Catching up on life and cooking…

Seattle summer happened a few months ago and it was beautiful – green, sunny, not too hot. Little humidity! I guess I got so caught up in it that I forgot to post on my blog! We also spent the summer house-hunting and now we are home owners! I guess I can blame that search for taking up a lot of our time. As usual though, I have done plenty of cooking and eating since the last time. Here’s a quick taste of just some of the things I’ve been cooking. (If you follow me on Instagram, however, you can keep up with my cooking and life a little more regularly – @erinthecooker)

Summer Berry Buckle (NYT), Blueberry and Peach Crisp, Black Bean Salad, and homemade Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Jam filling for a former co-worker.

Here’s a photo of our beautiful living room in our new house! (Don’t mind the Zappos box that I forgot to remove when taking the photo.) Don’t you love the orange front door?!


I also made a Snickers pie (no Snickers actually in it, but rather a pie trying to imitate a giant Snickers!) It was rich, but it was a hit! I improvised the recipe off a Pinterest one I had saved months ago. The cake below is a chocolate stout cake.


Having a house also means we now have a backyard and our very our own grill! We got to work right away grilling zucchini, chicken, and sausage. The photo on the right was a delicious Vietnamese-style noodle salad with grilled chicken. In the end, the recipe tasted very similar to one of our favorite Boston food trucks, Bon Me! Thanks again NYT Cooking!

Now that fall is upon us I’m looking forward to making some apple pie, pumpkin bread, and other cozy treats. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be sooner rather than later!

Happy cooking!

Strawberry Queen of Heart Tarts


Hello summer! I am so happy to see you! Spring and summer in Seattle have been beautiful with emerald-green lawns, colorful flowers of every variety, and warm temperatures. This past weekend got a little too hot though for a typical Seattle summer day. Temperatures reached 81 on Saturday and 92 yesterday, making our 4th floor, no A/C apartment pretty dang hot.


In spite of the heat, I decided to turn on the oven and to make homemade pie crust (well not in that order).

Here’s a little summer advice for you: Do not make homemade pie crust on what is predicted to be the hottest day ever! Also don’t turn your oven on if you don’t have to!

Why shouldn’t you make pie crust on a hot day? The key to a good, flaky pie crust is cold fat (butter or shortening) and keeping it cold until it goes into the oven where it melts and creates pockets of air and thus flaky goodness. A hot kitchen (and hot hands) make keeping ingredients cold pretty difficult. I found myself popping my tarts in and out of the freezer at different stages to keep the butter from melting too early.


But why was I making homemade pie crust in the first place? One of my friends was having an Alice and Wonderland themed engagement party over the weekend and I had to make something edible to fit the theme. Seeing the weather forecast, I told her I’d probably just make a salad to avoid using the oven. Yet the gorgeous, red strawberries grown right here in Washington were begging to be made into tarts and it seemed only fitting (and fun!) to make heart-shaped Queen of Heart Tarts.


And because making one kind of tart is never enough (oh no, I always have to make it more complicated!) I made a savory asparagus tart too because, hello asparagus this time of year! For this tart I used puff pastry, because I had seen other recipes using puff pastry and it sounded oh so much simpler. In the end I was appreciative of the simplicity of the puff pastry compared to the pie crust, but in my opinion the pie crust tasted infinitely better!


We had a wonderful celebration and kept cool in a lovely shady spot of the park. My friend was thrilled with the treats I brought and we ended up with a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed spread including: down the rabbit hole wraps (smoked salmon, herbed cream cheese, and cucumber), magic mushrooms (marinated mushrooms), mint tea (of course!) and a few other fun treats. They even had deck of card necklaces with different sayings on them from the book including “We’re all mad here!” I guess being crazy enough to bake on a hot day makes me fit right in!

Queen of Heart Tarts

2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)

2 cups diced strawberries

2-4 T. sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

2 T. cornstarch

lemon zest

1 egg, beaten

Roll out your pie crust into an even thickness of about 1/8 inch. Using a cookie cutter (or a stencil and a sharp knife) cut out heart shapes in your dough, as close together as possible. Re-rolling the scraps will overwork the dough and also make it start to soften and melt. (You can always bake the scraps with cinnamon and sugar and eat them as a treat!) Lay your cut-out hearts on a parchment lined sheet pan and put in the fridge while you cut up your strawberries.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Mix your diced strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Have your beaten egg ready as an egg wash for your tarts.

