This summer when we were on our cross-country honeymoon road trip, we stopped at a restaurant in Cleveland where I promptly demolished my bridal diet by ordering the baked mac and cheese. When the dish came out the waiter stopped to point out some homemade applesauce accompanying the cheesy dish. All he asked was that I give it a try, dip the steaming hot pasta into the cool, sweet applesauce — he assured me it would change my life. And it did. It makes total sense, I’d heard of people eating a slice of sharp cheddar cheese with apple pie, but it just never occurred to me to try this combination before, but it was completely and totally delicious. So this week I made some macaroni and cheese and had to try making some homemade applesauce to go with it.

Processed with VSCOcamLet me tell you a little secret: making homemade applesauce is as easy as pie (you like that apple joke?).  I peeled and cored 10 apples (a friendly farmer at our farmer’s market recommended using gravenstein apples, if you can find them.) and combined them with half a cup of apple cider, half a cup of brown sugar, one tablespoon of granulated sugar, and three cinnamon sticks. I put it in our crock-pot on high for 4 hours, removing the cinnamon sticks after the first hour, and stirring occasionally. And that’s it, simple as that! Make sure to serve the applesauce cold — I’m convinced the difference in temperature is just as important as the balance of the flavors.

 

I have a little Fall-inspired cocktail to share today as we gear up for the weekend: Apple Cider Sangria. I made this last weekend and it delicious — I love creating a pitcher of pre-made drinks when having friends over, it’s nice to have something already prepared so you can dive right into the party! To make the sangria, I chopped up two small apples, a half an orange, a few slices of lemon, and some cinnamon sticks and poured a bottle of red wine over the top. I let the red wine soak in the fruit overnight, and right before it’s ready to be served, I poured in a can and a half of hard apple cider (I used Down East cider — one of my favorites and totally delicious on its own — which is why I finished the other half of the second while making dinner!).  Be sure to scoop out some of the fruit into your glass when you serve it — cheers!

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I tried my hand and some homemade pasta this weekend, and finally got a chance to use the pasta machine we got for our wedding — the process of making pasta seems so daunting at first, but it’s actually amazingly simple, and so worth the effort! I tried two different methods, the first was a classic all-purpose flour and eggs combination, and the second used an egg flour and water.  I also tried two different fillings with the dough variations, one was a ricotta, parmesan, and Italian sausage stuffing that I served with a red sauce, and the other was a butternut squash with maple brown sugar that my in-laws brought home to me from Vermont — I served those  with brown butter and toasted pine nuts.  I preferred the egg flour for a stuffed pasta like this, and think the all-purpose flour works better for a cut pasta like fettucini, but overall: YUM. Luckily I made about a gazillion of each, so I will be enjoying leftovers all week!

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A few weeks ago when we were in Maine for a wedding, we hanging around the rental cottage for the ‘after-after party’ and a cousin of the groom started whipping up grilled cheeses with the local blueberry jams that had come in our welcome bags. I have since been dreaming about this late-night snack and realized all of the untapped potential of grilled cheese experiments. So I set to work this weekend to test some gourmet grilled cheese recipes that would be perfect for a grilled cheese bar at a casual party, or served bite-size as an appetizer.

Grilled Cheese Bar Ingredients

Are you ready for these pairings? First up, I recreated my late night inspiration with sharp English cheddar and wild blueberry jam (this one is still my favorite!). For a savory sandwich I combined goat cheese with cracked black pepper and fresh green chives (this won the husband vote). And for the most unique combination, I used a french brie, drizzled with honey, and topped with some sweet raisins.  My cast iron skillet was  pumping out these crusty, buttery little treats and we had quite the Saturday taste-testing all of my concoctions — I’m definitely using this idea for some simple entertaining with friends!

