Friday, September 23, 2016

Walnut Orange Olive Oil Cake with Greek Yogurt Buttercream

Normal.  It's funny word, I think.  So are the words routine and comfortable.  Not funny like make-you-laugh funny, obviously, but I think you know what I mean.  When you give it some time to really mull those words over you realize that you probably don't actually know what they mean.  And that your definitions is definitely not the same as the ones of the person right next to you.

 When I was younger comfort and routine meant having lots of friends and family around.  Knowing all the places and faces around me.  Knowing exactly what was expected of me and how I was to behave, think, act.  It was simple.  And for most people that doesn't change.  They stay close to home and family.  They find a life they love and not much changes from day to day.  That's what normal means.

These days my life feels anything but that.  No normal.  No routine.  No constants except for the friends afar.  It will eventually settle and my surroundings will feel more like home.  But right now it's the complete opposite.  And here's the thing- I'm the kind of person who's first instinct is to crave the comfortable.  I could easily cocoon myself in my house with my familiar belongings and routines and be perfectly okay with that.

Mostly.  There's still always a little nagging voice in the back of my head that tries to push me out of this comfort zone.  I just had a milestone birthday.  You know that big one every girl in the first half of her life dreads.  But I'm coming to realize that maybe it's not such a bad thing after all.  I might have learned a thing or two over the last 40 years (oops, let that one slip, didn't I?).  And with that smidge of wisdom comes that knowledge that I need to listen to that little nagging voice.  Because if I stretch a bit beyond what I feel comfortable with, I usually find out something new about myself.  And then my comfort zone gets just a little bit wider.  Which is pretty awesome.  All those new experiences make for a life that is so much richer.

So maybe normal for me ought to mean that there is no normal.  My life is certainly trying to tell me something along those lines.  Maybe in the next 40 years I'll learn how to embrace and enjoy the chaos.  Or perhaps it won't take quite that long.

Walnut Orange Olive Oil Cake with Greek Yogurt Buttercream

Makes one 9-inch cake, 8-10 servings.  Recipes adapted from Pots & Pans and Potlicker.
For the printable recipe, click here.

This is not a formal, layered birthday cake.  It's more simple but definitely more sophisticated.   I decided that I would treat myself and make this my first baking project in my new Greek kitchen.  And since I'm in Greece, what better way to celebrate than with some distinctly Greek flavors? The cake is a light olive oil and walnut based sponge with the added addition of orange zest and some white wine (fancy!).  It's not at all heavy or weighed down by the addition of the nuts.  Whipping the egg whites to make a sponge makes all the difference.  And the frosting is not all that different from a cream cheese frosting, I simply used Greek yogurt and honey to add a bit of tart and sweet ultra creaminess.  I really, really love the frosting.  Oh and you must use full fat yogurt for this recipe.  Lowfat just will not work or have the same flavor or feel as the full fat version.

For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, separated
zest of 1 medium orange
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs dry white wine, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc

figs and an orange for garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil a 9 inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.

In a food processor, blend the flour and walnuts until the walnuts are finely ground into the flour.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar on medium until the mixture has thickened and the color has paled.  Add in the orange zest and beat for just a moment.  Slowly add the olive oil while the machine is on and beat until the mixture thickens.  Stir in the wine.  Beat in the flour mixture on low just until incorporated.

In a separate very clean bowl, beat the egg whites with a whisk until the reach soft peaks.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and whip until the peaks are stiff and glossy.

Using a spatula, scoop about 1/3 of the egg whites into the rest of the cake batter.  Gently stir until the egg whites are just mixed into the batter (your goal is to lighten the cake batter so that the rest of the egg whites are easier to incorporate).  Add the rest of the whites to the bowl and fold in with the spatula.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.  The cake will be golden and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean (you can also check that the center of the cake is springy when lightly pressed with your finger).  Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack.  Then loosen the edges with a knife and turn the cake out onto the rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, make the buttercream.

For the buttercream:
1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup full fat Greek yogurt
2 tsp honey
2 cups powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment place the butter, yogurt and honey.  Beat on medium speed until they are light and fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar in batches, beating on low between each addition.  Increase the speed to medium-high and beat the buttercream for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

When the cake is cool spread the buttercream over the top.  Garnish with quartered figs and orange slices, if desired.  The cake will keep stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blueberry Peach Jam

Standing in sandy soil with the baby asleep on my shoulder and alongside my boys and mom, I was faced with rows upon rows of bushes dripping with ripe blueberries.  Not just any blueberries, but Jersey ones.  The best kind, in my opinion.  Huge, deep blue and just perfectly sweet.  And the ones that I remember from my own childhood which tips the scale in their favor every time.

We're armed with baskets and containers, a refreshed knowledge of what a ripe blueberry looks like (don't pick the green or red ones, boys!) and an eye to the pending rain storm in the sky.  Let the picking commence.

Berry picking is something we started doing as a family when we lived in Washington.  The absolute best blackberries grow in the Pacific Northwest and every year the hubs and I would head down Whidbey Island to Greenbank Farm and pick as much as we could.  There were always tons of people so you had to get a bit ruthless about your picking if you wanted the biggest and ripest berries.  As we've added family members and moved on from Washington, the berries have changed (it was mostly strawberries in California and Germany) but it's still something I try to do at least once each summer.

