Brown sugar bourbon ice cream with roasted apricots.

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A week ago Sunday was National Ice Cream Day, and my recipe testing plans lined up so that I celebrated this important holiday: I made brown sugar bourbon ice cream with roasted apricots, and was it ever worthy of a celebration! I’ve had the idea for this ice cream for a few months and was just waiting for local apricots to ripen so I could make a batch. I was able to get some at the farmers’ market; they were fragrant, rosy-peach in color, ripe but not overly so– in short, perfect for what I envisioned. I love roasted stone fruit. With apricots, just a tiny bit of butter and sugar helps all the subtle floral notes come out, natural sugars caramelize and the juice factor multiply by about ten. Mixed with an ice cream base that shores up the sweetness, highlights those caramel flavors and adds creaminess… well, you have yourself a homemade ice cream home run.

The truth is brown sugar bourbon ice cream is a home run without the apricots. I made a batch for a work potluck and was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response of my coworkers. There were second helpings taken, comparisons to a popular local ice cream shop… I was thrilled. Brown sugar gives the ice cream a subtle caramel flavor, and bourbon enhances the vanilla flavor. It won’t freeze properly if you add too much bourbon, so don’t worry about it being too boozy for the kiddos– unless you need an excuse to save it for the grown-ups. It is rich, creamy and decadent; a spectacular and special homemade treat. My husband declared it immediately the best ice cream I’ve ever made. On the flip side, the roasted apricots are great with pound cake, with biscuits and cream a la shortcake, or stirred into yogurt. This recipe gives you so many options.

On a hot summer day, it’s hard to say no to ice cream, and even harder when it is as delicious as this brown sugar bourbon ice cream. While apricots are at their best, treat yourself, your friends and family… maybe even your coworkers.

brown sugar bourbon ice cream with roasted apricots

Brown Sugar Bourbon Ice Cream with Roasted Apricots

For the ice cream:

  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. cream
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 2 T. bourbon
  • 1 vanilla bean, split

For the apricots:

  • 1 lb. apricots, halved and pitted (about 6-8)
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • pinch of kosher salt

To make the ice cream base: Mix the milk, cream, salt and about half of the brown sugar in a large saucepan. Add the vanilla bean. Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar together in a small bowl. (The egg whites will keep in the freezer for months if you don’t have an immediate use.) Over medium heat, bring the milk mixture to the point where it is steaming but not boiling. Carefully temper the egg yolks by streaming in about 1/2 c. of warm milk, whisking constantly; add the tempered yolks immediately to the saucepan and whisk the custard over medium-low heat for 2 mins. Do not let the mixture boil; remove from the burner if it is heating too quickly. You should notice the custard thickening to the point where it will loosely coat a spoon.

Set a strainer over a clean bowl and strain the custard into the bowl. Discard any solids left in the strainer. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into your custard. Add the bourbon, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put the apricot halves on the pan with their pit sides up. Use your fingers to tear the butter into tiny pieces, placing a small amount of butter into the hollow of each half. Divide the 1 T. brown sugar among the fruit in the same way. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of kosher salt. Roast the fruit for 20 mins., turning the pan halfway through the cook time, until the apricots are starting to color and become juicy, but still hold their shape. Cool until you can work with them. Chop the fruit roughly into bite-sized pieces and store, with all the cooking juices, in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.

Churn the ice cream for about 20 mins., until it is the consistency of soft serve. Transfer a third of the ice cream into a freezer-safe container. Add half of the cold apricots in an even layer. Cover with another third of the ice cream, then the rest of the apricots and juice. Cover with the remaining ice cream. Freeze for at least 4 hours. Scoop and enjoy!

apricots, ready to roast

Summer blueberry cake.

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I think this is going to be a blueberry-heavy summer, which is very good news. The local berries were ready early this year (in late June actually, which surprised me) and have been sweet because of a nice balance of sun and rain. I’ve made blueberry scones and my beloved blueberry muffins already, had half a metric ton plain and on yogurt, and have plans for a few more baking projects in the weeks to come. All quite delicious, as you know… yet they pale in comparison to my very favorite summer blueberry cake.

summer blueberry cake, with added nectarberries

I was surprised to find I hadn’t yet shared this recipe. With the first sighting of local berries at the market, I begin to think about the first blueberry cake of the year. If I said before that a cake was my ‘very favorite’, I was not being honest. (Sorry.) My Nana’s chocolate cake comes close, and my Mom’s coconut cake merits consideration, but I would pass up most every dessert offered in favor of a piece of this blueberry cake. No surprise, it’s another recipe passed along by Mom. We used to vacation in mid-August on a lake in central Maine; my memories of those trips include pumping drinking water from the well down the street, swimming in the impossibly clear, cold lake with my brother, learning to play hearts at the giant kitchen bench/table, picking blackberries along the railroad tracks, and eating blueberry cake. Some of Mom’s cakes were made with coveted wild Maine blueberries… which might explain why it’s the only food I remember from those two-week long trips. Besides onion dip, and bacon for breakfast. Blueberry cake was way more important than either of those.

