the zen nest

Lemon and Lavender Bread

 

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Hello everyone! Chloë here. While my mom, Erin, Queen of the Nest, isn’t all that fond of baking, I love it! Overwrought, overthought, over sensitive processes are right up my alley, but that being said, I promise, this recipe is fairly simple (and absolutely delicious).

Having started making this a few years ago (adapted from Naina’s recipe from Spice in the City), it became a fast favorite for my family, and I’ve made it maybe a hundred times now since. This was, however, my first time making 13 miniature loaves rather than 1 regular sized (9×5) one. All I did was double everything in the original recipe to ensure I had enough batter to make as many as I liked on this one, and to be honest, I’ll likely stick with doubling it in the future, if only to get more loaves out of it (trust me when I say they’ll all get eaten). For now, though, this is the original recipe (feel free to double it, too, if you like!).

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Lemon and Lavender Bread

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 ts baking powder
  • 1/8 ts baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1tb vanilla extract
  • zest of one lemon (strip her down!)
  • 2tb dried lavender

Lemon Drizzle

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • juice of 1 lemonIMG_3979
  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F and oil up one 9 x 5 inch pan (or double this recipe and opt for a tray of miniature loaves).
  2. In a bowl, mix together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream your butter. Gradually add your sugar and cream the mixture until it is light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add your eggs one at a time, mixing each until fully mixed.
  5. Setting your mixer to low, slowly add about half your dry ingredients, then add your Greek yogurt, and then add the rest of your dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar.
  6. Add your lemon juice, vanilla extract, lavender, and lemon zest and beat on low.
  7. Pour your batter into the oiled up pan and bake your bread for about 50 minutes, just until the edges begin to lightly golden (this isn’t the sort of loaf you want to let get too dark, otherwise it will dry out).
  8. Let the loaf/ loaves cool in the pan before transferring to a wire rack.
  9. Mix your powdered sugar and the juice of a lemon in a small bowl (vary your measurements if needed to your desired consistency), before drizzling it over your delicious lemon and lavender loaf.

Enjoy!

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Valentine’s Day Table Setting

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Valentine’s Day – a barrage of blinding shades of reds and pinks… everywhere. Everywhere except my dining room table, that is! Romantic doesn’t have to mean pulling out the shades of pepto bismol – in can be subtle, different. And I love stepping outside of cliches. So here is it! My out-of-the-box Valentine’s Day tablescape of blue, yellows, and subtle shades of light purple to bring in a slightly more recognizable, highly underrated shade of this particular holiday (the only pink here are these delicious Mini Buttermilk Strawberry Bundt Cakes – recipe here!).

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I’ve had these China plates, cups, and saucers with gorgeous blue, floral edgings for forever (literally, they were my grandmother’s), and these purple napkins and gold chargers were recent finds at my all time favorite store, (you guessed it-), World Market.

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While this table settling is clearly versatile, and doesn’t necessarily have to serve as a strictly Valentine’s Day setting, there really is something romantic about it – a culmination of soft shades, floral patterns, and plenty of potential candle lighting…

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A serene sort of love, accompanied by all of my favorite, lovely little Buddha figurines (honestly, don’t they just make you smile?)…

And plenty of delicious desserts! ((the recipe to Chloë’s go-to lemon and lavender loaf cakes will be up next week, so stay tuned!))…

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Because not to be especially corny, but what what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday all about love, than to step away from the palette set apart for us by Hallmark, and into something that resonates for you, specifically? Why not go into this holiday feelin’ yourself, and loving you?! This year, that’s what I did- and I love it!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!!

 

Mini Buttermilk Strawberry Bundt Cakes (Because Mini Stuff Is Cute)

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Happy Valentine’s Day from The Zen Nest!

I’ve been happily married to my husband/ buffoon Jason for a little over twenty years now, and in all honesty, neither one of us have ever been all that for romantic extravagance. Point in case, a few Valentine’s ago Jason gave me a card with an anatomically correct heart on the cover- sweet, right? But that’s us! So while neither of us are romantic, and I frankly hate baking (more Chloë’s cup of tea), Jason has a sweet tooth bigger than Mars, and I occasionally enjoy killing myself while trying my hand at making a few cakes – bundt cakes, anyway. While I hate baking, I am, in fact, the Queen of the Bundt.

Fortunately, these mini buttermilk strawberry bundt cakes (adapted from a Kitchen Aid recipe) turned out spectacularly! In fact, I totally recommend them for your Valentine’s Day, too!

