Proper baking is a form of cookery that requires some serious commitment and practice. Until this past year, if I needed to procure some muffins, cookies, or a birthday cake, I usually just bought some premade dough or a box mix from the grocery store. To my surprise, I have actually grown to enjoy baking’s finicky nature. It contrasts nicely with my ‘anything goes’ attitude with other types of cooking in general.

Rather than getting in over my head trying to perfect complex pastries or cakes, I decided to try baking something new this week: scones. I found an excellent resource from Southern Living that provided a consistent scone base to which a number of different sweet and savory adaptations can be made.

I have to admit that, as a novice, preparing the dough for baking was a bit unnerving. I soon as I had pulled out all of my ingredients and preheated the over, I realized that I had overlooked the need for a pastry blender in the recipe. I frantically called my mom asking for alternatives.

I used two forks instead of a pastry blender to cut in the butter.

I used two forks instead of a pastry blender to cut in the butter.

Although I had seen my mom’s pastry blender collecting dust in one of her kitchen drawers, I had never actually known what this goofy-looking utensil was called. The name seems a bit over-hyped, but maybe I am a product of my generation—immediately assuming that a blender of any kind involves super efficient electric-powered blades. I feel like the only place I’ve seen a pastry blender in action before was at summer camp in the pottery studio. But I digress…

The purpose of a pastry blender is to cut cold fat (in this case, butter) into the dough in order to form layers that turn flaky during baking. This “cut in” or “shortening method” of making dough is actually very important to the consistency of your final baked product, but it turns out that using two forks works just as well as a fancy pastry-blending contraption. According to Sara Phillips at

To “cut in” in serves the function of distributing the fat particles into the dry ingredients, typically flour, and coating and lubricating flour granules. This method greatly reduces the ability of the gluten proteins [gliadin and glutenin] in the flour to create gluten when mixed later with a liquid, such as water or milk.1,2

Pretty neat, huh? Unless you anticipate making a lot of scones, biscuits, piecrusts, etc., then I don’t suggest running out to purchase yet another piece of kitchen equipment. (If you’re anything like me, it’s getting more and more difficult to find places to store everything!)

My first batch of apricot-ginger scones prior to going into the oven.

My first batch of apricot-ginger scones prior to going into the oven.

Another brief warning to you fellow scone novices as well: if your dough is crumbly, difficult to form and/or refuses to be neatly cut into wedges, do not fear! I nearly had a heart attack when making my first batch. They refused to stay in the prescribed triangular shape, and I was afraid that this week’s post would be a complete failure. My advice? Just try your best to shape them (without over-working the dough) and I promise they will turn out delicious and rustic-looking. My co-workers devoured all of the blog goodies I brought in again this week… And they even offered to provide testimonials!

Now that you’ve gotten your daily dose of food science and your baking pep-talk, here’s some background on scones:

Authenticity is a major issue that plagues these flaky treats. Even the pronunciation of “scone” is highly debated—usually between Brits and Americans (skahn vs. skohn). Regardless of how you pronounce it, your scone recipe is probably guaranteed to anger someone on either side of the pond.

The original scones are said to have developed in Scotland as rounds of oat and barley dough that were cooked atop hot griddles, and then cut into wedges.3 Much like today, these quick breads were cheap to make and contained ingredients that were usually on hand or easily accessible. As Julia Moskin states:

They were a simple combination of fat, flour and liquid, which became softer and lighter as wheat, butter and leaveners like baking soda and baking powder became widely available.3

Eventually, British scones were brought to the United States, where they underwent further transformation. With the addition and substitution of a few ingredients, decadent Southern biscuits were born. Chef Andre Geary states that there are a few main differences between British and Americanized scones: butter, sugar, and add-ins. Rather than upping the butter and sugar content in the dough, Brits prefer to eat their freshly baked scones with butter, jams, or clotted cream alongside their afternoon tea.4 As far as add-ins go, the Brits prefer to keep things simple there as well. Chef Geary mentions a few traditional lackluster options such as currants or raisins, but it’s Americans who tend to push the envelope with chocolate, nuts, and other treats mixed into their scones.

My wedges started coming together much easier on the last batch.

My wedges started coming together much easier on the last batch.

Below I have provided the basic scone recipe that I used for this week’s post and the two flavorful adaptations I tried: apricot-ginger and asiago-rosemary.

