Smashed potatoes from Closet Cooking

You know what’s amazing and awesome and about to happen to this very gal?! Getting to see your favorite band, in your favorite venue, with your favorite sibling! I’ll be real honest here, I can’t focus on a whole lot else right now. Tomorrow immediately after work, I’m hopping in the car for a solo camera venture across the state, landing in Minneapolis just in time for dinner with friends and then a night full of ROCK! All that excitement to be followed on Saturday by lunching with some favorite ladies, a little retail therapy, and another scenic route home. Just me, visits with rad people, and exactly zero pressure.

It did cross my mind to stay for a second day, but on the way into work this week, I looked around at all the peeps coming to vacation in this town, and I thought, “Huh, do I really want to miss out on a fine weekend afternoon in what will surely be the shortest of summers?” The answer was an emphatic no. That coupled with the fact that the ever talented Himself is willing to work on my car on Sunday, and it’s a def no-brainer, not a single moment wasted away from my north woods paradise.

That said, I’m crazy excited to go, and have exactly zero interest in planning elaborate meals this week. So, because I’m a grown up, it’s appetizers for dinner! Boom! Cause I can. I love this recipe because you can fancy it up for your friends, or do what I did and use leftover bits and pieces languishing in my sad fridge. Intentional ingredients, happy accidents with leftovers, either way, these little bites are so yummy. Think a potato skin with more potato and less grease and guilt.

I’ve copied over the original recipe from Closet Cooking in case you’re ready to wow your friends, but if you just want a little comfort snack, you’ll get the gist of it and adapt away.


Smashed potatoes from thePenandthePan

Smashed potatoes from Closet Cooking

1 pound new potatoes (about 1-1 1/2 inches across), washed
2 tablespoons oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 strips bacon (optional)
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup sour cream
2 green onions, sliced

Bring the potatoes and enough water to cover them by an inch to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until a fork can easily be pushed into them, about 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes, before draining them.

Place the potatoes on a greased baking sheet and ‘smash’ them by pressing down on them with something like a potato masher, the bottom of a glass or bowl, etc.

Brush the potatoes with oil, season with salt and pepper and bake them on the top shelf of a preheated 450F oven until golden brown and crispy on top, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile cook and crumble the bacon.

Sprinkle the cheddar onto the potatoes and optionally broil for a minute to melt the cheese.

Top with the sour cream, bacon and green onions and enjoy as a side or as an appetizer!

Option: You can cook and smash the potatoes a day ahead of time.


Raspberry lemonade bundt cake

You know what the best thing about rainy days is? A total excuse to stay inside, vegging on the couch, indulging in terrible Netflix marathons (thank you Bitten). But really, when it’s raining and I found out they turned one of my favorite sci-fi books into a tv series, what more can you expect?! Also, in the world according to me, you need at least one of those days a month. At least. There you go, feel free to quote me the next time someone tries to make you feel guilty about a day spent making BFF with your tv and your couch.

And now here with this post, you all are going to think I am just the laziest. I mean, I made a cake with a cake mix! <gasp> And yes, I do know how easy it is to make a cake from scratch (go on, take a gander at that apple & lime cake I made for you a while back, I’ll wait). But let me paint a picture for you…

A girl with a foodie bent rushes into the grocery store to pick up exactly two items. Just two. And rushes is key. After a long day, she wants nothing more than to get home, get dinner on the table, and get outside. Racing through the store on a mission for corn meal, she lands in the baking aisle. And there, brightly festooned with the word SALE is a lemon cake mix. A brightly yellow cake that screams sunshine and summer and oh, it’s on sale, that means it’s good. And it’s so yellow, you can just imagine the burst of brightness that will dance on your tongue when it hits that first tastebud. Yeah, so that’s what went through my mind, and so promptly without a second thought grabbed the mix. And then like so many impulse buys, returned home, only to look disappointedly at the package, and thought, “huh, what am I going to do with that?”

Well, here’s what you do. You make a cake so delicious and moist and light and sweetly tart that it is like a burst of sunshine and summer in your mouth. So yes, you know what? Sometimes it is ok to make a cake with a mix.