The best part of summer blueberry cake is the deep golden brown, delicately crisp top layer, helped along in part by folding beaten egg whites into the batter– an extra, yet necessary, step. (I’d like to think alchemy has a role as well.) The texture of the cake is dense but never dry, and it improves daily, becoming richer, as unctuous as a cake ever should be, perfumed by vanilla and all the berries… Can you tell yet how much I adore this cake? I don’t mess around with greatness, down to using the same Pyrex pan each and every time. In the past I have experimented, as I so often do: with the addition of lemon zest, for instance (I like it better without), or by doubling the recipe to make a layer cake with cream cheese frosting (too sweet, not necessary). My one occasional twist to the original recipe: a handful of blackberries or raspberries added to the mix. Blueberries must be present– it’s just not the same made exclusively with another berry– but a mix does work. My husband and I recently discovered nectarberries; conflicting sources describe them as a descendant of Australian youngberries, or as a boysenberry-blackberry hybrid. I stopped researching so I could eat more nectarberries. They are divine, no matter what they are– giant, juicy and tart, with a flavor somewhere between blackberry and strawberry. With blackberries still a week or so away from being plentiful, a handful of nectarberries went into the cake pictured. With blueberries or mixed berries, I adore this cake as a brunch option or coffee accompaniment. You’ll see that the flavor and texture are reminiscent of a good bakery muffin, so it’s not a stretch to cut a little piece for a morning treat.

When I shared the recipe for my Mom’s blueberry muffins, I was thrilled by the positive reaction and enthusiastic comments I got from those of you who made a batch. It is heartwarming to see a recipe so dear to me embraced and enjoyed by my community! I feel like this summer blueberry cake, my very favorite cake, is going to be another recipe like that. It’s not just the blueberry factor– this cake is tried and tested, loved and shared, as a great recipe should be. So, please, help me continue to pass it along.

summer blueberry cake

Summer Blueberry Cake

  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 c. sugar, separated
  • 1/2 c. shortening*
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/3 c. whole milk
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 c. blackberries, raspberries or nectarberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8″ x 8″ square pan, preferably glass.

Add the egg whites to the (very clean) bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high until the whites hold a soft peak when you raise the beater up, about 2-4 mins. Add 1/4 c. sugar to the whites and mix on high for another 30 seconds, just to incorporate. Transfer the beaten whites to a small, clean bowl.

Into the same mixer bowl, add the remaining 3/4 c. sugar and shortening. Using the same beater attachment, mix on medium high until light and fluffy; add egg yolks and mix again. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla, and mix once more.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture in two batches, alternating with milk. Stop before the batter is fully mixed; remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape off the beater, and add blueberries and beaten egg whites to the bowl. Use your spatula to fold the batter together; stop when the egg whites are very evenly distributed, but still visible in streaks. Work to keep as much air in the batter as you can.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and dot with blackberries or raspberries, etc., if using. Cover with the remaining batter and smooth it into all corners of the pan. Bake for 45-50 mins., until golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean– unless you hit a berry. Cool slightly before serving. I think this blueberry cake is perfect as-is, but a small scoop of vanilla ice cream probably wouldn’t hurt.

The cake will keep covered at room temperature for 2-3 days and in the refrigerator for a little longer. Mom says it freezes like a dream– we’ll have to trust her word, because I’ve never had one make it to the freezer in my house.

*A note about shortening. I use it sparingly, but it really is the best fat for this cake. Nutiva and Spectrum make shortenings that are organic, non-GMO and transfat-free. If you prefer not to bake with shortening, an equal amount of butter will yield decent results, and I’m tempted to test a coconut oil version. But do consider using shortening to experience the cake at its best.

No-bake cherry cream pie.

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There’s not much better than a homemade pie in July… except a homemade pie in your nice, cool kitchen! This recipe is a family favorite, a simple no-bake* dessert that really shows off your best summer fruit, and can be made with just a few hours notice and little effort. It’s reminiscent of cheesecake, but so much lighter. You don’t need whipped cream or ice cream to garnish. My mom usually makes it with strawberries, and we agreed that both raspberries and peaches would also be delicious. I chose to use red cherries for a few different reasons. First, cherries are flavorful and plentiful in Seattle in July. I needed a quick dessert to take to a 4th of July barbecue and had enough cherries in my kitchen to make a pie, without shopping. Definitely a plus! Second, strawberry season was quite early this year, so for the first time in memory, I had no fresh strawberries to use on July 4th. That was a bummer– but this pie helped me overcome my sadness. Third, and maybe most important to me, I can use easy-to-find red cherries instead of hunting for elusive pie cherries. I love how the sweetness of Bings plays against the creamy filling, and the very delicate shade of rose pink the pie takes on– it’s so pretty on the table! And then there’s the heat factor: make a no-bake cherry pie on a hot summer day, or heat your kitchen for an hour plus to bake a traditional cherry pie? I’ll take the no-bake option, please!

A few more notes about this pie: it’s low in sugar, which I like a lot. Factoring in both crust and filling, there’s only 1/2 c. total in the entire pie, and it serves at least eight generous pieces. That’s a drastic difference from most traditional fruit pies. If you’re pressed for time, or want a truly no-bake option, you can use a premade graham cracker crust, readily available in most grocery stores. The filling can be made with non-dairy whipped topping in place of the cream, though I prefer the texture of the real cream version. And you can really punch up the cherry flavor by substituting kirsch or almond extract for the vanilla. I had some cherry pit liqueur to use, which tastes like unsweetened amaretto, and I thought it was a great twist. Lastly, if you use a store bought crust, add 1/4 tsp. cinnamon to your filling when you add the salt. I find the cinnamon note in this pie is the perfect little finishing touch.

