Category Archives: Cheese

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

I’m not a squash fan. Or at least, I didn’t use to be. I’ve been gradually teaching myself to like it. The main trick I have learned in teaching myself to like new foods is to start by cooking it in a similar recipe as foods I do like.

I like spaghetti. With red sauce and cheese.  Now I’m not going to tell you that spaghetti squash tastes exactly like spaghetti. It doesn’t really. In fact, it doesn’t really taste like much at all. When you cook it with cheese and spaghetti sauce, mostly what you taste is cheese and spaghetti sauce. But the spaghetti squash has a nice texture (a little firmer than an actual noodle but not that different) and it’s a great conveyance for your favorite flavors.

The star of this dish – for me – was the ricotta topping. It’s hard to feel like you are missing out when you are eating something so rich and creamy. And here’s the kicker. My daughter ate SQUASH and it was all because she loved the ricotta stuff so much. I gave her a tiny spoonful of this dish (I have a rule that you have to at least try everything once) and told her if she hated it she could make herself a sandwich. Normally she hates squash, so this is how I was expecting it to go down. But instead she went back, loaded up her bowl and ate it all. It was some sort of squashy miracle.

One note on cooking the squash: some people cook it whole, some cut it in half. It will cook faster if you cut it in half (in about 45 minutes or so), but wrestling these things into submission when they are raw is not always easy. I found it much easier to break this sucker down when it was cooked and tender, so I left mine whole.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Spaghetti Squash Gratin
(from Recipe Sweet)

1 spaghetti squash

Sauce:
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, drained and smooshed with your fingers or coarsely chopped (or you can use diced ones)
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn

Gratin Topping:
1 (15 oz.) container part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400˚. Poke your squash with a fork or knife a few times and place in the oven whole (I put mine on a pan just in case it leaked some juices). Roast for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until tender. Let it cool just a bit so you can handle it. (You can do this the day before or earlier in the day if time is an issue).

Slice it in half, scoop out the seeds in the middle (discard the seeds), and then using a fork, comb through the squash, creating “spaghetti” strands. Place these in the bottom of your baking dish. Drizzle with just a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Toss a bit with your fingers to combine.

Looks like spaghetti!

Looks like spaghetti!

In a saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Add garlic and crushed red pepper.  Cook and stir for a minute. Add tomatoes, salt & pepper, Italian seasoning and wine. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer for 15 minutes. Pour over the top of the squash and spread out so all of the squash is covered.

Smother anything in this sauce and it will be good.

Smother anything in this sauce and it will be good.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, parmesan and seasonings.  Carefully spread ricotta mixture over the top of the red sauce.

Ready to cook!

Ready to cook!

Bake at 400˚ for 40-45 minutes, until lightly browned. Dig in!

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Roasted Tomato Soup with Cheesy Crostini

It was around 20 degrees when I woke up this morning.  With a bit of snow.  That’s right folks!  It snows in Oregon!  Which makes this a stellar day for working in jammies, enjoying the fireplace and eating soup!

One of the only soups I still buy in a can is tomato soup.  Until now, that is.  This was the easiest, tastiest homemade tomato soup I have ever made. I’ve made tomato soup before but have always used canned tomatoes. This recipe uses fresh tomatoes, roasted in the oven.  It was so easy and added a depth of flavor that was just spectacular.  I may never buy another can of Campbell’s soup again.

The recipe I used to make this also included grilled cheese bites as croutons.  You can do that if you want to, but although I love grilled cheese, soggy bites of it didn’t really appeal to me.  I made cheesy crostini instead.  Crunchy, gooey, and perfect for dipping.  This is comfort food at its finest!

Roasted Tomato Soup.  Perfect.

Roasted Tomato Soup. Perfect.

Roasted Tomato Soup
(slightly adapted from getoffyourtushandcook.com)

3-4 lbs plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 yellow onion, cut into large dice
6 cloves of garlic (4 left whole for roasting and 2 minced for sauteeing)
4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/3 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp.  balsamic vinegar
6 oz can tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped (plus a little extra for garnish)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup half-n-half (0ptional)

Preheat oven to 375. Lay the tomatoes, onions, and 4 garlic cloves onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment or foil.  Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
No need to peel anything.  Just cut in half and throw on the pan with the onion and garlic.

No need to peel anything. Just cut in half and throw on the pan with the onion and garlic.

Roast for 50 min to 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool.
Roasted to perfection.

Roasted to perfection.

