Confession Time

I have a cookbook addiction. I love cookbooks. I check them out from the public library and read them cover to cover. I can come up with any excuse to buy a new one.  I have even joined book of the month clubs solely devoted to cookbooks. When we made our decision to move to North Africa, of course I had to buy new cookbooks. I purchased books on the cuisine of the region, Mediterranean cooking, and for good measure a few new baking books. I might have also bought one (or two) from that cute Tyler Florence.

Needless to say when we met my brother in law for lunch at The Grand Central Bakery in Seattle, and I saw that they had a cookbook for sale, and my brother in law said that he had purchased it recently and it was really good, I had to have it. See, I have a problem. Is there a program for this?

Not only does he have impeccable cookbook taste, he also espouses the philosophy that you should support your local bakery. In this economy we all have to do our part you know.  He's such a champ.

I think I need to hang out with him more often.

For those of you who live under a rock and haven't visited The Grand Central Bakery, GO! They have several locations in the Seattle area and serve wonderful food. For lunch Andy and I split their turkey sandwich. It could have been Ho Hum, but it was all tarted up with cranberry chutney and served on their house made Como bread.  My brother in law had the Grilled Pimento Cheese sandwich from their specials board which he also gave a resounding 2 thumbs up. I like that they do a bag lunch, which includes a sandwich, bag of chips and a cookie to eat in the cafe or take back to your office.  Personally I would grab one and head to Golden Gardens for a picnic but I doubt the food would last the drive.

I didn't even wait until we got home to start browsing through the book. It has gorgeous photos, great stories, and inspiring recipes.  The girls and I are headed over to a friends for breakfast this morning and I made a kuchen recipe from the book.  The recipe suggests using black cherries and raspberries, but I had some Yakima Valley Nectarines on hand and used those instead.  The house smells wonderful, perfumed with the scent of brown sugar, yeast, and nectarines.  I can't wait to give it a taste.

In fact, I would only be doing my duty as a good friend to have a small sample now to make sure that the kuchen tastes good enough for breakfast. Small sacrifices, sigh.

Nectarine Kuchen
Adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book

This yeasted breakfast cake takes to any fruit that you wish to top it with. The book suggests a combination of Black Cherries and Raspberries, but you could use any seasonal fruit and get great results.
Because this cake relies on yeast for leavening, timing kuchen so that it can be served for breakfast straight from the oven can be tricky.
The bakery says that the kuchen is equally delicious with a lemon or vanilla glaze, included recipes for both.

1 ½ cups whole milk
½ cup packed brown sugar (the recipe calls for light brown, I only had dark brown sugar on hand and I liked the deeper caramel taste with the nectarines I used)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 eggs lightly beaten
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ pound sliced ripe, slightly firm Nectarines
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ cup Turbinado, or coarse sugar
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter melted

Vanilla Glaze:
1 cup confectioners sugar (aka icing sugar or 10X)
2 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Lemon Glaze:
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Lightly grease and flour a 9X13 inch baking pan

For the batter:
Gently heat the milk, brown sugar, and butter in a small saucepan; it should only feel warm to the touch, do not simmer or boil. When the butter has almost melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the yeast. Let this mixture sit until bubbles form and the mixture appears to be expanding.

While waiting for the yeast to bloom, in a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour and salt. When the yeast mixture is ready pour the eggs and yeast mixture over the flour and stir gently to combine with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Mix until just incorporated.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan and cover with plastic wrap.

At this stage you, if you want to bake the kuchen right away set it aside to rest in a warm spot until doubled in size, about one hour. If you want to bake it later put the baking pan in the refrigerator covered for up to 8 hours.

To Bake the Kuchen:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Sprinkle the nectarines with the cinnamon and granulated sugar, stir well to combine and set aside. When the dough has doubled in height, evenly distribute the fruit over it, and then sprinkle with the Turbinado sugar and melted butter. Bake the kuchen for 30 minutes, rotate the pan and lower the temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for another 10 minutes. The top should be golden brown and the cake should begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Make the glaze:
While the kuchen is baking, make the glaze of your choice by whisking all of the ingredients together until smooth.  Drizzle the glaze over the warm kuchen and serve immediately.

Too Hippie?

We had a gathering this past weekend of international educators who summer in our area.  It was a really fun evening meeting new friends and hearing their stories of living around the world. Our guests were from Taipei, Doha, Japan, Singapore, Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and a few spots I'm sure I missed.  We co-hosted the event with our Singapore friends down the street and decided that we wanted the food to be from Washington state, and primarily Whatcom County focused.

Given that summer has finally arrived the pressure to be too creative was lifted!

We served local beer and wine as well as local greens, berries, cheese, bread, meats, sausages, etc. I really enjoyed seeing how others interpreted the theme. I had found some local Shuksan strawberries (finally) and rhubarb, and was inspired to make some summer style bruschetta. Both featured fresh ricotta slathered on a Breadfarm baguette, one was topped with sliced strawberries, mint, cracked black pepper, and honey, and the second was topped with a rhubarb chutney and a few chives. I also found the combo of the ricotta, a twist of black pepper and honey really nice too.

