Thursday, July 31, 2014

Basil + Lime Watermelon Granita

It's hot and you don't want to cook. I get it. What you do want is a sno-cone–and lots of 'em! Well, this watermelon granita beats out any sugary syrup snow ball and will probably be the best iced treat you'll have all year. Don't let the fancy Italian term "granita" fool you. This dessert is so simple, it only requires four ingredients. The star of the show is the watermelon, so get a good one. 

I know what you're thinking..."But how do I know if it's a great watermelon?" Here's a few pointers:
• A ripe watermelon should have a deep hollow sound when you thump it. 
• It should be heavy... That means it's full of juice!
• Look for a yellow splotch on the outside of the watermelon. That's a sign that it had time to ripen in the field. 

Basil-Lime Watermelon Granita
Half of a large Watermelon, cut into small chunks
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sugar
4-5 basil leaves, roughly torn apart

1. Fill a blender all the way to the top with the watermelon chunks and cover with the lid. Blend until the watermelon is liquid, then add the lime juice, sugar and basil leaves. Continue to blend until the bits of basil are very small, about 10 seconds. 

2. Pour the watermelon juice mix into a metal or glass baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and place into the freezer. After about 1 1/2 hours, use a fork to scrape and break up all the frozen parts. Cover and place back in the freezer. Wait another hour and repeat by scraping with a fork, until all the ice is broken up into flakes. After one more hour, scrape your granita once more with the fork, then it's ready to serve. Serve in small bowls or cocktail glasses with a basil garnish. Keep any leftovers covered in the freezer. 

Any leftover watermelon will gladly be consumed by our four-legged friends. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

So long Big Apple, Hello Charm City!

After a lovely thirteen years in Manhattan, the time has finally come for me–and this blog–to seek out greener pastures. If you ask my husband and two dogs, they'll tell you it's not a moment too soon. Things were getting a little cramped in our one-bedroom apartment and now we'll be able to stretch our legs in a real grown-up house! So we've relocated to Maryland–an awesome place on its own, and also where I spent much of my youth. Being back in Baltimore means I can re-introduce myself to–and enjoy–a few of the culinary treats I loved as a kid. My favorites are Old bay (and anything crab related, really), Berger Cookies and last, but not least, the lemon stick! The emergence of this unexpectedly delicious lemon treat is debatable, but most agree that it began at the Baltimore Flower Mart. They are a staple at every Baltimore school bake sale and I recently indulged in a few (okay, like five) as a break from all this hard "moving-in" work. 

The recipe couldn't be simpler:
Slice a lemon in half, cut an x in the center (where all the membranes meet) and insert the peppermint stick. Now, it's imperative that the peppermint stick be the soft variety as the whole point of the stick is to suck out the lemon juice through the stick. So make sure you don't use any 'ol candy cane. Get these and you're just a lemon short of having the most delicious and refreshing summer treat. (If you're up for a boozy treat, try soaking the lemon halves in vodka before you pop in the peppermint stick!)

I'll be sure to keep you in the loop as we fix up the house here-and-there. Everyone loves a before/after pic, right? 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Whole Plum Pies

Summer fruit desserts are truly the best–they're deliciously simple and nearly impossible to mess up. Also, the fruit filling is easily interchangeable. I made these whole plum pies with fresh plums (because I absolutely love the color of a plum), but you could swap 'em for a peeled peach or nectarine. Anything is delicious when it's wrapped in pie crust. (I mean, maybe not an old shoe, but most fruits are anyway.) And since nobody wants to be stuck in a hot kitchen in the summer, this dessert won't take up your entire day. In fact, you can make these in the morning and set them aside for dessert. Oh, and always add a scoop of vanilla ice cream:)

Whole Plum Pies
You'll Need:
Pie Crust (recipe below)
6 medium sized ripe plums, rinsed 
6 Tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
6 teaspoons brown sugar
milk or egg wash
sliced almonds or turbinado sugar for topping the pies

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove one disk of pie crust from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured work surface until the crust is about 1/8" thick. Use a large circle cutter or flip a bowl over and use a knife to trace around the rim to cut circles of dough that measure about 6" in diameter. Collect any scraps, re-roll and cut until you have six circles. 
2. Slice each plum in half and carefully cut out and discard the pit. You'll be left with a well in the center of the plum half where the pit was. Place a few cubes of butter and a teaspoon of sugar into the well of one half, then place the remaining plum half on top so the plum is whole again. 
3. Wrap the whole plum inside a dough circle and place into a heavily greased muffin tin. Repeat until all six plums are wrapped and in the tin. Brush the tops with milk or an egg wash and sprinkle the almonds or turbinado sugar on top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown and the plum is soft. Cool pies before removing from the tin and eating. 

