Seven Layer Bars

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Seven Layer Bars

Seven layer bars are my favorite dessert to bring to a party. They disappear before you know it. Why? Because these bars include the very best ingredients used in baking.

Seven layer bars are also known as “sin bars,” after the seven deadly sins. While I firmly believe this treat is a blessing, I can see how each ingredient matches up with one of the sins.

  1. Butter (gluttony): Butter. Butter, butter, butter. Keep repeating the word to yourself. Say no more.
  2. Graham crackers (envy): They are the foundation of a s’more, the crust for cheesecakes. Who wouldn’t envy the graham cracker?
  3. Butterscotch (lust): The most beautiful, mysterious flavor. I find butterscotch difficult to describe fully.
  4. Chocolate (greed): My love, my vice, my everything. I cannot get enough of chocolate.
  5. Coconut (pride):  It’s everywhere, in all forms. Why wouldn’t coconut be proud?
  6. Walnuts (anger): Have you ever seen a whole walnut? I hope so. It’s elegant, buttery, and craggy. It looks angry.
  7. Sweetened condensed milk (sloth): The very nature of this ingredient is sloth-like. It’s so slow to come out of the can, you have to use a spatula to get it out. Perfect match.
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Let’s get a close up shot, shall we?

Seven Layer Bars

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded coconut
  • 6 oz chocolate chips
  • 6 oz butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the butter until fully combined. Place mixture into a 13 x 9 baking dish. Press the graham cracker mixture down until it forms a crust covering the bottom of the pan.
  3. Layer the coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and chopped walnuts on top of the graham cracker crust.
  4. Pour the sweetened condensed milk over these layers to cover the entire pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown.
  6. Make sure to let the bars cool before you cut into them!

 

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

Today I’m offering a two-part reflection. One on the beauty of cast iron skillets, and another on the deliciousness that is the brussels sprout.


We Should All Be Like Cast Iron Skillets (a poem)

We should all be like cast iron skillets—

A vessel that can take the heat.

Built of strength, it can endure most anything.

With time, it becomes more nonstick,

seasoned, retaining the wisdom of what’s touched its surface before,

letting things go cleanly, more easily.

We should all be like cast iron skillets—

a vessel through which masterpieces are made.

Reliable, it will always be there,

a labor of love lasting a lifetime.


As I grew up, brussels sprouts had a bad reputation. The cliché going around was that one may like vegetables, except for brussels sprouts.

A typical conversation among friends or family members:

Inquiring adult: “Kristina, do you eat your vegetables?”

Kristina (as a child): “Yes, I eat my vegetables!”

Adult: “Which vegetables do you like to eat?”

Kristina: “Well, I like corn, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, all kinds. But I hate brussels sprouts. Gross!”

Here’s the thing—I had never even tried brussels sprouts. I heard such terrible things about this vegetable that I didn’t have the guts to try it until I was maybe 23 years old.

I know. Shameful.

When I did finally try them at a restaurant in Boston, I was floored with how delicious this vegetable really is. Brussels sprouts have a more earthy, cabbage-like flavor that pairs so incredibly well with bacon and cheese. The sprouts caramelize, boasting a hint of sweetness that begs for crispy bacon and salty, yet firm cheese. This is why we see many recipes for brussels sprouts with parmesan, for example. I chose cotija cheese for its mild yet salty qualities. The cheese melts just enough, and then it browns right along with the sprouts at the very end.

This dish is one of my kitchen experiments, and after a few tries, I’ve hit the jackpot of deliciousness. I love serving this as a side dish with baked chicken or on top of pasta. Enjoy, and let me know if you make it!

