Sunday, December 27, 2009

'Tis the season

Christmas is my favorite time of year. And Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the season. I love all the parties leading up to it, but when I sit down in my Aunt's little living room, crowded together with all my relatives (around 40 of us this year), I hear the noisy conversation and I smell the special food, but I feel the spirit of the holiday. I feel peace.

Our Christmas Eve meal is Scandinavian, including Lefse and the marzipan tower cake, Kransekake. My Aunt Barbara prepares Lutefisk, even though few people actually eat it. My only opposition is that it tastes like nothing. In Norway, our relatives eat it with bacon gravy, garlic mashed peas, and lefse on the side. My aunt is vegetarian and gracious enough to allow seafood products at Christmas, but bacon isn't permitted. Thus, I am heavy with the butter, salt, and pepper when the lutefisk comes around.

I've been in a bit of a cookie coma. I hadn't participated in a cookie exchange before this year. I never understood the appeal. What does one person do with 5 dozen cookies? But this year, I did two. And thanks to my coworkers, friends, and family, the cookies were consumed. They were beautiful cookies. And now I have the recipes...

Wassail is a little easier for me to get through. My friend Laurie made this for her holiday party. The picture makes the apples look sinister, but there were no complaints by the wassailers. We actually went out into the icy streets, warm and ready to carol. Perhaps we were a bit too jolly. One man turned off his porch light when we came around. We sang for him anyway.

Wassail (from Epicurious)
  • 10 small apples
  • 10 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 bottles dry sherry or dry Madeira
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 1 inch stick cinnamon
  • 2 cups superfine sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup brandy

Core the apples and fill each with a teaspoon of brown sugar. Place in a baking pan and cover the bottom with 1/8-inch of water.

Bake in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until tender. Combine the sherry or Madeira, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice berries, cinnamon, sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat without letting the mixture come to a boil. Leave on very low heat. Beat the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored. Beat the whites until stiff and fold them into the yolks. Strain the wine mixture and add gradually to the eggs, stirring constantly. Add the brandy. Pour into a metal punch bowl, float the apples on top and serve in 8-ounce mugs.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Not for the faint of heart

Or perhaps, not for the faint of palate. I love blue cheese and I have been known to put some Maytag Blue or creamy Fourme d’Ambert on just about anything. (Pasta, eggs, soup, vegetables, baguette, fruit, other cheese…) Last night I made pasta with sardines and olive oil, which tastes good with some grated Parmesan or Ricotta Salata. But I didn’t have those. I just had Maytag – or Jarlsberg. I went with the blue, even though it meant pairing a strong flavor with another strong flavor. But somehow it worked - though I’m partial.

I usually buy sardines canned in olive oil. They also come in tomato sauce. For those hesitant about sardine consumption, please remember they are not nearly as intensely flavored as their anchovy cousin. If you like canned tuna, you can handle sardines. Cook your preferred pasta, per directions. While pasta is draining, heat a few tablespoons olive oil over M - M/H heat. Scoop your deboned sardines into the pan – ~ ½ tin per person . Add the hot pasta and stir a few times. Remove from heat. Mix approximately ¼ tsp lemon zest into the pasta. You likely don’t need salt when using canned sardines and salty cheese, so salt and pepper with that in mind. Turn onto a plate. Top with grated or crumbled cheese. And greens, if you are feeling healthy. I used arugula, which is a bit zesty and tasted nice with the slight lemon flavor. Today, I used the second half of the sardine tin to make a “sardine melt,” using wheat bread and the Jarlsberg cheese. It tasted like a grown-up tuna melt, with the olive oily fish and rich nutty cheese.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don't change the menu

I heard from two different sources this week, "It doesn't matter what you make for Thanksgiving dinner, as long as it's the same menu." This is true with my family. We like things to be the same every year. We have the traditional turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and mashed potatoes, the standard green beans, sweet potato casserole, butter rolls, and pumpkin pie. Every year. We love it. And I've heard of other families holding steady with their favorite menus of ham and scalloped potatoes or enchiladas and Spanish rice. We like our traditions.

