Monday, December 30, 2013

classic cinnamon rolls

Here is the cinnamon roll that I love - the classic one that is a gorgeous puff of leavened dough, striped with cinnamon and a light glaze. It is more roll than sugary dessert and, aside from the classic swirl shape, bears little resemblance to those horrible processed, mass produced kind.

This is the cinnamon roll that I dream of when I walk into a bakery and is best with a large mug of coffee. And mug it must be as this is no dainty breakfast scone or timid tea cake.

As a kid, I remember lots of homemade cinnamon rolls for my mom's women's church group meetings. It was always disappointing to discover raisins stuffed in among the folds of sweet dough. I knew that if I made cinnamon rolls, I would never include raisins. This is a promise I have continued in my life (we get so few chances to fulfill our own childhood vows) and so the recipe below is raisin-less.

In general, I think there is a good deal of anxiety about recipes that call for using yeast. It used to be that if I read a recipe and anything in the first step included something like 'dissolve yeast', I would move right along.

But, as usual, my greed for food eventually overwhelmed my insecurity and uncertainty of dealing with yeast. As I learned, working with it is not really that big of a deal- a decent recipe will walk through it and while I may not be winning any contests at the local fair, the results far exceed any popped can product. For a friends baby shower brunch, I once made 72 cinnamon rolls. I felt it was such a nice substantial contribution to the buffet table as a homemade roll has real heft to it. (To pull it off, I was also borrowing pyrex pans for everyone I knew.)

The truly great thing about this recipe is that the last dough rising can be done overnight in the refrigerator. This means the dough and the 1st rise can be put together on a Saturday afternoon and the only Sunday morning responsibilities are sliding the pans into the oven for baking. For this reason, I would like to nominate these rolls for any New Years Day breakfast/brunch you may be hosting/attending. You can put them together plenty early on New Years Eve and when folks finally start moving about to the next morning (ahem, afternoon), there will be with this amazing, magical cinnamon smell wafting from the kitchen.  Also, please include large mugs of coffee.

(Do you see the lovely yellow crocheted pot holders above? My mom sent me those for my Christmas stocking. I love having such personalized touches around the house. Thank you mom!)

This recipe is from Betty Crocker and makes 24 rolls

classic cinnamon rolls

2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees, basically the hottest water from my sink)
2 cups very warm milk (120-130 degrees, I microwaved the milk for two minutes)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
6 1/2 to 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter, softened (just a little softer than room temperature) plus extra for buttering pans
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Powdered Sugar Frosting (see further below)

1) The very first thing is to heat and measure water in one liquid measuring cup and the milk in another. The very easiest way to do this is with a candy thermometer. These can be easily picked up at a well stocked grocery store or on Amazon. But, if you do not have a candy thermometer, you may still be able to get away with it (I think I made these for a couple of years before I had a candy thermometer)- the water temperature is basically the hottest water from my kitchen sink faucet and the milk temperature is reached after microwaving for 1 minute, stirring and microwaving again for 1 more minute. (I know- between the yeast and the candy thermometer I may have lost you by now, but once these little items are mastered a whole realm of new dishes becomes accessible!)

2) In a the bowl of mixer fitted with the hook attachment, add the warm water and then sprinkle the yeast over. As soon as the yeast hits the water, you'll start to smell it. Turn the mixer to low and add the warm milk, 1/3 cup sugar, the oil, baking powder, salt, egg and 3 cups of the flour. Beat until smooth (may need to kick the mixer speed up by one notch for just a little bit.)

3) Start adding the remaining 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups of flour- one cup at a time. As soon as the dough is easy to handle (not too sticky, has come together in a ball), dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Then, knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Basically the smooth and elastic means the dough doesn't have large floury shaggy bits.

4) Butter a large bowl and place the kneaded dough inside. Take care to sort of roll the dough in the butter and then turn the buttered side up. Cover it with a clean dish towel and let it rise in a warm place about 1 1/2 hours or until it doubles in size. (Growing up, this is where my mom would put the dough on a kitchen stool in front of the fire place. I usually put it near a warm sunny window- not in direct sunlight, but by the window that has the most heat generating from it.) The dough will be ready if when you poke it with a finger, the indentation remains.

5) Sometime while the dough is rising, mix 1/2 cup sugar with the cinnamon. Also, just before the dough is ready, prep your baking pans. I butter two 9 by 13 pyrex dishes for the rolls.

6) Wrestle the risen dough from the large bowl onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half. Use at first your hands and then a rolling pin to flatten one of the dough halves into a rectangle approximately 12 by 10 inches. Take 2 tablespoons of butter and spread over the dough. Sprinkle evenly (as best you can), half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Next, roll the dough up, starting with the 12-inch side. Once you've reached the end, pinch the edge of the dough into the roll to seal it up. Gently stretch and shape until your roll is even.

