Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread & A Few Ideas for Mother’s Day

brunch, Provisions quilted placemats

A few weeks ago while searching for recipes online by Bea Ojakangas, the Scandinavian chef to whom Nigella Lawson credits the processor Danish pastry dough recipe, I stumbled upon a most delectable looking cinnamon pull-apart bread. Its creators, Lindsay and Bjork, had taken a class with Bea and learned how to make this “pulla,” which they described as “everything you love about cinnamon rolls in a pull-apart bread form.”

With that in mind, last Saturday, I made a batch of my favorite cinnamon roll dough, shaped it into a log as described on Pinch of Yum, and baked it for a few friends passing through town en route to an Easter gathering. The loaf of pulla stretched from corner to corner of the sheetpan, oozed with cinnamon and sugar upon baking, and required my largest cutting board for serving.

When our friends arrived, we tucked in immediately, each pulling at the nearest coil, spreading cream cheese icing over each bite, eating and talking and sipping coffee until not a crumb remained — it couldn’t have been more fun.

Have a wonderful weekend, Everyone.

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Preserved Lemons Two Ways: Weekend Project?

preserved lemons two ways

I typically don’t/never do this: 1. Post a recipe I’ve made only once. 2. Suggest you make something I’ve never tasted.

Why am I making the exception today? Well, this is the thing: preserving, as many of you know, takes time, and while I would prefer to wait a month to tell you how these preserved lemons turn out, I would prefer more if in a month from now you actually had these preserved lemons on hand, so when in the event I post about something else, something perhaps like the chicken tagine with preserved lemons and green olives I had at Tara Kitchen in early December, a dish I cannot stop thinking about and so hope to recreate at home, you’ll be able to participate, too.

Make sense? I mean, what if on February 10th, I posted about said tagine and exclaimed: Friends, you HAVE to make this. It is the BEST thing you will ever eat. All you need is a chicken, some stock, a bunch of herbs and preserved lemons. You would be like, are you serious? Oh sure, let me just run to my pantry and pull out my jar of preserved lemons. I mean, doesn’t everyone spend all of citrus season slicing and salting and stuffing Mason jars full of lemons? Couldn’t you have given us a head’s up? How hard would that have been? Am I right? Just making sure I can sleep at night.

And so today I offer you two recipes for preserved lemons, one from Jerusalem, which will be ready in four weeks, and one from the September 2013 Bon Appétit, which will be ready in two weeks. Both sound promising. Fingers crossed?

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A Few Gift Ideas

labels

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:

off white
blue
blue & off white
rectangular

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.

filling the jars
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Last Minute Father’s Day Gift Idea: Aretha Frankenstein’s Waffle Mix

wafflemix

A few days ago, Ben came home from work to be greeted by shrieks of joy from the children. They lept into his arms, then immediately threw themselves to the ground in the living room where they began their usual game of “tackle.”

And then it struck me: those were the first giggles I had heard from the children all day. Oops. Note to self: Try to make the children laugh at least once before Ben gets home from work. And maybe try not to be so wretched all day long. Oiy. It’s sad but true. I have been such a terror lately. Ben often consoles me by reminding me of something Amy Chua says to her husband in her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book: “You can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.” This always makes me laugh, but as I have no aspirations of being a Tiger Mom, I think I have some things to work on.

Anyway, for Ben’s Father’s Day gift this year, I made him a big batch of waffle mix to facilitate his breakfast making for the children and decorated an empty Quaker Oats canister with a personalized label, which you can download and use, too, if you are still looking for a Father’s Day gift. (Materials and instructions are below.)

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Orange-and-Ricotta Pound Cake & A Few Gift Ideas

orange-ricotta loaf

As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. Continue reading

$150 Gift Certificate Giveaway from Minted

Selection of Minted Food-Related Journals

I received my first minted card in the mail three years ago just before Christmas. Upon opening it, I remember holding the card in my hands, rubbing my fingers over its thick paper stock, staring in awe at the quality of the printing, flipping it over to inspect the details and finally propping it up on my desk to admire the design. I have been in love with the company ever since — I look forward to the unveiling of their holiday photo card collection every fall — but what I most love about the company is how it operates: every product sold on the site is the result of a design challenge entered by a community of independent designers living all over the world. Continue reading

Double Chocolate Cake, Fair Trade Cocoas, & A Giveaway from Lake Champlain Chocolates

chocolate cake with chcolate glaze

Nearly a decade ago, a pan of brownies emerged from my oven that changed everything. Before discovering this recipe, I couldn’t stash enough brownie recipes away, particularly those sounding most outrageous, the ones loaded with chocolate, the more varieties the better.