Once the roasted tomato/onion/garlic mixture has cooled a bit, transfer it to a blender and puree until smooth.
In a soup pot over medium heat, add 1 T olive oil, 2 cloves minced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook a minute or so until garlic is fragrant but not brown.
Pour in the pureed tomato mixture and cook about 5 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, chopped basil, red wine, chicken stock and balsamic vinegar and stir to combine.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil and then reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.
Cheese Crostini.  Perfect for dipping!

Cheese Crostini. Perfect for dipping!

Cheesy Crostini
1 baguette
Shredded cheese (I used mozzarella and cheddar)
Heat oven to 425˚.  Slice the baguette on a bias to create long oval pieces.  Lay out on a baking sheet and top each with a little pile of cheese. Bake for a 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and edges of bread are starting to brown.  Remove and serve with soup!

 

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Spinach-Feta Omelet with Pine Nuts

I’ve given up buying cereal.  Whenever I do, we each have a bowl and then watch it sit on the shelf thereafter, slowing going stale.  Suffice it to say none of us are big fans of the stuff, in spite of the occasional craving.  I feel better and less hungry throughout the day when I have a bit of protein in the morning instead.

This delicious omelet makes a perfect breakfast or lunch.  The pine nuts add a nutty touch that works beautifully with the spinach.  Add them near the end of sauteing the veggies, since they burn easily.

Spinach-Feta Omelet with Pine Nuts

Spinach-Feta Omelet with Pine Nuts

Spinach-Feta Omelet with Pine Nuts

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup baby spinach, coarsely chopped
1 tsp pine nuts
2-3 tbsp. feta cheese
2-3 eggs
Salt & pepper

Beat eggs with a pinch of salt & pepper and set aside.

Heat a medium skillet (I prefer a 10″ skillet for omelets) over medium heat.  Add a drizzle of olive oil and rub around skillet to coat entirely.  Add onion and sauté 2-3 minutes, until tender.  Add spinach and pine nuts.  Cook, stirring frequently another minute or two, until spinach is slightly wilted.  Remove veggies to a plate.

Cooking the veggies.  I only cook until the spinach is just barely cooked.

Keep an eye on the veggies so your pine nuts don’t burn!

Add eggs to the skillet.  Swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan.  Using a spatula, push or lift the edges of the egg, tilting the pan so the runny egg fills the empty spot.  Keep doing this until there is no runny egg.  You will end up with a bumpy, moon crater surface of an omelet, with the egg mostly cooked but still glossy on top.

Scatter cheese all over the surface, and then put the veggies just on one half.

Yum!

Yum!

Cook a minute until cheese starts to melt, fold omelet over, slide out of the pan and serve immediately.

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Tomato Quiche Cups

I love quickie breakfasts.  Even more, I love quickie breakfasts that are delicious.  Baked eggs are an easy and very tasty way to start the day.  Ever since I bought my ramekins, these have been coming out of my oven on a regular basis.  What I really love about them is that there are so many variations!  Whatever your imagination (and refrigerator) can dream up will most likely turn into a tasty breakfast.

Sometimes I just break the eggs into the cups on top of the veggies and meat.  But I was in the mood for something a bit fluffier so I added a little cream and beat it into the eggs for a more quiche-like texture.  The result?  Fluffy, light and oh so good!

Pretty and so good!

So pretty and so good!

Tomato Quiche Cups

For each cup:

1plum tomato, diced
1 oz. hard salami, cut into matchsticks or small cubes (1-2 tbsp)
2 slices brie cheese
2 eggs
1 tbsp. heavy cream
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray your ramekins with cooking spray.  Place tomatoes and salami in the bottom.

Tomato & salami.  Feel free to sub bacon or pepperoni, or leave out for a vegetarian version.

Tomato & salami. Feel free to sub bacon or pepperoni, or leave out for a vegetarian version.

Top with brie.

Top with brie.  Feel free to use a different cheese if you prefer (or no cheese).

Top with brie. Feel free to use a different cheese if you prefer (or no cheese).

Whisk together eggs, cream and a pinch of salt & pepper.  Pour over veggies and cheese.

All ready to go in the oven.  Be sure to make on a baking sheet, just in case they spill over just a bit as they cook.

All ready to go in the oven. Be sure to make on a baking sheet, just in case they spill over just a bit as they cook.

Place ramekins on a baking sheet (sometimes they poof up so much you get a little overflow so this is a good idea).  Bake 15-20 minutes until eggs are set.  The quiche will be poofed up when you first take it out.

Let sit for a couple of minutes.  The eggs will settle as it cools, looking more like this:

Deflated a bit after cooling a few minutes.  Dig in!

