The Perfect Summer Side

Ah, summer. The season of picnics and cookouts, graduation parties and camping trips. You know what all of those things have in common? Food! Whatever’s happening, people need to eat, right? And most of the time, there will be pasta salad on the table. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s drowning in mayo and isn’t so good. Sometimes, much to Andy’s dismay, it’s the only side dish at the party.

Unless, of course, this pasta salad is available. It’s so good that Andy (who says pasta salad makes him gag), eats more than just a polite serving. He goes back for seconds and thirds. And then he raids the fridge for the leftovers.

The first time I tried it, I was amazed  that something so simple could be so delicious. It’s just orzo, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh basil, feta and dried cherries, with some greens thrown in for good measure. My friend Bethany made it for a get-together, and wow. It was summer loving at first bite for me. Clearly, this was something special.

Like any good summer salad, this one is easy to throw together. It tastes good straight out of the fridge or at room temperature. I can’t decide if it’s the basil, the cherries or the feta that puts this one over the top. Maybe it’s all three together, in a trifecta of awesomeness.

I didn’t have arugula on hand, but I’d gotten a bunch of Swiss chard in our CSA the week beforehand, so I figured that would work out OK. I ended up sauteing the stems and then the chopped leaves, since I think they’re a little tough and chewy raw. It didn’t take that much longer, and it gave me something to do while I waited for the pasta to cool. Good thing too. Otherwise I might have eaten all of the feta before it made its way into the salad. 😉

I almost skipped the pine nuts because they were ridiculously expensive in my grocery store but decided to splurge when I found a slightly cheaper package of them. I used some of my awesome Italian olive oil from Andy’s brother, Dan, and I think it really made a difference in the end result. So if you have the good stuff, this is the time to break it out. And then you may want to keep it out, since you’ll probably need to make a second batch to take to a picnic or something.


Tri-Color Pasta Salad

1 lb. uncooked orzo pasta
3 tablespoons plus up to 1/4 cup of olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped greens (arugula, spinach or Swiss chard)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I didn’t measure this.) 
1 teaspoon pepper  (Again, I didn’t measure.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain the pasta and quickly rinse it with cool water.

Spread the cooked pasta in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with three tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside to cool.

While the pasta cools, prepare the rest of the salad.

If you’re using Swiss chard, separate the stems from the leaves and chop the stems into 1/4″ pieces. Add some olive oil to a large skillet and saute the stems until they are crisp tender. Chop the leaves into bite-sized / manageable pieces and then add them to the skillet when the stems are almost done. Take the pan off the heat.

If you’re using spinach or arugula, simply wash the leaves and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Place the greens in a large bowl and then add the pine nuts, cherries, basil and feta cheese. Scrape the orzo into the bowl and add the lemon juice. Gently mixed until everything is well-distributed. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil (up to 1/4 cup) until the pasta is well-coated and doesn’t appear dry. Mix everything one more time, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Hide store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From my friend Bethany

Click here for a printable version.


Making Up With Pie

Last weekend, pie and I got into a fight. I spent most of Saturday making two lemon meringue pies, and by the end of the day, pie crust and I were not on speaking terms. I don’t know what it is about blind-baked crusts, but they do not bring out the best in me. Andy’s been known to flee the kitchen (or even the house) when I’m fighting with pie crust. Smart man.

In my search for the perfect lemon meringue pie, I stumbled upon something that sounded much better: Deep-Dish Rhubarb Cherry Berry pie. Why was I fighting with blind baked crusts and tempering eggs? I had all the necessary fruit in my freezer! I should bake this instead!

Well, I had to  make the lemon pie to share with our Sunday school class, but that didn’t keep me from thinking about the pie that should have been. And when you get stuck on a recipe, there’s really only one thing you can do: BAKE THE DANG PIE. So I went home and did just that, and it ended up being everything I’d hoped it would be.

It was the perfect combination of sweet and tart from the rhubarb, cherries and blueberries. The almond extract melded perfectly with the fruit, and (wonder of wonders) the filling thickened up perfectly. I had been a little concerned that we’d end up with a pie that was too runny, as the cherries released a LOT of juice as they sat in the sugar.

I had the pie crust all rolled out and ready to go when I realized that the recipe wanted me to brush it with a beaten egg white to help keep the crust from getting soggy. Well, I HATE recipes that just call for part of an egg. What was I supposed to do with the yolk? We’d already eaten lunch, and breakfast for dinner wasn’t on the menu anytime soon. (Ironically enough, lunch had been scrambled eggs. The perfect solution for an extra yolk. GRRR.) So I skipped the whole “brush with beaten egg white” step, and you know what? We didn’t have a soggy crust!

And it was easy, as far as pies go. Yes, a lattice top looks fancy, but it doesn’t take that much more time than a regular double-crust pie. And yes, I made my own pie dough, but that takes all of 15 minutes with the pastry blender. Really, as long as you’re not blind-baking a crust, pies are fairly simple.

So there you have it. Pie and I are friends again. For now. Or at least until Andy requests a chocolate pie. 😉

Cherry Rhubarb Berry Pie
OK, not the greatest picture. We were on our way out the door (with the pie), and it was getting dark. 

