Monday, August 27, 2012

One Happy Thing: The Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

I was between books right before a weekend trip, and any chronic book reader will know what a genuinely panic-inducing moment this is. I downloaded a handful of ebooks from the library minutes before leaving for the airport and crossed my fingers.

Within a few paragraphs, I knew I'd struck gold with this book. Museum of Thieves kept me completely enthralled for the entire two hour plane ride, and I kept sneaking moments all weekend long to inhale more vibrant scenes of shifting magical rooms, deceitful caretakers, and plucky young thieves.

It tells the story of Goldie, a young girl growing up in a dystopian society where children are protected at all costs and society is under the thumb of the righteous and devious Keepers. Goldie escapes in a moment of spontaneous rebellion, and rather than finding herself cast out, is recruited to the Museum of Thieves for her daring-do and light bout of thievery. Of course, the Keepers come looking for her, and of course, they have an ulterior and insidious motive, and of course, Goldie must save the day.

From start to finish, this book was just a super-fun read. It's a young adult book, but aimed at a slightly younger young adult. The characters are well-developed and the zany world comes across as totally believable. And it's funny. I chuckled to myself several times while reading it (to the consternation of my airplane seat mates).

Verdict: highly recommended, particularly as a fun end-of-summer vacation read.

Find It! Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Seven Snaps! 8/11/12 - 8/17/12

Apparently the food bowl is empty.

iPhone puzzle game = serious business

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a...yes, a plane!

Return of the figs! This tree got so severely "trimmed" by our landlords last year that we weren't sure it would bounce back. Glad to see it has.

Widescreen HD TV

Chicken tagine, oh my

Ahhhh.... deep breaths.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Find an Excuse, Make This Now: Lemon and Almond Streamliner Cake from Vintage Cakes

It's not that I don't like cake—I'm just very particular about it. But I sensed great things from this Streamliner Cake as soon as I saw it in the pages of Vintage Cakes, a new cookbook by Julie Richardson. I felt sure, given the presence of both buttermilk and almond paste among the ingredients, that this cake would not taste like fluffy styrofoam. And with a lemon custard topping, this cake would not be consigned to the halls of stodgy frosted doom. No, this cake had definite potential.

I measured. I stirred. I worried that my almond paste was too grainy and that my curd had perhaps bubbled for too long. My cake particular-ness means that I don't bake many of them, and this inevitably results in a great deal of fretting when I do. But I forged ahead, smoothed the batter into the pan, and poured a glass of wine while it baked.

I presented the finished cake to my group of work-from-home friends at our weekly work-from-somewhere-else gathering the next day. The lemon custard was so creamy it practically glowed. The almond cake was just the right shade of golden and so fragrant that we had to keep it in the kitchen until snack time. Serving it was a messy affair with many blobs of custard dripped onto plates and licked from fingers, but eventually we all had a slice.

Yes, this cake more than lived up to its potential. I couldn't get over how well the tartness of the lemon custard played off the sweet almond flavor in the cake. It was just so perfect. And the cake itself was the right amount of dense with a moist and tender crumb. It made a fantastic mid-morning snack, not too heavy or too appetite-spoiling. Just right.

I'm a little head over heels for this book by Julie Richardson. It's true, I'm not really a cake person, and yet the recipes in this book make me want to throw birthday parties for all my friends, enter bake sales, and manufacture whatever excuses I can just to bake a cake.

My success with the Streamliner Cake has buoyed me. I'd better bake another one while the cake mojo is still good.

Lemon and Almond Streamliner Cake
From Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson (available on Amazon for $14)

Bake time: 42-45 minutes
Pan: 9 by 2-inch round cake pan, greased and bottom lined with a parchment paper circle

Grated zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup lemon juice (from approximately 3 lemons)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup (6 ounces) almond paste, 
at room temperature
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

To make the lemon custard, combine the lemon zest, milk, and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until just hot. Meanwhile, in a bowl, thoroughly whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining1/4 cup of sugar, and the salt until well combined, then whisk in the cornstarch, then the lemon juice. Slowly whisk a third of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the hot milk and cook over medium-low heat, whisking steadily, until the custard begins to thicken and bubble for 1 minute (you will need to stop whisking for a moment to check if it is bubbling). Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl and whisk in the butter until it has melted. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly upon the surface of the custard and place in the refrigerator to cool for about 2 hours. The custard is easiest to work with once it has set.

