A Pile of Apple Cake – 24/67

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The problem with claiming you’re good at baking is that people expect you to be good at baking. Ugh. I’ve been setting expectations too high. Nothing good can come of that! 

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So okay, I admit, this cake did not come out of the bundt pan as I would have wished. But! It still tastes amazing. Amazing enough to publicly share on the internet and admit to my vast readership. So, as they’d say on the Great British Bake Off, flavors and texture wonderful, looks like absolute shite. (Do they say that? I haven’t watched it in a couple seasons, but it seems more or less right…)

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We brought this cake pile to a housewarming party. Daniel thought I should dump it into a bowl and call it a crumble, but I insisted on the cake carrying case, with a sad pile of cake roughly in the shape of a bundt. You could still see a couple layers of cake – apples – cake, after all. We definitely got some funny glances from passersby, who looked expectantly into our cake carrying thing (I feel like you have to be pretty proud of your cake to schlep it through the streets of New York usually), expecting to see a masterpiece. And they were instead greeted by a crumbling tower of artfully placed could-be-cake. I made Daniel carry the case. I was too embarrassed. 😦 

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However! The cake was delightfully consumed! And no needs for plates when it looks like this, everyone just dug in with forks or fingers, as if it was pull apart bread. And the hosts even wanted to keep leftovers! I had my leftovers the next day microwaved with ice cream. Could’ve been way worse. So! Make this. But grease TF outta that pan. 

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one night ago: the amazing pasta alla norma from vegetables illustrated was last night’s really really good dinner 
another thing I’ve been cooking: caramelize a shredded zucchini with garlic and olive oil, mix in parmesan, put on pumpernickel toast, top with a fried egg OMG SO GOOD
three years ago: soy-dashi simmered kabocha squash
four years ago: tomatillo peach salsa 

Apple Cake

from my lovely cousin (in-law?) Heidi. Sorry for messing up something beautiful!

6 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ( a mix of varieties is nice)
5 tablespoons + 2 cups sugar
5 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral oil
4 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour (I used spray and IT DID NOT WORK!) a bundt pan. Use a non-decorative bundt pan, for gods sake. Or a tube pan, which I’ve never used, but I think would be perfect for this. Don’t skimp!!

In a big bowl, mix together apple slices, 5 tablespoons sugar, and the cinnamon. Set aside.

In another big bowl, mix together the flour, remaining 2 cups sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the oil, eggs, OJ, and vanilla. Mix everything until well blended. A wooden spoon worked great for this task. 

Spoon ⅓ of the batter into your prepared pan. Add half the apples. Then another layer of batter, the rest of the apples, and finish with batter. (I couldn’t fit all the apples!)

Bake for an hour and a half. Cake should be brown but not dark. Let cool in pan for at least half an hour before removing from pan. Good luck. 

 
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Zucchini Bread – 22/67

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I just had a major milestone birthday, and I have to say, I’m feeling pretty darn good about it. I am finally, for the first time, in the same decade as my husband. I am finally the age that all the cool women who have their shit figured out seem to be. I realize I have been saying I’m “almost 30” for the past three years. It’s about time this happened, right?

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I wonder if this mindset is because I will always be that much younger than Daniel. I will always be the young one in our relationship, and also in our group of friends. I also remain the youngest person in my office by some years. So although I am excited about hitting this milestone, I’m also aware that I’m still relatively young, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. Phew. 

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So while the Amazon burned and people lost their minds over a fast food fried chicken sandwich, I slipped into the next decade. There were midnight nachos, the most perfect yoga class, and a dinner in which I got to accidentally-eavesdrop on the other Ilana (squee!). This weekend there was perfect cake, drinks galore, crab rolls, karaoke, and dancing. Dear friends, delicious food, and cooperative weather. If this is 30, then I am very very happy about 30. 

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I made this zucchini bread a couple weeks ago, as part of a thank you brunch I threw at my home for my camp staff. What a way to feel like a grown-up, welcoming the younger counselors who think of me as their boss. (I mean, I am their boss, but they feel more like friends than anything else!) In this decade, I’ll welcome these moments, when I get to embrace leadership, create community, and open my home to others. The 30s are going to be the beeeeest!

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And this zucchini bread is hella good too. Thanks for the recipe, Katherine! 

