Monday Reviews- A Homemade Life

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Sometimes when I’ve finished a book that I really love, I clutch it to my chest and hug it. It can be for a number of reasons, a beautiful story, a character I really relate to, or a flawless writing style. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this. Anyone?
In the past it has only been novels that have elicited such a loving response, but that all changed when I read “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg. This was the first cookbook that when I finished, I closed it, took a deep breath, then pulled it into an actual embrace (I also do this with new shoes and I’m sure my husband wonders how he got roped into marrying me). At first glance, I would not have expected to feel this way about this book because it has my least favorite book/cookbook elements. Short stories and no pictures. But from the first page, I knew I had to have this book. The way Molly writes and the stories she tells all blend seamlessly into one another and are told with such rich descriptions, that you can see what she’s baking even without a picture. This book takes you through the life of the Orangette author from the time she is little until the day she gets married. Each story is followed by a recipe that accompanies it. From the Tarte Tatin she makes after her first horrible heartbreak to the cake that introduced her to her future husband. Each chapter ties her life and love of food into a beautiful book you will never want to end. The only reason I ever stopped reading it was my craving for all of the delicious recipes. I hope you run out and read this book today, and when you’ve finished, if you hug it, tell me okay?

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Of all the recipes in this book, the one I’ve made the most is her Butternut Soup. As it is only 70 degrees here today and I have a cold that won’t go away I’m in the mood for a little fall comfort food (And lots of Lemon Chicken Soup).

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    Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Vanilla Cream

    Adapted from “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    One 2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes (about 4 generous cups)
    2 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch cubes (about 2 cups)
    1 medium yellow onion peeled and corsely chopped
    1 cup apple cider
    4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1 vanilla bean

    Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the squash, apples, and onion and stir to coat with oil. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent. Add the cider and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered for about 30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Using a blender or handheld mixer purée until very smooth. Return to pot, if needed, and continue to cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat, until the soup has reduced by one-third it’s original volume. While the soup is reducing, put the heavy cream in a small saucepan. Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean in half from top to bottom. Using the back of your knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod. Add seeds and pod to saucepan with the cream and warm over low heat, swirling occasionally, until it steams. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from heat and discard pod. Set aside. When the soup has reduced to you desired thickness, stir in the infused cream. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

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Monday Reviews- Baked Explorations

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I realized I haven’t talked about my dad much yet. This is mostly due to the fact that the man is never in the kitchen. His idea of gourmet is to fry some bologna in a pan and add “decorative mustard swirls”. One day I caught him eating a sandwich with as much gusto as one would an expensive steak, saying out loud, “this is amazing”. Curious what could garner such a response from a man who has dined all over the world I walked over to find him eating, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (Jif and Welch’s respectfully).

He is easily impressed by the simple things in life.

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One of his favorite desserts is pound cake-this apparently goes back to a distant Aunt who used to make it for him when he was little. The first bundt cake I made for my dad reminded him of the cake from his childhood and came from “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented”. This cookbook along with their first cookbook has quickly become my go to for everything from breakfasts to birthday cakes. It was written by the owners of the Baked Bakery in New York and it is my goal to get there before I turn 30. The whole premise of the book was to take classic American desserts and bring them back to life (strawberry jello salad anyone?) or in some cases make them better (black and white cookies).  Something to keep in mind is that many of these recipes have a lot of steps and some are a little trickier for a beginning baker. Others just take time, like the Mississippi Mud Pie cake. However no matter how many steps they take, each recipe consistently yields delicious desserts that will impress anyone you serve it to. What I love most about both this book and its predecessor is the passion the authors have for baked goods. From the photographs to the paragraphs before each recipe, you can’t help but be inspired to make something delicious for someone you love.

This is the cake I made my dad, I’m pretty sure he liked it even more then PB&J.

Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

Recipe from “Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Makes one 10-inch bundt

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ¾ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly grated zest of two oranges
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup confectioners sugar, sifted for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks until they are pale and light; slowly pour in the sugar until it is completely incorporated. Add the yogurt and olive oil and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the orange zest and vanilla, and mix until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two parts, beating after each addition until just combined (this will take about 10 seconds). Scrape down the bowl and beat again for 5 seconds. In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peas form. Scoop 1 cup of the egg whites in the batter. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold them in. After about 30 seconds of folding, add the remaining egg whites and gently fold until they are almost completely combined. Do not rush the folding process. Pour the better into the prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Just before serving, dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar. The cake can be stored at room temperature, covered tightly, for up to 3 days.

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Everything Caramel Corn

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Every summer my husband packs up his sleeping bag, a few pairs of shorts, and Lego (our big dog) to go canoeing down a river for 4 days with a bunch of other guys. They jump off rocks, drink whiskey, smoke cigars, and sleep outside. I worry every year about his safety sure, but I worry even more that on one of these trips he is going to buy some land on the river and move us down there. And as much as I love fresh food, I love target and indoor plumbing even more. So this year I decided to send him off on his trip with a little reminder of home. I briefly considered a framed picture of me and the dogs but didn’t think that would have the intended effect. Searching through my “Joy the Baker” cookbook, I found my answer. Popcorn, pretzels, peanut butter ritz bitz, and other treats coated in caramel corn and baked. Salty, sweet, and it can’t be recreated in the wilderness. Perfect!

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{these little guys are ready for a caramel party}

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{action shot}

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{only the thought of a burnt tongue stopped me from stuffing my face at this point}

From the Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson

Everything Caramel Corn

Makes about 12 Cups

For the Popcorn Mixture:

  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup yellow popcorn
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dry roasted almonds
  • 1 ½ cups pretzel sticks (2 big handfuls)
  • 1 ½ cups peanut butter sandwich crackers
  • 1 ½ cups teddy grahams*

For the caramel:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

*Not part of the original recipe.

To make the popcorn mixture: in a large pan over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add the corn kernels and place a lid, slightly ajar, over the pot. Pop the popcorn until the popping sound subsides. Turn off the heat, carefully pour the hot popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.

In a 9×13- inch pan, measure 7 heaping cups of popcorn, being sure to avoid any unpopped kernels. Top popcorn with almonds, pretzel sticks, crackers, and grahams. Set aside.

Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 200 degrees F.

To make the caramel: combine butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Carefully whisk the mixture as it heats and the sugar melts. Boil the sugar and butter mixture for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add baking soda. Whisk well. Carefully pour the sugar mixture into the 9×13-inch pan over the popcorn mixture. Use a large wooden spoon to toss the two together making sure that every bit of the popcorn mixture is coated in caramel. Be careful- you don’t want the hot sugar to touch your hands. It burns!

Place pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, removing the pan to toss every 15 minutes. Once baked, remove from oven. Carefully spoon onto sheets of waxed paper to dry. Once dry, store in an airtight container. Popcorn will last, stored in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 1 week.

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