Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce

There are two types of people in this world: People who believe fall begins immediately after Labor Day, and people who believe summer lasts until the first leaf has officially fallen to the ground.

I belong firmly in the first group; my husband Dan, in the latter. While I’m already rocking boots, oversized sweaters and sipping on my pumpkin spice latte, he’s still in shorts and sandals and clinging to the last days of summer.

OK, so fall doesn’t truly begin until Sept. 22. But that’s just a technicality in my book. I’m ready for the season of creamy soups, hearty casseroles and decadent desserts – and there’s no better way to bring in fall than with this rich bread pudding with salted caramel sauce and toasted pecans.

I’ve always been a lover of bread pudding, though it has a tradition of being a poor man’s dessert. It’s an excellent way to repurpose leftover, stale bread and use simple pantry staples to create a stunning dessert. This recipe tastes like a rich, nutty caramel roll, but requires just half the work. Even my mother-in-law, who has long detested bread pudding after too many experiences of choking down runny, raisin-filled bread pudding, became a convert after her first bite.

Before searching your cupboards for your unused Wonder bread, note that bread pudding is best when you use a thick, hearty bread that can soak up the custard sauce without getting soggy. For this recipe, I’d recommend varieties like French, challah or brioche bread. Whether you’re using fresh or slightly stale bread, consider popping it in the oven for a few minutes to make the cubes of bread extra crispy to better absorb the custard sauce.

Top this salted caramel pecan bread pudding with homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or serve it warm out of the oven alongside bacon and eggs for brunch. To make a simple homemade whipped cream perfect for piping, put 1 cup cold whipped cream into a chilled Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Using a chilled whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture thickens. Slowly add 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Continue mixing on high until stiff peaks form (this should take several minutes). The whipped cream is ready when it can hold its shape when the whisk attachment is held upside down.

Whether you eat this in the morning, at noon or at night, be sure to spoon on plenty of salted caramel sauce! To save time, the bread pudding can be cooked ahead of time, then rewarmed when ready to eat.

Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce and Pecans
Ingredients
Bread Pudding
5 cup (1/2-inch) cubed French bread (about 8 ounces)
1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
3/4 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons bourbon or whiskey
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
¾ cup pecans (optional)

Sauce
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons bourbon or whiskey (we used Crown Royal)
1 Tablespoons unsalted butter
6 Tablespoons half-and-half, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Cooking spray

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare bread pudding, arrange bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or until lightly toasted. Place in a bowl. Using a clean baking sheet, toast pecans at 350 degrees for 4-5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they do not burn. Remove from oven, then coarsely chop.

Combine evaporated milk and next 8 ingredients (through pecans) in a large bowl; whisk until incorporated. Add bread cubes. Let stand for 20 minutes, occasionally pressing on bread to soak up milk.

To prepare sauce, combine brown sugar, bourbon and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Simmer 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Stir in 5 Tablespoons half-and-half; simmer 10 minutes or until reduced to about 1 cup. Remove pan from heat. Stir in remaining 1Tablespoon half-and-half, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Keep warm.

Spoon half of bread mixture into a 9×5″ loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Drizzle 3 Tablespoons sauce over bread mixture. Spoon remaining half of bread mixture over sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm sauce with bread pudding.

Source: Modified slightly from Cooking Light, January 2012.

Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

There are few things more precious to a cattle rancher than a perfectly-cooked steak dinner.

You’ll hear no disagreements from this farm wife on the matter. Give me a medium-rare filet and a glass of cabernet and I’m in heaven. But as Farmer Dan likes to remind me, there are other, more economical options besides filet mignon and rib-eye when it comes to delicious cuts of beef. (To which I say: Perfect. That just means we can afford better wine!)