My Aunt Peggy makes the cardamom butter rolls for each holiday dinner. Last year, she went to her in law's Thanksgiving dinner and we were left without the rolls. I actually stopped in the buffet line and stared at the basket of store-bought rolls, confused. I looked at my cousin behind me with a look that asked, "What is this?" Something was missing. But this year, the homemade rolls were back in the lineup. And I proceeded smoothly through the buffet without pause. I felt very thankful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Then and there

My friend Drew calls crab "butter of the sea." We have stood at the sink, cracking the shell, prying apart the legs, and eating it right then and there. Last month, one of my neighborhood groceries kept updating their seafood sign with the estimated start date of crab season. And since the end of October, seafood stands and customers have been celebrating. For my sister's birthday, my family covered the table in paper and split three large crabs between us. A side salad, roasted squash, and some white wine completed the meal. It sounds like such a light meal, but after dipping the crab into melted butter, we soon felt like fat cats.

Another decadent seasonal favorite is the chanterelle mushroom. Chanterelles already have a nutty and buttery flavor. Sautéed in butter, they become very rich and tender. They taste delicious on crostini and make an easy topping for grilled meat.

Even though I'll be partaking in a large serving later this week at Thanksgiving, I was in the mood for mashed potatoes. I had a lot of sweet potatoes on hand, so I mixed roasted sweet potatoes and fingerling potatoes with sautéed yellow onions and garlic. Then I stirred in diced Marco Polo cheese, which is made in Seattle by Beecher's Cheese. Marco Polo has blended green and black peppercorns. It adds a great spice to the potatoes. (And would make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich!) The potatoes were a creamy and comforting side to the steak with chanterelles.

Rustic Mashed Potatoes

2 cups chopped sweet potatoes
1 cup chopped fingerling potatoes
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup Marco Polo cheese, diced (or sub preferred cheese)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix potatoes and 3 tbsp olive oil in baking pan. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with foil and roast in oven for 20 mins or until tender.
In the meantime, sautée the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and continue stirring until aromatic and lightly browned. Remove from heat and add to potatoes. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the potatoes. Stir in diced cheese and season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The standard

I just finished reading Nigel Slater's memoir, Toast. His stories, tied so closely to food, are vivid and relatable. Doesn't every child crave sweets? Did you ever dread what was in your school lunch? What does food mean to you? To me, food can be comfort and it can be basic fuel, but it is always important. Food is often the reason we gather together. It has few negative memories for me. (I generally get over the bad experiences; I have gotten food poisoning twice from a local restaurant, but I've gone back because the food is amazing.) Even my flopped recipes are repeated with good humor. The first pancake always burns...

Ever since I can remember, my family has made spaghetti with brown butter and mizithra. Mizithra is a salty semi-soft Greek sheep's cheese. It reminds me of ricotta salata - and both are delicious with pasta. This is your typical get-the-kids-to-eat meal. Butter, cheese, and pasta. This may have factored into my family's decision to start having periodic dinners at the Spaghetti Factory. If a relative comes to town and we all want to spend time together, we go and get a huge table for 20+, make a lot of noise, and eat a lot of pasta. At least half the table will order mizithra. However, it tastes so much better at home. You'll have to wait an hour to get a table at the restaurant, but your homemade spaghetti dinner will be done in ten minutes.

I made a foolish mistake when making the spaghetti. I turned on the wrong burner to boil my pasta water and instead burned the bottom of my favorite enamel saucepan, which happens to be the perfect brown butter pan. Sigh. You need a pan where you can see the bottom; a non-stick black saucepan will not work, but stainless steel or enamel pans perform well. I like to cut the butter up into pieces to even out the melting. Cook the butter on Medium to Medium/High. Stir the butter to avoid burning. When the butter turns a tan color, remove it from the heat. It will continue to cook - and continue browning. The butter should smell nutty. The French call brown butter "buerre noisette," or literally "hazelnut butter." Brown butter is great with pasta, but also wonderful as a sauce on chicken, fish, or vegetables - and a traditional addition to baked goods.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Seasons for comfort

A few weeks ago, the trees were ablaze with color. My little balcony garden had cheerful company. Walking down the hall, the doorway looked full of bright leaves. My eyes would take a minute to adjust; it's as if those colors don't exist at any other time of year.

