(For a Delicious 1st Birthday)
As parents we spend the first year of our children's lives celebrating all the momentous milestones: The first smile, rolling over, crawling, the first tooth, the first word and finally the first attempt at walking. Many sleepless nights are spent in those first few weeks as well as numerous trips to the drugstore for infant Tylenol for a cranky teething baby and wandering through the aisles of what seems like endless cabinet safety latches and toilet safety clips. Through all the sleepless nights, mounds of diaper changes and endless feedings we endure, sweet innocence prevails. Sweet moments of first words, softly read lullabies and clean, baby soft skin linger with us as parents as they grow and become more independent and less dependent on us.
I grew up enjoying classic dense cheesecakes complete with graham cracker crust and a slightly sweet sour cream topping. On special occasions, sweet cherry pie filling would cascade over the side adding to the decadence of the cake. My mother was an accomplished cook and there was always some sort of pastry or dessert in the house. On holidays and special occasions we could count on her creating the most delicious and decadent treats. She made everything from homemade pies to crème filled chocolate cupcakes. The most memorable and often most requested was her sour cream cheesecake.
The kids are back to school, the leaves are starting to turn and the Christmas decorations are beginning to show up in the big box stores..... What???? Christmas decorations already?! I don't know about you, but I am not quite ready to let go of the last bit of summer we have left! I stepped outside this morning and was hit with a wall of hot, humid air and thought to myself, "I am oddly okay with this." I know that in a few short weeks we will be bundled up in sweaters and blankets to watch Friday night football games and sipping on hot apple cider. So..... for now I'm savoring the hot sticky weather by making a very summery treat! Lemons are often associated with memories of warm sunny days, the smell of freshly mowed grass and a cold glass of refreshing lemonade savored on a hot sticky day. Throw in a few ripe red raspberries and you have the perfect summertime drink! Raspberry lemonade bars are that cool, refreshing glass of lemonade in a handy and very portable dessert. As many of you have already packed up for a last summer weekend at the beach, or your last weekend up north at the cottage, why not savor the last warm days of summer? I encourage you to make a batch of raspberry lemonade bars to enjoy it just a little bit more. Better yet, serve them with some Vanilla Bean Lemonade to wash 'em down!
It's canning season;that time of the year when you wonder why in the world you planted that many tomato, jalapeño and squash plants?! After a long and often dreary winter, the anticipation of planting and tending to a large garden full of vibrant fruits and vegetables is extremely enticing to all garden savvy Midwesterners. In our giddiness for warm weather and green growth, we often forget that at the end of a very brief (sadly) warm and sunny summer, we are left with more vegetables than one family of four could ever eat! What do we do? We can! Canning preserves that sun-kissed real vegetable taste that many of us crave in the long winter months. A bright jar of fresh fruits and vegetables that gives us the hope that spring will come once again and endurance to brave the long cold winters.
There is nothing quite as homey or satisfying in the morning as a slice of freshly made banana bread. Warm from the oven slathered in butter, it is the perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of coffee! Let's be honest though, who has the time to make from scratch a loaf of bread?! I think I found the perfect solution to this conundrum! Banana bread French toast! The bread can be made days, or even weeks, ahead of time when it fits into our hectic schedules, and then frozen. Simply remove the frozen bread the night before and let it thaw out on the counter. Add some fresh berries and a simple mascarpone whipped cream, and your loved ones will think you slaved for hours just for them.
It's a sweltering August evening and you are looking for the perfect drink to serve your guests -- something that is not too sweet but it still light and fruity with a punch. Mint juleps are cold, refreshing and beg to be sipped slowly -- perfect for those hot summer nights surrounded by friends and great food.
The mint julep has a long and rich history. The drink gained popularity in celebration of the Kentucky Derby in 1938, and sold for $ 0.75 in a souvenir cup that patrons could take home with them. On average, the Derby sells more than 80,000 of this signature drink during the event. The question still remains, "Why do you always see mint juleps in a classic and recognizable silver cup?" The south is rich in tradition, and the mint julep cup was traditionally given as gifts at weddings, christenings and races. The cup symbolizes achievement, high regard and prestige.
