Lemon Cookies with Blackberry Buttercream

Oooooooooooooh blackberry season is here! It’s been summer here for a long time, but blackberries have always signified summer for me more than any other bounty the garden has to offer. Usually, between Brad and I, fresh blackberries don’t last long enough for me to put them into baked goods. They’re just too damn delicious raw and fresh! But this year, with a half batch of leftover buttercream lurking in the freezer from a round of wedding cake recipe-testing, I decided I’d test out a flavor combination I’ve been curious about for some time now: blackberry and lemon.

Blackberries and lemons

Perhaps it’s my love of sweet and tart flavors. Perhaps it’s the purely aesthetic bliss of bright purple icing against a mellow yellow cookie canvas? I don’t know. But this was the year! I would not let blackberry season pass me by without trying out the union of blackberry and lemon. I thought about making a layer cake, or maybe cupcakes, but since there’s been a lot of cake around here lately, cookies seemed like the way to go this time around.

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Hot and bubbly

Summer produce is just the best, isn’t it? Each week, I have to hem and haw and force myself not to buy everything I lay my eyes on. It’s so easy to literally have my eyes bigger than my stomach… or my weekly menu.

But squash is something I buy every week when it’s in season. Sometimes zucchini, sometimes yellow squash, mostly both. And most summer meals in our house, coincidentally, contain these delicious and prolific veggies, so I try to mix it up and try new methods to cook them. This one is one of my new favorites.

Pretty yellow squash

Adding a bit of parmesan and pepper to thin strips of squash turns them into long, skinny chips of a sort. To help with that long and skinniness, I use a mandoline, a tool that I resisted for years (why not just use a knife) but now adooooooooore.

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Southwest Chicken Pasta

A few days ago, I escaped the humid crush of the Eastern United States with my annual return to my childhood home in Southwest Colorado. Each summer, I look forward to this return with great anticipation, but each year I continue to be humbled and amazed by how much I love this place. To be sure, living in the mountain desert has its hardships: this year’s drought is threatening to run our well completely dry, and the cool dry air that normally greats me when stepping off the plane was this year flooded with smoke from the West Fork Fire Complex, a wildfire raging in the high country just an hour away. My parents keep large stock pots in each bathroom so that we can catch the gray water from our showers, haul it outside, and attempt to help our adolescent trees survive the long, dry summer.

Despite all this, I miss the Southwest. I miss watching the summer monsoons boil over the mountains, occasionally releasing precious rain to the parched earth below. I miss the abrupt landscape shifts from spruce tree forests, the sagebrush meadows, and the bare sandstone mesas and canyons. I miss the cultures, celebrations, people, and flavors.

When I’m out to eat, I frequently seek out southwest-y meals on a menu. A few weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised by a meal at a Chapel Hill favorite that I urgently wanted to recreate at home, and after Brad and I completely consumed multiple batches, I’m sure this will remain on my own home menu often.

A Southwest Chicken Pasta

I really don’t know why I didn’t think of this pasta sooner. Perhaps because I so strongly associate pasta with Italian flavors. But friends! I urge you to release pasta from it’s bonds in tomato sauce and alfredo. It is equally at home surrounded by black beans, red peppers, and spicy red chili.

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Chocolate & Strawberry Cream Cake

A little over two months ago (gah, has it already been that long?) one of Brad’s friends from law school invited us over for a dinner with him and his wife, and we were asked to bring dessert. I had a busy week at work, so Brad volunteered to make our contribution. How kind of him to volunteer to prepare a dish to represent us at a dinner with his friends, yes?

*twitch* *baking-control-twitch*

It really was very nice of him. But you see I have this slight love of baking cakes, and the night before the dinner, I my control-freak-baking-nature took hold. I wanted to make something easy, tasty, and pretty, and I wanted to make it now.

Chocolate Strawberry Layer Cake

This cake, you guys, is all of the above.