7) Cut the roll into 12 slices and place each slice slightly apart into 3 rows of 4 on the pan. I have terrible spatial reasoning and the easiest way I have found of evenly slicing the dough is to first cut the dough roll log in half - then, each of those halves need to equal 6 rolls, so I cut each half in half again. Now I have 4 mini dough logs and I just cut each of those into thirds.

8) Repeat steps 6 and 7 with the 2nd half of the dough. Once both pans are done, wrap with aluminum foil. Refrigerate at least 12 hours but not longer than 24 hours. (If you're ready to bake immediately and do not want to leave in the fridge overnight, do not wrap the rolls up. Let the rolls rise in the pans in a warm place for about 30 minutes or until double in size.)

9) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove foil from pan and bake 27 to 30 minutes or until golden. Remove rolls from oven and frost with powdered sugar frosting while warm.

Powdered Sugar Frosting

2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons real maple syrup (optional)

Whisk all of the above ingredients together until smooth. I like the addition of maple syrup to the glaze but not everyone does.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy November!

Are you as excited about Thanksgiving as I am? It is my favorite holiday. (Also, the day after Thanksgiving is the best post-holiday day of the year too.)

I love how straightforward the holiday is- it is about a great meal and being thankful. Last night I started to read this book on Thanksgiving. Made me even more excited ! For dinner, I may or may not have made a big pan of roasted brussel sprouts just like the ones pictured above.

I am always curious, what is your favorite dish for Thanksgiving?
I find people tend to be pretty fanatical about the sides and the way they're prepared. I love that too ! For example, my sisters and I are obsessed with green bean casserole. Any other day of the year, you'd be hard pressed to find me with canned green beans and cream of mushroom soup in my kitchen, but on Thanksgiving? I triple that casserole dish up. It makes the best leftovers. I am giddy just thinking about it. Would love to hear all about your Thanksgiving traditions!

Monday, October 28, 2013

stewed lentils with yogurt and cucumber

Woke up this morning to the most beautiful gray sky and evidence of an early morning rain. These are the transitional So Cal mornings I live for- when the heat of our late late summer is on it's way out and fall/winter (or our version of it) is on it's way in.

So, I present this dish as also a nice transitional meal: warm spiced lentils (cozy and comforting) with a cooling topping of cucumber and greek yogurt (bright and sharp). It is a perfect marriage of contrasting flavors and textures but still all at once a great fall meal. Plus, it all comes together quickly for a weeknight supper.

This recipe is from the Martha Stewart cookbook "Meatless".

stewed lentils with yogurt and cucumber

stewed lentils:
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups dried red lentils, picked over and rinsed
5 cups chicken stock or water
coarse salt

cucumber salsa-ish topping:
2 scallions, sliced on bias
1 cup diced english cucumber
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon white vinegar
coarse salt

for serving:
plain greek yogurt
basmati rice

1) For the lentils: Heat a medium sized dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil and once it is hot, add onion and cook, until just starting to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Then add garlic and ginger and cook 2 more minutes. Stir in turmeric and cumin and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. At this point you'll have a wonderful gingery garlic fragrance wafting in the kitchen. Be sure to watch the heat so that the garlic doesn't scorch.

2) Add the 5 cups chicken stock (or water) and add it slowly, stirring the whole time to scrap up the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the lentils, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to a nice simmer and partially cover. Cook until the lentils are tender and mixture thickens up (about 15-20 minutes). Once mixture is cooked, taste, and add salt if needed.

3) While the lentils simmer away, start work on the salsa. Scrub the english cucumber and, if you prefer, remove the peel. (I actually like the skin on for english cucumbers. Gives it a bit more of a snap). You're welcome to use a regular cucumber, but would recommend peeling and de-seeding. To the cucumber, add the scallions, cilantro, and vinegar. Season with salt and give it a big stir.

4) To serve, scoop a little rice into each bowl and top with a generous ladle of lentils. Top with a dollop of yogurt and helping of the cucumber salsa-ish topping. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

soft pumpkin cookies with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

This is the second cookie from this past weekends Fall cookie-palooza. It is almost less cookie and more the top off of a pumpkin cupcake. Soft, tender pumpkin cookie topped with a creamy cinnamon spiked frosting? Pumpkin perfection, please. It is one of those recipes that make you glad to not be using your oven for storing sweaters.

We made this cookie at my dear friends recommendation- she said it was one of her husbands favorites. Well, now it is one of my husbands favorites too.

