What makes you feel rich? Ok, well, money would work for us all; I know. But for each of us there’s a little something or a big something (maybe more than one) that creates enough comfort in our heart to make us sigh and feel as though we need nothing more at all. Could be that once in a blue moon moment when all the wash is done and folded or perhaps after the fall garden cleanup is completed and the tulip bulbs are planted. A night after a long work project ends successfully. Close friends coming to stay for a few days. The day your afghan (or toychest) is finished, washed, and mailed. A night alone with your favorite movie of all time. (Mine is: “It Happened One Night.” That or “Michael.”) A lunchtime when the whole family is together. Might also be a full freezer. Walking a 5K; you’ll note that doesn’t say run. A case of canned tomatoes stored away for winter spaghetti sauce. For me, it’s also when there’s a slow cooker full of lusciousness bubbling all day long, promising an all-you-can-eat dinner and giving me a free day. (Hello, sleazy novel!) I feel even richer if I’ve time to bake a little something to go alongside that happy pot of goodness. A bread, simple or not, made especially to go with one particular meal. That’s really rich. This week’s jalapeño-studded peach cornmeal muffins are just such a bread. Even more so as they’re not your typical muffin. With their sweet-savory profile, they’re kind of on the special side despite their easy preparation and basically simple nature. If you’re on your toes, they’re made and baked and on the table in under 45 minutes, including preheating the oven — a must for big, round-domed muffins.
My friend Pam is a multi-talented woman. She enjoys a stunning alto solo voice; cooks like a fiend; entertains largely and comfortably; cultivates a wry wit; is an avid reader; makes a devoted wife, mom, church member, and friend; plays a mean piano, and –the thing I might most envy– is the epitome of organization. What most people don’t know about Miss Pam is she’s also a fine gardener who loves and generously shares the bounty of her craft. While summers here in the front range are late and short with cool nights, she still manages to get a crop or two in each year despite two black Labrador retrievers romping all over her big backyard. Best sous and husband Dave and I are often the recipients of her largesse when the weather warms and the other day Pam’s husband Lee drove over for a visit toting some of her rhubarb along as a gift to us. As rhubarb keeps pretty darned well in the fridge, I didn’t worry about using it quickly. Needing a snack on the not-too-sweet side yesterday, though, I soon heard that rhubarb calling my name, whispering, “bake, bake, bake…” and pulled it out to see just exactly how much she’d sent. To be on the safe side, I chopped it up and measured it to find I easily had a cup plus. Not enough for a pie or a cobbler, there was plenty for a simple cake or quick bread if I included another fruit in the mix. With a side-eyed sniff at the counter, it was apparent the partner needed to be bananas. Then again, I’d never heard of rhubarb and bananas. You? Turns out: It’s a match made in heaven.
Since the coronation of King Charles and the American Mother’s Day fall just over a week from one another, I couldn’t help but think of making scones in honor of both events. (Of course I watched the whole coronation…well, at least from the time I awoke. Enchanting it was – especially the choir.) There’s nothing like a basket of gorgeous scones to set off a festive brunch or holiday tea and they’re both easy to make (I promise!) and very fast, particularly if you use a food processor. The only big decision will be….What kind of scones will you make? Scroll down for ideas or if you’re quite serious, you can order the wondrous Scots baker and fiction writer, Sue Lawrence’s fine book, SCOTTISH BAKINGfor the real deal scoop. I had a basket of lovely fresh strawberries on hand and a small jar of toasted almonds leftover from a salad, so there was little question about what I’d do. I adore strawberries with chocolate, so I thought I’d toss in just a few mini chocolate chips to gild that lily and quite soon, Strawberry-Chocolate Chip Scones with Almonds were born. And, if I do say say so myself, they’re fabulous. I want them again.
Totally a winter person, I’m never happier than when I get up early to find the world frozen solid with snowflakes dancing down in the glorious mist. Once the coffee is made, I cast my eyes around the kitchen to see what’s available to bake for breakfast. Who doesn’t want to turn the oven on when the windchill is below zero? This morning, I saw I had way over two hours before it was time to leave for worship (if we made it – the roads were looking slick) and quickly zeroed in on a bunch of blackening bananas. Banana Bread it was, but it needed to be banana bread with a healthy twist. Yes, I’m on a roll. Bad pun there.
Looking for a few bakers away from altitude (I’m at 6,800 ft.) to test drive this recipe and let me know how it did by commenting at the bottom of the post. Altitude bakers are welcome, too, of course–but I mostly need folks at sea level or not too far above. American east or west coasts, south, midwest –all fine. Countries abroad at sea level, you know who you are. Thanks!!
My mom, born and raised near McComb, Mississippi, was the cornbread maker in our family. Black as coal on the outside and yellow like salty sunshine on the inside, her no-recipe cornbread — hot or cold — gave shape to our days. The cast iron pan graced the table at a tomatoes and green beans summer suppertime and then you could sneak into the kitchen of a morning and cut yourself a little piece for breakfast to keep from getting coffee tummy. If you were lucky, there might be an afternoon snack of cornbread topped with sour cream and honey. (And if there wasn’t cornbread, you’d do the same with biscuits.) In the evening, my dad would crumble a big slice into a glass and then fill the glass with buttermilk, eating the whole kit and caboodle with a big spoon.
