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Cinnamon Fig Walnut Bread

I keep thinking fall started months ago.  I blame the mornings for being gray since August because one month of gray skies has me thinking about stews and cider and cinnamon.  Actually, I have been thinking about cinnamon a lot lately, but it felt unfair to think about cinnamon when I had five-pound zucchinis and heirloom tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter.

Okay, I still have one last five-pound zucchini on the counter, but it just feels like fall.  Maybe it’s the fact that I just read a book that gushed about things like apple cider.  Maybe it’s the fact that I have started work and the emphasis is on a “fall start date.”  I don’t know.  I guess the slight newness of routine finally nudged me towards believing the seasons have changed ;)

In the name of trying things new, I decided a cinnamon fig walnut bread would be in the works.  A toast studded with figs and walnuts and swirled with cinnamon sugar sounded like a good breakfast on-the-go.  Probably even better with cinnamon honey butter.  Mmm…

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My apologies with the lack of posts. As they say, I am trying to seize the moment and put my hands on every cooking/ baking project that intrigues me.

So far, that has kept me very busy and dirty. Don’t believe me? Just ask the guy who kept chuckling at how I managed to walk out the door with a little bit of chocolate peanut butter ice cream at the corner of my mouth. I was testing the “product” and swear I wiped it all off, but peanut butter is sticky so there! :(

In other words, there has been a lot of trial and error that has been undocumented. Some things turned out more fabulous than I imagined. Other things were incredibly disappointing, but you don’t need to know that.

Nope.

All you need to know is that…

1. If plain mushy oatmeal isn’t your cup of tea, maybe chewy steel cut oats is. It’s so easy too :)

2. If I had more time in the world, I would be making lots and lots of yeast breads (both sweet and savory).

3. My dear old oven has a temper–it runs hot.

4. I think booze really makes ice cream taste better and creamier.

5. If you chop garlic or onions, touch stainless steel (i.e. a chef’s knife) to get rid of the smell, but don’t ever run your hands or dishes in hot water to get rid of the smell. [Reason? It'll just get worse and never leave. (Courtesy of my lovely brother who works in a restaurant kitchen.)]

6. I found my new work lunch buddy–a tomato and feta frittata sandwich with homemade aioli from this book.

7. Eric Ripert’s show is now my new favorite food show. Sorry Bourdain!

8. All things whimsical are not always well-received.

9. First this, then that. I sometimes forget how satisfying Marcela Hazan’s simple pasta recipes are.

10. Air-chilled chicken makes for delectable fried chicken.

I stopped across this recipe many times–a couple times here, and another few times here.  Each time, it never occurred to me to bookmark it because it looked strange and… healthy.  It’s as though someone decided to toss a whole bunch of healthy ingredients together and called that a dish.  Hey, that’s what the whole wheat pasta thing does to anything ;)

A year after I first saw the recipe, I bookmarked it, so something must have happened between now and then.  I am pretty sure I haven’t been bought by the health factor because clearly, I have no problem with baking up a storm.  Not only that, the ingredients looked like they didn’t belong together.

At least, at first glance, and a few more glances.

After a while, I saw that perhaps, they do fit together in the nutty theme of things.  Whole wheat adds nuttiness, as does slightly browned cauliflower.  Walnuts are umm, self-explanatory.

Plus, the colors of the pasta look pretty.  I am always bought by visually-pleasing things ;)

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These days, I bake to get out of my head.  It’s easy to get so far into your head when you’re studying that I think a good way to unwind is to do something with your hands.  Anything that is tangible and quiet to get away from the noise in your head is a welcomed pause in the chaos of modern living.

I had a choice between a Chez Panisse fruit crisp or a Melissa Clark cobbler.  Both equally sounded like a fabulous place for a set of over-ripe nectarines to rest in peace.  I ended choosing the Melissa Clark one because it was different and it had browned butter.  End of story.

