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Easy dishes for lazy cooks like me

[caption id="attachment_639" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Celebrate strawberry season with some homemade strawberry soda!"][/caption]

I have to admit, working up the motivation to create a fantastic meal is a lot harder when you're cooking for one. It's been three years (this week! hooray!) since I married Vance and in that time I've always had someone with whom to share meals, help with the cleanup, and take care of leftover consumption. So today, after cooking up breakfast and lunch for myself, I couldn't bear the thought of washing another dish.

That spring risotto with local snap peas and asparagus I had planned will have to wait. (I treated myself to a solo dinner at Vin Rouge instead — it's becoming a regular favorite of mine for moments of weakness when I'm in no mood to prepare dinner). In the meantime, there are a couple of easy, painless, one-dish things I've been making this week that I'd love to share.

First, it's strawberry season here. Some friends from the office went strawberry picking at Waller Family Farm this week and picked the most delicious, sweet strawberries I've ever tasted. A small crowd gathered around a bowl of them Friday afternoon marveling at how good they were — and that's saying a lot considering the six candy dispensers perched nearby. Strawberry season ended a while ago back in Florida, so it's exciting to see them still growing strong here this far into spring. To celebrate, I put together a concoction I'm calling Strawberry Soda, however un-soda-like it may be.

[caption id="attachment_644" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Baked Eggs with Tomato Sauce and local Asiago cheese"][/caption]

I also made baked eggs with tomato sauce a couple of times this week, using the tomato sauce from last week's Asparagus and Chèvre Crêpes with Tomato Sauce. Both of these recipes are hardly recipes at all; they're merely simple preparations of some basic ingredients. But seeing as how I was on the verge of a tantrum at the thought of washing another dish today, these will have to do!

Strawberry Soda

This simple concoction looks fancy, but it's really quite simple. Make it when strawberries are at the peak of sweetness (or add additional simple syrup if they're not).

Ingredients

  • 3 strawberries, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Sparkling water

Preparation

Place the diced strawberries in an iced tea glass (or something of similar size). Pour the lemon juice and simple syrup over the top and mash with a muddler (or the back of a wooden spoon, though that didn't work as well for me). Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling water and serve.

Seriously, how easy was that?

 

Baked Eggs and Tomato Sauce

This is a great way to use up any leftover tomato sauce, though it was particularly good with last week's sauce. It's super simple — great for when you're busy preparing coffee or bacon and you just

Strawberry-Almond Buttermilk Scones

[caption id="attachment_612" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="These scones are the perfect combination of crunchy, sweet, and wholesome. Get them while they're hot!"][/caption]

Crazy weeks have a tendency to make me… well, a little bit crazy. I'm constantly analyzing, constantly predicting what will happen next (and probably constantly wrong)! It's hard to think about what to make for breakfast when there's a four foot monkey on my back. Which is why last weekend was so nice — I woke up in the morning from a dream about these lovelies, and I had to make them.

Somehow baking has this way of bringing me back down to earth. Maybe it's the exactness of the knife scraping extra flour off the cup measure to make precise, scientific measurements (what, you don't do that?); maybe it's the chemistry that happens when leavening agents mix with a handful of raw ingredients to produce something smile-inducing. Either way, these scones marked the beginning of a perfect Sunday last week.

Toasted Almonds for Strawberry Buttermilk Scones The last scone

It's a happy thing when fate smiles upon us and all of the ingredients for a recipe are hanging out in our kitchen just waiting for us to swirl them together into a masterpiece of foodstuff. Whole wheat pastry flour, the last of a somewhat questionable carton of buttermilk, even turbinado sugar were all standing by when I stumbled down the stairs into the kitchen in my PJs and a nappy hairdo.

An hour later I had some of the most delicious — dare I say moist — scones I've ever tasted. We brought some extras with us to the park to give to Jon and Kendra, who promptly inhaled them after changing Ezra's third public diaper explosion of the day. Success.

Strawberry-Almond Buttermilk Scones

These scones are incredibly delicious the first day; if you plan on keeping them longer, store them in a container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and rewarm in the toaster oven.

Scone Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (also called Sugar in the Raw)

Topping

  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Pinch of salt

Scone Preparation

Preheat the oven to 400° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flours with the granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender (or two knives), cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (little pebbles? — never know how to describe this). Stir in the 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk and carefully fold in the sliced strawberries. (I needed about 1/4 cup of extra buttermilk to

When life hands you lemons…

Last week I broke down and custom ordered a box of produce from our co-op, rather than ordering the Season's Pick box with whatever surplus produce is in season. I just couldn't stand the thought of another yellow squash. Call me elitist, but part of the joy of fall and winter is the disappearance of the unwelcome crooknecks from the produce bin. But no, they just never stop growing in Florida, despite all my hopes to the contrary.

All that to say that this week when I picked up the box, there was a surprise waiting in the bottom. I'm sure my eyes were the size of golf balls after I spotted the yellow monster. I didn't order any surprises this week — what was this ugly thing?

Biggest lemon ever

"That's a lemon," the volunteer said.

"No way is that an organic lemon," I thought. But it didn't matter. I paid for the 10 pound box of veg and took it home, wondering all the way what I would do with such a prize.

Finally I settled on lemon curd, that mysterious light-yellow gloppy spread I've seen on fancy brunch tables alongside scones. I can't remember ever trying the stuff, but there must be some reason it's served only on special occasions.

