Market Monday & 200th Post Giveaway Winner

heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market

I wanted to buy everything at the farmers’ market this week. We’re actually getting both sun and rain here in Iowa (finally!), which means that the more colorful vegetables of summer are finally ready to harvest.

I went to our CSA stand first thing on Saturday morning to get eggs. We’ve become pasture-raised egg snobs around here. First, we love buying the eggs directly from the man who raises the chickens so we know that they really are pasture-raised–we’re not just relying on a sticker on an egg carton at the store. Second, the yolks are brighter, the whites cook up more tender, and we pretty much devour the carton of eggs within a few days of purchase.

From our CSA, we also bought four tomatoes, three cucumbers, three eggplant, a pile of tomatoes, a red onion, a head of garlic, and fennel.

I bought another bottle of Lemon Basil Balsamic Vinegar from Pickle Creek Herbal. We’ve been following the simple (1:2 vinegar to oil ratio with a drizzle of honey) recipe for salad dressing Jocelyn gave us when I first met her and have exhausted our first bottle. She also recommended using it on caprese salad, which I think will be a good use for those four tomatoes. (Or three tomatoes. See how the top one looks a little funky? It looks really funky now.)

I also stopped at a stand to by goat cheese for a muffin recipe I wanted to try for Sunday morning breakfast. I’ll share that recipe with you soon so you can see if you want to start waking up to goat cheese.

We bought the cherry tomatoes and yellow squash from an organic stand that was very friendly and helpful to Dexter one morning as he was getting his stand set up. Dexter loves these cherry tomatoes and will enjoy having them in his lunch in place of the carrots I usually send.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should tell you that we also bought apple cider doughnuts and a savory tomato auf lauf at the farmers’ market. They were devoured much to quickly and ravenously to make it onto the camera.

Some of the cucumbers will probably make it into a salad, but we’ve been using them to add some pizzazz to our drinking water. I fill the pitcher in our fridge with water and add five slices of cucumber and half a lemon, sliced thinly or cut into wedges. (Wedges make it easier to squeeze the juice directly into the water, but I’ve found that slices flavor the water well enough if left to sit.) I usually refill the pitcher without replacing the cucumber and lemon slices once or twice so we can extract all the flavorful goodness from them before tossing them in the garbage disposal. Dexter doesn’t like plain water, but he was enamored with this water when I made it once last month and has been drinking it almost as enthusiastically as he drinks coffee.

I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I really want to like it. I plan to bake it (like in the first half of this recipe) and then serve the crispy slices on top of spaghetti. It’ll be my adapted version of eggplant parmesan. (My beef with real eggplant–or chicken–parmesan is that everything gets soggy, and I don’t want to go to the trouble of making something delicious and crispy if I’m just going to dump sauce all over it. Does anyone else feel this way? Am I the only one who has soggy-parm issues?)

The large pile of yellow squash will go into Sunny Summer Squash Soup, which I found on Once A Month Mom’s August Vegetarian Menu. The onion, some garlic, and two of the potatoes will go in the soup, and the rest were eaten, grilled in slices, with Monday night’s dinner.

What I’m left with, however, is a bulb of fennel. I didn’t have any plans for it. It was sort of an impulse purchase. (You know you’re kind of a kitchen dork when fennel is your impulse buy.) Any suggestions for my fennel?

Finally, before I hit the sack on this barely-got-it-posted-on-Market-Monday, I want to announce that Sarah is the winner of the Eating Animals giveaway. Your book will be in the mail as soon as I confirm your address.


Market Monday Begins

I have a confession to make.

Those of you who might consider me your connection to youthful-vegetarian-hipster-environmental culture may be disappointed. And it’s not just because I’m past the quarter-life mark and sometimes throw away my tin cans.

Until last year, I didn’t like farmers’ markets. Don’t get me wrong. I like farmers and I like food, I just hated going to my city’s farmers’ market. I only went occasionally on a weekday night to pick up my CSA box, exhausted from a day at work, and in a hurry to get home. The aisle between the vendors was interminably filled with strollers, old people, and chatty gawkers.

