Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chicken Parmesan, the lighter way

Honestly, what I post on this blog is not a particularly accurate representation of my diet.

I eat clean the vast majority of the time, especially when I'm at school cooking for myself.  Most of my diet consists of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, and I make dessert very rarely.   I feel a lot better when I eat a wholesome varied diet.
That doesn't mean that I want my food to taste like it's insanely healthy.  As a result, I'm on an eternal quest to make healthy comfort food.

A total contradiction, I know, but welcome to my life.  I am, after all, an aspiring professional dancer who loves to bake.  I have to at least try to make healthy food taste like it'll clog your arteries!

One of my favorite blow-my-diet Italian dishes is Fettucine Alfredo.  Another is gnocchi in a tomato cream sauce.  Those are things that you just can't make authentic healthy versions of.  Or even authentic-tasting.
I'm sorry, but using low-fat cream cheese to thicken your alfredo sauce is wrongCream cheese??  

Chicken Parmesan, however, was a bit more redeemable.

Instead of browning the breaded chicken in oil, seasoned Panko breadcrumbs are toasted to make them brown and, well, toasty before they're tossed with grated Parmigiana Reggiano to form the breading.  Panko is extra crispy, so you don't miss the frying, and the chicken is cooked entirely in the oven in about 20 minutes total.  Homemade marinara sauce and part-skim mozzarella get all warm and melty on top to finish a dish that satisfies you without weighing you down.  Serve it with a salad or a green vegetable - like grilled zucchini - and a whole-grain baguette, and you have a well-balanced, healthy, AND comforting meal!

And if you need a testament to it's status as healthy comfort food, just ask Jon - I served it to him and he didn't think it tasted "healthy" at all!  Officially guy-approved :)

Lightened-Up Chicken Parmesan
Source: adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Cook's Illustrated, October 2006

1 1/2 cups Italian-seasoned panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
3 large egg whites
1 tbsp. water
vegetable cooking spray
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut into halves (4 pieces total)
2 cups marinara sauce, warmed
about 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp. minced fresh basil

Preheat oven to 475˚F with an oven rack on the middle position.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat the foil with vegetable cooking spray.
Toast Panko breadcrumbs in a large skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown.  Set aside to cool.
Place flour in a pie plate or on a sheet of wax paper.  Whisk together the egg whites and water in a shallow dish.  Combine cooled breadcrumbs with the grated Parmesan cheese and spread on a sheet of wax paper or a pie plate.  Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper on both sides.  Dredge each piece in the flour, then dip in the egg whites, then cover in breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere.  Transfer the pieces to the baking sheet and place in the heated oven for 15 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink and feels firm when pressed with a finger.  Remove the chicken from the oven.  Spoon 2 tablespoons of sauce over each piece and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella.  Return to the oven for 5-6 more minutes, until the cheese is melted.  Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve as desired with extra sauce and Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


So... It's been about a million and a half years since I actually cooked anything.

I've been working a lot.  And I work with kids.  Most exhausting job ever.

Except for Jon's job...working outside all day doing lots of heavy lifting till all hours of the night...

Hush.  I know I'm being ridiculous.

But this whole teaching-dance-to-kids thing has been draining me of all creative inspiration and energy - I've been using it all on their choreography.  And good Lord has it been hot lately!!  So at the end of the day, I'd rather go home and order in or eat leftovers than think up an interesting new meal.

And that reminded me that I need to go to the grocery store...dangit!

Additional side note: fried spaghetti = amazing.  Hurrah for tasty leftovers.

So, here's my apology for being a bad food blogger.  Why must life interfere life?

But to make up for it, here's a picture of me and Jon!

That probably doesn't make up for lack of recipe, but I think it's adorable.
And he's handsome.  I'm a lucky girl :)

AND I've been getting to sing a lot more at church.  I couldn't be more blessed to be serving Christ with my friends on the worship team.  It's truly amazing to feel His presence and see Him move in my life and the lives of others, sometimes in just minutes.  Absolutely incredible.