Remove the hearts from the fridge and top half of them with a small bit of strawberry mixture right in the center (do not overfill!). With the remaining hearts, gently place them on top of the strawberry filling and press around the edges to seal. Use floured fingers to keep your hands from sticking. Cut small slashes in the top of each heart and brush lightly with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool and enjoy!

Note: I made my strawberry filling before I had my hearts cut out and the filling got progressively juicy and soupy as it sat. I think if you wait til you’re ready to use it, you won’t end up with an overly juicy filling, which will just bleed out of your pies when you try and fill them and when you bake them if they aren’t sealed well.

Lilacs, Spring Salads, and Grilling!

This past Saturday we celebrated spring’s sunny and warm weather with a 15-mile bike ride to explore some neighborhoods around Seattle (our first bike ride since moving here nearly 8 months ago!) I gripped my handlebars until my hands ached as we tore down sloping hills and I lost my breath crawling up the steep climbs that made for breath-taking views when you turned around. The Seattle winter may be pretty depressing with all of the rain and darkness, but the spring certainly makes up for it.


After dragging our aching bodies through the rest of the afternoon, we had our friends, Zack and Kelly, over for a casual Saturday night dinner. They brought us lilacs picked fresh from their backyard and a jug of fermented apple juice cider that they’d been brewing in their house.The smell of the lilacs reminded me of the lilac bush we had in our backyard growing up and the posed pictures my sisters and I would take, each of us leaning in to smell the lilacs while smiling blissfully.

With the coming of summer and the spring hues beckoning us to spend more time outdoors, I find the need for easy, delicious, and no cook (or minimal cooking) meals: salads that can wait for us in the fridge when we’re ready to come inside from a long day in the sun and food that doesn’t weigh us down more than the heat already may. I’m trying to amass a salad recipe collection that I can turn to in times of spring and summer need, but I still have a long way to go. Some of my favorites:

Summer Pasta Salad with Roasted Veggies (what we had with Zack and Kelly) – this recipe works great with summer vegetables, though ideally you would grill the veggies to save turning on the oven.

Chickpea and Couscous Salad (I make it with regular couscous or make it with quinoa!) – extra cumin, extra chickpeas!

Marrakesh Carrot Salad (my new favorite) – texture and flavor heaven; the perfect combination of sweet (from the dates), salty (feta), crunchy (pistachios), and soft.


With warmer weather also comes the season for grilling! I have never been a grill master, but that is partly due to my lack of practice, having rarely used a grill. Since living in apartments we have not had our own outdoor space, which makes it tough to own a grill. Thanks to the shared rooftop deck at our current place (and shared grills), I have taken advantage of the warm weather and have grilled twice with great success!


I started out by pounding my chicken breasts, both to tenderize and to ensure they were all an even thickness. If you have a thick center and thinner outsides, you’re going to burn or dry the outer parts before the inside is cooked. Afterward I marinated them for about an hour in a simple lemon, rosemary, and olive oil marinade. Marinading adds both flavor and tenderness to chicken breasts.


After a short time in the marinade, I gathered my tools and fired up the grill. The results – juicy, flavorful, and something to be proud of.




Lemon-Rosemary Grilled Chicken

juice and zest of one lemon

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

2.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix the ingredients for your marinade and set aside. Meanwhile using a meat mallet and a non-slip cutting board, pound each chicken breast under a sheet of plastic wrap until an even thickness. Be careful not to pound it so much that it rips apart.

Place chicken in a 9×13 glass dish and pour the marinade over tipping the pan or using a spoon to make sure it spreads over every piece. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and begin heating your grill to medium (about 350 degrees). Once the grill is beginning to heat up, oil your grill with a brush or a paper towel dipped in oil (use tongs to apply the paper towel). Carefully lay each piece of chicken on the grill and close the lid. Cook for five minutes. Flip the chicken and cook another 3-5 minutes, until at least 165 degrees in the middle. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute in the meat.


Slice and serve hot or cold atop your favorite bed of greens or another side salad. Happy grilling!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

Surprisingly I didn’t miss the snow this winter. Maybe a little bit, a tiny little itty bit, but mostly not. Winter in Seattle is mild, dark, cold, and rainy for sure, but no half melted slush, cold feet traipsing through half-shoveled sidewalks, sleeting ice in your face, and below freezing temperatures that require wearing leggings under your jeans and trying to decide if you should change out of them when you get too hot at work. Thank you, Seattle. Thank you for your mild winter that is slowly morphing into a beautiful spring!

