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April 2017

of interest

Life Update: New House

Scott and I moved into our first home a couple of weeks ago, and as all homeowners can attest, our lives have been filled with projects ever since! We are so excited and making it our home has certainly been fun, but I guess I didn’t quite realize how much work it would all entail. Long story short, I don’t have a review and recipe post ready for this week.

Not only have I been lacking time to read, but at bedtime, my eyes struggle to stay open and I don’t make it very far. As exciting as my new kitchen is (yay, shiny new appliances!), it’s still partially in a state of disarray and the layout is taking some getting used to. I haven’t been doing quite as much cooking as I’d like.

It’s not all bad though – my new stove made me swoon when I first saw it and my book nook is coming along nicely. When I’m back next week, not only will I have a new book review and recipe, I’m also hoping to have some photos of my reading oasis and my red-accented kitchen ready to share. Until then!

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book review, of interest, recipe

The Handmaid’s Tale + Strawberry Pie

Is everyone else looking forward to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale as much as I am? The trailer gives me chills. I had read the Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about three years ago, but anticipating the upcoming series, I was excited for the chance to re-read it with one of my book clubs.

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The first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I thought it was interesting, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it. This time around, I was able to read it through different eyes; it felt more relevant to me than it did a few years ago, and frankly, it was a little scary.

In Atwood’s imagined Republic of Gilead, Offred is one of the Handmaids placed with a Commander and his barren wife for the sole purpose of having his child and giving them a family. In her red dress, she is limited in who she’s allowed to communicate with, and even more so by the restrictions forbidding her to read or write. When Offred is not alone in her room, she runs errands with her partner Handmaid and occasionally attends birthings and special ceremonies designed to remind her and every woman of their place in this new totalitarian society.

Offred’s diet, and presumably that of all Handmaids in Gilead, is controlled in its amount and restricted to that which is nourishing. Though Offred is the one to pick up the household’s groceries, it seems she has no say in what she eats. When shopping one day, she muses on the smell of fresh strawberries and the memories of summers past they recall.

Living in a society so much like the one Offred used to live in – where women work outside of the home, have freedom of movement and choice, and can make their own decisions to have children or not – it was hard to see how easily it was all taken away. Many American women believe we have come a long way. And we have. But until we are truly equal and are equally represented in society, women are not in control of their own destinies. For me, the fact that these rollbacks are not inconceivable was the most eye-opening part of reading this book.

In the end, Offred’s story left me with more questions than answers, but it was one that sparked a lively conversation with my fellow book club members and one that I heartily recommend.

Capitalizing on their bright red color, strawberries seemed like an excellent choice to represent The Handmaid’s Tale. I found a recipe for Fresh Strawberry Pie that looked too good to resist.

Using a storebought crust proved to be a lifesaver for me as I had some issues and had to bake it three times before I got it right (don’t forget your pie weights!). While that was a bit frustrating, I was happy I didn’t have to re-make crust from scratch just as many times. Before it went into the oven each time, I made sure to scallop the edges to create a pretty design.

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While it baked, I washed, hulled and quartered the fresh strawberries – I used 4 cups in the end, though I had prepared 6 cups. It will ultimately depend on how deep and wide your pie dish is, but I don’t think it hurts to have some extra prepared strawberries around.

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When my successful crust was finally cooling, I got to work on the glaze. I combined 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar and some cornstarch in a small saucepan and brought it all to a boil. Then, I whisked until the glaze began to thicken, about 3 minutes. Last, I added the box of strawberry Jell-O and whisked that for another minute or so. The finished glaze also had to cool about 15 minutes before filling the pie.

When assembling the pie, I first added the prepared fresh strawberries to the cooled crust. I did my best to keep the top relatively even, but you could certainly create a thicker middle if you wanted to. (That option might require additional glaze to get good coverage.) Then it was time to pour on the delicious glaze, again doing my best to get even coverage over the strawberries.

The finished product was absolutely beautiful – and SO red. I couldn’t wait to dig in. This pie will definitely be making future appearances over the summer.

