What to Do During a Long Weekend in New Orleans

What to Do During a Long Weekend in New Orleans

At the beginning of February I met up with two of my best friends in New Orleans, LA to celebrate 17 years of friendship. While the trip didn’t fall on our anniversary (you better believe we have one!), we wanted to make it a celebration of our relationship and strove to create an awesome long weekend of fun, friends, and so much food! Spoiler alert: we were successful! The three of us are scattered in different cities around the United States now (Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; and Philadelphia, PA) and we picked New Orleans since it was kinda-sorta in the middle.

Continue reading “What to Do During a Long Weekend in New Orleans”
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Lemon Veggie Wild Rice

Lemon Veggie Wild Rice

Well, it’s officially autumn here in Portland! The leaves are falling, the skies are grey, and it’s been raining a good amount. Autumn makes me want warm food, a hot fire, and a good book. Since I keep my pantry well stocked with yummy grains and non-perishables, I often buy a bunch of veggies to sauté together which I throw on top of rice or lentils or whatever else Fred Meyer’s organic bulk section is stocking. I decided to mix it up a little bit the other day and stumbled into this yummy new dish I’ll be cooking up for years to come. I brought it to my first-cousin-once-removed-in-law’s uncle’s 76th birthday (sometimes it’s easier to simplify familial relationships). I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious this simple dish is! Give yourself some time in the kitchen to get everything going, but then pop it into the oven and socialize until it’s time to eat. Covered after removing from the oven, this will stay plenty hot for 30-40 minutes, so it really is great for taking to a friend’s house or to make ahead for your own gathering!

Lemon Veggie Wild Rice | Land of Laurel

Lemon Veggie Wild Rice

Serves 6-8 as main dish and 12-14 people as a side.

Ingredients

1.5 cups organic, tri-color wild rice

2 cups organic vegetable broth

1.75 cups water

1/2 stick butter or 2 tablespoons olive oil

5 small, organic carrots

4 stalks organic celery

1 small onion (I used a yellow onion, but a red onion would taste amazing in this!)

1 medium, organic leek

6-8 leaves sliced, fresh sage

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1/3 cup chopped, fresh parsley

3/4 cup dried cranberries

3/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

1 organic lemon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

feta cheese to sprinkle

Lemon Veggie Wild Rice | Land of Laurel

Recipe

 

Start by putting the rice, broth and water in a medium sized pot over high heat, bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 20-30 mins until water is absorbed. Melt butter (or heat oil) over medium heat in 4 quart dutch oven (or other large oven safe vessel). Chop carrots and celery and add to pot with butter, sauté for 5-1o minutes, stirring frequently. Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Chop leek, and onions and add to carrot celery pot, sauté together ten minutes, stirring frequently. Test rice, it should be soft with a slight crunch. Once rice is cooked, turn off heat on both pots and add rice to sautéd veggies. Add cranberries, salt, pepper, sliced almonds, and the grated rind and juice of one lemon. Stir together, cover with lid, and place in oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove lid, and let rest for ten minutes, then serve sprinkled with feta cheese.

 

Let me know if you try making this! It’s perfect for a fall night, but the easily found ingredients make it a dish that can be served year round.

 

Celebrating 24

This past Saturday I turned thirty-five twenty-four and despite my wish to be about ten years older, it was a wonderful birthday weekend!

 

Friday evening I threw a big birthday party at my house. I absolutely love having parties. They don’t need to be formal or a lot of work to be fun! I did most of my party prep on Thursday evening after work so Friday I had plenty time to do the last few things before my guests arrived. Lucky me, I had some wonderful helpers on Friday who helped get everything ready to go in the last few minutes so I had time to shower!

 

I’ll be sharing a few recipes the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to give you a little preview. We prepped quite a spread. My personal food mantra is there is never too much. I’ve inherited a love of food and feeding people from my father’s side of the family. I simply am not comfortable when I have visitors unless there is a drink in their hand and a snack in their mouth. I have aunts who simply will not rest when you come over, unless you’ve eaten a post-dinner snack and have a bowl of ice cream with homemade fudge sauce in your hand. It’s one of the most endearing qualities of my extended family. These are definitely traits that have been passed on from my parent’s generation to my cousins and I. My food table was quickly full!

 

Party Food | Land of Laurel

 

So at the party I wanted to do a few simple things. I prepped a quick version of my delicious, thick, vegan Butternut Squash Soup on Thursday evening. On Friday I quickly heated up a veggie broth, added everything I’d roasted the day before, and pureed it all together. Then my three helpers (my darling sister Bronwyn, and two of my best friends, Hannah & Nicole) put together a small army of crostini, the toppings of which I’d also prepped on Thursday. Now I love a good crostini, they’re delicious! I’ve already shared my favorite fall appetizer, a Pomegranate, Butternut Squash, Lemon Ricotta crostini and these spring versions were just as easy! They came out just gorgeous and oh so colorful! I promise they also tasted as good as they looked. Other foods I served? A delicious (but small) Mango-Mint Salad, a cheese plate, and a Spring Veggie Couscous salad. Yum!  To top off the entire evening of eating, my sister made an absolutely gorgeous chocolate raspberry cake. It was beautiful! Chocolate raspberry is my dream cake so I was in dessert heaven.

