Monday, May 31

Buzz - {Meringue Cupcakes with Raspberry Curd}

I don't remember having a "blanky," a "binky," a "dolly," or any number of "fill-in-the-blank-y"s growing up. Sure, I had my stuffed animals, but I never needed them to fall asleep at night. All I really wanted was a goodnight kiss, an open door and the assurance that the Slime Monster (Ghostwriter, anyone?) didn't exist. After my parents left for their room, it was up to me to make sure that I didn't scare myself into consciousness in the early hours of the morning, as I was an easily frightened child. In the darkness, I would convince myself of terrible things, imagining monsters behind my door or scary dolls beneath my bed. Waking from these dreams to shift into the reality of a room bathed in moonlight and shadows was never enjoyable; the simple fear of creatures in my dreams - the ones I knew were imagined - quickly changed into sheer terror when I was dropped back into a world I couldn't control, let alone see clearly.


But it was reversible. I would squeeze my eyes shut and bury my head under my blanket, sure that if I couldn't see whatever was clearly after me, then there would be no way that it would know where to find me. Sometimes I would cry and venture down the hall into my parents bedroom, but oftentimes even that walk was too much. There were too many doors on the way, and too many chances to be captured. It was usually a risk that I wasn't prepared to take.

But I found that if I waited long enough, there would be noise. The heater would turn on and I would hear a familiar rumbling coming from the vents in my room. Or maybe the dishwasher would change cycles and the sloshing of water within would lull me to sleep. Occasionally I would even hear a train off in the distance, and somehow that was enough to calm my restless mind. Effectively sedated, I would roll back into my sheets and fade into happier dreams.

The sound was comforting.

I can't explain it (of course, it's probably got to do with that whole thing about infants being comforted by sound because it reminds them of the womb), but I'm happy for it. Now, with every clunk of the heater, every chugging rinse cycle and every rumbling train, I am reminded of those nights spent afraid in the dark. Of course, I'm not afraid anymore, but they still have the same effect on me. And, as an added bonus, they allow me to laugh at my younger self for being such a wuss.

It's a win-win situation.


Anyway, it's been proven that scent is the sense that we associate most strongly with memories, but I really can't agree. Perhaps it's because I was cursed with a poor sense of smell, and maybe it's because I've got a thing for fighting The Man, but I find that sound is what bring back memories for me.

Yesterday, after filling up on ribs (awesome recipe! Please check it out!), sweet corn, coleslaw, baked beans, corn bread, potatoes and everything else under the sun, I wandered onto my Grandparent's back porch to keep my dog company. Overhead were clouds and jetstreams, small in size and illuminated by sinking sun in the west. The sound of those planes overhead, though few in number and occasional in passing, always brings me back to their house. Hearing one at that moment made me think of summers passed in their yard, listening to the far-off hum of planes cruising from cloud to cloud overhead competing with the buzz of bees dancing from petal to petal. Summers spent planning naked steps to avoid thistles and pines while picking flowers and watching birds on Grandma's feeders. Grass stains on my knees and twigs in my hair - for me, there isn't a smell for summer. Not even cut grass.

What does it for me is the sound. Simple things like vehicles or animals, and important things like laughter and voices.

So I'm lucky. Because of that, I'm convinced that I will never forget the details of my childhood.

Even the stupid ones.


Meringue Cupcakes with Raspberry Curd adapted from Martha Stewart
I don't remember how I came across this recipe, but I do remember thinking that I had to make them after seeing how ridiculously cute they are! The meringues are on the sweet side, of course, but they're an easy to make and fun to serve, not to mention delicious and fun to eat due to the range of textures they present. Be sure to save your yolks for ice cream!
Printable Recipe

6 egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 3/4 c (350 g) sugar
Raspberry curd (recipe follows)
Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream and fresh fruit for serving, if desired.

Preheat oven to 225F (110C). Line every other cup of 2 nonstick 12-cup muffin tins with baking cups and coat each with cooking spray. Prepare a large piping bag with a coupler (no tip needed) and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites, vinegar, vanilla, and salt until frothy. Increase the speed and begin adding sugar slowly, a tablespoon at a time, beating for one minute after each addition so the sugar dissolves. Continue whipping until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a plain coupler (no tip), and pipe into prepared baking cups, about 2 inches above rims, finishing with a peak in the centers. Bake, rotating halfway through, 3 to 3 hours and 20 minutes. (Cupcakes should be completely dry on the outside but still soft in the middle. A toothpick inserted horizontally at base of top should have moist but cooked crumbs attached.) Transfer cupcakes in baking cups to wire racks; let cool completely.