I recently made an acquaintance from South Africa. She is here in Oregon for a few weeks, wine tasting and visiting the sights. This week, she took a drive around the countryside and into the gorge. She had never seen trees with so many colors. Next week, she will experience her first American Thanksgiving. So far, she loves the fall season.

The markets are full of local apples and pears. I went a little crazy at the beginning of harvest. I bought more pears than I could keep track of. I usually eat "an apple a day" and get through a bag pretty quickly. But with the pears, I kept finding a few pears here, a few pears there - in the fridge, on the counter, in the fruit bowl. I decided to make a pear tart. While I love a flaky butter tart crust, I wanted to use the rest of my Amaretti cookies. So, what resulted was a pear almond ricotta cheesecake with an Amaretti crust.

Pear Almond Ricotta Cheesecake

Crust: 2/3 cup ground Amaretti cookes, 1/3 cup ground blanched almonds, 4 tbsp melted butter

Filling: 2-3 pears, 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 1/2 tsp rose water, 1/4 cup ground blanched almonds, 1 brimming cup ricotta

Peel, core, and slice 2-3 pears. Heat four cups water, 1 cup sugar, and any preferred flavoring such as vanilla or cinnamon. Substitute honey for the sugar, if you prefer. Add the pear slices carefully and poach for ~15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. If you want to reduce the liquid to make a syrup, feel free to continue heating the water and check back when it has reduced by half.

In a small bowl, combine the ground almonds, ground cookies, and melted butter. Press the crust into the bottom of a springform pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, then add other filling ingredients and mix together until combined. Pour over the crust into the springform pan over the pressed crust. Bake for 20 minutes or until the center moves only slightly when you move the pan.

This filling would work just as well in a tart crust.

*Thank you to Elizabeth Archers for the photo of my green Zebra tomatoes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Following the leader

If all my friends jumped off a bridge, I would take photos. I would stand at the railing and watch their fall, with fear and curiosity. I would gauge their arc, the fall time, and wait hopefully for them to reach the shore. Later, I would hand out towels and congratulate them in their exhilaration. If my friends jumped off a bridge, I would not follow.

If all my friends made granola… well, that’s a different story. I read Molly W’s post about Nigella Lawson’s granola recipe. I related. I silently congratulated her on finding her favorite recipe. But, I stuck with my granola routine. Then David Lebovitz wrote about Nigella’s granola. And I was torn. Do I follow the crowd? What does it hurt? It’s only a batch of granola. Everyone’s doing it.

For years, I have been using my old roommate’s granola recipe. She varies her ingredients, but always includes oats, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, coconut oil, and a little honey. The coconut oil makes it smell wonderful, adds this sweet, nutty, fatty flavor. And I follow this tradition, adding spices, nuts, maple syrup and honey at my whim. If you like granola and have never made it, I encourage you to try and recreate your favorite blend. And if you still like the store-bought better, stick with it. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I did have fun trying Nigella’s recipe, but to be honest, I wasn’t wildly impressed by the end result. I wanted to be. It just didn’t taste that much better than any other granola. I like that she uses applesauce in her recipe. Puréed fruit is a clever way to incorporate the needed wet ingredients. I might have to branch out on the fruit though. Perhaps some apricot or pear would broaden the flavors. It is crunchy enough that you can let it sit in milk for a couple minutes, which does make it taste better. This recipe makes a good breakfast cereal, but the best? Decide for yourself.

On a side note: Just because Nigella’s granola didn’t change my life, does not mean she isn't delightfully inspired. I can’t wait to try her Doughnut French Toast.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The company we keep

The first tearoom I worked in was owned by Mrs. Jones. I grew up going to her restaurant for birthday tea parties. (She would hover over the table, not to serve us, but to make sure the children didn’t break the china.) Despite the fact that there were actual British women working in the tearoom, Mrs. Jones took a liking to me. She would often invite me to have tea with her.
A sweet girl named Becca did the dishes and clean up. One day, Mrs. Jones told Becca to clean the prep kitchen floor by hand. And in the next moment, she gave me my task: “Anna, make us a pot of tea.” To this day, I can feel the awkwardness of that moment, remember the shock on Becca's face, the blush of embarrassment on mine.

