Cherry Jam Tart Tuesday, Jun 8 2010 

I have a real problem making cherry desserts.  It’s not that I don’t like cherries; quite the opposite, actually.  I love cherries.  I love them so much that I can, will, and do eat an entire three-pound bag in mere days.  I look forward to the sweet, ruby little gems every summer, and I react as if someone’s baked me a cake whenever they’re brought home from the grocery store.  I love them just that much.  So why do I hesitate to bake them into buttery pie crusts and tart shells?  Why do I balk at the thought of pitting a bag of those beauties and making cherry vanilla ice cream?

Because they’re too delicious. I literally refuse to waste their limited-time bounty on a pie.  They just don’t need it!  At the peak of their season, deeply red and oh-so juicy, why would I bother burying them under butter and crust and unnecessary sugar?  I wouldn’t.  I won’t.

Which is why desserts like this are so crucial to me – while I adore cherry-flavored anything almost as much as the cherries themselves, I don’t feel guilty baking and sharing a dessert centered around a jar of cherry jam.  Would this be better with homemade cherry jam?  Cherry jam you pitted, boiled, and canned yourself?  Probably.  Was it delicious as-is, with a jar of store-bought jam and an impossible-to-screw-up crust? Absolutely.  And best of all, I personally harmed no cherries in the making of this tart.

Cherry Jam Tart

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen

In my continued efforts to screw things up really badly to make sure they’ll stand up to the “oops” moves of others, I added the butter and sugar to the rest of the dry ingredients instead creaming them together independently.  Unwilling to let it go and start dough over at 9pm on a weeknight (what I was doing baking at that point anyway is really beyond me), I just crossed my fingers and mixed feverishly until dough materialized.  I’m sure there are all kinds of technical reasons why this is badbadbad, and I don’t advise you to replicate my mistake, but all’s well that ends well, and this one ended pretty freaking well.

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup polenta

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

8 tbsp butter, cut in one-inch cubes and at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1 10-ounce jar of cherry jam

Extra sugar, for sprinkling

1 egg white

Combine flour, baking powder, polenta/cornmeal, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a larger, separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth and pale yellow.  Add eggs (not the egg white) and vanilla and beat to combine.  Add the flour to the wet ingredients slowly, just until the dough comes together.

Separate 1/3 of the dough, and roll it into a log.  Wrap well in plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour (I left mine for two days before I cooked it and it worked out fine).  Form a ball with rest of the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until you’re ready to make the tart.

When you’re ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a tart pan (I don’t have one – I used a pie pan).  Press the larger ball of dough evenly into the bottom of the pan (I rolled mine out, which was also, evidently, wrong, but that seems to be the theme of this post. It worked fine, and any breaks in the dough can just be pressed back together if you opt for my screwy version. Also, I was supposed to refrigerate the dough-lined pan at this point, and I didn’t do that either.). Spread jam evenly over the top of the crust.  Remove the dough log from the fridge and cut very thin disks using a sharp knife.  If the dough becomes too soft to do this, feel free to pop it back in the fridge until it firms up, then resume cutting.  Lay the circles over the jam in concentric circles until the entire top is covered.  Brush the top with the final egg white and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until the top crust is golden brown, 20 – 25 minutes. Cool completely before eating.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake Tuesday, Jun 1 2010 

I feel like I say this kind of a lot, but it’s been a crazy few weeks.  Not only has everyone I know turned one year older, I’ve also driven to Boston and Baltimore in the last two weeks, attended an all-day concert, and, you know, worked occasionally.  As if it hasn’t been busy enough around here, Boyfriend also got some pretty great news recently that has resulted in a group effort to move him from Boston to Baltimore in under two weeks.  So this weekend, instead of the leisurely weekend of relaxing at a bed and breakfast in PA to celebrate our anniversary, we’ll be packing up his life (for the second time in under a year), and moving it down to Maryland.  We’ll also be watching the NCAA National Lacrosse Championships live from some great seats, which is the Memorial Day activity Boyfriend has been hoping to have for several years.