 

For my actual birthday on Saturday, I went out to brunch with my parents and sister at a place in North Berkeley called Cafe Leila. The food was alright. I think the pastries are the way to go at that place, but I ordered pancakes. They were a bit undercooked. Oops! Their selection of teas and lattes is pretty amazing though. We all shared one of their cronuts as well. That was flakey and delicious! My parents gifted me an amazing sewing machine that does an amazing number of awesome stitches so look forward to some sewing tutorials in the future! First step? Hemming some curtains for my bedroom!

 

After brunch my parents left and my friend Hannah arrived. My sister, Hannah, and I then all headed down the California coast towards Santa Cruz! We got a super late start, leaving shortly after 1:00pm. We took 92 over the San Mateo Bridge and over into Half Moon Bay. Before we got to the cute town, we stopped at some of the nurseries to see the amazing array of plants. The greenhouses were humid and simple signs reading “Orchids for Sale” did nothing to disclose the amazing sites within. Orchids as far as you could see in every direction. In every color! It was beautiful!

 

Orchids to Die For | Land of Laurel

 

In another greenhouse, there were amazing carnivorous plants (many of which I wanted to buy considering our summer fly problem!) and nestled among them tiny fairy houses. It was so cute! And these carnivorous plants were so interesting and unusual.

 

Carnivorous Plants & Fairy Houses | Land of Laurel

 

Lastly there were the succulents and cacti! Plants to die for! I wanted to take all of them home and slowly kill them (my go-to method for succulent care). They were so beautiful though!

 

Cacti & Succulent Nursery | Land of Laurel

 

After I’d died and gone to heaven at the nurseries we continued the little ways down Highway 92 into Half Moon Bay where we stopped briefly for sandwich snacks at a small deli and creeped on adorable chicks at the cute hay and feed store on Main Street. Some day I will get to go in and buy those baby chicks rather than just looking! Seriously, there is nothing cuter, y’all!

 

Baby Chicks | Land of Laurel

 

After our pit stop, we hopped onto Highway One and continued down the beautiful coast, stopping occasionally to take in the ocean views. At one point we found what seemed to be a wind surfing convention. Literally dozens of windsurfers were winding their way around in the water by this one beach. It was beautiful and so colorful! All the colors of the sails seemed so joyful against the backdrop of the blue ocean and sky.

 

Windsurfers | Land of Laurel

 

By the time we got into Santa Cruz it was already pretty late. We stopped first at Penny Ice Creamery for Bitter Carmel cones topped with toasted marshmallow fluff. If you haven’t tried this yet, do it! It’s the most amazing combination! The only Penny Ice Creamery to have this combo, seemingly, is the one on 41st Street, so be sure to plan accordingly! We walked with our cones down to Pleasure Point where we found a nice bench to finish devouring them. We spotted a pod of dolphins in the distance which made it even more lovely. We walked down East Cliff for a little while, watching the surfers and beach-goers.

 

Santa Cruz East Cliff | Land of Laurel

 

After our short walk, we headed to Pacific Ave for some window shopping before finishing the evening with dinner at I Love Sushi (we got four of the five Vegetarian Special Rolls and split them) and a bowl of soul at Verve Coffee. All too soon it was time to hit the road, but it had been a truly lovely birthday!

 

What do you like to do for your birthdays? Celebrate with a big party? A few friends? Just spend time with your family?

We Ate Our Way Through Portland – PART II

Post Saturday and Sunday we were full. Very satiated. Don’t worry, though. We kept eating. Monday morning in Portland. Day three of our trip. We we woke up early. REALLY early. We dropped Scott off at work at 6:40am. Then we went back to the house and saw Nikki off before hopping into Nikki’s car and heading to Pip’s Doughnuts. Why don’t more people talk about Pip’s Doughnuts?! This place is AMAZING! First of all, it’s on the cutest little street. NE Fremont Street looks like something straight out of the 1940’s. The buildings all told a story. We ended up wandering through the surrounding neighborhood as well, the houses were all adorable! They all looked different and were painted fun colors. The cottages and craftsman style homes all seemed so historical and stylish compared with California’s constant stream of ranch style homes painted beige or grey with black trim.

 

NE Fremont Street Potland | Land of Laurel

 

Let’s go inside Pip’s though and get to the good stuff. First of all, they had these cute cans filled with succulents. Too cute!

