wintry mix of salted butter, chocolate chips & nutmeg

No apologies, no excuses, thank you Madame Child. It’s January 19th & after quite some time, Sweet Hearth is back in action. Happy 2011! December was a blur of red & green M&Ms, car rides with Betty White (my car, not the actress, though the two are not entirely dissimilar) & Mariah Carey, & snowsnowsnow. We just got dumped on again last week, & then again yesterday, & now it’s nothing but cold rain. But I’m not complaining.  

I considered digging Betty White (the actress) out of her igloo (just kidding), before the snow-turned-freezing rain formed an impenetrable force field of ice that will last until Spring, but then I reconsidered, because what better way to break in the 2011 Sweet Hearth than to make a back-to-the-basics-with-a-twist salted butter chocolate chip cookie?

There is no better way, of course. Trust me. Sure beats shoveling snow.

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I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as “Oh, I don’t know how to cook … ,” or “Poor little me … ,” or “This may taste awful … ,” it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, “Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!” Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed - eh bien, tant pis!

Madame Julia Child

dreary afternoon biscotti

As the weatherman said this morning, two parallel lines of “weather” were flanking Boston today, with nary a drop to be found in Boston proper.  I actually felt more than a few drops (thanks, weatherman) as the sun shone & the temperatures climbed into the 40s, & combined with the steadily sinking sun, I’ve got all the lights in the room on to stave off the gloom outside.  

Here’s the cure: hot tea & biscotti.

 

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more-than-decadent chocolate mousse ice cream

So, I just noticed that it has been entirely too long time since chocolate has been part of my Sweet Hearth musings (ok, it’s been entirely too long since I last posted, but that’s beside the point).  A whole month!  How can I even call myself a chocolate-lover?!  This is inexcusable.  I hang my head in shame.

To make up for it, today I bring you some of the most amazing chocolate ice cream ever. Actually, ice cream is a bit inaccurate.  This is more of a frozen chocolate mousse: all the wonder of chocolate mousse, but a little more solid, a little more cold.

Now, normally, I do everything I can to avoid using more tools than absolutely necessary, because in this apartment sans dishwasher, I know that my own two hands will have to deal with the repercussions of any extra spoon or bowl dirtied.  This means that I scan recipes before I begin, looking for the smallest measurement called for & use that measuring utensil, so I often find myself scooping out 2 cups of flour with a 1/4 cup scoop.  Ok, it’s a little embarrassing now that I type it out, but I really, really hate doing unnecessary dishwashing.  & at least I get to practice my counting.

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sagittarian sunshine olive oil cake

Tonight marks the beginning of that eight night ode to miracles & lights, & as a new spin on all things fried & dripping with oil, I started thinking about a miraculous cake that I saw grow up on a warm June day in 2008, on sixty acres of land in Castelvetrano, Sicily where Olio Verde produces their famous unfiltered olive oil.  

That day, Gabriella Becchina, the heiress to Olio Verde who possesses the kind of beauty that Americans usually only see on billboards or in magazine ads - the kind of beauty that is commonplace in Italy - led a tour of the groves, & it ended with a tasting of different “vintages” of oils, learning about the changes in sediment, color, & therefore taste, as oil ages.  

But it wasn’t the unique bouquet of flavors in the oil or the idyllic vision of precisely-planted olive trees that stopped me in my tracks. Rather, it was the pranzo, the mid-day meal, with ingredients that had just been picked, that had me hungering for more.

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flaky lemon-cranberry scones

Well, Turkey Day came & went, & now radio stations have permission to play All Christmas All the Time; the CVS Christmas selection seems a little more reasonable than it did last month; & us foodies are simultaneously struggling to finish our Thanksgiving leftovers while still making it to the gym on a regular basis so that we can eat more.  

After so many days of eating the same thing, I think most of us are at our wit’s end when it comes to turkey sandwiches, but the flavors of this holiday season are so fantastic that I’m pretty excited that we get to stretch our stomachs for the next month in an effort to keep our mouths full of all the tasty goodness.

I still have a fridge drawer full of lemons, so I’m glad this recipe gave me the chance to lighten the load just a little bit, but the real star of these scones are the fresh cranberries.  

