Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Post for My Cousin Jen (with Recipes)

A couple of weeks ago, Nick and I spent the weekend in Connecticut with my cousin Jen, her husband Shaun, and their daughter. We were invited for what was promised to be an "EPIC Sunday Funday." Sunday Funday is something Shaun came up with as a way to do something fun together that doesn't cost a lot of money and that doesn't involve electronics, gadgets, or TV. Not that there is anything wrong with those other activities, but Sunday Funday has become something special for their family that they look forward to all week.

Shaun is super-creative and very handy, so he's been known to build a mini golf courseturn their entire house into a board game (no joke!), and create a home-spun carnival. Not to mention that before Sunday Funday was ever invented, he even built a dinosaur bed for their daughter's room (you have got to see the pictures of it!) This is mainly something they've done during the colder months because summer tends to be fun-filled without hardly trying. Days at the beach and outside activities just seem to happen when the weather is beautiful, but they did want to have one Sunday Funday in the summer so they could invite over some of their friends, their kids, (& us!) and have a barbecue afterward. You knew I'd get to the food eventually! But more about that later.

After helping paint the wooden castles Shaun built and filling more water balloons than I care to count, the group divided into teams and proceeded to run around the yard and work together to launch the water balloons catapult-style at the opposing team's castle, in a truly epic battle. Let me tell you, it was like being a kid again and we had such a blast! Even if you don't think you're that creative, I'm now convinced it's worth trying to think outside the box and make a little extra effort to plan something fun to do with the people you love.

Jen has been chronicling their adventures on her blog, Bored Have Imagination and I do hope she writes a post about this latest Sunday Funday soon. I was too busy enjoying myself to take any pictures!

OK, I know I promised food, so here it is. Baking and desserts are kind of my thing, so I made two different cookies to bring for the barbecue. First, I made this recipe for Apricot Squares, but substituted homemade blueberry jam. Honestly, you can make it with any flavor jam you like. The only one I don't recommend is strawberry. For some reason, the flavor gets very dull and kind of lost in the baking, but raspberry, blackberry, triple berry, peach, apricot, cherry -- any of those work really well.

Second, I made a go-to favorite, Martha Stewart's recipe for Outrageous Chocolate Cookies because chocolate is always popular at a party. There's also a bit of a funny story behind this recipe. One summer during college, I worked as a cashier at a small local grocery store and a photocopy of this recipe was left at my register one day. I held onto it thinking whoever left it might come back looking for it, but they never did. After a while, I decided I might as well give the recipe a try myself! Years later, I figured out where it came from, but I'll never forget the odd way I first discovered this amazing recipe.

So whatever you decide to do and whatever you decide to serve, keep in mind that family, fun, & food are a fabulous combination!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer Squash Tart with Goat Cheese

Today's recipe comes from the June/July issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. I made a few changes from the original, mainly due to what ingredients I had or rather didn't have on hand. If you just want to skip to the original recipe, it can be found here: Zucchini Tart with Lemon Thyme Goat Cheese.

On to the changes. First, I used yellow summer squash instead of zucchini, because that's what was available. I honestly don't think it makes much of a difference either way, as they're kind of interchangeable. If you want to get really fancy, you probably could use some of each.

My next change was to use dried thyme instead of fresh lemon-thyme. The recipe recommends also adding lemon zest if you are not using the fresh herb, but I didn't bother. I'd say it's up to you. I find dried thyme very flavorful (assuming it's not 4 years old), so I don't think the dish suffered much from this substitution. Your call.

The final thing I did differently was to reduce all the ingredients by a quarter. Note: I do not recommend this. I only did it out of necessity because I was just a little short on just about every ingredient (butter, squash, & goat cheese). If you make the recipe in full, as I DO recommend, I still don't think it needs the full 8 oz of goat cheese, that's probably a bit overkill. For my bizarre 3/4 tart, I should have used 6 oz, but I only used 4 and I think it came out perfectly. If you make a full recipe, I'd say use 5-6 oz.

OK, there is one more thing I did differently, but it was out of sheer laziness. I so did not roll this tart into a pretty, perfect circle. It was more like a jagged, rectangular-ish shape that would fit on my baking sheet. Whatever floats your boat.

Two more good things to know: 1. It will look like you have too much squash -- don't worry about it. Just make sure all the slices are overlapping and it will cook down in the oven. 2. Even as I just told you to use less cheese, it will look like there isn't enough cheese. Just spread it nice and thin (using your fingers helps a lot) and it should cover the dough.

This tart is so incredibly good, you really need to try it. If you manage to have leftovers, reheat in the oven or toaster oven, not the microwave -- it's worth the extra few minutes to crisp up the crust. Enjoy!

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Cookbook Recommendation - Serving Up the Harvest

It seems this blog has been a little neglected lately, but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking (or baking)! So here's the first of my recent culinary experiments. Unfortunately, I can't give you the recipe, since it can't be found anywhere online (not in any legitimate places anyway). It is, however, from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, so I still want to share it with you.  

Summer Squash Pizza from Serving Up the Harvest, by Andrea Chesman.

I made it with zucchini, but it can also be made with yellow squash or a combination. I have read so many stories about people who make homemade pizza "all the time" and I just wasn't buying that it was that easy. Well, this crust recipe made me a believer -- it truly was a snap to put together, mainly because you make it in a food processor and then just leave it alone for an hour. You do need to leave yourself some time, but it's hands-off time, so it really is super simple. I even substituted white-whole wheat flour for the all-purpose without any problem. While making this particular topping did take some extra time, I made the same crust last night for a cheese pizza and a pepperoni pizza and those came together in a snap.


As for the cookbook it came from, Serving Up the Harvest is truly one of my favorites. It's written by Andrea Chesman who also wrote The Roasted Vegetable, which is practically my Bible. I'm telling you, I don't think there is a single recipe I have made from either one of these books that hasn't been a smash hit. She has fabulous ideas for making the most of your fresh produce, and you know I love my veggies. Be warned though, if you happen to already own her The Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook, it's the same book with a different cover. Stupid, I know.