Category Archives: desserts

Sticky Sentimentality

I wrote this last week before leaving on a limited-internet-access vacation. By the time this post is published, our trip will be almost over and we might be cursing the snow but I bet we’ll be fantasizing about moving back to the mountains.

A taste of what’s to come.

Tomorrow Lee and I are boarding a plane for Denver, the city where we met. I anticipate heavy sentimentality saturating this vacation. We’ll be spending time in the mountains where so many of our early dates (and by dates I mean expeditions) took place. Maybe we’ll drive past places we used to live, restaurants where we ate together, sights we knew.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing makes me very sad. I inherited this morose nostalgia from my father. Even looking back to see happy memories makes me sad that those experiences are over. I suppose this has something to do with my inability to live in and enjoy the present…gonna have to work on that.

In an effort to rescue myself and this vacation from despondency, I thought I’d share a little bit of my happy memories from the Colorado era of my life. I moved to Denver for graduate school in 2007, landed a career-changing internship with the National Park Service in the summer of 2008, and met my future husband in the same month.

I look back on that time as the happiest of my life. Lee and I went on adventures in the mountains together. We had season ski passes and spent almost every weekend doing something active outdoors. We spent time at my family’s cabin and dragged my dog up a few 14ers. I had good friends in my graduate program and landed a series of jobs in my field.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve been unhappy since I left Colorado, life has just been more complicated. I left the hardest part of graduate school (writing my thesis) for after we moved back east. Once that was behind me, the years Lee and I spent travelling on our boat were simultaneously wonderful and excruciatingly difficult. We got married (yay!) but we also put our relationship and our individual strengths to the test.

Fruit cake, this month’s recipe swap dish, is sticky sentimentality manifested in food. I think of it as being saturated with buttery, sweet, dense, richness – everything that a holiday treat should be. I also associate fruit cake with vintage cookbooks, something I’ve been up to my ears in lately. We found two more boxes of my grandmother’s cookbooks and I’ve been drooling over the little time capsules of culinary history.

A James Beard cookbook that my great aunt gave my grandmother on her 39th birthday caught my eye first but it was The Southern Hospitality Cookbook that ended up on my lap one evening. I paged through recipes for Southern classics and wondered which of them Helen had made. Moussaka, of all things, was bookmarked but I found my way to a simple recipe for cranberry bread. I had fresh cranberries (from the CSA, of course) in my fridge. I had almost all the ingredients. As Lee would say, done and done.

This is not a fruit cake. It bears no resemblance to the classic fruit cake recipe Christianna sent us for this month’s recipe swap. True, it is festive, but it lacks the sticky-sweet sentimentality of fruit cake. Maybe that’s for the best. Clearly I don’t need any more nostalgia in my life.

I know my fellow recipe swappers will give you a dose of the traditional and untraditional fruit cake you crave!



Cranberry Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil or softened butter
  • 3/4 cup pineapple or orange juice
  • 1 large egg
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon grated orange rind are nice additions.
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cranberries (a food processor is great for this!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. If melting coconut oil, place in oven in an oven safe dish.
  3. Oil one 9X5 loaf pan or several smaller pans.
  4. In a large bowl, stir dry ingredients (first 6) together with a whisk or fork.
  5. Cut in coconut oil or butter with a whisk, two knives, or a pastry blender.
  6. Beat egg, juice, and vanilla bean, if using, together in a separate bowl.
  7. Add liquid ingredients to dry, stirring until just moistened.
  8. Fold in pecans and cranberries
  9. Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan(s). The batter is rather thick so you might need to spread it around a little bit.
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes for mini loaves and 45 minutes to 1 hour for a large loaf, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean and the top is slightly brown.
  11. Cool on a rack before slicing.

Notes

Adapted from The Southern Hospitality Cookbook

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Cookie Therapy

I don’t know what feels better: eating homemade cookies myself or baking cookies and giving them away. I need to do both more often.

I made these a couple of weeks ago, maybe more. It was one of my first weekdays off from work after a brief full time stint. Observation from that experiment: when I’m at work, all I want to to do is go home and bake. When I’m home, I don’t often pause my day to do something fun or relaxing, like bake and eat cookies.

These cookies, rather large pumpkin cut-outs if you can’t tell that from the picture, went to Lee’s work. Doc and I walked them down there ourselves. It’s kind of an unpleasant walk down a very busy street. The sidewalk is usually studded with trash and homeless encampments. I take a different, prettier route on the way back and I suppose I could take it both ways.