Flaky Butter Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks very cold unsalted butter, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces 
1/3 cup ice water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Use a pastry blender or a large fork to cut the butter cubes into the flour, working quickly and incorporating all of the flour mixture until the butter pieces are the size of tiny peas. Make sure you don't over-work the butter. Visible chunks of butter = better tasting crust!

2. Slowly drizzle the ice water into the flour mixture and stir until the dough just begins to pull together. (You might not use all of the water.) Pull dough together into a ball. Divide the dough in half and place each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a disk and chill in the fridge for at least one hour. You'll probably only need one disk for this recipe, so keep the other disk chilled for another day.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bourbon Blondies!

Two very amazing things are happening here. For one, I've listed bourbon in a recipe. That's great news in itself, but there is one other standout moment happening–I am actually endorsing blondies. Now, you may not know this but I hate used to hate blondies. I always looked at blondies like the half-ass version of a brownie–a pathetic, flavorless step-brother to the chocolate chip cookie. Recently, my brother-in-law mentioned that he loved blondies and a very intense dessert debate ensured. (We've been down this road a few years back on the topic of fudge, as I lack respect for any fudge that's not chocolate.) Anyway, after some convincing arguments on his part, I decided to give blondies a second chance. Boy, am I glad I did! Really, all the blondie needed was a little love and a good amount of bourbon. Sure, you could use any whiskey, but the bourbon packs a sweet, vanilla scented punch. The toasted walnuts are nutty and crunchy and the chocolate chips are 100% necessary, so don't even think about skipping out on those.

To my brother-in-law Charles, I owe you an apology...and a batch of blondies. (I already ate all of these.) The best part is we can discuss more desserts over the remaining bottle of bourbon. 

Bourbon Blondies
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons flour
Pinch of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Bourbon
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1 cup chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, sift or whisk the flour, cinnamon and salt and set aside. In a large bowl mix the melted butter and brown sugar until no lumps remain. Add in the egg, vanilla and bourbon, then stir in the flour mixture. Mix in the toasted walnuts and chocolate chips until just combined. Pour into a greased (or parchment paper lined) 8x8" pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool slightly before cutting and serving. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Simple Outdoor Birthday Party...

Photo: Luis Zepeda

It's hard to believe our little man turned one last weekend! My husband and I decided to avoid all the bells-and-whistles that kids' parties seem to have these days and instead celebrated with a small crew at a very low-key party in the park. It's so tempting to go over-the-top for a first birthday party; Damn you Pinterest for making me feel like I need a DIY piñata and balloon animal station at my kids birthday! Sure, the "pre-baby" Seton would have opted for that DIY piñata, but a low-key party was the best decision we could have made. Time consuming planning and labor intensive party decor wouldn't have made the slightest difference in the amount of fun our guests (and our son) had. Instead, some simple decorations and menu choices kept this party fun and easy! My advice to anyone celebrating their kids birthday...KEEP. IT. SIMPLE. 

Photo: Luis Zepeda

Here's how we kept Nolan's party easy peasy...

THEME & DECOR: I kept it as simple as a color scheme. I chose blue and green to simulate sky and grass. No big conceptual ideas here–It's a party in the park–so I decided to let the park drive the theme. I sent my husband down to grab a few tables in the park, then we covered them with a roll of blue/green wrapping paper I scored at HomeGoods (of course). A sky and grass themed banner plus a mix match of polka dots and stripes in blue and green was just enough color to make things festive.

FOOD: It was hot out and I had to carry everything from our apartment a few blocks into the park. This meant lots of lightweight and temperature stable foods. Finger sandwiches seemed to do the trick with PB&J, cucumber & dill, and chicken salad options. I also had prosciutto wrapped melon and some veggies with dip. I made "dirt cupcakes" consisting of a vanilla cupcake topped with a simple chocolate buttercream, chocolate cookie crumbs and a gummy worm. I added a few sprouts of grass with a grass piping tip like this and some green buttercream. Because it was hot, I stuck with Arnold Palmers and lemonade. 

Favors were the typical assortment of crappy dollar store toys like noisemakers and goofy glasses, yay! Animal crackers are also easy for kids on the go.

The "smash" cake was devils food, covered in sky blue buttercream frosting, fondant clouds and letters.

