Strawberry Shortcake

When it comes to dessert I will always always choose something with berries or citrus. Apple pie? Berry Crumble? Lemon bars? Sorbet? Yes, please. I can guarantee, left to my own devices, dessert will always be of the fruit variety.

Unfortunately, I stand alone in my preferences when it comes to my family. I live with four other people who will always always choose something decadently chocolate. Preferably with peanut butter, if possible.

As we head into Mother’s Day weekend, I thought it only fitting to offer a treat for all the mothers out there who regularly give up their preferred treats in the name of love. If you, like me, love all things fruit, then this dessert is for you. Lightly sweetened shortcakes with a hint of lemon are a cross between a biscuit and a sugar cookie. Light and fluffy with a crisp top, you could make these decadent shortcakes and call dessert finished. But topped with juicy berries and a dollop of whipped cream and the dessert goes from great to amazing.

When I was a kid, growing up in Spokane, we would regularly trek to Greenbluff, an agricultural community north of town full of u-pick farms and fruit stands to pick strawberries and raspberries. We ate strawberry shortcake for dinner during those glorious few early summer weeks when strawberries were in harvest and our kitchen counter overflowed with berries. My mom would mix up Bisquick biscuits and make homemade whipped cream and we would sit on our deck with big bowls in front of us. Maybe that’s why I love fruit desserts so much.

As an ode to all the mothers out there and because summer is just around the corner, stop in at the Farmer’s Market starting up this Sunday downtown and pick up a few pints of strawberries if you can find any. (It might be a little early). Make this strawberry shortcake for the mom in your life and if you can, serve it up in a big bowl and eat it outside, enjoying every moment of this glorious weather our Valley gets. Happy Mother’s Day!

Strawberry Shortcake

For the Shortcake:

• 3 cups all-purpose flour

• Zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

• 1 ½ tablespoons baking powder

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ¾ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

• 1 ½ cups heavy cream

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the fruit:

• 1 pound strawberries and blueberries (or any combination of berries)

• 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the Whipped Cream:

• 2 cups heavy cream

• ½ cup powdered sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wash and cut up the fruit. In a large bowl toss the fruit in the 2 tablespoons of sugar and set aside. To make the whipping cream, combine the cream, powdered sugar and vanilla in a stand mixer and whip until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the shortcakes, combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, mix well. Add the butter to the bowl and using a pastry knife, two forks or clean hands, gently mix the butter into the flour mixture until the butter is pea-size chunks. You want to be able to see the butter still. Create a small well in the center of the bowl and pour in the heavy cream and vanilla. Gently stir to combine and form a dough. When the dough has just barely come together, turn it out onto a floured surface and shape into a square about ¾ inch thick. Cut into 9 generous squares.

Transfer the shortcakes to a lined baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator. While the shortcakes chill, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the shortcakes until they are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool.

To assemble, slice the shortcakes in half. Place the bottom of each shortcake on a plate. Top with a generous scoop of fruit and a dollop of whipped cream and put the top half the shortcake back on. Serve immediately.

Pork Ragu with Pasta and Arugula

The irony of posting this recipe and these words is I need this reminder the most these days. A new Yakima Magazine is out on newsstands around town. The issue is all about home and this is my ode to life at home and around the table.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite cookbook Bread and Wine is: ‘life at the table is life at its best.’ When I think about my life, my friends and family, the community I’m part of; so much of it revolves around the table. It might be the kitchen table or an outdoor table on the back patio. It might be bar stools pulled up to the kitchen island and for many years it was a smattering of high chairs and booster seats, plastic dishware and what felt like an endless number of spills and cleanups. The table, the décor, the set-up and how clean the house is doesn’t matter a bit. It’s the sitting down together; the pause in busy and chaotic days, to recharge, connect, eat, and hopefully laugh a little.

I think it goes without saying I love to cook. I find immense pleasure in the rhythm of mixing and chopping. I love the creativity of it as well as the physicality of working with my hands. But when I get down to the heart of why I cook, it’s to bring people together. I love the sounds and smells, I love the chatter at the table and the inevitable silence when chewing starts. My tangible gift to the people at my table is the meal but my hope is that it feeds so much more than their bellies.

