Easiest, Creamiest Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseAs I plopped down on the couch for dinner the other day over a plate of this awesome mac & cheese, I mused that nothing gave me a good ego boost like mastering a bowl of this stuff. On the one hand, I was kidding, but in a way it’s also kind of true. I mean, I’ve had - and made - a lot of mediocre mac & cheese. Sorry, family and friends! So many recipes underestimate the amount of cheese you should use and have you stick to just one kind, while others have you overcook the pasta until all that is left is a very gummy or, still worse, gummy and dry, mess.

While darling Bear claims there’s no such thing as bad mac & cheese, I have to disagree. It’s real and it’s a tragedy. So, let’s start anew with this recipe, which is easy as much as it is tasty. It’s, in my opinion, the easiest, creamiest stovetop version, so whether it suits you just right, or it acts as the base for your spicier, more garlicky, ham and broccoli version, for example, then that’s just fine, too. What matters here is that we’re saving mac & cheese from all the horrible things that have been done to it and making a classic version that is worthy of all the accolades people give it as a dish.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseI use four cheeses for this version. I know you’re saying, “whoa, girl!” but I swear it’s the blending of multiple cheeses that will get you, in part, to where you want to go. Mac and cheese, while a homey dish, doesn’t mean it’s beyond science. What kind of science, you ask? Well, the one that covers how cheeses work together, how they melt or crisp, add creaminess or thicken a sauce while adding a salty bite…and you said you hated science! This recipe relies on a blend of cheeses because we want a mac and cheese that isn’t just one note. You know why so many mac and cheeses are just blah and tasteless even though you’ve added 15lbs of cheese? Because you’re only using one kind and that, combined with a bunch of not-too-flavorful elbow noodles, is not going to bring all the boys to the yard.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseSo, here today we’re going to use the four cheeses of American, asiago, pecorino romano, and cream cheese. Did you see that last one coming? It’s so right for a creamy, smooth sauce. You’ll never make macaroni and cheese again without it! Both the asiago and the pecorino romano add the saltiness you need to bring the cheese sauce together, but also to add some more, much needed flavor to the noodles. All of the cheese melt into the sauce beautifully while also helping to thicken it. The main cheese is regular old American though and sneer all you want, but it melts like a dream and brings a delicious flavor that is familiar. Coupled with onion, hot sauce, yellow mustard, salt, and fresh ground pepper, this mac and cheese is complex in flavor without being difficult to master or snooty. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseTo keep it moist and creamy, this stuff never sees the inside of an oven and, really, it needn’t. Yet, how can you have macaroni and cheese without some semblance of a crunchy, buttery crust? You can’t! So, the topping is all done on the stove-top too and, in all honesty, I absolutely prefer it this way, as the panko retains all of its crunch and doesn’t sink into the macaroni like toppings tend to do when you bake it all together. Make way in your recipe boxes for this one, it’s sure to give other versions a real run for their money and, I’m guessing, will outshine most of the competition. Enjoy!

Easy, Stovetop Mac & Cheese
Yields 6 servings

Ingredients:
1lb of elbow macaroni
Water
Canola oil
1 small onion, diced
7 Tablespoons of butter, divided
4 Tablespoons of flour
4 cups of milk, divided (3-1/2 for sauce, 1/2 extra to thin, if needed)
Salt & pepper
1-1/2 Tablespoons of garlic powder, divided
12oz of American cheese, cubed
3/4 cup of asiago cheese, grated finely
3/4 cup of pecorino romano cheese, grated finely
4oz of cream cheese, cubed
Hot sauce
2 teaspoons of yellow mustard
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions
Fill a large stock pot with water and add a few generous pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, add pasta and stir for the first minute so that the pasta does not stick together.

While the pasta is cooking, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan over medium heat and finely dice your onion. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook for several minutes until the onions start to become translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Once the onion is cooked, add about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper each and 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder. Add 4 Tablespoons of flour and stir to combine. Allow this mixture (the roux) to cook for 2 minutes or so. Next, turn the heat up to medium high and add the milk. With a whisk, stir the mixture vigorously to break up the roux into the milk and allow it to dissolve. Allow to heat through, stirring it every minute. When the roux has dissolved and the heat rises, the mixture will begin to thicken, when you notice this starting to happen, stand watch and stir frequently so that the mixture does not burn or become too thick. When it reaches milkshake consistency, turn the heat back down to medium and add all of the cheese and stir to combine. Allow all of the cheese to melt slowly, stirring every minute or so to help it become incorporated. Once the cheese has melted entirely into the sauce, add a few dashes of hot sauce to your tastes and the yellow mustard; stir thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if necessary. If sauce seems too thick at this point, you can add up to about a 1/2 cup of milk, though I suggest starting with a smaller amount, stirring to combine, and seeing if you need more.

Cook the pasta until al dente (it should still have some bite to it, as it will soften more as it sits in the sauce), then drain it and return it to the pot. If you are still readying the other ingredients, add a small drizzle of canola oil to the pasta, stir, put a lid on it and allow it to sit off the heat while you complete the other elements. If your sauce is ready to go, omit the canola oil step and add the cheese sauce to the pasta and stir thoroughly to combine. Cover with a lid while you prepare the topping; you may choose to keep it over a “warm” level flame if you’d like, though the lid should keep the macaroni and cheese hot since the topping doesn’t take long to put together. Be aware that even over “low” or “warm,” the sauce will continue to thicken, making the pasta drier.

In a frying pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter with 1 teaspoon of canola oil over medium heat. Add bread crumbs, some salt and pepper to your tastes, and 1/2 a tablespoon of garlic powder. Stir together and toast the bread crumbs, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes total. Be sure to keep an eye on them, though, they go from light brown to burnt quickly! When the bread crumbs are toasted, remove from the pan and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, plate your macaroni and cheese either on individual plates or in a larger casserole-type vessel. When the bread crumbs have cooled, add the very finely minced parsley and stir. Top macaroni and cheese with topping and serve. To reheat macaroni and cheese after refrigeration, add it to a heavy-bottom pot with a splash of milk and cover with a lid. Apply medium heat and allow to come up to temperature, stirring every few minutes until the sauce has melted and become creamy again.