There was already a lot of food laying around the office when I got there. That made me sad, of course. My poor cookies would be lost in the jumble of pan dulce and pizza, unappreciated. Oh well. It’s funny, I like bringing food to people but I don’t actually like being thanked for it. It embarrasses me to hang around while people sample my baked goods. I mistrust their praises and think they must be choking down bites of cookie just because I’m there, so I leave. I drop my cookies and run.

I don’t normally ice cookies unless they’re Christmas cut-out cookies. These soft, lightly spiced, Swedish ginger cookies would be perfectly fine without icing. I mostly slathered it on there because I was worried about what other people would think of unfrosted cookies. I don’t want to be known as that crazy woman who only makes healthy food so I got out the powdered sugar and butter and made a frosting/icing of sorts. It turned out remarkably well considering I didn’t follow a recipe and just blindly added powdered sugar to butter, a splash of milk and a little vanilla extract in my food processor. At first it was lumpy but a little more sugar did the trick. I wish I had written down the ratio of ingredients I ended up with. Oh well. Next time.

As for the cookies, I followed this recipe almost exactly. I did use all brown sugar, no white, and half whole wheat flour. I also used Earth Balance instead of butter, making my cookies vegan. This recipe is very similar to my grandmother’s Ginger Cookies but I think I prefer the old family recipe. I’ve never tried to roll out that dough, however, and this dough was pretty easy to roll out and cut.

Before I forget again, the winner of the Nature Box giveaway is Christina! A box full of healthy snacks is on it’s way to her as we speak! Thank you to everyone who entered. I hope to host some more delicious giveaways soon.

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Carrot…pie? A Recipe Swap and a giveaway!

Perhaps I reacted to this month’s Burwell General Store Recipe Swap recipe a little differently than most people. I was ready to cook up some carrots and bake a pie! Carrot pie sounded like another delicious variation of some of my favorite pies: pumpkin and sweet potato. Could carrot pie be even better because of what it has in common with carrot cake (my absolute favorite)?

I wanted to find out whether another orange vegetable would make a lovely, fall-flavored pie so I decided to stick closely to the original recipe. That turned out to be pretty easy, since the recipe was so vague that I didn’t have a rigid ingredient list to follow. It reads something like an oral history gathered by some culinary folklorist. Can I have that job, please?

I steamed “the carrots”, added them to milk and eggs, sweetened them with sugar, and added cinnamon for spice. That wasn’t all, of course. The full recipe is at the bottom of this post. My take on carrot pie includes ricotta cheese and allspice but no crust. I gave up baking custard pies in crust long ago. All I want is the filling so baking that in little ramekins or muffin cups makes dessert much more enjoyable to me.

Individual custard cups may not be quite as pretty as a whole pie and sometimes it’s nice to have some crunch with your silky-smooth filling. That’s where this bag of granola comes in!

I happened to have a bag of Cherry Berry Granola in my pantry from the NatureBox each blogger received as part of the Foodbuzz Festival gift bag. NatureBox delivers a monthly package of healthy snacks anywhere you need them (in the U.S.). They come in neat little resealable pouches and have already saved me from a snack black hole at least once. I love the dried fruit, nut mix, and Blueberry Almond Bites but I’m especially excited about the granola, since it’s on the light side – just how I like granola – with a good ratio of oats to whole almonds and dried berries.

The crunchy granola was a perfect topping for my carrot custard, which was still warm and gooey when I snacked on it yesterday afternoon. It was reminiscent of pumpkin or sweet potato pie but with more substance, thanks to the ricotta cheese, and plenty of flavor from the vanilla bean and spices. Lee and I did a bike/run brick workout that morning so I snacked for the rest of the day. The rest of my little carrot pies went in the fridge for weeknight desserts.

 

If you’d like to try some healthy, convenient snacks for yourself, NatureBox has generously offered one of their future month’s boxes to one of my lucky readers! All you have to do is comment on this post telling my where and when you most need a snack during the day. The winner will be chosen at random from those comments. One entry per person, please. I will announce the winner in 1 week. At this time, NatureBox can only deliver to U.S. addresses and cannot customize box contents. Be sure to check out the NatureBox Blog for delicious recipes and snack ideas!

You’ll also find inventive recipes inspired by carrot pie from my fellow recipe swappers below.