So, while cherries are ripe and plentiful, grab an extra pound or so and make this lovely no-bake cherry cream pie. Instead of lingering in the hot kitchen, you can spend extra time relaxing, chatting with friends and family… or eating pie.

no-bake cherry cream pie

No-Bake Cherry Cream Pie (serves 8 or more)

For the crust:

  • 1 1/4 c. graham crackers crumbs (about 1 sleeve of graham crackers)
  • 6 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. white sugar

For the filling:

  • 2 c. pitted fresh red cherries, plus more to use as garnish
  • 2 c. (1 pint) heavy cream
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract, or almond extract

To make the crust: preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in the microwave or a small saucepan. Combine the melted butter with graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, salt and sugar and mix until you have a wet sand-like consistency. Pour into a 9″ pie plate and use the bottom of a glass, measuring cup, spoon or your fingers to firmly press the graham mixture into an even layer that covers the bottom of the plate and goes slightly up the sides. Bake for 10 mins. and set aside to cool completely before filling. You can make the crust up to 48 hours in advance, or substitute a store-bought graham cracker crust.

To make the filling: pit enough fresh cherries to measure a generous 2 c. Set aside. Add the heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on medium to high speed until peaks form. Do not overwhip the cream; you will make butter. Underwhipping can also be problematic, so watch the cream carefully and stop when you can lift the beater out and a trail of cream will stand in a peak below it. Use a rubber spatula to transfer the whipped cream to a clean bowl.

To the same, now empty mixer bowl, add the softened cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until evenly mixed and slightly fluffy. You may want to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice. Add the pitted cherries and beat just until they are mixed through, no need to pulverize. Remove the bowl from the mixer, clean off the beater into the bowl and add the whipped cream. *Use the rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream by hand.* This is not a job for the mixer. When the filling is mixed thoroughly but still light and airy, dollop it into your cooled crust and spread out evenly. Garnish with extra cherries if you like. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.

No-bake cherry cream pie is best on the day it’s made, but will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

*Okay, so technically you have to bake the crust for 10 mins. But, you can make the crust up to 48 hours ahead, or use a premade crust, and then go from there.

Morning glory breakfast bread.

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There is a French bakery called Petit Pierre a few blocks from work. The proprietor speaks with a thick accent, his wife helps fill the case with shiny croissants, perfect fruit tarts and buttery cookies, and the barista makes a mean latte. It’s a beautiful space and I enjoy checking in Friday mornings for a treat to power me through to the weekend. The pastry case is updated seasonally: apple cake in the fall, strawberries and raspberries showing up now. Somewhere toward the end of winter or in early spring, morning glory muffins appeared. Suddenly, despite the macarons, cinnamon rolls and homemade pop tarts positioned to steal my attention, my eyes went straight to those muffins every time, and they became my Friday standard. Wrapped in craft paper, full of coconut, raisins, and apple, and topped with a basic icing and some toasted coconut shreds, Petit Pierre’s morning glory muffins are sweet, hearty, and so flavorful. Though not the kind of baked good I typically associate with a French bakery, the muffins are a welcome option, a good balance to all the lacquered fruit and buttery doughs. I was inspired to try my making my own at home.

I discovered morning glory muffins in college and had a brief but passionate love affair. You know that I love food with interesting textures and diverse flavors. Morning glory muffins seem so wholesome and healthful, but the combination of fruit and coconut flakes also makes them sweet and a little exotic. I always felt like I was eating unfrosted carrot cake for breakfast. What a feat! My favorite aspect of the ones I remember from college was pineapple: every few bites, you would encounter a big chunk of pineapple, and I thought that was the best thing ever. My morning glory breakfast bread recipe replaces the more common grated apple with pieces of pineapple for that reason.

For this particular recipe I thought a quickbread loaf was in order. I have some einkorn flour from Bluebird Grain Farms and really wanted to use that here; I knew I could use it in a quickbread with no other recipe modifications. Einkorn flour is the world’s most ancient wheat. The grain has never been hybridized and lacks some of the proteins that bother folks with gluten sensitivity. I like that it tastes of vanilla and produces a comparably light crumb, while giving me health benefits like I would get from sturdy, “regular” whole wheat flour. (If you don’t have einkorn flour, substitute the same amount of whole wheat or even white flour.) My instinct was that a larger loaf made with einkorn flour would be less inclined to have a dry texture than muffins. I also like quick breads because I can slice off just a sliver, just a taste. Muffins seem like a predetermined portion– who wraps up half a muffin to save for later? I’m kidding, but not entirely. I enjoy a toasted slice of morning glory bread with my coffee in the morning. It’s so pretty to see all the fruit and coconut pieces in cross section.

I’ve seen morning glory muffins snidely called “hippie food”, “health store breakfast” and similar. Sure, they are full of fruit, healthful coconut and whole wheat flour… but I think that is a limited view of this combination of ingredients I enjoy so much. The flavors of pineapple, vanilla, raisins, coconut, cinnamon and ginger, all together in one perfect bite– I can’t think of many better options for a morning treat. Give my morning glory breakfast bread a try and see if you agree.

morning glory breakfast bread

Morning Glory Breakfast Bread (inspired by King Arthur Flour)

  • 1/2 c. raisins
  • 1/4 c. orange juice, or reserved pineapple juice if available
  • 2 c. einkorn or whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2/3 c. canola oil, or melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 c. grated carrot
  • 1 c. finely diced or crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8 x 5″ loaf pans by spraying or oiling them lightly. Set aside.

