Category Archives: Summer

Cookbooks, Cookbooks, Everywhere!

As we approach the holiday weekend, most people are thinking about heading to the shore, or barbecues with friends, or maybe even some “getting ready for fall” shopping. But, for those who have a long list of projects to do at home, it’s a little different. There is a list…a dreaded list…of things that need to be accomplished this weekend, so I’ll be staying in. First up tomorrow is digging up the flagstone walkway and laying rocks and sand for drainage. Sounds like fun, I know, but it is great to continue to see improvements at the house.

One of the things we recently did was purchase new bookshelves for the living room. I love the way they look, and it was exciting to finally unpack the books that I stored away so long ago. The most exciting for me was going through the cookbooks.cookbooks

As I may have mentioned before, I’m a bit addicted to cookbooks. I love to read through, learn, and get new ideas. I flag pages, stick in post-it notes, and even write notes in some. As I’ve been reminiscing through my cookbooks, I thought I’d share some with you.

The first cookbook I ever used, my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook. I think I “borrowed” it many years ago, but it still somehow managed to survive the move! I still use this recipe for a fruit crisp topping.
Betty Crockerapple crisp

A few of my favorites appear on this shelf. I got the Gourmet Today cookbook a few years ago, and I love it. The recipes are so creative and different. Of course, no collection would be complete without Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Who doesn’t love Julia Childs? You can see all of my “notes” sticking out of the top. And, of course, Joy of Cooking. It was a must when I was starting out!Gourmet, Mastering, and Joy

I’m a huge Martha Stewart fan. Can you tell? They are some of my favorites, especially her The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It’s a great reference book.Martha Stewart

When we travel, my favorite souvenir is a cookbook, especially if we’re somewhere where the food is different from home. Last summer we were in Greece. It took some searching, but I found a great cookbook, that also happened to be in English. Two summers ago we were in Italy and lucky enough to attend a cooking class in Tuscany. I took copious notes at that one…it was phenomenal!Greek and ItalianMy Notes

My prized possessions, my Mommom Phil’s cookbook and recipe cards. I love that the cookbook is so battered and used, and that the recipes are in her handwriting. Sure, most of them don’t have quantities, and you have to guess at some ingredients, but it’s great to see what she loved. And, bonus, she wrote other recipes all over the cookbook!Mommom's RecipesInside Notes

Of course those were only the cookbooks you saw downstairs. I haven’t even unpacked all of the boxes of magazines filled with recipes! 🙂 I guess that’s why they call it labor day! Happy Labor Day everyone!

Ending the Summer with Orzo with Roasted Vegetables!

It’s hard to believe that the summer is drawing to a close, although I have to say, the cool weather is a welcome change. I keep seeing leaves falling from our many trees, and it’s getting me excited for fall. However, I know, there still are a few weeks left. As your squeezing in those final summer get togethers and Labor Day picnics, take a look at this recipe! Orzo with roasted vegetables is a delicious alternative to potato salad or cole slaw, or whatever you normal take. It’s pretty easy, travels great, and is absolutely delicious.

Peel and chop 1 small eggplant into 1 inch pieces. Chop 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, and 1 red onion into 1 inch pieces as well. Throw them all on a sheet pan. Add 2 garlic cloves, minced, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Toss to coat all of the vegetables in the oil, then spread out on the pan. Cook at 425 for 40 minutes until browned. Turn them once with a spatula about half way through so they don’t stick and get evenly browned.Ready for RoastingGetting ThereDone!

Meanwhile, cook ½ lb. orzo according to the package directions. If you’re not familiar with orzo, it’s a pasta, similar in shape to rice. You can find it in your pasta aisle. Once it’s cooked, drain and add it to a large bowl. Add the roasted vegetables when they are done, and any delicious liquid that may have accumulated in the pan. Make the dressing by combining 1/3 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons), 1/3 cup olive oil, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Whisk to combine, then add to the other hot ingredients. Stir, and let them all combine while they cool to room temperature.OrzoRoasted VeggiesJuicing LemonsLemon JuiceOlive OilPepperAlmost Ready

If you’re going to use the salad in a day or so, you can cover and store this salad in the refrigerator before adding the rest. The day you’re going to serve, take the salad out of the refrigerator several hours early to allow to come to room temperature. Add 4 minced scallions (both white and green parts), ¼ cup toasted pine nuts, ¾ lbs. crumbled feta, and 15 basil leaves, thinly sliced.ScallionsBasilPine NutsFetaCombined

Toss everything to combine, and there you go. The recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, and really is a delicious one. Give it a try at your next get together. I guarantee you’ll get rave reviews, and lots of requests for the recipe!

