Last weekend my sister and I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park to get some photos before they shut down Trail Ridge Road for the winter. Heading home, we drove by the Stanley Hotel and found it all dressed up in orange floodlights for Halloween. You may know the Stanley as the inspiration for The Shining, but it’s also home to an amazing continental breakfast featuring some of the best little pastries I’ve ever tried. Their parmesan haystacks have been on my “things to make immediately” list for almost 3 years now, but I digress.
Our photo mission also served another purpose: A distraction from the pumpkin custards I made that afternoon, which needed several hours to chill in the fridge. These custards are one of my favorite fall desserts — rich, creamy, and not too sweet. This year, I tried adding a crispy shell of melted cinnamon sugar to the top, and they were better than ever (though maybe not so easy to justify eating for breakfast).
There’s an old abandoned house on the bike path not far from where I live, with half its windows boarded up and the rest broken out. The roof is beginning to cave in, and every time I pass by I feel a twinge of sadness as I wonder about the people who built the house and planted the fruit trees lining the property. But for a while this summer, the sadness was trumped by joy and anticipation as the fragrant blossoms of spring swelled into thousands of prune plums, weighing down the ancient trees along the bike path.
Last year, I lamented the fact that there were no plums at the farmer’s market due to a late frost (and had to console myself with this mushroom tart). This year was the exact opposite.
The plums started turning ripe in mid-August, and they were everywhere I looked. I returned to the trees several weekends in a row, plastic bags bulging and cutting into my fingers as I trotted back down the bike path. My sister and I picked until we couldn’t carry any more, and we still didn’t even come close to making a dent in the crop. Runners and bike commuters stopped to gorge themselves on plums, and some of the old locals pulled their cars onto the property and loaded up boxes from the opposite side of the fence. All in all, we ended up processing just over 100 pounds, and there were still plums dropping off the tree when we finally cried uncle.
First on the to-make list was plum butter. I made it once a couple years ago, and it’s one of the best preserves I’ve ever tried. Tart and sweet, with complex notes of vanilla bean just below the surface. I love to spread it on toast, swirl it into plain yogurt, and put it in ebelskivers.
Plum butter doesn’t use pectin; it’s cooked down until very thick and then canned. I made several batches of varying thickness, and can tell you firsthand that they are all delicious — some are more like thin preserves, and others are so thick that I have a hard time spreading them. It’s tricky to get a very thick plum butter as you’ll need to stir it constantly at the end to keep it from scorching, but it’s well worth the effort. Even if you end up with syrup, I promise it will be delicious.
This is one of those recipes that is so well-loved I have a hard time putting it into words. Except to say I’m sorry for keeping it from you for so long. It’s one of the first successful cakes I ever made when I started cooking, using my Granny’s old springform pan (which is still in use, by the way).
Many flourless chocolate cakes contain ground nuts, but this cake gets its structure from cocoa powder and lots of eggs. So if you happen to be entertaining dinner guests who are allergic to nuts AND on the gluten-free bandwagon, look no further. And also, you might want to steer clear of these crackers.
The flourless chocolate cake is amazing all on its own or just dusted with cocoa powder, but I like it best with a tart raspberry sauce drizzled across the top. It creates a beautiful pop of color and flavor that is perfect for Valentine’s day, or any day.
It’s also ridiculously easy to make, but you don’t have to share that with your guests.
During the coldest days of the year, I make frequent trips out to the chicken coop. The hens are fine of course, they’re rated to about -20F (-30 if you speak Celsius), and a few of them will happily wade around in snow up to their egg-holes as long as the sun is shining — but the eggs freeze solid and explode if left in the nests for too long.
I’m nowhere near as cold-hardy as the chickens, but once I’m outside I marvel at the stark beauty of the icy yard and almost manage to forget about the cold.
In the end I’m always glad to be forced out into the elements, because it makes the house seem that much warmer when I come in.
Especially when I have a batch of these toasted anise cake slices fresh out of the oven. They make the house smell heavenly, and the crunchy texture (similar to biscotti) is perfect alongside a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. Or a bowl of sorbet, when the days get warmer again.
These toasty cake slices are similar to biscotti, and are delicious with a hot cup of coffee or a bowl of lemon sorbet.
1 3/4 cups flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, finely crushed
mortar & pestle
8 1/2 by 4 1/2" loaf pan
Put rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter and flour loaf pan.
Crush anise seeds using mortar and pestle.
Sift together flour, baking powder, anise, and salt in a small bowl.
Beat eggs and sugar in a mixer bowl at high speed until tripled in volume, and thick enough to form a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to fall apart when beater is lifted (about 12-18 minutes)
Sift flour mixture over egg mixture in 3 batches, folding in each batch.
Gently stir in butter, and immediately pour batter into loaf pan and smooth top.
Bake until loaf is golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a cutting board (right side up) and cool for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400F.
