A Failed Blackberry Cobbler Turned Into a Blackberry Sundae [Because Nobody is Perfect]

 

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A few weeks ago on Father’s Day, I had a whole menu planned out for my Dad. When the late afternoon rolled around, I was busy chopping herbs for Chimichurri sauce, marinating steaks, whipping up a garlic aioli, making crispy potatoes, and attempting to create a blackberry cobbler-like dessert with beautiful berries from the market. Note that I was doing all of this simultaneously and, well… my dessert didn’t turn out quite like I wanted it to.

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My mouth started watering as I pulled the cobbler out of the oven and set it on the table to cool. It smelled amazing. After letting it sit for a few minutes, I grabbed my knife to cut into it. I began to wince as I felt the crust fall beneath my knife and the piece I attempted to cut totally fell apart. I sighed in disappointment as I realized that this was not going to be a cobbler at all, but a big pile of blackberry mush. My family was waiting in the living room as I took a spoon to the cobbler and took a taste for myself. When the blackberries and the vanilla wafer “crust” hit my mouth, all I could think about was how good it tasted. I didn’t care that it came in a sloppy form, it was just so tasty. I pulled out the sundae cups from the cabinet, scooped some vanilla ice cream, took the reserved blackberry sauce, and turned what would have been a failed dessert into a blackberry sundae. I apologized to everyone as I delivered the somewhat unattractive dessert cups.

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I didn’t hear any complaints. In fact, I didn’t hear much of anything aside from some Mmmmmmms, some spoons clinking the sides of the dessert glasses as they scooped out every little bite, and footsteps returning to the kitchen for seconds. If I were a more experienced food blogger, I probably would have tweaked the recipe until I got it just right and then shared that with all of you. I created this blog purely for fun, but I have to admit that it took me a while to start it because I was so intimidated by the seemingly perfect food blogs out there. I am so far from perfect, and this is not the first time a recipe didn’t go the way I had planned. However, nobody is perfect.

I’m sharing this recipe even though the crust doesn’t hold up at all. I’m sharing it because it was so delicious and it made everyone happy in the moments while they were eating it. I’m sharing it because I grinned like a kid when I opened up the fridge the next day and noticed there was one little bite left that I could take to work. And that, my friends, is what makes a good dessert.

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Blackberry Cobbler Sundaes

Serves 6

Ingredients:

25 Nilla Wafer Cookies

1/3 cup walnuts

6 Tablespoons butter (melted) & 5 Tablespoons butter (softened)

1 quart fresh blackberries

1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup water

2 Tablespoons honey

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions:

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a food processor, combine the Nilla wafers and walnuts until finely chopped. With the motor of the processor running, add the melted 6 Tablespoons of butter.
  3. Press the mixture into an 11 by 7 inch baking dish. Set aside.
  4. In a medium sauce pan, combine the blackberries, water and cornstarch mixture, and honey. Heat over medium high heat until the blackberries cook down and the mixture reduces, about 10 minutes.
  5. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the blackberries from the cooking liquid. Allow to cool slightly. Reserve the liquid and set aside.
  6. Pour the strained blackberries over the crust.
  7. To make the oatmeal topping, combine the softened 5 TB butter, oatmeal, brown sugar, and flour in a small bowl. Using your hands, crumble the mixture over the blackberries.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then, broil for 1-2 minutes.
  9. Allow the cobbler to cool slightly and then serve over vanilla ice cream. Use the reserved blackberry sauce to serve over the sundaes.

Caprese Grilled Cheese

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When I have bread in the house I need to use up, grilled cheese is generally my go-to. It’s so easy to make and so satisfying! Sometimes all you want is some toasty bread and ooey, gooey cheese. It’s such a simple meal, but it’s very easy to add a few snazzy ingredients and take it to a whole new level. I came up with this recipe when I really wanted grilled cheese but I wanted to elevate it a little bit.

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Fair warning: This grilled cheese sandwich is pretty damn classy. The way all of the flavors meld together in your mouth is like a symphony. What is not classy, however, is how you will look when you’re eating it. Prepare to have garlic butter and balsamic vinegar running down your hands to your elbows and cheese oozing onto your chin. You might even have to break sandwich law and bust out a fork and knife to finish this bad boy off. Hey, I’m not saying I stooped to that level of sandwich eating…but it’s safe to say that when you eat this, you’re in for a messy affair. You can impress a date by making them this glorious sandwich, but it’s more of a third date kind of sandwich. You get my point?