Tomatoes and Cucumbers…the Fruits of the Season!

Wow, where has the time gone? I can’t believe it’s already August. And I can’t believe that it’s been so long since I’ve had a blog post. I guess vacations, cleaning up the overgrown yard of the new house, and every day life got in the way. So sorry, I’ll do better, I promise!

The warm weather and humidity continues in this area, Heat waves and thunderstorms have been a regular occurrence, it seems like since June. The only good thing is that the produce has been delicious and abundant. During this time of the summer, tomatoes and cucumbers are especially delicious, and they make the perfect summer salad.

For me, nothing says summer like cucumber and tomato salad. With the addition of some basil and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette, it’s the perfect side for any meal. Not to mention, it’s great to keep the oven and stove off!

To start, use about equal parts cucumbers and tomatoes. I used 2 cucumbers and 3 large, ripe tomatoes (I know there are 4 in the picture, but I only used 3). Core the tomatoes, and slice into chunks. Add to a large bowl. Peel the cucumbers, and slice into rounds. Add to the same bowl. Finally, add fresh basil. Use 10 basil leaves, thinly sliced, and add to the same bowl.tomatoesslicedchoppedcucumberpeeledready for dressingbasilNext, grab a small bowl to make the vinaigrette. Use equal parts Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar. I used about 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Whisk the two to combine. Add about 3 times the amount of olive oil. I used about 3 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper. ingredientsmustardbalsamicPour the vinaigrette over the vegetables and stir to combine.

My favorite way to enjoy this salad is after it’s sat for about 30 minutes, so the juices of the tomato combine with the vinaigrette. One caveat though, be sure to let the salad marinate on the counter. The salad is best at room temperature, and it really is delicious. Fresh, crunchy, and tangy…just perfect!

Enjoy this last month of summer before it’s gone. And stay cool!

Celebrate the 4th with Roasted Strawberry Sauce…and Ice Cream!

The 4th of July is a great time of year. Summer is in full swing, flowers are blooming, and the farmer’s market is overflowing with produce. To celebrate the holiday this year, I’m making roasted strawberry sauce served over creamy vanilla ice cream. It’s the perfect combination, and the cool ice cream is a welcome treat for the hot July weather.

The roasted strawberry sauce is easy, and it’s a great way to use up strawberries that might be turning past their prime. The strawberries cook down with brown sugar and create a sweet, ruby red, carmelly (I know, inventing words again) sauce that’s perfect with ice cream. And the best thing is, there are only 2 ingredients!

Take 3 cups strawberries that have been hulled and quartered. Spread them out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Trust me, the parchment will make clean up so easy! Top the strawberries with 1 cup brown sugar. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes until soft and syrupy.

strawberriesin baking sheetbrown sugarready for the ovensauce readysauceeasy clean upThat’s it! Pretty simple, and absolutely delicious. Drown some vanilla ice cream in this sauce and dig in. I hope you have an amazing 4th of July, and buckets full of ice cream! 🙂 Enjoy!

enjoy!

Crumb Cake at the Shore!

We spend a lot of time at the shore during the summer. I’m fortunate enough to have had grandparents that were incredibly insightful and built a shore house 40 years ago, before the property values soared. So, every year we head down as often as possible. Some friends will harass us that they won’t see us until Labor Day, but I think they’re just jealous! 🙂

When we’re down the shore with my niece and nephews, breakfast often includes crumb cake. My brother will head to Mallon’s in Avalon, NJ, before anyone wakes up. It’s this delicious crumbly cake with tons of cinnamon, brown sugar topping. It’s delicious! This weekend, we’re taking my 3 nephews to the shore, so I thought I’d attempt to make a homemade version for the boys!

