Monday, September 1, 2014

I Fondue, Do You?

Ok, I understand there may be a few fondue haters out there. They're just jealous that fondue is no longer retro. In fact, it's coming back to mainstream entertaining in a big way. Also, fondue is really fun. (Well, I consider eating food smothered in cheese on a stick fun.) My decision to make fondue came the other night rather hastily. Basically, I wanted cheese for dinner. Not cheeseburgers or even a grilled cheese, just plain cheese. I knew there was a wedge of Gruyere in the fridge and I thought about plopping down on my couch with that whole hunk of cheese, calling it a meal and  watching (yet another) episode of Discovery Channel's "Naked and Afraid". But then I realized I have a husband and a kid who wouldn't let that pass for dinner. Also, plopping down on the couch and relaxing at all is something dreams are made of these days. Instantly I thought of loophole where cheese could be the main event in our meal, FONDUE! It usually makes an appearance in the winter months, when its chilly out and you want to cozy up next to a pot of melty stuff. But when you have a craving who gives a crap what month it is. Also, I happened to have an abundance of delicious summer strawberries, so pairing them with chocolate fondue for dessert seemed perfect. Next thing I knew, I was scouring my kitchen in search of any accoutrement for my cheese and chocolate fondue. I had a baguette, some grapes and red potatoes. I mean, you could pretty much dip anything in cheese and chocolate, they are just vessels anyway. With better planning, I would have stocked up on apples, cornichons and some pound cake (for the chocolate fondue), as well.

I didn't have a traditional fondue pot, but it didn't matter–I ate all the stuff before it got cold, anyway. The skewers I used are the cheap wooden ones you can find at any supermarket. I gussied them up a bit by dipping the ends in some craft paint. It took about 5 minutes and makes them adorable and colorful. If you really get into it, you could color code the skewers for each dinner guest.

Cheese Fondue

1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, shredded or cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup dry white wine
pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg (optional)

4 red potatoes
  olive oil
  salt and pepper
  oregano or rosemary
Bread, such as a baguette or pumpernickel, cut into 1" cubes
Sliced apples
Blanched Vegetables, like broccoli or carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bring a pot filled with water to a boil. Wash and cut the potatoes into 1" cubes, then boil until tender and a fork can poke through them. Strain, then spread out on a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil, salt and pepper and the oregano or rosemary. Bake until edges are crispy, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are in the oven, make the cheese fondue. Cook the wine over medium heat, bringing it to a low simmer. In a small bowl, mix the cheese with the flour, tossing it to coat. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering wine. Melt the cheese slowly for a smooth fondue. Otherwise you'll have a stringy mess. Once all the cheese is melted, stir in pepper or a pinch of nutmeg. Transfer to a bowl and serve with dippers.

Chocolate Fondue
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Strawberries, washed and hulled
Sliced apples
Pound cake, cut into 1" cubes

Place the chocolate into a heat safe bowl and set aside. Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe liquid measuring cup for 45 seconds, then pour over the chocolate. Let stand for a few minutes, then stir until all the chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the instant espresso power, then transfer to a bowl and serve with dippers.

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.