Shelf Life: Spring 2016

ShelfLife

I’ve always been a fall girl. Colorful leaves, scarves, sweaters and crisp air have me swooning every year, but there’s something about living in a place that has hard winters that makes you appreciate spring all the more.

Maybe it’s the flower and tree buds that promise life and warmth after so much dreariness, or the baby ducks and rabbits popping up around us that spark so much joy, but every day I feel myself becoming more and more of a spring girl.

I haven’t talked about it on this blog yet, but Joe and I are moving this summer to a place that has an even harder winter. When we were visiting, someone told us they didn’t even have a spring. Just a  bit of fall, a lot of winter and then summer. Guess I shouldn’t get too attached to it, huh? Hard to do…

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My favorite part of this season? Time in the sun with Bella.

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Now for the books…

1. A Widow for One Year, John Irving

Another book off my shelf! No telling how long it’s been sitting there, but this was definitely worth the wait. I had heard numerous good things about John Irving and boy does he have a gift. With words, with story lines, with characters. I was pretty floored. It’s funny, though, to read books that were written before the age of cell phones and internet. The stories seem modern enough, but missing a huge piece of what makes today, well, today. I found myself saying “oh, that would never happen now,” but it didn’t detract from the story of a marriage marred in tragedy and a little girl caught in the shadows. Her incredible story easily fluctuates between sorrow and hilarity. Well done, Mr. Irving.

2. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

There was no better time to dig into the comfort and familiarity of one of my favorite authors than when I was running a 102-degree fever for three days. Confined to bed with the nastiest virus I’ve had in a long time, Hemingway’s funny, sentimental and realistic vignettes of his time in Paris in the early 1920s was just what the doctor ordered. It was an interesting time to revisit it, since I had just finished watching the series finale of Downton Abbey, which was ending around the same time in England. I’ve long been obsessed with the expatriates of Paris: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Pound, Porter. What an incredible circle! I’m not even sure if I had ever read this all the way through, or maybe it’s just been too long for me to remember, but I have recently read books from this same period, told from different perspectives, and I desperately wanted to revisit Ernest’s. After reading The Paris Wife and Mrs. Hemingway, I was surprised he omitted any mention of Fife (Pauline), who caused the demise of his first marriage to Hadley. But, there she was in its final pages. A fitting end to the demise of his Paris happiness.

Of all the little chapters, his recollection of F. Scott Fitzgerald is my favorite. Here’s one passage I love:

“His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly anymore because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.”

Want to learn more about this special time and place in history? I highly recommend Zelda, The Paris Wife, Mrs. Hemingway, and Midnight in Paris.

3. The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel

I don’t know many people who didn’t like Life of Pi, but I am one of them. Not even the super CGI movie could sway me. But Yann Martel’s newest novel is one of the most anticipated books of 2016 and I had high hopes for redemption. And he almost had me! Halfway through his three-part tale, I was convinced that this was much better than Pi. But the second half quickly gave way to the ridiculousness I couldn’t ignore and in Pi couldn’t stand. I know it’s all symbolic, but sometimes it’s just too much for me. And for someone who reads a little bit every day, his three sections without chapters allow for no easy stopping points. If you end up reading this and loving it, please let me know. I need to understand what I’m missing when it comes to Martel!

4. The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby

This is a colorful fictionalized glimpse into the makers of Jackie’s infamous pink suit. It came out a few years ago to many glowing reviews, but maybe I’m too much of a Jackie fan. I wanted it to be more about her and not the Irish girl who impressively faked a Chanel. The part I loved most was the dedication…”To all those who fell under her spell.” I wouldn’t recommend much that comes after. Wah-wah.

5. The Lady in Gold, Anne-Marie O’Connor

Ever since I saw the movie, I have been obsessed with the art world’s greatest, or worst, tale of loss and redemption. The movie, while practically perfect, was still a movie and I needed to read what really happened in pre-war and post-war Vienna. What I didn’t realize is the Bloch-Bauers ran in the same circles as Richard Strauss, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler and his future wife Alma and Arnold Schoenberg. This circle is just as magnificent to the music world as the Paris circle of the 1920s was to literature. Absolutely fascinating. But, I really wanted a story about one family, one artist and their shared art, but O’Connor nosedives into other’s stories randomly to the point of frustration. If you want to read a comprehensive look at the stolen art of the Holocaust, I recommend The Monuments Men. I’m perfectly happy to relish in the movie version of this incredible story.

6. Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

I was about halfway through Kondo-ing my life when I got this follow-up at the library. It was just the umph in motiviation I needed. Though it doesn’t really tell anything new, it does dive into a few specifics, specifically regarding what she calls ‘Komono,” or, miscellaneous. After I finished, Joe and I sat down and cleared out three trash bags of paper from our office. I really can’t tell you how liberating it feels to have things in order. We have a few more paper stacks to finish, but then it’s on to Komono and Sentimental items, which will be the hardest for me, I’m sure. Hoping to have it all finished before we move this summer.

7. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

This has been on my list for a loooong, long time. Since I had my own copy, I kept deferring to my library reserve schedule and it kept getting pushed to the side. I’m glad I finally had a chance to fall into it, because that’s exactly what you do! This story is nothing short of beautiful. I loved it much more than I enjoyed Anna Karenina, which is high praise. Jane is the most exceptional heroine — independent, stands up for what’s right, curious and courageous. Quite different than most of literature’s leading ladies during that time. I so loved this quote of hers… “Now I remembered that the real world is wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.” #swoon I’m slowing making my way through those never-read classics!

8. The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

Before I picked this up, and before I finished Jane Eyre, I was thinking to myself that many of this quarter’s books were feeling like duds. I didn’t have one that called for celebration or caused me to lose myself in its pages. Until this. Years ago my aunt mailed me a big box of books about food. Not cookbooks, but stories. I’ve slowly been making my way through them and this was a total gem. Set in an upscale restaurant’s cooking school, the book features backgrounds on each student and the ingredients that help them cope with whatever lies beneath the surface. It’s beautiful writing about food, about people, about relationships, about the magic of cooking. I read it in less than a day with the laughs flowing as easily as the tears. I couldn’t consume it (har) fast enough. And when I went on Amazon to find the link, I was pleasantly surprised to find its sequel. Hopefully I’ll like the second course as much as I did the first.

9. The White Queen, Philippa Gregory

Another book off my shelf! We’re slowly clearing the decks before our move this summer. I have long loved Philippa Gregory’s accounts of England’s contentious fights for the throne. I have read her series on all of the Tudor/Boleyn players (except her newest) and I had picked up this first book of The Cousins’ War series after we visited the Tower of London, as it deals with one of its craziest mysteries. I really enjoyed this book and one night Joe crawled into bed where I was reading and asked me if I liked it. Here’s how it went down:

M: It’s just like Game of Thrones!
J: Well, that’s good since this is what GoT is based on.
M: What are you talking about?
J: The Cousins’ War. It’s what inspired GoT. York = Stark, Lancaster = Lannister?
M: <insert straight-faced emoji> How did I not know that?!

Now I can see where George pulled some of his juiciest content, ripe for the picking. I’m looking forward to watching its TV treatment soon.

10. My Life in France, Julia Child

I absolutely adore Julia Child and her chronicles of living in France are so dreamy. This book was the basis of her portion of Julie & Julia, one of my very favorite movies. I could relate to her thoughts on living overseas and it frequently made me think of our time in China, Mexico and Italy.

It was magical to hear in her own words the formation of her Cambridge kitchen, which we saw three years ago. I loved that she called authoring her famed cookbook collection as “cook bookery” and I laughed when she refers to food shopping as “marketing.” When you work in communications, you only know one definition for that word!

Bottom line: I love Julia. I just can’t get enough of her and found this book wonderful in every single way.

11. At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier

Chevalier is one of my very favorite authors of all time. I completely lose myself in every one of her vibrant stories that deftly weave fiction with nonfiction. She has such a knack for bringing moments in history to life. This tale of pioneers in Ohio and California is beautiful and its characters are so real. But I wouldn’t call it my favorite of hers. I tend to prefer her European settings over the American, but still very much worth the read.