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no previous years, but looking to use up your end-of-summer zucchini? May I recommend, from the archives: veggie curry, zoodle latkes, or easy garlicky tomato zoodles

Feel Like an Adult Zucchini Bread

thanks to my friend Katherine for the recipe!

3 eggs
1 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 ¾ cup sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour (I ran out so used about 1 cup regular flour, 1 cup whole wheat, and 1 cup bread flour. It was still delicious)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Optional mix ins: chocolate chips, raisins, dried cranberries, nuts (I did mini chocolate chips in the muffins but kept the loaf plain)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease 2 loaf pans or line 24 muffin cups with liners (I did one big loaf pan and 6 muffins)

In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk or fork. Whisk in oil and sugar til incorporated. Add zucchini and vanilla. 

In a separate bowl, mix together flour(s), cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and any mix-ins. Add this combo to the zucchini bowl and mix until just combined. 

Divide batter into pans. Bake for at least 60 minutes (took me a little longer), or until a tester in the center comes out clean. Muffins will cook more quickly — start checking at 25 minutes. Let cool in tins. Leftovers stayed moist for daaaays. 

 

Peach Blueberry Cobbler – 19/67

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How I did the heatwave on Saturday:

  • Woke up early to bake cobbler 
  • Blasted the AC
  • Until Daniel tried to vaccuum at the same time and we blew a fuse and then couldn’t find our fuse box and our landlord was on the West Coast and also didn’t know where our fuse box was and finally we found it in our downstairs neighbor’s apartment, unlabeled. It was eventually fixed. (By my husband.) (He wanted me to add that). 
  • Also made caponata (similar to this recipe), capusta (coming soon!), a cucumber salad, and sangria. Daniel made amazing spicy caramel peanut brittle. Busy kitchen day.
  • Took the train to Queens to see the play I directed in a festival
  • Hosted 10 people at our apartment for a potluck party
  • Bought and consumed lots of ice cream

It was a great day but it was not ideal heatwave activities.

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So, how I did the heatwave on Sunday:

  • Sat inside, ate leftovers, washed dishes
  • Consumed lots of ice cream

Sunday was a good day.  

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This is the dessert you need to make tonight. It’s so fast, so bright, so perfectly summery. And it seems incredibly adaptable, though I’ve only made it this once. The recipe calls for two cups peaches — I used three peaches, which was a little more. And then it called for one cup of blueberries, which didn’t feel like enough blueberries so I just kept adding a couple more at a time, until I think I ended up doubling it. Oops. It was still perfect. 

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Olivia gave me this recipe with the comment “the bestest dessert”. She is not lying. This thing won the potluck last night. It’s totally worth turning on your oven for, promise. 

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other blueberry desserts: simple lemon blueberry cake with lemon cream + celebration blueberry cake with ginger cream cheese frosting

other peach things (tis the season): peach tomatillo salsa + peach black bean sweet potato tacos

four years ago: collard greens tomato sauce with spaghetti
five years ago: cilantro quinoa soup with seared shrimp and corn

Peach Blueberry Cobbler

thanks to Olivia’s grandma, who seems like a pretty amazing lady, for this one. thanks for sharing your family recipes! 

¾ cup sugar + 2 tablespoons, divided
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or potato starch)
½ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from about half a lemon)
2 cups fresh peaches, sliced and peeled if you want to (about 3 peaches)
1 cup blueberries
1 cup flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk
¼ cup butter, softened and cut into chunks
½ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best!)

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a medium saucepan, combine ¼ cup sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, and water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about two minutes. Take off of heat and add lemon juice, peaches, and berries. Stir well to coat. Tip into a 2 quart baking dish (is what the recipe said. I used a 9-inch square baking pan.)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Give a quick mix. Add milk and softened butter. Use mixer to mix everything together at medium speed for about 4-5 minutes, until fluffy and few butter chunks remain. (This would be fine with a hand held beater too.) Dollop spoonfuls of this cookie dough over the fruit. 

Mix together remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and nutmeg. Sprinkle on top of cookie dollops. 

Bake in your preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, until top is browned evenly and fruit is bubbling. I served with vanilla ice cream and 9 people devoured it in the blink of an eye. 
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Blueberry Afternoon Snack Soup – 15/67

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So I quite liked this recipe, but I’m having trouble wrapping my head around when it’s appropriate to eat. It was introduced to me as a soup. But when I hear “soup”, I think savory, and savory this is not.