One Saturday morning last summer, we were lured downtown by free coffee (a benefit of Dexter’s job which we possibly appreciate as much as the insurance premiums my job pays). Our secret free parking area is just steps away from the farmers’ market, and for some reason we decided to go in. We had no time constraint and no goal other than to look around. We took one lap around to take it all in. We took another lap around to distinguish who was advertising spray-free or organic produce.

I think it was the point at which we bought our first pastry that I fell in love with the farmers’ market. One week we found handheld apple pies. The next week we discovered cherry turnovers. We have developed an addiction to the apple cider doughnuts.

Our Saturday morning addictions are from Barb’s Pantry.

My curmudgeonly distaste for farmers’ markets has turned into a somewhat fanatic enthusiasm. And only in part because farmers’ market day can also be referred to as coffee and doughnut day. I looked forward to the beginning of the farmers’ market all spring, and looked forward to going all through the work week. My beginning ESL students have all known what a farmers’ market is since last fall when we eased into Monday mornings with a “What did you do this weekend?” conversation and all their teacher could talk about was food.

Fortunately, I have also become aware of the vegetables and other products that are sold at farmers’ markets. We decided to forgo our traditional CSA for a variety of reasons (which I will delight you with in a future post) and make a point to shop at the farmers’ market this summer.

This week, I bought a dozen eggs from pasture-raised hens. (I actually bought them from a man, but they originally came from hens.) Last week, I bought these same eggs but used them all up in baking projects. My goal this week is to eat the eggs alone or make omelets so I can find out what these eggs really taste like!

I also bought a bunch of rhubarb. Last week, I made rhubarb crisp. Print off this recipe and make it. If you’ve never tried rhubarb, buy some now and follow this recipe. You will be changed. I thought my mom was crazy for years because she like it, but I made her a mothers’ day dessert with it once and now I have a slight obsession.

Finally, I bought a bunch of radishes. I don’t have a radish obsession by any means, but the the combination of green leaves, red bulbs and white tips was just irresistible. We used the radishes in this delicious salad:

Spring Market Salad

Serves two as a generous side dish



  • 1 small head romaine, rinsed and dried,
  • 2 handfuls spinach, rinsed and dried (leftover from last week’s farmers’ market purchase)
  • 1 handful radishes, trimmed and washed
  • 2 oz. feta cheese, broken into small pieces


  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. cold water
  • 1 pinch salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • a drizzle of honey or agave


  • Combine dressing ingredients in jar. Secure lid on jar. Shake.
  • Chop romaine and spinach into bite sized pieces.
  • Slice radishes
  • In a large bowl, toss dressing with lettuce.
  • Divide lettuce into two salad bowls. Top with radishes and feta.
  • Add meat, nuts, and/or dried fruit to make into main course salad.

I knew I’d want to blog about my farmers’ market finds. I also knew I’d want to hear about what friends and strangers on the world wide web were finding at their local markets, and maybe more importantly, how they were using those finds in meals throughout the week. Because buying kohlrabi is a cool thing to do, but cooking with it and subsequently eating it is much more impressive.


And so begins Market Monday. I plan to share with you each week what I found at the farmers’ market and how I plan to cook with it. Here’s how you can play along:

  • Leave a comment below telling what you found at the farmers’ market and your plans for cooking and eating it. Or link to a post you’ve written addressing the same things. (Then, link back to me in your post so your readers can get in on the fun.)
  • Couldn’t make it to the farmers’ market? Tell us about what was in your CSA box, or even what seasonal produce you found at your grocery store. Did you choose local tomatoes over imported? The goal here is learning and progress, not farmers’ market snobbery.
  • Read the comments below for inspiration. Visit the links and comment on those people’s blogs because comments are so exciting to get. Seriously, I get palpitations when I see a notice in my inbox that I’ve received one.

So, what did you find at your farmers’ market this week?

