Strawberry Coffeecake with Lemon Streusel

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This week:  We are counting down to Esme's last day of kindergarten on Friday.  We are gearing up for a big wedding weekend of photography work.  We are anxiously awaiting the first days of summer and a big party/performance to kick it off.  We are dreading goodbyes to dear friends who are leaving us in just a few days.

So with everything going on this week, I find myself in the kitchen of course.  I think this Strawberry Coffeecake with Lemon Streusel is the perfect accessory to our busy week.  A slice to celebrate the end of kindergarten.  A slice to fortify me for a long weekend of shooting.  A few slices to share at the party. And, a few slices to comfort as we say farewell.  Yes, this is the perfect cake.


With strawberries in season right now, this cake has been a favorite at our house.  It is moist, and light, and the lemon streusel adds the perfect burst of flavor to the jammy strawberries.  I hope you'll try it and enjoy it as much as we do!

Strawberry Coffeecake with Lemon Streusel

 recipe heavily adapted from King Arthur Flour

Streusel Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons butter, softened
pinch of salt
5-6 drops lemon oil

Cake Ingredients

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk plain yogurt, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, well drained, stemmed, and diced

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease two 8x12 pans, or one 9x13 pan.

Prepare streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and pinch of salt.  With your hands, work the softened butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse crumble.  Gently toss the crumble with the drops of lemon oil to combine.

Prepare cake: In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, being careful to beat after the addition of each egg.  Beat in yogurt and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir flour mixture into the wet batter until just combined - be careful not to over mix.

Gently fold the strawberries into the batter.  Pour into prepared pan(s) and spread evenly.  Top with lemon streusel until batter is completely covered.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Shrimp and Mango Wraps

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I love summer meals!  When it's warm outside, our meals just naturally become lighter and quicker to accommodate the heat and all the time we're spending outside.   Consequently, I think we eat even healthier during the warmest months of the year.  Watermelon for dessert instead of pudding, fresh salads for dinner instead of creamy soups and breads.    


I was recently introduced to My Coke Rewards Meals, and just in time for the warm weather that is rolling into town!  The recipes by celebrity chefs Ingrid Hoffman and G. Garvin look delicious, and perfect for all the summer entertaining and weeknight meals outdoors that I am planning for the weeks ahead.

The first recipe to catch my eye was this Shrimp and Mango Wrap by Ingrid Hoffman.  I love wraps because they are so simple and quick and perfect for a healthy lunch or dinner at the picnic table.  I adapted the recipe just a bit to satisfy my recent obsession with cilantro - I am all about the cilantro these days! 


These wraps are quick and healthy and full of flavor.  We enjoyed them for lunch this week, but I'm also adding them to the menu for a dinner with friends next week.  They will be perfect paired with G. Garvin's Potato Salad and a good cold drink!  Check out the MCR Meals site for more delicious recipes.


Shrimp and Mango Wraps with Cilantro Lime Sauce

adapted from Ingrid Hoffman

Ingredients

1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds peeled & deveined cooked shrimp (I used this recipe to prepare the shrimp)
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
5 whole grain tortillas or flat bread wraps (9 inch)
2 cups fresh baby spinach

Directions

In a blender or food processor, combine yogurt, mayonnaise, cilantro, and lime juice.  Pulse until smooth and creamy.  Adjust salt and pepper seasonings.  Refrigerate until ready for use.

Warm up tortillas in a small skillet over medium-high heat, approximately 10 seconds per side.

Arrange spinach in the center of each tortilla.  Top with mangos and shrimp, then drizzle 2 tablespoons of the prepared sauce over the contents of the tortilla. Wrap them up and enjoy immediately.

Makes 5 wraps. 

Compensation was provided by Coca-Cola, but Coca-Cola is not a sponsor, administrator, or involved in any other way with this post. All opinions expressed are my own and not those of Coca-Cola.

Favorite Children's Books: Julia Donaldson

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Do you know about the children's book author Julia Donaldson?  I was recently introduced to her work when a dear friend overseas sent a thoughtful package of books our way - via royal air mail no less!  Upon reading her books, several times through, I felt an enormous sense of relief that Julia Donaldson had found her way into our lives.  I'm only being a tiny bit melodramatic when I say that our lives are better because we have Julia Donaldson's books to read!