The recipe is from the blog, The Baker Chick (here.) This the first recipe I have made from this blog, but it turned out so wonderfully, I am pretty sure I'll be bookmarking this one for future inspiration. 

soft pumpkin cookies with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

soft pumpkin cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (fresh ground if you can swing it)
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

cinnamon cream cheese frosting: 
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cookies:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt; set aside.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then, to the butter/sugar mixture, add pumpkin, egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix until creamy. Slowly add in the dry ingredients.

3) This is a very soft dough (almost reminded me of soft serve ice cream). I found it easiest to use my small ice cream scoop to portion the dough out on parchment lined baking sheets.

4) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cookie rack to cool. 

For the frosting: 

5) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and cream cheese together. (It is very important both the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature. Otherwise, good luck.)

6) Slowly add powdered sugar and mix until frosting is thick and smooth. Add vanilla and cinnamon.

7) Once cookies have cooled, spread with frosting. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

in celebration of Fall (and a truly outstanding sugar cookie recipe)

As our calendars now claim it is Fall and So Cal temperatures are just starting to dip in the evening (and by dip, I mean that it is no longer 100 degrees), I have decided to shift into full Fall embrace.

The arrival of pumpkins at my local trader joes is one of my Fall cues as is the incessant PSL (return of the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks) chatter. Every Fall I want to put stacks of pumpkins around my house and decorate it like the set of You've Got Mail.

This past weekend I collaborated with a friend of mine and her daughter on a few Fall cookies. I know people (including myself) tend to think of decorating sugar cookies as a Christmas activity, but these darling little owls pretty much insist on being their own event.

It was such a nice afternoon of decorating, mixing, chatting and laughing. I think our hearts need those times of play and creativity with friends. It is restorative.

I tried a new sugar cookie recipe this time (it calls for 8 egg yolks!) and it really is the best sugar cookie I have ever made. The dough is tender and vanilla scented; the perfect amount of buttery-ness and crisp. The edges also hold their shape well, which I think is important quality when making shaped cookies.

The recipe is from Tom Douglas', The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook. The Dahlia Bakery is in Seattle and I had the pleasure of visiting it this past March. It was spectacular and easily the best bakery I've been to in the US. It is that wonderful mix of classic, cozy bakery items elevated by the perfection of execution and unique details. For example, their doughnuts are served with a vanilla bean mascarpone icing. Ridiculous. Add to this the use of Northwest ingredients (tarts with Rhubarb) and, well, it took everything in me not to buy out the store. My sister gave me the cookbook last year for my birthday and I highly recommend it for your consideration of holiday gifts.

Sugar Cookies

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons pure vanilla extract (yeah, I had to read that one twice too. Seems like a lot, but it is not overpowering)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Next, add the egg yolks, vanilla, and salt. Continue to mix until well combined.

2) Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add in the flour- about 3 additions. Feel free to pause the mixer a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. At the very end, be sure to check for the last bits of unmixed flour at the bottom of the mixer bowl, and incorporate. The dough will be gorgeously yellow and very soft.

3) Take the dough from the mixer bowl and quickly shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer.

4) Preheat the oven to 350 and remove the dough from the fridge.

5) Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. I found it easiest to split the chilled dough mass in half, return one half to the fridge and roll the other half on a lightly floured surface. (I am also a recent devotee to using a pastry mat, but it certainly isn't essential). Once the dough is rolled out, use a 3 inch cookie cutter (or whatever size you like, you'll just need to adjust baking time accordingly) to cut as many cookies as you can. Place the cut cookie shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Then, gather together the remaining dough scraps and reroll the dough one more time. Cut more cookies but this time, discard the scraps. It seems terribly wasteful, but by this point, the amount of leftover dough scraps is very minimal. Also, the rerolling of the dough makes it very tough. As you're cutting cookie shapes, I found myself filling up the cookie sheets quite quickly. While one sheet was in the oven, I put the others to chill in the fridge. This helps ensure the dough does not get too soft while waiting for it's turn in the oven and will keep better shape when baking.

6) Bake the cookies until very lightly browned at the edges, about 15 to 18 minutes. Be sure to rotate the baking sheet about halfway through the baking time. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the cookies cool, still on the sheet, for about 10 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies to a cookie rack to cool completely before decorating.

Monday, September 23, 2013

triple peanut butter cookies

Even though we're roasting away here in Southern California, I still have fall back-to-school in my heart. And although now it seems that most schools have on-campus hot lunch programs, I have great affinity for the packed lunch tradition. I feel a couple of cookies should be standard with each lunch box.