I’ve been gathering people to the table for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I insisted on baking cookies for friends. In college, I made pots of spaghetti for my roommates and made a Thanksgiving turkey for 20 friends in the very small cramped rental house I lived in. Any excuse to cook and eat with the people I love are my best moments, my favorite memories.

We can all relate to the busyness and chaos of daily life. Entertaining can feel stressful and overwhelming. Maybe cooking isn’t your thing. Maybe due to your family’s work and activity schedule, weeknight dinners seem impossible. And I’m here nodding in agreement to all of it. It is all those things.

But I think we should keep trying. And I think what helps is to have a few ‘go-to’ recipes in your back pocket. Pork Ragu is one of those timeless, eat any time of year, incredibly forgiving recipes you can go back to over and over again. I’ve adapted this recipe from a cookbook called Dinner: A Love Story and I don’t think there could be a more appropriate title or sentiment for what I’m trying to achieve. Pork is cooked in the oven (or crockpot) for hours in wine and herbs until it literally falls apart making a savory flavorful sauce. Ladled over pasta and topped with peppery arugula and a sprinkle of salty parmesan cheese, this dish is delicious enough for a fancy dinner party and easy enough to throw together on a Tuesday morning before work and eat quickly between soccer and piano practices.

 

Pork Ragu with Pasta and Arugula

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder OR pork butt (about 2 ½ to 3 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup red wine, plus more as needed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (this is completely optional, adds a smokiness to the dish)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound pasta
  • 6 ounces arugula
  • Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Add oil and butter to a large oven-safe pot and heat over medium heat until the butter melts. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper both sides. Add the roast to the pot, browning it on all sides, turning occasionally so the meat is seared evenly, 5-8 minutes.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot, stirring for a minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, hot sauce, thyme, oregano, fennel seeds and bay leaf and stir until the mixture begins to boil. Cover and put the pot in the oven. Every hour or so, remove the lid and turn the pork over in the liquids. No matter what size pork you use, make sure the liquid covers at least a third of the meat. Add more wine if needed.

The meat is done when it starts falling apart probably around 4 hours. If you pierce the meat with a fork and it starts to fall apart, remove the pot from the oven. Remove the pork to a cutting board and shred it with two forks. Stir the shredded meat back into the pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta when the noodles are still a little bit firm. The sauce will finish softening the pasta without the noodles becoming overcooked and too soft.

To serve, ladle pasta onto a plate. Top with pork ragu sauce. Place a small handful of arugula on each plate and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. The arugula will slightly wilt from the heat of the sauce adds a wonderful fresh flavor to the dish. Serves 8.

*To make this dish in a crockpot, sear the pork in a pan on the stove over medium heat. Once the meat is seared, add all ingredients and the pork to the crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours. Shred the meat and return to the crockpot. Turn the heat off. Serve immediately.

Orange Cardamom Bundt Cake

I’ve got the perfect cake to make for Easter brunch. This cake is full of bright orange flavor and a hint of almond. It’s sweet without being overly sweet and the dollop of whipped cream and handful of tart berries on top are not only a pretty garnish but delicious with the orange and almond flavors of the cake.

Cardamom, often used in Indian cooking, is available at your local grocery store and gives a wonderful subtle warm spicy flavor to the cake. Cardamom has a bit of a citrus flavor too, and is often paired with orange and apple flavors.

As for our family, I’ll be wrestling my children into clothes with collars and buttons and hopefully some cute little sandals all the while throwing down coats and fleeces into the car for the inevitable Pacific Northwest weather you can almost always count on this early in spring. We will go to church and have an Easter egg hunt. My kids will eat way too much candy and shed their ‘fancy’ clothes and eventually we’ll sit down together for a late brunch.

