Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blackberry Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

A hint of Spring peeked in our front yard this week.
Spring is in the air and Easter is around the corner (and more snow, if you can believe it).  As I have seen all these beautiful little signs of spring pop up in our yard, I look at the weather channel and see it is supposed to snow this Friday...really??  Hard to imagine.

Unfortunately, my husband will have to deal with the snow alone, as my daughters and I leave in the morning for a national tournament.  Also, unfortunately for the first time in 22 years, we will all not be together for Easter morning.  As we return very late Sunday night, it will be historical to not have Easter baskets, morning Mass, or our family brunch together and that makes all of us so incredibly sad.  So much that I didn't even put out one Easter decoration from my menage of decor that I have acquired over the years.

To try and cheer up both of us, I made a coffee cake today so my husband could enjoy for breakfast while we are away.  This is so delicious and would be perfect for your Easter family brunch or even as a dessert with a wonderful freshly made whipped cream topping (or just go ahead and have the whipped cream topped cake for brunch too - why not??!!)

Blackberry Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel
Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

  • 2 cups plus 1 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
  • 16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 eggs, beaten, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 pint blackberries
  • 2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

For the pecan streusel:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Dust the pan with a little flour, tapping out the excess.

In a bowl, sift together the 2 cups flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and orange zest on high speed until light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs and then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream and beginning and ending with the flour, beating until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

In another bowl, combine the blackberries, brown sugar, cinnamon and the 1 Tbs. flour. Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Top with the berry mixture, taking care that no berries touch the sides of the pan. Spread the remaining batter over the berries, smoothing the top.

To make the streusel, in a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar and butter. Using your fingers, work the ingredients together until just combined, then work in the pecans. Press the mixture together into a ball and then separate it with your fingers into coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the cake.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Cut the cake into squares and serve. Serves 12.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pear Salad and the CIA

Today marks a very big event...my girls start their first real job.  It has been a process, but we got the news last week that they are officially hired!!

It was a great life lesson experience for them...after a very extensive application process, interview, math test, drug test, fingerprinting and background check.  So after successfully completing all of that, not only are they are approved to work concessions, I'm quite certain they have gone through the necessary stages to also work for the CIA.  

I have never seen such a process just to be able to sell candy and officiate a volleyball game.  Now I know I am getting old...things have certainly changed since I got my first job at 16.

Since empty nest syndrome is slowly creeping in even more at our house, looks like our dinners and meals will continue to become simplified.  So, here's a great salad we enjoyed during one of our home alone nights.

Pear Salad

1/2 cup chopped pecans
4 Tbls. olive oil
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice
1 head green leaf lettuce (about 6 cups), cut into bite size pieces
1/2 pear, cored and thinly sliced
4 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

Heat saute pan/skillet on medium heat.  Add the pecans and lightly toast until become fragrant and golden brown.

In a small bowl, mix olive oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt and pepper and whisk until well blended.

In a large serving bowl, place the lettuce leaves and pears.  Add the mixed salad dressing and toss.   Plate the salad on individual plates and top with toasted pecans and Gorgonzola cheese.

(Makes 2 dinner size salads or 4 side salads)

One Year Ago:  Honey Ham Biscuit Sliders

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Blarney Bark

An Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Started an extra early day today, as I was waiting for my allotted shower time slot...corned beef in the crockpot, baby red potatoes washed and ready to boil and as we are trying to get out the door, one daughter says, "Mom, we forgot to get my pie for my math class this morning!"...some things just never change. (they are celebrating "Pi" day this week). The great part is since my girls have their driving licenses now..."you better get in the car and go then", I replied. Love it!!

Knowing that we have a salty dinner ahead, I searched through my dessert cookbook last night looking for something fun to have this evening.  I came across my friend Annie's "Crunch Bars" recipe that she gave me a few years ago during the holidays.  She uses milk chocolate chips and tops them with crushed pecans...so, so yummy.

I remembered that I had a bag of white chocolate chips in the freezer and thought I would give this recipe a new spin with food coloring.  I am definitely going to keep this around for future holidays as well.  Purple or pink food coloring would be great for Easter and blue for 4th of July...the possibilities are endless.

