Spiced Baked Pears with Dark Chocolate | Farmers Market Series

Good Morning from Washington, DC! It’s been a whirlwind of a week. I started out in Syracuse, New York, fled to Boston for a mini escape and now I’m in the capitol until heading home. The weather has finally begun to cooperate and it’s no longer unbearably hot which means all the cozy sweaters I packed can finally be put to use. It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m starting to write recipes for the holiday season (yes, that time is coming up) but today I have a fall recipe for you that is a little different from what I usually share. Baking isn’t really my strength so desserts are hard for me to come up with but this particular recipe is a dessert that anyone can whip up…

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Triple Berry Kale Smoothie | Lighter Recipes For Summer

Back in the day when I was commuting to my first job out of college, I stopped for a smoothie on the way. I lived in the East Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago and had to take the “L” all the way to the last neighborhood bordering Evanston. In other words, it was a pretty decent hike. For some reason, I also dealt with nausea every single morning and a smoothie was the only thing that would help. No, I wasn’t pregnant but it sure felt like morning sickness had somehow infiltrated my body. Since then, smoothies are my go-to whenever I’m not feeling like eating or when it’s too hot. They’re not overwhelming like a plate of eggs and toast can be and generally the lightest meal with the most fuel.

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As an adult, my smoothie game has improved from regular stops at Jamba Juice to whipping them up at home. My wallet is thankful too, that’s for sure. Especially in the summer months, it’s not rare for me to swap a meal for a smoothie. Normally I’ll trade breakfast but some days I’ll trade lunch instead. Another way my smoothie game has improved is through ingredients. I don’t use any extra sweeteners including flavored yogurt. All you’ll find in my smoothies are fruit, veggies, plain greek yogurt and milk. Occasionally, I’ll add a nut butter - almost always peanut butter - and sometimes cocoa powder but that’s it. Fruit is naturally sweet enough. It’s not necessary to add sugar or syrups or even vanilla yogurt. If you want a dessert smoothie, make a dessert smoothie but the kind that I’m talking about are meant to fill you and avoid a sugar crash.

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For those of you who reject the idea of adding greens to smoothies, give it a shot. I wasn’t keen on the idea either when I started making them at home but it’s nowhere as bad as you think it will be. The kale may as well not even exist! If the fruit included is lighter in color, the smoothie might turn out green but with berries as the star ingredient, you get a pinkish-purple hue that’s so pretty. Even if the smoothie does turn out green, the kale flavor simply isn’t there. And if you disagree? Add more fruit! By creating a wider gap in the fruit to green ratio, you’re also diluting the flavor of the kale. I usually like to stick around 1.5 fruit to 1 veggie. Here’s the bottom line: it’s an easy way to get a serving of veggies in and kale is packed with fiber, vitamins and iron.

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Here's another tip. Freeze greek yogurt in ice trays and store them for quick smoothies. It makes portioning out the yogurt super easy and mess-free and it makes the smoothie extra thick. The yogurt will last long frozen versus refrigerated and you can store in bulk. You could also freeze the greens if you want to buy them in bulk and store them without spoiling. Everything is getting blended so it's alright if the greens get a little crumbly. Fresh fruit is certainly a great idea but I use frozen because it stores easy, it's year-round instead of seasonal and it keeps the smoothie thick. Do you have a favorite smoothie ingredient combo?

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Triple Berry Kale Smoothie
Ingredients:
1 cup Milk (of your choice, I used lactose-free)
1 cup Kale (or if you prefer, spinach)
¼ cup (or 2 frozen cubes) plain Greek Yogurt
½ cup each frozen Blueberries, Raspberries & Blackberries (you can also use the frozen mixed berries from the freezer section, just make sure to use a total of 1.5 cups)

Directions:
Pour all of your ingredients into a blender in this order: milk, kale, yogurt, berries. Blend until smooth. You may need to pause a few times to scrape down the sides and loosen the ingredients at the bottom. If the mixture is too thick, add a splash of milk at a time to loosen. Serve once blended.

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5 Recipes to Celebrate National Pineapple Day

Happy Wednesday! You know what that means? We’re halfway through the week which means the weekend is almost here. And it’s even better because next week is a holiday week which means...short week!!! To say I’m excited is an understatement. Did you also know that today is National Pineapple Day? It’s also International Pineapple Day but the point is, it’s a day for celebrating pineapple, one of my favorite fruits! I love the versatility of it. It’s great fresh, on its own or grilled on top of a burger. I’ve come to enjoy it so much, that it’s even been sneaking it’s way into quite a few recipes lately. Keep scrolling to grab a few.