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Cake

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  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 3/4 cups grandulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup strawberry jam
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring

Ganache

  • 14 ounce sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 TBS strawberry jam
  • 1/2 cup White chocolate chips
  • 1-2 drops red food coloring

 

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Cake

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and spray the bundt pan (I used a pan equipped with six miniature bundt molds and had batter left over) with oil

In a stand mixer, beat butter, oil, sugar, eggs, sour cream, jam and vanilla until well combined

Place the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl

Alternate adding flour then buttermilk to the stand mixer’s contents until well combined

Stir in 3 drops of red food coloring to enhance the color

Transfer the batter to your bundt pan (and if you have some, put your leftover batter into a 9×3 bread pan- that’s what I did, anyway)

Bake for 50 minutes (don’t let them get too dark!)

Remove your mini bundts (and bread pan, if you used one) from oven and allow them to cool completely

Ganache

Heat sweetened condensed milk in a small saucepan over med-low heat

Stirr in jam and white chocolate chips, stir until melted

Stir in 1-2 drops of red food coloring

Turn off the heat and let the ganache cool and thicken for 5 minutes

With a spoon, drizzle icing over the cakes cakes and let it drip down the sides

Serve at room temperature

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leftover batter = success!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Vegetarian Pizza (Three Delicious Ways)

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I recently cut meat out of my diet after realizing how much better I felt without it- maybe not a choice for everyone, but it was an easy enough choice for me. In fact, I can’t even bring myself to miss it with all of the yummy meat substitutes they’ve got now (and tofu, as I recently learned, is delicious)!

All that being said, today is pizza day, so let’s have at it, with some delicious, vegetarian pizzas (and yes, two of them do in fact use vegan sausage- yum)!

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One

  • refrigerated pizza dough
  • red pizza sauce
  • cream cheese
  • mozzarella shredded cheese
  • pepperoncini- sliced
  • vegan sausage-sliced and sauteed

Two

  • refrigerated pizza dough
  • red pizza sauce
  • mozzarella shredded cheese
  • vegan sausage-sliced and sauteed

Three

  • refrigerated pizza dough
  • red pizza sauce
  • mozzarella shredded cheese
  • sauteed bell peppers, onions and mushrooms

Bee My Honey Bourbon Cider

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Long time no cheers! Chloë here for Chloë’s Cocktail Hour- finally, right?! Everyone, myself included, has been sick as a dog here at The Zen Nest; which, unfortunately, has curbed my drinking habits significantly… sort of. The shots of Jameson’s I’ve been throwing back didn’t seem ‘artisanal’ enough to blog about – but the best medicine, I’ve got to say! Second only to Bee My Honey Bourbon Cider. 

This warm, syrupy, spicy and sweet cider is the perfect cocktail for anyone recovering from a cold. It totally soothed my throat, warmed me up, and made me feel a zillion times better. Not to mention it’s the tastiest damn medicine I’ve ever had. Yum. 

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Bee My Honey Bourbon Cider 

*serves two- my mom (Erin, Queen of the Nest) and I were each in need of this

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  • Into a medium sized saucepan, combine:
    • 1 1/2 cup apple cider
    • 1 red pear (or apple) cored and cut into thick slices- keep these for garnishes
    • dash of cinnamon
    • dash of cloves
    • 2 cardamom pods
    • 2 teaspoons honey
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes, ’til she’s sizzlin’
  • Strain contents into 2 glasses
  • Pour in one shot of bourbon and stir her up (if you’re feeling really decadent though, you can swap this for a cognac)
  • Drop in a pear slice, for style and a lasting, pear-heaven flavor

Sip, stay warm (and healthy), and enjoy! Cheers!

Creamy Mac N’ Cheese Mexicano

I love cheese, I love carbs, and I love Mexican food (who doesn’t?!). That being said, when I came across Pati Jinich’s recipe for Creamy Mac N’ Cheese Mexicano in Mexican Today, I knew I had to set after making my own adaptation of it! So I did. And rest assured, this labor of love was well worth it, and I will be using this cheese sauce in many a more recipe to come.

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Creamy Mac N’ Cheese Mexicano

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or penne
  • 1 pound poblano chiles or anaheim chiles, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 4 tb (1/2) stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2TB flour
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • 6 oz queso anejo or cotija cheese, shredded
  • 2 tb olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 8 oz zucchini, diced

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous amount of salt, add your pasta, andcook for 1 minute less than the cooking instructions indicate on the package of your pasta (since it will be going in the oven). Drain and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray a 9×13 inch baking dish.

