Monday, March 28, 2011

Borders Sale

Well, it was another long Monday for me. I work every Monday, week after week, and they always seem to test me. Whether it is my patience, my kindness, or my nerves, retail-Mondays give me a run for my money. To reward myself (and ultimately my family) I decided to stop at Borders on the way home. Our local Borders is closing and I was able to reward myself with to half-price hard cover foodie books. To say I'm obsessed with cookbooks, and hoarding hard covered books in general, is an understatement and the additions to my library were a much need treat!

fresh raspberries & liqueur
I snatched up a copy of 52 Loaves by William Alexander. However, the book that has me really excited is this one ... Back to Basics, Traditional Kitchen Wisdom.  For years* now I've been baking my own bread, growing tomato plants on cramped apartment balconies and using fresh eggs from my friend's chickens. To say this book fits my lifestyle is an understatement. This year I plan to vastly expand our backyard kitchen garden, growing as much produce at home as possible to offset not having a CSA membership, and to avoid mass-produced, grocery store produce. Nothing is more rewarding then making salsa from your own tomatoes, making liqueur from the raspberries growing in the backyard and knowing where and what your food came from. I cannot wait until the ground thaws and I can begin working the soil again. Until then, I'll read my new books, get my seeds started in trays in the house, and continue planning our kitchen garden.

my first loaves
*Realizing I've been baking bread weekly for three years now is so shocking, but pleasing! My skills as a baker have developed so much since those first loaves, as has my life. I'm hoping 52 Loaves will launch me into a whole new level of bread-baking-geekdom!

Friday, March 25, 2011

From Valerie's Kitchen: Think Spring with Flowery Cupcakes

For weeks and weeks now I've been wanting to make cupcakes. With all the commotion at our house lately, setting aside enough time to make dinner, let alone cupcakes, has been challenging. Well, that all changed on Wednesday! Wednesday was the first of two food-focused days for me, filled with making comfort food and necessity baking. I made two loaves of whole wheat bread and a batch of English muffins to restock our pantry, and for dinner I made a batch of fried chicken and cast iron skillet corn bread (with salads on the side for a bit of green). Thursday's baking, however, was all about pleasure. And what is more pleasurable then a pretty pink cupcake with a flower on top? (Answer: a cupcake with a cup of coffee, a sunny spot in the house and the sound of the radio, Bodie laughing, and Harper chewing on a bone drifting through the background!)

Even though our general mood has been sad at home, lately, I've been trying to cheer everyone up the best way I know how ... through food. Baking these cupcakes provided me with a couple hours of escape from my normal worries. And the smiles on everyone's faces as they received their cupcake made baking them worth all the effort!

Recipe courtesy Nigella Lawson, (Copyright 2004, Feast, Hyperion, All Rights Reserved)

Ingredients for Cupcakes
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons milk
Ingredients for Royal Icing:
  • 2 large egg whites 
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice


  1. Take everything you need out of the fridge in time to get to room temperature - and this makes a huge difference to the lightness of the cupcakes later - and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Put all of the ingredients for the cupcakes except for the milk into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Pulse while adding the milk down the funnel, to make a smooth dropping consistency.
  3. Divide the mixture between a 12-bun muffin tin lined with muffin papers, and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They should have risen and be golden on top. Let them cool a little in their tins on a rack, and then take them carefully out of the tin to cool in their papers, still on the wire rack.
  4. While cupcakes are baking, prepare royal icing.

Royal Icing 

Yield: sufficient to generously ice 12 cupcakes

  1. Combine the egg whites and confectioners' sugar in a medium-size mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until opaque and shiny, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the lemon juice, this will thin out the icing. Beat for another couple of minutes until you reach the right spreading consistency for the cupcakes.

***  Up until this point, this has all been Nigella’s idea ... now, here’s my special addition.  ***

Royal icing daffodils and pink icing to decorate your cupcakes ...