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I’ve always known Hawaii to be the land of the pineapple but did you know that they’re actually native to South America? The Spanish brought the fruit to Hawaii where they ended up commercializing it. For a while, pineapples became a sign of wealth among European aristocrats since it was so expensive to either import them or grow them through early versions of greenhouses. I find this fascinating! And now, Hawaii barely produces any of the world’s pineapple contributions. Imagine my surprise considering I visited Hawaii back in 2006 and we had plenty of pineapple and even visited a plantation. But now that I realize it was 12 years ago, I guess it shouldn't be so surprising.

I could go on all day about pineapple but I’m sure you’d rather check out a few recipes. My favorite use of pineapple lately has been grilled and on top of burgers. Something about the combination of savory, juicy meat and the tangy sweetness of pineapple gets to me. It’s a flavor combo that can’t be beat and it’s an easy way to add a little pizzazz to your dinner table or impress guests. Where else (other than a restaurant) will you get a burger with a pineapple on top? People are generally too apprehensive to go out of their comfort zone with food when they’re hosting guests. Me? I like to challenge people’s comfort zones so don’t come to dinner at my house if you’re not ready to see something non-traditional on the dinner table. I love the classics but boy, do I love a twist!

BBQ Chicken Burgers with Grilled Pineapple
This recipe is one of my favorites. Ground chicken is used instead of beef for lighter burgers that are packed with flavor. Keep the patty from disintegrating on the grill by using a full cup of breadcrumbs in the meat mixture. I used regular breadcrumbs but panko will work as well and might even give the burgers a light, airy quality.

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BBQ Hawaiian Chicken Bowls
This is a great weeknight dish. Everything (except the rice) is grilled, or cooked on grill pan over the stove. Start with the chicken breasts and while they rest, grill up the pineapple and peppers. Serve over rice with my homemade barbecue sauce and this is a winner.

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Frozen Mango-Pineapple Daiquiri
Fresh or frozen pineapple will work for this delightful cocktail. I call it sunshine in a glass because you can’t help but be happy while drinking it and it looks so sunny! White rum, my preferred choice of liquor, has a mellow flavor so I will warn you - it goes down a little too easy. This would be a great cocktail to whip up for a few friends on a casual night in but I wouldn’t recommend making it in larger batches since the slushy quality really makes it special.

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Grilled Pineapple Burgers
Inspired by one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, this recipe was my first try at putting a pineapple on my own burger. Modeled after a burger I had while visiting Denver, it has a lot of flavor packed into the meat patty so that the pineapple doesn’t take over. Provolone cheese adds a mellow touch to all the strong flavors and provides a nice balance.

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Mango Pineapple Salsa
Probably my favorite salsa recipe...ever. Nothing mixes better with pineapple than other tropical flavors. This salsa, while very yellow in presentation, is addictive. So addictive that in the original post I wrote a disclaimer releasing me from any responsibility of future salsa addictions. It’s so easy to make and is 100% worth making in triple or even quadruple batches. It will go fast. Believe me!

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Grilled Pound Cake | BBQ Recipes

I may not be known for a sweet tooth but I can appreciate a great dessert. Baking in the summertime is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Something as simple as a store-bought pound cake has hundreds of possibilities and not one of them heats up the home. Inspired by BBQ month in May, I was inspired to come up with a grilled dessert. You may be familiar with my fail at remembering to check the propane tank before embarking on my grilling crusade so I’ve been using a standard grill pan instead. The results are still delightful.

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Grilling pound cake might seem a little out of the ordinary but I urge you to give it a shot. I knew that it would be toasty on the outside and give it a nice texture but I had no clue that it would improve the flavor as well! Grilling the pound cake somehow manages to give it a toastier flavor, and even a little more sweetness. It also warms it up which is the perfect bed for ice cream as it gets all melty on the bottom. Berries add a little tartness which cuts through all the sweet from the pound cake and the ice cream. In other words, this might just be the perfect dessert.

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My three ingredients for this recipe were vanilla pound cake, chocolate ice cream, and assorted fresh berries but you can use anything you want. Lemon pound cake would be fantastic and so would chocolate with vanilla ice cream instead. Strawberry ice cream would make a nice, summery touch or what about something like Cookies n’ Cream? It would make a nice build-your-own bar for partie as well. Grill up a bunch of slices of pound cake at once and place them on a warmed platter for guests to serve themselves and build their own. One of our local grocery stores sells sliced pound cake as well as whole loaves so if you’re running short on time or feeling lazy, those would make a nice short cut.

