Monday, March 20, 2017

Healthy Banana Bread With Chocolate + Marzipan

I aspire to be like a banana. You know: the older I get, the sweeter I get, the more people want to come over and bake with me? I just love the fact that a banana's life is totally not over when they get old and spotty. You just take all that away and freeze them for smoothies or "nice cream" or you squish them and make the world's best banana bread. The spottiest bananas make the most delicious banana bread. That's the law. Also, I realize people are divided on this topic, but I'm 100% team Chilled Banana Bread. My aunt has a totally bad-sass recipe for the most sugar-filled, moist, perfect banana bread you could ever imagine. Sadly, it's hardly the sort of thing you can bake frequently. This past weekend I stepped into World Market and almost spent all my money in the imported foods aisle. What I came away with were a few packages of rose petals and dried hibiscus (for experimentation), some speculoos cookies (for eating), and a block of marzipan. I'd never used marzipan but after opening the block and pinching off a corner to see what the heck it tasted like anyway, I decided it was the perfect thing to throw into a batch of my new favorite banana bread. The little nuggets of sweet almond paste are the perfect compliment to the nutty flavor of the hearty loaf. Sweetened only with banana and a little maple syrup, this recipe makes a perfect breakfast. I love mine sliced thick and smeared with almond butter and perhaps some sliced strawberries. For this particular batch I decided to get a little fancy and threw in a some chopped dark chocolate from a bar which had been bobbling around my purse, plus a few bits of the self-same marzipan to finish off the party-in-a-loaf. It isn't ground-breaking or a terribly original combination but that's the fun of banana bread: it's always gonna taste like home, no matter how you spin it.

Banana Bread With Chocolate And Marzipan
makes one loaf

1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
2 eggs
1 cup ripe, mashed banana (about 2 large bananas)
1/4 cup almond milk (or milk of choice)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup chopped marzipan

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 9x5" loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl mix together oil, maple syrup, eggs, and banana. Add in dry ingredients and mix quickly and well. Toss in chocolate and marzipan and gently fold into batter.
  3. Pour batter into loaf pan and sprinkle with additional cinnamon if desired. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely. Chill if desired, or eat immediately. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Birch-Glazed Pork Tenderloin


"Hey, they should make syrup out of birch tree sap."
This good idea semi-literally fell out of the sky. A large river birch at work got trimmed recently. With an uncommon string of warm days and nights dropping into the mid to low-thirties, the sap had begun to run. Whenever I was outside, I got hit with giant drops of river birch sap. The sap fell in large, glittering drops (like diamonds) from the fresh cuts. After the first several times of, "Did a bird just poop on me?" (once the answer was "yes.") I started wondering, "Hey...if that is sap...and maple sap can be turned into maple syrup...then is there such a thing as birch syrup?" My little numbskull of a brain decided it had heard of such a thing as birch syrup before. Didn't they serve it at one of the best brunch restaurants in my region of Virginia? A little further research unearthed two very interesting facts:

A) there is such a thing as birch syrup
B) the restaurant actually uses hickory syrup

After thanking my brain for such a lucky mistake and then feeling a little nervous at how often it makes this sort of mashup between facts and calls it truth, I continued my research, fascinated at this new kind of sugar-source.

Science Bit: the sugar in birch syrup is fructose rather than sucrose which makes it one of the lowest natural sweeteners on the glycemic index. Where does this expensive, rare kind of syrup come from and why isn't it more popular? The answer to the first question is, "birch forests." Most notably, those of Alaska. The answer to the second question is a little complicated. See, it only takes about forty maple trees to produce a finished gallon of maple syrup. Compare that with the approximately one hundred birch trees tapped to make a finished gallon of birch syrup and you'll understand why a little 3.5 ounce bottle of birch syrup costs just about as much as a bottle of the original frankincense brought by the Magi to the Christ Child. I'm just saying.