Mrs. Jones had a designated table, in the back near the kitchen. From her post, she could see everyone come and go. It was also the only table where smoking was allowed. She would sit there, cigarette in one hand, cup of tea in the other, and instruct me on proper grammar, proper table manners, proper... (I came to realize that behind the accent and genteel façade, Mrs. Jones wasn't all that proper herself.) She was incredibly picky about her tea. Because of her, I learned how to listen for the kettle to boil. I learned how to prepare the tea cup and pour the tea. While I don’t sit down at a table with her anymore, I often think of her when I'm having tea. It is because of her and her strict grooming that I was sometimes mistaken as British when in England; when tea time came around, I knew exactly what to do.

Tea or coffee is a must with some baked goods. If you are unsure how to make a traditional cup of tea, here are some basic guidelines. You will need a tea cup/mug, tea pot, tea kettle, black tea*, milk, and sugar.

1. Put some hot water in your tea pot and set aside. Fittingly, this is called, "warming the pot."

2. Fill your tea kettle with fresh water. Put the kettle on to boil.

3. Pour the hot water out of your tea pot. Add tea to the pot. Usually a tea bag can make ~ 2 cups of tea. If using loose leaf tea, measure 1 teaspoon of tea per cup.

4. Listen to your kettle. You want to take it off the heat source as soon as it comes to a full boil.

5. Pour the boiled water into your tea pot. Let the tea brew for three minutes. (unless your tea blend specifies otherwise)

6. Pour a little milk in the bottom of your tea cup, then pour your brewed tea into the cup. (Use a strainer if using loose leaf tea.) Add sugar to taste. Enjoy.

To some, it is proper to pour the milk into the hot tea. However, it tastes better if you have the milk in the cup first. It's a chemistry thing.

*Some people prefer single origin tea, such as Assam or Ceylon. There are many blends that make a good cup of tea as well. English and Irish Breakfast are examples of popular blends.

Something you might want to eat with your tea... Apple hand pies. I made a cornmeal sweet crust and stuffed with simple cinnamon & sugar apple slices. They would be great for tea time, dessert, or breakfast.

Apple Hand Pies

Peel, core and slice two baking apples. Place slices in bowl and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon to taste.
1 3/4 c. flour
handful cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 c. cold butter, cubed
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Measure flour, cornmeal and salt into a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until broken up and shaggy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix. Knead slightly and roll balls (large golf ball size), then roll on a floured surface with a rolling pin until a thin disk. Place apple slices on one half and fold over to form a half-circle. Cinch edges with a fork. Repeat and place pies on a parchment lined baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 until lightly browned.
(The cornmeal adds a crunch, but if you want to forgo, add just a bit more flour. Or you could sub oats.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Give and take

Have you ever come home to find a gift on your doorstep? These days, with the advent of gift cards and Amazon free shipping, gift giving is easier and less personal, usually involving a cardboard box and lots of plastic wrapping. How nice to open my door to baked goods last night. Something that a real person baked, something hand delivered. It may seem small, but my neighbor made my day with apple strudel. Happy Fall, indeed.

I had some enormous softball-sized peaches in my kitchen. Waiting, ripening, looking pretty. It’s the tail end of their season, but they do have the right color for fall. Over the weekend, it was time to put them to good use. I found inspiration from the Smitten Kitchen peach cupcake recipe. However, I decided to go the easy route. (I was out of cake flour.) A basic vanilla cake recipe, with chopped peaches, produces peach cake – or cupcakes. I used less sugar than normal and think you could go even lower if you have sweet peaches. You could also replace some of the vegetable oil with buttermilk or yogurt.

I brought the cupcakes to a party. It was your typical house party – chips, dip, beer in the fridge. However, it was in honor of a birthday and all birthdays deserve cake. I slid the cupcakes in next to the carrot/celery tray and prepared to mingle. Don’t let anyone tell you that food can’t make you friends. In fact, How to Win Friends and Influence People should be revised to include cupcake baking. I actually had a few people come up to me and ask, “Are you the girl that made the cupcakes?” There you have it. Whether you bring them to a party or leave them for your neighbors, be friendly with your cake baking. Share.