Blarney Bark
Inspired by Annie's Crunch Bars

Club Crackers, about 1 sleeve
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
12 oz. White Chocolate Chips (I use Ghiradelli)
Green Food Coloring

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place crackers in a foil lined 9 x 13 baking dish.
(Spray foil with non-stick spray, prior to adding crackers)

Add butter and sugar to saucepan.  Cook on medium high heat until 
butter is completely melted and mixture is well blended, stirring
occasionally.  Bring to boil, stirring for 3 minutes.

Pour melted butter/sugar mixture in pan and 
spread evenly over crackers.  
Bake 5 - 7 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

Remove pan from oven and immediately sprinkle with
white chocolate chips, let stand 5 minutes or until chocolate is softened.

Spread melted chocolate evenly.

Add a few drops of green food coloring.

Spread food coloring in each direction of pan.
Cool completely and break into pieces.

Super easy, fast and delicious!!!

One Year Ago: Green Eggs and Ham

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Luck of The Irish Cupcakes

It's been a very emotional week for me.  We had to wish my mom and niece a farewell and say good-bye to them so they could go back home.  A couple days later, my friend Toni from ( A Taste of Alaska Blog ) came through town and had dinner with us.  Unfortunately it was very bittersweet as we only got to see her for a couple hours and she had to get back on the road.  I was so sad to see her leave since we live so far from each other (I powered down some chocolate cake when she left..I told you it was a rough week,).  It was also the anniversary of my sister-in-law Jodi's passing, which is always very sad for me this time of year.

On a brighter note though, my grandmother (a.k.a. GGMa) celebrated her 88th birthday!!  She is such an amazing lady and quite honestly is doing better than all of us. So, to help cheer me up, my husband and I took our labradors for a very long walk this morning.  It was a glorious, sunny start to our day and I needed fresh air.  We ended up taking the dogs and walking to our new favorite breakfast spot, Mac's Place.

We found a perfect table out on their patio, tied up the dogs to the bike rack, I ordered up my 2 eggs scrambled, bacon, hash browns and sourdough toast with strawberry jam...just what the doctor ordered.

Earlier in the week I also picked up my niece's rainbow clover that she painted at Crackpots.  It was fired, glossy and so very cute.  Her artpiece inspired me to make "Luck of the Irish Cupcakes".  I saw them on Pinterest a few weeks ago and thought they were just adorable.  My friend Toni who is so incredibly creative when it comes to bakery confections, I know she would be proud of me to take these on.

I wish my niece could have been here to help me make these, she would have loved it.  

I am bringing a tray of them to my girls' tournament tomorrow. 
 Hopefully, it will bring them a little luck.

One Year Ago:  Simply Salmon and Shrimp Tortellini

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Breakfast Casserole and Breaking The Rules

I love looking at the world through the eyes of a child.  When my twins were toddlers, they would look out our large picture window, into the backyard and watch the dogs run.  They would laugh and laugh and happily watch them run back and forth chasing each other.  I would get down on my knees at look at everything with them at their height.  There is so much joy at that age (and height) and I think we can all take away a little life learning lesson with that.

As I spent the last week with our niece I was reminded of  how we need to open ourselves up to let the pressures go and enjoy a little happiness every now and again.  We had so much fun with her, she had us laughing every single day.

A special stop at our favorite Happy Cakes.
Oh so good!!!
Painting our very lucky charm, complete with a rainbow
and pot of gold, during "Paint Me A Story" time at Crackpots..

During our "Paint Me A Story" time at Crackpots, we painted a four leaf clover and added the centered rainbow and pot of gold.  My niece asked me to help her with the rainbow.  I did the first two colors and she asked to finish the rest of it.  Now being an art and design major, I tend to get a little particular when it comes to art projects.  She took her brush, dipped in the next paint color and followed my lead in the rainbow.  I watched her diligently try to keep it neat and not mess up the lines...she is 5 years old and of course the lines were not perfect...and it didn't matter.  I just let her paint.  She was so happy and excited with her accomplishment.

