edibles

Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake

Being that it’s my birthday week (I get to take over the whole week, right?) it’s only fitting to share one of my favorite sweet recipes. Not exactly a birthday cake, though I wouldn’t complain if you showed up at my house with a few candles stuck in one of these, freshly baked. It’s more of an everyday sweet cake. One that goes with everything from coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon. (Or half-slices snuck from the pantry at any time of the day while your kids run around like crazy people.) And, really, isn’t that the best kind of recipe of all?

Every year when the calendar switches over, my mind immediately turns toward spring. So do the stores, it seems, since everywhere seems to be exploding with pastels and florals. It’s actually depressing to walk through the Target aisles since here in Minnesota we’re still very much in the depths of winter. I grasp what springiness I can in the produce department, through citrus. It’s brightness reminds of what’s to come, hopefully sooner than later, unlike some years when the snow doesn’t melt until nearly May. I’M LOOKING AT YOU 2018.

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Brooklyn and Nolan helped me make this cake one afternoon while Caden was otherwise engrossed in some LEGO creation or other. They helped me measure the flour. (I swatted Nolan’s hand away from eating the flour plain as he’s been known to attempt. Blech.) They tried to guess what each ingredient was. “Now it’s time for sugar?” No this is baking powder. “That’s sugar?” This is salt. “Is that whipped cream?” No this is ricotta cheese. I scattered granules of sugar on the counter once it was actually time for that beloved ingredient, for them to dab up with their fingers.

I showed them how I zested and then squeezed out the lemons into a sieve, quizzed them on why you couldn’t just squirt the lemon juice straight into the bowl. I wonder if they’ll remember these baking lessons when they’re older, the same way I remember my mom showing me how to scoop and then level off cups of flour and sugar. (Even if I rarely take the time to tap and level off the cup now. Whoops.) Maybe they’ll remember how I showed them to scoop out a stray piece of eggshell from the batter, by using another piece of shell to break through the gooey white and remove the offending chunk.

I don’t know. Tyson told me the other day that he realized he has memories from preschool. “They could be creating memories right now!” he told me excitedly. I laughed; it’s true. I remember, vaguely, a few of my own preschool experiences. A warm spring day spent picking dandelions outside, sitting on the rug at circle time, a sheet printed with four bears to dress any way we desired, how I vividly remember using shiny foil to make one bear into an astronaut.

Maybe they’ll remember these baking sessions. Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll remember, more tangibly, the way the cake comes out of the oven, it’s golden brown top crunchy and sweet. How excruciating it is to wait until the cake is cool enough to cut. And the way a slice of lemon-y pound cake tastes in the middle of a winter afternoon.

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Lemon and Ricotta Pound Cake
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Every time I make this cake for someone they ask for the recipe. It stays magically moist if kept stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. I’m not sure for exactly how long, though, since it’s never lasted more than two or three days in our house. Modified slightly from here.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (do NOT use the low-fat stuff!)

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • zest of 2 lemons

  • juice of 1 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan well with butter.

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  • With a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta, and sugar on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. At this point the batter may be lumpy; don’t worry, it will bake up fine in the end. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla, zest, and lemon juice and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture, beating on low speed until incorporated.

  • Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (See note below.) If the top seems to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil while the rest of the cake continues to bake. Let cool about 15 minutes in pan before removing to cool completely on a cooling rack. (Or just forget about it entirely like I do and let it cool in the pan. Your choice.)

NOTE

  • I’ve noticed this pound cake bakes very differently for me depending on the type of pan I use. For a metal pan, plan on the 50-60 minutes noted and maybe needing to use the foil. For a glass pan (like Pyrex, which I prefer), plan on 60-75 minutes. I always check it at the 50-minute mark to gauge where it’s at, then set the timer at 5-minute increments so as not to over bake. Once the toothpick emerges cleanly and the loaf appears to pull away slightly from the edges of the pan, it’s good to go.

