Grammie Esther lived across the street from us, which Daddy hated but used to his advantage. When he was hip deep in a story for the paper, for example, he’d send us off to school and holler at our backs, “Make sure you go to Grammie’s right from the bus!”
Every time we did that, she’d stand on the front steps and smile at us like it was the first time it had ever happened. Grammie Esther had a lot to say about Daddy and his method of raising his daughters and when it was just the three of us, she leaned into her argument hard. She fussed over our hair and recombed it, braided it into plaits. She tucked our blouses firmly into our skirts, even though school was over and the point moot. She put on records and shooed us away from the television set, ushered us into the kitchen and stuffed us to the gills. She’d set down a plate of sweet potato biscuits and interrogate us about our day as we ate. Her kitchen was spotless, her utensils and pots and bowls shining and practically new. There was a whole spread of food when we walked through the door but not a single dirty spoon or pan to be found. Biscuits, pound cakes, platters of crisp fried chicken, bowls and bowls of greens, soups and stews, delicate little cookies that crumbled in your hand before your mouth could reach them, chocolate cakes with white icing, you name it and she would produce it for you. And when I say “produced” I mean literally- she would emerge from the kitchen with the plate and the item of your request piled high, brushing off your compliments with a swish of her perfectly coiffed hair.
I would learn later that she didn’t make a lick of it, not a single thing. Grammie Esther raised three sons and saw all of them and her own husband through two great wars, worked the line at the phone company into her sixties, was the president of the local rotary for a notorious four month tenure of terror but her greatest accomplishment, by far, was that she perpetuated a lie of her good, from scratch Southern home-cooking for years and years. Her house smelled glorious, even on holidays, and there was plenty for everyone and a few nosy neighbors too but Grammie Esther had her hands in absolutely none of the making. To this day, and she’s been dead for many of them, nobody can suss out how she managed it, where it all came from (did she have a secret maid stashed in the pantry?) (a whole and operating bakery in the basement?) and how she avoided the knowing eyebrow raise of the other women in the neighborhood who could smell a store-bought pound cake from a mile away. What’s most amazing to me, even now, is how she managed to take food from away and make it feel like home.
It would be impossible to study heritage and heirloom recipes without focusing on the South. Start your search from anywhere and you will inevitably end up in the South. So we’re embracing it. Southern food is delicious and homey and folksy, some of it absurd, some of it so old-fashioned that it feels other-worldly.
Biscuits are a good place to start because, you know, biscuits. Is there any able-bodied bread-eater alive who sees a plate of biscuits and says, “Ugh, biscuits?” No. Impossible. We were intrigued by these sweet potato biscuits because of their bright, friendly color and that the liquid comes from a mixture of milk and mashed sweet potato (delicious and great for you and available all year round). And we really wanted to eat them.
The use of sweet potatoes date back to the colonies- we can use the origins of the sweet potato pie, a soul food staple, among African American slaves to infer the use of sweet potatoes in other baked goods. And then apparently Thomas Jefferson made them (I’m sure he made them) and served them at the First Continental Congress in 1774, such a good guest, the Sophie Fisher of the Continental Congress. (If you’re jonesing for one of those, you can still order them here.)
Sweet Potato Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup baked, mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium potato)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), frozen
Heavy cream, for brushing the tops
1. Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a separate large bowl, mix together milk and mashed sweet potato until evenly combined.
2. Grate frozen butter using a box grater and toss with dry ingredients until butter is coated. Add milk mixture and mix until dough forms a shaggy mass. Do not overmix.
3. Cover counter with 1/4 cup of flour and dust your hands (dough is very wet). Turn mixture out onto the floured surface and knead until it just comes together, about 30 seconds (the dough will not be smooth). Don’t overwork the dough, it’s very soft.
4. Pat into a circle and use a floured rolling pin (or your hands) to roll dough to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. You can use a 3-inch cutter but we found smaller biscuits handled easier. You should get about 8 large biscuits, 12 smaller.
5. Place biscuits on a baking sheet, brush tops with heavy cream, and bake about 12 to 15 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown.
Serve with honey butter or makes an excellent egg sandwich. Slice some leftover Easter ham and pile high. Would also be amazing with fried chicken. Or as a side on Thanksgiving. Oooh, a sage and turkey sandwich. It’s a very tender biscuit though so you will have to eat your sandwiches with messy hands.
Maddie hovered beside the food table, pretending to mingle.
She had walked into the party so casually, with such grace and ease, but somewhere between her third and fourth vodka tonic she had become somewhat obsessed with the fact that her offering to the party, an asparagus and green onion tart (in a freeform galette pastry that Maddie had been assured would make her look both rustic and elegant) was still completely and utterly untouched. Well, aside from the small square in the corner that Maddie had cut off herself, in a vague attempt to prove that the tart was edible! Oh look, someone took some of the tart, now I can join them and I won’t be the first person to cut into this gorgeous and so thoughtfully-vegetarian dish and look how pretty it is- it’s so, what’s the word, rustic. And yet fancy. Who did this? Who made this? The woman who made this clearly has her shit together, I bet she didn’t even have to take off her rings while putting it together, this rustic and elegant and vegetarian (so thoughtful!) dish, have you tried the asparagus tart? It’s so good. Here take mine, it’s so good. Get some before it’s gone.
Maddie hovered beside the food table, wondering if she should cut another slice of her poor, lonely tart. She cast a baleful eye on the other plates. Brenda’s deviled eggs were going fast. Kyle’s guacamole was a hit, yes, but guacamole was always a hit; Kyle was playing it safe with his monochromatic tie and he was playing it safe with his party offerings. Nan’s coconut kale salad was a towering monstrosity but people dug into it with giant spoons, like they were in the last Whole Foods on earth. Even Tonia’s pathetic contribution of cashew hummus and carrots had attracted the majority of Patty’s book group, who were all on Whole30 and raving about it as they gnawed on carrot nubs and their pale eyes roved over everyone’s small plates as they slid past. But no corner of the table was as populated as the dessert section. Maddie watched with envy at the crowd of laughing, giddy people who were tucked over a plate of brownies, a mountain of thick and chewy bakery cookies and two monstrous cinnamon roll bread loaves.
She leaned over her sad tart and gave in, cutting it into small squares so that it might become more appealing, more accessible, more like the person she was trying to be. She arranged them on the plate and spaced them out, saying good-bye to rustic and elegant and going for ease-of-grab, vowing to make and bake cinnamon bread next time, great big loaves of them.
Do you know how long I have wanted to make pull-apart bread? Do you know how long I have wanted, desired, ACHED to make pull-apart brioche cinnamon roll bread? Way too long. It makes me sad to admit how long. Don’t be like me, kids! Don’t wait! Do it. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS.
One year ago: Ottolenghi’s Classic Hummus
Two years ago: Sweet Whiskey Lemonade
Three years ago: The Twix Tart
Four years ago: Pretzel Bites with Honey Mustard
Pull-Apart Brioche Cinnamon Roll Bread
*Overnight alert! The brioche dough comes together easily but needs 1-2 hours to rise and then an overnight rise in the fridge.
1/4 Cup of warm water
3 Teaspoons of instant yeast
3 Tablespoon of granulated sugar
1/2 Cup of warm whole milk
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons of salt
3 Eggs, beaten
12 Tablespoons of butter, melted
3 and 1/2 – 4 Cups all-purpose flour
Half a vanilla bean, seeds (optional)
6 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
1/2 Cup of brown sugar
2 Tablespoons of ground cinnamon
Half a vanilla bean, seeds (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
2 Ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 Cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tablespoons of milk or cream, to thin
1 Teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1. In a large bowl, combine warm water, yeast and sugar and mix until well-incorporated. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes.
2. Add the warm milk, salt, eggs and melted butter and mix until combined. Gradually mix in the flour until the dough comes together. (Tip from my bread-making class: add 3 cups of flour and then add the remaining flour in 1/2 or 1/4 cup intervals, gauging the wetness of the dough and its need for flour as you mix it together.)
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Kneed into a smooth ball for a few minutes (the butter will make the dough very soft but it shouldn’t be overly sticky). Grease a large bowl and add the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
4. To make the filling: add the brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla beans and salt to a bowl and mix well.