 

Succulent Cans | Land of Laurel

 

I’ve always wanted to do something like this! Just need cans that look old, but are still waterproof. Anyways, Nicole and I waited for a short bit, ordered our food, and quickly got a table. We split the Chai Latte Flight and eight doughnuts. We loved every flavor of doughnut we tried, my favorite was the Dirty Wu, but the Meyer Lemon Pear Butter was fresh and delicious, you can’t go wrong with Raw Honey and Sea Salt, or the Nutella and Sea Salt. Basically anything with sea salt is amazing. Nicole loved the Candied Bacon and Maple too. And oh my god. The chai flight. This was my personal heaven, y’all. Five kinds of chai lattes. Each tastier than the next. My favorite was a bit surprising. The Emmylou is non-caffeinated and made from an herbal tea with lavender, camomile, and chrysanthemum.  It taste like relaxation and yoga breaths, lazy Sundays and rainy days by the fire. Amazing. My next favorite was the King & I, which was more of a traditional chai. Nicole preferred Ginger Rodgers and Heart of Gold. The former was gingery and spicy, the latter had hints of coconut and turmeric.  Neither of us really liked the Smokey Robinson, which, as you may have guessed from the name, had a distinct smokey flavor. We finished the doughnuts as well as four of the chais and left half a cup of the Smokey Robinson behind.

 

Pip's Originial Doughnuts and Chai Flight | Land of Laurel

 

After Pip’s we headed to Alberta which quickly became our favorite little street in Portland. There were so many cute shops and we shopped till we dropped. I bought a cute dog collar at Healthy Pets Northwest for my parent’s pooch who recently outgrew her old one. We both bought tank dresses at Frock which was a cute store with happy colors and lots of cool clothing. We both adored Digs which had a cool mix of home items, gardening supplies, and some clothing. They had so many cool containers and tons of air plants. I fell in love with a Turkish towel bathrobe, but the price tag had me balking.

 

And, then it was time to eat again. Yup. We ate more. And more. And more. This time we stopped at Pine State Biscuits.

 

Pine State Biscuits | Land of Laurel

 

We nommed on The Regina and The Double Down. Lot’s of eggs. Lot’s of gravy. Plenty of deliciousness. Nicole and I were splitting almost every meal at this point. We just wanted to be able to try all the options. It was amazing. Here’s The Regina in all her glory. We gobbled down The Double Down before I could snap a picture.

 

Pine State Biscuits' The Regina | Land of Laurel

 

After gorging ourselves once again, we stumbled outside and discovered two awesome mural walls. One had a fantastic message, which I very much appreciated it.

 

Mural Wall | Land of Laurel

 

Of course, we had to take some pictures. We propped my phone up on a bush, then a random car (scaring the owner who was getting a haircut enough for him to send the stylist out to make sure we weren’t doing anything bad to it! Oops! Sorry!) and set the timer.

 

Mural Wall 1 | Land of LaurelMural Wall 2 | Land of LaurelMural Wall 3 | Land of LaurelMural Wall 4 | Land of LaurelMural Wall 5 | Land of Laurel

 

We had some fun with that. I love how the colors of the mural pop against our black and grey outfits. Sometimes taking a good picture is all about finding the right setting.

 

After wandering back down Alberta we hopped into the car with the plan to hit up Powell’s Books and the Pearl District before picking up Nikki at her office. Fail. We drove down Mississippi Street and quickly realized we needed to stop and venture into the shops on this cute street as well!

 

We headed into PDXchange, a fair trade and local store, where I bough a necklace made from a bullet in which a trellis pattern had been melted. Miraculously, at the end of the trip TSA did let me wear this through security!

 

Bullet Necklace | Land of Laurel

 

We stopped for coffee and tea at the Fresh Pot before continuing to pop into every shop along the street. Before long, it was time to pick up Nikki so we headed south towards her office. We actually arrived a bit early so we stopped in at the nearby Goodwill Superstore and ended up buying coordinating silver containers at $3 buck a pop. We plan on planting succulents in them. After we nabbed Nikki, we decided to stop in at Grand Marketplace to oooh and ahhh at all the antiques.

 

Grand Marketplace | Land of Laurel

 

There was lots of silver similar to what we’d just purchased at the Goodwill Superstore, but for 10 times the price, but many other things caught my eye. The displays were so artful and fun! You felt like you were in a bohemian apartment in the 1920’s. It was delightful to walk around the large shop.

 

Grand Marketplace Display | Land of Laurel

 

One day, I’m building myself a big kitchen island that looks like the above. So beautifully worn, so functional. We managed to convince Nikki to hit up the Motherland while we were some what near by. This is when I got really excited!

 

Powell's Books

 

No trip to Portland would be complete without a stop at Powell’s Books! I wish I could say I spent my time exploring the entire store, but in truth, I quickly  picked up a copy of Wildwood as a hostess gift for Nikki and then dove into the urban agriculture section immersing myself in books on backyard chickens and goats. For an hour. I could have stayed for ten hours in that section alone!

