Berry Picking Time

Every year I have visions of going to a local farm, spending an afternoon picking strawberries, and then skipping into the kitchen to make jam.  Then I remind myself that I made a pie for Easter and I haven’t had time to post it here until now so I probably don’t have time for berry picking.  Reality is cruel that way sometimes. Whether you have time to visit a farm and pick your own berries or you’re more like me and will be picking your berries at the farmer’s market or supermarket this summer this is a fantastic way to make use of strawberries.

This is a great warm-weather dessert because once you’re done with the crust you’re done with the baking.  So if you happen to have some extra berries and you’re not looking to heat up the kitchen too much this ideal.  I will confess that the pie I made for Easter didn’t entirely set.  More recent attempts have been perfect.  The only variable I can think of is that I might not have heated up the cranberry juice enough to set the gelatin.  Be sure to heat the cranberry juice until it is steaming and you should avoid having a runny pie.  Confession number two- even if you scoop a runny mess out of the pie plate it is still delicious.

strawberry chiffon pie

Strawberry Chiffon Pie


for the pie crust:

  • 1 1/4 C. all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
  • 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
  • 9 Tbsp.  chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3-4 Tbsp. ice water

for the pie filling:

  • 2 pounds fresh strawberries, stems removed, 6 berries reserved for garnish if desired
  • 3/4 C. plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 C. cranberry juice or water
  • 1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin (about 2 packets)
  • 2 C. whipping cream, divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 medium-size strawberries, halved


Start by making the pie crust.

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together until well-combined.

Sprinkle the butter over the flour mixture and use your fingers to work the butter into the flour mixture.  Do this by rubbing your thumb against your fingertips, smearing the butter between them. Do this until the mixture looks like cornmeal and only pea-sized pieces of butter remain.

Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. of the ice water on top of the mixture and stir with a fork until the dough comes together.  Use another Tbsp. of ice water if needed.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and kneed just enough to make a cohesive dough (about 3 times), do not over-mix.

Shape the dough into a ball and then flatten it slightly into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out the pie crust into an 11 inch surface.

Transfer the crust to a 9-inch deep dish pie plate, gently pressing the dough into the plate and fluting the edges (press your thumb around the edge of the crust).

Lay a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil over the pie crust and then fill the pie crust with dried beans or pie weights to keep the crust from puffing up.

Bake for 30 minutes until crust is golden brown.

Remove the pie weights and let the crust cool before filling.

While the pie crust bakes and cools start on the filling by stirring together the strawberries, 3/4 C. of sugar, and lemon juice.  Use a potato masher, pastry cutter, or heavy spoon to mash up the berries as you mix the ingredients.
Chill the berry mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Warm the cranberry juice in the microwave for 15-25 seconds until just steaming (microwave it longer if you don’t see steam).
Stir into the gelatin and whisk the mixture until smooth.
Stir the gelatin mixture into the berry mixture and chill for 20 minutes, until partially set.
Using a stand or handheld mixer, whip 1 C. of the cream into medium peaks and stir into the berry mixture.
Pour the berry and cream mixture into the prepared pie crust and chill until firm (at least 1 hour).
Whip the remaining 1 C. of cream with remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar and the vanilla until firm peaks form.  Spread or pipe over top of pie.
Garnish the pie with reserved strawberries if desired  (cut into halves or slices if desired).

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A Walk in the Black Forest

Two weeks ago we celebrated Lane’s birthday.  In keeping with tradition, the birthday boy was allowed to choose a cake.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: What kind of birthday cake do you want?

Lane: Oh that’s right, that’s coming up.

Me:  Yep, and I want to plan for the cake when I make my grocery list so what kind do you think?

Lane: What kind were you thinking?

Me: (sighs) It’s your birthday, you get to pick.

Lane:  Anything you make would be great.

Me: It’s your birthday.

Lane:  I like cake.

So I offered German chocolate or Black Forest because neither of those could be bad, and because Lane likes all of the components of either.  Black Forest was the winner mainly because it has cherries and those are a fruit and fruit is good for our diet. It seemed like a legitimate solution at the time.

