December 23, 2010

winning hearts and minds cake

Christmas is almost here, which means I get to see my brothers and sister and their spouses, all together at the same time. Since we are scattered across the country now, this is a big deal and very important to me. My dad is unlucky enough to have a birthday three days before Christmas. My friend Brandi is in the same boat - her birthday is today. I have no idea what it feels like to share your birthday with "the baby Jesus", as my dad always says. My birthday is in July, thank goodness.

I made dinner for my dad for his birthday, and for dessert, I made an almost flourless chocolate cake served alongside vanilla bean ice cream. The recipe came from Molly Wizenberg's memoir, "A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From my Kitchen Table", which if you haven't read, you should go immediately to the bookstore and buy yourself a copy. She writes the blog Orangette that I discovered several years ago and to which I am totally addicted. Her book is beautifully-written and honest, as is her blog. The last recipe in the book is for a chocolate cake that she calls the "winning hearts and minds cake" because that's exactly what it does. It is by far the best chocolate cake recipe I've ever laid my hands on. It's the perfect recipe to make up for having a birthday at Christmas.

Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
from Molly Wizenberg

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup + 2 T sugar
5 large eggs
1 T all-purpose flour
whipped cream or vanilla bean ice cream

Preheat the oven 375 degrees and butter a 10 inch spring-form pan. 

Put the chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl and microwave in 30 second increments until mixture is fully melted. Stir to combine well. Add the sugar and set the bowl aside to cool for 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating before adding the next egg. A whisk is the easiest way to do this. Add the flour and stir well. The batter should be thick and shiny.

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the center is set. 

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

December 5, 2010

November 11, 2010

a little kitchen gnome

Much to my pleasant surprise, I'm on a bit of a making-neat-things kick right now. Pumpkin chocolate chip bread, curtains for my mom's new kitchen, a whole roasted chicken, an invitation - I'm not sure what has gotten in to me, but it feels like I'm just now coming down from the baking burnout I experienced this time last year while I was trying to run a small baking business and working full time and getting my masters degree. I think I was momentarily insane. It feels nice to want to make things again. 

I have a confession to make. Before last week, I had never roasted a chicken. Six years of being a vegetarian has lasting effects, at least for me. I eat meat, but I don't love to think about the fact that I eat meat. When roasting a whole chicken, there's no way around it: it once was a living, breathing animal, and now, I'm about to eat it. Gross. But once you get past that, it turns out to be the easiest, most fun way to make dinner. It takes all of 15 minutes to prepare everything, and then you throw it in the oven and (more or less) forget about it for an hour, and dinner is done. It's almost like having a little kitchen gnome or something. 

The exciting thing is that you can use whatever vegetables you want. I went the traditional route with carrots and wax potatoes, but you could also use fennel, artichokes, sweet potatoes...whatever root-related thing you can think of. My holiday wish is that you will all go out and roast a chicken. Do it.

Roasted Chicken with Lemony Root Vegetables and Herbs
Adapted from recipes by Jessica Seinfeld and Ina Garten
Serves 2-4

1 medium sized whole chicken, giblets removed
1 lemon, halved
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage, or whatever herbs you love
5-8 wax potatoes, diced
5-6 whole carrots, peeled and chopped
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 beer can
2-4 T butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Prepare the vegetables by tossing them in salt, pepper, some minced rosemary, and olive oil. Spread over 
a medium-sized roasting pan. 

On a clean surface, sprinkle the chicken with salt & pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil on both the front and back sides. Stuff the lemon, garlic & herbs in the chicken's open cavity. Open the beer can, pour half of it out, and stuff it inside the chicken so that the chicken is sitting upright on top of the beer can (this helps keep it really moist while it bakes). Set the chicken to rest on top of the vegetables in the roasting pan.

Bake the chicken and veggies for an hour, stirring the veggies occasionally and smearing some butter on the skin of chicken at 20 minute intervals. 

The chicken is ready when the skin is golden brown or when a meat thermometer reads 175 degrees. Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes. Take the lemon out of the chicken (carefully) and squeeze it over the vegetables.

Enjoy your feast and congratulate yourself on a job well done.

October 13, 2010

together on a plate

I recently discovered the Instagram app and I love it. It's part photography, part social media, all in one fell swoop. Here are some things that have been making me happy lately, with the help of Instagram:

cinnamon roll from Amycakes with caramel and pecans

jason's newest love, the '74 mini

what was left of our dinner tonight: betsy's mushroom risotto with fried spinach and pork chops.

