Blueberry Crumb Bars

Winter in Minnesota is notoriously treacherous. Sub-zero temperatures. Deadly blizzards. Icy winds that’ll blow the lip gloss right off your face, and leave your naked maw puckered and chapped.

By March, after months of potatoes drowned in gravy, when the snow is still piled up in grey, icy mounds and it seems spring is never going to come, I dream of fresh, ripe summer berries. I long for strawberry shortcake and blackberry pie and homemade jam. And I wonder when will the berries at the grocery store drop in price and stop tasting like sawdust already?!

Well thanks to global warming or the world ending or something, we’ve seen record highs in temperatures and record lows in snowfall this winter. And I can’t help but believe this bizarro weather is somehow responsible for the rock-bottom price on sweet, juicy, organic blueberries at Rainbow last week.

We may very well pay the price down the road for this uncharacteristically mild weather. But if I can do nothing to change it, I figure I may as well enjoy it. And I’m enjoying the weather with blueberry crumb bars. The crust is rich and buttery with a satisfying crunch, and the blueberries bake to a perfectly thick, sticky jam that’s packed with fresh fruit flavor but not too sweet. Y’know what summertime tastes like? This.

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Corn and Bacon Empanadas with Orange-Infused Honey Drizzle

Big news, imaginary internet people: I’m having the best week ever!

After eight long months of unemployment, as of this morning I have a job.

I’m the newest member of the marketing team at Free Spirit Publishing, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Everyone I’ve met there over the course of the three (count ‘em, three!) interviews feels like a friend already, and they (we!) do really important work – publishing books on positive youth development and resources for kids and teens.

I start in two weeks, so I guess I’d better get used to waking up before Days of Our Lives.

And there’s another reason I’m on cloud nine these days. I made an Argentinian-inspired dinner for Mom and Handsome Greg on Saturday night, and the corn empanadas with orange-infused honey were – gosh, can I even say it? – the best thing I’ve ever made.

I don’t like to play favorites, and that’s a really big thing to say, but these empanadas with their sweet, sticky sauce deserve the accolades.

The combination of flavors and textures – sweet, succulent corn, biting peppers and onions, salty bacon, gooey cheese, bright cilantro, crispy fried dough, and floral, citrusy honey – absolutely warrants my blatant abuse of tired adjectives.

There was much more orange honey than needed for the 12 empanadas, and it’s been a treat finding other things (besides a spoon) off of which to lick it. For starters, Mom’s popovers:

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Hearty Lentil Soup

Y’know how sometimes the dumbest thing ever can be hysterically funny, particularly when someone else finds that same dumb thing inexplicably funny?

And how the harder you try to maintain composure, the funnier that stupid thing may seem, until the both of you dissolve in giggles with tears streaming down your cheeks and soda shooting out of your nose?

That’s what it’s like spending time with my friend, Sharee.

She and I took a trip to Los Angeles with my mom and Handsome Greg a coupla years ago, and we savored every opportunity to embarrass them (and ourselves) with our mindless, uncontrollable laughter.

Sharee has since become a most dignified photographer, and she recently sent me these gorgeous photos of her favorite lentil soup, along with the mouth-watering recipe.

Based on the pics, you’d think food photography was her specialty, but she’s actually focused more on maternity, baby, and family portraits.

Check out her portfolio here.

Shoot her an email if you’re looking for a Twin Cities photographer to capture the most beautiful moments in your life. Or if you just need someone to snort root beer with.

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Sweet Potato Chips with Rosemary Salt

Sweet Potato Chips with Rosemary Salt

Have you seen that Food Network show Barefoot Contessa, hosted by Ina Garten? Ina, an incredibly wealthy, preppy East Coaster, shares recipes and tips for entertaining in a soothing Bob Ross-style voice, punctuated with rhetorical questions and her trademark nervous giggle.

How easy is that?

While I do aspire to emulate the Barefoot Contessa by living a fabulously privileged life in the East Hamptons someday, full of florist friends and elegant soirees, I’ve had a difficult time adhering to one of Ina’s basic rules of entertaining: prepare only three dishes from scratch, and buy the rest of the menu pre-made from the deli counter.

You see, I’m known among my regular dinner guests as the hostess with the mostess ambition in the kitchen. I like to pour hours into making every morsel with my own two hands. I mean, I’ve made my own ketchup. The thought of leaving half the menu in the hands of the deli counter just feels wrong to me. And yet, Ina has a point – making everything myself often means that I spend the party in the kitchen exhausted, rather than enjoying dinner with my guests.

So I took a very important step with this recipe (if you can even call it a recipe). The first time I made sweet potato chips with rosemary salt, I sliced the potatoes, fried them in oil, and tossed them in rosemary and kosher salt. They were delicious – salty-sweet, perfectly crispy, with a fresh, pungent earthiness from the rosemary. And they were a huge pain in the ass to make.

The second time I prepared this delightful snack, I bought a bag of Terra Chips, tossed them in vegetable oil, rosemary, and kosher salt, and popped them in the oven for a couple minutes. They were every bit as good as the homemade version, and a lot less work.

Rosemary

But I have a reputation to uphold. So, if anyone asks, I risked my fingers and knuckles slicing paper-thin sweet potato chips on a mandolin slicer. Then I braved third-degree burns from the hot oil frying the chips to a perfect crisp. And oh! Dealing with the mess afterwards – a greasy splatter-slick covering the stove top and a quart of used oil to dispose of – what an ordeal! Of course, it was totally worth it.

Did that sound sincere?

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Toffee Cashew Cookies

Cookies and Milk

Every year for as long as I can remember, Mom and I make a trip out to Shakopee to get our nerd on at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. No, we don’t dress up in corsets and snoods, but we thoroughly enjoy the brave souls who do.

As soon as we arrive, we make a careful plan for the day. We see all our favorite acts – the Elizabethan Syngers (yes, with a Y), the Fandazzi Fire-Eaters, and the dulcimer player Mom has a crush on – and in between performances we admire the lovingly-crafted artisan wares. Then we eat tempura veggies and sip cheap red wine from ye olde plastic cups.

At the end of the day, when we’re full and tired and covered in dust, we make a final stop to buy a treat for the road at my very favorite booth, The King’s Nuts (ba-dum ching). As much as I enjoy Pearson’s classic salted nut roll, the pre-made treat languishing in a vending machine for who-knows-how-long simply can’t compete with the King’s fresh, handmade confection – tender nougat dipped in soft caramel and rolled in salty-sweet cashews.

One recent snowy afternoon, I was dreaming of sunny days at Ren Fest, when I was overwhelmed by a craving for the King’s sweet, tender, salty nuts. Why are you snickering?

Cashews

I was considering a run to the gas station for a candy bar, when I remembered the toffee chips and cashews in the pantry. An hour later, I was pulling crispy-chewy cookies from the oven. I folded a warm cookie in half in my hands, and it broke along the  curvy salted borders of the cashews. The sticky toffee bits fought to keep the two halves together.

Craving satisfied; crisis averted.

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