Snapshots of Summer

Hello, hello, hello!

It’s been a long time since my last post.  Spring and summer have been very busy since I started a full-time job after being home with my sweet daughter (and working part-time) for many amazing months.  In March, I was thrilled to accept a position as a baker and sales representative at a bakery in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.  I’m so grateful for this wonderful opportunity!

Here’s a collage of my summer, highlights of what I’ve been up to and of course, what I have been eating.  Enjoy!

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  1. Two of my favorite combinations: prosecco and the back porch of my dearest friend’s home.  I’m loving this bottle of bubbles.
  2.  Weekend ritual of green smoothies and watching the choo choo trains.  There’s a charming little cafe located at one of the nearby train stations and little T loves their green smoothies.  We did a 30 day green smoothie challenge in July and T happily participated.
  3.  The bouquets for the bride and bridesmaids of my friend’s wedding.  Flowers were arranged by family and friends.
  4. We went on a nature walk and foraged along the way collecting wineberries.  These sweet little hands helped too.
  5. My friends live in the city and have a thriving apricot tree in their little back court yard.  They invited us to pick some of the fruit.  We went home with 25lbs of apricots and barely made a dent in that tree.
  6. Evening stroll down the street. We live in a mid-century modern neighborhood that was built on what was the grounds of a Gilded Age mansion, designed by Horace Trumbauer.  The statues in my neighborhood are remnants of the gardens.
  7.  10lbs of blackberries about to become jam.  My husband and I are huge fans of the Food in Jars blog.  Try the peach jam recipe–you won’t regret it.
  8. A  birthday tradition. We celebrated T’s 2nd birthday this summer.  On her birthday (this year and last) I presented her with a blank canvas and paints to create her birthday masterpiece.  I love it.  It’s a fun way to commemorate the day.  (first birthday to the left, second birthday to the right)
  9. My little gardener.  She’s been spending a lot of time at grandma’s house and therefore spending a lot of time in the vegetable garden.
  10. We spent a couple days at Ocean City, NJ.  I wish I could eat fried calamari and corn fritters everyday.
  11. My hubby and I went on out first ferris wheel ride together–good old fashioned romantic fun on the boardwalk.
  12. We celebrated the final weeks of summer with homemade lemon-orange gelato.  I love gelato. I love gelato. I looooove gelato. Did you know there’s less fat in gelato than ice cream? So it’s way better for you.

Continue reading

Snack Bites for Tots (and Mamas)

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The main objectives when spending a cold snowy day–or any day really, with a very active toddler: well-rounded meals (haha) and entertain her (is it spring yet?).

I’m very lucky to have a toddler who loves to eat and will try almost anything.  However, she’s a human and she gets bored when I offer the same thing one too many time. I can’t blame her. I’m the same way!

So I dug up a recipe that was passed down to me from a dear friend.   I switched out some of the ingredients to create my own.  In truth, I didn’t have all of the ingredients in my pantry and had to improvise.

It was a cold and snowy day.  It was nearing snack time and my little 18 month old tot was getting antsy.

“T, would you like to help Mama cook?”

“Yeeeeeea!” was the enthusiastic response.

We donned our aprons and I pulled up a chair to the counter on which she stood with excitement.  I had created the mis-en-place of the required ingredients. I have learned that preparedness is key when it comes to toddlers. Little T dumped the ingredients into the food processor bowl. I hooked up the appliance and let her push the button to pulse the ingredients.  The best part was showing her how to roll the snack bites in the shredded coconut. My little sous chef was hard at work.  I was surprised how long it took her to realize that she was playing with food therefore couldn’t resist taking a bite–three snack bites to be exact.

Recipe calls for apricots but picture shows dates, an excellent substitution.

Recipe calls for apricots but picture shows dates, an excellent substitution.

Ingredients for Snack Bites

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup oats (gluten-free oats are available)

1/3 of a banana

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

2 TB almond butter

1 TB honey

1 TB water

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup shredded coconut

 

Pulse all ingredients except the shredded coconut until well combined. Roll into bite sized balls and roll into shredded coconut.  Enjoy!

 

Snack bites

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Reviews of Snack Bites:

“Nummy” and “More, pleeeeeeease!”- T (18 months)

“I’m eating this last snack bite.” – Mama Tara

Plum Apple Ginger Crisp

 

Fruit crisps are one of my favorite desserts.  They’re so easy to make and I always seem to have the ingredients on hand. I had some long time friends over for dinner the other night and needed to whip up a dessert.  I had a few plums and apples in the fridge, which is always a great combination.  I had some ginger root too so I decided to add that to liven up this classic dish.

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Nom. nom. nom.

