Tag Archives: Travel

Western Iowa (Knows How to Party)

Hey there, ladies and gents. Happy Labor Day to you and yours! I’ve been having a lovely weekend. September is my favorite month (largely because it marks the beginning of cardigan season), and so far September 2011 has been marvelous. Several reasons why:

1. That new Beyonce song, “Love on Top.” It makes me want to put in a side ponytail and go rollerskating. And–did you see her performance at the VMAs? I need to know where I can get one of those sequined business suits for my eventual debut in the workplace.

2. On Friday, I went on a little getaway with two college friends to Denison, Iowa (home to the world’s largest collection of Donna Reed memorabilia, in case you were wondering). I met up with my friend Leslie in Jefferson, my hometown, and we cruised the rest of the way through the cornfields together.

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Our friend Heather met up with us in Denison, and we headed to our home for the weekend–an adorable little B&B with a really pretty view.

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If you happen to find yourself in need of lodging in Denison, be sure to check out this rural gem. It was a great deal and we had a wonderful time chatting with the owner, Clarice, and the other guests, two European fellows in town on some sort of farm-y business. Clarice told us all kinds of her cooking secrets, many of which involved adding mayonnaise to things, and we discussed our mutual love of cookbooks published by churches and small town women’s organizations.

3. While in Denison, I sang for my old roommate LeAnn’s wedding, and Leslie and Heather were the personal attendants. It was a beautiful ceremony and the reception was a grand time!

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4. On the way back from the wedding, Leslie and I stopped in Jefferson and I gave her a brief tour of the most important sites from my formative years. The tour included lunch at the ever-popular Uptown Cafe (where, for future reference, “veggie burger” = beef patty topped with pickle slices), and meeting many of my magnificent relatives.

5. I made cookie dough balls from the new Peas and Thank You cookbook to take along on our girls’ weekend (you know, for late nights talking about boys and braiding each other’s hair).

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If you have never made these, you should do so very soon. Each day that you don’t, you are doing a disservice to yourself and every cookie-loving individual in your inner circle. Here’s the recipe, now get to work!

A word about upcoming events before I sign off: We’re supposed to get the results of the bar exam sometime next week. My mom inquired today as to whether I want “the pink Andre or the regular champagne-flavored Andre” for purposes of celebrating what she clearly assumes will be good news. (She is such a champion.) So–if I do pass, you can look forward to a recipe featuring my favorite sparkling beverage. If I do not pass, I will probably take a short blogging vacation to, ummm, reflect on my life choices (i.e. cry and eat multiple sleeves of Thin Mints). Only time will tell. Until next time, folks–have a great week!

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Burlington banoffee

I’m back from spring break in Vermont with my gal pal/kindred spirit Kristin—it was marvelous!  We did lots of adventuring and took in some pretty scenery.

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We also made time for important things like sitting on the couch while watching Sister Wives and eating dessert.  Kristin pointed out on 3/14 that it was “Pi Day.”  While I don’t care about pi, I do care about pie, and I’ve been wanting to try the banoffee variety for awhile.  (“Banoffee” = mash-up of “banana” and “toffee”—it’s a British thing, I think.)

We made the banoffee pie for a little gathering to watch the finale of The Bachelor, and thank God we did.  I’ve never watched the show before….but I must say that the “After the Final Rose” special was pretty emotionally taxing.  I mean, if two beautiful people who got engaged after a contrived, videotaped six-week courtship are struggling to make it work, is there hope in love for the rest of us?  This is the kind of thing that’s easier to ponder while eating pie.

Here’s the link to the recipe we used.  It worked like a charm.  Only alterations: store-bought graham cracker crust instead of homemade, and 3 sliced bananas instead of four.  Oh, and I sprinkled mini chocolate chips over the top, because when did that ever make anything worse?

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(I don’t have a picture of the finished product, but I assure you it was very cute.)

Today I set out to create some banoffee-inspired blondies.  They turned out really well, and, because they don’t involve a can of sweetened condensed milk, they won’t violently attack your blood sugar quite like the pie.  Note: I used store-bought toffee bits in these, but you could go to this link and make your own!  That would be a nifty little project, huh?

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Banoffee Blondies (makes 12 bars)

  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c. white flour
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c. toffee bits (plus some extra for the top)
  • 1/2 of an overripe banana, mashed with a fork
  • optional chocolate chips to sprinkle on top

Melt the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat.  Cook and stir for 4-5 minutes (there will be a lot of foam) until it’s golden brown.  (Browning the butter creates the caramel-y flavor that will put the “offee” in your banoffee.)  Take the pan off the stove and allow the butter to cool for a few minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the browned butter and brown sugar.  Then add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Add the flours, salt, and soda and mix until well-incorporated.  Fold in the mashed banana and toffee bits.  Press the dough into a greased 8×8 pan and sprinkle the top with extra toffee bits and a few chocolate chips if desired.  Bake at 350 for about 17 minutes.