I like to balance whatever sweet dish I make with something savory. I’m thinking a frittata because it’s ridiculously easy and quick to throw together. Sauté chopped asparagus, a shallot and spinach in olive oil over medium heat for a couple minutes. Turn the heat to low and pour 12 whisked eggs into the pan. Salt and pepper liberally and allow the eggs to set. Put the whole pan in the oven under broil for a couple minutes until the dish is cooked through and golden brown on top. Sprinkle with whatever cheese you like (maybe Beechers?) and brunch is ready.

You can also search the breakfast tab for a bunch of different egg dishes.

Whatever you’re up to this weekend, I hope it includes a dose of sunshine, some fresh air and good food. Spring is finally here and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Orange Cardamom Bundt Cake

• 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

• 2 teaspoons baking soda

• ½ teaspoon baking powder

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 tablespoon cardamom

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

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

• 2 cups sugar

• 4 large eggs, at room temperature

• 1 teaspoon almond extract

• 1 cup sour cream

• Zest of 2 medium oranges (about 2 tablespoons)

• Powdered sugar

• Whipped cream*

• Raspberries, blackberries and strawberries for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt cake pan or two loaf pans and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Add the almond extract, sour cream and orange zest and mix for one more minute until well-combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, mixing until just combined, scraping down the sides to make sure everything is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Turn the cake onto a platter and dust with powdered sugar.

To serve, slice pieces and top with a dollop of whipped cream and berries.

*To make homemade whipped cream, pour one-pint heavy whipping cream into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Turn the mixer to medium and mix until soft peaks form. Store extras in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Spaghetti with Kale and Sausage

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Evenings at our house can feel chaotic and a little zooey. From the moment backpacks hit the floor after school until lights finally go out several hours later, we are running at top speed. We’ve got homework and spelling, ballet, basketball, 4H and in just a few weeks soccer and baseball will get thrown into the mix. Not to mention the occasional late meetings, work trips, school functions and whatever else seems to fill our calendars these days.

We live on a small ranch with cows and chickens, dogs and a couple cats. Jackson and Luke are in charge of feeding all our animals. They start with the cows, breaking open the bales of hay and filling their feeding trough. They hoof it up from the bottom of our pasture to check on the chicken’s food and water and then hit the garage where our dogs and cats eat. They are mostly good sports about it, often spending a few minutes with each set of animals, chatting or petting them, throwing a ball or carrying a kitten around for a bit. (Full disclosure: they do NOT have awesome attitudes every day. Just keeping it real. HA!)

After one too many weeks of rushed dinners, plunked down on the table with a loud thud and the barked command of ‘eat, you only have a few minutes before we need to leave,’ I decided no more. There had to be a better way. I don’t have a magic solution but watching my boys do their chores and finding enjoyment out of it really inspired me. Weeknight dinners are going to be quick and squashed in between homework and activities, that won’t change, but they can absolutely be more pleasant.

One small change I’ve made is I try and make dinner earlier in the day. I use my Instant Pot or crock pot whenever possible and I make big batches of recipes like this one. I can quickly warm the dish up right there in the pot, maybe squeeze a little extra lemon juice over the pasta and dinner is ready when we are.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Sausage and Kale

  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 pound pork sweet Italian sausage (you could sub turkey sausage)
  • 1 bunch kale, washed and cut into pieces (about 5-6 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon (zest and juice)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Salt liberally. When the water is at a rolling boil, add your noodles and cook to package instructions (usually about 8 minutes). When the pasta is finished cooking, drain noodles and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, cook the sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Break the sausage into small pieces, stirring until the meat is cooked through. When the meat is finished, line a dinner plate with paper towels and drain the sausage on the plate. Set aside.

Using the same pan, cook the garlic for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the kale to the pan and stir constantly. You may need to add a small splash of water to the pan (about 2-3 tablespoons) to help the kale start to wilt. You want the kale to be bright green and soft but not mushy. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

When the kale is finished cooking, turn off the heat. Combine the spaghetti noodles, sausage and garlic kale mixture. Zest the lemon and add it to the dish. Then cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the pasta. Stir well to incorporate the lemon flavor. Mix in the parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper again if necessary.