Sometimes, you just need things, and those things come in the form of creamy risotto and pork meat together on a plate. I found a great food site, TasteSpotting, which was listed in my girl Gwyneth's (you know the one) newsletter of great food blogs. It aggregates photos and recipes from lots of different sites in a very nice presentation. I searched for risotto recipes because I finally had a free night with enough time to actually make risotto, and I found this recipe.I followed their method, but changed it up by using some of the liquid from reconstituted shitake mushrooms like our friend Betsy does with her risotto, and chopping up the mushrooms to add to the rice. It was perfect. Instead of lamb, I decided on pork chops. The spinach gets cooked in the juices from the pork and makes a delicious in-between layer of greens. 

So sometimes, if you're lucky, your wife will come home on a night that she doesn't have class or work and will fix you a scratch meal that takes awhile. Because taking awhile tastes better, usually.

October 4, 2010

just like that

Almost overnight, fall is here. The changing seasons might be my most favorite thing about where I live. Suddenly we are sleeping with the windows open, buying pumpkins, whirling big batches of pesto to use up the last of the basil, switching out wardrobes, and making an apple pie with brown butter and a cheddar crust from this recipe I found on food52. Just like that, life feels cozy again.

September 16, 2010

a little bit more fancy

I first tasted and fell in love with honey lavender ice cream at the Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco last fall. It was about as perfect as ice cream gets, incredibly creamy with the most amazing texture. The flavors were just right and I remember thinking I'd never eaten anything quite like it. And that someday, I would try to make it.

I sort of forgot about honey lavender ice cream until (I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but there's no turning back now) one night, by myself and with a glass (or two) of wine, I was watching the movie with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin called "It's Complicated". I actually loved this movie. There, I said it. I really loved it, in fact, because it reminded me so much of my parents. My parents never got back together the way they almost did in the movie, but I guess it just reminded me of my family. My family is one of a kind. My family is crazy and loud and dysfunctional, but so lovable you can't help but just go with it and hug it out. They are like my limbs - I never feel quite right without them.

Meryl Streep's family wasn't quite so crazy and loud, but they were definitely dysfunctional and they had a mom (Meryl) who just so happened to be an amazing cook (like my mom) and would make honey lavender ice cream when she couldn't sleep. I love that idea, because making ice cream is a soothing process in itself, so I could see where she was coming from. I'm with you, Meryl. Anyway, watching the movie gave me an insatiable urge to make the ice cream. After I finished laughing and crying into my wine glass, that is. (god, I KNOW! It's ridiculous. But seriously, you should watch it.)

I've made the ice cream exactly twice now, and both times my friends have sung its praises. I have to admit, I wasn't sure if the flavor would be for everyone, but I was totally wrong. It's a hit. My friend Laine says it tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, only a little bit more fancy. I kinda like the sound of that. 

Honey Lavender Ice Cream
adapted from a recipe in Gourmet Magazine

I found this recipe from an old issue of Gourmet and decided to fiddle with the quantities of cream and half-and-half because I like my ice cream a little less rich. I used dried lavender flowers from the bulk section of a local health food store, Mama Jean's. Buy extra because you'll want to make this recipe again, I promise.

You'll need an ice cream maker. I use a Cuisinart and it works great. You might also want a candy thermometer, but you can do without if you don't have one. 

1 cup of heavy whipping cream
2 cups of half-and-half
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons of dried edible lavender flowers
2 large eggs
1/8 teaspoon of salt

Using a two-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, half-and-half, honey and lavender just to a boil, stirring occasionally; right after it reaches a boil, remove from heat. Put the lid on it and steep for 30 minutes. Take a break.

Strain the cream through a fine wire mesh strainer, into a bowl, and discard the lavender. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the two eggs and salt. Return the cream mixture to the pan on the stove and heat until hot (this doesn't take very long - don't boil!). Very slowly pour a cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture while whisking the eggs quickly. Pour the egg mixture into the cream and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until a candy thermometer reads 170 degrees or until the cream coats the back of a spoon. Again, don't cook too long here! Trust me, I did it the first time, and the second batch had a much better texture.

Pour the custard again through the mesh strainer into a clean bowl and cool completely. You can either put it in the fridge overnight (covered in plastic wrap) or placed in a bowl filled with ice (if you need it to cool faster). 

Put the cooled custard into an ice cream maker; once the ice cream is finished, transfer to an air-tight container to harden for at least an hour.

August 30, 2010

an ode to summer

Late August is the time of year in Missouri when everyone is exhausted from the heat, lawns are turning a lovely brown (dead) color, and all you want to do is sit inside in the air conditioning. As much as I feel ready for fall, I know I will miss summer soon enough because I am a warm weather girl. Winter is not my friend ( the season, that is - I actually do have a friend named Winter, and she's great).