But all this pack-up-and-move, find-him-an-apartment, drive-up-and-down-the-East-Coast thing is sort of taking a toll on my culinary adventures.  I can barely get in the time to sleep, let alone cook, bake, or write, and the sugar high I’m on after a month of birthday cakes has yet to subside.  But of course there were more celebrations to be had, including perhaps the most interesting yet – a non-dessert eater.

How anyone manages to get through life without the occasional bite of chocolate or bowl of ice cream is certainly beyond me, but the birthday girl eats neither.  She also, of course, doesn’t eat cake, but what is a birthday without cake!? Instead, she routinely requests an apple bread (we’ll talk about that later) that, while delicious, is by no means a celebratory affair.  I know it’s her birthday and she can celebrate however she sees fit, I just can’t handle missing the opportunity for a cake.

I did manage to exercise a bit of restraint though.  I didn’t bake a layer cake, and I didn’t make any buttercream.  In fact, baked into a loaf pan, this might just be mistaken for a sweet bread with a soft, moist little crumb.   But it’s not, and do you know why it’s not?  Because it was her birthday.  And on birthdays, we eat cake.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake with Orange Glaze

Adapted from Gourmet, the late, great love of my life 

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 tbsp salted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced

Zest and juice of one orange

1/2 – 1 cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.  Lay half of the strawberries flat on the bottom of the pan in a single layer.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  In a separate, large bowl, cream together butter and sugar, then add vanilla and egg.  Beat until combined.  Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour.

Once the batter is combined, pour it into the pan on top of the strawberries.  Lay the other half of the strawberries flat on top of the cake.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  The cake will be quite brown.  Cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert onto a plate.

To make glaze, whisk confectioner’s sugar into orange zest and juice until it achieves the right consistency and a milky, soft orange color.  Pour over cake slices just before serving (it’ll soak into the cake – which may not be a bad thing…)

Lime Layer Cake Saturday, May 8 2010 

I have an oddly high amount of amusing Disney World stories.  It’s not as if my family vacations there every year and I have 24 years of material – it’s just that weird shit happens to us there.  I mean, weird shit happens to us a everywhere, but especially in Disney.

There was the time I got bronchitis there and we had to take a cab to the doctor and explain to him that this was, in fact, a fairly normal occurrence for me and that his best course of action was to prescribe drug XYZ so that I could breathe without hacking up my left lung.  Which was not so much weird as entirely, pathetically, predictable given that I got bronchitis like clockwork at the same time every year well into my teenage years.  Also, our cab driver brought my poor, sick little self a Minnie Mouse doll and didn’t even flinch when I unceremoniously coughed all over God’s green earth and every inch of his cab to and from the clinic.  Bless his heart.

Then there was the petting zoo.  Because I was that kid at an early age (24 years and counting, baby!), I insisted on constantly wearing dresses.  My mother weathered many an incredulous across-the-playground stare from other mothers when her daughter insisted on climbing trees in her ballet tutu and patent leather shoes.  I actually still have a scar on my knee from falling off of my scooter while wearing that exact outfit.  Because of course I do.  And in case you were wondering, no, I did not take dance for more than one month (which was the amount of time it took my family to unanimously decide that I’m quite possibly the least graceful person any of us has ever met) as a child. Anyway.  The petting zoo.  I was obviously wearing a sundress, and it was obviously beautiful, and the goat obviously shared my opinion on its splendor, because he started to eat it.  That’s right: the goat I was politely petting reached his bigass, dirty buck teeth right through the wooden fence and started munching on my dress.  And there I am, confused, because my sundress is literally disappearing before my very eyes and I’m wondering if perhaps the goat is going to decide that maybe he wants to try something a little meatier, like, you know, my leg.  How am I recalling this event with such clarity?  Well, clearly we have it on video.  I assure you that within moments of this entry posting I will receive a phone call from Boyfriend requesting this video be brought to Boston for his viewing pleasure when I visit next week.  The joys of my childhood and 21st century technology, people.

