Loaded Grilled Cheese

Can we all just agree to pretend that it hasn’t been two months since the last post?

Yes? Great. Moving on…

This recipe definitely feels like a spring one to me, and luckily the weather here has just about started to act like spring. The days are getting longer and longer, and the other day I was even able to walk to work without my coat on!

I almost feel like I can’t even call this a recipe, because grilled cheese is so easy to make that I’m not sure it counts. But when the weather is getting warmer and you want to start spending all your time outside in that glorious sun instead of stuck inside slaving away, maybe a simple recipe is a really good thing!

Loaded grilled cheese ingredients

When I say simple, I mean simple execution-wise. Flavor-wise, this recipe packs such a punch! I mean, when you look at the recipe list, it’s obvious this one’s going to be good: goat cheese, pesto, spinach, avocado, and mozzarella – what’s not to love? Throw in some wholegrain bread so it’s “healthy,” and you’ve got a winner!

Loaded grilled cheese closeup

Loaded Grilled Cheese
Makes 1

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices wholegrain bread
  • 1Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp goats cheese
  • 1 Tbsp pesto
  • handful of spinach leaves
  • 1/4 avocado, sliced
  • 2-3 slices mozzarella

Instructions:

  • Spread half of the butter one side of each slice of bread (“outside”).
  • Spread goats cheese on the “inside” of one slice of bread. Over that, spread the pesto.
  • Layer the spinach leaves and then the avocado on top of the goats cheese and pesto.
  • Top with the mozzarella and the other slice of bread, butter side out.
  • Place the sandwich in a pan over medium-low heat. Do not be tempted to turn the heat up! By keeping the sandwich over medium-low, the inside will have time to get warmed through, melting the cheeses and fusing everything together, by the time the outside gets nicely browned without burning. It will take a little longer, but it is so worth it!
  • Once the bottom is nicely browned and the insides are starting to melt, flip the sandwich (carefully!) and brown the other side.
  • Remove from the pan, slice in half, and serve immediately.

I had mine with the pictured tomato soup (recipe coming soon!) but I didn’t end up dunking the sandwich in the soup, because both the grilled cheese and the soup were so flavorful on their own that I had them as two separate dishes.

Loaded grilled cheese with tomato soup

There are tons of grilled cheese flavor combos out there. This one includes lots of my favorite flavors, but I’m always looking for new ones to try. What’s your favorite grilled cheese combo?
-E

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Valentine’s Day Strawberry Bouquet

Happy almost Valentine’s Day!

For the second year running, my Valentine’s post is coming very late. Luckily, just like last year, it’s a quick and easy thing to whip up that will surprise and delight your Valentine. Like last year’s chocolate-covered, cheesecake-filled strawberries, this year also features strawberries. But this year, the only things you need are strawberries, a knife and skewers. With just those three supplies and less than half an hour, you can make…

…a Valentine’s Day strawberry bouquet!

Valentine's Strawberry Bouquet

Everyone gives roses for Valentine’s. Why be just like everyone else when you can be unique and give your loved one(s) bouquets of strawberry roses instead? They’re waaaay less expensive than actual roses, they’re adorable, they’re sure to make your Valentine smile, and (best of all) they’re edible! Plus they’re healthier than chocolates. I mean, I wouldn’t judge you if you wanted to give your bouquet along with some whipped cream and melted chocolate for dipping. In fact, if I were the recipient, I would love those additions!

Making a strawberry bouquet is simple. First push your skewer into your strawberry, leaving the strawberry leaves attached.

Strawberry bouquet step one

Then take your knife and cut a flap near the base of the strawberry.

Strawberry bouquet step two

Repeat around the bottom of the strawberry. (I found that four “petals” fit nicely for most of the strawberries I used.)

Strawberry bouquet step three

Cut another row of petals, with petals placed between those of the row beneath.

Strawberry bouquet step four

Repeat until you run out of space on the strawberry, and then separate the top of the center piece into 2 or 3 pieces, or leave as one if it’s small enough. Gently open up the “rose” by pressing the petals open with your finger.

Strawberry bouquet finished rose

And there you have a rose! Repeat with other strawberries, and then arrange in a vase with some filler flowers (baby’s breath is always a good choice) and some leaves/greens.

One ingredient and half an hour of work – how much easier can it get for a heartfelt, unique gift?