Spring is gorgeous out in the Pacific Northwest! There are colorful flowers of every kind everywhere and though there aren’t many plants and parks in the city, there are plenty of places within reach to see nature’s beauty at it’s best: Golden Gardens, Magnuson Park, and Discovery Park to name a few. Even just running around Green Lake in my own backyard is a beautiful sight that I am grateful for every day. (It’s usually not that blue, but I’ll take it!)


It still isn’t hot here yet, which I’m happy about, but the hot weather will be here before we know it, and with that the need to find meals that don’t require the oven (or at least not for very long). Last weekend, after returning from a run and feeling rather warm, I wanted to make a pizza without heating up the apartment. I had pizza dough and toppings ready to go and wanted to make something quick. Enter stove-top personal pizza! It goes in the broiler just a few short minutes at the end to brown the cheese (which I suppose you could totally skip) and then you quickly turn off the oven before the heat takes over. Perfect for a quick weeknight meal or a quick weekend lunch!



Bon appetit!

Stove Top Personal Pizza

tennis ball size blob of easy homemade pizza dough* (see recipe below)

pizza sauce


toppings of your choice

Heat a large cast iron skillet or broiler proof pan over medium heat. Swirl a glug of olive oil in and let your pan heat up. Meanwhile roll out your dough on a floured surface until it is about a 1/4 inch thick. Make sure it is not too big for your pan! When the pan is hot, make sure the oil has coated the pan and carefully lay your rolled out dough circle in.

Now is the time to turn your preheat broiler to high. Allow your dough to cook in the pan for a minute or so, watching for bubbles to start forming on the surface. Using a wide spatula or tongs carefully flip your pizza and gently press down to brown the other side. You can also lift it up to check for doneness before flipping and give it a little longer if needed.


Check out those bubbles!


Top with sauce, cheese and other toppings and allow to cook on the heat another minute. Turn off your burner and carefully transfer the topped pizza to the oven to broil, keeping an eye out so the cheese doesn’t burn. Broil for 5-8 minutes, depending on your broiler and how well done you want your pizza. Remove, let cool, and serve it up! Be careful as it will be hot and fresh from the oven!


If you totally want to skip the broiler you probably could, but don’t expect browning. You would want to just leave it on the heat long enough to melt the cheese and heat your toppings. You could also cover it with a lid to encourage melting, but you might end up with a steamed, soggy crust. Broiler is best and when I did it, it had hardly heated up so it didn’t make the apartment hot.

Happy spring! Happy eating🙂

And if you want to make your own dough, here’s a recipe. Make ahead of time and store in the fridge for when you’re ready!


* Easy Homemade Pizza Dough – no kneading!

(makes enough for probably 6 personal pizzas) from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day

1.5 cups lukewarm water

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)

2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Mix the yeast and salt with water in a large bowl that has a lid. Add whole wheat flour and all-purpose and mix with a wooden spoon, using your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour if necessary (alternatively you can do the whole thing with a food processor or stand mixer). Cover the bowl with the lid, leaving it not completely sealed and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Refrigerate until ready to use (dough is easiest to use when cold). Dough can be used for up to a week after making it if kept refrigerated.



Cooking for the Week Ahead

It has been too long. I am still here. I am still eating. I am still cooking. I am still writing.

Life has been busy and different. I no longer come home in the afternoons after work to shop and cook dinner. (In fact I now work almost 8 hours more per week than I used to!) Instead I try and spend Sunday evenings stocking up on foods to pack for lunch and dinner for the week ahead. With my new schedule I get home from work just in time to kiss my wonderful husband, heat up some leftovers, and thank my past self for making them. During the work day, instead of staying on my toes pulling pans in and out of the oven and serving hungry children, I’m on my (mental) toes keeping parents happy, making sure their kids get the care they need. It’s a different life. When I can I go for runs around this beautiful lake.


So how I do plan around my new and busier schedule? I try to make foods that will travel and keep well and feed me with comfort and keep me full until the next snack. These blueberry walnut muffins were made as a challenge to myself while one of my friends was avoiding processed sugar. They contain a little bit of honey, plus whole wheat flour, oats, walnuts, and of course blueberries! The oats and nuts make them more filling, add great contrasting textures, and are also quite tasty!


I know some of your are scoffing the the mention of whole wheat flour in a muffin, but trust me – these were well-received after our long and muddy hike!

IMG_2584This quinoa and chickpea salad is my new favorite go-to lunch salad. I adapted mine from this one on the New York Times Cooking site and I especially enjoy it with roasted carrots. Made with canned chickpeas and a few chopped veggies, it’s fairly quick to make (especially if you use couscous). If you make a big batch at the beginning of the week, you will be set for lunches for the week!


