Truffle Popcorn

WIN_20150520_121235When I think of indulgent foods, I think of chocolate… champagne… popcorn…

Popcorn?

This, my friends, is not just any popcorn.

While some folks will grudgingly admit to a secret chocolate stash, or a secret bottle of a top shelf liqueur, my confession is a small bottle of truffle oil and an even smaller tin of truffle salt. It’s not that I won’t share… I will, and I do. It’s just that, if I leave these glorious items in plain sight, one of the budding cooks in my house will surely do something unintentionally heinous, like use truffle oil to grease a pan for pancakes, or dump truffle salt on a frozen pizza.  [Shuddering] Hence, the secret location.

WIN_20150520_121431Truffle oil is akin to vanilla flavoring, in that each of these items contains the same primary flavor compound as the real thing, without the hefty price tag. Are the flavors exactly the same? The consensus is “no.” In fact, some celebrity chefs are downright disdainful of truffle oil, and will only cook with true truffles. With the elusive fungus fetching up to $3,600 per pound… and I am NOT joking… I’ll take my chances on the rumored difference in flavor!

Truffle salt, made by infusing salt with bits and specks of black truffle, is less controversial and just as delicious. My little tin of truffle salt was a gift from my husband, purchased at a Seattle-based shop called Sugarpill. It made me smile… my husband knows me well!

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So… pop up about 8 cups of air popped popcorn. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of truffle oil. Drizzle this fragrant mixture over your popcorn, and sprinkle lightly with truffle salt. You’ll never think of popcorn quite the same way again!

Caramel Blondies

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“Can we make brownies, but not the brown kind?” Half-Pint eagerly asked.

“I like the brown kind. Let’s make the brown kind!” Pickle-in-the-Middle countered.

And so I ended up with two sets of eyes looking up at me, waiting for me to pick a favorite (dessert or child… I’m not entirely sure which!).  Think fast, Mom, think fast…

Enter Caramel Blondies. Blonde “brownies,” lacking cocoa, would surely meet one child’s request for “not the brown kind” of brownies. Rich caramel swirls would be delicious, I imagined – and brown. We gave it a go, and the results were spot-on wonderful the very first try. Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

WIN_20150504_181015Ingredients (Makes a 9 inch round pan)

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/3 cup butter

1 egg

1 teaspoon milk

WIN_20150504_1824581 1/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup melted caramel or Dulce de Leche

Directions

WIN_20150504_182608Step 1) Melt butter and brown sugar together in a medium (not small) saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Step 2) Add egg and milk to the cooled saucepan; blend well.

Step 3) Add flour, baking powder, and WIN_20150504_182749baking soda to the saucepan and stir to combine all ingredients. Batter will be stiff.

Step 4) Use a rubber spatula to transfer the batter to a greased, 9 inch round tart pan or pie dish.

Step 5) Use a teaspoon to drop dots of melted caramel or Dulce de Leche onto the WIN_20150504_185517batter. Use a butter knife to “draw lines” through the caramel in several directions.

Step 6) Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the blonde batter (NOT the caramel) comes out clean. Small wedges of this dessert are wonderful served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Medley of Fudge

WIN_20150515_190501We’re back! Crowded Earth Kitchen celebrated the end of Exam Week by taking a hiatus. We loaded Half Pint, Pickle in the Middle, and Half Grown into the kidmobile and headed “up North” to the land of waterslides, miniature golf courses, restaurants with paper moose antler hats (seriously), ice cream parlors, and fudge shops. The kids arrived back home sleep deprived, over sugared, and smelling faintly of chlorine. In other words, they had a great time.

But about the fudge… what is it about family tourist destinations and fudge shops? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one without the other. It’s not like fudge is ever on my grocery list, but on kid-centered vacations, stopping for fudge is an absolute must.

Clockwise from the top in the photo above, we sampled root beer fudge, Heath bar fudge, classic chocolate fudge, and milk chocolate vanilla swirl fudge. Which of these treats would you like to see recreated at Crowded Earth Kitchen? Post a comment with your favorite and I’ll work on a recipe for you!

Yes, You Can Make Gnocchi

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For many budding home cooks, gnocchi is a bit mysterious. Unless you had an Italian grandmother to shadow in the kitchen, or watched that creepy scene from The Godfather too many times, these little potato dumplings can seem complicated.  But hold on a second… really, they’re just dumplings, right? Right.

In this recipe, we’re switching things up a bit by baking the gnocchi instead of boiling. Baking is a foolproof way of assuring a hearty, satisfying texture. Also, the flavor achieved by baking gnocchi on a pan lined with butter and herbs is, well, amazing. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150429_184324Ingredients (Serves 6 – keep in mind that gnocchi freezes well!)

3 large potatoes (I used russet potatoes)

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter (not margarine)

1/2 teaspoon dried, cracked rosemary or herbes de provence

1/2 cup grated parmesan or fontina cheese

WIN_20150429_185827Directions

Step 1) Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Add to a pot of boiling (not salted!) water, and boil until potatoes are soft (check after 10 minutes). Drain and mash the potatoes. Allow to cool, uncovered.