So, that's life.  I'll do my best to be back with another recipe soon!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vanilla Bean Scones and the Best Birthday Ever

I am exhausted.

Between the crazy heat that's hit the NoVA area, the loud energetic kids I'm working with, and the whirlwind of a birthday weekend I had, I am just plain wiped!

But ohhh was it ever worth it...

Quick backstory: my birthday is smack-dab in the middle of July, a.k.a. Vacation Season.  Growing up, most of my friends were naturally on vacation on my birthday, and when they weren't away I had something going on out of town that kept me from having an actual birthday celebration.  The vast majority of my birthdays have been spent with my parents and have involved minimal hoopla.

This year was different :)

Jon flew down from Buffalo Saturday morning, so I got to see my fiancĂ© for the first time in two months, which was nothing short of amazing.  Then, my family - complete with the "extended family" of my best friend Jenni and her mom - drove down to Staunton, VA for a weekend at a bed and breakfast.  After a lovely Italian dinner (and free tiramisu, complete with birthday candle), Jenni and Jon and I went out on the town so I could get my first drink at midnight.  Spending the night out with the two of them was everything I wanted!
The next day, after a delicious breakfast, a walk around the gorgeous little town, and gelato for lunch (I LOVE how anything goes on your birthday!), we went to the Blackfriars Theater, home of the American Shakespeare Center, to see The Importance of Being EarnestEarnest is my favorite play, and the production definitely did not disappoint - I laughed hysterically the whole time!  Then came dinner at a delicious farm-to-table restaurant, followed by the 2.5-hour drive home...through most of which I slept.  It was definitely the best birthday I've ever had, and overall an amazing, if exhausting, weekend.

Since being back at home, I haven't had much energy to get back in the kitchen, and being totally out of it, I forgot to take pictures of the zucchini fries I made (I'll try to make them again soon - they were fantastic!).  But before we left for Staunton on Saturday, I made these Vanilla Bean Scones as a treat for Jon to enjoy after his flight.

This makes three recipes I've posted from Alice's Tea Cup.  Since June.  Yeah.  I just can't get over how good everything from that cookbook is!  (And they have countless more amazing recipes that they didn't share, so you really have to drop by one of their locations next time you're in Manhattan.)
These scones are the perfect sweet treat to justify having for breakfast.  They're buttery, tender, chock full of gorgeous vanilla flavor, and perfectly sweet.  Serve them alongside some eggs and a fruit salad and you'll be oh so happy :)

Vanilla Bean Scones
Source: Alice's Tea Cup by Haley and Lauren Fox

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1-1/4 cups cold buttermilk (I used low-fat)
2 or 3 vanilla beans, seeds scraped out and pods reserved
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream (for brushing)
1/4 cup sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  With clean hands or a pastry blender (or both, if you're me and your butter was still frozen!), cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.  Combine the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds in the cup in which you measured the buttermilk.  Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour the buttermilk mixture into the well.  Combine the ingredients until the entire dry mixture is wet - but don't knead!
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.  Gather the dough together and lightly pat it out to a rectangle about 1-1/2 inches thick.  Using a dough cutter or a sharp knife, cut the dough into wedges measuring about 3-1/2 x 4 inches and lay them on a nonstick baking sheet.  If there is any remaining dough, lightly gather it together to cut out more scones - try not to knead too much!  Brush the tops of the scones liberally with cream and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the scones for 12-18 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Cool just until they can be handled.  Enjoy!

**NOTE: In my experience, the scones often take several minutes more than 12 to finish baking at 425˚.  I plan to experiment in the future with bumping the temperature up another 25 degrees to see if they puff up and brown better.  If you try it, let me know how they turn out!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Italian Cream Cake

Necessary Background Information: I've always been a chocolate girl by inclination.  Not chocolate candy as much, though - just chocolate baked goods.  If a dessert has chocolate in it, it gets preference over the others.  I get chocolate cake cravings on a regular basis, and sometimes all I want in life is a jar of Nutella and some pretzels to dunk into it. 

