Strawberry cheesecake tartlets

The older you get, the more people seem to dread, despise and passionately deny their birthdays. A marker of one year passed, one year older, one year closer to no more years. Which, from that perspective, is passionately depressing. But to me, birthdays are just that – days of birth. Without that day, there would be no you in the world, in the lives of people who couldn’t fathom that reality, who can’t imagine passing each day in their lives without you. It not about getting older – it’s about every person deserving a day to be celebrated.
Strawberry Cheesecake tarts
Handheld, perfect for passing, adored by crowds, these Strawberry Cheesecake tarts say “happy any day.”
Obviously, I celebrate with food, and treating people wth treats. While fruit and dessert and I have had a … rocky … past (chocolate is my homeboy, yo), I have a whole backlog of things in the “not dessert for me but for a fruit-dessert-loving someone else.” This recipe was in that file – grown-up pop tarts, easy enough to make in the morning, perfect for a summer work birthday. Unfortunately, I sent David to the store and he thought puff pastry sheets and shells were the same. So, a little improv and here we are. (Also, this improv was WAY easier.)
Strawberry cheesecake tart
Delicious strawberry cheesecake leftovers, in their glory.
You’ll need:
  • 2 c strawberries (1 lb. container)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 boxes puff pastry shells (12 total)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 block cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 T honey
  • 2 t vanilla
Get cooking:
  1. Bake shells according to package directions.
  2. While they’re baking, slice your strawberries (thinly) and mix with 1 T sugar. Set aside.
  3. Whip your cream on high (stand or hand mixer) until you start to see peaks.
  4. Add cream cheese, honey and vanilla – whip until well mixed. It will be a pudding like consistency. Taste for sweetness – I like a little bite, so feel free to add more honey or sugar.
  5. Once your pastry is done, let it cool and Hollow out around the tops with a paring knife. That should leave you with a little well for the cream and berries. If your well isn’t deep enough, go ahead and dig in a little (gently) with your fingers and pull out a few more pastry layers.
  6. Drain strawberries with a colander.
  7. Fill each pastry with cream. You will have some left over, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Top with strawberries. (You can get fancy here and do a pattern – I was going for speed and didn’t.)
  8. With the leftovers – spread leftover cream in the bottom of a 1.5-quart dish (or really anything about the size of an 8×8 pan.) Top with strawberries, then with the pastry tops. Not as cute of a presentation, but I hate to waste those tasty tops!
  9. The actual tarts serve 12, the rest probably an additional 4-8 (serving vs spoonful.)

Recipe adapted from: http://www.jacquelynclark.com/2015/04/09/strawberry-vanilla-cream-hand-pies/

Vegan, gluten-free brownie ice cream sundae

So, I think it’s pretty clear from the rest of my posts that I am neither vegan nor gluten-free. However, I consider these types of cooking a challenge – because everything IS better with butter, let’s be real – and I like a challenge. Plus, I feel like I should have recipes in my back pocket for when I’m entertaining someone with different dietary needs. Or, for when I have too many regular brownies and need to pull myself together.

This actually came together randomly – Dixi was over for a pizza and movie night, and I happened to have the brownies on hand already. I was going to pull them out, realized I had coconut milk in the fridge and bananas in the freezer, and thought “sundaes!” Because what goes better with horror movies and hot tubs?

Vegan Brownie Sundae
It’s not the same as a banana split, but this vegan brownie sundae is a great treat for a hot summer day. Or any day, really.

A note about this overall: it’s obviously not as sweet as an actual sundae would be. That may or may not be your speed, but don’t go in expecting a replica – this is not a substitute, it’s more like a riff. I have a lot of other notes below in the ingredients and the instructions – don’t let that scare you. As long as you have a food processor/blender, everything in this recipe is fairly simple.

You’ll need:

“Brownies:” (barely adapted from this Food 52 recipe)

  • c chopped pecans (even better if they’re toasted)
  • c pitted dates (seriously, spend the money and buy the pre-pitted ones. Pitting them yourself is horrible – you’re forced to realize exactly how much they look like cockroaches. And it’s sticky and messy – not worth it, I promise.)
  • 2 T coconut oil (I omitted this originally, and you can, but it helps give a more ‘fudgy’ texture.)
  • 1/3 c nut butter (I used peanut butter – but honestly, you’re basically making pecan butter out of the pecans, so you could just throw in extra of those, if you like.)
  • 1/4 c unsweetened shredded coconut (You will have to go to a health food store or order this online. You can sub in sweetened if you like, but the unsweetened is nice on a lot of other things.)
  • 1 t vanilla (I know this may sound a little snobby, but good, quality, real vanilla is SUPER important in this recipe. You’re not cooking anything, so you really need the ingredients to be the best you can afford.)
  • 2+ T unsweetened cocoa powder (See quality note above. Also, I probably added more like 3. The dates are pretty sweet, so if you like a little bitter in your sweets, don’t be afraid to up this a bit.)
  • 1 T maple syrup (this is to taste – you may want as much as double.)
  • Dash of salt

“Ice cream:”

4 frozen bananas (Peel, chop and place in freezer bag for at least 4 hours – these take a lot longer to freeze if you leave them whole. Also, don’t do what I did and leave the skins on, it’s a pain.)