 

After Powell’s we picked up Scott from their house and headed to the Chapel Pub for dinner. We got a cozy little table right next to a small fireplace. I used my girl scout skills to take the fire from coals to brightly burning flames. I ordered a hot buttered rum for the first time. Literally the best drink I’ve ever tried. My new favorite. So good and creamy! Definitely searching out a local place to try that again.

 

Hot Buttered Rum | Land of Laurel

 

Then we ate. So. Much. Food. Greek tater tots and Cajun french fries? Yes please. Nikki and I both got veggie burgers. Then we split dessert. We ate and ate and ate. I couldn’t even look at food afterwards. That night we fell into bed, happy, full, and exhausted. Nicole was leaving the next day and we still had things to do!

 

Tuesday morning, Nicole woke up early and dropped Scott off at work. When she got back, I woke up, threw on clothes, and then we took Nikki to her office. We then had what we called “dirty breakfast” still half-asleep, partially in last nights clothes, unshowered. We planned to return to Nikki’s to clean up after our meal. We went to Zell’s which was close to Nikki’s office. We ordered Eggs Florentine and a German Pancake with Pear Butter and slices. Nicole and I both make these Germanic style pancakes (recipes courtesy of our Oma’s, mine German, hers Dutch), but this one was puffier than our own. It was fluffy and delicious. Yum. After breakfast (how could we ever eat again?!), we headed back to Nikki’s to clean up before driving over to the west side to visit Washington Park.

 

We drove through the beautiful park for a while, admiring the stunning forest before wandering out into the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding the park. We spent the next hour looking at houses in the hills before it was time to drive Nicole to the airport. I dropped her off with a hug and a see you at work soon! Then I hit the highway towards Multnomah Falls. Wow, it was a gorgeous drive and when I was arrived it was once again, like walking into a fairy tale. The little lodge looked like a tiny medieval inn, ready to bed down lonely travelers for the the night. The falls? Absolutely stunning.

 

Multnomah Falls | Land of Laurel

 

Everything was misty from the falls, a light dew descending on anything and everything within sight. The damp atmosphere gave plenty of moss the energy to grow, making everything gorgeously green. Moss covered stairs right out of my dreams.

 

Multnomah Falls 2 | Land of Laurel

 

Moss covered stone walls inspired me to pet them. Repeatedly. Seriously, Portland is so green! It’s the place that defines the word lush. Lush greenery abounds.

 

Multnomah Falls 3 | Land of Laurel

 

I climbed up to the bridge to take this shot of the water descending into the first pool. See how the mist is being throw off the falls? It was truly magical.

 

Multnomah Falls 4 | Land of Laurel

 

The water rushed by, roaring from the first fall into the pool, before falling once again, somehow even more violently into the second pool below.

 

Multnomah Falls 4 | Land of Laurel

 

After exploring my way up the path a bit, I turned around hopped back into Nikki’s little Honda Fit. I drove back into Portland, grabbed some delicious Palak Paneer Fries from a food truck, and wandered around the Pearl District for a while, venturing back into Powell’s Books, but still not able to leave the urban agriculture section!

 

Palak Paneer Fries | Land of Laurel

 

Then it was time to pick up Nikki from work again. We headed back out to her house where we met up with Scott and his friend Josh, then went out again to– you guessed it– eat! We went to Swift and Union. Everything was yummy. Nikki and I split the Tofu Sando and the Beet Veggie Burger with goat cheese. Blow your mind good. I was so full at this point, I was pretty sure I’d never need to eat again after I flew home from Portland. But don’t worry, that didn’t stop us. We hopped back into the car and drove out after dessert. We hit up Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnuts. At 8:30pm the east side location had absolutely no line whatsoever. We went in and made our selections.

 

Voodoo Doughnuts | Land of Laurel

 

I got a chocolate doughnut with Coco Pebbles. Nikki got one with Oreos and peanut butter. Scott got a Butterfingers doughnut and a Scooby Doo dog one that donated to the local Humane Society. We ate most of them and saved the rest. We were all so so so full!

 

Voodoo Doughnuts Scooby Doo | Land of Laurel

 

We got home in full food coma mode and soon hit the hay. The next morning, we were off! After everyone was dropped off at work, I headed back to Washington Park, exploring the rose-less Rose Garden (too early in the year), the Holocaust memorial, and walking along some of the less muddy paths. The camilla bushes everywhere were blooming, sprinkling bright color splashes in the lush greenery.

 

Camillas in Bloom | Land of Laurel

 

All too soon, my trip was coming to a close. I filled up the car with gas, headed back to Nikki’s, grabbed my bags, and called my uber. Off to the airport I made it through security and on to my plane with thoughts of adorable and colorful craftsman style homes and a very full belly.

 

Have you ever been to Portland? What did you do? All I want now is to go back!

