Raspberry buckle.

July 30, 2010

Raspberry buckle.

I purchased a half-flat of raspberries from the Farmer's Market last weekend thinking that I'd make a small batch of raspberry jelly, but then Matt used some of them for the Raspberry buckle he made for craft club last Monday. And then, once we tasted how good it was, we had to bake another for ourselves at home. And then, once that disappeared, I ate some of the raspberries straight-up - they're so good! And then...

You get the point.

This recipe is really simple, and the result has a vibe that lies somewhere between cake and custard.

Raspberry buckle.

Raspberry Buckle
1 stick of butter at room temperature
1 cup pure cane sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 pint raspberries
Ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Procedure
1. Grease a 2 quart baking dish and preheat your oven to 350°F.

2. Cream the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy, and then add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until each one is well incorporated before adding the next.

3. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and stir until combined.

4. Scrape your batter into your baking dish and spread evenly. Top the batter with the berries, but don't mix the berries in. They will "buckle" under while baking, thus the name (I think).

5. Bake for 45 minutes at 350°F. Check to make sure that the top is golden brown and that a toothpick comes out clean after inserted in the middle. Let cool for 20-30 minutes.

Adapted from Martha Stewart.

Tomato sighting.

July 23, 2010

First tomato sighting.

I'm so excited! Our San Marzano tomato plant has finally produced its first fruit. Isn't it cute? The plants are growing so rapidly that I'm sure there will soon be more fruit to follow. We finally had to tie them to their stakes to keep them from toppling over.

The cinder blocks we set outside are working well for our growing herbs. In them, we planted sweet basil, Thai basil, and cilantro, leaving our rosemary and thyme in pots. I use any excuse I can to cook with fresh herbs.

The barbecue nook.

It's hard not to be outside all of the time with all of the plants. They make it seem so much more inviting

Over the weekend.

July 19, 2010

Regarding that ol' summer to-do list of mine, great strides were taken this weekend toward #3. The office is now organized and fully functional. It isn't exactly pretty yet, but it isn't an eyesore anymore either. Does anyone else have a difficult time working in messy and disorganized spaces?

Anyway, I relocated my laptop and my supplies to the office this weekend, which has greatly increased my productivity. I have been working on cards to send out for the haiku challenge I began last week with five other women, four of whom I have never met. I'm finding it really fun, and it gives me an excuse to do a little 'papering.'

Makin' cards... Makin' cards...

And, more importantly, having a clean office means that I have finally begun #1 on my summer to-do list: Get a job. So this weekend has been full of resume writing, papering, office organization, and lots of research

Oh, and fava beans. They are in season now, y'know? :)

Cold treats.

July 16, 2010

Frozen chocolate dipped banana bites.

With the heat in full force (and our lack of AC), I have been looking toward light, cool snacks for sustenance. That is why, after I saw this post in my reader, I knew that these little frozen banana bites would become a summer staple in our apartment. They are delicious and light, and the frozen banana has the richness of ice cream.

So good.

I will caution you about one thing: don't use toothpicks. If you're going to use an eating aid at all, go for popsicle sticks because they are much more durable.

Also, if you make these banana bites, don't let any of that extra chocolate go to waste! We still had some raspberries from the farmer's market in the refrigerator, so I just scraped their bottoms along the sides of the bowl to pick up every last chocolate-y drop before placing them on a plate (use wax paper) in the refrigerator.

Chocolate dipped raspberries.

Delicious. :)

Particularly productive.

July 13, 2010

Good evening!

I have been working diligently on my summer to-do list, and I have been particularly productive in two areas.

First: "Start wedding planning."

We are finally starting to think wedding colors, which is good because most of the decorations we have will be thrifted or hand-crafted by us (and generous friends, I hope). It would be wise, therefore, for us to get an early start on gathering ideas for projects, and collecting items that would fit into our color scheme of choice.

Although my fiance and I typically favor earthy colors, we feel that it will be best for us to go against our grain since we want an outdoor wedding. Our usual blues, greens, and browns might be a little repetitive or contrived in a natural setting, so we are looking for colors that pop, but in a way that is not too eye-shattering for the both of us.

