Fresh Strawberry Jello & Whipped Cream

We’ve been touring middle schools this week (!!!) and I’m having to come face to face with the reality that yes, this is happening. I’m as nervous and excited as my son is. I feel the desperate desire to cling to every shard of his childhood, yet I have to remind myself that this is the whole point of raising our children. We want them to grow up and become the fullest version of themselves. It’s a new phase, yet reminds me of when we were getting ready to start kindergarten. Which school is best for him? Will he be able to remember his schedule and locker combination? Will he make friends? The truth is yes and no. It won’t be perfectly smooth but this is the truth of life. We learn and grow and change.

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In an attempt to help myself make this transition to the middle school years, I have been reading a book called “Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World“. This book was recommended to me by a friend and WOW is it eye opening. I really appreciate how the book highlights how the relationship between son and parent changes. It gives us practical advice that actually comes from teenage boys. We get to see situations through their eyes and gain wisdom from those parents that have gone before us. Effective parenting, it seems, is a balance between letting our boys grow up and make mistakes while loving and supporting them through this complicated and complex world. Wish us luck.

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This is the consistency of the puree that is ready to be simmered.

Thankfully, February is one of my favorite months of the year. I love any excuse to shower the people I love with affection. especially if it involves something from the kitchen. I found these little heart shaped ramekins and knew immediately what I wanted to fill them with. When JP was two, I had a Valentine’s Day party at our house. We had heart themed activities and bright red jello cut in heart shapes for snack. I may not be able to turn back the clock but this is the beauty of food. It holds the memories for us, connecting our past with our present.

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Adding the gelatin

I think it’s time for jello to get an upgrade. Let’s do away with the watery, jiggly, artificial tasting, neon jello of our youth. This jello has everything good: a strong strawberry flavor (that is actually from strawberries), a firm texture, and a beautiful ruby color. I like how it feels in my mouth as the gelatin softens. The sweetened whipped cream is the perfect accompaniment to the juicy strawberries. Strawberries and cream are a classic combination in any form, but heart shaped might just be the sweetest of them all.

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Most of the gelatin has been absorbed into the puree. Give it a little whisk before adding it to the hot strawberry mixture. This will make it easier to not have lumps.

Fresh Strawberry Jello & Whipped Cream

Strawberries and cream are a classic combination that illicit happy memories of spring. Being a bit impatient for the perfect strawberries to arrive at the grocery store, I found that this recipe appeased my strawberry craving. Frozen strawberries are a good option to use here if fresh are not optimal. This recipe is adapted from the Knox gelatin package.

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ripe strawberries, washed and hulled; or frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 2 packages unflavored gelatin (I use Knox brand)
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 small lemon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Whipping Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

Puree strawberries in a blender, using a little water if needed to thin. You should have 2 cups of strawberry puree that is the consistency of heavy cream or slightly thicker. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the puree into a medium pot. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar, salt and lemon juice and stir. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. It should taste delicious at this point, full of strawberry flavor and just sweet enough to be pleasing to the palate. Adjust as needed.

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup puree into a wide bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top and don’t stir. The gelatin should mostly dissolve into the liquid but don’t worry if some still remains on the top. The back of the Knox package suggests 1 minute.

Once the strawberry mixture is at a simmer, take it off the heat and whisk gelatin mixture before adding it to the hot strawberry puree. Whisk to incorporate the gelatin mixture. There may be some lumps at this point but keep whisking and watch as it thickens. Whisk for 3-5 minutes. Strain to remove any remaining lumps. Pour into 4 – 4 ounce ramekins and cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. These will firm up in an hour or two but can be stored for 3-4 days before serving if desired.

To serve: Combine all the whipping cream ingredients in a medium bowl and whip to firm peaks. Spoon over strawberry jello and serve.

Snickerdoodle Bars

The Holidays seem like a long time ago at this point, right? Yet, the garland hanging on my porch reminds me that not even a month has passed. For me, when I think about this last Christmas, one moment stands out more brightly than the rest. One evening, as we were all sitting around my in-laws living room, my brother-in-law started playing old videos. The first one was from the day that Kai was born. I had no idea this clip existed. My heart was in my throat as I strained to soak in every moment. JP is three years old again and skipping down the hallway to meet his new brother. I am laying in the hospital bed, having given birth but a few hours ago. We get to see the first time JP meets Kai. The next video was JP’s second birthday. We were all together and full of love and laughs. He made a little pile of bows as he slowly opened up the presents. It was such a gift to relive these moments and to see the confirmation of how far we’ve come. Though not all my memories of those moments are positive; I can rest assured that the love we have for our children is evident.

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Another amazing gift this Christmas came in the form of cookbooks. Three (!!!!) new ones to be exact. I have been eager to jump in but have felt a little intimidated as well. So much talent and knowledge are inside these pages. I decided to start with BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts. I have been reading it through like a novel. It is so interesting! Stella Parks goes into detail about the history behind each recipe, as well as the science of why her version works. I also love how these recipes are classics that we all know so well but her ingredients and techniques update and elevate. Reading it made me realize how we as home bakers are making history. The food we make for our families will become part of the fabric of our country. I feel excited, energized and ready to make 2018 the tastiest year yet.

