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cookbook holiday home Italian pizza summer

Hi. Hi.

Yesterday, I ignored my phone, email, and all forms of social media for several hours. It felt good and liberating. I also ignored this blog for about a month. You already know that, I suppose. But I wondered if you might be beginning to worry? If so, please accept my apologies. I assure you they are heartfelt. I can’t really begin to explain all the reasons for the break. It just sort of happened. Summer is so seductive with its sunshine and buzzing public spaces. I found myself out and about a lot with the wee one. There were barbecues and little parties. There were play dates and more play dates. Trips to the park. Trips to the San Juans. More play dates. And some reinvention. I’ll explain more about that last bit later this month.

For now, we are home and cooking lots again. I made you this pizza to make up for the time lost. I think it’s worth it. It is the perfect summer pizza. It’s bright, fresh, and tangy with cilantro, zucchini, lime, and fresh cilantro. I love this crust more than any other home pizza crust. I really want you to try it, but I’m concerned you might fret when you glance at the recipe. It looks time-consuming, I know. It’s not really that much of a time commitment. There is a bit of shuffling you’ll have to do with the pizzas in the oven. Oof! Take a moment and breathe deeply. It isn’t as bad as it looks. Use a timer. Be nearby. It will be worth every moment spent when you bite down on the most perfect home-baked pizza crust you’ve ever had.

This pizza is truly something to behold and we find ourselves eating it often. A good deal of the reason for this is related to a small redheaded child who routinely spins about this house with boundless energy. This child, the one with the adventurous palate about which I used to brag so often, is on a strike of sorts. Her whims and desires change with the wind. Thank goodness for pizza. Pizza is always a favorite. And, thank goodness for long summer nights, highchairs on the patio, and lovely readers who indulge my short or long sanity blogging breaks.

Happy August, dear friends.

 

Corn Zucchini Pizza with Lime & Cilantro

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 recipe for yeasted pizza dough (see below)

Coarse yellow cornmeal for dusting

¾ cup fresh corn kernels (about 1 ear of corn)

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 small yellow or red onion, thinly sliced

3 small zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds

6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 and ½ cups)

½ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2 limes, quartered

Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the garlic and olive oil. Set aside.

To shape the pizzas, transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide it into 3 pieces. Gently form each piece into a loose round and cover with a floured kitchen towel. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Pour a small amount of the remaining olive oil over the inverted baking sheets. Scatter cornmeal over the top of the oil. Shape each round into a 10 inch disk and place it on the sheet.

In a small bowl, toss the corn kernels with the black pepper.  Line up the 3 pizzas for assembly.  Scatter half of the Mozzarella over the pizzas, leaving a ½ inch rim.  Place the onion over the cheese and spread the zucchini over the onion.  Scatter the remaining mozzarella over the onion and zucchini.  Sprinkle with feta and corn.

Place a baking sheet with a pizza on the lower rack and bake for 8 minutes. Rotate the pizza to the upper rack, place the second pizza in the oven on the lower rack, and continue baking for 8 minutes. Then, finish baking the first pizza by sliding it off the pan directly onto the lower oven rack. Rotate the second pizza to the upper rack. Bake the pizza on the lower rack for 5 minutes to crisp the bottom until well browned. Finish baking the second and third pizzas in the same manner. Immediately after removing each pizza from the oven, brush the garlic oil onto the rim. Garnish with cilantro. Sprinkle lime juice over the top.

Yeasted Pizza Dough (Makes three 10 inch pizzas)

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

1 and 1/2 cup warm water

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 and 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water until dissolved. Let stand for 5 minutes.

If using stand mixer, add all the olive oil, salt and 2 cups of the flour to the bowl. Using the paddle attachment on low speed, mix for 5 minutes to form a wet dough. Add 1 and 1/2 cups more flour, and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour by the tablespoonful as needed to form a soft dough with a nice sheen; it should be a little sticky, but not too wet.

If making by hand, add the olive oil, salt and 2 cups of flour to the bowl. Using a wooden spoon, mix for at least 5 minutes to form a wet dough. Pour 1 and 1/2 cups flour onto a work surface, place the dough on top of it, and knead it for about 8 minutes to form a soft dough with a nice sheen; it should be sticky but not too wet. If the dough sticks to the work surface, rub a little olive oil on it. if the dough is impossibly sticky, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour by the tablespoon as needed.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a large well oiled bowl. Turn the dough over to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Or, put the dough in the fridge and let rise overnight. The next day let it stand at room temperature for 2 hours before proceeding with recipe.