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Combine the poblano or anaheim chiles and milk in a blender and puree until the mixture is completely smooth.

In a medium saucepan, heat your butter over medium heat. Once it has melted and started to foam, stir in the flour, stirring constantly until the mixture is light brown and toasty smelling (about 1-2 minutes). Whisk in the milk mixture, add 3/4 tsp salt and pepper to taste, and whisk over medium heat until the sauce starts to thicken. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes, whisking occasionally to prevent lumps from forming.

Gradually stir in 3 cups of the grated monterey jack cheese and 1 cup of the queso anejo or cotija cheese and mix well. Remove your cheese sauce from the heat and stir until the cheese has completely melted, and then set it aside.

Set a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil until hot, stir in chopped onions, and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Stir in the diced zucchini, sprinkle with salt, mix well, and remove the skillet from the heat.

Transfer the contents of the skillet to the bowl with the pasta in it, add your cheese sauce, and gently stir everything together.

Scrape the pasta into the prepared baking dish, combine the remaining cheeses and sprinkle them over the top in an even layer.

Bake your mac n’ cheese until the cheese has melted and begun to crisp and brown around the edges (25 minutes).

Enjoy!

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A Vibrant, Mexican Inspired Tablescape

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Having tried my hand at an authentic, vegetarian Mexican dinner the other night, it only felt right to provide the appropriate atmosphere (and I’m always eager for the opportunity to mix up my table scape!). Often inspired by Mexican art and textiles in many of my decorative choices, I was more than excited to deck out my dining room table in accordance to this beautiful source of inspiration.

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Rich and vibrant colors, textiles, and patterns – I’ve frequented Mexican restaurants many times over the years looking forward to more than just the food (though let’s be honest, I was definitely looking forward to that, too). Mexican decor is often intricate and bold, which is exactly why I love it!

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Decorating the table with cacti, cocktail umbrellas, and some of the actual dried peppers I’d used in the dinner itself, I paired these more traditional pieces with some other, less traditional additions as well. I got these strings of bells year ago, and I’ve yet to find a bad time to use them. And these little gold insects I recently got paired perfectly with everything else, adding a bit of whimsy.

 

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A sucker for houseplants and foliage, I nicked a few of Chloë’s beloved cacti for the occasion… 

 

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All in all, I think it came together rather nicely! The dining room is one of my favorite rooms, if only because of how versatile it is when it comes to proper staging (and partying!).

 

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Mexican Fiesta: Tex-Mex Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, and Refried Pinto Beans

 

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Being from Southern California (a Valley Girl through and through), Mexican food is near and dear to my heart. Delicious, flavourful, and full of spices and soul – I’ve made Mexican food plenty of times in the past, but I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a true blue, traditional Mexican Fiesta… And here it is!

Yesterday I spent five hours (authentic cuisine done right – especially when first trying it out – is always bound to take a little time) slaving over a labor of love: Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, and Refried Pinto Beans (all 3 of these recipes were adapted and slightly modified from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen). And not to toot my own horn here, but it was a huge success (and the family agrees!)

Without further ado, though, you can find the recipes to these amazing Mexican dishes below. Should you try your hand at them, I recommend accompanying it with a fresh, homemade batch of guacamole and pico de gallo.


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Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas

  • 2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 TB cumin seeds
  • 1 TB garlic powder
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 5 TBS vegetable oil
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 6 oz sharp cheddar cheese
  • 12 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 1 onion, chopped
Sauce

Toast chiles and cumin in a dry skillet over med-low heat for about two minutes, stirring often (until fragrant).

Transfer the chiles and cumin to a spice grinder and let cool for 5 minutes.

Add the garlic powder and oregano to the spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.

Heat 3 TBS of oil in a dry skillet (Hint: Use the same one from earlier. It’s fragrant, and better yet, it cuts back on dishes!), stir together the ground chile mixture, flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, cooking over medium-high heat for about one minute (until fragrant and color deepens).

Slowly whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer.

Reduce the heat to a medium- low and cook, whisking often for about five minutes (until sauce thickens).

Whisk in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the sauce from the heat.

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Enchiladas

Heat oven to 450* F

Spread 1/2 cup of your sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch baking dish.