Basically, a Black Forest cake is layers of chocolate cake filled with cherries and whipped cream and then frosted with more whipped cream.  The three components are incredibly simple and when you put them together it’s really amazing.  The chocolate cake is just dense enough, and the whipped cream is just sweet enough to offset the cherries.  Cherries aren’t at all in season here yet so I used frozen whole cherries that I thawed overnight in the refrigerator and I thought the texture was just perfect.  It was a cake completely fitting our first married birthday celebration.

black forest cake

Black Forest Cake


for the cake:

  • 2 C. sugar
  • 1 3/4 C. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 C. cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C. whole milk
  • 1/2 C. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. boiling water

for the cherries:

  • 12 oz. frozen dark sweet cherries (such as Dole) thawed and drained OR 1 20 oz. can of cherries, drained
  • 1/4 C. Kirsch or brandy (optional- if omitting, reserve 1/4 C. of liquid from draining cherries)

for the frosting:

  • 1 1/2 C. heavy cream, chilled
  • 1/2 C. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract


Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla to the bowl and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).

Divide batter between the two prepared pans.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then remove the cake from the pans onto wire racks to cool completely.

Reserve 12 cherries for decorating the cake, and combine the remaining cherries with the Kirsch (or reserved cherry juice) and set aside.

To make the frosting, combine the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla and whip until almost-stiff peaks form.

Refrigerate frosting until ready to use.

When the cakes are completely cool, level the tops and place one layer on a serving plate.

Remove the cherries using a slotted spoon and place them on the plated cake layer.

Top the cherries with 1/2- 3/4 C. of the whipped cream frosting, covering the cherries and spreading into an even layer.

If desired, reserve about 1/2 C. of whipped cream frosting for decorating at the end.

Top the first layer of cake with the second cake, and frost the cake with the remaining whipped cream frosting.

If you reserved some frosting for decorating, put it into a piping bag or plastic bag with a corner snipped off and pipe small mounds of whipped cream frosting evenly around the edge of the top of the cake.  Top each mound with a reserved cherry.

Makes 12 servings.

Source: adapted slightly from Brown Eyed Baker (who adapted the cake recipe from Hershey’s)

black forest cake top

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Spring Ahead

I’m so over winter that I don’t even care that I lost an hour of sleep to “spring ahead” yesterday.  I lost count somewhere along the way but I think this will be the second (or first?!) full Monday of school that M and O have had since the winter break ended.  Our front walkway is a never-ending battle of ice vs. salt, and ice is the reigning champion. I’m looking forward to seeing daylight when I leave instead of shuffling across a minefield of slush and ice in the dark. I will gladly give up one hour of sleep to have some more daylight (and if you know me personally you know how much of a sacrifice that is right now).

Winter means we’re home and indoors more often.  That means we have more time to cook up home improvement schemes, and for me to pore through my cookbooks to cook up some new recipes.  I have made chicken Parmigiana many different ways. Up until now, my favorite way was the one I previously shared here, which involves breading the chicken and pan-frying it in olive oil.  Then Lane gave me The Skinnytaste Cookbook for Christmas and the chicken Parmigiana recipe there is a game-changer.  The chicken is baked instead of fried but you’d honestly never know it.  I served this with homemade spaghetti and it was a complete crowd-pleaser.

skinny chicken parm

Skinny Chicken Parmigiana


for the chicken:

  • non-stick cooking spray or oil mister
  • 3 (8 oz. each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, fat trimmed
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 C. seasoned whole-wheat bread crumbs
  • 3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. melted unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 9 Tbsp. part-skim mozzarella cheese

for the sauce OR use your favorite sauce:

  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 C. roughly chopped fresh basil


Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Lightly spray a large baking sheet with oil or non-stick cooking spray.

Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally to make 6 cutlets.

Sprinkle each side of each chicken cutlet with salt and pepper.

In a shallow bowl combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Combine the olive oil and butter in a small bowl.

Brush the butter mixture onto both sides of the chicken cutlet, then dredge the cutlet in the bread crumb mixture and place it onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all cutlets are on the baking sheet.

Lightly spray the top of the chicken cutlets with oil or non-stick cooking spray.

Bake the chicken for about 20 minutes, until it is golden on the bottom.

Turn the chicken over and bake for 5-6 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the bottom is golden.