And finally, during my last time at Disney, my freshman year of high school, there was Epcot.  My family loves Epcot.  We may never get back there because we have this crazy life goal of working our way through freaking Europe, but I think that actually has a lot to do with our love of Epcot and its worldliness.  We were (in typical fashion) eating our way through the Epcot countries and Dad got a piece of pie.  Because these were my picky-eater days and I am an idiot, I didn’t know what kind of pie it was.  Nor did I look when he offered me a bite.  Nor did I ever think to ask what kind it was, beyond uttering the phrase “is there meat in this?” immediately after swallowing it…which made my parents dissolve into incoherent laughter, as it was key lime pie.  And as you’re probably aware, there is no meat in key lime pie.  Ever.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard that last story.  Suffice it to say that it’s been repeated once or twice.  And I have no doubt I’ll be enduring it even more than usual in the common week for two reasons: a) because I stupidly decided to post about it on my blog, for godssakes, and b) because for his birthday my Dad requested a “lime cake…with no meat, please.”

Obviously.  Because didn’t I walk right into that one?

Lime Layer Cake

This is not a cake for the faint of heart – it’s really lime-y.  Dad loved it, because he loves lime.  I actually thought it was really good combination of curd, cake, and icing, but I thought the cake was a bit dry – I would advise brushing the cake with either simple syrup or a combination of lime juice and water after it cools (poke it all over with toothpicks first so the cake absorbs the juice).  If you’re concerned about being overwhelmed with lime, I would take the lime out of the cake itself and just make a plain white cake with lime curd and icing.  Also, my limes were not at all as juicy as I was anticipating. Not that the lime taste was muted by any means, but if your limes are on the large and/or juicy side, I would use less in the cake and icing.

For the Cake:

Adapted from this cake


1 ¾ cups sugar

¾ cup butter, softened

3 large eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ cup milk

Butter/cooking spray

Zest and juice of two limes

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and grease three 8-inch cake pans.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg is added.  Add lime zest and juice.

In a separate bowl, mix together salt, baking powder, baking soda, and flour.  Add one third of this mixture to the butter/sugar and beat until mixed.  Add half of the milk and beat. Repeat until all of the flour and milk have been added (you should start and end with the flour).  Pour the batter into the prepared pans (it’s going to be fairly thick).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the center is set.  After removing from the oven, take the cakes out of their pans and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.

If you’re making the cake more than a day in advance, wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

For the lime curd:

Adapted from allrecipes

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup butter

3/4 cup lime juice (it took me more than 3 limes to get this much juice)

1 tbsp lime zest

2 eggs, beaten

In a double boiler over medium high heat, combine sugar, butter, lime juice and lime zest.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts.  Once the butter has melted, slowly add 2 tablespoons of the hot lime mixture to the beaten eggs, mixing vigorously during the addition.

Lower the heat on the double boiler to medium, and slowly whisk the egg mixture into the butter/sugar/lime mixture.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 – 25 minutes, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon.  Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator if not using immediately.

For the icing:

Adapted from this icing

4 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp milk

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Zest and juice of 2 limes

2 cups heavy cream

Green food coloring (optional)

Mix together butter, milk, sugar, lime zest, food coloring and lime juice in a small bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form.  Fold butter/sugar into whipped cream until combined.   Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to construct the cake.

To assemble:

If you’ve refrigerated or frozen the cake, allow it to come to room temperature.  On a cake plate lined with parchment paper (more detail in the assembly of the Cannoli Cake), lay the first cake on the plate (because of the low cooking temp, the cakes should be fairly flat – if you wish to get them flatter, cut the domed top carefully off prior to assembly).  Cover with about half of the lime curd mixture (this will be a really thin layer, as you don’t need much; if you overfill this, it will ooze out the side of the cake and make icing the cake a challenge).  Lay the next cake on top and repeat.  Finally, put the last cake on top and ice the top and sides with the whipped cream icing (I had a little extra icing and curd when I was done, so don’t worry about using every ounce of either).

Alternately:

I thought about cutting each cut in half and making it six layers, each with a thin layer of lime curd, but I was really pressed for time and didn’t get a chance. I think it would’ve helped out a bit with the dryness I noted in the headnote of the recipe…If you go in that direction, I’d love to know how it went!

