mid-move kitchen meditations

“Look at you, you found your happy place,”  I nod, still intent on the meticulously thin slices of onion I am preparing. “One of two, I should say, the kitchen and the garden.” My dad was right in his observations of me at work in my mom’s kitchen, doing what I do best . . . keeping my hands busy while being a general presence in the hubbub of little boys and music and chatting and freshly picked blueberries being rinsed and frozen. The kitchen is a safe space for me, a place to feel productive and nurturing at the same time. I can fill my own soul even as I fill the growling bellies of the ones I hold dear. And so it is that in the midst of relocating, our third state and fourth home in six years, with a new baby on the way, I found my way to a kitchen with produce from the garden I have left behind. Sometimes my happy places collide on the dinner table in an array of brightly colored dishes. I thought I was bringing produce for one decadent meal of all the bits and pieces of the deep summer produce just about to burst into high productivity and the last of my cooler weather crops still holding on for dear life. My meal has morphed into many meals, a caramelized onion pizza; fried zucchini pasta; caprese salad; Ottolenghi’s Surprise Tart Tatine; a cabbage and kohlrabi salad; pan seared chicken with spring onions; a snow pea, carrot, and grape tomato stir fry; the never ending supply of fresh produce is a welcome gift as we wait to transition to our new life and I dream about my own little garden and my TWO babies keeping me company during the days while C transitions into his new role as Director of Jazz Studies. Life has been gracious to us, just as my garden this year, it has been overflowing with good things in unexpected places at unexpected times. All I can do is be incredibly grateful and pass on the good gifts to the ones that cross my path.

Love on my way to Washington,

BV

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Summer cooking

The summer is flying by! I have a few spare minutes this evening to pop in and tell you what’s been cooking.

The dessert front has been exciting lately. The hot and humid New Haven summer has inspired me to go beyond my comfort zone and experiment with no-bake or stove-top desserts. I bought popsicle molds and promptly tried out SK’s strawberry-pepper and key lime pie pops. We liked the strawberry-pepper pops, but we loved the key lime pie ones. My philosopher claims they taste exactly like his favorite childhood ice cream (San Jerónimo in lemon). I also tried out a recipe from SK’s first book: the deconstructed strawberry cheesecake. Those got rave reviews too.

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Other endeavors have been the mango-tapioca pudding (a tried-and-true favorite of several years) and the lemon meringue pie smash from the latest book. We liked the latter, but boy! is it sweet. We’ll go for smaller servings tomorrow.

In the dinner department, I’ve found some new inspiration in The Moosewood Restaurant Table, which I stumbled across on the new books shelf in my library. The recipes have different flavor profiles from what we normally eat, and I love the fact that the recipes come with side recommendations, so it’s easy to pair a few recipes for a single meal. Last week I tried the herbed quinoa salad (which surprisingly contains both dried apricots and olives and is a happy home for both), and I served it with roasted carrots (rubbed in a blend of African spices I got for Christmas a few years back, and dipped in a simple sauce of yogurt, harissa, and a squeeze of lime). We also bought a whole pineapple and I dished up pineapple-lime glazed tofu with spicy cucumber salad. This was good, but it took forever (I think I ended up spending almost three hours in the kitchen, which is a lot for a weeknight meal), and there was a lot going on in the dish. I liked the idea though, and I would make it again for a special occasion, with a few tweaks (like including only pineapple juice in the tofu marinade and either reducing or eliminating the amount of pineapple chunks cooked alongside).

Up this week: a roasted peach salad and pasta carbonara with zucchini, as well as a summer stir-fry with halloumi cheese. I’ll let you know how they go!

I hope your summer has been as delicious as mine.

Love from CT,

Allison

crisped peaches

I am a huge fan of citrus, I can’t get enough oranges. And lemon is the best addition to most foods. But, when the stone fruits start showing up in the produce section and you can smell their sweet goodness when you pick one up to gently test for ripeness, I suddenly forsake all of my citrus allegiances. I can hardly keep myself from buying up every last peach and nectarine in sight. Getting them to stick around my fruit basket for more than a couple of days is a miracle.

Some people say that watermelon is a pregnant woman’s best friend (and I do love a perfectly ripe, crisp, sweet, and cool watermelon) but peaches are where it’s at these days! So clearly, when it was 9 o’clock at night and I was craving that sweet treat before I headed off to bed, I was eyeing the bowl of peaches on the table. It turns out that in 45 minutes flat you can turn a peach into individual peach crisps, and then, freshly roasted from the oven, you can scoop them into china tea cups, top them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and swoon as you take not so dainty spoonfuls of the best of summer’s offerings.

