Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs (and an Easter Sunday Recap)

We had a fantastic Easter weekend - thanks in no small part to the beautiful weather that seems to finally be here to stay. We had the pleasure of celebrating with my sister and her husband-to-be. Matthew was so darn excited during the days leading up to Aunt Catherine's arrival, that he kept putting himself to bed extra early. I certainly had no complaints.

Catherine and her Matthew (whom we dubbed "the big Matthew" in order to distinguish him from our Matthew) arrived bright and early on Saturday morning and brought the sun and some really warm weather. Catherine and I ducked out briefly for some sister time while Matthew entertained the big Matthew with Paul and Emma. Then, we proceeded to finalize our Easter preparations by doing the usual egg decorating session. Matthew loved decorating the eggs with Aunt Catherine and the big Matthew. He had been looking forward to that activity for weeks. He was much better at it than his Aunt - poor Catherine cracked (smashed is more like it) every egg she tried to dye. We fired her before she could crack all the eggs and put her in charge of making the egg stands. And I have to say she was excellent at that.

Baby Emma is just in awe of the egg-dying activities.

Apparently it's a genetic thing.

Aunt Catherine! You were banished from touching the eggs, remember!?!?

Matthew takes over the dying. Notice Catherine is adjusting to her new job as egg-stand maker.

Oh yeah. These are so gorgeous - so unique, such beautiful designs, such original colors. We're a talented family.

We attended the 7:30 AM Easter morning Mass at our parish. Of course this meant that we were all up by pretty much 5:30 AM to try to get everyone beautified in time for Mass - and we still arrived with barely a second to spare. Matthew was very well behaved at Mass. Threats of having his Easter candy privileges revoked should he misbehave might have had something to do with that. Emma was great right through the homily. This was so out of character for her, that I leaned over and whispered to Paul: "Wow...she's being so darn good. It feels great to sit together again!" She must have heard me because then she started doing her usual routine of grunting, groaning, and flailing until one of us took her to the back. It was great while it lasted.

Paul with his pretty little girl.

Brushing her hair - so very young yet oh so vain!

And this is Matthew - completely upset that I took away Angry Birds from him because it was time to go to Mass. This was seconds before I threatened to cancel the egg hunt. He shaped up quickly.

After arriving back home, we took some really quick family pictures on our back porch. Seriously, this photo session was probably about 2 minutes long. It was freezing outside. And the children were getting anxious for some Easter treats. And by "children" I pretty much just mean Matthew.

Our little family of four!
I just love this guy.
Little Matthew's face just cracks me up so much in this picture. He loves his Aunt Catherine.
Love Birds. Catherine, you better start working on your Spanish since
your last name is soon to be Ortiz.
"Sisters, Sisters. There were never such devoted sisters!"

Everyone dressed down and then we banished little Matthew to the office while big Matthew and Paul stuffed some plastic eggs with jellybeans and then scattered them around the house and yard. Then, the hunt began! Matthew was obnoxiously excited to finally go egg hunting.

We spent the rest of the morning stuffing ourselves with Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs, Blueberry Buckle, and fresh pineapple. Little Matthew and Emma ate probably about two pounds of chocolate (it was seriously disgusting how much sugar they inhaled between the two of them) as their breakfast. Since we all were feeling a little lethargic, Paul and I hustled everyone out of the house for a long hike while our pork rib roast slowly cooked. We meandered through the woods, skipped rocks, and chatted for a couple of hours - just enough time to not feel quite so stuffed from breakfast and ready ourselves for Easter dinner! It was so warm and beautiful outside - the first time in a long while that we had weather this beautiful for Easter Sunday!

Upon arriving home, we put the final touches on Easter dinner and then sat down to eat again. By the time our meal was over, our poor guests were complaining about how full they were and how they had to take off to start the long trek back home. Then Paul reminded them about the Carrot Cake Cheesecake sitting in the fridge and I think they about died. But they managed (somehow) to finish off a slice before packing up, saying goodbye, and heading out. Matthew was so sad to see Aunt Catherine go that he refused to say goodbye. He might have also been a bit exhausted - he passed out for the night immediately after they left (around 5:00 PM).

So excited to start finding eggs!

"I can't reach it!"

And this mysterious hand is coming to the rescue!

I think the Easter bunny enjoyed hiding eggs out of Matthew's reach.

Ah-HA! I see CANDY!

Fighting over spilled candy. All in the spirit of Easter.

I think she choked on that jelly bean shortly after this picture was taken.
Lesson learned - no more jelly beans for Emma!

Loving the outdoors on this beautiful Easter morning!

The eggs have finally all been found! (At least I think that's why everyone but little Matthew looks so happy!)

Emma received a stuffed bunny in her Easter bucket.
She kept hugging it while saying "Hiya" in a high-pitched voice. She likes animals.

