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A few posts ago, I mentioned that my goal has been to try at least one recipe from each cookbook that I get from the library. I have the habit of seeing a shiny new cookbook and putting it on hold, flipping through the recipes picking out ones that look tempting, and then never managing to try any of them before I have to return it to the library. Here’s my current batch:

So far I’ve made recipes from three (all except The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook), although I’ve checked out The Sprouted Kitchen twice, so I suppose I should make a second recipe. And, confession, I had to return The Science of Good Cooking because it had holds, and I barely even looked through it first.

Here’s what I’ve made.

Vintage Cakes: This is one that I requested my library buy, because it looked gorgeous and because I own and like Richardson’s other cookbook, Rustic Fruit Desserts (plus, she’s local). I had it out in the fall and made Pearl’s Chocolate Macaroon Cake (a yummy coconut layer inside a chocolate bundt cake – what’s not to like?) This time I made the Kentucky Bourbon Cake, since someone in my house is a big bourbon fan (and it’s not the baby). If you like the flavor of bourbon, this is a must-try. There’s some in the batter, and the cake itself is a nice moist, buttery bundt. Then you make a bourbon-sugar-butter glaze, poke holes in the flat side of the bundt, and pour half the glaze in. This gives you nice gooey, extra-boozy streaks in the cake. Then you flip the cake out of the pan and pour the rest over the top. Mine was unattractive (it stuck) but delicious.

The Sprouted KitchenI can’t remember where I saw this recommended, but I thought I needed something to balance out all the baking books. Lots of things look tasty, and so far I’ve made the Ranchero Breakfast Tostadas. It felt like a lot of steps and ingredients for a relatively humble meal, but it was worth it. You toast a corn tortilla and top it with a black bean mash, a fried egg, cheddar, avocado, cilantro and lime juice. We had them for dinner instead of breakfast, and the runny egg yolk really pulls it all together. I’d make this again – or at least use the basic concept once I have to return the cookbook.

The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: It turns out that I saw this on a list of 2012’s best cookbooks on NPR – along with The Sprouted Kitchen and The Science of Good Cooking. I haven’t made anything yet, but I’ve been eyeing some of the pies, like the Triple Coconut Cream Pie, although realistically I might manage some muffins or scones.

Super Natural Every Day: Some of these recipes have me drooling and some are less appealing, especially in my extremely carnivorous state. However, I made the Baked Oatmeal yesterday, reheated leftovers today, and think I’ve found a new breakfast standby. Not as quick and easy as our current favorite, a Dutch baby with a layer of sliced apples on the bottom (which I can make without referring to a recipe), but nice and hearty. And a worthy use of the last of the summer blueberries. I’d also like to try the White Beans and Cabbage, the Bran Muffins, or the Frittata.

Please excuse the silence on this end – all my reading has been one-handed for the last few weeks, and typing one-handed isn’t my favorite thing. Here’s my excuse:

baby

 

We seem to be getting into a bit of a routine, 5 weeks into it, and I’m in the curious position of feeling like my time isn’t my own and like I have all the time in the world (at least until I go back to work). I do have nice chunks of time to myself during the day, while he naps, and I’m just starting to figure out how to put them to my advantage. Depending on the previous night, there are naps to take myself, there are chores to be done, meals to be eaten, and projects to undertake.

So many projects!

Run errands while he won’t cause a fuss.

Take a walk if the weather’s nice.

Write a letter. A few friends and I, mourning the coming loss of Saturday mail service, decided to write 30 letters in 30 days – any type of mail counts, from postcards to packages – and I’m loving it, even when I’m a few letters behind. Right now I have three letters to reply to, which makes the whole project feel real.

Bake – I have a pile of newish cookbooks out of the library and I want to try at least one recipe from each before I have to return them. Right now I have The Sprouted Kitchen, The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, and The Science of Good Cooking. Meals are always iffy around here – the baby seems to sense that I’m hungry and work up an appetite himself – but I’ve managed some baking during his afternoon nap, and I might as well try some new things.