Also, I absolutely intend to eat one of the leftovers as breakfast on top of a bowl of plain yogurt because. . . it was just peaches and “granola” right?

Love from Roseburg (for a few more weeks!),

BV

individual crisped peaches (makes 8 peach halves)

  • 4 peaches (halved and pits removed)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • 1 c. brown sugar (I definitely think you could scale this back to 3/4 or maybe even 1/2 a cup)
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. Arrange peach halves in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. In a small mixing bowl combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Cut butter into cubes and work into the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse crumbs. Scoop 1/8 of topping into a ball and press onto a peach half, continue with remaining topping and bake for 30 minutes, until peaches are bubbling and topping is crisped. For dessert top with vanilla ice cream, for breakfast serve with plain yogurt. Either way polish off all 8 halves and repeat again and again until you can’t stand to eat another peach!

wild mushroom risotto

Sometimes the dredges of the fridge yield up an offering more bright than the shriveled remnants in brown paper sacks suggest. Almost as if they know that a wearying Wednesday deserves a special sort of celebration, a reminder that lighter days are coming, that the fruits of spring plantings are about to burst from the vines and brighten our table. In the meantime, the scraps of winter foraging will bring a warmth to our evening and sustain us through the days ahead.

For a meal that takes a surprisingly short, albeit attentive, amount of time to make, I am left wondering why it has taken me three and a half years to accidentally stumble upon the joy that a creamy bowl of mushroom risotto is on a chilly spring evening. During my first winter in Colorado I made the Dried Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Goat Cheese from Food and Wine with dried porcini that I had picked up on a whim to put in C’s stocking. It was wonderful, we refer to it often and fondly, C frequently asks when I am going to make it again, I never have. Until tonight.

Tonight I pulled a bag of once fresh black trumpet mushrooms now shriveled and dried from the far corner of the fridge and a half bag of dried chanterelle from the cupboard, I spotted the unopened log of goat cheese and realized I had all the ingredients to return to that supper of legend, the one which C probably thought he would never taste again.  It was something special and unexpected something to make an otherwise average Wednesday evening something to look forward to.

Love from Southern Oregon,

BV

Dried Wild Mushroom Risotto

  • 1 cup dried wild mushrooms, I used a combination of chanerelle and black trumpet from my local forager (about 1 ounce)
  • 3 cups hot water, more if needed
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tablespoon better than chicken boullion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces mild goat cheese, I used chevre
  • Grated Parmesan, for serving

Put your dried mushrooms in a heatproof bowl and cover with the 3 cups of boiling water. Let soak until tender about 20 minutes. Reserving soaking liquid, remove and coarsely chop the mushrooms.

Heat your olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add your chopped onions and garlic and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Add your chicken boullion, chopped mushrooms, salt, and rice. Cook, stirring until rice begins to turn opaque about 2 minutes. Then, straining your soaking liquid through a colander lined with paper towel or pour over coffee maker and coffee filter, add 1/2 cup of liquid at a time keeping the contents of the pan at a simmer and stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed. When all of the soaking liquid has been absorbed begin to add the additional 3 cups of water in the same manner until risotto is al dente and the remaining liquid is creamy, you may need extra water to achieve this consistency and it will take you 25-30 minutes of frequent stirring. Add butter, black pepper, and goat cheese and stir to combine. Adjust salt to your liking.

Serve warm, possibly on a bed of spicy arugula picked fresh from your garden, sprinkled with a generous amount of Parmesan and enjoy! Please, don’t wait three and a half years to come back for seconds. It’s worth an annual rotation at least. 🙂

100% whole wheat sandwich loaf

I have been on the hunt for a tender sandwich loaf that slices cleanly. I accidentally made my dream loaf a few weeks ago and it took me exactly 3 tried to nail down how I arrived at this stellar loaf. Hint, it does matter which order the ingredients find their way into the bowl (oil goes last!).

