Buttermilk Biscuits


You know that I always try to have a little backstory to go along with a recipe, because I think that it’s much more fun to find out why someone cooks or bakes something than just read a recipe, which you can do on any cooking site. A lot of times, though, I have no good tale after I try a recipe, but I really want to share it and so I wander around trying to fit the recipe into a story, any story, so I can write about it. I mean, I’m not crazy (or committed) enough to go do something just so I can post about it and give you a recipe, but I do have a backlog of tasty treats that are hanging out just waiting for the right moment.

This is not one of those moments. The true story is that I bought a quart of buttermilk (seriously, who needs a quart of buttermilk?) in order to make sweet potato muffins for a brunch. Since the recipe only calls for 1/3 cup of buttermilk I had a full container when I was done.  I was thrilled when the lemon poppyseed cake called for a cup; I thought I could at least put a dent in the quart. But it’s obvious that buttermilk regenerates, because I swear that the carton was as full as when I started (and I made three of those cakes).  So as the expiration date approached, I started thinking about what else I could do.  Biscuits were the first thing that popped into my mind, but I dismissed them because I’m not a fan.  The ones I’ve had have always been heavy and chewy and too buttermilky–the tang of buttermilk is overpowering to me.  But I couldn’t find any recipes other than cakes and pancakes, so biscuits won by default.

Having never eaten a biscuit that I actually liked, I had every intention of just making them, taking a few pictures and pawning them off on my coworkers.  What really ended up happening is that I was late for work, because I was standing in my kitchen eating biscuits dripping with butter and honey like it was my job.  I moved from the “I’ll pass” camp to the “you’ll pass over all the biscuits now if you know what’s good for you” camp in less time than it took for them to cool.  They were light and layered and had a bit of sweetness (even without the honey) that balanced out the tartness of the buttermilk.  Even the next day they were soft and had none of that chewiness that I think plagues other biscuits.  Of course, I wouldn’t really know how they hold up for too many days, because there weren’t any left after day two.  But, you know what was still hanging around? 1/2 a quart of buttermilk. I kid you not.

Buttermilk Biscuits, courtesy of The Homesick Texan (I think I originally found the recipe on epicurious, but think it’s better to link to her actual site)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading (9 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste (I used just 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half or buttermilk (I added a bit more to the dough, because it was a little dry as I was mixing)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet or cast-iron skillet.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Cut the stick of butter into pieces and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or pastry blender until it resembles pea-size crumbs. Add the half-and-half or buttermilk, mixing until the dough is a bit loose and sticky.

Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute. Dough should be smooth and no longer wet. You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find it’s sticking. Make the dough into a ball and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes (I actually just picked up the dough and threw it down over and over (fold over before throwing it down again).  Good tension release and upper arm workout).

Roll out the dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, then fold it in half. Using a round biscuit cutter (you can use a glass or a cup if you don’t have a biscuit cutter–I used a measuring cup), cut out the biscuits from the folded dough. Place on a greased baking sheet or in a cast-iron skillet close together, about 1/8 of an inch apart (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

NOTE: If you don’t want to roll and cut them out, after kneading and beating the dough you can drop the dough onto the baking sheet with a spoon. They’re not as symmetrical (dropped biscuits are also known as cat-head biscuits), but they’re no less delicious.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake


When I was little, I used to spend my summers with my grandparents in New York getting spoiled rotten and loving every second of it. My grandmother and I would build our day around chores, cooking and watching soap operas. Our favorite was As the World Turns; we were hooked and made no apologies for it.  Over the summer they brought in teen plot lines, and even though I was nowhere near being a teen, I knew a good tale when I saw it. I never watched during the school year, but when I’d return to New York the following June, there my TV friends would be, almost exactly where I left them, with perhaps a day or two—a week, at best—having passed in their fairy tale lives. Within a day, I would be fully caught up and I’d settle in as though I hadn’t been gone for 9 months. Hopefully you see where this is going (I really hope you do, because my train of thought has gotten derailed a bit as I’ve travelled down memory lane…). I know I haven’t been around and that you’ve all gone on with your lives, but I hope you’ll play a little soap opera time warp game with me and pretend that only a day or two has passed since we last talked food and fun.