Adapted from The Cheese Board Cookbook

baby cupcakes dessert easy edible gifts frosting home

Maeve’s First Birthday | Banana Cupcakes + Cream Cheese Frosting

best banana cupcake recipe

I moved into my house several years ago now. Was it 6 years? Maybe it 7 years ago? I can’t recall. What I do remember is the feeling I had the first night I stayed here. It was hours after my lovely friends who lent me their strength and baked celebratory brownies were gone. The place was terribly quiet. There was an absolute sea of brown boxes overflowing with the things I’d collected through many years in various homes and apartments.

I padded about the house sinking my toes into the dark green thick pile rug. I looked at the blank walls, which were painted a sallow color reminiscent of the peach toned crayon. I checked all the faucets for water pressure. I repeatedly looked out the window and opened all the doors to get a sense of my new landscape. I remember feeling a bit scared, but simultaneously exhilerated. I was alone. I was home. It was all mine and there were a million things I could do to make the house the way I wanted it to be. I was newly single and felt breathlessly free.

And, for several years, I continued to feel liberated and weightless each time I opened my front door. It was a good arrangement. I loved my little house and it treated me well in return. I worked long hours every day and came home alone, but I never felt lonely.  Quite honestly, during those years it never once crossed my mind this place might one day house my little girl. I never once dreamed of the pitter patter of bare baby feet or the gibber gabber of a wee one waking up in the morning contented to converse quietly with her stuffed animals until the rest of the house was ready to join her in wonder.

It’s strange to think about all this now. I still look back on those first years of living here so fondly. Those were good times. Life was interesting and I loved every minute of transforming this house into a home. But, in the year before Maeve came, the house felt more like a shell waiting for her arrival. It wasn’t the same fresh new home of the early years. K really put it best. It was Christmas week last year and I was enormously pregnant. We were seated side by side on the couch when he turned to me, “I feel like we’re not complete until she gets here.”

Truer words were never spoken.

banana cupcake recipe

Today, my life is so altered I barely recognize it. And, the house? It’s so very different. It feels even more like home– a house full of love and laughter.  I wouldn’t trade it for all the riches in the world.

banana cupcake recipe

Last week, Maeve turned 1 year old.

To celebrate, I made her a sweet party hat and some banana cupcakes to share. The cupcakes are very much like the ones my mother always made for me on my birthdays. It just seemed right to continue the tradition.

banana cupcake recipe

Of course, Maeve loved her first taste of sugar. She was dazzled, in particular, by the multi-colored sprinkles.

easy banana cupcake recipe

I enjoyed this recipe a great deal and thought I’d share it with you. If you are a banana person, like me, you might have some reservations about banana recipes. As we banana people know, some banana recipes are quite greasy and leave you with a soggy cocktail napkin with an oily imprint. On the other hand, some banana recipes are sort of dry and gritty tending more toward something you might uncover in the health food section of a hippie supermarket. This recipe falls squarely in the middle, which, in my opinion, is just right. The banana flavor is subtle with just the ideal amount of sweetness. The cupcakes are light and fluffier than most cakes. There is no grit nor grease. It’s a perfect little introduction to cake for the wee one.

Maeve loved them and the house was filled to the brim with the scent of freshly baked cupcakes for hours.

It never felt more like home.

Banana Cupcakes

Batter:
1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large ripe bananas, peeled, and mashed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 1 (12-cup) muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the butter and the sugar. Beat with a hand-held mixer until combined. Add the sour cream and the vanilla extract. Slowly beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Incorporate the dry mixture and wet mixtures together until thoroughly combined. Add the bananas and walnuts, being careful not to over mix. Using an ice cream scoop fill each cupcake liner 3/4 way full.

Bake in the preheated oven until the tops turn golden-brown and when a toothpick, inserted in the middle of the cupcake, comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the oven to a wire rack and let cool before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Recipe Source:  The Food Network

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Leek Macaroni and Cheese | Small Pleasures

Have you been to Loch Ness?