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Fresh Strawberry Pie

  • Servings: 8-12
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Ingredients

  • 9 inch pie crust (homemade or storebought)
  • 4 to 6 cups fresh strawberries, quartered and hulled
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 3oz. box of strawberry Jell-O
  • 3 tablespoons of cornstarch

Directions

  1. Bake pie crust in 9-inch deep pie dish and set aside to cool.
  2. Put the water, sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Whisk constantly until it becomes thick, about 3 minutes.
  3. Whisk in the Jell-O and cook for a minute longer. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 15 minutes.
  4. As the glaze cools, place strawberries straight into the pie crust.
  5. Pour the glaze over the strawberries.
  6. Refrigerate until set. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

From: Sugar Apron

When baking the pie crust, be sure to use pie weights or dry beans to ensure that the sides of your crust doesn’t fall. Poke holes in the bottom of the crust with a fork, add weights or beans and bake according to directions. After half the baking time, remove weights and allow to bake for the remaining time without them.

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book review, recipe

Perfect Little World + Pickled Deviled Eggs

My latest Book of the Month selection explored the concept of a utopian society – a nice change of pace from the other books I’ve been reading lately. In Perfect Little World, Isabelle is a teenage mother without the father in the picture or the support of her own family. Lucky for her, Dr. Preston Grind is currently casting for his new experiment in childrearing – The Infinite Family Project.

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Designed as a utopia for raising children, The Infinite Family Project brings together 10 children and 19 parents. They live in a housing compound among the best experts in child development and raise the children together as one carefully-chosen extended family.

As the only single mother in the project, Izzy has a few obstacles to overcome, but she eventually finds her place among the other parents. She becomes an apprentice to the hired cook, learning new skills and taking pride in her work. When a magazine comes to do a profile on them, she impresses even herself with pickled deviled eggs topped with candied bacon.

To the reporter and photographer, the experiment may not seem as cultish as they had originally thought. But, as with any family, things aren’t always what they seem to an outsider, and over the course of 10 years, the perfection Dr. Grind was seeking starts to show some cracks.  

Obviously, I seized on the opportunity to make my own pickled eggs and candied bacon and turn them into the masterpiece that Izzy served during the visit from the magazine. With Easter just around the corner, it seemed like a perfect fit. First, I learned how to pickle eggs with beet juice and how to candy bacon, but then I was ready to dive in!

Pickling eggs is pretty easy, and it’s a great way to make the deviled eggs look more festive. For wary picky eaters, it didn’t alter the taste all that much in this application, but added a bit of tang. Overall, it just made them better. 

I took my peeled, hard-boiled eggs and added them to a large jar. (If you don’t have a jar, another container will work, but glass is preferred.) To that, I added my pickling liquid – beet juice, vinegar, salt and water boiled together – and let the whole thing sit overnight in my fridge.

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The next day, I started with my candied bacon, since cooking it low and slow as suggested took a while and could be done while I otherwise prepped the deviled eggs. I recommend following the link in the notes section of the recipe and only making one or two slices total, if you’re making a dozen deviled eggs.

While the bacon cooked, I began working on the eggs. First, I cut them in half and arranged them on a plate.

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I scooped out the yolks and put them in a small bowl. To that, I added the mayo, vinegar and mustard. I stirred those together with a fork until most of the lumps were gone – this is especially important if you’re going the piping route. Then I added a generous sprinkle of seasoned salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.

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I used a piping bag in an effort to make the eggs look a bit more elegant, but feel free to use a spoon if you’re not trying to impress anyone. (That’s what I usually do.) Once the egg whites were filled, I added the finished candied bacon, which I cut into about half-inch sections.

Combined, the flavors complemented each other very well. The vinegar from the pickling helped to cut the richness of the deviled eggs and the candied bacon added an element of crunch and some sweetness to balance the tart. These lovely purple eggs will be a great addition to any Easter celebration or even a picnic as the weather warms up. Enjoy!