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So I guess it could be dessert soup? But I’m not sure that’s a real thing, and anyway this isn’t quite indulgent enough to count as a true dessert. Counterpoint — fondue. Fondue is like chocolate dessert soup. Hm. Maybe this is like blueberry fondue? I do think it would be nice with some shortcake “croutons” or a skewered marshmallow cutting through a fountain of it, but I still don’t think dessert is the right category.

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After I decided it didn’t accompany the pasta salad I planned to serve it with as dinner, I added some chia seeds and let it sit overnight. And it thickened slightly to create a psuedo-chia pudding, which apparently is an appropriate breakfast food! So maybe this is breakfast? It’s still pretty sweet, but so are pancakes and waffles. Eh, I’m more of a toast and eggs kinda gal for breakfast. Okay, so perhaps not breakfast.

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I think I’m landing on a refreshing afternoon snack. Especially when topped with extra berries and a little batch of lemon cream (from this cake a week or two back) and a couple indulgent chocolate curls. I’m pro-chia seeds regardless. That’s a fun texture. I happily ate a little bowl of this everyday this week after work and before I started thinking about dinner. So yeah, afternoon snack it is. I hope you make and figure out where in your life it fits in.

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one year ago: nothing of note but want to hear about my recent breakfast discovery? Whole wheat sourdough toast with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh mozzarella, strawberries, basil, and flaky salt. Heck yes.
two years ago: nothing of note, but I recently made this tomato egg noodle soup (with added CSA greens) for dinner and it was just like in China and I want to make it all the time.
three years ago: rice noodle salad with carrot ginger dressing
four years ago: tatsoi and tofu stir fry with soba – I have a bundle of tatsoi in the fridge now, waiting to be put to use in this recipe!

Blueberry Afternoon Snack Soup

from my Aunt Beth A

1 pint blueberries + extra for topping
2 cups water
¼-½ cup sugar (the lesser works just fine!)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup yogurt
mint, shredded

Chia seeds
Lemon cream
Chocolate curls

In a medium pot, combine blueberries, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until blueberries start to fall apart. Remove from heat and cool a bit.

Pour mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Put in fridge and chill until cold. Stir in yogurt until no clumps remain. Serve in small bowls, topped with fresh mint. 

If you’d like, add in a tablespoon or so chia seeds per serving and let sit overnight. Eat the next afternoon with lemon cream, extra berries, chocolate curls, a swirl of yogurt, and/or more fresh mint.

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Healthyish Strawberry Chocolate Chips Muffins – 13/67

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Picnic season! These adorable, healthyish strawberry muffins were the perfect fruity pop to add to a spread. Although I can’t say they were the first thing gone, as they had to compete with tiramisu and two other cakes. Is that peak Brooklyn? Homemade tiramisu at a picnic? Or maybe it was 7+ things of hummus. If you have a picnic in Prospect Park and there aren’t at least half as many hummus tubs as people, did it even happen??

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And I’m just going to let these pictures speak for themselves today. We broke out the real camera and gave these ruby spring babies a true photo shoot! Mmm.

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Some Notes — I tried to follow the recipe exactly but I kept adding and changing. The recipe below is as it was given to me. Here’s how I modified —

  • Added a pinch or two of salt with dry ingredients. Go for it.
  • Subbed in about ¼ cup of whole wheat flour. This really made it taste healthy. Use at your own risk.
  • I added some crumbled freeze dried strawberries at the end to half the batch. Definitely not worth it. Muddled the yummy fresh strawberry flavor.
  • I sprinkled half the batch with demerera sugar before baking. It did not caramelize the top or add any extra crunch. Wrong batter, wrong oven temp (I guess). Don’t do this.
  • Instead of using all applesauce, I used one of those little cup things and used melted coconut oil for the rest. I think this was fine.
  • I used a whole egg, not just the white. Felt wasteful to just toss the yolk. I think this was fine too.
  • These are on the moist side, and get moister overnight. I recommend toasting or eating on Day 1.

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Four years ago: black bean, mango, corn salad-alsa — another great picnic idea

Healthyish Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

From my friend Katie – thanks! 

