Antidote to February

It’s a good thing I’m training for a half-marathon (DC Half, April 27th) because I’ve just discovered no-knead bread. I know I’m a little late to the party, the New York Times published a recipe in 2006 and it seemed like every blogger/baker was making and raving about it. Because I was bread-baking shy from a disastrous experience that resulted in a very large floury hockey puck, I ignored the uproar. But recently, a friend mentioned that she had made the bread using The Baker Chick’s recipe and that it was fabulous. I guess enough time has passed from my bread debacle, that I was inspired. On Friday night, when we arrived at the cottage at 10:30, I stirred up the flour, water, salt and yeast, covered it with plastic wrap and went to bed.

IMG_1635About 2 hours after I woke up the next morning I had a beautiful loaf of very tasty crusty bread. Ridiculously easy. Ridiculous. I almost felt like I was cheating somehow.

It took me five, maybe ten minutes to mix the dough in the evening – you don’t even need bread flour, just plain old all-purpose. The yeast did its magic overnight, I let it sit for about a half hour in the morning, and it baked for about 45 minutes. That was it. Ridiculous.

I know the world probably doesn’t need another blog about No-Knead bread, but I promise you, nothing lightens the gloom of this February’s wintery blast like the smell of fresh baked bread.

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Spring at the Little Blue Cottage

Winters in Sullivan County can be cold and harsh, and spring creeps in very slowly with small splashes of color here and there. By the end of May, there is still no guarantee that the weather will be warm enough to plant your tomatoes, but the azaleas, rhododendrums and lilacs are ablaze and it’s time to pull out the lawn mower from winter storage. Sprinkled throughout the yard and woods around our house, the wildflowers start popping up.

I know spring is in full swing and summer is on its way when our local farmer’s market in Barryville opens for the season in mid May. There we see our favorite farmer, Greg from Willow Wisp Organic Farm, and Mark has long chats with the folks from Java Love Coffee from Bethel – Mark loves a good espresso.This year we also bought a few tomato seedlings from Silver Heights Farm Nursery after a mysterious blight took over our own little tomato seedlings.

In season now: Rhubarb!

Cake photo 1: One of my favorite rhubarb recipes (I skip the whisky cream and just go with ice cream or heavy cream): Country Rhubarb Cake

Cake photo 2: A rhubarb compote from Joy of Cooking (I added a little lemon zest) with a buttermilk cake made with fresh buttermilk from Tonjes Farm Dairy in Callicoon, NY.

Popovers!

IMG_5713A new restaurant opened near our cottage last year, Henning’s Local. The menu offers delicious dishes sourced from local farms, including the poultry and fish, and best of all, every meal is served with a plate of popovers. Popovers have been on my mental to-do list for awhile, and inspired by my first meal at Henning’s Local, I went out and bought a popover pan (as it turns out, a standard muffin pan works just fine, but I love to have an excuse to go to a kitchen supply store).

The challenge of finding a popover recipe is that they seem to vary – popovers must start in a cold oven, the oven must be at 450 exactly when the popovers go in,  you must stir the batter till “frothy”, you should only stir the ingredients till blended, and etc. I tried a few recipes with varying degrees of success until I found the best results with King Arthur’s recipe – the popovers definitely had no trouble popping up.

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Popovers are now my favorite bread-y accompaniment to meals, especially with a hot bowl of chicken soup after a three mile walk in brisk country air.

Special attire is suggested, but not required, when making popovers.

McCardell Popover ad

If Julia Child Can Drop a Chicken on Camera

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I woke up Sunday morning with this vision in my head for that day’s project – Mark’s birthday cake . A tradition in our household carried over from when Mark was growing up: angel food cake topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with crushed peppermint candies.

As baked confections go, this is not a complicated pastry, no one is going to win the Meilleur Ouvrir de France competing with it. As long as you remember to buy enough eggs (12 egg whites!) and are ready to take out any aggression crushing hard peppermint candies on your kitchen counter (I used a rolling pin and contained the candies in ziplock bag), it’s a simple but delicious and festive cake. Easy! I’ve done this before many times and have dabbled with more ambitious cakes recipes. No problem! So, maybe I was feeling overly self-confident, or maybe our relaxing weekend had relaxed my brain a little too much, or maybe I shouldn’t have had that beer while mixing the batter, whatever the reason, this was the end result:

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Apparently, Julia Child’s advice to have the “courage of you convictions!” whenever you flip something won’t help you  if you don’t support the center  of a tube pan when it’s upside down, balanced on four upturned glasses – especially if it has a removable bottom. None of your convictions will stop the piping hot center of the pan to slowly detach from the pan and slide downward, taking the cake along with it to land in a messing lump on the kitchen counter, as you watch in frozen horror.

After we had carefully scooped the cake back into the pan – at this point, having the cake cool upside down so that it didn’t lose its shape was moot – Mark assured me that it still looked delicious. I broke off a chunk, put a big dollop of whipped cream, garnished it with more crushed peppermint candies and wished him  a very happy birthday.

It was delicious!

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It’s at times like these when I console myself with the thought that kitchen disasters happen to the best of them: Cleanup in Aisle 4!.