Deep-Dish Rhubarb Cherry Berry Pie

Pie dough for a double-crust pie (I like Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Crust.)
1 generous pint of sour cherries, thawed and drained if frozen (Sweet cherries or strawberries can be substituted if you weren’t lucky enough to put some Door County cherries in your freezer last summer.)
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, thawed and drained if frozen
1 generous pint of blueberries
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375°. Place an empty baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch any drips.

In a large bowl, toss the cherries with 1/2 cup of sugar. Set aside while you prepare the pie crust.

Divide the pie dough into two slightly even pieces. On a floured surface, roll the larger piece out into a circle large enough for a 9″ deep dish pie pan. Gently fold the dough into quarters and transfer it to the pie pan. Unfold the dough and press it into the pie pan. Trim the edges of the dough, leaving a small (1/2″ – 3/4″) overhang.

Roll the second piece of dough out into a 10″ circle. Using a knife (or pastry wheel if you’re fancy), cut the circle into 3/4″-wide strips.

Add the rhubarb, blueberries and almond extract to the cherry-sugar mixture. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining cup of sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle the sugar-cornstarch-salt-cinnamon mixture over the fruit and gently stir to combine.

Pour the fruit mixture into the prepared pie shell. Place half of the lattice strips across the pie, parallel to each other, at about 1/2″ intervals. One at a time, place the remaining strips across the pie in the opposite direction, lifting the other strips to “weave” the strips together in a lattice pattern. Press the ends of the strips into the bottom crust and fold the edges of the bottom crust over the edge of the pie plate and crimp the edges. Sprinkle the lattice strips with sugar.

Place a large piece of foil over the top of the pie and place the pie in the oven. Bake the pie for 20 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake the pie until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.  (The book says this will take 30-40 additional minutes; mine took nearly an hour.) If the edges of the crust begin to brown too quickly, cover them with pieces of aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream if you have it.

Barely adapted from Classic Home Desserts

Click here for a printable version.

The Benefits of Indecision

Last month, I had an epiphany. Things just clicked, and it was like a light bulb went on inside my head. You ready for this?

Half of a regular 9″ or 10″ cheesecake fills my 6″ springform pan perfectly. How did I discover this, you ask? Well, we had a cheesecake night with some friends. Yes, a night dedicated to all things cheesecake. Karen made her fabulous Bailey’s cheesecake. Janelle made a delicious white chocolate raspberry cheesecake. And I, as always, was plagued with indecision.

What flavor? Lime? Lemon-blueberry? Peanut butter? Black forest? Whopper? Snickers? Turtle?

See what I mean? How do you pick just one? (I think that’d be like trying to pick a favorite kid… although I’m not 100% convinced that parents don’t have favorites. 😉 Ha!) In the end, I couldn’t pick just one. And since 10 people do not need to eat FOUR full-size cheesecakes in one sitting, I did the only responsible thing I could think of. I halved the recipes and made TWO 6″ cheesecakes. 😀 (Even with my restraint, we still had a LOT of cheesecake left over. I think everyone took some home with them.) 

One of the best things about cheesecake is that it can be made ahead of time. You don’t have to worry about things getting soggy from sitting in the fridge overnight, and aside from the long baking time, it’s pretty low-maintenance. Make a crumb crust, beat some cream cheese, sugar and eggs together, pour into the pan and bake! Dessert is ready! This particular cheesecake takes a little more time than usual, since you do have to melt chocolate and then wait for it to cool, but overall it’s still pretty easy. I made the cherry pie filling while the cheesecake was baking and then topped it just before we went to the party.

Aside from halving the recipe, the only change I made was to add some vanilla (because that’s just what I do). I also baked it over (not in) a pan of water in the oven to help prevent cracks in the cheesecake. Although, if the cheesecake cracks, it’s not the end of the world, since you’ll be covering it with cherry pie filling anyway. And I have yet to meet someone who turned down a slice of cheesecake because it wasn’t picture-perfect. 🙂

The other advantage to this discovery? Two 6″ cheesecakes = twice as many opportunities for new flavors. I think a Whopper cheesecake is next…

blackforestcheesecakeBlack Forest Cheesecake

Makes one 6” cheesecake (double for a standard 9” or 10” springform pan)

For the crust:
12 Oreo cookies (feel free to go generic here)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted

For the chocolate cheesecake:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cherry topping:
12 ounces frozen sweet cherries, thawed, juice reserved (I used Bing cherries from our fruit order last summer.)
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

For the whipped cream cheese:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 6″ springform pan and set it aside. Place a shallow baking dish on the lower rack in the oven and fill it with an inch of water. (Skip this step if you’re not worried about cracks in your cheesecake.)

Pulse the Oreos and sugar in a food processor until the mixture is ground into fine crumbs. Add the butter and pulse to combine – the mixture should be evenly moistened by the time you’re done. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared springform pan, smoothing them into an even layer. Bake until the crust is set, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack. Maintain the oven temperature.