Braised Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Cotija Cheese

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts, cut into halves or quarters depending on the sprout’s size
  • 3-4 slices applewood smoked bacon
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press
  • 1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Slice bacon into pieces about 1/2 inch wide and place into a cast iron skillet. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry until crispy. Take the crispy bacon pieces out of the pan with a slotted spoon and place bacon into a dish. Set aside.
  2. While the bacon is cooking, prepare your brussels sprouts. Slice off the very bottom of the sprout and throw away. Cut the brussels sprout in half. If the sprout is quite large, you can cut the sprout in half again.
  3. Once the bacon is done cooking, place the brussels sprouts in the cast iron skillet with the bacon fat. Over medium heat, let the sprouts acquire an initial char (about 2 minutes).
  4. Place minced garlic in the pan and stir to incorporate. Add crushed black pepper to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon, you can always add more).
  5. Pour 1/3 cup chicken stock into the pan and cover the skillet with a lid. Let the sprouts steam over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes. The liquid should be about evaporated.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium high and let the sprouts caramelize further as the liquid fully evaporates, 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add crispy bacon and crumbled cotija cheese into the pan. Turn off the heat, and allow the cheese to melt just slightly.

 

 

 

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

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Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

Whether we like it or not, our lives are made up of seasons.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

Baby, Child, Teen, Young Adult, Adult, Senior.

Those seasons contain seasons within them. Take fall, for instance. September marks the end of tomato season, giving way to apple season. Squash flourish in October, the orange color of their insides reflecting the color of the outside world, the ever-changing leaves on the trees. The season is not stagnant. There are ebbs and flows within it, peaks and valleys. We may miss the tomatoes, but we have apples and pears and squash and beets to look forward to.

Each season in our lives has similarly functioning peaks and valleys. For example, young adults tend to move many different times. I moved from Columbus, Ohio to Boston for graduate school. I found love. I graduated. I obtained a job in my field. I lost love. I went back to the drawing board of life. I set new goals.

What do we know about seasons? A few things (at the very least):

  1. Each phase of a season is beautiful and necessary. The beginning brings joy. The end brings a despair that only lasts until the hope of a new season emerges—and it always does.
  2. If we try to bring back a season that has already passed, it does not taste as sweet. Eating tomatoes in December is not as pleasant as eating them in August. The fruit won’t be as fresh, flavorful, and bright.

We must enjoy each present season for what it brings to us. What can the joy teach us? What, conversely, can the sadness teach us?

Embrace the now—it is beautiful and necessary in a very particular way.

This past weekend, I embraced the tomato.

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Heirloom tomato magic
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My weekend farmer’s market trip. Success!

It is the beginning of September, and while tomato season is on the cusp of leaving us, they are still available in all their glory. Let’s have one last hurrah, shall we?

While caprese salads are my jam through and through, nothing celebrates fresh, sweet tomato flavor more than cold, smooth gazpacho.

This recipe comes from a summer when I worked in Spain. In my last three weeks there I stayed with my coworker’s family. Her husband was from Asturias, a region in northern Spain, and he was the most hospitable, heartwarming man. The kitchen was his domain, and he created new dishes every evening. When I first arrived at their house, he greeted me with a massive pan of paella. I knew I was in good hands.

Gazpacho was his kitchen staple. While I was used to very chunky renditions of this soup in the U.S., his version was a fresh garden of veg turned creamy.

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

  • 9–10 medium heirloom tomatoes (or 3-4 large heirloom tomatoes)
  • 2/3 cup chopped shallots
  • 2/3 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/4 cup bread broken into pieces
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 11 ice cubes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cucumber, chopped (optional)
  1. Wash and chop the tomatoes, onion, and pepper. If you choose to add the garlic and cucumber, you can wash and chop those too.
  2. Add ingredients to a blender and blend for 2 minutes.
  3. Break apart about 1/4 cup of bread (2-3 small baguette slices). I suggest using a crustier bread. Stale, dry french bread is the best, but you can also use ciabatta. Add to the blender along with salt and pepper.
  4. Blend for 30 seconds.
  5. Turn on the blender and pour balsamic vinegar and olive oil while the gazpacho blends. This ensures the gazpacho is creamy! Blend for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the ice cubes to the blender right as you are about to serve the soup. Blend until ice is fully incorporated.

If the gazpacho is too grainy or seedy for you, you can pass the ingredients through a fine mesh strainer. This recipe serves about five people, so if your blender is not very large, you may need to make this recipe in batches. I’ll usually cut the recipe in half and make two batches in my blender.

