French Strawberry Cake


Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of a very special person, Pete’s mom Ginny, over a delicious Italian restaurant lunch and had a wonderful time.

But a birthday just isn’t a birthday without a special cake, so I decided to make a dessert that we could have back at Ginny’s afterwards.

There were only four of us, and not wanting a lot of leftovers, I looked for a single layer cake recipe. With spring FINALLY having sprung in Minnesota, I wanted something fresh and bright in keeping with this new season. Seeing beautiful strawberries at the store, I looked in that direction and found a recipe for French Strawberry Cake, a variation of the classic French Apple Cake.

Exactly what I was looking for, not too big, bursting with spring flavors, and suited for a special occasion. Accompanied by lightly sweetened whipped cream, it was just right, and a cake I will definitely make again. In fact, now I’m wishing we had lots of leftovers!

Fast and easy enough to whip up on whim, but with an almost custard-like center and a sugar-topped crunchy dome, it has a fanciness that elevates it above an everyday cake. Enjoy!


French Strawberry Cake

Adapted from this Foodtastic Mom recipe

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sour cream

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus extra whole berries for garnish

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

1 ½ tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or a 9-inch spring-form pan with removable sides.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing just until combined after each addition.

Fold in all but about 1/3 cup of the sliced strawberries. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Arrange the rest of the sliced strawberries evenly on top of the batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Bake until the top is golden and the center is set, about 45 minutes.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan. If using a pan with removable sides, run a butter knife around edges and release sides. If in a cake pan, run a butter knife around edges, invert cake onto a plate and turn over onto a serving platter.

Just before serving, place cream and powdered sugar in the chilled bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed for several minutes, until soft peaks form.

Slice cake and serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a whole strawberry. Makes six servings.

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Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style


Recently Pete and I crossed a “must-try” restaurant off our list. Pajarito, a St. Paul Mexican eatery, has been open a little more than a year and what a shame it took us that long to get there—the food was phenomenal! Everything we ordered, we’d happily get again, but the Brussels sprouts elote-style were change-your-life good. For reals!

Elote is Mexican street corn, but when Pajarito opened last winter, corn wasn’t in season, so they decided to give the elote treatment to Brussels sprouts. The flavors were amazing and as soon as we got home, I started googling to see if I could find a similar recipe. Lucky me, the restaurant’s actual recipe was written up by two local media outlets (that’s how popular these little nuggets of wonder are!).

Pajarito starts by deep-frying the Brussels sprouts, and because I refuse to venture into the land of deep-frying in my kitchen, I used their suggestion of oven-roasting as an alternative. Also, their recipe uses a homemade aioli. Being a little leery of making things with raw egg yolks and not wanting to buy a dozen pasteurized eggs when only one was needed, I simply added their seasonings to already-on-hand mayonnaise (Earth Balance’s Mindful Mayo).

Tajín is the brand of seasoning the restaurant uses to finish off this dish, along with a sprinkling of cotija cheese. After checking one store and not finding Tajín, I just went ahead and ordered it from Amazon. This mixture of lime, chilies, and salt really elevates the dish, so definitely use it if you can find it locally or have Amazon Prime.

The finished product was absolutely delicious—I thought it was just as good as the restaurant’s deep-fried version, minus the extra fat and calories. And by using vegan mayonnaise, all that’s needed if you want it completely plant-based is to skip the cotija. Enjoy!

Brussels Sprouts Elote-Style

Adapted from a recipe by chefs Stephan Hesse and Tyge Nelson of Pajarito in St. Paul, MN

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/8 cup Elote Aioli (recipe follows)

About a 1/2 tsp. Tajín brand seasoning (can be found in the international section at well-stocked grocery stores and from Amazon)

1 lime, cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place Brussels sprouts in a medium bowl and toss with olive oil and salt & pepper. On a parchment lined baking sheet, place sprouts, cut side down. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.

Transfer cooked sprouts to a bowl and toss with 1/8 cup Elote Aioli. Place sprouts on a serving dish/plate, sprinkle with Tajín seasoning, cotija cheese, then garnish with lime wedges, and serve. Makes about 4 servings.