Raspberry lemonade bundt cake from thePenandthePan

Raspberry lemonade bundt cake

Adapted from the Quick Fixes with Cake Mixes cookbook

1 lemon cake mix
4 eggs
½ cup milk
¼ cup oil
½ cup sugar
1 – 8 oz package of cream cheese
juice of one lemon
1 ½ cups fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon flour

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour one large or three medium bundt pans and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together cake mix, eggs, milk, oil, and sugar on low. Add cream cheese and lemon juice and increase speed to medium, beating 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, toss the berries with flour until well coated. Gently fold berries into mixed batter by hand. Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake for 50-55 minutes for a large bundt pan or 40-45 for smaller.

Cool cakes before removing from pan. Turn cakes out onto platter and dust with powdered sugar. Store uneaten (yeah, right!) cake in refrigerator.

Sourdough starter from Eighty Twenty

Living in a gorgeous area that tourists are beginning to flock to makes it awfully hard to work every day. Terrible problems, I know. But c’mon, when I’m on my way to work and I see the streets filled with campers and boats on trailers I can’t help but feel a surge of jealousy. I do, however, manage to get outside most every chance I can (when not being dive-bombed by mosquitoes seemingly impervious to bug spray, that is). I’ve always dug birds, but the avian wildlife up here is stunning. And they give a task-oriented girl a task to do while sitting still. Ostensibly taking bird photos, in reality I’m relaxing! See…


Now that you’ve admired my new hobby. I have a secret to admit. I am an ungrateful friend. A terrible human being, if you will. You see, remember when I went on and on about the awesome friends we have and the great gifts they filled our arms with during our last whirlwind trip to the city? One of those fantastic gifts was sourdough starter. A sourdough starter that I managed to kill on the way home. (Sorry Dan, it turns out starter gets a little carsick). See, I am the worst.

Then, my first attempts to make my own starter really failed to get off the ground (hee). I tried quite a few recipes before I finally found the winner! It’s easy-peasy. See, I’m trying to make it up by testing all the starter recipes. Am I starting to redeem myself yet?

So now, if you don’t have a generous friend willing to share their sourdough starter you can make your own. And not to worry, I have a few methods for using the starter to share with you in the coming days.


Sourdough Starter from thePenandthePan-1

Sourdough starter

from Eighty Twenty

1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) dry active yeast
2 cups warm water (110 degrees)
2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large glass bowl, combine warm water, yeast, and flour. Place a clean towel over bowl and place in warm dry place.

Every 24 hours, discard 1/2 of the mixture and stir in 1 cup flour and 1 cup warm water. Re-cover and return to a warm dry place. If a liquid layer forms on top of mixture, stir it in prior to each feeding.
After 4-7 days of feedings, mixture will begin to bubble and develop a sour smell as the starter ferments. This means that your starter is done fermenting! At this time, the starter is ready to use! Place mixture in a glass jar and place in refrigerator.

After each use, replace the amount of mixture that was removed with equal parts flour and water (if you use 1 cup replace with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water– this will increase the size of your starter). If not used, feed mixture weekly in the same way you did feedings, by discarding 1/2 of mixture and replacing it with equal parts flour and water.

Green chili cornbread

It finally feels like summer. And this gal has been soaking up every instant of her crazy long, 4-day weekend. I can tell you, not one moment of this weekend wasn’t put to good use, including those frequent moments where it may have looked like I was lounging in the sun. Oh, no I was not lounging. No, mam, it is a well proven fact that this gal doesn’t even know how to lounge. Instead, I was awaiting photo opportunities. And look at my rewards!


Ok, I may have found a moment in there for relaxing. Just a moment, mind you, I mean there was gardening and outdoor work to be had (things ever so near and dear to my heart). And the weather, well, it just doesn’t get more perfect. It’s weekends like these that convince me anew that we live in the best place on earth. 80’s during the day, chilly enough for blankets at night. Welcome to the rest of the summer.

So there two food things that make my frozen heart so happy during these warm months. Smoked meats and green chilies. Weird, right? Don’t judge. Every summer, Himself shows off his prowess with the smoker, and I plant too many banana pepper plants and buy way too much sweet corn. Every single summer, and yet, we never get sick of it. As if to reinforce that statement, the wind chose that very moment to shift directions, bringing me the amazing, tantalizing scents of pork tenderloin adrift on cherrywood smoke woven in with fresh mowed grass.

Where do the green chilies come in, you ask. Well, after planting far too many, I find myself roasting them (and roasting and roasting) at the end of the summer. You’d think I’d learn, but nope, not only did I plant a ridiculous amount of banana peppers, I also found a black Hungarian version, and planted those. And after a lot of setbacks, weather- and self-induced, those plants are finally in the ground.