Next up the queue:

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (reading now)
Reader, I Married Him – Tracy Chevalier
The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
The Lost Art of Mixing – Erica Bauermeister
The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee
A Cruel and Shocking Act – Philip Shenon
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

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# blue apron trial

Since 99.5% of my posts these days are about what I’m cooking or baking, I’m guessing it’s not a surprise to anyone that it’s one of my favorite hobbies. I love to plan menus, I love to cook for friends, I love to bake for Joe. I just love food.

A few of my friends–some of whom do not love cooking or planning meals–have told me about Blue Apron, which delivers fresh ingredients right to your door. It promotes less food waste (though the recyclable packaging was no joke out of control) and I can see how people who aren’t as familiar in the kitchen, or just hate to shop, would love it.

My friend sent me a free week’s trial to see what it’s like. Once you create an account, you can choose which plan is for you (2 people for 3 meals, 4 people for 2 meals), then you can input your dietary restrictions/preferences and choose your meals from the six available options for that week. Three of those were vegetarian, so we didn’t have much of a choice!

Here are the recipes we received (click name to see recipe):

Falafel Pitas & Tzatziki
Fresh Fettuccine Pasta with Porcini Mushroom Bolognese
Asparagus & Arugula Pesto Pizza with Pink Lemon Ricotta

Sounds good, right?

The shipment contained recipe cards for each meal with step-by-step instructions along with the ingredients, clearly packaged.

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Let’s go through the three meals (which did last us a full week).

First up: Falafel

I personally love falafel, so I found myself most excited to try this, but it was probably my least favorite of the three. Too oily.

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I did enjoy the pea shoot salad, which I don’t think I’ve ever tasted before. It almost tasted like fresh grass–which sounds weird, but it was like a vibrant bite of first spring.

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Downside: Some of the ingredients didn’t arrive so fresh. This Persian cucumber had seen much better days and, in fact, its sorry state was the only reason we chose to make this one first. I didn’t trust it sitting in the fridge for a few more days.

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Rating: 2.5 out of 5 (Bonus: It wasn’t too spicy for Joe.)

Next was the mushroom pasta.

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I had read some complaints on the Blue Apron site about the lack of recipes that avoid mushrooms or kale. I guess they are the go-to ingredients for the vegetarian options. I was a little weary of this because Joe isn’t thrilled about mushrooms, but I just chopped them to death so he wouldn’t have to chew them much.

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Hands down, this was my favorite. The depth of flavor coming from those re-hydrated porcini mushrooms was unreal, as was the fresh pasta.

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I would definitely make this one again with my own ingredients–which is always an option since the full recipes are online, or I can just use my trusty card.

Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (Joe wasn’t as crazy, but still ate it.)

The pizza…hahaha…oh, the pizza.

I’m not sure what made me think leaving a yeast-based dough in the fridge until the very end of the week was a good idea. That dough just kept rising and rising and by the time I noticed it, it was a full-blown WE-MUST-MAKE-THIS-TONIGHT panic. I wish I had taken a photo, but the plastic bag it came in was stretched to the absolute max. I think because of this, or maybe because of the altitude, the dough wouldn’t stretch. No matter how much rest time I gave it, it wasn’t budging…so here’s our ridiculous pizza attempt:

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It was like a pizza dough bowl with cheese and vegetables in the middle. (And because I like my cheese on top of my toppings–big debate!–you can’t really see anything but the cheese.) I did like dotting my pizza with the pesto and ricotta, and we added some tomatoes.

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Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

A definite pro of this service is being introduced to new ingredients. I had never heard of pink lemons and they even sent a separate card explaining the foreign ingredient. Pretty cool.

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The final verdict:

Cons:

  • It’s expensive to me. I know I can cook for us for way less than what this costs per week.
  • As a vegetarian, you don’t have much choice in your menu and might encounter ingredients you aren’t thrilled with without a way to change, other than skipping the week.
  • Some ingredients arrive in questionable condition

Pros:

  • I can see this as a nice service for those who don’t know how or like to cook very much. It’s (mostly) fool proof.
  • I liked being introduced to new recipes and ingredients. It was a nice break from the same recipes we make all the time.
  • Recipes are (mostly) healthy
  • Less food waste and all of the shipping containers are recyclable.

Would I use it again? Maybe. I’ve cancelled my service for now, though. Have you used it?

# tallis henry

This little guy just knew I was leaving town and made his grand entrance a bit early so I could kiss his sweet face!