P.S. – Want to grab the cute Market Monday button my handsome graphic designer husband made for me? Use the code below:

<a title=”marketmonday by kjacobs729, on Flickr” href=””><img src=”; alt=”marketmonday” width=”150″ height=”150″ /></a>

Homemade Salad Dressing

I’m a bit of a salad dressing snob. When I was a kid, I only liked French dressing, and only a certain brand. Eventually, I tired of the sweet red dressing on my salads and ate my lettuce leaves plain. Or, preferably, with lots of cheese. When I was in high school, I discovered Panera’s poppy seed dressing that they use on their fruity summer salad.

In the past few years, I’ve branched out and included a few vinaigrettes in my repertoire, green goddess dressing, and even some gingery Asian dressings. However, all these have come from the salad dressing aisle at the store. When we decided to eat more whole foods, I realized that the list of hard-to-pronounce ingredients on the back of my beloved ready-made dressings probably aren’t considered “whole.” For a few months, I bought some expensive organic dressing, but that didn’t agree with my budget.

One summer afternoon, I was assigned to bring a salad to my house church for dinner. The dressing I bought wasn’t gluten-free, which was a need for one member of my church, so I did some quick thinking. I threw apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a jar and shook it up. Maybe my gluten-free friend was just being polite, but she said the dressing was great.

A year and a half later, I realized, “Hey, I could do that for myself and probably save some money.” So I did. And it worked. And it was quick and easy. And you should try it too.

Balsamic Vinaigrette


  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 pinches of salt
  • a pinch (or grind) of pepper
  • a small pinch of onion powder and/or garlic powder (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic minced or grated (optional)


  • Put all ingredients in a jar.
  • Seal jar.
  • Check to see if the jar is really, really tightly sealed.
  • Shake.
  • Pour on top of salad and enjoy!

This has been so successful and so convenient that I’ve even tried my hand at other recipes. For example,

Orange-Lime Dressing


  • 3 oz. orange juice
  • 1 oz. lime juice
  • 3 oz. olive oil
  • 1-2 pinches salt
  • 1 pinch ground ginger (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar


  • See super complex ingredients from Balsamic Vinaigrette recipe.

I’d really like to find a french dressing recipe since I don’t even know of a healthy brand to buy. I’m thinking of trying this one or this one.

Have you ever made salad dressing at home? What salad recipes do you love?

For more new adventures, visit Alicia’s Try New Adventures Thursday. Also, visit Jill at Diaper Diaries for Things I Love Thursday.

Authentic British Scones

In the summer of 2007, my grandparents took their three daughters, three sons-in-law, three grandchildren, and one grandson-in-law on a trip to the United Kingdom to celebrate their 50th anniversary. It was an amazing experience–one that we would not have had without their generosity–and it’s fun to have eleven other people to reminisce with about our favorite sites and experiences.

On our first excursion into London, jet-lagged and trying not to start out the trip on a cranky note, the twelve of us descended on The Queen’s Head pub. I think I had a jacket potato (known, on this side of the pond, as a baked potato).

One of the first evenings of the trip, we ate at a fancy restaurant called Chez…Something (that’s how I know it was fancy), where I had some amazing creme brulee. Afterward, we went on a boat tour of the Thames. Throughout the trip, we took over 700 pictures, which would have cost triple the price of our then-new digital camera in film and processing. I think we took at least 100 on this boat trip. Later, I tried to label all the pictures with the names of what we saw, but we saw so much it all blurred together. I remembered the names of these two places, however.

Dexter had his first encounter with fish ‘n’ chips and warm Coke. I’m not sure, but he may count this as the greatest culinary experience of his life.

Harry Potter fans might recognize this scene, which in real life is known as Alnwick Castle. Nearby, it has beautiful gardens, including one garden of entirely poisonous plants.