I love to read with my girls, in fact it's one of my favorite pastimes, but despite the large collection of books we have amassed, it can get tiresome reading children's books every single day.   And then we found Julia Donaldson, and my approach to picture book reading time has been rejuvenated once again!  Her books are adorable, quirky, hilarious, and unpredictable - just when you think you've got the book's main idea down, she throws in a delightful twist.  She reminds me of one of my favorite children's authors, William Steig, in that her books are the perfect blend of absurdity and humor with intelligent writing that appeals to kids and adults.

These are some of our favorites so far, though we plan to find every book she's ever written!  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.


Children's Books by Julia Donaldson


 The Snail and the Whale






















What the Ladybird Heard  (Unfortunately the US version differs a bit from my UK version, but still delightful I'm sure)

















Room on the Broom



























The Gruffalo


















The Highway Rat



























Charlie Cook's Favorite Book 


Who are your favorite children's book authors?

Cornerstone Cooking: Recipe + Giveaway

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I love the concept behind Cornerstone Cooking by Nick Evans from the popular food blog Macheesmo!  Nick built this cookbook around the idea that leftovers can save us time and money and taste delicious too.  He created 8 cornerstone dishes, which are recipes that can be a meal on day one but then the leftovers can be used for other dishes throughout the week.  For each of the 8 cornerstone dishes, Nick provides a chapter full of recipes for the leftovers.  Really and truly genius!


Since my review copy of the cookbook arrived in the mail, I've been trying Nick's recipes.  I started with his cornerstone recipe for Spicy Black Beans.   Then throughout the week I used the leftovers and enjoyed  Huevos Rancheros Cups, Black Bean Burgers, Spicy Black Bean Soup, and Chorizo Enchilada Casserole.  Each recipe was straightforward, well written and developed, and quite delicious!

Having tried the recipes and read through all of Nick's humorous commentary, I have nothing but good things to say about Cornerstone Cooking and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes good food and wants to make the most of their time in the kitchen.  Other recipes from the book I can't wait to try: Marinara Sauce, Open-Faced Italian Sandwiches, Lentil Cookies, and Nick's Nuggets. 


In addition to giving away two copies of Cornerstone Cooking to readers here, Nick also gave me the green light to share a recipe from the book.  Though it was hard to pick, I chose this Vietnamese Noodle Salad.  I chose it, in part because it sounded delicious and also because I thought it would be a bit of a challenge for me.

I don't cook meat at home very often - I'm not a vegetarian, but I rarely eat meat because the good local, grass fed variety that I insist upon is so expensive and hard to find. But, I was up for a challenge and this recipe calls for Flank Steak which, believe it or not, I have never cooked before!  I followed Nick's cornerstone recipe for Flank Steak, with a spice rub, and it was a great success.  The salad, with fresh herbs and veggies, is flavorful, spicy, and makes a perfect light summer dinner, lunch, or appetizer.  I'm a huge fan!  


Vietnamese Noodle Salad

 
recipe from Cornerstone Cooking by Nick Evans

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound grilled flank steak, sliced thin
8 ounces vermicelli rice noodles
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
1 cup shredded carrots
1/3 cup fresh basil, minced
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1/3 cup fresh mint, minced
1 - 2 serrano peppers, minced (optional)

Dressing Ingredients

3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, plus some for rice noodles
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 lime, juice only
dash of fish sauce (optional)

Directions

1) Cook rice noodles according to the package, which should involve boiling them for just a few minutes in water.  Drain noodles, rinse them with cold water to stop the cooking, and toss them with a good drizzle of sesame oil to keep them from sticking.

2) Slice steak very thinly against the grain and set aside

3) Mince herbs. Peel cucumber and remove seeds with spoon.  Slice cucumber into short sticks.  If you're using the serrano peppers, dice them as well. I would remove the seeds, but you could leave them in for extra heat.

4) Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl until well combined.

5) Add noodles to a large bowl.  Drizzle 1/4 of the dressing over the noodles.

6) Top noodles with cucumbers, carrots, herbs, and peppers.  Drizzle another quarter of the dressing.

7) Add sliced steak to the top of the salad.  Pour over rest of dressing or serve it on the side so people can add it themselves.

Note: This salad is great at room temperature or chilled.  Feel free to make it in advance, and it will keep fine for a few days in the fridge.