This coming weekend is my birthday, and it's a big one - my 21st!
Since my birthday's in the middle of the summer, and Virginia's not known for amazingly mild summers, I've had store-bought cake or ice cream cake (all chocolate of course) for the vast majority of my birthdays.  Last year I made my own cake (and what a cake that was!) but this year, I really wanted a homemade cake that I didn't have to bake myself.  My mom volunteered and had me choose exactly what I wanted.

Wonder of wonders: I chose something with no chocolate in it!
And what a fantastic choice that was.

As she was making the cake, my mom told me the story of a family vacation she took in Texas.  For most of the trip, she felt awful, and the only thing she could stomach was this Italian Cream Cake.
So she had it for three meals a day.
Not like she would ever let me get away with that, but it was a cute and envy-inspiring story.  And after tasting the cake, I fully understand why.

This is the most addictive cake I've ever tasted.

Three layers of moist vanilla buttermilk cake are held together by thick layers of vanilla cream cheese frosting, and all of the above are chock full of chopped pecans and angel flake coconut.  It's both light and satisfying, and no matter your sugar tolerance or flavor preference it's just plain amazing - my best friend can't usually finish a full slice of layer cake, and my dad doesn't like coconut...and both of them adore this cake.  I could easily eat this cake for three meals a day.

Not that I will.

I just could.

See?  The cake even wants to eat itself!

Italian Cream Cake
Source: my mother's Aunt Sis

For the cake:
5 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

For the frosting:
8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 lb (approximately 4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350˚F.  Grease and flour three 9" round cake pans.
Separate the eggs.  Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and shortening until smooth and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until smooth.  Add the egg yolks and beat the mixture till well-combined.
Sift together the flour and baking soda.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk and mix until everything is combined and smooth.  Scrape down the bowl as needed.  Stir in the vanilla, coconut, and pecans.  Fold in the beaten egg whites.
Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool 10 minutes in the pan before turning the cakes out onto racks to cool the rest of the way.
To make the frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter.  With the mixer on the lowest speed, gradually add the powdered sugar.  Once combined, beat on medium-high speed for around 1 minute.  Beat in the vanilla, then stir in the coconut and pecans.
To assemble, place one layer of cake on a cake plate or cardboard cake circle.  Frost the top of the layer with a generous amount of the frosting and place a second layer on top of the first.  Repeat with the second and third layers.  Frost the top and sides of the entire cake generously.  Enjoy!

**NOTE: This frosting recipe makes just enough to fill and frost the cake.  We ended up making an extra half recipe, and I highly recommend you do the same.  The frosting's WAY too good to skimp on it :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

3-Cheese Pizza with Quick and Easy Dough

We interrupt this slew of decadent desserts to bring you PIZZA!

I eat pizza very rarely, mostly because it's nearly impossible to find commercial pizza that can pass the napkin test.
You know, when you put the napkin on top of a slice of pizza and it instantly becomes saturated with grease?  Massive FAIL of the napkin test.  And definitely not helpful when it comes to having flat abs.

If regular pizza was like this stuff, though, I'd eat it all the time.
Which means I need a very large stock of yeast at school so I can eat it all the time.

See, this is homemade pizza.  Otherwise known as the best thing ever.

I found the dough recipe on My Baking Addiction, which is one of my favorite blogs.  Mostly for the cupcake recipes I drool over on a regular basis.  However, I found Jamie's recipe for No-Knead Pizza Dough and instantly got excited.  I will take quick easy recipes any day! 

And this did not disappoint.

I slightly modified the recipe by substituting half of the all-purpose flour for white whole wheat - might as well get some whole grains, right?  The light wheat flavor was hearty and delicious, and the white whole wheat flour didn't mess with the texture.  YAY!  But I'm sure the original version is insanely good too.

