Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes

We’re finally MARRIED!! James and I tied the knot on June 1. After a beautiful wedding and a fabulous honeymoon on St. Thomas, we came home and had our first week in our house together. Pure euphoria is what inspired this breakfast from our first Saturday morning in our new home.

blueberry pancakes

I started with the standard Better Homes and Gardens cookbook recipe for regular pancakes (not buttermilk). It’s actually a pretty runny recipe on its own. Once you have that batter, add:

1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

zest of 1 lemon

1 pint of blueberries

First mix in the ricotta and lemon, then gently folded in the blueberries. Cook them on a griddle at medium heat for about 4 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.

How to Teach a Man to Cook

Before I met him, James’s cooking expertise extended to frozen pizzas and scrambled eggs. Yesterday, I came home to the sweet comforting smell of a whole chicken simmering in the slow cooker. I took a deep breath and thanked God for giving me such an awesome man to marry. He made it all by himself, and it was perfect.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been emailing him 4-step directions for making barbecue chicken thighs, tilapia, and baked salmon. He’s done an awesome job with all of them. A+.

That’s the secret really. Clear and direct directions. Don’t blabber. Tell him where the pans are located. Draw a picture of which way the chicken is supposed to face. And let him do it.

I’m so excited. Either tonight or tomorrow, we’re making chicken soup. And soon, maybe even tonight, I’ll teach him how to sauté. I can’t wait to see him this evening! Amazing how the level of my happiness is directly related to the amount of time I spend in cooking-related activities. It’s going to be an awesome weekend!

Hazelnut French Toast

I love going out for breakfast, but now that I have my very own house and my very own kitchen, my restaurant budget shrank a bit. No worries though! The greatest creativity comes when you’re forced to change your ways of doing things.

This Sunday after church, James and I had brunch at our house before getting to work on the subfloors (we’re turning into serious D-I-Y homeowners). French toast is James’s favorite of the breakfast trifecta (waffles and pancakes are 2nd and 3rd, respectively). So while he got to work with the drill, I set out to make breakfast. While getting my ingredients together, I remembered that I had neglected to buy vanilla extract. So, for a substitute, what else but a little Frangelico! I know, I’m out of vanilla but I have imported hazelnut liqueur laying around…

Ingredients:

5 slices of bread (I used Nature’s Own Honey Wheat)

3 eggs

small handful of sugar (about 2-3 tbsp)

2-3 tsp Frangelico hazelnut liqueur

cinnamon and nutmeg (about 1/2 tsp of each, eyeball it)

strawberries, sliced and mixed with a bit of sugar

Wisk eggs, sugar, Frangelico, and spices. Heat frying pan to medium and melt a little butter in the pan. Dip bread slices in egg mixture and fry about 1 or 2 minutes on each side. Serve with strawberries and maple syrup.

New Stuffed Mushrooms with a Kick

The other day I decided to try stuffed mushrooms a whole new way. Usually I use the recipe that I’ve posted previously (mostly spinach and mozzarella). In an effort to branch out and add new greens to my diet, yesterday I came up with a whole different kind of mushroom.

You know, a lot of people are scared of swiss chard (including me, until a few days ago actually), but it really has a nice, surprising nutty flavor when cooked. That’s what gave me the idea for this recipe. The earthy flavor of cremini mushrooms really goes great with the nutty flavor of cooked swiss chard. It’s the ingredient that eaters will never guess. I only made a small portion for about 7 cremini mushrooms, but you can add things to taste.

Ingredients (adjust as necessary to taste):

3-5 large leaves of swiss chard (chopped fine, stems removed)

1/4 cup (or more!) colby-jack cheese, shredded or crumbled

a little pepper and salt

little garlic powder

tiny bit of cayenne pepper (a little goes a LONG way)

about 1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2-1 tbsp cream cheese, as necessary to bind it together

7 cremini mushrooms (baby bella), stems removed

Combine swiss chard, cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and Dijon mustard. Mis until swiss chard is coated evenly. Add cream cheese and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Stuff the mushrooms (overstuffed is great!) and arrange on baking sheet. Sprinkle with a hint of paprika. Bake at 400°F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool for a minute or two but serve while warm.

My mother and I loved these. The cayenne gives it a little kick, and the Dijon and paprika reminded me of a picnic. I’ll be making these again now that summer barbeque season is on the way!

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

The first time I made these, my family fell in love. My mom in particular LOVES these. I’ve made them for parties, but they’re wonderful as a side at dinner too. The inspiration for these came from something I found on the food network, but having made them so long I changed a few things along the way. The amounts are a rough estimate, so don’t worry if you have to change things.

Ingredients:

20-30 Cremini (baby bella) mushrooms

bag of pre-washed baby spinach

2-3 tbsp cream cheese

1 bag (2 cups) shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano

salt & pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

Rinse and dry mushrooms. Remove stems. Set mushroom caps aside.

Finely chop the spinach. If you’d like to use the food processor, there’s nothing stopping you. I like chopping spinach, though, and I think it gives it a nice texture.

In a medium bowl, combine spinach, mozzarella, parmesan, salt & pepper, and garlic powder. The mix in cream cheese. I like to use a fork to mash it in there. Be persistent, it might take a little muscle, but when you’re done you should have a soft, creamy mixture. You might need to add more cream cheese. In fact last time I made this, I used almost 4 oz. It just depends on what type of consistency you’re looking for.

Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Stuff each mushroom cap with some of the spinach mixture (I like it when they’re overflowing and you have to eat them with a fork and knife). Its ok if you crowd them a little to fit them on the sheet, since mushrooms shrink a little when cooked. Bake at 375°F for about 10-12 minutes. Really, it’s hard to over-cook a mushroom, and you want everything to be soft and melted.