My family isn’t known for being particularly adventurous, but we broke away from the tour for a day to explore the English countryside. We hopped on a train in York and headed to Thirsk. A helpful employee at the train station looked at my dad and said, “Why on earth would you want to go there?” We had a very specific reason–to visit the home and practice of the late Alf Wight, better known as beloved author James Herriot. When I was in high school and college, my parents really enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small dvds, read the books, and listened to the audiobooks as they drove me back and forth from college every other weekend. We got off the train at Thirsk with “find the museum” as a plan. It was pouring rain. If we had an umbrella, we just had one, so it didn’t make a huge difference. We ran to the closest building, a pub which had just opened. The friendly owner called us a cab, and we sat and sipped our warm, iceless Cokes. Our cabbie was friendly, and although we were completely clueless Americans, he charged us a very fair price for the ride. It was cool to see a place that we had only imagined. We decided to walk back to the train station, but bought umbrellas at Tesco for 2 pounds for the walk. Our train stopped for a good 45 minutes on the tracks on the way back to York because the train ahead of us had caught on fire.

Dexter reenacts the ever-entertaining, repeating story of when Herriot has to stick his arm up a cow’s you-know-what for some veterinary reason or another.

Dexter and I in James Herriot’s car.

I am almost certain this red door belonged to someone famous who is now dead. I’m thinking an author.We saw Edinburgh castle, which was one of the many delightful things we saw in Edinburgh, my favorite city in the UK. Later, we saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage (Shakespeare’s wife, not the actress) and explored Stratford-upon-Avon. I bought a mug there with Shakespeare quotes all over it. I thought it was silly at the time, but I use it all the time and remember the trip.When we were first married, people often said to us, “You can’t be married. You’re only 12!” I wanted to let these people know how offensive that was to a 21-year-old, but didn’t think it would help. I often wondered how many of them actually knew a 12-year-old. On this trip, as we were checking out of a hotel, the woman at the counter said to Dexter, “You can’t be married. You’re only 18!” We were flattered and decided we like British people a lot. However, in this picture at Stonehenge, I can see why people thought we looked so young.

We also saw the Roman Baths in Bath, where heroines went to socialize in Jane Austen’s novels. Later, we visited Winchester Cathedral  where Austen is  buried. I was looking and looking for her gravestone, but as I walked up to a plaque on the wall about her, I realized I was standing on it.

But, back to Edinburgh. Dexter and I split from our tour group and explored the city with my brother and sister. It was a such a fun day! What sealed the deal was the amazing tea (not just the drink, but the afternoon meal) that we had at the Scotland Institute of Art. They were having a buy one, get one free deal, so we decided to try it out. It was beautiful–and comes in a close second to the performance of Mary Poppins at Prince Edward Theatre in Soho where Burt actually danced on the ceiling for my favorite moment of the trip.

Thanks to the delectable afternoon teas I experienced in the UK, I came back to the states a scone snob. Don’t get me wrong–I still like those big, fruity cookies at coffee shops, but I snicker at calling them scones. Real scones are actually a lot like biscuits, just a little drier. Which makes them the perfect accompaniment to a quality cup of tea. (Or coffee, which British people seem to drink as much or more than they drink tea.)

I knew I couldn’t wait for another trip across the pond to eat real scones again, so I searched high and low for a trustworthy recipe. Lo and behold, Alton Brown came to the rescue. When you make these–and you really, really should–I recommend splurging for some clotted cream and Smuckers low-sugar strawberry jam, which are pictured below. You won’t regret it.

Me, in James Herriot’s kitchen with some fake scones.

(Dried Cherry) Authentic British Scones

slightly adapted from Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For More Food


  • 2 cups (270 g/9.5 oz) all-purpose flour (feel free to substitute a little whole wheat flour)
  • 2 tsp. (7 g/.25 oz) baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. (5 g/.25 oz) salt
  • 1/3 cup (64 g/2.25 oz) Sugar
  • 6 tbsp. (85 g/3 oz) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 3/4 cup (177 g/6.25 oz) heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 (100 g/3.5 oz) eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup (85 g/3 oz) dried cherries, coarsely chopped (optional)