On impulse the other day I snagged a bag of peanut butter chips at the grocery store. It is just ridiculous how much I love them. I initially considered adding the chips to a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe in replacement of the chocolate chips, but then I thought, what if I could take a peanut butter cookie and really, to steal an Ina Garten phrase, 'turn up the volume': enhancing a classic peanut butter cookie dough recipe with peanut butter chips and chopped salted roasted peanuts. As soon as I started thinking about it, I could not wait to get in the kitchen.

The result is a lot of peanut buttery goodness punctuated by sweet creamy chips and salty roasted peanuts. I just really love them.

The cookie recipe is based on Ina Garten's recipe from the cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Parties.

triple peanut butter cookies

1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup good smooth peanut butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 10 oz. bag peanut butter chips
1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

3) Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla and peanut butter and mix. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add it to the batter, mixing only until combined. Fold in the peanut butter chips and the rough-chopped peanuts. (I'm pretty committed to this "rough-chop" idea on this recipe. The idea is that you want the peanuts to be big enough to really get the crunchy bite.)

4) Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line your baking sheets with parchment paper.

5) Dop the dough on to the baking sheet with a rounded tablespoon or a 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop (my preference). You should be able to get 12 cookies per sheet, as these cookies do not spread too much. Once one sheet is filled, put the dough back into the fridge.

6) Get your hands a little bit damp and press down on the cookies just slightly to flatten them out a bit. Then, use the tines of a fork to press into the dough for the classic peanut butter cookie crosshatch.

7) If you prefer your peanut butter cookies on the soft side, bake for 17 minutes exactly. Like them a little more crispy? 19 minutes should do it. Either way, take great care to not over bake. Remove from the oven and let the cookies sit for a couple of minutes in the pan. Then, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Lingering in Happiness by Mary Oliver

Lingering in Happiness

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear -- but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole's tunnel;

and soon as many small stone, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

- Mary Oliver

Monday, September 16, 2013

peach crunch pie

This pie is so over the top good, it will make you believe in homemade pie again: that the effort and sacrifice is worth it. Sweet peaches studded into a sour cream nutmeg scented custard, and topped with buttery cinnamon streusel? heaven.

And really, for a custard pie, this one is as easy as they come. The custard bakes together in the oven, so that making it is really assembling it. (This is unlike other custard pies that require to cook the custard in a double boiler and then let it cool in the refrigerator.)

I brought this pie to a 4th of July pool party at a friends house. It was such a lovely, relaxed afternoon- Harriet even went swimming for the first time! At the end, we all sat on the patio, eating pie in the shade and it was really the perfectness that you hope for in summer: good people, conversation and relaxation. I was very blessed that our friends opened up their home to us for the day.

So, if you find yourself with a few ripe peaches hanging around, I think this pie would make a splendid send-off to summer to enjoy with friends.

This recipe is from The Fiddlehead Cookbook.


1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 egg
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (if you can swing it, fresh ground is best)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 cups peeled and thinly sliced fresh peaches or nectarines

Streusel Topping:

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (I use pecans for the walnut-averse)
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut into several pieces

1 unbaked single 9-inch pie crust:

My favorite pie crust recipe is Deb Perelman's All Butter pie crust recipe and her tips are very helpful. Find the recipe on here brilliant blog, The Smitten Kitchen, here.

1) Preheat oven to 450 F and place rack in center of oven.

2) For the filling: Stir together sour cream, egg, 1 cup sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 cup flour, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in the peaches and pour into unbaked 9-inch pie shell. Seriously, how easy is that? No double burner, no stirring constantly and then chilling the custard. I love how simple this pie is.

3) Bake pie for 10 minutes at 450 F. Then, reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 10 more minutes. I think this initial baking time is just to help the custard cook up a bit before adding the crumb topping.

4) While pie is baking, prepare streusel topping:

Give the walnuts (or pecans) a rough chop. In a large bowl, stir together the nuts, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. Cut the cold butter in with either a pastry cutter or a butter knife. The goal here is to chop the butter into pea sized pieces that are coated with the nut-sugar-flour mixture. At some point I usually transition from using the pastry cutter to using my (very clean) fingers to pinch it all together. (This is one of the reasons why you always want to start out with very cold butter. If at any point it starts to soften up on you, pause and put the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes.)

5) Take the pie out of the oven (leave the oven still on at 350 F) and sprinkle the topping evenly over. Then, put the pie back in the oven and bake for 45 to 50 more minutes. The goal is to bake until the majority of the pie seems a little puffed up (the center will not be), the juices are bubbling and the streusel topping is lightly browned. (Usually when I am sprinkling on the streusel topping, I take the opportunity to cover the crust with a piece of tinfoil to keep it from overcooking.)