1 ¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
1 egg white, beaten
⅔ cup diced strawberries
⅓ cup mini chocolate chips
Nonstick spray

Preheat oven to 350F. Set out 10 muffin liners in a muffin pan and spray with nonstick spray.

Mix together flour, baking soda, and cinnamon in a big bowl.

In another bowl, whisk the sugar, brown sugar, and applesauce until there are no clumps remaining. Whisk in the egg white.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, and mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just combined. Don’t overmix! Gently fold in strawberries and chocolate chips.

Scoop into prepared muffin tins. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out cleanish (there are a lot of chocolate pockets — don’t let this fool you.)

Best day of, but can keep in an airtight container on the counter for a couple days.

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Simple Lemon Berry Cake with Lemon Cream – 12/67

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The past weekend has felt approximately two weeks long. I feel like I just need to document it all so I remember in 20 years what a lazy “stay at home” long weekend was like right before I turned 30. Thanks for joining me for this xanga entry! 

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Friday – Went to grocery store, casually made this cake for tomorrow’s BBQ, meandered to local bookstore and ended up with a copy of Indian-ish which I cannot WAIT to cook from, met friends at a bar and bragged about my new cookbook. Then came home and made a riff on this soba tofu bowl for a dear friend who came over for dinner. After she left, friend from Boston arrived to stay the weekend. Late night catch-up ensued.

IMG_036586F1A670-F948-441E-A6A3-98C406F06CD6Saturday – Coffee and bagels, then a yoga class. Don’t recommend that order. Took ferry(!) to Astoria for lovely rooftop soiree. Brought cake, with frosting in its own refrigerator bag. Not the easiest cake to travel with, but definitely not the worst. Ate my weight in salads and dips and veggie burger (just one, to the chagrin of the hosting couple who are now left with three mediocre frozen patties). Left BBQ early to rush to BAM for a DanceAfrica performance that blew my mind. Home for frozen watermelon drinks and another late night.

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Sunday – brunch and omg this weekend is killing me. How do people maintain this lifestyle? Ask questions later! Let’s go into the city! For Chinatown noodles, a crowded salsa bar, and cocktails around the corner. Another late night.

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Monady – byyye friend, have a safe drive, and oh shit we’re supposed to bring things to a BBQ. I didn’t prepare cake in advance, dang. Whipped together this really delicious artichoke white bean dip (but parsley instead of basil because I thought it went better) and Ottolenghi’s gingery cucumber salad from Plenty, which I thought would complement the various izakaya-style organ meats being grilled. (I cannot attest to its success in doing that, but it was mostly consumed, so I’ll consider it a success.) Then I fell into a stupor on our couch.

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I’m exhausted. And now I go to work. xo, gossip girl.

IMG_2118IMG_2120A couple things about this cake — this is a really easy and really delicious cake to whip together at the last moment if you know someone is coming over. The only tricky ingredient it has is pre-made lemon curd. I bought the Bonne Maman variety, which I’ve been eating with a spoon ever since. It makes a surprisingly luscious topping when beat with fresh whipped cream. Also, I didn’t feel like splurging on fresh berries, as I knew we had a bunch of frozen ones in the fridge. I ended up with half a cup of frozen blueberries, then picked the other half cup out of a bag of mixed frozen berries. A couple blackberries made it in too. They were also delicious. No need to be picky about your fruits. I forgot the demerera sugar on top, but don’t think I missed it.

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I talked about a different blueberry lemon cake recipe on here some years ago. That one is a decadent layer birthday cake, not to be confused with this delicate, weekday-afternoon-appropriate version. Both are hella delicious.

Simple Blueberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream aka the Best Psuedo-Frosting

from my friend Liz!

1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup sugar
zest of one lemon (about 1 ½ teaspoons)
½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter, room temp
½ teaspoon (or a bit more) pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt (whole or 2%)
¼ cup milk
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (no need to thaw)
1 ½ tablespoons turbinado sugar (I forgot this…)
fresh berries to serve (optional)

Lemon Cream

I doubled the original recipe and did not regret it. This is the ratio I used —

½ cup heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons store-bought lemon curd

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan (I used springform but it isn’t necessary). Cut out a circle of parchment paper for the bottom of the pan.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a big bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix together with your fingertips to combine, until the mixture is sand-like and smells like lemon candy. Add the butter and beat for 3ish minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. (I used my Kitchenaid but hand mixer should work fine.) Beat in vanilla and the egg until combined. Add yogurt and beat well.

