Key Lime Birthday Pie

by Caroline

A couple weeks ago, Ben and I spotted some Key limes at the market and it occurred to me that he — a fan of all things citrus — might like Key lime pie for his birthday dessert. I have to admit I was also trying to manufacture a desire: I was going to be out of town at a conference the entire week before his birthday, and pie is a whole lot quicker to produce than a layer cake (like last year’s lemon extravaganza).

It worked. We researched recipes. We talked about meringue topping vs. whipped cream, crumb crust vs. pastry. We decided to use this Epicurious recipe as our starting point, with this almond crumb crust. I got home from the airport the night before his birthday, finally read the recipe closely enough, after dinner, to notice it wanted to chill overnight, and had the cooled pie in the fridge well before my jetlagged self collapsed into bed at 10.

The only very slight problem with the dessert is that the whipped cream doesn’t really support the sweet candle holders a friend made for Ben when he was a baby. They settled deeply into the cream while we sang, Ben blew out his candles, and then I fished them out before we all dug happily into our pie.

Mardi Gras

By Lisa

Caroline has a lot of terrific pancake recipes that she’s shared here over the years: including corn, pumpkin, and lemon.

I tend to stick to just this one classic recipe, which is a lot like having cake for breakfast. Or, in last night’s case, for dinner.

In our house, Mardi Gras–Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins–has come to mean pancakes. Traditionally pancakes were served on Fat Tuesday as a way to use up all your dairy and eggs and sugar before long, lean spell of Lent.  Historically, some Christians abstained from all animal products during Lent, and one year I did just that, and it was really hard. But that was before kids and migraines.

While we do try to limit our sweets during Lent–and this year I am giving up all cocktails & wine during the week (stay tuned to see how that works out)–we don’t encourage the kids to do food-based things for the season.  The all out pancake-gorge-for-dinner is symbolic, and it does begin to remind them that a time of reflection is beginning.

In true Mardi Gras spirit, they ate with their hands. Finn picked up the fork when I told him I was going to blog about what he calls Dinbr.

This year, they’ve resolved to pick up after themselves with greater vigilance–or with just one reminder from me–and our whole family is resolved to Practice Peace. Without the cocktail, this might be a long 40 days.  We’ll see.

The Cupcake Super Bowl

by Caroline

The other day when I picked Eli up from school, he grabbed my hand and started to pull me back inside to the lunchroom.

“C’mon, Mama! We need to get a recipe from Chef Ric!”
“What recipe?”
“Wacky cake!”
“Wacky cake? Is that like our crazy cake?”
“I don’t know. I just know it’s a good chocolate cake.”

So we found Chef Ric and we compared notes. Indeed, his wacky cake is just like our crazy cake (or your cockeyed cake, or 6-minute cake), except he uses apple cider vinegar and I use raspberry. I’ve always imagined that the raspberry vinegar gives the cake a little fruit note in the background, perhaps deepens the chocolate flavor a bit, but suddenly talking to our school chef I wasn’t so sure. Does it really make a difference, or is it all in my head? Tonight, with no particular investment in football’s Super Bowl, Eli and I decided to test the theory by making three different crazy cake batters: one with plain white vinegar, one with apple cider vinegar, and the last with raspberry vinegar.

we labelled the batters according to each type of vinegar

I gave Tony and the boys coded servings of each cake

they took careful tasting notes

we tallied the results; the sheet with the red dots is the key to my code

Tony then served me my own coded cupcakes and the results from our limited sample are pretty decisive: the vinegar doesn’t matter. The kids and I each identified only one vinegar correctly and Tony didn’t even get one. The vinegar Eli and I got right (apple cider) was also our least favorite, so we won’t use that again. But given that white vinegar is less than a quarter of the price of raspberry vinegar, from now on, I’ll save it for salad dressings and other places I can really taste it.

Now, I’m really not a Cooks Illustrated, recipe-testing kind of cook. I am fairly imprecise in my baking, I measure casually, and I am always tinkering with recipes. But I do love a cooking project inspired by my children, and I love it when the cooking includes a bit of science. It was a nice change to be more careful baking these cakes so that each one would differ only in its vinegar, and fun to think about how best to keep track of which was which. But Eli definitely summed up the experiment best: “The thing I like about it is you get three cupcakes.” No argument here.

Edited to add: we shared some sample cupcakes with Chef Ric and his kitchen staff and (drumroll) we are impressed — but not surprised — to report he identified the three vinegars correctly!

Saying Yes

By Lisa

I agree with Caroline, as I suppose, do lots of you. Summer is a time to say yes a little more often. For instance, the other night, even though there was a great spread of salamis, pasta, bread, at our local concert in the park, I said “yes” to ice cream for dinner.

What have you said yes to lately?

Salad on a Stick

by Lisa

With summer fair season coming up, and  barbecues and neighborly dinners, I thought this would be a good time to share our latest favorite thing: salad on a stick.  Another recipe straight out of last month’s Food and Wine, this one is endlessly adaptable, and it’s going to be a regular on our summer table. I served this first for dinner with the Pickled Shrimp, then brought another batch to book club. Both times it was a huge hit, probably because the only thing better than something on a stick is something on a stick with bacon. My kids would eat bacon everyday if they could.

The original recipe is a take on a classic wedge salad:  iceberg, bacon, blue cheese.  The technique is this: spear alternating bites of romaine lettuce and bacon onto a bamboo spear. Serve with homemade blue cheese dressing.  These disappear fast–neither kids nor adult can’t resist. The only note of caution: don’t overcook the bacon. It needs to be slightly tender so it doesn’t crumble on the spear.  I’ve learned to cook bacon in my oven:  put cold bacon on a foil lined try into a cold oven. Turn to 350 degrees and bake for 12-17 minutes, until ends start to curl and bacon reaches desired cripsness.

Not surprsingly, blue cheese is not a big hit with the kids. So they used ranch dressing instead of blue cheese.  But if you like blue cheese, try this recipe. It’s pretty great. Try it.

Also exciting: you can vary this recipe endlessly: use fresh Thousand Island dressing, cherry tomatoes, mini cucumber spears, green onions, mushrooms, peppers–anything you can put in a salad that you can spear is fair game for the skewer.  Plus: these spears keep and travel beautifully, and there’s no need for forks.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • romaine,+ provolone + pepperoni + pepperoccini+ red pepper + red wine vinaigrette=classic Italian-American antipasto on a stick
  • Cherry tomatoes + mini-mozzerella balls + fresh basil leaves + balsamic vinagrette=Caprese on a stick
  • Celery + carrot + romaine or iceberg leaves +  Thousand Island=crudite on a stick
  • Mozzarella +roasted red peppers + marinated artichokes
  • Tomato + Watermelon + feta + red wine vinagrette
  • shrimp + romaine + green goddess dressing

Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe is here.
We’d love to hear your ideas below! Happy grilling!