Full strawberry bouquet

Valentine’s Day Strawberry Bouquet (inspired by Kitsy Lane)
Makes 1 bouquet

Ingredients:

  • 12-15 strawberries (or more, if you want a bigger bouquet)
  • 12-15 bamboo skewers
  • 1 small, sharp knife
  • Filler flowers or leaves, optional

Instructions:

  • Stick the skewer into the strawberry at the stem side, leaving the strawberry leaves attached.
  • Cut thin “petals” all the way around the base of the strawberry.
  • Cut more rows of petals, alternating their placement so no petal is directly above another.
  • When you only have a little left, cut the top of the center piece of strawberry into 2-3 pieces.
  • Gently open up the “rose” by pushing the petals down with your finger.
  • Arrange in a vase with some filler flowers and/or greens.

Because the strawberries are already essentially cut into slices, you can easily cut off the leaves and serve with whipped cream, on Valentine’s pancakes, or in a fruit salad. Personally though, I think they’re best eaten directly off the skewer after being dipped in a chocolate fountain!

Strawberry bouquet

If this Valentine’s Day idea doesn’t have enough sugar in it for you, how about some cheesecake-stuffed, chocolate-covered strawberries or some rose apple tarts? Both of those are sure to be a big hit too!

Whether you’re celebrating with family, friends, a special someone, or Netflix (no shame in that – Netflix and I have a very long, love-filled relationship!) I hope you have a wonderful day that is full of chocolate!
-E

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Salted Caramel Filled Macarons

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, for anyone into that! I hope you enjoy your Super Bowl snacks as much as I’ve enjoyed drooling over them as they’ve inundated the food blogs for the past few weeks! We’re not staying up until the middle of the night to watch it here, but instead we’re having some very not Super Bowl treats…

I have been wanting to make macarons for years. Before I started the blog, before I moved to Glasgow and started my PhD, before I had ever done much cooking or baking before, I saw delicate macarons in tons of colorful, flavorful combinations and wanted to make them. I kept hearing how hard they were, so I never was brave enough. Well last weekend, I finally got up my courage and whipped up a batch. Salted Caramel Filled Macarons   They took a surprisingly short amount of time, and once I figured out a couple little tricks, they came out pretty well! Some of them even had the right shape and the ‘foot’ and everything! I started with a very simple recipe, so my first batch wasn’t a fancy color, but now that I’ve got a bit more confidence, I will definitely be making them again with exciting color and flavor combinations.

Salted caramel filled macaron pile

They came out so well, that I couldn’t stop myself from having one (or two) almost right away, even though the internet told me they would be better after being refrigerated for a day (which they were, by the way). I then had plenty more the next day too…

Macaron with salted caramel filling

Salted Caramel Filled Macarons (recipe adapted from Bob Vivant, filling recipe adapted from Cake Crumbs)
Makes about two dozen

Ingredients:

  • Macarons
    • 60 g almonds, ground finely
    • 105 g powdered sugar
    • 2 tsp vanilla sugar
    • 2 egg whites
    • 50 g superfine sugar
    • pinch flaked sea salt
  • Filling
    • 100 g sugar
    • 120 ml double cream
    • 3 g flaked sea salt
    • 100 g butter, cut into cubes

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 325F.
  • Combine the ground almonds, powdered sugar, and vanilla sugar. If it’s clumpy, combine it in a food processor and process until it’s a very fine texture.
  • Whisk the egg whites and superfine sugar until they form very stiff peaks.
  • Fold in half the almond mixture, until completely combined.
  • Fold in the other half, gently mixing until no streaks of egg white remain.
  • Using a piping bag with 1/2 inch tip (or a plastic bag with a 1/2 inch hold cut in the corner), pipe circles onto a parchment-covered baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each macaron. I found that the best way to get even, smooth macarons was to keep the tip still while piping a macaron, letting the mixture spread out from the tip and then lifting the tip out to the side to finish. You don’t want a point on top, because then when you sandwich them together, they will topple over.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the tops feel stiff.
  • Remove and cool for a few minutes. Lift the entire baking parchment onto a cooling rack and allow the macarons to cool completely before gently removing them from the parchment. This will help prevent cracking.
  • Re-line your baking sheet with more parchment and repeat with the remaining macaron mixture.
  • While the macarons are cooling, make up the caramel filling by heating the sugar in a small pan over medium heat, stirring frequently.
  • While the sugar is melting, gently heat the cream in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
  • Once the sugar has melted completely and turned a nice brown, turn off the heat and add in the warmed cream. It will bubble a bit, but don’t be worried. Just keep stirring until it is incorporated.
  • Stir in the salt (you can reduce the amount of salt if you don’t like salted caramel, but using at least a little really improves the flavor of the caramel).
  • Slowly stir in the butter a few cubes at a time. Once it is fully combined, leave the caramel filling to cool completely.
  • Once both the shells and the filling are completely cool, place 1 teaspoon of filling in between two shells and sandwich them together.
  • Refrigerate for a day before serving (if you can manage to wait. They’ll be good either way, but they get even better after a day in the fridge). Bring back to room temperature before eating.