While the chicken is baking, make the marinara sauce.

To make the marinara sauce, heat a medium-large saucepan over medium heat.

Add the oil and garlic and tilt the pan to one side so the garlic is covered in oil, then return the pan so it is flat on the burner.

Add 1/4 C. of water, the tomatoes, the salt, and black pepper to taste to the skillet.

Cover the pot, bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low.

Simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce is heated through.

Remove from the heat, stir in the basil, and adjust seasonings to taste if needed.

To finish the chicken, spread 2-3 Tbsp. of sauce onto each cutlet and sprinkle the mozzarella evenly onto each cutlet.

Place the cutlets under the broiler for a few minutes, until the cheese melts, bubbles, and starts to brown.

Remove from the oven and serve with additional sauce and, if desired, over pasta.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: adapted from The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka.

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Thank You Oscar

Now that we’ve finished this year’s 12 Days of Oscar it’s time for some trivia and a recap.  Neil Patrick Harris will host this year’s Academy Awards for the first time.  The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman lead the nominations, each being nominated in nine categories.  This year’s nod marks Meryl Streep’s record nineteenth nomination. Interestingly, none of last year’s Oscar winners have been nominated for awards this year.

This year’s 12 Days of Oscar feature included four Oscar nominated movies, four Oscar winners, and four of this year’s nominees.

lemon blueberry muffinsCasino– Blueberry Lemon Muffins with Lemon Glaze

quick chicken corn chowderThe Devil Wears Prada– Quick Light Chicken Corn Chowder

kung pao chickenA Few Good Men– Kung Pao Chicken

steamed lobsterSplash– Steamed Lobster

stovetop gouda mac and cheeseJuno– Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

eggs benedict hollandaiseMrs. Doubtfire– Hollandaise Sauce (with Easy Poached Eggs Benedict)

cooked homemade spaghettiThe Apartment– Homemade Spaghetti

pot roastThe Way We Were– Pot Roast

impossibly easy taco pie

The Lego Movie– Impossibly Easy Taco Pie

baked buffalo wingsBig Hero 6– Baked Buffalo Wings

challah breadInto the Woods– Challah Bread

queso dipBoyhood– Queso Dip

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Could We

Today marks our last installment of this year’s 12 Days of Oscar.  This is the last film in this year’s lineup and the fourth film nominated for an Oscar this year.  Boyhood  was shot intermittently over twelve years with the same cast.  The film shows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) growing from grade school to college, living in Houston with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his sister Samantha (Lorelai Linkleter).  Eventually both Mason and Samantha deal with their parents divorce, remarriage, blended families, and the general rites of passage growing up.  Boyhood in nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Hawke), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Arquette), Best Directing, Best Writing- Original Screenplay, and Best Editing.

There are a few food moments in this film but my favorite is when Mason and his girlfriend Sheena (Zoe Graham) go to an all-night diner at 3 a.m. and have queso dip until the sun comes up.  Maybe this is because queso dip is my weakness.  I love the stuff, and I would love to sit at a diner with an endless supply of it.  I have avoided making white queso dip at home for a variety of reasons (mainly, that I know I risk eating about ten pounds of tortilla chips drenched in queso until I am in a cheese coma).  Armed with some basic cheese knowledge and all of the self-control I possess, I finally made white queso dip, and it was awesome.  This came out so well that it really was hard to stick to one serving.

queso dip

White Queso Dip


  • 1/4 lb. white American cheese
  • 1/8 lb. pepper jack cheese
  • 1/4 C. finely diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno, diced
  • pinch of cumin
  • 1/8 – 1/4 C. milk
  • 1/8 C. amber or dark beer (optional)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil


Heat a small non-stick sauce pan over medium heat.

Saute the onion in the pan until the onion starts to brown.

Stir in the jalapeno and cook for a few more minutes.

Tear or cut the American cheese into fourths (roughly 1 inch pieces) and add to the sauce pan.

Cut the pepper jack cheese into small pieces (roughly 1/2 inch) or shred it and add to the sauce pan.

Slowly pour in a small amount of milk and whisk it into the melting cheese.

Whisk in the beer if using.