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Snickerdoodle Bars (Snip Doodles)

Snickerdoodles are always a favorite around here, with their chewy centers and cinnamon flavor. According to Stella Parks (I have a feeling I’ll be saying that a lot now) the recipe for snickerdoodles originated as a simple cake called snip doodles. Already, I can see that these will be a family favorite. The addition of freshly grated cinnamon adds an extra flavorful topping to the cake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (refined or virgin)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk

Cinnamon Sugar topping:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons grated cinnamon (or to taste)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F and place the baking rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour a half sheet baking tray. Stella specifically says to spread the dough in a 15x11x1 inch layer on the tray. My tray was larger and I spread mine out on the whole thing. They were a little thin but no complaints. If you have a half sheet baking tray then you should be just fine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine butter, coconut oil. sugar, salt, baking powder, nutmeg and vanilla. Mix on low with a paddle attachment and then increase speed to medium. Beat until light and fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula after two minutes. Continue for two more minutes. Add the egg and mix until smooth.

Turn the mixer to low and add 1/3 of the flour. Mix until incorporated and then add 1/3 cup of the milk. Mix on low to incorporate and then repeat with the flour and milk two more times. Scrape to ensure dough is uniform and all the ingredients are mixed in and the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Coat with cinnamon and sugar mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes. The cake will be firm to the touch and puffy. A toothpick with come out clean when inserted in the center. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then cut with a pizza cutter or knife. Once cool, store in an air tight container for 3-4 days.

Quick Cinnamon Orange Rolls

fullsizeoutput_17aThe count down to Christmas is in full swing and it has me thinking about the act of gift giving. As a child our family of six would pile into the car and drive two hours to the nearest mall on Black Friday. It was especially magical when the year’s first snow would coincide with this family outing. I would have my allowance in my hand and head out to find the perfect gift for each family member. I doubt I had more than ten dollars to spend but that didn’t bother me. One year I found the perfect snow globe for my twin sister. I was mesmerized by the snow floating and swirling around the little figurine. Waiting a whole month to give it to my sister felt like an eternity. It was one of my earliest memories of the anticipation of giving and not just receiving on Christmas day.

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Though I love finding gifts for others, it can also be a source of stress, especially this time of year. I want each and every gift to reflect thought and care. I want each gift to be perfect. But let’s be honest – this is a tall order for any package. It’s good to keep it in perspective. The true gift is the time and thought goes into each oen. This in and of itself is an act of love. I think of the gifts I’ve received over the years and the time and effort required and feel so much gratitude.

To me the gift of time and attention is one of the most thoughtful and lasting presents we can give each other. There are a multitude of ways to show our affection and love this season and they don’t all have to be wrapped in bows.

But I really would like a snow globe of my own.

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Quick Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Baking breakfast is an especially kind act of love and these orange cinnamon rolls are just the trick. They come together quickly and require no wait time or frosting. Cinnamon rolls are always a favorite in our family but I find the timing for breakfast challenging. Normally, this means that breakfast is ready closer to lunch. So when I saw this recipe in Cooks Illustrated, I had to give it a try. The technique is similar to making biscuits. I added orange zest and nutmeg to punch up the holiday cheer.

Tip: Altogether you will need about 8 tablespoons of melted butter. Three tablespoons are used in the filling and dough and are best measured precisely. The other 4-5 tablespoons are used to grease the pan, brush the dough before adding the filling and brush on the rolls before baking. I melted it all at once and then measured it out as needed.

Ingredients:

Filling:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon melted butter

Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (I prefer aluminum free)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 – 1 teaspoon orange zest (I used a mandarin orange)

1 1/4 cup buttermilk, warmed (butter will stay in liquid form when added together)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use some melted butter to grease an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add 1 tablespoon of melted butter and mix. The mixture will stick together slightly when pressed. Set filling aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest and salt. Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter to the warmed buttermilk. Pour into the flour mixture. Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. The dough will be shaggy.

Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times so that dough becomes smooth. Roll out the dough to a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Brush with a couple tablespoons of melted butter, leaving an inch or two around the border. Spread filling evenly on top and press it down gently.

Start with your hands on the long edge nearest you. Begin to roll the dough away from you. Once your dough all rolled up, use a bench scraper to cut the dough into 8 even pieces.

To transfer the buns to the pan, pick them up one at a time and gently pinch the under side of the bun to help keep the filling in place. Put 7 rolls around the edges and 1 in the center of the pan. Brush with the rest of the butter.

Bake on the center rack for 23-25 minutes. The buns will be dark golden brown and the filling will be bubbling beautifully all over. Err on the side of over baked if not sure.

Let cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Serve directly out of the pan.

Like most baked goods, these are best eaten right out of the oven, but I found them completely acceptable 1 – 2 days later. Store in a air tight container. I wouldn’t feel bad at all about baking them the night before and then warming them back up in the oven (or microwave) in the morning. I would suggest transferring the buns to an air tight container though so that they don’t stick to the pan. Enjoy!