I have to confess to feeling that these would be too hippie (thank you J and M for calming my fears, or are we just kindred hippie spirits) but they were tasty. If you are a fan of sweet and salty or sweet and spicy these little gems will fit the bill.

Summer Bruschetta Two Ways
Makes 40 appetizers
2 baguettes sliced into 1/2 inch slices
olive oil
Fresh Ricotta (see recipe below, I made a double recipe)
Sliced strawberries
Fresh mint cut into a fine chiffonade
black pepper
honey (this works best if the honey is in a squeeze bottle)
Rhubarb chutney (see recipe below)
Chives sliced into 2 inch pieces

Preheat broiler. Layer sliced baguette onto cookie sheets and brush with a little olive oil.  Run under the broiler until golden brown, flip the bread, brush with a little more olive oil and return to the broiler. It took my oven 1 1/2 minutes per side. Watch them carefully or you will have le crise de la baguette (aka burnt offerings)!
Once the bread is cooled spread a generous 2 tablespoons of ricotta on one side, then top with a few strawberry slices, mint and honey, or rhubarb chutney and chives.  Sprinkle both with a little cracked black pepper and serve.
These make a nice appetizer or would be great served along side a salad for a light dinner.

Rich Homemade Ricotta
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes a little over one cup of ricotta 
3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pan. Slowly heat the milk to 190°F, occasionally giving it a gentle stir to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Once the milk reaches the desired temperature remove the pan from heat add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Line a colander with a few layers of clean cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At this point, you’ll have a soft, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit more firm, almost like cream cheese. (As it cools, it will firm up so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.) Discard the whey. Use the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use. It should keep in your refrigerator for 3 days.

Rhubarb Chutney
Makes 4 cups 
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 1/2 cups coarsely chopped rhubarb (from 1 3/4 pounds rhubarb)
4 green onions, chopped

Stir first 6 ingredients in heavy large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Add rhubarb and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is tender but not falling apart, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in green onions. Cool to room temperature. Discard cinnamon. Cover and refrigerate chutney until cold, at least 1 hour. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Bring to room temperature before serving.

You will have a lot of leftover chutney.  I think this tastes great served along side a roasted chicken or grilled pork chops. It also makes a great condiment on a turkey or ham sandwich.

The heat is (still) on!

No, not a reference to Glenn Frey's song of the same title.  Literally, we STILL have the heat turned on in the house.

For you lovers of irony, today is the Summer Solstice, otherwise known as the first day of Summer.

According to National Geographic:
On the Summer Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere receives more sunlight than on any other day of the year, but that doesn't mean the first day of Summer is also the hottest day of the year. 

Hence the heat being turned on this morning.

I should clarify here that the day has burst forth with all sorts of promise, a gorgeous sunrise over the mountain, dappled lights on the lake, sun beams streaming through the windows. However I'll hold forth judgement as the sun shining in the Pacific Northwest can be as fickle as a 13 year old girl.

If the sun is still around this afternoon, I'll let you know.

Summer conjures all sorts of thoughts in my head. Long lazy days reading on the deck, visits to parks, bar-be-que's, and BERRIES! Since the Spring here was long, dreary, and rainy, the strawberry season has gotten off to a rather late start. Just this past weekend have we seen local berries in the markets and farmstands.

Our local darling is the Shuksan. It is super sweet, deeply red all the way through, juicy, and it's floral scent is the essence of summer. I haven't been able to get my hands on any yet so I've had to make do with some strawberries from California. They are delicious but alas, my heart belongs to another.

I made a batch of strawberry freezer jam, strawberry shortcake for Father's Day, and I have plans for a fresh strawberry pie among other things.

How about you, what do you like to do with fresh strawberries?

Strawberry Freezer Jam
makes 5, 8 ounce jars

4 pounds of strawberries, rinsed hulled and sliced
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 packet of pectin "for freezer jam"

Place the strawberries in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. You don't want to puree them completely.
In a large bowl combine the pectin and sugar, stir together until well mixed.
Add the fruit to the pectin sugar mixture and stir well for 3-5 minutes.  Try not to incorporate air as you stir, you do not want a bubbly mixture.
Ladle the jam into 5, 8 ounce jars. Let the jam sit on the counter for 30 minutes then refrigerate overnight.  Store what you don't plan to use right away in the freezer.

Since freezer jam showcases the flavor of the fruit you really want to use the best berries you can find.

A Most Worthy Quest

Take care when you set out on a pilgrimage. Not all quests are equally worthy. 