  • Preheat the oven to 375*F.
  • Whisk cream and eggs together.
  • Pulse flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the food processor 3 or 4 times. (If your food processor is broken like mine, you can sift it. I use one of these. You can also whisk it around probably still end up with scones.) Transfer the dry goods into a large bowl.
  • Chop your frozen butter into cubes. Add cubes to dry ingredients and rub until about half the butter disappears and the rest is in pea-sized pieces. (Alton Brown suggests rubbing in the butter as you would rub a puppy’s ears. You can also use a pastry blender or a food processor, like I did, but the won’t be quite as flaky and delicious. *Also–see the picture of the unbaked scone above? You don’t want your butter chunks to be that big. Or they will melt and make a pool of butter on your baking sheet. Smaller pieces = the butter stays in the scone.)
  • Make a well in the dry ingredient/butter mixtures. Pour the wet ingredients into the well and mix using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in dried cherries if using.
  • Knead the dough on floured parchment or wax paper. I prefer using a silpat.
  • Roll into a 1-inch-thick round or rectangle. Cut into 8 triangles. You could also use biscuit or cookie cutters to make these into circles like most of the scones I saw in the UK.
  • Place wedges or circles on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Sometimes, I use my baking stone.
  • Bake scones for 23-25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a rack to cool.
  • Serve at room temperature with clotted cream and jam.

Look at the rest of my At-Home Coffee Shop Series!

I’m linking up today for the first time at Finer Things Friday!

Meal Plan Monday 4.18.11

It’s been a long time since I posted a meal plan, but since I’m cooking for four, I need to organize. What better place to organize my links the new recipes I’ve found than here? I’ve found some very yummy sounding recipes that I’m excited to try this week.

Although I cook for four people total, I only cook for all four at once on Sundays–and yesterday they were both busy at dinner time. On weekdays, we only have three at the table each night. I’ve decided to cook three meals a week, and serve leftovers two nights a week. Most of the time, my sides are frozen veggies, salad, or canned fruit. Saturdays, it’s just Dexter and me.

Here’s the plan for this week:

Sunday “family dinner” – Meatloaf inspired by this recipe, balsamic baked onions and potatoes, canned fruit (I’ll eat leftovers instead of meatloaf)

Monday & Tuesday – Greek turkey or chickpea/lentil burgers with tapenade, tater tots one night and fresh green beans the other, quinoa & black bean salad (adapted from here)

Wednesday & ThursdayVegetable soup with corn bread croutons, leftover balsamic baked onions and potatoes or frozen green beans, canned fruit

Friday – Pizza, salad, fruit

I knew that eating a meal I actually cooked every night this week would be a stretch for a girl who has served canned soup, frozen soup, pasta, and Papa Johns for the last two weeks. However, I made sure to do my grocery shopping on Saturday and lots of prep work on Sunday. To give you an idea of how I prepared for the week and plan to finish cooking later on this week, here’s my meal plan work schedule:


  • Make meatloaf, balsamic potatoes and onions in the oven
  • Wash and chop vegetables for soup; saute veggies in soup pot; store in fridge for Monday
  • Make chickpea/lentil burger mixture
  • Make turkey burger patties
  • Make quinoa & black bean salad


  • Cook burgers
  • Make tapenade
  • Cook tater tots
  • Make cornbread for Wednesday’s croutons


  • Cook burgers
  • Cook green beans


  • Add 2 c. water to soup, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes
  • Use cornbread to make croutons
  • Warm up veggie side dish
  • Make pizza crust; possibly parbake


  • Reheat soup
  • Warm up veggie side dish


  • Top pizza crust
  • Chop and wash salad
  • Open can of fruit (or be lazy and just eat pizza & salad)

What are you planning to cook this drizzly spring week?

I’m linking this meal plan to This Week For Dinner for the very first time this week!

Spinach Artichoke Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I didn’t know about spinach-artichoke dip until I was in college. I first had it at a wine-tasting party that my friend Amy hosted. I was wary at first.  A food with two vegetables as the name of the dish? No thank you. There is no amount of wine that could make me think that is a good combination. What I didn’t realize was that wine isn’t the key to making vegetables taste good–cheese is.

The cover-it-with-cheese principle has served me well, helping me to include tomatoes, mushrooms, and brussels sprouts in my diet when they never would have made it into my mouth before. As I’ve grown accustomed to vegetables, I’ve reduced the amount of cheese I use to accompany them. It might be too great a shock to my system to completely take it out.