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They are certainly messy to eat, but they are actually super easy to throw together and the nice part is that you bake them off in the oven so you don’t even have to worry about flipping them in a pan. Score! I think my favorite part about these sandwiches is the garlic butter. We all know and love buttery grilled cheese. But throw in some garlic & herbs, and oh my is it scrumptious! Then you’ve got these lovely blistered tomatoes, like little jewels of sweetness that burst in your mouth with every bite. The heaping amount of basil on each sandwich perfectly balances out all that rich cheese. The sweet and sticky balsamic reduction provides another touch of sweetness and helps round out all of the flavors. I think the hilarious thing about these sandwiches is that you feel all grown-up eating such a fancy grilled cheese, but in the end you’re wiping your face and hands with a wet napkin like a little kid. However, some of the best moments in life are when you feel like a kid again. So make this grilled cheese and enjoy every messy bite of it.

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Caprese Grilled Cheese

Serves 2

Ingredients

4 slices of crusty farmer’s bread

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp dried parsley

¼ tsp crushed red pepper

½ cup chopped fresh basil

½ cup cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay the slices of bread on a cookie sheet.
  2. Add the garlic, oregano, dried basil, parsley, and crushed red pepper flakes to the melted butter.
  3. Brush the garlic butter onto each slice of bread. Divide the mozzarella and parmesan evenly between all 4 slices, making sure the surface of each slice is covered with cheese.
  4. Bake the cheesy bread slices in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and bubbly.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and sautee for 2-3 minutes, or until they begin to blister and burst open. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  6. In another small skillet, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium heat until reduced by half (this should only take 3-4 minutes). It should thicken significantly. Set aside.
  7. When the breads come out of the oven, place a few cherry tomatoes on what will be the bottom slice of each sandwich. Finish with balsamic reduction and the chopped fresh basil. Complete the sandwich by placing the remaining cheesy slices on top of the slices with the tomatoes, balsamic, and basil.

Creamy Penne with Peas & Prosciutto

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Today, I’m sharing another pasta recipe that my Mom has been making for as long as I cam remember. If we weren’t eating Mom’s classic red sauce, this was our next go-to. It’s fast, easy, and a little sinful. I don’t dare call it Pasta Carbonara, because it’s made with heavy cream– which any Nonna will tell you is NOT true Carbonara. But hey, Mom’s an Italian-American, and this pasta is absolutely delicious– so I don’t really care if it’s not true Carbonara. It’s amazing. It’s one of the few meals where I break from vegetarian cooking (but see below for the easy vegetarian substitute for Prosciutto).

The penne is coated in a luscious, creamy, buttery, cheesy sauce that sinks into every ridge of each noodle. The prosciutto gives a nice saltiness to the dish, and the peas add beautiful color and delicate flavor. I like to amp everything up with some extra red pepper flakes, to give it all a nice kick that wakes up your palate.

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I know this recipe isn’t vegetarian, but it’s super easy to swap out the prosciutto for sauteed mushrooms. Simply cook 4-6 ounces of thinly sliced mushrooms (I recommend cremini) in hot butter and sub that for the prosciutto. Easily just as delicious.

In all honesty, I could probably eat pasta 7 days a week. There is just something so comforting and satisfying about digging into a plate of noodles (especially if it’s Penne– my favorite noodle). And even though this dish has a good amount of heavy cream, it still feels lighter than an Alfredo sauce. So what are you waiting for? This glorious pasta can be yours in no time.

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Creamy Penne with Peas & Prosciutto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb Penne pasta

4 oz prosciutto, diced

1 small yellow onion, diced

3 Tablespoons butter

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)

Directions:

  1. Prepare a large pot of water to boil for the noodles. Make sure the water is heavily salted. You want to cook the noodles until al dente, but you aren’t going to drain them– they will go directly into the skillet with the sauce. While the water is coming to a boil, get started on your sauce. I’m writing all of this here so that you have an idea of how you want to time things– just make sure you don’t cook your noodles before your sauce is ready!
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and saute the onion for 3-4 minutes, or until fragrant and slightly translucent.
  3. Add the diced prosciutto to the skillet. Cook for another 3 minutes or so.
  4. Add the heavy cream to the skillet and allow it to gently simmer for at least 5 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  5. When the sauce has thickened, add the Parmesan cheese. Turn the heat down to very low.
  6. Add the peas, pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and several cranks of freshly cracked black pepper.
  7. Using a spider or slotted spoon, remove the cooked noodles from the pot of water and ladle directly into the skillet with the sauce. Stir everything together until the noodles are evenly coated with the sauce. Serve immediately.