The moral of this story is to just go for it and try something. Worst case scenario, it won’t come out perfectly and you’ll learn something. Best case scenario, you’ll have macarons!

Macarons with salted caramel

What have you not quite had the courage to make?
-E

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Almond Bear Claws

I was serious about my resolution to learn how to bake everything. Last weekend, for the first time, I tried homemade puff pastry, profiteroles, and bear claws! All of them came out way better than I expected (aside from the creme patissiere for the profiteroles, which didn’t quite thicken enough) so I consider the weekend a resounding success!

Last weekend, I also made a personal discovery: I am the kind of baker who will be convinced as soon as I put something in the oven that it is going to be a disaster. Those feelings rarely have any correlation with the end result, it’s just a blind panic that hits as I close the oven door.

That happened with both the profiteroles and the bear claws. I was convinced that they weren’t going to rise and were just going to end up wet, buttery lumps of unappetizing dough. Well look how wrong I was!

almond bear claw with powdered sugar

The puff pastry recipe was from Paul Hollywood’s “How to Bake” and even though I followed the recipe to the letter (which meant three days from start to finish, thanks to two overnight chills in the fridge!) I didn’t trust it was going to work out. After the bear claws went into the oven, I saw butter melting out of them and was convinced that Paul had failed me…a mistake I won’t make again! Just about 20 minutes later, they came out puffed and crispy and incredible!

Almond bear claw

If you want to try to make your own, check out Paul Hollywood’s recipe for puff pastry. It comes with step-by-step photos that are great for us visual learners. Or, if you want to just make some bear claws the quick and easy way, pick up some puff pastry from the store.

Making bear claws from store-bought puff pastry cuts this recipe down to about a 40 minute job, start to finish. Pop them in the oven, and in the 20 minutes you have before they’re done, make up some tea and/or coffee, maybe slice up some fruit for a fruit salad, and you’re all ready for an amazing weekend brunch. If you want to fancy it up some more, how about making some challah French toast? Or some eggs on some clouds? (But really, you may as well keep it simple and just swoon over how well these bear claws pair with a cup of tea!)

Almond Bear Claw stack

Almond Bear Claws (adapted from AllRecipes)
Makes 12 bear claws

Ingredients:

  • 200 g ground almonds
  • 55 g sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 15 g butter
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 680 g puff pastry (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • sliced almonds (for decorating)
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  • Beat together the ground almonds, sugar, salt, and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the egg whites and almond extract, set aside.
  • Roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle that is about 8 inches wide (it should be about 1/4 inch thick).
  • Cut the strip in half so you have two long strips that are each 4 inches wide.
  • Scoop your almond mixture into a piping bag (or a plastic bag with the corner cut off) and pipe a long, thick line of filling down the two long strips, using all of the filling.
  • Brush some of your beaten egg along the edge of the pastry on one side of the filling, and fold the pastry over the filling, pressing the edges together.
  • Use a knife to cut the long strips into pieces about 3 inches long.
  • Cut 5 “claws” on the edge you pressed together, and place each section on a lined baking sheet, a couple inches apart.
  • Brush each bear claw with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with some sliced almonds.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until they are puffed up and golden brown and the almonds are toasted.
  • Allow them to cool slightly before dusting with powdered sugar and serving (to the amazement of your family/friends/guests).

Uneaten bear claws can be saved in an airtight container for about a week. To re-crisp them, just reheat in a medium oven for 5-10 minutes.

Almond bear claw

Mmmmmm pastry!
-E

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Chicken and Sausage Picnic Pie

Hey, strangers!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and that your new years are off to a great start. Between transatlantic flights, a nasty head cold, and lots going on at work, this post has taken much longer than I expected. But at long last, here it is!