At low speed, beat in half the flour. Then add milk and beat until just combined. Add rest of the flour and mix until just combined.

Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pan. Scatter berries on top and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cake is golden-brown and a tester comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes in pan, then invert onto a rack. Peel off parchment and let cool all the way. Invert again onto a nice plate.

Meanwhile, back with your mixer, beat together the whipped cream and the lemon curd until creamy and thick. This took 3ish minutes for me. Texture should be the consistency of yogurt. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Dollop lemon cream on top of completely cooled cake. Top with fresh berries, if you’d like. Let your guests gush over how good this simple cake is.

Liz’s notes:

  • You can substitute ½ cup buttermilk for the yogurt and milk
  • This cake bakes quickly. (true!) Start checking it at 20 minutes.
  • Cake can be made one day in advance — just wrap it well in saran wrap overnight. Lemon curd can be made 8 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ooey Gooey Brownies – 4/67

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For some reason, these brownies are part of my family’s Thanksgiving tradition. There is nothing remotely Thanksgiving-y about them. They have chocolate, fluff, and peanut butter — nary a mention of pumpkin, a sprinkle of spice, or a slice of apple to be found. The other incongruous thing about these “ooey gooey brownies” is that they’re from Cooking Light, circa 2000. So that means a) my Mom’s been making them for 18 years and I’ve never helped make them (oops) and b) they are trying to be healthy? The recipe calls for skim milk, fat free sweetened condensed milk, and an egg white. Brownies just don’t seem to be the place to cut down on calories. So I used full fat milk, a whole egg (#yolklove), and I could only find regular sweetened condensed milk, so that’s what I used.

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These brownies definitely don’t suck. The ooey gooey ness gives them that home baked allure, all oozing chocolate, creamy goodness, just on the right side of “do you eat this with your hands or a fork” that makes people want to go in for a second. They were certainly a hit at the holiday party we brought them to.

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But! I kinda want to play with this recipe when I have a moment. It leaves an awkward amount of leftover sweetened condensed milk, which I think could be easily incorporated into the brownie batter. I’m not sure we need to cook the brownie base twice. My marbling sucked. And I definitely should remake it in the right sized pan, oops. When I have another chance to give desserts to a crowd, and am not ashamed to use so many store bought products, I’ll play around. Will keep you posted on #projectblasphemy. 

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(Also I’m not reaching for the scraps as much as I normally would because we have two things of candy cane ice cream and two things of hot fudge from Ample Hills that Daniel and I made together(!) at a recent workshop in the freezer/fridge (respectively). This shit is gooooood. I wish I could live on ice cream.)

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one year ago: not much in these categories today, since I managed to update my blog a mere 6(!) days ago…
two years ago:
…but I did return to this zoodle recipe recently and still love it
three years ago:
anyone have a good hot sauce recipe? asking for a friend/wedding party favor
four years ago: 
mushroom and farro stuffed acorn squash 

Ooey Gooey Brownies

From my mom, originally from Cooking Light in September 2000

¾ cup sweetened condensed milk, divided
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup milk
1 box devil’s food cake mix (I think it was 15.25 oz)
1 egg
Fluff – didn’t measure, but I used half a 16-oz container (originally recipe calls for 1 ¾ cups or 1 7-ounce jar, but that seemed fussy to measure and Target only had giant containers)
About ½ a package peanut butter chips, divided
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside. (My pan was 14 x 10-inch, which led to a slightly too shallow brownie.)

In a big bowl mix together ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk, butter, milk, cake mix, and egg. Press ⅔ of the batter into your prepared baking pan. I found that pressing the batter with wax paper coated with cooking spray made this simple. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine ½ cup sweetened condensed milk, fluff, and about ½ – ¾ cup peanut butter chips in another bowl. Stir together until smooth.

Take brownie pan out of oven, and spread fluff mixture evenly on top. Dollop spoonfuls of remaining brownie batter over the fluff layer. Use a knife to swirl the layers together. (I failed at this, as I may have used too much brownie in bottom layer, and remaining batter was too tough to swirl. Alas.) Sprinkle top with another ¼ cup or so of peanut butter chips. Return pan to oven and cook for another half an hour, or until fluff layer starts to brown. Cool completely in pan before cutting with a sharp knife.