To serve, carefully cut off caps with a serrated knife and fill with whipped cream, ice cream, raspberry curd, fresh fruit or any other filling you desire.

Raspberry Curd via Martha Stewart
This is an incredibly easy recipe. It makes much more than you will need though, so I would advise you to halve it and save half the container of raspberries for topping the finished cupcakes.

1 container (6 oz or 170 g) raspberries
1 1/4 c (250 g) sugar
4 egg yolks
1 stick (8 Tbls or 115 g) unsalted butter
1/4 c (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until slightly thick, 8 to 10 minutes. Strain; press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd and refrigerate until cold and thick.

Thursday, May 27

Left - {Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies}

Using the pad of my thumb against the sewn hem of my shirt, I clear the blurry screen of my phone with a single sweep to reveal a strain of pocket-dialed digits. Although abused and scratched, the brightly lit screen is free of flour and sugar; completely liberated of any trace of my work in the kitchen. Held in my palm, against a pristine black shirt once shielded by an apron, you'd really never have an idea that I'd been baking.

Don't get the wrong idea - I'm a messy cook. Each day - and without fail - flour winds up on the floor, sugar under the mixer and batter on my clothing and hair, but I am undeterred. I don't particularly enjoy cleaning, but the prospect of an empty sink and a sparkling counter is enough motivation for me to find contentment in the simple act of doing so.

And so I erase. Each day. The only remaining sign of my efforts a plate of brownies, a cake or a tall stack of cookies; each infinitely more pleasant to view than a littered kitchen.

Just the way I like it. Just a trace. Just a simple representation of a memory.


The following day on the highway, an ordinary SUV rolls just under the posted speed ahead of me. I've been staring at its taillights for quite some time, stuck in a long line of travelers intending to pass a slow-moving truck and taking in the mundane details of its body. I've nothing better to do; the blocks, walls and lines that make up rush-hour traffic bore me tremendously, and with little more than a dwindling supply of the morning's coffee to provide me with entertainment, I think it comes as no surprise that I pass the time checking out surrounding cars.

I've noticed that there's not much variety in these early hours. Composed mainly of the Metro Detroit and mid-Michigan workforce, my traveling companions drive very average cars, much nicer than my own. The interesting ones - the total beaters driven primarily by teens including myself - are comfortably parked in their respective spaces at this hour now that school is out. But this SUV in front of me has really drawn my attention.

Two working taillights. A valid plate tag. A set of full tires. No dents. Excepting the body style and color, the only discernible feature is the thick dusting of dirt that covers the entire lower half of the vehicle and the only thing that's pulled me in is the smeared hand print over the trunk latch.

It's stupid, right? An interruption to an otherwise smooth, unwanted coating and something that probably caused frustration to its creator. But for me it goes further than that - it may just be a mark, but there were memories - even mundane ones - associated with it. After leaving the print on the car, an equal mark was shared with the hand, which was then transferred to a shirt or a pant leg. A reminder of a muddy day spent doing something.

Simple. Forgettable. But still important.


I do things every day, just like closing a muddy door on a trunk, that I try to make sure I remember. I'm trying to improve my ability to live in the moment, and I'm starting with consciously recognizing the little things and tasks that make up a day.

All of the opportunities to make things happen. All of the happenings to look back upon, fondly or otherwise. There may not be any good reason to look back on the closing of a car door, but why not think of it? Our brains have the capacity to retain nearly an endless amount of information, so why not take advantage of it? Even if it is just remembering the gritty feeling of dust and sand between my fingers, or the way the sun glinted on the lock as the door came crashing down before me. The little things are what make the world go round.

I'm just trying to appreciate them.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sugar Cooking,The Blue Ridge Baker and the New York Times
Sometimes it's worth it to mess with a classic. Everyone has a chocolate chip cookie preference, and everyone's grandma has the "best" recipe so I can't say where these fall on a scale of one to ten, but I can say they're crunchy, chewy and chocolaty, and a little nutty from the browned butter, which I really like. They aren't better than Grandma's, and they won't be my new favorite recipe, but it allowed me to try something new, which I can always appreciate! If you're looking for a cookie that's a little more involved than your standard and delivers a tasty final product, give this variation of the NYT recipe that's been circling the web a shot!
Printable Recipe

2 c minus 2 tbls(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 c (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 c) unsalted butter, browned
1 1/4 c (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 c plus 2 tbls (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temp
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 lbs bittersweet chocolate chopped into chip size pieces

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugars. Pour hot brown butter over sugars, and without stirring, place in refrigerator to cool the butter to room temperature. Attach bowl to mixer and on medium speed, beat until light in color and fluffy. If butter isn't becoming pale, it isn't cool enough. Pop it back in the fridge for a few more minutes and try again.

