Category Archives: Food

There’s just something about nut butter that sticks around.

Growing up, I was definitely a peanut butter gal. I vaguely recall peanut butter and honey sandwiches in preschool. And peanut butter and jelly was what Mom packed for me on field trips or whenever we ran out of ham and cheese (my other staple). But I even ate just plain bread with peanut butter slathered inside, unsticking my tongue from the roof of my mouth with the most un-obnoxious suction sound I could muster. Peanut butter between Ritz crackers. Or graham crackers. In college, I ate peanut butter by the spoonful with my Rice Krispies cereal. Always store-bought. And if you must know, I was loyal to the brand that begins with J and rhymes with cliff.

Before swim practice, I sometimes bought a pack of peanuts from a vending machine, and was delighted the day a friend showed me how to stuff a bunch of peanuts in my mouth at once and chew them without swallowing to make peanut butter.

And that’s pretty much how you make nut butter.

If you prefer the kind that hasn’t been regurgitated, a food processor is the way to go.

We’re out of peanuts, so today I made almond butter using Alana Chernila‘s recipe in her book, The Homemade Pantry. I roasted some almonds (1 pound) in the oven (350F for 15 minutes) to bring out their nuttiness. After they had cooled, I whizzed them up in the food processor with a little bit of honey (a spoonful) and salt (half teaspoon). When it looked like almond meal, I drizzled in a little oil (3.5 tablespoons). It looked like bread crumbs. and then play-doh. And then. THEN.

Roasted almonds

Almonds in food processor with honey and salt

Ground almonds

Almond paste

Almond butter

When did the transition happen – the transition when you discover that the foods of your childhood are suddenly overly sweet, annoyingly packaged, or disappointingly manipulated to call forth some nostalgic emotion because it just doesn’t taste quite the same? The transition when homemade, even the simplest homemade items, are suddenly far superior and satisfying?

It’s said that as we age, our taste buds die, which explains why kids often can’t tolerate the taste of extremely bitter foods – because they’re tasting it like listening to music with the volume at 100 when 30 would be plenty sufficient. Is there something about loss of taste buds or otherwise aging that makes the homemade more appealing?

It’s also said that children smile on average 400 times per day. Adults on average smile less than 20 times each day. Making your own nut butter and savoring it with your tastebuds (dying though they may be) will definitely make you smile. Maybe even more than 20 times in one day.

Homemade almond butter

Who knew making nut butter was so simple?? I knew. And yet I only just now got around to doing it. If you haven’t started making your own, don’t wait as long as I did. You’ll be done in less than half an hour. You can alter the basic recipe to include a mix of nuts and spices, chocolate, even fruit of your choosing. (Check out this local guy’s inspiring flavors). That’s what I’ll be doing for the next couple months while we continue to hibernate through the tail end of winter.

P.S. Alana recommends storing your homemade nut butters in the fridge for up to 1 month. If it hasn’t disappeared before then.

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Basic Cheese Sauce

Like a classic pearl necklace, I’m a fan of those basic recipes that afford me the opportunity to dress up or dress down and reinterpret throughout the week.

Basic cheese sauce is one of those classics. Dress up your breakfast casserole by calling it “Mornay sauce” and drizzle it on as a garnish. Dress down your nachos with a bowl of homemade “queso.” And enjoy it several times throughout the week as a base for mac&cheese (you’ll never need the blue box again), as a topping for taco night, an oozy accompaniment to paninis, and so much more.

Make a batch ahead of time, save the leftovers in the fridge, and reheat before serving again. Trust me, you can do this.

Basic Cheese Sauce
Yield ~1.25 cups 

3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons AP flour (or cornstarch, if you want gluten-free)
1 cup milk, preferably room temperature
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, swiss/Gruyere, pepperjack, parmesan, or a mixture of whatever you’ve got)

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk together until flour is incorporated and mixture is a golden color.