Read all those books that I kept thinking would be perfect for maternity leave. At the moment, I’m rereading the Elizabeth Peters books that I happen to own. Leila at Bookshelves of Doom is doing an Elizabeth Peters week, which I think is ending today, but it inspired me to pull out a tattered copy of Naked Once More and now Crocodile on the Sandbank – I haven’t read any of the Amelia Peabody books in years (I went on a reread through the Vicky Bliss books a few years ago) and I’m remembering why I loved them so much (even though they do get a bit repetitive as the series goes on…and on). I’m discovering that mass market paperbacks, which I usually dislike because they don’t lay flat – an important quality if you read while eating – are perfect for reading one-handed while nursing.

More soon, I hope. The creature is stirring.

I always know it’s really summer in Oregon when I can go blueberry picking.

blueberries

 

(Okay, so this picture is from 2007, but do blueberries really change? No.)

I went on Friday – I had the day off for working the weekend – and there’s nothing like a not-too-hot hour spent wandering between overgrown bushes, picking and eating and picking.

Now, to turn them into a blueberry tart! I’m thinking one of those ones with a sweet crust, pastry cream filling, and blueberries mounded on top. With leftovers for munching or freezing or turning into muffins.

Can I just say that cooking for two has led to much better meals? It makes dinner into more of an occasion, it gives me motivation to try new recipes (even though he’s just as happy eating the same thing every day), and (very important!) there is someone to help clean up. In fact, our division of labor is usually that I make dinner and he does the dishes. This makes me much more willing to make multiple courses or just actual meals instead of sandwiches.

Here are a few things I’ve made and loved recently. I haven’t been getting my camera out lately, so you’ll have to go to the original recipes to get visuals. Or, you can take a peek at my Pinterest recipe board, where I’ve pinned a bunch of these, plus more recipes I intend to try.

Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe. Super easy, this feels like a garlicky marriage of comfort food and vegetables. I’ve made this at least three or four times – it’s a new favorite. The first time I made it as directed, with broccoli rabe, but the store was out the second time around and it turns out that regular broccoli works just as well (although it doesn’t have that slightly bitter greens taste).

Tomato Sauce. Simple and buttery and delicious – this has to simmer for 45 minutes but otherwise involves so little effort that it’s perfect for nights when you’re lazy but not starving yet.

Granola Bars from both Smitten Kitchen and Orangette. I made SK’s fruitier version in the fall, but Orangette’s chocolately version made me love them in a new way. Great thing to have on hand for snacks.

Potato Salad. It’s kind of blasphemous to say in my family, but I don’t love my mom’s potato salad. There’s no crunch, it’s a little too mushed together, and it’s yellow. I dunno, other people love it. I liked this one much more – I didn’t use the red onion and my pickles weren’t as crunchy as I would’ve liked, but I love eggs in potato salad and the celery crunch.

Buttermilk Roast Chicken. This involves a bit of planning ahead, but then it’s easy the night of, giving you time to make your potato salad to go with it. Or, you know, maybe a vegetable.

Minestrone from How to Cook Everything. I first tried this when visiting Bronwen years ago and it’s become a staple – I like that he gives you proportions of hard and soft vegetables and then leaves it up to you. I almost always make it with potatoes, kidney beans and kale in addition to the carrots, celery, onions and tomato that he calls for. This last time I finally made my own stock with the remains of a roast chicken. I’d like to get into that habit, but the majority of the time I make this recipe, it’s Lent and chicken stock gets thrown aside in favor of vegetable (I use Rapunzel brand bouillon in those situations).

Glazed Fudge Cake from Bronwen’s mom, who probably knows where it came from originally. This was a Long Distance Kitchen recipe from almost two years ago – you can see Bronwen’s post for photos. The instructions have you use a food processor, and I only recently became the proud owner of one, so I gave it a try for my sister’s birthday this month. I think we have a new family favorite, folks – for once we argued over who got to take the leftovers home, and even my cake-disdaining brother ate a slice.