To be honest, I put this combo together the weekend before when testing a final batch of recipes for Scott & Crystal’s wedding cake. Enrobed in Swiss Meringue Buttercream, this chocolate cake with strawberries and whipped cream was a favorite and made it into the ceremony cake.

But it’s far too good to reserve only for wedding cake. This version is doable in less than 2 hours and doesn’t require the effort of icing the exterior. The cream and berries are icing enough, and it makes a stunning, seasonal dessert for dinner parties, summer barbecues, or birthdays.

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Flat Cakes

I’ve been coaxing cakes out of cake pans for a long time now, and in that time I’ve had a number of really epic failures. Many a tear was shed over ruined Super Mario cakes, layers torn in half and plucked out of pans with a fork… there’s a reason that many of my decorated practice and competition cakes were actually beautifully-iced styrofoam cylinders.

To this day, I still experience a thrill of fear each time I flip a cake out onto a cooling rack. But that fear is rarely founded. Because in spite of the occasional disaster, I learned a few tricks early in my cake decorating days that I swear by for ensuring that cakes cake out of the pan, cleanly and level, every single time.

Here’s how to do it!

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Perfect little roasters

For most people in the US of A, myself included, french fries are the primary way that we consume potatoes. Sure, we eat mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving and heaped atop shepherd’s pies, and certainly a fair number of potatoes turn into potato chips. But mostly, we eat fries. I even figured out how to make my own a few months ago, and boy oh boy are they delicious.

But I’d like to propose that we overthrow King French Fry from its mighty throne over potatoes everywhere. I don’t want to kick ‘em out, just bring them back down on an equal plane with other potatoes.

And in the vacuum, let’s make THESE instead.

Tiny Roasted Potatoes

Despite the fact that I grew up enjoying new potatoes from my grandparents’ garden every summer, I had never once before this spring considered buying a batch of teeny little potatoes to make at home. My dad was in town to visit so I decided to try out a recipe I’d been eying in the beautiful Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The author herself (eeeee! I met her!) said that her Flat Roasted Chicken with Tiny Potatoes seems to be one of the more popular among her readers, so with an excellent excuse like company in the house, I gave it a shot. The chicken was delicious, but it was the potatoes that stole my heart.

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Rhubarb dessert

Making two wedding cakes in less than a year has involved many, many practice cakes. Almost every weekend since early September, I’ve tested at least one recipe to see if it was worthy of inclusion in one of these two celebration cakes. And though I do have a crowd of chipper undergrads more than happy to polish off any test cakes I bring to the office, you’d think I’d avoid baking so soon after completing the wedding cake was done, right?

False.

False, at least, if I have a gift of gorgeous pink rhubarb falls in your lap.

Pretty red stalks

One major perk of wedding cake-baking for a wedding in Madison, Wisconsin was the opportunity to stay with my aunt and uncle, who aside from allowing me to take over their kitchen for several days also have a beautiful stand of rhubarb. On my last morning in town, my uncle was kind enough to cut me a couple pounds of the prettiest, pinkest rhubarb I’ve ever seen.

But how to use this precious windfall? I’ve baked with rhubarb a few times before, as part of a cookie, in a fruity appetizer, and as a co-star in a classic pie, but I really wanted to try something where the rhubarb played the lead. Something simple but essential.

Rhubarb Crisp, anyone?

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Homemade popcorn

With another wedding cake baked and spring semester in my rear-view mirror, I finally feel like summer has begun. No, summer isn‘t quite the same as it used to be; the three-month vistas of free time I enjoyed from age 5-22 no longer lie ahead. I’ve been nostalgic for those childhood summers lately: sleeping in, spending the day flitting about town with mom, attempting badminton on the lawn with my sister, eating dinner off the grill in the cool Colorado evenings. Bliss!

After the sun set, summer nights in our house usually involved a movie. And where there are movies, there sure as Sam was gonna be some popcorn.

Popcorn!