2. Add the milk in a slow stream, whisking all the while. Let the milk heat up, stirring frequently. After about 5 minutes, the mixture should feel thicker as you stir.

3. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and stir in the cheese. It should definitely be thicker now.

Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and/or herbs. See what I mean about multiple ways to enjoy this throughout the week?

Melt butter. Whisk in flour.

Melt butter. Whisk in flour.

Add milk slowly. Stir until heated through and slightly thickened.

Add milk slowly. Stir until heated through and slightly thickened.

Add cheese until melted.

Add cheese. Stir until melted.

Reinterpret over the course of several meals.

Reinterpret over the course of several meals.

“Pearls are always appropriate,” quoth the late Jackie Kennedy. Add this pearl of a recipe to your repertoire. How would you use this versatile cheese sauce? Do tell.

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We Humble Home Cooks

Family

Here’s a recent shot of our happy household, transplanted for an afternoon to ascend Spy Rock. The weather finally seems to have warmed up, and to make up for lost time, spring has welcomed us with several days of summer weather. However, it’s raining now. I am thankful for the rain watering the garden and washing away that green-yellow film of pollen to which my sinuses have once again surrendered. But rainy days can make one introspective.

I flatter myself if I think that this inconsistent blogger still has regular readers, and even more so if those regular readers have stuck around long enough to wonder where all the food/recipe posts have gone of late.

I, too, have wondered why my meals no longer seem interesting enough to write about. Have I hit a dry spot in my recipe creativity? (Not really). Am I quite possibly the laziest photographer in the world? (Yes, but while photographs of food make reading about food more interesting, perhaps one need not shy away from writing just because no photos exist). Have I been occupying my time with things other than blogging? (Yeah, even if it is watching re-runs of old TV episodes). What could it be?

Sometimes overcoming a writer’s block involves reading more. When this month’s Bon Appetit arrived in the mail yesterday, I leafed through the pages as I usually do, dog-earring those with intriguing recipes or articles that I would come back to later. But then, I was surprised to find me…myself…in one of the articles, and I paused to read while I nibbled on what remained of my bacon and mushroom omelet, sandwiched between two fluffy halves of a cheddar biscuit.

“…the biscuits Ginny wants to bake are supposed to be made with buttermilk. She doesn’t have buttermilk, so she pulls out a small container of milk. The milk, though, is a full two weeks past its expiration date. Undeterred, and unwilling to make that trip to the store for an ingredient she lacks, she gives it a deep sniff, deems it viable, and adds it to the dough after a further souring with a tablespoon of vinegar.

Another recipe we are cooking with calls for sorghum syrup, which she also doesn’t have, so she uses maple. The cookies she wants to make require twice the amount of rolled oats she has. They also call for pine nuts, but she has only pecans…”

It’s an excerpt from a piece by Gabrielle Hamilton who takes a road trip to discover who today’s “home cooks” are, and alternately dines with a few different characters just doing their everyday cooking routine.

Ginny resonated with me because she is me. That is how I cook. Most of the time. Unless it’s a really intricate recipe or garnished with something super hi-tech that I don’t want to have imploding on my kitchen counter, I have gotten to the point that I can scan a recipe, amend the cooking technique for what I feel like doing (or have the time to do), using up the smorgasbord of ingredients that have collected in the fridge or the pantry. I generally know when I can replace one type of liquid with another, or swap this cheese for that one. I can even create a delicious dinner after having just uttered the words “there’s nothing to eat in this house.”

Perhaps I feared that sharing my recipes and meals with you as they appeared on our dinner plates one evening would be pointless since I would undoubtedly not make it the same way the next time. Would you feel cheated that I didn’t make it the way I wrote about it? More selfishly, would I feel like a cooking hypocrite, luring you into a false sense of kitchen perfection with each blog post?

Silly me. Reading about my style of cooking, as represented by Ginny but undoubtedly practiced by hundreds of radical homemakers and home cooks throughout the land, made me realize it doesn’t matter what I’m cooking, or how I’m cooking, or even whether it’s different from the last time I made it, and regardless of whether I published something about it or not.