Cardamom Peach Cupcakes with Cardamom Buttercream Frosting

Cake mix, for 18 cupcakes:

3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 c. white sugar
1 c. vegetable oil - or sub buttermilk or yogurt
2 c. a-p flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large peaches/ approx. 2 cups chopped

Grease or butter muffin tins. Preheat oven to 375. Mix all ingredients in a bowl until combined, then spoon into prepared muffin tins. Bake for ~20 minutes or until toothpick tests clean.

Cardamom Buttercream Frosting:

2 tbsp butter, softened
1/3 c. confectioners/powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cardamom
1 tbsp milk or cream

Stir together until creamy. I like just a little frosting, but you can multiply this recipe for full coverage frosting. Use less milk/cream for a thicker frosting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My recipe for cheer

At work, I meet people who are down on their luck – some who are unemployed and unsure of their future. Some are behind on bills, some homeless and without food. I advocate for them to get basic needs covered. These people become resourceful, adjust to living with less. They don’t have the luxuries many of us enjoy. They can’t go to happy hour with friends, bake whatever they feel like, get Thai take-out because they are too tired to make dinner. I know I am lucky. I have a job. I have a full pantry. I have a warm bed to sleep in.

This doesn't mean I never feel sorry for myself - or want something more. I have pictures inside my closet door of “things I want.” These are not the Sears catalogue cutouts of my childhood. There is picture of a welcoming kitchen with room for friends to gather. There is a picnic table outside under a tree, a happy couple in a canoe, a reading nook with bookshelves lining the walls, a lovely plant-filled sun porch, children running along a walkway in India. (This one does not necessarily represent the desire to have children, but the option of having happy children in my life. Or maybe a trip to India.) I don’t look at the pictures with the desperation I felt when eyeing the red bike in the Sears catalogue. They make me smile, like a sweet memory. I could almost say, "See you soon."

The last few days have been stressful. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed or sad, I go to Powell's and buy books. Sometimes a nice long walk does the trick. Or a hot shower. Or chocolate. Sometimes I bake. This time, I bought some Amaretti cookies and a wedge of Spanish blue to cheer myself up. I spread the blue cheese on slices of baguette. I ate the cookies and drank wine. I made a feast of delicious vegetables, including a brussel sprout and crimini mushroom hash. I did feel better after that.

The first time I had brussel sprouts was at a beachfront BBQ in Alaska. The meat and fish were grilled to perfection, but the host boiled the brussel sprouts and served them unseasoned. I saw a little girl gag and throw the brussel sprout into the rocks. I felt like doing the same. Last year, I had brussel sprouts again, sautéed with garlic and served in a sherry cream sauce. A completely different story...

I decided to try to replicate the Amaretti cookies. I used an almond macaroon recipe and subbed a combination of ground almonds and ground apricot kernels. I failed to get the crunchy amaretto-ness. But the failed batch still tasted like delicious almond cookies. With pear gelato, even better. I will try again. Today, I am happy with what I have.

This is the pear gelato recipe I used. I would keep the lemon juice limited to 3 tablespoons, unless you want a tarter taste. And while the little chunks of pear are a tasty reminder of the flavor source, if you want a smoother texture, purée the pears before combining with the custard mixture.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sharp and ready to cut

Celeriac is ugly. This root vegetable has a tough dirty exterior and a creamy white interior. Its mess of roots have been trimmed before it reaches the produce aisle, but there is still evidence of the reaching that once went on.

My first introduction to celeriac was in a soup. I was working in a British tearoom and the chef made a puréed root vegetable soup, which I thought was just carrot soup - by appearance. But it tasted more complex than plain carrot soup. When I learned that the slight celery flavor came from celeriac, I was determined to copy that recipe again and again. Today I was in the mood for a chunkier vegetable soup, so I puréed the cooked celeriac, but kept the carrots in chunks and added bite-size bits of cauliflower.

