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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.

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.

This is another long-ago Long Distance Kitchen recipe (from last August, cough cough), but so scrumptious that it shouldn’t be forgotten – Figgy Buckwheat Scones from Good to the Grain.  In fact I’ve made them twice, and I’ve been considering playing around with the dough recipe to see what else I can do with it.  It turns out that I love the flavor of buckwheat – there’s another Good to the Grain recipe from October to share soon.

This is a two part recipe – first, you make a batch of Fig Butter – figs cooked with red wine and port and spiced with cloves, anise and cinnamon, then pureed with butter.  The fig butter recipe makes more than you need for a single batch of scones, and the extra is delicious on toast.  It disappears around here.

The second part of the recipe is a fairly classic scone recipe made with about half buckwheat flour and half all-purpose.  The buckwheat flavor is fantastically nutty and a nice complement to the rich fig butter, which might overwhelm a lesser scone.

You roll the dough out, spread fig butter on it, then roll it up into a log and cut it into fat slices, which get turned on their sides and baked into spirals of goodness.

The middle is a little gooey with the fig and the outside is crisp and crunchy.

I’m going to take my cue from Bronwen and wait to post those eggy, cheesy, meaty recipes until after Lent is over.  On to the vegan recipes!  This one came from the Moosewood Cookbook and makes a satisfying, brothy soup.

You cook some pearl barley until tender, then drain it.  Meanwhile, chop and saute an onion, adding garlic and sliced mushrooms after a few minutes.  Once that’s all tender, add some soy sauce and sherry.  The recipe gives a range for how much of each to add, and I would definitely err on the light side with the soy sauce to avoid an overly salty soup.  I went on the higher end and ended up with a soup that was just a touch too salty the first time around.  With leftovers, I added water to dilute the broth and it ended up perfect.

Anyway, you combine the mostly-cooked barley and the mushroom-onion mixture, add several cups of water and some pepper, and let the whole thing simmer for a bit.  It wasn’t terribly photogenic, plus dinner tends to get eaten after sunset these days, so no photos – but imagine a nice oomphy broth with sliced crimini mushrooms floating on top and some chewy barley hiding at the bottom of the bowl.  We ate it with a green salad and Grand Central potato bread.  And like I said, it made for delicious diluted leftovers.

Whoa!  I just did the unthinkable.  I got up an hour early on a Monday morning in order to make more delicious steel-cut oats.  Two reasons: I polished off the first batch last week, and this week my in-the-house, read-to-eat options were cut down to…toast.  Or getting up early in pursuit of steel-cut goodness.  So up I got, and I toasted the oats, then boiled them, then let them simmer for half an hour, then sat down with a bowl and some maple syrup and a cup of coffee without cream. The recipe, naturally, came from Good to the Grain.

So getting up an hour early is the first unthinkable thing (I have problems leaving the house on time in the morning).  Taking pictures (although yes, the bowl is already empty – steel-cut oats just aren’t that photogenic without some attractive fruit on top) and immediately uploading them onto my computer is the second unthinkable thing.  The third is actually presenting them here before I even finished my second cup of coffee.  And as of this typing, I’m not yet running late for work.  You know, this is the way I used to blog.  I kind of miss it.

Clean Monday is off to a good start.  And tomorrow I can reheat leftovers and sleep a bit longer.  Although (shh, don’t tell) I’m enjoying this more relaxed morning routine.

Here’s an ‘adventures at the grocery store’ Long Distance Kitchen recipe, assigned last August and made sometime shortly after I moved in September –Orecchiette with Rapini and Goat Cheese.  The recipe comes from Saveur and is fairly simple and straightforward, once you’ve managed to identify rapini at the grocery store (I double-checked with a store employee who confirmed my diagnosis, and then had to tell the cashier what it was – glad I’m not the only one!)  According to the note in the recipe, it’s also known as broccoli rabe.  What I ended up with looked more like greens than broccoli, unlike Bronwen’s and Saveur’s, but it was slightly bitter and quite tasty in the recipe, so it all worked out.