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Pickled Deviled Eggs with Candied Bacon

  • Servings: 12
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Ingredients

  • 6 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 15-oz can sliced beets with liquid
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • ¾ teaspoon white vinegar
  • pinch of Lawry’s seasoned salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • candied bacon as garnish, optional (see notes)

Directions

  1. Hard boil your eggs according to your preference or favorite recipe. (My method in notes.) Peel and place in a large jar.
  2. To make the pickling liquid, combine beets, vinegar, water and sugar in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is fully dissolved. Pour over the eggs. (I left out the majority of the beets because I didn’t have a lot of room in my container.)
  3. Make sure the jar/container is covered or sealed and then place in the fridge overnight.
  4. Slice pickled eggs in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and put into a small bowl. Place egg whites cut side up on a serving platter or tray.
  5. In bowl with yolks, add mayonnaise, mustard and vinegar. Mix until well-combined and not lumpy. Add seasoned salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Using a spoon or a piping bag and tip, fill the egg whites with the deviled egg mixture until finished.
  7. If using candied bacon, garnish with about half-inch slices on top.

Adapted from: Pinch My Salt’s deviled eggs and Sweet Little Bluebird’s pickled eggs

I made the hard-boiled eggs by placing them in a saucepan and filling with cold water until the eggs were covered by about an inch. Bring water to a boil and then immediately remove from heat. Cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Remove from the water and use a cold water rinse or ice water bath until eggs are cool.

If you choose to garnish with candied bacon, you really only need 1-2 slices per dozen deviled eggs. This link has a good explanation along with step-by-step photos. I recommend about 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar for 1-2 slices. Use your best judgment.


book review, recipe

Small Great Things + Bite-Size Appetizer Trio

When I sat down with Jodi Picoult’s latest novel Small Great Things, I admit I hadn’t read a description. One of my clients had recommended it to me last last year, so I requested it from the library and sort of forgot about it. It came in a couple of weeks ago and I dove right in without expectation.

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Right off the bat, this quote hit me. It felt so on-the-nose about the world we’re currently living in; I knew the right book had found me again.

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The narrative began, and I was immediately engrossed. I was also often uncomfortable. Three points of view bring this story to life – a black nurse, a white supremacist man, and a white lawyer who “doesn’t see color.” It isn’t shy about race or racism. The topic is the crux of the novel, the reason the story is being told. (Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end.)

Ruth Jefferson doesn’t realize when she walks into the hospital room of proud new parents that she’s walking into a room of white supremacists. Despite her 20 years of experience, she is prohibited from having contact with them or their baby because of the color of her skin. The next day, when another nurse has no choice but to leave Ruth alone with the baby, he goes into cardiac arrest. She is forced to choose between obeying orders and her duty as a nurse, and ultimately, she is blamed for the baby’s death.

During the course of Ruth’s trial, each character examines their lives, their beliefs and the world around them. It’s intense and it will make you examine yourself and our world as well. Like any story told about race – real or imagined – it made me think, and I still can’t stop recommending this book to everyone I encounter.

To go along with Small Great Things, I opted to make a trio of bite-size appetizers. I wanted to make a “well-balanced” variety, so I opted for meatballs, spinach artichoke dip bites, and mini crab-stuffed mushrooms. All of them were easy and could, for the most part, be prepped ahead of time. Of course, they were delicious too.

I started with making the filling for the spinach artichoke dip bites. I combined my spinach (make sure it’s thawed and thoroughly drained), chopped artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese.

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Then, I added the softened cream cheese and half of the shredded cheese, ground some black pepper over the bowl and mixed it all together. I set the filling aside while I cut the crescent roll dough into squares. I sprayed the mini muffin tin with cooking spray and popped one square in each opening, before filling it with the spinach artichoke mixture. I didn’t stress out about it too much – just made sure each one was amply filled and had a good sprinkle of shredded cheese on top.

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These should bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-17 minutes. After they’re finished, allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Then, I moved on to the mushrooms. First, I cleaned my little army of mini bella mushrooms. (These are my favorite kind of mushroom because they have great flavor, but feel free to use white button mushrooms if you prefer.)

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The original recipe recommended that you toss the mushrooms in melted butter until they’re well-coated. I did that, but I took out of my recipe below. They were a little too moist, in my opinion. If you’d like to lightly brush the tops only with olive oil (or melted butter) that is probably sufficient.