In a small bowl, whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.floursugarbaking powdersaltmixedIn a medium bowl, whisk 1 large egg, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons canola oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Once it’s mixed thoroughly, add the dry ingredients. Fold to combine.eggsmilkcanola oilvanillawhiskedadding flourbatterGrease and flour a 13×9 inch pan. Spread the batter evenly in the pan, then set aside.grease and flour the panready for the battercake layerIn the small bowl that you used for the flour mixture, add 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup light brown sugar, packed, and 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and whisk to combine. Add 1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled, and stir with a rubber spatula to create large crumbs. Sprinkle the crumbs over the batter. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. more flourbrown sugarcinnamonready for butterbuttermeltedadding buttercrumb toppingready for the ovenWhen the cake is done and cooled, dust the top with powdered sugar. Use a sifter or strainer to sprinkle the sugar all over. Slice and dig in!ready for powdered sugarI found this recipe from 2002 for “New York Crumb Cake.” It came from food.com, and it’s a delicious cake, very similar to Mallon’s. The best part is, there is more topping than cake! Enjoy!

Steak House Salad for Summer

It seems like summer’s been here for a while already. Even though Memorial Day weekend started off cool, we had quite the heat wave last week with high temperatures and humidity. With the high temperatures, no one really wants to spend hours in the kitchen preparing dinner. That’s why salads are my go to dinner option in the summer. If you’re looking for a hearty and delicious salad, give this steak house salad a try.

To start, cut 1 onion in half then thinly slice. I like to use a sweet onion like Vidalia, but any will do. Cook the onion in 2 tablespoons over medium high heat until soft and brown, probably 5-10 minutes.onionsfried onionsWhile the onions are cooking, chop 1 head romaine lettuce into bite size pieces, then add to a large bowl. Add 1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half. lettucegrape tomatoeslettuce and tomatoWhen the onions are cooked, pour them over the lettuce and tomatoes. Heat a grill pan, or the pan you just used for the onions if you don’t want to dirty too many dishes, or better yet the grill, over medium high heat. Season a few steaks (I used 3) with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook just a few minutes on each side until cooked on the outside but still pink in the center. I used New York strip, but feel free to use your favorite cut of steak. Once cooked, set them on a cutting board to rest.with onionssteakrestingMake the dressing. Start with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and whisk to combine. Next add 3 tablespoons olive oil, and whisk until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste.DijonbalsamicdressingPour the dressing over the salad, then top with 4 oz crumbled blue cheese. Mix to combine. To serve, slice the steak. Serve the salad in large bowls and top with slices of steak.adding dressingblue cheesemixedslicedIf you’re looking for a summer salad that’s also filling and flavorful, this is the one. The combinations of fried onions and steak are perfect together. Combine the blue cheese, and it’s just perfect. And, to top it all off, with a good amount of protein, you won’t be craving a snack in an hour, I promise! 🙂

Seafood Macaroni Salad for Memorial Day!

It’s hard to believe Memorial Day is already here. It seems like spring just flew by, but I’m thrilled to celebrate the start of summer. Even though it looks like it will be a little cold, the weekend looks great. I’ll be spending the weekend with family and friends at the shore. Whether you’re staying at home or heading out-of-town, I’m sure for many the weekend will include a barbecue. This macaroni salad is a great addition to any barbecue or picnic. The recipe is easy, and the addition of seafood means you’re not just bringing the same old macaroni salad. It’s a sweet, crunchy, delicious side for your next barbecue.

To start, chop 2 bell peppers (I used a yellow and red but any will do), 1 small sweet onion, and 2 ribs of celery. Set them aside.pepperschopped peppersonionscelerychopped veggiesFor the seafood, you’ll need 3 small cans of small shrimp and 3 small cans of lump white crab meat. Drain the seafood well and set aside.shrimpcrabmeatNext, make the dressing. Combine a 15 oz jar of mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, salt, and pepper. If the dressing is too thick, you can always add a little milk to thin it out.mayosugarvinegardressingalmost readyFor the pasta, I like to use elbow. It just seems like macaroni salad should always include elbow macaroni. Cook 2 lbs elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain, then add back to the pot with cold tap water and drain again. Normally, I never suggest “rinsing” the pasta, but for macaroni salad, it works to cool the pasta down. elbowsFinally, mix everything together in the pot you boiled the pasta (no need to dirty something else). Add the pasta, veggies, seafood, and dressing, and stir thoroughly to combine. Give it a taste for seasoning, then refrigerate until cool. It’s best if you can make the salad a day before serving so the flavors can meld, but if you’re in a pinch, just make sure everything is cold.adding pastaadding veggiesadding seafoodadding dressingdoneI hope you all have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend full of family and friends, and maybe some sun! Enjoy!

Nothing Says Spring Like Strawberry Pie!