Overall, it was a lovely day spent with family enjoying good food and conversation. Everyone enjoyed the food but I have to say that my favorite dish of the day was the Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs. While growing up, my family always served a coffeecake of sorts for Easter brunch along with the hard-boiled eggs we had dyed the day before. We normally cracked the eggs and ate them plainly with salt and pepper. Paul really hates straight up hard-boiled eggs, although he loves them in things like Egg Salad or Deviled Eggs. Since he is so darn picky, we decided to make deviled eggs to serve alongside the Blueberry Buckle. But we did not stop there - we decided to make them fancy by adding chopped smoked salmon, capers, and chives. Catherine was very skeptical when she saw me preparing the salmon for the eggs. She told me how she had tried smoked salmon for the first time at a cafe in Paris and had almost thrown up after taking a large bite. She had expected it to be warm and was very much disturbed by how "slimy" it was. I assured her that she would like it in the eggs just fine.

Sure enough, everyone adored these deviled eggs. They were so good. The salmon and capers add some briny, salty flavors to the eggs while the chives lend a freshness. They were pretty filling, yet none of us could stop eating them. Paul was especially wild about them - he loves smoked salmon. I can't wait to make them again!

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

10-12 large hard boiled eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for garnish
6 ounces smoked salmon, minced
Pinch of Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Capers, drained, for garnish

Peel the eggs and then slice them in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks carefully. Place the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and arrange the whites on a platter in a single layer with the cut sides up and sprinkle with salt.

To the egg yolks, add the sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, salmon, salt, and pepper. Beat on medium speed until fluffy. With a small spoon, fill the egg whites with the egg yolk mixture. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend.

When ready to serve, garnish with the capers and some extra chopped chives.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon and Apples

Warning: This is probably the most disjointed blog post ever.

My sister and her fiance are spending Easter weekend with us and I have been trying to assemble the menu based around all of our tastes and preferences. I thought I had everything planned out, right down to a fantastic strawberry-rhubarb cobbler for dessert, when my sister dropped a bombshell on me: "Eww. Monica, I hate strawberries."

Who in heaven's name hates strawberries?

This revelation blew my mind - how did I not know that Catherine can't stand strawberries? Her aversion is especially perplexing when juxtaposed with the tastes of one of our other sisters, Sophie, who went through a 6-year-long strawberry obsession. Everything she ate had to be strawberry-themed. It didn't matter if it was artificially flavored or not (she was famous for sneaking boxes of the strawberry Frosted Mini-Wheats into the cart while grocery shopping with the parents). She doodled strawberries during class, she dreamed of strawberries, and I think her email address was something along the lines of "StrawberryLuverXOXO."

Sophie dreaming about lying among strawberry fields. Forever.

Bottom line is that I believe Sophie's fanatical love of strawberries to be slightly more normal than Catherine's full out hatred of them. What is it that she does not like? Is it the juicy deliciousness? The pure, unadulterated sweet flavor? The antioxidants that lower risk of heart and neurological disease? What is it Catherine?!?

The strawberry hater is on the left. The baby and myself happen to be strawberry lovers.

No worries, the strawberries have been banished from our Easter menu. But I refuse to make "leg of lamb" per Catherine's request. I have an aversion to eating anything that was once fluffy.

Our Easter dinner menu will be as follows:

Pork Rib Roast with Port-Wine Cherry Sauce
French-Style Potato Salad with Herbs
Spinach Salad with Grapes, Pears, Pistachios, and Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrettte
Cream Biscuits
Carrot Cake Cheesecake for dessert
Ice Cream (Paul/Matthew insist upon it!)

You're welcome, Catherine.


Since ham is traditionally served as part of the Easter feast, I'm sure that potato salad will be a featured side on more than one dinner table come Sunday. This recipe shakes things up a bit by employing sweet potatoes tossed in a light mustard vinaigrette instead of the traditional mayonnaise-laden version featuring russets, baby red, or Yukon gold potatoes. The sweet potatoes are roasted until just tender and then tossed while still warm in a hot mustard-vinegar mixture. After allowing those flavors to meld and absorb, the salad is rounded out with the addition of chopped bacon, diced sweet apples, and olive oil. Eat it as is as a side dish to complement ham, pork roast, or turkey or serve it over a bed of baby spinach (tossed with a little extra vinaigrette from the potato salad) as a spectacular main dish. This has been my lunch every day this week and I have not tired of it! It's so fresh, healthy, and filling!

I did not add them this time, but I'm thinking some chopped, toasted pecans or dried cranberries would be a welcome addition to this salad.

Our entire family enjoyed this dish and I'm sure you will too! While nothing can take the place of my Mom's potato salad recipe (especially alongside her honey-glazed ham), this is a great, healthy, and different version. Paul and Matthew were happy there was bacon, Emma loves her sweet potatoes, and I am just thankful to see them all eating something relatively healthy without complaint.

Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon and Apples
adapted from Cook's Country

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
5 slices of bacon, chopped
2 sweet apples (like Braeburn, Jonagold, or Honeycrisp), peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the sweet potatoes with a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for about 12-15 minutes, or just until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.Keep an eye on them and be sure not to roast them too long or the salad will be mushy. Remove from the oven and carefully place the potatoes in a large bowl.

Combine the vinegar and mustard in a bowl with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Divide in half and microwave half of the vinegar mixture on high for about 30 seconds, or until piping hot. Immediately drizzle over the warm potatoes and gently fold everything together with a rubber spatula. Let stand for about 15 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, toss the apple pieces with the lemon juice in a small bowl.

Cook the bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until crispy. Drain on paper towels.

With the remaining vinegar mixture, slowly add in 3 tablespoons of olive oil  as you whisk. Continue whisking until emulsified. Add the apple, diced onion, and bacon to the bowl with the sweet potatoes. Add the vinaigrette and gently toss to combine. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes before serving. The salad can be made up to 2 days in advance.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TWD: Cantuccini with Dark Chocolate and Coconut

When Paul and I were first married, we lived in a two bedroom town home that shared a wall, a porch and a walkway with our neighbors, an elderly couple and their yappy Yorkie. Money was very tight and although we liked the idea of subscribing to the daily paper we chose to forgo doing so in order to save a couple of extra dollars each week. However, one Sunday after returning home from the early Mass, we were delighted to see a big, fat newspaper stuffed with ads sitting on our front porch. The news-people must have dropped us a free paper in an attempt to entice us to subscribe! We snatched up the paper and headed inside to enjoy a breakfast of scrambled eggs and hot coffee while leisurely looking over the news articles and perusing the shopping ads. We enjoyed it so much that we actually considered subscribing just to the Sunday paper, but our practical sides won out and we resisted temptation. However, the next week we were happy to find a Sunday paper sitting on our stoop once again. We did not question it and took it inside to enjoy once more. The following week, the paper showed up again. By then, we thought that perhaps our "free trial" was supposed to last a whole month and resolved to simply enjoy the paper for as long as it continued to come to us. 

Later that same week, I was outside collecting the mail when our neighbor walked outside and began to chat with me. We briefly discussed a story that had been in the news recently when my neighbor offhandedly mentioned: "Speaking of the news, I have had the hardest time getting the paper boy to deliver our Sunday paper. It's been missing the past few weeks."


Remember how I said that we shared a front porch with our neighbors? Apparently the newspaper boy dropped the Sunday paper off a little closer to our door than their door and we erroneously thought it was for us. We had been stealing the neighbors' paper for weeks! I'm pretty sure they already disliked us, so this would certainly kill any chance of us being invited over for a dinner party.

We just quietly stopped stealing their paper and went back to enjoying our Sunday mornings without it. How does this story relate to this week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenge? Not really at all, but for some reason in the process of making these delightful cookies, this memory popped into my head. Maybe it was the fact that these cantuccini, a classical recipe Tuscan recipe for the more ubiquitous biscotti, pair so perfectly with a hot mug of coffee - just like a Sunday morning paper. Unlike biscotti, the cantuccini do not incorporate butter or oil into the batter, using only the fat found in the eggs to flavor and enhance the dough. They bake up extra-crispy and crunchy - the perfect texture for dunking.

I omitted the almonds called for in the original recipe and instead added 3/4 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate and 1 cup shredded coconut to make a flavor reminiscent of an almond joy. Thankfully, these come together very quickly and easily. I made them while barely awake at 6:15 AM on a Saturday morning because the children refused to let me sleep in at all. I got them back later in the day by putting them to bed a whopping two hours early.

Emma found them to be the perfect teething cookie. Paul thought these were great with coffee or chai. Matthew just likes any excuse to eat cookies for breakfast. Either way, this is a great recipe!

Cantuccini with Dark Chocolate and Coconut
adapted from Baking with Julia

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Toss with the coconut and chocolate. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until a dough comes together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead together into a ball. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 12-inch long log. Transfer the logs to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until brown and firm. Remove from the oven and transfer the logs from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on.

Once cool, cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch thick slices. Using the same baking sheet as before, lay the cantuccini cut side down on the baking sheet and return to the oven for about 10-15 additional minutes, or until browned and firm. Enjoy with coffee or tea!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hawaiian-Style Pizza with BBQ Pulled Pork

Oh the weather is finally changing! It feels like spring is here! We have been spending the last several days soaking in the sun and enjoying the sudden spike in temperature. Paul even got his first sunburn of the year - it's tough having a bald head when you're out under the beating sun. I might have to insist that he wear a hat in the future because his poor scalp is paying for it!