Squash Stuffed with Cheddar, Apple, Onion, Sage Couscous

Hello!

Right now, though, I’m thoroughly enjoying this year’s fall bounty. I went apple picking again at Russell Orchards, and I’ve been experimenting with new types of squash.

Before this year I’ve only ever cooked with butternut and spaghetti squash. Now I’m also cooking with acorn squash and kabocha squash (think of a mix between pumpkin and sweet potato).  These particular squashes lend themselves well to stuffing.

Stuffed Squash
Stuffed Squash

I decided to stuff these squashes with apple, onion, and sage couscous. Grate some cheddar cheese on top, and you have a seriously delicious fall meal.

Squash Stuffed with Cheddar, Apple, Onion, Sage Couscous 

Serves 4

  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 kabocha squash
  • 1 and 1/4 cup Israeli couscous (I used Trader Joes’ Harvest Blend)
  • 1 and 3/4 cup water or chicken broth
  • 2 medium apples, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (enough to cover squash)
  • salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
  1. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle olive oil on the squash and sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder on top. Flip the squash cut side down onto a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 50 minutes or until fork tender. The kabocha squash may take more time to cook.
  2. While the squash is roasting, prepare your stuffing. Chop two medium sized apples and one small onion. Add to a skillet with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Sauté for 7-10 minutes. Add minced garlic and chopped sage and sauté for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the couscous to the skillet to let the couscous toast a little.
  4. Add water or chicken broth based on the couscous package’s cooking instructions. Let simmer until liquid has evaporated.
  5. Once the squash are done roasting, take them out of the oven and flip them back over. Spoon the stuffing into each squash half. Grate cheddar cheese on top of each half and then place back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

Enjoy the very best of fall with this comforting dish. Have a wonderful rest of the week, everyone, and I’ll be back soon with more fall favorites!

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Rainbow Swiss Chard

Hello! I’m back.

Transitioning into the full-time job lifestyle is not an easy task, but with every new week I settle more and more into a routine. The test kitchen is busy making delicious food (some of which they allow employees to take home!), and I’m learning more about new ingredients.

Take quinoa. I grew up with rice, pasta, barley, and farro, but quinoa is a relatively new grain for me and my family. I’ve tried the pre-packaged, pre-flavored kinds. Don’t go there. Buy the plain kind and doctor it up yourself. Do keep in mind that there are different types of quinoa (like red quinoa), and check to see if the quinoa is “pre-rinsed.” If not, then please rinse it yourself! Don’t do what I did once and have a dish of bitter quinoa. Rinsing the grain helps take that bitter layer off. Now I’m imagining those NBC commercials with that music playing as the celebrity says “the more you know…”

Swiss chard is my new favorite green, leafy vegetable. Unlike fibrous kale, the leaves are soft to the touch. Swiss chard’s more mild flavor comes to life when simply sautéed with extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, and a splash of red wine vinegar. If you’re feeling like a healthy leafy vegetable but don’t want to stomach kale or spinach, I highly recommend swiss chard. I used rainbow chard over green chard. Why? The texture was more pleasing to my mouth, and, I mean, who doesn’t want to cook with a rainbow vegetable?

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard
Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swiss Chard takes less than 30 minutes to make—heaven to my ears after I come home from work.

Cheesy Quinoa with Sautéed Swish Chard

Quinoa

  • 1 cup white or red quinoa, rinsed if the package does not say “pre-rinsed”
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup grated monterey jack cheese (you can also use sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, gruyere, fontina…any nice melting cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons light cream
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste

Swiss Chard

  • 1 bunch of fresh swiss chard, washed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

1. First, prepare the swiss chard by washing each leaf thoroughly in cold water. Stack the leaves one on top of the other and then chop horizontally, so pieces will be about an inch wide. Unlike kale’s stems that are difficult to cook down, swiss chard’s stems become tender right along with the leaf. I usually chop the whole leaf and a little of the remaining stem. Set your washed and chopped swiss chard aside.