It’s been a long time coming, but I think it might finally be spring. Sure, the bulbs aren’t exactly bursting with blooms, but I do see some daffodil buds and tulip shoots. The crocuses are out, so that’s a start. And the trees sort of look like there is some growth…sort of?!?!? Anyway, I’ll take it. It’s spring. And nothing says spring more than strawberry pie.

I’ll admit strawberry pie is not you’re most common. Sure, there’s strawberry rhubarb, which I’m sure is quite delicious. However, strawberry, with its sweet, bright red filling, and buttery, flaky crust just says sunny skies to me. So, for Easter, it was the perfect addition to the table.

To start, I use my standard pie crust recipe. You may remember it from Thanksgiving. You want a top and bottom crust for this recipe. As a side note, I had the chance to roll out the dough on my new granite counter tops…WOW! What a difference. The cold, hard surface made it a breeze to roll out dough. Definitely a plus for the new kitchen!

Roll out the crust for the bottom about an inch larger than your pie plate. Spray a 9 inch pie plate with cooking spray and carefully line with the crust. Rest the crust lined pie plate in the refrigerator while you roll out the top crust. You want the top crust a little larger than the pie plate so you can create a seal and crimp.ready to rollrolled outready for fillingFor the filling, you’ll need 4 ½ cups fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters. In another bowl, combine 1 ¼ cups sugar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Combine with the strawberries, and pour into the bottom crust. Dot with 4 tablespoons butter and cover with the top crust.slicingstrawberriessugar and spiceready for combiningready for piefilledTo seal and crimp, cut the edges, leaving about half an inch of overhang from the edge of the pie plate. Fold both crusts over the top so it creates a nice edge around the entire pie. Pinch the edges to crimp. You can do this in a decorative fashion; however, sometimes I just prefer the rustic look. Cut a few slits in the top for ventilation too.coveredcrimpedFor a shiny top, that also adds a delicious sweetness and crunch, cover the crust with 1 teaspoon ½ and ½ (or milk will do) and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar. It is my secret to a delicious crust, and I do it for all of my pies.making the crunchy toppingBake in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. I put the pie plate on a foil lined cookie sheet just to catch any overflow of the juices. And if the crust gets too dark, just cover with a piece of aluminum foil.ready for the oven

So, my next tip, don’t throw away that left over pie dough. Roll it out, brush with 1/2 and 1/2 or milk, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and cut into strips. Bake on a cookie sheet in the same oven for about 10 minutes until golden. These cinnamon-sugar treats are absolutely delicious, and it lets you see just how flaky and perfect you made that pie crust! It’s definitely the perfect snack for the cook.doughcinnamonsugarslicedbakedperfectionIf you’re looking for a pie to make, or just craving something sweet, or something fruity, give this one a try this spring or summer. It is absolutely delicious and just screams warm weather!

A Summer of Nursery Tours

I’ve been very lucky this summer.  I have had the opportunity to tour several nurseries and garden centers, some of which are not always open to the public.  It was so inspiring to see the huge variety of plants that these gardeners are making available to the public, and the cutting-edge techniques some of these nurseries are employing to ensure they are helping, not hurting, the environment.  It was also very exciting to be able to take some of their amazing plants home with me! 🙂

Peace Tree FarmIn June, I attended a nursery tour class through Longwood Gardens.  Our tour guide, and general expert, for the day was David Culp, a knowledgeable gardener and author of The Layered Garden. David planned a tour of several amazing nurseries that day.  The first stop was Peace Tree Farms in Kintnersville, PA, with an impressive greenhouse and state of the art production.  They are certified organic, and they have the most amazing begonias I’ve ever seen.  I’m happy to report that I’m now the proud owner of 6 of their begonias, and they are doing great!

