real life test kitchen: strawberry and pea salad

It’s the time of the year when there is only thing being offered at our farmer stands: strawberries — gorgeous, red, way-better-than-what-we’ve-been-buying all winter strawberries. I’d like to say we only eat fruits when in season from local farmers, but the truth is that our daughter eats strawberries nearly every day of the year. So when the real deal is available, well, we like to go a bit overboard, buying as many containers-full as our fridge will hold. My favorite way to eat strawberries is in an impromptu shortcake: Using ready-made biscuits (Trader Joe’s are great) and some vanilla ice-cream along with a mound of sliced berries. But strawberries don’t have to be regulated to the dessert table. This Bon Appetite recipe for Strawberry, Almond and Pea salad inspired me the other night. I couldn’t find a couple of the ingredients (pea tendrills, for example) so I made due without. It didn’t matter. With just common ingredients and quick home-made dressing, this salad was insanely delicious — and impressive! Here’s my take below:

Strawberry and Pea Salad

What You Need

For the Salad:
3 handfuls of baby arugula
1 cup of sliced strawberries
1 cup of just cooked baby peas (I used frozen, but fresh would be dandy)
1/2 cup of sliced almonds, lightly toasted in oven

For the Dressing:
2 tbls champagne vinegar (white wine is fine, too)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp whole grain mustard
salt and pepper

For Topping:
Shaved Parmesan

How To Make

1. Toast the almonds. Put on a cookie tray and bake at 300 for about 5 minutes. I used our toaster oven to do this.
2. Toss all the salad ingredients in a bowl.
3. Whisk the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. Pour over the salad — not all at first, but to taste. Toss again.
4. Serve on plates with shaved Parmesan — a must! This is what really makes the salad.

How do you eat your strawberries? Mary T likes to cook them up and serve them on pasta. Share your recipes and ideas here!

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s’wonderful s’more maker

We’re not easily seduced by gadgets, but this nifty contraption speaks directly to some cravings we’ve had lately. Cravings for melted chocolate, gooey marshmallows and graham crackers. True, our traditional way of heating up some s’mores works perfectly well: It’s hard to beat aluminum foil. But this S’more to Love S’more Maker is pretty ingenious. It lets you stack up six ready-to-roll treats, and holds them securely in place while cooking. Best of all, you can use indoors (like in a toaster oven) or out (like on your grill). No need for sticks and ticks and campfires! Available at Amazon for about $15. (via

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real life test kitchen: jane’s oatmeal maple cream cookies

My next door neighbor Jane and I have an awesome, and potentially dangerous, habit: We often pawn cooking experiments off on one another. I love to bake, but it’d be extremely bad for our waistlines if we ate everything that came out of the oven. Jane’s the same way, so we often trade dishes filled with various sweets back and forth. Last week, I gave her birthday cupcakes. And then she returned our plate brimming with these. The best way I can describe them is to say they are wonderous, oatmeal, maple whoopie pies. Okay, maybe not whoopie pies, but the cream has a wonderful aroma that wafts up your nose with each yummy bite. It turns out this is because not only is there maple syrup in the filling, but also in the oatmeal. Sneaky, but genius! I begged Jane to share the recipe (sorry I don’t know its origin) and here it is below.

Jane’s Oatmeal Maple Cream Sandwich Cookies

what you need:
14 tbs butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
11/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups Quaker Oats (maple flavor – no sugar added)

how to make
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl using a fork for 2 minutes.
3. Cream butter and sugar at medium high speed for 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla to butter and sugar mixture and beat for 3 minutes.
4. Add flour mixture to butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla mixture using mixer on low speed until blended.
5. Add oats and incorporate by hand.
6. Drop by teaspoon sized balls on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.
7. Bake for 8-10minutesuntil light brown.
8. Cool one minute on cookie sheet then remove to cool on wire racks.

2 tbs cream cheese, softened
2 tbs butter, softened
1-2 tbs maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar (more if needed for desired consistency)

Cream butter and cream cheese together on low speed for 2 minutes , then add 1 tbs maple syrup, and add in powdered sugar. Add more maple syrup or powdered sugar until filling is a spreadable icing consistency.

Pair cooled cookies together and add about 2 tsps filling to one side of the pair to form sandwich. Store in air tight container.

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real life test kitchen: valentine’s red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Last year, I was very ambitious for Isadora’s birthday, creating rainbow-colored cupcakes for her little friends to enjoy. I realized quickly though, after watching my mini masterpieces get torn apart and destroyed, that kids really don’t care that much about the cake part of cupcakes. Most of them just lick off the frosting and leave the rest the behind. Silly kids! I guess they haven’t yet figured out the Liz Lemon method of making a “sandwich” by tearing a cupcake in two and then squeezing the frosting in the middle. Alas… This year I decided to simplify things and turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That? and created Ina Garten’s famed red velvet cupcakes. The recipe is very basic, with the only exotic ingredients being buttermilk and red food coloring. I suppose I could have gone the healthy route and used some beets to make them red, but, nah! To finish them off, I dusted with red sprinkles and few Valentines-themed hearts. They were yummy but guess what — the kid’s only ate the frosting again. It’s made of butter, cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar. Hard to resist!

Here’s my take on Ina Garten’s Red Velvet Cupcakes

What You Need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1 tbl liquid red food coloring
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

How To Make

1, Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.

2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. It should be bright, Pepto-Bismal pink.

3. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for one minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients alternately in 3 parts, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mix until combined.

4. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups . Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool completely in the pans and frost the cupcakes with frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 & 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Mix cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until combined. Don’t whip!

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remembering my great aunt jean and her pizzelle cookies

This year’s holiday celebrations are filled with a wave of sadness — not only due to the tragic headlines that have been taking over our conversations and dreams, but also because this is the first Christmas without my grandmother or her sister, my Great Aunt Jean. They both lived long, full lives, and were spunky old Italian ladies right until the very end. Though my grandparents always hosted the holiday dinner for our family, it was Aunt Jean who supplied the cookies. Every year she would make hundreds of delicious pizzelle waffle cookies and distribute them among us. Each one would be perfectly crisp, slightly golden and has just a hint of anise flavor to it.

Luckily, I pried the recipe from her a few a years ago. It’s pretty standard, but why mess with perfection? Today I’m going to dust off my pizzelle waffle iron and whip up a batch to bring home to my cousins in Niagara. It may not fill the void created by losing these two great matriarchs of our family, but it will satisfy our mutual craving.

Classic Pizzelle

(I usually doubled this recipe, fyi)
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp of baking powder
3 large eggs
3/4 sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tbs anise extract (or vanilla, if you prefer)

First mix the sugar and eggs until stiff, then add butter and anise. Slowly add in dry ingredients until well mixed. Drop by the spoonful on the waffle machine, and cook until slightly brown. Allow them to cool completely before storing.

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