“Whipped cream:”

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated at least 2 hours
  • 1 T vanilla
  • Sweetener to taste (I didn’t think it needed any, but you may want to add maple syrup or a little sugar.)

Get cooking:

Brownies

  1. Pulse pecans in a food processor until smooth, like peanut butter. Add dates and pulse to mix.
  2. Add other ingredients and mix until smooth. Taste to make sure the sweetness level is where you want it.
  3. Line an 8×8 pan with wax or parchment, press mixture into pan until flat (ish – it doesn’t have to be perfect.)
  4. Freeze for 30 minutes-1 hour.
  5. Slice and serve! They keep well for about a week in the fridge or the freezer, separated by wax paper.

Ice cream

  1. Add bananas to food processor or blender. Pulse until broken up, then blend until smooth.
  2. (It’s really important to do this right before you make the sundaes – once the bananas melt, they go from ice cream consistency to banana mush.)

Whipped cream

  1. Scoop solid part of coconut milk off the top of the can. Beat with vanilla and sweetener until smooth.
  2. Layer it up like your favorite sundae and go to town! You may want to break the brownies up over top of the banana, instead of serving underneath.

Greek potato salad

It’s beginning to look a lot like…potato salad season. Which, as a mayo hater, can be fraught with peril. Plus, the average potato salad? Potatoes. Eggs. Maybe some pickles. Meh. But there’s something about the nostalgia, the idea of cold potatoes on a hot summer day…in the right context, dressed with the right sauce, it could be refreshing, yet comforting, flavorful, yet familiar, wholly American yet…Greek?

Think about it – what other dressing is white, creamy and capable of tying together a whole dish? Tzatziki sauce. It’s refreshing, easy and most importantly, not mayo. Using that as a base, it only makes sense to mimic some other traditional Greek flavors – olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, bell peppers, artichokes…This is a great option for a ‘non-traditional’ potato salad, and has enough color to make it a beautiful addition to the table (no formless white slop here.) It works as a great stand-alone side, or even as the main event with some accompanying vegetables. You’ll probably get more dressing than you need, but use the rest on salads, sandwiches – or straight off the spoon. I won’t tell.

 

Greek potato salad
So fresh, so delicious, so full of awesome sauce.
Greek potato salad
It’s potato salad on steroids.

You’ll need:

Salad

  • 1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 8 oz. crumbled feta
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or ½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 3-4 pounds yukon gold, klondike rose or assorted potatoes, diced into large bite-sized pieces
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 T rosemary
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 seedless cucumber, diced

Dressing

  • 2 cups plain greek yogurt
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • 2 lemons, use juice and zest
  • 2 cucumbers, seeded, diced and squeezed of juice
  • 4 T fresh dill
  • Salt and pepper

Get cooking:

Dressing

Combine ingredients in the bottom of a big bowl – whisk together and let sit while you dice other veggies and roast the potatoes. (There are some ranges here, play with what you like. I like more garlic and more lemon, not everyone does.)

Salad

  1. Roast the potatoes: toss with oil, oregano and rosemary, bake at 425 degrees for 15-10 minutes, until fork tender. Turn a couple, of times to encourage even browning. Remove and let cool.
  2. Assemble the salad: dice the other veggies while you roast the potatoes. Combine cooled potatoes and veggies in large bowl with the dressing – toss to coat. Chill 30 minutes – 1 hour.
  3. Garnish with fresh lemon slices and fresh, chopped dill. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad

Most people consider Memorial Day weekend the kickoff of summer fun – I consider it the kickoff of summer food. Sadly, many weekend BBQs are the same thing: floppy hot dogs, crushed potato chips, runny baked beans, pasta/potato salad slathered in mayo…blech. I hate it all. But no one wants to go to a BBQ empty-handed, or leave with an empty stomach – so go with this gnocchi pasta pesto potato salad, and no one will leave with an empty stomach.

This dish is an awesome addition to any table – using gnocchi in place of traditional pasta makes it a great pasta/potato salad hybrid, and all the veggies bring a light and refreshing feel to something that’s usually a heavy-handed gut bomb. Plus, using pesto as a dressing means it can sit out for longer than your average salad. Not that it will last that long. (It did not, in fact, last long at all – hence the only photo being in the creation stage.)

 

Gnocchi pasta salad
It’s pasta salad. And potato salad. And pesto. And delicious.

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound packaged gnocchi, cooked
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or ½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained
  • ½ large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 seedless cucumber, diced
  • Parmesan cheese, shaved with vegetable peeler

Get cooking:

Combine ingredients in large bowl, toss to coat with pesto. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve cold or room temperature.

 

Roasted sweet potato burrito bowls

My latest foray into “how can I feed more people, more often,” is hosting a monthly book club. But my friends love everything from teeny-bopper vampire tales to gut-wrenching memoirs to aspirational career books – why would we want to read the same thing (that every other book club in the country is probably reading)?

