things i cooked in the summer because i am an asshole: two blueberry desserts.

This is a tale of two desserts, one with great potential, one … not so much.

My go-to dessert to use up blueberries is smitten kitchen’s buttermilk cake, which is fuckin’ delicious but not very exciting. Last summer I got ambitious. I wanted to try new blueberry things.

Friends, don’t try new blueberry things.

Well. I shouldn’t go that far. One of the two desserts I tried (both, coincidentally, by Melissa Clark, though I didn’t know it at the time) is probably delicious. I say “probably” because I screwed up a bunch of things that I think you probably need to not screw up to really make it shine. It is blueberry crumb bars – basically jam bars, only you make the jam on the stovetop out of fresh blueberries(!!!!!). As you may or may not be aware, I’m totally crazy for jam bars, and I have high hopes for this dish when blueberries come back in season.

The other one is … well, I don’t think it’s irredeemable. But I’m not going to check.

Notes & Verdicts
Blueberry Maple Tea Cake
by Melissa Clark via Cookie + Kate
Notes: You guys this was so bad. I know, blueberry and maple, how could putting these things together ever go wrong? Very fucking easily, apparently. I blame the glaze. The cake itself was fine, if not noteworthy. But the glaze … I mean I know I am not the biggest butter fan on the face of the earth but this just did not taste right, and really fucked with the texture of the cake. The photos on Cookie + Kate seem to indicate that their glaze was more of solid layer atop the cake than mine, which soaked in. So maybe I fucked it up? I don’t know. What I do know is that this sat out long enough to get moldy.
Verdict: Craaaaaaaap. F

Blueberry Crumble Shortbread Bars by Melissa Clark
Notes: I have really high hopes for these. Here is the list of things I will do differently when I make them this summer to ensure success.
1) I will not substitute ground cinnamon for a cinnamon stick which is supposed to be removed before the jam is spread on the shortbread base. In fact, I may not use any cinnamon products at all.
2) I will not add lemon juice before cooking the jam. In fact, I may not use lemon juice at all. I may only use zest. This resolution can be explained entirely by my failure to read the damn recipe closely. Always read the damn recipe closely.
3) I will read the damn recipe closely.
Verdict: I can’t. I just can’t render a verdict on something I’m certain I can make better the second time. Not Graded, Forthcoming

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honey mustard chicken: help me help myself.

I’m sure I’ve talked here before about The Pioneer Woman. She led me by the hand into serious cooking with her detailed process photos back in 2010, helped me believe that really these cooking techniques with which I was unfamiliar were things anyone could do rather than the purview of a skilled few, and then, as she got increasingly commercial and her recipes got increasingly shitty, I outgrew her. At this point I haven’t read her in years and, in fact, actively dislike a great number of things about her little home-and-garden empire, but many of the recipes she put out at the beginning of her blogging career hold up. One of my favorite pasta dishes is a loose adaptation of one of hers, and my go-to mac and cheese is a not-that-loose adaptation of hers. So I didn’t feel completely insane when, fed up as I am with most of what I cook, I turned to an old recipe of hers to see what I could make of it. She calls it Ranch Style Chicken and smothers the chicken with bacon and cheese. I call it honey mustard chicken and, uh, don’t, with that last thing.

I actually tinkered with this years ago, before I started blogging, and I remember enjoying it. As it currently stands, I like it, but I’m not sure how to cook it to preserve that honey mustard flavor. Ideally I’d grill it, but we only have a Foreman grill, and grilling these on the Foreman was a disaster of burned marinade and carbonized chicken. (Honey and the Foreman very clearly did not mix.) I am going to try marinating the chicken for an hour or two and then oven-baking it next time. Any ideas you’ve got, I’ll take ‘em. Here’s the basic marinade.

Honey Mustard Chicken Marinade
Adapted from Ranch Style Chicken by The Pioneer Woman

3/4 cup mustard (dijon or grainy)
1/4 cup honey
Juice of one lemon
Kosher salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper

That’s it. Simple, right? So help me! How should I prepare the chicken breasts so lovingly marinated in this delicious goop? Grilling didn’t work out, and I’m not going to do it her way. Give me your wisdom.

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things I’m eating these days: pancake edition.

As I said previously, Joy the Baker may be annoying, but she’s good for breakfast items. One of the reasons she gets on my nerves is her insistence on throwing the kitchen sink into many of her recipes; I like my sink where it is. So, here is how I adapted her Blueberry Orange and Almond Pancake with Orange Maple Glaze to be less batshit and more like a thing I am willing to make on a Sunday morning. The result was, I am pleased to say, fuckin’ delicious.