So. Where were we? Yes! I was traipsing around the globe, feeling very adventurous and worldly. My last trip before summer was to Ireland for a wedding. Now let’s pause here to say that there is a backstory to me flying to Ireland for 72 hours to go to the wedding of a man I met once (on St. Patrick’s Day!) located in a town that was 7 miles from the edge of nowhere. While that story, in retrospect, is somewhat as fraught with drama and tension as a plot line on The Young and the Restless, to tell it would take us on the kind of detour that we’d need a bottle of Maker’s Mark to navigate, so let’s just get to the food. I found myself in County Westmeath on a misty Friday afternoon at a lovely old mansion overlooking mile after mile of greenery (I was slightly disappointed that there was nary a field of heather, nor could anyone tell me where I could see one, but there you have it). At any rate, the first best surprise of the event was that after the ceremony we were all ushered into a beautiful atrium where they were serving tea and scones! Like in actual tea cups and with bowls of clotted cream and everything. I found this to be the most charming thing I’d ever seen, especially at a wedding, to the point that I made a fool of myself taking pictures of teacups and plates (the good thing about being the only American somewhere is that you always have an excuse for borderline behavior. “Oh, that random girl that none of us know who’s taking pictures of cups? She’s AMERICAN… [wink wink].”).

The second best surprise was the wedding cake. I have come to expect disappointment when it comes to wedding cakes, because they tend to be all looks and no taste.  This seems unfair to all involved since most likely we, as guests, have gone through every minutiae of wedding details with the couple, including the tasting, and then we don’t get anything remotely resembling the deliciousness we were promised (not that I go to weddings for the food. Ahem). Much to my happiness, though, there was a lemon poppyseed cake which, again, upped the charm factor of this wedding. It was a bold move; poppyseeds are not the fan favorite anywhere (I don’t think…?) and with a pound cake consistency, it had the potential to be dense. But, as one of my dinner companions said, the cake was “gorgeous.” I’d never in my life heard someone describe the taste of food as gorgeous before and that–along with the jet lag and Jameson’s–just about knocked me off my chair.

I wanted to recreate that cake long before I even finished eating it, but it took another two months before I got it together to make one for a friend’s birthday. She’d requested a fruit filling, so I found a recipe for a berry compote that I decided I’d put in between the layers of cake and on top. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Yeah, that’s just about where the gorgeousness ends,unfortunately. While the berries were tasty (it’d never occurred to me to use thyme with fruit), the cake was dry and had so little flavor it was almost a crime against lemon cakes everywhere. I was disappointed, not only because I’d baked it for a friend, but because I’d really wanted to bring that bit of Ireland back with me.  The trip, like the cake, was so unexpected and lovely and just right, that to be able to return to the magic of that time just by whipping up a dessert would have been glorious.  But, the cake didn’t work, literally or figuratively (and I realize that was a lot of pressure on a little baked good (and a hefty dash of wishful thinking), but have you ever found me to not take things to levels previously unknown?).

I recently decided to try again, this time using a recipe I had long before the disastrous one, but completely forgot about.  I added poppyseeds and gambled on using lemon extract, because have you seen the price of lemons lately?  The result was–dare I say it–gorgeous.  It was moist and light and I love the texture that the poppyseeds added.  As a bonus, the lemon extract made it taste fresh with a slight tartness and lemon growers everywhere are going to have to survive without me from now on (and I’ve used bottled lemon juice as a replacement in other recipes and didn’t like the results. You purists out there can send me cash for real lemons, if you want).  I didn’t add the berries this time, since they were out of season, but I’ve included the recipe below because it’s worth trying.

As I put this cake together, I couldn’t be farther from where I was when I bit into that wedding cake in Ireland. I was a little lost then, a little disconnected from myself–nothing was quite working no matter how hard I tried and how true my intentions were. My failed attempt at my friend’s cake was how I’d been feeling for several months presented on a platter.  It’d be unfair to stress out this new lemon poppyseed cake with the pressure I placed on the other one, but I won’t lie, the success of this cake makes me feel like maybe-just-possibly-let’s-keep-our-fingers-crossed I’m back.  The fact that it was a recipe I had tucked away waiting for the right moment makes me think I was never really gone in the first place.  Either way, it’s good to be home….

Lemon Poppyseed Cake (adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties, by Ina Garten. I used her lemon cake recipe as the base; my notes in red)

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Peppermint Patty Brownies


Do you ever have one of those moments when you realize that it is very possible that you are someone else’s crazy? Like, when you have to dig deep and say, “Self, you are about to become the punchline in someone’s ‘Oh my god, I used to know this crazy girl who…’ story if you don’t stop acting so, well, crazy.” ? I was (am?) there yesterday.  I asked someone a question that as the words were coming out of my mouth, the logical, non-Sybil side of me was screaming, “STOP TALKING!!! STOP. TALKING. RIGHT. NOW!!” but it was out and there was nothing I could do but own it and try to move on.  Yikes.