Birthday Cake and Mocha Buttercream Wednesday, Feb 3 2010 

I think it’s safe to say that I spend a fair amount of my free time reading food blogs – I read the blogs of chefs who inspire me with their creativity and innovative recipes, I read the blogs of writers I find truly hilarious, and I read the blogs of photographers whose work I will never come close to replicating.  Everyone has their little niche, their forte, the thing they’re especially good at.  Or, at least, the single thing that makes me immediately click on their site before another.  Because I know that if there’s something not to be missed in a specific food category, it’s up there.

This is how I feel about the Smitten Kitchen’s cake expertise.  Not to say that there are any shortcomings in her gorgeous, well-written site, but the woman baked an entire wedding cake. Bow down to her infinite cake-baking wisdom.  In short, I find her recipes (and not just the cake-related ones) concise, clear, and endlessly delicious, and Mom’s birthday cake was no exception…even though my failure to read resulted in too much batter (your pans are not 9 inches wide, Katie), which resulted in, well, the ugliest cupcakes I’ve ever seen due to, again, my inability to read (Seriously – cakes baked at 300 degrees for an hour are supposed to be flat so that they’re easy to layer; they will not produce gently rounded, perfect cupcakes. EVER. Stop trying.).  Quick! Hide my diploma!

So as not to steal her thunder (Plus, who am I kidding? Like I could ever explain a recipe this well), I’m linking you straight to the source of Mom’s chocolate layer cake with strawberry filling (I couldn’t find raspberries and, I’ll admit, didn’t try that hard because I really like strawberries).  For the frosting, I made a simple, mocha buttercream because on her birthday, Mom demanded buttercream.  And who am I to deny her?

Mocha Buttercream

Makes about 2-2 1/2 cups, or just enough to frost the 4-layer, 8-inch cake I made

3 ounces semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are fine)

2 cups confectioners sugar

1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature

2 tbsp hot brewed coffee

2 tbsp half-and-half

1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

In a double-boiler, melt the chocolate with the coffee, vanilla, and half-and-half under chocolate is completely melted and smooth.  Set aside to cool.  Beat together sugar and butter until butter is creamy, then add cooled chocolate mixture, beating until there are no longer visible flecks of butter, and the frosting is smooth.

Caramel Apples Saturday, Oct 24 2009 

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Salem, Mass had a lot of things going for it – cheap, hot, delicious cups of apple cider, crazies dressed in full-face paint and costumes, good beer, and creepy stories galore.  One thing I was thoroughly dissatisfied with was the lack of caramel apples.  See, we finished lunch, and I ate a delicious sandwich, and I was stuffed and all, but I really wanted a caramel apple.  I mean really, really, really badly.  So badly, in fact, that I paraded us around the whole town to look for one.

P1040199But I didn’t just want any old caramel apple.  No, no.  That’d be too easy.  And if you’ve learned nothing else in these last few months of posts, you’re at least aware that I do very, very few things the easy way.  I didn’t want a candy apple, because those taste like crap.  I didn’t want a caramel apple that was prepackaged and sold to me by a man churning out hot dogs from a cart next to the graveyard (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say).  I wanted, and I didn’t think this was too much to ask, one from a candy store – one where the people at the store had made it, and it was covered with chopped nuts, and it was just fall in one single bite.

But, alas, it was not meant to be, and I went home caramel-apple-less.

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And I just couldn’t let it go.  It irked me so much that I couldn’t have that damn apple that I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  And here’s the thing – caramel apples are not on the top of my “must eat” list.  I mean, they’re yummy and I don’t turn them down, but I’ve never sought them out to the extent that I did this week.  I was a girl on a mission, friends.

So yesterday, I decided that if the only place I was going to find caramel apples was in the grocery store (Seriously, are we really this lazy!?), I was going to just make the damn things myself.  And really, it couldn’t have been simpler, or more delicious.  And it definitely, definitely beat the pants off of anything that man with the hot dogs in Salem would’ve handed me…especially since I had a pumpkin martini in my other hand.