Deflated a bit after cooling a few minutes. Dig in!

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Baby Lasagnas

Pinterest is a tiny addiction of mine.  Equal parts inspiration and time suck. I like to go and browse and discover and pin things that I’m sure I will create at some point.  And sometimes I do.  But sometimes the pins sit there on my board, unloved and unmade.  The other day I made a list of about 70 (!) recipes that I had pinned that I REALLY wanted to make (and no, that’s not all of them, and yes, I’ve pinned more since).  I’m systematically making my way through the list over the next 2-3 months.

This is a recipe I pinned quite a while ago from one of my favorite blogs, Can You Stay For Dinner?, and I’m thrilled to report they turned out every bit as good as I had hoped, and have come to expect from her recipes.  My version is slightly different from the original (is this any surprise?). Quick to make and seriously, who doesn’t love lasagna that bakes in 10 minutes?  No doubt I’ll be making these again.

Baby Lasagna!  Adorable.  And delicious!

Baby Lasagna! Adorable. And delicious!

Baby Lasagnas
(adapted from canyoustayfordinner.com)

6 oz. lean ground beef
1-2 Italian sausage links
1 cup chopped onion
Salt & pepper
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (I used about 2/3 of a 28 oz. can)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp. dry oregano, divided
1/4 cup red wine (optional
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped (or sub 1/2 tsp. dry basil)
1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
24 square wonton wrappers (found in the produce section)
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375˚.  In a large skillet crumble beef.  Remove casings from sausage links and crumble that in there too.  Add mushrooms and onions.  Sauté until meat is no longer pink.  Add garlic and cook and stir a minute more.  Add tomatoes and 2 tsp. of oregano, a pinch of salt and pepper, and red wine.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or so.  Set aside.

Yummy red sauce.  My version uses lean versions of beef & Italian sausage.

Yummy red sauce. My version uses lean beef & Italian sausage.

In a small bowl mix ricotta cheese with 1 tsp. oregano, a few grinds of pepper and fresh basil. Mix well and set aside.

Creamy, delicious ricotta mixture.  Yum.

Creamy, delicious ricotta mixture. Yum.

Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.  Place one wonton skin in the bottom of each cup, pressing firmly to the bottom and sides.  Divide half the meat sauce among the lasagnas, placing a spoonful or so in the bottom of each cup.

babylasagna3

Top with half the ricotta mixture.  I dropped a spoonful on each one and then gave it a little smear to smash it down a bit.

babylasagna4

Sprinkle with half the mozzarella.

babylasagna5

Gently press another wonton skin on top of the cheese.

One more time...with feeling!

One more time…with feeling!

Repeat the above sequence, with sauce, ricotta and mozzarella.

Ready to go in the oven.

Ready to go in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes or so.

After they are cool, insert a butter knife down the side and gently lift it out.

After they are cool, insert a butter knife down the side to gently lift it out.

Remove from muffin tin and serve.  Makes 12 baby lasagnas.

Mmmm.

Mmmm.

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Smothered Breakfast Burrito

Last week I posted a recipe for an amazing pork green chili.  Now just in case you are thinking it’s summertime and too hot for chili, just let me remind you there are other things you can do with chili beyond eating it out of a bowl.  Welcome to Casa de April, where I make a breakfast burrito I would pay for in a restaurant.  Green chili is the key that takes it from ordinary to incredible.  So make the chili, which freezes beautifully by the way, freeze in small batches to bring out for breakfast!  And although I say breakfast, I would eat this for any meal of the day.

Smothered Breakfast Burrito.  More please.

Smothered Breakfast Burrito. More please.

Smothered Breakfast Burrito

For each burrito:
1 small/medium potato
2 eggs
1/4 cup shredded cheese
1/2 cup green chili (or more!)
Flour tortilla
Sliced avocado

Heat chili in a saucepan or microwave until hot.  Set aside and keep warm.  Poke potatoes and microwave for a few minutes until fork tender.  Dice or chop potatoes.  Beat eggs in a bowl with a pinch of salt & pepper.  Warm tortillas in the oven or microwave (if I’m doing a bunch I wrap them in foil and stick them in the oven while I’m making everything else; if it’s just one I nuke it).

Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add a drizzle of oil or butter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan (or you can use cooking spray).  Add potato and cook for a couple of minutes, until starting to brown a bit.  Add eggs and scramble with the potatoes.  Sprinkle in the cheese, toss with the other ingredients and remove from heat.

Melty yummy goodness on the inside.

Melty yummy goodness on the inside.

Wrap in a tortilla and top with chili and avocado.