 

Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad

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Right now, I’m on a peach kick. Whenever a new fruit or vegetable makes its way into the season, it feels like I’m getting a present. Peaches made their debut at the market a few weeks ago, and since then it has been a treat to eat them when they are truly at their best. What I love to do with peaches lately is throw them on the grill (Wait, what!?). If you have not grilled your peaches yet, you do not know what you are missing out on. Peaches are the perfect grilled fruit—they have just enough firmness to stand up to the grill, and yet just enough juice to nicely caramelize on the outside. Seriously, nothing says summer more than a grilled peach.

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The trick to grilling your peaches is to prep them the right way. I slice each peach in half and remove the pit. I then slice a small portion of the rounded bottom off of each peach, so that they can lay flat on the grill without rolling all over the place. If you are having a hard time picturing what I am describing, the bottom of your peaches should look like this:

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See how there is now a flat bottom? This will guarantee a nice caramelization on both sides of the peach. The grill really does transform the peaches. They become intensely sweet and yet they have this surprisingly smoky flavor that makes them somewhat unusual.

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What I love about this salad is that it has such a nice balance of flavors. You get the slight smokiness from the charred peaches and toasted walnuts, the richness and tang from the blue cheese, the pepperiness from the arugula, and a light dressing that melds it all together. Also, I’d like to take a moment and say that if you live in Upstate SC and can get your hands on some Clemson Blue Cheese, it is an absolute must for this salad. It’s so creamy and tangy and it’s seriously the most perfect match for the grilled peaches. I served this salad for my family after a hot summer afternoon on the lake. It was extremely refreshing and still very savory and satisfying. According to my sister Erika, this salad was “the most refreshing salad I’ve had in a very long time.” Give it a try and see if you agree with her!

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Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 peaches

1 Tablespoon olive oil

5 oz arugula

4 oz blue cheese (Preferably Clemson Blue Cheese, if you can find it)

1/3 cup walnuts

For the dressing—

2 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ of a shallot, finely diced (around 2 Tablespoons)

1 teaspoon honey

¼ cup roasted walnut oil

Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Directions:

 

  1. To prepare the peaches for the grill, slice each peach in half and remove the pit. Slice off a small portion of the rounded bottom of each peach so that they can stand flat on a plate. Drizzle the peaches with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Heat the grill to medium heat (if you don’t have a charcoal or gas grill, a grill pan over the stove works fine as well). Grill the peaches, about 3-4 minutes per side, until slightly charred and caramelized. Set aside.
  3. Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking around occasionally, until fragrant (Around 4 minutes or so…Be careful—they burn fast!). Remove from the pan and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Roughly chop the nuts and set aside.
  4. To prepare the dressing: Combine the Champagne vinegar, diced shallot, Dijon, and honey in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the walnut oil until the dressing is nicely emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Prepare the salad on a large platter, starting with the arugula. Arrange the grilled peaches on top of the arugula. Crumble the blue cheese and distribute it evenly on top of the salad. Finish by topping it all off with the toasted walnuts and the dressing.

 

Eiskaffee

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No matter what time of year I am in Germany, my first request is usually that we stop at an ice cream shop. I just love the way Germans make ice cream. Every town in Germany has a cute little ice cream shop with dozens of specialty Eisbecher (sundaes) to choose from. They usually have several fruit sundae options, some chocolate ones, and some nut ones. It’s so much fun when everyone gets a different Eisbecher and you can pass them around the table and try all of them. They are not quite as sweet as the types of sundaes you find in America, which is why I like them so much.

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One of the first German ice cream specialties I ever tasted was Eiskaffee. It’s basically the affogato’s German cousin. What I like about Eiskaffee is that instead of using hot espresso (like in an affogato), you use cold (but very strong) coffee. This lets the ice cream slowly melt into the coffee, which allows you to take your time and enjoy this glorious dessert. Eiskaffee is the perfect late afternoon treat on a hot summer day. The best bites are at the end when the ice cream and whipped cream are nice and soft and almost completely melted into the coffee.

You could also add in a shot of coffee liqueur (I won’t tell 😉 ) for an elegant after-dinner dessert. This is so easy to throw together, and it’s another recipe with minimal ingredients that you probably already have on hand which makes it even easier!