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in orange juice. If the pineapple you are using is juicy enough to gather 1/4 c., substitute pineapple juice for orange, if you like.

Sift together the einkorn flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt.

In a large bowl, mix the oil and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Stir in the vanilla, grated carrot, pineapple, coconut and raisins, with all of the soaking liquid as well. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Don’t overmix, as it will toughen your final product.

Divide the batter between two loaf pans. Bake for 35-45 mins., until a skewer comes out clean from the center of each loaf. I rotate my loaves in the oven about 20 mins. into baking to ensure even cooking.

Cool slightly before serving. Morning glory breakfast bread will keep tightly wrapped or covered at room temperature for about 5 days. You can also wrap it securely in wax paper, parchment paper, tin foil and freeze for up to 3 months.

Wheat berries w/ crisp vegetables and aged Gouda.

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I cracked the wheat berry code. You didn’t know that was a thing? Well, it was for me. I love them: they’re an increasingly easy to find whole grain, a great canvas for a variety of flavors, nutty and nutritious, with protein, dietary fiber and iron galore. I didn’t mind chewing my way slowly through a bowl– I like the taste, and I didn’t mind the texture. I thought extra chewing was what I signed up for when I cooked wheat berries. It’s slow food, right? My husband was not as enthusiastic about masticating for hours so long. I believe his first bite was his last. I would make a big bowl for myself and have them for lunch, with fresh vegetables and herbs, or in place of rice with stir-fried vegetables. Then, like a bolt of lightning, I thought: why not soak them, like legumes, to see if they become a little more tender? Soaking was the key to cracking that wheat berry code! I tried the pressure cooker, the slow cooker, baking soda in the water like I do for chickpeas… nothing works like an overnight soak. I hope this is helpful to someone else out there who is looking to add more whole grains, or specifically wheat berries, into his/her diet. I foresee many wheat berries in my own future.

This salad is my current favorite way to eat them. All the flavors are in harmony: bright, springy asparagus; tart vinaigrette; bitter, crunchy radishes; sharp, salty aged Gouda, and that wonderful nutty chewiness– but not overly so!– of the wheat berries. Though I served it warm for dinner the first night I made it, it’s also delicious cold, and is my current favorite lunch to bring to work. The protein and vegetables are fortifying, and it holds really well in the refrigerator for a few days. When my asparagus is fresh and crisp, I cut it raw into the salad; when it’s not, I roast it with some neutral oil, salt & pepper for about 15 mins. at 400 degrees before adding it in. If roasting, try to keep the asparagus al dente; having some crunch from your vegetables is key to the balance of textures. Though not pictured, I sometimes add snap peas to the mix, and I’m looking forward to fresh green beans in a few weeks. For the cheese, think aged and crumbly. Pictured is a tremendous Two Sisters aged Gouda that tastes more like sharp white cheddar than any Gouda I’ve ever had, and has those little crystals of salt you can feel crunch between your teeth and dissolve on your tongue… It’s so good. It can be hard to find specific brands of cheese, so I also made sure to try sharp white cheddar, asiago and parmesan as options, and they each work well.

I feel as though I’ve made a major kitchen discovery, that a new window is open for whole grain salads and sides. I find that wheat berries are great in place of rice, sometimes pasta, and other grains or starches I’ve used previously. They just need a little planning, a little extra time. My husband agrees, and I think you will as well.

wheat berries with crisp vegetables and sharp cheese

Wheat Berries with Crisp Vegetables & Aged Gouda (serves 4-6)

  • 1 c. uncooked wheat berries
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, whole but lightly smashed
  • 1 lb. asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 1″ lengths, raw or roasted
  • 1 c. sliced radishes
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard, smooth or grainy
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. minced fresh tarragon, dill or basil, or a mix (optional)
  • 3 T. white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c. olive oil, grapeseed oil or canola oil
  • generous pinch of kosher salt
  • generous cracks of fresh black pepper
  • 2 oz. (or more) Two Sisters Aged Gouda (or any sharp, crumbly cheese)

Start by soaking the wheat berries. Put them in a large pot and cover with 4 c. fresh, cool water. Place a lid on the pot and leave in a cool area of the kitchen overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

When you are ready to cook, drain the wheat berries. Add another 4 c. fresh, cool water to the pot with the bay leaf and smashed garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, uncovered, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 45 mins. Check occasionally to make sure the level of liquid doesn’t decrease too much. Add water, 1/2 c. more at a time, if the wheat berries are exposed without liquid cover. When cooked, they will be a little more toothsome than rice, but tender. Drain and put into a large bowl; remove the garlic cloves and bay leaf. Proceed with the recipe while they’re warm, or cool to room temperature, whatever you prefer. You should have about 3 c. cooked wheat berries.