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Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

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Popcorn, patiently popped on the stove with a bit more salt than you intended, is Perfection. It does not require creativity or innovation or newfangled spice combinations because its light savory saltiness is the ultimate dinner substitute. It’s vegan, gluten-free, healthy (barring that salt situation), easy, cheap, and delicious. It’s my go-to around dinner time if I had a big lunch or if that salad didn’t fill me up quite all the way.

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My dad has received lots of flack from us lovely children over the years for his ability to eat a bowl of popcorn at literally any moment. Went out for a huge graduation dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet? Eh, there’s always room for some popcorn. You want someone to go see The Notebook with you? If he has nothing else to do and the movie theater sells popcorn, chances are Dad will volunteer. My main memory of doing homework in high school was next to Dad on the couch, a sportsball game on mute, him reading the paper, us both absent-mindedly eating popcorn and washing it down with cold seltzer.

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Now Daniel is the popcorn-maker of our household. Having taught him my mystical popcorn ways, he has taken it on as “his” kitchen task, which I’m totally okay with. I love that he developed his own routine with it, and look forward to our predictable nagging about appropriate saltiness. We never have leftovers.

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This is all a long way to reiterate that popcorn doesn’t need anything besides salt (and maybe a little love) to be Awesome. HOWEVER, during recent holidays when Daniel was in Texas with his family and my parents were frolicking in the New Hampshire snow, I was holding down the fort in Brooklyn all by my lonesome and made nontraditional popcorn after salivating at a Bon Appetit recipe, and IT’S REALLY GOOD. A couple more steps than a typical evening dose would require, but so worth it for a party or gift situation. Or, ya know, a “suffering thru the holidays alone because I have to work” situation. I did manage to save a couple pieces for Daniel to sample, and looks like this may be inserting itself into a more regular rotation. It’s goooood.

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one year ago: Mayan quichon de verduras (traditional Guatemalan veggie stew — I still want to experiment with this!)
two years ago: mushroom olive and farro stuffed acorn squash and roasted broccoli hot honey pizza

Spicy Buffalo Caramel Corn

from an old issue of Bon Appetit

Cooking spray
6-8 cups popped popcorn (I used ⅓ cup kernels)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons butter, cut in pieces
¼ cup Frank’s hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

First, find two small rimmed baking sheets (or one large one) and a very large bowl. Line baking sheets with parchment paper; spray papered baking sheets and the bowl lightly with cooking spray. Put popcorn in the bowl and set all this aside.

In a heavy-bottom medium saucepan combine sugar and water. Turn to medium heat and give a quick stir to combine. (I would avoid a wooden spoon for this task.) As mixture heats up, put the spoon aside and just swirl the pan as necessary. Bring mixture to a boil, then continue boiling for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture is a toasty dark amber. Mine took 11 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and add in hot sauce and butter. This will sizzle and sputter and bubble, don’t be alarmed! Quickly stir in with your spoon and return to the heat. Return to a boil (this took no time), and cook for another 3 minutes.

Take saucepan off the heat and stir in salt, baking soda, and cayenne. Stir quickly, then pour over popcorn. Toss and stir quickly to evenly coat the popcorn, then pour out into a single layer (or close enough) on your baking sheets. Bake for 12-20 minutes, tossing once, until dry. Let cool. Break up clumps (or don’t and keep it more like popcorn brittle!). If you don’t eat it immediately, congrats, you have great self-control, also you can store it in an airtight container for five days or so.

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Key Lime Pie with Salty Cracker Crust

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Real life interference: I meant to post this recipe in mid-October, right after Daniel’s birthday. But then a Malta conference happened, a trip to Japan was embarked upon, a crazy man was elected president of my country, and I was eyebrows deep in a directing project until last week. So, big sigh, things will continue to keep spinning (sometimes out of control) and I’m still trying to figure out what this crazy man means for the future of my country, my loved ones, and myself. But hey, we can still eat pie. And so, a post.