Best-Ever Scones

(From Southern Living)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup cold butter, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 cup whipping cream, divided
  • Wax paper

Preheat the oven to 450°. Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or two forks) until crumbly. Freeze for 5 minutes.

Add ¾ cup plus 2 Tbsp. cream, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened through.

The asiago- rosemary scone dough.

The asiago- rosemary scone dough.

Turn the dough out onto wax paper and gently press or pat it into a 7-inch round (mixture will be crumbly). Cut the round into eight equal wedges. Place the wedges 2 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the remaining 2 Tbsp. cream just until moistened.

Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until golden.


Sweet Apricot-ginger Scones:

Apricot-ginger scones after baking.

Apricot-ginger scones after baking.

Stir in ½ cup finely chopped dried apricots and 2 Tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger with the cream. (Don’t be afraid to add a little bit of extra apricot or ginger. The flavor is wonderful!)

Savory Rosemary, Pear, and Asiago Scones:

Omit sugar. Stir in ¾ cup finely chopped fresh pear, ½ cup grated Asiago cheese, and 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary with the cream. (I omitted the pear in this recipe, added a bit of extra grated cheese and chopped rosemary to the dough, and then sprinkled even more asiago on top to make a nice crust.)

So how do you like your scones? Lots of add-ins? Served with jam and butter?

  1. Phillips, S. (2000). Mixing Method – Cut In or Cutting In. Crafty Baking. Retrieved from
  2. Castro, J. (2013, September 17). What is Gluten? Live Science. Retrieved from
  3. Moskin, J. (2014, February 25). Biscuits and Scones Share Tender Secrets. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  4. The Difference Between British and American Scones: Test Cook Andrea Geary Explains. (2015) Cook’s Illustrated. Retrieved from

The Dish

After a thoroughly busy week at work, I decided that I should try a new drink recipe tonight. Fortunately, with a little digging, I found a fairly simple recipe for white sangria that seemed promising. I had the citrus, basil (thanks, mom’s herb garden!), white wine, and orange juice on hand, and all I needed to procure was a bit of brandy. Even luckier for me, it turns out that my mom unknowingly had a dusty bottle of brandy hidden away in the very back corner of her liquor cabinet. Tonight’s end of the week treat was practically free! Well… sort of…

SANGRIAWhat really drew me to this recipe was the white wine base (I’m slowly warming up to reds), the citrus and herbal notes, and the lack of chunky, floating fruit pieces. Sliced fruit may give sangria some lovely flavor, but I’m not a fan of spending a bunch of money and time on fruit just to soak it in perfectly good wine. Also, trying to drink my booze through fruit salad isn’t really my jam.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy adult drink for a day by the pool or an afternoon on the beach, this recipe is perfection. Just be sure to have everything chilled and plenty of ice on hand to stave off the heat!

Here’s the link to the recipe:

Earlier this week I had a kind of revelation. A little over a year ago, I happened upon a “healthier” pumpkin pancake recipe online that I figured I would be crazy about. The only catch was that it used chickpea flour instead of regular AP flour in order to boost the protein content. Chickpeas are one of my favorite foods (I’ll eat them straight out of the can any time), and I wait all year until it’s autumn and I can start savoring pumpkin-y goodness in all forms; therefore I figured this would be a new favorite.

Of course, I did a major no-no and made these pancakes for the very first time for a guest. My best friend had moved states away months before, but was back in town visiting briefly, and I promised her a fantastic pumpkin pancake feast before her flight home. To my horror, what I ended up serving her can only be described as “bean pancakes.” They were awful, but she never even hinted at the fact that they tasted as if I had literally mixed garbanzo beans and pumpkin, plopped them on the griddle, and served them to her with maple syrup. (This is one of the reasons why she is an incredible friend!) We laughed about it eventually, but I have had this sorry bag of leftover chick pea flour lingering in my pantry for over a year now. Until…

FullSizeRender-2The other night I had a serious craving for pizza, but no tomato sauce, yeast for dough, or mozzarella on hand. Rather than ordering out, I decided to try my hand at making a yeast-less pizza dough. After I found a decent-looking recipe, I figured I’d attempt to hide a bit of my useless chick pea flour in the dough by substituting it for about 1/3 of the AP flour that was called for. It was absolutely delicious!

Instead of the usual tomato-based pizza formula, I used some leftover pesto for sauce, and for toppings, I added some sliced garlic cloves, plenty of red pepper flakes, a couple of chopped kalamata olives, feta crumbles, and some grated Romano cheese. For an entirely experimental snack, this flatbread turned out surprisingly well. I can’t wait to try it again when I have real sauces and toppings available!