Bruschetta (broo-SKET-ta), the incomparably attractive Italian appetizer, is simply too big of a starter come the dog days of summer. I mean, it’s like eating pizza for hors d’oeuvres before Thanksgiving dinner when the temps are 95 F in the shade–like today. Typically grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped silky ruby-ripe tomatoes and a scatter of fresh basil slivers, I like to instead offer it up with a variety of toppings for an al fresco dinner and let everyone make themselves happy. And while I thought I was being somewhat imaginative this July, when I dug out some of my Italian cookbooks to get a little background, I of course discovered that while not everyone, certainly certain someones have been there before me. (Curses, foiled again.) Folks like one of my favorite food writers, Lynne Rosetto Kasper.
It’s a rather sad fact, but most people choose to eat the same or nearly the same breakfast every day — or at least several times a week. There are scientific, sociological, and emotional reasons for this (We have less time, don’t want to waste energy, need healthful food to balance other meals, desire a lot of consistency…) You can ask anyone, “What do you eat for breakfast?” The answer will generally be one thing or at the most two. “I eat oatmeal.”“Eggs and toast.” (And the eggs will be cooked the same way each time, I’d wager.) Whereas should you ask the same person what they eat for lunch or dinner, the answer will be long, varied. Lots of folks are continually looking for something new to cook. It’s funny (peculiar), but understandable.
Perhaps because I love cooking, my breakfast changes regularly. I find that fact fun, entertaining, and encouraging. I’m sure I come out of it with a wider variety of nutrition, too. It’s also true I’m retired from a full-time job requiring my presence on the desk at 8am every morning. I don’t even have kids at home needing a helpful shove out the door. Dogs? Yes. They’re however generally fed and walked by my better half, leaving me to spend any amount of time I’d like sussing out sustenance like Cream Cheese-Avocado Toast come morning. If you have a toaster and a skillet, you have the equipment necessary for this lovely, filling, and pretty breakfast. (Grill the toast in the skillet and you don’t need a toaster.) Let’s face it, you could eat this morning, noon, or night. Add some fruit, a Mimosa or Bloody Mary and you have brunch if you’d like. Sweet.
It is not yet the height of blueberry season, but we’re getting closer. If you watch the labels on your blueberries closely, you’ll notice during our winter months they first come from South America, then Central America, followed by our southern U.S. states, and on northward until we get to Canada come early fall — when we must wait a bit to begin the cycle all over again. I’ll eat this gorgeous fruit anytime of the year, but am especially berry in love when it’s time for the berries from the northern spots like Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, or Canada. That’s because berries like cool nights and I think those cooler northern places grow top shelf fruit. When blueberries are especially plentiful and the tastiest, they’re also at their least expensive. That lets me know it’s time to buy a bunch and freeze enough to last until next summer. And while we’re not there yet, I had already bought more than my husband could eat at breakfast on his yogurt with my homemade granola. They were beginning to soften and were even thinking of getting those stinky little white rings of mold on their bottoms. Two cups of near-heaven superfood needed to be saved. So one cup is enough for a dozen muffins; two cups calls for a loaf of blueberry bread. In this case I had a little strawberry jam called my baking name out loud as well, so I thought I’d tuck that into the center of the loaf and call it Strawberry Jam Filled Blueberry Bread, which is (you’re right) a mouthful. But no other name seemed to fit and I’m stuck with it. Thank goodness, because the name says exactly what it is and if that’ll make you preheat the oven and stir this up, I’m good. I do think any jam would do — even blueberry — but I happened to have the tail end of a jar of Bonne Maman strawberry preserves, which served royally well. (TIP: I reuse their jars as storage containers for months or even years as they are glass, go through the dishwasher, and come with tight, long-lasting red and white picnic-checked lids.)
Late to the date this week due to travel and weather, it seemed a good time to share something so simple and homey that it might not deserve space? But it does. Totally yummy small sides that make a thrown together meal or a bowl of soup into something you can’t wait to eat are worth knowing about. Plus! Any way I can tell you about using up the bread on your counter is well, not priceless exactly, but definitely a fun talent to have in your back pocket. Waste not, etc. I call this “Cheese Bread.” I think it’s a cooking game changer because its method will take any number of meals up the proverbial notch.
When my husband Dave was a kid, he tells me there were nearly always bananas in the house. With three growing and active boys, there was likely to be a big bunch, I’m guessing. Boys do eat. But no matter who hankered for a banana or how badly, if there were 3 bananas left, no one touched them. Because from an early age, they all knew it took 3 bananas to make their mom’s banana bread. And they wanted banana bread. And who doesn’t? It’s a great family story and most likely a common one. (Do you have a banana bread story?)