 

Easy Potato Leek Soup

Potato Leek soup always intimidated me. I think because Julia Child and Potato Leek Soup are connected in my mind, I always assumed the soup was an elaborate and difficult one like so many French recipes. I was so very, very wrong. This is the easiest soup ever! If you’re ever in need of a quick dinner that involves very little effort and prep, make this soup. It’s the kind of recipe that involves chopping a few things, throwing them in water, and then reading a book or doing your taxes for an hour while it cooks. This is one of my favorite types of recipes: the lazy ones. Others in this category?  My favorite breakfast dish: Steel Cut Oats. These are the perfect types of recipes to always keep in the back of your mind, things you can throw together at very little notice and still have time to shower before your friends arrive. They’re the basic white T-shirts of the cooking world!

 

Potato Leek Soup | Land of Laurel

 

A little while ago I was struck by the urge to make Potato Leek Soup. My Uncle Scott and Aunt Karolyn had made a big pot soon after Thanksgiving when some relatives and I visited them in Davis. I was impressed and intrigued. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since. So I picked up my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and flipped to Julia’s Potato Leek Soup. What do you know, there on the page, something along the lines of: “Chop these things. Throw them in water. Go take a shower and read a chapter of your book.” Thanks, Julia! After glancing at the recipe for less than a minute. I grabbed my keys and hit up Berkeley Bowl.

 

After I gathered my ingredients, I didn’t even bother looking at the recipe again. The measurements for this type of recipe you can fudge any which way. Perfect! I threw some potatoes in my Staub pot. I threw some leeks in too. I poured water over everything. Then I turned to my spices and went a little crazy, because #YOLO. And recipes are boring unless you spice things up a little. Below you’ll find my tweaks to this classic dish.

 

Potato Leek Soup and Fred | Land of Laurel

 

POTATO LEEK SOUP

 

Ingredients

6 medium-sized organic russet potatoes

2 stalks of organic leeks

2 quarts water

1 teaspoon organic nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon organic paprika

1/4 cup chopped fresh organic sage

1 teaspoon pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt

 

Recipe

First wash, peel, and cut your potatoes into pieces no large than 1.5″. Then slice your leeks into rounds approximately 0.5″ thick. Place both vegetables into a 4-6 quart pot and add water (the liquid should cover the vegetables, but just barely). Add nutmeg, paprika, salt, and pepper and bring to a soft boil. Once the water bubbles, reduce heat to low and let cook until vegetables dissolve, about 40-60 mins, stirring occasionally. Use a spoon to help the vegetables integrate into the liquid. Chop your sage in the meantime and sprinkle into soup, saving some for garnish. Taste soup and add additional salt as needed. Serve immediately.

Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad

Hello everyone! Guess what? Working crazy long hours is not conducive to blogging. Like, at all. I’d apologize, but my time card at work says it all. Plus, women apologize too much. I’m trying to break the habit. What’s everyone been up to? Ready for the Oscars? I’ve watched several of the movies this year, but didn’t quite make it to all of them. Room blew me away, though. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a movie, but so fantastic and heartbreaking. The acting is phenomenal. I want it to win… everything! The Revenant’s been getting quite a bit of publicity, but I was sorely disappointed. I found it boring and very ridiculous. It was mostly a movie of someone walking and then every ten minutes something insane would happen, like he’d be thrown off a cliff or a bear would attack or something would be on fire. It just got to be a bit much…

 

Moving on from the Oscars, I recently read a fantastic book! It’s called My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss the author of the Wednesday Chef blog.  I hadn’t read her blog before and simply liked the idea of a book about Berlin when I saw it at a used bookstore. The book ended up being quite wonderful! Luisa grew up in Berlin and Boston. Since I went to college in Boston (Tufts, the same school Luisa’s father worked at!) and studied abroad in Berlin, I felt a connection with many of the places and foods she mentions. Her sweet story about finding love and where one belongs in the world really struck with me. Afterall, she basically lives my dream: travel the world, speak many languages, find amazing German man, marry him, live together in Berlin, raise German-speaking babies. Ahh… if only! Plus, the many recipes she includes are incredibly inspiring!

 

She mentions a Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad she learned to make from her mother and had me craving it right then and there. I had next to none of the ingredients she included in her recipe, but I did have bell peppers. Always one for innovation, I decided to plug forward on my own and give the Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad my own little spin. It was so incredibly easy and delicious! Peeling the bell peppers does take some time, but over all, it’s so quick. It may still be winter, but this recipe has me dreaming of hot summer days, barbecues, and long, hot hikes. The mix of sweet bell pepper and salty olives is invigorating. Topped with feta cheese, the whole thing is just perfect for a summer picnic… or a cold February day! I’ve made this three time in two weeks! It’s just that good!