And so began my day. I typically get up when the house is quiet, make coffee, read a little and check email and Facebook.  A woman who I respect and admire tremendously had posted the above as her Facebook status. I tend to post things a bit more trivial, ridiculous, or inane, like the time a cicada flew up my skirt at the bus stop. Without hesitation I flung my skirt over my head and ran around trying to shake it loose much to the consternation of the onlooking Singapore National Servicemen.

I still say they could've helped.

So, this posting of M's got me to thinking about quests that I have had or are currently pursuing in my life. Some will always be an ongoing process, like learning to be a more grace filled woman for instance. Others are silly, like finding the perfect pair of jeans.

Although that too can be life changing.

One culinary quest that eluded me for years was that perfect Peanut Butter Cookie.

Peanut Butter Cookies have typically fallen short of my expectations. They are either dry and crumbly or too crispy/chompy. I wanted a cookie that was soft with just a little bit of chewiness around the edges, not unlike a drop cookie. I tried many different recipes, experimental ingredients, and baking times, all ending up with the same result. A sometimes greasy, shortbread sort of cookie. They weren't terrible by any stretch of the imagination just not what I was longing for.

Then on a most providential day a few years ago I ran across a recipe for a Peanut Butter Cookie made by a local woman who runs a gorgeous Inn and restaurant on nearby Lummi Island. It was featured in Bon Appetit (or maybe it was Gourmet...) What stood out to me was a review that the cookie lacked the distinctive crunch of a traditional Peanut Butter Cookie.  Eureka, this must be the cookie I was looking for. It only took the majority of my adulthood to find this cookie and it has since become a mainstay in our house. It is one of the first cookies my daughters learned to bake and I am frequently asked for the recipe.

See, some quests are rewarded quite handsomely.

The Willows Inn Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from Britta's Peanut Butter Cookies, The Willows Lummi Island

Makes 3 dozen cookies (depending on how much dough your children eat).

4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks butter softened to room temperature
1 1/3 cups creamy peanut butter, use a good quality peanut butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups Peanut Butter Chips (optional)
2 cups Milk Chocolate Chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a medium bowl whisk together the first 4 ingredients and set aside.
In a large bowl ,with an electric mixer, beat together until well combined and fluffy the butter, peanut butter, sugars, and oil, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs one at a time and then the vanilla.
Reduce the speed of the mixer and add the flour mixture in 3 additions carefully making sure all the flour is incorporated.
Mix in with a wooden spoon the chips if using.
Scoop scant 1/4 cups of the dough onto the parchment lined baking sheets. Bake until slightly puffed and golden around the edges, about 12-15 minutes. Switch the position of the baking sheets if baking two sheets at a time.

Home Sweet Home, for now at least.....

I would like to spend the whole of my life traveling, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend at home.

We made it. The long goodbyes, the tears, the uprooting of what was known, the layovers, the baggage claims......Phew. It was a journey. It was long, and I'm not just talking about the flights. I would like to think that we, the girls and I, behaved ourselves even when faced with the unexpected extended layover in San Francisco.
Me (to Juan the gate agent): Excuse me, it's time to board, where is the plane?
Juan: Um. Yeah, we don't know.
Me: Glad we could clear that up.

From door to door it was 29 hours. I hope you are feeling bad for me. I hope that translates into bottles of wine, ice cream, gift certificates for the spa. 

The first leg of the journey was filled with tears, emotional outbursts, and fits of complete irrational thoughts born from exhaustion. 
I should clarify that these came from the girls and not me. Someone had to be a grown up and by default that was me since Andy was on a different flight. (We were cashing in on frequent flyer miles)
The second leg of the journey was filled with acceptance, small glimmers of excitement, Benadryl induced sleep and the development of cankles the likes of which I have never seen before. Seriously, flopping over the edge of my flip flopped feet cankles. 
The third leg was bleary eyed resignation, bad judgement involving an airport meal, and Juan. 
Landing in Seattle was wonderful. Seeing my husband, mom, dad, and niece restored us a bit. Sleep and a shower did the rest.

The first week of the summer is a week spent getting things in place. We open up the house, dust, clean, get groceries, replace what was broken or misplaced by renters, and try to cobble together a bit of a routine. We really don't get around to the business of summer until about week 3. If you have heard anything about the weather in the Pacific Northwest this spring then you already know we have a few weeks to settle in until summer really begins anyway. Suffice it to say, we have the heat turned on.

There has been some sweetness in the past week.  We met friends at D'Anna's Cafe for dinner. I dream all year long of their Linguine with Fresh Clams.....I should probably figure out how to make it myself but I kind of like looking forward to it every year.  This morning we met A and M at Old Town Cafe for breakfast. It was M's first time and he enjoyed the Huevos Ranchero and the #9. There has also been Copper River Salmon, Woods Coffee, and a birthday. My youngest daughter turned 14 this week. We haven't gotten around to a birthday cake yet but I suspect she would rather have her cake made from Funfetti cake mix than something homemade. Seriously?!

This next week I am looking forward to getting a little more organized, putting some thought into menus and getting back to this blog.  Stay tuned.