One of the things I love most about summer is the abundance of peaches, corn and tomatoes that are almost not worth eating the rest of the year. I don't want to give up my peaches. Marionville is a small town near by, known for white squirrels and more importantly, peaches. They are so good. I got to the farmer's market on Saturday a little later than usual, 11:30, and I couldn't believe that almost everything was sold out - including my beloved Marionville peaches. All they had left was a handful of yellow peaches and some white ones, just enough to make a crisp for a couple of friends coming over later. 

As an ode to summer, I made the crisp from a recipe by Ina Garten who never leads me astray when it comes to desserts. I was tempted to replace the orange for lemon zest, but I resisted the urge, and I'm glad. The orange is really nice and a bit unexpected. Serve it with vanilla bean ice cream if you want to get really fancy. 

peach and raspberry crisp
adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten

I love this recipe because it's oh-so-simple to make and you get the unexpected hit of orange and raspberry in a traditional peach crisp. The crumble on top reminds me of an oatmeal cookie, which is never a bad thing. I used half yellow and half white peaches because that's what I could find, but you could use either or both. 

8-10 large peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 quart raspberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
zest of one orange
1 cup + 3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup oats
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and diced
good pinch of salt
vanilla bean ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, gently combine the sliced peaches with the raspberries. Add 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 3 tbsp of flour, and the orange zest to the fruit. Fold together until the fruit is well coated. Scoop fruit mixture into an oval or rectangular baking dish (roughly 9x13 in size).

Using a mixer, combine the butter with the remaining sugars, 1 cup of flour, oats, and salt. Mix until crumbly, then scatter the mixture evenly across the top of the fruit.

Bake the crisp for an hour, or until the top is nice and brown (and crispy, just like the name). Cool for about 20 minutes and serve with vanilla bean ice cream. 

August 18, 2010

home grown

A little home grown goodness for a Wednesday that feels like it should be a Friday (to me, anyway). These pretty little cherry tomatoes were not home grown by me, although we do have a garden that is getting roached by the Missouri heat as we speak. These came from a fantastic new shop on the corner of Pickwick and Cherry, right by Tea Bar & Bites, called Homegrown Foods. It's like a farmer's market that is open every day. Between that and the highly anticipated Bistro Market downtown, Springfield is all of a sudden getting hip.

August 6, 2010

they have arrived.

I've been like a kid on Christmas since Tuesday, which was the day we got to see our highly anticipated wedding photos, courtesy of Adie Gately with Twin Town Studios. Jason and I sat at the Coffee Ethic  and looked at every single one. There were 1,000 photos all together. I couldn't believe it. Looking at the pictures was like reliving the entire day. It was just as perfect as I remember it.

All the little details we planned for the wedding, and all the time it took to make them happen, were totally worth it in the end. When we were deciding how we wanted our wedding to be, we knew we wanted it to be memorable. We wanted our guests to eat great food, drink good wine, and dance. We made almost everything ourselves, from the cloth napkins to the succulent centerpieces.

The food, provided by my mom's restaurant, was Moroccan-themed and included:
Moroccan chicken
Roasted tomatoes with a harissa rub
Spring salad of fresh greens, strawberries, feta and a basil vinaigrette
Roasted baby new potatoes with herbs

For dessert, I knew I couldn't commit to just one thing. I do appreciate wedding cakes, but I wanted to serve all of our favorites. In addition to a small wedding cake, my mom's staff made coconut cream cupcakes and lemon bars, and I made my favorite brownie recipe. For Jason's groom's cake, his mom made four apple pies. All of this disappeared within a matter of minutes. Imagine that.  

Our wedding was so "us" and I'm really happy about that. 

July 29, 2010

best kept secret

When I picked up the Travel section of the New York Times several months ago, featuring a serene picture of a vineyard in Portugal, I never dreamed we would actually go there. We knew we wanted to go to Portugal, but I assumed the beautiful bed and breakfast over-looking the Douro Valley would be way too expensive for our post-big-wedding budget. But that's what's great about honeymoons. You do crazy things. So I looked it up anyway online. When Jason looked over my shoulder and said, "Can we go there?", I had no choice. I booked it immediately.

But here's the secret: it wasn't expensive. After spending two nights at Quinta do Vallado, just outside of Regua in the Douro Valley (Portugal's Napa Valley), we looked at each other and knew that this place was about to explode. It's just too luxurious, too beautiful, too perfect...and too affordable. It was almost too good to be true. I mean, we had very decent bottles of wine delivered to us pool-side for about six euros. Six. Euros. Incredible. It was the kind of place where you feel like you could stay forever.