What inspired me to give this recipe a go, I do not know. There is nothing eye-catching about the ingredient list — unsweetened cocoa powder is the sole chocolate product — or intriguing about the method — it’s a simple two-bowl, no-mixer job. But I did, and while I know there are lots of fantastic brownie recipes out there, I have not tried another recipe since. And every time I bite into one of these brownies, I wonder in amazement how unsweetened cocoa powder on its own can impart such a deep, intense chocolate flavor all the while producing a fudgy, moist and utterly delicious brownie.

I still do not know its secret. I am no food scientist. But over the years I have gotten better at eyeing up recipes and am not so eager to bite at the ones sounding most outrageous. In cakes and quickbreads, it’s ingredients such as buttermilk and oil (as opposed to butter) and unsweetened natural cocoa powder that catch my attention. So when I saw the ingredient list in this chocolate cake recipe on epicurious, I suspected it would be a good one. (The 1,517 positive reviews and blue ribbon decoration may have played a role in that, too.) Continue reading

Homemade Vanilla Extract, Moo Labels

vanilla bottles

I know it’s hard to think about the holiday gift-giving season when it’s 1000 degrees outside, but if you’re the type that likes to be prepared, I suppose it’s never too early. Here’s a fun little project to undertake the next time you find yourself trapped indoors this summer: homemade vanilla extract.

To start, you’ll need some vanilla beans. IndriVanilla, supplier of Fair Trade bourbon vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices, is a great source. Since discovering them back in January, I have reintroduced vanilla beans to my pantry and have never been happier.

Next, a little alcohol. I made two batches with what I had on hand — vodka and rum — but the type of alcohol can vary from Frangelico to butterscotch schnapps to spiced rum to amaretto, all of with which Whitney Olsen, owner of IndriVanilla, has experimented. With 50+ variations of extract now bottled, Whitney has learned a few things, namely that the longer the beans steep and the more that are used, the stronger the vanilla extract will taste. And, moreover, because sugars in lower-proof alcohols can inhibit steeping, the higher the proof of the alcohol — 80 or above is ideal — the better the extract will taste.

And that’s really it. With vanilla beans and alcohol on hand, you are all set to start making homemade extract. The process couldn’t be more simple: heat alcohol just to its boiling point; pour it over split vanilla beans; let the extract steep for at least six weeks.

If you feel like turning your homemade vanilla into gifts, here’s what you’ll need:

Bottles. I, for once, was practical (thanks to guidance by Whitney) and didn’t order cute cork-topped bottles, which leak and apparently can impart unpleasant odors. I ordered 4-oz. amber glass bottles on Uline. Each bottle holds about 7 tablespoons (just under 1/2 cup) of liquid. At $1.05 a piece, my 24 bottles cost $25.20 and shipping brought the total to $36.81, making the ultimate cost per bottle $1.53.

Labels. There are lots of great resources for printing labels at home, but I love Moo.com, so I ordered my labels there. If you like the look of these, I’ve enclosed links to the files below, which you can download and order from Moo, too. There are three color options, and depending on when you get around to making the vanilla, you can choose a label with the appropriate 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-month-aged stamp.

Got it? Get crackin’. At the very least, order some beans and pick up some alcohol. The bottling and labeling can wait for a day this winter when you might find yourself trapped indoors again with any luck snow falling outside your windows.

filling the vanilla

vanilla bottles

vanilla beans

vanilla caviar

vanilla caviar

vanilla beans

vodka & rum

beans in jar

ball jars

bottles overhead

homemade vanilla, bottled


Homemade Vanilla Extract

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated; much guidance sought from owner of IndriVanilla, Whitney Olsen, who happens to be the nicest person on the planet and is always willing to offer advice with anything vanilla related. Check out her FB page for recipes and ideas.

Whitney’s notes:
• For the Indonesian vanilla beans (the variety IndriVanilla supplies), Whitney believes that rum complements the flavor of the vanilla best.
• For strong extract ready to use in 6-8 weeks, you’ll want to use a minimum of 3 luxury vanilla beans or 4 ultra-premium vanilla beans or 5 gourmet vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol.
• Steep for a minimum of 6 weeks, but the longer the better.
• Cheesecloth or coffee filters work well for straining if you wish to do so.