5. Lightly dust surface with flour. Once the dough has doubled in size, punch the dough dough and roll the dough into a rectangle (about 9×24 inches). Spread about 6 tablespoons of the very soft butter evenly over the dough. Spread the brown sugar + cinnamon evenly over the butter and lightly push the brown sugar into the butter. Starting with the long edge closest to you, pull the edge up and over the filling and carefully roll the dough into a log, keeping it fairly tight as you go. When you reach the edge, pinch along the edge to seal.
6. Place the log seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With a pair of sharp kitchen scissors cut diagonal slices almost to the bottom of the log. Arrange the cut sections so that they lean to alternating sides. Use your hand to gently push the dough together to help compress the log better.
If using the loaf pans: Cut and shape the dough as directed and then use your hands to push the dough together to almost the size of you bread pan. The dough will zigzag slightly. Using the parchment paper, lift the dough up and into the bread pan.
7. Immediately cover the dough and place in the fridge overnight. (Note from Half-Baked Harvest: do not let the dough sit at room temperature long or it will start to get very big.)
8. The next morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the fridge while the oven preheats and brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Bake the bread log for 20-25 minutes (the bread in the loaf pan needs about 45-50 minutes) or until lightly browned on top- do not over bake.
9. While the bread is baking, whisk the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla together until smooth. Add milk until your desired consistency is reached.
Serve the warm, gooey, sticky, sweet bread with a drizzle of frosting. Everyone loves you.
Aunt Lulu had been dying for years.
“Marybeth,” she croaked to her niece from her chair by the window. One long, skinny arm was outstretched. No matter that Marybeth was in the kitchen, rolling her eyes over a mound of dough on the counter. “Marybeth, I have something to tell you.”
Marybeth and Lulu had been paired up for years, since Marybeth’s own mama had passed on and left her daughter in charge of her sister’s care. Before that, years and years before, Aunt Lulu had been dying under the watchful eyes of Miss Henry from Pawtucket and before that, she was moaning and casting life advice to her fellow residents at The Carter Boarding House for Single and Widowed Womenfolk. As far as Marybeth was concerned, Aunt Lulu was somewhere between 85 and 125 and had been dying for at least half her life. She doled out life advice like her niece doled out baskets of baked bread, to anyone near enough to take it.
Ever the dutiful niece, Marybeth plunged her hands in and around the dough and turned it around in the flour. One more turn, pat, pat. “You hear me in there?” She had to move fast or the pockets of cold fat would melt. “Marybeth!” She had half a mind to keep going. Get the biscuit cutters out, cut, cut. Move them fast. Pretend like Aunt Lulu’s croaking voice couldn’t be heard over the whir of the kitchen fan. “MARYBETH.” And there it was, that pang in her chest. Maybe this was it, she thought. Maybe this was really it. With a sigh, Marybeth scooped the whole armful of dough onto the baking sheet and rushed it into the icebox. She wiped her hands, and the refrigerator handle, and marched into the sitting room.
Aunt Lulu beckoned her close. She’s still breathing, Marybeth thought sourly. What would it be this time? A word or two about how Marybeth could snag a man of her own (“Lemon juice in your hair! Makes it shine and smell pretty! Listen now!”) A platitude about the poor and feeble-minded (“Well, everybody’s got their mountain to climb. Make sure they got the right shoes, all you can do.”) Her tight-lipped response when politics was on the TV (“makes better talk in the bedroom than it does in the living room!” Which Marybeth still didn’t understand). Marybeth took a deep breath, reminded herself of the promise she’d made to her mama and crouched down beside her aunt’s chair. “What is it, Aunt Lulu?”
Aunt Lulu looked her own from head to toe. Her mouth opened and shut again. Dammit, Marybeth thought as she fought a smile, the old bat forgot what she was going to say. And then Aunt Lulu caught a glimpse of the flour on her niece’s hand. “You let that butter melt?”
Marybeth looked her aunt in the eye. She didn’t have her own platitudes about men or the poor or politics but if there was anything she was sure of in this world, it was flour and fat. “No, ma’am, I did not,” she replied to Aunt Lulu. “As God is my witness, I will not let that butter melt.”
There is nothing quite like a fresh-baked scone. The beauty of most scone recipes, too, is how easy they are to customize. Different herbs, fruit, spices. Today I saw one with dates, this is one of my all-time favorites but I was surprised to see we didn’t have a savory scone option on SKS until now. “Let’s see what Ina has to say about that,” is what you mutter when you realize you’re missing a baked good whose primary components are flour + fat. Good thing we did. These are crazy good and at 16 years old (!) they could even be deemed a classic.
Cheddar Dill Scones
4 Cups plus 1 Tablespoon of all-purpose flour, divided
2 Tablespoons of baking powder
2 Teaspoons of salt
3/4 Pound of cold unsalted butter, diced
4 Extra-large eggs, beaten lightly
1 Cup of cold heavy cream
1/2 Pound of extra sharp yellow cheddar, small dice
1 Cup of minced, fresh dill
1 Egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water or milk (egg wash)
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
2. Combine 4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
3. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Combine until just blended.
4. Toss together the cheddar, dill, and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough. Mix until they are almost incorporated.
5. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 minute, until the cheddar and dill are well distributed.
6. Roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 4-inch squares and then in half diagonally to make triangles.
7. Brush the tops with egg wash. Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outside is crusty and the inside is fully baked.
My sister Jenn called me just now, somewhat sheepishly. She was going to wait, she said, but she needed me to send three chapters of my first novel to her. Her friend Mary (who I think has known me since before I could walk) had been chatting up the book with a friend, an author, who very nicely offered to show it to her agent.
(The fact that I’m writing it this way, so matter-of-factly, should hopefully imply that this is not the first time this conversation has occurred.) “I told her you aren’t really shopping it around,” my sister said to me. “That Dad tries but you aren’t really sending it around anymore.” I tried to stamp down my annoyance. At that very moment, I was trying to wrap up a ton of work at my job so I could run home, get my house in order, jump in the car with my brother and drive four hours to her very house, for our mother’s birthday this weekend. Wrestling, among a mountain of clothes I haven’t been able to clean and a giant dog who hasn’t seen me in days, the nasty remnants of a truly terrible work week which have settled into a sturdy pit in my stomach. (And, oh yes, I need to send her three chapters and write this blog post before I leave.)
The reason why I just smiled and said thank you and sure, I’d send the chapters, no problem, you never know, thank Mary for me (she really is the best) is that I am profoundly grateful, insanely grateful, to have my family in my corner when it comes to my books. Do I think they’re maybe a little biased? Sure. But there are worse things (I could list a million, I’m sure you could too) than having your big sister pitching your book every chance she gets. Just because she believes. And because I know she truly didn’t want to tell me just yet about this possibility, knowing full well that the rollercoaster of “someone’s going to look at your book!” only to then follow up with news that they passed is one I’ve become so accustomed to that I’m fully numb by it all by now. I hung up the phone, crossed the next item off my to-do list and sighed. Still, she believes. That’s something. This week it’s hopefully enough for the both of us.
It’s fitting, in a way, that this week’s recipe is for delicious homemade corn muffins. They were always big in our house when we were growing up and seeing the photos makes me think of my siblings, and our mother (happy birthday Mom!) with a smile. Except we called them Corn Cuffins at the time. Be sure to use finely ground cornmeal or they could be a little gritty for your taste.
Homemade Corn Muffins with Jam Butter
Source: Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January/February 2015 | Makes 12 muffins | Print Recipe
2 Cups (280 grams) of finely ground yellow cornmeal
1 Cup (130 grams) of all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 and 1/4 Teaspoons of fine sea or table salt
1 and 1/4 Cups (300 ml) of milk, whole is best here
1 Cup (240 grams) of sour cream (full-fat plain yogurt should work here too)
8 Tablespoons (115 grams) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 to 5 Tablespoons (35 to 60 grams) of sugar
2 Large eggs
Favorite jam, seedless and fruitless
- Heat oven to 425°F (220°C). Either grease or line a 12- cup standard muffin tin with disposable liners.