 

Ingredients

1.5 cups heated and cooled whole milk (mine has extra cream which may have played a role in the final product)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 large egg
3 tbls. honey
3 tbls. olive oil
1 tbls. active dried yeast
1.5 tsp. salt
4-5 cups white whole wheat flour

Combine milk, water, egg, honey, half of your flour and the other dry ingredients, mix until well combined then keep mixing for 2 minutes. Add an additional 1 cup of flour and mix until it starts to form a more pliable dough. Turn off mixer and let dough rest for 15 minutes. Turn mixer on to medium low speed and add additional flour until the dough is soft but pulls away from the edges of the bowl as it kneads. At this point slowly pour in your oil until it is thoroughly mixed in.

Turn dough out into a lightly oiled bowl and raise until doubled. Shape into two 8 inch loaves or 1 larger loaf and several rolls. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and let dough raise until nearly doubled. Bake loaves for 30-35 minutes, loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool completely before slicing.

birthday baking

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The Marzipan Petit Fours

Let’s start with the birthdays. J and I kicked off our birthday month (it’s the big 3-0 for us this year!) with this smashing Marzipan Petit Four cake from the new Smitten Kitchen cookbook I set aside a whole afternoon to bake and construct it, and I was really pleased with how it turned out.

My oven has been pretty touchy lately, and it was a genuine beast when it came to maintaining heat levels for the cake layers–likely because testing for readiness involved lots of opening and closing of the oven doors. I ended up sticking one of the three layers back into the oven after it had been sitting out for 10 or 15 minutes, just because I couldn’t make up my mind about whether it was setting properly or not.

But the end result was delicious. I enjoyed the extra flavor of the marzipan in the cake layers (I used a pastry cutter to work it into the batter since I don’t have a food processor!) And the chocolate ganache frosting was so much fun to drape and smudge over the little cakes. (Oh, and it lasted for days afterward, even after I gave away slices to our party-goers, which made for many sweet treats with afternoon coffee.)

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A dreamy interior courtyard in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where we spent part of our very successful NYC birthday celebration)

My other recent baking experiment was this double-coconut muffin recipe, which I mixed up on impulse Thursday afternoon between finishing my writing for the day and heading out for dinner. I had two jars full of flaked coconut that were slowly going stale, and I had just bought a new jar of coconut oil to replace the one that I discovered molding in a corner of the pantry; plus, there was a container of yogurt in the fridge and ours almost always goes bad. The recipe was a god-send.

I don’t know why I don’t make muffins more often: they are quick to mix up and bake and can be riffed on endlessly. I liked the extra coconut-y flavor of these ones and the slightly sour tang of the yogurt. And I was glad that I didn’t have the recommended sweetened cococut: the recipe was just fine without them.

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Sweet little crocuses spotted on my long run this weekend

And now: on to spring! With just over a month until my dissertation is due, it’s going to be a hectic April. Wish me serenity, a clear mind, and lots of good words.

 

Love from your Connecticut baker,

Allison

How To Use Extra German Chocolate Cake Frosting

(if you don’t have graham crackers to eat it on)

I don’t know about you, but I always find that somehow I can never make the exact right quantity of frosting for any dessert project. Either it’s not quite enough so I have to make another whole or half batch just for that last three tablespoons I need to cover the top of the cake, or it’s just waaaaaay to much to begin with. Either way, I can never bring myself to throw it out. Of course, if you have graham crackers to spread it on, you don’t even need to read this, but if (like me this week) graham crackers are nowhere in the house, I’m here to help you.

Two words: Hand. Pies.
I cannot even describe the convenience of pie crust in solving the leftovers problem (sweet or savory). Extra points if you already have some tucked away in your freezer from the last time you made a Quiche. Just pull that out of the freezer and stick it in the fridge to defrost in the morning so it’s ready to go whenever you have a chance to do a tiny bit of pastry making during the day. I don’t have any specific pie crust recipe to suggest, but find one with no eggs and plenty of vinegar in it for the most tenderness and flakiness.
For my part, I didn’t alter the frosting much, although you really could go wild if you wanted to. For about 3/4 to 1 cup of frosting and 1/2 batch of pie crust I used:

1 large Bosc Pear (very well-ripened as it was the last in the fruit bowl) peeled and diced
1/2 tsp each of ground Cloves, Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg (my favorite ingredients)
1 small palm of black raisins

For the pie crust: Divide into 8 equal parts and then leave in the fridge, bringing out the sections one at a time as you work with them. keeping your surfaces floured, roll out your section, spread a thin layer of butter and fold in half, spread with butter again and fold in thirds (like the last fold of a towel) to make a tiny cube. Roll it out again as thin as you can without damaging it. Fill the center with a heaping spoonful of your frosting/filling, fold in half and fold the edges in a twist pattern like you would a regular pie. Place on floured baking pan. Grab your next piece of crust out of the fridge and repeat.
To finish them all off, brush a little egg over the tops and if you’re feeling extra fancy you can sprinkle a little raw sugar granules on as well (I didn’t do this, but I think it would be lovely). I baked mine at 425^ for 20 minutes, but I’ve found that depending on the day and the humidity of the filling it’ll need more or less time. Set your timer for 10 or 12 minutes and go from there is my go-to method for hand pies.