This was probably the most appropriate study break ever.  Thirty minutes tops to create a mess and wipe up, and back to studying I go.  Most of the time study breaks stretch out to an hour or an hour and half because of the number of steps involved.  Shh :P

This is probably the first cobbler I really enjoyed in recent memory.  It has so many nice textural components from the crunchy bits of sliced almonds to the chewy bits of the barely-formed buttery cake.  Then, there is the custardy middle, and the subtle tang of buttermilk.  Oh, and it’s fast to put together.  That’s always a plus.  What’s there not to like? :)

Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler/ Cake

Printable Recipe

Adapted from the Melissa Clark Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler/ Cake (via New York Times)

3 cups of nectarines or peaches, sliced in 1 inch thick pieces

3 ounces granulated sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 ounces flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 c buttermilk

1/4 c sliced almonds

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

1.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the fruit slices, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer, then take the pan off the heat.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until it smells very nutty, turns golden, and flecks of dark brown appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the brown butter into an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter on top of the brown butter, use a spatula to even out the batter but be careful not to mix it into the butter. Scatter the nectarine slices and juice on top of the batter without stirring. Sprinkle with the almonds, nutmeg and Demerara sugar. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm.

Courtesy of Miss Chien

Right now, I am stuck with too many cookies.  All I can say is that I bake when I am stressed.  You know, the CPA exam studying will do that to you, and there is only so much of “share the love” you can do when you’re virtually pounding out 3 dozen cookies every other day.

I have stopped baking so much partially because of this, but more so because I have hit that point where I learned as much as I can as an amateur baker that baking another brownie doesn’t really excite me anymore.  That’s why, I posit, I have to make so many darn cookies–that batch just doesn’t excite me the way it used to a few years ago!

I have tried the cake decorating route.  I threw my hands over the straight-up cooking route.  I am starting to dabble a little more in food photography.  Nothing has quite found ground yet, so where do I go from here?

For now, I am just spending time with friends and showing them how to bake things like these chocolate sables.  My friend had chosen to make them because they were so beautifully elegant.  Then again, what of Pierre Herme’s is not beautiful or elegant?

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I seem to like the ice cream shops with the long lines.  The wait doesn’t bother me; in fact, it allows me to do other things like imagine which ice cream flavors the strangers in front of me are going to pick.

Haha, I am not sure what thoughts other people think of in these long lines waiting to see the flavors, but I usually try to imagine why people pick the ice cream that they do.  I think that the combination of choices is slightly telling of the personality they have or the mood they are in.

Some marry the tried and true flavor combinations together like coffee and chocolate.  They seem simply satisfied with something they know will be good, or maybe they need that jostle of caffeine because they are caffeine fiends.  Hey, this is spoken from a recovering caffeine addict ;)

Then, there are those ice cream flavors we try on a dare or a whim.  If you asked us a few hours later, we may not pick that flavor again.  I mean, who would try eating the herbaceous basil ice cream if you had other more delectable and normal choices?  FYI: basil ice cream is delicious with its delicate anise notes and works great as a palate cleanser.  Who knew?

And then there are other flavors that lie somewhere in between that spectrum of weird and boring.  For the curious but not ambitious, it’s the perfect harmony of trying something new without fretting whether that flavor would be the unsavory scoop of ice cream that will have to be swallowed down fast.

At least, that’s where I stood with the idea of toasted coconut ice cream.  What is toasted coconut ice cream supposed to taste like anyway?  Is it more toasty or coconut-like?  Is it like a fabulous coconut cream pie in ice cream form?  Well, if it even resembles Tom Douglas’ coconut cream pie, I am sold.

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Funfetti Cake

Whenever I am at the cusp of taking on greater (and exciting) responsibility, I tend to briefly fall back to all things that are small, cute and colorful.  Perhaps, it’s my own little ritual of sorts to delve into the memories that define myself.  I am not entirely sure.  As much as I am wholly ready to embrace the challenges ahead of me, I still find parts of me drifting in carefree nostalgia of yesteryear.  Perhaps my friends don’t share that kind of odd nostalgia for all things colorful and sweet, and instead, they look for things bigger, better, and brighter.   However, I think there is a small part of us that wistfully pines for cotton candy, sour belts, and rainbow sprinkles.

We may not all pine for those things specifically after all, some of us believe sprinkles taste like chalk.  Me?  I think sprinkles are the stuff of colorful magic–they may not taste good, but they have this powerful draw of whim and fancy.  I still think that sprinkles are the fairy dust of childhood, and that is an equally powerful sensory experience!

I am thinking about this more lately since most of my high school friends have finally left my hometown.  It’s sort of like the end of an era that was filled with the collector’s obsession with charm bracelets and giggly mini-high school reunions.  I am cognizant of all of this since I can’t conveniently dispose of my extra pint of homemade ice cream or overload of cake and cookies at a friend’s place five minutes away.  Oh, the troubles of being a compulsive baker…

This weekend was kind of a project to sum up all things magical about growing up.  At least, I thought that is what a funfetti cake personified.

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