Cooks Illustrated proportions:
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup alcohol of choice (Cooks Illustrated used Smirnoff vodka; Whitney recommends something with a proof of at least 80)

1. Split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a sealable container such as a mason jar. Meanwhile, heat the alcohol just to a boil, then pour over seeds and pod. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for at least 6 weeks. Strain the extract, if desired (I didn’t), and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.

Labels for Download:
Order a pack of 50 on Moo for $16.99

Red Label, Aged 1 month
Red Label, Aged 2 months
Red Label, Aged 3 months
Red Label, Aged 4 months
Red Label, Aged 5 months
Red Label, Aged 6 months

Green Label, Aged 1 month
Green Label, Aged 2 months
Green Label, Aged 3 months
Green Label, Aged 4 months
Green Label, Aged 5 months
Green Label, Aged 6 months

Blue Label, Aged 1 month
Blue Label, Aged 2 months
Blue Label, Aged 3 months
Blue Label, Aged 4 months
Blue Label, Aged 5 months
Blue Label, Aged 6 months

Box of Moo labels:
box of Moo labels

moo labels

homemade for you

Festive Treats, Pressed-Leaf Gift Tags & Happy Halloween!

triple treat cupcakes

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Here in the Stafford household we’re feeling particularly festive. Ella has been dressed in her costume since Monday. Yesterday I made candy corn-topped mini cupcakes. And today I found myself making pressed-leaf gift tags. What can I say? The spirit is strong this year.

The truth is that I made these treats against all of my instincts. I mean, it seems a little unnecessary to bake a peanut butter cup into a cupcake to then top it with more candy. Right? I’d so much rather just eat a brownie. Or a good cookie. Or the peanut butter cup on its own.

That said, these mini cupcakes are festive and fun, and if you’re looking for a way to spruce up your Halloween dessert spread, these triple-treat bites would certainly fit in. Feeling crafty? Adorn a clear plastic goodie bag with a pressed-leaf gift tag (see below) to make lovely little party favors.

Ella wishes you all a very Happy Halloween!
My little trick-or-treater

candy corn topped mini cupcake

Martha Stewart Pressed-Leaf Gift Tag:
gift bag with pressed-leaf gift tag

Halloween candy

unbaked treats

Mini Triple Treat Cupcakes
Source: Everyday Food October 2011

Notes: I used dark chocolate peanut butter cups. I prefer these treats frozen or chilled — they definitely taste better once they’ve cooled to room temperature at the very least.

Pressed-Leaf Halloween Gift Tags
Source: Martha Stewart

Reese's topped mini cupcakes

Pumpkin Bread

cut loaf of pumpkin bread

Everyone and their mother has a recipe for pumpkin bread. This happens to be my mother’s recipe — not sure where it originates beyond her — and it is incredibly delicious. Made with oil not butter, the batter comes together in minutes. I mixed mine the night before baking, and used mini loaf pans because, well because, I think they’re cute, and I suppose because I’m getting excited for the impending homemade-gift-giving holiday season.

What else can I say here? Like many of you I suspect, I am consumed by all things pumpkin at the moment…can’t stop dreaming about pumpkin muffins, cheesecake, soup, lattes, fritters, gnocchi, gnudi, yadi yadi yadi. Tis the season! If you don’t have a recipe for pumpkin quick bread up your sleeve, this one is a winner. Happy fall!

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread batter

pumpkin bread

Pumpkin Bread
Yield = 2 standard loaf pans or 5 mini loaf pans

Mini loaf pans can be purchased here.
Disposable loaf pans can be purchased here, too.

2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
16 oz. canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
3/4 cup water
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or less — I used about 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. allspice (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pans with butter or non-stick spray.

2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat sugar and oil together until blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin purée and water and mix until blended.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the mixer and mix only until just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake for about an hour (if using standard loaf pans) but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes — the loaves are done when center springs back when touched. Note: When using the small pans, the loaves should be done in under 45 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, and the loaves were done after about 35 minutes (or maybe a minute or two longer…lost track of time.)

I love these disposable mini loaf pans, too. They are so pretty! Wonderful for gift giving. I actually baked the loaves in my mini pans before transferring them to the disposable pans — I was thinking this would be less messy —but…oopsidasies, the disposable pans are a wee bit smaller than my non-disposable pans. I kind of had to squeeze the baked loaf to get it to fit. It worked out fine, but next time I’d just as soon bake the loaf in the disposable pan. That’s what it’s for after all, right?

pumpkin bread as gift

pumpkin bread