The other thing I don't want to tell you, but I'm going to anyway: the food in the Duoro Valley is the best I've ever had. At Castas e Pratos, I had a turnip bisque that I'm still thinking about. The next night, driving along the beautiful highway that curves around the valley, we found Restaurant D.O.C. sitting on stilts right over the river. 

This was the first of two very memorable birthday dinners (I'm kind of spoiled). Is it wrong that all I wanted for my birthday was amazing food? I don't think so. The whole experience at D.O.C. was darn near perfect.

I think the best thing about the Douro Valley is also the thing that makes me kind of sad: it's so undiscovered compared to Napa or Tuscany or Provence. I know it won't stay that way for long so I'm thankful we got a little piece of it when we did. Portugal stole our hearts, big time. We will definitely be back. 

July 16, 2010

like a gallway girl

We had so many wonderful experiences on our trip to Europe that it's hard to pick the ones to share. The West coast of Ireland? Incredibly beautiful and the nicest people you will find anywhere on the planet. Barcelona? Buzzing and full of life and more to see and do than we could have possibly made time for in four days. San Sebastian (in the North of Spain, Basque country) was my second favorite, tied with Lisbon, which is the most chic, cosmopolitan city in Europe. Now I love Paris more than I can explain, but I'm here to tell you there is something very special about Lisbon. You'll just have to go there to experience it for yourself. And then there was the Douro Valley of Portugal, which is one of the Best Kept Secrets of Europe. Trust me on this one.

I thought I'd start with Ireland, since we started there first and because it was just too beautiful. And because they love Americans, which is always a nice bonus. And because they sang to me about Gallway girls: "her hair was black and her eyes were blue", just like me. I found my people!

We spent the majority of our time in the Spanish Point area, which includes the breath-taking Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands. Along with my two brothers, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, husband (!), mom, and mom's friend, we spent four days staying in a little cottage, driving around the coast, riding bikes on the Aran Islands, cooking great food, and spending much-needed time together.

Since we cooked at the house for almost every meal, I don't have any great food stories. To be honest, the food in Ireland is quite expensive. I also happen to have a culinary genius for a sister-in-law, who spoils us rotten every time I see her. Her lemon olive chicken stewed in white wine? To die for. 

I did, however, come across this lovely little scone made by the wife of a nice Irish man selling coffee at one of the piers as we were waiting to board our ferry to the island of Inishmore. Did I want butter and jam, he asked? Um, yes please. That's what a Gallway girl would do, I bet.

July 9, 2010

Back in action.

I apologize for the long hiatus. Life is just very time-consuming sometimes! A lot has happened in five weeks. We got married, went back to work for a bit, flew on a plane to Ireland and then to Spain and Portugal, and now it's back to real life. As wonderful and hard-to-believe as the past five weeks have been, it's nice to be "back". I have two amazing birthday dinners, a gazillion pictures, a vineyard, and one incredible custard tart to share with you very soon. I promise.

p.s. The photo is courtesy of Adie Gately and Twin Town Studios. We heart her. 

June 1, 2010

It's really going to happen.

This week is finally here. I'm actually getting married. It's really going to happen. I'm so excited and nervous I can hardly sit in my chair. There's so much I want to show you, but you'll just have to wait. For now, take a look at these little guys. Jason made boxes for our centerpieces out of old barn wood. They turned out better than I could have ever imagined. The old paint really compliments the colors in the plants. It's like he's a designer or something!

There is lots more to come. We had some belated engagement photos taken by our adorable photographer, Adie Gately of Twin Town Studios on Saturday in the backyard with Mater. My brothers and my sister will be here soon. I'm so excited to see them, my heart hurts. And then on Friday, I will marry my best friend in the whole wide world. I'm just not sure it gets any better than this.

May 12, 2010

to my mama

My mom was the person who taught me to bake, so it was only absolutely necessary that I whip up something good for Mother's Day. My mom is a really great lady. From her, I get my strong opinions, love of home, a little bit of sass, and dark hair. I'm sure there's lots more (our voices sound exactly the same, for example) but you get the idea. I'm a lot like my mom. And I think that's a good thing.

She opened a restaurant when I was a senior in college (6 years ago!) and at first, it was just her and I running the place. That was how I learned to bake - my mom always let me have creative freedom to experiment and come up with new recipes. The trailmix cookie was born that way, actually. She built the business from the ground up, the right way - slowly over time - and it's certainly something to be proud of today.

So anyway, I made this for my mama to celebrate her day:

The recipe came from Giada De Laurentiis. I love the way Giada uses ricotta in baking. You should really try her ricotta lemon cookies. They are sooooo good. This recipe is very good as well. Serve it with some sugared strawberries and whipped cream. Enjoy, and toast to your mom.