- Whisk 1 1/2 cups cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl (if you have a microwave) or a medium saucepan (if you do not), combine milk and remaining 1/2 cup cornmeal. In a microwave, cook cornmeal–milk mixture for 1 1/2 minutes, then whisk thoroughly, and continue to microwave in 30-second increments, mixing between them, until it’s thickened to a batter-like consistency, i.e. the whisk will leave a clear line across the bottom of the bowl that slowly fills in. This will take 1 to 3 minutes longer. On the stove, cook cornmeal mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens as described above, then transfer to a large bowl.
- Whisk butter, then sugar, then sour cream into cooked cornmeal until combined. At this point, the wet mixture should be cool enough that adding the eggs will not scramble them, but if it still seems too hot, let it cool for 5 minutes longer. Whisk in eggs until combined. Fold in flour mixture until thoroughly combined and the batter is very thick. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups; it will mound slightly above the rim.
- Bake until tops are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 13 to 17 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking to ensure even cooking. Let muffins cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from tin and let cool 5 minutes longer.
- To make jam butter, mix softened butter with jam and serve with warm muffins.
They sat on a blanket in the grass and leaned their backs against a tree. Margo scratched an errant itch on her arm and gazed out over the fields. “Do you think French women complain about yogurt as much as we do?”
“I dunno.” Her friend Natalie let out a rumbling sigh.
“God, I’m sick of eating yogurt.”
“I know you are.”
They sat in silence for a moment. The wind rustled the weeds around them and a cluster of reeds played them a song. Margo settled back against the tree and tried to get comfortable. “Do you think French people really eat baguettes every day? I mean, that’s a lot of baguettes.”
Natalie reached between them and tore the end off a baguette. “That’s true.”
“Throw me a piece?” Natalie complied and they ate the bread in silence.
“Do you think French people-“
Natalie smiled and placed a floppy hat on her head. She hopped up off the blanket and grabbed the handlebars of her bike. The blanket and baguette were tucked into the little wicker basket in seconds. “Let’s just go back to town and ask them. Okay?”
Margo smiled and grabbed her bike from the other side of the tree.
Look! Bread! WE MADE BREAD.
I’m as shocked as you are.
I will admit, I had my doubts about this recipe. (I also found it hilarious that Food52 is all “It only takes four hours! You can do it!” where other places are trying to get recipes down to, like, 10 minutes or less. We are not a normal group of people, huh?)
But anyway BREAD. On the scale of leave it to worth it (the leave it category includes croissants and bagels. As in, too much work for subpar results at home. The worth it category includes ice cream, air popped popcorn and granola.) I’m going to go ahead and say WORTH IT. These came out truly impressive. They were delicious and so professional-looking. Which is a shock considering I was bumbling around the kitchen most of the time like some kind of demented French cartoon character. BREAD. Glorious bread!
The 4 Hour Baguette
1 and 1/2 Cup (12 ounces) of tap water, heated to 115°F
1 Teaspoon (1/8 ounce) of active dry yeast
3 and 1/4 Cups (14 2/3 ounces) of all-purpose flour
3 Teaspoons (3/8 ounce) of kosher salt (if using a fine-grained salt or table salt, use less salt)
1/2 Cup of ice cubes
1. In a large, clean bowl, whisk together water and yeast; let sit for 10 minutes, until yeast is foamy.
2. Add flour to yeast/water and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed. Let the dough sit about 20 minutes.
3. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap and place bowl in cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
5. Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.
6. Heat oven to 475° F.
7. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.
8. Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long.
9. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms)- (so cool!)
10. Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.
A few notes:
– The step by step instructions on Food52 include some photos which may help.
– My dough didn’t rise as much as I was expecting but the loaves still came out great. So as long as you don’t kill your yeast (see link in instructions) you should be okay.
– The next day: the bread was still chewy and good but could benefit from toasting. So, you know, eating three loaves of homemade bread the first day is probably not necessary. Or you can just pretend I didn’t say that.
When Mallory Evans felt the tail end of January grab her by the heels and whip her down to the icy street and drag her home, she called in the reserves.
She made no bones about it. She went into her apartment, dusted herself off (she’d fallen on the ice again), let out a great, big huffy breath and shook her fist at the gray skies. And she called her uncle Mortimer right away. She didn’t even need to say what she needed. He heard her voice on the voice and barked, “I’m comin’, niece, and I’m bringin’ the cat!”
The cat was a barn mewler that Mortimer had found under his porch last July. He’d scraped the brown dirt from the gray fur, fattened him up and promptly refused to go anywhere without him. The mewler didn’t have a name. Mortimer declared it unnecessary, entirely; her uncle was that type of person.
He arrived four hours later, on the dot, and Mallory could hear his old truck rattling outside, the rusted doors of it battering against the wall of ice and black snow piled high on the sidewalk. Up the stairs he walked but she heard the cat first, heard it hiss as he dropped it at the door. Mallory opened the door wide and the cat shot inside, as hell-bent on not going anywhere as Mortimer was to bring it absolutely everywhere. “Well,” Mortimer barked after she gave him a kiss on his papery cheek. He was thin and had only patches of hair on his head, and every year he seemed more cartoon than person. “Let’s get to work. Here.” He pushed a brown bag into her arms and Mallory looked down. It was filled to the brim with lemons. They were so fresh and sweet that the smell almost knocked her back. He toed off his shoes and set off into her apartment to get to work.
Mortimer didn’t just pull back the curtains, he yanked them down. Mallory thought about protesting (about the neighbors, propriety, local ordinances) but knew better and kept her mouth shut. It didn’t matter because Mortimer justified his actions anyway as he worked. “No use having these up, you want all the sun you can get when you can get it!”
He nudged her toward the kitchen. “Start baking something with those,” he barked and she thought about protesting again but he was too quick for her, barking the ingredients for her nana’s Lemon Cake. “Flour! Eggs! Sugar! Milk! That baking powder stuff! A pan to put it in!”
Mallory stepped into the kitchen and did as he said, watching out of the corner of her eye as her uncle swept the dust from the floors and moved to and fro, muttering and barking in equal measure. He moved piles of books from one corner of the room to another (“It’s new to you to see ’em over there!”) and turned her wall clock upside down (“A little rush of blood to the head is not a bad thing!”) and cleared all the things from the floor, her shoes, her hand weights, magazines (“You need room to dance in here! There’s no room for dancin’!”) He poured her a glass of orange juice that was so cold, it shocked her gums (“It shocks the gums!”) and told her to pick up the hair off her neck (“Pony tail! You ever see a depressed horse? No, you did not! Don’t question me!”) and he went into her closet and pulled out every item that was black and white and gray and stuffed them into a second brown paper bag (“I’m taking these! You moonlightin’ as the Grim Reaper?”) and she nodded and nodded and nodded some more.
He spun around her, bringing the light back into her life, and the cat hissed and the cake baked, the smell of lemons blooming in the air.
There are two things I’d like to say about today’s recipe. The first has to do with trial and error.
This has not been a super week for the incredible, superhuman, larger than life baking abilities of Nicole and Judi. On Monday, I went to a friend’s house, attempted to make brownies, these brownies, and as I mixed the batter, I noticed that it was dry (baking in a strange kitchen, in front of people, while drinking wine, is apparently not my strong suit). Very, very dry. Nonetheless (because of the audience maybe, because I was showboating a little because I’m a food blogger and thus an ass, but mostly, you know, wine) I assumed it would all be fine because SURE, when baking, just praying that it’ll all work out is always the solution.
What emerged from my friend’s oven was a brown, pale, tasteless brick. I reread the recipe and realized my mistake (I’d forgotten the brown sugar, almost a cup of it). It was supremely humiliating. The brownies went into the trash and I went home and anger-baked (that’s a thing) those damn brownies all over again in my house. I read the recipe carefully. I measured, folded and whipped. And they were friggin’ perfect, thank you very much, WINE.
And then, there was Nicole. Oh, Nicole. Nicole made this lemon drizzle cake not once, not twice but three times this week. The culprit? Not wine (well, maybe) but self-rising flour. The first time she used regular flour. The second time (oh, man, I could feel her frustration through the email) she made it with regular flour AGAIN even though the self-rising flour was newly purchased. And on the counter. Gah.
And the third time? She measured and whipped and folded. And it came out friggin’ perfect, thank you very much, no one.