Still, once I'd been introduced to the idea of birch syrup I had to order a bottle and see if it really did taste like spicy and dark like cola, as one source suggested. I cut off my right hand, sold it on the black market, got my funds, bought a bottle of birch syrup from Kahiltna Birchworks, then sat back to wait. The birch syrup shipped the following day. I imagined it traveling all the way across Canada and maybe getting stopped at the border and asked about a visa before finally ending up in my kitchen. When the package arrived I cracked open the bottle, prepared myself mentally, stuck my finger into the dark, goopy syrup and made friends with it. Turns out birch syrup tastes remarkably like molasses: mineral-flecked, rich, dark, cola-like, fruity almost. Strong and, unlike maple syrup, not a girly, pushover flavor. I spent the next few days kerbobbling around with ideas of how I wanted to use my precious store of birch-syrup and I finally came up with something that just screams springtime: a birch-glazed pork tenderloin roast which perfectly flaunts the saucy, strong-willed flavor of the birch syrup. A juicy pork tenderloin is seared on the stove-top, then brushed with spiced syrup and roasted in the oven to finish it off. To further celebrate spring in spite of the current freezing temperatures, I rounded out the meal with a few other nommies too! So if you're looking for an Easter meal that skips out on ham, eggs, and other common flavors and yet still shouts, "SPRING IS HERE," read on!









 Birch-Glazed Pork Tenderloin 
serves 4-6

1/2 cup pure birch syrup, divided into 1/4 cup portions*
1/2 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 cup arrowroot or cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon coconut oil
1.5 pounds all natural pork tenderloin
* if not using birch syrup, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup molasses may be substituted
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. In a glass measuring cup mix together 1/4 cup birch syrup with vinegar, paprika and allspice. Set aside.
  2. Mix together brown sugar, salt, pepper, and arrowroot (or cornstarch). Pat the pork tenderloin dry and sprinkle with mixture, carefully knocking off excess so it doesn't get gummy in the oven!
  3. Heat coconut oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat. When shimmery, add tenderloin and brown on all sides for a total of 4-6 minutes.
  4. Transfer tenderloin to a lightly greased rack set inside a rimmed baking pan.
  5. Pour off excess grease or oil from the skillet, then pour the syrup mixture into the pan and simmer quickly, scraping up browned bits and incorporating. When slightly thickened, brush one half of this mixture over the tenderloin.
  6. Bake the tenderloin in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads about 130 degrees F. Remove from oven and paint with remaining syrup mixture, adding the additional 1/4 cup birch syrup if needed to thin out the cooled, spiced syrup. Allow tenderloin to rest for ten minutes before serving!

- finish it out -
unsweetened iced tea
steamed green peas
garnish with wild chickweed

Monday, March 13, 2017

Food Trends, Defined

There are so many, many food trends happening right now. I feel like that girl who arrives at a party just after the playlist ends. Or that person who's new to a group and frantically trying to figure out who everyone is and possibly remember one or two names next week. Just when I finally grasp one it becomes "so last year" and is hardly available on menus anymore, or has become hard to find in grocery stores. Do you ever feel like you fumble through the annals of your cookbooks or favorite food blogs without the slightest idea what the foreign-sounding foods actually are? Or let's talk about menus for a minute. How are you supposed to know that you'd like to make a given recipe or order a certain dish if you're not sure what it actually is? Maybe it's an ingredient - a spice mix, a dairy product, a flavoring - maybe it's an actual dish you're unsure about. I'm here to highlight a couple of the things I keep coming across which, at some point in the last year have caused a Google search or a blind tasting; some with happier results than others! It probably doesn't seem super cool to admit you have no idea what something is when basically all the world is talking about it, but I'm a believer in getting real answers to avoid awkward moments. Like when I finally found out that #nsfw had nothing to do with fashion week.

tempeh - tempeh is tofu's healthier, glorified cousin. Why healthier? Because while tofu is made by curdling and coagulating heated soymilk, tempeh is made from cooked, fermented soy beans pressed into a mold. Fermented foods are super foods. And you can read all about it in this article by Alernative Daily. In the meantime, tempeh is much like its spongy cousin in terms of use!
alt. translation: what people order when a soy-hater is listening and might understand the words, "tofu" and burger"

za'atar - a Middle-Eastern spice staple starring ground sumac mixed with sesame seeds, thyme, salt, and possibly a few other spices or herbs
alt. translation: "Where's your favorite spice market in Tel Aviv? Oh. You haven't been?"

labneh - full-fat yogurt, strained overnight to make it thicker and more tangy. 
alt. translation: I forgot to put away the yogurt last night so here's some improvised veggie dip.