All that matters is that I’m cooking.

And in the blogging world, sometimes all that matters is that I’m writing.

So tonight, friends, I’m going to be fixing this sausage and kale dish. Except, the sausages I picked up from the store today look like hot dogs and advertise themselves as containing both beer and sriracha. We’re out of pasta, so we’ll be having it over rice. And I don’t have parmesan cheese, so we might try mozerella or chevre, or both. And if I remember, I’ll snap a photo for you.

But in case I forget, just know that we will be dining joyfully, making the most of what we have, listening to the rain pelt our roof, maybe while watching old re-runs. What will you be cooking this weekend to nourish your loved ones and yourself? Do tell.

Cooking with Offal – Say whaa? (Part 1)

Note: In case you couldn’t tell by the title, if you are super squeamish, vegan, or vegetarian, this may not be the post for you. No offense.

Last spring, Alex and I purchased a quarter of a cow from a local farm that specializes in grass-fed beef. We shopped around for a chest freezer* (we found the best price at Sam’s Club online), shuttled the meat from the farmer’s market to the car in rolling coolers, organized it by size of cuts in the chest freezer, dutifully crossed things off the cut list as we consumed them, and even survived a derecho power-loss without sacrificing any meat to the spoilage gods. While it looks like a lot when you first bring home all that meat, buying in bulk like this is hands down the most affordable way to obtain grass-fed beef. The same farm charges something like $7/pound for ground beef, and the cost goes up from there for the bigger/nicer cuts. In bulk, we paid more like $5.50/pound for all cuts including roasts, filets, ribeye, etc. Ergo, significant savings, and our beef dish repertoire magically expands beyond chilis, hamburgers, meatloaf, and meatballs.

*In case you’ve balked at purchasing a chest freezer or wondered whether a quarter of a cow can fit in the freezer in your kitchen (what’s that? you don’t keep a chest freezer between your fridge and china cabinet?), the farmers told us that a quarter cow can fit in most standard home freezers. However, not much else will fit in there, so…eat a lot quickly to make room, or consider splitting a share with a friend.

Now, when you buy in bulk, you are sometimes presented with cuts that are, well… shall we say…less common in the U.S. than perhaps other places in the world. And as our personal beef supply slowly starts dwindling this winter, I find myself face-to-face with these ofally less popular cuts. (Ha! Get it? Awfully? Offally?)

Ahem. Oxtail, for instance.

Tulips and oxtail

Now, since it’s not technically an organ, there is debate about whether oxtail is truly offal; it’s actually closer to muscle like other, more familiar cuts of meat. But in the U.S., I’d venture to say that any non-prime meat might be considered offal to the average citizen. We’ll call our oxtail “introductory offal,” mmkay?

Regardless, it’s not anything to be afraid of or grossed out by. Actually, I just discovered it’s one of the most expensive cuts, coming in at close to $27/pound for my grass-fed variety! (But remember, people, buy in bulk to reap the savings!). Plenty of (inter)national dishes feature this delicacy (?) in some form of a hearty, nutritious stew. I’m no Andrew Zimmern, but I’ve had my fair share of unusual foods: crubeens and mannish water, for example, so it wasn’t the notion of eating the unfamiliar that was delaying my dinner prep.

The issue was, having never eaten oxtail, I had no earthly idea how to go about cooking it.

Enter Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking, for indeed my dinner dilemma was not simply a forgotten skill, it was a skill that had yet to be learned! Ms. Allen is nicknamed the Julia Child of Ireland, so when I found a recipe for Oxtail with Grainy Mustard Sauce, I immediately thought of my first crubeens experience (which was also served with a mustard sauce) and could already picture the flavors and textures of this dish. My gustatory prognosis was spot-on: the meat is super flavorful and pairs nicely with a luxurious, hearty, creamy sauce that the mustard cuts through with just the right kind of distinguished pizazz–the kind that makes me think of Colonel Mustard from my childhood days playing Clue. But do let me say it’s definitely a good idea to serve this meat with something satiating like mashed potatoes. Can I convince you that what it lacks in portion size it makes up for in flavor?

