I just spent a week eating cheese, making butter, growing sprouts, baking bread, snuggling with Golden Retrievers, visiting farms, driving through covered bridges, admiring snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes, and sampling microbrews while eating wood-fired pizzas. Could I have been anywhere in the world but Vermont?
Perhaps, but short of meeting a few friends for a morning snowshoe, my week couldn’t have been filled with more quintessential Green Mountain State activities. My siblings and I grew up traveling to Charlotte many times a year to visit my mother’s sister Marcy, master of pies, soup, and delectably melty appetizers. The five-hour drive always felt interminable, knowing what we had awaiting us: our cousins, a zipline, Uncle Wade’s waffles, Lake Champlain, dogs and endless outdoor fun.
For my parents, the drive was a breeze, the nature scenes providing endless distraction. I never quite understood the enthusiasm for the birds perched on the highway light poles or the first glimpse of Mount Mansfield, but on my drive north this past Sunday, I realized I had officially become my parents. “Children!” I would shout at every turn. “Look at the cows! The silos! The mountains! The sugar houses!”
For the past year, the most frequent question asked on this blog is this: Can the peasant bread be made gluten-free?
Everyone knows someone — a friend, an uncle, a cousin — recently diagnosed with Celiac disease who has had to forget bread as he/she once knew it.
You might have this friend, this uncle, this cousin. I do. And you might want to treat him/her to a loaf of freshly baked bread but you don’t know where to begin. This is the position my mother found herself in a month ago while preparing for the arrival of her brother-in-law, who had recently adopted a gluten-free diet. Panicked by the thought of serving dinner without warm, fresh bread on the table, she called asking if I had ever successfully made the peasant bread gluten free. I answered as I have to everyone who has asked thus far: no, not yet.
A little over a year ago, I made Kesté’s lemon pizza, whose beguiling combination of smoked mozzarella, sliced lemon and fresh basil defied all conventions and challenged my ideal of pizza.
When I first began experimenting with preserved lemons, this pizza came to mind, and then it materialized on the dinner table, the preserved lemons replacing the slices, everything else remaining the same. It has been awhile since I made Kesté’s original version, but the preserved lemons offer that same brightness and intensity, and the combination is one of my favorites. As I am learning, preserved lemons work nicely anywhere lemon and salt work nicely — so, everywhere? — and while there is something about the combination of smoked mozzarella and lemon that just can’t be beat, this is a fun pizza combination, too: za’atar with olive oil, fresh ricotta, preserved lemon and basil.
The key when using preserved lemons is to adhere to the maxim less is more: a little preserved lemon goes a long way. I now understand why the two preserved lemon recipes I followed called for so few lemons, and that doubling each of those recipes, which seemed the obvious move at the time, may have been unnecessary.
So you probably have your Super Bowl menu all lined up. Chips and dips, sliders and smokies — your bases are covered. But have you thought about dessert? No? Phew. Because I’ve got just the thing: Mollie Katzen’s Chocolate Eclipse, a pudding cake that feeds a crowd. Everyone will go gaga.
I learned about Chocolate Eclipse from one of you — thank you! — via email, and after finding the recipe online, I made it immediately. It was too intriguing not to.
Now, let me preface this by saying I know absolutely nothing about making pudding cakes — chocolate, lemon, buttermilk, whatever — but this cake was like none I had made before, including its dainty, molten soft chocolate kin.
The process starts off familiarly: wet ingredients (buttermilk, vanilla, melted chocolate and butter) get stirred into dry ingredients (flour, brown sugar, salt and leavenings), chocolate chips are folded in, and after everything is mixed together, the batter gets spread into a 9×13-inch pan.
But then the assembly takes a wild turn. After the batter is covered by a blanket of brown sugar and cocoa powder (which ultimately become the pudding), 2.5 cups of boiling water get poured overtop. As the water meets this sandy layer, plumes of cocoa rise and swirl, and when the cake begins looking like a Breaking Bad set prop, you’ll need some encouragement. Katzen offers it: “It will look terrible, and you will not believe you are actually doing this, but try to persevere.”
Before Thanksgiving this past year, I experimented with baking stuffing on a jelly roll pan. Many of you, I imagine, understand the thought process: Why limit the best part of the stuffing to a single layer? Why not make the entire stuffing taste like the crispy bits bobbing at the top?
The stuffing came out well — not well enough to share with you — but I’m hoping to have that taken care of before this November.
The experiment, however, made me want to bake everything (within reason — bread pudding, pasta gratin, etc.) on a sheet pan and thus far, I’ve had one success: this mac n’ cheese. And when I tell you there’s no going back, I mean it.
Soooo, I know it’s January 7th, and I should be eating kale and tofu and sipping on homemade kombucha, and I probably should not be interrupting your New Years’-resolution-dining regimen with visions of béchamel-slicked toast layered with black forest ham, gruyère cheese, and oozing poached eggs, but, um, well, I’m sorry?
There was no need to fiddle with a recipe that needed no fiddling. I have made Molly Wizenberg’s irresistibly soft and sticky cinnamon rolls countless times always to rave reviews.
But when I received a note from a friend over the weekend describing the pearl-sugar topped cinnamon rolls her Swedish friend had made for her, I couldn’t resist experimenting. Besides, I wasn’t going to change the core recipe, just the topping and perhaps the baking method: instead of using a square pan, I would use my muffin tin.
But these two simple changes, small as they seem, produce a dramatically different effect, a cross between a morning bun and a cinnamon roll. Unconstrained by neighboring rolls, these buns spiral vertically into snow-capped peaks with trails of cinnamon and sugar bursting through their doughy seams.
1. Something homemade: Toasted Muesli
Since discovering toasted muesli this past summer, I can’t get enough of it — seriously, we make double batches of it twice a week. Its virtues are countless — healthy, whole grain, full of fiber, gluten free, easy to make, delicious, delicious, delicious — and I can’t introduce enough people to it.
If you are interested in printing these labels at home, these are the two sets of Avery stickers I ordered:
Circular: Avery, 2.5″ diameter, White
Rectangular: Avery, 3″x3.75″, Ivory
Here are the label files to download:
blue & off white
Two other foods I love giving as gifts this time of year are rosemary shortbread and orange and ricotta pound cake. This pinboard has more ideas, too.
Friends, hello! It has been ages. I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We had a ball at my sister’s — ate too many potatoes, drank too much punch, only wished we had made two pumpkin pies.
I know that some of you might be thinking there is no possible way you have time to add one more item, let alone homemade dinner rolls, to your Thanksgiving Day timetable, but I’m here on this snowy November morning to encourage — to insist! — that you do. You absolutely have time. Here’s why:
1. This dough, especially if you use instant yeast, takes five minutes to mix together. There is no kneading, no pampering.
2. Moreover, there is no need to flour up a workspace or to get your hands dirty shaping individual rolls. If you have a 12-cup muffin pan and someone lurking in your kitchen hoping to help, you’re in luck. Put that friend to work buttering the muffin cups, punching down the dough, portioning out the rolls. Handling this dough requires no skill.
3. This dough can rise in the corner of your kitchen all morning long. While that turkey roasts away, you can punch the dough down as often as you need, and when at last you find the oven free of birds and stuffings and gratins, in will go your rolls.
4. These rolls bake in 25 minutes. If you plan on letting your turkey rest for a good 30 minutes before carving, you’ll have plenty of time to let these rolls make their second rise (17 to 20 minutes) and to bake them before your guests are seated around the table, at which point you will pass around a basket of steaming hot, thyme-flecked rolls.