Goat cheese is one of the things I love in this world, so I appreciate any opportunity to dollop it onto a meal, and the cheese and greens made a great contrast.  The garlic and red pepper flakes also did something nice in my mouth.  There are a lot of strong flavors going on, and it sort of took me a few bites to fall for it, but I ended up enjoying it and polishing off the leftovers with enthusiasm.  A good kicky pasta recipe to keep handy (I served mine with chicken thighs cooked according to a recipe from How to Cook Everything where you cook it in butter in the oven and sprinkle it with fresh parsley from time to time – it’s made me a chicken-parts convert).

Verdict: a keeper, but probably not for everyone.

Once upon a time, in an apartment on the other side of the river, I made Honey-Peach Ice Cream as a Long Distance Kitchen recipe.  It was August, and I’m sure the weather was pretty much the opposite of a cold, rainy March day, and something cold and sweet and peach-flavored was just the thing.  I made it at the same time as the Banoffi Pie, as you can see in the pictures.

Apparently I tend to make desserts in clusters.  Feast or famine!  The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, and you can also see Bronwen’s results here.

Here’s the method: you chop up half of your peaches and cook them with honey, then puree them once they get soft.  You do a pretty standard ice cream custard with milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks, then stir in your puree.  Once the whole thing has chilled, you do the ice cream maker thing and you dice the remaining peaches.  When the ice cream is just about done, toss in the peach chunks.

I used nectarines, which Dorie mentions in her “playing around” tips as not needing to be peeled (I’m lazy, and they might have been riper than the peaches when I went to the store).  They were pretty tasty but they weren’t amazing, and that might make a difference.  Another thing is your preference for smooth ice cream versus fruit chunks – I’m more of a smooth gal, so if I made this again I might puree ALL the fruit.  As Bronwen noted, it did get a little frosty – there was a sort of distinct textural difference between the icier bits and the heavy feel of the cream on your tongue.  Tasty, but not lick-your-bowl amazing.

(Please note that I have a bias towards chocolately ice creams and was trying to extend myself by introducing more fruit to my ice cream maker – I haven’t made one yet that won me over from the chocolate camp).

Well, yesterday was Meatfare Sunday, which announces the coming of Lent.  No more meat until after Pascha (Easter) and this week is the last week for eggs & dairy, so I’m declaring it Dairy Week.  A final round of those delicious poppy seed wafers made with butter, eggs and heavy cream?  Yes, please.  Crumbled feta on a cracker?  Why not!  Buttery apple crisp with vanilla ice cream?  Why yes, let’s pick up some more vanilla ice cream.

This morning I realized that I didn’t have any granola to go with my Greek yogurt, so instead I thought I’d make oatmeal.  But I wanted it to be…exciting…so I checked out the index of Good to the Grain to see if she had any suggestions.  That’s when I spotted a recipe for steel-cut oatmeal and remembered that I had steel-cut oats languishing in the cupboard.  She has you toast the oats in a little melted butter, then add the water and cook until thick and creamy – and the result really IS thick and creamy.  Pour a little cream on top (don’t mind if I do) and add a bit of sweetener (she has a recipe for a pear compote, but I went for quick and easy with maple syrup) and stick the leftovers in the fridge to reheat on work mornings.

I’m a happy camper – and I think this will still be delicious during Lent without the cream (shh, I cheat with butter during Lent) but with some fruit.  I’m always at a loss for Lenten breakfasts beyond toast with almond butter.  Regular oatmeal is okay, but to me it just begs for DAIRY to make it more exciting.  The steel-cut oats are just a touch more thrilling.

In related news, Bronwen and I are picking things up again with Long Distance Kitchen, just in time for those Lenten recipes!  Hello, beans!  I still have old recipes to post (ahem) so maybe I should get started on that before I dive into the new stuff – milk tea cupcakes, green tea & chocolate macaroons, that apple crisp (are we sensing a dessert theme here, or is it just me?)

Way back in August, Bronwen assigned Banoffi Pie for Long Distance Kitchen.  It’s a funny recipe because it takes a little prep time, but is pretty much the easiest pie ever in terms of needing baking skills.  And if your skills don’t run to pie crust, it works really well with a cookie crumb or graham cracker crust.