Oxtail in Grainy Mustard Sauce (adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking)

I don’t know how in what quantities oxtail is typically sold. I don’t even know if you can find it at a big-box supermarket. Ms. Allen called for 1.25 pounds; I had 0.6 pounds. She also calls for a prodigious amount of onions which I simply couldn’t fathom. I have thus made adjustments to maintain the braising method of preparation while slightly altering the sauce proportions.

– 1 oxtail (cut into its natural “sections,” if this hasn’t already been done for you)
– 2 large onions, cut into wedges
– 2 bay leaves
– 1/2 cup beef stock or broth (doesn’t have to be exact)
– 1/2 cup heavy cream
– 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
– 1/2 tablespoon grainy mustard (dangit! I didn’t realize until it was time to add the mustard that I was plumb out of the grainy kind. I just used extra Dijon and a little bit of prepared honey mustard. Use the grainy stuff if you want a little more bite to your sauce)
– 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
– 1 tablespoon flour

Oxtail sections

1. Salt and pepper the meat. Heat some olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet or dutch oven. Sear the oxtail on all sides–be careful! Due to the fat content and the fact that there’s a bone running through it, it will spit and splatter you. I use my long tongs for searing like this and found myself belting out over the whir of the range fan: “You’ve got the long tongs…” to the tune of that catchy Nasvhille TV series duet. True story.

I've got the lonng tonngs

2. Okay, once you’ve got the image of me singing to my kitchenware out of your head and your oxtail is seared, put the meat aside to rest, and throw in your onions, tossing them around in the fat until browned and starting to soften. Then move those off to the side too.

Seared oxtail

3. Pour in some beef stock and stir up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the meat and onions back in along with the bay leaves. Put the lid on, turn the heat down, and simmer for 2 hours. The meat will be tender and just about ready to pull off the bone.

4. Pull the meat out of the pot and set aside while you prepare the sauce. Melt a bit of butter (microwave is fast) and whisk in some flour, then stir into the sauce to thicken it up. Slowly stir in the cream and bring it to a simmer. When it’s bubbling, stir in the mustard(s) and add the meat back in. Spoon the sauce over the meat to help it reheat. Pile a piece on top of some mashed potatoes, sprinkle with some parsley or other fresh herbs, and go to town.

Oxtail in mustard sauce

Nourishment

Nothing like enjoying gourmet food at home! This plate would have been at least $25 in a nice restaurant around here. Chez moi? Closer to $5, plus a little time and energy. (That’s twenty dollahs in my pock-et!).

Next week I’m trying heart.

What do you think? Have you ever eaten oxtail? How was it prepared? Do tell.

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Poached Pear Chocolate Chip Scones

Does this ever happen to you? You run out to do some errands around lunchtime and haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. You strategize the route you will take so that you’ll pass by your favorite bakery for a little snack.

Except.

Except traffic is backed up for three stoplights, so you forgo the bakery and take an alternate route to continue your errands. You realize your errands are done and you find yourself driving homeward, absentmindedly daydreaming about food that you could pick up for lunch which would only require you to drive a little bit out of your way, even though you know you have plenty to eat at home. And you daydream and daydream…

Chipotle burrito – seaweed salad – cheesecake – croissants – a pulled pork bbq sandwich – pizza – burger and fries – pad thai – sushi – cinnamon bread – frozen yogurt – peanut butter cookies – Chinese food – fresh pasta – poached pear chocolate chip scones –

And suddenly you realize you are driving well under the speed limit and the line of cars getting impatient at the slow person at the front are directing their passive aggressive sighs at you. Oops!

…Wait a minute…

Poached pear chocolate chip scones? I’ve never had those. Why, praytell, might I be craving them now?