What this has to do with food is really nothing other than I decided to bake some brownies to occupy my mind (because I’ve never made brownies from scratch before so I thought it would be a good project) and try to bring myself back to a place that’s a little more Zen and a little less whirling dervish.  Baking has a calming effect on me mainly because I have to concentrate on measuring ingredients out and setting up bowls and not overmixing or underbaking and it’s hard to think about random acts of nuttiness as you are trying to get egg whites to reach a perfect peak.  For a very long time I’ve wanted to make brownies with Peppermint Patties in them because I love brownies and I love Peppermint Patties and so, why not?  I realized that putting them at the bottom of the pan would likely not be a good idea, so I decided to do a layer of brownie batter followed by a layer of Peppermint Patties and then topped by a layer of batter.  Keep in mind that I was watching the end of Kings of Pastry while I was thinking about this, so inspiration was running high.

It’s doing this–making up recipes–that makes me realize that I really have no idea what I’m doing in a kitchen, despite having taken classes and made my way through boot camp.  So when the original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, I had to pause and try to figure out how to account for the fact that I was adding Peppermint Patties to the mix.  And then would that change the consistency of the brownies? And would the middle of the patties melt and harden and become inedible? And should I cut back on the chocolate? AND……! And before you knew it, I’d forgotten all about my moment of crazy the day before since I had now spiralled down into an abyss of culinary kookiness.  But unlike my other bout of WTF?, I was the only witness and could easily conceal all evidence if need be.

After a bit of tweaking and doubling the baking time, I have to admit to being pretty happy with my experiment.  They’re a little crisper on top than I’d normally like, but the center is moist and fudgy and I cut them so there’s a Peppermint Patty in each square.  The sides (which are usually my fave part of a brownie) were much too crunchy, so I had to cut them off.  I’m not sure if that had to do with lining the pan with foil or that I had to bake much longer than recommended (I think the suggested pan size is too small).  But the absolute best part is that I was completely distracted, which is exactly what I wanted (more than I wanted a whole pan of warm brownies, which says a lot).  I feel better, I can think back on what was said without cringing and calm has returned to my world.  But…there’s one lingering thing nagging at me.  If being in a kitchen can make me this happy so quickly, what the *$)#%& am I doing sitting in an office all day….?

Peppermint Patty Brownies (adapted from Gourmet, October 2003)

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Chocolate Chip Crisps


I always think that the worst part about the holidays being over, other than my credit card statement, is that the treats just end.  And there’s no weaning period, either.  You leave work in December slightly overwhelmed by the chocolate and candy on every desk and come back in January and there is nary a goody to be found.  Not even a Lifesaver or a broken candy cane.  After being on a sugar high since Halloween, it’s kind of harsh to give up the sweets so suddenly.  And it adds to the winter blahs, too, no?

I’d planned to whip up another Hawaiian treat for you so you’d forget that the forecast is cold, followed by frigid and rounded out with a little dear-lord-I-think-the-inside-of-my-nose-has-frozen for the next 7 weeks, but I was craving something comforting and chocolate laden and not too terribly bad for me (as hard as it is to imagine, that combination does exist!) to ease me into the new year.  Luckily, one of Santa’s elves delivered these crisps in my stocking and it took every ounce of self-control I had not to eat the whole bag in one sitting.  Twenty minutes later I said to myself, “Self, it is Christmas and you have suffered in overheated stores and ruined new boots in the snow in order to spread holiday cheer to others, so if eating an entire large Ziploc bag of crisps would warm your soul, go for it.” And so I did.  With a glass of milk that may or may not have had a shot of Kahlua in it.  Why do I admit these things to you?! 

Anyhoo, they are as easy as they are delicious and the hint of curry is a nice addition to the standard cookie happiness.  I think I would up the curry a bit more next time, but I like a little spice.  The original recipe called for pistachios, which I obviously avoided, but I think just about any nut would work here.  Get creative! What’s the worst thing that could happen? You have to eat a tray of test crisps all by yourself?  If that’s the low point of winter, I’d say we’re off to a good start…

Chocolate Chip Crisps (adapted from Paul Grimes’ Pistachio Dark-Chocolate Crisps in Gourmet, December 2007)

  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Nestle semi-sweet chips)
  • [1/2 cup of chopped nuts of your choice]

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment.

Blend butter, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, salt, curry powder, and egg white in a food processor until smooth.

Glue parchment down with a dab of batter in each corner, then spread remaining batter evenly into a 14- by 10-inch rectangle (1/8-inch-thick) on parchment with spatula. Scatter chocolate and nuts evenly over batter, then bake until firm and golden-brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer, still on parchment, to a rack to cool completely. Remove from paper, breaking into pieces.