Berry Orange Pancakes
Adapted from Joy the Baker Cookbook

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 scant tablespoon sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup berries

Mix your dry. Mix your wet. Mix your wet into your dry. Make your pancakes. If you used to read me back when I blogged regularly, you know that being able to make pancakes without ruining everything in the world is a major triumph for me (just search “pancakes” within this blog for a handful of stories of me going LKDJFLDF;JGDFAJHSDLK;A PANCAKES), so when I say “make your pancakes” like it ain’t no thang, rest assured that it is very much a thing and pancakes are very hard. But these are very tasty and you should make them.

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things I’m eating these days: muffin edition.

I read cookbooks now. It’s a thing I’ve been meaning to do for ages and finally began doing over my last winter break. I started off easy, with Joy the Baker‘s cookbook (creatively titled Joy the Baker Cookbook), because it only has 100 recipes and I knew, from reading her blog, that it would be a breeze.

True confessions: I … don’t actually like Joy the Baker that much. I read her blog regularly for a long time, but after awhile she just started to rub me the wrong way. There’s a lot of prescriptive gender ideas folded in among all that butter and sugar, not to mention a lot of discussion of food as “naughty” and “good,” neither of which I am here for, no sir. Food-wise, a lot of her recipes feel less thoughtful and more “how many different things can I cram in here?” And to be totally honest, I went to see her on her book tour and the vibe was really, really weird. I’m not a huge fan is what I’m saying. But she has created many recipes that I enjoy, and her cookbook is a pretty good resource for breakfast items and baked goods. At worst, I know what I’m getting into. At best, I get something delicious. In addition to her pound cake, which, with adaptations, is my go-to for all my pound cake needs, I have made three recipes from this cookbook. Today we’ll talk about muffins.

I have tried two of Joy’s muffin recipes, Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins and Peach Cobbler Muffins. They are basically the same muffin, but with different spices and fruits added. Here’s the basic muffin recipe:

7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps. baking powder
3/4 tsps. salt

For streusel: 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar

From here, you can go any which way you want. Want to go the Brown Butter Blueberry route? Brown the butter and mix with the wet ingredients before combining with dry, and add 2 cups blueberries right at the end. (Bake for 20-ish minutes at 375.) I used frozen raspberries since I had them on hand, and I have to say … I was seriously underwhelmed by this recipe. The muffins were way too sweet, and the white sugar in the streusel made it sandy, which is shall we say unappetizing. Had I made it first, I might have lost all faith in Joy’s muffin abilities. Luckily, I made the Peach Cobbler Muffins first, and they are fucking outstanding. Here’s what you add to that basic muffin to make it a Peach Cobbler Muffin, and worthy of being put in your face:

Substitute 1/4 cup brown sugar for 1/4 cup white (leaving you with 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup brown)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 additional tsp. vanilla extract (bringing you to 2 tsps. vanilla)
1 1/4 cup peaches

For streusel: Substitute 1/4 cup brown sugar for 3 tsp. white sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Combine wet, combine dry, add peaches, bake for 20-ish minutes at 350. Why is the temperature different? I got no fuckin’ clue.

These additions make a world of difference, turning a too-sweet but also bland muffin into something subtle and delicious. But keep in mind, you can go anywhere with the basic muffin recipe Joy provides. I would recommend subbing brown sugar for white in the streusel and in the muffin itself no matter what else you decide to do, and I’m a sucker for vanilla extract so always up that shit, but really, the world is your oyster.

Do not put oysters in your muffin.

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things I’m eating these days: internet recipes edition.

I don’t blog much anymore. I’m sorry about that. I’d like to be writing more, but it’s interesting – putting dinner for two on the table every night is really, really different from cooking for pleasure. I still love cooking, and I enjoy putting dinner on the table every night, but it’s a very workmanlike process. I’ve had to make a conscious effort to introduce new recipes into the line-up, because we get so sick of eating the same shit, but I also get into a rhythm, and it can be hard to bust out.

That said, here are a bunch of new recipes I have tried lately, to very mixed results.

Buttermilk “Fried” Chicken by Dinner: A Love Story
DALS is a long-time favorite of mine for its combination of great recipes, clever writing, and a real-life attitude towards putting dinner on the table, but this recipe was a disappointment. It uses the same corn flake base as my fried chicken, but a different set of spices, and the chicken is oven-baked rather than deep-fried. We found the spice combination underwhelming, and I really couldn’t get into the texture. The chicken is brined before baking in buttermilk and garlic to keep it moist, and maybe things would have been different if I could have brined my chicken for several hours rather than 30 minutes or if I’d used dark meat, but I used breasts, and I have to say, the overall textural effect was that of wet, thick cardboard.