As the man who helms the grill in the Cwach kitchen, Dan appreciates the challenge of grilling a lesser cut of meat. One of our favorite ways to dress up a leaner piece of beef is to create a Chimichurri sauce, a traditional Argentinian condiment that can be used on all types of grilled meats, but is especially delicious on beef. We like our chimichurri sauce with lots of herbs (parsley, cilantro and oregano), extra garlic, oil and vinegar and plenty of lime juice for bright, fresh, citrusy flavors. If you have an overflowing herb garden this summer, this is a perfect way to use up your herbs and add a little color to your plate.

To start, select any economical cut of meat (try flank, skirt, hanger or top round- there’s no need to dress up a prime cut like filet!), let it sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, rub with olive oil and season liberally with coarse sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Sear at a high temperature (over 500 degrees Fahrenheit) just until medium rare. Be sure to avoid over-cooking, which is easy to do when there is less fat in the meat. For those gorgeous crosshatch grill marks, cook for one minute, then rotate the steak 90 degrees. Let cook for another 90 seconds (depending on the thickness of the steak), then flip and repeat. Remove from the grill, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, and slice against the grain to avoid chewiness.

For the chimichurri sauce, I recommend using a small food processor (we use a Cuisinart Mini-Prep processor) to chop and mix the ingredients, but a regular kitchen knife and spatula work just as well. If using any kind of processing equipment, make sure to pulse rather than puree, or you’ll end up with a soupy, pale green sauce that is less than appetizing. You should be able to see bits of the herbs and garlic and onion in your sauce.

For an easy side, try roasted baby potatoes. To make, drizzle olive oil generously over halved baby potatoes. Season liberally with your favorite seasoning (we like the Spuds Seasoning from Lunds & Byerlys). Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes or until tender.

Chimichurri Sauce

Ingredients
1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup cilantro
¼ cup fresh oregano
6 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons white or yellow onion
½ cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Juice and zest from half a lime
Kosher sea salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

Directions

Using a knife or food processor, finely chop parsley, cilantro, oregano, garlic and onion. Add in olive oil, lime juice and zest, vinegar and salt and red pepper flakes until you have a loose consistency. You may need to stop and scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Avoid over-blending or pureeing. Let sit in the fridge at least 30 minutes or overnight to allow flavors to blend. Before using, stir, taste, and season as needed. Store in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Modified slightly from https://curedbybacon.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/argentinian-steaks-with-chimichurri-sauce/.

One-Pot Chicken with Honey, Balsamic and Sriracha Glaze

When you’re a farmer’s wife, there are a few assumptions that tend to be made about you— you know how to drive a tractor (six years later and I’ve never gotten behind the wheel by myself), you can bake a mean pie (the art of weaving a lattice top still eludes me) and last but not least, you have a bountiful garden overflowing with homegrown produce (only if weeds count as leafy green vegetables).

Luckily, I have family members who become generous during this plentiful stage of summer. This month, we found ourselves flush with fresh green beans from my parent’s garden, which gave us the perfect reason to whip up one of our favorite dishes – one-pot chicken with honey, balsamic and Sriracha glaze.

Now, I’ve always been a proponent of one-pot meals – because really, who wants to wash more dishes than absolutely necessary? – but now that I have a four-month-old glued to me most of the night, I’ve developed a rule: If it’s not fast and easy, it’s not making it on the table.

Enter our favorite glazed one-pot chicken recipe. In under 20 minutes, you have a healthy, flavorful meal that is attractive enough to serve on a platter to company but simple enough to enjoy on a Tuesday night. Pan-fried, crisp-tender green beans pair perfectly with wilted grape tomatoes and velvety sautéed mushrooms. Honey adds sweet richness, balsamic vinegar a tangy note, and Sriracha an extra punch of flavor that adds heat without overpowering the dish. Vegetables can be halved or left whole, depending on your preference.

To trim green beans, you can either snap off the ends at their natural breaking points with your hands one by one, or, if you’re pressed for time, you can line up the stems, trim the tips with a large kitchen knife, then rotate the beans around, line up the tips again, and trim the remaining ends.