Another quick and healthy lunch is a big salad. Boxed mixed greens, chopped deli meat, cheese cubes, nuts (toasted, if you’re fancy) and dried fruit make for a delicious lunch. Bring a bottle of dressing to work or a little container of your own if you can.


For dinners, soups and stews make for tasty fare and can be especially easy if you throw it all in the crock pot. Above is one of my favorites – Ginger Chicken Meatball Soup – adapted from this lovely recipe. When I plan my meals for the week I try to make at least two recipes, preferably one in the oven or on the stove and the other in the crock pot. Between the two of us packing lunch everyday and eating dinner at home, we need a lot of food!


On the weekends when you have some time to relax and you’re feeling somewhat ambitious, make yourself some pancakes, fluffy and warm, served hot from the skillet. Top them with bananas, toasted nuts, and real maple syrup. Don’t go out to brunch. Make it at home instead! Then you don’t have to decide between ordering the pancakes and the omelette – you can have both!

Ah yes, but the weekends don’t last long, so you enjoy them while you can. Go out to dinner, whip up a homemade dessert for your loved ones, and then get ready to get ready for the week ahead once again. Even if the week is a rough one, at least you can say you were well-fed!



Vegetable Galette & Mixed Berry Tart

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people love to hike. With plenty of beautiful hiking trails within a reasonable distance, from the Cascade mountains to the east of Seattle and the Olympics to the west, it is easy to see why. When I was a kid my family used to take a lot of camping vacations. We packed our gingersnaps (for carsickness, Mom told us), our tents, and our sleeping bags, and hit the road to camp, hike, and cook on a propane stove. I have many fond memories from our camping trips, like Dad’s rules of camping and the invention of our fake band, Faulty Gravity, but I also remember the hard parts: washing dishes in a basin in the woods when dish-washing at home was already a chore, walking to the bathroom at night with a flashlight, and sleeping on a slowly-deflating mattress with your two sisters as you slowly sank down to the cold, hard earth.


We did some hiking while we camped and most likely did lots of complaining along the way, as kids often do. In fact it seemed like a long time before exercise became enjoyable to me. My days in Boston taking buses, walking from the bus, or biking to work taught me to appreciate my legs’ ability to carry me a farther distance than I believed. Now I run when I want to, walk because I enjoy it, and hike knowing I can come home and sleep in my own bed, on a real mattress.


Me walking across a rickety bridge over a bubbling stream

This weekend my friend, Zack, invited me for a hike out near Skykomish. We wore our warmest, water-wicking clothes (and packed extra just in case) and drove out into the foggy mountains of Washington. The hike was beautiful. I felt nothing but a sense of appreciation for the present. I felt calm. I felt in awe of the beauty of nature surrounding me.


Look closely at the pattern etched in this piece of bark – apparently it’s made by a certain kind of ants!

Along the trail Zack shared his forest knowledge, pointing out various trees, plants, and blackberry leaves, which he informed me grew like a weed in the forest. We shared a snack on the trail of soft Brie and bread, but on the drive home we found ourselves hungry and talking about all the delicious things we wanted to eat. While most food sounded good during our discussion, I found myself inspired by the emerald-green trees and the blackberry leaves to make a meal worthy of such natural wonder.

With the cold drizzle of a typical Seattle day I wanted something both wintery-warm and light, consisting primarily of plant-foods to reflect the day’s hike. I settled on a vegetable galette, very loosely adapted from this one by Melissa Clark. I made half as much dough for a less heavy meal and added sauteed rainbow chard and mushrooms for more veggies. I roasted sweet potatoes to use instead of the pumpkin, but then ended up leaving them out of the galette to keep as a side dish instead.


The results were not as beautiful as the hike, but satisfying and delicious all the same. And after reading this great article, In Praise of Ugly Food, I hardly cared that it wasn’t the picture of food porn perfection.


Of course, the blackberry leaves also had me craving a berry tart to follow my veggie pie. Despite the fact that berries aren’t exactly in season, I decided to make my dreamed-up tart, and why not?  When berries are in season hardly anyone wants to run the oven to bake a pie anyway. Winter was perfect pie-baking time.

So I made myself a triple berry pie with fresh blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries and it was delicious.