The last time I made this dough recipe, it got me three calzones, a large thin-crust pizza, and another pizza-sized ball of dough for the freezer.  The thin crust pizza was delicious, flavorful and crispy - my roommates and Jon, my fiancĂ©, loved it.  But, I'm a sucker for thick crust, so I divided the dough into three equal-ish pieces and used two of the three to make two deliciously doughy pizzas.  I topped them with tomato-basil sauce (store-bought - I ran out of time, but I got the good stuff!), Italian-seasoned turkey sausage, spinach, cremini mushrooms, and ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses.  And fresh basil.
And then I ate them and did my happy dance.

Whatever you top these pizzas with, they will be incredible.  I highly suggest using multiple cheeses.  Because cheese is awesome.

Simple No-Knead Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
Source: adapted from My Baking Addiction, originally from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour (recommended: King Arthur)
1 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 3/4 cups lukewarm water

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon (I imagine a large food processor with a dough blade would work too) mix together the yeast, salt, sugar, oil, and water.  Mix in the flour without kneading, mixing until the dough has formed a ball.  If you're not using a mixer you may need to use your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.
Transfer the dough into a large (5-quart) lightly-oiled bowl or lidded container.  Cover it with a tea towel and set it aside at room temperature until the dough has risen and collapsed in the middle - about two hours.
The dough can be used immediately after the first rise, but it's easier to handle when cold.  Refrigerate in a non-airtight lidded container for up to 12 days.

3-Cheese Pizza
Source: Dancer Bakes original.  Assemble to taste.

1/3 recipe Simple No-Knead Pizza Dough
Cornmeal (for sprinkling)
Prepared tomato sauce
Chopped or torn baby spinach leaves, stems removed
Sliced cremini mushrooms
Turkey Italian sausage, cases removed and browned
Part-skim ricotta cheese
Low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella, shredded
Grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 450˚F.
Roll dough out to fit your pizza pan or baking sheet.  Sprinkle the pan with cornmeal and transfer the dough to the pan.  Roll the edges of the crust under to form puffy distinct edges.  Spread sauce on top of the dough in a thin but even layer, stopping about 1/4 inch from the rolled-under edges.  Top with crumbles of turkey sausage, spinach leaves, sliced mushrooms, and dollops of ricotta.  Sprinkle liberally with mozzarella and parmesan.
Transfer to the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned and the cheese is all melted and gooey.  Allow to set for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes

See this cupcake carrier?
Best Christmas present ever.  This thing holds 24 cupcakes and transports them safely from my kitchen to someone else's.  On Friday night, this carried 22 dark chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting to a guy friend's house for a mostly-guys get-together.
And it carried six home.
Conclusion: chocolate peanut butter cupcakes = boy food.
Secondary conclusion: chocolate peanut butter cupcakes = insanely delicious.

Now for the surprise: the cupcakes are vegan.  No butter, no eggs - the leavening comes from a baking soda and vinegar reaction!  The frosting...not so much.
But vegan boy food.  Except the frosting, but still.
I also snuck whole wheat into them.  I'm a mischievous one :)

You should really make these.  Especially if you have boys to feed.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Adapted from Joy the Baker, cupcakes originally from Organic and Chic

For the cupcakes - 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsweetened dark cocoa (recommended: Hershey's Special Dark)
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup canola oil or extra-light olive oil
2 tsp white vinegar
2 cups cold water

For the frosting -
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tbsp milk or vanilla soy milk