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Eiskaffee

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups very strong coffee, chilled

1 cup cold heavy cream

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Your favorite brand of vanilla ice cream

Bar of dark chocolate, to shave for garnish

Directions

  1. Whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  2. Fill 4 dessert glasses with 2-3 scoops of the ice cream.
  3. Pour the chilled coffee into each glass over the ice cream. Top with fresh whipped cream and curls of dark chocolate.
  4. Enjoy! (Seriously, does it get any easier?)

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

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Today, I’m sharing the recipe that is closest to my heart: my Mom’s spaghetti sauce. I have talked a lot about the German side of my heritage, but I haven’t had the chance to share anything about my Italian side. My Mom is a Chicago Italian, and she grew up as one of eight children. Every week her mother made spaghetti because it was not only delicious, but also an easy way to feed 8 mouths. Now, we’re not talking spaghetti sauce in a jar. We’re talking slow cooked, homemade sauce that makes your mouth water the second you enter the house.

One thing I love about Italians is how hospitable they are. According to my Mom, anyone and everyone was invited to dinner when she was growing up. Despite the fact that my Grandparents didn’t have a lot of money and they had eight kids of their own to feed, there was always enough food to share with someone else. Though our household of four wasn’t quite as busy growing up, my mother still carried on that need to share food with everyone who walked through the door. Someone came to fix the plumbing? Here, have some spaghetti. A neighbor popped by to say hello? Here, have some spaghetti. One of the most admirable qualities about my mother is her never-ending generosity. My love of cooking and sharing food with those that I love is something I definitely learned from her.

An interesting fact about my Mom’s family is that each sibling makes their own sauce, but each one has a different recipe—none of which are the same as my Grandmother’s. Every time we visited Chicago when I was a child, a huge family dinner with spaghetti was in store for our first night in town. Sometimes it was Aunt Connie’s sauce, sometimes it was Aunt Mary’s sauce, sometimes it was Aunt Lee Ann’s sauce, sometimes it was Aunt Donna’s sauce… the list goes on. No matter whose sauce it was, it was always delicious. All of their sauces were different from my Mom’s sauce, but each one had a common base that made it absolutely divine.

DSC_0393When I went off to college, I quickly experienced withdrawal from my Mom’s sauce. My first time I attempted to make the sauce on my own, I remember calling her every 2 minutes. Wait, how much oregano? How long do I cook the onions and garlic? Both of my parents are excellent cooks but they never measure anything. I would be so frustrated when I called her to ask and her response would be something along the lines of “until it looks right.” I finally knew I had it right when I momentarily left my apartment and walked back in and smelled the sauce. Home. I was so excited when that smell hit me and I realized that I had done it just right. I remember thinking that I would never be able to cook without measuring, but as the years went by I started to feel like I could finally cook like my parents. Confession: The most difficult aspect of creating recipes for this blog is trying to figure out measurements after I eyeball everything!

Some important things to note before making this sauce:

 

  1. I’m putting a rough measurement for how much water to add to the sauce, but you have to use your judgement based on how thick or thin it is looking.
  2. I’m writing the recipe to serve 4, but you will have leftover sauce and meatballs. This sauce freezes excellently. Whatever sauce and meatballs you have left, throw in the freezer for a super easy meal later on down the road.
  3. Meatballs are optional. They add good flavor to the sauce, but it’s still delicious as a vegetarian dish.
  4. This sauce can be the base for just about anything: stuffed shells, lasagna, baked ziti, etc.
  5. It’s going to be the best spaghetti sauce you’ve ever had. Be warned.

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Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

Serves 4 (with leftovers)

Ingredients:

1 lb pasta (we almost always use linguine, but use whatever you like)

8 cloves garlic, chopped

½ of a sweet onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 (6 oz) can tomato paste

1 (28 oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce

1.5 teaspoon dried basil

1.5 teaspoon dried oregano

Roughly 20 oz water (I use the emptied cans of tomatoes to measure this)

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Fresh basil and Parmesan cheese, for serving

For the meatballs—

1 lb ground beef (sirloin)

¼ lb ground pork

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 egg

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

 