We happy to be lucky enough to be staying with my parents for a while this summer while in between homes (and countries!).  So there was really not even a second thought when it came to choosing the berry picking.  Blueberries.  And of course with a couple of enthusiastic kids and an almost as eager mom and grandmother "just a quick trip because we have a bigger one planned next weekend!" turns into more blueberries than anyone intended.  That's always the way it works, isn't it?

Not a problem!  I have big plans for them. It started with jam that I couldn't help but throw in a few perfectly ripe farmstand peaches into.  Then there was a galette that didn't last 10 minutes out of the oven.  I think next up I'm going to take a  page from Marissa McLellan's new book, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars, and jar a whole bunch in a fragrant honey syrup.

But first, the jam that almost started a fight between my sister and her husband over licking the spoon.  That's how good it is!

Blueberry Peach Jam
Makes 3 pints or 5-6 half pints.  Recipe adapted from Love and Olive Oil.
For the printable recipe, click here

This a a jam that just screams summer to me.  Yes, of course, you could use frozen fruit.  But blueberries and peaches at their best make it special.  Their seasons overlap and if you time it just right you will have an amazing jam.  I tend to favor looser jams that aren't set super tightly, so I leave out pectin or any other thickeners.  Just watch the jam carefully as it cooks.  A few minutes too long and you'll go from perfect to jam that tastes a bit like a bad cough drop- overly sweet and slightly burnt tasting.  You're looking for the foam on top to subside and the bubbles to go from large ones just around the edge to small bubbles on the whole surface.  I didn't bother doing the whole water bath canning operation for this jam because I gave half to my sister and the rest is almost already gone at our house.  I could honestly just sit and eat it with a spoon right from the jar.   But if you do decide you'd like to keep some for the winter, simply process your jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Oh, and if you follow the link for Love and Olive Oil above, Lindsay has made some really awesome printable labels for your jars.

2 lbs peaches, about 5 large
3 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and any stems removed
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

Peel, pit and chop the peaches finely.  Place the peaches and blueberries into a large, wide bottomed sauce pan.  If you'd prefer your jam to have a smoother consistency, use a potato masher to lightly mash the fruit.  Stir in the sugar and lemon juice.

Place the saucepan over a medium high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently until the blueberries have burst and the peaches are soft.  The bubbles on the surface of the jam will go from large and only around the edges to small, tight bubbles all over.  Ladle the jam into jars and let cool.  Refrigerate.  The refrigerated jars will last for several weeks.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Easiest, No-Bowl Banana Muffins

The list of to-do's is more than 10 deep and I keep finding things that need doing that haven't even made the posted list.  Moving is never easy, but moving from one foreign country to another with a month long stop back home is an especially daunting task.  It's one of those days when there are so many things that need my attention it's paralyzing.  I don't know where to start and therefore haven't started at all.  I think by the end of the day I will have just closed my eyes, pointed at my list and tried to accomplish whatever my finger lands on.  That's as good a method as anything else.  My goal?  Get just one thing crossed off the list, no matter how small.

When you have a day ahead like the one that I have, it never hurts to start out with something to eat that is simple and delicious.  This muffin recipe is my families absolute favorite.  I get it asked for it all the time so I thought it was about time to share it in this space.  The best part of the recipe?  It requires only two measuring items- one measuring cup and one measuring spoon- and absolutely no bowl.  Part of what makes this a fave with my kids is that it is squished and mixed in a big zip-top bag.  They just love doing the "hard work" that it takes to mix the batter.  I kind of love that part too.  Then I simply snip off a corner of the bag, squeeze into the muffin cups and toss the empty bag.  Easy.  Brilliant, in fact (it's not my idea so I can call it that without bragging).  You can thank me later.

Easiest, No-Bowl Banana Muffins
Makes 12 standard muffins.  Adapted, only slightly, from Yammie's Noshery.
For the printable, click here

You really can't go wrong with these muffins.  It's a simple as squish, squish, squeeze and you're eating warm muffins for breakfast.  I like to keep them simple with just a sprinkling of sugar on top but I have tossed mini chocolate chips into the batter or made a quick struesel top at the request of my kids.  I'm sharing the recipe for my simplest version here, but feel free to play with it to your heart's delight.  The important thing is to follow the order given for adding the ingredients or you will end up with a wet measuring cup to scoop dry ingredients.  It just won't work.  So while it goes a bit against the "rules" of baking I promise it works.  Oh, and the only two measuring tools that you'll need are a 1/4 cup measuring cup and a 1/4 tsp measuring spoon.

3 bananas (the spottier, the better), 1 cup mashed
2 large eggs
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of sea salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (sometimes I use nutmeg instead, especially if I am adding chocolate chips)
1/2 cup neutral flavored oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Line a 12 cup standard muffin tin with muffin liners.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a large zip-top bag, mash the bananas.  Add the eggs and sugar to the bag, zip up and squish until completely mixed.  Open the top and add the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon to the bag.  Close and mix until there are no more dry spots of flour.  Finally, add the oil and vanilla to the batter and give it a final squish to blend all the ingredients.

Snip a corner off the zip-top bag and squeeze the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the tops with a bit of sugar.  Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool the muffins in the pan for a few minutes and then remove from the pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.  The muffins will keep in an airtight container for 2 days.