Sadly we ate all of ours before I remembered to take a picture, but they were absolutely delicious and I could see them going excellently with a serving of vanilla bean ice cream or a little whipped cream-cheese desert topping a-la-pear desert (get that recipe from Faerynn). And, of course, it’s best served with a mug of your favourite tea.
Like I mentioned before, this is also an excellent solution for savory leftovers (maybe you didn’t get all the way through the filling on taco night?), and I hope it comes in as useful and delicious for you as it has for me!

Happy pastry-making! Elaina Joy

a return…and some bready advice

Wait…how did that happen? The year slipped by, right through my fingers, dish after tasty dish, all un-chronicled here. But I’m back now, ready to take another stab at catching these edible days before they disappear.

Some domestic, wintry scenes

My kitchen exploits have slowed to a gentle simmer recently (not that they were ever truly at a full boil), due to my impending dissertation deadline and a rough job market season.  However, I am now back to baking bread every two weeks, and on the off weeks I try my hand at a treat, usually from Smitten Kitchen. This weekend I’m looking forward to attempting the “Marzipan Petit Four” recipe from her latest book. (If I remember, I’ll try to take some pictures on J’s phone, since mine has been out of order since September!)

I’ve been very pleased at the results of my bread-making revival. Very early this winter I was really struggling to get my loaves to rise. My loaves were turning out heavy and dense, despite the fact that I was using tried and true recipes. But recently I think I pin-pointed the problem: I was killing my yeast. Turns out, in my eagerness to get the yeast into warm water, I was plunging it into almost boiling water. I’ve since made sure to get my tea kettle water lukewarm before adding the yeast, and the results have been pillowy loaves, even using the plainest recipe.

As the pictures above show, J and I have really settled into our domestic rituals, complete with puzzles and gentle dustings of snow. Of course real life can’t always be like this. Most days we are caught in the shuffle of emails, and readings, and classes, and writing. But I like to remember that real life can be like this–like a Sunday afternoon with the smell of fresh bread hanging in the air and an unread book or an unfinished puzzle calling your name.

Much love to you all from CT,

Allison

half whole wheat english muffins

  

I fell in love with the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook shortly after relocating to Greeley, Colorado. It was on display as part of a fall baking showcase and I could not pass up the glorious pictures. I loved it so much that someone made sure it found its way under the Christmas Tree that same year and I have been making Tom Douglas’ English muffins religiously ever since. Except, I couldn’t eat that many English muffins and not feel obligated to amp up the whole grains. This is not a 100% whole wheat muffin, but I did get them all the way up to 50% without sacrificing too much in the toothsome department. These are an endeavor not to be taken lightly, they will take you all of 5 hours if made from start to finish, though you can take a rest after the first rise by placing the dough in the refrigerator and returning to finish the job later the same day or the following day. Just be advised that the second rise will take twice as long (but it’s all inactive time). Before you begin you will need to boil 2 smallish yukon gold potatoes with their skins on, until soft, mash them with a fork and then pack a 1 cup measure full of them and refrigerate until completely cool.

Love from more southerly Oregon sister,
BV

Half Whole Wheat English Muffins (24 muffins)

1 cup Yukon gold potatoes (cooked, mashed, and cooled)
15.75 oz whole wheat flour (3.5 cups freshly milled flour scooped into a measuring cup and then leveled)
15.75 oz bread flour (3.25 cups scooped into a measuring cup and then leveled)
2.5 cups cold water (1st portion)
2 tablespoons honey
4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 Tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 cup water (2nd portion)

Combine potatoes, both flours, water (1st portion), honey, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed with dough hook for 10 minutes. Turn off mixer and let rest for 5 minutes.

Turn on mixer and continue to kneed for 1 or 2 more minutes (dough will be tightly wound round the paddle), add the 2nd portion of water in 5 parts (about 3 tablespoons each) allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding more. Continue to kneed after last addition until dough is glossy and stretchy. . .this dough will be very soft, almost batter like, do not be alarmed, all will be well.