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Quickie Greek Pizza

It’s hard to get much quicker than this little weeknight treat.  It’s so easy I’m not sure it actually qualifies as a recipe, but here it goes anyway.

I buy hummus from a stand at farmer’s market a pretty regular basis.  With so many varieties there is always a new one to try.  But beyond the dipping extravaganza, who knew that it would work just great as a pizza topping?  Well now we know.  Combined with a pita and Greeky sorts of toppings it was just lovely.  And pretty healthy too, gotta like that!

Quickie Greek Style Pizza

Quickie Greek Pizza

Quickie Greek Pizza

1 Greek style pita
2-3 tbsp. hummus, whatever variety you like best
Kalamata olives
Sun-dried tomatoes (I usually use the kind packed in olive oil)
1 tsp. pine nuts
Feta, mozzarella or queso fresco

As you can see from my stellar measurements here, I usually don’t measure anything.  Simply spread the hummus over the pita and sprinkle toppings on in whatever quantity you like!  Crumble some cheese on top and grind a bit of pepper on top.

Now of course you could just eat it like this.  But if you want it hot and crispy, cook it!

Now of course you could just eat it like this. But if you want it hot and crispy, cook it!

For a nice crisp crust, I cooked mine right on the oven rack.  About 10 minutes at 375˚ or until it’s melted and crispy on the bottom.

If you want it less crispy, put it on a pan first and don't cook it as long.

If you want it less crispy, put it on a pan first and don’t cook it as long.

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Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

I always have a more productive day (with a lot less snacking) if I start off with a little protein in the morning.  These little egg cups are quick to throw together and they bake while you’re getting dressed and brushing your teeth.  Perfect for weekday mornings.  Or any mornings.  Or an afternoon snack.

I usually keep a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in my fridge for little things like this.  I prefer the kind that are packed in olive oil, but you can use any kind you like.  They give a huge punch of flavor to just about anything.  I had leftover asparagus from dinner the night before.  If you don’t I would recommend a quick toss in a pan or microwave just to soften it a bit, although if you like it on the crunchy side, it’s not absolutely necessary.  Feel free to adjust the ingredients in this dish to your tastes, adding or removing elements as you like.

Baked eggs with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.

Baked eggs with asparagus and sun-dried tomatoes.

Baked Eggs with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

For each ramekin:

2-3 stalks asparagus, cut into bite size pieces
1 tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, sliced or chopped (I usually buy the ones already in julienne strips)
1 strip bacon
1-2 eggs
1-2 tbsp. crumbled or shredded cheese (I used queso fresco)
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Spray each ramekin lightly with cooking spray or rub with olive oil.  Cook bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.  Crumble or chop.

Layer your ingredients in the ramekins.  I started with the asparagus.

aspsundriedeggs

Then the sun-dried tomatoes. No worries if there are some bits of cold oil stuck to them, it permeates the dish nicely as it cooks.

aspsundriedeggs2

Top with bacon and some of the cheese.

aspsundriedeggs3

Break two eggs carefully on top.  Sprinkle with salt & pepper and remaining cheese.

aspsundriedeggs4

Carefully put into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until eggs are set.  This paired perfectly with some homemade hash browns.  Want to know how to get them just right?  Click here for my hash brown recipe.

 

Baked eggs with hash browns on the side.  Mmmm!

Baked eggs with hash browns on the side. Mmmm!

 

 

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Shredded Pork Enchilada Casserole

Casseroles are and probably have always been the best dumping ground for leftovers.  Way back in caveman days I can only imagine the cave-wife saying “what the heck am I going to do with all this leftover mammoth?” And then she thought, “I’ll mix it with these weeds and seeds, stick it in a bowl, cook it in the fire and call it good.”

I finally used the last of my giant pork roast and this was arguably my favorite recipe of them all.  I’m not a huge casserole lover, but occasionally it’s just the most satisfying and comforting thing.  This one tastes like enchiladas, without all the work of actually making enchiladas.  The sauce is a very quick blender affair, and the casserole comes together in a jiffy.  Nice weekday meal that will seem like you slaved over it (even if you didn’t).

Queso fresco is a Mexican style white cheese similar to mozzarella.  It’s very mild and delicious and melts beautifully!  Rather than shredding it you can just crumble it apart in your fingers.  Great on anything from tacos to salads.