(Just FYI, when I typed “tradition” into the post title, I heard it in the voice of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, followed by a musical interlude.)

I got up early this morning to start the dough for a batch of Santa Lucia buns, or Lussekatter as I recently learned they’re called.  My church does a Santa Lucia procession after vespers on the Saturday closest to her feast day (the 13th) – they’ve done it since I was a tiny thing, too young to participate, then the right age to carry a candle, very solemnly, then the right age to play the part of St. Lucy herself. I’m trying to remember if my sister, who is actually a Lucy and has St. Lucy as her patron saint, ever got a turn.

At any rate, I have a soft spot for the tradition but haven’t made it to that vespers in many years.  This year I couldn’t resist the requests for people to bake buns, since I figure that if anything, I should volunteer to help in baking-related duties at church (see: hot cross buns for Palm Sunday). They’re still on their first rise, so I don’t know how they’ll turn out, but hopefully they’ll be delicious and ready before it’s time to go to The Nutcracker this afternoon (speaking of traditions!)

Here’s the recipe I was given to use – no idea where it originally came from.  And yes, apparently Santa Lucia buns count as a valid way to break the fast!

St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)

2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/2 warm water (105-115°)
2/3 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 margarine or butter softened
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. powdered saffron
5-5 1/2 cups flour, divided (I used about 5 cups and suspect this was a tad too much)
1/2 cup raisins
margarine or butter, softened
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp.sugar

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter or margarine,
2 eggs, cardamom, salt, saffron and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough of
remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface;
knead until smooth. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down dough;
divide into 24 parts. Shape each piece into an S-shaped rope; curve both ends into a coil.
Place raisin in the center of each coil. Place rolls on greased cookie sheet.
Brush tops lightly with butter; let rise until doubled. Mix 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water; brush buns lightly.
Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes. Makes 24 buns.

A quick word on this year’s Thanksgiving baking: as usual, I brought desserts.  I wasn’t sure how many of the other 20-ish guests were bringing dessert, so I went a little crazy.

  • Banana Ice Cream with Caramelized White Chocolate Freckles, from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  I’d never had banana ice cream before, but for some reason this recipe jumped out at me.  It was a HUGE hit.  Plus, I was a big fan of how she does her recipes – clear instructions that are ordered well – she tells you what to have prepped in advance and that made it all come together smoothly.  I have the book out of the library, where it (of course) has holds, so it will go back this week – but I might have to get myself a copy before too long, to keep David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop company on my shelf.  Oh, and I have half of the white chocolate bombe shell leftover, and the only question is which recipe to use it in/on?  Dark chocolate for contrast?  Something tart for a different kind of contrast?
  • Caramel Pumpkin Pie, from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking.  This was like darker, slightly more intense pumpkin pie.  I made it the morning of, with limited time, and the sugar took forever to caramelize, so I may not have gotten it quite as dark as would be ideal.  The flavor of the pie ended up being a nice balance between pumpkin and caramel.  I’d make it again, but not prebake the crust as long as she calls for (I used her Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough, in my brand-spanking-new food processor, and it was marvelously flaky but a bit too browned).
  • My Favorite Pecan Pie, also from Baking.  It earned the title.  Mark and I fought out who would have the last piece.  The espresso powder adds just the right hint of coffee flavor, and the dark chocolate chunks are perfect against the gooey filling.  Plus pecans are awesome.  I ended up keeping this one at home, which was a good call since there were tons of desserts to go around at dinner.
  • Double Apple Bundt Cake, again from Baking.  Big and moist and tasty, and a nice option for non-traditional-dessert people.  I didn’t ice it, but I kind of wish I had (I think the lemon icing would make a nice contrast to the sweet apple flavors).  I used Granny Smiths.