Admittedly, most of the popcorn I remember eating at home was microwave popcorn, though there was also brief stint where Kelli and I found an air popper almost as entertaining to watch as whatever movie was selected for the night. I do remember, quite vividly, one attempt to pop corn on the stove and the ensuing clouds of smoke that followed when it cooked too fast and burned to a crisp. Perhaps scarred by this event, up until recently I had mentally relegated popcorn popping to the arts of yesteryear, one that I was unlikely to ever master. But then, after seeing some friends pop corn at a party — quite casually and deliciously and with no clouds of smoke, I might add — I bravely bought a bag of cheap yellow kernels and decided to give it a shot.

OMG.

Revelation. Perfection. Obsession. Sublime happiness.

It turns out making popcorn is really easy. And really fast. I’m really not sure now what happened that fateful night as a child when I developed a fear of popcorn-making, but I am now here to say that if any of you have similar fears, give them up! Tonight! You can make freshly-popped popcorn with just a few kitchen tools that you already have.

Here’s how:

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Color love

Wow guys.

As the clever among you have likely already deduced, I haven’t been posting much lately. Haven’t cooked much, haven’t edited photos, haven’t written many words about food or the silly stories relating to it. I would love to say that this is due to a lengthy and lazy vacation in the far reaches of the Caribbean or the Pacific. It’s not. No remote islands lacking internet access for this lady.

I knew it had been a while, but I was stunned, frankly, to discover that my last post was a month ago. A whole month. What happened to the thirty-one days of May?

I’ve spent a couple of days reflecting on the veritable evaporation of the last month. Some of you are already familiar with the highlights: Brad graduated law school, bringing his 10-year journey in higher education to a close. Spring semester, the busiest three-months I’ve EVER worked, finally ended, and the relative calm of the summer has arrived. Brad and I took an 11-day, 3,000-mile trip to the Midwest on which we completed two major missions: find a new place to live in a city that I will be calling home by this time next year, and, bake a grooms cake and wedding cake for a pair of dear friends in Wisconsin and also be a bridesmaid in their wedding. The long, late, cool spring has transitioned into a hot, humid summer. Yesterday, after nearly forgetting it was time for this to happen, I turned 27.

Groom's Cake Small

Wedding Cake Small

The truth is that the May was full of things that pulled my time and attention away from my little corner of the internet. In the hustle and bustle of it all, there was little time to cook, and the creative energy normally required to support this blogging endeavor was diverted elsewhere out of necessity. There were actually a few moments when I sat down to try to write a post, but simply felt I had nothing to say. What tale could I possibly weave about glazed carrots, or homemade popcorn, or new potatoes when some urgent deadline was looming over my head?

I’m looking forward to getting back to it. Even after I finish writing this post, I have an afternoon full of cooking projects I can’t wait to start. My desire to write has returned. It’s a beautiful sunny day, which should make for good photos of the rhubarb, berries, garlic scapes, and other tasty treats waiting in the fridge.

I think I’ll go get started.

Veggie flatbread

After a lengthy winter (for usually balmy Durham), the recent arrival of warm weather has caused a SURGE of greens in my garden. I was a bit over-zealous in March when I planted spring crops (er twelve Romaine plants and six spinach), and now, I can frequently be seen toting bags of freshly-picked lettuce to work and bequeathing it to friends willing to eat a lot of salad. Combined with the arrival of everything fresh at the farmers market, I have to exercise a lot of control to make sure I’m using up these greens before they go to waste. I tire of salads quickly, so I thought I’d try a different take.

Springtime for pizza

In a move that surprised me, the staunch supporter of cheese pizza with as few toppings as possible, this flatbread pizza has almost nothing on it except vegetables. I coupled a large wad of my most recent harvest of spinach leaves with some young onions and green garlic, two ingredients I rarely work with but was curious to explore.

Fresh and green

And because I couldn’t quite bring myself to omit cheese entirely, just a bit of asiago, which is ever the friend of garlic-y, onion-y things.

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