I haven’t been there. I am not sure why I didn’t visit there on my trip to Scotland some time ago. I suppose it might have something to do with a monster. I hear there is one living there deep in the depths of the lake. I don’t care much for monsters particularly those who live in murky waters and are elusive to the public. Perhaps this is the reason, whether subconscious or not, I never visited. It does seem like a place, however, one should visit during a lifetime. There are so many places like this. These are the places we check off the list as we get older. Some of them are historic and most of the places are downright gorgeous and inspiring. This is likely why places like Loch Ness make it to the top of many people’s lists.

Monster or not, this was going to be the year I checked this Scottish landmark off my list. K and I planned to go to Paris and Inverness next week. We planned the trip ages ago as K is scheduled to shoot a wedding at a Loch Ness castle on Thanksgiving. Of course, we were terribly excited, albeit a little nervous, to travel so far with Maeve. We talked a great deal about how she might handle the time change, what we would bring for her comfort, and whether her bizarre sleep schedule might allow us to eat at a cosmopolitan dinner hour in Paris. We really focused our attentions on the Paris leg of our journey and, with stars in our eyes and pain au chocolat on our minds, we fantasized about jaunts down old alleyways and drinking frothy cappuccinos as Maeve sampled her first madeleine cookies.

And then the trip got closer and more real. There was no more fantasizing and, down to the wire, we began researching our journey from Paris to Loch Ness. The odds seemed stacked against us at every turn. The buses were slow. The car rides daunting and long. And, the flight? No direct flight exists to Inverness. As we sat before our computer last week going over and over these options, I looked at K and told him to go without us. I was earnest. I was tired. I could not imagine taking Maeve on a cross-atlantic flight and turning around and traveling another 12 hours with her to Scotland only to return to Paris days later. Sure, it’s possible, but it didn’t look fun. It looked hard. Hard on Maeve and hard on her parents.

I know I should be disappointed. I should be truly melancholic right now as my Parisian fantasy slips through my fingers. But, truthfully, I’m not one bit sad. The decision was so very easy once I realized how difficult it was going to be for Maeve. It’s strange, really. I felt more like a mama at that moment than at any other point during these past 10 months.  Little else matters these days apart from Maeve’s comfort and well-being. I fully embrace it.

We are celebrating much smaller pleasures around here. There are milestones to celebrate and good food to eat as the holidays near. We visited family in San Francisco last week where Maeve was in absolute heaven. She loved the beach and the sunshine. We ate my mother’s pot roast and Maeve discovered mashed potatoes. Life will never be the same.

This week is another time to celebrate small pleasures together as a family before K travels to Europe. I discovered my new car has heated seats and that was an absolutely wonderful moment. However, something even more miraculous happened on a casual trip to the grocery store last night. I found both chanterelles and leeks were on sale! This never happens and, thus, I considered it a sign. It was a glaring sign, really. Who would pass up such offerings? I can’t imagine anyone would. So, I brought the goods home and crafted them into the most toasty comforting dish I could envision. I made leek and chanterelle macaroni and cheese. It was absolutely mouth-watering. Nutty and rich, this macaroni and cheese was the perfect way to celebrate our little life here.

The meal is perfect for showcasing these fall edible treats and for enjoying on a rainy night with your loved ones. It’s not Paris, I know. However, Maeve loved it. She doesn’t know the difference. Those madeleines will surely wait until she does.

Macaroni & Cheese


1 lb. macaroni pasta (large elbows)
4 cups whole milk
6 tblsp. flour
4 tblsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp. sweet or smoked paprika
1 and 1/2 cups chopped chanterelle mushrooms
2 cups thinly sliced leeks (green part only)
kosher salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
8 oz. mild raw milk white cheddar cheese

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil until just tender. Drain. Rinse. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring the milk to just a boil in a heavy saucepan. Set aside.

Melt the butter in another pan. Add the flour and whisk over low heat for about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Remove from the heat.

Add the butter mixture to the milk and whisk well to get rid of lumps. Add 1/2 tsp of paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Return to heat. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until it’s smooth and it thickens. About 5 minutes.

Add mixture, chanterelles, and leeks to the pasta and stir until well coated and mixed. Spread the grated cheese over the top of the pasta. Sprinkle the top with the remaining paprika.

