Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Blueberry Crumb Bars

One of the best parts of early summer is fresh blueberries.  There are so many things you can do with them, from pies and crisps, muffins and cakes, smoothies and toppings for granola or oatmeal.  Not to mention eating them plain, which is what we do most.

And there's just nothing like going to pick them yourself.  I was so happy to discover that there is a blueberry farm just 20 minutes from our house - we went twice in June to pick and ended up with a total of 4 gallons.  I managed to freeze 2 gallons - the rest were eaten plain or baked into this mouth-watering dessert.

 Ellia (3.5) - she ate more berries than she contributed to the bucket. :)

Picking berries with my friend Kim and her children.

top  left - Jenika with Marissa and Annika
top right - Miranda with Hadassah
bottom left - Me with Kim - we've been friends for 23 years!!  
bottom right - Elisha and Corban - great buddies.

The second time we went to pick berries, it was so chilly out that we had to wear jackets - and our hands nearly froze from the wet bushes.  Unusual weather for June around here for sure.

These Blueberry Crumb Bars are really simple to make and just burst with berry flavor. A little lemon zest and juice add that extra special zing to the filling.  I highly recommend using organic lemons if you can find them, especially since you're using the zest.  I can actually get a bag of organic lemons at Walmart for just a marginal amount more than the conventional lemons cost.  Definitely worth it.

They store really well in the refrigerator and taste good chilled, but I definitely preferred them warmed up a little.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream would really take them over the top.  

Blueberry Crumb Bars
adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups flour (I used half white whole wheat, half all purpose)
1 cup cold butter (I used salted)
1 egg
1/4 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tsp. cornstarch (use organic if possible)
4 cups fresh blueberries 

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 13 x 9" pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder.  Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg.  Dough will be crumbly.  Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.
In another bowl, stir together the lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, and cornstarch.  Gently mix in the blueberries.  Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. (My oven cooks fast, so I always check early.)
Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Busy Day Goulash - SRC

We have really been loving our new church and getting to know the families there.  It's not a big church, probably around 200 people or so.  I recently became acquainted with a really great lady named Ginny.  Shortly after, we became Facebook friends - and I saw on her page that she had a food blog, Cooking with Chopin, Living with Elmo.

"That's awesome!" I thought to myself. "We have something else in common!"

As I browsed through her blog, admiring her fantastic recipes and gorgeous photography, it quickly became apparent that Ginny and I had something else in common.

She is a member of the Secret Recipe Club also!!

She's in Group A - and I hadn't run across her before.  It was such a thrill to both of us to discover that we actually met someone in person who was a member of the club.  What are the odds, ya know?  Super cool.

Anyway.  On to July's feature.

I had the great pleasure of being assigned to Miz Helen's Country Cottage  for the Secret Recipe Club this month.  This delightful lady is just the sort of person you'd love to have as a next door neighbor.  A mom of 7, grandma to 13, and great-grandma to 3, she's gifted with hospitality, has gorgeous gardens and landscaping, something scrumptious always baking, and has tips for home-keeping from canning to meal-planning.  Not to mention a lengthy list of recipes, with tempting titles like Key Lime Cake, Cream Puffs, and Baked Tilapia Cakes.

Now if only I can get her to move from Texas to Northwest Arkansas......

This Busy Day Goulash jumped out at me.....because as a mom of 5 kids, I have lots of busy days.  Don't we all???  And I love using my slow-cooker in the summer - saves heating up the oven and all that jazz.

This dinner is easy to get together and cooks in just a few hours. It's a great combination of meat, veggies, pasta, and cheese, making a very satisfying meal that will please the whole crew.

I changed just a few things, using vegetable broth instead of beef and omitting 2 tsp. cinnamon (I just didn't think my family would like that....).

My only issue was that the pasta was a little overcooked - my family didn't complain and rather liked the noodles a little mushy - but I would have preferred them a bit firmer. That could just be because my slow-cooker cooks really hot and fast.  So next time I'll wait an hour or so to add the pasta.

All in all, it was a great meal that lasted us for two dinners and I will definitely add it to the menu rotation.