Christmas Treats


I have a friend who is a terrible regifter.  There is nothing wrong with regifting; I’ve done it myself on occasion (never to you or one of your presents though! NEVER! How could you even think that?!?).  The key to regifting is to remember who gave you what and never make the regift seem as though that’s exactly what it is.  I mean, if you have a known dislike of scented candles, don’t go and give someone a set of pine scented tapers that you received. It’s going to be obvious that you didn’t purchase that.  But, if you get something that you already have one of, or that doesn’t fit and you really can’t return, I say regift away in good faith!  This friend, though, has not only regifted me something that I have given her (can you seriously imagine??), but has regifted me something that is so hideous that you know someone regifted it to her at some point.  There was likely a chain of this particular gift dating back to the late 20th century that I had to break.  I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, give it to anyone else (even a work grab bag), yet I couldn’t throw it away because it was a gift, as horrid as it was… So it sits in my closet taking up valuable shoe space.  I wish I could tell you what it is, but I need to protect the regifter here.  Don’t be that person this year.

Anyhoo, I bought many ingredients over the last couple of days to make all manner of Christmas goodies, but truth be told, the transition from sunny Hawai’i to bitter cold Chicago has taken its toll.  Tears have been shed as I watched the weather report while eating from a bag of chocolate chips intended for chocolate covered pretzels.  But this is where the regift is totally acceptable.  I’ve listed below some of my fave recipes from Christmases past so that you can make a list, hit the stores and be ready for Santa or other guests that may drop in unexpectedly.  You can thank me by promising to have a happy, joyful, restful, food-and alchoholful Christmas.  Merry Merry to you!

Chocolate Covered Oreos are my favorite go-to easy dessert year round.  Adding crushed candy canes kicks them up a holiday notch.

Sugar and Gingerbread Cookies are two of Santa’s favorites, so if you haven’t been all that good this year I’d commit these recipes to memory ASAP.  The vanilla cream is addictive, so be careful.

Would it really be Christmas without a fruitcake?  In a perfect world, you would have started soaking yours in rum around Easter, but give your guests a shot of Appleton’s on the side and they’ll be happy.

Speaking of rum, a little goes a long way in this egg nog.  Unless you’ve had a really stressful shopping experience; then you may as well do it up a bit.  I won’t tell.

If you’re feeling like really ramping up the decorating, try making red velvet cupcakes and adding a little green food coloring to the icing.  I don’t know, for some reason it looks really cute in my head.  It could be that I’ve had a bit too much of the spiked egg nog mentioned above…

Growing up, Christmas breakfast was almost as important as Christmas dinner in our house.  These cinnamon rolls are hella labor intensive, but also hella delish and impressive, so get started on making Santa’s good list for next year and have these ready.  Otherwise, doughnut holes or blueberry muffins will definitely hit the spot after all the presents have been unwrapped.

You deserve a break today, and it’s not at McDonald’s.  After all the shopping and wrapping and making chit chat with cousins you (a) see once a year and (b) don’t actually like, relax with a Come Heather Look, brought to you by the letters G-I-N and the friendly folks at St. Germain.  Don’t say I never gave you anything…

Pumpkin Pie Brulée


Oh kids!  Did you think that I’d forgotten about you? Did you worry that I wouldn’t come up with a little Thanksgiving something to complete your holiday table?  Probably not, because if you’re like me, you are so ridiculously overwhelmed by the fact that Thanksgiving is TOMORROW for crying out loud, that you have precious little room to think about anything else.  For the love of all things good, where is the time going??  Remember that one time when I said that I’d have all of these new and exciting things for you? Yeah.  About that… I really truly do, but life came at me fast over the past couple of weeks and things got a bit sidetracked (apologies in advance for a pictureless post.  Fingers crossed that I can get them up this afternoon. You know, after I actually bake the pies and all…).  And then I’m (knock on wood) going on a bit of a holiday next week (Hawaii! Woo hoo!).  I promise that after I disconnect the Mai Tai drip, I will be back in full force.  Please stick around, ok?  You all make me happy and I’d like to return the favor.

Even though I haven’t actually made the pie for this Thanksgiving yet, it is my go to Turkey Day dessert, so I can completely stand behind it.  A couple of years ago, I decided to mix things up a bit and try something else, and you know how that turned out.  It was kind of like when you have your very best friend for years and then the new girl comes to town and she seems like the perfect person to be your new best friend and even though you know better you ditch the old best friend for the new one and she totally stabs you in the back and steals your boyfriend.  And then you have to go begging your old friend to take you back.  Not that that ever happened to me, but you get the point (I hope.  It’s early and while this all makes sense in my head, I worry that it’s not translating).  At any rate, the pie is relatively easy as pies go, but I’m going to say go ahead and use a pre-made crust, because who has time to cut butter into flour and all that other crazy at this late date (and if you do have the time, god love you and please stop by my house with some fresh dough).  I will also suggest that you pick yourself up a handy blow torch to make the brulée topping, because putting it under the broiler is a little iffy and who doesn’t like to have some fun with a blow torch around the holidays? If you do go the broiler route, be sure to cover the edges of your crust with foil so there are no burnt bits.  Oh! And a little whipped cream never hurt anyone.