It’s a little bit of torture to write this all up now, in the midst of the Advent fast (no meat or dairy, fish generally allowed on the weekends).  It’s never my best fast – the rest of the world is firmly into holiday treat mode – but I’m doing pretty well with Lenten dinners.  Let’s not talk about the cream in my coffee, and just focus on the mujadara and vegetarian chili.  And now it’s time to decide which Christmas cookies to bake this year (I’ve been wishing I had a nice big expanse of counter to roll out sugar cookies and gingerbread).

I’m in a reading slump.  Oh, the shame!  My library shelf is full of delicious looking books, but whenever I pick one up, I move through it like molasses.  I’ve only finished three books this month – three!

I’ve been shunning my audio book (Beauty Queens) in favor of listening to NPR – although that might be the fault of the book.  The beginning had me hooked but then…I have no idea where it’s going.  Libba Bray, you and I need to have a talk about this – you lure me in repeadedly (A Great and Terrible BeautyGoing Bovine!) and then you drop me (ahem, The Sweet Far Thing).  I wasn’t exactly surprised when my enthusiasm for Beauty Queens cooled, but like the other books it just had so many good reviews.  And I liked the first couple of discs.  We’ll see about you.

I’m also just started rereading Chime on audio – I was curious to see how it felt on a reread, and how it came across listening instead of in print.  I’m also still trying to decide if it’s awesome or somewhat fatally flawed.  So far I’m digging it, although I’m listening in the house and I do tend to space out a bit when distracted by cooking or housework or whatever else I’m doing at the same time.

In print, it took me five days to get through After Hamelin, which was what my kids’ bookgroup picked for November in my absence.  Enjoyable, but it never had me enthralled.  Before that, I felt the same way about The Boy at the End of the World – funny and plenty of adventure, but never a page-turner or full of rich characters and atmosphere.  I think I need one or the other to really dig a book.

Before that was Icefall, which was pretty fabulous, and before that Daughter of Smoke and Bone which was definitely fabulous.  So they haven’t all failed to grip me, but I still feel like I’m in a slump.  Or maybe I’m just not dedicating enough time to reading.  What have I been doing?  I sure haven’t been writing my thank-yous or finding homes for the rest of the wedding gifts.  And here I am with half of a day off (hurray for holidays and three-day weekends, the perk of a public service job) and nothing to show for it other than a nearly-consumed apple oven pancake and…um…shoot, I’d better go take a shower and get something done.

Here’s a fairly recent Long Distance Kitchen recipe that came from Smitten Kitchen – Rhubarb Streusel Muffins.  It might be a little past rhubarb season now, but it would also be good with other not-too-sweet fruit (or maybe reduce the sugar if you use something sweeter).  The rhubarb chunks in here did end up pretty tangy, although in hindsight I might have sliced it a bit thick.

I didn’t have white whole wheat flour handy, so I followed Deb’s recommendation and used 3/4 cup white flour and  3/4 cup whole wheat flour in the batter.  Streusel is always tasty – this one was fairly crumbly but good.

Being not-too-sweet, these were good at breakfast.  Not a recipe that wowed me, but I’d recommend it.  I accidentally bought twice as much rhubarb as I needed, so not too long after I was looking for another rhubarb recipe and found one in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking for a very similar coffeecake.  The recipe is for Peach Coffeecake (recipe on a very unattractive random website) but includes a rhubarb variation, where you increase the sugar and switch rhubarb for peaches.  This recipe also calls for a whole wheat/all-purpose flour blend and the rest of the ingredients are similar, except for a larger quantity of sugar.  Maybe it’s just my sweet tooth talking, but I thought the tart/sweet balance was a little better here, and it certainly got devoured (and one pan got delivered to some new parents).

Sadly, no pictures of the coffee cake survive.  When rhubarb season rolls around next year, I might try making a combination of these recipes – somewhere in between the two levels of sweetness.