Last week, my April issue of Whole Living Magazine arrived, and inside I found 30 ideas for delicious, nutritious sandwiches. I was inspired by their combination of artichokes and white beans and created my own easy, real-life dinner-time recipe. These sandwiches, while not as decadent as their namesake dip, are a great way to add flavor, fiber, and protein to a grilled cheese sandwich.

Reviews from my table:

“These are pretty good.”


“I don’t like spinach, but I really like this sandwich.”

You’re sold, aren’t you?

Spinach Artichoke Grilled Cheese Sandwich
adapted from Whole Living, April 2011
makes 5 sandwiches


  • 1 can great northern beans (or other white beans)
  • 1 10-oz. box frozen spinach
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise (I used light, made with olive oil)
  • 2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 14-oz. can artichokes in water
  • 5 oz. white cheese in 5 slices or grated (I used organic raw sharp cheddar because it was on sale)
  • 10 slices 100% whole wheat sandwich bread (frozen for easy assembly)
  • 3-4 Tbsp. butter, olive oil, or non-stick spray


  1. Thaw frozen spinach in microwave. Squeeze out water in a towel over the sink.
  2. Put beans, spinach, mayonnaise, parmesan, and olive oil in the food processor. Blend for 30-60 seconds until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Drain and chop artichokes into small pieces.
  4. Combine artichokes and bean mixture in a small bowl.
  5. Spread butter on one side of each piece of bread, brush with olive oil, or spray lightly with non-stick spray for a lower fat option.
  6. To assemble sandwiches, put 3 tablespoons of artichoke mixture on the un-buttered side of a piece of bread. (I used a 1.5 Tbsp. cookie scoop to measure.) Top with 1/2 oz of cheese. Place a second piece of bread, butter side out, on top of cheese. Repeat for four remaining sandwiches.
  7. Cook on a griddle heated over medium heat, on a panini press, or in a George Foreman grill until brown and crispy. I put mine on the George Foreman for about 4 minutes.

Pictures to come. Somebody pressed “Schedule” instead of “Save” and forgot about it.

Cooking for Four

Yesterday, I mentioned that we have a new housemate and a new dinnermate who is a future housemate. It is a weird transition to go from feeding two adults to four. When it was just Dexter and I, I would often “wing it” at dinner time. I’d search through the freezer and pantry, and we’d usually come away with something edible. Although the last time we did this our dinner was a chips and salsa appetizer with pancakes for an entree. Nope. Not joking. The pancakes were whole wheat if that counts for anything.

Now that three hungry men sit around my table at dinner time, the pressure is on. Thankfully, these guys are generous with their compliments and willing to take risks. So far, we’ve had lentil tacos, bean burritos, pasta with vegetarian meatballs, and chili with optional ground beef. These meals were all quick and easy to prepare, which is important now that the meals I cook won’t stretch across the whole week. I’ve realized that I will not be able to make everything from scratch, and I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m still not sure how to plan for leftovers, especially since not everyone eats dinner at home every night, so I’m planning five meals at a time and keeping copious amounts of canned food on hand for dinner emergencies. Here’s the plan for the my next five meals:

  • Leftover chili, homemade apple-pear sauce from aging fresh fruit, peas
  • Polenta & vegetable bake, salad, bread
  • Taco pizza with beans or beef, salad, canned fruit
  • Spinach-artichoke grilled sandwiches, salad, green beans
  • Huevos rancheros, whole-wheat raisin biscuits, canned fruit

What are your best tips and recipes for cooking for a group on a regular basis?

Read more adventures at Try New Adventures Thursday at Alicia’s Homemaking.

Family Friendly Chili & Guest Posting for the First Time!

Remember a few weeks ago when Leah shared her amazing carmelita recipe with us? Well, Leah and I are switching roles, so you can find my first guest post ever over on A Momma on a Mission today! I’m sharing my mom’s delicious, family friendly chili recipe. It’s so easy to make, and budget-friendly, too! While you’re over at Leah’s blog, check out a few of her other great posts! On my to-make list are her healthy mashed potatoes and her homemade chapstick.