Intrigued, I felt my foot give the accelerator a little more gas and took it as a sign from the daydreaming gods that I simply must be destined to make these scones for my lunch today. And as luck destiny would have it, I had some poached pears in the fridge that I had made for use in our breakfasts this week (read more about our breakfast routines here).

Poached pear and chocolate chips

I made my standard scone recipe and added in a diced poached pear and a handful of chocolate chips. And on this rainy, dreary day – a day when the damp-furred doggies look pitiful and resign themselves to taking naps next to each other to warm up since playing outside is no fun at all- this experiment in scones was warm and comforting (and smelled divine) alongside my plate of ham and goat cheese. So in case your day could use some heart-warming, please make these scones, especially if you have recently poached some pears.

Poached pear chocolate chip scones

Poached Pear Chocolate Chip Scones
adapted from here, and probably subconsciously inspired from these 

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2 cups flour (all-purpose is fine, but you can also use half cake flour, half all-purpose for an even lighter, fluffier scone)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons vanilla sugar*
1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk together dry ingredients.

*You can make vanilla sugar yourself. After you’ve scraped out the seeds from a vanilla bean, drop the pod into a container and cover with sugar. Let sit for a couple days (or as long as needed). If you don’t have vanilla sugar on hand, you can use regular sugar.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup heavy cream
1 poached pear, diced (mine were poached in black cherry juice, red table wine, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon, but you can poach yours however you’d like)
small handful chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet, though any will do)

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender (my preferred method), or by pulsing a couple times in the food processor. Add the cream, and mix together gently with a spatula until dough starts to come together. Gently fold in diced pear and chocolate chips. Turn out onto counter and knead ever-so-briefly, until dough comes together. Pull and push dough into a rough circle (about 1-inch thick). Cut into 8 wedges (and cut each wedge in half, if you’d like smaller scones). Bake 15 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes before eating.

A little egg wash on top ensures a lovely golden brown crusty top

Optional: Before baking, paint the tops of each scone with some egg wash (1 egg, beaten with a little water or milk). Top with some sanding sugar. Or not.

Sophisticated scones

How now, what say you? What foods do you daydream about while driving? Or when it’s raining? Are you thinking about poaching some pears just so you can make these? (You should).  Do tell.

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Food Routines

I wish I could tell you the secret formula for having dinner on the table every night of the week without running to the grocery store for things you forgot on *ahem* three different occasions. But perhaps you take comfort in the fact that I cannot, despite my other neurotic routines like these or these.

Truth be told, some weeks our food planning is right on target: I use ingredients we already have (exercising creativity in recipes, as needed), I make only one grocery store run, and I know exactly what we are eating any night of the week (with leftovers for lunches!). Other weeks the kitchen has suddenly become a storage area for bills and cookbooks and I feel guilty for having just gone to the grocery store and drag my feet about going again when I could just go to get take out (right next door to the grocery store), or we end up having a lot of smorgasbord meals that will not be appearing in a cookbook anytime soon.

I’m coping, thanks for asking.

There are, however, two things that I look forward to doing routinely: breakfast and desserts. And I can tell you my secrets for those.

BREAKFAST

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

Ah, the most important meal of the day… Alex leaves for work pretty early. And though I would like to be the kind of person who wakes up before the sun (oh wait, I already do that) to whip up some all-American biscuits with eggs and bacon and freshly made honey butter every day, I keep it real and recognize that about the time he’s out the door, I am painstakingly willing my eyes to open. That means I am packing lunches in the dark. I like to send him off with SOMEthing for breakfast. It makes me feel good, especially since the primary alternative – his work’s cafeteria food – is a let’s-not-even-go-there kind of thing. So I make a big batch of breakfast on the weekend that will last us through the week – at least Monday through Thursday. If we run out by Friday, he can treat himself to a bagel sandwich on his way in.