 

Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad | Land of Laurel

 

 

Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad

3 large, organic red bell peppers (or several small ones)

1/2 cup organic, pitted kalamata olives

1/4 cup artichoke hearts

2 teaspoons olive oil (truffle olive oil is particularly good)

1 clove organic garlic

Organic feta cheese in brine

Breadcrumbs (I used a piece of German Steinerbrot that I toasted and crumbed myself the first time I made this, and whole wheat panko crumbs from Berkeley Bowl the second time. Both were delicious, so use whatever you have on hand!)

salt and pepper

 

Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad with Feta Cheese | Land of Laurel

 

First pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash your bell peppers well and place on oven safe cookie sheet (lining this cookie sheet with compostable parchment paper will making cleaning up easier). Place the cookie sheet in oven and roast the bell peppers for 45-60 mins. Turn bell peppers (I just use my fingers on the stems) every 10-15 mins as they roast. Slow roasting this way (as opposed to quickly over open flame) makes the bell peppers sweeter and more delicious. While they roast in the oven, chop up your artichoke hearts, olives, and garlic in to fine pieces no larger than 1/4 inch. Place these into a medium sized bowl and stir well together. This won’t take long, so you’ll have time to clean up, before moving on to the roasted bell peppers.

When the bell peppers are well roasted (black in a few little spots with crumbly skins), remove them from the oven and let cool until you can handle them easily. Then begin peeling their skins off. Rubbing with a clean dish towel may help with this. Drying your hands frequently will help you peel more easily too. As you peel them, shred the bell peppers into thin strips with your fingers. Place peeled, shredded bell pepper into the same bowl as the olives, garlic, and artichoke hearts. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss together and serve sprinkled with feta cheese (I like quite a bit!) and bread crumbs.

 

Slow Roasted Bell Pepper Salad with Feta Cheese and Bread Crumbs | Land of Laurel

 

Hope you find this as delicious as I did! Look for My Berlin Kitchen if you want to try the original recipe. Have a great Oscars night, y’all!

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

It’s winter in California which means it’s 60 degrees and sunny, but for all of us Californians it’s freezing. We’re cold. Very cold. We talk about it a lot and dream of early March when temperatures will hit the 70s again. It’s truly miserable here on the west coast. Pity us. Sure the east coast may get blizzards and snow, but we have days in the 50s! It’s real extreme, y’all!

 

Anyways, this cold spell has me drinking tea like a fish drinks water (constantly) and dreaming of soup. Because tea and soup are the only things that can warm my frozen heart fingers. My friend Katharine came to visit for a few days in late January. We’ve known each other since my sophomore year of college, fenced together on a varsity team, and then I basically lived at her house my senior year. We’ve spent a bit time together, you could say. While she was here we thought about going out drinking and dancing, but it was raining sprinkling and that seemed like so much unnecessary effort. Instead we hit up Berkeley Bowl (my home away from home! ❤ ) Berkeley Bowl is an institution here in the East Bay. Did you know Michael Pollan shops there?! I have friends who’ve seen him. I’ve read all of his books. I agree with everything he says. He’s pretty much my religion. BRB I’ll just be camping out in the produce section for the next month. I’m totally not a stalker, I’m just completely obsessed with him. There’s a difference, okay?!

 

Anywho, Katharine and I decided to make some butternut squash soup. I’d been craving it lately and it seemed like the perfect season. When we arrived at Berkeley Bowl, right out front was a pile of the organic gourds all on sale. Score! We headed home, made our soup, and contentedly watched Netflix for the remainder of our evening. She’s my friend match-made-in-heaven I tell you. Anyone who wants to stay in on a weekend is my kind of gal!

 

Our soup came out wonderfully. It is incredibly butternut squash-y. That sounds silly, but somehow the soup made the butternut squash taste amazingly like itself and oh so good. The flavor is very pure and not disguised by any ingredient. It’s a very thick soup, perfect for an entree, though you could thin it a bit if you wanted to serve it as an appetizer.

 

Butternut Squash Soup | Land of Laurel

 

Thick Butternut Squash Soup with Sage

Serves four to six.

Vegan, Gluten Free

 

Ingredients:

 

3.5 lbs organic butternut squash (one medium and one small squash)

1 organic red onion

1 organic carrot

1/2 organic white onion

3 organic stalks celery

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch organic fresh sage

1 quart organic vegetable broth

1/2 teaspoon organic thyme

salt

pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

cooking oil as needed

 

Directions:

 

First pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, start making a mirepoix. Chop the celery, white onion, and carrot finely into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. Place into a hot cast iron pan or an enameled cast iron dutch oven with a tablespoon and a half of olive oil. Add thyme, nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, and a few pinches each of salt and pepper. Cook, covered, over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally. You want the entire thing to sweat.

 

Mirepoix | Land of Laurel

 

While that starts to get flavorful, begin cutting your butternut squash and red onion into pieces about an inch wide. Place the squash and onions on two cookie sheets (careful not to crowd) and sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, a dash of salt, a liberal amount of pepper, and the remaining paprika. Place the the sheets in the oven for 20 to 25 mins or until a fork can be inserted into the squash without resistance. When they’re done they should look a little toasted. The squash should be a bright orange and the onions should be a faded purple-y brown.