Trim ends and cut loaf into 1/2-inch-thick slides. Arrange slices on a baking sheet and bake until undersides are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Flip and bake until the other side browns, about 5 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.
We’ve barely begun 2014, but the sun sets a bit later each day and I can feel the promise of spring on the horizon.
The hens are feeling it too; egg production is ramping up and it’s getting harder to enforce their early winter curfew.
Most of the chickens follow me right out to the coop, but I almost always have to round up a few stragglers at bedtime. It’s normally a quick and easy affair, but the other day was something else entirely.
It was sunny when I let the chickens out, so they happily plowed through an acre of snow just to get to the bird feeder. Then, a cold front came through and they didn’t want to walk back through the snow to get back home.
A couple of the hens started to follow me out to the coop, but I came back to find they’d given up and planted themselves in the garden, fluffing their feathers like little down jackets. One after the other, I scooped them up and carried them to the coop, their feathers warming my hands as they settled into my arms. I’m pretty sure they were grateful.
I soon realized I wasn’t done giving free rides out to the chicken coop, and that not everyone would be as cooperative. The other hens huddled together, eyeing me uneasily, reluctant to be picked up but not wanting to run out into the snow.
Most allowed themselves to be caught without any trouble, but not Shelly. She dodged me several times, but finally I managed to come within an inch of grabbing her. That is when she completely freaked out.
Shelly is a pretty small chicken, and I knew from her past adventures that she is better at flying than most. But I was shocked when, with a series of loud squawks, she launched herself off the ground and flew across the entire garden, about 150 feet. And then she started gaining altitude and fluttered up onto a tree branch, about 8 feet off the ground.
I scrambled up onto a piece of lawn furniture and grabbed hold of her tail before she could fly up to a higher branch, prompting her to go hide under the big spruce tree instead (with four of her friends). It took me over an hour to get them all in for the night.
Today, most of the hens are out in the snow again, pecking at the door and lurking on the back steps. Probably waiting for me to give them a ride home. Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll let them in, where there’s freshly baked gingerbread and chai tea, and it’s (slightly) warmer than outside.
As excited as I am for the spring weather to get here, I’m always sorry to see gingerbread season end. In case you’re wondering, gingerbread season starts when the first chill of autumn creeps into the air, and ends after the last blizzard of April — if to you gingerbread means houses and cookies shaped like little men, you’re definitely missing out on the best part of the season. Fortunately, you still have time to catch up.
I’ve always been a fan of soft, chocolate-covered mints — Junior Mints, Peppermint Patties, I love them all equally but don’t much venture into the candy aisle these days. However, they’ve been lurking in the back of my brain’s “to make” file for years now. I finally caved when, during a night of Christmas baking, I realized that I had TWO bottles of good quality peppermint extract taking up space in my cupboard.
I turned to two of my favoritecookbooks for inspiration. Both were in agreement on the basic proportions, except for the most important flavor — one recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract to 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, and the other a full tablespoon per 2 cups of sugar (for the record, the latter also says you can use peppermint oil but I haven’t tried it). I settled for 1/2 tablespoon of extract and found it to be perfectly minty.
Just ignore that corn syrup lurking behind the more wholesome ingredients.
I generally avoid corn syrup, but this is one of a few cases where I use it in a recipe because there wasn’t a reliable substitute available (and hey, it’s only a tablespoon). I considered trying a batch with honey instead, since it’s hygroscopic like corn syrup, but thought it might change the color and flavor too much (if you try it, I’d love to hear how it turns out!). However, I did have excellent luck replacing the shortening in the original recipes with extra-virgin coconut oil. That counts for something, right?
For my trial run, I tried to make patties with a little heart-shaped cookie cutter but their shape didn’t hold up well during a brief trip through melted chocolate (a 1″ round might work better). I soon realized I couldn’t eat the entire batch in the name of quality control, and moved on to Plan B — rolling each heart into a little ball. They were much easier to coat in chocolate, if not as cute.
The finished candy can be stored in the fridge or freezer, layered between pieces of parchment paper in an airtight container. I recommend storing them near the back, where they won’t be as visible.
Cool, creamy and refreshing. These homemade treats are like Junior Mints or Peppermint Patties, but way better than anything you'll find in the candy aisle.
2 cups powdered confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil, softened
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp pure peppermint extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp water
1 1/2 cups good quality dark chocolate chips or pieces
In a large bowl combine sugar, salt, corn syrup, oil, peppermint extract, and water. Form a workable dough using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, or kneading by hand, adding a bit of extra water if necessary.
If making balls, a metal measuring spoon works well to divvy up the dough (I used 1/4 tsp). Roll pieces of dough into balls by hand and put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for at least 2 hours. If making patties, place the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap and roll out to about 1/4 or 1/2 inch thickness, then freeze for 30-60 minutes before cutting out the patties. Place cutouts on a cookie sheet to freeze for at least 2 hours.