I divided my icing into 3 unequal portions: I put approximately two tablespoons into a 12 oz squeeze bootle; another two tablespoons were placed in a bowl with four drops of yellow food coloring, mixed, then put into a second 12 oz squeeze bottle; to the remaining icing in the original bowl I added five or six drops of red food coloring to make a large quatity of pink icing, then put icing into a 12-14” pastry bag fitted with a large, round tube. Now that you have three colors of icing, you’re ready to assemble flowers with which to top your iced cupcakes, as well as being ready to ice your cupcakes. 
Place a piece of waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Using your yellow icing, make 12-15 circles on the waxed paper, approximately 1/2” wide and spaced 1-2” apart (I made a couple of extras in case one broke). Then, using your white icing, squeeze five white pedals around the yellow circle, making sure they touch the yellow icing (we want everything to stick together as it sets). Place entire tray in fridge to speed along setting process, and leave in fridge at least an hour or until icing has become firm on the outside.

Once set, remove the icing flowers from the fridge. Using a small, tapered spatula remove the flowers from the waxed paper by slowly running the spatula under the flower. Allow to sit loosly on waxed paper.

Now, pipe pink icing onto cooled cupcakes I started at the edge and slowly worked my way around the top of the cupcake, spiraling into the center. Place a flower on top of pink icing. Allow cupcakes to cool another hour to allow pink icing to set (putting cupcakes in fridge if you need the icing to set faster).
I hope these cupcakes cheer you up as much as they have me!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Koa's bread

As I finally sign back into my account, I come to the realization that my last post was in regards to Koa, our beloved golden retriever. How sadly ironic it is that I am posting tonight ... our first night without him.

Koa spent the last three weeks being pampered and loved. He recovered well from the surgery, but unfortunately the cancer was already very advanced. His mind and spirit were high as always, offering smiles and tail wags as often as possible, but his body was rapidly deteriorating. At 11am today, March 21, 2011, Koa's life with us on this earth ended. Even though his body is no longer with us, his positive spirit and years of happy memories will remain with us always.

Needless to say, the last three weeks have been overwhelming. I felt, today, as though a cloud of grief has drifted over our house. And as sad, scared, anxious and gloomy as we were, the past few weeks have brought us so much closer as a family. We dedicated multiple days to family time ... hiking, fishing, kite flying, silently praying in the woods, and even snuck in a bit of therapy-baking, thuroughly enjoying the simplicity of each others company.

One of the only things that I baked over the last few weeks was a couple of loaves of whole wheat bread. I recently entered the world of bulk flour purchasing and 50 pounds of organic 100% whole wheat flour now reside in our kitchen (tucked away in two, 22 quart cambrose containers ... yes, I'm a pro. kitchen gadget geek). The recipe I chose was from the cookbook shown above.

We have five dutch ovens in our kitchen arsenal, two enameled, three without enamel. I love rustic loaves and the recipe I chose fit the bill (and having run out of honey to the in-house honey-addict, I used a bit of maple syrup for sweetness).

I plan to make this again on Thursday, in hopes that a few minutes of kneading dough and the smell of fresh bread baking will begin to soothe my broken heart.

Koa would have been 11 years old on April 1st, 2011. 
Koa, we will miss you ... (I'll save a couple of pieces of crust to sneak to you later!)

Quick Wholesome Wheat Bread
No need to wait over night, this delicious bread is ready in a matter of hours. Enjoy this crusty, moist loaf toasted, smeared with butter and a drizzling of honey. (I think I'm going to even grab a slice when I finish posting!)

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup honey (or syrup ... use real maple, not the fake stuff like I used), or even molasses
  • 2/3 cup powdered milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups unsifted whole wheat flour, plus an additional 2-2 1/2 cups flour (4-4.5 total cups)

Tools needed:
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons
  • Clean Towel
  • 12” cast iron dutch oven with lid, greased
  1. In a large bowl mix water, yeast and honey until yeast dissolves. Stir in powdered milk, salt and 2 cups of flour. Mix until smooth. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. 
  2. Add remaining flour as needed, kneading by hand for approximately ten minutes, creating a nice, sticky dough. (I used my stand mixer and kneaded dough with hook on speed 2 until dough was a smooth consistency, approximately 4-5 minutes.) 
  3. Place in greased bowl. Cover with clean cloth and rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Form dough into a round loaf. Place in greased oven and cover with lid. 
  5. Allow to double in size. Score with 1/4" deep X on top of loaf before baking.
  6. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  7. Bake 40-50 minutes in preheated oven.