Classic Beef Stew

Classic Beef Stew

For a kid who grew up hiding most vegetables on her plate, beef stew was an Event. It was filled with all the vegetables I liked (carrots, onions, potatoes) and I could eat as much as I wanted, even with my football-playing brother there, because the slow cooker was tested to its capacity every time. Beef stew meant I could also eat as many dinner rolls — or flaky biscuits, depending on what was on sale — as I desired, slathered with smooth-yet-unmelting margarine. (This particular addiction continued in college, as my meals were sometimes composed only of Crescents and Parkay.)

Beef stew was also one of the few meals my mother cooked, and so my mind wanders to those days as a child every time I pull out the slow cooker. Even if I’m not making beef stew, I think of those chilly days when dinner was an anticipation.

When you live in Wisconsin, you and winter come to an understanding. You expect to wear your snow pants under your Halloween costume, and to make sure your mittens aren’t packed away when your May birthday comes.

In return, winter helps you embrace its beauty. It reminds you of the rush that comes when you step out into the brisk day, and how you radiate once your hands are wrapped around that cup of cocoa. It draws you in to yourself, to your family, and to the table where, if you are lucky, a pot of something has been simmering all day, permeating the air.

Living in the South, my children eat beef stew, finding comfort in the aroma and the ritual, but not really knowing why. It’s in their blood, their bones, but they don’t realize it yet. Do we ever realize these things, while we are young? All we recognize the savory broth, moving over our lips and filling our stomachs, and the restful night that is sure to come.

check out my post for classic beef stew over at recipe.com

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Honeyed Fig and Goat Cheese Muffins

Honeyed Fig and Goat Cheese Muffins photo

I had my first fresh figs only a few years ago, when I was deep into exploring absolutely everything the markets here had to offer. To be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them at first. Do you peel them? Do you eat them whole? Why do they seem to only last 2.5 minutes after getting them to the house?

It didn’t take long to find ways to work figs into nearly every meal I was having, especially if I had goat cheese on hand. My absolute favorite way to eat these sweet little fruits is to halve them, smear them with soft chevre, and then drizzle a little bit of local honey on top. It seemed only natural that my next step would be to put all of these ingredients into a muffin.

The result is a muffin studded with sweet fruit and bursts of tangy goat cheese. They’re not your typical breakfast muffin, but that’s no excuse to not make them. In fact, their distinctive flavor makes them ideal for a brunch, though you can easily freeze a batch of these to enjoy before work during the week. The muffins are best warm, of course, and they easily reheat after only a few seconds in the microwave.

The recipe uses fresh figs, but if there aren’t fresh figs where you are, feel free to use dried chopped figs. The resulting texture will be a little different, but you can prep the dried figs by soaking them in water for a bit before mixing them with the honey.

I also used goat cheese crumbles for these muffins, which are much easier to work with than soft, spreadable chevre. You could also try these with gorgonzola for an even more savory muffin, or add crumbles of either directly to the top of the muffin rather than a slice of fig.

Honeyed Fig and Goat Cheese Muffins image

Honeyed Fig and Goat Cheese Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup diced figs plus 6 whole figs
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) goat cheese crumbles

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F and line a muffin tin with papers.
  2. Mix together chopped figs and 1 tablespoon honey. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In another bowl, mix together brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup honey, eggs, milk, and vanilla until well-blended.
  5. Stir wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just mixed; make sure to not overmix.
  6. Gently fold in chopped figs and goat cheese crumbles. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups.
  7. Halve the whole figs and press one half into the top of each muffin.
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.
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Chai Spritz Cookies

Those of us of a certain age and upbringing spent many a December cranking out cookies through a cookie press, creating pile after pile of somewhat misshapen pine trees, snowflakes, and snowmen. Even after the charm of making cookies each Christmas fell away from my family, every time I bit into a butter spritz cookie at a friend’s house, I was flooded with the memory, however faint, of happy decorating cookies with my mother.

It had been a long time since I’ve made spritz cookies. Every year I’d see the set in the store, pick it up, and remember. Then I’d put it down and move on, somehow not allowing myself to hold on to those memories. To convince myself I had to let go.

I was telling a friend the other day that after my parents moved away from my childhood home, I wasn’t left with many mementos of growing up. Given my decluttering habit, I declared this a good thing, but then I realized why I had been wrong about putting back the cookie press. For the most part, all I have of my childhood is memories, and I should be cultivating them, tending to them like a wild garden.