Combine cheeses in a bowl, setting aside a 1/2 cup for topping.

Brush both sides of your tortillas with remaining 2 TBS of oil.

Stack tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 1 minute until they are pliable.

Working with 1 tortilla at a time, top with some of the cheese and chopped onion, roll tightly and place seam side down in prepared baking dish.

Once all enchiladas are placed in your dish, top it off with the remaining sauce, cheese, and onion.

Cover dish tightly with foil, bake for about 15 minutes (until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted).

*Additional Notes

Any dry mild chiles will do if you can’t find ancho chiles.

Olive oil can be used in place of vegetable oil.

Apple cider vinegar can replace white vinegar.

6-inch flour tortillas can replace corn tortillas.


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Mexican Rice

  • 2 ripe tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 TB tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Lime, cut in half

Heat oven to 350*F

Place your tomatoes and onion in a food processor and process them until you’ve got a smooth, liquid consistency. Measure out two cups of the liquid, disposing of the rest.

Remove the stems and seeds from the 3 jalapeños – mince the flesh and set aside.

Heat the oil in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook for about 6-7 minutes, stirring often (until rice is golden and translucent, being careful not to burn).

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in garlic and minced jalapeños, stirring constantly for about 1 1/2 minutes (until fragrant).

Stir in the puréed tomato-onion mixture, broth, tomato paste, and salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

Cover the pot and transfer it to an oven. Cook the rice for 30-35 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Once your rice is done cooking, fold in the cilantro, squeeze lime over it, and stir it up.


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Refried Pinto Beans

  • 2 (15-oz) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 TBS of vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 TBS tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 TB chopped cilantro
  • 2 tsp lime juice

Place the beans and water in a food processor, processing until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and 1/2 tsp salt and cook for about 5 minutes (until softened).

Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and oregano. Stir for 1 minute (until fragrant).

Stir in your processed bean mixture, stirring constantly for about three minutes (until well-combined and thickened).

Remove your beans from the heat and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt and pepper.


 

Bring out your margaritas and palomas! Cheers! And enjoy!

Palomas (The National Cocktail of Mexico)

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People like to think that the Margarita is the cocktail of Mexico, but it’s really the Paloma! Underrated (and extra delicious), Palomas are citrusy and refreshing – and they serve up tequila so nicely, not even I can regret it the next day (trust me, I normally do). But this one’s just too worth it.

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Palomas

Working straight into a tumblr (our glasses were a bit short – if there’s anything I’d do different next time, it’s use a bigger glass):

  • Rim your tumblr with lime and dip her in salt
  • 4 tablespoons 100% agave tequila (trust me, you’ll want 100% – sugar fillers don’t fly)
  • Ice (plenty of it)
  • Fresh lime juice (1/2 a lime)
  • Top her off with grapefruit soda

Cheers and enjoy!

 

 

World Market Shop Haul

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World Market is, hands down, my favorite store. A haven of tchotchkes, patterns, pillows, plush, fluff, gold accents, silver linings, and a dollar well spent – I never regret the occasional splurge at this particular shop, if only because just being inside it fuels my creative fire and fills my head with new ideas for tablescapes and couch cushions.

All that being said, when Chloë insisted on a (long overdo) trip today, the inevitable happened… A haul! Not to worry – we shopped smart.

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These gorgeously patterned table runners and napkins were half off (which made them doubly impossible to resist) – I can’t wait to experiment with all the potential table settings! And the best part about having a partner in crime means that I get to go halfsies with Chloë when buying things like this grey dish and bowl set! (And the round wood platter? Actually a Target find, which automatically makes it a steal).

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Of course, not every purchase is a steal – some purchases are just plain, flat out worth it. Chloë had been eyeing up these lovely gold insects for a awhile now, and today, upon discovering that this was the last full set of three (a butterfly, dragonfly, and grasshopper), she made the leap. And she’s definitely not regretting it (and neither am I). She’s been going on about having a tea party for awhile now, and we’re thinking these are going to go great with the whole setting (and every other setting, too – we’ve got them out on the table as I type this!).

I also grabbed some more little candle holders to mix and match with all these other fun goodies (and am in love with this shade of yellow which seems to be a running theme in today’s haul). Ultimately, today was fun and I’m overflowing with new, creative ideas. I’m hardly made of money, but money doesn’t do well to sit there doing nothing, sometimes either. As the millenials are saying: YOLO.

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