When butter mixture is desired consistency, add egg and beat for 30 seconds. Stir in vanilla. Add dry ingredients, and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate. Form dough into a log and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment. Form dough into balls a little over an inch in diameter, or 1.5 ounces. Place balls at least 2" apart on baking sheet, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake for about 12 - 15 minutes, or until slightly puffy, dry on top and tinged with golden.

Let stand on baking sheet for about 1 - 3 minutes, then move to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Saturday, May 22

Calm - {Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake}

Few things beat the warmth of the sun on your back. Beside a tree and below the sun, I've contorted my arms and legs comfortably on the grass. I have my legs wound before me, one arm stretched out behind me and the other resting on my raised knee.

I could be productive.


Or I could just sit here.

I have no objectives or goals today. Truthfully, sitting under the glow is the only thing I plan on accomplishing for at least a few hours. I'm still naive enough to believe that warm and sunny it's too nice to actually do anything, so it's easy to delude myself into contentment.

I'm being lazy again.

After tiring of combing my phone for messages, I pocket it and recline further onto outstretched palms. Beneath my weight I feel rocks grinding into the soil and small clumps of dirt falling to pieces under the pressure. On my wrists is the sensation of grass brushing my skin, but on the topside of my hand is another feeling altogether. The tickling kind that comes from one thing and one thing alone.

Bugs.

I calmly roll my chin over my left shoulder and check my pale fingers for signs of invasion. It takes less than a second before I pinpoint the small beady silhouette of an ant roaming my digits, and my thoughts turn momentarily to Gulliver before gently brushing my new friend away with a smile. As I wiggle my fingers within the depths of the grass, I notice several more ants moving choppily through the blades, toppling and tumbling awkwardly on uneven surfaces. But despite my often unwelcome visitors, I'm not bothered. As a little kid, I spent a lot of time catching butterflies and woolly mammoth caterpillars in between stints of flower picking and chicken chasing. Lightning bugs, Daddy Long-Legs, crickets and grasshoppers were some of my other favorites, and I vividly remember spending at least an hour examining an ant hill when I was six. The way they moved was just so intriguing; it was so fun to imagine what was going on deep down in the tunnels that they called home. Sure, I had seen ant farms before, but this was real. And what of this fascination? Well, it's why my dad calls me Bug.

I may have lost that sense of wonder, and I may no longer care quite so much as to what ants do in their day-to-day lives, but that doesn't stop me from understanding that I'm the invader here. I'm the one who dropped down into their days. Me, with my cellphone buzzing in my pocket and tangled headphone cable winding lazily about my frame. With my laptop folded in my backpack and a watch ticking on my wrist. I've thrown myself and my world at them, so I should be the one to go.

But I won't.


Instead I think I'll just relax here, under the sun, and remember summers past. Summers spent outside, learning and exploring all by myself. Doing exactly what I do everyday now, only then wearing grass-stained pants and shirts with twigs and leaves caught in my hair. My thoughts of summer often include these details, along with memories of family, daisies, freckles. Airplanes humming, bees buzzing, sunlight fading and the mad scramble that my brother, cousins and I routinely preformed in order to absorb the last remaining rays and hours.

And rhubarb, as I mentioned before. I couldn't count the number of warm summer nights that I've enjoyed at my Grandma's house if my life depended on it, and I still spend a lot of time there. On warm summer nights, my cousins and I laugh wildly over stories from the past and speak seriously of our futures, our passions and our fears. All while lying on a trampoline and staring into clear skies over the familiar house.

Simple things like this are what I thrive on. Warm nights, passing conversations, the fumbling movement over the Earth, open skies; all unremarkable in their normalcy, but beautiful for the same reason. Summer is full of opportunities to appreciate such things.

And this one's only just begun.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake from Martha Stewart Living
This is a GREAT cake! It's incredibly moist and tastes perfect with the rhubarb. The crunchy crumb topping is the perfect addition.
Printable Recipe

Crumb Topping
4 Tbls (55g) butter, melted
1/2 c (70g) flour
1/4 c (50g) sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Stir together all ingredients until moist and crumbly.

Butter Cake
3/4 c (175g) butter, room temp
1 lb (455g) rhubarb, trimmed and cut on a very sharp diagonal
1 3/4 c (350g) sugar
1 1/2 c (355g) flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp orange zest
1 tbls fresh orange juice
2 eggs, room temp
1 c (240ml) sour cream

Preheat oven to 350F (175C).

Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2 inches deep). Dot with 4 tablespoons (55g) butter (cut into pieces). Toss rhubarb with 3/4 cup (150g) sugar; let stand for 2 minutes. Toss again, and arrange in pan.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat remaining 1/2 cup (110g) of butter and cup sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and juice. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with sour cream, until smooth. Spread evenly over rhubarb. Crumble topping evenly over batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and top springs back when touched, about 1 hour. Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake, and invert onto a wire rack. Let cool completely.

Monday, May 17

Across - {Chocolate Brioche French Toast}

It’s habit, when the alarm rings, to momentarily shrink into your dark surroundings. The sun knocks at your window, spreading the blinds further and illuminating plush carpeting with increasing strength while it inches higher into its impressive arc. How much time you spend there with blankets pulled and scrunched to your tired eyes is dependent only on you and your obligations; your drive to work and your desire to “disappear” for the day, if only in the eyes of your superiors.

But eventually you pull the blankets away and crawl from the comfort of your bed, quickly shedding that dreamy daze but holding fast the sleep behind your lids. And then what do you do? You make your way to the closet. The bathroom. The kitchen. Maybe you trip over your dog or cat on the way, but you make it one way or another, and your day begins. Maybe with coffee or with tea, but hopefully, at the very least, with a great breakfast.


Oftentimes, I pass the first few moments of my day perched on the kitchen counter lazily eating a bowl of cereal. Sitting there, above the most disorganized cabinet known to man, I finish the bowl with little thought and place the dish in the sink, ready to step out of my robe and into the shower. But things are different on the weekends.

I don’t remember when the tradition began, but Dad and I go out for breakfast almost every Saturday morning. He can’t work on his cars while we sit in our booth, so I’ve got him cornered and can talk his ears off for hours about my friends, my job, the great shoes I bought on sale, those cool plates that I found at TJ Maxx – you know, the important stuff that all dads are dying to hear about. I look forward to and love spending that time with him, so I was bummed when I was at MSU because Saturday morning breakfasts with Dad weren’t convenient or easy to coordinate. Eating breakfast alone just isn’t fun.

I’m convinced that spending the morning across the table from someone is the best way to start your day.

So, when I met P during my first semester at State and discovered that he and I started our days and ate breakfast at the same time, I was happy to start spending my mornings across the table from him. The food wasn’t as good, but the companionship was nice and we bonded over our disdain for the crap served to us on a day-to-day basis. Call me a food snob, but powdered eggs, soggy French toast and cardboard-esque pancakes… Well, they weren’t up to our standards.

But it wasn’t all bad. There were a few good items; the biscuits, for example, were so good that we would go to different cafeterias just for the opportunity to dip them in warmed honey and reward our tired and empty stomachs with their glorious goodness.


Hello, satiety.

But biscuits (and maybe French toast sticks and grapefruit) aside, he and I spoke constantly of food, the quality of caf food, the process of powdering eggs (Hooray for food science 211!) and just how to prepare brittle pancakes. Home-cooked meals were a hot topic and he loved to brag about his pancakes (mine are better. He doesn’t agree, but that’s because he’s just a boy and boys are dumb) while we joked and laughed and danced rubbery eggs around our plates with the backs of our forks.

They could never replace them, of course, but I looked forward to those breakfasts just as much as I look forward to breakfasts with Dad.

It was really nice to be able to spend my mornings across the table from someone again.

But now that I’m home, Dad’s at work during the week and P’s in India, I spend most of my mornings staring blankly into my cereal. Months ago, I promised myself that I would make interesting breakfasts when I got home, but let me tell you – I’m home now and they’re not all I thought they’d be when I was sitting in that cafeteria talking to P. When I slump out of bed at 7:30, MultiGrain Cheerios somehow seem like the most delicious thing in the world. Granted, they do come close, but deep inside, I knew that something had to be done. Something delicious that involved [non-soggy] French Toast.

So I made chocolate brioche. Then I sliced it, soaked it and pan-fried it. Chocolaty custardy goodness? I think so. No exaggeration – this stuff made up for all the disappointing food I’ve eaten in the past year.


But I have an important tip before I go: make sure that you don’t eat this meal alone, because you will surely eat it all. Like all good things, this French toast is meant to be shared, and is best when served across the table from someone you love.