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚F and line two cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the vanilla, oil, vinegar, and water.  Slowly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to overmix.  The resulting batter will be quite wet.  That's good :)
Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full.  Bake for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  (Mine were done in 21 minutes) Allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing and allowing to cool to room temperature on racks.
To make the frosting, cream the butter and peanut butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until smooth and creamy (I'm sure a hand mixer would work fine too).  Scrape down the bowl, then gradually add 3 cups of confectioners' sugar and beat on low for 1 minute.  Add the milk or soy milk and beat on medium-high speed for 1 minute.  If you want your frosting even thicker, add an additional cup of powdered sugar.
Frost the cooled cupcakes generously with the peanut butter frosting.  Decorate with chopped Reese's cups, if desired (though they don't need it!).  Enjoy!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Story time:
Once upon a time,  a young girl new to the blogging world had two ripe bananas to use up.  She thought and thought, tossed and turned, and still couldn't come up with a unique way to use them.  First she tried to find healthy recipes, but those wouldn't satisfy her sweet tooth.  She thought of a bundt cake, but then realized her bundt pan was far, far away in the land of Buffalo.  Whatever could she do?
But then, she stumbled upon a magical cookbook.  It was small, but within its pages it held recipes of every flavor and taste she could imagine.  And inside this book, she found a recipe for Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting - the answer she had been seeking!
She followed the recipe directions to the letter, scooped the batter into the pan, and slid the pan into the oven.  When the DING of the oven timer came, she took them out...only to discover 12 strangely colored, misshapen little cakes!  She began to despair, but then remembered that they were meant to be quite brown, and their shape would not matter once they were topped with swirls of rich and creamy frosting.  Just a few twirls of her mixer later, the cupcakes were finished.
And my, were they delicious!

Another GEM from Alice's Tea Cup.  I'm convinced the Fox ladies can do no wrong.  Just remember - they're supposed to get darker than most cupcakes.  And honestly, who cares what they look like underneath the frosting?  The flavor combination most definitely makes up for the oddness of their shape, and they actually only get better with time!

Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: Alice's Tea Cup by Haley and Lauren Fox
Yield: 12-18 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
2 very ripe bananas
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (I used Tahitian vanilla, but you don't need to be that fancy)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (12oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. 
Mash the bananas in a small bowl, then set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine the oil and sugar until fully mixed.  Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla; mix until smooth.  Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  With the mixer running on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture a little at a time, mixing until it's all combined and the batter is smooth.  Fold in the bananas with a rubber spatula.
Fill a nonstick or paper-lined muffin pan half-full of batter and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.  Set aside to cool completely in the pan.
As the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese until fully combined and smooth.  With the mixer set on its lowest speed, slowly add the confectioners' sugar, mixing until it is completely incorporated and the frosting is smooth (and delicious!)
Use an offset spatula or piping bag to frost the cupcakes generously with the cream cheese frosting.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pretty Pretty Pancakes

And here we have it: the first family recipe to be posted.
Naturally, it's breakfast food.

I grew up eating these pancakes.  Heck, I practically cut my teeth on these things.  They were one of the first things I ever helped out with in the kitchen - I got to whisk while she poured in new ingredients...although eventually she'd take the whisk away because I was tiny and I couldn't whisk very quickly...

These were my favorite dinner growing up, too.  I guarantee I pushed for breakfast-for-dinner three times a week.  Now, I'm a fully fledged pancake fiend.  (One of many reasons why I LOVE Joy the Baker so much.)

These bake up beautifully - we're talking even textured, nice and fluffy, and a gorgeous blonde color.  The recipe is extremely basic, a total pantry meal - there's not one exotic or unconventional ingredient in here.  However, its simplicity makes it the perfect conduit for add-ins and toppings.  Add berries, mashed banana, raisins or other dried fruit, nuts, coconut, or even chocolate chips (my personal favorite!).  Dust them with powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar, or top them with whipped cream and the sauce of your choice.

Of course, plain or doctored up, these are perfect little golden rounds just waiting to be topped with pure maple syrup.  Enjoy!

Basic Pancakes
Source: my mother's recipe box

2 eggs
2 cups milk
2 ¼ cups flour
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
5-6 tbsp granulated sugar
5-6 tbsp canola or vegetable oil

In a large bowl, beat together eggs and milk until foamy and well-combined.  Add flour, baking powder, and salt; whisk to fully incorporate.  Add sugar and oil and whisk until the batter is of uniform texture and falls back on itself in medium ribbons.  If too thin, add more flour; if too thick, add a bit more milk.
Heat a griddle over medium-low to medium heat.  Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop as many rounds onto the griddle as you can.  When the surface of each pancake is covered with popped bubbles and the edges are set, flip them over and continue to cook for another minute or so.  Remove the firm cooked pancakes from the griddle and transfer to a serving platter or baking sheet in a warm oven, set to the lowest temperature possible.  Serve immediately after all batches are finished with pure maple syrup and other toppings of choice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Good Ol' Independence Day. And scones!