Giveaway Prize (2 Winners!): 

Each winner will receive a copy of Cornerstone Cooking: Learn to Love Your Leftovers by Nick Evans. 

Giveaway Requirements:

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and tell me:

Do you enjoy leftovers, or do you start fresh in the kitchen every day?

Contest ends May 15th at 5:00 MST.  Winners will be chosen via random.org and will have 3 days to respond before a new winner is chosen.  Good luck!

Fresh Fruit Mousse

Monday, May 7, 2012

(I want to thank everyone who responded to my last post.  It can be hard for me to pull back the curtains on myself like that, but your encouraging responses have only bolstered my courage. Thank you, with all my heart.)

As the weather warms up, and it is definitely warming up here, I find that I want to eat less.  I crave lighter food, like salads for meals and lot's of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Luckily my warm weather cravings coincide with the arrival of more fresh produce at the farmer's market.


With more fruit options lately, I have even been choosing light, fruit based desserts over the puddings and brownies that I loved all winter long.  With fresh strawberries available right now, this healthy Fresh Fruit Mousse is at the top of my dessert list.  It is light enough that it even makes a nice late afternoon snack. If you ask my kids, they'll tell you it tastes even better when eaten outdoors in the sunshine - I am inclined to agree!

Fresh Fruit Mousse

Ingredients

1 cup strawberries, stemmed and washed
1 cup mango, cubed
1 cup pineapple, cubed
1 cup cantaloupe, cubed
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups whipped topping (see below)

Whipped Topping Ingredients
2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
1/3 cup powdered sugar, or to taste

Directions

Prepare Whipped Topping: In the top of a double broiler, or metal bowl that will fit over a saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons of cold water.  Place over a pot of simmering water and stir until gelatin dissolves and slightly thickens,  2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat cream in a large bowl until foamy.  Begin adding sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until the cream reaches desired sweetness and soft peaks begin to form.  Add the gelatin mixture and continue to beat until cream is thick.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare Fruit:  In a heavy duty blender or food processor, combine all of the fresh fruit and puree until completely smooth and no fibrous pieces remain.  Transfer fruit puree to a large mixing bowl and stir in vanilla, sugar, and nutmeg.

Using a rubber spatula, fold whipped topping into the fruit puree. Be careful not to over mix. Divide the mixture evenly into 8 martini glasses or dessert bowls.  Chill for 30 to 45 minutes before serving.  Garnish with fresh mint leaves.  Serves 8.


Does your appetite change with the seasons?  What do you crave in the Spring?

Things I'm Afraid to Tell You (Part One)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

We all have parts of ourselves and our lives that we deem too messy, too dark, too boring, too sad, too embarrassing, too controversial to share.  When I saw Creature Comfort's Things I'm Afraid to Tell You project I was so intrigued.  She invited bloggers to be brave and authentic and share parts of themselves that they normally keep behind closed doors.  The response was incredibly inspiring.

Some participating bloggers were more open than others, but everyone stepped out of their comfort zone.  (I was quite moved by this one and this one).   It was refreshing to find such courage on the web, but my first thought was : I can't do that.  And then I was reading a book last night and came across this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."  So, here I am.

There are many things I am afraid to tell you.  But I just turned 30 and I am facing a new decade and what I'd really like to do is start fresh.  I am not always comfortable being myself, but I am learning that there is beauty in the flaws, that there are gifts in difficult experiences, and that challenges are opportunities to overcome.  I feel terrified committing myself to this project, pushing publish on this and the posts to come, but I am taking on courage as a cause.  Here I go:


Things I'm Afraid to Tell You (Part One):

I don't have any money.  But what I really don't want you to know is that I get government assistance.  My kids are in enrolled in medicaid and we use food stamps every month.  We have been getting help for just over a year now, and the shame increases with time.

I know this is a political issue for many, but for me it's personal.  I see the quotes posted on Facebook by people I know about how food stamp recipients are taking money out of other people's pockets.  I hear state representatives comparing people who receive government assistance to wild animals.  I read complaints on Facebook and blogs from people who encountered someone using food stamps at the store who also had an iPhone or was buying frivolous food items.   It is a punch in the gut every single time.

At the grocery store, I try to hide my card.  I worry that the cashier is scrutinizing my items - will my bag of chips seem frivolous?  I wonder if the person behind me in line is judging me - do my clothes look too nice for me to have food stamps, do they think I shouldn't have a cell phone, will I be part of someone's rant and rave on Facebook today?  Are there people I know that would despise me for taking money out of their pockets if they knew I was part of the state welfare system?