6. Remove from oven, cool on a rack, and serve at room temperature; or refrigerate and serve cold. Store tightly wrapped in refrigerator. (Please note: it is normal for the filling to appear curdled. It does not impact the flavor at all. Also, should you be fortunate to have any leftovers, a slice makes a killer breakfast straight from the fridge the next day.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Some Things, Say the Wise Ones by Mary Oliver

Some Things, Say the Wise Ones

Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
you live your life your way and leave me alone.

I have talked with the faint clouds in the sky when they
are afraid of being left behind; I have said, Hurry, hurry!
and they have said: thank you, we are hurrying.

About cows, and starfish, and roses, there is no
argument. They die, after all.

But water is a question, so many living things in it,
but what is it, itself, living or not? Oh, gleaming

generosity, how can they write you out?

As I think this I am sitting on the sand beside
the harbor. I am holding in my hand
small pieces of granite, pyrite, schist.
Each one, just now, so thoroughly asleep.

- Mary Oliver

Thursday, September 5, 2013

sour cream pancakes with peaches and birch syrup

Right now the peaches are pretty unbelievable. To be clear, I write this not as someone who is picking peaches from an orchard down the road nor as someone who visits a weekly farmers market and has a supplier providing a beautiful heirloom variety (I genuinely wish either of those things were true). No, I say the peaches are pretty unbelievable because the box of peaches at Trader Joes this year are very good peaches.

I did not grow up eating good peaches. By the time they made it to Alaska, the fruit was either still crunchy green or ripe beyond saving. It took me a while to get used to the soft luscious texture of ripe fruit. But one of the benefits of life in southern California is great produce.

I was sleeping in on a Sunday morning when my husband texted me from the living room to say he was craving pancakes (such is modern life). Knowing I had a handful of peaches at that just perfect state of ripeness on the counter was the motivation I needed to get up.

The pancake recipe is from Ina Garten. Her recipe is originally for sour cream banana pancakes, but I have pretty strong feelings about bananas. I left the banana out and what remains is a perfection of a pancake: light, barely sweet, with a bit of sour cream tang.

When I was a kid I thought my mom was crazy for putting sour cream on her pancakes instead of butter. She would put a little dollop on and then drizzle the syrup over. She told us it was a perfect contrast to the sweetness of the syrup. She was so very very right (about this and a number of other things).

One of my favorite summer memories is making these pancakes for my mom during a July visit. Just as I suspected, she loved them too.

Recipe from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa Family Style Cookbook.

sour cream pancakes with peaches

recipe makes 12 pancakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
2 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I downgrade it to 1/4 teaspoon)
Unsalted butter

1) Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt all together into a medium bowl. Sifting seems like such a fiddly step until you don't do it and end up with a baking powder lump in your pancake.

2) In a separate bowl, whisk sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Next, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, taking care to mix only until combined.

3) In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Spoon the pancake batter into the pan (I find a 1/3 or 1/2 cup measuring cup perfect for this.) Once little bubbles begin to form and pop on the top, the pancake should be ready to flip (only takes a couple of minutes.) Flip the pancake and cook for another minute or so, until browned.

4) After each pancake, wipe out the pan, and add more butter for each fresh pancake. Continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used.

5) Top each pancake with a dollop of sour cream, a scoop of diced fresh peaches and maple or birch syrup.

For topping:

4 ripe peaches, diced and tossed with a tablespoon of sugar
Maple or birch syrup
1 pint sour cream

Enjoy a wonderful breakfast with family !

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September in So Cal is still summer (therefore, melon sorbet)

In So Cal, we are still in summer (like it or not) and while the rest of the states move on to cooler temperatures, I'll continue to enjoy these last vestiges of summer.

This week, I would like to share a few of my favorite recipes for enjoying the perfection that is summer produce.

Pictured above is a duo of cantaloupe sorbet and watermelon sorbet. I pureed and strained the fruit and then followed my standard sorbet recipe here. The main difference is that I use about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of pureed fruit and add 1/2 to 1 cup of simple syrup for the base mixture.

(Even Harriet was a big fan and as I was so focused on my camera frame, did not realize how close she had snuck up on the photography session until it was too late.)

I really liked the way the sorbet pictures turned out, so here are a few more (and an additional Harriet photobomb).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday's poem: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to knell down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

- Mary Oliver

Thursday, August 29, 2013

blue, no. 3

Blue, no. 3

(Haines, AK Aug '13)

Do you ever feel like you're in the middle of a terrible storm?
The waves are crashing and crashing on your head, there is no space to catch breath and it becomes difficult to tell what is up and what is down.