Chocolate Brioche via The Craft of Baking
I had a little bit of a rough time making this dough and wasn't able to knead it very easily by hand, but it turned out really well, so I'm ok with it!
Printable Recipe

1 packet (1/4 oz or 7 g) active dry yeast
1/2 c (120 ml) warm water, 105-115F (40-46C)
2 c (265 g)bread flour
1/3 c + 2 Tbls (40 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 c (240 g) butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1/2 c (100 g) sugar, divided
1 Tbls cream, if desired

Combine the yeast with the water in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment and and sprinkle in 1 Tbls of sugar. Let set until activated, about five minutes.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt, then add to the yeast mixture in 1/2 to 1 c increments. Stir on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time. Mix until dough begins to pull away from and slaps the sides of the bowl, about ten minutes.

With the machine running, add the butter, piece by piece. It will look like it's not going to mix in, but just keep going. Add the remaining sugar and continue to mix until the dough is shiny, about 15 minutes.

Remove dough from bowl and pull into a tight ball. Place into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until dough has risen by half, about 3 hours.

Deflate the dough, roll it into a tight ball and return it to the re-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.

Grease an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan.

Remove the chilled dough from the fridge and shape into an 8" square. Fold into thirds, pinching to remove air pockets, and fold under ends. Place in oiled pan, pressing to ensure that the dough reaches every corner, then cover and let rise until it reaches the top of the pan, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

If using, brush the risen dough with the cream. Slit the dough, then bake for about 50 minutes, or until the the bottom of the loaf makes a hollow sound when unmolded and tapped. Cool in pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely before slicing.

Chocolate French Toast
This isn't an exact recipe because I've always just thrown stuff into a bowl while making French Toast. Never fails!

Slices of chocolate brioche, 1" to 1 1/2" thick
Eggs
Milk or cream
Vanilla
Almond Extract
(Maybe I should keep this to myself, but I think this would be awesome with Irish cream in it. Hey - it's 5 o'clock somewhere, and you can't pretend you don't pour some into your morning coffee anyway!)

Whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and almond extract (cream and Irish cream too, if you're being daring!) in a large, shallow dish and soak the slices of brioche for 1-2 minutes, then flip and soak 1-2 minutes longer. You want the bread to be fully saturated!

Melt some butter in a pan and cook the bread on medium heat until crispy on the outside and custard-y on the inside. Serve with powdered sugar, strawberries, rhubarb curd... Anything really - it's hard to mess this one up!

Thursday, May 13

Remember - {Strawberry Rhubarb Pie}

I don't remember much about her, I think solemnly as I gently tousle the impressive leaves clouding my sight. My palms are buried deep in my sleeves as I search, crouched low to the ground and tossing my hair occasionally to sweep aside my growing bangs to simplify the hunt. Ruby red or bright green; thick or thin; I'm presented with a plethora of choices. But which would she pick?

I remember the pie from so long ago; within the perfect crust were distinct green and red stalks intermingled with puffed and swollen pink strawberries. It was sweet, but only just so, as the pie drew most of its flavor from the natural sweetness of the included fruits. I'm sure that was what drew me to it. But how to recreate it?


Just like the creation of the pie, most of my memories of her are, unfortunately, fragmented.

I remember a red and green candy dish; glass, fragile and filled with candies I only saw at her house. My favorites were the Strawberry Bon Bons, wrapped in patterned bags with clever twists. No matter how many I asked for and how many I quickly devoured, she always made sure there was at least one more hiding in the bottom of the dish, just waiting to be plucked.

I remember going to the movie theater, and although I don't remember the films, I do remember the way she insisted that my brother, cousins and I brought coats and blankets. "You will be cold," she would gently and knowingly warn as she folded quilts neatly in the living room.

And I remember her being right, even though it was summertime.

I remember eating Reeses Puffs in her kitchen. Reeses Puffs weren't something my parents would buy because back home we ate shredded wheat - the big rectangular kind - tossed with milk or pancakes for breakfast. Why did she buy them for us? Because she was awesome.

I remember her liking the way I cut sheets of paper when we would make crafts at her dining room table. The scissors were sharp, and I could cut the paper without snipping the blades more than once.

And I remember feeling very proud when I "taught" her how to do it too, even though I'm sure she already knew.

I remember the motorhome; stationed in their yard and even parked at campgrounds from time to time. Each opening of the door produced a river of stories about their horses, their adventures with the Michigan Trail Riders and their trips around the state. Stories that I loved.

I remember the smell of peaches, and although I don't remember eating them, I will always love how comforting and familiar the scent is.

As I crouch next to the rhubarb plant, spreading far and reaching wide, these memories rush back as they are apt to now and again. But the numbered memories offer no answer to my question. Undeterred, I begin selecting thin red stalks, shying away from their thicker surroundings for fear that they will be stringy. I think this is what she would have done.