hawaij - Yemenese spice blend with a hefty dose of ground cardamom, black pepper, cumin, and cloves often used on meats, vegetables, in stews, and even in rice or (if you're Molly Yeh) hot chocolate!
alt. translation: a classy blend starring a spice almost none of your friends will correctly identify the first taste

bahn mi - a kind of Vietnamese sandwich, traditionally of some variation of pork adorned with fresh cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, and shredded radish, often served on a baguette or flat bread-style wrap with spicy mayonnaise.
alt. translation: What they tell you they're serving when making a real dinner was just too much work.

soba - a thick, chewy Asian noodle made of buckwheat flour. See also, udon.
alt. translation: "My noodle-vocabulary is cooler than your noodle vocabulary, so I won't just call these noodles. What a waste of my knowledge."

confit - a French method of preparing meat (most often goose or duck legs) which cooks the meat by submerging it in oil or fat and frying it over low heat, then storing meat in the fat to cure. Originally a method to preserve meats, now to create a velvety, melt-in-the-mouth texture to meats. The full process is described extensively at Serious Eats.
alt. translation: a method for creating fat-inception

kimchi - a Korean condiment made of vermented vegetables and spices, most notably napa cabbage, radishes, scallions, or ginger.
alt. translation: Sauerkraut fights in the Pacific theatre

sushimi - not to be confused with sushi, sushimi is plain and simplly very fresh (raw) fish sliced thinly and served without adornment.
alt. translation: perfect breakfast for your resident Gollum

What food trends have you stumped? Do you have any embarrassing, "I didn't know what this was and made a gaff" stories? I want to hear all of them, so let's chat about it. You might spare me further embarrassment by educating me now in this very safe space where we can all admit, "Yeah, I didn't know that."

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Three Cookbooks I Actually Use

It's been a funny thing: the better I get at cooking, the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more comfortable I am with the way ingredients interact with one another, the less I use cookbooks. I am familiar with the recipes I like to cook and feel confident enough in my abilities to discard the usual recipe in favor of a dozen variations on the theme. And if I'm not recreating a recipe, I might be trying a new one from one of my favorite bloggers. The internet and the availability of so many mind-blowing recipes has been a gift to home-cooks, definitely. I love the ease of searching a random idea on Pinterest and almost certainly being able to find a recipe online from which I can launch my own exploration of the idea. This sort of Pandora's recipe box (eyyyyyy) is such a boon to those adventurous cooks among us. And yet there is no better way to focus and appreciate what I'm doing than when I pull out one of my favorite cookbooks and flip through the beautiful pages.
I'm an unashamed cookbook junkie. I keep tabs on the interesting ones that are coming out. I've been known to visit Barnes & Nobles just to sit in the cafe area and read Ottolenghi's newest release. I frequent Anthropologie stores and haunt the sale section just to find the deeply discounted but beautiful cookbooks that show up on occasion. And through these processes, through purchasing books for my own collection or being given them, I've compiled a short list of the cookbooks I actually use. The ones I frequently pull out for a particular set of recipes that I actually make. The triple-threat of cookbooks that have legitimately built my repertoire. And now I get to share them with you and hear from you what cookbooks hold this position in your life!


Molly on the Range by Molly Yeh - I realize I've talked about Molly's cookbook before. I promise I'm not a crazy fan-girl! It's just that this book is equal parts amusing read, beautiful photos, and creative but practical recipes. A lot of cookbooks-by-bloggers are gorgeous...and impractical unless you've always got jars of kimchi and crates of rose apples and just about half a dozen vanilla beans to throw into a casual day-off batch of waffles. Molly doesn't play those games. Her recipes are thoughtful, delightful, and 100% achievable with the items you probably currently have in your pantry. I appreciate her ability to mix it up, though. Like having you take all the ends of your spice jars from the back of your cabinet and tossing them into a jar to make hawaij for your hot chocolate. But probably my favorite and most-used of these recipes so far is her recipe for Cauliflower Shawarma tacos. Roasted cauliflower tossed with garam masala, spooned into a soft tortilla and drizzled with a creamy tahini sauce? To. die. for. I've made this probably six or seven times since first trying it back in January...and with my schedule I don't cook dinners that often.