You will need a large sharp knife to cut your celeriac. I used my new America's Test Kitchen-endorsed Forschner Victorinox chef knife. I have a Wüsthof standby, but I couldn't resist trying the Victorinox after all the talk. And it's only $30. So far, I like how it handles. Perhaps I should have had it on hand a few months ago when a date offered to come over and cook me dinner. He was a trained chef and I anticipated a great meal. (He mentioned a few Thai specialties.) When he showed up, he was empty handed. I looked at him blankly, expecting him to pull produce from behind his back at any moment, maybe a jar of curry paste... After we went to the grocery store, I made cocktails and sat back to watch the chef in action. He proceeded to instruct as he cooked, condescending my knowledge of food preparation and criticizing my kitchen wares, including my knives. The meal wasn't memorable. (He made penne with red sauce.) And obviously the company was sub par. I have savored my kitchen ever since that night. My knives, my cutting board, my pots, pans, wooden spoons... They are good enough for me. You should know that I have dated two other chefs in my adulthood. Both of them always came prepared. And both of them cooked without offending their guests. Is that too much to ask?

Back to the soup. You will need both a chef's knife to chop and a paring knife peel the celeriac. (Unless you have a super sharp potato peeler.) I chopped it into 1/2" chunks, placed them in a saucepan and covered them with water, salted, brought to a boil, then simmered ~10 mins. While the celeriac was cooking, I chopped up a small yellow onion, a few carrots, and 1/2 a large cauliflower and sautéed them in olive oil at the bottom of a stock pot. When the onions were translucent, I added water to cover and boiled until the veggies were just barely soft. (Use broth/stock if you have it.) In batches, I puréed the celeriac and added it to the stock pot with the other vegetables. (If you don't have a food processor, use an electric mixer like you would to make mashed potatoes.) I added a couple cloves of crushed garlic and a bit of cumin for flavor and color. Then I grabbed a spoon to taste.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The good and the bad...

The good news is that I had a lovely weekend in Victoria, BC. The bad news is that I returned to discover my beloved Gourmet is leaving me. And nearly a million other subscribers. Sigh. There is no comparison. Gourmet inspires us to cook better, travel better, dine better. For most of us, it is a standard held a bit too high. However, I will miss the way it makes me dream of white asparagus, quince jam, and expensive chocolate, of Parisian markets, rustic country kitchens, and perfect pies.

As a comfort, I will relish in my weekend memories. Long walks, tea times, amazing desserts, good beer, a delicious fireside dinner, beautiful views and lush gardens. I had a delightfully smooth goat cheese cheesecake with sour cherry compote at the Butchart Gardens Dining Room Restaurant.

Il Terrazzo is a hidden jewel, tucked into a side street in old town. Unfortunately, it is not much of a secret. The place was literally packed. My uncle got us the last available table. Small fireplaces along the walls and tabletop candles provide lighting and ambiance. We shared bruschetta, salads, pizza, wine, and laughter.

As part of a former Crown Colony, Victoria has a lingering British influence. I'm not the only Anglophile in my family; similar to other visits, we embraced Victoria for its tearooms and pubs.

I have some favorite activities when visiting Victoria, worth repeating. Stocking up on tea at Murchie's, walking through the Empress, lingering in the bookstores, watching for the Parliament lights to come on, and always a visit (or two) to the Dutch Bakery. This place is not as elegant as the Empress, but has tasty pastries and a sweet old-time diner in the back for a relaxed cup of coffee or sandwich.

A row of apple trees at Butchart Gardens. At the restaurant, they serve shortbread with flower petals. Perhaps they will put their fruit harvest to work?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why bake one, when you can bake two?

For my Mom’s birthday, I decided to make the Buttermilk Cake with Lemon-and-Thyme-Glazed Pear Compote from the September Bon Appétit issue. At first, the recipe seemed daunting with all those flavors in the title, the steeping, the simmering. I was going to withdraw and bake my standard chocolate, which does have buttermilk in it… But then I got some pears. And remembered I have thyme growing. And I suddenly decided to brave up and make a double recipe.

I love layer cakes, but didn’t know how well a compote would hold up the top layer. So, I opted for a sheet cake. Without any crème fraîche or sour cream on hand, I made a switch to Buttermilk Cake recipe #2, omitting the raspberries and sprinkled sugar. The pear compote took its sweet time reducing, but it was well worth it. The result was a fine fall birthday cake, but I think this would make an even better breakfast cake. Next time I might forgo the lemon and thyme and just add cinnamon or cardamom to the compote to accentuate the autumn fruit. And the nice thing is, I have leftover buttermilk, which will go right into a chocolate cake.