I think it makes sense.

I pluck and pull, discarding the over-sized leaves (which make great fairy caps, if you were wondering) and clutching the precious remaining stalks in my freezing palms. It's raining and the sky won't rest, but I am sure she would collect her crop in the same weather. Besides, this is great pie-making weather. Standing inside, moments later, crashes of thunder are the only sounds I hear and lightning is all I see outside. I'm happy to be inside Dad's kitchen, working dough and chopping fruit; the promise of a great dessert in the near future.


Although her recipe has been passed to me, I'm quite sure that she didn't follow it very strictly because mine always turn out too sweet. So, this time I cast aside the recipe and let intuition be my guide; handfuls of rhubarb went into a bowl with strawberries, sugar, flour and just a pinch of salt. After a gentle toss, I emptied them into a crust.

Of all the recipes I try, this one will always be my favorite and I will always hold it very close to my heart. What I can make isn't perfect, and I know I will never match or best Grandma's, but it's close enough for me.

And that makes me happy.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
This is one of my favorite recipes and certainly one of my favorite things to eat! Feel free to adjust the sugar if your berries aren't super sweet.
Printable Recipe

Crust
Makes enough for one 9" pie with lattice top

1 1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt
9 Tbls butter, cubed and frozen
3 Tbls shortening, frozen
6 Tbls water, cold

To make the pie crust, combine the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the frozen butter and shortening, then cut in using two forks, a pastry blender, or your hands. Continue working in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add just enough water to bring the dough together and knead a few times to ensure that the flour is evenly moistened. Divide the dough into two portions: one should be 1/3 of the mass and the other 2/3. Press into disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days.

When ready to roll, dust your counter with flour. Remove the larger portion of the dough from the fridge and let rest on the counter for 5 minutes to allow it to warm and become more manageable. Roll the dough into a circle large enough to fit your 9" pan and transfer to the pan by rolling the dough around your pin and draping it over the top. Trim so there is about 1" of overhang.

Roll the remaining dough into a 10" x 10" rectangle and cut ten 1"x10"
strips out of it. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Filling

4 c chopped rhubarb
4 c quartered strawberries
3/8 c sugar
1/4 c + 1 Tbls flour
1/2 tsp salt

To make the filling, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, tossing well to coat. Pour into prepared crust. Top with strips of pie crust, arranging in a lattice pattern. Fold overhang over the lattice and crimp. Place pie in freezer.

Finishing

1 egg, beaten
Sanding sugar

Heat your oven to 450F. When it has come to temperature, remove the pie from the freezer. Brush all exposed crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle liberally with sanding sugar. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F, remove the foil and bake 40-60 minutes longer or until the pastry is well-browned and the filling is bubbling.

Sunday, May 9

Green - {Vegan Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes}

A few minutes of sun, a few minutes of darkness.

There's no in between today; grey clouds rush quickly in and out of sight, bringing and taking with them sheets of rain and bursts of wind. With nothing more than a raised hood to shield against the leaky sky, the weather is well-reflected in the state of my clothing and visage. My exposed bangs, wet with the remains of the last sudden downpour, relieve themselves of heavy drops onto the toes of my shoes. The grass about my feet shares its heavy bounty with my pant legs, soaking down into my socks and sloshing uncomfortably under the arcs of my feet. But the clouds are gone now, so I wipe the beads from my eyelashes and soldier on.


Now changing due to the suddenly-present sun, the field before me sparkles and shines. I hadn't stopped my search when the weather turned, but hey - I'm a girl. Dusted with diamonds and blinding me with each gentle breeze, the thick grass just seems more inviting when the rain stops!

I'm far from a master at the task, but I've been working on my asparagus hunting "skillz" for as long as I can remember. Under the watchful eye of my Dad, it was something I enjoyed doing even when I was little and couldn't stomach the stuff. I mean, it was green - like broccoli! And peas! And spinach! And celery! Actually, I'm not even sure that I tried it; I think I was so put off by the color that I never gave the lovely green stalks a chance. However, now that I have more of an appreciation for quality and fresh produce (in addition to a newly-discovered love for all things green!) asparagus hunting is just all the more rewarding for me. What's cooler than finding and picking your own dinner?

Well, ok, probably lots of things, but it's still really cool.