With all the parties you’ll be attending and/or hosting this summer, it’s nice to keep things fresh for everyone, yourself included! There are only so many times we can eat regular sponge cake (gross) before we can hardly look at it. I love brownies and s’mores but those can get tired too. What will you be whipping up for a treat this summer?

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Grilled Pound Cake with Fruit & Ice Cream
Ingredients:
4 slices Vanilla Pound Cake* (at least 1-inch thick)
2 cups Chocolate Ice Cream**
2 cups Fresh Berries

Directions - Outdoor Grill:
1 - Spray the grill grate with cooking spray. Preheat the grill over a low-medium heat.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 3-4 minutes on each side or until there are visible grill marks. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

Directions - Grill Pan:
1 - Lightly butter the grill pan and set heat to low-medium. Heat the pan.

2 - Place each slice of pound cake on the grill. Let warm 4-5 minutes on the first side and 2-3 on the flip side or until you see grill marks. The grill pan will get much hotter by the time you flip the pound cake. The outside of the pound cake will become nice and toasty and the inside will be warm and fluffy.

3 - Place each slice of grilled pound cake on a small plate. Top with ½ cup-sized scoop of ice cream and top with ½ cup assorted fresh berries.

*Vanilla Pound Cake is what I used but any flavor you prefer would work just as well. Lemon would be a great option or even chocolate.

**Chocolate is the obvious pairing for vanilla and works really well with the assorted berries but just like the pound cake, you can use any flavor you’d like. Vanilla ice cream would go wonderfully with chocolate pound cake and strawberry ice cream would go well with any flavor pound cake. Maybe even get a little creative with all the fun flavors you can find in the ice cream aisle.

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French Country Cooking | Around the World with Cookbooks

Remember French Cooking Fridays? It was my journey cooking through A Kitchen In France by Mimi Thorisson - my first true experience working with French recipes. While it had its frustrations, it also had its accomplishments. It was rewarding making it through some of those harder recipes and eye opening to whiz through the easier ones. For example, there was a chicken recipe that took hardly any time at all and was one of the best chicken recipes I’d ever made in my life. Who knew French food could be so easy? I’ll tell you, no one who is familiar with stereotypical French cuisine.

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As I continue reading Julie & Julia, I’m seeing that the majority of the recipes included, or at least the ones she writes about, are expert level recipes. Is that the truth about any cuisine though? Regardless of the country, everyone needs easy weeknight recipes every once in a while. I mean, what about a croque madame or croque monsieur? That’s hardly a major time commitment. A Kitchen In France did more than expand my cooking skills, it expanded my mind when it came to French Food. Not only does it have the traditional laborious dishes that are decadent and rich, it also has dishes that are light, simple and come together in no time. That was one of the reasons I loved sharing my experiences cooking through A Kitchen In France. I wanted to open the definition of French cuisine and show that it’s not all 8 hour cooking sessions and heavy meals. It’s versatile and seasonal like any other cuisine.

When I found out Mimi had come out with a second cookbook, I knew that I needed it for my cookbook shelf (now shelves). French Country Cooking is organized a little different than A Kitchen In France. While AKIF was organized by season, FCC is organized by course: sides, starters, main courses, staff meals, Sunday suppers, desserts, gouter (snacks), and drinks. Mimi was inspired by the pop-up restaurant her and her husband had taken over in the Medoc region of France. Main courses are dishes you’d see in the restaurant. Staff meals are less complicated, quicker options to feed workers on breaks. Sunday supper dishes are meals you’d cook for your family, something very important to Mimi and her family. The others explain themselves except gouter. A little background info...the French do not eat between meals. They hardly even drink. Because dinner is so late (no earlier than 7:30pm and as late as 10pm), to keep hunger at bay they’ll have a little gouter in the late afternoon to tide them over until dinnertime. A gouter is sweet or savory, sometimes a little of both!

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The meal I chose to showcase French food for our “Around the World” series is classically French. From onion soup to pears with chocolate, these dishes showcase the finesse of French cuisine, the decadence of French cuisine, and the simplicity. Each dish has a different level of work involved and each dish has a different number of ingredients required. I was hoping to show the versatility of the culture. You tell me if I did it justice.