2. If your quinoa is not pre-rinsed, grab a fine-mesh colander or a bowl and rinse the quinoa under cold water for about 30 seconds. If your quinoa is pre-rinsed, then you can skip this step.

3. With a cheese grater, grate 1/2 cup of monterey jack cheese (or the cheese of your choice). Set that aside.

4. Now, I like to go back and cook my swiss chard. First, peel and mince two cloves of garlic. In a medium-large pot, add three tablespoons of olive oil. Turn the heat up to medium high and add your minced garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Let the garlic sizzle for about 30 seconds.

5. Add your swiss chard and mix around with tongs. Put the lid on the pot to let the swiss chard wilt.

6. After about 2 minutes, take the lid off the pot and mix the swiss chard around with tongs once again. Let the swiss chard cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. This should take about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the red wine vinegar. Mix it around again and have a taste. You can add more seasoning, vinegar, or oil to your taste. Let that lovely veg sit.

7. Now, for that quinoa. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add one cup of quinoa and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates.

8. Add your shredded cheese, light cream, and salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper to taste. Mix the quinoa until the cheese has melted. Taste and see if you need to add more seasoning or cheese. If you would like the quinoa to have a thinner consistency, add more light cream. Tailor the dish to your taste!

While I love pasta, quinoa provides a toothsome, protein-filled alternative to your traditional mac and cheese. You will feel energized after eating this meal, rather than feel like you’re in a food coma.

How do you cook quinoa? Do you love swiss chard as much as I do, or prefer another leafy vegetable? Let me know your thoughts!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Arugula, Spinach, Strawberry, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

While starting to work full-time, I also began doing PiYo (a combination of pilates and yoga) six days a week. My goal is to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and proteins in my meals. Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep and undying passion for carbs (I can’t go without pasta for a week or else I get cranky). However, I want to start making healthy, innovative salads that can act as a hearty meal.

A few days ago I came home from work determined to experiment with what I had in my fridge.

Greens: Arugula and Spinach (GREAT combination)

Fruit: Strawberries

Dairy: Fresh Mozzarella

Protein: Prosciutto

Now, what to pair with these ingredients for a dressing. I sifted through my vinegars. Ah ha! Balsamic makes the perfect tangy vinaigrette with a dash of dijon mustard.

The finished product?

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At first bite you feel the heartiness of the spinach with a little punch from the peppery arugula. The sweetness of the strawberry complements the tang of the balsamic vinaigrette. The fresh mozzarella is a welcome repose with its creamy texture. The prosciutto adds some protein, provides a necessary bit of saltiness, and takes to balsamic vinaigrette like a fish to water. A beautiful salad all around.

Arugula, Spinach, Strawberry, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

Salad (serves 2)

  • 1/2 bag fresh baby spinach, washed
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh arugula, washed
  • 1/2 ball fresh mozzarella, diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 5 strawberries, washed and chopped
  • 3 slices of prosciutto, ripped into pieces (you can substitute with another protein, like baked chicken)

Vinaigrette (adapted from a recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon light mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash the spinach and arugula and dry using a salad spinner. Add the spinach and arugula to a large bowl.

2. Cut a ball of fresh mozzarella in half, and then cut that half into one-inch cubes, or into whatever size cubes you wish. Add this to the bowl.

3. Wash and cut the strawberries. Add to the bowl.

4. Take three pieces of prosciutto and rip into pieces with your fingers. The pieces can be as large or as small as you’d like. Add to the bowl.

5. To make the vinaigrette, add the balsamic vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, salt and pepper to a smaller bowl. Whisk it until smooth. Then, while whisking with one hand, drizzle in the three tablespoons of olive oil until completely incorporated. If you struggle with this multi-tasking as I certainly have, you can add the olive oil and then whisk. It will turn out just fine!

6. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and mix the salad with tongs until the vinaigrette fully coats all the goodness.

This salad comes together in just minutes, and the flavors do not disappoint.

Have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend, everyone!