Super Summer Strata

Hello, everyone! How is your August so far? We had a pretty rough start with the weather being so humid, but it’s been fairly cooler and drier these past couple of days. Yesterday we went to a beautiful wedding, and today we’re switching out the ‘Sunday best’ for old jeans as we get ready to bale up some hay. We’re swimming in produce, too! The tomatoes began ripening en masse last week, and we’ve about drowned in cucumbers and yellow squash. I’ve been trying a few new recipes with yellow squash in an attempted to use more of it, and the recipe I’m sharing with you today is the result of one of those experiments: roasted summer squash and sausage strata. Now, as a forewarning, most stratas are more like bread puddings, with a soft, somewhat custardy texture (if done correctly). I like a more crispy texture myself, so there’s less liquid. If you prefer a more traditional approach, just increase the eggs and milk by about half or so and you should be set.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups bread, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium yellow squash
  • 1 medium/large onion
  • 2 Italian sausage patties
  • 1 1/2-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • Pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cut zucchini, yellow squash, and onion into approximately 1″ pieces, toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil and spread out in a single layer in a shallow baking pan; roast until vegetables are tender and moisture is evaporated, approximately 25-30 minutes. (Alternatively you could sauté them on the stovetop until caramelized).
  • Meanwhile, cook sausage patties in a frying pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat until done and browned (4 or 5 minutes on each side, give or take. Honestly, I didn’t time them). Cool and cut into 1″ pieces. (Alternatively you could grill them for that smokey-grill flavor).
  • In a large bowl toss bread crumbs, roasted squash and onions, sausage, and cheese, then place in a greased 2 quart baking dish or 9×13 pan. In a separate bowl whisk together eggs, milk, and pepper; pour over the contents of the baking dish. Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours or up to overnight.
  • Remove from the fridge and allow to sit on the counter while the oven preheats to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, or until eggs are set and desired crispiness has been achieved. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but with a savory dish like this I like to drizzle a bit of maple syrup over the top before digging in. The mild, homey sweetness pairs really well with the salty cheese, savory roasted vegetables, and spicy sausage. This strata is great for supper, or breakfast, or brunch ─ really whenever. It’s a great way to use up day-old/ stale bread, too (which is actually how the strata came to be invented, too, as it happens). Toss in whatever vegetables, meat, and cheeses you want for virtually endless flavor possibilities, too. I’m thinking tomato and basil would be good ─ especially with our whopping 20+ tomato plants ripening!

Sweet Summer Snack

It’s that cycle of the blog again ─ recipes! I try to find ones that I can make and work into the family meal schedule, but on the occasions that I don’t forget (*sheepish grin*) we don’t end up eating dinner until late, it’s dark, and taking pictures would result in unappealing photos. This time of year the schedule is all over the board, too. In this summer season spontaneous sub nights and impromptu meals at the neighbors speckle the menu almost as often as bowls of cereal and burgers.

Nevertheless, here’s an item that made it to the table: Rosemary-Lemon Scones. I love scones. Actually, I love them about as much as I love muffins, biscotti, and peaches with cream. These have a fairly damp dough (not one of my favorite things, as it happens) but they bake up light and fluffy. They have a nice, mild lemon flavor that doesn’t punch you in the face (because who likes being punched in the face?) and a hint of rosemary. I was so excited that I got to use the fresh rosemary from my herb garden. It smells so lovely, and adds a wonderful aroma and flavor to these scones. Even my mom, who doesn’t like rosemary because it makes her think of Vix, said they were good. Double score.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 Tbsp cold butter
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 small egg
  • Grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • Coarse sugar

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients and preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (I have found that I like to cheat and use the food processor to cut in my butter, but not always. When I cut it in by hand I’ve learned that chopping the cold butter into wee cubes first helps make the process much easier).
  • Whisk together the sour cream and egg, then add to the crumb mixture and stir until moistened, but not too thoroughly. The more you mash the dough the tougher the scones will be. Then mix in the lemon peel and rosemary.
  • Turn out onto an heavily floured surface and knead gently about 10 times or so; form into a ball. On a greased baking sheet pat into an 8inch disk, then cut into 8 wedges, but don’t pull them apart (I wondered at this, thinking it would just bake up into a single, massive scone. As it turns out, though, the slices remain, and the scones just pull apart easy as you please). Sprinkle the top with coarse sugar and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden. Cool slightly on a wire rack and serve.

These are good warm or room temperature, as a side at supper, as breakfast, or a snack with a hot cup of tea (*earl grey*).