My favorite tip that adds flavor and panache? Buy the already-reduced balsamic glaze that comes from the store, and drizzle it over the top of the chicken. This is a favorite trick that can be used with a number of foods – think caprese, strawberries, peaches watermelon, burgers, salmon and chicken — and is so much simpler than creating your own balsamic reduction. We keep a bottle of it in the refrigerator at all times – it’s that good.

If you have the good fortune to find yourself with bushels of green beans that you don’t know what to do with this summer, try this one-pot chicken with honey, balsamic and Sriracha glaze – your taste buds will thank you.

One-Pot Chicken with Honey, Balsamic and Sriracha Glaze

Ingredients
1/3 cup Italian salad dressing
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Sriracha (optional)
1-1/2 pounds chicken breast tenderloins
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (not canned)
1 cup grape tomatoes
Store-bought balsamic glaze (optional)

Directions
Mix together Italian dressing, honey and Sriracha in a small bowl.

Heat half the olive oil in a stainless steel 12” pan and sauté mushrooms until they begin to brown. Add green beans and cook for about four minutes, or until green beans are crisp-tender.

Remove vegetables from pan. Add remaining olive oil and add chicken tenders. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until brown on each side.

Remove chicken from pan. Deglaze with balsamic vinegar and scrape up browned bits. Add in honey, Italian dressing and Sriracha sauce and stir until a glaze is formed. Add everything back in the pan and add tomatoes. Stir to coat evenly with sauce.

When ready to serve, plate vegetables first with chicken on top. Top with balsamic glaze, if desired.

Source: Modified from http://tiphero.com/one-pan-balsamic-chicken/

Classic Wedge Salad + Homemade Ranch Dressing

In the late winter months leading up to the birth of our firstborn son, I spent weeks freezing scores of ready-to-bake meals that would allow me to focus on the tiny infant in my arms, not the spatula in my hand.

Now, three months later, our freezer is looking bare and my body is begging for anything other than another cheesy noodle casserole. Craving something fresh, cold and crunchy, I turned to a quick family favorite that is perfect for the hot days of summer – a classic wedge salad with homemade buttermilk ranch dressing. Even the busiest of moms can throw this together in minutes with little more than a sharp knife and a whisk.

A few helpful tips: Resist the temptation to skip the homemade dressing and opt for a bottle from the grocery shelf. Trust me- making your own buttermilk ranch dressing is worth the small effort it takes to whip together, and it will make a big difference in taste. Store-bought salad dressing can’t compete with the flavor from this herb-packed dressing.

Feel free to experiment and adjust the ingredients to your taste. If you find yourself without buttermilk, regular milk can also be substituted. Buttermilk adds tang and thickness, whereas regular milk will thin your dressing considerably. If using regular milk, start with ¼ cup and add more until you reach the desired consistency.

If you can’t find fresh herbs, you can substitute dried, but only use a third of the amount, since dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh. Instead of using a bowl and whisk, you can go hands-free and blend the salad dressing in a Kitchen-Aid mixer for a few minutes to make a lighter, fluffier dressing.

Likewise, don’t skimp on those glorious, thick-cut strips of bacon and rely on store-bought bacon bits. Go to your grocery store’s meat counter, buy the thickest, most delicious bacon you can find (we love Amana bacon) and fry or bake it until crisp. We prefer to bake bacon to avoid the grease splatter and mess. To bake, simply line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, place bacon side-by-side on the foil or on a wire rack for crispier bacon, and bake at 400 degrees for 12-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the bacon. Then let the grease cool, toss the foil, rinse the pan and clean-up is done.

To assemble, place wedge on plate, drizzle generously with buttermilk dressing and top with desired garnishes.

Classic Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Ingredients
1 head iceberg lettuce
5 strips thick bacon, cooked and chopped into bits
1-2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
Thinly sliced red onion, optional
Handful of blue cheese, optional

Directions
Chop entire head into 3-4 wedges, depending on size. Sprinkle garnishes on each wedge. Serve topped with homemade buttermilk ranch dressing and freshly ground black pepper, if desired.