Heat chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely-simmering water until it melts, let it cool to about 80F, and then heat it once again -- this tempers the chocolate and gives you a nice shiny coating on your candy.
Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes, then take the mint centers out of the freezer a few at a time. Use a fork to quickly roll them in the chocolate, then tap off the excess and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Freeze until hard, then give the cookie sheet a shake to release the mints. Some may stick and lose pieces of their chocolate shell, you can just reheat the leftover chocolate and patch them (or better yet, eat them immediately).
Store mints between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container, in the fridge or freezer. Bring to room temperature before serving, or enjoy them frozen.
Adapted from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It (by Karen Solomon) and Gourmet.
It’s summer squash season, and the piles of fresh zucchini are starting to lose their novelty. So when I’m staring at a fridge full of squash or a zucchini the size of my leg, I usually resort to shredding and hiding them in baked goods. Or at the very least, shredding and hiding them in the freezer for a snowy day.
Zucchini does wonderful things for muffins. It makes for a soft, delicate crumb; and more importantly, it enables you to call them “muffins” when really they taste like cupcakes.
I used black cocoa powder, which is basically Dutch-processed cocoa taken a step further so that it’s even darker and less bitter. It’s great to have on hand if you want baked goods with a mellow chocolate flavor and super dark color, i.e. Oreo-type cookies or ice cream sandwiches.
A note on cocoa powder: You can usually use natural cocoa powder in place of Dutch (NOT vice versa, at least for cakes and cookies). But be warned that the natural acidity will react with the baking soda in this recipe and your muffins will have a reddish tint, like Devil’s Food cake. And I can’t promise they won’t be a little taller or flatter than they should be, since I haven’t made that substitution in this particular recipe.
Finally, I find that coconut oil makes these extra delicious and “healthier,” giving us all the more reason to eat cake for breakfast. You’re welcome.
Summer is in full swing, and our basil plants are too. I’m out there every day, harvesting as much as I can use to keep the plants from going to seed.
Even better, the fresh milk from Windsor Dairy is especially beautiful right now — our weekly jars are now topped with an extra-thick layer of yellow cream that changes flavor each week as the cows get into different herbs and grasses.
Soon, I’ll be making a lot of fresh mozzarella for caprese salad. But while we wait impatiently for our 30(!) tomato plants to start producing, I’ve been using our abundant supply of basil and fresh milk to make ice cream.
Now you might only associate basil with savory dishes, and think that basil ice cream sounds gross. I get it. But I tried putting basil and peaches together in a jam (to be shared with you soon; it’s almost peach season too!) and I realized that basil works just as well with sweet flavors.
It’s been a rough week. After a promising start to the season, the state of Colorado is on fire once again and many of my loved ones are evacuated and waiting to hear if their homes will survive. We’re safe here on the farm — nothing more than a little smoke and some extra-beautiful sunsets in my neighborhood, but every time I look at the thick haze settled over the mountains my heart sinks.
At the same time, I learned that one of my friends was experiencing a health crisis. So the past few days have been spent watching and waiting, and of course worrying. For me, a heavy heart leaves no room for the stomach — this has been the sort of week where I’ll watch the fiery sunset until the colors fade, and then realize I haven’t even begun to think about dinner.
Fortunately, I had a big batch of this quinoa pudding in the fridge. It’s the ultimate comfort food, as far as I’m concerned. It reminds me a lot of tapioca pudding, but with a texture that will probably be a lot more appealing to the tapioca-haters out there (I just don’t understand.) Not to mention, it’s nutritious and easy to digest.
It’s just what I need when I’m feeling sick, or sad, or just looking for a quick and delicious breakfast. And I haven’t tested this theory yet, but kids will probably love it too.
Easy, delicious, and nourishing -- this pudding is comfort food at its finest.
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 cup quinoa flakes (you can find these sold as a hot breakfast cereal)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
ripe peaches, nectarines, or plums (optional)
Rinse the whole quinoa thoroughly to remove any bitter residue (you don't need to do this with the flakes.)
In a 2-quart heavy saucepan, combine milk, sugar, and whole quinoa (not the flakes.) Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is tender (about 20 minutes.)
Stir in the quinoa flakes and simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, thoroughly beat the egg in a small bowl.
Slowly dribble a ladleful of the hot quinoa mix into the egg while stirring with a whisk (this tempers the egg so it doesn't curdle.) Then, gradually whisk the egg mixture into the rest of the quinoa in your saucepan.
Cook for another 2 minutes under low heat; be careful not to let the mixture boil. Whisk in vanilla and remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes to thicken. Serve hot, cold, or with a splash of milk and some fresh fruit.
Adapted from Whole Grains for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff.
Good neighbors are a wonderful thing to have, and we’re lucky to have quite a few of them. But our friends across the street are the absolute best. They care for our animals when we’re away, they let us borrow their hatchet, and they even drop by with surprise deliveries of spring flowers and little custard tarts. And did I mention the rhubarb?