Add the asparagus, raw or roasted (or try a mix, half of each, which is wonderful), and the radishes to your bowl. Make the dressing: to a jar with a tight lid add the Dijon mustard, honey, a pinch of salt and a little black pepper. Shake or stir to combine well. Add the vinegar and herb(s) if using, and shake or stir again. Add 1/3 c. of your chose oil and shake until you have a bright yellow, slightly thickened vinaigrette. Taste now and adjust salt; add more olive oil if you like. I enjoy a very tart, vinegar-heavy dressing here to enhance the milder flavors, so I usually stop with 1/3 c. oil.

Drizzle about half of your dressing over the wheat berries and vegetables and toss to combine. Taste now, adding more vinaigrette if you like. (You might have some left over, which can be used as a dressing on most salads.) You can also serve extra vinaigrette with the salad so your guests can dress their servings to taste. Top with shaved curls of cheese, as much as you like. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Baked scarlet runner beans.

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In Maine, there are bean suppers (I wanted badly to type ‘suppahs’…) on Saturday nights. With a bit of planning, you can find a bean supper to sample most weeks of the year. A suppah (I had to) is a communal meal for a nominal fee, sometimes at a church, often at a Grange or Elks hall, featuring hot dogs (or ham if you’re lucky), biscuits, cold salads and slaws, condiments and pickles, and a homestyle dessert like cobbler, shortcake or pie. Of course, as the name suggests, the star of these meals is the homemade baked beans, often two or three different kinds to suit various needs: pea beans and navy beans, because bean type preferences run deep; maybe a pot made without sugar; perhaps one a little on the spicy side. Bean suppers are also a family tradition, an excuse to get together with our extended family to catch up and share a meal. If dinner is hosted by my Mom, a pot or two of beans goes in the oven Saturday morning for dinner, made by Mom or Aunt Elaine, and they smell as good while they slowly cook as they will eventually taste. These are the baked beans I like, the ones I will always eat. They are tender, well-seasoned and hearty. They are the holy grail of baked beans, and the reason I have been trying for months to make something even partially as good… I think these baked scarlet runner beans are it.

My baked scarlet runner beans are similar in flavor to cowboy beans, slightly sweet thanks to Vidalia onion and tomatoes, and with enough smoked paprika to make you think they could have come off a slow campfire.  The beans are tender but still hold their shape. The breadcrumb topping does double duty, soaking up some excess cooking liquid while retaining a nice chewy bite. I used the end of a loaf of plain homemade bread that was on the stale side; I simply cut a few slices into very small cubes, spread them into a single layer on a baking sheet and toasted quickly, before topping the beans. You coould use small, lightly-seasoned croutons as well. Back to the tomatoes for a second: I used a mixture of plain tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes because I wanted the depth of flavor the canned sauce gives and the sweetness and texture of the cherry tomatoes. You can replace some or all of either with canned chopped tomatoes or roughly cut fresh tomatoes. Keep in mind that sauciness is welcome here, so if you choose to use fresh only, make sure they are ripe and juicy.

So why scarlet runner beans? They are a little more expensive and sometimes harder to find. In short, because of taste and texture. Scarlet runner beans have a mild flavor and that wonderful creamy, soft texture that many big, flat dried beans have. I do not care for hard, mealy baked beans– who does? If scarlet runners are hard to find, dried fava or lima beans will do nicely here.

I should say that my Mom’s or Aunt Elaine’s baked beans and my baked scarlet runners are very different. I add a little smoky spice with Spanish smoked paprika and stay away from sweetness, other than what comes from the vegetables. I didn’t hunt for salt pork; in fact, these are vegan beans. Mom’s are pure tradition, down to the molasses, thick hunks of salt pork, halved or quartered onion, and ketchup. I compare our recipes not for ingredient lists, but because they both hit that coveted note of comfort food: simple food done so well it makes you sigh out loud… and reach for a second helping.

Whether you’re looking for a hearty barbecue side dish, a new play on baked beans, or a delicious vegetarian main course, add these baked scarlet runner beans to your to-make list. They keep well and taste even better reheated the next day! I’m already scheming how to adapt them to be cooked or warmed over a campfire this summer, and I’m tempted to host my very own bean supper!

baked scarlet runner beans

Baked Scarlet Runner Beans (serves 6-8 as a side dish)

  • 1 c. dried scarlet runner beans, soaked overnight (reserve 1 c. bean cooking water)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 T. olive oil, divided
  • 1 c. chopped Vidalia onion
  • 1 c. tomato sauce
  • 1 c. cherry tomatoes
  • 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c. fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • 1 c. homemade breadcrumbs, toasted, or small croutons

Soak the scarlet runner beans in cool water overnight. Drain thoroughly and remove any bits of chaff, etc. that might have risen to the top. Place soaked beans in a 3 – 4 qt. pot and cover again with cool water, twice the volume of beans. Add the bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 1 1/2 hrs. Remove from the heat; carefully measure and set aside 1 c. cooking liquid. Strain the beans and add to a 3 qt. glass or ceramic (nonreactive) baking dish. Season with kosher salt; discard the bay leaf.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small skillet, heat 1 T. olive oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until translucent and just starting to turn golden brown. Add the cooked onion, and all other ingredients except the breadcrumbs, including reserved cooking liquid, to the baking dish. Cover with tin foil and bake for 45 mins. Remove from the oven, carefully uncover– watch out for escaping steam– and top with breadcrumbs. At this point the beans will look like they have too much liquid, but it’s alright. Return the dish to the oven, uncovered, and bake for another 30 mins. Most of the liquid will be absorbed by the time they are done cooking; keep an eye on them around the 20 min. mark so they don’t dry out completely. Serve immediately.