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sautée the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add in the tomato paste, basil, and oregano. Stir to combine and let the flavors meld for 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add in the San Marzano tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and allow the sauce to simmer.
  4. If you’re making meatballs: combine all of the meatball ingredients (except for the olive oil) in a medium bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Do not overmix.
  5. Using your hands, form small balls from the mixture (roughly 2 tablespoons per ball).
  6. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Fry the meatballs in batches until they have a nice golden brown crust all around, about 3-5 minutes. You are not going to cook them all the way through; you are just crisping them on the outside.
  7. Drop desired amount of meatballs (I recommend 10) into the simmering sauce. Leftover meatballs can be set aside to cool. Once cooled, you can store them in a Ziploc bag and save them for future sauce.
  8. Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for at least 2-3 hours; preferably 4-6.
  9. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.
  10. Plate desired amount of pasta and top with sauce, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, & fresh chopped basil.
  11. Mangia (eat)!

Baked Brie with Peaches & Rosemary

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As a child, I wasn’t much of a big fruit eater. I loved every vegetable imaginable, but when I wanted something sweet I usually went straight for the chocolate. There was one exception to my general lack of enthusiasm for fruit: South Carolina peaches. I used to love taking a ripe peach from the counter top and biting right into it as the juices ran down my elbow. On a hot summer day, you couldn’t ask for a better snack!

When peaches showed up at the farmer’s market last week, I just knew I had to come up with a new peach recipe. I was recently inspired by a peach rosemary jam I tasted at local brunch favorite Biscuit Head. I was blown away by the unbelievable punch of flavor from this unique combination. Who knew rosemary and peaches were a match made in heaven? Today I am sharing a 4 ingredient appetizer that you must try for your next happy hour!

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Yes, you read that right: 4 ingredients. Peaches, honey, rosemary, and Brie. Bam. Easiest, most elegant appetizer ready in under 10 minutes. I cooked the peaches down with some honey to deeply intensify that peach essence. The woodsy rosemary adds nice depth of flavor and beautiful little speckles of green that peek out from the luscious peach reduction. The Brie is baked in the oven to get it nice and melty on the inside, so it spreads like butter.

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Look at that nice melty Brie oozing onto the plate! YUM.

I was snacking on this just a few hours ago and I’m already starting to drool again just writing this post and thinking about how darn good this combination is. I might just have to make this a weekly summer snack.

Baked Brie with Peaches & Rosemary

Serves 4

Ingredients:

8 oz wheel of brie cheese

2 peaches, peeled & diced

leaves from 1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon honey

2 Tablespoons water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the brie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in the preheated oven for around 7 minutes, or until the inside is nice and soft.
  2. Meanwhile: Heat the peaches, rosemary, water, and honey in a small pot over medium-high heat. Stir frequently, until the peaches are cooked down significantly (This should take about 7-10 minutes). You still want some chunks of peach in the mix, but it should look somewhat pureed. Set aside.
  3. Remove the baked brie from the cookie sheet and top it with the peach mixture. Serve alongside crackers or crostini.

 

Vegetarian Burrito Bowls

 

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I’m not typically a “one pot meal” kind of girl. I’m more of a “4 pots and lots of cutting boards and knives and prep bowls and a general tornado in the kitchen” kind of gal. That being said, I’m all about complete meals in one bowl (see previous post). There is something so pleasing about all of the flavors of a dish just melding together in one bowl.

Last year, I discovered this recipe for restaurant-style Mexican rice. It has since become a staple whenever I make Mexican food at home. Sometimes I make mission style burritos with it, sometimes I serve it alongside enchiladas, and sometimes I just eat it straight out of the pot because it’s that good.

In the recent months leading up to the creation of this food blog, I have become more creative with creating my own original recipes. However, one of the amazing things about the internet is how there are so many great food bloggers and chefs out there who share their recipes with the world and inspire us all. In this case, I have taken some already amazing rice from another food blogger and added some of my own touches to it (or more accurately, piled on top of it).

Today, I’m sharing how I make burrito bowls with this lovely rice. This bowl is a complete meal, and an incredibly filling vegetarian dish. If you want to add meat to it you certainly could, but I’m here to tell you that I don’t even miss the meat because everything is so flavorful and aromatic!

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The rice is of course the base for this dish. I then add seasoned black beans, homemade salsa and guacamole, Monterey Jack cheese, and sour cream. The salsa is my Mom’s recipe and you literally throw all the ingredients in the blender, but people always ask how to make it because it is truly amazing! The guacamole in the bowl gives you a nice brightness from the lime juice and zest. The rice takes a little bit of effort to make, but once you have it done this meal is a cinch to throw together.