And now, if I may veer wildly from anger to… something else entirely (it’s been that kind of week, frankly), the second thing. This is the anniversary of the day my grandmother died. It was three years ago today. She was the matriarch of our family, on my mother’s side, and even though she was well into her 90s and lived a full, glorious life filled with all the things an Italian woman could ask for (mainly, a loving husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, food, and yet more great-grandchildren), my mother continues to feel the depth of the loss as if it happened yesterday. As my mother’s daughter, there’s not really much I can do except acknowledge her grief and feel sorry for it and to maybe listen a little more closely to what her voice sounds like on the phone today, to try and commit it to memory as best I can, just a little bit extra time, a little bit more attention, something to save and remember, just in case, because I’ll be her one day, I know this to be true.
I didn’t intend to write about my grandmother at all, actually, but as I was scrolling through Nicole’s photos for this post, I thought, “This cake looks like sunshine.” And then, just like that, I could hear my grandmother singing, the song she murmured to those grandbabies and great-grandbabies, her hands soft and sure, even well into her 90s. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Committed to memory, though I wasn’t even trying at the time. There when I needed it, all the same.
Lemon Drizzle Cake
Source: Bake for the Border | Makes: 1 Loaf | Print Recipe
9 Tablespoons (125 grams) of butter
1 Cup (175 grams) of caster sugar*
2 Large eggs
1 and 1/3 Cups (175 grams) of self-rising flour**
2 Unwaxed lemons***
2 Tablespoons of milk
1/4 Cup (50 grams) of granulated sugar
* To make caster sugar: use granulated sugar and measure what you think you’ll need. Place in blender or food processor or (clean) spice/coffee grinder. Pulse until sugar is super-fine but not powdery. Let rest for a few minutes. Re-measure. If you need more, pulse a fresh batch.
** To make self-rising flour (oh, Nicole): For every 1 cup of flour needed, add 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and 0.5 teaspoon of salt.
*** I don’t know what this means. I assume you’ll be fine if you just buy, you know, lemons.
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.
3. In the bowl of a stand-mixer, add caster sugar and butter and beat until pale and creamy.
4. Add one egg and half the flour to the bowl, mix until incorporated.
5. Add the other egg and the remainder of the flour and mix gently.
6. Add the zest and juice of one lemon to the bowl, then the milk, and mix gently.
7. Place the batter in the loaf pan and even it out.
8. Place in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
9. In a small bowl, zest the remaining lemon and mix with half of the granulated sugar.
10. In a small saucepan, add the juice and the remaining sugar and allow to come to a boil. Reduce the heat until you have a syrup. When the cake is baked, skewer the warm cake with holes and pour the syrup over the cake. Sprinkle with zest and sugar and allow to cool.
11. Top with lemon curd for extra sunshine.
“And then I told them, I said listen, you might want to meet my friends,” he said with a grin and lifted his fists. “These are my gun friends.” The big guy swayed into the door and Lenora bit back a laugh.
He’d been easy to find, this big lunk of a guy. She’d ridden her bike as far as she could go on quarter of a tank, found the darkest bar on the dustiest road, and tapped the biggest man in the room on the shoulder.
At six-foot-four and almost three hundred pounds, he looked less like a man and more like a wall. He was draped in leather and denim from head to toe, his head was shaved and his beefy arms were covered in tats down to the wrist. And he had the tolerance of a freshman sorority girl. Lenora grunted as he leaned his massive frame against her. Did he really think she could carry him? “Okay, big guy. Almost there.”
“Loaf,” he muttered.
“My name. S’ Loaf.” He blinked at her. “You’re pretty.”
“I, um, thanks.” He smiled at her and she found it hard not to smile back. She was so distracted, in fact, that when the very undead dude swung around the corner of the truck, he almost succeeded in taking a chunk out of her arm. “Oh.”
Loaf’s eyes widened. “What the- that guy’s green!”
Lenora moved fast. She used Loaf like the tree he was and aimed a solid kick to the green guy’s head. It stunned him, it, just long enough for her to give Loaf a subtle push so that he laid against the hood of the truck. “Just stay there, big guy.” And she went back to work.
He was easy to kill, all in all. The greener they are, she thought as her stomach rolled at the sight of his dangling eyes, the more rotten the flesh and the slower they became. It was the newly dead, diseased, that moved the fastest. She swung her small body through the air and within seconds, she had her arms, thankfully covered, around his neck. She twisted her grip and he wilted in her arms like a flower, slide through her legs and onto the dirt.
She stood for a moment and shivered in the cold October air. This was not good, she thought, he was old, very old. Which meant there was a nest nearby. The old did not survive so long alone. “Dammit.” And suddenly Loaf was towering over both of them, his eyes wide. “He’s dead.”
“Yeah.” She fixed her eyes on Loaf’s and put her hands on his shoulders. Once caught in her gaze, he couldn’t look away. “You killed him, big guy. You saved me. We were walking out to my bike and he came out of nowhere and you sobered up enough to take him down.” She waited until his eyes got that look, that glazed over look she knew so well, one that said he believed her. And inwardly she sighed. It took no special powers to convince a man he was a god. “Thanks.” You served your purpose, she thought. One more dead and they’d never know it was her. When she came for them, they wouldn’t even see it coming.
Can we talk candidly for a second? I’m wondering how you feel about something.
I think I’m starting to fall out-of-love with Bon Appetit. Is it me? Is it just me? Can someone just tell me if I’m losing my mind?
I just… I can’t take another city guide to Portland, OR- city guides for Portland are the magazine equivalent of Lady Gaga covers of Vogue (EVERY. YEAR. MULTIPLE). Or another star-struck interview with some celebrity who doesn’t, uh, actually eat anything (Gwyneth! ON THE COVER. I can’t). Or see one more picture of a bearded chef with his arms crossed (congrats guys, you all look EXACTLY THE SAME NOW.) Why does Andrew Knowlton fill more than half the magazine? Why don’t they write articles anymore? Why do the recipes increasingly look like outtakes from a Portlandia sketch? BA isn’t for home cooks anymore, it feels like it’s for restaurant groupies. Which… ugh. I love Anthony Bourdain, I think he’s entertaining and great… but he doesn’t inspire me to cook. He just doesn’t. BA feels like it’s being written for him, not me.
I miss Julia Child. I miss… connections to reality. Why does more cooking-world look SO DIFFERENT than theirs? Why is it so much closer to this- why does THIS person feel so relevant and revolutionary and IT and why do the online people seem to be the only people who realize it?
Anyway. Rant over. Pumpkin bread now. Spiced pumpkin bread. Not our first quick-bread for fall and certainly not our last. It’s just simple and good. It’s seasonal. It’s warm. It’s love. No really it is- this recipe makes two loaves, one for you to eat and one to give away. You should go forth and do so. Ranter’s orders.
Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Source: Bon Appetit | Makes 2 loaves | Print Recipe
3 Cups of sugar
1 Cup of vegetable oil
3 Large eggs
1 16-ounce can of solidly packed pumpkin (way to be weirdly specific, BA)
3 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon of ground cloves
1 Teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 Teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon of salt
1/2 Teaspoon of baking powder
1 Cup of coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.
3. In a large bowl, beat sugar and oil to blend.
4. Add eggs and pumpkin to sugar/oil and mix.
5. In another large bowl, sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder.
6. In 2 additions, stir flour into pumpkin mixture.
7. Mix in walnuts, if desired.
8. Divide batter equally between prepared pans.
9. Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
10. Transfer loaves to racks and cool for 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife and cut around loaf edges. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.
As soon as their humans had gotten up, as soon as Hammer and Buckley heard the heaviness of their feet on the floor, heard the groans, heard the swearing, they ran down to the kitchen and waited.
Hammer, a mop-eared mutt with one eye, took his spot right beside the kitchen island. He was a Mallory first and he got the primo spot. (Thems the rules.) Buckley, a long-haired Golden Retriever mix, was relegated to the other side of the counter where he moped until the humans approached.
Blonde One was first. She shuffled in and Hammer held himself back from attacking the furry pink rabbits that had attached themselves to her human feet. He knew enough to wait until she’d gotten a handle on the pot of magic and taken a sip before approaching. And today, the way she was muttering to herself and her hands were scrambling against the cabinets for her green pills, Hammer knew he should wait even longer to approach. He hung back and peered at her from behind the island.