And because it would become monotonous to eat the same thing every day (though some people do it, I know), I pick a few make-ahead breakfast foods that would allow me to add variations easily, and I rotate these items. If you’re going to do this, I recommend choosing at least 4 items so that they only repeat once a month. Save the bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, casseroles, and (unless you have time to reheat stuff in the morning) scones and biscuits for the weekend when you can be more leisurely in the mornings.

No matter whether you need extra fiber, prefer an all-paleo meal plan, or simply want to work more veggies into your breakfast, you can easily adapt this idea to fit your preferences to keep your mornings varied but stress-free, and most importantly, well-fed.

In our current rotation are: mini-muffins, granola bars, mini egg frittatas, and poached fruit with yogurt (and sometimes with granola)…whose recipes and variations I share here.

Mini Muffins (makes 24, I usually give Alex 3 to take with him)

6.25 oz all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup yogurt (any kind – whatever you have! I’ve used blueberry, Greek, plain, and vanilla)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg

Mix together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients. (You can do this ahead of time and keep wet in the fridge if you want to bake them off in the morning).

Mix wet ingredients into the dry, adding whatever flavors you want – be creative! Here are some seasonal suggestions:
Winter: zest of 1 orange and a big handful of dried cranberries
Spring: a handful of chopped strawberries and a small handful of white chocolate chips
Summer: big handful of fresh chopped berries
Fall: 1/3 cup shredded apple or pear

Scoop into mini-muffin pan pre-sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 400F for 8-10 minutes. *Note: These are best the first day or two after you bake them. After that, you might want to reheat them for a few minutes or bring along some butter and jam.

Granola Bars

I’ve been rotating through 2 of the 3 granola bar recipes in The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. You can try her recipes yourself hereherehere, or here.

Granola bars

Mini Egg Frittatas (makes 12 – baked in a muffin pan!)

12 eggs
salt and pepper
12 slices of deli ham (optional)

Honestly, that’s the minimum ingredients you need, but I recommend adding some “fillings” to keep things interesting. Here are some ideas (be sure to chop them up small): cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, spinach, bacon, roasted vegetables, shredded potatoes or zucchini, green onions… Mix and match based on what you like, what you have leftover in the fridge/freezer, and what’s in season.

Preheat oven to 350F. Crack eggs into large bowl (a measuring cup with a pourable spout is great!) and whisk them about with seasonings. Add fillings. Pour an equal amount into large, well-greased muffin tins. Alternatively, press a slice of deli ham into each muffin tin well to make a little ham “cup” to hold your mini fritatta. Bake for 20 minutes, or until eggs look set. Store in container in fridge and enjoy cold or reheated.

Note: If you wanted to make mini-fritattas in a mini-muffin pan, you could! I think you would need to reduce the cooking time by 5-10 minutes though.

Mini Egg Frittatas

Poached Fruit

David Lebovitz has a lovely overview of poached fruit here. Right now we are alternating between poached pears and poached apples, and the recipe is largely the same for either one.

fruit (4 pears is enough for 8 breakfasts for us)

Peel fruit and slice in half. Use a melon baller to core and remove seeds. Arrange in saucepan. Fill with pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, grape juice, wine… whatever fruity liquid you’ve got– just enough to barely cover the fruit. You could even use just plain water, I think, though the flavor will be way more mild. Add sugar (a couple spoonfuls if needed) and complementing flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, orange zest, lemon juice, and vanilla beans are a good place to start). Cover with a piece of parchment paper directly touching the fruit and bring to a gentle simmer for 20 minutes or so. Remove fruit and store in the fridge. When ready to eat, cut the fruit into small pieces and toss into your yogurt, maybe with some homemade granola or sliced almonds if you’re feeling fancy. P.S. You can also save the poaching liquid – just pour it into a bottle or storage container and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to poach again. Or, if you want to serve poached fruit for dessert, boil that poaching liquid down until it is a sauce, and pour it over your fruit. Love those multi-tasking foods!