My husband loves avocados, which was great when we lived in San Diego where fresh avocados were available year round. Finding the perfect ripe avocado that doesn't cost $3.00 proved to be a bit of a challenge here in West Michigan this winter. When the season began again, and the prices dropped to a more reasonable $1.50, I began to think once again about this luscious little fruit. Fresh guacamole is delicious, sliced avocado is lovely and salads of avocado are amazing, but after awhile it becomes a little monotonous. In my quest to discover new ways to use this creamy, delicious fruit, I have found and created a couple new desserts. I know it's hard to grasp, but avocados are delicious in dessert applications! The texture of the fruit makes it easy to blend them into ice cream and whipped creams. My favorite way to use them is in a delicious avocado cream. A simple combination of heavy cream and sugar beaten together with half of an avocado can create a heavenly dessert. Kick it up a notch with a crispy cinnamon sugar tortilla and a delicious currant sauce.
If you have never experienced the taste of a fresh fig now is the time to try one! Green Kadota figs have a very short growing season, typically late July to early September. The small green fruit produces a bright green exterior and a beautiful pink interior. The fruit is less sweet than its black counterpart, the mission fig. Green figs are the perfect accompaniment to a crisp glass of white wine or a delicious variety of gourmet cheeses. One of my favorite ways to serve this small fruit is dipped in rich dark chocolate sauce and rolled in chopped hazelnuts. Simple and elegant, this dessert is the perfect way to satisfy those sweet cravings without feeling too guilty.
Raspberry picking season is finally upon us! Sweet, juicy, ripe red raspberries that beg to be eaten right from the plant. Those berries that do make it home usually are eaten by the handful or frozen on sheet trays, bagged and labeled for the long winter months ahead. But..... what do you do when your plants gave you more than you can handle, or when that 5 pound box called out to you at the farmers market? Make jam of course!
The iconic South, rich in tradition, steeped in history and brimming with classic Southern cuisine. New Orleans is known for their Po' Boys, crawfish, gators and beignets. North Carolina is often associated with liver mush, hushpuppies, country ham, grits and, of course, Carolina barbecue. One dish that many southern states have in common is banana pudding. Every traditional southern family at one time or another has consumed this classic southern treat.
There is a distinct difference in both flavor and texture between a macaroon and a macaron! One little "o" separates the cookies in the dictionary, but the two confections are worlds apart in flavor, texture and appearance. The macaron is an utterly French creation; crisp on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. Butter cream graces the center of one of the two cookies. One bite and your mind wanders to quaint Parisian patisseries. I have made it known that French macarons are one of my favorite desserts, but macaroons are a close second. Macaroons are a classic American creation, vastly different from the French macaron. The macaroon is essentially a coconut cookie, reminiscent of the center of a Mounds candy bar, but lighter and more airy. The addition of dark chocolate pushes this simple and delicious treat over the edge of decadence.
My garden is huge! The tomatoes have all grown together to form one gigantic tomato plant. I pick up one branch and realize that I will have more tomatoes than any one family could possibly ever need. If you see me trying to give them away to neighbors, friends or even on the side of the road in a makeshift farm stand, please politely smile and wave. The tomatoes may have taken over, but the zucchini is just getting started. I was able to go out and pick a few the other day. While flipping through magazines and websites for culinary inspiration, I stumbled upon a delicious recipe for zucchini muffins. Perfect! Zucchini muffins are delicious on their own, but the addition of fresh picked blueberries and a tart and creamy cream cheese glaze pushes them over the top.
There is nothing more beautiful or fragrant than a strawberry picked fresh from the field. Warmed by the summer sun, the bright red and juicy berry begs to be eaten. The berries that make it home are the perfect addition to any dessert, but why stop at dessert? Freshly picked strawberries are the perfect combination of sweet and tart. The perfect complement to a fresh spinach, briny feta and crunchy pecans. My mouth waters just thinking about it.
The Florida Mangoes are in season and they are delicious! Fragrant, large and brightly colored, the Tommy Atkins mango is the most popular variety seen in the grocery stores and at farmers markets. Mangoes are at their peak from June-September. When picking a mango, choose one that is firm but the outer skin gives when gently pushed. The aroma should be sweet and tropical, and the coloring should be consistent throughout the fruit, ranging from bright red to a deep orange. Mangoes can be utilized in many applications from a savory and spicy mango salsa to a sweet and juicy tropical fruit salad. When in season, the most delicious and unique way to let the fruit shine is in a sweet and creamy mango tart.
Rhubarb is a versatile fruit. The plant itself is nothing spectacular; huge leaves cover bright red and pink stalks. One plant can produce many pounds of rhubarb, and more than one plant can take over your garden. The leaves are toxic to humans and pets, but the stalk is beautiful and tart. The extreme tartness of fresh rhubarb begs for the addition of sugar and it is perfectly suited for sweet applications. Ginger Rhubarb compote can be utilized in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my favorites...