Do you have any cooking experiments that ended up being complete duds? What about unexpected hits?

That’s all for The Dish this week. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Artichokes 101

Get to the heart of the art of cooking and eating these odd vegetables.

One of the best parts of moving back home to Naples, Florida, is having some more sophisticated food choices at my fingertips. I have already publicly confessed my love of chicken wings two weeks ago in The Dish, but I am really excited to have access to restaurants that serve something other than college town pub food or discount sushi (something that really shouldn’t exist). Now all I need is a spare moment away from work, cooking, and blogging to grab a friend and chow down!

Bricktop’s, a favorite lunch spot of mine here in town, happens to serve grilled artichokes with aioli dipping sauce as an appetizer. Even after ordering this dish countless times, I still can’t believe how something so simple can be so delicious. Frozen artichoke hearts are a staple in my kitchen, but I had never actually prepared fresh, whole artichokes before. So, this week I decided to try something new! (Also, truth be told, my bank account took a bit of a hit after last week’s decadent osso buco post, so I was looking for something a little easier on my wallet and my waistline.)

Sadly, as a young adult still stuck in the apartment stage of life, I’m not currently able to own a grill. In lieu of grilled ‘chokes, I decided to try both steaming and roasting them. After a bit of research, it was very clear to me that most people are seriously intimidated by these prehistoric-looking flower buds. The truth of the matter is that they couldn’t be easier to prepare.

IMG_4394Here’s a bit of background info on artichokes:

Although they are available pretty much year-round, the peak season for artichokes is spring. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I may have bought the very last of this season’s crop at Whole Foods earlier this week. All of the photos accompanying artichoke recipes online show crisp, vibrant green buds, but the ones I brought home—the only four left in the entire store—had very little in common with their more glamorous counterparts. They were still very tasty, regardless! A friend of mine opted to be my guinea pig this week, and I think we both decided that the steamed version was our favorite.

As I mentioned, artichokes are actually immature flowers of a species of thistle plant. The rigid ‘petals’ surrounding the artichoke are actually called bracts, and they help protect the flower inside from harsh weather and pests (like hungry, aioli-wielding humans).1 At the base of each bract is a bit of edible flesh, and deeper within the artichoke are the renowned heart and choke.

Be careful not to confuse the two! The heart is very tender and flavorful, while the choke is fibrous and will leave you feeling like you tried to swallow a handful of sawdust if you accidentally eat it. After peeling away (and savoring) all of the heartier bracts, you will be left with a stem and/or base with some softer, smaller petals. Upon removing these, you will see the fuzzy choke. Remove all of these fibers, and underneath you will find the prized heart!

Artichokes are suspected to have originated in the Mediterranean, although they quickly became popular and spread throughout the world over the centuries.2 Interestingly enough, nearly 100% of all commercially produced artichokes in the United States are grown in California.3 Scientists believe that the contemporary globe variety of artichoke actually descended from wild cardoons, which are also a part of the thistle family, but spikier and altogether more bizarre looking.2

However, the ancient Greek origin story surrounding the beloved artichoke is a bit more dramatic. It is said that the god Zeus fell madly in love with a mortal woman named Cynara, seduced her, made her a goddess, and brought her back to Mount Olympus to live with him. (Doesn’t sound too shabby, eh?) But poor Cynara became lonely and began secretly returning home to visit her family. Of course, the almighty Zeus eventually caught her sneaking around. This angered him so much that he banished her from Olympus and turned her into an artichoke.2 Leave it to the ancient Greeks to think up a scandalous and soap-opera-worthy origin story for an edible thistle bud…

:O artichoke style

:O artichoke style

Now that you’ve got a bit of background on this mysterious vegetable, here’s some practical information as well:

Basic Artichoke Prep

Before you start tackling any kind of recipe using whole artichokes, it’s important to know how to clean and prepare them. These tend to brown quickly once you start working with them, so try not to start your prep until you’re ready to pop them into the oven, onto the grill, etc. If you’re worried about your artichokes browning, or trying to get your prep done ahead of time, have half a lemon on hand to rub along the freshly trimmed areas in order to prevent oxidation. Here’s the skinny on ‘chokes:

  1. Like any kind of produce, rinse your artichokes well with cold water.
  2. Remove any small straggler leaves or unsightly dangly bits along the base of the bud and the stem.
  3. Cut about an inch off the top of the bulb.
  4. If you wish to keep the entire artichoke intact, trim a quarter inch off the stem and use a vegetable peeler to remove the fibrous outer layer. Otherwise, remove the entire stem.
  5. If your artichoke has small barbs at the end of each petal, use a pair of kitchen shears to snip off these sharp points.