What's really cool about asparagus is that it's a perennial. It grows in the same place every year. That means that the places that Dad went to find asparagus when he was a kid are the same places that he'll find it now. He and my brother know just where to turn, exactly what signs to look for and most of the landmarks they need to search near to amass the most plentiful harvest. They've got it down to specific trees, rocks, hillsides, paths and even roadsides - and their botanical prowess doesn't stop there! The two of them also know which trees create an ideal environment for morels (apple and elm, among others!), and have a way with every plant that crosses their path. Although Dad's not quite as into gardening as he used to be, it's because of him that I'm fortunate enough to have a supply of fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries in the late summer and fall, not to mention vases full of beautiful flowers early in the year. D, my brother, was lucky enough to inherit the green thumb, and knows waaaay more about plants than I could ever hope to. I'm really excited because he's started a garden at my Mom's. What a nice surprise that was to come home to!

I just hope he doesn't mind if I help myself to the harvest...


Now, I know what you're thinking. All this talk about asparagus and green cupcakes in your face probably makes you think these were flavored with or at least inspired by the aforementioned vegetable. But... You'd be wrong. The frosting on these incredibly moist chocolate cupcakes is naturally colored, but by something even more delicious than asparagus - it's avocado. Another green food (technically a fruit!) that I used to HATE, but now am quite sure that I couldn't live without! Unfortunately, these aren't something that I can hunt for here, in Michigan, but I am an absolute sucker for them. Scooped out of their glossy shells and sprinkled with sea salt, avocados are, quite honestly, one of my absolute most favorite things to eat.

So, imagine my delight when I came home from college after exam week to not only a fridge and pantry stocked with all the baking essentials, but also to four perfectly ripe and gorgeous avocados chilling in the fridge. So let me just say this:

Mom, you are the best - and this has nothing to do with Mother's Day (I made you dinner, so I think I completed my duties for that day ;D). You know me better than anyone else, and I can't thank you enough for that. You are smart, creative, funny, beautiful, inspiring, confident, caring, sincere, graceful and kind - all in no particular order. You have taught me to be a good person, you have encouraged me to follow my dreams and you have stood behind me in everything I do (well, just about everything. Sometimes you really do know what's best!). The fact that I can share anything and everything with you means so much to me, and I am so happy that you are my mom!

So, thank you for putting up with my baking addiction.

Thank you for loving me even when I wreck your kitchen and dirty all of your dishes.

Thank you for stocking the fridge with more avocados than I could eat.

Thank you for not doubting me when I mentioned making this cake.

And thank you for being such a badass!


I LOVE YOU!

Avocado Cupcakes via Joy of Joy the Baker
When Ms. Joy first posted this recipe, about a year ago, I knew that I would have to try it. However, when there are avocados in my fridge, they usually end up as my lunch and... Well... I was afraid of wasting them in cake. They certainly aren't cheap! However, thanks to my wonderful, lovely and amazing mom (and maybe our grocer's overstock for Cinco de Mayo which almost certainly lowered prices!), I, for once, had more avocados in my possession than I could possibly eat before they went bad. I am so glad that I remembered seeing this recipe because I really think that I may have found my new favorite chocolate cake. Seriously! Please, give these a try! They're so dense and moist and wonderful... And honestly - they don't taste like avocado. Not even the frosting! No one will ever know... Oh, and BONUS! They're vegan!!
Printable Recipe

3 c (360g) flour
6 Tbls (32g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
2 c (400g) granulated sugar
1/4 c (60ml) vegetable oil
1/2 c (120 ml) soft avocado, well mashed, about 1 medium avocado
2 Tbls white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 c (470ml) water

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Oil and line two 8 or 9-inch pans (I used two 6-inch cakes and made 6 cupcakes with the extra batter). Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and baking soda set aside.

Whisk together the sugar, oil, mashed avocado, vinegar and vanilla, then add the water. Sift in the dry ingredients all at once, then whisk until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared tins and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Let cakes cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Avocado Buttercream Frosting via my most favorite TV host (sorry Mr. Bourdain!), Alton Brown
Like I said, you can't taste the avocado in this. It has a light citrus flavor (maybe... Orange?), but it's not lemony - the juice keeps it from browning, so be sure that you don't leave it out! It tastes like any other American-style buttercream, so be aware that it is quite sweet!

8 oz (225g) fresh avocado, about 2 small to medium, very ripe avocados
2 tsp lemon juice
1 lb (455g) powdered sugar, sifted (use more for a thicker frosting)
1/2 tsp vanilla

Peel and pit the avocados. Place the avocado meat into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment along with the lemon juice and beat until lightened in color and very well mashed, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Sift in the powdered sugar a little at a time and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. If not using right away, store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, May 4

Goof - {Ultimate Chocolate Brownies}

As the school year winds down, and as the free time piles up, I feel a little... Bored.