Hey, everyone! Over the last few weeks my non-writerly self has been preparing for a small farm stand bakery business over here on the farm, called the NovelTea Kitchen (neat name, am I right?) It’s happening weekly on Fridays, and yesterday was my first day! I think it went fairly well, too.

Today I’m sharing a recipe that’s super quick and easy to make: nutty orange marmalade cookies. Reading the ingredients, you’ll notice that there’s no sugar, but I assure you that’s no typo ─ the marmalade in the mix adds its own sweetness! Isn’t that awesome? And I’m using my very own homemade marmalade, too! These cookies are lighter and fluffier than regular cookies (kind of like wee cakes, actually) with a nice orange flavor, a hint of spice, and a satisfying nutty crunch. Great for snaking (with a cup of tea!) or a simple dessert after supper (with a cup of tea!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Instructions:

  • Firstly, you’ll want to measure out all your ingredients and set them on your workspace (mise en place, people, get your mess in order). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease/parchment a baking sheet.
  • Secondly, cream the butter, egg yolk, and marmalade until light and fluffy, which might take a couple of minutes. Once you’re looking at an orange flavored pseudo-cloud, add the vanilla. Then combine all the dry ingredients (except the pecans) in a bowl and sift together, then add to the creamed mixture and beat until incorporated. Stir in the pecans.
  • Drop 2 tablespoon mounds onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart or so (I got 8 cookies this way) and bake for 13 to 15 minutes until edges are golden. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Thinking about it, I bet you could make these with any kind of preserves — can you imagine raspberry? The cookies would certainly be an interesting color! I might have to give that a try . . . once I make more raspberry jam this summer; we’ve just finished off the last jar. But we’ve still got blackcap and peach, so there are still options! Oh, cherry and pecan (or chocolate chip) sounds good, or blueberry and walnut, maybe even strawberry and almond . . .

If you try this recipe, let me know what you thought of it, and if you switched it up I’d love to hear about it!

Hello! Happy Armed Forces Day! It’s really starting to feel like summer now, right? It’s wonderful. I’ve been able to go on some great bike rides these past few weeks, and I’m loving the fresh air and sunshine. Pretty soon it’ll be time to cut and bale hay, which reminds me, I need to replace those work pants . . .

Anywho, this month’s recipe I’m sharing isn’t so much a dish as a condiment (although there are people out there who have wanted to eat it as one): Caramel sauce. I’ve made caramel candies before, which don’t last long, but this is a sauce that’s really great for drizzling over apple pie or dumplings (and don’t forget the hunk of cheddar), as an ice cream topping, I used some on a batch of turtle brownies I made for Mother’s Day last week, and there have been times when I’ve taken a scoop cold from the fridge and had it as a dip for apple slices instead of peanut butter. It’s really versatile in the ways you can dip, drizzle, and dollop this amazingly buttery-caramely sauce, and it’s a breeze to whip up, too!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. butter*
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond, or rum, or . . .)

Instructions

  • Gather all the ingredients and tools you’ll be using, because this is a quick process and once you get going you don’t want to stop, or you’ll burn the sugar, and that would be sad. As a heads-up for the tools you’ll be needing: heavy bottomed 2 or 3 quart saucepan, wooden spoon, whisk, glass jar (for the finished sauce).
  • Cook the sugar in the saucepan over medium-high heat until melted and golden/dark amber in color. Stir at the beginning, but as it liquefies you can just swirl the pan. Once all the sugar is dissolved add the butter and stir with a whisk until melted and smooth. The sugar and butter will foam up some, hence the big pot, we don’t want overflow. That’s a hot mess.
  • Once butter is melted and mixture is smooth, remove pot from heat and wait a couple of seconds (a slow count to three should work) before slowly adding the cream, whisking as you do. It’ll foam up again, but keep whisking until it’s smooth. Add the extract, stir, and then pour into the jar. Handle with care, please, this stuff is hot. Let it cool to room temperature before storing in the fridge.

*To switch it up a little, use salted butter, and switch out the extract for salt, making salted caramel. It’s pretty good.

Pumpkin Season Isn’t Over Yet!!!

Hey, everyone! Can you believe April’s almost over already, and we’re still waiting for spring to . . . you know, spring? I hope this means we’ll have a nice, long autumn ─ but it is what it is, right? All we can do is make the best of each day we’re given, snow or shine.