Elote Aioli

Note: This is basically a flavored mayonnaise. Crema is a more sour crème fraîche and is available in most supermarkets and Mexican specialty food stores. The recipe will make more Elote Aioli than needed for this Brussels sprouts recipe, but the leftovers are good on just about anything, including in place of plain mayonnaise in tuna salad—awesome! Refrigerate remaining aioli in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.

1 cup mayonnaise

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon dried oregano

¾ teaspoon hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)

1/4 c. crema (which I didn’t have so used a couple splashes of buttermilk)

½ to 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together first 8 ingredients (through lime juice). Season to taste with salt. Transfer aioli into an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs and Gravy


Recently I came across a recipe for vegetarian Swedish meatballs and my mouth started watering. I’ve never had the real thing, but I imagine they’d be delicious. This recipe, however, didn’t have the traditional allspice and nutmeg included, so I moved past it and searched for other versions.

Ultimately, I ended up adapting a non-vegetarian recipe, one called The Best Swedish Meatballs from the new-to-me blog, The Recipe Critic. I replaced the ground beef with a mixture of wild rice, cremini mushrooms and cauliflower, then added a little ricotta for richness (you could also use Greek yogurt). To save time, I purchased already-cooked wild rice, which you can find in either cans or pouches. Just make sure it’s all wild rice, not a blend including other types of rice.

But the gravy is what makes this dish truly special. Oh, the gravy! Luxurious, I tell you, with unexpected oomph from Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard. Quick and easy to make, whip it up while the meatballs are baking.

You certainly can eat the meatballs and gravy on their own, but served over mashed potatoes or egg noodles makes a complete, comfort food meal—perfect for a cold winter’s day! Enjoy!


Vegetarian Swedish Meatballs and Gravy

Adapted from The Recipe Critic

Meatballs:
2 cups cooked wild rice

1 ½ cups chopped mushrooms, cremini work well—nice and meaty

3 cups cooked cauliflower florets

½ cup ricotta cheese or Greek yogurt

¼ cup finely chopped onion

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided

Olive oil spray or olive oil

Gravy:
4 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

2 cups vegetable broth (I used Edward & Sons Not-Beef Bouillon Cubes)

½ cup milk or half-n-half

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (the Annie’s brand is vegetarian)

1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Pulse 1 ½ cups of the wild rice, the mushrooms, and cauliflower in food processor until blended, but with some texture left. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the remaining half cup of wild rice. Add the ricotta or yogurt, onion, eggs, bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt, allspice, white pepper, nutmeg, and 1/8 cup of the parsley. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Roll 1 ½ – 2 tablespoon portions of mixture into balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I used a #30 cookie dough scoop, which worked perfectly. Spritz balls with olive oil spray or brush with a little olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating pan at the halfway point.

Meanwhile, make gravy. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and flour. Whisk until it turns light brown. Slowly stir in broth and milk. Add Worcestershire and Dijon mustard and bring to a simmer, whisking until gravy starts to thicken. Season with a little salt and pepper, to taste.

Add cooked meatballs to the skillet and simmer for a couple minutes (you’ll have leftover meatballs). Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Makes about 4 servings.

Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices


Temperatures here plummeted right after Christmas and have only crept above zero (Fahrenheit) a couple times briefly since. More of the same is forecast the next few days until a warm-up this weekend to the balmy teens and twenties. If ever there was a time for hearty soup, it’s now.

This soup, full of red lentils, carrots, and a little potato for heft, along with warming spices, is the epitome of hearty. And healthy too. Just what I needed after the last couple weeks of holiday foods—the too rich, too sweet, or just too much—foods I don’t normally eat. Setting the food reset button in the right direction is a pleasure when it tastes this good!

Don’t skip the lemon juice or the paprika oil, they really take this to the “Did I really just make something so out-of-this-world delicious?” level. Enjoy!


Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices

Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, along with a couple aspects of this New York Times recipe

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock or broth

1 cup water

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium Yukon gold potato, diced

1 ½ cups red lentils, picked over and rinsed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more for extra seasoning

1 teaspoon dried mint, tarragon, or basil, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika (I used ½ teaspoon smoked hot and ½ teaspoon sweet)

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, for garnish

Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add onion, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, or until onion has softened. Stir in coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, and cayenne, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.