Growing up, birthdays meant chocolate. In the form of cake, frosting, ice cream, or all of the above. A birthday was only successful if it had sticky fingers and smudgy cheeks. I remember when I switched to vanilla frosting atop my chocolate cake — the horror! I had betrayed my chocolate brethren. And to this day, for me, a birthday must have a modicum of chocolate to be considered successful — perhaps this is just a hot fudge drizzle or one bite of dark chocolate bar — but it’s still lurking. Birthday = chocolate. Simple math.

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Daniel, on the other hand, can’t seem to care less about chocolate. We obviously don’t interpret math the same way. I have made him an orange caramel birthday cake and a blueberry lemon cake and a berry cheesecake, which honestly were all delicious but didn’t scream birthday. I mean, no chocolate crumbles on the floor to sweep up or white shirts to get frosting stains out of?? What is this!?

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And this year he goes on to request a pie for his birthday. “Yeah, I’ve always liked pie better than cake.” …who are you?! So now not only no chocolate but also no frosting?! I need someone else to bake birthday things for.

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This request spawned a truckload of research of about key lime pie. Does it count if it isn’t actually made with key limes? (Mostly yes, except for a few diehard Floridians.) Do all recipes use sweetened condensed milk? (Yes.) Should you put merengue on top or whipped cream? (Up to you, whipped cream is a whole lot easier.) And in this research I found a deviation from the traditional graham cracker crust — a salty, buttery sub that swaps the ubiquitous grahams for Saltines! As I recently had some issues with a graham cracker crust, I figured why not give it a go?

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It reads like a recipe from my elementary school PTA cookbook that someone’s Grandma makes every year for July 4th . And yet, it’s a beaut! …although a beaut I didn’t completely conquer. The recipe said not to crush your crackers until they were sand-like, so I stopped at pea-like crumbles, which didn’t hold together so well after baking. This lead to luscious lime curd atop … well, buttery, pea-sized cracker crumbs, not exactly a coherent crust. Which, don’t get me wrong, is delicious! Just not particularly easy to serve. I recommend crushing the crumbs for longer than you think is necessary, and don’t be afraid to add more butter. When you pre-bake the crust, really bake it until it’s golden and keeping its shape. (I didn’t let it go quite long enough.) And yes, despite, a crumbly crust, Mr. Weirdo Birthday Boy was totally, totally satisfied. (and so was I!)

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one year ago: Guatemalan rellenitos de plátano (fried plantain heaven)
two years ago: buttermints and Indian-spiced cabbage heaven

Key Lime Pie with Buttery Cracker Crust

From smittenkitchen and food52

1½ sleeves of Saltine crackers (the salted variety) (or try Ritz!)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 stick butter (½ a cup), room temp (or more)

Zest of 2 limes
4 egg yolks
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
A generous ½ cup fresh lime juice (for me, this was 6 puny limes)

One small carton (1 cup or so) heavy cream, chilled
1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
Zest of 1 lime, more or less

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crush up your crackers using your hands (or banging them with a can) until they’re uniformly small and crumb-like. Toss in sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and mix into the cracker crumbs with your fingers until well-incorporated and dough-like. Press crust mixture into an 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Let sit for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 21 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside and keep oven on.

Beat together lime zest and egg yolks with an electric beater for five minutes, until thickened and slightly lighter. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat for an additional three minutes. Gently stir in fresh lime juice with a spatula. Pour into cracker crust and bake for 12 minutes, or until top is set. Let cool completely.

Pour chilled heavy cream into a bowl, add sugar and beat until it’s fluffy! (It comes together very quickly using electric beaters, but sometimes it’s fun to make Daniel do it with a whisk :).) Add more sugar if you want a slightly sweeter cream. Lovingly spoon whipped cream atop your cooled pie. Decorate with zest. At this point, it is recommended to chill the whole shebang for a while, but I think that’s mostly so you can create clean lines when you slice your pie, and who the heck has time for that? We ate it immediately and were none the worse. Keep pie in the fridge, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for a few days and try not to have a spoonful with your morning coffee.

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Guatemalan Rellenitos de Plátano

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…aka mashed plantains stuffed with slightly sweetened black bean paste, deep fried until caramelized and satisfyingly crunchy. The jury is out on when you’re supposed to eat this delicacy–I was served it at dinner with scrambled eggs and black beans, but felt it may be more appropriate for dessert.