I have been feeling that way recently- that I am in my own storm and also watching people that I love battle it out in their own private storms too. I was talking to a friend about this, about a seemingly impossible and heartbreaking situation in their life. I found myself saying, 'I will be praying for you and reminding God to get his act together.'

I said it in a joking way (hilarious- bossing God around) and it cracked us up. But there was truth in it. Like, God- do you see me? Why the delay?

It reminds me of the story in the Bible where the people following Jesus, his disciples, all get in a boat with Jesus to take it across the water. Part way across the water, a storm kicks up.
Things are so bad they fear the boat is going to sink. In the midst of this chaos and panic, the disciples find Jesus sleeping.

This is how I feel sometimes- about my storms and those I see my friends fighting: that I am fighting for my life and somehow God is asleep.
I wish it were that simple because then I could just yell 'WAKE UP' in the loudest voice I possibly could and God would wake up. What would happen then?

I imagine it would be like what happened when Jesus woke up. Luke 4:39 says "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."
Oh, how my heart longs for this, a calm sea. How I wish I could wake God up on behalf of other people.

But then I remember that Jesus did not stay here on earth as a man. He died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. He is no longer limited like us. He no longer falls asleep.

Jesus Christ, now ascended, does not sleep through the storms of my life.

So, I do not know why Jesus is not calming the storm. But I know he is not sleeping.
Somehow that knowledge is incredibly comforting.
To know that he see's it all, every struggle, every pounding wave. Not only does he see it, he is with me. He is in my boat with me. And he is not asleep.

Jesus Christ, now ascended, does not sleep through the storms of my life.

This side of heaven, I do not think there are any easy answers about why we go through the storms we do.
As time passes, I can look back at some difficult times in my life and I can see God's grace and patience bringing me through. Other difficult times remain a painful mystery.

This side of heaven, I do not think there are any easy answers.
But I will keep rowing my boat, bailing out the water, believing and trusting that I will make it through the storms. And know that God is not missing it, He is with me.

Jesus Christ, now ascended, does not sleep through the storms of my life.

blue, no. 2

(Haines, AK Aug '13)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

blue, no. 1

Over the next few days, I will share some of my favorite images from August vacation in Alaska. This first will be a series of blue. Don't you find the saturation of blue so very peaceful?

(Haines, AK Aug '13)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

R & H cheese spread

It was not my intention to drop off into the abyss of July. But July got a little crazy busy (in many good ways!) and I decided to be as gracious about it with myself as I could be.

But here I am, on the precipice of a two week vacation (in 6 more days!) and when vacation is so close like this, doesn't it give your heart an extra balloon of hope? My husband and I will be heading back here for sun, fish, hiking and family.

I am going to try to post a bit while we're there. In the meantime, here is a little summer snack: R&H cheese spread on toasted sourdough with perfect jewels of tomato. While the tomatoes are stunners, the real star is the cheese spread. It will keep for up to a week in the fridge and is just the right something to jazz up a sandwich. My favorite way to eat it is topped with smoked salmon (which I hope to do quite a bit of while on vacation.)

I hope your summer is bringing you lots of wonderful time with friends, family and delicious food!

This recipe is from the Fiddlehead Cookbook.

R & H cheese spread

8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
1/3 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (3 to 4 medium)

1) Beat all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. (Be sure the cream cheese is softened up enough, otherwise it will make incorporating the mayonaise.)

2) Cover and refrigerate up to 1 week. Use on sandwiches, as a dip for vegetables, on baked potatoes, or as an omelet filling.

Friday, June 28, 2013

summer salad directory

This week has been all about summer salads. Just in time for the weekend, I want to share a little directory of my favorites. For recipes, please click on the links below. I hope you have picnics and barbecues you're off to enjoy. I would love to hear what your favorite summer salads are!

lemony orzo and arugula salad

tomato and beet salad


french potato salad

melon, strawberries and mint

caprese salad

tomato and cucumber salsa-ish salad

roasted cauliflower salad with curry and cilantro

Thursday, June 27, 2013

caprese salad

Continuing our week all about summer salads: I do believe caprese salad is as simple and perfect as summer gets: that window when the tomatoes are at their peak, accompanied by creamy slices of buffalo mozzarella, and peppery basil leaves.

While the salad is assembled and served at room temperature, I would highly recommend to take the extra plan-ahead step and make a basalmic syrup reduction. Unfortunately, I do not recall the exact recipe I used for this dish, but I do know that I used one with some brown sugar in it. The addition of the sugar helped round the edge of vinegar. (Also, be prepared to have a pretty strong vinegar fragrance in the home while the syrup reduces.)