IMG_0129

So we don’t. Each month we pick a theme, and read a book of our choice. Not only have we not spoiled a book for someone, we actually talk about books – plus, we get recommendations (on what to read – and what NOT to read).

I try to match the menu with both the theme and any dietary restrictions (in this case, vegetarian and gluten free). March’s theme was luck, so I wanted something green – but real green, not processed green. Enter roasted sweet potato bowls with green rice. Barely adapted from Cookie and Kate, these bowls were a HUGE hit – and I made a HUGE amount. This recipe could be halved (and even quartered) if you want a more manageable dinner. It multiplies well, is super filling and also really healthy. (We made up for that with dessert. And wine.)

sweet potato2

 

You’ll need:
Green rice
  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 c brown rice
  • 6 c broth (veggie or chicken)
  • 2 16 oz. bags frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of liquid
  • 3/4 c cilantro
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt to taste
Sweet potatoes
  • 5-6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
  • Olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t paprika
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • Zest of one lime
  • Salt to taste
Black beans
  • 3 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 c salsa (any is fine)
  • 2 T chili powder
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t cayenne
  • Juice of two limes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnishes
  • Avocado
  • Salsa
  • Cilantro
  • Queso fresco or chipotle cheddar
  • Lime wedges
  • Minced jalapeno
  • Sour cream

Get cooking:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Toss sweet potato with olive oil and spices, spread in one layer onto one large or two smaller baking sheets. (I use stones, so I don’t have to grease, but you may want to spray/parchment your pans. As long as they’re rimmed, you’re fine.) Bake, turning once or twice, until browned and fork tender (35-40 minutes.)
  2. For the green rice, blend vegetables in a blender or food processor until smooth. (You can thin out with broth if you need, it’ll depend on how much water your spinach has.) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, until shimmering but not smoking. Add rice, stirring and browning lightly. Stir in green blend, cook for a minute, then add broth and boil. Once it’s boiling, cover, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until rice is tender (35-45 minutes.) Once it’s done, remove the lid, cover the top of the pan with a paper towel and replace the lid (this soaks up excess moisture and helps the rice stay separated.)
  3. For the beans, combine ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until other ingredients are done. You can smash-up some of the beans if you want a more “refried” texture, or leave them whole.
  4. Once everything is finished, serve buffet style with all the garnishes, and let people assemble their own bowls. Serves 8 with a fair amount of leftovers.

 

Chocolate cheesecake stuffed strawberries

There are times when show stopping dessert take hours of prep and baking and cooling and decorating – and then, there’s this. Three ingredients. Three steps. Super-fancy dessert. I mean, look at these – don’t you want them rightnowplease?

Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries
Chocolate cheesecake-stuffed strawberries are the perfect wine club – I mean book club – dessert. Or appetizer. Or snack in general.

I made these when I needed a fast book club dessert. I had a menu of about 5 million things (not really, but it was extensive) and I wanted a dessert that fit our ‘obsession’ theme. While carving out the strawberries takes a hot minute, this dessert comes together fairly quickly and easily. But it looks incredibly fancy, because it’s mini and stuffed. It’s light and refreshing but still satisfies the chocolate craving. And if you need to up your class factor, do what I did – and serve these as an appetizer. Hey, fruit and cheese is an appetizer, right?

You’ll need:

  • 1 package strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 c chocolate hazelnut spread

Get cooking:

  1. When you hull the strawberries, use your pairing knife to carve out the entire middle of the strawberry. It’s tedious at first, but gets easier once you get the hang of it.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and spread until well combined and fluffy.
  3. Add mixture to piping tool (or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off.) Fill strawberries and serve. Look at you, so fancy!

Baked potato soup

This time of year is fickle. The skies promise sunshine, it peeks through the clouds with a shy anticipation – but snatches back and sends us cold winds on the turn of a dime. Everything is brown. And wet. And not growing yet. Oh, and my migraines are terrible. It makes me crabby.

When I am crabby, I crave comfort food – enter baked potato soup. You need something to cheer your weary bones? This is hearty, and comforting. You need some fun in your life? If a bacon-topped bowl of goodness isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. You need something easy for dinner? My friends, dive into this delicious bowl.

There are a million different recipes for baked potato soup – mine balances the line between decadent and decidedly not terrible for you. It’s filling, relatively fast and fairly hard to ruin. Also, cheese. And bacon. Who can be crabby in the face of that?

Baked potato soup
Potatoes. Bacon. Cheese. I rest my case.

You’ll need:

  • 6 potatoes (I like yukon golds or klondike rose), baked* and diced
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T butter
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1 lb. of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • ½ bunch green onions, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

*Fast method for baking potatoes:

Prick potatoes on each side with a fork. Microwave for 8 minutes, flip, and microwave 7-8 minutes more.

Get cooking:

  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and saute for 8-10 minutes, until softened and slightly browned. Add garlic and saute another 1-2 minutes.
  2. Deglaze pan with chicken broth, adding potatoes, cream cheese and half of cheddar cheese. Stir, breaking up potatoes into smaller chunks with the spoon, and allow cheese to melt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Garnish with bacon, cheese and scallions.