Oh, but wait, we still want those flavors at the beginning of summer too. Enter this cornbread. Adapted from my mom’s recipe, it’s a real cake-like corn bread with bites of corn and chilies studded throughout. And it’s the perfect, perfect accompaniment to any BBQ meal, or if you’re lucky (and obsessed) like me, the best accompaniment to a meal of smoke meats. Smoked meats, c’mon it’s just so fun to say, let alone eat. But we’re talking cornbread here. This, like yours truly, is of northern stock, meaning a hint of sweet and a lot of “bread” to match that cornmeal. Doesn’t matter if you’re a northern or southern cornbread lover though, you’re going to love the addition of fresh corn and green chilies!


Green chili cornbread from thePenandthePan-1

Green chili cornbread

1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
¼ butter, softened
1 cup milk
Kernels from one ear of corn, about 1 scant cup
½ of a 4-oz can of green chilies, about 2 scant tablespoons

Preheat oven to 425°. Lightly coat an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together butter and egg. Add milk and mix well.

Add wet ingredients to flour and cornmeal mixture. Mix well. Add corn and chilies and continue mixing until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Homemade taffy

You guys, I got to go to a gala this week! I’m more than a little excited. You see for years this gal was the one working the galas, and it was pretty rad to finally be the one experiencing it. Even better was the fact that the whole event was a celebration of living in the best place on earth. It was a premier for a documentary showcasing all the hidden gems in the area. Best part? It was staged like a movie premier complete with paparazzi! Who’s feeling glamorous? Check out the teaser/fundraiser below…

I was also feeling a little nostalgic this week. And so taffy. How do those relate? Well, sit back and I’ll tell you. When I was a kid, my mom gave me free reign in the kitchen, as long as I cleaned up afterwards. What did I do with this freedom? Made huge messes of course. This here taffy was one of those messes. It only turned out about half the time, not because it’s a hard recipe, but because kids are easily distracted. Though the recipe comes straight from a kids cookbook that was my mom’s as a kid, I think candy making is more of an adult thing. I mean boiling sugar? It’s a wonder I don’t have horrific scars on my hands.

Oh, here I go trying to scare you off the recipe. Wait, wait, wait. The reason I kept making it, is that when it did work out (when a recipe says let the candy get to 255°, they mean it, whereas the child in me looked at that as a mere recommendation), ok, when it did work out, it was a blast! Pulling taffy is fun! And the flavor combos are fantastic. This is a recipe you make to share, and share right away, because it won’t stay tasty soft forever. So eat it up! in fact, you should totally be bringing this to your Memorial Day BBQ.


Taffy from the Pen and the Pan-3

Homemade Taffy

from the Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook (my mom’s cookbook from the 60’s)

1 cup sugar (up the ante with ½ cup vanilla sugar and ½ cup sugar, look real close and you’ll see the flecks of vanilla)
½ cup water
¼ cup light corn syrup
⅛ teaspoon salt

Butter a platter and set aside.

Combine all ingredients together in a heavy saucepan. Slowly heat over medium low until all the sugar is dissolved.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until taffy reaches 255° on a candy thermometer.

Pour onto buttered platter at once and allow to cool. When taffy is cool enough to handle, butter hands, gather taffy up, and pull until white and firm.

Taffy from the Pen and the Pan-1


Pull taffy into a rope, twist, and cut with scissors.

Taffy from the Pen and the Pan-2

If desired taffy can be flavored before pulling. Add a few drops of peppermint, 1 teaspoon of vanilla or fruit flavored extract, or 2 tablespoons cocoa just before you start to pull it.

Cranberry banana bread

Someone may have gotten a tad too much sun today. Someone may be paying the price for an afternoon of awesomeness. Someone also promises to remember that even when cloudy, sunscreen is still required when working in the greenhouse.

This three day weekend was everything it promised to be, and makes those long work days so very worth it. Himself had to work on Saturday, so that and Friday were filled with exactly what I wanted them to be – messing around the house and yard. And then today (the first 70 degree day in AGES), we packed up a picnic and headed north to Scenic State Park, for a very scenic drive and picnic. There are few better ways to spend a Sunday, I tell you. Winding back roads, clear skies, a hint of a chill accompanying the breeze. Through the most roundabout way possible, we arrived at Scenic and found ourselves practically the only ones around. In fact, throughout the meal, we had the beach entirely to ourselves and the gorgeous view of the lake was pristine and undisturbed by boat or man.