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Welcome, little Tallis Henry, born Saturday at 1:29pm.

It was such a great day by Chris and Chilali’s side. They did so well, especially Chilali (!) and are such beaming first parents.

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Real friends bring a reuben sandwich, party tots and mac-and-cheese for the first meal post labor.

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I’m thrilled to be Auntie Marci to another beautiful baby!

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# gluten free peanut butter sandwich cookies (and a baby shower)

Two weeks ago we celebrated friends Chris and Chilali with a non-shower baby shower. And as I type this, we’re eagerly anticipating her labor to start–most likely within the next 48 hours or less! I keep sending her texts full of just emojis. I can’t help it. My excitement knows no bounds.

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We absolutely treasure our friendship with Chris and Chilali. I call them the “silver lining of our Utah.” They have been incredible friends and a unwavering support system for us both. They will truly be exceptional parents and I loved co-hosting an open house to celebrate their baby boy.

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It was a casual affair of food and friendship–which totally sums up C & C in a nutshell. We also had a blast with Harrison–son of one of the other co-hosts, Anne. He looks a little more grown up since our 5k training, eh?

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He’s in quite the Star Wars phase right now and was happy to find an equal fan in Joe, who appears to be channeling Luke Skywalker here.

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The food was the centerpiece of our event. There was, of course, Boom Boom Sauce. I don’t think we get together without it anymore. And it’s becoming famous on its own. I had two people come up to me and said they had heard about me and the Boom Boom and were so glad they could try it. Guys…I’m famous for blending mayo and a ranch packet. I have arrived.

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I also made my favorite bourbon chocolate pecan pie bars.

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And The Pioneer Woman’s fruit salad that was SO incredible, but it was these sandwich cookies that stole the show.

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I wanted a dessert I could make in advance that would be more special than just my regular drop cookies. I also wanted a gluten free item to be sensitive to the dietary needs of our guests. Plus, these just looked delicious!

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I made three batches the night before the shower and didn’t think to take pictures until the day after the shower — when these had been transported twice and were looking a bit crumbly.

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Just know that they are totally delicious and worth your attention! With a batch only yielding 14 cookies, it’s not like you’ll have any sitting around two days later anyway!

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The fillings are chocolate ganache and a rich, fluffy peanut butter frosting. I went a little easy on the frosting and had a ton leftover, so my next batch will probably have twice as much per cookie. I want it to be a more visible layer. And the cookies are perfectly soft–don’t overbake!–and you’d never know they were gluten free. It was the surprise of the shower!

Need some weekend plans? Here you go!

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Gluten Free Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Source: Slightly adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

For the Cookies:

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Chocolate Ganache:

1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the Peanut Butter Frosting:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the peanut butter and sugars together until creamy and smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and mix until combined. Add the baking soda and salt and mix until combined. Refrigerate dough for at least four hours.

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper.

Spoon dough into balls, about 3/4 tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Place them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Don’t overbake–they will appear soft. Remove cookies from oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Move to a wire rack and cool completely.

While the cookies are cooling, make the chocolate ganache. Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a double boiler until it’s hot, but not bubbling. Pour over chocolate chips and let sit for 1 minute. Stir until the chocolate melts and you have a smooth and silky ganache. Set aside.

Next, make the peanut butter frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth. Slowly add in the powdered sugar. Mix until smooth. Add the milk and vanilla and mix until the frosting is creamy and smooth. If you need to add a little more powdered sugar or milk to reach your desired consistency, you can. You want the frosting to be thick.

To assemble the sandwich cookies, take one cookie and spread ganache on the inside of the cookie, about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Next, either spread on the peanut butter frosting with a spoon or put the frosting in a pastry bag and pipe the frosting onto the ganache. Top with another cookie and gently squeeze so the ganache and frosting meet the edge of the cookies. Continue until all of your cookies are sandwiched!

These cookies will keep in an airtight container on the counter for 2-3 days.

# easter brunch: cheddar cornbread waffles

I didn’t think I could raise the waffle game after last year’s light and fluffy spotlight dish, but turns out savory > sweet. At least in my world.

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Cheddar. Cornbread. Waffles. Aka ‘the-only-waffles-I’ve-never-had-to-put-peanut-butter-on waffles.’ (And that’s a big deal.)