Top With Cinnamon by Izy Hossack - This is one of those Anthropologie finds that is heaven-sent. I'm a huge fan of Izy's approach to food: make it healthy. Make it delicious. Make it practical and nourishing and packed with natural sugars and whole grains and proteins...then dive in for a decadent piece of chocolate cake. We've used this cookbook heartily and still do...from her pretzel cinnamon rolls to prawn & corn soup, from her 10-minute almond granola to her obnoxiously captivating Swedish chocolate cake...I don't know what I would do without Izy's cookbook on my days off. You want whole-foods-focused yum? Look no further than Top With Cinnamon.

The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook - Oxmoor House - Okay, this is one of those cookbooks I rolled my eyes at when first given it. I mean, really? I assumed it would be full of dumb recipes clipped from magazines and I planned to thrift it ASAP. But when I forgot to thrift the darn thing and then began to actually use eyes were opened to the fact that it's a very good all-bases-covered cookbook in its own right. Now I'd never dream of giving this granny-book away because it contains my beloved recipes for comfort foods like rosemary foccacia, whipping cream biscuits, and a (super yum) basic cheesecake that I've made over and over and over again. This cookbook is absolutely un-glamorous, probably out of print, and sits in a place of honor in my family's kitchen pantry.

So there is my triple threat of cookbooks! Which books do you adore and use frequently? Or are you a complete internet convert? I'd love to hear your thoughts so drop a comment and help me find new cookbooks to browse on my next trip to Barnes & Noble! ;)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

When You Work In A Stew-Pot

It's the beginning of March, the third month in 2017 (just in case you don't know what a calendar is and/or haven't been following along in life). Also, does anybody else have trouble spelling calendar correctly on the first try? I'm typically an excellent speller but "calendar" and "medieval" get me every. single. time. Anyway, I'm sitting here waiting for my French press coffee to finish brewing. We lost the tamping piece + lid which means I now brew my French press in what amounts to a glorified glass pitcher, then strain it out into a little powdered sugar sieve. It works. I'm also waiting for a batch of cinnamon rolls to cool off just enough to where I can frost one without it sliding into pieces. I want it a little slide-y but also able to stand on its own two legs if you know what I mean. Gene Stratton Porter's The Keeper of the Bees is at my elbow and I've got a leisurely day of coffee shop, art museum, and some shopping errands planned.And yes, all this before 9 AM on a Saturday because guess what? I couldn't sleep past 6:30, as usual. Something to do with my window being open and the temperature dropping below freezing. I'm conveniently fleeing our farm while my dad and brother butcher our second pig. I don't mind the fact that it's being butchered, but there's a constant in and out of the house with hocks of warm, fresh meat and you don't want to be in the way for that. And since the main portion of my rare moments at home are spent somehow in the kitchen, I would definitely be in the way.
If you follow me on Instagram you'll have been noticing the occasional sketch pop up. If you're especially attentive you'll have noticed that the sketch has been categorized as belonging to the #ArtStew52 challenge. This is basically a now-official, yet very casual group of free-lance and non-professional artists who have bonded together in a group called The Stew for a 52-week art challenge. The head of The Stew (Rhea Amyett: @hatchinghartist) prompts us each week with a different theme, we create a piece of art based off that prompt, then post our work with the official hashtag. It's simple. It's supportive, it's inspiring, and it's the kind of community that makes my heart happiest. So here are a few of the things I've been creating since the start of 2017!

One of the Stewards and my new kindred spirit from afar @lipstickandgelato drew me!! Repost: "While flibbing around tonight I decided to sketch up our intrepid leader, Rhea! Thank you to the woman who started the Stew for getting us all together and continuing to lead us as we grow like profligate guppies into quite the legion!" πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Profligate guppies! That is exactly what we are. I'm so impressed, she nailed the look I think and only going off a few pics of me on here! All of you Stewards have made it so easy to organize and keep the prompts coming because of your own enthusiasm. And really it's less about the prompts and more about us having quite the guppy legion that will always have the same art pond bond! If you want to join in with us our main hubs are a fb group called Art Stew and then there's the Instagram hashtag #artstew52 and #artstewprompts !
A post shared by Rhea Amyett (@hatchingartist) on

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

food vlog time: boring toast or terrible tea

Vlog time! Been a while since I've done a video post so I thought I'd give a food-related vlog a whirl. Today we're discussing creative ways to brush up commonplace foods (like toast, sweet potatoes, smoothies) as well as the one thing you absolutely must not do when making green tea! Watch on, and come chat fun breakfasts and horrible cups of tea in the comments!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cake