Add a small amount of oil to a large bowl, swirl it around to coat the sides and then turn dough into oil coated bowl to rise. After 30 minutes turn the dough by lifting the side of dough furthest from you, pulling it up and toward you (basically folding the dough in half), give the bowl a 90 degree turn and repeat the fold. Do this for a total of 4 times until you have turned all four sides of the dough. Let rest 30 more minutes, repeat the turns and leave to rise for 1 hr. or until doubled (in a very warm kitchen you will not likely need the full hour, in a cool kitchen you may want to preheat your oven to 150 degrees F. turn it off and then let the dough finish rising there.

Turn out the dough onto a large, well floured cutting board and divide the dough in half. Return one half to the bowl and cover while you shape the other half into muffins. Divide the remaining half of dough into twelve equal parts (if you wish to have precisely sized muffins weigh out your dough balls they should each be roughly 2.67 oz).  Generously flour half of your cutting board, take one of the twelve portions, set it in the flour, fold the dough in half,  then scoot the ball of dough to an unfloured portion of your cutting board. With the palm of your hand on top of the dough, roll in a circular motion until the dough has formed a tight ball, don’t worry if the first one doesn’t seem quite right, you will get the hand of it after a couple of tries. Continue to shape all 12 portions of dough into balls.

Line two large baking trays with parchment paper and dust with flour. Equally space your twelve muffins on one tray and repeat the shaping process with remaining half of dough. Cover both baking sheets with cloth kitchen towels and let muffins raise until nearly doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. When muffins have risen, bake in preheated oven for 8-9 minutes, flip muffins over, pat them briskly to flatten them slightly and release steam (you may wish to use a spatula or place an oven mit over the muffin as the steam will be hot), and bake for an additional 8-9 minutes. Be sure to rotate pans between oven racks so that they bake evenly as well as rotate pans front to back.

Remove from oven and let cool completely before slicing and toasting!

 

 

 

blackberry tumble

Blackberry Tumble“The blackberries are dripping from the trees” F remarked as we headed out on a Sunday afternoon walk. The brambles have intertwined themselves with the branches of the wild cherry saplings and boast clusters of lush, shiny, intensely black, berries that parade a range of tart, earthy, and cloyingly sweet fruits that muddle together in a pastry crust to create the central dessert at our Christmas celebration. I already have the bag stashed away in the freezer and daily add to the frozen berry collection as the little boys abandon their containers of berries on the kitchen counter, their bellies aching from the sweet, juicy, goodness that lines our driveway.

But there are only so many frozen blackberries you can use and, after my 90 lb cherry extravaganza earlier this summer, I am not feeling inclined toward canning just now. That leaves a 1 mile stretch of road with bushels of blackberries and I feel sad when I think of them shriveling up on their vines. The only thing to do is enjoy them now, fresh, and often. Every walk takes a little more time, budgeting for the inevitable “berry break,” and I am often reminded of one summer not so long ago, as C and I were preparing to move from here to Colorado when our last few afternoons were spent nibbling blackberry hand pies in the afternoon with cups of strong coffee while the baby slept and C studied for entrance exams. 3 years later, we are back in the Pacific Northwest (indefinitely) in the same house with an almost 4 yr old who is now an over eager berry picker. Today, we also had 19 egg whites that had to vacate the fridge and the brother visiting from the Midwest deserved a proper farewell. After all, he ran the Crater Lake Marathon this weekend and survived the flu that hit up all but 1 of the household in the last 10 days. Thus was born the Blackberry Tumble: a wedge of angel food cake topped with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a spoon of macerated blackberries.

I followed the Food Networks recipe for angel food cake nearly to a T, including the part where you pulverize your granulated sugar into a powder, but then realized I didn’t have cake flour and used unbleached all purpose flour instead. . .friend, I could not tell the difference, the cake was springy and tender, everything I could have hoped for. A teaspoon full of sugar whisked into 3/4 of a cup of heavy whipping cream cut the sweetness of the cake. As for the blackberries, we used a generous 3 cups of freshly picked berries, the zest of half an orange, and sugar to taste. We gently stirred the three ingredients together, allowing the berries to release a bit of their juice and then spooned it generously on top of our cake slices. Their tart-sweet flavor and deep purple color balanced out the composition in what was a pleasing end to a Monday evening and a sweet farewell.

Safe travels brother!

Bethany