Emma has been loving being outdoors. The first time I took her for a walk this year, she loved it so much, she was positively giddy. However, I think she was a little angry with me for not taking her out sooner (as if it could be helped!). Whenever I made eye contact with her while we were out, she kept glaring accusingly as if to say: "How dare you keep this glorious new world hidden from me all this time!"

I'm trying not to get too excited about the weather. The forecast predicts more snow tomorrow. Still, the warmth and sunshine of the past few days have started to make us all crave summertime fare: salads, grilled burgers, and ice cream.

But, for now, we still have a ton of leftover pulled pork to eat...and that's where the pizza comes in.

When my siblings and I were little, my parents would often take us out to Pizza Hut following dance recitals and sports championships. Us kids always preferred the pizza with the most meat and cheese we could have packed on as possible. My favorite was always the meat lovers. Ham, Pepperoni, Sausage, Meatballs, AND bacon all together on one pizza!?! Heaven! However, our mother would always require that at least one of our pizzas be "Hawaiian style" with Canadian bacon and pineapple. We all vehemently protested her modest request, finding that combination to be "boring" or, to the more dramatic members of the family, "disgusting". Well, she usually got her way and other than Michael (who pretty much ate anything),the rest of us never stooped so low as to try a bite of that combination.

Fast forward about 15 years and I was dating a certain guy name Paul who happened to love Hawaiian pizza. While on a date, he insisted that I try that combination.

"What's so great about it? Pineapple on a pizza?" I skeptically asked him.
"It's just good! A little sweet, a little salty. It's amazing." was his reply.

I took my first bite and was hooked. Absolutely hooked. Ironically, it's pretty much the only way I like pizza now. That and BBQ Chicken pizza. I pretty much can't stand pepperoni or sausage anymore. Must be my old lady tastebuds kicking in!

Since we still have an abundant of leftover pulled pork, I decided cash in on our Sunday dispensation from our Lenten fasting and make pizza. Paul was oh-so-happy to hear that! I chose to combine my two favorite pizza combinations and make a Hawaiian-Style BBQ Pulled Pork Pizza. I tossed the pulled pork in our favorite BBQ sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's) and spread that evenly over our favorite pizza dough, then covered the entire surface with thinly sliced red onions, chopped fresh pineapple, shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese. It was a delicious combination that everyone loved. Even Matthew, the purist who normally insists that a pizza is not a pizza unless it is topped with pepperoni, loved it.

Hawaiian-Syle Pizza with BBQ Pulled Pork

1 recipe pizza dough
1-2 cups BBQ sauce (depends how saucy you like it)
3 cups leftover shredded pork
4 cups shredded cheese (we used a combination of cheddar and mozzarella)
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 ripe pineapple, cored and cut into small wedges

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees with a pizza stone set on the middle rack.

Divide the pizza dough in two (if using my recipe- it makes enough for two pizzas). Roll out/stretch the pizza dough into a 12-inch circle. Place dough circle on a piece of parchment paper set on a large cutting board.

Combine the pork with the BBQ sauce. Spread half all over the surface of the pizza. Cover with half the onion, cheese, and pineapple. Carefully slide the piece of parchment from the cutting board onto the hot pizza stone in the oven. Bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.

Let pizzas cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ridiculously Easy Bunny Cupcakes for Easter!

Here is an easy Easter-themed cupcake craft that has been tested and approved by a hyper 4-year-old and his grumpy baby sister. This week, we wanted to bring cupcakes into the lady at the YMCA who does such a good job watching Matthew and Emma while I work out. Her birthday is the Monday after Easter, but we wanted to surprise her this week with some treats. Matthew suggested that we make some bunny cupcakes, so that's just what we did! I'm sharing this today just in case you also have an hour or two to kill while watching the clock slowly tick towards the kids' bedtimes.

First, bake a batch of cupcakes. We made carrot cake cupcakes. Delicious.

While the cupcakes bake, cut out ear shapes from card-stock. Ours were all so even and neat thanks to Matthew's mad skills with the scissors. We pasted some pink pieces of paper onto our white ones to try to make them look a little cuter. I'm not so sure it worked. In reality, it doesn't matter how neat or cute they look as long as they sort of resemble bunny ears.

Next, make a batch of frosting. We were super original and made a cream cheese frosting to go with our carrot cake cupcakes.

Finally, place some sweetened coconut flakes in a pie plate for the fur, pick out some pink jelly beans for the nose, and some chocolate chips for the eyes.

Frost the cupcakes, dip in the coconut, and decorate with the jelly beans, chocolate chips, and paper ears. You're done!

I think they look kind of cute. Matthew was quite happy with them. Emma ate two without complaint, so I think she approved. And now that it's finally bedtime (it's been a long day), they are all sticky, hyped up on sugar, and bouncing off the walls. Perfect.