Since I’ll be making duck, I can’t help you out on the turkey part, but in case you need some ideas for sides, check out the posts on cranberries, roasted sweet potatoes, cornbread stuffing and corn goodness.  All are super easy and delicious, which is exactly what we need as the holiday madness descends.  I, of course, wish you a lovely Thanksgiving, filled with happy times and enough leftovers for a midnight snack…

Updated: I decided to do mini pies and the first time around worked well.  Just bake on a cookie sheet for about 25 minutes, chill and do your bruleeing before serving.  The second time around for a party, I bruleed and then transported, and the sugar melted and there was no turning back to the crunchy sugar coating I’d perfected before I left home.  Lesson learned: carry a blow torch with you at all times.  So, I have to give this 3 stars, because while it’s tasty as can be, the inability to be able to rely on it turning out right each time is too much for my baker’s heart to handle…

Pumpkin Pie Brulée (courtesy of Bon Appetit)

  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Fold overhang under and crimp decoratively. Pierce dough all over with fork. Freeze 15 minutes. Line crust with foil; fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until sides are set, about 12 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Whisk pumpkin and 3/4 cup sugar in large bowl to blend. Whisk in eggs, then cream, spices, and salt. Pour filling into warm crust. Bake pie until filling is set in center, about 50 minutes. Transfer pie to rack; cool 30 minutes. Chill until cold, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Preheat broiler. Sprinkle pie evenly with 2 tablespoons sugar. Broil until sugar melts and begins to caramelize, turning pie for even browning, about 1 minute. Let pie stand until topping hardens, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle pie again with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Broil again until sugar browns, about 1 minute. Refrigerate pie until topping hardens, about 30 minutes. Serve or keep refrigerated no more than 2 hours longer.

Flaky Pie Crust Dough

Yield: Makes one 9-inch crust

  •  1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and shortening. Rub in with fingertips until very coarse meal forms. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons water. Toss until moist clumps form, sprinkling with more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before using.)

Sweet Potato Muffins


 

I am, generally, an organized person.  It may not seem like it if you were to look at my desk, but I always know exactly where things are (likely because I’m an only child and there was no one around to move something once I put it somewhere), I rarely lose things and I can pretty much remember details of where I need to be without writing them down. I say all of this to tell you that I rarely do more than glance at information, because I rely (overly so) on my ability to absorb it quickly and remember it.  Fortunately for me, I show up where I’m supposed to be 9 times out of 10, so I’ve had little need to reconsider my methods.  But that 10th time? That 10th time will always be when it truly truly counts.  The biggest “slip up” I’ve made was when I was supposed to get sworn in to the Illinois bar.  Weeks prior to the swearing in, the bar people sent a letter listing where you needed to go based on where in Illinois you lived.  For Chicago, it was McCormick Place on XYZ day at 2:30pm. Done.  I alerted relatives and friends and threw the paper into a pile.  

The appointed day arrived and I put on my new lawyer suit and went into work.  I told the partners that I’d have to leave around 2pm and wouldn’t be coming back for the day since a celebration at a Cuban restaurant was to follow.  I vaguely wondered why none of my classmates were around that morning, but I realized that they were probably smart and took the whole day off for this big event.  2pm rolls around and I pull out the letter so I could get the name of the room where the swearing in was supposed to be held. And what do I see?  The Chicago ceremony had started at 11:30.  My heart skipped a beat as I realized that I had just missed getting sworn in and I had no idea what that meant (these bar people are no joke.  To even take the exam you have to jump through so many hoops that I figured that they’d punish me in some way for missing it).  Tears, frantic phone calls and a speeding taxi ride followed.  I arrived at McCormick Place to see the janitors sweeping up left over flower petals and locking the doors to the auditorium.  My well-wishers arrived to find me sitting on the floor crying with nothing to show for the day but that crumpled letter.  You’ll be happy to know that I was able to be sworn in by a judge a few weeks later, but, while I still believe in my abilities, few people trust me to tell them where they need to be and when any longer.

