Strawberry Rhubarb Sangria

Strawberry Rhubarb SangriaIt’s official, summer is over. This week I go back into the classroom and I look at the calendar, longing for the next holiday break. So this weekend we wanted to really enjoy ourselves before we say goodbye to another lovely summer. And what better way to enjoy yourself than a fruity, sparkly sangria?

My husbands godparents started their own allotment. Here in Britain, most people don’t have back gardens large enough to grow fruit and veg, so they rent a plot of land to do their gardening. We went to have a look and it was absolutely amazing! From corn to raspberries and potatoes to rainbow chard, they have truly begun a beautiful and fruitful garden. They had been so successful that we actually came away with about 5 bags chock full of the freshest, organic, most loved veg in the country. So obviously on the long drive home my mind was spinning with ideas for how we could put all these lovely veg to good use. The overflowing bag of rhubarb got me thinking…

Strawberry Rhubarb Sangria

I’ve made cakes, muffins and crumbles before, so how else could I use the perfectly pink hued, tart and tangy rhubarb? I’d seen it used in recipes for sangria before, and thought it would be a spot on combination. Most sangrias can be sickly sweet, but the sour notes in the rhubarb would take it to a whole new level. But- the fruit that soaks up the booze can be quite delicious, too. So go ahead, throw some strawberries in there! And while you’re at it, forget the wine, use some bubbly! We want this Strawberry Rhubarb Sangria to be special. And now a toast: To summer, you were great while you were here, and you will be missed. Until next time. Cheers!

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French Onion Bruschetta

French Onion Bruschetta

I LOVE French onion soup. It is definitely one of my favorite soups for so many reasons, I mean how many soups are there that are topped with bread and melted cheese? Mmmmm… But, French onion soup can take quite a long time to make, as well as being quite filling and pretty much a meal in itself (Hello cheese!). I wanted to have that satisfaction of a French onion soup with a bit less fuss. Why not just change the construction of the soup and have a few punchy bites of French onion flavor? It’s too hot for soup anyway. Let’s try some French Onion Bruschetta.

This bruschetta is AWESOME. Slowly cooked and caramelized onions are infused with thyme and soak up tasty beef stock and brandy. The smell when you’re cooking the onions is just to die for. One tip here: make sure you don’t skimp on onion cooking time. It could take as long as 45 minuted to get onions that are properly brown, soft and caramelized. Before adding the liquid, make sure the onions are cooked down enough. Once you’ve cooked perfectly sweet and rich onions, a toasted baguette is topped with gruyere cheese and melted under the broiler for that melty cheese goodness that makes me crave a hot bowl of French Onion Soup. Then it’s as simple as topping the cheese with the onions, sprinkling with more cheese and a dash of fresh thyme! Simple, easy and one of the best bites I’ve had in a long time.

French Onion Bruschetta

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Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Thick and fluffy, super yummy, smothered in syrup and stacked to the ceiling. The ideal way to enjoy pancakes. I’ve made lots of different pancakes and used may different recipes (see here, here, here and here), but these are my new favorite. You can tell just by the batter that the pancakes will be super thick and fluffy, which was exactly what you want for a leisurely weekend breakfast. I bought a beautiful punnet of local strawberries the other week, you know the kind that you can smell from a mile away. I opened up the fridge to get milk for my cup of tea, and the sweet scent was overwhelming. In that instant, I had an epiphany, well I guess more like a sudden and staggeringly strong craving. Pancakes. It had to be pancakes. But not any old pancakes, Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes.

Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes

These pancakes are the perfect morning pick me up. The sweet strawberries really shine in a batter that’s not too sweet that seems unnaturally full of air. The main tip here is not to over-mix your batter. You will lose all the fluffiness and end up with “flat as a pancake” pancakes. No bueno. But then there’s your accompaniments. A pad of slightly salted butter is brilliant or maybe even a strawberry compote. But honestly, when it comes to pancakes I’m a purist. There’s nothing better than smothering your steaming hot pancakes with real maple syrup.

Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes

By the way, what do you think of my cute new tea towel? Check out the last photo for my favorite bit!

Strawberry Buttermilk Pancakes

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Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

In college, I survived on pasta salad. It was my favorite lunch, and it’s the dish that made me enjoy eating raw broccoli. One of the great things about pasta salad is that you can pretty much put whatever you want into it and it will be great, and the ability to customize a dish in a low budget college kitchen is the holy grail of easy, but delicious recipes. It’s also great because you can use jarred/canned items as well. I love throwing in sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a pinch! The possibilities are endless really, and that what makes it such a good staple to have in mind.