Dark Haired One was next. He squinted at the dogs, squinted at Blonde One, squinted at the pot of magic, squinted at the green pills and then held out a hand. She handed him the bottle and they stood there for many, many minutes, drinking the brown liquid with the magic powers. And then, the dogs’ ears pricked, they got to work.
Out came the bowls and the spoons and the milk and the flour. Blonde One didn’t say much as she sifted and stirred. Dark Haired One scowled for many minutes at the hot tabletop until Blonde One said, “You need to turn it on.” Then, he scowled at her so she called him a bad word and handed him more magic juice. Then, he seemed better.
And then it was time for the tumbles! Out came the container of blueberries and then one after another, they tumbled to the floor, Blonde One and Dark Haired One too distracted to notice as the dogs snuck up and ate them. Oh, what a joyous morning when Blonde One and Dark Haired One didn’t rush out to door but stood in the kitchen and muttered things to each other and they were so squinty and drank magic juice and then made more magic juice and Blonde One’s hair looked like the tail of Buckley’s squirrel toy, and there were berries of blue that rolled over the floor.
The pictures in this recipe illustrate perfectly one of the core differences between me and Nicole. The conversation went like this:
Nicole: “Hey, could I use a Belgian waffle maker to make these? The recipe says not to.”
Me: Sure. I used a Belgian waffle maker and it worked fine.
Nicole: Okay, great! Thanks!
When I saw the photos, I laughed. My Belgian waffle maker is a generic beast that I got at Target last fall (when we wanted to make this). It’s crusty with remnants of waffles past, it already looks 10 years old and, design-wise, looks like it’d be right at home at a continental breakfast table at the Holiday Inn Express. Nicole’s creates beautiful waffle heart/flowers. Because of course it does. That’s pretty much us in a nutshell- me trying desperately to ladder up to acceptable-status and ending up at a Holiday Inn Express and Nicole effortlessly being awesome. (Note: she will read this and shake her head but you can’t dispute me here, Nicole! I hold the floor! Effortlessly awesome! It is decided!)
We both ended up making these waffles for guests over the last week and both give the recipe two (four?) thumbs up (am I Ebert? Oh man, I’m totally Ebert). The waffles are deliciously, yeastily flavored, they have a fantastic crisp to their edges and airy-light insides. When you oil the maker in between batches, you walk away with a waffle that’s almost fried-dough like but lighter than your typical diner waffles. They’re fantastic. They’re my new go-to and paired with blueberries and the batter mixed the night before? This one’s a no-brainer. Essential for good reason.
Blueberry Waffles aka “Essential” Raised Waffles with Blueberries
1/2 Cup of warm water (about 105 to 110 degrees, not too hot or it will kill the yeast)
1 packet (1/4 ounce) of active dry yeast (note: Judi only had instant yeast and just substituted the warm water for cool water, worked fine)
2 Cups of milk, warmed (again, not too hot)
1 Stick (4 oz) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled until lukewarm
1 Teaspoon of table salt
1 Teaspoon of granulated sugar
2 Cups of all purpose flour
2 Large eggs
1/4 Teaspoon of baking soda
Oil or melted butter for waffle iron
Powdered sugar, syrup and blueberries for serving
The night before:
1. In the bottom of a large (larger than you think you’ll need, this batter will rise a lot overnight) bowl, pour warm water and sprinkle yeast on top. Let yeast dissolve and foam (slightly) for about 15 minutes.
2. Stir in milk, butter, salt, sugar and flour. (Deb’s note: do a little wet ingredients and then dry, back and forth, to avoid forming lumps and if lumps form, just whisk them out.)
3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set out on counter overnight (or place in fridge if it’s super hot in your house).
In the morning:
4. Whisk in eggs and baking soda until smooth.
5. Heat waffle iron (Deb advises against using a Belgian waffle maker but they worked fine for both Nicole and myself!) Batter is thin so err on the side of underfilled until you work out the right amount.
6. Repeat with remaining batter.
7. Waffles can be kept warm and crisp in a warm oven (250 degrees, foil on rack) until ready to serve. Batter keeps well in the fridge for several days if you want to make it ahead.
Recently, I had a conversation with a (newish) friend. She was having a rough day (really rough) and we went to a bar near work for a drink.
We talked about a lot of things, mostly about what had sent her to the bar, to cry into her drink. In trying to pull her out of her misery, in whatever small, pathetic way I could, we veered off onto other topics. We talked, among other things, about her being an only child and her close friend who had just gotten married. We talked about my friend SJ, who is about to have a baby. Somehow, I ended up having one of those moments where a thought forms while you’re saying something out loud. Has this ever happened to you? You don’t really know how you feel and then you just start talking and… boop, there it is. Huh. That is how I feel.
What I had been saying, out loud, to her and to myself, was that there are so many aspects of adult friendship that you’re never really prepared for. There are so many books and movies and television shows about what friendship is like but they’re skewed so young- they talk about what it’s like to have friends when you’re in school and all, and then you get older and suddenly everything about romantic relationships. Everything you see is so narrowly focused on dating and married life, engagements and weddings. Nobody really talks about what happens when you grow up, what happens to your friendships, how they morph and change, the nuances of them.
Specifically, I was talking about how stunned I was to realize how much I already love my friend’s baby, who hasn’t even been born yet. I feel the same way about this as I did when my sisters were expecting their babies- I said it out loud to my friend and suddenly it became true in my mind, “Isn’t it amazing? Even if you’re an only child, you can still be an aunt. If you have a friend who you love and they have a baby, that love for their baby is just as strong. It’s amazing.”
The second novel I wrote touched on this subject a little. It was purely accidental; I hadn’t intended to write about how I felt becoming an aunt for the first time, how stunned and bezonked (that’s the only way to describe it, with a made-up-word) I was to love someone so fully who DID NOT EXIST a minute ago, it just happened. That whole experience just spilled out of me. And now it was happening again, only this time I was having the same realization about my friend, not my sister. I can’t believe I’ve been so lucky to live through this realization twice.
Love is amazing, you guys.
I’m bringing it up because of a weird convergence- that friend who was so sad in the bar is now moving to Chicago and SJ is due any day. I find myself, on the first day of summer, about to leave work and step into the sunshine, thinking about how much I’ll miss her, how much I miss Chicago, and about SJ who is probably at this moment, sitting on the couch and staring at her belly, willing her baby girl to come out and play.
Nicole was inspired to make this dish after having a similar one at the Publican in her neighborhood in Chicago. I miss Chicago terribly, and so much more in the summer when the whole city seems to step out and play and enjoy the sunshine. You should make it. The combination of banana bread and lemony ricotta and walnuts and mint might seem a little strange, but convergence is a funny thing when it works.
Eat delicious things and get out into the sun. Happy first day of summer.
Julia’s Best Banana Bread with Walnuts, Ricotta, Mint & Honey
NOTE: Banana bread can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
For banana bread:
Non-stick vegetable oil spray
1 and 3/4 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons of baking soda
3/4 Teaspoon of kosher salt
3 Large eggs
1 and 1/2 Cups of sugar
1 Cup of mashed, ripe bananas (about 2 large)
3/4 Cup of vegetable oil
1/2 Cup of whole milk ricotta
2 Teaspoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Make banana bread:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with vegetable spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.
3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, bananas and oil until smooth.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
5. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top.
6. Bake for 60-70 minutes, until tester comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.
In a small bowl, combine ricotta with fresh lemon juice.
Dollop lemon ricotta on plate. Slice and lay banana bread on top. Top with sprigs of fresh mint, toasted walnuts and a heavy drizzle of honey.
This is the opposite of facing your blog post with not enough to say. I just got back from two weeks in Italy and I have too much to say. Too much.
Coming back from a trip is hard, I feel, because people seem excited to see you and ask you how your trip was but you’re not quite sure how much they want to know. I’m not a “why don’t you come over and eat food and you can look at all my trip photos!” type of person. Mostly because I personally feel that looking at 500 pictures of someone’s else’s trip is somewhat akin to listening to someone tell you about all the dreams they’ve had over the last year. “And then this monkey showed up! And it had my math teacher’s face! And it gave me a coconut!” Mother of god. Make it stop. In some ways, we are all still toddlers- if we’re not in the wedding photos, why do we care?