This story has nothing to do with food other than to lead into another example of how I get something in my head and completely think it’s right and there’s no need for me to double check or think about it again.  Basically, I ended up making sweet potato muffins when, up to the minute I was about to put the sweet potato in the microwave, I thought I was making pumpkin muffins.  A coworker had given me a recipe for–the way I remembered it–pumpkin muffins a few years ago and given the autumn weather, I thought they’d be a happy treat.  I could even see the picture of the muffins in my head from the printout she gave me, but couldn’t find the recipe online and she didn’t remember it (likely because we were searching for a completely different recipe).  I finally found it this weekend when I cleaned out a folder full of dashed cooking dreams, with magazine recipes dating back to 1996.  I glanced at the recipe to make sure I had the ingredients, made out my grocery list and crafted the story behind the muffins based on the pumpkin picking I did a few weekends ago.  It was not until I was washing off the potato last night that it occurred to me that I was actually making sweet potato muffins instead of pumpkin ones.  How’s that for the power of suggestion (or my ability to kid (delude?) myself)? Even though I bought sweet potatoes, I still had it in my mind that these were all about the pumpkin… At least my efforts weren’t totally lost and I actually had the sweet potato.  And! I was right about the picture, so my long term memory seems to be fully functioning.  I take comfort wherever I can get it.

Anyhoo. They’re super yummy and moist and the cinnamon sugar coating is a nice addition, although I suppose if you want to be super healthy about it, you could leave it off.  And, I also suppose you could substitute pumpkin if your mind’s set on it…

Warm Sweet Potato Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar Coating (courtesy of Cuisine at Home)

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Cinnamon Rolls


 

I’m a total morning person. If I have work to do, I’d much rather go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 4am than stay up late.  Obviously I was a lot of fun in college.  I think I was one of the few people who actually left parties to go to bed (plus my grandfather always said nothing good happens after midnight.  Now, we all know “good” things can happen after midnight, but when you think back on it the next morning, it’s unlikely to fall into any category that constitutes good for a grandfather.  I digress…).  This saved me from gaining the notorious Freshman Fifteen, because I was tucked in well before the late night pizzas were delivered.  Senior year, I instituted the 11:30pm rule in our house which meant that on a school night, no one was allowed to wake me up unless the house was on fire, I was on fire or someone had died.  Don’t you wish you’d lived with me?  The 11:30 rule has become the 10:30 rule since I now live in a CST timezone.  I’m really not kidding about this; I’ve actually had friends ask if they can break the 10:30 rule to call me (I usually say yes…).

I have no idea where I was going with this (I actually wrote that paragraph last night and then, guess what? I got sleepy, so I’m finishing it this morning and have no idea what I was going to say next.  True story.).  At any rate, I truly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons, but it’s rare that I have anything more than cereal.  I really want to be one of those people who wakes up and squeezes orange juice to go with my freshly made waffles and crisp bacon, but for all of my morning person-ness, this is likely never to happen.  Why would I do that when there are perfectly good brunch spots within walking distance? I’m all for reinventing the wheel recipe-wise, but not if it’s going to stand in the way of bacon, you know?

So I was all over making these cinnamon rolls because I was craving them and it was too cold and rainy to go outside just for baked goods, especially when I had a delicious recipe from The Chopping Block and all of the ingredients.  But, you know what? I should have braved the elements because these are so ridiculously time consuming that I didn’t even want them half way through.  Seriously. It took me an hour to make the dough, what with the cooling times and mixing and figuring out how many ounces are in 3-3/4 cups of flour (that last part has more to do with my math skills than the recipe).  At any rate, I decided to just let the dough rise overnight, because it was close to lunch time by the time I finished making it and I couldn’t be bothered.  Putting them together was another lengthy process and all I could think was thank goodness there was no one waiting for these because they would likely have given up on me and gone out to get the canned version that bakes in 10 minutes.

That said, they are as ridiculously tasty as they are ridiculously time consuming.  The dough is sweet and chewy and I created a little icing based on the bourbon bread pudding version that is lick your fingers worthy.  So, if you are a total morning person who wants to spend some quiet time kneading dough while everyone else sleeps, make these this weekend.  Otherwise, I’ll catch you at brunch.  I’ll be the girl in the back cozying up to a plate of bacon…

Cinnamon Rolls (courtesy of The Chopping Block)

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Guest Post: Blueberry Muffins with a Gazpacho Chaser


Summer has come and gone and I admit to being more than a little sad about it.  I’m really not ready to pull out the fall gear, and the idea of heavy winter anything–clothes, food, boots–makes me a little twitchy. Luckily Heidi of Green Roof Growers is able to help me hang on to summer a bit longer with these lovely (98% of the time!) blueberry goodies and tasty home grown tomato treats.  Long live summer!

Clafoutis, Zucchini Blueberry Muffins, and Blender Gazpacho: Many Variables Later

A couple weekends ago Heather came by for a long-overdue visit. I’d already decided on the insanely easy and explicitly French clafoutis [a fruit filled cake] to have for nibbles, along with some gazpacho made with our roof-grown organic tomatoes.