This Mediterranean Pasta Salad is easy too. It’s basically boil the pasta and stir in your toppings! But I’m not always about easy- it’s got to taste good too, and this is my favorite pasta salad for so many reasons. I love the different flavors and textures; the crunch from the broccoli, the sweet acidity from the tomatoes, the earthiness from the olive oil and the salty kick from the olives and the feta. It will be a welcome addition to your next barbecue or pot luck for sure.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

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Hilary’s Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

I remember being incredibly nervous the first time I met my one-day In-laws. Would they like me? Would they approve? What could we possibly have in common? I guess that these fears are natural and everyone seeks the approval of the most important people in your partner’s life at that moment in time. But when I get nervous, I get quiet, and this made it extremely difficult for me to share who I was. Let’s just say it wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t great.

The second time was when we went to stay at their house. Just after Christmas, Boxing Day here in the UK, and although I felt more than welcome, I was still slightly paralyzed by the fear of saying something stupid and so I stayed quiet. My future mother in law was so upset that she cried. And I realized how silly I was being. This woman wanted to get to know me and I wasn’t giving her that chance.

Blueberry Muffins

The next time we went to visit, I reached out to her in the best way I knew how, by baking for her. I brought my favorite Blueberry Muffins and I discovered that she, too had a love for cooking and baking. The thing we had in common was right in front of me the whole time. We bonded over food magazines and cooking tips and I felt at ease knowing that I could be myself around her. When she asked me for the recipe I was ecstatic, even more so when she told me that she had baked them herself. The streusel topping was our favorite part! Well, and the big, juicy blueberries. Oh, and the tender, moist crumb. I looked forward to all the times we would get to cook together or for each other. But, sometimes life isn’t just what you think it will be.

Less than a year and a half after I met Hilary, she passed away.

It’s hard not to feel cheated by the loss of someone so early on in your life, but I am lucky that I knew her for the short time that I did. Whenever I bake these muffins, I smile and remember an amazing woman, with whom I bonded over baking.

Blueberry Muffins

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Best. Ever. Brownies.

Best Ever Brownies

A good brownie is not easy to find. I’ve had a lot of mediocre brownies in my life. They can be too cakey, too dry, too thin, too sweet, too underdone and the list can go on and on and on. A great brownie, however, can be a bit of an urban legend. Not that many brownies are truly “mmmm…” inducing treats. I actually have quite a list of requirement when it comes to being a properly delicious brownie:

1. Must be fudgy. It has to have that element of goo in the middle. That squidgy, almost underbaked (but not) center that creates a chocolate fudge layer between the more cooked outer layers.

2. Must have a crisp crust/edges. The perfect brownie always has a contrast in texture. This comes from that crisp crust that forms on the very best brownies during baking. Why fo you think people order those special “all edges” brownie pans? It’s that important.

3. Must be rich in chocolate flavor. I’ve been shocked to have chocolate brownies that are a light brown color or that don’t taste like chocolate. WHAT’S THE POINT??? Using good quality cocoa powder and chocolate chips are majorly important here, as well as a tablespoon of espresso powder, which gives anything a deep, chocolate bite.

4. Must be shared. The best thing about a great brownie? Seeing the reaction on people’s faces when they take a bite. Priceless.

Best Ever Brownies

Once you’ve made these brownies, you will never need to look for another recipe. They are that good. How could they be called Best Ever Brownies if they’re not? Do you think I could lie to you? And believe me, I brought these to work and they were devoured happily and greedily. I lost track of how many recipe requests I had! Which got me thinking if I could use these brownies as a base for different combinations of flavor.

I’ve been brainstorming and trying to think of mix-ins for these brownies, but every time I go to try it, I can’t bring myself to mess with the original. If you try it- let me know how it turns out! I want to try raspberries and goats cheese, or a salted caramel swirl, maybe a Turtle brownie? What are your great brownie creations? The possibilities are endless, if only I could try anything other than the OG Best. Ever. Brownie.

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Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Summer is in full swing now and I’ve been enjoying being outdoors a bit more. It’s just so much more enjoyable walking the dog in the sunshine and in my case, walking down by the river is amazing (except for all the bugs!). So as you’d expect, one of the last things I want to do at this time of year is have the oven on for hours on end. Yet, in order to keep myself sane, I do need to do a bit of baking. Some super simple Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons? Done and done.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut MacaroonsThese little babies are delicious. The light, fluffy coconut clouds are dipped in a rich, bittersweet chocolate that has been melted slowly and speckled with sea salt. Then there’s the arty bit- go all Jackson Pollack after the bottoms have set and drizzle away! Who said baking isn’t fun? I’ve made these macaroons a few times before, but I thought dipping them in some slightly salted dark chocolate would elevate them to a whole new level of awesomeness! I mean, chocolate and coconut are one of those classic combinations that just belong together (Mounds or Almond Joy anyone?). If you are an Almond Joy fan, feel free to replace the vanilla extract with almond extract to get that flavor fix.

Chocolate Dipped Coconut MacaroonsMore importantly, make sure these little coconut clouds are completely cooled before dipping in the chocolate, or they can break apart. Also, that the chocolate has set before you pack them into an airtight container. Remember- watch these bad boys in the oven, they can go from perfect to disaster quite quickly in terms of browning. Be ready to impress anyone and everyone with these little dollops of indulgence!

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