It might just be cookies to some people, but for those of us with loss, no matter the level, we need to hold on to what we can.

Chai Spritz Cookies

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and OXO is hosting their annual program to benefit Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a nonprofit that was founded by two OXO employees after their son was diagnosed with pediatric cancer.  For every OXO item with the green “Cookies for Kids’ Cancer” sticker sold in September, OXO will donate 25 cents in support of pediatric cancer research as part of its $100,000* pledge to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

I was thrilled to participate in the campaign this year, and it was great to get back to making cookies with a press. I’ve loved seeing what my fellow bloggers have come up with for their cookies. Visit the #OXOGoodCookies Pinterest board for cookie inspiration.

Now – these cookies are reminiscent of my childhood spritz cookies, but I pumped them full of chai spices to bring them into fall, creating a bite that is perfect alongside afternoon tea. You can lessen the spice if you want, but because spritz cookies are so rich, it’s easy for the spice to get overwhelmed.

I played with adding an orange glaze to these, but really, they are perfect as is and don’t need the extra sugar. Plus, the bonus with spritz cookies is that it makes a lot, so you’ll have plenty on hand to nibble.

Chai Spritz Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole-wheat flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare cookie press by making sure it is clean, loading the selected disc, and removing the top.
  2. Mix together butter, sugar, salt, and spices until fluffy.
  3. Stir in egg and vanilla.
  4. Mix in flours until incorporated and dough comes together. It should resemble play-doh, a bit.
  5. Fill cookie press, replace lid, and press cookies onto baking sheet by holding press directly on the sheet and pressing the lever. Repeat until press is empty, then refill and repeat.
  6. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes, until edges are just browned. Let cool slightly before removing to a rack.
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* In 2014, OXO will donate up to $100,000 to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer through specially marked baking tools, bake sale matches and other fundraising efforts. Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is a recognized 501c(3) public charity duly incorporated under the laws of the state of New Jersey. Your donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law. 100% of proceeds raised by Cookies for Kids’ Cancer fund pediatric cancer research.

Disclaimer: I was provided with the tools to create these cookies by OXO, but I was not otherwise compensated for this post. OXO is donating $100 to Cookies for Kid’s Cancer for each blog post dedicated to this campaign in September.

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Weekly Meal Plan, September 22

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Tonight is the official start of autumn, which means everyone can stop whining about pumpkin and pumpkin-spiced things being out. I’m only slightly joking.

I absolutely adore autumn, and sometimes go a little overboard to make up for the lack of a traditional, picture-postcard autumn here in Texas. Butternut squash is probably my very favorite vegetable, and I go a little nuts making everything with it, from soups to tacos to desserts. I tend to dice and roast up big ones so I have squash to last me the whole week — I’m not kidding when I say I sometimes just snack right off the roasting tray.

My family, for their part, is embracing the return of apples. I think we might have missed apple season in Texas, but I always allow for splurging on a few of our favorite varieties, including Honeycrisp, which were bred at the school my husband and I went to. I’m hoping to make applesauce again this year, but we go through it so quickly (the younger child is obsessed) it’s not quite cost-effective to do it ourselves. Still, I’m always trying to move toward more mindful cooking and eating, so it’s on the agenda soon.

This week is a busy one, and I have to say thank goodness for having meal planning be a stalwart in our lives. I’m not quite sure how we would have been able to get through this past month without it. Yes, we’ve punted a few times and done takeout (sometimes you just need a burger from Hopdoddy) but the fact that we have a plan at all has kept me sane.

The week culminates in Byte of Texas, the conference I’ve been planning for the past year. It’s been a lot of work but I’ve loved it. If you’re in the Austin area, you can still get tickets. I hope to see you there!

Here’s what we’re eating this week.

Monday: Butternut squash pilaf*

Tuesday: Macaroni and Trees

Wednesday: Zucchini and red pepper frittata

Thursday: Sloppy joe sliders

Friday: Red beans and rice

Saturday: Homemade pizza

Sunday: Celebratory post-conference dinner at Matt’s el Rancho

Snacks & such: Homemade tortillas*, sandwich bread

Recipe testing

What are you making this week?

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DIY Mascarpone

Homemade mascarpone is only a few steps away.