Ricotta Orange Pound Cake
adapted from the recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature (plus more to grease the pan)
1 1/2 cups whole milk or part skim ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 orange, zested
2 T triple sec liqueur
1/2 tsp almond extract
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bunt or loaf pan. 

Using a mixer, beat together the butter, ricotta and sugar on medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and liqueur. Mix well. 

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter and ricotta mixture and mix until just combined. Do not over mix. 

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let rest for about 10 minutes, and then turn the cake on to a plate or cake stand. After the cake has cooled, dust with powdered sugar. Serve with strawberries (or your berry of choice) and fresh whipped cream.

March 12, 2010

The perfect blondie.

I mentioned awhile back that I've been on the hunt for the perfect blondie recipe. Well ladies and gents, I do believe I've found it. Where I found this perfect recipe forces me to admit something that might make me seem a little, um, nerdy. I got the recipe because I subscribe to Gwyneth Paltrow's newsletter, GOOP. So what if I'm a huge Gwyneth fan and secretly want to be her? No big deal.

I actually really love her newsletter. She sends out fairly useful tidbits about food, fashion, wellness, etc. In one of her food newsletters, oh about a year ago, were recipes for a bake sale. I took note of the blondie recipe but never got around to making them. Last weekend we decided to take advantage of the decently warm weather and cook out. I've got spring fever bad, and I thought making blondies would help. I was right.

Gwyneth's recipe called for peanut butter chips and marshmallows, but I'm not crazy about marshmallows so I left them out. I happened to have butterscotch chips instead, so I used those, and added some chocolate chips and macadamia nuts to round it out. I really love the combination, but you could substitute all kinds of things if you prefer.

Gwyneth's Blondies
I cut her recipe in half because I didn't want a gazillion of them. But the recipe doubles for a 12"x18" cookie sheet with a 1" rim. There is coconut in here for texture, so try it even if you don't like coconut.

2 sticks of unsalted butter at room temp
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups of unbleached, all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup butterscotch chips
3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x12 inch pan.
Cream the butter and sugars together in a mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, just until combined. Mix in the chips and nuts. Spread into the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

March 4, 2010

We're almost there.

Today I bring you a little preview of what I've been working on for the wedding, with the help of some wonderful friends. I won't lie: we found this gorgeous wedding and decided to steal a lot of ideas, including the yellow and gray color palette. I love it.

We are sewing napkins for all (estimated) 175 of our guests. That's right, sewing them. With a sewing machine. I'M actually learning to sew! It's so much fun, who knew? The fabric is Amy Butler. She has such amazing prints.

This is a sample poof - one of about 150 we have to make to hang from the ceiling with huge round lanterns, in what my friend Nat calls "a makeshift chandelier". Nat, by the way, is a creative genius and is my unofficial wedding planner. She was the one that said, "Yes we CAN make cloth napkins for everyone!", even though I was terrified of the idea. But with the help of Nat, Jamie, Debby, Emily, Winter and Jess, we're almost there. This whole wedding thing is coming along quite nicely, really. I can't wait.

February 19, 2010

Novel concept.

A lot has happened over the past few months. One of my best friends had a baby, her first. We suffered a major loss in my Jason's family. I went on a work trip to Peru. We are knee-deep in wedding planning, decision-making, and list-checking. It's been a whirlwind now that I think about it.

And while the loss part of it has overshadowed a lot of the good, I can definitely say I have re-prioritized some things. I am a person that loves to be busy busy busy, all the time. I usually have several projects, a couple of books, a stack of recipes, going at any one time. Some call it adult ADD, but I like to think of it as productive. Anyway, I came to the conclusion over the past few months that I actually don't like being so busy; that what I really want to do is sit with the people I love and just talk, or read a magazine on my couch. I'm trying to re-learn the art of doing nothing. That was actually my new year's resolution this year: to do less.

So, I made the decision to put my baking business on hold for now. Admitting that I can't do it all is very hard for me. I'm a people pleaser. I like to say 'yes', not 'no'. But I'm getting better at it. Slowly. The thing that was meant to be fun was becoming...a job. And that was never the point. It has actually been a huge relief, I have to say. With the exception of some work I'm doing with The Coffee Ethic, I'm only baking for fun now. Which is really fun! Novel concept.

What does "baking for fun" entail? Lemon yogurt cake that is so moist it you'll have to try hard to convince yourself it's good for you. I'm also on a quest for the perfect blondie. I'll have to get back to you on that one.

I'm also doing a lot of eating of other people's baked goods, like these amazing cinnamon rolls with a thick, buttery caramel icing that my mother makes:

Happy February.