Pomegranate Poached Pears with Goat Cheese

DESSERT

Neither of us are big snackers during the day. So we like to have something sweet to nosh on while we catch up on our *nerd alert* TiVo-ed Jeopardy! or Nova episodes. I’m okay with that – both dessert and my self-proclaimed nerd-dom, that is. Let us eat cake!

And ice cream! And pie! And cookies!

But not all at once. Geez.

Similar to the breakfast rotation, I pick one dessert to make each week, sometimes on the weekend, but sometimes during the week, depending how busy we are. And, unless it’s a special occasion, I only make one. That means sometimes it lasts us all week, and sometimes it only lasts for a couple days.

In our current rotation we have cake (I’m cooking my way through Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson), ice cream (usually Alex’s choice from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer), and cookies (get you some here or here or here, for starters).

In case you couldn’t tell by those cookbook references, I do use specific recipes for desserts (rather than a master recipe and variations). Maybe that’s because there are so many interesting specific things I want to try, and dessert recipes vary so much – especially cakes and cookies.

I won’t post any specific recipes for the desserts in our current rotation, but I will give a couple pointers:

Again, like breakfast, choose things that you like to eat or make. If you find it laborious to make buttercream, then save that for special occasions. If no one in your house likes rhubarb, then don’t make White Chocolate Rhubarb Downside-Up Cake.

White chocolate rhubarb upside down cake

With cookies, make a double batch and freeze half of the dough in pre-formed balls (mini ice-cream scooper works well) or logs. This way when you have a busy week, it’ll be easy to just pull those out of the freezer and bake them. Or when you have an impromptu potluck to attend or the kiddos have a friend over, it’ll smell like you’ve been baking all day and taste like friendship. Quaint!

Toasted brioche with butter and jam ice cream

With cakes, and only two people, it can make us feel like we’ve gained weight just looking at a 3-layer 8″ round cake. Cake doesn’t last as long – a couple days is when most are freshest. I often halve cake recipes and bake them in my little 6″ round pans or in a small square casserole. If there are extras, I have Alex take it to work to share. His co-workers don’t seem to mind.

Blueberry Pie

It’s surprisingly easy to have homemade pie. You can make pie dough in advance (again, think double batch), keep it in the freezer, and thaw in the fridge when you’re ready. If it’s winter time, use pears or apples since they’re around, or a bag of frozen berries in your filling. Bake bake bake and then you’re set for dessert (and maybe breakfast too?) all week.

Seasonally, I have fruit crisps, puddings, and other treats that I want to add in, but in general (and at least right now), we’re trying a lot of cake and ice cream.

And there you have it, folks! A few tips to keep you feeling organized, but also creative in the kitchen when it comes to the beginning and ending of your days (breakfast and dessert, that is). What would you work into your breakfast or dessert rotations? What other sanity-saving tips do you have? Do tell.

Read more in this homekeeping mini-series:
Once monthly deep-cleaning
Our daily chores
– Apartment Therapy’s January Cure (Week 1, Week 2)
Green-cleaning compendium

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Christmas Cookies

Let’s just say I’m stocking up on butter this week. ‘Tis the season for cookies!

Austrian Shortbread Lemon Bars

My house smells sugary and buttery and delicious. I made these Austrian shortbread cookies, but in saving my jam for stock in my shop, I used lemon curd for that middle filling instead. Sort of a deconstructed lemon bar, if you will.

The making of Austrian Shortbread Lemon Bars

I also only used half the dough. I shredded the first half and simply forgot to take the other half out of the freezer. In other words, they came out a little bit… shorter than originally intended. Oh well. Looks like I can make another batch in the very near future; this batch is for the neighbors.

Neighbor gifts 2012

I’ve stumbled across a few collections of cookie recipes that look promising, and thought I would gather them together for all you cookie-lovers here:

Tell me, what cookies are you whipping up this year? Something simple and classic? Or elaborately decorated? Are you enjoying them yourself or giving them away as gifts? Do tell.

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