In this way, Facebook is actually a blessing because you can just throw all the photos up there! And if you want to look at them, GREAT. And if you don’t, at least I don’t have to suffer that glazed-over look on your face, I know, I missed you too.
In the same way that Facebook is a perfectly acceptable place to house all my trip photos, I realize that SKS can serve its own perfectly acceptable function- mainly, let’s talk about the food in Italy. And then we’ll eat biscuits, a perfectly acceptable non-Italian food because I’m pretty sure if someone put a plate of pasta in front of me at this juncture, I’d run headfirst into a wall in the opposite direction.
I spent the first week in Rome with my girls, a 10 year reunion from when we all lived there, together, during college, for the loveliest semester of my life. We rented an apartment in Trastevere which helped us save money, relive how it felt to walk the streets like residents and not tourists, eat as much Roman-style pizza as possible (square cut, airy crust, resplendent) and also helped me fulfill one of my trip goals- go to a market in Rome, buy food and then cook it. Which I did. Stepping foot into the market, Sunday, by the Roman Forum, with its buzzy locals, surrounded by food and bread and fresh-cut flowers was a highlight of my adult life, to be sure. I’m glad I crossed it off the list and I’m sure you, you kindred spirits you, can fully understand why I had to do it.
Rome was marked by a few home-cooked meals and one particularly memorable home-cooked meal that just happened to be in a restaurant in Trastevere where I almost wept openly over a plate of Caco e Pepe. And pizza, from a variety of places but mostly the places we used to hit while we were in “school”. We all had our favorites and they all delivered. There is something like those two square pieces, folded together and wrapped in paper, handed over the counter, that resonate deeply within me, a combination that can only be achieved when genuine deliciousness and your happiest of memories collide.
And gelato. I felt like it was my obligation to eat Nutella-flavored gelato at least once a day. For you. All for you. And my ass.
The second week was all about Calabria and Sicily and my family. We visited the towns of my great-grandparents in Calabria and my grandfather’s home in Southern Sicily, met relatives, drove a giant van through narrow Italian streets, dented said-van, cried upon emerging from the van because you should never do this, drive the world’s largest car through the world’s smallest streets, and we ate. We ate a lot. A lot. A lot cannot be stated enough. Octopus. Swordfish. Squid. Artichokes. Lemons. Ricotta. Eggplant. (So much eggplant!) At one point, my uncle’s cousin revealed the olive oil they used for the insane, 5 course meal his daughter cooked for us (the meal took 2 days to prepare and it was stunning, from start to finish, GOD BLESS YOU PATRON SAINT OF CALABRIA), a jug of gold they he said he got in the mountains somewhere. I wondered, in one wild-eyed moment, how offended they would be if I leapt over the table, grabbed the jug and made a run for it. But I was too laden down with stuffed calamari to make a move. Lucky for all of us. I finally let him walk away with it, a tear sliding down my cheek.
Lest you think Sicily was lacking in dessert, oh, OH, don’t worry- I ate my body weight in cannoli. One every day. One better than the last. They haunt my dreams.
And now, back to reality. Delicious, American reality.
These malted buttermilk biscuits are danged good. And I love the way they look when cut, closer in kin to a homemade English muffin. Best served warm, in a basket or shallow dish, wrapped in a kitchen cloth. Is there anything better than pulling back a little bread blanket and finding warm biscuits underneath? There is not. You are correct.
Malted Buttermilk Biscuits
3 and 1/4 Cups of all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons of sugar
1 Tablespoon plus 1 Teaspoon of baking powder
2 Teaspoons of kosher salt
1 Cup (8oz) of unsalted butter, frozen for 15 minutes (and some additional melted butter for tops)
1 Cup of buttermilk, cold (make your own)
1 Tablespoon of barley malt syrup
Sea salt for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. In a large bowl, whisk to combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
3. Using a box grater, grate the frozen butter over the flour mixture and distribute through flour with a rubber spatula.
4. In a small bowl, combine buttermilk and barley malt. Stir to blend thoroughly.
5. Pour the buttermilk mixture over the flour-butter mixture, stirring just until dough comes together.
6. On a lightly floured work surface, turn out dough and lightly knead to finish incorporating ingredients. Gently press the dough together into a flattened ball.
7. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness. Cut out biscuits using a 2 and 1/2 inch biscuit cutter (don’t twist cutter. Flour it well and punch down and up.) Reroll scraps once but be gentle.
8. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place biscuits about 1 inch apart.
9. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
10. Bake until golden and cooked through, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
“Parla come magni,’ It means, ‘Speak the way you eat,’ or in my personal translation: ‘Say it like you eat it.’ It’s a reminder – when you’re making a big deal out of explaining something, when you’re searching for the right words – to keep your language as simple and direct as Roman rood. Don’t make a big production out of it. Just lay it on the table.”
“To my taste, the men in Rome are ridiculously, hurtfully, stupidly beautiful. More beautiful even than Roman women, to be honest. Italian men are beautiful in the same way as French women, which is to say– no detail spared in the quest for perfection. They’re like show poodles. Sometimes they look so good I want to applaud.”
“I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair.”
All quotes from Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love.
I leave for Rome tomorrow. I’m a little excited. Can you tell I’m a little excited? Does it show?
In any event, here are the facts:
1. I leave for Rome tomorrow. And Calabria. And Sicilia.
2. Long-lost relatives have been contacted. One of them is called Guiseppe. I kid you not.
3. While I’m away, you’ll still get delicious recipes. Nicole has promised and she’s good at keep her word.
4. If you’re feeling a wee bit of envy, we suggest you start with some biscotti. Bring one (or two) to the table in the morning with your coffee. It’ll make you feel better. Just some dunk and some yum and some crunch. Always sets me right. (White chocolate drizzles don’t hurt.)
5. Can someone water my plants?
Apricot White Chocolate Biscotti
2 Cups of all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 Cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 Cup of sugar
1 Teaspoon of grated lemon zest
1/4 Teaspoon of salt
2 Large eggs
1 Cup of fine chopped dried apricots (about 12 dried apricots)
2 Cups of white chocolate chips, divided
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and the baking powder.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer or stand mixer, mix the butter until soft and fluffy. Add sugar, lemon zest, and salt and mix in.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix until incorporated.
5. Add the flour mixture until just incorporated.
6. Stir in the apricots and 1 cup of white chocolate chips.
7. Place the dough onto your prepared baking sheet and form it into a rectangular log, about 13 by 3 inches.
8. Place in the oven, whole, and bake for about 35 minutes or until cookie log is golden brown. Let cool for 30 minutes.
9. Transfer the cookie to a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut 1/2 inch slices on a slight diagonal.
10. Return cookies to baking sheet and arrange them cut side down. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cut sides are golden. Let cool completely.
11. Melt remaining white chocolate in a double boiler (bring water to a simmer in small saucepan and place heatproof bowl over it. Make sure water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl.) Carefully transfer to a plastic bag or piping bag. Drizzle over the cooled biscotti.
12. Place in fridge to firm for about 30 minutes.
13. Commence dunking biscotti in coffee, tea or espresso.
Aidan was very excited for Super Bowl. His parents were not.
Well, that wasn’t exactly true. They were not un-excited. They were decidedly neither excited nor unexcited. What they were, on that crisp and cold February morning, and what they had been for the last ten years were a pair of nuclear physicists. From Norway.
Mik and Norma appreciated much about their lives in America (they both loved Louis Armstrong, Red Vines and the films of Sandra Bullock) but they had never really warmed to American football. Or sports of any kind, really. They were invited once to a Super Bowl party at a work colleague’s and it was, in Norma’s words, an unmitigated disaster.
So when their six-year-old son fell hode over hæler for football, they were a bit surprised. Their home was filled to the brim with books. Mik’s affection for film meant their little boy could watch whatever he desired and Norma’s proclivity for both electronics and engineering led to a flurry of inventing on the weekends (the dog food dispenser! The Red Vine dispenser! Norma enjoyed the dispensing of things) – what else could a little boy wish for?
Football, apparently. So they obliged him. Of course they did. He was their Aidan, how could they not?