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli

I love food. Like, love food. Cooking and baking are up there in my top five favorite things. I’d say my family is lucky but really I’m just selfish - I’m kind of picky and like to eat good food myself. Unless you pay close attention to my Read, Watched, Listened posts, where I often read about food, listen to podcasts about food, or, more frequently, watch various miniseries about food, you may not know this about me. All this to say that while this never has been and never will be what you might call a “food blog”, I’m going to try adding favorite recipes of mine every once in awhile. I’d love to hear if you try any of them - and if they become one of your favorites, too!

While my kids may refuse to eat soup, they will never turn down a plate of pasta. Nobody in this house would dare look away from a bowl of hot, glorious, Parmesan cheese-covered carbs. Penne, angel hair, fettuccini, orecchietti, linguine, tagliatelle, tortellini, ravioli. We may not claim a drop of Italian blood but when it comes to pasta we are all in.

“What you make, Mommy?” Nolan asks every night while I cook dinner. I guarantee that when I show him a pot full of boiling pasta he does a big dance, smacks his lips, and screams, “Pasta! Yay! Nummy nummy num num num!” If you haven’t caught on by now, subtle this kid is not.

Basically what I’m saying is, if you want to be a hero in my house at dinnertime, make pasta.

And pasta and I get along just fine. I make a pretty good plate of pasta if I do say so myself. This specific dish came about because Tyson once ordered something similar from one of our favorite restaurants in Madison. I snuck a couple bites of the deliciousness before my wheels started turning and I thought, “Hey...I could make that…”

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I should clarify here that I’m good at making pasta in a pretty lazy way. The weeknight way. I’m not talking about rolling out my own pasta here (though I would love to tackle homemade pasta sometime very soon). I’m talking about getting pasta on the table for dinner because people are hungry and I need something simple that’s going to taste good.

The addition of sausage in this dish catches the attention of the boys. Broccoli delights all three of my kids, who have yet to catch on to that whole “kids don’t like broccoli” thing. (Don’t worry, they still quickly and happily reject Brussels sprouts, white potatoes in all but French fry form, and whatever fruit I’ve currently stocked up on because it was their favorite last week.)

It’s quick enough for a weeknight - on the table in less than 30 minutes - yet delicious enough to make for guests. There’s enough here for lunchtime leftovers the next day, especially if you serve it with a Caesar salad on the side. It’s nothing revolutionary, yet this has been in my meal planning rotation for years now and it’s not going anywhere. Possibly ever.

A simple, yummy, dish with the possibility of leftovers on the table in the month of December in 30 minutes or less? And all the parents said, “Amen.”

Weeknight Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli
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I prefer to use gemelli or orecchietti here, though you can use any medium to small-ish sized pasta. Penne would also work, as would rotini. And if you can get your hands on some broccolini to sub for the broccoli (and you’re cooking for adults or there’s the chance your kids will eat it), the bitterness adds a nice contrast to the cream sauce.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 16-oz. box pasta

  • 3 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil

  • 8 cloves garlic, don’t be shy here

  • 1/4 cup chicken stock

  • 1 large head broccoli, chopped

  • 1/4 -1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 3 Tbsp. dried basil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Prepare pasta according to package directions.

  • Meanwhile, add olive oil to skillet. Add sausage and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up and crumbling until browned. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add broccoli and stir to combine, cook for 1 minute more. Add chicken stock and cover skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until broccoli is crisp-tender and bright green, about 5 minutes.

  • Add pasta to skillet and toss well. Add cream and stir to coat. I err on the 1/2 cup or sometimes more side here - until everything is well-coated. Add basil, salt, and pepper. Serve topped with Parmesan and watch smugly as your kids gobble it up.