 

Butternut Squash and Red Onion | Land of Laurel

 

When they squash and red onion is done, leave to rest and turn of the oven. Uncover the mirepoix (you should have been stirring every now and then this entire time). If you’ve been using a cast iron pan, it’s time to get out a large stock pot and add the liquid. You should be able to just add water to the mirepoix, but I had a container of vegetable broth that I wanted to use, so I added this instead. If you are adding plain water be sure you have liberally salted the mirepoix. Add the roasted butternut squash and red onion to your pot and stir. Everything should be cooked at this point, but bring everything to a boil to let the flavors intermingle. Once it’s boiled reduce to low heat.

 

I fried my sage to make it more exciting. Take a small pot or sauce pan and add about an inch of oil. Remove sage leaves from stems. When your oil is quite hot gently toss in sage leaves one at a time. They should fizzle in the oil, when the cease to fizzle, count to ten before removing them and placing the fried leaves on a clean towel. The leaves should brown in the oil. When you’ve fried each leaf, turn your attention back to the soup.

 

Fried Sage | Land of Laurel

 

Now for my favorite part! Your soup should be looking like this:

 

Butternut Squash Soup | Land of Laurel

 

It’s perfectly edible and delicious this way, but I am a huge fan of a much smoother texture. Which leads me to my favorite kitchen tool – the IMMERSION BLENDER! I love immersion blending things! It’s literally the most fun thing ever invented. You can blend a smoothie in it’s cup! You can blend soups in the pot! We’ll do the latter. Get out your immersion blender and go. to. town. It’s delightful! Once your soup is good and blended you’ll be able to truly tell how thick this soup really is. If it’s too think for your liking, now is a good point to add water or vegetable stock to the thin it down. Just simply stir it in. I didn’t feel this was necessary, because the soup was to be my entree and hey, I like a thick soup!

 

Now, crumble the majority of your sage into your soup and stir it in. Be sure to save a bit for garnish!

 

Thick Butternut Squash Soup with Sage | Land of Laurel

 

Serve and enjoy!

 

Delicious Butternut Squash Soup with Fried Sage | Land of Laurel

 

Have you made soup recently? Waiting out the cold weather with hot liquids? Live somewhere warm and want to let me crash on your couch for two months? Let me know!

 

Perfect Pie Crust

I absolutely adore pie. Every aspect of it. From the making of the pie crust to the americana, homey feel to the fall atmosphere to the smell of baking pies to the beauty of pies lined up in a row ready to be served. I love pie. I love pie! Pie is glorious. I love making it, I love eating it. There is basically nothing I do not like about pie. Pie always beats cake (unless it’s a birthday, then you obviously have to have birthday cake, it’s in the name, people!). Pie is easier that cake to make look great, fantastic for all occasions (except birthdays, then you have cake, are we getting this?), and generally makes you seem like an awesome baker for something that isn’t difficult to make.

Pumpkin Pie in Staub Pan | Land of Laurel

 

I learned how to make pie from my father when I was very little. He learned how to make pie from cookbooks when my mother was pregnant with me. Why? My mother’s number one craving: homemade pie. Smart woman. My dad learned a great skill and my mother got to feed her cravings. A pregnant woman’s gotta eat what she wants! Growing up, my family focused mainly on pumpkin and apple pies. When I was old enough to have an opinion we branched out to decadent fudge pies. Yum. Pecan pies? Sure thing. Ice cream pies? Absolutely. Anything pie. Anytime. Anywhere. All occasions (except for birthdays, have I been clear about this?).

 

Apple Pie | Land of Laurel

 

Now if you want to learn how to make all sorts of pies I highly recommend getting yourself a good cookbook. This one by James McNair is my dad’s favorite. You can only buy it used now though… Tragic. It’s a great book! Once you find a good pie cookbook, whether it’s James McNair or one you pick up from your local bookshop, find some guinea pigs. Anyone will do as long as they will eat pie and give you feedback. Heck, they don’t even need to give you feedback, you can judge for yourself. You basically just need some people to eat a few slices of pie so you don’t eat the entire thing by yourself. Which I’m working on right now with my latest pumpkin pie…. Ooops!

 

Last year I asked for red pie pans for the holidays and was gifted with three beautiful pans. I love them all, they’re amazing! Each one is just a little different, which I adore. Plus, when I make pie, I rarely make fewer than than three. Heck, I’d take another pie pan too if someone was offering! I have a few glass pyrex ones as well, but I just love the red ones. They’re deeper and wider and gorgeous. A good pie pan is a fantastic thing to have, but you can bake a pie in almost anything, so don’t worry if you don’t have a special pie pan. A cake pan will work, a loaf pan will work, a casserole dish  will work. If it holds water, it will work!