 

Filling:

3 plums (remove pit and slice into small pieces)

1 apple  (peeled and grated)

2 TB sugar

2 TB flour

1 tsp fresh grated ginger

Topping:

3/4 c. all purpose flour

1/3 c. old fashioned rolled oats

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

dash of salt

1/2 stick of butter (cold and cut into small pieces)

 

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease 4-6 ramekins and place on baking sheet.

Mix all filling ingredients together.  Pour the filling into the ramekins, leaving enough room for the crumble topping. Set aside.

For the topping, combine flour, oats, sugars, walnuts and salt.  Add cold butter and mix until the crumble and butter form pea sized pieces.  I just use my hands but you can use a mixer with a paddle attachment.  Evenly distribute topping amongst ramekins.

Bake for 30-35 mins, until top is golden brown.  Serve immediately or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.

 

Enjoy!

A Summer Picnic Birthday

We recently celebrated our daughter, T’s first birthday, also known as WE SURVIVED the first year of parenting. Yay!

Birthday girl waiting for some cake.

I’ve been planning this party for months…maybe several months…maybe shortly after she was born.  I’ve never been much of a party planner but I was so looking forward to planning this event for my sweet little girl.  I quickly decided on the theme: A Summer Picnic.  I then recruited the help of my Mom and sisters–party planning enthusiasts.

My Mom gave me Trophy Cupcakes and Parties!   I highly recommend this book. Jennifer Shea shares delicious cupcake recipes while outlining the best way to plan parties.  She highlights the main items of an event in a way that will help you to brainstorm your party ideas.  Following her party planning guide, I listed my ideas for T’s Summer Picnic Birthday below:

Theme: Summer Backyard Picnic

Decor: Bunting Banner, fresh cut flowers–we got gorgeous flowers from Whole Foods Market, mason jars

Color Palette: Red & white gingham

Invitations: Paperless Post.  I chose this invitation, “Strawberries”  and changed the wording to say, “Let’s Picnic!”

Bites: Fried Chicken, vegetarian wraps, grated carrot salad, cucumber dill slaw, baked beans and potato chips

Dessert: Birthday cake, ice cream sandwiches, melon salad

Sips: Homebrews, wine, water, lemonade, iced tea and juice boxes

Entertainment: yard games and bubbles

Favors: Strawberry sugar cookies

Picnic spread: wraps, fried chicken and donuts (yes, donuts), sides and chips.

Picnic spread: wraps, fried chicken and donuts (yes, donuts), sides and chips..

The picnic menu.

The picnic menu.

Paper boats for serving a picnic meal.

Paper boats for serving a picnic meal.

There was no way that I was slaving over a hot stove in the soupy, humid summer heat.  The main dishes were catered.  Fried chicken from no other than Federal Donuts located in Philadelphia.  I couldn’t have been happier with this decision.  Fed Nuts provided choice pieces of perfectly fried juicy chicken (we got the buttermilk ranch and naked flavors), three glazes, spicy pickles and of course, HONEY DONUTS!  My guests devoured every last piece of cock-a-doodle.

We needed a vegetarian options and there wasn’t even a second thought on this one.  We sought the delicious culinary skills of Be Well Bakery & Cafe.  My guests could pick from three light but hearty wraps: Hummus & veggies, California (cream cheese & veggies) and cranberry apple walnut.  This was the perfect addition to a summer picnic menu.  Often wraps aren’t that exciting.  However, my guests kept saying that they were sooo good and yummy over and over….and over again.  Thanks, Be Well!

My mother and I made all of the sides.  The only rule was that it could not involve my stove or oven.  My Mom suggest her famous baked beans (unfortunately a secret recipe). I said, “Cold sides only!!”  but I didn’t say, “No crock pots”.   So the baked beans made it on the menu.   The guest were grateful.  Most important, the birthday girl loved them.

I wanted light, make-ahead side dishes.  Carottes râpées or grated carrot salad, is a french salad found in many cafes.  It’s very basic. Mine was made with grated carrots, walnuts, raisins and vinaigrette.  I also chose a coleslaw made with cucumbers and dill.  We also served a variety of Mrs. Vick’s Potato Chips.  

Birthday head gear and thorn.

Seating for the Birthday Girl.

Outdoor seating for guests.

Outdoor seating for guests.

For dessert, we served a summer shortcake from Zake’s Cafe in Fort Washington.  I had this cake at a friend’s 40th birthday celebration.  I was sold after the first bite but continued to eat two large slices of cake just to make sure.  I threw together a melon and mint salad  and also had the classic ice cream sandwiches to offer.  Speaking of sweet things, my sister got the cutest party favors from Velvet Sky Bakery in Jenkintown, PA.  They created yummy and beautiful strawberry sugar cookies which we displayed in wooden berry boxes.

Thank you treats.

Thank you treats.

Thank you treats.

Strawberry sugar cookies for thank you treats.