Anywho, since the heat hasn’t kicked in yet, cold-time food is still in season. This isn’t so bad, I have an easier time figuring out warming foods than what to serve in the summer. Today I’m sharing one of my new favorite muffin recipes. It’s muffin-y (which is a plus, because let’s face it: muffins are amazing). It’s pumpkin-y (which is a double plus, because I love pumpkins and (so far) everything involving that wonderfully orange puree). It’s also spicy (the warm, cinnamon kind, not burn-your-mouthhouse-down kind), and nutty with a wonderfully sweet-nutty streusel topping.

Mouth watering yet? I know I could go for another one of these babies.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white sugar

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Streusel Topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup finely chopped pecans

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cold butter

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients. I have a set of tiny ramekins that I like to use (once I remembered that I had them). Grease a jumbo muffin pan (one of the best inventions ever, really), and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Combine all the dry ingredients except the pecans into a large bowl (what I did this time was replace both the white and brown sugar with a scant 2/3 cup maple sugar, because we have a lot of it after this past season).
  • Combine all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and whisk until smooth, then add to the dry ingredients and mix only until everything’s all wet (lumpy batter makes tender muffins). Now you can fold in the chopped pecans. I didn’t have quite enough, so I made up the difference with walnuts (don’t tell my older brother, maybe he won’t notice). Pour into prepared muffin cups about three quarters full.
  • Now for the streusel topping, because who doesn’t love a nice streusel topping? I used maple sugar for this, too, and white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose. Combine the sugar, pecans, and flour in a bowl, then cut in the butter until crumbly. I rubbed it in with my fingers because the pecans make cutting in with a fork (the only way I know how to cut in butter) too complicated. Sprinkle the topping onto the batter and pat in, to help make sure it sticks to the muffin during and after baking. It’s kind of pointless to put a topping on only to have it fall off at the first opportunity, right?
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before removing from the pan. Best served warm (but then, isn’t just about everything?)

* Don’t have buttermilk? Don’t worry, I don’t usually, either. A neat trick I learned is to put 2 tablespoons of vinegar (usually white distilled, but any kind will work, really) into a measuring cup and then add milk to the 1 cup line (that’s 1 tablespoon for every 1/2 cup, like in this recipe). Let it sit for a few minutes to let cool science happen, and you’ll end up with soured, thickened milk. I use this just about all the time. Another substitution I use is an equal measure of yogurt or sour cream. Those three ─ buttermilk, yogurt, and sour cream ─ are pretty interchangeable, so it’s easy to use whatever’s on hand, but since the yogurt and sour cream we have at home are both super thick, I’ll use the vinegar/milk mixture if I want it a little thinner.

These muffins are so yummy with warm spices and crunchy nuts on the inside and a sweet, nutty topping. They go well with dinner (had these with a roast) or breakfast! This recipe is also easy enough to switch up, too. Don’t have or don’t like pumpkin? Try it with squash puree instead! (Or, you could try replacing it with applesauce, although I haven’t tried that and I’m not entirely sure what the texture will be like. You could also just switch it out with sour cream or yogurt, too). Change the pumpkin pie spice to just cinnamon, or any of your favorite mix of spices. I’m thinking of trying chai spice next time, a combination of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and ground black pepper. I bet coriander would taste good, too. If you don’t have or don’t like pecans, you can nix the nuts altogether or switch them out for your favorite nut as well (like walnuts).

Try them out and tell me what you think, or what flavors you played with ─ I’d love to hear about it!

March in With Apples and Cinnamon

Happy Saturday, everyone! And guess what? Happy Spring, too! As of this past week, the calendar season of Spring has finally arrived! We’re so close . . .

A week ago today was St. Patrick’s Day (if you missed my post on Celtic reads, check it out here), and my family celebrated with an hearty meal of Irish dishes. Today I want to share one of them with you: apple cake. A little sweet and plenty delicious, this is great with a cup of tea or coffee, as dessert, breakfast, or afternoon snack. Really, it’s good whenever.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb baking apples
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour*
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk

Streusel Topping

  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour*
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter
  • scant 1/2 cup sugar

Instructions:

  • Gather all your ingredients. I’ve just recently learned that there’s a fancy French term for this: mise en place (mee-zhan-plahss (or something to that affect)) It basically means getting your stuff together. There’s a special word for everything it seems, these days.
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9in round springform cake pan (but, I mean, if you have a square springform pan, go for it)
  • To make the streusel topping, sift the flour into a bowl and rub the butter in with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs (or you could use a fork, if you don’t feel like touching lovely, soft flour). Stir in the sugar and then set aside. (I’m thinking about trying brown sugar next time for a deeper color and flavor).
  • Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples; you might want to dress them with a little lemon juice to keep them from browning, too, while you prepare the rest of the batter.
  • Sift the flour into a bowl with the cinnamon and salt (I’m thinking of increasing the cinnamon by at least 1/2 a teaspoon next time, because I love cinnamon bunches and tons). Place the butter and sugar in a separate bowl and beat together until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time, adding a wee bit of the flour/cinnamon mixture with the second egg. Fold in half of the remaining flour mixture (be gentle, don’t fold too hard or you’ll make it cry). With the second half of the flour add the milk and keep folding until combined.
  • Spoon the batter into the cake pan and smooth the surface, then cover with the apple slices, then sprinkle the streusel over the top. Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour (60mins) or until browned and firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan.

Serve this wonderfulness all by itself or with a dollop of vanilla ice cream ─ and don’t forget a hot cup of tea or coffee! The outer edge of this cake is crisp, like a crust, and the center is softer and apple-y.

*If you’re like me, and don’t have self-rising flour on hand, you can make some super easy! For every 1 cup of flour add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Voila!


Try this recipe at home and tell me what you think! Did you switch it up with the sugar and spices? Pears instead of apples? How would you tweak it to your own taste? Recipes are amazing for their flexibility, very gracious to catering to the cook’s preferences ─ that’s one of the ways that makes cooking and baking so much fun!

Hey, everyone! Happy Last Saturday of the Month! How’s your week been? Over here in the Writing Corner we’ve watched the Olympics just about every night since it began ─ there has been some amazing comebacks, shocking defeats, and glorious victories all across the globe, no? And now it’s just about over. It’s a little sad, but after so much excitement and activity (at least for the athletes, coaches, and staff) it’s probably about time for some R&R . . . until all those competitions for the year begin again. I don’t think I would survive all that those people do; it’s simply amazing.

Here in the Writing Kitchen we do things a little differently, concocting delicious meals (sometimes. Come on, people, we can’t win all the time) instead of higher speeds and technical scores. Today I’m going to share a biscuit recipe that’s so easy and yummy you’ll want to make it for every pot of soup, grilled chicken, and roasted meat dish from now on.

Whole Wheat Maple-Butter Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter
  • 7-8 tablespoons milk

Glaze:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (I used the stuff we make at home, and since it’s maple season now it’s about as fresh as it can be!)

Instructions:

  • Gather all the ingredients; set the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
  • In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter (if you have a pastry cutter: swell; for those of us who don’t: I’ve read that people use scissors, a pair of knives, or their fingers. I’ve only ever known to use a fork, myself.) Cut the butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Stir in the milk only until moistened, then turn onto a floured surface and lightly knead a few times to make a cohesive dough. Try not to handle it too much because it’ll make a tougher crumb, and we’re aiming for fluffy.
  • Pat or roll the dough to about 1/2 inch thickness (if you like a thinner biscuit roll it to about a quarter inch or third, however you please).
  • Here’s where it gets fun. Normally you’d use a regular biscuit cutter and make nice rounds, and that’s fine. Or you can shape the dough into a square and cut out blocks. But since I learned that you actually can use cookie cutters on non-cookie dough I like to make shapes, and my all-time favorite is the gingerbread man cutter. So here I made man-shaped biscuits, but you can use whatever tickles your fancy. For holiday dinners you could use Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, even St. Patrick’s Day themed cutters. Makes me want to make pumpkin and leaf shaped ones for autumn. Anyway, reroll the scraps and keep cutting until the dough is used up, then place on the baking sheet.
  • For the glaze, melt the butter and syrup in a small pan (or microwave, if that’s your thing), then brush a layer onto the raw biscuits. Bake in the preheated oven for 9 to 11 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and promptly dab any and all remaining glaze over the biscuits while they’re still hot. Serve warm or room temperature.

These biscuits are super good, with a light texture and slightly nutty flavor (because of the wheat flour). The glaze adds a touch of sweet and delicious maple flavor, too that’s different from your usual butter and jam. Give this recipe a try and tell me what you think!


Notes:

  • The number of biscuits you’ll get depends on the size you cut them; I got six out of this recipe.
  • This is an easy recipe to dock and double, whether you’re cooking for 2 or 80 (bless you for feeding 80 people, though . . .)
  • If you’re not a fan of maple syrup (I’m sorry) or just don’t have any you can use honey (that version is a favorite around this house). Or just good-old plain butter. This is a super versatile recipe.