Stir in broth, water, carrots, potato, and lentils and bring to a low boil. Reduce to a lively simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and carrots and potato tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you’d like a few chunks of carrot and potato, stop before completely puréed. Stir in lemon juice. Taste and add additional salt and lemon juice if needed. Cover stockpot to keep soup warm.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in mint and paprika.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the paprika oil and chopped cilantro or parsley. Makes 4-6 servings.

Pizza al Tartufo


This recipe’s a riff on delicious pizza we’ve devoured at a wood-fired pizza place in Stillwater, Minnesota, Patriot’s Tavern (sadly, it’s no longer on their menu). An unusual vegetarian pie with a garlic-herbed cream cheese base, fried potatoes, mushrooms, scallion and finished with drizzles of truffle oil and balsamic glaze—one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had!

The nice thing about finding a great pizza while dining out is the relative ease of recreating it at home. You know the toppings, and if you have a good crust, you’re good to go. Of course, it would be nice to have a wood-fired pizza oven in my house, but a pizza stone and the high heat produced in my trusty ovenmake for a excellent substitute.

Patriot’s Tavern called this the Tartufo Pizza. When googling “tartufo pizza,” to hopefully find an explanation for the name, I found several versions, all with different toppings. The one common denominator was the truffle oil. If you just google “tartufo,” you’ll find Italian ice-cream dessert recipes—go figure!

Being a hearty pizza, this is a good cold-weather recipe and one that should find its way into one of your informal holiday gatherings–you’ll thank me. Or as we’re doing, satisfying our hunger in between cheering on the Vikings in the early game (they lost) and the Eagles right after.

There’s plenty of time to pan-fry your potatoes and sauté the mushrooms while the dough is rising. I’ve included a crust recipe, but if you already have a favorite or want to do the store-bought route as a short cut, go for it. Enjoy!



Pizza al Tartufo

Pizza Dough:
1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

½ cup warm water (105-115 degrees F.)

¾ cup bread flour

¾ cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

Toppings:
Boursin cheese (garlic and herbed cream cheese)

Fried potatoes (I season them with a little Lawry’s salt while pan frying)

Sautéed sliced cremini mushrooms

Sliced scallions

Shredded cheese (a combo of mozzarella and colby jack works well, as would fontina)

Truffle oil (for drizzling after pizza is baked), only about a teaspoon (a little goes a long way!)

Balsamic glaze (for drizzling after pizza is baked)

Whisk together yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl and let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes. Mix flours and salt together in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir until it comes mostly together. Dump it onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.

Wipe out the large bowl and coat it with a little olive oil. Place dough back into bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

Turn on oven to 525 degrees F. and place a pizza stone on center rack so it will be nice and hot for baking the pizza.

When oven is up to temperature, punch down pizza dough and form it into a round. Roll or toss the dough into a 14 inch circle. Prick dough all over with a fork to avoid air bubbles. Transfer dough to pizza stone and bake for 90 seconds.

Remove par-baked crust from oven to cooling rack. Spread crust with a thin layer of Boursin cheese. Top with potatoes, mushrooms, and scallions. Distribute cheese over toppings.

Bake for about 5 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is melted. Sometimes I’ll turn the oven to broil for a minute or two to get the cheese toasted and bubbly.

Remove pizza and pizza stone from oven (I often forget the stone!). Drizzle with a little truffle oil and balsamic glaze. Cut into wedges. Makes 2-3 servings.

Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts


Need a new recipe to include in your rotation of holiday munchies? I’ve got just the one for you! Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts are warm, healthy, addictive, and best of all, quick & easy to make. You will definitely impress your guests.

The Union Square Café is a long-running New York City restaurant and the nuts they serve in their bar are famous. Google them and you’ll find the recipe on many different sites from Epicurious to Saveur, but only one, The Smitten Kitchen, has you return the nuts to the oven for a final bake after tossing with the butter-rosemary mixture. This makes all the difference!

Because I’m not a big rosemary fan, I was skeptical of this recipe at first, but Deb at the Smitten Kitchen assures that even the rosemary-averse will love it here and I wholeheartedly agree.