I’ve made dozens of clafoutis (it’s one of my favorite sweets) using an equal number of recipes. Every time I see a clafouti recipe online I see it as a sign to Make Clafouti. It’s always eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and fruit…but in varying proportions.

Frankly, I now skip all recipes that call for preheating the pan and pouring in a thin layer of batter (sorry, Julia), letting it set up in the oven, and then taking it out to receive the fruit and rest of the batter. Who needs this?

A couple days earlier I’d made this recipe–with half-plums plopped cut-side down before being bathed in the batter–with a gorgeous finish.

 

 I used the very same recipe to make a blueberry clafouti for Heather. And the results were just depressing. There are many ways a clafoutis can look (I dare you to check out this image gallery and not run to the fridge to see if you have enough eggs to make one), but this isn’t one of them.

 

Heather asked what I’d done differently. Well, said I, I used blueberries instead of plums. And it was far more humid the day I baked the blueberry. And too late I noticed one of the burners on my oven had stopped working, so it wasn’t up to temperature when I slid in the pan.

(Heather is doubled over with laughter at this point.) “Anything else?!” she squeaked out. Well, it was so hot outside and there are so many new restos on our block sucking power away from us that the voltage stream to the oven was compromised (who except my smart boyfriend with a voltage meter knew this could even happen?).

Heidi’s Zucchini Blueberry Muffins

Undaunted, I’d also whipped up a couple batches of my favorite blueberry muffins for the folks working our honey harvest the following day. I assure you that this recipe can withstand the vagaries of baking in an uncertain oven…and how can I make that assertion? I baked them in the same under-heated oven (just longer than usual) as the clafoutis.

This altered recipe for zucchini bread delivers a 200-calorie muffin that makes people want to eat five, replacing a lot of the high-gluten white flour with quick oats.

Recipe

Two bowls are needed: a large bowl for the wet ingredients, sugar, and oats + a smaller one for the scant dry ingredients and blueberries.

Preheat oven: 375 degrees

Baking time: 20 minutes

Broiler time: a minute or so to brown the muffin tops after they’re done baking (optional)

Oil a 12-cup muffin tin before you start…

Wet bowl

  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded (1 heaping cup)
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil (olive oil or canola)
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 Combine the mix well, moistening the oats so they absorb the liquids while you prepare the dry bowl.

  Dry bowl

  • ¾ cup white flour or pastry wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

 Use a whisk to mix the dry ingredients.  Then add 2 heaping cups fresh or frozen blueberries, tossing to coat.

Mixing dry into wet

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet bowl and, using a rubber spatula, blend using confident, large strokes. The idea is not to thoroughly combine the ingredients (though if you do this the sky won’t fall), but rather to combine to a point where you still see some dry flour in the mix.

Use a quarter-cup measure to fill the muffin tin. Then shake a little extra cinnamon and nutmeg onto the top of each muffin. These are not extremely sweet tidbits, so if you like sugar, sprinkle a little on top of each muffin for extra sweetness.

Bake @ 375 for 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for ten minutes or so and then remove the muffins to the rack to cool completely.

Gazpacho

Meanwhile, the Mark Bittman Gazpacho was coming together. I realized too late that Heather has had her issues with Bittman (something about a chocolate cake?), but his basic gazpacho is a farmers market girl’s dream.

I had the blender half-full when Heather arrived, with extra cukes because I’d bought a bunch at the Wicker Park Farmers Market.

Not in the recipe, but we chopped and tossed in handfuls of fresh basil from the window boxes out front and added stale bread (that is part of the recipe).

Then we whizzed it up in the blender and strained it all through my new chinoise, a lovely gift from a thoughtful boyfriend (he’s not all about voltage meters). Adjust the sherry vinegar to your palate—we like a little bite.

No final photo, but this is the quickest soup you’ll ever make, smooth as silk. If you like a rougher soup, there’s no need to strain. And…if it’s the dead of winter, using canned tomatoes produces an equally delectable result.

Peach Kuchen


Following all good memoirists who now put disclaimers in bold typeface all over their books thanks to James Frey: the following story is based on my recollection of certain events.  All conversations are as I remember them and effort has been made to lay out the facts in chronological order, although some liberty may have been taken solely for the purpose of moving the story forward.  All names and defining features have been changed, except in the instance of the peach kuchen (a type of cake with fruit), because that’s the star of the story.

