into flour mixture until well combined. Add water by the tablespoon and toss with a fork until dough comes together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Filling:
First make the roux. In a saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Cook the roux until light brown in color.
Add thyme and then slowly add the chicken broth whisking continuously to make a smooth sauce. Add cream and lemon juice. Turn off heat and set aside.
In a large saute pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add carrots and potatoes and saute for 5 minutes. Add frozen peas and toss through. Season with salt and pepper.

Assembly:.
Mix vegetables and prepared chicken with the sauce. Pour into a 9x13 baking dish and spread evenly.

Remove pastry dough from refrigerator and roll on flour dusted surface into a rough 9x13 inch rectangle. Drape over filling and cut vents in top.

Bake for 40 minutes.

Happy Pi Day everyone!
Especially Andy.






Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

I don't know what plans you have for the weekend, but you should stop what you are doing and make these.


I am going to go out on a limb and proclaim these as MY MOST FAVORITE OF ALL THE DAYS PEANUT BUTTER COOKIE. 
Because saying "World's Best" is just so overdone.

They are a little crispy, chewy on the bottom, fudgy in the middle, and I am smitten with the crinkly tops sprinkled with sea salt. Also. They are delicious.

If you want to be virtuous you can tell your friends they are gluten and dairy free.

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from Ovenly  and Smitten Kitchen

1 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
Coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl beat together the brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and peanut butter. Once all the ingredients come together it should have the look and feel of play-doh.

Pop the mixing bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. This helps to create those lovely craggy tops. After 15 minutes stir the dough well. Use a 1/4 cup scoop to form the dough, and space evenly on the baking sheet. I typically get 16-18 cookies, the original recipe says 12. Sprinkle the tops with the sea salt and bake for 20 minutes. If you are baking two sheets of cookies rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.

Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit on the baking sheets for 2 minutes before being removed to cool. I simply slide them off the baking sheet with the parchment paper and allow to cool on the counter.

Notes:
- Do you need to freeze the dough? No, but the cookies will spread and have smoother tops. Not bad things mind you.
- Can I use a spoon to form the dough? Yes, but again the cookies won't look the same. Again, not a bad thing.
- Can I use natural peanut butter? Nope. The overall texture of the cookie will be different. This is a Skippy Peanut Butter all the way kind of situation, or maybe Jif if that's your thing.

Christmas Pre-Func(tion)

Do people even say Pre-Func anymore?
Anyway, we had some old friends over for dinner last night. The house is all decorated (but that in no way implies we are ready for Christmas. No ma'am, we are not), there was a howling windstorm outside, and all was cozy inside.
A perfect night for a post-mortem on Thanksgiving, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and to give each other a pep talk for the upcoming holiday which will be equally rife with shenanigans, expectations, and probably too much of ALL THE THINGS.

So. To get the party started we had this.


My younger daughter had returned from a Young Life camp this past summer raving about BIG COOKIES and MOM I GOT THE RECIPE except IT FEEDS 900 PEOPLE. 
900 people. I'm not one to shy away from big projects but...The math to scale that recipe was crazy making, so I tossed it aside and turned to my good friend Mr. Google. Thankfully, Big Cookies, aka Pizzookies or Skillet Cookies, are a total thing so it wasn't too hard to find a recipe.


Yes, we ate it straight out of the pan. I put plates out, what was I thinking.
I was pretty convinced that we wouldn't be able to finish it and wondered how I would wrap up the leftovers.


Forgive the blurry photo. Just needed proof that yes, I clearly underestimated my friends. We polished the whole thing off. 
We definitely got the holiday season off to a good start.

Peppermint Bark Big Cookie

1/2 cup butter softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup all purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped peppermint bark (see note)
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
1 pint peppermint stick ice cream 
Hot fudge sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 12 inch cast iron pan with baking spray.

Cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg and mix well.
Add the flour, baking soda and salt and mix on low until combined. Stir in the peppermint bark and nuts if using.
Spoon the dough into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 18 minutes.
Allow the cookie to cool for about 5 minutes. Top with the pint of ice cream and then spoon some hot fudge over the top. Serve immediately with spoons for all, clearly who would need a plate for this.

Note:
I did not have peppermint bark so I used 1/2 cup of chocolate chips and a cup of Andes brand peppermint crunch baking chips.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, Snoqualamie Ice Cream Peppermint Stick Gelato will serve you well.





We Were Naive

My friend and I.
We thought these summers were endless. Summers filled with kayaks, piles of wet beach towels, giggles and whispers drifting upstairs from the basement, long walks, and late night campfires with both our families snuggled close.

A well loved backyard at the cabin

Our blissful summers by the lake were soon interrupted by camp counseling gigs, dropping kids off at unversity, summer internships, study abroad, and career changes.

All grown up. New Years Eve 2014.

I can't say that I begrudge our kids any moment of the story they are writing for their lives, BUT.
I'd like to turn back the clock.
I want a moment to memorize the sound of their collective laughter.
I want to freeze a snapshot (or two or twelve) of them playing, teasing, becoming siblings.
I want to go back and take advantage of those days that I thought would always be.

This summer took me off guard. But it is still good. Really good. The older kids caught up with each other while studying abroad, the youngers grabbed each other in between their summer comings and goings. I think it was a glimpse of what their adult friendships will look like.
And us parents? We spent a few evenings contemplating the looming empty nest.

Empty. Nest. Can I just say that the term "Empty Nest" conjures the image of champagne AND tissues. A totally celebratory weepfest.

Anyway...

One hot summer evening the twins dropped by with a bag of peaches from the over abundant tree on their property. They were perfectly ripe and smelled heavenly. I had planned to use them in a pie but the week got away from me, as did the peaches. They quickly became more suitable for jam. And what better way to preserve our summer memories than in a few jars of peach butter.


Lakepoint Place Peach Butter
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

4 pounds peaches, pitted, peeled and quartered
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon

Place peaches and water in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the peaches from heat and puree, I used an immersion blender. I made mine very smooth but I'll leave it up to you as to how you like your fruit butter.
Return the peach puree to the pot and add the sugar, and lemon juice. Bring this to a simmer/low boil and cook for 40 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
Now, the peach butter is done when a wooden spoon leaves a clear trail when scraped across the bottom of the pan. IMPORTANT NOTE: I cooked my peach butter for an hour and a half and still did not achieve this. I gave up out of boredom and spooned it into jars and called it good. It's a bit on the thin side and could double as a sauce. All I can say is whatever.
Kept airtight in the fridge it should last you two weeks. If you want directions on how to can the jars see the original post on Smitten Kitchen.
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