I lined them all up on a foil-covered sheet pan while I made the filling. To make the the crab stuffing, take a medium bowl and combine the lump crab meat, cream cheese, shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce and green onions.

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Then, I stuffed each mushroom with as much filling as would fit. It’s okay to be generous here – I had them all a little over-filled because the filling cooks down as it bakes. Top each mushroom with the parmesan cheese.

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The mushrooms should bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. After they are heated through and the cheese is melted, turn on the broiler for between 2-5 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn. The goal is to get the tops to be a nice lightly golden brown.

While everything else was baking, I began on the meatballs. I combined all of the ingredients for the sauce – peach preserves, finely diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a high-sided skillet.

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It turned it up to medium so that it could come up to a simmer and allowed it to cook at that temperature for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the meatballs and covered the pan.

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The meatballs cooked for another 25 minutes. I stirred them a few times, making sure they were well-coated and cooking evenly. Serve warm.

Spinach Artichoke Dip Bites

  • Servings: 24 pieces
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Ingredients

  • 1 9-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 6-oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 2 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pepper to taste (freshly ground)
  • 1 can seamless crescent roll dough

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a bowl, combine spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese. Blend in cream cheese and half of your shredded cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Using a rolling pin, lay out dough on a cutting board and lightly stretch to 8×12. (It should already be close to this straight out of the package.) Cut down into 2-inch squares, so you have 24 squares total.
  4. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin and place a square in each slot, gently pushing down to create an indent. (You do not need to mold it to the cup.) In most cases, the dough should naturally fall into the cups.
  5. Scoop about 1 Tablespoon of your spinach mixture on top of each square and gently push in. (Bites will mold to the tin while baking.) If there is any remaining mixture, add to cups that look less full than others.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining Monterey Jack cheese over the tops of each bite.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Adapted from: Lil’ Luna

Don’t worry about making sure your squares are perfectly uniform. I had a whole variety of some that looked more rectangle-y, some that were small and some that were larger. They all tasted delicious.


Mini Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Servings: 80-100 mushrooms
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Ingredients

  • 80-100 mini Bella mushrooms (5-6 containers)
  • 8 ounces lump crab meat, drained
  • 8 ounces whipped cream cheese
  • 12 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 bunches chopped green onions
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 4-6 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • olive oil or melted butter, as desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash mushrooms and remove the stems. If desired, lightly brush the tops only with olive oil or melted butter. Set aside.
  3. Mix remaining all ingredients except the parmesan cheese.
  4. Stuff mushrooms with the crab-cheese mixture. Top with the parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake mushrooms at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Broil for 2-5 minutes, watching to ensure they don’t burn. Mushrooms should be slightly golden brown on top.

Adapted from: Crazy Jamie

Bonus Recipe: If you have any of the filling leftover (as I did when I made these following the original recipe), it makes great crab quesadillas. Just warm tortilla(s) in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat. Add filling to one half of the quesadilla and fold over. Once the bottom is lightly golden, flip. Wait for that side to become lightly browned as well and ensure the filling is heated through. Serve with hot sauce, salsa, guacamole, or whatever toppings you prefer!


Chipotle Peach Meatballs

  • Servings: 60 meatballs
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Ingredients

  • 18 oz peach preserves
  • 3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely diced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 32 oz, or about 60 frozen cocktail meatballs (see notes)

Directions

  1. Add peach preserves, diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper into a medium to large high-sided skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Cooking in two batches, add half (about 30) of the meatballs and cover. Let simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for an additional 25 minutes, or until meatballs are thawed.
  3. Using tongs so the majority of the sauce stays in the skillet, transfer the meatballs to your serving container and keep warm. Repeat step 2.
  4. Add second batch of meatballs and sauce to serving bowl. Serve warm.

Adapted from: The Culinary Compass

If you have multiple meatball options in your grocery store, opt for Homestyle as they’ll have less seasoning than Italian (which were the two options at mine).

If you prefer your meatballs saucier, you can use 18 oz (approximately 32) meatballs instead and cook in one batch only.