I’ve made these twice, the first time with all cashews and the second with cashews and almonds. I liked both equally well when they were warm, but when eating at room temperature, I prefer the cashew only version.

If you use mixed nuts, keep in mind some of the nut varieties will get over-toasted before other nuts are just right. That’s the reason I stuck to cashews and almonds, which take the same amount of time.

Stock up on nuts, you’ll be making these several times over the holidays for all your gatherings and you can also package them in small jars for gift-giving. Enjoy!



Union Square Café’s Bar Nuts

Slightly adapted from this Smitten Kitchen recipe

1 pound unsalted cashews or almonds or a combination (either raw or roasted)

1 ½ tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

¼ – ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, depending how much heat you’d like

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts on a sheet pan and toast for 7-15 minutes (raw nuts will require the longer cooking time, already roasted will take less). Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, and salt.

Once the nuts are toasted, dump them in the bowl and stir to evenly coat. Return the nuts to the sheet pan and spread in an even layer. Bake another 5-10 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes and serve warm. The nuts are also good at room temperature or reheated for 5 minutes at 350 degrees F. Store leftovers in an airtight jar. Makes about 3 ½ cups.

No-Knead Cinnamon Chip Bread

Bread
We recently hosted our friends Lori & Scott at the cabin for a fall color weekend, which was a great time and the leaves were gorgeous! Preparation for cabin trips is especially fun for me because it involves cooking and baking in advance so we have more time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors once we’re there.

This trip, to go with our hearty cabin breakfasts, I made cinnamon chip bread with homemade cinnamon chips. Having made the cinnamon chips several times before (great in muffins and cookies!), I knew they would be good, but it was a first time for this bread recipe, which is adapted from one I got years ago from baker extraordinaire, Renee Saxman, a friend from my running days in Rochester.

A “Renee” recipe is always delicious when made by Renee. I just wasn’t sure if it would be as good when made by me. Hesitant to serve this untested to friends, I decided to cut off one slice of the finished bread to make sure it was “company-worthy.” Long story short, it was so good that Pete and I polished off the entire loaf. Fortunately, there was plenty of time to make another loaf and pop it in the freezer until the trip.

Why, you may ask, make homemade cinnamon chips when you can buy a good-tasting package at the grocery store? Most grocery store versions (Hershey’s, I’m talking to you) have some sketchy ingredients like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial colors, and natural & artificial flavors (but no mention of the word cinnamon—can you believe it?), so making my own was an easy choice. The King Arthur Flour brand, which has more natural ingredients, can be ordered online, but I’ve never seen it in stores.

The cinnamon chips are quick to make and once cooled and broken into pieces, will keep for several days in a covered container at room temperature. If you make them rather than using store-bought, you’ll be happy you did, plus, it will give you super-baker cred!
Home-made Cinnamon Chips

This is a perfect autumn and winter bread. Slightly sweet, with a crunch of cinnamon sugar on top, it’s delightful toasted or not. A little butter or jam, maybe peanut butter even, make for comfort-food bliss, and it’s a wonderful addition to breakfast—either at the cabin or at home. Enjoy!
Cinnamon Chip Bread

No-Knead Cinnamon Chip Bread

2 cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees F.)

¼ cup butter, melted

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup cinnamon chips (recipe follows)

Cinnamon sugar for topping (1/8 cup organic sugar mixed with ½ tablespoon cinnamon)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, yeast, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, butter, egg, and vanilla. Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and mix until smooth (I used a stand mixer, which works better than a hand mixer).

Cover the bowl and let rise at room temperature for about an hour. Stir in the baking powder and cinnamon chips.

Scrape batter into a greased 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar (you probably won’t use it all). Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45-50 minutes (it should read 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer when done).

Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer from pan to a wire rack to cool completely. This freezes well, so is ideal to make ahead. Makes 1 loaf.

Cinnamon Chips
From this All Recipes post

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon non-hydrogenated shortening (I used Spectrum Organic Shortening)

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees F. Mix together all ingredients in a medium bowl to form a dough. Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll dough to 1/8-1/4 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet and remove top layer of parchment. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until bubbly.

Transfer, on parchment, to a wire rack and cool completely. Break into pieces. Makes about 1 cup.