Can this be called a salad? I am not sure. I believe in Italy it is served as a starter (insalata caprese-an antipasto) and not as a side dish. I do know that as often as this dish is made, it is always welcome.

This is my favorite way to serve it- the rows layered up like dominos. It is a gorgeous centerpiece all on it's own.

caprese salad

gorgeous ripe tomatoes
fresh basil
buffalo mozzarella cheese
balsamic syrup (lots of recipes out there on google, I recommend using one that includes brown sugar)
olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Layer it all up.

2) Drizzle with balsamic syrup (a reduction of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar) and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

tomato and cucumber salsa-ish salad

In our house, we have no problem consuming a massive amount of chips and homemade salsa and calling that dinner. Frankly, if I am eating a pound of tomatoes all on my own, I think that counts as a meal.

This salad started out life as an Ina Garten recipe for middle eastern vegetable salad. It is a very good recipe but I confess I was overwhelmed by the feta cheese. So, out went the feta cheese and I tripled the amount of tomatoes. What stays is an addictive dance between basil and mint, lemon and garlic, cucumber and chickpea.

I found myself toasting up pita bread in the oven to enjoy alongside this salad and then using the pita bread to scoop up bites. It was then that I realized this salad is also a kind of salsa.

One small note: this salsa-ish salad really does need to be served at room temperature. I find that, in general, fresh tomato dishes do not benefit from time in the fridge. This is a good dish to make when I want a little (slightly) mindless kitchen work: chopping tomatoes, juicing lemons. With a splash of wine to sip on and Harriet buzzing around at my feet. It is a nice transitionary scene from the workday.

Speaking of Harriet buzzing around at my feet, this is my (usual) view in the kitchen:

 tomato and cucumber salsa-ish salad

10 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2-3 pounds ripe roma tomatoes, seeded, cored and 1/2-inch-diced
1 hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and 1/2-inch-diced
1 jar (12 to 16 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup good olive oil
toasted pita bread or pita chips, for serving

1) Place the scallions, tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, parsley, mint and basil in a large salad bowl and toss to combine.

2) In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss gently to coat all the vegetables. Serve at room temperature. (Don't panic, it seems like a lot of dressing, but works out perfectly.)

3) Serve the salad with pita chips or toasted pita bread. To me it is part salad, part salsa, but all deliciousness.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Recipe For A Salad by Sydney Smith

Recipe For A Salad

To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen-sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Let onion atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half-suspected, animate the whole.
Of mordant mustard add a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault,
To add a double quantity of salt.
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soup-spoon of anchovy sauce.
Oh, green and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
'T would tempt the dying anchorite to eat,
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl!
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
Fate can not harm me, I have dined to-day!

-Sydney Smith

Monday, June 24, 2013

roasted cauliflower salad with curry and cilantro

I am ridiculously excited to share this recipe. This is primarily because it is my recipe. If you cook, I hope you understand the feeling of a turning point in your skills when you begin to trust instincts in putting a dish together. I dreamed up this sturdy little salad and when I say dreamed, I mean day-dreamed and fell asleep at night piecing together the flavors and textures that I greedily desired.

And flavors and textures it is. Oh man- the tender curried cauliflower with the sweetness of the golden raisins, the bit of red onion, nutty cashew and lemony cilantro- it is swoon-worthy and more than a little addictive.

Also, roasting vegetables is not a terribly "summery" activity, but we have somehow, all these years,  managed to look past the potato boiling required for potato salad (a picnic staple) and so I figure I could be forgiven this required cooking step.

roasted cauliflower salad with curry and cilantro

1 head cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
1/4 cup red onion, minced (scant)
1/4-1/3 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, roughly chopped
1/2-3/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
juice from 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Wash and cut cauliflower into medium sized florets. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil and curry powder, until coated. Roast for about 30-40 minutes. Flip pieces for even browning and roast another 12-15 minutes, until just crispy browned on the edges and cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

2) Meanwhile, chop red onion, cashews and cilantro. Tip the contents of the baking tray into a large bowl and add onion, cashews, cilantro and raisins.

3) In a smaller bowl, whisk together juice of half a lemon, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. (Go a little easy on the salt here, I find that the curry adds a lot of flavor.)

4) Pour dressing over the veggies and gently toss all to combine. Serve at room temperature with extra lemon wedges.

Friday, June 21, 2013

pasta with cream, pepper, lemon and basil

This is not really a recipe. It is more of a story about taking care of oneself with a decent little dinner. When my husband is out of town, I find myself using the opportunity to eat tater tots for dinner (oh man, do I love tater tots) or string cheese and olives. You know, basic random food grazing.