Slowly whisk in additional milk until desired consistency is reached.  If you thin out the cheese too much you can add more cheese to thicken the dip but keep in mind the cheese will thicken as it cools.

Stir in the cumin and the olive oil.

Source: Side of Sneakers

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Into the Woods

We’re one day away from the Oscars and one film away from the final film in this year’s 12 Days of Oscar feature here.  Into the Woods, adapted from the Tony-winning musical of the same name, crosses several of the plots of the characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) are seeking to reverse a curse placed on the Baker’s father by the Witch (Meryl Streep).  They must venture into the woods to obtain a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.  Along the way, they encounter Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracy Ullman), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and her Prince (Billy Magnussen), and ultimately the Giant’s Wife (Frances de la Tour).  Into the Woods is nominated for three Oscars this year: Best Supporting Actress (Streep), Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.

Early in the film, Little Red Riding Hood visits the bakery and packs up breads and sweets “to bring to grandma.”  Of course she eats most of the contents of her basket before she encounters the Wolf (Johnny Depp).  As she is packing the things up at the bakery, she is clutching the most beautiful challah bread; making one to tie in with this movie was a no-brainer.  Challah bread is eggy and very slightly sweet (and absolutely the most perfect bread for French toast).  Braiding it can seem intimidating but you really only have to make the braid as fancy as you want.  For this version I made the dough into six even ropes and braided them together but this doesn’t taste any less amazing if you work with a three-strand braid.

challah bread

Challah Bread


  • 2 tsp. active dry or instant yeast
  • 1 C. lukewarm water
  • 4 to 4 1/2 C. (20-22 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C. granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
  • 1/4 C. neutral flavored vegetable oil (or melted butter if you don’t need this to be kosher)


Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl and add a large pinch of sugar.

Stir to dissolve the yeast and let the mixture stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, mix together 4 cups of the flour, the sugar, and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil (or melted butter).

Whisk the egg mixture to form a slurry, pulling in some of the flour from the sides of the bowl.

Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry and mix the yeast mixture, egg mixture, and flour mixture together with a long-handled spoon until a dough forms that is shaggy and difficult to mix.

Using a dough hook attachment on low speed, knead the dough for 6-8 minutes.  If you’re not using a stand mixer, instead turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes.  If the dough is very sticky, add more flour 1 teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky.

Knead the dough until it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball shape.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place the dough in a warm, draft-free location to rise until it has doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Depending on the type of braid you’d like to make, divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal pieces (the photo above uses 6 pieces).

Roll each piece of dough into a rope that is about 1 inch thick and 16 inches long.  Make the ropes as even as possible.  If the dough shrinks back as you try to roll it into ropes, let the dough sit for 5 minutes and then try again.

Gather the ropes and pinch them together at the top.

For a 3 stranded braid, braid the dough the same way you would braid hair or yarn, crossing the left strand over the center strand, then the right strand over the center strand and so on until the entire length of the dough has been braided.

For a 6 stranded braid, lift the right-most rope and carry it across the two ropes next to it, slip it under the next rope, and then over the last two ropes (over two, under one, over two).  What started as the right-most rope is now all the way to the left.  Pick up what is now the right-most rope and repeat the process.

Continue that pattern until all of the dough is braided, making the braid as tight as you possibly can.  The dough will kind of curve to the left as you go so you’ll need to periodically lift the loaf and re-center it as you go.

For either braid, once all of the dough has been braided, then pinch the ends together and tuck them under the loaf.

To plump up the loaf a little, put one hand at either end of the braided dough and very slowly and gently push your hands toward each other (like plumping a pillow but slowly).

Slip your fingers under either end of the loaf and gently lift the dough while cupping downward (not a required step but it does make for a prettier loaf).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the loaf on the lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle a little flour over the loaf and then drape a clean dish cloth over it.

Place the loaf to rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.

20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

When ready to bake, whisk together the egg white and a tablespoon of water.

Brush the egg white mixture over the challah, being sure to get in the cracks and down the sides.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking time.

The challah is done when it is deep brown and the inside registers 190 degrees when a thermometer is inserted in the middle.

Place the bread on a wire rack to cool until it is just barely warm before slicing and eating.

Makes 1 loaf (about 20 slices).

Source: The Kitchn

challah bread pan

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