Cranberry Pear Coffee Cake

Baking in the fall is one of my favorite things in the world. There’s something about creating warmth in the middle of the cooling weather that’s so satisfying to me on a deep level. And I’m not just talking about the warmth of the oven, though that’s always a nice alternative to turning on the heater. Fall ingredients have a way of creating an inner warmth that has nothing to do with temperature.

It’s the feeling of coming home to a house that smells like cinnamon buns, or digging into a thick slice of fresh apple pie after dinner. Baking in any season can be fun–but in the fall, baking can be magical.

This cranberry pear coffee cake is the perfect fall treat. The cake is moist and rich, but not too dense, and the cinnamon sugar topping is the perfect finishing touch of sweetness with a hint of fall spice.

But the money here is really in the fruit. Those chunks of juicy fresh pear are soft and moist, little morsels of velvety smoothness in every bite, while the dried cranberries add just a little tartness and texture to the cake. Honestly, I’d be happy with either one in my fall baking, but together, this duo just works. Cranberry plus pear is a combination that’s going to be on my fall to-do list every year from now on. 

Continued after the jump →

Sometimes it’s tough to get dinner on the table. I feel kind of sheepish admitting this since, I mean, cooking is basically what I do. But there are days when I’m focusing on baking or dessert or some kind of small snack, and by the time dinner rolls around I haven’t made anything that would pass for an actual meal. Unfortunately, apple pie, popsicles, and kettle corn do not a dinner make.

So like any other home cook out there, I love a good one-pot meal–something quick and easy, tasty but nutritious, and requiring minimal clean-up time. No matter how much time you have (or don’t have) on your hands, it’s always satisfying to get dinner on the table without dirtying too many dishes.

This one pot quinoa is one of my favorite go-to dinners. The recipe makes just about enough to fill up the two adults in our house, so adjust the quantities to fit however many people you’re serving. You can adjust the amounts of the individual ingredients however you like, but for me, this recipe is the perfect ratio of veggie to meat to grain; meaning: lots and lots of healthy kale, a good portion of lean protein, and just enough quinoa to add some texture and heartiness. 

It only takes a few minutes to get this veggie-packed, delicious dinner on the table, and it’s a real crowd-pleaser to boot. The best thing about it for me is that it only uses ingredients that I almost always have on hand–quinoa, onions, kale, and fresh chicken sausage (which I get from the deli counter and keep in the freezer). On days when I’ve got other stuff in my fridge, I throw that in too–it’s hard to go wrong with this easy and satisfying dish. 

Continued after the jump →

Cashew Butter Cookies

Growing up, I never really liked peanut butter cookies. It’s another one of those funny food preferences that don’t seem to make much sense, especially because I love peanut butter enough to eat it out of the jar with a spoon. It was something about the actual peanut butter in the dough; I’ve never had a problem with peanut butter chips in cookies (yum). 

At this point in my life, my opinion toward peanut butter cookies is much improved, but even so, I rarely find myself making them. Maybe it’s just not something I think to make, having grown up avoiding them. But ever since I started whipping up my own cashew butter at home, I’ve been looking for different ways to use it when I get bored with just spreading it on my toast. Brownies, cheesecake, and banana bread all occurred to me, but I wanted a recipe that really emphasized the cashews without any competing flavors. These cashew butter cookies were the logical next step. 

These cashew butter cookies have a much more subtle flavor than their peanut buttery cousins. There’s an undeniably nutty quality to the cookies, but the cashew flavor isn’t so much of a punch as it is a gentle stroke; the lush, floral note of cashew sings out best right before you swallow a bite. For a more robust cashew presence, be sure to add in the chopped cashew pieces (roasted and salted to really bring out their flavor).

Overall, I think the subtlety of these cookies is right up my alley. The sugars and butter seem to complement the cashew flavor without becoming cloying or overwhelming. Peanut butter cookies might never be my favorite, but these cashew butter cookies just might be something I come back to again and again.

Continued after the jump →

Chicken Marbella

When do you know you’ve found a great recipe? Is it when you first try a bite and feel the back of your jaw tingle with pleasure? Is it when you always have it in your back pocket for dinner parties and other occasions where impressing your guests is a concern? Is it when you find yourself coming back to it over and over again, year after year? 

If meeting any of those are criteria for a great recipe, then this one will qualify. 

Chicken Marbella is something I’ve been making since I first stumbled upon the recipe in the first months of our marriage, when I was still learning to cook for two every night. The mixture of ingredients seemed strange to me at first–prunes, olives, and capers? But ahead I plugged with the recipe in faith, trusting in the wisdom and experience of the authors.

This recipe is one that I have to credit with expanding my palate and teaching me to work with foreign ingredients. What I didn’t know back then was that I was far from the only one to be taught by this book. The Silver Palate Cookbook is actually a well-loved classic amongst cookbooks across the western world. Its longevity in the world of cooking (a 25th anniversary edition was published in 2007) is another strong testament to the quality of its recipes. 

My obedience to the recipe eventually brought me success. First, I found that the recipe itself was really not that difficult to master. Second, I don’t think I’d ever made a dish so beautiful-looking. And third, when my husband took his first bite of the juicy chicken, I swear that his eyes lit up. A short time after we finished eating, he nonchalantly suggested that I could make “that chicken” again, whenever I wanted. Needless to say, I’ve complied with that request many times since.

Continued after the jump →

Sweet Cherry Sour Cream Tart

Dear Summer, I miss you. 

As much as I don’t miss your heat or the bugs that seemed to swarm when you came this year, I do miss so many other things you brought with you. I miss the endless sunshine of your long days and the way I didn’t need to wear a jacket at night. I miss the way I just felt happy because it was June and that’s one of my favorite months of the year. 

I miss the long walks we would take at night (but I don’t miss the fact that we would take them because it was cooler outside than it was inside). I miss the scent of jasmine in the night air. I miss the lingering 8:00 PM sunshine and the feeling that I had all day to get things done. I miss the anticipation of the year’s big blockbuster movies. I miss the birthday celebrations, the Fourth of July fireworks, the popsicles, the watermelon. I miss the peaches and nectarines, the gorgeous tomatoes, the cherries. 

But this sweet cherry sour cream tart is giving me a little comfort in your absence. The taste of this sour cream custard falls somewhere between cheesecake and greek yogurt. It’s thick without being overly rich, and sweet with a hint of tang. Even though I can’t find cherries at the market since you went away, frozen dark cherries are perfect for this tart, their deep sweetness perfectly complementing the taste of the crust and custard. 

I know this tart is sumptuous, but somehow it still feels light. I guess that’s why it reminds me a little bit of you, Summer, even though I know it can’t take your place. Still, it’s making me happy right now, and that’s good enough for me. 

Yours, Carol

Continued after the jump →