P.S. I do have some Vermont maple syrup—I promise there will be some sort of maple-themed creation within the next few days and I’ll be sure to report.  (Unless it’s gross.)

P.P.S. If you happen to be looking for a beautiful, fascinating novel to read you should definitely check out Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  I finished it on the plane yesterday and cried my eye makeup clean off.  So….maybe save the last 100 pages or so for the privacy of your own home if you don’t like weeping around strangers.

Our daily bread

When my mom was in high school, her family hosted a foreign exchange student from Sweden.  They’ve stayed in touch for a good 40 years, and in the summer of 2009 the former exchange student, Katie, invited me and my mom to come visit.  She said if we came in July we could “pick berries and mushrooms and have lovely sunshine,” and who’s going to turn that down, huh? Not us.  So we went and stayed a week, and there was indeed berry-picking and lovely sunshine, as well as boats, Stockholm sites, good food, and great company.

Being serious breakfast people, we were particularly enamored with the toasting bread Katie’s husband Bob baked, and asked about the recipe.  He slaved away for a good hour at his computer, switching the measurements from metric, and I’m eternally grateful to him for this.  Store-bought bread has all but disappeared from my life because I love this stuff so much.  So how about a little step-by-step bread-baking action, complete with dorky how-to photos?  Baking yeast bread is a little intimidating, but it’s really just a matter of time and temperature.  Plus, if you screw it up, you can just tell yourself that flour is cheap and chalk it up to the mysteries of science.    Here goes!

Bob’s Wholemeal and Rye Bread (yields 1 loaf and about 16 rolls when we make it, or 3 loaves if you’d rather)

STAGE 1: Make the starter for the dough either the night before or the morning of baking.

  • 1 1/4 c. rye flour
  • 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 4 c. boiling water

Mix the ingredients and then cover for at least 4 hours at room temperature.  The starter will resemble Oliver Twist-style gruel, like so:

STAGE 2: Mix 1 3/4 c. lukewarm water (about 95 degrees) with 3 (.25 oz) packages of active dry yeast.  Whisk the yeast into the warm water, and then add it, along with the following ingredients, to the starter:

  • 1 1/2 c. rye flour (plus, reserve an additional 1/2 c. in a separate bowl to use for kneading)
  • 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (again, reserve 1/2 c. for kneading)
  • 2 1/2 c. bread flour (same–reserve 1/2 c. of this as well)
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1 tablespoon salt

I would suggest working in the water + yeast and honey before you start adding flour.  Try a potato masher if a spoon isn’t working out for you.  Then add flour gradually.  I’m not gonna lie to you–this is challenging.  The dough will be pretty stiff, so you should choose a sturdy utensil (I learned this the hard way some time ago when I broke a sort-of flimsy wooden spoon clean in half while stirring.)

Sometimes I have to sit down.  I resolved to do more push-ups in the new year, though, so it can only get easier, right?  Anyway, once you have the dough as well-mixed as possible in the bowl, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.  It will be somewhat sticky to begin with, but gradually incorporate most of the flour you reserved above and it should become fairly smooth.

(That’s my mom–I usually make her do the hard parts of a recipe and then steal all the glory.)  After kneading, cover the dough with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about 3 hours.  Tip: preheat your oven to 200, then turn it off, open the door, and set the dough nearby.  This will help the yeast do its thing.

STAGE 3 (LAST STAGE!): Punch down the dough and knead for 5 more minutes on a floured surface.  (Use flour left over from the bowl you reserved it in earlier.  You can add more if necessary, but you probably won’t have to.)  Then, place about 1/3 of the dough in a greased loaf pan, form the rest into rolls, and place the rolls on a greased baking sheet.  To make the rolls even, just cut the remaining dough in half, then in fourths, eighths, etc., until you think the pieces look roll-sized.  (Remember they will rise a little bit.)

Place the loaf pan and the sheet of rolls in the same warm place as before, covered with a damp towel, and allow to rise again (1-2 hours).  After the dough has risen for the second time, bake at 400 degrees.  The rolls will take 30-35 minutes, and the loaf will take about an hour.  To test for doneness, hold the bread (with an oven mitt, please) and give it a thump on the bottom.  It should sound hollow.

Flour, water, yeast, honey, salt, and some time–that’s all you need to make yourself some honest, healthy bread that will last you quite awhile!  (Well, it’ll last you quite awhile if you store it in the fridge.  No preservatives, you know.)  It’s a wonderful little taste of Scandinavia fresh from the toaster every morning, and although it’s tricky the first few times, it’s a lot of fun to mess around with the recipe.  Farewell for now, folks–I hope the first few days of 2011 have been treating you well!