I want to explain, every single time.  I want people to know that I'm working towards something better, that I didn't mean to end up here and I hope I don't stay long.  I wish I could convey how much it means to me to be at home with my children, how I believe I can make it as an entrepreneur, and how much time and thought I put into the issue of my finances, my work, my family, my future every single day.  I wish those that judge could know that I am grateful for every bite those food stamps purchase and every doctor's visit my kids receive, that receiving assistance is no small matter to me.

I have been ashamed to receive government assistance.  I know that to many I fit into a category of the lazy, the freeloaders, the dependents, the weak.  I have carried the weight of judgement and the burden of shame, but when I am finally able to walk away from this, I will take with me a gift:  I will know better.  Having experienced this, I will know better than to assume I know someone's story, their past or their future.  I will know better than to judge someone's worthiness to receive help.

This isn't a discussion about "the system" or its failures or the abuses or the fairness of it all.  This is just personal.  For me, this is just about feeding my kids dinner and my hope that someday I will be able to graciously help somebody else do the same.

A Handmade Birthday: From the Archives, April 2010

Friday, May 4, 2012

A post from my 2010 archives.  Eila just turned four, and I can't help but remember back to yesterday, because wasn't it just yesterday, when she was still my baby.  


One of my favorite family traditions is the handmade birthday outfit each year.  I love making them and my girls love wearing them!  This year I opted for something extra frilly - a dress with bows and ruffled layers - just because.  The dress was sleeveless and so for an early spring birthday I, of course, had to knit a companion sweater as well.



Grandma whipped up a matching birthday dress for Eila's doll too.


To celebrate two years of Eila, I planned a simple, special day with a windy spring picnic, ladybug cupcakes from our favorite local bakery (my girl loves her "cutcates"), and a few beloved gifts.  This owl, a handcrafted Hansa toy, was my top gift pick because not only does it look like Eila with all that feathery hair, but also because Eila has a special interest in owls. We have an owl that perches on the top of our house most nights and Eila eagerly anticipates its arrival, mimicking its hoots all day long.  This fuzzy little guy was an instant best friend.

I also gifted her this doll stroller, because my busy little two year old needs a way to cart her babies to all their "appointments" - she makes a lot of trips to the "post office" with that doll stroller.


And so we begin another year, full of wonder and excitement.   Eila, you are a whirlwind of delight every single day!  You love books, and baby dolls, and dirt.  Everything you do turns into a mess - all the toilet paper unrolled, all the clothes out of the drawers, crayon on walls, marker on faces, paint on clothes, spilled food, broken dishes, scattered papers.  Every single time the house gets quiet, too quiet, I know I can find you in the bathroom eating toothpaste.  You are a tornado of activity, but you keep me on my toes.  I love that you are so full of life and movement and action.

Grandma likes to joke that you have only two volumes: Loud and Too Loud.  Grandpa grins every time you tell him that you "need money for your potet (pocket)."  And you are Esme's favorite playmate, even though conflicts often leave her with your teethmarks in her skin.  When you are upset you always, always say "I need food" and you think that "Lotat" (chocolate) is the cure for everything (and you just might be right).


You love music and singing and spend time every day at the piano.  You adore birds and can sit so very still, though not very quietly, at the window watching for the family of "wale" (quail) that live in the backyard.  When you spot a bird, it is pure joy and loud excitement every single time!  That same excitement extends to the hot air balloons so prevalent in our neighborhood. 

You are a runner and a climber and a jumper.  I love your wiry limbs and messy hair so very much.  You are mischievous and determined and you have the most contagious giggles.  Most of all, you are sweet beyond measure.  At least once a day you make your way into my arms saying "I love my Mama."  You tell your baby sister that she is a "precious sunshine" and marvel over her "chuvvy chuvvy cheeks" before smothering her with kisses. 


You still like to cuddle every night when I sing to you at bedtime and when your chubby little hands find their way to my cheeks, I know without a doubt that this is as good as it gets.  I can't imagine anything better than spending my days with you.  Happy Birthday little one, I love you a million times over.