Smith Island Cake -A.K.A. Why I love Maryland

Not many people outside of Maryland have ever had it. In fact, with the exception of people on the Eastern Shore, not many Marylanders have had it. Smith Island Cake (also known, along with crabs, as God’s Gift to Maryland) looks like this:

Smith Island Cake, as pictured in National Geographic

8-15 layers of yellow cake, with fudgey chocolate icing in between. Seriously, this is the richest cake you’ll ever taste. It’s AMAZING!

They actually make it by cooking each layer separately in its own cake pan, like 8-10 round cake pans with a tablespoon or two of batter in them. Named in 2008 as the official dessert of the State of Maryland, It comes from Smith Island (go figure), a remote island in the Chesapeake Bay that is only accessible by boat. The remoteness and inaccessibility of the island have made the place somewhat of a time capsule. Discovered by John Smith in the 1600s, the people of Smith Island still retain a sort of Elizabethan dialect, as well as an accent that separates them from the rest of Maryland.

Surprisingly, right in the middle of Maryland where most Marylanders live (between DC and Baltimore), Smith Island Cake is almost impossible to find. Luckily for the rest of the world, you can order it online at www.smithislandbakingco.com and have it shipped to your door in 2 days or less. I think I know what I want for my birthday…

Copyright 2010

Lunch on a Greek Island

With Maryland being absolutely freezing today, I’m wishing I was back in Greece.

In August of 2010, I visited the Greek island of Aegina with some friends. For those of you unfamiliar with Aegina, it’s an island that’s about 45 minutes away from the port of Piraeus, the port of Athens. The island is rather large compared to its neighbors, but aside from a busy street of restaurants right near the dock, it’s a warm, sleepy paradise of pistacio trees and bright blue water. I can’t wait to go back!

Approaching Aegina

The day we were there, it was about 100°F. We had lunch in the shade of a big blue tent overlooking the marina, and it was DELICIOUS.

First, we had some really awesome tzaziki. You can get this stuff here, but it’s nothing like the creamy flavor you get in Greece.

We put our tzaziki on this bread, and it was fantastic:

Then I ordered Calamari. I always love calamari, but this was exceptional. Soft and buttery, like they just caught it that morning.

Best Calamari Ever

Lucky for me, there’s a fantastic Greek restaurant down the street from my house. I might have to go there tonight.

Buca di Beppo!… and wedding updates :)

Saturday night James and I went to a birthday party for my cousin at Buca di Beppo. If you’ve never been, it’s a family style Italian American restaurant known for its retro, gaudy, Italian grandma’s house decor. The yellow walls are loaded down with wild pictures of nuns roller skating, babies flipping people off, and young ladies eating spaghetti in bikinis.

We ate in the pope room, a round semi-private eating area with a huge round table with a bust of Benny XVI in the center. It was frickin’ awesome.

What’s really awesome, though, is the food. We ordered chicken that was stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella laying in a bed of pesto cream sauce. It was AMAZING! I’m ready to go recreate this at home.

Wedding Registry-thoughts?

Among other food news, I’m trying to decide what to put in my wedding registry. You know, other than the usual china and stuff. I’m thinking utensils for crabs (since we’re in Maryland), a wok, a pizza stone, holiday themed dining ware, and other non-standard registry items. Any ideas of what I should include, considering I’m someone who loves to cook?

New Year’s in Colonial Williamsburg

To ring in the New Year, James took me to Colonial Williamsburg. I have always loved that place. This time we both enjoyed it so much we even thought about moving there.
One of the most fascinating things about Williamsburg is the food. They really do their best to make you feel like you stepped back in time. Friday afternoon we had lunch at Shield’s Tavern. What an atmosphere! We were led down into a brick-walled cellar lit only with candle light, where a gentleman was playing 18th century tunes on a fiddle. It was so much fun!

Sunday morning we went to the Governor’s Palace and saw a woman cooking in the kitchen there. She was following an 18th century cookbook and using a huge fireplace to cook. She was telling us that one of the crazy things about cookbooks in the 18th century is that they leave out “obvious” details. For example, she was making a chocolate pudding, and the recipe didn’t mention sugar, because you’re supposed to know that it’s supposed to be sweet, and be smart enough to add sugar. She said a lot of the recipes are like that. They all say “Cook until done” instead of giving you actual times, for example.

To remember our gastronomical experiences at Williamsburg, we brought home Johnny Cake Mix, gingerbread cakes, Virginia sparkling cider, Virginia peanuts, and a cute kitchen towel with the tavern logos on it. I already have their Raleigh Tavern Bakery Cookbook.

If you’ve never been to Colonial Williamsburg, you really have to check it out. I can’t wait to go back!

My Birthday Present

My birthday was this past week, and it was AWESOME. Seriously, I felt like a kid again. In the morning, James took me to the National Gallery of Art. I love that place. I actually minored in Art History. I’ve loved the NGA since I went there in Kindergarten and saw Renoir’s Girl with a Watering Can.

Renoir's Girl with a Watering Can

Afterwards, we picked up margaritas and Mexican take out for dinner. On our way home, we picked up marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers.

As soon as we got back to my house, James let me open my present. He gave me a mini hibachi grill!

5 inches of awesomeness

I was so excited! He got me fondue forks and fuel to complete the set. We roasted marshmallows in the living room and made s’mores. It was so much fun! If you don’t have a mini hibachi, get one. They’re amazing!