So, on Sunday, when Aidan awoke, his room was filled with football-shaped balloons. He jumped out of bed and ran to the dresser and excitedly removed his jersey from the drawer (he was a football player for Halloween and for every day after Halloween until the pants disintegrated in the wash. He was bereft at the loss of them.) and put it on. He ran downstairs and spent hours upon hours, watching pre-game footage on their vast television in the sitting room, leaping over Mik’s feet as he upgraded the software on the family laptops.
And when game time came around, Norma and Mik put on jerseys as well (also from the Halloween store. They were gray and lacked markings of any particular team. Norma believed this was more fair, since they did not show true allegiance to anyone.) and they brought in the buffalo wings and the chips and salsa, the bowls of popcorn and the crock pot full of chili con carne. Norma made pretzel rolls, warm from the oven.
And when the game started, they sat on either side of Aidan and ate and cheered. And even if his parents cheered at all the wrong times, it was still the best day Aidan had ever had.
IT’S GAME TIME!
I’m not going to pretend I care that much about football (I’m more of a baseball/hockey person, personally.) but oh, man do I love game food. Chili? Yes, I will have two bowls. Chips and things to dip the chips into? OKAY. Wings? Yes, yes, and yes. Sign here, I want all the wings. Beer? Check. Brightly hued cheese products? Need I go on?
So for this year’s game day, we offer you a delectable combination of game day treats: pretzels, beer and cheese. Together. Specifically, warm, toasty, homemade pretzel rolls with beer cheese sauce.
Don’t stop here though- don’t just tear into these warm, salty morsels and dip. Think BIGGER: sandwiches! Crack open a roll, put it in a bowl, sprinkle with shredded cheese and top with a ladle of chili (it’s like a loaded baked potato but bread instead! This might be the smartest thing I’ve ever uttered. I can’t even go on. There’s nowhere to go from here but down…)
Pretzel Rolls With Beer Cheese Sauce
For the Pretzels
1 Cup of warm water
2 and 1/4 Teaspoons of active dry yeast (or one packet)
2 and 3/4 Cups of bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 TBsp of granulated sugar
1 Teaspoon of kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top of the pretzels
6 Cups of water
1/4 Cup of baking soda
For the beer cheese sauce:
4 TBsp of unsalted butter
1/2 Cup of yellow onion, chopped
1 Bay Leaf
4 TBsps of all-purpose flour
2 Cups of beer
1 Cup of heavy cream
1/2 Teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1/4 Teaspoon of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
2-3 Cups of good, sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the pretzels:
1. In the bowl of your standing mixture, fitted with dough hook, combine the warm water and the yeast. Let sit until bubbling, about five minutes.
2. Meanwhile, coat a large mixing bowl with a thin layer of vegetable oil and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and one teaspoon of salt.
4. Add the flour mixture to the yeast mixture and, using the dough hook, mix the dough on low until it is just combined.
5. Once combined, increase the speed to medium and knead until elastic and smooth, about 8 minutes or so.
6. Roll the dough into a ball and lightly roll the dough in the pre-oiled bowl to completely coat. Cover with a light cloth and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, coat the paper with vegetable oil, and set aside.
8. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and knead it on a floured, dry surface just until it becomes smooth.
9. Divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and form into oblong rolls (roundish). Place the rolls on the baking sheet and slash a diagonal X shape across the top of each.
10. Cover with a light cloth and let the dough rise again in a warm place until almost doubled in volume, about 15 to 20 minutes.
11. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425°F and bring the 6 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat.
12. Once the rolls have risen, stir the baking soda into the boiling water (the water will foam up slightly- so be very careful.)
13. Boil two or three rolls for 2 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon, remove the rolls, drain, and place on the baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle well with salt and repeat with the remaining rolls.
14. Once all the rolls are ready, place in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes.
For the beer cheese sauce:
15. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
16. Add the chopped onion and bay leaf and cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
17. Add a pinch of salt and the flour, stirring to coat the onions completely, and cook, stirring constantly for about 3-4 minutes.
18. Slowly add the beer to the roux, whisking constantly.
19. Next, slowly add the heavy cream, again, whisking constantly and breaking up any clumps of flour that may have formed.
20. Bring the mixture to a gently simmer, and add the peppercorns, cloves, and nutmeg, and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 30 minutes.
21. Here’s the tricky part: Using a small slotted spoon, remove the peppercorns and bay leaf from the mixture. (Leave a couple of peppercorns in? Just be sure you remember this when you take a bite!)
22. Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in the grated cheese, adjusted the amount of cheese to your desired taste and thickness.
There was much hitting and jostling on Bert and Gregory’s side of the table. Annabelle, their mother, cast them one stony look on her way back to the kitchen. Bert immediately dropped his hands, and his attempt to drop a bit of stuffing down the neck of his brother’s shirt. Gregory seized the moment of weakness to seize a green pea from the bowl, stuff it up one nostril and then, with the help of the other nostril, shot it at his brother’s face. “Ow! Mom! Gregory nose-pooped a pea into my eye.” Bert clasped a hand over his eye for dramatic effect.
“Honestly!” Annabelle smiled through clenched teeth at the various family members who wandered past on their way to the long dining room table. “You’re not ten years old anymore, boys,” she hissed at her sons under her breath. And it was true that at fifteen, they were almost grown. “Stop it! Stop it at once or I will throttle both of- Oh, Grammie Ham!” Her voice immediately rose six octaves as she patted her hair and gestured for the boys’ great-grandmother to take her seat beside them. “There you are! There you go! Sit, sit, there it is!”
Their mother always spoke to Grammie Ham as if she was a baby poodle attempting to take her first wobbly steps. She had done this ever since the day she’d learned just how much the old woman meant to leave them when she died. “Hooray, you’re sitting! Hooray for Grammie Ham! You sit so beautifully, Grammie Ham! Yes, you do!”
The boys, momentarily distracted by the appearance of Grammie Ham, stared dully at her as Annabelle cooed and crowed back to the kitchen, fussing over the other guests to take their seats. Grammie Ham’s watery eyes passed over them. They wondered if she even saw them there.
Grammie Ham was, and always seemed to be, less person and more… gray. Hair, skin, clothes, everything was the color of slick clay; over the years, she seemed to embody the color more and more. She sat in her chair, spidery hands grasping at the edges of the napkin before her (which was shaped like a swan that appeared to be gasping for air) until it became clear, to Bert and Gregory’s mounting horror, that she was actually attempting to stand up and push herself off the edge of her chair.
“Do something,” Bert whispered to Gregory, who was typically the twin of action. But Gregory stared, unsure of what to do as Grammie Ham wheezed and pushed and shoved her way up until she was hovering, hunched, over the table.
“G-gram-” Gregory finally muttered (after Bert jammed his leg with his fork). “D-dya need something?”
The boys watched as she grabbed the bowl of green peas and with one final lasting gasp, sat down on her chair with a thump, the bowl in her hands.
Bert and Gregory watched, transfixed, as she reached a trembling hand into the bowl and emerged with a single green pea… and promptly shoved it up her nose.
They stared. “G-gram.” Bert whispered. He was partially watching for his mother. He wasn’t sure if he wanted her to see this or not. He had a dim feeling she’d knock him sideways for it though. Gregory’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “G-gram, don’t- that’s not how you eat-“
Annabelle came bustling over then, clapping her hands. “All right everybody,” she trilled loudly and waved and hollered for their attention. “Dinner’s about to be served.” Bert swallowed. Gregory just continued to stare at Grammie Ham, who sat calmly with a pea up her nose. Annabelle must’ve noticed the pallor of their collective faces because she leaned over the table. “What are you about?” she hissed at the boys again.
“Better not be.” Her expression turned to rapturous, her voice tuned to baby poodle talk as she swiveled over to Grammie Ham. “And how are you, Grammie dear? Who’s sitting so nicely? Who sits better than you?” And the pea shot forcefully out of Grammie Ham’s nose and landed directly in their mother’s gawping mouth.
Of everyone at the table, only the three of them knew what had just occurred. Bert and Gregory were frozen like statues. They stared at their mother, whose eyes were wide, her face the color of steamed prunes. The only movement their mother make was to drop her eyes down to the pea that now rested in her mouth.
“I would like some milk please, when you get a chance, Annabelle,” was all Grammie Ham said in reply. Deep in his belly, Bert felt a laugh begin that he was sure would last for days and days.