Meal Planning and Steel Cut Oats

Today is a little departure from the usual. My column in the Yakima Herald today is about basic meal planning. Do you meal plan? My version is fairly informal but it’s a system that works pretty well for us. At the bottom of the post is a recipe for our favorite steel cut oats. I make a big batch on Sundays and keep it in the fridge all week for easy breakfasts. We’re almost to the weekend friends.


I have a friend who is an excellent meal planner. She sits down every week with her husband and they decide on dinners for the week. They make a grocery list of the items they need and one of them goes to the store. They assign dinners to each night based on their weekly schedule and then cook their meals according to the schedule. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But for so many of us, it’s not that simple at all.

For the left-brained creative-types and the flustered, busy, over-tired parents, for those that aren’t sure they even like to cook, and everyone in between, planning an entire week’s worth of meals is more than a little intimidating; it’s downright daunting. At least that’s how I feel most weeks.

But I also know that to make healthy fresh food for my family, I need a plan. Daily trips to the grocery store with three young kids is out of the question and I don’t want to rely too heavily on take-out and frozen pizzas.

What works for me is to spend a few hours on the weekend preparing foods I want my family to eat during the week. I’ve found that having produce readily available, washed, cut-up and in plain view ensures we all have an easier time reaching for a fruit or vegetable first.

Each week I hit my local fruit stand. Right now I’m buying bags of plums and nectarines, peaches, bell peppers, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, zucchini and green beans. This is where I start with planning meals for the week. After I’ve made my haul in the produce department, I head to the grocery store, list in hand with the remaining items I need.

On Sundays, when I typically have more time to putter in the kitchen, I do the bulk of my prep for the week. I wash and chop fruits and vegetables. I usually make some kind of salad for easy lunches and muffins or a quick bread for easy breakfast for my kids. Sometimes I make an egg dish and roast a pan of vegetables but mostly it depends on what looked good at the store and what I’m in the mood to cook.

Breakfasts and lunches get exponentially easier on busy weekday mornings. The kids choose between cereal and whatever I’ve prepped for the week and they help themselves. It’s the same for packing lunches; they choose from the fruits and vegetables I’ve already prepared, we throw a sandwich together and they fill their water bottles.

This week I made a loaf of pumpkin bread and a big pot of steel cut oats. I also made tuna salad and chicken salad and some whole-wheat couscous. I cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers and washed and trimmed grapes. When I open my fridge, these are the items I see first and what I build meals around all week.

Everyone in my family loves oatmeal, so I thought I would share my recipe for steel cut oats. Hearty and delicious, the only downside to steel-cut oats is the time it takes to make them. I get around this by making a big pot on the weekend and storing it in the fridge. On weekday mornings, we spoon portions into individual bowls and pop them in the microwave. We top ours with a spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of frozen blueberries but raisins and cinnamon or a fresh sliced peach and a drizzle of honey is lovely too.


Creamy Steel-Cut Oats with Chia Seeds

  • 2 cups steel-cut oats
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds

In a pot combine water, milk, salt and oats. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat to low. Cook oats at a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes stirring frequently. When oats are finished cooking, gently stir in maple syrup, cinnamon and chia seeds. Spoon oats into individual bowls and top with favorite toppings. Save remaining oats in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

 

Five Minute Peanut Sauce

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In the rush to get out the door to the back-to-school barbecue, Jack and Scarlet were putting their shoes on in the mud room. From around the corner I hear Jack tell his sister, ‘Oh you look really beautiful, do you need help with your shoes? Do you want fancy ones?’

I peeked around the corner to see she had changed into an all white hand-me-down dress from an older friend of ours. It’s lacy and the bottom is tulle and was probably a flower-girl dress at some point. She had accessorized with multiple bracelets and barrettes in her hair and had her bright pink purse ready to go. Jack was holding up sparkly silver jelly shoes (2 sizes too small) for her approval.

And I froze for a second relishing the moment of sibling kindness and affection. Oh man, momming is so rough sometimes right? Not a day goes by when I don’t wonder when the real mom is finally going to show up. You know, the one that actually knows what she’s doing.