On one such Saturday (after a previous nights dinner of deviled eggs) I was teetering on the edge of a similar line. Feeling too lazy to go to the grocery store, the box of frosted flakes seemed like the most logical next step. 

Then I paused and realized what I really wanted was a nice dish of pasta- nothing overly done or fussy, but something with lots of fresh basil and a touch of cream. I started opening cupboards and fridge drawers. I found a previously overlooked package of spaghetti noodles, a decent looking lemon and in the fridge was some heavy cream, parmesan cheese, and a quarter of a red onion. 

I put on a large pot of water for the spaghetti. While the water heated up, I placed a glug of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat with about 2 tablespoons of finely minced red onion and a pinch of salt. I left it on low heat while the spaghetti cooked- I did not want to caramelize the onion, just soften it up slowly. I stepped over to the patio door and plucked all the fine small basil leaves off my basil plant. (Lest you think me some sort of skilled gardner, it is a basil plant from Trader Joes. I generally manage to keep them alive for about 2 weeks- just enough to completely plunder of all leaves and life. It is more economical and convenient then buying a package of basil leaves.) 

Once the spaghetti was done cooking, using large tongs, I pulled it out of the water and into the skillet. I have recently learned of the magical properties of pasta water in helping to pull a sauce together and try to avoid draining pasta water down the sink. 

As soon as the noodles hit the skillet, they were tossed with the onions. Into the pan I poured about 1/2 cup of heavy cream, grated in a few shaves of parmesan cheese, and a lot of fresh ground pepper. The pasta quickly absorbed all the liquid and so I added about 1/2 cup of pasta water to keep things from drying out too much. I then added the zest from one lemon, all the while tossing the noodles around with the tongs to get them completely coated in the peppery lemon cream. (I personally prefer lemon zest to lemon juice in pasta sauces. It seems to add the lemony brightness in the just the right way.)

I pulled the pasta from the pan, into a large wide mouth shallow bowl, topped with a little more lemon zest and, with my kitchen shears, slivered the basil leaves over. 

The result was pasta with a peppery silky cream sauce punctuated by the lemon and basil. For dinner for one, it was just perfection. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday's poem: Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crochety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light -
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

- Mary Oliver

(above photo is from a recent visit to The Getty museum in Los Angeles. The gardens were in spectacular form during our visit.)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eton mess with whipped mascarpone

Sometime around a year ago, when the world was in full Royal wedding hype mode, I heard, on one of the half dozen TV specials I willingly got sucked into, that Prince Williams favorite dessert is Eton mess.

Eton mess is named after the famous English college, Eton. The Legend is it was created when a beautiful dessert, destined for either a school picnic or the dinner hall (depends on who is telling the story) was accidentally smashed just prior to the meal. As there was not any time to begin making a new dessert, the mashed up concoction of meringue, cream and berries was served and was a big success.

And really it is nothing but a mashed up concoction of meringue, cream and berries. Traditionally, I believe the components are supposed to be mixed up or layered up together ahead of time but I enjoy setting out dishes of whipped cream, macerated berries and smashed meringue cookies and allowing guests to build their own. I always like an interactive dish that allows guests to tailor to their tastes.

This is also an excellent make ahead dessert. The berries can sit out, puddling up their juices in a bowl with lemon and sugar. The whipped cream can be made hours in advance and left to chill in the fridge. The meringue cookies, well, someday I am sure I will make my own, but until then Trader Joe's has a nice little tub of them and I do not believe the end dessert product suffers for it. I just stash a few into a large ziplock baggie and give a couple of pounds with my fist. (Also, I have noticed guests like to help out with this step too.

I have a deep abiding love for mascarpone (see here, and here) and a few months back stumbled into a recipe for whipping it up with heavy cream. It was one of those key culinary moments of pure delight- when the thing that you love actually can be made into something you love even more. More substantial in texture than whipped cream, I like to served whipped mascarpone when, for dessert, I am craving something with tangy sourness but do not have the time or motivation to make a full on cheesecake.

whipped mascarpone

8 oz. mascarpone
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add all ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer. Start the mixture out on low to ensure the mascarpone is evenly incorporated into the heavy cream. Raise the mixer speed to high and whip until soft peaks form. (I stand eagle eyed at the mixture because this whips up very quickly and it is the merest of milliseconds between lovely whipped delight and just plain butter.)

While most whipped cream recipes call for the addition of sugar, I do not add it here. Especially with Eton mess, the sugar component comes in from the meringue cookies and the berries. But if serving alongside something less sweet (a biscuit-y strawberry shortcake, for example) feel free to add a couple tablespoons of granulated sugar at the start.