This is the first color combination that I have really liked so far...

Potential wedding colors.

Seafoam green, cream, and coral. I've never been a fan of any of these colors individually, but something happens to my eyes when they are seen in combination that makes me smile. I'll sit on the idea for awhile to be sure, but these could be the colors we choose. The only foreseeable competition would be a color scheme including mustard yellow.

Second: "Thrift as much as possible."

Thrifty finds.

The stars aligned and the thrifting gods smiled upon us as we visited our local second-hand stores this morning. The clerks were happy and conversational as they checked our finds, a highly unusual state of affairs indeed. And when I sneezed, as I am often prone to do while thrifting along, some kind soul who was trying on shirts in a dressing room said, "bless you!" On top of it all, the gentleman in front of us in the line who was carrying only one single item allowed us to go before him despite our armloads of haul.

How were such feats of politeness possible with an experience typically synonymous with crazy customers and crabby cashiers? I blame it on the weather - literally. After a week of 90°+F, everyone is just so happy to be alive and able to stand still without breaking a sweat that we cannot help but love everyone and everything that we encounter.

Anyway, I picked up some kitchen goodies, a lovely little jewelry box for my growing earring collection, and some old linens. I am hoping that my ever increasing stockpile of fabrics will force me to do the inevitable: "purchase a sewing machine and learn how to use it," which is, coincidentally, another 'to-do' on my list of summer.

Tomorrow will be 85°F, but I am hoping that I will not care too much about the heat. It is my man's last day of college, and there is much celebration to be had. As for now, it is nearly 9pm and I am contemplating bed.

*gasp*

Recreating the scene.

July 9, 2010

Mini-cheesecakes

As I mentioned before, I made two desserts for our Fourth of July barbecue. The first, ponchatoula strawberry and brown butter shortcake, was incredible and highly recommended. The depth of flavor from the browned butter made this strawberry shortcake one of the best I had ever had, and certainly the best I had ever made myself.

However, it was the second dessert, the mini-cheesecakes, that seemed to steal the show. I wasn't able to take pictures of the final product during the barbecue, so my man and I decided to recreate the scene at home. Any 'logical' excuse to make cheesecake will do, right? Besides, this gave me the opportunity to tweak the graham cracker recipe a little more to my liking.

For me, the graham cracker crust can really make or break a cheesecake. For this reason, I opted to make my own rather than purchasing store-bought graham crackers. And although there are many good graham cracker recipes online, I used them more as a guide. For instance, several recipes call for the use of honey, but I prefer the taste of unsulphured molasses. Or several recipes call for the use of whole wheat flour, but I wanted to use my graham flour because it seemed more traditional. All-in-all, I was able to produce something I really liked that gave the mini-cheesecakes the flavor I was after.

Graham Crackers
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup graham flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, salted or unsalted (adjust the level of sea salt used if you decide to use salted butter)
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Procedure
In a food processor, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and sea salt. Cut the cold butter into smaller cubes and add to the flour mixture. Pulse the butter into the flour mixture until it is evenly distributed and the mixture takes on the appearance of coarse meal. In a separate bowl, whisk together the molasses, milk and vanilla. Add to the food processor with the flour mixture and pulse until the dough just starts to come together. If the mixture is too dry, you can add more milk in very small amounts until you achieve the desired consistency, but you don't want the mixture to be too sticky. If it holds when you squeeze it together, you're done.

Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap and dump the contents of the food processor on top. Mold the mixture into a lovely brick-like shape and cover with the plastic wrap. (If you are a non-plastic user, please feel free to comment about any useful alternatives for this step that you may have). Place in the refrigerator for a few hours.

After refrigerating the dough, place a sheet of parchment paper or a silpat mat on top of a cookie sheet. Remove the brick of dough from the plastic wrap and roll it out to about 1/8th an inch on top of your parchment/silpat.