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Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeI love the overabundance of fruit and veggies in the summer. Not only because it means there are more options of what to make, but also because it’s a challenge to discover new recipes and create your own in using up what you have on hand. Some of my tastiest dishes have come out of staring into the deep abyss of the refrigerator, or at a dwindling fruit bowl, and thinking, “What am I going to make with these remnants?” or, shamefully/more realistically, “What should I make with all of this before it’s past its prime?” The latter is exactly what occurred a few weeks ago when I overbought on strawberries thinking I was making shortcake for a party and then changing my mind at the last minute. It’s not like it’s hard to just eat strawberries – they’re my favorite of all the berries – but they take a turn for the worse so quickly that having them around, without a plan, makes me fret. Those red beauties aren’t cheap! Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeSeeing them looking back at me from their front-and-center spot in the fridge made me start hunting around for flavors that pair well and before I knew it, I had limes and was on my way to a baked good of some sort. Inspired by all of the gorgeous strawberry buttercream-topped desserts I keep seeing online, I knew I wanted to make a cake, but didn’t have the energy or the ingredients to go in that direction. Instead, I thought a loaf cake of sorts would be just the ticket and with the added bonus of having some yogurt on hand, things quickly took shape. The yogurt and sour cream combo in this cake keeps the crumb super moist, but also lighter than if you used only sour cream. The tang of both plays well with the sweetness of the berries and mirrors the lime, which makes everything feel so fresh and summery. Because when I think “lime,” I almost always think of “coconut,” I substituted coconut oil for the vegetable oil and put some unsweetened flakes in the batter too; the result was subtle, allowing the strawberries and lime to shine, but present enough that it gave the cake a bit of a tropical feel.

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeServed with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, ice cream, or just on its own, this cake is the perfect light, refreshing end to a summer meal. It also makes a great gift to welcome a new neighbor or to say “thank you!” to a friend because it’s a small, easy-to-transport cake with not a lot of frills to make it messy. Plus, it’s pretty as a picture. What a keeper!

Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake
Yields one loaf cake; adapted from here.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole-milk is preferred, but non/low-fat works well too because of the sour cream addition)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted coconut oil, plus 1 teaspoon or so for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using approximately one teaspoon of melted coconut oil, grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the 1-1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt, and add the unsweetened coconut flakes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, one cup of sugar, eggs, lime zest, vanilla, and coconut oil. Slowly add the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, into the wet ingredients and whisk gently until all is combined. Toss the strawberries in the remaining tablespoon of flour and fold gently into the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a cake tester is inserted into the center and comes out clean. While the cake is finishing cooking, cook the 1/3 cup of lime juice and remaining one tablespoon of sugar together in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and set aside. When the cake is finished baking, allow it to cool for 10 minutes and then gently flip it out onto a cooling rack. Put the cooling rack over a sheet pan or cutting board to prepare for glazing. While the cake is still warm, poke a few holes into the top with a fork or a skewer and then pour the lime-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak into the cake. If desired, sprinkle with some additional coconut flakes – I would have done this, but ran out! Allow to cool thoroughly before serving.

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Charlotte & Katie’s DIY Wedding Feature!

DIY Wedding JarsCharlotte and Katie’s beautiful DIY wedding has been wonderfully featured this week on the blog Lesbian Wedding Style Guide! There are photos there to showcase some of the projects we took on and an interview with yours truly.  I’ll have another post or two here on some of the elements we made, but here’s a chance in the meantime to learn a bit more of the story and see some photos of their beautiful day. Won’t you check it out?

Here’s a sneak peek…

Charlotte and I met through our Ph.D. program. She’s since left Minneapolis for a visiting assistant professor position in Ohio, but because it’s not permanent, her partner Katie has stayed in Minneapolis working on her electrician apprenticeship. My priority for their wedding was to stay within their budget while maintaining all the details that would make it beautiful and worthy of them.

Read the rest of the full post here!

Photo courtesy of Ethan Ethan

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DIY Photo Confetti

DIY Photo ConfettiOnce upon a time, I wanted to create a design element for my friends’ DIY wedding reception that would wow them and their guests. Knowing that the bride, Charlotte, wanted a way to integrate some photos of her and Katie from their wedding ceremony, which happened a few weeks prior, I wracked my brain thinking of how to do so in a fun, innovative way. That’s when I landed on what is probably my all-time favorite DIY idea to date: photo confetti! This was it! The party idea I had been searching for and after seeking out the right tools and templates, and selecting the perfect shades of coral and navy to match their colors, I was well on my way. Before I knew it, I had cups filled with varying sizes of their faces betwixt pops of color and a bit of gold glitter. I was stoked! This would be the perfect final touch on their wedding reception’s welcome table! DIY Photo ConfettiAnd it would have been…had I remembered to put it out. Wah-wah. Truth is that we were so busy finalizing appetizer trays, piping whipped cream rosettes, and readying ourselves that the final moments of party prep saw my lonely bag of confetti abandoned on a bookshelf, forgotten, until I was home, showered, getting into bed, and suddenly I remembered it! What followed was one of my best cursing streaks yet. Sigh. I guess Virgos mess up after all! DIY Photo ConfettiThis doesn’t mean that we can’t still have a tutorial though and, of course, there are still pictures to ogle and inspire your own varieties. This project comes together much easier than you might think and, truly, the only potential drama of the whole thing is that you’ll want to make sure you have full ink cartridges on your printer or ones very nearby. Or, better yet, you can skip all the at-home printing and upload and order photos fresh from somewhere like Shutterfly, which would definitely cut out the only time-consuming part of this project; I suggest ordering your prints first and then choosing the sizes of your dots. If you go the at-home, DIY route, you’ll need access to Photoshop or some kind of similar photo editing program that gives you the option to create patterns and fill images with them - I hear Open Office is good for this, but I’ve never tried it. I have access to Photoshop CS5, so my directions are based on that particular software and version; I’m happy to try and help troubleshoot in the comments if you run into any issues. There is also a pretty foolproof video made by someone much more qualified than me to explain this whole pattern/fill process we’re going to undertake, so I’ve linked to that below too. DIY Photo ConfettiI knew from the start that I’d be using some hole punches (you can’t even imagine the mess it would be if I tried to cut these out freehand! Oy!), which you can find in the scrapbooking section of your craft store or on Amazon, and decided on two sizes – 1″ and 1.75″. I used the 1″ punch for individual shots of Charlotte’s and Katie’s faces and then used the bigger punch for shots of them together. What I was less clear on was how I could print the images in a way that would allow me to easily punch out the areas (close-ups of the faces) of the photos I wanted to, within the dimensions I needed, and also without wasting a ton of ink printing out whole 4×6 photos. Tricky stuff – but easily mastered! DIY Photo ConfettiThank goodness for Bear who quickly suggested trying to find a Photoshop-friendly template for a button maker online so that I’d have the exact size I needed for the confetti dots and with an allowed rim for bleed – meaning, in case I cut a bit outside where I had intended, I’d still have a little room within the photo itself and wouldn’t be cutting outside it onto the blank photo paper. Admittedly, this wound up happening a few times any way just because when I initially started punching out photos I did so with the photo facing up, obscured by the punch, so my aim was sort of a guessing game. I soon realized, though, that if you flip the photo image-side down, you can see where you are about to cut by turning the punch over, as the underside of the punch is exposed. That observation made this project a lot easier. You’re welcome. DIY Photo ConfettiAfter a quick bit of searching, I found these templates to be exactly what I needed and once I lined up the image in the template through Photoshop, I was able to create a quick pattern out of it (more details below), and then fill a page with my image repeated over and over on it. Once the sheets of photos are printed, the punching out goes quickly. I supplemented the photo dots of the confetti with, as mentioned above, some coral and navy 1″ dots, as well as some gold glittered ones because glitter only increases the wow factor of all things, amiright? I also used my old, reliable standard 1/4″ hole punch to punch out some much smaller dots in order to bulk up the mix and make it a bit more like your standard confetti.

This is such a sweet idea for wedding decorations, or even ones for an engagement or bridal party. I can see incorporating photos of the couple as kids, or awkward teens, to make them really fun! Outside of weddings, though, the confetti is great for pretty much any special occasion – birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, etc. It’s a great, inventive way to add a personal touch to a party and celebrate a certain someone(s). It’ll be the talk of the event – just remember to put it out and use it liberally! This stuff is made for fun!

Think you’ll try making some photo confetti of your own? Have you ever helped a friend or family member with their wedding décor? What did you make? Would love to hear from you in the comments!

DIY Photo Confetti

Supplies
Hole punches of varying sizes – I used 1/4″, 1″, and 1.75″
Scrapbook paper or card stock in your desired colors and textures
Photos printed to the size of your hole punch OR, if DIY-ing this, you will need:
An inkjet printer with both color and black & white ink cartridges
Several sheets of 8.5 x11 glossy photo paper for printers – I used this kind from Canon
Photo editing software, Photoshop preferred
Templates that match the size of your hole punches
Scissors

Directions
Download the templates you will need that match the size of the hole punches you intend to use for the photo dots. Once you’ve opened the templates in Photoshop, paste in your photo, making certain that it resides in its own, new layer below the layers labeled “cut line” and “face line.” The “face line” marks the edge of your image within the dimensions of the template. For example, if you select a 2″ template, the “face line” is the end of the 2″, so what you want to punch out with a 2″ hole punch needs to be within this circle and aligned accordingly. The “cut line” represents the edge of the bleed area in the event you cut a bit beyond the face line or, in the case of this being made to make buttons, the space between the “face line” and the “cut line” is what would wrap around the edge of the button. The video tutorial at Buttonmakers.net is a good resource for understanding this process better, as well as creating a pattern from the photo, which is our next step.

Once you have pasted your photo into the template and adjusted it accordingly to the “face line,” (you may need to change the size of the image in order to get it to fit) hide the “face line” by deselecting it in the layers frame so that it disappears from your image. Next, go to Edit >> Define Pattern and name your pattern something discernible, i.e. Char Face. Your pattern is now saved and ready to use! Open a new Photoshop document that is size 8″ by 10″ and set the resolution to 300 pixels/inch. With the new, blank image open, select Edit >> Fill and then on the “Use” menu, select “pattern.” Below this, you will have the option to choose your custom pattern. Select this drop-down and find your image within the library. Depending on how many patterns you have, you may need to scroll through to the bottom to find your newest one. Select your pattern and then click “ok.” The new, blank image will fill itself with as many iterations of your image it can to allow for on an 8.5″ x 11″ page. You may now print this on a sheet of glossy photo paper.

Once the photos are printed, you can punch out the images using your hole punch that matches the size of the template you used; as a point of reference, I got 12 1.75″ dots out of my 1.75″ template. After punching out all of the images on the periphery of the paper, you may need to use scissors to free up the inner area so that you can punch those dots out too; my hole punch couldn’t extend that far into the page from the paper’s edge. When punching out your photos, turn the image upside down in order to view it from the underside of the hole punch. This will allow you to see what you have lined up to punch, so that you can make sure your image is centered, within your margins, etc. Print and punch as many images and sizes as you desire and follow suit with some dots of scrapbook paper or card stock to integrate colors and textures in your custom blend. If your event is outdoors, you may want to stick with paper that has a heavier weight to it so that it does not blow away. Incorporate a sizable amount of 1/4″ dots in order to really stretch your confetti, but to also increase its tossability …that’s a word now, I swear.

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Eggplant & Bruschetta Napoleons

Eggplant NapoleonsYou know what is hard work, friends? Wedding planning! And, more so, wedding planning that includes creating all of the decor & various adornments alongside making most of the food. Phew! Luckily, it’s fun and creative work and all for a very dear friend, so it balances out.

Still, with so much going on, feeding oneself can feel like such a chore. While I am fortunate enough to get Bear-made meals each and every week, not just tough ones, I still long to get into the kitchen and cook – I just might not have my usual stamina once I get there. Here’s where this quick dish comes in!

Eggplant & Bruschetta NapoleonsEggplant & bruschetta napoleons are an easy summer dinner because there’s not a lot required of them and they can be made in pieces throughout the day; or even, in part, the day before if you’re anticipating a jam-packed tomorrow. What’s more is that you can tailor them to your tastes and your time commitments. Do you want to grill the eggplant slices instead of frying them? You can do that. Would you rather use your stovetop grill pan instead of trudging out to the patio or backyard? Done and done. Want to just roast them off in the oven and walk away for a bit? Still delish. When I made these recently, I topped the napoleons with an easy balsamic reduction. If that feels like too much for a busy weeknight, a light dash of extra balsamic on top will work fine too. I will say, though, that the added bit of sweetness from the syrupy balsamic reduction changes the flavor of the whole dish in a fantastic way.

Eggplant & Bruschetta NapoleonsWith a green side salad – I’m thinking some light, lemon-y dressed arugala – eggplant & bruschetta napoleons are a delicious and satisfying meal that will make you feel gloriously rewarded for all of your hard work. Also, tomorrow’s leftovers make an awesome second round of this exact meal or an amazequake eggplant and bruschetta sub for lunch. Try it on crusty Italian or French bread with a little homemade basil mayo for the ultimate sandwich.

Eggplant & Bruschetta Napoleons
Yields 2-3 servings

Ingredients
5 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup of diced red onion
6 leaves of thinly sliced basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of sugar
Salt & pepper
3/4 cups of balsamic vinegar, divided
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for pan or grill
1 large eggplant
1 16-ounce log of fresh mozzarella
Italian-style bread crumbs (optional)
2 eggs (optional)

Directions
Salt & drain your eggplant. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels. Slice eggplant in 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices and place on baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle with salt and allow to sit a half hour. After time has passed, flip the eggplant slices and do the same to the other side for about 15 minutes. The paper towels will be damp with excess moisture and the bitterness sometimes associated with eggplant. Remove eggplant from paper towel and set aside.

Next, make the bruschetta. Seed plum tomatoes then chop and add to a mixing bowl. Add diced red onion, garlic cloves, basil, garlic powder, sugar, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside. Allow to sit at least 2 hours before eating. If waiting to serve this, store in refrigerator. Bruschetta can be made up to two days in advance.

Prepare the eggplant to your desired liking. You can brush it (and your grill or grill pan) with olive oil and grill each side. If you go this route, cook it to the point where it has nice char, but still has some body to it. You don’t want it to be a mushy mess (technical term). Same goes for roasting. If you’re frying the eggplant, scramble two eggs in a bowl and then dip each slice in it until submerged, shake off excess egg, and dip both sides in seasoned bread crumbs. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat and fry each slice of eggplant approximately 4 minutes on each side until done. Keep your cooked eggplant slices hot in the oven at its lowest level of heat; for mine, that  is 170°F.

While your eggplant is frying or grilling, pour 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar into a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat – watch this closely, as it can reduce entirely and burn quickly. Once boiling, knock the heat back to medium and cook about 5-7 minutes or until it becomes a thick syrup. When it reaches this consistency, immediately remove it from the heat.

When your eggplant is finished cooking and your balsamic reduction is ready, prepare your napoleons. Put down a wide slice of eggplant for the base and top it with a 1/2-inch thick slice of fresh mozzarella. Follow that with another slice of eggplant and another of mozzarella, then top your stack with a hearty helping of bruschetta. Drizzle balsamic reduction on top.

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No-Bake Double Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustForgive my few weeks of absence, dear friends! I was off on a whirlwind of travel that brought me home to New Jersey to see family and then up to the North Shore of Minnesota for a cabin getaway. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably caught some of the photos. I’m back now and ready to take on summer with its bounty and its leisure in order to turn out some exciting content for you. Up first is this fantastic recipe from my grandmother, Hilda.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustIn the depths of summer, no one wants to turn on their oven, but almost everyone wants to still eat pie, right? The solution? No-bake fruit pies! They’re completely easy, homey, and taste just as delicious as their brethren who spend time baking in the oven. While blueberry is my personal favorite – and the one my grandmother makes for our family the most -  you could substitute peaches, strawberries, and combinations of all kinds of summer fruits in this. You may have to adapt the amount of fruit to switch it up, but play around and see; there’s no such thing as being grumpy over extra pie filling!

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustWhile traditionally, I’ve made her no-bake blueberry pie in a standard, flaky pie crust, I noticed her original recipe called for a gingerbread crust; she, nor I, ever remember her making it this way. Visiting family in New Jersey a few weeks ago, hunting through a pantry for some graham crackers to start a crust, I came across a box of Anna’s Swedish Ginger Thins and thought, “Hey! Gingersnaps would work and would be even better than gingerbread!” And so it was.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustFor many of us, Anna’s are synonymous with Ikea because they’re sold there in such abundance. They’re thin and sweet with just the right amount of spicy ginger flavor and, you know what? They pair *so* deliciously with blueberries; cinnamon, ginger, and berries are natural friends. Of course, if you can’t find Anna’s, any gingersnap will do, just make sure you’re getting gingersnaps and not gingerbread, as I’m predicting the latter would be too soft and moist for this application. You want your cookies to be full of crunch and snap so that your crush holds up to the lusciousness of the berries and cream.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustThe filling comes together nice and quickly in this recipe and because you only cook one half of the berries, and then add in the remaining off the stove, the pie has the fantastic combination of textures from both the disintegrated, now jam-like, berries and the bright burst of ones just warmed through. It is so juicy, sweet and delicious and makes for a gorgeous, seasonal dessert.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustWhen the pie has cooled, I like to top it with a thick layer of fresh whipped cream, but ice cream, or even vanilla yogurt, will also do just fine. This is a great way to have dessert despite a summer swelter and make something that looks, and tastes, like a true labor of love.
No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust
No-Bake Double Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Yields one 9″ pie

Ingredients
1-1/2 cups of gingersnap crumbs, about one 5.25oz box of Anna’s
1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
3 pints of blueberries, divided in half
1/2 cup of sugar
2 Tablespoons of cornstarch
2 Tablespoons of water
Pinch of salt

Directions
In a food processor, pulse gingersnaps until you have 1-1/2 cups of crumbs, set aside. Repeat with graham crackers until you have 1/2 cup. Melt one stick of butter in the microwave. In a bowl, combine both sets of crumbs and melted butter thoroughly. Pour mixture into a 9″ pie plate and, starting at the bottom, in the middle, begin pressing the crumbs into the pan to form the base and sides of the pie. Be sure to press crust into the bend between the base and the sides of the pan and then press the crumb up the sides. Place crust in refrigerator to firm up.

In a mixing bowl, add 1-1/2 pints of blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, water, and salt, and combine. Add fruit mixture to a 3-quart pot and heat mixture, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Once boiling, allow to do so for 2 minutes, stirring constantly now until it thickens some and many of the berries pop and split open. Remove from heat and immediately add in the remaining 1-1/2 pints of blueberries and stir together gently.

Remove pie crust from fridge and gently spoon in fruit mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until completely cold and firm. Top with fresh whipped cream if desired.

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Make Your Own Wedding Bouquet

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheIf you’re thinking about making your own wedding bouquet – or a hand-held bouquet for any occasion – but are concerned you won’t be able to hack it, I’m here to tell you to put fear aside and embrace the DIY! Making a bouquet, even a large one, even one for a very fancy affair, is not nearly as difficult as it seems. Truly, the hardest part is standing in front of a refrigerator full of flowers and deciding which ones work best together. Even then, though, I’ve got some tips to make that easier, as well.

Creating your own bouquet, or having someone in your wedding party make one for you, is so much more cost effective than going to a florist and shelling out at least $200. By making the bouquet yourself, you not only save money, but can really customize it to your tastes. With a few tips, some guidance, and patience, you can design a really gorgeous bouquet and for a price so small, you’ll feel like you got away with something really sneaky!

Charlotte's BouquetI recently created a gorgeous bouquet for my friend Charlotte’s wedding (above) and while it was far easier than I anticipated and came together really beautifully, my nerves were sky-high leading up to making it and throughout the process. Of course they were though, right? It’s a big job, and an important one, but also totally overrated in its presumed difficulty. You’ve got this!

Because I was focused hard on creating a beautiful bouquet, I didn’t enlist anyone’s help in taking photos throughout its construction. Curses! Fortunately, though, there were leftover flowers and the next day, I recreated a smaller version of Charlotte’s bouquet in order to lead you through the crafting of your own with some step-by-step instructions and photos. If you’re looking to make a larger bouquet, I’ll note in the tutorial where and how to continue adding flowers to make a very full, formal one like hers. At the end, I’ll also organize a list of some tips I figured out along the way.

I promise you that the hype – and expense! – of bouquets isn’t justified. With some patience and some know-how, anyone can make a stunning bouquet for any kind of special day.

Step 1: Select & prepare your flowers
The first thing you’ll want to do is select what flowers you’re going to use in your bouquet. Consider the head – or flowered section – of the bouquet as needing three distinct kinds of flowers – 1) those that make up the bulk of the head (this can be one or several different kinds of flowers), 2) those that give the bouquet some height or dimension, and 3) those that can be used as filler to bulk a section up or add some contrast. I chose to incorporate some bay leaf in this bouquet to create height and dimension to my bulk flowers – roses & carnations – and, if you look really closely, you might be able to tell that they’re artificial! For filler and stems, fake sprigs can add a lot of variety and drama for very little money.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheTo prepare your flowers for the bouquet, remove all fresh leaves and thorns below each flower’s head and cut all stems on a 45 degree angle while under running water, then plunge immediately into a vase filled with room temperature water. Cutting the stems under water prevents an air pocket from immediately forming at the cut site, which will interfere with the flowers being able to take in as much water as they need; this is an especially important step when working with roses. As you work, keep your flowers in water and in a cool spot.

Step 2: Build your base
The first step to making a sturdy, tight bouquet is to build a solid base. As a foundation, this initial group of flowers will keep the center of the bouquet together, creating a strong neck by which to hold it. The base is important because it will be what you build out from in order to grow the bouquet to the size of your choosing.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheCreate the base by pairing 4-5 flowers together in the pattern or arrangement that you like. Starting with the first flower in one hand, imagine it as the very middle of the bouquet. Add your second flower and hold the two tightly pinched between your forefinger and thumb, adding the third, fourth, and possibly fifth flowers in the same way, keeping them tightly gathered beneath the heads of the blooms. Don’t worry if, at this point, the stems are all pointing in awkward directions. All you want to be certain of is that the top of the flowers appears the way you’d like the middle of the bouquet to look and that the flowers are being held together tightly right below the heads.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheNext, apply the end of a roll of floral tape no further than an inch below the flower heads and, while holding the stems tightly together,  wrap down the gathered stems about two inches. The tape doesn’t have to be perfectly wrapped or look very neat – you’re going to be adding more flowers and then ribbon to cover it all – it just has to be tightly wound, keeping your base very solidly together.

Step 3: Build out the head & tape
Once your base is solidly clustered and taped, the next step is to continue widening and building out the head of your bouquet. Here’s where you decide how big you want the bouquet and can continue adding concurrent layers of flowers accordingly to get the shape and size that you want. Employ the same tactics as above, adding and pinching the new flowers one-by-one around your base, holding them tightly. A loosely held bouquet will shift and appear sloppy, so keep those stems tight and, as needed, apply more floral tape to keep everything sturdy.

DIY Wedding BouquetIf you’re working with a mixture of different flower sizes – for example, in Charlotte’s bouquet, I used roses, carnations, and then large, white hydrangeas – consider symmetry when in doubt about how to further arrange the growing layers. Balancing one large flower on either side and then filling in the two remaining sides with similar, smaller flowers will keep the bouquet round and voluminous. If you don’t like how something looks, rearrange things. Nothing is set until you tape the final bunch and even then, you can unwrap and reassemble, or add additional flowers if they are needed.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheWhen you have filled out the head of the bouquet to the point where you are satisfied, use the floral tape once more to begin tightly taping the stems together. Start, again, an inch or so below the heads of the flowers and wrap tightly, overlapping the tape, until you’ve reached approximately 2 inches above where you want the stems of the bouquet to end once you are prepared to cut them.

Step 4: Incorporating filler
For some reason, filler is my favorite part of creating a bouquet. I think it’s because of how it takes an already beautiful bouquet to a completely different level, but also because there’s so much you can consider using to add height and texture. As mentioned earlier, I used some artificial options – a spray of bay leaves and a stem of faux white berries – but also incorporated traditional baby’s breath because it’s just so dainty. Consider overbuying on the filler, choosing lots of different varieties, and then experiment once your bouquet is in-hand. You can’t know for sure what kinds of leaves, sprays, or baubles, your bouquet will benefit from until you have everything in front of you. Filler is an opportunity to really add a little extra beauty that is specific to your tastes and aesthetic.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheDepending on the length of your filler, you may be able to just nestle it between the blooms, as desired, but if the pieces are longer, or fall more on the outside of your bouquet, you may need to, once more, tape the length of the bouquet handle from one inch below the flower heads to 2 inches above where you will trim the stems. If you’re concerned about filler falling out, you can always add a drop of hot glue to the end before nestling it down into the head of the bouquet.

Step 5: Finessing the handle & trimming stems
The bouquet head gets all the glory, but truth is that the handle can also be really gorgeous and eye-catching too. For both Charlotte’s bouquet and this re-creation here, I used a thick navy grosgrain ribbon and pearlized pins for a clean, classic finish. You can use any combination of ribbons, laces, twines, etc. that you can think of, so long as you can easily cover the floral tape and find a way to inconspicuously secure the ends.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme Fraiche
With this bouquet, I wrapped the ribbon tightly over all of the visible floral tape. When I reached the end of wrapping, I cut the ribbon about a half inch too long and folded it under, creating a finished edge, stretched it as far around the handle as it would go, and held it firmly against the handle with my thumb. Using my other hand, I pinned into the fold and then into the stems, angling the pin upward into the handle so that it was securely fastened and safely ensconced in the handle, free from poking through to the other side and injuring someone. I proceeded to do this with several other pins, equal distance from one another, up the length of the bouquet handle. Of course, if pearlized pins are not your style or you’re using a twine or something similar, you could always just hot glue the end and tuck it beneath an area where the handle is wrapped.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheLast, but not least, trim your stems straight across about two inches from the bottom edge of the handle wrapping. Handle length is entirely personal and, fortunately, something you can customize. Just remember to err on the side of caution and trim less before more. No one wants a stumpy bouquet!

When finished, place your bouquet in enough water to submerge the ends, but not wet the wrapped handle (see tips below regarding flower food). Bouquets can be kept overnight in the refrigerator if made the day before or left in there to keep cool if made the day of the event. Before doing so, verify that the flowers you’re using can withstand the coolness of a refrigerator, though, and are not a variety that will wilt in lower temperatures.
DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme Fraiche
Tips & Tricks:

  • When selecting flowers, consider sturdier blooms for the bulk, nestling more delicate ones inside the bouquet. For the DIY bouquet maker, erring on the side of stronger, less delicate flowers, will allow more room for rearranging.
  • Finding flowers that are easily accessible and financially within your means are key parts to DIY-ing your bouquet. Google around your area for wholesale flower markets, many of which are open to the public, and also start scouting friends with Costco memberships. Yes, Costco! Believe it or not, they have gorgeous fresh flowers and at really reasonable prices – $16 for 2 dozen roses? Boom. Also check out markets that fancy themselves more “gourmet”-type establishments – Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kowalski’s, if you’re in the Twin Cities, are all examples. They always have fresh, beautiful flowers available and, often, a wider variety compared to a standard grocery store.
  • Remember that you can always supplement with artificial pieces. I’m not suggesting making a silk flower bouquet, but filler, embellishment sprays, and leaves can be hard to find if you’re working the grocery store circuit for your bouquet. Check out local craft stores a week ahead of time and stock up on all kinds of potential. Save your receipt so that you can return the pieces you don’t use.
  • Use Pinterest as inspiration ahead of time and gather ideas there for flowers that work well together and bouquet handle designs that match your tastes. Print pictures, or save images to your phone, and take them with you when looking for flowers or materials from the craft store.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. This is a new endeavor and while it’s really not very difficult, it requires patience, and deftness of hand; rushing through will end in broken stems and petals askew. Think the whole process will take you 2 hours? Block off 3-4 to be safe. No one wants to have to rush out the door to the ceremony, leaving their kitchen strewn with debris.
  • Pay extra close attention to pets while you’re creating your bouquet. Dogs and cats gravitate toward crunchy, fresh flora, so they may be circling beneath you like sharks or waiting for you to turn your back in order to steal a taste. Because plants and flowers can be really harmful to pets, consider keeping them in another room if possible until you are done with the bouquet and clean-up or enlist a friend or partner to keep their eyes peeled.
  • A bouquet can last well over a week if kept fresh with water and nutrients after the ceremony. Cut the stems on a 45 degree angle under water and then return them to a vase of water that has been fortified with the packets of flower food that come with loose flowers or make your own concoction by diluting half a teaspoon of bleach and half a tablespoon of granulated sugar into a half gallon of room temperature water. The bleach keeps bacteria down (the #1 cause of early flower death) and the sugar feeds the flowers. Keep this mixture on hand and empty, rinse, and refill the vase with new solution every day. Keep flowers in a cool place that receives indirect sunlight and that is far away from fruit, which releases ethylene gases and can cause flowers to shrivel up early.
  • Transporting a bouquet to a wedding venue can prove a challenge. Creating a stable holder, though, takes just a few minutes. Find a box that is wider than the bouquet (for stability), but that is still easy to carry. Next, seek out a jar that is nearly the same height as the box, but no shorter than an inch below, or longer than an inch above, it. You will want a jar that is at least 4 inches wide so that the base is not too narrow to support the top-heavy head of the bouquet. Wrap the mason jar with brown paper or newspaper in order to give it some padding and tape well. Place the mason jar in the center of the open box and fill all open space around it with filler or any kind – again, newspaper works well here. Fill it tightly so that the jar cannot slide around. Close the lids of the box and tape shut, then cut out a square around the mouth of the jar. If the jar is slightly taller than the box, cut the square before putting the mason jar in the box and taping down the lid. Fill the mason jar with water and flower food solution and insert bouquet. Before leaving, loosely wrap a plastic bag around the head of the bouquet to keep it clean. Check out the quick photos I took with my phone for a better idea of how to efficiently transport the bouquet – photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4.
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Panzanella Salad

Panzanella SaladMy two go-to meals any time of year, but especially in the summer, are, in many ways, variations of the same thing – antipasto and panzanella salad. Growing up, antipasto was a weekend staple whenever company was coming and usually consisted of fresh mozzarella, soppressatta, olives, eggplant caponata, pepperoni, and provolone so sharp it’d make my nose run. Oh, and bread. So much delicious, chewy, Italian bread in long braided loaves covered in sesame seeds.

With summer nearly upon us and the reminder that sweet, juicy tomatoes do exist (buying tomatoes in the winter is so depressing, isn’t it?), panzanella takes many of the same flavors of antipasto and dresses them up in an easy one-bowl lunch or dinner that is totally satisfying and filled with fresh, delicious, good-for-you ingredients. When I posted a quick snapshot on Instagram last week of panzanella in the works, a follower asked for the recipe and while I will, of course, give you one here, the truth is that it changes every time! But that’s what makes it so easy and so perfect for summer when fresh veggies are all over the place.

Panzanella SaladWhile this version has tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion as the stars, I’ve also used combinations in the past that include fresh zucchini, grilled eggplant, and red peppers, among others. If you’re not familiar with panzanella, tomatoes are always a staple alongside toasty cubes of a rustic bread, such as Italian bread, ciabatta, or French bread, which soaks up the juices from the vegetables and the vinaigrette only to soften and become little, tasty bites that just explode summer when you bite into them. I like to toss my bread in a frying pan that has olive oil and garlic in it as it toasts and dries out, but you can also do it on a baking sheet in the oven or grill two halves of a loaf and cube it after it’s cooled. There’s a lot of flexibility here.

Adding mozzarella cheese, freshly torn basil, and other goodies, such as soppressata, could be seen as gilding the panzanella lily, but it also bulks up the salad and makes it feel a little bit more special, especially when serving it to guests. Though rustic and easy to prepare, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with this meal. In fact, the leftovers may even turn your workday around when you have the remains for lunch, though I do recommend also packing a roll of breath mints in that case considering the abundance of garlic. Panzanella holds up and never disappoints. It’s a keeper and an easy, versatile summer meal.

Panzanella Salad
Yields 4-6 servings

Ingredients
1 loaf of Italian or French bread
2 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
Olive oil
1 Tablespoon of butter
Salt & pepper
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved
6-8 leaves of basil, torn or thinly sliced
12 ounces of fresh mozzarella
6 ounces of soppressata, cubed
1/2 of a large cucumber, halved and sliced into thin half-moons
1/4 cup of red onion, thinly sliced
Balsamic vinegar

Directions
First, cut the entire loaf of bread into 1-inch cubes. In a large frying pan with deep sides, melt the tablespoon of butter into approximately 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the thinly sliced garlic. Allow the garlic to gently cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the bread and tossing it in the oil and butter mixture. Allow the bread to toast, flipping cubes over and tossing it every 2 minutes or so. If pan seems very dry, drizzle in a little bit more olive oil. Cook until all cubes are toasted and the exterior of each is crisp. For a whole loaf of Italian bread, this will take about 10-12 minutes.

While the bread is toasting, slice the vegetables and basil and cube the mozzarella cheese and soppressata; set aside. When the bread is finished cooking, add it along with the toasted slices of garlic into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool down for about 5 minutes. At this time, you can walk away and assemble the salad later on or finish making it. Add the sliced ingredients to the bread and lightly salt and pepper. Next, drizzle the salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and toss together thoroughly to combine. I usually start by adding about two tablespoons of vinegar, tossing, and seeing where I’m at after. Remember, your vegetables will release moisture upon contact with the warm bread and then even more so with the acidity of the vinegar, so add a touch more vinegar if you’d like, but this will soften more and more as it sits.

When you eat the panzanella is entirely up to you and your preferred texture. I eat it all kinds of ways, but I prefer it about a half hour after everything is incorporated and macerated. The bread still has some crisp texture then and I like that bite, but it is also delicious once everything has really softened together and the bread is moist with all of the flavors. Depending on what you prefer, allow the salad to sit on the counter for a bit and then serve it or store in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight, before enjoying.

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DIY Wedding Binder

DIY Wedding BinderLast Friday, one of my dearest friends, Charlotte, married her longtime sweetheart, Katie, in an intimate courthouse ceremony. The bride was beautiful, the butch groom very dapper, and all attending guests were there to share in what was a really lovely afternoon. Since Charlotte and Katie’s families are spread out, they are doing things a bit non-traditionally, but no less thoughtfully. While their formal ceremony was Friday, they will be having a party in July for friends and loved ones in the Twin Cities and then another with family at a gathering between their two homes come the fall. So many opportunities to celebrate!

DIY Wedding BinderOver the next month and a half, Charlotte and I will, largely, be planning what their celebration for friends will look like and, chances are, you’ll see some of the projects we undertake for it here. What a happy way to cultivate blog content at the same time as organizing what will be an amazingly fun, love-filled day! My Pinterest boards and I are already bursting with ideas!

DIY Wedding BinderPlanning a party, even one that is informal and fairly small in size for a wedding celebration (about 40 people), is a lot of work and, herein, my Virgo brain sees an opportunity for organization. Enter: The Wedding Binder. A wedding binder is many things I love all rolled into one: structured, informative, tidy, an excuse to buy cute office supplies, etc. I know that holding up these kinds of qualities probably makes me sound like a total stiff (do people still say that?), but it’s only in project planning that I hold so dearly to these ways. How else will one remember if they sent a “thank you” card to their aunt or remember where they put the receipt from the caterer? If you have a wedding binder, everything has a place, eliminating one stressor right off the bat.

DIY Wedding BinderCould you buy a wedding binder? Of course, but there are so many templates online to make your own, and now this one, that printing out some pages and putting them in a binder along with some dividers is time well spent. Not only does it save you money, but making your own wedding binder also allows you to really customize it to your needs. When I made this binder for Charlotte and Katie, for example, I didn’t have to include space on the “Expenses” sheet for ceremony costs because, aside from the marriage license, there weren’t any.

DIY Wedding BinderCharlotte and Katie’s party, as many small weddings are, will also largely be a very DIY affair, so I knew it was also important to include space in their binder where they could collect visual ideas from magazines or Pinterest to inform future table design or what have you. I also created a section called “Team Bride” where Charlotte can identify friends in her network who she can ask to assist with parts of the party, i.e. here she can make a note that our other friend, Katie, will do Charlotte’s hair and make-up that day. Since music is so vitally important to the small, DIY wedding, I made sure to also create a “Soundtrack” page where they could jot down ideas that came to them for “must-haves” to hear on the day of the reception. On their wedding site, Charlotte and Katie asked guests to suggest songs when they submit their RSVP – a great idea! – so this is a landing place for those selections too.

DIY Wedding BinderWhile this binder has largely been geared toward Charlotte and Katie specifically, I’ve kept the average small wedding planner in mind as I’ve crafted this, so the sheets, which I’ve made available as free printables below, should be helpful to lots of folks. Take a look!:

- Guest List
- Gift Log
- Vendors
- Expenses
- Menu
- Seating Arrangements
- Team Bride
- Soundtrack
- Shopping List

For smaller, DIY parties like this one, keeping organized, budgeting well, and relying on friends for additional help and services depending on where their strengths lie are all key to pulling off a beautiful day. To those of you out there who have planned (or are planning – congratulations!) a small, but special day, what other tips do you have to keep everything and everyone reigned in and organized leading up to, and on the day of, the main event?

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Fennel, Onion & Fontina Pizza

Most of the memories I have of my father’s parents revolve around food. Due to the complicated nature of family, I didn’t grow up around them to the extent I did my mother’s parents. With the latter, we were together almost every weekend, vacationed together, and lived mere blocks away for the first few years of my life. My grandparents on my Dad’s side, Rose & John (seen below with my great grandmother between them), lived in apartment projects for the elderly in Hoboken, NJ, before it’s renaissance of the past decade. They were complicated people. Always kind to me, but there was a persistent and underlying tension present because of my dad’s strained relationship with his father stemming back to childhood.

Grandma & GrandpaAs a result, we didn’t visit often and when we did, it was more a result of my mom having to work on a weekend and my father thinking he could kill two birds with one stone: visit his parents and get us fed well at the same time. Though my memories of them are few and fleeting – they both passed within a year or so of one another when I was in the range of 10-11 years old – gathering around their tiny kitchen table with the heavy, clear, vinyl tablecloth remains one that is firmly in place.

Seated here, I marveled at the food they turned out of their tiny kitchen – dishes and ingredients that were largely unfamiliar to me, but which introduced me to the culture of this side of my family (Italian-American) that my mother’s side seemed less connected to. Fish cakes made with baccala at Christmas, celery logs stuffed with blue cheese alongside antipasto, the very best rice balls (arancini if you’re fancy) that I’ve had in my life – all of these things laid across the table with the gentle encouragement to try new things and flavors.

It’s from my grandparents that I fell in love with fennel. What 7 year old is like, “More fennel, Grandma!” but that was me. I happily crunched on it between courses as a palate cleanser (I knew nothing of this, of course, only that it was delicious and crunchtastic) and marveled at its completely different flavor when my grandfather served it baked as a gratin aside homemade braciola. They had me hooked on fennel early and my love for it is still going strong.

This pizza brings together the sweet taste of cooked, caramelized fennel and the slight anise flavor it has raw by scattering some of the fennel fronds over top. Layered with sautéed onions and creamy fontina cheese, it’s a delicious take on a vegetarian pizza option and works well right in your oven or, now that it’s warming up, on the grill. Serve it with a big salad for dinner or cut it into small strips for an appetizer; it’s completely malleable to all kinds of meals and occasions. If you’re not sure that you like fennel, or have only had it raw, give this recipe a try. The transformation between raw and cooked is night and day and that sweet flavor, coupled with the salty cheese, and the garlic and onions make for a perfect mouthful. Take it from 7-year-old me and give fennel a try!

Fennel, Onion & Fontina Pizza
Yields one pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza dough
1 bulb of fennel
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
7 ounces of fontina cheese, grated
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons of cornmeal

Directions
Remove your pizza dough from the refrigerator about 20-30 minutes before you’re going to assemble your pizza so that it has time to soften a bit and becomes pliable. Sprinkle cornmeal over baking sheet and set aside. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small bowl, pour 1/3 cup of olive oil and add two cloves of minced garlic and some cracked black pepper. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, or until you just start to smell the garlic, and remove. Set aside.

Peel the onion and slice in half, cutting uniform 1/4″ half-moon slices. In a large, non-stick frying pan, drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil and apply a medium high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally. Once the edges start to turn brown, drop the heat to medium and cook until they are brown throughout and slightly translucent. Before removing them from the pan, salt and pepper them lightly, stir, cook an additional minute or two and then set aside in a separate bowl. Return the pan to the stove and drizzle with an additional teaspoon or so of olive oil. Remove the fennel stems and peel off the first layer of the bulb. Slice the bulb in half and cut each half into 1/4″ half moons. Sauté the sliced fennel over medium heat with a little bit of salt and pepper, allowing it to cook until softened and golden.

Unroll the pizza dough and stretch it accordingly to form the crust. When the dough has reached the size and shape you’d like, brush it with the garlic-infused olive oil and place in the oven for 5 minutes. While the crust is par-baking, grate the fontina and pick off some of the fennel fronds and set aside. Remove the par-baked crust from the oven and layer the onions and fennel over top. Top vegetables with both cheeses and cover with fresh cracked black pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil if desired and bake for 10-12 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is completely melted and bubbling. When finished, remove from oven, sprinkle with fennel fronds, and allow to stand for 5 minutes before slicing.

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