 

Today I’m going to give you my recipe for pie crust. The essential part of the pie. A good starting point don’t you think? You have your recipe, you have your guinea pigs, now it’s time to start baking! Here is how I make my absolute favorite pie crust. It’s the perfect amount of healthy and sweet, flakey and floury. It’s fantastic. Tomorrow, I’ll share the pie filling itself.

 

Fudge Pie | Land of Laurel

 

Start with the crust. I always make crust for two or four pies and freeze the extra dough. You almost always make crust for two bottom crust pies (or one pie with top and bottom crust). It’s just how it’s done. And don’t cop out and buy store bought crust, it’s just not as good. Plus you miss all the fun part. Making crust is fun!

 

The ingredients: 

2-3/4 cups finely milled organic whole wheat flour ( try 1/4 cup less if your flour is not so finely milled)

1 tsp salt

2 sticks organic butter

1 cup ice water

egg

 

Add when appropriate:

Sweet pies-

2.5 Tbsp organic brown sugar

1 Tbsp organic cinnamon

1 tsp organic cloves

1 tsp nutmeg

 

Savory pies –

1 cup  grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp nutmeg

2 Tbsp rosemary or thyme

 

Since I am planning on pumpkin pie for my dough, I made mine with the sweet pie recipe. First get a big bowl with lots of extra room. This can get messy. Then combine the flour, salt, and spices in the bowl, mix well. Then add the sugar. Once these are well stirred together, cut the sticks of butter into slices 1/4″ thick. Add them to the mix a few add a time. Then get one of two things, a pair of forks or a handy pastry cutter like this one:

 

Pastry Cutter | Land of Laurel

 

A pastry cutter is ideal for the next part, a pair of forks will work. If want to do this entire process in a mixer, that will also work, but when you cut in the butter by hand (with the forks or pastry cutter) you get a better tasting, flakier crust. A machine just can’t duplicate this.

 

So! You cut in the butter. This is basically mashing the butter into the flour mix. You want there to be some pieces of butter in the mix, you don’t want to blend them to smooth. Make a rotating movement with your wrist to mash in the butter if you’re using a pastry cutter and it you’re using forks, give it everything you got, ’cause it’s probably going to hurt!

 

Once all the butter has been cut into the mixture, start sprinkling the ice water over it teaspoon by teaspoon. Be very careful you do not add too much water. You will most likely not need the entire cup of ice water, so go slowly. You really just need the dough to start clumping. Once the dough clumps a bit, hold off on the water and dig in with your hands. If you can shape the dough into the ball, you’re done! That’s all the water you need. Sometimes the dough at the bottom of the bowl doesn’t get quite as much moisture as the rest, but you can usually roll this into the middle of the dough ball.

 

Guess what? You just made pie dough! Yay! The not so great part? It’s not ready for rolling into a crust yet. Put it into the fridge for a few hours or into the freezer for twenty minutes or so. You need the dough to be cold and slightly hard to the touch before you can roll it out. Hard like the resistance of your thumb pushing into a muscle, there is some give, but it’s pretty firm to the touch.

 

Once your dough is cold and firm, you’re ready to roll! You will need a rolling pin, but if you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle will work too. Can you tell I’ve made a pie in a dorm room before? I know all the tricks. Yes, fancy cooking tools help, but you can totally do this with or without them, it just takes a little more effort.

 

Sprinkle flour over a large flat surface, the bigger the better! 😉 Place your cold, firm dough in the middle of your flour. Sprinkle a bit more flour over the top. Then, using the part of your palm that meets your wrist, carefully push the ball of dough outward from the center in a gentle motion until the dough is not longer a bowl, but rather more flat and about 3/4″ to 1″ thick. Now it’s time for your rolling pin. Put about a tablespoon of flour in the middle of palm and run the rolling pin through it until it’s covered. Then place it in the center of the dough and, applying pressure, push outward. Move the pin back into the center and pull the rolling pin toward you. Continue starting from the center and rolling the dough outward, alternating the direction you are rolling. You may want to occasionally flip the dough over and sprinkle with more flour to prevent it from sticking. You will want the dough to be thin, about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.

 

When your dough is thin enough, get your pie pan and place it close to the dough. Then carefully roll the dough over the pin and use it to move the dough, centering over the pie pan. Then cut off the excess and bunch the dough edges to form your crust. Take your egg and scramble it with a fork and use a pastry brush (or your hands!) to brush over the crust edges and sides (not the bottom).

You’re done! Now time for the filling. Your pie is going to be delicious. Your crust is going to be flakey, golden brown, and wonderful, just like this guy below.

Pie Crust | Land of Laurel

 

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I share my recipe for the absolute best pumpkin pie ever! Do you have any pie secrets? Great recipes? Or are you the kind of person who would rather just buy a pie?