This is one of those meals that makes me extremely excited to have leftovers. It makes plenty, and you will definitely want extra (Eric has caught me several times spooning extra rice into my mouth while I pack up the leftovers– I really can’t resist!)  You could put all of this in a wrap the next day and take it for lunch, top it all with a  fried egg for breakfast, or just repeat the burrito bowl!

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Burrito Bowls

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 batch of Culinary Hill’s Mexican rice (I use veggie broth instead of chicken broth here)

2 cans of black beans

1 tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

6 oz freshly shredded Monterrey Jack cheese (Cotija cheese also works well, if you can find it)

½ cup sour cream

Salsa

1 (15 oz) can of diced tomatoes

1 cup cilantro leaves

½ of a jalapeno, roughly chopped

½ of an onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Guacamole

2 ripe Haas avocados

Zest and juice from a lime

¼ cup finely diced red onion

¼ cup finely diced tomato

½ cup cilantro, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Make the rice.
  2. Meanwhile, make your guacamole: Peel the avocados, and mash them in a medium-size bowl until you reach your desired consistency (I like my guac fairly smooth, but feel free to keep it on the chunkier side). Add the lime juice and zest, cilantro, tomatoes, onion, salt, and pepper to the bowl. Stir and set aside.
  3. Make your salsa: Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth (Again, you can keep it on the chunkier side if that is what you prefer). Set aside.
  4. Place the black beans in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add cumin and ½ tsp salt, and heat until warmed through. Set aside.
  5. To assemble the bowls, Place about a cup of rice in each bowl. Top with beans, guacamole, shredded cheese, salsa, and sour cream.

Polenta Bowls with Buttery Herbed Mushrooms and a Crispy Fried Egg

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I have a theory in life, and it’s that everything tastes better with a fried egg on top. Okay, maybe not everything, but nearly everything. Ever since I was little, I can remember my Dad digging through the fridge some nights, frying up whatever leftovers we had in a pan, and topping it all with a crispy fried egg. I was constantly hungry as a child (certainly not for lack of food!), so I would always light up with excitement when I heard him rummaging around the kitchen several hours after dinner. Mom and Erika always said they weren’t hungry and didn’t want any, but my Dad always knew to make a little extra. Once the aroma filled the kitchen, they would come trotting in with the dog and soon enough everyone wanted a bite of whatever it was he created.

These bowls were dually inspired by my Dad, because he seems to throw together these kinds of meals effortlessly;  and Ina Garten, because her Parmesan polenta recipe is the BOMB. You’ve heard my spiel on mushrooms before (see this post), so I won’t repeat myself but suffice to say these mushrooms are delightfully savory.

Let’s talk for a minute about how to get your egg super crispy. I use a lot of olive oil, and I fry each egg individually to maximize the crisp-factor. You want the oil to be screaming hot before you crack your egg into the pan. I once heard a chef say that when oil starts to shimmer, it’s “getting nervous.”  For some reason I absolutely adore that expression. I don’t put the egg in the pan until I can tell the olive oil is getting nervous. When you do crack your egg, be careful! The hot oil is going to splatter a little bit. Basically, the extremely hot oil gives you a beautifully golden brown crust all along the edge of the egg. I take a metal spoon and use the oil in the pan to baste the whites of the egg. This allows you keep a runny center on the egg but cook the whites all the way through, and you never have to even flip the egg!

When you dig into this bowl of deliciousness, the first thing you need to do is break that egg yolk and let that liquid sunshine get nice and comfy with the polenta and mushrooms.  Am I the only one who thinks it’s kind of sensual to watch an egg yolk drip all over its neighboring food? (I know Eric is with me on this one. Whenever I top our dinner with crispy fried eggs, he gets this little smirk on his face right before he breaks the yolk). Maybe we’re a little weird. If you haven’t spent this much time thinking about egg yolks, make this dish and take pleasure in the first bite when there is beautiful, glorious egg yolk running all throughout the bowl.

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Polenta Bowls with Buttery Herbed Mushrooms and Crispy Fried Eggs

Serves 2

Ingredients:

½  batch of Parmesan Polenta

½  lb mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (I used a great local shiitake, but most other mushrooms would probably work great!)