I searched all over to find a recipe for lemon curd that measured the lemon juice by the cup, rather than by the lemon (since mine was at least the size of four "normal" lemons, but who knows how much juice was in there). I finally found one that not only had the lemon measured in cups, but also looked quite simple.

Six eggs

I combined all of the ingredients, sans butter, in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisked for over 10 minutes. I whisked and I whisked until both the ingredients and my arms had been whisked into submission. Then the phone rang.

Seeing as it was Ted, I had to pick up the phone. And whisk. And talk. And then… the lemon curd died.

Well, it didn't die. Really, it had foamed up to about twice its size, giving the sneaky illusion that it was thickened and silky when really it was just a wet mess of uncooked egg and lemon. Of course I didn't realize that until after I'd taken it off the burner and whisked in the butter. Devastated, arm aching, I shut the stove and all of the kitchen lights off and retreated to my bedroom with my laptop to start work on the project Ted had called me about.

Vance was out running during all of this — the whisking, the phone call, me laying in the middle of the kitchen floor for a while with Chester. He returned to find everything where I'd left it in the kitchen, and me with a huge frown and a picture of Diddy on my computer in the middle of our bed. It was truly one of those just-burned-the-Boeuf-Bourguignon moments straight out of Julie and Julia

24 hours in Savannah (day 2)

[caption id="attachment_452" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Honey for sale at the Savannah Bee Co."][/caption]

Sentient Bean

I was about out of steam after Circa 1875 Saturday night, but a long night's rest and a walk through the chilly fall morning to Sentient Bean woke me right up. Forsyth Park is lined with beautiful, historic homes, many of which have been converted to Inns. Vance and I pointed at all the ones that would make the perfect Bed & Breakfast location, bouncing ideas off one another about what we'd serve, where people would sit to eat their homemade popovers and scones, how expensive the renovation would be…

At the end of the park sits Sentient Bean, another one of those businesses where we get to vote with our dollars. To put it bluntly, their coffee isn't brewed off the backs of underpaid growers living in poverty. And their all-vegetarian menu is sourced from sustainable sources. Awareness of the products they serve and the story behind those products is ingrained in their name; Sentient: having sense of perception; conscious. Which is a happy change from some of the coffee houses we're used to. (Pro tip: Skip the biscotti).

[caption id="attachment_449" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="A solid hour of reading at Sentient Bean preceded a sugar rush at River Street Sweets"][/caption]

River Street Sweets

Our trip couldn't have been complete without me getting to try some of the city's best saltwater taffy. So Vance and I made the trek out to River Street Sweets, the happiest tourist trap you could ever get sucked into. I picked up a hunk of chocolate to nibble as we walked along the stone road toward lunch, and finally tried a piece of butterscotch taffy after my fudge had disappeared. Incredible. I don't know what I've been thinking all my life, trading taffy for Crunch bars the morning after Halloween.

Firefly Cafe

Our last stop was far from a tourist trap. We ended up at the Firefly Cafe, after a couple of our other lunch choices failed to be open on Sundays (good for them)! The tiny restaurant is buzzing with conversation and friendly faces; you can tell most of the people sitting there live within a mile walk of the place.

[caption id="attachment_458" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Sunday Brunch at the Firefly Cafe is the place to be in this corner of Savannah."][/caption]

Turn down the coffee in favor of a bloody mary, and if you're avoiding meat, go for the Greek Omelette with a side of creamy grits like you can only find in the South. The menu is a little sparse in terms of vegetarian options, but this one was a real flavor parade.

Savannah Bee Co.

One of my new favorite spots in Savannah has got to be the Savannah Bee Company. If you think honey is just honey (as I did until about a year ago), you should make a

Munchy Muffins

[caption id="attachment_121" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Mini munchy muffins, straight from the oven."]Bran Muffins[/caption]

I've had this unopened bag of wheat bran sitting on the shelf for over a month now. I picked it up at Publix when I was unsure whether the recipe I was looking to make required "wheat germ" or "wheat bran" (I bought both). Since then I've purchased my first iPhone, and now have all of my grocery lists stored in the Shopping List app; hopefully that will prevent future instances of munchy wheat product overload!

This morning I finally got the urge to turn the sawdust-looking stuff (wheat bran, that is) into something delicious and at least a little healthy. Most people would call the end result "bran muffins," but I thought the term "munchy muffins" did them justice. It's a rare find when I come across a recipe that can turn something that looks so much like a woodworker's trash pile into a moist, delicious snack I'm not ashamed to share with my coworkers.

Other than wheat bran, the ingredients used here are ones I keep a ready stock of in my kitchen; if you don't have allspice or nutmeg on-hand, you should. They're delicious spices that are the key to so many special muffins, pies, jams, and lattes. You might even know someone with an allspice tree who wouldn't mind offloading some of the stuff; I ground up the allspice for this recipe using the dried berries from my parents' allspice tree (thanks, Mom).

Munchy (Bran) Muffins

This recipe came from one of my very favorite cookbooks, The Best Recipe. The chefs at America's Test Kitchen take all the guesswork out of tough recipes by trying different variations sometimes dozens of times, until they come up with the one that's just right. This one is a keeper.

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 large organic eggs
  • 2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk*
  • 1 ½ cups wheat bran
  • 1 cup raisins (optional)

Preparation

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together in medium bowl; set aside.

Cream butter with mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy; 1 to 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until combined and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly before adding the next. Beat in vanilla, molasses, and sour cream until thoroughly combined and creamy, about 1 minute longer. Reduce speed to low; beat in muttermilk and half the flour mixture until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in remaining flour mixture until incorporated

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