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Last night I had one of my girlfriends over for some dinner and drinks on our porch — I’m determined to soak up the warm(ish) weather as long as possible — and truthfully, I didn’t have a dinner planned until about an hour before her arrival. But leftover fig spread and some tasty goat cheese caught my eye in the fridge and I went with it. A quick spin through the grocery store and I had the makings of a fig, goat cheese, prosciutto pizza — I jazzed up with some fresh chives when it came out of the oven, and had rolled some special rosemary infused sea salt into the crust. Sometimes simple is just better, and this was certainly the case — my last-minute meal was a hit, and it paired perfectly with one of the iced tea infused honey wines I picked up from last weekend in Maine!

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This weekend, I let the Farmer’s Market be the inspiration for Sunday dinner and decided to make whatever looked good — and a pretty little container of colorful tomatoes caught my eye. We scooped some up and then hit the fresh pasta tent for some lemon basil linguine and we were on our way to making a tasty meal. While the water was heating for the pasta, I cooked the tomatoes over high heat with a little EVOO and a tablespoon of butter, salt, and pepper. After the tomatoes cooked down and started to burst, I lowered the temperature and sauteed in three cloves of chopped garlic and a handful of pine nuts. Then after a minute, I added in a quarter of a cup of white wine, and three tablespoons of pesto, plus a few spoonfuls of the pasta water. Then I drained the pasta when it was just about cooked and finished cooking it in the pan with the tomato mixture. We served it with freshly chopped basil leaves and a little Parmesan cheese — perfection!

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Blueberry mint simple syrup is super easy to make, I whipped up a batch this weekend to top off prosecco for a sweet, seasonal cocktail. To make the syrup, combine one cup of sugar, half a cup of water, a handful of fresh mint leaves, a few pieces of lemon rind, and two cups of blueberries in a saucepan. Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, and let them cook down for about 10 minutes. Next, strain the berries, leaves and rind and leave the liquid in a bowl to cool down. I was impatiently awaiting a cocktail, so I cooled mine in the freezer for a short time. After cooling, strain the syrup one more time. To make the cocktails, pour a glass of champagne or prosecco three-quarters of the way full, and then add the simple syrup to taste–  I like mine a bit sweeter, so I added about one full tablespoon to my drink. Then garnish with lemon, mint, and fresh blueberries — and cheers! I’m thinking ways to use the leftover blueberry mint simple syrup — perhaps on a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream?

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Guys, I can’t even express to you in words how much I love this appetizer. If I could figure out how to put videos on my blog, then I would take one of me eating these, because only then would you really be able to tell how very much I love these little goat cheese crostini bits of deliciousness. This recipe was totally snagged from a spectacular little hole-in-the-wall wine bar on Cape Cod, where I went with some girlfriends a few years ago. And since then it’s been a staple with our group of friends, when we get together, there better be goat cheese crostini. Also, did I mention how easy it was to make? You just slice up a crusty baguette (I used Trader Joe’s ficelle), toast it under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, and then spread the warm bread with goat cheese. Then drizzle the crostinis with good honey — I used orange blossom honey, yum — and sprinkle with fresh thyme. The only other step is try not to eat them all before your guests arrive — I promise, it’s going to be difficult.

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Last year after my birthday I wrote up a “30 before 30” list of things I wanted to accomplish and do — and the tastiest of goals on that list was to learn how to bake macarons. This weekend I tackled both by taking a macaron baking class at Sur La Table with sister and our friend! My greatest takeaway from the class was that now I understand why macarons are so expensive — it ain’t easy to make them! But our awesome teacher gave us lots of tips to perfect this tricky baking skill. We made some delicious flavors: mint with chocolate espresso ganache, strawberry with champagne butter cream, and then the wild card… bacon macarons with maple cream filling. I will totally try making them again (on a less humid weekend!) and am already hunting for my next cooking class to take because we had so much fun. And bonus: I now have 2 dozen macarons to snack on this week! Macaron 1Macaron 3Macaron 2Macaron 4 Macaron 5 Macaron 6 Macaron 7

I’m getting creative at not using the oven this week, ready for another cool summer recipe? Just three simple ingredients went into this light salad: watermelon chunks, chopped fresh mint leaves, and a drizzle of orange blossom honey over the top. I mixed everything together and served chilled — there is nothing that tastes more like summer!

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