Place the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set the bowl of a saucepan full of barely simmering water. Heat until the chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and let the chocolate cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the 16 ounces of cream cheese, cocoa powder and sugar together until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in, one at a time, scrapping the bowl down between additions. Mix in the vanilla. Mix in the cooled chocolate until just combined, scrapping the sides of the bowl as needed. (The batter gets very thick at this point.) Pour the batter over the prepared crust and smooth the top into an even layer.

Bake the cheesecake until the center barely jiggles when shaken, about an hour. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool for five minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the cheesecake to help loosen it from the springform pan, and then remove the ring. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before refrigerating overnight.

While the cheesecake is baking, make the cherry topping. Reserve two tablespoons of cherry juice from the thawed cherries. Combine the cherries, two tablespoons of sugar, lemon juice, salt and any remaining cherry juice in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to boil. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and reserved cherry juice together. Add the cornstarch mixture to the boiling cherries and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. (This happens very quickly – now is not the time to walk away from the stove!) Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool completely before topping the cheesecake. (I let mine cool overnight and then assembled everything right before we left for cheesecake night.)

When you’re ready to assemble the cheesecake, make the whipped cream cheese topping. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together until smooth. (I used my KA mixer, but I bet you could make this part work with a good hand-held mixer as well.) Add the cream to the mixture, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat until the mixture has stiff peaks.

To assemble the cheesecake, spread the cherry topping on the top of the cheesecake, leaving a little border around the edges for the whipped cream. Using a piping bag with a decorative tip (I used the Wilton 1M tip), pipe the whipped cream around the edges of the cheesecake.

Slice into wedges and serve. Leftover cheesecake can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator.

From Brown Eyed Baker

Click here for a printable version.

Dessert for Breakfast

I’ll be the first to admit that we mix up meals in our house. Breakfast for dinner, for instance. And I fully believe that there’s nothing better than starting your day with a piece of pie. Or cold pizza. (Or having your morning coffee in ice cream form. Hehe.) 

And while these babies have cocoa powder and chocolate chips, there’s only one stick of butter and 3/4 of a cup of sugar in a batch of 24. Plus, there’s Greek yogurt and cherries! (I bet if you swapped out some of the flour for a whole-wheat variety, they’d be even healthier.) So… totally acceptable for breakfast. And lunch. And dessert. 

The most time-consuming part of making these guys is pitting the cherries, and even with that step, I was still able to get a batch of these in and out of the oven before work one day. They baked up into these jumbo-sized, perfectly domed beauties too. We enjoyed the first batch fairly well, but decided that they needed more cherries and chocolate chips. So, I upped the mix-ins the second time around, and they are going fast around here. 🙂


Chocolate Cherry Muffins

2 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark.) 
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt or sour cream (I used half yogurt, half sour cream.) 
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups chopped, pitted sweet cherries
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 2/3 cups of flour, the cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scrapping down the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla.

Stir in half of the dry ingredients until just combined, then add one-third of the yogurt. Stir in half of the remaining flour and then another third of the yogurt. Mix in the remaining flour, followed by the last of the yogurt.

Toss the cherries with the remaining tablespoon of flour. Gently fold in the chopped cherries and chocolate chips in to the batter, which will be very thick. Divide the mixture between the prepared muffin pans. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375. Bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or until muffins test done with a toothpick.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: 24 generous muffins

Barely adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride, who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated

Click here for a printable version.

Cherry on Top!

Remember that box of Rainer cherries? I still haven’t gotten around to freezing any, but we have been eating them hand over fist. As good as they are straight up, I knew that I wanted to make at least one thing with them. And once I saw this recipe on Love and Olive Oil, I knew that ice cream was going to be that one thing.

This was super easy to throw together (in fact, I mixed everything up at 10 p.m. one night after making a batch of jam and froze it the next morning before work), and it froze beautifully, with a creamy consistency. In fact, Andy thought that the texture and flavor of this was “too good” to be homemade and that it tasted like a “fancy” store-bought ice cream. I think that means I’ve gotten better at this homemade ice cream thing!

I followed the recipe to the letter, except for subbing chocolate chips for the chopped chocolate and using cow’s milk instead of almond milk (because it was late, and I wasn’t running to the store for half a cup of almond milk, and I figured chocolate chips would be easier than chopping chocolate). Since I didn’t have almond milk, I upped the amount of almond extract just a hair. I do think that if you used chocolate almond milk, you could end up with chocolate cherry chocolate chip ice cream, and that might be even better.

Cherry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup milk (Feel free to use almond milk if you have it on hand – decrease the almond extract to 1/4 teaspoon if you do this!) 
8 ounces of Rainer or Bing cherries, pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
3 ounces dark chocolate chips

In the blender or a large bowl (I went with the bowl route and my immersion blender), combine the cream, milk, sugar, extracts and six ounces of the cherries. Pulse/puree until the cherries are finely chopped.

Add in the remaining cherries and pulse until they are coarsely chopped.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. (A big thanks to Janelle for letting me borrow hers!) In the last few minutes of churning, add in the chocolate chips.

Remove ice cream from maker and freeze until firm, at least four hours.

From Love and Olive Oil