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Caramel Apples – The Easy Way

1 (14-ounce) package of caramels – I got the individually wrapped kind, which was a monstrous (See what I did there? Monstrous!? Cause it’s Halloween!) pain in the ass, so if you can find ones that aren’t wrapped, I’d buy those

6 apples – give or take, depending on how big they are

6 popsicle sticks

Chopped nuts, sprinkles, etc. for topping

Poke the popsicle sticks through the top of each apple.

Place chopped nuts or sprinkles (or both) in a shallow bowl.

In a separate, microwave-safe bowl, melt the caramels with a little water.  Watch them really carefully – they will overflow and make a bigass mess if you leave them in for too long.  Mine took about two minutes and a little stirring to get the right consistency.  Place the apple in the center of the bowl of caramel, and use a spoon to douse the sides. Lift the apple straight up out of the caramel, still over the bowl, and use the spoon to get rid of the excess that drips off.

Dip the caramel-coated apple into the topping in the shallow bowl, spinning the apple to coat the bottom.

Let cool on a plate or sheet of waxed paper.

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Banana-Almond-Chocolate Chip Pancakes Wednesday, Aug 26 2009 

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Bring out those tiny violins, because Boyfriend’s marathon birthday weekend is over.  I know; you’re devastated.  Trust me when I tell you that he is, too.  The cake has been eaten, the keg has been returned to the liquor store, and both of our pockets are quite a bit emptier, but it was a hell of a celebration.  And wait, hold the phone, it’s actually not over, because my birthday present to him – a concert featuring one of his favorite bands – doesn’t even happen until this Sunday.  Is this kid lucky or what?

 

But before we returned to some semblance of normalcy in our lives on Monday, there had to be another solid weekend brunch.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far, because in all of our cake-pizza-beer gluttony, we’d neglected to even glance at fruits and vegetables – so the once-bright cluster of bananas on Boyfriend’s countertop was now blackened and within a day of its natural life.  Pancakes, they whispered to me, make us into pancakes.

 

Who am I to argue?

 

I make pancakes fairly often, and I make them with bananas and nuts quite a bit, too…but these are special.  Rather than just slicing the bananas really thinly and laying them on top of the pancakes as they sizzle away in their skillet, the bananas are mashed up into the batter itself and mixed with a tiny bit of almond extract, which really makes these unique.  And of course (because at this point, why the eff not?) there had to be chocolate chips.  Ghiradelli chocolate chips.  Because we of the Birthday Celebration are too good for store-brand chocolate chips. 

 

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Banana-Almond-Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Adapted from All Recipes

 

1 cup flour

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 egg

1 cup milk

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 bananas, mashed

½ tsp almond extract

½ cup chocolate chips

½ cup chopped almonds

 

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In another bowl, mix together egg, milk, mashed bananas, vegetable oil, and almond extract.  Add wet ingredients to dry, and mix just until combined.  Batter will be lumpy.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. 

Heat large heavy skillet or frying pan over medium heat, spray with cooking spray (or butter/oil), and pour about ¼ cup of batter onto the pan.  When the top begins to bubble, flip, and continue to cook until both sides are evenly browned. 

These pancakes are really sweet, and I put nothing on them – no butter, no syrup, no powdered sugar, nothing.  And they were awesome.

Cranberry-Almond Blondies Wednesday, Aug 12 2009 

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I can count on one hand the number of desserts I’ve made in my life that do not involve chocolate.  Actually, I can count them using less than half of one of my hands: they are cherry cheesecake and oatmeal-raisin cookies.  You know those people who review recipes for things like flourless chocolate cakes and dark chocolate tortes and say they’re “too rich?”  Or that “you’ll only be able to take two bites?”  Yeah, I’m not one of them.  Those are the desserts of which I will request seconds.  Generally speaking, I gravitate towards the most decadent-looking, chocolate-laced confection on the dessert table, which is hopefully covered with a one-inch-layer of chocolate ganache.  You can see that my taste buds are highly refined.