Now I know that for many people January is all about eating healthy and getting back on track and setting resolutions. But when one of my resolutions is to learn how to bake a whole bunch of new things everything, that is slightly at odds with the healthy eating resolution…

To be fair, I did make this pastry with whole wheat flour, so that counts as kinda healthy, right?

Eh, who cares. This picnic pie is too tasty to worry about it.

Chicken and sausage picnic pie

I had never heard of a picnic pie until watching the last season of the Great British Bake Off, but as soon as I watched that episode, I knew I wanted to try it out. Luckily, BBC Good Food came to my rescue with a fairly simple but delicious recipe (that I couldn’t help but tweak a bit. It was practically crying out for some roasted veg in there!)

Picnic pie on the table

Chicken and Sausage Picnic Pie (adapted from BBC Good Food)
Serves 8 as a main or 12 as a side

Ingredients:

  • 2 bell peppers, sliced in half with stems and seeds removed (I used one red and one yellow)
  • 1 eggplant, sliced into quarter-inch rounds
  • 1 leek, sliced in quarter-inch half circles
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil, separated
  • 400 g plain flour (I used whole wheat, and it came out great!)
  • 200 g cold, cubed butter
  • 150 ml ice-cold water
  • 500 g chicken breast
  • 170 g stuffing mix (I used Paxo sage and onion)
  • 260 g sausages (I used four sausages)
  • 2 Tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375F.
  • Drizzle your peppers and eggplant with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. (You could add some other herbs here, I used a little bit of dried sage and thyme and thought it was pretty tasty.)
  • Pop the peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until starting to soften.
  • Add the leeks to the baking sheet, drizzle with a little addition oil, if needed, and return to the oven for another 5-7 minutes, or until the vegetables are all softened.
  • Put the vegetables aside to cool, and raise the oven temperature to 390F/200C (180C fan).
  • Cut together the butter and flour in a large bowl, until the butter is the size of small peas.
  • Drizzle in the water, stirring until the mixture comes together. (You may not need all of the water, depending on the flour you use. Just keep an eye on it.)
  • Gather the dough together into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and leave it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
  • If your chicken breasts are large, slice them in half to get thinner pieces of meat, and then pan fry them in the oil over a medium-high heat until they are browned on both sides. You may need to do this in batches. The chicken will continue to cook in the pie, so no need to cook it all the way through.
  • Set the chicken aside to cool.
  • Mix the stuffing mixture with half of the hot water called for on the box, fluff with a fork, and set aside to cool.
  • Grease and flour a tall springform tin, and line the bottom with baking parchment.
  • Take 2/3 of the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out (on a lightly floured surface) until it is large enough to fit in the tall springform tin, coming up and over the sides.
  • Gently transfer the pastry to the tin, pressing it into the corners and up along the sides, with the extra dough hanging over the edges.
  • Return the tin to the fridge while you roll out the remaining pastry for the lid, making it about an inch larger than the tin.
  • Pull out the tin and layer in the ingredients as follows:
    • Put the stuffing in the bottom, pressing gently to compress it a bit.
    • Layer the chicken, cutting pieces to the right size to make sure they cover the entire surface.
    • Layer the peppers, leeks, and eggplant pieces, covering the chicken evenly.
    • Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings and spread it evenly across the top, covering the whole pie.
    • Sprinkle the breadcrumbs along the top.
  • Top with the pastry lid, rolling the top and bottom edges in together to seal the pie. Pinch or crimp as decoratively as you’d like.
  • Cut a hole on the top of the pie to allow steam to escape, and brush the pie with the beaten egg – keep the remaining egg!
  • Bake for 50 minutes.
  • Remove and brush with the leftover egg, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
  • Cool in the tin before serving.

This picnic pie can be eaten hot or cold and will store in the fridge for a few days or the freezer (wrapped tightly in cling film!) for a few months. Cut into eighths will give you giant slices that filled us right up for dinner. Slicing it into twelfths gives more of a side portion, so it’s up to you – how hungry are you?

We found that reheated pie was best served with some gravy and peas! (I think that adding a second layer of roasted veg, maybe under the chicken, would keep the pie moister on a reheat and would eliminate the need for gravy. But my flatmate loves gravy on pretty much anything, so we went for it and weren’t disappointed!)

Slice of chicken and sausage picnic pie from Quips and Dip

Nice crisp pastry, sausage, stuffing, and roasted veg. What more could you want?

Although it’s too cold for a picnic this time of year (well, any time of year in Glasgow, really…) that definitely won’t stop me from making this picnic pie again!
-E

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