So in the end, I learned it is okay to break the rules a little...paint outside the lines and eat a cupcake. 
Do what makes you happy and one day, stop and look at the world through the eyes of a child. 

Breakfast Casserole

24 oz. frozen hash browns (about 3/4 of a bag)
16 oz. ham steak, cut into cubes
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
12 large eggs
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)

(optional) hot sauce (like Franks's) or your favorite brand
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray.  Add the frozen hash browns, ham, and cheese to a large bowl. Mix and combine well. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. 

In the same bowl you mixed the hash browns in, whisk the eggs with the milk, (a couple dashes of hot sauce) salt, and pepper.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the hash browns, cheese and ham.

Bake until the center is set and the edges are lightly brown. (about one hour for baking time).

One Year Ago:  Sweet Dreams

Theo, my photography assistant was there to oversee
the photo shoot of this dish during breakfast.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

24 Hour Salad (And To Departure)

Well, it's been just about 24 hours since we had to say "good-bye" to my mom and niece.  We had five action packed and tourist filled days with them, complete with pottery painting, gourmet cupcakes, butterflies and many, many laughs.  It is always sad to make the airport departure farewells and we miss them so much already.

Beautiful girl and butterfly at Westminster's "Butterfly Pavilion".
She named her butterfly "Rosetta".

Cute as a button!
For our Sunday night family dinner before they left, we made my mom's favorite grilled Tri Tip steak, mustard roasted baby red potatoes and this 24 hour salad.  Perfect ending to a perfect visit with family.

24 Hour Salad

1 head iceberg lettuce, washed and chopped
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 cup frozen baby peas
2 Tbl. granulated sugar
2 cups mayonnaise (I like Best Foods Olive Oil mayonnaise)
1-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
6 slices cooked bacon, chopped

In a large trifle or tall clear glass dish, layer ingredients (from bottom to top), lettuce, celery, red pepper, red onion, baby peas, sugar, mayonnaise (spread evenly over peas), cheddar cheese and finish off with chopped bacon.

Cover dish tightly with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate 24 hours before serving.

Everyone loves Angus!!
One Year Ago:  Chili Cheese Egg Bake

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spicy Asian Beef and Stocking Snacks

If there is one thing I have learned after these years in competitive club sports, it's to be prepared and pack snacks!!!  I have a really difficult time paying $5.00 for a Gatorade or $3.50 for a power bar, at a convention center or even an airport for that matter...anywhere, really.  I am teaching the girls about the high price of paying for "convenience".   I think they are starting to understand.  (Although as they see it, if mom is saving money on snacks, it's more money for them to spend at Hollister).  Well, baby steps...

This past weekend, I was determined not to fall into that trap.  I packed individual snack bags for the girls each day they were in Denver.  It worked out perfect!!  Players typically just graze all day and don't want a heavy meal to weigh them down.  The best part was any leftovers from the weekend, can be used by our grazing family throughout the week.

Stocked and Snack Ready
After a very long and exhausting weekend, an easy no nonsense dinner was in order.  I had left all my energy in Denver and wanted something relatively quick and didn't require much thought.

This is a great way to use up any extra veggies that you have in your crisper drawer.  The dish made a lot and was perfect for work lunch leftovers the next day.

Spicy Asian Beef

2 lbs. boneless chuck beef, thinly sliced
2 cups red and orange bell pepper, chopped (about 1" squares)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbsp flour
2 tsp freshly chopped garlic
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley
olive oil

In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat.
Add the sliced onions, garlic and peppers.  Saute until just starting to turn light brown.  Remove from pan and set aside in dish.

In same pan (turn burner to medium heat setting) add the sliced beef, season with salt and pepper. Cook meat until lightly seared, but not cooked through. Sprinkle flour over meat and stir.  Cook meat/flour mixture about 5 minutes to cook off the flour taste.

Return the sauteed vegetables to pan with the meat.  Add the beef broth, soy sauce and Tabasco sauce, stir well and cover pan with lid. Simmer on low setting for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over cooked white (or your favorite) rice with fresh chopped parsley.