Your are now ready to become an artichoke master!

Steamed Artichokes

(Adapted from ‘How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke’ by Elise Bauer on Simply Recipes)

  • 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 lemon, halved, plus juice
  • A few tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Black peppercorns (optional)
Artichokes near the end of the steaming process.

Artichokes near the end of the steaming process.

In a large pot, add a couple inches of water, the garlic, a few pinches of salt, the bay leaf, oil, and peppercorns, if using. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pot, and add the juiced halves as well. Bring this mixture to a boil.

Once boiling, insert a steamer basket into the pot and place the artichokes on top. If you are not using a basket, simply place the artichokes stem end up in the pot. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.

Allow the artichokes to steam for 25 to 45 minutes depending on their size. When done, the outer leaves at the base of the stem can be removed easily.

Simply Roasted Artichokes

(From Chef John on

  • 4 artichokes, washed and prepared as stated above
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ good olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a bowl, gently spread the petals of each artichoke apart and drizzle the olive oil and lemon juice over the tops of the buds.

Insert a paring knife into the middle of each artichoke in order to create a small space. Insert a garlic clove into each cavity, and then season to taste with salt.

Roasted artichokes make me smile!

Roasted artichokes make me smile!

Wrap each artichoke tightly with a piece of parchment paper, and then again with a piece of foil (or two). Place the artichokes on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I recommend serving the cooked ‘chokes warm with aioli or your favorite dipping sauce. What is your favorite way to cook and eat artichokes?

  1. Harrison, M. (2011, March 9). Bracts: Leaves, Petals, or Something Else? Dave’s Garden. Retrieved from
  2. Rupp, R. (2014, November 12). The History of Artichokes. National Geographic. Retrieved from
  3. California Artichoke Advisory Board. (2015). Retrieved from

The Dish

Since I’ve been back at work, I’ve been really racking my brain for healthy, satisfying lunch ideas to make ahead at the beginning of the week and just grab on my way out the door in the morning. After having been in school for the past twenty-something years, you’d think I have a hefty reserve of lunch recipes. But honestly, you can only eat so many ham sandwiches, boring salads, and microwaved leftovers while at work or school. Lunch is supposed to be that special meal that reinvigorates students and employees to get them through that last stretch of the day. Fortunately, with a little bit of digging, I found a fabulous recipe that is satiating, delicious, and easy to make. Not to mention it only gets better after the flavors meld a bit. Here is the link to 101 Cookbooks’ incredible Sprout Salad, one of my favorite go-to lunch or snack options:

Until now, I had only made the recipe with Leasa brand “Snack Sprouts,” which is a combination of adzuki, lentil, and mung bean sprouts. This was all that was available at my local supermarket, but I found the mixture to be very flavorful!

Another favorite item that’s been on my mind this week happens to be a prepared food. I know… I already feel guilty wanting to feature this snack, but it is so worth mentioning.

I have countless cherished memories of growing up in the Florida Keys, and one of these happens to be snacking on smoked fish dip out on the water with friends and family.

I can't get enough of this stuff.

I can’t get enough of this stuff. (Also, I made that fantastic dish with my bare hands at camp!)

A few months ago, I was making a quick run through Whole Foods Market’s seafood section to grab salmon for dinner, when I saw a guy setting up a sample table out of the corner of my eye. He casually started a conversation with me and explained that he was about to kick off a sampling of fish dip from the keys. Of course, I felt compelled to tell him that’s where I was born and raised. Although I was in a hurry and he had barely unpacked his merch, he opened the first container just for me try. At first taste, I was immediately transported back to the salty fishing town I grew up in. Voila—Islamorada on a buttery cracker. I told him I was sold, grabbed a container of my own, and bustled on home.

This dip certainly gets me smilin'!

This dip certainly gets me smilin’!

I must warn you, though, this stuff is addicting. But, your guests will definitely thank you if you serve it at your next summer get-together. (You might want to buy a couple of containers, though!) Smilin’ Bob’s ships their dip, and there’s a list of locations where it’s available on their website.

That’s it for the dish this week! Enjoy your weekend, everyone 🙂

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