So...Happy Independence Day!  Belated.  Whoops.

It's become a bit of a family tradition to spend the weekend of the Fourth out at our vacation home in West Virginia, and let me tell you...this place is beautiful.  It's the house I wish I could take everywhere in the country with me.  Heck, I'd plant this place in the middle of New York City!

The logs would be a mite incongruous with the rest of the city's architecture, but it would be worth it.

The kitchen's gorgeous too, and perfect for photos...I miss that kitchen already...

This time around, the company included my parents, myself, and my brother Rob and his new wife Colleen.  It took me about two weeks to narrow down dessert options, but based on the weather, people's tastes, and with the help of the best cookbook ever, I came up with a solution eventually.

Rob and Colleen love strawberry shortcake, and Rob has a killer recipe for it (which I may beg off of him and post in the future), but I decided to try it with a twist.
A patriotic twist, naturally.

The base I chose for the shortcakes was a strawberry white chocolate scone.  I made one tiny change to a recipe from Alice's Tea Cup, my favorite restaurant / bakery in New York, so I expected that they would be delicious.
Good gracious, was that ever a good choice.

Even without the toppings, the scones were incredible!  Flaky but not at all dry, buttery to boot, and chock full of bits of tart strawberry and sweet white chocolate, these made the kitchen smell amazing and made me do my happy dance.
But we had to gild the lily, so we split them in half and filled them with mascerated strawberries and blueberries and whipped cream.

[Disgraceful secret: The grocery store was out of heavy cream so we cheated and used the stuff from a can.  For goodness' sake, whip your own, preferably with some sugar and vanilla.  But the canned stuff was a viable enough solution.  Particularly the extra-creamy...guilty pleasure in a can.]

The best part?  Totally versatile.  Swap out the white chocolate for milk or semisweet chocolate chips, ditch the blueberries for a more classic shortcake, use raspberries instead of strawberries...anything goes!  And anything would be divine.

White Chocolate Strawberry Scones
Source: barely adapted from Alice's Tea Cup by Haley and Lauren Fox
Yield: 10-12 scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups hulled and quartered strawberries
3/4 cup white chocolate chips (brand of your preference - I used Toll House)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I used low fat)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream (for brushing)
1/4 cup sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Using two knives, a pastry blender, or extremely clean fingertips, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.  Add the strawberries and white chocolate chips and mix till they are evenly distributed throughout the dry mixture.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, then pour the buttermilk and vanilla into the well.  Combine until all the dry mixture is wet - do not knead!
Turn the mixture out onto a well-floured surface and gather the dough together, sprinkling some flour over the top.  Gently pat the dough to make a rectangle about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Using a dough cutter or a sharp knife, cut out wedges measuring about 3 1/2 - 4 inches and lay them on a nonstick baking sheet.  If necessary, gather any remaining dough together lightly to cut out more scones - just don't knead too much.  Brush the tops of the scones liberally with heavy cream and then sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the scones for about 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.

To serve shortcake-style, allow scones to cool for approximately 10 minutes.  While they cool, mix together approximately 8oz sliced strawberries, 3/4 pint of blueberries, and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar together in a bowl and allow to mascerate.  In a chilled bowl using a mixer with chilled beaters, whip 1 pint of heavy cream with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract to stiff peaks.  Once scones are sufficiently cool, slice in half lengthwise and place two halves on a plate.  Scoop a healthy amount of berries onto the bottom half, top with whipped cream, and top with the top half of the scone.  Enjoy!