Barefoot Contessa’s Honey White Bread

I’ve never made bread from scratch before. Oh, sure, I’ve made quick breads before, but I’m talking real bread, as in YEAST bread.

After getting my new mixer I knew that at some point I would have to get over my fear and just tackle the fearsome yeast bread.

I adore watching the Barefoot Contessa’s show (although I rarely do; it’s on at such an inconvenient time). I just find Ina so soothing- I want to just curl up and let her describe the luscious food she’s fixing for a little get-together and then once it’s all ready I’ll finally get out of the cozy chair I’m in and make my way outside to the beautifully arranged table where Ina graciously presides over stimulating conversation. Perhaps the fact that I pretty much only ever manage to watch her show when I’m home sick from work might have something to do with the fact that I end up going off on such detailed mental tangents.

Anyway, that very long aside is to explain how I ended up picking my very first bread recipe – it’s Ina’s! From her book Barefoot Contessa at Home, she says it’s foolproof. And since I don’t know what I’m doing, I think that’s the sort of recipe I need.

Her instructions were very easy for me to follow, and the recipe was nice and simple. I was worried about the milk temperature but I’d inherited my grandmother’s old thermometer (emphasis on OLD) and microwaved the milk until it seemed warm and then stuck the thermometer in and it went right to 110. I was astonished at my temperature-guessing prowess.

(Later of course, I found out that I shouldn’t have been so astonished because I noticed that the thermometer was still reading 110, so I put it in some cold tap water. 110. Then I put it in some boiling water. Still 110. I think the thermometer’s time has come and I need to buy a new one.)

Fortunately, questionable milk temperature aside, it apparently wasn’t so hot it burned the yeast and wasn’t so cold that it didn’t get them revved up because the recipe came together beautifully.

The mixer made it incredibly easy, and the hardest part was not cutting into the bread immediately after pulling it from the oven – it just smelled so good! It made a great snack, was good toasted with butter, and made terrific sandwich bread.

It was definitely a winner, and if it wasn’t July and ridiculously hot here I’d have already made it again. Once the weather cools off to say, below 75, I will.

Fresh from the oven

Black Bean Burgers

These?

Are really good.

That is all.

Nigella’s Cream Cheese Brownies

I love reading Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks. Yes, I said “reading” – for whatever reason her writing just delights me and I can curl up with the cookbooks quite happily and slip into a contented state.

I just had never bothered making any of her recipes before, but finally decided that I had to give some a try. Brownies are a real favorite of mine and I’m always on the hunt for another great brownie recipe, so I thought I’d try with that. She had a few options, but I settled on the cream cheese brownies – the sliced layer of cream cheese in the middle of the brownie won me over.

Unfortunately the brownies themselves didn’t do much for me. Dense and somewhat greasy, the cream cheese layer didn’t provide the promised contrast and instead had an unpleasant rubbery texture to go along with its disagreeable tang. Perhaps the light cream cheese I used wasn’t a good choice, but it couldn’t have affected the brownie layer itself which still suffered from the already mentioned density and greasiness.

Sorry Nigella, I still love you and will try another recipe but so far I’m not a fan of the recipes themselves.

Banana Cake

If you pay any attention at all to food blogs (or at least those on baking), you’ve most likely heard of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home To Yours book. There’s even a group dedicated to working their way through the book. How could I not check out the book and see what all the fuss is about?

Since I always like to test-run cookbooks, I borrowed this one from the library first. If I like a book enough, next up is an Amazon order.

There were a number of tempting recipes, but I started with the index, looking for banana recipes since 1. I had a batch blackening on my counter, and 2. My husband is the world’s biggest banana bread fan.

I didn’t spot a banana bread recipe, but the banana cake one caught my eye. It sounded awfully like a banana bread, just baked in a bundt pan instead of a loaf pan.

The recipe was very easy to follow, and the batter was tasty (yes, I sampled). The cake baked up beautifully (much prettier than my picture would indicate). I thought the flavor was nice and the cake itself was very delicate and tender.

The real verdict was from Rob, since he was the reason for baking the cake in the first place. He thought it was delicious and especially appreciated the large yield – one bundt cake is way bigger than one loaf of bread.

Even with his super-sized treat I had to sneak a piece away to bring to Jennifer to taste. She thought it quite tasty, and appreciated the delicate crumb.

Dorie’s first for me was a real winner, enough so that the book got nudged onto my Amazon wish list.

Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting

For birthdays, our department at work always provides treats for the celebrant. This year, I requested cupcakes from a specialty store that opened not all that long ago. They posted a menu with some of the flavors that they offered, and I shared some that sounded good, expecting one or two types to be selected and brought in.

I underestimated my boss however, because she bought several of the five flavors I mentioned, and then still bought some more of one that caught her eye. It was cupcake heaven!

And since I firmly believe that birthdays should always allow the birthday girl (i.e, me) to act like a supreme princess (I really try not to the rest of the year), I immediately announced to Jennifer that she would be splitting cupcakes with me in order to maximize tasting opportunities. Fortunately for me she readily agreed and I didn’t have to smack her with my royal scepter or tiara.

Wouldn’t it be great if I did have a royal scepter that I could use to smack people and get my way? It’s a good thing I don’t because I would abuse that privilege to no end.

Back to the cupcakes. We tried coconut, ho-ho, strawberry, and black bottom. The black bottom was really dense, and the ho-hos were surprisingly bland. The strawberry was tasty, but it was the coconut that blew us away with its fantasticness.

So I promptly went home and whipped up a batch of them.

Or, I thought about it but I had recently found a recipe for supposedly-famous strawberry cupcakes and even had a pint of strawberries crying out to be turned into something with only a passing nod at healthiness. It was meant to be.

Strawberry cupcakes it is!

In a word, these were FABULOUS. Way better than the store-bought ones, in my not-unbiased opinion. The frosting, of cream cheese with lots of strawberry flavor, was amazing – cream cheese frosting is always good but the strawberries in it just pushed it over the top.

I even managed to get myself to bring in cupcakes to share at work. They were extremely well-received (understatement of the year there) – Jennifer 2 gave them a “standing ovation and a gold clap for the scrumptious strawberry cupcake” and called them “ten times better than from the cupcake store!!! Yummmmmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” T even shared her thoughts, saying they were “absolutely, unbelievably, heavenly delicious!!!!!! ”

Sadly for my coworkers, the majority had to stay at home. Rob was not all that happy at losing any of them to my cohorts so I didn’t have the heart to take in more than just a tasting. And this from a guy who doesn’t like strawberries. I guess anything turned into a cupcake is more tempting.

All packed up and ready to store.

Mmmmm, frosting.

Next time, it’ll be coconut. I’ve got a couple of versions to try and surely I can at least match those others. Thank you Good Things Catered for the fantastic recipe! You wouldn’t happen to have a great coconut version, would you?