Leftover beans will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

baked scarlet runner beans, grilled bratwurst

Warm bacon dressing.

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My recipe for warm bacon dressing was inspired by the German potato salad my Aunt Elaine used to make. I remember delicate new or diced boiled potatoes smothered in tangy dressing with sweet onions, crumbled bacon and maybe some celery? I don’t remember if it was celery… because my brain is still back there with the bacon. There was bacon in her potato salad, salty and good, and a sweet and sour sauce I loved. To this day, my potato salads are made with as much vinegar as I can get away with, because I crave an almost puckeringly tangy dressing. Aunt Elaine’s German potato salad captivated me as a teenager, and my memories of the best elements of that dish inspired me to create this recipe.

Warm bacon dressing is not just for potatoes, though it certainly can find its way over a bowl of new potatoes, steaming from a quick bath in boiling water, or roasted potatoes, or fingerlings, etc. You could make a mighty fine potato salad, then kick up your heels and sit on the porch. But… I love this dressing best on greens, and recently thought to add my beloved roasted turnips to the mix. The inherent bitterness of dark greens– Swiss or rainbow chard, kale, mustard greens, beet greens– is a delicious backdrop for the salty, tangy, sweet and sometimes spicy notes of this dressing. Turnips are naturally bitter, too, so why not get them involved? Truly, I think you could pair warm bacon dressing with just about any fresh vegetable, bitter or otherwise. Instead of cooking the greens, like I did here, you could pour bacon dressing over raw cabbage or arugula– something substantial enough to hold up to slight wilting, but enjoyable when eaten raw– and make a great slaw or salad. Why not try it with broccoli, cauliflower, or sugar snap peas? A few simple ingredients, some extra vegetables from the garden, CSA box or farmers’ market, and a few minutes of your time are enough to put a decadent, tasty dish together.

I’m going to ask for Aunt Elaine’s German potato salad recipe soon; part of me wants to have that nostalgic bite of childhood again, and the other part of me wants to see how close I came to the dressing she used to make it. Until then, this warm bacon dressing will do just fine. With cookout season on the way, it’s a handy, easy, delicious recipe to turn almost any vegetable in your crisper into a crowd pleasing side.

rainbow chard & roasted turnips with warm bacon dressing

Warm Bacon Dressing, with Rainbow Chard & Roasted Turnips

  • 1 bunch of salad turnips, quartered or halved, depending on size
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 bunch rainbow chard, stems separated from leaves
  • 4 ramps*, leaves separated from bulbs/stems OR 1 – 2 shallots, peeled and minced
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 2 T. cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • generous pinch of kosher salt

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. Place the turnip quarters in a single layer of a baking dish and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and a small amount of olive oil, maybe 2 tsp. Roast for 20 mins., until fork tender. The outside will be blistered or lightly golden brown.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet until the fat has rendered. Remove the bacon and coarsely dice. Leave the drippings in the pan; you should have about 2 T. Add olive oil or butter to make up the deficit if you have less than 2 T.; save any extra for another use. Finely chop the bulbs and stems of the ramps and the stems of the chard** and add to the pan. Cook for about 3 mins. Add the brown sugar, cider vinegar, and red pepper flakes, if using. Cook over medium heat, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon, until you have a golden brown, slightly syrupy sauce. Add the diced bacon back to the pan and stir to combine. Season with a pinch of kosher salt, depending on your bacon. Remove the dressing to a small bowl until ready to serve.

Add the roughly chopped leaves of the rainbow chard, and the finely sliced (chiffonade) ramps leaves to your skillet. Cook just until the chard has wilted slightly, about 5 mins. Remove to a serving bowl, add the roasted turnips, and spoon a generous amount of bacon dressing over the top. Toss to combine if you wish. Serve warm.

*A note about ramps: they are in season now, and work very well here, but can just as easily be replaced by 1 -2 minced shallots. The season for ramps is so terribly short, and their price tag is often so terribly high… Grab a shallot and keep going!

**If you’re making warm bacon dressing to use over another vegetable, omit the chard stems here. The same goes for ramp leaves with the chard leaves; if you are using shallots, add them where you would add the ramp bulbs and stems.

Quick buttermilk cake w/ honey roasted strawberries.

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I stopped in my tracks at the market and grabbed my husband’s arm. Strawberries! Fresh, local, red, ripe strawberries, pint after pint, in mid-May. I was as astonished as I was excited. We continued down the row of booths, getting vegetables for the week, but all I could think of were those strawberries… so we returned with a fistful of dollars to happily buy the first flat of the year. The gentleman we bought from agreed it was the earliest season that he could ever remember in western Washington. Despite a lack of competition, the price was reasonable, though the temptation of that fruit probably would have been enough for me to pay just about anything. I floated home, berries proudly cradled in my arms.