Step 2) After mashed potatoes are cool, add flour, salt, pepper, and eggs. Using your WIN_20150429_190233hands, mix until all ingredients are well blended and a soft dough forms. The dough will be a little bit sticky, but if it is really impossibly sticky, add another few tablespoons of flour. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add milk (only one tablespoon at a time!) and mix until dough holds together.

Step 3) Place a clean towel over the dough WIN_20150429_190849and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes.

Step 4) Break off pieces of dough (about the size of a tennis ball) and roll by hand on a lightly floured countertop to form “snakes” of dough approximately 1 inch thick.

Step 5) Use the edge of a fork (you really don’t need anything sharp) to cut pieces about 1 inch long. Your individual gnocchi WIN_20150429_191213will look like little pillows.

Step 6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While gnocchi rests on the countertop, place 1/4 cup of butter on a large baking sheet with shallow sides. Melt butter on baking sheet by placing it in the oven for a minute or two as it preheats.

Step 7) After butter has melted, tilt the baking sheet back and forth to make sure that the entire surface is coated with butter. Sprinkle herbs evenly over the baking sheet, and place your gnocchi on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping gnocchi over once after 10 minutes.

Step 8) Transfer gnocchi to serving plates and sprinkle with cheese. Enjoy!

 

 

Lavender Vanilla Meringues

WIN_20150509_204230Where I live, Mother Nature can’t quite make up her mind… it’s warm and sunny one day, cold and windy the next. I may have to be patient for summer weather, but there’s no need to be patient waiting for summer flavors! These meringue cookies are light and airy, with a burst of lavender flavor. If sunshine had a taste, this might be it.

WIN_20150509_191617Ingredients (makes 48 meringues)

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 drops red food coloring

1 drop blue food coloring

1 teaspoon dried lavender

1 cup white sugar

picture194Directions

Step 1) In  scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg whites, vanilla extract, and cream of tartar at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes until soft peaks form.  It’s OK if the peaks fall over at this point, when you lift the beater out of the mixture.

Step 2)  Add food coloring, lavender, and WIN_20150509_193617sugar – a little at a time – to egg white mixture.  Beat at high speed for 3 – 5 minutes until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.  When you lift the beater out of the mixture now, the peaks should stand up straight.

Step 3)  Drop tablespoonsful of the meringue mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving 1 – 2 inches between meringues.  Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Cool on a cooking rack and Enjoy!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sisters

I Am From

I am from strong women

A heritage quilt stitched with love and determination

I am more durable than decorative

More educated than wise

Slowly becoming embroidered.

I am from Alvilda

A gritty Norwegian pioneer, 1900s single mother

Who settled the harsh Dakota prairie

Hungered through the Depression

And lived to be one hundred and three.

I am from Frieda

A small boned and big hearted, poised German woman

Whose fragrant kitchen and ample table

Veiled stories of a young girl’s fight for bread

On an immigrant ship.

I am from Helen

A kind, commonsense woman, adopted Dutch orphan

Whose hands crocheted comfort and

Whose colorful pantsuits

Were emancipatory images.

I am from Gladys

Who raised seven children

With loving hands and little voice

She buried a son, then a daughter

And never wavered in her faith in the Lord.

I am from Joanne

Outwardly practical, inwardly whimsical

Painting, photographing, collecting, telling celebratory stories

Of Life, love, family

Making me want to learn how to cook.

But mostly

I am from Susan.

In my mother’s face I see my reflection,

In her eyes I see years of selflessness and pride in our future.

She insisted – insists – upon strong daughters, my sister and I.

In following her lead

And finding our identity,

We continue the patchwork, my sister and I,

Crafting new patterns out of familiar fabric

Carrying our heritage forward.

Grandma’s Blueberry Cobbler

WIN_20150507_184737This recipe makes me think of swimming in my Grandparents’ backyard pool every summer as a child. From late spring to early autumn, Grandma pretty much lived in the swimming pool and always welcomed company. Grandpa would bring out the “silly hat collection” – big straw hats festooned with all manner of decorations – to protect little ears and shoulders from the sun.

I don’t know what it is about an afternoon in a swimming pool that makes people so hungry… it’s not like any of us were trying to qualify for the Olympics, we were just loafing around in the water! Nonetheless, as soon as we dried off, the grandchildren would descend upon the kitchen like a pack of hungry wolves. We never stayed hungry for long. Grandma’s Blueberry Cobbler is just one of the many wonderful summer treats we could find in Grandma’s kitchen (though she would usually double her own recipe and bake it in a 9×13 inch pan). I hope you enjoy it nearly as much as I still do!

WIN_20150507_171955Ingredients (Makes a 9 inch round pan)

1 egg

1 1/4 cup sugar, divided (see directions below)

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

WIN_20150507_1726441 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/4 cup milk

1 pint blueberries

WIN_20150507_1729591/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter, 2/3 cup sugar, egg, and vanilla extract.

Step 2) Add flour, salt, and baking powder alternately with the milk (add half the dry WIN_20150507_183143ingredients, half the milk, the other half of the dry ingredients, and the other half of the milk).

Step 3) Spread batter into a greased, 9 inch round baking dish (a deep dish pie plate works well).

Step 4) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with the blueberries, and sprinkle sugared blueberries over batter.

Step 5) Mix 1/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon, and sprinkle over the top of everything.

Step 6) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the batter (not a blueberry) comes out clean.