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For those of you who have, in a passing moment, considered the swanky sweet potato and contemplated the absence of recipes lately, I supposed it’s only polite to let you know — I’m in Guatemala! Two months sans kitchen, reliable internet, or good showers. (My apologies if the third part is of no importance to you.) I’ll have five weeks of intensive Spanish lessons and living in a home with an incredibly lovely family but where I’m not exactly welcomed in the kitchen. As decadent as it is to be given three meals a day without needing to wash a single dish, I miss autonomy. I love mornings experimenting with the perfect scrambled eggs, or daydreaming about what to make for dinner during the late afternoon stretch. I miss being inspired by whatever appears in my CSA, at the farmers’ market, or perusing my favorite blogs for ideas. It’s a funny feeling never knowing what to expect at a meal — when is the last time you had so little say in what you ate? For me, it was probably early high school at summer camp. Strange. (Don’t get me wrong, dear reader, I am Loving my time here! Every day presents a new aspect of the regional culture or the immense natural beauty or the fraught political atmosphere. My Spanish gets stronger daily, and I’m meeting curious new minds, both local and the traveler-variety.)

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However when the opportunity presented itself to take a cooking class last Friday, I jumped at the chance! Turns out “cooking class” was a subtle ploy to have students help make the traditional dinner we were to be served that night at the weekly graduation festivities, but I jumped on board just the same. The above-mentioned rellenitos were a great hands-on, tactile project. I definitely recommend making these with kids—you treat the plantains like play-do! All four of us attending the “class” certainly took some frustrations out on these fried pillows of plantain-goodness. There isn’t much of a recipe for these love bundles, so feel free to adapt as you see fit. Please forgive this bare bones recipes. It is not sophisticated (and in fact I use the word “mush”), but it combines two important Guatemalan staples and is worth the effort.

 

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The first batch of the little buggers… this is me patiently waiting the requisite minute so I don’t completely burn my face off.

Note: Guatemalans are super into pre-cooked refried black beans. You can get them at every grocery store and cornerside tienda in an astonishing variety of package shapes and cooking-methods (boil in a bag! microwave! grill!). The consistency is very paste-like — I believe the beans have already been cooked with spices and oil and then blended. I’d try this recipe with refried beans out of a can, or make your own bean mush with a some cooked black beans, savory spices, and a blender. You don’t need so much for the recipe though, so make sure you choose something where you can use the leftovers.

Additional Note: In the spirit of “seize the day” and trying to soak in my Guatemalan environment, these photos are unedited and straight from my phone. Apologies to anyone who may be offended by this.

Just a smattering of the pre-cooked bean options available at your local Guatemalan supermarket… Mmm mmm, look at those silky black beauties.

one year ago: honey and cinnamon apples, cheesy bulgur risotto with broccoli, and Indian-spiced cabbage and onions

Rellenitos de Plátano

as remembered from my PLQ cooking class

medium-ripe plantains (no black spots but not green)
black bean mush of choice (see note)
ground cinnamon
sugar
flour to coat
oil to fry
powdered sugar (optional)

Peel plantains and boil in a big vat of water. When they’re very soft, scoop out with a slotted spoon onto plates. Use forks to mash the plantains into a paste like consistency. Set aside.

Place bean mush in a bowl. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste. You want a slightly sweet final product, not an approximation of Asian-style red bean paste. For the giant vat of plantains we used, we probably added about 1 t cinnamon and a bit more sugar. Taste as you go.

Take a small handful of plantain “dough” and flatten it into a patty or pancake a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The patty should be about a centimeter thick, maybe a bit less. Scoop 1/2 tablespoon or so of bean mixture into the center of plantain patty. Fold sides up and around bean paste and fold ends in, forming a cylinder-esque bundle about two inches long. Coat generously in flour by rolling on a plate with a shallow layer of flour and using your hands to pat it gently in. Wash your hands throughout the process as necessary.

In a deep frying pan, bring about a half-inch of oil to a simmer. Gently add rellenitos and fry until golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan. I would try about 10 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. I ate these as part of a dinner, but if you want them for dessert, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

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From yesterday’s hike up Volcan Santa Maria. We started climbing in the dark at 1 am and made it to the top (above the clouds!) for a chilly and incredible sunrise.