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

Ingredients
1 cup real mayo
½ cup sour cream
½ cup buttermilk
2 Tablespoons minced basil
1 clove garlic, minced finely
1 Tablespoon minced chives
1 teaspoon dill
1 Tablespoon minced parsley
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Dash of cayenne pepper or tabasco
Salt to taste
Pepper

Directions
Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl or in a Kitchen-Aid mixer. For best results, cover and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight. Pour over salad and serve.

Triple Lemon Cupcakes

We’ve had our first taste of beautiful weather, and now the cooks in the Cwach kitchen are craving fresh, bright flavors that bring to mind sunshine and summer.

With Easter just around the corner, I’ve been itching to try out new recipes that take minimal effort yet promise to impress. These triple lemon cupcakes fit the bill exactly. Packed with a tangy punch from the lemon juice, zest and curd and topped with a decadent homemade buttercream frosting, these cupcakes will have lemon lovers swooning – all without breaking a sweat in the kitchen.

The from-scratch cupcake batter takes just minutes to prepare and creates a moist, rich cupcake. For best results, I use a large, stainless steel scoop with a squeeze-action handle to uniformly portion three tablespoons of batter into each liner. Once cooled, filling the cupcakes is easy – just take a small, sharp paring knife and remove a dime-sized circle from the top center of the cupcake and spoon about one tablespoon of lemon curd into the cupcake. Alternatively, you can warm the lemon curd in the microwave and place it in a squeeze bottle, then squeeze the curd into the cupcake until full. I used store-bought Dickinson’s lemon curd, which can usually be found by the jams and jellies at your local grocery store, but you can also make your own lemon curd with just a few kitchen staples such as eggs, sugar, lemons and butter.

The real key to wowing with these cupcakes is in the decorating. While piping giant swirls of homemade frosting can seem intimidating at first, it takes just a bit of practice and a few inexpensive tools, and is the trick to turning ordinary cupcakes into show-stopping, professional-looking desserts.

Don’t be afraid to try this at home- it’s actually quite simple. Once the frosting is mixed to a stiff yet smooth consistency, I like to use a 16-inch Wilton disposable decorating bag fitted with a large or jumbo-sized tip (an open star tip makes for a lovely presentation). While you can purchase reusable featherweight decorating bags, the disposable bags make clean-up a cinch and only cost about $.40 each, which is well worth it in my opinion. If you’re only using one type of decorative tip, you can put the tip directly into the bag; if using more than one, you will need a coupler to swap out the tips.

To easily fill the decorating bag with frosting, place the empty bag (already fitted with its tip) in a tall glass and fold the remaining part of the decorating bag over the outside of the glass. Use a spatula to fill the bag while keeping it in the glass, pressing down as you go to remove air bubbles. Once the frosting is completely in the bag, unfold the cuff and twist the bag closed, squeezing the frosting toward the bottom of the bag and eliminating any excess air.

Once ready, hold the decorating bag perpendicular to the cupcake, applying steady pressure. Start on the outside of the cupcake and make a circle, squeezing the bag firmly. Once you make a complete circle, move in slightly and overlap your first circle until a swirl is completed. Once the swirl is complete, stop, stop applying pressure and slowly lift up.

For alternate designs or for a visual tutorial, simply search for and watch one of the thousands of cupcake decorating videos online. With a small investment in tools and time, you can elevate your standard cupcakes to stunning creations that are sure to impress.

To add flair and finish to these triple lemon cupcakes, use small pieces of cut paper straws and gently insert into the frosting at an angle. Garnish with additional lemon zest for an extra pop of color, if desired.

Triple Lemon Cupcakes

Ingredients for Cupcakes

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, melted
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from about half a large lemon)
1 Tablespoon lemon zest (from about one large lemon)
½ cup whole milk

Ingredients for Filling
½ cup lemon curd (jarred or from scratch)

Ingredients for Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
5-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon zest (one large lemon)
4 Tablespoons lemon juice (one large lemon)
¼ teaspoon salt
1-2 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 15 paper liners in cupcake tins.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Using an electric mixer, combine melted butter and sugar for 30 seconds. Add eggs, one at a time, until combined. Add in vanilla, lemon juice and zest.

Add in the flour mixture and whole milk alternately just until combined, beginning and ending with the flour. Using a large scoop, fill liners with ¼ cup of batter (until 2/3 full.) Bake for 13-18 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (Mine took about 16 minutes). Cool completely.

To fill: Using a small paring knife, cut a small hole in the center of the cupcake and fill with lemon curd.

For frosting: Beat butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add salt, then sift in one cup of powdered sugar at a time, mixing until smooth. Add lemon juice, zest, and heavy whipping cream. Mix until smooth. Taste and add more lemon juice/zest if too sweet. Add in gel food coloring, if desired. Place frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a large decorative tip, then frost. Add extra lemon zest on top of cupcakes for additional decoration.

Yield: 15 cupcakes.

Source: Modified slightly from http://www.crazyforcrust.com/2014/03/perfect-triple-lemon-cupcakes/

Waiting, Waiting…

It’s a peculiar emotion, feeling jealous of a cow.

As our herd starts to produce a few of its early calves, I can’t help but stare at my own very pregnant, very uncomfortable belly, anxiously counting down the days until Baby Cwach makes his arrival on the farm and wishing I, too, could speed up my delivery date.

But alas, babies are born when they are good and ready, and not a minute before. And I’m reminded of the injustice of this fact every morning on my way to work, when I drive by our fields and count the adorable new baby calves that have been springing up over the past week, already here ahead of schedule and snuggled contentedly at the sides of their mothers.

These are the slightly-irrational thoughts that run through the mind of an expecting farmer’s wife when the timing of one’s pregnancy aligns with the date when the bulls are released at pasture. (If you haven’t already learned, pregnancy is approached very differently on the farm!)

Now that we are within single digits of our due date, reality is settling in that a baby could be joining our family any day now – although Farmer Dan was kind enough to remind me the other morning that I could potentially go an extra 14 days past my due date, putting delivery at the end of the month- a lovely thought for any pregnant mama-to-be! But although my aching joints, tired back and swollen feet are telling me that this baby is ready to join the world, my farmer continues to (correctly) remind me that the longer our son stays inside growing and developing, the better he will eat, sleep and thrive once he finally arrives.

It’s hard to argue with that kind of reasoning. Trust me. I’ve tried.

And so, we wait. And wait. And wait some more. I silently pray that the cold front that passes through our area brings about labor the way it always seems to with livestock (no such luck for me, I’m afraid).

While we wait, my urge to clean and organize intensifies. Freezers are cleaned and filled with months’ worth of freezer meals. Our concrete storage floor is scrubbed spotless and new shelving is added to organize our stockpile of diapers that has steadily grown over the past few months. Nothing is safe from the scourge of my nesting. My farmer finds me out of bed late at night counting decks of cards, making sure all suits and numbers are accounted for (a low point I’m not particularly proud of, I must admit).

But in the midst of the chaos, I’ve also tried to soak up the last few days of alone time with my farmer and appreciate every minute I have with just him. Our lives are about to change irrevocably – a change we couldn’t be more excited about, but one that will change our relationship and lives forever.

Until that day, I will focus on the exciting days ahead of us as I drive past my still-pregnant bovine comrades, and remember that life is about to get interesting for all of us on the farm.

Nursery Nesting

Hey everyone! If you want to see some behind-the-scenes action of Baby Cwach’s nursery, hop on over to Legally Crafty, a fantastic crafts blog ran by my good friend and fellow Midwesterner, Holly. Holly gives you the low-down on how we created an oversized canvas with my favorite Velveteen Rabbit quote for the nursery and saved a ton of money in the process. Enjoy!