Plantia’s Onion Soup
French Onion Soup is one of those dishes that are without question French. Mimi’s recipe, by coincidence, mimics the same recipe the woman who owned the restaurant before her used to serve. Her name was Plantia so Mimi named the recipe after her. The secret to both of their soups is duck fat and using comte or gruyere cheese on the toasts. I did not use duck fat but I did use gruyere cheese! Onion Soup is super simple to make. Onions cook down until soft before chicken stock, wine and a few other ingredients get thrown in the pot. Everything simmers for a bit before placing cheese toasts on top for a delightful bowl of soup. This recipe may lack ingredients but it lacks no flavor. It’s a recipes that feeds the soul.

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Poule au Pot
I recently read the part in Julie & Julia where Julie makes Pot au Feu for a group of friends. Pot au Feu and Poule au Pot are similar in that they’re both boiled dishes. Pot au Feu is several types of meat all boiled in a large pot with veggies. Poule au Pot is a stuffed whole chicken boiled in a pot with vegetables. Similar, right? Another thing they have in common is that they are not visually satisfactory. They’re actually kind of gross. I wanted to share a photo of the Poule au Pot once it finished cooking to show the stuffing and all that but it was gag worthy. I was not putting a photo of that on the blog.

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Poule au Pot is one of those traditional go-to French dishes made for comfort. It’s also one of those dishes that can be made a million different ways. The prep is a little intense for this one with the stuffing but other than that, it’s not too bad. A creamy mushroom sauce finishes the dish using some of the homemade stock from the pot. That’s the biggest pro for this recipe. The water that the chicken and veggies boil in transitions into a beautiful, rich stock that you can use later in the week. I had about 3-4 quarts of stock leftover that I used all week long. So while Poule au Pot may not be visually stunning and translated to English (boiled chicken) might not sound scrumptious, it’s actually a very tasty dish and it’s also comforting. Whip it up on the weekends when you have a little extra time on your hands.

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Baked Pears with Chocolate
What comes to mind when you think of French desserts? Macarons? Souffle? Chocolate Mousse? How about a baked fruit drizzled in dark chocolate? Because that’s exactly what this is. Four (five if you use mint) ingredients come together for an indulgent dessert that tastes more sinful than it actually is. Melted butter drizzles over halved pears followed by a hint of honey. They’re baked until tender before finished with a healthy drizzle of melted dark chocolate. It’s a dish where the fruit shines but does not taste one bit healthy. The best part is that you don’t feel guilty or gross after indulging. You feel satisfied, satiated and ready for a glass of bubbles. Might we suggest strawberries in prosecco??

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We have a one recipe and one cookbook feature to go! In case you missed the others, see our stops around the world cooking in ItalyThailandGreeceNorth Africa and Mexico.

 

French Cooking Friday: Tomato Salad, Vegetable Tian, Duck Breasts & Panna Cotta

If you've never had duck before, this is a great way to start. I have fallen in love with French cooking since starting this journey. Sure, it can be stressful when I decide to do too many things at once but each individual dish is simple in its own way. Whether it's a short ingredient list or all the work is done in the oven or in a pot on the stove, it is the easiest and least stressful cooking I've experienced. This is another pure summer menu with juicy peaches and tomatoes coming in at the center of everything. This is a great August meal so if you want to try any of these recipes for yourself do it now while peaches and tomatoes are at their best!

STARTER: Tomato Salad with Parsley and Shallots
This is an incredibly simple dish you can throw together in a jiff. There are literally 5 ingredients, one of them shallots which I feel the need to point out are not onions. Shallots are a bit more potent than onions and are often described as a cross between garlic and onions. They're smaller, usually grow in groups, are purple and white and are quite strong. Be prepared to cry as you chop these babies. Heirloom tomatoes work best for any tomato salad. They have the best flavor of any other tomatoes (in my opinion) and because they're not any traditional shape, it makes a funky visual. You can also mix up the colors if you'd like. This is a very refreshing salad and simple. Pair it with crusty bread and you're off to a fantastic dinner.

MAIN: Duck Breasts Grilled Over Grapevines
In case you're wondering, I have no idea where to find grapevines in the Chicagoland suburbs. It would take beating down winery doors but would probably lead nowhere since they get their grapes shipped in. Our vineyard scene is rather lacking. Instead, I just grilled them normally. This was my first time trying duck and it was fantastic. Duck has so much flavor because it's naturally fattier than other types of poultry. I did cook it a little too long, notice the extra crispy crust but it was still tender and juicy on the inside. The seared peaches were a really nice touch as well. It turned this dish into a sweet and savory masterpiece that is perfect for summertime.