I made the pie in August, back when I was getting ready to move and trying to clean out my cupboards, so I made a cookie crust using half vanilla wafers and half gingersnaps that I had around.  The recipe came from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion, and I just used one of the variations, pre-baked since the filling doesn’t require baking.  Very buttery and perfectly crunchy, and the crunch provides a nice contrast to the gooey & smooth fillings.

To make the filling, you boil a few cans of sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours.  Yup, 3 hours – and the key is to make sure to keep the water topped up because they can explode if they boil dry.   Nothing like a pie with some risk!  The recipe we used called for a can and a half, so I boiled two, but after spreading the resulting toffee in the pie crust, I thought it looked like plenty and elected to save the other can for another pie.  You can just store them in the cupboard until needed – I used my second can for a Thanksgiving pie, and it was a big hit.

After spreading the condensed-milk-turned-toffee in the pre-baked crust, slice several bananas in half lengthwise and arrange over the top however you like.  Finally, whip cream with a little sugar and powdered instant coffee, and put this on top.  You can sprinkle a little freshly ground coffee on top for some color contrast, or you could go for grated chocolate if you’re feeling crazy.

It doesn’t sound that fantastic, but the result is a great blend of flavors – the banana sort of disappears into the toffee and whipped cream and adds a nice silky texture, plus it balances out the “whoa” sweetness of the toffee, along with the hint of coffee in the whipped cream.

My favorite part of the recipe is the note at the end:

Hint – Banoffi is a marvellous “emergency” pudding once you have the toffee mixture in your store cupboard. We therefore suggest that you boil several cans at the same time as they keep unopened indefinitely.”

Recommended for all your “pudding” needs, emergency or not.  It was a great choice for Thanksgiving, too, especially if you’re baking other things or sharing an oven with a turkey, since you can make the crust and toffee ahead of time and just assemble it all before dessert.

Let’s talk about Christmas baking.  Man am I rusty at this whole talking-about-something-besides-books thing!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I get up on my librarian high horse and it’s all books, all the time!  That’s great and all, but not my only mission in life.  There’s also food, you know.

As usual, my commission is to bake something for Christmas.  I thought about going all elaborate, but I kept finding myself drawn to homier recipes.  Things that make you want to curl up with a blanket, drink some eggnog, nibble on a cookie or a scone, and hang out with family and friends.  Plus, there’s enough frantic preparations in the world without me joining in.

Also, I’m a firm believer in using Advent (the time before Christmas) as a time of preparation – the stuff like buying gifts and readying the house, but also the feast itself – and starting your celebration on the 25th.  Christmas isn’t over the next day – it’s just begun.  Also, I’m not supposed to be eating meat or dairy during Advent (although I’ve definitely been cheating on the dairy), which makes a great excuse for leaving a lot of the celebration until later.

So I’m keeping my Christmas baking fairly calm this week.  A certain young man put in a request for Dream Bars, an old favorite and easy to make, and I could hardly turn him down, especially after he got me this for Christmas.  I know!   Can you believe it?  I will never turn down any baking requests from him ever again.  My kitchen now has a nice touch of glossy cinnamon (and a good deal less counter space – but it’s a worthwhile trade).

So I’m making a batch of Dream Bars for the oh-dark-thirty potluck after the Christmas service (the main service begins at 11 pm and goes well into the morning) and another for Christmas dinner at my parents’.  I’m also making a batch of Figgy Buckwheat Scones for Christmas morning, and perhaps some Strawberry Barley Scones, too, if I’m feeling energetic (both recipes are from Good to the Grain).  I’d also like to make a batch of Poppy Seed Wafers, since they were a big hit at Thanksgiving, and maybe try the Sand Cookies (recipes from guess where – Good to the Grain).  Or some of Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace cookies for something chocolaty.  Both the fig scones and the poppy seed cookies are Long Distance Kitchen recipes that I’ve yet to post about, hopefully soon.

So there you have it!  Less decadent than usual, although that doesn’t mean less work.  Oh well, I lucked out and got Christmas Eve off work, so I’ve got plenty of time.  What are you making for Christmas?

Edited to add: get your Dream Bar recipe here – sorry to leave you hanging!

February 2023
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