"Cake," I told a friend over the phone, "is really only good if it's off-season. You know, when you randomly decide to make a cake and it's just amazing?"
I've never been a fan of birthday cake. Cake should be clandestine. Cake should be unexpected. Cake should be that friend who shows up at 11 PM and kidnaps you for a spur of the moment sleepover. I don't know what it is, but if you announce cake it's's just meh. But when you decide that THIS will be a weekend for making cake and that the cake you're making will be inspired by your favorite ice cream flavor which is inspired by another dessert, you're on the right track. I took the precaution of vetting my idea past by five year old student who wants to be a pastry chef:
"So I have this idea for a cake."
"Yeah. It's going to be a vanilla cake with mini chocolate chips."
"And have vanilla buttercream between the layers. And chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough."
"And I'll cover the top with chocolate ganache. Sound good?"

As you can see, we really talked it out. But I came home and I trotted the plan through all its paces and nothing failed except the fact that you can't put hot chocolate ganache on top of buttercream frosting and expect it to stay put. Mine slid all over creation like some hot fudge lava stream and it was inglorious but delicious. Thus it's very important to let your chocolate ganache cool before spooning it overtop of your cake layers. I want to prevent Vesuvius from happening to your cake project. Trust me on this.

One of the best parts of this recipe is the fact that all the steps (apart from whipping the buttercream frosting) can be done in a single bowl with a wooden spoon. If you're anything like me the idea of hauling out a giant mixer and washing it afterward can easily overwhelm any baking inspiration. Good news! This recipe requires minimal cleanup and a killer final product. Moist, perfect layer cake made with browned butter and miniature chocolate chips. Fluffy vanilla buttercream so light it's almost imaginary. Chunks of silky, egg-free cookie dough tucked between layers. Suave chocolate ganache cascading over the sides. When chilled, this cake is a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream flavor doppelganger - only you can enjoy it nice and slowly because it'll never melt! The recipe should either make four small layers or two large (9") layers. Feel free to make it either way - I prefer using a smaller pan because more layers = more cookie dough-to-cake ratio! And I don't know anybody who is against a high cookie dough ratio. My recipe for the layer cake is generously adapted from this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction, the main difference being adding brown sugar, browning my butter, and omitting the raspberries.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Layer Cake
makes two 9" or four 6" layers

the cake:
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour (measured correctly)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup miniature chocolate chips
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and browned over medium-low until a caramel color
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups milk*
2 Tablespoons lemon juice*
(* if desired, substitute with buttermilk. Otherwise mix lemon juice with milk and allow to rest a few minutes until thickened)

the frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter
6 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extractg
salt, to taste

the cookie dough:
5 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup + 1 Tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

the ganache:
8 ounces good dark chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

For the cake:
  1. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl combine wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix with a few quick strokes, being careful not to over-mix.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cake pans and line with parchment paper. Divide batter evenly into pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  3. Cool on wire rack for five minutes before removing from pan to finish cooling.
For the frosting:
  1. Soften butter to room temperature, then whip in mixer until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add in the powdered sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and salt.
  2. Whip until well combined, then cover and set aside till assembly.
For the cookie dough:
  1. Combine all ingredients by hand in a large bowl. If too soft, allow to chill in fridge until set, about 30 minutes.
  2. Pinch off chunks or roll into small balls the size of green peas. Save any remaining cookie dough for decorating the outside of the cake.
For the ganache:
  1. Cook chocolate, heavy cream, and instant coffee granules in the top of a double boiler until warm and glossy. Allow to cool until almost entirely cold before assembling cake!
  1. level all cakes by slicing across tops with long knife to make an even surface. Layer cake in this manner: cake + frosting + cookie dough + cake + frosting + cookie dough, etc. "Dirty ice" the outside and top of cake with buttercream frosting, then allow to chill in fridge 1/2 hour to set frosting.
  2. With a clean off-set spatula, ice sides of cake with remaining frosting, finishing it off as desired but leaving top thinly frosted so as to not be overwhelmed when ganache is added.
  3. Spoon cooled ganache over the top of the cake and allow to cascade as taste dictates. Decorate with remaining cookie dough, chocolate chips, or frosting as desired! Have fun.