At-Home Coffee Shop Series: Gourmet Hot Chocolate

Please welcome my friend Ambre! She’s a wife, stay-at-home mom, and lover of Christ who blogs about her passion for nutrition and clean living at Living As Of The Day. I was thrilled when she agreed to guest post because she has a reputation for taking hot chocolate seriously. I’ve tasted her hot chocolate handiwork and am eager to try my hand at the recipe.

*   *   *   *   *

I have grown up surrounded by coffee. My single Mom volunteered at a church sponsored coffee shop on weekends while I slept on a mat on the back room floor. My Grandparents have had non-stop pots going my entire life.

I love the way it smells- so warming and comforting.

It’s taste on the other hand leaves MUCH to be desired. I hate it. It’s gross and makes my whole face contort unattractively if I’m forced to taste it “Just try it, Ambre! You can’t even taste it in this mocha!” Lies. I am like the Princess and the Pea: it doesn’t matter how many layers of other flavors you try to disguise it under, I. will. detect. it.

I love hot chocolate.

Really love it.

For the sake of making sure we’re all on the same page (listen up, Mom!), let me clarify what I mean when I say “hot chocolate”. I am in no way talking about anything that at any point resembled a powder. Ever. That would be cocoa. Cocoa lacks the butterfat necessary to even attempt to go toe to toe in a taste match with hot chocolate. Are we all together now? Fantastic!

I use to try hot chocolates at any coffee shop I came upon. This resulted in a fairly well developed palate (if I do say so myself!). If you’re a coffee drinker, then I know you are familiar with the difference between a gas station cup of joe and a fair trade mug of exquisite flavor and depth. The same differences occur in the land of hot chocolate. There are the afore mentioned powder packets one mixes with hot water and drinks because you are a kid and don’t know any better and then there’s the liquid chocolate spun into rich milk with a dash of chili powder and cinnamon topped with a swirl of whipped cream to be consumed with a deep sigh of contentment. *sigh* Um, I’ll be right back!

Eggnog Hot Chocolate

Okay, (cup in hand) where were we? Oh, yes: “sighs of contentment”.

So how do we go about creating these flavors and textures in our own kitchen when the fancy strikes? Is it even possible? Absolutely. Let’s step into the kitchen and I’ll show you how I go about it and try to give you a spring board for creating the perfect cup for your tastes.

Let’s start with the chocolate. Your finished product will never taste better than the sum of your ingredients. For this recipe, we are looking for stellar chocolate chips. By “stellar”, I am not talking about a chocolate from “that town” in Pennsylvania. Nope. That wouldn’t do at all! Buy the highest quality chocolate you can afford that didn’t cause the shed of blood and tears (I use Guittard). The second ingredient you will need is whole milk. I will repeat myself once: WHOLE MILK! If you choose to use a more watery version of milk I wash my hands of any responsibility and by all means, don’t tell anyone you got the recipe from me!

Found them both? Okay, then! Let’s go!

A Most Excellent Pot Of Hot Chocolate

½ cup chocolate chips (I use 60% cocoa)

1 Quart Whole Milk

1) Melt chocolate in pan until smooth over low heat stirring constantly. If you have a thin pan, use a super low heat, if you have a nice and thick/heavy pan, you can use a heat closer to medium. The goal is to NOT BURN the chocolate. I believe in you! If your chocolate seems to be balling up instead of melting add a 1/4 inch of your milk and stir til smooth.

Melt the chips

Melt The Chips

2) Add a 1/4 inch of milk, if you haven’t already, and stir until smooth. This will take a moment as the cold milk will attempt to harden your chocolate again so you’re job is to get everybody on the same page aka to the same temperature.

Stir, Stir, Stir!

3) Add the rest of your milk and heat til hot (if you like to take temperatures in your kitchen approximately 105-110 degrees is what I shoot for) over medium heat. Basically, if you can comfortably hold your finger in the milk, it’s not hot enough. This is an important moment in the process. You will be tempted to walk away only for a moment to take care of something: DON’T !!!

My hot chocolate mantra is as follows:

“A watched pot never boils, but an unwatched pot Always Boils Over!”