Somehow I got it into my head that I should go berry picking today.  It was the perfect opportunity – I have the day off since I worked the weekend, the weather is warm but not too hot, and here in Oregon it’s the tail end of the strawberry season and the beginning of raspberry and blueberry season.  I almost went for the strawberries, but couldn’t resist the allure of raspberries – my parents have a few bushes, and raspberries have always been one of those fruits that I eat in small quantities straight from the bush.  I almost never buy them, but I adore them.  Blueberries I can get from the church property, and those might be getting close – they were still green last weekend when we went to check on them.

So, I went to Sauvie Island and picked 6 pounds of raspberries.  It’s definitely the beginning of the season – there were hordes of red berries that weren’t quite ripe, which makes me want to go back in a week or two and load up again – as long as my freezer can take it.  I was single-minded, and trying not to carry extra stuff through the fields, so no photos from the farm.  Although, while I was waiting in line to pay for my loot, a girl from a group of arriving u-pickers snapped a picture of my box of berries, which kind of cracked me up.  They were all wearing cute sundresses, and I would’ve liked to see what they looked like after an hour or two in the sun, crawling halfway into bushes to get at the ripe ones.


So then I came home with my haul and went into a recipe-hunting frenzy.  I threw a bunch in the freezer on a cookie sheet, shifting them into ziploc bags once they hardened up, and right now I’ve got another sheet-full in the freezer – about 10 cups so far.  Some I’ll leave for eating by the handful.  But I also wanted to find a few recipes – those recipes that I always bypass because they call for fresh raspberries and are thusly prohibitively expensive when you haven’t just paid $10.50 for six pounds of raspberries.


I started with a batch of the super-simple raspberry jam from How to Be a Domestic Goddess – you just heat raspberries and sugar separately in the oven, then mix them together and let cool.  Still cooling, so the verdict is out on consistency.  I don’t have canning equipment, and I’ve never really made jam before, so this was a gentle start.


Then I made a chocolate cake.  Yeah, I know, chocolate cake does not feature fresh raspberries.  But I had two goals: I’ve been wanting to try this recipe from Orangette with the perhaps insane thought of maybe baking (and freezing, then defrosting) several for our wedding reception.  I wanted to see how easy it was to execute and how it tasted.  Plus, I love chocolate cake, especially dense fudgy ones.  The second goal was to serve the cake with whipped cream and raspberries – either fresh or in the form of the aforementioned raspberry jam, especially if it ends up slightly runny.  The cake is no thing of beauty, but that’s not the point.


Finally, I made a batch of raspberry sherbet from A Perfect Scoop – raspberries, milk, sugar, and lemon juice.  Sweet, a little tart, and a little creamy.  It’s also super easy (once you’ve picked the raspberries, of course) – you throw everything in the blender and puree it, then strain out the seeds and throw the rest in your ice cream maker (it’s a space-hog, but I do love mine).

And there you have it!  A day completely taken up with raspberries.  Now I just have to clean out the sink and remember what I was going to make for dinner…

I have a new technique for getting myself out of bed in the mornings this week.  It’s not the healthiest technique, and not a good long-term solution, but I actually left the house on time yesterday, so I’m calling it a success.  The name of the technique?  Trader Joe’s chocolate croissants.

Bronwen mentioned them back in March, right before Lent got underway, so I waited until I was doing my “restock on dairy, dairy, and more dairy, oh, and some meat” shopping trip during Holy Week.  Then I snatched them up.  I tried the first one this last Sunday, and I was hooked.  You let them defrost and proof overnight, so it takes a little foresight and commitment.  You can’t defrost one of those puppies and then not  bake it in the morning – that would just be wrong.  So you’re committed to the chocolate croissant.

On Sunday night I thought, what if I made one for breakfast on Monday?  This would require getting up earlier to get it in the oven, but there’s nothing to motivate you at 7 am like the thought of a freshly baked croissant.  It worked!  And today it worked again, giving me a little coffee and a dish of yogurt time while it bakes.  And I’m about to bite into it – chocolately and buttery.  Not quite as flaky as a bakery croissant, but an excellent thing none-the-less.

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