 

P1030653Which is why I was planning on putting some chocolate into the blondies Boyfriend helped me bake up last night for the party his aunt is hosting this weekend as a joint birthday/going away celebration for him, his brother, and his cousin – all of whom are leaving for school in the coming weeks one year older.  But then I got caught up in the fact that the store didn’t have the dried cherries or the pecans I wanted (see if I ever go back there again), and in my efforts to locate them (which, you can tell by the title, I clearly did not), I completely forgot about getting the dark chocolate.  Ugh.  And if there’s one thing I am, it’s too lazy to make more than one trip to the grocery store on a weeknight – so we went without the chocolate.

 

And quite honestly, I didn’t miss it.  While I do still aspire to make a version of these with dried cherries, very dark chocolate, and toasted pecans (swoon), this recipe is a winner no matter what you put in it.  The only problem I can see is that there’s no way an 8×8 pan of these is enough. 

 

 

Cranberry-Almond Blondies

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, via the Smitten Kitchen

 

8 tbsp butter (1 stick), melted

1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided

1 cup packed brown sugar (I was forced to use 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 3/4 cup of white because we couldn’t find the new box of brown sugar until after the blondies were in the oven. Obviously.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup of chopped almonds

1/2 cup dried cranberries

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter an 8×8 pan.  Place chopped almonds on a baking sheet, and bake for 5 – 10 minutes (until they’re toasted brown – not burnt – and you can smell them).  Set aside to cool. 

 

Mix melted butter with brown sugar (in my case, white and brown sugar) until smooth.  Mix in egg and vanilla.  Add salt and 1 cup of flour, mix until well blended.

 

In a small bowl, mix the cranberries with remaining flour and toss to coat (this keeps them from sinking into the batter and winding up lining the bottom of the dish – Ina taught me this and I love her for it).  Add cranberries and toasted nuts to the batter, and mix until incorporated. 

 

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the middle is set.  Don’t overbake them – if anything, take them out a litte before the perverbial toothpick would come out clean.  Gooey is better than dry.

 

Cool completely, cut into squares (mine made 18 small bar cookies). 

 

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Summertime Ice Cream Sundaes Sunday, Jul 19 2009 

There are few things I enjoy more in the world than a scoop of really good ice cream.  Seriously, the “About Me” section of my Facebook page lists that, among other things, I would “eat ice cream every day if I could.”  Unfortunately, my desire to fit into my clothes usually prevents me from making ice cream my main course.  Emphasis on usually.

gelato1

Take the week my family and I spent in Italy earlier this year.  We ate gelato 2 – 3 times every. single. day. I am not exaggerating.  I had pistachio.  I had hazelnut.  I had flavors I couldn’t readily identify and certainly couldn’t pronounce, but dammit I can point and I made that mysteriously-flavored gelato mine anyway.  It was the thing I was looking forward to most about returning to Italy – more than the pasta, more than the cheese, more than the wine for Godssakes and we all know how I love my red wine.  But will you look at that creaminess!?  It melts in your mouth in a way that no ice cream I’ve ever experienced can.  It’s just (and I shudder to think that my life has come to the point of making this statement about ice cream) surreal. And if you want the less melodramatic rendition (although I don’t know why you’d want that version), it’s just damn good.

P1030319But if I were going to look for an ice cream that could equal the greatness of the gelato (because I think we all know that I will never allow anything to surpass it – perish the thought), I would look for it at an ice cream festival.  Like maybe the one that happens 40 minutes from my home every summer.  Which is precisely where my parents and I could be found at 2pm yesterday afternoon, downing spoonful after spoonful of carmel-oozing, chocolate-coated, nut-filled deliciousness for lunch.  Needless to say, it was the best lunch ever.

It also goes without saying that we couldn’t just leave well enough alone and stop the madness there.  No, no.  Where’s the fun in that?  Naturally, we had to recreate the wonder of homemade ice cream tonight in our own kitchen, with all the trimmings.  And tonight, “all the trimmings” meant that we grilled peaches, made some waffles, and created one of the best summertime sundaes I’ve had in quite some time.  Because if there’s one thing my family knows how to do well, it’s dessert.