Peace Tree Farm Production

BegoniasWe then went to Paxson Hill Farm in New Hope, PA.  They have a beautiful nursery, filled with amazing plants, but also a garden maze, peacocks, and even turkeys.  I was happy to be able to take home some of their varieties of coneflower and a few other perennials that are doing great in the garden.  Paxson Hill Farm MazePaxson Hill Farm TurkeyPaxwon Hill Farm PeacockOne of the last stops we had that day was at RareFind Nursery in Jackson, NJ.  They had wonderful trees and shrubs, and a great variety.  I’m happy to report that I am now a witch-hazel owner after spending some time at their nursery!Witch HazelNorth Branch Nursery HydrangeasAlso this summer, I was visiting in Ohio and was lucky enough to meet the owners of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, OH.  North Branch Nursery is a truly impressive operation with over 300 acres and 300 varieties of trees and 300 varieties of shrubs.  They grow over 20,000 perennials each year and have 75,000 plants in container production.  It is an absolutely beautiful property.  The property is huge, and we were happy to take a tour.  You can meander through the fields, seeing all of the trees and shrubs they have growing.  And the greenhouses with perennials is a site with such a great variety!  They grow just about everything!North Branch Nursery RosesNorth Branch Nursery ClematisNorth Branch Nursery TreesWhile we were there, I got a Little Lime hydrangea that I was very excited about.  I haven’t seen these before, but it’s a dwarf variety and has the most amazing lime green blooms.  The plant was beautiful and very hardy.  It is doing great in the yard.  North Branch Nursery Little LimeLittle LimeI was also thrilled to receive their 2014 catalog this week in the mail.  You can really see the breath of offerings they have in the catalog.  I can’t wait to dive in and see what other inspiration I get for next year!North Branch Nursery Catalog

So often, we get used to convenience, and if you’re looking for plants, that could mean looking no further than your local Home Depot.  But there really is so much out there.  If you haven’t explored some of those hidden nurseries in your area, even if they are a drive away, give them a try.  Catalogs are also a great way to get variety, but there is nothing like wandering through a nursery to get your creative juices pumping!  I know it was a great experience this summer for me, and I plan to keep it up in the future!

This Weather has Me Thinking about Fall…and Pie (or at least Crab Quiche)!

CrustOk, ok, I know, that headline sounds kind of crazy, but we’ve been having an absolutely amazing summer in the Philadelphia area.  The temperature hasn’t been too warm, and, more importantly, the humidity has been low.  I have absolutely loved it, but now, as kids are starting to go back to school, and the unofficial end of summer is just days away, my mind is already on fall.  Of course, it could be because fall is my number one favorite time of the year.  I love the cold chill in the air, the cozy sweaters, the festive holidays, the leaves changing and crunching under your feet, and, of course, the food.  Actually, I just always love the food, but I digress.

Dishing Up MarylandFor me, nothing says fall like pie.  Call me crazy, and I may be alone here, but for some reason during the fall I think about the holidays and Thanksgiving, and, well, Thanksgiving’s all about the pies.  Anyway, since it is August for a few more days, and I can’t really be jumping into pumpkin pie just yet, I thought instead I’d talk about one of my go-to breakfast items, especially in the summer, crab quiche.

For anything crab, as many of my friends from Baltimore repeatedly tell me, you have to turn to Maryland.  And so, for crab quiche, I turn to Dishing Up Maryland, a great cookbook that talks about the different areas in Maryland and the different specialties.  I’ve modified the crab and Gruyere quiche recipe just a bit, but it’s definitely a winner.

Crab and OnionsFirst, the pie crust.  There are instructions in the recipe for making a pie crust, but I always use my tried and true recipe from my great Aunt Angie. She made the best pies! Maybe one of these days I’ll share that with you. 🙂 But feel free to use any pie crust recipe you like, or just pick up one from the refrigerator section of your grocery store.  I won’t tell.  You’ll need to line a greased 9 inch pie plate with the pie dough.  But the important part for this recipe is the filling.

This is where I mainly differ from the recipe.  The recipe calls for 1/3 cup onion, raw.  For me, I think the raw onions, even after being cooked in the quiche, are too overpowering.  Instead, saute 1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped, with 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped, until the onions are soft and have some color.  I usually do this the night before, then just keep them in the refrigerator.  Sprinkle the onions and garlic over the dough with 1 lb lump crabmeat, and 4 oz. shredded Gruyere cheese.  You can Swisssubstitute Swiss if you can’t find Gruyere, and usually get the block and just shred it in the food processor.  Then, whisk 4 eggs with 1 cup 1/2 and 1/2, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.  Carefully pour this mixture over the quiche.  I put the pie plate on a cookie sheet and put it right next to the oven before I pour, just to minimize my transfer time and the chances of me making a huge mess.

Bake the quiche at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes, until golden.  Definitely let it cool a bit before you cut into it, maybe 10-15 minutes, so that it doesn’t run.

No matter what you’re making this Labor Day weekend, or if you’re not making a thing, I hope you have some time to yourself to enjoy the end to the summer!  Happy Labor Day!