Beurre + farine + trois jours = magique

The summer before last, I spent six weeks taking classes in Arcachon, France.  I lived in this house:

This was the view from my room:

I had class until early afternoon, and then spent the rest of my time sitting on the beach, taking trains to various European cities, drinking wine, and swooning over pretty pastries.  It was, in short, the best thing ever.  Sometimes, when my life feels a little blah (which can certainly happen as the semester starts winding up toward finals), I have to do something French-y to get my spark back.  Enter: CROISSANTS.

This recipe is from “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.  I haven’t read the book in its entirety–I just flipped through and looked at the recipes, mostly–but I think the gist is as follows: if American women want to feel better about themselves they should stop eating so much fake, processed food, not obsess over calories, and probably drink more wine.  This is a philosophy I can support, Ms. Guiliano.

This recipe takes 3 days, and there are quite a few steps.  But come on, people–homemade croissants are worth some sacrifice and time with the rolling pin and flour all over the place.  Aaaaand now….the recipe, as it appears in the book, plus some nifty how-to photos (my camera is now a buttery mess).  Editorial comments (because I do love to editorialize when it comes to baking) are in italics.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. milk plus 2 tablespoons to brush over croissants
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 c. plus 3 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour (I never sift, because I like to live dangerously.)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons sweet (unsalted) butter
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk for glaze

Friday Evening (Day 1):

1. Heat 1 cup of the milk to lukewarm.  Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of the lukewarm milk.  Stir in 2 tablespoons flour (from the 2 1/4 cups) and whisk until there are no lumps.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until doubled in volume (this will take about 20 minutes).

2. Mix the sugar and salt into the 2 1/8 cups flour.

3. Heat the remaining milk.  Transfer the raised dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the lukewarm milk, and with the mixer at high speed, start adding the sugar, salt, and flour (from step 2), a little at a time, reducing the speed to low-medium until the dough is sticky and soft.

4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, the dough will look like this:

Saturday Morning (Day 2):

1. Bring the butter to room temperature and work it with the heel of your hand to incorporate the remaining 3 tablespoons of flour until smooth.  Shape into a square.  (This sounded a little nuts to me.  I mixed in the flour with a spoon rather than my hands, because it seemed like the civilized thing to do, and I did not “shape into a square.”)

2. Sprinkle the work surface (a marble slab is ideal) (I did not run out to purchase a marble slab, and there were no adverse effects) with flour, shape the cold dough into a 6 x 15-inch rectangle, and spread the butter square (or just spread it out of the bowl you mixed it in) on the upper 2/3 of the rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the sides and top.

(The ruler I use for baking has slang terms and harmful effects of various street drugs on the back.  It’s always good to be reminded to just say no, am I right?)

Fold the dough like a letter into thirds.

Turn the dough counterclockwise (it will look like a notebook with the open flap on your right), and then again roll out the dough into a 6 x 15-inch rectangle and fold as before.  (I turned the dough clockwise, and once again there were no adverse effects.  Also, it did not look like any notebook I’ve ever seen, but maybe French notebooks look more like dough.)

3. Transfer the dough to a baking pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 6 hours.

Saturday Afternoon (Day 2):

Roll out the dough 2 more times, wrap, and refrigerate overnight.  (All of this rolling and folding means the butter is getting in between layers of the dough, so once the croissants hit the oven they’ll puff up and be flaky.)

Sunday Morning (Day 3):

1. About 1 1/2 hours before baking time, remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle flour on the work surface.  Roll the dough into a 16-inch circle, working as quickly as possible.  To make the rectangle into a circle, I suggest spiraling it up like so, and then rolling out.

Using a knife, cut the dough into quarters and then cut each quarter into 3 triangles.

2. With both hands, roll the base of each triangle toward the remaining corner.  Do not curl the ends in a croissant shape.  Transfer the croissants to a baking sheet and brush with 2 tablespoons milk.  Let stand at room temperature for about 45 minutes, or until the croissants have doubled in volume.

Helpful hint: If it’s cold in your kitchen, things won’t rise as well as they should.  Try preheating the oven to 200, and then turning it off and leaving the door ajar.  The extra heat will help the yeast do its thing.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.   At this point I could barely contain my pastry-related excitement and had to take a picture of myself with the future croissants…

Brush the croissants with the glaze and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.  If the croissants brown too fast, cover them loosely with foil and continue baking.  Let cool 20 minutes before serving.  (I usually lack the patience required to observe the recommended cooling time in a recipe.)

ET VOILA!

With a foamy latte:

Was it worth it?  The answer, mes amis, is a resounding OUI.  These were buttery, flaky, and pretty much perfect.  Yes, they took 3 days, but the steps themselves are simple and there’s really nothing like baking your own bread.  I am, as they say, très, très contente.