DIY Mascarpone

Cheese-making might be my new obsession. I’m loading up on cheesecloth. Errands have been scheduled around trips to the store that sells the best rennet selection. I might be trying to convince my husband that we need to move to an acreage so I can have goats for milking. This is all normal, right?

It’s not like I’m going to drop everything to have my own cheese business. But maybe I could.

I first got hooked on making cheese at home with this simple ricotta-style cheese, getting totally mesmerized watching the curds form after pouring in the vinegar. Food science and poetry, mingling together right there in my pot.

Mascarpone is even easier. Considering how much mascarpone costs at the store, it’s like a dirty little secret that all you need is good, quality cream and some citric acid. And time, but, well, most of that is the cheese just doing its thing in your fridge.

This revelation might actually be a dangerous thing for me, because now I’m obsessing over finding new ways to use mascarpone. Dessert, obviously. Breakfast dishes, sure. Stuffed in pasta or stirred into risotto? Now we’re talking.

I let this sit for about 16 hours, but it really doesn’t need that long. The longer it sits, the more whey is drained out, so you might find yourself needing to stir some whey back in to achieve that creamy texture mascarpone is known for. Definitely do not throw away the whey, because it’s a great addition to a variety of things. I like to use it in pancake batter or use in place of yogurt in a smoothie for a protein boost that isn’t thick.

If you have 15 minutes of time tonight you can have fresh mascarpone ready by morning. What’s stopping you?

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Fit Foodie 5k Recap

FitFoodie 5k image

On Saturday I ran my first-ever 5k. It wasn’t pretty (in fact, I checked out the official race photos and I look like an ugly boy) but I finished feeling pretty great. It had been hard to leave my bed that morning. It was cold and wet outside, and I had an extremely snuggly baby, but what would have been the point of the weeks prior if I didn’t show up?

Buffalo meatballs

The night before we had been treated to some savory bites from Seersucker, plus cocktails, beer, and wine. I love the idea of a pre-event cocktail party, but it was pretty hard to get to thanks to traffic created by the rain, especially for those of us coming right after picking up our bibs. I missed most of my FitFoodie Ambassador friends that night, but it was great to meet representatives from Cooking Light and Health magazines.

Saturday morning was a rush of getting ready after I forced myself from bed. I arrived much later than I had planned, getting to the Mueller Hangar just as the group warm-up was finishing. There was a throng of people and I didn’t see anyone I knew, and I started to panic a little — as an introvert, I needed a friendly face around!

Luckily I caught sight of Kristin and Chris just before the second wave went off. Chris, being a seasoned runner, shot off, and Kristin and I gave it our all with a run-walk combo. Eventually I went off on my own (sorry Kristin!) and found the other runners around me to be good motivation to do each running section just a little bit more than I would have if I were alone.

I use MapMyFitness on my phone when I run, and it cheerfully told me my pace at each mile marker. I was slightly stunned to hear that I was beating all my training paces, and I think that helped propel me to the finish.

FitFoodie Food

Now, I don’t know what other finishers’ villages are like, but let me just say I was glad I worked up an appetite! There were bites to eat from a variety of local restaurants, like a pretty kale salad from Congress and refreshing marinated watermelon from Diesel Foods. Plus more food from Cooking Light, Zilks, Way Better Snacks, and Sahale, and drinks like Zico coconut water, Daily Greens juices, Lifeway Kefir, and my favorite spicy chai from Bhakti Chai. Everything was fresh, flavorful, and of course, healthy. My only wish was that the nitro Cuvee had actually been a hot coffee, because after I recovered from sweating out the run, I was freezing!

FitFoodie mimosas

I’m always surprised at events when I don’t see the people I know — maybe I was too focused during my run to notice the others, and then afterward too focused on grabbing a snack. My friend Maggie was actually a few steps behind me in the finish line photos, but we didn’t see each other until we were both grabbing a post-race coconut water!

FitFoodie 5k picture

After heading home it took me a long time to warm up. That shower might have been the best in ages! Am I good at running? Nope. But I did it, and I’m already looking for another opportunity to get my feet moving!

Disclaimer: As a Fit Foodie Blog Ambassador, I received free entry to all weekend events as well as pre-race swag. I was not otherwise paid to participate, and my jiggly butt appreciates the encouragement to get out and run.

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