SIDE: Vegetable Tian
This dish is basically ratatouille only assembled and roasted. Try your best to find vegetables that are about the same size in diameter. It will make assembling much easier. It's tedious to prepare but delicious once complete and beautiful to look at. This is another simple dish and allows the summer veggies to really shine. It features a combination of tomato, zucchini and eggplant. They're roasted for about 30 minutes so that they're not mushy and roasted just enough for incredible flavor.

DESSERT: Apricot (Peach) Panna Cotta
Apricots have a short season, at least where I'm from. Since I couldn't find any in the store when I whipped this tasty dessert up, I substituted with peaches. The "peach" part is basically a jam, or compote. I've made compotes on my own several times so it wasn't anything new and it helped me know what consistency to look for, thick but not burnt. The creaminess of the panna cotta pairs perfect with the sweet peach making this a light, decadent summer treat. 

Only two weeks left of the summer section from A Kitchen In France with Mimi Thorisson. I'm kind of kicking myself because she just came out with another cookbook, French Country Cooking, that I am dying to get my hands on. She's really inspired me to go out of the box with seasonal produce and embrace each season for its greatest qualities. 

Frozen Mango-Pineapple Daiquiri - #ThirstyThursday

One more day till the weekend! Isn't it weird that the four-day weeks feel longer than the five-day weeks? To get you through the remaining work week, here is a cocktail that's also a great break from this awfully hot weather we've been having lately. One thing summer has going for it are the frozen adult beverages, that's for sure. Mango and Pineapple are two flavors that were made for each other. Inspired by this pairing, we've put together a cocktail that is refreshing, tart, sweet and perfectly cool for the remaining scorchers summer is forcing upon us.

For a consistency like a smoothie or slushie, trade one or both of the fruits used in this drink with the frozen variety. I used fresh pineapple and frozen mango because I hate cutting mangos. The frozen fruit acts like ice which is what will make the drink nice and thick, like a smoothie. It will also keep it cold longer. This drink uses white rum but you could also use a coconut rum. It will add a bit more of a tropical vibe to an already tropical drink. It's really a fantastic summer cocktail and you can add to it to make it ever better. Maybe throw some strawberries in for a berry-licious flavor. Replace the lime juice with orange juice for a citrusy but lest tart treat. The possibilities are endless.

FROZEN MANGO-PINEAPPLE DAIQUIRI
Ingredients:
1.5 ounces White Rum
1 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
1.5 tbsp Sugar
1/2 cup Frozen Mango
1/2 cup Fresh Pineapple (or frozen)
Pineapple Chunk & Lime Wedge for garnish.

Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth and pour into two glasses. Garnish with a pineapple chunk and lime wedge. Serve immediately.

With summer coming to an end, what flavors are you enjoying the most before they're gone?

Arugula & Pear Salad with Goat Cheese Crumbles - Summer Recipes

Summer is the season of salads. The variety of leafy greens, veggies and fruits to play with make the combinations endless. Arugula is a weird looking leaf. It's long, lacks the larger leaves and is hard to pick up with your fork. It's also unique in flavor, almost spicy. You normally see it as a garnish or a mix-in to other leafy greens, not so much on its own. I think arugula has so much potential though. It has personality, something a lot of other greens don't have. With the right combination, it can be a star all on its own. 

Like any salad, the goal I had when building this particular one was to make it well-rounded. The arugula is spicy so adding pear gave it a sweet flavor, the bacon added saltiness, the goat cheese a tangy savory note and the balsamic vinaigrette a sweet but tart finish. It turned out to be a fantastic combination. The spiciness of the arugula mellowed with the light sweetness of the pear and when you got some bacon in there, YUM. This would be a great starter to any summertime meal but I picture it as the ideal beginner to a barbecue feast. What do you think?

ARUGULA & PEAR SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE CRUMBLES
Ingredients:
1 Pear, sliced
8 slices Bacon, chopped
1 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp. Lemon Juice
1 tsp. Maple Syrup
1 tsp. Dijon Mustard
3 tbsp. Olive Oil
5 oz. Arugula
8 slices Bacon, chopped
2 oz. Goat Cheese Crumbles

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and top with a cooling rack. Lay the bacon slices flat, side by side on the rack. Bake 15-20 minutes until crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

2. While the bacon cools, mix your vinaigrette. In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, maple syrup and dijon mustard until emulsified. Continue whisking while slowly adding in the olive oil. Continue to whisk until completely combined. 

3. Divide the arugula onto two small plates or into two salad bowls. Top with chopped bacon and goat cheese. Drizzle the balsamic vinaigrette over the salad. Serve.

How do you like to experiment with summer produce? Tell me in the comments below and make sure to check out our other recipes!