I’ve been thinking about that little interaction all week, feeling like maybe I’m messing up just about everything but somehow in the midst of it all, the kids are doing ok. There’s no better feeling I think.

And speaking of messing things up, I am zero for three on dinners last week. I couldn’t get a win to save my life. I made a rolled pork loin that was to ‘herby’ and a chicken and rice dish that was completely rejected by all three kids (who hates chicken and rice? my kids apparently) and roasted veggies with chicken sausages that resulted in one kid gagging at the dinner table and the other two giving up their desserts in order to not have to eat one more bite of the offending dinner.

But this quick and easy peanut sauce was my one win of the week and I’m holding onto it like I am Jack and Scarlet’s sweet little moment in the mudroom. I found the recipe in the Dinner, A Love Story cookbook. I tweaked it a bit and my changes are included in the recipe below. I sautéed kale, Brussel sprouts and a few random veggies in a little sesame oil and then tossed them with zucchini noodles and covered the whole thing in the peanut sauce. For the kids I simply made a few spaghetti noodles and snuck a few zucchini noodles in with them before mixing the sauce over the noodles. They ate this with a side of cucumbers and EVERYONE was happy. Mom win. I’ll take what I can get.

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Five Minute Peanut Sauce

  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh peeled ginger (really important)
  • ½ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (we like a little heat, but scale back to taste)
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Pulse garlic and ginger in the bowl of a food processor until finely chopped. Add peanut butter, water, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and process until smooth. Taste to make sure the flavor is just right.

Mix with cooked and cooled noodles or rice. Use as a dip for grilled chicken and vegetables. Keep in the fridge to throw together an easy meal.

Peanut Butter Granola

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For some reason I was in a funk last week. I’m not quite sure why but if I had to take a guess it probably had something to do with 100 plus degree temps, tired, bored, antsy kids and thick smoke from forest fires to the north of us descending on the Valley leaving us in a foggy soupy mess. Or maybe I was just grumpy. Who knows.

And just when I thought I might legitimately pull my hair out, a friend invited the kids and I to head up into the mountains for a hike along the Tieton River. We even got a patch of blue sky for a bit and the kids splashed and played in the river for hours. We explored a cave and a waterfall and even found a little natural water slide. It was good to get out of our usual routine and just play and have fun together. You would think after eight years of parenting I would recognize that when we get out of sync as a family, nine times out of ten, we just need to get out of the house and go for an adventure. A little change to the routine makes EVERYONE happier.

I went into the weekend feeling settled and eager for more adventures before the summer is over. Way too soon we are going to be back into our busy routines and I don’t want to miss this last month with the kids home.

With the smoke still settled heavily over our town, we spent a lot of time inside this weekend which left me time to putter and play in the kitchen. I’ve been testing out my new instant pot which I was initially a little skeptical of but I think I’m turning into a believer. I made Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pork yesterday and that alone made the purchase worth it. I’ve also made a couple of roast chickens and some bone broth. This week I’m going to make some grains and beans. I’ll keep you posted with how it all goes.

Once I got on a roll in the kitchen, I was kind of a mad woman. I started going through my pantry and decided that I had too many half open bags of coconut, almonds, oats and raisins. I used to make granola all the time and thought the kids would like it on their yogurt. I started whipping up a batch and at the last second decided to stir a little peanut butter into the mixture. The result was a nutty, sweet (but not too sweet) granola with a hint of peanut butter taste. I made the kids parfaits with vanilla yogurt, granola and fresh blueberries and they gobbled them right up.

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Peanut Butter Granola

  • 5 cups rolled oats (NOT instant)
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 cup slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a large bowl mix oat, coconut, almonds, cinnamon and salt together. In a small sauce pan, melt butter, coconut oil, peanut butter and brown sugar together until melted and mixed well. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour wet mixture over oat mixture and stir well until well combined. Spread evenly on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring at least once halfway through so the granola gets golden brown on all sides. When the oats are toasty brown and fragrant, remove from oven and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.

To make a yogurt parfait, layer yogurt and granola in a cup and top with blueberries or favorite fruit. Peaches and raspberries are a personal favorite!