Thanks, Miz Helen!!

Busy Day Goulash
adapted slightly from Miz Helen's Country Cottage

2 lbs lean ground beef or ground turkey
2 medium onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce or 1 (14 oz) can
1 3/4  cups frozen corn
1 qt. vegetable broth or beef broth
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. parsley
2 tsp. cinnamon (I omitted)
2 cups dry pasta (I used Cellentani)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Dash of Cayenne pepper
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, grated

Brown ground turkey, onion, and pepper in a hot skillet.  Add 1/2 cup water to the skillet to remove all the goodies from the bottom if you want. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker.  Add the remaining ingredients, except for cheese.  Mix well and cover the slow cooker.  (Note: I will add the pasta after the first hour next time)
Cook on high for 1 hour, then on low for 3 hours.  At the end of 3 hours, put the cheeses on top of the Goulash, replace the lid and cook for 30 more minutes on low.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Spinach Strawberry Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette

I can't think of a kind of salad I enjoy more than spinach with strawberries.  
Add in some candied almonds and it's practically dessert.  
And y'all know how I like dessert. 


So when we had some spinach and strawberries on hand last week, I had to make a salad.  My dear friend Christen makes an awesome spinach salad with bacon and strawberries - I wanted to make it but didn't have raspberry vinegar for the dressing, or any spare bacon lying around (what was the matter with me...we should always have bacon!) so I had to search for something else. 

When I saw this strawberry vinaigrette, I knew I had to try it.  
It's simple, goes together quickly, and only has 2 Tablespoons of oil in the whole batch - so it must be low fat....right????
And it adds simply marvelous strawberry flavor to the spinach salad.  I just loved it.  

Spinach Strawberry Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette
(dressing from The Gracious Pantry)

(makes 1 1/3 cups)

1/2 pound fresh strawberries
2 Tbsp. honey (or more to taste if your berries aren't very sweet)
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (use organic, raw vinegar if possible)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust honey to taste.

1/4 cup sliced/slivered almonds
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
8-10 cups fresh spinach
Sliced strawberries

In a small skillet over medium heat, stir almonds and sugar until sugar is dissolved and almonds are toasted. Be careful not to scorch them, stirring often and reducing the heat if necessary.  The sugar takes several minutes to melt.  Pour onto a plate and crumble into pieces once cool.

In a large bowl, toss spinach, sliced strawberries, and candied almonds. Pour dressing over to taste.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Soft and Chewy Double Chocolate M&M Cookies

Remember the Strawberry Dream Cake I told you about last week - that we took to our friends' home when they invited us for dinner?  (In case you need a plug for how good that cake was, my friend caught up with me on Sunday at church and requested the recipe, saying that she had woken up that morning with that cake on her mind - that it was the best strawberry cake ever!)

These are the other dessert I decided on making.  Just in case anyone didn't like cake or strawberries or whatever.  And because I really don't need an excuse to make something chocolate.

These cookies have an ingredient that I'm not really used to seeing in cookies - cornstarch. 
Just a couple of teaspoons - but apparently it's the secret to making the cookies soft and tender, and they stay that way for several days.

I couldn't get enough of these cookies, to tell you the truth.  The texture was absolutely perfect, and I loved the combination of chocolate chips and M&Ms giving it plenty of chocolate flavor and a little crunch from the candies.  They were definitely popular with kids and adults alike.

Note: You could, of course, use only chocolate chips or only M&Ms - the original recipe called for using the mini M&Ms, which I'm sure would be lots of fun.  Personally, I like the combination of candy and chips in these cookies.

Soft and Chewy Double Chocolate M&M Cookies
adapted slightly from Tracy's Culinary Adventures

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
2 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
M&Ms (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa power, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt together.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the egg and then the vanilla.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients, beating just until combined.  Mix in the chocolate chips.

Using a medium cookie scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart.  Press a few M&Ms on top of each cookie.  Bake for 7-8 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are set.  The centers may look underdone - don't overbake!  Let the cookies cool a few minutes on the pans then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with all the dough.

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