Homemade graham crackers

If you are a very tidy person and you want to make these graham crackers for the sake of the crackers themselves, you would follow a process similar to the one outlined in this recipe. I, however, just wanted the crackers for my cheesecake so I didn't bother with forming the dough in perfect shapes.

Fork holes into the dough and place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Once your oven is preheated, bake the crackers, checking after 20 minutes to see if they are quite golden brown around the edges. Our oven is particularly lazy, so it took almost 45 minutes before they were ready to remove.

Place your cookie sheet on a wire rack and allow to cool. The crackers will harden a little more as they decrease in temperature, so don't worry if they seem a bit soggy at first. Once they have cooled to room temperature, break them apart (or cut into delicate little crackers with fancy cutting tools) and place in an airtight container.

Mini-cheesecakes

As for the mini-cheesecakes, I followed this recipe with only a few changes. I substituted raspberry jam for the apricot jam because I wanted a festive color scheme. I also used my own graham crackers in place of the cookie wafers and omitted the sugar from that particular step. And to top it off with the utmost festivity, a dollop of whipped cream and a few blueberries for the red, white, and blue.

Mini Cheesecakes
Makes 12

1 cup crumbled graham crackers
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 8oz. packages of cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup jam of your choice. I used raspberry/strawberry.
Whipped cream

Procedure
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners or parchment paper. Mix the crumbled graham crackers with the melted butter. Press 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture in bottom of each cup. Bake until set, about 7 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.

Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees. Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then vanilla. With mixer running, add eggs slowly, scraping down side of bowl. Add sour cream and salt. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling almost to the tops.

Bake until sides are set but centers are wobbly, about 20 minutes (it took longer with our oven). Let cool in tins on wire racks. Wrap tins tightly with plastic, and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Warm jam in a small saucepan until liquidy. Spoon 1 teaspoon jam on top of each cake. Refrigerate until the jam is set. Remove mini cheesecakes just before serving, adding dollops of whipped cream and blueberries to the top.


Enjoy!

The 'summer to-do' list.

July 7, 2010

During the spring school months, I wrote myself a rather ambitious list of things I absolutely needed to do over the summer. It was comprised of only ten or so items, but those ten or so items were things that I had been putting off, over and over, in favor of schoolwork and procrastination - the procrastination (or structured procrastination, as I like to call it) was integral to my sanity for I had no room in my mind such for high-standards of productivity and promptness.

To deal with my tragic (and somewhat self-imposed) utter lack of time, I wrote down my 'ambitious' summer to-do list. And in my procrastination time, I doodled it out. I did this several times. I could explain why, but you might conclude that I am a loon with OCD tendencies, so I think I'd rather not.

The summer to-do list.

Now that we are well into the month of July, it would seem perfectly sensical to question the progress I have made thus far on the list. And up until this week, I would have merely changed the subject if asked. However, something happened on Monday that sealed the fate of my list forever: I stood up very suddenly from the couch with an air of triumph (I was home alone), and I accomplished number three...
#3. Organize the office.
While this particular 'to-do' is theoretically the least difficult of the ten, it took hours and hours of tedious work in the midnight hours to accomplish. I knew it would be a difficult task, which is why it took a whole month of avoidance and denial before I finally worked up the nerve to trudge upstairs and into the gates of the wasteland. But now that I have knocked number three out of the water (Is that even a real saying? How does one 'knock something out of water?'), I am trucking forth with momentum. My list is in the midst of being tackled. Hoorah!

However, before I make a move to check the next item (in no particular order, of course), I will nap. The forecast says it will be 95°F today (20° too hot for my tastes), and I want to be well rested for my date tonight with my man and our barbecue. I have baked my beloved homemade burger buns in preparation, but some have already fallen prey to my ferocious appetite.

More homemade burger buns.

As for 'the choice of epic proportions,' I indeed opted to bake both desserts, but events were so hurried (and dark) that I forgot to take pictures. This dilemma calls for an immediate re-creation of the scene, so I will be busy tonight (if I'm not napping) with oven duties once the outdoor temperatures have fallen to suitable baking levels.