Photos: Luis Zepeda

Ah, the cake carnage.... Nolan put his foot in the cake, which made things exciting. And despite the gorgeous weather, towards the end it started to POUR! (I mean torrential downpour.) But we brought the party back to our apartment and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Keeping things simple meant very little clean-up or leftovers. All-in-all, I kept my sanity and Nolan had his first handful of cake, introducing him to one of the best things in life. It was a good day.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Honey-Quinoa Cornbread

Can we all just agree that cornbread is one of life's most wonderful treats? It goes with just about everything! Whether it's toasted and slathered with butter for breakfast or accompanying a bowl of chili, cornbread is a good thing. I set out to make a traditional cornbread sweetened with honey, then I had a bit of an "aha!" moment. Sitting in my fridge was a container of leftover quinoa that I knew would get tossed if I didn't use it. Before I go on, I know what you're thinking...Ugh, not another recipe with quinoa!! Trust me, I know this grain has had quite the moment (and some of us may be a little bit over it), but I've had some delicious muffins with quinoa before, so I knew it would be a natural combination. The addition of honey, quinoa and a savory streusel topping makes this cornbread extra-special. Make these as muffins, or as a loaf. It'll get eaten fast, no matter what.

Honey & Quinoa Cornbread
makes 18 muffins
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 cup cooked red quinoa 
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup honey, plus more for serving
2 eggs
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon), for finishing

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place muffin liners in (or grease) a 12-cup muffin tin. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Turn off the heat when the butter begins to brown slightly and set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, quinoa, baking powder and salt.
3. Whisk the whole milk, honey and eggs into the melted butter. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
4. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the muffin tin and top with streusel topping (recipe below). Bake for 12 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean and streusel topping is golden. Finish with sea salt and serve with extra honey. 

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 stick butter, cubed

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and press together with your fingers to make a coarse crumble. Sprinkle the topping evenly on top of the cornbread batter before baking. 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Strawberry-Chocolate Dessert Dumplings

Whether you call them dumplings, potstickers or gyoza, they're always delicious. Dumplings are a must-have dish every time I dine out at a Chinese restaurant, but very rarely do I make them at home. They're actually quite easy to make and these dumplings are unexpectedly sweet with a strawberry & chocolate filling. Since these dumplings are like no other, a soy dipping sauce just wouldn't work. So what sauce would work with a fruit-filled, sweet dumpling? Enter the balsamic reduction. A simple balsamic glaze serves as the perfect sauce for any strawberry treat. I chose strawberries because I happened to have them at home, but the filling possibilities are endless. Try figs and dark chocolate, bananas with Nutella, or even pears and walnuts. (A pan seared wonton wrapper can pretty much make any dessert combination delicious.) Here's a few tidbits of dumpling knowledge I picked up as I made these: 1. Make sure that lid goes on right as you pour the water in to steam the dumplings. Otherwise the hot oil will go everywhere! 2. Don't over stuff the wonton wrapper and pinch edges tightly to seal the seams. 3. Eat while they are still warm. 

Strawberry Dumplings
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 lb. Strawberries, rinsed and chopped into small pieces
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
wonton wrappers
about 1 cup dark chocolate chips

1. In a small saucepan, bring the balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup light brown sugar to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens and has reduced by half. Cool slightly, then transfer to a small bowl for serving.
2. While the balsamic/brown sugar mix is reducing, macerate the strawberries by placing the chopped strawberries into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and remaining 2 Tbsp. light brown sugar. Stir and set aside for at least 20 min. 
3. Working with one wonton wrapper at a time, place a heaping teaspoon full of the strawberry mix in the center of the wrapper. Add several chocolate chips on top of the strawberries. Wet your finger in a small bowl of water and use it to dampen all four edges of the wrapper. Bring two opposite corners of the wrapper up to meet one another and press them tightly together to seal, then bring the remaining two corners of the wrapper up to meet the first point. Squeeze seams along the four edges to seal completely and set dumpling aside. Work quickly so wrappers don't dry out. 
4. Heat 3 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil in a skillet (that has a lid) on med-high. Place dumplings in a single flat layer on the oil and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes to crisp the bottoms of the dumplings.
5. Reduce the heat t
o medium. Add 1/4 cup of water to the pan and quickly cover to steam the dumplings. Be careful, hot oil hurts! Steam for 3-4 minutes, then take off the lid and gently remove the dumplings to plate.
6. Generously drizzle the balsamic glaze on top of the dumplings (or even sprinkle with some confectioners sugar) and serve with the remaining glaze.