The strawberries we got are flavorful, but not the sweetest I have ever had. I decided to roast a few pints, which enhances the sweetness they do have, with a drizzle of honey, a generous pinch of salt, and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Salt, and acidity from the vinegar, will help to draw out and play up the flavor of the strawberries; roasting creates a thick, syrupy sauce but doesn’t break down the fruit entirely. I was thinking the roasted berries would be nice with yogurt for breakfast, but as they cooled on the counter top, actually glistening in the light, I knew I wouldn’t want to wait for morning. A simple cake was in order, with tangy buttermilk and a dusting of turbinado sugar to add some crunch to the top. This cake is an ideal vehicle for saucy roasted strawberries; in fact, it was inspired by a buttermilk cake, with strawberries baked right in, in the Cake Issue of a magazine called Bake From Scratch (currently on newsstands!). Later this summer, my buttermilk cake will be a great match for ripe raspberries and peaches, with cream or without, then figs with honey, or lightly sauteed apples as we move toward fall… but I’m getting too far ahead. Let’s leave it at this: buttermilk cake is a great option to show off the seasonal fruit of your choice.

Reminiscent of shortcake but a little lighter and much less sweet, a wedge of quick buttermilk cake with a generous spoonful of honey roasted strawberries is the type of dessert that makes me smile: because summer is almost here, because fresh local fruit is finally here, and because a dessert doesn’t have to be over the top to be the perfect treat. When you find the first berries of the year in your neck of the woods, consider giving this recipe a try.

quick buttermilk cake with honey roasted strawberries

Quick Buttermilk Cake with Honey Roasted Strawberries

For the strawberries:

  • 2 pints of ripe strawberries, hulled, rinsed only if muddy
  • 2 T. honey, maybe more
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

For the cake:

  • 6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1 T. turbinado sugar (optional)

For the honey roasted strawberries: preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan or baking dish with tin foil. Place the berries in one layer and drizzle 1 T. honey over the top. Sprinkle with salt and roll or “stir” lightly to evenly distribute the honey and salt.

Roast for 10 mins. and check the berries; they should be juicy and a little foamy looking but not burnt. They should be holding their shape for the most part. Move them around a little on the pan, then roast for an additional 5 mins. at a time until the berries soften noticeably, up to 20 mins. total in the oven. Time variance depends on the size and ripeness of the berries; watch very closely so they don’t burn.

Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle immediately with the remaining 1 T. honey and 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Allow the strawberries to cool for 10 mins. or so, then taste and add more honey if desired. This depends on both the sweetness of your berries, and your taste buds. Roasted berries made with only 2 T. of honey are expected to be lightly sweet… but no one minds a little extra honey!

shiny, syrupy, honey roasted strawberries

For the buttermilk cake: preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9″ round cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 mins. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the vanilla.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with flour, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.

Turn the batter into your prepared pan and smooth it out to the sides. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if using. Bake for 40-45 mins., until the top is lightly brown, the top springs back when you touch it lightly with your fingertip, and the edges are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool for at least 30 mins. before serving; cool completely if you want to remove the cake from the baking pan to a plate or platter before serving.

Serve a wedge of cake with a generous ladle of honey roasted berries, which are ideally at room temperature. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Leftover cake will hold at room temperature in a tightly-covered container for 2-3 days. Store leftover berries in the refrigerator.

Mocha fudgsicles.

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Fudgsicles. Why don’t I make them more often? We have had unseasonably warm weather since April, hitting record temperatures left and right and already experiencing the kind of warm days we sometimes don’t see before August. So… my brain kicked right into summer mode, and since peaches and corn aren’t ready, I made fudgsicles. Specifically these mocha fudgsicles, which are a grown-up version of the beloved frozen treat, with real coffee (caffeine!) and dark chocolate. Rich, cold and creamy, I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed having some in the freezer in the past few weeks. (It doesn’t even have to be warm for me to eat one.)

I want to say ahead of time: don’t be put off by the steps needed to make these. Though they look like trouble, I promise you they’re not– fudgsicles are all about the Easy Treat Factor. Plus, you know how I hate fussy recipes! A few notes: testing has proven that it is worth the time to boil down and concentrate the coffee, but strong espresso will work if you want to shorten a step, and regular-strength coffee will, too. The differences will be in texture– with regular, unconcentrated coffee, the pops will be a little icier, and less creamy– and depth of coffee flavor. Coffee extract is nice to shore up that java note, but absolutely not necessary. I am lucky to have some my mother-in-law gave me, but I had never heard of it before then. As for milk and cream, the amounts as written made our favorite version of the test batches (oh, it was hard work…), but we also had okay results with all whole milk, no cream. If you have cream, use it, for the indulgence factor alone.

In the heat of summer, or just because, my mocha fudgsicles are a delight. There’s nothing quite like a childlike frozen confection on a popsicle stick… that tastes like a decadent coffee drink or chocolate bar. I’m looking forward to my fair share of these in the months to come.

Mocha Fudgsicles

Mocha Fudgsicles (makes 8-10 double bars)

  • 1 1/2 c. strong brewed coffee
  • 1 tsp. coffee extract (optional)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. baking cocoa (I like Her
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 c. cream
  • about 3/4 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

You can use leftover coffee (what’s that, right?) or brew some just for this recipe. Add 1 1/2 c. coffee to a small saucepan and boil vigorously over medium-high to high heat until it reduces down to 3/4 c. to 1 c., about 5 mins. Pause and measure along the way if you’re not sure what that looks like, but the variance is really okay– you will make up for it with milk. Boiling the coffee down gets rid of extra water, which forms ice crystals in your fudgsicles, and concentrates the flavor of coffee. Make a note of your final amount of reduced coffee, which should be between 3/4 c. and 1 c.

