HIKE & EAT: the Ultimate Dog Park (Fairfield, CT) and Food for Friends

29 Mar

This weekend was one of joy! Our very good friends welcomed their second baby to the family (giving me a perfect excuse to cook and bake) and the sun is actually shining!

Granted, the view from our living room is still this. If I could pay to melt the snow faster – I would.


Knowing I wanted to make some things to bring our friends and that we’d want dinner later but I likely wouldn’t want to cook in the afternoon, I scrambled some eggs for a hungry Hardtack while embarking on a dual mission.

A) Smitten Kitchen’s Big Crumb Coffee Cake and

B) “Make It Up As You Go” Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken (a Blue Bin original)

The coffee cake I made following the instructions to a T – with only minor substitutions. That means (for once) if you’d like to replicate these results – you need only follow the original recipe!

First – I made cake. Let me tell you – this treat will require that you use every single bowl, measuring cup and spoon in your kitchen. If that bothers you – maybe find another recipe. Once I saw the big crumbly photos – I was hooked and there was no turning back – so I persisted with delicious (if not effortless) results.

‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake with Rhubarb
Adapted by Smitten Kitchen from The New York Times 6/6/07

Butter Coconut Oil Spray for greasing pan

For the rhubarb mixed tart berry filling:
1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed organic berry blend, frozen (Costco!) – ours was blackberries, raspberries, cherries, cranberries 
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (15 grams) cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crumbs:
1/3 cup (65 grams) dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups (225 grams) cake flour 

For the cake:
1/3 cup (80 grams) sour cream plain non-fat greek yogurt 
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss berries with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs: in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like a solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb  berries over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb berries ; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb berries), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Here’s my final product. I doubled the above recipe to keep some and share some. Can’t bake something like this and not share the spoils with HT.

IMG_3117  IMG_3120

Then came the chicken – inspired by a recipe I found online that used ketchup, soy sauce and garlic. We’ve been avoiding soy around here lately so instead, I decided to wing it with great results.

“Make It Up As You Go” Slow Cooker Pulled Chicken

7 boneless (or bone-in), skinless chicken thighs

1 cup organic ketchup (it tastes different from conventional, and avoids all that junk)

1 cup Stubb’s chicken citrus & onion marinade

1/3 cup agave 

4 large cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1. Place chicken thighs in the bottom of your slow cooker. 

2. Mix remaining ingredients briefly in a bowl. Pour over chicken to cover.

3. Put the lid on the slow cooker and set on LOW.

4. Cook 4 hours. Check at 3 hours – depending on the size of your thighs, meat may be cooked through at this point. 

5. If you use bone-in chicken thighs (as I did this time) – simply use tongs to fish around for the bones, which will come away easily as your meat should be falling right off the bone at this point. Count to make sure you find one bone for each thigh!  The tongs can be used to stir and separate the meat a bit, making it unnecessary to use forks to “pull” the meat apart.

I think we’ll use this chicken meat on BBQ style sandwiches or served over roasted sweet potatoes or mushroom risotto. It’s certainly versatile – and came out tasting delicious (with so much less effort than the coffee cake). Here’s the shot!

 IMG_3125  IMG_3126

And of course, we woke up today knowing we needed exercise, with a few limitations.  Hardtack is recovering from surgery to remove a bone spur from his shoulder. I’ve got a few injuries of my own that have been acting up enough that I don’t want to venture on 10 mile hikes – to be stranded at 5 miles with too much pain (lame, but true). And Miss P – she’s always up for anything. Anything except wearing sweatshirts.


So today we played it safe and hit an old favorite, Lake Mohegan, 960 Morehouse Hwy, Fairfield, CT (or we call it Mohegan Lake) in Fairfield, CT. Keith knew about this spot from his old days as a Fairfield resident, and it’s a good enough loop to return again and again. It’s pretty, open all year, lots of parking , not too far away – and most importantly – super dog friendly.

With the exception of the first hundred feet and the last on the loop – dogs are welcome to be off leash – so Miss P loves to race through the woods while we walk – or play with the other pooches we meet along the way.

IMG_3108 IMG_3107

We clocked how far she ran today by putting HT’s phone in her backpack as she ran zig-zagging across our route through the woods. We always speculate that when she does this she’s doubling our hiking mileage… but today she was a bit lazy and clocked only about 2.5 miles – barely more than what we walked. Still – a lovely walk with one climb that always surprises us with its grade and some nice views of the lake. [insert embarrassing huffing and puffing here]

A great place to run the dog, have a chat and get moving when you’ve otherwise been couch-dwelling much too much.

All told – a day of food and (finally) some fresh air!  Here’s hoping temps keep climbing and our spirits with them.


Blue Bin Signature

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