As for drinks, I wanted to keep that simple: red and white wine, water, lemonade, iced tea and of course juice boxes for the kiddos. However,  my beer snob husband proclaimed that we would only serve a selection of his homebrews because he refused to serve anything but quality beer at his baby girl’s birthday party.  It was so sweet how enthusiastic he was about crafting beer for her birthday celebration.  He even came up with originial names in honor of Miss. T.  There was the Not Napping IPA (self explanatory), the Little Bear Saison (a nickname), and the Dog Dog Dog Dog Brown Ale (To commemorate one of her first words).

Personalized taps for home-brewed beers.

Personalized taps for home-brewed beers.

Beverage station.

Beverage station.

Drinks for adults and kiddos.

Drinks for adults and kiddos.

The decor was easy because my Mom happen to have everything I was looking for to create a summer picnic look.  She provided red and white gingham table cloths, many mason jars for flower arrangements, drink dispensers, glassware, really anything you could need. We joke that she needs a shed to house all her party equipment. Although we’re serious.  We needed a few elements to really make it stand out as a picnic.  We used paper boats instead of plates as the vehicle for the picnic feast, red and white patterned paper straws, and chalkboard signs for the menu. One extra special touch was that my mom had saved the bunting banners that she and a friend had made for my baby shower when I was pregnant with T.  They were used to celebrate her pending arrival so it felt right to use them to honor her first birthday.

Kids' station providing bubbles and bug-free fun!

Kids’ station providing bubbles and bug-free fun!

I hope you enjoy the photos of T’s Summer Picnic Birthday.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the carottes râpées, cucumber dill slaw and melon & mint salad recipes. 

 

Purveyors & Vendors

Paperless Post 

Whole Foods Market

Federal Donuts 

Be Well Bakery & Cafe 

Zake’s Cafe 

Velvet Sky Bakery 

 

Kale Pesto

We love kale and we eat a lot of it.  Our typical methods of preparing kale are either tossing it into a salad or sauteeing it with some garlic. I wanted to come up with a new creative way to eat this nutrient dense leafy green.

I just started a kitchen herb garden. As I was planting the basil, I thought, “Pesto”.

Kale Pesto.

What’s not to love? Pesto is a flavor packed condiment used for so many foods–pasta, meat, fish, veggies or sandwiches.

Pesto traditionally calls for pine nuts.  Walnuts were used as a substitute for pine nuts because I like the taste of walnuts paired with kale and walnuts are less expensive (bonus!).   To toast the walnuts:  Heat a dry pan over medium-high setting.   Add walnuts and constantly stir for about 5 minutes.  Walnuts are done when they become fragrant and toasted.

You will need…

1 cup kale (remove stems and tightly packed)

1 cup basil (tightly packed)

1/4 cup toasted walnuts

2 cloves of garlic

2/3  cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper

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Add kale, basil, walnuts, and garlic to a food processor.  Pulse the ingredients a few times before setting blender to mix.  Slowly add the olive oil while ingredients are mixing. Transfer mixture to a bowl and stir in grated Parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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There are many ways to utilize pesto.  Below is one of my favorite ways to use it.

Kale Pesto & Canellini Bean Pizza

You will  need:

Pizza dough (store-bought or home made)

Kale Pesto

2 cups of shredded Mozzarella cheese or a shredded Italian cheese mix

1/2 cup Cannellini beans

Follow instructions for cooking pizza dough.  Spread a thin layer of kale pesto on the pizza dough and top with cannellini beans and cheese. Bake as instructed.

Note: Having mints on hand is advised when consuming garlicky foods.

 

Inspiration:

Our love of kale and garlic.

 

 

Spring Quinoa & Barley Salad

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Spring Quinoa & Barley Salad

I have a very long and extensive list of must-go-to restaurants.  I was able to check-off one of those restaurants,  Terrain Garden Café in Glen Mills, PA.  The meals at Terrain are carefully crafted with local and organic meat and produce.  My husband and I just celebrated our one year anniversary and I asked that we spend the afternoon together and have brunch at Terrain.

It was a great idea because we had a brunch reception for our wedding.  Like most restaurants, Terrain only serves brunch on the weekends.  Our anniversary fell on a Monday. Boo.

That’s okay!  I made lunch reservations.  We dropped off Baby T with Auntie S, picked up some beer and vino and headed to our destination.  I was so ready and so excited to pour over the menu and feast on the bounty of the land.

Fresh, warm bread in a flower pot.  Yes, please.

Fresh, warm bread in a flower pot. Yes, please.

I was close to stuffed after devouring the adorable and scrumptious bread pot (yummy, warm bread baked in a flower pot) and the cheese board was of generous portions and nothing short of delicious.