If you want to skip that step, measure 1 c. cold espresso or dark brewed coffee.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt.

Measure enough milk so your amount of concentrated coffee, plus whole milk, will equal 1 1/2 c. — but DON’T MIX MILK AND COFFEE YET. For instance, if you have 3/4 c. coffee, you will need 3/4 c. whole milk. If you have 1 c. coffee, you will need 1/2 c. whole milk.

Add a small amount of milk (maybe a few tablespoons) to the sugar-cocoa mixture and mix. Continue adding milk a small amount at a time until you have a thick, smooth paste. This was the best method I found for preventing lumps in the final product. Slowly whisk in the rest of the milk, a little at a time, then the coffee, coffee extract, if using, cream and vanilla.

If you want perfectly smooth fudgsicles, pass the mixture through a fine sieve and discard any undissolved lumps. Add the vanilla, then divide equally among a 10-pop mold like this one, pouring to the top with just a small space left to account for expansion. Really, you can use any freezer safe mold you might like. Remember using Dixie cups as a kid, or yogurt containers? Do what works. If you do use a 10-pop mold, you will be able to fill 8-10 spots, depending on how much volume you might have sieved out, if you chose to follow that step.

Place in the coldest part of your freezer for an hour, then add in the sticks and cover lightly with the designated plastic cover, or a tea towel, to prevent the sticks from bobbing up. Freeze for at least four hours, or overnight. To unmold, leave the fudgsicles at room temperature for 10-15 mins. and gently wiggle them out, or place in a shallow dish of cool water to assist.

Comforting savory broth, for dumplings and more.

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This post is intended to be more of a guide than a recipe. The ingredients, and quantities of each, change with my mood. Sometimes I want a fiery hot broth and add sriracha until my nose runs and eyes tear up. Other times I want a pronounced garlicky bite, the umami punch of reconstituted dried shiitakes, or the hint of star anise that makes me think of good pho. I use this broth plain, or add noodles, or dumplings (often my spicy pork dumplings), or a great deal of shredded or diced vegetables and herbs. It is a mood-suiting recipe. My hesitation in sharing it until now, a dish I make so often I keep the basic pantry ingredients grouped in a cupboard together, is that I have struggled with how to present the recipe as I think of it, ever-changing and infinitely adaptable, more a method than a measure. However, and especially because I referred to it in my recent post about spicy pork dumplings, this broth is too important to me as a cook not to have in my archives here.

I typically use beef broth or chicken/turkey broth, but have had good luck with mushroom and vegetable broth as well. Beef broth stands up to bolder spices like star anise and cinnamon, lots of black pepper and bay leaf; chicken broth tends to be more soothing and delicate, good with extra ginger and scallions. It really is a matter of preference. Pictured below is a recent version made with store brand Whole Foods beef broth, no extra sriracha, lots of garlic, scallions and ginger. I added a dozen frozen spicy pork dumplings and let them heat for about 7 mins. to make sure they were cooked through. It was delicious… and I have enough dumplings left to make more this week, or soon.

As I said before: I hope you will treat the ingredient quantities listed below as more of a guide than a strict recipe. Go with what you have on hand, what you’re craving; if you’re delicate with the salty ingredients it’s nearly impossible to make a wrong turn. And once you find the combination(s) you like, I bet this wonderful broth will be as much of a staple for you as it is in our house.

Comforting savory broth, with spicy pork dumplings

Savory Broth for Dumplings (makes 2-4 servings)

  • 4 c. broth, homemade or store-bought
  • 2″ fresh ginger, sliced, sometimes peeled
  • 2 – 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 – 2 scallions, diced
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. (or more) sriracha
  • abundant freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of kosher salt, only if needed
  • 3 – 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in 1/2 c. hot water, chopped
  • 1 – 2 star anise (optional)
  • cinnamon stick (optional)
  • bay leaf (optional)

Put all ingredients into a large saucepan (except for shiitakes; read directions below) and simmer gently for at least 30 mins. to infuse broth with the flavors you have chosen. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, especially sriracha and soy sauce. Remember that the saltiness of soy sauce and salt will concentrate as the broth reduces, so be light-handed until you determine the levels you enjoy. Star anise and cinnamon can both be potent, so consider adding them 15 mins. into cooking for a lighter level of spice. Use a cover on the pan to retain more volume; otherwise, the broth will reduce as it simmers.

If you’re using dried shiitakes, reconstitute them in hot water in a small bowl or coffee mug for about 15 mins. Slice  or chop them and add *with the soaking water* to your broth.

Add noodles (pre-cooked if you don’t want them to absorb most of the liquid) or dumplings and heat through before serving. You can also add shrimp, cooked chicken or beef, vegetables that do well raw or lightly cooked (radishes and snap peas, for instance), and fresh herbs like cilantro or Thai basil. Put your chosen extras in a bowl and pour hot broth over the top to keep shrimp from getting rubbery, vegetables from losing their crunch.

Strain out the star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and unpeeled ginger before serving. Garlic and scallion can be removed if you want just broth, but I tend to leave them in.

comforting broth, unstrained, before adding dumplings

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