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Topped with herby scrambled eggs and queso sauce. Is this heaven?

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All signs point to yes.

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This was the perfect heavyweight complement to my sweet, pink doughnuts with its dense and toothsome texture and sharp bite of the cheddar.

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They cooked up like a total dream and were by far one of the best breakfast items I’ve ever made/had/devoured. We just might have found our new brunch addiction tradition. Or our new breakfast-for-dinner tradition.

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Speaking of dreams…just look at this sweet face.

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#roguewhisker

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I love these waffles almost as much as I love her, which is pretty much the highest praise one can expect from me. The best reason to dig out your waffle maker is here…

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Cheddar Cornbread Waffles

Source: How Sweet Eats

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. coarsely ground cornmeal
1 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
8 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
3 Tbs. chopped chives

Cheese Sauce:

1/2 Tbs. butter
1/2 Tbs. flour
4 oz. half-and-half
6 oz. sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until just combined. Stir in the melted butter until it’s all incorporated. Fold in the grated cheese. Let the batter sit for at least 15-20 minutes. (Make the cheese sauce while you wait.)

Cheese Sauce:  Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Once it’s sizzling, whisk in the flour and cook for a minute or two until it’s golden and fragrant. Slowly pour in the half-and-half while whisking constantly so the mixture slightly thickens. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes while stirring. Reduce the heat to low and slowly stir in the cheese until melted. Keep over low heat until serving—stirring occasionally. If it seizes up or gets too thick, add a few drops of half-and-half and stir.

Heat your waffle iron on the highest setting. Pour about 1/2 cup of batter in the center (depends on how large your iron is) and cook until golden and crispy. Keep waffles warm on a rack over a baking sheet in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve, up to 30 minutes.

To serve, cover with eggs, tomatoes, scallions and chives and the cheese sauce.

# easter brunch: baked strawberry doughnuts

Brunches are my favorite. Savory + Sweet + Iced Coffee or Boozy Juice.  I see nothing wrong with this equation.

And Easter is the perfect holiday for a big brunch.

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I’ve been learning new napkin folds (the things you watch on YouTube while you work from home….).

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I thought this one would look a bit like a rabbit silhouette from above, but it’s leaning more toward Maleficent.

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We pared things down a bit after last year’s food fest, but this spread was still just as delicious. Actually, even more.

Let’s start with these doughnuts.

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I really love scones for Easter, but we had a hankering for doughnuts and they are SO MUCH EASIER to make than scones. Seriously, they take less than 20 minutes start to finish (minus the glaze time). Also, this recipe only made six doughnuts, which is perfect for a two-person brunch with leftovers.

The batter was a quick vanilla base that uses yogurt to keep things m-word. Once baked, you make the thick glaze and start dunking.

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This was after one dunk. I did three total to make it nice and thick, but don’t forget to let each dunk stage set.

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Joe prefers his sans glaze (WHA?!), but he still liked the soft vanilla-y doughnut just fine. Weirdo.

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These weren’t as fancy as some of our other Easter treats of years past, but they were quick, delicious and a vibrant color that screamed Spring — even though it snowed the next three days.

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Baked Strawberry Doughnuts

Source: Adapted slightly from Sally’s Baking Addiction

1 c. all-purpose flour
6 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of nutmeg
4 Tbs. vanilla Greek yogurt
2 Tbs. milk
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Glaze:

3-4 strawberries
1 Tbs. strawberry jam
2 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees and coat donut pan with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, nutmeg and baking powder. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, egg, vanilla and melted butter. Slowly mix wet ingredients into dry until just combined.

Spoon batter into the pan, filling the cavities about 3/4 full.  Bake 8 to 11 minutes until donuts are set. They will spring back when touched.

Allow to cool before removing from pan, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack before glazing.

Slice strawberries and puree with jam. (I used an immersion blender, which worked much better than my blender. I liked seeing the flecks of strawberries throughout.) Slowly whisk in 1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, adding more until you reached the desired consistency and coloring. (I used 2 cups.) Dip doughnuts in glaze 1-3 times, letting it set between each dunk over a wire rack.

Doughnuts are best served immediately. Keep leftovers sealed tightly at room temperature for up to 2 days.