Little Crustless Carrot Pies

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 half-cup ramekins

Ingredients

  • 3 medium-sized carrots
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese*
  • 1/4 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar, brown sugar, or other sweetener of choice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cut carrots into 1 inch chunks and steam until tender.
  3. Puree carrots in a food processor or using a hand blender.
  4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs.
  5. Add ricotta cheese, milk, sugar, spices, salt, and vanilla, stirring with a whisk until well blended.
  6. Add carrots and stir until combined.
  7. Pour batter into ramekins coated with a little oil or silicone muffin liners. Place these on a baking sheet.
  8. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes or until the center of each pie is solid and the edges begin to pull away from the dish.
  9. Cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.
  10. Pies may be served warm or chilled, topped with granola, cookie crumbs, or even whipped cream. If using muffin cups, you may remove pies form the cups before serving as long as they are significantly cooled.

Notes

* Yogurt or pureed tofu may be substituted for ricotta.

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Lemon-Vanilla Bean Blender Pudding

I’ll try to keep this short and sweet, like a jar of pudding.

The Vintage Recipe Swap returns! After a several-month-long hiatus, our busy lives finally permit another epic recipe remake. We grew, we split, we frantically (at least on my part) went about our lives for a few months, and now we’re back together as one recipe-hungry group again.

Christianna provided us with an excellent recipe to rekindle our imaginations: Lemon Sponge Pie from the Old Court House Tea Room in Delaware. We are working our way through The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places, compiled in 1954, hence the geographic context.

mmm pie. Lemon pie makes me think of afternoon tea drinking and sophisticated conversation. Maybe it’s the Delaware tea room bringing that scene to mind but I think of lemon as a light, refreshing flavor that is available year-round. In this season of syrupy summer fruit desserts, a little lemon is a welcome reprieve.

I am trying to take it easy on myself nowadays: no elaborate undertakings in the kitchen when there is so much to do outdoors. I’m not baking bread. My pizza stone has seen very little use this summer. I didn’t feel like making pie. I know what you’re thinking: What self-professed baker/blogger is too lazy to make pie? Pie has never really been my thing. I’m a muffin kind of girl, remember? Even those requite too much portioning of ingredients into little tins for my patience right now.

And now to the un-pie. My favorite thing about pie is custard pie filling (mmm crustless sweet potato goat milk pies). For my take on lemon pie, I decided to embrace summer simplicity and my love for creamy filling with a no-cook lemon pudding. Two things make lemon pudding better: vanilla bean and eating it out of a jar. Whipped cream and some simple vanilla wafers would be fantastic too but I didn’t have either of those.

Walnuts made a nice addition.

I completely made up this recipe and I am completely satisfied with how it turned out. The spoon I dipped into the blender came out with a very lemony, creamy bite of heaven. I even sneaked some healthy things in there, balancing out the tangy Greek yogurt with silken tofu and keeping the added sugar to a minimum with only 1/4 cup of agave nectar. I have to warn all traditional lemon-pie lovers out there that this dessert is very lemony and not very sweet. It was perfect for my taste but you could balance things out a little more with more agave or honey and less lemon. I’m providing those variations in the recipe below in addition to my zippy version.

Don’t skip the vanilla bean but substitute vanilla extract if it’s all you have. The vanilla bean flavor shows up more after the pudding chills in the fridge for a few hours. I was so happy to come home to a jar of this after some epic dinghy sailing last night even though my frozen toes and fingers could have used a hot drink instead. The vanilla had come through and the texture had thickened since my sample bowl earlier in the day.

Lemon-Vanilla Blender Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 block (12 oz) silken tofu, such as Mori Nu Organic
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt, regular or low-fat
  • Juice from 2 lemons (1 for more subtle flavor)
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1/4-1/3 cup agave nectar or honey, depending on your sweetness preferences
  • Insides scraped from one vanilla bean

Instructions

  1. Add everything to the your blender, starting with the tofu and yogurt.
  2. For the vanilla bean, slit the entire pod open with a knife and scrape out the dark paste (tiny bean flecks!) with the back of a knife or a spoon. Add this to the blender.
  3. Blend, starting on the lowest speed and working your way up, until the mixture is fully blended.
  4. Pour into bowls or jars to serve immediately or chill for a few hours or overnight before serving. The flavors will intensify and the texture will thicken as it chills.
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