Shredded Pork Enchilada Casserole

Shredded Pork Enchilada Casserole

Shredded Pork Enchilada Casserole

2-3 cups shredded pork (click here for my basic pork roast recipe)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1 package corn tortillas
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled
1/2 cup cheddar, shredded
1/2 cup tomato, chopped

Verde Sauce:
12 oz. tomatillos (7-8 large)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 jalapenos, stemmed and seeded
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped roasted green chiles (or one 4 oz. can)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 garlic cloves, chopped

Preheat oven to 375˚.  Remove husks and stems from tomatillos and put in a small saucepan.  Cover with water; boil for 10 minutes or until tender.  Drain and transfer to a blender with the rest of the sauce ingredients.  Blend until smooth.

Homemade verde sauce.  So quick and easy!

Homemade verde sauce. So quick and easy!

Mix pork with sour cream, cumin and chili powder.  Add salt & pepper to taste if needed.

In the bottom of your casserole dish, ladle enough sauce to liberally cover the bottom of the dish.  Lay out tortillas in a single layer and top with pork mixture.

Building your casserole, just repeat from here.

Building your casserole, just repeat from here.

Repeat layers of tortillas and pork until ingredients are used up.  End with tortillas on top.

I like to finish with the tortillas on top and then pour sauce over the whole thing.

I like to finish with the tortillas on top and then pour sauce over the whole thing.

Pour verde sauce over the whole thing (you may not use all your sauce – you can serve extra on the side, keep it for something else or freeze it for later).  Sprinkle queso fresco and tomatoes over the top and finish with a sprinkle of cheddar.

All ready to pop in the oven.  So pretty!

All ready to pop in the oven. So pretty!

Bake for 30 minutes or so until heated through and melty.

All cozy in a bowl.  I served this with a black bean and veggie salad on the side.

All cozy in a bowl. I served this with a black bean and veggie salad on the side.

Serve with salad on the side for a satisfying, lip smacking dinner!

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Smoky Spinach Quiche

Long before I enjoyed eating spinach on any sort of regular basis, I tasted spinach quiche and fell in love.  The combo of eggs and cheese and spinach that wasn’t the least bit slimy or gooey was a winner for me.  It was definitely a gateway to liking spinach for this girl.  It was also a gateway to getting my kids to eat it later on.

This version combines a little bacon and a combination of smoked cheddar and swiss for a smoky twist on one of my favorites.  It comes together in mere moments, leaving you time to toss a salad and watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while it cooks. Even slayers need to eat their vegetables.

Like quiche but not a spinach fan?  Try one of these other versions:
Pizza Quiche
Roasted Sweet Pepper Quiche
Or for a low-carb version, how about Crustless Mushroom & Feta Quiche?

Veggies, cheese, and BACON!  Oh my. Smoky Spinach Quiche

Veggies, cheese, and BACON! Oh my. Smoky Spinach Quiche

Smoky Spinach Quiche

1 pie crust (I prefer Pillsbury refrigerated crust)
1/2 cup chopped red or yellow bell pepper
1 package frozen spinach (thawed and liquid squeezed out)
4 strips bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
3/4 cup grated smoked cheddar or Gruyère cheese (I used a combo of the two)
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups half ‘n’ half
Salt & pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Prep all of your ingredients.  In a small bowl beat eggs, half ‘n’ half, nutmeg and salt & pepper.  Set aside.

Chop, shred, squeeze, beat.  I do all of my prep ahead of time.

Chop, shred, squeeze, beat. I do all of my prep ahead of time.

Pre-heat oven to 425˚. Unroll your pie crust and place in a pie pan (I usually dust with a bit of flour on the bottom to prevent sticking).  Smooth out air bubbles and crimp edges.

Start with the crunchiest ingredients.  I put the peppers in first (reserving a few to sprinkle on top).  Then the spinach.  I prefer to use frozen spinach for this.  Thaw it and squeeze as much of the liquid out as you can.  You can use fresh spinach if you prefer, but if you do, cook it first, cool, and squeeze out any liquid.

Layer the ingredients.  Veggies first.

Layer the ingredients. Veggies first. Be sure to squeeze the liquid out of the spinach so you don’t end up with a soggy quiche.

Continue to layer ingredients, with crumbled bacon and smoky cheese going next.  Sprinkle with the rest of the peppers.

Looking good, almost there!

Looking good, almost there!

Pour egg mixture over the top.

Ready to go in the oven, carefully!

Ready to go in the oven, carefully!

Bake at 425˚ for 15 minutes.  Turn down heat to 350˚ and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let it set for 10 minutes before cutting.

Beautiful!  It will be poofed up like this when it first comes out, and will sink down a bit as it cools.

Beautiful! It will be poofed up like this when it first comes out, and will sink down a bit as it cools.

 

 

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