It wasn’t inedible, but I won’t be making this again. C

Pork in Milk by Dinner: A Love Story
This is not a good round-up for DALS. Sorry, Andy and Jenny. You guys are great. It’s not you. It’s me.

I’d had this recipe bookmarked for ages before I made it. It’s an adaptation of what is apparently a classic Marcella Hazan recipe, and I was sucked in by the emotional context Andy placed this dish in. In fact – go, read the recipe. I’ll wait.

Good, you’re back. As you are now aware, this was a beloved dish of Andy’s childhood, made by his aunt Patty especially for him, featuring “mounds of nutty, slightly disconcerting-looking, sweet-smelling clusters of milk” at the end. It sounded unique and delicious and I was excited about it. Ultimately, it was …. fine? I mean, it’s a pork loin. It is pretty hard to fuck up a pork loin. But there definitely were not as many milk clusters as I expected, and ultimately, this was just uninteresting. There are approximately eight million ways to cook a pork loin; I won’t be using this one again. B

double coconut muffins by smitten kitchen
Deb is my hero. With very, very rare exceptions, every recipe she posts is a winner, and most of them are pretty interesting. This was both. These muffins were fucking fantastic. The only modifications I made to the recipe were to mix all the shredded coconut in, rather than sprinkling some of it over the top, and to use unsweetened shredded coconut, because sweetened shredded coconut is an abomination. My only word of caution with this recipe would be that the muffins don’t keep super well (I think it has to do with the coconut oil). I mean I ate them until they were gone, but after like two days I was less excited about that. A-

Chicken Paprikash by Simply Recipes

Now that we’ve all got that out of our systems, because let me tell you, the first time I made this I could not stop muttering it under my breath.

This is an old school recipe that you don’t see around much. I was intrigued when I saw it on Simply Recipes (which I love), but despite having had it bookmarked since forever, I found myself wary of making it. I just … wasn’t sure. What does paprika actually taste like? Do I want to make something where something I don’t actually know what it tastes like is the predominant flavor? About a month ago I was so fed up with everything I make that the answer was OH MY GOD, YES, SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T TASTE LIKE ANYTHING ELSE I MAKE and since then I’ve made it more or less weekly. We’re over the moon for it. I use chicken breasts, because I pretty much always use chicken breasts, and we eat it over egg noodles. I could eat this every day. A

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things i cooked in the summer because i am an asshole: roasted peach tart.

Friends, it’s been seven months and I’ve been negligent. Again. So instead of talking about it, let’s talk about a recipe I tried last summer that didn’t go very well, utilizing an ingredient you can’t currently get. Yeah. Let’s do that.

You may recall my love of summer peaches. This past summer, instead of making the peach pie I know and love, I thought, “Let’s get creative. Peach pie is perfect, sure, but there must be other good peach desserts out there.” I find peach desserts to be challenging. If they’re not peach pie or cobbler (I assume, having never made peach cobbler), they inevitably don’t taste peachy enough. So I tried to split the difference between peach pie and other, more disappointing peach desserts with a recipe I found in The Blackberry Farm Cookbook, “Roasted Peach Tart.” (You’ll find it on p. 43 in the Summer section.) It wasn’t as straightforward as peach pie, but it wasn’t as convoluted as those peach shortbreads I linked above.

I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t really like this. The honey in the “caramel” really overwhelms the flavor of the peaches, or at least, mine did. I was using schmancy honey because I got it as a stocking stuffer and I don’t actually like honey so I don’t have regular honey and maybe if I used regular honey it would have been fine. But I didn’t, so I don’t know. Also, the peaches remain whole, so it’s not like you’re getting peachy goodness on every bite – they don’t disperse their flavor or anything. Finally, it’s a pain in the fucking ass to make. Part of that is the fact that I didn’t read the damn recipe before I started (always read the damn recipe before you start) and so found myself having to make pastry in the time it took the “caramel” to caramelize rather than at a sensible rate. I do not blame the recipe writers for that. But I do blame them for crafting a caramel that never actually solidifies and then making me flip it out of a pan and onto a plate like a upside-down cake and assuming that won’t be a fiasco.

Maybe you’ll have better luck than me. I do encourage you to try. But I’m skeptical. Here’s the recipe, with my own slight modifications.

Roasted Peach Tart
Barely adapted from The Blackberry Farm Cookbook

For the crust: 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, frozen
4 – 6 tablespoons ice water

For the peaches: 2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (The recipe calls for fancy-ass salt, so used the fanciest-ass salt you got.)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons water
5 – 6 peaches, pitted, halved and peeled

Preheat the oven to 350.