3 tablespoons butter

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

2 eggs

3 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Fresh Italian Parsley, for garnish (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Make the parmesan polenta according to these directions. Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan and let them sit—don’t stir yet! Let them get golden brown on one side, about 3 minutes. Add the thyme to the pan. Stir the mushrooms sparingly and continue to cook for another 5 minutes or so, until golden brown and tender. Turn the heat off and season the mushrooms with salt and pepper.
  3. Fry your eggs: In a small skillet, let the oil get “nervous” (AKA extremely hot) first. This should take around 3-4 minutes on fairly high heat. When your oil is screaming hot, add your egg (I do one at a time, but you could do both at the same time if you really want to). Using a small metal spoon, scoop up small amounts of oil from the pan and use it to baste the egg whites. Season the egg with salt and pepper. All in all this takes about 3 minutes until your egg should be perfectly crispy with a runny yolk.
  4. Assemble your bowls: Spoon a generous amount of polenta into each bowl. Top with sautéed mushrooms, a crispy fried egg, and fresh parsley.

 

Orzo Salad with Marinated Feta       

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One of my obsessions lately is creating happy hour in my own home. There is something so satisfying about sitting on your own porch with a perfectly paired beer, wine, or cocktail with homemade nibbles that make you feel like you’re at a top notch restaurant.

This weekend I was in the mood for Mediterranean food, and the words marinated feta popped into my head. Eric always laughs at me when I have these light bulb moments, but it’s honestly where I get a lot of my recipe ideas.  I’ll just be going about my day when all of a sudden I see food combinations in my head and I have to stop what I’m doing to jot it down right away. In this case, I Googled marinated feta and found a recipe but tweaked it to suit what I was in the mood for. At this point, the orzo salad was basically just an excuse to make marinated cheese. However, I was extremely pleased with this experiment. This pasta salad is the perfect summer side dish! I served it with homemade hummus, toasted pita, and olives.

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Over the years I have come up with a specific method when it comes to making pasta salads. It is imperative that you dress the noodles when they are piping hot and still have a little bit of starchy pasta water coating them—that way, the flavor of the dressing really soaks into the noodles. However, I don’t like to throw all my veggies and cheese in when the noodles are so hot because they can lose their crunch and become limp. The solution that I have found that gets you perfect pasta salad every time is to divide your dressing: Use a little over half of the dressing with the hot noodles, and then save the reserved dressing for when they have cooled down a bit. Then you can toss in your veggies and other ingredients with the remaining dressing and you get a perfectly dressed pasta salad with deep layers of flavor throughout.

But back to the star of this pasta salad: the marinated feta. Roasted lemons and garlic give you a deeply concentrated flavor that takes the feta cheese to a whole new level. Fresh oregano and thyme give it a freshness to balance out the saltiness of the cheese while complementing the lemon. You could just eat this cheese on a piece of toasted pita and call it a day. But this salad is super easy to throw together, so there is really no reason not to make it a meal!

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Orzo Salad with Marinated Feta

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb orzo pasta

1 paint cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 large cucumber, peeled and diced

1/3 cup diced red onion

¼ cup fresh chopped dill

1 clove garlic, minced

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

½ cup good quality olive oil

Salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

For the marinated feta– 

8 oz feta cheese, sliced ½ inch thick

2 lemons

3 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

*Recipe for marinated Feta adapted from Bon Appetit

Directions:

  1. Start by making the marinated feta: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice one of the lemons in thin rounds and place on a baking sheet with the whole cloves of garlic (peel and all). Drizzle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the lemons are lightly charred and the garlic is nicely roasted. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. In a small dish, combine the feta slices with the remaining ½ cup of olive oil, the juice from the remaining lemon, the pepper flakes, oregano, and thyme. Peel the roasted garlic and crush it with your hands, distributing the garlic throughout the dish. Stir very gently to combine.
  3. Cover and chill the feta for at least 4 hours, but preferably 8-10 hours.
  4. Cook the orzo until al dente.
  5. While the orzo is cooking, prepare the dressing: Combine the minced garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until all ingredients are nicely combined.
  6. As soon as you drain the orzo, place it in a large bowl. Dress the orzo with roughly ¾ of the prepared dressing. Reserve the remaining ¼ of dressing for later. Allow the orzo mixture to cool slightly, around 30 minutes.
  7. When the orzo has cooled, add in the cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, dill, and remaining dressing. Toss to combine.
  8. Using your hands, crumble the marinated feta in large chunks and add into the salad. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the marinating liquid over the salad. Gently stir to combine.
  9. Chill salad in the refrigerator until ready to eat.