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seasons of banana bread

As we approach Turkey Day, bloggers everywhere are giving you their secrets for the perfect turkey & the most enticing way to set your holiday table, but not me. Thanksgiving is quietly creeping up on me this year, & I can’t wait for it to jump out of the closet with a big ol’ “BOO!” on Wednesday when I join the masses of harried travelers who’ll be trying to move from point A to point B with as few hiccups as possible.  Today, I am furthering my own delusions by discussing something that has absolutely nothing to do with the big T: banana bread.  (Though if you want to twist this into a Thanksgiving-appropriate post, it makes a great breakfast for house guests.  I’m just sayin’…)

Banana bread was one of those recipes that got me at an early age.  Unlike how I do it these days, that was during a time in my life when I didn’t spend hours seeking out recipes online & reading through all the comments to ensure that I felt confident enough to make necessary changes & improvise a bit; but it was also after I had grown out of the Klutz & Carebears cookbooks mentioned in an earlier post.  

In those days, I baked using the gigantic Doubleday Cookbook whose red binding was just starting to fray & whose pages were stained with splatters of meals past.  If there was something in particular that I wanted to bake, I’d turn to the index where there was sure to be a listing, & without a question of whether the ingredients seemed to be in the right proportion or whether the baking time seemed a little too long, I trusted & I baked.

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sweet & tart lemony luscious loaf

I’ve noticed a steady stream of lemons coming from our not-quite-CSA share every other week, but I guess I never took the time to notice the accumulation until today when, upon reaching into the fridge for an apple, I couldn’t open the fruit drawer because, along with the two pears in there, it was packed to the overflowing point with lemons.  

It’s not exactly as if I reach into the fridge for a lemon in the same way I might want to grab an apple or an orange.  I’m not going to bite right through its pucker-inducing skin, & I’m not the kind of person who’s going to peel it & chow down on its juicy innards.  Lemons, while useful in many instances, are usually only used in bits & pieces in my kitchen.  I need a teaspoon of lemon zest for one recipe, a squeeze of juice to put in my drinking water, & the end result is a fridge full of bald, half-used lemons.  & it’s really not the season for lemonade. 

During these days when I just want to sit with a steaming cup of something, I wanted to use those lemons for something that could squeeze out the coziness of mid-autumn while still honoring the crisp zest of the yellow citrus.  Lemon poppyseed loaf, it is!

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crackin’ crackers

This weekend, Mr. A & I took a little 4-wheeled sojourn down to the third smallest state on the Sound, so obviously, snacks were in order. Car trips require munchies.  Something crunchy, something bite-sized, & something to keep the stomach occupied so that it doesn’t get any bright ideas about getting nauseated.  

Now, it just so happens that Mr. A is a cracker fiend, no hyperbole necessary.  I’m pretty sure I even owe him the gift of a personalized cracker recipe (& he’s probably forgotten about this…until now).  &, while I obviously enjoy the baking bit, I haven’t really ventured into crackers due to my insatiable sweet tooth.  However, with the driving & the love of crackers & the challenge of something new, I decided that I had a date with cracker destiny.

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curing a cold with cinnamon swirl loaf

The sun rose on a gray Wednesday in Boston, where it wasn’t quite rainy but not sunny side up either; & I think this autumn chill has seeped too far into my bones, since I, too, woke up cold & a little rainy.  Ah, the common cold.  It gets us all sooner or later each season, & for me, this season, it was sooner.  So I did what any normal sweet hearth does when feeling under the weather: I cozied up on the couch with a steaming cup of herbal tea & I figured out what to bake.

What?  Isn’t that what everyone does?

When I was in grade school, I would always want to bake on sick days, & even though my smarty pants mother insisted that preparing food when you’re sick will only infect others, my little baker self did not understand what the problem was.  So I’d pull down my Care Bears or Klutz Cookbooks off the shelf, put on my little apron, & get cracking. 

Yesterday was no different.  I’m happy to report that I have since advanced beyond cookbooks that feature cartoon drawings of bears, but yesterday was not a day for anything fancy.  Yesterday called for warmth, comfort, & homey-ness.  Yesterday called for cinnamon swirl bread.

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