Take my word for it and see it through to the end!

Hot And Ready To Serve!

4) Pour your mugs and enjoy!

Here are some ideas of things to add to the finished product to really take it to the next level:

  • Peppermint oil- Make Peppermint Hot Chocolate to rival any coffee shops!
  • Eggnog- My three year old suggested this and it’s amazing!
  • Cinnamon and Chili- Mexican Hot Chocolate at it’s finest!
  • White Chocolate Chips- go half and half with your chocolate chips and enjoy!
  • Creme de Menthe- if you’re of age and looking for something  hot and spiked look no further!
  • Salt- I kid you not. Give it a try! It’s yumma!

Let me know how you like it!  What do/did you do to give your hot chocolate a little extra kick?

At-Home Coffee Shop Series: Pumpkin Scones

I’m not a Starbucks person. Yes, I like coffee shops, but when given a choice, I’ll usually choose a local place over a big chain. (To me, comparing a local coffee shop to a Starbucks is akin to comparing Shorts to McDonalds. Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little.) Starbucks isn’t all bad, however. They have a pretty awesome corporate responsibility policy (which, by the way, your local coffee shop would love to have but they don’t have the funds…so you should go support them) and they have recently cut trans-fats and high-fructose corn-syrup out of their pastries.

One day, Dexter and I were out shopping, and…it’s embarrasing to admit…we stopped at Starbucks for a latte. I promise, we were far from a (good) local cafe and there was a caffeine-muffled-by-hot-milk emergency. As we were standing in line, we both spotted the pumkin scones. They were frosted.


Being the good wife that I am, I looked at Dexter and asked, “Wanna get one?” He did. I wasn’t expecting much–a dry, cookie-like pumpkin brick with some too-sweet frosting that would just make me want to wash out my mouth with our latte when it was still too hot to drink. However, I took a bite and fell in love. It was moist and sweet and…pumpkiny. There was even some detectable nutmeg flavor!

Now, I’ll admit that we were already having a really good morning. Dexter wasn’t on-call at work, we were taking it slow, going shopping, and getting along really well. Dexter was telling me how cute I looked in my winter hat and being all hand-holdy. So, some of my scone-love might be due to general happiness.

When we got home, I searched online and found a person who claimed to have the exact recipes for Starbucks pumpkin scones. So I had to make them. And I left out the sugar and had to mix it in last. But they were still good. And then I made them again. And they were still good. And now you can make them, too.

If you want to eat these with French press coffee, I can confirm that that’s an awesome idea.

A note about the recipe: If you want the glaze to harden like it does at Starbucks, you should do exactly what the recipe says. I got all snobby and eyeballed the powdered sugar and milk and stirred it with a fork and then I was mad it wasn’t the same.

Copycat Starbucks Pumpkin Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 tablespoons half-and-half
1 large egg
6 tablespoons cold butter

Plain Glaze
1 cup plus 1 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk

Spiced Icing
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch ground ginger
pinch ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon ginger in a large bowl.
3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half-and-half, and eggs.
4. Cut butter into cubes then add it to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry knife or a fork to combine butter with dry ingredients. Continue mixing until no chunks of butter are visible. You can also use a food processor: Pulse butter into dry ingredients until it is the texture of cornmeal or coarse sand.
5. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, then form the dough into a ball. Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1 -inch thick rectangle that is about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide. Use a large knife or a pizza wheel to slice the dough twice through the width, making three equal portions. Cut those three slices diagonally so that you have 6 triangular slices of dough.
6. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes on a baking sheet that has been lightly oiled or lined with parchment paper. Scones should begin to turn light brown.
7. While scones cool, prepare plain glaze by combining ingredients in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed. Mx until smooth.
8 When scones are cool, use a brush to paint a coating of the glaze over the top of each scone.
9. As that white glaze firms up, prepare spiced icing by combining ingredients in another medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scone and allow the icing to dry before serving (at least 1 hour). A squirt bottle works great for this, or you can drizzle with a whisk.Makes 6 scones.

Check out the rest of the At-Home Coffee Shop Series here!