There are a few things that I was not anticipating when I considered my adult life. Among them: I didn’t think, ever, that I’d end up living in Maine. I would never have imagined that my career would involve the two words Face and Book. And I certainly did not think, as a plump child raised primarily on carbohydrates and my mother’s chicken cutlets, that I would ever, in my whole life, consider bread to be a treat.
But here we are. I am a grown-ass woman. I pay bills. I buy my own airplane tickets. I’m responsible for the care and well-being of a large animal. And I so rarely eat things as simple and splendid as dinner rolls that their promised presence on the Thanksgiving table practically moves me to tears. ROLLS. I CAN EAT ROLLS. Specifically, homemade no knead dinner rolls. That’s right. THERE WILL BE ROLLS.
These, as rolls go, are as simple and splendid as they get. They don’t require any fussy laboring, they can be made ahead of time and, if you’re anything like me, they can quietly and quickly (and unexpectedly) become the most important thing on the whole table (MUST GET TO ROLLS. AND BUTTER.)
The child version of me might still be reaching for the stuffing but the adult version is all about the rolls.
No-Knead Cloverleaf Rolls
Make ahead! To store, let cool, wrap tightly in plastic, and keep at room temperature, up to 2 days.
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 Cup of warm water (110 degrees to 115 degrees)
2 and 1/4 Teaspoons of active dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce packet)
3 Cups of all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), divided
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons of fine salt
1 Large egg
3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for brushing
1. In a large bowl, combine sugar and water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit until foamy, 5 minutes.
2. Add 1 cup of flour and, using a mixer, beat on medium until smooth, 2 minutes.
3. Add fine salt, egg, and butter and beat until combined.
4. Add remaining 2 cups flour and, with a wooden spoon, mix until just combined.
5. Lightly coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Transfer dough to bowl, lightly coat with cooking spray, and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight (or up to 2 days). Dough will double in size.
6. Divide into 27 equal pieces (1 ounce each).
7. Lightly coat 9 standard muffin cups and your hands with cooking spray.
8. Roll each dough piece into a smooth ball and place 3 balls in each cup.
9. Liberally coat with cooking spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
10. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, 45 to 90 minutes.
11. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
12. Bake rolls until puffed and deep golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
13. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt; serve warm.
At some point, there were no more tears to be shed. Polly wasn’t sure when it happened exactly but she caught herself mid-laugh and clapped a hand over her mouth.
Her friend Anna smiled from her place on the floor. They were sitting cross-legged across from each other, the tin of swiped bread between them, the two forks sticking out of it like a pair of rogue antenna. A good portion of the sticky, sweet banana bread now resided in Polly’s stomach. She could practically feel it soaking up the homesickness she felt there- or she had felt, anyway, before Anna had appeared in the doorway of the cabin, stolen treats in hand and with understanding smile.
A lot of my stories lately seem to be about kind-hearted strangers bringing baked goods to people in distress. Have you noticed that? You haven’t? Well, you probably notice now that I’ve said it.
I don’t plan these things- I write what I want to write. And obviously I’m either feeling extremely charitable lately or I’m passive-aggressively trying to force you to bake me something and bring it to me so that I may eat it. If I were still in Chicago, I could just show up at Nicole’s house and demand that she hand it over. Alas, this is not to be. I have to make this Caramelized Banana Bread with Browned Butter Glaze myself, oh poor Judi with all the bread to eat.
Or maybe I’m just trying to reinforce an idea here. This notion of spontaneous kindness. Of the comfort you can bring someone just by caring a little bit more than expected of you. Of how much love is available to you and how much you have within you to give away to someone else. Maybe that’s it.
Maybe it just needed overstating.
Caramelized Banana Bread with Browned Butter Glaze
4 TBSPs of butter, softened and divided
3/4 Cup of packed dark brown sugar
3 Medium-sized, ripe bananas, sliced
1/2 Cup of fat free buttermilk
3 TBSPs of canola oil
2 TBSPS of amber or gold rum
2 Large eggs
9 Ounces of all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
3/4 Teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 Teaspoon of salt
Baking spray with flour (such as Baker’s Joy)
1/3 Cup of powdered sugar
2 Teaspoons of Half and Half
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
3. Add brown sugar and bananas; sauté 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes.
5. Place banana mixture in a large bowl.
6. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.
7. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs).
8. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt.
9. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to banana mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat at low speed just until combined.
10. Scrape batter into a 9 x 5-inch metal loaf pan coated with baking spray.
11. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging.
12. Cool for 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack.
13. Remove bread from pan, and cool on wire rack.
1. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat.
2. Cook 3 minutes or until butter begins to brown; remove from heat.
3. Add powdered sugar and half-and-half, stirring with a whisk until smooth.
4. Drizzle glaze over bread.
5. Let stand until glaze sets.
She played the words over in her mind, rolled them around. Arranged marriage.
She certainly felt arranged. She’d spent the better part of the morning being pushed and pulled about like a roll of satin, cream-colored taffy. There was great deal of attention and concern dedicated to the comfort of the clothes that now draped her- the lightness of her dress, the looseness around her upper arms, the way the hem swung around her knees, the sweetness of her shoes (they did not pinch as she feared) but the women who dressed her were rough, like burlap.
They had round, stern faces and they hummed around her like disapproving bees. She did not understand the words they muttered to one another. She thought perhaps that was for the best.
She wondered if she would bruise. Already, there was a spot on her wrist where a woman had pinched to secure a glass bracelet- it bloomed there like a raspberry, like another decoration.
She wondered if he would mind.
If you are particularly observant and have been around this site for a while, you should be able to tell which recipe picks are mine and which belong to Nicole. Mainly, the difference all comes down to… sugar. Sweet, glorious sugar.
We both love decadent sweets but I generally go for richness over sweetness. Nicole, on the other hand, chooses sweet. Every time. A constant refrain from testing one of my picks is usually, “It was good but it wasn’t sweet enough for me.” And my refrain for her picks is usually along the lines of “NICOLE, 3 CUPS of sugar?! PS this is really good. BUT 3 CUPS?” (From the sheer volume of our reactions, I know, it would seem like I’m the sugar hound. Sadly, my loudness is all genetics.)
So to offset the decadent sweetfest of last week, I chose a raspberry scone recipe. Aren’t they lovely? They’re creamy and rich, yes but scant on the sweetness. I’m in the mood for that today.
If you’d like to “go Nicole” for this one, sprinkle some turbinado sugar over the mounds of dough just before baking for an extra sugary crunch or try a simple glaze.
Let’s talk, for a second, about how I’m going to buy the hell out of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I pre-ordered that sucker so fast… is it possible to get whiplash in your fingers? I must make something from Deb’s site once a week and every time I do, the recipe is a winner. A friend even made this delicious monster for my birthday this year (and lo, it was good. So good. Did I even need to say that? Really?)
Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
1 Cup of whole wheat flour
1 Cup of all-purpose flour
1 TBSP of baking powder
1/4 Cup of granulated sugar
1/2 Teaspoon table salt
6 TBSP of cold unsalted butter
1 Cup of fresh raspberries
3/4 Cup of whole milk ricotta
1/3 Cup of heavy cream
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. In the bottom of a large bowl, whisk flours, baking powder, sugar and salt together.
4. Using a pastry blender: Add the butter (no need to chop it first) and use the blender to both cut the butter into the flour mixture until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas. Or with your hands: Cut the cold butter into small cubes and, working fast, work the butter into the flour mixture until the biggest pieces are the size of small peas.
5. Toss in raspberries and use the blender again to break them into halves and quarter berry sized chunks. (Or chop them roughly and stir them into the mixture.)
6. Add the ricotta and heavy cream together with a flexible spatula until the dough comes together.
7. Using your hands, gently knead dough into an even mass, right in the bottom of the bowl.
8. Quickly transfer dough to a well-floured counter. Flour the top of the dough and pat it into a square that is about 7-inches wide and about 1-inch tall.
9. With a large knife, divide the dough into 9 squares.
10. Transfer the scones to prepared baking sheet with a spatula.
11. Bake the scones for about 15 minutes, until lightly golden at the edges.
12. Cool in pan for a minute, then transfer to a cooling rack. Best enjoyed day-of.