This recipe was inspired by the main dish that I ordered, the dayboat scallop salad.  I rarely pass up the chance to order scallops a.k.a. candy of the sea.  The scallops were served over a barley and quinoa salad with “farmer’s market vegetables, pickled red onion, local micro greens, apple-honey vinaigrette”

We are huge quinoa fans in this family and I loved this quinoa and barley salad which included asparagus and sugar snap peas and lightly dressed with vinaigrette.  This was my best attempt to recreate this dish.  I swapped out the sugar snap peas for frozen peas (because that’s what I had on hand).  I purchased “10 minute barley” at Trader Joe’s which significantly cut back the prep time.  I created my own apple vinaigrette. This recipe is about assembling ingredients that you can easily be made ahead if needed.  This is a great side dish for a BBQ or picnic. Continue reading

Churro Bites and Mexican Chocolate Sauce

They really do taste like churros.

They really do taste like churros.

My sister will be hosting a small kid-friendly get together this Monday which happens to be Cinco de Mayo.  Of course, we must celebrate this holiday!  She will be cooking up quesadillas and mixing margaritas ( and virgin margaritas for the tykes).  I offered to bring a dish and she asked if I could make dessert.  The answer is always “Yes”.   Dessert is one of my favorite meals, brunch being the other favorite.

I wanted to make something fun, festive and kid-friendly.  Ice cream is always a win and you can’t have ice cream with out chocolate sauce.  I thought these two items would pair nicely with churros.  Well, maybe I just wanted churros because I was thinking about the deluctable churros I had for my birthday dinner at Distrito in Philadelphia.

Anyway, knowing that I wasn’t ready to commit to making homemade churros, I searched for a churro-like recipe and found at http://www.lilluna.com churro bites made from angel food cake. Win!

Now, I know this isn’t an authentic churro recipe but I’m a Mama of a 9 month old and I needed a quick and EASY recipe.  Semi-homemade is just necessary as much as I prefer homemade.

I thought to myself, “I can make an angel food cake” but there it was.  The already-made angel food cake sitting there in the bakery section of the grocery store. It came home with me.

Waiting to be fried and tossed in sugary goodness.

Waiting to be fried and tossed in sugary goodness.

As for the chocolate sauce, I used a basic recipe but added cinnamon to the the mix for that mexican flare.  Consider adding a bit of chili powder for heat.  I did not do this since I was serving this to little kids.

For the churro bites you will need:

  • 1 angel food cake (store bought or make your own)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 TB. ground cinnamon
  • canola oil

To make the churros…

  • Cube the cake into bite sized pieces (2″ cubes).
  • Heat the oil on low-medium heat and fry the cubes until golden brown.
  • Immediately toss the golden cubes in the cinnamon/sugar mix until covers in sugary goodness.
Another churro close up.

Another churro close up.

 

For the Mexican chocolate sauce you will need:

  • 8 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 2 TB. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

To make the Mexican chocolate sauce…

  • Heat the heavy cream over medium-low heat until it’s just beginning to bubble–bubbles will start around the edge of the pot.
  • Combine the chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon in a bowl.
  • Add the hot cream over to the chocolate mix and allow it to stand for about 30-60 seconds before whisking.
  • Whisk until smooth and add butter. Whisk until butter has dissolved.
Mexican chocolate sauce montage!

Mexican chocolate sauce montage!

You will also need:

  • Vanilla ice cream because why not?

The chocolate can be used as a dipping sauce for the churros and/or as a topping for the ice cream.

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Los tres amigos: vanilla ice cream, Mexican chocolate sauce and churro bites.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!!

Inspiration

http://lilluna.com/angel-food-cake-churro-bites/

 

 

Apple Vinaigrette

Just drizzled some of this tasty and fresh vinaigrette on a yummy and healthy Spring quinoa and barley salad.

In a blender, add…

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. apple juice
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TB honey
1 TB Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper

…and mix!

Add to salads, vegetables or use as a marinade.

Enjoy!

Spicy BBQ Kale Chips

 

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Last weekend, I headed to the rural part of North Jersey to spend some quality time with my parents while the hubby did some work in NYC.  My parents were thrilled to see us especially since it meant seeing their granddaughter, T.

The weekend was relaxing but short.  Most of the socializing was done at the table  –my favorite place to socialize.  Saturday I had lunch with my mom and her girlfriends, affectionately known as “The Bullies” at the local cafe.  That evening, we went to a friend’s home for dinner and drinks.  I tried uni, squid ink pasta and halva for the first time.  All interesting and delicious.

There was some snacking in between all of the feasting.  I raided my parents kitchen looking for nosh.  I found the perfect snack–Brad’s Raw Leafy Kale (Nacho flavored).  They were crispy and packed with flavor.

I have made kale chips before–an easy and simple recipe. I usually only lightly season it with salt and pepper.  I thought I ought to be more adventurous.  Inspired by Brad’s nacho flavored kale chips, I decided to seek my own flavor packed kale snack.

Spicy BBQ kale chips was the obvious answer. Continue reading