Triple Berry Tart


1.25 cups all purpose flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 T. sugar

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, cold

3 T. shortening, chilled

3-4 T. ice water


4 cups mixed berries*, rinsed and shaken of access water

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of one lemon

In a medium bowl measure out the 1.25 cups of flour, salt, and tablespoon of sugar. Stir to mix. Cut your butter into chunks and stir into flour to coat, along with the shortening. Using a pastry cutter or breaking up with your fingers, blend the butter and shortening into the flour until the pieces are pea-sized. Drizzle in water, starting with 2 tablespoons and gently stir to moisten the flour. Add more water until your dough can come together into a ball. Don’t overdo it! Flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for an hour.

When your dough is chilled, mix together your berries, flour, sugar and lemon zest. It helps to rub the zest into the flour or sugar so that it doesn’t clump. On a floured surface, gently roll out your dough to an even thickness, about 1/4 inch. Aim for a circle, but as a tart this doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. Carefully transfer to a parchment-lined sheet pan. Top with the berry mixture and fold the excess over the top to help contain the berry juices once it starts cooking.

Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling. For best results, let cool before slicing to allow the filling to gel somewhat.

*I used 6 oz. of blueberries, 6 oz. of blackberries and 9 oz. of raspberries.


When you take a bite, think of the blackberries that grow wild in the forest, blanketing the ground with their dark, bumpy fruits.


Pan-fried Coconut Shrimp


Shrimp is one of those foods I usually have to enjoy on my own. That is to say that Sam won’t touch the stuff, even if it’s breaded and fried. I often buy a bag of raw shrimp to keep on hand in the freezer for lunches or dinners where we’re short on food or he’s out of town.

When we honeymooned in Barbados, I kept seeing coconut shrimp on the menus and figured I should try it while we were there. However, other dishes always tantalized me more and though I kept looking for an excuse to order it, not having someone who’d share it with me made it that much more unlikely. Finally on our last night we went to Champers for our final, elaborate, honeymoon feast. They took us to our table on their open deck, overlooking the beautiful Caribbean waters. Thanks to our wonderful hosts at our hotel, the restaurant had surprised us with “just married” confetti and personalized menus congratulating us on our recent wedding.


Seeing as it was our last night in paradise, we opted for a three-course meal. We each chose our own appetizers, Sam’s a beautiful baked brie with apples and mine the long lusted-after coconut shrimp! They were perfect – crispy and sweet, with sprigs of lettuce for color and crunch and a sweet chili sauce to dip. We followed our appetizers with equally amazing entrees and desserts – three in fact! We ordered two (being the gluttons that we are) and they brought us a surprise extra – a scoop of ice cream with a candle and “congrats” written in chocolate across the plate.


The famous coconut shrimp at Champers!

We left the restaurant five pounds heavier and happier, me glad to have finally enjoyed my coconut shrimp.

So yesterday, with Thanksgiving leftovers dwindling and a trip to the grocery store in the somewhat distant future, I decided to make myself coconut shrimp for lunch. Other than deep-frying, how hard could it be? The answer: not that bad at all. You dredge your shrimp, throw them in the pan (more like place them carefully and stand back!) and within a few minutes you have tasty, crispy, coconut shrimp.



Then, since this was a totally impromptu lunch, I whipped up a simple mixture of ketchup and red curry paste to dip them in. Despite the splattering dangers and the mess on the stove afterward, they were worth every bite!



Pan-fried Coconut Shrimp

serves 1 for a meal or 2 for an appetizer

1/4 lb. raw shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/3 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup flour

salt and pepper

canola oil for frying

ketchup & red curry paste

Set up your breading station as follows: flour in the first bowl – add a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, milk in the second bowl, and panko and coconut mixed in the third.

Heat a large skillet or deep saucepan (saucepan is probably safer) with oil over medium heat. Add enough oil to form a thin layer on the bottom about 1/4 inch. If you wish to deep-fry you can add several cups of oil, but it will take longer to heat up and can be more dangerous. I did mine in a skillet and though there was some splattering, they were easier to flip.

While the oil heats, bread your shrimp, keeping one hand for dry and one for wet (to avoid breading your hands). Dip in the flour first, milk next, and coconut crumbs last. Put breaded shrimp on a plate. Discard any remaining breading ingredients.

To test your oil, toss in a few extra breadcrumbs and see if they sizzle. When ready, use tongs to transfer your breaded shrimp to the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. After you can see they are beginning to brown on the bottom, flip them. Let them cook about another minute and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Let cool.

In a small bowl add however much ketchup you’d like. Mix in red curry paste to taste, starting with a small amount and tasting for spice. Dip your shrimp and enjoy!