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Better with Butter

Today was the second snow day of our winter in St. John’s. Everything was closed for the morning - though some places opened up as the day went on, school was called off. 

I did give myself a stay at home sort of a snow day last week. I spent a fair bit of time working, and baked a chocolate cake for my birthday. 

I don’t find it the easiest to get work done while there’s a chocolate cake cooling inches away from me, but I managed (and it smelled incredible). 

The recipe I used was from Scratch Baking Co.’s Baker’s Notes, the sweet issue. The chocolate cake is quick and takes only one bowl, and tastes delicious. 

I also used their recipe for chocolate icing, which involves melting butter and chocolate on an (improvised) double boiler, and stirring in sour cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Yum. I even got fancy with some soaking solution, as advised by my Christmas present cookbook, The Village Baker’s Wife. It’s amazing, and full of advice about cutting cakes in to layers and soaking them in rum, how to make cinnamon rolls out of danish pastry dough, and how to bake an apple pie using 10 cups of apples. There’s more advice and ideas to come from that book on this blog, that’s for sure.

Here’s the cake, all dressed up and ready to be carried out on the town in my handy cake carrier. All in all it was a pretty great cake, and a wonderful birthday.

Surprisingly, I am less sure than this guy on Slate that independent bookstores are killing literacy.

towirr:

A gentleman named Farhad Manjoo just posted a proudly contrarian article on Slate explaining why independent bookstores are not only irrelevent but maybe even harmful. I work at an independent bookstore, so that’s an argument I’d be very very curious to see made well. Honestly, I know the failings of small booksellers as well as anyone, and it’d be good to see them articulated. But that’s not what this essay was. Let’s look at it. All of it. In detail.

I’ll be interjecting my thoughts into the text of the essay itself. I know that’s a pretty ungenerous way to go about it, but as you’ll see, Mr. Manjoo is kind of an asshat, so I’m not feeling generous.

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I’m thankful for our little family getting to spend Thanksgiving together this year – I even got to stay home from school for a snow day! The snowfall broke records for November in St. John’s.

We celebrated on Thanksgiving morning with french toast topped with cranberry and blueberry sauce, and invited friends over for a proper Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. Finlay was thankful for all of the friends who were generous enough share their whipped cream and pies, and shared the couch for a post-dinner nap. 

The croissants from a few weeks ago turned out splendidly. Some were chocolate, most were regular, but they were all airy, buttery and full of layers.

We used the recipe from Tartine Bread this time, which used both leaven from our sourdough and commercial yeast. We’ll definitely use it again – but we’ll probably add more butter next time!

Saturdays are good, slow mornings. I woke up this morning, picked up a book, and read in bed for an hour. Bliss. 

Last Saturday I was a bit more industrious. I made two kinds of cheese; a funky sort of farmer’s cheese, and a rich and beautiful ricotta.

The simple recipe for Farmer’s cheese comes from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation. You heat milk to a slow boil on the stovetop, take it off the heat, and stir in vinegar (I used 2 liters of whole milk to 1/4 cup of vinegar). When you strain this mixture through a few layers of cheesecloth, you trap the curds and leave the whey behind. And maybe you marvel at the magic that just happened for a minute.

You then throw in a teaspoon of salt, stir, and bring the cheese into a ball to hang from a hook and drip for two hours. It’s not the fanciest of cheeses by far, but when we baked up in eggplant parmesan, it did wonderfully.

For the ricotta, I follow a recipe from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers. It’s a beautiful book that is a pleasure to read in its own right, and you kind of can’t help but be jealous of the author, Jessica Theroux. She spent a year traveling Italy and staying with grandmothers to learn their recipes, and see how they make their delicious foods. Some of the recipes are her interpretations of what she was taught, while others come directly from the Grandmothers. This ricotta is deviates from the traditional, which is made from the whey left over from other cheese making. Whole milk and heavy cream are certainly a good deviation.

The ricotta starts out with milk, cream and salt being brought to a simmer, with frequent stirring. Once it is simmering, you add lemon juice and white wine vinegar and let the mixture sit for half an hour. You then pour everything through the cheesecloth once more, and let the liquid drip through until it reaches a nice consistency, one to two hours. The ricotta you get is rich and creamy, and delicious on toast with some sugar sprinkled on top.

Give the ricotta a try, it’s well worth the very little effort it takes. Here are the ingredients:

3 1/4 cups whole milk

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed, strained lemon juice

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

I turned one cup of this ricotta into a ricotta cheesecake for a Halloween party. The one in the picture above is one I made earlier this summer, but both were decadent. For the most recent cheesecake, I simmered blueberries and partridgeberries in maple syrup for 20 minutes, to make a maple - berry topping that didn’t last long at the potluck.

Despite Finlay’s great love for cheese, he decided to nap in the sun for the morning. Really, you can’t blame him – naps in the sun are the best kind.

Baking some croissants on this lovely warm evening.

This summer, I spent a little while every Tuesday visiting our community garden. Somehow, despite a general lack of gardening knowledge, my friends and I managed to grow some monster kale.

Or, technically, dinosaur kale. Our kale has been great all summer, with our couple of plants growing great big curly leaves. It’s still going strong!

We have many plots in the garden, some where the gardeners were smart enough to plant flowers too. Our garden is right by a pond with a walking path around it, so the occasional onlooker comes over and on-looks. It’s a windy spot and we’ve had very little sun this summer, but the plants still grew – they were just primarily green.

Aside from kale, we did a great job growing masses of peas from seed. I generally don’t like peas – but fresh shelled peas are a revelation. It takes a lot of pods to get not too many peas, but they are worth it.

Martin and I made a pea and kale soup for tonight’s dinner, which was a tasty way to eat the little garden’s produce. It took ages to shell the peas… and then I measured them. Just one cup! To make up the next cup needed for the pea soup I used fava beans from our CSA bag, which, of course, need to be double-shelled (thank you internet). This soup takes some time.

Some carrots, onions, and garlic went into the soup, along with… cream cheese. See, when you live in Newfoundland, fancy things like Neufchatel aren’t kicking around the cheese section. If you live somewhere with Neufchatel though, it might be worth a try.

We ate the soup with some mashed green cauliflower and naan on the side. And it was really, really good. 

Creamy Curried Pea Soup

Adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

2 tablespoons of butter

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup chopped carrots

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups fresh or frozen peas (optional: sub one cup of peas for fava beans)

3 cups fresh chopped kale, stems removed

1/3 cup packed fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 ounces Neufchatel or cream cheese

1. In a soup pot on medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for another 3 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and turmeric. Add the broth and one cup of peas (note: if using fava beans, add them now). Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. 

2. Remove from the heat and stir in the kale, cilantro, black pepper and cheese. In a blender or in food processor puree the soup until very smooth. Stir in the remaining cup of peas and add salt to taste. Reheat gently on low heat - do not boil.

Serve with kale chips on top if you have tons of kale on your hands.

July 2, 2011

Morning - Strawberry picking in Maine. We had some competition… namely flocks of waxwings. 

Afternoon - Making strawberry jam in the summer palace.

Evening - Double strawberry upside-down cake (from Joy the Baker) plus cream cheese frosting (plus extra strawberries on the side). Martin got a good birthday cake this year, and incidentally, did not turn 93. 

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