Make the crust. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor, then add your cubes of frozen butter and pulse until combined (should look grainy, i.e. “like coarse meal”). Add the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the whole thing pulls together. Set aside in the fridge. If you want to roll it out now, you’ll probably be glad you did.

Prepare your peaches: poach, then peel, pit, and halve.

Make the caramel. Mix 1 tablespoon honey with 3 tablespoons water in a large pan or skillet, then distribute the 1/2 cup sugar evenly over the honey-water mixture. Cook over medium heat without stirring for 11 – 12 minutes, until the sugar is entirely melted and the mixture is uniformly caramel colored. Because you are, after all, making caramel.

As soon as the caramel is ready, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt, butter, and honey. (Why butter? I don’t fuckin’ know. I just did it.) Place the peaches, cut side up, in the hot caramel so that they cover the whole bottom of the pan. Place the crust over the top of the pan and tuck the edges in, like a crust blanket.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until crust is golden brown. Cool for 10 – 15 minutes, then place a large dinner place over the pan and flip. Good luck with this. I found it to be a total fiasco of a step, and I’m clumsy, but this is beyond the pale of things I should be expected to do, I feel.

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these brussels sprouts will change your life.

I mean, if you’re the kind of person whose life can be changed by brussels sprouts. I totally am.

I pulled this recipe for pan-fried brussels sprouts out of my bookmarks about a month ago as part of my never-ending quest to do things with vegetables other than “saute in garlic and oil” or “steam.” My boyfriend had valiantly agreed to give brussels sprouts (a previously despised food) a second chance, and I wanted to make it stick. There aren’t a ton of vegetables we agree on, and I didn’t want to close the door on any more. We’re talking about a dude who hates beets, here.

Luckily, this recipe is a goddamn solid gold winner. I’ve made a few small adaptations from Adam’s original recipe, so here it is how I make it.

Approx. 1 lb brussels sprouts, halved and stemmed and with any icky-looking outer leaves removed (I am fortunate enough to patronize a grocery store that gives me the option of buying loose brussels sprouts, and them motherfuckers are the size of ping-pong balls. If you do not have such a pleasurable option, one little tub should do it.)
3 strips bacon
3 – 5 cloves garlic
Approx. 1/2 a normal-sized red onion
White vinegar
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Coarse-ground black pepper

Chop your bacon up into little pieces and fry them on medium-high until all the fat has rendered (you’ll know because the pieces stop sizzling). And hey, guys, can you recommend a decent brand of bacon? I’m picky as fuck and can’t find one I like enough to commit to. The one brand my family unanimously loved (Wright’s Applewood Smoked, you do not even know how good this shit was) is no longer available in our area, and they don’t seem keen on shipping me a packet every time I need bacon. Amazon will sell me seven pounds for $60, though. Woooo.

Anyway. Render the bacon, then remove it with a slotted spoon. Eyeball the pan. Do you have enough fat in there to cook things in? If you don’t, add a little olive oil (sometimes I have to, sometimes I don’t) and then turn the heat all the way up until the fat starts smoking. Now you can add your brussels sprouts (which you’ve already halved and cleaned, because you’re a pro). This is gonna get loud, y’all. Shit sizzles. Let ‘em sit for a minute, then start shaking the pan ferociously (and please for the love of not setting yourself on fire, choose a pan with a long handle). Continue in this vein – let ‘em sit, then shake the pan – for a couple minutes. What you’re doing is trying to get serious color on as much of the sprout as possible. With fat this hot, you will get serious color on whatever part of the sprout was initially in direct contact with the fat.

After 3 – 4 minutes, go ahead and add your sliced red onion. Shit’s gonna sizzle real loud. It’s beautiful. Let the onion soften for a minute or two and then go ahead and add your chopped garlic. Still gonna sizzle. Gonna smell delicious, too. Once the garlic has had a chance to soften slightly, re-add the crispy bacon, grab your bottle of vinegar, and give a healthy pour over the contents of the pan. Adam suggests champagne vinegar, which I’ve tried a few times and have not found pleasing. The flavor is too big, too … something. I’m not sure. I don’t like it. The only other non-balsamic vinegar I have is white vinegar, and while I mostly think of that as a cleaning product, it gets the job done in a pinch. So that’s what I use.

Let it cook for minute, then check a sprout. A fork should enter the stem easily with no resistance; it won’t yet. Cover the pan, put the heat on medium, and let it all cook down for a few minutes. This will have the unfortunate effect of lessening the brilliant green of the sprouts, but will also get them soft enough to eat. Probably cook them for 3 – 5 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until they’re fork tender. Then serve and eat that shit.

Happy 4th, I guess? Wooooo.

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