Senior year of college, my two best friends–Marie and Jenny–and I decided that it would be a good idea to share a house on campus.  The fact that all three of us are still alive to tell about it really does not do justice to how hard it is to live with your two best friends, another new friend (Lily) and a very angry cat while writing a thesis and in the throes of about 17 different college romances (spread out among us. Seriously! Who do you think I am??).   We were all writing a thesis, but Marie’s was due first semester, while Jenny, Lily and I had all year.  This meant that while Marie was busy being the queen of footnotes and index cards, the rest of us were free to gallivant for the first 3 months of the school year.  It also meant that when we’d get home from a party, Marie was still up working and we’d try our best to be quiet as we tipsyly made our way to bed. 

One Saturday afternoon, Jenny’s mom came up from New Jersey bringing with her a cooler full of food for us–lasagnas, bread, soup and desserts.  Being the poor starving students we were, we ate about 2/3 of the food she’d meant to have last at least 2 weeks.  We were clever enough to store a lasagna in the freezer and put away most of the desserts, except for the peach kuchen.  I think we decided we’d devour it the next day for breakfast after a night drinking watered down amaretto sours (because we were nothing if not classy).

That night, Jenny, Lily and I headed out to parties, leaving Marie behind to work on her key to Phi Beta (which she got!). The next morning Jenny and I are in the kitchen making coffee, while Marie was reading the Sunday NYT.  I suddenly remember the kuchen.  The bright light of the morning seemed a bit more mellow with the thought of homemade pastry. 

“Jenny!! We have kuchen! Pull it out!”

“Why are you yelling? It sounds as though a freight train is running through my head.”

“That’s why we need the kuchen, babe.  Hand it to me and I’ll put it in the oven to warm.”  Jenny’s head disappeared into the refrigerator and I hear a muffled voice.

“It’s not here.  Did you freeze it?”

“No, I put it on the bottom shelf last night. Just keep looking.  You can’t be that hungover.”

“I’m telling you there’s no kuchen in here. There’s milk, a half eaten lasagna, some rotten lettuce and condiments. No kuchen.”  It’s at this point that Marie’s little voice pipes up.

“Um. I have to tell you something.”

“Hold on a second. We’re on the hunt for the missing kuchen.”

“Yeah. Um. About that.  I ate it.”  I stop pouring coffee and look out over the kitchen island to the dining room where Marie is sitting.

“What do you mean you ate it? Like you had some of it? Who cares. Where’d you put the rest, though?”

“No, no. I ate the kuchen.” Now Jenny’s head has popped out of the fridge and she’s staring at Marie like she’s speaking another language.

“You ate an entire kuchen? By yourself? In one night? Who does that?”

Marie looks stricken, but is trying really hard not to laugh.  “No. I mean, yes. I ate the entire kuchen.  But it’s not what you think.”

“What I think is that you ate an entire kuchen, Marie. BY YOURSELF.  How am I wrong?”  This from Jenny, whose head looked like the freight train may come rumbling out at any minute.

“Ok. Technically, I ate the entire kuchen by myself. But listen to what happened!  I was working and you all were gone and I was sitting there and I remembered the kuchen.  So I went and I got a slice.  And then I went back to work.  And it was taking me a lot longer to finish this chapter that I need to get done to keep on schedule and so I made some tea and remembered the kuchen and so I had another slice.  And then it got later and I got more tired and I thought some sugar would help, so I got another slice and then…. Well then the slices started to add up and it was gone.” 

It was at this point that the tears started rolling down my face I was laughing so hard.  I could barely breathe, but managed to ask, “So your plan for staying up all night was to inhale a whole cake?  At what point did you figure out that that wasn’t the best idea?”

“Um… after it was gone and I realized I’d have to tell you guys what I did.”  By now Marie’s head is down on the table and all I can see are her shoulders shaking from laughter.  “I’m sorry, but the good news is that I finished my chapter.”

“Well, thank goodness for that,” piped in Jenny, who was not seeing the same humor.  “God forbid a kuchen my mom slaved over was sacrificed for no reason!”  This got us started laughing again as Jenny stormed out of the kitchen.

“Jen!! I’ll make you another one! I promise! I’ll get the recipe from your mom. Don’t be mad.”  But Jenny was already in her room, door slammed and didn’t hear.  Her dramatic exit started us laughing again.

“Marie.  Really. Did you eat the whole thing?”

“I did. And it was good. I’d do it again.”

Present day: Marie and I are still friends and still laugh over the kuchen.  We’ve lost touch with Jenny (not over the kuchen episode, although I’m sure that didn’t help) and we miss her and her mom’s baked goods.  I don’t know if Marie ever made Jenny a make up kuchen, but I saw fresh peaches yesterday and I knew I had to give it try.  Since I’ve never actually tasted one, I have no idea if this is real deal, but just getting to tell this story is dessert enough….

Peach Kuchen (adapted from allrecipes.com)

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