Course, I’m not really great at this whole relaxation schtick, but days like these certainly make finding time to relax worth it. (Oh don’t worry, I filled the post-picnic time with plenty of greenhouse chores, hence the aforementioned sun blush). Of late though, I’ve found a rad way to relax, while still having something to show for it – nature (birds really) photography. Sitting still, the only sounds the birds singing their hellos to the sun and wind dancing and skipping through the tree branches. And then suddenly, one of those birds darts just close enough to see what the funny lady lounging in *his* backyard is doing.


Oh, hello there, Mr. Birdy. I see you eyeing me, and posing every so coyly as you glance back over your shoulder. So you want to be model, do you? Well, let me just see what I can do. This is definitely becoming my new favorite, second only to a wonderful picnic with my wonderful husband (I know, I know, but he *does* put up with a lot of crazy).

This here banana bread (more like a cake, really) would have been the perfect finisher to our picnic today had I remembered to pack it. Instead, I’ll remember to pack it in our lunches. Don’t let this be the recipe that you forget to make either. Even I, who doesn’t really love banana bread, was ready to devour it. I love the way the cranberries add a little zing, I mean I do love cranberries in everything, but they really dial back the bananas. And the lightness of the bread, so far removed from the dense, moist banana breads I used to make, changes the flavor completely. No mushiness, just deliciousness, you’re going to love it!


Cranberry banana bread

Cranberry banana bread

lightly adapted from perfect baking

1 ½ cups plus 1 teaspoon flour
1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup dried cranberries
2 ripe bananas
4 tablespoons yogurt, plain or honey
½ cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease one large or three small loaf pans.

Roughly chop cranberries. In a small bowl, mix cranberries with 1 teaspoon flour, and stir to coat. Set cranberries aside.

In another small bowl, mash together bananas and yogurt. Set this aside too.

Sift together the remaining 1 ½ cups flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set that aside too.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Add in banana and yogurt mixture.

By hand mix in dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Add in flour-coated cranberries. Spoon batter into pans. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes for one large loaf or 35 minutes for three small, or until just golden on top.

Bacon, tomato, and corn pasta

Is it creepy that every day I’m more and more convinced that I moved to the best place on earth? Are you tired of me going on and on extolling the virtues of living in the woods? Well, tough! Cause I love it here, and you get to hear all about it.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things that are tough, but everything seems so much more balanced than previously. I worked crazy long hours this week, but that just means I get a three day weekend. It’s been cold and gloomy this week, but last weekend was gorgeous and this one promises more of the same. We have a lot of yard work and cleanup on the agenda in the coming weekends (having moved into a place that was vacant and had the bare minimum done to the landscaping) but we have a hot tub to sink into after completing the work. See, it’s hard to get cranky when you’re surrounded by awesome.

I also continue to be amazed at the wildlife that surrounds us. Take for example this adorable (and nuisancey) deer. Sure, it means extra protection on the garden and apple trees, but that sight there still takes my breath away. Ok, maybe it’s because I’m screaming, “Cripes! Watch out for that deer!” but still.


So yeah, it’s been a busy, busy week, and I’m ready to collapse with a book (perhaps into the aforementioned hot tub). But that’s ok, because this tasty-asty pasta comes together in a snap. The bacon, of course, is amazing, but the balsamic cuts the richness. And fresh corn and tomatoes, yum! Even if it doesn’t look like spring yet, delish produce is making it’s way into the stores up here. Normally, you’d find me going on about the importance of local vegetables, but let’s be honest, it’s been a long winter, and that “fresh” sweet corn is starting to look awfully good. So don’t wait until high summer to make this, in fact, don’t even wait until tomorrow!


Bacon tomato corn pasta

Bacon, tomato, and corn pasta

3 ears corn
8 ounces spaghetti
1/2 lb bacon, cut into 1/2 – 1 inch slices
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper diced
1 1/2 cups tomatoes halved
1Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp Chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove corn from cobs and set aside. Place cobs in water and add pasta. Cook pasta to desired doneness. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with 1/2 Tbsp oil. Return pasta to pan, covering to keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook bacon over medium high heat until browned. Remove from pan and place on a paper towel. Drain all but 1 tbsp of bacon fat from pan and add 1 tbsp olive oil. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and green pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add corn and cook about 3 minutes more. Add tomatoes and basil and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in vinegar.

Add vegetables and bacon to pasta, toss with reserved pasta water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with Parmesan.

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