Cover the dish in foil and bake for 25 minutes. Then, remove the foil, place dish under the broiler (about 4 inches away from heat) and cook for another 3-4 minutes until slightly golden.

Serve.

apple autumn breads Breakfast easy fall home

Pumpkin Apple Bread | Stormy Days in the Kitchen

 

easy recipe for pumpkin bread

I have a shed in my backyard. It’s a good shed. I don’t have any basis of comparison on this point, but I feel this to be true. The shed holds all of our garden supplies, a neglected lawn mower, and approximately 1,000 cans of partially used paint.

However, I don’t want this shed. What I want is a writer’s cottage. For several years now, I’ve been asking Kirk to help me transform the place. His response is always the same. He tells me something about our limited space and the supplies that need to be put somewhere.  I remain unconvinced. The garage can house these supplies. He then points out the garage is full of skis, bikes, baby things, and the general overflowing aftermath of two previously independent lives squeezed into one small house. The garage cannot house these supplies.

He might be right. On the other hand, he might be wrong. We’ve certainly never tried to pack the garage yet fuller. Its capacity could be far greater than we know. And, to be perfectly honest, I’d be willing to allow the lawn to develop into a fine meadow along with all the other plants for that coveted place in the backyard. Or, I’d even be willing to share my cottage with several of these objects just for a small spot of peace in this world. It would be a quiet place I could use during the evening hours with no baby monitors or internet access. I would finish the book proposal I started last year. I would write to all of you more often. I am certain I would finish so many things.

But that is not in the cards. Well, at least it’s not in the deck of cards with which I’m currently dealing.

easy quick pumpkin bread apple

So here I am surrounded by cookbooks in a perfectly reasonable kitchen on a perfectly stormy day. It’s not a bad place, really. I like my kitchen a great deal. From my perch today, I have a dramatic view of the first hints of autumn. The wind is blowing bits of rain sideways and the oilcloth I placed on the wooden picnic table outside on that gorgeous early summer day is whipping around wildly threatening to break lose.

Inside here in the kitchen, it’s relatively quiet at this moment. The little red fox is asleep. K isn’t here. He’s off, as he usually is on weekends, photographing a bride who is likely horribly disappointed that the first storm of the season came to be on her wedding day. I certainly hope she can cast those feelings aside and bask in the beauty of new marriage. Maybe she can even appreciate the dark stormy skies and the fabulously interesting photos that come about on rare days like this one.

As far as I’m concerned, there is really only one thing to do on a day such as this when you are stuck inside without access to a writer’s retreat.

Bake.

Fill the house with the scent of autumn.

What scent?

Pumpkin, of course.

Pumpkin makes amazingly aromatic, and deliciously moist breads. These are quick breads. The kind you can whip up in a moment’s notice. These are the kind of breads you can usually make without a trip to the store. And, most importantly, these breads can make a stormy day a whole lot brighter. In fact, I try to keep cans of pumpkin around in the pantry all year long for those surprise guests and surprise storms. This pumpkin bread, which I made some time ago, is phenomenal. I will continue to make it. Today’s pumpkin bread is also delicious, but it’s a bit different. The tart chunks of Granny Smith apples give it a great little burst of sour in each rich bite. A good dollop of butter and sugar baked into the top gives those same pints a rich sugary finish. All in all, the combination is a sure fire way to win hearts and bellies.

 

Happy autumn to all of you. What are your plans this week? If you are working steadily in your sweet writer’s retreat, I bid you lots of productivity and peace. If not, and you find yourself in a kitchen floating high above stormy waters, I urge you to bake this pumpkin bread.

easy pumpkin apple bread recipe

Pumpkin Apple Bread

For topping:

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

For bread:

3 cups all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 (15 oz.) can solid pack organic pumpkin

3/4 cup vegetable oil

2 & 1/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (about 2 cups)

For the topping, blend together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter in a small bowl with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

For the bread, put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2 9 x5 loaf pans.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a medium bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add flour mixture, stirring until well combined. Fold in apples.

Divide batter between buttered loaf pans. Sprinkle half of the topping evenly over each loaf. Bake until a wooden pick or skewever inserte in the dcenter of the bread comes out clean, 50-60 minutes.

Cool loaves in pans on a rack for 45 minutes, then turn out onto the rack and cool completely, about 1 hour.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet.

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