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Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract (a vanilla bean would be awesome here, but as this was a spur of the moment creation, there was none to be had)

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until blended.  Pour into ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Grilled Peaches

We just threw the peaches on the grill (sprayed with Pam so they wouldn’t stick) for 5 – 10 minutes, until they were soft and had some nice grill marks.

Waffles
Makes 5 waffles

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

1/2 tbs. baking powder

1 egg

1 tbs. honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

dash of salt

Mix together flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.  Make a well at the center.  In a separate bowl, gently beat egg, then add milk, honey, and vanilla.  Dump wet ingredients into the well at the center of the dry ingredients, and mix just until combined.  Batter will be lumpy.  Spray waffle-maker with Pam, then cook according to manufacter’s instructions.

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Banana Blueberry Muffins Wednesday, Jul 15 2009 

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There hasn’t been a lot of cooking happening in my kitchen recently.  My parents are completely redoing it: new cabinets, paint, moldings, appliances…the whole nine yards. Thus, when I left for New Orleans, we had a working kitchen.  When I returned, we had considerably less: no running water, no cabinets, no countertops, nothing. The rule for the last few weeks has pretty much been that if you can heat it up in the microwave or grill it outside and eat it on/with plasticware, it’s allowed.

Our carbon footprint aside, this makes sense when your dishwashing choices are limited to the hose outside, the bathroom sink, or a bathtub. But really, my family (coughmecoughcough) can only take so much time away from actually cooking something.  Mom has bitten the bullet more than once and made eggs or chili or roast chicken – things that only dirty really one pot, but I’ve mostly been sticking with, well, eating a salad or leaving the state.

But the overripe bananas on our (brand new!) counter last night (the byproduct of having one less fruit-eatP1030310er in the house all weekend) were just begging to be made into banana bread, and banana bread they became.  I used a recipe I already knew I liked from one of my favorite food bloggers over at Sugarlaws. I originally made her Strawberry Banana Bread because my family had picked two pounds of delicious Jersey strawberries around Memorial Day and we needed to use up the ones we weren’t freezing (Do you have any idea how much space two pounds of strawberries takes up?  Because it’s a lot.).  That time, I made it into a single loaf, exactly as written, and everyone loved it – I had to take what I wanted and hide it in the freezer so that Dad and Brother wouldn’t polish the whole thing off.

The strawberries are long gone though, and in their place I used the frozen blueberries that happened to be in the freezer.  Also, in my continuing quest to wash the smallest possible number of dishes, I made muffins…with paper liners (Didn’t really read the last line of that recipe, did we Katie?  Rest assured though, that mine did in fact come out of their wrappers).

I absolutely adore this recipe because it’s everything a simple weeknight or morning recipe should be: it’s short and simple, and can be adapted easily with the addition of chocolate chips, nuts, or a different kind of fruit.  It can be muffins, mini loaves, or one big loaf.  You probably have everything you need to make it in your kitchen right now.  It requires only one bowl and (if you’re lazy like me) no beaters.  And it’s something that actually qualifies as a breakfast food because, drumroll please, it’s healthy.  With only a couple of tablespoons of honey and a cup of (whole wheat) flour, the recipe relies on the fruit for both sweetness and the base of the batter – without sacrificing the taste.  Do not overbake this bread, people.  If anything, err a little on the side of underbaking it…the soft, moist texture of the banana is what this recipe is all about.

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The only thing I changed, besides the fruit, was that I sprinkled a little bit of barley/wheat cereal (the really tiny kind that looks like pebbles) on the top – it makes it just crunchy enough without overwhelming the flavor like I always feel strudel does on the top of muffins. Also, mine made exactly 12 muffins, not 15, and we’ve already talked about those eensy details like not overbaking and muffin liners.

Blueberry Banana Muffins

Adapted from Sugarlaws

2 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup nonfat sour cream
1 egg
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
Pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup blueberries

1/4 cup wheat and barley cereal

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine bananas, honey, sour cream, egg, and salt and stir until well mixed.  Slowly add in flour and stir until it’s completely mixed.  Add baking powder and blueberries, mix, and pour into lined or greased muffin tins.  Sprinkle with cereal.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until set.

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