Pork and Green Chili Stew

I love food. Like, love food. Cooking and baking are up there in my top five favorite things. I’d say my family is lucky but really I’m just selfish - I’m kind of picky and like to eat good food myself. Unless you pay close attention to my Read, Watched, Listened posts, where I often read about food, listen to podcasts about food, or, more frequently, watch various miniseries about food, you may not know this about me. All this to say that while this never has been and never will be what you might call a “food blog”, I’m going to try adding favorite recipes of mine every once in awhile. I’d love to hear if you try any of them - and if they become one of your favorites, too!

As far as I’m concerned, soup is the perfect meal. There are variations for every mood: creamy or brothy, chunky or smooth, crock pot convenience or simmering on the stove for hours. Plus, most of them are even better accompanied by a fresh, warm loaf of crusty bread.

I come alive again as the temperatures cool down and it’s once again soup season. (Though I will try to pass off a corn chowder on you anytime the temperatures dip down below 70 in the summer.) I have to practice restraint in my meal planning from adding soup to the menu every dang night in the fall and winter.

There are three people in my house who are glad soup isn’t on the menu every night. Are anyone else’s kids resistant to everything about soup? The texture, the way everything is mixed together, the temperature, the whole soup-iness of it? Nolan will sometimes eat a little, though he tends to just make a mess more than anything. I often scramble to put something healthy on the kids’ plates when soup is on the menu for Tyson and me.

In our house, dinner is a single option. I don’t make special food for the kids if they decide to reject an entire meal. However, I don’t feel that’s super fair where soup is concerned. I already know they don’t like it, but I’m determined to make it anyway. And I don’t care to make a separate meal (which would probably consist of something like chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese) while Tyson and I eat a healthy, homemade meal of our own.

Enter: this soup. (Or stew. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a lot of overlap here. If it’s in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, I’m all in.) It’s easy to prepare a kid-friendly meal with the ingredients from this dish. First, I braise a big pork shoulder in the oven and shred it all up. It freezes well and we can use it for multiple meals: nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, this soup again. Some pulled pork goes into this soup and some gets warmed up for the kids, which I offer up with tortillas and shredded cheese. I buy a big bag of frozen corn and heat a cup or two up in a separate pan (or in the microwave) with some butter, salt, and pepper. I may add some fruit to the kids’ plates if needed. They get pork tacos with corn and we get pork and green chili stew, with minimal extra effort from me. Win-win. I mean, I think I’m winning more, but whatever.

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On soup nights, our dinner conversations almost always go something like this:

“You guys are eating soup?”
“Yes.”
“And you like it?”
“Yes.”
“Oh. But we don’t like soup.”
“You might like it, if you tried it. Almost everything on your plate is in this soup.”
“The meat is in the soup?”
“Yes.”
“And the corn?”
“Yes.”
“And the cheese?”
“There’s some cheese on top, yes.”
“Oh. But we still don’t like it.”
*heavy sigh to resist banging my head on the table*

Sometimes I top this soup with shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Other times some sour cream.or crushed tortilla chips. Sometimes all three. If I’m lazy, it’s perfect all by itself. And nobody in our house complains if I accompany the whole meal with some cornbread muffins.

I keep promising they’ll like chicken noodle soup, because “all kids like chicken noodle!” I haven’t gotten around to making it yet, but I’m hopeful I can introduce them to the glory of soup one bowl at a time. Maybe I’m setting their expectations too high. I’ll have to report back. In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying all the extra soup as leftovers. I haven’t yet found a soup or stew that doesn’t get better with age.

Pork and Green Chili Stew
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I’ve included both slow cooker and stove top instructions, in case you find yourself where I did this past Tuesday night when I opened up the recipe 45 minutes before dinnertime only to realize I was supposed to have put it in the slow cooker 8 hours ago. Whoops. Luckily it adapted perfectly to the stove. You can make this recipe your own in other ways. White beans wold make a good addition, as would shredded chicken instead of pork.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium red onion, chopped

  • 1 7-oz. can diced green chilis

  • 1 tsp. garlic powder

  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. cumin

  • 1 tsp. chili powder

  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

  • 1/2 tsp. oregano

  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups shredded pork shoulder

  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

  • 1 cup frozen corn

  • 2 Tbsp. quick-cooking tapioca

  • 3 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water

  • optional toppings: sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, crushed tortilla chips, cilantro

METHOD 1: SLOW COOKER

  • Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Give it a good stir so everything gets mixed up well and the spices are distributed evenly.

  • Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or high for 3-4 hours.

  • Serve with your choice of toppings, if desired, with fresh crusty bread or corn bread muffins (my kids’ preference!) on the side.

METHOD 2: STOVETOP

  • Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until soft, reducing heat if needed, 8 minutes or so.

  • In the meantime, mix all the spices together in a small dish and set aside.

  • Add the diced green chilis to the onion. Stir to combine and saute for a minute or two. Add the reserved spice mix. Give everything a good stir and let it saute for another 2-3 minutes.

  • Add the shredded pork, potatoes, and corn. Stir it around to ensure everything is evenly coated. Add the broth or water and tapioca and turn the heat to high, bringing it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

  • Serve with your choice of toppings, if desired, with fresh crusty bread or corn bread muffins (my kids’ preference!) on the side.

My Motherhood Journey Through Food

First pregnancy (twins!), first trimester. I want no food. Nothing. Absolutely no food. Wait, I want ice cream. Yes, ice cream sounds good. Nevermind. We don’t have any ice cream and it’s been five minutes so now it sounds terrible. Maybe an apple? No, not an apple. Chewing anything that long makes me want to puke. What about Thai food? Thai food sounds so good right now. In fact, only Thai food sounds good and I think I need some curry, stat. If I can’t eat that then I can’t eat anything. Oh and also an Arby’s roast beef sandwich. I don’t remember the last time I had Arby’s but now I want to eat one of those sandwiches every day until I die.

First pregnancy, second trimester.
Phew. Food is just food again.

First pregnancy, third trimester. I am so hungry all the time. Also, I can’t eat anything. I am so full and huge and my stomach has no room to even exist in my body anymore, much less have room for food inside. I am going to eat very small amounts of food all day long. I probably look like a glutton because I constantly have food on my person but really I can only eat one bite every five minutes or I will probably, actually, literally explode.

Vanilla milkshakes.
With every meal in the hospital after giving birth. The hospital, of all places, made the most amazing milkshakes. If there’s a time in life that you get to overdose on milkshakes, it’s after giving birth. To twins.

Meals in tinfoil.
And in take-out containers. Casseroles in disposable aluminum pans. Also individually-wrapped granola bars, dry cereal, and dried fruit. Some kind of dark chocolate. All within arm’s reach. The early postpartum months of meals from friends and constant breastfeeding.

Coffee. Enough said.

Baby food. 
Cereal puffs. Banana slices. Cheerios. Yogurt. And all of these things ground into every crevice of every high chair and car seat.

Normalcy. We’ve survived the first year and I’m making real meals again! Actual real, human meals with things like protein and carbs and fruits and veggies and healthy fats! Yay!

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(Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!)

The No Thank You Bite

Our twins had just turned four when it began. I set their green and pink plastic plates in front of them and that was their cue:

“I don’t like this.”
“This looks yucky.”
“I don’t want to eat any of this.”
“I’m done.”
And, my personal favorite, “Guys don’t eat this or it will make you sick.”

I’m sure it goes without saying that despite how they may have behaved that day, I was actually not trying to poison them. This was all said before they had taken a single bite. Also, these were often foods they had eaten the previous day, week, or even hour.

*insert all the eyeroll emojis here*

Maybe this sounds a little like your house. A blanket rejection of the meal you’ve spent hours (erm, minutes) to lovingly prepare (*ahem* just heat up in the microwave). Kids can’t survive on Cheerios and Goldfish forever, right? What’s a mom to do?

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Read all about the No Thank You Bite and our favorite questions to ask around the dinner table over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog!