Thursday, September 22, 2016

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts

Fall has arrived, friends. The colors are creeping down the mountain, spreading across the valley floor in a riot of orange and golds. Days are still warmed by sunshine but the nights have the edge of a chill that promises crisp air and sweater weather ahead. When autumn arrives, I'm always transported back to New England, where I spent much of my adolescence. I lived on the border between New Hampshire and Vermont, where the glory of the season inspires long walks in the woods and apple picking. 

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts

As the flush of fall deepens, I grow nostalgic for those orchards, heavy with fruit. For me, autumn tastes like a perfectly sweet, crisp apple freshly plucked from the tree. For this week's recipe, I tried to capture that fancy with all the warm fragrance and sweetly tart taste that apples provide. These tarts feature a fruit forward profile with plenty of honey, cradled by a nutty crust and topped by autumn leave cutouts. A drizzle of honey apple syrup and salt take a simple tart and transform it into a complexity that is the perfect companion to a colorful season.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Tart Trimmings

Let's begin where all good pies start. The crust. This one is an adaptation of my mother's recipe, replacing a quantity of the flour with finely chopped hazelnuts. I also tinkered with the flavor profile and substituted almond extract for the traditional vanilla.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Mealy & Marvelous
As you can see, the hazelnut meal is a bit coarse but it'll create a terrific crust for our tarts. Cut in the shortening and mix in the liquids. Roll it out and step back to admire your work.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Roll out Reveal
I used some simple circles for the tart shapes and then just popped them into muffin tins. It created a curvy edge that I thought was pretty cool.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Tart It Up
Got some crust leftover? Don't waste it! I have these cute leaf cutouts that were the perfect size to create tops for these tarts.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Cookie Cutouts
Next up, we need to fill these beauties. Of course, we're gong with apples. Duh. But let's spice it up some with plenty of cinnamon, allspice and a touch of honey.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Apple Accompaniment
You'll have lots of leftover juice, so set it aside. Boil it later with a touch of cornstarch to make an apple honey syrup for drizzling.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Sweet and Saucy
Now back to those tarts. Give them a generous scoop of apple filling and a pat of butter. 

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Tinned Tarts
Remember those leaf cut-outs? Drop them onto your tarts for some seasonal flair. And also to protect all that lovely apple filling from drying out in the heat of the oven.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Topped Tarts
Ta-da! These tiny tarts are ready to take the heat. When they emerge from the oven, they'll look like this.

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Tiny Tart Triumph
Top them with a bit of apple honey syrup and a sprinkle of salt and you've got a taste of the fall season that'll transport you straight into the orchard. See you next week, friends, when we'll cook up more ways to celebrate the season. 

Array of Apples
Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
A Taste of Tart
Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts
Apple Assembly
Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts

Salted Honey Hazelnut Apple Tarts

For the crust:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 tsp. almond extract
2-3 tsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. flour

For the filling:
1 cup chopped apples (granny smiths preferred or honeycrisp)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. all-spice
1/4 cup honey

For the syrup:
leftover juice form apple filling
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. honey

Preheat oven to 425. Puree hazelnuts in a food processor until finely chopped. Add flour to create meal, then pulse shortening just until crust begins to clump into meal the size of peas. In a separate small bowl, mix 1 Tbsp. flour with cold water and extract. Mix into meal until it follows the fork. Add more water or flour as needed. 

Roll out the dough on a floured surface into 1/4 inch thick and cut out large circles for the tarts. Save some crust for cutouts to top the tarts. Put the circles into a muffin pan, crimping the edges in slightly to create a curved edged. Set aside the cut outs.

Take chopped apples, sprinkle with spices and stir in honey. Let filling sit for several minutes before draining off excess liquid. Reserve liquid and fill tarts with scoop of apple filling. Top with leaf cutout and deposit in oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then drop temperature to 350 and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove form oven to cool.

In a small pot on the stove at medium heat, bring remaining apple juices and spice to a boil and whisk in additional honey and cornstarch. Cook just another minute or two until thickened, then remove from heat. Drizzle onto tarts and sprinkle with salt. Best served warm. 

Delighted with this tart taste of the season? Follow A Sweet Little Life on Pinterest for more terrific recipes. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Middle School: A Method to the Madness

We're knee deep in back to school over here and shit is getting real. This elaborate game of scheduling Jenga is beginning to tip over into insanity and absolutely no one is winning. Nobody. I knew this would be tough, but this year feels brutal. We're both working full-time, and I'm dropping so many balls that I feel like I'm standing in the ball pit at Chuck e Cheese. Ever stand in a ball pit at Chuck E Cheese? Shudder. Parent's worst nightmare.

Middle School Methods

Meanwhile, my ten-year old son is just trying to keep his head above water. He's submerged in his first year of middle school, and I feel like I'm watching him furiously dog paddle in circles of panic. My son is a smart kid, but this transition from elementary to middle school has been like shoving him out of an airplane into free fall. He's sinking fast. At first, I thought it was just the hectic schedule, the noisy confusion of crowded hallways, the flurry of newness that always overwhelms. It began as a few missed assignments. I'd roll over Saturday morning to the ping of incoming messages and see a notice from school. listing missing work and scores that seemed as if they couldn't possibly belong to my kid. My kid is gifted. My kid is capable. But it looks like my kid is also flunking middle school.

And then it dawned on me and I felt like a gigantic moron. I'm a teacher for Christ's sake. I should know what's happening here. Middle school is when kids first begin to take the wheel, steering their education and being responsible for their own work. I don't search his backpack every night, crowing about papers and peering over his shoulder. He doesn't even have books because they're all online or some such nonsense. Most of the time, I only hear when things have already gone off the rails and it's too late to right the ship. And that's terrifying. For all of us.

So this weekend we sat down and got our shit together. And it reminded me of something important. Kids don't intrinsically understand how to excel in academic environments. If we want them to be successful, we need to supply them with a few essential skills that don't come prepackaged from elementary school. There is a method to this madness that is middle school. And it looks something like this.

Middle School Methods

STEP 1: Check for Understanding

If your kid is stumbling, check in to ensure they're getting it. And no, you can't just ask a generic question to glean this. You're gonna have to dig. Like getting those dirty, inside out socks from the bottom of the laundry basket. Ask to see the books or materials and then have your kid explain them to you, in excruciating detail. It'll become apparent in point five seconds that they either get it or they don't.Think about how your kid learns best and try to find a way to present the material that'll connect for them. Some resources that I adore:

Khan Academy
Kaplan K12

Middle School Methods

STEP 2: Get Organized

This is the first time they'll have multiple teachers and multiple classes and it'll feel like utter chaos. Scratch that. It is utter chaos. Roll up your sleeves and show your kid how to use dividers and pockets to create sections for each class, so work that needs to be turned in doesn't get lost in the shuffle. Get a planner if the school doesn't supply one, but don't stop there. You'll need to demonstrate how to use it. It's not obvious. You've just been adulting for a LONG time. Show your kid how to calendar tests, how to track upcoming assignments, and give them a spot to keep everything for each class in one place. I found this fantastic resource for younger kids that walks through the steps of being organized for school. WITH PICTURES!

Wikihow's Be Organized in School

Middle School Methods

STEP 3: Explain How to Take Notes

It's weird, but this will be the first time your kid has to consistently take notes. Get used to it, kid. And while you think it's just about jotting down main ideas, good note taking is about SO much more than that. Kids still write pretty slow at this age, so it's hard for them to get stuff down fast enough in a legible manner. There are lots of ways around this, including concept mapping, visual note taking, and more. Explore some of these tips and tricks to teach note-taking.

Life Hacker's Guide to Perfecting Note Taking
4 Note Taking Strategies

Middle School Methods

STEP 4: Develop a Study Plan

Some days, your kid seems to be drowning in homework. Other days he comes home and binge watches Star Wars. This feast or famine indicates there's a problem. Like most of us, kids do what they're told. Math homework, due tomorrow. Check. Test next week. Okay- I'll study for that next week. Now is the time to instill good habits, like working ahead and studying in increments to avoid cramming. I helped my son draft a study plan so that he'd spend 15-20 minutes a few times a week on some tough subjects even when he didn't have homework, reviewing his notes and reading ahead. We all know this not only ensures success, but it's a much more efficient way to study. But your kid doesn't know that. All he knows is that you are a wise, old person who is infused with genius. And really, that's all he needs to know, right? Check out these resources to develop your own study plan.

Go Conqr
Developing a Study Schedule

Middle School Methods

Step 5: Communicate

Teacher's have emails now. It's this crazy, modern thing that I still struggle to wrap my head around. But they have all assured me. SO many times. Please email. If you see something you don't understand, if you want to know how to help. Ask. Ever notice that when you ask a teacher what your student can be doing differently, they have five billion ideas and a buttload of websites you can visit? Teachers are teachers for a reason. They love learning and they love their students. Teachers want students to succeed. Let them help. It'll be a gift for both of you. And then follow-up. You're in this together, all the way to the end. For better or for worse. Let's focus on making it better.

My son came home today from piano lessons, plunked his backpack down, and promptly disappeared. We called him repeatedly for dinner and when we couldn't rouse him, I went to investigate. He was in front of the computer, head bowed, furiously typing.

"I was calling you for dinner. What's going on?"

His brow furrowed and he blinked several times in confusion. "Oh. Sorry. I was doing my social studies homework."

"Do you need help? Is everything okay?"

"Oh, yeah! This stuff is totally cool. Hey, listen to this, Mom..."

<Insert 10 minute diatribe about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict>

"Okay. Well, dinner is getting cold." As my son exited the room, I pulled out my phone and began to furiously google the Oslo Accords. Because really, I need to keep up with this shit now.

Are you over the moon about this method for middle school? Follow A Sweet Little Life on Facebook to get more tips for dealing with the madness that is parenting.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Coffee Cardamom Rolls

Coffee is my drug of choice. And that's probably an understatement. Coffee is everything. I read about the looming coffee shortage and decided it wouldn't be such a bad thing if I bit the bucket before then. Because seriously- if there is gonna be a world without coffee, I don't want to be in it.

As the weather turns colder, I turn to coffee. There's nothing quite like cradling a cup in the curve of your palm, feeling the warm comfort of it spreading slowly through your limbs. I like to lower my face just an inch above the cup and breathe, filling up slowly with the siren song of that aroma. Hello, darkness, my old friend.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls

That's what I love about this week's recipe. It allows me to infuse comfort food with coffee and just a hint of the spiciness that signals the fall season. These rolls are a take on the traditional cinnamon roll, laced with the flavors of cardamom and coffee for a rich, fragrantly sweet dough. They're finished off with a cardamom butter that melts into all the nooks and crannies and a coffee glaze to balance out all that spice with something nice. One bite and you'll feel as if you've been transported to the front porch of a cabin, steaming mug in hand, and the crisp of autumn stealing under your LL Bean Henley.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Cardamom Roll Call
These rolls begin with a traditional yeast dough, but instead of cinnamon, we're going with equal portions of cardamom. Don't know if you've heard or not, but cardamom is the new cinnamon, And I am on board with that.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Doughy Dilemma
This needs to rise for a bit. so go ahead and whip up the filling.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Get Your Fill
Once the dough has risen for an hour or more, roll these babies out.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Roll It Out
Spread the filling even across the dough. You'll notice it's a rich, dark color and it provides some nice contrast and definition to the layers in the rolls.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
The Spread
Now it's time to roll up and put it under the knife.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
On a Roll
See. We haven't even put them in the oven yet and they already look good enough to eat.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Cardamom Close-Up
While these are baking, you should probably mix up the cardamom butter and the coffee glaze. Because winter is coming and we need to start stocking up on fat. ASAP.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Gorgeous Glaze
By now, the rolls should be out of the oven and just waiting for some love. Here they are in all their unadorned glory.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Bring on the Butter
Next, we're going to slather these warm rolls in cardamom butter. That sounds a little drastic, but trust me. Once the fragrant fat reaches those little crevices, these rolls transcend into decadence. Glaze and behold the wonder that is coffee for dessert.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Cardamom Coffee Cluster
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you fall in love with coffee this season in all the things. It's an affair I'll never turn my back on. Until next time friends, keep sipping because coffee is always in season.

Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Perfect Partners
Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Fork Fulfillment
Coffee Cardamom Rolls
Too Hot to Handle
Coffee Cardamom Rolls

Coffee Cardamom Rolls

For the rolls (inspired by Perfectly Sprinkled):
1 cup warm milk (110º)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, separated
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour

For the filling:
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons cardamom
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules

For the cardamom butter:
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons cardamom

For the coffee glaze:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Warm milk until the temperature reaches 110º F. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine milk, yeast, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Stir and let stand for 10 minutes. Once foamy mix in the eggs, melted butter, salt, instant coffee, and the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Add flour and mix on a low speed for 5 minutes. Form dough into ball and place into an oiled boil. Cover with plastic wrap and rest in a warm place for approximately 1 hour.

For the filling; in a small bowl combine the brown sugar, melted butter, cardamon, and instant coffee; set aside. 

Prepare a 13 x 9 inch pan or baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside.
Roll dough into a large rectangle (approximately 12 x 22 inches). Once rolled out evenly spread the filling mixture over the dough. Tightly roll up the dough to form a log. Cut into large equal portions using floss or pastry cutter and place into the 13 x 9 inch greased pan. Cover and let rise for approximately 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350º F. Bake rolls for 30-35 minutes.

Whip butter and cardamom and spread over warm rolls. Let cool for 10-15 minutes more before applying glaze.

For the frosting; in the bowl of your stand mixer combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, instant coffee, and vanilla. Whip together for 5 minutes or until everything is well incorporated.

Spread over the top of the warm coffee cinnamon rolls. Enjoy.

Coffee addicts unite! Follow A Sweet Little Life on Pinterest for more caffeine fueled recipes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Summer Supper

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might have guessed that summer is my favorite season. I know. Everybody is all- it's fall y'all and I'm over here, crying a little into my wine slushies. But summer is the best. For so many reasons but mostly because for three months, I don't ever have to wear pants. Not even once.

Summer Dinner Party

So in celebration of this sentiment, I threw a party. I called it a summer supper, but really it was my love letter to the season. I invited a small selection of my besties, crafted a menu that emphasized fresh fruits and barbecue. and served a sit down dinner on my back lawn. It helps that my house borders the country club because it makes that shit super swanky. Let's take a peek at the party, shall we?

Summer Dinner Party

First, I began with drinks and appetizers inside so my guests could chat with me while I finished preparing the meal. I attempted my first cheese & charcuterie spread on long pieces of brown butcher paper fringed with daisy chains. You'll see a plethora of fancy cheese, salamis, olives, pickles, bread, and crackers that became fodder for friendly fingers. I served a cantaloupe & mozzarella caprese salad to accompany this spread. I know. I was skeptical, too. But that flavor combination of salty and sweet just works. Every damn time.

Summer Dinner Party

When I prepare all the food in advance of the party, I like to play bartender and shake up some craft cocktails while folks arrive. This time, since I was serving a sit down, I knew I'd need to have the libations ready to sip so I went with a Sweet Tea Sangria and a little beauty called a Firecracker featuring watermelon and cucumber vodka.

Summer Dinner Party

Before we move onto the dainty, bohemian-inspired table, let's finish off food. Once I had my guests filled to the gills with drinks and snacks, I rolled them out onto the lawn and served them a few items off the grill. Like these balsamic steak rolls, featuring marinated flank steak and grilled vegetables.

Summer Dinner Party

Yep. Look at that beautiful plate. Those are sweet potatoes, thick sliced, sauteed with roasted garlic and garnished with mint. Divine.

Summer Dinner Party

Next off the grill were some skewers, loaded with coconut shrimp and pineapple. At this point, our grill was getting a bit sticky and entirely too hot to handle. So we turned it down a bit before churning out this masterpiece.

Summer Dinner Party

And last but not least, dessert arrived in the form of these dainty little peach thyme teacakes, featured last week on A Sweet Little Life and accompanied by cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon ices.

Summer Dinner Party

Now that we've gorged on the food, let's move onto a feast for the eyes. Our summer supper table was set on a wide expanse of lawn overlooking the green.

Summer Dinner Party

I brought real furniture outside, focusing on piles of greenery and white flowers to create a dainty bower for our supper interlude.

Summer Dinner Party

One of the things I adored was that our table was clustered on the edge of the garden, where some of the vegetables for our dinner had been harvested hours before. It created a farm to table feel that was intimate and indulgent.

Summer Dinner Party

The riot of greenery in the middle of the table was a simple effect to create using a bouquet or two of wildflowers in tall vases, interspersed with baby's breath stuck between the slats of the table and LED candles that created a magical glow after sunset.

Summer Dinner Party

Simple place settings consisted of bouquet wreathed cards with initials, set into serving plates. In lieu of traditional place mats, I opted for napkins, folded simply and set underneath the plates.

Summer Dinner Party

I also tucked a print out menu at each place setting in addition to a more formal framed version that adorned the table. You'll notice the glassware was simple, with mason jars that complete the charming, garden party theme.

Summer Dinner Party

Thanks for dropping by to celebrate the end of the summer season with A Sweet Little Life. For a full listing of the recipes featured in this party, see below or visit the Summer Supper board on Pinterest. 

Summer Dinner Party

A Summer Supper: The Menu

To Begin:
Cheese and Charcuterie Board (Inspired by Celebrations at Home)
Cantaloupe & Mozzarella Caprese Salad (Inspired by Foodie Crush)

To Sip:
The Firecracker (From Creative Culinary)
Sweet Tea Sangria (Inspired by The Wicked Noodle)

The Main Attraction:
Grilled Coconut & Pineapple Shrimp (From Closet Cooking)
Griddles Sweet Potatoes with Mint, Chili & Smoked Gouda (From The Happy Foodie)
Grilled Grape, Brie & Arugula Flatbread (Inspired by Tidy Mom)
Balsamic Glazed Steak Rolls (From Foxy, Fat, and Fabulous)
Peach Thyme Teacakes (From A Sweet Little Life)

Happy Endings:
Watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe sorbets (Inspired by I Heart Vegetables)
Peach Thyme Teacakes (From A Sweet Little Life)

Visit the Pinterest Party Board for more inspiration: A Summer Supper

Summer Dinner Party
Your Hostess.
Until next time, friends, when I promise I'll give you fall. So much fall. Pumpkin flavored, spicy warmth. I'm all over it, people. Promise.

Think this party is pretty perfect? Come follow A Sweet Little Life on Pinterest for more crafty celebrations.

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