Chocolate Ginger Banana Muffins

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Do you ever go through food phases?   Like when you get stuck on a certain dish, or ingredient, or flavor combo and you just can't get enough of it?  Well, I am on a muffin kick right now.  They are quick to make and they please everybody in this house.  Plus, the flavor combinations are endless! While I had fresh strawberries, we put Amanda Soule's Berry Muffins on repeat for three days in a row.  When I ran out of berries, I came up with these Chocolate Ginger Banana Muffins.  


Dark chocolate and crystallized ginger are near the top of my favorite flavor combinations list.  These particular banana muffins taste like a treat, but are healthy enough to still call them breakfast.  Although, if I'm being honest, I did sneak a couple into bed with me last night and called them dessert.  Yeah, I really have a thing for muffins right now.  I am already on the search for another good flavor combo because at the rate we're going, the two batches I made of these aren't going to last very long!

Try them!  I think you'll like them. 

Chocolate Ginger Banana Muffins 

(Printable Recipe)

Ingredients

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup spelt flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium bananas)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger
3.5 oz dark chocolate bar, coarsely chopped (I like Green & Black's)

Directions

Grease each cup of muffin tin and set aside.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.  Stir chopped ginger and chocolate into flour mixture.  In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, egg, sugar, oil, and banana.  Beat until smooth.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture.  Fold wet and dry mixtures together, being careful to not over stir. Batter will be lumpy, not smooth.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.  Bake 20 to 30 minutes, or until muffins are golden and spring back when touched.  Cool on wire rack and serve warm.  Makes 12 muffins.


What are your favorite muffin flavor combinations?

Girl Hunter: Book Review and Giveaway

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In her latest book, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time, Georgia Pellegrini takes her passion for good food to its original source: the great outdoors.  Looking for a solution to the contamination and unethical practices of our industrial food system, Georgia found her way back to the age old practices of hunting and gathering.   Girl Hunter is a delightful collection of her her experiences learning the ropes among veteran hunters around the country and across the ocean, combined with uniquely delicious recipes.

I opened this book with curiosity but quickly found myself turning pages in excitement.  Though Girl Hunter is both a cookbook and a fascinating foray into the food revolution, it is most of all an adventure of great proportions.   I reverted to nail biting as I accompanied Georgia into middle-of-no-where Wyoming with a creepy poacher clearly up to no good.  And I howled aloud with her male companions in Mississippi flood country when Georgia surprised them all by taking out the largest wild hog in the bunch.  Oh Georgia, you've got chutzpah by the pound!




















Get the Recipe for: Braised Venison Shoulder

Hunting isn't for everyone, Georgia admits, and the book is about so much more than guns and wild animals. Still, I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to join her and the guys on one of those early morning treks into the wilderness with guns in hand.  It got me thinking about where my food comes from, what it means to eat ethically, and how I can take steps back to the source, back to nature.   I feel inspired by the conversation that Girl Hunter is sparking.


I also wondered, just a little, if I could do it.  Am I brave enough to go after the meat I eat on my own?  I don't know.  But I took a baby step and asked my dad to teach me how to use a gun - a little target practice.    I'm not sure I am quite ready to sign up for the next turkey hunt . . . but I'm thinking about it.  In fact, I'm working on a little something right now:

Dear Georgia,

You inspire me.  Thank you for writing a food adventure that could change the world.  It has changed my world a little bit already.  If you're ever on a hunt in New Mexico, can I tag along?  A little foraging, a little quail hunting, maybe some javelina along the Rio Grande?  That sounds so much better than the freezer section of the grocery store.

Yours Truly,

Allison

Giveaway
You can join the adventure too!  I'm giving away TWO COPIES OF GIRL HUNTER. To enter to win a copy, please leave a comment on this post and tell me:

What is the most unique food you have ever tried?


The giveaway is open to anyone with a US mailing address.  The giveaway will close on Wednesday May 9, 2012 at 5pm MST.  The winners will be chosen via random.org and contacted via email.

Find more of Georgia Pellegrini on her blog, which is as delightful as the book!

And the Winners Are (chosen by random.org)


Natalie C., who regularly makes and drinks Kombucha!

and

Gail whose most unique food tasting involved Octopus!

Thank you to everyone who participated - it's a great book and I hope you get a copy to enjoy!  I had a lot of fun reading about all the unique foods you have tried - I would definitely try a green bean smoothie, but I'm not sure about shark stomach!  I will contact the winners via email.
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