A choice of epic proportions.

July 3, 2010

The fiance is at work, so the cat and I are home alone. We have opened all of the windows, and are sitting quietly, listening to the pops, cracks and squeals of the fireworks around us. It is still too light outside to see anything spectacular, but the sounds are everywhere. Luckily, the cat does not get upset and whimper at the noise as a dog might, but lays around on his back, twitching his ears now and then whenever he hears something unusual.



I planted the cinder blocks outside with herbs a couple of days ago, just before it began to drizzle, but the seeds have yet to germinate. There is still a lot of work to be done before all of the ugly is gone from our little square of backyard, but plants will help the situation. They always do. Not to mention, I have a trusty new green spade to help with all beautifying endeavors.

Meanwhile, I am happy to report that (some of) our pepper plants are looking much healthier. Many of them have died from the ridiculous amount of rain we received in June, but the ones that survived are trooping along just fine.

A pepper plant.

I plucked out all of the dead pepper plants this last weekend and replaced them with other green edible plantery. I still find it a little hard to "pluck" my beloved plants from their beds, but I convince myself that I'm just being soft and that plants really don't have feelings, and even if they do, these particular ones are dead, and wouldn't they want me to give other plants a chance at life?

Perhaps my internal dialogue is best kept to myself.

I will change the subject now by pointing out a miracle: A little basil plant from last summer's garden that has been limping around my windowsill all winter long remains alive and well...

An old basil plant...

Truthfully, I know that many of you green-thumb types may scoff at my sense of perspective, but I have killed many a plant in my one year of gardening experience, so I know that this little basil plant's life is a miracle indeed. Now that the weather is manageable, it spends its days outdoors, soaking up the sun, and living in luxury.

As for the 4th of July, I have been assigned the role of festive dessert-maker for the barbecue. I must make an epic choice between a cheesecake topped with strawberries and blueberries to complete the red, white and blue color scheme, or a strawberry shortcake with blueberries thrown in on the side. And if I make the strawberry shortcake, do I use homemade biscuits or pound cake for the bread-y bits?

Choices, choices.

I may just do both.

Biscotti, biscotti.

July 2, 2010

I have been eyeing Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food for a long time, but it never seemed very practical to spend $35 dollars on a cookbook when I could always find so many amazing recipes on the web for only the price of the internet. I was wrong this time, though. Forgive me, Alice?

My fiance purchased the cookbook for me last month as a birthday gift, and I have not been able to put it down. Every recipe that I have tried thus far has been incredible for the taste buds, and this biscotti is no exception.

Biscotti.

Although I have been trying to lay off the sweets, the biscotti cravings have been a force to reckon with. I even came close to a Costco-sized canister of Nonni's Biscotti about a month ago, but regained my senses just in time. I won't say that cooking everything at home is always fast or easy, but it makes me a little happier inside - literally and figuratively.

So give this recipe a try if you, like me, have been suffering from biscotti-deficit-induced dreams and headaches. It's super simple to make, lightly sweetened, and very, very crunchy indeed.

Biscotti.

Biscotti
About 40 cookies.

1/2 cup whole raw almonds
1/2 cup shelled raw pistachios
1/2 cup dried apricot
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon aniseed
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the almonds and the pistachios on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for five minutes. Remove and let cool. Once cool, coarsely chop the nuts and the dried apricot together and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and aniseed in a bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest together until the mixture forms a ribbon. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the nuts and dried fruit.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and form the dough into two 3-inch-wide loaves, about three inches apart. It helps if you wet your hands with water to keep the dough from sticking to you. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool for ten minutes.

Lower the oven temperature to 300°F. Once the loaves have cooled, slice them into 1/2-inch-thick cookies and place cut side down on the baking sheet. You might need two separate sheets for this process, but I managed to fit all of my slices onto one. Bake for ten minutes, turn over, and cook for ten more minutes, or until golden brown.

Adapted from Alice Waters' Anise-Almond Biscotti recipe in The Art of Simple Food.