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the cake, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, then whisk the mixture to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste, butter, sugar, canola oil, and vanilla on low speed until blended; gradually increase the speed to high and cream until very light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes, stopping the mixer frequently to scrape the paddle and the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Blend in the eggs one at a time, adding the next one as soon as the previous one has disappeared into the batter. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl. Stop the mixer before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula to ensure you do not overbeat the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Rap the pan firmly on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the cake is a deep golden color and a wooden skewer poked in the middle comes out just barely clean, 42 to 45 minutes. The cake might crack on the surface as it bakes; don’t worry, this simply provides a way for the cake to soak up more of the lemon custard.

Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Gently invert the cake onto the rack, leaving on the parchment paper until you assemble the cake. Flip the cake right side up and continue to cool the cake on the rack until it reaches room temperature.

To finish the cake, remove the parchment paper and place the cake right side up on a flat plate. Using a metal spatula, spread a thin layer of the lemon custard on the sides of the cake to seal the cake and give it a light shine. Put the rest of the lemon custard on top of the cake, spreading it just barely out to the edge. Use your spatula to make a swirly design in the custard on the top of the cake. Allow the assembled cake (or really, the lemon custard) to set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Bring the cake to room temperature before serving (this will take about an hour). Any leftover cake keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Vintage Cakes: Timeless Cupcakes, Flips, Rolls, Layer, Angel, Snack, Chiffon and Icebox Cakes for Today’s Sweet Tooth by Julie Richardson, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

This cookbook was given to me by the publisher for review purposes. The opinions expressed in this article are my own.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Seven Snaps! 8/4/12 - 8/10/12

Watermelon Juice, prepare to become deliciously fizzy and mildly alcoholic.

Serious business.

This loaf is the size of my head. My HEAD!

Mooney the Cat: Keeper of Cords

Thought this would be gross, turns out to be mighty tasty! I'll be trying chai with my next back of kombucha.

I have a soft spot for flavored coffees. Don't judge.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Seven Snaps! 7/28/12 - 8/3/12

Experiments in homemade bubble tea. Delicious experiments.

Taco night!

Honey the Cat's hidey-hole. No trespassing.

Thai Glass Noodle Salad. Zomg, good.

Lemon Almond Streamliner Cake from my new bff cookbook Vintage Cakes.

A genuine speakeasy! The newsies hats and rolled sleeves make the drinks taste extra-good!

The on-going saga of my Sour Ale. Will it, in fact, become sour? To be continued...

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Top 8 Most Favorite Beet Recipes

Photo by Emma Christensen for The Kitchn

When the phone rings around 3pm and it's my mom calling from Minnesota, I know she has a dinner emergency. What goes with potatoes besides dill or rosemary because she's all out of that? (Thyme!) Can she freeze pesto with the olive oil in it? (Yes!) Would it be weird to add cherries to this turkey dish? (Erm...Maybe?)

I've come to love these phone calls and the roll reversal they inherently imply. After all, it wasn't that long ago when I was the one setting off smoke alarms and calling her in a panic. It's usually the middle of my work day when she calls, so she knows we can't chit chat and I trust that she knows that I can't chit chat. And we both know that we'll save our chit chatting for the weekend. It all works out just fine.

The other day, Mom called with another question and then happened to mention that she had three bunches of dang beets crowded in her fridge from her last several CSAs and dang if she didn't have a clue what to do with them. I needed to scramble to finish some work, so I promised a list of my favorite beet recipes post-haste.

Life has a way of rolling ever onward and I am only now getting around to sending her that list. My mother has informed me that her beet situation is now reaching critical levels. For her, for you, for all of us suffering from CSA overload, I give you my utmost favoritest beet recipes.

P.S. We've been doing a Family History Week over on The Kitchn and I did a little interview with my mom about her memories of her mother cooking, her favorite foods, and what it was like growing up in a family of six. It was a really sweet to hear her stories. Check it out:

Liver for Dinner & Raspberry Pie: An Interview with My Mother

My Top 8 Most Favorite Beet Recipes

My Kitchn colleagues and I are fanatics for beets, it seems. Over the years, we've amassed enough beet recipes that it could be a category all its own. Those listed here are the ones I cook again and again. All the following recipes come from The Kitchn. 

1. Sauteed Rainbow Chard with Raw Beets and Goat Cheese
2. Beets on Crostini with Goat Cheese
3. Beet and Sweet Potato Stacks
4. Golden Beet and Barley Salad with Rainbow Chard
5. Beet Salad with Romesco Sauce and Spring Greens
6. Roasted Beet Salad with Barley, Feta, and Red Onion
7. Fennel, Beet, and Orange Salad
8. Seared Bitter Greens Salad with Roasted Beets, Spiced Pecans, and Roquefort

And just in case you need it, here's how to roast beets in the oven.

Do you have a favorite recipe for beets?