Now looming just hours away, the dynamic of my dorm has changed in the face of finals. Because cramming calls for a locked door and a closed mouth, the only sounds I hear lately are the calm rustling of leaves and the comforting whisper of wind outside my open windows. Despite the fact that my door is completely extended over its painted hinges, the only thing passing through is a breeze whose hushed stories slip by too quickly for me to take in. Apparently inappropriate at this time of year, the friendly chatter and games of Hall Frisbee or Hall Ping Pong have disappeared. It seems as if my more diligent peers would rather study until four AM than do something for laughs.

Some people have some seriously messed up priorities, don't you think?


All kidding aside, I truly wish I could be more studious. I'm envious of their ability to sit, alone, for hours upon end and be able to focus. To be able to take in such a vast amount of information so suddenly - or to even try - is simply something with which I've never had much success. But what am I to expect with my attitude being what it is? After ten minutes of "studying" I'm bored and after fifteen I've lost all motivation. I begin to tell myself that I don't care anymore - that there's no reason to care - that I, my favorite, should know this by now and that it's pointless to try any longer. I open books and stare into paragraphs and diagrams with good intentions, but soon find myself cleaning my desk. Sweeping the floor. Going to the bathroom. Painting my nails. I can't decide if it's just disinterest or true procrastination, but as long as I'm not freaking out about exams, I'll accept it.

Perhaps I'm also putting myself in an environment that isn't conducive to studying...? As I reach for the spines of textbooks (and other required readings), I find it incredibly difficult not to draw out the more attractive backbones surrounding them. Intermingled with an array of fascinating titles like Mastering Astronomy, Enfoques, The Golem at Large and Intro to Macroeconomics, are copies of Sky High, The Omnivore's Dilemma, My Life in France, The Craft of Baking and The Man Who Ate Everything. I don't think I really have to tell you which I would prefer to read (Sorry profs!). It really isn't any wonder that I'm having difficulty studying.

No matter what I do, temptation prevails and I wind up so enthralled with one of my books that I find myself with my nose so far into it that I can barely breathe. The imagined scent of cocoa and vanilla... Caramelizing sugar and browning butter... It drives me mad! One book in particular, given to me by C at the Martha Stewart Show Studio, has been causing me all sorts of trouble. It's not often that I find a cookbook that I really enjoy, but The Craft of Baking is really something else. Right up there with Sky High, I think. There are just so many recipes that I want - no - need to try. Seriously - pick up a copy or check it out at the library. It's awesome!

Side note - I'm not being paid to say that. I'm just pimping a good book because it should be pimped!


So, being the good student that I am, I packed my backpack with the book, my laptop and a change of clothes, then made my way to my car. I had given up on studying, and there was no way I was going to idly sit in my room, by myself, when I saw this free time as nothing more than baking time.

When I arrived at my Grandparent's house, Grandma mentioned that she had really been craving brownies recently. And what did I do? Well, what do you think? I know that a recipe for brownies may not be the most enticing thing, due to the fact that EVERY cookbook EVER has a recipe for them, but these are really, really, really seriously good (I would make an excellent food writer, don't you think? What with my varied and concise vocabulary and all! Haha). Dense, chewy, and intensely chocolaty, these are just the way a brownie should be!

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies via The Craft of Baking
The recipe says that this makes 25 brownies, but I was happy with the 16 that I cut out of the batch! No eggs? Click here for a great egg-free brownie recipe!
Printable Recipe

12 Tbls (170g) unsalted butter, softened
3 oz (85g) unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
3 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 c (300g) sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 c (125g) flour
1 tsp salt
1 heaping c (160g+)semisweet chocolate chips (I used a mix of chocolate, butterscotch and walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C) then oil and line a 8" (20cm) square baking pan.

In a medium saucepan, bring about 2 inches of water to a simmer. Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set it over the pan of water. Melt while stirring frequently. Remove from heat, but keep the bowl over the hot water while you prepare the next part of the recipe (keeping the batter warm gives it a crackly top).

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt.

Pour the warm chocolate over the eggs and whisk to combine thoroughly. Sift in the flour and salt, folding until just combined and adding the chocolate chips just before it has all come together. Pour into the baking pan and bake 35-40 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Cool completely on a rack before cutting into squares.

Notes: I found that I had to bake mine about 15 minutes longer than the recipe recommended and also added a tsp of baking powder, just because my grandma likes cake-y brownies and didn't tell me so until I was halfway through the recipe :P